Analog Realism V: Sensations
Today, I will contrast Harry Binswanger's Direct Realism and my Analog Realism on the subject of sensations. Ayn Rand defines sensations as the products of an "automatic reaction of a sense organ to a stimulus from the outside world". It is not the physical reaction itself, but its mental counterpart.
Unlike Rand, Binswanger rejects the notion of sensations qua mental existents altogether. Direct Realism views perception as the product of physical sensory input, which is automatically retained and integrated by the brain, and considers it to be the starting point of consciousness. The reasoning is quite straight forward: to assume the existence of sensations is to assume that the brain - a physical existent - integrates sensations, which are mental existents.
This view is based on a subtle adoption of the mind-body dichotomy, as it assumes a sudden, discrete development of consciousness in unconscious beings - one that strangely resembles the religious idea of a "divine spark". To take perception as the starting point of consciousness itself is to assume that, at one point in history, unconscious sensory beings suddenly gave birth to a conscious, perceptual being. Even more troublesome - it is to assume that consciousness in humans suddenly starts in early infancy, with the development of our perceptual faculty.
Analog Realism, on the other hand, is based on two premises: the complete rejection of the mind-body dichotomy, and the gradual development of higher forms of consciousness out of lower ones. The mind is not "created" by the body - it is an aspect of it, just like its weight. Sensations are an aspect of the physical interaction between our sensory organs and specific stimuli. They are not "integrated by the brain", but by our mind's perceptual mechanism, which is mediated by our nervous system.
Consciousness does not start with integrated perception - it is an aspect of life itself, and begins with it. The development of an integrated, multi-cellular being requires the development of a single consciousness out of the multiple sensory consciousnesses of its cells - and perception is the result of that integration. Our direct experience is not caused by some perceptual "ghost in the machine", that makes use of the physical input provided by our cells. Just as we are the integration of our individual cells, our experience is the integration of theirs.
A proper theory of mind must explain how a more advanced form of consciousness develops out the previous one, without contradicting its nature. As with sense validity, Direct Realism's answer is to "explain it away". I believe a proper answer has been hinted at in both Sigmund Freud's notion of "life and death drives", and Erich Neumann's notion of "extroversion, introversion and centroversion", which I will detail in the next post.
- June 6th, 2020