390. Vivre la difference!

December 27, 2014

Mental judgments, the very stuff of consciousness, are based on either-or comparisons. On summing good points and bad points to see which tally is more convincing. Comparison of possibilities is one of our primary means of survival because, as I see it, it is the method that our nervous system is dedicated to.

In these posts, I have already pointed to the role of comparison in such vital functions as depth perception, directional hearing, and maintaining our balance. Simple acts such as steering a boat by a compass are acts of comparison, in this case between our charted and actual headings, the difference—the dis-parity—between them indicating the degree and direction of the course correction it is our duty to make in order to reach our destination.

The disparity between two signals is what we are aware of, not either one or the other by itself. As the French say regarding the sexes, vivre la difference! because it is precisely such relative differences that elevate us into states of awareness.

Consciousness is all about relationships, not things in themselves. About how the present stands up against expectancies grounded in bygone days. About how engagements turn out in comparison to our original intents. About how jokes defy our expectations. About how perceptions gauge the fit between our intentions and the concrete results we actually achieve.

Our primary approach to judgment is to assess how a given turn of events fits with the situation we find ourselves in. That is, fits our purposes and engagements at the moment. Trial-and-error is the gateway to consciousness. Let’s see if this works or it doesn’t.

Is the glass half-full or half-empty? That depends on our perspective, which further depends on our situation. If we want more to drink, it’s half gone; if we’ve drunk all we want, it’s half-full. Being situational, consciousness comes in two polarities, encouraging or discouraging, affirming or negating, good or bad, considered or rash, wise or foolish. The sharp differences heighten the clarity and emphasis of the comparisons by which we decide our course between the well- or less-traveled roads ahead.

Comparison can be a measurement to a standard, or a simple judgment of the similarity and difference between any two things or events. We quickly notice the wrongness of the wasp in the jam jar, the rightness of the cherry atop the sundae.

I remember a teacher of aesthetics once remarking that he could discourse endlessly on the comparison between a cigarette and a piece of chalk (he then having one in each hand).

Being a highly visual person, I find symmetry and other comparative relationships in the features of almost everything I see and photograph. It is the tension or balance told by such graphic relationships that I notice more than the things in themselves, which are often incidental. I remember a faculty wife whose face was so perfectly symmetrical that I found it painful to look at her because, without any disparity, I had no comfort zone within which to admire her beauty.

Standards often turn out to be what we are used to, so are rooted in personal experience and opinion. I get tired of cold days in February so think a daytime temperature above freezing is just fine; a skier would find it too warm. Men and women vary widely in their primary, secondary, and behavioral sexual characteristics and preferences, yet convention has it that men are men and women are women, period. Only recently in America do we provide a few boxes to check for those who don’t fit either stereotype.

We are often optimistic or pessimistic about world affairs, reflecting polarized judgments about how things are going from our point of view. Optimists are prone to seeing virtues where pessimists harp on faults. Pollyannas find good in everyone; fault-finders thrive on what’s wrong. Some people shift moods between extreme states of mind: euphoria and depression, bursts of creativity and bouts of despair. At New Year’s we resolve to improve ourselves, and promise to do better next year. If sins didn’t call for either penance or forgiveness, church attendance would crash overnight.

Such polar attitudes toward comparative differences shed a clear light on the nature of consciousness. Of which I will say more in my next post.

 

Copyright 2012 by Steve Perrin.

Actions (including speech) are how we get out of our heads and make ourselves known to the world. To reach the point where considered action becomes possible, we must shift our attention from the felt situation that motivates us to judging what kind of act would suit that situation. Once in that place, we can set goals for ourselves, engage in projects and relationships meant to lead us toward achieving those goals, and then implement them by acting within our projects and relationships to make our situated selves happen in the world, which is as far as we can go on one particular run of conscious activity. We then start on a new run by paying attention to incoming sensory impressions as shaped by expectancy and arousal, which redirect us to a revised understanding of our situation, and on to a further round of mental activity.

So runs our loop of engagement, from expectancy to arousal, attention and sensory impressions; on to interpretation of those impressions, understanding them, feeling and valuing their import in the form of an experiential situation as an extension of our personal history; and then on to judging the significance of that situation, setting goals, planning projects and relationships, and finally, implementing them in terms of intentional actions in the world.

Consciousness doesn’t circle so much as spiral because every round is different. Details get refined, skills improved, awareness enlarged, goals more closely approached—all heightening the sense of engagement. Two things escape our attention because we cannot attend them: 1) the working of the brain in supporting the mind, and 2) the working of the world in formulating it’s response to our individual projects and relationships as enacted, which remains to be sensed and interpreted during further rounds of engagement.

In summary, our loops or spirals of engagement comprise formation of sensory impressions, construction of felt situations from those impressions as interpreted, and taking appropriate action in light and fulfillment of key situations. Round by round, consciousness streams by as it does on a journey or in games of tennis, baseball, chess, or charades. The play’s the thing; our engagements are ongoing. If we take a break, we simply engage in other ways, as in dreams and reveries, or while on vacation.

As children, we grow into ourselves, learning how to engage within the intimate circumstances of our rearing. As a result, there are as many styles of engagement as there are childhoods. For instance, as adults, those who learn to fend for themselves without empathic support often end up being out for themselves alone, or solely for their sort of people, and don’t worry about the general well-being or self-fulfillment of others so much as hitting the jackpot or scoring points for themselves. They can be highly competitive, even thriving on the misfortune of others, on making a killing, inciting violence, or waging wars of aggression. Cooperative or diplomatic engagements are not their thing. They act as if they were alone in the universe, so worry only about what they can get out of it, not what they can give to or share with others. Their game is king of the mountain, which pits one against everyone else, a stark parody of Darwinian evolution. “One for one, all for none,” is their cry, the source of a great deal of poverty, suffering, and human misery.

No, engagement with others is the key to survival, starting with being on good terms with yourself through introspection and self-understanding, moving up to satisfying and respectful engagements with others (often unlike yourself) through play, working together, cooperating—each identifying with all as multiple variations on a single theme. If you can’t see yourself in others, you are missing the point of why each one is unique. Which is to to add to a whole through individuation, complementarity, and cooperation. So do we all fit together in forming one human family within one earthling family, which we are in both cases.

No man and no woman is an island (Donne’s metaphor), entire of itself. We all may be unique, but we are not alone, and never have been. We are made to engage again and again—our minds are proof of that.

Each man and each woman is one piece of the puzzle (my metaphor) of humanity, and of all earthlings beyond. After 299 posts, that is my message. As ever, I remain, y’r brother, —Steve from planet Earth

Copyright 2012 by Steve Perrin.

Our minds hop from one to the next, situation-to-situation, like islands in an archipelago. From one instant of focus and feeling to another, that is our grand adventure, coming to clarity here, then moving on. Setting new goals, starting new projects, entering new relationships, one engagement after another like pearls on a string, event after event, adding up to a life.

There is an organic logic to this progression, like a sequence of base pairs serving as code for particular amino acids, which add to a particular protein, which folds to a particular shape, which performs a particular role in the life of a cell.

Every situation serves as the basis for the one after that. Awareness flows instant-to-instant, minute-to-minute, event-to-event, day-to-day. All adding, as I said, to a life.

Such are our loops of engagement. We reach for sensory impressions, interpret them, fit them to our understanding, then construct situations which we judge according to our fears, needs, and desires. From there we decide what action is called for if we are to be true to ourselves. We set realistic goals, channel our energy and skills into doable projects, seek help and support from those we trust, and make ourselves happen in the world in fitting response to the situation as we have constructed it from the evidence of our senses

After getting clear on a situation, we shift attention from perception to action—to what we are going to do about it. We set goals and get down to work. So does the life force—the urge to make ourselves happen—drive us to keep up with our situations as they develop.

Getting up, washing our face and combing our hair, walking the dog, fixing breakfast, getting the kids off to school, we prepare to take on the new day. We check the news or headlines to see how the situation has changed overnight. Then we schedule ourselves to get done the jobs we feel called to do, and do our best to meet the expectations we set for our daily performance. At the end of the day we review all we’ve done, and get set for the day after.

So goes the mind, the day, the life: situation-to-situation, with us at the core providing the energy, each doing his or her share of the work. All organic: body, mind, and life. The grand adventure in which we each play our part.

Organically, I remain, y’r friend, –Steve

Reflection 286: Layout

July 4, 2012

Copyright 2012 by Steve Perrin

Like the lay of the land, here’s how I see the lay of my mind.

I picture the basic layout of my mind (distinct from my brain) as consisting of two areas, an incoming, sensory area, and an outgoing, motor or behavioral area. Introspection ponders the interplay between the two areas to learn how sensory stimulation leads to physical action, and how action spurs further sensory stimulation.

My mind appears against a background of memories, dreams, a sense of my bodily position in space, among assorted cultural gifts such as language, numbers, science, religion, art, and other customary models for conducting our affairs, all of which I can draw upon at any time in becoming familiar with myself.

Too, my mind appears to be composed of diverse “elements” or “dimensions,” as a band is composed of players of diverse instruments, each contributing a different range of sounds. On the sensory side, I can detect degrees of interest or arousal, expectancy, and attention even before noticing sensory impressions at a particular level of sensory detail. I very quickly resort to interpretation of a concrete sensory impression in terms of a conceptual grouping of similar impressions, readily fitting it to a group I am familiar with through personal experience. This morning, for instance, I heard a bird call which I recognized as a series of notes sounded by what I call “black-capped chickadees,” thinking to myself, “that’s a chickadee” even though it may have been a mockingbird. I am capable of categorizing just a few chords as “Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.”

Still on the sensory side of my mind, I discover positive or negative feelings about how I receive sensory impressions based on generalizing from prior experiences, along with values I place on such things in my organized field of understanding the relationship between various sensory experiences as interpreted.

The upshot of all this sensory processing in my mind is a sense of the situation I am engaged in, raising the question of how I am to make an appropriate response to that situation to further develop my engagement. Which advances me to consideration of dimensions on the motor side of my mind leading to physical action.

On the motor side, I begin with judgments about my current situation, which inform my decisions about the direction I want to head and the goals I would like to achieve in furthering my current engagement. The goals suggest various projects and relationships I might undertake to achieve them. Here I enter the planning stage that prepares the way for specific actions to take as appropriate to my situation as I construe it in my mind. Executing the moves I plan to make, I monitor my behavior as I go with awareness of how my body is positioned to accomplish what I set out to do.

Then my surroundings change (or not) in response to my actions, affecting (or not) my senses in new ways, setting up another round of sensory and motor engagement in my ever streaming consciousness.

Through introspection, I see that I rely on the separate dimensions of my mind to different degrees as my circumstances require, and that I have alternative levels of engagement to fall back on to save time and energy in achieving a desired result.

To sum up, some of the dimensions of my mind that introspection might encounter include, on the sensory side: arousal, expectancy, attention, sensory impressions, various levels of detail, interpretation, feelings, values, understanding, all adding to the makeup of an existential situation as I construe it in awareness. And on the motor side: judgments, decisions, goals, projects, relationships, plans, all leading to more-or-less effective action in the world.

I offer this rough anatomy of what introspection can lead you to discover in your mind not to discourage you but more to whet your curiosity about what you might learn about yourself if you stick at it for a time. Is it worth the effort? Since there is no other alternative available to us mortals short of living to the end, I would say yes, it is worth it. If I had known at thirty what I now know at almost eighty, I think I could have made more of a significant contribution to saving humanity from self-destruction in the name of “progress.” Where you put your personal effort is up to you. I just want to insert an option that doesn’t get much play these days because nobody stands to make money from your personal effort to know yourself better. Two things are certain: we have not yet bought or fought our way to a better or happier world. I say it’s time to try something so old it seems new.

I remain, as ever, y’r friend, –Steve from Planet Earth

(Copyright © 2010)

What do I mean when I say we live in our heads, or on our own private planets?

I mean, for instance: Time is a convenient fiction, a designated standard of change against which other changes can be compared or measured. Time is a construct of the human mind. Think of your watch as a miniature model of the sun’s apparent motion around the Earth each day. When we ask what time it is, we mean in reference to that model of the sun’s fictional motion through space. Time is a game we play in our heads, extending it imaginatively backward to days before Earth and its sun were formed, all the way to the alleged big bang, and forward imaginatively to days after the sun itself or any sort of timekeeper will exists.

We loosely think of the ageing process as a product of time, as if time were an agent that causes people to grow old. But in fact age is nothing other than the collective physical and mental changes that, instead of coming from time, produce the illusion of time itself as a supposed medium making change possible. If we could manage not changing from what we are right now, we would be eternal; that is, we’d have no need for time.

Space, too is such a construct of imagination. Objects do not exist in space, they exist in relationship one to another in the human mind as viewed from a particular perspective. Space is not the medium of such relationships but a designated contextual framework overlaid upon them for the purpose of calibrating and measuring them in ways meaningful to human awareness. We find meaning in the concepts of both time and space, even though in and of themselves they are figments of the mind. Changes exist; relationships exist; and both require the presence of observers such as ourselves. Without us, time and space would not exist. Even with us being present, we demonstrably exist (we can pinch ourselves to find out), but they exist only as ideas or concepts in our thoughts, speech, and writing.

Time and space are human categorizations—ways of reaching out to the world in order to find it meaningful in terms we provide and understand. They are inventions, not discoveries, artifacts of culture, not nature. They are useful mental tools, right up there with toothbrushes and toilet paper to help us shape the world to our liking.

Laws and human rights, too, are similar categorizations, ideas projected outward as if they were properties of the world itself. If human rights were features of the world, there would also be ant rights, wolf rights, bacteria rights, virus rights, tree rights, and so on. No, it is we who maintain that human rights exist as a convenient fiction, and devote a considerable amount of time and energy to reifying, objectifying, or substantiating that idea. The propertied classes have given us the idea of private property, and crafted a maze of legal opinions to “prove” it is not merely an illusion. Imagine a robin claiming the territory around its nest as its private property to do with as it pleases, referring to words written on paper in the form of a deed to support its claim. The words make it so one creature on Earth has exclusive “ownership rights” to its portion of the planet, and can justly do battle with any rival creature that thinks otherwise. 

The scale at which we project human ideas into the world is an indicator of the scale at which we imagine those ideas in our minds. We generally don’t think overly large or small, but just right—at the scale of typical human engagements such as gestures (like waving at an approaching friend, or throwing a Frisbee or a ball), activities (flying a kite, playing football, mining a hilltop for coal), everyday structures (houses, city blocks, skyscrapers, airfields), or grand undertakings (famous battles, voyages of exploration, pandemics, missions to the moon). The resolution at which we pick out the relevant details of our lives is scaled to the dimensions of the human body and how we use it. We find it difficult to think at bedbug scale, elephant or giraffe scale, ends of the Earth scale, voyages to Mars scale, or galaxy scale. That is, the world in our heads is largely scaled to norms set by everyday personal experience. Think of Saul Steinberg’s New Yorker cover from the mid-1970s depicting the view west from 9th Street in Manhattan to “Hudson River,” “Jersey,” and, much diminished, the nameless far beyond.

Our personal planets are populated by myriad creatures to which we give names, forms, characteristics, and entire resumes, even though we know they aren’t really real—just pretend real—as if there were degrees of reality. But we shift from one degree to another as easily as any child captivated by Big Bird or Oscar the Grouch. Films, plays, and literature depend on our not making distinctions between degrees of engagement or believability. Every advertisement presents a hokey view of reality, as does every cartoon, public relations campaign, vote in Congress, or wedding ceremony. Without being overly fussy, we choose to believe what fits into our general scheme of things at the time. Consciousness is peopled by Bugs Bunny, The Hulk, Paul Bunyan, Moses, Captain Nemo, Raskolnikoff, Aida, the Cowardly Lion, and Sugarplum Fairy. Yes, we tell our children, there is a Santa Clause, each supernatural (better, subnatural) being having a secure place near our hearts as well as in the depths of our minds.

We rush to demonize or lionize others in defending how we choose to characterize them, pointing our fingers with glee at those who fall short of or exceed our routine expectations for human behavior within what we consider a normal range. It doesn’t take more than one true confession to shift a saint to the opposite extreme of our personal Pantheon: witness Tiger Woods, Elliott Spitzer, Mark Sanford, John Edwards, Bernie Madoff, and Donald Rumsfeld. Men seem to have a hard time measuring up to their pretensions of virtue. In each of their minds they remain that innocent little kid who is not capable of doing wrong. From governor or attorney general to lowly two-timer in one day! Dontcha just love it! Everybody does. Where, then, does reality lie? Which persona is real? How are we to categorize the male animal?

Even members of the Supreme Court, who you’d hope would know where they reside, do not live in the real world. On one hand Justice John Paul Stevens takes his lived experience into account in interpreting the Constitution, as the framers must have taken their own experience in their day. On the other hand, Justice Antonin Scalia claims to have direct access to the intent of the framers by consulting the words they committed to paper in composing the original document, even though Earth has orbited the sun 223 times since those heady days, slaves are no longer regarded as property, women can vote, and usage of the English language has strayed far beyond the conventional bounds that prevailed in the seafaring-agrarian days of the thirteen colonies.

There is something in the human mind that loves to be fooled and to fool others. When I visit my son Michael’s grave on his birthday in February each year, I find bright blues and reds of artificial flowers with plastic greens poking from waterless jars buried in snow before other graves. Such displays always stop me in my tracks to consider the intent of placing such bouquets. Setting out real flowers at Memorial Day I can understand, but false ones out of season gives me pause. I see a show of remembrance but not remembrance itself, as if good intentions sufficed, or giving impressions was the issue. Fortunately, the dead are blind and cannot watch the little plays staged on their behalf. I am being judgmental here, a quality of mind that keeps me from adorning my son’s grave with plastic flowers from China. Usually, his grave marker is buried under snow, but I know exactly where it is in relation to the great oak overhead, and where his ashes are placed. I visit the grave to converse with the son who still lives in me, and is with me wherever I go. Where is reality, cremated and buried beneath a stone, or in my head?

We love to be fooled by slight of hand because it creates a slight of mind that is thrilling in being inexplicable. Whatever our age, magic shows make us wonder about the nature of things. How is it possible to saw a lady in half without doing violence to her body? She doesn’t seem to mind, and even wiggles her toes during the cut. Suspension of skepticism and disbelief makes children of us all. How do cars move? How do planes fly? How do pumpkins get so big? How will St. Peter react to what he reads under our name in the great ledger when we show up at the gate? Baudelaire’s characterization of genius as childhood recalled at will applies to the part of our conscious minds that defies the ageing process by staunchly staying the same throughout our lives. Or at least seems to stay the same, even if periodically updated. The child within may well be a fictional persona, but the old feeling of innocent wonder and curiosity is available to us at all times. And that feeling recalled in the face of mysterious events gives us pleasure, so once we find our way back to it, we go there as often as we can. Perhaps it is on that level that we are so taken with artificial flowers today. And read Marvel Comics as kids.

Sporting competitions bring out a similar childhood sense of right and wrong, good guys and bad. In the bleachers, we become our childhood selves once again, living solely for the moment, being fully engaged, waving our arms, jumping up, yelling with mindless abandon. When we are in that place, nothing else matters but the game being played as we see it from our childhood perspective. It is no wonder that the sports section is a fixture of the local newspaper. It invites us to release our inner child, to engage now as we did in our days of non-stop excitement and wonder. The substrate of the so-called real world is Baudelaire’s sense of genius being rooted in childhood, not to be simply recalled but relived in the moment. Meaning is there when that happens, old days mapping onto new, rejuvenating us by early concepts reaching out to sensory patterns in the now, recognizing them, making them seem familiar, and so true.

Lying in bed last night, I realized that in language, art, and music alike, patterns of relationship are everything. The brain is a seeker of relationships between patterns, and when it finds such relationships through any combination of the senses—whether simultaneous or sequential, visual or auditory, linguistic or experiential—the mind bestows meaning on those patterns in the sense of understanding what is taking place in terms it has encountered before. To understand is to wrap the now in the then, the here in the there, the new in the old, the concrete in the abstract and conceptual. All made possible by signals in the brain, wherever located, that share a recognizable rhythm. Where such neural rhythms can be appreciated in relation one to another, that is where we live because we are made to make just such connections. Learning to read is an exercise in pattern recognition and relationship. Ditto for listening to music and looking at art. Recognizing a face as familiar underwrites that face with a history, which makes it meaningful in a personal way. Discovering a familiar feel to a situation conveys meaning from memory onto that situation, even though we have never been in precisely that one before. With the result we know who we are in that place, and assume the persona of our old selves again.

Where and what is reality? It is not waiting for us to discover behind closed doors, but comes with us when we walk into a situation buzzing with patterns of stimulation we can put a familiar feel to and a name. Reality is within us as a sense of the trusted and familiar, qualities with which we reach into the unknown in hopes we will find something meaningful because recognizable. If we find no such patterns, we are not in our element, and so feel uncomfortable or out of our depth.

Cultures are known by the distinctive patterns of their ways of dressing, eating, speaking, praying, greeting, and going about the business of everyday life. They are flagrant in making themselves know to all comers. Dark pinstripe suits generally do not consort with bright colored dashikis. There is no doubt whether our familiar patterns of recognition are in keeping with those here on display or not. We know intuitively and immediately if we belong here or not—if this is our sort of place, where we know who we are because our inner and outer patterns of relationship match up without discord.

Reality is within us as a replica of patterns we acquired in childhood by being immersed in a world that danced to a certain rhythm from our earliest days. Our caregivers set the beat and the tone, joined by our siblings and relatives, neighbors and acquaintances. Those primal patterns are stamped into connections and disconnections between neurons in our brains established in our formative days, months, and years, giving familiar patterns an edge over unfamiliar ones, recognizable sensory patterns an advantage over the novel or strange. Reaching into the world, we are ever sensitive to those same patterns that calibrated our young minds. As pattern recognizers go, it takes one to know one.

So, as I say, the real world is within, waiting to be released into an external world that would be a formless cacophony without our being there to put it in order. Reality is our doing. We are the ones responsible for recognizing its patterns on sight, smell, hearing, and touch. Which is why, to study the world, we must first study ourselves to discover in what sort of world we truly belong. On that basis, we can then make deliberate efforts to adapt to the world we find ourselves in—to accommodate to its rhythms, dances, and ways of being—so that we belong there as well as to the world we bring with us in our heads.

NASA Reality--Eagle flying where there is no air

 

Reflection 182: Intelligence

February 18, 2010

(Copyright © 2010)

I was born asking questions. That’s the kind of person I am. Still damp from the womb, I looked around and asked, “Where am I?” Then, looking at the doctor, “Who are you?” Then at my mother, “What’s for supper?” Much later, I remember riding in the back of a pickup truck from Seattle to Nespelum, Washington, asking the archaeology grad student next to me one question after another the whole way. I exhausted him well before I knew as much as I wanted to about the dig we were heading for. Inquisitive to the point of annoyment, that’s me. Is annoyment a word? Annoyance, that’s what I mean.

Asking questions is somehow related to intelligence. My American Heritage Dictionary says intelligence is “The capacity to acquire and apply knowledge,” but that’s not what I mean. I’m not talking about a mental capacity, or knowledge in general. More, as the CIA uses the word to refer to that which is known about one thing or another. But I don’t mean mere scraps of data—I mean getting the big picture: intelligence on a nontrivial scale referring to the interrelatedness of things in a particular system. In other words, building an aesthetic model in my mind of a system outside my body. Intelligence, for me, is a process of gathering experiences about relationships—how things fit and act with one another—into a coherent picture in the mind. Excuse me, in my mind. That’s the only mind I have access to or can talk knowingly about, or expand by asking further questions.

Intelligence tests claim to measure a human capacity—as if learning is independent of interest, curiosity, subject matter, or personal experience. That usage suggests a person is equally intelligent regarding anything that can be known, that intelligence is some kind of virtue or trait, which I don’t think is true. There’s no such thing as an intelligent person; there are only people who know a lot about a small number of things in relation to one another—and little about everything else. An evening spent playing Trivial Pursuit should tell us that much, at least. I’ll give you an example from my personal experience.

I’ve been studying Taunton Bay, an estuary in Maine, for a number of years. I would have said I was checking it from an inquiring point of view because it interested me, but in hindsight I see I was paying attention to it every chance I got, so I guess I really was studying it, expanding my experience of the bay holistically without reference to “information” or “data.” That way, I slowly built up an understanding of some of the workings of the bay in my head, which collectively added to “intelligence” about the bay as a  biological system. This is related to this is connected to this is tied-in with this is balanced with this. Building to a broad, qualitative under-standing of what is going on in one place in Maine. That’s what I mean by intelligence. I didn’t learn about other bays because each one is different and I wasn’t—my body wasn’t—there. And I didn’t learn about bays in general because my acquaintance was up-close and personal. Let me illustrate my wordy illustration of aesthetic intelligence by showing a picture suggesting the relationships between blue mussels and eight other aspects of Taunton Bay.

species-interactions_mussels

That’s a picture of a small portion of my aesthetic—of my coherent intelligence about the bay. Blue mussels are connected to sea stars (which eat them), to eelgrass (which shares their habitats), to Canada geese (which eat eelgrass), to diving ducks (such as common goldeneyes which eat mussels), to eagles (which eat goldeneyes), to marine worms (which eat food particles that mussels discard), to hunters (who shoot mussel-eating ducks), to horseshoe crabs (which mussels often attach themselves to), and to human (who harvest mussels by diving, dragging, or hand-raking). They are also connected to me because I take pictures of them in relation to other features of Taunton Bay.

That’s a snapshot of what I mean by big-picture intelligence. Getting things together in my mind to reveal their relationships and interactions. In a very real sense, that is a portrait of one corner of my conscious mind. Which is the real topic of this blog: getting my mind together about consciousness. Since reading books by Gerald M. Edelman about human con-sciousness, wrestling with his theoretical ideas, my under-standing of my own conscious processes has made a quantum leap to the next higher level. After slogging through one post after another, Edelman helped tie things together for me—at least as I interpret his writings. So today I want to write about my experience of consciousness as a whole, not just this aspect or that.

My big learning up to now is that understanding is a matter of developing an aesthetic sense of how things go together in relationship. That’s actually what the word consciousness means. Con- refers to a collective joining-together, sciousness (as in science) refers to splitting things apart into particles or elements—that is, discernment of relationships, which is commonly called knowledge. Taking splintered parts together in relationship produces consciousness—the “withness” of all aspects of mind. In this case, the withness of the different sensory arrays spread throughout the sensory brain, which Gerald M. Edelman and other neuroscientists refer to as “maps.” The parts of the brain devoted to vision contain some thirty or forty such maps, each tracking two-dimensional relationships in one aspect of visual perception—movement, color, location, direction, texture, and so on. Consciousness, then, consists of mapping events in the brain in ever-changing relationship to one another, creating an overall sense of the dynamics of the current situation.

Think of the George Gibson Quartet—guitar, organ, saxophone, percussion—in aesthetic relation to one another, or a cut by the Henry Threadgill Sextet in the 1970s. Or the Boston Symphony Orchestra playing Berlioz’ Symphony Fantastique. Or the Boston Red Sox when they get their act together and each player gives his all in exquisite relationship to the others. Or all the parts of Picasso’s Guernica telling the story of the Nazi bombing of a small town in the Pyrenees during the Spanish Civil War. Which is not unlike Albert Einstein spending his last days in search of a unified theory of everything that would tell the story of the universe. Many scientists, mathematicians, and theologians engage in similar quests having spiritual overtones in relating the individual mind to the larger whole as they picture it. On a more mundane level, aesthetic coherence is what a chef strives for in balancing the flavors, textures, color, and nutrients in his soup of the day. Or me in my peapod rowing across Taunton Bay at low tide, trying to fit everything I see into a coherent appreciation of what’s going on at that time in that place.

The point of the exercise being, then, to act appropriately in the situation we are engaged with as we discern its different parts and assemble them in consciousness as a coherent life event. If we can do that, then we derive a survival advantage from understanding what’s going on around us compared to others acting out of a less nuanced understanding. It’s always an aesthetic judgment call based on how we see aspects of the situation fitting together into a coherent unity—or not, as in the 2000 presidential election, the Haitian earthquake, or the global instability of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Regarding consciousness, what are the parts I am talking about? Sensory perception as annotated by memory of concepts and prior experiences. Attention, salience, and expectancy reflecting personal or biological values, motives, and interests. A sense of oneself, with feelings, hopes, fears, anxieties, pains, pleasures, and ethical preferences. Judgment of how to weigh each part, what to emphasize, what to leave out. The valance or attractiveness of one option for action compared to others. What the larger culture would recommend through the medium of tradition, habit, training, or instruction. Ongoing categorizations and interpretations modeling a scenario of the current situation as it is likely to develop in the future. These and other aspects coming together in consciousness, evaluated in relation one to another, fed forward to decision-making, advance planning, and execution, culminating in more-or-less decisive action in the world. And motivated attention to what the world does in response as told by the myriad maps keeping track of what’s happening from one’s situated point of view at the moment. All parts playing into the great loop of engagement coursing through our minds, constituting consciousness itself—the withness of such separate parts in coherent relationship with these and other parts in addition to those I have mentioned.

Without the ongoing governance provided by the contemporary loop of engagement between self and non-self, we are left in a state of autonomous dreaming disconnected from any adjustment imposed by culture, others, or the great world beyond. When flying blind in the sensory vacuum of dream-land, consciousness is entirely on its own, doing the best it can to find coherence based wholly on internal evidence of ongoing concerns. In dreams, we can see the separate items being shuffled again and again in a vain attempt to find the most apt relationship between them. What comes through is not the order of the world but the persistent order of the self as imposed on that world. In some circles, this counts as a spiritual more than a rational or cognitive take on events. The subject of dreams is always the same—yours truly, the dreamer, chief of operations in all matters concerning consciousness when the mysterious world has no say in the matter. That is, when all intelligence is internal, without curiosity about or regard for what might be happening in the great world of Beyond.

This, then, is a miniature portrait of consciousness as I understand it right now and write these words to post to my blog. If you ask me tomorrow, I’ll tell you something different because my mind will have moved on from where it is now. But this gives you an overview of the kinds of thoughts I have in gathering intelligence about my personal stream of con-sciousness. Here is an assessment in keeping with the aesthetic highlights of today’s line of thinking. My subsequent experience will unfold differently than ever before, and my dreams tonight will be unlike any I have had previously. Who can tell what tsunami will surge, what volcano erupt, what star explode, what earthquake turn the terra firma of my little world to heaving jelly? Stay tuned to this station for further bulletins as my mind delivers them to me.

In the meantime, to end as I began—with a question—how is it with you on your trek through the universe? Do the seconds, months, and decades of your mental journey add to a larger whole? Whatever your experience, I’d be happy to receive a brief summary of what intelligence you’ve picked up along your route. I invite you to leave a comment in the space provided below.

Governor

 

(Copyright © 2009)

My personal brand of consciousness is the ongoing engagement between me and whatever phenomena serve as objects of my attention. My consciousness belongs to me and no other; it is of something else, what I call images or phenomena. Phenomena are not likenesses or representations of the world so much as they are products of the interaction between my brain and the world. The world I live in—my proprietary world of consciousness—is made up of me as subject and various phenomena as objects of current attention. So right from the start my world appears divided into two realms, subject and object, attender and the attended to, what William James called “the me” and “the not-me.”

Yet I would say that both subject and object are products of one and the same consciousness, so there’s only my view of me and my view of the world, which are not at all the same as myself and the world considered objectively. Objective self and objective world are constructs I build in my mind on the basis of the cumulative experience of phenomena available to me over a lifetime. So I live—as each one of us lives—in a unified world of personal consciousness without borders or divisions—the one and only world of our personal consciousness. That other world, the supposedly “real” or outside world, can only be a matter of inference and fleeting conjecture. Without doubt it is there, but what we can know of it is restricted to what the phenomenal versions in our minds say it is, which is a very intimate kind of hearsay, so not wholly reliable to say the least. James, for instance, says this in his chapter on Attention in The Principles of Psychology (1890):

Millions of items of the outward order are present to my senses which never properly enter into my experience. Why? Because they have no interest for me. My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind—without selective interest, experience is an utter chaos. Interest alone gives accent and emphasis, light and shade, background and foreground—intelligible perspective, in a word. (Page 402.)

Unedited by consciousness, the “utter chaos” of the outer world would overwhelm us. So in reducing that world to phenomena, consciousness saves the day.

Every one knows [James goes on] what attention is. It is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalization, concentration, of consciousness are of its essence. It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others. (Page 403-404.)

But phenomena, I would say, are more drastically altered than merely being selected by our faculty of attention seems to suggest. Perception guided by personal interest and selective attention performs a major overhaul and rebuilding job in cutting the world down to a size we can deal with. Nothing about a phenomenon is as it might be in the world. Energy in the visible spectrum is reduced to a restricted palette of colors, wholly dismissing ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths, along with X-rays, gamma rays, radio waves, and the many other orders of energetic radiation impinging on us wholly undetected and unappreciated. By the time phenomena emerge in consciousness, the larger portion of energy in the universe has gone missing. What little makes it through our perceptual apparatus to become a phenomenon in the language of consciousness is transmogrified into something other than what it is on its own. The upshot being, in James’ words:

Suffice it meanwhile that each of us literally chooses, by his ways of attending to things, what sort of a universe he shall appear to himself to inhabit. (Page 424.)

Which opens the way for me now to stride up to the mike and make my point. Living in worlds of our own making as we do, we typically direct our attention as if upon the mysterious world itself while, in truth, all we have to go on are the very phenomena we create for our personal use. I mean to suggest in this post—and in my blog as a whole—that a wholly different understanding of the lives we lead results from taking responsibility for our own seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting as represented in personal consciousness in order to, 1) better understand ourselves as makers of our own worlds, and 2) relate more effectively to others who devote their lives to doing exactly the same thing on the basis of their unique take on the world they actually inhabit in personal consciousness.

That is, as long as we give all credit (and blame) to the world for the lives we lead, we are trapped in the illusion that we can know the real world as it is in-and-of itself, when that world is a complete mystery to us. We make better use of our lives, and the lives of those around us, by living life as the great artwork we make of it—the work we are creating for ourselves at this instant in a universe we can only dimly comprehend. The miracle of consciousness—directed at its own foibles and achievements as it is—is that it is wholly self-reflexive. It is turned on itself, not the world. All we have to work with is the phenomena in our own minds. These phenomena are precisely what we should try to grasp in meaningful terms in order to live our lives with as much compassion and understanding as we are able. 

I have gotten to the point where I can say such things with a straight face after confronting my consciousness on a daily basis for thirty years now, and posting ten-months’ findings to this blog. These ideas are not sold in stores or written in books. Trouble is, we are living out ideas formulated by Aristotle and furthered by the church and academia for over 2,000 years. It is next to impossible to question the basic assumptions on which our schooling is founded, the same assumptions suporting the natural attitude by which we gaze on the world and believe we are seeing what is actually there without intervention from any sensory apparatus coming between ourselves and the scene we think of as before us when it is actually in us the whole time.

In the 20th century, behavioral psychologists, wanting to believe we were all automatons controlled by our environments, made an enemy of consciousness and denied it had any influence on behavior. Now cognitive neuroscientists are saying our brains work like computers, and information processing is the key to the mind. Others have viewed the mind as a clockwork, steam engine, hologram—whatever the going metaphor. And generations of students believe what they are currently being told in class, and dedicate their lives to spreading their views, just as theologians spread theirs as higher capital-T Truth accessible solely to prophets and holy men.

The revolution in how we view consciousness is upon us, just as the Reformation in religious thinking was made possible by invention of the printing press that made possible distribution of sacred texts translated into the language people could interpret for themselves without aid from any intervening priesthood. Subsequent invention of paper, pencil, typewriter, and computer continued the advance of informed interpretation of phenomena. Now the Internet has the potential of ushering in a new revolution in the understanding of consciousness itself by enabling people to get their minds together so they can compare experiences without interference from established institutions having to approve the interaction beforehand. In its current stage of development, FaceBook tends to be light and breezy because people are striving to make good impressions instead of using it as a tool for greater understanding of themselves and their friends. Blogosphere, ditto, everyone out to show how insightful their commentaries upon commentaries upon commentaries really are. I’m a blogger, I should know.

Except, my whole thrust is to be true to my personal consciousness as one sample of what consciousness can be about. In posting to my blog 142 times, I have come to see that intentionality—the consciousness of objects—can be broken down into consciousness of situations, projects, goals, judgments, problems, priorities, issues, novel experiences, anxieties, interpretations, and so on. These are samples of what makes consciousness sit up and pay attention—what evolution has made us as subjects concerned about in order to act as meaningfully and effectively as we can. Which is no different from what human life is largely about.

It struck me this morning that relationships based on what actually occupies our attention rather than what we claim in order to make a good impression is the way to build compassionate relationships based on truth and reality, not personal mythology.

We don’t need to prove our merit or our worth by buying stuff, impressing others, going to fancy schools, sprinkling certain in-words throughout our conversations—that is, by pretending we are something that, under our clothing and our skins, we inherently are not. Good-by UPS trucks, big box stores, advertising, publicity, investments, banks—all those good things we rely on to create the illusion we are something other than what we are. So much for the economy devoted to shoring up pretense and illusion. So much for politicians pandering to their constituencies on the basis of identities they assume for the sake of making a good impression. The Internet has the potential of bypassing all this superstructure created by so-called civilized institutions. Of enabling people to get together on the basis of the searches they conduct to find out who they are and what they can do in this life—the one life they have to enjoy, or not.

What many cultures have found and we often overlook is that human happiness depends on relating to others in order that we do things together, cooperatively, not in competition. I am not talking altruism here, or self-righteousness. I am talking about me being me and you being you—providing a strong basis for getting together on a workable basis, not using each other to advance our respective unspoken agendas.

There are too many problems in the world to waste time in hot pursuit of illusions. That is what got us where we are today. We need to cut through all that and finally get to the point—which consciousness itself will reveal if we attend to it. Self-reflexive consciousness is not the same thing as staring at your navel. Consciousness, it turns out, is the source of all we can learn in this life and all wisdom. Your navel is just a scar to confirm you got your start inside another person who shared joint responsibility for your conception and birth. Got it. Move on. Inside, not outside. To the font of all experience, our personal consciousness, controlled by personal attention, controlled by personal passions and interests, controlled by the will to live as only we are able—by being fully ourselves. Believe me, consciousness-watching is a learned skill that takes well over ten-thousand hours to get good at. I am not suggesting we quit the race and party; I am suggestion we get down to work appropriate to our gifts.

Let’s agree to attend to life as it is given to us, not to the illusion of life presented to us by others. Let’s make use of our primary asset in living a life—personal consciousness. Accepting that as wholly our doing will tell us who we are, warts and all. Knowing who we are, we can relate on the solid ground of being ourselves without pretending to be anyone else. True learning and discovery await us inside, not outside. Especially not in any institution dedicated to selling illusions for profit. Consciousness is ours to use (or not) in understanding ourselves; the choice is ours. And the same for those around us understanding themselves. Relationships based on shared understanding are the way of the future. In the past we have dedicated ourselves to tearing down the Earth for the sake of fictitious benefits. Now we can build ourselves up to be worthy of the Earth that has provided for us all along.

Two Skiers

 

(Copyright © 2008)

I experience music as a kind of speech with the consonants stripped out of it. Made up of notes in relationship, not words. Both music and speech have tempo, rhythm, pitch, loudness, and qualia (subjective qualities, such as timbre or emotional color).

 

Music can be variously produced by singing, humming, whistling, blowing through mouthpieces or vibrating reeds, plucking or bowing strings, among other means of vibrating the air. One person can create music, or a group—chorus, band, ensemble, or full orchestra. Lyrics set to music have meaning, but music itself, without consonants to open or close the sound, lacks meaning in the same sense.

 

What music does have that speech lacks is a limited set of specific situations suited to its performance. Everyday cell-phone conversations proves that people feel no restrictions on where or when they can talk to one another. Music is different; it generally arises within situations where it can be listened to without distraction or interruption. It’s like you have to be in a place where you can listen to yourself, to hear your own mind.

 

CD players and iPods extend the range of such situations to include private pursuits like walking the dog, running, pushing the twins in a stroller, and so on. People have always hummed or whistled to themselves, so this is not new. It’s just that now you can take along Louis Armstrong or the Boston Symphony to do the humming for you.

 

Think of situations in your own life where music is appropriate. Like when you are taking a shower and burst into song because the acoustics make your voice so magnificent (usually with no one else around). Cruising along in the car provides much the same opportunity. Riding in an elevator; there are people around, but no one is talking, just music from nowhere. Shopping; you are in your own head, and the store is stirring your blood so you’ll buy more stuff. Watching parades, you expect marching bands. Attending weddings and graduations you want processional music suited to serious transitions. Dancing, your body craves to move with the music. Watching movies, music underscores your emotions. Attending concerts, you sit in the dark and let music fill your soul; you contain your gratification until it’s over. Sipping martinis in cocktail bars, you burble sweet nothings to a show-tune accompaniment.

 

In such situations, music strongly influences conscious life. It takes over your mind. Music isn’t outside you, it’s in you. You become attentive, aroused, and full of life. Your neurons flow to its tempo and beat. As if someone were telling you something really important, something beautiful. But nobody’s there. It’s just you and the sound. A very human sound. Made for you alone. As if only you could connect with and appreciate it.

 

Just because music doesn’t communicate the way words do doesn’t mean we can’t connect with it. Music is all about relations between sounds as they develop through time. Consciousness is made for that kind of communication—whether via sound, sight, touch, taste, smell, or motion. Humans dig sensory relationships. What else is life all about? But the nuances and gradations of relations between musical sounds affect us particularly. That is because music speaks directly and immediately to the very brain cells that rouse us to consciousness in the first place. When our neurons dance, we can’t help ourselves; we gotta join in.

 

That is powerful magic. No wonder teens want to sing and play the guitar or the sax. Their brain cells and hormones urge them to do it. To develop the vocal or finger dexterity to make their personal music as it needs to be made. You don’t learn that skill in the classroom; you’ve got to pick it up on your own. Schools are about nations and governments and grammar and theorems. Music is about me. The emotional me. And everybody like me. Music is on the inside crying to get out. Everything else just gets in the way.

 

Music connects with us on that level. It’s about the inside order of personal life worlds. About consciousness itself. Because it flows from consciousness and is directed toward consciousness. Immediately, without waiting for meaning to catch up. It’s your nerves and body talking to my body and nerves. Know what I mean? Yeah, you can feel when it happens.

 

To hear music is to feel excitement in your body. Consciousness flows from excitation in your nerves, and one thing music can do is excite nerves by the millions. You can feel it when you hear it. It commands your attention. You follow along, anticipating what happens next. Sometimes you’re right, sometimes the music surprises you. You like that kind of surprise because it helps you get into somebody else’s head. They’re talking to you. And you hear them. It’s me and Billie Holiday, me and Woody Guthrie, me and Basie, me and Mozart. Two great souls joined into one.

 

That’s what music can do for us. That’s its meaning. It connects us without concepts and ideas getting in the way. Just us. The sound of you, the sound of me. The real you, the real me. Joined in shared consciousness. Our brains firing together, sharing the journey.

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(Copyright © 2008) 

In naming loved ones, babies, pets, boats, towns, mountains, and constellations in the sky, we give meaning to particular phenomena in our experience, while, at the same time, giving concrete form to values which are important to us. Naming is a simultaneous giving and taking within consciousness, a giving of ourselves and a taking-in of the world, claiming it as our world.

 

We smile at early engravings showing beams of sight reaching out from the eye, intending an object, reflecting an image into awareness—but time and again that is an apt depiction of how we see the world. We reach for the world in a certain way—and discover exactly what we set out to find. If we saw the world differently we would be someone else. We have no choice but to be ourselves and see through our own eyes. It is no accident the world we find every day bears close resemblance to the one we lost yesterday. It is not the world that is the same so much as our outlook on the world. Expectancy is destiny. As I wrote in an unpublished manuscript titled Mind and Planet:

 

We see new things in terms of the trusted and familiar. No wonder early settlers founded New France, New England, New Amsterdam, New York, and New London. Maine has its Bangor, Bath, Belfast, Calais, China, Denmark, Egypt, Ghent, Gilead, Hebron, Limerick, Madrid, Naples, New Sweden, Norway, Palermo, Paris, Poland, Rome, Salem, Scotland, Sorrento, Sweden, Troy, Verona, Windsor, and Yarmouth, to mention a few recycled place names. The old seed folk tamed the wilderness by seeing it as an extension of the world they knew by heart.

          Looking for, seeing as, consciousness of—this is how we fit the world to preconceived plans. We take those plans with us wherever we go. We bring the world into being as a variation on the intentional order we carry in our heads.

 

In The Songlines (Viking, 1987), Bruce Chatwin traces the story of Aboriginal Peoples trekking the landscapes of (what we now call) Australia, singing landforms into being, telling their stories in the same words the First People used in deciphering the geological notation which made those landscapes significant to them. Chatwin recounts a conversation with Arkady Volchok, a Russian “who was mapping the sacred sites of the Aboriginals”:

 

The Aboriginals had an earthbound philosophy. The earth gave life to a man; gave him his food, language and intelligence; and the earth took him back when he died. A man’s ‘own country’ . . . was itself a sacred ikon that must remain unscarred. . . .

To wound the earth . . . is to wound yourself, and if others wound the earth, they are wounding you. The land should be left untouched: as it was in the Dreamtime when the ancestors sang the world into existence.

 

Which is what naming does for us in our own Dreamtime—sing the world into conscious existence. As an old German saying informs us, “A well-loved child has many names.” Our caring for that child overflows in those names, each an aspect of the loving consciousness in which we hold that other being. Those names say more about us than the child.

 

My father was given the name of his father’s grandfather. My elder brother was named after his great-grandfather’s youngest brother, who was a family hero for fighting in the Civil War.

 

My first name is that of my mother’s great-great-grandfather, a man who rode out the Revolutionary War in Nova Scotia, and was the first of his line to settle in Maine; he was later shipwrecked in the great storm of 1798 and died on the shoals off Truro on Cape Cod. My middle name is the family name of my father’s mother. She died of a weak heart the day after she gave birth to her son—who was to become my father. As reported in the local newspaper:

 

Despite the rain of Saturday, the funeral of Mrs. Rev. J. N. Perrin, Jr., was largely attended. . . . The sad and tender services of the hour were closed with the baptism, beside the open casket, of the son born two days before, to whom was given the name Porter Gale. At the age of a little more than thirty-three years, the body of Mrs. Perrin was laid to rest in our village cemetery, her short life a long one, having so nobly ‘answered life’s great end.’

          Our community was exceedingly shocked and saddened, on Friday morning last, by the news that Mrs. Laura Gale, wife of Rev. J. N. Perrin, Jr., had died about eight o’clock the evening before. On the morning previous (Thursday), she had given birth to a son and her many friends were cheered by the report—though it proved not well grounded—throughout the day, that “she was doing well.” Only a few moments before she died, heart failure became apparent, and her life went out quickly. . . . If one thing more than another could be called her ‘forte,’ it would seem to be work with, and for, the young.

 

Laura’s husband, my grandfather, gave his eldest son his deceased wife’s family name. My middle name is the same, as is my eldest son’s. My younger brother’s name is meaningful by an entirely different scheme. He was born on June 21, a date between the name days of St. Peter and St. Anthony. Guess what he was named. Apparently, he was named—if not for the day—for the time of year he was born. Had a name been associated with the summer solstice, he probably would have been given that one.

 

In 1982, I wrote: “By placing old names on new people we try to establish continuities of meaning during times of evident transition.” Which are also likely to be times of excitation, and often stress. In such situations we consciously strive for meaning in our lives. Which we achieve by mapping familiar meanings onto novel events, thereby welcoming them into our life worlds of consciousness. This gives us a handle on the new by establishing a meaningful relationship with it from the start.

 

Think of our terms of endearment: Honey, Sweetheart, Sweetie, Sugar, Darling, My Love. These are not as frivolous as they may sound. Declaring endearment is a meaningful act. That is a good part of what consciousness is about—establishing meaningful relationships.

¦

 

(Copyright © 2008)

Relationships are anything but static. In fact change often keeps them going. They are not meant to remain forever the same. Consciousness thrives on novelty and adventure. Sameness puts us to sleep. We are most alive when dealing with situations that interest us because we are invested in them. Without interest—z z z z z z z. We are all interested in love. Here’s what I wrote on that topic in my write-up of the same hike I dealt with in my last blog, (Reflection 22: Relationships):

 

Love is one of the greatest mysteries in any relationship. We know people become attracted to each other in such a way that acquaintance blossoms into friendship and, when desire conquers fear, into the more intimate stages of love. We do not know what starts the progression, or sustains its development. Why these two people out of millions? Why now? Why here? We come up with star-[matched] love and fatal attractions, but those are metaphors, not explanations. My hunch is that place draws people together. Lovers are active expression of their place on Earth. They stand somewhere, rising from ancient roots, living proof that their lineage is successful, and they are ready to commit themselves to the continuation of their lines into the future. Love flows not from the heart but from the Earth. From the springs of beauty, health, promise, and success. When two people come together as particular expressions of Earth’s bounty and ongoing creativity, they lay the foundation of the future, not just for themselves or their habitats, but for the next stage in the unfolding of the great universal adventure. Without the dimension of place, couples represent only themselves as motes entangled in air. The word “casual,” as in casual encounters, casual conversation, and casual sex, hints at the missing element of commitment to place. If this commitment is not part of a relationship, the coming together of two people is an accident of two desires rubbing against each other for fleeting gratification. Partners who endure represent more than themselves. They are Earth embracing Earth, place embracing place, life embracing life.

 

Each of us becomes an agent for our placement in life. We let our genes do the talking. Our life worlds, then, open onto scenes or situations peopled by other agents, objects, props, scenery—all viewed from our perspective, all seen in relationship one to another. This is the phenomenal world which constitutes our consciousness moment by moment as such situations change and develop into stories or, when conceptualized, scenarios. All consciousness emerges from the perspective of the self, is situational in nature, and flows along like a river or storyline. We are eager to find out—and to live—what happens next as the situation unfolds in awareness.

 

Through language, we give voice to situations as we experience them from our points of view. Prepositions, by definition, are relational: from, to, in, on, by, over, through, across, under, near, and so on. Conjunctions are relational: and, for, or, both, either, before, until, while. Subjects or agents acting on other agents or objects are demonstrably relational through verbs depicting specific actions: hit, take, move, cry, tell, hold, share. Adverbs modify the description of such actions: slowly, carelessly, deliberately, repeatedly, relentlessly, lovingly. Even conceptual nouns are situational in being evoked by particular sensory phenomena as being relevant to a situation unfolding in consciousness. Their reference is not to the outside world or to memory itself, but to the situation the speaker/writer actively holds in awareness because it interests her and arouses her feelings and attention at the moment.

 

As that moment of attention leads on to another, the situation develops, and consciousness follows along, eager to see what happens next. The motivated self or point of view brings up a situation in consciousness, which soon changes into a different situation, and then evolves into a situation with a history heading in a certain direction—thus becoming a story (or joke, episode, paragraph, song, opera, painting, and so on).

 

Each of the postings I include in this blog is a reflection of my state of consciousness as I piece it together at my computer. I set Reflection 20: Nothing on My Mind to post at 6:00 a.m., Friday, November 7. The night before, I woke in the middle of the night regretting two words I had added at the last minute. I felt they opened up side channels which distracted from the flow of the piece. I got up at 6:00 and deleted those two words. Reading that reflection through, I find it flows in fourteen paragraphs like a rushing river through, more-or-less in order:

 

  • cargo cults
  • shepherds watching their flocks at night
  • progression of the seasons
  • rural activities dependent on seasonal floods
  • uses of the calendar
  • angel messengers in the heavens
  • removal of social authority to urban areas
  • the idea of supreme beings
  • outer limits of concept formation
  • emptiness of absolute concepts
  • consequences of monotheism
  • the hollowness of supremacy, all leading to
  • the powerful abusing the consciousness of the weak.

 

That’s quite a story. All told from my perspective on a natural situation evolving over time into a modern cultural situation with a long and complicated history in human consciousness. Each generation lives only one episode, so cannot fully grasp the big picture. But if we seek them out, we can retrieve many of the separate episodes and piece them together. Which is what I tried to do in Reflection 20, giving not just the current state of affairs, but also the key stages of its evolution as seen from the point of view of my state of consciousness when I wrote that blog (which, if I live long enough, is apt to go through additional stages in years ahead).

 

Consciousness is all about evolving relationships in evolving situations as experienced from an ever evolving point of view. There are no absolutes in consciousness. Everything is seen in relation to everything else. Like the juggler, we hoist our set of Indian clubs (or hacky sacks) on our own and keep them flying until we die. There’s my set, your set, your mother’s set, your father’s, your children’s sets, and on and on. We do our best to keep them flying. Sometimes we drop a few, or all of them. We pick them up and start again as best we can. When we tire, we toss a few and keep going until the end.

 

Such is the challenge of consciousness. We have to work at it. All the time. And try to keep abreast of the situations we find ourselves in. Now it’s personal relationships, children, global warming, economic collapse, fuel costs, loss of jobs, hard times, and all the rest. Here we are, each living our own story, our evolving life, doing the best we can with what we’ve got in the time allowed.

 

This is the kind of situation consciousness has evolved to help us deal with. Few if any saw it coming. But now it’s here, and tomorrow will evolve into a new situation. Novelty is at the core of human awareness. Now our job is to apply our judgment to the options before us, prioritize those options, work as closely as we can with our partners in similar situations, hoist our clubs and keep going. Every generation has its time to shine. This is ours.

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