Archive for the 'Madness' Category
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 »
Crick’s amazing hypothesis states:
“You,” your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. Who you are is nothing but a pack of neurons.
How might we demur? My suggestion is to question the simplistic use of the personal pronoun, “you”, to refer to the antics of a bag of meat. If you (jake) believe that this word (you) refers to the carry on of your body, then Crick is probably right. However, if, as seems clear to me, the use of the personal pronoun is anything but simple, and refers to stuff that is both individual and collective, then it unravels.
Sometimes, we increase our understanding by introducing distinctions. If you look at a lump and can’t figure out its structure, you might make a distinction, and notice that the lump is a composite of two distinct things, and suddenly you understand its structure much better. We do this all the time, as when we identify two kinds of diabetes, with similar symptoms (the lump) but distinct etiologies (juvenile and acquired). Or when we learn the name of a new flower.
At other times, we learn by reconciling apparently distinct things. In this case, we see two entities turning out to be but different images of the same underlying structure. We do this often also, as when reading a story, the plot falls into place and you can reconcile previously incongruous sub-plots, or when we recognize the mother in the child.
Should we consider these to be distinct enterprises? Is the first Science and the second Religion? Hardly. Yet the knowledge offered by the contemplative traditions seems to be that obtained by following the second course exclusively, while the first is a caricature of purely reductionistic science.
But I think in bringing experience under the fold of collective inquiry, or in finding ways of discussing experience that, at least, do not offend scientists too much, we are making progress in the second way, and science, or our common stock of understanding, improves as a result. Here are some that merit our attention:
In talking about minds, we habitually use the terms “inner” and “outer”. This is a strange linguistic habit, and we should be taken somewhat aback if asked about the spatial referents of these terms. There are none, although convention locates the “inner” space within the head. However, if we look inside, we see only brains. Unifying these two is a huge hurdle, and possibly one of the resolutions of opposites that may be said to accompany enlightenment. The extended mind thesis testifies to the possibility of unifying the language in which we discuss these two, though it stops short of recognizing that they are not distinct realms, going for the cheap gag of making you imagine your mind somehow leaking out into the world.
Another pair that admit of unification is rather surprising: perception and action are not separate things. We have been thinking of them as input and output to something, and have identified with the middle bit, and called it mind. However, the cellular example (described elsewhere) perfectly illustrates the relation between perception and action, whereby we can see that they are co-determining, and not in a relation as cause and effect. This is true for a single cell, and it is true for humans. We can see the direct relationship only sometimes: the swaying room in which the optic flow at the retina allows the coupling of room and torso motion nicely illustrates the coupling between perception and action which is so tight that they become indistinguishable. Nervous systems mediate this relationship, making it harder for us to see, but the lawfulness of the relation still obtains. The mediation is what ultimately gives rise to phenomenal worlds. So if perception/action are unified, that places us in a bit of a bind. It presents with the puzzle of interpreting present experience, which now seems to be deterministic or at least sufficiently lawful that it will not support our notions of volition and agency. If the perception/action relation is invertible, present experience does not consist of cause and effect.
One way out of this bind is to recognize the P-world as distinct from the self. The P-world is present experience, and in recognizing it, we can learn to overcome several dualities. In present experience, the P-world, the subject/object divide is no more. There is no distinction between the perciever and the percept. Attention/Salience is another dualism that is hereby overcome. Salience is the “outer” form of attention. Attention the “inner” form of salience. Damasio does this nicely in his work when he distinguishes between emotion and feeling (if I am correct here, I need to check), one of which is the phenomenological concept, the other the observable counterpart.
The confluence of the symbols of ‘I’ and the eye is odd. They merge, where subject loses object and all flaps. That’s present experience. The church could do with a branding and an iconography. The confluence of the eye and the I is the brief.
Most psychotics are harmless. Lucky people get to be psychotic without harm. Musicians do. Music is psychosis without the pain. Best really listened to alone. But there is a serious point to this. If there is continuity between the suffering psychotic and the happy psychotic, and both rest on an altered equilibrium between the endogenous dynamic and the exogenous one, then we could learn more by studying the felicitous ones. Are there mirrors there when they are enjoying themselves? Do advertisements inhibit enjoyment? What role do the various visible evidences of other similarly constituted dynamics give? It is a huge imaginative step to try to imagine a P-world that is not subjected to the influence of endogenous and exogenous dynamics. It can’t really be done. But recognizing this boundary does not rob the individual of autonomy. Because there is no I in a P-world. There, there is a boundary that marks the subject-object divide. It has to do with nervous systems. It is the mediation between perception and action. Perhaps here is a way to reconcile personal and public. The altered equilibrium referred to above is morally neutral. By studying the interface in the happy and the sad lunatics, we will learn more. The word lunatic is about to get a new definition. p.s. I now feel silly for thinking badly of people who listen to music in the background while they work. There is no background. No foreground either. Experience is a shape shifter. This was written along with some excellent Russian modern classical tones.
Addendum, over a year later, I stumble upon this in Charles McCreery’s work:
The Church of the Stone Pharisee demands belief in the rationality of the lunatic. The ‘delusions’ are none such, but result from a specific relationship between the P-world of an individual and those around him. They often are being controlled by the ideas. In hearing voices, they are merely being aware of some of the stuff going on in nervous systems (that annoying repetitive tune: do you own it?). No wonder its confusing, and the stories come out peculiarly. Therein lies the lack of the self: the P-world has lost some of its autonomy.
In this regard, I am highly amused to see that that gloriously batty compser, Alexander Scriabin, described Stravinsky as “Apostle” to the “Latin reactionaries”. I have no ideas who these Latin reactionaries are, and I suspect that they do not constitute a natural kind. Scriabin was entirely incoherent, and that is interesting, because he was standing at an interesting point. He was immersed in a sea of cultural currents, and he dreamed of multimedia performance (Scriabin was a VJ long before there were VJs). He was probably also a synaesthetic. He had tics as a child and was known for not sitting still (Children, pay heed!).
Before he died, runour has it that he was working on a big light and music job, to be played in the Himalays. Once played, in the right setting, it would bring on Armageddon. Anybody fancying having a go? I’d love to try it out.
There is a general belief around that we can see persons and that there is something fishy with a theory of memes, as we can never see a meme. Actually, we can never see a person, and all we see are memes.
Here’s a small picture to illustrate this:
Dr Jill Bolte Taylor gave an inspirational talk at TED. She gets it. Nirvana as she sees it is a biological state. That’s the pink monkey insight. If we act wisely (farm) towards our corporeal selves, we can get on with being the much bigger thing that we all, collectively are. This woman had a real stone pharisee vision.
…learning not to force, to pass control to coordination (or surrender), to put up with a shift from a distinct image to a play of light. I can well believe that nausea is a frequent partner on the road to enlightenment. Does ‘enlightment’ mean anything at all? If it does, it probably means something reasonably better expressed in the language of biology, rather than, say, psychology.
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