Posts Tagged With: Philosophy

Almond Milk (and Banana Pancakes)

Turns out that finding enough time for blogging during the schoolyear is a lot harder than during the summer. Who knew, right?

Anyway. The past month has been filled with a lot of personal achievements for me, but one of the most surprisingly easy was almond milk. Wait, you must be saying, what? Almond milk isn’t a personal achievement! No, but it is. For years now, I have been looking to entirely eliminate dairy from my diet, and I think, finally, I have.

A little backstory. I have been vegetarian since before I was born. Everyone in my family is vegetarian. I was raised without the option of eating meat, and I have never had the desire to take it up. People ask me if I feel angry at my parents for “depriving” me of the “choice” by raising me veggie. I’m not quite sure they understand. Growing up veggie, I tell them, didn’t deprive me of anything, except perhaps the air of self-satisfaction that comes with rebellion against the norms of one’s childhood. I think of eating meat as like getting tattooed: If an independent and informed adult decides to do it, well, that’s one thing, but parents have no business tattooing their children, or feeding them meat, before the child can decide for him- or herself.

But, of course, there is one respect in which eating meat is not like getting a tattoo: it is not a purely self-regarding action. If you’re eating meat, then there is an individual person—not a human person, perhaps, but a person nonetheless, with a conscious mind—who had to die to provide you with that meat. For me, it isn’t the eating, per se, that’s the problem: it’s the killing, and the infliction of pain that precedes it. This applies to both humans and nonhumans. If, upon my death, you were to eat my body, I would have no moral problem with that (though you might have a digestive problem with it). However, if you were to walk into my room and torture me to death, I would have a moral objection to that regardless of what happened to my body afterwards. I don’t care how hungry you might be, that would not be acceptable behavior.

The problem, though, for a vegetarian like myself, is that a whole slew of “animal product” foods, though they don’t intrinsically require cruelty and murder, are only available (to those of us living in cities, at any rate) through systems which do intrinsically require these moral atrocities. I have personally milked a cow on a small farm in the middle of nowhere, and while I doubt that I would enjoy the experience if I were a cow, I’m not sure the milking itself qualifies as cruelty. But  the milk available to me here in New York City is going to be, for the most part, coming from factory farms, from the kind of places Isaac Bashevis Singer was talking about when he wrote that “in relation to animals, all people are Nazis; for the animals, it is an eternal Treblinka.” And I can’t stand the thought of supporting those places, however indirectly.

Eliminating dairy has been easier for me than for most, I think. I never drank milk or ate cheese in the first place; I’ve always hated them. Ice cream…well, I needed to eliminate that from my diet anyway, dairy or no. So that basically left me with yogurt (which I ate a lot when I was younger, and since then have only really eaten as a way of weaning myself off ice cream) and foods with dairy ingredients. Since I live in a residence hall without a kitchen, eating my food from the communal dining hall, this hasn’t really been an issue, but once I am living elsewhere, and cooking my own food, it could be. In particular, I was worried about the breakfast foods: cereal (a staple of mine growing up) and pancakes (which I would have eaten every single day of my childhood, had it been up to me).

At the beginning of this month, I discovered banana pancakes. Caroliena, from Polyprotic Amory, was the one who taught me how to make them. They are virtually identical to “normal” pancakes, but the butter is replaced with bananas, which holds the batter together in much the same way. It’s also healthier, tastier, and, most importantly, dairy-free.

I was surprised by how easy it was to just strike the offending ingredients from the recipe. Banana pancakes have quickly become one of my favorite foods. But even after this, it came as a shock to me when I tried eating a bowl of cereal with almond milk.

At first, I thought it didn’t taste any different. After a couple of bowls, though, I started to realize that I preferred the taste of almond milk to dairy milk. If only I had known about it a decade and a half ago! I could have been eating much tastier cereal all these years! In fact, if I had been given this milk growing up, maybe I would actually have liked drinking milk, rather than finding it repulsive. It gets better, too: whereas something like soy milk requires quite a bit of processing apparatus to create, making almond milk takes nothing more complex than a bowl of water and some form of strainer. This is the kind of thing you could make without using anything more technologically advanced than pottery! Almond milk is amazing. I am never ever ever going back. And that means, finally, I am entirely dairy-free!

Once you start looking for alternatives to what you’ve been doing all your life, it’s amazing how quickly you can find something better.

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Daily Prompt: Fifteen Credits

Today’s Daily Prompt: “Another school semester will soon begin. If you’re in school, are you looking forward to starting classes? If you’re out of school, what do you miss about it — or are you glad those days are over?”

I can’t wait for classes to start.

I’m serious. This is my final year of undergrad, and I’ve already finished the actual coursework for both my majors, so the only “serious” academic stuff I’m doing this year is thesis work. Now, granted, I’m writing two honors thesis projects, so that’s kind of a lot, but still, it’s only two classes per semester. I actually had to go searching for random irrelevant classes to put in my schedule just so that I would have enough credits to stay in university housing (which is kind of necessary for my job as a Resident Assistant).

Typically, I’m not the kind of guy who takes random classes for the hell of it, which is how I finished two majors in three years. A semester is a long time, and that is a big commitment! Yes, I know there are websites like RateMyProfesssor and all that so that you can get an idea of what you are getting into, and I know you can find folks who have taken the class before, too, but…I don’t think you can ever really know for sure what a class will be like for you until a few weeks after the semester starts. At which point, of course, it’s probably too late to drop it if you hate it, and certainly too late to get in to anything meaningfully better to replace it. As a result, I’m very selective about what I take. Or, at least, I have been so far.

This year, however, I have a new plan. Not only am I filling out my schedule with irrelevant coursework and music lessons, but I’m taking the search for random, useless classes to the next level: I want to sit in on a single session of a different random class every week this year. I have a lot of unclaimed time in my schedule right now, and while almost all of it will go towards additional thesis work, that’s not incompatible with this plan. After all, if the class isn’t interesting, I can just work on my thesis stuff to pass the time while I wait for it to end. (Having been born in Oxford, and as the son of two professors of English, I obviously can’t just leave.) But on those days when I stumble across a class that I do find interesting, it will be like a breath of fresh air, broadening my horizons in all sorts of unexpected ways.  Who knows? I may discover a previously latent passion and find myself completely transfigured by the experience.

I am so grateful that I was able to come to my top choice  university, and I have intensely loved the education I’ve had so far here. I knew what I wanted to study, and I came here ready to do precisely that. However, looking back, I think that a couple of totally random, irrelevant, and useless classes would have done me a lot of good. I have a tendency towards extremes, and while I’m very much a “big picture” kind of guy, once I get really focused on something, I do not stop. There is a danger that I will lose all sense of perspective in my quest to understand my new obsession “all the way down.” But a steady, regular dose of uncontrollable randomness is a superb antidote to fanaticism.

And, of course, I live and work with first-year college students. Even if I were heading into a dreary year of utterly predictable and entirely uninteresting coursework, it’s pretty hard to surround yourself with hundreds of incoming freshmen and not get excited about the start of term. Because if you think I’m way too happy about school starting up again…just imagine how they feel.

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Just Jealous? Why I’m Angry about Wealth Inequality (and you should be, too)

I’m going to be upfront about this: wealth inequality, both within the USA specifically and on a global scale, is a hot-button issue for me. It’s one of the political problems I care about the most. That’s why, since I live in New York City, I actively participated in the Occupy Wall Street protests at Liberty Square right from the start, or close to it. As a full-time student, I didn’t camp out there, and I would have felt a little guilty doing so anyway, since I couldn’t commit all day every day to the protests, but I was down there quite a bit. When discussing those protests, many of the things I would hear from fellow students were variations on the theme of: “You’re just jealous.”

As they saw it, the only reason anyone would protest against the vast wealth disparities between the top 1% (and, especially, the top .01%) and the rest of us was materialistic envy. According to this theory, I was protesting because I felt entitled to the same level of wealth and power that these über-elite banking executives enjoy, and I was demanding that they simply hand this kind of economic “success” (so-called) to me. After explaining to me what my motivations were, and why that meant that protest was misguided, these generous souls would then kindly offer me some advice on “more constructive” ways to deal with my jealousy of the banksters. The recommendations typically fell into one of two categories: 1) Sit down, shut up, get back in line, find a job at a bank, work hard, save up, and get rich myself (this advice typically came from the business school students), or 2) Remind myself that I don’t really even want to be rich in the first place, and just calm down already, because what was there to be so jealous and upset about?

Now, I’m not blaming the folks who offered this advice, or saying that they were being intentionally or willfully unhelpful. Both these ideas would have been great solutions, if my classmates had been diagnosing the problem correctly. If my anger at wealth inequality really did stem from jealousy, then either one of these solutions would have worked excellently, if I had taken it to heart and lived by it. They were, in a sense, right answers. They were just answering the wrong question.

My problem with wealth inequality isn’t that super-rich folks have nicer shit than I do. Indeed, by my own aesthetic standards, their lives are mostly a lot worse than mine. For example, my actual living quarters are a lot closer to my dream home than a giant empty mansion would be. I don’t like a high level of technology in my living space (or, really, on my planet). If someone handed me a billion dollars and made me spend it all on myself, I certainly wouldn’t waste it on luxury yachts and big-screen televisions, even if I were acting out of pure selfishness. Those things just simply don’t appeal to me in the first place.

In fact, my problem with wealth inequality isn’t, strictly speaking, even with the inequality itself. That doesn’t bother me. Some people are taller than others, some people are stronger, etcetera, etcetera. My sister, for example, is taller than I am. No big deal. But here’s the crucial difference: She didn’t cut off my legs to achieve her height. She didn’t get taller by making other people shorter. In the case of wealth inequality, however, that’s precisely how it works: the elites gain surplus by depriving the masses of what we need to survive.

I’m not against wealth inequality because the rich have more than they could ever possibly want, but because the poor have less than they actually need. I’m against it because while billionaires zip around in private jets and decide the future of the world, at least one billion of their fellow human beings have never tasted clean water. I’m against it because while executives take home six-figure annual bonuses in addition to their salaries to pat themselves on the back, one in four children in America is on food stamps because their families can’t afford both food and rent. There is enough of everything to go around in this world, but because the distribution is so massively imbalanced, almost all the world’s wealth is in the hands of only a few hundred individuals. And while they feast, the world starves. It is monstrously unethical to ask the “have nots” to simply ignore the lives of the “haves,” and enjoy what they’ve got rather than feeling entitled to something more. Most of the humans living on this planet, and even millions upon millions of people in the richest countries in the world, haven’t got enough to get by. It’s not about trying to get ahead, it’s just about wanting, for once, to be allowed to break even.

Assuming that people who are angry about wealth inequality just wish they were rich is like assuming that feminists just wish they were misogynistic. It completely misses the point. I’m angry that there are rich peoplenot that I’m not one of them.

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The Memories of Moths

Moths can remember things that happened to them as caterpillars. Seriously. Butterflies, too.

In a 2008 paper, researchers from Georgetown University demonstrated that when a caterpillar is trained to avoid a particular smell, the moth who was once that caterpillar will retain the memory of the training, and continue to avoid the scent. Caterpillars were treated with mild electric shocks while simultaneously being exposed to particular odors, conditioning them to avoid that smell. The caterpillars were then placed in tubes with a “fork” in their “road,” with the target smell emanating from one path but not the other. The caterpillars strongly preferred to head away from the smell, down the other direction. But here’s the crazy part: when these caterpillars became moths, the vast majority of those moths also avoided the smell, and took the other option. The researchers tried the same setup with caterpillars and moths who had not been exposed to the shock-training, and found that the avoidance behavior was not exhibited by these untrained individuals. In other words, caterpillars and moths don’t just avoid this smell on their own; that comes only with training. And the only training occurred during the caterpillar stage of the moths’ life cycle. Since the caterpillars avoided the smell, that means it worked. And since the moths did too, that means they remembered their caterpillar training. Which means that memories are preserved across the metamorphosis stage.

I found this research fascinating. It’s my kind of discovery: upending conventional wisdom by actually testing it against the real world, and finding it wanting. Like most folks out there, I grew up with the idea that butterfly and moth caterpillars are essentially liquefied during their metamorphosis. The pupal crucible breaks down everything the caterpillar is, and rebuilds it as a moth, or as a butterfly. When the caterpillar’s pupa breaks open, the moth who emerges is something quite new and different. This idea is the root of numerous metaphorical comparisons: When we feel that we are losing who we are, that our lives are being entirely upended and destabilized, we are reminded that “What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls the butterfly.” Except it turns out that even the caterpillars aren’t quite so prone to exaggeration. Perhaps the caterpillars are secretly Zen Masters themselves.

However, to me, the thing that jumped out at me wasn’t that caterpillars’ memories are retained by moths and butterflies, but rather that caterpillars have been proven to form memories in the first place. Of course, it comes as no surprise to me, but I imagine that most folks today think of caterpillars as mindless “eating machines,” with no psychological life at all. It would be “anthropomorphizing” to attribute mentation to caterpillars; how very unscientific! And yet the entire premise of this research is the tacit understanding that caterpillars form memories. There is something it is like to be a particular caterpillar, something different from what it’s like to be a different caterpillar. (Or a bat.) Caterpillars feel pain, just as we do, when zapped with an electric shock. (If you prick us, do we not bleed?) And it traumatizes them. During metamorphosis, caterpillars essentially takes their own bodies apart and start over from scratch, and even that is not enough for them to get over it. To put it in the words of John Locke (not the Lost character; I mean the O.G.), caterpillars have psychological continuity over time. In case you missed it, that’s Locke’s criterion for personhood, and the persistence of personal identity. When we speak of caterpillars, we should not say “the caterpillar that became a moth,” but rather “the caterpillar who became a moth.” It isn’t just something, it’s someone.

Remember that next time you are considering a silk scarf. Sericulture, the 5000-year-old practice of breeding and raising silkworm caterpillars in captivity, then tearing apart their cocoons when they enter into the metamorphosis phase, is lethal to the silkworm caterpillars involved. And although a single caterpillar produces as much as one thousand yards of raw silk, because the harvesting process is very inefficient, producing a single kilogram of silk fabric requires the murder of more than five thousand caterpillars. There’s a reason that Gandhi (yes, that Gandhi) was a vocal opponent of sericulture. If you believe that every living thing has a conscious self (a soul, if you will), then every single filament of silk ever worn is steeped in a five thousand year history of genocide.

And if you accept, as shown by this among other experiments, that a caterpillar forms associative memories of subjective experiences like pains and smells, memories written so deeply and indelibly into the caterpillar’s being that they survive even the near-death and winged resurrection of the caterpillar itself, then on what grounds can you deny that each of these caterpillars has a conscious self?

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Daily Prompt: Flip Flop

Today’s daily prompt asks:
“Think of a topic or issue about which you’ve switched your opinion. Why the change?”

Possibly the most dramatic example of this is my belief in Polyamory. Today, I believe that emotional and sexual non-monogamy is not only ethical and moral, but actually more moral, more beneficial, and more natural than monogamy. However, this couldn’t be further from what I grew up believing. I was one of those kids who believed in “The One.” Not only did I think nonmonogamy was ethically wrong, I didn’t even think it was really possible. I believed that every person is only capable of falling in love once in their entire life, a view I have come to refer to half affectionately and half mockingly as “supermonogamy.” Each of us has precisely one potential match out there, one “love of your life” for each of us. Even as I hit my teenage years and went off to high school, I continued to believe this. Sure, I thought, there can be false positives, where you mistakenly believe someone to be “The One” even though they’re not, but you still do have a unique soul mate out there for you. In my case, I believed I had already found mine, and she felt the same about me. We were both aspiring writers. We inspired each other, and pushed each other to do better than we thought we could. We had known each other essentially all our lives; we were one another’s first boyfriend and girlfriend; we were young, and passionate, and very much in love. Given the evidence in front of me at the time, I can see why I believed what I did. If ever there was a storybook love, it was this one.

But, according to my strident belief in supermonogamy, what happened next shouldn’t have been possible: I fell in love again. I came to develop very strong feelings for another girl. I tried to deny it to myself for a long time, but it became increasingly futile. It wasn’t that my girlfriend and I had a falling-out, or that I stopped feeling as deeply for her, or any of that. If anything, while this was going on, my feelings for my girlfriend intensified. Nevertheless, I also began to have similarly intense feelings for someone else. Every moment I spent with her felt like an adventure, like I was being swept up in a whirlwind and carried off into the great unknown. We had spent our entire lives never meeting once, but we seemed to have everything in common: we saw the world the same way; we loved all the same books and films and shows; we knew all the words to all the same songs that were written long before we were born. We had even played all the same computer games! (Knights of the Old Republic all the way, baby!) Meeting her was like closing your eyes and falling backwards, only to have someone catch you unexpectedly.

I was convinced this couldn’t be possible. And so I came to the conclusion that I was wrong about my own feelings. I thought what I was feeling was wrong, not just morally wrong, but logically wrong. It wasn’t possible, so it must be illusory. In other words, I got myself believing that at least one of the loves “wasn’t real.” But try as I might, I couldn’t figure out which one. I would argue one side and the other, back and forth, always doubting my own feelings, hating myself for not being able to tell. I mean, if one of these girls was the love of my life, my one and only soul mate, and the other was just a false alarm, shouldn’t I have been able to tell which was which? There were days when I was convinced I had realized which love was real, but these “realizations” were mutually contradictory. Sometimes it was one, sometimes the other. All the while, in the back of my mind, there was one answer that I’d known was there from the start, but could never bring myself to face. It was eating away at me: the only logical solution. If either of them really was “The One,” I would be able to tell which one it was. They couldn’t both be The One. But for the life of me, I couldn’t tell which one I “loved more.” I couldn’t tell which love was real, and which one was just a lie.

Which meant that neither one was real. And everything I felt, for either of them, was all a lie.

Of course, I see now that this depressing conclusion, which gnawed at my mind and made me so doubtful and mistrusting that it ended up destroying both those relationships, was just the result of starting from the wrong premise: I was assuming, without justification, that it was impossible for me to love both of them, even though that’s exactly what it felt like. I had blinded myself to what I was actually experiencing by internalizing the dogma of “The One.” It took a long time for me to see past that dogma and actually look honestly at what was happening. A long time. Because even after that fiasco, this didn’t stop happening. Years later, after a long and tumultuous interlude, my first girlfriend and I were back together, and something similar happened again. And again. Each time, I didn’t want to believe it, but after breaking up once and reuniting with my first girlfriend, I was convinced, all the way down, that our feelings for each other were real. But when I would fall in love with someone else again, it didn’t feel any less real than my love for her. Different, surely—every connection is unique, because every person is different—but no less real.

Each time, I would actively recoil from these newfound loves, trying to avoid repeating my earlier catastrophe. But as time went on, I was forced to accept, based on the crushing weight of the evidence, that it possible to fall in love with multiple people at once. In fact, given that most of my close friends were girls and that they wouldn’t have been my close friends if we weren’t deeply in agreement about some pretty fundamental things, it was actually rather likely. I wish I had realized it sooner, because there were girls who loved me as much as I loved them, but I never told them, because I was convinced that what I was feeling was impossible. There were people I hurt—badly—because I simply tried to pretend, to myself and to them, that I didn’t love them the way they loved me, even when deep down I knew I did. I wish I had figured it out in time not to hurt them, in time to show them that they were loved, to give them that same feeling of warmth and relief that comes from knowing that your love is not unrequited.

I used to believe that Polyamory wasn’t even possible. I kept believing that even after I myself had been mutually in love with more than one person, but at that situation of multiple simultaneous love stories interwoven in my life continued to recur, time after time, I found that I couldn’t deny it any longer. I didn’t want to hurt people I loved, to lie to them, any more. Most importantly, I wanted to be honest with myself, to finally be able to admit what I was feeling, to say it openly and honestly, come what may.

I’ve always been the kind of person who likes to be right, no doubt about that. But when it came to the possibility of Polyamory, admitting that I’d been wrong all along, and that it was time to change my mind, to accept the position I’d spent essentially my entire life denouncing—it was the greatest relief of my life. That’s why I changed my mind, and that’s why I’m Polyamorous.

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Daily Prompt: Stranger in a Strange Land

Yes, I know I blog about Polyamory kind of a lot. And yes, I know that a lot of the modern polyamory movement in America can trace its roots back to Robert Heinlein‘s depictions in his books, and very specifically to his novel Stranger in a Strange Land. Tim Zell, now called Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, was an avid reader and fan of Heinlein’s, exchanging letters with him and even going so far as to found a real-lifeChurch of All Worlds,” a Neopagan organization openly espousing Polyamory. His wife and fellow Neopagan, Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart, was the author of the Green Egg article “A Bouquet of Lovers,” which is commonly—and incorrectly—called the origin of the word “Polyamory.” While the word Polyamory is nowhere to be found in her article, the article is certainly about Polyamory, and it is one of the most well-known and influential discussions of Polyamorous relationships in modern times.

However, despite all this, and despite its title, this post has nothing to do with any of that. It is a response to today’s Daily Prompt, which asks bloggers to describe their “favorite part” of visiting a new place.

And here’s my answer: the sidewalks of Buenos Aires.

No, seriously. During my sophomore year, as I’ve mentioned before, I visited Buenos Aires during my spring break with a group of fellow students from my university. From the moment I arrived there, the thing that immediately caught my attention was the sidewalks. They looked as though they were made of bathroom tile! I thought that was the coolest, most random thing I’d ever seen. I thought it was so fascinating that, while everyone else on the trip was taking photos of the buildings, or the monuments, or (mostly) themselves in front of the buildings and the monuments, I was going around taking photos of the sidewalk. (Note: I have not included my own photos here, because they’re pretty crappy and there are much, much better ones available here.) Here’s where it got interesting: pretty much right away, I started noticing that the pattern changed as you walked down the block. The bathroom tile gave way to long, elegant slabs of marbled concrete, dotted with tiny little dark swirls.

As my fellow students and I walked around the city, all I would talk about was the sidewalks. They fascinated me. I couldn’t stop looking at them, noticing all the different variations, looking at where one ended and the other began. That was when it hit me: the different sidewalk patterns lined up with the property lines! Each building had a different pattern of sidewalk in front of it. I was ecstatic; I had figured it out! The sidewalk patterns were different because each property owner was responsible for maintaining the sidewalk in front of their own building! Having convinced myself of this, I insisted on explaining it to everyone else in the group, and feeling pretty chuffed about myself as a result. Sure enough, when we got back to our hotel and had access to the internet, I looked it up, and it turns out that I had it right: Buenos Aires does not have its sidewalks maintained by the government (except, of course, in front of government-owned buildings), but by individual citizens who own the properties adjacent to the sidewalk.

That, to me, is what travel is all about. You go somewhere you’ve never been, and you notice what they’re doing differently. Yes, you notice the large, obvious differences (“Durrr…they speak more Spanish!”), but what I find far more interesting are the little things. Like the sidewalk. You would never think twice about the sidewalk in your hometown. It’s such an everyday part of life, so familiar and unchanging, that you come to take it for granted. But then you go to somewhere like Buenos Aires, and suddenly you see that there is a different way of doing things. You see that the way sidewalks are in your hometown and the way in Buenos Aires are vastly different answers to a question you hadn’t even thought about before.

And it gets you thinking about that question. It gets you asking yourself, “Hang on, is my culture’s answer to this question the right one? Why do we do things this way? Are there downsides to the way we’re living that never occurred to us before?” I’m not saying Buenos Aires has it all figured out when it comes to sidewalks, and I know I would have had a hell of a time just getting from point A to point B if I were in a wheelchair, but the nonchalant beauty of the sidewalks, reminding us that diversity is just more satisfying than homogeneity, is something I’ve really come to miss ever since leaving that eclectic city. (And I was only there for a week!)

Traveling to new places, if you’re paying attention, gives you the chance to take something strange and make it familiar to you, but much more importantly, it gives you the chance to take something familiar and make it strange to you. And that’s why travel is so important, so exciting, for me: it gives me opportunities to think like an anthropologist. (Which is not just fun, but also kind of necessary, since Anthropology is one half of my double major. Fifty points to anyone who doesn’t know me personally and correctly guesses the other half.) It gives me a chance to see the culture I was raised in with new eyes, as though seeing it from the outside.

Which, strangely enough (everyone go ahead and groan in unison at the pun), brings me back to the title of today’s daily prompt. The title whose history I said had nothing to do with this post. Well, turns out I lied! It has everything to do with this post. Because if the best part of traveling to new places is thinking like an anthropologist…isn’t that just the same thing as being a Fair Witness?

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What Is Panpsychism?

This post will be the first in a three-part introductory series in which I elaborate upon the central topics of this blog, and the central tenets of my worldview. This post, as you may have guessed from the title, is about Panpsychism. Posts about Permaculture and Polyamory will be forthcoming.

So: what is Panpsychism anyway? Derived from the Ancient Greek words for “everywhere” and “soul,” the term “Panpsychism” applies to any worldview in which every fundamental thing has a conscious, mental aspect. It is most often associated with Neutral Monism, the description of the Mind-Body relationship in which the mental and the physical are each aspects of one underlying and united whole, as opposed to Dualism, the view that the mental and the physical are two fundamentally separate kinds of substance. Panpsychist views can be roughly divided into two overlapping subsets: Pantheism and Animism. Pantheism is the view that the entire universe, as a whole, is a single conscious entity. Animism is the view that all the myriad individual things that make up the universe are conscious entities. The two are not incompatible, but they are not inseparable, either; you can believe one without the other, but you could just as easily believe both (or neither).

Panpsychism is the logical conclusion of four premises:

1) Mental properties are real. This premise is rather hard to deny, as it is difficult to claim “No, I’m not really experiencing anything; it just seems to me as though I am!” without sounding like a first-class prat, even to other philosophers. To be fair, some hard-line physicalists did attempt to deny the reality of conscious experiences, also known as qualia, in the first half of the twentieth century. (They were mainly behaviorists like B. F. Skinner, who famously said “The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do,” and who believed the answer to the second question was “No,” thereby proving himself right in at least one instance.) However, anyone who is not currently comatose can observe the existence of conscious phenomena through pure introspection—indeed, the existence of our own conscious experiences is probably second only to “I think, therefore I am” in the competition for “most obviously and certainly true claim ever made.”

2) The physical world is real too. This premise is a little bit harder to prove with the same kind of rock-solid, malevolent-God-proof certainty you can have about the previous one, but as with the first, virtually everyone accepts it. Again, it has been denied by some, perhaps most famously by George Berkeley, who claimed that because we can only directly perceive our own subjective experiences, and we can only indirectly perceive things we already have independent knowledge of (that is, through earlier direct perception relayed to us by memory or reports of others’ memories), then even if an objective physical world exists, we could never have any proof of its existence. Today, however, you are unlikely to find anyone argue against this premise except in philosophy classroom discussions of Berkeley or internet chatroom discussions of Inception.

So far, we have established that the physical world is the real world and that consciousness is part of that real world. How can mental things be part of a physical world? There are three possible answers: Reduction, Emergence, and Panpsychism. Unsurprisingly, the Panpsychist conclusion results from refuting the two alternate explanations of the presence of conscious experience in a material universe.

3) Mental properties cannot merely be reduced to physical properties. Here’s where things get a little more controversial. Effectively, what this claim amounts to is saying that there is more to the mind than the brain. There is no reason in principle why the various functions the brain performs, like discrimination between different stimuli or integration of information, should be accompanied by a certain subjective, qualitative experience. This claim amounts to admitting the existence of the “hard problem of consciousness,” and denying that a super-duper-scientist could look at the fundamental physical properties of the atoms in your brain and thereby discover precisely what it is like, subjectively, to be you.

4) Mental properties do not emerge from physical properties. While the previous premise dealt with a “weak” kind of emergence, like the “emergence” of chemistry from physics, whereby the “emergent” phenomena can be predicted and observed just by looking at the “basic” ones, this premise refers to a stronger kind of emergence, whereby something wholly new and different shows up as the result of unpredictable interactions between the basic components. This premise is claiming that while the strong emergence of physical properties (like liquidity) from the interactions between basic physical things (like atoms) is comprehensible, the strong emergence of mental properties from the interactions between basic physical things is not comprehensible—unless, of course, those basic physical things are also basic mental things, in which case the broken analogy is restored, but now supports Panpsychism rather than Emergentism. Sure, you can still have strong emergence, but mental properties can only emerge from interactions between mental things, just as physical properties can only emerge from interactions between physical things. Neither the physical nor the mental is more fundamental than the other, so neither one emerges from the other.

In short: if conscious experience is real, and the real world is physical, then consciousness must be part of the physical world. If consciousness can’t be reduced to physical properties, and doesn’t emerge from physical properties, then consciousness must be a fundamental part of the physical world. That is Panpsychism.

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