Archive for the 'pink monkey farm' 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.
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 »
Look at this phrase. Look at this phrase. Try to see it as black marks on a screen or page. I doubt you will be seing it as white condensation trails in the sky, but if that is the case, try to see it as white condensation trails in the sky. Try not to read it. Try to see just the marks, and not the language, as if it were written in an unfamiliar script in a strange and inscrutible language. Look at this phrase.
Unless you are illiterate, or have some very specific kind of brain damage, you will not succeed. Seeing through the marks (vehicle?) to the words (content?) is obligatory.
Admit the words, but leave out the sentential meaning. If you can’t stop reading words, try to stop there, and do not let the words work together to form a meaningful phrase. Again, it fails. The words (now regarded as vehicles) can not be attended to without also admitting their content (the meaning?).
How far does this recursion go? Are there first, second, and higher order meanings, each acting as vehicles for further content, each at a greater remove from the physical and momentary reality of marks on a page?
We might claim that there is a basic reality, a fundamental vehicle, of marks on the page, but is that not itself a reified and abstract description, dividing the continuum of the world up, as it does, into a page, regarded as a surface, and marks thereon. Perhaps we can infer back to a more fundamental level, that of a flux upon your retina, induced by the reflectant properties of the surfaces and substances around you, and by the darting and fixations of your eyeball, located in a wobbling head. Perhaps this is the nearest we can come to identifying a basic level vehicle. This is the level chosen by Ecological Psychology. Cognitive Psychology would start with different primitives.
But when we talk of marks, pages, words and meanings, we are talking about things in the world (for the most part), things that we perceive, or believe we perceive. We do not perceive the changing flux on the retina.
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.
From The Full Story:
The cell, and the world encountered by the cell, form a unity. The encounter between them is described by the perception/action relation. In that encounter, they are not separable. They are one.
and earlier, the Koan:
The wind was flapping a temple flag, and two monks were arguing about the flag. One said, “The flag is moving.” The other said, “the wind is moving.” They could not agree, no matter how hard they debated. The sixth patriarch, Eno, happened to come by and said, “Not the wind, not the flag. It is the mind that is moving!” The two monks were struck with awe.
This notion of a unity, that comprises subject and object, unifies the CSP view with that of Maturana. I think.
…to recognize the limitations of what we can share and what we can’t. Language is not infinite (despite common claims to the contrary). Meaning is only what we can share. Significance is personal.
Gibson thought the world of ‘resonance’, but he never cared to define it, nor could he have. It is intuitively appealing. A dynamic, resonant character to … experience. But it bears thinking of a little more literally. The graveyard of fools, I am well aware. A tune that resonates. Popcorn. Who owns it? I can objectify it, but it is still within this weird privileged world of subjective experience. Things in there typically ‘are’ me. They are not objectifiable.
But hold on. I can objectify that tune. In fact, my difficulty in stopping it at will is proof (!) that I can objectifiy it. It is not part of me. But it is unquestionably an activity, a behavior, of my nervous system. A resonance. A real phenomenon, transmitted between P-worlds. A part of subjective experience that is not really so personal, but has a shared quality. A repeating echo, faltering from one repetition to the next, but always playing out in real unreal time.
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.
Georges Bataille has always revolted me. Much more than the Marquis de Sade. But then it struck me that it is a good idea to explore the following thought: Given that any rationale anybody can come up with for morality is so weak, what if we were to adopt a frame of mind that knew nothing whatever of good or evil. That looked dispassionately at what we know. That would indeed be a useful point of view. Neither good nor bad. Not of that. Dispassionate.
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