It might well have been in Polanyi, who speaks of "dual control," "first by the laws that apply to its elements in themselves, and second, by the laws that control the comprehensive entity formed by them."
Such dual control is possible because "the principles governing the isolated particulars of a lower level, leave indeterminate their boundary conditions for the control of a higher principle."
This rules out reductionism, because "the operations of a higher level cannot be accounted for by the laws governing its particulars forming the next lower level." You can't deduce a novel's meaning by examining the grammar, syntax, spelling, or meanings of the individual words. Nor can any of these things account for good style, or artistry.
To be sure, there are "laws" of writing, but you can follow them to the letter, and this will not necessarily result in a good book, let alone artistry. The laws are necessary on their own level, but cannot account for the level above. Spelling or proper grammar are necessary to convey meaning, but obviously insufficient.
It is the same with organisms. The laws of physics operate within our bodies, but their boundary conditions are left open for the emergence of life. In turn, the boundary conditions of life are left open for mind. Although we rely upon the lower levels, it is "impossible to account for the operations of any higher level by the laws governing its isolated particulars."
This is why it makes no sense to reduce mind to matter, because it is identical in form to reducing semantics (meaning) to syntax (rules of word order). To the extent that a person does this, then it must equally apply to what he is saying. In other words, in order to be intellectually consistent, the reductionist must reduce his own meaning to nothing. But one cannot even affirm meaninglessness in a non-meaningful way.
Anyway, around the same time, I encountered the writings of psychoanalyst W.R. Bion, and saw the same principle at work.
Let's begin with the "raw stuff" of existence. What is it? We -- let's say I, to make it more immediate -- I am surrounded by phenomena, both outward and in. There are obviously things happening on the outside, but also things happening on the inside -- thoughts, impulses, emotions, sensations. Not to mention the fact that some of these external objects have their own interior -- persons and animals -- plus everything is situated in a flow of time from present to past or future to present.
That is a lot to juggle. How do I resolve this disparate phenomena into a unity? Sometimes it can be helpful to illuminate a process by considering what happens when it goes off the rails. Physicians, for example, learn a great deal about health by studying pathology. It is difficult to know, for example, what a pancreas is for until it stops doing it. You have no idea!
What is the mind for?
Hard to say, isn't it, when everything is going swimmingly?
First of all, the mind is an organ. Okay, what's an organ? It is "a part of an organism that is typically self-contained and has a specific vital function, such as the heart or liver in humans."
Note, however, the dual control as outlined above: a heart, for example, pumps away according to its own logic, unaware of the fact that it is situated in a higher organism that was recently asleep and is now banging away at a keyboard. The pumping is necessary for both activities, but obviously insufficient.
That most organs are physical shouldn't obscure the reality that they can be immaterial. Biological organisms are always four-dimensional, in that, in addition to their three spatial dimensions, they always operate in time. Should they cease doing so, that's how you know you're dead.
But our subjective organ -- I -- is characterized by the additional dimensions alluded to above: interior/exterior, past/present/future, I/Thou, not to mention all the many sub-categories in each of these. What could go wrong?
Coincidentally, a commenter recently alluded to having suffered a psychotic depression or depressive psychosis. What must that have been like? I would suggest that it is just an extreme example of What Can Go Wrong. In my opinion, mental illness in any form involves a "dismantling," so to speak, of meaning. At the same time, it generally involves the construction of "false meaning(s)" (for example, in paranoia).
The latter is not always true. For example, there is a form of psychosis in which each moment is a terrifying novelty, with no unity or continuity whatsoever. Interior and exterior unity are conflated, as are thoughts with impulses and ideas with environment. It's like a white-knuckle moment, only forever.
I'm remembering my first psychotic patient. One morning she told me that she had heard me outside her window speaking to her in the form of chirping birds. Obviously there was confusion between me, the birds, and the content of her own mind. I could think of additional examples, but you get the picture. There was a unity of sorts, but more like the unity of a Picasso painting.
Think of the mind as an organ for the purpose of making contact with reality. This presumes there is some pre-existent, unitary thing called reality, but the psychotic person demonstrates that this is not the case.
But so too does the reductionist demonstrate that this is not the case! Let's take a banal example that comes to mind, a high school sex education class. In the class the students are told everything about the biology and mechanics of sex. Perhaps this is all the teacher knows about the subject. Does his knowledge exhaust the subject, or is he missing something?
Another example comes to mind, "deconstruction," which you might say is a kind of institutionalized psychosis, in that it specializes in dismantling meaning and replacing it with something else. Or, it reduces meaning to power, which is about as helpful as saying that all blogging may be reduced to a beating heart.
Speaking of blogs, you might say that this one attempts to be the last word in reverse-psychosis, which is to say, hyper-sanity. How so? Well, think about it: at the very least, we are trying to perceive the unity behind -- or above -- science, religion, anthropology, metaphysics, political philosophy, economics, psychology, history, systems theory, aesthetics, you name it.
What could go wrong? Well, first of all, few people even attempt it. It's enough to harmonize the unruly phenomena of one's own mind!
And when it is attempted, instead of reverse psychosis, it generally results in (or from) hyper-psychosis. Remember, psychosis doesn't just involve the destruction of true meaning, but the construction of false. Thus, most intellectual systems -- a priori when they exclude interiority and religion -- are actually hyper-psychotic, say, Marxism. True, Marxism accounts for "everything," only by excluding everything it cannot explain (or even take cognizance of).
Just so, feminism is hyper-psychotic, as is any form or reductionism. Indeed, leftism is a kind of enforced collective hyper-psychosis. It doesn't reveal much about reality per se, except in the same way a heart attack tells you what a heart is for.
Really -- and this can definitely be true of certain conservatives as well -- it is more a system for managing the mind than for exploring reality. But it is preferable to the more active form of psychosis, in which nothing makes sense. In other words, false meaning is emotionally preferable to no meaning.
To be continued...