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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will follow up that query in my next blog.

Reflection 323: Deep Structure

September 24, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which leads to my concluding simile:

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection 320: Wild Once More

September 17, 2012

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

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

Like flies on the carcass of a dead snowshoe hare.

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

As dead trees—snags—are natural.

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

P1020733 96-red-pine-bark

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

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

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

P1020670 96-fungi-2

P1020919 96-lichen-1 P1020539 96-cranberry

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2012 by Steve Perrin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection 318: Self-Engagement

September 12, 2012

Copyright 2012 by Steve Perrin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2012 by Steve Perrin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is good to remember how wild words can be, especially in tense situations. On that note I’ll sign off for now. Y’r brother, —Steve from Planet Earth

Copyright 2012 by Steve Perrin.

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.      [With nine photos.]

The lichen old man’s beard doesn’t sound very wild, but when you see clumps of it growing on tree branches, fine pale-green filaments waving in the wind, you wonder, What is this stuff?, I’ve never seen anything like it. Great hair-like masses growing on trees!

This is not wildness in the sense of being unruly, savage, or dangerous, but more in being strange, curious, unexpected, or even whimsical. Old man’s beard is a curiosity because so seldom met with in the woods. It lives only where air vapor is unusually wet, as in damp or foggy areas along the coast where winds off ocean currents bring moisture onto forested shores.

In such places old man’s beard thrives by seeming to live on air—or, more accurately, air laden with moisture, giving a hoary, wild look to the trees it attaches to.

P1020316 96-omb-1P1020280 96-omb-2P1020284 96-omb-3P1020307 96-omb-4P1020308 96-omb-5P1020314 96-omb-6P1020309 96-omb-7P1020311 96-omb-8P1020315 96-omb-9Northern parula warblers make their nests in old man’s beard, using it for shelter and protection, not to catch prey. To me it is a reminder of how much of the substance of plants is derived from carbon dioxide in the air. The other chief ingredient being water, in this case airborne as well. Producing exotic growths that seem to sprout from nothing. Except air isn’t nothing, it’s just that human eyes can not see it, so it comes across as a magician’s trick.

This post rounds out the gallery of wildness I’ve been preoccupied with this summer: tree bark (302), lichens (303), crab shells in strange places (304), Indian pipes (305), fungi from above (306), fungi from underneath (307), flowers (308), shore life (309), fallen trees (310), standing trees (311), ground webs (312), and now one particular lichen—old man’s beard (313).

My aim in this series has been to illustrate the kinds of events I engage with through photography, presenting as much a portrait of my mind as of my physical surroundings. Without my mind, none of these posts would have appeared. My mind is always on the near end of my situation, providing a certain perspective; what I actively engage is on the far end, providing an object of my experience, again as seen from my mind’s point of view. This kind of situated seeing (hearing, touching) is the essence of phenomenology, which makes up a good part of the matter I deal with in this blog. Which I hope to expand upon in my next post.

Thanks for watching the show. I remain y’r friend and brother, –Earthling Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.    [With nine photos.]

Sheet webs, funnel webs, fairy webs, ground webs—whatever we call them, they show up when moisture condenses on their delicate strands, making them suddenly visible where formerly it was easy to overlook them. On the foggy morning of August 3rd, I awoke to find myself surrounded by such webs like so many white handkerchiefs spread on the moss to dry. They called to me, and I was immediately engaged with them, knowing I had to work fast before they’d be gone. These webs are wild, as fireflies and hummingbirds are wild.

Camera at the ready, I stalked them one by one in what turned out to be one of the most difficult photo assignments I ever took on. Their gossamer nature was so flimsy, it simply vanished before my lens. But I knew they were not imaginary, so kept at it until I captured enough pictures to post to my blog.

P1020343 96-webs-1P1020342 96-webs-2P1020325 96-webs-3P1020296 96-webs-4P1020254 96-webs-5P1020303 96-webs-6P1020304 96-webs-7 P1020332 96-webs-8P1020320 96-webs-9No matter how delicate it was, I knew each web was a trap. With the one who laid it stationed in the escape tunnel at the heart of the web—until I made my approach. Then she shot down the tunnel and was gone, placing her handiwork at my mercy. No matter how carefully engineered, every spider web is as wild as wildness gets. It is an instrument for snaring and killing prey.

The webs are not supposed to be visible to those preyed upon. Fog or dew highlight each strand, warning the susceptible away, undoing a long night’s work. But that only adds to the hit-or-miss wild quality of each spider’s endeavor. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Life in every case is a gamble with no winnings guaranteed. Exactly the kind of situation that hooks me into engaging with the improbable facts of life.

Every one of us is vulnerable, all the time—driving on the highway, dreaming in our beds, eating lunch, going on vacation. A bright young woman, a college student, fell while hiking the Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park several weeks ago, fell onto rocks below, and was pronounced dead at the hospital. We seldom realize the risks we are taking in making ourselves happen as we do. Flying insects do not sense the web waiting below them—until condensed moisture gives it away.

It is the wildness around me that I engage and makes me vigilant, giving my life a fine edge, rousing me to consciousness. And beyond that, to posting pictures to my blog about consciousness itself so we can all realize what sorts of situations we’ve gotten ourselves into, and what we can do about it.

Take care. I remain y’r brother and friend, –Steve from the same planet you’re from.