Reflection 325: Stormy Weather

September 28, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.

Little Eva, age three, got several presents at Christmas: toy dinosaur, plastic sow and piglet, miniature pocketbook with handle. She quickly saw the former two would fit snugly in the latter, so used the pocketbook as a shelter for her new treasures, which she proudly carried about the house. Until the handle came off, the pocketbook fell to the floor, and Eva, broke into tears, her momentary joy come to a sad end.

Ever the observer, I saw that episode as an example of a loop of engagement kindled in the mind of a child who, heartbroken when the pocketbook fell apart, cried in frustration and disappointment. As Steve Jobs cried when designers at Apple failed to live up to his demanding expectations for new product lines.

These days emoticons and smiley/frownie faces are everywhere, reflecting how we are engaged at a particular instant. Life is parsed in terms of its happy and sad moments of engagement. I can imagine someone’s diary or autobiography as a sequence of times and dates, punctuated by small faces either happy or sad.

How many songs have expressed the sorrow of being alone, shunned, or jilted in love; or the joy of finding new love? Such moods have been the meat of the popular music industry since the thirties when I became aware of “Blue Moon” and “Stormy Weather” ("stormy weather since my man and I ain’t together, keeps raining all the time"). For better or worse, we hum and sing the turn-ons and turn-offs of our engagements.

We cheer the home team and jeer the team from away as naturally as we invest our hope in the one and envy (or dread) in the other. We do the same for candidates in political campaigns, identifying with one, demonizing the rest, putting buttons on our chests and signs on our lawns to declare our pledge of support. As we are engaged, so do we present ourselves.

Our stability is largely maintained by cyclical engagements with our surroundings. Just as our digestive system takes in nutritious food and expels unclean waste, our cardio-pulmonary system circulates oxygen and rids our cells of carbon dioxide, our reproductive system stores eggs and sperm in separate vessels that need to merge in complementary engagement to be fruitful—so does our nervous system transform sensory impressions into felt situations, and develop felt situations into appropriate actions by means of loops of streaming awareness.

Through periodic engagements, reproductive sex assures that each new person is a unique human being. Eating is a form of engagement that maintains our bodily metabolism and triggers elimination of exhausted waste. Engagement through games, athletics, and education demonstrates our capabilities both mental and physical. Through art, music, dance, and literature we express the essence of our engagements with others and with our personal situations. Through religion and politics we conduct ourselves according to interactions steered by the dictates of our passions and beliefs. Through family connections we do our best to assure ourselves of food, sleep, learning, health, adventure, and wellbeing.

Engagement is natural law because our lives depend on it. Where there is life, we know that streaming engagements make it possible. We sing our new ones and mourn those gone by.

When striving to convert sensory impressions into appropriate actions, we know we are engaged. When we look about us, we see impressions from our situated perspective. When we listen, we hear impressions from that same familiar place. When we sniff the air, we scent those aromas that confirm who and where we are. When we reach out to the sensible world, we touch its recognizable features. When we question our surroundings, we are answered by what we can comprehend. When we marvel at events, we arouse our need to update our situation and personal perspective.

Mental development is a spiraling process of repeated attempts leading to successively more satisfying engagements. Space is the province of our actions; time the domain of our awareness: the two together in sequence constituting a loop through space-time that is the signature of our unique, animated, personal style of engagement. Consciousness is whatever passes through the human mind in the course of its serial spatio-temporal engagements from sensory impressions to meaningful situations to purposive actions. The result is what we call consciousness, the basis of our existential life.

Solitary confinement denies us that life, as does any form of sensory deprivation. Mind-altering drugs change the chemistry of our brains, creating false impressions and situations, leading to performance of inappropriate acts. If we go deaf or blind, at least our minds often learn to compensate by sharpening senses remaining intact so we can learn to engage by means that are only rudimentary under normal conditions.

Our social engagements bear the stamp of our mental processes at the time, revealing our respective levels of ethics, respect, courtesy, integrity, attention, awareness, and situated perspectivity. Practice of the golden rule signals a mind in good social order as it entertains neural signals in the context of diverse minds processing signals across a wide range of subjective conditions. Loners with slight practice in engaging will be apt to tread roughly on the sensibilities of those around them, asserting their untutored styles of engagement because they lack a repertory of suitable alternatives.

Nowhere is this more evident than in a financial services industry where the sole reason for doing anything is to make as much profit as the situation will bear, or even to transgress that limit if thought possible (through, say, hedge funds and insurance). The essence of financial exchange is fairness between equals. A trend toward fairness is the governor that makes capitalism itself possible in practical situations. When fairness and equality are taken as the mark of the gullible and inexperienced, then real-estate markets collapse, savings and loans go bust, dot-coms fail, stocks tank—leaving big banks and investment firms casting about for yet another ruse for separating the public from its money.

All engagements are transitory. They are fleeting by definition, and must of necessity come to an end. If any combination of great wealth, power, or influence is at issue, then the stakes are high enough to corrupt all but the most disciplined loops of engagement. Personal gain trumps fairness, justice, and equality much of the time. Politics, finance, organized religion, healthcare, and other social institutions are susceptible to influence by those who stand to profit the most by manipulating others through fraudulent engagements.

Engagements paying off in peace of mind, joy, justice, public spiritedness, efficiency, and long-term stewardship of natural resources—such engagements in high places lend themselves not to corruption but to social adaptability and citizen approval. Think Eleanor Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Vaclav Havel, Rachel Carson, George Washington, Elizabeth I and II, Hillary Clinton, Albert Schweitzer, Margaret Mead, Kofi Anan, Florence Nightingale, and many others who have for the most part resisted the gravitational pull of power on their personal pursuits.

As we engage with our surroundings and with significant others during childhood, and update our approach when we come of age—so (in many cases) are we likely to carry on for the rest of our lives. Like the proverbial die, our styles and expectations are cast. Mental pathways established when we were young can be modified later on, but it takes concentration, deliberate effort, and perhaps ten-thousand hours of practice to restyle our habitual engagements.

Loops of engagement play a leading role in the everyday psychology I have been developing for the past thirty years. The twin arts of constructing situations from sensory impressions, and programs of meaningful action from felt situations, determine not only how we present ourselves, but how we interpret the world around us. Engagement, then, is the process we use to build a world around us as our current reality.

)>:|;>) –Steve from Planet Earth

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Reflection 324: My Day, again

September 26, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.      [Including two photos.]

What am I talking about when I mention loops of engagement? Basically, it’s how I direct my attention in everyday life—how I make myself happen. Let me count the ways. Take yesterday, for instance. Here’s a summary of my engagements that I can remember:

  • lay in bed thinking about what I was going to do
  • showered and got dressed
  • edited two posts to my blog before breakfast
  • made and ate breakfast, washed dishes
  • answered email, printed handouts for upcoming housing commission meeting
  • worked on two Powerpoint presentations for October 6
  • scanned and Photoshopped three photos
  • read article in Newsweek
  • got mail at PO
  • deposited check at bank
  • bought cheese, bananas, rice cakes, sugar, at grocery
  • made soup for lunch, washed dishes
  • drove 18 miles to Ellsworth
  • checked with surveyor about headings shown on a chart from 1983
  • consulted builder about patching roof
  • planned reroofing job with son Ken
  • hailed Sophie, asked about her father
  • bought yogurt to get me through meeting
  • attended 2.5-hour listening session with John Bullard, new head of National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)
  • drove back to Bar Harbor
  • made supper
  • went to sleep listening to Romney at GOP convention

I made two points at the listening session:

  1. Times are changing in estuaries up and down the coast. As shallow, sheltered, sunny bays, estuaries are particularly productive, but being warmer than most coastal waters, they are showing the impact of global warming before more open waters. Mussels are spawning earlier, lobsters are molting earlier, horseshoe crabs are breeding earlier. These changes will drive changes to fisheries in federal waters farther out in the Gulf of Maine.
  2. My sense of the meeting is that the arrow of time heads in one direction and never makes a U-turn. In my lifetime the human population has risen from 2 to 7 billion people. You can’t go home again, or follow traditions set by your father and grandfather. Those fisheries won’t “come back” as many in the audience hoped they would. Fishermen have to innovate as Steve Jobs did at Apple by focusing on the world of today, not sit around longing for yesterday to repeat itself.

This was the most civil meeting between fishermen and a fisheries manager I have ever attended. Bullard did an excellent job stressing that he was there to listen, not lecture. As usual, my engagements included taking pictures. Here are a couple of examples from the NMFS listening session. The first is of John Bullard responding to a question from a fisherman, the second shows a portion of the 25 people having fisheries-related interests that he came to meet with in Ellsworth.

P1030256_John-Bullard_NMFS_8-30-2012P1030235x_NMFS-mtg_8-30-2012 In retrospect, it all sounds so routine. But that’s how engagements often run. We do many of the same or similar things day-after-day. We get up, wash, make breakfast, run off to school or to work, take breaks, eat, read or watch videos/TV, answer email, go to bed. We are verbs on the run from one engagement to the next.

Which is exactly my point. We make it all happen from the inside, not because we are on some kind of treadmill. It is our personal attention that is engaged, our personal sensory impressions, our personal situations, our personal actions—all directed toward making ourselves happen as is our custom so we remain familiar to ourselves and know who we are.

Think of the culture we have built around ourselves as an extension of our personal urge and ability to engage:

  • going to school to learn new skills
  • getting a job to bring in a paycheck
  • learning to talk, read, write, swim, drive, cook, garden
  • forming relationships, going on dates, getting engaged
  • having children, a career, a car, a house, an exercise bike
  • fighting, serving in the military, taking tours of duty
  • walking, running, flying, sailing, rowing, kayaking
  • painting, dancing, singing, sculpting, making music
  • cutting wood, digging ditches, panning gold, sewing
  • investing, saving, gambling, squandering, consuming
  • these, and a thousand other activities we perform

Our culture illustrates myriad possibilities for engagement, which we use as foils in defining ourselves in particular ways to reflects the influences and choices we have personally experienced in our families, social groups, schools, neighbor-hoods, and communities. Out of the possibilities all swirling around us, we choose activities that make sense to us because of examples so familiar that we unwittingly or deliberately pattern our interactions upon them (or against them) and become who we are.

Engagements are the core upon which our psyches—our minds and inner identities—are built. They are more what we are as individuals than what we do in society. We all engage our worlds and surroundings in particular ways as farmers, artists, musicians, athletes, teachers, soldiers, lovers, entrepreneurs, adventurers, parents, and all the other roles we learn to play in one life.

I offer the streaming round of personal engagement as a kind of everyday psychology based on life as we make it happen rather than on any sense of “normal” or “deviant” behavior, trauma, neurosis, or pathology. I am not a medical man out to cure humanity of its ills. I think on the whole we do better by accepting one another as we present ourselves, and develop relationships (or not) from there. We grow into a kind of dignity by growing up as we do, and I believe each of us is entitled to a certain amount of respect for having survived as well as we have under difficult circumstances we have faced on our own.

The point, I think, is once we become aware of the personal uniqueness of our styles of engagement, we have the option in each case to strive toward making our engagements as effective and productive as we can to avoid abusing others inadvertently by inflicting ourselves on a world without regard for the consequences. We are all one-of-a-kind specimens of humanity, and look on the world from perspectives uniquely our own. As such, we have no right to inflict harm on others who look back at us through eyes of their own because of how their rearing and life experiences have shaped them.

Rather, by striving to be gifts one to another in our engagements, we first must become gifts to ourselves by dealing with the circumstances of our own development, recognizing our strengths, weaknesses, and failings, and accepting responsibility for improving on the ways others have shown us how to be ourselves up till now through personal example. We do that by paying particular attention to how we conduct our own engagements, deliberately avoiding doing harm. That is my translation of the golden rule.

Focusing on engagements in terms of work, Christian Science Monitor Editor John Yemma writes in his editorial for the issue of September 3, 2012:

Work is the difference we make over a lifetime. Each of us accumulates a body of work that is more than bullet points on our resume. Our work includes what we contribute in the home, in the development of our talents, in the refinement of intellect and growth of character. Work is about improving ourselves and helping make the world a little better as a partner, parent, friend, or citizen (page 5).

More inclusively, every one of our engagements makes such a difference because it is an example of how we make ourselves happen in the world. As we engage, so goes the world—that is, the world we entertain from our perspective on the situation we are in at the time, the only world we can know.

That’s what it means to be responsibly conscious—of yourself and your view of the world at the same time—to rise to the occasion as navigator of your personal destiny.

As always, –Steve from Planet Earth

Reflection 323: Deep Structure

September 24, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

I have long been concerned with where words come from within myself. And beyond that, within my culture. In Consciousness: The Book, I have written:

Where do words come from, that they can be so affecting from afar? I don’t even know where my own words come from when I open my mouth to speak, or sit at a computer as I am doing now, writing this very sentence. They flow from my mind, that I know, and within it from the dynamic forces making up the situation I believe myself to be in at the time (page xiii).

One clue is that when I talk or mutter to myself, I am often aware of a kernel or nugget of thought-all-in-a-clump that bears the meaning of my words before I speak, so for self-understanding I don’t need the carefully sequenced words-in-an-utterance at all to communicate within my own mind. Grammar and syntax based on usage in my language group are for others’ benefit, not my own.

When, in 1957, Noam Chomsky first offered his notion of a transformational grammar to the world, he visualized two levels of linguistic representation in the mind, a deep, universal, structural level which, to produce a particular utterance, had to go through a process of transformation which mapped it onto a surface structure of words expressed in the locally accepted idiom. He later abandoned that notion, but I still find evidence of a process within myself that transforms clusters of felt meaning into words.

That process, I now believe, is what I call the loop of engagement I use to interact with a material and energetic world I can know only through personal interpretation but have no means of knowing as it might exist in itself beyond reach of my conjecturing mind.

I base my view of that world on constructions I derive from patterned impressions conveyed by my senses. I think of such impressions as corresponding more-or-less well to ambient patterns of energy impinging on my receptive sensory organs. There is no blue in the world, only radiations of a certain energetic or vibratory nature which are absorbed into pigments in my eyes and I “see” or interpret as blue. There is no music in the world, only blasts of pressure in the air following one another at such a rate that I seize upon them as tones making up musical melodies and harmonies.

When I engage with the world of matter and energy, I direct my attention to patterns that remind me of more-or-less similar (harmonious or discordant) patterns I have experienced before, patterns I have named and sorted into groups of similar patterns, allowing me to “recognize” (categorize or interpret) them in ways I am already familiar with. I “understand” those various groupings of conceptualized sensory patterns by thinking of them as forming fields or arrays of related groupings I use to construct a situation as it happens in my experience. When I place a current impression into a context provided by ones I remember and am familiar with, I discover meaning (or a sense of felt relevance) in the relationships thereby created.

Situations made up of recognizable patterns of energetic stimulation as construed in my mind are the world I live in because they are based on my current awareness of patterns I fit in with memories of similar or related patterns developed through prior experience, providing me a meaningful sense of myself within what I believe to be happening in the world around me. In evaluating that situation by judgment earned through hard-won experience allowing me to predict what will happen next, I decide what, if anything, I should do in response to my current life situation.

I then formulate an appropriate course of action, which I perform in a succession of personal projects and relationships, eventually going public by extending my engagement into the world through particular bodily movements and actions I believe suit the situation I am in.

Such a looping engagement with a world I cannot know in itself provides the deep structure for my making myself happen as I do, including how I use words and other tools and accessories to further my success in that world. My “loop of engagement” is the particular brand of wildness I discover through study of my personal stream of consciousness.

If this sounds crazy to you, that may be because I am asking you to open a new chapter in your personal field of self-understanding, a chapter expressed in familiar terms used in an unfamiliar setting. I’ve been developing this approach to personal consciousness for years, so it makes sense to me (otherwise I wouldn’t post it to my blog). So I suggest you read this post over from the beginning (while keeping your mind elastic) to see if matters don’t form a pattern that is actually plausible and not strange at all. As I put it in Consciousness: The Book,

What I do know (or think I know) is that comparison between sensory figures [patterns or impressions] and what I feel I ought to do about them leads to spurts of awareness, which may be inaccurate, but at least prompt me into a state of vigilant arousal and alertness. Disparity, that is, creates a need to pay attention, so novelty draws awareness to itself, sparking consciousness.

I haven’t used the words “comparator” up till now in this post, but I’ve been thinking of adjacent cortical columns in my brain as prompting consciousness through discrepancies revealed by a process of mental comparison, much as visual cortex generates a sense of depth perception from discrepancies between signals from left and right eyes located in adjacent cortical columns. To continue:

I view my brain as a comparator, an organ for placing signals from different areas side-by-side in adjacent cortical columns of nerve cells to see how they measure up against one another. The lateral prefrontal cortex and posterior parietal cortex, for example, so-called association areas of the brain, both direct outputs (motor-linked and sensory-linked, respectively) to multiple sites throughout the brain aptly suited to serve as staging areas for action. Converging on the same sites, these [paired] outputs would allow comparison, and the degree of sameness or novelty to be fed forward to motor areas.

Which leads to my concluding simile:

My thought is that, given the degree of consonance or dissonance compared to what I expect (am familiar with or used to), I experience a valenced signal that drives the adjustment needed to put me on the heading I desire. I steer my way by that signal much as a helmsman steers through fog by the deviance of his compass needle from his charted course. His mindfulness of that error allows him to turn the wheel to port or starboard to counter the error at each moment as he goes. In that simple image I discover the rise of William James’ stream of consciousness, what others see as successive instants of working memory, and I see as my ongoing loop of conscious engagement (pages 128-129).

Sensory impressions, understandings, situations, judgments, actions—I visualize my conscious mind being largely devoted to navigating my way in the world by deliberately paying attention to the situations I construct for myself through paying attention to current patterns as compared to patterns I have experienced before. Moment to moment, I revise those patterns and actions to bring my physical self into agreement with the circumstances of my being (alive) as best I can address them.

My parting word is: Pay attention to the deep structure of your loop of engagement in making up the world you live in and you’ll be better off than most people because you’ll be in charge of understanding yourself—why it is you do the things you do. Nobody offers degrees in self-understanding, so you’ll have to earn yours on your own.

As always, y’r friend and brother, –Steve from Planet Earth

Copyright 2012 by Steve Perrin.

I wasn’t there ten-to-five-thousand years ago, but my ancestors were, and so were yours. All looking up, following the sky drama at night, much as some of us today follow the soaps on daytime TV. The serial motions and relationships between sun, moon, stars, planets, meteors, comets and other celestial lights above the local horizon fascinated the eyes of ancient peoples wherever they stood in awe looking up at the glory of the heavens, wanting to know how it would all turn out and how it might affect the affairs of those in the audience down below.

The procession and wandering of those heavenly lights made a strong impression on everyone who watched them. Patterns were there, and deviations, and thrills, shocks, surprises, and discoveries. Eclipses of sun and moon! Shooting stars! Comets from nowhere that seemed so foreboding! Pure salience without substance, notable, yet beyond human influence. Surely they were signs meant for human appreciation—why else would they be so conspicuous at night when people couldn’t work? They were telling us something, if only we could make out what it was.

What a situation to be in! To be gripped by such a show for hours on end without having any idea what it meant. It was all so glorious and compelling, so secret and mysterious. We—our ancestors—were hooked, engaged by the wheeling display of sensory impressions, yet were stymied in having our yearning to be in on the program rebuffed, our desire to understand unrequited.

Which was a setup for us to stretch our imaginations skyward in scripting a plot that would answer every point of curiosity by creating a situation we would be familiar with in meeting our desire to understand what it all meant to us in daily life.

It was like translating a text in an unknown language by writing down what we wished it would say. We just made the whole thing up, projecting our scenario onto the cosmos, having it say what we would say for ourselves, and calling it the order of the universe. Over thousands of years, we leapt from understanding nothing to “understanding” everything, and called our insights the truth. In the process, we deputized a priesthood to administer the details of such a grand undertaking, and paid them with the firstlings of our fruits and flocks.

Our word divinity (along with Zeus, god, sky, and day) stems from the ancient root dyeu, meaning shining—the primary attribute of each member of the starry procession. To be divine (godly) is to radiate light into our minds so that we abruptly understand on faith what cannot be grasped through observation or experience. Which is what religion claims to do for those with feet of clay and eyes looking skyward. Think haloed saints and starry-eyed celebrities.

Since no culture can bear to discard an idea once entertained by one of its members, we now have any number of tax-free religions and political parties coexisting with astrology, astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology, all such faiths and disciplines accounting for the human predicament of truly understanding very little with a variety of incompatible methods, terms, and institutions, the entire enterprise of culture vastly confusing the awful simplicity with which our ancestors gazed at the luminous wonders of the night sky.

So does it come to pass that ideas and situations in our minds come to dominate our engagements with one another and with our fragile and susceptible planet, which is why I keep posting to this blog on consciousness in hopes that, eventually, humanity will take collective responsibility for the mess it keeps making of its everyday affairs by looking inward to make sure it is on solid ground before acting in a world it cannot see clearly nor understand very well.

Yes, this is me talking. Y’rs as always, —Steve from Planet Earth

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.

In my last 20 posts I have included 138 photographs illustrating the wildness of some of my engagements this past summer. But my engagements come in many different types and styles, wildness being only one of them. In round after round of engagement, I have interacted with people (from family, friends, and relatives, to casual acquaintances, and total strangers); with a variety of locales in coastal Hancock County, Maine; and with a great many engagement accessories (tools) including my toothbrush, 18-year-old car, PC, iPad, favorite mug, books on my shelves, cribbage board, pencil now lost, rowboat, and Super Sky Hawk airplane. Without any one of those engagements with people, places, things, my life would have turned out differently than it did.

Life for all of us is a whirlwind of engagements, some pleasant, some less so. Our minds drive us to interact with one person-place-thing after another in never ending succession. Finish one, move on to the next. Even when asleep, we engage with our dreams. Even when bored, we are engaged with our boredom, driving ourselves to distraction. We take all this for granted as just how it is—how we are and how life is. But seldom do we contemplate the miracle of the whirlwind that is ourselves as powered by our spinning, conscious and unconscious minds.

Introspection is a sort of time-and-motion study of one human mind. When you start to think about thinking, there is so much happening and so much material to include that it’s far easier to go watch YouTube videos for an hour than reflect on your own inner workings. But my many bouts of self-reflection over a thirty-year period have revealed to me that my engagements are what I am all about. I am built as an engager, and operate as one every day of my life. If I weren’t and I didn’t, I’d be dead. In truth, engagements are the stuff life is made of. They are the meaning of life itself—what we do in interacting with the world around us, coupled to what the world does with us in return. Life is one spinning engagement without end until our minds give out and we realize there really is an end after all; but till then, we deny any such thing, and have our daily engagements to prove it.

Though I am sometimes uncomfortable in the face of events, I can’t recall ever being bored. The power of the mind is rooted in the ability to pay attention, and in every situation there is always something to notice and attend to, even if it is the state of one’s mind at the time. But then I’ve never been in solitary confinement for a month, or deprived of sensory impressions for even a minute (except when asleep). In my case, to live is to be awake and attentive to whatever catches my ear, nose, eye, or mind. To live is to engage; to engage is to be active; to be active is to be mindful and alert. Partly in order to survive, partly to be productive, partly to be fulfilled, partly to integrate into and get along with the rest of the world.

Engagement is no special moment and no frill. It is life itself. It is what we do with our two fundamental sources of energy, ambient sensory energy from our surroundings and bodily energy from the food we eat combined with the air we breathe. The point of our personal combustion (metabolism) is to get engaged and stay engaged. To be part of the scene around us. To be somebody. Which we do in many ways—the particular ways (types, styles) of engagement that determine our distinctive personalities.

We engage the world by acting out of the situations we get ourselves into by making ourselves happen as we do. The meaning of our actions flow from those situations as seen from our personal perspective. We aren’t engaging the world so much as engaging our view of the world—the world as it seems to us. Our preferred styles of interaction—our personalities—reflect our outlooks on specific situations as seen inside-out in creating a reality for ourselves that springs from the unique set of life conditions we have become used to and cannot imagine otherwise.

Common types or styles of engagement might be suggested by clusters of terms such as:

  • assertive, dominant, aggressive, authoritarian
  • accepting, submissive, peaceful, tolerant
  • playful, lighthearted, open, humorous, joyful
  • rigid, set, closed, unyielding, fearful
  • loving, caring, compassionate, generous
  • hostile, callous, unforgiving, self-serving
  • adventurous, risky, courageous, creative
  • collaborative, collegial, cooperative, friendly
  • competitive, self-centered, grudging, conflictive
  • composed, orderly, organized, constructive, concerted
  • wild, unruly, careless, unthinking, haphazard
  • and so on.

By my way of thinking, two of the most prominent engagement styles reflect minds that are either open or closed to discovery. That is, minds either looking for answers or set upon imposing preconceived solutions. Here is a sample of what I have written in contrasting the two styles:

The hallowed field of education is based on assumptions concerning the nature of learning, teaching, knowing, truth, inquiry, experiment, language, and other fundamental matters of great importance. In some quarters, questions are regarded as tokens of heresy, so education is reduced to rote memorization of orthodox texts, accurate recitation being taken as proof of wisdom and understanding. With a quotation at hand for every issue, the truth becomes self-evident to all who have undergone proper indoctrination. Again, answers are known before any questions are asked. Reciting the words of ancient masters, pupils build a future for themselves that is meant to be a replica of the distant past. Back to the future; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. (Consciousness: The Book, page 239.)

Voices rising from Wall Street insist that there is no need for more vigilant governmental oversight—even as those same speakers inflict yet another economic calamity on the nation—while a chorus in Washington insists that government, taxes, and entitlements need to be abolished as evils in themselves. Self-serving opinion is rampant in today’s media, while knowledge won through practical and costly experience is dismissed as a fascist, communist, or Islamic terrorist plot, whichever is the flavor of the day. The conflict is not about preserving the primacy of Western-Capitalist Civilization but is an example of warfare between minds—open on one side and closed on the other, or worse—closed on both sides.

Military conflicts arise from failed engagements between minds that have been reared-taught-trained and armed by members of different cultures and belief systems. Wars are never solutions to world problems because they inevitably spawn further problems that are even worse when the next generation comes to face them. On the intercultural scene, passionate speeches in different languages are no substitute for the experience of actually getting together in an atmosphere of mutual respect while working things out—of actively engaging to a common purpose.

I offer loops of engagement as a means for implementing the golden rule because such loops bring up both the self and the other for due consideration at the same time. It’s not one “me” against the other, but start to finish a consorting “we.” In a world of over seven billion unique individuals, styles of engagement make all the difference in getting along as good neighbors. How we reach out to one another determines the responses we get back. Blame becomes obsolete because it only widens the gap between us when what we need is an effectively united humanity that can relieve the pain we are inflicting on our ourselves and on the natural world we claim to praise while mindlessly rendering uninhabitable.

That is my message for today and forever. Y’s truly, ––Steve from Planet Earth

Reflection 320: Wild Once More

September 17, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.     [Including 12 photos.]

OK, so wildness is in me, waiting to be projected onto sensory patterns I’m not used to. That is, my expectations are wild, or wide of the mark. Wildness is in my rough fit to the world of patterns I meet in everyday life. To me, they seem wild.

Like flies on the carcass of a dead snowshoe hare.

P1020704 96-dead-hareI’ve seen lots of dead animals on the island where I have been taking these pictures: voles, red squirrels, porcupines, harbor seal pups, loons, ring-billed gulls, Canada geese, ruffed grouse, great blue herons, red-breasted mergansers, among others. Death is a big part of the natural scene. Anything having the scent of death always seems wild. Unruly. Untamed. Unnatural, even though it’s the most natural thing on Earth.

As dead trees—snags—are natural.

P1020475 96-snag-2 P1020653 96-snag-1A pileated woodpecker made those holes looking for carpenter ants at the heart of a dead tree. That’s how it made its living, eating insects to keep it undead for another day. We all benefit from other creatures’ deaths. So wildness has an upside and a downside. It depends on which side of the engagement you are located as predator or prey.

P1020733 96-red-pine-bark

I love the look of red pine bark, which is the dead outer skin of a living tree. When laid down, those now flaking layers protected the flow of sap up and down, roots to leaves and back again. Then a new layer was added beneath them, and they were no longer useful in their original sense, but took on a wild new function as habitat for lichens, insects, birds, and tree huggers, so stayed useful in new ways.

As remnant shells of sea creatures are useful as habitat for gleaners and scavengers. And dead trees remain useful to the fungi that grow on them.

P1020767 96-mussels P1020755 96-bracket-3P1020798 96-bracket-2 P1020862 96-bracket New life from old, that is the motto of fungi, who make a living by recycling moisture and nutrients in the soil. And come to think about it, is also true of even the “lowest” of plants, lichens, and algae in recycling radiant energy from the sun.

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One question I asked when photographing Indian pipes was, Who pollinates these pale stalks rising from damp soil? I got my answer later on when the white flowers turned upward toward the sky—or at least one possible answer.

P1020454 96-IndPipe-waspWhile I was focused on the Indian pipe in the foreground, a yellow jacket landed on the one in the background. Several yellow jackets, in fact, flew around me as I was crouched down taking pictures of their flowers. They let me finish, and I kept a respectful distance after that.

Wherever the torch of life is passed—from hares to flies, dead trees to bracket fungi, flowers to wasps—wildness is there in our inner awareness of the creative urge of nature itself. Wildness is the leading edge of life’s forward thrust as witnessed by those who are truly engaged. It is all around us all of the time if we but give ourselves to it, making it experientially, bioenergetically, phenomenologically, ours.

As natural beings ourselves, we find what we reach for in ways we never imagined. Y’rs as ever, –Steve from Planet Earth.

Copyright 2012 by Steve Perrin.

Wildness is a quality of situations I get myself into. As I use the term, it points to relationships in nature I notice but don’t understand. My kind of wildness prompts feelings of awe and wonder, leading to questions about why things turn out as I discover them. Here are a few sample questions based on my pursuit of wildness during this past summer.

  • Why do trees grow layers of smooth bark—only to rend them in growing bigger, producing characteristic patterns and textures of rough bark?
  • Why do lichens express themselves in so many different forms?
  • Who drops crab parts on the forest floor far from water?
  • Why do Indian pipes sprout up in thick clumps, and who pollinates them so they can do it again next year?
  • Why do mushrooms come in so many colors?
  • Is it mushroom spores or flesh (or both) that attracts slugs?
  • Which comes first, flowers or their pollinators? Do they evolve together?
  • Life exposed at low tide seems so vulnerable to shoreline scavengers (raccoons, foxes, gulls, crows, eagles); it’s as if sharing the wealth were part of nature’s wild structure. Or is that my wild imagination?
  • Foresters talk about “overage” trees which should have been cut, but snags and decaying stems and branches are essential to healthy forest ecosystems in the future. What am I missing?
  • I have never found two trees alike; each grows into its unique location on Earth as an expression of the unique conditions on that site. Yet we talk in general terms of “wood” and “trees” and “forests” as if particular trees did not exist as living beings. Once we reduce life to platitudes and generalities (“dinosaurs,” “Indians,” “natural resources”), we are not telling the full story. Why do we base education on books as a substitute for personal discoveries and insights in the field?
  • How long does it take a spider to spin a ground web? How does it do that, fitting each strand to the local terrain?
  • Why is old man’s beard found on one branch of a tree and not another nearby? Does it get water from airborne vapor, or does that vapor need to condense on individual filaments?

Wildness to me is one big question. It is something that draws my attention but I can’t explain. I live with wildness every day as a mystery I seem to be immersed in, even though I know that sense is in me and not the world. If wildness existed in the world, everybody would be exploring it and asking questions, not making a killing on Wall Street or a battlefield in some distant land. Wildness is right here where I live because it is something I take with me everywhere I go. Wildness is part and parcel of my consciousness, a feature of my inquisitive mind.

It is no accident I have a small digital camera in a case on my belt. I love to photograph the wild mysteries I come across in my wanderings, and have since I was four years old. This summer I’ve been engaged with wildness every day, producing hundreds of JPG files each week. That’s what I do when I confront wildness—take its picture, if I can. Other people listen to music, watch TED talks, go to movies. I press the shutter. Then Photoshop each picture, adjusting size, contrast, brightness, sharpness. I compare photos I’ve made of wildness, select the few that present it best to my eye, resize them to post to my blog, upload them to show the world the kinds of situations I get into while making myself happen as I do.

It’s all here in this blog—the sensory impressions I face on a daily basis, the situations I build around those impressions because they’re so wild, and actions I take in response to that situated wildness by going through the necessary steps of engagement it takes to post my words and photos to the Web.

I offer myself as Exhibit A of being conscious in the way I have learned to think about consciousness over the past thirty years in terms of loops of engagement connecting my mind to the world—and hopefully to other minds in other corners of the world.

I’ll add a few more photos of wildness as I see it in my next post.

As ever (while I last), y’r friend, —Steve from Planet Earth

P.S. While stretching my legs after writing this post, I heard a whooshing sound nearby along the trail, and looked down on the rotting carcass of a snowshoe hare, covered with flies, alighting after my approach sent them whooshing up. Wildness in the flesh (i.e., in my mind). I came across the same scene on a different trail last year; it was gone in two days, old life turned to new.

Reflection 318: Self-Engagement

September 12, 2012

Copyright 2012 by Steve Perrin.

As I picture it, my mind consists of three parts operating in sequence: 1) a sensory or perceptual part that develops a felt understanding of my current situation in the world, 2) a visualizing part that represents that situation as interpreted from my personal point of view, and 3) a behavioral part devoted to planning and executing a course of action in fitting response to the situation I believe myself to be in.

The situation I create for myself on the basis of sensory evidence as I interpret it is the central feature of my conscious mind. I do not live in the material world so much as in an internal milieu I create for myself by giving personal meaning to the public energies impinging on my senses. The situation I live in is my version of the world as I take it to be. The world-as-it-is-in-itself is far too complicated for me to grasp; there’s too much going on at once. I can only deal with a simplified version that can bear the burden of meaning I thrust upon it. The raw energy I confront may be in the world, but the patterns I recognize and understand in the light of my prior experience are mine alone.

The same is true of the actions I take in response to felt situations—that response is my personal response to my situation as I am able to construe it. My actions are a function of the personal skills and abilities I have developed by living my personal life history of trial, error, practice, and rehearsal.

Perception, situation, action—these are the essential stages of awareness that in tandem make up my looping engagement with the energy-rich yet unknowable-in-itself world I live in. The interpreted world I construct for myself from patterns of energy selectively drawn from my surroundings—and emphasize by my fears and desires—shifts from one situation to the next, leading me to act as I do in making myself happen in the world as subjectively represented in the flow of situations through my internal milieu.

No, I do not live In the real world. None of us does. We live in inner worlds of our own making. We move from one situation to another as we can make out familiar patterns in the raw energies the world sends our way. Start to finish, life is a creative adventure we strive to make the best of in one loop of engagement, then the next, and the next.

We are driven by the valence of the feelings each situation kindles in us as we engage ourselves: good or bad, positive or negative, pro or con, hope or dread, carrot or stick. So are we propelled forward by the situations we find ourselves in, avoiding pain, seeking relief and happiness, engagement after engagement, loop after loop.

In my next post, I will offer my recent engagement with with wildness as an example of my creating a series of situations in which to make myself happen by acting in familiar ways through my chosen medium of photography.

Until next time, I remain y’r friend and brother, —Steve from Planet Earth

Reflection 317: Self-Reflection

September 10, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.

Self-reflection is a process you go through to understand yourself better than you do now. In CONSCIOUSNESS: The Book, I call it introspection—looking inward. Basically, it is thinking about thinking. And about seeing-hearing-touching-smelling-tasting. And experiencing emotions. And remembering. And planning to do something. Self-reflection directs your personal attention to everything going on inside of yourself that you can become aware of at the time. Particularly to projects and relationships you are engaged with.

The problem with self-reflection is that nobody tells you it’s a good thing to do, much less how you might go about doing it.

This entire blog is about me self-reflecting on what concerns me at the time I write each separate post. Now I’m going to share the deep secret of how it is done. You simply pay attention to what’s going on in yourself. What concerns or interests or confuses you. On the inside, not the outside. Let go of the material world and concentrate on what’s happening in the world of you—your mental-emotional world.

In my last post (Reflection 316) I listed several (what I call) dimensions of consciousness. I divided them into two groups, 1) a perceptual group leading up to a sense of the situation you’re facing at the moment, and 2) a planning group of dimensions leading to actions you take in dealing with that situation.

One way to self-reflect is to run through the list of conscious dimensions to see which dimensions of your mental life are prominent at a particular moment of engagement, then to devote attention to the ones that stand out to see what’s going on with yourself. Here I offer such a list, more-or-less in the order in which they might come into play. Think, for instance, of a situation you are engaged with in which you recently felt glad, mad, sad, or any other way.

  • What did you expect?
  • What got your attention?
  • What aroused your interest or concern?
  • What did you see (hear, touch, taste, smell)?
  • What did you recognize as familiar?
  • How did you understand what was happening?
  • How did you feel?
  • What were your values at the time?
  • How would you describe the situation you were in?
  • How did you judge that situation?
  • What did you decide to do about it?
  • What was your goal?
  • How did you plan to achieve it?
  • Did you get help or tell others about it?
  • What did you say?
  • What did you do?
  • What happened next?
  • How did it all work out?
  • What do you think is going to happen now?

That pretty much covers the inner span of your loop of engagement if you’re committed to figuring things out for yourself. If you’re on automatic pilot based on rote or ideological responses, you can skip all those steps and act unconsciously, not consciously. Self-reflection is a tool for effective use of your conscious ability to solve problems. If you already know all the answers before the questions are even asked, you probably won’t get any benefit from the exercise. But if you really want to understand yourself better, it’s worth whatever effort you put in.

Here’s a map of my personal loop of engagement showing two alternate routes, the habitual-ideological and the longer, full consciousness route I am recommending here.

backcoverdiagram-96dpi-blogMy list of the dimensions of consciousness pretty much follows the lower (solid) loop from right to left, moving right along from sensory phenomena to situations, and on to actions in the world. As you can see, the upper (dotted) ideological route skips all that and connects directly to actions without due consideration.

That’s an outline of my method of self-reflection from a phenomenological point of view as laid out in greater detail in CONSCIOUSNESS: The BOOK.

As ever, I remain y’rs truly, –Steve from Planet Earth

Reflection 316: Self-Awareness

September 7, 2012

Copyright 2012 by Steve Perrin.

As I see it, phenomenology applies the powers of mind to understanding the self. Fundamentally, it is self-reflection taken to an extreme degree in discovering not the everyday, self-accustomed I in its everyday world, but how the biological self pieces together that I from the several dimensions of consciousness. These dimensions include sensory impressions; meaningful interpretations of those impressions; as well as feelings, biological values, autobiographical memory, accustomed habits, personal points of view, and felt situations within which subsequent courses of action become meaningful.

Phenomenology, that is, accounts for derivation of a course of appropriate action from analysis of sensory input within a situation informed by both current motivation and prior experience. It is an ongoing process for suiting actions of the self to the conditions shaping the situation within which that self exists as a coherent whole composed of diverse dimensions of consciousness.

From my own self-analysis, I identify these dimensions as including, on the perceptual side:

  • the cultural setting of experience
  • expectancy derived from past experience
  • arousal or wakefulness
  • attention
  • sensory impressions or phenomena
  • concepts as recognizable classes of sensory impressions
  • understanding within fields of interrelated concepts
  • feelings
  • biological values
  • culminating in a perspectival sense of the situation one is facing at the time.

Dimensions of consciousness on the behavioral side include:

  • judgments prompted by felt situations
  • decisions about what might be done
  • setting of goals
  • planning of projects and relationships
  • execution of projects and relationships
  • culminating in a program of action monitored by attention.

The entire assembly of coordinated dimensions of consciousness constitutes a loop of engagement joining an individual to a world within the situation as consciously construed in his or her mind.

By this scheme, our lives don’t just happen as they do; we make them happen in light of our biological motivations and prior experiences applied to our current situations as we construct them in our minds. Yes, we respond to patterns of energy interpreted as events in the world, but we also make ourselves happen as our engagements with those ongoing events develop moment-by-moment.

Phenomenology is the conscious and deliberate study of those momentary events in our personal experience as based on the dimensions of consciousness that apply at the time. Even if we don’t study them, those moments happen unconsciously anyway—as if we had no agency in their doing. Phenomenology applies the powers of the mind to personal experience, highlighting our role in making ourselves happen as we do.

No more and no less, phenomenology is the process of making ourselves—not world-aware—but self-aware. That is, it lets us shoulder responsibility for being ourselves without blaming the world for making us who we are. No learning can be more crucial than that in coming to self-understanding and self-realization. Which is why I am subjecting you to this exercise.

As ever, I remain y’r friend and brother, —Steve from Planet Earth