Let’s talk doxa, science, and humanity

Recall from my 6/7/17 post on Pierre Boudrieu’s writings that the doxa comprises the entire realm of possible discourse; anything outside the doxa is difficult to discuss—it is ineffable or inchoate. Within the doxa the dominant paradigm or pattern of beliefs and knowledge is orthodoxy, which mostly controls the domain of discourse, while deviant thinking would be heterodoxy. In religion heterodoxy may become heresy, e.g., the Pelagian heresy that one can attain salvation through good works. In science heterodoxy can fall by the wayside if it fails to account coherently and productively for the subject phenomena, or it can replace orthodoxy because it eventually is found to provide a more robust explanation. The classic example is Thomas Kuhn’s scientific revolution in the shift from the Ptolemaic earth-centric universe to the Copernican heliocentric one.

A more modern example comes from Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway’s book, Merchants of Doubt, about a small group of scientists who act to obscure the valid findings about hot issues, such as tobacco’s carcinogenic effects or the human contribution to global warming. The question they raise is how to tell a fraud from a crank, who may or may not be on to something wrong in the orthodox realm of discourse (see post 3/7/16). Oreskes has discussed the eventual acceptance of plate tectonic theory, 50 or more years after Alfred Wegener proposed it in his 1912 book. Evidently the theory was accepted in Europe long before it was accepted in the USA, where Wegener was seen as a bit of a crank; here in the USA they could not imagine a meteorologist like Wegener developing a valid theory about earth’s geology, so Wegener was seen then as a crank whom we now understand had a good idea. And the climate change deniers are still the same old frauds from the tobacco scam.

Now the study and understanding of our humanity has likewise undergone some great shifts; some of the most profound transformations from heterodoxy into orthodoxy came with the Enlightenment and science’s assertion that humans were a proper subject of study outside of religion, Darwin’s assertion that man was just an earth-bound animal, Freud’s assertion that conscious life is a construction of non-conscious processes, etc. More recently Norbert Weiner’s initiation of cybernetics revealed the structural similarity of control systems between biological man and machine, a gap that grows increasingly smaller as science progresses. I would also include Jacques Monod’s assertion that our biology in its foundation of molecular genetics can account for life without any recourse to supernatural creators, thank you very much, so that his understanding of spirit looks to the generations of life over the past 4 billion years on Gaia. That would be his mystic beyond, not Olympus or heaven or whatever (see post 3/25/17).

I would like to think that one particular heterodoxical idea is also usurping some of the orthodoxy in cognitive psychology, but alas, I do not see a tectonic shift happening here. I do remember when cognitive psychology was heterodox, back in the days of behaviorism’s puritanical orthodoxy, and then psychologists had the good sense to admit that we had minds, that we actually thought and that our thoughts had purpose and effect. Now cognitive psychology seems to exert its orthodoxy through control of the doxa, especially through its alliance with information science and focus on algorithms. Everything mental is thinking more or less logically, you know, in the cortex, while affect and emotion are lower. Thus the predominant and errant metaphor of ‘hard-wired’ as we neglect intuition, feelings and emotion.

But consider some seemingly disparate ideas. I first caught a glimpse of an alternative seeping into the doxa when I read Susanne Langer all these years ago. The title of her last work gives us a hint, Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling, in its last word, ‘feeling.’ She arrived at her examination of mind as biological through her study of art, understanding that art is a different kind of symbol, i.e., presentational, than language, i.e., discursive. Its structure is different because its elements of composition are different, and while both types of symbols have surface and deep structures, the latter for art is better termed aesthetic import in contrast to linguistic meaning (see post 11/10/17). Peruse some books addressing the evolution of our minds and see how often art is considered as an important phenomena in its own right of our humanity. Daniel Dennett’s recent one briefly addresses Bach and his music not so much as art but as an example of cognitive design. Patricia Churchland’s 1989 Neurophilosophy mentions music twice, art and symbols not at all. Trying to expand my own doxa is one big reason I read books like Kandel’s on art (see post 7/23/17) and plan on reading one by Ramachandran soon. This is why I think the development of an instrument to reliably study our emotional response to art, Aesthemos (see post 10/31/17), is an important step forward.

Consider also how maybe 50% of an important neurotransmitter, dopamine, is synthesized in the gut, how even more serotonin is found there, and how our gut microbiome affects mood and thinking. Consider the work by Tversky, Kahneman and others showing that our minds are not clean cognitive operations but filled with heuristics that generally satisfice in most circumstances but lead us astray in some important others and emotions play no small role in that. Consider Gavin de Becker’s Gift of Fear underlining the importance of paying attention of our feelings of danger. Consider how disrupted attachment, you know that basic emotional bond, affects thinking in the social realm, hindering social perspective and empathy, and in cognitive realm, hindering understanding of cause and effect, sequencing, etc. Consider how the Texas tower shooter, Charles Whitman, sought medical help repeatedly when he felt something was wrong with his mind because murderous thoughts were so prominent and intrusive, how doctors dismissed his concerns any number of ways, e.g., just depressive feelings, and how autopsy revealed a fast growing tumor on his amygdala, an emotional control center affecting thinking and behavior. All of this suggests that feeling is coequal with thinking, or at least, that both are important functions in the nervous system responsible for our mind. This idea is what Langer promoted at the end of her career.

I have just finished Michael Tomasello’s book, The Natural History of Human Cognition, following up on my reading of his book on human morality (see post 7/31/17). Both books compare simians and humans to see wherein we are different, i.e., what makes us human. This one hypothesizes how we developed more or less objective thinking over the past 100,000 years of our evolution. It is interesting and thought provoking, albeit written in an academic and somewhat tedious style. He focuses pretty exclusively on human cooperation, which is assuredly distinctive in the animal realm, and how our thinking developed “collective intentionality and agent-neutral thinking”, going from an individual perspective taking to group perspective taking to thinking objectively, i.e., valid from any perspective. (Yes, I have foreshortened his arguments terribly but I want to get on to another point).

Tomasello does not really address very directly the issue of human feeling, but he comes close several times. And to be sure at the end he makes a strong statement that our cognition is socially based and that our culture, including art, is based upon the development of human cognition with some semblance to his outlined hypothesis. Before that we read statements hinting at the importance of relationships (and feelings?).

  • As distinct from other great apes, early humans began mating via pair bonding, with the result that nuclear families became newly cooperating social units.
  • [Other great apes do not have] human-like joint goals; there is no cooperative communication for coordinating actions.
  • Great ape cognition and thinking are adapted to this social, but not very cooperative, way of life.

Tomasello argues that this cooperative way of life, developed in response to ecological variations, led to “Thinking for cooperating”.

To be clear, I think Tomasello’s arguments are quite robust as far as they go albeit with one caveat, and that is reflected in his statement, “Humans have thus constructed learning environments within which their own offspring develop”. That we have learning environments is true, to be sure, but that we ‘constructed’ them elevates our ability of rational control above rational limits. Even our modern child rearing arrangements are based upon cultural evolution by historical accident, and while we think we know what we are doing, we also know that unforeseen consequences are unavoidable and that much of our success in promoting child development comes from attending to the basics of emotional attachment, group relationships and play. Yes, cognitive skills are important there, both to develop and for developing, but the contextual process is not one of ‘construction’; our rationality is quite limited in its intentional power because so much is unconscious. (Consider Daniel Kahneman’s quote in Thinking Fast and Slow from Herbert Simon, “Intuition is nothing more and nothing less than recognition” of what rises for conscious presentation from subliminal processes and feelings play a larger role in those processes than some might expect or include in their discourse).

With that caveat expressed, I want to expand on what I think the context is, i.e., what lies beyond where Tomasello’s argument falters, or more to the point, what our current orthodoxy seems to neglect in its discourse. Once upon a time, a long time ago, in the early 20th century, before information theory and molecular biology transformed biological, including psychological, science, some intellectuals focused on symbols. As I hinted above, topics like feeling, art, and symbols are not well represented in more recent books, and there we have lost something. I came of age appreciating C. S. Pierce’s and Ferdinand de Saussure’s theory of semiotics, Ernst Cassirer’s philosophy of symbolic forms and his notion of man as a symbolic animal, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, Noam Chomsky’s theory of mind and linguistic structure, and of course, Susanne Langer’s keen and profound insights on presentational and discursive symbols.

When Tomasello writes that children and apes have “very similar cognitive skills for dealing with the physical world” but that even very young children already have “more sophisticated cognitive skills [than apes] for dealing with the social world,” the question arises why? How is it that humans have developed a more cooperative umvelt along with symbolization? I would argue that our empathic abilities motivated concerned, prosocial action, but the key issue for me here is how the powerful relationships between surface signals and deep structures, e.g., semantic meaning for discursive symbols and artistic import for presentational symbols, developed. My intuition over the years has repeatedly presented for my recognition the idea that human intimacy and symbolic forms are indeed related and that between the two, intimacy is primary. Here’s the deal:

To progress from signs and signals with their isomorphic referents to symbolic surface and deep structures requires a more powerful sense of what exists in another’s mind. Consider these distinctions:

  • between a raven’s caw when chasing a hawk and a person shouting fire
  • between the raven’s roosting at evening and a person watching the colors fading at dusk
  • between skipping a rock across a lake and cracking a nut with a rock
  • between a green light at an intersection and the green light on the dock at Daisy’s house Gatsby sees across the bay.

In each case the first example involves a signal with acutely circumscribed significance and the second involves a metaphorical vehicle with a tenor of deeper significance. (Consider that Lakoff and Johnson develop a useful epistemology through symbols and metaphors in their book, Metaphors We Live By.)

Consider now the ontogeny of human relations in the important basic development of attachment and emotional regulation that leads to adaptive prosocial relationships. This is primarily a function of the right side of the brain, as the research summarized by Alan Shore shows, and it is here that a sense of self initiates hopefully to become one of empathic cooperativeness. With further development a neural center serving the higher or extended functions empathy in the right hemisphere around the OTP (occipital-temporal-parietal) junction (what I call Empathy Central or EC and the orthodox call Theory of Mind or ToM—see post 10/31/16). This is analogous to the left sided OTP area known as Wernicke’s area that serves semantic meaning, so the right-sided OTP would analogously serve empathic or social-emotional significance. That would serve as the basis for aesthetic import that arises, I think, in a much more complicated manner through a more widely organized system. Humans have a highly developed sense of self and empathy with another self, and while this enables cognitive perspective taking, it remains a function based on feeling, just like the left sided grammatical functions are based upon grammatical feelings of fitness, e.g., this feels right and that doesn’t as in Chomsky’s “colorless green ideas sleep furiously” is grammatical but meaningless and Yoda’s “A jedi will you be never” is not grammatical but meaningful. (Compare also phenomena of handedness; cross your arms right over left and left over right and one will feel more comfortable or fit. Same with clasping fingers with right or left thumb on top or throwing a ball with right or left hand.)

The idea here is that human attachment paves the way for intimacy and a keen sense of another’s mind, that this is primarily a right sided function that matures before the left sided language and that the two sides communicate with each other in the coordination of communicative behaviors. Consider next the arcuate fasciculis, a long fiber tract that on the left side connects Wernicke’s and Broca’s area and is a part of the mirroring system. The arcuate fasciculus facilitates verbatim repetition of what was just heard, i.e., it helps connect the auditory signal constituting the surface structure to the motoric plans for saying that same surface structure (see post 4/24/14). No meaning is required, but here is the catch. Remember a time when you heard someone say something but did not quite catch the total message. You probably rehearsed silently using the arcuate fasciculus what you heard until you were able to decode and complete the surface structure and so glean its meaning using both your analysis of the communication signal and your composition of context, including knowledge of the other person and the situation.

This example demonstrates, I think, a basic insight into the development of human symbols. A signal, i.e., surface structure, carries its deep structure through our empathic apprehension of another’s mind and its presumed contents; we ‘know’ more is there and can even surmise what it might be through EC. Without that evolutionary step symbols could not develop. (Hey, what a perspicacious title for my blog, eh?) That deep structure may be conventionalized and carried by lexical items as in discursive language or not conventionalized, its formal or aesthetic import carried by the presentational art symbol. Without the active inclusion of both symbolization and empathy in our doxa, orthodox discourse will have difficulty bridging the gap between, as Tomasello quotes Donald Davidson, human evolution “from ‘no thought’ to thought’.” The heterodoxical statement, “No thought without feeling” may be heretical but should still be part of our discourse as we strive to bridge that gap.

And now travel on with feeling. Happy New Year.

Alegria, to the world

Alegria.

That is some language’s word for joy.

I learned that at the circus,

Alegria,

and I liked it.  Alegria!

Not enough these days to go round the world

& I hope by saying the word, alegria,

its quantity will increase.

Really, though, I want you to know

I know that is just an illusion

I have about joy in the world.

Alegria.

Holiday op-ed

Here’s a different sort of post for the holidays.  Happy solstice.

some illusions matter more

We all use some illusions to help us through the night. Some of these are based upon probabilities, such as the illusion that driving to town or flying away on vacation will be safe, and chances are that they will be. Some illusions are shakier, like thinking our daughters (& sons) or sisters (awives) will live without being sexually harassed or assaulted, and sorry, that will probably not bear out. Others are enshrined in the culture despite evidence to the contrary. Parents always know best. Men are smarter than women. Our religion is better than the others. Some conservatives still believe tax cuts for the wealthy trickle down to enrich the lives of the rest of us. Some liberals believe that having identified the greatest good for the greatest number, people and their leaders will endorse those and other compassionate actions to address their needs. Oops!

My own personal illusion is this: humans are intelligent and will act accordingly. Sure, we have some islands where that seems to be true. NASA has mounted some spectacular voyages to Mars, Saturn and beyond. Our medical researchers continue to guide us in the control and treatment of various diseases. People do respond to disasters and give aid, at least to those who are like us and before donor fatigue sets in. And sure, some NGOs, governmental projects, and businesses operate with the long view in mind but these seem to be ever fewer as the world turns round. Then we have today’s increasing tendency to believe and act upon conspiracy theories, even ones as ludicrous as the child sex ring in a pizza parlor or that the holocaust is fiction. Our faculties for critical appreciation seem befuddled and many struggle to discriminate fact from fiction. Some politicians are, and some are not, honest populists. Some people preach religious doctrine as a means for demagoguery; some affirm their faith through compassionate acts. Yes, some have the illusion that our society is one of justice but racism still exists; indeed, it is rampant in our society—look at our president. And our governmental institutions increasingly act in the vested interests of money and power even as they claim objectivity; some people even believe that our government upholds economic justice. Our intelligence in many of these matters is on hiatus. It is no accident that several modern Nobel prizes for economics have recognized work demonstrating that people act not just disregarding the probabilities of consequences but also in contradiction to their perceived best interests.

Always at this time of year I read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. As I have grown older I have been amazed to find its deeply held love of humanity and its advocacy for compassionate action, despite the lip service many give, increasingly overshadowed by an ugly cold culture focused mainly on economic values. The figure of Scrooge is justifiably universally known, but his epiphany seems a quaint and pale relic of an irrelevant past. Could it happen today? On Wall Street? Really? I remember especially the scene where Scrooge asks the ghost of Christmas Present if the children hiding beneath his cloak are his, and the ghost replies that they are humanity’s, the girl Want and Boy Ignorance, and that we should beware them both, but the boy more. Dickens in much of his writing tried to educate us about our illusions hiding an ugly side of reality that can and does overwhelm our better natures. Whatever personal illusions Charles Dickens himself had, his warning against want and especially ignorance is not one of them. I am not so sure about his affirmation of cherishing the least of us.

Whenever my illusion about our intelligence frays and threatens to tear apart, I seek out great art, taking in some at the museum, or reading literature like Dickens, Hemingway, Faulkner and Whitman, etc., watching brilliant movies like None but the Lonely Heart, Boyhood, Wadja, The Last Cab to Darwin, or Fences, etc., or listening to the elusive enchantment of music in its many genres from many eras. These artists with their true and deep regard for humanity and their genius for illusion oddly enough can help us act intelligently and compassionately in the real world from its ugly side to the sublime if only we pay attention to what illusions matter most.

Travel on.  Next post is a long one on the doxa, science and humanity.

 

 

chimp audience monitoring

Here is a brief story while I work on a longer post. The NYT tells of a study of chimp communication that contradicts much of what I read and indicates that they, too, have a Empathy Central (or Theory of Mind to you orthodox).  Check it out:  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/15/science/chimpanzees-communication-language.html.  The researchers (humans, that is) put a plastic snake on a path the chimps used regularly and waited for one to come along.  As the chimp approached the humans played a recording of either a chimp giving a resting call or a danger call.  When the walking chimp saw the snake, he or she, of course, gave a danger call.  If they had just heard the resting call, they gave more danger calls and looked around for others to make sure they knew about the snake.  If they had just heard the danger call they reiterated that but did not enlarge upon it.  This demonstrates pretty well, I think, that chimps monitor their audience and adjust their communication accordingly.  This is a high level skill, perhaps in an incipient phase, but still demonstrates awareness of what is going on in another’s mind and then to communicate accordingly.  Still to be examined is if some male chimps ‘mansplain’ and go on and on boring the others with irrelevant incoherence.

bonobo2

I knew all this already. Why does he go on and on?

 

Book review: Inferior

I liked this book, Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong—and the New Research that’s Rewriting the Story by Angela Saini; it is not, perhaps, the most sophisticated or conceptual review of sexual differences focused on the brain but she exercises due diligence in seeking out the scientists who are studying the matter and writes well about the historical development of the field. Her self-set goal is to explore the scientific basis first for saying male and female brains are different and second that one (yes, you know it is the female one) is inferior in some respect, thus the title of the book.

Some time ago around a dinner table with a diverse group of people discussing the art and artefacts we had seen on our tour of southern France, I made what I thought was a pretty non-controversial subject, that male and female brains are different. Whoa, several young ladies who were undergraduates objected, I think, on social justice grounds. I have no problem with that, but I do think our brains are different. The difficulty, which Ms. Saini documents very well, is that the cultural biases about and against females is very strong. Orthodoxy is not just conservative but its biases are also insidiously pervasive, so that even our basic conceptualization can be distorted. I would add that we have this rather stupid proclivity for quantifying and comparing, thus saying something is more or less than another thing, when there is not a valid basis for doing so. We talk about not comparing oranges and apples and then do just that all the time. It’s ugly, really.

So I think male and female brains are different, an apple and oranges sort of thing. Ms. Saini actually cites one clear difference but does not make enough of it. When comparing male and female IQs there is little difference manifest at the top of the scale; men and women are both very intelligent and talented. The difference comes at the bottom of the scale where more males have lower IQs and this is because of increased developmental disabilities. That is a key difference because it reflects the heightened vulnerability of male brains especially as our brains are shaped early on by higher testosterone levels. This I learned from Norman Geschwind long ago and that result has held up.

Now Ms. Saini cites Dr. Geschwind also reaching a rather stupid conclusion (or at least trying out a stupid hypothesis) from this data when he argued that because testosterone slows the cortical maturation of the left hemisphere in particular, males would have a stronger right hemisphere. No, males have a weaker left hemisphere and many of their developmental disabilities are language based. Correlated with this, remember that a higher percentage of males are left-handed than females; this is not a sign of stronger right sided functions but of compensatory adjustment for that left sided delay. So at my dinner conversation a few years back I was talking mainly about the hormonal influence on brain maturation that results in a statistically significant level of cortical disorganization more in males than females; the increased incidence of learning difficulties in males is a reflection of this.

Ms. Saini also reports another finding that fits with this line of thinking. Research into the connectome using ever increasingly sophisticated technology shows a small male-female difference in connectedness. Males show slightly greater connectedness within each hemisphere and less between hemispheres while females show more connectedness between hemispheres. I think this manifests in a couple of ways but this is only my thinking; to be frank our ignorance of brain functioning makes any statement a tenuous hypothesis. Nonetheless, my understanding is that the right hemisphere is dominant for processing information derived from the current moment, especially for the kinesic communication and empathic functions supporting social skills (Theory of Mind stuff or as I prefer, Empathy Central), while the left is dominant for displaced, verbally abstracted information (both sides do both so please remember that dominance is quite relative and also quite variable in the population both male and female). Females from a very young age show more engagement in social interactions of various sorts, and I think they are more engaged because their brains function in a more integrated manner between immediate Empathy Central and displaced abstractions. Along with this consider that females are more resilient in recovering from brain trauma, e.g., areas in the other non-damaged hemisphere are better able to compensate for the loss because of the inter-hemispheric connections.

Anyway, I think male-female brains are different in some significant but subtle ways. Much of what the scientists told Ms. Saini reflects this, i.e., any differences are mostly hidden by the great variability among individuals of both sexes, variability increased by the plasticity of the brain over a life-span. The signal of significant differences is difficult to separate from the background noise due to traditionally very low statistical power, a criticism made powerfully by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. What Ms. Saini reports on very well is how society and scientists have misused these results to confirm biases against women, e.g., that they are less intellectual, less talented, less sexual, less whatever. She documents how popular science writing often misrepresents what a study actually finds, blowing it up to hype the drama. She also documents how these misconceptions and misrepresentations underlay horrendous practices such as female genital mutilation. I had no idea of its prevalence, wow.

Inferior is a good read. I had an early quibble when Ms. Saini says that studying human infants is difficult, almost “like working with animals.” Oops! Then a few days later I saw an article by David Premack, a preeminent pioneer of simian research, entitled, “Human and Animal Cognition: Continuity and Discontinuity”. As I was saying, some categorical errors are embedded in the habitus in an insidious pervasive manner. So while still a quibble, it seems a small one indeed.

I realized at the very end why I liked this book. Ms. Saini is following, probably without knowing it, Monod’s prescription for an ethic of knowledge leading to a knowledge of ethics. To quote her last sentences, “The facts are what will empower us to transform society for the better, into one that treats us [females] as equals. Not just because this makes us civilized but because as the evidence already shows, this makes us human”. Well said.

I despair for my country. I think America last election jumped into the toilet and pushed the lever down and that shows, I think, our culture’s intellectual integrity is cracked, perhaps fatally, but time will tell whether my pessimism is justified. I am encouraged about my species, however, as we begin somehow to treat females with equality and respect. Thus, from the past women’s suffrage and the right to own property  and not to be property and now, Malala Yousafzai’s efforts for female education, recognition of women who contributed mightily to major scientific efforts without adequate credit before now, even Saudi women driving cars (please see movie Wadja) and most recently, the light of day shining so strongly on male sexual harassment and assault showing that it is unacceptable, give me some hope. Maybe someday soon women will be paid equally for equal work and all cultures will value female babies enough not to kill them and refuse to treat girls and women as chattel even lower than cattle. Ms. Saini’s book helps us along this path and I am happy there to travel on.

4th Anniversary: the view from here

I look at what we humans do every day all day long in the course of living and see biological marvels. Over the course of these past four years while blogging here I have worked assiduously on my book and I near the completion of this, the fourth and, I have promised myself, final draft (I want to go on to other projects). I have changed it substantially since that first draft around 3 years ago, in which no one was interested and I did not feel like self-publishing. The draft now reflects what I have learned since then and I will self publish maybe late next year (still have to finish last chapter on ethic of knowledge). Chapter 3 is entitled “Selves Within MEMBRAINs Sharing” that reflects the journey to find our roots in empathy and symbolization that grow to flower and fruit in culture, especially the aesthetic aspects. Here are its concluding paragraphs that capture, I think, where my intellectual journey has led me so far and the view from that vantage point:

“Now we can survey how selves within MEMBRAINs share information, i.e., how embodied minds communicate incidentally and intentionally amongst one another and so create a social (though the term seems less than apt I know of no other one) organism. (Perhaps ‘social being’ is better, our counterpart to the bees’ swarm or Star Trek’s Borg. In any event while each soma maintains its individual embodiment, each soma and its brain participates at an essential level in the MEMBRAIN). Begin with the Umvelt, so that each soma has a common experience/construction of reality, initiate conspecific relationships through sexual reproduction which begins the evolution of powerful empathic abilities evidenced in child-rearing and further development of kinesic communication enabling more complex interaction and cooperation (and competition too, I guess), then with the increased awareness of the other’s subjective self and mind coupled with a highly developed and deep seated empathic altruism, develop signal and symbolic communication. This provides the skeleton of the social organism; the evolution of greater means, e.g., memory, maps, social objects, and symbols to control and displace information that serves to enrich each individual mental domain, then provides the muscle for the social organism to act as a unity. Finally the development of social constructs, forms shared more or less invariantly, upheld and inheld by each individual created culture, e.g., the habitus of shared predispositions, i.e., information shared and inculcated as a matter of socialization and acculturation, e.g., a group ‘mind’.

This reveals the complexity of one mind embodied within a MEMBRAIN in a brain within its own soma. A mind whose consciousness is continually composed from sentient awareness of the ambient and conscious contributions from its own sources, e.g., memory, imagination, etc., information old and new, invariant and variant, immediate and displaced; a mind also serving the self arising from a sense of agency and autobiographical memory, the self allocating volitional and intentional energy to its actions; consciousness organized through various systems which contribute and organize the results of subliminal processing, e.g., Ff: feedforward (constructive), Fb: feedback (corrective), and Fs: feedsideways (intuitive); a mind keenly engaged not just with social communication but also with social existence including empathic, symbolic, and cultural domains; and finally a mind whose unity of consciousness in a specious present and whose independent subjective singularity based upon the integration of many temporal operations and loops is its ultimate illusion.

Out of this complexity comes our sense of time, life span, experience, past, present and future. None of how we experience ourselves and our world is determined or ruled by any logic other than the chance and necessity of our evolutionary past. Our minds are islands in an ocean of reality and we experience the tidal shifts and the waves glistening and breaking to wash up on our shore. Time flows but is not linear—we have only to listen to music to apprehend the multi-dimensionality of our temporal sense. A life rises and ebbs—we have only to reflect upon our own basic autobiography and our feelings for those who have come and gone to apprehend the singular act our life comprises. Experience is a construction from many disparate parts or systems—we have only to meditate to apprehend the challenge of mindful peace. The future flows backward through the present into the past—we have only to appreciate art to apprehend a moment from another life and share a brief feeling of the tides, waves and winds on the banks of that other’s island nearby or far off in the distance in seemingly the same ocean of experience.

Finally, our biological heritage leads to an ethic of knowledge. A soma carries the genetic material into the next generation; to do so it must mitigate exigencies and exploit opportunities. Its brain evolved through the genetic flow from the SWP watershed to process ambient information and retain its experience in some form that help to meet the exigencies and possibilities of a wider world. With the CR watershed and the increased flow of empathy, the MEMBRAIN formed within the brain to engage with its conspecifics and so transmutes the individual challenge of each soma to live and reproduce into a social effort, or better, a communal one, and going further, a conscious one. Human intellect is only one of the many paths leading into the future world. Our heritage has led us to this point where we understand that understanding is the key to our successful adaptation and survival, and our empathy is key to our understanding. Thus our intellectual imperative is to pursue and honor an ethic of knowledge with some assurance that this will lead to a knowledge of ethics, that our ignorance of ourselves and our world, whatever our knowledge of them may be, is the source of all mysticism and of future intellectual progress, and that our loneliness, felt from within the mind’s isolation and with the memory of those who are gone by, is the measure of our engagement and love of others within the limits of this particular life. With a true ethic of knowledge we both stand on the shore and ponder the ocean’s currents, winds and waves and walk inland to gain a renewed mystic apprehension of our world. That is what enables us to enliven our bond with other, even unknown, life.”

Travel on.