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Posted: 15 August 2008 08:10 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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Somebody in another forum is having trouble accepting that his raw subjective experience will ever be “properly explained” in a scientific framework. Surprisingly enough, I agree, but with certain stipulations, since even the feeling that you have received an adequate explanation is subjective. Scientists also are reluctant to conclude they have been given an adequate explanation, but they go about it with a slightly-different M.O..

But it does not explain the raw experience away.

Of course it doesn’t. As long as you contend that you need an explanation for it, and are not satisfied with the ones with which you have been presented , your conviction that the “raw experience” has not been “explained away” will remain.

The experience of not having one’s “raw experience” explained “away” is, if you will, in and of itself an experience, and it is one that undoubtedly differs in significant respects from mine.

The experience of having had experience that has not been adequately “explained away” takes many, many paths. In your case, you seem to know that your experience of not having had things properly explained to you will fade away as your atoms are eventually scattered to the four winds. In (the case of the religiously-oriented), it goes down another path, and indicates the presence of causes that (they consider) non-material, and that I consider supernatural.

The striving to have one’s subjective experience “properly respected” is the result of a particular kind of experience. The hyper-critical environment in which scientific “observations” (“experiences”) are relentlessly disrespected until they are properly vetted differs from this one in several important ways.

Believe me, I understand exactly what you are telling me about your feeling that your “experience” of it has not been “properly explained”. What I hoped I covered in my response was that even if it was described as a bunch of neurons firing and hormones pumping, neither you nor I would find it satisfying as a faithful description of the experience of the grandeur of (a bird in flight), or whatever. We have music and art and literature, and we have a word, “verisimilitude” to try to indicate how close we think we’ve come to capturing “experience”.

That perennial “dissatisfaction” with “things on the face of it” is quintessentially human, poignant and lovely, and probably won’t go away until people do.

[ Edited: 15 August 2008 08:13 AM by Traces Elk]
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Posted: 15 August 2008 08:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Do you mean that he want a scientific explanation for a particular subjective experience such as the notion that many theists have of having “felt” gods presence.

Or do you mean that he want an explanation for subjective experience itself as a function of the human mind?

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Posted: 15 August 2008 08:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Unbeliever - 15 August 2008 12:45 PM

Do you mean that he want a scientific explanation for a particular subjective experience such as the notion that many theists have of having “felt” gods presence.

Or do you mean that he want an explanation for subjective experience itself as a function of the human mind?

I hope the latter. He does not seem committed to “woo-woo”. It may turn out to be a semantic game, such that the problem of defining the word “consciousness” is deferred to the problem of defining the word “explanation”.

I told him that saying some “phenomenon is not adequately explained” is just boilerplate text in a request for research funding.

rolleyes

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Posted: 15 August 2008 09:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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Salt Creek - 15 August 2008 12:54 PM
Unbeliever - 15 August 2008 12:45 PM

Do you mean that he want a scientific explanation for a particular subjective experience such as the notion that many theists have of having “felt” gods presence.

Or do you mean that he want an explanation for subjective experience itself as a function of the human mind?

I hope the latter. He does not seem committed to “woo-woo”. It may turn out to be a semantic game, such that the problem of defining the word “consciousness” is deferred to the problem of defining the word “explanation”.

I told him that saying some “phenomenon is not adequately explained” is just boilerplate text in a request for research funding.

rolleyes

Well, I vote for the latter.  Of course, there will be disagreements along the way as to what sort of theoretical explanation is accepted as acceptable according to individual and intersubjective feelings of acceptability.

I recall a seminar about 1970 by Joseph Weber, the guy who started the original experiments to search for gravitational waves.  He said that he told funding agencies that discovery of such waves could be a step towards controlling gravity and using it to send incoming ICBM’s back where they came from.  I think he was joking.  (But he never found the gravity waves.)

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Posted: 15 August 2008 09:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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burt - 15 August 2008 01:43 PM

. . . accepted as acceptable according to individual and intersubjective feelings of acceptability. . . .

Burt, sometimes I think you’re pranking us. Maybe I’m a fool for admitting that I actually take you at your word.

S.C., would you say that, in general, philosophy attempts to explain and science attempts to describe? Of course this is an oversimplification, but when it comes to consciousness, some people just naturally seem predisposed to see the phenomenon as, to date, inadequately explained. Neurological scientists, on the other hand, seem fairly satisfied with their depth of understanding by way of description. Throw in a thorough knowledge and intense interest in ancient authors who gave it their best shot, and we have (only in my opinion, of course) laughably off-course guesses being stated as facts.

I wonder if maybe burt’s position on the matter is just a reaction to early 20th-century radical behaviorists who felt and stated that goals, intentions and thoughts simply did not exist. (I replaced “thought” with “felt and stated” above, for obvious reasons.) I see burt’s position as falling on one side of the arc of a swinging pendulum, unintentionally perhaps reacting to previous opposing equally strong nonsense that amazingly prevailed for decades.

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
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Posted: 15 August 2008 09:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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The clash between science and philosophy is exactly why the “question” of conscioussness gets so twisted and distorted. Its one of the points where the stark differences between the two practices comes into clear daylight.

Philosophers want to discuss why we are consciouss. While it is a perfectly valid scientific question to ask how conscioussness arises.

I’m leaning towards the idea of emergence myself, the idea that complex, seemingly unique entities will naturally arise from a sufficiently large number of similar agents through just simple rules.

The way a flock of birds fly in formation for example. There is no leader bird, the birds are not communicating in which way to fly. The birds only seem to individually obey a few simple rules.
Fly in the same direction as the other birds, don’t get to close to another bird, don’t get too far away from another bird.
The emergence of a formation, or a larger entity out of the small components arises naturally and without direction or individual purpose.

The idea of emergence seems like a very strong candidate for explaining both abiogenesis and the human self conscious intellect.

Like a flock of birds, self awareness might very well just naturally arise out of the interactions of millions of neurons. Neither of which are trying to create conscioussness nor do they know that they are part of a conscioussness.

Without a proper understanding of emergence though thats as far as it goes. If we could develop a testable equation for emergence, one that could make predictions. Then we might very well explain what conscioussness is. But I somehow doubt this will satisfy philosophers.

[ Edited: 15 August 2008 10:29 AM by Unbeliever]
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Posted: 15 August 2008 10:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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homunculus - 15 August 2008 01:54 PM

S.C., would you say that, in general, philosophy attempts to explain and science attempts to describe? Of course this is an oversimplification, but when it comes to consciousness, some people just naturally seem predisposed to see the phenomenon as, to date, inadequately explained. Neurological scientists, on the other hand, seem fairly satisfied with their depth of understanding by way of description. Throw in a thorough knowledge and intense interest in ancient authors who gave it their best shot, and we have (only in my opinion, of course) laughably off-course guesses being stated as facts.

I wonder if maybe burt’s position on the matter is just a reaction to early 20th-century radical behaviorists who felt and stated that goals, intentions and thoughts simply did not exist. (I replaced “thought” with “felt and stated” above, for obvious reasons.) I see burt’s position as falling on one side of the arc of a swinging pendulum, unintentionally perhaps reacting to previous opposing equally strong nonsense that amazingly prevailed for decades.

As far as I care, a description of “how” is the only useful one. An answer to your “why” will be forthcoming. Count down from 100. You’ll get to about 97. That’s because molecular diffusion of gases, and solution processes combined with efficient blood circulation will get the anesthetic attached to your cortical neurons in very short order.

There’s a school of thought that wants to suggest to you that your perception of reality is inadequate and that a bear is going to come out of the underbrush and eat you strictly because you did not detect it in time. Truth is, the bear is just too big and hungry.

This is probably not the threat from not adequately “explaining” consciousness (or whatever you want to call it). To tell the truth, I have never heard an adequate justification. Mainly the refrain is, “You don’t know what you been a-missin’, Oh boy!”

You could be right about the pendulum. A lot of Burt’s discourse is about conditioning. It’s a paranoid theory.

[ Edited: 15 August 2008 10:22 AM by Traces Elk]
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Posted: 15 August 2008 04:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Salt Creek - 15 August 2008 02:12 PM

As far as I care, a description of “how” is the only useful one. An answer to your “why” will be forthcoming. Count down from 100. You’ll get to about 97. That’s because molecular diffusion of gases, and solution processes combined with efficient blood circulation will get the anesthetic attached to your cortical neurons in very short order.

There’s a school of thought that wants to suggest to you that your perception of reality is inadequate and that a bear is going to come out of the underbrush and eat you strictly because you did not detect it in time. Truth is, the bear is just too big and hungry.

This is probably not the threat from not adequately “explaining” consciousness (or whatever you want to call it). To tell the truth, I have never heard an adequate justification. Mainly the refrain is, “You don’t know what you been a-missin’, Oh boy!”

Okay, but all I was trying to get at this morning was that some people seem to need more description than explanation, while others, such as burt apparently, seem to need more explanation, such as what can tie up the many loose ends from their reading of the ignorant ancients. To me, burt’s recognition of consciousness as being an a priori phenomenon analogous to gravity signals a view of humanity’s importance to the universe that makes no sense. It seems fantasy driven, egotistical and utterly absurd.

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
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Posted: 15 August 2008 06:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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homunculus - 15 August 2008 08:35 PM

some people seem to need more description than explanation, while others, such as burt apparently, seem to need more explanation, such as what can tie up the many loose ends from their reading of the ignorant ancients.

Sure, needs are important. Now, someone’s deeply-felt needs, plus a shiny coin, will purchase the usual gumball. This is why, instead of a shiny coin, most people choose to wield semi-automatic firearms when their needs are deeply-felt.

All I’m suggesting is that people who claim to “need” explanations to clear up the misconceptions of the ancients should put their money where their gumball machine is.

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Posted: 15 August 2008 10:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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homunculus - 15 August 2008 08:35 PM
Salt Creek - 15 August 2008 02:12 PM

As far as I care, a description of “how” is the only useful one. An answer to your “why” will be forthcoming. Count down from 100. You’ll get to about 97. That’s because molecular diffusion of gases, and solution processes combined with efficient blood circulation will get the anesthetic attached to your cortical neurons in very short order.

There’s a school of thought that wants to suggest to you that your perception of reality is inadequate and that a bear is going to come out of the underbrush and eat you strictly because you did not detect it in time. Truth is, the bear is just too big and hungry.

This is probably not the threat from not adequately “explaining” consciousness (or whatever you want to call it). To tell the truth, I have never heard an adequate justification. Mainly the refrain is, “You don’t know what you been a-missin’, Oh boy!”

Okay, but all I was trying to get at this morning was that some people seem to need more description than explanation, while others, such as burt apparently, seem to need more explanation, such as what can tie up the many loose ends from their reading of the ignorant ancients. To me, burt’s recognition of consciousness as being an a priori phenomenon analogous to gravity signals a view of humanity’s importance to the universe that makes no sense. It seems fantasy driven, egotistical and utterly absurd.

cheese 

Humanities importance to the universe isn’t the issue, the universe could wipe us out tomorrow and not lose any sleep over it.  What is important (as I see) it is knowing who we are, the limits and constraints that we operate under, how our minds function, and how to live the good life.  And to be able to develop methods of education that will help others to come to their own understandings of themselves.  We teach people the rudiments of good physical health, but we’re pretty much in the dark as far as mental and spiritual health are concerned. 

BTW, I would not refer to the ancients as ignorant.  Of course they were uninformed as to the nature of the physical world, but when it comes to the nature of mind and self-consciousness they had just as much phenomenological access as we do, even if they didn’t know a thing about the neurology of it.  Today we are fortunate enough to be able to start connecting the neurology with the phenomenology.

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Posted: 16 August 2008 07:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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burt - 16 August 2008 02:45 AM

What is important (as I see it) is knowing who we are, the limits and constraints that we operate under, how our minds function, and how to live the good life.

This is just parroting the old “know thyself” thing. Now the Greeks who invented this concept lived in a polytheistic and dominantly superstitious culture, and a lot of this kind of philosophy relates to proptiating deities by living harmoniously with the order they had set up for human beings.

I know better than to assume that you believe in Zeus and the rest of that stuff, and that living the good life is done strictly to lead to the greater happiness of the individual. In the modern world, self-determination is probably regarded as the linchpin of this kind of “good life”, and you pretty much will be told to mind your own fucking business.

If you want to set up a school and teach Greek philosophy to your students, and if you want to develop a theory of consciousness proving that this is what the universe actually intends for us to do, you are welcome to try. I’m thinking, though, that tuition money is not rolling in for this enterprise, and until you actually prove that the universe has a purpose in mind for us, you will be stuck blathering emptily into internet forums like this one. All you can hope for is to advertise your school with an infomercial and see if anybody salutes. Here, you will get critical comments.

burt - 16 August 2008 02:45 AM

And to be able to develop methods of education that will help others to come to their own understandings of themselves.  We teach people the rudiments of good physical health, but we’re pretty much in the dark as far as mental and spiritual health are concerned.

Let me guess, Burt: You believe you’re not in the dark about mental and spiritual health, and aim to show us the way. Well, get in line behind the latest incarnation of Bubba Rahj Fubar and his meditation entertainment empire.

burt - 16 August 2008 02:45 AM

Of course they were uninformed as to the nature of the physical world, but when it comes to the nature of mind and self-consciousness they had just as much phenomenological access as we do, even if they didn’t know a thing about the neurology of it.

Because they knew nothing about neurology, their ideas are typically useless, and when they are not, they are useful on a case-by-case basis, and only after specifying what the goal is beforehand, and certainly not in the grab-bag style you’ve adopted. Your phenomenological access is quite evidently encumbered with preconceptions and ideological commitments, despite all the noises you make about your supposed “enlightenment”. Unless you want to present scientific data somehow demonstrating that it is, I think you better let the neurophysiologists take it from here.

burt - 16 August 2008 02:45 AM

I would not refer to the ancients as ignorant.

That’s your prerogative, Burt. I would refer to them as ignorant. For one thing, they were ignorant of the concept of evolution in the living world. They were also ignorant about the fundamental nature of reality, seeing as how they believed in anthropomorphic deities. They were pretty much a bunch of turkeys. Jive-ass turkeys, and only people who like their ideas crystallized in amber and hung around their necks like a charm have any deep and academic interest in them.

[ Edited: 16 August 2008 07:25 AM by Traces Elk]
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Posted: 16 August 2008 08:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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Burt, I was using “ignorance” in the sense of lacking knowledge. Do you see modern societies as having more knowledge or less than the ancients had? I’m not talking about intelligence or any other cognitive ability. Certainly ancient texts contain a wealth of information with many insights to be gleaned and built upon. But the ancients, I feel, need to be seen as pathetically ignorant in comparison to people currently alive. Hundreds of years from now, today’s generations will be seen as ignorant. Humans have only just begun accumulating and disseminating knowledge about ourselves and our surroundings. I feel comfortable spitting on Plato’s reputation because his ideas have, due to political manipulations, almost taken on a life of their own. Plato has no family members who will take offense, and you need take no offense, either, burt, as I don’t mean to insult you. But I hope you already know this, as this isn’t the first time the subject has come up between us.

To reiterate my point, your idea about consciousness being comparable to gravity and other natural phenomena, as though it’s a universal force or entity of some sort, is nothing short of bazaar. You have yet to even hint at demonstrating its validity, though you’ve certainly attempting to illustrate its utility in explaining your metaphysics. You’re being intellectually dishonest in my opinion.

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

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Posted: 16 August 2008 08:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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homunculus - 16 August 2008 12:03 PM

To reiterate my point, your idea about consciousness being comparable to gravity and other natural phenomena, as though it’s a universal force or entity of some sort, is nothing short of bazaar.

In the marketplace of ideas, many of them are “bazaar”.

You have yet to even hint at demonstrating its validity

Yes, that’s right. Even the a priori “posits” have to be tested by seeing what syllogisms they can generate. Burt says to be patient, and he’ll get a round tuit. He’s really in tuit. To wit: Saffron robes. Chanting. Meditation. Woo woo.

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Posted: 16 August 2008 09:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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Salt Creek - 16 August 2008 12:21 PM

In the marketplace of ideas, many of them are “bazaar”.

Damn. I hate it when I make a glaring error in public. But I’d really hate it if no one were willing to point it out. Get the hint, BV?

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

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Posted: 16 August 2008 09:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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homunculus - 16 August 2008 12:03 PM

Burt, I was using “ignorance” in the sense of lacking knowledge. Do you see modern societies as having more knowledge or less than the ancients had? I’m not talking about intelligence or any other cognitive ability. Certainly ancient texts contain a wealth of information with many insights to be gleaned and built upon. But the ancients, I feel, need to be seen as pathetically ignorant in comparison to people currently alive. Hundreds of years from now, today’s generations will be seen as ignorant. Humans have only just begun accumulating and disseminating knowledge about ourselves and our surroundings. I feel comfortable spitting on Plato’s reputation because his ideas have, due to political manipulations, almost taken on a life of their own. Plato has no family members who will take offense, and you need take no offense, either, burt, as I don’t mean to insult you. But I hope you already know this, as this isn’t the first time the subject has come up between us.

To reiterate my point, your idea about consciousness being comparable to gravity and other natural phenomena, as though it’s a universal force or entity of some sort, is nothing short of bazaar. You have yet to even hint at demonstrating its validity, though you’ve certainly attempting to illustrate its utility in explaining your metaphysics. You’re being intellectually dishonest in my opinion.

There is always a balance to be maintained.  Vico (not quite so ancient) identified two complimentary errors: The Error of Nations—to assume that the “founding fathers” (or more generally, “the ancients”) were sources of matchless wisdom whom we moderns can only wonder at in awe; The Error of Scholars—to assume that the ancients were ignorant fools from whom we have nothing to learn.  The real test is: Do this persons writings, philosophy, theorizing, etc., provide anything that is useful for me, today?  We want to learn from the past, not be bound by it.  So, you may spit on Plato, for example, while I find that reading his works forces me to think about and evaluate ideas that are still relevant today.  That doesn’t mean that I think he had the final word on things, but as I see it his basic goal was to provoke thought, not offer final words.  So different strokes for different folks. 

If my idea about consciousness, as contrasted to self-consciousness strikes you as strange, c’est la vie.  My reference to Parmenides had to do with his argument about “what is.”  Basically, he deduced that “what is” had to be eternal, unbounded, homogeneous, etc.  In more modern terms, it could contain no distinctions.  That is quite similar (allowing for cultural differences) to the argument of Gautama (at about the same historical time) that all composed things of necessity were mortal, that only that which had no components was eternal.  Going with the idea of something with no components, or no distinctions, and asking what it might be called, there are (IMHO) at least three possibilities: (1) empty space; (2) undifferentiated energy (what the Greeks called hyle, undifferentiated matter); (3) pure consciousness.  This probably doesn’t make it any less strange to you, but as you wander through the bazaar of metaphysical ideas you will find many that are even stranger and some that are truly bizarre.

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Posted: 16 August 2008 09:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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burt - 16 August 2008 01:08 PM

So different strokes for different folks.

Things are getting cilia and cilia here. But when a masochist calls, I must flagellate.

Do we really need to endure another dreary lesson on “the error(s) of Scholars/Nations”. These are minutiae related to a Yin/Yang contemplation of the problem of authority. Only, this ain’t the half of it. Science isn’t about authority. Only philosophy is.

Bacon has news for you about some other errors, pointed out by Wilson in Consilience:

Idols of the Mind: the errors of undisciplined (!) thinking. (I crack the whip, and you love it!)

Idols of the Tribe: Assuming more order than actually exists in nature (so watch out for all your a priori stuff!)

Idols of the Cave: The idiosyncracies of individual belief and passion (and you think you’re aware, but that I’m not!)

Idols of the Marketplace: The power of mere words to induce belief in nonexistent entities. (It’s like having deja vu and amnesia at the same time!)

Idols of the Theater: Unquestioning acceptance of philosophical beliefs and misleading demonstrations (again, you think you’re immune, and that everyone else needs the inoculation that only you can provide. What a joke - on you!)

burt - 16 August 2008 01:08 PM

If my idea about consciousness, as contrasted to self-consciousness strikes you as strange, c’est la vie.  My reference to Parmenides had to do with his argument about “what is.”  Basically, he deduced that “what is” had to be eternal, unbounded, homogeneous, etc.  In more modern terms, it could contain no distinctions.  That is quite similar (allowing for cultural differences) to the argument of Gautama (at about the same historical time) that all composed things of necessity were mortal, that only that which had no components was eternal.  Going with the idea of something with no components, or no distinctions, and asking what it might be called, there are (IMHO) at least three possibilities: (1) empty space; (2) undifferentiated energy (what the Greeks called hyle, undifferentiated matter); (3) pure consciousness.  This probably doesn’t make it any less strange to you, but as you wander through the bazaar of metaphysical ideas you will find many that are even stranger and some that are truly bizarre.

Aha. The cafeteria approach. Shades of John Fucking Brand.

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