We have come to the end of the self-guided tutorial in biogenetic structural theory. The intent of this series of mini-essays has been to provide an entre into biogenetic structuralism -- to familiarize you with the basic tenets and theoretical constructions at the heart of the perspective. All along the way you will have detected some fundamental themes centered on issues that just don't seem to go away in anthropological thought. These themes express fundamental insights that Gene d'Aquili, John McManus and I, as well as others, have had with respect to the relations between brain, consciousness and culture.
First, and most importantly, I have emphasized the non- duality of mind and body. Mind-body dualism is an often unconscious canker at the nucleus of much of anthropological thinking. It is embedded within our language. It is hard to talk about mental and physical things using the same terminology. Biogenetic structuralism has at all times insisted upon speaking of the mind as embodied, as part of our being. Ethnologists are able to avoid dealing with the evidence of structure only by ignoring or denying the body. The minute one accepts the embodiment of mind -- the embodiment of consciousness -- then one is faced with literally libraries full of evidence of structure. If one is interested in the learning of culture, then one is required to look at the neurophysiology of learning. If one is interested in the culture of emotion, then one is required to look at the neuropsychology of emotion. And so on.
A second theme that has been emphasized from the beginning is that our world of experience is the production (or construction) of our nervous system which operates in a feedforward/feedback interaction with reality. That cognized environment is structured in such a way that in some respects the experiences of all human beings are the same, in some respects some human beings are the same, and in some respects no human beings are the same. That biogenetic structuralism has emphasized the ways all human beings are the same is just a counter measure to offset the tendency of ethnology to be tantalized by and obsessed with cultural variance.
Which brings up a third theme which is that all models comprising the cognized environment of adult members of any society are developed configurations of genetically predisposed, species typical, universal structures (neurognostic structures) that are derived from the evolution of the nervous system and its exaptational flexibility of functions. We are led by the data to acknowledge that pre- and perinatal human beings are conscious and are experiencing their world via highly organized neurognosis -- a world of objects, movements and relations that is probably highly archetypal in nature. In other words, babies probably are born experiencing a world of generalized, pure neurognostic objects and relations which rapidly particularize in experience due to developmental interaction with the operational environment.
Always remember, neurognostic structures and developed models mediating the cognized environment are made up of thousands and thousands of living cells that have the capacity to change their patterns of social interaction with each other. Thus there is no such thing as "hard-wired" circuitry, or hardware/software duality when it comes to neural models. Models are always plastic to some extent, and at the same time models are constrained by the limitations of their own physiology as to what formations they may effect. And the relative flexibility/inflexibility of models will depend on their phase of development and the conditions of their activity.
It is also crucial to remember that all of science, and anthropology as the science of humanity, is grounded in experience. And experience is mediated by our nervous systems. Thus the relationship between experience -- any experience -- and reality is always one of model to transcendental. This means that any theory, any ideology, any worldview, any belief, any philosophy, any school of thought or cultural perspective -- indeed, any knowledge constructed by the human brain whatsoever is just a point of view upon the transcendental operational. Knowledge is always partial, always incomplete, always excludes or ignores or denies other possible ways of knowing. Knowledge is best used in a pragmatic way, as a stance from which an encounter with the zone of uncertainty may be grounded.
But as we have seen, becoming aware of the limits of human knowing does not mean that experience is solipsistic, or that knowledge systems are all relative the way many postmodernists would have us believe. Experience and knowledge are rooted in neurognostic structures that have evolved to true themselves. Some epistemologies and systems of knowledge tend to be oriented more toward the production of meaning, while other systems keep the models open to the zone of uncertainty, and to dynamic testing in the crucible of experience. Good science is of the latter type. Scientific knowledge, while still a set of partial points of view, nonetheless tend to be "truer" than most other systems of knowledge as long as theories are grounded in intersubjectively shared experience ("objectivity").
Human consciousness -- and incidentally the consciousness of all other animals with brains -- is essentially symbolic in its operation. We have seen that every moment of consciousness is organized around an object (i.e., it is intentional), an operation that is produced by the dialogue between prefrontal cortical structures and other cortical and subcortical structures of the brain. A sensory object, itself mediated by models in the sensorium of the brain, penetrates to knowledge (including imaginal, conceptual and intuitive knowledge) mediated by association cortex, feeling mediated by limbic cortex and subcortical structures, and action mediated by motor cortex, the basal ganglia and the cerebellum. In other words, the object penetrates into and evokes its field of "meaning." Operating in the other direction, the field of meaning, or some portion of it (remember, living cells doing their thing) may initiate a quest for the object which fulfils the meaning, or if the operation is one of communication, the object expresses the meaning. These are the evocational, fulfilling and expressive modes of the symbolic function.
The links between objects and fields of meaning and action become relatively stable during development. In some of our writings we have called such stable links creodes (after C.H. Waddington's usage). People who insist upon the truth of their favorite ideologies exemplify the down-side of creodic consciousness. From within their rigid frame of reference, what they believe to be true makes sense to them. There is little or no recognition of a zone of uncertainty. But all human beings tend towards creodic consciousness. No matter how developmentally advanced their intelligence may be, things will tend to mean one thing as opposed to other things to people. Recognition of the transcendental tends to produce both an orientation toward the zone of uncertainty and a sense of humility.
Humans are social primates, and social groups have a great stake in conditioning the creodes of its members. That is what enculturation is all about -- conditioning creodes. Groups will tend to produce a system of socially shared knowledge -- a world view -- and life's experiences are interpreted in terms of that world view. This is the cycle of meaning I spoke about. At the same time, all traditional world views (that I am aware of at least) recognize that most of the world of causes is normally hidden from direct experience. So systems of knowledge cover not only the visible, but also the invisible aspects of the operational environment. Sometimes it is important to a group to put its members through some extraordinary experiences in order to reveal to them the normally invisible forces that impact events, or to change the internal structure of their consciousness in some way. The society will then position rituals in such a way that extraordinary experiences occur, and those experiences are then interpreted in terms that make sense relative to the world view as told in stories, discourses, art, drama, and so on. Rituals are often replete with drivers which are elements like dancing, ingesting psychotropes, drumming, fasting and whatnot that are embedded in the flow of the ritual, and operate to drive the nervous system to novel, extraordinary intentionalities.
This is the transpersonal dimension of the cycle of meaning. And it is the transpersonal dimension that has often been left unexplored by ethnographers. Whether out of fear, ignorance, or inattention, ethnographers have tended to take fuzzy, often highly symbolic accounts of transpersonal experiences provided by their informants for granted. This is why the word "trance" or "dissociative state" is a red flag to a transpersonal anthropologist, for it often signals that the ethnographer has not attained the experience being had by the informant, and is relying for their description entirely upon hearsay. Transpersonal anthropologists are ethnographers who have learned to free-up their intentionalities so that they may more easily attain the transpersonal experiences that are often so salient for the host society's world view.
We have seen that technology may be considered a special case of the symbolic function. The symbolic process becomes technical when a set of procedures is prescribed for attaining the desired experience. It becomes technological when the technics produces a physical change in the operational environment upon which attainment of the desired experience depends. Thus if I best my opponent by application of techniques I learned from an "empty handed" martial art, then I have been operating technically. If my technique requires the addition of an edged weapon like a blade to defeat my opponent, then the process has become technological. But in either case, the feedforward intentional loop is the same: There is the intention and the action in the world to produce the desired experience. It is the physical augmentation of my bodily action that makes the loop technological. And the addition of the tool changes the creodes underlying the action. If I add a blade, the world becomes full of cutable things. I think and plan and know in a cutable way. The blade withdraws from my consciousness as distinct from my action. The better the tool, the more it will withdraw as distinct from my intentionality.
Well, that's it. A thumbnail sketch of what we have talked about during this tutorial. I will no doubt return to parts of the tutorial and change them or add to them, and I may well add more Tangents as time goes on and I get feedback from people like you. So you may want to check back with the index from time to time to see what has been added.
Also, I plan to develop a second series of discourses that may be called the Advanced Discourse series. It too will have its index. I call them advanced discourses because they will assume knowledge of the concepts and views covered in this tutorial. I hope you will find these discussions a kind of reward for having slogged your way through these sessions. I have a number of topics already in mind, including why the space program is both inevitable and necessary to our survival as a species in this universe, a more in-depth critique of postmodernism, the nature and significance of Void Consciousness, and the nature of freedom and its relation to truth. I hope you will join me for these discussions. Thank you for your attention and your effort to understand. You may now wish to return to the tutorial index.