The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or by Gregg Henriques. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Today’s guest on this Currents episode is Gregg Henriques. Gregg is Professor of Psychology at James Madison University.
Gregg: Hi, Jim. Happy to be here.
Jim: Hey, good to have you back on the show, Gregg.
Gregg: Thank you so much.
Jim: Yeah. Gregg is the author of A New Unified Theory of Psychology and he’s also developed the Associated Tree of Knowledge that we discussed in Episode 59. Today we’re going to talk about Gregg’s idea called the fifth joint point. I go to throw a joke in here. When I first read and heard about the fifth joint point I said, “Oh, that reminds me of a Pink Floyd concert I went to in 1973. By about the halftime I think we’re about at our fifth joint.”
Jim: Back in the good old days, right?
Gregg: Yeah man.
Jim: At the highest level, the fifth joint point as I was able to extract it from the book is essentially that very big picture. The history of the universe could be summarized in four steps as matter, life, mind, culture and meta culture. Maybe you could tell us how you got to meta culture and maybe do a little brief recapitulation of your tree of knowledge.
Gregg: Absolutely. Thanks so much. Yeah, and as I mentioned, in a blog I did with John Vervaeke on transcendent consciousness, in 1997 the picture of the tree of knowledge emerged, and it was actually as I was enjoying a joint at the time, so I had a flash, the tree of knowledge [inaudible 00:02:07]. The joint points do have a number of different references and that could be one fun association [inaudible 00:02:13]. But let’s just track it out. That tree of knowledge is a map of cosmic evolution that maps both reality and our scientific knowledge of it.
Gregg: It maps reality into four different dimensions or behavioral complexity or planes of existence. I use those terms interchangeably. It starts with our modern cosmological picture of the universe starting, say 13.7 billion years ago. There is some more modern debate about exactly that age, but we’ll go with that for now. Existing in a state, we’ll call it here a pure energy singularity. Then we get a big bang inflationary period, in which the argument is, is that this gives rise then to the dimension of matter. In physics matter is something that takes up space time and has mass. We’re going to use the dimension of matter to be the dimension of three dimensions of space, the dimension of time, and the energy matter interactions that emerge out of Big Bang.
Gregg: Then we can then trace this at the level of the development of particles into atoms, atoms and cluster into groups, giving rise to stars and galaxy clusters. Also inside of stars, we get increasingly complex atoms and ultimately, in terms of the evolution of the material universe, say over a 10 billion year period, if we follow our little history we get to the planet Earth 4 billion years ago, where you get these complicated chemical actions and reactions happening, and then either seated by astroid of some level, or emerging here on Earth, we get the emergence of the jump into the second dimension of complexity called life.
Gregg: We can talk a lot about what is it that actually gives rise to these steps, but the fundamental point about the Tree of Knowledge says that life is an emergent, complex adaptive plane of existence. Whereas the material dimension is largely complicated, we can think about life as self organizing dynamic, complex, adaptive systems. The Tree of Knowledge makes the point that these are information storage and processing systems, say with inside the cell, and of course, DNA, RNA, is exemplars of that. There are also cell to cell communication systems.
Gregg: It’s this information processing and cell to cell communication that really plays a central role on why life represents a separate complex adaptive plane. I mentioned that so that we can be clear as when we get up to the fifth joint point, this point about information process. Assessing and communication is key. Then the Tree of Knowledge follows the trail of evolution into plants and then ultimately animals. At the Cambrian explosion, we see the burst of the animal world. Tree of Knowledge argues that that’s another complex adaptive plane of existence. Why? Because the nervous system yoke cells together to create a centralized information processing system, and animals then engage in animal to animal communication patterns.
Gregg: Then we see the dimension in the language of the tree of knowledge. Mind is the dimension of animal behavior. It’s also when we get phenomenological consciousness emerging through the development of brains. Then we trace the evolution of animals. I know we’re going pretty fast here, but we want to get to … and then what happens with humans is a new novel communication system, specifically symbolic language that yokes minds together, and then allows us to create capitalsy culture, which are shared systems of justification. These are the narrative structures that give rise to our belief value systems, our propositional networks, how the hell we make sense out of stuff.
Gregg: Over the last 50,000 years, we’re really seeing the explosion of the evolution of the culture, person plane of existence. That’s the fourth dimension. Again, we have a novel information processing communication network. Each dimension following matter, that’s life, mind and culture, is an emergent dimension of complexity as a function of an information processing communication network. That’s what gives rise to its novel properties and behavioral complexity dynamics. If you follow that line of thinking, and I knew about six weeks to six months after I sketched out the tree of knowledge in 1997, that seeing these patterns, results in the conclusion that the 21st century may well see the beginning of a whole nother dimension of complexity.
Gregg: Why? Each dimension of complexity is associated with the emergence of an information processing, and communication system that are networked together and look around in the 20th century, we laid out a lot of those parts. We’ve connected them together with an internet. Now we’re really seeing the emergence of what we might call the digital dimension to at least reference the kind of information storage processing and communication networks. We’re sort of on the cusp of whatever perhaps comes next. That’s one key feature of the fifth joint point is the idea that we’re really on the cusp of yet another emerging dimension of behavioral complexity or plane of existence. It’s called meta culture just as a reference to that what’s above beyond and transcending the dimension beneath it.
Jim: Wow, thank you, Greg, a history of the universe. 13. 4 billion years in five minutes. Well done. Yeah, it’s funny I work in an area called GameB, which I would say is approximately the level of your meta culture as we contemplate WHAT COMES NEXT. I use the phrase ‘WHAT COME NEXT’ all caps as the, I would say, like almost an exact synonym for meta culture. Both of us have this strong feeling that something is coming, but we can’t put our finger exactly on what right? [crosstalk 00:08:29]
Gregg: Exactly. And GameB, there’s an enormous amount I’ve been tracking … I think you call it the San Diego version. I’ve been tracking Jordan Hall Daniel Schmachtenberger. I learned then from your guys conversation, that, GameB stuff. I saw the Bret Weinstein on Rebel Wisdom and your discussion there also 2013, 2014 the Stanton conferences, learned all about that. Of course, I was here down the road, having my own vision, and they’re exactly … There’s an enormous amount of synergy. For me, one of the things that I realized is that the emergence of the digital is going to fundamentally change the rules of the game. What Jordan Hall called the Blue Church, I just called the old institutional inertia and infrastructure that wasn’t going to be able to handle the accelerating dynamic complexity that is a function of how AI and the internet and other kinds of things are just going to change the rule of the game.
Gregg: I do think that I was seeing globalization, and artificial intelligence, and digital communication as creating so many new rules and so many new opportunities that the old infrastructure was not going to be able to be sufficient. If we didn’t upgrade our programming and cultural code we might find ourselves in well, a shitload of trouble.
Jim: Absolutely. I think that’s the other point where we’re absolutely in agreement. We both call it the meta crisis right? That’s a game determined it’s your term as well. This is a direct quote from your book, “Will the combination of careless stewardship, population explosion, local realities clung to as the truth and resource degradation and depletion, end in global conflict and the destruction of culture?” Culture has brought us a very long way, right from the very first group of humans out on the savanna in East Africa 200, 300,000 years ago. But it doesn’t seem to have any breaks, right? It just builds more and more and more and more and particularly when we entered the modern age, people say, “When do you believe the modern age happened?” I say February 23, 1694.
Jim: They go “What the hell.” I go, that was when the Bank of England was set up, and the invention of central banking, mediated fractional reserve banking. And I would say that Obviously a lot of things [inaudible 00:11:01] that’s a joke, of course, but it’s not entirely, a lot joke.
Jim: A lot of science was just being invented in the late 17th century, people like Newton, et cetera. The earliest parts of the Industrial Revolution, people were tinkering, et cetera. Then you add … or in that case not yet hyper finance, but fractional reserve banking finance as basically pouring some lighter fluid on the charcoal, and things really took off right around 1700. I would say that’s the world we’re in. It’s brought us from a world where most people most of the time are on the verge of starvation. 50% of children died before the age of five, human lifespan was 35 years, maybe on average to the world we have today, which is much, much better. However, there’s no brakes. We’re going to either cook ourselves by burning all the fossil fuels and raising the temperature to the point where there’ll be a massive die off.
Jim: Or one of our technologies will escape from us. It could be a nanotechnology, it could be AI, it could be CRISPR. There’s just so many of these that basically, what we haven’t done is developed a meta view about our culture, right?
Jim: Which Jordan and Daniel and some of the other great GameB folks basically say that if we have to catch up to something like wisdom, that’s equal to our capacity. Those who listen to the show know I’m a little bit skeptical of wisdom in some high metaphysical sense, but I think in an operational sense, we need to be able to step above meta, our culture and build rebuild a new culture that addresses these meta crisis’s. Again in GameB talk, we talk about a society that is network centric. We hit on your idea that the network is key, self organizing and we think that may be a key difference rather than so much top down, more self organizing, and meta stable.
Jim: Meaning that no single configuration is likely to be stable for any long period of time. But the meta culture has got to be able to exist through these meta crisis’s and solve them. I throw out the number 500 years. 500 years from now things would be so goddamn different, I can’t say much about it. But if we don’t make it through the next 500 years, then we don’t get to play the game again. We have to solve these meta crises over the next 500 years.
Gregg: Yep. Yeah, I basically have a complete agreement with that. I think that my frame on that is that yes, this 21st century period is on this cusp of this meta cultural transition. The technology is going to be huge, the rules of the game are going to be different, and we do need something akin to wisdom, that gives us a meta perspective and enables us to have a meta stable frame of reference to cultivate that transition, because there’s a hell of a lot of difference that’s coming. The question is, if we get too much difference, then we get tipped into chaos. Of course, you get too much order on the other side, it’s that sweet spot that fosters complex, flexible adaptive being, and that’s definitely what I think we need to be doing.
Jim: Right now one of your key tools in your work is what you call a justification system. You say, again this is a direct quote from chapter nine, “I submit that our transcendental purpose is the construction of a new global system of justification, that effectively merges wisdom with science and technology in a way that fosters the emergence of a new global age.
Jim: Maybe you can start out with telling us what is a justification system? And then maybe a little bit on, how you see this new justification system emerging from this meta crisis and this CUSP in the history of the universe that we talked about earlier.
Gregg: Great. Yeah. One of the central insights of the Tree of Knowledge actually preceded. Was what is it that really transformed us from primates into people. Many people will talk to symbolic language and a whole bunch of other things. I think things like imitation share joint attention. I listened to some of the conversations that you were having with Zack Stein. There were a lot of setups for it. But then you get symbolic language. Symbolic language is a radically different form of communication. Other animals have parts of it, but the open symbolic language system that we have, and the insight that I had about symbolic language is that it gives … once it tips over into propositional meaning statements as opposed to when we go from antelope there to there are the antelope, you create what I call the question answer, dialectic, and dynamic, whereby you can question the truth of a proposition and determine then the extent to which it’s justified or not, both in terms of its accuracy and its utility for the purpose.
Gregg: You can do this with a pretty low cognitive load. Precocious kids do this all the time. Why are you bald? Why don’t we eat cookies before dinner? Why do we do this, that, and the other? Then you say, “That’s just the way it is Kid.” Okay? But so what happens then? How do people get coordinated together? And the argument is actually we can take this concept of justification. It’s a very fluid and multifaceted concept, and realize that essentially what people are trying to do, is they’re coordinating investment and influence through language based beliefs and values that legitimize what is and ought to be. In other words, they serve as justifications, and then the justifications are networked into systems of justification that give rise to narrative meaning, sense making, coordination and really what we see as the emergence of cultural codes can be thought of as the evolution of different kinds of justification systems.
Gregg: I would argue that first hunter gatherers are engaged in an oral indigenous kind of justification. It has certain kinds of features, face to face dialogue, it will narrate certain ways, there’ll be probably more animistic. There’s not going to be as much writing and analysis that comes then next. You see the emergence in the axial age of what I call formal systems of justification. These are philosophies that are required to manage large scale civilization. You have experts, priests, philosophers, et cetera that have expertise because of the way civilization’s organized. We’re, of course much bigger than tribes, we get writing. We got other systemized forms of technologies like the emergence of money eventually and all of these create macro civilization level systems of justification, what I call the formal systems of justification that emerged to regulate civilization.
Gregg: Then, when we had these formal systems, many of which are dual world, religious built on tradition, revelation, authority, they get institutionalized in various cultural contexts. Then we get the emergence in Western Europe of modern science and Galileo’s the father of modern science, that’s a different kind of justification system, and indeed, the entire modernism with liberal democracy, a particular form of industrialized capitalism, and the modern, scientific way of understanding the universe that gives rise to modernism, which really transforms of course, the whole cultural code throughout the globe. Gives rise to our first globalized system of justifying and we see that.
Gregg: But it’s also the case from my vantage point that modernism was significantly limited in its capacity to give rise to a holistic, meta perspective of justification. It did a great job of organizing, say, the STEM fields. But I make the point, “Well, actually, modern science really breaks down at the level of psychology in terms of its coherence.” One of the things that tree of knowledge tries to do is really give you a scientific worldview that solves some of the problems, and then looks to merge with the humanities and the wisdom traditions, to give rise to a much more consilient picture of human knowledge. I believe that’s crucial in understanding the meta stable systems that we need to use to guide us in this transitionary phase.
Jim: Yeah, it’s very good, very interesting. Now you mentioned meaning, and you reference the, John Vervaeke earlier and, at least in my world, Vervaeke is most well known for his 55 hours of videos on the meaning crisis. Truthfully, I’m not quite sure what that meaning crisis is. Do you have any sense of that?
Gregg: Oh, yeah, absolutely. To me, there’s two different powerful meanings of the word. One is really ever since there have been formal systems, and probably even before, but certainly we have documented history. Really, he starts with the West, and the Axial Age. Once you get questioning humans building justifications, people need to know why. Why are we doing what we’re doing? Why am I here? What’s the right way to do? These are very, almost inevitable questions that people will ask.
Gregg: Then you’ll get more and more sophisticated in different kinds of answers to those questions. Really, the history of philosophy and the history of knowledge systems represent people’s struggles and attempts to answer them. We’ve gone through periods of history, where the line up between say, what is happening inside the culture, where the institutional developments are, what is the relationship between other cultures, its knowledge, its technology aligns reasonably well, so that you have the answers provided by the culture aligning with a lifestyle, and people have more or less a sense of meaning and purpose that’s shared by the culture and feels fairly stable in that regard.
Gregg: Then there are other times where there is a profound crisis of meaning, meaning that, hey, there’s a destruction, ancient civilizations devolve. There’s a lack of … sort of a sense of homelessness, John talks about. There have been various periods where there’s a fundamental breakdown in meaning making. You can track the history of meaning both in terms of its search of it, and periods in which it flourished and consolidated, other periods in which it’s really, people have lost it and felt the chaos of a lack of meaning. Then I think that brings us to our current situation, what I call the acute meaning crisis, which I believe is we are seeing system of fragmented pluralism.
Gregg: Meaning the state of knowledge that we are in, we’re overloaded with information, but our knowledge and wisdom, in part because of the knowledge is so … the information ecology is so poor, there’s such fragmented pluralism, we have lost the sense of what is true and good, in my opinion, at least in terms of any coherent grounding. I believe that we’re facing a modern meaning crisis. I think there’s a lot of pieces of evidence that would point to that phenomenon.
Jim: Great. I love that. You saved me 55 hours of watching Vervaeke. I’ve tried a couple times, but one of these days I’ll make it happen right?
Jim: Let’s dig into that a little bit. This meaning idea, if we think about the world before, say 1750, the West was certainly had a meaning that was principally religious right?
Gregg: Yup, right.
Jim: Had been going on since probably the fall of Rome, where finally Christianity finally pushed the paganism aside. There was still a little bit of paganism left even in the late Roman Empire. We lived in a world that was utterly saturated with Abrahamic religion up till 1750 or there abouts. Then in some of those routes we talked about earlier in 17th century came together in the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment basically said, “Well, those are probably just stories, somebody made up,” and they were useful, but they are metaphysically true.
Jim: We think about people like Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson, folks of that ilk. And then we entered into the Enlightenment age, where, in some sense, there was not a replacement, a one for one replacement with Abrahamic religion. Rather, there was a sense that humanity was now in charge of its own destiny. Sometimes I refer to the enlightenment as Childhood’s End, ripping off the Arthur C. Clarke novel. That seemed to work for quite a while. Though of course, if we go out and look at the world today, the enlightenment values never actually pushed the Abrahamic religious meaning off the states.
Jim: It made progress but and in some parts of the world, particularly Scandinavia, UK, Netherlands, a relatively small number of people are actually believers in Abrahamic religion. But in much of the world, certainly here in our United States, certainly where you and I live, Abrahamic religion is still very strong.
Jim: I guess it’s a two part question. One, did the enlightenment actually have a meaning which is now breaking up? And how does the residual Abrahamic meaning relate to what’s going on?
Gregg: Great. Yeah, so these are foundational questions as far as I’m concerned. So yes, there’s a complete dominance, basically, at least in Europe, of course. This is our … this particular Western lineage, Western colonial lineage, you have a complete dominance of Christianity until you get the emergence of … and indeed Galileo is the father of modern science. He hated the metaphysical speculations, and wanted as pristine of an analysis of matter in motion as possible and generates empiricism. Really, what you see is a transition. What is it Laplace who tells Napoleon he has no need for the god hypothesis. At least that’s an anecdote.
Gregg: You get a transition from … and certainly Newton believed that God was instrumental in all of this, and you have Rene Descartes and his dualism, but you get an increasing shift over 100 year 200 year period, certainly nailed by Darwin and nailed in terms of its emphasized, when we get the evolution of life hooking on to the physical world, you get a fundamental shift in our understanding, and the authority of not knowing, which used to be in the Catholic Church and priests now get shifted certainly by the time of the 19th into the 20th century, who are the authorities on knowledge, but scientists.
Gregg: The scientific worldview is then shared as the central point of truth, at least … and then there’s a bracketing of different domains of science versus religion, and their inter-relations, I think are absolutely central to our current meaning crisis. Kids in my neighborhood, Stewart [Starft 00:26:46], okay, you’re learning the whole truth of the Bible, right? And then you go to high school, and then your biology teacher mentions, “Well, actually, you are a primate that evolved,” and then the shit can hit the fan and everyone has to dialogue whether is it okay to learn about the theory of evolution in school? Which to me is a great example of how confused we are.
Gregg: Because of course, part of the enlightenment was to set up the separation of church and state so that people could be free to believe what they want, but at the same time, we’re going to have a massive crisis of education to use Zach Stein’s term, if we can’t educate our children, on the most what I would argue is the most basic principle of science is cosmic evolution. That is, if you’re going to have any picture, any scientific conception of the universe, it is that we have emerged from the Big Bang over billions of yours through a series of complex evolutionary steps. That’s the most fundamental scientific picture. We have a real challenge between various worldviews to this day. Now at the macro global level, basically, and the and what happened with the liberal democratic capitalist industrial, scientific, modernist way of thinking was that that became globally dominant.
Gregg: Now science and its view really is the shared knowledge system. Now where I come in, is yes, I’m I like Steve Pinker’s Enlightenment Now, I’m a naturalist. I believe that in general, the enlightenment has been a very good thing. I believe we have seen human progress in all your points about the statistics of kids starving, all of that’s unbelievably true and valuable. But it’s also now we’ve released a train that I think is headed toward a cliff, and it’s picking up speed. If we don’t figure out a way to shift it we’ll go off the cliff. There are lots of different elements to change the direction of say now the Titanic before we hit their iceberg. This is for me … one of our things is that what we need to do is move from a modernist view of understanding.
Gregg: Now we’re sort of between worlds we’re going to let that modernist view evolve. Include the key insights of it and transcend that. In part that’s going to actually be returning to some of the wisdom traditions of old and pulling the good wisdom that was embedded in those traditions and merging them with a scientific worldview and creating a more holistic, consilient scientific humanistic way of being in the world. That’s what my hope is for the 21st century.
Jim: Okay. It sounds like a part of … And again, it’s a very interesting distinction, this science plus plus let’s call it. We see that replacing revealed religion, or do we see this as the two operating in parallel? Is it … one of the enlightenment forks as you point out was separation of church and state, and people forget the Enlightenment was started only 60 or 70 years after the end of the 30 Years War, which was the most horrific war of religion in the history of the West.
Jim: As much as 35% of the population of Central Europe died, it was way worse than World War One, in terms of the catastrophe. A reaction to that was, “Damn it, we have to be pluralistic about religion,” at least the most advanced thinkers. I love to point people to, I think it’s the highest enlightenment documents. It’s the Virginia statute to religious freedom that was jointly written by Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence and James Madison, the author of the US Constitution, and it was written in 1779 and finally ratified in 1783, years before the Bill of Rights. It was extraordinarily radical, where guys like John Locke talked about religious freedom, but frankly, all he was talking about was the different denominations of Protestantism.
Jim: Catholics, oh, no, no Catholics. Madison and Jefferson in this statute, which was enacted into law in Virginia explicitly talked about Hindus, anybody or atheists, anyone at all. There was a radical pluralism that was inserted into the Enlightenment Code around that time, and of course then finally instantiated in the US First Amendment. Anyway, do we see science plus, plus or Enlightenment 2.0 finally pushing revealed religion off the stage, or do we see the two are going to have to coexist for a long period of time?
Gregg: Listen … Okay, yes, I like the term Enlightenment 2.0, the tree of knowledge is positioned, really and the whole fifth joint point is really situated as a call to an Enlightenment 2.0. There are many facets to this question, so let me break them down a little bit. Let me actually stay with the Enlightenment, because I think one of my big criticisms of the Enlightenment is what I call the Enlightenment gap. By that I mean what gave rise to modern science, unbelievably brilliant system of justification that was particularly effective at as mapping the material world, and then anchoring life onto that as a concept.
Gregg: You actually get STEM, and our STEM knowledge systems are actually relatively coherent. They have language games that people can generally consensually agree on. We call them the hard sciences because they actually enlist the foundational insights like the periodic table of behavior, I mean the periodic table of the elements, things like that, they provide a real foundational knowledge base. My critique of the modern science empirical naturalist enterprise though is that, it didn’t have the right descriptive metaphysical system, so that we could get the right language game when it came to two fundamental issues.
Gregg: One was the relationship between mind and matter. Scientifically, what actually is mind? What’s the proper language for mind? How do we think about it scientifically, relative to other systems of justification, and what actually is science and scientific knowledge relative to say older social pragmatic systems of justification or religious systems? The tree of knowledge actually attempts to resolve some of the key inadequacies of our modernist understanding. It offers a language system that both solves the mind, matter, language game problem.
Gregg: In other words, it gives you a full deck of terms and concepts to coherently map know or known relationships, subjective, objective, perspectives, the nature of consciousness, the nature of self consciousness. It also through its concept of systems of justification delineates the justification system modern science is, and how it exists in relationship to culture, which is the broad, holistic term for justification systems writ large. It gives us a frame to understand and resolve the Enlightenment gap, and with a holistic scientific worldview as a way to describe and explain the unfolding wave of behavioral complexity across the various levels and dimensions.
Gregg: We can now contextualize that in a holistic way and then turn and link that up with foundational values. Okay, moral values. I think most people would agree that science, at least in its proper classic, modern science matter in motion way, is pretty silent on the issue of value, or at least it struggles enormously with what ought to be. In order to have a holistic system of justification, we have to yoke is and art together so that we can see what do we value, and that tree of knowledge and certainly the fifth joint point concept is that we will have a scientific worldview, that is up to the task of describing things like the metaphysics of mind, what is human knowledge, things like that, which the current system doesn’t do, and then connect it to broad value systems.
Gregg: When you do that, from a meta-cultural view, you look across, say all of the religious traditions, if you think about them as abstract, practical codes, you see a huge number of really, well maybe not even a huge number, but you see a lot of moral relational, universal values, things like love, freedom, dignity, cultivating well-being, being truthful… Ken Wilber, an integral theorist talks a lot about this and how we used to have a big three of a quest for true beauty and goodness. Part of my vision of wisdom is that we will get the scientific worldview right, and then we’ll be able to hook back into questions of goodness and beauty, which really have been religious, ultimate concern questions.
Gregg: If you’re familiar with Paul Tillich, he talked about the ultimate concern questions. I think a lot of those wisdom traditions concern those and I’m interested in building a scientific, humanistic worldview that embraces some of those ultimate concern questions, and at least creates an integrated, pluralistic frame of understanding for us to engage with them.
Jim: Very, very interesting. Yeah, let’s dig into this. This is the heart of the matter, isn’t it?
Jim: It really is. I’ve been working on the mind, matter gap since 2014, or I basically educated myself on cognitive science, cognitive neuroscience, and particularly dug into the scientific study of consciousness. I actually even wrote a program, which simulated a whitetail deer in an environment that was I would argue, minimally conscious, in a very, very simplistic level. This is where, I sometimes push back when people say, “Oh, science is limited, et cetera.” But I’ll get to your point too, where I now see your point about that, which is, when people attack enlightenment science, I get the sense that they often are attacking a straw man version of it.
Jim: What might have been taught in high school in 1935 or something, and I’d like to point out that science is open-ended. Science is an attempt to extract regularities, at least provisionally from the universe, and goes into greater and greater domains. Originally, to point out Galileo, basically we want to refute the absurd assertions of Aristotle about motion. That’s all we want to do, right? Aristotle just made up some shit and called it physics that was actually wrong. It’s amazing to me, it’s one of the great examples of human inertia, for 1800 years, Aristotle’s assertions about physics were taken as gospel by everybody, and in reality it would take him two days to do the experiment to prove they were wrong. Galileo finally did it and there we are.
Jim: The other one that’s even bigger was, Aristotle said some more intelligent things about biology than he did about physics. But evolution was on the table since Aristotle until the time of Darwin, a 2000 year gap. Any smart person could have thought hard and deep and said, “Oh, fuck yeah, it has to all be evolution via differential reproduction.” As various people, who is it, Thomas … Anyway, one of the Darwin’s bulldog, famously said, slapped his forehead and said, “How stupid of me not to have thought of that.”
Gregg: Huxley, yeah, was it.
Jim: Yeah, Thomas Huxley, exactly, exactly. Because when you think about it, it has to be true, right? Almost mathematically it has to be true. It was sitting on the table since Aristotle. But I guess turning back to the point, modern science isn’t just Newton plus Darwin and a simplistic Darwin. We had relativity, which adds all kinds of spooky, strange stuff that we’re still working our way through, the quantum phenomena-
Jim: … where literally you could see some loose in it and it pisses me off when I hear people from the spiritual world overstate quantum stuff, but it is true that electron from your left elbow does occasionally visit Alpha Centauri all right, so weird shits going on in the quantum range. Then the chaos complexity evolution provides some very serious practical limits to knowledge. People would say that sciences, hubristic. A lot of them are thinking these ancient Laplacian type models of the universe where, if I could have the position in motion of every particle in the universe, I could predict future history perfectly. Well, no, you can’t. There’s mathematical reasons that ain’t never going to happen.
Jim: When we expand the scientific toolkit to include deterministic chaos, and then complexity, and as you pointed out a whole new level of universal complexity around complex adaptive systems, that opens science up way bigger than these straw man attacks. Then finally, or this where I started where the work I’ve been working on for the last six years is cognitive science. At the frontier really is approaching the point where, I’d say within the next, certainly the next century, we’re actually going to be able to say how mind emerges from brain, and that will be done within the scientific tradition using scientific tools. At least the first part of your enlightenment gap mind from matter strikes me as already being solved by science, right?
Jim: As we know, when people just make shit up, whether it’s Aristotle or the church fathers, almost always we get real knowledge. We find that making shit up was just wrong. Thor does not cause thunder, right?
Jim: Lightning bolts aren’t thrown by Zeus. The earth goes around the sun, not vice versa. When you make shit up, it’s very unlikely to actually be true or even approximately true useful. When science understands something, it’s not absolute truth. You know it’s not science when someone tells you, “Science tells you this is true, science tells us provisionally and has not yet been falsified, that we think this is probably how things work.” When we get a theory of how mind emerges from brain, from cognitive science, cognitive neuroscience, computer science, A.I, I think all those will be involved, we’ll be able to answer your first point about mind and matter in a truly scientific fashion.
Gregg: Well, okay, so a couple of points there. There’s a huge issue of what are we talking about in terms of … Okay, there’s the question, say the hard problem of consciousness, about how does the water of the brain give rise to the wine, say a first person phenomenological experience and I’m actually in 100% general agreement with you. I’m a scientist, I’m a naturalist. I do believe that there are good reasons to be agnostic and hopeful about a mystical, holistic meta reality view of the universe. But that’s my mythic perspective on the world and not my scientific language game. But I …
Gregg: What my issue is, is that modernist, what happened with Galileo when he said, “Oh, that’s all bullshit.” He created, Galileo created an empiricist language system that actually struggles enormously with for example, first person phenomenology. Because what he tried to do was he tried to get the first person knower perspective out of the equation, and map it mathematically and experimentally, which was a huge plus. He shifted our epistemology from first person empiricism to a general third person empirical view, and that was great, because that enabled us to test, to develop experimental, to be self correcting, all the wonderful things that modern science does.
Gregg: But I know from the history of psychology, as they tried to make psychology a science, the way in which the modernist system of science and its exterior epistemology was structured, it created a huge freaking language game problem. In fact, John Vervaeke and I are in the midst of a long, ongoing conversation about the fundamental grammar problem, the problem of grammar to talk about, say consciousness, mind, first person experience, self, self-consciousness, all of what the hell these terms mean. What I point to, in terms of the inadequacy of at least a straightforward modernist system is the state of psychology.
Gregg: Psychology is this shit storm of different vantage points with different language games, and they all compete and they don’t line up and it’s like physics before Newton. You have a pre-paradigmatic cluster. What the tree of knowledge actually does, is it comes in and gives a conceptual field arrangement to tell you how to define mind and consciousness and self-consciousness properly, so that we can actually all develop a shared language game of our terms. For example, you talked about you built the deer, what you did, you created an A.I version of a deer that probably, what it probably does is it demonstrates, it simulates what’s called functional awareness in response, right?
Gregg: In other words, does it track things that moves in it’s environment and responds accordingly, to give some consequence that may be adaptive or adjusting? Am I right about that in terms of what the deer does?
Jim: Approximately, though I went a step further and I built a [inaudible 00:44:54] again, very … This this is exceedingly rudimentary, that took the major components of what we believe the brain does. My work is focused very deeply on two things. One is attention, or three things attention and then the conscious sensorium i.e. the movie that we live in, and then the linkage to a hierarchy of memory system. The one I’ve added, which is amazing, I keep reading it in this literature, and it … Of course there’s a few people that talk about. But to my mind, the most important is episodic memory.
Jim: But there’s a whole hierarchy of memory.
Jim: Essentially, I used a, I took the leading theory and as you point out, psychology is a shit show. On most any topic, you can find three or four incompatible theories. I went through and read about attention, working memory, the difference between short-term and long-term memory, episodic memory versus declarative memory, and I just made my own assessment of which of these theories I thought was most likely to be true. Then importantly, and when I finally do write this up, I think this will be a contribution, I make the point that the ensemble of theories that I collected, actually cohere, and the guys who are creating these individual theories of let’s say working memory, weren’t really looking at did it cohere with a theory of perception, a theory of perceptual memory, a theory of episodic memory?
Jim: My idea A.I has all these things in it. I would argue, I may be wrong, but there are plenty of scientists in the science of consciousness arena, who I think are with me, so that when we fully understand this architecture that links attention, procedural memory, declarative memory, episodic memory, working memory, et cetera, we will be very close to explaining the phenomenology of consciousness with no magic at all. The simple, stupid analogy I like to give is kind of, it’s a paradox, almost a Zen type code, remember those little flip books when were kids that looked like a movie, right?
Jim: You flip the thing. Again, the other thing in my model is I use a quantum consciousness. Not quantum in the physics sense, but quantum in that consciousness is fine grained at about 250 milliseconds per frame. Think of a book being flipped with four pages per second essentially. And that’s the very first one I happen to have seen those flip books, I was in second grade. I still remember it. I was just so taken with it, was a guy rolling a rowboat across a lake. You flip the book, and so my view of what is consciousness, what is first person phenomenological consciousness, the guy rowing the boat.
Jim: That’s all it’s going to be. I don’t believe there’s any mystery there. I’m a Searlean at one level, John Searle, the Berkeley philosopher of consciousness among other things. He loves to say that consciousness is a biological process. There is not one thing and he says, “Think of it as analogous to digestion.” You can’t point at you and say, “There’s your digestion,” rather digestion is a process that uses various components and then the Rut corollary to Searle’s comment about digestion is, consciousness is the same and often has the same end result.
Jim: That is what I would say my view and the view of at least some others in the brain and cognitive science field who are looking at consciousness that we can get to a substrate that will explain where the phenomenology of the subjective experience comes from. Though you are correct, it would be very useful to develop a consistent language, which does not yet exist to talk very, very carefully about the interrelationship between the substrate and the subjective experience. But it does strike me as somewhat premature, to worry over much about that language until we understand the substrate.
Gregg: Right. Well, my vantage point is from a psychologist the way I came at it, I was tangled up with all of the language problems. What the tree of knowledge does is it provides you a meta systemic view, that allows you to then interrelate the theories and that was my first book. My current book is how it provides a descriptive metaphysical system for our term, so that now I can talk about what do I mean by behavior, what do I mean by mind, what do I mean by phenomenology, what do I mean by the subjective objective distinction? I’m certainly in agreement with you that I believe that phenomenology is a whole brain process, and we will be able to decode it.
Gregg: I like global neuronal workspace. I think information integration is interesting. I love Damasio’s work, all of this that we will be able to stack together a particular picture, which we already have. There’s definitely a lot to be said about it. There are a lot of complexities. One of the complexities I think people fail to appreciate that got psychology all tangled up, is the differences between functional behavior analysis, neuro cognitive architecture like the brain as an information processing system. It metabolizes information, but you can do that a lot of that like a zombie.
Gregg: You don’t need consciousness. What exactly is the tipping point that gives rise to a first person experience of being? I doubt you would argue that there was anything like to be that deer that you made up. You have Thomas Nagel’s famous point, what’s it like to be a bat? Well, that’s an epistemological gap. We can never look directly at another creature’s consciousness. This is the subjective objective dilemma of interior versus exterior to use Wilber’s distinction. These are huge, conceptual, philosophical problems. It’s just a brute fact that you can never stare directly at another first person, other entities first person experience of being.
Gregg: That does create some problems. But I think we can box it in. Hell, I argued for a whole unified theory of psychology, which would by the way, actually, my unified theory of psychology would essentially absorb cognitive science inside of it and organize it accordingly. But those are all, so I think we’re pretty much agreement in general.
Jim: Interesting. Again, I’ll go with Searle. Searle is thought to be one of the anti artificial consciousness or artificial general intelligence people. He actually isn’t. His argument is very much more subtle than people give him credit for. He again says, “Consciousness is like digestion and therefore it is intimately linked with our biological being.” In the Nagel sense, what is it like to be a bat or what is it like to be a human, or what is it like to be a reptile? I would say, I’m also with those people who argue that type one consciousness goes all the way back at least to reptiles and possibly earlier.
Jim: The sense of the consciousness of a deer or a dog, being in this movie in the world, goes way back there. But that is a biological substrate. As Dan Dennett argues, I think quite well, that the philosophical zombie argument is actually a fake one. That for to be an animal that lives in the sensorium, means that you will have consciousness, that you can’t act like a dog and not have a consciousness. It’s just the way the biology was developed. At least the Searlean take of a Dan Dennett argument, there are no philosophical zombies in animals. It seems to be, I think a very well argued point.
Jim: Now then Searle does say that he expects things that are consciousness like could be developed in machine, but they won’t be identical to that which is operating in a biological system. I’ve extended Searle’s argument, taking his earlier comments about digestion. In the food technology industry and in pharmaceuticals and in organic chemistry, there are devices called digesters that use bacteria, yeast and such to, say break down cellulose into its lower level components, to be then used in chemical factories. Truthfully, a brewery is sensor digester that digests starch into sugar, and then into alcohol using yeast.
Jim: But those digesters are called digesters, and they’re analogous to a human digestion system, but they’re no way the same thing. Hence, my A.I deer is analogous to a human consciousness, but it’s not the same thing. I have not yet reached the point, where I could put in the material substrate to provide a possibility of phenomenological subjectivity, so I would say that, “Oh my deer acts like a actual deer.” I would say definitely I did not build in architectures, cloned from my understanding of humans, that might give it a phenomenological experience. But as does Searle, I would not rule that out.
Jim: I would say that once we understand the substrate of phenomenological consciousness, it’s not obvious to me at all, that such things could not be built in silica. But again, it’s an unanswered question and it’s possible that there is something that we don’t see. There could be a gap there, but it’s not obvious to me that there is such a gap, and that come back in 100 years, it would not shock me at all to find phenomenologically conscious machines.
Gregg: Right, right. Now, I basically totally agree with you. My argument comes at this from a slightly different angle, which simply is the metaphysical language systems that modernist science handed us like, that it’s a materialistic, modern science actually was deeply problematic relative to the task at hand of that’s why a science of consciousness and psychology had so much trouble, and we can do a lot better in the language game of science, if we upgrade it and use something like the tree of knowledge to carve nature at its joints, and to give rise to a much clearer mapping of our terms and the reference points in the world.
Jim: I think 100% agree. It sounds like we’re basically on agreement. I will though push back a little bit on something else you said, and then we’ll move on to your second point, which is the mythological aspect of consciousness. This is something I run into all the time, typically in my GameB work, or probably half the people have an integral Ken Wilberian background. Ken’s stuff is exceedingly useful, I’m starting to dig into it now. In fact I actually have him booked to be on this podcast in the fall sometime. His four quadrants I find very useful, the levels are useful up to a point, but then he goes off into stuff I kind of, “All right, that just strikes me as a fucking assertion.”
Jim: Cosmic Consciousness for instance, if consciousness is per John Searle and Jim Rutt, a biological phenomena emergent from meat that is expensive. It’s energetically expensive. It’s expensive in genetic material. It serves a purpose in allowing a dog, a deer or human to navigate usefully in the world. There’s no reason to think that there ought to be a cosmic consciousness. Nor do I see anything that is entailed from a biological view of consciousness that results in something called a witness, which is a … I’m not even quite sure I understand it. I don’t know, you may have read enough of Wilber to understand what is ‘witnesses’ and I go, “There’s no entailment of witnesses.”
Jim: What the hell? This just sounds like bullshit somebody made up, no different than divas in later Buddhism or angels in Christianity. I would say, you did use the word agnostic. I’m willing to be agnostic. I can’t prove there are no cosmic consciousnesses. But I see nothing about the consciousness that we’re starting to understand that would entail any such thing.
Gregg: Right. For me, here’s the way I operate in this. Yeah, I actually do believe that the idea of a witnessing function that emerges as part of the layered phenomenology, so I actually believe you get qualia at the level of pleasure and pain that starts to coordinate the whole movement of an animal away or towards something, that’s the first element. Then you get actually a perceptual field that then is actually the flow into episodic memory, is actually well described as a witnessing function by the time you’re up at primates and humans. Actually a lot of what the meditative …
Gregg: There’s like what’s called a pure consciousness event and meditators will talk about this, whereby essentially the qualia, of the experiential qualia, of like redness or whatever would be on the screen blends into the screen itself. All you get is a hereness, nowness presencing of existence, and many meditators across a wide variety of different domains will talk about reaching that state and experience a non dual oneness. The witnessing function becomes all encompassing. It transforms the experience of being in the world.
Gregg: There are actually very reliable ways in which people are transformed by psychedelic experiences, by other kinds of elements where the intuitive sense of their place in the world, their grip that they have about where they are in relationship to the world shifts from a more grounded in one level to become more transcendent. By that I mean, there’s an expansion of the self, but also a fusion of the self in the world. There’s a sense of peace, a sense of calm, a sense of oneness, and there’s a huge amount of similarities of certain transcendental experiences and how people work towards them.
Gregg: There is something in my estimation, to believe that that patterning in the world is, well, I’ll call it fantastic. What I mean by that is, I don’t think that fits really well in the scientific language game. I think that anybody that starts to make strong metaphysical descriptive claims about its nature is off key. At the same time, I think that all mystery, a possibility of cosmic consciousness for many people, it makes, there’s enough evidence for it to make sense for people to be guided by that possibility, to live their lives about that possibility, to seek transcendental experiences.
Gregg: For me, that spiritual quest meaning making, is what higher religious aspirations can be and can be very commensurate with a scientific worldview.
Jim: Interesting, yeah, I’m going to actually … I just recently signed up to be a guest on my own podcast. Jared James, who’s my producer, he also is also a podcaster. He’s going to interview me, and one of the things we’re going to get into is my theory of mysticism.
Gregg: Okay, fantastic.
Jim: I actually have a, I think fairly crisp argument on how the mystical experiences can emerge to give you the very shorthand version. As you know, in cognitive neuroscience, we talk roughly about brain state attractors, the famous default mode network when you’re daydreaming, unfortunately ruminating in depression and also in the later stages of meditation, and then the task mode network where I give the example where you’re, for the second time changing the tire on your bicycle, a fairly complicated, detailed thing that takes your full attention.
Jim: I argue basically, that there’s at least three other whole brain state attractors, that represent three stages of deeper and deeper mysticism. I’ve done psychedelics. I could put myself into a mystical state that turns my ego off for 10 to 30 seconds. It is cool, and it is good and it is useful, and it does help you feel different about the universe. But I believe there’s a straightforward, grounded scientific explanations for them, but I’ll leave the details for another day. Let’s get to your second big point here. I think this is in some sense, the biggest question of all and this is where I think we’re in 100% agreement, which is science in some sense has taken too much of the air out of the room.
Jim: Science has never claimed or at least it should not claim to talk about OT. Goes all the way back to Humes famous is OT distinction.
Jim: Yet you see people doing it particularly with the social sciences, “Oh yeah.” Certain people misuse evolutionary psychology for instance say, “Oh, yeah. Men have this, that, and the other thing therefore the patriarchy is okay.” Bullshit, right? The thing, probably the what comes next or meta-culture. One of the most important things is what is a well founded cultural scaffolding that sits outside of science, and direct science for the wellbeing of the evolution of our planet and on into the universe strikes me as of the essence.
Gregg: Yes, absolutely. Yeah. For me, this is what a meta-cultural, ultimate system of justification that’s resides above the systems of justification. You and I were at that Daniel Goertz meeting, Daniel [inaudible 01:03:13] AKA or at least half of him, drew out the, from the individual to the family, to the community, to the state, to the nation, to the transnational all the way up to the global. Then the question is, well, how do we allow for the pluralism of an individual, of a community, of a state all nested and at the same time, have some degree of coordination?
Gregg: Is there a global point, which would then really transcend into the meta-cultural? Is there a global point of understanding that we can reference to at least create the kind of global connections that are necessary to have a, if we’re going to have a globalized state, it’s got to have some degree of coordination. Now I argue that actually yes, there are transnational inter-global values, when you look broadly at individuals coming together and creating what I call universal moral, relational spaces, in other words, people get together and they dialogue about what’s reasonable, what are the core values that people have.
Gregg: Nobody, for example, goes around explicitly justifying that they are full of shit and trying to do destructive things simultaneously. I call it false bad justification. Now, people do false bad things. But nobody comes out and says, “Listen to me, I am completely full of crap. In other words, everything I say is inaccurate and if you listen to me, your life will be 10 times worse off.” Okay? Nobody just even Hitler or Mao or nobody justifies those that way. People try to justify by a dialectic of here’s what’s true.
Gregg: This is a narrative and here’s what ought to be. We then need to figure out well, what are the themes that give rise to the good life, and then how do they treat transcend across individual, family, local culture, national and then transnational global? In my book and I started then seeking, well what would be, and I argue that there are many, many what I call … You called it coherent pluralism which I like. I think if you adopt an integrated pluralism on this, you will see many different meta-values that emerge. For example, in Christianity, you see Agape, the idea of love of the other.
Gregg: That would be a common meta-value. I emphasize, the big three that I emphasize are dignity, which I draw from … After World War Two, the United Nations got together developed the United Nations Declaration of Rights. Although people couldn’t agree exactly why people had rights, everyone agreed that if we conferred dignity, in other words value to people, gave them a fundamental aesthetic value. That’s really where the whole thing has to start. We have to say, “Hey, human, a well lived life is a good thing and we need to protect it in each person then is worthy of respect, esteem and dignity.” That’s a foundational value.
Gregg: I believe it’s actually kind of the aesthetic human value, and will by the way connect down into things like beauty. Then if you looked at before COVID, it’s taken a hit World Health Organization, but the World Health Organization, as its fundamental mission was the cultivation of wellbeing at the biological, psychological and social levels. I dove into that construct. Actually, Sam Harris has a book called The Moral Landscape, in which he argues that he yokes the concept of well being and science together, arguing that really, science is quest for truth is actually also can be pragmatically interpreted ultimately to feedback, to help cultivate wellbeing of sentient creatures.
Gregg: I then analyze that from the unified concept, the unified theory and developed what’s called the nested model of wellbeing, which specifies what well being is or at least the elements that go into it that need to be fully understood. Then finally, there’s integrity. That’s honor, honesty, soundness and truthfulness. For me, dignity, wellbeing and integrity really correspond to, okay issues of justice and fairness and protection of those elements. It also connects to the concept of beauty that you have wellbeing, not just health, happiness, flourishing versus suffering, misery, degradation and despair. Then a roach is like a health concern, and then ultimately of science and truth. Truth, goodness, and beauty can be cultivated through these value structures.
Gregg: That shows you that science is a part of the equation, but it won’t be the whole part. In fact, to the extent that I have a conception of wisdom, it really does is about truth, goodness and beauty or the integration of dignity and wellbeing with integrity. In fact, that’s my byline, be that which enhances dignity and wellbeing with integrity. I argue that that’s a potential or it’s a proposition for this meta-value structure that could globally guide enterprises while also preserving freedom and pluralism and a wide variety of other things that we want to hold on to.
Jim: I love it. It’s interesting. It’s astoundingly parallel to the GameB things that we use different languages. I don’t think we pulled it together as well as you have. I’m going to think about that and see if there’s a way to spin that tagline of yours right into the GameB, if you don’t mind it being stolen, we’ll give you some credit for it.
Gregg: No, that’s exactly … Actually that’s what it was … When I learned about the GameB, I was really taken because I do believe, I believe we’re in a late stage capitalism. I believe enlightenment has been great in general, although it certainly warrants its critics. I probably have a little more sympathy to the postmodern critic than you do, but I also am sect skeptical of it. But I do believe it’s time is now to transcend our knowledge and wisdom systems, including the enlightenment reboot and enlightenment 2.0 that bridges values and science together, so we can guide our way into this new digital world, which God only knows what will behold, but we better be grounded into something or else the wheels are going to come off this thing, and it may not end up in a happy place at all.
Jim: Yeah, absolutely. I think we’re almost 100% in agreement. In the GameB world, the platform in which we believe the GameB has to exist and it’s amazing how well these tie together. In fact, this was the original insight that Jordan Hall and I had when we met for the first time, had a for our insane conversation at the Santa Fe Institute, is that honesty and good faith have to be the center of everything. In fact, the thing where we both are just like, “Wow, we’re on the same page,” is how could it have come to be that honesty and good faith is a soccer strategy, which I would argue that it is in our society today, especially playing at the highest level. In a society in which honesty and good faith is a soccer strategy is a depraved civilization.
Gregg: Amen. Amen.
Jim: Then the next one, this is from my essay, which is probably the closest I’ve gotten to laying out my thoughts about GameB, as we talked about earlier, there are various people’s thoughts about GameB. But this is mine, it’s called A Journey to GameB, it’s on Medium. I wrote, “GameB should operate such that irrespective of their biological and social endowments, everybody in GameB should be able to live a life of autonomy and dignity.” I think, again, that ties into your dignity. I think it implies wellbeing though I didn’t put it in there, I’m going to do it. But I also added autonomy, something about autonomy or freedom …
Jim: The word freedom is, unfortunately been hijacked in some ways, but autonomy may be a better way to say, the more autonomy we have in our life, the better so long as it doesn’t conflict with other goals.
Gregg: 100%. Actually, that’s embedded part of the theory that I developed is called the Influence Matrix, and it talks about our self, other intuitive value structures really arguing that we’re craving relational value and social influence, but the process by which we must navigate that is on the dimensions of power, sort of competition, love, cooperation and fusion and freedom. How do we navigate our autonomy, so we’re not controlled or obligated in a way that fundamentally constrains us, overly constrains us relative to other people’s interests and needs.
Gregg: Autonomy is embedded in the system as a foundational value if you … what you put it into the calculus of relational value and social influence.
Jim: Well I think that’s a good place to end. This has been an amazingly interesting conversation.
Gregg: Well fantastic I appreciate you having me back and I look forward to our future conversations.
Jim: Sounds good.
Production services and audio editing by Jared Janes Consulting. Music by Tom Muller at modernspacemusic.com.