Quantum Psycholosography

Filed in Episode 3, Uncategorized by on February 26, 2017 0 Comments

Why is everything so damned interesting?

Some social media friends and I were discussing the huge amount of interesting (and potentially important) stuff that comes our way and that we can’t keep up with. New books and articles pile up half read on our physical or virtual bookshelves. In the last month articles on cognition, on language and communication, on evolution, on artificial intelligence, on art and extended epistemology came my way in the blogosphere. I went to a conference on Learning Histories, which apart from the Action Research connection revealed a bunch of overlaps with other streams (e.g. language and communication). I’m reading Oliver Sacks’ “Seeing Voices” about the language of the deaf, which is another take on language and cognition, and connects to Per Linell on Dialogics and therefore in one direction to Paulo Freire and back to AR and in another to the Batesons and mind/cognition and to discussions about what AI might meaningfully be.

The fact of all those interconnections seems to me to be important in itself. But is that what I want to write about? Is the problem just that I lack focus? Or is the problem more a narrowing of disciplines that serves to disconnect what should be connected? In that case there’s a role for me and my friends. So I’ll give it a shot.

Where to Begin?

Wherever I start, I know at some point I’ll cross a path coming from another starting point. And that will spin off new threads.

So, as it doesn’t matter where I start, I’m going to talk about a TV programme.

A Glorious Accident

A Glorious Accident (Een Schitterend Ongeluk) was a Dutch TV series back in 1993, which was a set of 90 minute interviews with significant thinkers on the subject of what I will simplify to mind/consciouness and being human. It had me (and hundreds of thousands of others) glued to the telly every week. Recently I bought the DVD set and started watching again. The actual question posed was “what are the concepts that our consciousness has so far developed about our curious existence in space and in time? And what do we derive most from these – knowledge or understanding?” The very last episode was a group discussion (quite an achievement, bringing all these folks together in one place).

Each of these people brings his own upbringing, experience, study, practice and ideas to the subject. Some disagree quite violently with each other, although it seems to me they agree about more than they seem to realize. All of them had something to say that had value for me.

And yes, you spotted it – they’re all white men and only one is known to be gay. That is also relevant and worth its own thread.

 

Rupert Sheldrake - biochemist/biologist

Rupert Sheldrake – biochemist/biologist

Mind and Body and Soul

Daniel Dennett – philosopher/cognitive scientist

Daniel Dennett – philosopher/cognitive scientist

Explicitly or implicitly each of them see “mind” as more than just the rational part of the brain of the individual. Sheldrake explicitly sees mind as extending beyond the individual.

Dennett, if I understood him correctly, does not but is generous in the relationship between mind and body (i.e. it’s not just located in identifiable bits of the brain). He brings it all together as “information”. In that sense at least he belongs to the school that regards cognition as information processing – another loaded term. If one accepts the interpretation of “information” used in modern physics, then cognition = information processing is not contradictory to Maturana and Varela’s perspective on cognition – or even to Sheldrake’s idea. And I wonder if that isn’t actually what Dennett means by information. Does he accept Maturana and Varela’s ideas? I’m pretty sure Stephen Jay Gould doesn’t.

Freeman Dyson - physicist/mathematician

Freeman Dyson – physicist/mathematician

 

 

Dyson philosophizes about part biological, part machine entities (with human rights), which calls for a re-read of Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto. One way or another, here we are deep in Bateson territory.

 

 

 

 

Language

Stephen Jay Gould - paleontologist/evolutionary biologist

Stephen Jay Gould – paleontologist/evolutionary biologist

Gould says “the key to the uniqueness of human cognition lies in language”. Wim Kayzer, the interviewer, suggests that humans are characteristically story tellers.

Gould retorts that chimpanzees probably are too. What they don’t do is deal with abstractions.

Oliver Sacks - neurologist

Oliver Sacks – neurologist

And that brought me back to Sacks’ Seeing Voices. He describes some cases of children born deaf and denied access to Sign. Sign (with a capital S) is any signed language which is not a literal translation of spoken words but a language of its own with a developed grammar. As these children (with varying degrees of success) acquired Sign, they moved on to learning written words. What for all of them was most difficult is managing abstractions. Stories they could manage, because stories deal in concrete things, individual people, animals, things. Sacks points out that they were all undoubtedly intelligent but the lack of language denied them that one characteristic of human consciousness: dealing in abstractions.

Stephen Toulmin - Philosopher

Stephen Toulmin – Philosopher

Philosophy, emergence

They’re all much more widely informed than they claim expertise but Stephen Toulmin is the one who most embodies the background for this blog. Philosophy for him should be practical. His espousal of renaissance humanism and a philosophy that recognizes context leads to a broad spectrum of ideas that are more or less useful depending on context. There are no absolutes and no abstract truths. Emmanuel Kant wouldn’t agree. I don’t care. Toulmin makes me want to learn more about Erasmus and Montaigne. And while I’m in the general era I probably need to look at Spinoza, whom many see as having posed a more open, holistic alternative to Descartes. Not to mention reading Toulmin’s own Cosmopolis. But that train of thought too confronts me with the white male problem. I can perhaps say nothing original about that but it behooves me to say something.

and generalists

I suggest that almost anything we want to understand in the natural world (of which we are part) can be approached, deliberately or emergently, from a multitude of different disciplines and that it’s essential to be aware of that. The genius of the programme is how it leads the thoughts of a bunch of specialists to spiral out into a much broader canvas. Specialisms are fine, essential even, as long as they recognize that relevant and important information also comes from other, perhaps unexpected directions. And so yes, there is a role for me and my friends – as generalists – as the connectors.

 

 

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