May 20, 2023Liked by Max Goodbird

Mach (to me) was an underrated genius, and this piece by the Superb Owl is an excellent tribute. Thank you for putting it together.

Expand full comment

This was incredibly interesting and insightful. The idea that Mach overcame Kants ‘thing itself’ problem and the subjective/objective dichotomy by making sense perceptions the ‘realest’ thing is fascinating.

Thank you

Expand full comment

Mach's philosophy is definitely very Eastern. This:

> No point of view has absolute, permanent validity. Each has importance only for some given end.

is an Eastern posture. The lack of this insight is the great flaw of the Abrahamic religions.

As to talk of the ego-less state, I find it funny that a book I read once remarked that the founders of religions have all been massively ego-inflated, which is completely true when you look at their behavior (no one with no ego gives themselves special names and titles and construct a whole system you are basically supposed to uproot your whole life to follow), and highly ironic.

I don't buy claims of almost anyone experiencing no-self, it's trivially easy to delude oneself into thinking one has no ego. I have a friend that fidgets a lot when he meditates, even scratching his face. He says this happens because he's focused on keeping his mind clear, but of course, if he were actually paying attention to his mind, random desires would not be moving all the way from conception to action unimpeded. Though there is one instance I read where a Lama showcased what it's truly like to have no ego. The Lama was giving an empowerment, which is a long ritual with lots of chanting. In the middle of the chanting, he suddenly stopped, sniffed at his armpit, and said to the crowd:

"Someone once told me I smell. Do you think I smell?"

Before anyone could react to that, he resumed the chanting like nothing had happened. That guy, him I truly believe has no ego.

The activity of someone egoless is truly astonishing. I said the founders of religions have all been ego-inflated, but the traditional view would be that they were one with God, and their activity was not theirs, but God's. There is something to that, and yet, it's pretty dangerous to attempt to spiritualize one's desires and activities by claiming they are not coming from you, similar to how a saint could never claim to be a saint. I think nasty cults get started that way.

Expand full comment

Yeah I absolutely agree.

Huxley argued that the basic mechanism of religion is ego-reduction, but it goes both ways--for every ounce of ego reduction, you get an ounce of inflation. Robert Moore's Facing the Dragon gets this perfectly: the congregation gets to deflate their egos by projecting onto the group, but the priest/guru/etc has to absorb all that energy, and is liable to lose her mind.

I do think the no-ego and and reduced-ego states of consciousness are rather common (at least in mystics/meditators/etc), but very few people can maintain that state without experiencing a compensatory inflation.

Expand full comment

Wow! Super interesting. So was he saying that sensation was fundamental and so we directly experience reality, but objective science is a structure imposed on it; or that fundamental reality is *like* sensation but more rudimentary, and what we experience is also a sort of structure imposed on it?

Besides the realism vs pragmatism issue this perspective seems like it makes the hard problem tractable, if only conceptually. But it’s first the time I’ve felt like it could be conceptually workable.

And it’s honestly amazing to see how this perspective shift influenced / preceded relativity and quantum mechanics. Two of the most important and mind-bending advancements in science.

What would you recommend for further reading? Is his own writing accessible?

Expand full comment

Yeah it's a trip--he just cuts through the mind/body problem with a new ontology. I don't think he really plays out all the consequences though. He mostly ignores the obvious question, "do things still exist when we're not looking?" Which I think is neatly solved by even the weakest forms of panpsychism.

Analysis of Sensations is linked in the sources at the bottom of the article, definitely worth a read. I'm also hoping to read The Science of Mechanics, which Einstein mentions as an influence.

Expand full comment

One small issue with elevating sensation, is that it will often come paired with a specific location in space and time, which is just another relational category.

The 'world out there' probably has just as much a point of view as any of us.

Expand full comment

In other words, Mach is the OG of the school of "perception is reality."

I get the rationale behind this alt-take, but I fear it gives too much bias to the evolutionarily-mandated and self-serving senses.

Expand full comment

Yeah I tried to address this directly in footnote 7. This is Donald Hoffman's take--the senses heavily distort "true" reality in service of evolutionary goals.

Mach would only disagree that there's a "true" reality to know beyond the senses. Specific physical states are characterized by specific sensations--what could be "false" or "illusory" about that?

So long as you include the sensory organ in your physical state, rather than drawing an arbitrary line between perceiver and perceived, the whole idea of "illusion" falls away. Sensations just are.

Expand full comment