Part III. The "Other Minds" Difficulty (March 1982)
I propounded personhood theory under prodding from a demand to smash through the modern subject/object dichotomy with an act of faith which takes "my life" as elemental reality. But this solution was never meant to be anything but a gentlemanly sophism. It was never meant to bear the weight of literalness and precision of a paradigm for a new culture.
The difficulty just outlined probably arises in a more subtle way for existential phenomenology. It does not arise for my "empiricism" (hereafter radical empiricism) because radical empiricism doesn't posit other minds in advance as the phenomenon whose explanation is the goal of the "systematic research."
To be exact, the problem is not that personhood theory tells you not to believe in other minds. The problem is that it doesn't give me any place to put the other minds except as a sort of fantasy in my personal totality. The notion that each other mind can in turn be the mental center of the world is negated by the original impulse of personhood theory. Even if you advocated the Hindu solution, in which each mind can in turn be the whole universe, engulfing all other people as peripheral events in its domain, still this would be a fantasy in conflict with the self/"objectivities" structure, which simply makes no place for a "translation of the origin" from one mind to another. I may believe in counterpart sentiences and in counterpart personal totalities, just as I may believe in God. The problem is that there is nowhere to put these phenomena in my self/"objectivities" pattern or flux except as fantasies of mine.
There are three palpable situations which make attributions of sentiences to other people plausible and attractive.
a) Elevating or depressing empathy. I feel another person's affection for me. My serenity or euphoria is disrupted by the intrusion of a mundane attitude.
b) Awe, as when I feel that another person's comprehension and purposiveness outstrip mine.
c) My need for emotional support from other people.
(Another possibility is to substitute one's given name for the pronoun. "Henry is writing now.")
[So when personhood theory finds my consciousness to be counterposed to the table, its objective of portraying the myth leads it into mythification.]
What am I doing when I proselytize for my ideas? I must take communication seriously; and when I encounter cross-cultural obscurantism I must take that seriously. But that means that I can't avoid the situation inviting personhood theory. My only freedom of action would be in changing its method.
The early modern thinkers posed the issue that if there is an objective world, there is a problem of my subjectivity's being able to get access to it and verify it. This modern partitioning of subject from object was quickly denounced. What had the philosophers done to take our world or our unity with the world away from us? Epistemology--the inquiry as to how one proposed to verify all the grandiose objectivities posited by consensus reality--was denounced as objectionable in principle. The most serious attempt to blunt the effect of epistemology was made by Hegel with his doctrine of the mediation of the immediate. But this is a doctrine of legitimation, plausible only to those who rely on social sanctions to place the consensus reality beyond dispute. The doctrine cannot test or verify posited objectivities which don't have the weight of conformism to support them. "Everybody knows" that the individual's subjectivity is mediated by his or her upbringing. But is it mediated by quarks? By Higgs forces? By penguin operators? Does ultimate objective reality consist in physical nature, as the classical materialists held? Then what happens when the frontier of research into physical nature becomes utterly whimsical and fad-determined? Hegel's mediation of the immediate is worthless as a criterion for accepting new knowledge. Physical science, the most resolute effort to acquire new knowledge about objective reality, has finally obliterated the distinction between a real objectivity and a fictitious objectivity.
The embarrassments of personhood theory cannot be escaped by going back to some traditional realism in which there is a common objective world and a collection of individuated minds each "seeing" that common world from a different perspective. Indeed, the case for a realism of matter or objectivity is being invoked today only by social-fetishist philosophers who are one hundred years behind the research frontier in physics.
a) violent alteration of "world" when I close my eyes;
b) other people's reports of their sensations to me.
Blindness (loss of vision) seems to demand explanation in terms of objective reality. The qualitative scope of personhood is different for different people. Either my introspection is irrelevant because it is merely idiosyncratic; or it is relevant because I am generalizing it to an abstraction.
For Kant, Ego and World are two types of unconditioned unity. I use these words in a quite different way. I use "world," personal totality, etc. to counterpose what is individually palpable to the fantasies of objective realities, and then to demarcate the zone which I encounter as a collection of palpable "things." The usage is particular and "journalistic." On the other hand, there is an issue of the "bootstrap" character of the "I" which evidently arises for Kant and which also arises for personhood theory: thus we get Part IV, Self-Cancellation of Personhood.
Would I experience another human as possessing psychic life, thought-processes, if he or she never spoke or otherwise communicated?
My "attribution of psychic life or thought-processes to another human," so far from being obvious and obligatory, is paradoxical and controversial. The consensus reality mandates that I cannot tell if another human has a headache by feeling his headache or having his headache in his place. In principle it must always be possible to be ignorant of another person's thought-processes. Inscrutability; "a penny for your thoughts." Feigning friendliness to another person because you are afraid of him or her.
That another person's mind is not fathomable by me is far more important in the common-sense world than that it is fathomable by me.
a. That my dependence on other people's mental life is palpable.Here is a foremost qualification to the preferred status ascribed to the immediate and palpable. We are forced to take into account futures which are utterly hypothetical.
b. That human action only has its full effect on comprehension in retrospect.
The effect of allowing the ego-indexical "I" in the natural language is to create a lattice of minds; each site in this lattice can be taken as the world-center.
Allowing another person to say "I" to me, to characterize his or her sensations to me, gives language the guise of telepathy. But the point is that it is not telepathy: I don't have another person's headache in his or her stead. More than that, another person's thought-processes are always uncertain to me.
The experiment of abolishing personal pronouns in order to expose their "creative" role in the determination of reality. (That is, making the ascription of affections subjectless.) "I see a tree" becomes "There is a tree." "I have a headache" becomes "There is a headache." But then a lot of distinctions get obscured. We use personal pronouns to distinguish the issue of momentary observability from the issue of an object's actuality. "I am momentarily unable to see x (but I believe it is there)." Without personal pronouns, if another person said "There is a headache," I might say "False!" because I don't have a headache.
Another route would be to substitute given names for pronouns. "Henry is writing this." But the present semantic ramifications of this locution are such that it signifies demented depersonalization. One mentions oneself from outside, as neither subject nor addressee.
Personal pronouns create a fantasy-world of objective minds (or better, sentiences) where there is a symmetry under jumps of the mental center of the world (the "I"). This fantasy-world is profoundly incongruous to the contours of the person-world. As each person claims the "I," the mental center of the world hops from one person to another, yielding the fantasy of a lattice of psyches. The fantasy of the mental center of the world hopping from one person to another as each successive person claims the "I."
Neo-Hinduism. Each person-world can be identified with the totality. When this is done, "other people" become part of what is hypothetical and paradoxical for the given "I"; as the "I" hops around, other people become events in the given "I"'s object-zone.
Hennix's intension-doctrine? The totality arises as a family of meaning-assignments thrust by a self upon an object-zone. This again implies the symmetry we have already noted repeatedly: each human can be the whole of "the cosmos" and have "other people" as events in his or her object-zone.
Personhood theory, on the other hand, addresses a compelling problem which can only be stated in partially mythified discourse. Empiricism is too flat to allow the problem of cross-cultural obscurantism to be stated. To the extent that personhood theory has dogmatic tenets, the tenets are chosen precisely to give the human condition enough scope and dimension so that the issue of cross-cultural obscurantism can be raised.
There is a parallel between empiricism and personhood theory in that personhood theory proposes to credit the immediate and palpable more than the impalpable. After all, consider the fate of ultimate objective reality in physics, a fate to which I already referred in deg.9. If we insist that real reality is some hypothesis which we posit as going on its eternal way independently of our sensuous access to it, then many equivalent mathematical constructs, all of which are inaccessible sensuously, can be taken as real. The outcome of physics' demand for an objective reality which absolutely excludes the "I" is the interchangability or indistinguishability of physical fiction and physical reality.
Personhood theory attempts to compensate for its contamination by the myth by acknowledging many directions along which ordinary personhood can be abrogated.
But personhood theory has a unique embarrassment which I explained in deg.1-deg.6. Personhood theory chooses a special radical standpoint, for the purpose of getting a solution, which then turns out to deny the problem to be solved.
"Morning amnesia." Sometimes there is a moment upon awaking in the morning when I don't know who or where I am. It seems to me that if one were sincerely interested in "transcending the ego" or in escaping the self, one would be interested in this moment. In any case, I have attempted to prolong this moment into the day. It requires prevention of contact with other people: no telephone, etc. Also, no responsibilities that require planning. Also, no imminent threats that produce anxiety. Also, one must be "physically" comfortable, able to satisfy needs through routine. Then one's state of action becomes that of "floating in place."
What is forgotten is social role and the high-level content of the self: adult purposes, etc. One still has impulses. You drift through your surroundings on impulse. [If psychoanalysis were to claim that you are directed by your unconscious during morning amnesia, the unconscious would have become an all-purpose device.] When I made the experiment of prolonging morning amnesia, it was after a period of using dexamyl. I was a little more "hallucinatory" than normal. There was more twinkling in my visual field when my eyes were closed. Is this a counter-effect, an after-effect of the amobarbital? I speak of making the experiment; this is misleading. I awakened in a certain state and allowed it to continue because I preferred it. To say that the self chooses to be selfless is paradoxical. An indeed there was a nuance of paradox in the situation.
To summarize the effect, I drifted through qualitatively changing perceptions, perhaps manifesting impulses, but without a center of purpose and identity.
Let me mention that the weather was cold and rainy when this happened.
I don't know if this state teaches weighty theoretical lessons, but its serenity was very welcome.
Having discovered the technique of prolonging morning amnesia, I wonder about occult disciplines which claim that they want to "transcend Ego"; and which say that the way to do it is to include a daily meditation period in an otherwise everyday life. I find the sincerity of these practices very suspect. If religion really wanted you to transcend social role and the high-level content of the personality it would tell you that everyday life and its purposes are obstacles. To discover what being without a personality is like, it would tell you to sever contact with other people, to avoid threatening environments, and to avoid participation in mundane activities, institutions, purposes. Insofar as religious practices to transcend Ego don't take this direction, I suspect them of being pitiful compensations. The actuality of the religions is delusive self-hypnosis and a highly willful, selfish cultivation of indifference, a willful numbing of caring.
What is suspect is that religious meditation is designed to support everyday life and its purposes, as opposed to obstructing and challenging everyday life. Again the malice of religion, insofar as it diverts the hope of transcending ego in this pathetic direction.
Solution of the "other minds" difficulty
As of March 4, 1982, I propose the following response to the difficulty for personhood theory explained in preceding pages. [I announced the enduring solution in "Personhood IV" (1984; expanded 1991).]
There must be a distinction between "pure" personhood theory on the one hand, and the application of it on the other. Pure personhood theory is "personally bounded," and rightly so. I have no other way to experience existence (for want of a better phrase--of course, such limiting provisos as these have problems if taken literally, but that is unavoidable given the mythification). There is a zone of objectivities in the person-world; but objectivities enter in the respect that everyday existence is a matter of my self confronted by and addressing things--things which have an imaginative unity for me that manifests my logico-perceptual collations. (E.g. a pencil which I see in different orientations and touch in different places is a unity for me.) The issue of a real reality behind these palpable processes does not arise except in regard to the role of belief, hypothesis, imagination, fantasy in completing the everyday synthesis of a "world." As for "other people," there may be moments in which intersubjectivity can be considered to be palpable: so-called good and bad vibrations, being outstripped by another person, my need for emotional support. But these moments do not at all compel me to make the conventional identifications of "other people" in which a single persisting mind is assigned to a single body as a "personality" etc. All of the theses of personhood theory must be confirmable via my introspection. In other words, the strict theory must have "introspective resonance."
Applications of the pure theory are another matter. Other people as sentient beings in my zone of objectivities are in fact objectivities to which I comport myself. My attribution of sentience to other humans involves hypothesis or imagination--as does my attribution of molecular structure to water (although the two attributions are methodologically different). I can employ the pure personhood theory as an imaginative or hypothetical means in comporting myself to other people. There is an astute hypocracy or shift in degree of credulity here; and it should be fully acknowledged. But what does it imply when I consent to hypocracy or a shift of credulity? Personhood theory is one path from everyday existence to radical unbelief. It is a path characterized by acknowledging the myth of the person-world, and by formulating a series of modular, non-reductionist accounts in order of decreasing mythification or credulity. The point is that personhood theory cannot be the only path from everyday existence to radical unbelief. There must be other paths which are just as creditable intellectually: paths which may be comparatively depersonalized, but which involve no greater credulity or hypocracy. The reason I give the person-world path so much attention is that it pertains to the most emotionally sensitive shortcoming of the culture, and addresses the biggest obstacle to communicating meta-technology.
Returning to issues of principle in personhood, inherited common sense says that I cannot have another person's headache, but that we can both "have" (apprehend) the same table or other thing. The table is available to another person as well as me because it is objective. It can be "subtracted" from my experience-realm, can "float around" for a while without any perceiver, and then can become available to another person's experience-realm. Personhood theory must repudiate this common-sense picture. The notion of an object subtracted from a person-world and floating around without a perceiver is another one of the nonsensical fantasies. Common sense unites the table which another person sees with the table I see, but differentiates the other person's headache from my headache. Pure personhood theory cannot uphold this conception. The notion that another human can have a headache, the notion that another human can be the mental center of a world, and the notion that this table can be an object to another person--all are at the same level of credulity and indeed are variants of a single notion.
For radical empiricism, there is no "bonding" of self to objectivities and no self-comportment to objectivities. When strict personhood theory accepts these conceptions, it accepts a degree of mythification. It uses the myth to report the myth. What the "objectivities" represent is the way the "objective reality" notion enters in my mythified functioning or coping. Personhood theory is a "realism" in that it acknowledges a process of coping that implies a self confronted by objectivities. Other, traditional realisms are unacceptable for two reasons among others:
a) In any mundane situation, I never escape the problem of having to be an "I." Traditional realisms were depersonalized.
b) Traditional realisms make the objectivities solid. But this is unjustified. E.g. specific determinations of the reality beyond the palpable are whimsical. There is literally no basis to distinguish actuality from convenient fiction.
With reference to the pure theory, the palpable totality is individual. The zone of "objects" and all hypothetical objectivities are mutable in a way conditioned by emotion, esteem, morale, "sanity" (in the sense of Personhood II), and other attributes of self. The supposed objective reality has no linchpins. This strict theory can be applied in coping with objectivities which are recognized as mythified constituents of the personally bounded totality. Then, the pure theory has different degrees, from ordinary personhood to personhood's self-cancellation.
Personhood theory arises in the established modern culture. As children we learn modern common sense, which is an equivocation between the scientific thing-landscape and the "lattice of minds." Then we have to learn personhood theory as a counter-intuitive supplement. But ultimately one might be able to start with personhood, more so than children now start with science. But then personhood theory would change; because the present personhood theory is designed to acknowledge established common sense. The nature of intersubjective interaction would change.
Personhood theory is an attempt to replace common sense with a personally bounded flux of self and "objectivities." (In the old, misleading terminology, a hybrid of realism and solipsism.) If this replacement were carried out, the natural language would continue to be used; but it would undergo a radical shift in meaning, along with some changes in vocabulary and locution.
I (and Hennix?) have long advocated the development of media of communication other than verbalization. But alternate communication would be a pretentious bluff unless it arose organically in a community. And before it can do that, the community must have the necessary motivation and receptivity. So we always come back to the issue which personhood theory was formulated to address.