Re: Consciousness, education, and the distribution thereof

Jesse S. Cook III (jcook@AWOD.COM)
Tue, 1 Oct 1996 12:53:50 -0400

On 1 October 1996, John McCreery wrote:

>The following is a series of not, as yet, very well-connected thoughts
>aroused by bemusedly watching the recent uproars over "consciousness" [cut]
4. The error of ascribing "higher consciousness" to societies, cultures, or
>eras is what Whitehead called the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.

How so, John? I'm not sure that you understand what Whitehead meant by the
"fallacy of misplaced concreteness". Here is what the *Cambridge Dictionary
of Philosophy* has to say:

"Descartes, adapting the classical notion of substance...beg[an]
assuming there are two distinct, utterly different kinds of substance, mind
and matter...Whitehead's response [wa]s...that...[o]ne must return to [the]
Cartesian beginning and replace the substance metaphysics with an
orientation that...meshes harmoniously with the scientific understandings
that have displaced the much simpler physics of Descartes' day...These are
the considerations that generate[d] Whitehead's fundamental metaphysical 'actual occasion'.

"An 'actual occasion' is not an enduring, substantial entity. Rather, it is
a process of becoming, a process of weaving together the...
'apprehension'...of the actual occasions that are in the immediate past.

"In moving from Descartes' dualism of mental substance and material
substance...Whitehead [was] doing philosophy conceived of as the critique of
abstractions. He h[eld] that both mind and matter are abstractions from the
concretely real...He came to see that, wh[ereas] these abstractions were
indispensible for certain kinds of investigations, they were, at the
philosophical level...a disaster. In considering mind and matter to be
ontological ultimates, Descartes had committed what Whitehead termed the
'fallacy of misplaced concreteness. [Only] 'actual occasion'
designates the fully real, the fully concrete."

Please note that Whitehead's "actual occasions", as described in the seceond
paragraph above, comes close to be a definition of what consciousness is.
Please note also the clause "these abstractions [are] indispensible for
certain kinds of investigations".

>simply, the fact that a handful of individuals have achieved the increased
>awareness to write great books, create great art, or develop great science
>is no reason whatsoever to ascribe the same awareness to their
>contemporaries, most of whom, like most of us, go about daily lives
>largely dominated by habit.

You mean like robots? Come on, John, come off it. Even those who
constitute a great deal more than "a handful" went or "go about about daily
lives habit". But only a robot is "dominated by habit", the
"habit" of its program.

>5. Arguably, however, it may be good to encourage this fallacy on the
>educational/therapeutic/political grounds that identification with and
>desire to emulate those who have done a bit better than the rest of us in
>growing their awareness has a civilizing influence.

Bad thinking here, John. It's never good policy to encourage fallacies.
People don't need encouragement in this anyway--as this list amply shows.

>6. Are the Yanomami, the Zulus, or the Chinese more or less conscious than
>the result of us? Perhaps some are. I suspect that most are like the rest
>of us, getting by with the savage mind and the bricolages it produces.

Speak for yourself, John.

>Whether those among them who have the potential to do a bit better get the
>training and support they need to make the leap and access to scholarly or
>other media to give us a glimpse of what they have learned? [cut]
>John McCreery
>3-206 Mitsusawa HT, 25-2 Miyagaya, Nishi-ku
>Yokohama 220, JAPAN

Jesse S. Cook III E-Mail:
Post Office Box 40984 or
Charleston, SC 29485 USA

" is not for our faults that we are disliked and even hated,
but for our qualities."--Bernard Berenson (1865-1959)