Sunday, September 20, 2015


In the background of all the commotion of blogging, I seriously read what I consider to be foundational cognitive work, some of it defined as unconscious (meaning you don’t know you’re thinking it) and most of it defining thought and identity as mental, mental as brain, thinking as brain, perception as brain. All is brain.

It has been clear from many studies that the brain is only the dashboard for the whole body and that thinking is done by the whole body: muscles, intestines, lungs, heart, and all the other organs including genitals. This is where the most basic information comes from and where the decisions to act originate when executed. We think “from the gut,” we vote “with our feet,” beauty leaves us “breathless,” our heroes have “heart.”

Writing about this aspect is not easy but vids can capture much of it. This is why — in several ways — I’ve been particularly interested in the work of Tim Barrus and his boys. Including the boys in this work brings up the next aspect of thought, which is sharing and watching others, because — observed by detecting electrical impulses and blood flow — that when one watches someone dance or play ball, one’s body imitates in miniature dilution, which is a form of thought or even metaphor. The observer — the cat’s choice — has more ability to “see” what’s going on than those whose faculties are caught up in the task of riding a skateboard or the sensory waves of surfing.

Art, dancing, athletics, parcours, tumbling, and sexwork are all body functions that pursue skin-again-skin, muscle levering against bone, breath and heartbeat, providing a kind of bodily information that will never be available to the couch potato or the lab rat. It is what some call “embrained culture” — really meaning “embodied culture” because it is what translates the environment into muscle memory and technique, the sensory information about balance, temperature, timing. and the pull of gravity that makes the particular moves possible, whether they are ballet, skiing, swimming the butterfly or riding a horse.

Here’s an oddball example: “Oz,” the film about “The Emerald City”, an experimental and idealistic community inside a high security prison. The question is whether people of differing cultural context whose behavior has converged in the criminal underculture can be persuaded and shaped in a controlled environment, basically creating a new culture. Christopher Meloni was electrifying in this show — more than in any other of his films — because it played off his completely unintimidated physicality — contact, sensuality, violence, pain, and sex — were in the moment, spontaneous, and indifferent to constraints. The actor could do this because he was an athlete, a physical trainer, and VERY sophisticated about the body as a chemical factory because his father is an endocrinologist.

Christopher Meloni

Today’s academics don’t think about the body in regard to spirit and deep meaning. Their exercise mostly consists of walking the campus paths between classrooms or maybe a little tennis. No one becomes a whirling dervish, it’s hard to imagine them kneeling, and they think about the symbolism of crucifixion much more than the physiological consequences. The young and vigorous might turn to hiking as a religious experience.

Those who take the shortcut of either entheogens from indigenous societies or pharmaceutical hormones are thinking of the effects on their brains, not their whole bodies, particularly not the impact on the internal organs that filter poison or underlie circulation. Nor the molecular cellular systems that address disease.

This makes them into different people who must react to their original cultures in a different way, supported by a different body. I’m thinking particulary of children beaten and invaded to the point of dissociation. If their home culture — regardless of whether or not they are hostile — has no “place” for them, then they will be in distress or actually destroyed. Today I read an article about the veterans of our constant sequence of combat in undeveloped areas — not really countries. We sent them out, but when they come back — utterly changed — we abandon them.

The article in the New York Times described how and why these men (I expect there are also a few women) have formed their own group culture for detecting and mitigating suicide among their compatriots. This signals a universal change of information dynamics due to internet culture, which allows people, widely separated by location but united in their need to interact with people like themselves, to become a self-conscious and self-supporting group — whether they are children born with incomplete bodies or victims of breast cancer or scholars searching some issue. These groups are nothing like immersive fiction (novel) second-hand adventures which is the focus of pop publishing, but real-world spontaneous forming of alliances. They have political impact.

Similarly, since abused young boys who would never go into a library or who exist where there aren’t any libraries or books and whose cultures never taught them to read, can pick up the technology of a smart phone almost instantly and soon find others like themselves. With or without permission, with or without guidance, they hail each other with recognition. This has nothing to do with publishing. But is very similar to the experience of those who used to read to find themselves.

I’ve discovered a whole new “discipline” which means a group like those above except founded on thought and experiment, including the incredible fMRI and genome studies that interact with cultures and personal identity. The name of the field of interest slips around a little bit, but mostly they are things like “neuroanthropology” with the neurology studies taking the role of what anthropologists used to think were primitive societies where things were simple. As it has turned out, some guy who hunts cassowaries in New Guinea highlands has as “high” a culture as any Manhattan erudite essayist. He has as much immediate environmentally-sourced sensory poetry in his body — meaning metaphors and sense patterns that carry meaning — as an urban jazz musician.

Boys whose bodies are exploding into growth and control are forming culture. If they are in a group, they will share and intermesh what they feel and endlessly debate as they sprawl on old couches. For them to have tech instruments that extend these tasks, things like vid cameras and internet communication (concepts as well as the knowledge of plugs and operation patterns) is the same as teaching them the canon of books that schools insist upon, even though no one can agree on which books. It is a cultural foundation and one that may replace many of the uses of books, so long as we have electricity.

Because their lives are so physical — skateboard freedom, clinical blood-drawing entrapment — their thought is not necessarily available in words. Because they make sex part of their matter-of-fact daily behavior, we might think they don’t love, but emotional bonding is strong among them. Judging them according to the larger culture just confuses everything. If they can stay within the confines of defined criminality, their culture should be protected, even encouraged as evolution, but the abuse they endure has become part of our own global prevailing culture. So far war and prison has only increased the destruction.

Micro-cultures form all around us all the time, but they are often invested in privacy if not secrecy, partly because they don’t know they ARE a micro-culture and partly because commercial predators will exploit them if they can. We need protective awareness rather than capture and control.

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