Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Compassion and the (a priori) Imagination: Thinking Creatively About People Who Piss You Off

So, this post inspired by three or so things. First, I read This is Water: Some Thoughts Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life by David Foster Wallace. Second, my mom always talked to me about driving and getting angry at people and giving them the benefit of the doubt. Third, these two ideas clicked and popped together while I was driving back from New York.

So, Foster Wallace. This is Water was a a commencement speech he gave at Kenyon College in 2005. Opening didactic joke: Two young fish are swimming along and they hapen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says' Morning boys. How's the water?' one fish looks at the other fish and says 'What the hell is water?' Basic point being that the things that are most familiar to us, and facilitate our actions the most often slip beneath our awareness.

When applied to humans, Foster Wallace is mainly referring to people's tendency to find their own subjective reality so totally absorbing that we fail to consider other people's points of view. He uses the example of being tired and having to go to the grocery store, and having thoughts like 'Why are all these people in my way? Why are they so stupid and can't just keep their carts to the side and let me get by? I just need to get this food and get home because I am going to flip out.' Or being in traffic and blaming people in similar ways, 'Why is this giant SUV in my way? Why do they have to buy such a stupid car, taking up so much room. BEING IN MY WAY! WHY CAN'T I JUST GET HOME BUT THESE PEOPLE ARE IN MY WAY!" So, the basic idea is that it is really easy to just get frustrated and tired and absorbed with your own life to the point that you don't even consider they way other people are thinking.

He gives a few counter-examples that are useful. What if those people in the grocery store are equally tired, and they are yelling at their kids because they have been up for the last three nights at the hospital with their spouse who is dying of cancer. Or maybe the people in traffic are having a heart attack, or they are having a baby, and you are in their way. Most days I am sure it is the case that other people are having a far harder time than I am. Most likely a lot of people are having terrible things happen to them. It is up to me to exercise a little bit of control over what I think about and how I think about it.

He says that this is the task of a liberal arts education. Not to teach you how to think, as is often said. But to teach you to exercise a little choice about how and what you think about. Cause it is very easy to think and judge without choosing. It comes naturally, at least for Foster Wallace, and for me too. It's easy to just rip people apart and treat them like they are interfering with your immediate goals and frustrations. So it is up to us to extend our minds, to force them outside of our own immediacy, to challenge ourselves to imagine that someone somehow has circumstances that however difficult, or however complex, that it justifies their behavior and allows us to forgive them in a certain sense. Someone cuts us off in traffic, imagine that they are having a really hard time at work or at home, or whatever. But that sort of deliberate, imaginative compassion might allow us a bit more peace than condemning them.

Part of me has this idea, that when we imagine that someone has offended us because they are stupid, lazy, or something else negative like that, we are somehow damaging our own minds. Think of it like this: in order for us to attribute stupidity to another person we have to go through the process of imagining how it is that someone could behave that way (block the aisles, drive poorly) based on stupidity, ignorance, carelessness, etc. Now, I have read experiments where they have individuals imagine either the mind of their favorite professor or the mind of a soccer hooligan. Then they ask people to write whatever thoughts come out as they attempt to imagine these other minds. Then a general intelligence test is given, and it shows that those people who imagined their professors mind performed better while those imagining hooligans did worse. The conclusion drawn: imagining intelligent minds can make you more intelligent. Interesting idea, it conforms with many other things I think, and if I ever post my enormous long essay, then you will see that I am trying to explore this and other ideas in depth.

Now, when it comes to imagining explanations for other people's behavior, couldn't something similar be happening? When we imagine that a person has gotten in our way based on stupidity, or based on anger, or based on ignorance, aren't we forcing our minds to occupy a space that is saturated in that negativity? And aren't we therefore bathing our minds in that negativity? Aren't we forcing our mind to become a mind that it hates? This goes back to a major question: is it possible to understand another person's mental state (or believe we have understood another person's mental state) without internally imagining/simulating that frame of mind for ourselves? This all hinges on mirror neurons, and, again, is discussed at length in this huge post I am still working on.

So, my answer as of now: to have any understanding/explanation of another person's mental state we have to imagine and simulate that mental state that we are ascribing to that person for ourselves. So, while on the road or in a grocery store, and we see something that offends us, and we ascribe it to stupidity or something else negative, we are forcing our mind to enter that space. We are forcing our mind to enter a space where stupidity and ignorance govern behavior, and I doubt that we can imagine those things without somehow exposing our own mind/brain to traces of it.

So, then, this whole process of imaginative compassion can have two benefits. 1. It will allow us to behave more compassionately towards others, we can forgive mistakes more easily. This will improve our stance towards humanity in general. Cause it is hard when, in your mind, everyone is stupid and your enemy. But this way people will all be an ally of sorts, every mistake becomes an exercise in identification. We are all dealing with the painful monotony that is modern life, we are all frustrated and trying to get home, we are all tired of standing here surrounded by each other. And maybe that makes it okay somehow. We can have a sort of general identification with every mistake and short coming we see in other people.

And 2. by exercising this sort of imaginative compassion for others, we are deliberately creating the more general space of our mind. We are creating a mental space in which we exist as people inclined towards forgiveness. We are setting the default modes of our own thought. I guess that is what Foster Wallace means about saying 'this is water, this is water, this is water.' We have to remember that we have the ability to glide through our every day thoughts and actions totally without reflection. It is easy to operate on autopilot. And, unfortunately, autopilot often turns out to be self-absorption and a lack of imaginative compassion.

So, the liberal arts education, it can sensitize us to our own mental workings. Can make us aware that we are ascribing meaning to the world. I haven't really mentioned this yet, but Foster Wallace talks about it. We sit around trying to ascribe meaning to a novel, only to find that we can do it in a plethora of ways. It teaches us to recognize our mind's ability to plaster meaning all over the world, to create it from raw experience and evidence that isn't conclusive. Similarly, when someone swerves on the highway, or blocks the aisle at the grocery store, we only have evidence. We have one action, and somehow our mind takes that as a way to write off a person as a whole. 'What an idiot' 'Aren't they paying attention?' etc. But if we can start to monitor our minds we will recognize that maybe we can start exercising a little more choice over how we think about these things.

It interests me as the idea of cultivating an imagination, and starting to direct that imagination towards ourselves. Ask ourselves how we are thinking and why we are thinking about it in that way. Then imagine that you are wrong. Imagine that other people are also struggling with life and we need to give them a break, so that we can give ourselves a break. Life is hard, and we should imagine that other people are trying hard too. Even if it is only for the sake of our own mind, and the pain that we expose our own imagination to, we should try to imagine circumstances that somehow let us forgive people for what we see as their mistakes, or their offenses to our existence, or to the world.

So, I mentioned my mom at the beginning of this post. Because she always basically said the same thing Foster Wallace says. I am happy that Foster Wallace uses driving and the grocery store as his main examples. They are so common, and they are always what my mom talked about. Don't honk at people to say f you. Don't flip people off. You have no idea what is going on in their lives. They may have a dying mother. They may have dying children. They may be contemplating suicide. They may have blah blah blah blah. You shouldn't assume that people are stupid.

But as I have learned a little through experience, a little through observation, and a little from Foster Wallace, it is very to easy to slip back into a default mode where you forget what water is. Where you forget that your immediate reality is not the only thing out there. Where you forget that other people are hurting too, and you might be in their way, and not the other way around.

So it pleases me to reflect on how my mom always told me that. And how Foster Wallace makes a general connection between this idea and the liberal education. And I feel like I have a connection to make between all of this and the imagination. In particular, I would like to talk briefly about the idea of the 'a priori imagination.'

The a priori imagination is R.G. Collingwood's idea. His writing on it: the connection between fiction and history. Often novelists will say they don't really feel like they wrote the end of their novel, or any part of it maybe. They have merely created characters and put them in certain circumstances, and the way these characters behave isn't really something they have created but just the way it unfolded in their imagination. In this sense, the imagination isn't something that we make happen deliberately, but it is the part of our brain that presents us with imaginative sequences or possibilities. We don't force it, we guide it, but the imaginative process is beyond our direct control and therefore has an a priori element to it. It just happens. Collingwood says that it can be similar with historians. That they don't rationally construct the narrative of history, but their knowledge of the individuals and the era under study just coalesce into a sense of what happened, and it is unpacked and elaborated by the a priori imagination. In short, in the context of both fiction and history, the imagination is often beyond direct control, and exists in our mind as a sort of presentation, a production from something else, an unfolding of events and images in our mind. Basically, the imagination just happens, we can guide it, but its musings follow its own logic.

So, my question: what if this default mode, this being absorbed with ourselves, of writing other people off as stupid, is a function of an a priori imagination that we aren't quite aware of. When we blame these people for their actions, it seems so natural, it seems so easy to attribute it to stupidity that we wouldn't even regard it as an imaginative process. It just seems like the logical conclusion. But we aren't scientists. Are brains don't work through deduction. They work through imagination and internal simulation (mirroring, look up mirror neurons). So, I bet that the process of ascribing meanings to others actions that it always involves the imagination. It is always about the internal simulation of another perspective, and that is what allows us to ascribe a value judgment to it. But it is just that the a priori imagination operates so below the radar that we don't even realize that we are imagining another person's perspective.

So, the task, then, as Foster Wallace says, is to start exercising control over what we think about, and how we are thinking about it. So in this case, it means diverting our mind from negative value judgments towards a more (deliberately) imaginative frame of mind that lets us think that perhaps this behavior is justified, or at the very least forgivable. We have to force ourselves to imagine that maybe these people are having a much harder life than me. Perhaps these people hate their life and I should cut them some slack. Foster Wallace talks about how hard it is to do that, and that some days it is just too hard. You are just too stressed or too tired.

But one thought: what if we force our brain's to enter this more calm frame of mind so frequently that we begin to make this our default way of thinking about it, what if we can change the water we swim in, so to speak, what if we can modify the a priori imagination?

This book I am reading right now The Mind & The Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force. Is making a very relevant argument. This guy, J.M. Schwartz, focuses on people with OCD, and how repeated acts of deliberate thought, reconceptualizing, and redirecting thought can overcome the malfunctioning neural connections associated with OCD. Basically, with OCD people's brains have become locked into a certain path of neural networks. Neural connections become strengthened when they are used over and over again, so you can literally become 'rutted' in the way that you think. But Schwartz claims that by consistently redirecting their thoughts when they feel a compulsive urge, forcing yourself to work in the garden or sow every time you get a compulsive urge, you can reshape the way in which your brains neural connections work. You would be strengthening to the connections associated with sowing, a 'healthy' activity, while weakening the connections associated with washing or whatever, the 'unhealthy' activity. So, with mental effort, with deliberate thinking or will power, you can change the default settings of your mind, you can physically restructure the way that the brain works.

I haven't finished the book yet, but it seems like the connections are already obvious at this point. He says he thinks the book sheds light on the mind/brain issue in general, and has applications beyond OCD. So here seems like an obvious one. If we can consistently force our brains to imagine situations/circumstances that would allow us to forgive people when they make us angry, then we would be able to reconfigure the way our brain begins to respond to these situations in general. Assuming that the mind has something like an a priori imagination, that our mind automatically produces imaginative explanations for other people's behavior, and that the easiest a priori imagination to have is a self centered and unforgiving one, then we can and should start putting in a little bit of work into shaping the way our brain works on a pre-reflective level. We have to start calling into question our default assumptions and start placing them in a more deliberately imaginative forgiving space, then perhaps, over time, our brains will start to occupy this more forgiving space as a default.

This would involve a good deal of vigilance, though. It is so easy to slip into an unreflective state of mind where we become absorbed with our reality, and tend to condemn more easily than we forgive. So, two things. First, Schwartz is very concerned with the Buddhist idea of mindfulness. He talks about a term 'bare attention,' where we just accept all incoming information in a process of calm observation. Focusing on your breathing, one breath in and out, thoughts come and go, and we don't chase them, we don't do anything with them. Reality just sort of flows and comes. But there is also a sort of mental note taking, but you just acknowledge things as they come. Umm, so what does this have to do with self vigilance? I'm not sure really. I guess, it is an intense awareness that also comes with an intense peace of sorts. So I guess this would be the end result of a self-critical process. You would gain an understanding of yourself that would allow you to be in a very self aware frame of mind pretty consistently. My ideas on this don't make sense to me, but I'll finish this book, and I need to start reading more stuff that is explicitly on Buddhism.

The second thing that I think of when I think about this self critical crafting of the a priori imagination, the deliberate creation of our default mindsets, is Foucault and the care of the self. Not the book the care of the self (Volume III history of sexuality), but just the general theme that ran through a lot of ancient philosophy. I started reading The Hermeneutics of the Subject, his lectures at College de France in 1981-82. Also, pretty much all of Volume II of the history of sexuality, The Use of Pleasure, is about practices/techniques of the self in ancient Greece. But the idea is that it is an idea that fell out of the mainstream of philosophical and political reflection. But that it is an idea that involves a life long critical stance towards the self, that is always about mastering yourself through the internalization of certain principles, an understanding of how to conduct yourself. Translating a moral code into ethical behavior. Constituting yourself as a moral subject of that knowledge. It is always about transforming yourself.

Foucault says that he thinks the major change that took place was how it is that subjects gained access to truth. He uses the idea of a 'Cartesian moment,' which he admits is a bad phrase. But this Cartesian moment is when the subject is able to gain access to truth from knowledge alone. For example, one I have scientific knowledge of the physical world, then I have accessed truth. He claims this is in stark contrast to how the ancient idea of the care of the self framed the relationship between the subject and truth. For those involved in the philosophy of the care of the self, the subject's access to truth always depended on the transformation of the subject. You always had to somehow change yourself, engage in a process that would enable you to achieve a greater understanding. It wasn't that knowledge was out there in the world waiting to be discovered, but that you had to transform yourself into someone who was capable of exercising greater control over yourself, forcing yourself to become someone who is capable of understanding truth. Hmm, so I mean, very generally, I dig this idea of the care of the self a lot. I mentioned it in my last post in relation to the internalization of logos. This idea is very closely related. The a priori imagination, I mean.

So, my concern here: thinking of a way to craft your unconscious imaginative thoughts into a generally more forgiving default frame of mind.
Neuroplasticity: If you can deliberately force your mind to enter different perspectives, more forgiving ones, for example, then your mind can eventually reconfigure its neural connections and function that way on a more regular basis.
Foucault and care of the self: The care of the self is a life long process that is about ascetic ideals that would result in the internalization of certain rules of conduct that would transform into a sort of conscience. We would become so familiar with our ideals of conduct that they would become part of our unconscious thought processes.

So these three things, Foster Wallace and shaping our defaults, neuroplasticity and deliberately rewiring our brains, Foucault and the care of the self, seem like they all contribute to this idea. That we need to somehow overcome our daily default perspectives that tend to be harsh, so we can achieve a new and more balanced view of ourselves and others. That it is possible to reconfigure default brain settings, proving that we can exert mental force to shape the way our brains will function on an unconscious level. And that there are philosophical ideas about how it is that caring for yourself can involve the modification of the unconscious through deliberate mental training.

I think I should write a post on a few things. 1. the moral code that we are attempting to internalize, does it exist? how can we build it or refine it? how can we apply it? what does it have to do with the idea of simulation? can simulation be a way to apply it? is it something like expanding the empathetic palette? would that involve memory and personal reenactment? would that involve an intuitive theory? does the a priori imagination involve something like an intuitive theory? Steven Pinker and innate concepts? Ummm, these are questions for later I lost track of my thoughts a minute ago.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Neuroscience, Funding, and The Centrality of the Military (to everything).

Now this post was inspired by an article that my mom sent me. It's called: Neuroscientists Don't Believe in Souls--But That Doesn't Mean They Can't Sell Theirs
and here is a link http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=neuroscientists-dont-believe-in-sou-2010-03-24

A brief and interesting article with a sassy title.

General idea: the neurosciences have the potential to solve some of the worlds biggest medical and philosophical mysteries.

Two issues for this author: 1. the growing trendiness of neurosciences and their promises to improve brain function, memory, etc. and 2. the growing relationship between military funding and neuroscience research.

Now I also find the neurosciences pretty fascinating and it seems like they have a lot to offer in terms of substantiating philosophical ideas about the mind, education styles, etc. In particular the idea that we can shape the way our brains function through deliberate mental exercises or through general or specific education. For me this idea always comes back to the idea that we are modifying the way our brains work on an unconscious level, and that we are deliberately crafting an intuitive world view. The book I am reading now, The Mind and The Brain, talks a fair amount about the Buddhist idea of mindfulness. A frame of mind in which you are fully present, viewing yourself and the outside world for what it really is. This author associates mindfulness with a sort of intuitive approach; the ability to just be somewhere and pay attention to whatever is happening. Ummm, so I am very curious about how we can legitimate these ideas with neuroscience and teach people to feel like they can exercise more personal judgment, so that people feel like they are capable of entering a peaceful frame of mind where they trust themselves and can just do whatever they need to do. Or don't need to do. I'm not sure what I'm saying here. But it's about cultivating peace and intuition.

So the issues with neuroscience. The danger of them becoming trendy and diluted through marketing and a folk/pseudoscientific application. The one thing the article talks about that seems curious is something he calls 'neurobics.' He specifically refers to a company called Posit Science that has invented a software that claims to exercise your neural pathways in a way that improves thinking, memory, and reaction time. I just looked at the site and they actually sell specific software packages for different skills. One for memory, one for focusing, and one for driving. The site claims it is clinically proven, but I don't feel like pursuing that to see if it's true. But the author of the article seems skeptical of the programs and says: "There is no solid evidence that these brain-fitness devices exercise the brain more than, say, playing Texas Hold ‘Em with buddies or even taking a brisk walk, which you can do for free, a Scientific American review of “brain games” concluded last year." I find it interesting that he compares it to 1. a poker game and 2. a walk. Just cause those are very different activities, both of which would do different things for your brain. Poker, social skills, thinking like other people/empathizing. A walk would probably encourage day dreaming, which is usually good form having new ideas or making connections between things you know. Letting your mind wander is good, things happen to your brain when you day dream that make you more likely to make new neural connections(i.e. have new ideas).

So anyways, I also feel a little bit skeptical of the idea that somehow solve all the problems of the mind, or explain it away. And it would be bad if a branch of pop neuroscience came out and offered itself as a flimsy quick fix sort of thing. I guess the author of the article is concerned that these software programs are putting the neurosciences in this position. Positing them as a panacea for mental problems.

I guess I feel most curious about them as a way to develop a new vocabulary. They seem like they can substantiate some new ways of thinking about the mind, or the brain. On the website of that company Posit Science they say that knowing about how your brain works can help you learn and think in different/better ways. I wonder if that is true. It seems like it might. Having new ways of talking and thinking about the way the brain works might allow us to think about our own behavior in different ways. If we know, for example, that the emotional brain exerts more influence than the rational parts of the brain, then this might bring a little balance to how we think about our own emotions and ability to act rationally. It might free us a little bit from the idea that we should be fully self controlled people. I mean, self control is important and is definitely something very real, but we could at the very least treat our emotions as something worthwhile that we need to take the time to understand. It seems like people in the neurosciences are taking these philosophical questions seriously, and that philosophers are paying attention to the neurosciences. So, I feel hopeful that they won't end up being a flimsy idea that doesn't lead anywhere, or gets transformed into a pop cultural thing.

The authors other concern, the military's interest in neuroscience, however, seems like a much more difficult problem to think about. So the military is interested in the neurosciences for a few different reasons it seems. To help train their soldiers better. Probably by exploring how the brain is affected by combat experience, how they can adapt their educational techniques to fit these new understandings of the brain. One thing I know they are curious about is how experience is able to communicate things about combat that formal courses or language couldn't offer to students. So there is an interest in things like simulation and synthetic experience in the military. They have a huge base out in middle America somewhere where hundreds of thousands of people physically reenact the situations that foot soldiers will encounter in Iraq or Afghanistan. The article also mentions the possibility of placing a chip in a soldier's brain that will perfectly record their memory and combat experiences, probably so they could have direct evidence of battle situations, because oral accounts of stressful experiences can be so unreliable. Article also mentions their interest in developing weapons that could interfere with the brains of enemy soldiers. Very odd. But anyways, onward. The author is mainly concerned with the amount of funding that will be getting from the military. He doesn't want all the research to turn in the direction of military technology. I couldn't all turn that way, but he doesn't want to see it get too big.

This makes me think about three things related to the military 1. How central it is to the state and how that means it will be a large source of funding. 2. How it is that many of the insights and advancements made in military technology/ideas/whatever are of a more general nature and have an application in society. 3. How it is that the military can begin to think of itself as a much more 'general' institution, and potentially work to spread its advancements to the whole of society; or perhaps how it is that they are unwilling to do that.

So in undergrad I studied history and my concentration was military history. Mainly because I met Jon Sumida and thought him the only professor who was really wrecking my mind. But anyways, I then started taking classes in the military sociology department at UMD. So, I got a fair amount of education and reading on the military done. Overall, I became convinced that the military is an institution that is pretty much essential to the functioning of all modern states. Almost all political happenings rest on the implicit threat of military force. Clausewitz's most famous line: 'war is the continuation of politics by other means.' All politics rest on the possibility of war. Foucault inverted this phrase: 'politics is the continuation of war by other means.' He was trying to figure out how it is that relations of power function in society. Foucault basically says that everything that involves relationships of power, which is pretty much everything, can be considered political. So I mean this seems to suggest that almost all of civilized existence as we know it depends on our ability to resort to physical force. All civil interactions come down to the fact that they can be enforced through violence? I'm not sure. But here is a thought I had in a lobby once. Suppose someone were to come up from me and take my ipod out of my hand and refused to give it back. At some point it would have to come down to physical force. I would have to call cops, fight him for it, do something. I am making this case lazily, but, it seems that all civilized life comes down to the idea that physical force is regulated within society, but that it can always be reverted to. So, I mean, the establishment of society coincides with the development of reliable militaries and police forces, so, I mean, that seems like something. So it just seems like society and violent control can be separated. Also, the bulk of government spending historically and presently has been on military forces. So I guess this ties in to all the neuroscience stuff because we can't avoid having the military funding sciences and looking into things because it has such a central role in all of civilized life.

But I find one thing very curious about military studies. A lot of the lessons drawn from military history, sociology, or technology are of a much wider import than it would seem. They apply to all sorts of parts of life, not just military performance. In terms of history, my old professor Sumida has a quote I really like, 'war is like peace, only much more so.' Basically meaning that the intense circumstances of war are comparable to the conditions of peace, intensity being the major difference. In war people are making very difficult decisions with too many factors to handle rationally and with extreme contingencies and possible results. So decision making in war, I hear, comes down to mostly intuition. No time to focus, too many things to consider, information too incomplete. Soldiers and commanders just have to rely on their experience to make hard decisions. One idea is that studying history can stand in for experience in case there is a long peace, or a lack of experience somehow. So when the military is asking questions like: how can we improve people's ability to make difficult decisions intuitively? how can we use history and other things the replicate the effects of experience? how can sociology help us understand how people make difficult decisions, or how can neuroscience help us understand how to train people? it seems like we could apply these answers to lots of people's lives. All of us are making hard decisions that will have serious outcomes and we have no idea what it is going to lead to or if what we do is right. So in terms of what the military is trying to improve, or what they are trying to overcome when they get involved in the humanities, social sciences, or neuroscience, are things that we can learn from. It is unfortunate, however, that it is typically aimed at killing people better. But again, it seems like the existence of the state depends on the existence of the military.

The idea of technological improvements and the military also go together but I don't want to talk about that much. But most of the great technologies I love and live with seem to have come about because of war. WWII forced a lot of technologies to be developed that we use now. Radar, good radio communication, internet. All sorts of things. War, it makes people invent things pretty rapidly.

But lastly I just want to talk about how it seems like it would be difficult to get the military to recognize itself as an institution that is central to society. In America especially, it seems like we are pretty isolated from what the military does. Wars are happening, sure, and it came to the states sometimes, but the all volunteer military means most of us don't have to do anything for it. What if there was something like state service? Not military necessarily, but some form of mandatory state service. Might be curious. Might make sure the military were acting in the people's best interests somehow. Maybe I am just making that up I am not really sure. But what I am really thinking about is whether it would be good to just exist as some sort of intellectual or technological leach on the military, or whether it would be possible for the military to be interested in developing technologies or techniques or ideas of a more general nature. But that doesn't seem to be possible. They have highly specific purposes and that is what they deal with it seems.

So how to overcome the fact that the military is at the heart of technological development and in particular the funding aspect. I'm not sure. Interact with the military I guess might be a good answer. But that is probably challenging to break into that field. But maybe not. Who knows.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Reading and getting confused; Foucault and Neuroplasticity

So I got back to College Park on the 24th and have been hanging out. There was a birthday celebration for my sister today. That was a good time everyone enjoyed themselves. I've been reading a few things and am not sure exactly what I am going to read next.

I finished reading The Order of Things two days ago. I was happy to get through that because it was very long and pretty difficult. Definitely worthwhile but it is difficult to spend a lot of time on a long and hard book. But overall I feel like I am starting to get a grip on what is going on. Transformations that took place in the organization of languages and how that gives rise to new ways of classifying the world. I don't feel like I can or want to give a long explication.

I started a book called The Mind & The Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force. The basic idea being that we can use deliberate ways of thinking to restructure the way that our brain starts to work all the time. The author, Jeffrey M. Schwartz, is a specialist on OCD and was interested in finding forms of treatment that weren't grounded in the behavioral school. He says in the 80s they were forcing people to encounter their fears in order to cure their OCD. For example, make germaphobes touch dirty toilet seats, other things like that. He wanted to find a cure that was more focused on the ability of the will to overcome OCD. He is very against the idea that the brain's biochemical processes somehow mean that humans are biologically determined. I suppose this was probably a hot idea when he was first in medical school or getting into the neurosciences.

But either way, he is trying to discover a way in which the brain can possibly give rise to the mind and the power of free will. Thoughts on free will are always complicated and difficult and interesting. But I am not very far into this book and don't really know what he is going to say. But it seems like he had some success with these will based treatments.

General thoughts: I think it is very interesting to think about how the brain can be shaped by deliberate and specific thinking. In particular I am curious about how the brain is capable of imagining something that could replicate the effects of experience. How the imagination can study history or literature and synthesize experience through reading and imagining and reflecting. So this book is sorta going in that general direction. That general theme is definitely guiding it so I am curious about that.

I feel like I have a few more elaborate posts in mind. Two actually. But I just wanted to make a small more general post about what I was reading and thinking. I will get to work on these larger posts at some point. But I think it might be nice to just bounce ideas around about daily reading.

I was also looking at a book I got called The Final Foucault. Funny title. But it is a translation of an interview he gave six months before he died and then a collection of essays tackling different bits of the interview and the rest of his work. The interview is called 'the ethic of care for the self as a practice of freedom.' The idea of 'practices of the self' is central to The Use of Pleasure, volume II of the history of sexuality. So this interview focuses mainly on how it is that certain practices/techniques of the self allow an individual to exercise freedom in an ethical way.

But there is one thing in particular that i find curious, especially in relation to the idea of neuroplasticity. Basically, any technique/practice of the self is enabled by a specific form of knowledge, a certain philosophical code, set of political views, or religious beliefs. For the ancient Greeks it was a set of philosophical precepts. But the interesting things is that they recognized that most of our behavior happens before we have time to reflect, so this code would need to function in the mind on an unconscious level. So Plutarch, for example, said "You must have learned principles so firmly that when your desires, your appetites or your fears awaken like barking dogs, the logos will speak with the voice of a master who silences the dogs by a single command." Foucault says "You have there the idea of a logos who would operate n some way without you doing anything. You will have become the logos or the logos will have become you."(6).

So this is clearly talking about integrating knowledge and understanding, that has been achieved rationally, so firmly into the mind that it becomes unconscious. There are other authors I like a lot who talk about that, Clausewitz, for example. But that sorta seems like that is what this whole book on neuroplasticity is going to be about. The mind's ability to transform the brain and change the way it works. I guess I associate the brain more with the unconscious. But either way, I think it is possible for 'the mind' or the intellect, or rationality, or reading, or whatever to call it, but thinking deliberately can change the way things work unconsciously. Sure, I think so, but probably with a lot of effort. Something like motivation but I don't like the idea of motivation very much. But sure.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Does this make sense?

My friend Rob showed me this David Foster Wallace quote: "The next real literary “rebels” in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point. Maybe that’s why they’ll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today’s risks are different. The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the “Oh how banal.” To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness. Of willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law. Who knows. "

To which I replied:

i consider myself an anti-rebel

and an anti-intellectual

despite my inclinations to disrupt the status quo of thought through intellectual endeavors

but that is the whole point.

END portion of online convo.

Thoughts:

I'm not sure if this makes sense. Or what I am getting at. But something is going on with my aversion to rebellion and intellectualism, and how I also want them in some way. I'm not sure. This is a thought to work with. And this post is just to capture this moment that I found curious. Rob identifies with this quote a lot, said it was about him. We will see what it means maybe in the future.

The End of my Visit to Putnam Valley, NY, and The Order of Things Revisited

So, tonight is the last night that I will be in Putnam Valley, NY. I am waking up tomorrow at 6:15 AM and will get this show on the road. It is about a five hour drive. I really enjoy the drive, actually. I listen to my music, I think about different things. It is very nice when my mind has time to just wander. And the car. What a great time to let the mind wander. I always end up thinking about all sorts of things. And I have made this drive to NY and back so many times that I can pretty much autopilot the whole thing. Seems like the weather might be nice enough to let me drive with my windows down. That will be nice.

So, I originally came to PV to accomplish a couple of things. First and foremost, relax and escape College Park for a little while. I definitely accomplished that goal. Second, I wanted to expand a paper I had written at the end of undergrad from 7 pages to 30 pages. I also accomplished that goal and I feel very pleased with myself. The paper was for a class called 'Science and Literature in the nineteenth century.' Very nice young smart teacher. Very good class. I ended up writing a paper on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the teacher received it very well. I think it's the only A+ I got in undergrad. More importantly, she told me that if I expanded it I might be able to publish it. So that quickly became an ambition of mine. The paper is titled "Articulation and Ineffability: Science, Language, and Modern Identity in Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." It is essentially about the way that science/industrialism has given rise to a culture of articulation, a culture that favors words and reason over everything else. And how this culture of articulation began to dominate individual's identities, especially those involved in science etc. Furthermore, how an identity that is based entirely on things that can be articulated is bound to be inadequate, since 1. the mind is far too complex to be articulated to the level demanded by the sciences and 2. we are essentially animals, and clearly the bulk of our brain operates beyond the realm of language. In short, we value language way too much even though it is only one of our abilities, and humans have clearly existed without its help for the bulk of evolutionary history.

This is actually one of my favorite ideas. Period. I think about things like this all the time. Mainly because I have always been so damn emotional. Crying is easy. Feeling emotions is easy. Funny thing, I also have an intense inclination to articulate. WORDS WORDS WORDS. I love them. My best friend Rob once nicknamed me 'words man.' It was a very intense day, very weird experience. But that day put me firmly in touch with the ineffability of my life. How overwhelming and exciting perception is without the help of words. And how words are basically a desperate attempt to express the intensity and excitement of subjective experience. Words are nothing compared to experience. I don't suggest we give up on words. I just suggest we recognize that they fall short of the things that they are trying to communicate.

This doesn't mean that you can just give up by saying 'OH WELL I GUESS MY SUBJECTIVE EXPERIENCE IS JUST TOO DIFFICULT TO COMMUNICATE SO I WON'T EVEN TRY.' I reject that statement flat out, 100%. I reject it with gusto. I detest it.

Words can almost certainly provide a meaningful understanding of experience, especially one that can be personally useful, and more importantly, socially useful. When we use words we can open ourselves up to the minds and feelings of so many different people. That's why books are so very exciting. Don't you see what you can access? You can access so very much, the thoughts of so many people who are already dead. The thoughts and feelings of people you will never meet. The thoughts and feelings of things that your life could never give you.

Especially in America, and especially where I come from (Columbia, MD, a small isolated community often called the Columbubble), it is so important to extend yourself beyond your own views. And sure, traveling can do this too, and I have actually been quite taken aback/shook up/excited by all my recent traveling. But what if you want to experience things from the past? What is it that surreal fiction can provide us with? I have read some surreal fiction that has made me feel such strong emotions. They have made me so excited and worked up about things that aren't even real, or aren't even close to possible. But somehow it gives me a perspective beyond what I already know.

This is why metaphor and imagery are such exciting things. Soon I am gonna write a blog called "Using imagery to conceptualize a balanced view of freedom and determinism." Or some ridiculous title like that. But I do find imagery quite exciting. It opens us up to cross-modal associations, and lets our mind experience the same thought in different ways. OOOOOH. Yeah, I dig imagery and metaphor.

So, as for my reading of Michel Foucault's The Order of Things, I am close to finished with it. I have about 90 pages left. Given that the whole thing is 386, I feel good about being this close. Although I know the last 90 will also be a challenge. That is okay.

So, can I explicate these ideas with any accuracy? Let me try. The major question: How is it that certain forms of thought became possible? What happened that let people conceive of biology, philology, and economics? Clearly people did not just start paying more attention, they didn't just one day look more closely at the world and realize that this is how things were ordered. Nor was it just that certain individual geniuses came along and elevated thought to another level.

Foucault posits that modern thought enters the space of possibility because the systems of language that people had access to grew in complexity, and allowed them to think about things in other ways. In short, it was impossible for evolution to be discovered in the 16th century because people were still operating with a linguistic system that did not let that enter the space of possible thought. Language itself, it's growing complexity, and in particular it's relationship with representation and the sign facilitated the growth of modern disciplines.

Now, he has the whole book periodized into three chunks: the Renaissance period, the Classical period, and the Modern period. Renaissance is roughly 1400-1650. Classical is roughly 1650- 1775-1800, thereabouts. And the Modern period is roughly 1775-present.

What were the systems of language available to all these periods? Well, the Renaissance system of language was founded mainly on similitudes. All classification was about finding how different things related to one another, comparing faces to the stars, trees to humans, animals to water. Basically, everything could be compared to everything else in similar degrees. So, there basically exists an infinity of ways that things can be compared. Further, things were thought to have an essential nature. It is as if the natural world were a text being read, and we could literally uncover the words that everything contained within it. This allowed thought to exists of comparisons of essential natures that were infinitely related to one another. If language, order, and classification function in this way, then clearly it would be impossible for evolution, economics, biology, or philology to be conceived of. Those things all rest on a certain relationship with language, classification, and representation.

In the Classical period, we have the rise of representation. Things are thought no longer to have the words for them resting inside of them. Rather, men need to assign order to things for themselves. The growing complexity of language allows people to realize that they are in fact representing the world. The birth of discourse, I think he says, happens in this era. Because we are now presenting straight forward, elaborate, linear explications of the natural world. Representations of the world now only function in relation to other representations of the world. Meaning, I think, that it is impossible to talk about things without drawing on the ways in which other people have represented it. He talks a lot about representation representing itself as representation. Or something. I think that is what he means. Things have been discussed enough that representation takes on a life of its own, it becomes disassociated from the actual things it is discussing.

Now the Modern period, (I haven't finished the book and it ends with this section), as I understand so far, marks the age of History (with a capital H). Not history in terms of the mapping of past human affairs. But History in the sense that these disciplines are now aware that their own thinking has a historicity. He refers to the fact that philosophy becomes turned inward upon its own development. Meaning that men are no longer just philosophizing about the world, but they are discussing the historical development of their philosophical ideas. Philosophy becomes concerned with its own development, its own historicity. Just think about how we cant talk about any philosophy without thinking about it historically, without taking into account the already established discourses of the discipline. We can't philosophize anymore without considering the historicity of philosophy. Similarly, other disciplines are not able to function as autonomous from their own historicity. Those who study natural beings (biology), Labor (economics), and language (philology), are not longer able to consider their disciplines without noting the historical development of organic beings, individuals and their relationship to need and work, or the historical development of different languages.

I really don't have a grasp on what Foucault is saying about the Modern period yet. But like I said, I haven't finished the section/book yet. I will in the next few days.

I am still working on my huge post. "Simulation, Synthetic Experience, and Modifying the Unconscious: My Thoughts on History, Fiction, and Empathy in Light of Mirror Neurons." It is getting really long and weird for me. But, I think it is fairly coherent. And if you really really really want to know what I have been thinking about for the last 2-3 years (you mysterious, non-existent readers, you) then this upcoming post will give you a good idea. It is funny, cause it really is the synthesis of so many of the things I have been thinking about for quite a while. Exciting stuff. I hope to finish it soon. Maybe tomorrow. I have been working on it daily for the past 5 or 6 days or so.

Glad I started doing this more free flow posts while I prepared it though. Snap dizzle damn. Tomorrow I will drive back to Maryland. And the adventure that is life after college continues with more obscurity than ever before.

But I have some ideas. And I ain't scared.

Monday, March 22, 2010

My Very Long, Soon to be Posted Entry... and the thoughts that flowed after

So, I am currently preparing an entry that is gonna be about 20 pages long. It is actually an 'essay' I have been thinking of writing for about the last year and a half. But this blog turned out to be a fantastic forum for it. Mainly because I don't feel obliged to cite anything. Or follow any sort of academic standards of quoting or anything like that at all. So basically it is a big synthesis of a whole lot of things that I have been reading for the last 2-3 years. It has been very exciting writing it so far. I only have a few portions of it left to write. I am not sure if I am gonna edit it.

But moving on...

In preparing this very long post I have been consistently struck with the same thought. Is anyone actually going to read this? I sent this link to my mom, and to my aunt, and they both said they enjoyed watching me write. They know about lots of my ideas because I have talked to them about it. But that it was fun and different to see my follow my mind down certain paths. So, at the very least, I am happy that my family is looking at it and enjoying themselves.

But then I just sorta start fluttering in my own thoughts and i go balahhhahna. Just because it feels weird to be creating these extensive posts and putting them on the internet. It pleases me that it will always be there as a sort of archive for my thoughts that I can look back on whenever I want.

One time I washed two of my paper/pen notebooks within the same month. Funny, it was the notes from August 2009, a pretty insane month by pretty much all standards. Then I washed them and they were smeared and ruined. Some of it is still legible but mostly not. I had actually sorta enjoyed that fact. Seemed fitting. The month was an emotional fire storm and so the fact that the notes were obliterated is somehow appropriate.

Also, sometimes I think about the stacks of paper notebooks that I have filled up. How long they will last. When I will go back and read through them. I read through them every now and then and get re-familiarized with all of the things I was thinking in the past. This is actually what my next long post is going to be about - reenacting/reactivating thoughts that were expressed in the past. When I read what I wrote in the past sometimes I go 'Jesus, I sure was worked up then wasn't I?" or "That sure was a hard month, wasn't it?" But then I'm in a totally new frame of mind and so those past thoughts that were expressed serve as a way to modify my thoughts in that moment.

Cause it's not like I have some coherent identity. It's more like I go through phases of myself. The old versions of myself become encapsulated in the new versions of myself. Or, the old thoughts I express are reactivated and then become encapsulated in my present mind.

This is like R.G. Collingwood's idea. He says that when Plato is talking about 'the state' he is clearly not talking about the same idea that people talk about in the present moment. He is talking about one of the many incarnations that the idea of the state has gone through during history. So, he explains it like this: Say the idea of the state is represented by the letter S. Plato may have been talking about S1, but then history progresses and it becomes S2, S3, S4, S5, S6. So when Locke, or Obama, or whoever is talking about the state, they are talking about different versions of the same concept. They are all talking about S. But it is our task to determine which S they are talking about. Is it S1, S2, S3, S4, S5. Clearly, the numbers, 1-5 or however many, will never be clear, we can't periodize ideas that clearly. This is just a useful way of conceptualizing how it is that concepts evolve over time, and become more complex, yet retain their same general character. They go through phases. So say right now, in this day, we are dealing with S22, that level of development of the idea. When we read Plato we need to determine, which S is he talking about? Turns out he is talking about S5, and it is our task to encapsulate his understanding of S5 within our understanding of S22.

Same goes for my identity. Again, the numbers can never be determined, we can never periodize ourselves. But when I read something I wrote in the past, it as though I am dealing with RP6, or RP26, or RP35, or whatever, while in this moment I am RP55. But, I can bring those old thoughts of RP35 to life within the context of RP55. LOL.

I actually really enjoy thinking of myself in this way. As an ever morphing sort of thing. As a person who possesses continuity within dynamism. But if I had never written on this site, or had never written in my paper notebooks, then those older incarnations of my thought would be lost for good. Unless we can somehow consider memory adequate for reactivating past thoughts. But I am skeptical of that. Memory might be useful in terms of mental exercises, or as a form of fantastic simulation/reenactment (to be discussed in my long post). But, in terms of accurately reactivating thoughts that I had in the past, unreliable. Written evidence is required if I am to have any sort of reliable sense of how I thought in the past.

In conclusion, I have a huge and elaborate post coming up soon. This post is just expressing my giddiness at how not many people will read this, but how it delights me that I will have access to RP34, RP66, Rp77, or however to conceptualize it. I'll read these in the future and it will probably be fascinating. Also, maybe some other people will read them and then conversations could ensue.

I'll finish the long post later tonight hopefully. Over and out.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Simulation, Synthetic Experience, and Modifying the Unconscious: My Thoughts on History, Fiction, and Empathy in Light of Mirror Neurons

Post-Date- 5/25/2010- I never published this post because I wasn't ready to write about historical and fictitious simulation, and I wasn't able to account for the centrality of intuitive reenactment. All of this is still very much work in progress. My post of April 30th, "Informing Simulation Theory of Mind with Historical Ontology," did basically what I wanted this post to do in March. But I read some pretty crucial books between March and April. So. I dunno what to do with this post, really.

So, in this post I just want to jibber jabber for a little bit about my favorite ideas that I was introduced to in the Fall of 2007. I haven't really stopped thinking about it since, and I hope I continue to think about for a long time. Ya know, graduate programs, some of those stranger interdisciplinary programs (UCSC history of consciousness, Berkeley school of rhetoric, etc.) want you to have a very very specific idea of the sort of project you want to undertake. These ideas would almost certainly be involved somehow.

Now, the basic idea, as the title of the blog suggests, is about how we can mentally simulate certain experiences that they would otherwise not be able to have with the goal of giving them the ability to better perform that task in the future, intuitive decision making being chief. So, simulation would ultimately be aimed at providing a sort of synthetic experience. Given that experience can communicate things in ways that language cannot (As claimed by Wittgenstein, Pierce, and others), it would be very valuable to find an educational system that would use language to approximate the effects of experience, thus improving intuition. I think it would be a valuable way to educate people.

First, I want to talk about three authors that I think believe that history could become a form of simulation that would provide a synthetic experience that could modify the way the brain works on an unconscious level(i.e. improve intuition): Carl von Clausewitz, Robin George Collingwood, and Michel Foucault. Then i want to talk about some ideas that I had about how this idea of simulation, synthetic experience, and the unconscious could be applied on a much more general level than these people suggested. Then I want to talk about the reading I have done in neuroscience that confirms the importance of simulation, synthetic experience, and the unconscious. Finally, I am gonna break down simulation and synthetic experience into three categories that I think make it a much broader import.

Now, in the Fall of 2007 I took Jon Sumida's course called 'Strategic Military Theory: Clausewitz.' Now, Clausewitz, a Prussian general of the Napoleonic wars, wrote a book that was published posthumously in 1831 titled 'On War.' This book is the most widely read book on armed conflict in the U.S. military and otherwise. Professor Sumida, whom I know very well and place a lot of faith in, however, claims that the book has been radically misunderstood by almost all readers. Frankly, this is not hard to believe. It is about 700 pages, incredibly dense, and incredibly sophisticated. Sumida took 15 years to finish his book that the U.S. military asked him to write. Anyways, just some background for Clausewitz's relationship with simulation and synthetic experience. If you look online, Wikipedia, for example, you will find totally different statements about Clausewitz than I am about to make. They are wrong. Decoding Clausewitz: A New Approach to On War is absolutely, without a doubt, THE book on Clausewitz. So. Here is a summary of Clausewitz's major ideas, as analyzed by Sumida, and as I have read in On War.

Clausewitz's primary goal is to come up with a universally valid theory of war that can be used to train people to make better decisions in the middle of war and battle. Six major problems with normative theory when applied to war and its pedagogy: 1. Theory is bound to language 2. The reality of war/battle cannot be adequately conveyed through language 3. War is so dangerous, chaotic, and contingent that decisions made at the time do not hinge on language/reason, but on intuition (what Clausewitz calls 'Genius'). 4. Experience communicates things in ways that language cannot. 5. Intuition can only be improved through experience, not language. 6. Experience in war is not something that is easy to come by, what if there is long peace? What if you die?

So the central question: How can we use a theory of war, which is grounded in language, to approximate the effects of experience, and thus improve our ability to make intuitive decisions?

Clausewitz's solution: a universal theory of war, which always draws on history, should not attempt to systematize war, nor create universal laws or rules for conduct. In short, a theory of war should never try to be predictive or prescriptive. Rather, historical study should be combined with theoretical surmise to create a synthetic experience that will improve intuition. This sounds opaque, let me elaborate. Clausewitz believed that the historical record was always incomplete to the point that it could never give us an actual sense of someone's experience in war, and would never be complete enough to allow us to draw major lessons from history. So, then, what are we to do with the minor lessons that we can learn from history? He gives examples like, cavalry shouldn't charge unless the infantry formation has been broken, defense is the stronger form of war, war is the continuation of politics by other mans, etc. These things are certainly historically demonstrable, but are not adequate for a normative, prescriptive theory.

The goal, instead, is to use theory to create a fuller narrative of decisions made in war/battle that would amount to a mental reenactment of another person's experience. Meaning, that when we encounter a gap in the historical record we should delve into the realm of theory so as to intelligently surmise about why someone made the decision that they did. This accomplishes two things, 1. it lets us create a fuller narrative of command dilemma, and 2. it would allow us to get much closer to the actual experiences of the individuals that were making decisions in war. By attempting to think as these people in the past thought we are forcing our minds to grapple with the same intellectual and emotional conditions that they faced in the past. Clausewitz knows that it would be extremely difficult, maybe impossible, to actually recover/reenact the thoughts and experiences in the past. But he did believe that we could approximate their thoughts and feelings enough so as to give our minds a useful sense of their experience. Reenactment, therefore is not aimed at absolute truth, but at verisimilitude. Clausewitz believed that if we repeatedly studied history, regularly using theory to facilitate intelligent historical surmise, then we would be able to instill our minds with a sort of unconscious analytical tool kit that would allow us to make better intuitive decisions. Study history, try to think like smart people in the past, and you can absorb, on an unconscious level, the experiences of these people. This is how a combination of history and theory could lead to a synthetic experience that would lead to better intuitive decision making at the actual moment of decision.

One final remark about Clausewitz. Too often, the study of history, and the history of military decision making in particular, is reduced to judgment based on the categories of right and wrong? Was Napoleon correct to invade Russia? Was so and so correct to do so and so? That is a bad way to approach it. The point is, why was that decision difficult? What sorts of things were they grappling with? What were the problems they were concerned with? How is it t hat you make a decision between the horrible and the catastrophic? Grappling with these types of historical dilemmas with a potent imagination that is buttressed by a body of theory can provide us with something that resembles experience.

So, I hope that is an adequate, albeit quick and dirty run down of Clausewitz's intent. As you can see, his idea main idea is that the study of history amounts to a simulation of difficult decisions made in the past, with the goal of replicating/synthesizing experience.

Clausewitz's purposes are highly specific. Not everyone, most people, do not need to make decisions in war. But Jon Sumida has a line I think is awesome. "War is like peace, only much more so." Meaning that in every day life we are always making difficult decisions with incomplete information, complexities, and contingencies. So, then don't many decisions not rely on reason, but rather a deeper, intuitive understanding of our lives, of others, and of the world? Doesn't better decision making in all of life become improved through experience? So then, wouldn't much of our decision making in life be improved through the simulation of more general forms of experience? I would think yes. And I think that most of the arts and humanities can help us do this. The social sciences too perhaps. But I will give this idea (the generality of simulation and synthetic experience) a full run down at the end of this post after I discuss two more authors: Robin George Collingwood and Michel Foucault.

Now I want to talk about Robin George Collingwood. He wrote quite a few things, but I have read The Idea of History and An Autobiography, probably his most famous books. Collingwood was a British philosopher of history and, naturally, a historian. His main task was to vindicate history as a legitimate form of knowledge, and to show that, despite the difficulties of recovering the thoughts of the past, it was indeed possible to have historical knowledge. He tries to prove this by taking a very basic idea and extending to its furthest possible implications. The basic idea is: never accept what someone has told you without thinking that same idea for yourself. The implication? That to understand any idea you have to simulate the thought processes of another person in your own mind. This lead him to conclude that all historical thinking is the reenactment of past thought/experience in the mind of the historian.

Blanket statement, let me elaborate. First let me say, don't let the term reenactment hold the connotation of Civil War reenactments or the like. This is a fully mental process that is about thinking for yourself the way other people think. This rests on a specific definition of thought. He asks the question 'when I think a thought at one point, then let a large amount of time pass, then I think that same thought again at a later time, what is it that I am thinking? Am I thinking the same thought or am i thinking a different thought?' Of course, it is the same thought. The conclusion: thought is not defined by its location in time, but rather by its specific quality, and therefore thoughts that we have evidence for can/must be understood only through a reenactment of them. Meaning that it is possible to reactivate thoughts in the present moment that existed at other times.

In the present moment this is relatively unproblematic. I read what I wrote a while ago, or you tell me what you think, I can imagine my/your thought processes and achieve an understanding of my/your mind in that way.

But, what about thoughts that were expressed in the past when someone was living and thinking in a totally different historical and social context? Well then, the process of thinking another persons thoughts becomes a little more complex, and we need to make a little bit more of an effort to really understand their thoughts. So now Collingwood finds it useful to define logic in terms of question and answer. Any historical figure that is writing is typically writing about a certain problem that exists. The problem for them, however, was contemporary and probably very clear, so they would never bother to state it explicitly. Rather, they are merely posing an answer. So, the process of understanding past thought is about determining the question that the thinker was trying to solve. So this leads Collingwood to claim that every reading of philosophy is a historical act. He asks, would it be appropriate to read Plato's Republic without asking what Plato meant when he referred to the State? Clearly, he does not mean it in the way that we mean it today. Would it be okay to read any philosopher without considering what their terms meant in their contemporary moment? In short, it is not okay to read any thought expressed in the past without taking the historicity of their thoughts and terminology into account.

So then, based on these ideas, Collingwood says that they study of history can take on a much greater standing of knowledge than is typically given to it. By reenacting/simulating thoughts from the past we can expand the ways in which our mind is able to think. He says that by reading and reenacting those thoughts we learn that it was indeed possible for men to think that way. And by thinking it for ourselves it follows that our mind is capable of becoming many different minds. By reenacting/simulating thoughts that were expressed in the past we are forcing our mind to occupy other minds, and thus expanding our own minds in the present moment, prompting new thoughts and new questions that can aid in contemporary decision making. He talks about an Italian philosopher of history, Croce, who I will read at some point. Croce said, 'all history is contemporary history.' And that is what it means, all history is thought that is being re-experienced in the present moment in the minds of those engaging in historical study.

Clearly, Collingwood's ideas on historical thinking amount to a way to simulate past thought with the goal of providing us with a form of synthesized experience that will expand our minds ability to make better decisions. Collingwood emphasis on the idea of consciousness, and that the expression of thoughts relied on that self-aware expression of ideas. I would say, however, that this idea has huge implications for the unconscious. Because, just like Clausewitz said, when we regularly think of difficult decisions made in the past, we can synthesize past experience and instill this into our unconscious decision making process. So, even though Collingwood doesn't state it explicitly, his form of reenactment would be very potent in terms of giving us synthetic experience, modifying our assumptions, and changing the way our brains worked on an unconscious level.

Jon Sumida, in Decoding Clausewitz, makes an explicit comparison between Clausewitz and Collingwood, so that is how I am familiar with that and easily able to make the comparison. They both believe historical study involves the subjective reenactment of other peoples thoughts/experiences from the past, and that this will lead to a synthetic experience that can modify the unconscious.

There is another thinker, however, whose ideas have a very similar purpose, and that is the French historical philosopher Michel Foucault. Now, Foucault is notoriously difficult and complex. He wrote an enormous amount, and an obscene amount of his lectures and interviews have been published. Now I have read Volumes I and II of The History of Sexuality, I will be finishing The Order of Things in the next few days, and I have read a fair amount of his essays and interviews from The Foucault Reader and the volume Power/Knowledge.

So Foucault is typically aimed at, what he calls, writing a history of the present. Meaning, he want to trace the historical development of our own forms of thought, so as to illuminate the way in which our own thoughts/experiences have been historically constructed. This is why his books are typically addressing things that seem to have no history, that seem to be given facts of modern life: insanity, medicine, scientific classification, prisons, sexuality. All of these things are so firmly rooted in our existence that we forget that things could be thought of in any other way. His writing style is often difficult and very poetic. Johanna Oksala claims that Foucault writes in this way because he wants to invoke an experience in his readers.

So then, how is it that Foucault wants us to utilize these past experiences that we can re-experience in this present moment? Well, in an interview late in his life he said that there were all sort of techniques, ideas, and strategies that existed in the past, and while they cannot be fully reactivated, they can serve as useful starting points for contemporary power struggles. He also says in the preface to The Order of Things that he is explicitly concerned with the unconscious motivating factors that drove people to think the way that they were. He also believes that we are often functioning based on historically contingent forms of knowledge/power, and that we are typically unaware of how these are driving our own thinking. In his 1984 essay "What is Enlightenment?" he says that Enlightenment is a concern with the past in relation to the self in the present. In other words, how is it that my thought is determined? How is it that this particular historical moment is forcing me to think in certain ways? What is the history of my own thought? I believe his phrase is 'What are the historical circumstances that our driving my own conceptualizing?' He believed that historical study of thought could facilitate what he called 'the historical ontology of ourselves.' This would be about reactivating/reenacting certain forms of past thought so as to 1. understand how it is that our own thinking is historically determined, and 2. to use them for our own contemporary struggles with knowledge/power.

A useful example: in The Use of Pleasure, volume II of The History of Sexuality, Foucault studies the ancient Greeks, and how they viewed sexuality as a moral problem. He says in the introduction that he is personally concerned with the question: 'Is it possible for me to be thinking differently than I am in this moment?' A bold question that I admire. How can I think differently than I think now? I mean, this floored me when I first read it. How do you do that? How do you question your own thought so readily? It's a great thing to do.

But anyways, his historical study of the Greeks leads to a very specific form of questioning of the self. How is it that I relate to myself as an ethical subject? How do I constitute myself as an ethical subject of knowledge? In several interviews and in the 1982 essay "Power and the Subject" he says that contemporary ethics are essentially always about a relationship with the state or an institution that is under state control. For example, we constitute our ethics by thinking of legal institutions, laws tell us how to behave ethically. Or we become ethical based on our relationship with medicine, or our relationship with mental health institutions. We aim to become law abiding, physically healthy, and mentally sound individuals. All of these forms of ethics are based on a relationship with the state or another institution that falls under the knowledge/power relations of the state.

Foucault finds this disconcerting. He said in the 1980s that many political movements and especially those that claim to be radical were struggling to found a new form of ethics that did not rely on a relationship with the state, and were thus hostage to the knowledge/power relations of the state. This is where the study of the ancient Greeks becomes useful. The Greeks had no large state, religious, or other institutions that were capable of creating forms knowledge/power sufficient to constitute a substantial form of ethics. So then! the Greek form of ethics was instead based on a relationship with the self, an aesthetics of existence. They encouraged strong self discipline, what they called Enkrateia, an ascesis of sorts that was aimed at the beautification of their own existence. They wanted to lead a beautiful, self disciplined existence so that they would have a strong reputation, and leave beautiful memories, ultimately with the goal of governing other individuals better. The government of the self and the government of other is wrapped up for the ancient Greeks.

Using this idea of ascesis and aesthetics of existence as a starting point, Foucault asks, why should art stop with painting or music? Why can't life itself become an object of beauty? Foucault states explicitly in the book and in interviews that he is not advocating that we return to the life that the ancient Greeks led. They owned slaves, disrespected women, etc. so there are many undesirable aspects of their lifestyle. But Foucault thought that by studying them we could reactivate a form of ethics that we had lost touch with in the modern era, the era of the nation state. He believed that studying their form of ethics, which was based on a relationship with the self rather than a relationship with an institution, would allow individuals in the contemporary moment to start relating to things, to others, and to themselves in new and beneficial ways. In other words, it would enable new relationships with knowledge(things), power(others), and the self (ethics), that could escape the discourses of knowledge/power/ethics that have been dominated by the modern state, since about the sixteenth century. I think this is what Foucault means when he talks about finding new forms of subjectivity. Finding new ways to relate to knowledge/power/ethics that are different from contemporary forms. This is accomplished through historical study, what Foucault called it the reactivation of old techniques that have slipped out of our repertoire during the fray of history.

To me, this sounds very much like Collingwood's idea that we can reenact thoughts from the past so as to 1. benefit from the experiences of others and 2. to prompt questions that would have otherwise gone unasked. It resembles Clausewitz a bit as well, in that they are both aimed at modifying the unconscious. Foucault believed that by getting in touch with these past experiences, and also tracing the historicity of our own thoughts, we can free our minds from the things that it has assumed. In the preface he says that this historico-philosophical exercise can 'free thought from what it silently thinks, allowing it to think differently.' Given that he also says in The Order of Things that he s trying to uncover the unconscious determinants of the people who were thinking in the past, it seems as though one of Foucault's major concerns is the historical determination of our own thoughts, and how it is that historical study can illuminate the processes that have created those determinants, while simultaneously reacquainting us with new ways of thinking.

So, I know I have said these things, but here is a semi-concise summary. To me it seems like for Foucault the purpose of historical study is twofold. 1. It allows us to uncover the ways in which our thinking is historically determined (which operates on an unconscious level), and thus allows us to think differently by illuminating things that have previously been unconscious. And 2. It allows us to reactive (reenact, if you will) past forms of thought, and techniques of knowledge/power/ethics, that will force us to consider the present in a different light, and will allow us to relate to things, others, and ourselves in new ways.

So, now I am done surveying these three historical philosophers. Clausewitz believed that a combination of history and theory could be used to create expanded narratives of command dilemma, that would allow us to reenact/re-experience the intellectual and emotional difficulties of high command, providing us with a synthetic experience that would improve intuitive decision making in battle. Collingwood believed that the study of history came down to the reenactment(simulation) of past thought/experience in our own minds, thus giving us access to the experiences of others, and forcing us to think about the present in new ways. Foucault believed that historical study would enable us to understand the unconscious determinants of our own thought, and give us access to forms of knowledge/power/ethics that were no longer active in the present, but that would be useful in contemporary struggles. So then, all three of these authors believe that in some form historical thinking amounts to a simulation of past thought that could provide us with a synthetic experience and modify the way that our brains work on an unconscious level.

Now, when I learned about these ideas in the Spring of 2007, it was through Jon Sumida's Clausewitz seminar at UMD. Clausewitz was the main focus, but we learned about Collingwood and how he was relevant. It wasn't until the spring/summer of 2009 that I was introduced to Foucault's work. I have been reading him very heavily since then, and started to notice the connections pretty quickly.

So, when I first learned about Clausewitz and Collingwood's idea of reenactment I thought, doesn't that sound a lot like empathy? What is it that is going on when we empathize other people? Could this be considered a reenactment of other people's emotions of sort? Couldn't this be the way that all language works? Isn't language a sort of evidence of another person's thoughts that would allow me to think these thoughts for myself? Doesn't language just facilitate a simulation/reenactment of someone else's thoughts? So basically, almost immediately I wanted to make this idea of reenactment/simulation much much more general

So when I took English 391 we had an assigment where we could write basically whatever we wanted. She called it a thought experiment essay, it was that or a grad school personal statement. I chose the creative thought essay and wrote something titled "Personalism as Expanding the Empathetic Palette." Personalism was a term I have abandoned but was fooling with because it seemed to me that this reenactment stuff is about making other people's thoughts and feelings your own, making them personal. The empathetic palette, which I no longer really talk or think much about, but think is legitimate, was an idea I have had for a while. Basically, the idea is that if empathy is basically the internal simulation of other people's emotions, then how can we be sure that we are properly equipped to handle the intensity of other peoples feelings? Well, I had an idea that if you were in touch with yourself, if you had strongly reflected on your own life, your intensely painful experiences, your intensely happy experiences, and everything thing in between, then you wuold essentially be expanding your ability to conjure a variety of emotions. Thus you would be expanding your empathetic palette. You would be improving your ability to recognize complex feelings, and help you empathize with others better. So in this essay I wrote 2 things that I still find relevant. 1. That this would facilitate a much deeper understanding of yourself, and that that personal understanding would improve your ability to empathize with other people. 2. That empathy was essentially a process of reenacting/simulating other peoples feeling for yourself, what I called an instantaneous emotional reenactment. A clumsy phrase, but one that I think is apt.

But empathy happens on a level that does not involve words, so how does it happen, and how
does reflection improve it? Well, then I had the idea that reflection could essentially amount to a reenactment of your own past experience, and that conscious reflection of that sort could instill in your mind on an unconscious level the ability to grapple with all sorts of emotions. Much like Clausewitz, this is about improving emotional intuition by thinking about your own experiences over and over again. Once we have reflected on our pain and happiness, then our empathetic palette will be large enough so that we can engage in complex instantaneous emotional reenactments with ease. When we see someone, we immediately know how they feel based on facial expressions and body language. How do we do that unless we are somehow instantly simulating those feelings for our self? These were vague inklings. The essay I wrote is clumsy, probably much like this one, but I definitely thought that reenactment and simulation had to do with the way that almost all thinking worked.

Now, one of my big interests is neuroscience and how it is contributing to philosophy and how we understand ourselves and the way we think and feel. For a while I was reading stuff that confirmed a lot of my ideas, that language pales in comparison to experience, that history and fiction could amount to a simulation of thoughts that could provide us with synthetic experience, etc. But then recently I found about a book that has basically propelled these, and my ideas to a new level of legitimacy (in my mind, at least).

This book is called Mirroring People: The Science of Empathy and How We Connect With Others, by Marco Iacoboni. He is a UCLA neuroscientist. It is about a very specific type of neurons discovered in the mid 1980's that is starting to be research more heavily. They are called 'mirror neurons,' and they are involved in the perception of actions and emotions.

Quick and dirty run down of mirror neurons. They were discovered accidentally while some Italian neuroscientists were testing monkeys ability to grasp objects. So they have this macaque monkey all hooked up to this brain scanning equipment, preparing to measure brain activity in the motor cortex, which is responsible for grasping motions. But anyways, before the experiment one of these researchers put his hand out to grasp a near by object while within the monkeys view. The equipment detects activation in the monkey's motor cortex. Meaning that even when a monkey sees an object being performed, the only way it can understand that action is by activating the neurons responsible for the performance of that action. Perception of an action and the performance are linked in the brain. Mirror neurons exist in a 20 to 80% ratio. 80% perform just the action, while 20% are responsible solely for mirroring that action. So, to understand an action it is as if they are internally simulating that action in their own brain.

Three more monkey anecdotes before I discuss mirror neurons in humans. First, Monkey's mirror neurons can also encode for intention. Tests show that when a monkey picks up an object to eat it, or a monkey picks up an object and places it in a container, different parts of the motor cortex are moved. Their perception of these actions matches up with these areas too. So if you show a monkey an object and a container, then have a person put that object in the container, the same neurons activate that they used to put the object in the container. The same holds true for the eating of an object. When witnessing a human eating something their brain activates the same areas they would use.

Second, monkey's brains can code for actions that they don't actually see, but that they have evidence for. It seems as though they can mirror hypothetical things, or they can imagine things. For example, they showed a monkey an object on a table, and a person standing next to it. They then placed a partition in front of the table to block their view of the object. Then, when they have the person reach behind the partition as if they were to grasp, the monkey's mirror neurons responsible for grasping light up. Even though they didn't see the object being grasped, they can put 2 and 2 together. Object was there, person reached behind screen, so they must have grasped the object that was behind the object. This seems like an intuitive imagination of sorts. Very interesting that they can mirror an action that they don't see, but have evidence for surmising that the action happened. But they do it without the aid of language or anything.

Third, mirror neurons are able to learn. They showed a monkey a man grasping a peanut with a pair of pliers. Originally the grasping of an object with pliers did not produce a mirroring of the action in the motor cortex. But after several repeats the monkey's motor cortex began to mirror the grasping of the object with the pliers. The implication: monkey's brains are able to learn how to use tools, or to simulate the use of tools in their mind, just from watching others. This would explain how it is that apes, and eventually humans, were able to learn to use tools from one another.

Basic summary of mirror neurons: When we witness an action being performed, our mind activates the neurons that are responsible for the performance of that action. So, mirror neurons essentially simulate/reenact the experience of performing an action in order to understand that action when it is performed by another person.

So how does this apply to humans? And to all those other forms of simulation that I was talking about before? Well, I'll talk about two things in relation to mirror neurons: empathy and language.

Now empathy. As you'll recall, I wrote a paper in 2008 for a course where I described empathy as an 'instantaneous emotional reenactment.' I basically was thinking that empathy is when you feel someone else's feelings for yourself. But this process is always effortless, it just happens when you look at someone, you know what their facial expressions mean, and you feel those feelings for yourself. Why do we cry in movies sometimes? Why does it hurt to watch someone else feel pain? Research on mirror neruons confirms that this is exactly what happens. When we see a facial expression, the parts of our brain responsible for forming those facial expressions are activated, mirroring/simulating that facial expression in our mind. Our motor mirror neurons then communicate with the emotional center of the brain(limbic system) and produce the emotion that corresponds with the facial expression. Cross culturally facial expressions don't vary a lot, so it would be easy to see how particular facial expressions and emotions would naturally coincide. Typically, the limbic system would experience an emotion, and then communicate to our facial muscles to produce the proper facial expression. So, empathy essentially inverts the process of expressing emotions. When we see a facial expression our face internally simulates the making of that facial expression and then produces the appropriate emotional response.

I feel like I am stating this very plainly, or baldly. But to me this seems to have implications that go so far. That the process of empathy is something that our brains do 100% naturally. That anytime we see a facial expression our mind activates the neurons responsible for making that expression for ourselves, and then that causes or emotional system to read our facial expression and invoke that emotion for us. Again, I just could keep rephrasing this in different words because it seems like it is enormously important. But I will have to take another look at Mirroring People a bit later to see if I can somehow make this explication, more substantial. But let me just restate finally how this relates to simulation/synthetic experience: When we see a facial expression our mind internally simulates the performance of that expression(with mirror neurons) and then our brain is able to feel that emotion for ourselves. So, emotion and physical action are inseparable, and we can only understand emotions by internally simulating/reenacting facial movement of sorts in our motor cortex which then connects to the limbic system.

Now how about language? How are mirror neurons related to that. Well, first off, Broca's area, the part of the brain associated with language/speech, is directly next to our motor cortex. Based on this, and other evidence I won't run through now, Iacoboni speculates that our ability to use language is intertwined with our ability to move and manipulate things with our hands. In the chapter "Grasping Language" he has a subsection called 'from hand to mouth.' Both of these sections discuss the ways in which the brain's ability to use language stems from our ability to mirror the physical actions that are performed by other people. I'm not totally clear on this stuff, but think of hand gestures that we make while talking. People do it regularly. He makes the point that we do it even when we are on the phone and no one can see us. So, the implication is basically that the ability to speak and use language is intrinsically tied to our motor cortex, the ability to perform fine grasping motions, and therefore it is tied to the mirror neurons system.

So now for some speculation. If language is wrapped up with the motor cortex, and the motor cortex has a complex mirror neurons system that allows us to effortlessly internally simulate other peoples actions and emotions, then how is it that mirror neurons are wrapped up in the use of language? Well, to me it seems like, again pure speculation, that pretty much all language that we use is only useful so long as it allows us to internally simulate the thoughts of another person. When we hear words spoken, or we see words written on a page, it is not as though the words give us some direct access to meaning. Rather, they serve as clues, they serve as evidence of another person's thoughts. But it is up to us, to use those words to internally simulate the meaning that the person was trying to communicate. In other words, words do not hold the essential meaning of a phrase, but are only evidence for the internal simulation/reenactment of that person's thoughts.

How many times have we read a phrase, or heard someone say something, yet it has made no sense. Then we read it a few more times, or ask them to repeat themselves, and we say ah ha! now I understand what you mean! So why were the words inadequate the first time around? Why is it necessary to rephrase things? Why do we have to struggle to understand what certain words mean? My conclusion for now: Words enable the internal simulation/reenactment of other people's thoughts. This runs with the same idea Collingwood was using: never take someone's word for something without thinking it for yourself. Never accept a sentence without simulating/reenacting the meaning/thoughts that the phrase is meant to communicate.

So, I need to do more research into this, but, given that the mirror neuron system exists primarily in the motor cortex, and that the language area (Broca's area) is directly next to the motor cortex, and that language seems to be followed by hand gestures, there must be some connection between mirror neurons and language. Iacoboni does argue this explicitly, but I can't recall his exact evidence, and I don't care to revisit the book at this moment. So, then, it seems as though all use of language comes down to an internal simulation/reenactment of other peoples thoughts/experiences.

So then, to wrap up on mirror neurons. These neurons allow us to internally simulate the actions of other people, they are what enable us to empathize because they allow us to internally simulate facial expressions that invoke the corresponding emotion, and they allow us to understand language by providing us with evidence of a person's thoughts/experiences.

Basically, this seems to confirm my speculation that much of thought, perhaps the bulk of it, comes down to our brains ability to internally simulate other people's thoughts and experiences.

So, given that this seems to be the case, I would now like to elaborate what I have come to see as three distinct forms of simulation/reenactment - 1. Intuitive 2. Verisimilitudinous 3. Fantastic. The first form is more of an analysis of the way that our brains work on an unconscious level, how our brains intuitively simulate/reenact other peoples thoughts and feelings. The second and third forms – verisimilitudinous and fantastic – involve the use of language and empathy, and are processes that we would engage in for the purpose of synthesizing highly specific, as well are more general forms of experience through the deliberate simulation/reenactment of other people's thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

The second two forms are meant to capitalize on the four separate but interrelated things. 1. that simulation/reenactment seems to be part of how our brains work in general, 2. that much of everyday decision making happens before we have time to reflect, and thus hinges on intuition more than reason, 3. that intuition can be improved only through experience, and 4. that language is powerful enough to help us synthesize experiences that we would never be able to have otherwise, thus allowing us to improve our intuitive decision making without having to go through the school of hard knocks, so to speak.

Intuitive Simulation/Reenactment
So, I am having hard time deciding between the terms simulation and reenactment. Both sorta communicate what I am talking about. That thoughts and feelings we perceive in other people can only be understood if we think or feel them for ourselves. I think this is a much more personal and subjective thing than we are typically aware of. We are so good at simulating/reenacting other people that we don't realize we are doing it. So, for now I guess I will just use the terms simulation/reenactment interchangeably. This might change in the future but whatever I don't have a grasp of the nuance right now.

First, Intuitive simulation. This was something that my discussion on mirror neurons should have made clear. Witnessing an action or a facial expression prompts our brains to simulate those experiences for themselves.

So, my major concern is how can we improve our ability to simulate/reenact other peoples thoughts on feelings on a day to day basis. How can we learn to be more socially sensitive? How can we learn to empathize better? Since all of our interactions that require empathy or sensitivity don't really allow time for reflection, we need to improve our ability to do all of this on an unconscious level.

Now that I have gotten to this point of the blog I feel a little bit lost. Particularly with this section on intuitive simulation. Because it is odd. So I am going to turn to my friend Collingwood for a little help in figuring out how it is that our minds work to understand other people, how this involves the imagination, and how we could modify it.

So Collingwood has an idea that he calls the a priori imagination. This applies to historical study in terms of the historical imagination, and how is it that we recreate the experiences of people in the past using our imagination. He uses a comparison with novelists that I think would be useful right now. He says that he knows of novelists (I forget who) that say they don't necessarily feel like they have really written or created an ending to their story. Rather, they have created characters and placed them in a certain world. And based on how those characters are, the novel can only play out in a certain way. It is as if those characters exist in their own right, and will behave only in a certain way because of all their surroundings and experiences and personalities. So, in essence, sometimes the imagination unfolds in a way that seems a priori. It seems as if though it couldn't have happened in any other way, cause that's just the only way our imagination can see it. Similarly, Collingwood says that when historians are imagining the past the situation and their depiction of it often unfolds for them. What they know about the period, what they know about the individuals under study, all of those things combine to force the imagination into one direction. The imagination can unfold as if though a priori. I have had similar experiences where my sense of a situation, or my elaborate imagining of a hypothetical situations seems to present itself to me. It isn't something that I have to consciously map out, or deliberately construct, it is like a world that suddenly I can feel and explore at will. I can write it down, or I can just drift in the products of my a priori imagination.

Foucault also said something that seems a little bit relevant to intuitive/pre-reflective behavior. Discussing the ancient Greeks and their use of precepts, he quotes Plutarch when he said "You must have learned principles so firmly that when your desires, your appetites or your fears awaken like barking dogs, the logos will speak with the voice of a master who silences the dogs by a single command." This also echos Clausewitz and his idea about deliberate learning becoming fully integrated into our intellectual apparatus, so it becomes part of our intuitive decision making.

So, these ideas basically reaffirm the idea that our behavior can't be ruled by rationality, but rather by an intuition that has been deliberately crafted. We need to train our a priori imagination so that it is sensitive to certain factors (Collingwood). We need to internalize precepts so that they function on an unconscious level (Foucault). And we need to expand our intellectual apparatus so that it intuitively takes account of certain things (Clausewitz). All very similar ideas.

So, then what are the factors that we need to take into account in everyday interactions that require lots of intuitive simulation/reenactment? Well, I would say above all a sensitivity to the pain of others is very important. Pain is the thing that we want to reduce in general in the world, and where better to start than in our own relations with other people? So, how to internalize a sensitivity to other people's pain? I would say by gaining an intimate familiarity with our own pain. What sort of social situations have made us feel really uncomfortable? Simple idea: When we have an intimate awareness of ourselves and our place within social interactions, we are more likely to be aware of the difficulties/pains of others. Foucault again: Caring for yourself involves a "degree of zeal for self–and hence in zeal for others as well." So, an intense sensitivity to the self can lead to an intense sensitivity towards others as well.

So, this section is somewhat basic. Mirror neurons show that all interactions with others involve the mirroring/simulation/reenactment of other peoples thoughts and feelings. So the task becomes to increase your ability to simulate/reenact a wide variety of thoughts and feelings so as to posses a greater social sensitivity, a greater 'empathetic palette' so to speak. This is best improved by internalizing precepts, rules, ideas so firmly into the mind that they become part of the intuitive apparatus. This is best done by gaining a deep knowledge of ourselves that would facilitate deeper connections with others. This is best done through protracted introspection with a special focus on personal pain, since that is what we want to reduce in social situations and life generally. In general, it seems that intuitive simulation/reenactment (i.e. empathy, social sensitivity, the ability to act quickly and appropriately under difficult circumstances) is really important.

One interesting question: is introspection a form of simulation/reenactment of our own past experiences that synthesizes our own experience into something stronger? I saw a neuroscience conference where Steven Rose said that every time we think of a memory we recreate it, we bring it back to life and we change it. So thinking about our past through memory or old writing would then be doing the same thing, reactivating/reenacting/simulating our past thoughts and experiences and changing them by bringing them to life in present circumstances. So, yes, I would think that introspection can be a sort of memory based simulation/reenactment that allows our imagination to produce a synthesized version of our own experiences? But this would fit with all the other ideas about the imagination and the creation of synthetic experience as something that would improve intuitive decision making in a general sort of way.

There is even an ancient Greek Stoic exercise that involved the reenactment of the day. At the end of each night you would come how and replay the entire day in your head. You would be paying special attention to your interactions with others, and you would be sure that you had treated everyone according to your standards. Perhaps you think you could have done something differently, been more patient, been kinder. Well, the idea is to explore that hypothetical possibility to so as to acquaint yourself with that type of behavior. Imagine how you would have behaved ideally, and you create a synthetic experience of your ideal behavior. This seems like it 1. strengthens your understanding of how you want to conduct yourself and 2. it gives you an opportunity to internalize those strengthened understandings through a hypothetical reenactment. In short, memory based reenactment can simultaneously strengthen your moral code and your ability to execute it intuitively.

Apart from introspection, I think that history and fiction can also provide us with synthetic experience that would be very valuable in every day life. Theses processes, however, is of a much more specific nature. So, these forms of simulation/reenactment exist in distinct categories, I would say.

At this point I would like to make a distinction within the domain of intuitive simulation. Intuitive simulation is really two things: On the one hand, it is a just way that our minds work, it is mirror neurons and empathy, it's the a priori imagination, it is something natural, it is the only way we can understand others peoples thoughts and feelings. But it is also a property of the mind that we are deliberately attempting to enhance. It is a mental space that we are trying to craft to certain standards. Namely, we want to become more empathetic, we want to become more compassionate by strengthening the imagination, we want to attain a state of mind in which we are not constantly bombarded by words, and we want to be able to quickly form intuitive decisions in a variety of difficult and unforeseeable situations. I think this can be done if we have a deep understanding of ourselves and our own experience, and if we gain synthetic experience in a wide range of situations, and approach both of these activities with a reflective mind.

At this point I think that all other forms of simulation come back to the effort to enhance intuition, and intuitive simulation.

So there are the goals: increased empathetic capacity, stronger imaginative compassion, a quiet mind, increased intuition. Empathy and compassion involve the ability to intuitively/rapidly simulate other people's thoughts and feelings for yourself. While a quiet mind and intuition would be 1. the source of an empathetic and compassionate mind and 2. the product of a mind that is trying to be empathetic and compassionate.

Then there are the methods of achieving these goals: Introspection and synthetic experience from memory based reenactment, synthetic experience via history and fiction, reflection on all synthetic experience. Introspection would allow us to have a knowledge of ourselves that would help in being sensitive towards others. While history and fiction would facilitate a wide range of synthetic experiences, which reflection could translate into a deeper understanding of the self, of things, and of others, giving rise to greater intuitive abilities, and greater control over the imagination and compassion.

Now I'll talk about the use of history and fiction in terms of their utility in gaining synthetic experience. I will use the term Verisimilitudinous simulation to designate the type of synthetic experience ideally gained from history. I will use the term Fantastic simulation to capture the type of synthetic experience conveyed by fiction.


Verisimilitudinous Simulation/Reenactment
Simulation/reenactment of past thought/experience would be much more controlled, and would involve the simulation/reenactment of very specific types of experiences. It would involve much more effort so as to ensure that the simulation/reenactment resembled the actual thoughts/experiences under study. In other words, historical simulation/reenactment needs to be verisimilitudinous.

Based on who's model we are going with (Clausewitz, Collingwood, or Foucault) the simulation of past thoughts and experiences can have three purposes which blend in the actual process. First, historical study

Fantastic Simulation/Reenactment

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