the other way around

Some ideas can just be backwards. Take the famous ‘I think therefore I am’. There are not that many people who actually question whether or not they exist. The idea that I might doubt my existence but not my thought is somewhat odd. The implication is that introspection has more reality than reality itself. The opposite idea is that reality is really real and introspection is an inaccurate, sometimes illusionary, ‘copy’ of it. Now, Descartes was a great thinker for his time but a lot has happened since 1637. Science started only a few years before. Science has been studying the physical world for much of the intervening time making reality much more understandable and, as a result, dualism has fallen out of fashion. Well, that Descartes type of dualism anyway. But we go on dividing things in two.

There was a time when it was reasonable to assume that what we now call consciousness was thought and all of thought. It is what we experience and all other mental activity is inferred or deduced. There seemed one mind and it was the mind we had experience of. But deduction and inference has been going on for some time and now it appears that most thought is carried on without coming to conscious awareness. It would be reasonable to assume that there is only one mind and we are aware of part of what that mind does. We are not longer forced to either the naïve version of only conscious thought or the dualist version of two minds (conscious and unconscious) with two types of thought. We do not actually know how the brain functions – it is possible that there are a number of different thought processes, 6 or 7. Why 2? Personally, I would bet money on there being so much integration that it will be seen as one process in time.

Then we have gone on and divided animals into humans and other animals; an extremely old divide. But over time, the more we know about biology, the more that humans fit right into animals of the higher ape variety. The things that defined us as very different have fallen away one by one. Other animals use tools, they deceive, they make plans, time travel, have theories of mind, similar emotions and on and on. All that is left it seems is language and even that is not fully secure with parrots, dogs, elephants, dolphins and so on having traces of something close to the line. In order to preserve the human position as somehow very different from animals we have made a taboo of anthropomorphism. We feel we must resist any assumption that animals are like us until the we are forced to give up by evidence. In biochemistry, biophysics, physiology, anatomy we are animals with very few distinguishing features (no more than any other animal). Why should we assume that our psychology and behavior is extremely different, a difference of kind rather than degree.

I am getting very suspicious of anything that comes in exactly two distinct varieties. If it turns out to be a spectrum with two names for the extremes – OK. But two distinct types – I suspect that someone likes to have a duality here and I need to be convinced.

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