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The Galileo Commission, a collaborative effort of the Scientific and Medical Network and others, produced a 94-page description of what needs to change in our current way of understanding the world in order to allow science to free itself from the constrained engagement with the world that has been our cognitive frame for the last few hundred years. A cognitive frame limits what can be thought, by delimiting what is real, and what is not. This is different than a paradigm, which structures our thoughts about real things.

I am attempting to convey a new paradigm, about Responsive Naturing, that I submit is a more encompassing understanding than that of physical causality. And this can only be understood if our thoughts and experiences are freed from our extant cognitive frame of mechanical materialism. It is my contention that this is what is keeping us back from actually finding and implementing a different paradigm so that science can engage with the whole living sentient world, rather than remaining limited to only focusing on matter, its modifications, and its interactions. To do so, I have to present both a new frame and a new paradigm together. So this name, Responsive Naturing, is the paradigm of responsiveness, and the cognitive frame of naturing. I will be talking about both in this article, without making a distinction between them.

And in order to be concise I must speak as if what I am presenting is true, without giving any substantive arguments here. However, in my book, “Tranquillity’s Secret,” I make no claim to the truth.⁠ Instead, I attempt to show only that they are more veridical, by which I mean coherent with the truth in some way and to some degree, and better able to what it means to be alive and sentient. Showing how something is veridical is harder to do than just claiming it is true.

[ Please note: underlined words are linked to more detailed explanations/definitions found at stilljustjames.com ]

The Real And The Conceptual

One has to separate the concepts of awareness and consciousness, both of which are abstractions — which is indicated by the form of these words with their “-ness” suffix — from the fact that we are aware, or that we are conscious of something. Being aware and being conscious are visceral experiences, and not conceptual when we know these experiences. I am specifically speaking here of the direct experience of noticing that we are aware or conscious, before any labeling of the content of the experience as our having noticed that we are aware, or conscious.

Our conceptual ideas are not always, or even sometimes, correct. Our scientific knowledge, for example, is based upon the understanding that all knowledge is contingent and liable to be refined or replaced as further experimentation is done. It is for this reason that I say there is no consciousness and no awareness to be found anywhere in the actual facts of experience — these Loch ‘-Ness’ monsters cannot be found because they do not exist. What we can notice in those facts of experience is that we are aware or we are conscious. If you cannot understand what I’m saying here, then, the rest of what I have to say, will be meaningless or confusing to such an extent that you will give up even trying to read on. One must be able to distinguish a concept about actual facts from the actual facts.

Every moment is a season. Our concept of seasons is imposed upon what we can experience, sacrificing the wonder to be found in each moment of our life for the stability of not having to notice.

Everyone has probably heard the parable of the blind men and the elephant and have understood its message, but have you ever wondered why each of the blind men made an assumption about what an elephant was like? Probably not. Making assumptions based upon incomplete information is a normal, and oftentimes useful, occurrence in our daily life, so why would we question it?

How we make assumptions is what is in focus here.

Actual facts need no interpretation, nor inferences made about what the fact is. It is only our desire to know what is happening more deeply, or to fill in missing details, that creates the need to interpret. I want to talk about actual facts.

In addition to the confusion of concepts for actual facts, there is a further complication. Our concepts are developed out of our experiences, but our experiences are constructed by our cognitive faculty. By that I don’t mean, as is the fashion today in science, to say that our experiences are hallucinations that have only some correspondence to the real world. Instead, I mean, simply that our experiences are based on our perceptions, and our perceptions are the result of analog signal processing in the brain, the patterns of which are recognized by our cognitive faculty, based upon our past experiences, and in that recognition is the truth, or the falseness, of what we see and experience. An insightful conceptualization of a false recognition is still false. Whereas a false conceptualization of a true recognition is probably at least somewhat coherent with the truth. This point is why I argue for a veridical science, rather than today’s fashion of claiming everything that is said in science to be the truth.

Our Reality Is Responsive, Not Reactive

I started meditating at the age of five years, after the death of my mother. I was taught how to put myself into a trance state, in which I could hear sounds — elemental sounds — that had no source. I meditated upon those sounds, in one way or another, throughout my life. I came to call this practice ‘Great Responsiveness Meditation’, which is a description of the alchemical change it wrought within me. It changed how I acted, and also my understanding of how my actions arose. I want to talk about the latter, because this profound understanding is apparently unique in its totality from anything else that I have found in the works of others. This understanding developed from my meditation practice and the stages of insight that it brings about. It is not the result of conceptual reasoning starting from what is obvious to us in our daily life, given the problematic source of that ‘obviousness’.

Great Responsiveness Meditation placed a seed deep within my mind, whose fruit is omninclusive concerned naturing.

This responsiveness is not some objective thing, nor is it a conceptual idea. It is our true active naturing — and this is both creative and sustaining. Responsive Naturing creates and sustains each of us — and every other natural being — throughout our ontogenetic development.

Today, we believe in physical causality. Responsive Naturing is not like that. Nothing causes a seed to germinate, but if conditions are right, the seed may germinate. This germination begins deep within the seed, and is autogenous.

Don’t let that word autogenous mislead you. It’s prefix “auto-” doesn’t always imply some kind of mechanism. Instead, it also means self-moved. And the root “genous” goes back to Ancient Greek, and means producing or yielding — so both parts of this word refer to naturing and growing life, and thus the seeds and their fecundity which give rise to all that sustains us by becoming us. But how can something that originates deep within us and becomes us, be omninclusive?

This word: omninclusive, means inclusive of all natured beings. It means being concerned about all living beings, not just oneself — that inclusivity being the change in my behavior wrought by my meditation practice. This responsive Naturing is concerned for, and is responsive to the conditions and possibilities of each and every living being.

Responsive Naturing is what we try to point to with — at their root — the words awareness and consciousness. Their root being cognizance, which means to get to know. It’s not knowledge, as it is sometimes used; but rather is a process of recognizing or getting to know something. Once something is recognized, or known, that recognition or knowing becomes knowledge. First there is an act, then we can conceptualize what came about through that act. Cognizance is not natured, it is not a thing — it is the Naturing. It does not develop autogenously from some seed — it is autogenous development.

Why do I use the word “Naturing” rather than the more familiar term (in philosophy) “Nature naturing?” Because a nature entity that encompasses all natured things must necessarily include itself as a natured thing. So it cannot be aware of itself objectively, since doing so would mean it was outside of itself, and it cannot be both outside of itself and be encompassed within itself and still be an entity — and in either case, it could not know its complete self. If it was outside of itself, then what would be the source of this nature’s nature? If the nature entity did not encompass all natured things then what is it the nature of? And more implicitly, if this nature entity causes all things to be, then it weds us to causality. So to be perfectly clear, I argue that there is no Nature entity — at least insofar as the obvious and intelligible naturing of all beings is concerned. Beyond this naturing there is nothing that can truly be said. It is not a distinct entity, nor something other than this activity, and it cannot be different than itself, since there is nothing other to be different from. And so, it cannot be an entity. If it is not an entity, no name, or other designation, no qualities, nor agency can be ascribed. Therefore, only the naturing of all natured beings and the necessarily impersonal recognition of that activity, can be veridically asserted.

In his surviving poem, the Pre-Socratic mystic and philosopher, Parmenides, makes the following assertion:

“Tauton d’esti noein te kai houneken esti noema” (ταὐτὸν δ᾽ ἐστὶ νοεῖν τε καὶ οὓνεκέν ἐστι νόημα) (Parmenides, fragment B8, line 34)

Most of this statement is widely agreed to, except for the word “noein” which is the present active infinitive of nous (νόος) meaning mind or mentality, and which is widely translated as “reasoning” or “thinking”. One of my teachers translated it as: “The same is thinking and wherefore is the thought-upon.” However, Peter Kingsley, a philologist who has extensively studied Parmenides, and with whom I enjoyed walks around campus deep in conversation, explains the meaning of noein at the time of Parmenides in his book, “Reality,” saying that “this one word referred as much to the act of perceiving as to the act of thinking: to direct, intuitive perception as well as perception through and with our senses. And, beyond even that, it described exactly what nowadays we would refer to as consciousness or awareness.” So applying this more profound understanding of that word’s meaning gives us a better translation:

“It is the same: awareness and that because of which there are the appearances.”

For me, this translation gives cognizance a more active and productive sense, worthy of the omnintrinsic naturing of all beings. Why do I focus here on Parmenides? I want you to realize how perennial this understanding of an active cognizant naturing as the origin and sustaining of all natured beings is. This is not some new-fangled idea that I came up with. It is one of the deepest and oldest truths we humans have come to know.

Responsive Naturing is within all things

This means also that this naturing is omnintrinsic to all natured beings — the same activity sustains and develops all beings, but is not a natured being itself. It is rather, all beings, in the sense of “to be” going back to the very ancient Indo-European root meaning of ‘bring forth, cause to grow’.

This cognizance recognizes the potential and contextual possibilities of every being, and, as well, the propriogestæ, “own accomplishments” of the naturing of each being’s reconfiguration moment-to-moment. I call this local, perspectival naturing of a being’s ontogenetic form, a sæculum, because it is the being’s potential lifespan, which is the meaning of this Latin word, as well as the life-force of that being.

The sæculum’s affective responses to all recognitions of what is done is the source of the concern exhibited by this naturing for that being. Cognizance is not just information, which is the actual reconfiguration moment-by-moment of the being. It is the origin of the affective feeling of what it is like to be that being — and each ontogenetic form has specific capacities to feel.

This doesn’t mean that cognizance is different in each case. It means, rather, that each being has a greater or lesser organizational complexity, and as the substratum of responsive Naturing is omnintrinsic within every being entangled in that complexity, there is more complexity of feeling as well, simply put. This substratum within every being is the structural pattern for each individual being’s ontogenetic development.

Today, we are told that it is DNA and its processes and functions that define the structure of a biological being, and yet, there is no current understanding of the ‘mechanism’ by which cells migrate to where they need to be. Furthermore, there is no understanding how proteins migrate to where they need to be within cells. It is the cognizant responsive naturing of each sæculum within each cell, and within the being.

Responsive Naturing natures only just outcomes: It is not that responsive Naturing chooses good or evil acts — since good and evil are affective responses to what is done. Rather it is that responsive Naturing chooses a just outcome for the potential and contextual possibilities, as possibly weighted by the affective responses of all entangled beings. Good and evil result from the placement, and thus weighting, of each sæculum’s attention, and its intention and desire to achieve that intention in a contextual network of entangled sæcula. Evil happens because we let it, good happens because we want it.

Cognizance is not an emergent phenomena — phenomena are that which emerge.

The key here is that this Naturing is not causal, it is responsive.

But! you may say, things are caused! Our science is full of causal mechanisms that work! And this is true. Our science is filled with this kind of knowledge because we have, for hundreds of years now, refused to look at Nature as something whole and living. We look for mechanisms of dead matter and find them because that is all that we can see through our restricted way of looking.

As Henry David Thoreau said, “Man cannot afford to be a naturalist, to look at nature directly, but only with the side of his eye. He must look through and beyond her. To look at her is as fatal as to look at the head of Medusa. It turns the man of science to stone. I feel that I am dissipated by so many observations. … To crown all, Lichens which are so thin are described in the dry state, as they are most commonly, not most truly seen. They are, indeed, dryly described.”⁠³ Thoreau was referring to how Modern Science looks through life, and how this mode of scientific observation numbs the observer to what is obvious, but unacceptable to think about.

However, we need to also take into account that these scientifically discovered mechanisms are statistically-based representations of what happens over time, and statistics tells us what is most likely to happen. If we look instead for life, we find it peeking out from under our statistical rug under which we have swept it, and those statistical regularities can be seen instead as the result of responsive Naturing responding to unchanging, or rarely changing, possibilities. The mechanisms we find with the old way of looking can be replaced with forms of habitual behavior of certain kinds of living activity.

We are living beings, and this is why it is so important that we treat ourselves as such. Today, increasingly, we eat dead food, and wonder why we become sick and die from diseases that rob us of life. Modern medicine has great success treating us as mechanisms, with medicines that all have side-effects. Similarly, we partake of scientific explanations of dead mechanisms that purportedly describe us to our very core, and we wonder why we are sick to death of life. If one treatment creates severe problems, there are always other medicines to treat those problems. But we only become well after those treatments end, if they ever do. This is a very complicated subject that should not be answered reactively. Some medicines can give us time to heal naturally and we cannot deny this. Some ideas of working hypotheses allow us to advance in a useful way, until such time as a full accounting of life may be discovered. Some only work because we believe they will. Others that can help us, don’t because we believe they won’t.

Where Is Mind?

How is it possible for us, or any species of living beings, to be aware of the true nature of what we nominally call mind? If that which we refer to as awareness, or consciousness, is a part, aspect, or essence of mind than we cannot know — with any assurance — the true nature of mind. It’s not just that our understanding would be necessarily subjective, we could not know if what we experience subjectively as mind is mind, or is a product of mind, simply put.

This is the result of a larger problem, especially for materialism: if consciousness is an emergent property of the brain than it must be limited in what it can be aware of simply because consciousness will be limited to knowing only the activity of that part of the brain it emerges from, if it is localized. If it is not localized, being like a field around the brain, but not within it, then it cannot be aware of any of the inner workings of the various parts of the brain, just as we cannot be aware of the inner workings of others.

Our ideas of awareness and consciousness are defective because they do not explain what they are, simply because these concepts are irredeemably defective. Here are three reasons why:

1st. Consciousness has never been found, and correlates of conscious activity in the brain are only indicative of conscious activity if we are working within a cognitive frame of materialism, and specifically mechanical materialism in which everything is a material mechanism. The brain being the big mechanism. But we have been unable to find consciousness there. Suggestions that we have, all involve a redefinition of what the word consciousness means. For example that it is ‘information’ — a word that currently carries no specific semantic meaning.

2nd. If consciousness is in our brain then there are phenomena that are necessarily nonrational, which means unexplainable. I am speaking here of phenomena that do not arise from the processing of sense perceptions — visions, for example, or meditative insights. My meditation uses what I call inner spontaneous sounds — Earth, Water, Fire, and Wind — which do not arise as the result of my auditory system. And the biggest and most important nonrational phenomenon is thoughts. How do we create our thoughts? It is impossible that we create our thoughts, because that means that we somehow know what the thought is to be before we think it. Placing the origin of thoughts in some form of subconscious process, merely sweeps the problem under a rug.

3rd. If consciousness is in our brain, then we have no way to be conscious of anything outside of our bodies during certain extraordinary events — for example, Near Death Experiences, feeling the character of another person’s mind, having out-of-body experiences, and others. But the biggest, and most unacknowledged, because we don’t think deeply about it, is the felt duration and motion of our lives.

So, I replace “consciousness” with impersonal recognition of the activity, and “mind” means merely the totality of the activity that I call naturing.

The Problem Of Our Constructed Perceptions

Some scientists⁠⁴ now believe that our brain makes predictions — using a Bayesian-Inference-like process — about what something that we are sensing is, or may be. Note that this indicates that perception is a two or perhaps three phase process that starts with a raw recognition about which inferences are made, resulting in an interpretation that is, or guides the construction of, the consciously-perceived result. This assertion that the brain performs Bayesian prediction means that what is perceived is derived from the likelihood that what is recognized is some particular already-experienced thing that was perceived during ‘posterior’ events — given the probabilities of being what is now recognized. This is a laborious activity, involving the calculation of trillions of data-points, all of which must be done in the present-moment, or more likely, developed and then retained within the brain over time. This latter process is used in machine-learning and large language models of so-called AI. Perception is not simply knowing something about the external environment.

The need for this fairly new scientific hypothesis about how we visually perceive things comes from the recognition that most — or all — of our perceptions are constructed, rather than directly and immediately known. And by ‘constructed’ I mean that our perceptions consist of different elements that do not directly come from our sense organs, and which may not be veridical to what is actually there, or happening, in our external environment. Simply put, we can be wrong about what we think we are perceiving. Like when we experience fluid motion when watching carefully crafted still video images flashing into our eyes, or when we experience an environmental scene that is held in place even while our bodies are in motion and our head, and thus our eyes, are bouncing around. We should be perceiving the world bouncing around too, like old-fashioned home movies, but we don’t see that. Yet, as we turn our head the scene rotates, just as it should, and what was of low resolution comes into clear view as we focus upon it. This is so necessary to useful vision that we hardly give it a thought.

That first example, of video images, presents a mystery as to why and how the brain does it, because video technology does not depend on a hack of some feature of visual perception since there is no such feature to be hacked, nor any earthly need for constructing motion from still images as the eyes sense motion directly and there are no naturally-occurring films in the wild. There is, however, an early and unsophisticated explanation for the fluid motion we experience from the 19th century, that says that ‘apparent’ motion in video is due to the persistence of vision — and many hold firmly to that explanation, which is odd, given that persistence of an image is the opposite of fluid motion. In any case, this idea has been repudiated by actual facts, as reported on in academic papers going back over half a century. Images in video and films do not persist, but rather, change at a high rate of speed.

These two examples are of different ways that our perceptions are constructed. There are many others, but these two are the most salient examples from our daily life.

Please note that the previous paragraphs are written in terms of a mechanical materialist cognitive frame coupled with an explanatory paradigm of physical causality. There are other possible ways to understand what is actually occurring.

A cognitive frame is a delimitation of what we can think about, and a materialist cognitive frame restricts us to only thinking about matter and its movements and modifications. Why a frame? Because a frame orients our attention, delineating what is important that we pay attention to, and whatever is outside of that, we ignore. We gain knowledge from what we come to know, and ignorance from what we ignore. So we come to know what we pay attention to, while ignoring the rest. If ‘the rest’ is not much, then it is a useful time/effort trade-off; but if ‘the rest’ is more than what we pay attention to, we remain largely ignorant. Today, and for several hundred years now, we have excluded daily life, and so are ignorant about most things — especially ourselves. It’s that simple. If we are to break out of our cognitive frame, then we must include the experiences and affective responses of living beings into our science.

A paradigm, within a materialist cognitive frame, is normally taken to mean a philosophical or theoretical framework of a scientific school or discipline within which theories, laws, generalizations are formulated and their results interpreted.

It is these limitations (the frame and the paradigm) that have led some scientists and philosophers to the idea that the brain performs Bayesian predictive processing of all sense data. Thus, the blind men’s brains are predicting what an elephant is, based upon the part of the elephant that he touched.

All of the above, except for the problem description of why we experience perceptions that are constructed in some way, could be explained differently if our thoughts were framed differently, allowing nonmaterial explanations, just as the fields and forces of physicalism have actual effects on material things, but are themselves nonmaterial — or else they would have an effect on themselves. A different explanation could be given using the paradigm of responsive naturing, for example.

For me, this phenomenon of constructed perceptions and the suggestion that the brain does Bayesian prediction processing, show the problem with materialism and physical causality when applied to the brain and mental phenomena. Saying that the brain does Bayesian prediction processing doesn’t explain how the brain does it, and ignores the complexification of perception that it entails, to say nothing of the added energy and computational resources it would needfully demand. The brain is taken to be an infinitely useful ‘black-box’ whose complexity is the answer to all questions without the need to take worldly exigencies like processing time and energy into account.

This is why I am focused on showing that in a materialist frame, the brain cannot be the answer, and yet, it is the only answer that is allowed. So taking the brain as the answer requires that we ignore the physical limitations of all brains, and leave that for future research to work out. But the future never comes, and the awaited answer is a promissory note never paid.

So Where Does This Leave Us?

This overview that I have laid out here seems to say that all we are is the activity of some impersonal creative and sustaining force that pervades the universe. That’s a far cry from the substantial and material entity that science says we are, and our everyday experience shows that we are. But we all know the angst of being just a material being lost amidst the forces and fields that determine every moment of our life, or so science seems to say. For me, this novel way of understanding ourselves and our lives doesn’t rob us of anything at all, but it does give us a better understanding of ourselves and our lives. It gives us freedom to choose:

We choose what we pay attention to.

We choose what we intend to do.

We desire what we want to have in our life.

This is Free Choice.

By making this clear in the paradigm of responsive naturing as I’ve explained above, I am asserting not only the information of all natural beings, I am also pointing out that this process of naturing takes each of us into account in the reconfigurations that it natures. And it places ‘us’ in the very heart of that process as the impersonal cognizance of all that appears, and as the perspective of the very naturing of our selves. And this place, isn’t in some far off location, some other realm, it’s here, now, and within each and every organ, cell, organelles, molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles that make up our living presence.

And in poetic moments, I call this naturing concern, even loving concern, because there is often a little creativity in what response comes, that moves us ever-closer to our individual intended goal.

And it reveals that these aspects of our freedom to choose: attention, intention, and desire are manipulated, prefigured for us, and twisted into consumerism, to such extent that we never can be sure that it is we who are choosing, rather than being programmed.

This understanding makes clear what we need to change if we are to be free. And by being free we can choose individually, a different way to be in the world and be towards each other. This is immense.

ཨེ་མ་ཧོ། ཕན་ནོ་ཕན་ནོ་སྭཱཧཱ།
👈 || UNSAYING | CONTEMPLATION | TRADITION | MEDITATION | DISCUSSION | BACK MATTER || 👉

Footnotes:

¹ In 1877, the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914) characterized inquiry in general, not as the pursuit of truth per se, but as the struggle to move from irritating, inhibitory doubts born of surprises, disagreements, and the like, and to reach a secure belief, the belief being that on which one is prepared to act. His characterization agrees with the pre-Galileon focus of science on discovering practical knowledge, rather than the Truth.

² “Reality,” Peter Kingsley, The Golden Sufi Center, 2003, pg 77

³ Harrison Gray Otis Blake (ed.), The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, March 23, 1853 (p. 213–214)

⁴ See, for example, “Being You — A New Science of Consciousness,” Anil Seth, Faber & Faber Ltd, 2021

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