Archives for posts with tag: Self awareness

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.

Ever-since Descartes –  dubito ergo cogito, cogito ergo sum, the western culture had considered that a person becomes truly human only after they actively start looking for answers. Start thinking about their own persona, in a conscious manner.
Otherwise put, we start existing only after we notice our existence.

The corollary of this concept had been ‘rational thinking’. The belief that it is possible to consider something – to emit a judgement about a subject, only after dispassionately examining all available facts – and only the facts, pertinent to the matter.

While the ‘thinkers’ were coining the concept of rationality, the more practical minded had come up with the scientific approach. Gather as much information as possible about the subject you’re interested in, interpret it and come up with a conclusion. But keep an open mind about any new information which might come up and be prepared for your conclusion to be invalidated – or, at least, ‘nuanced’, at any moment.

At first sight, there isn’t much difference between these two approaches. Only at first sight, of course…
Those who consider themselves to be ‘rational’ have a hard time accepting other people’s conclusions while the bona fide ‘scientists’ are actually happy when they are contradicted. ‘My work has been considered important enough for somebody to check it. I’ll just have to make amends and all will  be fine’.

Now, I’m convinced that you’ve all figured out that I’m joking.
There’s no such thing as a fully rational person who denies the facts which happen to contradict their conclusions just as there’s no such thing as a scientist pure enough to actually enjoy being proven wrong.

But I’m not joking when I observe that there are so many people who consider themselves to be rational and who refuse to accept as fact anything which contradicts their beliefs. Who have a ‘scientific’ approach. Who cherry-pick only the facts which confirm their theory and dismiss – as ‘fake-news’, all the rest. Just as many as the scientists who do the same thing.

I wonder who supervises their thinking processes.
Are they truly aware about what’s going on inside their heads?
Or about the consequences?

“Profit is a natural by-product of voluntary commerce, exchanging value for value. Increasing profits come from better exchanges of value over time. Accepting a lower value of trade in order to benefit someone else believed to need the benefit is a myth. Self interest has always been a key component of human commerce.”

Paul Garner

The barons who had forced King John to sign the Magna Charta were interested in preserving their privileges, not in the deepening of their fellow citizens’ freedom… yet this was the ultimate consequence of their actions.

“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.

This clause gave all free men the right to justice and a fair trial. However, ‘free men’ comprised only a small proportion of the population in medieval England. The majority of the people were unfree peasants known as ‘villeins’, who could seek justice only through the courts of their own lords.”

The heirs of those barons had evicted their Scottish tenants in search of the higher profits yielded by raising sheep, not because they wished to improve the local food market. Yet exactly those ‘clearances’ had constituted the stepping stone for the economic blooming of Scotland. And for the advent of the ‘Scottish Economic Thought’, epitomized by Adam Smith.

Are we to understand that ‘self interest’ will, sooner or later, somehow morph into ‘the greater good’? By its own, according to a yet unknown ‘natural law’?

I’m afraid this is nothing but wishful thinking.

The barons who had rebelled against King John were following an already established tradition.
Being the nephews of the Norman – read Viking, invaders, they were familiar with the Scandinavian things. Their uprising against the king was nothing more than a defense of their fore-fathers’ way of life.

Of their fore-fathers’ free way of life!

The landlords who had evicted their tenants to make way for the more profitable sheep may have created the conditions for the development of a thriving free market… only it was exactly this free market which had represented the doom of the ‘landed aristocracy’…

So. Is freedom the most important aspect of the free market?

I’m afraid that would be an oversimplification.

The markets are free, period.
If anything impedes their (transversal) freedom in ‘space’ – a ruler, a dictator or even a natural set of events, markets will find their (longitudinal) freedom in ‘time’. All dictatorships have been toppled by ‘history’ and all ‘natural’ sets of events have been overcome. As yet, at least.

The most important ‘things’ in the market are the people who animate it.
Any market would be nothing but an empty intersection of roads if not for the people who gather there to trade their wares. To better solve their existential problems by exchanging the ‘fruits of their respective skills’.
And the freer those people are to hone their skills and to take the fruits of those skills to whatever intersection they choose, the better the solutions developed, by them, for their existential problems.

And what about the profit? Is it good?

Of course it’s good. But for only as long as it remains free!
For only as long as it doesn’t depend on external forces and for only as long as it doesn’t become an obsession.
Since most of you understand the perils of monopolistic ‘external forces’ being exerted to limit the freedom of the market, I’ll delve directly into my obsession about the hidden dangers of pursuing profit as an existential goal.

We describe ourselves as being conscious.

In Humberto Maturana’s terms, ‘we are able to catch ourselves red handed’.

As a human being I do what we human beings do, I operate as an observer observing. The observer is not a condition of being, it is not a transcendental entity that exists by itself, it is not a material entity, it is our experience of being aware of ourselves doing what we do as we human beings operating as observers observing. And what do we do as human beings operating as observers in observing? We make distinctions. We make distinctions of objects, of notions, of ideas, of concepts, …,of entities that we bring forth with our operations of distinction together with the domains of existence in which they arise.

When hungry, we not only feed ourselves. We also notice that we feel good once our bellies are full. And we strive to make provisions for the next meal. Thus increasing our chances to survive.

Some of us end up eating too much. They are so keen to reproduce ‘that’ good feeling that they end up morbidly fat. Thus diminishing their life span.

Still others try to make sure they’ll enjoy their next meal by appointing themselves ‘gatekeepers’ to ‘food’.
And, sooner rather than later, every time they succeed, this ‘arrangement’ ends up in abject failure. The most publicized recent example being the failure of the centrally planned ‘popular democracies’. Unfortunately, there had been countless other examples. In fact, in all instances where power had been concentrated in a too small number of hands, the societies which had allowed this to happen have eventually collapsed.

Another example is our addiction to drugs.
All of us enjoy feeling good. Which is an evolutionary device meant to show us we are on the right track. To prod us in the right direction.
Some of us have discovered ‘the short cut’. Instead of doing ‘the right thing’ first and expect the reward afterwards, they just imbibe the ‘right’ substance. Alcohol, sugar, nicotine, heroine, coke, THC

Now, can any of us pretend that a drug addict or a morbidly fat individual is a free person?

Returning to the freedom of the market, we can only say that a market is functionally free for only as long as a functional majority of the trading agents behave in a free manner. Do as they individually see fit.
Compare this to the situation when, for whatever reason, the majority of the trading agents feel compelled to follow a fad.
The Tulip Mania is the first example which springs into my mind every time I discuss this subject. Followed by all other bubbles which had ‘punctured’ our economic history ever since.

The current fad being ‘profit’.
Which profit is essential for the long term well being – read ‘survival’, of any economic enterprise.
Only we need to remember that economic enterprises are meant to solve problems. To be of service to people. So useful to the consumer side of the market that the consumers are willing, on their own accord, to part with enough money to make those enterprises profitable.

If the market is warped so far that things go the other way – enterprises are managed to maximize profits at the expense of the services rendered to the clients and the ‘beneficiaries’ are not aware of what’s going on, or have no say in the process, the whole thing starts to resemble what used to happen inside an opium den.

We somehow managed to weather all economic crises that we, ourselves, have brought upon our heads. And to outgrow our obsession with opium.

I’m sure we’ll manage to free ourselves from our current obsession with profit.

Nota bene!
Under no circumstances we may allow capitalism itself to be left behind in our quest for liberty from the tyranny of ‘profit’.
Capitalism is something else than the unending and callous adoration of the ‘golden god’, just as profit is a very useful indicator but a horrible master.

 

I’ve been asked this – who wasn’t?, for so many times that I’ve lost count…
Only the last instance was different.

The context was a lot more serious than usual. We were discussing ideas!
Individual, social, freedom… and we were doing it in English – my ‘second’ language. Hence I was a tad more alert than when chatting away in Romanian.

Have you noticed that in English ‘you’ has three meanings?
A singular ‘you’, a plural ‘you’ and a formal ‘You’ which covers both singular and plural.
In French we have ‘tu’ for singular and ‘vous’/’Vous’ for both plural and formal.
In German ‘du’, ‘inhen’ and ‘Sie’. Only ‘sie’ – starting with small s, as opposed to capital S, means ‘they’…
In Romanian, ‘tu’, ‘voi’ and ‘Dumneavoastra’/’Domniile Voastre’. Literally, ‘Your Lordship’/’Your Lordships’.

I’m not going to delve into Humboldt’s linguistic relativity hypothesis at this point. It would be very interesting but I have something else in my mind.
I’m going to answer the question ‘personally’. Influenced, indeed, by Maturana’s opinion that human consciousness (self awareness) has blossomed at the intersection between our brain power, our ability to communicate verbally with each other and our emotionally driven memory.

So, who am I?
Just one of you…

Neither of us could have existed independently.
None of us could have given birth to themselves… obviously. But also none of us would have been what we are today without having been raised by and educated in our respective communities. By the ‘you’-s to which each of us belong.

On the other hand, none of these communities would have ever existed without the individuals who compose them AND without those individuals being self aware enough to notice their existence. ‘Their existence’ meaning both the existence of the individual personalities which compose the communities and that of the communities themselves.

To simplify matters a little bit, we – as individuals, depend on the well being of the communities to which we belong while we – as communities, depend on the self-awareness of the individuals who animate each of the communities.

If we add the piled up consequences of all the decisions we – as a species, have ever made we end up with ‘culture’ and the present state of the environment which surrounds us – also known as ‘civilization’.
I’ll leave these for another time.

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.

 

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.

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