These heady days of artificial intelligence imply that we have a full understanding of intelligence in its native form. Apparently it has something to do with the ability to solve problems. Or at least to get good grades in school. Or to appear bright, quick, and agile in dealing with mental issues.

We rate individuals on a scale of intelligence where a score of 100 is judged to be normal. I once saw a vanity plate in Harvard square, IQ 205, so I assumed the driver of that car had a higher intelligence quotient than 204. If we can measure it that finely, and can make machines having artificial intelligence, surely we must recognize the real McCoy when we meet it face to face, mind to mind.

But since every person on Earth is unique in having a different immune system, nervous system, upbringing, education, work history, emotional life, reservoir of life experience, etc., I wonder how we can claim to measure intelligence as if it were the same mental quality across all those fundamental variables.

For myself, I find that my performance on a specific task depends on the situation I am in at the time, and also on whether or not I have been in that situation before. My mind is a mix of facets, elements, or dimensions of conscious and habitual experience. These facets come into play in varying degrees and proportions, so that on each occasion my mind is composed to meet the needs of the moment. That is, I find my so-called intelligence is present on a sliding scale. Or, put differently, is composed of different facets as called up in me by different situations.

As I was starting to think of writing this blog, I happened to be reading the 1874 edition of Charles Darwin’s book on human evolution, The Descent of Man. In the third chapter, Darwin compares the “mental powers of man and the lower animals.” I took those mental powers to be an early treatment of what today we might collectively refer to as intelligence. I perked up and paid close attention to what Darwin had written to see how his list of mental powers compared with the one I have been compiling under the guise of dimensions of consciousness or, as I now say, situated intelligence.

In my system I break consciousness into three main divisions: perception, judgment, and action. Perception deals with sensory input to the mind, judgment deals with determining the meaning of such input as a preparation for action, and action itself deals with how we go about forming an apt response to that input. These three divisions of mind connect our continuous loop of engagement with the world so, like the old serpent Ouroborus depicted as biting its own tail, our actions come full circle and we are in a position to compare the bite of perception in the context of our intended action, allowing us to revise our stance in making another round of action unto subsequent perception. That act of comparison is what we are conscious of at the moment so, as I see it, is the fundamental basis of what we call intelligence.

How do my 2014 dimensions of consciousness stack up against Darwin’s 1874 treatment of mental powers shared by people and animals? His point, of course, is that human minds have evolved from animal (primate) minds, so our mental powers are variations on the earlier powers possessed by our ancestors. Those variations can be either elaborations or diminutions, depending on the developmental pressure applied by our need to fit into the particular environmental situations we face from year to decade to century to millennium. Our sense of smell and pedal dexterity, for example, have decreased from what they were in the wild, while our vocalizations and manual dexterity have increased.

Grouping Darwin’s mental powers according to my distinctions between Perception, Judgment, and Action, I discover under the heading of Perception the following mental powers in common: same senses in man as primates, curiosity, anticipation, foresight, dread, danger, attention, distraction, senses of pleasure and pain, memory required for recognition, wonder, and sense of beauty.

Under the heading of Judgment: choice, instincts, intuition, abstraction, conception, association of ideas, episodic memory, cunning, deceit, deliberation, imagination, dreams, emotions (affection, alarm, ennui, fidelity, gratitude, jealousy, happiness/misery, love, magnanimity, passions, revenge, ridicule, suspicion, sympathy), reason, language (cries of pain, fear, surprise, anger, murmurs mother to child, song), self-consciousness, sense of humor.

Darwin glosses entire repertoires of behavior under Action, along with self-improvement. In the following chapter, he deals with the common powers of sociability, social instincts, social virtues, judgment on conduct, and transmission of moral tendencies.

His conclusion in 1874 is that the “intellectual powers” “of the higher animals, which are the same in kind with those of man, though so different in degree, are capable of advancement.” Wayfarers that we are today, up on two legs and following our inclinations, our modern intelligence is living proof of Darwin’s belief.

The question now is, can we transfer that advancement to our machines so that they serve as the next stage in the trend we have begun? Taking us with them, or leaving us behind?

I will follow up that query in my next blog.

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.

If, as I claim, wildness is subjective (phenomenological), so, too, are happiness and its pursuit. Feelings and values are not in the world but in our minds. In fact, the world, insofar as we can be aware of it, is in us, along with everything else we can experience. We are not born to a world so much as born to ourselves.

What the world does supply is patterns of ambient energy, many of which we come to recognize as familiar, and to which we give names. And not only names (to single them out), but meanings in relation to our memories of personal experience, so we come to understand (stand under or support) those familiar patterns in personal ways. We lay meanings on the patterns we associate them with, making it seem as though that significance came with the patterns (as information), but actually the patterns elicit it from our memory of earlier patterns we have experienced and named in particular situations. Which is why someone speaking to me in Russian, say, or Arabic may believe she is telling me something, while I (a speaker solely of English) hear only the sounds she makes (the patterns of energy issuing from her lips) without the meanings she associates with those sounds.

Learning a language means learning to associate personal meanings with particular sound combinations directed by members of our culture at us on specifiable occasions, which we translate or construe as personally meaningful situations. It is how we understand those situations that is mapped onto the recognizable sounds that we hear, so that the situation conveys the meaning we come to link to the speech sounds we hear on that occasion.

Speech, that is, is made up from both a public and a private component, one a patterned flow of energy as speech sounds, and the other a sense of the currents of mental activity within us that accompanies our hearing of those sounds. Putting the public and private components together, we “hear” meaningful speech.

How wild is that? Unruly or whimsical enough that each person present when a certain utterance is made may take it differently (that is, personally) although each assumes they all speak the same language.

Only by smoothing the differences between our individual streams of experience through rote repetition and iron discipline do we ever approach speaking and understanding somewhat similar languages. It is far easier to assume we all speak the same language than to accept the idiosyncratic nature of the language-learning process. Which is why there is so much misunderstanding between us, because we don’t hear what is said to us in the same way it is spoken, much less speak truly for our inner selves.

Nothing is wilder than the nonsense we spout when we don’t monitor our own efforts at speech. We often seem to say one thing but mean something quite different, particularly when we try to please our audience by saying what we think they want to hear. Hard as it is, sticking to the facts of personal experience is best, along with listening carefully to what others say in response.

The problem is that so-called facts are a blend of public sounds and personal meanings, so are seldom as clear as we want them to be. One approach is to say what we said again in different words, then to be open to whatever response comes back, and to keep trying in the spirit of true dialogue between equals.

Wild words often miss their mark if the passions behind them, the fears and desires, are suppressed or lead to unintended consequences. If we were the rational beings we claim to be, we’d speak the true every time, but we aren’t and we don’t. Rationality is a myth, or at best an ideal we aspire to but seldom attain.

Instead of blaming others for the troubles of the world, we do better to get clear in our minds what we want to accomplish, then remake the world one person at a time, one engagement at a time. When words are involved, we have to remember that words don’t contain meanings so much as suggest them to other minds having unique habits of speech. It takes time and effort to reconcile differences in personal outlook and understanding in even the simplest situation. “Hi, how are you?” opens onto a spectrum of possible responses. The color of the reply is not ours to predict.

Interpersonal engagements are not set pieces so much as voyages of exploration and discovery. We send our words into the world to see where they take us. Life has but one destination; the route we take in arriving there makes all the difference.

It is good to remember how wild words can be, especially in tense situations. On that note I’ll sign off for now. 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

We talk a lot about free speech, but hear little about free listening. Yet listening to others is the secret to productive cooperation and engagement. Much talk is about projecting personal opinions onto others. How productive is that? It’s a loser’s game, a cheap substitute for the hard work of developing respect and open mindedness, both of which take listening to what others have learned from their personal experience—and that is bound to be different from what we have learned on our own.

Listening solely to yourself means listening to one person out of seven billion unique individuals. Opening yourself to all those others expands the pool of potential learning, insight, and understanding to an almost infinite degree. Imagine having a staff of advisors so large and so wise. But no, instead of learning what we can, we keep spouting the same stale beliefs handed down through the generations as if they were universal truth itself, suggesting that we have known the answers all along and have no need to listen to those who differ from us.

The wise man on his mountain pinnacle has made every mistake in the book of life, and yet always has one more angle he hasn’t tried, which he is glad to share with us lowlanders as if it were the distillation of universal truth—which it isn’t because it’s the one mistake he hasn’t made up till now. Where are modesty and humility when we need them most?, those priceless attributes of true wisdom. We tell children to keep their mouths shut and ears open, but that’s good advice for grownups as well—to stop talking so we can cock our ears and start listening.

Listening entails opening the inner world in which we live to others. Which doesn’t happen automatically by simply being in their presence. It requires inviting them in. Opening our selves to them. Which may prove dangerous if we let them get too close. But all new learning is dangerous because it forces us to grow—as the birch must rip its own bark in becoming larger.

If we keep to our inner bastions to stay safe, where’s the adventure in that? Where’s the opportunity for discovery, excitement, or friendship? For growing into greater understanding? Fear of what we might expose ourselves to leads us to keep to ourselves in order to preserve who we are without thinking who we might become if we let down our guard.

Listening is the secret to effective engagements with others. It lets them be themselves while we are ourselves. Putting those two together is the adventure of a lifetime. We never know what will happen—except that we will be larger as a result. As I grew larger last night while listening to thunder roll through the hills of Bar Harbor, thunder that spoke to me in emphatic phrases of deep, rumbling complexity. I’d never heard sounds like that before, or never let myself hear them. But there they were, asking me to rise to their level of expression and understanding. I can’t tell you what I learned because it was wholly nonverbal. But those earth sounds were profound, I could tell. Earth was trying to tell me something about how insignificant I am among its wonders, how ignorant I am in claiming to know what I think I know but am surely wrong. Yes, it’s risky listening to such voices. But, I would add, also necessary. Why else are we here?

My personal school of engagement assigns me to listen to thunder as closely as I listen to song sparrows and eagles, to loons and hermit thrushes. To quaking aspen, lapping waves, and sleeping babies. Ears are given us to actively engage our surroundings by forming sensory impressions. Which we recognize as instances of one conceptual category or another, and then fit into an appropriate compartment within our grand field of universal understanding, our personal version of the way of the world as taught through personal experience.

I wish I could say I have treasured my ears as gateways to my smattering of world understanding, but in fact I have carelessly abused them from time to time by listening to the likes of gunshots and internal combustion engines, so, since age forty, my ears have been clanging (more than ringing) ceaselessly for some thirty-nine years—just about half my life. Every voice must compete with that distraction if I am to add it to my repertory of sounds heard. For this I can blame no one but myself. I take full responsibility for this impairment, and the regrets that go with it.

My eyes, too, are not what they were. Since I was a child, I have immensely enjoyed the gift of eyesight, and celebrated it through photography, which allows me to focus carefully on a great many visual wonders. But like my camera itself, which broke down last week and no longer works, my eyesight is perturbed by glare from above, and astigmatism presents me with twin images of even Jupiter’s sparkling moons. My computer hard drives are filled to the last digit with images, serving as a kind of visual autobiography of things I have witnessed during my life—a rough opus composed of gifts received through my eyes.

My listening more aptly applies to sounds people have made in my presence. I have been calibrated by the culture I grew up in to find meaningful those sounds expressed in English, so it is those I pay particular attention to and find great joy in hearing and comprehending as I manage to do. Including my own utterances in response to the sounds others make as I strive to get the most meaning into fewest words for clarity’s sake. Or try to do even though I rarely succeed, more often spouting the usual garble of my authentic inner voice.

Indeed, I truly believe that listening to others is founded on the fine art of listening to oneself. Or can be a fine art if we take care to make sure that what we actually say represents our core feelings and values at the moment. That is, if we use speech to be who we are rather than as a means of charming others into believing what we want them to believe about us.

Personally, I aspire to sing with the simple eloquence of a hermit thrush by actively paying attention to how such birds run the rills that they do. Or to deliver myself like thunder when the situation demands such a voice by studying over and again the richness and tonality of that sound in the original. That is, I learn to talk by listening to the range of sounds I am exposed to, and then choosing from among them the voice I find most apt to the occasion I find myself in.

Last evening I spoke at a hearing on the future management of resources in Taunton Bay, employing the diction I had learned by listening to the bay itself for much of my life. Today at noon I will present a Peace Award to a senior about to graduate from my local high school, relying on the voice of nonviolent engagement I have acquired through long commitment to the Quaker persuasion. As we listen, so do we consider, and then speak. That’s where words come from—the care with which we listen to the voices of every sort around us throughout or lives.

Listening is a primary form of engagement that bestows gifts on us by opening us to the options we have in being ourselves on specific occasions so that when our turn comes to speak, the words we need to say are available in the repertory of sounds we have found personally arousing and meaningful.

Do you hear me? Or is the ringing in your ears too loud so all that you can hear is yourself? In that case, take up not bird-watching but bird-listening. Explore what is possible and you will find a voice that will carry what it is you want to say.

That’s it for today. As always, I remain y’r friend. –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

I think of haiku as the ultimate distillations of consciousness. Grappling with the instant in which we become aware of something, haiku capture what it is about a scene that attracts our attention and draws us out of our everyday selves, heightening our sense of engagement with life. Our sensory impressions, everyday conceptions, understandings, feelings, and personal values are all involved in reading and writing haiku. They address the exact moment we become alive to ourselves in rousing from our habitual stupor to discover we are participating in a situation of particular note. It is a haiku’s challenge to capture that situation in the most precise language possible as a gesture acknowledging how moved we are at the onset of one specific engagement.

In my last post I dealt with six haiku by Japanese poet Matsuo Basho, the man who used his pithy jottings to preserve and recapture the high points of his travels about Japan in the second half of the seventeenth century. Here I will consider six more.

Again, I am indebted to Harold G. Henderson’s An Introduction to Haiku (Doubleday Anchor, 1958). I present four versions of each poem: a) a Roman-alphabet version of the haiku in Japanese, b) Henderson’s word-for-word literal translation into English, c) Henderson’s polished English rendition, and d) my rendition as drawn from the literal translation (side-stepping Henderson’s urge to rhyme his translations, and add titles).

7. A haiku written in 1684.

a) Michinobe-no | mukuge | wa | uma | ni | kuware-keri

b) Roadside | mallow | as-for| horse | by | was-eaten-keri

c) Near the road it flowered, / the mallow—and by my horse / has been devoured!

d) roadside flower / fated to be eaten / by my horse

The wild flower by the side of the road attracted both Basho and his horse’s attention, leading to, first, the horse eating the flower, and then Basho capturing the incident in this haiku. The attractiveness of the flower was a set-up for its demise, producing the surprise and irony that made the incident stand out in Basho’s mind. This is precisely the kind of moment that wakes us up because of the disparity between appreciating one of nature’s beauties and then witnessing its inglorious fate. Compressed into a single episode of consciousness, we immediately grasp the familiarity of the grand plot by which we all bloom and succumb.

8. Here’s one from 1686 about wild boars.

a) Inoshishi | mo | tomo-ni | fukaruru | nowake | kana

b) Wild-boars | even | together-with | get-blown | autumn-storm | kana 

c) Wild boars and all / are blown along with it— / storm-wind of fall!

d) even wild boars / get blown about / autumn storm

As is traditional, this haiku is anchored by the seasonal reference in the last line, which confirms the force of a particular incident. Since Basho’s day, Japanese poets have witnessed events in the world as they are situated according to the natural order the seasons represent. Wild boars in autumn face different challenges than wild boars in winter, spring, summer. And if boars cannot find refuge, what about the poet who summons them? I picture Basho as blasted and drenched, using wild animals to speak to his plight, which is almost beyond words. For me, the key word here is “even.” The storm was even that bad. If the poet’s experience was truly ineffable, he manages to convey his helplessness and mental confusion through sympathy with wild boars.

9. Here’s one in which one sensory impression opens way to another.

a) Hototogisu | kie-yuka | kata | ya | shima | hitotsu

b) Cuckoo | vanish-go | direction | : | island | one

c) Where the cuckoo flies / till it is lost to sight—out there / a lone island lies.

d) where the cuckoo disappears / an island rises / from the sea

Here the cuckoo flying into the distance leads the poet’s eye to an island he had not noticed before—which must be where the bird was headed in the first place. We talk about what William James called the stream of consciousness—as if awareness flowed by itself. But in truth, we are responsible for the sequence in which we become aware of events because that sequence depends on how we direct our attention from one salient event to the next. Events don’t flow; we flow. Consciousness streams within us as we are moved to track the changes we notice. We are made to discover motion in our surroundings—such as the fly we spot out of the corner of our eye. Such as birds winging into the distance, and islands emerging from the sea in that direction. Replacing a bird with an island in our attention is no mean trick, yet we perform similar feats a thousand times a day. One thing points to another, and that to yet another. Think of movies, television, videos, aurora borealis. We are hooked on motion and tracking change, which we interpret as plots and narratives—and sometimes haiku.

10. And now what a particular island leads Basho to behold.

a) Ara | umi | ya | Sado-ni | yokotau | Ama-no | -gawa

b) Rough | sea | : | Sado [above] | stretch-across | Heaven’s | -river

c) So wild a sea—/ and, stretching over Sado Isle, / the Galaxy…

d) night surf / over Sado Island / the Milky Way

Here Sado, off the northwest coast of Japan, provides an earthly reference point for Basho’s otherworldly apparition. It is night. Wind is blowing. Seas are heaving, crashing. Over Sado, stars are gleaming in a swath across the sky. A night to remember. So Basho jots down a few words to spark his memory later on when he feels moved to recount his adventures. His life is one momentous journey made up of experiences such as this. Imagine what it was like in those days long before the advent of radio, film, TV, and computer games—the endless stream of distractions via new media meant to capture our attention for the benefit of those who profit from how we spend our time and money. Basho represents a world different from our world of today. But his jottings are still with us, and we can recover some of the world he experienced directly through his bodily senses if we will apply ourselves to that task.

11. Basho noticed many flowers on his travels, always in the context of his innermost sensibility. Here’s a haiku about hollyhocks.

a) Hi-no | michi | ya | aoi | katabuku | satsuki-ame

b) Sun’s | road | : | hollyhocks | lean-toward | fifth-month-rain

c) The sun’s way: / hollyhocks turn toward it / through all the rain of May.

d) where the sun should be / hollyhocks follow / showers in May

Basho here draws attention to the sun’s location in the sky and the direction hollyhocks face in tracking it—even though it may not be evident to those who do not depend on photosynthesis to make their own food. In this case, rainclouds hide the sun, but the hollyhocks spy it out and turn toward it nonetheless. As hollyhocks turn to face the sun, Basho turns toward the hollyhocks. We all have our tropisms, deliberately turning to face that which appeals to us. Our loops of engagement echo that natural force, ensuring we seek out those attractions which sustain us—food, air, water, companions, shelter, children, health, safety, and other drives and values that direct us toward what we need to survive. Hollyhocks need sunlight, Basho needs hollyhocks, we all seek engagement with what keeps us going.

12. One last haiku, based on auditory stimulation—or rather its lack.

a) Kane | tsukanu | mura | wa | nani | wo | ka | haru-no-kure

b) Bell | ring-not | village | as-for | what | [acc.] | ? | spring-evening

c) A village where they ring / no bells!—Oh, what do they do / at dusk in spring?

d) without bells / what do villagers do / on spring evenings?

Japanese syntax allows “bell | ring-not | village,” which I find more pungent than Henderson’s prosaic “a village where they ring no bells.” I long for the biting directness Japanese would allow me—if I spoke that language. Our own Anglo-Saxon heritage has been much softened and diluted by the Latin touch we inherited through Norman French. The native tongue of haiku is nearly untranslatable into modern English. We have much to learn from the study of haiku—about language and its relation to consciousness. I have tried to show in these examples that behind a particular haiku lies one human mind steeped in its own workings, its language reflecting that mind and its engagements better than our own language lets us speak our own minds as what they are rather than to make a certain impression on others.

That’s it for this round of haiku. As ever, y’rs, –Steve 

Copyright © 2011

Here is a synopsis of the next three chapters in my upcoming book, KNOW THYSELF: Adventures in Getting to Know My Own Mind. –Steve Perrin

Chapter 7, Loop of Engagement. I reach out to the fabulous world (which I know primarily through stories I have heard or tell myself) by making gestures meant to produce a desired result, and the world in turn responds by reaching in to me through my senses, both my actions and perceptions contributing to the vital exchange I known as personal experience. This ongoing loop of engagement binds me to my surroundings on levels depending on my reflexes, assumptions, habits, or full-fledged conscious awareness. The deeper into consciousness I plunge, the greater the effort I must expend to conduct my mind’s business. I propose that the end of consciousness is action in the world appropriate to the situation I am involved in at the time as best I can construe it. Being connected to the fabulous world through engagement in an ongoing loop between my active and receptive acts from birth unto death, I learn the results of my efforts soon enough, hopefully in time to ensure my efforts are appropriate to my current situation.

Chapter 8, Situations. Situations are the arenas or playing fields of consciousness. I can’t be aware of everything happening within or around me (much less in the fabulous world), so I deal with those aspects I judge to be germane to a particular matter I am involved with. As a result, my consciousness is situational by nature because my mind takes an active role in structuring what it judges to be of concern in order to propose an appropriate response. The greater the detail considered, the greater the effort I must devote to making such a response. If a tiger emerges from the undergrowth ahead of me, there isn’t much time for debating what to do. In such an emergency, survival requires maximum action, minimal thought. In routine situations, I park my mind in habitual mode, and do again what I have done countless times before (sharpen pencils, play solitaire, slice a banana, make the bed). Judgment whether I am in a novel or familiar situation is paramount when survival is the issue.

Chapter 9, Speech. Speech requires fine muscular control of jaw, tongue, lips, and breath, not gross control of torso, arms, or legs. It is a highly efficient means of consulting others without committing bodily resources prematurely. Speech allows a trial-and-error response before we commit ourselves to bold action. It is no accident that most education is conducted in the idiom of speech. Testing: one, two, three, four. But when decisive action is called for, essays or bold promises are apt to be wholly deficient. In daily life, written speech aids such as calendars, schedules, agendas, and to-do lists are often useful for organizing and planning future activities when we have the luxury of time before having to commit ourselves to a plan of action. Where do words come from? I feel them emerge from kernels of awareness deep inside my ongoing engagement with a particular situation, and specifically, from the feelings or tensions which govern my attention and loop of engagement.

Next post: synopses of chapters 10, Values; 11, Goals; 12, Projects.