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The Art Historian and the Neurobiologist:
A Conversation About Proprioception, the "I-function", Body Art, and ... Story Telling?

Kristine Stiles and Paul Grobstein

(see latest: 26 December 2005 and 6 March 2006
and On line forum)

I have tried to find other references to the relationship between proprioception and this term - "I-Function" ... Kristine Stiles (KS), 16 October 2005

I coined the term "I-function" for what I still think were some very good reasons but for some equally good subsequent ones I've tended to more recently use the term "story teller" in its stead ... Curious to hear more about your interest in this subject ... Paul Grobstein (PG), 16 October 2005

I wanted to use the idea of "I-Function" because it is descriptive of proprioception as an aspect of what happens in Body Art ... Kristine Stiles, 16 October 2005

[putting some of this] on the web would document your contribution to the development of ideas in neurobiology in the same sense that reference to me and the student papers in your essay would show some impact of neurobiology on art history ... I'm intrigued as well by the interdisciplinary and trans-platform (traditional and web publishing) aspects of a joint project of this kind, and would be pleased if you were as well ... Paul Grobstein, 22 October 2005

As for posting aspects of our dialogue on serendip, I would be honored ... The idea that art, art history, and neurobiology have something to say to one another is marvelous and certainly most welcome in the interdisciplinary climate of Duke, as well as, I suspect, Bryn Mawr ... Kristine Stiles, 22 October 2005

Follow the continuing dialogue excerpted from an ongoing email exchange

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KS to PG, 16 October 2005

I read a paper by one of your students - Eliza Windsor - online entitled "The I-function and Alzheimer's Disease: Where is the Person?" The article was particularly intriguing regarding proprioception and the notion of the "I-Function." I have tried to find other references to the relationship between proprioception and this term - "I-Function" - but her only footnote is to a lecture that you gave at Bryn Mawr. Is this a concept that you developed, or does it come from psychology? Could you please suggest a source for further reading?

PG to KS, 16 October 2005

Thanks for your interest. I'm afraid you would indeed have trouble finding other references to the "I-function". Its an idiosyncratic term that I developed in the course of teaching and have used for a number of years. There are a number of references to it on our Serendip website but the only "traditional" publication in which I'm sure it is used is a chapter of mine in a collection of philosophy essays. A version of that essay is available on Serendip.

I coined the term "I-function" for what I still think were some very good reasons but for some equally good subsequent ones I've tended to more recently use the term "story teller" in its stead (cf an essay on psychotherapy and the brain and a conversation on the brain and literature). In both contexts, what is being referred to is those aspects of brain function that support/create "consciousness" (as opposed to the much larger sphere of brain function that supports behavior without consciousness). In this regard, what's interesting about proprioception (to me at least) is that it represents an enormous and continual barrage of incoming information that greatly influences our behavior but that we (the I-function/story teller) has little or no direct access to.

Curious to hear more about your interest in this subject and happy to help if I can with additional less idiosyncratic references. There is some nice older stuff on the relation between proprioceptive input and consciousness, and probably some newer stuff too.

KS to PG, 16 October 2005

Thanks so very much for getting back to me so quickly. I did consult all your students' papers on the web at Serendip and realized that it must be something you were developing, which is why I wrote to you. I wanted to use the idea of "I-Function" because it is absolutely descriptive of proprioception as an aspect of what happens in Body Art (both in terms of the viewer and the artist). I will excerpt a section of an essay I am writing on the very well-known (well, infamous) performance artist Chris Burden. I'd love to have your thoughts.

In White Light/White Heat (February 8-March 1, 1975), Burden remained invisible on an elevated platform in the Ronald Feldman Gallery in New York for twenty-two days in 1975, neither seeing nor speaking to anyone and not coming down. Burden's title was based on the title of John Cale's 1967 song about heroin addiction sung by the Velvet Underground. In part, his endurance obliquely referred to the physical effects of heroin, including the ways in which heroin slows respiration and heart rhythms, lowers the body's temperature, constricts the pupils, and also makes one indifferent to pain, grief, fear, hunger, and cold, all of which result in feelings of sensory deprivation and physical isolation. Burden achieved a similar, although non-toxic state, reproducing some of these effects by remaining isolated - except for drinking 6 ounces of celery juice a day (a liquid known for its utility in lowering and maintaining blood pressure and for its calming effects) - and by fasting during the entire period. Read through the normative conditions for seeing art, White Light/White Heat offered viewers nothing to look at but a stark minimalist structure in an architectural and institutional setting saturated with light. Rendering viewers effectively blind, Burden submitted perception to the contemplation of that which could not be seen and the pledge that he inhabited the space. Burden's inaccessibility in visual terms required viewers to experience art through other means than mere looking, and conceptually to connect visibility to invisibility. Moreover, by removing himself from view, Burden strategically refused to accede to what Frank Perrin has called "the egotistical desires of artists and American society in general."

By restricting what spectators may witness and validate as truth, Burden expanded the necessity for viewers to attend to other corporeal perceptions and heightened their senses to discern his presence in the gallery and "feel that something was wrong." The fact that Burden used his body to enhance such "feelings" emphasized physiological over visual methods of knowing, thereby activating viewer proprioception, or what neurobiologist Paul Grobstein has referred to as the "I-function." Proprioception is a mechanism of the central nervous system that governs one's awareness of self, most significantly through determining which senses identify environmental stimuli and enable decision-making that is necessary for well being. Grobstein coined the term "I-function" in order "to refer to those aspects of brain function that support/create 'consciousness' (as opposed to the much larger sphere of brain function that supports behavior without consciousness)." "In this regard," Grobstein continued, "proprioception represents an enormous and continual barrage of incoming information that greatly influences our behavior but that we have little or no direct access to." But as Alain Berthoz writes in The Brain's Sense of Movement, proprioception is about kinesthesia, a characteristic feature of which "is that it makes use of many receptors, but remarkably it has been forgotten in the count of the senses." Berthoz adds that one "plausible explanation" for the neglect of proprioception "is that it is not identified by consciousness, and its receptors are concealed." To make this point even more clear, a familiar example of the operations of proprioception is how the mind produces the sensation of pain in an absent limb.

What I am suggesting is that Burden produced an experience akin to that of the phantom limb by making himself visually unavailable and leaving viewers to sense that something was amiss in the gallery. One critic described the mild psychological disturbance that this sensation induced as the room feeling "haunted ... by the vacuum of [Burden's] withheld presence." Such sensations put the body on alert. In this way, I theorize that proprioception is a key survival mechanism of the body. While few researchers have considered this aspect of proprioception, in discussing the central nervous system's commands for movement to the muscles, Berthoz posed a provocative point. He explained that while muscles are slow to contract, "eighty milliseconds is a very long time if you are trying to get away from a predator [my emphasis]." Berthoz does not follow up on this observation, but it is clear, nonetheless, that he acknowledges the role of proprioception as a sense within the central nervous system that alerts the body to danger.

From an article titled "Burden of Light" by Kristine Stiles to appear in the forthcoming (2006) Chris Burden by Merrel and Locus Plus, Newcastle, England. The article reflects to some degree discussions documented here and the excerpt is accordingly slightly different from the one originally sent.

PG to KS, 20 October 2005

I enjoyed reading your essay, agree that there is indeed an interesting "brain" issue here, and understand much better the source of your interest in the notions of "proprioception" and the "I-function". All that in turn encouraged me to try and clarify in my own mind a set of related issues. Which unfortunately puts me at risk of the proverbial "I never ask him questions because he always tells me more than I want to hear" problem. I'll trust you to winnow to what is useful to you, ask further questions should there not be enough on particular points, and redirect based on your own perspectives and understandings so I can continue to learn from your work too.

The "I-function"

Since the "I-function" is my own neologism, I can legitimately claim that it means what I want it to mean. Which, however, doesn't mean the meaning mightn't change over time. Nor, of course, that I shouldn't be as clear as possible about what I actually mean by it (at any given time at least). The term originated in my mind from a set of observations to the effect that people with certain forms of brain damage were able, under certain circumstances, to point to objects in the world that they reported themselves being unable to see ("blindsight"). My inference was that what was damaged in such cases related to the particular and specific capability of saying "I saw that" while sparing an underlying and more general capability of acquiring and acting on information about things in the world. Hence, a disturbed "I-function", and an operational distinction between two kinds of brain function that corresponds roughly to "unconscious" and "conscious" processing (terms I chose not to use because they carry all sorts of ancillary baggage).

Related phenomena occur in all sensory modalities, and don't at all depend on brain damage (we get and act on lots of sensory input without noticing either). An important further insight into them derives from some additional particularities of brain organization. All incoming sensory information goes first to the "unconscious" part of the nervous system and only subsequently and after processing there does it reach the "I-function". The important point here is that our conscious experience is necessarily and always an interpretation of signals received from the unconscious; we (our I-functions) have no direct information about what is "out there". What we experience (and hence what we are capable of reporting to others through the "I-function") is inevitably an interpretation involving prior processes in the nervous system of which we are unaware (and hence what we experience, and in some cases report, might in principle always be experienced/reported in some other way).

From the "I-function" to "the story teller"

In recent years, I've tended to replace the term "I-function" with the term "story teller". In part, this is to give increased emphasis to the point that the interpretation "might in principle always be ... other", ie that there is an arbitrariness, and potentially a creative/discretionary element, inherent in the process that produces what we are aware of. In addition, it has become clear to me that not all awarenesses are centered around "I"; the story may be one not of "self", as it often is for many of us in modern western culture, but can also be about ... communities or other less individualized, egocentric actors. Thirdly, the original I-function concept seemed to make the process equivalent to verbal report/language usage, and it is clearly not. It is a process on which language depends but one that exists prior to language (see Polanyi on "Tacit Knowledge"). Perhaps most importantly, in the context of your interests, the story (our awareness, what we experience and are capable of reporting to others) is not actually as tightly bound to what one sees (ie to signals received from things "out there") as one tends to presume (and is implied by the original motivations of the term "I-function"). There is a substantial capacity of the nervous system to generate signals inside itself and these can/do play a substantial role in generating the signals from the unconscious that are the grist from which what we experience arises Hence, what I originally thought of as the "I-function" I now usually write/talk about as the "story teller", referring to a subset of brain activity that has the properties described (including the originally focused on ability to support "I saw that") but may also to varying degrees be relatively independent of sensory input.

Proprioception

Proprioception" is, of course, not my neologism and, like all commonly used terms, has a variety of meanings. None of them are co-extensive with what I mean by I-function/story teller (nor, I suspect, are they actually quite what you are reaching for) but many of them intersect with both in interesting ways that I think are quite relevant to your concerns. In its most general sense, which I think is the one you are partly (but not completely) interested in,"proprioception" refers to one's sense of one's own body as opposed to one's sense of things outside oneself ("exteroreception"). This distinction is a little muddy in some ways (is the sense of being upside down a sense of one's body alone or a sense of one's body in relation to something outside?) but useful in others (the sense of one's arm as being perpendicular to one's body as opposed to being parallel to it; the sense of one's knee as bent or straight, etc etc). Perhaps the most important use of the distinction is that it calls attention to a large class of inputs to the nervous system which tend otherwise to be ignored: the inputs from "proprioceptors", a very large group of sensory neurons that are designed (by evolution of course) to report to the nervous system information about the state of muscles, joints, and other body parts (in contrast to "exteroreceptors" that have evolved more to report information on things outside the body; these include those of the eye, ear, nose, etc etc). Here too, there is some fuzzy ground (the eyes, a classic "exteroreceptive" system turn out to play a major role in "proprioception"; this is why one can get dizzy in a movie theater), but also some usefulness in the distinction. To a not bad first approximation, proprioceptors provide the input that influences proprioception and exteroreceptors provide the input that influences exteroreception. And what's interesting (and I hope relevant) about that is that what I said earlier about "seeing" (and other examples of exteroception) is even more so for propriception.

Proprioception and the "I-function/story teller"

By and large, activation of exteroreceptors is associated with an internal experience that, among other things, includes an association with the particular kind of exteroreceptors activated ("seeing" is different from smelling, tasting, hearing, etc). To put it differently, in the case of exteroreceptors the I-function/story teller gets from the unconscious (which, as you'll remember, is where all sensory signals go originally) some indication of the origin of the signals it has processed to generate the signals it sends on to the story teller. For proprioceptive signals these seems largely to be not so. In fact, for most people at most times, proprioceptive signals provide a perfect parallel in the intact nervous system to the phenomena of blindsight mentioned above. The signals play an enormous role in our behavior but we (our I-function/story tellers) are for the most part oblivious to their existence (this is the origin of the notion of "five senses", which persists in most textbooks despite the modern understanding that proprioception is a major input path to the nervous system). We may know (have the experience/story) that we are upside down but we have no information about how we know that.

Its for this reason that "proprioception" is sometimes referred to as "body knowledge", with the implication that it is somehow outside of or otherwise different from what goes on in the brain/nervous system. It isn't actually outside the nervous system nor is it in fact qualitatively different from exteroreception in its engagement with the unconscious. Our sense of what is outside ourselves as well as of our own bodies are equally rooted in processing occurring within the unconscious. The difference between the two has to do instead with the nature of the signals sent from there to the I-function/story teller (and, probably, vice versa). There is lots of information about the body that is being used by the unconscious to control behavior without it being transmitted to the I-function/story teller in any form that makes it apparent in the story as a distinct kind of information. Without our being "conscious" of it.

To say though that "proprioception" itself is "unconscious" (as many textooks and dictionaries do) is, however, seriously misleading. Just as it would be misleading to say that seeing is conscious. We may reposition our arm relative to our body without being aware of it but we may also have a clear experience of repositioning our arm relative to our body. Just as we may point to a visual input without being aware of it OR have an experience of doing so. Both exteroreception AND proprioception may but need not play a role in the story which is conscious experience. The only difference is that the story teller seems to have (or thinks it has) a little more information about what signals the unconscious got in the exteroreceptive case than it does in the proprioceptive case.

What makes this all worth wading through I hope (for you; for my part, it has already helped me to sort some things out I needed to sort out) is that it establishes that there is not a simple one to one relationship between "proprioception" and "I-function/story teller" (which both the existing term and my older neologism perhaps might have been heard as suggesting). There are interesting differences between one's sense of one's own body (and its relation to other things) and one's sense of the world but they are not exactly or simply parallel to an unconscious/"I-function" distinction either, which is the one I started with. Proprioception, as that term is most generally used, may be either unconscious or conscious, and distinguishes not quite "self " from other but rather one's own body from things outside one's body, which is an interestingly different thing. On the other hand, my sense is that what you are reaching for may actually have less to do with "proprioception", as that term is generally understood (contra "exteroreception"), and may instead be quite parallel to the unconscious/story teller distinction as it has evolved in my own thinking.

The story teller as more general than "proprioception" and its relation to Burden/contemporary art

For both of us (I think) what we are intrigued by isn't so much proprioception as "body", but rather proprioception as what the etymology of the term makes it seem to be: that which we as individuals uniquely possess, that which is "our own", our "self", and the relation of that to what is outside our self (which can, it turns out include, among other things, the body). The story teller (which I suggest is/creates that) "thinks it has ... a little more information" about one thing than another). Working along the same lines is your interest in phantom limbs, and in the "mild psychological disturbance" that you (I think correctly) see as produced when Burden "supplanted viewers' knowledge-by-sight, awakening psychophysical felt relations to presence in place, space, and time". It is the nature of this "mild psychological disturbance" (which can be common to experiences either of the outside world or of the body) that you suggest is at the core of the Burden performance piece and that, following you, I would tend to argue, is actually at the center of not only much of performance art but of much of contemporary art generally.

Let me focus a bit on the phantom limb phenomenon to try and reinforce my sense of the important differences between "self" and "body" (as generally understood in the term "proprioception") and, in so doing, to try and better characterize the "mild psychological disturbance" that is applicable both vis a vis body and vis a vis other things. The first and perhaps most important general difference is that the body can affect the nervous system (via proprioceptors) with or without awareness of it, ie with or without any experience of the body, with or without any change in the "sense of the body". A "sense of the body", on the other hand, is (normally) part of consciousness, ie it is an aspect of the what is created by the "I-function"/story teller" as part of its story. The phantom limb is clear evidence of this. One "experiences" a missing limb not only in the absence of the ability to see it but also in the absence of any proprioceptive sensory input from it (which is destroyed by the same amputation that precludes seeing it). To put it differently, the phantom limb is a creation of the story-teller based on input from the unconscious in the complete absence of any sensory signals at all about or originating in the limb. Without the creation of a story of a self with a limb, there wouldn't BE a "phantom limb". The existence of a phantom limb is inextricably bound up with the creation of a story . Because there is a story, there is a "self" that has a "body" with a "limb". Notice that this is not only a quite different "limb" than would be so identified by an external observer, it is also a quite different "body" AND "self". To an external observer, the terms refer to things they see. Here all three terms refer to story telling elements.

From this perspective, what is really interesting to a neurobiologist and, I'm suggesting, in this case, to an art historian as well, is not the narrower question of where a "body" comes from, nor even the broader question of where a "self" comes from, but rather the still broader question of where "story telling elements" of ALL kinds come from, a question that perhaps significantly also recently arose in the mind of a novelist ("How does ... unconscious impulse create ... metaphor?"). I can't fully answer that question, but do think its an important one to be asking in a lot of contexts (including neurobiology) and one on which at this point new progress can be made (cf The Novelist and the Neurobiologist: A Conversation About Story Telling and Making the Unconscious Conscious and Vice Vera: A Bidirectional Bridge Between Neuroscience/Cognitive Science and Psychotherapy?) by thinking more about, among other things, story telling, modern art, and "mild psychological disturbances".

The story teller and "mild psychological disturbances" as an art form

Let's take it as a given that there is a part of the brain (the story teller) whose organization is such that it takes a cacaphony of signals from the unconscious and does the best it can to shape a single coherent story to account for them (a presumption that is consistent with neurobiological observations but the specifics of which require further clarification in terms of neurobiological detail; see The Bipartite Brain). Let's further take it as a given that the cacaphony of signals coming from the unconscious may itself by influenced by things outside the nervous system (both the world and the body) but can also reflect signals originating inside the nervous system itself (that signals can originate within the nervous system is well supported neurobiologically; cf Variability in Nervous System Function and Behavior). Now let's imagine that in the construction of story elements and, ultimately, the story itself (the currently experienced "who I am/what I see/feel/think/am doing"), the story teller looks repeatedly compares candidate stories with the unconscious inputs, looking for consensus support for particular elements of the story. Those elements with lots of consensus support are solid/firm/"real" and those with less support are less so and, in turn, make less stable the overall story of which they are a part. Bingo, a "mild psychological disturbance", ie some instability in the overall story, when some unconscious signals support "Burden is on the platform" and others ("seeing") don't.

"Mild psychological disturbances" of exactly this kind are associated with both motion sickness and jet lag, other cases in which it is difficult for the story teller to achieve easy consensus across signals coming from the unconscious. In those cases, of course, there tends to be less "artistic" benefit. But one might well imagine that contemporary artists are discovering that the fact that "mild psychological disturbances" of related kinds can in fact create somewhat unstable stories that have more appeal, that viewers are attracted to for a variety of reasons, including, perhaps, their function, a stimulus for new kinds of thoughts/explorations that in turn lead on to an improved story telling capability overall. Much of surrealism makes sense, it seems to me, in these terms. As does a significant amount of both performance and installation art? I was at MOMA last weekend, and there is a piece there in the contemporary galleries (I didn't get its name or that of the artist) that involved entering a dark space within which there was a blue .... something. Much of the power of the piece (for me at least) related to the fact that one was unable to determine with any certainty exactly what its shape was or where it was located with respect to one, and so the "story" of it was highly (and intriguingly) unstable.

This "story" of mine built on yours is, of course, itself of uncertain stability but, in going back to the fragment of the essay you sent, I'm struck by "Burden's own title obliquely referred to the physical and visual effects of heroin, including sensory deprivation ...". Clearly the degree of stability of "story" and the destabilizing effects on story of reduction of sensory input (this is in fact one of the strongest lines of evidence for signals being generated inside the nervous system: reduction of signals coming from the outside enhances rather than diminishes story production) was a major consideration on Burden's mind. So, perhaps another bit of support enhancing the stability of this particular jointly constructed story?

KS to PG, 22 October 2005

On the contrary, you have not given me too much. Your response is terrific and just what I needed. Far too few scholars share their time, work, or thought processes as generously as you have and I am very grateful.

while I understand why you shifted to the term story teller, I think it is too soft ... and pushes the concept of the "I-function" toward myth, folklore, and territories of experience that must by definition remain vague, open, and fluid
I'm glad my effort to understand and apply proprioception to the conditions set up by Burden's performance "White Light White Heat" prompted you to want to clarify your idea of what I still want to call your concept of the "I-function." Moreover, I think you should publish this material and I'd be happy to think that our conversation nudged you toward that end. Second, while I understand why you shifted to the term "story teller," I think it is too soft to support the rigorous import of your observations and argument and, moreover, pushes the concept of the "I-function" toward myth, folklore, and territories of experience that must by definition remain vague, open, and fluid. Whereas it seems to me that you (and certainly I) are seeking to describe aspects of behavior and cognition that have been far too long unexplained, or left at the edge of explanation, which makes them vulnerable to colonization by the occult or merely considered as extreme anomalies (such as, for example, the whole question of the phantom limb, which you address so well below and which I thoroughly understand, but which I disagree with you is better understood through the word "story teller" as opposed to "I-function").

More to the point, there is an intriguing overlap between the brain-damaged, "blindsighted" person you describe and Burden's sight-deprived viewers in terms of the operations of consciousness and unconscious (even bearing in mind the baggage to which you refer, as well as your point that, "All incoming sensory information goes first to the 'unconscious' part of the nervous system and only subsequently and after processing there does it reach the 'I-function'"). But as Alain Berthoz writes in The Brain's Sense of Movement (Harvard, 2000), "[K]inesthesia's [namely aspects of proprioception] characteristic feature is that it makes use of many receptors, but remarkably it has been forgotten in the count of the senses." One "plausible explanation," for this, he adds, "is that it is not identified by consciousness, and its receptors are concealed (25)." Thus, clearly Berthoz and you (as well as I in the context of art) are attempting to discuss a phenomenon that is itself invisible and its markers - unlike the other senses - are also invisible. On this point you write, " we (our I-functions) have no direct information about what is 'out there'." So what I am suggesting is that what may be happening in the body of viewers, in Burden's body, in the blindsighted people, in proprioceptive aspects of kinesthesia, is unknown but related, which is very different from suggesting that it is unconscious.

In addition, I'm not sure that what one reports about experience should be called only "interpretation" (even if it literally is) since it would be the same for anything one would say about the body's sensations, perceptions, and senses. As we do not speak in terms of brain functions, synapses, or the operations of the nervous system when we report on experience, it seems dismissive to call what we are able to say "interpretation," thereby diminishing the authority one has over describing one's experiences. Therefore, I don't think it's useful to talk about the "I-function" as "interpretation." OK. I know this is odd - to have someone (especially in the humanities) arguing with you about your own concept, but here we are.

Let me tell you then why I like your term "I-function." It directly indexes the source of proprioceptive experience as it belongs properly to the body/person, or we could also say "a person's body." As far as proprioception (or the I-function) being "creative, arbitrary, discretionary," non-verbal but language-dependent, my thought would be "of course." But whereas for me as an art historian/theorist that does not pose a problem, for you as a scientist/theorist it poses the usual problem of the worn out scientific method, which cannot answer anomalies or the unexplained. You seem to be approaching those territories when you want to extend proprioception to whole "communities or other less individualized, egocentric actors." While I believe that such communal senses can and do occur, at least for the purpose of locating a place for discussing the conditions of proprioception in the brain, I'd rather stay in a more confined (controlled?) frame of reference. Lest I appear to be throwing Polyani back at you by pointing out that science itself is not value free, etc, let me just say that I'm trying only to stay closer to the topic of the I-function, which seems to me to wander too much when it becomes "story-teller." And of course what one reports is infused with all kinds of extraneous - or not - experiences and perceptions. Still, we have to say something in order to communicate.

What I was trying to get at is that "something" took place between Burden's absent body and the bodies of his blindsighted viewers, and that it had something to do with proprioception. Moreover, what I am most interested in is that proprioception has something to do with survival. On that point Berthoz made a very provocative, but truncated observation: "A muscle actually contracts very slowly. It attains its maximum force about 80 milliseconds after a neural command. Eighty milliseconds is a very long time ifc you are trying to get away from a predator (28)." Berthoz did not emphasis the sentence about predators, I did. The problem of proprioception, as I see it, is its relationship to survival - or as you put it (not intending the question of survival): "There is lots of information about the body that is being used by the unconscious to control behavior without it being transmitted to the I-function/story teller in any form that makes it apparent in the story as a distinct kind of information. Without our being 'conscious' of it [even as to say that we are unconscious is equally wrong]." I understand this tension. But the point for me is not "story telling," again it is survival; and how the body is calibrated to do just that, how we have lost connection to that calibration - I ride horses and see their proprioception/survival efforts vividly all the time. (By the way, I do understand that proprioception refers to the "very large group of sensory neurons that...report to the nervous system information about the state of muscles, joints... etc)," as you write; indeed, my first brush with proprioception was in the dentist office when my bite needed to be recalibrated.)

the point for me is not "story telling"... it is survival ... "I-function resonates just on that point, primitive/survival ... and relates directly to Burden's work ...

As an historian of contemporary art, I would have to argue that only some kinds of art - in particular body art, action art (I actually hate the term "performance" for its connection to theater, which the best of body art decidedly is not) - access this primitive survival function. Your term "I-function" resonates just on that point - primitive/survival - so broadly for me and relates directly to Burden's work. Furthermore, the "psychological disturbances" to which I have referred are also related to survival mechanisms, which I do not recognize as related to what you describe as "the instability in the overall story." On the contrary, they ARE the story and it is not unstable at all, but rather demanding, threatening, and necessary. (Tangentally, Surrealism has some areas of cross-over in so far as there would be no body/action art without its effort to get into the unconscious, without Abstract Expressionism further interpretation of autonomatism, without Happening artists further reinterpretation of Pollock's automatic painting as body-centered and therefore an action that rendered painting unnecessary altogether.)

So I come to the end of my response. Are we in this long exchange at an impasse? I've arrived at survival and you are telling stories about the stories we tell ourselves neurobiologically/socially. Perhaps we can agree that this is the broader territory of proprioception?

PG to KS, 30 October 2005

What might under some circumstances be "impasse" is, in this case, as intriguing and promising a challenge as I could ask for. From this end too, "your response is terrific and just what I needed ... Far too few scholars share ... as generously as you have and I am very grateful." Too. And so I too "keenly look forward to continuing this dialogue" and to the various things we might make of it. Hence, without further ado ....

I really was/am/continue to be very gratified that the "I-function" concept resonates with/seems useful to you. And I think I now have a still better understanding of why. Moreover, you have taught me something useful about my own neologism. I won't give up what is, for my purposes, a needed adjustment/extension of the original idea signalled by my tendency to shift to "story teller", but have already found myself sensitized to the point where I think twice before using "story teller" (and often end up, not particularly elegantly, using "I-function"/"story teller". Let me try and walk through why this is so, certainly for my benefit and perhaps (hopefully) for yours as well.

If I'm reading your latest correctly, there are three features of proprioception and the "I-function" that are very compelling to you and that link them importantly. One is that "it belongs properly to the body/person", a second is that it "has something to do with survival", and the third is that it is "primitive". The upshot, if I'm understanding, is an argument that Burden's performance and the audience reactions to it constitute a form of art in which the exchange between artist and audience is at least quantitatively and perhaps qualitatively different from the much more mediated/interpretation-dependent exchange characteristic of many other forms of more "traditional" art. Assuming I've got this right, I agree with your conclusion, and am quite happy to have my neologism contribute to your argument.

I agree with your conclusion, and am quite happy to have my neologism contribute to your argument ... More than that, I am pleased and grateful to have you point out aspects of the neologism that were implicit in them but are very much worth making more explicit

More than that, I am pleased and grateful to have you point out aspects of the neologism that were implicit in it but are very much worth making more explicit. That the "I-function" has "something to do with survival" is a characteristic that is so assumed by me as a biologist that it would never have occurred to me to flag it as distinctive, but I now recognize the desirability of doing so in contexts where one is talking about things for which that presumption may not be automatic. In such contexts, I can readily see a usefulness in drawing attention to a distinction between things that may have more "to do with survival" and things that have more to do with .... something else (cultural norms? personal display? "aesthetics"? commercial return?).

"belongs properly to the body/person" is even more certainly an intended feature of the "I-function" neologism. In this case, though, I suspect my failure to adequately emphasize this particular feature has the opposite relation to context. Until quite recently, the notion of a meaningful "self" (something to which one might reasonably and productively attribute ownership) was not something within the professional vocabulary of very many neurobiologists/biologists/scientists (and its still probably not for very many). So I was looking for a term that finessed this particular issue. As it happens, one of the things that I have found most useful about the term is that it has given me a new (for me at least) way to think about the meaning of "self" (and ownership). For this reason, I am more than content at this point to have it made clearer that the neologism helps to make distinctions between things that more have the characteristic "belongs properly to the body/person" and things that less have that characteristic.

You may have detected a certain carefulness in the wording of that last sentence. Yes, I'm being deliberate/cautious here, for reasons I'll discuss more fully below. And I want to be even more so with regard to "primitive". The issue is not the question of possible value judgements associated with that word. I assume that you, like I, use "primitive" not as a pejorative term but rather as a neutral (or perhaps even positive) one (cf "'Primitivism' in 20th Century Art") to distinguish things that are in some sense more "basic" or "fundamental" from things that are less so.

Its here where the differences in the contexts within which you and I are working may be most obvious and relevant.
Its here where the differences in the contexts within which you and I are working may be most obvious and relevant. In the context in which you are working, I'm more than happy, even pleased, to have attention drawn to the "primitiveness" of the "I-function". It is indeed something on top of which other things that are of interest in the context of art history (as well as many other contexts) are built and so is, in this sense, more "basic" or "foundational". The problem in my context is that the I-function is in turn built of still more "basic" or "foundational" things at a series of successively smaller scales (functionally distinct brain regions, circuits of neurons, neurons themselves), that things at these levels have in general been much better studied and so are better understood, and hence that the "I-function" is, from this perspective, not at all "primitive" but instead a highly organized arrangement of still more primitive elements.

In short, there is a matter of reference perspective here, what is more "primitive" from one location is less so from another. And part of the reason for creating the "I-function" neologism was to assert for people more familiar with more "primitive" things, the existence/significance of a less "primitive" one. That having been said, it has been, and will continue to be useful, even in my context, to emphasize more than I did originally, the "primitiveness" of the "I-function" relative to some other things. Among these, as I'll come to below, is "self".

The upshot, at this point, is that I accept and acknowledge with appreciation your highlighting three features of the "I-function" that I placed less stress on than I perhaps should have: it is more "primitive" than some other things, has more to do "with survival" than some other things, and is more something that "belongs properly to the body/person" than some other things. And I share your sense that we are both "seeking to describe aspects of behavior and cognition that have been far too long unexplained, or left at the edge of explanation". And I like a lot your notion that "what may be happening in the body of viewers, in Burden's body, in the blindsighted people, in proprioceptive aspects of kinesthesia is unknown but related". So where do we see things differently? There is clearly a difference of audience and reference perspective but is there something more? Anything else that we (and our respective audiences) might both learn from? Anything that might account for my inclination to continue transforming "I-function" into "story teller" despite all of the above?

There is clearly a difference of audience and reference perspective but is there something more? ... Anything that might account for my inclination to continue transforming "I-function" into "story teller" despite all of the above?
I think there actually is, and that it doesn't actually involve any difference of opinion about whether science is "value free" nor any problem "of the worn out scientific method, which cannot answer anomalies or the unexplained". (I don't believe science is, could be, or should be "value free", and think "anomalies or the unexplained" are in fact the grist without which science wouldn't live; see Science As Story Telling in Action, which includes a link to Revisiting Science in Culture: Science As Story Telling and Story Revision). On the other hand, I do think we are in fact to some extent wrestling with a typical science/humanities difference but, interestingly, with each of us adopting the posture more stereotypically associated with the other's community. "too soft to support the rigorous import", "vulnerable to colonization by the occult or merely considered as extreme anomalies", "I'd rather stay in a more confined (controlled) frame of reference" are the sorts of things one might expect a scientist to say to a humanist (or a more cautious/less expansive scientist to a more less cautious/more expansive one; perhaps the same interaction occurs within the humanities and art history communities? see The Two Cultures: A Conversation). It would be interesting if there was some relation between that and our more specific differences about story telling and how to characterize "what may be happening in the body of viewers, in Burden's body, in the blindsighted people, in proprioceptive aspects of kinesthesia". Let's look more closely at those differences and then see if ...

Yes, it is indeed odd (and another part of our inverted postures) to have you (as a humanist) be resistant to talking about what the "I-function" does as "interpretation". I do though very clearly understand your concern that in doing so, one risks being heard as "dismissive" of the thing being talked about, as in "oh, that's only an interpretation; so I can ignore it in favor of something else". I assure you I don't at all intend to convey with "story teller" a justification for being dismissive in this way (or any other). The point here is not only that what the "I-function" does in this case is "literally" interpretation but, more generally, that EVERYTHING the "I-function" does is interpretation, so saying that a particular thing is interpretation CANNOT be dismissive. There simply isn't anything else to ignore it in favor of. All "experience", things in awareness/consciousness, are indeed "interpretations" in a very important sense: they reflect interactions of neurons/synapses/etc occurring in a way that is "itself invisible" and that could occur in other ways that would yield alternate interpretations/experiences.

I share your notion that it is important to avoid "diminishing the authority one has over describing one's experiences" but think one gets into several kinds of avoidable troubles if one tries to do it by denying that the thing one is interested in shares with other things an important common property of resulting from interpretation. And yes, one would like to avoid the mishmash of "infused with all kinds of extraneous" things but here too I think there are better ways. What one wants, from my perspective (and perhaps yours as well) is not to make a distinction between not interpreted and interpreted but rather to recognize a distinction between self and other that acknowledges some degree of interpretation as an element of both but yields more "authoritativeness" in the case of self .... without getting into a mishmash.

On the route to that (perhaps), let me raise an issue about "what may be happening in the body of viewers, in Burden's body, in the blindsighted people, in proprioceptive aspects of kinesthesia, is unknown but related, which is very different from suggesting that it is unconscious". If you heard/read me as suggesting that the similarity among these things was that they are all unconscious, then, given how well you've made sense of other things, I was not communicating well on that particular point. In fact, the similarity that I was trying to draw attention to (and that I think is quite close to what you are interested in) to is a similarity in consciousness, in experience.

What is common in all these cases is not at all that they are all unconscious. If fact, they all must have aspects of consciousness.. If they didn't, they wouldn't be reportable as experiences and we wouldn't be talking about them, much less intrigued by possible similarities among them. Nor is there any reason to think the similarities relate primarily to what is going on in the unconscious (the neurobiology implies they involve quite different neuronal systems doing quite different things). Hence the similarities among these things must have to do with similarities in the conscious realm. The similarities are not actually similarities "in the body of viewers" and in "Burden's body" nor in the unconscious of viewers and in Burdens' unconscious but rather in the experiences viewers have of (perhaps) their bodies, in the experiences Burden has of his body, the experiences those with phantom limbs have of their bodies, the experiences you have of your body when riding a horse (or having your jaw reset), and the experiences blindsighted people have of the world. To put it differently, the similarities are similarities at the level of the more interpreted thing (conscious experience) that are not present at the less interpreted one (things happening in the unconscious; this is one reason I want to emphasize the interpreted character of the I-function). They are similarities in the "story telling" elements rather than in the materials from which the stories are constructed.

there is actually no "body" unless/until some significant interpretation has occurred ... "self" doesn't exist either unless/until significant interpretation (of what is in the invisible unconscious) has occurred ... one can accept this particular interpretive step without cost ... [and] it opens things up a bit in some positive ways
In most of these situations, the story telling element which is relevant is the "body", and in this sense your use of "proprioceptive" to name the common thing is appropriate. Note though that it is not Berthoz "invisible" but rather the sense made of the invisible made by the "I-function"/"story teller" that is similar. The similarity is in what is EXPERIENCED in relation to the "body", and hence in the more interpreted realm (consciousness) rather than in the less interpreted one (the unconscious, with which Berthoz, following common usage, links proprioception). Another way to say the same thing is there is actually no "body" unless/until some significant interpretation has occurred. I think its also relevant that while many of the things on our list clearly involve experiences referred to one's own "body", some are less so and at least one (blindsighted people) may not be at all. What IS common to all of them is some referring of experiences to "self", a slightly broader story telling element that includes but is not entirely restricted to "body". In this case too its important to recognize the interpretive step: "self" doesn't exist either unless/until significant interpretation (of what is in the invisible unconscious) has occurred.

The issue here is not solely technical or "semantic". What I'd like to persuade you of (or have you dissuade me of) is not only that one can accept this particular interpretive step without cost (either to a sense of "authority" or by getting lost in the "mishmash") but that it opens things up a bit in some positive ways. One is NECESSARILY the "authority" with regard to one's sense of one's body or one's sense of one's self precisely BECAUSE it is an interpretation. It derives from things no one else can see and from an act of interpretation that no one else can duplicate. Hence one is the only authentic reporter of what one experiences with regard to body/self.

One is, of course, the only "authentic" reporter of what one experiences oneself with regard to "other", the large additional class of story telling elements that includes things like chairs, tables, paintings, body art, Chris Burden, art historian, neurobiologist, and so forth). These though are consensual story telling elements, aspects of the interpretive activity in going form the unconscious to consciousness that we (most of us, to varying degrees) have collectively agreed relate not to "us" but to commonly observable "others" and so are subject to continual negotiation and renegotiation by interpersonal story comparison. Hence the "mishmash", which actually results not from the interpretive character of story telling elements in general but rather from an additional ingredient of some of them: the potential usefulness of trying to achieve consensus among a group of story tellers. In talking about one's own body/self, the mishmash is (doctors and parents notwithstanding) irrelevant; one is, for these particular story telling elements, the authority. They may also be more primitive or foundational in an additional sense. Antonio Damasio (a neurobiologist who you might be interested in reading if you haven't) has written extensively about the origins of a sense of body/self and makes a strong case that these story telling elements reflect a distinction between a "proto-self" and other that originates in the unconscious.

At the same time, since body/self ARE story telling elements and hence interpretations, they are not fixed and unchallengeable. One's sense of body/self can and does change (with input from other people not being completely irrelevant), and one can conceive of bodies/selves other than the one one has and use one's alternate conceptions to change one's own sense of one's body/self (trans-sexuality is a particularly dramatic case in point). This might seem to undercut the argument made above for the absence of mishmash and resulting "authority" in the case of body/self as story telling elements. In fact, I don't think it does. These elements are MORE "foundational" and "primitive" than others but not entirely fixed, and it is because of their lability that we have some control over ourselves (which I take as, at least potentially, a good thing). One can have MORE primitive, MORE "belongs properly", MORE "has to do with survival" without having to give up the potential for self-directed change that comes from being an interpretive outcome, a story telling element.

Does this work better? ... a more nuanced account of "story telling" (and consciousness), one in which it would be possible (indeed necessary) to distinguish multiple levels of "interpretation" ... keep "I-function" in play, with its meaning elaborated by your thoughts/concerns about body/self/proprioception as a "primitive" in a story that is necessarily continuing to develop/evolve
Does this work better? What I'm offering you as a way out of the "impasse" isn't exactly your "broader territory of proprioception" but instead a more nuanced account of "story telling" (and consciousness), one in which it would be possible (indeed necessary) to distinguish multiple levels of "interpretation". A sense of body/self, though an interpretation, has more of those things you want to emphasize (and I am happy to do so as well) than other levels of interpretation/story telling while retaining some desirable (to me at least, maybe to you too?) fluidity. For my part, I've been vaguely aware for some time that the "story telling" neologism was going to need to be elaborated along these lines, and your challenge has clarified this need and begun to move me along a needed path. In these terms, I'm delighted to keep "I-function" in play, with its meaning elaborated by your thoughts/concerns about body/self/proprioception as a "primitive" in a story that is necessarily continuing to develop/evolve.

Whether it works for you is of course your story rather than mine (and I'm very much looking forward to finding out). Let me though return briefly to Burden and "mild psychological disturbances", and my own understanding of them (informed by your article). I fully agree with you that the responses to Burden's work are MORE "related to survival mechanisms" than are many of the more traditional responses to many more traditional kinds of art. And that they "ARE the story .... rather demanding, threatening, and necessary". My point is not only that they are indeed "story" (ie experiences of which viewers are aware, and hence interpreted) but that they are fundamentally dependent on story in an interesting way. Viewers would not, I'm suggesting, have had "mild psychological disturbances" UNLESS there was a story that could not be quite squared with the signals coming from the unconscious ("He IS there, but ... Isn't he?). That's what I meant by "an instability in the overall story". Not that the story wasn't "demanding/threatening/necessary" but rather that that those characteristics of the experience derived from a difficulty in the viewer's ability to settle on a single coherent story about the situation. That, in turn, is VERY "demanding, threatening", in much the same way that motion sickness is. Indeed, for humans an inability to be certain of a story may be the most threatening thing there is (even if it isn't actually a threat to "survival" in many cases). And can/does itself trigger new signals from the unconscious that may get added to the story as signals referred to the body (nausea in the case of motion sickness, "tension" and "edginess" in other cases). Did something "take place between Burden's body and the bodies of his blindsighted viewers"? Not directly, so far as I know (as a neurobiologist), but it certainly did via the mediating influence of at least one set of story tellers (those of engaged audience participants) and probably two (Burden himself).

Enough for now? Almost certainly more than. But I can't resist looping self-reflectively back to our differing contexts, to our oddly inverted postures, to "too soft to support ... vulnerable to colonization", and to "rather stay in a more confined (controlled) frame of reference". With perhaps a dose of Pollock as well ... I'm intrigued by your "reinterpretation of Pollock's painting as body-centered and therefore an action that rendered painting unnecessary altogether". Pollock (and the surrealists before him) were indeed interested in what could be produced by action alone as opposed to deliberation/thought directed action. And I can understand that as "body-centered" though I'd be inclined to emphasize in this case not so much the body as the unconscious. All action is necessarily through the body and both from and via the unconscious; the issue is the extent to which it is or isn't informed as well by passage through the story teller on the way to outward expression. Western culture, and academic culture in particular, tends to put great pressure on people to constrain outward expression to that which has been passed through and edited by the story teller and often through multiple story tellers (reviewers, editors, and the like).

There are, of course, benefits to running things through story tellers ... On the other hand, there are also downsides to thought/reflection/story telling ...
There are, of course, benefits to running things through story tellers so I'm not inclined to feel that action "has rendered painting unnecessary altogether" (a concern of my daughter's, a senior with a combined major in art and philosophy who is herself a painter). Pollock, at least to me, got boring after a while. And its nice to have some winnowing of what would otherwise be an overwhelming amount of acting out. And thought/reflection/story telling/craft skill helps to avoid some of the hazards of being colonized by weird people or even being classified as weird oneself.

On the other hand, there are also downsides to thought/reflection/story telling/craft skill. As Pollock and the surrealists (among others) realized, there is lots of interesting and potentially productive stuff that might not make the various cuts represented by various testing and validating mechanisms and so would never see the light of day. One's own story teller makes some of these cuts; the academic world encourages that kind of cutting and of course does more of it itself. In addition, the academic world tends to restrict the flow of stories, largely channeling them within particular disciplinary communities. Maybe, as per our own exchange, there is something to be said for reducing the domination of the story telling process? Or at least creating avenues for less mediated/interpreted exchange? Yes, it puts one at risk of having to wade through more stuff, discriminating among things oneself rather than having it down for one. And yes, the lessened rigor might make one more challengeable, and perhaps even open the conversation to .... kooks. On the other hand, maybe even kooks have useful stories and perhaps the price overall isn't too high given the potential benefits? We don't seem to me to be doing too badly.

KS to PG, 30 October 2005

I have dashed through your amazing letter and cannot give it my serious attention just now because I am leaving the country Wednesday ... I promise to get back to our challenging and engaging discussion when I return.

But I couldn't miss the chance to say that, of course, I agree with you about the word "primitive" and most heartily enjoyed the debate over MOMA's inappropriate use of the term ... Back to the word primitive, which I'd like to replace for our conversation with the word "animal." Is it possible that proprioception is a sense like the appendix is an organ that has mostly outworn its purpose for survival? Could we say this about so-called "psychic" phenomena and its relation to human animality and our survival?

You are right to say that we have both adopted the stereotypical mode of each other's disciplines in our "oddly inverted postures." I read your reason for doing so as exactly the same as mine, but opposite. I do so (probably defensively) because the material I work on is so fraught (for most people), especially scientists. After all, I work on the "craziest" of artists (Performance and Conceptual Art); on animal studies (especially horses); and, I'm not afraid to tell you that I also research such anomalies as psychic ability, about which I have written, lectured, and argued that it has something to do with survival/trauma/our "left-over" animality, to say nothing of the weird areas of quantum physics where electrons in super position act just the same way that the local psychic operates. OK - that's out of the closet. Now you may better understand the interest/overlap in my thinking about the cluster that includes body art/survival/animality (our "primitive" being)/anomalies of behavior and modes of knowing.

Can't close without also fessing up that you have unearthed something in my unconscious that I wasn't quite aware of until I met up with the phrase "story telling." Maybe I called it "soft" because I have an irrationally negative response to the notion of "story telling." ... So I want to ... think about about your letter carefully so that I may respond from the conscious self.

As for Pollock becoming boring: Check out "Portrait and a Dream," done just three years before he died. You won't be bored by it.

KS to PG, 13 November 2005

Clearly, we have not come to an impass but I do remain unconvinced by the term "story teller," and have had an opportunity to think more about it in the intervening two weeks whilst in England. Let's be clear that the following objections are deeply related to the interface I have found between "body art" and your concept of "I-function," so that what I have to say pertains directly to art. But it may be relevant for your future development of the concept.

I want to propose that "story teller" remains confined to the realm of metaphor (and, thus, epistemology), from which I took partial flight in moving from traditional painting and sculpture into body art where metaphor is, certainly, in operation but which appends the conventional metaphorical aspects of art with metonymy. Your term "I-function," in my view, is metonymical, namely more directly connected to ontology.
To begin: we recognize that we are in the realm of language to which your "story teller" is an obvious referent. Nevertheless, there are many forms of language. Thus do I want to propose that "story teller" remains confined to the realm of metaphor (and, thus, epistemology), from which I took partial flight in moving from traditional painting and sculpture into body art where metaphor is, certainly, in operation but which appends the conventional metaphorical aspects of art with metonymy. Your term "I-function," in my view, is metonymical, namely more directly connected to ontology. At risk of becoming pedantic, one of the classic examples of metonymy is: "I saw the red beard today." "Red beard," even in these days of transgendered identities, refers to a man - at least 99.9% of the time. So speaking about the "red beard" is directly connected in some fundamental way to that which is being discussed. Another example: "The crown stands for law and order." The crown is the metonym for an entire corpus of meanings implicit in the monarch. Thus while metonyms are not the same as the thing that they represent, they are near to it, namely contingent. The term "I-function," while obviously a representation of a whole set of invisible neurological and psychological functions, is contingent to the being for whom the experience is being narrated as "I."

I played around with terms like "reporter" but could come to nothing satisfactory to replace "I-function" for its description of the body (however invisible and conscious or unconscious of what it describes may be/is). If I put it another way, I could say that "I-function" is more "undressed" than "story teller," but this is also a metaphor. The "story teller" may don any clothing s/he wishes for the tale. What attracted me to "I-function" is its proximity to naked truth, which is not to say that when one says "I" s/he is speaking the truth. Hardly. What I said is that one is "closer" to the truth. Of course the "I" can story tell, probably does most of the time, especially when it comes to proprioception (as you point out), which it cannot "know" but about which it can only "tell." Nevertheless, I submit that at least with the term "I" one approaches conditions of being more readily and immediately than with the term "story." Moreover, as we both recognize both are "tellers," the "I" as much as the "story."

Pollock, as another example, was not telling a "story" with his drips and pours; I would maintain that he was visualizing the function of his "I," his "I-function." His paintings were to him what the crown is to the king/queen, what the red beard is to the man - a contingent extension of the function of his "I," which has nothing to do (necessarily) with a "meaningful self" but with a functioning unique being.
But naked here is the key and let me tell you why. You now know my "story" about Burden, and it is, indeed, a story because no one else could, or perhaps would, approach his work the way I did, and yet their "story" is as valid as mine. But when we get to Burden's "story" other factors come into play. For it is not just what he says about his work and life, it is the way he lives his life and practices his art that tells us about the "I" even if he cannot recount his experiences through language. Thus does the body - its images and productions - betray conditions of its truths (the plural here being operative of multiple realities). One may approach nearer Burden's "I" by attending to these visual and behavioral markers, which is what I try to do in my practice as an art historian, particularly concerned with manifestations of trauma (survival). What I am trying to tell you is that the body expresses "I-function" in body art. This is what makes your term so relevant to such art. Pollock, as another example, was not telling a "story" with his drips and pours; I would maintain that he was visualizing the function of his "I," his "I-function." His paintings were to him what the crown is to the king/queen, what the red beard is to the man - a contingent extension of the function of his "I," which has nothing to do (necessarily) with a "meaningful self" but with a functioning unique being.

Which brings me to my request to replace the term "primitive" with "animal." I used the word "primitive" to refer to the animality of being that connects the human animal to a former state of being and its proprioceptive needs and conditions. In that prior state, they were more immediately related to daily survival whether in terms of food or reproduction. As I noted in my last communication, I am quite convinced that this animality is operative in the human animal, and is one of the ways in which it betrays our human connection to our animality. Because I work on trauma and its representations in art, literature, and film, I am acutely aware of the immediacy with which the human animal still relies on its more primitive states to survive. (Here I use the term primitive in the sense that I meant it from the beginning.) In my view, all of this comes into play in body art where even if the narrative content of the action is not about survival per se, the body is always already in that mode of survival.

So let us return to Burden's "White Light White Heat," during which his "I-function" was operative as a survival function over 22 days of fasting and remaining unseen on the platform above the sight lines of the viewers. And, by the way, who knows if pheromones were operative in communicating proprioceptively from Burden to his sightless viewers? We know, of course, that pheromones are chemicals emitted by living organisms to send messages to individuals of the same species. So is it not possible that in addition to perceiving the survival conditions of his situation intellectually, the audience for his invisible action may have also felt them, proprioceptively? This brings me back again to the question of a "meaningful self," which has nothing to do (or at least little to do) with pure survival transmitted on "the level of brain regions, circuits of neurons, neurons themselves," etc.

Another problem with the term "story telling" (or the word you often substitute for it - "interpretation") is the way in which it raises all kinds of moral questions about use. How one uses story telling is quite different from referring to the "I-function" of one's proprioception. Furthermore, I don't really see why the term "story telling" is any more unfixed than "I-function." One is more immediate, closer to the subject, than the other - that's all. So, no, while I appreciate the effort towards a "more nuanced" description of "story telling," and while I agree with everything you say about story telling, interpretation, consciousness and unconscious, the problems of a "meaningful self" and so on, these efforts to substitute that neologism for "I-function" are unconvincing.

"Whether it works for you is of course your story rather than mine" is a comment that represents everything I mistrust about radical relativity even as I recognize that this sentence is true. Fluidity is desirable but not if it means there are no boundaries, which everyone, everything, needs for stability.
When you write, "Whether it works for you is of course your story rather than mine" is a comment that represents everything I mistrust about radical relativity even as I recognize that this sentence is true. Fluidity is desirable but not if it means there are no boundaries, which everyone, everything, needs for stability. Of course I would be concerned with stability because a study of traumatic experience proves that without it one cannot function. Radical relativity for someone who has had their world unseated, whose boundaries have been transgressed, whose sense of trust is gone, whose fear of the elements (Tsunamis and hurricanes) is profound such that they cannot function, must have boundaries, must have a story that s/he can share with others and believe. So perhaps we are not at an impasse, but a difference in the problem of use, recalling Wittengenstein's immortal observation that meaning is derived in use, despite neurons, proprioception, body art, and more.

As for your daughter being a painter and my comment that "action rendered painting unnecessary altogether," it was not an a priori universal statement about the continuity and significance of painting, but a comment about the context of the evolution from Pollock's paintings to happenings, body art, and performance. As a painter myself, I would hardly say that painting has no place in the present: it does and I wish your daughter the best in that endeavor.

I am going to close now, not because I don't have much more to say. But what I have to add really takes this conversation in the direction of survival and the animal/being, which I have learned is far beyond the realm of what you meant by "I-function."

PG to KS, 24 November 2005

Wow. Resonances on multiple levels and in multiple ways. Happy to follow you in the direction of "survival and the animal/being", but let me put a few more things on this table first, and perhaps try to tidy up a bit here before we head out?

the unconscious processes information largely metonymically while conscious processing does so largely metaphorically
Your metaphor/metonymy distinction is an important one. And, as it happens, a familiar one. I was first exposed to it, interestingly, by a colleague in biology who borrowed it to try and explain the difference between scientists who base their work on spatial and temporal patterns in observations (metonomies) and those who instead develop and explore computational models (metaphors). It immediately struck me that that distinction might provide a way to make sense not only of differences and resulting tensions in the academic world (both intradisciplinary and interdisciplinary; cf Theorizing Interdisciplinarity: Metaphor and Metonomy, Synecdoche and Surprise) but also of differences and tensions between unconscious and conscious processing (ie within individuals, cf. Exploring the Consciousness Problem). And I continue to think that is so, that the unconscious processes information largely metonymically while conscious processing does so largely metaphorically (cf The Bipartite Brain).

So, I ask myself, why didn't I point to a metaphoric/metonymic distinction in our conversations to date? And why have I (I now notice) not used that distinction in some of the more formal writing I've been doing recently on these issues, nor in much of my teaching (though see musings)? The answer is, I think, very relevant to what we're trying to sort through. To use the metaphoric/metonymic distinction with most people one first has to teach it to them, and in trying to do that my experience has been that one runs into all sorts of complexities. Yes, indeed referring to a man as a "red beard" almost certainly reflects in its origin a substitution of one thing for another based on more directly perceived spatio-temporal relationships. But it has become by usage also "metaphorical", ie a substitution based not on the more direct experience of an individual but rather on having seen/heard that substitution being made by others. Conversely, some substitutions that clearly have their origins in metaphorical processing ("country" and "flag") may take on, for individuals, the "feel" of being related metonymically, ie without abstraction or thought (whether they ARE in fact represented metonymically is a very interesting neurobiological question).

It is not just that a distinction that seems so obvious and useful to some people (me and you among them) is less obvious to others but that it is less obvious for a particular reason: it is hard in general for people to get a handle on why they make particular associations between things. Moreover, the reasons may be different for different people, and may be different at different times for the same person. To put it differently, there is "story", ie what we consciously experience/think, and then there is .... what despite all our efforts we are less clear about, less able to be sure of (the unconscious, or "tacit"). And things can move, in both directions, between them.

My point in all this is not at all to quarrel with your suggestion that "story teller" is "metaphoric" ... I do, though want/need to contest your conclusion that the "I-function" [is] not.

My point in all this is not at all to quarrel with your suggestion that "story teller" is "metaphoric". Indeed it is, not only in the obvious sense that it is a language term (though I will argue below that language is not in fact necessary for metaphoric processing) but also in the deeper sense that it is a term more removed than other terms from what I (or others) more directly experience. It is a higher order abstraction, itself the result of a long period of negotiation between .... my unconscious and my story teller. And, as such, it reflects organizational features of both, most notably (because of the story teller) an inclination to try and find similar patterns in an array of different more direct experiences (this is "like" that, very much amplified and extended). From the latter, it is appropriately concluded, at the deepest level, that indeed the "story teller" feature of the brain encompasses metaphorical processing.

I do, though want/need to contest your conclusion that the "I-function" does not. That which is "more directly" experienced is ... experienced, and hence must, in my terms, involve the story teller. It must, at least to some degree, therefore be affected by the metaphorical character of the story teller, the effort to try and find common patterns across a wide array of different things coming from the unconscious. George Lakoff, in Metaphors We Live By and Philosophy in the Flesh provides a number of good examples of hidden "metaphors" in a variety of aspects of things we tend to think of as our most "direct" experiences. In his enthusiasm, I think Lakoff goes to far with his argument, implying that there is actually nothing BUT metaphor (which he confuses with categorization or abstraction, a more general process; one of the virtues of the story teller idea for me is that it helps to provide a needed distinction between abstraction and metaphor; more on this below). Nonetheless, Lakoff's examples provide strong evidence that there is some involvement of metaphor in everything we experience, no matter how "primitive" (or "animal") . The "I-function" is MORE primitive/animal than some other story features but insofar as it is experienced it is part of story and so less primitive/animal than others (cf "treeness").

I can't agree that the "I-function" is not metaphoric, but am willing to agree that the "I-function" is MORE "contingent to the being for whom the experience is being narrated as I", ie that it is CLOSER to .... what comes from the unconscious than some other things the story teller does.

In short, I appreciate very much your bringing the metonymic/metaphoric distinction to the table, and would like to keep it here, with the hypothesis (at least) that the unconscious operates metonymically and consciousness (the "story teller") uses metaphor as a way of making sense of what it gets from the unconscious. I can't agree that the "I-function" is not metaphoric, but am willing to agree that the "I-function" is MORE "contingent to the being for whom the experience is being narrated as I", ie that it is CLOSER to .... what comes from the unconscious than some other things the story teller does. And in this sense more "naked"

You'll notice that I'm avoiding saying, closer to "truth", replacing it with "what comes from the unconscious". As you say, there is no assurance that "when one says "I" s/he is speaking the truth". This is one of a number of reasons to try and avoid that word wherever possible. Because of similar arguments, I'm declining to make an epistemology/ontology distinction. In my terms, there is ONLY the things coming from the unconscious, and the sense made of them by the story teller. The problem of the meaning of things is inextricably entangled with the problem of what is, so there is for me no clear distinction between the two, no way to evaluate truth, and .... nothing but the unconscious, the story teller, and negotiations between the two.

Burden and Pollock were/are doing in art what Beckett and Virginia Woolf (sometimes) were doing in literature: exploring how to tell stories that stay close to the unconscious.

There IS though, for both aspects of story (experience) itself, and for different story telling styles ("primitive", sophisticated), a legitimate and appropriately noticed difference in degree of "nakedness" in exactly the terms you define it: Burden and Pollock were trying to make evident themselves, their "I"s, rather than their more abstracted understandings of other people or the nature of art or .... any of the other things more distant from the unconscious that artists (and others) sometimes try to make evident. Your use of the "I-function" to signal this is entirely appropriate. And my insistence that the I-function is a subset of the story teller shouldn't in any way detract from that. Burden and Pollock were/are doing in art what Beckett and Virginia Woolf (sometimes) were doing in literature: exploring how to tell stories that stay close to the unconscious.

you've more than persuaded me that "I-function" and "story teller" should not be regarded as alternate terms for the same thing. ... I will keep "I-function", and use it happily in the extended senses we've discussed. I do, however, still feel a need myself to move beyond "I-function" to the more encompassing term "story teller", and perhaps to persuade you that the more encompassing term is at least as interesting as the term it contains.

The bottom line is I'm not any longer trying to to "substitute" "story teller" for "I-function". I'm not actually sure I was originally, but agree it sounded enough that way to justify your concerns. In any case, you've more than persuaded me that "I-function" and "story teller" should not be regarded as alternate terms for the same thing. Game, set, and match to you on this issue. I will keep "I-function", and use it happily in the extended senses we've discussed. I do, however, still feel a need myself to move beyond "I-function" to the more encompassing term "story teller", and perhaps to persuade you that the more encompassing term is at least as interesting as the term it contains. Let me try and say why.

What seems to me appealing/useful about the primary subdivision between unconscious/tacit/metonymic and conscious/story teller/metaphoric is not only that it is at least reasonably well-defined operationally (and at least partially so neurobiologically) but that it provides a framework for making some other distinctions that it seems useful to be able to make (its a "good" metaphor in that it makes sense of a disparate array of things?). The distinction between abstraction and metaphor, mentioned above, can, for example, be made in terms of the absence or presence of evidence of "an inclination to try and find similar patterns in a wide array of different more direct experiences". Perhaps more immediately germane to our conversation is that the primary subdivision provides the basis for substituting for the more awkward concept "truth" the somewhat better defined "comes from the unconscious". The "I-function" is not in any sense closer to "truth" than some of the other things your colleagues in art history work with (more on this below), but it IS closer to the unconscious.

Maybe (inverted postures again?) some visual images would be helpful at this point. As shown to the right, outside our nervous system is ... darkness. Inside the circle of our nervous system there are various degrees of light. Through interacting with the darkness (as well as via genetic transmission) our nervous systems acquire "tacit" knowledge; the grey circle includes all we know without knowing we know it (and without any experience of it). It is not only the basis for much of our action but the only source of information for the inner part of our nervous system, the story teller, and the only route by which the story teller can influence things outside the nervous system. This inner part (yellow) represents everything we have experiences of (including both the outside world and our own bodies/emotions/thoughts/selves). The "I-function" in turn sits within the story teller. It is specifically those experiences we have of body/self, the "personal" aspect of the broader story.

In the diagram to the right, the "I-function" is clearly "closer to the unconscious" in the sense that tacit knowledge is shown as going first to the "I-function" and only subsequently being distributed to the rest of the story teller. This would be a particularly simple way to account for the "I" as more immediate, more direct than other story telling features (those being fundamentally derivitive of the I-function). But its not the only way, and my intuitions say it is not the most likely one. So, a more general purpose version of the diagram below.

In this version, there are a variety of routes by which a variety of kinds of tacit knowledge reach the story teller and it is only after some further "story" type processing that things reach the "I-function". In this case, there is in the signal flow pathways no immediate explanation for the "I-function" being "closer to the unconscious". The notion of "closer to the unconscious" may nonetheless hold, for any of several other reasons. One is that the relative distance along processing pathways reaching the I-function is shorter than that for other story telling elements. Another is that there may be some distinctive and significant specialized features of tacit knowledge (including proprioceptive signals) that are delivered relatively directly to the I-function, in comparison to other parts of the story teller (Antonio Damasio, in The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness makes a strong case that this is in fact at least part of the explanation). A third is that the "self" element of story is, by its very nature, more ... personal, ie more expressive of tacit knowledge in a purer form, more about "a functioning unique being" (emphasis here mine), less subject to challenge from the outside.

I won't try to adjudicate among these possibilities at the moment. For the present, my point is simply that neither the I-function nor the questions you're interested in disappear if one uses a basic tacit/story teller framework and, moreoever, that that framework provides a way to develop further lines of exploration that may help to shed additional light on questions that we're both interested in. How about that as a little tidying up? We keep the "I-function", situate it somewhere within the story teller, and go from there? I can already imagine some additional visual images in which we play with separate and intersecting signal paths related to the body, proprioception, and other things.

"Naked," "primitive," and "animal" all make sense in this framework as well, as long as one treats these as RELATIVE rather than absolute

"Naked," "primitive," and "animal" all make sense in this framework as well, as long as one treats these as RELATIVE rather than absolute: the I-function and its expressions are MORE naked, MORE primitive, MORE animal than some other aspects of story telling because they are closer to the unconscious. Though this doesn't grant them either absolute or uninterpreted status, it does allow one to distinguish, as you want to do, between a kind of art closer to the undressed body/self and art of more rarified/culturally sophisticated kinds. And to do so in a way that inverts more traditional judgements by making the primitive/animal foundational to the other kinds.

All of this bears as well on the matter of "survival". Yes, indeed, the "human animal still relies on its more primitive states to survive", precisely because the I-function, and the broader story teller of which it is a part depend on the unconscious as their primary reporter and analyzer of what is going on and as the substrate through which they have to work to do anything about it. The I-function may convince itself at times that survival depends on a favorable review of a museum show, a successful tenure decision, or the outcome of an arcane academic debate, but it is in fact sitting on the back of an unconscious that in general has much greater skill at and influence on survival.

Here too, though, one doesn't need or want to overstate the case. No, I don't think that "proprioception ... has mostly outworn its purpose for survival". It, and the unconscious, are a major part of whatever successes humans have as biological entities. On the flip side, though, being relatively more foundational doesn't mean that they are necessarily "wiser" in any given situation. Sometimes the less foundational acts of "thinking" are useful too. And part of what makes them useful is that they can in fact produce changes in what is more foundational ("I am, and I can think, therefore I can change who I am"). This is not actually a contradiction in terms. In biological systems, one frequently sees both "bottom up" and "top down" influences, so that things out of which other things are constructed are not fixed and invariant but rather themselves influenced by the constructions of which they are a part (cf From the Head to the Heart).

Its a short - and welcome -step from that to "moral questions" and "everything I mistrust about radical relativity even as I recognize that this sentence is true". And perhaps to ... "trauma"?

Its a short - and welcome -step from that to "moral questions" and "everything I mistrust about radical relativity even as I recognize that this sentence is true". And perhaps to ... "trauma"? I readily admit that I .... am less sympathetic to/moved by "trauma" than many people are, and not infrequently get into trouble on this score. I may here with you as well but ... we've built a bit of a platform (a revisable foundation?) so far by trusting each other and the only point is seeing what more we can do with it so ...

An easy (I hope) step first. I am indeed what I think you intend by the term "radical relativist." My path to that position, however, has been not the postmodernist/humanities route but rather one through science, biology, and neurobiology (mixed with a little existential philosophy and seasoned by growing up in the sixties). Perhaps for this reason, the notion that everything is a story is for me not a final position but a take off point for further inquiry. "IF one begins to have the feeling that there really ISN'T any such thing as "Truth" or "Reality" outside oneself, at least not a useful one that one can rely on as a fixed and stable motivator of and guide to one's own behavior, AND one has the feeling that PC/postmodernist solipsism (all stories are equally good) is not an adequate response to this feeling, THEN ...." (On Beyond Post-Modernism: Discriminating Stories) one needs to come up with a new and improved understanding of how to proceed.

I think that the tacit/story teller framework (with the I-function in it), combined with a sophisticated appreciation of evolution, gives us a promising opening for that improved understanding. Yes, a certain amount of stability is desirable at any given time. One needs a platform to take off from. On the flip side, "fluidity", I would argue is not only equally desirable to one degree or another but also ... inevitable. Humans may desire stability but they are, as biological entities, both products of and contributors to fluidity. Inevitably and unavoidably so.


All that you touch
You Change

All that you Change
Changes you
The only lasting truth
Is Change

...... Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower

One can, as a story teller, either fight that or embrace it. To embrace it is not to become passive but rather to acknowledge/respect/even celebrate one's existence as a meaningful change agent. And to acknowledge/respect/encourage the same in others

"The rebel undoubtedly demands a certain degree of freedom for himself; but in no case, if he is consistent, does he demand the right to destroy the existence and freedom of others ... The freedom he claims, he claims for all ... He is not only the slave against the master, but also man against the world of master and slave" .... Albert Camus, The Rebel "Among the interesting features of this alternative is that it puts confidence in, rather than fears, having "nothing as definite" ... It puts confidence ... in individual judgements ("egos and desires") informed by, among other things, each individual's interconnections with other human beings. It says also that there is no "ultimate measure," but there is, in its place, the best one can do at any given time. Moreover, it treats "relativism" not as a "dictatorship" but rather as an invitation to individuals to be individuals, to discover and value both their commonalities and their differences. Finally, it offers a new sort of direction for humanity, one in which individuals themselves become for themselves (and each other) the active agents responsible for not being "carried here and there by the winds of doctrine", and one where everyone benefits from their own distinctive explorations and the ongoing and different explorations of others." (from Fundamentalism and Relativism: Finding a New Direction)

It is precisely BECAUSE of the story telling feature ("nothing is definite"), and the existence on an "I-function" as a component of that (a story about onself and about one's relation to the world that is itself not definite) that we have the ability to conceive things (ourselves included) as other than we are at any given time.

It is precisely BECAUSE of the story telling feature ("nothing is definite"), and the existence on an "I-function" as a component of that (a story about onself and about one's relation to the world that is itself not definite) that we have the ability to conceive things (ourselves included) as other than we are at any given time. To conceive, and attempt to bring into existence, alternatives. To make art, science, and ... revolution. Some stories prove better than others at achieving this potential, and so not all stories are equal; there is a way to discriminate among them. Hence one need not fear story telling as either solipsistic or amoral. It is instead not only an inevitable feature of the human condition but one that gives us the wherewithal to conceive/critique/reconceive our selves, our cultures, and morality itself.

What about "radical relativity" and story telling for "someone who has had their world unseated, whose boundaries have been transgressed, whose sense of trust is gone, whose fear of the elements (tsunamies and hurricanes) is profound such that they cannot function ... [who] must have a story that s/he can share with others and believe?" There could indeed be a "problem of use" issue here, of "meaning derived in use", ie of context dependence. Perhaps "traumatic experience" makes someone sufficiently different from other humans so that story telling as radical relativity is at best irrelevant and at worst unsympathetic, even abusive?

"Trauma" is your area of expertise, not mine, but let's see if I can perhaps contribute to your thinking about it (as you've contributed to mine about the brain). My uninformed feeling is that traumatic experiences do not in fact put those having them into a separate category from other humans, that instead the experiences cause such people to be more aware than most of us are (or choose to be) of the deep nature of the human condition, one common to all of us. Many of us act much of the time as if there are reliable fixed points to our lives that we can rely on unquestioningly to give "meaning" to what we do. Could it be that it is the destruction of one or more of those fixed points that makes experiences "traumatic"? That people having such experiences are thereby forced to confront the human condition that there are in fact no fixed points that can be unquestioningly relied on, and that "meaning" is always story created for oneself out of whatever materials one has at hand?

an understanding of "radical relativity" and story telling might actually be therapeutic in dealing with trauma ... serve as well as some antidote to ... trauma ... lessen conflicts between humans and the associated traumas we cause each other

If so, an understanding of "radical relativity" and story telling might actually be therapeutic in dealing with trauma, a way to help people see themselves as creative agents rather than as irreparably damaged, and as meaningful participants in a broader human community rather than as people who have been by acts outside their control cut off from it. "Radical relativity" and story telling cannot of course prevent events like tsunamis and hurricanes but they might serve as well as some antidote to the resulting trauma (cf Continuity and Catastrophe and Meeting Death With a Cool Heart). And a more general understanding of and commitment to "radical relativity" and story telling could at least lessen conflicts between humans and the associated traumas we cause each other (cf 11 September 2001. Perhaps an even more general application of Wittgenstein's "meaning derived in use" principle: that the meaning of "morality", "meaning", and "caring" themselves derive from (and are continually modified by) action?

Phew. Not sure that actually "tidies up", but maybe it does explain why I think "story telling" is important? and give us a possible way to relate my "I-function" and your proprioception/body art to it? In a way that opens some directions for further conversation about .... survival, animal/being, trauma, whatever? The "I-function" is, thanks to your pushing, alive again (nestled in the bosom of the story teller). Hope this is all at least somewhat useful to your story as well.

KS to PG, 26 December 2005 (see begining)

One month after your last exuberant, extended, and beautifully illustrated response, and following a wicked semester ending in flu, I am able to answer your commentary. I've divided my response into sections for easier reading.

Sports: Before I get started, you mentioned "game set" in your last response, suggesting that on some level you might experience our conversation as a kind of competition. Keeping in mind my maternal grandfather Dr. Frederick Rand Rogers' famous motto - "Tie score equals a perfect score" - let's remain with the conversation metaphor, which is more relaxed than a match.

Tidying Up: I'm afraid not. Your response was so rich with information, assertions, assumptions and so forth that the table is not only a mess but dominated by the "story teller" term, which rather than getting us closer to a discussion and understanding of proprioception in the humanities and sciences sends us spinning off into myriad fascinating directions, each of which need sorting out only to raise more questions and comments.

"Story Teller": Despite very careful consideration of your argument and a sincere effort to embrace this term, one that is obviously central to your worldview, "story teller" remains unconvincing to me as a philosophical concept and too imprecise as an intellectual construct to do the work that you want and need it to do. I have ruminated long on my problem with the conceptual apparatus of this term and have several points to add to those I've already submitted:

  1. Ironically, the ubiquity of the "story teller" as a metaphor for consciousness transforms the "story teller" into a universal principal (or objective fact), quite in contradistinction to its claims to radical relativity and the deconstruction of universals.
  2. This tag is lacking in specificity for the operations of the brain and is too open to any and all extrapolations, as our meandering conversation proves. But it is certainly rich in that very way. Nevertheless, it literally swallows up all other points. In this way, the "story teller" presents itself as just a little ole story more or less right, more or less wrong, but devouring everything in its path.
  3. "Story teller" is vulnerable to being a tautology in so far as it defines "story teller" by itself. You write: "It is a higher order abstraction, itself the result of a long period of negotiation between .... my unconscious and my story teller. And, as such, it reflects organizational features of both." You would have "it" (the story-teller) negotiate features of "both the unconscious and my story teller." Given such a description, the "story teller" tells stories about itself to itself, becoming a kind of narcissistic tautology sliding off into solipsism.
  4. "Story teller" is not historically specific and de-politicizes what is political thereby taking a heavy social, cultural, and historical toll. It is the depoliticalization of information, experiences, evidence, and reports from one's proprioceptive antennae, which represent one of the most unexpected and treacherous pitfalls of relativism. Too much is at stake in society, culture at large, the academy in particular, to say nothing of Empire and globalization (and all that they entail from the international sex slave trade to destruction of the environment) to leave the issues in the hands of the "story teller." Anticipating your response that only the "story teller" can mitigate the multicultural necessities of diverse communities, I would answer - "yes" - in that context "story teller" works. But, when it comes to survival - when it comes to social, political, and cultural issues that must be changed - "story teller" does not have enough vigor. I also realize that I've drifted out from your model of how the brain operates to how it acts in the world, which demonstrates why "I-function" is more useful, less contentious, and more brain/action-specific.
  5. I don't know Damasio's work well enough to debate it here, but I don't think "story telling" is the same as his concept of "cognitive representations," to which your "I-function" is much closer (in so far as it indicates that 'thinking' occurs by means of nerve cell activation). I understand how your visual chart suggests, similar to Damasio, a two-way pattern of flow between information generated by the senses in the internal world, and emotions generated in the external world. Apparently Damasio offers examples of how the body operates in survival situations such as fear. According to Bruce D. Charlton's online Review of The Feeling of What Happens, the brain records emotional somatic states "in nerve cell activation patterns obtained from neural and hormonal feedback, and this information may then be used to adapt behaviour." (http://www.hedweb.com/bgcharlton/damasioreview.html). Charlton notes further that Damasio attends to the somatic milieu as it determines human consciousness of "self," an awareness he claims is different from animals. Again, I have to read Damasio for myself, but my work in Animal Studies and my practical experience (with cats and horses especially) would suggest otherwise. What do you think? (For one of the best theorists in Animal Studies see Cary Wolfe Animal Rites American Culture, the Discourse of Species, and Posthumanism [2003] and Zoontologies The Question of the Animal [2003]).
I point out the above-mentioned possible problems in the term "story teller," however, not to disabuse the term, but simply to explain why I may not be able to adapt it, which leads to another point: history.

History: In addition to the fact that I still believe that your initial term "I-function" best captures the operations of proprioception, my apparent intransigence with regard to "story teller" reflects, no doubt, the fact that I am an historian. Yes, that old chestnut raises its contentious head again, and again, and ... . Indeed, our discussion - at base - is really between an academically trained "historian" and a "biologist" (who happen to specialize, respectively, in art and the nervous system). Too often it is forgotten that "historian" is a critical methodological position from which the "art historian" researches and writes. Being an historian is different from being a critic, although the two obviously can co-exist and, when they do, often conspire for the best result. But an historian must be responsible to evidence, whereas a critic may use interpretation without concern for evidentiary questions. In other words, a critic may rely on his/her "story teller" to make sense of political, social, economic, aesthetic, cultural, biological effects, and while an historian tells a story s/he must make certain that this "story teller" is responsible to exterior evidence/quanta. This is not to suggest that the critic may not also be concerned with evidence, but s/he is not required and expected to do this double duty and be so preoccupied.

The linguistic turn that culminated in the notion that language cannot relate to anything but itself posed a significant and important challenge to the notion of historical objectivity, a poststructuralist umbrella under which my scholarship matured in the midst of the historians' debates from Hayden White to Francis Fukuyama, even as I was trained in the traditional historical method: namely, I value close examination of documents; respect the need for questions of internal consistency, reliability and usefulness of sources; value painstaking attention to detail; and even as an historian of contemporary art, work in the archives of artists, and so on. While I do not claim that such practices and methods offer up Truth, with a capital T, as with science, a sound historical method prevents the kind of story telling of people like David Irving, a self-styled "historian" and Holocaust denier, from gaining authority that might have an historical impact. (On Irving see the eminent British historian Richard J. Evans Lying About Hitler [2001], a fascinating account of the law suit Irving brought - and lost - against the academically trained American historian Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books for her book Denying the Holocaust [1993], in which she cited Irving for his false claims and neo-Nazi ideology.)

Precisely such a context in which "story telling" that is "more or less good or bad," or is "getting it less wrong" or "getting it more right," has huge historically specific consequences. If we take this back to the nervous system, and consider mental health, such "story telling" has equally immense psychological consequences in how it "inevitably ... translates the interior worlds into the exterior worlds." Namely, if it "gets it more or less wrong," one might end up in Ken Kesey's (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, 1975) or Kate Millett's (The Loony Bin Trip, 1990) loony bin! You propose that this is "significant only insofar as it (the "story") becomes a part of an expanding network of story sharings and alterations, from which all involved get things of value to themselves and for which all involved share responsibility." I, like you, would like to inhabit such a world, but I fear we do not, and my proprioception confirms this. So the problem with the openness of "story telling" is that it doesn't take into consideration events in which the stakes require a definitive position: he is or is not a Holocaust denier. As for "better or worse" - the killing of Jeffrey Dahmer by his fellow inmates comes to mind. The truth of his crimes exceeded even the morality of hardened criminals and represented profound crimes against humanity and an immediate threat: so they killed him. I'm not defending their act, although I empathized with it.

So, I am invested in the practice of history writing and I believe in the historical project, quite simply because things do happen about which agreement can be obtained and, yes, facts exist that are not simply "stories." My point is that neither the objectivist nor the postmodernist extreme proves satisfactory. Both are ideologies, nothing more or less, and the historical pendulum will move beyond this debate just as it did after the last great period of radical relativism under the Sophists, even though, I hope, we shall never return to objectivism as the dominant paradigm.

Metaphor and metonymy: In several instances, you have either misunderstood me or overstated your argument. I never "concluded," as you write, that the "I-function" is not metaphoric. On the contrary, I stated wryly that the "I" is always telling stories. So we really have no disagreement on that point. What I did say is that the term "I-function" is closer to the operation of proprioception as an experience, quite simply because "I-function" states that experience as an "I" and as a "function." True, "story teller" is much more abstract than "I-function," but I would be careful not to use the phrase "higher order abstraction" as some might become confused that a value judgment is implied when you clearly point out - and rightly so - that it is only "more removed than other terms from what I ... more directly experience." Well said. Also, when I summoned metonymy into our discussion, all I meant to refer to was your use of terms as language ("I-function" vis-á-vis "story teller") and the relative proximity of language as a descriptor to the problem of proprioception. I do not take language to be "Truth" (I shall return to the notion of "truth" below), but only as a rather poor but, ironically, exceedingly efficient substitute for unmediated corporeal experience, which is not to say that language itself cannot also be a form of unmediated experience - if that's the experience we want to talk about.

On your suggestion that for the sake of discussion we might divide the mind between the operations of metaphor and metonym (consciousness and unconscious), this is not only a stretch for me, but purely speculative, arbitrary, and, most of all, too binary. In any case, psychoanalysis repeatedly has shown that both (metaphor and metonymy) are in operation in both conscious and unconscious states, as they are in the dream, which is simultaneously conscious/unconscious. Bryn Mawr Professor Anne Dalke in her comment of 11/21/2005 rightly queried my proposal that metonymy and metaphor might be divided between ontology and epistemology. I did not mean to propose a hard and fast division between either, but rather that in the context of body art, metonymy could refer more directly to the body and hence a different kind of understanding. (Anne, in the future, please feel free to refer to me as Kristine rather than "the art historian" just as you refer to Paul as Paul; and many thanks for your contributions.) This leads me to my next point.

As with other aspects of synchronicity (in the Jungian sense) in our conversation, it turns out that George Lakoff was one of my professors at UC Berkeley when I was a doctoral student. He was quite interested and involved in art and so I had occasion to discuss the primary theoretical thesis of my dissertation with him, which I shall summarize here, even though I distinctly recall that George was more interested in the metaphorical aspects of body action as theater - and in mimesis in general - than in my theory of subject-to-subject metonymic exchange as political action.

I introduced the idea that the artist's body initiated a new communicative structure in the visual arts that appended the traditional re-presentational role of metaphor with the connective function of metonymy. Countering the widespread claim that performance art broke down the barriers between art and life, I argued that metonymy augments interpersonal communication through its function as linkage. Thus did performance expand conventional modes of visual communication by creating the potential for an exchange between presenting and viewing subjects. The interconnection between the classical role that metaphor plays in art (as symbolic re-presentation) and the new role introduced by metonymy (as connective presentation) created a dual structure, I further argued, for the exchange of subjectivities between artist and viewer. In this way, I theorized that performance and body art offered a new paradigm for interpersonal agency that bore significant social and political import. That theory has pretty much become standard in the discourses on Performance Art with various other art historians adding to and developing these ideas.

Since 1993, when I began to write about and teach trauma in art, I also argued that in the case of the live presentation of traumatic subject matter, performance (or body) art metonymically connects observers to viewers and to psychophysical torment more directly, transforming them, however unwilling, into witnesses. This is, of course, where proprioception came into play in my discussion of Burden; this is the direction I pursue in two forthcoming books, one on performance art and the other on representations of trauma in art.

Here I need to respond to another question put to me by Anne Dalke. She asked if my move to performance art reflected something like what art historian James Elkins' described as his "getting sober" as he got older, and "growing toward books." More specifically, Anne asked me if, my "move from traditional painting and sculpture into body art was an attempt to resist such a slow 'damping down'." This is a very important question and requires more of my own personal history here. I began to do, as well as research, performance in my twenties in the 1970s, and I have been recognized in the Encyclopedia of Aesthetics for having taught - while still a graduate student at Berkeley in 1978 - the second class on performance art taught in the US. I'm not mentioning this to toot my horn, but only to emphasize that far from being similar to Elkins (who, again coincidentally, is my friend and whose work I respect), my involvement in this kind of art has nothing to do with aging or age. I came to performance and body art through destruction produced in art (not of art) by artists in the 1960s that I studied as a graduate student in the late 1970s and 1980s. The people who made this kind of art - namely who used destruction as a means in art - were Holocaust and atom bomb survivors, victims of racism, sexism, rape, incest, totalitarianism and all the rest of the atrocities human beings invent to torture ourselves, animals, and nature. In short, I came to this kind of art because it was clear to me, as I have often written, that  in body art artists presented the content of survival in an image of the body in action. I do believe that - and this is what I theorized in the Chris Burden piece - body art, and Chris's work in particular, helps us to become more aware of proprioception as it alerts us to survivalist necessities.

Truth: "The problem of the meaning of things," you write Paul, "is inextricably entangled with the problem of what is, so there is for me no clear distinction between the two, no way to evaluate truth, and...nothing but the unconscious, the story teller, and negotiations between the two." My response to that statement is that I understand what you just wrote - what the sentence is - but I do not grasp what you mean by this statement. In short, one can untangle what is from what means. If your statement was "true" - or more right than wrong - then how would we know that something "is" at all and that "meaning" accrues around it in various ways and contexts? But of course we do know the difference and the interconnection between what is and what means - animals do - we all must in order to survive.

Aphorisms can be used as if they are truth (i.e., Octavia Butler, Camus, etc.) This is your way of imposing (through the back door) a kind of truth on this text. A second way might be of reiterating one of our statements by putting it in a box. The box presents that information as if it is true. For example, you boxed this statement and made it bold:

"Burden and Pollock were/are doing in art what Beckett and Virginia Woolf (sometimes) were doing in literature: exploring how to tell stories that stay close to the unconscious." - Paul Grobstein

While this statement is certainly true of Pollock, I would argue that it certainly is not true of Burden, whose actions (and many of his sculptures) create experiential events that put the viewer in difficult situations of responsibility, decision-making, and human interconnection. They are exceedingly rooted in the materiality of social interaction, and Burden does not draw on dream, the unconscious, or psychoanalysis (as Pollock did), and even eschews discussion of his "psyche" or biography. His work is not directly about either, even as no one can escape the embeddedness of his or her actions in psychobiography. Indeed, it is the social, outwardly directed aspect of Burden's work that brought me to proprioception in order to theorize that Burden created a situation in which he literally activated viewers' individual proprioceptive defenses.

My point is:

The impression of truth (objectivity) can be conveyed visually in the box format or implied textually as an aphorism. - Kristine Stiles

What I am stressing is that one delivers his or her form of truth through a variety of means but the form does not change the content of the message: "I purport to speak the truth." Returning to an earlier point, what is can be easily disentangled from what it means.

Thus, one of the truths at play here is semantics, which is not to dismiss our exercise out of hand. Because, as I noted above, the political is semantic, as my colleague Fredric's Jameson's The Political Unconscious [1982] so brilliantly analyzed (http://fds.duke.edu/db/aas/Romance/faculty/jameson). There is something deeply at stake in how we think about things and why. In principle, if all stories were equal, the world might be as you hope - where everyone is involved in shared responsibility. Unfortunately, the truth is really quite opposite. Let's take rape, incest, and genocide; the bombing of the World Trade Towers; the Berlin Wall falling on November 9, 1989; Nelson Mandela being released from prison after 28 years and walking out into the international media eye; the tsunami or Katrina; or the simple fact that one of the horses I ride - "Justin" - likes peppermint candy, while another one - Alyx - likes bananas and won't touch a peppermint. In all of these instances an event occurs about which we can tell all kinds of "stories," but there it is - the event, an action that is one of violation, destruction, freedom, and desire (for peppermints, or not). One of the most brilliant and underrated artists of our time, John Latham, has been theorizing and making art about event since 1954; his ideas and work were central to my interest in performance. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_latham_%28artist%29)

Events are serial truths, what we say about them is more or less. -Kristine Stiles

Here is a truth for us to ponder: one of the deepest ironies of this particular historical round of radical relativism is that it appeared on the horizon just at the moment when identity politics - especially civil rights, feminism, and gay liberation - emerged, thereby negating unique claims for equality and agency by reducing each to mere competing stories.

Trauma: In order to address your questions about trauma, we need first to establish a working definition of it. Provisionally defined in clinical psychology, trauma is the result of an event(s) that threatens death, serious injury, or the physical integrity of the body, and that causes intense psychological fear, helplessness, and/or horror. When I use the word trauma, I use it in this context: severe, complex, life-threatening experiences. You write that you "feel" that traumatic experiences "do not put those having them into a separate category from other humans, and that instead ... cause such people to be more aware than most of us are (or choose to be) of the deep nature of the human condition." But your very feeling and statement proves how trauma does, indeed, separate the traumatized. One of the terms for this kind of attentiveness of the traumatized in the discourse on Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) is "hypervigilance." Hypervigilance means that one is always on alert, always frightened, always super aware, and tense, as well as has startle reactions and so forth which can escalate into obsessive compulsive habits and so on.

You continue: "Could it be that ... the destruction of one or more of those fixed points [upon which most people rely] make experiences 'traumatic'?" The answer is yes and the result is not what you might expect. It is not, as you suppose, "that people having such experiences are thereby forced to confront the human condition," but more often than not, just the opposite, as another key symptom of PTSD is numbing and dissociation, such that a confrontation not only with the trauma itself but life in general is completely overwhelming. Some people are so overwhelmed that they become dysfunctional. In the most severe cases, there may be splitting and compartmentalization of the personality and identity. Paradoxically, and the experience of trauma is nothing if not paradoxical, it is these behaviors - numbing, hypervigilance, compartmentalization, splitting - that are the very disabling psychological conditions that enable one to go on and to survive. Because only by shutting out, blocking off, and numbing oneself to such experiences as concentration camps, torture, rape, incest, severe racism, the total destruction of one's world (tsunami/Katrina victims), witnesses mass death (Rwanda), can one live. Again, given such terrible realities, it is not as you might think that "'meaning' is always a story created for oneself," meaning comes gradually through stabilization of a shattered world. Little is more threatening to a traumatized subject than radical relativity, which, on the one hand, threatens to reproduce the trauma and, on the other, is seductive, promising to repeat and reproduce the intensity of the experience and reawaken the individual from his or her numbed state. Again, this paradox makes PTSD so difficult to heal because the traumatized find unconscious ways to repeat the original scene of the trauma. A perfect example of this is that it has been clinically found that something like 80% of prostitutes are incest or rape survivors. In brief, I am laying out for you a very complex psychological experience.

Towards the end of your commentary on trauma, you suppose that the traumatized need "help [to] see themselves as creative agents rather than as irreparably damaged."

Thirty years of experience studying and writing about destruction and violence in art and the traumatized has proved to me that the traumatized are some of, if not the, most creative people on the planet, even when they are irreparably damaged. -Kristine Stiles

Yes. Another paradox.

Finally, you write that, "story telling could at least lessen conflicts between humans and the associated traumas we cause each other (cf 11 September 2001)." But you see, what help has the "story" the West told about weapons of mass destruction done to lessen the conflict? What has the story the terrorists have told about beheadings done to stop killings and bombing and maiming? Perhaps story-telling is the culprit: the US's story about oil vs. the Middle East's story about oil? But then, oh yes, let's see, who is consuming it all? Now that's not a story, it's an historical fact: THE WEST!

Suggested Future Topics:

PG to KS, 6 March 2006

Its been more than TWO months since your YOUR last response, also exuberant, extended, and compelling. And I have no flu excuse, only the realities of a pretty busy academic semester. What I can happily report though is that our conversation (past and anticipated) has been threaded all through the classes (cf proprioception) and other obligations (cf Theory and Practice of Non-Normal Inquiry) that have at the same time gotten in the way of my writing here. I hope that, despite my apparent neglect of this conversation, you'll share my feeling that its worth can be measured in part by its usefulness in other contexts and that those in turn can prove useful here.

I certainly agree that we have some "tidying up" to be done here, and I'm even prepared to agree to put the "story teller" aside for a bit and get back to a more focused consideration of the "I-function", proprioception, art (performance and otherwise), and the self (human and otherwise). With that in mind, a few prefatory remarks ...

The Conversational Environment

Having grown up in, been educated in, and spent most of my years working in a "competitive" environment, I am more than happy to work here in a more relaxed one. I heartily endorse your suggestion that we stay conversational and will avoid future sports (or military) metaphors that might suggest otherwise.

I won't promise to avoid boxed, bold statements in the versions of our exchanges posted here. I will though happily stipulate that in creating those I have no intention of "imposing ... a kind of truth on this text" (through the back door or otherwise). We are both prone to a certain ... wordiness that, on a web page, creates an expanse of text that might discourage some readers from engaging with the arguments. The boxes were intended to do nothing more than break up that expanse of text and give readers a quick index to points under consideration. Yes, of course, they might be interpreted otherwise by some readers, so let's agree and make explicit that

Boxed and boldfaced text is provided as a graphic aid and convenience to readers and should not be understood as implying any special significance for the words or ideas so treated (except in cases like this one in which a double border is used).

Truth, truth, history, science, facts, the brain, survival ... and story telling

"yes, that old chestnut raises its contentious head again, and again, and ...". And again with us in postures inverted from cultural expectations of humanists and scientists. In the interests of cleaning up, let's see if we can, if not agree, at least get the disagreement clear enough so we can put it off to the side.

Perhaps "Neither the objectivist nor the postmodernist extreme proves satisfactory" is a good place to start. By "objectivist" I assume you mean the position that there is "Truth" out there, things that exist independently of particular cultural/individual perspectives, and that there is a procedure (careful collection of observations, interpretation of observations, testing of interpretations by new observations) for describing it or, at least, moving steadily closer to it. And by "postmodernist extreme" I assume you mean an opposing view that any description is itself dependent on particular cultural/individual perspectives and so there is no basis for adjudicating between the value of different descriptions. If so, we are in full agreement that neither position "proves satisfactory".

What follows from this is the intriguing question of whether there is or isn't a position that would prove "satisfactory" for both of us (and perhaps to others as well?). Is there a way to go beyond post-modernism? some sort of theory of inquiry that acknowledges the values of both the objectivist and postmodern insights and avoids the failings of both?

Its an interesting problem, and one I've been thinking a lot about recently (see links above as well as Ideals of Scientific Explanation and the Nature of its Objects), partly because of our exchanges here. So let me sketch my progress to date and see how far it gets us.

You say "things do happen about which agreement can be obtained" and I think that's a reasonable starting point, one that is consistent not only with your experiences as a historian and mine as a scientist but also with both our experiences (and those of many other people) as human beings. Equally consistent though with all of these sets of experiences is that things happen about which agreement can not be obtained. One can certainly develop a methodology for science or history or anything else based on the former (this is perhaps the origins of objectivism?). And one can challenge any such methodology based on the latter (perhaps the origins of postmodernism?). Maybe though what we're looking for isn't oppositional but rather synthetic: a coherent methodology that incorporates both "things do happen about which agreement can be obtained" and "things happen about which agreement can not be obtained".

The apparent conflict doesn't actually have to do with the observations themselves but rather with interpretations drawn from the observations. The traditional objectivist interpretation of "things do happen about which agreement can be obtained" is that there exists an external "reality" and with it a set of associated "facts". On this interpretation (a "correspondence theory of truth"), instances of failure to obtain agreement are dismissed as temporarily irrelevant (future observations will result in greater agreement) or permanently so (disagreements reflect "humanistic" or "individualistic" matters and so are not significant for the task that inquiry has undertaken). Conversely, the extreme post modernist interpretation of "things happen about which agreement can not be obtained" is that there exists only the individual act of creativity. On this interpretation, instances of agreement are dismissed as resulting from one or another sort of coercive social force that, in its own arbitrary interests, imposes some measure of homogeneity on populations of humans.

Since it is interpretations rather than observations that conflict, let's see what we can do if we start with the combination of both sets of observations rather than drawing interpretations from one set that challenge the validity or relevance of the other set. It is right at this point where I think (of course) that the brain and "story telling" become useful. The brain (in my story) is what makes observations and creates from them interpretations (stories), with each influencing the other. Given that the brain is somewhat similar but also somewhat different in different individuals, and that inputs to the brain are also somewhat similar but also somewhat different in different individuals, there is no problem at all in accommodating both "things do happen about which agreement can be obtained" and "things happen about which agreement can not be obtained". Both are simple consequences of similarities and differences in the internal organization of the brain and in the nature of its interactions with what is outside of it.

That's silly, you might say, that doesn't get us anywhere at all. But I think it actually does get us somewhere, if we take it seriously as a starting point and follow some of its implications. For one thing, it usefully (from my point of view) discourages arguing about interpretations, and encourages instead dialogue about what is similar and different both about observations and about how interpretations/stories are created from them.

For another thing, the brain/story perspective diffuses the extreme objectivist/postmodernist conflict by acknowledging the validity of components of both positions. Yes, interpretations/stories are always context (or reference-frame) dependent, where the context includes both individual and cultural factors, and can be challenged on that score. So too, in general, are observations (including "events"). And yes, there are ways to make interpretations and observations less context-dependent, including (but not limited to) agreeing with others on the (temporary) validity of certain starting points/methodologies and using these as the foundation for posing new questions, sharing observations, and comparing interpretations (Kuhn's "normal science" and my "normal inquiry"). So delimited, there is no inevitable conflict between objectivism and postmodernism. One might choose (as people do) to follow either program, with a reasonable hope of being productive (as people have been, and continue to be) along either path.

For me, though, the most appealing feature of the brain/story perspective is that it expands one's choices by offering a third possibility: the path of "non-normal inquiry". Along this path, the "context dependence" of both observations and interpretations is not a problem but a virtue, and one not only "encourages ... dialogue about what is similar and different ... " but actively seeks out such dialogue as an essential component of the process of inquiry. One starts not with a commitment to agreement (methodological or otherwise) but with a presumption that difference is important, meaningful, and potentially "generative". And one proceeds by "bootstrapping" one's way along, repeatedly finding and challenging agreements, with the intention not being primarily to say what is but rather to conceive what has not yet been.

Maybe that explains both our starting postures and our occasional inversions of them? Science and history are not in fact so different from the perspective on non-normal inquirers rooted in either (see also Science as Story Telling and Story Revising: A Discussion of its Relevance to History, and History and Memory: What Does the Mind/Brain/Nervous System Have to Do With it?)? And so what we're about here is ... some shared "non-normal" inquiry having in it, as useful, elements of both objectivism and postmodernism but taking neither as a creed? No "Truth" certainly, but "truth", "facts", and ... "stories" aplenty insofar as they, despite their acknowledged context dependence (perhaps even because of it), contribute to finding new ways to think about things?

And, yes, the brain/story perspective entails a commitment to "survival". Non-normal inquiry is dependent on normal inquiry but, even more deeply, it is "derivitive of and contingent upon life". If the task is the discovery/creation of what has not yet been, what is required is an ongoing process of action and reflection which may involve, at times, actions aimed at preserving life itself (both one's own and others).

From the story teller back to the I-function

The story teller "as a metaphor for consciouness ... is certainly rich ... literally swallows up all other points ... tells stories about itself to itself, becoming a kind of narcissistic tautology sliding off into solipsism ... can mitigate the multicultural necessities of multicultural communities ... But, when it comes to survival - when it comes to social, political, and cultural issues that must be changed ... does not have enough vigor ... I've drifted from your model of how the brain operates to how it acts is the world, which demonstrates why 'I-function' is more useful, less contentious, and more brain/action specific".

I agree. Mostly. And so will, for present purposes, happily put the story teller on the back shelf. For the most part. After clarifying one or two points (and, of course, reserving the right to bring the story teller back here if/when necessary).

The story teller may indeed include itself in its stories (see Being, Thinking, Story Telling: What It Is and How It Works, Reflectively - Part 1 and Part2), although it doesn't always in all people (I tend to be more interested in this aspect of how brains work than many people are). And this can indeed put one at risk of "narcissistic tautology sliding off into solipsism". That might in fact be taken as additional evidence that there is something to the story teller notion of the brain, given that humans are in fact prone to both narcissism and solipsism. Fortunately, one can significantly offset this occupational hazard of the bipartite brain organization by a deliberate practice of taking one's own stories (including any story of a story teller) with an appropriate dose of salt (profound skepticism). Given the frequency with which the story teller is surprised by things, there are plenty of reasons to suspect there are things going on outside the story teller and the story told by the story teller, and so good reasons to include in the story things other than the story teller (the unconscious, as well as an outside world populated by other people). Moreover, the reflective character of story telling opens the possibility of the story teller conceiving itself as other than it is, and so provides for continuing renewal of the story teller itself.

"how it acts in the world" is indeed a key concern as you, among others people including my son, keep reminding me. Jed's view, having grown up in the postmodernist age (and probably having been further aggravated by a story telling father): "our problem is not in rejecting sources of authority .... but in finding something relevant to accept". Its all very fine for people to think about the importance of story telling, but "not to the extent they spend their time worrying about whether they have a reason for action". Is the I-function better in this regard? "more useful, less contentious, more brain/action specific"?

I think it clearly is in some senses, and probably in some others as well. "Story telling", as you've repeatedly pointed out, calls up in people postmodernist concerns, and pointing out (as I did above) that one can accept some aspects of postmodernism while rejecting others seems not a politically effective strategy (at least in the short run) in parts (at least) of the world we currently inhabit. "I-function" may well, as you argue, may create fewer such problems. Having been sensitized to the matter by our conversation here, I've also realized that the I-function as an interpretation is more immediately connected to readily describable observations, and hence seems, at the present time at least, to be a necessary step in developing the broader story teller interpretation (as was in fact the historical sequence for me). Most importantly, I've come to understand, as I said earlier, that the I-function is in fact not the same thing as what I later termed the story teller. So one CAN talk about the I-function without reference to the story teller, and I'm now content to do so with regard to at least some of the issues you originally raised. As long as we can agree that I, at least, can't forget that the story teller exists and that its existence and relation to the I-function are, for me at least, significant for any serious discussion of the latter.

The significance of the story teller for further thinking about the I-function

I can summarize what are for me the key points here using two graphics. The first, to the right, is one of the ones I used earlier. And the point that is important (to me at least) is that the "I-function" (the white circle) is a component of and hence embedded within the "story teller" (the yellow circle). The latter is in turn a component of and hence embedded in a still larger entity, the nervous system (the grey circle), that includes both as well as a very substantial amount of unconscious processing ("tacit"). That whole system of entities inside entities is itself embedded in a body and a world (the surrounding darkness, "outside").

What importantly (for me) follows from this is that the I-function has no direct information either about the body or about the world. Information that reaches it, about either, is first processed in the unconscious part of the nervous system and then further processed in the story teller before reaching the I-function. Furthermore, the I-function in general has no information about what has been done to information before it receives it. Hence, it would be a mistake to treat the I-function as "either absolute or uninterpreted". It may well, however, be "MORE naked, MORE primitive, MORE animal than some other aspects of story telling". This "relative" characterization is probably enough for your concerns in thinking about art and art criticism, but there are issues both neurobiological and otherwise that still need to be sorted out here and, in any case, we should be careful to not let the interpreted and relative slip into the uninterpreted and absolute.

Another important implication of the architectural relation of the I-function to other parts of the nervous system/body/world is emphasized in the figure to the left. I've exaggerated the relative size of the story teller (probably already exaggerated) to make it easier to show some of its internal structure as it bore on a discussion of "transcendence" with a student/faculty group here (another example of how our conversation is spilling over into other realms). The point I hope the figure illustrates (somewhat whimsically) is that the embeddedness of the I-function has some important practical implications.

The I-function plays a significant role in the generation of stories and can, to some degree at least, influence stories so as to try and achieve objectives inherent in the I-function. An example might be the objective of achieving a "transcendent" state. Out of this objective, the I-function might contribute to the creation of stories that seem to provide promising routes to the transcendent state. One such story is represented by the lower floor of the structure within the yellow circle, and the green line passing through it to the left is intended to represent the effort of the I-function, using that story, to reach the transcendent state. Unsuccessful in that attempt, the I-function might continue to add complexity to the story (represented as additional floors of the structure in the yellow circle), with repeated failure as the I-function discovers, again and again, that it cannot escape the limits of the story telling part of the brain. At long last, I-function realizes that the transcendent is not reachable by story elaboration, indeed is not reachable at all, but that one gets closest to it ("ohhhhh! ahhhhhh!) by paying most attention to what the I-function starts with, its own inputs.

The bottom line:

The I-function derives from and is itself a component of a story telling function, in the sense that, like all conscious experiencing, the I-function receives and itself further interprets interpreted inputs in ways that reflect the organization of both the unconscious and, to varying degrees, consciousness (the story teller, of which it is a part). It follows from this that the I-function provides no greater route to transcendence (or "Truth") than does any other aspect of brain function. It does, however, provide a way to discriminate between more and less elaborated stories

Towards a greater understanding of the I-function

I think we're finally back to the I-function/proprioception/body art questions with which you started us. Its been a long way round, but I've come to better understand some important things (some directly relevant, others indirectly so) along the way, and hope you have too.

So, let's get down to work. What's distinctive about the I-function among story telling activities (ie among those things that constitute experiences we are aware of) is that it constitutes a story about oneself (as opposed to, for example, stories about the universe, the culture, or other things or people understood as distinct from oneself). This is, I believe, one of the things that originally interested you about the concept. And it is a characteristic that was certainly, in hindsight, part of what was on my mind when I originated the term. "I am", "I hurt", "I see red" are all archetypal examples of I-function activity (as opposed to, for example, "Darwin was", "the dog suffers", "the chair is red"). So too are "I am disoriented" or "I am puzzled", and other "mild psychological disturbances" that we have both agreed are relevant in making sense of Chris Burden's art.

Since the I-function constitutes stories about oneself it is the case, as we've also agreed, that it has to do with things that "belong properly to the person". While there may be legitimate arguments about whether "the chair is red", there can be no argument about "I see red". That the I-function deals with interpreted information and is itself an interpreter in no way diminishes "the authority one has over describing one's own experiences." The I-function is indeed the final authority in that realm.

Notice though that there is a difference between being the final authority with regard to "one's own experiences" and being the final authority about the "body" or the "person". "I have the experience of having a limb" or "I have the experience of being shy" are no more challengeable by other people than "I see red", but "I have a limb" or "I am shy" are both quite challengeable by others (as in the case of someone with phantom limb syndrome or who is observed to act in bold ways).

The point here is to be sure we are careful to distinguish basic I-function activities from more elaborated story telling activities to which the I-function contributes. The I-function is both private (except insofar as one chooses to try and share it) and authoritative. "Body" and "self" have a different status. Aspects of both are visible to outside observers in ways they may or may not be to the I-function. Hence one can have legitimate disagreements with others (sometimes even useful ones) about one's own body and self.

Along the same lines, we need to avoid the temptation to regard the I-function as a definitive authority in the realm of understanding of one's own experiences. "My feet hurt" said by someone walking across a bed of hot coals is authoritative. "My feet will always hurt when I walk across a bed of hot coals" is not, as is evident from some kinds of shamanic disciplines. Similarly, "I feel edgy" said by someone whose mother or father is around is authoritative. "I will always feel edgy when ... " is not, as apparent from instances of successful psychotherapy.

This is turn is relevant to a second aspect of the I-function about which I think we're agreed: the I-function is less "mediated/interpretation dependent" than some other story telling functions. But it is not, even in itself, entirely free of influences from other story telling systems within either the brain it inhabits or the surrounding culture. It may be MORE "primitive" (in the sense of being closer to the unconscious) than some other story telling functions, but that is not to say it is invariant or entirely independent of them. One can, for example, experience one's body as "wrong" (authoritative) and then act in ways that change both the body and one's experience of it (cf Embodiment and the Brain).

Another graphic (to the right) might perhaps usefully summarize all this. Again the I function is nested within the story teller which is in turn nested within the nervous system. What I've added is that the nervous system is in turn nested within the body and that the body is in turn nested within a world that (probably) contains (at least) other people, other kinds of organisms, the material products of people, and other material objects. Since the "personal body" and the "personal self" are modifiable elements challengeable from the outside, I have put them within the story teller but outside the I-function. Since its an important part of where we started, and will be for our continuing conversation, I've also made explicit that there are two different sorts of information entering the nervous system. Some originates outside the body and is brought into the nervous system via "exteroreceptors". Other information originates within the body itself and enters the nervous system via "proprioceptors (the bent arrow labelled "p").

All this, in turn, brings us (I hope) to a third point of agreement that we had established previously: that the I function (and proprioception) "has something to do with survival", perhaps even "has more to do with 'survival'" than some other things do (including other kinds of more elaborate story telling about things other than the body/self). I think this is indeed the case but, given the complexities talked about so far, the reason for it is less obvious than it might have first seemed. It can't, for example, be accounted for in terms of a discrete and distinct system within the brain based on proprioceptors (see proprioception and following). Maybe another graphic will help?

The image to the left derives from an earlier effort on my part to understand the relation between the story teller and the rest of the nervous system and so lacks the explicit graphic "nestedness" of the previous images used here. The nestedness is, however, implicit in the architecture shown. Things outside the nervous system (both the body and things outside the body) provide input to and are acted on by the unconscious ("Rest of nervous system") which in turn both provides input to and is acted on by the story teller (including the I-function). What's important about the figure is that it shows the unconscious as a number of relatively independent modules each of which receives input from and generates output to relatively specific things outside the nervous system. None of these modules either have information about nor act on behalf of the nervous system as a whole; each is a specialist, doing a particular job. In addition to doing their job, each reports what is going on in its own terms to the story teller and it is only there that a coherent state of the self first comes into existence. That more or less raw "state of the self" (as opposed to the more elaborated "personal body" or "personal self", as well as stories about other things) is probably not a bad way to think of the I-function.

The whole nervous system is, of course, a product of evolution and so not only the I function but the whole architecture, with all its parts, "has something to do with survival". Moreover, the I-function is, for all the reasons discussed, not "authoritative" on the subject of survival ("'I' is no more an "authority" to be unquestionably relied on than any of the previously conceived authorities."). All parts may contribute in one way or another at one time or another ("The key here is that depriving EVERYTHING of the status of FINAL "authority" gives one permission/room to (not actually paradoxically) make use of everything one has at any given time.").

That said, there is still more than enough room in the I-function as the first "more or less raw 'state of the self' to grant it, as you would like to, a privileged status as having MORE to do with survival of the organism as a whole than either the individual components of the unconscious or the more elaborated stories generated in the story teller. It is the first signal one has about how one is doing overall, and that is clearly worth paying special attention to, even if doing so doesn't quite guarantee one either survival or transcendence.

Moving on ...

Phew. So, how are we doing? I, at least, have an I-function that I better understand because of your interest in it. And maybe you have one that is, more fully developed? And provides still greater support for your efforts to characterize "a new communicative structure in the visual arts", one in which body and performance art creates a particular kind of "exchange of subjectivities between artist and viewer"? In particular, the exchange is dependent fundamentally on the two I-functions rather than on more elaborated stories?

Though perhaps less centrally located, proprioception is in here, as one among several unconscious systems that contribute to the experienced "raw state of the self". And it is, I think, that state that matters to you, rather than the things that contribute to it. "Survival" is as well. As is, of course, story, at least in the sense that all of this is one. A good one, I hope, based on a clear inteprretation of shareable observations and generative of new questions.

So, where shall we go next? Perhaps to talk a bit more about "trauma"? Or about additional ways to think about body art? Or about various meanings of "self" in art and neurobiology? Let me know what you think of this story and maybe that will help us decide what new paths might be particularly promising.

To be continued ...

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