How Two Minds Can Know One Thing | Nov 2003

FMBR Editorial: Nov, 2003

How Two Minds Can Know One Thing

In Memoriam - Dean Brown

Sylver Quedado and William C. Gough

In loving memory of Dean Brown

This essay is in loving memory of Dean Brown. Dean was someone I was instantly close to. The first time we met we talked on for an hour straight. He said to me with a big parting smile, "We've covered everything that's important tonight. The rest just follows from it." You can't do that with someone, "cover everything that's important," unless you can communicate the unspoken alongside all the words. And you can't do that with someone (communicate the unspoken) unless you can love him or her, openly and in an instant. That was Dean and he could do all that, even easily.

Sometime later we were immersed in another conversation meandering through the history of science, epistemology and philosophy. It was like our own chapter meeting of the Metaphysical Club, that now renowned discussion group of the founders of American Pragmatism. William James, Charles Saunders Peirce, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. and other "long-headed youths" used to meet "half-ironically, half-defiantly" as the Metaphysical Club in James' or Peirce's study in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1872. Dean was fond of pointing out that Peirce was not only the most original and important American philosopher but also the most original and important Philosopher period. It has even been suggested that Dean was a reincarnation of Peirce, something that seemed not so far-fetched when you would hear Dean expound on Peirce's complex ideas with uncanny clarity and familiarity. As we traversed this uncertain territory we came to the question: How can we actually know what someone else means when they think something and then tell us? Dean stopped and said to me, "James once wrote an essay on that, How two minds can know one thing." I was rapt and left with Dean's words on my mind. When I got home I went to my collection of James' writings. And there it was, written in 1905 and originally published in the Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Method. So I wrote a piece on this for Dean and gave it to him shortly before he died. I am still flattered by the fact that he liked it and warmed by the memory of his smile in all these matters.

This essay and the full piece I gave Dean along with references appear on the FMBR web site. Here are some excerpts: What does James say about "How can two minds know one thing?" James notes that at the moment we "know" a pen (for example) in the sense of recognizing it as a cognition it attaches to our consciousness with feelings, nuance. It becomes our "own" experience and in this way enters our consciousness. So now we can see how one mind can know a thing. What about two minds? A paradox emerges. My consciousness is unique so how can something of my consciousness be shared by someone else's? Not to worry says James. "The paradox of the same experience figuring in two consciousnesses seems thus no paradox at all. To be 'conscious' means not simply to be, but to be reported, known, to have awareness of one's being added to that being." So two minds know one thing by attaching that one thing to each of their consciousnesses in its unique way. Is it the same thing?

James never answers this but implies that the thing is the same but "knowing" it is unique. Then he climbs in a hot air balloon and leaves the swamp beckoning to us. "Understand this is not a logical difficulty," he tells us waving from the air. "it is an ontological difficulty rather." So we can understand how two minds can know one thing. And we can further see how we take for granted that the same thing is known and that on deeper examination how knowing is really unique to the individual. But why is it an ontological difficulty? "Relationship, or course," it seems he is saying but his voice is drawing fainter. James offers a few corollaries from post-Kantian idealists, his white scarf flowing in the air, but we can't hear him. And he is clearly losing interest as he enjoys a magnificent view of us, still in the swamp.

Sylver Quevedo, M.D. FMBR President

Remembrance of Dr. Dean Brown

Dean, a frequent FMBR presenter, died on June 24, 2003 at the age of 75. He was one of the most remarkable persons I have ever encountered. Tributes to Dean appear on the FMBR web site and recognize his love, humility, and generosity of spirit. Dean could talk to anyone about anything. In addition to being a top notch quantum physicist, he was a computer scientist, an entrepreneur, a composer of music, and a Sanskrit scholar. Dean searched for the metaphysical invariants that underpin our physical world, and his book Cosmic Law is available on the FMBR web site, as well as two papers we co-authored: "Domain of Unbounded Potential: The Science of the Absolute" and "Resonance, Coherence, and Us." We all greatly miss Dean and the deep wisdom that he possessed.

Willian C. Gough