The focus of our loop of engagement with the world is revealed by current sensory input meeting up with the original impetus that spurred us to action. When the active and receptive ends of our loops connect in our minds, the difference between our intentions and achievements is a measure of our success or failure in our present adventure.

Like old Ouroboros, the mythical serpent circled around on itself so it can bite its own tail, we feel the bite of excitement that tells us what we need to pay attention to in order to better adjust our affairs to the particular situation we are engaged with at the time.

Ouroboros

We learn, not simply by doing, but by purposefully engaging the situations we find ourselves in. Engagement is a matter of perception, judgment, and action all being focused at the same time on the matter at hand.

As I see it, our conscious minds emerge when a comparison between perception and action generates a corrective signal that spurs the next round of action. That comparison produces a polarized (positive or negative) jolt that puts us back on course in what we’re trying to achieve in the world from the confines of the particular black box in which we (our minds) reside at the time.

We conduct our comparisons on several levels of engagement at once, within our brains, in human families, communities, cultures, and the natural world that supports us in every way. We live in ever-changing fields of comparison and polarity inside our personal black boxes, we trying to figure out the world outside our box, the world, in turn, trying to figure out who we are inside that same box as viewed from the outside.

To us, the world is a puzzle; to the world, our mind is a puzzle.

It is through thousands of lesser engagements that we begin to piece our respective puzzles together in gaining a sense of the mystery on the far side of the walls of our box, both inside and outside, depending on our situated perspective. All made possible by our brains, but not wholly contained within any particular brain.

The proof of our success is in the actual doing—the life of engagement—not in the particular goals we have set for ourselves.

 

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“Reification” is a five-dollar word that means turning an idea in the mind into a material thing. The verbs “specify,” “objectify,” “incorporate,” “substantiate,” “materialize,” or “realize” might serve as well (though that’s not how we typically use them). In the case of misidentifying Fred, what I did in my mind was reify, “impersonate,” “incarnate,” “or embody” a stranger as my friend.

Watching plays, films, and TV serials, we believe in the characters so much that we forget they are actors playing roles scripted in advance. We are completely taken in, or rather, take ourselves in, wanting to believe in the plot as an actual event unfolding before our eyes. The reification of God from being a concept in the human mind to the so-called creator, prime mover, and ruler of the universe serves as the archest example of the elevation of an idea from subjective to objective status in the history of the world, which exhibits the power of the human imagination in believing what it chooses to believe.

We do not simply look at a scene and see what is laid out before our eyes. Perception is a creative act, a fitting-together of details into a pattern we are prepared to recognize. Prepared by having seen it before many times or accompanied by strong emotion so that we build pathways in our brains by strengthening the synapses that link them together to form a route blazed with recognizable features (color, size, shape, contour, motion, texture, location, etc.). If a particular array of features can be recalled as a unit, then we are likely to remember it when we meet it again. Expecting to see something in a certain locale, we open our minds to just that thing so we are more likely to see it when we come across something that might resemble it.

The key point is to have something in mind before we come across it, in mind as a particular structure within our neural network of interconnected neurons and cortical columns. Expectancy gives priority and ready access to just that mental structure, saving a huge amount of time and effort in suiting ourselves to our worldly environment and, conversely, that environment to us.

 

Copyright © 2013 by Steve Perrin

On My Mind: A New Vision of Consciousness (Lulu.com, May 2013) by Steve Perrin

My latest book is about the structure and workings of consciousness as revealed through many years of personal self-reflection. Consciousness, I find, is aroused by a disparity between two nerve signals, much as depth perception results from a disparity between images at corresponding points on the retinas of our two eyes.

Such a disparity in signals might arise between sensory patterns as remembered in contrast to those currently perceived. That is, between expectancy and actual experience, or between the aim of a deliberate action and the effect it actually produces.

I think of that disparity as a relative “valence” such as that between right and wrong, true and false, good and bad, like and dislike, or attractive and repellant. If the valence indicates, for example, “that our impressions exceed or fall short of our expectations, then we become aroused, pay attention, and make a conscious effort to account for the difference so we can take appropriate action.” I think of a helmsman steering through fog by the deviance of his compass needle from his charted course to illustrate the idea of such a valenced signal

In this regard, I see the brain not as a computer but “as a vigilant comparator looking for the then in the now, and when not finding it, taking pains to update memory through conscious scrutiny.” That comparator is on duty whenever things, for better or worse, do not go as expected. Resulting in our streaming consciousness striving to keep up with events as they actually unfold in round after round of engagement. Our personal experience reflects those eternal rounds of engagement, much as the holding power of a screw derives from the helical course of its ramped threads through the wood into which it is turned.

Our minds have many alternative routes from perception to action that largely sidestep consciousness. Reflexes, mimicry, rote memorization, and habitual routines, for instance, proceed unconsciously according to our expectations. But when things do not go as expected, our minds are roused to take unanticipated factors into account. Personal consciousness is situated between perception and action, where it plays the vital role of supervising our rounds of engagement for as long as we concentrate on a particular task or activity.

The take-away message of my new book is that a course of introspection is advised if we are to take responsibility for the outcomes of our personal views and actions. Since every human mind is unique, only one person on Earth has both the motive and opportunity to acquaint any given mind. Our schooling generally deals with abstractions, concepts, and generalities, leaving the particular workings of our minds for us to deal with on our own. This book provides examples of how we might do just that. “The art of introspection is in accepting whatever appears, not judging or dismissing it beforehand because it does not meet designated research criteria.” I use haiku as an example of “grappling with becoming aware of being aware” during moments that draw “us out of our everyday selves, heightening our engagement with life.”

On My Mind: A New Vision of Consciousness is available at lulu.com. Search “Books” for “Steve Perrin” and you will come to it. The cost is $17.95 plus shipping.

 

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.     [Including 7 photos.]

The question is, who controls our primary engagements? Do we defer to the customs of our social world and lend (or give away) our power of self-determination to those who are stronger than we are? Or do we keep a tight grip on the helm and steer our own course? Probably a mixture of the two, sharing power when it is to our advantage, and holding it tight when we are sure of the direction we want to head.

We get good at what we actually do over-and-over again, so we develop our engagement skills incrementally, improving them bit by bit through deliberate concentration, attention to detail, practice, and perseverance. It is one thing to attend to our strengths, relying on what we do best in almost every situation. That way we are apt to typecast ourselves in order to bull our way through. It is something else again to admit to weaknesses or a lack of finesse in many of our engagements, and face into (rather than ignore) them as integral parts of our personal identity.

No one excels at every sort of engagement. Quarterbacks are good at what they do best, but are likely to fall short as concert pianists, fashion designers, or aestheticians—which causes them no pain whatsoever. But when they lose the strength, speed, and stamina of youth, they have to face up to some of the less-well developed parts or dimensions of their makeup in deciding what to do for the rest of their lives.

Me, I’m a visual person. I make photographic images. Others are musicians, dancers, mathematicians, holy men or women, dog trainers, philosophers. We are all situated in the lives we live and have lived, but each of us comes with a unique set of baggage. We are fraught (freighted, loaded, burdened) with our histories because those histories are lodged in networks in our brains where they broadcast bulletins from our memories of where we have been and what we have done. Each of us is a unique, situated self. We make ourselves happen according to the dictates of who we are. I do it my way, you do it your way. Taken all together, we make up the world of humanity. Which reflects our strengths and weaknesses without flinching. We are, after all, who we are.

Yet we are bombarded by messages telling us to do this or do that because it would suit someone else’s desires. Vote for V; Buy W; Support X; Give to Y; Avoid Z at all cost. Pleas which I generally ignore as having no impact on my personal situation. I am in charge here, I keep telling myself, I’ll do the deciding. When I have no choices worthy of consideration, I pull back and, from the world’s perspective, go into hiding. But, no, I’m not hiding, I’m consulting myself—my memories, my dreams, my values, my feelings—my life situation—in deciding what to do.

After all, if I don’t steer my own engagements, who am I engaging for? Or more importantly, why am I here if not to be wholly myself? If I’m not myself, who am I, then?

I’ll tell you who I am, at least for this minute, today. I’ve been turning over everything in my apartment, looking for a receipt for a flight I made from Hancock County Airport back in June. Books are being audited, and I’m accountable for that invoice. I’ve looked at every scrap of paper in the place, cluttering the floor and my table with useless bits of paper, the residue of living my life over the course of several months. Ransacking my personal space, without success. One aspect of my situation just now is that I live amid clutter, which I confront in just lifting my eyes from the cursor on my computer screen.

Another aspect is I’m trying to learn not to get angry and take my frustrations out on others who I convert into victims in order to defend myself from blame. When I can’t engage a project as I wish, I sometimes get exasperated and blow up, throw a tantrum, rant and rage—instead of calmly saying, “Houston, we have a problem,” then going about fixing that particular problem. “Take no hostages” may be good advice, but not if it means abusing those around me. Better, I try to treat everyone with kindness and respect, and ask them for help in dealing with the upsetting situations I frequently get myself into. As I asked the clerk when I found my post office box so stuffed with papers, letters, catalogues, magazines, that I had no choice but to rip great gashes in them in pulling them out of the box past the hinges of the open door. I waited in line at the desk, wondering how I could put it so the clerk could hear me. “I’m going to tell you something you already know,” I would begin, “but when my mailbox is stuffed, I can’t get at my mail without shredding it,” would that work? When I got the clerk’s attention, that’s basically what I said. And we ended up laughing together at the image of me tugging on my mail, turning it into sauerkraut, steam gushing from my eye sockets. The essential thing is that he got the message.

A big part of my situation is missing my sons when I don’t see them for long periods of time. That’s part of the background of much of my life these days, that longing for something I can’t have. So this week I was overjoyed to have Jesse come from Boston to celebrate my birthday with my other son Ken at his house. That and my 80th birthday are a big part of my situation this week.

Last evening I watched the first presidential debate of this year’s campaign, and was dismayed to hear Mitt Romney try to shape the discussion according to hollow claims about how many jobs he’d create and not by his record of actual deeds. He seemed to be making his words up on the spot to suit the situation he was in (a high-stakes debate on TV) more than on what he had actually accomplished in his life. But that’s how it is with challengers to incumbents. Incumbents have a record of what they have done during four years in office; challengers run in opposition to that record, so they’ll say anything to paint it as a failure. Obama and Romney seem to be in the same race, but they are speaking from two very different situations, so their strategies truly reflect that disparity. What struck me from the perspective of a voter was the difference between a retelling of history and an imaginative prophecy of the future. I had to read between the lines to hear what each candidate was trying to say from the depths of his personal situation.

When listening to a political speech, ask yourself what is the situation the candidate is facing, and what the strategy he or she has adopted in speaking out of that situation, so accounting for the specific flow of words you are hearing. One thing is clear: candidates for political office speak from very different situations before election campaigns, during party primary races, and again during face-offs between parties, only to end up either winning or losing the campaign, leading to two additional situations—those of the officeholder and the also-ran.

All candidates change their tunes as they progress through the phases of the campaign because they are addressing entirely different constituencies at each stage, each posing a different situation than those addressed before. In their political lives both Obama and Romney have used different voices representing the different placements of their minds at each stage. The ultimate shocker is the voice that rises upon assuming the Presidency, the stern voice issuing from the Oval Office in Washington, D.C., the ultimate locus of power, and the most rigidly constrained by the complex, overlapping situations the President must deal with.

In presidential debate number one, President Obama was shocked because his opponent spoke with a different voice than any he had used up to that day. But that was because the campaign had entered the final stretch, placing each candidate in a different situation, the incumbent playing up his record of accomplishment, his opponent trashing that record while playing up what he hoped to do once he himself assumed office, leaving his personal record of deeds out of the picture entirely.

But getting back to minor details of my current, personal situation, a nagging dimension of my situation at this minute is the rash I get from something in my gluten-free diet I have been unable to identify. No, it isn’t from chocolate made in a dedicated, allergen-free facility, which I have lately tried and given up on. Maybe it’s the salicylates in green leafy vegetables, which I believe would be good for me if I could eat them, but which seem to bring on the rash. Anyway, the rash brings an undercurrent of annoyance and distraction to my situation, which leaves me somewhat dazed and frazzled when it gets really bad.

And so on. That is a fast sketch of my situated self as I sit here trying to write a coherent post on that very topic to my blog. Situations are complicated because at any given moment they tend to be composed of unrelated dimensions which make life more complicated than I’d like it to be—but nothing turns out to be simple. A lot is going on in the network of a hundred billion neurons that host our dreams, thoughts, feelings, values, and perspectives. Each instant of life is more a maze than a tableau, which may change with the next thought and the one after that.

Here are seven images of how I depict my situated self in graphic terms. 1) The first is me having my picture taken with my two sons, Jesse and Ken, at the birthday dinner they gave me this week. The photographer (my partner, Carole) structured the situation by saying, “Use your hands.” We dutifully responded, with this result (below).

P1040262x-96

2) The schematic diagrams in the next five slides build to a depiction of a loop of engagement centered on the yellow circle representing the situated self at the heart of all consciousness. The blue circle represents sensory impressions, the yellow circle represents personal situations, the pink circle represents bodily actions, each circle answering a pointed question relative to the situated self (below).

SituatedSelf-1

3) This second diagram depicts the loop of engagement connecting the situated self with both the natural and cultural worlds through an exchange of energy directed outward through bodily actions and inward through sensory impressions in an unbroken cycle through both external physical and internal neural media of transmission (below).

SituatedSelf-24) Formation of sensory impressions (blue circle) requires arousal, directed attention, and expectancy within a given situation, at a given level of sensory discrimination or discernment, leading to recognition if a given pattern is found familiar, and to fear or curiosity if thought strange or novel. Development of personal situations (yellow circle) entails creative imagination, thought, feelings, values, understanding, and dreams—all centered on the situated self or observer.  On the basis of personal judgment, the situated self makes a bodily response (pink circle) to a situation as construed in the light of personal experience, deciding how best to proceed, setting goals, selecting means, relying on relationships, working on projects, then acting appropriately to answer the tensions posed by the operative situation (below).

SituatedSelf-3 5) It comes as no surprise that consciousness flows from looping cycles of behavior and perception, which is entirely consistent with other organic exchanges such as those conducted by the digestive system, cardiovascular system, reproductive system, pulmonary system, and integumentary (skin) system as listed in the lower right corner of the gray rectangle representing the embodied or incarnated brain. Proprioception (sense of the body in space) and interoception (internal sensations such as feelings of satisfaction or dissatisfaction, aches, pains, etc.) both contribute to the makeup of the situated self. The dotted arrow on the left indicates that speech arises directly and efficiently from the self-as-situated without requiring the detailed planning and rehearsal of more fully developed behaviors (below).SituatedSelf-46) Bypassing the fully conscious, situated self, reflex arcs are loops connecting sensory input directly to behavioral output without having to pass through the complex realm of full consciousness where the many dimensions might slow them down. This is also true of rote or habitual routines and ideologies expressing the foregone conclusions of trained or set minds. In these cases, the situation is more intuited or assumed than explored, allowing for an immediate response. The comparison of current patterns of experience against those derived from the past is what drives the loop forward. Memory, then, is here represented in a central position turning momentary patterns into life experiences in the history of the situated self (below).

SituatedSelf-5Every mind, that is, comes equipped with a variety of options for connecting sensory impressions to the motor system generating more-or-less appropriate behavior. We are all capable of being impulsive as well as thoughtful or considerate. Practice and rehearsal assure gradual refinement of slow and awkward responses into fluent and modulated expressions of deep concern. In my own cluttered life, I often discover moments of great beauty coming upon me for a few seconds amid the chaos and confusion I generally endure. Walking to the post office this week, I saw a monarch butterfly land on a cluster of purple asters next to the sidewalk. Instantly, I was there with that butterfly and those flowers. Short-lived though it may be, that is also part of the situation out of which I make myself happen this week. What could I do but whip my camera from its case on my belt and take this picture (below).

P1040245-96

It is sometimes difficult to believe how elaborate the situations are that we develop on the basis of sensory impressions twisted into bizarre shapes—largely our own doing by way of selecting and emphasizing the patterns that our senses make available to us. Since we have no meaning detector, the significance of a pattern is our own addition to the mix. We can scrutinize that pattern, but the meaning we lay upon it is strictly ours through our ability to compare new patterns with others recalled from former occasions, the earlier situations serving as our hold on the new, giving it meaning. So the meaningful world is the understanding we lay on the patterns revealed by our senses. Which is why two people side-by-side can live in such different perceptual worlds—each tailoring it to his or her own needs, fears, and desires. The black newspaper reporter holding a microphone up to his interviewee by the side of the road on Cape Cod was seen by passing motorists as holding a knife at his throat. Same pattern, different meanings. We are captives of the situations we fashion for ourselves.

Which is why I am spending all this time and effort writing about consciousness—to help calm my desperate illusions for one thing, to see how corporations and institutions are putting so much energy into capturing our (my and your) minds for their benefit for another, and so on, in hopes you and I will remain sane, set adrift as we are in this riled and riling world.

If we don’t seek therapy to help us endure, we can help heal ourselves by looking inward to discover where we’re coming from in a given situation, so better to understand the world by understanding ourselves through deliberate acts of self-reflection or introspection. If we feel trapped in our lives and yearn to break free, the same approach applies. The traps often turn out to be self-traps that bear our own patents and trademarks. If we can advance our understanding of ourselves as unique individuals, that is a solid contribution to the human world coming to understand itself, no mean accomplishment. Engaging ourselves, we improve our engagements with our immediate world, so contributing to the larger world beyond.

On that note, I now plan to explore other ways of presenting these views shaped through self-reflection in hopes of engaging a wider audience. Recently, I’ve made this blog my primary workspace, but now feel ready—and even obliged—to reach beyond myself to interact with more than the eighty or a hundred people who follow these posts. At age eighty, I find my life situation is rapidly changing, and I am trying to keep up with my situated self.

So, yes, I’ll be letting go of this blog in turning to other ways of being myself, returning now and then to share moments of beauty or discovery such as that monarch landing on those asters. I hope you will stay well, curious, and active.

In the meantime, I remain y’r devoted friend, –Steve from this one and only Planet Earth

Reflection 327: Dream Talk

October 3, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

Where do words come from? We talk from the situation we are currently in—which shapes the vocabulary and syntax of the moment. And situations are the chief characteristics, not only of our wakeful moments, but also of our dreams. So when we part our lips to make sound gestures with minimum effort, in a sense we are speaking out of our dreams. Day dreams and night dreams—they are structured the same; it’s just that in one we can act and perceive, in the other we can’t.

Reveries (what we call daydreams) are a transitional stage of awareness in which we enter a kind of waking trance, neither perceiving nor moving while engaged entirely with our own thoughts. I remember watching a teacher of aesthetics stand apparently looking out the window for five minutes, but truly lost in his own thoughts, ignoring the class he was supposedly teaching. Then he snapped to, and out of the blue informed the class that he could go on indefinitely comparing and contrasting a cigarette with a piece of chalk. Was that what had held his attention for five minutes, that profound revelation? But here I am using that example thirty-two years later, so perhaps I learned something from his trance after all. He was dreaming, but was not asleep. I didn’t think in terms of situations at the time, but now I appreciate his distraction as an example of precisely what I am talking about in this post. My teacher was firmly situated in his thoughts, memories, and feelings, even though none of his students had an inkling what was on his mind until he spoke afterwards.

Situations are highly structured on three levels, the sensory, conceptual, and affective. The sensory level is based on impressions derived from ambient energy impinging on our receptive organs, more-or-less modified to emphasize qualities we recognize as being familiar because we have met them before. The conceptual level is draped over the sensory level by the meanings we assign to its various qualities, creating the illusion of sensory qualities and images being meaningful in themselves, even though they are fraught with our personal life experience. The affective level of a situation conveys how we feel about it in terms of our wellbeing at the time (generally expressed by such sounds as either “mMMm” or “yugk!”). If it promotes our subjective wellbeing we regard the situation in a positive light; if it degrades our wellbeing, we take it negatively. Either way, that affect spurs our engagement. If neither positive nor negative, we take a wait-and-see attitude and regard it as neutral.

Words, I now believe, flow from situations as we have put them together in our own minds by layering feelings onto meanings onto significant patterns of energy as translated into nerve impulses by our receptive sensory organs. It is the flow of those impulses through neural networks in our brains that generates what we experience as our unique conscious mind. Words are labels we have learned to put on recognizable arrangements of signals in our neural networks. The store of such labels we have available to us originated and developed in the linguistic culture we grew up in, but through selective use over many years we have adopted a personal lexicon from that store to be applied as serving a useful purpose in particular life situations.

We can assign various speech roles to different aspects of a particular situation. What we are attentive to serves as the subject of our thought on one or more of the three levels of situational structure—sensory, conceptual, affective—whichever combination is particularly salient or notable in our minds at the time. We use a verb to relate that subject to a particular object of significance, singling out the relationship between the two as worthy of notice and emphasis. We can qualify subject, verb, or object by inserting modifiers as suit our purposes on a particular occasion. And so on, the situation as we have constructed it in our minds serving as the deep structure giving rise to a particular utterance within a given occasion of special interest.

My situation right now is governed by my striving to put into words feelings and relationships I experience within myself in response to the question “Where do words come from?” with which I opened this post. It is something I feel and see within my mind more than something I know or have learned. I am in a situation of discovery more than of reliance on agreed-upon facts. There are no facts of life, only processes and events. I see dreams in my mind as represented by a horizontal squiggle cut off from the possibility of extension—of sensory input on one side or of physical action on the other. The dream is isolated between those two impossibilities, unable to act or be acted upon. 

Immediately above that dream line I see another squiggle representing a state of wakefulness with sensory reception and motor action restored as possibilities connected to my dream—now my waking—situation. Those revived connections on either side of my former dream situation make all the difference between being free and being trapped in my own mind. Free to receive sensory stimulation, free to act on the situation as I have constructed it from my mental raw materials. Open to the world on both sides, that now is the freedom of personal engagement with a world of my own choosing to which wakefulness invites me: freedom to write or speak, freedom to read or listen.

Between the upper and lower squiggles as I imagine them, my situated mind stays much the same. It’s just that all sorts of enticements, checks, and balances exist on the upper one to lessen my isolation so that I feel included as a member of the world at large, not confined to my own mental cell. The urge to speak takes on new meaning in the presence of possible hearers (or in this case, readers). In thinking, there’s only me, so I can easily get lost without anyone hailing me back. In acting on both the urges to speak and to listen, I discover that my felt situation corresponds to a world inhabited by others similar to myself with whom it is possible for me to freely interact. That, now, opens me to a new world of possibility for social engagement.

What an awkward way to talk about an experience that many people enjoy on an intimate level through personal engagement with others! We just open our mouths and words pour out, cock our ears and words pour in. Why make it sound so difficult?

But it wasn’t easy in the beginning when we first learned to talk, and spent many years expanding our vocabularies and understanding. That was hard work. And perhaps the most important work of our lives in learning to engage effectively with other unique people different from ourselves. On that extended stage, a great many things can go wrong so that our engagements get muddled, our situations made more difficult to figure out.

I will speak personally. My father’s mother died the day after giving birth to her only child. Who was to hold him? To nurse him? To instruct him by example in the ways of possible engagement? Of mimicking, of responding, of taking initiative, of smiling and cooing back? For whatever reason, many a child has wandered off at that vulnerable age and never had the privilege of experiencing the primal situations leading to exactly what I am talking about in this post because that situation was disrupted in his or her case, and s/he had to be rescued or else lost to the world. Think infants in orphanages receiving minimal care, surviving, but rarely engaging, barely being taught to engage. Living in a gray fog of neglect as a primal life situation. Think abandoned children, abused children, neglected children.

As I understand it, when an infant, my father was nursed for a time by another woman in town, and within a couple of years his father married his dead wife’s best friend, a widow with three children of her own, so domestic stability was somewhat preserved. He was lucky—and I and my two brothers are lucky. But even so. Even so, I wrote in 1973,

Laura Gale Perrin died the day after giving birth to her son, my father. He never knew her, his mother. I never knew him, my father. Will my sons ever know me? [The original of these lines appeared in a grid of eleven lines of eleven letters each (without spaces or punctuation), producing a cryptic 121-letter grid in Elite type meant to hold tight to the substance of what it was trying to say.]

I see a progression here from dream to waking situations, and then from from felt to expressed situations. So does the self learn to know itself in stages by reaching deep into the unknown to grasp what then becomes known. My inheritance has been an acute case of New England reserve that perversely whets my passion to recognize and unreservedly understand my own mind, in the process becoming the adult parent of myself.

So by facing into the dream and waking situations behind our speech do we become our own woman or man, mature individuals bent on improving upon the world to which we were born. Where do words come from but our efforts to surpass ourselves in giving voice to the situations we create as expressions of our own minds?

It takes a village to raise one child because no single exemplar can do the job. We need many models to learn how best to present and conduct ourselves in the countless situations we get into in the course of living a full life. That is, how to engage as who we are in the act of becoming more than we dream we can be. Self-transcendence is the name of that game, and we’ve been at it every day since birth, no matter how mean our origins, accepting challenges, not limitations—dreams, not so-called realities.

That is an example of what I mean by dream talk. Dipping deep into the well of what life has given us to improve our felt situations day-by-day, and keeping at it, year-by-year. In the process whetting our curiosity and will to surpass ourselves in improving our personal situations, and beyond that—the world of nature and its scion, humanity.

It all begins with a dream of what might be possible, and then giving expression to that dream by acting it out in broad daylight, serving as an example for others desiring to do the same.

Thanks for listening. I invite you to leave a note. As ever, I remain y’r friend and brother, –Steve from Planet Earth

Copyright 2012 by Steve Perrin.

Wildness is a quality of felt situations that arouses curiosity (What have we here?) and invites further attention and exploration as guides to appropriate action (What are we going to do about it?).

The examples of wildness I have illustrated (Reflections 301–313)—tree bark, lichens, crab remains, Indian pipes, fungi seen from above and below, flowers, shore life at low tide, fallen trees, standing trees, ground webs, old man’s beard—show wildness in the form of noticeable features and curiosities met in a forever-wild sanctuary on an island in Maine.

Wildness in that sense means existing in a natural state, not groomed, tamed, or cultivated. Existing where? In the mind of one particular person, namely me, Steve from Planet Earth. Wildness is a quality of my personal awareness of a situation I am in at the time. This is not wildness in the world so much as a sense of wildness from inside looking out through these eyes. Wildness, that is, as an aspect of mind, of personal conscious experience. I am writing about wildness as being subjective or phenomenological, wildness as a property of consciousness, and of my consciousness in particular.

I am not concerned with civilized wildness here, with warfare, cruelty, greed, or abuse. I am more interested in wildness that admits to mystery and wonder and unending engagement. Wildness we can build a life around without destroying other lives. Wildlife that opens onto a landscape we want to learn about, to wrestle with so we can feel, grasp, and understand it. This kind of wildness promotes engagement enabling us to grow into the landscapes of our own minds.

I am interested in wildness that leads us to appreciate other cultures, make voyages of discovery, visit national parks, and explore our surroundings and native habitats with curiosity, awe, and respect. This wildness expands our mental horizons so our minds have no choice but to expand instead of shrink as self-satisfied minds often do.

The way to build such a wild kind of life is to pay attention to the details of sensory impressions that attract and draw you in, not take them for granted as features of a conceptual and conventional existence. To savor where you are in your own mind, and want to reach beyond your current self to the self you will become in the future. That inner sense of wildness will lead you to a life of mental adventure, exploration, and discovery. You build yourself inside-out. You don’t set out to be a nurse or policeman so much as see how far you can get on what you’ve got right where you are.

That’s where your mind will take you if you give it free rein to live out its own wildness in making yourself happen according to your untamed insides.

That’s what I’ve been trying to say in my last thirteen posts. As ever, —Steve from Planet Earth

Copyright 2012 by Steve Perrin.

In Reflections 281–299, I have laid out my thoughts on consciousness as I live it every day. Or it lives me. I am a dutiful scribe doing his best to keep up with the flow of his own inner voice. In these nineteen posts, I have summarized thirty years of dictation from within, doing my best to capture the gist of my personal experience.

I could go on—and one way or another probably will. There are fine points yet to make. But the rough outline of one man’s streaming consciousness is enough to give you an idea of my looping engagement with sensory impressions, felt situations, and actions as suggestive of the world I live in every hour of my life, which is what I set out to get down in succinct form.

With engagements, the flow is the thing, from one moment to the next, featuring one dimension of consciousness at a time, eventually getting them all in, then moving on to the next moment and next event. I have proceeded from expectancy as carried over from previous events, to arousal, attention, and sensory impressions at a useful level of discernment; then on to interpretation of those impressions, understanding them, feeling and valuing their import, building to a felt situation representing the world I am in as seen from my personal perspective; leading to judgment about what do do, to decisions, to setting goals, to projects and relationships, to signals sent to muscles culminating in action in the unknowable world of matter and energy, completing one loop in preparation for the next after that.

So goes my consciousness; so goes my awareness; so goes my life. That’s how I experience it, that’s how I view it, that’s how I reflect upon the complex events flowing through my mind. What I offer is an anatomy of my mind itself, not my brain. Of my brain I experience nothing beyond what I read in neuroscience textbooks, which detail molecular events taking place in other people’s experience, not mine. They write their books, I write mine, all purporting to deal with consciousness as revealed from different disciplines and personal perspectives.

My contribution is to present an overview of one man’s consciousness compiled from his immediate experience of it in the original. Neuroscientists can study the brain forever and never have consciousness reveal itself to them. It exists as a whole, not an assemblage of parts. So I look to to the whole as it presents itself to me, and write about that. I can describe it as I experience it, but I cannot explain it. I leave explanation to others relying on different methods than I use.

My method is to deal with what I meet through introspective reflection. In the case of this blog, adding to 300 separate reflections on my first-person singular experience. It’s a suggestive method, but not always clear. I pay close attention to what I experience, but trial and error are at the fore, so I hit or miss the mark I am aiming at.

After 300 posts, I feel it is time to rest my case. The gist, as I said, is contained in Reflections 281-299. I suggest you go back and read them in order, and see what you find relevant to your own streaming consciousness. That way we can meet mind-to-mind as equals, which all of us—given our unique hopes and strivings—truly are.

I deeply appreciate the attention you have paid to my blog. Thank you for the time and effort you have put in. I invite you to give me a sign at this point; write a comment at the foot of this page. I remain y’rs truly, —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

Does a printing press know what it is printing? Does a projector know what it is showing? Does a sewing machine know what it is stitching? Does a computer know what it is computing? Does a brain know what it is thinking?

In each case I would say, no. Brains are an organic apparatus for doing a job, but that doesn’t mean they know what that job is. Brains are necessary, certainly, to getting a job—any job—done, but just as presses require ink and paper, and projectors require light sources and film, brains require patterned sensory stimulation in a context or situation in order to do whatever it is they do.

What is it, exactly, that brains do? They enable pattern recognition through comparison of sensory impressions against patterns fixed in memory, and use the degree of recognition to govern behavior within situations constructed on the spot from whatever clues are available.

The autonomic nervous system works below the threshold of awareness in performing its job of regulating bodily functions. The rote, habitual, or ideological nervous system works like a kind of automatic pilot programmed to recognize and respond to particular sensory events and situations. The conscious nervous system adapts behavior to sensory impressions, understandings, feelings, values, and memories as interpreted in light of the current situation as intuitively construed.

So it is that we make ourselves happen in the world in a variety of ways: unconsciously, consciously but almost automatically, or consciously and inventively to suit a given occasion as we can best make it out.

All the while, we are creatures of the cultures we are embedded in, and perform dutifully (or in reaction against) what we have learned in those settings. We are duly indoctrinated (calibrated) by our birth-family culture, community culture, school culture, work culture, sex and reproductive culture, political culture, arts culture, military culture, mythological (and theological) culture, and so on. We often do unto our neighbors as we have been done unto in the past.

We are not taking in “information” all the while, but patterns of energy in the form of sensory stimulation which we interpret (give meaning to) in light of situations we believe ourselves to be in at the time, or structure according to prior experience. Our brains alone are not up to regulating our behavior. It takes experience established in the past. It takes an autonomic nervous system to keep us going under a variety of conditions. It takes acculturation to possible ways we might respond. And it takes the raw energy impinging on our senses at any given moment, stimulation that we interpret as best we can under the circumstances—all taken together generating behavior more-or-less appropriate to the situations we find ourselves or judge ourselves to be in.

The sensory space in which we are conscious is a synthesis of a great many dimensions, which include expectancies, sensory impressions, feelings, values, prior experiences, interpretations, understandings, skills (including language), judgments, decisions, projects and relationships, all leading to action more-or-less appropriate to our sense of the situation we are in, and apart from us, to our physical and energy-rich surroundings.

And so it goes, this life we are living. Yes, it takes a brain to coordinate our experience, but also the environs and cultures in which we live, the energy our sensory receptors/transducers receive, our physical bodies, our history of comparable occasions, as well as those alongside us who share in our current predicament. Which together constitute the mythology by which we act. Not the information, not the facts, not the background, not the history—the mythology that informs our synthesis at the time so we make what we judge to be a fitting response.

Mythology is our rationale for living as we do. For being true and proper members of our families and cultures. For being upstanding citizens of nations, true believers of one faith or another, exemplars for others to follow, correct thinkers, members of the proper political party, wise and experienced beings who claim to know what is good not only for ourselves but for others as well. With our neighbors of various persuasions treating us likewise.

All the while, we are playing out the roles we learned as children in our formative years within our families and communities—prankster, nurse, defender, finder of misplaced objects, lover, master, servant, helpless child, Mister Fixit, dancer, princess, troublemaker—acting in ways that got us the attention we wanted then, and we have been looking for ever since.

We make ourselves happen in the world as we invented ourselves in the beginning days of our personal infancy and youth. Had we been born to the family next door, or even in a different slot in the birth order within our own family, we would have turned out very differently. If only father hadn’t been away at the war, or at work. If only mother hadn’t had other children to care for. If only we had lived across town, or in a different culture. If only, if only. That’s how we excuse ourselves for being the fallible, raw, subdued, or aggressive creatures we know ourselves to be.

My interest is in who we are as revealed by how we act, not who we might have been under different circumstances. And by the tools and props we use to stay familiar to ourselves. Humphrey Bogart needed fedora hats, cigarettes, bow ties, leather jackets, trench coats, a scowl, and Lauren Bacall to be the person he wanted to play in his mythology. Barak Obama needs to come across as the wise decider who has considered every option in coming up with a plan of action fair to all. Republicans come across as barking dogs warning of threats to the mythological homeland they have sworn to defend. The whole Republican primary has been a tournament between rival mythologies dressed for public consumption by that great abstraction, “the American people.”

Religion comes down to being a tax-exempt mythology or mystery play some believe in but no one understands. Imagine Joseph Ratzinger (a.k.a. Pope Benedict XVI) without his miter, robes, rituals, holy writ, and Curia—without all the mythological dressing that makes him appear larger than life—and he would turn out every bit as fallible as the rest of us. At base, being Pope is a living based on the illusion and pretense of a costume drama as if he were some manner of extraterrestrial being.

All of us are playing roles we picked up in childhood, and have come to believe in. Which, because it dimly remembers, our brain makes possible, so through practice we get good at recreating the illusion that we are who we claim to be. Every day, through standardized rituals, props, recitations, and actions, we live out our mythologies as if they were reality itself.

Under the cloak of mythology lie the energy patterns we interpret in accord with our fears and desires. The neurons in our brains know nothing of this imaginative superstructure we build on the substrate they provide, abetted by the substrate provided by the energetic material world that feeds our senses. Together, brain and ambient energy build a fantasy life based on our mythology of choice and personal experience.

Our conscious selves arise from the engagement between our individual brains and the energies in our physical surroundings. We earnestly believe we live in the real world, but it is a world of our own making and construal, i.e. a mythology. We are the people who developed the atomic bomb to save the world from destruction; who armed the mujahadin, then fought against them; went to war against the Vietnamese and the Iraqis for reasons we invented; who think it OK for us to send armed drones over other lands, but will be outraged when they return the favor; who cover the losses of scheming banks who brought those losses on themselves; who think the sky is blue in itself, leaves are green, blood is red.

Which brings me to the question of how great ape descendants manage to think and act like this, topic of my next blog.

From my myth to yours, I remain y’r friend, –Steve

Reflection 239: Findings

March 5, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

CONSCIOUSNESS: The BOOK  summarizes 30 years of my first-person effort to describe and understand my own mind. The book itself is the record of my thinking about my own thinking. Starting with this blog in 2008, it has taken me four years to put my findings all together in written form. What did I learn from that effort?

In no particular order, here are some of my main learnings:

  • My brain knows nothing; my mind knows all.
  • Without memory I would know nothing.
  • Consciousness compares past patterns of experience with present patterns of arousal, using the former to get leverage on the latter.
  • The act of comparison releases feelings of novelty or familiarity, kindling laughter or tears, polar feelings of this is good or this is bad.
  • That polarity arouses consciousness so it can recommend an appropriate behavioral response to the situation that brought on the feeling.
  • Neutral feelings are blah and do not arouse high levels of consciousness. Routine gestures will do the job, driven perhaps by assumptions, habits, or prejudices.
  • Expectancy is the leading edge of memory in a recognizable or familiar situation.
  • Surprise, novelty, or lack of understanding can alert consciousness to pay attention to the telling details of an arousing situation.
  • Perception, categorization (interpretation), and understanding go together when I try to wrap my mind around a salient situation. My past reaches out through the medium of expectation to grapple with what is currently happening. I try to fit novel events into conceptual bins (categories) in order to assimilate the new to the old and familiar.
  • If I can’t fit a sensory pattern into a conceptual bin I already have, I have to accommodate by stretching an existing bin to allow a metaphorical extension, or even create a new concept for what is happening (this is called learning).
  • Attention, memory, and action are stages in my looping engagement with my sensory world.
  • I can only receive signals based on energy and matter through my senses, not knowledge or information. My sense of smell and taste acknowledge actual molecules from the outside have found their way inside my nose and mouth. What I make of such signals is strictly my doing, not the world’s, not some sign of universal truth.
  • Consciousness receives patterns of energy. It’s assignment is to interpret what that pattern means, determine its significance, and to channel the results forward in my mind as the basis for appropriate action through an immediate physical response or a project accomplished over a period of time.
  • That is the basic functioning of my end of my loop of engagement with my unknown surroundings. The far end courses through the world around me, which in turn sends signals back to my senses, which I need to diagnose and interpret in order to adjust my initial understanding of my current situation, leading to a refined course of gestures aimed at making an increasingly appropriate response.
  • Round and round I go, alternately hitting the ball, seeing where it goes, and fielding it the best I can when it comes back—or not—whichever proves to be the case. My life is a game of action and response governed by reflexes, habits, prejudice, or conscious reflection.
  • My culture does its best to calibrate my sensibility so I interpret set routines the way my mentors and teachers do. That way, I become a member in good standing with those around me. What I know is what they know because they are the ones who have taught me how to respond to a repertory of set cues.
  • Which often does violence to what I have come to understand on my own through personal experience. Creating a tension between my original self and my community, causing me to seek some kind of rationale for explaining and justifying the difference.
  • Self-determination is the most authentic and powerful of all values and motivations. If I don’t act out of the full weight of my personal experience, then I am acting as others would have me act, and I end up doing the bidding of those others for the sake of social conformity—often at great cost to my personal identity.
  • Each person on Earth is a unique individual. His or her childhood rearing is unique, schooling is unique, work history is unique, emotional history, genetic makeup, neural network, autobiography, feelings, values—all unique. If we don’t act for ourselves, who, then, are we acting for? Working for? Living for?
  • Consciousness matters. Personal consciousness as driven by the unique history of our individual lives in the regions of the Earth we have experienced most directly—that sets who we are. Who we are drives how we behave. How we behave determines what we do. What we do provides a base for others to respond to us. How others and the world respond completes our personal loops of engagement. By which we judge how well we fit to our time and place on Earth.
  • We each employ a different set of tools or accessories in conducting our engagements. We wear hats and sweaters, which are our hats and sweaters. They are our personal property because our looping engagements depend on them—on our cars, dwellings, computers, cooking utensils, pets, spouses and partners, children, parents, friends—and all the rest. It is no accident who we choose to live with, what pets we have, where we live, what hat we make or buy. They all tell us something about how our consciousness engages our surroundings.

That’s some of what my book deals with from a first-person, singular point of view. Not only a single point of view, but a unique point of view. As you are unique in the point of view from which you lead your life. The upshot being that our diversity is our strength because it determines what we have to offer one another.

That’s part of the story. More later. Y’r friend, –Steve