Monism

I have put this monism blog under religion, but it could have easily fit under free will or other stuff (philosophy). Having said that, interpretations of some religions can be monistic.

There are various flavours of monism, eg in opposition to dualism (ie) mind versus matter, good and evil. Some see monism as a priority monism and quite often we see such thinking reflected in vaguely religious people who argue for The One, notice the upper case. Everything goes back to a source that is somehow distinct. I’m not sure how this can be seen as monism, but there we go. These people see evil not as distinct, but the absence of Good. Such thinking is often peppered with upper case common nouns. This might be seen fitting with a panentheist view.

Existence monism suggests that there is only one thing, the universe. This we divvy up into all sorts of things, though it could be argued we do so somewhat arbitrarily. For example, take a tree, is the tree in some way separate from the atmosphere, the sun, the soil, the moisture, the other living and inanimate stuff that share the tree’s space. The tree is not separate from the evolutionary process that shaped the tree. This of course is at one with a pantheistic view.

A third kind of monism, substance monism, posits there is only one kind of reality or substance. Everyday stuff can be explained in terms of this reality or substance. While I accept this might be true, physics as yet not identified this single reality or substance. What physics has identified is a plethoric zoo of particle types and it is questionable whether substance would be a suitable descriptor. Having said that I remain agnostic on this one, but don’t have to include into my ontology.

Modern philosophy of monism has posited three flavours: physicalism, idealism and neutral monism. These are more attributable to the nature of consciousness. The physicalist will argue that matter has priority over mind, the idealist vice versa and the neutral monist would give them equal priority. I find idealism hard to fathom, I don’t particularly believe it, but I can see no sensible way to eliminate it either, other than discarding the possibility of solipsism. Neutral monism is there is an underlying [single] reality that explains matter and mind. I naturally float to physicalism; assuming there is a reality beyond my perception then it makes sense that my perception is a reflection of that reality, (though not necessarily an accurate reflection). Bertrand Russell and I suspect Galen Strawson are neutral monists. So, I will for the moment not be too critical of this position. But this position does lend itself to panpsychism, which may be of concern to some.

Of course, there are other types of monism and I won’t dwell on the traditional religious aspects of monism (not to be confused with monotheism). I will let those interested surf Wikipedia to see how traditional religions deal with monism; but, I will add that the traditional Abrahamic religions hold people as separate from God and by and large believe in good and evil.

I think this little clay animation brilliantly depicts the illusory aspects of being separate. And it gives an emotional view of where I am coming from.

Louis Lefebvre

The YouTube blurb describes the video as:

… chronicles the evolution of Consciousness from its inanimate state into human form and then back through spiritual seeking to Oneness. Its inspiration is the spiritual teaching of Wayne Liquorman and Ramesh S. Balsekar

Personally, I would have used lower case for oneness. We don’t use an upper-case U for universe. For me it describes beautifully the illusion of separateness from the universe (environment, nature).

Even Sean Carroll seems to appreciate the connectivity of the universe in a probabilistic way.

The universe in action

Quantum mechanics predicts our future in terms of probabilities rather than certainties, but those probabilities themselves are absolutely fixed by the state of the universe right now. A quantum version of Laplace’s Demon could say with confidence what the probability of every future history will be, and no amount of human volition would be able to change it
The Big Picture, Sean Carroll

Here’s my take on my version of monism

  • Cause and effect are true for the universe.
  • Cause and effect might be deterministic or perhaps indeterministic (Carroll’s quote?)
  • If cause and effect are false, then I don’t cause anything to happen and in no sensible world could I be considered responsible.

Then:

  • Then the various bits and pieces of the universe are connected and interdependent.
  • The various bits and pieces tend to move en bloc, ie they move as one. The movement might be displaced in our perceived time.
  • The movement may well be probabilistic rather than deterministic, so we will never be able to make absolute certain predictions (even deterministic actions are subject to chaos).

Nevertheless, predictions we do make based on our reductive understanding and reasoning.

This view has been described in not so many words as bleak. And yet it parallels the spiritual view strived for by so many religions. The atonement (to be at one) with God, or in my case the universe.

14 thoughts on “Monism

  1. Rom, you are missing the point of the “logical” character of these issues. In that sense, the universe is not connected all to everything. And cause and effect is not the connector.
    The world as ‘shown’ by physics is not directing connected to consciousness, and this certainly not by causation. Con is connected to perception, need, want, self-con, language, thought, instinct, etc. it’s a vocabulary of its own. The perception of X can cause the con of X, but photons or sound waves do not cause a consciousness.
    To think that the stimulation of some neural group causes con of pain is the seed of significant confusion. It’s what Carroll calls mixing vocabularies and it “leads to nonsense.”
    Whole Levels of vocabulary are Associated with each other. That way they stay consistent within themselves.
    Thanks

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  2. In that sense, the universe is not connected all to everything.

    That I find hard to comprehend. That is like saying we are not stardust. That in part is our connection to the universe.

    And cause and effect is not the connector.

    Of course it is. For example evolution. Without the cause and effect found in evolution we would not here.

    The world as ‘shown’ by physics is not directing connected to consciousness, and this certainly not by causation. Con is connected to perception, need, want, self-con, language, thought, instinct, etc. it’s a vocabulary of its own.

    So what? Not that I believe it is true. While I agree we don’t have a fundamental understanding of consciousness, tell me about your unconnected consciousness prior to your conception.

    The perception of X can cause the con of X, but photons or sound waves do not cause a consciousness.

    Does the chemical reactions and physical processes in the brain ’cause’ consciousness?

    To think that the stimulation of some neural group causes con of pain is the seed of significant confusion.

    In what way stimulating parts of the brain that cause pain (or its experience) causing confusion? What is fundamentally the difference between electrons travelling up our nerves to ‘signal’ pain and electrons from a probe in our brain signaling pain?

    What does Carroll say about this, or more importantly what do you say about it?

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    1. Causation is the only connector in this world? Rom, come on. I know we are pushing the envelope here, but information is also a way to be connected to things!!! Please explain to me how your all cause theory understands information. Is info just a code word for causes? I like to “inform” myself and so do you, what has that to do with causes? The next time I sit down to read your post, I’ll say, “I do this to cause myself to Not believe what Rom thinks is true!” What is the diff between cause and inform?
      Rom, I’m enjoying this because you got no answer to that, and Thank You for our fruitful exchanges!
      Your Pal, GWW

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  3. Rom, the world as shown by physics is not directly connected to hunger or fear let alone consciousness. The particles of physics only interact with other particles of physics. Hunger and fear interact with “needs” “instinct” food” and it “lack” and the are properties of “animals” and not collections of particles. Atomic particles are never “hungry”. That is the Logical issue I mentioned to start.

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    1. So you disagree with Sean Carroll?

      but those probabilities themselves are absolutely fixed by the state of the universe right now.

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      1. No, I agree with Carroll and that is the point of his Poetic Naturalism. Emergent levels of reality “hold” the different things we are disagreeing about. Talk of emotions is legit at its level and in relation to the other terms at that level. Picturing the body as a system of chemicals and their interaction is legit at its level. But to contend that Emotions Are Chemical Releases is to not get the point of the whole levels and emergence thing. Carroll gets it . you don’t.

        The occurrence of emotions in a person are Associated with chem occurrences. But, Rom, we have very good reason to believe that an emotion as basic as “Fear” is not even “the same” in an infant, a young child, an adult, even if the “fear” area of the brain is stimulated. Don’t you agree that our sense of an emotion becomes ‘more sophisticated’ with maturity at least in a lot of people.
        Your examples of “awe” and “marvel”, do infants even feel those? What of “love”? There are histories of that idea/emotion written, contending its modern form appeared around 1800. Don’t you think culture and history has has a narrative of its own? Do you believe in narrative at all? Even your own life’s?

        Whatever, time to eat

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  4. Greg … there is no separation between physics and say psychology. Each of them are based on cause and effect (or whatever current physics models we happen to be using). In psychology we look at the underlying causes. We can break down these causes into little bits or look at them as a whole.

    To me it is utterly stupid to ignore the fact that the whole is made up of its component parts and pretend in some way the component parts don’t make up the whole; and are in someway irrelevant. It is fine to think of things as a whole, but that does not make them independent of the component parts. Regardless how much we describe the various parts as emergent.

    As to feelings like awe. It is not that events that cause a sense of awe are awesome (other than some semantic dodge), in the same way your logic is not dismal even though it does cause a sense of dismay in me.

    We have a whole bunch of subliminal triggers … eg infra sound in in some music and thunder.

    Yes, culture and history do have narratives of their own. This is the same straw man you are using as a piñata all the time. No one is denying this. But then things like culture are a product of things like an evolved capability, which in turn are biology, biochemistry, chemistry and physics. I am not saying we have to drill down to these levels when talking about culture; but, I do suggest be aware that these levels are there. But if you want to talk about the latest issue of Cosmo or what Oprah Winfrey is touting … go for it.

    Here is a bit of historical culture pointing to the interconnectedness of the universe.

    For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
    For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
    For want of a horse the rider was lost.
    For want of a rider the message was lost.
    For want of a message the battle was lost.
    For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
    And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

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  5. Rom, all those final terms and things—-nail, shoe, message…..kingdom— are at the same level, same vocabulary. So yes they all interact in the causal manner described. But how about changing it all into atomic particles. What is a ‘horse’, a ‘battle’ or ‘kingdom’ in those terms?
    Or switching “the message” from writing with meaning into “a bunch of squiggly lines.” How are they ‘read’ or ‘understood’ if “meaning” doesn’t exist. What is a “message” in terms of physics? When people read, is that a process involving “meaning and understanding” or physical causes or both?

    How the world as physics connects to (the word with) consciousness, that is a much harder slog, but I feel strongly that saying “its all causes” misses a huge side of it. As you well know, it misses agency and quality and morality. You seem fine to be without those (somehow). I don’t. It’s being untrue to the phenomena, I think.

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    1. Rom, the whole point of Emergentism is to try to describe the difficult relationship of Atoms to ‘the human heart’ for ex. Atoms are Not the components of a heart in a straight forward causal way. Dennett, Carroll, any Compatibilist bases their position on that. You are mistaken to think that the whole is a heart and its components are atoms. This is a confused statement by you: “To me it is utterly stupid to ignore the fact that the whole is made up of its component parts and pretend in some way the component parts don’t make up the whole; and are in someway irrelevant. It is fine to think of things as a whole, but that does not make them independent of the component parts. Regardless how much we describe the various parts as emergent.”

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  6. I must admit you are missing my message here Greg.

    There is a whole continuum between a nail and a collection of fundamental particles, but we draw an arbitrary line in there and for convenience sake describe the world at that level. For example we take a materials metallurgist point of view the nail and describe the improper alloying and hardening causing the loss of the nail. We could move into the crystallographers realm and describe the improper structure as a cause.

    I have no problem picking a level to describe things, my problem becomes when we describe things in a way that are incompatible with the levels below and (above).

    So when you are asking the question “what is a horse in terms of atomic forces?” it is that that is the confused question. A horse is a product of evolutionary biology, which in turn is the interaction of biochemistry with the environment. What else is it? The horse is stardust that has been shaped by the universe.

    You seem to be pointing to some “more” you give it a name “emergence”, but you don’t seem to make a scientific explanation of what this more is.

    In some ways I am surprised by your take, bearing in mind the name of your blog naturereligionconnection. Science tells us the natural world is interconnected, the word religion comes from the Latin to reconnect, and you have connect in the title, yet you seem to deny this connectedness. Beats me.

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  7. I’m glad to see you are allowing for different levels of things. So much is obvious. The issue is how to connect them. How do they interact? Your hunch “causation “ is not a big enough idea to do it sufficiently, I argue.
    And this is not your problem alone. Science ‘wants’ to understand everything as causes and that is why Compatiblist philosopher’s argue science is a “one-sided” point of view. In the world as only particles of physics and reactions of chemistry, a “viewer” does not exist, only particles and reactions. A viewer, mind, is compatible with science but also importantly different!

    But for biology, psychology and sociology, this lack of viewer And Agent ——Having a point of view IS Agency, Rom (got ya! Don’t I?) —- starts to debilitate their ‘science ‘. That is why they are the ‘soft’ sciences. In psychology that is where Behaviorism came from, to toughen it up, to diminish the role of subjectivity. Yet, it has been largely dismissed as a sufficient overall psychological basis, especially by most psychologists. Agency forces itself on these disciplines, at least to a larger degree.

    Philosophy has traditionally picked up the ball, to get to this other side of things. I have come to realize recently, and in part to our correspondence, that a good way to frame it —the other side (to causes)—- is to contrast it to Information! Our world, especially, but the universe also —with its other life Forms—is both connected by causes and by information. Anything with a Point of View and Agency is not only being caused but also being Informed! To them, these designed things, they have made something particular out of the generalized universe of physics and chemistry!
    The complex things of the world are the informed things. Physicist S. Carroll, in his philosophy of Poetic Nationalism, says the relationship of higher level realities to the baseline physics reality is “usefulness “. The higher levels make use of it for their purposes. Philosopher D.Dennett, argues “Information is design that is worth (the designed object) getting.” Info is worth going after, because it functions to support and enhance the designs that exist all around us and as us!

    So, Rom, the universe is both caused and informed, probably each at the same time. Your “causes only” view, does it have anything to say about Info other than it’s just causes by a different (confused) name? Right now, I think the most fruitful way to understand what we are doings, is not cause each other to believe anew, but inform each other to do so.

    Thank you, Rom, for the fruitful dialogue!
    Yours truly, GregWW

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  8. “A horse is stardust shaped by the universe.” I agree and the trick is to explain how the horse acquires it’s degree of Agency. In the end, I agree with you: Agents are designed things and they do ‘isolate’ themselves to to a limited degree from the environment as physics and chemistry. That is how more complex things, different things, happen for horses than for collections of particles or a system of chemical reactions. That stardust actually takes on ‘a personality’ in a horse! The horse as “spirited” or “affectionate” or “gentle” is significant to us in those terms and the other terms like them at their level. “Awe” is not primarily a chemistry reaction, just as your sense of “dismay” is not either. I hope you feel dismay at reading this because “your take it” (as the agent you are) is that it is dismal. Your chemical reduction of these complex things is secondary to their definition and functioning at their own level. That is why I would rather be me than a horse or a star, including stardust.

    I will now go and try to enjoy dinner as a culinary, human and basic life Function, and not as a chemist or physicist would attempt to abstract from that.
    Aren’t we just saying the same things over and over?

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  9. I’m glad to see you are allowing for different levels of things. So much is obvious.

    Again you miss my point. There are different levels of descriptions. These levels are not separate. Despite the fact you think you agree with Carroll, when in effect he says the exact opposite, in the bit of his I quoted.
    Funnily enough yes things like gravity can be described in terms of information. I even referenced a paper back on the emergence thread. Of course this so called information is not what Auntie Flo had for supper, but Shannon information, a statistical way of describing information, much in the same way thermodynamics can be described in a statistical way.

    Earlier you said a “viewer” what ever that is does not exist in a world of “atoms and particles”. This of course is bullshit … viewers exist because of the particles etc. How is “mind” different from science. You make the claim … substantiate it.

    Agent? Got ya? It is the properties of agency we are discussing not whether they exist. My couch has agency in that leaves an indent on the floor. We can describe the couch in terms of information or cause and effect.

    Are you claiming (Shannon) information is not subject to causal effects? Dennett tortures the definition design so that it means just about anything.

    Give me an example of information that does not have fundamental particles associated with it. Patterns that contain the information are writ large in cause and effect on the constituents of this universe.

    Just got back from Seattle. While there is information in that statement there is a far more cause and effect behind it.

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  10. Aren’t we just saying the same things over and over?

    To me it feels like you are not answering my points and repeating yourself.

    apologies … your post got trapped in spam for some reason.

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