Thursday, September 15, 2011

Can Pragmatism Split the Difference between Reductive Epiphenomenalism and Panpsychism?

Matt at Footnotes2plato proposes here, inspired by Shaviro's talk at OOOIII, that we might integrate mental "eliminativism" (reductive epiphenomenalism) with panpsychism.  Here, I respond and give a third view that might accomplish parts of both.

On a pragmatic view, "mind" is something radically different from what it is traditionally taken to be.  Perhaps from that viewpoint there can be a reconciliation of eliminatism and panpsychism.  The primary function of mind on the pragmatic view is to project a temporal horizon of anticipated activity such that we may experience the possible future as present and thereby alter present activities.  What is already underway--even in the present--has already occurred by the time mind is aware of it such that mind is not the origin of agency in the traditional sense.  Hence, the eliminativists are right in that aspect.  However, mind opens the possibility of agency in the sense that it dialate the temporal horizon of possibilities (and potentialities); more possible actions are presented to us.

My work for the last year has been on this subject, as these are the grittier details of a pragmatic phenomenology.


  1. This talk of the horizon of possibilities being opened up by mind doesn't sound all that different from Whitehead, though you are obviously just glossing here. I think "agency" and "autonomy" must always be unpacked alongside "communion." We are always dealing with "autonomy-in-communion," and never with the application of an absolutely free will to an inert material substrate awaiting instructions.

  2. not sure why the above post says "Unknown." It was me!

  3. It shouldn't sound too different as Whitehead was getting it from Peirce and Dewey and extending it quite far. As for the "communion," the important points are how. What are the relations (especially temporal), the hierarchies, the layered event structure, etc.

  4. "The primary function of mind on the pragmatic view is to project a temporal horizon of anticipated activity such that we may experience the possible future as present and thereby alter present activities." might also = the imaginal in Lacan, as the phantasmic (fantasy) sensitivities and projections of an sentient animal... Very well put by the way!

    Michael- (@

  5. Thanks.

    Btw, technically, mind or conscious awareness *is* is the projection. The projection is not a function or activity of mind; it is mind. It's not a cognitively aware or noetic process. If there could be said to be an actor, it is the inter-action of body and environment (world) by which the body encodes its world. (We're Merleau-Ponty friendly here.) How it anticipates its interactions gives rise to perception, meaning, thought, etc.

    Pragmatism has its own enactive, embodied theory of meaning that has also been taken up in some cogsci. The horizonal meaning of an object, i.e., a certain interactive field, is the momentary totality of the possible ways that the body can interact with it; the strict or intentional meaning is that "subset" to which we are attending. Noetic activity transforms to what it attends, so I use "subset" loosely. It's dynamic.

    "Temporal" does not mean "historical," as a succession of events, but the structure and relativity of an event to the next. One should think Heidegger here, i.e., think a phenomenological temporality, although a realist one.

    Speaking of interaction and the body ... the body converts the potentialities of the situation (context) into (mathematical) possibilities, etc. So, there is a strict distinction between potentialities and possibilities here.

    I'm getting impatient about my articles and book being stalled..... If you see a word in my writing, it likely has a highly specific, technical meaning. I'm not being figurative or writing with broad strokes, relatively speaking. I'm willing to start citing a lot of stuff if people want to look more into it.

  6. Speak of the devil. Editor said he's waiting on one set of comments. The other was positive. If I get an acceptance, I am willing to pass around manuscript copies if anyone wants the fully worked out details. For the record, I'm proposing an extension of Thomas Alexander's pragmatic theory of the imagination, which also borrows from Jim Garrison, and fits into Mark Johnson's as a phenomenological and metaphysical background to his cogsci/linguistic/metaphoric approach. For those who know Johnson, be aware that he gives a Kantian explanation of imaginative function.

  7. Jason,

    This is what I meant: ‘mind’ is projection – a fantasy display of working-memory emanating from our bio-practico animal sensitivities. So ‘mind’ is not technically projection it is ontically so. This is why I never use the word ‘mind’. Mind is not a thing; nor a substance. Mental activity is an capacity enacted in conjunctions between lived-bodies and the world. Merleau-Ponty’s ghost is indeed my homie as well.

    “…there is a strict distinction between potentialities and possibilities here.”

    I’m still not comfortable with the notion of potential that doesn’t in some way fuse it with the field of possibilities offered up in particular “situations”. For me, the possible is simply the actual terrain of differences between existent assemblages – differences (or differential intensities) that can be ‘bridged’ depending on the particular dynamics (affective forces) at play in situations. It is the bridging or negotiating or adapting of differences in situ that occasion new alliances, emergent powers and/or properties. The notion of “potential”, then, is a relic of crypto-animistic thinking and signifying nothing.

    Whatever it is you are up to Jason (in your books and such) I’m on board, because 1) I quite enjoy your trajectory, and 2) my own thought is often parasitic on more technical thinkers such as yourself.


    Michael (

  8. Michael,

    It may just be an issue of word choice, but "fantasy" is not a correct word for the view espoused, i.e., one informed by Peircean semiotic. The projection is real. That said, I thiiiink you meant that … but then when I read what you write after that … not so sure. You are right, on this view, that mind is not a thing, substance, or autonomous activity; it is an event. I will sidestep the ontological/ontic distinction since I think that clouds the issue. (In strict Deweyan terminology, I am describing "consciousness" and not "mind," but that's another story.)

    As for "mental activity" as as "capacity," I will tentatively agree. In previous posts I give an Aristotelian-derivative (Deweyan) view of mind that invokes potentiality as 1) capacity ( real possibility), 2) activity, 3) and realization unto actuality. I have not posted much on the third part, wherein I dive deep into pragmatic theory. Note that on this view, a potentiality is always active and enacting, and must be disrupted, etc. to fail to acheive its entelechy.

    Without a strict distinction between potentiality and possibility (probability, not logical possibility), one engages in vague thinking. Yes, there is a connection else we run into logical problems. However, one must be careful, especially since I suspect we're using it in different ways. Both of my uses presume an ontic sense, e.g., a determinate potentiality in a situation and a concrete possibility. For an example, we must have the requisite potentialities (organs, objects of said organs, etc.) to have the real possibility to see red. Hence, as I'm employing the terms, I do not intend them in a pure or ontological sense. There is a sense in which a possibility is an event, a probability, which should be no surprise if I am not employing the term in the logical sense as the contrary of logically necessary.

    That said, emergent teleology is alive and well in this view, and I have described it previously. It is not really an Aristelian variant, as going to Aristotle to understand it is not helpful.

    As for you last comment about "potential," I'm not sure what you're speaking against. Please do clarify. I am not familiar with Deleuze, and thus enter the SR conversations from a very different and often insufficiently informed perspective. But then, I'm not a strict continental either, and thus I have much to offer for those looking for something different, and I like such conversation and appreciate yours. As for parasites, that's the point. I explicitly aim for others to borrow the thought, and this is why I write it. That said, writing this kind of material takes an incredible amount of time and close study, and I can understand why few undertake it. It is, as well, systematic philosophy.