Comment on Martin’s Review of Hoffman, Sal Restivo

In the wake of Kant and his critics I think we can assume with calm certainty that we do not and cannot have access to a thing as such in any form. And in the wake of Ryle and others we have outgrown Cartesian dualism. For all practical purposes, “objective reality” is the everyday reality of crossing streets without getting hit by a car, hiking along cliffs without falling off, driving cars without crashing into others, and roasting chickens without burning down the house … [please read below the rest of the comment].

Image credit: W. W. Norton

Editor’s Note:
Professor Sal Restivo was kind enough to leave the following extended comment on Brian Martin’s review of Donald Hoffman’s The Case Against Reality. I moved Restivo’s comment up from the comment section and made a view light edits.

In the wake of Kant and his critics I think we can assume with calm certainty that we do not and cannot have access to a thing as such in any form. And in the wake of Ryle and many others I think we can—indeed we have— outgrown Cartesian dualism. For all practical purposes, “objective reality” is the everyday reality of crossing streets without getting hit by a car, hiking along cliffs without falling off, driving cars without crashing into others, and roasting chickens without burning down the house. The remaining issue is: what limits our access to the thing as such and what gives us access to the objective reality of everyday life? The widely and uncritically accepted cross-science assumption is that this is a problem in cognition and consciousness. This has only led to mysteries piled upon paradoxes and Chalmers “hard problem of consciousness.” The solution to this problem has been with us since the mid-nineteenth century. Nietzsche already had the insight that consciousness is a social phenomenon and not a matter of individual existence. Marx wrote that consciousness is my activity as a social being.

More recently, Ryle has restated these insights by recognizing that mental processes are “merely” intelligent acts. There is a more strongly sociological trail that leads from the crystallization of the social sciences from 1840 on to the social psychologies of James, Cooley, Dewey, and Baldwin. Their work was systematized by G.H. Mead and built upon in modern sociology by C. Wright Mills, Randall Collins, myself, and others. The brain is not the locus of consciousness; the locus of consciousness is the social group, the social network. The myth of individualism has obscured and delayed the recognition of these contributions to our understanding of consciousness. Humans arrive on the evolutionary stage always, already, and everywhere social; and they have social brains.

The concept of a social brain was introduced by primatologists in the 1950s. It was introduced into the neurosciences in the early 1990s. We can now speak in terms of a social brain paradigm. The hard problem of consciousness has been all but solved and it’s just a matter of looking for it in the right place and with the right theoretical and methodological tools. The tools appropriate to the phenomenon come from the social sciences, not the physical and neurosciences. I am not a disciplinary despot and recognize the need for a multi-disciplinary approach to the problem of consciousness. My claim is simply that we cannot solve this hard problem without the social sciences. See my Einstein’s Brain: Genius, Culture, and Social Networks (Palgrave Pivot, 2019).



Categories: Comments

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: