PSI-10: Post-Stroke Impressions No. 10
The following ‘Reflections on Reality’ have been informed by my ‘Stroke of Insight’ (as Jill Bolte Taylor’s book of the same name terms a ‘left-brain’ stroke). This type of stroke undermines one’s capacity for cognition that is dependent on ‘being/s’ as connoted by ‘names’ that stand for ‘things-in-themselves’. Names can come in a relational web of names where the relations among the named entities (which transcend the meaning in the names themselves) become the primary ‘informer’ that elicits ‘understanding’ (e.g. ‘Dances with Wolves’). Alternatively, ‘names’ can be ‘abstract’ in that they connote ‘stand-alone’ ‘things-in-themselves’ (e.g. ‘Rumpelstiltskin’) where the name is ‘abstract’ as in ‘absolute’ and does not derive its meaning from our relational experience. This type of abstract ‘thing-in-itself’ name that does not derive from relational exprience can ‘turn a pauper into a Prince’ as alluded to in the tale of Rumpelstiltskin who had the power to spin straw into gold. In Western culture, one might know two paupers very well through one’s relational experience yet discover, one day, that one of those paupers is Prince Igor. In Western culture, the name (intellectual cognition) over-rides experiential cognition so that one might kneel or curtsy and kiss the feet of a well-known (by experience) person the moment his Princely status is revealed or even ‘decreed’.
Not all cultures put intellectual cognition via ‘naming’ in precedence over relational experience, but that is the salient feature of Western culture that is examined in the fable of Rumpelstiltskin. Poets understand that relational experience informs us at a deeper level than ‘names’ ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’ (Shakespeare). Nevertheless, in our Western culture, the poets no longer have the predominating influence of the mythopoetic era, thanks to the rise to (unnatural) precedence of ‘Newtonian’ science based (rational) understanding. Rational understanding elevates named-thing-in-itself based cognition over relational cognition and puts rational understanding into service as the ‘operative reality’, eclipsing the natural primacy of relational experience.
When the magic sword of Excalibur taps a pauper on the shoulder and has him arise as Sir Knight, those in his presence who have been born and raised in Western culture curtsy/or and kneel accordingly. So it is also when the big boss ceremonially anoints a common worker as a supervisor in a now common Western society replay of the ‘fairy-tale’ of ‘turning straw into gold’. Rational-intellectual cognition that cultivates pseudo-realities thus takes over from experiential reality, … in Western culture, that is, … although not in indigenous aboriginal culture where experiential-relational reality remains in its natural precedence over rational-intellectual pseudo-reality. It is also clear that the ‘poets’ of Western culture have not become extinct but have merely been ‘marginalized’ by the rise to social relational power of those who put ‘name-based rational intellection’ into an unnatural precedence over ‘relational experience’ “whereof one cannot speak, one mus remain silent” (Wittgenstein).
The philosophical works of Wittgenstein, Bohm, Nietzsche and others point to how the Western culture practice of inverting the natural precedence of relational experience over intellectual being-based cognitive construction is infusing dysfunction into the Western social dynamic that Bohm calls ‘incoherence’. As Nietzsche points out, ‘ego’ serves as an absolute (abstract) foundation that holds this ‘upside-down’ approach to cognition in place in Western culture.
The following ‘reflections on reality’ aim to illustrate how Western culture gives unnatural precedence to ‘language’ (abstraction) over ‘relational experience’ to construct a rational ‘operative reality’ that is (mis-) guiding and (mis-) shaping the Western social dynamic.
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Reflections on ‘reality’
This morning, the sense of mitakuye oyasin (mitahkweeasay) or ‘all my relations’ has been clear. what is clear is that language is the source of the abstraction of ‘being’. By ‘naming’ relational forms in the flow (Tao) we abstractly impute ‘being’ to them. Language allows us to re-present forms-in-the-flow in the abstract sense of ‘things-in-themselves’. Grammar allows us to ‘cast them’ as the jumpstart authors of actions and developments. All of this is name and language-based abstraction that enters into a cognitive competition with our experiential awareness of inclusion in a transforming relational continuum (the Tao) in which we, ourselves, are relational forms, and wherein ‘everything is in flux’ (Heraclitus).
The use of names (to objectify relational forms in the flow) and language and grammar, to reduce the relational dynamics of our actual experience to an ‘accounting’ in terms of notional ‘things-in-themselves’ and ‘what things-in-themselves are doing’, since everything is in flux, has been described as ‘bootstrapping’ [“The surprise version of the game of Twenty Questions”] by modern physics investigators (Jeffrey Chew and John Wheeler) and likewise by philosophers such as Wittgenstein. As Wittgenstein points out, language is not capable of articulating an impression of a transforming relational continuum in which we are ourselves are included relational features (and thus cannot ‘step back’ to observe and describe ‘what is going on’).
7 Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.
(Wittgenstein’s final proposition in Tractatus Logico Philosophicus)
The only way that language can deal with this field-based physical reality wherein ‘everything is in flux’ is to employ named things to deliver the cognitive impression of relational dynamics and then ‘withdraw the things’ so as to leave only the cognitive impression of thing-less relational transformation or ‘flow’ (the Tao). That is, the Tao that can be told is not the true Tao. Wittgenstein describes ‘bootstrapping’ as follows;
6.54 My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.) He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly. [the penultimate proposition in ‘Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus’]
Bootstrapping is a ‘poetic’ approach to stimulating language-based understanding that uses name-instantiated objects (abstractions) to linguistically spin a web or matrix of relations that induces a cognitive impression of relational forms in a transforming relational continuum. The ‘information’ in terms of ‘named things-in-themselves’ and the actions of these named things-in-themselves are abstractions that are expedient for inducing cognition of purely relational dynamics. In the process of bootstrapping, one must not become so transfixed on these expedient ‘names’ of ‘things’ (beings) that one is unable to ‘make the leap’ to the relational understanding that is, in the physical reality of actual experience, primary.
”Do not forget that a poem, although it is composed in the language of information, is not used in the language-game of giving information. “ … “Philosophy ought really to be written only as a form of poetry.” — “Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language”– Wittgenstein
That is, it is one thing to use name-based (being-based) language to bootstrap understanding of the reality of our experience as relational forms in a transforming relational continuum, but there is a risk of getting cognitively hung up on a literal understanding wherein language-imputed (name-imputed) ‘beings’ such as ‘human beings’ hijack the cognitive ‘take-away’. In this case, the poetic understanding that captures the relational reality is superseded by rational understanding that treats the abstraction of ‘being’ as the basic ‘reality’. Charles Dickens caricatures this common pitfall in ‘Hard Times’;
“Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!”
‘Bitzer,’ said Thomas Gradgrind. ‘Your definition of a horse.’
‘Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth.’ Thus (and much more) Bitzer.
Dickens’ contrasts Gradgrind’s conception of a horse with that of Sissy Jupe’s poetic relational understanding.
With this ‘background’ on how the abstracting power of language (naming that imputes being) reduces our experience of a relational physical reality to a rational account in terms of local, material things-in-themselves and ‘what things do’, one is equipped to explore the cognitive acrobatics associated with the abstract concept of genetic heritage and ‘family trees’.
The concept of ‘inheritance’ as in a ‘family tree’ is linguistice, name-based (being-based) abstraction that psychologically reduces relational forms in the transforming relational continuum to notional ‘things-in-themselves’ that we ‘animate’ with noun-and-verb grammar. The ‘Tao’ (the all-inclusive relational flow-field) goes missing when we employ the concept of ‘reproduction’, just as the flow (the primary physical reality) ‘goes missing’ when we designate a relational form in the flow such as a hurricane by the name label ‘Katrina’. Language and grammar kick in (cognitively) from there to allow us to form a language based understanding as signalled by the language and grammar formulation; ‘Katrina is growing larger and stronger’, … ‘Katrina is heading for the Gulf Coast’, … ‘Katrina is ravaging New Orleans’, … ‘Katrina is weakening and dissipating’.
While the physical reality of our actual experience is of inclusion in a transforming relational continuum, .. language and grammar facilitate the construction of ‘being’-based abstraction that can serve, cognitively, as an ‘operative reality’.
The concept of a family tree is also language-based abstraction which tends to ‘obscure’ our understanding of ourselves as relational forms in a transforming relational continuum, as understood in modern physics and in the indigenous aboriginal culture and Advaita Vedanta. This cognitive error cultivated in Western (Newtonian) science and in Western ‘rational (non-poetic/non-relational) rational thinking’ in general, is not constrained to human development concepts but also ‘crops up’ in our popular understanding of plants as ‘things-in-themselves’ rather than ‘relational forms in a transforming relational continuum’.
The Western cultural practice of putting rational cognition into an unnatural primacy over relational (poetic, bootstrapped) cognition has become so strongly socially entrenched that it becomes absurd in resisting the obviousness of its unnatural primacy over relational cognition; e.g;
“The slime mold Physarum polycephalum is a single cell without a brain, yet it can make surprisingly complicated decisions. In this animated video short, watch as a slime mold navigates through a maze and solves a civil engineering problem.” — Nova, ‘Slime Mold Smarts’
Understanding ‘plants’ (or ‘organisms’) as local ‘independently-existing’ thing-in-themselves ‘beings’, signified by ‘names’ sets us up, cognitively, for this sort of logical conflict. That is, there is no problem (no logical contradiction) if we are understanding slime-mold as a relational form in a transforming relational continuum, but since we have ‘named it’ and are mentally modelling it as an ‘independently-existing thing-in-itself’ with internally directed behaviour, … there is an implication of an internal system that is the source of such internal direction. Such an ‘excuse’ for the source of internal direction of behaviour in animal life is ‘the brain’.
In modern physics as in the Taoist understanding in terms of relational forms in a transforming relational continuum such a problem as explaining the ‘intelligent behaviour’ of an ‘organism’ without a ‘brain’ does not arise. It is only when ‘naming’ is used to impose ‘being’ on a relational form so that the actions of the ‘being’ must be explained in terms of ‘directions’ coming from its internal systems. This intellectual model-based reduction of the relational form in the transforming relational continuum to an abstract ‘name’ and ‘being’ inspired impression of a local, independently-existing thing-in-itself, demands, for logical consistency, a notional internal source of behavioural direction adequate for explaining observed behaviour. The convenient ‘catch-all’ of the ‘brain’ used for this purpose in ‘animal beings’ is not available for ‘plant beings’.
So, how ‘real’ is the notion of a ‘family tree’ since the primary reality of our physical experience is one of inclusion, as relational forms, in a transforming relational continuum, … where language and grammar are the source of the abstract notions of ‘name’-implied ‘being’ and from there on to ‘beings reproducing’? Such intellectual abstraction contrasts with the transforming relational continuum of our included physical experience.
Language and grammar furnishes us with a way of ‘talking about’ the transforming relational continuum and the relational forms that are continually forming and reforming within the continuum. Meanwhile, our language is name/being based and, as such, it induces intellectual abstraction in terms of material ‘beings’. Nevertheless, such intellectual abstraction (i.e. such ‘being’-based pseudo-reality), can be used to ‘bootstrap’ cognition that transcends ‘literal’ intellectual comprehension of the ‘information’ in the message. As Wittgenstein observes;
”Do not forget that a poem, although it is composed in the language of information, is not used in the language-game of giving information. “
It is important to comprehend the cognitive implications of this statement by Wittgenstein; i.e. poetic usage is necessary to induce cognition in terms of relational forms in a transforming relational continuum.
Poetic expression induces a cognitive leap from a literal (rational) interpretation of the language used in which ‘names’ imply ‘persisting being’, to a higher understanding that is suggested by implication; i.e. to an understanding in purely relational terms;
“My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.) He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly” — Wittgenstein
In modern physics (as in indigenous aboriginal culture), a human as understood as a relational form in the transforming relational continuum and thus is not understood as a ‘human being’. But since language and grammar employ ‘names’ to signify things and since ‘names’ imply persisting ‘being’, one cannot convey the true nature of a human with straight-forward language and grammar. Poetic allusion [e.g. ‘shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’, … or ‘dances with wolves’ suggests NOT a ‘being’ or ‘thing-in-itself’ but a relational form in the flow. While modern physics suggests understanding a human as a relational form in a transforming relational continuum, Newtonian physics would have us understand a human as a ‘being’ that can be known by its internal components that are seen as the source of animation of the human ‘being’.
Literal use of ‘names’ in language discourse induces cognition of constant ‘being’ as the source of action, whether in regard to ‘humans’, ‘nations’, ‘corporations’ or other ‘name-based’ forms of organizing.
The language-induced cognitive impression of self-animating ‘human beings’ is intellectual abstraction deriving from ‘being’-based language and grammar. While this language-based abstraction is employed as the popular ‘operative reality’ in modern Western (Newtonian-scientific) culture, bootstrapping (poetic expression/cognition) as in indigenous aboriginal culture and modern physics (Bohm) overcomes this limiting impression and restores relational cognition to its natural primacy. Meanwhile, the Western culture social dynamic, influenced by the rise in popularity of rational ‘being-based’ cognition as in Western religions and Newtonian science, has elevated rational cognition (demoted relational cognition) to an unnatural primacy as the Western culture ‘operative reality’.
Poetic allusion must be employed to bring on cognition that goes beyond ‘being’ to ‘relational cognition’. While ‘names of things’ are also used in bootstrapping, this is very different from using names exclusively to convey ‘being’ as in straight forward ‘rational’, ‘intellectual’ ‘thing-in-itself’ based cognitive mode. That is, the example ‘dances with wolves’ is a relational reference that can be joined by many other relational references as in “a surprise version of the game of Twenty Questions’ so as to ‘elevate’ cognition from a literal ‘names-that-signify-being’ basis to a full-blown relational basis as in ‘all my relations’ (‘mitakuye oyasin’).
Bootstrapping is ‘standard practice’ in indigenous aboriginal cultures and is an imperative in using being-based language to convey reality in a transforming relational continuum; i.e. ‘names’ suggesting ‘beings’ are used in name-and-verb relational constructions in such a manner as to allow the relational impression to ‘rise above’ (transcend in one’s understanding) the name-signified ‘beings’ as the notional jumpstart authors of action.
It is not only possible, but also the common practice in indigenous aboriginal culture, to employ name/being-based language in a NON-LITERAL (opetic) manner; i.e. to ‘bootstrap’ cognition of the nameless/beingless realm of ‘flow’ aka ‘the Tao’ (the transforming relational continuum).
My own experience within Western culture is that technology has brought with it, an elevating of the rational mode of cognition wherein ‘name’-based ‘being’ is no longer understood as a ‘cognitive (poetic) springboard’ to relational reality, but as the ‘rational operative reality’. The ‘insight’ in a ‘stroke’ brings with it the undermining of being-based cognition as manifests in the stroke-experient’s inability to come up with ‘names’ that signify ‘human beings’ while having no problem with names used in relational webs of association as in ‘the surprise version of the game of Twenty Questions’. That is, the stroke experient, even though he cannot remember names as used to signal ‘thing-in-itself being’, is capable of being informed by names within a (poetic) relational web; i.e. ‘dances with wolves’ does not present the recall difficulty that ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ does since relational cognition dominates in the former which explicit being-based cognition dominates in the latter.
The take-away is that ‘being-based’ reality that is popular in Western culture is abstraction that departs from the relational reality of our actual physical experience and this leads to ‘incoherence’ in the social dynamic as noted by Bohm.
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“Die philosophie ist ein Kampf gegen die Verhexung unseres Verstandes durch die Mittel unserer Sprache” – Philosophische Untersuchungen, 109 [Philosophy is a struggle against the bewitching of our understanding through the medium of language].
The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth
The named is the mother of myriad things