1. A Prefatory Note, by Z
In “On University Philosophy,” Schopenhauer writes:
[T]he look back at all the goings-on at universities since Kant’s departure, have more and more hardened my view that of there is there is to be philosophy at all, i.e., if the human intellect is to be allowed to turn its highest and noblest powers toward the incomparably most important of all problems, this can only successfully happen if philosophy remains independent of all influence of the state, and that the state does a great service to philosophy and proves its humanity and noble-mindedness sufficiently, if it does not persecute it but lets it be and allows it to exist as a free art, which after all must be its own reward. At the same time the state can see itself relieved from the expenditure for professorships of philosophy, because the people who want to live off philosophy will very seldom be the same ones who indeed live for the sake of it, but sometimes can be the ones who covertly plot against it.*
*A. Schopenhauer, “On University Philosophy,” in A. Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena: Short Philosophical Essays, trans. S. Roehr and C. Janaway (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014), pp. 125-176 at 162.
The Feral Philosopher is from an east coast horse racing family. His primary training in philosophy, apart from seriously thinking for himself, is that he’s worked extensively with breaking, riding, and managing horses for various family members, which gives him a good perspective on both humanity and nature.
2. The Universe Between Mind and Thought, by The Feral Philosopher
As a younger child in a large family, it was impressed on me at an early age that my opinions and desires were not hugely important. So my strategy became to figure out what was what and wait for the opportunities to arise. This made me something of a natural philosopher.
Now most people are not interested in the big picture, as it only distracts from solving the problems at hand. They want answers, not truths.
Priests and politicians give you answers, while philosophers seek truths. Consequently many people make a living as priests and politicians, while those making a living as philosophers are relegated to the more god forsaken corners of our educational system.
Even there it would seem, they are more concerned with solving the problems they are tasked with, using the tools provided, than the differing points of view of someone such as myself, who is more interested in a basic understanding of the world around me, than finely crafted arguments over often arcane topics. Which makes me a crackpot, or worse, a new ager.
Having accepted the designation, I find it somewhat liberating, in allowing me to ever more deeply explore the many assumptions and ideas floating around in the collective mental attic.
Looking out at the geopolitical and economic news of the day, it would seem that humanity is headed for one of its periodic crackups, so it might be an opportune time to consider the paradigms driving us to this point.
I think one of the most basic misconceptions is that because we experience reality as flashes of cognition, we think of time as the point of the present moving from past to future, while the reality is only the present state exists and it is its changing configuration which turns future into past. Tomorrow becomes yesterday because the earth turns.
Even our physics theories have incorporated this narrative effect, as measures of duration, from one event to the next, then correlate it with measures of distance. Yet duration is the state of the present, as these events come and go. What is being measured is otherwise known as frequency. It is an effect of action in space, while distance is a measure of a vector of space.
This makes time more like temperature, another effect of action in space. Temperature arises from combinations of frequencies and amplitudes. We could even use ideal gas laws to correlate measures of temperature and volume, similar to how light speed is used to correlate distance and duration. (The premise of a one to one correspondence with this mathematical relationship and a physical property called spacetime, is similar to assuming the geometric patterns of the cosmos were due to a one to one correspondence with a mechanical clockwork universe. Spacetime requires all points in time to co-exist, like points in space, but that negates the conservation of energy, which only exists in the present and it is the inertia of this energy that gives time direction. The earth spins one way, not the other. So no time traveling through wormholes in the fabric of spacetime.)
Time is like a tapestry, being woven of strands pulled from what had been woven, as past events are consumed as input into the present.
The source of the problem is that time is foundational to our rational thought process, as those flashes of cognition are thought, which collect and overlay as memory. Yet under that linear effect is a thermodynamic process of expansion and consolidation, creating those little thought bubbles out of masses of information carrying energy. Emotion is thermal in nature, which is why such non-linear concepts as hot, cold, pressure, tension, etc, are use to describe its more basic expressions.
An example of how this view of time affects the philosophic debate would be to consider free will versus determinism.
Determinism assumes that due to inertia, there is inevitably only one course of action that will occur, given the total input into all events. Yet while the laws deciding the outcome are by definition, deterministic, or they would be called suggestions, the input into an event cannot be fully known prior to its occurrence, by any point of view within space and time. If input cannot be known, neither can output.
Which means that causality yields determination, not the other way around. The event is first in the present, then in the past.
Causation is not temporal sequence, but energy exchange. Yesterday doesn’t cause today, rather the sun shining on a spinning planet creates this effect of days. It is just that we equate sequence with causation. While energy only exists in/as the present.
As for free will, to will is to determine. It is the conscious input into the outcome. What is it supposed to be free of? If the decision making process were free of input, it would be equally free of output. Otherwise known as consequence.
Evidence against the effectiveness of the executive conscious function is that quite often decisions are largely decided by the time they reach that level, or at least there is significant bias. Yet the same factors could be compared with a corporate or governance structure, in that decisions are often guided, if not made within the lower levels of the structure, before they reach the executive level and the weaker the executive, the more so this is. Yet generally the more important distinctions and decisions necessarily do make it to the top, as that is what our analytically conscious state is evolved to deal with. To distinguish and determine.
So the future remains probabilistic, as the past is determined.
What then is this conscious state, seemingly arising from the process of distinction and judgement among mobile organisms, as they navigate their environment and consequently narrate their memories of this process?
One way to break down this issue is to distinguish the state of consciousness from what it does; The act of thinking.
Going back to the issue of time, consciousness only exists in the present, as particular thoughts come and go. So while it might seem that thought gives rise to consciousness, from the perspective of only the present being physically real, it would seem consciousness is the
elemental state and thought is emergent from the increasingly complex factors to which it evolved in response.
To further examine the situation requires consideration of this present state and how it functions, as action in space.
Action is an expression of energy and energy is conserved. Which necessarily means it doesn’t recede into the past. To the extent it is lost, it is only radiated out into a larger space, or reaches equilibrium within the space it is contained. If space is infinite, which even the current cosmological model seems to admit, with the issues of multiverses and dark energy, then energy radiated from one place would seem to be replaced by energy radiated in from surrounding areas, in an overall cyclical equilibrium.
So particular forms come into being as an accumulation of energy and dissolve as that energy is radiated back away. From small organisms to presumably entire universes, to the extent they theoretically exist as singular entities.
As such, the form/entity and the context/energy are opposite arrows of time, as forms go from being in the future to being in the past, while the energy goes from prior to succeeding forms.
Think in terms of a factory; As the product goes start to finish, the process points the other direction, consuming material and expelling product. Just as our minds are the process of creating thoughts out of the material of information.
As do individual organisms go from birth to death, while the species and life in general, moves onto new generations, shedding the old.
Even galaxies are energy radiating out, as mass/form collapses in.
So consciousness acts like an energy, while thoughts are the forms it manifests.
Now we are complex manifestations of this relationship and so one might ask how our state of complex consciousness emerges from more basic, less focused states of awareness.
All those various aspects of your personality, desires, impulses, etc, would be differentiated conscious states subsumed within a singular organism, otherwise we would be schizophrenic.
How would this work? Think in terms of how a brighter light will obscure dimmer lights. Then think that this consciousness is in fact essentially the same elemental energy shining through all the various lenses of impulse, judgement, desire, etc. Such that you are the strongest expression of the various parts of your personality.
Which then raises a further issue; To what extent are we all this same elemental sense shining through various complex, individual lenses? Just as your sense of self might seem separate from those ideas and impulses bubbling around in your subconscious and occasionally rising to the surface, to what extent are other people all expressions of the same elemental conscious drive? As when we examine other organisms and a semblance of mind emerges from collective action.
Today we exist in a highly atomized society, conveniently mediated by a financial medium that allows effective taxation of many of our interpersonal relations and find ourselves floating in flows of information generated by elements either seeking our attention and energy, or actively directing that attention and energy, but for much of human evolution we existed in tightly knit bands of people, with a sense of a larger group soul and identity, in which generations came and went, like cells in a body, now filtered down to us as forms of religion. So our sense of interpersonal connectivity is dimmed and replaced with the bright lights of emotional aids, distractions and cultural habits.
Which leads to one of the other great primal misconceptions; That we mistake ideals for absolutes, whether monotheism, or math. Ideals are form, while absolutes are essence.
Ideals are subjective. What would be a circle from one point of view is an oval to another. While such features and distinctions are neutralized and negated in an absolute.
A dimensionless point, as an ideal of location, is a multiple of zero and therefore doesn’t exist. Like a dimensionless apple, or a shutter speed set at zero. Math is the map, not the territory.
Monotheism assumes the absolute source of being to be an ideal of knowledge and judgement, with various cultural modifiers distinguishing between the different brands of theism, but an absolute would be the basis from which we rise, not an apex from which we fell. A spiritual absolute would be that raw element of conscious being seemingly shining through all of biology in various forms and strengths, rather than a particular ideal of wisdom and knowledge. The new born babe, not the wizened old man. The energy, rather than the form impressed on it.
This gives rise to the issue of ego. We are seemingly born with an intuitive sense of knowing everything, yet spend our lives learning all the complex details and then subsuming them into the subconscious, where it rises back up as personal identity.
Which goes to another area favored by philosophers, that age old conundrum of ethics and morality.
While culture likes to treat good and bad as a cosmic dual between righteousness and evil, the reality is that they are the biological binary code of attraction to the beneficial and repulsion of the detrimental. Which we intellectualize as yes and no, then mechanize as on and off.
What is good for the fox, is bad for the chicken and there is no happy medium where both are satisfied, nor a distinct line where the chicken ends and the fox begins. It is a transition of the energy.
As a function of survival, the most elementary organisms recognize this distinction and it is imperative to a healthy society to have a collective sense of good and bad, otherwise it would break apart. So there is a inclination to place this code above skeptical questioning and indoctrinate each generation to its principles.
Consequently over time, it will become corrupted, as work arounds, patches and short cuts undermine its sense of authority. Though an effective judicial system will manage this.
Just as time is created as energy pushing out and forward to the future, while form and structure coalesce and stabilize, creating resistance to the elemental energy, so to does society function as a dichotomy of organic social energies pushing up and out, while civil and cultural structures and strictures push back, giving form and substance to this communal energy.
This is expressed in the political dichotomy of liberalism as the expression of social energy pushing up, while the conservative cultural and civil order pushes back, giving it form and structure. If the energies overwhelm the structure, it is anarchy, while too much order and structure is totalitarian, crushing the life of the organism.
As individuals, we have the digestive, respiratory and circulatory systems to process the energy moving us forward, while the central nervous system extracts form and order from the context we encounter. This tends to create a bias toward form, information and structure for those to whom intellectual pursuits are supreme.
In society, the state and organized religion represent much of the civil, civic and cultural structure defining society, while the economy steers the flows of energy driving it forward.
Finance is the economic circulation system and there has currently developed significant conceptual and practical turbulence with how it is being managed.
Money functions as a public contract, but we experience it as a commodity and so try to manufacture excesses of notational value, for political convenience. Yet it is a glorified voucher system and nothing is more corrosive than excesses of vouchers.
The problem is those with the most money have the most political power and can structure the system to meet their needs.
Consider that money is largely backed by public debt, which creates significant incentive to compel as much public borrowing as possible, to store this notational value. For example, the inflation of the 70’s was presumably cured by higher interest rates, but they also slowed the economy, reducing the need for capital. It was only as the Federal deficit ballooned under Reagan that inflation came under control and the economy revived, as this both soaked up excess wealth and put it to use.
To budget is to prioritize one’s need and spend according to reasonable ability, but that is not how the government does it. There the system is to put together enormous bills, add enough goodies to get sufficient votes and the president can only pass or veto it in whole.
If they wanted to budget, they could break these bills into their various items, have each legislator assign a percentage value to each item, put it back together in order of preference and then the president would draw the line at what would be funded. As Truman might have put it, “The buck stops here.”
This would grant significant power to both branches and there would be little incentive to override the president’s decision, as more would be asked to fund the wishes of less.
Of course this would completely seize up the capitalist economy that we so know and love, as its implicit function is to siphon value out of the system, while circulating it.
Most people save for specific reasons, such as housing, healthcare, raising children, retirement, etc. As significant amounts of this saved notational value is stored as public debt, if the government were instead to threaten to tax excess wealth out of the economy and not just borrow it, people would quickly find ways to invest directly into their future needs, rather than store it as abstraction in an increasingly corrupted global financial system.
Given these cannot be known specifically, it would require creating more versatile and public facilities, thus more public spaces and a stronger sense of community. Rather than having everyone try to save their own personal wealth in a system which can only store limited amounts as productive investment.
Basically money is treated as both medium of exchange and store of value, which are quite different needs. A medium is dynamic, while a store is static. In the body, the medium is blood, while the store is fat. If you try to store excess fat in the circulation system, the result is clogged arteries, poor circulation and high blood pressure to compensate.
This is fairly analogous to our current financial mechanisms, where little trickles down from a bloated financial sector and central banks seek to compensate with loose money policies.
So the need is for more muscle and less fat, as stronger communities built around leaner financial mechanisms.
There was a time when government was a form of private enterprise. It was called monarchy and those defending its excesses claimed “mob rule” would never work, but it finally reached the limits of how much megalomania, greed and ineptitude the larger society could support. We are now reaching that stage with a privately run economic circulation system.
Democracy works by pushing power down to the level it is most effective, be it local, regional, or national, then building on that foundation. A public banking system could well work in a similar fashion, with local community banks putting profits into local infrastructure and then networking into larger, regional systems. Rather than having it siphoned off to New York, then borrowed back by those communities, further indebting them, until all wealth has been drained out, for no other purpose than feeding the egos and appetites of a few people.
Think of society in terms of a body; Yes, the brain needs more blood than the feet, but starving the feet of blood until they die is of no benefit to the brain. Not to mention the flow of blood through the brain has to be the most carefully regulated of all.
Henry Ford understood a hundred years ago that those making the products needed to be paid enough to afford them, for the system to work. Not just loaning it to them, to create more ways to extract value.
A single currency binds an economy together, but understanding its contractual nature would allow different systems to overlap, as happens within the financial sector, with all variety of notational forms, based on all variety of economic entities. Then people would better appreciate the network of their larger economic relations. As postal banking is currently being proposed, other public systems could be incorporated, as a way of investing in future needs and relations. Much as blood vessels are incorporated into every aspect of the body.
As with philosophy, we view the world around us in terms of the stable top down ideals, reference frames, models, beliefs, etc, that allow us to extract signals from the cacophony, while it all dynamically evolves upward and appreciating this dichotomy is essential to a knowledgeable and healthy life.
In the feedback between success and failure, that which most effectively integrates with its context and environment is going to survive in it most effectively. Given our only viable environment is this planet, as we are evolved to its atmosphere, temperature ranges, gravity, etc, then our survival depends on its health. We can push our current status as the apex predator in a collapsing ecosystem to its ultimate conclusion and crash our ecosystem, likely leaving rodents and cockroaches as the successful species. Or we can become the central nervous system to a planetary organism, as with the Gaia hypothesis and become stewards of this planet.
This is a broad description of a thermodynamic view of reality and while some of it is very basic, there are a fair number of sacred cows being assaulted, such as narrative being foundational, so I realize its appeal is limited, but I hope some will see different ways to think about this world we all share.