Evolving Systems: September 2009 Core Group Meeting
September 22, 2009 Core Group Meeting
and Continuing Discussion
Working Without Mirrors, Glassy Essences, and Indubitability:
From the Subjective/Personal to the Objective/Inter-Personal and Back Again
(see here for session outline)
Our third meeting and subsequent discussion further explored the notion of "againstness" as a strategy for inquiry, adding in important considerations of the relation between individuals and the communities of which they may (or may not) be a part, willingly or otherwise.
"I still want to argue for againstness, and for the diversity of againstnesses, as a primary way (ways plural really) in which one can know oneself and a primary way (ways, again) to come to know the worlds around and within us ... I wonder if we don’t make up groups for ourselves in order to comfort ourselves against the (authentic) experience of being alone." ... Mark
"I wonder, too, if it's always or only the case that we dream alone -- aren't our dreams filled with images and soundings of other people, words, places, times, and things? I don't think our choices are limited solely to group participation as the institutional legitimization of desire or independence. " ... Alice
"I think the group is stumbling into some good stuff here: serious questions about identity, expectations, etc. ... Benjamin
"Perhaps the third realm involves the intellectual-personal and the emotional-academic. It wouldn’t involve the normal family or academic identities, but might involve the fuzzy identities we have which don’t fit into the traditional family or academic realms ... Bharath
"our search for words that might enable us to inhabit a variety of not-so-threatening againstnesses" ... Anne
"I like very much the notion of "being" as "an unstable state ... provisional, and experimental." And would be happen to sign on to a program to give more emphasis to the "fluidity of perception" not only in language but in human cultural constructs generally ... Paul
My aim for this session is to share a set of experiences on the "fluidity of perception" and use them to explore together a way of thinking about inquiry that makes "againstness" less threatening/more appealing, as well as a shared and complementary feature of both the personal and the interpersonal realms.
Short background readings:
- Writing Descartes: I Am and I Can Think, Therefore ...
- The "Objectivity"/"Subjectivity Spectrum: Having One's Cake and Eating it Too?
- A Neurodiverse World
Additional relevant materials
- Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature
- The Brain, Story Sharing, and Social Organization
- From Complexity to Emergence and Beyond: Towards Empirical Non-Foundationalism as a Guide to Inquiry (Word file)
A meeting summary (Liz)
This past week, Paul led us through a set of visual experiences to highlight a particular example of “againstness” understood as a generative meeting of the inside and the outside. With the example of the meeting of the unconscious and conscious he posed the question of whether “againstness” has an undeservedly bad reputation.
Our dialogue led to a critique of inquiry as defined referentially to truth-seeking versus a proposal for inquiry alternatively defined by a conscious process that tolerates the mystery remaining from the “whole-number” nature of division by certainty. We need to explicitly override our unconscious propensities. Using the example of the unconscious and conscious interface, Paul illustrated inquiry as a process shaped, and in fact arguably detrimentally limited, by the brain’s unconscious drive to resolve ambiguity, i.e., to decide, to choose in its meaning making one of two opposing or multiple interpretations. He argued for an alternative approach, one where the conscious overrides the unconscious to hold in wholeness the full range of possible interpretations that the original ambiguity entails. Arguing that resolving ambiguity forestalls a rich and complex understanding of the world, the intent was to demonstrate how this biological propensity unless counteracted, inherently limits the functional efficacy of our inquiry into the world and its nature.
The experiences included viewing multiple images that could be interpreted in one of either two deliberately manipulated interpretations (dualism, illustrating the gestalt effect), or in a range of possibilities (multiplism). As an example of the first; we looked at an image of either a women preparing in front of a vanity mirror, or a human skull. In another example of the first, we responded to an image of a vase depicting upwards of 10 dolphins swimming all about or an image of a woman and man in an embrace of love-making. As an example of the second, we reacted to an abstract colored ink pattern where observers reported seeing a range of interpretations—moose, elk, dragons, others, etc. In these examples of Rorshach tests, three elements of constructed meaning were indentified: individual unique biology (genes), individual past experience, and meaning from shared discourse about experiences (culture). The interpretations could constitute physical representations or that of ideas, concepts, and feelings that might be perceived as present in the images.
Our discussion surfaced several questions. The idea that the unconscious brain has as its purpose the resolution of such ambiguities raised the question of whether we should be able to even perceive ambiguity. It raised the question of resolving ambiguity in relation to the brain’s decision-making process. Are they equivalent?, how do they fit together? Different interpretations lead to decisions, which have consequences—e.g., avoiding the runaway bus. When there are life threatening consequences can we control this process? The freedom to choose may not be open to all, i.e., what of the social context of exercising control over the unconscious, as in the prom night example? Is the argued view an elitist view of inquiry? And, if we could learn to override the false sense of certainty caused by this function of our brains, what new problems might be generated in our practice of inquiry?
Finally, does such an alternative construction of inquiry really constitute a turning away from certainty/truth-seeking, or might it be simply a turn towards another version of it—one certain about process as opposed to a specific type of outcome. Aren't both referring to some notion of an "ideal"?
Continuing discussion (below)