Thursday, March 10, 2011

Occam's Razor Redux - Rupert Sheldrake's Morphic Resonance - Doggie Style

Hmmm, it seems to me I've worried this one enough, but, well just like dogs seem to worry bones based on some hard-wired (what a weird locution) feedback loop, certain things just won't get out of my head. Like I have this dog companion now who came along with my companion companion, and she automatically knows which oncoming dogs to steer clear of and which to avoid.

Not being a dog person, I have no clue. So, I'm focusing on which dogs cause this one to be alert, and which are ignored and I'm looking for some clues based on size or skittishness, and then finally I ask at what must be the right moment, and the answer is 'oh, I just look at the owner.'

Now I'm sure I could have discerned some pattern eventually and become almost as reliable in my predictions, but basically I was looking at the wrong thing. I would have required a lot more data, and I'm not that smart. You should have seen me trying to figure out the best way to light a wood stove and maximize its output. Eventually I became a master, but there was hardly anything conscious or systematic about it. A master would have put me to shame, though maybe not with my stove.

My master in the doggie follies did happen to know her own trick, which made it trivially easy to teach and so now I can quickly learn which dogs to avoid. Wouldn't it be great if all teaching were that trivial? The trouble is that I doubt I could teach someone else to light a fire as well as I finally was able. And to add difficulty to trouble, it seems just as likely that someone else would do better off alone rather than to try to assimilate my highly idiosyncratic and possibly mistaken assumptions.

I do rather tend to assume that my students have a better way than I might show them, although if someone is evidently experiencing frustration, I'll break down my assumptions for them. Ways to estimate moisture content, the air flow in some relation to holding the heat in depending on how much heat is being generated. And finally that wonderful balance where there is very little air moving through, but lots of heat generated. It feels like magic. I'm talking about my wood stove.

I've taken a glancing read of Sheldrake's radical departure from analysis to describe morphogenetic fields. It's exciting. But here's a case of satisfying Occam's Razor without any facility to fill in the space where the answer lies.

In the case of a magic trick also, you are already certain that things are not as they seem since the seeming is simply too unthinkable. But you don't know where to look. If someone points it out, you feel that wonderful 'aha!' sense of cognitive dissonance resolved.

I need detail. Just how does a morphogenetic field work? What does it explain that genetic expression doesn't for instance. And if it "explains" why something once learned makes it easier for remote learners to learn it the next time around even without teaching, how is that different from the fact that simply knowing that something has been solved makes the solution both easier to accomplish and sometimes less interesting?

Just because some shift in the discourse patterns propagates faster than we think it should given what we know about communication doesn't mean we know everything about communication. There are lots of things going on in our peripheral vision, as it were, that never enter our consciousness.

"Morphic Resonance" seems too vague a catchphase, and in danger of exposure as was the "ether," which turned out not to have been necessary for the propagation of perceptual information. And yet its evaporation - the *poof* which made the ether go away - actually forced a look toward a far stranger construing of the way things work. It seems that there are "as if" waves which propagate in nothingness in advance of perceptual impingements.

Now this is an explanation which nicely fuels still more investigation, since it both answers and defines new questions. We can chase our tail forever!

When staring us down, right in the face, as it were, is a resolution which both satisfies the demands of Occam, as well as to do away with that frustrating named lacuna. Morphic Resonance is, in other words, a place-holder without meaning, rather like God or soul or for that matter mind. The very utterance of the word fools the mind (??)  into thinking that something will be found to fill the space where something simply must be because we named it.

In fact (I use the term advisedly, which is to say as self-conscious metaphor) what has to happen is that we need to change our usage. Matter propagates very much as if there were an ether, the way that sound waves propagate through matter.

Mind functions very much as though it were located, even though it's demonstrably not. Mind might be destroyed right along with brain, but so is sense when words are jumbled. That doesn't mean the sense was *in* the words.

Although it represents my strongest self-identification, I have no trouble at all conceiving that my mind extends to all the universe of which I am aware. Right down or back or over to that great Big Bang, I suppose. I think that's what it means to make sense. Um, not that I always make sense, but you know what I mean.

My mind would be nothing were it not for the words and texts and discourse of all those others before and around me. And once we succeed in our quest for dominion over all that lives on earth, I have no trouble at all declaring, now before it's too late, that my consciousness will go the way of all consciousness. To sleep, perchance to dream. Most certainly not to be.

It is not a simple trick of language to consider that mind is coeval with cosmos. It's just a better definition of the word. Things exist in relation before they are in perceptual touch. Perception is mediated by particles, right down to the limit of that elusive hadron, graviton, what you will.

Beyond it? There is emotional attraction; a prediction of contact, though no force can be detected.

No comments: