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How is it we reason? That is, how do we think about matters of importance to us? How do we form the sequence of thoughts that come to us? Or for that matter, the stories that play out in our head? The movies that stream into our consciousness throughout the day, voice-dubbed by ourselves? How does any of that work?

Besides the obvious fact that we do have thoughts, streams of reasoning about matters, stories playing repeatedly about events past that are tweaked ever-so slightly with each new play, and the movies produced and directed by us, rather than simply experiencing what is happening in our lives at any moment without all that, how is it actually possible to think about anything at all? To have a coherent thought appear in our mind? To follow a train of thought, adding new thoughts endlessly? This is not a question that garners much attention when we are using reason, thinking about something. You do not need to know how a tool is made in order to use it; but proper technique and precaution to ensure safe use require that we do.

So we should look into how the tool is made. And in the case of reasoning, there are so many unsubstantiated assumptions at play, which have never, or rarely been addressed, let alone solved, that the question just begs to be looked at — especially since accepting those assumptions leads you to have to suffer through an unending stream of inner chatter that serves no purpose, other than to distract you from what is otherwise occurring in each moment of your life, simply because you can’t see how to ‘turn the volume down’ or shut it off completely. There are proven meditation techniques for doing so, but they make no sense given the sclerosis of our intellect created by assuming, rather than proving, a particular nature, or genesis, for thoughts. The imposed causal determinism leaves little room for finding the truth.

But what is worse still is that you frequently suffer the consequences of making bad decisions in your life as a direct result of not understanding how and why that stream of thought happens — and without knowing that, you can have no clue how to improve your process of reasoning about important matters. There is such a thing as correct reasoning which appears, based on real-world events now occurring, to be a lost art in all too many of us. This is why “fake news” and “conspiracy theories” — and the rebound application of those expressions to undermine real news and factual theories — are such effective tools in the hands of those that want to manufacture consent, or discontent, in others.

In order to answer the question in the title, which is the central focus of this discussion, we will need to focus our inquiry on whether or not reasoning is an intelligible activity. An intelligible activity is one that we can come to understand because we can see how and why it occurs. If either of these aspects of the activity are opaque then it is not intelligible.

Modern Science asserts that everything is intelligible because everything is causally determined. This is a blanket assertion that can never be fully verified, due to the infinite nature of reality. Because of this unverified assumption, all scientific knowledge falls into the category of contingent beliefs that are of practical use, that are practically useful, but whose only veridical characteristic is that they are the output of reasoning about the phenomena under study. This is not a criticism as much as an acknowledgement of what the Scientific Method produces explicitly — contingent knowledge.

Therefore, as this assertion is part of the underlying assumptions of the modern scientific method — assumptions which are considered to be ‘obviously’ true — scientific knowledge can never be labeled as absolute truth, though most people today seem to be oblivious of that fact. Today, scientific knowledge is all too often presented as absolute truth. Furthermore, so inoculated against critical reasoning as we are, all one needs to do to shut down otherwise conscious evaluation of what you are saying, is to precede your assertions with the magic incantation, “Science says.”

Whenever I hear that phrase, which is increasingly used by journalists and scientists when speaking to the innumerate public today, I think of the “Simon Says” game of my childhood, in which you have to do what Simon says. The reverberations are chilling, but that is another subject entirely.

So, the imperative question we need to ask ourselves is whether reason can be applied to reasoning itself. Is reasoning an intelligible process that we can think about, or not?

For example, what causes thoughts to appear? Typically we consider thoughts to be our own, created by us in a fluid process of inner dialog, or in reaction to events that affect us. The problem is, logically that can’t happen. You can’t intentionally think a thought unless you already know what it is to be. But that means you would already know what you want to think, so you have already had the thought without thinking it, which is impossible.

In nontrivial cases, we label thoughts as being ‘intuitions’, and these are things that one knows from ‘instinctive feeling’, rather than conscious reasoning. We label these intuitions this way because feelings are not intelligible, and thus are not susceptible to explication. Feelings are intimately connected to the scientific quandary known as the ‘hard problem of consciousness’, which is: why is there a feeling of being something at all? Unfortunately this labelling of some thoughts as intuitions is not useful for the preliminary part of this discussion, as it is nothing more than slight-of-hand, hiding away the problem that is the current focus.

So, can we come to understand clearly what is happening when we are thinking? That is the question.

That seems like an easily answered question — whose answer should be in the affirmative sense — but pause for a moment and ask yourself what assumption must be in play for that affirmative answer to be given. Simply this: that thoughts arise from a rationally knowable source. Their genesis must be rational, and therefore intelligible, which means we can make sense of how it happens. Though ultimately, to be “rational” means to be acceptable to reason, which embarrassingly leaves us judging our understanding of reason with our reasoning; but until we know what the source of our thoughts are, how can we rely on their validity — some philosopher has already suggested that perhaps there is some evil alien scientist feeding our thoughts to us… perhaps waiting to see if we notice? In medieval times, it would have been the devil, rather than an evil alien scientist…

Are you starting to feel a little dizzy?

I dismiss outright the current wave of fantastical ideas about our being in a computer simulation, or a holographic universe, or existing in some alien’s scientific experiment in which our thoughts are fed to us. Why? Because those suggestions just sweep the problem under a virtual rug. They are the result of lazy and perhaps insincere thinking, though they are entertaining. But it is interesting that anyone would find such an idea, that our thoughts are fed to us, to be coherent with how thinking actually occurs — as if our thoughts are not our own and they just show up.

The big problem we face is if we take this assumption that there is a rationally knowable origin for thoughts and then place that assumed origin into the context of a physical brain. The problem is that this means that there is a rationally understandable process at work in the brain, consisting of physical cells and their interrelationships and organic functioning, which in combination produce each thought which is then known by us. I want to explain this problem using the example of sound perception:

Given that the brain doesn’t receive sound directly, nor does it have any ‘sounding’ components, but only manifests electro-chemical activity in response to physical bodily changes in the nervous system caused by an environmental condition of vibrations, there must always be an impossible last step in any explanatory theory that magically — and with sleight-of-hand clearly on display if one pays attention — transmutes the electro-chemical activity into the conscious perception of sound.

Without this transmutation, the problem becomes a question as to why we are not conscious of all the physical activity that occurs in the brain, as a kind of ‘white noise’? Why only some ‘finished product’ of all that activity, as if the brain is a factory organizing it’s raw materials, passing them through assembly lines of ‘machines’, in order to deliver the finished product to some particular ‘conscious’ place within it?

Of course, this mechanistic construction fails for the simple fact that our ability to hear sounds is infinite in variety, not a limited ‘product line’. But if this is not how the brain works, then it would effectively need to have a site or sites within it that dependably reproduce the external vibration internally as sound for some part of the brain to be conscious of. In other words it would have ‘sounding’ equipment, and only there would the reliable construction of sounds from vibrations ‘heard’ be presented to a ‘consciousness’ that recognizes what is being reproduced.

But then that recognition would be, after much laborious activity, simply what I am presenting in this book as the first and only step — that of the recognition of the responsive naturing of sound within the mind, and not in the brain, coherent with the physical activity in the brain. The mind being not only not in the brain, nor a synonym for it, but merely the name for the totality of our experiential life.

And to make this completely clear: I assert that the conscious perception of sound does not take place in the brain, and does not arise mechanistically as the causal result of electro-chemical activity therein.

So the only solution to this problem is an explanatory framework in which the conscious ‘perception’ is a self-recognition of the naturing of the physical activity in each and every moment.

This means that the physical brain is not aware, because that just pushes the problem down a level, pushing it ‘under the rug’ so to speak. Instead the naturing of this activity is auto-cognizant. And this is the case because any possible activity must have a duration, and duration, as I have already explained at length in the article “Why Awareness Will Never Be Found,” is necessarily what we mean when we invoke ‘being aware’.

Another difficulty for us in this regard is that our science has not progressed beyond the stage of being able to identify certain areas of the brain, albeit down to highly localized regions of cells, which become active when a particular thought occurs. There is no discernible rationally understandable process at present that we can point to, simply because it is not presently possible to discern something of that complexity at that microscopic level. But this is not to excuse us from trying to understand how such a process might be implemented in our brain matter.

Scientists have looked closely at what neurons do and how they interact, but still haven’t any clear understanding of how all that activity translates into a conscious internal conversation. They note that when we have a thought, there is activity of certain kinds, and in certain areas of the brain, that happen at the same time — or, ever-so slightly before we become conscious of a thought. If you haven’t already done so, this delay is discussed in the previous article, “It Was Inevitable That Science Would Declare We Have No Free Will,” which should be read first, before continuing.

Scientists do have a strong belief today that it is possible to answer these uncertainties, given enough time and funding to find the answers. They have no evidence that this effort will succeed, however. It is just a self-evident truth for them, but can we not question their claim given the lack of any reasonable proof because there isn’t any evidence indicating any such process in the production of thoughts, especially since they cannot even claim to be able to explain how it is that consciousness of anything occurs, merely noting that it evidently does.

But this means that their belief is itself based on the assumption that the origin of thoughts is rationally knowable. And reasoning is rationally knowable because it is based upon physical processes that are rationally knowable because we can reason about them. Which is a very neat and tight, co-levitating and co-dependent, entanglement of beliefs hanging in mid-air, without any visible support anywhere.

Perhaps one way out of this circular reasoning is to try to see what would be required for a thought to occur. Let’s start with just a singular thought, and not one located within a train of thought where there also needs to be a coherent relationship maintained between the thoughts. Let’s first just start with the sudden thought: “My, what a beautiful day it is today!”

Of course, I am still working under the assumption that thought is rational, otherwise I would have to just fall back on the idea that thought just happens — that’s pragmatic, but not really helpful for leading us to a better understanding, even though Aristotle, among others, did exactly this by declaring that “thought thinks itself.” The absurdity of this position reached it’s maximum altitude when Descartes based his entire philosophy on the assertion that: “I think, therefore I am!”

So, how is it that this thought appears in my consciousness? Let’s assume that our brain can form language statements. It seems to be a valid assumption since we can see a certain area of the brain ‘light up’ when we speak, so why wouldn’t the same faculty be used to create thoughts? It’s really the same problem for us though — this assigning of a function to activity as if we truly know what is going on; but let’s go with this working assumption anyway, in order to see how far it can take us.

Now, our statement about the day is an aesthetic judgment because it says something about how we ‘find’ the day to be. Either this judgment is the result of a process of reasoning, based upon an algorithm-like understanding such as: “if it is not raining, and the sun is out, it is a beautiful day, and I like beautiful days,” or, it is the result of an ‘unconscious’ process in the brain.

Unfortunately the algorithm-like process violates the boundaries of our example because such a judgement, in this case, doesn’t just ‘pop’ into our heads, instead it is the result of some sort of logical calculation of the occurrence of bits of present-moment knowledge occurring at the same time, so it is clearly at a higher cognitive level than just a random thought arising. But these two options — algorithm-like calculation or unconscious process — are the only possible ways for this to happen in the present scientific understanding.

To nail this down a little bit more, the result of an unconscious process, as is being suggested by scientists and philosophers alike, must still be performed by the brain in an algorithmic fashion that effectively accomplishes the same outcome as a conscious algorithmic process would. Why? Because the aesthetic judgment must be based upon a ‘recognition’ of the emotional state we are in, a ‘perception’ of the weather at the moment and an understanding of what is held to be good weather versus bad weather, and knowledge of the embodied temporal and physical context. We certainly wouldn’t exclaim “My, what a beautiful day it is today!” if we were locked in a windowless underground chamber, or were ignorant of whether it was day or night. Context matters.

The recognition that in both cases we are looking at an algorithmic process does away with the potential response that thoughts just appear in our mind because they are instinctual responses somehow encoded in our DNA — which is a very modern form of running away from such difficult logical conundrums as this one obviously is.

This last alternative would mean, of course, that aesthetic judgments are somehow physically coded in the brain as some form of algorithmic golem, and are not the result of any actual affective response on our part, whatever that might mean, to our experiences. This would complete the modern mechanical depiction of humanity in science as lacking both free will and affective responses — meaning that the zombie apocalypse is already upon us, and it is us.

But relying upon an unconscious process doesn’t help us, because even though it may be characterized as ‘unconscious’, it still has to be the result of some kind of calculation about the contextual data arriving in the brain. Does this overcome the problem? Is calculation a completely different kind of process than reasoning, or are they ultimately the same thing?

The answer is readily found in our language itself. The definition of “reasoning” is ratiocination plus intuition. And ratiocination is the forming of judgments by a process of logic alone (from Latin, ratiocinat- meaning “deliberated, calculated,”). So calculation is just reasoning without the support of intuition, which means it must be completely algorithmic, without any ‘leaps’ of intuition to bring us to an answer.

Let’s call this attenuated, non-conscious form of calculation, ratiocination. It’s not conscious, so we don’t have to deal with the issue of what ‘consciousness’ means. It’s just a series of activations of cells within some kind of ganglion in some variation of an encoded algorithmic sequence. But even this doesn’t seem to help us, because this “series of activations” is either sequential or it is instantaneous, both of which lead to problems:

If the sequence is instantaneous, we have the equivalent of a virgin birth because all of the necessary calculations are selected at the same time that their results arrive, and this means that the human brain has encoded instructions for every possible combination of inputs possibly needing to be calculated. Since this is unforeseeable, except for an Omniscient Programmer, we may be excused in turning our backs on this alternative for the moment.

If the sequence is not instantaneous, then it is nothing other than the same problem we had at the much higher level of reasoning. How does one step in a sequence lead to another? No matter how many layers of depth we want to add, other than obscuring the issue and wearing us out, we haven’t explained anything. Thus, we have uncovered an infinite analytical regress instead.

At any level of depth, or merely at the surface level, the problem with how we conceive the process of reasoning to work is that it will always lead to an infinite regress. It’s not just that in order to have a thought — if it is actually willed by us into existence — we have to know what it is we are going to think; it’s that all thoughts are a complex of outputs from lower-level processes of reasoning, whether we are conscious of them or not, and each of these, if investigated, lead to an infinite regress — and that cannot work.

It is so, because, for there to be a train of thoughts — as any good judgment requires — we have to somehow be able to make another judgement about what the next step in the sequence is going to be (unless the Omniscient Programmer has already defined it) and this leads us into another infinite regress.

So even if we make the leap to assigning the birth of a thought to unconscious processes of thought, the problem doesn’t go away, it just loses any identifiable magical benefits from our believing that we consciously will thoughts into existence — that somehow these are ‘my thoughts’.

So, then, how is it that we can actually think at all? Perhaps we have to fall back on that virgin birth scenario (because of how it is usually understood to happen) called ‘intuition’. But let’s try something else first.

Perhaps it is the case that the human brain is a marvelously adept pattern recognizer and whenever the right collection of sense data is present it just forms the thought: “My, what a beautiful day it is today!” It is, in other words, very much like modern pattern matching software linked into video feeds in order to identify criminals, murderers, terrorists, and members of the opposing party, as they enter a train station.

There are some difficulties that we will have to deal with here, the first being how it recognizes a pattern if it doesn’t already have the pattern to find similarities to. Presumably, after all, the Omniescent Programmer hasn’t been cataloging every possible pattern into our magical DNA. The second is how it performs pattern recognition without some form of if-then like tests: “If it is not raining, and if it is sunny out…” Both of these difficulties lead to hard problems, the latter of which is, again, the falling into infinite regresses that all processes entail, as we have already seen.

Someone might suggest that rather than using if-then logical operations, our brains actually use the equivalent of what is known in computer programming as ‘hash functions’, to which I note that even slight changes in lighting would render such ‘hashing’ of the perceptual data into a numeric quantity that ‘selects’ the proper response for us must use fuzzy logic-type operations to make the patterns supple enough to be of any use in real-world pattern-matching. And these operations implicate a process, which I have already shown to be an immediate fail.

In regard to pre-knowing patterns, we could fall back on a Humean notion of “habits” and assert that the human brain forms habits in its recognition of sense data that we could call “patterns,” but which are actually just habitual responses — requiring no thought — to certain contextual conditions. These recognized patterns then initiate the verbal cry about the day whenever the relevant incoming sensory data is present.

It seems like a solution, until we have to actually place it in the brain, because the brain’s plasticity to record these “habits” either has to be centralized in some way so that patterns don’t overwrite each other, or areas of the brain have to be ‘pre-coded’ to begin to build up habits of sensory recognition of certain types.

It really wouldn’t work well if the “If it is not raining, and if it is sunny out” habit somehow gets clobbered by the “My, I’m hungry” habit that is based upon the presence of hunger pangs down in the gut. We might end up crying out for pizza every time it doesn’t rain and the sun comes out, or declaring it is a beautiful day every time we are hungry!

The pre-preparation method doesn’t seem sound at all, because it would require our genetic programming to somehow record every possible eventuality, which is clearly not possible. Absent this, the best our genetic code could give us is the ability to reason about sensory data in order to arrive at a judgment, but that isn’t a solution to how it works. It’s just assuming the conclusion.

There is, of course, the modern scientific fallback of order arising out of chaos over very long periods of time creating the patterns against which perceptions are matched. I will leave that one alone for the moment, and come back to it after this sequence of articles is completed, and I summarize the score for how well ‘cause-and-effect giving rise to order from chaos’ fares against ‘creative naturing in response to conditions and latent possibilities giving rise to coherent continuity (order)’.

Likewise the centralized control feature seems to be more wishful thinking then anything else, simply because it would require the central control facility to be able to recognize the incoming sense data’s pattern in order to know where it should be shunted to. And, as is obvious, that is just pushing the problem down another level into yet another infinite regress.

Where does this leave us? If our every attempt to find a process that will actually arrive at thought being possible ends in failure, perhaps there is no process involved. But this would mean, in the end, that the origin of our thoughts was not intelligible.

This does not mean that the use of reason would necessarily result in irrational judgments. After all, we can reason about our reasoning in individual cases and form a judgement as to its seemliness, though we can’t truly say how we arrived at the judgment.

Instead, this means that reason itself would be of a nonrational origin or nature, and so those rational judgments would be rational by something very close to, if not equivalent to, pure synchronicity. Now, I don’t know about you, but that does not sit very well with me.

A solution adopted by the Medieval Christian and Islamic philosophers (and perhaps many others that I am just not aware of) is that somehow we are dependent upon God’s ‘grace’. The scenario might go something like this:

God’s creative act is not a one-shot deal; God creates the universe in each moment, and this includes our thoughts and judgments. An alternative version holds that God blesses us with certain capabilities, such as reason. But if God graces us with reason then God’s creative act should be a one-shot deal. Why else would we need to reason, except if we are on our own? In this latter case, we still have the problem of how reasoning works.

Perhaps it could mean that God creates the thoughts in our head; that God’s ‘grace’ is simply an omnific response by God to our needs, based upon what we are willfully trying to accomplish.

For example, if we are wasting our time on the couch watching television, then God will never put anything more interesting in our head then “Wow, that was a big explosion!” Yet if we focus our lives on the study of God’s revelation and willfully try to follow the written word found therein, then God will reward us with thoughts that are divine in nature because they closely resemble the truth. When God gives us the first type of thought, it is just God’s grace that we have any thoughts at all, but when we are really applying ourselves diligently to the truth that is God and we receive that truth into ourselves, then we can call that God’s illumination.

This at least is a rational explanation for how we can think at all, as it answers the question of how and why thoughts occur!

Given the context of this discussion, however, the question to ask would not be “How then does God’s illumination work?” as we are asking about how our reasoning works in a scientific sense. The correct question to ask should be “How can thought occur any other way but by the direct illumination of God?” The reason we would ask this latter question is because evil thoughts exist, and surely a loving God would not create such evil.

Now, I don’t subscribe to the religious beliefs of either group of philosophers — Christian or Islamic — but I do believe that they at least made sense. It is the assumptions that we all run around with today, that somehow scientists can explain it all for us, so there’s no need to question anything we’re told, that is the irrational belief.

I grant that I may have misrepresented the ideas of these philosophers somewhat in order to force them to be more congruent with my purpose here, which is to show how everything happens as a non-intentional, indeterminate, spontaneous response to current conditions and latent coherent possibilities, rather than either by a cause and effect mechanism of Chaotic Determinism, or by intentional design. Going a step further, the evident fact that it is coherency, and not chaos, that this responsive naturing enforces, can be and should be seen, not as a result of a coin-toss selecting which way it would go, but as the ever-present concern to nurture and care for Life in all its forms throughout this world.

In a sense, any fault in what I have just portrayed is not a fault of my understanding… it is, if anything, the fault of my desire to help you understand what dogma, whether that of Science or Religion, cannot make you understand, because in both realms there is nothing that escapes the limitations of our current limited view — and that fails in every way.

So we must return to intuition and its role in reasoning, now aided by the understanding that intuition cannot be the result of a physical process. What then is an intuition and how do they arise? I will continue this in Part 2 of “How Do We Reason.”

ཨེ་མ་ཧོ། ཕན་ནོ་ཕན་ནོ་སྭཱཧཱ།
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