The Spiritual Automaton: Spinozas Science of the Mind

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What is this third thing? Real infinite Nature, Spinoza answered. The whole difficulty of the Cartesian metaphysics arose because the specific difference of the real world from the world as only imagined or thought of was considered to be extension, a spatial, geometric determinateness. But extension as such just existed in imagination, only in thought.

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For as such it can generally only be thought of in the form of emptiness, i. Ascribing only spatial, geometric properties to Nature is, as Spinoza said, to think of it in an imperfect way, i. And then it is asked how the perfection removed from Nature can be restored to her again. The same argumentation applies to thought. Thought as such is the same kind of fallacious abstraction as emptiness.


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In fact it is only a property, a predicate, an attribute of that very body which has spatial attributes. Spinoza showed that it is only impossible to solve the problem because it is absolutely wrongly posed; and that such posing of it is nothing but the fruit of imagination. In man, in the form of man, in his person, Nature itself thinks, and not at all some special substance, source, or principle instilled into it from outside.

In man, therefore, Nature thinks of itself. But if thinking is always an action performed by a natural and so by a spatially determined body, it itself, too, is an action that is also expressed spatially, which is why there is not and cannot be the cause and effect relation between thinking and bodily action for which the Cartesians were looking.

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The Spiritual Automaton - Eugene Marshall - Oxford University Press

They did not find it for the simple reason that no such relation exists in Nature, and cannot, simply because thinking and the body are not two different things at all, existing separately and therefore capable of interacting, but one and the same thing , only expressed by two different modes or considered in two different aspects. Between body and thought there is no relation of cause and effect, but the relation of an organ i.

If a thinking body does nothing, it is no longer a thinking body but simply a body. But when it does act, it does not do so on thought, because its very activity is thought. And that is that. The product or result of thinking may be an exclusively spatially expressed, or exclusively geometrically stated, change in some body or another, or else in its position relative to other bodies. Thinking does not evoke a spatially expressed change in a body but exists through it or within it , and vice versa; any change, however fine, within that body, induced by the effect on it of other bodies, is directly expressed for it as a certain change in its mode of activity, i.

The position set out here is extremely important also because it immediately excludes any possibility of treating it in a vulgar materialist, mechanistic key, i. Spinoza was well aware that what is expressed and performed in the form of structural, spatial changes within the thinking body is not at all some kind of thinking taking place outside of and independently of them, and vice versa shifts of thinking by no means express immanent movements of the body within which they arise.

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It is therefore impossible either to understand thought through examination, however exact and thorough, of the spatially geometric changes in the form of which it is expressed within the body of the brain, or, on the contrary, to understand the spatial, geometric changes in the brain tissue from the most detailed consideration of the composition of the ideas existing in the brain. It is impossible, Spinoza constantly repeated, because they are one and the same , only expressed by two different means.

To try to explain the one by the other simply means to double the description of one and the same fact, not yet understood and incomprehensible. Bishop Berkeley ascribed the cause to God. And so did Descartes, Malebranche, and Geulincx. The shallow, vulgar materialist tries to explain everything by the purely mechanical actions of external things on the sense organs and brain tissue, and takes for the cause the concrete thing, the sole object, that is affecting our bodily organisation at a given moment and causing corresponding changes in our body, which we feel within ourselves and experience as our thinking.

While rejecting the first explanation as the capitulation of philosophy before religious theological twaddle, Spinoza took a very critical attitude as well toward the superficially materialistmechanisticexplanation of the cause of thought. To explain a separate, single, sensuously perceived fact passing momentarily before our eye, and even the whole mass of such facts, as the cause of thought means to explain precisely nothing.

The explanation must consequently also include those relations of cause and effect that of necessity generate our own physical organisation capable unlike a stone of thinking, i. For the action produced on the retina of our eye by a ray of light reflected from the Moon is perceived by the thinking being not simply as a mechanical irritation within the eye but as the shape of the thing itself , as the lunar disc hanging in space outside the eye, which means that the Ego, the thinking substance or creature, directly feels not the effect produced on it by the external thing but something quite different, viz.

In that lies both the enigma and the whole essence of thinking as the mode of activity of a thinking body in distinction to one that does not think. It will readily be understood that one body evokes a change by its action in another body; that is fully explained by the concepts of physics. Such was the enigma, in general, that Leibniz and Fichte came up against later; but Spinoza had already found a fully rational, though only general, theoretical solution.

He clearly understood that the problem could only be fully and finally solved by quite concrete investigation including anatomical and physiological of the material mechanism by which the thinking body brain managed to do the trick, truly mystically incomprehensible from the angle of purely geometric concepts. But that it did the trick — that it saw the thing and not the changes in the particles of the retina and brain that this body caused by its light effect within the brain was an undoubted fact; and a fact calling for fundamental explanation and in a general way outlining paths for more concrete study in the future.

What can the philosopher say here categorically, who remains a philosopher and does not become a physiologist, or an anatomist, or a physicist? What can he say while remaining on the ground of firmly established facts known before and independently of any concrete, physiological investigation of the inner mechanisms of the thinking body, and not capable either of being refuted or made doubtful by any further probing within the eye and the skull? In the given, partial, though very characteristic case, there is another, more general problem, namely that of the relation of philosophy as a special science to the concrete research of the natural sciences.

Furthermore, the natural science of his day did not even suspect the existence of such a problem; and when it did, knew it only in a theological formulation.


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Spiritual life they gladly left to the Church, and humbly acknowledged its authority, interesting themselves exclusively in the mechanical characteristics of the surrounding world. And everything that was inexplicable on purely mechanical grounds was not subjected to scientific study at all but was left to the competence of religion. Spinoza understood very clearly that religious, theological mysticism was the inevitable complement of a purely mechanistic geometrical, mathematical world outlook, i.

His greatness was that he did not plod along behind contemporaneous natural science, i. That is why Spinoza has come down in the history of science as an equal contributor to its progress with Galileo and Newton, and not as their epigone, repeating after them the general ideas that could be drawn from their work. The brilliance of the solution of the problem of the relation of thinking to the world of bodies in space outside thought i. This solution immediately rejected every possible kind of interpretation and investigation of thought by the logic of spiritualist and dualist constructions, so making it possible to find a real way out both from the blind alley of the dualism of mind and body and from the specific blind alley of Hegelianism.

Even Hegel found it a hard nut to crack. What is thought then?

The Philosophy of Spinoza & Leibniz

How are we to find the true answer to this question, i. Investigation of all the material i. Because that is another question.

The Spiritual Automaton: Spinoza's Science of the Mind

One does not ask how legs capable of walking are constructed, but in what walking consists. What is thinking as the action of, albeit inseparable from, the material mechanisms by which it is effected, yet not in any way identical with mechanisms themselves? In the one case the question is about the structure of an organ, in the other about the function the organ performs.

The structures, of course, must be such that it can carry out the appropriate function; legs are built so that they can walk and not so that they can think. The fullest description of the structure of an organ , i. The cardinal distinction between the mode of action of a thinking body and that of any other body, quite clearly noted by Descartes and the Cartesians, but not understood by them, is that the former actively builds constructs the shape trajectory of its own movement in space in conformity with the shape configuration and position of the other body , coordinating the shape of its own movement its own activity with the shape of the other body, whatever it is.

The proper, specific form of the activity of a thinking body consists consequently in universality , in that very property that Descartes actually noted as the chief distinction between human activity and the activity of an automaton copying its appearance, i. In this it differs, say, from a pair of compasses, which describe circles much more accurately than the hand but cannot draw the outlines of triangles or squares. It therefore either disturbs the shapes of the other bodies or is itself broken in colliding with insuperable obstacles.

Man , however, the thinking body, builds his movement on the shape of any other body. He does not wait until the insurmountable resistance of other bodies forces him to turn off from his path; the thinking body goes freely round any obstacle of the most complicated form. This is a very important point, which presents very real interest. For Descartes the animal was only an automaton, i.

These actions, therefore, could and had to be completely explained by the following scheme: external effect — movement of the inner parts of the body — external reaction. The last represents the response action, movement of the body evoked by the external effect, which in essence is only transformed by the working of the inner parts of the body, following the scheme rigidly programmed in its construction. There is a full analogy with the working of a self-activating mechanism pressure on a button working of the parts inside the mechanism movement of its external parts.

Such in general, and on the whole, is the theoretical scheme of a reflex that was developed two hundred years later in natural science in the work of Sechenov and Pavlov. But this scheme is not applicable to man because in him, as Descartes himself so well understood, there is a supplementary link in the chain of events i. Here the body itself is the object of its own activity. Before he responds he contemplates, i.

But that is impossible to provide for in advance in the form of ready-made, bodily programmed schemes. Thinking is the capacity of actively building and reconstructing schemes of external action in accordance with any new circumstances, and does not operate according to a prepared scheme as an automaton or any inanimate body does. For that reason he was unable to conceive of the organ of thought bodily , as structurally organised in space. Because, in that case, as many ready-made, structurally programmed patterns of action would have to be postulated in it as there were external bodies and combinations of external bodies and contingencies that the thinking body would generally encounter in its path, that is, in principle, an infinite number.

Why not suppose that the thinking thing was designed in a special way; that not having any ready-made schemes of action within it, it acted for that very reason in accordance with whatever scheme was dictated to it at a given moment by the forms and combinations of other bodies located outside it? For that was the real role or function of the thinking thing, the only functional definition of thinking corresponding to the facts that it was impossible to deduce from structural analysis of the organ in which and by means of which it thinking was performed.

Even more so, a functional definition of thinking as action according to the shape of any other thing also puts structural, spatial study of the thinking thing on the right track, i. It is necessary to elucidate and discover in the thinking thing those very structural features that enable it to perform its specific function, i. In that form the materialist approach to the investigation of thought comes out clearly.

Such is the truly materialist, functional definition of thought, or its definition as the active function of a natural body organised in a special way, which prompts both logic the system of functional definitions of thought and brain physiology a system of concepts reflecting the material structure of the organ in and by which this function is performed to make a really scientific investigation of the problem of thought, and which excludes any possibility of interpreting thinking and the matter of its relation to the brain by the logic of either spiritualist and dualist constructions or of vulgar mechanistic ones.

In order to understand thought as a function, i. But if we examine a system of smaller volume and scale, i. But more important here is that the Stoics appear to fail by their own standards; that is, there is some part of human nature that exists outside of the cosmos as a whole, a power that is capable of intervening and modifying our animal dispositions. With Descartes, you find a similar view to that of the Stoics.

Descartes is often attributed the kind of libertarian individualism that informs neo-liberal economics and ideology, which is a little unfair to Descartes but potentially how he has been received. If one consults Passions of the Soul, one will find a view where the body becomes the locus of habit formation. Descartes views the body as a complex machine, one that communicates sensory information to the brain via animal spirits running through the nerves. Without the intervention of mind, the body is an automaton, reacting instinctively and habitually to environmental stimulus.

The passions of the soul are the impressions received by the nervous activity of the body communicated via the pineal gland. As well as having this degree of freedom over its received impressions, Descartes also believed that mind had the power to influence the habitual tendencies of the brain, eventually retraining these responses over time like a dog-owner retrains their canine friend Lloyd and Gatens As with the Stoics, but perhaps more so, we find Descartes relying on a notion of a mind outside of nature capable of imposing its will on the natural order of things from without.

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