Straw Dogs

by: John Gray, read in 2004

3 Progress is just as obvious as the fact that humans are animals. Both the notion of 'animal' and 'progress' are abstractions. So what?
4 He conflates Christian salvation with human progress. Human progress has long since transcended Darwinism. Humans are different from other animals: they can act on the basis of conscious deliberation, planning, and free will to an unprecedented degree. This "planning" component is attested to by the volume of symbolically encoded information employed. Very different from other animals.
6 We can "ascribe consciousness and purpose to [humanity]"! I agree that apparent "changes to human nature" will come from "haphazard...twists in man's fate", but those twists will be formed by consciously caused changes to the environment, E.g. the Industrial Revolution was caused by the conscious discovery and application of science; the resulting "twists" of power, freedom, pollution, health, overpopulation, etc.. were unintended consequences. Nevertheless, the net result has been positive. In my view progress results from the thinking and usually suffers from the plans.
6 Of Lovelock's four outcomes, I think symbiosis is most likely. I disagree that greenhouse gases have "changed global ecosystems irreversibly". I agree with his prognosis of rapid, early population decline.
12 OK: then neither do corporations, families, couples, cities, sovereign states, atoms, or molecules exist; there are only quarks and leptons. I agree for the most part; I am more optimistic though, that the "frailty of human nature" can be "solved".
15 Redefine 'artificial' as resulting from a conscious plan. Then re-examine his argument. Either there must be a difference between human artifacts and natural systems, or there must be some grand conscious planner!
18 The political projects of the 20th century have not failed. Socialism was tested and found wanting. Governance in general is strengthening and improving. I agree with his thoughts on Science.
20 Interesting. I agree.
23 I agree.
24 (The first part of this summarizes what I was trying to tell Pat at dinner: Socrates' view of truth and the good passed on to Plato and then to Christianity.) I believe that knowledge of truth will set us free. However, I don't believe truth is either changeless or perfect. I believe there is harmony between human knowledge and human well-being. I think we dismiss "the voice of God" to our detriment. The hope of "freedom for everyone" shows real progress! I think that to really discover truth, we have to escape from Science's self-imposed restrictions.
29 We need to expand Science's scope; not submit to its limitations.
30 Both Monod and Gray make unsupported dogmatic statements about truth and what we "must" believe and do. They both may be wrong.
31 Daisyworld fallacy: What advantage do white daisies have in the heat? or the black ones in the cold? Baloney.
37 Good definition of philosophy: searching for good reasons for conventional beliefs. How can he be so certain that humans are not so radically different from other animals? Or, that if they are not, that animism is not true? I think it is probably true that our ingrained beliefs about consciousness, selfhood and free will are wrong. But it is also probably true that the real explanation of them, rather than that they don't exist, is that they are manifestations of a vastly more complex picture that is unapprehended and even unsuspected.
38 I suspect that Gray doesn't understand Schopenhauer's philosophy. Being embodiments of universal Will, means we do have free will. The "error" is in the acceptance of the notion of "individual", not in the notions of free will or consciousness. In my view "the existence of God, the freedom of will and the immortality of the soul" are easy to accept if you accept that there is only one soul, or consciousness, viz. God. Everything else logically and simply can be derived from this including the illusion of individuality. I think Hume was right: the external world does not really exist. As Berkeley claimed, it is merely a collection of some of the thoughts of God. I think Schopenhauer agreed with me. I think the noumenal world is not unknowable. I think some aspects of it can be revealed by mathematics. Consider Gray's attribution to Kant, that "it is only because I belong in the noumenal world outside space and time that I can live my life according to moral principles" having accepted my premise that individuality is an illusion and that the one consciousness -- God's -- , with its thoughts, is all that exists. Then "I", "my", and God refer to one and the same willful consciousness, while space and time are a mere subset of the noumenal world. It all makes perfect sense to me. I think that was also what Schopenhauer tried to describe. The idea of the individual human can't be dismissed any more than can the idea of an individual tractor being dismissed as one of the tools of a single farmer. The will resides solely in the farmer, but the tractor definitely does purposeful deliberate work.
44 History has meaning as soon as we are consciously aware of it. At that point, we can judge, decide, and will in order to try to alter the future positively. Meaning comes from the resulting progress.
48 No comment on Heidegger.
52 No comment on Wittgenstein.
59 Animals and bacteria may be conscious of their perceptions. Information does not need mind; just knowledge does. At least I think it is useful to define mind as the capacity to know.
59 I agree with what he says about consciousness but not that it is insignificant or unimportant. Consciousness : autonomic processes :: deliberate movement of a steering wheel : automatic processes like spark plug firing. The former are the true determinants of behavior.
64 We have free will to choose thoughts only; not action. (You taught me this, Bob.) Actions are determined by long causal chains, many of whose links were deliberately chosen thoughts.
69 I disagree that we "cannot...summon or banish our thoughts, by deciding to do so". I think we can do both.
I agree that most of our life is enacted without conscious awareness, just like most of the actions acting on a car happen as a result of forces other than those produced by the driver's muscles.
I disagree that our life cannot be made conscious it can, simply by using will to direct and focus attention.
I don't know what "self transparent" means so I can't argue.
I happen to agree that "our conscious selves arise from processes in which conscious awareness plays only a small part" except that "selves" should be "self". But I say that the "conscious awareness" means that associated with an individual human and that the "processes" are transcendental having little or nothing to do with brains.
"We resist this fact because it" is too complex and unknown.
I agree that it is enlightening to view the self as a chimera, but cognitive science is at odds with Buddhism in one important respect: I agree with both Buddhism and cognitive science that "Our perceptions are fragments picked out from an unfathomable richness " but I think Buddhists would agree with me in disagreeing with CS that "there is no one doing the selecting". To the contrary: there is the "one" which is fundamental to Buddhist and my belief and which is ignored or denied, if not ridiculed, by science.
"The notion that our lives are guided by a homunculus -- our inner person directing our behavior arises from our ability to view ourselves from the outside". How can science explain this "ability to view...from the outside"?! It can't. A much more logical interpretation is that the homunculus is an outer person directing our behavior, and that outer person naturally has the ability to view things from the outside. Rather than deny its existence, simply posit it and everything else has a perfectly logical explanation.
72 R.A. Brooks "It is only the observer of the creature who imputes a central representation or central control." Wrong! Speaking for the particular creature, Paul Martin, I firmly assert and impute the experience of a central representation and control over that particular creature's life. The opinions of any observer have little or no bearing.
"Selfhood in humans is not the expression of any essential unity". This is a sweeping, unsupported assertion which I believe is false. Human selfhood is obviously very much unlike an insect colony. Come on! Furthermore, if you posit a unitary "outer homunculus", then you automatically have the explanation for the "soul" or coordinating agent of an ant colony!
Calling it a "virtual self" I think is closer to actual reality. But equating self to "a pattern that emerges" not only doesn't explain anything but the two concepts are vastly dissimilar.
I agree that the self "seems to be centrally located, but is nowhere to be found". That is, in my view, because it IS singular and centrally located, but that location is outside our 4 D space time continuum. No wonder science and their instruments can't find it.
74 I agree that the continuity, and even the reality, of the individual self is an illusion. But the very notion of an illusion makes no sense in the absence of an experiencer of the illusion. To me, a mind is necessary for this, and I posit only one such.
Hume: "The mind is a kind of theatre, where several perceptions successively make...". It isn't logical or consistent to equate"mind" with the "theatre". The world with its organic bodies is a better analogy with the "theatre". This leaves the "mind" as the entity having the "perception" and the ability to "imagine" and be "mislead" and to "have...notion[s]". Without a real mind, those concepts are meaningless. Think of a single mind operating all organisms in a time sharing manner as vehicles and all of Rees' and Locke's cited evidence makes perfect sense.
"We are programmed" Indeed! And by whom??!!!
"...ability to deceive...comes with the power of language." Baloney. The ability to deceive AND the power of language come with the capability to think, i.e. with the existence of a mind.
"The illusion of enduring selfhood arises with speech." Baloney. The illusion of enduring selfhood arises from the ability to recall memories of prior experience.
"The I is a thing of the moment, and our lives are ruled by it." I agree. The moment now is a particular time slice of the time sharing mechanism when the one mind happens to be consciously operating the organism. In a succession of these, for a single organism, the one mind perceives the organism's physical situation and willfully controls the organism's actions. We use the name "I" for this succession just as we use the name "thread" in a timesharing application. Very simple, and it explains everything.
78 In my view, brains are remote I/O devices each connecting the mind to a body. If, by meditation or other means, the I/O device can be disabled, it is not clear what information is available to the mind. The Buddhists might be right. It is also unclear on which side of the I/O device the memory resides, or if it is split across both sides.
In this view, neuro science examines only a small and relatively insignificant part of the system. It is like studying TV sets trying to learn about the source, production, and transmission of the programming content.
I think lucid dreaming, rather than being dismissed, should be seen as offering one of the most promising avenues for investigating the part of the system on the other side of the I/O device (brain).
81 "Perhaps we should set ourselves a different aim: to discover which illusions we can give up, and which we will never shake off." Why not use logic and the scientific method to examine ALL evidence and come up with even more comprehensive theories?!
We can't be as sure about the nature of "illusion" as he suggests.
87 He doesn't define 'morality'. If morality is a set of values outweighing all others, then morality plays a large part in everyone's life. I think we are born with a conscience which precedes any religious training, thus morality is innate.
90 I agree.
91 "...unquenchable fondness for killing." Too pessimistic. Look at the 20th Century. The principals of WWI and WWII forestalled WWIII. The "fondness" is being quenched.
"...good Christian men and women who colonized Tasmania"?? No. They were the worst criminals and riff raff.
"Holocaust...crime without parallel." No. Stalin was much worse.
96 There is no doubt conscience can be occluded by training and experience.
97 No comment.
102 My "time sharing" view of mind shows perfect, timeless justice: all perpetrators, victims, benefactors, and beneficiaries are one and the same. There can be no better justice.
103 I agree.
104 No comment.
105 Prudence makes sense since you will be living your future. Duh.
106 No comment.
107 No comment.
109 The question of whether "we" choose our life circumstances becomes much more complex in my view of a single mind. I think there is a good chance our life circumstances are deliberately chosen ahead of time.
110 For the most part we are intentionless in our actions. But there are moments of deliberate, willful action that determine our actual course. Same as driving a car: Most actions of keeping the car on the road are intentionless, but some few critically important deliberate choices are made which determine where the car goes.
I think "Western moralists" are superior to Taoists who would have had no problem participating in Hitler's empire and approving of it. The ideal Taoist acts like all other animals do.
"few human beings have the knack of living well." True but nearly all Westerners have the good fortune of living well thanks to a very few who consciously and deliberately thought out solutions to many of mankind's myriad problems. Compare living in China with living in Euro America to judge which is better.
I don't agree at all that his list of "conflicts of...instincts" is an important or significant distinction between humans and animals.
I don't agree that "Morality is a sickness." He glossed over conscience as a basis for morality, saying only that it can be obscured.
119 I don't happen to think that "beliefs about sin and redemption were at the heart of Jesus's teaching." Since Jesus didn't write, and the later recollections of others were written much later and were selectively picked over by Church authorities, the notion of sin and redemption was added and emphasized later. Recent discoveries, in particular the Gospel of Thomas, have Jesus emphasizing quite different ideas. E.g. that we are each God; that we each have innate knowledge of everything; and that we need only look inward to ourselves; be still and know; seek and we shall find the truth. These ideas were very threatening to the organized church so they were suppressed.
121 "Sickness...ageing...scarcity...poverty" you have to admit that science has done vastly better with these than any religion has.
It's not magic and people know it. If we will stop acting like animals (as the Tao and Gray seem to advocate) we can stop using science for ill, to wit, nearly 60 years now without dropping any more nukes in anger.
In spite of what he says, freedom has been a primary pervasive motivator and determinant of Western culture.
Free societies will soon blanket the earth.
I agree with him that religions and their Inquisitors have been a net negative for humanity.
125 I don't think Gray has the authority or credibility to speak for all polytheists.
126 Most true.
128 No comment.
129 No comment.
130 Can we rule out suicide among whales?
131 Krishnamurti sounds a lot like Jim Jones, Joseph Smith, Jim Baker, et. al.
133 Nonsense.
134 No comment.
137 News to me I had never heard of Federov.
140 No comment.
142 No comment.
145 I'm surprised by his comments on lucid dreaming.
149 Too pessimistic for me.
151 Too pessimistic for me.
155 "There is [no] progress in ... ethics". Baloney. History is recurring gain and loss, but it is spiraling upward.
156 How can he be so sure about Paleolithic vs. Neolithic life?
"...farming, not hunting...generates "nomadism"." Baloney -- it is ranching or herding.
This whole section is riddled with error. Specious.
159 "The chief effect of the Industrial Revolution was to engender the working class." Baloney - There was always a "working class". The chief effect of the IR was to change the nature of work. - Yes, from providing for needs to providing amusement.
161 Huh?! Only the "incorrigibly feckless...believe in taking the long view"? Pure baloney.
161 Pure nonsense.
162 "[Prosperity] cannot continue without inventing new vices." New objectives need to be invented but nothing compels them to be "vices". How about health care for goodness' sake?
He writes this as if he were an ex-drug crazed 60's hippie. - a simplistic distorted view.
166 More specious hippie nonsense.
170 No comment.
171 "...consciousness emerged..." - unsupported, doubtful assertion. I don't think so.
171 Okay...
173 Yes.
174 Yes.
176 Interesting -- if true.
178 Interesting look at Russia.
179 Jail population is the measure of Westernization?? Come on.
180 There is nothing "classical" about "Malthusian conflict". It has consistently been an erroneous and failed prediction.
20th Century wars were far worse than the 9/11 type terrorist strikes.
182 You could look at war that way. To me, war and sports are the natural consequences of competition.
183 Too pessimistic about ZPG. I think it is a natural consequence of Globalization = Westernization.
185 "Humans are no more masters of machines than they are of fire or the wheel." OK. But we are masters of fire and the wheel to a great extent.
187 I don't think conscious machines are possible. I think the only way in which machines, including human bodies, can be conscious is that they serve as vehicles which the one consciousness drives. This makes animism true as Santayana suggests.
193 Quite apart from giving us "consolation", action provides for our needs.
195 Just as we have gone beyond slavery as a necessary component of our economy, we will go beyond "work" as a necessary component of our economy. Gray is too pessimistic.
196 What's the difference between "purposeless work" and play?
197 What overwhelming pessimism! Poor guy!
199 "Can we not think of the aim of life as being simply to see?" Yes, we can. Does Gray not see that this very aim constitutes a purpose? Cheer up, for heaven's sake; things are progressing and getting better, even by his criterion: We see more!

Notes | Ideas Home Page
Go To Home Page

©2005 Paul R. Martin, All rights reserved.