Cognition & Reality

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Dualism And The Closed System

Filed under: Advaita,Non-Dualism — drtone @ 6:48 am

Some time ago, I was searching for workshops on hypnosis. To my surprise and satisfaction a link from “Milton Erickson,” the name of the most famous of clinical hypnotists, took me to a site called “Radical Constructivism.” Mainly, the site discussed the implications of the idea that experience is a construction emanating from a closed system.

As I read, I found myself thinking, “this applies to Piaget.” Practically in the next instant, as I shifted to another section, I read something like, “These constructs obviously connect with Piaget’s work…” More to the point, I ended up on a page dedicated to the Chilean who won a Nobel for his breakthrough work on frog’s eyes (yes, the study of frog’s eyes can get you a Nobel Prize…if you’re a fucking genius neurophysiologist.)

A 1978 book chapter by Maturana had as much influence on my own ideas as anything I have read. When I began to read it again, I realized that I had forgotten how ridiculously hard he is to read. Although he writes fluently in English, it’s not his native language; the idiom sometimes escapes him. The real problem is that his sentences leave no stone unturned in an attempt to address a legion of potential criticisms. Anyway, he long ago began extending his scientific work into the area of human interaction, but without abandoning any of the principles guiding his science.

As Piaget understood, a dualistic ontology does not withstand scientific scrutiny and collapses when it comes to explaining consciousness. Maturana offers a non-dualistic explication of these problems and he offers a solution…in horribly complicated but ultimately lucid sentences.

According to Maturana, experience is a function of a biological organism existing as a closed system interlocked (but not interlaced) with a “medium” (defining world). The mind is in a self-organizing entity comprising all of its possibilities, including those that appear to be “outside” the organism. An organism out of balance with its medium adapts in characteristic ways, but is in increasing danger from excessive accommodation to environmental perturbations.

There are strong connections, as well, between this “package”of ideas and the Advaita school of Vedanta (HInduism). Both reject the notion of a discontinuity between the physical and the mental.  It has become a commonplace that the mind-body distinction is empirically unsupportable. Ordinarily, this recognition is applied to medical issues in the sense that mental states affect physiology. The question here is, however, much deeper, because Maturana, Piaget, and the Advaita masters, such as Ramana Maharshi and Nisigardatta, make claims about the whole of experience.


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