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


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