Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The World as Will

It's impressively easy to misunderstand the point made in last week’s post here on The Archdruid Report. To say that the world we experience is made up of representations of reality, constructed in our minds by taking the trickle of data we get from the senses and fitting those into patterns that are there already, doesn’t mean that nothing exists outside of our minds. Quite the contrary, in fact; there are two very good reasons to think that there really is something “out there,” a reality outside our minds that produces the trickle of data we’ve discussed.

The first of those reasons seems almost absurdly simple at first glance: the world doesn’t always make sense to us. Consider, as one example out of godzillions, the way that light seems to behave like a particle on some occasions and like a wave on others. That’s been described, inaccurately, as a paradox, but it’s actually a reflection of the limitations of the human mind.

What, after all, does it mean to call something a particle? Poke around the concept for a while and you’ll find that at root, this concept “particle” is an abstract metaphor, extracted from the common human experience of dealing with little round objects such as pebbles and marbles. What, in turn, is a wave? Another abstract metaphor, extracted from the common human experience of watching water in motion. When a physicist says that light sometimes acts like a particle and sometimes like a wave, what she’s saying is that neither of these two metaphors fits more than a part of the way that light behaves, and we don’t have any better metaphor available.

If the world was nothing but a hallucination projected by our minds, then it would contain nothing that wasn’t already present in our minds—for what other source could there be? That implies in turn that there would be a perfect match between the contents of the world and the contents of our minds, and we wouldn’t get the kind of mismatch between mind and world that leaves physicists flailing. More generally, the fact that the world so often baffles us offers good evidence that behind the world we experience, the world as representation, there’s some “thing in itself” that’s the source of the sense data we assemble into representations.

The other reason to think that there’s a reality distinct from our representations is that, in a certain sense, we experience such a reality at every moment.

Raise one of your hands to a position where you can see it, and wiggle the fingers. You see the fingers wiggling—or, more precisely, you see a representation of the wiggling fingers, and that representation is constructed in your mind out of bits of visual data, a great deal of memory, and certain patterns that seem to be hardwired into your mind. You also feel the fingers wiggling—or, here again, you feel a representation of the wiggling fingers, which is constructed in your mind out of bits of tactile and kinesthetic data, plus the usual inputs from memory and hardwired patterns. Pay close attention and you might be able to sense the way your mind assembles the visual representation and the tactile one into a single pattern; that happens close enough to the surface of consciousness that a good many people can catch themselves doing it.

So you’ve got a representation of wiggling fingers, part of the world as representation we experience. Now ask yourself this: the action of the will that makes the fingers wiggle—is that a representation?

This is where things get interesting, because the only reasonable answer is no, it’s not. You don’t experience the action of the will as a representation; you don’t experience it at all. You simply wiggle your fingers. Sure, you experience the results of the will’s action in the form of representations—the visual and tactile experiences we’ve just been considering—but not the will itself. If it were true that you could expect to see or hear or feel or smell or taste the impulse of the will rolling down your arm to the fingers, say, it would be reasonable to treat the will as just one more representation. Since that isn’t the case, it’s worth exploring the possibility that in the will, we encounter something that isn’t just a representation of reality—it’s a reality we encounter directly.

That’s the insight at the foundation of Arthur Schopenhauer’s philosophy. Schopenhauer’s one of the two principal guides who are going to show us around the giddy funhouse that philosophy has turned into of late, and guide us to the well-marked exits, so you’ll want to know a little about him. He lived in the ramshackle assortment of little countries that later became the nation of Germany; he was born in 1788 and died in 1860; he got his doctorate in philosophy in 1813; he wrote his most important work, The World as Will and Representation, before he turned thirty; and he spent all but the last ten years of his life in complete obscurity, ignored by the universities and almost everyone else. A small inheritance, carefully managed, kept him from having to work for a living, and so he spent his time reading, writing, playing the flute for an hour a day before dinner, and grumbling under his breath as philosophy went its merry way into metaphysical fantasy. He grumbled a lot, and not always under his breath. Fans of Sesame Street can think of him as philosophy’s answer to Oscar the Grouch.

Schopenhauer came of age intellectually in the wake of Immanuel Kant, whose work we discussed briefly last week, and so the question he faced was how philosophy could respond to the immense challenge Kant threw at the discipline’s feet. Before you go back to chattering about what’s true and what’s real, Kant said in effect, show me that these labels mean something and relate to something, and that you’re not just chasing phantoms manufactured by your own minds.

Most of the philosophers who followed in Kant’s footsteps responded to his challenge by ignoring it, or using various modes of handwaving to pretend that it didn’t matter. One common gambit at the time was to claim that the human mind has a special superpower of intellectual intuition that enables it to leap tall representations in a single bound, and get to a direct experience of reality that way. What that meant in practice, of course, is that philosophers could claim to have intellectually intuited this, that, and the other thing, and then build a great tottering system on top of them. What that meant in practice, of course, that a philosopher could simply treat whatever abstractions he fancied as truths that didn’t have to be proved; after all, he’d intellectually intuited them—prove that he hadn’t!

There were other such gimmicks. What set Schopenhauer apart was that he took Kant’s challenge seriously enough to go looking for something that wasn’t simply a representation. What he found—why, that brings us back to the wiggling fingers.

As discussed in last week’s post, every one of the world’s great philosophical traditions has ended up having to face the same challenge Kant flung in the face of the philosophers of his time. Schopenhauer knew this, since a fair amount of philosophy from India had been translated into European languages by his time, and he read extensively on the subject. This was helpful because Indian philosophy hit its own epistemological crisis around the tenth century BCE, a good twenty-nine centuries before Western philosophy got there, and so had a pretty impressive head start. There’s a rich diversity of responses to that crisis in the classical Indian philosophical schools, but most of them came to see consciousness as a (or the) thing-in-itself, as reality rather than representation.

It’s a plausible claim. Look at your hand again, with or without wiggling fingers. Now be aware of yourself looking at the hand—many people find this difficult, so be willing to work at it, and remember to feel as well as see. There’s your hand; there’s the space between your hand and your eyes; there’s whatever of your face you can see, with or without eyeglasses attached; pay close attention and you can also feel your face and your eyes from within; and then there’s—

There’s the thing we call consciousness, the whatever-it-is that watches through your eyes. Like the act of will that wiggled your fingers, it’s not a representation; you don’t experience it. In fact, it’s very like the act of will that wiggled your fingers, and that’s where Schopenhauer went his own way.

What, after all, does it mean to be conscious of something? Some simple examples will help clarify this. Move your hand until it bumps into something; it’s when something stops the movement that you feel it. Look at anything; you can see it if and only if you can’t see through it. You are conscious of something when, and only when, it resists your will.

That suggested to Schopenhauer that consciousness derives from will, not the other way around. There were other lines of reasoning that point in the same direction, and all of them derive from common human experiences. For example, each of us stops being conscious for some hours out of every day, whenever we go to sleep. During part of the time we’re sleeping, we experience nothing at all; during another part, we experience the weirdly disconnected representations we call “dreams.” Even in dreamless sleep, though, it’s common for a sleeper to shift a limb away from an unpleasant stimulus. Thus the will is active even when consciousness is absent.

Schopenhauer proposed that there are different forms or, as he put it, grades of the will. Consciousness, which we can define for present purposes as the ability to experience representations, is one grade of the will—one way that the will can adapt to existence in a world that often resists it. Life is another, more basic grade. Consider the way that plants orient themselves toward sunlight, bending and twisting like snakes in slow motion, and seek out concentrations of nutrients with probing, hungry roots. As far as anyone knows, plants aren’t conscious—that is, they don’t experience a world of representations the way that animals do—but they display the kind of goal-seeking behavior that shows the action of will.

Animals also show goal-seeking behavior, and they do it in a much more complex and flexible way than plants do. There’s good reason to think that many animals are conscious, and experience a world of representations in something of the same way we do; certainly students of animal behavior have found that animals let incidents from the past shape their actions in the present, mistake one person for another, and otherwise behave in ways that suggest that their actions are guided, as ours are, by representations rather than direct reaction to stimuli. In animals, the will has developed the ability to represent its environment to itself.

Animals, at least the more complex ones, also have that distinctive mode of consciousness we call emotion. They can be happy, sad, lonely, furious, and so on; they feel affection for some beings and aversion toward others. Pay attention to your own emotions and you’ll soon notice how closely they relate to the will. Some emotions—love and hate are among them—are motives for action, and thus expressions of will; others—happiness and sadness are among them—are responses to the success or failure of the will to achieve its goals. While emotions are tangled up with representations in our minds, and presumably in those of animals as well, they stand apart; they’re best understood as conditions of the will, expressions of its state as it copes with the world through its own representations.

And humans? We’ve got another grade of the will, which we can call intellect:  the ability to add up representations into abstract concepts, which we do, ahem, at will. Here’s one representation, which is brown and furry and barks; here’s another like it; here’s a whole kennel of them—and we lump them all together in a single abstract category, to which we assign a sound such as “dog.” We can then add these categories together, creating broader categories such as “quadruped” and “pet;” we can subdivide the categories to create narrower ones such as “puppy” and “Corgi;” we can extract qualities from the whole and treat them as separate concepts, such as “furry” and “loud;” we can take certain very general qualities and conjure up the entire realm of abstract number, by noticing how many paws most dogs have and using that, and a great many other things, to come up with the concept of “four.”

So life, consciousness, and intellect are three grades of the will. One interesting thing about them is that the more basic ones are more enduring and stable than the more complex ones. Humans, again, are good examples. Humans remain alive all the way from birth to death; they’re conscious only when awake; they’re intelligent only when actively engaged in thinking—which is a lot less often than we generally like to admit. A certain degree of tiredness, a strong emotion, or a good stiff drink are usually enough to shut off the intellect and leave us dealing with the world on the same mental basis as an ordinarily bright dog; it takes quite a bit more to reduce us to the vegetative level, and serious physical trauma to go one more level down.

Let’s take a look at that final level, though. The conventional wisdom of our age holds that everything that exists is made up of something called “matter,” which is configured in various ways; further, that matter is what really exists, and everything else is somehow a function of matter if it exists at all. For most of us, this is the default setting, the philosophical opinion we start from and come back to, and anyone who tries to question it can count on massive pushback.

The difficulty here is that philosophers and scientists have both proved, in their own ways, that the usual conception of matter is quite simply nonsense. Any physical scientist worth his or her sodium chloride, to begin with, will tell you that what we habitually call “solid matter” is nearly as empty as the vacuum of deep space—a bit of four-dimensional curved spacetime that happens to have certain tiny probability waves spinning dizzily in it, and it’s the interaction between those probability waves and those composing that other patch of curved spacetime we each call “my body” that creates the illusions of solidity, color, and the other properties we attribute to matter.

The philosophers got to the same destination a couple of centuries earlier, and by a different route. The epistemologists I mentioned in last week’s post—Locke, Berkeley, and Hobbes—took the common conception of matter apart layer by layer and showed, to use the formulation we’ve already discussed, that all the things we attribute to matter are simply representations in the mind. Is there something out there that causes those representations? As already mentioned, yes, there’s very good reason to think so—but that doesn’t mean that the “something out there” has to consist of matter in any sense of the word that means anything.

That’s where Schopenhauer got to work, and once again, he proceeded by calling attention to certain very basic and common human experiences. Each of us has direct access, in a certain sense, to one portion of the “something out there,” the portion each of us calls “my body.” When we experience our bodies, we experience them as representations, just like anything else—but we also act with them, and as the experiment with the wiggling fingers demonstrated, the will that acts isn’t a representation.

Thus there’s a boundary between the part of the universe we encounter as will and representation, and the part we encounter only as representation. The exact location of that boundary is more complex than it seems at first sight. It’s a commonplace in the martial arts, for example, that a capable martial artist can learn to feel with a weapon as though it were a part of the body. Many kinds of swordsmanship, for example, rely on what fencers call sentiment de fer, the “sense of the steel;” the competent fencer can feel the lightest touch of the other blade against his own, just as though it brushed his hand.

There are also certain circumstances—lovemaking, dancing, ecstatic religious experience, and mob violence are among them—in which under certain hard-to-replicate conditions, two or more people seem to become, at least briefly, a single entity that moves and acts with a will of its own. All of those involve a shift from the intellect to a more basic grade of the will, and they lead in directions that will deserve a good deal more examination later on; for now, the point at issue is that the boundary line between self and other can be a little more fluid than we normally tend to assume.

For our present purposes, though, we can set that aside and focus on the body as the part of the world each of us encounters in a twofold way: as a representation among representations, and as a means of expression for the will.  Everything we perceive about our bodies is a representation, but by noticing these representations, we observe the action of something that isn’t a representation, something we call the will, manifesting in its various grades. That’s all there is. Go looking as long as you want, says Schopenhauer, and you won’t find anything but will and representations. What if that’s all there is—if the thing we call "matter" is simpy the most basic grade of the will, and everything in the world thus amounts to will on the one hand, and representations experienced by that mode of will we call consciousness on the other, and the thing that representations are representing are various expressions of this one energy that, by way of its distinctive manifestations in our own experience, we call the will?

That’s Schopenhauer’s vision. The remarkable thing is how close it is to the vision that comes out of modern science. A century before quantum mechanics, he’d already grasped that behind the facade of sensory representations that you and I call matter lies an incomprehensible and insubstantial reality, a realm of complex forces dancing in the void. Follow his arguments out to their logical conclusion and you get a close enough equivalent of the universe of modern physics that it’s not at all implausible that they’re one and the same. Of course plausibility isn’t proof—but given the fragile, dependent, and derivative nature of the human intellect, it may be as close as we can get.

And of course that latter point is a core reason why Arthur Schopenhauer spent most of his life in complete obscurity and why, after a brief period of mostly posthumous superstardom in the late nineteenth century, his work dropped out of sight and has rarely been noticed since. (To be precise, it’s one of two core reasons; we’ll get to the other one later.) If he’s right, then the universe is not rational. Reason—the disciplined use of the grade of will I’ve called the intellect—isn’t a key to the truth of things.  It’s simply the systematic exploitation of a set of habits of mind that turned out to be convenient for our ancestors as they struggled with the hard but intellectually undemanding tasks of staying fed, attracting mates, chasing off predators, and the like, and later on got pulled out of context and put to work coming up with complicated stories about what causes the representations we experience.

To suggest that, much less to back it up with a great deal of argument and evidence, is to collide head on with one of the most pervasive presuppositions of our culture. We’ll survey the wreckage left behind by that collision in next week’s post.


Marcu said...
​It was with great excitement that I read the news of the establishment of the Green Wizard's Tower Prime in the comments last week. Could I inquire, for the historical record, what the German castle in question is?


There will be no meeting of the Green Wizard's Association of Melbourne in February. We are closing for renovations and invite everybody to keep their eyes peeled for news about our March meeting.

Send queries and comments to limitstogrowth1972[at]

P.S. I have created a webpage where I will post the details of the next meeting and any further details for those who don't frequent the comments here. The webpage can be found at

2/15/17, 2:45 PM

drhooves said...
It was easy to follow the logic of limits to a finite world, and how a transition to the end of the industrial age is upon us. It took more effort to understand the backdrop of history, and how the decline and fall of civilizations is also upon us - mostly due to my ignorance of history.

But in spite of the promise of being useful to understand, the last couple of weeks' posts were pretty opaque to me, until the last couple of paragraphs provide a hint at where this philosophy discussion fits "into the big picture". You've done an excellent job of laying the groundwork for a layperson like myself - I think...:-)

2/15/17, 3:13 PM

thenoteswhichdonotfit said...
Okay, I'm curious. Are the results of the studies done on prairie dog language described in this video evidence that prairie dogs have intellect (the ability to think in abstract categories), or merely that prairie dogs think in representations?

2/15/17, 3:14 PM

Brian Kaller said...

I'm enjoying this new course, and interested to see where it will lead - and I'm also enjoying "Retropia," which arrived yesterday in the post.

The idea that the universe is not rational might not have felt that strange to most of our ancestors, who lived in tribal bands or under barbarian warlords, worshipping animist spirits and attributing natural forces to trickster deities. To us, though, it undermines the entire economic and political systems of the Enlightenment. Capitalism assumes a rational choice between purchases, trials assume that barristers can make rational arguments for juries using factual evidence, and voting assumes that we can make rational decisions about candidates' policies and platforms.

Here's a question, though: since you seem to value the blessings of capitalism, fair trials and democracy, and since you work hard making logical arguments to affect people in the world around you, obviously you believe that the world operates on rationality to some extent. Put another way, you seem to believe that the world is out there, can be understood to a point, and that influencing it along rational lines has value. Is that hand-waving away the theoretical problem that you just posed? At some point, don't we have to hand-wave such problems in order to function?

Please let me know if I misunderstood your post, or am being unclear.

2/15/17, 3:16 PM

RogerCO said...
Schopenhauer's grades of will seem to be similar to Schumacher's levels of being. (see A Guide for the Perplexed) and I guess that as with the levels of being there is no reason why further grades of will beyond the intellect should not exist; just that we are unlikely to be able to conceive them except as unexplained disturbances in our representations. Hence spirits, gods etc become possible.

2/15/17, 3:20 PM

JB said...
So if the grades of will include life, consciousness, and intellect, do they also include existence?

2/15/17, 3:29 PM

Matthew Smallwood said...
I sense the ghost of Owen Barfield is also present with this post. I've read the Well of Galabes post on Barfield, and finally bought Saving the Appearances. Couldn't becoming conscious of the "Will" simply be the door which leads to higher levels still? And isn't this what the magico-religious Traditions (in one form or the other, and more ably or less well) have maintained since time immemorial? As a practicing Christian I'm sympathetic to the teachings of panentheism (not pantheism), but I'm also aware that voluntarism is a potential theological pratfall. Just doing some thinking and turning it over. Thanks for the good read!

2/15/17, 3:37 PM

Unknown said...
This is simply superb! Cogent and accessible; bravo!


they’re intelligent only when actively engaged in thinking—which is a lot less often than we generally like to admit.

This made me laugh outright. Thank you JMG, I am so looking forward to next Wednesday.

2/15/17, 3:48 PM

Repent said...
Or maybe the mind doesn't exist at all...that even that the mind is a metaphor and a construction. That their is only consciousness. Not 'I think therefore I am', nor a subtler version 'I am, there for I think' either. But simply 'AM', and in a non-duality universe the "I" ceases to exist at all.

That everything is a manifestation of consciousness, humans, animals, plants, and even non-organic inanimate things are conscious. Non-duality is incomprehensible to humans, but that does not make it unreal.

Consider this argument about the reality of a dog barking in the distance:

All that exists is perception.

2/15/17, 3:56 PM

Jerome Purtzer said...
JMG-Great Post, Thank You! It would be great if people would someday get back to thinking about their relative place in the Universe rather than how to attain the next adrenalin and dopamine rush from uber materialism. I think the near future will allow a lot more time for contemplation when catabolic collapse removes all out toys of distraction.

2/15/17, 3:59 PM

NomadsSoul said...

Thank you for the education and the discussion on Materialism and Idealism.

Terms are always the challenge, especially across cultures and wisdom traditions.

That said, recent neuroscience is exploring these topics and has made some interesting observations and conjectures:

1) free will is an illusion in that fMRI scans show the brain making a decision long before the outcome of the decision is reflected in action by the body.

- so who or what is making the decision?

2) what we call the ego (I, Me, Mine) is orchestrated by a part of the brain called the Default Mode Network (DMN). This network, observable via fMRI, has been correlated with the habitual brain chatter most experience and that most perceive as what and who they are.

- so if the self-referential thoughts humans consider to be their essence or will turn out to be just a sub-program of the mind, what are we at a more fundamental or basic level?

3) the ego (I, Me, Mine) network can be turned off and noted via fMRI. When the DMN is turned off, another network called the Tasking Mode Network (TMN) is activated. This network is about problem solving and is inherently free of self-referential thoughts.

- so what does it mean to experience the world without a dominant DMN and the ego related chatter?

Independent of the neuroscience, some spiritual traditions have shared insights that suggest we are awareness and further that we are a connected awareness. These insights are typically called non-dual in that the concept of a subject and object (representations) no longer have meaning.

So what might be the purpose of this awareness and connected awareness? Some suggest that underlying everything is a universal consciousnesses that seeks to experience itself via the various manifestations of matter, mind and ego. In essence, the universe looking at itself through itself.

To the informative post, seems that Schopenhauer was on the right track as were the eastern philosopher's centuries earlier.

2/15/17, 4:01 PM

Bruno Bolzon said...
JMG, it's merely the second post on this series so far, but I have to say I'm loving it. It has been clarifying a few points that have been foggy in my mind for quite some time. I really expect to get something good out of this. Please keep up the good work! Many thanks.

2/15/17, 4:06 PM

Unknown said...
Any physical scientist worth his or her sodium chloride, to begin with, will tell you that what we habitually call “solid matter” is nearly as empty as the vacuum of deep space

Speaking as a doctor of chemistry, I call shenanigans. While it's common to think of an electron as an infinitely small particle orbiting the nucleus of the atom, under ordinary circumstances an atom's valence electrons are delocalized over a much larger volume. The volume occupied by significant amounts of electron density is usually over 60% of the volume of a solid object. (As you noted, this is rather hard to explain because few people have a good representation of electrons).

2/15/17, 4:22 PM

James M. Jensen II said...
I'm really enjoying this discussion.

I honestly have a hard time getting on board with Schopenhauer. First, his everything-is-will philosophy strikes me as just as reductionistic as everything-is-matter, though it has the great virtue of not being as restrictive as materialism in terms of what it can admit to existing.

Secondly, I keep wondering what the "cash value" of his philosophy is: what are the practical implications? I don't necessarily mean for the everyday lives of non-philosophers, though it would be great if it does have implications in that realm. I mean, even for philosophers, once you have accepted Kant's bomb and given metaphysics and epistemology a decent burial, in what way is Schopenhauer more useful than merely moving on to ethics, mysticism, politics, or art? I suppose he could be useful to mystics, but so would any number of other systems of thought.

Perhaps I just need to knuckle down and read Schopenhauer directly.

(Oh, and would I be correct in assuming that Schopenhauer's pessimism is the other core reason for his contemporary obscurity?)

2/15/17, 4:23 PM

joe finn said...
Another now-neglected philosopher, who drew heavily upon Schopenhauer's "will" as a fundamental concept, was Albert Schweitzer, as elaborated in his "Philosophy of Civilization." Schweitzer criticized Descartes' identification of the naked intellect as the essential fact of existence as an arbitrary choice, observing that one might just as well say that I have a toothache, therefore I exist. Schweitzer claimed that by focusing on the intellectual level of thinking, rather than on the emotional level of pain (or pleasure), Descartes put philosophy on the road to endless abstraction and separation, a direction away from the ethical that was Schweitzer's principal concern. For the good doctor, the primary fact of existence was both concrete and relational: "I am will-to-live(exist) surrounded by other wills-to-live(exist)." Having written his doctoral dissertation on Kant, Schweitzer was well aware of the representational nature of reality, and it would have been interesting if he had dabbled a bit more in epistemology. Abruptly decisive, however, as Schweitzer tended to be, he came to the conclusion that such philosophical speculation bore little relationship to ethics, which could accordingly "let both space and time go to the devil." Would The Archdruid consider the field of ethics for the next series of philosophical explorations (I'm kind of new here, and if this has already been done, forgive me)? Is it possible, for example, to distill even further what Schweitzer determined to be the most elemental and universal ethical principle: reverence for life?

2/15/17, 4:27 PM

Agent Provocateur said...

I have no idea if this is correct:

Will implies desire. You will some different condition because you desire said condition over the present condition. Desire implies consciousness. You need to be aware (to some degree ... even if asleep ... or a plant) of the current condition and the one that could be better.

The general consensus of eastern philosophies is that consciousness or being (take your pick they do not always see a difference) is primary. This is not without its problems though; chief among them is that the term "consciousness" or "being" tends to get expanded to something it is (conventionally) not i.e. the "consciousness" one is not conscious of become the "subconscious" or the "potential for consciousness" or the being that does not exist (but could) is the "unmanifest" etc.

I'm wondering if the same tendency might afflict the use of the term "will" as used by Schopenhauer. For instance, if the thing in itself is will (I think you implied this?), and we are addressing something that is not human, not animal, and not plant, then whose will is it (just as we could ask who is conscious or who exists)? In this case we have perhaps stretched the definition of "will" in the same way "consciousness" or "being" has been stretched.

This doesn't mean Schopenhauer's way of thinking (or the others) is not valid though. I'm just suggesting some caution is advised. When we get down to this level, contrary self reflective loops are endemic a la the Cretan liar paradox.

Wonderful essay as always.

2/15/17, 4:32 PM

Christophe said...
John Michael, are you actually going to show us the exits out of "the giddy funhouse that philosophy has turned into of late?" And I thought your technique of bursting wide false dichotomies by identifying interpretations outside the dichotomy's limited spectrum was a gift beyond measure! Or could the former, in fact, be considered a subset of the latter? How tricky.

Playing with representations ("thinking" in common parlance) would be such a useful tool if aided by a philosophy that did not distort everything in endless funhouse mirrors. What an exciting possibility! Even with every philosophy being an inherently limited representation, being able to escape from the dominant funhouse's array of mirrors and try out one with a different distortion would allow us to play games not available within the funhouse, such as thinking. Many thanks.

2/15/17, 4:47 PM

Ruben said...
Does the metaphor of light as particle or wave mean we can definitely ignore those who say we are inside a computer simulation. Or could the metaphor just be programmed in?

2/15/17, 5:02 PM

Justin said...
I will second Agent Provocateur about consciousness or quiet, directionless being, as a fundamental state. Although it helps to be out in nature or at least somewhere more chaotic than my apartment, I don't find it hard to simply be and let the sensory process (looking at a tree or watching a bird, for instance) occupy my entire mind.

Of course, it doesn't last - thoughts intrude.

If the universe is made of low-energy will - wow - that's quite a thought.

Thank you for this series of posts, JMG.

2/15/17, 5:28 PM

jeffry said...
"will" is just another word for which we each have a model or representation. alternately, we each project upon the word "will" a meaning frequently laden with emotion and judgement.

to make this post sensible to me, i translate "will" to energy/force/movement- the world as verb instead of noun.

2/15/17, 5:45 PM

Kyle said...
This morning I decided to meditate on the law of limits as it applies to myself, from your book Mystery Teachings of the Living Earth. I've done it already, and was planning to clean up a few loose ends, but as soon as I got started it took a completely unexpected trajectory. All I could think about was the concept of "I" and consciousness, where the limits of "I" stand, whether they sometimes join with other things to extend those limits at some benefit and another cost, etc.

Near the end, I got a vivid image of a seed, then a sprout and a plant reaching up toward the sun as if it were trying to join up with some other consciousness to extend the limits of its own experience.

And then this evening, I read this post. Talk about synchronicity.

A lovely introduction to Schopenhauer. I'll be sending these two links to people instead of trying to explain it myself the next time someone asks me about those books.

2/15/17, 5:50 PM

Graeme Bushell said...
Unknown (2/15/17, 4:22 PM),

Unsure if you're trolling, but as you well know, you're talking about the probability density function, which isn't the same thing as the electron. In mass terms, which is how most people conceptualise matter, JMG is absolutely right.


2/15/17, 6:01 PM

Bike Club Vest Prez said...
In college microprocessor class we simulated neurons. If the professors were to be believed, individual neurons work in a predictable and repeatable way. We can simulate arrays of neurons to do some interesting and useful things -- optical character recognition is an example. Maybe they are doing more with it -- it isn't my field. I always wondered where mere calculation transitioned to consciousness. You have claimed that man-made consciousness is not possible, if I understood correctly. Is there some fundamental magic that biology has that silicon cannot replicate? Or that it is just beyond the capabilities of technology? I don't have any particular axe to grind, I just think it is an interesting question. If we cannot create a real consciousness, could we create a philosophical zombie that would be convincing? I don't study philosophy. I am curious to see how someone who does sees the question.

2/15/17, 6:06 PM

Patricia Mathews said...
@Kyle and JMG re plants & will - there was a song way back in the day called "God Bless the Grass," with the line "God bless the grass that's gentle and low,
Its roots they are deep and its will is to grow." Courtesy of Pete Seeger, via Malvina Reynolds.

And JB - I think "existence" is the level of consciousness of a rock. Though many believe that rocks have their own spirits, just like plants and animals and places, the spirit may be a different entity entirely.

And you all had better believe that my cat is a full share of Will!

2/15/17, 6:14 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Marcu, according to the kit label, it's Burg Hornfeld.

Drhooves, good. Stay tuned!

Notes, it certainly suggests that prairie dogs are capable of representing things in complex ways, and might suggest intellect as well. I'm entirely open to the possibility that there are other living things on earth that have gotten to the fourth grade of will, for whatever that's worth.

Brian, excellent! Rather than saying that the world operates on rationality, though, I'd say that rationality does a fairly good job of modeling some aspects of the world as we represent it. It's useful rather than true -- but it can be very, very useful. The difficulties start cropping up when people assume that its usefulness means that it no longer has to be checked against representations to make sure it's not generating nonsense -- which it's also capable of doing. More on this as we proceed!

RogerCO, that's certainly one hypothesis that could be proposed...

JB, I think I said that in the post. Yes, in Schopenhauer's theory, existence is the most basic grade of the will.

Matthew, yes, though that's not really where I'm going with this, as it belongs more to the other blog.

Unknown, you're welcome and thank you.

Repent, hmm. It would be helpful if you'd address the critique of the all-is-perception theory that Schopenhauer made and I brought up: namely, that in the will we encounter something that is not a representation (in your terms, a perception).

Jerome, on the other hand, desperately scrambling to survive doesn't often leave a lot of time for philosophical contemplation...

NomadsSoul, those results of neuroscience could be explained very straightforwardly from a Schopenhauerian perspective. The fact that the brain shows a decision being made before the decision is expressed in action doesn't disprove "free will" -- we're probably going to have to discuss the weird way that the notion of free will has been twisted out of shape in recent discussions, but that's a subject for another time -- it simply shows that there's a lag time between when the will acts and when the effects show up as a representation. Equally, Schopenhauer would agree that the ego is a surface phenomenon -- specifically, it's the representation each of us have of our own character, which is again produced by the deeper reality of the will. More on this as we proceed.

2/15/17, 6:24 PM

Twilight said...
I'm enjoying this discussion, and it's helping to fill in some of the ideas I've been exploring for the last few years now. It was actually in reading some of the ideas expressed by particle physicists that helped me to understand that the matter of which we are made perhaps does not exist in the form we perceive until it is "observed", and yet we as observers are made of those same particles. I see that as meaning all of this we experience as representations may be a persistent illusion maintained by the multitude of consciousnesses (wills?) interacting with it, and in turn that something must exist outside of that frame.

To me, that allows for a "soul" that is immortal, reincarnation, and other concepts that I once could not accept. It is fascinating to see how some physicists and philosophers have ended up in very similar places but by very different paths.

2/15/17, 6:39 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Bruno, you're welcome and thank you.

Unknown, interesting. That wasn't the way things were explained to me in physics class back in the day. I'm going to call on the other scientists who read this blog to comment on this -- yea or nay?

James, you're raising good questions, which we'll be discussing as we proceed further -- and yes, that includes the "cash value." You're right that Schopenhauer's pessimism, or more precisely the way he shoehorns pessimism into a philosophy that doesn't actually call for it, is the other reason he's dropped from sight. Nietzsche's call for a "joyous knowledge" will be coming up on our radar screens in due time.

Joe, I haven't read Schweitzer for a very long time; thanks for the reminder. Yes, we'll be getting into ethics as this sequence of posts proceeds.

Agent, good. What Schopenhauer is saying is that the thing we call "will" is the distinctive manifestation, in our experience as human beings, of the thing-in-itself. Obviously it has qualities in its manifestation in us that are probably not present in its manifestations in rocks and raindrops, for example, and losing track of that is a good way to fall into colorful confusions. One value of the word "will," though, is that it implies that the "stuff" behind all our representations, and ourselves as well, is active rather than passive -- the importance of this will become clear a bit further on.

Christophe, that's the plan! Our first task is to get a good enough working map of the funhouse that directions to the exits will make some kind of sense; then we can talk through the directions; then we can consider ways to put the funhouse in its proper perspective as one of the many entertainments of the carnival of being...

Ruben, I really do have to do a post on the modern electronic Gnostics, don't I? Until we get there, yes, you can ignore them; like the Singularitarians, they're just taking an old religious idea and dolling it up in science fiction drag.

Justin, you're welcome. Schopenhauer spends most of part four of his first book on the states in which the will, as experienced by human beings, becomes quiescent; he sees those states as having immense importance -- and a very good case can be made that he's right. More on this as we proceed! (I know I'm saying that a lot just now, but the can of worms that is Schopenhauerian philosophy wriggles in a vast number of directions.)

Jeffry, and I could say with equal accuracy that "energy/force/movement" is just another phrase for which we have a model or representation. That's why it's important to engage with the experiences I discuss, rather than just trying to cram what I'm saying into some preexisting set of labels, as you've done.

Kyle, glad to hear it. It's when meditations grab the bit in their teeth and go galloping off their own direction that things get really interesting!

2/15/17, 6:48 PM

Greg Reynolds @ Riverbend said...
The particle or wave nature of light depends on how you look at it. If your experiment is constructed to see particles, you will see particles. If it is constructed to see waves, you will see waves. Quantum mechanics on the other hand...


2/15/17, 6:54 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Prez, I don't believe I ever said that human-made consciousness is impossible. I'm pretty sure, following the line of argument Roger Penrose made in The Emperor's New Mind, that current artificial-intelligence research is barking up the wrong stump, and won't succeed in creating consciousness because it has a wholly false idea of what consciousness is -- but that's another matter.

Patricia, Schopenhauer kept poodles -- standard poodles, I think, rather than the little yappy ones -- and I suspect close observation of his poodles helped clue him in to the fact that animals have most of the same emotional and representational capacities that human beings do. Me, I'm fonder of cats, but then I'm not Druidry's answer to Oscar the Grouch. ;-)

Twilight, good. The materialist philosophy that insists that only matter can exist falls to pieces once you realize, by way of physics, philosophy, or the other routes to that discovery, that matter as we normally think of it is the one thing that very definitely doesn't exist!

2/15/17, 6:55 PM

patriciaormsby said...
If I get in a bath of water heated to the level I can barely tolerate, my hands start tingling, and if I close my eyes, I cannot tell where they are. Out floating around in the universe somewhere. But if I move them, suddenly my perception of their position relative to my body returns. It strikes me as a case of will playing a big part in perception.

I've started up a Word file titled "Philosophy" so I can keep track of important definitions and who said what. You sparked my interest.

2/15/17, 6:57 PM

Mark said...
JMG - When I dropped out of college in 1980, sold my car and bought wood working tools, with the will to become a wood worker, one reason I choose wood as a material is because it resists one's will. Things progressed quickly, and in 1981 I had the good fortune to listen to the Dali Lama teach for 2 weeks; since I couldn't be a student of his, I conceived the idea to take wood as my teacher, and I came to see that wood has alot of integrity. A Japanese potter tuned me into feeling or knowing the material through my hands, directly. It might be said that the Tibetan or Himalayan Buddhists use "ritual to change consciousness in accordance with will", which is how you have elsewhere defined magic. I never incorporated any rituals into my daily woodworking - now I see I could have!

I did do some ritual work from the Vajrayana tradition, but I didn't really get the process. My approach might be described as "inconsistent" or even hesitant. Not surprisingly, I now feel like I'm weak willed. Still I can imagine that changing too. (Let's see now, where did I leave the will? I had it just a couple years ago .... )

I really appreciate this and the other blog, you have been very helpful, to many people - many thanks.

2/15/17, 7:01 PM

John Beasley said...

Very interesting post! I hope you won't take it remiss if I note that the very direction that you seem to be pointing to would not be unusual at my alma mater (a small Catholic college, where Schopenhauer was popular), and would be very much in line with Christianity, in the tradition of Sts Paul, Augustine, and Aquinas, who spent no small amount of time talking about the will as the core of being. I'm interested to see if you end up with a similar conclusion as we have, despite coming from a different direction altogether.

In my experience with magic practitioners, there was a lot of focus on developing willpower in the active sense. For instance, I knew a practitioner who would occasionally engage in a known addictive behavior (such as smoking) so that he could exercise his will in not partaking most of the time (it seemed to work for him, after a fashion). In Catholic circles, though, I see a lot more focus on Aristotle's old maxim that "We are what we repeatedly do." For us, there is a focus on developing habits of action so that the good actions penetrate down to our will, and make it easier for us to act virtuously. In your estimation, at what level of consciousness does the will operate, and are we able to affect it purposefully?

2/15/17, 7:18 PM

Yucca Glauca said...
Do you think Schopenhauer's will is very different from Thelema's Will? For that matter, Leibniz's appetition strikes me as being similar, except for the necessity of God matching things up.

If there are finer grades of will that emerge after coarser grades, that seems rather a lot like Peirce. How do you feel about their similarities?

I'm aware that Crowley and Peirce wrote after Schopenhauer, so similarities can be explained as influence. What I'm interested in is if you think those concepts are similar, or if I'm missing the mark on Schopenhauer's will, and if you like or don't like how they took Schopenhauer.

2/15/17, 7:25 PM

Marie K said...
This new series is proving to be absolutely fascinating thus far. Thank you! I’ll have to add Schopenhauer to the reading list.

I’m familiar with the concept of the sentiment of the blade, but I never thought of it as an extension of the boundaries of will before. It makes sense, though. I’m currently studying rapier and longsword with a local SCA group, and, even as a beginner, it’s a little strange how quickly the sense of self extends to include the sword. I was actually amazed at how much sensory information comes through the blade.

I wonder if there is a similar extension of will when an experienced driver drives a car? I have noticed that I am far more acutely aware of subtle differences in engine noise, wind, or traction when I’m driving than when I’m riding as a passenger. And, as some public radio wit pointed out, when people get rear-ended at a stoplight, they’re more likely to say “he hit me” than “his car hit my car.”

If the boundaries of will can be extended to include objects, could they be extended to include, say, a whole room? Another person? Or even just a bubble of space around the body? Hmm.

I’m very much looking forward to the reprinting of your translation of Thibault, by the way. I have a copy pre-ordered.

2/15/17, 7:30 PM

Ray Wharton said...
"There are also certain circumstances—lovemaking, dancing, ecstatic religious experience, and mob violence are among them—in which under certain hard-to-replicate conditions, two or more people seem to become, at least briefly, a single entity that moves and acts with a will of its own. All of those involve a shift from the intellect to a more basic grade of the will"

What about conversation? Once in a rare conversation it reaches a point where the participants become of one will, I have even taken turns speaking an idea co-discovered by myself and another in rapturous conversation. The intellect was fully functional, well as full as ever.

I would grant that such circumstances are fragile and require a great deal of context to be possible, and that they then manifest as a remarkable rush of intensity and expenditure.

When I was in Philosophy department as school such conversations happened several times a year, and when they happened they would be recalled, and even bragged about for months. Great efforts were taken to have more such conversations, but with invoking circumstances favorable to such conversations for hours a day through seeking conversationalists and creating contexts for discussion only a hand full of times was such at state maintained for more that a couple of ideas at a burst.

2/15/17, 7:31 PM

RPC said...
So, if I follow you, we're only aware of our selves when they resist our will? This makes intuitive sense; as I age my body becomes more resistant to my will and I become more aware of my body!

2/15/17, 7:39 PM

Armata said...
Are there only four levels of will? Or might there be higher levels, corresponding to the levels ascribed to deities, angels and other beings traditionally considered to be at a higher level of consciousness than humans? And what about human beings such as saints, sages and others who appear to have reached higher levels of consciousness than normal humans?

2/15/17, 7:53 PM

Nestorian said...
Actually, the resistance of the material world to our will was also one of the arguments Descartes used in the Meditations (I forget which one) to prove the mind-independent reality of the material world. But it is also true that Descartes didn't make an especially big deal of the will on this account.

While we are at it, the cornerstone of Descartes' Meditations, the famous "I think, therefore I am," isn't really original to him. Augustine formulated the same idea in terms of "I doubt, therefore I am" in the early 5th century.

There has always been a lot of reinventing of the wheel going on in Western philosophy. The metaphysics and epistemology to be found in much of Anglo-American analytic philosophy is to a significant extent a rediscovery out of whole cloth of insights and arguments originally developed in the very rich but equally neglected tradition of Medieval philosophy (extending roughly from Augustine to Descartes).

2/15/17, 8:07 PM

Alfredo Vespucci said...
it is incorrect to state that there is a reality outside our minds. It would be correct to state that from a dualistic perspective , there is a reality outside our minds. Western philosophers dwell on the dualistic perspective. Eastern philosophers tend towards the non-dualistic, as in non- dualistic Vedanta.(they also tend to make finer distinctions on this critical point,i.e. dualistic Vedanta, qualified non-dualistic Vedanta , and non-dualistic Vedanta) If we , sitting in our western armchairs, don't familiarize ourselves with the eastern perspective we are like the person that only knows one language and therefore doesn't know a language.
As far as the two examples that obviously determine the reality of duality , consider this example. An infant has more things outside it's mind than a toddler. A teenager has more things outside it's mind than an adult and so on. The adult isn't the final stage of development ,the mind can evolve further.Many yogis, saints and sages have demonstrated this over thousands of years.

2/15/17, 8:10 PM

Austin Levreault said...
This post was really thoughtful I'm going to have to take a couple days to digest it, probably longer. Time is interesting when you think about it from the perspective of Schopenhauer's "will". It's passage is constant but it doesn't always feel constant. That is we perceive time. We know that things can undergo Lorentz contractions under conditions of, great mass, (great will) or fantastic speeds. The slowing of the passage of time near bodies of great mass, says to me that the Will, whatever that is, might be timeless. We know that near the speed of light time slows immensely, M=M_0/√(1-((V^2)/(C^2)) or T=T_0/√(1-((V^2)/(C^2)). Moving from the cold sterile lexicon of physics, empathy, is every bit as much a perspective as mere perspective of location.

I think someone screwed something up in the realm of physics shortly after Einstein made his contribution to physics. At the very least I think there's something fundamental we're missing or have outright wrong. In a sick way, I think that something is what the religion of progress is chasing, perceived as unlimited power. And I feel under no circumstances should the religion of progress be allowed to possess such primal knowledge. However I don't think it's something the religion of progress or materialism can ever posses because empathy, compassion, all the cliched feel good stuff, could be part of the view point needed to know the ether or will.

I'm going to have to meditate on this.

2/15/17, 8:10 PM

Unknown said...
"O(rdinarily) bright dogs!"
A nice complement to one of your favorite exclamations!

2/15/17, 8:20 PM

Brian Burgess said...
This reminds of the apparent epistemologival crisis Mesoamerican philosophy had entered prior to the arrival of the Spanish. The crisis is captured in such lines of Nahuatl poetry as,"Is it true that one truly lives on earth". Curiously, Schopenhauer's Will and Representation sounds so very similar to the Nahua Philisospher's Teotl and the world as being pictures painted by Teotl. Or the idea that reality is made up of masks of Teotl which the human mind mispercieves as Teotl itself.

If only the Spanish had not set fire to the amoxcalli, the libraries of the Aztecs and other Mesoamerican peoples.

2/15/17, 8:24 PM

fdr said...
Interesting read!

My quantum physics is a bit rusty, and I leave it for other commenters to correct, but if I remember correctly, the probability density function (pdf) is the norm squared of the wave function of the electron (despite the name, this "wave function" captures the wave-particle duality). While you technically cannot say the wave function has probability at a certain position (because probability is for the pdf), the wave function does have values different (enough) from zero throughout the material, which for me would suffice for not calling that space between the nuclei vacuum.

In fact, in most materials it's impossible to discriminate between the electrons of one or the other "atoms", the electrons belong to all nuclei together (that's also why a molecule is a molecule and not the sum of several atoms. In high school chemistry, what's called e.g. mesomeric effect are additional rules to cover up the fact that molecules are not atoms dumbly chained together because of misfiring representation.) In metals specifically, the electrons freely roam around. Only for the deeply bounded electrons, it may make sense there to assign them to a specific nucleus.

Doing measurements in quantum mechanics is a topic on its own. (And then try to add the interpretation of space-time to that...)

2/15/17, 8:31 PM

HalFiore said...
This is really great. I'm seeing how Western philosophy relates to the intense immersion of Eastern modes of knowledge I have gotten into in the past.

I have to say, though, that I've never been very comfortable with the term "will" being applied to what you're getting at. For one thing, it carries a strong connotation of the future. More than a connotation, actually, it's right there in the conjugation of most of our verbs. And I just can't come up with any reason why the fundamental core of our knowing and acting should carry that.

It also carries a certain sense of imposing one's personal desires (another meaning of "will" in the English language) or at least our personality on what's "outside" there that strikes me as unnecessarily Germanic in its aggressiveness.

My main teacher for many years in my life, my Chinese martial arts master, used the word "Mind" with the understanding that it is as removed from the activity of the human brain as it is to anything in the world of phenomena or illusion, which is what I believe you and Schopenhauer are calling "representation." He described it exactly as you did, as what happens in that motivating moment that action occurs.

There is some amount of philosophical, religious, and more recently, neurological evidence and reasoning that casts doubt on exactly how free that "will" is, how much its effects can be said to be in the control of the being possessing that will. Whether what you call "will" really resides in the individual or, for that matter, anywhere. And yet, somehow those who are more in "touch," whatever that means, (perhaps "adept" is a better word) do seem to be able to produce better outcomes for themselves than the rest of us, who seem to be at the mercy of a blind, unreasoning reality.

That's the core of my wondering, but I doubt you have in mind in this series of leading us through a process that normally takes many years of devoted study. Thanks for what you are doing, just the same.

2/15/17, 8:38 PM

Renaissance Man said...
"There are also certain circumstances [...] two or more people seem to become, at least briefly, a single entity..."
That paragraph immediately brought to mind a book Trance Zero by Adam Crabtree written in 1999, that defines a trance as any state of concentration and abstraction, so, as you concentrate on this screen, you are to some degree abstracted from the wider world. The greater the focus, the deeper the trance.
He also explores the idea that we live within four levels of trance, beginning with the wider culture into which we were raised and which gives us certain world-views, that I think of every time you talk about the civil religion of Progress, thoughts shared by the society at large and their effect on people in general, and so on.
A social level trance which exists when we are in a crowd, perhaps at a concert, or between two or three other people, perhaps deep in an interesting conversation. He offers examples of people being caught up in the excitement of a group and who find themselves joining in activities they may personally disapprove of or ordinarily wouldn't do. 'Being caught up in the moment' as it were, and directed by a group mind for which no one person is responsible, but which affects everyone at once.
He also talks about the level within our family, that affects how we interact with the world and with the members, basically family baggage.
Lastly, our personal level, the things which interest us.

2/15/17, 8:51 PM

grisom said...
"When a physicist says that light sometimes acts like a particle and sometimes like a wave, what she’s saying is that neither of these two metaphors fits more than a part of the way that light behaves, and we don’t have any better metaphor available.... the kind of mismatch between mind and world that leaves physicists flailing."

Oof. No, no, no. We have an extremely good metaphor: light acts almost exactly like these differential equations. Explanations for laypeople end up saying terribly confused-sounding things about particles and waves because to understand the actual model you have to learn a lot of calculus. But the physicists themselves are not flailing, not at this particular thing.

(See also this comic making the same point about "space-time"!)

I do understand what you're getting at, though.

A better example from physics might be fluid dynamics: put a cup of water into a bowl and slosh it around for a while, looking at the patterns it forms.

Now, we know in considerable detail the quantum-mechanical laws governing subatomic particles, and we can even use them to predict the behaviour of entire water molecules, with some difficulty. But for a whole cup of water? Now you have around eight septillion water molecules interacting with each other in complicated ways. The math is just completely beyond us. We have managed to work out some equations describing some aspects of how water moves, but we've built them on a different set of abstractions, discovered independently from quantum mechanics, and they're still very incomplete. Water is mysterious.

"Fans of Sesame Street can think of him as philosophy’s answer to Oscar the Grouch."

Oh ho, I thought that was Diogenes! ;)

In other news, I want to put together an argument that this whole idea of "the truth of things" or "the thing-in-itself" is actually kind of incoherent, but perhaps that's jumping ahead to a certain Herr N.!

2/15/17, 9:18 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Greg, that is to say, if you do one kind of experiment, you get behavior that seems to resemble the metaphor we call "particles;" if you do a different kind, you get behavior that seems to resemble the metaphor we call "waves."

Patricia, that's a very good example. Another, somewhat simpler, along the same lines is to ask someone how their nose feels. The moment before the question got asked, were they aware of their nose?

Mark, thank you. As for rituals in woodworking, if you're approaching the wood as your teacher, it seems to me that woodworking itself is a ritual.

John, I'll be interested to see what you think of the direction this discussion ends up going! As for the level of consciousness at which the will functions, to my mind that's putting things exactly backwards, since consciousness is one of the levels or grades of will. The practical dimension of your question, though, can be answered easily enough by reference to the relative fragility of the different grades of will: the higher the grade, the more fragile the effect. Thus if your act of will is only at the level of the intellect, it's probably not going to do much -- and which of us haven't experienced purely intellectual resolutions being brushed aside by the force of habit or passion! Get it down to the level of representation and it becomes less easy to dislodge; get it all the way down to the unthinking levels of the self, by way of establishing habits and the like, and it becomes all but immovable.

Dion Fortune talks approvingly about the way that once daily meditation becomes a habit, skipping a meditation leaves you as off balance as skipping a meal -- and she's quite correct, of course. So you can work with will at any level you wish, depending on how enduring you want the effects to be.

Yucca, it's been a very long time since I last read Peirce, and I'd have to review him in detail to be able to answer that part of your question. As for Crowley, well, I'm not a fan -- rather the opposite, in fact -- and so my view may be jaundiced; but it seems to me that any influence from Schopenhauer got pretty thoroughly garbled on the way through Crowley's mind (and other organs). "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law" is nonsense from a Schopenhauerian standpoint; if will is the thing-in-itself, the reality of which all representations are appearances, then how can you not do what thou wilt? To my mind, Crowley was drawing instead on Victorian notions of willpower; it's just that where the Victorians used willpower to resist temptation -- well, at least in theory -- Crowley used it to pursue temptation as fast as his legs would carry him. To my mind, that's not a useful difference.

2/15/17, 10:52 PM

Mark In Mayenne said...
Hi Mr Greer, you might think I'm mad but this is my truth.

First, imagine you are in quiet countryside. Suddenly you hear church bells and with the awareness of the sound comes the réalisation that this is the third of fourth chime that has occurred.

I can recall the awakening of my consciousness in the womb, and it was like the church bells. An awareness coupled with a sense of time and memory that told me that I had been conscious before, that there was a connection between the consciousnesses and the connection was me. I experienced excitement at this discovery.

I'm not sure I had any will at this time since I had no idea that I could make anything happen;this idea came later, so I find it hard to accept that consciousness derives from will, unless I have misunderstood the concept.

2/15/17, 11:17 PM

Stephen Heyer said...
Hmm… I thought I had a skimpy but workable idea of philosophy… It appears not.

Rather, it seems that I have just enough of a grasp to allow me to follow what John Michael Greer is saying just well enough to make my head hurt. Looks like I am going to have to study what he is writing for some time.

On the other hand, he seems to have the gift of explaining complex, detailed things in a short and easily understood manner. Unlike me I have to add, my Susan tells me I waffle on at length mixed with frequent data dumps that leave my audience in stunned confusion.

Good work John!

P.S. The Flow Batteries we discussed some time ago as maybe softening the Long Descent and perhaps making the final destination a nicer place seem to be getting better and better.
Evidently a new flow battery stores energy in organic molecules dissolved in neutral pH water. This chemistry allows for a non-toxic, non-corrosive battery with an exceptionally long lifetime and lower costs of production. See below.

Stephen Heyer

2/15/17, 11:17 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Marie, I can't answer the question about driving, as I've never had a driver's license. I know from martial arts experiences, though, that it's quite possible to feel things at a pretty fair distance even when there's nothing but empty air between you and your partner. Glad to hear you're interested in Thibault, btw; when I first self-published the initial eight chapters, one of the first copies was snapped up by an SCA rapier fencer, who used the basic techniques to nail a whole series of white-sashed individuals (to their intense annoyance, I might add). It really is elegant stuff.

Ray, that's another good example, yes.

RPC, excellent! What do you mean by the word "ourselves," though?

Armata, that's certainly a direction in which inquiry could be carried out... ;-)

Nestorian, I won't argue a bit. Medieval philosophy has gotten a bum rap, and deserves much more respect than it's usually given.

Alfredo, on the level of the absolute, no doubt -- in Schopenhauer's terms, there is only will -- but none of us experience that level, you know, and in terms of the world you and I and the nearest stray poodle experience, there's value in the distinction between inside and outside the mind. As for your metaphor of infants, children, etc., sure -- but notice that there's a finite number of things added to the mind at each stage, and an infinite number of things in the universe. By your own argument, that would mean that an infinite number of stages of maturation would be needed in order to reach a state where everything is within the mind...

Austin, good. I'd agree that physics has gone rattling down a blind alley, but that's a topic for a different time.

Unknown Jonathan, funny! You're quite right, of course.

Brian, fascinating. I know essentially nothing about Mesoamerican philosophy, but it would follow from Spengler's thesis that it would have followed the same course as the other great traditions, including the same face-first collision with the limits of human knowledge that all philosophy has to face.

Fdr, interesting. Thank you.

HalFiore, do you happen to know which Chinese word for "mind" your teacher was thinking of? If it was yi (as in Hsing-Yi Ch'uan,) my understanding is that it has some of the same connotations of intention and direction as will, to the extent that some people translate yi "mind-will" or "intention." As for the location of the will, its character, and so on, we'll get to that.

Renaissance, interesting. The whole question of trance probably needs to come into this discussion in due time.

Grisom, fair enough; I don't speak mathematics, so will have to take your word for it. Certainly, though, when physicists try to communicate what they've found to the rest of us, they do seem to flail. As for the incoherence of the idea of the "thing in itself," all in good time!

2/15/17, 11:24 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Mark, who said you had, or have, will? If Schopenhauer's right, you are will -- and it's entirely possible that the will-that-is-you could have woken suddenly to self-awareness, though the womb seems like an odd place to do it.

Stephen, you very likely do have a good grasp of philosophy; I'm just coming at it from an unfamiliar and unpopular angle, as I usually do. ;-)

2/15/17, 11:28 PM

earthworm said...
JMG said: "As far as anyone knows, plants aren’t conscious—that is, they don’t experience a world of representations the way that animals do"

Have you read the book by Stefano Mancuso and Allessandra Viola?
'Brilliant Green - The surprising history and science of plant intelligence'

It is very short, but thought provoking nonetheless.

From the Forward by Michael Pollan:
"Most people who bother to think about plants at all tend to regard them as the mute, immobile furniture of our world - useful enough, and generally attractive, but obviously second-class citizens in the republic of life on earth. It takes a leap of imagination over the high fence of our self-regard to recognise not only our utter dependence on plants, but also the fact that they are considerably less passive than they appear, and in fact are wily protagonists in the drama of their own lives - and ours.

Brilliant green will give you a bracing boost over the fence and put you down in a place where everything - ourselves included - suddenly looks complewtely different"

ISBN-10: 1610916034
ISBN-13: 978-1610916035

2/16/17, 12:43 AM

lordyburd said...
Dear Mr.Greer
Forgive me if this question seems simplistic.
I don't understand how the will as act of representing, or acting towards a goal, as exhibited in your hand-wiggling experiment, implies the will as the basic reality of everything, especially what we call 'inanimate matter'. How is the act of will I that infer from wiggling my fingers show that the quantum probability waves and what-not of matter is also will? I can't seem to connect the experiment to the conclusion 'all is will'.

Mohsin Javed

2/16/17, 12:50 AM

Brigyn said...
Dear Archdruid,
first of all, I am thoroughly enjoying this foray into philosophy! I took philosophy in (the equivalent of) highschool. Having read most your work as well as most of these authors, I find it very interesting to read your take on them.

Second, As Graeme Bushell pointed out, Unknown doctor of chemistry is arguing either semantics, or a strawman.

(Basically, assuming the particle model, an electron can theoretically be in many places, thus the potential distribution of all free electrons in an object together cover a large part of an object. Emphasis on theoretical and potential.
To make a crude metaphor, this would not be unlike rolling a few grains of rice around in a cement-mixer, and claiming that since the grains can potentially be anywhere within the mixer, the entire mixer is covered - it is only covered in probability. For all intents and purposes your understanding is correct, i.e. when dealing with actual masses, sizes and distances within the particle model.)

Looking forward to next week's post.
Kind regards,

2/16/17, 1:01 AM

Spanish fly said...
I was 8 years old when I was told at school by my teacher how movies were made: thousands of photos put together one after the other. Then I realized: Eyesight is not necessarily reality...

2/16/17, 1:20 AM

Albatross said...
Hello again Mr. Greer,

Having been a regular reader of your since 2011 I’ve been wanting to share this subjective ‘deep’ inner experience I had once as I was doing The Yoga. Might be the present discussion on philosophy would be a relevant place?

Yes, once while doing my regular routine of deep meditation I had one of those ‘deep’ experiences that somehow throw a bit of light on the workings of the mind. Four very distinct changes occurred. At that particular session I sat down in a comfortable yoga position with my head rolling free on top of my shoulders and began a simple process of distracting the thinking process (when it is distracted enough it goes away) by the effortless use of a simple ‘mantra’* (a word-sound of no inherent meaning).

Alright, so I close my eyes, sit for a while, I start noticing thoughts and after a while I just add the word-sound to the flow of thinking … an’ into The Deep I go! What happened this time was that as my mind relaxed and settled I suddenly had the thought “Where are my hands?”. Um? This is quite a common experience during the process of meditation. I wasn’t sure if I had them beside me or in my lap. Well “whatever”, I said (thought) to myself, “doesn’t matter.” I knew very well that I was doing a dive into my inner depths, nothing to worry about, I’d but have to open my eyes and verify the location of them hands. But why bother as I’m safe in my meditation posture, so I continued.

After a little while (as thinking grew more distracted, disjointed thoughts an’ all, the mantra sometimes there, sometimes not) I suddenly had the thought “Where am I? In my living room at home? In my bedroom? Somewhere else? Hm? I didn’t know, but I knew I but had to open my eyes to verify the surroundings, and yet I felt no need to do so, just a slight urge which I just let go of by not opening my eyes, and I added just a slight attention to the word-sound and off deeper I am towards that unspecified ‘inner’ field.

Then after a while I suddenly had the thought “When is this?” Um? What year? Well no bother I thought, I can open my eyes to check. But why step out of the process? So I stayed, not opening my eyes. Everything about the inner field had now grown slightly fuzzy, thoughts becoming hazy, drifting away by themselves. (The easy effortless use of the mantra is thus distracting the thought flow up to a point where thinking seemingly doesn’t bother trying to catch my attention anymore.)

Then the fourth stage arrived. I suddenly had the thought “What is my name?” Um?? I knew I know my name, but, but, nothing came. “Open your eyes and check,” the lure of thinking said to me, but why would I bother. I am having a break from activity, no reason to break the inward progression, I’ll remember when I finish this session. And that I did of course.

After this fourth distinction arrived I flowed out into something I of course cannot put my finger on. Any attempt to do so would have shattered this subtle experience of being here, there, everywhere, and nowhere at the same time. I stayed in that ‘undefined’ state for almost an hour … the clock told me so when I came out of it all

As I was sitting in a good position my mind sort of stayed awake (I didn’t have to reference the awakity, so to say :) ) with absolutely nothing to fill it, not even nothingness. An’ it felt good. Coming out of this state was quite blissful, I was feeling refreshed, oh so refreshed!

So what happened? I must have traversed the mental categories of thing, place, time, and ego. These really being quite illusive experiences I realized afterwards as I contemplated my dive into The Deep.

*“The word ‘mantra’ stems from the Sanskrit verbal root ‘man’ meaning “to think, ponder”.
The suffix ‘tra’ indicates instrumentality.”
“The Spiritual Heritage of Ancient India”, Feuerstein, Kak och Frawley , 2001, p. 189.

2/16/17, 2:05 AM

Albatross said...
This comment has been removed by the author.

2/16/17, 2:08 AM

Unknown said...
Marie K, your car analogy is on the mark, but on a motorcycle the experience is a whole order of magnitude more intense. In daily use both are there but limited. Get competitive and it can become quite surreal. The vehicle becomes an extension of your being and your senses incorporate the feedback from it automatically

I will discuss the experience of horse riders with my neighbour who was a cutting horse competitor and martial artist over the weekend. I suspect it will be an interesting conversation about whose will does what.

2/16/17, 2:14 AM

Robert Mathiesen said...
In addition to the sense of the blade and the sense of the car as an extension of one's own being (or one's own sphere of proprioception), there is a sense of the lockpick and tension wrench. You can explain to novices the theory of picking a pin-tumbler lock and the proper use of the lockpick and the tension wrench, and no matter how hard they try to apply what they've just learned, the lock will not open for them. Have them put on a blindfold and try again, and often as not the lock pops open almost on the first attempt. -- Shut down sight, and unused senses wake up. (Shut down hearing, too, and the senses wake up even more. Refuse to use words at all for a while, even inside one's own head, and other useful things wake up, too.)

When I teach the sort of magic I learned growing up in my family, I often start with lock-picking, which requires transgressing not just the norms of our conventional society -- it's a kind of forbidden knowledge --, but the norms of how we use our senses and our bodies to affect the world in which we live. Another magical teacher might, I dare say, start by teaching a novice the art of the sword, with much the same effect.

Another early lesson I teach early-on is the art of cold-reading, as developed by stage magicians and con-artists. Cold reading equally counts as "forbidden knowledge." Much forbidden knowledge involves learning to wake up senses and develop abilities that one is not supposed to possess at all, or even that are not supposed to exist at all, even as possibilities.

I suppose that might count as "altering consciousness in accord with will," but when you toss Dion Fortune's definition of magic around, most people hear that part of it as meaning "expanding consciousness ..." just in the sense that a psychedelic can expand consciousness. That's far too narrow a meaning, and one that limits a magician's reach.

The "self" is a very tricky thing, indeed. In my own experience, drawing on the magic I learned as a boy, a body has many more than one self, though most of the selves sleep soundly in most people. (Even the selves that are awake are usually very drowsy.) A magician needs to explore her many selves, learn how to wake them up from their slumbers and also how to put them back to sleep. These selves have different abilities, different strengths and weaknesses. The more of one's selves one gets to know, the more one becomes able to shape one's own life into a thing of beauty and strength.

2/16/17, 2:41 AM

Cherokee Organics said...

"that meant in practice, of course, that a philosopher could simply treat whatever abstractions he fancied as truths that didn’t have to be proved; after all, he’d intellectually intuited them—prove that he hadn’t!"

I've heard that particular story before. Didn't Carl Sagan attempt that trick by claiming that somehow extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence? Of course it is not polite to speak ill of the dead (they may come back and get us after all!) but I did also note that he retained the right to determine what was extraordinary and what was not and was not allowing himself to be subject to such a harsh critique.

Spin, spin, spin. That is the sound of my head spinning around and around with all of the many ideas that you wrote about this week. Of course that unfortunate child in the Exorcist film pulled that trick too and it didn't work out so well for them either! I will have to re-read your essay.

So the thing I don't understand is how can we as humans know that we are the only ones with life, consciousness, and intellect? It seems a very big call to me to suggest that that is in fact the case.

And the other thing that comes to mind is I suspect that we can exercise a little bit of independent will on matter, but not nearly as much as we would believe if questioned on the subject. I've often had the sneaking suspicion that a lot of people (not everyone and not all of the time either) are operating on what I call auto-pilot a lot of the time and where is the free will in that? Auto-pilot is a huge collection of cultural programming and narratives, although I'm probably far off the mark with my thinking in that regard.

Does it matter that I am not overly concerned that matter as an incomprehensible and insubstantial reality, a realm of complex forces dancing in the void? Beautiful imagery incidentally. I enjoy and can live comfortably with mystery. Dunno.



2/16/17, 3:00 AM

Pseudo-Intellectual Manlet said...

This may have been mentioned by another commenter, but you've constructed a straw man that doesn't really describe most modern materialists. Their conception of matter is much more sophisticated than Newtonian billiard balls knocking each other around. They fully allow for all kinds of quantum weirdness and exotic states of matter that the wizards who work in theoretical physics departments have dreamed up.

I happen to disagree with Schopenhauer's metaphysics, on the basis that I distrust any philosophy based purely on another person's introspection. A century of experience in psychology and neuroscience should have taught us that people's intuitions aren't as reliable as we think, especially when it comes to questions involving the ultimate nature of reality. Perceptions and impressions that seem 'obvious' and 'natural', such as those that underlie feelings of intentionality and consciousness, are something that the brain works very hard to generate, and we know a lot more about how it does it than we did in the 1830s.

On the subject of consciousness, have you ever chanced upon Colin McGinn's book The Mysterious Flame? He goes through all the current theories about the nature of consciousness, from reductive materialism to idealism and panpsychism, and finds them all lacking. His position has been described as 'mysterianism': that the brain generates conscious states in a way that we're fundamentally unequipped to understand.

2/16/17, 3:06 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi Scotlyn,

Thank you for sharing your story last week and I enjoyed reading it. If it means anything to you, I believe females should be taught how to defend themselves physically - although I am probably in the minority on that front. I too have had to brave public transport way back in the day and have had to learn to deal with aggressive drunks and just general loutish behaviour. I've noticed that pretending that it does not exist, does not make it go away. And absolutely too about how you carried yourself defiantly as that would have set the tone for your encounters.

Hi Armata,

Thanks for saying that last week. The environment down here is fragile enough that it leaves little room for error, although many people forget that.



2/16/17, 3:08 AM

peakfuture said...
This is all great stuff; a far more readable tract on philosophy than most of are probably used to reading.

Of these, which philosophical worldview(s) help(s) frame things in Retrotopia (Lakeland vs. The Atlantic Republic), or in a world like Star's Reach? Since the big Science stuff has gone away (but their effects are readily apparent), what philosophies will come to the forefront? My guess is we will look to the past for some answers (i.e. after the fall/decline of other societies), but in what way will things be different going forward? Will the philosophy of a Ruinman be different than one in the Radio Guild?

Will any (if any!) philosophical worldview help smooth things out in our transition from Now to wherever we wind up?

2/16/17, 3:34 AM

sandy said...
Hi John Michael. Thanks for this week's careful introduction and explanaton of epistemology.

What I remember from statisticl thermodynamics class is the electron cloud probability Theory with lots of space between all the particles.

The Ashtavakra Gita, a classical Advaita Vedanta scripture, insists on complete unreality of the external world and absolute oneness of existence. It does not mention any morality or duties, and therefore is seen by commentators as'godless'.

One verse-I am a tranquil Lake of shining awareness in a forest of dark illusion. I am that am I.

The 'I' above is the consciousness that never sleeps and probably Schopenhauer’s 'will'.

Off topic factoid. We have exceeded the velocity of light since 1945 ...

Cherenkov Radiation, the blue glow around an underwater nuclear reactor,is caused by a charged particle moving through a medium faster than light would in that same medium.

Pearce M. Schaudies.
Minister of Future

2/16/17, 4:29 AM

sandy said...
@marie- I wonder if there is a similar extension of will when an experienced driver drives a car?

* well when I drove a big Suzuki motorcycle for 10 years I had the distinct impression that I was the motorcycle and I think it helped me stay alive too haha.

Pearce M. Schaudies.
Minister of Future

2/16/17, 4:40 AM

Phil Harris said...
OK, locating the will is something for later.

Here is my little story held over from last week. It seems to fit in. The night before I read last week’s post I experienced a dream/disturbance. As it developed in intensity I heard my wife telling me to wake up. But I was too busy resisting whatever – perhaps farm animals – trying to come through a door I was trying to keep shut. Nothing unusual about the metaphor and etc., but I must have been particularly noisy. This dual state went on for more than a few seconds, until ‘my will’ clicked in and made the move into waking. I responded to the external signal.

Perhaps also of significance: many years ago during a phase requiring intense introspection I realised that ‘cause and effect’ was not what it seemed and that C&E had no convincing intellectual explanation, or at least not a material one. I still struggle with this undermining. I never made enough effort to even begin to feel familiar with logic of quantum mechanics. Me and my stray poodle (h/t JMG comment somewhere upstream) have to get along with our approximations.

Phil H

2/16/17, 4:51 AM

Sven Eriksen said...
Ah... "vulto ergo sum", then. Always kinda knew this deep down.

2/16/17, 5:33 AM

Scotlyn said...
It strikes me that there is a bit of chauvinism involved in the idea of "grades of will". It seems a sneaky way to imply that humans are somehow separate/superior to the rest of life, and to endow ourselves with an "extra" grade of will.

Whereas, it seems to me that the relationship between Schopenhauer's "grades" can be just as accurately understood using a metaphor based on fractals.

For example:
"For example, each of us stops being conscious for some hours out of every day, whenever we go to sleep. During part of the time we’re sleeping, we experience nothing at all; during another part, we experience the weirdly disconnected representations we call “dreams.” Even in dreamless sleep, though, it’s common for a sleeper to shift a limb away from an unpleasant stimulus. Thus the will is active even when consciousness is absent."

To my mind, the will that shifts a limb in sleep is simply not the same will that moves that limb through a day's worth of purposes. The first is nested within the second, a conscious (to itself) sub-body system that consciously keeps watch in a sense not accessible (therefore "unconscious") to the whole-body that sleeps, and both could be nested within a third, via the same process you described later on here:

"There are also certain circumstances—lovemaking, dancing, ecstatic religious experience, and mob violence are among them—in which under certain hard-to-replicate conditions, two or more people seem to become, at least briefly, a single entity that moves and acts with a will of its own."

I don't think such composite, willed, single-entities made of smaller willed sub-units are that hard to replicate, because I believe that *I* am exactly such a being.

The effects *my* will has on the world are primarily effected by the motions of *my* body, yet I cannot will my pancreas to produce more insulin, for example. I do believe that the cells which take charge of insulin production and release do so consciously and in accordance with *their* individual wills and informed by *their* representations of their purposes/environments/circumstances, in which *I* appear as, perhaps, a distant rumble of thunder, if at all.

That will, purpose, consciousness and action can arise just as easily and completely from single agents or composite agents, is reflected in Donald D Hoffman's equation: 1+1=1. The composite will can act as one, without changing the fact that the component wills can continue to act as many.

Hoffman also uses the term "user interface" when discussing representation, and this usage makes a lot of sense to me. If you had to comprehend every aspect of how electron gating and pixel storage worked inside your computer it would quickly become non-functional for you. But if there is an image (representation) of a folder in the left hand corner of a screen activated by a complicated dance of lights, and you interact with that image, it allows you to do something useful, in accordance with your will. You can use it to open the draft of your letter to your beloved, for example, and labour over it some more.

If representations (in Schopenhauer's sense) are user-friendly interfaces to the world, that enable a will to move forward and accomplish its purposes within it, then they are both useful and true, despite being "false" in almost every way. (your computer contains nothing at all that resembles a folder, or a love letter, after all).

2/16/17, 6:13 AM

Bruce E said...
Thank you for the last two very enjoyable posts on the philosophical subjects. You have a talent for boiling down these fairly abstruse concepts into immediately available tropes -- in a way you are like Greg Louganis and you make this stuff seem easier than it actually is!

I struggle with the immediacy of our experience of the will, the non-reflective way we experience it. I think it is because every time the term, "will," shows up, the moral and ethical philosophers want to talk about its freedom (or lack thereof). They construct a scenario with your wiggling fingers and say, "I see my finger go up, in accordance with my intentions to move it in that direction. I could have moved it down, or to the right, had I so chosen to do so. I can imagine a scenario where I intended my finger to go up and it didn't move at all, or moved downward, or to the left, and the effect of such an event on my emotions surrounding how I've come to rely on control over my fingers."

Of course, this thought experiment trying to tease out the nature of freedom of intention, and conflating the intention with the will itself, recasts our immediate experience of the will in a reflective sense and turns it into a representation, which is the source of the confusion. The language reflects this. When the finger moves in the direction you intended it to move, "I moved my finger upwards." When the finger moves in a direction that doesn't accord to how you remember your intention, "my finger moved downwards," shifting the source of the will from "I" to "my finger."

Good stuff. Looking forward to next week.

2/16/17, 6:18 AM

Greg Belvedere said...
I'm enjoying this series of posts.

I think I have mentioned to you before (probably on the other blog) that the contortion some modern philosophers twist themselves into is that consciousness is an illusion. Daniel Dennet is the main proponent of this idea. This has always struck me as ridiculous since consciousness seems like the one thing I can know for sure. Though this week's blog has made me see that will is more primary. These might not be the best metaphors, but denying consciousness/will seems like saying, "words don't exist" "or "I can't type". I have not read Consciousness Explained, but the critiques I have read of it make me think he deals with "the hard problem" (the description you have sketched out of will and consciousness) with a lot of hand waving by insisting the problem does not exist.

After reading last week's blog I thought of your classifications of art and the extent to which it it applies to philosophy. I can't come up with low brow and kitsch (perhaps The Secret fits in there), but Heidegger is definitely high brow trash and Derrida is warhol. I tried reading Heidegger and came to the same conclusion as you. When I read Derrida I actually found some of it enjoyable, because I did not take it seriously. It is more like Discordian poetry than philosophy. It seems to me like he was playing with the confusion in the field and poking fun at it which I enjoy, even if it was not very useful in terms of being actual philosophy. I have an amusing story about my encounter with Derrida's writing that I might share at some point if it seems relevant. Perhaps when you get to talking about some of the consequences of ignoring Kant.

Speaking of Kant, critique of pure reason's discussion of antinomies influenced me a lot when I was younger and helped me break out of some of the rational grid lock that can occur when two people have equally rational arguments on different sides of an issue.

2/16/17, 6:41 AM

Violet Cabra said...
Last week I picked up a copy of Scripts People Live by Claude M. Steiner after I saw you mention it in a response. what a mind blowing read! Games People Play is in the mail. Mr Steiner goes into quite a bit of detail about the structure of the psyche; discussing in depth the Natural Child, Little Professor, Pig Parent, Adult and Nurturing Parent. These are all different voices in the head and all of them can be cathected, ie lead to physical action being expressed. will is often talked about as singular, but it appears to me as structurally a bit more complex since each organ of the psyche has its own distinct voice and causes different sorts of actions in the world. Or maybe will is less of an organ and more of a membrane which the various impulses generated by the organs of the psyche have to pass through it in order to translate in action.

It seems a distinctly important question of psychic anatomy whether there is one will within the individual or various wills that compete to become manifest in the world, at least in terms of endogenous will(s). With external wills influencing an individual will they seem like they would manifest through various organs based on degrees of structural resonance; Natural Child would be the conduit for religious experience coming through a deity, Little Professor would be where people exert dream logic on another or ghosts would enter, Adult would be where concepts are exerted and Nurturing Parent would be where new moral codes could perch. Of course the Pig Parent is a tape recording of the will exerted on the maturing child by caretakers. This is a sloppy correspondence, but I think highlights the argument for several discrete wills rather than a singular one. This too would then have broad applicability in healing and magic; rather than a blunt will there could be a more pointed application to the correct organ. This is at least my current understanding based on my readings and reflections, I'm curious for your thoughts John Michael Greer and other experienced mages and philosophers.

2/16/17, 7:05 AM

Unknown said...
Oddly (at least to me), I just did a refresh study on Schopenhauer just a few months ago. I must say that your presentation on him was one of the best I have ever read. When I was an undergrad philosophy student, after I independently started to read him, I was actually discouraged to study him by the then controlling linguistic-oriented philosophy teachers as they thought he was confused with an imprecise use of words. In retro spec, I find that claim to be preposterous. I wished I had not listened to them and read him more thoroughly as a young man as I seriously believe that I would have had a much more peaceful life with his ideas firmly in my mind. As it is, I am glad I didn't miss Arthur Shopenhauer(or John Michael Greer) altogether.

2/16/17, 7:10 AM

Donald Hargraves said...
John, Marie, as to experiencing changing borders while driving:

During my first 4-6 months of driving a taxi in Lansing, Michigan; I experienced my consciousness expanding to fill the space of the vehicle (usually an '80s era Chevy Caprice) over the course of a couple of weeks. Not something I necessarily strived for, but I definitely welcomed it from the start (having sensed it necessary without stating it as so in my mind).

2/16/17, 7:23 AM

Phil Knight said...
Another great philosopher who comes to mind when thinking about the will is W.C. Fields, who once observed that "life is always 5/4 against you."

i.e. the existence of the will necessitates at least a partially hostile environment for it to work against. I'm generally in agreement with Fields, in that I consider Planet Earth as being roughly 55% hostile.

Of course, the most powerful force in the cosmos is entropy, and this is ultimately what the will works against - the second law of thermodynamics.

2/16/17, 7:28 AM

Andrew said...
JMG, I've read a lot of and about Schopenhauer and your last two posts are among the very best explanations of his thinking I have come across. Thank you, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.

An observation if I may. His conception of Will as 'the most basic grade of matter' (as you elegantly put it) is similar to a way of thinking about how the Tao Te Ching describes the Way or Tao. As Schopenhauer goes on to assert that everything we see is a representation of one fundamental underlying Will, the Tao can be read to describe the world as 'hidden but always present.' Meister Eckhart got to a similar place from the medieval Christian mystical tradition too, which is interesting, as did the Neoplatonists. (Of course, Schopenhauer's Will has the slightly terrifying sense of being an urge, but I'm not too sure about that).

Looking forward to the next posts.

2/16/17, 7:42 AM

zaphod42 said...
Okay... let's get back to the early Greeks. Parmenides: "What is, is." And, of course, Democritus: atomic theory. No more really need be said. Arguments about free will, and how things can move at all, are specious after these wonderfully bright stars shone on the discipline of Philosophy. After that, it's all a joke. What is the difference, after all, between Berkeley and Hume? Don't know? No matter. Never mind.

Most problems with philosophers happen when someone adopts one on which to base his or her political or economic theory. Just as similar problems ensue when using a scientific theory as basis for such, physics simply being a sophisticated subset of metaphysics, after all.

It becomes self evident that reality based, "rational" minds are incapable of articulating abstract thoughts. Because, you see, we are all, each of us, 'stuck' in our own minds.

Just my view, and I could be wrong of course.


2/16/17, 8:14 AM

shrama said...
Dear JMG,

Everything was going swimmingly well in this essay till I reached your third last paragraph and then I had to gasp in disbelief. Et tu JMG! You too feel the need to prop up Schopenhauer's (and yours) philosophy by claiming closeness to the so-called vision of modern science i.e. quantum mechanics. There are way too many pitfalls here but one of the easiest to point out is that the "vision of modern science" after all is scientific materialism. Are you suggesting then that Schopenhauer's philosophy is close to that?

What Grisom said in his comment is quite accurate - the mathematics of quantum mechanics is incomprehensibly complex, and yet is unbelievably accurate in its prediction of behavior at the quantum level. No philosophical problem arises because we do not know the nature of fundamental
particles - if knowing is the same as having a mathematical model then we know them very well indeed. For example, there is nothing uncertain about the Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle - please see the first few paragraphs of the Wikipedia entry on the Uncertainty Principle to understand what I am saying. These are mathematically very well defined phenomena.

A philosophical problem arises because one cannot extrapolate from the microscopic quantum level to the macroscopic without a whole lot of hand waving (and simplifying assumptions). In other words, the complexity of life we experience cannot be deduced from the mathematics of the so-called fundamental level.

I do not know if Schopenhauer's philosophy is or isn't comparable to the vision of modern science. Given that both are reductionist it is always possible to say one is similar to the other. But while quantum mechanics is precise, will, consciousness, life, et al are, as Grisom implies, imprecise and incoherent. What happens when you draw a similarity between a precise entity and one that is fuzzy and ill understood ? The precise entity will walk away with the prize which in this case is the "nature of reality". When that happens (as it has happened), your case against a rationalistic world view is weakened considerably since the precise mathematics was the result of rational thought after all.

2/16/17, 8:26 AM

Ryan M. said...

Thank you for this series, I am really thoroughly enjoying it!

Here's a question I have: you said "If he’s right, then the universe is not rational. Reason—the disciplined use of the grade of will I’ve called the intellect—isn’t a key to the truth of things." How then would Schopenhauer account for the phenomenon known as "the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics"? ("unreasonable" here obviously being used in a different sense..)

In the math classes I teach, I often tell the story of Evariste Galois--a tragic, fascinating figure in the history of math-- who laid the foundation of a branch of math known as Abstract Algebra. It was a "pure" branch of math totally disconnected from the physical world (as far as Evariste could tell). Some 150 years after his death, it turns out that Abstract Algebra held the key to Peter Higgs' ability to predict the existence of the Higgs Boson... in other words, math, pursued purely as an exercise in rational thinking, was able to describe a physical phenomena totally unrelated to the experiences of the person doing the reasoning and in a completely different time and place.

This seems to me to be something deeper than just the abstractions we all agree upon based on (seemingly) shared experiences such 2 and 2 being 4... how would the philosophy you're describing account for this? Is math an aspect of the "something other" that we can and do encounter? Is there a mathematical basis for will?

2/16/17, 8:28 AM

Matthias Gralle said...
There is some very interesting work by Thomas Fuchs (Philosophical Foundations of Psychiatry, Heidelberg) and Tom Froese on the extension of the body to "non-living" objects like a pen, and on "inter-bodily resonance", where it is difficult to say "where" an action happens, in one person or in more than one simultaneously. Tom Froese has done very simplified computer simulations of agents where action happens when both agents assume the other one "wants" to communicate.

I read these papers some years ago and now I wonder how much Fuchs is influenced (indirectly) by Schopenhauer, since I haven't seen a definition of his for "mind". He usually cites 20th century philosophers like Merleau-Ponty.

Some links:

The extended body

The dynamically extended mind

The brain- a mediating organ

2/16/17, 8:42 AM

Christopher Edwards said...
Nagarjuna, a famous Buddhist "sage", wrote what is called "the 70 stanzas". He talks about the 12 limbs of dependent origination, and that basically, anything that is dependent on "something else" for its origin (like us), is not inherently real - though we do exist. Nagarjuna was very "interested" in perception. To quote T. Stcherbatsky, on Buddhist logic,

"Reality according to Buddhism is kinetic, not static, but logic, on the other hand, imagines a reality stabilized in concepts and names. The ultimate aim of Buddhist logic is to explain the relation between a moving reality, and the static constructions of thought".

At any rate, the 70 stanzas are worth a read (they are short), and you can google and find them for free. Enjoy.

Chris Edwards

2/16/17, 8:58 AM

Shawn Aune said...
I think, "Will and The Representations" is my new band name.

2/16/17, 9:13 AM

Dammerung said...
Timely post. I've been doing a lot of work recently pondering exactly where the Will merges with other Wills. When you read the words of another, it's almost like a form of telepathy, but perhaps even more intimate because you read their words in your voice. I've ultimately come to a conclusion like this: just as what we experience as ourselves is a composition of smaller organisms, so we too are component parts of greater organisms. Racial/genetic; nation-state; even, perhaps, divinities. This isn't quite the direction I wanted to go with this stuff. What I really want to understand is what means we have at our disposal to reassure ourselves that personal self-hood can transcend death. It's a little easier to imagine a great ape of sufficient sophistication reincarnating as a human, but much harder to imagine a muscle cell accomplishing the same feat. For animals, our behavior might seem almost completely inexplicable, but at least they can actually perceive us. It's frustrating that for humans the next tentative step on the Great Chain of Being comes cross as being almost wholly opaque.

2/16/17, 9:17 AM

. said...
@joe finne

"I am will-to-live(exist) surrounded by other wills-to-live(exist)"

But not all will seeks to exist. Someone in the process of killing themselves is directing their will towards not-existing.

"what Schweitzer determined to be the most elemental and universal ethical principle: reverence for life?"

I don't know if you could say he "determined" that. Surely it's more accurate to say he thought that. Reverence for life just isn't a universal ethical principle anyway is it? There are humans who have no reverence for life, by any definition of reverence.


2/16/17, 9:22 AM

Clark said...
I took a philosophy class in college. Despite what the teacher professed, I found western philosophers to be extremely long-winded and meandering. I appreciate your more concise explanation of their findings. I can only imagine how many hours, days, years it has taken you to digest their writings to the point where you can make sense of them for others. With this said, I am sure you have considered Representation and Will to be versions of the eastern concepts of Yin and Yang, respectively. Either way, I look forward to next week's post. I just love how you tie history and philosophy together and bring it all down to earth in the present.

2/16/17, 9:22 AM

Vesta said...
As preface, let me say that I believe that there is a 'thing in itself' out there, and that it's not all just in our minds. However, the argument that otherwise there should be 'a perfect match between the contents of the world and the contents of our minds' is not convincing. Anyone who has listened to the imaginary stories of children knows that it's perfectly common for there to be irreconcilable inconsistencies among and even within those stories. Since there is no such 'perfect match' even within their own fantasies, I see no reason to believe that the lack of a match to the contents of the world demonstrates anything. Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems to me that this argument is based on a false assumption.

The second argument, that will is not itself a representation, seems true to me, but is much too narrowly circumscribed. Why not consider hunger, or the drive for sex, or terror? These are all things that can be experienced without any representation required; after all, we see them clearly in animals that are too young or inexperienced or simple for them to be representations. Even in humans, hunger can kill you one before you've had the chance to learn any kind of representation, so clearly it is not just in one's head. Again, maybe I'm missing something, but in this case it seems that 'will' is being given a primacy that's not obviously deserved.

I also have issues with the argument about the relationship between will and consciousness, and the varieties of will, but I'll hold off with that until I understand where I've gone wrong (or not) with the above before going there...

2/16/17, 9:37 AM

Wayne Ferguson said...
Did you mean to say Locke, Berkeley and "Hume"? (instead of "Hobbes")

For Kant, "inner sense" (time) is also a horizon for representations (whether sensations, perceptions, or conceptions). How do you distinguish "will" from those representations?

While I would have preferred that you explored in more detail the possibility that consciousness (or "awareness") is that which is not a representation, it does seem to me that we encounter (and become a channel for) our real will (as opposed to what Kant refers to as "appetites" and "inclinations") as we come to recognize and honor presence/awareness.

Looking forward to the next installment, in any event! :)

2/16/17, 9:38 AM

Ariston said...
Interestingly, the primary nature of will was recognized in the 7th century by Maximus the Confessor: Each nature has to have its own will attached to it, and two natures cannot share a will. In the created things for Maximus, the will seems to come out of their logoi, that is, their teleological element given them by the Logos. Will may underlie rationality for us, but in this understanding will also rises out of it, and our use of reason is fulfilling our proper ends. Maximus was mostly concerned with the question of the Christ of Orthodox theology, but in order to answer the question he had a lot to say about human experience, as well; Maximus recognized the conditioning nature of the will and its habits on our perceptions and behaviors and that it was more primary than intellect in us. These conditions of the human will are what make it different from the Divine Will, and why a fully human Christ had to possess a human will. I've long thought there's a thesis for a theologian or historian of philosophy in comparing Schopenhauer and Maximus— but try finding people who can read both with sympathy!

As I'm more sympathetic to Maximus than Schopenhauer, I've always thought Schopenhauer made the error of looking at the limits of philosophy as the limits of phenomenology(— to be fair, Schopenhauer was an excellent phenomenologist). If we look at the human will as somehow susceptible to bad habits (hard to deny), we can see the problem with reading the bad habits of our will onto the structure of reality, which is I think where Schopenhauer errs. That reason is epiphenomenal for us does not make it so for the World, though the former is enough to take most of Schopenhauer's prescriptions seriously.

2/16/17, 10:10 AM

escapefromwisconsin said...
Coincidentally (?) this was on the BBC News site today: The strange link between the human mind and quantum physics ( Pretty good explanation for laypeople.

2/16/17, 10:26 AM

Brian Burgess said...
I would definitely say Spengler's thesis is spot on in describing the development of philosophy in Mesoamerica, so far as we can reconstruct from the scant sources yhat survive.

It would seem to me that Myth gives rise to Reason, which simply gives rise to Myth again after Reason reaches its Epistemological and Ontological limits. I also note that the resurgent rise of Myth seems to occur around the same time societies collapse.

2/16/17, 10:28 AM

Myriad said...
Self-other symmetry seems to get in the way of Schopenhauer's initial dichotomy.

My will certainly seems fundamentally different to me than all the external representations I perceive, as your finger experiment illustrates. But your will doesn't. When you move your fingers it looks to me just like any other external event. Hypothetically, with the right equipment I could see the neural impulses that predict whether and when your fingers will move. There's plenty of room for disagreement on that hypothesis, but looking at a thermostat, for instance, or the mechanisms by which plants orient themselves toward sunlight, or the functioning of the exactly 302 neurons of the roundworm nervous system, I don't see any basis for perceiving those entities' will as anything separate from representations of increasingly complex configurations of cause and effect.

If everything (-in-itself) is will then there's no ultimate dichotomy, of course. But that seems a very ambitious conclusion to reach based on a perception of the subjectively special nature of such a tiny fraction of all the will that must (barring solipsism) exist. Metaphorically: every instance of visible light I perceive directly is one that has entered my eyes, but there's enough evidence for self-other symmetry to make me more than a little reluctant to conclude that all light in the universe converges toward my eyes (or emanates from them).

On the other hand, in general you and I tend to take different paths to reach similar conclusions. There's nothing in my view that insists that the universe must be rational. Why expect a bunch of interacting material stuff to be any such thing? (Deism, maybe, but you have to add some additional assumptions even in that case.) I'll be interested to see if any such congruency survives the promised collision in the next installment.

2/16/17, 10:30 AM

Doug Manners said...
Part 1:

To make a somewhat Wittgensteinian point, both 'will' and 'consciousness' are ordinary words that derive their meaning from their use in ordinary language in ordinary life. For instance, “It required an enormous effort of will for her to overcome the obstacle” or “Then the morphine took effect and he lost consciousness.”

However, when we use such words to refer to 'ultimate reality' we are very far from ordinary usage. That does not mean, as many linguistic philosophers have claimed, that their use in such contexts is nonsense. It just means that their meaning has to be heavily qualified by other ordinary words, in order for them to do the work we want to assign to them. That, after all, is how any technical language is created, including scientific language.

JMG has pointed out some problems with using the word 'consciousness' to refer to ultimate reality. That is to be expected. Ordinary usage will have to be modified in order for the word to become useful. However, 'will' has similar problems. For instance, in everyday use, 'will' implies an action taken against some sort of resistance. (See my example above.) But if there is a resistance, either there must be something other than will that is resisting it, so that will is not the ultimate reality, or there must already be two wills, one of which is resisting the other. In that case a single will, on its own, would have nothing to resist it and would not, in ordinary usage, constitute will.

There is an even more fundamental problem. In normal usage you cannot effect an act of will unless you are conscious. (Legally that is axiomatic.) So consciousness must be prior to will.

So both will and consciousness, as concepts in ordinary language, have to be severely modified in order to be useful in the context of ultimate reality. I suggest that, when both are sufficiently modified, they both may actually refer to the same thing. Which we choose is a matter of preference.

2/16/17, 10:53 AM

Doug Manners said...
Part 2:

The ancient Indian philosophers drew many of their insights from meditation, which played much the same role in relation to their philosophy as science does to the philosophy of the West. The outcome of their particular style of meditation, if it can be described at all, may be referred to as 'consciousness only'.

JMG advocates a different style, namely discursive meditation. As far as I know, Schopenhauer did not meditate in any formal sense. (If he had done he might have been less grumpy!) However, it may be possible to consider his philosophising as a sort of discursive meditation, and this would presumably have been far more similar to the discursive meditation practised by JMG than to Indian practice.

Wittgenstein was a supporter of Schopenhauer's ideas in his youth. Whether he held the same views later in his career is less clear, but he does not appear to have attacked them in the way that he attacked his own early ideas. Like Schopenhauer, he did not formally meditate so far as I know, but again his philosophising could be considered a sort of discursive meditation.

Such a difference of meditation styles between the 'consciousness only' of the ancient Indians and the discursive style of JMG, Schopenhauer and (very early) Wittgenstein may underlie the preference of the former for consciousness as the 'ultimate reality' and that of the latter for 'will'. They may be referring to the same thing but using the conceptual apparatus they are familiar with.

2/16/17, 10:55 AM

William Newman said...
Calling the particle-vs.-wave thing a difference of metaphors drags in inappropriate connotations for 'metaphor'. When people ask whether a cat or a fungus is a living thing, they are not asking a question about metaphors and handwaving imperfect analogies, they are asking about an ordinary category or class, one which is useful in the same way as lots of other classes like 'weapon' or 'literate'. Classifications can turn out to have corner cases where they don't work very well. (Is a virus a living thing? It reproduces ... but only in the presence of other living things, by hijacking them.) That doesn't make them metaphors, or make them occasionally-useful imperfect analogies like thinking of a state as an organism, or thinking of propaganda as a weapon; they are ordinary classifications.

The kind of interference patterns that you can occasionally see even in preindustrial life (rainbow-ish effects on oil slicks) and more commonly in modern life (rainbow-ish patterns on optical media like compact disks, and characteristic "laser speckle" shifting patterns in small laser spots on flat surfaces) are very characteristic of things in the wave category, things governed by wave equations.

Light acting more like a particle than a wave isn't conspicuous in our everyday experience but it shows up in experiments which were routine more than a century ago, notably the photoelectric effect. It's also only slightly under the surface in how radiation up and down the electromagnetic spectrum affects inanimate materials and living things: visible light has enough energy per photon to break some kinds of chemical bonds, harder and harder ultraviolet light breaks a larger and larger proportion of them, very hard UV and X rays and gamma rays shred them, and going the other way along the spectrum things like microwaves tickle them so gently that the effect can't be teased out of the gross heating effect.

The fuzziness in categorization between wave and particle is not because of inherent vagueness or looseness of metaphoric analogy, it's because it turns out that like a surprising number of other physical properties, the category starts acting weird under extreme physical conditions. To pick one of many examples from the physics of the first half of the twentieth century, the mass of a particle turns out to increase when it travels at high speed, and increase without bound as it approaches the speed of light. That doesn't make mass a loose metaphorical concept, it means that the concept of mass (and category of "thing with mass", etc.) turns out to be more complicated than we thought in the general case. (But the new equations with a dozen or so terms in them give results as precisely correct as the experimentalists have ever been able to measure, and the old simple-case rules with just three or four terms in them turn out to become more and more exactly true the further one is from the speed of light, as a consequence of the general-case rules in a simple way.)

In the case of wave vs. particle, experiments where one simple case or the other dominates fall out of the general case in a similarly natural way. It's not a metaphor, any more than "turbulent flow" or "laminar flow" is a metaphor in fluid mechanics --- it's a category which correctly describes a large set of special cases, a set of special cases so large that it's not hard to spend one's entire in it accidentally. (E.g., lensmakers seldom need to worry about whether light is not a wave, because for them it always acts so much like a wave it makes no difference.)

2/16/17, 11:06 AM

i_s said...

First time poster here. I have an Indian philosophical background (primarily through reading scriptures and commentaries) and learned through your posts about the Schopenhauer-Upanishads connection. Is the 'will' that you refer to many times in the post same as what the Indian philosophers refer to as 'Atman'? i.e. that which is the energy source of life in this body.

Language has limitations as words like 'will' tend to get overloaded with many meanings and gets interpreted in ways that was not intended :)

2/16/17, 12:45 PM

Kristoffer Kavallin said...
Very interesting four-grade classification. Matter, Life, Consciousness and Intellect

Previously, and unrelated to philosophy, I have thought abit about the strange differences in animals, plants and matter.
My thoughts circulated alot around timescales. Animals react quick compared to plants. But plants also exhibit complex patterns and behaviour when compared to matter.
However, if one looks at very long timescales, matter as we ordinary view as inert also spring to life. I'm thinking of geological processes, rivers flowing etc.

After reading this post, some strange thoughts spring to mind.
Could it be useful to think of a "density" of will perhaps? Comparing empty space with it's bodies of mass having a density of mass, and exerting gravitational forces upon each other.
Inert matter analogues to empty space, and plants, animals and intellects correspond to bodies of ever larger mass.

2/16/17, 12:46 PM

Mark In Mayenne said...
Hi John, well the womb seems as good a place as any. Where and when would you have it happen and why? Show your Working.

Whereas to a blind person moving a hand, consciousness appears where will intersects the world, how does this apply to sight? I can close my eyes by an act of will, certainly, but I can't block the sensation of light by any act of will if my eyes are open, and I have no way of imposing my will to block out sound.

My personal experience is that awareness is the fundamental. Will springs from it.

2/16/17, 1:09 PM

Breanna said...
I'm having some trouble with the idea and value of grades of the will. It seems to me that there is a great deal more overlap between different grades and fuzziness between them, especially when it involves will that encompasses more than one being.

One example is mother-infant synchrony. With a breastfeeding, cosleeping mother-infant dyad, there's way more going in in sleep than even the mother usually realizes. There's all kinds of feeding, soothing, protecting, and adjusting going on. Further, the mother usually wakes up about 5 minutes before the child does. This effect seems somewhat attenuated by distance but not completely. I've experienced this myself at naptimes; even with a weaned three-year old I find that I get restless and start to wrap up what I'm involved in just before he wakes from a nap in another room.

Another example is the bacterial intelligence involved in the development of antibiotic resistance. Stephen Buhner has a good discussion of it in several of his books (I would quote them but they are in the same other room with the napping preschooler). Basically there's some good research that the bacteria are working together in something that looks to me a lot like experimental science, iterating different attempts to defeat antibiotics, sharing their results with each other, and then improving on those results. It all happens far faster than pure natural selection would.

And is there a will specific to an entire species? Gordan White and Stephen Buhner both describe something like "plants on a mission" where a species of plant seems, as a species, to display very purposive behavior in moving to a new place or performing a specific function in an ecosystem.

So it seems like there is a lot more going on here than the grades of will described. And I guess we can't know if other beings abstract and represent things the same way we do, but maybe that doesn't matter? Like, it seems clear that that's the human mind's quirk of evolution, but there's no reason to think that it's "higher" as far as I can see, if other beings get good results by whatever methods they are doing.

2/16/17, 1:33 PM

Shane W said...
So, JMG, if I get you correctly, based on Schopenhauer, the magical (will, consciousness) is more real than the scientific rationalist materialist?

2/16/17, 1:36 PM

Emmanuel Goldstein said...
Reading this week's post left me with the mental picture of a sock-puppet show. One sock-puppet, maybe named 'Dawkins,' is busily proving to the other puppet that "There is no hand." So the really real reality could be that it's all composed of 'Will,' and that the standard worldview we have is weirdly inside-out, like the puppets who think the stage, props, and the socks they are made of is the most important part of all that is. I think I like it!
Among others, Thomas Campbell says similar things in his book "My Big TOE (Theory Of Everything), although he is a big fan of progress and includes other concepts...
@Grisom, if mathematics is just a means of meditation, then maybe pure mathematicians and physicists are much closer to philosophers than many of us have thought...

2/16/17, 1:38 PM

Shawn Aune said...
Well I'm sure I'm naming my band "Will and The Representations".

I've had some issues coming to grips with exactly the conclusion you mentioned at the end.

The universe is not rational.

I've been lamenting the fact that a well-reasoned-argument no longer has the power that it once held.

The power of reason is ephemeral and fading fast. Faster than industrial civilization.

2/16/17, 1:57 PM

grisom said...
JMG, I should admit that I don't speak anywhere near enough mathematics to understand those equations, either — though I am working on it!

There is certainly a lot of awkward flailing on the communication front, and some philosophy on both sides could probably help matters. You will be interested to know that Einstein could explain his discoveries to the general public of 1910s Germany quite coherently and in very few pages. As I recall, the book works by assuming a decent grasp of German philosophy and helping you think through what it might imply about physical measurements, what that might imply about geometry, and... before you know it, you've redefined time and space! But that doesn't bother you; after all, as an educated German you already knew that "time" and "space" were representations...

"As for the incoherence of the idea of the "thing in itself," all in good time!"

Okay, okay, I'll try to restrain myself :)

2/16/17, 2:32 PM

Mary said...
JMG, on physics, my understanding is that electrons "orbiting" a nucleus -- and any other description at least of subatomic physics for that matter -- is just a "model" that is used because it works reasonably well. It's not necessary how things really are; nobody really knows what is actually going on.

When I asked my chemistry professor why we were studying 60+ year old physics instead of something more current, she replied that physics has become pure mathematics. M"ind-boggling" mathematics, but there no longer exists any convenient model to represent the relationships described by the math.


2/16/17, 3:23 PM

Mary said...
Marie K, if I understand the concept correctly, the boundaries of the will can be extended quite a ways, certainly to include a whole room. I've unintentionally extended my boundaries to encompass the entirety of the Halibut Point rocky beach area on the coast of Massachusetts. I could feel a "disturbance" in my "energy field" and turned to see somebody had entered the beach area. She must have felt my annoyance at being disturbed. After looking around for a couple seconds, she turned away and retreated back the path she came on.

Have you ever felt like you were being watched and looked up to see somebody across a room or down a hall looking at you? That's their will reaching out to touch you. Even a moose can do it; as a neighbor of mine described feeling like he was being watched one evening while sitting in front of the tv, and looking up to see a moose with its face pressed to the living room window staring at him.


2/16/17, 3:50 PM

onething said...
You say that you don't feel the will itself, but sometimes you do, as something like an emotion, when mustering one's will.
But when it comes to simple, physical examples like moving one's fingers, or even moving one's leg while sleeping, that brings me to what I consider a shallow argument by materialists who claim that we don't have free will after all based on some lab experiments. They got people to agree that while watching some movement on a screen, colored balls say, they would press a button when they saw a blue one. They were also to mark the moment when they were aware that they had made a decision to push that button. And they found that in fact the cascade of preparation to push the button was visible in the brains of the participants before they were consciously aware of deciding to push it. From this they concluded we do not have free will. But I ask, in that case, why did the person comply with the rules of the experiment? If we had no free will, they would not be randomly pushing the button at the right time.

To me this simply means that as a whole person, there are parts of our minds that we don't fully understand. I thought of examples. One decides to drive somewhere, becomes lost in thought, and suddenly looking up, is not sure where on the road one is – but there has been no deviation from the decision of where to go. In fact, sometimes one actually does better if not thinking “consciously” about what to do. I used to play tennis, and would unconsciously switch the racket to the other hand, probably because I'm left handed. Another player noted it as strange. After that, I tried to do it sometimes, but usually flubbed it. But if it happened without my planning it, it went well. Double digging in the garden with my husband, my job was to pick up the stones and toss them into a bucket. I missed a lot. Then, I took a different tactic, and simply stared at the spot I wished the stones to go, and gave no thought to the throwing. Rarely missed. Does that mean I gave up my free will? In that case, who was it that was doing these things, and why were they perfectly in alignment with what I had decided consciously to do? Then I thought, heck, I don't need these exotic examples. I might decide to walk out to the mailbox, but I don't consciously decide to put each leg in front of the other!

Therefore, I don't think it is correct to say we are unconscious because we are in dreamless sleep. If the alarm rings or someone shouts our name, we wake up. So there is a tether.

2/16/17, 3:53 PM

Eric S. said...
And so Will is the whole of the Law, then. The remaining question is who, or what is doing the willing? ;-)

2/16/17, 4:00 PM

onething said...

Now, to the question of consciousness versus will and which is the more fundamental. This is truly interesting as I considered that the eastern philosophers were right that it is consciousness. But I am trying to deeply consider Schopenhauer's view. That which Schopenhauer called different grades of will, I had called levels of consciousness. The reason I am willing to consider his opinion, is that in my own musings about the difference between animate and inanimate objects I decided that at root, all living things have what I called desire or motivation. Inanimate objects appear to have none. The simplest living things all possess it. Motivation and will are of course synonymous here.

But the watcher can be active without any apparent willing. Can the will be active without that there is a conscious being?
Then again, if consciousness is the ability to experience representations, then without things there could be nothing to be conscious of.
I am in this context not sure what to make of the argument that if one can see an object it is “in the way” and therefore a resistance to one's will. Am I right that Nietzsche was a reader of Schopenhauer? Because he made much of will.

But to say that love is an expression of will! Surely that is going too far and simplifying the mystery of what love is.

2/16/17, 4:06 PM

onething said...
Now this bit at the end I am not following the logic of:

"That’s all there is. Go looking as long as you want, says Schopenhauer, and you won’t find anything but will and representations. What if that’s all there is—if the thing we call "matter" is simply the most basic grade of the will, and everything in the world thus amounts to will on the one hand, and representations experienced by that mode of will we call consciousness on the other, and the thing that representations are representing are various expressions of this one energy that, by way of its distinctive manifestations in our own experience, we call the will?
That’s Schopenhauer’s vision. The remarkable thing is how close it is to the vision that comes out of modern science."

Certainly I am not against the idea that everything is (ahem) onething. But I'm not sure how Schopenhauer got there. Nor why you say modern science has as well, since they generally consider that all is matter, albeit that matter is as yet undefined and very weird. Even if all things are experienced as representations, they are still out there, and we don't know how they got there. So how does he decide that matter is a grade of will?

2/16/17, 4:15 PM

Justin said...
Shane, I of course don't presume to speak for JMG, but yes, that was my interpretation. Of course, there are lots of 'real' examples of this - after all, money, borders, laws and of course, hubris don't 'actually' exist, but people care about them more than objectively real things like thermodynamics.

2/16/17, 4:15 PM

doryman said...
My philosophical universe was upended by an accident as a result of which I was completely paralyzed, yet still had full cognitive function. I could lie there and see my body, yet not feel anything, nor, despite futile attempts, will myself to move. The realization that I was not the representation of my will was an epiphany. The disconnect between my intellect and my physical self had no precedent. An interesting aside, for what it's worth... I concentrated for a week on my right hand (the one I could see), willing my fingers to move and when the paralysis lifted (I'm happy to report that it did), it was the fingers of that hand that responded first. As much as my "rational mind" would like to take credit, something more elemental tells me otherwise.

2/16/17, 4:17 PM

onething said...

"That everything is a manifestation of consciousness, humans, animals, plants, and even non-organic inanimate things are conscious. Non-duality is incomprehensible to humans, but that does not make it unreal."

But how does consciousness manifest a universe without will?

2/16/17, 4:21 PM

blue sun said...
Reminds me of E. F. Schumacher's four levels of beings, but with a slightly different vocabulary.

Also sounds similar to the point continually made by Alex Tsakiris and a number of guests on his podcast--for example Eben Alexander--that consciousness is fundamental. Here you are calling it will, and you haven't quite got around to calling it the source of all matter.

2/16/17, 4:33 PM

onething said...
Bike club,

"You have claimed that man-made consciousness is not possible, if I understood correctly. Is there some fundamental magic that biology has that silicon cannot replicate? Or that it is just beyond the capabilities of technology?"

I believe your question exemplifies "to collide head on with one of the most pervasive presuppositions of our culture."

Which is that matter gives rise to consciousness.

2/16/17, 4:35 PM

nati said...
I enjoy this article very much!
I think maybe it can be other kind of "intelligent life" in the universe, absolutly different from us, in ways that we can't even imagine. Maybe even it exists here, in our same "space" and "time", but we cannot notice it, because we perceive their tracks as part of "nature".
One thing i find dessapointing is, in SF books, that alien creatures are so similar to us. As if human imagination has a difficulty to think beyond that.

2/16/17, 4:41 PM

HalFiore said...
John Michael, in answer to your question, though Hsing I Ch'uan was one of the internal martial arts taught in the school, he was not teaching from Chinese orthodoxy. Not a native Chinese speaker, and having gained a lot of the insights that brought him to his level of understanding through intense meditative practices from a range of cultural traditions, he usually took pains in those days (the 70s and 80s) to avoid using non-English terms. The Bay Area in those days had a lot of people running around blowing smoke up people's behinds and using exotic foreign terms to the point that they often devolved into forms of jargon that more often endarkened than enlightened.

"Hsin" was certainly another important mind-concept he was aware of, hence the name of the school, "Cheng Hsin." But in his use of the word "mind," it was probably closer to what you are talking about. He used to deliver an amusing talk that included someone unsuccessfully yelling at their hand to try to get it to move. Your illustration reminded me of that, but his use also made room for the ability to be in a mind-space (utterly insufficient term, but I don't have time for a book) that not only encompassed the origin of our movement, but that of an other. Hence the ability to act before cognition and join or move appropriately to the movement of an "opponent." Which probably sounds far-fetched, but I have first-hand experience of it.

That usually required a lot of "hsin" work, because what blocks the ability to do that often has its roots in "heart" issues, but I think what it is that he was getting at is more "i," if that helps. In the early years, he referred to his fighting "style" as "I Ch'uan."

Here's a link to his current work, much has changed since my days. He's using the word "Zen" a lot, and I sort of understand why when you're trying to give people something somewhat familiar to hang a meaning on, but it's not in any way any kind of orthodox or unorthodox Zen Buddhism.

Anyway, a remarkable individual to say the least.

2/16/17, 5:15 PM

Armata said...
A few more thoughts:

- I think you had mentioned Schopenhauer’s philosophy as being compatible with magic. After reading this, it’s obvious why. If Schopenhauer is right, then Will is the fundamental element in the Cosmos, the “stuff” that everything is made of, for lack of a better analogy. Dion Fortune famously defined magic as the science of causing changes in consciousness in according with will.

- From a monotheistic perspective, God could be defined as the Ultimate Will, the Will so powerful and creative it creates all other wills as the Supreme Act of Will.

- Schopenhauer’s philosophy makes the Great Chain of Being tenable again. If there is an Ultimate Will, which we know as God, the Divine Source or what have you and at least four levels of will that we can see in the physical world, then it would make sense, as I suggested earlier, that there are other levels of will that are higher than the conscious human mind but lower than the Divine Source.

- This also suggests that monotheism and polytheism may not be incompatible after all, as many Classical and Indian philosophers have argued. There can be both an Ultimate Will which is the source of all other wills, and many lesser wills that are nevertheless much higher and much more powerful than the will of even the most developed human being. Some of those wills we call gods for lack of a better term. This is in fact what I believe. There were a number of Christian thinkers, including JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, who appeared to have had similar views.

- Julius Evola discusses the idea in the Revolt Against the Modern World that there are two main paths a soul can take after the physical death of the body, what he calls the Path of the Gods and the Path of the Ancestors. He derives this idea from certain Hindu teachings, but one finds the same basic idea in Gurdjieff and some other esoteric traditions.

In the Path of the Gods, the consciousness personality survives death and goes on to a higher state of existence while retaining conscious awareness during the process. In the Path of the Ancestors, the person’s consciousness dissipates and sinks back into the collective unconscious, where it merges with that of others who have undergone the Path of the Ancestors and becomes the raw material out of which new human wills are created through a process of metempsychosis. The personality does not survive death in this case.

The difference, viewed in light of Schopenhauer, is that those who attain the Path of the Gods are those who were able to develop their will to a high enough degree that their consciousness remains intact and does not dissipate after death, while those who go through the Path of the Ancestors were those who did not attain that level of development, so their will dissolves after death.

2/16/17, 5:37 PM

onething said...
The conclusion I am coming to now is that consciousness and will are so extremely closely entwined that it is difficult to separate them out and it might almost be correct to consider them synonymous. Tom Campbell of My Big Toe, which is all about consciousness, says that not only is there free will, but that there cannot be consciousness that does not possess free will; to be, to exist, is to have a will. I think he is right.

Nonetheless, I think that Existence itself is the absolute fundament, is God, is Being, and that the will is, like the holy trinity, born of that without any lag in time or space, just the natural endowment of existence itself.

2/16/17, 8:59 PM

inohuri said...
I once had the feeling of something looking at me. I looked up and there they were in their tank the many tiny guppies staring at me.

I had forgotten to feed them.

I doubt they could focus their individual vision on me but as a group...

2/16/17, 9:16 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Earthworm, not yet. Most of the arguments for plant intelligence I've seen so far are actually arguments for plant will -- that is, demonstrations that they take action to meet their needs and ward off dangers. But I'll suspend judgment until I read it.

Lordyburd, the point Schopenhauer makes is that the will in its various forms (including consciousness) is the only thing other than representation that we encounter, we have no justification for believing in the existence of matter once that concept is subjected to close analysis, and we can infer, from observing our representations, that a great many of our representations are caused by things that have the same character of will we encounter in our own bodies. Since we've got no evidence that anything exists but will and the representations it creates, why drag in some third thing for which no justification can be found?

Brigyn, thank you! That was my understanding of the atom, for what it's worth.

Spanish Fly, good.

Albatross, I've had similar experiences while practicing t'ai chi. There is, for a while, nobody doing the practice; t'ai chi is practicing itself. Yes, it's an interesting place to visit!

Robert, thank you for this -- I'm not at all surprised that there's a sentiment de lock pick, but since that's not a magic I've practiced I didn't happen to think of it. I certainly grant that Fortune's definition is misused a lot! There are a lot of ways to change consciousness in accordance with will, and the sort of expanded-bubble thing is far from the most useful.

Cherokee, nah, no need to be overly concerned about it. The implications, which we'll get to as this discussion proceeds, usually sit very easily with ordinary practically minded people, who are used to dancing with uncertainty.

Manlet, as I thought I made clear, my discussion of matter was focused on the folk concept. Yes, I'm aware that there are more complex versions, some of which are fairly subtle.

Peakfuture, Retrotopia at the time of Peter Carr's visit will likely be in the salvage phase of philosophizing, with a coffee shop or two in every large city developing a clientele of people interested in philosophy, and a few small publishers beginning to bring out reprints of the classics. Give it a couple of generations and there could be all kinds of debates and new ideas circulating! As for Star's Reach, Meriga in the 25th century is a dark age society just beginning to move into its medieval period, and so is mostly pre-philosophical; the era of theologically motivated philosophizing will begin to dawn, maybe, toward the later years of Presden Sharl sunna Sheren, with the rise of rationalism centuries further off. And your last question? I hope to get there in this series of posts.

Sandy, granted -- and that's one classical view from the perspective of Indian philosophy. I'm discussing a somewhat different view, from the perspective of Western philosophy...

2/16/17, 11:05 PM

Albatross said...
Hm? Obviously I messed up the html for them add on links in my comment above. Sorry. Here they are in plain text. "Fundamentals of Yoga" < >; and "Gem in the Lotus: The seeding of Indian Civilisation < >.

/ Juri Aidas

2/16/17, 11:24 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Phil, cause and effect -- oh, that's a complex one! To some extent it's simply a linguistic habit we apply to our surroundings. We're used to thinking in terms of subjects, verbs, and objects, so when we consider the representations we experience, we look for a cause (subject) causing an effect (verb) to a recipient of that effect (object). How many things "cause" a rainstorm?

Sven, a fine Latin pun, "vulto." Schopenhauer would have liked it -- running together volo, "I will," and vult, "it wills." As we'll see, "I will, therefore I am" and "it wills, therefore I am" are both relevant!

Scotlyn, no, it's simply a reflection of what we know -- thus of the limits to our knowledge. We see some things that apparently just are; that's the first grade. We see some things that are, and also live and grow; that's the second grade. We see some things that are, live and grow, and also display the signs of conscious behavior; that's the third grade. We see some things that do all these, but also display the signs of conceptual intelligence; that's the fourth grade. As I noted already, I'm entirely open to the possibility that there are other living things at the fourth grade -- I'd be astonished if the larger cetaceans aren't there -- and our inability to know this for sure is simply an indication of our cluelessness.

As for whether it's "the same will" or "different wills," that's an extremely subtle question with no single answer. More as we proceed...

Bruce, exactly. That's why it's essential to go back to the experience itself, and not get stuck in badly structured conceptual binaries of the "is there free will, or not?" sort.

Greg, au contraire, those are splendid metaphors, better than the ones I'd come up with, and I'll be sure to include credit when they get used next. Exactly; claiming that consciousness doesn't exist is as self-refuting as typing the words "I can't type." Alternatively, maybe Daniel Dennet isn't conscious and has no mental life, and he's merely making the mistake of generalizing his unfortunate condition to the rest of us, who don't suffer from the same sad condition... ;-)

Violet, the only reasonable answer to "is the will single or multiple?" is, of course, "yes." ;-) I'm delighted that you've found Steiner's book useful!

Unknown, better late than never!

Donald, fascinating.

Phil, are you sure that entropy isn't the direction the will is ultimately moving?

Andrew, I don't happen to know if Schopenhauer knew the Tao Te Ching, but it wouldn't surprise me -- he was fluent in most of the usual languages of European scholarship and read a good many Asian spiritual classics in translation. One of the things that I find fascinating about his thought is that his ideas mesh well with a great many mystics -- and this idea of the ultimate reality as an urge, a dynamism, is also found among them. (Tao is in one sense "the way things naturally flow," for example.

2/16/17, 11:26 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Zaphod, hmm. Are you seriously suggesting there's no point to any philosophy after the Presocratics? That seems rather embarrassingly restrictive, to my mind.

Shrama, it's unquestionably true that the behavior of some representations can be predicted very nicely by mathematical models, but you gave away the farm when you claimed that knowing something is the same as having an accurate model for it. The fact that a clever mathematical model can predict the outcome of experimental manipulations simply shows that the people who came up with it were good at making models. It does not prove that the model is a true statement of what goes on in the universe. Ptolemaic astronomers were able to produce very accurate predictions of planetary motion; that fact did not prove that the Earth was the center of the solar system, much less that epicycles exist. As for my references to science -- why, as you'll see if you reread that part of my post, my point was simply to remind those of my readers who find modern science convincing that some of the things about Schopenhauer's philosophy that most offend the common sense of our time are also found in modern physics.

Ryan, my understanding -- and I've been told this by an assortment of mathematicians -- is that for every branch of mathematics that turns out to do a good job of modeling certain features of our experience, there are many others that don't. Furthermore, for every part of the universe we experience that can be modeled by mathematical means well enough for accurate prediction, there are many others that resist mathematical modeling. Our civilization has seen an extraordinary profusion of mathematical creativity; no other civilization known to me has generated such a diversity of mathematical fields; and if we're to assess the supposedly unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics, we need to ask two questions. First, what fraction of the total range of mathematical schemes are useful for modeling the world? Second, what fraction of the total range of things we experience have been effectively modeled using mathematics? My working guess here is that what's going on is a version of the Texas sharpshooter fallacy, where the admittedly impressive hits are being treated as typical, while the majority of mathematical methods that don't model realities, and the majority of phenomena that resist mathematical modeling, are passing unnoticed.

Matthias, thank you!

2/16/17, 11:50 PM

BoB! said...
I studied Schopenhauer in 1996 in university. I ran out of money, LOL, a common story.
Your explanation of his work is spot on, and I have read all of the authors you've mentioned. I agree his rebuttal to Kant hit the nail on the head. Your example of the wiggling fingers is excellent for laymen, I will use it myself when talking with friends from now on. I have studied philosophy for most of my adult life and I really appreciate what you bring to the conversation. Keep up the excellent writing!

2/17/17, 12:39 AM

grisom said...
JMG and Greg,

"Alternatively, maybe Daniel Dennet isn't conscious and has no mental life, and he's merely making the mistake of generalizing his unfortunate condition to the rest of us, who don't suffer from the same sad condition... ;-)"

You're not the first person to suggest this! People's mental lives can be astonishingly different, and many people report periods of unconsciousness during which they apparently managed to function perfectly normally, sometimes for years at a time. This is my very favourite idea in all philosophy.

2/17/17, 12:48 AM

Synthase said...
JMG: My understanding of electrons lines up with Unknown's. Think in terms of clouds of probability, rather than microcosmic solar systems. When things get that small everything gets weird.

As for the rest of the discussion, both last week and this week, I'm digesting. It may take some time.

2/17/17, 12:52 AM

Cherokee Organics said...

I'm genuinely glad to read that the implications "usually sit very easily with ordinary practically minded people, who are used to dancing with uncertainty". That is a relief as I have felt somewhat out of my depth in these discussions. But uncertainty, now I know a thing or two about uncertainty and can live with that.

As far as I understand and live with the world, I accept the unknowable and the limits that that understanding applies on me personally, but I then act decisively within those constrictions as that seems to have the most useful effects in the physical world as I observe that anyway. Dunno, but I reckon everyone sees that differently.

I reckon it is perhaps dangerous to ignore the physical world and focus on representations. Out of sheer curiosity, do you believe that the internet is a representation? I kind of feel that it is a representation as that term is understood here in this discussion.

My brain is starting to feel as if it should be issuing a 40 page legal disclaimer when discussing this topic as so much of the topic is relative to a persons perspective. Maybe?



2/17/17, 2:21 AM

Doug Manners said...
JMG wrote, “During part of the time we’re sleeping, we experience nothing at all; during another part, we experience the weirdly disconnected representations we call “dreams.” Even in dreamless sleep, though, it’s common for a sleeper to shift a limb away from an unpleasant stimulus. Thus the will is active even when consciousness is absent.”

The idea that there is such a thing as dreamless sleep is inherently undemonstrable. If someone wakes up and cannot remember dreaming, that merely demonstrates lack of memory, not lack of dreams. If there are none of the brain activities that normally seem to accompany dreams, that does not mean there were no dreams: it could be that some dreams are not accompanied by such brain activities. To assume otherwise would be to assume what you are trying to prove.

After all, one thing that is assumed by many contributors to the other blog is that consciousness continues after death. Yet there is no brain activity. Perhaps, during sleep without the brain activities characteristic of dreams, we are actually visiting planes of existence that we have no access to in normal dreams or in normal waking consciousness and which we necessarily forget on our return. I am not claiming that this is the case, but to claim that it is not the case is quite arbitrary.

Of course, this argument does not affect JMG's main point, which is that the will is active even when consciousness is absent from the body. However, it seems to me that this is still wrong in that, according to my understanding, the body is a representation of many different levels of consciousness, corresponding to the levels of organisation within the body and brain, and that while the uppermost level, with which we are normally identified, may be occupied elsewhere, lower levels still operate and can shift a limb without instruction from the uppermost level.

2/17/17, 4:37 AM

earthworm said...
JMG said: "Earthworm, not yet. Most of the arguments for plant intelligence I've seen so far are actually arguments for plant will -- that is, demonstrations that they take action to meet their needs and ward off dangers. But I'll suspend judgment until I read it."

I've just started re-reading it, and just to try and clarify my own thoughts I thought I'd better check on some definitions.

Words are so fuzzy in terms of how we use them to apply meaning - by that I mean that two people could interpret words differently so sometimes it is difficult to grasp whether what I think someone means is what they mean... in fact it often strikes me as amazing that people manage to communicate much at all!

If we take:

'Sentience' - Able to perceive or feel things.

'Consciousness' - the state of being conscious; awareness of one's own existence, sensations, thoughts, surroundings, etc.

'Intelligence' - Intelligence has been defined in many different ways including as one's capacity for logic, understanding, self-awareness, learning, emotional knowledge, ...

and then reading this about Schopenhauer on 'Will' :
"Schopenhauer affirmed that we can legitimately think that all other phenomena are also essentially and basically will. According to him, will "is the innermost essence, the kernel, of every particular thing and also of the whole. It appears in every blindly acting force of nature, and also in the deliberate conduct of man"

So, isn't 'will' more fundamental?
i.e. The 'divine spark' / atman / or will (is this how you define will?) perceives the world through the physical body or matter and sentient beings (as well as possibly what we think of as non-sentient)?

Intelligence seems not so relevant in that its measurement seems subjective. 'Will' on the other hand seems like a much trickier idea to get a handle on.

In Brilliant Green as part of setting the scene for their exploration of plants they say:
"The Aristotelian and Democrotean conceptions in ancient Greece thus often gave rise to a kind of unconscious ambivalence, which held that plants were simultaneously inanimate beings and intelligent organisms."

...and that religion and things like the Pyramid of Living Things (1509 Charles de Bouvelles' Book of Wisdom) have helped colour our anthropocentric view.

There is also an interesting quote from Darwin:
"It has always pleased me to exalt plants in the scale of organised beings."

They suggest that plants have taken a different path of adaptation using a model of distributed processing to give advantage as opposed to the human central nervous system and the physical brain and argue that although humans like to think that they are are top of the tree, there are quite a few things that suggest otherwise.

Isn't the Ayahuasca ceremony about getting in touch with the plant teachers (can't remember the term off-hand)?

2/17/17, 5:02 AM

Macando said...
Thanks JMG. I did not realize that Schopenhauer called himself a Buddhist
and wrote that an understanding of the Vedas would help prepare people for
his theory, until you taught us about him. As a recovering Buddhist and
practitioner of Qigong and Tai Chi, I find this very interesting. I will
read further. You said there is another interesting philosopher to show us
out the fun house exit?

2/17/17, 5:29 AM

sgage said...

" Ptolemaic astronomers were able to produce very accurate predictions of planetary motion; that fact did not prove that the Earth was the center of the solar system, much less that epicycles exist. "

Save the appearances! The Ptolemaic astronomers did fairly well with epicycles :-)

Until Keplerian ellipses made it so much simpler.

OTOH, I firmly believe that there exist systems of such complexity that the only 'usefully predictive' model of the system is that system itself... I.e., good luck predicting!

2/17/17, 6:27 AM

Malcolm M said...
Thanks for the story. I have been looking for ways to discuss the Witness with my children. The wriggling fingers might be worth a try.

You've triggered some questions:

1. On the idea that there is no material world, only each person's representations of it, then why is it that if an object that represents to be a cast iron safe, falls from an opening that represents as a window, and then lands on what appears to be my head, why does it seem that my particular Will loses its vessel as a consequence of this non-event? I never looked up and saw the safe coming (the Will was happily assembling the woman walking in front of us into a very familiar pattern), so I had no opportunity to assemble the safe into a recognizable object. But it squished me all the same.

1b. Even if the Will returns to the universal gumbo that it never left, why did my Will bother to aggregate (albeit temporarily) in my non-body in the first place? And why did it chose to manifest in a vessel that was susceptible to termination by something as illusory as non-material non-falling objects?

2. On the idea that there is no matter, only a vast mostly-empty space populated by wave-like and particle-like objects swirling around in a web of probability (perhaps not unlike a swarm of gnats mating in a ray of sunlight), then what is it that attracts a particular set of these probabilities to swirl around a common axis (me) in the first place? Does my Will arrive and summon them together (did it take Seven days?), or did the probabilities pool together in an eddy of the space/time continuum, and then an opportunistic Will happened by to take up residence (like a hermit crab trades up for a larger shell)? i.e. chicken or egg?

2b. Why do these probabilities choose to assemble into rocks and coffee cups? Or did our minds invent these? I mean, things like grains of sand and little bits of moss, the stuff left over from a pencil eraser, and little swirls of cream curdling in my cup of coffee. Why did we bother to dream those details up? Or did some Wills draw the short straw and have to do a turn as a sheet of toilet paper stuck to someone's heel?

3. Following #2 above, if I am merely a swirl of probabilities, held together fleetingly by a faint magnetic attraction or the like, then there must be the possibility that this swirl could come unglued without any apparent trigger in the represented world (perhaps spontaneously, or maybe as the result of an intervention or alteration in the attraction). What sort of event might cause me to simply fly apart and disappear, leaving not so much as a wisp of smoke? Let's imagine that I am sitting at the illusion of a table in a restaurant, surrounded by other manifestations of Will chatting amiably, and then my cosmic glue comes undone right as I appear to be reaching for my wine. All the other manifestations blink for a moment at the now apparently-more-empty-than-before space. Perhaps their own representation-engines still imprint the image of me for a moment still sitting on the now-apparently-empty chair. But eventually they turn their heads to each other and ask "did he just, like, go to the bathroom or something?" Consider the old story: he just went out for a pack of smokes... it could be that he actually de-constituted on the way to the bodega. (if he did dissemble as he reached for the door, would that be captured on the ubiquitous CCTV's pointing down at the sidewalk, or would it be as a tree falling silently in the forest?)

Groovy. My Will is suddenly directing my body to go buy some pot.

2/17/17, 6:38 AM

Malcolm M said...

As an aside, I was once first on scene at a fatal car accident. The moment was intense as one might imagine, time slowing down, each footstep playing out in slow motion, faces floating in and out of view, and the like. The energy was intense, and a lot like tripping on mushrooms. It was as if there was some kind of vortex forming around the site. I get it that this was only in my head, however there obviously were many other heads in similar states of consciousness. I was struck on reflection later with the distinct impression that what was going on was that I could feel the cosmos getting ready to suck the victim's Will back into itself.

You can see this in movies that try and convey these moments. The pace goes to slo-mo, the camera swirls and twirls in close focus. We hear maybe only the protagonist's own breathing, all other sound curt off. Then the camera pans away, like the scene of dead and wounded in the railyard of Gone with the Wind.

I had a similar experience, in the opposite, when my first child was born. What emerged from the probabilities of my wife's womb entered this representation space with a tremendous surge of energy. Imagine a championship basketball game won by a last second half-court shot, the crowd stops and floats through space with the ball, forgetting itself for a moment in a collective hush, then the ball snaps through the net like a bomb going off. I could easily get addicted to that.

2/17/17, 6:40 AM

Bobo the Dorkboy said...
Not relevant to this week's post, really, but interesting stuff on p. 44.

2/17/17, 6:56 AM

johojo37601 said...
What might be implications of Schopenhauer’s notion of “will” if liberated from metaphysical errors highlighted by Charles Hartshorne among the legacies of Descartes, Kant, et al?

In answer to this question, as well as in response to your observation among the comments of last week’s posting that you are “aware of Whitehead’s philosophy but fail to see its utility”, please consider:

Given implications of Albert North Whitehead's *Process and Reality*, along with Charles Hartshorne's *Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method*, Terence Deacon's *Incomplete Nature* and Nassim Taleb's *Antifragile* ( to name but a few recent contenders for champion of actual creativity), can we not glimpse a new mode of culture arising from the wake of earlier plateaus of civilization: linear behavioral patterns of earliest C1 primate clans and tribes (up until the Late Neolithic), great planar agriculturally fostered C2 societies of ancient Middle East, China and the Americas, C3 hierophantic feudal institutions of Hellenized Europe and Medieval Asia?

As we now depart constraints of recently modern C4 Cartesian duality with its deterministic linear causality and preferment of smooth Gaussian distribution of probabilities through four dimensions of temporal possibility (space/time), we anticipate that even now, in this year of 2017, when reactionary cultural nostalgias threaten to drag us back toward earlier modes -- violently, if need be -- new beginnings already hearken toward a greater and more adequate context of understanding, an "imaginal reason" that operates within a social awareness of "circumstantial agility" where Nassim Taleb's "antifragile" posture fosters organically creative richness of prospect, with both anthem and portfolio, to inspire any new project theme as well as inform its responsibilities.

With Whitehead and Hartshorne we gain initial insight that vitality of every actual entity *is* crucially creative, only partially determined by previous states of its respective circumstance. In their liberating influence, collectively we may join in cosmic unity of evolution toward ever greater elaboration of Divinely-inspired fulfillment of promise. With Deacon we sense that thermodynamic agencies auto-create successive moments of any actuality out of probabilities of circumstantial constraint that are the crux of their own in-forming, wherein they attain particular determinate form, as well as accomplish emergent influence upon other actualities.

Now we find that every decision, however simple, bears fruit from imaginal prowess to cultivate its own circumstance already fertile in unique opportunity. Now we may grasp that individually each entity jointly is responsible to and for all, even as all are informed and enriched by the uniqueness of each and everyone. Ethics thus arises from an encompassing aesthetic of unity seeking balance with variety. [JHJ 20170217'0924]

Further information regarding this depiction of evolving cultural orders can be found at .

2/17/17, 7:05 AM

shrama said...
Dear JMG,

Thank you for the response. I did guess that you wanted to appeal to those who found modern physics convincing. Yet that wasn't obvious from what you wrote nor do I think it always works that way. You see, you are not the first person I have seen do this - I have heard several philosophers of Advaita, Buddhism and the like make the very same claims about how the ancient philosophy they find appealing is affirmed by quantum mechanics. Once when an Advaita scholar said the same about Brahman to a room full of scientists one of my brash physicist friends quipped that not only do we know Brahman but we can also describe him precisely with equations.

So my point is that there are two kinds of people who find modern physics convincing - those who don't understand the math and those who do. If the former were persuaded to take, say Schopenhauer's philosophy seriously based on what you said, one could argue that its largely from a position of ignorance of quantum physics. As far as the latter are concerned their view may not be too far from that of my brash physicist friend. So either way I am not sure if anything useful has been achieved.

While I am at it let me also add that I certainly do not claim that having a nifty mathematical model is the same as knowing the truth. But that is what quite a few people do believe. Sorry if that wasn't clear in what I wrote. Also, your claim about reason in the second last paragraph does not seem to follow from anything else in your essay. I presume you will clarify that aspect in your next essay.

I also wonder how it will play out if one argues the opposite of what you have argued - that Schopenhauer's Will has nothing whatsoever to do with quantum mechanics. That it postulates the existence of an active entity with maybe values and habits, and not just the working out of dumb equations. For what it is worth, I do think the challenge to scientific materialism is best attempted by staying far away from quantum mechanics.

2/17/17, 7:11 AM

Ray Wharton said...
"All of those involve a shift from the intellect to a more basic grade of the will, and they lead in directions that will deserve a good deal more examination later on; for now, the point at issue is that the boundary line between self and other can be a little more fluid than we normally tend to assume."

Hmmm... well I still hold that my example of a ecstatic conversation is a rare and extreme fragile exception to the first statement; more precisely it can be an exception for a brief moment. I wonder if there are a few more exceptions, and if there are that points in some interesting tangents.

Dwelling on this and on the grades of will discussed in this blog post has reached past my limits for constructing argumentation, and has forced me to go is search of modified metaphors. First, let me recount to you a popular saying from my second year of College in a Schopenhauer & Nietzsche class "Nietzsche inverts Platonism". As a second year philosophy student I couldn't do much with this phrase, since Platonism was still to me the Freshman cartoon of Plato. But my friends and I had much fun trying to draw schema of Platonism and then flip them or invert them, or some such. After months of chewing on this idea, with nothing worth swallowing it was forgotten.

The idea came back some time ago when you mentioned on one of your Blogs that you were seriously questioning some of the assumptions of Platonism, specifically ones which have become historically important to Occult theories. I believe that you said something to the effect that certain interpretations placed more reality on abstractions, than on the experiences that the abstractions are built upon. This has got me thinking, for some times now, about Platonism what features of that image of reality are useful and which are distorting.

So now to the image. Consider the Great Chain of Being, then substitute for that the Great Mountain Chain of Being. A vertical chain is supported from above. A mountains peak is supported by its base. A chain hands from a single point. A mountain range is supported by a wide wide base and reaches up to several different points. We occasionally mount intellect peak, above the ridges of consciousness which reach outward to the many other animal occupied zones. In the valleys of intention that cover the mountain side are the plants and the will which intends but lacks the view of the ridges we call representation. Below the valleys there are vast vast flat lands going out beyond the horizon of base force, willish in a vague and strange sense, but lacking the higher grades. Beyond them there is perhaps an ocean which we cannot see from a top intellect peak, a vast reality we cannot even represent, but the effects of which are hinted to us by phenomena with in our range of representation.

Also from intellect peak we can see, blue washed by vast difference, other sights that seem, to some, to be peaks themselves, perhaps also peaks of intellect, perhaps strange peaks of The Will of another kind all together... it is hard to say.

Complicating this is the role of mathematical truth in Platonism. I have been looking deep into the mandlebrot set and contemplating what strange thing is going on there, patterns which follow from abstractions, but complex and unpredictable. Maybe this is something which fits into my image, perhaps it is the structure of the rock I am seeing, perhaps something else, perhaps beyond the keep of this metaphor. Right now I am contemplating maths as the geology of the metaphor, with some promising analogies, but the image is too young to work with. Still my Western Horizon is the sacred mountain of the Ute people, so I will look to it for what insights it can offer.

2/17/17, 7:20 AM

ganv said...
Very very interesting. It seems a slippery view to identify the evidence of things outside our minds and still to claim that all is will and representation. If you mean to go in the direction of observer dependence of quantum reality, I would urge caution. That is a world full of meaningless rhetoric. Much better is the view you articulate that our minds are very limited tools and the entanglement of macroscopic systems where determinism seems to rule with quantum systems where indeterminism seems to rule is one of the things humans have not yet figured out.

I think a more sophisticated description of the 'matter' model is necessary. You are right about the fact that reductionist descriptions of matter end up with quantum descriptions of probability fields. But the continuum matter model that is being used when someone talks about 'solid matter' can be quite rigorously derived from quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics. It is a macroscopic approximation. And it is clearly recognized as a representation, while some don't as easily recognize fundamental quantum particle physics as a representation. Continuum mechaniucs is so extremely accurate that we use it all the time to describe balls hitting bats, flowing water, and a thousand other things. It is a much more useful model to an engineer than quantum mechanics is.

Of course, you want to focus on the mind/world interface about which our quantitative understanding is still quite limited, and I find your description very interesting. But sometimes the rhetoric takes over and you write things like 'The philosophers got to the same destination a couple of centuries earlier.' The philosophers have interesting insights about representations etc, but the question of whether our experience is best described by continuum descriptions of solid matter or quantum descriptions of wave functions comes down to experiments which tell us which representations most accurately describe our experience in which situations. The armchair philosophers couldn't get there until the experiments were done by natural philosophers. Their ideas that demonstrated that continuum matter was not the only logical possibility were useful in opening some minds, but could not lead to a conclusion about what kind of model should replace the ancient Greek ideas about matter until we developed the tools to do the experiments to determine the structure of an atom in the late 19th century.

2/17/17, 7:27 AM

Scotlyn said...
Well, fair enough, if you are saying that this grading system is only a function of the limits to our view from here... "We see this" and "we see that".

Would you accept that, from the POV of a bacteria or an ecosystem,*we* might likewise be "seen" in such poor resolution as to be impossible to differentiate from among the lumpen background of "that which merely exists"?

2/17/17, 8:35 AM

temporaryreality (Wendy) said...
For the purposes of this essay, how is will being defined and is that the definition that's widely used?

I found Charles Godfrey Leland's "Mystic Will" as a librivox recording. Listened once and am now on my second run-through with a notebook at hand. Seems to be a straightforward and *useful* method put forth by Leland. (Thank you, Robert Mathiesen! Also, I have to say that the view expressed in your first comment in this thread struck me as rather wondrous and delightful.)

It can all get rather convoluted, can't it - "who" is willing my undertaking of exercises to improve my will?

2/17/17, 9:07 AM

Yanocoches said...
With regard to the statement: "There are also certain circumstances—lovemaking, dancing, ecstatic religious experience, and mob violence are among them—in which under certain hard-to-replicate conditions, two or more people seem to become, at least briefly, a single entity that moves and acts with a will of its own."
As I understand it, this phenomenon is called "entrainment." At least in the dance/music/rhythm events, classes, studies I have participated in. A book that elaborates on this feature of the human mind is "Keeping Together in Time: Dance and Drill in Human History" by William H. McNeil written in 1995. I tend to disagree that this phenomenon is exclusive to humans when I see flocks of birds flying in tight formation and schools of fish swimming/moving together without colliding. Given my personal experiences with this phenomenon, I would not necessarily classify it as "hard-to-replicate" though it certainly helps to be open to that sort of experience.
Thanks for the discussion.

2/17/17, 9:10 AM

Chris Larkin said...
When dealing with quantum mechanics, I suggest this comic: (I could write more about Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal especially for its insights into many of the assumptions of millennial scientific materialist culture, but that’s not relevant to the above comic.)

Reuban- I agree with JMG that much of science-philosophy is the rediscovery of older philosophies and there’s quite strong strain of Gnosticism (and sadly many of its worst parts) in many scientific circles. However, the argument that “the universe is a simulation” in vogue is unaffected by quantum mechanics. It’s arguably a version of “am I a man dreaming I’m a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming it’s a man?” and should be treated as such, but the twists and turns are different.

An important concept involved is the turing machine. Imagine a ribbon of infinite length divided into discrete cells. Each cell contains a symbol. A device then travels along the ribbon. The device can only read and manipulate the symbol of one cell at a time, following a table of instructions it carries.

A basic tenant of computer science (the Church-Turing hypothesis) is that given unlimited time, everything computable / calculatable can be done by such a device. Similarly a turing machine can replicate any other turing machine. Computers more or less work as limited turing machines. They obviously don’t have infinite storage or time, but otherwise function the same.

There are things that can’t be computed such as the halting problem or busy beaver numbers. However quantum effects aren’t one of them. Quantum mechanics can be computable even by a classic non-quantum computer. It just takes (a lot) longer to calculate. If you let a turing machine’s cell handle quantum states in addition to symbols / real numbers, there is no “slowdown”, but that just cuts overhead rather than adding a new ability to the machine.

If you take the generally held assumption that physics including quantum physics is computable and combine it with materialism, then it follows the universe and by extension ourselves can be replicated by a turing machine and therefore any computer like device. Since a universe can hold many simulated universes and simulated universes can make more simulated universes, odds are we are in a simulated one.

There are many places to attack this chain of reasoning. JMG’s clearly gathering troops for just an assault. Please correct me if I’m wrong as I’ve only read critiques, Penrose’s argument is also an attack on it. The reasoning is that there exists quantum effects that aren’t computable and that our brains make use of these uncomputable effects as a part of consciousness. Therefore he goes, a turing machine can’t replicate consciousness. However, his ideas are quite the fringe in many of scientific circles I’ve encountered.

Brain uploading and related ideas also base themselves off of this chain of reasoning. For example if I replicate your neurons with silicon chips that emulate said neurons, the argument goes that you’re still “you” since hardware is abstracted. Given that, I can just run you all off some computer somewhere to experience things virtually which are functionally real.

To tie things back to this week’s article, the scientific materialist discussions about consciousness, besides the odd side talk on qualia, almost always center around identity and “can computers be conscious?”. Both of which are barely relevant to Schopenhauer’s ideas of consciousness. Identity is baked into will. You are will, and if it has a different will it’s not you. The question “can computers be consciousness?” is a non-starter since both silicon and meat are representations. Personally I find Schopenhauer a better place to work from. There’s a bunch of questions that it’ll be interested in seeing answered, but I suspect JMG will get to them in due time.

2/17/17, 9:50 AM

SLClaire said...
Extending Clark's (2/16/17, 9:22AM) correspondence of Representation with Yin and Will with Yang (which makes sense to me in the light of this post), it seems to me that in Druidic philosophy, Representation might correspond to Annwn and Will to Awen.

2/17/17, 10:57 AM

redoak said...
My understanding of Schopenhauer is that the will is not subject to further explication: it has no further conceptual complexity to work out, it simply is the force giving rise to the world of experience. Perhaps I misunderstand him, but given this view I've never seen how he advanced things beyond Hume's simple assertion that correlation (our experience of the world as orderly, including intention) does not equate to causation (an explanation of that order). That said, he helpfully threw a bunch of rocks at Kant, which was both good sport and much needed.

2/17/17, 11:03 AM

Scotlyn said...
Robert, thank you for the note about lock-picking. It made me notice that very often, when I am engaged in acupuncture needling, I close my eyes so as to better concentrate on what the needle is encountering during the insertion ... For one thing the needle becomes an extra sense transmitting subtle information about the patient's state, and, too, it can become the medium of communication between me and my patient. If I look with my eyes I stop being able to feel. At the same time, I don't think there is any thing more mystical going on than the simple familiarity with a tool that comes with long practice.

In terms of tools and their ability to extend the field and scope of will, it is said that Barbara McClintock spent so much time gazing through her microscope at corn genomes dividing, self-healing from damage, and etc that it was as if the microscope enabled her to "hang out" with her genomes; as if she were a genome-sized ethnographer rather than a giant-sized distant observer. She claimed to be able to see the very chromosomes rearranging themselves - and indeed she won a Nobel prize for her discovery of transposable genomic elements - transposons.

2/17/17, 11:18 AM

Sven Eriksen said...

Glad you appreciated that one. We are not men who bring a knife to a pun fight, are we? ;-)

2/17/17, 11:33 AM

Phil Harris said...
This came my way 10 days ago

Quote “…we are led into a consideration of mathematics itself not through the lens of its representational power but instead as a kind of transaction….”

Apparently Euclidian geometry (useful intro to logic though many find it, including me) is no good for hyperbolic geometry. I like the bit about a disturbed Gauss being bothered (in 1829) about publishing the logical validity of his work in this field. Though,apparently, hyperbolic maths is at home in the world of crochet where doing it is the thing.

Phil H
PS Penrose believed that "conscious minds are not algorithmic entities". He has some interesting things to say also about the non-verbality of thought.

2/17/17, 12:27 PM

Artorias said...
Amazing stuff - can't wait to see where you're taking this JMG.

Just thinking out loud, sometimes you hear of people having some sort of trauma and then being able to perform skills they didn't have previously. The skills always seem to be the more 'solid' grades of will (similar to the ones you talked about) such as language or playing a musical instrument.

Seems like there's something going on there.

Role on next ADR post.

2/17/17, 2:30 PM

Candace said...
I'm trying to grasp the 4 levels of consciousness. I'm also wondering if will and consciousness can be distributed to different parts of an organism at different levels. Thinking about some of the popular discussions of Octopus intelligence, where the individual arms of an Octopus seem to demonstrate their own level of consciousness-reportedly an arm severed from the octopus still actively hunts for prey, at least for a while. So are some levels of consciousness distributed and some more concentrated? Is there a way to figure that out.

Have to admit the physics discussion has me confused, I think less is more useful in my case.

I'm really enjoying the we're, I hope you do make it a book.

2/17/17, 3:01 PM

Kevin Warner said...
Excellent essay this week and plenty to chew over. Now here is the part were I make a hairy nuisance of myself and it comes down to this. I can see where the term 'will' from but I am having problems with the term itself. The word 'will' implies direction and perhaps a foundation of ego. OK, then. The thing is, if someone is using a term to describe something it should match as closely as possible what it is describing and Schopenhauer’s adoption of this word was, I believe, was a huge disservice. The word 'will' (Wille in German) does not really do so here and to be truthful, it can be a sort of verbal Rorschach test in that you can see in it what you want. This can lead an enquirer into some pretty strange detours that get you away from what is trying to be described.

As an example of where it can take you, you start using the word 'will' and that can lead you to thoughts of national wills between nations and how you can be a part of a larger will and next thing you know you have your triumph of the will. You think that I am pushing a point here? At the risk of being accused of the Reductio ad Hitlerum argument, you-know-who could have taken any one of thousands of books when he went to war but it was Schopenhauer’s 'The World as Will and Representation' that he had in his knapsack throughout WW1 and his concept of Schopenhauer’s will helped shape his personal philosophy the rest of his life. It would be interesting to know, on a side note, if Schopenhauer would have used the word 'will' if he had been born half a century later or not. Taking a leaf out of Freud, he may have come out with the working title 'The World as Ego and Representation' instead.

In addition, the concepts of life, consciousness, and intellect are three grades of the will but they are also three functions of biological complexity based perhaps on neuron density. I am going to go out on a very narrow limb here and wonder if there may be a fourth grade of so-called will and that is of spirituality. I cannot call myself a spiritual person but I know that it is a strong force in human life. It may be that we are all of us islands of consciousness in a sea of space-time and spirituality may be the bandwidth that any connection to a greater reality is made. We still do not know how mind hooks into matter yet and may not be even built to understand what reality which is why we need the language of mathematics to even get handle on it. Time will tell.

One last thing. It was stated "There are also certain circumstances - in which under certain hard-to-replicate conditions, two or more people seem to become, at least briefly, a single entity that moves and acts with a will of its own". True enough. I only wonder if this is like an act of fusion or whether it is more a matter of synchronization.

2/17/17, 3:21 PM

Ozark Chinquapin said...
I have the same wariness as Scotlyn seems to of any system that places what humans have (and possibly those creatures that are most similat to us) as the highest level, and those forms of life that are more different from us as on a lower level. People can usually empathize more with a dog than with a tree because the dog has more similarities in its expression of will to humans than trees do. We can to a certain extent imagine what it might be like to be a dog, but when it comes to trees that's a much more difficult prospect. Who knows what the inner experience of a tree is like, it may not have any of the sort of consciousness that people and animals have, but it may have a form of experience that is so different from ours that we cannot fathom it, so who's to say one is at a higher level than the other.

2/17/17, 6:00 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Christopher, I look forward to the day -- which admittedly may be distant -- when ordinary introductory college courses on the history of philosophy talk about Nagarjuna on the same terms as they do the Presocratics.

Shawn, I like it!

Dammerung, the next rung on the great chain of being seems opaque to us because our culture has gone to a lot of trouble teaching us not to notice it. Other cultures, in which religious experience isn't either suppressed or forced into a dogmatic mold, don't generally have that problem.

Clark, thank you. It doesn't actually take much work to summarize Schopenhauer; unlike most philosophers since his time, he put a great deal of effort into being clear and understandable, and The World as Will and Representation is only as long as it is because he wanted to follow out every detail of his account of the world as far as it would go. If you want me to summarize Hegel, on the other hand, that would be a lot of work!

Vesta, you're misunderstanding my first point. Children's fantasies -- or their close equivalents in, say, modern politics! -- are often internally inconsistent, but the child (or politician) can typically tell you to their own satisfaction, if not to yours, what they mean by every element. The distinctive thing about our encounter with the world is that so often we encounter things that are opaque to our understanding and stay that way no matter how hard we try to grasp them. As for the second, as I tried to suggest in my post, all the things you've cited are conditions or states of the will, as Schopenhauer understood it.

Wayne, yes, and thanks for catching that. As for awareness, Schopenhauer argued that it's a secondary phenomenon, born when the will meets resistance and reacts to that event. Be careful of distinctions between the "true will" and such modes of will as passions and appetites; there's a difference, but the moral spin that's usually put on it leads in unhelpful directions. More on this as we proceed!

Ariston, that's a thesis I would read with great interest. The insistence that the world must be founded on reason has deep roots, and we'll be discussing those shortly; it's precisely because Schopenhauer refused to go past the limits of what we actually experience that he seems so useful to me -- but here again, we'll discuss that in due time.

Escape, thanks for the link!

Brian, here again, that's pretty much exactly what Spengler says. Have you read him? If not, you may be interested to know that, unlike too many historians of his time and since, he counts Mesoamerican civilization as one of the world's great cultures, on a par with Egypt, India, classical civilization, and us.

Myriad, self-other symmetry to my mind supports Schopenhauer's argument. Since the part of the world we encounter directly -- i.e., our bodies -- appears on close analysis to be will, it's reasonable to assume that the bodies of others whose representations we experience are also twofold in the same sense.

2/17/17, 6:12 PM

latheChuck said...
Off-topic for this week's essay, but relevant to the older posts... I just ran across this: "Global Trends: The Paradox of Progress", pub. Jan, 2017, at DNI = Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the US Intelligence Community. In addition to the usual sort of descriptive futurism, this time they've sketched three fictional scenarios to illustrate their views.

Who else do we know who encourages the use of fiction to stimulate the imagination?

Some sample paragraphs follow:
The next five years will test US resilience. As in Europe, tough economic times have brought out societal and class divisions. Stagnant wages and rising income inequality are fueling doubts about global economic integration and the “American Dream” of upward mobility. The share of American men age 25-54 not seeking work is at the highest level since the Great Depression. Median incomes rose by 5 percent in 2015, however, and there are signs of renewal in some communities where real estate is affordable, returns on foreign and domestic investment are high, leveraging of immigrant talent is the norm, and expectations of federal assistance are low, according to contemporary observers.
Examining the trends across the three scenarios makes vivid that the world will become more volatile in the years ahead. States, institutions, and societies will be under pressure from above and below the level of the nation-state to adapt to systemic challenges— and to act sooner rather than later. From above, climate change, technology standards and protocols, and transnational terrorism will require multilateral cooperation. From below, the inability of government to meet the expectations of their citizens, inequality, and identity politics will increase the risk of instability. Responding effectively to these challenges will require not only sufficient resources and capacity but also political will.
There's that pesky "W"-word again...

2/17/17, 7:22 PM

O. Hinds said...
"Ariston, that's a thesis I would read with great interest. The insistence that the world must be founded on reason has deep roots, and we'll be discussing those shortly"
On a related note, I recently came across the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis, that, as I understand it, math is basically the fundamental "substance" of the universe.
As I recall (though it might be a false memory), at the time I thought back to... to avoid spoilers, let's say the surprising (to me) bit in Star's Reach regarding the universality of mathematics.

On a less related note, I also recently came across this:
Thought people here might enjoy what I found an interesting piece about one of the ways things were done back in the Old Days.
(Though a friend and I haven't been able to figure out why they painted a section of floor rather than dipping a piece of metal such as a scrap pipe of known surface area, establishing a weight/area relation, and using that.)

Oh, and by the way, quite enjoying this philosophy series so far!

2/17/17, 8:35 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Doug, it's entirely possible that different styles of meditation have the kind of effect you've noted; that's a very sound point. There are also important cultural differences between India and the West that have to be taken into account. That said, there's a point to using the term "will" rather than "consciousness" here, as I hope to show further along this inquiry.

William, nah, you've misunderstood my point. When I talk about "particle" as an abstract metaphor, I'm talking about the origins of the concept; that there are in fact representations that correspond to the concept well enough for the metaphor to help us model their behavior is another point, and one I don't deny. Probe at the way people think about particles, though, and you'll find that pebbles, marbles, and other small objects provide the template, however modified by later education, around which their notion of "particle" tends to cluster.

I_s, I'm not sufficiently sure I understand the concept of atman in its full philosophical meaning well enough to be sure.

Kristoffer, interesting! Thus the difference between the grades of will might simply be a matter of speed. Hmm...

Mark, it's simply that with most of the people I know who are conscious of the point at which they became conscious, it happens in very early childhood. As for vision, you don't control the light, but you do control whether you attend to it or not. Similarly, your clothing is pressing on your skin in a variety of ways; before I called your attention to it, did you notice that? Those are examples of the way that will provides the context for consciousness.

Breanna, I don't recall saying that the grades of will *aren't* fuzzy and complex. What Schopenhauer is doing with them is simply pointing out that some of our representations appear to express will in different ways than others. Note also that I never said that the grade of intellect is "higher" than the others; I said that it's more complex and less basic, which is not the same thing. It's also considerably more fragile and, as we'll be discussing further on, more bug-ridden and easily scrambled than the others. More on this as we proceed!

Shane, shhhh! ;-)

Emmanuel, nicely put. Exactly; materialism stands the world on its head, insisting that matter is the only reality and mind is an epiphenomenon of matter (or doesn't exist at all), when this thing called "matter" is an abstraction based on representations experienced by our conscious minds (the third grade of will, remember) -- and matter is therefore basically an epiphenomenon of mind!

Shawn, that's another issue, and a huge one. We'll be talking about it as this discussion proceeds.

Grisom, exactly -- Einstein was speaking to a public that, by and large, got the philosophical points I'm discussing, so it was easy for him to make himself understood. Nowadays? Here in the US, certainly, the vast majority of people have never even learned to think, much less been exposed to any amount of meaningful philosophical discourse, and so a lot of incredibly basic ground has to be covered before you can get to the point where Einstein's discussions started. Look how far we've, ahem, progressed...

2/17/17, 10:07 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Mary, that's also something I've heard, and of course it makes sense -- our minds and metaphors evolved in contact with representations on a very different scale of time and space than the ones needed to make sense of electrons on their own terms!

Onething, good. You're quite right that the experiments don't prove that there's no free will -- they prove that free will isn't located where a lot of us assume it is, i.e., in the conscious mind or the intellect (the third or fourth grade of the will, in Schopenhauer's terms.) In dreamless sleep, the first two grades of the will are very definitely active -- you still exist, you keep breathing, etc. -- and there's your tether!

Eric, there's no law. There's just will. ;-)

Onething, Schopenhauer talked quite a bit about those states where the will wills its own suspension; we'll get to that. As for love, if Schopenhauer's right, the entire universe and everything in it is an expression of will, so clearly there's room in there for love.

As for how he gets to matter as the most basic grade of will, here again, remember that he's looking at what we actually experience, and trying to get past familiar misleading concepts to the experience itself. We don't experience "matter." We experience representations, on the one hand, and will on the other. The one piece of apparent "matter" we can encounter in a nonrepresentational manner, the one we each call "my body," is encountered as will. Since will and representations are all we actually experience, and what's called "matter" turns out to be will when we encounter it directly (and representations when we experience it), why drag in some unknown third something to explain what will and representation explain perfectly well by themselves?

Doryman, fascinating. I'm glad you recovered!

Blue Sun, Schumacher was almost certainly riffing off Schopenhauer. You're right that I don't call will the source of matter, because there's no such thing as matter in the usual sense of that word; there's just will on the one hand, and representations on the other. Will is certainly the source of those representations we call "matter" in casual speech, though...

Nati, agreed. That's why I put some aliens in my novel Star's Reach who were as far from human as I could get, and who understand the world in ways that the human mind didn't evolve to grasp!

HalFiore, thanks for the clarification! I don't have the least doubt about the "mind-space" where you can move before cognition takes place -- that's a common experience in most internal martial arts, including the one I studied. It really does redefine one's sense of what's primary in the self.

Armata, good. Evola got his idea on the afterlife in part from the Stoics, and your interpretation of his views is precisely what the Stoics believed: if your soul becomes strong-willed and independent enough, it survives; if not, it goes blorp when you die. I don't know that I'd agree with that, based on my own experiences, but it's a view with a long history.

2/17/17, 10:25 PM

Kristoffer Kavallin said...
Yes, a matter of speed and/or size.
For all I know, there might be structures that would fall into the category "consciousness" all around me that are invisible to me due to their gargantuan size, or as a consequence of them moving so slow that I might not comprehend them.

2/17/17, 11:54 PM

Scotlyn said...
It strikes me that we are in danger of missing the trees for the wood. Aren't will and consciousness, not to speak of puepose, awareness, intention and action, phenomena that cluster around *agents*?

And if that is the case it makes no sense to.ask if will or consciousness are primary. An agent is BOTH wilful and conscious.

So if you take Schopenhauer's question, "what is it that we experience" and put the emphasis on "we" what WE experience is our agency, our will, our purposes, our conscious awareness of everything that resists our will, and our responses to that, and our reasoning about what it means and how to navigate our wilful way through an obstacle-filled world.

And, since a circle is measured starting anywhere, is it not likely that as we "represent* a hugely complicated world composed entirely of other conscious wilful agents, to ourselves using models and stories and concepts that reduce its complexity to a more user-friendly low-resolution simplicity, so other differently placed agents might so "represent" us?

2/18/17, 12:41 AM

Scotlyn said...
@Mallow you mention suicide, which by my way of thinking represents a clash of wills. *I* may have decided *my* life is not worth living, but the cells and tissues of my beating heart, digesting gut, breathing lungs, coordinating brain, etc, may not agree at all, and will fight me on this to the extent they are able.

As I understand it there are three conditions that make suicide more likely if they co-occur:
1) a feeling of isolation and despair
2) a feeling of uselessness
3) a certain amount of raw, physical courage.

This last is what you might call the "bottleneck" factor, since we seem to have endless supplies of 1 and 2 just now.

That ability to ignore your body and throw yourself into dangerous or painful pursuits (eg dangerous sports, warfare, fighting, etc) seems to be strongly associated with the ability to ignore your body's many component agents' desires to stay alive sufficiently to complete the deed.

This can go the other way, in cases where some parts of the body have died or are dying, yet *I* stubbornly hold the whole project of *my* life together far longer than anyone expects.

2/18/17, 12:55 AM

Johnny said...

Another great post! I have been reading The World As Will And Representation and had been hoping for a while that you were going to write (and hopefully maybe even publish a book) about your take on philosophy. I think it's a really important field - important enough that it needs to be grabbed out of academia and put in the hands of normal people - as a tool we can make genuine use of in our lives. Part of that is by people outside of that realm trying to tackle the ideas, learn them and be able to restate them in common terms, to make sense of them and make use of them. I do think part of this is important because otherwise they risk being lost in the uncertain future. At any rate, I was eager to see how you would go about the process of de-jargoning some of these texts but wasn't sure if you would be able to make it fit into the themes of this blog. Anyway, very happy you are doing these so wanted to say thanks.

2/18/17, 1:57 AM

Doug Manners said...
JMG wrote, “it's entirely possible that different styles of meditation have the kind of effect you've noted . . . That said, there's a point to using the term "will" rather than "consciousness" here, as I hope to show further along this inquiry.”

I agree that a particular terminology will suggest further conceptual ramifications, simply because every word has pre-existing associations in ordinary language, so that using a particular word will evoke the associations of that word. In my case I prefer 'consciousness', partly perhaps because my meditation style is emptiness-oriented rather than discursive, but also because using the word 'consciousness' provides a direct route to the solution of the 'problem of consciousness', which is the bane of modern philosophy and is what led me to investigate this subject matter. The same philosophical solution can certainly be expressed using the word 'will', but to do so will be somewhat less straightforward. Evidently you have some other problem in mind that will be helped more by the use of the word “will” than by the word “consciousness”. I look forward to seeing what it is.

2/18/17, 2:09 AM

Somewhatstunned said...
Shawn Aune said:

I think, "Will and The Representations" is my new band name.

Big grin for that! I've always fancied playing in "Thomas and the paradigms"

2/18/17, 5:57 AM

Ron M said...
Many thanks, JMG, for shedding light on some of the more obscure and interesting avenues of Western philosophy – especially Schopenhauer. When you mentioned a couple of posts ago that you were going to delve into philosophy, I got an uneasy feeling in my stomach because I have always believed that the West “threw the baby out with the bathwater” philosophically-speaking with the so-called dawning of the Age of Enlightenment. Reading the Upanishads at the age of 17 truly blew my mind and meditations on these gems over the ensuing decade deeply embedded their teachings into my consciousness. I have never had the patience to search for a “straight mirror” in post-enlightenment Western philosophy’s fun-house (more like a horror house to me), so I am greatly indebted to you for these series of posts. The one thing that I will need to ponder over, however, is Schopenhauer’s notion that consciousness is a manifestation of will and not vice versa. In fact, I still have a sense of uneasiness regarding “will” as the bedrock of “self” as I have always thought that will = consciousness + ego and in the philosophy I follow, ego is spiritual enemy #1. So I am looking forward to your future discussion/definition of “will” to supplement my own meditations.

2/18/17, 6:02 AM

. said...
This is very easy reading thank you. I get this stuff at some level but I struggle with describing it to others, maybe because I didn't get to my understanding of it through philosophy per se in the first place.

The idea that the world must be founded on reason is in Christianity isn't it? The idea of God as Logos. But it must go back before that because that has to be one of those borrowings from classical philosophy.

I notice that a lot of people have problems with the idea of levels of will in which some are higher than others. They seem to be reading into it a hierarchy in which higher is superior and lower is inferior. It's like the idea that civilization is 'better' than barbarism. Or that reason and logic are superior to personal experience and feelings. And the human reaction is often simply to turn the binary on its head instead.

George Lakoff, I think it is, traces those kinds of metaphors to our earliest experiences. As you're doing with particle as pebble. So from our experiences as toddlers we get a morality of up is good and down is bad. Which then translates into moral judgments and emotional reactions to metaphorical verticalness as adults! It's mad really. In politics, for people who've benefitted from imperialism, and feel bad about that, it also seems to trigger associations with the cultural supremacism that was and is often used to justify imperialism.

So in order to avoid triggering all of that, wouldn't it be better to use metaphors that don't involve vertical levels other than for, say, the design of lifts in an apartment? But then the idea of levels of being seems to be so ancient and widely used that maybe it is one of the best metaphors.


2/18/17, 6:05 AM

Phil Harris said...
JMG & Onething
I enjoyed your discussion, in particular your working through the (‘our’) actual experience of ‘will’ and of being conscious. (I related my own little story of waking that I posted earlier.)

I am interested in scientific knowledge and our relationship with being both in the world and of the world, and, somewhat differently, with our ‘knowing about’ the world. I recognise that knowing about electrons is not the same as consciously being able to ‘see’ electrons as entities, though I claim to have experienced when I was 17 an insight (brief ‘flash’ mental image) into the state of an elemental atomic nucleus - not the electron shell - when my image managed to combine extreme activity and extreme confinement. This was before I knew much actually of the matter, except E = mc 2, and I owe physicist Walt Patterson decades later for his understanding of the atom when he used a written, calculated, version of the same image. I have mentioned before my debt also to Roger Penrose for his discussion of non-verbal thinking in mathematics. Clearly ‘my image’ was a representation, though in its way surprisingly accurate.

You know of course the background to our knowing that we are made from stardust, though we owe our particular dynamic configuration to perhaps a billion years of evolution of electro chemical signalling relationships (lots of ‘tethers’?) that we now call biochemistry. And this chemistry is all about electrons, which is the name we usefully use, and the relationships thus configured among the elements adjunct to a dissipative flow of concentrated ‘energy’; (elements as in Periodic Table). I have always felt it to be relevant, without quite knowing why, that we are ‘made’ of this ‘unconscious’ stuff. Though we are begotten (somebody here recently introduced that word into our discussions) of the sifting of a hypothetical infinity of such configurations.

I have the feeling that none of this is necessarily in contradiction with Schopenhauer, but I also have a feeling that ‘will’ is a term too nearly misunderstood. ‘Scientific Determinism’ is not refuted by invoking chaos theory or the non-computability of future ‘positions’ within states of immense complexity. We both ‘choose’ and we are ‘chosen’? Did you catch that piece about Pope Francis experiencing profound peace since his being chosen?

Postscript: I have this image – I believe it might actually have been observed, of stem cells early in foetal development, those that are going to be germ cells, forming a line holding onto the one in front and making their way to the quiet place (electro-chemical signalling minimised) where they wait through the years for bodily maturation.

Phil H

2/18/17, 7:03 AM

moebius81 said...
This discussion of will, consciousness, and intellect working through representations in a variety of ways brings up a question to me. What other wills may be out there that exhibit significant trappings of consciousness and/or intellect?

I have spent my life enjoying the study of the world from a scientific perspective. The marvelous variety of ways which living things go about their lives has particularly fascinated me. Molecular biology in particular provides quite the impressive variety innovative mechanisms that we have figured out at least in part with our quite reductionist efforts of modern science.

This brings up thoughts of the debate between the Intelligent Design movement and the Evolutionists. The proponents of intelligent design say that the irreducible complexity and generated information apparent in the intricate and clever mechanisms that operate to maintain the operation of each living thing show evidence of the work of a higher intellect. The evolutionists respond that these mechanisms are simply the result of random variation and natural selection working over long periods of time and that no higher power is operating. The proponents of ID do not engage in public speculation as to the identity of this higher intellect with the obvious unstated undertone that it is the Christian God.

I have spent my working life as a professional design engineer. When I study the mechanisms of life I see the work of a willful and creative intellect with design and organizational capabilities far beyond my meager intellect. There is beauty and art in the design of life, but certainly not omniscience or omnipotence.

When two loud parties are apparently at each other's throats and implacably at odds the question comes to my mind of what idea they are cooperating to support and what idea they are cooperating to repress. The proponents of ID seem to support the idea that their God has created this world and that through their faith in God they are the select. The evolutionists would seem to be supporting that there is no higher power and by virtue of their winning the battle of natural selection, they are the select. One possibility that never seems to be suggested is that there is a higher power and said higher power has no particular reason to find either party amongst the select.

To me there is an obvious candidate for a willful and creative intellect with capabilities far beyond those of us mere mortals. This would be the human species as a whole. It is a coherent "thing in itself" that operates through a variety of social organizations. Among these social organizations are the community of genes that are spread throughout the human race, the community of cells that grow to form each individual person, and the communities that people form as they go about their live. Indeed the human species as a whole might exhibit some form of consciousness with thoughts proceeding across the millennia with the genes operating as signals through the individuals acting as synapses.

2/18/17, 9:41 AM

moebius81 said...
This continues my previous discussion of the will of the species.

The question comes to mind as to what kind of will the species would imbue the individuals through which it lives. It seems to me that a constant war of all against all would not be appealing to the species as a way of operating. Among the tools the species would use where appropriate would be natural selection and randomness. In the interest of flexibility a variety of kinds of will would be appropriate. A near universal balance of good will to man and will to life would appropriate in almost all individuals. Since we are a social species and social organizations seem to work better with some form of leadership the occasional individual with will to power would be appropriate. But from the species' perspective too much will to power is destructive. The problem of how to prevent the spread of will to power is a problem species have solved a long time ago. The phenomena that it is "good to be the king" would lead to spread of these destructive in quantity forms of will if these qualities are inheritable. I would suspect that species have solved this problem a long time ago (a billion years). Leadership ability and will to power are not inheritable, but pop up randomly at a rate that the species finds appropriate.

2/18/17, 9:45 AM

team10tim said...
Hey hey JMG,

RE: matter as empty space.

It depends what your are using to measure it with. So two experiments are worth noting here. Neutrino detection is very difficult because nuetrinos regard matter as mostly empty space. They usually pass right through us and the world around us with no interaction whatsoever. For WIMPs (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles, AKA dark matter) this is even truer. So much so that we've yet to measure one with our detectors made of matter.

The second experiment is one that I have performed numerous times with my bare feet and a chair that happens to be near my path. My toes regard matter as a solid substance that is not empty space. I've replicated this experiment numerous times changing important variables like visibility, level of consciousness, familiarity with the environment, the presence or absence of caffeine molecules, etc.

I believe that both sets of experiments are on to something and have been conducted faithfully. The nuetrinos and my toes are both playing by the same rules but they get different answers. Is matter mostly empty space? It depends on who wants to know.


2/18/17, 10:52 AM

Roger said...
JMG, Hmm, representations. Material things, as insubstantial as they may be, complex forces dancing in the void of space (if space is nothing ie a void, what exactly is it that gets bent by massive objects, but never mind). The universe does what it does according to whatever logic it follows. And sometimes it leaves me stricken.

One was the first time I saw the girl that later became my wife, the next time was three weeks ago at the bedside of my dying father, and the next was seeing my dead grandfather again in a dream (after an absence of many years) two days after my dad died.

Dad died of a bleeding gastric cancer that the doctors couldn't staunch, that left him agitated and hallucinating for days (which distressed me terribly) but nonetheless aware enough to die alone with my mother shortly after my sister and I left his room. And I whispered to my sister, just watch, we'll leave and he'll die. And that's what happened. I knew my dad.

And this business with my grandfather: this is the second time he appeared to me in a dream - I relayed to you the first experience in your other blog. Two days after Dad died I went to bed aggrieved at the cruelty of his death. But I was exhausted and I slept. And that night I saw my deceased grandfather, my dad's dad. Like the first time, the dream so intense as to BE real. I was convinced, against all rationality, that he was there.

In this second dream I saw my grandfather smiling (in that kitchen again) and I asked him but how can this be, you're gone, this HAS to be a dream. A dreaming doubting Thomas, I touched my grandfather and he WAS as real as can be. And so, in my dream, I stopped questioning, I stopped thinking that this was a dream, and I accepted that this was really him and the great joy at seeing him. And then I awoke.

Was my grandfather "real"? Was he a by-product of a neurological storm caused by my father's passing? Reason says my grandfather died a long time ago. But so intense was the experience that reason comes up short. "Matter" is what really exists? I don't know. I don't care what the tall foreheads say, there's more to things than "matter" and the mathematics that describe it.

See, I can't shake the first time I saw my wife, the weeks of my dad's decline, the day he died, and my grandfather's coming in my dreams.

2/18/17, 11:04 AM

John Roth said...
This whole thing about quantum mechanics and representations is quite interesting. Consider some of the more recent work in the area, where information is regarded as a primary quantity, while space and time are derived quantities.

There is an extremely obvious representation of this: computer games.

Absurd, isn't it?

2/18/17, 2:13 PM

. said...

Joe was defining will as will to exist. And from there making an important "I am" statement about all life. My point was that will can also direct itself towards ceasing to exist therefore that can’t be an accurate description of what will is.

So that doesn’t conflict with what you’ve said. The only point is that a will can direct itself towards non-existence. The idea that some other grade of will within an individual might resist that doesn’t make it any less true.


2/18/17, 3:13 PM

latheChuck said...
team10tim - When your toes are exploring the nature of "solid" matter (in the form of a chair leg), on the sub-microscopic level the electromagnetic fields of the atoms are mutually repulsive, to the point of displacing some of the atoms in your toe from their customarily comfortable place. This displacement triggers further electrical activity in nerves, first sensory neurons (which alert your consciousness to the result of the experiment), then motor neurons (with which you alert those around you to the results of your experiment, possibly to include profanity). So, even though our model of matter includes lots of empty space, such particles of matter as there interact over the span of that "empty" space through the electromagnetic (EM) force.

Electrical engineers (such as myself) usually have some college-level study of EM, but it barely scratches the surface. All of our common experiences are manifestations of either the EM or gravitational forces, and the gravitational effects are so simple (relatively speaking) as to be trivially predictable. An apple falls: that's gravitational force. I cut my finger while slicing onions: an incredibly complex sequence of EM interactions result. (The EM representation is not usually the most practical one to consider while the blood is flowing.)

Pushing your toe into a chair leg is something like trying to push together two magnets, with matching poles. The force of repulsion can be felt long before they come into "contact" (at which time the force of repulsion becomes much, much, stronger).

BTW: The book "Men Who Stare at Goats" begins with an attempt much like yours to exploit the "mostly empty space" concept of the material world. (The movie was a comedy; the book, more documentary.)

2/18/17, 3:20 PM

onething said...

Alas, I'm not completely following.

1. "We don't experience "matter." We experience representations, on the one hand, and will on the other. The one piece of apparent "matter" we can encounter in a nonrepresentational manner, the one we each call "my body," is encountered as will."

I thought we also experienced our bodies and its sensations as representations?

2. "Since will and representations are all we actually experience, and what's called "matter" turns out to be will when we encounter it directly (and representations when we experience it), why drag in some unknown third something to explain what will and representation explain perfectly well by themselves?"

I see that this is similar to the idealism of Kastrup, but...I just don't see how matter turns out to be will. I think that is my problem. What do you mean by encountering matter directly versus experiencing it as representation?

3. "You're right that I don't call will the source of matter, because there's no such thing as matter in the usual sense of that word;..."

I'm not sure what you're basing the idea that there is no such thing as matter on. It is truly counterintuitive, not to say a bit shocking, to find out that matter is mostly empty space. Who woulda thought? But how close would things have to be for them to be real? If the components of atoms were closer together they would exist? And I know that is not the only issue. We don't even know how to pin down those pesky particles, maybe they are just energy and all that. So what is energy? I guess it is so that everything is in motion and there is no such thing as stillness. But still! Does that mean it doesn't exist?

2/18/17, 3:43 PM

onething said...

I wouldn't worry too much about whether intelligent design proponents suppose that the designer is their God and fit it into their religious framework. Not all of them do. One of the best is Jewish and claims to be agnostic (although he defends the existence of God.) Another of the very greatest also claims to be agnostic, although I saw him in a youtube video in which it was clear he is one of those "spiritual, not religious" people. The real thesis they propose is that random mutations and natural selection are not adequate to produce the life forms.

Some of them propose a kind of endogenous intelligence in life and this is where my thoughts tend to go. Have you read Jeremy Narby?

To me, the problem is that evolutionary thought and research is captive to materialists. I don't think physical matter alone is all there is, or is sufficient to explain this whole shebang, and is certainly not a sufficient cause to the life forms.

2/18/17, 4:19 PM

Dammerung said...
>Dammerung, the next rung on the great chain of being seems opaque to us because our culture has gone to a lot of trouble teaching us not to notice it.
Can you expand on this, or point me to a particular book/line of inquiry?

2/18/17, 4:43 PM

Birdie said...
This may have been mentioned before, but if not I'm wondering if you have read "Enlightenment 2.0" by Joseph Heath. It ties into this theme and think it is valuable from the wil/ representation perspective.
Thanks for stretching my views and my need to continue the LESS is more of imperative.

2/18/17, 7:48 PM

Justin said...
Onething, although Darwinian models of evolution plus the refinements associated with epigenetics, etc, are very likely factually true on some level, they clearly fall apart when presented with something other than life-as-energy-dissipating-dead-matter.

I'll have to read Narby. Amazonian shamanism is fascinating.

2/18/17, 8:16 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Onething, fair enough. I'm suggesting that a different way to look at the world may be worth exploring, but if you don't want to do so, that's your choice, of course.

Inohuri, what is the sound of one guppy staring? ;-)

BoB!, thank you.

Grisom, interesting. If those philosophers who think that we're all "meat robots" are in fact simply meat robots, with no conscious minds, that would explain why they don't see the absurdity in their statements as applied to the rest of us!

Synthase, interesting. Thank you.

Cherokee, representations are what you experience. Do you experience the internet?

Doug, a lot of things are undemonstrable. You can't prove to me, for example, that you experience pain or pleasure, or that you have dreams at all. What Schopenhauer is trying to do is talk about what human beings actually experience -- not that rather smaller subset of their experiences that they can demonstrate!

Earthworm, once again, remember that Schopenhauer is starting from actual human experiences, not the more or less tricky conceptual labels we put on them. He refers to the substrate of being as will because that's how we encounter it in ourselves.

Macando, yep; that would be Friedrich Nietzsche. We'll get to him in due time.

Sgage, of course there are systems that are so complex they can't be predicted by any model less complex than the system itself -- human history is one of those. That's why observing repeating patterns in history is one of the few ways to make any sense of it!

Malcolm, somehow that last line didn't surprise me! You don't have to see the safe falling to experience, via touch, the representation of being squashed by it, you know. As for the rest, nah, you're falling into the subjective fallacy I warned about in the early part of the post. I'm not saying "it's all in your head" -- not at all.

Bobo, yep -- and written by a regular reader of this blog, btw.

Johojo, people in the modern industrial world are always trying to glimpse a new mode of culture arising, and coming up with this or that set of plausible excuses for same. It's the same kind of thinking that had devout Marxists waiting for the arrival of true communism for all those years, and is no more useful. We live, rather, in an age of accelerating decline, and if we're going to do anything useful about that, coming to terms with the reality of our situation is a really good starting place.

2/18/17, 8:20 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Shrama, yes, it would also be possible to approach Schopenhauer from a point of view opposed to current scientific models. I didn't think that would be especially useful in this case, though it may get some play over on the other blog.

Ray, that's a valid point -- the ecstatic conversation stays at the level of intellect, where most other examples of the same phenomenon involve a shift to more basic grades of will. I wonder if there are other common examples that do the same thing.

Ganv, I think you're missing the point. What philosophers demonstrated, using their own tools, was that the sort of straightforward faith in the reality of matter that most people have in western societies isn't compatible with our actual experience of the world. Scientists have come to the same conclusion in a different way, by showing that the only set of models that explains all the observed behavior of matter presupposes that matter can't be what we think it is. In both cases, using different tools, the apparent reality is shown to be an illusion.

2/18/17, 8:34 PM

Justin said...
JMG, here's a politically sensitive idea about symbols. There's been a fairly long fight in the Western world (going back all the way to Plato, and likely well before) about who should bear arms. This conflict only intensified with the development of the crossbow and of course the firearm.

As you know, crossbows and guns are important technologies because they let some jackass with 2 weeks training kill a professional warrior. So, there's a very important symbolic difference between a civilian who is allowed to own a gun or a crossbow vs. one who isn't. Orwell had something to say about the rifle on the wall of the laborer's cottage. A lot of people mock gun rights based on the idea that civilian gun owners could never overthrow the government, because the government has tanks and fighter aircraft and drones.

Of course, in a strictly base material sense, it is true that if the American military could be motivated to engage in warfare against Americans, that the tanks and other expensive weapons would make a big difference in the conflict. This is undoubtedly true in a certain sense, because a Stryker or Abrams crew has nothing to fear from a few guys with AR-15s.

Once you step outside the base matter of the question, it gets considerably more interesting.

Maybe the real question of civilian gun ownership has nothing to do with whether or not civilians can realistically overthrow the government, but how gun ownership changes the civilians and the government. To circle back, a person with the right to own a weapon suitable for killing professional soldiers is fundamentally different than someone who isn't allowed to have cool stuff like that, and no explanation about how the soldiers would win anyway really matters.

2/18/17, 8:53 PM

Justin said...
Inohuri, I can second that.

When I just had guppies or small cyprinids, I couldn't feel their presence (although I never had that many...). When I was a fish store employee though, a tank full of 100+ cyprinids or characins who wanted their flakes was something different. Later I had South American cichlids and you could feel one of those staring at you from across the room. I liked the various loaches and Corydoras species because they seemed to have their own internal lives and were usually interested enough in the goings-on in their own tanks that one could simply watch them as the invisible observer. I also like bettas and Paradise fish for that reason - a betta or Paradise fish who's busy flexing his muscles in front of a bubble nest has no time for featherless bipeds.

2/18/17, 9:04 PM

Ray Wharton said...
Group ritual work would be the next place I would check for such a phenomena, perhaps is some kind of intelligence is summoned.

I was constructing an argument in my head that ecstatic conversation (intellectual) is much more difficult than ecstatic intimacy (primal), but I realized that I couldn't control for the simple fact that I am far far less selective about whom I try to converse with than I am concerning more primal forms of ecstasy.

Still it seems that for the will to take an intellectual form requires a lot more things to go just so, and with more specific tolerances than is the case in consciousness, striving, or bare will. If the tolerances for intellectual will are limited something so profound it figures that so dramatic a change as ecstatic experience is likely to throw it off. I do think I practiced conversation with out intellectual ecstasy for countless hours before I realized that the hive-mind could function at the intellectual level to produce insights inaccessible to the participants by themselves. If I recall right, it took rather less than a second of practice kissing a girl to encounter the other form of ecstasy where the intellect is blasted deep into the background radiation of the universe.

When I try to represent my will, the experience is like trying to paint a camp fire, or a particular flame in a camp fire. The shapes intensities and boundaries move faster than my minds eye can catch. Indeed I can feel the will to represent, and fill that feeling with the sensation of the strain that gazing too deeply into a fire exerts on our eyes. In trying to watch the will so much will focuses itself in the representation. Ouroboros.

Ecstasy, in love, passions, dancing, I tend to be a bit resistant to, my will tends toward being protective of its boundaries, of the limits which focus it to the intellectual level. Yet the mixing of wills is still a need it seems, and I crave it in conversation. Interesting, I didn't know some of that about myself. Generally our will is associated with our body, but only a wisp of will is both of the body and of the conscious mind, and a hair of a wisp is of the body and the intellect. Work is ecstasy, it can be when working in accord with ones calling. In work our will expands from the body, through the tools, into our medium, and on ward on the inspiration of an intention. As a gardener the sun landing on my plants is incorporated into that greater self.

Emotions, to play off your point from the post, indeed are our direct, not necessarily representational, experience of states of the will. We experience them when the will changes, they are unconscious when they are static, even to turn the consciousness upon them by intellectual choice stirs them. Have you felt sorrow today? If your minds eye is turned upon your day by the question the glance has a wake in your sea of emotion. What emotions we try to represent, and how we represent them will profoundly adjust the patterns of the will.

The tension between the emotions and the intellect is related to the intellects need for homeostasis and the uncertainty and change of the will in emotion.

2/18/17, 9:41 PM

shrama said...
Dear JMG,

So let me ask you a different question. You clearly don't find monotheism appealing - at least you didn't when you wrote "A World Full of Gods". So how is it that you don't see similar issues with monism ? Aren't those experiences that point to the thing-in-itself diverse enough to suggest that there may not be a thing-in-itself but rather things-in-themselves ? Also, what do you make of Armata's suggestion to turn the thing-in-itself as some kind of super God ? I have come across stories, supposedly from the Upanishads, where Brahman acts like capital-G God and rids humanity of its miseries.

What do you think of metaphysical pluralism as a better framework for understanding human spiritual experiences rather than monism ?

2/18/17, 9:44 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Scotlyn, here again, remember that Schopenhauer is trying to talk about what we experience, period. Strictly speaking, we can't know how -- or whether -- bacteria or ecosystems "see" us at all. From a less strict and more speculative perspective, it's entirely possible that you're right.

Wendy, go back to the finger-wiggling exercise. The thing that allows you to make your fingers move is the expression, in human experience, of what Schopenhauer meant when he talked about will. Definitions are slippery things; grounding what we're talking about in experience is less vulnerable to galloping abstractionitis.

Yanocoches, thank you for the reminder about the McNeill book! I read that some years back and then lost the reference. I don't believe I said that there's anything uniquely human about the phenomenon we're discussing; as you've noted, a lot of animals seem to do it routinely.

Chris, I'm actually aiming my assault a little more broadly, but certainly the notion that every phenomenon is computable is one of the targets I hope to overrun as we proceed.

SLClaire, hmm! That's going to want some reflection.

Redoak, as I understand him, Schopenhauer wasn't trying to advance. He was trying, if you will, to descend: to work down to what we can actually know about ourselves and the world, so that we can recognize where our intellectual efforts can be useful and where they can't -- and there, I think, he did do a better job than Hume.

Sven, hah!

Phil, well, of course. Physicists haven't yet found a general solution to the three-body problem, but moving objects in space solve it for themselves moment by moment without even doing the math. ;-)

Artorias, interesting. I have my own suspicions about what's going on there, but those really belong to the other blog.

Candace, to grasp the four levels of consciousness, pay attention to yourself when you're (a) thinking about something, (b) looking out the window and not really thinking about anything, and (c) asleep; then imagine the state your body will be in when you're dead. Those are the levels, in their human manifestation. As for the distribution of will (whether or not it takes the form of consciousness), of course. Have you ever almost dropped something, and had your hand snatch it in midair before your mind even realized it was falling? That's akin to the octopus tentacle.

Kevin, once again, Schopenhauer used the term will because when you pay attention to human experience, will is the one thing that's clearly present that's not a representation. He didn't just pull it out of a dictionary. As for the reductio ad Hitlerum, er, a lot of people carried Schopenhauer with them to the battlefield, you know, and that kind of ad hominem argument -- "this awful person liked X, therefore X is evil!" -- is a very, very cheap shot.

LatheChuck, hmm! I'm glad they noticed.

2/18/17, 11:18 PM

John Michael Greer said...
O. Hinds, the idea that the universe is fundamentally mathematical goes all the way back to Pythagoras. As that scene in Star's Reach suggests, I find it dubious at best -- not much more plausible than the claim that the laws of nature are dependent on English grammar. More on this as we proceed.

Kristoffer, true -- though it's equally possible, of course, that there are invisible unicorns browsing on the invisible grass that rises from your living room floor. ;-)

Scotlyn, here again, you're missing the point. (This is beginning to get a bit frustrating.) "Agents" are representations, or conceptual abstractions from representations. What do you actually experience? Representations, on the one hand, and on the other the effects of the thing we call "will" -- see the finger-wiggling experiment if you're no longer clear on that. Sure, from there you can construct an argument that the representations around you are best explained by positing agents who, like you, encounter themselves as will and experience others as representation, and that argument may even be correct -- but that's a very large step into abstraction, away from the focused attention to what you actually experience that Schopenhauer is talking about.

Johnny, you're welcome and thank you!

Doug, to some extent, yes, it's a matter of different problems. The problem of consciousness, though, is to my mind simply a problem implicit in the way that we in the western world are taught to divide up the universe of our experience, and goes away very quickly once you see the difficulties in that way of thinking. More on this as we proceed.

Ron, thanks for being willing to follow along! Schopenhauer read the Upanishads in translation, and to some extent his thought can be seen as an attempt to explore the common ground between classical Indian philosophy and modern European philosophy, while critiquing both. As for the ego as enemy #1, that's going to merit some discussion as we get deeper into all this.

.Mallow, it really is difficult to avoid spatial metaphors in English -- possibly in human language generally. I suppose it's probably going to be necessary to point out repeatedly that the different grades of the will aren't better or worse than one another, just different -- and of varying degrees of fragility.

Phil, no, none of that is in contradiction to Schopenhauer. You've described one of the things that makes living in a world of representations so interesting -- they interact with one another in ways that can only be modeled by supposing a world very different from the one our senses present to us. Science is the most sustained effort so far to make sense of that very different world, by applying the tools of the intellect to our representations.

Moebius, one of the ways you can talk meaningfully about evolution is to see it as a process by which species learn new ways of relating to the world. That's not a popular way to talk in science these days, but back in the 1970s and early 1980s you heard such talk in systems theory circles tolerably often. I think you're being a bit optimistic, though, in thinking that the species would necessarily find it beneficial to have nearly universal mutual benevolence and reverence for life; if that were actually a good thing, we'd have it, and we clearly don't...

2/19/17, 12:03 AM

Kevin Warner said...
John Michael Greer said...
"that kind of ad hominem argument -- "this awful person liked X, therefore X is evil!" -- is a very, very cheap shot."

I wasn't trying for a cheap shot at all and was afraid that my own argument would be taken for that idiotic ad hominem argument. What I was trying to demonstrate was that 'will' is so generalised a word that somebody can take it to mean something completely different to what it was meant for and still maintain plausibility for the original word being the basis of their own extended philosophy.

I really do think that the word 'will' itself needs to be replaced with something more accurate in description like 'thought' or maybe even 'mind' as that is what is giving orders for those fingers to wiggle in the first place. That comes first and then the decision to wiggle those fingers. The man behind the curtain so to say.

2/19/17, 12:04 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Tim, where are you encountering this thing you call "matter"? You have a set of sensory representations, and when you bring two of them together, you experience another representation called "pain." You also have a set of scientific models, which are abstract representations that are used to account for the behavior of the set of representations you get through your senses. Then you have the will that moves the representations you call "toes" against the ones you call "chair." Where's this "matter" stuff?

Roger, there's no need to shake them, or to pretend that you didn't experience what you did in fact experience. Did you think I was saying otherwise?

John, er, I'm not at all sure what you're getting at.

Onething, ahem. (1) Please go back to the finger-wiggling exercise in the post and repeat it until you see what I'm saying about the way we encounter will. (2) See (1). (3) If all we experience in the world, in the final analysis, is will and representations, where does this thing you call "matter" come in?

Dammerung, that's mostly a subject for the other blog, but A World Full of Gods and several of my books on occultism, especially The Druid Magic Handbook, touch in it in some detail. Before you get to those, ask yourself this: if a child in a modern Western industrial society were to encounter a nature spirit, say, and mention this to her parents, what would the reaction be?

Birdie, I haven't -- I'll put it on the get-to list.

Justin, that's a very good point, but there's another, highly pragmatic point to keep in mind. The US government had tanks and planes and all kinds of hardware in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, fighting people with guns and an assortment of improvised hardware. Who won?

Ray, good. Yes, all of this follows very neatly from a Schopenhauerian perspective.

Shrama, excellent! I ended up rejecting monotheism as a reasonable explanation for religious experience because it simply doesn't fit the data without a vast amount of special pleading. In exactly the same way, I find Schopenhauer's philosophy satisfying as an explanation for the cosmos because it doesn't require special pleading, only sustained attention to what we actually experience. The will as Schopenhauer describes it, and we each encounter it, is emphatically not the god of the Abrahamic monotheisms; it's not omnipotent (can you by willing make your arm sprout feathers?), omniscient (can you by willing see through a brick wall without having a bulldozer go through first) or -- crucially -- omnibenevolent. Nor is it without internal as well as external conflicts! The only deity I can think of who has much in common with the will as Schopenhauer describes it is Azathoth, the blind daemon-sultan that bubbles and blasphemes at the center of creation:

"Out in the mindless void the daemon bore me,
Past the bright clusters of dimensioned space,
Till neither time nor matter stretched before me,
But only Chaos, without form or place.
Here the vast Lord of All in darkness muttered
Things he had dreamed but could not understand,
While near him shapeless bat-things flopped and fluttered
In idiot vortices that ray-streams fanned.

They danced insanely to the high, thin whining
Of a cracked flute clutched in a monstrous paw,
Whence flow the aimless waves whose chance combining
Gives each frail cosmos its eternal law.
“I am His Messenger,” the daemon said,
As in contempt he struck his Master’s head."

...and it's very likely that Lovecraft, who knew Schopenhauer's work tolerably well, had that in mind when he centered his imaginary cosmos on so un-Jehovahlike a character.

(The poem's one of the sonnets from Lovecraft's "Fungi from Yuggoth," btw.)

2/19/17, 12:20 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Kevin, thanks for the correction. The thing is, you could make exactly the same case about "thought" or "mind," or, really, any other word you like. To anticipate next week's discussion a bit, the default philosophy of western cultures divides the world up into "mind" and "matter," and treats these exceptionally complex and cumbersome abstractions as though they're simple realities; I'd argue that that's why a number of commenters here have tried to drag the discussion back into those terms, when Schopenhauer is deliberately rejecting them in order to point to aspects of the world of our experience that the mind/matter duality obscures. More on this as we proceed!

2/19/17, 12:41 AM

Cherokee Organics said...

I have to defer to your opinion in this matter as it is beyond my understanding to even contemplate whether the Internet is a representation or not. I honestly just don't know.

I've known people who have subsumed their lives into Internet games and that just seemed incredibly unhealthy to me, but they seemed perfectly happy with that experience. So what am I meant to even say to your question? I personally feel that the internet is a very mediated experience and I fully expect that that will only get worse as time goes on. And that is part of the reason I only visit a few websites whilst adding my own contrary voice to the morass.

And speaking of adding my own voice to the morass, I am going to settle down with a nice homemade sake and begin that process right now.

Until we meet again on this strange journey! ;-)!


2/19/17, 12:54 AM

Scotlyn said...
Hi Mallow, actually you are right of course. Thanks.

An agent may will to exist or may will not to exist, and then act accordingly, regardless of what obstacles they encounter in either direction.

On the other hand, if there were a force we could call will-to-exist, we would have to invoke another force we could call will-to-not-exist in order to explain suicide.

2/19/17, 3:12 AM

Doug Manners said...
JMG wrote: “Doug, a lot of things are undemonstrable. You can't prove to me, for example, that you experience pain or pleasure, or that you have dreams at all. What Schopenhauer is trying to do is talk about what human beings actually experience -- not that rather smaller subset of their experiences that they can demonstrate!”

JMG, this is a quibble, but you are missing my point. You made a statement about “dreamless sleep”. So far as I know, that statement was yours and not Schopenhauer's. It implied that dreamless sleep exists. I do not believe it does. I regard so-called dreamless sleep as a lack of memory.

I myself pointed out that this is a side issue that does not affect the main argument that you and Schopenhauer are presenting.

2/19/17, 3:47 AM

latheChuck said...
Bobo - I noticed a reference to JMG by name within that article on Australian Defence issues! Also, it's interesting that it was published in 2010, when the Great Financial Crisis was looking serious and immediate, whereas now (2017) the conventional wisdom seems to be that the "financial crisis" has passed and we just have a long slow slog of recovery ahead of us... as if the political crisis at hand has nothing to do with that.

2/19/17, 4:07 AM

lordyburd said...
Dear Mr. Greer and Commentariat

I've thought more on this 'matter' (ha!), and would like put the question differently. Given that I've deduced through the use of my body, the notion of body as will and representation, can I do the same for all that is not my body?
All-that-is-not-my-body clearly doesn't always 'behave' according to its representations in my mind,hence it is something other than representation, it is thing-in-itself.
Now this misbehaving thing-in-itself, is this of the same category as my will acting through my body? What do they have in common, other than the fact that they can't be experienced directly?

Sorry to regurgitate this issue. I really am stumped by this notion.


2/19/17, 4:50 AM

Cathy McGuire said...
Very intriguing post, JMG - reminds me of all the philosophy classes I took about 40 years ago. I'll be interested to see how/if you mesh this with the druidic concept of the cosmos as conscious (that's probably a too-short summary, but I mean that point you've covered before that humans aren't the only part of Nature that matters)

2/19/17, 7:53 AM

John Roth said...
JMG: you said you weren't sure where I was going with the computer game analogy. Frankly, I'm not entirely sure either, but what I was doing was a comment on the idea that there aren't any representations in common human experience that do justice to the external reality as described by quantum mechanics. (At least, the notions of "particle", "wave" and "empty space" don't seem to.)

In the computer game analogy, "will" is the player, and "representation" is what the game gives back to you. If we assume that there are players at each level of what Schopenhauer is describing as the grades of will, then the analogy at least holds together, given enough creative use of theological duck tape.

2/19/17, 7:53 AM

siliconguy said...
A mention of Schopenhauer just appeared at a completely unexpected venue, today's (2/19/17) 9 Chickweed Lane comic strip.

There seems to be a multilevel critique of philosophy going on :-)

2/19/17, 9:32 AM

pygmycory said...
Rather off-topic for this week, but I finally got hold of Overshoot, and have been reading it. It's very interesting, mostly in the way it puts together ideas from different fields, and in how well most of the arguments hang together and have been proved right by history 37 years after it was written. I'm having a fair number of 'oh, so that's why', and 'that also happened in Greece's recent depression, which suggests movement back to farms in hard economic times is likely a pattern' moments. Having a decent amount of history that takes place after a book like this has been written makes a useful reality check.

I can also see where you got a lot of what you've been talking about on this blog. Overshoot is dense, but I'm not finding it hard to understand. I'm currently about 2/3 of the way through. Thanks for the recommendation.

It's a shame how uncommon this book is. The local library system had to borrow a copy from a college over on the mainland.

I'm afraid formal philosophy isn't really an interest of mine, but I'm still reading the posts, even if I haven't been adding to comments.

2/19/17, 11:34 AM

Charles Blair said...
Rudolf Steiner begins the fourth lecture in his Study of Man as follows:

... By way of introduction I should like to say the following: it is not until the nature of the will is really known that it is possible to understand even a part of the other emotive powers, a part of the feelings. We can ask the question: what is a feeling in reality? A feeling is very closely related to the will. I may even say that will is only the accomplished feeling, and feeling is will in reserve. Will which does not yet express itself, which remains behind in the soul, that is feeling: feeling is like blunted will. On this account the nature of feeling will not be understood until the nature of will has been thoroughly grasped. (1919)

This strikes me as being very close if not identical to some of what is said above. This also reminds me to ask what it is about Steiner that causes the eye-rolls intimated in an earlier posting.

2/19/17, 1:00 PM

team10tim said...
Hey hey JMG,

Sorry, I wasn't commenting on the philosophy. I was commenting on the science. In some ways matter is mostly empty space and in other ways it is the solid stuff that we experience daily. Because we are used to thinking of subatomic particles as pebbles and because most of the mass of an atom is contained in the nucleus it's tempting to think of matter as mostly empty space. And for some interactions that's a useful way to look at things and for others it's not.

As for the philosophy, I'm enjoying it. I've never thought that the Cartesian Dualism approach was in any way useful. Looks like I might have to read Schopenhauer.


2/19/17, 3:04 PM

Donald Hargraves said...
Off this topic, but in reference to the national infrastructure falling apart:

Bridge over I-75 in Bay County, Michigan closed due to hole in the pavement.

This is actually quite notable for two reasons:

1) This bridge goes over a Federal Highway, and thus one would think someone would be right on it. Of course, Michigan is run by ALEC (a group that pushes for business interests above all else) so maybe this is to be expected.
2) The bridge is on a list of bridges to be reconstructed in 2019, but there's no apparent move to push the date up – this despite the hole that's in the bridge (or was – this is a bit old, but still relevant).

2/19/17, 8:15 PM

shrama said...
Dear JMG,

Well, I would have thought that the thing-in-itself, being the only thing that exists is perfect. But you seem to suggest that that isn't so. Then what is perfection ? Is there anything that is perfect ?

Here's my wild speculation: Any one of the things-in-themselves is less than perfect because it is just one of the things-in-themselves. All put together though is perfection. But humans have limited "exposure" to each of these things-in-themselves. So no human ever experiences/achieves perfection.

2/20/17, 2:39 AM

redoak said...
Thanks for the reply. I'll give Schopenhauer another try, it would not be the first time you have change my perspective. My challenge is seeing his work outside the framing of "German Idealism." That frame positions his thinking as an introspective reaction to Kant's troubles, but always within the orbit of those troubles: likely enough that reading has not been fair.

2/20/17, 8:21 AM

. said...
@Chris, when you look at your computer screen what you see is a representation. But "The Internet" is an abstract concept. You can't see, hear or touch the internet itself. You can't hit it with a stick. You have an abstract, intellectual understanding of what it is.


2/20/17, 9:10 AM

Jon said...
Have you heard of the theory of Emergence? It was formulated in the 19th century and basically says that complex things emerge from the interactions of many simple things and that the attributes of the complex thing can't be determined by studying the simple things. Examples are vibrating strings which create time and space an undeterminable distance away, then subatomic particles emerge immense distances away from these, continuing to quarks, subatomic particles, atoms, etc. Other examples include ants becoming colonies and neurons becoming conscious minds.

To me it always looked like a sciency description of Gary Larson's comic of the blackboard covered with flowchart symbols with squigly lines everywhere leading into one big box labeled 'Then a miracle occurs' and out comes 'The answer.'


2/20/17, 10:01 AM

John Dunn said...
Read and chewed slowly. On the question of will: it is interesting when wills are placed in opposition. For instance, in martial arts, an practice opponent "feels" your attack, counters well, and gives you that gotcha smile. Round two begins. This is one of the great joys of training.

2/20/17, 2:42 PM

Hubertus Hauger said...
JMG, you say, that life, consciousness, and intellect being the main grades of will. Now I do miss instinct. Like for sexual reproduction or trying to step up towards a top role in ones group settings.

As I understand life to breath, eat, drink, i.e. the primary necessities what is needed to stay alive.
I understand consciousness as the awareness, to observe what happens around you.

Now you need either instinct, to react automatically on the receive signals or your intellect, to gradually learn from the signals, to create individual automatic behaviours.

What do you say?

2/20/17, 9:15 PM

heather said...
@Scotlyn- Your comment about physical courage being one factor increasing the likelihood of suicide helps me make sense of a radio story I heard a few weeks ago about the very high rate of suicide among police officers, as well as the epidemic rates we hear of among combat veterans. Of course, it goes without saying that both of these groups experience terrible on-the-job stresses and are exposed to death more than the rest of the population, which must often lead to emotional suffering, feelings of isolation, and so on, but to do their jobs they must also have that physical courage which under the right (or rather, terribly wrong) circumstances, allows them to actually follow through on suicidal motivations.
--Heather in CA

2/20/17, 10:33 PM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi Mallow,

Thanks for the explanation.



2/20/17, 11:57 PM

Matt said...
Off topic for the current philosophy discussion but an interesting article nevertheless on the role of elites outside of the formal power structure influencing politics, arising due to the process of "elite overproduction" that happens at this stage of the game. Sounds consistent with some of the cyclical analysis people here use. Anyone any comment on the author referenced?

2/21/17, 12:57 AM

Cherokee Organics said...

Just thought I might drop in a little comment. I'm enjoying your essay but fear that it is above my head in terms of understanding, but at the same time are fascinated enough to go along with you on your intellectual journey.

I just wanted to give you a completely different perspective on languages.

My experience has been that I learn a language through putting that language to use. Take the word: granite - as an example. I know what is meant by that descriptive word because I have contact with rocks and although the idea of granite is abstract and it does not describe a rock itself, I understand what that type of rock is, because I understand the story behind that type of rock and I know where to find them. They are part of my day to day experience.

A lot of languages are taught, I've noticed by concentrating on the syntax, and to be honest syntax is usually an abstract concept that is applied to a language after the usage of the language has come into common usage. The syntax and structure isn't the language itself, it is an abstract overlay that may approximate some of the language and it is also an attempt to describe the language. I see this in music, mathematics, other languages etc.

Unfortunately for me that syntax and structure overlay is lost on me because I want to know the story behind the abstract concepts and that is the only way that I can recall what all of these things actually mean.

So when you wrote about the abstract concept representation, despite your story, it just didn't lock into my mind as I know that word by its other meanings and I didn’t get the story behind it.

This comment is not intended as a criticism of your writing, I'm just trying to provide an insight for you into how other people go about the process of thinking so that if you see dumb questions and comments it may help you put them into some sort of context.

Another insight for you is that I understand the many rules of language through usage. Those rules are locked into my mind, but if you asked me to describe them to you, I would probably struggle doing so as I've never had the need to do describe them. To me language is a bit like listening to music in that I understand the musical scales as they are generally understood and I can intuit that certain notes being played in the musical composition are "off" and that is as far as I've thought to learn about the process.

Dunno, I just noted that you had a sense of frustration in your "voice" and thought that you might appreciate seeing the world through other peoples eyes.



2/21/17, 2:52 AM

Phitio said...
From novels about future past, to how much Hillary was doomed,to discuss about economics 101, to plain deep philosophical issues: I love this blog.

Just to clarify, for what it counts, Kastrups' work is plainly based on Shopenhauer

2/21/17, 3:47 AM

Scotlyn said...
Hi Heather - you may be interested in this paper on the subject - (My paraphrase of it was actually pretty rough, as it was a while since I read it)

From abstract: "We propose that the most dangerous form of suicidal desire is caused by the simultaneous presence of two interpersonal constructs—thwarted belongingness and perceived burdensomeness (and hopelessness about these states)—and further, that the capability to engage in suicidal behavior is separate from the desire to engage in suicidal behavior. According to the theory, the capability for suicidal behavior emerges, via habituation
and opponent processes, in response to repeated exposure to physically painful and/or fearinducing experiences."

2/21/17, 5:35 AM

Matt said...

a couple of things you skate over quite quickly, which seem quite central to the argument.

First, how do we know that our experience of will isn't simply a representation? I accept that it's a possibility, as you say, that we experience will directly, but do we have a strong reason for believing that? Let's say I'm looking at my hand and I happen to have a twitch, so sometimes my fingers move seemingly by themselves, and at other times as a result of my will. It seems to me that I am having some kind of experience of my will in this situation - why can't that simply be another representation that is being integrated into my experience?

Second, the argument as you have represented it seems to centre almost exclusively on what we can experience. Of course as human beings that's incredibly important to *us*, but I don't see why that's the measure of *everything there is*. The argument seems to be: there's only will and representation in our experience, hence that's all there is. But why shouldn't there be something we think of as matter, which is out there, separate from our will and representations, and underlying the seemingly shared experiences we have? Is it just Occam's Razor?


2/21/17, 8:53 AM

Ruben said...
JMG and Onething—

Some neuroscientists suggest the lag between decision and action is to allow for Free Won't.

Free Won't: It May Be All That We Have (or Need) | Psychology Today

2/21/17, 1:02 PM

Gottfried Wilhelm Melvin Hicks-Leibniz said...

I knew you would touch upon the will, but you didn't answer my question from last week's comments edition:

Who or what wills the will?

Thanks ;-)

2/21/17, 1:40 PM

Patricia Mathews said...
@Ruben - again, archaic science fiction has come up with that concept. Eric Frank Russell's anarchist society in "And Then There Were None," with it slogan "Freedom is the Freedom to Say 'I Won't.'"

2/21/17, 2:37 PM

llmaiwi said...
I think it's the use of the word "will" that throws me off--it seems to suggest mind or at least a kind of subjectivity. While it may or may not be that the thing-in-itself is mind-stuff, or that it has its own subjective experience, there are other, less anthropomorphic words that he might have chosen.

He might have said, for instance, that the world is "stuff" and "images," or maybe "substance" and "structure," or maybe just "territory" and "maps." I realize I'm poking at a word choice, but I'm curious whether you see a reason that it should be that particular word.

Is there a reason to think that the thing that wiggles your fingers is a grade of the same thing that wiggles the representations?

2/21/17, 2:57 PM

Candace said...

A couple of weeks ago, I believe another commenter recommended The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. It is an interesting discussion of some of our "windows". So I second the recommendation.


2/21/17, 5:43 PM

earthworm said...
Probably too late in the weekly comments cycle, but my confusion arises from how labels are applied and when someone does use a word (as a label), what is actually trying to be communicated.

Isn't 'will' just another label?

If your reply was changed from:

"Earthworm, once again, remember that Schopenhauer is starting from actual human experiences, not the more or less tricky conceptual labels we put on them. He refers to the substrate of being as will because that's how we encounter it in ourselves."


"Earthworm, once again, remember that Schopenhauer is starting from actual human experiences, not the more or less tricky conceptual labels we put on them. He refers to the substrate of being as soul because that's how we encounter it in ourselves."

...the label 'soul' would not be any more or less opaque than the label 'will'.

I am not asking for a definitive description, at best words offer a rough attempt at describing things; what I am trying to do is grasp if your use of words has overlap between the fuzzy concepts of 'soul' , 'essence', 'atman', etc...

"He refers to the substrate of being as will because that's how we encounter it in ourselves.

Not being familiar with Schopenhauer I have not seen 'will' used in this way before. To me, it is the case that I am alive and 'something' seems to perceive and experience things within and without the body. Up until now, the main approaches I have come across for this are based on:
1. Consciousness is a by-product of matter and neuro-chemistry.
2. Consciousness is the way that 'atman' experiences itself through matter.

Regardless, my personal understanding of 'will' has been that 'will', or 'intent' is something that can be expressed or not expressed, rather than it being the fundamental essence.

Of course, that all means nothing much as my labels are just subjective grasping for understanding - an attempt to pattern what may or may not be patternable.

Boiled down? May I am just trying to work out if Schopenhauer and your use of the word 'will' is similar to other labels of the seeming ineffable!

2/22/17, 4:21 AM

earthworm said...
Or without the extraneous meandering...
Can you talk more about the nature of 'will' and if/how it realtes to ideas such as 'soul'?

2/22/17, 5:19 AM

ganv said...
" Ganv, I think you're missing the point. What philosophers demonstrated, using their own tools, was that the sort of straightforward faith in the reality of matter that most people have in western societies isn't compatible with our actual experience of the world. Scientists have come to the same conclusion in a different way, by showing that the only set of models that explains all the observed behavior of matter presupposes that matter can't be what we think it is. In both cases, using different tools, the apparent reality is shown to be an illusion."
I think I see what you are getting at. I tend not to go toward the reductionist idea that what is apparent is some kind of illusion. Everyday ideas about continuous matter are very effective in describing our actual experience of the world. Continuum mechanics makes these ideas precise, and helps us know when they will fail. The logical critique from the philosophers that other possibilities existed contributed something. But not the same thing as the empirical observations that showed which more fundamental models should replace continuous matter models for describing atomic phenomena. But the more fundamental and reductionist ideas are not somehow the 'real' story. They are simply another useful model that happens to describe atomic phenomena and can be shown to be consistent with macroscopic models of continuous matter.

2/22/17, 8:00 AM

. said...
@Gottfried, JMG doesn't answer comments at the very end of the week so you're out of luck.

"Who or what wills the will?"

That seems to me like a kind of X causes Y idea. Very linear. But in the world we're in there is no X that causes Y in any kind of linear fashion.

You are will, in a way. And so is the universe as you can know it. No one will is totally separate from any other. So you are will, you will and will acts through you. I think...


Epistemology is about what we humans can know. So it kind of has to be anthropocentric when talking about what we know through actual experience. We can't directly experience the world that a cat experiences, so knowledge about the world of a cat must always be limited for us. That must always be a different kind of knowledge.


2/22/17, 10:33 AM