History of the self from Descartes to Kant

Grammar, space, Salvia, and Buddhism



CSH 0:00

So I just asked Sera why Descartes is famous. He’s so famous. He’s like, they call him the “father of modern philosophy” and all this stuff. He’s super important. But what’s that great thing? Did he actually do anything valuable? Sera said that it was: Descartes was super strong about the importance of being skeptical and critical about received knowledge.

Sera 0:24

We should have no previously held assumptions as the foundations of our knowledge.

CSH 0:29

Right. So this is an anti-assumptionism. And it’s an anti-prejudice program, also. He’s saying that philosophy should erase all assumptions. But then what’s left? Because isn’t everything an assumption? And so he found in the universe of facts, a single fact, that wasn’t an assumption. That’s why he’s so famous.

“I doubt, therefore, I think. I think therefore, I exist.”

Sera 0:49

It wasn’t him; or, it wasn’t just him. I remember my philosophy […] Yeah, but there was somebody before him who said that, too.

CSH 1:03

Did that person make doubt the engine that produced the existence?

Sera 1:07


CSH 1:10

So here’s my here’s my idea. So Kant is famous for ... What’s Kant’s famous idea in the First Critique?

Sera 1:17

I don’t know. I’ve never even read that!

CSH 1:20

We don’t know a lot, but we know one thing for sure. That knowledge has a unity that fits a unitary knower. Kant’s principle is that the knower is unified. And if you can understand the structure of the knower’s unity, then you can read the deep structure of the universe. The knower turns the form of its ingesting the universe into its “basic model” of the universe, i.e., an infinite space filled with causally interacting physical objects.

So Kant says,

I know a shortcut to metaphysics!

(meaning, the deep reality that puts together the physical world)

It’s my unity as a knower. If the universe didn’t fit the shape of my self as a knower, then I wouldn’t miss it and I wouldn’t know it.

So the structure of my knowing consciousness is to be found in the universe as its deep, deep metaphysical structure. And that’s exactly right, because you do, in fact, put it together.

Consciousness puts the universe together. So if we know the fault lines of reality, then we know the seams between the parts that the “I” has. So you can do an anatomy of the “I,” not of the physical eye, but of the epistemic “I.” He thought that the epistemic “I” has an intelligible structure. It wasn’t simple, like a little atom or monad. The epistemic “I” has the structure of language because it knows through language.

So you can use grammar as an anatomy of your Knower. Not of your spirit or ghost or anything like that, but of the knower as a constructive agent and receptacle. Because the knower has a certain has intentionality (that is, it has a kind of a hunger). And then it asserts things—affirmation creates a verbal fact. It captures this fact in word relations. Sentences have a deep structure of logic from which we can spin webs of necessity. We can spin webs of rational necessity, using logic as a connective tissue to make a web or a lattice of inferences: “This fact leads to this fact leads to this fact ...” And all the facts fit together in a web not in a jumble.

So the “I” has unintelligible structure. It’s written in the sands of grammar, logic, inference, and computer programming. Everything we know, we construct through the separate–predicate form.

The S–P is very deep. Kant thought that its depth was the depth of physics. And that’s actually true! That’s actually true—because we do speak about our knowledge. And our speaking we take seriously. The meaning of our speech we take to be factual, the meaning of our speech we take to be out there in space. There’s a correspondence between grammar and stuff in space. That’s very deep. That’s why Kant is famous.

But here’s the cheesy gay part that I wanted to point out. Here’s my point. How did Kant couch this little discovery of his [that the unity of physical being rests on S–P? Just like Descartes, Kant brings the “I” in to save the universe!

Descartes brought the “I” in as a substance. But Kant the invited the “I” in to defeat Hume and save the [known] universe [described by physics]. Our knowledge of the truths of physics has the same grade of certainty as our knowledge of the truths of logic and geometry. That is Kant’s official program. He says, “I want to show you that Newton is just as true as Euclid and Aristotle. That’s really good.

Newton is as true as Euclid and Arisototle.

So but but look at the cheesy method that Kant used. He brought in the “I” just like Descartes. He said, “Hey, everybody, I’m going to save the day. In this world of easy skepticism, what’s the hard foundation that you’ll bring us? It’s the “I” once again. Except this time it’s not the “I” as a foundation. It’s the “I” as a glue, as a unity. It’s the unity of the “I” that Kant shoots out into space to defeat Hume. That’s exactly what Kant does. He says, “No, Hume—you’re wrong. The world is not a jumble of atoms falsely linked by subjective association. It has unity necessarily. It has my unity. So Kant brings the “I” in again, as the hero, to save the universe. Except now it’s the glue “I” rather than the indefeasible ontic “I” of Descartes. That’s how Descartes typifies the “I”—it’s an undefeatable existent. But Kant is like, “Fuck existence, I want to know how my “I” works. And hey everybody, Newton is as right as anyone—because if the world didn’t cohere in Newton’s way, then my ‘I’ wouldn’t have a unity. I would be exploded into chaos, and there would be no cone into which all my knowledge moves.”

And the self does have a point-like nature in relationship to its knowing. Doesn’t it feel like a unity? Do you feel that (1) out here is space, and that (2) the deeper you get to yourself the more unified things are? There’s an internalness to it.

Anyway, I found it cheesy that Kant would bring the “I” in like Descartes. What a copycat.

CSH 6:21

Are you upset?

Sera 6:27

Should I just start writing down the questions when you get like this? So I don’t forget. Just forget it. I had about four important questions that I actually wanted that would help clarify what you’re saying to me, but you … and started hitting me while you’re talking.


I’m sorry.


This is why you can’t be a professor. You wouldn’t let any of the fucking students talk.

CSH 6:36

I’m not teaching right now. I just want you to hear my idea. I appreciate you being patient and listening. The important thing when I get going like this. The important thing is just the listening.

Sera 6:47

If you’re just gonna keep on talking and I have so many questions …

CSH 6:49

I’m sorry. The only reason I did that is because I hadn’t reached my climax yet. I was reaching it with you. I didn’t have it out yet.

Sera 6:57

Your teaching and my learning styles are very different.

CSH 7:01

I wasn’t teaching. I was, I was, I was giving birth.

Sera 7:03

I don’t like being a supportive listener.

CSH 7:06

I was really giving birth with you. I’m sorry. I know I used you to help me. I’ll pay you. I’ll buy you something.

Sera 7:10

You might as well just get a sex doll or something if that’s what you need a person for. Or any doll.

CSH 7:18

You’re right. I was using you to listen. I have to pay you though. I value your time. I can pay you.

Sera 7:22

One stupid thing I was going to tell you is that maybe should write a book that says, From Descartes to Kant: the uniting force of the I.

CSH 7:31

That’s an excellent idea.

Sera 7:35

Are you joking?

CSH 7:35

Is that your question? No I’m not joking. Really?

Sera 7:38

Well I don’t know!

CSH 7:39

When you say that I feel like you don’t know me. Certainly you know me Sera Kong.

Sera 7:43

I feel like a subtitle […]

CSH 7:45

That’s what I liked about you. I felt like you knew me. Yeah. I think that’s an excellent idea. That’s something Dr. Seung would suggest. He’s good at finding unifying things like that. Like you just did with that title.

Sera 7:56

What’s the difference between grammar and logic?

CSH 8:02

Grammar looks at the rich concrete detail of the meaning that things have. Like prepositions really have a certain function. And then like, the imperative has a real function. (Obviously, right?) And then the conditional. Maybe I shouldn’t talk about the conditional. What’s more important is the weird stuff, like the subjunctive versus the indicative. Like, “I will eat this soup” versus “I would eat this soup.” “Would” is subjunctive and it brings in desire and also this other background. So grammar finds a weird meat inside these grammatical functions. It’s not just position in a sentence. It really means something. Like Kant says this. He’s like, “When I put ‘metal’ in the predicate position, or in this other position, it changes the whole world.”

If I say, “This metal is pretty,” “metal” is a stuff. But if I say, “This thing is metal,” suddenly “metal” is far off—and it’s no longer concrete. So grammar shows you what your imagination is serious about. You’re motivated by a certain epistemic hunger—we naturally want to understand things, we want to get them. So there’s, forwardness in [the declarative attitude]. But as it’s moving forward, it invents ghosts and phantoms and fantasy poetic things. So it’s looking at pixels, but it’s throwing poetry at it.

It’s like, for example, substance versus property. That’s a bizarre thing, right? That’s medieval metaphysics. That’s 1000 years of human inquiry. The difference between stuffs and properties. Green is a property. But this particular [green] thing is a stuff. Plastic is a stuff. So putting something in the subject position makes it into a stuff. Putting something in the predicate position makes it into a Platonic universal in heaven, and it’s not really here in space. But making it in some subject puts it in space. So right now I can say, “This table is chewy.” Table is in space. But if I say, “This wood is in table form,” now “table” is just something that’s like a quality.

So grammar looks at the metaphysics of poetic imagination.

Sera 10:13

The logic of imagination?

CSH 10:16

But then when you look to see how certain little words help sentences fit together into truth, making truth tables. All this grammatical shit fits in a truth table somewhere. If you erase all the grammatical shit and just look at how the facts link WRT truth preservation. As in, “If link A to B, and B to C—will D come out T or F?”

So grammar lets you put those things into propositiosn, but after that, you can ignore the grammar and just look at either (1) the whole sentence itself as true or false, or (2) you can refer to things and properties use variables with “some” and “all”—e.g., “Some x are green,” so there exists an x such that xG. Now that I have that translated, I can relax and forget about grammar, and I can plug my well-formed sentences into a computer and I can find out (1) how they will make other sentences true or false, and (2) how they link in a web of true and false. So you’re connecting sentences together in a big in a big crystal framework where each one is hanging on to others, which are hanging on to others, etc. “All men are mortal.” Well that means that you’re a mortal—because you’re a member of that class. So you look at how things spread out and inferentially transmit truth. With logic, you’re looking at true and false.

Sera 11:14

So grammar is logic with content.

CSH 11:17

Yes, very good. That’s good. And it’s wider—it covers more a lot more turf, like as a grammar of prepositions. But logic abstracts from the details. “The table is by the chair.” Okay, that’s fine, is it true or false? But you don’t get into the mystery of the “by.” Because “by” is linguistic. It’s not really in space. “By” shows an interest, not a brute object. I’m interested in the table being near the chair. Oh my god, you’re throwing all this biological shit in there and you’re reading it off as ontic. “By” and “therefore” are powers of imagination. We see them as being out there in space, but they’re just pure, fictional projections. So grammar looks at looks at the fictions that we project.

Sera 11:59

OK. The other question I had was—you were saying that Kant thought that the structure of the “I,” which I guess is grammar and logic, helps you understand the metaphysics of reality.

CSH 11:59

Yes, the physical world that you talk about, is the world that can be talked about.

But then it’s not of reality. Or at least, it’s only of your reality.

Yes, it’s only of pixels. That’s right. All you get are pixels.

Sera 12:29

Are philosophers just annoyed of saying all the time, “Oh, our reality?”

CSH 12:34

That’s right. That’s a good point. I’m speaking to you after the phenomenological turn. We’re living in a universe now that understands that the world is the back of our “I” throwing electricity through a bunch of wet meat. Space itself is made by the brain. For Joseph Campbell, that’s Kant’s greatest idea. Schopenhauer said the same thing. Kant’s greatest idea is that even space itself is a construction of wet, buzzing, electrical fan. It’s incredible. You have lightly buzzing electrical fat up here, and it creates space. Yet doesn’t space feel open. Don’t you feel like your consciousness is smeared through space and it’s empty? That’s an incredible production of vibrating fat jelly, isn’t it? The fat jelly produces space as if it [the jelly] is somehow in it!

Sera 12:57


CSH 13:07

It’s incredible.

Sera 13:24


CSH 13:30

That’s the deepest question. That’s Sebastian Seung’s question.

Sera 13:33

But why would it even propose it? Like what is the reason for proposing it?

CSH 13:38

Our meat make space to keep our bodies alive so we can have babies.

Sera 13:43

You have to describe it more than that.

CSH 13:45

We’re material machines that have certain compulsions because we exist biologically and we have to act that way or we get hurt by actual physical pain.

Sera 13:55

But why create space though?

CSH 13:57

It allows us to “see” our body in space so we can get away from that shark. If I have space, I’m better able to move my body away from the shark because I see my body as a thing in space with the shark. So we create a three-dimensional world [in perception] and yet we know the world is actually 10 dimensional. So our meat is making this funny fake reality of three dimensions, which we know is fake from Salvia, which lets you experience it directly. So, Salvia is proof that 3-space is a fiction, it’s made by meat.

Sera 14:24

You can see all 10 dimensions on Salvia?

CSH 14:27

Reality is really 10 dimensional, but we only perceive three—1 [left–right], 2 [up–down], and 3 [forward–back]; and time is a fake 4th. But we can’t get past that.

Sera 14:36

How does Salvia do that though?

CSH 14:44

Because consciousness is a chemical process and it’s changing the process.

Sera 14:51

But how do you know that Salvia is portraying reality?

CSH 14:51

We know from from actual physical experimentation, that reality is actually literally 10 or 11 dimensional.

Sera 14:58

But how do you know that what you see on Salvia is that?

CSH 15:03

How do you know that the three dimensions that you are perceiving right now are really out there?

Sera 15:08

Yeah, I get that. But how do you know that Salvia is portraying something that’s more real than normal perception?

CSH 15:13

I’m saying that three dimensions is a portrayal it’s not real. Because we know it’s not real, and that 10 is real. So that proves that three is fake.

Sera 15:23

I mean, how do you know that your experience on Salvia has greater reality the three-dimensional portrayal?

CSH 15:32

I don’t think it has greater reality, but it does allow us to get to four. We really get four—the getting is real. There’s a real getting of four. It’s really there.

I have these friends I’m hanging out with him the same stairway in this other … it’s like an arcade in Italy. We’re just sitting there on a sidewalk leaning against a railing and we’re all laughing. “Oh my god, I got lost in that character again! And then I start to come back in this body. And I forget those guys. But I’m actually hanging out with those guys on the sidewalk. And that’s the real reality. And this is like a fun game we’re playing as we’re leaning on the railing in that Italian town where we fall into a 3-D fantasy [i.e., this 3-space universe]. We can do that on a higher dimension. This is a game for us, we forgot. And we get lost in the drama. That’s that’s part of the game. [The getting lost is interesting] and it’s what we like to talk about. The value of our gift when we return—the art object—is the story of how we took that life seriously. That’s what we’re passing around on that railing. While we’re laughing. An hour there is like three or four lifetimes here.

Sera 16:36

I had the exact same feeling. It was like my mom and my sister. I heard them laughing at me and they were saying, “Wake up! Wake up! Your whole life is a dream!”

CSH 16:46

That’s right. That’s right. Those are your real family.

Sera 16:47

But I wanted to cry.

CSH 16:50

That’s right. Those are actually your real friends. We have a lot better friends in that higher dimension. People a lot more friendly. People really alienated in 3-space—there’s a lot of alienation and isolation down here. That’s also a part of the storytelling. That’s the beauty of the dramas that we tell each other on the Italian sidewalk. You [and your true family] are also on a sidewalk, or in a den, or in some familial, domestic, happy, social place. It’s an ecosystem of souls and they more naturally overlap there. There’s a lot less fear.

3-space is very convincing. Salvia lets you see your real context in like 30 seconds. You’re like, “Oh my fucking god.” It’s like a relief of remembering, isn’t it? And then you come back to this fucking shit. The Sisyphean shit that we live in.

Sera 17:40

I cling to this more. You see it as relief, but for me it’s … I mean, of course, yes, there’s the pain of attachment. But to actually learn to care about something or to even remember mundane things. And all of a sudden they gain the greatest importance when you realize how trivial … they’re just mere pixels formulated in a certain way. No one pixel having more importance than the others. No formation of pixels having more importance than the others. And yet you …

CSH 18:07

That’s Buddhism. That’s excellent. That’s the best description of Buddhism I’ve ever heard. Buddhism is being the pure clarity of the pure subject, not identifying with any configuration. You’re just like this lucidity. Like you’re a crystal—crystal, lightning, lucidity and light. And spac. They call it empty clear space.

Sera 18:30

And there has to be a detachment. And then they keep using the word “attachment” but sometimes they should say the word “love.”

CSH 18:35

Crowley! That’s Crowley’s rehabilitation of Buddhism. He says that Buddhism is right [about the ontic situation], but love is the game [motivating the thrownness]. The universe has split itself into two for the joy of the experience of reunion. So we have to create this pain of isolation and suffering in order to enjoy the reemergence of love. That’s Crowley’s highly romantic metaphysics. He says that the universe is dualistic in order to experience the orgasm of reuniting back together again. Love.

Sera 19:06

But that’s not what I’m talking about. The reuniting part isn’t love. Or maybe I’m using love in the wrong way.

CSH 19:08

Love drives that game of separation and dualism in order to experience itself more richly. Love creates separation in order to luxuriate in the return.

Sera 19:27

Maybe that’s somewhere down the line. I mean that somehow, if I knew that I was going to wake up and I wouldn’t be anything I that would recognize myself as when I do, then what can I possibly say to you … What can I tell you to express that I care for you when you’re not even real.

CSH 19:54

[Misunderstanding #1:] Oh no, no, no, no, no, that’s not gonna happen. We see ourselves as being the same configuration as the human animal that we project in the fantasy world. So I’m just as fictional as you are. But I still love myself, I care about myself, because I’m biologically embodied. So my self-love is naturally …. I mean, when you incarnate in 3-space, you have self-love [automatically]—it’s forced on you. Clinging (that’s the official term in Buddhism for that thing you were talking about a second ago, you used a different word, “attachment”) is a corollary of biological embodiment.

Clinging is the foundation of consciousness for biology. Consciousness was born as a way for atoms to trick a colony of themselves to move in a unified way. And it does that by creating pain, or feeling—it’s called “feeling” in Buddhism. And what it means is the pain of concern. So that is, that’s the penalty of being embodied in 3-space: your matter won’t hold up and make it an intelligent electrical fat unless it’s full of fear and pain. Because only that will keep the organism alive. Otherwise we’d be sitting at home on fire laughing and chopping our bodies up and handing them out as gifts. Joking, being silly, ripping our faces off, shooting ourselves, and liquifying ourselves in blenders. Imagine what performance art would be. You would just destroy your body in this beautiful, outgoing, way. People would clap for you because they know you’re immortal. How noble of you. Like Man on Wire. A little bit of that is in Philippe’s speech about “how beautiful my death would be.” He’s toying with his own existence from that perspective of that transcendent “artist’s consciousness,” isn’t he? When he says that we recognize the gesture as so noble. Wow. It’s really deep.

Sera 21:46

I’m trying trying to tell you something really simple right now. I mean, I love everything you say, but … I’m saying that while Buddhists described attachment as undesirable and weak …

CSH 21:50

No, not as weak. It just creates suffering. Actually, they say we should be bodhisattvas and purposely come back in order to help others and be compassionate. That’s the highest form of Buddhism.

Sera 22:02

I’m saying nobody focuses on how beautiful the attachment is. And that’s what I like about it.

CSH 22:07

Yes. Yes, you’re right. Buddism is, finally, world denying. In the end, it is. That’s right. Nietzsche said that, too. Nietzsche said that everything in Buddhism is correct, except that in the final analysis it denies the world, instead of embraces it. Remember, Nietzsche was a Buddhist because Schopenhauer was a Buddhist.

Very good. Excellent! Great conversation! This is Sera’s best conversation.