Announcement: Your votes are in! The January 2019 Philosophy Book of the Month is The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World by David Eagleman and Anthony Brandt.
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It seems like humanity has done an excellent job of exploring the physical world, enough to where we're pretty sure of ourselves that if there's a kind of particle to be found or a substance to be discovered we've found it. We also have start with respect to insight into how nervous systems work and that's a quantity that's always growing. I think what catches me off guard though, particularly with a good brush with my subconscious in the ways I mentioned above, isn't that what's way at the bottom of our data network or internal chain of causality is alien in its quality of consciousness and behavior - it seems much more like very strange and foreign processes are pretty close to the surface and they're quite rich in content. It makes me wonder how on earth any of us are so 'normal' and why or how it is that the flavor of these processes stays so well separated from our conscious waking personalities. It seems like a person has to be in quite a logical bind or internal crisis with a fault line forming right down the middle of their personality for the stuff that's typically hidden well behind the personality starts making itself present in a tangible way during waking states.
While I get that keeping executive functioning sharp is a matter of survival in a potentially predatory environment it still makes me wonder - has anyone in the philosophy of science community said anything interesting about this barrier or ventured interesting guesses as to why our dreams and so much of what drifts up seems utterly impersonal, irrelevant to current concerns, or just outright inhumanly bizarre?
- Burning ghost
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It almost seems like you are not quite sure what question you are asking in the OP, which is pretty much what the whole psychological investigation is about. We all experience these strange and bizarre things. Some force meaning into them, others dismiss them, and others still wander around them throwing out ideas to try and understand the basis of what is going on. Neuroscience has offered some incite as have psychological experimentation. It is a much more vague field of study having little in the way of, as you mention, "physical measurements".
I have personally tried to look at this in the past as an essential difference between Art and Science. By this a mean on the one hand we have the stereotypical view of Science as clinical and on the other hand we have Art viewed as a creative activity. It is of course a false dichotomy and more a case of a grain of each in the other. Generally though I would say that Art is Chaotic and Science is Structured, and within this idea we have the "Structure" of consciousness and the "Chaos" of the unconscious. Where one bleeds into the other we have an explosion of ideas that are "Creative" and, maybe on occasion, sometimes useful (accidently or purposefully depending upon the role of the conscious "structured" organ of the mind, juxtaposed the more free forming "unstructured" unconscious organ of the mind.)
What we have a huge tendency to do is focus on the discrete aspects such as physiology and casual relations. We can ask a scientist about their procedure and they will give you a blow by blow account, but when it come to expressing what gave them this or that idea, or what caused them to make choice X over Y, they may often not be so sure and refer at some level to a 'feeling' that it was the best course of action and that they guessed it would reveal fruitful data to apply theories to. The artist on the other hand would more likely talk about the feeling and thoughts and ground the 'feel' before proceeding with the production of a piece of art. During the making of the artwork they are not readily engaged in a rigidly drawn out path.
Here we see the science of a rigid method carried out and in art something quite different, yet also quite obviously methodical in some sense. One measures and categorises the data at an emotional distance and the other engages directly with emotional contents and spills them out to ponder over for both themselves and for others. In this sense once the scientist has the data on the page they then step into the data in an "emotional" way.
In the most ambiguous way this is my analogy of consciousness and the unconscious. It is often something people use to describe the difference between hemispheres, but really the hemispheres differ in how they view The World as whole and as parts.
Generally these inbetween states reveal our inbetween nature, our obsession with dichotomies, and the clash of dichotomies that are rationally intangible to us as conscious beings because we require "differences" not sameness to discern this from that. We are constantly floundering between the whole panorama and focusing on the speck of dirt on our fingertip.
All this is why I am looking forward to discussing Absurdity and Camus in the Book of the Month!
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Burning ghost wrote: an essential difference between Art and Science.
This is an astute observation and very fine post. Dreams can be an amalgamation of both and perhaps that’s part of their function. Dreams give us a bridge to another side of our consciousness. A place where chaos and order dance.
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Personally, I am always dreaming when asleep, that is whenever I'm awoken, a dream is interrupted. Others report they never dream, or at least they don't perceive one being underway when awoken suddenly. I subscribe to the idea that dreams are routinely suppressed upon awakening so the mind can focus on memories of lived experiences and not get them mixed up with the fantasies of dream-time. Sometimes this doesn't work and we are unsure if a memory is real or a remnant of a past dream. Also, note that our minds keep track of time while asleep, but lose track when under general anesthesia. - CW