DARWIN ON THOUGHT
D. R. Khashaba
Noam Chomsky in his preface to the third edition of Language and Mind refers to Darwin asking “rhetorically why ‘thought, being a secretion of the brain,’ should be considered ‘more wonderful than gravity, a property of matter’.” This illustrates perfectly the confounding of scientific questions with philosophical questions — an error that Socrates uncovered twenty-six centuries ago and that I have been harping on in all my writings, but that the modern mind, moulded by the objective scientific outlook, fails to grasp. (I am just starting to read Chomsky’s book and am not certain of his stance; hence in what follows I will confine myself to discussing Darwin’s view.)
There are three words in Darwin’s statement that call for Socratic scrutinization. It seems that scientists in all fields of scientific inquiry are so taken by things that they pay little attention to words. The three words I refer to are: secretion, gravity, and property.
In what sense is thought a “secretion” of the brain. This is clearly a metaphor and not an apt metaphor at that.
As for “gravity”, Newton himself confessed that he did not know what it was; it remained a complete mystery to him.
What does it mean to say that “gravity” is a “property” of matter? Does it mean that there is a thing called “gravity” hidden in matter? All that experience justifies us in saying is that for some reason that we do not know bodies move relatively to each other. Newton named that unknown and unknowable cause “gravity”. Einstein thought that “cause” was a certain curvature in space — and who on earth knows what “space” is?
And supposing we admit that thought is a “secretion” of the brain, does that make it less wonderful? We know that plants grow and produce flowers and fruits and we can describe in great detail the processes involved, but if you don’t sense the wonder of that I can only pity your experiential poverty.
Please note that I am not discussing the science in all that. Scientists are doing excellent work observing phenomena and formulating laws that enable us to make predictions and to influence the course of processes. But don’t tell me that does away with the mystery of thought.
In philosophy we deal with meanings, with values. These are subjective things; they are part of the inwardness of our inward life. They always have an outward accompaniment. You study the outward accompaniment from outside. You cannot study the subjective objectively; that is a contradiction in terms; it is more nonsensical than squaring the circle because you can approximate to the square of the circle since these belong to the one world of space, but the subjective and the objective are two different worlds: there is nothing common between them.
Philosophers are dreamers enriching our inner life; leave them their world and they will, if they listen to me, leave you your world.
I am not arguing, I am tired of explaining again and again and again that how x comes about is the business of science, what x means is the business of philosophy and we cannot proceed from either of these to the other. I am not arguing and I am a fool for letting myself be dragged once more into this. (See the last six postings to this blog.)
August 24, 2916.