Why “One Size Fits All” Ontologies Never Work: Horgan, Harman, and DeLanda

There are three books from contemporary philosophers advocating for “one size fits all” ontologies. Each of them is strikingly different. In this commentary I’m going to focus on the meta-philosophical issue of a problem common to all of these ideas and by extension, all “one size fits all” ontologies. Ontologists do one of two things. They describe or catalog “what exists” or “what is real”, or they try to say something about the foundational qualities or properties of reality; what is “most fundamental” about what exists. All three of these philosophers are doing “what exists” sorts of ontologies.

As always, the three books I discuss are listed below with links to their editions on Amazon. Each title (except Horgan, I’ve linked my separate review of him here) is followed by the text of the review I posted to Amazon. I write these commentaries because their issues are out of place in a book review as such.

I’ll begin quickly with Terrence Horgan whose book “Austere Realism” I’ve reviewed separately (see link above). Horgan is the extreme minimalist. There is for him only one object that fully exists in the universe, and that is the universe in total (he calls it the ‘blobject’). Everything that we humans envision as existing (atoms, stars, animals, artifacts, and our own minds) exist only as affectations of language, a “fashion de parler”. As affectations, and for pragmatic purposes such “existence talk” is all well and good, but it is false to move from there to an ontological commitment; to the literal existence of any of these things. But Horgan is also a realist. The differentiation within the blobject (or of the blobject) are real. They are “mind independent differentiations” of the blobject. They are not “objects in their own right” but merely variations in the one object.

I’ve written before about Graham Harman here, and his collaborative work with DeLanda here. But I haven’t written about this particular book, “Object Oriented Ontology” in which Harman tries to address an issue I brought up in my review of other books, his “ontological idea” seeming to pop out of nowhere. In this book Harman describes more or less where his OOO idea comes from. It reinforces my idea that while proclaiming himself a realist he somewhat straddles the line between realism and anti-realism.

Harman’s approach is exactly opposite that of Horgan. Everything, stars, governments, ideas, relations between ideas or things, arbitrary sets, fictional characters, events, all real, all distinct objects. His is the ultimate ontological plurality but he is careful to say that while all are objects, not all objects are of the same sort. Some for example, like fictional characters, are real yet do not exist. Harman’s goal is a univocal causality. If rocks, governments, corporations, and ideas can be causes what does this say about the nature of causation in general?

Of the three authors, DeLanda’s ideas are the easiest to reconcile with common sense. Basically he observes that most differentiated things in the universe are composed of other things. They have parts that are extrinsic to the phenomenon of which they are parts. That means such parts can be removed and replaced by something similar (but not identical) and still retain their identity. In addition, these things composed of parts can become parts of other wider or larger things exhibiting new causal potentials.

As concerns ontological commitments, for Horgan, planets and governments do not exist as such, only the blobject actually exists but it happens to be differentiated into recognizable particulars that we can label in any way we see fit for pragmatic and scientific purposes. Horgan is interested mostly in what makes scientific discourse (say about stars) true even if stars do not, strictly speaking exist.

DeLanda agrees with Horgan that governments and stars do not belong in a strict ontology. What exists are assemblages each existing in a hierarchy of assemblages. Presumably the hierarchy goes all the way up to Horgan’s blobject, and all the way down to protons. But DeLanda does manage to clearly distinguish between social assemblages having physical expressions and potentials (governments, banks), and physical assemblages like stars and galaxies. What is important in both cases is that it is the assemblage that has ontological gravitas because it has causal potentials whether those are the potentials of a government or an asteroid.

Neither Horgan nor DeLanda are “essentialists” as concerns either what does or does not “strictly belong” in an ontology. There is no “hidden center” or essence to what belongs in ontology. If we had a complete description of everything (which for various reasons, linguistic, and perspectival, we cannot have) we would have fully exhausted being. Harman says no, that each object has an essence or being that we cannot even in principle ever exhaust. This includes “real objects” that do not exist like fictional characters. It is precisely this essence to which an object’s qualities are attached. Like objects have like qualities but their essence makes them individual. Objects are not merely “bundles of properties” described by a spacetime worm. Properties inhere in something and the being of that object, what makes it real, is whatever that something is.

Horgan is after the truth and meaningfulness of scientific discourse. He establishes this even in the face of his extreme ontological claim, and I believe this may be his point; “even given the blobject, science can be true”. Harman is after causation and he gets there but at the cost of an ontology as copious as Horgan’s is sparse. To make it all work, Harman’s objects must be divided up in various ways, much depending on what amounts to the classical distinction between mind and the mind-independent world. Harman does give us a nice account of fictional characters, but not really different from yet another “new realist” Maruzio Ferraris (reviewed here) who gives us the same account without the causal metaphysics. I am not sure how DeLanda would handle fictions. They surely have expressions in the physical (books, films) but I am not sure they could be said to have causal properties of their own. Certainly not outside minds that encounter and interpret the physical expressions.

Horgan and Harman are the two strictest “one size fits all” ontologists, DeLanda is less so, but even viewed as a one size fits all proposal, assemblages require little ad hoc maneuvering (Harman) or stipulation (Horgan and Harman) to fit in with most if not all of our experience. The common sense fact is that almost everything is made of other things. None of these views address mind very well though to be sure all are implicitly physicalist so brains are surely objects, assemblages, or proper differentiations of the blobject.

Harman, taking us back to Heideggar, claims that the contents of consciousness are all objects. This works fine as concerns sensory representations, even beliefs and memories. It is less clear how attitudes and intentions are objects. To the extent that both amount to ideas they have an object-hook. Both intentions and attitudes have causal properties. Ideas can lead us to actions. If that qualifies them for object-hood, so be it.

DeLanda’s ontology is “one size fits all” in the form of things and not the things themselves. He does not insist that literally everything real (fictional or otherwise) is an assemblage. By contrast Harman and Horgan do claim that their ontologies cover everything. That they likely do not is demonstrated by how they must each be twisted to make them work. For Horgan, scientific truth, even epistemology in general, floats free of the “true ontology”. For Harman, objects must be distinguished into partly overlapping classes or kinds, universals like existing and non-existing, symbiotic and dormant, real and sensual (both of these last categories real in the strict ontological sense), and so on.

Only Horgan claims there is literally but one existing thing. Harman counts literally everything (remember even thoughts and arbitrary relations) as real objects but must then divide them up into many categories to make the idea come out. Why not merely objectify the category and claim that these universals are the foundation of the real? For DeLanda it is a structure of relations that is [almost] universal, but what emerges from such a structure is, like Harman, both distinct and real provided we are careful to distinguish between the abstraction naming it (star, or government) and the reality (an assemblage) of its composition and history.

Horgan and Harman are “ontologies of the now”. Neither takes much account of time. Time is involved in the differentiation of the blobject (Horgan) of course and objects (Harman) come, go, and change through time, but neither theory demands time to make its basic point. Only DeLanda’s ontology demands time because both the coming-to-be of assemblages and their impacts have intrinsically temporal dimensions. Assemblages include as a proper part their own history and possible future effects on events, other assemblages.

Though each of these ontologies are different they all suffer from a species of triviality. If literally everything is an X, then to say that “only Xs exist” is a difference that makes no difference. Horgan shows that scientific truths can remain firmly grounded even in the face of a stipulated truth: “all is one”. Harman’s idea is also, ultimately, a stipulation. He can’t really deliver an equivocal causation, only one that can be “thought of” like that. If all cause lies between categories (the real and the sensual) that doesn’t tell us much about it. It also might be that there is something important about the difference between the categories and not merely the objects in them. Non-arbitrary categories (perhaps material particulars and some universals) might indeed exist, while arbitrary ones (random sets, trivially contingent relations — “taller than”) do not.

Harman’s distinction between the important and the trivial is also arbitrary. What appears dormant or unimportant from our perspective might be symbiotic from another. DeLanda’s triviality is a little different. Remember that each of these philosophers is a materialist and so ultimately, whatever should be both “real and exist”, it must begin with atoms that are surely assemblages. So while Harman and Horgan’s ontologies ultimately come down to stipulations, DeLanda’s, by contrast, is observational, and if he is right, if everything is some part of everything else (the universe at least), his observation must be true (at least of the material world) and so is also trivial.

In the end none of these “one size fits all” ontologies fit the universe of our experience because the universe is not a one size fits all arena. If there is a God then there are three fundamental mind-independent joints in reality (see Prolegomena to a Future Theology), spirit, mind (not individual minds but the phenomenon of mind in general), and matter — the material world experienced by individual minds. Even if there is no God and individual minds emerge only from the functioning of brains (i.e. brains are sufficient, a dubious proposition disallowed by physics — see Fantasy Physics and the Genesis of Mind), it is prima facia absurd to assert that mind is material, even more absurd to say it doesn’t exist. Individual minds, once emerged, have an impact on the unfolding of events. Mind is not physical and yet causally efficacious notwithstanding that what propagates its causal effect in the physical is a physical body controlled by a mind.

Aside from these three authors (Ferraris does not try to construct a universal ontology) I haven’t encountered another “one size fits all” ontology. If I do in the future I am confident that like these three any truth it contains will be but a trivial truth.


Austere Realism by Terrence Horgan 2008
See my review and commentary here

Assemblage Theory by Manuel DeLanda 2016

Manuel DeLanda’s book is a mature attempt at explaining what “assemblage theory” is and its relation to the philosophical sub-discipline of ontology. Assemblage theory can be applied to other philosophical domains but first you have to understand what it says about what there is. To put it in its simplest form, most things in the world are assemblages. They are (1) made of parts that might be exchanged for sufficiently similar parts (parts are “extrinsic”), (2) have properties and potentials that the parts do not have other than as the assemblage, and (3) they can, in turn, become parts of larger assemblages having novel properties and potentials in part made possible by the contribution of its sub-assemblages.

Assemblages are rather intuitive in fact. We are all familiar with many of them. We are a part of some of them, and it is natural to see in the world differently scaled phenomena (from atoms to galaxies, even the universe) that all appear to be assemblages. DeLanda then begins from a place that matches most intuitions about the world, and he does not insist that everything that is MUST be an assemblage. There are things of the world that are not, but by-in-large very much of our familiar world consists of assemblages.

DeLanda then explores many of these familiar things as encountered through human history. He explores tools (machines), people themselves, language, cities, society, wars, and so on. A particular point he wants to make is that every noun I used in the last sentence is a made-up “making real” (reification or “to reify”) of things that don’t really exist simpliciter. DeLanda understands that to make up these concepts is perfectly legitimate for ordinary discourse, but he is not committed to “their existence” as these things. Rather his commitment is to the assemblages from which they are composed and the higher-level assemblages they can and do contribute to composing. To understand an assemblage we name, “the government”, or “the market”, we really have to understand what it is made of (more assemblages) and how it comes to affect the wider world, other assemblages in which it participates. It is the assemblages and their expressions that “are real” as far as ontology is concerned.

The examination of human institutions is followed by a chapter on the doing of science; the best encapsulation of “philosophy of science” I’ve read! He moves down from social reality to particles, atoms, and molecules in order to introduce us to the concept of a “diagram” by which not only can assemblage be described (its history) but also what future paths in could (possibility) and is likely (disposition) to follow. DeLanda moves away from social phenomena for the sake of simplicity. Future paths for a molecule are vast but still restricted compared to that of a city or person. In theory it is simpler to understand what he is driving at on this level and its significance can be felt in philosophy and other disciplines. Importantly, the same principles apply whether we are talking about a protein or a nation.

He gets a little technical here in the last chapters. Simpler or not I could follow all of this only because I’ve had just enough mathematics background to get the difference between the levels and types of mathematics he talks about here. Some readers will have trouble with this though DeLanda nowhere USES mathematics; there are no formulas or mathematical demonstrations. His aim is to show us that there are mathematical tools that can be applied to assemblages describing their history as well as dispositions and possible futures. DeLanda is keen to show that assemblage theory as philosophy is (can be) firmly grounded in mathematics. Again as from the beginning, this makes intuitive sense. That mathematics can be applied to the regularities of the universe is well known. If those regularities are “qualities of assemblages” it makes sense that math can be used to describe them.

All of this then comes together very well in this book. I have read and reviewed others of DeLanda’s books, but this is the one to get if you want a grounding in his idea from the fundamentals on up.

Object Oriented Ontology by Graham Harman 2018

In reviews of earlier books by Harman I complained that his “object oriented ontology” (OOO) seemed to pop out of nowhere. He never (before) tells us how ideas preceding it, those of other writers, built up to his central insight. He seems to be making an attempt to correct that lacuna in this book. I think he succeeds in the effort to enlighten us about OOO’s origins, but my issues with the substance of the theory itself are not here resolved.

Harman begins by introducing a distinction between truth and knowledge along with their relation to the doing of philosophy. For him philosophy is not about truth or knowledge though it seeks and approaches both. Instead it is about reality which cannot, nevertheless, be approached directly but only indirectly. With this he begins to give the reader an introduction to his version of realism which is not very realist as I understand that term. But nor is Harman an anti-realist in the traditional sense. Rather he seems to straddle the fence.

The mind independent world is perfectly real and filled with particulars (objects), this being the realist thread. However we never encounter those objects directly but through their qualities, sensual qualities (he should have used the word ‘sensuous’ here not ‘sensual’ but I’ll let you look up that difference), which are qualities of the object as it is reflected in the content of our consciousness. The tree in the yard is a real object. The tree in my mind is its sensual counterpart. But neither the tree in the yard, nor the counterpart in our mind ever reveal themselves fully to us. They are “real”, but their core is always hidden. This is the anti-realist thread in Harman.

In Chapter two Harman gives us the key insight that also belies his Continental inclinations. Philosophy is metaphor and theater. He doesn’t mean here play acting. He means that to do philosophy the philosopher must replace the metaphor with herself to understand what it reveals about the real object. Even the metaphor never completely succeeds in exhausting the object, but it gets us further into it than does any literal or scientific statement. Harman knows that language is metaphorical. In fact (for Harman) the literal tells us less than the metaphorical. No word or collection of words captures everything about that which they denote. But he rejects the notion that language alone is responsible for failing to grasp everything. There is always more to the object, real or sensual, than we can ever know.

From this beginning he investigates social and political discourse and then returns to a more detailed view of objects (real and sensual), their qualities, and the relations between them. Harman divides his ontological universe into four different types, the real and sensual objects, and their real and sensual qualities. He does a pretty good job on the objects and the sensual qualities, but I have trouble understanding what a “real quality” can be since like the real object, real qualities also withdraw from direct contact. Harman does a good job of analyzing fictional objects, and we are introduced to his distinction between passive and symbiotic object-relations. Again (as in other of his books) Harman insists that symbiotic is not only about importance to humans, but in fact it always seems to end up being that in the final analysis.

His ultimate target in this part of the book is physical causation (like two billiard balls colliding, though the idea is supposed to apply to causation of all sorts). Even billiard balls do not make contact directly but through their sensual qualities. This part of OOO makes no sense to me unless “sensual qualities” are taken to be something independent of mind. I suppose this interpretation is possible, but Harman does not make his thought clear here at all.

The book moves then to challenge some of Harman’s peers who have accused him of stealing ideas from others. He focuses on Deleuze and Foucault arguing that their views, which some have taken to be foreshadows of OOO are not really that at all. Following this he reviews the work of a number of young philosophers who have broadly adopted an OOO orientation. Harman does a good job here of sketching both the similarities and differences between his work and the others reviewed.

It is not until here, near the end of the book that Harman lets drop his disdain for matter something strange for a realist. He explains himself a bit more in the last chapter, but his explanation fails to bridge a gap. It may be true NOW that there is no undifferentiated matter in the universe. Everything is differentiated and hence all are objects. But this was not the case in the opening Planck times of the universe when there was nothing but undifferentiated radiation. Harman’s ontology, even if it captures the universe’s present (and I don’t think it really does) misses its history, something for which ontology should surely account. In this latter part of the book he also lets slip that all relations between objects are also objects. He has said this in other books, but other than this one parenthetical aside, he doesn’t elaborate on this claim at all.

In the end, this book does the job of explaining the origin of Harman’s OOO idea and some (but not all) implications. I remain not a fan. There is too much about OOO that seems ad hoc to me, but after all, differences of opinion are what keep philosophy going and as Harman notes at the very beginning we do not get all the way to knowledge or truth, but only aspire to find ways to get closer to both.

26 thoughts on “Why “One Size Fits All” Ontologies Never Work: Horgan, Harman, and DeLanda

  1. Hey Matthew, this is TriSaatNava. Glad to see that you are still posting blogs. It has been a long time since our last dicussion(s)! Hope everything has been well.

    As usual, I still poke at the “dream problem” here and there and have recently come back to a couple of these blogs as references in my attempt to scrutinize the issue; such as how it may or may not fit within CCP. There are some statements made in a couple of books and articles that cover the neurological, cognitive and epistemological aspects of the issue that I find to be problematic [at odds with the phenomenological side of it]. I would like your opinion on some of these.

    To start off, there are statements made in “The Emergence of Dreaming: Mind-Wandering, Embodied Simulation, and the Default Network” by G. William Domhoff regarding a study on children and their interpretation on dreams that they claimed to have and the conclusion was supposedly that they “did not always understand that dreams have no material reality or that dreaming is private to the dreamer.” [they cite: Meyer & Shore, 2001, pp. 186, 190-191] In the section “Four meanings of the word ‘Dream'” they state in particular: “Second, a dream is an “experience” and a cognitive process because the unfolding sequence of events generated by the process of dreaming is such a realistic (embodied) simulation that dreams very often seem to be real while they last. (Ellis, 1916. p. 281)”

    By such a definition(s) one could engage in a “sprachspiel” that could lead to a suggestion that there is “something” that is not only private [to whom?] but not of any material that nonetheless can be experienced. They go on to use confounding terms such as “internal” and so on. This brings the entire investigation into question. I wonder if it is just an error of natural language? An inability to speak precisely of the matter being investigated and thus a simple mistake by the individual making the conclusion. Otherwise, what is it that we are looking for exactly? The presumption makes a distinction between what a “subject” can access and who/what “anyone/thing-other-than” [i.e. cognitive/neuroscientists conducting the tests from the “outside”] are unable to directly access or be included within. To the subject that is “experiencing” it, it is “something” that is not material but is purported to “feel” just as physical as anything else. Otherwise, the anecdotes do not have any meaning and the answer to what we would be looking for would seem to be nothing at all. Maybe I am in error. In the end what all the tests seem to signify [and what I would argue is axiomatic] would be that the brain does not dream of itself. That is to say that the brain dreams of everything other than itself and that it does not dream of being in its own prefrontal cortex, hippocampus or occipital lobe. It does not see itself and to suggest that it would I think would be committing the homunculus fallacy. As an example of this, proclamations made in articles such as “Scientists are recording your dreams” would seem to place the journalist in a disposition of having to explain how [which they do not] since the propositions aforementioned do not enable one to conflate the map [Brains scans/data] with the territory [experience], as it is said. By their own [the scientists] definition(s) they make the distinction between process and phenomenon so I do not think that this is a stretch to infer. If we take the statement above to its logical conclusion it would imply that the subject has access to something [non-material?] that the tools that are created by it cannot probe directly.

    If we put it all together what we have is that if the notion of a “subject” is just that, a mere notion [“illusion”], a position I depart from, then “it” can achieve, what would seem to be, a state of “superposition”. That is: ‘Subject-sleeping-in-bed’ and ‘Subject-in-dream’ simultaneously. A thought experiment that can demonstrate this is if one were to hypothetically build a space shuttle in a dream-space to launch through a presumably dream-atmosphere to determine if there is a “dream-outer-space”. It would be absurd to think that one would end up flying out of the forehead of their sleeping-body as a result. This, however, may be dubious to suggest. I only do so because In this article https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/dream-catcher/201407/dreams-and-the-many-worlds-interpretation-quantum-physics they try to fit dreams within MWI but then end the article in suggesting that it is more than likely mere speculation if not complete rubbish. Despite the epistemological issues [like seeming to make Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle all the more eminent] the phenomenology remains and cannot be denied.

    The phenomenology of dreams, I presume, falls back upon physics and not biology. This is to say that it cannot be reduced to an epiphenomenon as an emergent property. This is not to ignore the fact that there are biological requirements for such a phenomenon that can be reported as an “experience” but that the brain facilitates these experiences rather than making them emerge from it. A way to substantiate this claim is by showing the commonality of all reports made of dreams had. A report is anecdotal evidence of a place [‘topos’] that one often “comes back” from. I cannot make reports on things that I have not experienced. I cannot say that any place “exists” in my brain in the sense that I proclaim to exist in any space that I stand within while I am awake. Such would be committing the homunculus fallacy, yet again. Anything that is claimed to have been “seen” by anyone must be perceptible and anything that we deem to be perceptible can only be such if there is “light” that can enable one to see it. Surely I cannot say that “I see light because I can see” so as to signify that there could only be light if I [a biological system] am there to transduce it. This would not be in accordance with physics and cosmology that investigate the precedents leading up to the systems aforementioned. So, we have E=MC2 as a linkage and commonality between brain states and the reports that are made of them.

    I mention all of this because of the proposition that “it is prima facia absurd to assert that mind is material, even more absurd to say it doesn’t exist.” would seem to be all the more substantiated if the claims made by experts in said fields are true but would suggest that photons are not material indeed and can be subjugated to the manipulation by an unconscious subject [lucid dreaming notwithstanding] within a spatial dimension that is private and seemingly displaced from the body and yet accessible to same [inaccessible to others]. The latter, a conclusion made by Epicurus and others long ago. It seems to lead to something that seems so far away but is yet within our grasp as we are searching for it: distance/no-distance. Does not make any sense at all but that should not be a surprise!

    The interesting thing is that the dream, in its’ entirety or the whole that it is experienced as [the “Counterfactual Simulation”], to me atleast, comes off as the “blobject” that Horgan describes. When one dreams, it seems to emanate “as a whole”. One does not assemble it before hand but “falls into” it as though it were ready for them to navigate through. In Yoga Vasistha it is stated in an interesting way: “It is like a dream [reality]: in a state of ignorance the intelligence within oneself appears as numerous dream-objects, all of which are nothing other than that intelligence.” Whatever ‘intelligence’ is implied by here, as a monistic element, becomes the common principle of all “im/non-material”/quasi-physical objects that are experienced [reported] in the dream. This is confounding as is but if “light” is the commonality than these dream-experiences are just as real as those that we have when we are not dreaming. One state negates/affirms another, i.e., when I dream the sleeping-body facilitating it does not exist in the dream itself and by extension the world it is in [refer: Dream space shuttle thought-experiment] and when I am not dreaming, the world in which I had been dreaming of/within does not exist. The word “existence” has relative meaning given the state that one finds themselves within. It would be like juggling Meinong’s “Existence, Subsistence, Absistence”. What one would think subsists while awake exists when asleep and vice versa. Dreamless sleep would be like absistence and so on. Do you find that any of this has any relevance to the different topics you have produced?


  2. Hello Tri ! Of course I remember you. Where are you hanging out these days?

    I haven’t read any of those books so I can’t comment, but from my viewpoint there is one substantial subject (your amalgamated personality-mind see essay “why personality” here on blog) and that subject is the same whether awake or dreaming. “I” have awake experiences and the same “I” also dreams. I don’t feel (to myself) like a “different person” when I dream. Since I hold that mind and personality (separable only intellectually, we do not *experience* them other than as an amalgam) are substantive I don’t need anything to explain dreams other than their being a phenomenal arena cut off from the awake brain’s world/mind representation mechanism


    1. I joined the MeWe site but have not seen much activity and so have not been attending to it. Once in a while stack exchange but not else. How about yourself?

      I did read a bit of the “Why Personality” blog again. I agree that it is the same “I” unto some degree between being awake and in a dream. What is in question is the nature of the “phenomenal arena”, as you put it. In the blog you suggest as a possible explanation for this that there exists a non-material, field-like “space” [quasi-cartesian] if I am not mistaken and I wonder if this is the arena that dreams could, hypothetically, “take place” within. The aforementioned conclusion about dreams not having any material reality [from book in previous comment] I think makes room for an assertion on what the non-material could be like. On the other hand, it is possible that their conclusion could have been a precaution because I think they know that it would not be psychologically sound to suggest that a nightmare, for example, that a child would have would be just as material as anything else they experience while they are awake. But if true this would imply that dreams do have material reality and that they are an object to physics as much as to the other sciences investigating them.

      However this begs the question. The brain facilitates an “access point” alongside a “subject/person” that is enabled to make a transition from one arena to another as though there is a distance that is being traversed. Despite it being cut off there is nonetheless a linkage. What do the physicists have to say about this? How to measure that which is not material through a space we presume to consist of nothing but? In short, the subject can access [or “falls into”] non-material dimensions and this would support the premise that mind is antecedent to physics [or included “alongside” in a triad or system of some sort as you propose] unto some degree; lest we fall right back into the gap with the burden of proof in needing to explain how the opposite would be the case: something that is not material emerging from something that is. For all the particles clashed in LHC and probes sent out in search for civilizations and intelligent life thereof the brain/body seems to achieve that which our tech and sciences have not been able to so far: the access to phenomenal arenas. “Dreams” so-called.


  3. Hi Tri! I’m also on mewe, but you’re right not much going on. Few post or comment to my group but I link articles there to keep up appearances…

    I think dreams happen in brains just like normal (waking) experiences. Cosmic Mind isn’t a place where something happens. It is like an electromagnetic field and the brain is like a radio and antenna. when the radio is working and immersed in a signal to which it is tuned something comes out its speakers that looks nothing like the innards of the radio nor the field. Consciousness (of the sleep or waking sort) is what comes out of working brains immersed in Cosmic MInd — which like the electromagnetic field is everywhere.

    I just posted a new and shorter article here “From What Comes Mind” which tries to explain this a little better. Eventually all my essays that mention mind will point to it…


    1. Thank you for sharing. I read the blog and this addresses much of the concern to some extent indeed. It lead me to evaluate my own behaviour as an attempt to “quantify” dreams in accordance to the “equivalence relation” as you mention, i.e., making an inference on the visually perceptible aspects of dreams to the idea that they are same due to light (thermodynamics, etc) being a commonality between arenas that a subject transitions to and from and entailed by reports given. This is similar to Epicurus’ attempt at trying to use atomism to account for dreams and things of a phantasmagorical nature so as to be logically consistent. Francis of Assisi’s proposition that “What you are looking for is where you are looking from.” seems all the more an adage to consider amongst others!

      Despite all that has been proposed, if “Cosmic Mind” is not a place where something happens then why do dreams, presumably not of any material, appear to be “place-like”; with things in it like that of any other place we go to? We use phrases like “in our brain” as though that were actually true but we know it is not by mere observation. All of our methods formulated to isolate the phenomena would be unnecessary if what we were looking for could be literally found inside of the brain as the subject reports it to have occurred with all of its novel qualities and narratives. The homunculus fallacy would not be one at all and all debates about the issue would be settled. What is it that could be like a place but is not a place at the same time?


  4. Hi Tri… Of course “in the brain” is just a metaphor meaning “the brain does the work” just like the radio does the work in the mind essay. Cosmic mind does not strictly “do any work” any more than the electromagnetic wave does work. Of course both have to BE THERE for the radio/brain to do its work. If you work out on a punching bag, the bag isn’t doing any work. But you can’t get a workout in if it isn’t there… Of course this is all just my theory of how things go together…

    I never understand what it is about dreams that make people try to find some special significance to them… I don’t like computer/mind analogies but for now this is what I thought of. I mean they do have significance to the dreaming person, but they are still produced by the same brain that produces waking consciousness.

    You have a computer that runs multiple programs simultaneously. Now when computers with a single CPU do this they are not literally running programs “simultaneously”. They are rapidly switching between programs executing a little of one, and then the next, and the next and so on. They do this so fast that it looks to us like they are running at the same time. There is a module that keeps track of all these programs, their sequence, and their separate memory/display boundaries. Call this the “awake module”. Now suppose we let the computer run as before but shut down the “awake module”. Now the CPU can still only execute a line of code from one program at a time, but now as it cycles around all the programs it executes lines of code at random and gets all the memory and display boundaries mixed up. You still have a running computer, but now it is dreaming… The module that controlled the ordering of the execution is shut off and so the computer still runs but the output looks haywire…

    Thanks for all the reading!


    1. No problem! I consider the blogs you write to contain good food for thought but I still have some questions.

      I think I understand the analogies/metaphors given but what seems to be the case here is that you went from stating that dreams are a phenomenal arena cut off from the wakeful-arena to enumerating the process that facilitates the appearance of same beyond the point of which you claim the cut off to have occurred. I understand your wishing not to resort to computer analogies because it is akin to resorting to neurological processes as an explanation knowing that what they are and what they make way for are not exactly the same. (I.e. software not exactly the same as hardware but nonetheless “inform” each other in a feedback loop) Not intending to appeal to authority anymore than question them but this is acknowledged by the empiricists in the quote above in my first comment where in the four definitions of a dream given by them they claim that there is a distinction between process and experience.

      When you use the word “arena” is this but another metaphorical expression or is it to be taken as it is to be initially understood? As a field with a topos? (I.e. “Coliseum”) If it is a metaphor then why are we not able to speak precisely about the matter? If it is not then where is it? The issue of simultaneity that I bring up is alluding to the fact that being in the dream state, “cut off”, as you put it does not make all that exists in the world that we are cut off from disappear; which would have solipsistic implications. Thus there is self-sleeping in bed (arena 1) and self-in-dream (arena 2) inhabited by self/I at the same time albeit at different levels of awareness (input/outputs).

      What is axiomatic is that the brain does not dream of itself. I suppose that is what is significant. To me at least. It dreams and abstracts from all that the eyes (and other sensory) have transduced. I cannot bring anything from this world into the dream anymore than I could bring an object from the dream back into this world. This would presume that there be a “law” (or maybe an evasion thereof) of some sort governing the activity that is occurring lest our episteme will have this hole in it that is often patched up with process knowledge rather than with an account for the “arena-like” experience that the brain enables and that process knowledge attempts to isolate. The significance overall is still being debated but I find that all of what has been described hinges upon physics (i.e. Electromagnetic field theories of consciousness) instead of biology which leads to negating the phenomenon as being strictly epiphenomenal. The theories mentioned as examples all acknowledge the same problem and that is how mental images can exist/emerge within/from radiation. So even the attempt of going beyond a neurological explanation to one hinging upon physics still produces the same problem regarding the nature of mental images. Do I experience them as I do a movie that I watch in a theater or am I an actor in the movie being watched? I suppose I must ask…what a dream on average is like for you?


  5. I think your questions are good and some have been debated a long time. On the subject of my analogies though, I think you are over-thinking. The point of the computer analogy (controlled-awake, uncontrolled-dreams) was just that all the activity of the chips is still there in the chips. Your brain evokes consciousness awake and asleep (unless you are asleep and not dreaming). And when dreaming you are not completely cut off from the senses, hearing especially seems to get into our dreams. By “arena” I refer to what you take to be your personal consciousness, “your mind” which is similar (we suppose) but not identical to “my mind” which is “my arena”..

    Again like the radio. The radio makes the music. The information specifying the music is in the electromagnetic wave, but the wave can do nothing about making it music to our ears. Only the radio can do that. Same with our brains (awake or dreaming). Only the brain can make the “conscious arena” (again “your individual mind”). Cosmic Mind supplies only the “information” needed to make it come out of the brain as consciousness. I put “information” in quotes because I really do not know what Cosmic Mind supplies or how (we know how electromagnetic waves transfer information to the radio antenna). Is it really “information”? I do not know. I only *believe* that it (Cosmic Mind or something) must be there somehow because consciousness isn’t physical and physics shouldn’t be able to do that “all by itself”…


  6. Fair enough. I would have to agree with your conclusion(s) about “it” not being physical then but I would have to press on about the former about overthinking. I beg to differ as my experience of dreaming appears to be spatiotemporal. Meaning that I am navigating through depths of space as I do here when awake and that experience consists of a different phenomenal character than the “chips” in and of themselves. I cannot say that I can find the chips/circuitry inside of the dream that is occurring anymore than I can say that the dream exists inside of the chips. Perhaps arenas are not that alike amongst individual minds and I had supposed that this would be the case but the common attribute of all reports given of these experiences despite the context differing among them is that they are filled with language signifying dimensions, or “stage-like” events. That book refers to this as “embodied simulation”. There is an simulation of space occurring but as Brann asks: “…but what could be more space-like than space?”

    The dream appears as an event that occurs upon a stage and the equipment setup for the stage to withhold the event, say a play, are not “props” that are included in the play. They are only facilitating the conditions necessary to see the play as it goes along. If I go to a theatre to watch a play I do not include a crew member operating lighting equipment as an actor or “object” in the play in my mind. The mind makes distinction between process (crew/equipment) and phenomenon (stage/props/actors).


  7. Tri, you do not experience the “chips” directly whether awake or dreaming. Your dreams (and mine) are spacio-temporal because the brain manufactures dream-consciousness out of the same stuff (memories in the dream case) as it has to work with when constructing the awake world. All of our experience awake is spacio-temporal. Go back to the computer… Say it is running 10 weather simulations in its controlled (awake) state. All the memory of the computer is filled with climate and weather related data, all kept properly separated each for its own simulation. Now take the control away (dream state). All the output is now jumbled up, but it is still all about climate and weather because that’s all the computer had in it.

    As for your theater analogy, you may not count the lighting people among the actors, but when you view the play you view all of it together, the actors, stage, props, AND the lighting. It all sums up to one unified experience. The distinction you make between process and phenomena is purely intellectual. In your experience of the play it is all of one piece.

    Again in my theory (and I’m not claiming some special access to truth here, this is just my theory) Cosmic MInd, the field, has to be present for any of this brain activity to manifest any sort of “subjective experience” whether the subject is awake or dreaming. Of course Cosmic Mind is always and everywhere present. It is a constant. But in the presence of that constant, brains still do all the work.


  8. The computer analogy can only go so far because computers are not conscious. The distinction, I do not think anyway, is purely intellectual but experiential. You say, “Your dreams (and mine) are spacio-temporal because the brain manufactures dream-consciousness out of the same stuff (memories in the dream case) as it has to work with when constructing the awake world.” but I am not sure about what you mean by “same stuff”. Is “dream-chair” that you sit upon within a dream just as much of an assemblage of atoms as that of a chair that you may be sitting upon now while you are awake?


  9. I see. So there is a difference between the stuff mentioned. This is where I get confused. Physical stuff, insofar as can be told, are comprised of atoms but what is “experiential stuff” made out of? I suppose the question is mostly rhetorical as we have agreed to suggest that whatever is at the base may be non-material. But how can something feel physical yet not be made out of anything at all? Plotinus spoke of various sorts of quales as being “void + matter = phantasmagoria”. The outcome is not “something” but is also not “nothing” as well.

    Like Aristotle’s diplopia where despite there not being two objects we nonetheless generate an opinion (doxa) about there being two. We know that the object(s) in general perceived in a mode of disparity is physical and one but “the other” is still there otherwise there would not be an opinion given about it. Yet, there is not a “second space” nor is there an object inhabiting it: “There but not there.” Law of non-contradiction seems to be broken at this point but experience predominates over what our logic may conclude. Kind of like dreams. Strange, don’t you think?


  10. Again I think you are over-thinking. “Experiential stuff” just means “the contents of experience”, your consciousness. It isn’t “made out of” anything (we agreed to take it as being non-physical) but we must say it is made FROM something, in this case (my theory) the interaction between the active-functioning brain and Cosmic Mind.

    Your second paragraph points at the epiphenomenal and is the center of the debate over whether consciousness (in this case mind in general not individual consciousness-es) is in fact a “separate real joint” in reality or merely an epiphenomenon. There is a difference between epiphenomenon and mirage. A mirage is the illusion of something that isn’t that thing at all. An epiphenomenon is really there in the sense that our minds do not “mis-see” something. But it is a something that comes purely as a result of other relations between real material things and has no reciprocal effect on what causes them. For a simple physical example, have a look at spandrel https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spandrel


    1. At this point I think it is a “separate real joint”. I agree with the distinction you make between epiphenomenon and mirage. I think it is an important distinction because it implies that there is an order, i.e., illusion implies that there is a mind to be deluded by same and thus mind must not be an illusion because it would be logically incoherent to suggest that one illusion could become cognizant of another; as you have suggested in previous blog(s). Thus it cannot be an epiphenomenon and the former is a sufficient reason for me to agree [amongst other examples like rainbows, ‘ferrocell’ devices, where the effects are a result of a kind of “co-facilitation”, that is, that the conditions that are necessary for these effects to occur are “already there” but are actualized in the presence that they appear as only if there is an observer there to transduce them; No visual-photo transduction = no mirage, rainbow, etc.] unless some evidence is produced showing otherwise.

      I still would like to make a case about the dream in retrospect to this. It occurred to me that the “Cosmic Mind” that you propose is somewhat similar to the Hebrew “Ha/Maqom”; amongst other terms utilized of various cultures in times of antiquity. I came across some scholarly work on the word and would like to share it [without any intent to proselytize in any manner just using this context to demonstrate the point]. The word is utilized in different ways but means “that place” and this could signify anything from “God Himself” to a particular place attended to, typically, for worship depending on the situation. Here is an excerpt from this page https://www.marquette.edu/maqom/aimilianos.html that goes a bit more in detail on the word:

      “Given that hope of the beatific vision in rabbinical literature, we should take special note of the verbs of seeing in our passage. The sage “gazes” (h’r) on “that place” (661:24); his mind is “stupefied” — mystical wonder or ecstasy — by what it “sees” (hz’) (664:2). He “has seen” (hz’) the “place of treasures” (664:11); and again “has seen” (hz’) “what ears have not heard” (664:2-4). We are surely in the realm here of mystical experience or, at the least, of its vocabulary, a lexicon that Aphrahat largely shares with his Jewish contemporaries, as well as with his Christian readers. That the latter were familiar with it, too, coupled with the fact that they were ascetics, members of the bnai qyama [37], suggests to me that they — or at least some of them — were also interested in obtaining the same sort of visionary experience as the one being sought by contemporary Jewish “descenders to the Chariot”: to ascend to the heavenly temple in order to “gaze” on the light of the enthroned Glory — and, indeed, we do have texts from earlier in the history of Christian Syria-Mesopotamia which feature ascents to heaven, as well as similar accounts — in both a positive and a negative key — in monastic Egypt of the fourth and fifth centuries [38]. Given this desire on the part of his contemporaries, together with a hope and literature effectively shared with neighboring Jews, we would have one of Aphrahat’s primary reasons for writing. I submit that, while he sympathizes with this desire to know and see the “place” of the heavenly mysteries and light of God, he also wishes to recast it in accordance with a consistent Christian teaching, and we shall see him doing precisely that with regard to his portrait of the perfected Christian, the sage or hakkima, as the “place” of the Presence.

      “Place”, atra, is a terminus technicus with a history at least long as long as any of the words touched on above. Given that it is also the principle term in our pericope, providing both the “ends” and the “pivot” of the chiasm, and further given that, by my rough count, it occurs at least thirty times in the Demonstrations in a like or similar context [39], it is clearly worth a little attention. The Aramaic atra, like the Greek topos, renders the word, maqom, of the Hebrew Bible. The first and primary — verging on technical — meaning of maqom is the locus of divine manifestation, such as, for example, Bethel in Genesis 28:11 and 16-19, or the burning bush of Exodus 3:5, or verses such as Deuteronomy 12:5, 11, etc., which speak of the “chosen maqom” where God will make His Name to dwell [40]. With the latter we arrive at the association of “the place” with Zion, that is, the Temple in Jerusalem, a linkage which is especially frequent in the Psalms (e.g., Ps 24:3), and exceedingly frequent in Jeremiah, where the expression hammaqom hazzeh, “this place”, occurs over thirty times [41] as in, for example, Jer 17:12: “the place [maqom] of our sanctuary [miqdašenu]”, where one modern English translation of the Bible renders maqom as, simply, “shrine” [42]. If anything, this identification of “place” with the Temple is accentuated in the Septuagint’s use of the equivalent Greek word, topos [43]. Thus, in Exodus 24:10, we find the insertion of the phrase, “the place where stood”, into the Hebrew, “they saw the God of Israel”. In the Septuagint version, the elders thus “saw the place”, with topos serving as, effectively, a stand-in for God himself. While it may have been intended originally to soften the stark anthropomorphism of the Hebrew, this Septuagint variation would have a very important history in Greek ascetico-mystical literature, especially in the late fourth-century Desert Father, Evagrius Ponticus, whom I shall cite in this context below, and continuing thereafter in such writers as, for example, Dionysius Areopagites [44].

      Maqom in the Old Testament also occasionally refers to God’s heavenly dwelling, the celestial counterpart to the hekal on earth, most notably in the song of the cherubim in Ezekiel 3:12: “Blessed is the Glory of YHWH from his place [mimmaqomo]”. In this verse, according to one modern scholar, we have an important moment in the development which flows seamlessly into the apocalyptic writings of the period immediately before and after Christ, and beyond [45]. By the time of Rabbinic literature generally, and of the hekalot texts in particular (and so of the era of Aphrahat as well), maqom has an established set of meanings reflecting its Old Testament usage. Not surprisingly, it occurs roughly 125 times in Peter Schäfer’s Synopsis of the hekalot literature, with around two dozen of those instances being citations or paraphrases of Ezk 3:12 [46]. Reflecting the latter, we thus find the meaning of maqom in the hekalot texts as including, simply, “heaven” [47], or, more specifically, as the “place of the throne of Glory” [48], as the “place” unapproachable for created beings by virtue of the divine fire around it [49], as the original or archetype of the earthly temple [50], as a substitute expression for the divine throne itself [51], as the heavenly equivalent of the Ark as footstool, “the place of the feet of the Šekinah” [52], or, more broadly, as the divine “abode” [53]. Finally, and recalling the Septuagint deployment of topos as a kind of stand-in for God in Ex 24:10, we find throughout both the hekalot texts and other Rabbinic literature the use of maqom as a divine name, for which 3 Enoch alone supplies over a half-dozen instances [54]. In Rabbinic parlance therefore, haMaqom designates God in much the same way as do haKavod (the Glory), haŠem (the Name), haŠekinah (the Presence), haQadoš (the Holy One), etc. [55]. I maintain that all of these associations — the heavenly temple, the throne within it, the radiance, and God himself, together (and this last note is not to the fore in the Jewish literature, at least so far as I know) with God’s eschatological manifestation — lies behind Aphrahat’s use of the phrase in 661:24: “that place”.”

      I think, and this is speculative, that the “richness” of desciptions given of visions had have diminished as a result of becoming occupied with the neurological counterpart via technological development over time. That is to suggest that ignorance was not a completely bad thing [nor is it encouraged by me here] in the sense that lack of knowledge regarding the aformentioned counterparts enabled them to be immersed in the complexities of the mind/qualia at the time from a strictly phenomenological point of view; by necessity nonetheless. This means that those who were susceptible [or perhaps trained in producing] to eidetic memory/visions were faced with the task of needing to provide an account that was as precise as possible. In this excerpt above you can see the Greek and Aramaic versions of this word all signifying a “locus of manifestation” that is place-like. One that is far removed from third-party observation in a laboratory that the body facilitating the manifestation happens to be in. In one of the examples provided in the excerpt we have Jacob’s ladder. A line given from this story is the following, Genesis 28:10-22 KJV: “….And Jacob awaked out of his sleep [from the dream he had], and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not. 17 And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

      Whether it is or not I am not questioning but the fact is that the experience was so impactful that it frightened him because he realized that he was displaced from the environment that he was ever so familiar with. Was he truly displaced or not? If he was then it brings the space/place [topos, atra, maqom] that he was displaced over to in question. If not then we seem to have a difference between image and material in that what is non-material/physical is nonetheless imageable and yet inaccessible; I would imagine for the many reasons that you have already gone over. Statements made by academicians like “dreams have no material reality” seem to exemplify this point but make everything all the more perplexing.


  11. Hi Tri… You have a mystical inclination and I do not. I think there is much to be gleaned from it as goes psychology, but not for ontology or metaphysics… In any case I’m not claiming to have all the answers and be right about dreams while you are not. But your attempt to reconcile what I call “cosmic mind” and what you take to be the doing of dreams is just not possible because cosmic mind (my view) is a thing, not a place. It is a field in spacetime like gravity. You can’t “go to gravity” it is just there, everywhere. Same with cosmic mind. The same field that evokes waking-consciousness from awake brain states evokes dreaming-consciousness from asleep brain states. The brain is different, cosmic mind is not.

    That being said, there are many historical mystical myths and legends, and part of the problem there is that there might be a grain of truth in some of them. The Archangel Gabriel really did appear to Mary (she was awake), and the introduction by John the Apostle to the Book of Revelations might be a response to a genuine vision of another place (do not know if John was awake or asleep). Of course John’s description is very distorted but it is a distortion on something genuine. Imagine you take a man of 2000+ years ago and you transport him to the International Space Station in 2019. He gets 2 minutes to look around and then is whisked back to his own time & place. How would he write up that experience in his language from that time? Nothing he could say would be what really is the case from our viewpoint… An occasional REAL experience of being elsewhere could lead to generations of stories.


  12. Perhaps I am not stating my proposition as clearly or perhaps my personal experience differs that much from your own which I do not think is the case but of course I do not know. I do not mean to utilize these references to appeal to supernaturalism or mysticism but was utilizing them as an anthropological account of how people described their visionary experiences in the immediacy that they had arisen with the little scientific knowledge they had of the natural world at the time. To be clear, I know you stated before that “Cosmic Mind” is not a place but I am proposing that something like that would be a canvas or stage for dreams to emerge or be “painted upon” in a way that does not negate the mechanism of interaction in question to a place as opposed to a thing.

    I agree with the outcome of the thought experiment you propose of transporting John to ISS however despite not having knowledge of the present to give an accurate description of it to people in the past and them not having a personal reference to go off of to know for themselves anyway he would nonetheless describe the experience as a “place”. The context of visionary experience can vary between cultures as they are not restricted to any particular one, this is understood, but the common trait of all that are described is that these visions “have a place” for them to be seen. Where is that platform? Otherwise the alleged isomorphisms presupposed by some to be an account for the relation between brain process and mental imagery are futile. There is nothing “on the other side” that the dream supposedly “takes place” in and what we think to be an experience is actually not one at all. Like a mirage that you suggest is the illusion of something that isn’t that thing at all. [i.e. Oasis]

    What is the difference then between a real place and imaginary place if the same language is utilized to describe them? When one is dreaming, what is dreamt about is real at that moment and cannot be otherwise until you are awake and then it is rendered unreal. But the world that this conclusion is made from becomes unreal while dreaming as it is, for the duration of the dream-time, inaccessible just as the dream is when awake until one falls asleep. The experiences, I think on the contrary, are just as real as those of this world but “existence” here has relative meaning. If we stay true to the etymology of the word “exist” then we can agree that it alludes to something that arises or appears. If a dream is an appearance that arises when conditions are proper then it exists for the moment we experience it but this would imply that the world we are “asleep” in does not exist for the time being as the attention paid by the sensory systems subside from it; Dreamless sleep renders both the dream experience and wakeful experience non-existent by extension; to the subject anyway and not to those who are not asleep which is why I state that the word has relative meaning but all are “real” in that they are experience-able. The thought experiment that I propose to demonstrate this is the one I mentioned earlier about building a dream-rocket [in a presumably lucid state] to launch out to determine if there is a dream-space and how it would be absurd to presume that one would reach a point of flying out of the forehead of your sleeping body. It would be just as absurd if we were to extend this to outer space, as we know it, to have ones dreams at the edge of that which it is supposedly expands to. It leads to a paradox that not only exemplifies the differences between the states but also how far removed they seem to be from each other. But how could this be in a presumably unified system?


  13. Tri I do not know why you want so much for this place to be real, but either way it doesn’t fit into my view that I can see. The reason can be illustrated from a single sentence above. You said:

    “But the world that this conclusion is made from becomes unreal while dreaming as it is, for the duration of the dream-time,…”

    But that is not the case. The awake world might go away TO YOU when you dream (or for that matter in dreamless sleep) but it doesn’t go away for anyone who is awake. But when you are awake, not only is the dream made unreal for you, that particular dream could never be real for anybody else ever, awake or dreaming. The awake world is SHARED by many minds, but the dreaming world exists uniquely for each mind and only while the dream lasts. This makes the two nothing like one another.


  14. Yes but the following line to finish that one off was that it was inaccessible (“cut off/goes away”) just as the dream is when awake. I suggest that they are all real when they are experienced and as a result, “exists”, when the conditions are proper like the mirage. This has another side in that the term “non-existence” becomes just as relative. This, again, is only if we stick to the etymological meaning and is debatable. It is not that I want it to be real but that I presuppose it to be as stated previously because it is an experience that occurs often without my will as it does for most. “Unconsciousness” in this sense can still be just as phenomenal as consciousness. Which is odd because in the purest sense of the term we are not even suppose to emerge out of sleep being able to describe anything at all.

    When I say that I am going to sleep or going to get some “shut-eye” I am not doing anything more than saying that I am about to “watch the back of my eyelids”. I, in actuality, am not “closing my eyes” which would imply that I am endowed with an ability to “close” the fovea to halt the entire transduction process from occurring. It continues onward but material is missing for the brain to cohere. So the brain fabricates and eventually “catapults” you into the dream you “fall” into. You admit in the end that they are two different things and I agree. But what are the commonalities?

    To be clear I am not attempting to make everything seem relative and subjective I am simply trying to understand how the brain is able to generate these “sub-worlds” that the subject seems to become superimposed within. Despite ones dream not being real for another’s the fact that they are places for subjects to have experiences that we call dreams remains to be true. To use the theater analogy I am questioning the setup of the platform or stage that enables it to be true rather than the fantastical context of the drama happening upon it.


  15. As I said early on the mystery is how consciousness comes about at all. The difference between awake and dreaming doesn’t seem a problem for me..

    Awake-brain-states = awake consciousness

    Sleep-brain-states = dream consciousness (or none, there are 2 levels of sleep brain states)

    Either way why consciousness at all?


    1. Why, indeed. However, I think the problem that I am having still remains even in the manner that you simplify it here. I suppose you could rightly accuse me of committing an act of “equivalence relation” because my own [and others] experience when described have entailment’s. I will try to simplify this to its’ basic components and then bring it back into the schema you have proposed here about consciousness and the states that it can undergo.

      Implications within anecdotes given by those who have dreams imply the following:

      -Constancy of light as a substrate for dream experience due to perceptibility of objects, etc. Cannot see anything without light and thus there could not be anything to generate an anecdote upon. Anecdotes can only be hinged upon an experience that is had by a subject. If this constancy is true even within this state then this would prevent the notion of dreams being strictly considered as epiphenomena or emergent properties since the experience would not hinge upon biology but would fall upon physics as “the stage/platform”. The next point exemplifies this.

      -Brain cannot dream of itself; begging the question as to what exactly a dream is. Since it obviously cannot achieve the feat of dreaming about itself this prevents reductionistic claims that attempt to treat dreams and brains as one and the same thing. Leading to fallacy of “conflating the map with the territory” which would make the entire investigation absurd because the anecdotes aforementioned would be utterly baseless because the descriptions would be at odds with what we can clearly confirm the brain is not any of: that which it claims to dream about.

      -The notion of being able to “see” is challenged by the dream state because it is as though we have a second pair of eyes waiting to be opened to the dream world [as though we were asleep in it] which begs the question as to whether or not visual photo-transduction is occurring in the same manner of this space as we do in the other while we are awake and if not then how the brain could make this seem to be the case? We have one pair of eyes “watching the back of the eyelids” and a seeming other navigating throughout the dream-world simultaneously. Neuroscientists say this is a top-down process of “running visual systems in reverse” but that does not explain the phenomenon experienced it only describes what is facilitating it.

      What you have seemed to established is that consciousness is a “thing” common to both states. If “dream consciousness” in transitioning to “awake consciousness” incites a person to say that “I was here and I did that” in the same manner that they are about to engage in while awake how can we know that “the place” inferred by the very descriptions given in the anecdote about the dream-state is not an actual topos at all? What is consciousness but of something that it can identify with in becoming conscious of?


  16. Hi Tri, I don’t know where we can go with this. I am more of a literalist than you. The business of “seeing” makes no difference that I can tell. We are not “seeing” through our eyes when we dream any more than you are seeing when you close your eyes and imagine some memorable event from your past. Your mind can play images for you even when your eyes are closed.

    But bottom line is that while mind is immaterial, your INDIVIDUAL mind is co-located in space where your brain is. This is true when you are in your awake mind and also when you are in your dream state of consciousness. You don’t literally “go anywhere” when you dream… Your “dream consciousness” is still co-located with your brain. I can accept the idea as a metaphor, but not a literal truth..


  17. I am not too sure myself either as to where this could lead. I still have questions.

    You say the mind can play images with eyes closed and that we are not seeing through them when we dream but if not our eyes then through what exactly? How can “mind’s eye” be metaphorical when that is how it appears to function?

    I find the notion of co-location slightly problematic because if we are not “going anywhere” when dreaming then we are still left with needing to explain why that seems to be the case nonetheless. Dream-worlds are closed systems until you are awake. That is to say that the waking world is cognitively inaccessible to dreams as much as they are to the former; until conditions are proper. It seems that we could be coming down to a fine line between the differences of what is metaphor and what is to be taken literally.
    But if your presupposition of mind in general being immaterial is true (which I think you make a strong case for) then I suppose you have no choice but to treat it as a metaphor since the “object” in question would be non-cartesian.

    I suppose I can pull another excerpt from Eva Brann to state the issue more formally. My apologies if I am not coming off clear in my method. On dreams she makes a comment stating the following:

    “Dreams are distinguished from hypnagogic imagery by the absence of the hallucinatory element, which requires a sense of perceptuality. Sleeping dreams lack the sense of perceptual intrusion. They are, so to speak, hermetically sealed in their own worlds. The dreamer is –usually– so completely absorbed in these dream world the dream presences are no more and no less marvelous than the existence of objects in the real world. I am speaking here not of the contents of the dream, which may well amaze the dreamer, but of their mode of existence. The “Real world”— the expression raises the paramount question about dreams. The having and the telling of dreams occurs in two different realms, in two different states of consciousness. How does one of these achieve the honorific “real”?

    …….the residual question is still which realm embraces which and which world is our home and our base. Is life as, Calderon claims, a dream with sober episodes or does the coherent world enfold dreams as continents encompass unexplored places and lost cities?”


  18. You point out here that the “dream space” is not shared. We are each isolated in our own. That makes it impossible for dream consciousness to enfold waking consciousness because the waking state is shared with other minds! The awake state is much BIGGER! This also makes the notion of “going somewhere” redundant. If we are alone in it, how would you know you are anywhere else but where you (brain and body) are?


    1. I have been contemplating this point you have made for some time. I almost want to agree with the observation that the notion of “going somewhere” becomes redundant but the only thing that prevents me from agreeing is, for lack of a better term, the “other-wordliness” of the experience. Oneirologists conducting sleep studies cannot say that the dreams their subjects are having are literally occurring in the laboratory that they are performing the measurements from inasmuch as they are unable to say that they are literally occurring “in the brain” of the subject (Homunculus Fallacy). Otherwise there would be no need for any scientific discourse; that is to suggest that the totality of the dream-event, as it is reported by the subject who has it, would be there for all whom are in the lab to see. The fact that we have to formulate data via computational methods begs the question: I’ll quote from a couple of articles that justify this accusation:


      “When matching the contents of the video to the categories the sleeper actually recounted when asked about a dream, the machine turned out to be right roughly 60 percent of the time, or better than it could have done by random chance. The system was unsurprisingly better at detecting general meta-categories, like whether someone was looking at a person or a scene, than it was at sensing more specific objects.”


      ” So far the research is still fairly rudimentary — researchers only claim to get the dream right about 60 percent of the time — but it’s still an extraordinary turn for the science of the mind.

      Here’s how the study worked. Subjects were first asked to hook themselves up to an electroencephalography (EEG) machine, then to fall asleep within an fMRI machine. Scientists used the EEG readings to identify when the subjects began to enter a dreaming phase. The subjects were then promptly woken up and asked to recall what they were dreaming about. This process was repeated nearly 200 times for each subject.

      Later, the scientists crunched this data and discovered that certain common types of objects from the subjects’ dreams could be correlated with brain patterns as recorded by the fMRI scans. They then used an internet search engine to look for images that roughly matched the objects from the subjects’ dreams, and entered all of this information into a learning algorithm that refined the model even further. That algorithm was then able to use the data from the dreamers’ fMRI scans to assemble videos from the internet images, basically creating a primitive movie for each dream.”

      The journalists make it seem as though images that are pulled off the internet and plugged into an algorithm are exact representations of what the dreamer is dreaming about. This is an utter conflation of phenomenon and has implications against the “Philosophical Zombie” problem. Internet-images are not the same as mental-images. The %60 represents only objects supposedly perceived in dreams and not the context thereof nor the phenomenology-as-experienced by the subject in the first-person; not the third. Despite this the data nonetheless reflects that objects are indeed being seen where they are absent to those conducting the analyses “from the outside”. So, if the awake-state enfolds the dream-state and if we assume that the reasoning provided in earlier posts about what the notion of “seeing” entails: that “light” is necessary for one to have sight of anything, is sufficient, then dreams require analyses and input from the physics department and not just the biology department. Light is not emanating because of brain activity, which would be solipsistic to suggest, the brain must be a facilitator of this phenomenon not the cause; which is why stated before that it cannot be an epiphenomenon. It must correspond to all else that we claim to know about energy and thermodynamics; lest relativity have no foothold here then what will? Either the theory is missing something or may be incorrect altogether.

      Here is the proposition in another format: AL > B > DL. where “AL” is light transduced while awake, by B representing Brain and “DL” being the light entailed by the reporting of dream-objects that are denoted to emerge in said brain state. There seems to be a gestalt. A feedback mechanism. All in all it makes it difficult, for me personally, to see what enfolds what if all of it is presumed to occur within the one electromagnetic spectrum that we know about. Dreams practically signify that certain things can only be seen in certain brain-states. All science thus far attributes consciousness to the state we deem to be awake in and not those that are deemed contrary to it, where phenomenon occurs nonetheless. This is why I do not understand the statement that “dreams have no material reality”.


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