To get our bearings on how we might learn to begin with the whole as opposed to its parts, let’s consider Dennett’s theory of content, what he calls “the intentional stance”:
“My fundamental strategy has always been the same: first, to develop an account of the content that is independent of and more fundamental than consciousness — an account of content that treats equally of all unconscious content-fixation (in brains, in computers, in evolution’s ‘recognition’ of properties of selected designs) — and second, to build an account of consciousness on that foundation. First content, then consciousness.”
The order is important to him. But what order actually shows up in reality, first content and then consciousness or are they given together? To begin with, we note that “raw physical material” is a theoretical construct which is never given in actuality. As I’ve already discussed in previous entries, before we can even get to “wave forms” we have to pass through important preliminary steps. We have to begin theorizing; that is, implementing the process of elimination that removes all that the scientist doesn’t want in the picture, everything that would merely complicate matters. With this move, the context of reality already changes, passing over into the theoretical realm. We recall that, as part of this process, the so-called “psychological factors” are also removed. (At least to the best of science’s ability. The catch is that science can never do away with the consciousness of the scientist. We might even call science a hyper-conscious activity. But more on that later.)
“When we learn that the only difference between gold and silver is the number of subatomic particles in their atoms, we may feel cheated or angry.”
But who actually feels cheated or angry upon learning that gold and silver are subatomically similar? Dennett wants to say something like this: In human experience, gold is substantially more expensive, more valuable, than silver. In reality, however, the objective difference between these elements is extremely small, merely the number of subatomic particles. Thus human experience doesn’t match reality, doesn’t conform to it. He therefore concludes that human experience is a fiction. As he sees it, the only real thing is the difference between gold and silver as elements. In his method of proceeding, we see how all the context in which gold and silver actually manifest themselves, what we normally experience as gold and silver in real life (which includes but is not limited to the chemical determinations of these substances), has been discounted as illusory. Dennett simply excludes normal human experience — and along with it the way things show up within it — from the realm of reality. But we object to this move. We maintain that what usually gets discounted as “naive realism” is much more important toward defining reality than is commonly allowed. In fact, we see it as a necessary part of it.
To further underscore this, let’s apply what Dennett says about gold and silver to evolution. Already in conformity with the scientific way of positing things, common sense today sees that the genetic difference between human beings and chimpanzees is slight. From this it concludes that there is a very close affinity between human beings and chimpanzees. But is this really a valid way of gauging the actual difference between human beings and chimpanzees? At the very least, genetic makeup is not a sufficient indicator. When we look at what I call reality as opposed to what Dennett means by the word, we see vast differences between human beings and not only chimps but all other animals, differences that include human culture, philosophy, science, art, literature, morality, religion, etc. Measured this way, the affinity between human beings and animals doesn’t look as close as it does when we only take the genetic view into account. This is why the Judeo-Christian tradition speaks of the human as distinct from the animals, as possessing a soul. In the order of nature on earth, the human being is sui generis. If I reject the vulgar neo-Darwinian view that depicts man as just one animal among others, as nothing but an over evolved ape, this has nothing to do with a denial of evolution. I do not need to deny evolution or even take a position on it one way or the other in order to reject the neo-Darwinian view of what it means to be human. I see this as the difference between seeing man only as a biological creature and seeing him spiritually, as a spiritual being — human being as a mere body versus being human as a way of being.
If we want to start with the whole, Dennett’s definition of reality won’t do. Reality is more multivalent than that and it includes how things manifest themselves to human consciousness. If we want to begin with the whole, we have to redefine what is meant by the word “reality.” This is now our task.