15 April 1997
The Third Twist
Self-reference and Territorializing the Map
- / -
One approach to description of DNA is as a "coiled, coiled coil".
The challenges to personal identity and meaningful thrival in an information
overloaded society might then be explored in terms of the need for an extra
conceptual "twist" that would "lock-in" a higher order
of significance and coherence. Framed in this way, current approaches could
then be usefully seen as "one coil too few" to carry the levels
of insight appropriate to thrival and associated behaviour. The following
paragraphs explore how these possibilities might become comprehensible.
It has become acceptable to recognize that the perceiver may affect what is
seen. This may result from how what is seen is framed culturally or through
previous personal experience. Physics has gone further in exploring how the
observer may affect the perceived results of experiments. The relation between
the knower and the known thus continues to be a subject of active inquiry. The
concern here is that this exploration may usefully be taken a step further,
if only as a thought experiment.
It is assumed here that the complexities of the real world are such that the
human mind has to deploy very ingenious strategies to deal with it. One such
strategy might then be to cluster phenomena into entities with characteristic
behaviours. Once an enttity is identified in this way, it may be labelled and
subsequent instances of it can then be handled in the light of more or less
predictable behaviours. A form of this technique is used in object-oriented
computer programming languages. It would be argued here that this technique
acquires credibility precisely because it has long been developed by the mind
for other purposes.
The question that may then be asked is whether all phenomena detected, recognized
and labelled in this way by a mind, are effectively memory devices or hooks.
Understood from this perspective, the complexities of experience are bundled
and externalized so that they do not overload immediate experience of the present
moment. The technique succeeds by polarizing experience into inner and outer,
and then "exporting" as much as possible into the outer domain so
that it can be dealt with only when absolutely necessary -- a "fire-fighting"
approach to management of personal reality. This exporting process involves
reification and de-sensitization. In its most obvious and dramatic form, individuals
can be reified and treated as objects -- with well-remarked consequences in
conflict and human rights situations.
The focus here is on the possibility that the natural environment experienced
by an individual is effectively an externalized representation of a reality-in-flux
that is too complex for an individual to handle as a coherent whole. It is convenient
to have something like an "elephant" as a memory hanger for a whole
cluster of experiences that it is then no longer necessary to encounter in their
immediate significance. This memory surrogate can then be permitted to inhabit
an external space, holding that memory "outside" the individual, who
is then able to free up limited memory capacity for concerns judged to be more
immediate. In computer terms this might be described as avoiding the need to
deal with elephant-related information in direct access memory -- instead it
is held in external memory, possibly only accessible by special procedures.
Since "direct access memory" may be judged a limited and necessarily
precious resource, this procedure is very effective. The capacity of attention
and attention-span can be seen as associated with such direct access memory.
Framed along these lines, the question then becomes how one might otherwise
relate to external phenomena such as plants and animals that one is effectively
using as memory carriers. What tasks have they effectively been delegated to
perform? What experiential reality are they effectively carrying? What has one
effectively embedded into them? What are they embodying that one finds it convenient
not to experience as an immediate reality?
The whole environment known to an individual is in this way usefully understood
as a memory bank. The difficulty is that accessing the reality associated with
any feature of the environment is not straight forward. That reality was locked
into a labelled phenomena by the individual (and a culture) precisely because
of the inconvenience of the challenge that it represented. Dealing with that
reality -- encountering it in its fullness -- is challenging and demanding upon
"direct access memory"