-Ruyer: There is a contradiction between making intention and consciousness a pure effect of neural activity and the development and use of anesthetics. By definition, to use anesthetics is to make consciousness act upon neural activity. Something similar can be said about soundproofing a room or pulling the shades in order to get to sleep. For that matter, the choice to kill oneself – or, better, to find meaning in death – point towards the same thing.

– Say that Neutrino-faster-than-light experiment actually was confirmed. After a news-cycle of stories, we would go back to teaching Relativity as if nothing had happened, and it would be reasonable to do so. One sparrow doesn’t make a spring, and we have a great deal more conformational experience of Relativity than can be undone with a single result, no matter how confirmable. The same goes a fortiori for experiments against free will. The experiments are weak and objectionable as they stand – but even airtight results would objectively deserve no more than a shrug. It is only our fascination with evil – the glamor of evil – that makes us think otherwise.

-Heidegger is right that prior to any choice or awareness we are thrown into things, and find ourselves swept up in a stream that simply is going. Our past is already determining our future so far as the future is the set of possibilities we confront. This is the condition prior to life (or prior to the disclosure of being – which makes it being itself) – a dynamic, flowing, condition that man can never take control of – or, said another way, we can only control it in a way that already takes the dynamic, flowing condition as a given.

A poor-man’s version of the argument might go like this: [1.) man’s horizon of being is historical], but history does not progress like tree development progresses – i.e. through something like an atemporal form working out its possibilities in time. There is something deserving to be called a species or nature or eidos of a living thing- not in the sense of a classification but in the sense of some governing principle set over a process of development to maturity. But [2.) history has no eidos,] and so being – at least so far as being is that field of disclosure where entities can appear, which is exactly what Heidegger thinks it is – has no eidos.

Aristotle tamed the motion of the natural world by making all motion analogous to life – i.e. the working out of an eidos. But Aristotle himself saw that this wouldn’t work if history had to enter into an account of the reality of things, that is, if we called on history to do the work that philosophy (to his mind) had to do. If it ever came to this, we’d be better off handing over everything to the poets (which seems to be something like what Nietzsche suggested).

Dekoninck deserves mention too – for he saw God as supreme over history, as man’s good within it (a life lived according to prudence), and yet also saw that history had no eidos.  One can only speak of God’s providence as a per se cause of being so far as the per accidens is also a part of being too. It’s hard to see how this is anything but the insistence that God is the per se cause of what has no per se cause, but even if one was not so glib with it, there is still a rapprochement between CDK and Heidegger. In other texts, CDK will say that history enters into being only on the side of matter, by which he probably means matter so far as it is not dominated by form (or eidos). In the measure that form dominates matter, it either is a man or is tending to one.  This is why CDK says that, if nature were given immediately after the big bang, one could necessarily conclude from this that man must come forth from it. If this is laughable, what are we left with?


  1. April 22, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    “There is a contradiction between making intention and consciousness a pure effect of neural activity and the development and use of anesthetics. By definition, to use anesthetics is to make consciousness act upon neural activity. ”

    I would say ‘To use anesthetics is to make a chemical act upon neural activity.’

    Plus, if consciousness is a brain process, there is no contradiction in saying that it acts upon the brain. The brain affects itself all the time. It is not simple, but has billions of parts that are in constant “conversation”.

    • April 22, 2012 at 1:31 pm

      Didn’t know you read my stuff. Cool!

      I was thinking of pretty much this objection while reading Ruyer, and while writing the post. Even non-living things “act on themselves” in some sense of the term: “we overloaded the trailer and it shook its wheels off” or “the star collapsed in on itself” etc. I even wanted to write a short dialogue on that point, but, given my background, it would have just gotten mired down in the Scholastic disputes about the possibility of self-motion (an extreme point of contention between Scotus and Thomas)

      One thing Ruyer has going for his point is that the obvious sense of “self motion” or “a thing acting on itself” is when one part acts on another part. But I’m not sure it makes sense on any Physicalist or Naturalist doctrine to call consciousness a part of the brain, as though one could make a list like: liver, hippocampus, retina, consciousness. The last item is out of place on an otherwise straightforward list of parts. One has to make some sort of division between consciousness and physical parts, though perhaps only in the way that we have to make a division between the intestines and digestion. Ruyer, however, is arguing against this sort of division being an adequate one. Either there is some sense to “digestion affecting the stomach (where “stomach” is taken for the whole system)” or there isn’t: if not, it is not an adequate example for how knowledge relates to the nervous system; if so, then we are making ends or final results of organs real causes of the activity of the organs themselves – which makes us teleologists.

  2. April 23, 2012 at 8:47 am

    The details are obviously yet to be worked out from the naturalistic perspective, but even if consciousness were a whole-brain phenomenon, it would be the brain acting in a way to influence itself at a later time, using chemicals as a tool to do so.

    Of course the antimaterialist would disagree with the very premise of this, my main point is that this isn’t much of a concern for someone who is already a materialist.

    • April 23, 2012 at 11:21 am

      I agree, but this is not a response. To appeal to what will “fill in the details” is to appeal to the findings of future research – but we can’t use these findings to prove anything at all – for the simple reason that they could be anything and we don’t have them. They can’t even be used as an argument that materialism is possible, or that materialism is not intrinsically contradictory to research. Antimaterialists can’t appeal to future details either, of course.

      Another problem might be in figuring out what will count as future details, even when they come – what were the “future findings” for Aristotle’s theory of four elements? Phlogiston? Newtonian point-mass atoms? Or do we say (a la Hegel) that the history of science is now complete in chemical theory and that there are no new details that might, for all we know, make “chemical theory” as passe as the theory of four elements?

  3. BD Knight said,

    April 23, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    My point doesn’t really rely on future details, so I don’t want to go down that path.

    My point is that, if the initial quote is meant to be a serious argument against materialism, it misses its mark. This is because we not only have no problem with the brain influencing itself, or parts of brains influencing other parts of brains, but expect this and observe it all the time in real brains. The very premise of the argument is faulty, and we don’t need future neuroscience to see this.

    So to use it as an argument against materialist theories of consciousness, to say there is a contradiction (which was the original quote), is to go too far. Perhaps it is a meditation for those already in the antimaterialist camp to ponder, kind of a koan or something. 🙂

    Now, of course just because it isn’t a very strong argument against materialism, that is not to say that materialism is true. That’s would be fallacious, and I am not saying that.

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