347. Self-knowledge

October 29, 2014

My quest is for self-knowledge before I act in the world lest I confuse my view of the world for an accurate portrait of the world as it really is.

Just look around you at the world of today. It is largely a product of actions taken by people on the assumption that they look out on the real world and do not have to take their personal assumptions and beliefs into account. Ha! What a mess we are making in putting our unexamined selves forward in that way. Look at politicians, financial advisers, celebrities educators, and most of the movers and shakers who determine the nature of our lives.

My message is: know yourself first before turning yourself loose on the world.

That is: turn your attention inward to focus on your trials and errors, your emotions (which are trying to tell you something) across the spectrum from ecstasy and joy to fear and anger, your trifling grasp of the way the world works. Once you come to an understanding of and with yourself, then you are qualified to make forays into the world beyond your private shell. I refer to that shell as the black box your mind uses to protect itself. Before appreciating the isolation that box imposes on your mind, you are an apprentice just learning the ropes of how your mind works.

Everything I know about my own mind I have learned from careful study of the many mistakes I have made in perceiving, judging, and acting in the world. That study has been the greatest adventure of my life.

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 © 2013 by Steve Perrin

In 2008, I set out to get my thoughts in order by posting my disconnected reflections on consciousness, my aim being to assemble the gleanings into a book.

I wrote my first book on the topic, Consciousness: The Book, which I published in November 2011 on Lulu.com.

Now in June 2013, I have refined and expanded that work in my new book, On My Mind: A New Vision of Consciousness, also on Lulu.com.

This blog has served me as a scratch pad, allowing me to organize random thoughts on first-person consciousness into a coherent whole. I am happy with the results, feeling it is a highly cumulative process. The real work came in actually writing the books, that is, in turning the scratch pad into a finished work.

I do not plan to add additional posts to this blog. I will let it stand as what it is, a record of my past efforts to come to grips with my own mind through introspection. The books, I feel, go far beyond what I was able to achieve on wordpress.com. But without wordpress, the books would not exist. Thank you, wordpress.

Now my last thought is, if you have been interested in this blog, now buy the books that far transcend it. Go to lulu.com and search for “Steve Perrin.” Put On My Mind: A New Vision of Consciousness in your shopping cart and check out. That would be doing both yourself and me a favor. Don’t hold back; just do it. It may change your life.

Thanks for coming along on this ride. Y’r friend, –Steve

Copyright © 2013 by Steve Perrin.

Today I uploaded the 3rd corrected proof of my new book, On My Mind, some of which I’d like to share with you as a token of what I’ve been up to for these many months, years, and it seems like ages. These two reflections come from the last chapter.

Above all. Wherever on Earth we are born—East or West, North or South—we are born of woman, and born to the stars. We are Earth made flesh looking upon a vista of lights in the sky. From the outset we are of two natures, mortal and celestial. Our lower nature is hard to bear because so fraught with peril, temptation, and suffering. Our higher nature is stunning in its harmonious radiance and diversity. Our task in each case is to balance our two natures, not to revel exclusively in either one or the other. This creates a tension within us, a yearning for both familial warmth and heavenly illumination combined in one life.

Which is what both science and religion strive to inspire: a unity of nurture and illumination in passionate embrace—religion by building on the past, science by opening to the future. Is that too much to ask? Love and awe together in one vessel? But that is precisely what the life force drives us to seek at each instant. As Buddha sought to master sickness, old age, and death through personal discipline. As Moses sought to bind his people under one law. As Jesus sought to discover loving harmony in the face of human diversity. As Mohammed sought to unite the fervor of three hundred sects into one ardent system of belief. As scientists are struggling today to reconcile four fundamental forces within one flash of coherent illumination, a task that yet evades them. As we all strive to achieve in our individual rounds of engagement, balancing our situated selves with our virtual worlds at each moment, being wholly ourselves in a universe wholly other, promoting individual happiness and the general welfare at the same time.

Even as we know it is impossible to attain such a balance in any truly enduring sense, we also know we have no choice but to keep trying out of deference to our parents (genetic heritage) and the cosmic order that led to our birth.

After all. Yes, we are unique individuals, and at the same time, members of families, tribes, peoples, and a particular universe. I have emphasized the subjective nature of my mind because that, I feel, is the level of consciousness I am (and I imagine we all are) apt to pay least attention to, so least understand. In the end I must acknowledge that in addition to our being ourselves, we all belong to higher natural and cultural systems of organization. In each case, our belonging is every bit as important as being who we are as individuals. My self is composed of particular organs and organ systems. When my liver gets sick, I get sick. When my brain suffers a stroke, I get confused. When my organ systems fail, I die.

Beyond my embodied self, I belong to an extended family that includes my parents, siblings, several spouses and partners, my children, and other relatives. Beyond my family, I belong to a tribe made up of bands of more-or-less similar families which, taken together, constitute a people. And every people belongs to its planet, solar system, and universe. Between my selfhood and layers of membership, I find I am a congress of organic beings, most of whom I would not recognize if I met them face-to-face. From the point of view of a bacterium on my skin or in my gut, I am a universe it takes wholly for granted, even though at every second its wellbeing depends on my mortal jelly.

When I say my individual self is situated between my perceptual and behavioral capabilities, that is true as far as it goes. But I am also situated within a family, community, species, and universe, each level far more complicated than I can imagine, much less contemplate. Somewhere there is an asteroid of some size orbiting the sun, an asteroid fated to collide with my exact coordinates on the surface of the Earth. There are similar future impacts heading my way in the context of my family, tribe, people, and geophysical coordinates. My being and belonging are functions of a universe containing, in addition to my mind, a host of such dramatic features as shooting stars, auroral displays, blossoms, nursing babies, plate tectonics, epidemics, collisions, extinctions, and all the other greater or lesser wonders and catastrophes we are subject to.

In the end, there is far more to our being and belonging than we can possibly grasp. I offer these reflections as so many petals blowing on the wind. While they last, I can only enjoy their swirling dance. Once free of my mind, their fate is their own.

Now that our journey together is over, I am trying to introduce myself before we part to give you a snapshot of your companion through these several chapters. I am he whose autobiography unfolds within a certain set of drives and feelings between overlapping motor and perceptual capabilities within a distinct body embedded in a unique family and its culture on a planet whirling around a nearby star in a galactic neighborhood and its universe.

That’s me, the one who does his or her best to engage the layers collectively making up such a situation while I briefly have the chance. And as near as I can tell, that’s also you.

Voyage of a lifetime, it has been a great trip. I can only wish you well from here on.

Like you, I’m still here, still working. Keep in touch.

Y’r friend, –Steve from Planet Earth

 

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Copyright © 2013 by Steve Perrin

I got the idea in 2006, and since early 2008, I’ve been using this blog to sort my streaming thoughts on consciousness into a form that could be put into a book. Which is where I go from time to time when I’m not writing the blog but am in my head, putting my thoughts in order, expressing them in written form. I’ve produced two books that way, Consciousness: The Book in 2011; now in 2013, On My Mind, which I’ve just published this week through lulu.com.

OnMyMind_FRONT-COVER-blog-96 Front cover, On My Mind.

Here is the Preface (meant to explain how a particular book comes to be written) from my new book.

This book began a long time ago with an exploding star in a galaxy we now call the Milky Way. Its fuel expended, that star imploded into its own interior when gravity overcame its fading radiation. The collapse created a blazing forge that spewed atoms outward into space. Swirling as a cloud of gas and dust, those atoms circled a nameless star, coalescing five billion years ago into the third planet out from our sun. It didn’t take those atoms long to form self-replicating molecules, to diversify and evolve into complex organisms, some becoming conscious of themselves, their activities, and their surroundings. Engaging those surroundings, one organism stood up, roamed around, and as a creature of the universe, developed individuality from a center of unique experience, coming much later to develop ideas, speech, writing, art, dance, books, and diverse societies.

Waking up in the morning, I discover myself to be one such animal, conscious of myself in this universe, of my surroundings, and of my engagement with those surroundings. I think to myself, this is hot stuff. Hot as in the inside of stars. Fiery. Too hot to get near, much less grasp. So I work for thirty years to understand how I, an assemblage of water, soil, and air in the presence of sunlight, can wake up in the morning with such a thought in my head. I don’t understand how it is possible. Two years ago I brought out my first attempt at describing my mind in Consciousness: The Book. I learned a lot from that exercise and thought I could do better. So here is On My Mind, a second attempt to describe what it feels like for me to be conscious. My hope is to encourage others to make the same effort for themselves; then we can hold long conversations about the similarities and differences between us, and make a start at understanding how we can be conscious for the common good of this planet we all share together.

Steve Perrin, Bar Harbor, March, 2013

The blog I have created from my random thoughts has turned out to be cumbersome. Hard to use, hard to picture as one work having a common focus. In the book, I’ve taken the heart of my blog and developed it through a series of 163 new reflections divided into eight chapters:

  1. Introduction
  2. Depicting a Mind [putting together a map of my mind]
  3. Perception
  4. Action
  5. The Situated Self
  6. Loops of Engagement
  7. Reality
  8. Toward a Theory of Mind

Basically, perception addresses the question, What’s happening? The situated self asks, What does it mean? And action answers the question, What should I do?  The other chapters deal with how those three parts of my mind connect to one another, and to the great world beyond the far edge of my senses.

There you have it, this blog simplified and made coherent in book form. Which was what I was aiming to do from the start in 2006.

I’ve had over 30,000 hits on the blog. If any of you hitters in the U.S. want a copy of the book, you can get it for $17.95 plus postage at Lulu.com. Search for Steve Perrin under Books and you should come right to it.

Y’rs truly, –Steve from Planet Earth

 

Copyright © 2013 by Steve Perrin   [with 1 diagram]

I’ve been working on my new book on introspective consciousness, so to give you a taste of what’s coming up, I offer this revised version of Toward a theory of consciousness to serve as a kind of summary of the eight chapters. I include Figure 5 to illustrate what I am talking about in pictorial form. Y’r friend, –Steve

TOWARD A THEORY OF CONSCIOUSNESS

Situated-Self-Diag_5_96px

1. Subjectivity. By definition, consciousness is subjective; it cannot be fit into a framework that insists on objectivity. The locus of the unconscious may be the brain, but the locus of consciousness is the mind, enabled by the brain, but not identical to it in part or in whole, as an electrical circuit is not identical to the copper wire it is made of. Such circuits acquire characteristics by being turned on, as consciousness must be turned on or aroused. Such effects as resistance, inductance and capacitance arise from the existential flow of electrons within circuits, specifically, from interactions within that flow itself that affect how electrical energy is received, stored, and distributed. They arise from emergent and kinetic (not static) properties of electrons moving through closed circuits under particular conditions. Consciousness is somewhat similar in not being predetermined by the brain. Instead, as I see it, it rises above neural circuitry to interact through consonance and dissonance between its several parts.

Quantum physics incorporates minds into the observations they are likely to make. That is a huge step in the right direction. Insisting that subjective observers remain essentially pure and aloof from their personal observations is an exercise in ideology. Each observer is a multidimensional set of mental variables engaging the world in a variety of ways simultaneously. Results depend on what he or she had for lunch, whether he or she is well-rested, when he or she last had sex, and so on. When two or more scientists gather together, it only gets worse, that is, more complicated and less objective, because of the chemistry within and between them. I think a new branch of science allowing self-reflection as a productive and honorable profession based on first-person experience is due to emerge. This will compensate for deficiencies in the practice of neuroscience, allowing a more complete accounting for what consciousness is—and how it arises from the brain—to appear at last.

2. Three questions. In everyday practice, consciousness addresses three tacit questions: 1) What’s happening?; 2) What does that mean to me in my present situation?; and, 3) What should I do in response? Perception fields the first question, the situated self takes the second, and action resolves the third. At the risk of oversimplifying, I visualize the mind as being divided into interconnected departments or modules corresponding to this tripartite model. The perceptual department of mind extends between sensory receptors and the hippocampus, which facilitates the formation and recall of memories. What I call the situated self is at the heart of consciousness, with access to sensory impressions, understanding, memory, comparison, dreams, values, feelings, and imagination. And both of these departments connect to motor areas of mind and brain. The situated self connects via the planning areas of the brain, the province of judgment, decision, goals, projects, and relationships. The sensory department, too, can fire directly (and unconsciously) to the motor area, where impulse and habit can direct personal effort and force toward the world beyond.

But the story doesn’t end there, for by being caught up in a program of action, perception is set to gauge what happens next in order to follow-through on its commitment to effective and appropriate action, revising or even countering its initial assessment. Few actions are ends in themselves; most are stages in an ongoing progression of continuous activity. As in tennis, the game isn’t over once you serve the ball; you immediately position yourself to hit it again as it whizzes back over the net, and then again, and again. If you want to eat, you provision your pantry, decide what to have, prepare it, cook it, serve it, eat it, and wash up afterwards—and repeat the performance a few hours later.

I visualize personal consciousness as a process of ongoing activity which modifies our felt situation as we go, morphing time and again into a wholly new situation, which we fail to address at our peril. Survival is somewhat like tennis: we’ve got to keep our eye on the ball at all times. A rhinoceros could rumble out of the bushes any moment or, more likely, a child could chase a ball into the road ahead. The prize goes to the ever vigilant, not merely the fast, strong, smart, or beautiful.

3. Loops of engagement. The succession of perception-situation-action never ceases. I picture consciousness in terms of never-ending looping engagements by which any given action immediately initiates a subsequent round of perception-situation-action until the situation itself is no longer relevant, stopping the clock, inviting other situations to take over and start a new round, spiral, or helix of engagement. This spiraling (because never coinciding with its exact beginning) series is far more than a succession of working memories or hand-eye coordinations; this is how we make ourselves happen in the process of continually reinventing ourselves and our worlds.

4. Organ systems. Humans did not create consciousness all by themselves; they inherited it from their distinguished ancestors who, even on the cellular level, discovered that the membrane setting an organism off from its immediate environment had to be permeable in both directions, in and out. Exchange (interaction, give-and-take) was the rule, not the brilliant exception. At every scale, metabolisms need to be fed from the outside, and the buildup of waste products simultaneously eliminated. Voilà: the loop of engagement. The same basic principle applies to our pulmonary, cardiovascular, digestive, reproductive, immune, integumentary, and nervous systems. Looping engagements do not exist apart from the organic world; they are the heart of that world. So it should be no surprise that they are at the heart of consciousness as well.

5. Polarity. Consciousness is bipolar in nature, having both an interior and exterior pole. The situated self is the inner pole, the virtual or conjectural world being the outer. When we are born, we have no idea what we are getting into. We consist of an inner pole that has only its discomforts and satisfactions to go on as driven by the life force, but other than by crying or sucking, we have yet to learn how to engage in order to get more of what we want, and less of what we don’t want. Mother holds us in her arms, sharing her bodily warmth, her milk, her love, whispering softly, “Don’t cry little baby, stick with me and all will be revealed.” We do, and it is. Since conception, she has become the primal “other,” the outer pole of our existence, the first world we engage with. Our lives are the histories of the engagements that follow.

6. Trial and error. Every new life is an experiment to see what is effective and what not within the particular niche we occupy by means of our perceptions and actions. No one else shares those exact perspectival coordinates; we are in this life to discover how far we can travel via this singular point of being. On our deathbeds we realize our journey is done; the next leg is up to those who survive us via their own points of being. The experiment never comes to an end; it is what we share with all others of our kind to see if we can’t figure out what will work to keep us going, and what won’t. We have only our passionate beliefs to go by, there are no universal directions, guidebooks, gurus, recipes, magic potions to help us. We are condemned to a life of learning by doing and believing, hoping our subjective awareness will prove sufficient to the task. Through our parents, the universe hands us our bodily makeup and says, “See what you can do with this.” The rest is up to us.

7. Memory. Memory is the backbone of consciousness. Strong emotion and frequent repetition build stable connections within neural networks shaped by personal experience. Connections that aren’t used don’t persist. Memory gives us hope, dread, expectancy, recognition, sameness, familiarity, and a sense of the future, among other aspects of awareness. Memory allows us to look for more of the same, as well as for what is new, novel, different, and mind-expanding.

Consulting my own experience, I recognize three primary types of memory: 1) Spontaneous (or working) memory is fleeting, typically lasting only a few seconds; 2) autobiographical memory can preserve personal episodes for a lifetime as a result of long-term potentiation; 3) conceptual (or semantic) memory is abstracted from the flow of experience to represent persisting types or categories of sensory patterns as based on repeated presentations within a limited range of similarity, facilitating the convenient labeling of specific impressions as concepts approximating one familiar pattern or another.

8. Inputs to consciousness. Three very different inputs support consciousness: 1) materials delivered by bloodflow to fuel the metabolism of body and brain; 2) energy imparted to sensory organs that kindle impressions to be interpreted in light of prior experience as one’s proprietary awareness; and 3) the life force we inherit with our particular genome, the urge to eat, drink, breathe, laugh or cry, heal, rest, have sex, and keep going against all odds. Ambient energy and adequate nutrition are basic substrates of consciousness; reducing availability of either one results in mental impairment and degradation. Consciousness itself flows from the life force, the need to engage, to know what’s happening, to make meaning, to plan and then act, and then to discover what happens next. We call this yearning to engage “soul” or “spirit,” but it doesn’t belong to us as individuals. Rather, it is the endowment we receive by being born as organic beings to an energy-rich planet that gives us a toehold in the universe.

9. Levels of consciousness. Within the brain, two basic routes are available for passage from sensory impressions to appropriate actions: the first is a direct and unconscious route of reflex-mimicry-habit-routine-custom-belief that prompts immediate action on appearance of particular sensory cues; the second is a longer and slower route of conscious consideration that entails reflection, judgment, and decision in arriving at a plan of action situated in subjective life experience. Both impulsivity and consideration are available to us in every situation. We choose between them on the basis of our self-awareness as actors in a world largely of our own making. If we size-up our situation incorrectly, that is our call and our error. If we want to be sure of doing the right thing, we must examine the situation carefully to increase the probability that what we do is appropriate to the specific set of circumstances we are in. I refer to these two options as being on different mental levels, the unconscious and the conscious, what I have elsewhere referred to as the high road and low road.

10. Animal consciousness. Other kinds of consciousness become apparent from observation of animal behavior. In many species, individuals are apt to be differentially affected by sensory stimulation (depending on genetic, dietary, experiential, physical, developmental, and social variables, among others), and to exhibit idiosyncratic behaviors as a result. Speaking more generally, different species live in different sensory worlds, and appear to be conscious in a variety of ways. Humans lack the lateral-line receptors of fish that detect the relative motion of water against the two sides of their bodies, allowing them to orient themselves in a current, and to detect unmoving objects at a distance. We don’t have the hearing sensitivity of bats, scenting ability of dogs, sensitivity to heat of pit vipers, directional hearing of deer, scanning ability of electric fishes, magnetic sensibility of eels, sharks, and birds. We may be fellow creatures, but our respective sensibilities situate us in very different niches in parallel worlds of consciousness on the planet we share.

11. Comparison. Change, difference, motion, and comparison are other basic principles underlying consciousness. Memory not only allows us to categorize sensory patterns, but also to notice what has changed or is different in respect to their former makeup or to a set standard pattern. Comparison of neural signals in, say, adjacent or reciprocating cortical columns creates a sense of relationship (depth perception, symmetry, consonance, dissonance, extension, expansion, proportion, opposition, elaboration, and so on) in consciousness. I view comparison between current and prior impressions as firing up consciousness itself in proportion to the disparity detected. If nothing has changed, there’s no need to pay attention and we can get by on habit and routine. But if changes are noted, are they for better or worse? We spend much of our mental energy evaluating implications of situations that change and develop.

This suggests to me that consciousness is a form of memory, or, more accurately, a way of remembering in a current situation so that past and present impressions are compared, and any disparity directs attention to discover what if anything can be told by the difference. And, further, how such a difference might bear on our behavior. In other words, discrepancy is viewed within a framework of subjective meaning, enabling evaluation of what difference it makes.

12. Meaning. Each individual stream of consciousness is unique and available to only one specific animal or person. In that sense, each conscious being has a proprietary interest in its ongoing experience within its experiential niche, and is personally responsible for actions based on that experience. Meaning is another fundamental principle of consciousness, evaluating the new in reference to the expected or commonplace. Each of us survives on the strength of how well we interpret the flow of energy through our sensory portals in light of our prior experience. The meaning of a sensory pattern is not conveyed by the pattern itself but by how we subjectively construe it. It is invented on the spot, not given by others. Meaning is a product of assimilating sensory impressions to the existing order of subjective understanding, or if that doesn’t work, of expanding that order in such a way to accommodate novel impressions.

13. Time and space. Comparisons resulting from our ways of believing and remembering lead to detection of discrepancies, which are changes since we last looked (listened, touched, tasted, sniffed). Perceptual changes noted by a passive observer (as when sitting still listening to music) are changes in time; by a moving observer (riding along in a car or bus) are changes in space; by an active and moving observer (dancing, climbing a tree, bushwhacking through woods), changes in space-time. Time and space aren’t out there coursing through the universe, they are in us as a sense of calibrated change. Our culture provides the calibration; we provide the awareness of detecting and enacting change. When the cultural calibrators die off, only change will remain, and when individual memory dies, awareness of change itself will wink out.

14. Phenomena. The aim and purpose of consciousness is to achieve behaviors appropriate to one’s actual situation in a world that cannot be known in itself—a logically impossible task, but one we attempt at every waking moment. Mind is an emergent property of the brain, but the workings of the brain in terms of the electro-chemical traffic flow through idiosyncratic neural networks are very different from the workings of the world outside our bodies, so sensory impressions are not simply representations of the world but point-for-point creative renditions in what amounts to a singular universe within consciousness. In practice if not in convincement, we all are dedicated phenomenologist because phenomena (appearances, impressions) as rendered by our sensory apparatus are what we have to go on, not things in themselves. Since each being is unique, its stream of consciousness is unique, and the world it construes for itself is unique—its actual situation being a matter of conjecture and imagination based on the evidence of its senses in light of its situated understanding.

15. Dreams. Dreams and reveries are variations of consciousness in which we are shut off from the world of conventional action and stimulation, but can nonetheless simulate sensory impressions courtesy of random eye movements and fixations that activate neural pathways to stir up fleeting images from memory as if we were fully awake. Our dreamselves cannot engage, for they can neither perceive nor act, so we must make do with memory, letting our dreams themselves illuminate the journey of the self we are, without being situated other than in our personal histories. As potential perceiver and potential actor, the dreamself is at the core of the waking self. We do well to pay close attention to our dreams as informants about the history of our core selves all the way back to infancy when, indeed, our deeds and impressions lie ahead of us. This latent, so-called theory of consciousness is the narrative told to me in my dream-like reflections, and I am sharing with you as a gesture of neighborliness.

16. Introspection. Science, I think, traditionally underplays the value of introspection as a message from the interior of one person. The art of introspection is in accepting whatever appears, not judging or dismissing it beforehand because it does not meet designated research criteria. The arts, on the other hand, along with the humanities, diverse human cultures, sports, business, and military engagements, and other factual or fictional endeavors celebrate individual differences, and play them up as valuable in themselves for distinguishing us one from another in admirable ways. If we were all the same, we would be zombies, and life would progress from dull to duller to dullest. Any unique being cannot be a zombie because one-of-a-kind zombies are oxymorons, contradictions unto themselves. Zombies have surrendered whatever it is that makes them individually distinct. In a world composed of unique individuals, insisting on consensual agreement on the nature of individuality and uniform behavior is a forlorn hope dependent on excessive abstraction and generalization.

17. A tale of two selves. The upshot of this narrative is that we are heavily invested in our subjective consciousness as the lived edition of our personal survival—that tale of two centers—subjective and virtual—facing off against each other at opposite poles of our engagements, separated by the membrane that serves as our skin. This is a tale of two selves, for the virtual world we imagine is largely fleshed out by our own experience as we remember it, so is an extension of our situated perspective as a kind of alter ego accompanying and complementing us in our experiment to see if we can’t get some things, at least, right. Which we all manage to do as demonstrated by our ever spiraling engagement in the streaming adventure of mental life, giving others the impression we are present and accounted-for. To those others, we serve as the virtual poles complementing their subjective selves as situated in the shadows of their own impressions, dreams, life force, and actions.

That’s it for now. Hang in there, and focus on your issues, not the world’s (which are too much for any of us). –Steve

 

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

Here follows an excerpt from a manuscript I’m working on, One Man’s Mind.

Memory is the gravitational force that binds consciousness together into a coherent stream of experience. Strong emotion and frequent repetition build stable connections within neural networks shaped by specific episodes of personal experience. Connections which aren’t used don’t persist. Memory gives us hope, dread, expectancy, recognition, sameness, familiarity, and a sense of the future, among other aspects of human experience. Memory allows us to look for more of the same, as well as for what is new, novel, different, and mind-expanding.

Consulting my own experience, I recognize three primary types of memory: Spontaneous (or working) memory is fleeting, typically lasting only a few tenths of a second; autobiographical memory endures as a result of long-term potentiation; conceptual (or semantic) memory is abstracted from the flow of experience to represent persisting types or categories of sensory patterns as based on repeated sensory presentation within a limited range of similarity, facilitating the convenient labeling of specific impressions as concepts approximating one pattern or another.

Two very different inputs support consciousness: 1) materials delivered by bloodflow to fuel the metabolism of body and brain, and 2) materials, force, and/or energy impinging on sensory organs to kindle sensory impressions which are interpreted in light of prior experience as one’s proprietary awareness. Ambient energy and adequate nutrition are basic substrates of consciousness; reducing availability of either one results in mental impairment and degradation.

Within the brain, two routes are available for passage from sensory impressions to appropriate actions: 1) the direct and unconscious route of reflex-mimicry-habit-routine-custom-belief that prompts immediate action on appearance of particular sensory cues, and 2) the longer and slower route of conscious consideration that entails reflection, judgment, and decision in arriving at a plan of action situated in subjective life experience. Both impulsivity and consideration are available to us in every situation. We choose between them on the basis of our self-awareness as actors in a world largely of our own making. If we size the situation up incorrectly, that is our call and our error. If we want to be sure of doing the right thing, we must examine the situation carefully to increase the probability that what we do is appropriate to the specific set of circumstances we are in. I refer to these two options as being on different levels of consciousness, the conscious and the unconscious.

Other kinds of consciousness become apparent from observation of animal behavior. In many species, individuals are apt to be differentially affected by sensory stimulation (depending on genetic, dietary, experiential, physical, developmental, and social variables, among others), and to exhibit idiosyncratic behaviors as a result. Speaking more generally, different species, too, live in different sensory worlds, and appear to be conscious in a variety of ways. Humans lack the lateral-line receptors of fish that detect the relative motion of water against the two sides of their bodies, allowing them to orient themselves in a current, and to detect unmoving objects at a distance. We don’t have the hearing sensitivity of bats, the scenting ability of dogs, the sensitivity to heat of pit vipers, the directional hearing of deer, the scanning ability of electric fishes, the magnetic sensibility of eels, sharks, and birds. We may be fellow creatures, but our respective sensitivities situate us in very different niches in parallel worlds of consciousness on the planet we share.

Change, difference, motion, and comparison are other basic principles underlying consciousness. Memory not only allows us to note sensory patterns, but also what is changing or different in respect to their former makeup or to a set standard pattern. Comparison between neural signals creates a sense of relation-ship (depth perception, symmetry, consonance, dissonance, extension, opposition, and so on) in consciousness. I view com-parison between current and prior impressions as firing up consciousness itself in proportion to the disparity detected. If nothing has changed, there’s no need to pay attention and we can get by on habit. But if changes are noted, are they for better or worse? We spend much of our mental energy evaluating implications of changing situations.

This suggests to me that consciousness is a form of memory, or, more accurately, a way of remembering in a current situation so that the past is compared to present impressions, and any disparity directs attention to discover what if anything can be learned from the difference. And, further, how such a difference might bear on our behavior. In other words, what does this discrepancy mean in subjective terms? How are we to understand the difference it makes? Meaning is another fundamental principle of consciousness.

Each individual stream of consciousness is unique and available to only one specific animal or person. In that sense, each conscious being has a proprietary interest in its ongoing experience within its experiential niche, and is personally responsible for actions based on that experience. Each of us survives on the strength of how well we interpret the flow of energy through our sensory portals in light of our prior experience. The meaning of a sensory pattern is not conveyed by the pattern itself but in how we subjectively construe it. It is invented on the spot, not given by others. Meaning is a product of assimilating sensory impressions to the existing order of subjective understanding, or if that doesn’t work, of expanding that order in such a way to accommodate novel impressions.

The aim and purpose of consciousness is to achieve behaviors appropriate to one’s actual situation in a world that cannot be known in itself—a logically impossible task, but one we attempt at every waking moment. Mind is an emergent property of the brain, but the workings of the brain in terms of the eletrochemical traffic flow through idiosyncratic neural networks are very different from the workings of the world outside our bodies, so sensory impressions are not simply representations of the world but point-for-point creative renditions in what amounts to a singular universe within consciousness. In practice if not in convincement, we all are dedicated phenomenologist because phenomena (appearances, impressions) as rendered by our sensory apparatus are what we have to go on, not things in themselves. Since each being is unique, its stream of consciousness is unique, and the world it construes for itself is unique—its actual situation being a matter of conjecture and imagination based on the evidence of its senses in light of its situated understanding.

Science, I think, traditionally underplays the value of introspection as a message from the interior of one person. The art of introspection is in accepting whatever appears, not judging or dismissing it beforehand because it does not meet designated research criteria. The arts, on the other hand, along with the humanities, diverse human cultures, athletic and military engagements, and other factual or fictional endeavors celebrate individual differences, and play them up as valuable in themselves for distinguishing us one from another in admirable ways. If we were all the same, we would be zombies, and life would be dull, dull, dull. Any unique being cannot be a zombie because one-of-a-kind zombies are oxymorons, contradictions unto themselves. Zombies have surrendered whatever it is that makes them individually distinct. In a world composed of unique individuals, insisting on consensual agreement is a forlorn hope.

By definition, consciousness is subjective; it cannot be fit into a framework that insists on objectivity. The locus of the unconscious may be the brain, but the locus of consciousness is the mind, enabled by the brain, but not identical to it in part or in whole, as an electrical circuit is not identical to the copper wire it is made of. Inductance and capacitance arise from the flow of electrons within circuits, specifically, from interactions within that flow itself that affect how electrical energy is stored and distributed. They arise from emergent and dynamic (not static) properties of circuits as depicted on the drawing board.

Quantum physics incorporates minds into the observations they are likely to make. That is a step in the right direction. Insisting that subjective observers remain essentially aloof from the objective observations they claim to make is folly. Each observer is a multidimensional set of parameters engaging the world in a variety of ways simultaneously. Results depend on what he or she had for lunch, whether he or she is well-rested, when he or she last had sex, and so on. When two or more scientists get together, it only gets worse, that is, more complicated and less objective, because of the chemistry between them. I think a new and honorable branch of science based on self-reflection as a productive and honorable profession based on first-person experience is due to emerge. This will compensate for defi-ciencies in the practice of neuroscience, allowing a more com-plete accounting for what consciousness is, and how it arises from the brain, to appear at last.

In everyday practice, consciousness addresses three tacit questions: 1) What’s happening?; 2) What does that mean to me in my present situation?; and, 3) What should I do in response? Perception fields the first question, the situated self takes the second, and action resolves the third. At the risk of oversimplifying, I visualize the mind as being divided into interconnected departments or modules corresponding to this tripartite model. The perceptual department of mind ends at the hippocampus, which facilitates the formation and recall of memories. What I call the situated self is at the heart of consciousness, with access to awareness, memory, understanding, comparison, dreams, values, feelings, and imagination. And both these departments connect to motor areas of the mind. The situated self connects via the planning area of the brain, the province of judgment, decision, goals, projects, and relationships. The sensory department fires directly to the motor area and action itself where personal force is directed toward the world.

But the story doesn’t end there, for by being caught up in a program of action, perception is set to gauge what happens next in order to follow-through on its commitment to appropriate action, revising or even countering its initial assessment. Few actions are ends in themselves; most are stages in an ongoing progression of continuous activity. As in tennis, the game isn’t over once you serve the ball; you immediately position yourself to hit it again as it whizzes back over the net, and then again, and again. If you want to eat, you provision your pantry, decide what to have, prepare it, cook it, serve it, eat it, and wash up afterwards—and repeat the performance a few hours later.

I visualize personal consciousness as a process of ongoing activity which modifies our felt situation as we go, morphing time and again into a wholly new situation, which we fail to address at our peril. Survival is somewhat like tennis: we’ve got to keep our eye on the ball at all times. A rhinoceros could rumble out of the bushes any moment or, more likely, a child could chase a ball into the road ahead. The prize goes to the vigilant, not merely the fast, strong, smart, or beautiful.

The succession of perception, situation, action never ceases. I picture consciousness in terms of never-ending looping engagements by which any given action immediately initiates a subsequent round of perception-situation-action until the situation itself is no longer relevant, stoping the clock, inviting other situations to take over and start a new round or spiral of engagement. This spiraling series is far more than a succession of working memories or hand-eye coordinations; this is how we make ourselves happen in the process of continuously reinventing ourselves and our worlds.

Humans did not create consciousness all by themselves; they inherited it from their distinguished ancestors who, even on the cellular level, discovered that the membrane setting an org-anism off from its immediate environment had to be permeable in both directions, in and out. Exchange (interaction, give-and-take) was the rule, not the brilliant exception. At every scale, metabolisms need to be fed from the outside, and the build-up of waste products simultaneously eliminated. Voilà: the loop of engagement. The same basic principle applies to our pulmonary, cardio-vascular, digestive, reproductive, integumentary, and nervous systems. Engagements do not exist apart from the organic world; they are the heart of that world. So it should be no surprise that they are at the heart of consciousness as well.

Consciousness is polar in nature, having both an interior and exterior pole. The situated self is the inner pole, the conjured or virtual world being the outer. When we are born, we have no idea what we are getting into. We consist of an inner pole that has only its discomforts and satisfactions to go on, but other than by crying, has no idea how to engage in order to get more of what it wants, and less of what it doesn’t want. Mother holds us in her arms, sharing her bodily warmth, her milk, her love, whispering softly, “Don’t cry little baby, stick with me and all will be revealed.” We do, and it is. She becomes the primal “other,” the outer pole of our existence, the first world we engage with. Our lives are the histories of the engagements that follow.

Every new life is an experiment to see what is effective and what not in the particular niche we are located in by means of our perceptions and actions. No one else shares those exact perspectival coordinates; we are in this life to discover how far we can travel via this singular point of being. On our deathbeds we realize our journey is done, the next leg is up to those who survive us via their own points of being. The experiment never comes to an end; it is what we share with all others of our kind to see if we can’t figure out what will work to keep us going, and what won’t. We have only our passionate beliefs to go by, there are no universal directions, guidebooks, gurus, recipes, magic potions to help us. We are condemned to a life of learning by doing and believing, hoping our subjective awareness will prove sufficient to the task.

Comparisons resulting from our ways of believing and re-membering lead to detection of discrepancies, which are changes since we last looked (listened, touched, tasted, sniffed). Perceptual changes noted by a passive observer (as when sitting still listening to music) are changes in time; by a moving observer (riding along in a car or bus) are changes in space; by an active and moving observer (dancing, climbing a tree, bushwhacking through woods), changes in time-space. Time and space aren’t out there coursing through the universe, they are in us as a sense of calibrated change. Our culture provides the calibration; we provide the awareness of detecting and promoting change. When the cultural calibrators die off, only change will remain, and when individual memory goes, change itself will wink out.

Dreams and reveries are variations of consciousness in which we are shut off from the world of conventional action and stimulation, but can nonetheless simulate sensory impressions courtesy of random eye movements and fixations that activate neural pathways to stir up fleeting images from memory as if we were fully awake. Dreamselves cannot engage, for they can neither perceive nor act, so we must make do with memory, letting our dreams themselves illuminate the journey of the self we are, without being situated other than in our personal histories. As potential perceiver and potential actor, the dreamself is at the core of the waking self. We do well to pay close attention to our dreams as informants about the history of our core selves all the way back to infancy when, indeed, our deeds and impressions lay ahead of us. This so-called theory of consciousness is the narrative told to me in my dreams, and I am sharing with you as a gesture of neighborliness.

The upshot of this narrative is that we are heavily invested in our subjective consciousness as the lived edition of our personal survival—that tale of two centers facing off against each other as opposite poles of our engagements, separated by the membrane that serves as our skin. Tale of two selves, for the virtual world we imagine is largely fleshed out by our own experience as we remember it, so is an extension of our situated perspective as a kind of alter ego accompanying and complementing us in our experiment to see if we can’t get some things, at least, right. Which we all manage to do as demonstrated by our spiraling engagement in the streaming process of mental life, giving others the impression we are present and accounted-for. To those others, we serve as the virtual poles complementing their inner selves as situated in the shadows of their own impressions, dreams, and actions.

End of excerpt from One Man’s Mind. Happy holidays!  –Steve from our one and only Planet Earth

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).

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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).

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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 330: Get a Job?

October 10, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.

U.S. corporations have gone global, and shipped their jobs overseas to be done by cheaper labor. Leaving millions unemployed here at home, wiping out the entire middle class. So when told to get a job in order to pay taxes to support government programs, where do we start? Not by scanning employment ads—compared to the old days, there aren’t any. We’re broke, the government is broke, the economy is broke. Getting ahead has become an old-fashioned idea. We appear to be stuck where we are.

This is a classical catch-22 situation: we have to, but we can’t. We can’t work for someone else for a decent wage because such jobs aren’t on offer. We have to look for service jobs that pay less than we need, or think we need. How are we going to get through school, make enough to get married and have a family, and still meet our basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, transportation, so we can even hope to lead a decent life without lugging around a killing burden of debt?

We’ve been in this situation long enough to see that the inherent risks of a capitalistic system are not borne by those with money, as is so often claimed, but by the laborers they hire to do their work—those abandoned when employers cut the cost of production by moving overseas, leaving those at home in the lurch. Profit depends on keeping labor costs low and selling-prices high, so the working class finds itself not only used, but expendable. Capitalism, by definition, creates wealth for the rich, not for those they hire to do their work. A widening gap between rich and poor is inherent in the system itself.

We discover ourselves to be living in a society set up to favor some members over others who are placed at high risk. That is, those who establish and maintain the system use their employees for personal benefit. It is the bosses who get ahead, not the workers and their families, who in these nonunionized days must fend for themselves.

When you get a job, you find yourself working for an employer who pays you money to do whatever task he assigns you. On company time, you surrender your right to engage the world on your own, so putting others’ personal goals in place of yours, which has come to be the modern way of selling our souls by assuming all the risk of employment, placing ourselves at the mercy of those who decide to hire us, or not.

In this blog I have maintained all along that how you engage the world is your business and no one else’s because it is precisely who you are. You aren’t going to become someone by and by, you are that person here and now. If your realization of who you are lags behind your deeds, then you need to catch up with yourself and not think of yourself as a child anymore—as you once were but no longer are. By placing ourselves in the care of an employer, we cling to our childhood dependence on others who may be only slightly ahead of ourselves in their personal development and self-awareness.

First we are shaped by others in this life, then we arrive at self-realization and discover who, exactly, our unique life histories have turned us into. That process of self-discovery authorizes us to make ourselves happen in the world through our own engagements, giving us the means for advancing ourselves by lifting our own bootstraps, so that we fulfill ourselves by our own efforts, to our own ends.

Quite simply, we must be ourselves to the fullest because we can’t be anyone else. If we don’t do that work, no one else can do it for us. Not our spouses, not our children, not our friends, not our employers.

I look upon this present so-called recession as an opportunity to rethink our relationship to the society we find ourselves living in. If we are devoting our life energies to the wellbeing of others, sacrificing ourselves for their profit, then now is our chance to rework that bargain so that we benefit equally from our parallel or mutual engagements (anything less amounts to enslavement).

If we don’t know how to proceed, we must educate ourselves to listen to our own inner voice, not the voice from the school, factory, or community loudspeaker telling us what to do. We are sold the idea that education prepares us to get a “good” job. The truth is that what we need to learn is how to engage effectively with whatever situation we find ourselves in—including situations we cannot even imagine—using the powers inherent in our bodies and minds to advance themselves by teaching us to engage on behalf of our personal values, interests, and formative experiences. If schools don’t help us learn how to do that, they are serving someone else’s agenda, not their students’.

The fuller we become ourselves in our engagements, the more we encourage those around us to be fully themselves in theirs. We can’t instruct them in what to do, but by serving as examples, we help others to figure that out for themselves.

The question is, how can we engage our surroundings so that we complement one another as we grow into ourselves? The world we have lived in up till now has stressed competition between winners and losers. In politics and economics, if you don’t win you wonder why you even try. But that’s not how an equitable society should work, one group thriving at another’s expense. If we don’t all become winners, we all are diminished to that same extent. The current income and power disparity teaches us that.

No, we can’t engage in political, economic, or educational systems that pit us against one another. We are in this life together, so all must have an equal chance to survive. The way to do that is for each to accept full responsibility for becoming his- or herself to the max. Who we become is who we already are but don’t yet recognize as ourselves. That work is a job of self-cultivation by developing skills of engagement driven from the inside, not laid upon us by others for their personal advantage.

These are metaphysical issues seldom addressed in the press. My claim is that reality is our own personal doing in interacting as we do with the world, not the reality of faces smiling upon us out of the mythological or fantasy world crafted by advertising and public relations firms, members of the same world that dictates the curriculums of our local schools. In truth, reality is in the care of each one of us as we bioenergetically engage the world around us in terms of the situations we believe ourselves to be in at the time. We build that reality through every one of the engagements we conduct in behaving as we do, situation after situation as viewed from our unique, subjective perspective.

If that operative reality is to change in our favor, we have to alter how we engage day by day. Which seems like a good topic for my next post to this blog.

Thanks for listening. I remain as ever, y’r friend, –Steve of this planet we live on, the only one we have or, indeed, that will have us

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.       [Including 16 photos.]

Where do Mitt Romney’s non-taxpaying moochers go on vacation? I don’t know about the others, but this September I allowed myself three days to explore Campobello Island in New Brunswick off Lubec, Maine, where I wanted to do some serious mooching. By mooching I mean engaging my surroundings with my eyes and my camera, checking on the situations I am apt to get myself into so I can make a fitting response to what’s going on in my world. My partner was ready to take a break, too, so we drove together through Washington County and over the international bridge between Lubec and Campobello, to the island where F.D.R. took vacations long ago before he got polio.

We spent three days in Herring Cove Provincial Park and Roosevelt International Park, as beautiful an area as I have ever been in. Since this was our only vacation all year, we had some heavy mooching to do if it was going to have to last us for twelve months. I took the makings of three breakfasts and three lunches, she provided three dinners. We tented out in Herring Cove Campground, and did little but explore the whole time.

Since I feel obligated to submit a report to Mr. Romney to justify my existence for those three days—on the off-chance he might approve of how I occupied myself—I offer this accounting of how I used my time. We arrived just at dusk, so set up the tent in a hurry, avoiding low ground where rainwater would collect, and then ate a quick dinner. That was Friday night. The forecast for Saturday was wind and rain by early afternoon, so we started out early in the morning by visiting the beach at Cranberry Point. Yes, there was the Lubec Channel Light, just as the brochure said it would be—looking every bit the giant sparkplug they said it resembled. Carole, that’s my partner, suffered from stomach distress, so lay on the shore with a smooth beach stone in each hand to heal herself. And I walked up and down the beach, photographing the Duck Islands, the waves, clouds on the horizon, a painted lady butterfly, the lighthouse, and West Quoddy Light across the channel in the U.S. of A.

When it started to rain, we visited the Roosevelt International Park visitor center, and spent a couple of hours refreshing our memories of F.D.R.s life and presidency. They had fifteen of his notable speeches piped into a cathedral-style table radio, so it was like old times, reminding me of December 7, 1941, when I first heard of the Japanese stealth bombing of Pearl Harbor. If it hadn’t been for F.D.R., I wouldn’t be the moocher I am today, so I had no difficulty paying my respects to his memory.

When the rain let up, we headed for the northern end of the island to visit East Quoddy Light, which a woman walking her dog told us might be turned into guest accommodations. An adult bald eagle was riling up the gulls on the rocks, looking like he (a tercel one-third smaller than a female) was determined to eat one for dinner. He landed on top of a nearby spruce and balanced himself in the wind by much flapping of wings, then dove off and made a fly-by of where we were standing. I got several photos of that foray, before he settled down on the rocks and just sat there eying the gulls, who mercilessly harassed him by diving at his neck from behind.

You get the idea of how I go about mooching by following my nose to whatever looks interesting. I took 355 photos in three days, and the day I got back, made a 106-slide PowerPoint summary of my brief Canadian engagement, a sample of which I include in this blog. That’s the best way of letting Mr. Romney and the rest of the world know what I was doing by actually posting the evidence of my nonstop engagement with birds, flowers, butterflies, stones, beach art, and my partner Carole. That’s how I justify my existence when somebody challenges me, by showing them what I’m up to.

Whether you’re ready or not, here come the photos: 1) The Duck Islands, 2) Herring Cove with storm clouds, 3) shiny black stone on the beach, 4) the eastern horizon (I’m fascinated by that limit to my existence), 5) a bunch of pebbles, 6) more pebbles, 7) sandpiper on Raccoon Beach, 8) two urchins in sea wrack, 9) a new-hatched monarch butterfly, 10) cliff at the end of Herring Cove, 11) folk art made of the rubber bands lobstermen use to bind lobster claws, 12) a spiral engraved in the sand of Herring Cove with a stick, 13) a totem made by piling up beach stones, and 14-16) constructions such as people leave behind when visiting Raccoon Cove on Campobello Island.

The first ten photos are products my actions in engaging the island, the last six are products of other people’s engagements, left behind for posterity to appreciate, then to succumb to the natural forces ruling all engagements on the island.

Slide1Slide2 Slide3Slide4 Slide5 Slide6 Slide7 Slide8 Slide9Slide10Slide11Slide12 Slide13Slide14Slide15Slide16

That’s the kind of thing I engage with when I and my partner go on vacation. It’s pretty close to my life’s work, engaging the landscapes through which I pass as I go. I see myself as living a life of civility and respect for the wonders of this Earth. At least I don’t make pornographic films, weapons of mass destruction, or money based on bilking others of their life’s savings. I do as little damage as I can, and above all, take responsibility for the workings of my mind because, after all, it’s my mind, and I’m the only one with access to it. My mind directs my behavior, and my behavior affects other people, so I try to set up an exchange of civility as I walk the way of my life.

Oh, yes, this is my 329th post to my blog on consciousness, my effort to understand my personal brand of absurdity so that I can fulfill that last promise to live on peaceful terms with my neighbors by conducting myself as decently, courteously, and respectfully as I can because I know that no one has it easy, and a ruckus from my direction is the last thing anyone needs. Not that I haven’t caused trouble in the past, but I’m getting better by knowing myself up-close and personal, as they used to say on TV, which I know because I was there watching it as recently as twenty-five years ago.

That’s my mooching report for this week. Pretty bland, I would say—especially when compared to the trouble a lot of workers cause by fighting needless wars of aggression, wringing other people’s money out of the economy, keeping people locked up in detention and solitary confinement, shipping jobs overseas, and generally causing mayhem the way politicians and corporate executives like to do to keep folks stirred up and out of sorts so they’ll consume more than they need just to keep the money flowing to the coffers of the well-off and famous.  

Between mooches I work with an estuary and its watershed to keep it in good shape for coming generations, and hang out with remnants of the Occupy Movement in Maine, trying to convert to an assembly for promoting civil exchanges within the local community as opposed to monetary exchanges—as if sports and the economy are all we have to talk about when people get together. How about learning from and about one another, since each one of us is unique and largely unknown to anyone else?

Submitted with humility and sincerity, –Steve of Planet Earth