Here's my new loving it book: "Soul Dust," by Nicholas Humphrey. I loved his "Seeing Red" also. Blogged about that earlier book of Humphrey's here and here.
Intimations of "Soul Dust" are evident in this quote from "Seeing Red" that I included in the second post.
My suggestion is that in the course of human evolution, our ancestors who thought of their own consciousness as metaphysically remarkable -- existing outside normal space and time -- would have taken themselves still more seriously as Selves.
The more mysterious and unworldly the qualities of consciousness, the more seriously significant the Self. And the more significant the Self, the greater the boost to human self-confidence and self-importance -- and the greater the value that individuals place on their own and others' lives.
In which case it is easy to see how the very qualities of consciousness that seem to render it so mysterious and magical would have been the occasion for consciousness's becoming a runaway evolutionary success. In fact, those qualities would soon have been designed in.
Read the Amazon description of "Soul Dust." Check out the reader reviews. I heartily recommend the book to anyone who wants to preserve a sense of an enchanted world while also embracing what science knows about reality.
Having read about half of "Soul Dust," I've filled the margins with lots of highlighted exclamation marks. Humphrey is an excellent writer, an engaging thinker, and seemingly a highly competent psychologist (he's a professor emeritus at the London School of Economics).
With so many interesting ideas to choose from, I'll take the easy way out in this post and share some of what I read this morning about how humans attribute what actually is within to without -- the world outside our craniums.
Frequently I take issue with those who claim it is possible to know reality "as it is."
First, we Homo sapiens' know reality as it is possible to be known by the unique capabilities of the human brain/body. Second, every person experiences reality in his or her own unique fashion.
My "first" is evident to anyone who goes on a walk with a dog, which posseses a vastly different sense of smell. My "second" is evident to anyone who is married or otherwise knows another person intimately.
Vive la différence, as they say.
It's difficult to do justice to Humphrey's prose by paraphrasing it. So here's some quotes from his The Enchanted World chapter.
The attribution of these phenomenal qualities to impersonal things really is a category mistake -- a philosophial error where a property is being ascribed to a thing that could not possibly have that property.
....If it is an error, however, is it one that you ought to regret? My answer, as I trust you will have seen by now, is no: quite the opposite. For it is precisely this misattribution of phenomenal qualities that gives conscious human beings the impression that they live surrounded by things of unaccountable loveliness in their own right.
What matters is psychological impact, not philosophical rectitude. And, psychologically, the result is that you come to inhabit an enchanted world. What would persuade you that it is indeed you who are the enchanter, you who are, as it were, coloring things with the fairy dust of your own consciousness?
...Borrowed phenomenality transforms the world into an awesome place. How often have you stared into a flaming fire, listened to the hoot of an owl in a dark wood, dangled your feet in a cold stream, or watched the sun setting in a blaze of color and been knocked back by the transcendent beauty of it?
...The impression you got that the qualities inhere in the things as such is, we have seen, all part of the illusion. But even as you celebrate the things for being themselves, it will not escape you that it is a peculiarly generous kind of self-sufficiency, where things are self-sufficient in ways that are the very qualities you care about.
The things are singing your song. No wonder that people sometimes lose track of who is the object and who is the subject of this magical relationship.
...So what is going on? I want to describe it as follows. It is as if when you see and hear and touch and taste things, some of the magic of your phenomenal sensation is rubbing off onto the things as such. And this has the extraordinary result of making it seem to you as if the things themselves possess phenomenal qualities.
As if things out there in the world have an extra dimension of subjective presence. Maybe even as if you have a private line to them, as if they are imbued with your subjectivity.
But of course none of this makes sense! We have established in the first chapters of the book that the phenomenal properties of sensation are the properties of a very special kind of activity you are creating inside your head.
What is more, they are illusory, "impossible" properties. There is therefore no way that these properties can be properties of things out there in the world.
...At every opportunity you find yourself projecting your own phenomenal experience out into the world of things. Or rather, I should say, you do not find yourself doing this except when, as with the table, the result seems so bizarre: most of the time you never notice your own role in giving things their marvelous qualities -- you simply assume that is the way they are made.
Marvelous. Modern neuroscience is telling us...
There is no God. But each of us is a god of sorts.
We make the world in our own image. Then behold it and say, "Creation is good." Or perhaps, "Creation sucks." Either way, what we sense outside of us is what we have fashioned inside of us.
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