Sunday, October 17, 2010


A brain in a jar of nutrients cannot think. “Thinking” is not something that a brain can do all by itself. A brain is a device for managing interactions deriving from the body -- all the sensory nerve information and chemical modifying solutions -- and then informing the muscles, the organs, what to do about it. Thinking is interaction with the environment which is why computers are not brains. Brains do not sit apart from bodies and “think,” not even at night when they’re dreaming. Not even when you’re only remembeing, because the brain is reassembling past imprints and your body is participating. I get that.

(The source of this following quote has escaped me. I think Jane Friedman quoted it in her blog about writing, but from someone else.) “It's a neuro-plasticity thing. The more brain cells and motor function dedicated to a manifestation, the greater the subconscious and conscious acquisition of accompanying data, stimulating more dendrite growth connecting those brain cells and logarithmically multiplying that knowledge/understanding (much like compound interest hyperbola), making real what began as only desire.” The more participation in the world, the bigger and stronger your brain gets. The less that happens, the more the dendrites wither away.

The next step is whether a human being can be human without a culture, whether or not it is rooted in an ecology. (Better if it is, I’m thinking, and better the more directly it is an ecology based in nature rather than a culture. Maybe a culture without a natural underlying ecology of terrain, weather, tangled banks, animals, is not a culture. Maybe “root” is not a metaphor. Maybe “regional” is the only truth.) Clearly, the body is what knits the brain to the world, which is a culture originating in an ecology. A culture is always manmade. An ecology is a specific planetary interface that provokes a material culture.

The genius of Christianity is purported to be that it was able to become universal by becoming virtual, parlaying the world of the Mediterranean into a three-layered theoretical construct full of angels and fishermen. The genius of right now is purported to be that we can live in a virtual electronic world, talking to people we’ve never met, managing electronic mathematical versions of a world seen by machines gyring in the outer limits of our gravitational pull. We are creating something ideal, Platonic, and as true as math.

I had the idea that it would be good to be “culture-free” or “culture-inclusive” because that might escape all the stereotypes and dumb assumptions that cultures accumulate. Maybe we could shed hatred like an old metamorphic shell. The “better” humans have been doing the same thing as the brain working through the body, always trying to go closer to effectiveness, accuracy and creativity. They are constantly dropping out old cultural beliefs that don’t test true and are adding new discoveries, basically creating a new culture -- even if it ends up being a culture of one. Of course, the closer match one can achieve with the larger surrounding culture, the better the chances of being understood and therefore valued.

It doesn’t work. It is cut flowers, not a growing plant. It is a brain in a jar. We are not meant to live under glass, even the screen of a monitor, even if the monitor is in one’s hand while walking around. It leads us off into virtual worlds that are not anchored in material culture.

Still, it’s good to be a little out of sync because it gives a person -- as well as the culture -- reason to grow. A little dissonance is good, but if the difference is too great the larger culture is likely to confine or destroy the person. Lately we also have the opposite problem: cultures that are so destructive, even self-destructive; so much in conflict; so collapsing; so eroded and receding, that people are gasping and drowning, airless or overwhelmed, terminally confused or locked into obsession. We are so dependent on technology in the “developed” world that a massive electrical collapse would wipe us out. But other parts of the planet are so deficient in ordinary food and fuel that no culture past simple survival is even possible. Whole ecologies are natural killing fields with built-in furnaces and vultures so fat they can’t fly. The cultures that made human life sustainable there are missing. So far there has been no vision penetrating or intense enough to pull us into planetary coherence. Globalism is just a word referring to war, tourism and commerce -- all three are competitive and consumerized.

Culture, like a brain, is always growing and adding connections even as other connections (memories) are withering away. Small sub-cultures constantly form in a sort of vegetal way, rhizomatous, like sub-species. Affinity groups become supports for each other, like families, and the better suited they are to their ecological niche (which is more than just nature), the more they grow and transform into something more important. Stolons grow out to the sides, young go exploring, the climate gets favorable, things adapt and join and evolve. Then they begin to flower and fruit. That’s where new cultures come from.

Somehow this is not good enough for some people. They believe that somewhere is a truly true Truth that they can find out and monopolize. In fact, they become enraged as they ransack the world in search of it and destroy anyone they think won’t fork over the proof they believe is there. They do not know that as American insurance company executive and poet Wallace Stevens says: “The final belief is to believe in a fiction, which you know to be a fiction, there being nothing else. The exquisite truth is to know that it is a fiction, and that you believe it willingly.”

Because it is rooted in the world, because it is beautiful, because it makes room for everyone, because it works. Maybe it has a history and maybe not. It is a choice because it has a future. And it is a CHOICE because no one else is forcing you into it. Your brain and its body, collaborators, have sussed out the alternatives and picked this one. “Making real what began as only desire.”

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