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RE: [xmca] dynamical sensory motor minds
Larry and interested others,
I am reconsidering my phrase "the ravine of phenomenology"; it is not really phenomenology that I wanted to compare to a ravine, agreeing with Larry that phenomenology as a method of inquiry is not just about the first person subjective idealization, but about "expression". I would go even further and say that phenomenology is about the universal and empirical reality of development and first person subjectivity is a fundamental part of expression and activity.
For me the ravine is more symbolic of "incommensurability". This is the real chasm between understanding the internal and the external. What is real and how can it be measured, divided up, and talked about? This is a malady of the human condition, that has played a strong role in our value of old epistemological arguments. In the Western Tradition, probably going back to Plato, our fascination with the origin of the Ideal as external to the individual. It is echoed in Kant as a priori knowledge. It reverberates through nativist arguments about the origin of conceptual knowledge, acutely in the Chomsky’s proposition of univeral grammar and the language acquisition device. I sense a paradigm shift reminiscent of Kuhn. If ideas, our knowledge of abstract universals, don’t come from our human condition by divine right, and scientific method can’t systematically measure them and prove they are real, we have no choice to inquire about them outside of established paradigms.
Why do I go on about this? Because I think we are beginning to find paths across the ravine of incommensurability. I think the more we are able to understand micro processes in the brain, and the macrofunctions that are enabled by them, the more we are able to understand how mental processes originate in the physical body and the more we can begin to understand how significantly the social and cultural processes are a part of the dynamic and bidirectional (or dialogical) processes of cognition. I know I go on about the sensory motor and physiology, probably too much. But at the heart of all my inquiry is a deep seated desire to understand the same question posed before: how does the external become the internal? And the reciprocal: how does the internal become the external?
Hear this from Churchland (2012): “The fact is, the modification, extinction, and growth of new synaptic connections is the single most dramatic dimension of structural change within the brain, from birth onward. Creating and adjusting the precious configuration of one’s 10 to the fourteenth synaptic connections is the very essence of learning in one’s infant and childhood stages, for it is the collective configuration of synaptic connections onto any neuronal population that dictates the family of categories embodied in that population’s proprietary activation space.”
Churchland goes on to describe the difficulties of trying to plot activation points or “sculpt the target conceptual framework” (p. 15) for predictive models. “The real difficulty is the empirical fact that each person’s matured synaptic configuration is radically different from anyone else’s.” And to those of you who have, as Larry has been, trying to understand the potential for personal creative expression, even in forms of narrative, this is significant, but not unrealized. In fact many qualitative researchers and teachers have recognized this all along when comparing the unique attributes of various students from day to day. But in traditional experimental form this amounts to a limited N=1.
In trying to puzzle out the conundrum of how best to research or prove anything about what constitutes our mental representations, Churchland also criticizes the approach originating and continuing with Aristotle, Locke, and Hume of simple concepts acquired as copies and then complexed in concatenations or modulations: “Empirical research on the neuronal coding strategies deployed in our several sensory systems reveals that, even in response to the presumptively “simplest” of sensory stimuli, the sensory messages sent to the brain are typically quite complex, and their synapse-transformed offspring—that is, the downstream conceptualized representations into which they get coded—are more complex still, typically much more complex.”
Churchland goes back to neurons throughout his argument, but this is not just the same old case of reflex psychology. In this book he describes multiple levels of what he terms ”dynamical learning”. “At any point in time, your next activation point, within your global activation space, is always dictated (1) partly by your current sensory inputs, (2) partly by the already acquired profile of your background conceptual framework (that is, by the lasting configuration of your synaptic connections), but also, and most importantly in the present context, (3) by the concurrent activation-state of your entire neuronal population, a complex factor that reflects your cognitive activity immediately preceding the present computational interaction” (p. 19). Churchland makes a case for the brain’s dynamical system as complex, capable of a great range of possible and unpredictable behaviors , and decidedly nonlinear. His argument for the difficulty of studying and understanding these “mercurial microprocesses” sounds much like the difficulty of study activity in activity theory.
So to bring this full circle: taking into account the brain, the body, the cultural, and historical we never stop learning or being and dynamic part of the systems around us. At once our cognition/activity is both situated and distributed.
From: email@example.com [firstname.lastname@example.org] on behalf of Larry Purss [email@example.com]
Sent: Tuesday, February 07, 2012 9:02 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] sensorymotor reguires gaps... especially for the worms
I've noticed that Mike has this ability to offer "openings" into very deep
questions which leaves others "wondering". This is an amazing gift that I'm
guessing is an expression of his own deep wondering about mind, self, world
and the gaps that are continually opening into new vistas and horizons.
I appreciate your and others participating in the dancing which seems to be
roving all over the countryside. Monica, your big question in attempting to
understand the role of mental imagery in the process of reflective
functioning and more specifically in the construction of writing seems to
be a particular focus which leads back to the shared participation in mind
as both internal and external [in Bateson's terms] but as you mention this
boundary is always fluid and we are always problematizing "internal &
external" and the boundary which differentiates the difference.
Monica, you mentioned the "ravine" of phenomenology, but I understand
phenomenology as not merely 1st person subjective idealizations but also as
an approach which is centered on "expression" as movement within the world.
I'm offering another perspective which Sara Heinamaa articulates
as Merleau-Ponty's way of exploring gaps and gap filling. Sara Heinamaa
wrote an article "Merleau-Ponty's Modification of Phenomenology: Cognition,
Passion, and Philosophy" [Synthese, Volume 118, pages 49-68, 1999.]
Sara is interpreting Merleau-Ponty's perspective on our capacity to ARREST
ONE'S ACTIVITY in order to learn something new about the world, about
oneself, and about the elation of self and world. The same topic Mike and
Etienne were exploring. [Also Bateson and Greg in an earlier post] M-P
suggests we cannot "suspend" or "bracket" our passions or "reduce" them in
the sense of suspending our beliefs or thesis we entertain about the world.
[this is a response to Husserl's notion of transcending thesis into pure
consciousness] BUT M-P does suggest wecan take a new stance towards our
beliefs by "arresting one's activity" In M-P's thinking WONDER refers to
this possibility of arresting one's activity in order to learn something
new. In Sara Heinamaa's words "wonder" is the first passion in the sense
that it precedes categorizations and evaluations. Wonder is the state in
which something has AWAKENED the mind-body's attention, but this something
has not yet been measured against EARLIER experience and knowledge.
This idea of "awakening" in M-P's phenomenological exploration of wonder is
interpreted as the state when
"our natural and habitual OPERATIONS of adoption and rejection are
arrested. It is NOT a reflection on passions or emotions, but rather like a
PAUSE, a BREAK, or an INTERRUPTION, in which the world APPEARS ANEW, as
UN-usual, or extraordinary, as strange and paradoxical.
Thus understood, REDUCTION is not a deliberate step or decision, but
involves a passion that one falls into. It cannot be planned in advance but
happens unexpectably." [page 62]
Monica, I read Merleau-Ponty, Bateson, and Mike& Etienne as exploring
differences which make a difference. Arresting one's activity [forming
gaps] seems central to "awakening" and "responding" [answering] the
differences which make a difference. Writing, from this perspective, is a
central "way" or "path" for arresting activity and forming gaps.
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