Monday, March 2, 2009

Part 5

As we ended with the teaser about the major revelation, I should explain the one that came to me while prepping this.

Most revelation in popular usage, comes from religion (i.e.: “that which is revealed unto me/us by holy spirits, etc.”), and not just X-tian. The reason the philosophers took over the last entry is that they are the only other people from whom we will accept revelation (a/k/a: “matters/thoughts revealed by reasoning upon investigation,” usually in a discovery process) besides old dead guys in robes: old dead white guys in ties (ODWGIT) As I look at where this is heading, I realize why it came about in the first place. There is a certain character of argument which is inexpressibly smug and self-satisfied for no good reason. That it usually involves Conservative think-tank talking points or Born-Again Evangelicals is immaterial to my point. They do not offer complete reasons for their positions, or dismiss the one’s I find important as insignificant and unworthy of examination. And that irks me. I have not been kicking around this sphere for as long as I have in order to simply offer my hind-quarters for an Alpha-simian to symbolically mount without some heavy petting, at the very least. As I do not dismiss your best X-tian thinkers nor the entire Republican agenda summarily, why do they refuse to engage?

Well, they don’t. They simply will not come to terms with me. (Or people with similar views to mine—let’s not get personal here.) And this is how revelation becomes (frequently, but not exclusively) Definition.

The best part of reading ODWGIT is that they spent so much time arguing in the past (and well-documented too) most of their propositions still have a clearly-defined edge, are sharp enough to cut through the dross of everyday existence to the core of what troubles us. We used to have 'prophets' coming through to preach the Good Word, then balance them with the wandering minstrels and troubadors who would bring the court gossip, and the town criers would fill in the metro section. Then we'd make up our own minds (as if that ever filled a plate). Today, however, nobody is that interested in thinking for themselves; one, because Who Has The Time?—and two, because they are afraid of being wrong. The latter is the most telling because it stifles the very thing which makes Evolution work: "God's Plan" not working out right. Facetious, perhaps; but not really. Being wrong today is the same as being a "loser", the American crime more heinous than child molestation.

But this is getting ahead of ourselves.

Premise #1 established the use of the Scientific Method. This is really nothing more than a procedure, you understand? Math’s is even simpler: Postulate, Proof, Theory. The hardest part to explain is what you are supposed to do when things don’t work out exactly as planned, according to this system. This is called Unanticipated Results. This is not the same thing as “The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” (For an analysis of what is semantically dead-wrongwrongwrong with that statement, I suggest you try Steven Pinker’s The Stuff of Thought, of which more may yet be mentioned.) When you get Unanticipated Results (or even questionable ones) you are supposed to try to find out why, and then adjust the Theory to fit the Proofs, rather than the facts to fit the press release.

When we last left our hero, he was about to describe his BLINDING-FLASH-REVELATION (a/k/a "BFR"). As far as I can figure, they come about mostly when there is a tremendous amount of information in the brain, a general question (kinda like something you'd ask of a Ouija Board), and no particular ax to grind on the subject. For a long time, they happened mostly in the swimming pool. When you have a routine lasting 30-45 minutes (on a good day), you are going to go through the stages of First Splash (COLDCOLDCOLD), Grunt & Groan (into the initial laps), tapping any rhythm you can from the last bit of music heard on the iPod, the inevitable checking out of the girls (well?), and then...something…starts to slip. All you have to do is breathe and stretch and meditate (like yoga), or maybe ruminate might be closer, but there’s also something about the suspension, possibly a similar state to those of the Dervishes of the Far East. Whatever it is, the focus is unlike any other and in a liquid medium as well. I'm not saying that suspension in a gravity under 1G is necessary, but who knows?

And there’s another thing: the streeeeeeetch. It is often said that the brain is a muscle; it requires constant exercise to maintain elasticity. You don’t have to, like, get all pilates on your ass, so that your grey matter looks good in Speedos or Spandex; but a bit more than Sudoku is necessary. So fitting Bergson in my brain required that I frequently repeat the text and even rewrite bits of it so that I could recognize (nice word choice: “re-cognition-ize”, see?) recurring concepts and properly locate and categorize them when they popped up in different phrasings and contexts. It got so that I was arguing with him on finer points of the text, even word choice. Then it hit me: he’d written this at the turn of the century before last. And in French. Whoever translated this did so at or around the same time. Then there was no point in getting snippy over a few questionable noun or verb choices; if I understood his arguments well enough, I could correct the inconsistencies myself. Moreover, I was invited to reinterpret the conclusions in my own words, for my own language, in my own century (what there is of it).

At any rate, Bergson was talking about the value of Evolution but saying that "the truth is that adaptation explains the windings of the movement of evolution, but not the general direction of the movement. (my italics)" This was through a third or fourth reading, having put enough of his essential arguments and terminology in my cortex to have some idea of the processes he must be using to arrive at that conclusion. There was no question of this being another random word-choice error; it was a stand-alone argument and, considering Bergson’s position on the word “movement” as being rock-solid, I took issue with this very strongly.

Bold talk, I know. So, as promised, below is my reinterpretation of Bergson’s major points—adapted for our times! The stuff in bold is mine, the rest is pure Henri,more or less.

the inadequacy of the system (language) to transmit ideas across platforms
• we are forced to express ourselves in words, and we think, most often, in space
action & motion=bodies through space, while thought (concept & idea)=no evidence at all or insubstantial evidence (with respect to the above, this is how we can come up with the fallacious statement: “I’m trying to put two thoughts together.”)
the most important part of communication is having an information packet/range in a “form” that is agreeable to both ends of the argument, or transmitter/receiver array
• in common sense is contained, at any rate virtually and in embryo, all that can ever be attained of reality, for reality is verification, not construction
in order to transmit a thought, we must cease thinking, stop all motion/progression of intellect, then formulate some word objects
What else do you got? Symbols? Music? Postures and gestures? = 3 for the eye, 1 for the ear, and unless you count either exuding ammonia (fear) or pheremones (sexual attractant) you are out of options
• “Life is the acceptance from objects of nothing but the useful impression… Language has been formed in view of practical life, not pure knowledge.” For “useful” and “practical” the term “utilitarian” would be much better.
• “Concepts translate relations resulting from comparisons by which each object is finally expressed as a function of what it is not.” …which is another way of saying, “the expression of an event is so slow as to find that by the time you get it out, all references to it are expired links”
• If concepts actually express what is common, general, unspecific, does not their ground, their utility, and their interest exactly consist in sparing us this labour? …They are building-material, ready-hewn-blocks. They are the atoms, simple elements, equivalent to setting up the concept as a symbol of an abstract class, expressed by a list of general frames into its approximate class, our pigeon-holes all ready-made; the preconstructed frames.” …which is another way of saying SYNTAX! Or, as we can also view it, today, a serial-linked progression of frames into which you can put semantic information…LIKE AN HTML DOCUMENT?!?!

Ok. So, NOW who cares about another ODWGIT? I’m sure you could say that he’s been superseded by lotsa rilly kool new thinkers w/a lot more bells and whistles, 4shure. And you’d be right (if incredibly illiterate).

Henri Bergson is but a point of departure for what follows.

You may have noticed that of the above sling of slang sounds like your webdesigner trying to up their fee. It is not as if I am a geek or such; like anybody else, I use what is available. The French used to call it une idee un l'aire, "an idea in the air"; something floating about in the age, circulating amongst groups and individuals of like minds. Germans called it zeitgeist. There's probably one like it in every language. The popularity of the reference, either a word or a phrase, simply means something is shared in the way of intelligence and comprehension, but with an ineffable quality which is often called "spirit." A lot of us call it a binding metaphor. New Agers have noted its presence when enough people begin to change their way of appreciating something from one central definition to another, and they call it a paradigm shift. As for artists? William Gibson, the author who is generally credited as founding the Cyberpunk Sci-Fi “movement” (though Bruce Sterling is given as the more specific source) didn’t exactly coin the term meme, but is, again credited. Exactly how a meme is defined by Gibson (if I recall correctly, more or less) is that it is some idea similar to both of the above, but more along the lines of an internet “packet” (sound familiar?) which floats about the web as a unit of “digital information which wants to be free.”

Yes, “wants to be free”. Understand, this could be a figure of speech but should nonetheless be at the very least considered as literal. You probably want to ask the same question as I do: Are you talking about free as in “free at no cost” or as “free will”? And wants? How could a piece of “digital information” have a desire, for either end?

It would appear, then, that I’m going to have to seek out another ODWGIT before going on.

The reason the above is phrased/framed by techspeak is that I looked at everything Bergson said and came to the conclusion that he was operating on the same assumptions (ok—word choice? Could be “premises”? “Historical record”? “Sequence of learning”? “Scholarly discipline”? Feel free to fill in a better one…) as the only communications theorist/philosopher worth mentioning, by my lights: Marshall McLuhan. His 1964 book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man is so shockingly relevant to today, it is a small wonder we don't have entire curricula devoted to teaching it. Or maybe I know why already: if we were informed of the ways we were being manipulated by our adverts and entertainments, even to the point of confusing them with our work, participation in civic duties, information absorbtion for decision-making in the common weal of society... There was a reason Gil Scott-Heron wrote his classic song of the '60s, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

With respect to the aforementioned une idee un l'aire/zeitgeist/paradigm shift/meme, McLuhan came out and about with his major thesis back when, but formulated it in the ‘50s, and really out of the basis of his beliefs and opinions, established in smaller works dating back to his 1942 Cambridge University doctoral dissertation. So, context? Einstein, Heisenberg, Godel, but also Marcel Duchamp, Jackson Pollack, John Cage and Merce Cunningham—and there are many more. The post-WWII period was also the start of the Atom Age as well. Significant? Just wait a minute or two.

A few points of CV and pertinent obsv., lifted from Wiki (as usual).
• Early speciality is the history of the verbal arts (grammar, dialectic and logic, and rhetoric -- collectively known as the trivium) from the time of Cicero down to the time of Thomas Nashe.
• Modern life is characterized by the reemergence of grammar as its most salient feature -- a trend McLuhan felt was exemplified by the New Criticism.
• In The Mechanical Bride, McLuhan turned his attention to analyzing and commenting on numerous examples of persuasion in contemporary popular culture. At this point his focus shifted dramatically, turning inward to study the influence of communication media independent of their content.
• Had some interest in the Critical Realism of Bernard Lonergan, re: whilst empiricism, and positivism more generally, locate causal relationships at the level of events, Critical Realism locates them at the level of the generative mechanism and so--
• Critical Realism refers to any position that maintains that there exists an objectively knowable, mind-independent reality, whilst acknowledging the roles of perception and cognition
• His famous slogan, "the medium is the message" calls attention to this intrinsic effect of communications media, but, at the empirical level of consciousness, whereas at the intelligent and rational levels of consciousness, the content is the message.

Now, the reason to traverse that much of the map without any guideposts is the same as going through the thickets of Husserl’s phenomenology: you just have to eat this stuff whole if you are going to digest any of it. (Feel free to extend this metaphor to its logical conclusion, if it makes you happy.) The point here? We are beginning to round the turn into where this all began, how the exact arguments for the “hard problem/soft science” advocates were…framed. (Didn’t think we’d ever get back to that, did you?)

If you are getting bored by now, imagine my surprise. So here’s where it goes from here on out: 1) the new paradigm/binding metaphor for the Brain/Mind is the Internet, and 2) a belief in God is actually stunting the evolutionary process AND were it actually part of “God’s Plan,” it is as well an impediment to the logically-desired results of The Creator.

Meet you at the next page…