Monday, December 31, 2018


Now that my treasured trope of "The Bone Chalice,"which is about ritual/worship/ceremony and the "otherly" feeling the events give us -- which I fancied was all in the head, the brain in flames metaphorically -- is discredited, the new year begins with a new metaphor: the Gate.  I might just throw that out as well.

Now the idea is that the whole body is the instrument of ritual, as is suggested by the body of thought in "embodied cognition", a whole "body of thought" (a confusing metaphorial second use of the same word) that takes into account things like muscle memory (remembering how to ride a bike) or gut feeling (clenches at a sign of danger) or mood shifts that affect performance.

I am also embracing the idea that the Enlightenment legacy of thought -- which has become entangled with the ideas of "braininess", STEM, English grammar (subjects and verbs), computers, robots and superior thought -- to the point where we've hit a wall and need access to different understandings of thought.  Different doesn't mean replacing, but rather is additive, a second system to use when appropriate.  It's only pleasing that embodied cognition was never stamped out, but how could it be?  It's what makes us human animals.

The human body is "animal" up to the evolution of the prefrontal cortex that contains rationality, ethics, reflection and so on.  This handful of cells behind the forehead do not replace whole-body thought.  We are still more than ninety per cent animals using whole-body thought  though we forget that the brain's work is only accepting the electromagnetic code of the rest of the body and translating it into what we see/hear/taste/etc. as sensations, then sending code back out to the rest of the body.  I'll say again, "a brain in a jug of alcohol is not a person and cannot be."  It receives no code and offers no code.

So far I've been happy to accept Lakoff's mantra about metaphor which describes thought.  It is an excellent way of thinking of the "connectome" which is the unthinkably complex and myriad ways of plugging together the neurons of the brain into one system.  It is organized by "loops" or systems that are parallel, each "loop" recurring back to itself in the standard biological way of proceeding by depletion and then replenishment.  We are busily naming those loops as we figured out what each will do.  This is neurology research.  The connectome can be illustrated with fMRI versions, quite beautiful.

In the meantime, since much of what bodies do is animal (even brains), we "feel" these loops as moods or "frames of reference."  Though Lakoff is clear about metaphors being organized in the context of major schematas or understanding of the world, his work doesn't interface with classical philosophy as well as the work of his partner, Mark Johnson, an academic philosopher.  Now I'm obliged to read and figure out (within my confining limits) "The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason."  

This is going to take a while.  Johnson distinguishes several forms of what he calls "phenomenology" which was taken by some U of C Div School people to be secularizing, taking the magic and mysticism out of religion.  Johnson calls his own version "objectivism" which I expect refers to being objective about the work.  There's always a bit of cramping over language because of new discoveries that borrow old words or that really have no developed vocabulary yet.  And because of arbitrary lines in the sand drawn to preserve clarity and prevent meddling from hostiles.

For instance, I need a good metaphor for the felt shift of a connectome, one kind of thinking to another, that is characteristic of ritual, which may or may not be religious.  The whole idea of secularity, separating from religion, is arbitrary, and though it freed up science from ecclesiastical oppression, it was part of the shift to always being rational, logical, attached to the Western world's understanding of what is real.  It shut out and stigmatized whole realms that were literary, shoving them into dreams as well as fiction, which is also an arbitrary separation.  The separation also helped to define people who were NOT rational/logical/
Western as "unreal," and therefore not true, discrediting their lives and understanding. The idea became a gender separation.

Johnson is impinging on politics and I don't want to do that.  I'm interested in the private, individual, "felt" context, which a writer today identified as working against political institutions that can power changes for everyone.  This is too powerful to ignore, and sometimes the ideas of ritual and powerful thought really can be claimed by a group -- perhaps sitting in a theatre where they take the performance to be a kind of reality that they feel vaguely in their bodies as though it were happening to them, or perhaps as a surge of emotion as a political rally or a sports event.  A little scary, which is another reason I avoid it.  But maybe I can't.

The door to liminality may be carefully built and deliberately entered or it may spring open unexpectedly so one staggers into the space awkwardly unprepared.  It may simply be a trapdoor and not a pleasant one.

This thought is not deliberately for institutional religion, though it can be used that way.  This is a principle so basic that it precedes dogma, organization, and proselytizing, which are characteristic of institutional (instituted) religion.  It has absolutely nothing to do with either theism or atheism.  It is meant to be active rather than simply labeled -- it is something that is "done."

It is meant to be about experienced phenomena, something felt.  If humans, who may have different schemata because of their life experiences, have internalized different versions of the world which they feel is "real," then they will be different people and organize in different ways.  These ways might be governed by child-raising, the schemata for family and economics which necessarily depend on the ecology.  "Truth" implies that everyone should join a specific point of view and prevent change.

Preventing change is the most inhuman thing we can do.  Humans have persisted only because of changing and being open to the world in a way that lets them do that.  When climate and "nations" have remained stable enough, cultures have become vivid and powerful with many interacting institutions, including the religious.  When the world shifts, it is the various who save us, because surely someone's schemata will fit well enough to support survival.  That's about where we are now.

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