Archive for the 'resonance' Category
We fret about first and third person perspectives. Some work on second person perspectives. Let’s stop this constricting tyranny of linguistic number and allow the perspectives to multiply freely. Let us encourage multiplicity of perspectives.
I prick my finger. The pain is tiny and intense and brief. It is small and focussed. It is all that is there, for just an instant. Then it abates, and the finger itself comes into focus. Tiny, trivial, and briefly, all that exists.
Billions of years from now, the Earth is a dead ball, to be consumed by a solar cataclysm. Nobody cares, because somewhere along the line, everyone died and nobody replaced them.
Between these two, there exists an infinity of perspectives, each with its own causal structure, its own rationality, its own story.
We wrestle, and fail to topple, hard questions of the other and the view of the other. We fight military battles, insurgent battles, domestic battles, political battles, all with right on our side, and not on the side of the other. The other does the same. Right, it seems, is everywhere.
Me against my brother. Me and my brother against my cousin. My cousins and brothers against our neighbours. Our family and neighbours against those from the next town. All the local townspeople against our more distant countryfolk. All the people of the country against the foreigners (near). Us and near foreigners against the distant foreigner. Where do we stop? Do we wait until the alien attack to talk some sense? Or do we recognize that this was ever so, and that the gradient goes further, beyond the species boundary. Limited human rights for Apes. Primates over mammals. Mammals over reptiles. Vertebrates over invertebrates. Animals over fungi and plants. Life over . . .
And there it ends.
For whatever life is, we are.
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.
Thoughts are like a laying down of paths. Each train of thought creates its own trail, influencing future thoughts, not of the same notional subject, but of the collective. The thoughts you experience are causally related to the thoughts others had in the past, that we see manifested in behaviors, and their mutual coordination.
If you believe in something called “motor control”, then the non-volitional action underlying the concept of Wu Wei will appear odd.
Imagine a busy road in which many cars manage to drive at high speed, without crashing. If now, one driver makes a very serious error, his car goes places it should not go, maybe turning over, and crashing. In a conventional account, we say he “lost control”. In the account suggested here, you might better say he “regained control”. For all those cars that do not crash, clearly they are not being controlled. Rather, they are integrated as components within a larger system, the trafic flow. The conditions that allow optimal traffic flow include clear road markings, good visibility, road-worthy cars, non-drunken drivers, etc. When one driver crashes, that system has collapsed, and the car is now acting independently. So the car+driver system has, in a slightly odd sense, reasserted its autonomy, made itself independent, and regained control. But with that, there is clumsiness, ineffectiveness, and a crash.
Wu wei is action without the clumsiness of a locus of control.
Postscript: This distinction parallel’s Terrence Deacon’s account of orthograde and contragrade processes. The cars that act as components within a superordinate domain of autonomy illustrate the former. The car that makes itself independent, and then collides with and threatens the domain of ordered driving, illustrates the contragrade.
Maxine Sheets-Johnstone says it well. In “Putting Movement into Your Life: A Beyond Fitness Primer“, she correctly laments the ridiculous reverential terms in which brains are spoken about, as if brains experienced anything. She notes the rise of ‘embodiment’ as a tag in cognitive science.*
[T]he term `embodiment’ and its derivatives are in fact nothing more than a lexical band-aid covering over a still suppurating three-hundred + year-old wound: seventeenth-century French philosopher René Descartes’s division of mind and body.
Thank you Maxine!
*True story: I once had to write a review of a paper that extended the entirely disembodied, symbolic, architecture of the ACT-R model by adding a [+embodied] tag. It doesn’t get much more ridiculous that this, folks!
The idea seems to recur to me that good dynamical modeling needs to not only define its systems with care, and their dynamics, but it also needs to pick its variables with care. They should be as meaningless as possible. This is why we can see something interesting in the blinking of the eye, the twitching of the thumps on the video controller, the synchronization of eye movements in/as film… Being entirely non-specific, they might appear the same to everyone.
Don Norman had the notion of weak general interfaces. The keyboard and the video game controller are good examples. But so are the eyeballs. Are the hands acting as sensory devices as they play GTA? Why yes! Looking at it like this makes it clear that there is no ‘perception’ that is differentiable from action.
Susan Hurley said that the ecological approach was instrumental, and the dynamic approach was constitutive. Perhaps these two approaches see the same relation from different sides, as it were. The ecological approach points out the lawfulness inherent in the P/A relation. Lawfulness is boring. No information, because it behaves as expected. That is one view. Like looking at the single cell from the outside, knowing all about its metabolism, the glucose and the gradient. It looks mechanical. It is too, given some very important presuppositions. One of which is that there is something it is like to be the cell.
Dynamics ought to allow one to keep that in mind, while simultaneously acknowledging the view from the inside. Hence it allows the constitutive to appear.
How might one investigate more specific instances, such as dance, in which there is more feeling, and sensory-motor skill is required? We have meaningless ones of these too, in sport.
In my current draft of “On the Origin of the Phenomenal” [A manuscript elsewhere], I am at pains to claim that the P-world of present experience arises based on a bedrock of the perception-action relation, which is heavily mediated and embedded in time through the nervous system.
Part of the supporting argumentation stems from the good offices of Ecological Psychology, in which lawfulness in the Perception/Action relation is a major concern. The paradigmatic case of diving gannets seeks to relate overt action (wing folding) to the energetic flux on the receptor surface. Similar concerns arise in the entire literature on affordance, in Turvey’s pendulum work, Bingham’s hefting, etc etc. The swaying room of Lisker and Lee is my favourite illustration.
But this claim is not going to reach many people who are not already familiar with the kind of lawfulness uncovered in such circles. The terms “Perception” and “Action” are loaded, and induce all kinds of unwanted and unwarranted associations in most readers.
“Perception” is probably being misapplied egregiously, not least by myself. We talk of perceiving when we discover events, things, and contingencies in our immediate environment. We perceive chairs, car crashes, storms, the misery and joy of others, and in talking of these remarkable feats, we label them, making use of a rich categorization scheme populated with uncontroversial categories such as chairs, car crashes, storms, misery, joy, and others. All of these are uncontroversial because they do fine service in our daily intercourse. We have language precisely because we can then use such terms efficiently, facilitating our mutual behavioral coordination, and getting on with the more pressing business of reaching our several goals. But for my purposes, in which I am considering the epistemological position of an abstract organism, O, in an abstract environment, E, we can not rely on any such categorization scheme. As argued elsewhere, we see chairs, …., others precisely because of the kind of thing we are, and not because there are chairs and others in some unobserved, objective, world.
Furthermore, the lawfulness to which I allude, is not rooted in a rich category structure like this. Rather, the lawfulness obtains between the informative flux at the sensory surfaces of an organism, and its attendant (not consequent) movement. (We will get to action in a minute.) It would be tedious to write “the physical, chemical, energetic gradients and their derivatives expressed at the sensory receptive surfaces separating the spatial domain of the organism, O, from its surrounding environment, E” all the time. This information (predicated upon the constitution, organization and capacity to act of the organism) is the “perception” end of that lawful relation that is the bedrock of experience. Without this information, there would be no perception. Calling it “sensation” does not help, but instead threatens to drag the discussion back to the 19th Century.
May that stand as a caveat for the term “Perception”. Now to “Action”.
As with perception, the term “Action” has many associations, and the word serves many functions, not all of which are required here. Although not as problematic as the previous case, there are pitfalls to be avoided. The main one lies in the presumption of intentionality, agency and goal-directedness. None of these are required. By “Action”, I mean observable movement. Even calling it “behavior” buys into a huge set of associations of plans, goals, and other mental constructs that have no place yet in the emerging vocabulary. Agency is the most problematic of these lurking assumptions, and relinquishing the notion of agency will be difficult as the discussion proceeds.
But one can not remain divorced from every day usage for ever. Somehow, it is necessary to build bridges back to our terms of convention, and our familiar situation. As we consider more complex explanation of more complex organisms, with nervous systems embedded in time, we will find it increasingly seductive to think of sensory information as input, and behavior as output. No matter how much we may be convinced that this is suspect, it is ingrained in our language. And as we do, the story being told will morph gradually until the organism seems to acquire goals, plans, and a stubborn independence of will. With that, the separation of organism from nature is complete, and we have reconstructed the duality we set out to banish. But hopefully we will remain conscious of the imitations of any account couched in such terms.
One of my main goals is to illustrate how to conceive of man as inseparable from his world. Our conventional linguistic habits introduce the tragic separation, even in consideration of the simplest of animals.
The Hard Problem? Really?
There is no “hard problem”. The language used to set up the hard problem repeats all the known and fatal errors that arise when dealing with experience.
The supposed qualia are experiential, not observable. As used in standard discussion within the field of cognitive science and its philosophy, they are an attempt to take the domain of experience and treat it as a thing – as something to be found in the world. Worse, they partition experience, until all that is left is the poverty of the notion of “redness” or “sweetness”. Experience does not reduce in this fashion. This is the persistent problem: treating of mind, or consciousness, or qualia, as something to be found in the world.
My preferred term, because it helps to get things straight, is experience. Mind, consciousness and qualia are all just confused ways of acknowledging the reality of experience in the first person. And experience is not to be found in the world. Experience is what gives us a world in the first place.
Let us digress, before this becomes bitter, and go back to a fictional Isaac Newton, sitting under an apple tree in rural England, looking at apples, perhaps picking one or two up, feeling them, hefting them, throwing one up in the air and catching it, then biting into one.
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.
On Observables and Subjectivity
Paris, CDG Airport, 16th Oct
Geertz quotes Ryle as objecting to the view that a golfer cannot at once conform to the laws of ballistics, obey the rules of golf, and play with elegance. (Isn’t Ryle wonderful!).
The first constraint pertains, of course, to the familiar notion of physical law, in a Newtonian framework. The latter two speak of human interpretation and even experience. It is worth considering just what the limits of that which may be expressed within the Newtonian framework are, and how my present approach may help to shed more light than hitherto on the relation between that and the latter two observations.
A Newtonian account ought firstly to be separated from modern physical accounts. The former speaks of physics as we observe it at the human scale. Its regularities and concepts work well at everday spatial and temporal scales: they describe the movements of things as big as oranges and as fast as dogs. Happily, they continue to bear predictive fruit at some remove from the human reference point1. That we now have a physics that supplants the entire Newtonian framework need be of no concern, for those observations one can make that speak of an understanding at variance with the classical approach are all, without exception, to be made at removes impossibly distant from the familiar time and spatial scales of phenomenal experience. For our purposes here, Newtonian physics is, in fact, a human centered physics. The supposedly objective framework is none such, for it has a human center.
On my account, we are beginning to have a story to tell about what it is to come at the world from a specific point of view, with an understanding that is anchored in a specific spatial and temporal scale. We get this from the observation of the relation between perception and action as they generate the encountered world of an active organism. The essence of this relation can be seen already in observing the relation between a single cell and its environment, and the fundamental link between perception and action in generating immediate experience of a world does not change from the bacterium to the human. In observing the lawfulness of the relation between perception and action, we also see why the encountered world has the specific scales it has, and thus why all organisms meet the world from a specific perspective. No organism encounters a pre-made world.
What we see in this framework is the regularity in the relation between specific forms of energetic gradients that impinge on the sensory surfaces of an organism, and the attendant (not consequent!) motion, or action, of the same. In this picture, the very best physical account we may come up with of nervous system activity is limited to the observation that brains move muscles. There is not, and never will be, a Newtonian account of goals, plans, the rules of golf, or the elegance of the golfer. The Newtonian account is, of course, deterministic, but it is not, nor should it aspire to be, exhaustive.
It may be less destructive to our innate sense of agency, if we look at a cell instead, for there we can already see the strengths and limitations of a Newtonian account. We can imagine, I believe, a more-or-less fully “mechanistic” description of the processes of metabolism. We can describe in exhaustive detail the dynamics that capture the lawful processes of change, distinguishing those that are proper to the cell itself (endogenous dynamics) and those that arise from interaction between the cell and its environment. But the fullest account we may obtain in this fashion is incomplete. Therein lies one limit of empirical science as it pertains to human experience. We cannot observe the agency of the cell. Philosophers have guessed wildly here. What I refer to as agency has been called Will, Vital force, Soul, Spirit, and numerous other things. No observation will reveal this. There is a mystery here, in the emergence of a temporally extended form of organization that is self-sustaining. We need new mathematics to describe it. But it does not appear insurmountable, once we locate the mystery in the right place!
For many people, a Newtonian approach to understanding observables is co-extensive with a scientific approach. Science is larger that that, and the Newtonian account is by no means an objective account that trumps all others, for it does not make reference to experience.
 It is worth considering how the concepts and methods of Newtonian physics work beyond the domain they arose in: that of everyday experience. We can generate a magnification of the head of a mite. Enlarged a thousand-fold, we see a monster, but an interpretable monster, with parts that are solid, built of ratchets, hooks, armour plates, hairs. We then have a paradoxical reaction. The thing is ugly and if it were to be encountered at a human scale it would terrify us, yet we find it only curious. It is no more troubling than an artistic representation of an anaethema, as in a horror film. Some may lose sleep over it, but we can all see that our emotional reaction needs to be tempered, for we recognize that we have gone beyond the bounds of possible experience.
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