Archives for posts with tag: conscience

Most commentators treat Maslow’s as if it were a pyramid. A succession of five receding floors constituting a structure in the three dimensional space.

Something which can exist, and function, on its own.

I see it as a mere triangle. Drawn on a two dimensional surface by Maslow’s imagination and imperfectly reproduced – according to our individual manner of seeing things, on the surface of our consciences.

My point being that each of those levels are nothing more than a set of opportunities.

The first two, which are described as ‘basic needs’ are the stages where we have the opportunity to learn how to drink, eat, manage our immediate environment and our own strength.

And so on.

Basically, it’s what we choose to do in each of those stages which determines whether we graduate to the next one.

OK, sometimes we are dealt with an ’empty set’ situation. There is no food available. Or no water. Use your own imagination.
But since in that situation there is nothing to be done except waiting for something to change – death is a form of change, that situation is of no interest for me. There’s noting to be decided so…

What we choose to do…

All that Maslow is trying to teach us is that our freedom of will might be free but will always be influenced by the situation in which we find ourselves.

When hungry, our attention – hence freedom of thought, will be necessarily drawn to finding food. We will still be relatively free to choose our individual manner of gathering/cooking it but much of our ‘bandwidth’ will be spent trying to fulfill that task.

And so on.

The really interesting stage/floor being, of course, the last one.
Where we’ll continue to feel hungry – from time to time, at least, were we’ll continue to be vulnerable to various potential aggressors, where we’ll continue to depend on friends and associates, were we’ll continue to pay attention to what other people say about us.
But where all those needs will be modulated by our manner of relating to them.
Ascending through the first four floors meant that our understanding of things was modulated by our needs. Reaching the top means that our conscience has finally learned to ‘turn the tables’. To peek on the other side. To trans-cede.

To whatever stage our precedent choices have set for us.
For us to play our freedom.

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Each of us made of a huge, but finite, number of atoms belonging to a few chemical elements, we, humans, are in relative control of a huge, but finite, planet.

As animals – living animals, that is, we need to constantly ‘ingest’ part of our environment and periodically excrete the ‘consequences’ of our metabolism.

As conscious humans we learn. Constantly.
Practically, we ingest information about what is going on around us.
We ‘digest’ it by ‘thinking’ about what concerns us.

Only the more ‘sophisticated’ animals control their bladders and bowels. Hence choosing – according to various criteria, what to do and where to deposit the ‘consequences’ of their metabolism. By doing so they actually increase their chances of survival.

We, as the most sophisticated animal around, have taken a huge step forward. We not only control our excretion, we also control our intake.
Animals – along with plants and fungi, ingest whatever they can from whatever surrounds them at any given time.
We’ve reached the stage where we actually change our environment in order to make it more amenable to our wishes. To our wishes, no longer to our mere necessities.

While the living have started to change the planet long before we evolved into being – by ingesting part of it, digesting it and excreting the consequences of their metabolism, we’ve considerably ‘revved up’ the process.
Simply because of our ability to learn and apply our knowledge towards what we consider to be our goals.

In a sense, we not only ingest our environment in a direct, material, way but also in a ‘virtual’ one. By learning about it we practically ingest it in an ‘informational’ manner. And by implementing our decisions we ‘excrete’ the consequences of our learning.

As I mentioned before, the animals who control their bladders/bowels have experienced increased chances of survival as a consequence of their new – evolutionary speaking, ability.
It is high time for us to learn how to control our imagination/desire in order to achieve the same thing. Regarding to our ability to informationaly ingest and decisionally transform our environment.

We arise as human beings in the experience of observing ourselves observing.

Humberto Maturana, The origin and conservation of self-consciousness, 2005

Maturana’s essay is compelling.
Yet, like everything else done by us humans, it is not ‘complete’.
It doesn’t mention ‘memory’, nor ’empathy’.

A key difference between a psychopath and a sociopath is whether he has a conscience, the little voice inside that lets us know when we’re doing something wrong, says L. Michael Tompkins, EdD. He’s a psychologist at the Sacramento County Mental Health Treatment Center.

A psychopath doesn’t have a conscience. If he lies to you so he can steal your money, he won’t feel any moral qualms, though he may pretend to. He may observe others and then act the way they do so he’s not “found out,” Tompkins says.

A sociopath typically has a conscience, but it’s weak. He may know that taking your money is wrong, and he might feel some guilt or remorse, but that won’t stop his behavior.

Both lack empathy, the ability to stand in someone else’s shoes and understand how they feel. But a psychopath has less regard for others, says Aaron Kipnis, PhD, author of The Midas Complex. Someone with this personality type sees others as objects he can use for his own benefit.

Kara Mayer Robinson, Sociopath vs. Psychopath: What’s the Difference, WebMD

You see, both the psychopath and the sociopath are aware of their own doings. They are able to observe themselves observing. And doing whatever it is that they are doing.
They are aware of their goals.
And do what it takes to achieve them.

The problem with the psycho/sociopaths being that a quirk of their memory allows them to learn – to remember, through language, the information contained in past experiences, but denies them the ability to recollect/imagine the emotional consequences imposed by their actions upon those who happen to be affected.

That’s why the psycho/sociopaths don’t have a functional conscience.

Sometimes during their coming of age, something went wrong.

The interface which mediates some of the information traded between their brains and the rest of the world is flawed.

Our brain consists of three main sections. The reptilian, the limbic and the neocortex.
The reptilian part deals with the ‘mechanical’ aspects of our lives – breathing, heart rate, etc, the limbic deals with our emotional lives – and is the first which can store easily accessible ‘memories’, while the neocortex is the part where most of our ‘reasoning’ takes part.
Of course that these three parts are interconnected. That’s how we can influence our breathing and why we – well, most of us, are able to control our sexual urges.

My point being that self-awareness is not enough.
Both psycho and sociopaths are able to calibrate their actions in order to achieve their goals. Which is the functional definition of being aware of yourself.
By not being able to fully grasp the emotional consequences imposed by their actions upon those who are affected by them, the psycho/sociopaths can develop only a more ‘focused’ understanding of the world than the rest of us.
Which can sometimes be a lot deeper than usual. Some of the psycho-sociopaths have been notoriously proficient manipulators…

But no matter how deep that understanding may have been, its lack of breadth has proven fatal. Historically and statistically speaking, of course.

This being the reason for which having a functioning conscience is an evolutionary advantage for individuals.
And, maybe even more important, for the communities composed of those individuals.

Societies which have successfully identified and kept in check those who behaved improperly fared way better than those which had allowed the ‘bulls’ to take control over the ‘china shop’.

And what better example is there than the fact that democratic societies constitute a better medium for their members to live in than the authoritarian ones?

As long as democracy isn’t replaced by mob-rule, of course…

We need to breathe.
We absolutely need to breathe. Just as we absolutely need to drink and to eat, only not so often.

Yet we seldom think about breathing, we remember to think about drinking only when we’ve forgotten to take along a bottle of water for that two hour drive and we somewhat constantly keep warm in the back of our heads the nagging ‘what’s in for dinner?’.

What makes us so indifferent to breathing – as long as our lungs remain OK, anyway, and so choosy when it comes to our ‘daily bread’? After-all, both are equally important…
And how come we almost never think about the air we breathe but equally almost never forget to dream about our precious car? The future one, of course, not the present! Or about a beach holiday, a diamond ring, Jimmy Choo shoes …

So.
There are some things that we actually need, some we actively want and things which belong to both categories.

Then why don’t we actively keep tabs on all the things we actually need and why do we bother so much with those which are more or less superfluous?

Maybe because we are not machines? And because life is neither simple nor forthright?

Let me start from the beginning.

We belong to the realm of the living things.
The difference between living things and inanimate matter being that all individual organisms eventually die while inanimate matter might, theoretically at least, remain unchanged for ever.

Otherwise put, inanimate matter has only ‘inertia’ and living things have both inertia and an innate ‘will to survive’.
Another difference between the two being that all kinds of inanimate matter are ‘isotropic’ while ‘life’ is almost synonymous with ‘individual organisms.’
It’s just as impossible to differentiate between two water molecules as it is to find two identical organisms – even if they belong to the same species. N.B., not even clones are identical to each other.

As an aside, sometimes it is possible to differentiate between two water molecules. For instance, heavy water is slightly different from regular water. Also, there are some differences between the water molecules which have in their composition different Oxygen isotopes. But if you know what an isotope is… you get my drift.

Coming back to the difference between inanimate and living, the inanimate does not change in time.
A molecule of water remains the same until something happens to it and water, as a substance, has never changed since….
On the other hand, each individual living organism changes, however minutely, with ‘every breath it takes’ while species are undergoing a constant evolutionary process.

Furthermore, we can draw a parallel between inanimate substances and animate species. Both of them, substances and species,  are ‘organized’ along some common ‘information’.
‘Water’ has a certain ‘blue print’, ‘vinegar’ has it’s own – different from that of ‘water’, and ‘wolves’ have yet another one – which is different from that of ‘poplar’.
Only the parallel can be drawn only so far.
All molecules ‘belonging’ to the same substance share the same ‘constitutive information’.
All individuals belonging to the same species do have a lot of ‘constitutive information’ in common yet each of them is different from all of the rest.

Hey, wait a minute!
– You promised us something about needs and wants and now you’re lecturing us about the difference between life and death? What next?
– Bear with me. I’m getting there!

One last difference and we’re almost done.

I told you a little earlier that life is about change while inanimate is… boringly stable!
Actually life is also about exchange, not only about change.
No inanimate molecule ever exchanges anything material with anybody, lest it becomes something else.
No individual living organism can survive for any sizeable amount of time without exchanging substance and information, in an ‘organized’ manner, with it’s surrounding medium.

In my ‘original terms’, each individual living organism has needs while individual molecules have none – except for the ‘need’ to be ‘left alone’ in order to ‘survive’.

I’m not going to enter into details. For now, all I’m going to say is that the above mentioned ‘organized exchange’ is regulated by a ‘membrane’ according to information passed along from generation to generation.
Each individual living organism has it’s own set of information, coded in its DNA (RNA for the more ‘primitive’ ones). Which set of information has a lot in common with but is slightly different from that which has belonged to the previous generation.

For instance, each E.coli bacteria has a membrane – which separates the interior of the ‘organism’ from it’s surrounding medium, a nucleus which contains its ‘constitutive information’ and some other things which are of no importance for this discussion.
For as long as that individual bacteria is alive, the membrane plays two roles. It keeps the bacteria together and mediates the exchanges between the individual organism and its medium. It lets food and oxygen in. It makes it so that ‘excrement’ and CO2 are purged out.
And all these are happening according to the information contained in the genetic material passed over from the previous generation.

In a sense, exactly because each individual organism somehow manages to remain – for a while, at least – in one piece while constantly exchanging substance with the surrounding medium, one may say that each individual bacteria has a form of (proto?) conscience. Remember that it does ‘survive’ on its own, ‘guided’ exclusively by information contained in it’s own DNA. As long as its surrounding medium remains in certain parameters, of course, but this is another issue.

Let’s jump now directly to us, human beings.

OK, we are multi-cellular organisms hence we are provided with a second ‘membrane’ – which is usually referred to as  ‘skin’.
The rest is basically the same. The ‘skin’ keeps us together, breathes in, breathes out, excretes the by products of our metabolism…
Well, not exactly the same! We have yet another layer of ‘membrane’. Using a very modern word, I’ll describe this third layer as being “virtual”.

I’m speaking about our infinitely more complex conscience.

The proto-conscience of the E.coli is  similar to a ‘mechanical’ function.
‘Mechanical’ in the sense that the information contained in the nucleus is more or less directly expressed. The bacteria is not able to asses the results of its actions, to watch itself ‘doing things’ or to learn anything from what’s happening to it.

Time for another aside. Recent scientific research strongly suggests that even unicellular organisms are capable of learning. Something. This is very important, and very helpful towards increasing the ability of any given organism to survive, but doesn’t change much of what I have to say here.

Our conscience is anything but mechanical.
OK, it very much depends on our brains. Hence on our DNA.
It also depends on everything that has happened to us from the moment each of us has been conceived till the very present moment. A single minute spent without being able to breathe during birth can wreak havoc with out brains. Hence with our ability to develop a full fledged conscience.
Furthermore, being born into a relatively well off family during a peaceful era leads to being exposed to a completely different set of stimuli than if born into a poor family during a war.

Coming back to my initial example – very few of us really think about breathing, simply because most of us are accustomed to air being freely available, people exposed to those two different sets of ‘initial inputs’ will have a different attitude towards ‘normal daily needs’.
The first kid will grow with an innate sentiment that having enough to eat is comme il faut and nothing to worry about while the second…
Also, the first kid will grow accustomed to people around him ‘parading’ a host of satisfied ‘wants’ almost incomprehensible for the other kid.

Don’t tell me these two kids will develop the same kind of conscience.
Equivalent? Maybe.
Geared towards the same goal? Survival of the individual AND that of the social norms into which the individual has been socialized? Certainly! Only the social norms I’ve just mentioned will never be exactly the same in those two cases… regardless of those two children belonging to the same broad culture.

As a consequence of their different fortunes, each of them will maintain a different balance between needs and wants. Even if their fortunes will change in time.

The ‘conscious membrane’ can change, and it usually will, following the changes in the surrounding medium. But those changes cannot fundamentally alter the ‘initial orientation’ – that forged during the early childhood.

I’ve reached the conclusion that thinking and digesting have very much in common.

Citarum 2

We can’t do it by our own. Those of us who don’t cooperate/speak with those around them, don’t have what to eat or what to think about.

Both processes imply three stages. Identification, absorption, use.
We use cultural models to identify both our food and the important issues.
Absorption – through our gut/conscience, is both highly specific to each individual and governed by our common DNA/shared cultural traditions.
The ‘products’ of the digesting/thinking process are, again, used both in public as well as in private. Part of the energy we get from our food is consumed ‘cooperatively’ with our ‘coworkers’ while most of our thoughts end up either verbally expressed or put in practice.

Both processes, digesting as well as thinking, increasingly change the environment where we, and others, live.

Citarum 1

Information is like bricks while knowledge is like buildings.
One can make his own bricks from the available mud and then proceed to build his own hut.
Inevitable all bricks made by man will have something in common – after all they are made from the same material, for the same purpose, by individuals belonging to the same species, but will also vary considerably – depending, among others, on the skills of the makers and on the quality of the available mud.
Inevitably the houses will also have something in common – again, they are made for the same broad purpose by individuals belonging to the same species – but they will vary more widely than the bricks do because they have to fulfill a wider selection of purposes in a variety of climates. (All bricks are made to be used as building blocks but buildings are used for many more purposes than simply sleeping in them.)
In conclusion information is something that was gleaned by an individual from his environment while knowledge is a patchwork put together by the same individual using the pieces of information he has acquired previously.
Also please note that while all information is gleaned using one’s senses this process can be a direct one – the senses probe the reality in a direct mode, the observer watches birds in his back yard, or it can be mediated by an information source – the passionate reads, using the ‘same’ eyes as the observer, a book about the same birds.
And any consideration about the difference between information and knowledge would be incomplete if we forget to mention ‘sensations’.
Which are nothing but the raw material – the mud, if you like – from where our brain extracts what we call ‘information’ – which, in its turn, will end up being attached, by the same brain, to the patchwork commonly known as knowledge.

We are very proud of our ability to make ‘rational decisions’.

So proud as to delude ourselves into believing that if we have enough information about something and enough time to consider it our opinion/decision about that subject will be “true”.

Take as much time as you wish.

“Alex prays on his own now, studying the Koran to work out what it really seems to say about gender and sexuality.

Yet he fantasizes about attending Eid festivities in Oakland next year where his mother celebrates. “She can’t deny me when I’m right there in front of her friends,” he says.

But it now feels like the hardest fight is in the past, not the future.

“When your mother hurts you, no one can hurt you as much as that,” he says. “My strength comes from that.” ”

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/how-a-transgender-muslim-man-brings-his-worlds-together/ar-BBlgNNU?ocid=iehp

That’s one way to look at it.
Sometimes it might indeed resemble a punishment but please remember the many times when common sense prevented us from making huge mistakes that might have ruined our lives.

Finally someone who got it right!

Children are born to us, their parents, and government is populated with regular people, just like you and me. Even more so, in a democracy they are supposed to do as we, the voters/tax payers, tell them to.

Just as parents bear the ultimate responsibility for the upbringing their children receive so we, the people, bear the ultimate responsibility for the way we are treated by our governments.

And just as responsible parents teach their children how to drink, how to drive and how to keep these two things wide apart, it is our responsibility to constantly teach our politicians how to behave.

People glimpse fragments from the surrounding reality and then use their newly found understanding to gradually change it.
They do this in three, successive, steps.
The first has a lot to do with happenstance – the right man at the right place, the second involves a lot of ‘due diligence’ and the third depends very much on how those who end up in command of the new understating relate to the rest of the people.
Sometimes some of the people who ‘happen’ to ‘stumble’ on new information/experience something really new feel the urge to communicate to others what has happened to them.
Usually the information gleaned/sentiments experienced during this first step are so new that there are no socially sanctioned symbols that can represent them faithfully so the individual trying to communicate the entire experience has to find a novel way to make it understandable for those around him. This is art.
The second step has less to do with actual discovery and is more about systematization of information already at our disposal. Something like charting a newly discovered territory. Even if we have to adapt our existing tools to the new task – some of them had been discovered during the first step but that means they are already here when we start the second one, here the job to be done is more about reason than inspiration. This is science.
And now, that new information is available – even before it was widely disseminated – people start to use it. Some of it is used straight away/as it is/honestly while some other is used to keep ‘the others’ in the dark or to alter their perceptions in order to fit the goals of the ‘user’/’entrepreneur’/spin doctor.
Usually this last way of using newly found understanding has perverse consequences. The ‘user’ becomes arrogant and starts to believe he has somehow become a (demi)God while the people kept in the dark/unwittingly exploited sooner or later become aware of what is going on – and sometimes express that in artistic ways.
At some point the equilibrium is regained, either through  a  a series of oscillations that ’embrace’ it – a revolution – or through small steps in the right direction – evolution.
(Usually, as the distance between a given state of facts and the perceived point of equilibrium becomes wider then people gradually loose hope in evolution and start to consider more revolutionary methods.)

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