Sunday, October 30, 2016



D. R. Khashaba

Some time ago, borrowing Berkeley’s Hylas and Philonous, I composed a short dialogue between the two on the reality of the mind. Here’s another encounter between Berkeley’s brain ekgonoi.

HYLAS: To the question “What is the soul?” I have the short answer: There is no such thing.

PHILONOUS: I will surprise you my good friend. I entirely agree with you. There can be no such thing as the soul.

H.: I am delighted to see that you have accepted my viewpoint.

Ph.: There I’m afraid I have to disappoint you. You cannot deny that we think, we feel, we love, we joy in beauty and experience wonder. Your positivist philosophy cannot explain these realities.

H.: I do not deny that we have psychic states, mental operations, emotional experiences, but these are all products of physiological and neural motions.

Ph.: As you admit there are psychic and mental states and operations, I in turn readily admit there are physiological and neural motions. It is the word ‘products’ that I object to.

H.: How so?

Ph.: You speak as if we understood or could ever understand how from motions in the brain there could result a psychic state or a thought — something of a completely different nature. We fool ourselves with words, my friend, when we speak of one thing causing another thing or of anything coming out of anything different from itself.

H.: But the physiological operations and the brain motions are all that we can objectively ascertain.

Ph.: You observe these operations and motions, you quantify them, you measure them, you experiment with them, but you never know what in themselves they are. They are all externally given – or in your jargon data – that you have to accept on trust. I on the other hand immediately know the reality of my thoughts, my feelings, my spontaneously willed acts.

H.: But you must have a substratum for your psychic states and mental operations.

Ph.: This is another fiction like the fiction of causation. To me, the activity, not the actor, is the reality.

H.: So we are back to our starting point: there is no such a thing as soul or mind.

Ph.: Only in the sense that the soul or mind is not a thing but is pure activity, pure creative activity. The soul or mind cannot be an objective thing since soul or mind is the subjectivity of the subject. The soul is the transcendent reality of the person, the principle of integrity and the principle of creativity of the person. In other words, the personality of the person, our subjectivity, our inner reality, is the one reality and all the reality we know immediately and indubitably. If we want a model for ultimate Reality I can find no other than our intelligent creativity.

H.: Call me stupid, but what you’re saying means nothing to me.

Ph.: You are not stupid my friend and I do not pretend to be more intelligent than you are. But you’re objectively oriented. Plato in the Sophist expected the battle between the idealists and the materialists to rage to the end of time. Aristotle was not less intelligent than Plato but could not see things as Plato saw them. So let us say you are an Aristotelian and I am a Platonist and let us part as friends.

D. R. Khashaba

October 30, 2016

Posted to and

Wednesday, October 26, 2016



D. R, Khashaba

I have been reading an intriguing article by Brandon Keim on recent and ongoing scientific research and scientific thinking on animal minds:

I do not intend to comment on the article since it is mainly outside my range. I will only give a couple of marginal reflections.

At one point we are told that Georg Streidter “noted that fish have demonstrated many (…) cognitive feats. These include …. the ability to count, as described in angel fish who differentiate between schools with different numbers of individuals …”. What strikes me here is that the word ‘count’ seems to be used with peculiar nonchalance. To “differentiate between schools with different numbers of individuals” is not to count. A one-year-old child knows the difference between ‘big’ and ‘biiiig’ spoken with outstretched arms. A savage who cannot count three will know the difference between a horde of a hundred bison and one of a thousand bison. To count involves the application of the conceptual number series. Whether certain animals have something corresponding to conceptual thinking is a distinct question. What I object to here is the lose use of the term ‘count’.

It is admitted that “the nature of subjective experience is only partially accessible to objective science” (Gordon Burghardt). Nevertheless Burghardt goes on to say that “we must keep trying to understand it.” There’s the rub! I would not say that the nature of subjective experience “is only partially accessible to objective science”; it is totally inaccessible to objective science. What scientists investigate in their sophisticated experimentations and observations is not the nature of subjective experience – which can only be known in the inwardness of one’s own subjective experience – but external manifestations and indications. A person born deaf may study musical notation. May even appreciate the mathematical concordance n a musical score. But she or he can never know the experience of listening to a melody. That must be individually experienced.

Indeed I would say that the differences and controversies between scientists in interpreting the results of scientific experimentations arise because one class of scientists are actually posing and trying to answer philosophical questions about subjective experience while other scientists are content to give objective accounts of the results.

In referring to raising and trying to answer philosophical questions about subjective experience I do not mean that there are philosophical answers to these questions. A philosopher probing her or his subjective experience cannot explain the nature of the subjective but can only – equally with the poet and the artist – give symbolic intimations of their inner reality.

What best we gain from the scientists’ interest in studying our kin in the animal kingdom is a widening of our sympathies and a release from the arrogant illusion of human uniqueness and human superiority.

When we read that “insects, too, would appear to be conscious” I find in that corroboration of my conviction that living intelligence is the metaphysical ground of all Being.

D. R. Khashaba

Cairo, October 26, 2016

Also posted to