Life and How to Make it
Keywords : actors (matter - substance) - play (form - process) - left-right - sinister-dexter - tangible-intangible - matter and (for want of a better word) form - Life is an intangible concept, as is "mind -
Things that persist, persist. Things that don't, don't
...what we perceive as the correct way of looking at things is actually mistaking the ground for the figure. To understand life, mind, consciousness and soul, I believe we have to learn to turn our intuitive interpretation of a world inside out. In short, we need to stop looking at the actors and instead start focusing on the play.
...we need to stop looking at the actors (matter - substance)
....and instead start focusing on the play (form - process)
.... I find it remarkable that words to do with the left generally have negative connotations, while those to do with the right are positive. The Latin word for the left is sinister, while dexter the means right. Sinister is nowadays a bad thing to be, while to call someone dexterous is a compliment. We insult people by calling of them "gauche" (French for "left") or compliment them on being "adroit" (right). Even within English itself, the word "right" is synonymous with "correct".
Yet that is an equally odd and perhaps far more influential bias in the way of language distinguishes between another set of opposites, this time between the tangible and the intangible - between matter and (for want of a better word) form. Accompanist tangible assets are apparently good things to have, while the intangible ones a somewhat inferior. Even the word "matter" is pejorative, follows a definite underlying assumption that matter is real and good while the relationships between these material things are somewhat not, and this bias is deeply embedded in our linguistic heritage.
Language provides an important part of our toolkit for conscious thought. For many of us it is very difficult to think consciously without speaking words in our head. Without the right tools, it is very difficult to do an effective job. We can sometimes find it very difficult, if not impossible, to think certain thoughts, simply because words were certain things either don't exist or carry inappropriate baggage with them. The reason why we esteem the material world more than we do the intangible one is fairly obvious - it is the world that our senses tell us is really "out there". Our eyes see physical things, also we like to believe (but remember that we see only the effects of visible radiation emitted or reflected from what we take to be solid objects; we don't really see the objects themselves). On the other hand, we do not have any direct sensory confirmation of intangible things. We don't have poverty sensors, we cannot touch a society, and our only evidence for the existence of other people's minds is the visible or audible motion of their physical bodies. Consequently, we come to believe that the things we can directly sense are a real, while the things we cannot sense are more like figments of our imagination or convenient labels, rather than anything absolute independent and genuine. And yet despite all this, the things we really care about while largely intangible. "Life" is an intangible concept, as is "mind".
....our ability to reason is conditioned by our language, which in turn is conditioned by the evidence of our senses. It is hard to break free from our innate respect for "stuff", yet until we do this we shall never understand life, because life is an intangible thing.
...to understand life and mind we have to learn to let go of our natural tendency to divide the world into discrete chunks. Living organisms are systems in flux, their constituent stuff changing from moment to moment; minds are not really things in the conventional sense at all. But then, nor our clouds. All these things are shifting, blurred, interacting eddies in a single stream.
.... to see yourself as a persistent phenomenon, when the subset from which you are made is in constant flux, is to begin to understand life, and more than just life. Life is not the magical, of fluid substance, but neither is it simply a convenient label to attach to certain combinations of material substances. In fact, material substances themselves are not even as substantial as we have been led to believe.
Things that persist, persist. Things that don't, don't.
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