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.

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