William Kingdon Clifford (1845-1879) bedenker van 'mind-stuff', bekritiseerd door vriend Frederick Pollock

Van deze Britse wiskundige en filosoof die zich na kennisneming van Spinoza zeer voor diens filosofie ging interesseren, had ik nog niet gehoord, tot Miriam van Reijen mij op hem attendeerde en ik meteen wist dat hij een blog ging opleveren. Zij op haar beurt had over hem gelezen op de filosofiescheurkalender van dit jaar op 1 maart.

Clifford was bevriend met Sir Frederick Pollock [cf. blog]. En toen deze in 1880, een jaar naar Clifford's overlijden, zijn boek uitgaf, Spinoza. His life and philosophy (1880, herdruk in 1899) droeg hij dit op TO THE MEMORY OF MY FRIEND WILLIAM KINGDON CLIFFORD en gaf het boek het motto mee dat Clifford vaak aanhaalde:
      HOMO LIBER DE NULLA RE MINUS QUAM DE MORTE COGITAT.

Clifford was vooral meetkundige en bestudeerde, zich verzettend tegen de buitensporige analytische neiging van wiskundigen aan Cambridge, vooral niet-Euclidische meetkunde. Hij was het die in de Angelsaksische wereld Bernhard Riemann's ideeën over de niet-Euclidische meetkunde introduceerde. Toch is naar hem de Clifford-algebra genoemd, een soort associatieve algebra. In 1870 schreef hij Over de ruimtelijke theorie van materie, waarin hij beargumenteerde dat energie en materie twee verschillende typen waren van de ruimtekromming. Deze ideeën speelden later een fundamentele rol in Albert Einsteins algemene relativiteitstheorie.

Hij huwde de schrijfster Lucy Lane. Hij stierf net als Spinoza, maar tien jaar jonger dan deze, aan tuberculose.

Hij muntte de term 'mind-stuff' (geeststof) en paste deze toe op zijn metafysica van lichaam en geest. Hij deed dat in zijn essay "On the nature of things in themselves," [in: Mind, 1878] Overigens zie *)

Eerst iets uit brieven van William Kingdon Clifford aan Frederick Pollock uit 1870; ze waren toen beiden 25 jaar.

Een brief van jan. 1870: Sends some lithographed notes on analytical geometry. [H. R.] Luard has told him that they cannot become Masters of Arts till next term. Doesn't know Grote. Makes philosophical remarks on Pollock's 'shiny hat'. 'Is Auerbach's Spinoza all about Clara Maria van der Ende? I think she must have been an interesting person.' Thinks the 'new Shelley' [possibly the revised edition of his works issued in 1869] a 'detestable book'. 'Sidgwick says that in Myers' poem [probably 'The Translation of Faith' in Poems (1870)] the figure of Faith as Our Lady is only realistic and does not mean anything-what do you think?'.

Een brief van ws. mei 1870: 'My sweet Fred! as if I ever slept in that miracle of folly called bed! I balance a leaf of my table on two chairs (to be out of the way of cockroaches!) and sleep as softly as if it were a slab of marble.' Praises Pollock's 'Spinoza' [probably the unsigned review of R. Willis's Benedict de Spinoza (1870) in the Spectator, 7 May 1870]. Imagines an amusing exchange with 'a typical Cambridge rector'. It is feared that Keary will not be a success. [Cf.]

Clifford definieerde "mind-stuff" als volgt [in: "On the Nature of Things-in-Themselves", Mind, Vol. 3 (1878), No. 9, pp. 57–67), ook opgenomen in deel 2 van Lectures and essays (zie onder)]:

"That element of which, as we have seen, even the simplest feeling is a complex, I shall call Mind-stuff. A moving molecule of inorganic matter does not possess mind or consciousness ; but it possesses a small piece of mind-stuff. When molecules are so combined together as to form the film on the under side of a jelly-fish, the elements of mind-stuff which go along with them are so combined as to form the faint beginnings of Sentience. When the molecules are so combined as to form the brain and nervous system of a vertebrate, the corresponding elements of mind-stuff are so combined as to form some kind of consciousness; that is to say, changes in the complex which take place at the same time get so linked together that the repetition of one implies the repetition of the other. When matter takes the complex form of a living human brain, the corresponding mind-stuff takes the form of a human consciousness, having intelligence and volition."

Clifford en Pollock moeten hierover flink gediscussieerd en van mening verschild hebben. Nadat Clifford in maart 1879 was overleden publiceerde Pollock in juni alvast de inleiding die in de tweedelige essaybundel van stukken van zijn vriend datzelfde jaar zou verschijnen:

Sir Frederick Pollock, "William Kingdon Clifford", in The Living Age, Volume 141 (June 14, 1879), p. 657-669. Note: "This paper is part of the introduction to the forthcoming collection of Prof. Clifford's essays, shortly to be published by Messrs. Macmillan & Co." [Cf.]

William Kingdon Clifford, Lectures and essays. Leslie Stephen & Frederick Pollock (Eds.). Macmillan and Co., London, 1879 -Volume 2 archive (editie 1901), Volume 1 [archive], Volume 2 [archive] cf. ook books.google  

Hier enige grepen uit de inleiding:

"Here was a man who utterly dismissed from his thoughts, as being unprofitable or worse, all speculations on a future or unseen world; a man to whom life was holy and precious, a thing not to be despised, but to be used with joyfulness; a soul full of life and light, ever longing for activity, ever counting what was achieved as not worthy to be reckoned in comparison of what was left to do. And this is the witness of his ending, that as never man loved life more, so never man feared death less. He fulfilled well and truly that great saying of Spinoza, often in his mind and on his lips: Homo liber de nulla re minus quam de morte cogitat. (p. 31)

[...] He had a high admiration for Berkeley, next only to Hume, and even more, perhaps, for the Ethics of Spinoza. The interpretation of Spinoza's philosophy which I have put forward on one or two occasions was common to Clifford and myself, and on that subject (as, indeed, on everything we discussed together) I owe very much to him. He was to have lectured on Spinoza at the London Institution in 1877, but his health would not allow it. There is little doubt that this would have been one of his most brilliant and original discourses. Students of Spinoza will easily trace the connection between his theory of mind and matter and the doctrine set forth in Clifford's Essays on "Body and Mind," and "The Nature of Things-in-themselves." This was arrived at, to the best of my recollection, in 1871 or 1872; certainly before 1874, in which year the last-mentioned paper was read [p. 49] at a meeting of the Metaphysical Society. Briefly put, the conception is that mind is the one ultimate reality; not mind as we know it in the complex forms of conscious feeling and thought, but the simpler elements out of which thought and feeling are built up. The hypothetical ultimate element of mind, or atom of mind-stuff, precisely corresponds to the hypothetical atom of matter, being the ultimate fact of which the material atom is the phenomenon. Matter and the sensible universe are the relations between particular organisms, that is, mind organised into consciousness, and the rest of the world. This leads to results which would in a loose and popular sense be called materialist. But the theory must, as a metaphysical theory, be reckoned on the idealist side. To speak technically, it is an idealist monism. Indeed it is a very subtle form of idealism, and by no means easy of apprehension at first sight. Nevertheless there are distinct signs of a convergence towards it on the part of recent inquirers who have handled philosophical problems in a scientific spirit, and particularly those who have studied psychology on the physiological side. Perhaps we shall be told that this proves the doctrine to be materialism in disguise ; but it is hardly worth while to dispute about names while more serious things remain [p. 50] for discussion. And the idea does require much more working out ; involving, as it does, extensive restatement and rearrangement of metaphysical problems. It raises not only several questions, but preliminary (and really fundamental) problems as to what questions are reasonable. For instance, it may be asked why, on this hypothesis, mind should become conscious at a particular degree of complexity, or be conscious at all. I should myself say that I do not know and do not expect ever to know, and I believe Clifford would have said the same. But I can conceive some one taking up the theory and trying to make it carry further refinements and explanations.

Again, a more subtle objection, but in my opinion a fallacious one, would be that it is not really a monism but a dualism, putting mind (as the undetermined mind-stuff} and consciousness in place of the old-fashioned matter and mind. This, however, is not the place to pursue the subject; and I do not think the outline of the hypothesis can be made clearer by any explanation of mine than Clifford has already made it Looking back on this brilliant piece of speculation after seven years, I suppose my sight is more impartial. I alter nothing of what I wrote in the first edition, but feel bound in sincerity to add that I cannot now accept mind-stuff. The atom of mind- [p.51] stuff is a " thing in itself": Clifford so described it. But the purpose of modern philosophy is to abolish things in themselves. Kant proved them unknowable: the inevitable step onward is to cast them out as illusions, though Kant would not take it. By no amount of ingenious manipulation can psychology henceforth be made to serve instead of metaphysics. Mind per se, or mind-stuff, abstracted by Clifford's or any like method from the intelligible world, is no more intelligible than matter per se. We have simplified a scientific statement, not solved a philosophical problem. [52]

De gemarkeerde passage ook in het Nederlands: "Kortom, de opvatting is dat de geest de ultieme werkelijkheid is; niet de geest zoals wij die kennen in de complexe vormen van bewust voelen en denken, maar als het eenvoudigere bestanddeel waaruit denken en voelen zijn opgebouwd. Het hypothetische ultieme bestanddeel van de geest, of atoom of geeststof, correspondeert exact met het hypothetische atoom van de materie, het ultieme gegeven waarvan het stoffelijke atoom het verschijnsel is. Materie en het waarneembare universum zijn de relaties tussen bijzonder organismen, dat wil zeggen, tussen de geest georganiseerd in bewustzijn, en de rest van de wereld. Dat leidt tot het resultaat dat in een oppervlakkige en populaire betekenis materialistisch genoemd zou kunnen worden. Maar de theorie moet, als een metafysische theorie, gerekend worden tot de idealistische kant. Technisch gezegd, is het een ideaal monisme." [Cf. nl.wiki]

Dat is precies ook de indruk die het mij gaf, nogal idealistisch, dus heb ik hier niets aan toe of af te doen. 

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*) The clearest and most succinct exposition of the mind-stuff position, however, was provided by Morton Prince (1854-1929) in The Nature of Mind and Human Automatism (1885): "instead of there being one substance with twoproperties or 'aspects,' -- mind and motion, -- there is one substance, mind; and the other apparent property, motion, is only the way in which this real substance, mind, is apprehended by a second organism: only the sensations of, or effect upon, the second organism, when acted upon (ideally) by the real substance, mind" (pp. 28-29). For Prince, in other words, the psychical monism of mind-stuff constituted a modern form of immaterialism. Cf PDF

William Kingdon Clifford, "The Ethics of Belief" (in Contemporary Review, 1877) Volledige tekst op Wikisource, samenvatting op Wikiquote ook als PDF

William Kingdon Clifford op nl.wikipedia en en.wikipedia

Zijn teksten op archive.org

Website over William and Lucy Clifford