HBL   The Harry Binswanger List

Three Sample Posts by Harry Binswanger

  1. The Subconscious  — June 26, 2006
  2. "Cashin'-in" and an anti-economic theory  —   June 28 2006
  3. What "Religion of Peace?"  —  July 5, 2006

The Subconscious

June 26, 2006

In discussions on members' days, the questions have arisen: what facts of reality give rise to the need for the concept "subconscious"? what is the relation of the subconscious to the brain?

The father of the (Objectivist) concept of "subconscious" is really Aristotle. He observes that you can have knowledge while not exercising it (Nicomachean Ethics, VII, 3).

Also Aristotelian is the point I have made that the subconscious is embodied in the brain--the brain qua potential to send material "up" to consciousness. Aristotle says that knowledge possessed but not exercised, exists as a potential. And, in general, he holds that whatever is potential is grounded in the actual state of what has that potential (e.g., a log has the potential to burn because it has, before burning, a certain actual chemical structure).

Let me now give my own presentation of these points.

1. We in some sense "have" knowledge and conclusions that are not at the present moment in consciousness. E.g., before I wrote this, you already "had" the knowledge of what year you were born. But, presumably, that knowledge wasn't in your consciousness until I wrote this. In addition to stored contents, there are also processes--notably, those generating emotions-- processes that don't go through consciousness but can be monitored in retrospection.

The existence of stored contents and processes that are not currently in awareness but which can be made available to awareness are the basis and meaning of the concept of "subconscious."

2. Now, at the times those contents and processes aren't in conscious awareness, where are they? There is no other person inside you "holding" all these things in "his consciousness." So, prior to sending them up to consciousness, they aren't mental at all. What are they? Physical. Where are these physical things located? In the nervous system (not in the muscles or bones).

Are all things in the nervous system "subconscious"? No; e.g., the processes underlying perception, the brain regions devoted to controlling heartrate, the brain mechanisms, newly discovered, for translating short-term memory into long-term memory, and many other such things are not part of the subconscious because they cannot be sent up to consciousness.

So the "subconscious" is that set of neural things that have the potential to produce conscious content, qua being such. It's those *physically* stored memories, integrative processes, and whatever else, regarded as a potential source of conscious content. To use the computer analogy, the subconscious is the information stored on your hard disk, regarded from the aspect of its being able to be accessed and sent to your screen.

To be 100% accurate, instead of "physically" above, you'd have to say "non-conscious." It's not 100% certain that "physical" and "conscious" exhaust the field, but I'm assuming they do. The idea that the content and processes of the subconscious are neural finds support in such facts as that injury to the brain can cause amnesia, and that electrical stimulation of certain brain regions can cause one to recall certain memories. But, again, what is philosophically (vs. scientifically) established is that the subconscious is non- conscious. Our consciousness has available to it enormously more content and processes than those few that are in either focal or peripheral awareness at any given moment. If we did not, we would be like newborn infants, tabula rasa.



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"Cashin'-in" and an anti-economic theory,

June 28 2006

I record FoxNews' "Cashin' in" on Saturdays to later view HBLer Jonathan Hoenig, a regular on the show. Last Saturday, another panelist put forward the lunatic idea that hedge funds raise the price of oil. I thought the days of demonization of "speculators" were behind us. Apparently not.

What Mr. Hoenig probably didn't get a chance to say--he is always shouted down before he can get much out--is that hedge funds *lower* the price of oil. All speculation works to provide a more rational allocation of supply than would otherwise exist, and this serves, long-term, to lower costs and thus prices. Speculation and arbitrage provide liquidity and smooth out price fluctuations--that is how speculators and arbitrageurs make their money.

Speculators do not create supply or demand, they work to predict it. Arbitrageurs do not create market discrepancies-- they profit by eliminating them (to everyone's gain).

The "economics" of those who think that speculators create price increases (or decreases), or who think that oil companies withhold oil (you know, in those secret tankers waiting offshore) to raise the price, are the equivalent of alchemists and astrologers. They believe in the economic equivalent of a perpetual motion machine: something that does work (work in the physics sense of a force moving a mass through a distance) without requiring the expenditure of energy. Something that uses friction (so its internal parts won't slip off each other) to operate its machinery without encountering friction--a non-A A.

In exactly the same way, the anti-speculator theories posit that you can withhold supply to raise prices without encountering the equivalent (actually greater, due to transaction costs) fall in prices when you try to unload that same supply to profit from it. (I have long thought that the three laws of thermodynamics have their equivalents in economics.)

An old Wall Street joke explains the conundrum. A man phones his broker and says, "I think Universal Widget is going up--buy me a thousand shares." The price then goes up a little. The man phones back and say, "I was right, buy me another 5,000 shares." The price rises again. The cycle repeats a few times, with the stock price soaring. Then the man phones the broker and says, "Okay, now is the time to take my profit: sell." "Sell?" the broker responds, "To whom?!"

You can't lift yourself by your own bootstraps, and you can't create profit by artificially raising a price by the very same tactic that will artificially lower it when you try . . . drum roll . . . cashing in.


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What "religion of peace"?

July 5, 2006

For months we have been arguing whether Islam is based on some unique, aggressive element. There has also been argument as to whether this issue is to be settled by reference to the Koran. I have asked for specific references in the Koran that endorse violence, aggression, death to the infidel, etc.

Now, thanks to research by Stephen Grossman, all this is settled. For how would you classify this passage from the Sacred Book:

If there arises among you a prophet, or dreamer of dreams . . . saying, 'let us go after other gods, which you have not known, and let us serve them' you shall not hearken to the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for Allah tests you ... And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he has spoken to turn [you] away from Allah . . .

If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son, or your daughter, or the wife of your bosom, or your friend, which [is] as your own soul, entices you secretly, saying, 'Let us go and serve other gods, which you have not known . . . you shall not consent to him, nor hearken to him; neither shall your eye pity him, neither shall you spare, neither shall you conceal him, but you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. And you shall stone him with stones, that he die; because he has sought to thrust you away from Allah.

Sounds pretty definitive, doesn't it? And I now have other passages to show that the Koran does indeed call for many bloody acts, against unbelievers and other "sinners." Oh, pardon me, did I say the Koran? My mistake: that passage above is from the Bible.

Yes, I (possibly) tricked you. It's from the King James edition of the Bible, Deuteronomy 13. I changed "God" to "Allah" and took out the thees and thous and haths and untos, to make it sound less like "our" Bible. But this and many other gruesome passages from the Old Testament are listed at a website Stephen Grossman found:


Click on the "Atrocities" link and read the two dozen excerpts from the Bible that either advocate or approve of wanton physical violence. Also there are pro-violence quotes in the site's section that is headed: "Morality and Paradoxes."

Although the vast majority of quotes are from the Old Testament, here are two from the New:

But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me. [Luke 19:27]

The site includes comments after each quote. And the comment for the passage above is:


Although Jesus in one instance calls for the love of enemies, at the end of the parable of ten pounds, he orders to slay his enemies that would deny his reign (Luke 19:12-27). Despite the commandment not to kill, Jesus accepts the killing of humans here.

Consider also:

And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.[Luke 12:47]

Returning to the Old Testament:

And Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel. And the LORD said unto Moses, 'Take all the heads of the people and hang them up before the LORD against the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel. [Numbers 25:3-4]

And, here's a fresh perspective on a familiar Biblical atrocity story:

God Kills The Firstborns!

And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead.' [Exodus 12:29-30]


If we believe every word in the Bible as coming from God, then it stands to reason that the violent actions from the God described in Exodus cannot give us a moral comparison to live our lives in a peaceful world.

If one wishes to believe that God possess love for His creations, then the killing of innocent children cannot possibly come from God, and therefore, these verses from the Bible must have come elsewhere. But note that if one takes the Bible's words as absolute truth, then not only did God smote the firstborn children, but all firstborn regardless of age. This means all firstborn teenagers, firstborn men & women, firstborn octogenarians, and even all firstborn cows and bulls. Regardless of how much love, charity, or goodness they may have imparted to the world, if they had the unfortunate luck to have first passed through their mother's vagina in the land of Egypt, according to the Bible, God killed them!

Finally, there's an item

Moses' Mass Murder:

Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD. Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves. [Numbers 31:16- 18]


Moses commands the murder of approximately 100,000 young males and, roughly, 68,000 helpless women.

Consider women and children of your own family: No matter how sick they may lay, or how they may go against a religion, how would you feel if a man named Moses, claiming to speak for God, sent men into your house and hacked to pieces the women and male children?

I can't recommend strongly enough visiting the Dark Bible web site.

Re our HBL debates, the site's Biblical quotations (of which the above is only a sampling) make mincemeat of the idea that there's something in the Koran that is uniquely pro-violence.

I don't believe that Islam is any more violent than Christianity was when Christianity was at the same stage (i.e., pre- Enlightenment).

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