Archives for posts with tag: Self awareness

Chapter 1.
Feelings, perceptions, facts.

Everything starts with a feeling.
Followed by a reaction.
Which, in biology/psychology/sociology is whatever the feeling organism does after it has been ‘poked’.
At this level, everything happens ‘mechanically’. Even for the most ‘sophisticated’. None of us is aware of what’s going on inside out gut yet a lot of information is being exchanged during the digestion process. We might ‘be there’ when we eat but our presence is not requested while our digestive tracts break down our food into usable ‘chemicals’.

Organisms which are capable of learning sometimes transform their feelings into perceptions.
In the sense that their reactions are no longer determined exclusively by their genes. In some instances they use their learned knowledge to improve their reactions, hence their chances to survive.
Think, for instance, of the many things our dogs do for us. Without having a clear understanding of whats going on but, nevertheless, faring a lot better than their wild cousins, the wolves. Or about the huge amount of data passed from one generation of elephant matriarchs to the other.

Further up the decision chain are the conscious species.
Those whose individuals are capable of ‘observing themselves observing’.
This self awareness is what makes the difference between being capable of being trained and that of actually being able to learn. To choose what you consider to be important and to decide according to that particular piece of information.

This being how facts are born.
We, self aware intelligent individuals, notice something. Deem it to be of a certain importance and, hence, call it a ‘fact’.
Regardless of that something actually having happened or being nothing more than a figment of our imagination.

 

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Things interact according to their nature.
Mass generates gravitational pull, electric charge produces electrostatic forces, a moving electric charge gives birth to a magnetic field… hydrogen is ‘infatuated’ with chlorine, white phosphorus is so keen to combine itself with oxygen that it actually behaves indecently if not ‘modestly’ hidden in water… sex is the driving force which sets the animal world in motion… while survival instinct, however powerful, is, sometimes, overcome by altruism.

Meanwhile rules are just a figment of human awareness interacting with observable interaction between things.

And no, the ‘simple’ ability to learn is not sufficient, by itself, to generate rules. The rats in Rat Park were quick to figure out how to get a ‘fix’ of morphine but that didn’t mean they had ‘discovered’ any rule…
For that to happen, the ‘ruler’ needs to be able to watch from ‘above’. From ‘outside’ the interaction.

And this is why we find it easier to study other persons. Preferably strangers. ‘The doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient’. Simply because our ability to watch ourselves from outside – and to compartmentalize knowledge, is real but severely limited.

Yet, limited as it is, it’s powerful enough to help us generate rules.

 

I’ve ended my previous post by saying that we, humans, are tempted to see almost everything as a potential tool.

And the present one by asking myself ‘to what avail?’.

What are we trying to accomplish?

I kept telling you that we, humans, haven’t invented much. That everything we do has already been experimented by our predecessors. Plants and animals…

Well, one of the things that we did invent was ‘intent’. As in ‘premeditation’.

We don’t know whether plants are driven by anything else except their ‘vital spirit’.
Same thing is valid for ‘inferior animals’ (those which don’t have brains) while the superior (a.k.a. brained) ones seem to be driven by what we call emotion.

Including us!

No matter how much we pride ourselves about our ability to reason, we’re still driven by emotion.
Actually, we’re not even close to being rational!
At best, we rationalize our emotional impulses. Before or even after we put them into practice.
Dan Ariely and Daniel Kahneman, among others, have already settled this point.

Then why am I talking about ‘premeditation’?!?

And who said ‘premeditation’ is necessarily rational?

It is planned, OK, but …

You see, the real difference between us and the rest of most other animals is our ability to ‘watch ourselves watching the world‘. As if something inside each of ourselves is able to send a probe somewhere ‘outside’ and then examine its own individuality as an outside observer. I didn’t say an impartial observer, just an outsider. However biased.

I won’t elaborate on how we got here, Maturana had already done that. Brilliantly. I’m far more interested in the consequences of each of us being able to observe their own selves ‘from outside’, keeping in mind that our rationality is heavily bounded – Simon Herbert and others, and that we’re mainly driven by emotions.

The very first thing that each of us observes about their-selves is the overwhelming fragility which defines us.

And this is why we search solace in religion. In no matter which one of them, atheism included. There is ‘safety in numbers’, you know…

Our goal, professed or not, is to find inner peace.
No matter whether you call it salvation, redemption, nirvana, self acceptance or whatever else, what you crave is peace.

The sentiment (illusion?) that you are safe.

At least for a moment.

How long is that moment going to last?

Well, that depends on how you got there!
And who accompanies you…

 

 

Farfetched?

Somebody was asking the other day on Facebook “how can you prove that a table doesn’t exist?”
The answer, ‘walk through the place where that table is supposed to stand’ is so obvious that it hurts.

So, was that table real or not?

You see, a table may exist in two kind of places. In a store/room/backyard and in the imagination/memory of the guys who designed/made/owned it. It can remain ‘in storage’ long after it was forgotten by everybody and/or can be remembered long after it was destroyed.
A tree, on the other hand, can exist – and die, without anybody ever noticing it. Or could have been lovingly planted and taken care of by somebody. Who might die even before the tree ever reaching maturity…

But how can any of us determine whether a table, or a tree, is real or not?

By attempting to walk through it, and hurting ourselves, we only determine that there’s something there. Not at all that we’d hurt ourselves by hitting a tree or a table…

OK, there’s yet another possibility.

reality figment

Dr. Pierce – who, by the way, was produced by the imagination of a screen-writer, reminds us that neurologically there’s no way of telling apart a dream/nightmare/vision from a ‘legitimate’ perception.

So.
Then it would be possible for whatever each of us perceives on a daily bases to be nothing but some-kind of an elaborate multidimensional movie. Or prank. Played on each of us by some extremely bored ‘arcade operator’. Or by a lab-technician performing some kind of an experiment… In this scenario all other people each of us has ever met would be nothing but characters imagined by the guy who had written the script/devised the experiment…
A slightly different scenario would be that our planet (the whole world?) is a theater, we are the spectators and most of what we perceive is the movie which is played on (for?) us. In this variation we are free to speak amongst us (discuss the movie?) and this would be the explanation for why our perceptions are coordinated so well. After all, all English speakers use the same word for table/tree and most of us are able to differentiate between a table and a chair. Or between a tree and a weed…

Or we could take a completely different road!
There’s a guy, Humberto Maturana, who has reached the conclusion that most humans are not simply aware but also aware of their own awareness. And that this is what really makes us human.
In fact, his ideas make a lot of sense. A dog is aware. If house trained, it will not pee inside and most of them are able to differentiate between their owners and some strangers. But it takes a fully functional human being to step outside of themselves and examine their actions/status.

Without this very self awareness, none of us would be considering ‘reality’. We’d simply walk around the table/tree or directly through the clear space and never waste a second considering whether the table/tree is real.

Or what reality really is.

In this scenario, reality is more like a table than like a tree.
It resembles a tree in the sense that it existed long before any of us ever thought about it and it is like a table in the sense that in order to consider it we need to imagine it first.

Reality exists.
In both scenarios and along both roads. It doesn’t matter whether in the first one we are fed fake sensations and led to believe whatever the screen writer wants us to believe. In order to do that, the screen writer has to exist in the first place. We also have to exist, otherwise there wouldn’t be anyone to watch the movie!
OK, maybe what we perceive has nothing to do (very little?) to the real reality. But that doesn’t mean that a certain reality doesn’t exist at all. Even in the first scenario.

Coming back to the second road, we cannot pretend that OUR reality exists outside us.
Yes, there is a reality – THE reality, which lurks somewhere outside our reach.
What we’re able learn from it, and all we’ll ever be able to learn, is what we’ll be able to imagine first.

Think of it. What do we do when we come across something new?
First we try to classify it among our memories. In fact we try to remember whether we already have a word for it. One imagined by one of our ancestors.
If not, we imagine one ourselves.
And only then we can proclaim that the new thing has been discovered. That it has become ‘real’.

 

For John Locke and his followers “what makes a person identical with herself over time is her remembering or being able to remember the events to which she was witness or agent.” (According mostly to the followers. What Locke actually said is something else, to which I’ll come back shortly)
Jesse Prinz has another opinion.

 

In this video Prinz seems to advocate that we maintain the continuity of our selves by sticking to a set of values. But this is only ‘skin deep’.
He didn’t actually say ‘what keeps us ‘together’ over time but ‘what people think that is ‘keeping us together’ as time passes’.
These two are not necessarily the same thing.
The way I see it memories are just the ‘resource’ from which our identity is continuously being built and the ‘values’ we stick to are the ‘blue-prints’ we use/update during the process but that the ‘driver’ behind all this is our self-awareness/free willing soul.
All three are interdependent.
As Locke observed, without our memories we would be like balloons drifting in a cloud of deep fog. We wouldn’t even be able to determine whether we were moving or not.
As Prinz said, without our values we’re like ships which have lost their ‘compass’.  Just imagine a boat sailing during a starless night or in a cloudy day. There are ways that experienced sailors can use to determine whether the ship is moving – relative to the surrounding water – but not even Black Beard nor Magellan would have been able to reach their destinations without ever seeing the Sun, some stars or using a compass.
Not to mention the fact, sorry Jesse, that without our memory we wouldn’t be able to remember today what set of values we had been using yesterday.
Finally, but not lastly, without our self-awareness/free willing soul we would be like perfectly sea-worthy ships which have been abandoned by their crews. Adrift in the middle of the sea, at the mercy of the elements. Elements themselves being not merciless but amoral…
 I’m sure that by now you have already figured out what I mean.
It is “we” that ‘compares’ and ‘considers’ things, that forms “ideas of identity and diversity”, that sees “anything to be in any place in any instant of time”, that is “sure” of anything (or not)… and so on and so forth…
Without this “we” no discussion about memory nor values would have ever been possible
Without memories the “we” would go ‘hungry’. Or nuts.
Without values the “we” would be ‘toothless’. Or antisocial/in jail.
And all these have already been mentioned, albeit in different terms, by both Humberto Maturana and Stephane Lupasco.
PS.
Don’t tell me that none of you have ever thought, however passingly, of the other meaning of ‘stool’.
ganditorul

 

First and foremost language is perceived as a communication medium.

As such it needs clarity and consistency, otherwise information could not have been reliably exchanged and or preserved through its use.

But language is used for many other purposes than for simply ‘translating’ raw data. Where to find a certain object or how to execute a certain task.
We use it to convey sentiment – the way we are affected by the raw data that has become known to us, and to communicate our particular understanding of things. Our point of view about what has happened around us.
Furthermore we use it to convince people. To do things or to accept our points of view.

All these different uses involve a considerable amount of negotiation.

Regarding immediate goals – the things we are negotiating about, but also some that is taking place ‘under the table’ and involves the continuous fine tuning of the instruments used during the negotiating process. The words themselves.

These negotiation instruments – the language itself, in fact, have to be constantly re-calibrated for two rather obvious reasons.
For starters, the reality around us – and our understanding of it – is changing constantly.
Secondly, every negotiation involves a degree of ‘shade’. In fact that ‘shade’ is exactly the space where ‘change’ happens, where the positions of the two negotiators overlap and where the two can swap ideas.
If words would be rigidly precise than we’d have to invent new ones every time reality changes, no matter how minutely. Also whenever our understanding about things deepens, no matter how shallowly.
Simultaneously, too much ‘linguistic precision’ would kill not only poetry and our ability to convey our real feelings to other human beings but would also gravely impair our ability to influence each-other. Could you imagine how our life would be if a polite intervention would sound exactly like an SMS message of if a marriage proposal would be similar a requisition order?

More about how the linguistically mediated interplay between us has brought about our own self-awareness can be found here:

Humberto Maturana, The Origin and Conservation of Self-consciousness.

What on Earth is ‘itall’ and why would anyone bother about it?

Let me re-frame that.
Why on Earth are we so obsessed with winning in the first place?
It’s indeed nice to win from time to time but aren’t we overdoing it? Regardless of costs?

“Suppose that you are charged with selling a single food item to at least a hundred million people in a highly diverse society.  You can pick whatever item you wish, but you can pick only one.  If you fall short of getting at least 100,000,000 people to voluntarily choose your item over a rival item that will be offered by a competitor, you lose.  (Your competitor is playing by the same rules that you are playing by.)

Being highly competitive, you hate losing.  So you carefully go about selecting which item to choose.”

Already been there? You must surely understand where I’m driving at. Even if you are not ‘that competitive’ yourself you must’ve been wondering why hamburgers taste the same almost all over the world, and not only those mass produced by McDonald’s.

You see, there are two sides of the winning game. No, not those two obvious ones – the two players.
There are the players and the spectators. None could exist without the others but only the players, and the trainers, are aware of this.
Yet the very existence of the game and the manner in which it is played heavily influences the life of the people belonging to both categories.

As Don Boudreaux explains us in “Insipidness Guaranteed” our very fondness of winning big leads to the market being inundated by the very blandest – but generally acceptable – of products. Originality becomes stifled, contrary to the very fact that, from time to time, it’s exactly the original thing that gets the jackpot.

Three things concur to this.

I already mentioned the first.
Most players, or at least those at the top, know what’s going on while most of the (paying) spectators don’t. This leads to the spectators watching mesmerized what’s happening in the pitch while the players ratchet up the tension till it becomes unbearable least the spectators become bored and leave. So the spectators spend their time, and resources, watching instead of creatively using their brains to build something new – and potentially useful.

Our culturally enhanced obsession for winning.
Those players insist because they are plainly ‘hooked’. ‘Adrenaline is one of the most powerful drugs‘. This is true, if you don’t believe me check it on Snopes.com. The problem with this particular addiction is that adrenaline is produced naturally in our body when we compete and that the winning moment is ‘scored’ in the brain by a powerful shot of dopamine, another hugely addictive natural drug.
On top of winning being highly pleasurable, and addictive, it is also positively sanctioned by the society. Drunkenness and being high on drugs are shunned by a considerable number of people while winning is applauded by all.

It also helps.
Yes, winning helps a lot. Otherwise ‘the quest for winning’ would have withered away a long ago by the very same mechanism that encouraged the advent of the moderate altruistic behavior – natural evolution.
No, this is not about ‘the survival of the fittest’ – that’s a mirepresentation of Darwin’s words, set straight by Ernst Mayr in ‘What Evolution Is: ‘It’s not about the survival of the fittest but about the demise of those who cannot cope’.
So, competition is good in the sense that it’s telling the loosers ‘stop trying this and look for another venture if you want to thrive/survive’. The real winners are exactly those who understand something when they loose.

Just as we need to balance altruism with the need to preserve our own personae, both physically and psychologically, by constantly adjusting that balance according to the prevailing circumstances, we also need to understand where our obsession for winning has brought us.

When all we want is to win, we tend to forget that survival is, most of the times for individuals and at all times for the communities, more important than winning.
Darwin had titled his most important work ‘On the origin of species by means of natural selection‘ and had amply demonstrated there that ‘natural selection’ (= competition) is just a means toward the ultimate survival. Evolution, that is.
That’s why we are hard wired to compete among ourselves – so those more adapted to a certain environment might continue doing what they are good at while the others are ‘encouraged’ to look for something else to do. But natural selection never works on the premises that ‘the winner takes it all’: very seldom competitors that belong to the same species kill each other.

Ernst Mayr demonstrates in the book I already mentioned that overspecialization is bad for you. ‘Survival of the fittest’ is stupid precisely because of that. ‘Being the fittest’ – and doing it for any considerable amount of time – means gradually becoming unable to cope with the slightest change that might occur in your environment.
That’s why natural selection includes a mechanism through which small alterations appear haphazardly in our DNA – those who are benign enough survive and provide the individuals that carry them with additional capabilities, so that they might take advantage of slightly different conditions than those where their ancestors have evolved.

We, the humans, have raised this to a new level. By becoming self-conscious – ‘aware of our own awareness’ in Humberto Maturana’s terms – we have developed a certain individual originality – and the need not only to manifest it but also to convince those around us that our ideas are better than theirs. Sometimes by any means at our disposal.
If you don’t believe me read again Plato’s Republic: “Then, I said, the business of us who are the founders of the State will be to compel the best minds to attain that knowledge which we have already shown to be the greatest of all-they must continue to ascend until they arrive at the good; but when they have ascended and seen enough we must not allow them to do as they do now.”

Maybe it is high time for us to understand that a 2500 years old fallacy is still a fallacy. Plato marked the pinnacle of the Greek civilization, not it’s start. After he published his works, and Pericles had finished building his architectural wonders, Athens went slowly downwards and gradually lost it’s significance. Telling people what to think is the sure fire recipe for disaster. Ask the Soviets if you think what happened to the disciples of Plato isn’t convincing enough.

Coming back to where we started, winning, I have to remind you that a fundamentally aggressive attitude leads to the complete disappearance of respect. The aggressor becomes so engrossed in what he does that not only ceases to respect those around him – “He who is not for us is against us” was how Lenin used to see the world – but also looses sight of what he does to himself and to where he is leading his followers.

At the end of the article that spurred me into writing this, Dan Boudreaux, the author, bitterly ejaculates: “No one should be surprised that candidates for the U.S. presidency transact mostly in platitudes and are forever performing deeds on the campaign trail that any self-respecting person with independent judgment and a genuine sense and appreciation of his or her uniqueness would never in a million years dream of doing.  And the closer a candidate gets to the political promised land, the more intense becomes the pressure for him or her to be the political equivalent of a Bud Lite.”

Why, I ask all of you, would they – or any other of the putatively democratic candidates – do any different if we, the voters, continue to behave as hapless spectators and choose to watch as they fight for power instead of reminding them that they are being interviewed for a job, not wrestling for the privilege to take home the prom-queen?

And if they don’t get it – cause they’re too busy flaunting their feathers, we don’t get it – cause we’ve been hypnotized by those very same feathers as they are, how come the trainers – those close advisers who handle the players at every occasion – don’t get it that the whole bandwagon has started to go astray?!?

Real democracy means that the would be leaders put on the table the important issues, discuss them honestly till the voters develop a real understanding of what is going on and then some of them get elected by a knowledgeable community to implement a set of policies.

Where do you see this happening in our days?

http://cafehayek.com/2015/04/insipidness-guaranteed.html
http://www.everythingaddiction.com/science-of-addiction/addiction-news/adrenaline-the-strongly-addictive-drug-with-serious-life-consequences/http://thebrainbank.scienceblog.com/2013/11/26/gamblers-mind-the-thrill-of-almost-winning/
https://nicichiarasa.wordpress.com/2014/10/23/altruism/
http://www.amazon.com/What-Evolution-Science-Masters-Series/dp/0465044263
http://books.google.ro/books/about/On_the_Origin_of_Species.html?id=sX_hAwAAQBAJ&redir_esc=y
Animal Talk: Breaking the Codes of Animal Language: https://books.google.ro/books?id=r49kIaUMrC0C&pg=PA25&lpg=PA25&dq=bluffing+instead+of+fighting+natural+selection&source=bl&ots=lI9Po_MjLw&sig=6a-7QhZLVGsZlTpEXU3YK85fm_0&hl=en&sa=X&ei=qlEzVa2KLIKzPNTqgYgO&ved=0CEYQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=bluffing%20instead%20of%20fighting%20natural%20selection&f=false
http://www.univie.ac.at/constructivism/pub/hvf/papers/maturana05selfconsciousness.htmlhttps://books.google.ro/books?id=xxGttzFXqaYC&pg=PA130&lpg=PA130&dq=lenin+who+is+not+with+is+against+us&source=bl&ots=t1mdQsdmGh&sig=kbxcK2ctK2Q_fw79k0nJN8yBQNs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=6V0zVd9GptXIA7uRgcAD&ved=0CEQQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=lenin%20who%20is%20not%20with%20is%20against%20us&f=false

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