Saturday, December 28, 2013


1, 23456
A fine film of salt dries on our skin and air fills our lungs, smell sears our sinuses, bright lights and sharp sounds strike our eyes and ears for the first time: we cry. Even in utero we were on our own with our perceptions. Postpartum, with luck, we have five senses sending stimuli through the gossamer filagree of incipient mind in a growing brain in a soft skull re-forming itself from its recent passage. We are susceptible to all sorts of environmental risks, not the least of which is to whom we have been born.  Our undifferentiated perceptions feed into, amorphous thoughts reach out from motives innate and mysterious that time and maturity serve only to further obscure. Want figures large. With obvious somatic purpose, it is easy to understand want for food and shelter (eventually spawn): to the newborn, want is the only comprehensible experience. But it's avaricious, cavalier to distinguishing real needs from wonton desires. Want charms all our motives with the conceit of its own centrality, never holding itself to account; this it does from our first waking moment. Want is the minds experience of the will to be and to become, the chthonic legacy of ancient motives acting on it from its first waking. And want is minds’ everything until external feedback begins to organize and disaggregate the underlying impulses: to make meaning.

We are borne alone with our senses. Our mind is driven into the world by our bodies needs which are the basis of all meaning.

Mind is remote from the world and in learning to model it in a useful way is dependant on signals arriving from tools that measure specific properties of that world, our senses. This doesn’t make the world a construct, but it does makes us dependent on the models our senses construct for what
understanding of it we will have. These models all begin naively assuming their individual experiences are representative and that the properties they’ve measured are relevant. The world is not there first for us, but none the less we want the world to comfort us; we find that some things in it do. Among those that do, the degree to which they do is unique in each instance, some comforting and committed, some remote and tangential and some only imagined. We learn to engage along paths positively or negatively reinforced by these things. We often choose wrong, seeking comfort in things that will not afford it, finding disappointment and frustration, but want always wants to seek again. The distinction between want and need is not one we choose to learn and the manner of our learning it is essential to how, from experience, we model the world; those for whom wants and needs are always gratified (or denied) conflate the two in a delusion that will comfort (or torture) such lucky (or damned) souls to the grave.

We learn of the world through our bodily filters and what we call knowledge is a an internal model. Our models are individual and prone to error.

We experience the world through the dimpled prism of our senses. Ancient Rube Goldberg devices, concatenated assemblages of our random ancestry, they send messages to the brain encoded in cryptic neural and chemical chatter. New to this inscrutable signaling, small wonder we enter the world crying; whether from raw consternation or the slap on the rump, our first joyous breath is a scream. Tiny, weak and baffled, our partially developed brains assimilate this Goldbergian chatter in an optimistic effort, ignorant of risk, to make meaning from a well-rounded ignorance. But the physical world affords us a fortune in risk on which to ruminate; foremost is the circumstance into which we’ve been born. Crèche, cradle or sling, that circumstance determines what artifact swaddles our body and what cultures engage our mind. If we had any choice in all this, how would we know, so wailing and flailing we go with the flow because deep in our ancestral past, the advantages of intelligence conspired against the strictures of pelvic anatomy to trick our bodies into producing babies with half grown brains, a guarantee of puzzlement at parturition. For success this trick continues to require attentive parenting and only a particular kind of providence can account for its’ success. Parallel to the pelvic pinch, consequence of a rapidly evolving brain, were adaptations in both parents and children culling out ancestors who failed to master the concatenating tool we call culture, the socializing glue adhering our ancestors in groups. An abstract world of thought, distinct from but inhabiting minds, culture engages us from that first tap on the tukus, the first postpartum dialogue of stimulus and response, into an essential communicative network with others.

Our perceptions are organized by the will to live and the need to reproduce. Having evolved socially this is best done in groups, as we naturally do.

Jostled, fed, poked, stroked and cuddled, as a screaming bundle of joy, our eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin flood our brains with information. The seed of motive in our cranial kit takes root in this pool and synthesizes it into useful form. To the Darwinist faithful “mind” is a punch line told to bodies by their genes to get them to breed, with the balance of life as the joke. In this calculus, the ultimate role of mind is procreation, a distant ambition for a baby. The cultured mind, however, builds a path to this goal by gelling the currents of information, cross referencing until they cohere into consciousness, an awareness its’ emotions then animate. Or is it the other way around? Consciousness allows bodies to make decisions (and this is the joke) that they imagine to be rational that lead them to the great genetic punch line. It turns out that for people, getting the joke requires considerable support thanks to the pernicious pelvic pinch that prevents pre-natal brain growth delivering us into the world with astonishing vulnerabilities. Without a clan, newborns were tiger food and have become Barney fodder. The scientific Faithful know that God in his wisdom set up the game that genes play so that he could tend his garden at his pleasure, not at it’s command and that this game generated communities as the natural habitat for faith, without which communities can not exist. Culture interconnects consciousnesses amongst individuals, most obviously through language, but through numerous less visible and deeper channels as well. All of our tribal customs, behaviors and habits are communicated across generations through culture whether we are aware of the transmission or not. And to engage at all, however tenuously, in the reciprocal exchanges that culture uses to bind our minds to civilization, is an act of faith.

Faith is a universal trait for which culture creates templates in which the ignorant can find the place they fit, particularly the young. Once in, individual temperaments fill in what gaps in cultural knowledge they choose.

The profound dependence of newborns has placed all who have survived infancy in a position requiring faith, if in nothing else then our parents, a faith that from the beginning is in tension with our desires. Equipped with motives and perfect ignorance we wait in agitation until someone figures out our want or need and satisfies the animating emotion. We want to be taken care of. We begin to believe we will be taken care of. One can speculate that these moments through which we’ve all survived are the germs of nostalgia; wants and needs blended and satisfied and a common emotional memory we all share, or we would not be here. Wanting is the motive behind all understanding, to understand we must first want to, but we do not always need to. What is essential forces itself soon enough, but civilization satisfies most of necessity at a great distance depriving most of us of the blunt experiences of real need.  Our inherent individuality provides us with the will to understand what we choose and similarly to ignore what we choose. Within the riches of civilization, it is the nature of this choosing that determines who we individually become. To the extent that these choices are presented by necessity, there is only one correct answer. But civilization, as it has grown more and more complex insulates us from necessity. In this complex social world a child must learn to have faith in others who’s motives it does not understand, and may not come to understand before the memory itself of the event at issue passes.

Faith is born of our individual inability to satisfy, or even know our own needs at birth. Engaging us then it opens a door in almost everyone to community.

Imbedded at birth in the cocoon of individual consciousness, we learn only what we choose from what our perceptions experience, and the environment of civilization has become so diverse that no one can hope to experience its breadth. Instead we all make do with the tiny sliver from our experience to which we choose to attend, concocting a world we think we understand from the tiny glimpses we began stringing together in infancy. We all begin life as arch pragmatists: whatever yields results to our liking we learn to do. Our activities at that early physiological moment become formal determinants of eventual brain structure selecting which synapses become strong and which perish. Bereft at parturition of the organizing structures of language, individual temperaments interact with unfiltered environments to teach us directly through sensation mediated only by our internal representations, instincts and temperament. This bewildering existence is overwritten by the order language immediately begins to imprint once it becomes available.

Any individual is inherently limited in experience by the singular finitude of their exposure. Language affords the possibility of second hand exposure limited only by our actual waking time.

We trade our initial somatically mediated sensory connection to the world with relish for the representational clarity that linguistic order affords but in doing so leave ourselves open to the depredations of symbolic manipulation. Not only lies, but also the whole of rhetoric exist to hijack our motives. Rhetorical constructs like Man vs. Nature are pragmatically useless, unimaginable without language; to a baby, man and nature are a continuum called mom. She is the singular focus of undifferentiated want. As consciousness develops, and language organizes our perceptions, understanding reaches beyond her to an expanding human and material environment with its’ attendant opportunities and risks. The risks are mitigated, and opportunities framed by cultural innovations that conserve the group, institutions that define the community, and equally by that innate, genetic sociability that makes us human. The categories language defines are often used manipulatively to impose an order on perception that serves the orator rather than the audience; constructions like man vs. nature may be used to elucidate or obfuscate. The only protections we have from the manipulations to which language subjects us are our social instincts and the evolved pressures of community expectation, that is, civilization.

Linguistic knowledge is amoral unlike direct experience where cause and effect are laid bare. Once choices are mediated through language we are dependant on cultural forces for the existence of norms. We are socialized, whether we like it or not a part of a community.

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