This Week’s Special: C.S. Lewis, “Meditation in a Toolshed”

By Daniel A. Kaufman

https://www.calvin.edu/~pribeiro/DCM-Lewis-2009/Lewis/meditation-in-a-toolshed.pdf

On tap this week is a lovely little essay by C.S. Lewis that makes what I think is quite an important distinction, one that may permit us a little insight into what has seemed an intractable philosophical problem: namely, our inability to “reduce” various – mostly mental – concepts to various “lower level” physical ones.

Lewis refers to this distinction, first, as the difference between “looking along” something and “looking at” it, and later he characterizes it as the difference between seeing something “from the inside” as opposed to “from the outside.”  I may add a third characterization of the divide Lewis has in mind, in terms of examining something “horizontally” as opposed to “vertically.”  Each way of describing the distinction Lewis has in mind is illustrative – and thus useful – in its own way.

Lewis begins by reflecting on an experience he had, while in a toolshed (the essay’s namesake), an example that I actually find quite obscure.  Far better are the examples that immediately follow, in which the distinction comes through most clearly.  For instance:

A young man meets a girl. The whole world looks different when he sees her. Her voice reminds him of something he has been trying to remember all his life, and ten minutes casual chat with her is more precious than all the favours that all other women in the world could grant. He is, as they say, “in love”. Now comes a scientist and describes this young man’s experience from the outside. For him it is all an affair of the young man’s genes and a recognised biological stimulus. That is the difference between looking along the sexual impulse and looking at it.

Lewis asks the following:  Which way of looking provides the “better” — in the sense of the truer — account of romantic love?  Those of a scientistic frame of mind clearly believe that the second way of looking is better, something that is indicated not just by their inclination to give (or demand) a reductive analysis in every investigation and inquiry, but in the ways in which they commonly describe such analyses.  We are told that experiencing some sensation or emotion or having a certain thought or even being conscious is “nothing but” or “nothing more than” or “merely” some set of physical things or events.

Lewis is right to characterize this language as an exercise in “debunking” and to lament it. For, regardless of the things that the reductive account does tell us – and no doubt, it tells us a lot – it fails to shed any light on what it is like to be in love or on the distinctive magic that pervades the experience of love or on the significance of that experience which, for many, may be the most significant experience they will ever have.

Now, a very different kind of investigation does shed light on these things.  Philosophical accounts of love, such as those one might find in Plato’s Symposium or, more recently, in Allan Bloom’s Love and Friendship, or even Lewis’s book on the subject, The Four Loves.  Romance poetry that you might find in the writings of a Byron or an e.e. cummings or a Shakespeare.  Romantic novels, of the sort written by Emily Bronte or Lawrence Durrell or Iris Murdoch.  Love songs.  Romantic films.  All of these advance our understanding of what it is like to be in love; of love’s special magic; of what makes love such a significant, transforming experience.  And they do so, in a way that only they can and in which a scientific or otherwise reductive analysis cannot.

The reason is that the sort of investigation that I am describing approaches the question “horizontally” and not “vertically,” as its reductive counterpart does.  It seeks not to take the phenomenon apart, to break it into smaller pieces, to look for some underlying mechanism that will somehow explain the properties it has at the surface; the characteristics that we think of, when reflecting upon the thing or describing it to others.  Rather, the sort of investigation I am talking about remains at the surface and stretches out across it.  The essay, the poem, the novel, and the song  provide additional accounts, descriptions, and expressions of the phenomenon itself, from many different peoples’ points of view, and by showing us how others experience love, express it, and value it, we come to better understand our own experiences, expressions, and valuations of love.

In itself, this may not seem like much of a response to the scientistic point of view.  Surely, our reductionist is going to want to dismiss the relevance or usefulness of understanding what are, in fact, the experienced or represented – qualities of things.  But Lewis is convinced – I think correctly – that this move is not available to the advocate of scientism.  For it is often the case that the only reason we are interested in a particular phenomenon in the first place – or at all – is because of its experienced or representational qualities, which means that accounts that ignore or otherwise bypass those qualities will fail to address the very interests that motivate the inquiry.

A physiologist, for example, can study pain and find out that it “is” (whatever is means) such and such neural events. But the word pain would have no meaning for him unless he had “been inside” by actually suffering. If he had never looked along pain he simply wouldn’t know what he was looking at. The very subject for his inquiries from outside exists for him only because he has, at least once, been inside

A similar issue arises when reductionists and eliminative materialists try to get rid of all reference to intentionality, in the pursuit of what they consider “scientific” psychology.   The trouble is that it is not clear that without the intentional idiom, one can even characterize the subject-matter of much, if not most psychological investigation.  As John Greenwood put it:

Many practicing psychologists…are not particularly concerned with the explanation of human behaviors or physical movements per se.  They are instead concerned to provide…explanations of socially meaningful human actions, such as aggression, dishonesty, helping, child abuse, and suicide.  They are concerned with the explanation of those behaviors that are constituted as human actions by their intentional direction and social location. (1)

The intentional dimension of human thought and behavior is what renders it resistant to reductive analysis and yet, understanding it is one of our main reasons for engaging in psychological investigation in the first place.  Eliminate it and you eliminate much of the motivation for doing psychology at all.  Lewis’s point – and mine – is that this important truth is generalizable, across a large number of the phenomena,  about which we desire greater understanding, for which we engage in various investigations.  The investigations, then, must be of the sort that can actually provide the understanding sought or else it is unclear why anyone would want to engage in them.

I am convinced that many of the things for which, historically, we have sought greater understanding are not of the sort that are amenable to reductive – “vertical” – investigation, because they involve an interest in things as they are experienced or as they are represented that scientific forms of investigation are simply not equipped to address.  Oftentimes, the mark that one is dealing with such a phenomenon is that every attempt at a reductive analysis seems to leave something out; to miss some crucial element.  Consciousness is such a phenomenon, as are sensations.  Freewill may very well be such a phenomenon.  Intentionality certainly is.

The question, then, is not so much whether there is or can be a unity of the sciences, but whether there is or can be a unity of investigations.  I might be inclined to define ‘science’ narrowly enough, so that the answer to the first question is “yes,” even while the answer to the second must be a resounding “no.”  However you slice it, you cannot eliminate the sorts of questions that are only answerable by way of the horizontal mode of investigation – by “looking along,” rather than “looking at” something — without getting rid of some of the things we care most about.

Notes

  1. John Greenwood, “Reasons to Believe,” in John Greenwood, ed., The Future of Folk Psychology: Intentionality and Cognitive Science (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991), p. 71.

63 Comments »

  1. Being in love tends to lead people to make very serious mistakes in their perception of the beloved other: we don’t notice the person’s defects, we imagine that a very short-lasting feeling will last forever, we let our normal psychological defenses down so that we leave ourselves open to being manipulated or even swindled by some manipulative people who will play on our weakness and blindness (love is blind), we confuse physical beauty with moral worth, we project all our wants on another person and imagine that they will magically satisfy them, etc. And we do it again and again and again: there is no fool like an old fool, they say.

    Now given all of the above, it does make sense to debunk the experience of falling in love. Falling in love may end up, as in Hollywood movies, with the right boy meeting the right girl or the right boy meeting the right boy or the right girl meeting the right girl, but most of us can see, from our own experiences and from observing those around us that falling in love all too often leads to bad marriages, unwise pregnancies, nice people getting emotionally hurt by manipulative others, worthwhile life projects (work, studies, etc.) being disrupted by long grueling unsatisfying relationships.

    So it seems wiser to go into relationships with our eyes as open as possible.

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  2. I don’t know that I disagree with any of this, but it really doesn’t speak to the central point of the piece — which has to do with whether reductive forms of investigation are sufficient to satisfy the various interests that motivate our inquiries.

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  3. No, reductive forms are not sufficient to explain what we feel when we are in love. Lewis (whose work I have not read, I confess) gives the example of a boy meeting a girl and after a ten minute chat, feeling that his life is transformed. I think that in this case, it might be wise for someone to patiently give the boy a reductive explanation of his feelings so that he not let his illusions about this girl lead him to make serious errors which might affect his considered life projects (for example, drop out of school, propose marriage after knowing her for 10 minutes, etc.)

    That being said, there are other life experiences, for example, that of a long-time friendship or a successful marriage based on mutual knowledge or artistic creativity or a passion for blogging on philosophical issues which have no need of a reductive explanation. In these cases (and so many others) the reductive explanation is a scholarly footnote to a rich experience. That is, if someone tells our philosopher blogger that he loves to blog because his 2nd grade teacher always ignored his comments when he raised his hand, well, that may be true, but it has no importance. However, since falling in love is a high risk sport, the reductive explanation is a vital safety net.

    What’s more, falling in love has a certain stereotyped phenomenology, which artistic creativity or philosophical blogging or even friendship (which comes in so many varieties) do not have. It would be really interesting to know what went through
    Bach’s or Beethoven’s minds when they composed their great works, while when we read Anna Karenina or the Great Gatsby (about falling in love), our reaction tends to be “yeah, I’ve been there myself”.

    Thus, while it’s a sin to reduce Bach’s or Beethoven’s creativity to a simplistic formula, it seems less sinful to reduce falling in love after a ten minute chat to one.

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  4. Daniel Kaufman writes: “I am convinced that many of the things for which, historically, we have sought greater understanding are not of the sort that are amenable to reductive – “vertical” –investigation, because they involve an interest in things as they are experienced or as they are represented that scientific forms of investigation are simply not equipped to address. Oftentimes, the mark, that one is dealing with such a phenomenon is that every attempt at a reductive analysis seems to leave something out; to miss some crucial element.”

    You mention consciousness, freewill and intentionality – which just happen to be topics of specifically philosophical investigation. Of these only consciousness (I prefer to think in terms of ‘sentience’ rather than consciousness, actually) strikes me personally as a truly interesting topic, one which suggests – just possibly – some kind of deep mystery which science as we know it may not be able to illuminate. I am confident that science will explain how consciousness works but I want to know how and why all this came to be in the first place. My question is more cosmological (in a broad sense) than psychological. But it is the sort of vague question which (I suspect) no amount of philosophizing will make any progress on.

    What I am questioning is your use of the word ‘investigation’. Even where the word fits, there is no guarantee that the investigation is going to be fruitful or productive. Many investigations – and many specifically philosophical investigations (into intentionality, say) – could be seen as futile or ill-conceived.

    Romantic love is something else again. It interests me. To some extent the prospect of such experiences is extremely important: for many people it makes life worthwhile, it keeps them going.

    In fact, arguably the prospect (a harmless fantasy) is better than the thing itself (a harmful fantasy!).

    I endorse what s.wallerstein says on this. Scientific investigations (coupled with personal experience and simple observation) are quite enough to sound the appropriate warnings. Novels and plays and films can be useful too (to broaden our experience) as well as being enjoyable in themselves.

    But if we say that a novel or a movie ‘investigates’ or explores certain emotional territory, I think we are using the term in a very different way from the way we use it in relation to science (or police work, say) where we might reasonably expect some more or less definitive answers or conclusions.

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  5. The discussion is off on a bit of a weird track, so let me give it another try.

    The current fashion is for giving reductive accounts of every phenomenon, including those characterized in mentalistic language. Hence all the work being done in cognitive science, as well as in your favorite “Evolutionary X.”

    The trouble is that this only represents one way of examining something, and it is not clear that the sorts of explanations it yields are the sort that we are looking for, in the case of many of these phenomena.

    I maintain — with Lewis — that oftentimes our interest is in how we experience or represent something or in the meaning or significance of that way of experiencing / representing. In those cases, a reductive, “vertical” account will not satisfy us, because it cannot address the phenomenon at the level and in the manner in which we are interested in it. In short, it cannot give an answer that is commensurate with our pursuing the inquiry in the first place.

    Romantic love was just an example. To fixate on it is to miss the point. One could easily replace it with others. Take something like pain or suffering. Certainly, we can give a reductive account, in terms of neurological stimulus and activity. But if this is *all* that we get, by way of an explanation, we are likely to be disappointed. Our interest in these subjects, after all, is spurred by how they *feel*, by *what it is like* to suffer and why suffering is so significant to us. These are things that a reductive analysis can’t tell us anything about, but which a more “horizontal” form of inquiry — of the sort I described — can and does.

    The apparent intractibility of many of these longstanding philosophical questions — consciousness, freewill, sensation, etc. — is, in my view, due to the fact that they are questions that stem from more than one type of interest and thus, require more than one type of inquiry to satisfactorily answer. This is why I have zero confidence that our neuroscience will *ever* — even if given a million years — tell us everything we want to know about consciousness. For science can only provide answers to certain kinds of questions and not all of the questions we have about consciousness are those kinds of questions.

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  6. @Mark English:

    “But if we say that a novel or a movie ‘investigates’ or explores certain emotional territory, I think we are using the term in a very different way from the way we use it in relation to science (or police work, say) where we might reasonably expect some more or less definitive answers or conclusions.”

    This is the heart of Kaufman’s essay- the distinction highlighted by Lewis (and decades later by Thomas Nagel’s asking what it’s like to be a bat) speaks to a profound misunderstanding by many in our reductive age regarding the sorts of questions one asks and views as legitimate, the answers one seeks and views as legitimate, and the view of the world that lies behind them, whether in terms of self-understanding, understanding others vs. understanding the physical world, or larger related issues like the humanities compared to the natural sciences. What aspect of experiential reality we focus on is less important than its reality simpliciter, as is what term we use for our attempt to understand, although “investigate” may indeed have a scientistic flavor due to our era’s under-appreciation/ignorance of the distinction.

    A point I find especially bracing in Lewis is this: “…you can step outside one experience only by stepping inside another. Therefore, if all inside experiences are misleading, we are always mislead.” As Lewis makes clear, the idea that inside experiences are misleading insofar as they are experiential and not amenable to reductive analysis misunderstands human nature as well as knowledge itself.

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  7. Having some problems with this piece, and the notion of vertical/horizontal or looking at/looking along. Mostly when I’ve encountered such terminology is revolves around distinguishing between events or actions that either are viewed as equitable or inequitable. It can work either way. For example, treating as dissimilar events or actions that are similar (horizontal inequality) or treating as similar events or actions that are dissimilar (vertical inequality). These claims are normative and don’t lend themselves to strict reductionist accounts of “nothing but” or “nothing more than” or “merely.” But perhaps this is Lewis’s point.

    They are nevertheless rooted in an assumption of common experience dependent on priors that may vary across cultural, or, even, personal predilections. In such cases, the focus will fall naturally on an understanding of (or misunderstanding of) what gives rise to the priors. This may not result in a reductionist account, but it seems to me raises the question whether Lewis is engaging in a helpful distinction.

    I take note of this: “The investigations, then, must be of the sort that can actually provide the understanding sought or else it is unclear why anyone would want to engage in them.” Attempts at understanding sometimes is merely evidence of an attempt to convince another of their misunderstanding, either of my account or theirs.

    This sounds like a self-fulfilling prophecy or wishful thinking: “understanding sought.” People often engage in speech or behavior that is construed differently despite an “understanding sought.” Attempts at understanding sometimes are merely evidence of an attempt to convince another of a misunderstanding, either of my account or theirs. When it comes to such matters, I think a reductionist account can lead to regress, whether infinite or not is another matter. But I’ll need more from Lewis to understand the importance of his point.

    PS, this: “For science can only provide answers to certain kinds of questions and not all of the questions we have about consciousness are those kinds of questions.”

    Yes, I agree, but now the discussion has now shifted to one about the nature of questions and answers and how they might “best” be answered. I have a small problem with this looking at and looking along matter. It seems from a matter of common practice that the two are inseparable in human experience.

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  8. “Those things [that] scientific forms of investigation are simply not equipped to address…”. I guess it just seems strange to me that knowing how things actually work mechanistically is going to somehow decrease overall understanding. It’s not actually the case that psychologists, for example, discard their own and others’ lived experiences when thinking about these hard questions – they provide additional data.

    If I say that gazing into the eyes of another human or a dog can increase emotional attachment in both members of the dyad, and that this is mediated by oxytocin, it doesn’t alter the experience which most of us have shared. But it does give a little insight into many other bits of reality, going from human individual difference and psychological illness, out to other social animals.

    The other strange concept is that reductionism is somehow simplistic. If one believes in something like a full supervenience, then the
    complexity has all been moved down one level, and to understand anything mere humans are going to have to find the higher level abstractions, which chances are, will be those entities already recognized at the higher level.

    I wonder if the light shining into the toolshed is simply a religious allegory.

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  9. This is certainly a more interesting C.S Lewis than we saw in the ‘Liar, Lunatic, Lord’ discussion. I think readers (even those who disagree) should pay attention to Lewis’ command of rhetoric, his undeniably engaging prose style.

    DanK,

    Some of the problem with the commentary may be that you introduced some terminology additional to that of Lewis. It might be helpful for some readers to concentrate on Lewis’ own text. Only then might they be able the extrapolation into philosophy you are moving toward.

    I personally think that Lewis’ text is quite clear; notably it was published in a newspaper, not a journal; so clearly his original audience would have had a non-specialist education that the editor agreeing to publish it weould have presumed.

    I think the distinction Lewis makes rings true. Ken Kesey once defended his Electric Kool-aid Acid Test, “You’re either on the bus, or off it.” It may be uncomfortable to consider this in relation to Lewis, but the comparison does have a defense. Morse Peckham, in “Explanation and Power,” remarks that the Romantics – with their fascination with outre drug experiences, sexual adventurism, intercontinental exploration and even certain kinds of militarism – expressed in the most flowery language – were actually the most rigorous empiricists, because of their insistence that certain kinds of knowledge were inaccessible without actual experience. As one Vaudevillian responded to those dubious of his extravagant claims, “Vas you dere, Charlie?”

    Scientists have a difficult time with this sort of empiricism; yet without it, there would never have been a natural science to begin with. Imagine in the 17th century first staring through a microscope at squiggly life forms in a drop of water. There’s the experience; it cannot be denied. The ‘scientific’ explanation follows after, as some means of cauterizing the sheer wonder of it.

    Mark English,

    This goes somewhat to your question, whether the arts can be ‘investigative’ in nature. Obviously, not all, likely not anything close to the majority of artistic efforts. But from the ‘automatic writing’ of Kerouac and Gertrude Stein, to the splatter of Pollock and the color fields of Rothko, to the ‘compositions’ of Cage or Reich – yes, I would have to say that many works of art are generated by exploration of what can be done with a given medium.

    davidlduffy,

    “If I say that gazing into the eyes of another human or a dog can increase emotional attachment in both members of the dyad, and that this is mediated by oxytocin, it doesn’t alter the experience which most of us have shared.”

    Nor is it anything like a complete explanation, nor even a persuasive articulation. That can only be given by the one gazing, or the recipient of the gaze – and not in any language scientists could explain.

    And yes, Lewis has religious intent in much of his writing, and this gives me pause; but not enough to avoid reading him, or failing to give him marks when he makes a reasonable point.

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  10. There seems to be two ways in which one can be reductionist.

    There are those who insist that you really can account for everything there is to know about the taste of a peach by a description of the neuro-biological mechanism for tasting a peach. When you say “but that description can’t tell you what a peach tastes like” they reply “yes it can”. (I am not making that up either).

    But those people are really not worth arguing with.

    Then there are others who will admit that the neuro-mechanical description cannot tell you what it feels like to be in love any more than it can tell you what a peach tastes like and therefore one cannot be reduced to the other.

    However they will say that being in love is nothing more than a set of states of well being that your brain produces in order to manipulate you into forming a stable relationship, producing a new organism and devoting a significant proportion of the rest of your life to looking after this organism until it is old enough to begin the whole process over again.

    Would it change the experience, knowing that to be the case? I don’t see why it would not.

    Are those states of well being (regarded purely as states of well being) so singular that they could not possibly be compensated for by a lifetime of doing more or less as you please, when you please and having enough money to do so?

    I sort of doubt it.

    So, finding oneself in love, and looking at the situation objectively and rationally, wouldn’t one rather say “this feels really good, and that is because if it didn’t feel really good then it would not be capable of pushing people into that long and large commitment”. simply push those feelings of well being aside? They are not about the girl (or boy). Inasmuch as they could be said to be about anything they are about patterns among nucleotides.
    .

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  11. C S Lewis has a particular gift that even when he is making an explicitly religious point he can still make insights which resonate at a purely secular level. For example “The Screwtape Letters” has many painfully recognisable descriptions of the way we can lie to ourselves and to make rationalisations to make our selfish, thoughtless and arrogant behaviour seem benign.

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  12. Dan

    “… I have zero confidence that our neuroscience will *ever* — even if given a million years — tell us everything we want to know about consciousness.”

    Not everything perhaps. But “our neuroscience” will, I expect, not be recognizable even within a slightly more constrained time-frame. And it might even incorporate some of the non-scientific (as currently defined) insights under discussion. Who knows?

    “Romantic love was just an example. To fixate on it is to miss the point. One could easily replace it with others. Take something like pain or suffering.”

    Must we?

    “Certainly, we can give a reductive account, in terms of neurological stimulus and activity. But if this is *all* that we get, by way of an explanation, we are likely to be disappointed. Our interest in these subjects, after all, is spurred by how they *feel*, by *what it is like* to suffer and why suffering is so significant to us.”

    I was going to say that to talk about the significance of suffering in other than a scientific (reductionistic) sense is to move into a religious space. But this is not necessarily the case.

    We talk about people dealing with suffering in certain ways and how this relates to character. And a lot of art has arisen from suffering of one kind or another. I suppose this is what you have in mind. (Huxley’s Brave New World as a dystopia, that sort of thing?)

    Michael

    “What aspect of experiential reality we focus on is less important than its reality simpliciter…”

    I hope you are not suggesting that I am denying the reality of the experiential (or its value or importance).

    You are attacking “the idea that inside experiences are misleading insofar as they are experiential and not amenable to reductive analysis.” This is not something I would want to say. They are what they are. And, as you suggest, in a sense ultimately they are all we’ve got.

    What I would say, however, is that often (say, in the case of romantic feelings, or certain kinds of fear, or certain kinds of guilt feelings, or ‘mystical’ or other visions…) a scientific understanding (even a general or incomplete one) of how our brains work may allow us to see our experiences in a different and clearer light (because additional relevant knowledge is being drawn on and so a broader perspective created). (davidlduffy has already made this general point.)

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  13. As a biologist I sometimes encounter the question “What is life?”. There is a big research field on this, involving scientists and scholars from various disciplines. Usually, the problems is immediately reduced to self-replication, evolvability, dependence on the external environment and such – chemistry, physics and biology of course.
    But that misses the point and ultimately “what is life?” is a family resemblance problem.
    The notion of “life” is like the notion of “love”, a sublime category and a human one. Of course, both can be probed by sophisticated instruments and measuring devices, but again that misses the point.
    The character Sheldon Copper in the sitcom “Big Bang Theory” is a good illustration. His amusingly nerdy vantage point is the one of a (theoretical) physicist and he fails to grasp the “horizontal” perspective and can’t handle the feelings of affection and love. He simply misses the point. The character in the show is therefore funny, but also a tragic figure. He is not fully human.

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  14. davidlduffy wrote:

    I guess it just seems strange to me that knowing how things actually work mechanistically is going to somehow decrease overall understanding.

    ——————————————————————–

    Since neither Lewis nor I said — or think — this, I can see why it would be strange.

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  15. I note that Lewis published this piece in 1945 and is meant to provide some pushback against scientistic and/or reductionist explanatory accounts as providing a complete narrative, or “brow beating” as he characterizes it in his last sentence. But to make his point he comes close to pitting one strawman against another by means of setting up polarities like inner and outer or looking at and looking along. As a result, the final paragraph seems rather a dated and naive polemic against an account that to his mind can only lead to a dead clinical view of life. Despite his skill as a writer, this piece is underwhelming to me and tends to betray itself by wandering into the red-herring of “intrinsically truer or better” without sufficiently exploring either the context or objectives of scientific approaches. This is a boogie man view of science that ends rather anti-climatically with:

    “We do not know in advance whether the lover or the psychologist is giving the more correct account of love, or whether both
    accounts are equally correct in different ways, or whether both are equally wrong. We just have to find out.”

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    • Totally disagree. Reductionism and Eliminativsm would become a much more pressing issue in the future. So much so that people like Jerry Fodor would push back against it, in the 1970’s, in Special Sciences.

      It is hardly a “boogie man” of science. Rather, the opposite.

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  16. I apologize if I cause confusion. No, overall understanding doesn’t decrease with knowing the parts of the machinery but we all realize that that isn’t giving us the full picture, especially the picture that matters the most.
    When gazing at the stars or walking through the forest, it gives tremendous pleasure and added depth to now the names of the constellations and about the fine-tuned machinery of various interactions among plants and animals.
    The purpose of my gazing or my stroll is typically, as a human being, to fullfil something more than the mere registration of the parts and admiration of diversity. My affection to my beloved isn’t diminished by knowing what happens in my humoral or neural systems, but the ‘purpose’ of love is beyond that. The ‘vertical’ appreciation of the universe is not bad, but limited, whereas the the ‘horizontal’ one is usually the one with true meaning. To me, this is one of the classic limits of science.

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  17. In my view experience is characterized by what Dewey called a ‘pervasive wholeness’ . This ‘pervasive wholeness’ is elusive to complete description whether the type of investigation is literary or scientific in nature. A gifted writer may however be able to help us better access our own experience as their descriptions may allow nuances that previously stayed in the unconscious come into awareness. I think a good scientific insight can sometimes also serve the same purpose.

    I think it is folly to expect that we will ever get complete descriptions of experience regardless of the mode of investigation. I know some Buddhist meditation friends who feel their practice gives them access to the whole truth of nature. They are not in the throes of their meditation practice when they tell me this however so I see it as just another abstraction misread as the whole.

    Why can’t we just take whatever insights we can from all the modes of investigation we can access in pursuit of the best partial understanding we can muster?

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  18. I think clearly there is a divide between subjective experience and what we can communicate to each other through various modes of investigation. I think experience is characterized by a ‘pervasive wholeness’ (I think Dewey coined this). A good writer can help us access our own experience with more nuance than we might have otherwise due to their own ability to describe that pervasive wholeness. The description will always fall short of being complete. I also think certain scientific insights have the capacity to help us see our own experience in a new light. Other modes of investigation include reflection and meditation. I think they are all useful and all incomplete. I know a Buddhist meditation friend who claims his meditation gives him access to the truth of nature and consciousness. He is not in the throes of meditation when making these claims so it just feels like another incomplete abstraction to me.

    I wonder why we can’t just make use of all the modes of investigation at our disposal in the pursuit of what will always be partial understanding. I think it is the claim that any particular mode holds the answer or the truth that is limiting.

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  19. I really enjoyed this “This Week’s Special.”

    I don’t think I disagree that attempting to give vertical, reductive analyses of certain mental phenomena (like pain, suffering, consciousness, love, etc.) will necessarily leave something out- what its like to undergo these experiences, and what is significant about these experiences to the individuals. As MpBoyle pointed out before, this is very much like the classic explanatory gap problem in Phil Mind which Nagel, Chalmers, and others have pointed out.

    However, I do want to raise one discussion point about how the horizontal investigation helps us understand “What its like” to be someone having certain experiences in a situation.

    First lets start with one way to illustrate how we leave something out when we do reductive vertical analysis of experiences is to think about a researcher who does all of the vertical investigation of “love” or “anger” or “betrayed feelings,” but has no idea what these things are like experientially *since the researcher hasn’t actually experienced them his or herself.* (this is basically the famous Mary the Neuroscientist argument slightly modified).

    I wonder, though, if the same criticism can be leveled against the horizontal look. Think about a sociopath who reads crime and punishment. He is unlikely to understand rasolnikov’s guilt, shame, and moral sentiments *at all* simply because he hasn’t, and can’t, experience, by hypothesis here, guilt or shame or moral sentiments.

    I think this illustrates how, unless one has experienced the mental event that is being discussed – in either the vertical or horizontal case – one cannot understand the “what its like” to experience things.

    This being said, where I think the value in the horizontal understanding comes from is its ability to instill these experiences in us by describing situations in great detail which elicit the experiences in us that the characters are feeling, thereby helping us to understand what it is like to be the character. Would you agree? Or do you think there are other ways that you can gain understanding of experiences through the horizontal investigation?

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  20. Hi Thomas,

    I think you are reading things in to the piece that aren’t there. He is not saying that science is a bogey man. He doesn’t even say that the one way of looking at things will lead to a dead clinical view of life. He is simply saying that it is not logical to privilege one way of looking over another, a priori.

    I think he makes that case well. If you find the end anti-climatic, then maybe that is because it was not supposed to be a climax, rather the logical conclusion of his reasoning.

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  21. Dan K, perhaps you misunderstand. My comments are meant to address Lewis’s piece, not to use what is a rather nice, but, unexceptional, exploration of this subject with a convenient turn of phrase and metaphoric device to counter what he views as “brow beating.” His last paragraph is a mishmash of trivialities, which you want to use as a springboard to undermine those within the scientific community who exhibit the attitudinal posturings that Lewis finds disturbing. That’s fine, but let’s at least approach his piece own its own merits, which to my mind are lacking in substance.

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  22. Sethleon wrote:

    I think it is folly to expect that we will ever get complete descriptions of experience regardless of the mode of investigation…

    I wonder why we can’t just make use of all the modes of investigation at our disposal in the pursuit of what will always be partial understanding. I think it is the claim that any particular mode holds the answer or the truth that is limiting.

    ———————————————————————–

    This is exactly how I think of it, and I would argue that Lewis does as well. He makes it quite clear that he is not opposed to scientific investigation. What he is opposed to is science’s current hegemony over explanation and understanding.

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  23. Mark English wrote:

    Not everything perhaps. But “our neuroscience” will, I expect, not be recognizable even within a slightly more constrained time-frame. And it might even incorporate some of the non-scientific (as currently defined) insights under discussion. Who knows?

    —————————————————————————————————–

    Given that science involves a third person stance, it is never going to tell us things that require a first person stance. This is a matter of category differences, not just a matter of waiting long enough. So, in response to “Who knows?” my answer is “We do.”

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  24. Hi Dan, I don’t see why people having issues with what Lewis said makes it a poor choice for people to read/consider. Clearly this shows the reductive issue has been around for a while and one (rather influential) person’s response to it.

    I agree with the general point he (and you) are making, even if I have a few nitpicky quibbles with some of his cases and descriptions (which I will leave aside)… as well as his choice of terms. The along/at terms were not intuitive to me. Inside/outside is better. Your horizontal/vertical makes more sense, and is sort of compatible with how I normally view this issue: lower/higher magnification.

    Basically one can just look at one’s experiences as they are (totally zoomed out and lowest magnification) at that level, or start zooming in to inspect the mechanics involved with the experiences (one could say at different/deeper levels).

    Deeper =/= more true.

    I was taken aback by S.Wallerstein’s idea that understanding/describing the mechanics underlying feelings of love somehow “debunks” that experience. The feelings are just as real, even if the mechanics are understood.

    …most of us can see, from our own experiences and from observing those around us that falling in love all too often leads to bad marriages, unwise pregnancies, nice people getting emotionally hurt by manipulative others, worthwhile life projects (work, studies, etc.) being disrupted by long grueling unsatisfying relationships.

    First of all, why aren’t all of those other judgments/feelings “debunked” by the fact that neural mechanisms underlie them (just as much as love)? Bad marriage? Grueling? Unsatisfied? All chemicals. Pay no attention and get on with making the babies and taking care of the people around you 🙂

    More important, that entire quote just goes to show love can be put into proper context without resorting to reductive arguments. To say to a person, “Whoah maybe you should cool off a bit and consider what this relationship could lead to or how it will affect your life” would be way more meaningful and likely to help a person than “You know that feeling is just chemicals, so it doesn’t mean anything, just walk it off.”

    I had a person say something like that last one to me once, and it made me wonder if we were living on the same planet. Yeah it is nice to know that if you are hurting in a break up, since it is a chemical system, it is likely to get better with time… but uhmmmmm, people already know that. From experiencing breakups. Same for falling in love.

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  25. I can think of other Lewis pieces where he is guilty of polemic, “Abolition of Man” for example, but not this.

    Here Lewis is engaged in reasoning and I think it is solid. I don’t see how “naive” is even a category here – you can have a naive and sound argument.

    And the triviality or otherwise of an argument is entirely subjective – it depends upon what you find important. But again, something might be trivial and true and it seems to me that we should be asking is whether or not Lewis’s arguments support his conclusion.

    In a sense I guess you could also say his point is trivial – trivially true. But when a large portion of people engaged in public discourse do not get a trivial truth, then it is not a trivial thing to point it out.

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  26. dbholmes,

    I got the idea that science somehow “debunks” the experience of falling in love from the original post, from the 6th paragraph. From the context, I gather that “debunk” is Lewis’s word, although maybe it’s Daniel Kaufman’s interpretation of Lewis. “Debunk” is not part of my normal working vocabulary, but I’m always happy to add new words to it.

    Now in general if I try to explain to somehow hopelessly in love that a lot of what they are feeling can be explained by X or Y hormones, I will likely be accused of being incapable of understanding life’s most wonderful experience, of being envious, of being a puritan, of lacking poetry, of being pedestrian, of trying to cut their wings, etc., etc. Thus, caute.

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  27. Robin et al, no, Lewis has not engaged in a logical exercise in this piece. Far from it. This is a rhetorically reactionary piece that indulges in stereotypical depictions of the scientific community. It is myopically judgmental and paints a distorted picture of what scientists ideally attempt in their varied studies.

    The essay is pervaded by facile presumptions regarding what questions scientists attempt to address and, rather, takes the pejorative stance that their endeavors cannot account for human reality in toto (was there some doubt in this matter?), and we should therefore view such attempts as “brow beating” and “rot”: “Where is the rot to end?”

    I am not a “reductionist,” but it seems to me Lewis is guilty of vertical inequality in this piece by assuming that scientific inquiry aims to provide the “whole truth and nothing but the truth.” I have no doubt that there are–many prominent and popular–scientists who are eliminativistic and scientistic, but for the most part I think they are mainly humans pursuing particular areas of interest that lend themselves to scientific inquiry and add to our knowledge of reality.

    Where is the boogie man? Well, for starters, it resides in the assumption that scientists were not young men/women in love at some point in their lives and are oblivious to this fact when they put on their white coats and design their studies:

    “Now comes a scientist and describes this young man’s experience from the outside. For him it is all an affair of the young man’s genes and a recognised biological stimulus. That is the difference between looking along the sexual impulse and looking at it.”

    Presumably, the scientist should submit his findings from the “outside” while simultaneously publishing a romance novel that would suggest appropriate nuance from the “inside.” But this is to declaim scientific findings on the basis, say, that they don’t focus on one common experience of young love, butterflies in the tummy, despite the fact that the study was never designed with this particular feature in mind.

    “And no one plays the game the other way round by replying, ‘If you will only step inside, the things that look to you like instincts and taboos will suddenly reveal their real and transcendental nature.’”

    Is this not simply pandering and toying with verbiage? If not, let’s decide on the “correct” way to decipher “their real and transcendental nature,” when it might be more appropriate to ask whether these features might be in some way synonymous or how might one study transcendence except by accepting anecdote as empiric fact.

    “And you can hardly ask that question without noticing that for the last fifty years or so everyone has been taking the answer for granted. It has been assumed without discussion that if you want the true account of religion you must go, not to religious people, but to anthropologists; that if you want the true account of sexual love you must go, not to lovers, but to psychologists; that if you want to understand some “ideology” (such as medieval chivalry or the nineteenth-century idea of a “gentleman”), you must listen not to those who lived inside it, but to sociologists.” Of course, the implication here is that anthropologists are anti-religious and that psychologists have never loved, thereby existing outside the matters they study; or worse, that sociologists must time-travel to understand medieval notions of chivalry.

    Quite frankly, I don’t even know how to respond to this sort of thing. As I noted upthread, since I believe most of us began our lives as humans, I don’t understand the sort of compartmentalization where “true accounts” of religion or sexual love are alien to anthropologists and psychologists. This sort of approach flirts with anti-intellectualism and misrepresents inner experience as an occurrence that happens in a vacuum. Despite the weasel words of the last paragraph, Lewis’s essay seems an exaggerated piece of rhetoric designed to denigrate scientific disciplines when they question the “real and transcendental nature” of “looking along.”

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  28. The difference between defining something and explaining it?
    In that to define is to reduce it to it most essential elements, while to explain it requires putting it in its fullest context.

    One of my counterattacks against the scientistic mind set lately has been to examine how the particle/wave duality has essentially been reduced to particles as real and waves as statistical. Which seems to be a particular bias of the reductive mindset to objects, rather than processes. When we try to measure reality it just keeps receding into these smaller and smaller entities, to the point that reality is assumed to be composed of these subatomic particles, statistically located in what is otherwise 99+% empty space.

    Yet if we looked at reality as essentially processes and waves, with objects being emergent from the definition of measurement and observation, the network, rather than the node, then reality is more of a hologram, than material objects.

    Now what is love, but “spooky action at a distance.” On the same wavelength, as it is so often described.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Thomas,

    First of all, where do you get your assumption that this is addressed at the scientific community, or that when he talks of “The people who look at things” he is talking about scientists? He does not say so.

    He never says that all scientists, or even that most scientists look at things this way. He does not say that this refers only to scientists or even mostly to scientists. He never says that “the people who look along things” are not scientists, or even that most scientists don’t think like this.

    A fair reading, then, doesn’t put these words in his mouth. He was a careful writer. If he had meant this then he would have said so. When he is talking of “The people who look at things” he is referring to just that, whether they be scientists or not. When he talks of “the people who look along things” he means just that, be they scientists of not.

    “Of course, the implication here is that anthropologists are anti-religious and that psychologists have never loved”

    You may have decided that he meant that but he never said anything like it.

    I think that you have decided at the beginning that this is an “us and them” polemic against science and scientists and that you have read this into it where he has not said it.

    I think you should re-read and pay attention to what he has actually said and don’t attribute views to him that he has not expressed.

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  30. Dan K, no need to apologize. Lewis was a respected scholar, but that doesn’t mean I can’t find fault with his approach in this particular essay. Note, for example, Brodix’s propensity for focusing on physics, which those of us who’ve followed RS and Sal Sci have had a regular dose of. But there is no need to point to the great variety of scientific disciplines that have in fact vastly enhanced human knowledge. Lewis was writing at a time when scientific inquiry and discovery began to accelerate on a global scale and was popularly miscast as a universal panacea. With the passing of 70 years, it’s apparent that the cheese sometimes has holes. But that, to my mind, doesn’t mitigate what I feel are Lewis’s missteps and oversimplifications in tackling this issue.

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  31. Speaking of straw-men, the ultimate strawman – a Caterpillar minding its own business!

    Inchworm, inchworm, measuring the marigolds
    You and your arithmetic, you’ll probably go far.
    Inchworm, inchworm, measuring the marigolds
    Seems to me you’d stop and see how beautiful they are.

    Lewis does make a valid distinction, which leads me immediately to think of Clifford Geertz with his “thick description” and (whether he speaks of it this way or not) anthropology from the inside, and this has had a huge influence on history in the last few decades. I just had a possible epiphany that this may shed light on the (to me) obscure verbiage “post-structuralism”. If structuralism was so much manifested in anthropology per Levy-Strauss, nothing could be further apart than kinship rules and charts and Gertz’ writing. Robert Darnton (The Great Cat Massacre: And Other Episodes in French Cultural History) is a great exemplar of this style.

    The cognitive turn in psychology (human and animal) certainly started off like an attempt to look more “horizontally” if you want to call it that, at the psychological subject – a revolt against the previous reigning paradigm of S-R Behaviorism. Animals are described less like machines. The imprinted bird saw Konrad Lorenz, the first moving entity it saw, as its mother. Clinical cognitive therapists are doing something more allied with philosophy than behaviorism. They are engaging with peoples’ thought processes and beliefs with an end goal of changing them when they cause suffering.

    Lewis: And you can hardly ask that question without noticing that for the last fifty years or so everyone has been taking the answer for granted

    That would, of course, be the 50 years prior to 1945. Marxists were claiming to have a “scientific” approach; the Holocaust was blamed (to an excessive degree) on “bad science” or social Darwinism.

    Since then, we have had Ricoeur’s History and Hermeneutics along with the Geertz anthropological approach.

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  32. W.r.t. “naturalizing” of branches of philosophy, it’s something I’ve struggled to understand and concluded that perhaps in its main manifestations it is a sort of vulgar (caught up in the circa 1945-50 scientism) thinking we can pass the buck to science, but I’m attracted to “naturalizing” as I construe it in From Natural (or Naturalized) to Social Epistemology.

    IMO much of the attempt to understand the mind as coming from physical processes is respectful of philosophical traditions, and prone to engage much with philosophers. Some like Daniel Dennett seem very much on the borderline between science and philosophy (never mind his laughable attempt to rebrand the non-religious as “brights” with some sort of analogy to the success of the word “gay”). Another very deep into brain structures and molecules is Roger Ainslie who takes on the Breakdown of Will in a way both scientific and deeply philosophical.

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  33. “..nor even a persuasive articulation. That can only be given by the one gazing..”

    Either the experience is ineffable, or it is something even a dog can experience (yeah, not necessarily a straight dichotomy ;)). All communications between us on the qualia of our perceptual and emotional life rely on analogy or metaphor – there are no guarantees that your subjective experience of love or heroin or delirium is anything like mine, or will even be the same next time you experience it, aside from those of implicit (ie instinctual or unconscious) or explicit reasoning based on materiality – behaviours, biology, utterances, continuity in space and time. It is the latter reasoning that makes me think I have some insight into the subjective emotional life of a dog – I recognize facial cues and other behaviours, but how on earth will I test whether I am engaging in hopeless anthropomorphism except from papers like

    http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01845/full

    or

    https://www.researchgate.net/profile/James_Serpell/publication/233582872_Anthropomorphism_and_Anthropomorphic_SelectionBeyond_the_Cute_Response/links/00b7d5253094387a32000000.pdf

    all pretty relevant to ethical thought.

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  34. Hi DanK and Ottlinger,

    I must admit I am a bit puzzled. The point of my comment was to raise discussion about *how* horizontal interpretation goes about giving us understanding into the “what its like” to be a subject in a certain situation/experience. This was something that wasn’t really discussed in the essay (not saying thats a bad thing, just that this is something we can discuss here in the comments thread). It was simply asserted that horizontal analysis (sometimes) provides us with understanding of “what its like” to be someone in a certain situation having a certain experience.

    I certainly wasn’t trying to say that horizontal interpretation never gives us understanding, or that the article above indicates that it always can. I was just trying to ask *how* you think horizontal analysis gives us understanding of the “what its like.” Hence why I said the following things:

    “I do want to raise one discussion point about how the horizontal investigation helps us understand “What its like” to be someone having certain experiences in a situation.”

    “where I think the value in the horizontal understanding comes from is its ability to instill these experiences in us by describing situations in great detail which elicit the experiences in us that the characters are feeling, thereby helping us to understand what it is like to be the character. Would you agree? Or do you think there are other ways that you can gain understanding of experiences through the horizontal investigation?”

    So, in case I wasn’t clear before, in what ways do you think horizontal analysis gives us understanding of the “what its like” to be a certain agent in a situation? Is it just by causing certain experiences in us that the characters are feeling which we haven’t had before? Is it giving us ways to describe previous experiences we have had, but that we haven’t been able to describe in the past?

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  35. Dan T:

    I thought that this was relatively clear.

    “Rather, the sort of investigation I am talking about remains at the surface and stretches out across it. The essay, the poem, the novel, and the song provide additional accounts, descriptions, and expressions of the phenomenon itself, from many different peoples’ points of view, and by showing us how others experience love, express it, and value it, we come to better understand our own experiences, expressions, and valuations of love.”

    —————————————————

    Certainly, we can come to understand experiences that we have *not* yet had, by being exposed to the well-expressed experiences of others. But I really was talking about developing a greater understanding of the experiences we are already acquainted with. This is the whole point of the clash with reductive analysis. We suffer, for example, and want better to understand suffering. The reductionist tells us to go digging in the brain to find that understanding. The person who examines the question “horizontally” tells us to expose ourselves to the greatest expressions of suffering in literature and the arts — Survival in Auschwitz; Guernica; war photography from Cambodia.

    Lewis’s point is that we must do both. Contra Thomas Jones, Lewis never says that a reductive analysis is worthless or even unuseful. (In fact, at the end, he *explicitly* says “We must start with no prejudice with or against either kind of looking.”) And depending on *why* we are pursuing the inquiry, we may find that one or the other provides a more or less satisfying *kind* of understanding.

    Now, if you are asking, “Yes, yes, but *how* does exposure to the greatest expressions of suffering in literature and the arts provide the kind of understanding you are talking about?” I’m not sure how to answer. It almost sounds like you are looking for a reductive account, along the lines of “give me some neuroscientific or cognitive account of what goes on in someone’s noodle, when he looks at Guernica.” I must admit to having zero interest in such an investigation, nor am I even capable of giving one.

    What I *will* say is that I find that I gain a perspective on my own experience that I would not otherwise have, when exposed to great expressions of that experience by others. That perspective deepens my experience; renders me more thoughtful about it; may lead me to want to engage in creative expression of my own, with respect to it; may help me come to realize ways in which my version of it may be eccentric or the opposite. But if you ask me how all that is done, I can’t answer you. Explanations come to an end, and in horizontal inquiry, it’s horizontal all the way.

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  36. Thomas,
    To continue with Robin’s point about the “people who look at things,” if I look at say the coffee cup sitting on my desk, I see a familiar object, the same that anyone else would see and if I were to measure weigh and observe it from every angle, I would still see the exact same cup as anyone else, but because I have had that cup for awhile, it also has a network of connections in my mind, that no one else would see and that puts it in a different context than a similar cup.

    So there is this difference between simply seeing something, even if very exactly and actually having some contextual sense of what it is in its specificity. Which goes back to my previous point about the difference between defining something and explaining it.

    Now science does try to both define and explain, but there is a tendency among those more obsessive about the process to demand a certitude that veers more toward definition, rather than the looser requirements of attempting to construct an effective explanation out of the infinite amount of potential input into any context.

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  37. Hi Dan, I realized the first sentence of my reply to you may have looked like criticism. Just to be clear I was trying to say that I thought this was a worthy choice, I found it interesting and useful, regardless of the complaints some people had.

    Hi Thomas Jones, I agree that Lewis’s discussion did not paint a completely accurate picture of what questions scientists are trying to answer. That said, I think Robin is right that you are reading more into his piece than was there. I didn’t take him to mean scientists were “browbeating” anyone, particularly in the work they are doing. The point being that some people (apparently he felt a lot of people) do browbeat those offering insight outside of science based investigations, as if such accounts are inherently less worthy, less complete than their own.

    It is hard for me to say there aren’t people like that, and it seems like that attitude is increasing. Being in neuroscience I hear all sorts of ideas (usually from nonscientists) explaining how my field explains away this or that and provides the actual reasons for behavior. And unfortunately some scientists (including neuroscientists) are perpetuating such myths. They are browbeating people discussing experiences and behavior from different perspectives than pure mechanism, as if mechanism provides some greater truth.

    Would you agree there are some people in the world acting this way?

    Hi Wallerstein, yes Lewis uses the term debunk in the article, and I assumed Dan was taking it from him. The point was that both of them appear critical of such efforts, while you were appearing to say it was ok… or possible! So term aside, I was concerned with your suggestion discussing mechanisms would in fact pull down in some way the importance or meaning of a feeling.

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  38. Dan K, one last comment, then I’ll shut up. It seems to me that one has to interpret Lewis’s essay on the basis of his belief system and the historical context when he wrote this essay. Lewis was a Christian apologist and was greatly disturbed by what he perceived as the dehumanizing effects in politics–Marxism, Nazism, and Fascism–and especially in psychology–early behaviorism and psychoanalysis as popularized by Freud. I think you are reading far too much into this piece to the point where you are taking liberties with the term “reductionism” and its connotations seventy years later. I have tried to make this clear in my earlier comments, but you seem to favor your own interpretation of what Lewis had in mind when he wrote it. Readers can take Lewis’s phrases looking at vs looking along and run off in any direction they want to, but they are used by him, in my opinion, for their metaphoric value and not as robust intellectual conceptions. And it seems to me his major concern is to reinvigorate the importance of transcendental experience that he feels is being devalued by those like anthropologists, psychologists, and sociologists who “merely” observe from the outside instead of looking along (inner experience) where the “real and transcendental nature” resides. You cannot read this piece without an awareness that he was addressing his own appraisal of science at the time he wrote it.

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    • Given that you are the one ascribing all sorts of things to him — in some cases, things with regard to which he actually says the exact opposite, in the essay — the suggestion that *I* am reading things in to him is hard to take seriously.

      As for the idea that he is really talking about reaffirming “transcendental” experience, I see no evidence of it. I do, however, see much evidence that he is making a point very similar to that made by Thomas Nagel, in his essay “What is it like to be a bat?” Through his discussion of each example, he makes clear what is “left out” in a 3rd person, reductive inquiry.

      And yes, I am quite familiar with Lewis’ time, place, and context. Indeed, some years ago, I gave a paper on Lewis’ “The Abolition of Man,” at a scholarly conference at Belmont University, in Nashville.

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  39. I have to concur with Robin Herbert, DanK and others in pushing back against Thomas Jones’ mischaracterization of Lewis. The following passage in the essay seems eminently reasonable to me:

    “One must look both along and at everything. In particular cases we shall find reason for regarding the one or the other vision as inferior. Thus the inside vision or rational thinking must be truer than the outside vision, which sees only movements of the grey matter; for if the outside vision were the correct one, all thought (including this thought itself) would be valueless, and this is self-contradictory. You cannot have a proof that no proofs matter. On the other hand, the inside vision of the savages’ dance to Nyonga may be found deceptive because we find reason to believe that crops and babies are not really affected by it. In fact, we must take each case on its merits. But we must start with no prejudice for or against either kind of looking. We do not know in advance whether the lover or the psychologists is giving the more correct account of love, or whether both accounts are equally correct in different ways, or whether both are equally wrong. We just have to find out.”

    Further, as to the notion that Lewis’ view of the scientific community is a caricature, this seems another problematic claim.

    For example, we see this from a recent anthology on reductionism regarding the biomedical sciences: “…in the developed world ‘Reductionism Rules’. Scientists who use reductionist methods predominate in raw numbers, publish the most papers, are cited the most frequently, get the most grant money, etc., while more holistic scientists [not to mention the humanities which, as Hull later notes, are completely omitted as being of no value whatsoever re: the acquisition of knowledge] are increasingly shut out.” (p.1)

    Promises and Limits of Reductionism in the Biomedical Sciences, eds. David L. Hull and Marc H. V. Van Regenmortel [Department of Philosophy, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA, and Biotechnology School, CNRS, Strasbourg, France, respectively]. Wiley, 2002.

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  40. dbholmes,

    This is straying more and more off-topic, but let’s compare being in love with being depressed. Both states of mind produce a lot of illusions or even delusions, in my experience.

    Now I spend a lot of time with a depressed friend. At times I converse with him and try to convince him that things are not as bad as he imagines, that he’s not going to end up homeless, that he’ll find a better job, etc. At times I find that trying to convince him that things are not as bad as he imagines is not working and I ask him if he’s taking his medication, if he needs a loan to fill his prescription, etc. I also tell him about information which I’ve read online about causes of depression, about options for therapy or medication, about different theories about what produces depression. Note: I don’t consider that his depression is entirely an illness like a cold: he has been through a lot of difficult experiences, has had some bad breaks in life, has often not received the understanding from others which might have kept him from becoming so depressed and is not the world’s most resilient person. In general, he’s thankful for my efforts to help and is willing to consider my points of view.

    In contrast, someone in love, while often equally in the grip of an illusion (this love will last forever, she will make me HAPPY for the rest of my life, etc.), is a fanatic, unwilling to listen to others. Trying to get someone in love to face reality is like trying to argue with a Mormon or a Trotskyite. What strikes me is as weird is that being in love is considered by some to be one of the greatest human experiences, while being depressed is written off as illness (even when the person has good reasons to be down). For the record, I’m not putting down love: we all need love and to form bonds with others, but the long hard work of constructing decent loving human relationships as little to do with the experience of talking to a girl for ten minutes (described by Lewis) and falling in love.

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  41. Dan K, “As for the idea that he is really talking about reaffirming ‘transcendental’ experience, I see no evidence of it.”

    It is more than apparent that I’m a loner here. But let me quote from the article: “’All these moral ideals which look so transcendental and beautiful from inside’, says the wiseacre, ‘are really only a mass of biological instincts and inherited taboos.’ And no one plays the game the other way round by replying, ‘If you will only step inside, the things that look to you like instincts and taboos will
    suddenly reveal their real and transcendental nature.'”

    This is a win/win for Lewis since scientific inquiry doesn’t concern itself with transcendent matters, unless of course one misappropriates “emergence” as a matter of transcendence.

    I have scanned 28 pages online without finding any serious scientific or philosophic discussion of this essay, though it is referenced repeatedly in blogs and articles with clearly religious, particularly Christian, orientations. And, no, I think saying that Lewis’s argument is similar to Nagel’s is really an overreach and does Nagel a disservice, regardless of how one feels about his 1974 essay “What Is it Like to Be a Bat?”

    At best, Lewis makes a minor point about how experience can be a matter of differing perspectives and orientations, his being largely dictated as a matter of Christian apologetics.

    You, of course, can use his essay to claim that scientific reductionists, eliminativists, and scientimists cannot provide a satisfactory account of all human experience–a point with which I happen to agree. But, then, we’ll just have to disagree on what Lewis was “looking along” in writing his essay.

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  42. Thomas Jones:

    You scanned 28 pages too many. After all, the results don’t demonstrate anything. No one has claimed that Lewis was a part of any substantial professional philosophical discussion.

    G.K. Chesterton is another great writer of apologetics, who also, in an intuitive, amateur way, channeled a number of key philosophical ideas, including elements that one finds in Hume, Reid, and the later Wittgenstein. I may choose to write about an essay or two of his, along these lines. Please, whatever you do, *don’t* go searching for scholarly mention of him in academic venues. You won’t find any. (With the exception of a few published pieces of mine.)

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  43. With respect to this matter of Lewis and academic reductionism, just a quick historical note. DanK is most certainly correct that Lewis’s small essay is not to be found in academia’s ruminations, hence the futility of fruitlessly combing dozens of pages of search results.

    That having been said, the inspiration for Lewis’ thoughts in “Meditations in a Toolshed” ultimately does come from philosophy, specifically British Emergentist philosopher Samuel Alexander- specifically, the distinction between what Alexander calls “contemplation” vs. “enjoyment” (see the Cambridge Companion to CS Lewis on this). Lewis himself discusses Alexander and his influence on him at length in Surprised by Joy: the Shape of My Early Life (1966).

    More interestingly still, the SEP’s entry on Emergent Properties quotes Alexander and compares his views to Jerry Fodor’s in “Special Sciences,” another famous anti-reductionist essay published the same year as Nagel’s famous piece, “What is it like to be a bat?” (1974). Lewis seems to thus be midway between two important periods of the discussion of reductionism in 20th Century Anglo-American philosophy, one in the earlier part of the century and another one several decades later.

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  44. It should be pointed out that reductionism is the basis of cognitive thought. That very extracting the signal from the noise. Even our sight is a reductive process, or it would just be white light. As would any effort to provide far more information than necessary to the issue at hand degenerates back into the white noise from which it is extracted. Therefore the need for these top down framing devices we use to make sense of the cacophony of reality, from science and math, to arts and literature.

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  45. Hi Brodix.
    Looking at anything analytically will involve filtering out some, or likely most attributes. In the extreme, for calculating trajectory through the solar system we probably use a model wherein nothing is relevant but a planet’s mass.

    I believe reductionism refers to believing there is one level of modeling that will explain everything, and perhaps concluding too much from the “fact” that if we perfectly knew (1) the properties of every sort of particle, and (2) the relative positions of every particle in the universe we ought to be able to explain everything, including consciousness. (1) the laws of physics are in principal very compact, but (2) is an utterly intractable level of complexity. It would be so even if limited to all the
    relative positions of the particles in a single cell organism. It takes more than understanding the constituent parts (bricks, say) to understand a structure (e.g. a brick building).

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  46. I believe that Dantip did bring up a wonderful question. He asked *how* does one horizontally access sensations from the arts and such. I may not be an arty type, but consider this: You’re watching a movie, and come to respect one of the characters. But then oh no! Look at the horrible challenges of betrayal and such that this person is forced to endure! Your eyes well up, and despite yourself, you damn well cry. In fact you might not even recall feeling such an extremity of sadness, and even though this does concern the hypothetical circumstances of someone else.

    We don’t need to go “full reductionist” to consider this metamorphosis. Indeed, it would be nice if we could get some answers by means of psychology, or a science which need not be considered “vertical” whatsoever. Observe that if such fields were able to give us some reasonable explanations, then we probably wouldn’t now be having this particular discussion. It is my quest to halt the tolerance commonly display for these primitive sciences, so that true progress might indeed occur.

    I see two dynamics regarding these horizontal assessments. Apparently increasing levels of “empathy” evolved into increasingly socially varieties of conscious life, or sensations which correspond somewhat with perceptions of another’s sensations. Then secondly there is the “theory of mind” dynamic, where we guess what it is that others are thinking, which can invoke sensations as well. Anyone who has kept up with me, might also recall that I define these two forms of sensations to exist as “morality” itself.

    Off topic warning: I’ll now go into what I consider to be an extremely unfortunate circumstance. I suspect that the reason for the failure of our mental/behavioral sciences so far, concerns the pressures which have been extruded upon them by means of the morality dynamic itself. Apparently morality evolved as a social tool from which to permit a fundamentally selfish creature, to function where it otherwise shouldn’t be able to — in societies. Apparently this has been such an effective social tool in us, that it has actually swindled our mental and behavioral sciences! I don’t know if there are any prominent people who have tried to develop these fields from my “selfishness” premise, but if so, I suspect that each of them were halted by the charge of “That’s immoral!”

    I mean to nevertheless help these fields gain a solid footing from which to build. The theme is that science must explore reality, and even when various findings do happen to be quite immoral.

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