Sunday, 23 August 2009
The author argues that the instances in 2 Maccabees demonstrate not a 'religious' use of the term but rather a practical cultural one. He compares the term Judaism to the term baptism - the latter meaning to baptise, the former meaning to Judaise. I.e., Judaism is used initially to mean the promotion and inculcation of Judaean culture and practice, in opposition to Hellenism (Hellenismos; also a term 2 Maccabees uses).
Of course, we are wise to remember that 'religion' is a relatively modern invention. Previously a peoples' 'religion' was inseparable from their culture. It was not a facet of life, but completely integrated into day to day and year by year living. The author argues that not only is 'paganism' as a religion or ideology a Christian invention, but so is Judaism as a religion. For writers such as Philo and Josephus, what they were describing was not an ideology but a living civilisation which contained and embraced philosophy, politics, commerce, festival, ritual, marriage etc.
Another interesting sideline that the author throws in is that Christianity faced much trouble during its first two centuries, precisely because there was no convenient social category as 'religion' - the Christians were a way of life without a history or homeland, more akin to a private club than the other cultures we may now characterise as 'religions'. Modern terminology makes invisible the vast categorical differences between these systems. Christianity thus appears to have been one of the first fully 'transferrable' ideologies (it occurs to me that Buddhism shares in all the same esential qualities also - predating Christianity by 600 years or so). Whereas nowadays we can easily comprehend what a 'religion' means in our society, and understand how it operates as a factor within multicultural society, a new ideological movement springing up from nowhere two thousand years ago would have been met with bewilderment by the populace. The same is clearly true in the early history of Islam, when Muhammad renounced the tribal practices of his forefathers in order to promote his monotheistic vision. 'Religion', it was claimed in both cases, was not something portable, not something that could be detached and passed around between individuals but a tradition and way of life that we inherit from our culture.
Of course, one is wise to know the difference between 'Christianity' (the ideology of the early church) and the teachings of the prophet Jesus. Jesus never intended to begin a new 'religion' (as we have seen, there simply was no such category in those times). His attempt, as best we can reconstruct it, was to refresh and revise the practice of Judaean culture in the face of the challenges from the Roman empire and Hellenic culture. The ideology of Christianity is largely a creation of the apostle Paul and the church which he made from the Jewish-Christian sect.
Sunday, 19 July 2009
I read "...philosophers are no nearer to the meaning of 'Reality' than Plato got...". What a strange situation. How extraordinary that Plato could have got even as far as he did! Or that we could not get any further! Was it because Plato was so extremely clever?
(Ludwig Wittgenstein - Culture and Value p.15)
Wittgenstein of course talks explicitly about other philosophers very little. This brief nod in the direction of philosophy's founding father should therefore be treated with great care in order to understand what is really being said.
I can see two interrelated issues for Wittgenstein here. The first is a criticism of Plato's own project. The second is a criticism of our own understanding of 'progress' in thought.
When Wittgenstein exclaims, "How extraordinary that Plato could have got even as far as he did!", he is mocking the notion that by thought we can approach an understanding of the 'real' world distinct from the everyday world we live in. What is this reality that we are seeking? 'How extraordinary that someone should even begin to understand reality!' The question not asked often enough for Wittgenstein is, what is this 'reality' we are seeking to understand? Philosophers often use the term as if it were something different from the actual world we live and breathe in, the world we see before us now and forever.
Similarly to Nietzsche, Wittgenstein inverts the antiquated western metaphysical tradition which places the essential before the actual: the abstract is an abstract from the present material world. Thus the task of attempting to reach the real via a process of intellectual abstraction, or via an examination of linguistic forms, is doomed before it starts. The real is present before us - in analysing it and refining it into its (apparently) general essence we are not approaching the truth of the matter, the "real" which is concealed by the corruptible form of the actual, we are in fact becoming increasingly lost in the sterile imagination.
Wittgenstein has often been understood as standing counter to the Cartesian tradition which separates the mind (the essential self or soul) from the body (the corruptible material presence). His own picture, which we can glean from his various writings, is thoroughly integrated. The self is not an ethereal gaseous substance hidden from the world by this dumb robotic body through which it must attempt to make its presence and wishes felt...no, the self is that which is made manifest in and through one's actions. The self is not squeezed into expression via the body, the mouth, one's speech and actions but is given life, made real by these potencies. His comments such as "The face is the soul of the body" (CV23) and "The human being is the best picture of the human soul" (CV49) serve to make clear his own approach to 'essentialism'. The essence is that which is realised (literally, made real) by the contingent. If we want to see a person's soul we should look at their actions - then we will see where their heart lies. If we want to see a person's experience of pleasure or pain, we watch their face and words through which these are expressed. These are not some phantom noumena which struggle to find their representation via the maze of body, they are naturally expressed, acted out; in a Hegelian sense, the phenomena is the final stage of 'becoming real' of the object. In two separate metaphors, Wittgenstein says "the work of art does not convey something else, just itself" (CV58), meaning there is no feeling which is the meaning behind the work, which the work exists to transmit; and "A picture cannot...depict its pictorial form; it displays it" (TLP2.172), meaning that the form or essence of a picture does not exist behind it, represented by the picture but exists in the picture, it is displayed in the picture itself.
How does this relate to Plato? Plato's attempt to essentialise the world and perceive the 'real' behind the phenomena is, to Wittgenstein, fundamentally misguided. It is the phenomenal which is the real and if we desire to understand it we cannot subsume it under some abstract system. The abstract can only be an etiolated version of the real; it is the real, once we have nullified the differences, the vibrancy, the temporality of actual existence. What we consider essential in things is in fact a statement of human value, and should not be mistaken for a quality in things themselves. The attempt to do so confuses and denigrates both the nature of scientific enquiry and the role of human value in thought.
The actual use of the word 'reality', how we use it in our language, does not denote something outside experience, but merely something outside clear delusion or confusion. To seek a non-subjective reality seems like a meaningful quest, but as the concept is analysed it disintegrates before us. Reality is this very world we live in together.
Similarly to 'reality', Wittgenstein sees 'progress' as a term which requires justification before we run in pursuit of it. It is easy in this age of technological and scientific progress to believe that progress is inherently beneficial, that it moves us ever only forward and upwards. To Wittgenstein, this is not at all clear. Progress implies a steady march, but this may not be in a direction which is good to pursue. Indeed, when a civilization has lost its sense of direction, 'progress' can seem like an end in itself, and the effects of such an ideal can become masked by the unquestioned perception that we moving 'forward'. He says, "that the idea of great progress is a delusion along with the idea that the truth will ultimately be known...It is by no means obvious that this is not how things are." (CV56)
Wittgenstein's own aim in his philosophy is not for movement at all, but for the kind of clarity which can only be found in perfect stillness: "Where others go on ahead, I stay in one place." (CV66). Instead of blurring the world by dynamic movement, he seeks to bring everything into sharp focus so we can see what surrounds us. Instead of building giant houses of cards, he examines the ground beneath our feet.
In this sense, we can see Wittgenstein's exasperation at our constant need to improve and develop our thought, as if we were progressing toward an actual understanding of reality. We have always been here. True understanding is not something we strive towards, but something we should stop in order to appreciate. We will not soon break through into truth, into truly perceiving the world or ourselves as they are...we must instead learn to see carefully and without self-imposed delusion what is right here. Through thought we can lead ourselves astray, through winding paths further and further from the actual world which should be obvious to us.
Tuesday, 7 July 2009
We now live in a very 'self'-centred world - the self is seen as the basic unit of society, rather than the family, the tribe, the kingdom, etc. We are conditioned to think of ourselves as highly autonomous, having a wealth of rights and priviledges which constitute the functions of an individual in this society. Because we are treated like this, as a legal and moral Person, we internalise that notion: we become an autonomous individual. We can only be free, autonomous selves to the extent that society guides us into that role - it does not emerge naturally, which is why it has taken five thousand years of evolving culture to reach a state of such high autonomy and individuation. Humans 100,000 years ago had probably the same neurological capacity that we do to think and operate as we do, but without the cultural acclimatisation which provides our root concepts, and the relatively recent millennia which have developed the concepts we think with, without this we would be as feral, primal and undistanced from nature and its cycles as any animal.
For, an animal, in the wild, is never treated as an individual; it is never given the opportunity to develop a dynamic sense of selfhood. A domesticated animal will often develop a much more sophisticated (at least in the human sense) awareness of itself in relation to other beings, as a social entity. Because such an animal is treated as an individual with the dignity, respect and duties that entails, it will approach an understanding of itself as such an individual.
Some animals (humans, for example) have greater internal capacity for such an understanding - but it is still only a capacity. Such an intricate sense of self and what that means can only be inferred very very subtly from the environment, by society. One must be treated as an individual in order to become one. One does not begin having all the functions and mental processes which determine an autonomous control over oneself and ability to locate oneself within the matrix of sociality; rather, we develop this because we are embedded in the social matrix from the moment we are born. Now, in the 21st century west, our world is almost entirely human: we have very little space outside the world conditioned by human culture, very little contact with a de-individualised nature (or even other social models). So, the intricacy with which our selfhood is articulated is very high. But we would be very wrong to think such an intricacy (or such a sense of individuation) is the natural state; rather, it is a product of the dense interactions which inform our atmosphere, the air we breathe all our lives, the concepts inculcated into us by society (i.e. automatism; self-determinacy, etc). These are brought out of us by a society which subtly infers and emphasises them - we absorb this understanding of ourself, and a sensitivity to our own boundaries and roles, by a process of osmosis.
This is what gives us our freedom, our sense of freedom, and our moral responsibility. The culturally provided metaphysics we are indoctrinated into reaches into the very root of our being. We as individuals in fact seem to be largely constituted from outside; we are formed in the moist air of society, the pattern of our thoughts are generated by the culture we are born into. We do not realise how much of our self is formed outside of us, in the spaces between ourself and other people. This runs counter to a certain way of looking at consciousness as a highly individual process, reducible entirely to brain-states. I am not proposing an ethereal spirit-mind or ghost in the machine. But it seems to me that we have to and can only understand the self as a continuum which is completely integrated into society. A single individual has no meaning. They exist as an individual only to the extent that they operate within society. Personhood happens from the outside in, and not the other way around.
Of course, the gestalt is only one way of priviledging structure. We must understand a whole and its parts as interrelated. To view the whole as the focus, and the overriding determiner of its elements is just as wrongheaded as to view it as merely a conglomeration of elements, with these latter being the important determiners. The level of viewing must be flexible. We can view an individual and their neurology as different orderings of the same information; but we would be committing a heinous crime in reducing the individual to just brain operations; we would be performing a category error. Likewise, we can view society as constituted by individuals yet society does take on a life of its own which often seems to override individuality. This is neither good nor bad, but a simple admission of fact. We would be naive to ignore this fact solely for ideological reasons.
Tuesday, 16 June 2009
A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.
Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History IX
The second addresses Vogue India's photoshoot from August last year, where "average Indian people" (i.e. the rural poor, most of whom are among those living on less than $1.25 a day) are adorned with designer goods whose price tags range from $100 to $10,000. Amounts which are more than these people earn in a lifetime. In these images, the individuals are not named - they are identified simply as a "man" or a "woman".
Strikingly, while in French Algeria the subjects were photographed in order to capture and record their identity, the role of the images in Indian Vogue is the opposite: they deny the subjects' identities. While the French authorities sought access to the private individual behind the veil, Vogue are attempting to conceal the very real social circumstances of these people by depicting them wearing classy consumer items, those designed specifically for people with finances beyond necessity. By not even acknowledging their names (in favour of the names of the goods), the subjects are dehumanised and removed from the sphere of individuality.
In all cases, an image - a representation - has a dual role. It is a gatekeeper, it both guards and allows access to the object in question (that person signified by the image); the representation seems to stand in our way, such that we are severed from the actuality of the object. By representing, it reinscribes the distance between us, the viewer, and the actual which is merely depicted (and therefore denied) before us. Representation speaks of the absence of that represented. It reduces to two dimensions, a static picture is the object derealised.
Yet it also permits, in a way; it brings the actual closer and by a curious dialectic seems to present an essence while denying its presence. Paul Tillich claimed that, unlike the symbol, the sign partakes in the essence of that to which it points. In communicating a meaning it realises that meaning; thus, it provides passage to its signified by not only pointing toward it, but making it happen. Thus while negating the actual, the sign acts as a vessel for it, bringing it into our reality.
The photographs of these people remain a document of the event depicted. They are not 'natural' photographs: they are designed, posed. They exist specifically for the viewer, as the individuals were manipulated into place forthe viewer. Marc Garanger's dual objective in photographing the Algerian women provokes a poignant sense of confusion: he continued taking the photographs, with ever-increasing fervour, in order to unmask the horror which he felt at the regime's demand that he take these photographs. The horror which he is complicit in (as we, the viewer are too) in attempting to rebel by obeying; he wants to unmask the French powers by carrying out their desire to unmask the Algerian women; and in preserving them, he has preserved a record of the occupiers' abuses. He wants to preserve a memory of their cruel arrogance by being the vessel by which that arrogance happens. We are left wondering, does this mitigate his actions, does it abrogate his complicity? And by viewing with the knowledge that this is wrong, are we somehow less involved in the people's humiliation? It seems in wanting to admonish him of blame, we are seeking to free ourselves.
But we are left knowing that we cannot reclaim the identity of the Indian peasants; nor can we remask the Algerians'. The photographs have happened, those depicted in them have moved on and resumed their lives. The document of the events are now present in a world far removed from that in which they originated. Strangely, it may be we the viewer who is most changed by the events, of which we are the final stage.
Credit where it's due: the New York Times' review was first commented on by the excellent photo-blog subjectify. The dubbagol link to the Vogue article was provided by my friend Cerisa (but not on this blog).
Sunday, 10 May 2009
The basic point being, that any argument which centred on an "it just wouldn't be me" claim is scientifically unsupportable.
The point of view which this correspondent is following is one which either A: denies any meaning to the words 'self' or 'identity' (regarding them as mere social fictions); or B: reduces these to a pattern of information or behaviour, either of which can be formally replicated from a material substrate other than the human body, and thus the same "self" will be present...
this substrate could be silicon (computer), machine, anything you like...the important thing is that if the precise set of information (memories/thoughts/behaviours) for a subject, say...Bruce Dickinson (why not?), are made to appear in something other than the original manifestation (Bruce's own original body and brain) then this new information-carrier will still *be* in any meaningful sense of the term, Bruce Dickinson.
The challenge then is this - if this is *not* any longer Bruce Dickinson, then what do we mean by these words? What in fact is the *self* of Bruce (or anyone else) which allows us to attribute identity to one manifestation of those thoughts and behaviours but not another?
There are several possible answers to this problem, and it is one hotly debated in philosophical circles at the moment.
I wish to deal with one particular angle which was present in the discussion on Ex-I. Why is it, the initial correspondent asked, that many people consciously commited to a materialist world-view still have an intrinsic hesitancy in allowing their sense of 'self' fluidity enough to include such uploaded versions? If there is no metaphysical essence or soul, then we must define identity in terms of thoughts, behaviour, memory. As one respondent put it, "the inescapable answer to the "but it's not me" objection is "well then, show us this me". It's just not possible; whatever you point at that might be you leads to absurdity". This is indeed the case. If we refuse anything non-material, then it must be something bodily which we are defining as the self. Yet (as Descartes argued all that time ago) the body can be almost entirely mutilated while still retaining this elusive 'self'-hood. Cybernetics theory has demonstrated the permeable boundaries of the individual to the extent that what we understand as 'self' in different contexts can include technological components (from a walking stick or a pacemaker to the computer through which we interact with other humans many miles away), while psychanalysis has succesfully allowed us to deconstruct the self into many separate and competing drives.
It has been argued that the defining element of self then is usually related to consciousness: it is the sense of self which most usefully confers selfhood. If there is no intrinsic link between 'me' as I sit writing this, and 'me' ten years ago, apart from the memories I have of being that person, then how would some other body (or even computer program) having the same memories and same capacity to think of itself as descending from that person ten years ago not also be me? How can this be a logically consistent position?
It should be noted that there is no real issue of transference of consciousness involved here (as some have been at pains to point out): consciousness itself does not get transferred, rather it gets split like a Y or a road which forks into two. Two bodies can then have the 'same' consciousness at the instant the copying process is completed, but will also instantly diverge as they have slightly different experiences etc. Because selfhood is not an essence there is not an issue of transferring the self - it can be precisely duplicated.
And yet still, to the dismay of the rational arguments' proponents, still many refuse to accept that another such upload could actually replace them or be a desirable future state.
It seems to me that it is not an anachronistic belief in a soul which prevents this acceptance, inherited in our subconsciouses from the religious heritage we have only recently begun to move beyond. The reason is rather a very subtle metaphysical implication present within our grammar, a grammar which is exposed both in our language and thought. People will not accept this because what we mean by the word 'me' can never refer to something outside of oneself. The word necessarily encompasses a sense of interiority. Anything which one can point to and say "that" cannot, logically, be "me". This is the only reason the acceptance of uploads etc is so problematic, and it's not because of a belief in some metaphysical self, it's because our conventions about the word and the concept of 'I' don't allow us to use it in reference to something oneself does not inhabit. The self that can be referred to in the third person is not the self, our grammar of thought doesn't work in that way.
It could be argued that we can think of a photograph or video as being 'me'. However there is a slight of hand in this process, for the image is only 'me' in a past sense; it is not the me, for precisely the reasons above. If pushed most people will see this and admit that in fact the photograph is not them, but a representation of the past-them. Just ask yourself, if that picture is 'you' then why does it not think or feel; why do you now not have access to its thought processes?
Of course, the flipside to this is that we do not have the same conventions regarding 'you', 'she' or 'he'. Therefore, it is perfectly permissible (and comprehensible) to say, "that (simulation) is her in exactly the same way that this (body) is her". This is because the second or third person is always necessarily external. We do not define others in terms of their internal states for we do not have access to these. The rationalist of course may argue that internal states are always describable in terms of externally available information (brain processes, etc). But to define something by this external information is to instantly remove it from the intrinsic definition of I-hood. It makes it an other by virtue of this very externality.
We can rationally think through our notion of self and work out why there is no essential difference between me and an exact copy of me; but the gut will always reject attempts to assign my selfhood to some other being.
A "that" can never be "me"...it will only ever be a that, he or she. (Or you).
Tuesday, 28 April 2009
So, you can imagine my surprise. Since then I have contacted Jacobus Swart (moderator of the Kabbalah Concepts group) who advises me that, based on its matching with the fragments he has seen published in Scholem's own work, the document is "assuredly" what it claims to be.
The caveats mentioned by transcriber Don Karr in his preface are not to be take lightly; further it is advisable to digest the implications of David Halperin's article reviewing Schafer et al's Synopse zur Hekhalot Literatur. In this rather lengthy review Halperin is at pains to stress the lack of definable boundaries to Hekhalot "texts"; if it is indeed the case that there were at one point single units such as Hekhalot Rabbati or Hekhalot Zutarti the mauscripts we now possess make impossible the task of correct delineation.
The PDF is available here: Hekhalot Rabbati (Morton Smith translation)
It is acknowledged that Judaism of the Second Temple period (i.e. up to 70CE) consisted of several groups all vying for precedence in regard to religious/cultural/political ideology. There is a body of evidence and scholarship suggesting that one such movement favoured the patriarch Enoch as revelator (in precedence, particularly, over Moses). The so-called 'Enoch literature' promotes a solar 364 day calendar as a major part of its revision, with Jubilees tying this in to the preordained harmonic structure of the cosmos which has since become corrupt. The group behind these texts, who appear to have some relationship to the Qumran sect, seem to have believed that only by following the divine solar calendar could festivals and sabbaths be accurately timed so as to concur with the heavenly ordinations; merely observing the movements of the planets would lead to error as the material world had fallen from grace. This Enochic tradition thus pulled away from much of the orthodoxy of the Temple practice, feeding into alternative currents such as Essenism, Qumran and, eventually, Christianity (the Enoch literature in particular was much used by the early Church, and much of their mystical/speculative/revisionist/anti-law thought also fell on glad ears with early Christians, many of whom were Jewish). After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70CE and the emergence of Christianity as a religion in its own right, the Rabbis (emerging from the Pharisees) began restructuring the faith, emphasising what they believed were the correct and original principles. This included a definite movement away from the heterodox and apocalyptic ideas which had caused so much strife in recent history: the Enochic being one example. Due to the lack of central Temple, the faith had to find a new central focus which became the , i.e. the Mosaic law. Clearly the challenge presented by Enoch could have little place in this.
As regards heavenly ascension/Merkavah Mysticism, Alan Segal in his book 'Two Powers In Heaven' makes a good case for this tradition also relating to the ascension of patriarchs and prophets (including Enoch, Jacob, Moses et al), something which the rabbinic normalisers saw as particularly dangerous for general consumption, although not ineffective in the correct hands.
Hopefully this provides an adequate summary. There is much current scholarship on the Enochic tradition: Andrei Orlov's 2004 book 'The Enoch-Metatron Tradition' is very good (but very expensive); in relation to the calendar, David Jackson's 'Enochic Judaism: Three Defining Paradigm Exemplars' provides much interesting information.
- Shemikhazah, the Watcher (fallen angel) who led his followers into sexual liaison with human women, siring a race of Giants. This is an example of deviation from the separation of human-angelic.
- Aza'el, the Watcher who taught humans technologies of war and beautification which brought great suffering and wickedness; this is breaking the rules by bringing heavenly secrets to earth, and humans going astray from what is good and proper.
- Finally, the cosmos falling out of sync with the divine plan due to the disobedience/laxity of the spirits responsible for the movement of stars and planets. This is calendrical deviation.
So, all three examples relate to straying from the prescribed divine course. As such, jackson Israel to the true course, i.e. back to proper observation of the divine commandments and away from hellenism. It has often been noted that there is an overarching emphasis in the Enoch literature on regularity: it presents a minutely ordered, clockwork universe where any deviation is seen as sinful. The 364 day calendar is understood to be so perfect that it must be the way God ordered the universe; the irregularity of either the lunar, or even a 365.25 day calendar can only be the result of the natural world going astray from God's plan. Of course, this all relates very clearly to the transmission of this knowledge in these writings, from the most righteous patriarch Enoch, from before the destruction of the flood. Jackson of course goes into the specifics in very great detail which I won't recount here...the book's available on Amazon and not too pricey, though I'd warn anyone considering it that it is written by an academic for academics and I don't doubt that it would be almost impenetrable to anyone not already aware of the fundamentals of the Enochic literature (he provides zero background).
Thursday, 9 April 2009
The intonoromuri is an instrument created by futurist Luigi Russolo. It functions by vibrating a piece of catgut or metal string. The operator (or 'noisician') cranks the internal wheel by a handle on the rear, varying the pitch by the speed of cranking and by a topmounted switch which alters the tension of the string. The vibrations are amplified through a frontmounted speaker. A large variety of sounds can be produced, depending on the initial design of the instrument and its internal diaphragm.
27 different kinds of intonarumori were created, named according to the kind of sound they produced. Examples of these are:
- Gracidatore (the Croaker)
- Crepitatore (the Crackler)
- Stroppicciatore (the Rubber or Scraper)
- Scoppiatore (the Burster)
- Sibilatore (the Whistler)
- Gorgogliatore (the Gurgler)
- Ululatore (the Howler)
- Ronzatore (the Hummer)
As well as buzzers, thunderers, exploders, rattlers and roarers.
Taking as his starting point the apparent orchestrations of everyday urban life he sought to emulate the "crashing down of metal shop blinds, slamming doors, the hubbub and shuffle of crowds, the variety of din from the stations, railways, iron foundries, spinning mills, printing works, electric power stations and underground railways". This emulation is one that could only take place - indeed only make sense - in the twentieth century.
He first performed with his intonarumori in 1913 but the public had to wait until 1914 to savour its unheard sound. The performance was almost halted by police worries that, having experienced the afternoon rehearsal, it would likely cause a riot.
Sadly all the original intonarumori were lost or destroyed during the second world war.
Luigi Russolo's six families of noise according to which he designed the individual intonarumori:
|Noises obtained by beating on:)|
|(Voices of animals and people:)|
Solipsism rests on a subject-object ontology. It depends on 'I' being here on one side, interacting with, experiencing, the 'World' on the other side. This articulation of life is what leads into the problem of solipsism. In fact, it seems the fallacy of solipsism itself makes apparent the flaws in this conceptual approach to life. If life can be made to present this problem then the criteria we are approaching it through must be wrong.
The correct approach is to see 'the world' as not something out there in opposition to the 'in here' of the conscious self. The self happens, occurs, through the world. It is not 'in' the world. 'Life' is a network which includes and is constituted by different levels of interplay and relationships. 'Life' is not a category within material reality, material reality is a category within Life. Likewise, objects and subjects do not exist 'in' a Real System: a System articulates itself into objects and subjects. To say 'Life' is much the same as to say consciousness, for this is the sine-qua-non, that which must be the principle axiom of any discussion (even though in discussions about truth and reality we often forget that reality is only reality subject-to-consciousness).
This may be tricky to explain due to the way we are taught to think of the world. But the world is 'shot-through' with consciousness. Nowhere can we point to something and say "that is independent of consciousness". What of a stone? Well, how is it that we see it? It occurs as an element of a conscious, sensory panorama. It is embraced, enabled by, the world of consciousness. Consciousness is not 'in' me, passively apprehending the inert non-conscious world. We are a system. 'I' am a category within this conscious panorama just as the stone is. We both 'exist' (to the extent that we do exist, that we are manifest in form), by virtue of, as aspects of, a cohesive holistic system. It is only by analysing that we fragment the system into parts and claim they are independent and singular entities in themselves. It is by this process that we assign consciousness as a predicate of individuals, instead of seeing individuals (and all 'things') as a predicate of consciousness. It is by this process that we create the notion of an 'ego' which then separates itself from the 'world' and begins to wonder whether the world it is part of actually exists at all.
Stupid really, but then no one said the ego was clever.
"is there an external world to my sensations?"
We can push and pull life into making this seem a valid question. But to do so is really a misuse of our powers of interpretation. It is in fact not a valid question. We misunderstand the source data when we try to frame it into a question like this. Just like asking "what is a question?" and expecting there to be a sensible answer is a misuse of language, even though it may seem valid and logical when posed. Life, like a question, is a doing. To look for set meaning, facts, an underlying structure, is not a valid endeavour. To understand the living of life as phenomena, as a surface appearance to which there either is or is not a "real" causal substrate is to misinterpret the action of living life and being conscious.
It should be understood: we can interpret "I am walking" as "it feels as though I am walking", thus presenting the question of whether I am actually walking or not. But this creates a divide in the middle of life which is not present until we begin, after the facts, analysing and misinterpretting, and thereby drag life away from the normal patterns of thought. The differentiation of sensation and actuality is one not based in life, but in human analytical thought. Life is an activity. The problem occurs when we start analysing the activity and attempt to define it with too strict certitude according to granular criteria; then we are mistaken from the outset in imposing the forms of abstract human reason onto something not created according to those criteria. The truth of life is in the doing and partaking of its functionality.