Wednesday, November 20, 2019

IT'S ALL CODE: SOS

Socionomic legal attachments.  Here's a starter story. This thought sequence is zero-sum, starting from scratch, so it will take a few days to work through. It's much harder than simply opposing Christianity and calling atheism "new."

Someone expressed to me that they were shocked, SHOCKED, that Thomas Jefferson "slept" with a slave and had children with her that remained enslaved for many years.  My response was that after noting that the slave Jefferson slept with was a half-sister to his first "all-white" wife, both having the same father, and remembering that Jefferson promised his first wife that he would not marry again, I speculated that marriage and slavery were not legally that different -- at least in that time period.  Then my conversant was REALLY shocked.  In her mind each woman inhabited a separate bubble of conventions, attributes and status.  She didn't think about "attachment" in either case. So here are two people making attachment arrangements that accommodate several kinds of systems and identities, but we don't know how each one or the others around them at the time "feel" about it.  Or how to feel about it now.

All living things are phenomena arising from the interaction of a DNA "code" that is electromagnetochemical circumstances emerging out of the environment they are in.  Human beings are an expression of an evolved code that developed over many millennia from microbes through vertebrates, then reptiles, and next mammals.  We cannot read that code except through highly technical instruments or through our own cellular organs of detection, i.e. the senses.  Much of it is unconscious.  What is derived by the senses from the raw code and then sorted by the brain into "consciousness" is where we get our "idea" of who we are, our identity, our attachments.

This matrix comes from the environment, so if the environment doesn't contain something, it is not perceived, not sorted, not incorporated, doesn't exist.  There is always unknown, dark matter.  In a sense this is a "virtual" mind-only version of the world.  "Flat earthers" will not accept it.  You can't see it from outer space as with the planet to prove it is a sphere.  This idea of "what a human is" sounds as preposterous as it did the first time I heard about atoms and was told a chair was little vibrating bits of nothingness that only leave tracks, not images.  But it is the best fact-gathering premise we can develop with all our instruments.

So the code determines where we come from (birth) and where we are headed (death) but all that stuff in the middle is managed from internal code pushing against and drawing from the environment, whatever it offers.  Rivaling in unbelievability all the other institutional religious ideas, it is believed by scientists who try to use virtual ideas to get at something provable with facts, which -- in the end-- may not be very factual in our ordinary sense.

Nerves, muscles and sense organs may use atoms/
molecules to operate, but that's sure not how we think of flesh.  One human with almost no environment, particularly human society, is in a state of torture, freefloating, formless.  Solitary confinement, though the lucky carry with them a brainful of ideas, memories, and systems whether math or words or songs.  These are virtual, but they can save a person's sanity even when in society.  They are a big part of identity and attachment to the world.

In the beginning these are so vital that a baby who has no backlog of experience to use and who is not stroked, cuddled, fed, and rocked, told stories and presented with other humans, is very much subject to death or at least "failure to thrive" which is a medical term when no direct cause is identified.  "Mirasmus" if you need a fancy word.

The first attachment is the umbilicus that connects to the mother's uterus wall. For nine months the mother is meant to be the environment to the new human being and what she does makes a crucial difference in how that premised code-result may turn out, esp. in the early weeks when she has no idea that she has been inseminated.

In conventional prosperous US society, the mother is embraced and protected by a partner, not necessarily a male and not necessarily just one -- so long as it supports a wanted pregnancy.  In our modern terms, she also has the right to end the pregnancy if it has gone wrong or if she does not wish to accept the physical hardships and mental work, or maybe has no support.

The next attachment is to family which again is not necessarily biological, gender-assigned, legal, or even voluntary, though it is much better if -- like pregnancy -- it is wanted and supported.  So the mother is embraced by the partner, the three of them are embraced by the family, and ideally the family is embraced by the local people, who are in turn embraced by the formal entities of the society, which may have sub-societies embedded in it which will create complications for all humans involved.  Like Christianity, they will try to claim universality.

There is no universal religion.  The one imperative is survival.  Whatever supports survival becomes religious.  To create a society that causes people to choose not to survive -- rationally --  is evil. (Farmers or teenagers.)  To create a society that supports life it is necessary to have sufficient beauty, laughter, shelter, food, connection to others. music, and pleasure.  These are blessings.  We don't need them to survive but if we don't have them, who would want to?

The cultural and societal arrangements that once kept people alive were worthy "religions" until they died out.  Then they were history.  No one set of arrangements is permanent nor can it be because the world changes all the time.  The great advantage of code-based life is that beyond the basic code provisions of creating and maintaining creature fleshly life, many variations and reconfigurations mean that there is generally a margin of oddball people alive to design a new system and sometimes they prevail or are renewed.  We may be close to that point now.  We've been there before.  We worry about it quite a lot.  

Many, including myself, do not feel confident enough to have children, but I have survived much longer than I expected.  Much longer than some of my ancestors. My greatest reward for staying alive is now the code of writing, not necessarily novels or poetry or any other genre, but the great pleasure of weaving the words that explore the darkness of modern life.



Tuesday, November 19, 2019

WHAT ARE YOU ATTACHED TO?

Attachment is the really tough issue for me.  When I went off to seminary, I thought I'd be learning how to be remote, rational, and rather chilly, but protective and thoughtful. In my own interest as well as others'. Too many people wanted to be my "friend" for their own goals, hoping to use my energy and ideas without attribution.  Not all were men.  The management in city government was largely lesbian.  (I am not, but I discover that Montana jeans and cowboy shirts on women translate that way.)

In seminary I didn't find that the pulpit was a defence.  Instead I discovered a new source of attachment which I didn't share.  I mean, I was supposed to attach to people in the denomination, to leaders in the congregations, etc.  But instead I attached to a novelist professor, a bookstore, and Lake Michigan.  No one else did.

For others, the UU seminary, classmates, and Jimmy's tavern were the points of attachment.  Alas, few attached to the UU faculty.  Today the seminary building has changed hands, the classmates are retiring, and Jimmy's has been closed for years.  But the former seminarians organized a newsletter to keep in touch.  https://uurmapa.org/publications/  This is the publication of the retired UUMA ministers, people who love and support each other.  Enviably!  In this instance including gays but not other marginal groups so much. I mean, there just aren't many brown or black peope and, of course, no American Indians.  Attachment wants to be specific and familiar.  It is also expensive to participate physically with a national organization because it is based on travel across the continent, a great middle-class pleasure and preoccupation even in retirement.

Attachment, which is a less romantic term than love, is -- like human beings -- almost entirely governed by the unconscious.  It is not a rational decision.  The unconscious is perfectly capable of evasion, rejection, and denial.  Rationally, this is lucky.  Getting attached too much or unwisely is not happy.  Attachment across distances can be a problem, though modern internet helps.  Written correspondence persists there.  Even the "frame of expression" between persons is possible on Skype.

For a minister standing in a pulpit once a week, inevitably those in the pews who have no taboo and who are open to impression will become attached to the minister.  Some, wanting more, will come for "counselling." Others will invite the Rev to dinner, maybe to a meal with the whole family as a kind of relative.  Some frankly called me sister. Older women thought of me as a daughter.

Attachment is a mammal mother characteristic, though some reptiles (turtles, snakes) can get conditioned by food.  To succeed, mammals must feed and clean their babies and the babies must not wander off.  That can be extended to petting from humans who are also mammals.  This attachment to mother can end when the babies are weaned, though some can form buddies into adulthood.  Sometimes the mechanism goes berzerk so the mother kills the babies, or males can interpret them as food and eat them.  In this cat colony of mine it took a while (and some swats) for the yearling tomcats to realize that kittens are not mice.

In our own human partnerships and colonies, it is too common for males to punish, torture and kill females, which is a deranged form of attachment.  Sometimes the children are "owned." The object of the violence is needed as much as the object of "love," a perversion of the same force.  In other animals attack also can mingle with sex, maybe a necessary prerequisite, mixing sources of arousal between antagonism and mating.  Cats screaming in coitus.

Maybe because of being subconscious, attachment is closely linked to sensory information.  It can be triggered if it brings back a past attachment.  Some valorized images seem instinctual, like the barest indication of a human face -- a circle with two eyes and a mouth -- that will get attention from an infant like potential attachment to a stuffed animal with button eyes and an embroidered nose.  Animals can attach across species, nurturing and protecting even species that would be more naturally killed as prey, a lion cuddling an antelope.  Size mismatches like a cat with a horse make us smile. 

Curiosity is another potential characteristic of attachment and can lead to the impulse to control.  We want to know the true nature of those we love. If we are disappointed by what we find, we feel the impulse to stigmatize, to limit, and to destroy.  Maybe like taking something apart to see how it works.  The Biblical translater's euphemism for fucking is knowing.  "Trannie deaths" happen.

Our craze about celebrities derives in part from our conviction that feeling this attachment will cause their characteristics and good will to somehow come into us.  This is "identifying" in the sense of trying to capture the admired person's being, almost reinforcing one's own persona.  But also, particularly as youngsters, we identify with family members, teachers, and other close authority figures in hopes of being like them.  We might not make good choices of whom to follow and may not have anyone available.  Attachment mixes with entitlement to intimacy.

Sorting out rational versus unconscious attachments, or even conscious versus unconscious, is the kind of thing one does with a psychotherapist or when writing. 

A key element is the culture, which will valorize and legalize some things but forcefully suppress others.  Consider China, which clings to authority and uniformity, punishing diversity and ignoring what those in the West would consider justice.  I have never heard of a Chinese analyst, though they make very good internists, considering rationally all aspects of their patients.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adult_Attachment_Disorder  If you look at the wiki for attachment, you'll find an analytical, rational, qualified, checklist description of kinds, degrees, treatments, causes.  Very rational and reconciled.  This is useless in confronting the unconscious aspects of attachment, which can only be suspected through dreams and other arts created naively -- that is, without planning them rationally.  The unconscious can be felt or suspected and sometimes betrayed by emotional response, like desire, but putting it in a manuscript of diagnosis or insurance compensation is a construct, not a reality.  

Maybe when dealing with a subconscious there IS no reality, but only an indication of a constructed brain diagram of the world. Then the "four kinds of attachment have some usefulness.  Each has results in the adult who learns it in early years.

The four child/adult attachment styles are:
  • Secure – autonomous;
  • Avoidant – dismissing;
  • Anxious – preoccupied; and.
  • Disorganized – unresolved.
Much of this post is preparation for future ideas about a new way of thinking.  Nothing can be measured by instruments so far. I mean, it's not possible to see this sort of thing in an chemo-assay or MRI.  We have to go by behavior and feelings.  The rest is dark.

Monday, November 18, 2019

RECONFIGURING THE UNIVERSE

The reference here is -- I think -- to Barr's recent speech at the Federalist Society's 2019 National Lawyers Convention.  (I've lost the post link.)  It's not quoted directly but you can read it at this link.
https://www.justice.gov/opa/speech/attorney-general-william-p-barr-delivers-19th-annual-barbara-k-olson-memorial-lecture

Barr goes to a different point of origin in claiming a human identity, one authorized by "nature," claiming that "nature" is sacred, the real source of theology.  This is a persistent strand of Western thought that defines "nature" in a specific way, quite Hobbsian:  Survival of the fittest, primacy of humans and exaltation in nature go together as a strong idea in Germany and in white America.  Survival in that frame is only meant for the best people, which are naturally them.  Ayn Rand in the woods. In contrast, Native Americans do not see nature as different from themselves -- they feel continuous and embedded.  

The "white" point of view believes that humans are naturally the peak, the goal of either evolution or creation, while all other aspects of nature are simply resources.  It enforces the idea of separation/superiority from animal brutish nature, even as nature is admired as an icon and exploited as an entitlement.  The idea underlay the invasion and forced submission of all "natural" places, like America, all "natural" people like native Americans and Africans.  Things that had bad consequences for humans, like disease, were considered unnatural.

The commentor says, "For Barr, "natural" civil society is theological. God—*his* version—is disguised as Nature. Religious ends are disguised as "natural" teleology. A religious vision of humanity becomes "human nature".

For Barr, "natural" civil society is theological. God—*his* version—is disguised as Nature. Religious ends are disguised as "natural" teleology. A religious vision of humanity becomes "human nature".

Josh Blackman, a conservative Texas lawyer who likes to address the Supreme Court on matters like gun control, interrupts to address these observations thus:

"Conservatives do not seek earthly paradise. We are preserving over the long run freedom and order for healthy development of natural civil society and individaul [sic] human flourishing. We test the propriety and wisdom under a rule of law standard."

The first speaker continues:  "It's not just Barr who does this. He comes from a long, long tradition of sophistic reasoners who try to shoehorn theological presuppositions into the nominally secular language of nature and naturalness, using arcane terminological distinctions to make it seem legit."

"Nor is this restricted to religious reasoning. Secular ideologues have also tried to secure quasi-theological authority for their values by locating their authority in Nature and Naturalness—which are haphazardly conflated with "reason," "essence," "telos," "purpose," and "good."

This view of nature has become limited and even offensive to me.  It is necessary to distinguish between this Emersonian/Thoreauvian view of nature which confirmed to the early Unitarians that they were "better" because they loved nature so much, citing the snowfall outside the sanctuary window as more sacred than communion or sermon.  It is a justification of theologized superiority, that they are the only ones sensitive enough to look at falling snow and see God.  

They recognize the mysterium et tremendum and are properly made humble, but still stay stuck in the idea that they matter, that their reaction gives them entitlement that they should use to impress others.  This is my heresy: that we are all participants but neither unique nor more than momentary.  It won't make me any friends among Transcendentalists, but it will leave me open to new knowledge and the conviction that before birth and after death and in the middle between, I am part of everything.  Everything.  Infinitesimal as each of us is, we all matter.

Going hiking is not the same as "religion", which in our times is often an historical, ethnic, socioeconomic institution not very well applied to everyone.  It's a mistake to think that I'm writing about "religion", which is a big jumble of stuff included in familiar institutions.   I don't think about institutional religion, not even Buddhism.  

I think about holiness and how a human skin-bag of complex one-celled entities -- cooperating electrochemically -- can create a person claiming an identity, can somehow feel the cellular connections as a submergence in unity.  This ethic and principle says that everything is part of everything else and therefore significant and deserving of moral protection.

Science agrees with this. But it is a category of thought that approaches becoming the kind of institution that is religious.  The difference is that scientific knowledge is always provisional -- subject to future research -- defines its method and is conscious that human "truth" is always limited.  Religion commonly wants to contradict those aspects.

Lately attention has turned to the idea of "consciousness" which is, as far as we know, unique to humans, more distinguishing than opposable thumbs and the source of our ability to use the scientific method, critiquing and improving our way of thinking.  We can experience our identity, name it,  change it.  Consciousness, through its massive foundation in unconsciousness, gives us the ability to "feel", which appears to be present in all mammals, part of their survival except that for them it is not reflective.  The fox does not reflect on its own wiliness.  It just grabs a chicken.


"Wild" can also apply not just to what is uncontrolled so far, but to the uncontrollable, that which is beyond our ability to know it either through our senses or through thought or emotion.  The unconscious is as wild as the cosmos.  It exceeds us, evades us.  This idea may make me welcome to the younglings, who are accustomed to feeling the edge of perception.  Words are not so wild as the concepts beneath them that are without grammar and possibly impossible to share without the arts.  It is the Dark.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

MALIGNANT NORMALITY

Robert Jay Lifton was one of the most respected voices of my young adulthood during the first Cold War.  (The men of my cohort were drafted to go to Korea -- they were REALLY cold!)  He was not one of those big voices who can be brushed off in a few years.  In fact, he may be more relevant now than ever.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Jay_Lifton

These quotes are from a recent interview that shows how helpful he is in thinking about today.  They are so relevant that I didn't think italics were enough to emphasize what he said.  Underlining also added.

"He explains the similarities between our current ideological polarization and efforts like Chinese communist thought reform in the early 1950s. The one thing that makes today different, he says, is Trump’s lack of ideology; instead, the president lives in a self-created “solipsistic reality.”
Lifton attributes Trump’s appeal, in part, to something he calls “psychological apocalypticism,” a pull toward “a new collective mindset that is pure, perfect, and eternal.” This combines a desire to be part of something bigger than oneself with a call to share in the effort of destroying reality in order to save the world."

I take it that this is now much intensified by two forces.  One is science showing us how eternal, infinite, and irrefutable is the universe and how fragile, brief, and redundant we ourselves are in it.  The other is a Christian paradigm struggling to re-assert visions of specialness, eternal life, and the image of "Heaven" as a reward for alignment with them.  Thus science drives naive people into the arms of unity warriors.

"Well, I talk about the concept of claiming to own reality. All of these groups move toward a form of totalism or, as I call it, cultism, which seeks to own reality. . . . And key here is the idea that if one questions that imposed reality, it is always looked upon as a personal problem.  . . .As to the ultimate source, it’s very hard to say, but I see it as relating to the entire human dependency period. It takes out of children quite a long time to become independent, much more so than with most other animals and in the process we can, our children can, develop considerable dependency needs, which may later make them vulnerable to gurus who claim absolute truth. That dependency can be lived out and exaggerated in these cultic groups."

Lifton's next step of logic is that Trump is not like other cultic movements (Maoism or even Fascism) because the only center is the person: what the person wants and needs and could control.  His cult is only about himself, not about society at all..His only reality is solipsistic, which has been a trend in America for some time.

Lifton says that in order for Trump to be persuasive with his view of the world limited to his own self there has to be preexisting confusion and uncertainty.  Between globalization and economic polarization that has sent populations in great waves across national lines, this is definitely present.  

Next he suggests de-legitimation of opposition.  He says, :"If you have a country that is functioning according to the rules of law in general -- which include the pattern for legitimate change and growth, and then some group or party "de-legitimates the other side or opposition of any kind, considers it not to have the right to contest their own realities, then you are creating the seeds and the context for what I call malignant normality.  Malignant normality, where you impose destructive versions of reality and insist that they are the routine and the norm."


This example has nothing to do with Trump, but it doesn't just explain a conversion from Druidism to Christianity, but also accounts for Northern Ireland in particular a malignant normality, a severe, ascetic, terrifying structure of the world and what is necessary to survive in it.  In any case the little island is dished and wet with the accumulation of organic material turning to acid, mirrored in the disposition of people preoccupied with control and propriety, but then interrupted by nearly manic festivals and semi-secret outlets like drunkenness.


This link is to a New York Times account of China's intolerance of any dissension, divergence or difference.  The leaders target ethnic or religious sub-populations that are large and historic in the belief that this will make them stronger and easier to manage.  Russia has that impulse as well.  The evidence is against both countries.  The attitude stifles innovation and encourages corruption, as well as planting the seeds of rebellion.

These patterns are old and recurring, probably with some basis in biology though not inescapable.  It will be interesting to see what difference the Internet makes and it's obvious that the status quo does not like media platforms.  Nations are based on enforceable borders as a way of suppressing dissent, but the result is frozen starvation, a "malignant normality".

Rolling dissent and divergence among the young is a force for renewing change that IS biological.  Old dictators fail to keep up with a changing world and become isolated in the same way as a bodily infection, or just die.  It's sometimes maddening that it doesn't happy more quickly.


In the US there are many people working on healthy sustaining issues.  They are invisible to the wannabe dictators who know nothing about things that are outside their experience.  In fact, they don't know there IS anything beyond their bubble, malignant normality is the same thing as malignant narcissism.  The added element is the desire to force others to be like oneself.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

IDENTITIES ARE CHOICES

Identity, the sense of who one is, walks a line between one's interior opinion and the assumptions of the community of surrounding people who enforce what they think.  It's a well-known phenomenon that if a fat person manages to lose weight in order to be what feels like their "true" self, other people will set about trying to make this new thin person fat again, because that's what they know.  Or consider Elizabeth Warren triggering outrage because she repeated a family romantic notion that there was an "Indian" in her family tree.  An element of the indigenous world ripped her as though she had claimed to be descended from Jesus.  Some identity categories are sacred.

Recently a friendly person praised me for being a teacher and for getting an undergrad college degree which he didn't think many women did in 1957.  Both ideas are media fantasies promoted in pop books about women.  I don't know how many women were at NU in those years, but there were plenty of us.  I was a bad teacher (preoccupied with sex but at least not sleeping with the students as teachers do today) in spite of the hopes of my superintendent, but one of my students became a successful superintendent there.  It wasn't because of me -- it was mostly because she is part of a family and rez category that values education and holding a job.  She's also smart and now retired. I claim no credit, just admire.

Interestingly, my later seminary career and degrees (78-82/MA,MDIV) was indeed in a "man's world."  My mother opposed it, saying I was getting above myself and ought to marry a "nice Presbyterian minister" (male, of course) -- not be a circuit-riding UU at the edge of heresy.  Part of the attraction for me was the idea that the UU ministers were brilliant men.  Almost as soon as I qualified, the men began to leave or die and the women began to take over, pushing the vocation towards therapy instead of morality or intellectual issues.  Anyway, in the actual congregations people interpreted me as a social director.  I lost interest.

For twenty years I've sat here writing, mostly developing through blogging.  This population considers it to be somewhere between gaming and keeping a diary, both juvenile.  Content that goes somewhere else through the internet, like serious edgy stuff developing a line of thought, is valued around the planet. (Clustrmaps.com reports I often hit a thousand readers a day.)  

The assumption here is that I'm writing locally like a newspaper columnist.  Two competent professional-level female ranchers write this way in the weekly newspapers. In the Sixties I wrote a column called "The Merry Scribbler" for the Glacier Reporter.  A cheerful drunk on the Browning streets always hailed me from blocks away by yelling, "Hey, Merry Scribbler!"  I got fired for politics and when that didn't shut me up, they fired Bob from his job as City Magistrate.  Everyone except white people still addressed him as "Judge," for years afterward.  (He rarely tried any white people. They were either waved on through or their offence was serious enough to go to the FBI.)

As soon as I was able, because I am old and this is where I was young, I came back.  Living minimally in a place that doesn't cost much is easier when one is young.  How does one travel 80 miles for a blinding eye problem without driving oneself?  Outliving almost everyone once cared about is also sometimes painful, but they live on in my head -- they just can't drive.  Almost no one local reads my blog or would find it intelligible if they did, but that's an advantage -- no second-guessing -- one of the reasons I'm here rather than on a university campus or in a city.  (That's leaving aside loving this part of the planet.)

Many have noted the anti-intellectual feelings of conservatives but few connect it to the prevention of change, even as improvement,  At the same time there is an unjustified idea that somewhere is a technological advance that will make more money for them. The two tendencies are in conflict.  This is very useful since it suggests where to investigate and reflect.  Like GMO's, soil exhaustion, monocropping, corporate farming are just as interesting as fancy philosophical issues that preoccupy professors.

My birth family was "operated" by my aunts and uncles (none left living) on both sides with the shadow of homesteading grandparents falling over them.  They opted for tight and private relationships (privacy verging on secrecy), staying in place, urging college as a path to success for their children, but not getting above safety.  My cousins have stayed with that worldview..  We saw ourselves as entirely respectable, without crime or insanity, keeping a modest but respectable job, never divorcing, never pregnant out of wedlock.  (None of this is true, I gradually realized.)  This separated everyone from me on the rez with an aging artist. Relatives came to visit once each, because Bob and GNP were famous, but were horrified and dismayed by poverty.  I tried to ask them things and tell them things.  Lalalalalala.  

I now realize that having no money, an advantage in some ways, prevented me from understanding my brother's/
mother's situation.  But our family doesn't use the social services.  I had no money to fly to weddings or travel to investigate when my brother was drifting into psychosis the cousins found potentially fatal but beyond what they could handle.  Both they and myself should have involved welfare people, though he fought them. I can't even afford to take a kitten to the vet or to put a new roof on the house and sheds.  But in my view this is NOT identity.  It is in the eyes of local people.  They do not share my fear of debt.

So this is another of my tradeoffs, both propelled by and resulting in my identity, admirable to same and damning to others.  Across the continent, around the planet, others are making similar tradeoffs.  In the aggregate we create the identities of nations and generations.


Friday, November 15, 2019

THE CONNECTOME IS AN ENTANGLEMENT

Maybe it's not all in your head, but there's enough interesting stuff going on above the neck for me to maintain a funky set of ideas about what happens in there.  The best place to start is with Joseph LeDoux's book, "The Deep History of Ourselves".  I almost copied the following website to this blog, but didn't in spite of its usefulness.  https://deep-history-of-ourselves.com/pages/table_contents.html  
Taken individually, each chapter is a short review of the latest neuroresearch thought on some step of the development (evolution) of animal life from its beginning as a drop of certain molecules captured in a skin to the elaboration that is us, who are also extremely complex collections of these drops, expanded into a community of cells enclosed by a bigger skin, able to think about ourselves and our worlds.  The chapters are short but packed, so a person is well-advised to read one, stop to reflect and recover, then go to the next.

This is not about a tree graph, a simple progression, so much as about repeated adjustments, doubling back, opportunities, losses and redundancies.  (Read Quammen.  http://www.davidquammen.com/home)  I like to quip that vertebrates came before mammals, which means that one must grow a spine before developing balls.  But in truth it means that the DNA of vertebrates (for instance, reptiles) is the substrate of mammals, especially when it comes to preconscious rage and fear before they are realized in behavior.   LeDoux likes to refer to the First Shared Ancestor, like the earliest reptile that began to be mammalian.  Then the first mammalian that began to be a primate.  It's all so much more complex than we thought and more chance-dependent when we consider all the hominins who seem to be a recurring development of primates.

The point is that a brain, as the book by Gary Marcus with that name suggests, is a "Kluge." "A kludge or kluge (/klʌdʒ, kluːdʒ/) is a workaround or quick-and-dirty solution that is clumsy, inelegant, inefficient, difficult to extend and hard to maintain. This term is used in diverse fields such as computer science, aerospace engineering, Internet slang, evolutionary neuroscience, and government." (Wiki)

For instance, why is the brain in two halves, one "assigned" to one way of looking at the world and the other different but capable of learning to read and write?  Is it some way like the binary halves of the reproductive humans, male divided from female? (Which is never quite complete.)

Neuroscientists often begin with this puzzle and the psych experiments proving that in a person with a severed connection between the two, the halves in the same head don't talk to each other.  One side has to make up fantasies to explain what the other half can see.  In fact, much of human thinking is making up explanations about what they "see" but don't really understand.

This is because we are inside our skins with only electromagnetic code being perceived as it comes through the skin from the world, but needing interpretation, translation in pictures, words and tastes or smells.  Besides being acquired by the sense organs and sense cells (which we have only begun to find and sort - possibly a hundred types of cells!) and sent to the brain, once there the "connectome" transforms it.  When the infant is born, a lot of circuits and loops are already endowed, logically mostly about subconscious functions, the stuff any mammal has.  Researchers were a little disconcerted that during gestation sexual arousal is present along with the regulation of blood chemistry, heart beat, and breathing.

After birth the child expands its abilities by pushing against the environment, sometimes literally when learning to turn over and stand, but also by forming a subconscious mental and emotional structure about trust, pleasure, danger, other people, so on.  After the first three years or so, including the mastery of grammar and first vocabulary, new things must either fit into the old neural matrix or create a new circuit.  By that time, all the "born-with" circuits that weren't used have died.  Everything after those first years must build upon experience as much as genetics.  Often experience is controlled by culture, which is an adaptation of community pushing against ecology. Boundaries arise because of all this pushing.

Different cultures produce differently "wired" children which we speak of as "generations" and speculate have different characteristics.  Humans, unlike the early ancestors, are able to "stand apart," observe their own behavior and thoughts, and even change them.  This is studied as the puzzle of "consciousness". For the first twenty years or so, we are at the mercy of "not-knowing," just responding, and many will stay in that bubble, usually people in a restricted environment.  But for those who were always open to new experience or even speculation, and those who become "enlightened," a multitude of new circuits grow in their brains.  This is called "being plastic."

Being trapped in the tangle of one's own connectome takes effort to work out of, but there are methods known.  One is the experience of liminal time and place, one is change due to growth, another is being in an extremely intense situation of very strong emotion (either negative or positive), and a fourth is taking drugs, particularly LSD or ayahuasca, but not randomly.  One needs guidance about amounts, timing, and situation.  People who insist on preventing change, always thinking the same way, will fight these forces.  They are not just symptoms, but also means of escape from paralysis.  An intense intimacy with another person can do that.

Cultures prevent change in individuals through schools (grades, promotions, graduation, awards), work (money, status, control), and social status.  Let your connectome get too unraveled and you're likely to be stigmatized or even defined as crazy or criminal, justifying incarceration.  To be a poet, a musician, or some kinds of writer is to get a little protection in some cultures.

This is a kludgey and maybe unjustified away of thinking about what a human being is and how the body/brain works.  Today there is far more detail and accuracy in the research done by LeDoux and others.  After all, LeDoux is a musician and a jazz appreciator, welcoming new ideas.  Check out YouTube.


Thursday, November 14, 2019

A SEQUENCE OF THEORIES

From Winnicott's teddy bear to Porges' polyvagal theory to Turner's virtual space to Omar's "I feel you" I see a steady progression of explanation that convinces me of its truth as well as suggesting what to do about it.  I'll see whether I can explain.

To get us all up to speed together, I'm linking four short YouTube talks about the things I want to discuss.  They range from the formal to the slightly wacky to a crime series you probably know.  If you go on reading this post, then you will benefit from coming back to read it again after you've watched these YouTube clips.  They have as much content as a university lecture.  




Omar Little:  "I feel you."  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=22ir_jdkYnc

Winnicott is a key thinker in object relations who is sometimes referred to as a "teddy bear author" because the covers of his books often depict the stuffed bears.  Many of us have been a large public groups like pow-wows or ball games where there are small children moving around freely.  We've seen them plucking up courage to separate from their mothers and run a distance away, only to panic and come pell-mell back to throw their faces into their mother's laps so they are ostrich-style hidden and safe.  Winnicott understood that if they had their teddy bear or "blankie" with them, they were braver.  

It was as though they took a little piece of their mother with them.  The real biological connection inside the womb, divided by birth, and then gradual personality separation, creates a virtual space between them.  The actual cells of the body participate in a space-leaping connection with another person that is the heart of play, art and (later) sex.  But it is virtual.  You can't see it but you can "feel" it.

Porges is a discoverer and explainer of the vagus nerve that is a third autonomic nervous strand that connects the brain to the heart (the lungs are technically part of the heart), so that it is in addition to the binary of the previously known autonomic system  -- sympathetic vs. parasympathetic, which are often identified with danger prompting flight or fight.  The third system is a more recent evolution that adds total shut down, fainting.  Not just hunkering down, but shutting off, maybe as dissociation which can feel like a silvery unreality in the face of inescapable torture or punishment.  

But also, this nerve creates what I call the "frame of expression" which is the presentation of face, breath and heartbeat that convey our feelings to another person, the heart of empathy.  It is also virtual, not seen but felt.  This is the evolution jump connected to the arts and sciences that was a step added by Neanderthals with flowers and jewelry, quite solid but also "felt".  Again, the physical capacity of the body meets and supports something ineffable as music and other creations.

Turner worked as an anthropologist which is particularly valuable since his theories are not based in the Western Empire line of rationality but came from working with indigenous people in Africa.  His use of the idea of "liminal" time and space, in which one enters emotionally and rationally into a set-apart and protected place for purposes that include worship, play, rethinking, and other ways of stepping out of what is dictated and "normal", was very useful in "The Bone Chalice."  I proposed that the steps of entering the liminal space, worshipping in safety and equality, then being returned to the ordinary world, were steps that correlated closely with many rituals, esp. those that concerned change in status or reinforcement of faith.  Objects and even rationality may be included, but if the steps are bungled or left out, the ceremony won't work.  It is virtual, not seen but felt.

A second much larger framework also called liminal by Turner is acts that try to restore the wholeness of a culture that is in chaos, whatever the cause from drought to war to stigma to a technology jump.  An eloquent explanation for this is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dygFtTWyEGM  The vid also addresses "performance," which has become a whole body of theory big enough to be called a discipline.  

The idea is that there are ways to restore wholeness to a culture or nation and that they can be enacted virtually.  One of his examples is the play "Romeo and Juliet" in which two warring families finally accept peace after the sacrifice of their children.  In our present time of dislocation and chaos, this is a crucial and hopeful approach, but we are still sacrificing the children.  It queries religion, the institution based on what is thought to be holy, which has the capacity to both rip peoples apart and to heal.  

Omar Little enters the discussion as an inhabitant of that liminal chaos created between urban wealth and on the other hand its shadow world of crime and mafia.  Omar says, "I feel you."  He asks, "Do you feel me?"  He imposes the dissociation of death.  His justice is not based on the rule of law or any other rationality, but the system of emotion/revenge/desire from living in the limen, over the threshold of the conventional.  He's a lot more fun to think about than Republicans.  But can his world that rips off both the "civilized" and the "criminal" ever be a source of healing?  

Yet this performing man -- he whistles "Farmer in the Dell" to signal people that they are in liminal, potentially deadly territory -- who is not immune to attachment (he loves his partner) -- can he create a ritual of healing?  Not.  But maybe his story can.  It certainly grabbed the attention of a nation. A story is another virtual example that makes people feel.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

PERFORMANCE AND ATTACHMENT

"If you are frightened, that's not the same thing as not being courageous. Courage is going ahead and fighting back anyway. It's not the absence of fear, it's perseverance in the face of fear." -- 

A storm had gone through with a terrible wind, but now the sky was clear.  The whole tribe had been highly alert during the roaring noise and now could hear small sounds that meant nothing.  Wind days were good for creeping up on enemies, but made it hard to deal with the lodges, esp. the ones made of canvas.  Now they were unpinning and rolling the lodgeskins, loading them onto travois. They were nervous.

Until the thump of horses moving towards them.  The dogs began to bark frantically.  Clear windless days let spears and arrows fly true and the men of the group quickly made theirs ready for defense.  The enemy was coming fast.  Not everyone would be ready in time, and the women needed to finish readiness to leave.  They would have to leave some things until afterwards.  In case they won against these raiders and could return for valuables.

One man stepped out from the group.  He had hastily painted and was mostly stripped.  He walked into the space between his people and their enemies, his spear in his hand.  It was decorated with eagle feathers tied flat along the shaft so as not to interfere with its flight.  Strongly he drove the spear into the ground and with its trailing rope he tied his ankle to the spear.

"Here I take my stand!" he shouted in his language, and prepared to die.  He began singing his death song  It would take long enough for everyone to leave or fight.  He made a solitary decision that was for his entire people.
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This story is replicated in many cultures, quite vividly in the case of the Chinese man who stepped in front of a tank, witnessed by video.  Sometimes it is an individual who stands on a bridge or in a doorway with weapon at ready to block an enemy,  It is about courage, decision, and the tension between individual and group, between psychology and politics.

But this example is more than that.  The practice became vivid at a time of "liminality," of chaos caused by the introduction of horses and gunpowder.  The older practices of sneaking up on foot couldn't be done on horseback and the ones that would develop about "counting coup" by riding close, striking, and then escaping had not happened yet.  So this standing and fighting to death was a liminal act according to the Victor Turner idea explained in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dygFtTWyEGM&t=10s and several other clips on youtube.   According to the premise, this ceremonial defense of one's community had the potential of healing the larger culture of Plains tribes out of admiration and respect for the bravery.  It is a ritual performance to acknowledge the confrontation of attack but mark it as a new thing.

It is also a performance, a presentation, the warrior makes to the enemy.  He has no horse, he has no gun, but he has his death song and his fierceness to challenge their right to attack his community.  It is theatrical, but as a demonstrated moral right rather than as entertainment.  Though there is no escape, it is not a cage fight.

When one becomes a Bundle Keeper, one is directed to observe taboos on the innovations of the invading whites.  For instance, don't use a fork.  Previous imports had demanded other changes.  Awls and needles are hard to keep track of in a lodge with no drawers, so cases made of leather were designed to be worn on belts, decorated brightly and distinctively so they could be located easily.  Tea billies of copper and cast iron pots changed how people cooked, and made the use of fire to prepare food much easier than digging a hole, lining it with rawhide, and dropping hot stones into the contents.  But then one had to guard the vessels from damage and loss, give them names and develop new concepts about hanging them over fires on tripods.  One could fry bannnock instead of baking it wound around a stick.  These were small things, not so exciting as battle, so not so much noted, neglected but significant parts of women's lives, never developed into rituals.  A good sharp knife was appreciated by everyone and developed into the "Bear Knife Bundle" full of impressive risk.  Part of a transfer was hurling the knife (a spear blade) at the head of the receiver.

Men's performance, augmented with flamboyant headdresses or the decoration of shirts or weapons, was colorful because it was meant to be observed, presented to an audience that was meant to be impressed.  But the relationship of women to their things might be categorized as attachment.  Not that men didn't attach to useful or beautiful things, but not in the way that women did.  

Before metal knives, a cherished object for women was a digging stick, which was of vital use in digging up camas roots and other rhizomes.  There are stories about the people starving because all meat prey had gone away, but being saved when the woman could still dig for food, as the grizzly bears use their digging claws.  The Flathead story is about bitterroot.  In the ceremony of the Sun Lodge, the oldest, most virtuous, and most hard-working woman wears a headdress that features her hand-worn, best-shaped digging stick.

Performance and attachment, which is to say, how we present ourselves and what we love, are key ways to gather identity out of the swirling range of possibilities when the body and its needs and instincts meet the world.  Whether or not there is a ceremony, a ritual, prescribed objects (a ring, a veil), a certain act that locates one in time (smashing a glass), at the heart that propels the event are these two things: performance and attachment, as in a wedding, meant to create a new time and community.


The officiant at a traditional wedding says, "If there is anyone who knows why this marriage shouldn't take place, let that person say so now, or forever hold their peace!"  What if someone stood up to block the aisle and try to stop time?

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

THIS OVERWHELMING WORLD

It's impossible to know (at least for me) whether the similarities between artistic and computer driven depictions of the largest cosmological structures and the tiniest human neuron cell loops are the "real" nature of existence or whether one is caused by the other.  Can we ever see anything more than we can think of, i.e. envision?  What we do know is that every population uses the information they have, which is mostly drawn from their ecosystem, to imagine the hidden nature of the sky and the mysterium tremendum that seems to live there.  What we know in our own time is that there is no old man on a throne, no angels sitting on clouds with harps because of no clouds.

Today we have amazing telescopes and -- using augmentations -- we can see all sorts of things, perceived in dozens of ways including just by implications.  Dark matter, for instance, can't be seen by measuring light.  But we can "see" its gravitational pull.  So we construct our own visual equivalent reports of accumulated information and contemplate them in wonder.  Randomness and chaos, which is what we find all around us in daily life, are not part of these constructs.


An artist's depiction of the giant structures of the universe.

"These discoveries hint at the enigmatic influence of so-called “large-scale structures” which, as the name suggests, are the biggest known objects in the universe. These dim structures are made of hydrogen gas and dark matter and take the form of filaments, sheets, and knots that link galaxies in a vast network called the cosmic web. We know these structures have major implications for the evolution and movements of galaxies, but we’ve barely scratched the surface of the root dynamics driving them."

"Galaxies tend to form gravitationally bound clusters that belong to even larger superclusters. Earth’s long-form cosmic address, for instance, would have to note that the Milky Way is part of the Local Group, a gang of several dozen galaxies. The Local Group is inside the Virgo cluster, containing more than 1,000 galaxies."

Maybe calling cosmic galaxy clusters something like "Local Group" as though it were a neighborhood is an attempt to make something so overwhelmingly inconceivable just a familiar term, like angels in nightgowns, who would surely not play harps but rather something like a "kithara" or a "plucked chrodophone."  Maybe angels in Appalachia play zithers.  And wear hoodies.

But we don't do that much better.  Scientifically there are four fundamental "forces" that are irreducible, that can't be disassembled.  There's an explanation and a graph here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_interaction  Not much is intelligible but one little part is a left-handed fermion:  "In particle physics, a fermion is a particle that follows Fermi–Dirac statistics. These particles obey the Pauli exclusion principle. Fermions include all quarks and leptons, as well as all composite particles made of an odd number of these, such as all baryons and many atoms and nuclei. Fermions differ from bosons, which obey Bose–Einstein statistics."

And here I thought Bose was a sound system!  I have no thought about baryons"The name "baryon", introduced by Abraham Pais, comes from the Greek word for "heavy" (βαρύς, barýs), because, at the time of their naming, most known elementary particles had lower masses than the baryons. Each baryon has a corresponding antiparticle (antibaryon) where their corresponding antiquarks replace quarks. For example, a proton is made of two up quarks and one down quark; and its corresponding antiparticle, the antiproton, is made of two up antiquarks and one down antiquark."

It's all very logical, TOO logical, which means it is interpreting science as something that goes back through Western thought through specific men [sic] who give their names to what are simply guesses.  It's mental Tinker Toy and Leggo construction.  But it is one very effective way of managing a world that is overwhelming.

An essay on Aeon today surprised me by returning to an alternative from the psychotherapy world.  Kirk Schneider is a proponent of the "Existential-Humanistic Institute." His system is the same thing in a way -- concepts from "men" who gave the systems their names.  Here's Rollo May!  I haven't thought about him for a while!  All the other heroes: Maslow, Jung, and a woman I'd forgotten, Kay Jamison who wrote "Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament".  It's time I got back to some of this, though it relates more to World War than today's stunning reconfigurations of knowledge.

This is from Schneider's book, "The Spirituality of Awe." in which he defends those who are tormented but don't avoid it.  "But such realisations, particularly if they are to endure, often take time, they take struggle, and they take encounters with larger parts of ourselves that go beyond our internalised oppression to a kind of conciliation. In the end, depth and existential therapy promote a hard-won coexistence between rivalling parts of ourselves, parts that sometimes agonise yet in the long run shed light on the experience of being fully human: of being deeply and richly alive."

"But the looming and overarching question is: at what cost? At what cost is an externally or even cerebrally normalised life, a life of routine and regulation, elevated over a life that flops and flutters but also throbs? At what price is a life that sails over the many-sided intricacies of emotion and the ripples of discontent? Too often the price is death, both literal and figurative . . ."

"I wonder if I would have experienced the rigours of being alone, or being challenged, as I was by my analyst, to develop inner resources such as my creativity, curiosity and imagination. He encouraged me to reflect on the bases for my fears and to move at my own pace. He respected me and my capacities, which in turn spurred me to create drawings, stories and thoughts about life’s puzzlements; or to venture out into uncertain terrains, relationships and ideas, which I eventually did after much tussling and even further therapy."

As a very young child Schneider was overwhelmed by the death of slightly older brother and the grief of his parents.  His first psychotherapy was at age five.  He remarks that if he had been that age in our times he would have been simply given pills to quell the storms.  He calls it "flattening the biology".  It seals over the entrance to what I call "spelunking the unconscious".  


But I could have evoked one of our little voyagers into the galaxy, riding the solar wind.  Schneider is of the personal world.  I'm looking for the system that admits the chaos of the inhuman unknown.  Maybe not a therapist but a poet, like my friend who writes in ghastly and obscene terms that can resolve into something transcendent, quite beautiful but not peaceful until death.  Then one needs no words.