Embracing all the ways of the human world, “culture” labels a concept so large and abstract that it has room for almost any idea, construct, behavior, object, or institution we can imagine being projected outward from the collective human mind onto the natural world. Pizza is an aspect of culture, as is a school bus, AK-47, hula hoop, an abacus, the Eifel Tower, and religious strife in the Middle East.

Reduced to a metaphor, culture has many faces. It can be seen as:

  • A people’s collective human agenda writ large on the Earth.
  • The façade we erect to make nature acceptable to us.
  • The mask we force nature to wear in our presence to reshape its looks to our liking.
  • The great mirror we put up to reflect our personal likes and dislikes as if they were features of the world.
  • The wall we build around ourselves to keep the wild world at bay.
  • The stage set we prefer to our natural setting.
  • The human context we are born to, including its language, vocabulary, reference libraries, statistics, artifacts, histories, wars, arts, sciences, ideas, monuments, communication media, ways of getting about, trade routes, and all the rest.

Think Mount Rushmore, Hoover Dam, Suez Canal, Stonehenge, The Koran, Bible, Sayings of Confucius. Songs of Woody Guthrie. Beethoven string quartets. Our courts and penal system. Cosmology through the ages. Be sure to include Facebook, Google, Wikipedia, Amazon, and the legislative stalemate in Washington.

Culture is nothing less than the public forum where we engage throughout our lives, the stage where we each give our personal performance. We ought to know, we built it ourselves. Not the original, but the one we keep running in good order with daily contributions of our collected dreams, needs, and desires. In that sense, culture is a reification (thingification) of our thoughts, imaginings, hopes, fears, and all the rest of the contents of our personal black boxes.

When we were infants, the then culture of our birth family calibrated our inner workings in the terms we would grow into and live by for the rest of our lives. It gave us a repertory of numbers, letters, words, gestures, symbols, songs, poems, stories, behaviors, lies, and beliefs useful in describing our inner thoughts and situations.

Now that we are older and know the ropes, we give back in kind to keep the show going for the next generation, modified to slight degree by the gleanings of our cumulative personal experience. As adults, the whole thing is now our intellectual property because we’ve given it nothing less than our perceptions, meanings, judgments, actions, and engagements, all adding up to nothing less than our inner lives turned inside-out.

I remember being told that I was born in Faxton Memorial Hospital in Utica, New York, in the dark days of The Depression in 1932. That puts the culture I was born to in Upstate New York during days of high unemployment. One of the primary goals people had in that place and time was, if not getting “ahead,” at least holding their own. I was given tests in school to see how I would measure-up at getting a good job. Which was seen as something called my “intelligence.”

Nobody could tell me what that word meant, but it seemed to imply how smart I was in terms of doing well on the test, and perhaps beyond that, doing well in life. Cultures do a lot of that—gauging how well young people can expect to fit into the beliefs of their particular segment of humanity. Which often turns out to be a kind of superstition that such tests actually measure a meaningful mental quality that individuals are said to possess in varying amounts.

So here I am today, a grown-up child of that upstate culture, writing about “situated intelligence” as if I knew what it meant. It is only fair that I share that understanding with anyone who happens to read these words.

I use situated intelligence in referring to the key link between perception and action in individual human minds. In my last post (Reflection 427), I wrote, “Consciousness comes down to having behavioral options and choosing among them.” I see situated intelligence as the agent responsible in each of us for making such judgments and decisions regarding how to respond to any particular situation as based on the configuration of a great many dimensions contributing to the nature of just that situation.

As I now see it, personal intelligence responds to three Questions. Perception, I have said, gives our best answer to the question, “What’s going on?” from our point of view at that moment. Judgment answers the question, “What does that mean in my case?” With action following on to give the answer to, “What should I do?”

As I see it, our intelligence plays the central role in coming up with answers to those questions in order, so linking perception of ongoing events to actions meant as an appropriate response to those same events. What I call situated intelligence serves as the mediating agent that routes incoming signals toward outgoing actions in a meaningful way.

That link, in other words, is the central focus of what I call our loops of engagement with selected aspects of our external environments, enabling us to fit our behaviors to the situations we find ourselves in as best we can figure out what they are.

The several dimensions of consciousness constituting the situation that we feel we are in include sensory impressions, remembrance of similar situations in the past, emotions, values, imagination, understanding, humor, life force (available energy), ideas, thoughts, attitudes, excitement, interest, curiosity, among other constituents of inner awareness. That particular situation is our judgment of what all those dimensions mean or add up to, allowing us to choose the behavioral option that best serves our amalgamated interests at the moment.

That is what I mean by situated intelligence in developing these posts to my blog.

My thought is that my ongoing engagement with my surroundings is run by my intelligence as the agent designated to provide just that service. That agent is who I am. It is not a little man in my head, it is no one else but myself, agent-in-charge of matching my perceptions to actions intended to promote my personal well-being.

That is my conclusion after considering my many engagements on the cultural level of my lifelong experience. My experience is embedded in the particular culture that has calibrated my mind from the first minutes after my birth eighty-two years ago.

I am not making this up out of my head. I am actively engaged with the culture that has enveloped me every moment of my life. This is a long-lasting, team project for which I happen to be the primary spokesperson from an introspective point of view. Other than serving in that capacity, I have nothing else to offer. I have no choice. I am committed to being myself, my very own situated intelligence, until my last minute of conscious life as shaped by the culture I was born to.

Action is the payoff: demonstrable proof of the mind. It is how we move ourselves ahead from one moment to the next. Initiating a process I call “wayfaring” as our mode of being in the world by means of taking one step after another. Getting ahead is our religion and our profession. It is not a product but a process as told in the playing, not the winning or losing.

The issue is always: What now? What next? What next after that? In other words, threads of engagement. By which we exercise our perceptive and active skills as joined by the judgments we make and the meanings we find in the process of advancing the flow of energy through our minds from perception to action.

My focus on action ends with a glimpse at sex as one act we all share in common. I have reviewed the route within the figurative black box sheltering each of our minds, from arousal, expectancy, and attention on to the formation of sensory impressions, recognition, categorization, to meaningful understanding.

Then I have traced the various routes that connect perception to action via reflexes, mimicry, habits, routines, prejudice, and orthodoxy, all of which bypass full conscious deliberation and awareness. Consciousness centers on the mediating faculty of mind I call “situated intelligence” that create the situations we face in their various mental dimensions such as I have listed throughout these posts. Those dimensions include understanding, imagination, emotion, biological values, ethical values, ideas, thoughts, the life force that drives us, and the many contributions of remembrance.

Consciousness answers three questions. Perception fields the question, “What’s happening?” Judgment fields, “What does that mean in my current situation?” Action gives our answer to, “What shall I do under these circumstances?”

These three stages of mental engagement also entail unconscious loops within the brain that shape, sharpen, and emphasize aspects of the mind’s ongoing engagement with the world for the sake of clear judgment in forming an appropriate response to the situation we find ourselves in at the moment. Each action we make leads on to the next moment, setting up the one after that.

Our situated intelligence forms what we think of as the durable “I/me” at the juncture of perception and action where our sequential rounds of engagement come to completion as staging areas for the cycles to follow—hopefully with increasing refinement.

The self is no independent observer of that flux; it is the ongoing flow of engagement itself, the inner wayfarer at the heart of our being active, alert, and alive.

In the following posts, my task becomes that of extending the inner portions of our loops through perception, judgment, and action beyond the figurative—yet functional—walls of the black boxes in which our minds are sheltered by the outer limits of the bodily membrane or skin that separates our inner personhood from the great world beyond.

In that outer world we find our way along the shores of a world ocean much as our one-celled ancestors swam in the primal, energy-rich seas of ancient Earth. We take what we need to live from that ocean, in trade for our waste. I divide that world ocean into the four great bays which we explore during our life travels: nature, culture, community, and family.

Those divisions of the world ocean conduct the waves we make by our outgoing gestures to far shores, where they reflect and return to us in flowing waveforms of energy representing four aspects or levels of the world’s response to our actions. Which we study from the perspective of our personhood and life experience, interpret, and transform into our next round of engagement.

The world ocean is the basis on which our consciousness is founded. We exist to interpret its messages as accurately as we can. So do we place ourselves in the situations that drive us forward. Consciousness is not ours alone. We share our interpretive abilities with the stimuli striking our senses from the ambient in which we live. We are creatures not merely of our brains, but of our home planet. We are Earthlings to the core.

On to the worlds of nature, culture, community, and family!




(Copyright © 2009)

Hey, it’s August; I’ll try to make this short.

I’m not talking months of the year here but old guys getting together with young sweeties. Rich, horny old guys with sexy young things looking out for their futures. When I was younger I thought it was gross, but now I see evolution’s point. The geezer is a proven survivor, and probably with enough money in the bank to give sweetie what she wants. For her part, Sweetie wants to bankroll her future, and getting in bed with Uncle Scrooge is one way to do that if you are a looker with not a lot of skills to fall back on. Young guys can be fun and energetic, but they lack the wherewithal to provide Sweetie the lifestyle she wants or thinks she deserves. Old sweeties that are Scrooge’s own age would be past menopause, so not be able to provide the children that is the larger point of the union as proof that Scrooge still has what it takes to be a man at his age.

Crazy, yes, but not as crazy as it might seem. Skewing the age relationship between sexual partners in this direction connects the sperm of proven male survivors with the eggs of women having the brightest prospects for living long enough, well enough to raise their children to sexual maturity, and as well-funded matriarchs, their grand and great-grandchildren. We think of women as losing their “looks” as they age, while men acquire a dignity of demeanor that makes them seem ageless. So evolution tilts the scales toward younger women getting together with older men for the sake of the probable survival of their children and furtherance of their respective genetic lines. In other words, what works works. Evolution is ever practical, rating performance higher than ideals and good intentions. If the past belongs to these old geezers, then the future belongs to their young partners. It’s as simple as that.

It is on this level of thinking that the true difference between Republicans and Democrats becomes clear. One party is for Everyman and the downtrodden poor, the other for the Haves who can afford to provide their kids with the best of everything. Republicans take care of their own, Democrats want to give everyone a chance to get ahead of where they are now. Politics is no more rational than sports, organized religion, or economics. These are gut-level, emotional activities people engage in for personal benefit as they see it. If there’s an abundance stockpiled at the top, then let a few crumbs trickle down; or, by a different view, Everyman deserves equal treatment and to share in a redistribution of wealth that was taken from them in the first place.

Under this way of thinking lurks the pecking order that establishes a social hierarchy from the powerful all the way down to the weak and infirm. That way, everybody knows her place in society and doesn’t get uppity or go after more than he deserves. It’s as if Republicans speak for the leading half of the social order, Democrats for the trailing half. Alpha and his mate deserve the best of everything, Omega and his mate get whatever’s left over. I know a thing or two about pecking orders from personal experience:

It is mid-March and the ice in the bay is starting to go out on the tide. The upper shallows are still frozen, but the seaward ice has already gone, leaving a serrated edge separating the ice shelf from open water almost as a sign of the division between winter and spring—or at least of warmer days ahead. I am watching 700 greater scaups (ducks that feed on mussels) have their seasonal fling. First a banquet in which for an hour they dive to the bottom and bob up with mouths stuffed with green and red algae; then an hour-long nap with heads tucked neatly under wing; and now this final procession in which they line up along the edge of the ice as sunset approaches and cruise along a foot or two away from the ice, males and females mixed together, forming a great line of ducks processing in orderly fashion as if to mark the end of winter and the beginning of the mating season.

I witnessed these festivities in 1987, and didn’t know what to make of them. Thinking about it, I now believe the ducks were pairing off according to their standing in the population, literally mapping out the pecking order, each duck taking the position in line appropriate to its rank. I’ve seen scaups fly in a line, and take off one at a time when threatened by an approaching eagle, each waiting for its neighbor to clear before leaping out of the water and flying around the point, making way for the next, next, and next after that. 

I think Republicans believe in a pecking order for humans, and Democrats don’t. Or put differently, Republicans see themselves at the head of the social order, Democrats themselves at the rear. Trickle-down works for Republicans, upward mobility for Democrats. The odd thing is, Republicans are happy to keep Democrats where they are while Democrats put all their energy into moving ahead and getting a fair share of the public purse. The two ends of the line will never conga together, so with both clinging to their respective views of social order, disorder and conflict are sure to ensue. Without doubt, Cheney-Bush placed themselves and their ilk high in the sky, and instigated a regime that would keep them and their pals aloft, while Obama-Biden are now clawing their way out of the hole their predecessors dug for them, hoping for a glimpse of the sun.

Does that mean the old geezers are apt to be Republicans, sweet young things Democrats? Hardly. Each sticks to its own kind at its own end of the line, and revels in complaining about its opposite numbers. But the rules you play by differ according to where you place yourself in the social order strung out in your head. If you don’t vie with Alpha, you go by the one who sets the standard and tone for your neighborhood and define your place in relation to him or her.

In truth, there are multiple pecking orders, depending on the criteria for success in one social idiom or another. If age, wealth, and power put you at the top of one social order, youth, beauty, and agility put you at the top of another. So Sweetie is an Alpha in her idiom as Scrooge is in his. The strong, the fast, the knowing, and the clever are all Alphas in their respective spheres of consciousness. Crime bosses and drug lords are Alphas outside the law. Sweetie herself may even be a Democrat, pulling for social justice, fairness, and equality, and Scrooge is happy to humor her because she brings him so much pleasure and happiness.

Consciousness is the place where all this plays out, each person evaluating her gifts and accomplishments by her own lights in relation to those around her. One of the joys of being alive is watching each one’s self-opinion play out in the surrounding arena of striving humanity. If you can’t be at the head of the line, you can claim to be the head of your segment of the line, and that’s just as good. May-December matches are given us to celebrate and enjoy along with every other mixed metaphor. In nature, cross-pollination keeps genetic strains mixed up and healthy so species don’t get too fixed and revert to outmoded ways. Even Democrats battling with Republicans might be a good thing to keep each side on its toes. It is sometimes painful to watch, but it seems to have become one of our most popular entertainments.

Scaup Procession