Chapter 2: Traps and Tenets
We have to be very alert and careful here, for we tend to try to fix the essential content of our discussion in a particular concept or image, and talk about this as if it were a separate 'thing' that would be independent of our thought about it. We fail to notice that in fact this 'thing' has by now become only an image, a form in the overall process of thought, i.e., response of memory, which is a residue of past perception through the mind (either someone else's or one's own). Thus, in a very subtle way, we may once again be trapped in a movement in which we treat something originating in our own thought as if it were a reality originating independently of this thought.
David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order
Much of what biogenetic structuralism has come to mean for us is that is is a discipline of mind that avoids certain traps to clear thinking. With the recognition of the traps have come certain tenets that were self-imposed clarifiers, and what I would like to do is trace some of those traps and tenets characteristic of our group's work. Of course. we were not conscious of all of these traps from jumpstreet. Some emerged as a consequence of the development of biogenetic structural thought. But I must say there has been at times an uncanny correspondence between the emergence of consciousness of these traps in each of us collaborators simultaneously, but independently, in our own personal development.
Probably the first and foremost trap that we recognized, and about which biogenetic structuralism essentially revolves, is the recognition of an inherent mind/body, or mind/brain dualism in the "natural attitude" of Western culture, and as a consequence, in Western science. This dualism operates virtually unconsciously in the thinking of theorists in all scientific disciplines, and has led, much as Husserl (1970) predicted in the 1930's, to a crisis in science. Let me characterize briefly to you what I mean. Scientific thinking is rife with a whole set of dualistic concepts and styles of thought that produce such oppositions as mind-body, mind-brain, psvchology-culture, nature-nurture, pure science-applied science, experimental-naturalisticmethodology, perception-cognition, so forth. The positivistic scientist proceeds as though perception were a perfectly veridical and objective record of the physical world, but that cognition is somehow a mental thing that can go wonky. And the duality continues: linguistic-non-linguistic thought, individual-personhood, and structure-function. To understand how deep the roots of mind/body dualism reach, one should remember that it is a problem that's recognized in philosophy and science going way back. There's a little book by K. Campbell (1984) in its second edition called Mind/Body which is the best single survey that I've ever read of the problem in philosophy.
You can easily trace the problem back to the Greeks, and not just the Greeks at the time of Aristotle and Plato, but the pre-Socratic Greeks - largely mystics in those days - who were snuggled very comfortably in a culture which held a cosmology in which "logos" -- the same root as our words logic and logical -- had a male attribution and was seen as part of, or a function of "physis" -- the same root as our words physical and physics, and given female attribution (Vycinas 1961). Logos was seen as that part of physis that reflects upon itself. By the time you get to the Socratic and post-Socratic Greeks, logos has been abstracted in thought and in concept from, and opposed to physis, so that now logos is a sort of an epiphenomenal realm of thought connected with physis through observation. It is no longer conceived as being part and parcel to physis. We've recently published an article (Laughlin 1985) that argues that there are cultures - ours included - in which male and female gender become defined oppositionally rather than complementarily, in cultures in which the experiential lifeworld of a pre- and perinatal person becomes conceived in development as distinct from knowledge about that world.
Knowledge among the pre-Socratics was mainly accrued by way of contemplation, or mystical reflection upon self and the world. By the time you get to Socrates, however, truth is elicited through ratiocination and debate in the academy. Gone is ninety percent of the contemplation. I interpret this to be much the same movement as occurred closer to our time in science as a consequence of removing ourselves from the more stultifying effects of religion and theology. The neo-positivists at the time of Ernst Mach in the nineteenth century were trying very hard to remove any metaphysics at all from scientific formulations. From a certain point of view they went overboard.
Ernst Mach (1838-1916)
For various reasons we've found that abstracting mind from brain, or brain from mind, though reflecting this essential dualism, is intuitively absurd. To this day I can't really tell you why it was intuitively absurd to me. It simply seems upon self-reflection that the removal of human affairs from nature is absurd; the divorcing of human affairs from the world just doesn't think well. So much of our thinking has been centered on how this habit of thinking could have happened and how we can get out of it. The equation of the function of nervous system and the mind seems self-evident to me. Not in any one-to-one simplistic map-onto relation, but rather mind or consciousness being a partial function of brain. To speak of consciousness is actually to speak of what we're all interested in from the inside out. To speak about brain or nervous system is to look at the same thing we're all interested in from the outside in. Neither can be reduced to the other. Our group has been charged with being reductionist, and it's just not the case, though some of our cumbersome writings may have given casual readers that impression. There is nothing in our conception that is dualistic about inside/outside, or brain/mind. Our challenge has been to take a language thoroughly imbued with dualistic conceptions - modern English - and talk about essentially a non-dualistic subject. In any ultimate sense it can't be done.
Q: Is there a language that isn't imbued with dualism?
A: Yes, there's mathematical formulations, and I for one have used set theory and other such formulations to check myself. There are unpublished lengthy footnotes, all in set theory, double-checking to make sure that I'm as close to a non-dualistic formulation as it is possible for this mind to produce.
Q: Isn't there a difference between language that reflects non-dualistic thinking and language that is almost exclusively one side of that?
A: Yes, matters could be a lot worse. There could be a language in which there was no way to talk either about the inside-out or the outside-in.
Q: Jacques Chevalier says whenever you articulate a polarity you always do it in favour of one, so there's day and night, and that's called 'day'. What I'm suggesting though is that mathematics you say is not dualistic, perhaps it's not but maybe that can cause it's own exclusive location all on one slde of a polarity.
A: I would dispute that, at least in the case of set theory, or the calculus, because you can define sets as wholes that include other sets. We've developed the idea of a set as a totality which from one point of view looks like a brain, and from another point of view looks like a mind. And there's no contradiction in talking about that. It's not that we don't want to distinguish one thing from another, that's the process of analysis in anybody's language, in anybody's culture: it's putting it back together and avoiding fragmentation that's the problem in the West. And if we're very unconscious in our theorizing, we make analytical distinctions that sort of get reified onto the world so that we come to actually believe the world is fragmented.
Q: But theories don't just happen that way - there's a reason for them to be dualistic.
A: Yes, and our claim is that it's inherent in our English speaking culture to cognize that way.
Q: I don't think it's enough to say that it's inherent in our culture. Like you said, there's a big difference between distinction and dualism. You don't distinguish between one half and the other half unless you have some reason to doing so.
A: Could it be that we are conditioned to think that way and because of the conditioning to think that way we have also generated reasons? You seem to be putting the "reasons" first, as though we're thoroughly conscious of the dualism and came about it in a very logical fashion.
Q: Well, it's obviously both, but I don't discount reason, just because it comes as an unconscious conditioning.
Q2: There's a Jungian school of thought about the development of consciousness that holds that there's an original sense of unity where there's no differentiation of opposites, and part of the development of a conscious ego is a process of developing opposites.
Q: I'd say it's the other way around. I'd say the unity is a concept which comes as a result of dualism. The purpose of dualism, as Jacques Chevalier says, is mediation and mediation is a powerful thing. And the end result, which is too ideological and is never accomplished, is unity.
02: But that's presupposing that when a baby is born it's born already with a set of dualities, which I don't believe is the case. I think a baby develops a set of dualities through experience, at a pre-cognitive level, which becomes part of the cognitive set, and later an we have to cognitively return, not to the same paint, but to a unity where, you know, we all want to go.
Q: What if it's the language that's dualistic, by its awn nature, and so the baby becomes dualistic insofar as he learns language? The thing is, when we talk we're doing more than saying words, the words are like containers which are articulating an experience and we will communicate insofar as the words that I use allow you to key in to the experience that I'm feeling, and that experience is not necessarily dualistic. There's the meaning which is non-dualistic behind the words, and our problem is we get trapped into thinking that all there is are the words. We forget that there's a meaning for which language is only a vehicle. Language isn't it.
Q2: Gregory Bateson says that part of the development of awareness is the need for contrast -- difference. News of difference is fundamental to awareness. When a baby's born there's a production of an increasingly refined awareness/consciousness. Necessary to development are contrasts, so that without light and darkness you can't see, without a sense of roughness and smoothness you can't feel, without silence, no sound. You need difference in order to became aware.
Q: You need distinction, but you don't need dualism.
Q2: Well, you need difference, and so it seems to me that the easiest way to create difference is in a set of opposites.
Q: Easier for whom?
Q2: The nervous system? I don't know. But, I would say the nature of that relation is either one of opposition or similarity. The mind associates things that are similar or opposed.
A: What I'm pointing to is a fundamental distinction, fundamental in the sense that it is culturally prior to signs. This may or may not prove to be the case, but that's my position. I think that if you're honest with yourselves, people, you do not conceive of yourselves as a nervous system - you almost certainly don't experience yourselves as a nervous system - but there are beings who do. And if you do not experience yourself as a nervous system that's all the proof I need that you are conditioned by our dualistic culture. This is a fundamental dualism. If you experience yourself fully as a body, then that will include a nervous system in modern culture, and will also include a mind -- there will be no difference between my experience of myself as a nervous system and my experience of myself as a mind. If there is this discrepancy then you are trapped in dualistic culture, and it's going to be prior to any enterprise you undertake as a scientist. In any event, that's my claim. You don't have to buy it, but I suggest that the only way to determine that for yourself is by looking inward. I want to pass on to another tenet, if I may.
Q: Could I just get back to this model of pre-Socratic Greek thought? Are you suggesting that the pre-Socratic model of thinking isn't dualistic, as you've laid it out?
A: It involves distinction, conceptual distinction, but of a world that is experienced as essentially non-dualistic -- it's monadic. It is literally thought about as a cosmos, or a cosmology.
Q: But the thing is, it may not be truly dualistic, but it's got the germ of dualism in it.
A: Yes. I would agree with that. That is a set-up - the minute logos becomes distinguished from physis, knowledge becomes distinguished from the world, it's a set-up for dualism. But the dualism may be latent or potential, and not yet be operative. My claim would be that it never will really manifest as long as there's a mystical or introspective component to the sign system. It will become dualistic if that component of experience of the unity of all is lost. An inevitable ingredient of higher phases of consciousness is the experience of the world as non-dual and total. One has no choice but to experience it that way, and that experience arises when thought stops. This gives direct experience of the relationship between thought and fragmentation of the world.
Q: But you see I think the essence of dualism is not the manifestation of it, as in post-Socratic thought, it's in the germ, and you haven't really accounted for that.
A: Yes we have. At least I think we have. In biogenetic structuralism we have. I maybe haven't done so very clearly in these lectures.
Q: I think you did sort of by the way. You said that at least one of the essences of dualism is the opposition of logos, being an attribute of male, and physis of female -- that's the germ right there.
A: We have produced a theory which purports to explain why that male attribution is quite naturally made, but I don't want to get into that here. You can read that easily enough if you wish (see Laughlin 1985).
Part of what we've tried to avoid is the deleterious effects of scientism, or the cult of methodology. Anthropology makes that easy; anthropology is the best possible discipline for avoiding scientism, because nobody's approach to methodology seems to ever take paradigmatic hold in anthropology. There's fads that come and go, of course, some people like Joseph Jorgensen press for statistical methods in anthropological fieldwork, with good reason at times. And the genealogical method has prevailed in anthropology since the early days. But there has never been a single methodological paradigm in anthropology, and it's due, not to the fact that anthropologists are particularly sage or wise, but rather because the discipline is inherently, by the nature of its own project, naturalistic. We have to take human societies as we find them. As a consequence, anthropological methods over the years have been a potpourri of borrowed methodologies utilized when appropriate and dropped when inappropriate: economic methodologies if people happen to be interested in economic behaviour, genealogical method if they're interested in kinship from a certain point of view. and whathaveyou.
The problem with methods when they become codified in a discipline is that they tend to determine, limit and circumscribe the questions asked. Methods are pragmatically useful, up to a point. The point at which they are no longer useful is precisely the point that Thomas Kuhn (1974) points out, where they begin to totally determine the approach taken to the subject of interest, the scope of intentionality. They begin to distinguish what is good science from bad science in the discipline, and worst of all, determine the questions asked and questions unaskable, so that inquiries of a certain kind cannot take place within the discipline because it's outside the observational or measurement capabilities of the methodology. It's often said of psychology that it first lost its spirit and then it lost its mind. This is a sort of cutesy way of saying that getting at mind was viewed by many theorists like Wundt, Hull, Spence, and most recently by Skinner as extremely problematic. They often handled the problem by simply excluding mind from observation. Consciousness became out of bounds for inquiry. There's no methodological problem at all because there is no mind. There's just behaviour and all the methods are geared to examining behavior. Of course, paradox after paradox piles up and finally you have a Skinner who comes eventually to admit that, well, subjective reports of internal processes are in fact behaviour. so they're admissible. But they still must be examined, researched in line with the methods currently considered legitimate in that discipline. The problem is that in disciplines where the methodology can ultimately determine the scope of the reality being examined, the naturalistic circumstances that gave rise to the original questions that led to the discipline in the first place get instrumentalized out of mind.
A good person to read on this is Emil Menzel (1967), a comparative psychologist and primatologist who, for many years, did laboratory research on the olive baboon. Emil reports that there came a time, just by fluke, when he ended up in Kenya on some other project. While he was there he thought he'd take a look at some olive baboons in the wild, and he stood in the middle of this baboon troop, watched it for hours, looked around and had this "aha!" as he described it to me. "Nothing I've ever done relates to these animals' natural circumstances. By my research they're absolute idiots, totally stupid animals, and here I am standing in the middle of this thoroughly integrated social group, adapted to their environment. It's obvious their skills are related to naturally occurring events in their environment, which are not replicated in the laboratory..." And so on. That led Emi1 to try to discover ways of integrating naturalistic and laboratory observations. Which then led to all sorts of interesting research into curiosity among rhesis monkeys and chimpanzees in relatively free-ranging, but captive groups.
To make a long story short, this kind of reflection ultimately led to reflection upon the nature of science as a natural cognitive process, out of which our book of that title emerged. This book records the dialogues between myself, McManus and Robert Rubinstein of Chicago (see Rubinstein, Laughlin and McManus 1984). These discussions led us to a tenet that might be best described as a sort of structural monism (there's no really good word for it that we've been able to find). On our account, the scope of discourse might be conceived as a sort of sphere of reality in which there are numerous windows, so that one has a choice of point of view of that scope, and each point of view, no matter which one you take, is partial. To a certain extent, what point of view you choose to take will determine the limits to what you can see. Part of what defines a 'window' is called methodology. So. the rule that we came up with for ourselves, which we call the rule of minimal inclusion, held that one's theoretical perspective on any particular scope must account for all the available windows in the sphere. The arbitrary exclusion of any window is a fallacy leading to discrepant and often incommensurable theories about the scope.
You can imagine, for example, that there's a window that's called the neurological window, another that's called the ethnographic-behavioral window, and still another that's called the introspective window. People looking through the ethnographic window are describing one sort of reality, like Emil's baboon's in the wild, while others looking through the neurological window are describing another sort of reality, like a physiologist cutting up baboon brains or putting them through lab tests with wires in their heads. They're both saying something about the intelligence of olive baboons, and yet they may well come up with mutually contradictory theories -- one claims the baboon is stupid, the other that the baboon is smart -- it's easy to demonstrate that. Our rule has been, therefore, that an adequate account of the scope must include all of the available theory and data relative to the scope. No window may be arbitrarily excluded. And the rule also requires the inclusion of at least one level of system above and one level of system below the level(s) of system that one is engaged in observing. For example, if I am interested in So culture (of northeastern Uganda), I am perforce required to examine the ecology of the So (one level of systemic organization above my concept "So"), and I must look at the individual psychology (one level of system below).
Q: How does that guarantee that you're leaving yourself open to the inclusion of all possible windows?
A: It may not in fact....somebody could come back at you and say here's another window -- say, biological research on So metabolism -- how about that? Well, our rule is if we can see that it's obviously another window into our scope, we have to credence it, have to take it into account. We're not limiting this to just another scientific window. Any culture's window onto our scope must be credenced. To arbitrarily limit our view to the Western scientific is just a subtle form of scientism -- kind of an ethnocentric scientism, if you will.
Q: Therefore when you're speaking from having looked through a window and then somebody comes to you with a completely different window which also relates, and which informs and broadens what you've been saying, then you must listen to them.
A: We dialogue but don't exclude it. Let me give you an example. There's this offbeat philosopher named John Schumacher at RPI in New York who came at us at a meeting saying, "You're missing a whole window. There's a quantum physics to perception, man, how 'bout that? Put that in your pipe and smoke it!" And we've had to. By our own design, we've been forced to look at quantum physics in relation to consciousness, and deal with all sorts of problems we hadn't dealt with before.
Q: Hypothetically, could you end up spending most of your time trying to take into account different windows?
A: Yes, well put. And I think that's our saving grace. The object ultimately is to never close the theory, never close the models, because they're always partial and you just ritualize the open-mindedness to the point where you can't close it because there's always somebody out there coming at you with some new point of view, some new anomalous data or contradictory theory or findings.
Q: Are you not a window yourself?
A: Yes, or a system of windows - an endless series of "horizons." Hence, for whatever reasons (I don't know why), it has always made intuitive sense to me to collaborate with others. There's two effects of collaborating with other people - such collaboration rarely happens in anthropology, mind you, and there's reasons for that as well. One reason to collaborate is what Buckminster Fuller used to call a synergistic effect, it seems to produce results that are more complete and work better than any one person could produce on his own. Another reason is that it provides a cross-check on each others' biases.
Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983)
In our research into the nature of human cognition and processes of knowing, we became gradually aware that there is a bias in Western science in favor of left lobe conceptual processing. This to the exclusion, often unconsciously, of right lobe imagining, or imagery processing. In other words, Western scientific theory tends to be hyper-rational. Look, for example, at the neo-positivist paradigm of good theory construction. For a period of time it would only allow theories comprised of propositions in natural language; i.e., good theory in science had to be couched in natural language. With the advent of Einstein's relativity theory, which in its richest form can only be described in mathematics, a transformation of positivism occurred which allowed mathematical propositions to be treated as legitimate scientific theory as well. But nowhere in the received view of theory construction was the role of imagery in theoretical formulations legitimized. However. if one looks at knowledge or modes of thought cross-culturally, or do what philosophers and historians of science since at least N.R. Hanson in the nineteen-fifties have done, look at how scientific discoveries are actually carried out, you discover that the role of imagery is very important. For example, I would direct you to the description by Watson of the discovery of the double helix which was based upon intuitive grasp of the similarity of imagery. There are books full of such accounts, and you'll discover that the role of imagery is paramount and that very often the theorist is in the position of having to, in a sense, demythologize his imaginal insights. That's really what we're talking about here, demythologization, that is to say, restructuring of insight in terms of left lobe conceptual processing in order for it to be scientifically acceptable.
Edward De Bono
There is an interesting little book by Edward DeBono, which he claims to be the first book ever written for both the left and the right lobes – not true of course – in which he's got an idea written out in natural language on one page, and on the facing page he's got a drawing that depicts the same idea. It's an interesting exercise I commend to you. If your awareness is up and you are watching your own mind as you work through that book, see what happens inside your mind when you consider the idea from the left and the right perspectives....a good meditation.
In Science As Cognitive Process we address the role of imagery in cognition and in science. This consideration weighed heavily in favour of our resistance to such simple distinctions as, for example, are made by Levi-Strauss (1966) between primitive and modern thought -- really a distinction that was previously made by Levy-Bruhl (1923) -- that somehow primitives think in a different way than modern, civilized, scientific human beings. We'd rather argue that Levy-Bruhl was right, only he just didn't understand that we all think the same way that he thought primitive peoples do. It's the same brain operating upon the same principles. But because of our scientistic model of how science ought to operate, we can fool ourselves into thinking science is a solely rational, conceptual process. Obviously scientific theory construction involves conceptual process, but as Horton and Finnegan show in Modes of Thought (1973), those processes are also present in the thought of so-called primitives as well.
Q: Is the trap an over-emphasis on left or right, or what is it you're saying is a trap?
A: Good. To us a trap is any point of view that directs one away from how things actually are, so that when it becomes codified in a scientistic way, it effectively imposes unnecessary, arbitrary limits upon the process of creative reflection or exploration. Some kinds of thought are forbidden or ignored, not considered applicable to science. One dualism that arises is the distinction between science and art. This has been controversial for a long time - there's a whole literature in philosophy on whether art and science are in fact distinct, or are two aspects of the same thing. It's a trap furthermore in that it does not recognize the inherent limitations of the intellectual function of the brain, one that is better at asking questions than answering them.
If you look at the really significant breakthroughs in science, they're mostly intuitive (see Medawar's 1969 essay on the role of intuition in science). We've written a bit on what we think intuition might entail in terms of neurological structures. Basically it's neurocognitive processing that is unconscious to the individual. There's a school of thought that holds that intuition is right lobe, intellect is left lobe. But that doesn't wash, because much of intellection is unconscious as well. Much conceptual processing is unconscious to the actor. We have to keep in mind that there is operational cognition and there's cognized cognition, the latter being what we know about how we came to know. The former is cognition as it acutally happens, and the latter is our models, rules, formulae, logics, rationalizations, justifications, so forth, that purport to define and end up reifying limitations to knowing. As I have been heard to murmur upon occasion "methodology is a picket fence we build between our self and God."
Like any other knowledge, knowledge about how we know is partial. It is especially partial, and usually painfully naive, when it is received cognized cognition. --when we get it secondhand from people who teach us what our cognition is like. Then its not only partial due to the inherent abstractive processes of our own mind, its doubly partial because it has been transposed through language or some other symbolic system. The most accurate way to know our mind is to study it directly, and that requires doing some phenomenology.
The actual experience of intuition can go something like this: I'm thinking like mad about a problem, and I'm reading this and that and going out and doing research, and then there is one instant I lift my foot and the solution isn't there, and I put my foot dawn on the first step of the bus and the solution is there. The hallmark of intuition is not so much the quality of the knowing, it's the suddenness of the awareness of the knowing, and the full-blown presence of that knowledge in consciousness. There's a totality to it, it's all there - all one piece.
Our explanation of intuition in part is that much of information processing is relegated to alternative neural systems, much like a subroutine, like shared-time processing. It does not interfere with one of the principle functions of awareness which is tracking moment-to-moment dialogue with the world for the purpose of adaptation. It's increasingly apparent that the brain depends upon parallel processing as much, if not more than, lineal processing. When the processing is completed, under certain circumstances, the results are "relevated" (Bohm's term) into consciousness and the sudden awareness of knowledge is there. There are disciplines in Eastern meditation where you can come to experience this very readily. The experience of intuitive insight becomes so commonplace you come to know the process very well. One such discipline is the technique of the koan, one form of Zen practice, in which you single-mindedly work on a problem that systematically thwarts intellection. The most famous koan I suppose is "What is the sound of one hand clapping." You can't deduce the correct answer, you can deduce answers but they're not the right answer. Any answer you can logically deduce, the Roshi will just ding his little bell and say "Go away and meditate some more." What happens phenomenologically, and it can be experienced in science, art, in fact in any realm of life where there is an intense state of question, is that a sort of wave front of inquiry builds in the mind. Then there comes a time -- it can be when you're not meditating, it can be when you're eating your Big Mac or walking to the bathroom -- the solution is there -- whole, total, and the Roshi smiles and gives you the next koan.
Q: Is that because all of a sudden you accept what the solution is?
A: I would say more than that. I would say until the cognitive processes have modeled it, there is no knowing it. And as awareness is a combination of knowledge, attention and object, all moments of consciousness are intentional as Husserl would say, there is no awareness of insight although the object of insight may be before the mind. Nirvana, the texts tell us, is present every moment, but the awareness of nirvana isn't. "Enlightenment" is shedding light upon what's already happening.
Q: I really feel however that the essential thing is that suddenly I accept instead of trying to answer the question, maybe something has happened unconsciously, all of a sudden I recognize.
Q2: This explains the process of what happens before you accept, what's going on before you come to the point of accepting that there's something else happening on the other side of the brain that's actively working on it, that's out of awareness. So it's not just that you accept, because there's all sorts of things going on before you accept.
A: In fact awareness itself can be a trap, if awareness is attached to a presumption that answers come solely by ratiocination. This is awareness via a certain point of view. Because in the process of awakening through the koan form, ratiocination has to be dropped. It won't work unless it's dropped. Insight just won't arise as long as one is trying to reason one's way through the question.
Q: And then what happens is you accept it. Why even talk at all about unconscious machinery?
A: Well, unconscious to the aware you, unconscious to the ego awareness. We're not talking micro-chips here or sub-routines; we're talking living tissue that is processing information, and what is conscious depends upon the system of reference. What is unconscious, and unconscious to what? Well, unconscious to what we have termed conscious network.
Q: The eye can't see itself see. There's certain processes that are going on that are always out of consciousness, because you can't see yourself see, but you can see what the eye sees. The eye can't see itself. My eye can't see what's going on for me to see. My nervous system can't feel what's going on for me to feel.
A: The system can be turned on itself: it's own internal processes can become its object.
Q: But then it can't be aware of itself turning in on itself, it can't be aware of the process in which it is immediately engaged.
A: Why can't it?
Q: Well I can't see myself see.
A: Why can' t you? I'm seeing myself see at this very moment.
Q: No, you're seeing what you're seeing. Is your eye actually seeing what's going on there to see.
A: Well, I know what you're trying to say. I mean I'm not here staring back at my eyes, but that can lead one to an unfortunate point of view; that is that brain cannot track its own processes, cannot be aware of its own awareness -- which patently it can do.
Q: I'll have to go back and look at Gregory Bateson....it's just that I can't see the nerves firing, my light receptors, you see, I can't see them working.....while I'm using my eyes.
Q2: You can feel every single little firing so you can know it.
A: That's germane, so let's leap into that. There's two things we became aware of: In the first place there are decalages, as Piaget put it, of awareness. Awareness in most human beings is like a patchwork quilt - there are domains of greater and lesser awareness having to do with knowledge available in each moment of consciousness. As with so many theorists before us, we have been trying to figure out the extent to which cognition actually influences perception. Our present view is that the distinction between cognition and perception is a false one, that perception is already knowledge, that there's a hierarchical system of knowing, and that all of knowledge is self-limiting. In one's discipline of thought, one has to build doors out of the trap inherent in the influence of one's knowledge upon one's perception. One simply does not see what one cannot at the moment know. It (whatever 'it' is) may be right in front of our noses. There's plenty of evidence -- we note some of it in Science As Cognitive Process -- that paradigms not only cause practitioners to exclude information from consideration, but also cause their minds to input information and hold a contradictory theory simultaneously and not see the paradox.
This realization led Pribram (1971) to teach that the proper role of the creative scientist is paying more attention to paradoxes, not so much to theory. A role of theory is to produce paradox. And if you pay attention to paradox -- that is, the discrepancies between your model of the world and the information "coming in" about the world -- then you will always, as a consequence, keep the models open. This is something we've tried to do all along in biogenetic structuralism, though we've trapped ourselves more than a few times. Carl Jung said 'isms' are the cancer of the age, or words to that effect. He denied there was any such thing as a "Jungian" point of view, for instance. What he meant by that was that his engagement was with his own phenomenology and his ideas changed, grew, transformed as a dynamic dialogue with the world, but his disciples were always trying to find some easily codified and transmittable system.
We're trying to figure out how to explicitly ritualize the enterprise of science so that post-paradigmatic science is possible. Our view is that the only route to a post-paradigmatic science, a post-normal science in Kuhn's terms, is awareness of the cognition that produces paradigmatic science. What factors produce attachment to paint of view, attachment to theory, as the sine qua non of good science. There is no such thing as perfect theory; all knowledge is fallible, and its function is not to stand as an edifice, a monument to the process of inquiry, but rather as a stepping-stone to further question.
We suspect that by the time consciousness has evolved to Homo gestalt , what we would recognize as theory will simply be adolescent fixation on a point of view. Adult Homo gestalt won't require theory in the sense of any relatively fixed, propositional knowledge of the sort that you can put in a textbook, memorize and quote verbatim on examinations.
Finally, we have come gradually to agree that a major flaw in science -- including anthropology -- is the failure of scientists to perform what Edmund Husserl called the phenomenological reduction. Which, in the jargon, is a way of saying that science is essentially anti-introspective (largely for pre-scientific and cultural reasons), and fails as a consequence to produce mature contemplatives. What mature contemplative means I'll describe later.
Husserlian transcendental phenomenology is the process by which our naive theories of the world are experienced as distinct from the order of the world as given in perception. The phenomenological reduction is a complex and developmental process; it isn't that one decides one day to bracket one's theory of the world. By implication one is incapable, prior to the reduction -- of clearly distinguishing the world as given from one's theory of the world -- they're inextricably bound up with each other in an unconscious, unaware fashion. The object, by exercise of awareness, is to begin to extricate the one from the other. But it is a dialectical process. By the knowing of the distinction between the world as given and theory, one actually creates the distinction between the world and theory. So that what is bracketed changes as the reduction proceeds until the time when one intuitively grasps the essential order of phenomena as constituted by the mind for the mind, totally removed from, or prior to, any theory of the world whatsoever. For Husserl, phenomenology is prior to any science, if by science one means theory construction. The advantage of the reduction process, Husserl argued, is that one avoids all sorts of traps, because once one has performed the reduction, one can then reconstruct a theory of the world rooted in the knowledge of what is given in the world and what is laid on by cognition.
Q: We often talk about what we believe in and it's often an intellectual exercise, but what we fail to realize is how inextricably intertwined our beliefs are with what we are right now sensing. So I sort of got confused a little bit when you were talking about separating what is believed from what is perceived.
A: Husserl's "theory of the world" is not just beliefs, it's not really something that one would consciously write down, it's not theory either in the sense of Einstein's theory of relativity, though it includes that. Theory of the world involves the presumptions we make about the world. There's a "you" there. I attribute "you-ness" to my experience of this form apparently in front of my eyes; I do so naturally, unconsciously. I'm not aware of the dots of which your image is comprised in my mind, right? The dots are there, and there is a mindstate in which one can be so aware of the dots that the "you" disappears. And one becomes aware that all that's given in the world is certain essential information by the world, upon which I map "you-ness". This is just an example, it gets much more subtle. The mapping of form at all onto the world is a cognitive process.
Q: So you're talking about a knowing that is prior to the act of mapping, which I assume is a reaction of the intellect.
A: Well., not really. I mean it involves imagery too. You are for me an image too. I have thoughts about you and knowledge about you. I recognize you and you are different than Peter over there. I just glance over there at Peter and the whole mandala changes and there's all sorts of theory about Peter-ness that arises before the mind, right? And we all know cases where people are so locked into their model of "us" that they can't see us at all -- very common in romantic relationships. Sometimes you have to reach out and smack them before they see who you are. "Hey, I' m not like that!" or "I've changed!"
But that's bracketing at a gross level. I bracket you-ness from what I'm perceiving, say blueness, there's blue and there's gray and the blue and the gray are in a certain relation to each other and there's a boundary between color patches, I can see edges. There's something about my mind that likes edges, reaches out and grabs hold of edges, and separates spatial things according to edges, and pretty soon the fact of "you" has been bracketed: "you-ness" is bracketed and accessible to my mind, but I can see that really if that were last I wouldn't recognize you, yet I'd still see the blue and the gray, and the same relationships would be there. Then I can became aware that there is still a "sweater" there, and then I can bracket "sweater": what is "sweater-ness"? There's still the blue, the relation between blue and gray, the texture....soon I've lost "you-ness," lost "sweater-ness," lost "cloth-ness"..... so forth.
Q: So you take away all of that stuff, and what are you left with?
A: That I can't tell you so that you can know just from my blab, but I can tell you that you can experience it directly and know it, if the requisite question is present, and I can tell you that to not know it is to leave yourself vulnerable to falling into traps. That was Husserl's point of view and that is my point of view from personal experience.
Q: So when you're naming different things that you can focus on, it can be a sweater or it can be ideas about me, and it can have very little to do with the presence, or it can have much more to do with the presence.
A: It can be very adaptive, of course. That's why Husserl said that it's unfortunate that science works so well, it produces incandescent lights and atomic bombs and stuff like that. The natural thesis is very effective because the neurological system that produces it is pre-adapted to develop fairly veridical models of the world, adaptively veridical models of the world, but we don't understand why it does that, nor do we understand the limits inherent in that process.
Q: I get the impression that you're saying that it's possible to arrive at an ultimate knowing.
A: Well, Husserl would talk about intuitively coming to know the transcendental ego, which is to say the inherent structure of the knower -- the real audience for this inner movie we construct for ourselves. So far as I can tell by reading Husserl, there's no notion of an ultimate essence like a Buddhist nirvana, which is actually a special kind of essence.
Q: Although I agree with you that's certainly the direction it's going, but I take a more Merleau-Pontian stance towards that idea, that has a slightly different emphasis, not essence but existence.
A: There's a natural progression from essence to existence, as you obviously are aware. In Western philosophy, because of a frustration over grasping the phenomenological method, the existentialist movement was premature and a cop-out and was a consequence, in part, of Husserl's inability to clearly transmit his procedures. After all, he was basically rediscovering the wheel. There are other cultures that have been developing methods of phenomenological reduction for millennia, though it appears that Husserl was fairly unaware of the fact. He was headed in the right direction, but he never attained any ultimate, so far as I can tell. Our definition of mature contemplative does not require reaching any ultimate experience either -- it simply requires that a certain maturation occur in the awareness. Next chapter I will define what we mean by mature contemplative and what the contemplative will predictably come to know. I'll describe what a science based upon mature contemplation might look like. I will advocate a return, in other words, to a less naive introspectionism, and argue why that kind of reduction is necessary at this time in science -- including anthropology.
Moved on to Chapter 3