Copyright 2012 by Steve Perrin.

Actions (including speech) are how we get out of our heads and make ourselves known to the world. To reach the point where considered action becomes possible, we must shift our attention from the felt situation that motivates us to judging what kind of act would suit that situation. Once in that place, we can set goals for ourselves, engage in projects and relationships meant to lead us toward achieving those goals, and then implement them by acting within our projects and relationships to make our situated selves happen in the world, which is as far as we can go on one particular run of conscious activity. We then start on a new run by paying attention to incoming sensory impressions as shaped by expectancy and arousal, which redirect us to a revised understanding of our situation, and on to a further round of mental activity.

So runs our loop of engagement, from expectancy to arousal, attention and sensory impressions; on to interpretation of those impressions, understanding them, feeling and valuing their import in the form of an experiential situation as an extension of our personal history; and then on to judging the significance of that situation, setting goals, planning projects and relationships, and finally, implementing them in terms of intentional actions in the world.

Consciousness doesn’t circle so much as spiral because every round is different. Details get refined, skills improved, awareness enlarged, goals more closely approached—all heightening the sense of engagement. Two things escape our attention because we cannot attend them: 1) the working of the brain in supporting the mind, and 2) the working of the world in formulating it’s response to our individual projects and relationships as enacted, which remains to be sensed and interpreted during further rounds of engagement.

In summary, our loops or spirals of engagement comprise formation of sensory impressions, construction of felt situations from those impressions as interpreted, and taking appropriate action in light and fulfillment of key situations. Round by round, consciousness streams by as it does on a journey or in games of tennis, baseball, chess, or charades. The play’s the thing; our engagements are ongoing. If we take a break, we simply engage in other ways, as in dreams and reveries, or while on vacation.

As children, we grow into ourselves, learning how to engage within the intimate circumstances of our rearing. As a result, there are as many styles of engagement as there are childhoods. For instance, as adults, those who learn to fend for themselves without empathic support often end up being out for themselves alone, or solely for their sort of people, and don’t worry about the general well-being or self-fulfillment of others so much as hitting the jackpot or scoring points for themselves. They can be highly competitive, even thriving on the misfortune of others, on making a killing, inciting violence, or waging wars of aggression. Cooperative or diplomatic engagements are not their thing. They act as if they were alone in the universe, so worry only about what they can get out of it, not what they can give to or share with others. Their game is king of the mountain, which pits one against everyone else, a stark parody of Darwinian evolution. “One for one, all for none,” is their cry, the source of a great deal of poverty, suffering, and human misery.

No, engagement with others is the key to survival, starting with being on good terms with yourself through introspection and self-understanding, moving up to satisfying and respectful engagements with others (often unlike yourself) through play, working together, cooperating—each identifying with all as multiple variations on a single theme. If you can’t see yourself in others, you are missing the point of why each one is unique. Which is to to add to a whole through individuation, complementarity, and cooperation. So do we all fit together in forming one human family within one earthling family, which we are in both cases.

No man and no woman is an island (Donne’s metaphor), entire of itself. We all may be unique, but we are not alone, and never have been. We are made to engage again and again—our minds are proof of that.

Each man and each woman is one piece of the puzzle (my metaphor) of humanity, and of all earthlings beyond. After 299 posts, that is my message. As ever, I remain, y’r brother, —Steve from planet Earth

Copyright 2012 by Steve Perrin.

Speech is an efficient form of action taken in response to a felt situation. The situation—in part or whole—is the message intended by a particular utterance. When an engagement is unintentionally terminated or interrupted, for instance, the resulting frustration may well erupt in a spurt of breath bearing an emphatically voiced consonant sound, such as an oath. Or when the prospect of a pleasing engagement appears, it may elicit an open vowel sound such as “ooh” or “aah.” Displeasure, shock, or fright may be expressed by air emitted through tensed jaw and vocal cords.

Situations are the intimate worlds in which we live and of which we speak (or draw, sing, dance, or make films). They are the center of our mental activity because they form the pivot between sensory impressions on one side and intentional actions on the other. Even if we do not act or perceive, we are situated in our sense of self, which I associate with dreams and memory, and imaginatively locate in my brain’s limbic system (including the amygdala, hippocampus, hypothalamus, and cingulate cortex) where incoming and outgoing nerve signals meet in states of arousal.

When aroused, we tend to make sounds—clapping, groaning, sighing, singing, swearing, greeting—spontaneously broadcasting our felt situations to those within earshot. I have listened to the gurgling barks of harbor seal pups, shrieks of bald eagles back and forth, howls of coyotes, wavering calls of loons, warning cries and treetop arias of countless birds, and imitative burbles of babies in the crib. In each case, the sound is situated in the experience of an aroused living being.

The exchange of excited honks between two groups of Canada geese—those on their feeding waters and those flying in—are a case in point. No sound moves me more than the glad greetings shouted between those two groups. The most wondrous exchange I ever heard was a duet between a loon on the bay at midnight and an answering coyote on land, both equally passionate and melodious to my ears while lying in bed, transfixed for the three or four minutes it lasted, which I took to be no coincidence but a mutual exchange of auditory appreciation between species.

We are in this life together, and make sounds in observance of that fact when our situations overlap.

During my two-and-a-half-year stay on Burying Island (1986-1988), I often muttered words out loud, or caught myself on the verge of “talking to myself,” but I wasn’t really talking, more accurately acknowledging a state of arousal while gripped by one situation or another. Which, I think, is why painters paint, singers sing, dancers dance—to celebrate the situations they get themselves into, and recreate in performance again and again.

When people get together, what do we talk about but the situations uppermost in our minds? Baby passed another milestone, dear one got a job, doggie dug up neighbor’s garden, puss left half a sparrow on the pillow again, the car needs a new muffler, the house a new roof. Sentence-by-sentence, we describe in increasing detail the situations we are coming from because that’s where we live out our days. Which is equally true of conversations at the kitchen table, PTA meetings, or the general assembly of the local branch of the occupy movement.

Speech is an economical form of action by which we can try out our ideas before we irreversibly commit a particular deed. Once the deed is done, it has our name on it and we either have to own it and do our best to live with it, or try to find a way to undo what we have done. With speech, we can apologize for any hurt feelings we may have caused, but with deeds, like George Zimmerman, we cannot make amends by bringing Trayvon Martin back to life.

We, along with our generation, are born to a particular era of coexistence with one another. Each of us lives an individual life, yet we live that life in concert with those around us, and our respective situations may share similar features so that we feel connected in various ways by events taking place in our awareness as we each may personally construe it. In that sense, we may come to feel somewhat like brothers and sisters facing similar challenges, which helps us use speech to become real to one another in grappling with the cast of notable characters and salient events of our time. We may even converse among ourselves with a sense of common understanding, and come to agreement about what needs to be done to improve the situation we live in.

Acting separately, we may be weak, but together we are a powerful force that needs to be reckoned with. Whether that reckoning comes to pass or not remains to be seen. But one thing is sure: it won’t happen without our making a personal commitment to action.

In other words, I am with you as you are with me in this, our time to speak and to act. As ever, I remain y’r brother, —Steve

Copyright 2012 by Steve Perrin.

Our minds hop from one to the next, situation-to-situation, like islands in an archipelago. From one instant of focus and feeling to another, that is our grand adventure, coming to clarity here, then moving on. Setting new goals, starting new projects, entering new relationships, one engagement after another like pearls on a string, event after event, adding up to a life.

There is an organic logic to this progression, like a sequence of base pairs serving as code for particular amino acids, which add to a particular protein, which folds to a particular shape, which performs a particular role in the life of a cell.

Every situation serves as the basis for the one after that. Awareness flows instant-to-instant, minute-to-minute, event-to-event, day-to-day. All adding, as I said, to a life.

Such are our loops of engagement. We reach for sensory impressions, interpret them, fit them to our understanding, then construct situations which we judge according to our fears, needs, and desires. From there we decide what action is called for if we are to be true to ourselves. We set realistic goals, channel our energy and skills into doable projects, seek help and support from those we trust, and make ourselves happen in the world in fitting response to the situation as we have constructed it from the evidence of our senses

After getting clear on a situation, we shift attention from perception to action—to what we are going to do about it. We set goals and get down to work. So does the life force—the urge to make ourselves happen—drive us to keep up with our situations as they develop.

Getting up, washing our face and combing our hair, walking the dog, fixing breakfast, getting the kids off to school, we prepare to take on the new day. We check the news or headlines to see how the situation has changed overnight. Then we schedule ourselves to get done the jobs we feel called to do, and do our best to meet the expectations we set for our daily performance. At the end of the day we review all we’ve done, and get set for the day after.

So goes the mind, the day, the life: situation-to-situation, with us at the core providing the energy, each doing his or her share of the work. All organic: body, mind, and life. The grand adventure in which we each play our part.

Organically, I remain, y’r friend, –Steve

Copyright 2012 by Steve Perrin.

My interest in this blog is personal judgment as practiced by individuals in deciding what to do on their own, not the collective judgment exercised by decision-making groups of one sort or another following a set procedure for charting corporate behavior by considering and weighing individual recommendations.

Collective judgment is derived from treatment of personal judgments in a prescribed manner (parliamentary debate, legal proceedings, meetings run according to by-laws, polling, etc.). For me, here, the issue is how we can tell if our personal judgment is sound and reliable so it can be trusted in everyday practice to include all the evidence pro and con for believing our situation is what we think it is.

That is, is human judgment an actual capability rather than just another ruse for waylaying the gullible, whether on their their dream journey down the primrose path or in their daily struggle for survival?

What we make of our situation depends on the breadth and depth of our personal experience, on what we have been told and taught by others having sway over us, on our attitude and persistence, on what’s at stake, among a host of factors that might influence our judgment at the time. In other words, judgment is as much an art as a disciplined method for deciding what to do on any given occasion.

People decide what to do for all sorts of reasons, some wise, some risky, some foolish. Before we do anything, we can consult our bookie or astrologer, for instance, or find where we are in the sunspot cycle, or even follow the herd in doing what everyone else is doing.

Perhaps the best system is to read up on the issue; make a list of pros and cons; talk things over with friends, family, or a trusted advisor; sleep on it; and then see where we come out when we wake up after a good night’s sleep. It would be tedious of me to pretend that we can do better than that.

As unique individuals, it’s OK to act as we are led without trying to please everyone who has an opinion on the matter. Why else do we have minds of our own if not to apply them in advancing from one situation to another? That way we are bound to make mistakes, but they will be our personal mistakes, so we can learn from them how to do better next time if we get the chance.

The prevailing alternative is a top-down, authoritarian system where judgments are made by those we submit to because they have power over us according to the dictates of the culture we are born to, or the culture that happens to claim jurisdiction over our personal behavior.

My stance here is always to please myself (yourself) first because in the end, each of us is responsible for making ourselves happen as we do. That is precisely why we have a mind of our own, not to submit, but to be ourselves (which may very well include submitting to those whose judgment we respect more than our own).

One last word. It’s OK to be inconsistent by acting in some cases on the spur of the moment, while in others only after due deliberation and seeking advice from others. Nowhere is it written that there is a right way to decide how to be you.

My suggestion is to check your bearings often enough so that misjudgment won’t send you so far off course that you can’t find your way back again. At a minimum, I check myself every morning when my mind is fresh before being distracted by daily events. Consulting myself by that schedule keeps me on course so that I know who I am as I make myself happen as I do.

Reflection 295: Judgment

July 20, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin. (Six photos included.)

If it weren’t for our judgment, we’d all be dead. At least we get some things right, no matter what situation we’re in. Our day-to-day survival is proof that we possess a smattering of judgment at least. But for that smattering, we’d be dead.

That is, things are not necessarily as dire as I presented them in my last post—everything up in the air because we are trapped in situations of our own doing, so can’t watch ourselves as we make ourselves happen, like a helmsman on the open ocean without a compass.

But we do have a kind of compass to steer by, our own hard-won judgment. Not inherited, not bought off the shelf (like a college curriculum), but earned through the trial-and-error method of making every mistake in the book until we finally get the message. With all that experience behind us, if we paid attention as we went, then the residue of our prior mistakes will remind us what we want to avoid now, so we slowly advance on a course between the submerged ledges we know from experience lie all around us.

As near as I can tell, our word judgment stems from the Latin iudicare, meaning, basically, to point the index finger. That gesture is an outward and visible sign of what happens in our minds when we come to a clear realization. Whether we point up into the air or at a specific person, we have come to clarity about the way ahead. The process by which we reach that point is called judgment. We have found a way out of our situation of perplexity, so are ready in our minds to move on to the next stage toward decisive action.

That turning point is the pivot about which our loops of engagement redirect the attentive and perceptual side of our consciousness toward taking physical action. Toward behavior; doing something in the world. That is the ah-ha moment when the mists rise and our situation becomes clear. We know what to do, and are free to set about doing it. The only way to get to that point is through the trial of personal judgment.

I’m going to join the Navy. I’m going to marry the guy. I’m going to quit school and ride my bike around the world. Whatever we decide, we have to gather the evidence, ponder it, and judge what we think is best for us. Individually, we are the deciders who turn sensory impressions into situations into courses of action through exercise of our personal judgment, or not, as may be the case.

Many decisions to act are grounded on personal fears, impulses, or whims, not considered judgments. The essence of an education is learning to convert the former into the latter through realization that actions have consequences, some desirable, some not. We don’t know that when young, so have to find our way between (or be steered away from) dangerous situations in which we, unwittingly, can become our own enemies. Judgment, not knowledge, is the true aim of education.

We earn judgment through personal experience, so it becomes ours for life; so-called knowledge is time-sensitive, forgettable, and often based more on opinion than fact. Schools teaching doctrine or ideology can do more harm than good. Schools based on developing personal judgment through having students discover where their personal decisions take them—such schools deliver an education for a lifetime of application.

The art of converting situations into solutions through applied judgment is in developing the skill to rise above your limited experience of yourself and your world to obtain a larger view of the issues and terrain that surround you. By broadening the horizon within which you live, you come to appreciate the ways of the world beyond what you are already familiar with.

The flight I recently made in a small plane to photograph the watershed of Taunton Bay provided me just such an educational experience. I was intimately familiar with an island in the bay, and somewhat familiar with the bay itself through years of research and discovery, but the watershed was largely a mystery to me until I made a deliberate effort to transcend my traditional, earthly perspective so I could look down with the eyes of an eagle. It wasn’t that the watershed hadn’t been there all along, it’s that I had to go beyond myself in becoming a new person who could appreciate what was there.

To end this post, I will include six images from that flight focused on the flow of fresh water into the bay, photos that greatly expand the range of sensory impressions and situations over which I feel my judgment can be trusted.

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What a ride! I am a larger person than I was because my judgment concerning watershed affairs now applies within a wider horizon than it did before the flight. For me, land uses within that horizon now include: forestry, sand pits, blueberry barrens, agriculture, transmission lines, roadways, cemeteries, residential and commercial development, ball fields, bogs and other wetlands, great ponds, mountain slopes, and conservation lands. I have been there and seen them. Thank you, Friends of Taunton Bay, and B. D.-B. (who helped pay for the ride).

In one 48-minute flight, by studying the lay of the land, I saw how the bay was situated, an island in that bay was situated, and I was situated when on that island. Childhood is usually the time for growing into our homelands. Here I am at 79, still growing, still widening my horizons, still striving to improve my judgments on things that matter—such as my inner life, even my mind itself. I call that lifelong learning. What shocks me is how early in life some people stop learning and start telling others what they should do and how they should live.

Sensory impressions, situations, judgments, action—that’s why I have a mind to help me navigate through life. My one, particular life. My guess is that the same is true for you. As ever, I remain y’r friend, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

“The landscape is what you see from where you are.” Black Mountain poet Charles Olson said that. He was referring to the landscape of the mind. The world is what you see from where you’re at—i.e., where you are situated. I said words to that effect in my last post, also referring to the landscape of the mind.

Shifting from what we see to what we say, the landscape we speak of depends on where we are situated in our minds. Anything can be—and sooner-or-later will be—said, if we are in a place where we can say such a thing. But what about truth? Is it situational, too? If our words depend on where we are in the landscape of our minds, how can we tell if what we say is worth listening to, or even comes close to being true?

Politicians, for instance, are always in that place inside their heads where they are seeking to please voters and donors so they can get elected, or reelected. If it can be said, they will say it to get somebody’s money or vote. Political speech has to be set in the context of where the speaker is situated in his or her mind. So much for truth.

Poring over the deals made on Wall Street that brought on the Great Collapse of 2008, I conclude that bankers were so bent on making obscene profits that investments they offered to the public were toxic, and they knew it, but offered them just the same because they were insured against failure. And were backed by rating agencies, insurance companies, business schools, regulators, congressmen, and every other member of the ruling elite. So much for truth.

Penn State University was so bent on pleasing alums by winning every game that they created a situation in which a coach could molest little kids without censure. So much for truth.

Fox News, News of the Day, Disney, docudramas, theater, novels, businesses, corporations, public relations, advertising, celebrities, sports, blogs (including this one)—where, oh, where is truth as opposed to fantasy, entertainment, or opinion?

As always, truth is right next to beauty, in the mind of the beholder. That’s where you’ll find it, or more likely its surrogate, opinion. So don’t think too hard or too long. What’s true is that we can’t tell the difference between the two. It is true if you think so. Otherwise, not.

That’s the upshot of my findings after thirty years of study about how my mind works. Speech, perception, understanding—all situated in my unique mind, are necessarily subject to doubt because I’m trapped in my head and can’t get out. Truth is the name of a free-floating concept passed down by our culture, a word we are born to with a meaning we seek to discover ever after. Along with the meaning of justice, honor, freedom, objectivity, wisdom, and god. These are ideas in the mind never to be met face-to-face. What is truth? Where can we find it? Would we recognize it if we ran into it?

What I’m getting at is probably the most shocking thought I’ve ever had. All consciousness is subjective because situated in the fallible awareness of a mortal human being. We do the best we can, and can always try again until we run out of steam—those are our limits. If we don’t have to be right the first time, and successively closer approximations are allowed, we can make a stab, and always try to do better later on. But we shouldn’t obsess or wait too long. What’s true is we are suspended by a filament over a fiery pit, and that thread could part at any time. The one sure thing is that we will die, but we don’t know when. Beyond that, it’s all up for grabs—truth, justice, and the rest.

Given the world we live in, and the nature of our minds, this must be common knowledge. The evidence is everywhere around us: Assad killing his own people and claiming he’s not; the late Muammar Gaddafi, ditto; The U.S. invasion of Iraq on false pretenses; the way Wall Street does its business; the business of politics; the business of the news media; and on and on. If you’re literate and awake, you are familiar with the story.

Our engagements better be snappy or we won’t ever get to them. So we settle for less than perfection, which is our lot because it is the nature of our minds to look out from so small a sample of experience that we are almost totally deaf, dumb, and blind. We are well-advised to do the best we can with what we’ve got in the time allowed. It is highly improbable that we will ever do better than that. Humility is our lot, along with wonder, curiosity, fallibility, and far more than our share of pride in small undertakings.

Much of what passes for truth among us merely shows how finely we’ve been calibrated by our culture, so is not truly our doing. Each of us becomes a bearer of that culture, which we pass on to our children, as they will to theirs. Which is as true of our way of thinking as it is of our manner of dress, food preparation, speaking, getting around, playing, fighting, and so on. What we contribute is largely our urge to get and stay engaged with others as we learned to do in childhood, to be attentive, occupied, and busy one way or another. That’s what it takes to be human. We are the go-go species, always on the move, always up to something, always making beauty or trouble because both are situated in our heads.

As the thinker of these thoughts, I trust my creative imagination to forge a link between the sensory impressions that give me a world and the subsequent actions I will take in adjusting to that world. Truth and opinion are both imaginative products of the situation I think I am in as derived from memories of my past experience. In essence, I make the connection from sensory suggestions of a world to my felt placement in that world, and on to appropriate action by trusting my imagination to come up with a precedent that will apply to this particular occasion.

There you have it: my ongoing loop of engagement with a world I cannot know for sure, relying on imagination as I go—with thoughts more revealing of my situation than the truth. Living ever in the moment, I stumble on, making myself happen through invention sparked by seemingly familiar sensory patterns. The main thing is to keep going from one engagement to the next. From one project or relationship to another. Until I can’t go on, so I’m done. Stymied. Finished. Until then, I do my best to stay situated and engaged, and to be blessed with enough judgment to tell truth from opinion.

I’m glad to be with you today. Y’r friend, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

Situations, as I use the term, refer to models in our heads of what is going on in the world around us constructed on the basis of sensory impressions derived from energy impinging on our sense organs at the time. They range from wild guesses based on whims to carefully considered hypotheses derived from sensory evidence and experience. One thing situations are not is accurate representations of physical events in the world. Every situation is a conjecture signed and dated by its author.

Our senses convert energy in the world to nerve signals in our brains. The impressions we have of what is going on in the world are just that—impressions—because signals flowing from one nerve cell to another are very unlike energy transmission through the air, to be subsequently converted by eye or ear to electrically charged ions flowing across membranes along nerve fibers in the most complex organic system in the known universe, the human brain, and the mind emerging from its concerted activity.

Situations are what we think is happening in the world from our singular point of view. That’s why we have to test them through trial and error to see if we’re right, or revise and augment them if (as is so often the case) we are wrong. At best, our conjectures are subjective, partial (both biased and incomplete), and inconclusive in themselves. They are probes in the dark, seldom to be trusted in full.

Movies and soap operas derive drama while cartoons derive humor from the mix-ups we get into by trusting our sense of a situation overmuch. In a recent New Yorker cartoon, the bird lately come to heaven inquires of a resident angel, “You run into a window, too?” Or the Scrabble-playing cat tells the dog on the opposite side of the board, “‘Woof’ isn’t a word.”

As I said in my last post, situations are always posed from our personal points-of-view, so our unstated assumptions feature prominently in our behavior. Given the phenomenological nature of human awareness and understanding, it cannot be otherwise. Our renditions of the world are always seen from a first-person singular perspective.

The culture we grow up in has a huge influence on the situations by which we approach the world. Be nice, be brave, be modest, be strong we are told, and we are—as we interpret such advice in light of our personal feelings at the time. Parents, siblings, cousins, grandparents—all influence how we engage the world by our own lights. “You can take a boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of a boy” precisely because the situations in which a boy knows who he is are country situations, and he carries them with him to the grave.

Training a boy to be a killer in the service of his country cannot simply be countermanded by making him a civilian again. He can be separated from the service, but the disciplined training and battlefield trauma are his for life, and are ever-present in the situations he imagines himself to be in so-called civilian life.

Our loops of engagement are centered on the situations we conjure to justify our actions. Emotionally deprived of love, comfort, and warmth as infants (when we become who we are), we include that deprivation in each situation we engage with, perpetuating our childhood predicaments in every adult act. If a loving engagement is not available to us, we fall back on the next survival value in line—on food, drink, sex, sense of place, money, possessions, position, power, fast cars, big houses, and so on. We see reenactments of such engagements performed on the public stage every day. What else is a presidential primary campaign than a free-for-all for the neediest among us? The needier the candidate for what he missed in childhood, the stronger he comes across as knowing what’s good for everyone in the nation.

“Good” advice is what we give other people to make up for what we lacked as children; our own style of engagement is at the heart of that advice because it is what present situations call up within us. Since that voice calls so loudly and persistently to us, it is all we can hear and all we have to give others. Consider the financial services industry that thrives on turning public debt into personal profit, converting the wealth of a nation into bonuses for taking (and hedging) risks with other people’s money. All the while feeling the nation should be grateful for being bilked of its assets.

That is how situations work. I project my primal situation onto you in your current world, and do unto you as was done unto me a long time ago. If my childhood was loving and joyful, I spread love and joy wherever I go. If it was neglectful or abusive, ditto, I spread that around because it’s what I know best.

We live in a time when collusion between the deprived and needy is rampant because ungoverned, and ungoverned because unrecognized for what it is—a crisis of childhood needs left unmet. The film Inside Job makes clear that the banks are in cahoots with rating agencies, with insurance companies, with the media, with grad schools, with regulatory agencies, with public officials in creating schemes to divert the nation’s collective wealth to themselves at public expense. From the perspective of the moneyed elite, it all makes perfectly good sense to subvert the nation for their benefit so they can get what they want at others’ expense. That’s a fair portrait of the world situation from their point of view because it’s built into each of their personal situations and has been from the beginning.

How we engage one another is a function of the world situation as each of us constructs it for him or herself, and carries for life. Education is laid upon us when it should be drawn out of us from the first day of school, based on who we are when we enter the room instead of who we are supposed to become when we graduate. The question to ask is not, What do you want to be when you grow up?, but Who were you as a young child?, and Who are you now? That is the basis for every situation we will build ourselves around in reaching into the world, either to spread love or to get the gratification we were denied in our formative days, months, years. If we need to be held in loving embrace, then that is a school’s job to make us secure enough to get on with the world’s work. We need to be attended to and made to feel special, not treated as so many standard units of ignorance to be molded into entrepreneurs and engineers.

A schoolroom can be a model situation where everyone in it belongs to the tribe in her own way because she is who she is and has lived the life that she has. Accepted in that way, students feel like themselves and not hollow imposters having to pull the wool over other eyes to avoid having their secrets revealed.

Childhood situations make the man and the woman. Learning how to engage by nuzzling our mother’s breast and being read to in our father’s lap, we go on to find our place at the bosom of our tribe or neighborhood. The situations we are used to form the basis of our personal mythology. The financial services industry—and prisons—are full of those who may not have had that route available to them, so came to rely on surrogate engagements to get them through the day. When money (because with it you can buy anything you want) and brute strength come to stand in for love and respect, the nature of our most fundamental life situations degrades into extracting from others what they don’t want to share. With the results we see all around us in the form of war, corruption, greed, and criminality.

Do I have any right to make such a claim? Indeed, I speak from the depths of the life I have lived and discover in situations spread before me in every direction. Situations reveal where we are coming from, where we are situated in our own lives. They are always centered on personal concerns and aspirations. Situations are the mental territories where we live out our lives, the respective standpoints from which we seek to further our wellbeing and accomplishments. The situations we have lived through up to now endure at our core like the rings of a tree. They hold us up as we face the next storm.

One tree to another, I remain y’r friend, –Steve

Reflection 292: Outlook

July 13, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

My last two posts have dealt with sensory impressions and their formation in our minds, together with photos illustrating specific visual impressions that have moved me in recent weeks—largely scenes from the natural world.

Today I move on to the impact such impressions have in centering my outlook on particular situations so that I find them meaningful in one way or another. Beyond forming an impression of what I’m facing in the world, that’s the second step I take in engaging my world—developing a sense of its significance to me at the moment so that I can take the third step of acting appropriately in light of my personal situation.

Sensory patterns don’t just come to us through our senses, we shape them to fit our fears, needs, and desires so we see what is important to us. That is, we are motivated to notice certain sensory details available to us and not others because we have found such details affecting in the past. That is what I mean by having an outlook—a certain take on the world because we are who we are by living out our past histories of experience.

After forging a sensory impression, we face the next challenge to our ongoing mental activity in determining what that hard-won pattern might signify or mean in terms of the situation we are engaged in at the moment. So what? we ask ourselves, what difference does it make?

Our sense of being in a situation is based on the positive and negative feelings the pattern stirs up in us, together with the biological values we put into play, and the contribution of memory in recognizing (reaching out to and finding familiar) the pattern before us—all adding to a felt understanding of the situation we are facing as based on our sensory impressions at the time.

Sensory patterns demand to be interpreted as examples of this or that type of experience. We don’t experience the shape or nature of a duck, say, so much as the concrete duckness of a duck. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, surely it is a duck and nothing that merely resembles a duck (unless it is a decoy, model, or representation, in which case it is something other than what it might seem at first glance).

Outlooks and situations resolve all such considerations by combining them into an understanding of what-is-ness and how-ness and why-ness that includes both the pattern and the perceiver so that their relationship is patently clear and understood as meaningful and significant to the one particular person who is moved to pay attention for reasons of her own because she is who she is.

The pattern emerges within a situation as not just a collection of individual details so much as the inherent relationship between those details (including the beholder’s personal history) so that the situation is grasped and understood as a dynamic engagement pointing the way to appropriate action. If it’s a duck, shoot it; throw it a crust of bread; make sympathetic quacking sounds; point your finger and say, “Oh, look, there’s a duck.”

In my last post (Reflection 291: In the Beginning) I included a photo of a squid. Upon seeing it I instantly realized that, dead or alive, it had been stranded atop a ledge at the last high tide, and would soon be eaten by the first shoreline scavenger who came by—eagle, crow, fox—and if I wanted a photo to add to my collection of life in the bay, I had to make it there and then while the pattern of its pigmentation was still intact. Which I did.

Situations as we perceive them are at the core of our looping engagements with the world. Given our individual outlooks, they are the best we can do in figuring out what sort of world we are facing right now. We receive energy from that world, true, but not the world itself. Based on our habits, expectations, and experience, we piece together one version of all possible worlds, and for the moment, that is the operative reality within which we are to do our stuff.

Situations are what we are able to make of sensory impressions as fleshed-out with our feelings, values, memories, and understandings of what sort of a scene we are likely to be facing. Always, always, always, situations reflect our understanding of what we have gotten ourselves into because they are centered on our personal experience and the outlook we have earned through enduring a lifetime of hard knocks.

Regarding the loops of personal engagement we experience in living our lives, our first task is to form a sensory impression of the world based on our expectations, arousal, interests, attention, and need for clarity at a level of sensory detail. Then a second task is to combine our feelings, values, and understandings into a situation that would make the sensory pattern we come up with meaningful in light of the lives we have lived up to now. Setting up a third stage of our looping engagement in which to act appropriately within the situation we have constructed for ourselves out of bits and pieces of the lives that have gotten us this far.

Round and round we go, engaging first one situation then another, always striving, always learning, always trusting memory and imagination to show us the way. Forming clear sensory patterns, putting them in the context of plausible situations, then acting as we are moved and have the opportunity to do, so advancing on to the next round of our engagement, and hopefully the round after that, making ourselves happen in the world in response to the flow of energies impinging upon us from the world.

So does life, as I see it, flow on. That’s it for now. As ever, y’r friend, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

In the beginning is expectancy, then arousal and attention, then sensory impressions. That is how our experience and minds, our situations and engagements, begin, not always, but often.

Expectancy is the leading edge of memory. What we expect to happen will, we assume, be a continuation of what we retain from the past. We look for more of the same, making allowances for variations on old themes.

We have to be attentive if we are to perceive anything at all, so arousal from mental slumbers brings us into the present moment so we can cast the reach of memory forward into the now by attending to salient features of our surroundings and our desires.

Eureka, something comes to mind—sensory impressions of one sort or another. In my case, since I am always on the outlook for visual images, I often fashion them from radiant energy gleaming or reflecting from my surroundings. I included ten such images in my last post. Here I provide eleven more, photos taken during the week of July 2 to July 6, 2012. For the most part these are Earth images meant to capture my engagement with my homeland on our native planet.

As a reminder that my seeing is performed in my head, I point out here that our digital technologists have cleverly designed the images in our cameras to affect the pigments in the rods and cones of our eyes so that photographs resemble the world we are already familiar with. Seeing is still done by us, not our machines.

Here are eleven sensory impressions I engaged with in early July: orange slime mold, rising moon, squid, whorled loosestrife, yellow slime mold, white pine cones, bare branches, fallen tree, Indian pipes aborning, hermit thrush, and periwinkles on a floating kelp stipe.

P1000930_BI-7-2-6-2012_1_96 P1000947_BI-7-2-6-2012_2_96P1000953_BI-7-2-6-2012_3_96P1000958_BI-7-2-6-2012_4_96 P1000968_BI-7-2-6-2012_5_96P1000976_BI-7-2-6-2012_6_96P1000986_BI-7-2-6-2012_7_96 P1000988_BI-7-2-6-2012_8_96 P1010022_BI-7-2-6-2012_9_96 P1010033_BI-7-2-6-2012_10_96 P1010036_BI_7-2-6-2012_96 None of this made the national news when it happened. Or, put differently, all of this made news only in my little world. The worlds we live in are the worlds we make for ourselves out of all the energy directed our way. As I say, we make ourselves happen as we do by deliberately attending to the situations we believe to be important. My world is not your world is not the world. There are as many worlds as there are people. To change the world, we must change the worlds we live in ourselves, not wait around for others to do the work for us.

In the beginning, we are the creators. How many of us live up to that honor, and that responsibility?

Stay well. I remain, y’r friend, –Steve from this, our home planet.

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

Phenomenology is the art of celebrating sensory impressions (phenomena) without imposing categories of meaning upon them. Of considering those impressions for their own sensory qualities—before wrapping them in concepts, language, or ideas. Phenomenology focuses on immediate sensory experience, not on fitting experience to culturally acceptable interpretations and conventions. The issue is not what Picasso’s Guernica or a Beethoven string quartet “means” but what it is in it’s own right.

I celebrate my little world by taking pictures of what I see. That is one of my primary engagements—seeing what kind of a world I belong to. All else—knowledge, culture, economics, science—does violence to seeing the world in that way. Before I am a member of a particular culture, I am an Earthling through and through.

Here are a few images taken between June 25 and June 29, 2012, from my homeland, the world of Steve from Planet Earth.

P1000763_BI-10_96 P1000833-b-290-1_96

P1000835-b-290-2_96P1000836-b-290-3_96 P1000837-b-290-4_96 P1000843-b-290-5_96P1000856-b-290-6_96 P1000858-b-290-7_96 P1000859-b-290-8_96 P1000900-b-290-9_96 Living in such a mind as I do, is it any wonder that I am a phenomenologist?

Hope all’s well in your mental world. Y’r friend, –Steve