Friday, October 31, 2014

Individuating Consciousness


“Where” is a primary mechanism for sorting episodic memory.  From the beginning of life the rooms of the house are connected to routines of life, particular patterns connected to the physical body and mapped in the brain in relation to it. Beyond the house is a world of locations and everything happened someplace. If you want to remember how many windows were in your childhood home you go back in your mind to walk through the rooms or around the house to count them. In the earliest stages of life a baby feels the distinctions between the safety of the familiar home spaces and what’s unfamiliar with its hazards of unpredictability.

Every experience is staged on a location, a classroom, playing field, the different houses of our friends, so in memory we think of them as somewhere. When I think of a fight with a childhood friend, I see the clearing in the woods where we fought to stand on the crate, the flurry of little girl slaps and pushes just one more descriptive feature in the scene, an oldest child and an only child, each used to being the child on top, unwilling to relinquish position. What I’ve just written changed the memory by adding this angle to it. As we activate the circuits laid down at the time we return not just to the scene but to a memory that’s been adjusted by every remembering. Because the brain grows and develops where it’s used, each remembering reinforces particular features. The interpretive emotional imagery of dreams clarifies the subjective meaning and strengthens that part of the circuitry. This reworking of memory creates the image that best represents the personal meaning in our experience. Ideas of objective right or wrong are irrelevant to the person’s trust in what’s been learned. When I saw her yesterday and asked her what she remembered about the fight, the first thing she said was, “You mean the one in the clearing.” immediately locating through place the right memory. She said it was because I called her fat, then she called me skinny and we started hitting each other. She didn’t remember the crate and she remembers our shared childhood much better than me. Either way right or wrong is not important, the emotional preoccupations were.

In the concrete and metaphoric moving from place to place through life, where we’ve been is behind us, where we’re going is in front and so we have the visual images of past and future. We move through space in time throughout life, the meaning embedded in the way events unfold. In Mark Johnson’s descriptions of “enactivism”, he suggests that meaning is much deeper than concept, being rooted in the actual experience.  He notes that “the arts are exemplary cases of consummated meaning”. Everything is directed at the meaning expressed so that maximum content can be derived from the essential form given. Art trains our ability to understand meaning by strengthening the circuits in the brain that respond to the essence of human experience.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Image and Knowledge

Knowledge depends on seeing the relationships in a body of information. It requires a structure to visualize the whole in order to understand what the information means since meaning depends on relationship. This was much easier when there was less information. The sense of how the information connects is more difficult immersed in the quantities of information that characterize the modern world.  Many identify with the feeling of having a mind full of unconnected islands of facts. The sense of how it all fits together was easier to see when there was less total information. In addition, the structure provided by the prevailing cultural belief system simplified it even more. Global internet culture weakened the power of old belief structures but hasn't provided an alternative outlook on the whole. With so much specific detail a search away, combined with the inability to organize it without a structure of meaning, many young people give up on the personal acquisition of information altogether. This leaves them adrift, without perspective. However the pleasure of discovery is far more familiar than it used to be, and the choices for what to look into offer a brand new individual freedom. So what I offer here is a technique, a tool to navigate the river of information.
Spend life building knowledge in an area besides work day expertise. Something that satisfies personal curiosity or builds up a desired skill. In some cases it happens by itself. If you like working on cars, over time you learn more and understand the big picture of the mechanism. This gives a basis for analogy. For understanding other things where similar relationships apply, where connections might be faulty or the timing off. We use spatial knowledge to reason about other things so having an area of spatial knowledge that gets into the working of a topic sensitizes us to more sophisticated levels of meaningful pattern which enables us to recognize it where these patterns apply Shifting attention from details and parts to interactions and relationships reinforces capacity to see patterns. Obviously the engine analogy doesn't hold for everything, but building  skill in analogy strengthens ability to find connections and understand  systems of interaction. Building knowledge about the body is both useful in practical ways and because it's a harmonic assembly of many systems with many flexible analogies regarding growth and day to day functioning. The nature based dynamic imagery of the I Ching is useful clarifying harmonic action in 64 different active situations. Perhaps the lasting universality of the I Ching is the imagery of moving in a world of natural and human weather and how behave in harmony with it. Lost in the surface information we need skills to find essential patterns. Deep expertise in any area builds a system of relationships that serve as starting point in finding the patterns that matter.