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, January 22, 2011

Consciousness Order and Belief

Everyone has to act.  We all have to do things.  And since we are not simply directed in our every move by omnipotent outside agencies, our actions are generated by processes within us. Where does what we do come from and how are we to judge the quality of our actions? 

My concerns here are for the behaviors that we normally think of as involving judgment, that contain elements of the correct and incorrect or right and wrong, and not the most basic things we do arising out of reflex or primary biological need – though what we accept of our biological needs is certainly part of my concern. 

I propose a relatively simple model: a motive makes a demand, some information based intermediary forms the possible actions, a valuing system measures and we create an action in the world. Or to put it even more simply for social, political and economic actions: motive appeals to belief and belief generates behavior. 

Motive is very complex as it integrates biological drives from the purely hormonal, through instinctual to the instinct-like propensities that are biologically almost formless, awaiting specific learning to give direction.  While these are all important, for this little exercise motive will not be worked to the bone. 

And behavior is an essential element in this circle of process.  It can be almost anything; it can ‘mean’ almost anything.  It is behavior that moves this wheel along and vast studies can be made of it.  But I will leave the behavior itself largely unexamined. 

It is the bridge between motive and behavior that interests me.  Belief: the process that organizes the motive into possibilities using information in such a way that an action is produced [1].  Belief is a fruit of the Consciousness System of Order (CSO).  It is the new thing in the universe.  Its function is to fill a space that did not exist before the human brain allowed it to exist: the direct link between motive and behavior can be broken in the human brain and left formless for a time to be compared with tens, even hundreds, of related options.  But such a process is slow, too slow and too exhausting for much of our behavior [2]

Other animals solve the problem of speed of action by directly linking the motive with the action and accepting the evolutionary time scale of adaptation to make changes – “belief” for them is an evolution-tested part of their genetics.  The acceptance of the rigidity of genetically driven behavior is easy since there is no other option in the Living System of Order (LSO). 

The new system of order, that developed out of the increasing success of hominid learning “experiments”, gradually removed the limitations of genetic control, replacing these controls with environmental consistency as the limiting and controlling agency.  Eventually the confluence of neural development, social communication complexity and language began to form a super-organismic structure of Story that existed outside of the brain, that lasted in time and did not die with the individual, that could be spread with the speed of a running man. Belief had entered the world.  Belief could now intervene between motive and behavior.  And belief could be changed at any point in the cycle of life with a change of Story. 

When Story was immediately and intimately connected to and drawn from the environment it was naturally veridical regardless of the details of its content; there needed to be no “rules” about how Story was created. The dominating forces of the environment controlled the substantive effects of Story.  Ghosts could prowl the lake margins at night with the result that people approached them (the margins and the ghosts) with great care.  It was not the ghosts that mattered, but the motivating and organizing power of the story to effect adaptive behavior. 

The environment did not lie; there was no such concept.  Specific organisms might attempt to deceive, but their deceptions were no more than a minor additional complexity to the human mind. Belief formed in a veridical world.  There was no force to press for powers of discernment for truth; for detail, yes, but not for truth.  We are still much like that today, though the recognition of truth has become a most vital skill. 

With such a history it is natural that we still take what we believe to be essentially the same as what is true.  Of course, this never was so.  Many different beliefs could guide us to behaviors that were adaptively functional and successful.  What mattered was behavioral success, not what was believed to accomplish it.  The truth relationship was between the environment and the behavior, belief was only a tool. 

Today the world of information that we have formed around ourselves is not veridical.  It is a better assumption today that everything that one takes in as information and, therefore that one believes, is false.  But, of course, that is impossible.  Motive, belief, behavior!  If all information is false, if everything believed is wrong, then there can be no action.  However, such a desperate annihilation of present belief is a necessary first step. 

We must discover and institute new sources of veridical information, and this time with veridicality of Story also.  In the past there was no way to accomplish informationally accurate stories even as the consequences of the Stories was to adapt behavior to Reality: the parts that had to be accurate in detail were, but those parts that functioned better with exaggeration or wholesale manufacture of powerful mythic forms did so.  But today we grow our stories without a base in Reality.  They grow one from another: the distortion in the first becomes the absolute truth of the second, the misperception and mistranslation of the third is the whole strength and basis of the fourth.  Reality only intrudes in the terrible moments of pandemic or natural and manmade disaster and then only long enough to provide a new source for baseless beliefs. 

The point is that we will not find a basis for veridical belief thrust upon us by the environment, not without the complete destruction of our present world – and then it would only be a return to the veridicality of environmental force on a marginal human presence.  No, we must use the powers of imagination and adaptation conferred on us by the mighty Consciousness System of Order to find our way. 

This means that we must begin with the tools presently in our experience that are specifically designed and proven effective at most closely approximating Reality.  These would be the processes of scientific discovery and the studies of logic and reason that make up epistemology.  I say ‘begin’ with these tools because they, in their present form, are severely limited in appropriate application.  But we must pull back toward the limits of understanding that veridical information would support and work out from there. 

We have a hundred thousand years of history ‘going along to get along’ with our habits of adapting beliefs as the intermediary structure between motive force and behavior; it has gotten us to our present quandary.  It has run its course. 

The CSO has the capacity to imagine new options and to implement them though not without pain and not as quickly as needed – or perhaps not even at all if the status quo crushes new ideas, communication and the ‘rights of assembly.’  Because, quite candidly, the changes required would demolish the mythic Story of elite superiority and privilege.  Radical changes in the economic and political orders would be complimented with similar changes in social arrangements and religious belief and practice. 

I have a list of some of the most important changes in the form and substance of our beliefs that would be required in another essay.  The list is reproduced here following this essay.  

The next one is devoted to attempting to the continuing effort to understand our situation and options should we make, or be presented with, the opportunity to begin the changes. 

[1] It needs to be noted that there are positive ‘in-actions’ that are equivalent to action, like waiting and meditating.  Think of a house cat poised at the hole of a pocket gopher, absolutely still save for the tip of its tail twitching to bleed off the spring tight energy of waiting.  There are also in-actions that are a paralysis of competing beliefs or incompatibility of motive, belief and possible action. 

[2] There is no question but that incipient forms of these processes can be seen in the big brained animals, animals that have replaced some instinctual limitations with instrumental learning allowing the organism to fit more exactly into specific environments.  This is still, in most cases, primarily an instinctual process; the learning is usually associated with defined periods of development.  It is just too dangerous (non-adaptive) for a species to give up the hard won and proven veridicality of evolutionary process.

Understandings and beliefs needed to stabilize the earthly living space: 

1) Humans are animals that must integrate their behaviors into ecological processes (even if they can get away with not paying attention to ecological reality for some extended period of time).  As animals we have behaviors characteristic of our species that, so long as we were sufficiently connected to the natural environment in which they evolved, took care for themselves, but which today take special attention to understand, support and mitigate as we confront the “unnatural” world we have created. 

2) Nothing can be owned by anything, all claims of property and ownership are relationships in which one party is arbitrarily devalued based on short-term power imbalances – always the result of the failures of full system integration (usually because we are driven by desire for ‘gain’ dependent on limited understanding).  This doesn’t mean that human political and economic systems don’t have to address the use of space and material, but our ways of thinking about them must change. 

3) Wealth accumulation is an aberrant behavior – a form of psychopathology. Emotionally healthy people strive for sufficient material wealth to be safe in Reality and realize the damaging effect that excess has on both environment and specieshood.  The concepts of property and wealth accumulation are among the most dangerous ideas and behaviors of humans. 

4) The measure of normal in the world must be from places and processes that are uninfluenced by human action (except where humans are fully integrated into the relevant ecologies).  Finding such places today is difficult, but they can be reasonably well modeled still. 

5) There are no normal or natural human behaviors, group or individual, of any scale remaining in the human repertoire.  I wish that you would read that statement a couple of times.  Normal, that is the behaviors and feelings of specieshood, has to be rediscovered with focused intention.  All references to “normal and natural” that depend on present behaviors are seriously suspect.  Since most of the information we receive from the world is created by some human with an agenda to influence us in some way, we must become careful of what we subject ourselves to, when and how.  Just as we are learning to eat with a mind to additives and nutrients, actively avoiding some and selecting other foods, so we must also be careful of our perceptual diet. 

6) Humans are a community-based organism.  We are individual only with the support of a community.  It is ironic that as we have come to depend on more and more others, some of us have taken to trying to see themselves as more and more individual and independent – to the point of proclaiming absolute ‘individualism.’  The absurdity of this is obvious if you simply imagine them without the millions of people that they depend on (yet deny and reject – see #2) as supporting cast. 

7) Our understandings of and relationships to health, illness and death have become terribly distorted.  A biological body is not evolved to continue functioning for much more that the average live expectancy of the species.  The devotion of individual people to their own ‘individualism’ gives the impression that there is something there to ‘live long and prosper.’  But that is only appropriate in a community design where living long and prospering supports the community.  Healing individuals and defeating death (for a time) to the detriment of the species is madness. 

8) Our spiritual understandings and habits are the distorted products of the pre-scientific forest life made to serve the interests of kings and other authoritarians.  We need to recognize the incredible creation that is the Consciousness System of Order, its immense power to support our relationship with reality and its devastatingly dangerous power to distort it.  Our connections to the universe are vital and, if given the opportunity to do so in Reality, can grow into forms and in ways of being that we cannot guess.


Michael Dawson said...

Fantastic insights, as always. This also puts me in mind of Robert L. Heilbroner's model, in The Making of Economic Society, in which he posited that motive-action links flow from three basic sources:

1. coercion
2. tradition
3. choice

It's crying shame the elite nobility story (which our capitalists still believe and promote, in mildly disguised form) is 6,000 years old, while the consciousness of fundamental equality is but 250...

James Keye said...

The Making of Economic Society... a book I have read several times since it was first assigned hot off the press when I was an undergrad.

As I argue in the following essay, the existence of an elite will always create and sustain the elite story, and it will always be effective in part due to the way that wealth attracts a special form of the sociopathic. How the species deals with this will decide our fate.