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The Global Brain
"It is not guilty pride but the ceaselessly reawakened instinct of the game which calls forth new worlds." (Heraclitus Reloaded)
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    Mind – The need for a new model (part 4)
    Project: Polytopia
    All the ways about here belong to me! The Red Queen in ‘Through the Looking Glass’ by Lewis Carroll


    Back, here, at square one… In the course of thousands of years of human thought, almost everything that could have been said about the mind, had already been said and in more than one way. With the guidance of the red queen (she wished me to mention her other famous quote...) which hides in its utter simplicity a quite profound reflection on the power of narratives, I found that it will be impossible to even start to sketch a framework for a new model without making some far reaching detours which might seem, at first, sidetracking the subject. We need to find some ways that do not belong...

    Let us start with the question about the kind of relations that can be described between mind and embodiment. How does the mind arise? Or, a different way to ask this question: what are the processes and interactions by which mind takes form as sensations ideas, emotions, memories etc, or, mind is being made into form as sense impressions, experiences, insights etc. A somewhat simplified version of this same question (is it is the same question?) might be the well known mind-body problem: how do phenomenal states i.e. experiential states and mental states in general arise from the neural activity of our organic brains? Making the brain and the nervous system the context of asking the question, is indeed a great simplification compared to a wider, more abstract, and less presuming context. Yet, it is an unwarranted one considering that it is the thinking organ itself which is under investigation here.

    It seems fair to assume that minds are necessarily embodied. This, however, does not automatically come to mean that minds are physically embodied. Embodiment and physicality are not synonymous. Physical embodiment is only one option and not necessarily the most aesthetic one as I will try to show further ahead. The issue of embodiment is in fact very abstract and it strongly resonates with another deep question regarding the nature of reality. Hence our first detour, which we will soon see is only the first in a sequence.

    Fred Tomaselli, Untitled, 2002

    Why do we need to address the nature of reality? When we try to better understand embodiment, we have relate to a certain ontological background. We use words and linguistic gestures to form descriptions that represent certain states of affairs. But as I wrote in a previous post, the manner by which we relate to mind cannot possibly be separated from the manner of minding the nature of reality at large. We must attend to what is the case (after L. Wittgenstein), we must somehow ground our conceptions (ground=embodiment). Moreover, without subscribing to at least a provisional belief about the nature of reality we cannot even start to figure (figure=embodiment) what embodies what: is the mind embodied in a wider reality which is basically independent of it? Or is it the other way around: it is the mind that embodies reality. This is difficult and even confusing because mind and embodiment do not seem anymore as distinct as one usually might think about them.

    To make things just a bit simpler but not really, let us briefly explore such provisional beliefs. Here are two options: the first option is a belief that forms have an independent existence, and the content present in our minds (or as our minds) is basically impressions, or representations, or shadows of those forms. In this option a mind is a kind of a screen or a mirror (or even a clay-like malleable stuff) on which forms are being rendered.

    It is interesting to note that both idealism and materialism that seem to be so widely removed from each other in the virtual atlas of human thought, are merely particular flavors of this option. The difference between materialism and idealism is in the particular kind of substance intrinsic to reality. While materialism is the belief that the substance intrinsic to reality is physical, i.e. matter, energy, space and time, etc, idealism is the belief that the substance intrinsic to reality is rooted in the realm of (platonic) abstract concepts. In a particular and very popular version of this same belief, it is the mind of a god, or its presence, or its emanation which is the substance intrinsic to reality that by divine intent is shaped into all forms. In all the different versions of this belief, however, there exists a kind of primal substance intrinsic to reality that embodies (yes, same concept again) all forms.

    The second option is that forms do not have an independent existence (in Mahayana Buddhist tradition this option is referred as conditioned arisal or conditioned origination). One might already have asked even earlier: independent of what? Plainly speaking, it is independent (or not) from the subject of experience, the observer, me, or the mind that experiences, perceives, relates, represents, describes etc [another detour invites itself here: is it justified at all to describe ‘mind’ and ‘me’ as distinct, and if so how do we describe a mind(s) which is ‘other’? We will get to it ahead]. This option boils down to the belief that the intrinsic nature of reality arises as relations and necessarily depends on the mind. In other words which I find clearer: reality (all forms) arises in the course of minding, or reflecting, the dynamic relation of a universal mind with itself. Or, in other words that might make this idea more accessible: there is no observer independent reality. No forms exist independently and there is no substance intrinsic to them. Forms are (merely?) relations, empty, dreamlike. They arise as the undulations of an undifferentiated nothingness, not unlike the Taoist concept of the Tao. Out of Tao forms and order arise, pulled out, so to speak, as minding, the on going process that brings forth an insubstantial instance of a dream-reality, our dynamic remembered present, the universe we know to be real.

    Andrew Carnie, Things Happen (part of), 2005

    These options (understandably there is much more to them than said here), are in fact highly accomplished and sophisticated thought systems, or more precisely, species of thought systems which, figuratively speaking, embody major branches in the evolutionary tree of human thought.
    In as much as they are different, there is one thing fundamentally common to both species: it is an underlying concept of truth. The primacy of the concept of truth deserves of course a detour in itself. We might get to it further along our investigation. Meanwhile, I would propose to provisionally relate to truth as a kind of an overarching selective principle. Unlike the relatively simple and ad-hoc way it is used in qualifying facts and logical reasoning, truth, when applied to fundamental beliefs in one’s worldview, carries an emotional value and therefore is intimately involved in the shaping of motives and initiation of action. Again, without digging too deep into the issue, truth is a belief’s instrument to effectively assert its own distinctiveness. While we usually imagine truth as embodied by this or that belief, like a flag on the top of a castle (castle topples, flag is taken… Protect! Protect!), truth is actually a kind of funny stuff found between beliefs and drives them apart to become distinct from each other. It is a repulsive kind of force (like dark energy), localizing and excluding. This kind of truth is nothing but a carefully refined brand of good old Neolithic territorialism brought to the heights of abstract thought.

    The face of Truth as captured recently by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP)
    a spacecraft which measures differences in the temperature of the Big Bang's remnant radiant heat - the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation - across the full sky.

    Regaining our temporary theme after this swift detour towards the truth, let us turn back to our original detour. I hope that in the course of reading the last few paragraphs you gained at least a preliminary sense of what embodiment is (incarnation, realization, manifestation, expression, representation, actualization, symbol, model, quintessence, exemplification, example, exemplar, ideal, instance...). Embodiment is necessary for meaning. Without embodiment of any kind (very hard to imagine such state of affairs), nothing would make sense to us. The very expression ‘makes sense’ is about embodiment, about bringing something into a tangible form, understanding and experiencing something which is intangible in terms of other things which are tangible. The mind is continuously busy in embodying its intangible aspects into tangible ones. This is an ongoing dynamic and evolving process of our metaphor machine. It is a fundamental activity of our minds – a continuous process of embodying. Again, the relation mind-embodiment seem to gain even a deeper intimacy as if minding and embodiment are less and less distinct. As we look closer, it is difficult to see where one ends and the other begins.

    In their landmark work “Metaphors we live by”. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson introduce a novel and expanded approach to the concept metaphor:

    The most important claim we have made so far is that metaphor is not just a matter of language, that is, of mere words. We shall argue on the contrary, human thought processes are largely metaphorical. This is what we mean when we say that the human conceptual system is metaphorically structured and defined.

    The metaphorical machine that progressively makes the contents of our mental states tangible is anchored in a yet deeper level of processes which are not accessible to us. When we feel excited, or angry, or interested, when we see a flower, or bump into a (transparent) wall, when we suddenly remember a vivid dream that we had, or think a thought that just came up (up from where?), the underlying cognitive processes that produce all these are transparent (unseen) to us. This transparency is perhaps one of the most paradoxical aspects of minding. It makes a world appear to us as ultimately unmediated, while, simultaneously, our mental space seems to be enclosed within itself and entirely disassociated from any world whatsoever. It is as if we sit at a restaurant table and these experiences are served to us as elaborately prepared dishes. How the food is cooked and how the dishes are prepared is entirely out of sight. Being creatures of theories and explanations that we are, we vaguely (and somewhat reflexively) guess that these dishes come from somewhere, that there is a kitchen (entirely hidden from us), where the food is being prepared. But in this case, the kitchen is so hidden that it becomes a true mystery and we start to suspect whether it exists at all. Or, alternatively, we start to believe that there is only a kitchen and us, eating, is just an elaborate illusion.

    Jericho Santander, Own World, Illustration made for

    For modern neuroscience the kitchen is the brain but the embarrassing riddle is still with us: The ingredients the kitchen works with and the dishes we are served are made of entirely different kinds of stuff. In the brain we have biochemical reactions and electrochemical signaling. In our minds we have voices, colors, words, shapes, emotions, choices, desires etc. We know that these are somehow connected, at least correlated, for every dish which is served, the kitchen is producing something quite distinct and for every preparation of the kitchen there is a dish being served. Yet, the kitchen and the eating hall, our minds and our brains, seem to inhabit entirely different realms. We seem to be creatures of multiple worlds… How could this be? This riddle does not seem to be a riddle of neuroscience. It does not seem to be a scientific riddle at all. It is a riddle that touches the very foundations of how our minds operate and how minds arise in the first place. It is a riddle sitting at the very core of our model; a place where all our stories originate from, yet itself still untold. It is so mysterious that we fail even to ask the proper questions about it or come up with really useful (digestible) metaphors.

    When we realize that our metaphor machine fails us, we know that we have reached a reality limit and we are in need for a new narrative. Even this wouldn’t be good enough because what we really need is a new kind of narrative, a new kind of knowing, of telling our stories. We must return and re-examine the origin of forms and the very nature of reality. In search of a new model I will write next about abstract self organizing forms, meta-evolution and emergent universes and of course about minds being multiply embodied and yet at one.

    To be continued…

    Sat, Jul 25, 2009  Permanent link

    Sent to project: Polytopia
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    rawsilk     Wed, Jul 29, 2009  Permanent link
    Thank you Spaceweaver for this tractatus of sorts.. it is surly one of the most interesting and provoking piece about Mind i read for years.. (as this whole Polytopia project actually is.. )
    i could almost feel the way Ellie Arroway (Judi Foster in the film Contact by Carl Sagan) must have felt while riding her pod through wormholes tunnels all across the universe :)

    many many questions comes to mind, but i will try to narrow it down to few i believe to be more important at this stage:

    should we expect from such a new model of Mind to (eventually) unify into one smoothly continuos description both the realms of Mind embodiment, and matter/time embodiments?
    ''laws" of the Mind with laws of physics ?
    (stars and ideas, atoms and consciousness, forces and emotions ???)

    what is it then, that primal Mind 'stuff' 'is' / 'made of' ? is it the right kind of question?

    Spaceweaver: " truth is actually a kind of funny stuff found between beliefs and drives them apart to become distinct from each other.. "
    (truth as Neolithic territorialism brought to the heights of abstract thought - love this!!)
    What would be the force (stuff?) that attracts embodiments - the Mind's equivalent to gravitation ? what makes embodiment 'heavy', what kind of space they fold ?

    and maybe one of the most interesting enigmas in my eyes - what would Mind equivalent to singularity could be/understood/explained (experienced?? ..maybe not very far from being a red queen.. :)
    ( btw - i would not consider it impossible that an insight into the nature of attraction / gravitation (the part i believe we least understand) in a new model of Mind could yield some fresh leads to a new understanding of gravitation which will help bring quantum mechanics and special relativity finally together )

    Spaceweaver     Wed, Aug 5, 2009  Permanent link
    Thanks for the thoughtful comment. It took me sometime to come back to you and your interesting (may I say anticipatory) questions.

    should we expect from such a new model of Mind to (eventually) unify into one smoothly continuos description both the realms of Mind embodiment, and matter/time embodiments?
    ''laws" of the Mind with laws of physics ? (stars and ideas, atoms and consciousness, forces and emotions ???)

    As you might guess, I see mind and embodiment as belonging to the very same continuum. The new model I have in mind (pun intended!) takes this continuum as a fundamental, but it also have to explain why in the course of our reflective processes mind and embodiment are, more often than not, represented as distinct and even polar (like in matter and spirit). I will dedicate one of the future posts to further develop this continuum concept, yet a few words are in place here.

    I do not think about this continuum idea as a semantic unifying tool that brings together distinct and opposing concepts. Metaphorically speaking, I would rather describe it as melting certain crystallized conceptual shapes and forging them anew into a fluid gestalt. I do not think about this continuum in the sense invited by our perceptual mechanisms and sensory experiences. This is a continuum which is purely abstract. It finds no analog in the physical or material dimension per ce. This is why I am going to take my time in trying to provide the proper descriptions and illustrations.

    I highly resonate with your "stars and ideas, atoms and consciousness...", not because the laws of physics and the laws of mind can be unified . I do not think that they can be unified and I do not think that we need to unify them. I think that we need to realize them as lying within a complex continuum. The closest analogy I can imagine for this is the way evolution works with life forms and how all life forms from bacteria to blue whales from humans to the humble grass are part of a continuum. Clearly, even this analogy is not sufficient but it gives some clue, I hope.

    what is it then, that primal Mind 'stuff' 'is' / 'made of' ? is it the right kind of question?

    No, I do not think this is a useful question to ask. It lurks, so to speak, with both dualism and monism (depending on interpretation). 'Stuff' is a word that in spite of its quite broad meaning, points towards a specific metaphorical path that is rooted in specific configurations of sense perception. In order to 'melt' our conceptual fixations, we need to reestablish our understanding of embodiment (and stuff included) in a manner which is independent from these roots. I admit this might seem difficult and counter intuitive. But as we expose deeper layers of our mind we discover that many aspects of it are less and less intuitive. It seems that its the fitness of our intuitions that we need to augment.

    As to your question about gravitation, indeed you push the limits of the metaphor a bit too far, but I accept the challenge :-) If truth is the dark energy's repulsive force, gravitation might be aesthetic resonance. Both have to do with the geometries of mental spaces...

    and maybe one of the most interesting enigmas in my eyes - what would Mind equivalent to singularity could be/understood/explained (experienced?? ..maybe not very far from being a red queen.. :)

    Singularity has certainly become a buzz word and a growing semantic attractor. I think it is very useful to convey certain ideas regarding accelerating change versus linear change. I even like to use it. But basically I think it is a bad image allowing a lot of immediate gratification at the expanse of limiting the depth and complexity of our understanding. It took me quite a while to discover the limitations of the concept (not to speak of frowning feminists who see in it the epitome of male delusional and distorted outlook on the future). When we deal with complex and abstract systems such as minds, it is clear that the image of singularity is too simplistic to encompass its manifold evolutionary potential. In the context of mind the equivalent of singularity (if it is indeed an equivalent, which I doubt), is a rare event or a process taking place within a continuum, the one I mentioned above. Though I have a glimpse of it, it will not lend itself to a coherent description as yet.

    Phyllotaxis     Tue, Mar 22, 2011  Permanent link
    To describe the impact your words have had on me would be impossible— for it has taken a familiar concept that I study and apply to an entirely new level. I deeply appreciate your words- they are truly a credit to clarity and eloquence of thought.

    I recognize your visualizations from my understandings of Praxeology, a concept which, based on your statements, you also understand very well. Here is an excerpt from a book that applies:

    .... everything is in a ceaseless flux, says Heraclitus; there is no permanent being; all is change and becoming. It must be left to metaphysical speculation to deal with the problems whether this proposition can be borne out from the point of view of a superhuman intelligence and furthermore whether it is possible for a human mind to think of change without implying the concept of a substratum that, while it changes, remains in some regard and sense constant in the succession of its various states. For epistemology, the theory of human knowledge, there is certainly something that it cannot help considering as permanent, viz., the logical and praxeological structure of the human mind, on the one hand, and the power of the human senses, on the other hand. Fully aware of the fact that human nature as it is in this epoch of cosmic changes in which we are living is neither something that existed from the very beginning of all things nor something that will remain forever, epistemology must look upon it as if it were unchanging. The natural sciences may try to go further and to study the problems of evolution. But epistemology is a branch—or rather, the basis—of the sciences of man. It deals with one aspect of the nature of man as he emerged from the aeons of cosmic becoming and as he is in this period of the history of the universe. It does not deal with thinking, perceiving and knowing in general, but with human thinking, perceiving and knowing. For epistemology there is something that it must take as unchanging, viz., the logical and praxeological structure of the human mind.

    And from the author:

    "The a priori categories are the endowment that enables man to attain all that is specifically human and distinguishes him from all other beings. Their analysis is analysis of the human condition, the role man plays in the universe. They are the force that enables man to create and to produce all that is called human civilization." ~Ludwig von Mises

    I support you fully in your thoughts- I share your enthusiasm to acknowledge what we are, and what it means, by deduction and reflection.

    Keep up the amazingly good work—
    Spaceweaver     Tue, Mar 22, 2011  Permanent link
    Thank you Phyllotaxis for your warm words of appreciation. Knowing that these posts were, for even one other person, a stepping stone for deeper thought or understanding, is immensely rewarding and motivating.

    A few words relating to the quote you brought on the subject of epistemology: There is no sound basis to the supposition that the logical and praxeological structure of the human mind are unchanging. Even if we take epistemology in the narrow sense of human thinking perceiving and knowing, it seems warranted that at least since the mythological event of the tower of Babylon(:-)), the human mind presents an undeniable heterogeneity and diversity in thinking, perceiving and knowing. That we need to meet and walk along consensual paths we forge together, does not mean that difference must be disregarded, equalized or eliminated. On the contrary, it is difference itself that is the basis to perception, knowledge and thought. Should we take the validity of knowledge from its unifying quality? The answer is yes but only given that this affirmation of unity is intrinsically incomplete, that it is taken as the effect of the process of knowing and not its first principle or primal cause. The unknown is that which forces us into the process of knowing and it is this compelling agent that presents us with a fractal difference that permeates all knowledge and must not be equalized, or conformed to dogma (at least not for too long).

    Epistemology and the structure of the human mind are connected in a curious circular equation that leaves a lot (and rightly so) to which are the initial axioms injected into it. Well, there is a lot of freedom allowed to the contemplating beings that we are at this very point. We are not entirely bound by the evolutionary imperatives that brought forth the human phenomenon. From the perspective of life, fitness is a problem with indefinite diversity of solutions, and knowledge therefore is nothing but an experiment in being or rather in becoming. Even when we take the human as a center and go with this proposition to its logical end, we necessarily reach a realism which is beyond the human as we know it and as we may ever come to know it.

    Hope it makes sense...