This new book by Jason Brown, who over the last several decades has woven the somewhat unlikely strands of process metaphysics and clinical neurology into a magnificent theoretical tapestry, represents an attempt to include moral thinking within the framework of the theory. The importance of this move should not be overlooked.
How should our beliefs shape our behaviour?
It is a “unified field theory”, rooted in the abstract metaphysics of process philosophy on the one hand, and the messy reality of the neurology clinic on the other, potentially transforming how we look at phenomena as apparently disparate as the nature of time, the origins of dreams ans hallucinations, the way a speech act unfolds, and (now with the present volume) how we make value judgements.
For whom, then, has this book been written? Clinicians are likely to be baffled by the metaphysics; philosophers, by the clinical material; Psychologists and neuropsychologists, by the lack of empirical tests and statistical analysis. Almost all of us will find our resources of knowledge challenged, if not simply inadequate, at one point or another in the reading of Jason Brown’s work. Many faint hearted readers are likely to say, “Well this book seems to have been written for someone else, not for me!”
Brown cannot be rightly accused of oversimplifying or pandering to the needs of a mass audience looking for simple solutions to complex problems. On the contrary, the theoretical edifice here is enormously complex, indeed incomprehensible for those with intellectual blinders firmly in place. There are no slogans here that can be used to stop arguments, but rather a series of insights that constrain our thinking in a different and more productive way than previously. This is of course sometimes a painful process.
To each she appears in a unique form. She hides amid a thousand names and terms and is always the same. ~ Goethe, On Nature.
Is speciation in the process of evolution analogous to a specification in an act of cognition? Is the process through which species are formed related in some way to the struggle and adaptation that every entity goes through in order to become what it is at any given moment? The realisation of an organism, or any object, is an intrinsic microtemporal process that is largely imperceptible. Does this process correspond with the putative extrinsic relations involved in the reproduction of organisms viewed from the standpoint of populations and evolutionary time? If so, we could say that the evolutionary process of survival and diversification is the outer, large scale, or macroscopic expression of an inner, small scale microscopic process of self-realisation.
The transformation of potential to actual is like that of a not-yet-existent ground to a developing figure in which the ground is the antecedent whole or potential for realisation and the figure is what is actually being realised out of the whole. Once the whole is realised, the being becomes and existent. This process is uniform in nature. The same pattern that creates a brain, brings a particle into existence. (emphasis mine) We should not be surprised that what is most profound in nature is what is most universal, and thus imperceptible owing to it’s uniformity.
One could say that the complexity fills the duration as it expends. This implies that the increasing complexity that eventuates in the human brain is not an explanation of value or consciousness, but is a product of the process leading to it. This process is a kind of growth. This is also true for the transformation of societies, in which change occurs less by revolution or coercion than by slow assimilation, This is also a form of growth, taking place through an increase in the intrinsic complexity of society, viewed as an organism rather than a collection or compilation of entities.
The relation of a duration to it’s contents is not that of a container to the things it contains, but rather that of a virtual whole to virtual parts. In a particle, the whole and part are envelope and wave form; in the mind, they are the mental state and it’s phase transitions. A self, an idea, an object, are recurring sets of covert, sequential phases that unfold over a cycle of existence.
…a becoming creates time (change) as serial parts individuate out of simultaneous wholes. … The relation of category and process, or whole and part to being and becoming is the “deep structure” of the process of evolution.
An entity becomes what it is and so defines itself as it occurs, whether a society in relation to all humanity, or an atom against the void. Every motion is an orientation, every orientation a discrimination, every discrimination a valuation. Existence is the initial value.
Facts or values arise in a context of self-realisation. (emphasis mine)
States of affairs begin as intuitions, then personal beliefs permeated by values, and grow into experiential or scientific facts. The intense value of a fact to one who experiences or discovers it may be of only mild value to someone else. The fact is still a value though it is shorn of personal feelings. Gradually, the affective tonality of a fact becomes so distilled that it seems value free. Scientific facts are like this. Science ignores value in the pursuit of present fact, but in so doing, it also ignores the past that forms much of present desire. We intuit the affective valance in the personal history of novel facts before they wither in habit and consensus , in the passionate intensity of those who argue for their truth. The ferocity of argumentation over seemingly neutral facts is often surprising in those we assume to be detached and reasonable, such as scientists and philosophers.
… The categorical primes that underlie cognition are infused from the very outset with drive energy. Idea and feeling, concept and process, are dual aspects at each phase.
For some, the self is a social construct. Is value a magnet or an impulse? Are customs and obligations determinants of behaviour, sources of instilled values, or bases for moral judgement? Conduct in accordance with the law can arise as personal value, an obligation that is apprehended as partly external, or one that is fully coercive.
This world enriches the self through experience and learning, not by filling a naïve brain with ‘information’, but by fractionating innate categories into sub-sets of knowledge, belief and value.
If one can set aside the traditional assumption that perception occurs through the passive reception and construction of sensory data that are generated outside the perceiver and become ingredient in the mind, many aspects of the theory expounded here will begin to make sense.
The main point here, and the starting point for almost everything that follows, is that fully objective experiences are also subjective, in that they too emanate from the subject’s own beliefs and values. … Subjectivity applies not only to pains, after-images and other qualia, but to all perceptual experience.
The theory expounded in this book is a blend of idealism and naturalism that attempts to resolve the objectivity of ethical strictures in a monist theory of process.
… the existence of the other is, ultimately, an hypothesis about the origins of a perception, just as a perception or a concept is a hypothesis about the entities it models or represents. It is my belief that the problem of subjectivism, far from being obstacles to a theory of subject-object relations, are the key to understanding the nature of value, compassion, and the ‘place’ of the other in the matrix of the self.
With it’s awareness of a no-longer-existing past and a not-yet-existing future, the mind seems fully distinct from physical nature.
Subjectivism, or the “view from inside”, claims we can only know our own ideas. This is not consistent with the hypothesis that each mind realises a portion of the wholeness of universal mind or, put differently, actualises some portion of natural process. In a monist theory of process, a mind is conceived as a duration within a wider category of feeling. Every entity, including a mind, is a local manifestation of the ground of nature or physical reality.
The outcome of this inquiry has been fro me, and I hope it will be for the reader as well, a deeper appreciation of the place of the other in the ‘structure’ of the self’s own valuations.
From an external or objective standpoint, then, moral conduct tends to be judged in terms of what is reasonable or fair, or what conforms to social norms, not in terms of a paradigm of saintly or altruistic behaviour, or what might be considered perfection. … Even charity and hospitality are values that are usually not obligatory, at least not in the West.
For the state, the ideal requires a willingness to transcend national interests for the sake of a globel or transnational perspective, according to which the state pursues the common good, not just that of it’s own citizens.
The higher morality of the individual is centred in the community, not the self, but it is not the community that engages the ideal, it is the individual, or group of like-minded individuals. We can say that the claims of the other should be prior to the claims of the self, as the claims of humanity as a whole should be prior to those of the state, but it is the subjective character of the individual to which all claims of morality must be submitted for judgement.
Time is a critical dimension in moral decision and judgement. This appears in the opposition between automatic or impulsive action and action that is reasoned and deliberate. One occurs in the immediate present, the other involves future considerations. … The more immediate the action, the more it is judged as a sign of character: for example, spontaneous altruism is a mark of virtue precisely because there was apparently not time to make a rational calculation of future benefit.
… we consider the good person to be someone who acts in a good way instinctively, while we consider a good leader or state to be one that acts with caution and deliberation. … Here, the essential point is the importation of time into moral theory.