Since ancient times people have been trying to understand how it is possible that a body that is made out of nothing more than flesh can be conscious of itself. Undoubtedly, such an old problem has received multiple efforts either to make it disappear or to solve it outright. For instance, some people tried (some still do) to explain away this problem by postulating the existence of the soul. In contrast, some others tried (and some still do as well) to remove consciousness from the equation and reduce it to no more than the material workings of the brain. However, in my opinion, no solution proposed has been successful in satisfactorily explaining the relation between the mind and the body, until now.
Naturally, it is a problem that I find myself interested in, and thus I will attempt to propose a solution to this problem through this essay series. In an attempt to accomplish that, this essay series will suggest that the mind and the body are actually one and the same thing, and thus inseparable from each other. The series starts with the following prelude regarding Logic as the law of being. The intention of this part is primarily to give a brief ontological illustration to shed some light on the second part of the series, which will discuss the ontology of consciousness. The final four parts of the series will then attempt to suggest a solution to the mind-body problem by collapsing the formal distinction between the mind and the body and treat them as just two moments of the same unity. I hope that the mind-body problem can indeed be solved with this solution, thus freeing us from this intellectual puzzle once and for all.
On Logic as the Law of Being
What is it that an object must fulfill in order to warrant our assertion that “it is” or that “it exists”? Perhaps we can say that it has to be able to be observed first, be it by our senses or through some apparatus, or perhaps if the object is possible to be thought of. However, what conditions allow it to be sensed or thought of in the first place? Indeed, to say that “it exists” entails something more than just for it to be “there” in the barest sense. Or perhaps it would be more appropriate to say, “what does it mean for something to be “there” in the first place?”. Take, for example, the table in front of me. Sure, it is registered by my eyes, and I can touch it, and if, for instance, I am not in the same room with it, I can still think about it. But for these activities to be possible, first of all, the object has to fulfill certain conditions, such as having a stable disposition (a table is an inert object, and thus by itself is incapable of suddenly changing its position or its shape). This stable disposition can perhaps be attributed to the laws of physics. For example, since the table in front of me is made out of wood, and wood is a solid object, then by design, it should hold its shape well enough for me to touch it or for it to remain in place for a period of time (unlike gas, for example). Well then, one might say, this means that perhaps it has to follow a particular rule of physics. However, the laws of physics itself are not some metaphysical laws that something “must” follow, like me having to follow a “no smoking” rule in a given place. The laws of physics are just abstractions of observed interactions of these things, and thus to say that it follows the rules of physics is just saying that the object does things in a certain way. Thus for my table to be capable of holding its shape is not due to the formal laws of physics as such, but because it is made out of wood.
As much as we are tempted to extend our inquiry to: “why do things have such-and-such characteristics?”, it is something that we will discuss later. For now, we have to ask the question: what warrants the assertion “[object] exists”? The fact that it behaves in a certain way? But then, should we not establish the fact that “it exists” first before we then study what characteristics it has? Perhaps the process does not have to be so linear. The reason why someone can discover the existence of a new element is only because it shows itself according to its own characteristics. Imagine if I am to discover, by some chance, a new element that has never been discovered before, and I notice it first because its glow captures my attention. Then we can ask, is its glowing characteristic not a part of what it is? Is it not because of this characteristic that I am able to discover the existence of a new element?
Thus, its characteristic is not something that is separate, or at least over or under the “nature” (by this, I do not mean a clearly defined definition, but just something that is enough to make something recognizable as what it is, regardless on whether the definition is explicit or not), if you may, of the substance, but the characteristic itself can be regarded as a part of the “nature” of the substance itself, of what makes it what it is (Sartre, 1992). Even if my perception of a particular object is clouded by my surrounding environment, for example, my view of a faraway mountain is partially obscured by a light mist, this perception is by no means straightforwardly defective. The incomplete perception of the mountain is itself the result of the fact that the mountain reflects light, and visible light is susceptible to being blocked by mist. In short, what I am seeing is not an inferior copy of some unreacheable reality. Instead, it is due to the nature of light and the mountains themselves, along with their interactions that stem from them being such and such with the mist, which also happens by nature to be such and such.
Since we can do away with the thought that the phenomenon is in some way not directly related* to the nature of the thing-in-itself, it is possible then to grasp the characteristics of the thing-in-itself, and since the characteristics of the thing-in-itself are no more than what it is. However, this “graspability” does not necessarily translate to complete explicit knowledge, since the thing-in-itself, in so far as it is a part of the world, is the limit of comprehension and thus it is only possible to speak of it in the abstract (Sartre, 1991, (Sartre, 1992)). If graspability entails “complete and total knowledge”, then the whole endeavour will collapse to idealism, for the world then will not necessarily be independent from consciousness (Sartre, 1992). For me to understand that a tree is a tree, I do not have to be able to look at it from all directions. I will never be able to look at a tree from underneath, nor is it necessary for me to know that a tree is a tree. And thus, when I say that “that tree” exists, or that tree “is”, what I’m saying is, “look, the nature of that tree is graspable, either through your senses or through your reason”.
This “graspability” of the nature of things is a necessity for us to say that something exists. Whenever we postulate “[object] exists”–either they be real physical things or metaphysical things–at the same time we also postulate its characteristics that make it what it is, or should we say “the nature of the object” which makes it what it is. If such postulation is impossible, then through what means can we say that “that object exists”? Furthermore, through what means can we ascertain the existence of said object? And by extension, we can ask that if an object does not have a nature, a certain “logic” to its existence, can it be said to exist at all? If the aforementioned object can be said to exist at all, it will leave us in a weird situation, in which we can say “[object] exists” without saying what it is that exists. Even more, is it not the case that the existence of the object in question, which is the only “assertable” property of the object (we assert “it exists”) is itself a postulation of the object? And by giving it a name, or at least by talking about it, is the speaker not asserting that it has a particular property, a certain “logic” to it, a contingent rule of its existence? For an object to totally have no discernible nature whatsoever, it is logical then to conclude that it is also impossible therefore to speak of this object at all, for its existence and its identity is not determinable at all (it sounds rather similar to Wittgenstein’s idea about logic and meaningful assertions, although I am sure he would not approve my metaphysical take on this matter).
But perhaps we can imagine that perhaps such is the rule of our universe only. Such are the limitations of our logical thinking that we are incapable of imagining a different form of existence that is beyond our minds. But then, is it true that we are incapable of making assertions about something “beyond” our world at all? Imagine for a moment that other universes exist; how can the people in those respective universes say that “something” exists? Indeed, they can say that something exists if it fulfills the “Logic” of that universe as well; otherwise, they’ll reach the same impasse that we reach if we are to say that something exists without at the same time asserting some properties of that object in question. Therefore, in the end, it is not so much about what “rule” something is following per se, but more of “does that thing have any rule at all”. Does it have any “logic” at all? If it does, then by the same token they, as we, can say that “[object] exists”. In conclusion, it becomes a contingent necessity that for something to be at all, it has to have a certain “logic” (or Logic, as the universal necessity for there to be any rules at all) to it as something that makes it what it is, something that makes the world what it is in its own terms. The “world” that we imagine in the question “can we know something beyond our world” is just an unnecessary constriction. In truth, as long as the object in question exists, then in a sense, it is a part of the world in the broadest sense, as a collection of the “things that are”.
This also extends to anything that is said to have “a complete control of its own nature and/or characteristics”. Assuming such a thing (or creature) exists, if it wants to change something of itself, then something that it wants to change should first have a form of stability. Otherwise on what basis would it want to change it? On what possibility can it even begin to desire such a change? Even if he wants to readjust the apparatus that is always changing, such as a man wanting to tighten a bolt which keeps a tool from changing its relative position, such a tool needs to be denied its previous stable condition, that is, its always-changing-position state (or its always changing angle against a certain surface, which makes using this tool very hard to be used). In short, it needs to change from a particular state to another state. Such a state can only be such and such only if the components in it and the components around it are arranged according to such and such laws and work according to such and such laws. Even its ability to change itself is also determined by a certain pre-existing law. It is a given that it has the potency to do something through the arrangement of its abilities and its tools and also through what its tools allow it to do. Therefore it is according to this law that change is capable of happening; potency goes according to what the law allows him to do. Thus, we can conclude that the being in question (or any being for that matter) has to abide by a law that it itself is not responsible for in a sense that laws which it consciously makes. In short, it has to be what it is and can’t be otherwise.
Now, we can see that the existence of Logic is necessary for things to be and is primary to the existence of things, for otherwise, according to what law does anything in the universe come into existence? According to what law does it maintain its features, functions, and abilities? According to what law does it cease to exist or continue on existing? Even if such a universe has to be so chaotic that the laws of physics change continuously, it remains law that things exist in a certain way and not in that and that way. This does not mean to imply that it “has” to be this way according to some metaphysical reason. The Logic of the universe is a throw of dice, and it is the limit of logic itself. To assume there’s another greater Logic behind the Logic of the universe is to assume the impossible, since then it has to be assumed as well that there might be another Logic behind the greater Logic ad infinitum. In the end, things are so and so without any particular reason at all. But make no mistake. By this, I do not mean that the law exists prior to the universe itself. What is more accurate is that the Logic of things is there only when it is effective, that is, when things move according to their laws and when things are. I have discussed earlier that the laws of physics are not metaphysical rules which inert matter are bound by some obligations to follow. The laws of physics are nature itself. The same goes for the Logic of the universe as well. For what is Logic but the structure of the world, i.e., how things are and how things are arranged? Without it being effective, Logic itself is ineffective, and without its effectiveness, on what basis can we say that Logic exists?
But then since Logic cannot be said to exist without its effectiveness, and objects are determined to exist based on its state of affair (Wittgenstein, 1992), does this not mean that, just like the characteristics of objects being a part of the object’s nature that we discussed earlier, Logic is itself a way of being that is being-in-itself? The answer is yes, Logic itself is a “being” in the sense that it is always a part of being-in-itself as a condition for revelation and existence, because it has to be always the case for there to be something rather than nothing. By “apart” I don’t mean that being-in-itself consists of differentiated parts. Such a differentiation here is only just an abstraction. In reality, the differentiated parts are just different moments of observations of a unified whole, and it’s impossible to see one without the other, nor for it to be without the other. Even nothingness—in the sense of a void, an emptiness without things, not non-being—something which is stable in itself, is not a nothingness in a sense that it is a nothingness of being. Such nothingness is only a nothingness of things and is only a stable state of being, that is, a state in which there is nothing (Sartre, 1992). Therefore, even in the case that there is a nothingness of things, it does not mean that there is no structure at all. It is not a lack of being-in-itself, and thus a certain form of ways of being still persists as long as being-in-itself is. Its effectiveness remains as long as being-in-itself is. Being-in-itself is its own existence, its own structure, its own laws of being.
From what has been explained above, we can conclude two things, (1) Logic is the necessity that is universal for the existence of things and for the intelligibility of things, and (2) Logic is the universal facticity of things. And now we have the appropriate tool to move forward to the main discussion of this essay, which is to determine what consciousness is and how it relates with the body.
*It is true that later we will see that the phenomenon is only possible as if it is a phenomenal relation between the object and the observer, but this does not mean that the phenomenon is just the invention of the observer. If the phenomenon is just the invention of the observer, then what is the phenomenon based on? What differentiates the phenomenon from a dream, in which the object and the observer are just one and the same thing? The phenomenon is just there as the situation the observer is in, insofar as he exists. The color “red” is a part of the situation I am in, insofar as I am in direct contact with the world. Even if I am to say that my contact might be “indirect” since it is mediated by my eyes (which are blurry), I can say that it is the property of light itself to be unfocused if the apparatus is defective, which means even blurry vision still signifies what the world is as it is.
Sartre, J. (1992). Being and nothingness (H. E. Barnes, Trans.). Washington: Washington
Sartre, J. (2004). Critique of Dialectical Reason (Vol. 1) (A. Sheridan-Smith, Trans.). London: Verso
Wittgenstein, L. (1992). Tractatus Logico Philosophicus. The Edinburgh Press.