Q&A on the Spread Mind at the PCC Forum

Hello, this time I post a Q&A follow-up of the on-line meeting held at the PCC Forum on Match 8, 2020 thanks to the CIIS (San Francisco). Belowe there is a series of questions that the participants asked about the Spread Mind and my tentative answers to their worries.

Any mistake is entirely my responsibility! Thanks to all the participants!

From Sarah

  • Is externalism the same as objectivism?

By external I mean “external to the Central Nervous System (CNS)” in a very plain physical sense. In fact, nothing is ever experienced as a property of neural activities inside the CNS. Direct brain stimulation triggers experiences that are world-related and that are always a combination of events in the world.

Occasionally, though, I use external to mean “external to the body” but that’s an approximation. As a matter of fact, the body occupies an ambiguous position. On the one hand, it is often perceptually transparent (as the eyes that cannot be seen in normal conditions). On the other hand, a part of the body can also be an object of perception insofar as it is perceived by means of another part, as when you see your hand.

My position is an object-only ontology, but it suggests to consider objects that are relative, actual and spread objects. They are relative because they always exist relative to other objects. They are actual because they exist insofar as they take place as the cause of a process that impinges on other objects. Finally, they are spread because they are composed of particulars that are spread in space and time. In turn, the particulars are relative objects too.

From Nathan

  • Even a conserved property such as angular momentum doesn’t exist without something exterior with which to experience it.    

I wouldn’t say that. I would rather say that even angular momentum doesn’t exist without being relative to something else. The claim is that the physical properties that are part of our world are all relative to that object we call the body. According to Newton, momentum is relative to absolute space. According to Mach, momentum is relative to other masses. According to Einstein/Minkowsky, it is relative to absolute four-dimensional spacetime.

From Sean

  • I love this as a theory of perception. However, What about the many, many veridical accounts of people having visions/experiences of people far away at the moment of their death (or shorty after their death); or the many accounts of NDEs, some of which include perception of objects or events from outside the body; or recorded cases of remote viewing; or of precognition, etc. etc.?

I don’t want to give the wrong impressions that my theory pretends to state what exists and what doesn’t. My theory is not a theory about what can there be in the universe. My theory is a theory of experience that outlines the conditions that need to be meet for something being part of one’s experience.

Personally, though, I am skeptical on cases of OBE and clairvoyance. In particular,  to my understanding, clairvoyance entails a logical mistake (if the future was able to exert an effect on the present, by means of one’s foresight, the future would be ontologically in the past, the past being the kind of thing that affects the present).

About cases of OBE, I have a mixed opinion. OBE is often described as it implied an external optical point of view. That’s suspicious. If a mind was external to one’s body, why should it see the body as though it had eyes?

My theory is not about miracles. Rather it is about the fact that consciousness does not require miracles.

From Sarah

  • How do we know the blind cannot dream in color? In shape and image???

We ask them! In particular, we ask them whether in their dreams they have any aspect that is different from their everyday experience. They don’t. They claim that they dream are made of the same stuff their everyday experience is made of – sounds, tastes, vibrations, shapes, tactile sensations, and smells.

Of course, in my work, whenever I speak of blind subjects, I always refer to cases of congenital total blind subjects because if subjects are neither congenitally nor total, they might clearly have had previous experiences that might provide the necessary building blocks. In the literature (event in the scientific reports) there is always confusion between partial not congenital blind subjects and real total congenital blind subjects.

  • We are trusting the A.I. and distrusting the capacity of the human — of the being — of nature.

Both AI and biological organisms cope with the same world. I don’t commit to biological chauvinism.

  • Objectifying everything to ‘just another apple’ just brings us back into the circle of consciousness that Kant and others have had us trapped within. Externalism is appearing as objectivism: an inverse of an extreme and absolute subjectivism/inner being that shares the same qualities even if labeled in oppositional terms. The singularity of this feels dangerous.

Good point. However, I don’t think that objectivism and subjectivism are symmetrical. Here I assume that by “objectivism” we mean the view that reality is what it is completely independently of any experiences, and that our experience of reality is at best a faithful mirroring of a mind-independent world.

While the notion of the object is saturated only by the category of existence, the notion of the subject requires the notion of appearance. The notion of appearance is problematic since requires appearing to someone. Otherwise, what’s the point of using the word subjective if it is not subjective to someone?

Manu form of subjectivism require subjects and appearance and, to some extent, they are ambiguous about their ontology (are appearances, or presentations, or images real?). Hence subjectivism ends up requiring a universal subject (Berkeley’s universal perceiver).

My kind of objectivism requires only relative objects.

Traditional objectivism (or naïve materialism) failed because it was based on naïve objects: individuals with autonomous properties. Therefore, naïve realism does not have the resources to match our experience. But relative objectivism (object-to-object) has the resources to show that the only thing we need are relative objects.

From Sabina

  • Hi Sarah, from what I understand from SRIs experiments on remote viewing blind people can see color and shape and image!

Nope. Congenitally blind subjects never reported any experience of colors or images unless they have been equipped with sensory substitutions devices that allegedly allow them to expand their external physical environment. If such cases are real, they will be cases in which devices allowed blind subjects to see.

From Sarah

  • It’s just a reversal of the cartesian dualism that circles itself back to its own source.

In a way yes. As in Descartes the mind is one with its content and the body is not the mind. The mind is a bundle of experiences, only that such experience are not immaterial ideas, but they are concrete (relative) objects.

In a way no. The mind is one with the physical world and has causal relevance.

From Matthew

  • I agree Sean, Whitehead is dualist as he admits. Modern science seems to have eliminated the subject, and the willingness to protect the subject seems like necessary balance – your point that if everything is object it might as well be subject is helpful I think, though circling back to the source doesn’t seem like a problem necessarily(?)

I agree! But, as I said before, in a way I don’t steer towards a compromise between subjectivism and objectivism. Rather I try to restart the problem in completely different terms.

I believe that the traditional notion of subject/experience/appearance has stemmed from a negative notion of the world. Something like that:

The world is made of various combinations of relative objects. Some of such combinations take place because of the bodies of living organisms. Some of these bodies are Homo Sapiens and the objects that take place because of them are particularly complex and articulate.

Yet, people have developed two misleading notions.

The first is an oversimplistic notion of objects that does not match with what they find in their worlds. So they have invented the equally fictionary notion of subjective experience. Subjective experience is what is left in the world once the oversimplistic notion of physical world is removed. Subjectivism is reality minus the naïve objectivism.

The second is the belief that experience is located inside the body or is the output of some activity taking place inside their bodies/brains.  

Both notions endorse the widespread belief that experience is separate from the world, and thus invented something like “non-world” acting and perceiving the world. They called this “non-world” in many different ways – soul, spirit, mind.

This is why I think that the notion of subject is not symmetrical to that of object (properly revisited). The subject is a negation of existence. It is not a positive notion but a derived one.

From Sarah

  • Also, if everything is just ‘relative’ without an absolute, does that make it dismissive?

No. Ever since Galileo, velocities are relative, and this fact has not led to the collapse of physics. The relativization of many (if not all) physical properties has not been dismissive to physics.

  • What is the relationship between the relative to materialistic views?

Traditional materialistic views have a few things in common:

  • Objects are individuals with their own autonomous (objective) properties
  • Objects are independent both from the body and from the mind
  • The variability and alleged autonomy of experience is located in the body or even in the mind

By and large, I call such family of positions naïve materialism.

In contrast I defend a new kind of materialism that is not based on naïve relativism (relativism to a subject), but on object-object relativism. Every object exists relative to another object.

  • To claim that we have (always) been taught that experience is separate — that there is a split — doesn’t feel right, but a specific stage in the evolution of consciousness, perhaps recurring, that wasn’t always there… perhaps there is a cultural differentiation happening here in regards to philosophical inquiry between here and Italy (or other geographic places), which is very sensible.

Yes, I don’t mean that that was necessary. Only that if we look at how the mind-body relation is usually conceived it entails a separation between the mind and its object (Descartes, Hume, Kant, Husserl, contemporary neuroscience).

From Nathan

  • I can see something of a brain as being an antenna into which an object extends itself.  Without brains, an object extends in relatively simpler ways.  A brain in essence scrambles the object and radiates it back out having been mixed and correlated with other extended objects.

Yes, this is consistent with Whitehead’s notion that simple objects like atom have simpler ways to take place.

From Sabina/Matthew

  • Existence and appearance – Experience and appearance
  • Whoops … exp(erience and app)earance
  • And appearance as experience of existence (mediated by belief)?

Here my position is straightforward: the world exists, it does not appear. Nothing appears everything exist. Everything appears just like the way it is. If it was different it would appear different from what it does. There is no metaphysical/ontological/physical space for an entity x to appear as anything like y. Everything is just what it is.

Appearance and existence are one and the same. This is a clear asymmetry with the objectivism/subjectivism supposed symmetry (see above).

From Sarah

  • “It is not our experience (of the world) that is mistaken — it is our belief that is mistaken.” Oooof


  • Abstract artists as seeing limited colors??? Kandinsky!!!!

My point was not that artists see limited colors. Only that they see physical colors in the world, rather than mental color in a private world. They have often complained that colors are not concocted in the mind. Among the many artists who have admitted that the mind cannot create colors by sheer imagination I remember: Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Seurat, Klimt, Picasso.

From Kat

  • Is the collective unconscious an object?  are elements of the collective unconscious events, like cooking beans with your grandmother?

I don’t see the need of having a collective unconscious. There might simple be a world that is shared by many individuals belonging to a society.

From Monica

  • If we do make a new color, it is physical reality


  • there is no reality that is not physical reality…

I agree.

From Carol

  • Thank you, Matt, for raising the question of spirit

About the spirit I add a short comment. I believe that what has been called the spirit is the meaning of existence and it is an aspect of the world. Existence is not meaningless. Existence is the very stuff meaning is made of.

Naïve materialism and science have convinced us that existence is devoid of meaning, and that the subject has to inject meaning back into reality. This is unnecessary. Meaning does not come from outside reality, but from the world itself in its becoming.

From Monica

  • well, I would also say love is the physical fabric of the universe. and there is no physical reality that is not already “spiritual reality.” that’s even better… there is no physical reality that is not already the meaning of existence. I like that.

I agree. I add that meaning is existence itself. There is no meaning outside existence and existence is meaningful. I believe it is a mistake to split the two notions (meaning and existence). The divide between the two notions is not real but it is the offshoot of the oversimplistic and meaningless notion of physical existence that has prevailed in the last four centuries.

From Samantha

  • As Riccardo is speaking about “richness of experience; I see a connection towards a greater argument in regards to ecology and natural sciences, i.e. saving endangered species – we can never imagine the experience of an Orangutan once they are gone?

Very good point. My theory provides a rational argument for ecology and altruism. We are not separate from the world. We are one with the world. Thus to our own good, we need to take care of the world. My experience is not a private world of inner mental images, my experience is the world itself. To save myself I need to save the world.

Consider the metaphysical notion of privateness which the Western tradition considers to be one of the hallmarks of our experience – If experience is private, it is separate from the world. This is bad news from ecology.

On the other hand, if my theory has any merit, our experience of the world is the world itself relative to our body. Thus, different organisms hve values because they bring into existence different worlds.

From Sherri

  • How can we apply this whole concept to the dreams, the nightmares the illusions of someone with PTSD following horrific experiences in war. What is working through my body. Truly I am in those worlds where I have been and my body

Thanks Sherri! This is a great question. According to my proposal, all events that whose effects are still ongoing are still present. The present is not the set of the events that take place at the time of one’s brain activity, but the events whose effects end together in the brain at a given time. That is the notion of the Spread Now that I outline in my book.

It is also very important your reference of PTSD cases where people are literally stuck at the time of their traumatic experience. This is precisely what I mean. That traumatic event is causally so relevant that continues to be the dominant cause of one’s existence. Thus, in my model, a PTSD victim is literally still there, because that event is causally overwhelming and prevents ensuing event from be included in one’s existence.

From Kat

  • Thomas Berry talked about how impoverished our imagination would be if our landscape, our world, looked like the moon.

Good point. Our imagination is made of the external world. A richer external world allows a richer imagination.

From Kat

  • Sean, what I heard is not that the experience is a residual experience of the past, but an actual experience in the present of the —I don’t know the word— qualities of that person that we shared and that we still experience today. maybe this is going in a different direction from Riccardo is saying, but I imagine this as a way of saying the person is alive in all of those shared experiences. stop living now, not relegated to the past.

See below

From Sean

  • What I hear Ricardo saying is that my continuing experience of the deceased person is nothing but a kind of echo of past shared experience; this is NOT my experience!

Not exactly that, rather I say that my theory is compatible with the notion that what someone is made of might be still active after one’s body death. It’s the body that dies (and is born). One’s experience neither dies nor is born. One’s experience is an eternal constituent of the ontology of the world. I believe that here we must distinguish between being eternal (as a moment of existence) and being immortal (as a cell that keeps diving). The former is a possibility of reality, the latter is a practical impossibility.

From Kat

  • But if we reshuffle reality in a way that changes the way we act, and what we perceive, are we not creating a different body?

We create a different world, not a body. The body changes too, of course, but in regards to our experience, we create different world. Each body creates its own relative world.

From Monica

  • Why couldn’t we say there is no physical reality at all that is not already the “meaning of existence”?

Existence is meaningful!

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