Updated: 02/06/2003; 6:45:33 AM.
Robert Paterson's Radio Weblog
What is really going on beneath the surface? What is the nature of the bifurcation that is unfolding? That's what interests me.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Do some of you share the feeling that I have on some days that you may be turning into Sylvestor - the father with the son who is so much more than he is?

Watch out for those kangaroos!

9:16:41 PM    comment []

No one who watched "The Matrix" with even 10 percent of his or her brain engaged could have missed the fact that, at least potentially, it was a social and political allegory of tremendous resonance. Predictably, the major media coverage of the film, in 1999 and subsequently, has focused on its technological marvels and understood its more radical, even dialectical dimension as some kind of smug, ironic gamesmanship. The Wachowskis' real innovations, conventional wisdom holds, came in the "Bullet Time" sequence or in their appropriation and expansion of John Woo's action-movie vocabulary. The apparently contradictory fact that this same big-budget action movie, distributed by a gigantic infotainment conglomerate, suggested that our entire culture was an illusion and that we had been hopelessly enslaved and cut off from real life by our own technology was conveniently overlooked.

From Salon

8:17:22 PM    comment []

Julian Jaynes's great work explores the idea that before the age of writing, our minds were highly influenced by the right hand side of the brain where pre literate man heard voices directly from the "Gods". Before I came across Jaynes, I had long wondered why Homeric man and Early testament man had all these chats with Gods. I supposed that this was a metaphor. I am not so sure anymore. If Jaynes is right then what may have happened is that a growth in literacy shut down much of our intuition. We know that a reason that we cannot proof read well on the web and that we cannot read but only scan is that when we look at the screen we use our visual section in the right hand side. Literacy and logic live on the left.

What if we were able to reconnect the two? For those of you that have never heard of Jaynes - a link to the JJ Society and a review on Amazon.

The yearning for certainty which grails the scientist, the aching beauty which harasses the artist, the sweet thorn of justice which fierces the rebel from the eases of life, or the thrill of exultation with which we hear the true acts of that now difficult virtue of courage, of cheerful endurance of hopeless suffering -- are these really derivable from matter? Or even continuous with the idiot hierarchies of speechless apes?"[pp. 8-9]

If nothing else, for a psychologist, Jaynes knows how to turn a phrase. The introductory chapter from which this quote is taken sets up his broad hypothesis about the origin of human consciousness which, if true, would place evolutionary biology and the evolution of human consciousness on widely different tracks.

The book is in three parts: the first explains the psychology behind the hypothesis; the second tests this hypothesis in the various ancient cultures in the Middle East, as depicted through their writings; the third tests the hypothesis against a variety of different psychological phenomena (from music and poetry to possession and hypnosis). In his afterword, written in 1990, Jaynes summarizes the main points of his hypothesis:

1) Consciousness is based on language -- By use of metaphors, metaphiers, paraphrands and paraphriers, human perceptivity increases by incorporating new phenomena into ideas already learned. While one can learn a number of tasks, learning is not equivalent to consciousness. Like a surfer riding the crest of a wave, human consciousness dances around, but is never completely submerged in, the sense data fed into the brain. From my own personal experience, after seeing a toddler, without any prompting, call a bicycle the "mama" and a tricycle next to it the "baby", or saying that a rust spot on a car is a "boo-boo", the ability to expand understanding via the metaphor from what is already learned has at least some anecdotal evidence to me.

2) The bicameral mind -- This gets into the more controversial part of his theory. Human civilization, Jaynes says, began with citizens who were not "conscious" as we would understand it today. Rather, the brain of the "bicameral" man was orientated in such a way that one half of the brain (the right side for right-handed people) was dictating auditory (and sometimes visual) hallucinations while the left side could do nothing but obey. The characters in the Iliad are the example of such unconsciousness. Jaynes goes on to propose how whole societies could be (and, based on the archaeological record, were) organized and could still function. While it may seem implausible for an unconscious, non-self-reflecting society to be able to do anything with coordination, many people even today spend a great deal of their lives doing what they think they're supposed to do without self-reflection, until something forces them outside this direction in life. Consciousness is an exercise, not something that can rolls along of its own biological momentum.

3) The dating of the breakdown of the bicameral mind -- While certain developments such as writing helped to deteriorate the lockstep bicameral order, the main impetus for the breakdown (in the Middle East, which is the only arena he's concerned with) occurs around the end of the second millennium B.C. with a series of cataclysmic events that externally caused a migration of peoples, and internally cause a diminishing of the bicameral voice. And from this regional catastrophe, Jaynes proposes, the conscious "I" began to be mapped out in the human mind for lack of the bicameral voice, in which Jaynes sees the Odyssey as an example of this developed consciousness. It also sparked the age in which prophecy, myth, and superstitions were developed as part of the religious quest to regain that lost authoritative voice.

It's a well-detailed hypothesis, and some of the details might be blurred with the ordinary creative process, but the similarities between the internal model of the brain mapped out by Jaynes, and some of the more obscure details of archaeology, can't be easily dismissed. Moreover, the pliability of the brain functions make such rapid adaptations all the more possible. As Jaynes states in one of his later chapters [p.403]:

"Those who through what theologians call the "gift of faith" can center and surround their lives in religious belief do indeed have different collective cognitive imperatives. They can indeed change themselves through prayer and its expectancies much as in post-hypnotic suggestion. It is a fact that belief, political or religious, or simply belief in oneself through some earlier cognitive imperative, works in wondrous ways. Anyone who has experienced the sufferings of prisons or detention camps knows that both mental and physical survival is often held carefully in such untouchable hands."

"But for the rest of us, who must scuttle along on conscious models and skeptical ethics, we have to accept our lessened control. We are learned in self-doubt, scholars of our very failures, geniuses at excuse and tomorrowing our resolves. And so we become practiced in powerless resolution until hope gets undone and dies in the unattempted. At least that happens to some of us. And then to rise above this noise of knowings and really change ourselves, we need an authorization that 'we' do not have."

6:56:36 PM    comment []

Dave Pollard has much to say on this topic
third way This essay is in response to requests for a précis and update of my much longer essay How to Save the World.

Thirty millennia ago, a new and unique human culture evolved1 amidst all the others. It differed radically from any culture seen before on Earth. It emerged as a Darwinian response to two2 major developments in human activity, which were in turn the result of a sudden scarcity of food3:
  • The development of advanced hunting and building tools, and
  • The development of crop cultivation and animal domestication.
Previous to this, human and non-human animal cultures had always reacted to food shortages by reducing their population naturally, painlessly 4, and instinctively.

As a consequence of these two radical developments, this acquisitive culture became:
  • much more specialized, and hence inter-dependent,
  • disconnected from the prevailing natural ecosystem (because we felt, for the first time, somewhat independent of it),
  • antagonistic to the prevailing natural ecosystem with which we were now competing for resources (e.g. with the advent of agriculture we began killing animals not just for food but simply because they ate our crops),
  • no longer able to rely fully on instincts that had served us for millennia (the use of our new tools such as axes and hoes, needed to fulfil our new specialized social roles, was not intuitive), and hence we became
  • more dependent on newly invented anthropocentric rational and moral guides for living.
This cultural and technological evolution has perpetuated itself ever since, and has been hugely successful (in much the same way, some would say, as cancer is successful, by mutating beyond the reach of natural balancing mechanisms). It has displaced or eliminated most other human cultures, consumed Earth's natural resources, and degraded the natural ecosystem and biodiversity at an unprecedented and unsustainable pace.

The moral and rational guidelines we created to help us cope with our new lives are essentially apologies and justifications for our culture's separation from the natural ecosystem and the damages it has created. Our instinctive knowledge is utterly inconsistent and irreconcilable with such moral and rational knowledge, and the resulting schism and anxiety has made our entire culture mentally ill.

6:21:47 PM    comment []

This parallels some thoughts I've had: we've become too domesticated, too comfortable, too civilized; that we need some frontier rawness in our lives, some toughness and discipline. We've too much civilization bearing down upon us, which I'll define roughly:

too much civilization:
1) when abstract social organizations, processes, and goals become instruments that serve the powerful few at the expense of the under-powered many
2) when justice and law are not synonymous, and people are no longer treated equally in the eyes of the law 
3) when boredom becomes rampant and people turn to extremes for stimulation

I think about possible solutions to this problem by framing it this way:

How do we merge aboriginal living with starship technology?

By that I mean, how do we create a culture that embodies the good qualities of aboriginal life -- close-knit communities; physical and emotional toughness and sensitivity that comes from living close to the natural world; and rich spiritual practices (to name just a few) -- with the good qualities of our technological society -- rigorous, logical thinking; the deep understanding of the world that comes from science; indoor plumbing and other health-enhancing technolgies; and submersibles, spaceships, and other means to reach beyond our phyical limits (again, to name just a few)?

Posted by MikeOwens - 05/15/2003 11:42 am | permalink | comments (0)

6:16:03 PM    comment []

"It is a question in marriage, to my feeling, not of creating a quick community of spirit by tearing down and destroying all boundaries, but a good marriage is that in which each appoints the other the guardian of his solitude, and shows him this confidence, the greatest in his power to bestow. A togetherness between two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a narrowing, a reciprocal agreement which robs either one party or both of its fullest freedom and development......At bottom no one in life can help anyone else in life; this one experiences over and over in every conflict and every perplexity: that one is alone.

All companionship can only exist only in the strengthening of two neighbouring solitudes....for when a person abandons himself, he is no longer anything. When two people both give themselves up in order to come close to each other, there is no longer any ground beneath them and their being together is a continual falling" Rilke Letters on Love

Marriage and the traditional family is failing as an institution. Most families now are one parent or "blended". Few marriages survive until old age. Many of us are estranged from family members. It is not simply that we are so mobile today. I think that it is because our family relationships are so painful. Mothers become monstrous controlling Grendels. Brothers become Cain and Abel. Fathers abandon us. Our children mock and reject us. Lovers become vampires. Friends become enemies. Many of us battle our way though a series of relationships to find that we are better off alone. Dogs are increasingly popular substitutes for lovers and children.

Why are relationships so challenging today? I think that they are based on either a desire to control the other or the urge to subsume oneself to the other. Driven by the best of motives - "I know that is best for you" or "It is my job to make you happy" These paths lead to rebellion and resentment. Our greatest pain is to live another's plan for us or to give up our true self for what we feel we should do. So much of our stress comes at 2 am when we worry about whether we will please another or whether our child will do the right thing and take our advice.

Why is family in particular become an emotional battle-ground where all our relational fears and angers are magnified? Not only do the control and surrender factors play loudest in modern marriage but I see that there is an additional perceptual anomaly.

Modern western marriage has combined two medieval concepts, romance with property. Romance in the middle ages was an emotion that you had outside of marriage. Romance was what you shared with a lover or an admirer. Romance was all about surrender. Marriage was all about control. In its heyday, romance could never be part of the functionality of marriage so it was always free be an ideal. No slippers under the bed, no money to be earned no children to be raised. No chores to be performed. Marriage on the other hand was and remains a property contract. If you don't believe me, check in with a divorce lawyer. Marriage was the legal container in which you raised you children and expanded and protected your family wealth. In modern times in the west, we have combined these two things. We try as a fantasy to combine oil and water. So when romance fades, with reality of functional life lived together, we think that we have lost the essence of our marriage. Combined with all the issues of control and surrender, this sense of loss can be overwhelming.

What can we learn and apply from our tribal past that make help us with relationships in general and in our family life in particular? More later

3:01:12 PM    comment []

"Half way along the road we have to go, I found myself obscured in a great forest, Bewildered, and I knew that I had lost my way......I cannot tell exactly how I got there, I was so full of sleep at that point of my journey when, somehow, I left the proper way" The opening of Dante's Inferno

Dante was writing at another time of great awakening - the Renaissance - when the dogma of the middle-ages and their accompanying institutions had become the source of much of the misery and problems of the time. We too have lost our way. We have wandered deeply into the forest of domesticated life. Our path into this forest has, over time, disconnected us from the natural world and has replaced the laws of nature with the laws of man. We have created a new world based on a fantasy. We have told ourselves that we are machines. We have built our own Matrix.

Why are we so drawn to films today like the Matrix or Lord of the Rings? Why are these films being made? We are living at the crossroads for mankind. Just as some individuals wake up in mid life and feel so sad that they have to break free from the chains of their early life, so mankind, I think, is on the edge of its collective midlife crisis.

I sense that we long to be real again. We long for fellowship. We long to stand shoulder with our brothers and sisters as we take on a great enemy. We long to be wild: to be truly men and women again. In our machine matrix,  we vaguely remember watching the dawn and the mystery of the night sky. We yearn for the wonder of being part of the universe. We hear the faint whispers of the stories of our people told around the hearth. Our bodies feel the memory of the dance. Women hear the call of the Goddess. Men hear the call of the hunt.

So what do we do?

In the last Renaissance, light began to shine upon the world again as a few people began to see their world differently. The early movers in the Renaissance used two pathways for enlightenment. They examined and then reinterpreted the wisdom of the classic world that had been obscured by the medieval mindset. They also used new tools for observation and navigation such as the telescope and the compass to see through the dogma of their culture to the revealed truth of how the world and the universe actually worked.

What if we too looked back at the tribal wisdom of our ancestors? What if we used some of our new tools, such as the processing power of the PC, to see how nature really works and how we fit into it?

I have promised my son, after more than 10 years of talking about this, that by the end of June that I would have much of what I have been talking  about incessantly on paper by the end of June. If I don't he will award me the "Wanker Writer" Prize for 2003. Please help save me from this terrible fate.

What I plan to do is to use my weblog as a sketch book and work on one or two ideas a day. I welcome your help if you are interested. Thanks Rob

12:53:29 PM    comment []

© Copyright 2003 Robert Paterson.
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