Challenges to Comprehension Implied by the Logo
of Laetus in Praesens
Laetus in Praesens Alternative view of segmented documents via Kairos

15 April 1997

The Third Twist

Self-reference and Territorializing the Map

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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"

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