Saturday, May 03, 2014


At present my understanding of the process of being a person with an identity is in four parts that respond to basic principles, which follow.

Identity is a time-art that takes in and discards in the same way that a body does, but it is more than a body.

The identity of any person is interactive with an ecology that is partly physical -- food, weather, material culture, molecules of various kinds -- and partly mental.

It is impossible to escape one’s identity, but one can constantly negotiate the terms of dwelling in it, even though much of it is not available to the conscious mind.  And one can mentally grasp the existence of the uniqueness of every identity in the world as well as believing in the existence of internal functions that can’t be accessed by introspection, but explored by experiment.  That is, we know there are parts of us we can't know.

Likewise, it is impossible to escape one’s instrument of existence, which is the body, but by admitting the existence and bringing to consciousness the elements that impinge on that body -- from emotion to disease to trauma to physical contact with others -- it is possible to protect oneself, be effective in the world, and form attachments to others.

Language is the formal capture of spoken thought, which represents concepts formed in the brain by acquiring and filtering our interaction with the world and our viscera.  First in spoken words, then in written translation.  Music is a language that needs no words but can accompany words to add meaning.  The same is true of dance, painting, sculpture, or any other art form.  But also science and games.  All carry meaning based in “felt concepts” which are then expressed in math, models, structured rules, and so on.

The sum total of felt concepts may be encapsulated in sense memories, which are a kind of GPS system for the location of the concepts in the brain.  The more intense the experience the closer the link to the sensory information recorded at the time.  Remembering it will bring back the muscle memory as well as conventional smell, taste, sight and so on.  The sum of these will trigger emotion.  Sometimes even re-experiencing.  The current belief is that during sleep-dreaming and maybe daydreaming, the person is sorting memory, maybe re-combining or editing.

A “personhood” is in four parts:

1.  The world out of which the identity emerges.  That world will remain outside the body, but send in sense information even in the womb as soon as the brain is capable of recording it.  This includes the womb itself, the woman’s body and the nutrition and molecular support it provides, the sounds of her heartbeat and digestion, whatever impinges on her senses strongly enough to penetrate to the fetus: maybe music, maybe walking, maybe very strong sunlight.  Her emotional responses will travel through her blood in the form of molecules like adrenaline or serotonin and the baby will share them.

2.  The information from outside the skin is always coming to the body in what we call the “sensorium” which is far more than five senses.  The sensorium is complex, constant, sorted and filtered by the brain.  Besides the nerves that convey pain or operate our muscles, there is a second set of nerves in three parts.  As a whole they are called the autonomic nervous system and they are not normally conscious, but quietly operate the viscera.  There are three branches:  sympathetic and parasympathetic which have to do with arousal and relaxation (things like eye dilation, heart beat speed, breathing) and also the enteric branch which manages digestion and the colony of microbes in the gut.  When something is unusual, we have a “gut feeling” about it.

3.  The management of the information of the sensorium is done in a collection of “nodes” or complexes of neurons which are built by the brain as it grows, according to what stimulus it receives through its sensorium.  The basic centres about hunger, warmth, light, falling, become the foundation for a scaffolding about what to trust, how to express distress or pleasure, how to focus.  The most basic inner “rules” or filters are very hard to change and are not usually conscious.  Control of muscles is also part of this, working from the largest tasks (sitting up) to the smallest (threading needles).

At some point the brain develops enough to achieve self-awareness as if it were a world available to introspection and expression.  Concepts become defined enough to be “felt”, emotions are connected to them, and they can be attached to words or images.

Then comes the ability to look at other people and see what they are feeling and expressing, to see that they are like oneself but still unique.  This is a skill that comes from experience, exposure to many kinds of people.

4.  Community is the next step, beginning with the dyad of the caretaker who has empathy with the baby and teaches eye contact, cuddling, conditioning to behave in certain ways.  The small child assimilates what his community believes about the world and how to act in it.  These early life convictions are deep, indelible, and hard to bring to consciousness unless exposed to other ways.  The consequences of that depends on the community and how welcoming it is.  If the community forbids knowing about any other communities, then discovering them anyhow can be a terrible shock -- but also an enlightenment, like Buddha discovering that people suffer.

This is not the whole story, of course.  A process is a time art.  At about eight or nine the child’s adrenal glands begin a regime of lengthening bones, elaborating inner process, and kindling the sexual organs.  When that task is complete, at about the “teen” years, the child is fertile and nearly adult with strong drives.  He or she is adult enough to perpetuate the species -- give birth and protect a small child -- but must have time to learn how to do that well.  A community’s understanding of how to do that -- and there is not one way -- will determine the quality and success of that culture as well as that person.  In the past many cultures have not had the resources to keep a person alive long enough see his or her children grow up with enough time to pass on the best developed cultural contents.

“Nature’s way” -- which is not a way at all, but simply the interacting factors of existence which produce the illusion of some kind of plan -- is often to create many more individuals than the culture can support.  Some die of hunger, some of war, some of a mountain side engulfing the whole village at once.  Chance and opportunity control events.  

But now humans have become clever and informed enough to want to create a true “plan.”  But there is not and never will be enough resources to go around; we will all always be a plague waiting to happen.  We are attached to each other, to ourselves, to the world as we know it, and we wish to preserve that which we “love.”  Love is a powerful force for survival, even if it is the survival of the other.  How we love goes back to our time in the womb.

How we decide to sacrifice those who threaten us and our ways is the root of ethics.

Ecology is the complex interconnections that allow more, and more diverse forms of life to co-exist, thus extending the carrying capacity of the planet.  Because they “emerge” from the life around them, they fit or they could not have survived.  Most of our attempts to play Sim-World have been for too clumsy.  Worse than that, we simply don’t perceive as much as we need to, partly because of those foundational convictions being limited and partly because our sensorium isn’t picking up the evidence, and partly because those constructed meaning-sorting-centers in the brain are blocking what we need or telling us too much or wrong things.  Unforeseen consequences and side effects eat away at us.

What ecology will support humans?  One that is complex, varied, sustained by pleasure, shared by communities, and always in process.  But I look around and see the opposite.  We're afraid to kiss the sea anemone.  It doesn't care.  It was here first.


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