Lost in a Forest of Conceptualizations

This first report about my recent adventures in idea land finds me in encounter with chapter two of Bernardo Kastrup's book The Idea of the World. The text was also published as an article in the journal Constructivist Foundations, accompanied by an open peer review. In it Bernardo holds that mind reveals itself through observation, whereas matter is derived from explanatory abstraction, rendering the dichotomy between mind and matter lopsided. The comparatively reduced or increased epistemic cost in arriving at one or the other would then result in a net win for idealism.

The paper itself keeps somewhat distant from the claim that mind is immediately given by experience. It is more concerned with the difference in levels of abstractions. Interestingly in his concluding comment on the reviews, Bernardo is more explicit about that: "the only existent we know directly, independently of theoretical abstractions, is what we call 'mind'". He seems to be quite exasperated and concludes the comment with three paragraphs turning around on different formulations of the same argument. In the end he even writes the word mind with a capital M. Which I allow me to regard, in a kind and warm way, as reverently funny.

In my experience, phenomenal experiences just are. Insofar the question of mind arises, it is just another experience, taking the form of a question. I can't experience mind itself as a phenomenal experience. If I try to direct my experience to mind, what I find is phenomenal experiences. Therefore I am inclined to conclude that there is no such thing as pure mind to be experienced.

I imagine two ways of thought that can be taken from the starting point of this observation.

First, mind is an abstraction from phenomenal experiences to what they have in common, a category build in thought after the fact of previous experiences. To that it can be objected that I am biased to take phenomenal experiences as a multitude, denoted by the plural or by using the indeterminate article to signify experiences as specific examples of the multitude. The objection would accuse me of neglecting the unifying aspect of phenomenal experience in the singular. I admit to that bias. Also it can be objected that the statements about my experience include elements like "my experience" or "I" which beg for a referent. The impact of this objection depends on the stance taken towards the question how well the structure of language corresponds to the structure of what I (well, duh) can experience.

Second, the step from having phenomenal experiences, to talking about them, entails a split between what is experienced (the instances or objects of experience) and between what is experiencing (the medium or subject of experience). The experienced and the experiencing are both, distinct and connected. I sort of can see how somebody can argue that mind was already a given in experiencing the unifying aspect of the experienced. But wouldn't the positive statement "mind is a given" require an argument about how mind is primary in a dichotomy of mind versus the minded? I guess Bernardo would reject this question as irrelevant because he writes: "There is thus no ontological distinction between mind and qualia". So, however mind and the minded might be distinct, they are not ontologically distinct. Uhm, yeah, but isn't ontology all about figuring out what the fundamental ground of all entities is? How is saying mind is fundamental different from saying it is primary versus the minded? -- My own preference would be to say that the split between the experienced and the experiencing is a result of abstraction from experience when thinking or talking about it. But would I have to argue that the unconceptualized concreteness of the experienced is in some way preferable over the abstraction through thought or language?

To not get all mystical I'll cut that short and take a side. Mind is a concept. Whatever the concept might refer to, talking or thinking about mind can only happen through its concept, not without it.

If I don't get stuck in an infinite loop of dichotomies, I'll be back with another report on my adventures in idea land before long. If I should become enlooped though, here is a tangent you can go off on, while I struggle to become disenlooped: Suppose, matter is more like lego bricks, constituting things, while mind is more like a fridge, containing things. Does this idea lead anywhere interesting?