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Dimensions of epistemology and ontology:
A multidisciplinary dual-aspect monism perspective on psychophysics

by Christopher B. Germann (PhD, MSc, BSc / Marie Curie Fellow)


It is argued that the Möbius band provides a readily communicable conceptual visual metaphor for dual-aspect Monism à la Pauli-Jung. The Pauli-Jung conjecture is particularly relevant in the context of modern neuroscience as most contemporary neuroscientists stipulate prima facie that the brain produces consciousness. However, this perspective is not conclusively supported by empirical evidence. the monistic dual-aspect perspective provides a parsimonious & elegant solution for the mind-body problem and the hard problem of consciousness (viz., the production problem). The symbolism of the Möbius band is particularly interesting from an embodied and grounded cognition perspective.  Specifically, Lakoff’s “conceptual metaphor theory” provides a theoretical framework which highlights the importance of metaphorical thinking, i.e., metaphors lie at the very core of human cognition and structure all of human thought at the most fundamental neuronal/cognitive level (e.g., via neuronal Hebbian mechanisms of long-term potentiation which are established in the Piagetian sensorimotor-phase of human development). Besides its theoretical scientific relevance pertaining to fundamental questions concerning epistemology and ontology the non-dual (Sanskrit: अद्वैत, “Advaita”) perspective has important and far-reaching moral and ethical ramifications which are crucial for the critically endangered survival of the species Homō sapiēns sapiēns on the ‘Earth System’.


Figure 1. 3D model of the Möbius band positioned in front of the University of Plymouth (UK). Click here to display an animated version of the algorithmic digital artwork in a lightbox.

According to a dualistic perspective on consciousness, mind & matter are two fundamentally different substances. In Cartesian3 nomenclature this dichotomy is expressed by the terms res extensa vs. res cogitans, i.e., the extended substance and the thinking substance.
The majority of contemporary neuroscientists assume that the brain produces consciousness (perhaps somewhat analogous to the way the liver secretes bile). However, this is merely a working hypothesis which has not been conclusively corroborated by empirical evidence. In the neurosciences this enduring problem concerning the exact relationship between the brain and consciousness is known as the “mind-body problem” which is cognitional to “the hard problem of consciousness”.
Next to the dominant intuitive dualistic/dichotomous conception that the brain creates thought/consciousness there are other less widely known viable alternatives to conceptualize the interrelation between mind & matter. One of these alternatives is termed “dual-aspect monism”. According to this view, mind & matter are two different aspects of the same underlying substance. William James ( *1842; †1910), the logician/mathematician Lord Bertrand Russel ( *1872; †1970), and the Swiss depth-psychologist C.G. Jung (*1875; †1961), inter alia, subscribed to this monistic perspective. Specifically, the œuvre of the great polymath William James (whom many regard as the founding father of American psychology) discusses the topic of mind-matter duality in extenso.

“Granted that a definite thought, and a definite molecular action in the brain occur simultaneously, we do not possess the intellectual organ, nor apparently any rudiment of the organ, which would enable us to pass by a process of reasoning from the one phenomenon to the other. They appear together but we do not know why.” (James, 1890)

James later writes the following:

“The instant field of the present is at all times what I call the ‘pure’ experience. It is only virtually or potentially either object or subject as yet. For the time being, it is plain, unqualified actuality, or existence, a simple that. […] Just so, I maintain, does a given undivided portion of experience, taken in one context of associates, play the part of the knower, or a state of mind, or “consciousness”; while in a different context the same undivided bit of experience plays the part of a thing known, of an objective ‘content.’ In a word, in one group it figures as a thought, in another group as a thing. […] Things and thoughts are not fundamentally heterogeneous; they are made of one and the same stuff, stuff which cannot be defined as such but only experienced; and which one can call, if one wishes, the stuff of experience in general. […] ‘Subjects’ knowing ‘things’ known are ‘roles’ played, not ‘ontological facts’.”  (James, 1904)

It is evident that William James can be regarded as a proponent of dual-aspect monism. It is important to emphasize that contemporary cutting-edge scientific findings in the domain of experimental quantum physics are compatible with the monistic axiom.
It is argued that the Möbius band provides a readily accessible geometric/mathematical visual metaphor to communicate this monistic view to a broader public. More information and an intuitive Gedankenexperiment explaining the peculiar geometry of the Möbius band can be found under the following custom-made website: moebius-band.ga
The monistic perspective symbolized by the Möbius band is not just of scientific/mathematical relevance, but it has far reaching moral and ethical implication because it emphasizes the interconnectedness of existence which is of great importance for the critically endangered survival of the species Homō sapiēns on this fragile planet some call spaceship earth as ego-centrism  lies at the very heart of many serious problems humanity is facing in the 21st century (i.e., myopic destruction of the ecosystem, immoral war among nations, fierce economic competition/social Darwinism, etc.).
From a neuroscientific perspective, the question how the brain creates consciousness is still an unsolved conundrum and a question of fundamental importance. A true materialistic science of consciousness must be able to explain the exact relationship between subjective first-person conscious mental states (qualia) and neuronal brain states formed by electrochemical signal transduction (e.g., electrochemical action-potentials, interactions of various endogenous neurotransmitters, quantum processes at the microtubular level within the cytoskeleton of cell, etc. pp.).
In his book “The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific search for the Soul” (published in 1994) Nobel laureate Francis Crick ( *1916; †2004; co-discoverer of the molecular double-helix structure of DNA) hypothesised that “a person’s mental activities are entirely due to the behaviour of nerve cells, glial cells, and the atoms, ions, and molecules that make them up and influence them.”

Crick thus advocated a mechanistic view according to which human beings are in essence complex machines (a view which is representative of the general materialistic Zeitgeist which dominates the 21st century). What really matters is matter (cf. Whorfianism). By contrast, the eminent German neuroscientist Cristof Koch (who collaborated with Crick over several years in an attempt to solve the hard problem of consciousness in a materialistic reductionist framework) wrote the following in a 2014 Scientific American article entitled, “Is Consciousness Universal?”

“Yet the mental is too radically different for it to arise gradually from the physical. This emergence of subjective feelings from physical stuff appears inconceivable and is at odds with a basic precept of physical thinking, the Ur-conservation law—ex nihilo nihil fit. So if there is nothing there in the first place, adding a little bit more won’t make something. If a small brain won’t be able to feel pain, why should a large brain be able to feel the godawfulness of a throbbing toothache? Why should adding some neurons give rise to this ineffable feeling? The phenomenal hails from a kingdom other than the physical and is subject to different laws. I see no way for the divide between unconscious and conscious states to be bridged by bigger brains or more complex neurons” (Koch, 2014)

It is unclear what exactly led to Koch to change his mind on this crucial topic. However, it is clear that he no longer simply prima facie assumes that consciousness is produced by the brain (i.e., that it can be explained in purely physical terms).
Furthermore, Nobel laureate Erwin Schrödinger (one of the key figures in modern quantum physics who first introduced the idea of “aperiodic crystals” that contain genetic information, i.e., DNA) wrote in his seminal book what is life:

“The only possible alternative is simply to keep the immediate that consciousness is a singular of which the plural is unknown; that there is only one thing and that, which seems to be a plurality, is merely a series of different aspects of this one thing, produced by a deception (the Indian Maya); the same illusion is produced in a gallery of mirrors, and in the same way Gaurisankar and Mt. Everest turned out to be the same peak seen from different valleys…” (Schrödinger, 1944, p. 89).

Schrödinger is not the only highly influential quantum physicist who postulates the primacy and continuity of consciousness.4 For instance, Nobel laureate Max Planck (who coined the term “quantum”) states in his speech on “Das Wesen der Materie” [The Nature of Matter]:

„Als Physiker, der sein ganzes Leben der nüchternen Wissenschaft, der Erforschung der Materie widmete, bin ich sicher von dem Verdacht frei, für einen Schwarmgeist gehalten zu werden. Und so sage ich nach meinen Erforschungen des Atoms dieses: Es gibt keine Materie an sich. Alle Materie entsteht und besteht nur durch eine Kraft, welche die Atomteilchen in Schwingung bringt und sie zum winzigsten Sonnensystem des Alls zusammenhält. Da es im ganzen Weltall aber weder eine intelligente Kraft noch eine ewige Kraft gibt—es ist der Menschheit nicht gelungen, das heißersehnte Perpetuum mobile zu erfinden—so müssen wir hinter dieser Kraft einen bewußten intelligenten Geist annehmen. Dieser Geist ist der Urgrund aller Materie.” (Planck, 1944).

*Provisional* translation:

“As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter.”

In contemporary cognitive psychology/neuroscience, novel models of cognition are being developed which challenge the Newtonian deterministic paradigm (viz., local realism). The field of “quantum cognition” is a highly interdisciplinary research domain which utilized various axioms derived from quantum mechanics in order to account for mental phenomena (e.g., concerning reasoning, memory, language, etc.) which appear paradoxical and irrational in the classical deterministic/material Newtonian framework. These quantum models of cognition challenge prima vista taken-for-granted assumptions in the cognitive and behavioural sciences. For instance the Kolmorogovian/Boolean commutativity axiom P(A∩B)=P(B∩A) which  forms the basis of the vast majority of contemporary modelling approaches (e.g., Bayes’ theorem). According to quantum cognition, observation can actively interfere with the properties of the system which is measured (cf. the measurement problem in quantum physics). Naïve & local realism might soon reach its vertex and a Kuhnian paradigm-shift (viz., a phase transition) might follow.
The time is ripe to consider alternative epistemological and ontological assumptions in order to re-evaluate our most basic scientific assumptions in novel light. The Möbius band as as a conceptual visual metaphor for dual-aspect monism a la Pauli-Jung could be seen as a conceptual contribution in this novel direction of scientific inquiry and exploration into the interplay of psyche & physis.


Further References

Smith, C. U. M.. (2009). The ‘hard problem’ and the quantum physicists. Part 2: Modern times. Brain and Cognition, 71(2), 54–63.

Plain numerical DOI: 10.1016/j.bandc.2007.09.004
DOI URL
directSciHub download

Polkinghorne, J.. (2009). Mind and Matter: A Physicist’s View. Philosophical Investigations, 32(2), 105–112.

Plain numerical DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9205.2008.01365.x
DOI URL
directSciHub download

Atmanspacher, H.. (2012). Dual-aspect monism à la Pauli and Jung perforates the completeness of physics. In Journal of Consciousness Studies (pp. 5–21)

Plain numerical DOI: 10.1063/1.4773112
DOI URL
directSciHub download

Atmanspacher, H.. (2012). Dual-aspect monism à la Pauli and Jung perforates the completeness of physics. In AIP Conference Proceedings (pp. 5–21)

Plain numerical DOI: 10.1063/1.4773112
DOI URL
directSciHub download

Benovsky, J.. (2016). Dual-Aspect Monism. Philosophical Investigations, 39(4), 335–352.

Plain numerical DOI: 10.1111/phin.12122
DOI URL
directSciHub download

Pothos, E. M., & Busemeyer, J. R.. (2013). Can quantum probability provide a new direction for cognitive modeling?. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 36(03), 255–274.

Plain numerical DOI: 10.1017/S0140525X12001525
DOI URL
directSciHub download

Stuart, H.. (1998). Quantum computation in brain microtubules? The Penrose–Hameroff ‘Orch OR‘ model of consciousness. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 356(1743), 1869–1896.

Plain numerical DOI: 10.1098/rsta.1998.0254
DOI URL
directSciHub download

Yearsley, J. M., & Pothos, E. M.. (2014). Challenging the classical notion of time in cognition: A quantum perspective. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

Plain numerical DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2013.3056
DOI URL
directSciHub download

Groeblacher, S., Paterek, T., Kaltenbaek, R., Brukner, C., Zukowski, M., Aspelmeyer, M., & Zeilinger, A.. (2007). An experimental test of non-local realism. Nature

Plain numerical DOI: 10.1038/nature05677
DOI URL
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Hensen, B., Bernien, H., Dréau, A. E., Reiserer, A., Kalb, N., Blok, M. S., … Hanson, R.. (2015). Experimental loophole-free violation of a Bell inequality using entangled electron spins separated by 1.3 km. Nature

Plain numerical DOI: 10.1038/nature15759; 10.4121/uuid:6e19e9b2-4a2d-40b5-8dd3-a660bf3c0a31
DOI URL
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Wiseman, H.. (2015). Quantum physics: Death by experiment for local realism. Nature

Plain numerical DOI: 10.1038/nature15631
DOI URL
directSciHub download

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Footnotes

  1. René Descartes was a French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. Dubbed the father of modern Western philosophy, much of subsequent Western philosophy is a response to his writings, which are studied closely to this day.
  2. The notion of the primacy of consciousness has been formulated in several ancient schools of thought. For instance, the Bardo Thördöl (བར་དོ་ཐོས་གྲོལ), i.e., the Tibetan Book of the Dead (which is a part of a larger corpus of teachings, the Profound Dharma of Self-Liberation) discussed, inter alia, by C.G. Jung.
  3. René Descartes was a French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. Dubbed the father of modern Western philosophy, much of subsequent Western philosophy is a response to his writings, which are studied closely to this day.
  4. The notion of the primacy of consciousness has been formulated in several ancient schools of thought. For instance, the Bardo Thördöl (བར་དོ་ཐོས་གྲོལ), i.e., the Tibetan Book of the Dead (which is a part of a larger corpus of teachings, the Profound Dharma of Self-Liberation) discussed, inter alia, by C.G. Jung.

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