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[Xmca-l] Re: Rationalism and Imagination

Hi Ed (and others),

Might I offer a possible explanation of your experience of the radio vs tv series as informed by Antonio Damasio?

In the experience of imagining the images (hence imagining?) while listening to the radio version, at the moment we imagine, affective content is activated. It is activated first. What makes stories engaging is their emotional content. During the act of listening to a story, we must surrender our belief or skepticism and place ourselves into a point of view. It could be in the location of the narrator, or of a character, or as a witness of the entire story, a distant observer. These POVs can be constant or changing based upon your own emotional identity toward a character or a situation. You may identify with the protagonist or have aversion for the antagonist for example. What "becomes" from these experiences resembles/represents lived experience as it is experienced in the story world, as it unfolds, as jumpstarted by the affect. Such affective content is not removed, but assists in the creation of an imagination. All this results as a lived experience within a lived experience, which can be stepped into and out of as the imagination wills. This is facile to do while listening to a story.

This affective content, according to Damasio is what orients an individual to make proper decisions for oneself. In other words, affect is an essential component of reasoning about (and imagining) something. This necessity for affect to result as effective reasoning is something that Descartes got wrong, and Damasio discusses this in his book, Descartes's Error. 

Today we know this value of affect because of Damasio's discovery while caring for a patient who suffered injury to the part of the brain responsible for registering affect. The patient could not, as a consequence of this injury, make appropriate decisions for himself, and thus endangered himself. His loss of affect caused him not to consider his own safety and well being. In other words, to understand how to orient ourselves to the world, we sense and then we reason about that sense in order to make a decision how to orient ourselves in the world. Moment to moment requires a new draw of affect and a new reasoning about that affect and a new decision to orient accordingly.

There is an evolutionary logic to this order because of the way we must respond to danger (and survive). We require a system to feel and sense before we can actually can reason about that sense, because there may not be enough time to reason, and so we must just act "with the gut". This is the purpose of the Limbic system, but only recently have we understood its connection to reasoning.

The consequence of living though this process, however, is that the affect can be so elusive and lightening fast in its processing that we may not realize that it is what motivates our reason. And so it seems affect and reason function separately, especially reason as functioning independently from affect.
For example, consider intuition and hunches. We may feel compelled to act on something (or not) without really knowing why. Hence we come to learn "trust your intuition."

Further, the dismissal of affect through reason likely also has an evolutionary purpose. There are times we must sometimes arrange our thoughts despite feeling overpowered by a veil of emotion. So it seems as if emotions get in the way more than they inform, and are therefore "unreasonable." 

This is something of half the illusion of the duck-rabbit, and what is best to be emphasized depending upon the circumstance at hand.

Regardless, these dynamic experiences are much like the way the tin man, the lion, and the scarecrow inform Dorothy, as a congress of voices provide different kinds of expertise in counsel about what to do next.

I think that what happens in "the West" is that we have been told particular stories about rational thought and imagination and expressing emotion, what is appropriate, what is effective, and what completes an experience as an experience. This can be informed (or dictated) by gender, status, role, basically any formulation of culture that shapes us, and may not actually map to how we physiologically provide content to our lived experience, causing a split or dissonance and therefore discomfort, or flatness.

Coming back around to your experience of the same series on television, I'd offer one reason it may have felt less engaging is not so much that the images are readymade constructed images, but also that your POV is dictated by edits of television. You are no longer free to create your own view points to the story and move between them as your imagination may have carried you while you listened to the radio version. Because of that fixed and dictated POV, it is not as fluid to maintain active affective content particular to your own personal directory of experiences, resulting in a more flattened (disaffected!) existence while listening/living to the story. There were images constructed, but they could not be populated by your affect, because affect has to arrive first to ignite the process. The story has to grab us! 

As younger generations come to learn the affective codes of a new medium, I suspect that affect starts to "begin again" to populate the content. But until that time, the images and POVs remain flat and pseudo-meaningless, and therefore less engaging. This may explain why records and stereo systems have so much meaning to baby-boomers, while digital songs on an iPod have different meaning to millennials, despite both being a means to hear music.

Kind regards,