Monday, October 5, 2020

More to Mr. Parks

I am lingering, if not malingering; aligning myself to your approach to The Spread Mind. Mostly, I find you valuable and fascinating for the sort of anthropology you do of science. It puts me in mind of Bruno Latour, or rather it puts him in my mind.

You are deft at exposing the presumptions scientists must make to do any work at all, while you render some of those presumptions absurd, in the sense that sometimes, of course, one will only discover what seems to be some further way along the path that you had long since pre-conceived as heading in the right direction.

In personal correspondence with Riccardo Manzotti, we agreed that consciousness must have been coincident with the structures of what we now refer to as the brain stem. Or in other words, reptiles were/are already conscious. 

What is lacking there is a kind of self-consciousness, which is or rather must be what happens when we become the "I" in any linguistic construction. The first person is, of course, defined in conjunction with the loss of self which is implied by becoming part of a linguistic group-mind: The 'hive mind' of dystopian fiction. Language connects us and threatens to dissolve our individuality in the soup of collective sense-making.

But each individual creature must make conscious emotive choices to survive. These depend on recognition and pattern matching, which must happen early on in animal evolution.

I got some vague assent from Manzotti that it was writing which Julian Jaynes should have highlighted in his thesis about The Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, and not consciousness. Or in other words, it is more thinking than consciousness which transformed us. Thinking, it strikes me, is mostly a word game which can sometimes be played out as solitaire. Writing allows a spatial and temporal enlargement of the thinking process. Writing leads to something beyond consciousness, which we still can't name.

We can't name what's beyond consciousness because it departs from individual consciousness. We seem to refuse to accept that we cannot have a personality without belonging to something beyond our individuality. No more is there a subject/object distinction, according to the Spread Mind thesis, than there is a me apart from you and you and you and you. 

We are so afraid to share on that level. We are so afraid of contamination. 

And of course Manzotti had to agree (with me?) that many if not most of our 'decisions' are pre-conscious, and therefore do not directly engage 'agency' in the way we normally use that term; we use it in conjunction with the strange term 'free will.' As though we are free to decide to face a tiger unarmed. We make most decisions emotively, in other words, as does a reptile. Conscious decision-making is simply too slow to allow for individual survival. Thought is hardly ever a way out from emergency. We must first do the calculus of time, if we have that luxury.

Do I really exercise agency when I drive? Would I love it so much if I did? The car, the road, the signals are all elaborate props in support of capitalism in service to someone else. Is it any wonder that the kids are as addicted to computer games?

Consciousness must be that feeling that I must act if I am to survive. The strangeness of  'free will' as a construct has become especially weird during this time of the Breakdown off the American Experiment with Democracy. We thought that it was all about individual freedom, and we still do even as we work to destroy the written language. Irony be not so proud. 

In sum, the self-aware "I" simply falls out from language games, and has nearly nothing to do with consciousness. Looking for neural correlates as a pathway toward understanding consciousness is about as idiotic as to look at the eyeball and the parts of the brain energized by it to confirm that we see what we see when we can affirm that reality any number of different ways using different senses and language partnerships to do so.

And so while you told me, also in personal correspondence, that you are re-focusing your attention away from Manzotti's work, I am finding that work still more urgent. I say that because in the same way that you expose the scientists of consciousness chasing their own tails - ike a caduceus turned ouroboros yin/yang, snakes eating their tails - I feel that the same has happened to humanity on the planet.

We can no longer conceive of any way out but to keep trying what has worked so well before. We must retain the fiction of complete understanding at the end of some pathway. There seems to be a rainbow there.

This also is what is happening in our body politic, and I suppose it will turn fertile over the long haul. But our language usage is so deadly aligned against us, as a whole. We actually do still believe that conscious human agency (of the sort aligned with the selfie self) will rescue us from the killing fields of cosmic evolution. 

We confuse the self with the whole, even as our commander in chief reverts to feudal form. I am the state. The state is me. Each of us also believes that implicitly by our personal ambition toward wealth as proof of merit. We would like to become the system, along the lines of Gates and Zuck and Bezos and Jobs and Musk. Don't these names all sound vaguely Biblical? 

We would like to be designated by something so sounding immortal. So short. How many four letter names can there be? In that, at least, we must fail and lose every single degree of freedom. No harm, no foul. There is no escaping death, though there be good death and the sort which affirms that life had never taken hold there.

Whither our planet? Home to our dreaming.

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