Apr. 22nd, 2010

From a discussion with Dw about how and whether consciousness can be given a different structure.

[Consciousness] surely feels unitary: you spy the environment through a system of interpreters, and if the system breaks, where are you then?

True, I feel unified, but I need to be aware of both the limits of the unity and also the extent to which the arrangement I form within it is arbitrary, mutable and/or partial. The unity is bounded in that, as far as I can tell, my mind is larger than the conscious, unified portion of it, with some elements only coming into awareness during sleep or during unusual moods. And the arrangement is arbitrary in that another organization may also provide a description or explanation of unity, say the unity of an ecosystem or the unity of a flock.

The system in question (the interface, in your terminology), as far as I can tell, is fairly resilient: it fails me, but it does not break. I take the systemic failure that you mention to be one of apathy, that of knowing what you should do or want to do but being unable to do it. You and I both know that the interface between thought and action does not stand up well against repeated exertion of willpower: eventually, one fails to respond to one's own exhortations. But even then, the interface requires only rest to return to (at least partial) functioning, contrary to the idea that it is broken or damaged. The fact that we get bad results from the interface does not entail that it is broken, but that we do not know how to use it well.

Though I don't interpret the problem as a problem of interface, finding a solution to the problem of apathy is one of my main motivations in developing a different internal organization. My current personality simply cannot muster the discipline and devotion that my ambitions require. I have tried relying on willpower, but that engenders a cycle of alternating frenzy and collapse: I work hard until my will gives way, then I waste time until I have rested enough to exert more willpower. It is not a healthy or efficient way of acting, much less an elegant way (in the corvid sense) or wise way. Since power has proven inadequate, I have to look to other concepts to provide the solution to apathy, and an ecological system of metaphors may be rich enough to suffice. Also, I take the problem of exhaustion to be a special case of the problem of apathy, because I have found that being exhausted does not actually render me incapable of doing what I want to do: when exhausted, I'm not much slower at math, writing, or research than usual, and yet exhaustion usually stops me from doing those things.

Maybe that is an illusion, but then one has to uncover reality first. Travel around and past the distortion, but you have to know the terrain to do so... or at least a way of seeing the right path from the many others.

Not necessarily. As I argued earlier, in some cases it may be impossible to judge between competing systems of concepts without actually using those concepts. I have experience with the power-oriented organization of identity, but I don't know that I can weigh it fairly against the alternate organization without first implementing the latter, allowing it to shape my experience.

Ultimately, the best way to learn the terrain is to travel it.

I think part of the reason we organize internally according to power is because the thing seems so cohesive...

It does seem cohesive, but there are still gaps. What are individual thoughts, feelings and moods in a hierarchical identity? What are actions? (Clearly, the intent to act would be the king's command, but what would the act itself be?) I also think that another reason we organize according to power is because power (in the form of authority) is one of the few things that every human being knows thoroughly from experience.

More, the cohesion is a misleading one. I can pick a muscle of my body and tell it to contract, but it does not follow than my relation to my physical actions is one of command and servitude. If I were to try to walk by sending commands to individual muscles, I would fail at it due to the complexity of the motion, and the same is true of the majority of my actions. Nor do I perceive, either internally by introspection or externally by observing my behavior, that walking usually requires a command. I can cogently make this observation because there are times when complex physical motion requires an exertion of command over myself, namely when I am exercising and finding it difficult to continue. In that case evidence of an exertion of power appears both internally (in a resistance by the part of me that wants to rest) and externally (in the slowness or incompleteness of my responses to my coach's counting). There is causality between my thoughts and my actions, but it is one of power only in an overly broad sense of the word: my physical activity is more a matter of coordination than command. There is a sense in which you can say that a conductor commands a symphony, but someone who actually does say that may not understand music.

The benefit of a figurative description is its ability to aptly equate unlike things, and the description in question is a figurative one: a kingdom befigures a person. (Note, being figurative does not entail being false, arbitrary, subjective, or undecidable.) However, it requires the most subtle aspects of a person to be represented by another person (the king, or in similar models the driver of a chariot or master of a household), which I take to be a flaw of the representation. I think the ecological figure is better in that it equates a greater diversity of unlike things, although there are still cases where I have to equate something with itself inside the figure (specifically, my awareness with the awareness of a specific animal inside, which I take to be my core identity). Also, while the hierarchical figure includes the interface (using your three layer theory), my figure only describes the innermost layer. More on that later.

Perhaps in our case, it's also one of history: Cartesian dualism is very hierarchical.

Yeah, it seems to be a prevalent strain in Western thought. The book by Foucault I've been reading recently lists example after example in which some classical Greek thinker exhorts his reader to master himself the way a husband masters a household or a lord controls a city. The relation of lord to city, husband to household, and person to drives were all considered isomorphic. I guess the most famous example is Plato's image of the soul as the driver of a chariot, whose two horses are two classes of basic human drives. Also, human beings seem prone to internalizing power relations, for instance by equating morality with obedience to the law. Perhaps people organize themselves internally according to whatever is most prevalent and pervasive in their lives, and little, if anything, rivals power in that regard.

Since much above referred to it, here are some of the details of that alternative way of organizing myself internally, which I am trying to implement -- thus far, I have only done so partially, as I habitually revert to the old hierarchical organization, among others.

My ideas are the individual creatures within an environment; given that such ideas recur with minor variations, I can identify them as instances of a species. (I'll use "to be", "to identify", and "to figure" instead of a more precise "to be represented by" or similar constructs, for brevity's sake.) The sophistication of a thought corresponds to the complexity of the creature. I generally don't try to equate ideas with known species at this point, though. At any instant I take myself to only be a single such idea among the rest, usually a fox but sometimes a fisher instead, my awareness of my inner state being his awareness both of himself and his surroundings. This is what I meant by "reducing myself to the idea of myself" in the previous entry. The most significant aspect of that reduction is that while my ideas are part of my inner world, they are not part of myself.

The interactions among creatures figure the interactions among ideas, such as inference, analogy, elaboration, articulation... you could call the set of all such interactions reasoning, broadly construed. Predation is particularly important, as are the interactions among members of a given species, but there are also such interactions as sheltering, parasitism and symbiosis. Following both Cavell's idea that moods are to the world what the senses are to objects, and also my own realization that the range of what I can think differs significantly from mood to mood, I identify mood with place in the figure, characterized most readily by biome and climate. So a desolate mood would correspond to an arid location with little life, a despairing mood might be a swampy one with its own well-adapted ideas (that are not the ones I need, and ill-adapted elsewhere), a cheerful mood might be a temperate, thriving grassland or forest, and a thoughtful one might be the span of a river. These identifications are all tentative. The place (the mood, or more generally state of mind) is not only characterized by biome, but also by other conditions affecting an entire place, so that a sudden, excessive exhaustion during an otherwise good mood might be identified as a storm or cold snap, inhibiting the normal activity of the creatures within.

That's the outline of the new system of metaphors, as it stands. As far as the problem of apathy is concerned, the new system may allow me to distinguish more finely in my ability to control myself and exert power: individual creatures (ideas) can be killed (rebutted, rejected, discarded), but not so classes (species) of similar ideas. Thus I learn to accept the regular reappearance of harmful ideas I associate with my psychotic episodes: I cannot control their existence, but I can control how I interact with and deal with the ideas. More, while I have a free hand in responding to individual ideas, to such things as biomes and weather (moods and other, unnamed inner conditions) my only short-term option is to adapt. This addresses my tendency to respond to exhaustion in an unwise manner, namely forcing myself to keep working until I collapse. Perhaps more importantly, the system allows me to make finer distinctions among conditions which would normally be grouped under such broad headings as exhaustion, impatience and desolation, allowing less crude responses. (As a recent example, I contrasted a "cold" exhaustion in which I can choose what I attend to, but not work on it steadily, with a "wet" exhaustion in which I can work on something steadily, but find it difficult to reorient myself and start on a different task. The latter type of exhaustion limits my mobility, so to speak, the other my free energy.) Finally, the system of metaphors implies that ideas require nourishment every bit as constant and many-elemented as the nourishment of an animal. While my mind can make use of a number of resources comparable to that of an ecosystem, I have only come to identify and secure a bare few of those resources.

This inner organization has a fairly broad domain, but I still have to rely on many unrelated concepts to shape and make sense of my inner nature. I even, fairly regularly, have to resort to the notion of power, that an impulse is an unruly subject to be controlled. That's fine: I expect every body of concepts to have only a limited domain of usefulness, so I will need multiple such bodies to serve all my purposes and needs. I'm more dismayed by the fact that, despite how long I've developed this alternative, I can muster only a weak defense of it, and cannot defend the system more fully (to you, or to myself) without first implementing it. In response to such dismay I consider Emerson's remark, "Far be from me the despair which prejudges the law by a paltry empiricism." The ideas I develop now, as self-indulgent, subjective and tenuous as they are, are steps on the path to a less paltry empiricism.



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