A companion blog, The Metacognition Project, has been created to focus specifically on metacognition and related consciousness processes. Newest essay on TMP: Goals and Problems, part two

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Just Can’t Get Here From There

Helping to plan and organize a camping trip for 40 high school students. Science lab inventory. Finals and final grades. Increasingly good biking weather.  And a wonderful old Taylor from Craigslist.  I just don’t have the time to write down all the crazy things I am thinking.  So, I’ll not be posting for a couple of weeks.  But you are invited to look at some of the earlier essays.  Most of them are not very time sensitive; we still read Sun Tzu for god’s sake!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A Simple Question

The human species is faced with this choice: Will the species have as its basis the biology of its origin or will its Consciousness System of Order adaptation and the collective designs of, primarily, economic systems determine ultimate and actionable importance?[1]  Will the living state be secondary or even tertiary to the movement of abstract tokens of what is called wealth? 

Clearly, humans are in surplus and thus diminished in value both economically and biologically.  This fact distorts the essential question since a major aspect of the living condition is the functioning in integration with ecological designs and adapting to those designs as they change.  Our vast numbers and vast power can give us the impression that we are no longer a part of the biophysical structures of this planet. 

The detail of the events that impact our lives daily must be seen in the light of these questions: Do we do a bank bailout?  But first, is our priority living things or corporate structure?  How do we fix education? But first, is our goal a fully functioning member of the human species or a worker for a massive collective activity to remove material from the ground?  Should torturers be punished? But first, do we want a community and society that values all life or one that arbitrarily rejects some living things as unworthy or uninteresting.  Should the tax system be redesigned? But first, is the human place in the world to be owned by a few humans parasitizing and trivializing the multitude or by the multitude operating at the functional level of a diminishing carrying capacity?  How should we deal with population and consumption? But first, is it possible to value the true eternal verities of our species’ interests or are we, as the multitude, only able to respond to material and technological objects. 

No one is going to like all of the answers, but we will like even less the consequences of failing to honestly ask the questions. 

[1] the failure to realize the primacy of the living biology will not be received with any humor by environmental stabilities of biophysical systems. 

Sunday, May 3, 2009

“Is it one o’clock yet?”

Years ago I taught experimental psychology.  A friend from grad school was a clinician in a regional hospital for the criminally insane.  He invited me to visit.  I had, of course, taken various courses in clinical psychology and visited institutions for the variously ill, but this was different. 

I was no longer in school; the men in the day ward were not there to display their symptoms for my studied attention.  They had, in a way not yet clear to me, become my responsibility; and we had become equals in pursuit of understanding.  I remember seeing the madness in a completely new way.  The man walking back and forth across the room timing his crossings to intercept anyone on the main passage and stepping in front of them asking, “Is it one o’clock yet?” another rocking in a chair, others idling away the hours in private patterns of action (and stillness): when it came right down to it, they were no different than a colleague in my department, than a student engaged in crime to pay for school, than me.  They were acting out the madness of the world around them.  They were at the place were the painted margin ran over the clean edge; it was the luck of the draw whether the brush stroke of a life was made near that edge or in the unnoticed middle. 

I tried to organize their separate realities into a whole, into the reality that would be appropriate just for that room.  It made sense to me, in that moment, that they were the society of that space and that there should be a whole to be made of their many parts, that there was a whole to be made of their perceptions in that place, not the superimposed realities of the doctors and psychologists and orderlies. 

It was hopeless.  There was no way to organize more than the coarsest commonality: They, almost all, wished ‘it’ to be other than it was; ‘it’ being the immediate details of their lives and, often, the collected ghosts that haunted them and sometimes drove them the way a master would drive a slave.  Some had, in their madness, taken on the character of the master, accepting the cartoon prescriptions of reality as truth – they, complexly, drove themselves as both master and slave. 

As I walked around the hospital, visiting with patients and staff, the more overwhelmed I became with the recognition of microcosm: my daily life was physically safer (in part due to the walls around this hospital), but it was not more sane.  These men had adapted to the events that surrounded them, with the consequence that they disconnected from realities that most of society agreed on.  But most of society agreed on ‘realities’ that were disconnected from the biophysical realities of life on the planet. 

There was a great deal less clarity in my mid-twenties than I feel recalling those moments 40 years later.  But the seeds had been planted, and that I clearly knew at the time.  It has been a great adventure watching them grow. 

In that time our dilemma has grown deeper, while the essential dynamics have remained the same.  Like the men in that room, first adapting to a madness in their formative years and then responding to each other’s madness in the hospital (their daily lives), their capacity to distinguish reality was reduced to recognizing bodily sensations and inappropriately acting them out; the rest of the world is not far removed from this description. 

A madness has settled over us.  I read news (sic) reports and opinion pieces; all begin in the middle.  There is a long list of assumptions that when unchallenged, or better, not rejected out-right, render whatever is said nonsense.  We live in a roiling sea of socially structured misconception; it could be no other way given how we have arrived in this moment. 

On the first occasion when the man approached me and asked his one and only question, I looked at my watch and named the time for him. It was quickly clear that his concern with the hour served another purpose. This is also true of so much that we, the rest of the world, do; and yet we continue to respond as if “Is it one o’clock yet?” were a real question.