Media/Pop


Perhaps we could democratise not the jobs of authority (let them be done by competent people), but the selection of the sacred texts and objects.  I want to vote for the the Ghent Altar.  Media and screens as channels of engagement with the objects of veneration could become the sacred objects.  People might develop variants of potter’s nod, which would look remarkably like the bobbing found in prayer.  Let everyone’s world be real, might be our slogan.

On the outer panels of the altar, there are four figures in one row: the flanks are the patrons, all fleshy, very very real and present.  The middle two are saints and they are paintings of statues.  Representations of representations.  Because they are above mere humans in the neo-Platonic hierarchy, you cannot see them, which would be to be in their presence.  You must content yourself thus with a representation.

In stuffing knowledge into heads, we mischaracterise everything. Here is a nice illustration. This is one of the first moving pictures every shown, having among the suite of 10 films commercially screened by the Lumiere brothers in Paris in 1895.

Given the novelty of the technology, and the age of the child, we would confidently assert that the child does not know or understand that it is being filmed, and so we might attribute its motions or behaviour to itself alone.

But the child is embedded in a social situation that includes two caregivers, and it is responding sensitively to each and every thing they do. They know about the filming, and they are greatly affected by it. So the child’s behaviour is equally affected. Knowledge lies between us, not in heads.

It takes little effort to extrapolate from this to the laboratory of the behavioural psychologist.

The pharasaic artform, the resonator, is the experiential equivalent of the Newtonian three-ball problem.  There are three media elements.  Any two together will lend itself to the creation of a simple narrative.  But three at once, with no actual connection between them, becomes entirely unpredictable.  As you try to see the whole thing, to frame it in your view finder, and exert maximal grip, it defies a predictive analysis.  Micro-fluctuations become amplified, symmetry is broken by a random event one level down.  This lightweight structure, where meaning arises without effort, this is you-here-now-awareness-attention.  It is a tool, designed like a mantra.  And it must be allowed to run for at least 30 seconds.  Otherwise, that ain’t part of the game.

The earworm phenomenon has fascinated me for years.  Why is our language of experience so impoverished that we can not even describe this thing?  To me it provides a very familiar example that highlights some conceptual distinctions not generally accepted.

One can distance one’s self from the tune in the head, by observing it, perhaps with annoyance.  Now it is a thing.  It is not hugely different from a teapot, which is out there in the world.  It can thus be apportioned to von Uexküll’s Merkwelt.

But it often is going on without being observed.  During such times, it may cause you to “spontaneously” break out into a hum or a whistle.  At such times, it is rather part of the “Wirkwelt”, and if we speak of it as a thing at all, it seems more clearly to belong to the subject.

It shares many properties in common with the kind of thought that we recognize as linguistic, or inner speech.  We describe thinking as an activity of the subject, but thoughts also come unbidden, and one can adopt a similarly dichotomous stance with respect to such thoughts. When viewing it as a thing, it is sometimes called an “occurrent thought”.  When ‘doing’ it, that seems odd.  But the difference is one of the stance we take towards it.

Merleau-Ponty, along with Wittgenstein and Sheets-Johnstone, insists that speech is not the clothes of thought, but is thought incarnate.

“The word and speech must somehow cease to be a way of designating things or thoughts, and become the presence of that thought in the phenomenal world, and, moreover, not its clothing but its token or body” (Merleau-Ponty, P of P, p. 182)

“Movement is not a medium by which thoughts emerge but rather, the thoughts themselves, significations in the flesh, so to speak” (MSJ, Thinking in Movement, p. 400)

“When I think in language, there aren’t ‘meanings’ going through my mind in addition to the verbal expression” (LW, PI, p. 107)

When we regard speech as an inner voice, we are viewing it in the Merkwelt.  When we simply think, it is all Wirkwelt.  It is to the latter that the above quotes pertain.  But I think we can learn to develop a technical language that acknowledges both facets of experience.  This is not dissimilar in spirit to William James’s notion of experience as an intersection of two lines – one the lived world of the subject, the other the conventional ontic world of teapots and tables.

The search for agency within the enactive movement is nothing more or less than an attempt to find a basis for “we”.  It is a search for that with which one identifies.  The mistake of trying to ground it in a “we” made up of individual human animals is a problem.  Agency lies wherever you shine the light.  The agency of a dyad is real.

Furthermore, once one has chosen to identify a given domain as agentive, one creates a blindspot.  Behind that, we must explain with non-observable constructs, like the shallow tinker toys of mechanistic psychology.

So much blood and ink has been spilt trying to bridge the gap between something called mind and something called world. The gap I seek to bridge is instead between something called experience and something called language. This we can do. And with that the game is won.

I wish to draw out the waves in wheat fields idea somewhat more.  To me it is obvious at first glance what is meant.  But thinking the analogy through demands being explicit about a number of tricky issues, including the borders of the P-world (not a simple spatiotemporal bubble!) and the way in which the chair I meet in immediate experience is *both* collectively constituted, thus everyone’s chair, and entirely mine and mine alone.

This might be most fruitfully done within the book, when the P-world concept is first mooted, or shortly thereafter.

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