I look at the relations among the current mainstream disciplines, and their mutual relations and differences, and I then project slightly forward into the future, say 50 years or so, and imagine how they might look then.
On many views, physics holds the foundation place in the structure of knowledge. It is closely related to the absolutism and rationality of mathematics, and it also grounds our consensus view of reality. Chemistry is mostly applied physics, with a few structural constraints thrown in, that are visible in the periodic table. But organic chemistry is different, by virtue of two things: on the one hand, the chemicals play a role in the alchemy of life – a process for which we have no fundamental understanding. Life arises, but that is a novelty of an unparalleled sort. Identity irrespective of materiality. Exchange all the atoms, but keep the processes, and you retain identity. On the other hand, the exchanges and processes in which the molecules partake are geometrically extended in three dimensions. The 3-D shape of the molecule determines its fit to another element, say as neurotransmitter to receptor, or body to antibody. Full Story »
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.
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.
David Bohm is truly remarkable. A brilliant physicist, with a command of both relativity and quantum mechanics, and yet he somehow always managed to relate the business of physics to concerns of human experience. Here is a little clip of him talking about his views on perception. It is part of a more comprehensive offering hosted at this blog.
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.
How fast does time unfold? Silly question. It unfolds at one second per second. The tautology makes it clear that time, itself, does not have a rate. Rather, it is a coordinate system that allows us to label, order, and sequence events. This way of viewing time is called the B-series, and can be contrasted with the experience of time, the A-series, which is perpetually of a present moment, separating an established past from an indefinite future. These are radically different ways of conceptualizing time.
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.
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 »