Archive for the 'CSP' Category
We are witnessing the birth of a new theory of the person: the Non-Cartesian view. This view eschews solipsistic thought while paying respectful dues to the notion of the phenomenal. It is a fundamental shift in perspective that encourages us to read our own lives and world as collectively constituted out of the multiple patterns of coordination we live in. The notion of agency is reduced to an admission of ignorance and a recognition that the only possible agreement on this topic is one of consensus.
This view must be contrasted with the Cartesian view, to establish which frame of reference is being used. Neither may claim an absolute hold on truth. Only so can we harbour hopes of creating a Human Science.
The buddhists have a fairly well worked out description of 6 senses, which are (oddly) the 5 familiar in the West: sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste, and a sixth, which is thought.
First off, note that the familiar five provide a bad description of the sensory component of our being. Smell and taste are not separate. Touch is not one, but a whole host, of senses, including heat, vibration, pain and gentle touch, and then there’s all the proprioceptive and vestibular stuff. OK. But to Western eyes, the notion of thought as a sense is a bit peculiar. We actually don’t have a good account of what thought is, so this is interesting. How do we make sense of thought as a sixth sense?
Most notions of sense are predicated upon a split between organism and world. But everything we know about consciousness assures us that the domain of present phenomenal experience arises from the embeddedness of an organism in a world, without a dualistic, causal split between these two co-defining things.
In psychophysics, there is an old distinction between prothetic and metathetic features of a stimulus, or a sensory channel. Consider sound. Some features of sound are of the “how much” variety. Loudness, for example. Sound can be overly loud. But frequency of a pitched sound is not of this kind. There, the discriminations we make are of the “what kind and where” type. A note cannot be unbearably high pitched in the same way that it can be unbearably loud. The “too much” features are prothetic (brightness is another such), the “what kind” features are metathetic (color or hue belongs here).
If we reject the inner/outer distinction, and acknowledge the difficulty in trying to force a divide between subject and world, then much of thought appears as a primarily metathetic modality specific way of bringing forth a world, not really different from many aspects of vision or audition. Perhaps we should talk to the Buddhists.
Meister Eckhart, the 14th Century Christian mystic, spoke of the unity found in mystical experience, saying “The eye by which I see God is the same as the eye by which God sees me. My eye and God’s eye are one and the same – one in seeing, one in knowing, and one in loving”.
When mystics from all traditions speak of the mystical experience, this unity that transcends any individual being is a constant – in both theist and non-theist traditions alike.
My friend, Wei Wu Wei, repeatedly says “The eye cannot see itself”, paraphrasing Francis of Assisi, who noted “That which you are looking for is that which is looking”.
The recurrent use of the notion of seeing, and the impossibility of seeing the spark of subjectivity with which we identify, speaks of a single insight, resistent to expression in dualist language. I frequently speak of experience, as if it were a thing. Experience is not that which is to be found in the world; it is that which gives us a world in the first place.
But perhaps my other friend Victor, curator of a wonderful Indian sculpture park, put it best thus: “A single point can not be grasped”.
So much effort has been uselessly expended in the attempt to bridge the presumed explanatory gap between mind and body, all under circumstances in which the “mind” half of the equation can not be identified anywhere. The Pharisee has a fairly clear agenda. We can recast this feeble discussion, and recognize that the gap to be bridged is between experience on the one hand, and language, on the other. Experience can not be communicated by language, but language contributes in the generation of a shared world, in which things have meanings grounded in collective activity.
. . . of course. The Anthropologists (culture), the Linguists (language) and the Geneticists (nature) are all trying to provide detail to the word ‘we’. But they don’t talk much to each other.
One prominent characteristic of Wikipedia and the crowd-sourced self-description of the world, is that it allows disparate communities to engage in some kind of cross-disciplinary chatter, albeit at a fairly superficial level. Usually, each discipline takes itself far too seriously to even try to make sense to the unwashed.
The ascription of agency varies across the global population too. I don’t think too many people have pointed out that the psychological solipsist model has profound implications for spiritual doctrine too. Animists differ, and could not sign up to psychology. But this is not divvying us up by language, culture, or genetic inheritance. The way in which we construe the relation between experience and the world provides an orthogonal direction, putting economists apart from shamen, and phonologists apart from historians. And we can map this, not by the genome, but by analysis of the language of intentionality.
The P-world doctrine allows us to accord the experiential realm of a single organism a position in our ontology, without committing ourselves spiritually in one way or another. That has to be a useful thing.
There is a clash at the moment: two ways of knowing about ourselves are on offer, and they are very incompatible. From where I’m standing, it looks as if both grew out of psychology, but in fact one *is* latter day cognitive psychology and much attendant baggage, while the other looks Eastern, almost Taoist at times. The latter emerges from a consideration of the combined insights of the enactive tradition (both Noë and Varela), Harry Heft’s synthesis of Gibsonian Ecological Psychology and Barker’s Ecobehavioral Psychology, Coordination Dynamics and similar Dynamical approaches, Radical Constructivism, and more besides, I’m sure. Full Story »
Conventional psychology condems its believers to solipsism. P-world theory may look similar at first blush, but it is important not to identify with the P-world. The P-world is all that is first-person: born of the lawful relation between sensory flux and attendant movement that arises in an animate being. It brings forth the raw material for a world, but that, alone, could never account for the world we encounter. Our world, in turn, arises from our collective constitution. Collective constitution is the means by which we escape the prison of solispsim built by psychology. Full Story »
It might help if the Pharisee put his cards on the table, and said, once, if not for all, what he believes:
- There are necessary epistemological limits to any finite being
- There are no distinct inner and outer realms of existence
- Most attempts to understand minds/consciousness/experience (MCE) start with the world and try to derive MCE from it. This is perverse.
- The CSP starts with experience and seeks to derive the world
- Language is intersubjectively constituted. Being linguistic, we interpret the world we meet using linguistic concepts. The world is thus largely collectively constituted. We are also collectively constituted.
- Autonomy lies in the eye of (some other) beholder
- The passage of time is a curious feature of human experience. It is not objectively real in any sense.
- In experience, subject and object are not separable entities.
- Any useful or satisfying notion of self is not co-extensive with a singular locus of temporally unfolding experience.
- Agency is a descriptive trick, that can never lead to a closed model.
- The use of personal pronouns is tricky.
Current film editing techniques are more than likely partly responsible for the silly naive realism that seems to underpin so much of our thinking about ourselves. It used be, in early film, and hence also in experimental film, that the camera represented a single point of view, and that was important. But with modern editing, view changes. The distributed logic of film editing does violence to the notion of a single point of view. I bet that’s a modern change brought about by film. Perhaps changing again right now though, with the proliferation of cameras that do stand in rough correspondence to single points of view. The Tsunami, for example.
We need not belabour the apparent similarity between us and bonobos. Increasingly, we find evidence of similarity between us and some surprising counterparts, like cuttlefish, or dogs. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. To look at the ape connection is to believe that “we are the product of our genes”. But you can look at forms of coupling, at lots and lots of different kinds of things, and see “us” just as surely. Because we are not merely the product of our genes. That is not what it is to be “us”, even though we increasingly see what “that” is. “We”, the word, increasingly refers to media, coupling media. We need to learn to read the surfaces around us, with due accord paid to our differences as well as our commonalities.
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