The Everyday A Priori Imagination: Foucault and Cultivating Awareness
6/13/10 - Final finishing note, introduction, and table of contents.
In this essay I was trying to figure out how much of daily life and perception involves the use of the imagination. I was particularly curious about the ways the imagination is used on an unconscious level to explain why people behaved the way they did, or why things happened the way they did, or why we acted the way they did. I was originally inspired to think about this because of Collingwood's notion of the a prioriimagination. So I ran with that in the title. I am indeed exploring the every day a prioriimagination. Drawing on different thinkers, however, I often use different terminology to talk about the same thing. So whenever I say intuitive simulations, intuitive imagination, perceptual imagination, I am always referring to the unconscious process of imagining that is the a priori imagination.
My explication becomes more organized as the essay goes on, but I am choosing for now to leave my reflective notes that I made along the way. I have been working on this for close to 3 weeks so it was a process. But generally the essay flows like this. I begin with my general musings, and then move on to Collingwood's notion of the a prioriimagination. From there I move on to David Foster Wallace and some other thoughts of mine. I then tried to use Alvin Goldman's work to draw some distinctions about the use of the imagination. I then make some claims about the role of the perceptual imagination in our culture. After that I turn to Jeffrey Schwartz and his work on self-directed neuroplasticity, and how it applies to the modification of the a prioriimagination. After that I turn to Foucault. My section on Foucault is quite extensive and takes up about half the room. I did not realize that the explication of Foucault was going to get so long. But I ended up concluding that he is giving us the possibility to transform our thoughts, and that he should be thought of as providing instructions for a form of self-directed neuroplasticity. But here is a table of contents.
Table of Contents
1. Collingwood's A Priori Imagination
2. The Everyday A Priori Imagination: David Foster Wallace and My First Inklings of This Idea
3. Goldman on Imagination and Tacit Theory in Interpersonal SimulationalMindreading
A. Low-Level SimulationalMindreading: Mirroring and Resonance Based Understanding
B. High-Level SimulationalMindreading: The APriori E-Imagination
C. The Centrality of the A Priori E-Imagination in Our Depersonalized Culture
D. Tacit Theory and The A Priori Imagination
4. Schwartz and Self-Directed Neuroplasticity: The Neuroscience of Modifying the A Priori Imagination
5. A Summary Before Foucault Tells us How to Change Our Intuitive Imagination
6. Foucault and Modifying the A Priori Imagination: Possibilities for Practice
A. Foucault and the Birth of the Modern A Priori Imagination
B. Foucault's 'Network of Gazes' as Implying the Centrality of Simulation
C. Foucault's Move Towards Ethics and Simulation: New Forms ofKnowledge/Power/Ethics as the Modification of the A Priori Imagination
D. Foucault, Simulation, and Synthetic Experience: Utilizing and Refining Tacit Theory asModifying the A Priori Imagination
D1. Foucault and the 'Reactivation' of Old Techniques as Explicit Synthetic Experience from Historical Simulation
D2. Foucault and Mnemonistic Simulation as Modifying the Self Through ImplicitSynthetic Experience
D3. Mnemonistic Reenactment as Simultaneously Utilizing and Refining Tacit Theory: Foucault and Clausewitz on Modifying the A Priori Imagination
E. Foucault as Striving for Mindfulness: The Care of the Self as Self-DirectedNeuroplasticity
E1. Foucault and Mindfulness: Paying Attention as Transforming Ourselves
E2. Sardamov and Connecting Foucault to Neuroplasticity: From Neuropolitics toNeuroethics
E3. Foucault, Schwartz, and Mindfulness: Paying Attention Can Change Your Brain
7. Concluding it All
6/10/10 - Finishing everything but Foucault section note - This post should be seen as a compliment to my post of 4/30/10. In that post, "Informing Simulation Theory of Mind with Historical Ontology," I argued that our engagement with philosophical and historical texts should be based on an understanding of simulation theory of mind that is supported by a historical ontological perspective. Furthermore, I claimed that simulation theory and historical ontology could enact personal change by providing us with synthetic experience, which would improve our intuitive decison making and make us more sensitive. At the end of that post I had established the potential for the humanities to be seen as a form of self-directed neuroplasticity. What changes to the mind/brain the humanities could bring exactly, however, was not as clear. Mainly because it wasn't clear to me in general. In this post, I am addressing the central role of intuition and the imagination and how the humanities specifically could address the unconscious aspects of understanding and decision making. The a prioriimagination could perhaps be called the 'intuitive imagination.' It is the locus of much of our unconscious understanding of the world and of others around us. In the post of 4/30 I think I make a very good case for what disciplines would be involved in modifying the unconscious, and how those disciplines would enable us to do so. In this post, however, I am stating more precisely what exactly is the change in ourselves that could be brought about by work in simulation theory of mind and historical ontology. Thus, recognize that this post is addressing the centrality of intuition and the imagination, while my post of 4/30/10 then gives a more comprehensive treatment of how it is that the humanities would aid us in self-directed neuroplasticity (i.e. the modification of the intuitive imagination).
- Begin writing of 5/28/10 - 6/13/10 -
Now, I feel like this is going to be a bit of a difficult post for me to write. The main thing I am trying to explore is the degree to which the imagination pervades everyday perception, and in particular the concept of the a priori imagination, the type of imagination that happen on an unconscious level, the moments when the imagination unfolds for us and presents us with an understanding we didn't ask for or construct. In other words, the imagination sometimes seems to unfold a priori. In a conversation on 6/1/10 I think Jon Sumida said Collingwood's notion of the a priori imagination was something like a tacit mental theory. I think he said that theory somehow comes before narrative. That the mind has to sort and understand before any systematic narrative or theory can be made. So, tacit theory, a prioriimagination. I think they might be different. So I will explore Goldman's discussions of tacit mental theory.
Once I feel like I have fleshed out these notions of the a priori imagination and tacit theory, I will discuss Foucault and how his work might aid us in the task of modifying our a priori imaginations. If we want to change the way we think we need to change it on the fundamental, unconscious, 'a priori' levels.
Before I delve into Collingwood's notion of the a priori imagination I'd like to state once again the blurry line that I am searching for. I am interested in the imagination as a part of social interactions and understanding of other people's actions/thoughts/intentions. I am trying to figure out when the imagination enters the process of everyday perception. I think that when I am driving and I attribute a complex mental state to another person I am utilizing my imagination. Someone cuts me off and I say, oh what an idiot (as opposed to, oh maybe something difficult or bad happened to them), I am using my imagination to attribute a mental state that goes beyond the available evidence. How often does this imaginative perception happen on an unconscious level? It certainly happens unconsciously in the car. Last night I asked my friend about this, and he said whenever you are thinking about things you can't really know you are using your imagination. So when it comes to other people how often do we really know what we are thinking about? rarely.
Again, I want to state that I am using the term imagination in a broad sense, and am talking about it as it applies to our interactions with other people. I think the imagination has a lot to do with understanding other people's actions, and it allows us to attribute meaning to people's actions. This has a lot to do with Alvin Goldman's Simulating Minds and his contention that mindreading (attributing mental states to others) is mainly a matter of simulating other people's thoughts for ourselves. And more importantly that the process of simulating other people's thoughts often involves the imagination. These imagined simulations, however, often occur on an unconscious level. I think that this is precisely what the a prioriimagination is: an unconscious process of deduction or attribution. In many instances, therefore, Goldman's work will apply to the a prioriimagination. I'll explore.
I think perhaps Goldman's distinction of low-level vs. high-level mindreading might be useful. High-level almost always involves the enactment imagination (E-imagination, which I will discuss). Low-level is resonance based, it involves mirror neurons, it is unconscious, but is it imaginative? I think not, it is immediate. So, thought in itself is an imaginative process? This might end up being the case. Yikes. What am I saying here? This is such a hard line for me to draw, even in the cursory fashion I wish to draw it. Well, I think high-level mindreading is mainly what I am interested in.
Perhaps the use of the imagination in everyday life depends on its cultivation. Perhaps those educated in the use of the imagination could more clearly identify its use in themselves or in others. There is no doubt that education plays a role in the willful use of the imagination.
But what about the folk? I would say one of my main interests in the use of the everyday a priori imagination by those who are 100% unaware of it. Perhaps most people just don't have an expanded imaginative/empathic palette. This would mean that most people mistake their limited imaginations as simply perceived reality. When someone is in a car, for example, they call someone stupid for doing something and it ends there. They assume that person is really stupid. In reality their imagination isn't capable of forgiving that person, or of picturing an instance in which they could be just having a bad day or week.
In short, do people mistake their a priori imagined world to be objective reality? My sense is yes. People tend to think their perception of reality is accurate, they think they understand. But in reality their mind is dealing with a totalized/simplified view that has been unconsciously assembled by the brain from the limited evidence available.
This idea of a limited imaginative capacity reminds me of three things: 1. C.W. Mills The Sociological Imagination, and how he says on the first page that many men feel trapped in their contemporary context and feel paralyzed when presented with ambitions that would let them escape their current situation. What does that have to do with a limited imagination? 2. John Gray (and other Buddhist philosophy) that talks about how everyday life is an illusion, all of life is an illusion. Could this be because the bulk of perception is imagined on an unconscious level? 3. Foucault and being trapped in our own history. Is Foucault perhaps trying to provide us with the tools we need to expand our imaginations? An expanded imagination certainly would facilitate new relations to things/others/ourselves (i.e. knowledge/power/ethics). Foucualt's work may allow us to modify our a priori imagination. I think he is interested in modifying thought on an unconscious level, and thus the a priori imagination, or our tacit mental theories.
These are the questions I intend to explore, the order I would like to explore them in, and the authors I plan on using: How much of our perceived life is a product of our (a priori) imagination? How broad is Collingwood's notion of the a priori imagination? Based on David Foster Wallace, how much can I generalize about the imagination? How much does Goldman's distinction between low-level and high-level mindreading apply, and in what way? How much does the education of the imagination effect our use of it on a daily basis? How much does self directed neuroplasticity apply to this issue? And finally, how does Foucault stand in relation to the imagination in general? Is Foucault really talking about modifying the a priori imagination? Doesn't being trapped in our own history and recognizing the limitations of our own thinking encompass the imagination, and in particular its unconscious, a priori, processes?
I have quite a full plate with this post. It has me quite excited because I feel like these are difficult questions, but ones that I am almost certainly capable of explicating in some meaningful way.
Let me turn to Collingwood's notion of the a priori imagination to get a little help, a little momentum.
Collingwood's A Priori Imagination
So, in The Idea of History Collingwood discusses what he calls the 'a priori imagination.' He draws on this idea to explain how it is that historians build full narratives out of the fragments left behind in sources. Collingwood says that in constructing historical narratives historians follow their a priori imagination.
Collingwood says this notion has two important characteristics. 1. That everything that goes into a historians narrative must follow necessarily from the evidence: it must be a priori to the evidence. 2. That to follow historical evidence in this way is essentially an act of imagination.
As for the a priori nature of historical evidence, Collingwood gives an example of writing on Caesar. Imagine that one source tells us that Caesar was in Rome on one day, another source tells us two days later he was in Gaul. So, we can only assume that Caesar safely traveled between those two locations during that time. The chain of reasoning is unavoidable, our assumption of Caesar's journey unfolds a priori, the evidence necessitates it.
As for the imaginative nature of this type of thinking, Collingwood gives an example of seeing a ship at sea. We remove our attention from the boat, and five minutes later the boat has reached another distance. We can't help but believe that the boat simply traversed the space in the last five minutes. So our mind has to imagine the boat covering that distance in order to conclude that it had indeed sailed that distance. Collingwood says seeing this boat on a beach is an example of historical thinking, and that it is exactly the same as being forced to imagine Caesar traveling between those two distances.
So, in short, the a priori imagination as defined by Collingwood is our minds ability to use evidence to imagine and explain actions that we did not witness or experience directly. It is a priori because it seems to unfold naturally in our minds, it is a logical conclusion that is so apparent it is registered on a semi-unconscious level. Further, because it involves the description of things we are not actually experiencing, it inherently involves the use of the imagination.
Collingwood goes on to discuss how the a priori imagination is relevant to artists and novelists. Their ideas often unfold to them, and they have a difficult time painting other than they did, or describing characters other than they did.
More importantly, Collingwood connects the a priori imagination to the more general world of everyday perception. I haven't read enough Kant, but Collingwood says Kant discusses the role of the imagination in everyday life. He uses the phrase 'the perceptual imagination,' which I quite like. He says that the perceptual imagination works by "supplementing and consolidating the data of perception in the way so well analysed by Kant, by presenting to us objects of possible perception which are not actually perceived: the under side of this table, the inside of an unopened egg, the back of the moon. Here again the imagination is a priori: we cannot but imagine what cannot but be there."
This description of the perceptual a priori imagination really reminds me of some parts ofMirroring People by Marco Iacoboni. Iacoboni discusses mirror neurons in depth. But he talks about hearing his daughter dancing in the next room, the clicking of her point shoes on hardwood floors. Even though all he hears is a sound he immediately uses that evidence to imagine his daughter practicing dance moves in the next room. It seems to me mirror neurons (direct empathy, low-level mindreading) should also be considered an aspect of the imagination. It seems to fit in with the way Collingwood describes the a priori imagination. As soon as I wrote that sentence I felt unsure of it being the case. I need to read more about mirroring. But moving along.
I find Collingwood's description of the a prioriimagination to be surprisingly general. He says that historical thinking is happening even when we see a boat, turn away, and see it has traveled much further. Our mind can't but imagine that the boat traversed the distance. I am still so curious about Collingwood's statement that all thinking is historical thinking. How much of thinking is imagination? That is what this post is trying to answer.
But it seems like so many of my daily interactions would involve an unconscious a priori imagination. When I see someone walk from the front of my store into the back of my store, I have to know that they came through the front door, or drove to get there, or did etc. What are good examples of this? It seems like literally anytime anyone is telling us about what they did in their day we would be understanding them through some kind of a priori imagination. We have to imagine experiences in order to understand them, so wouldn't this be happening quite a lot in out interpersonal lives?
I am actually going to briefly explore my first encounter with the generality of the a priori imagination. I read it in Collingwood in the spring of 2009, but didn't think of it so generally until March of this year. And now that I have reread his writing on it, it is very obvious how general it is. Still, I will explain how it is that I started connecting a lot of my own thinking with something like the a priori imagination.
The Everyday A Priori Imagination: David Foster Wallace and My First Inklings of This Idea
So, I first started thinking about the a priori imagination as a general (rather than historical) concept at the end of March this year. In my post of 3/30/10 I was trying to explore the role of the creativity and the imagination can play in a compassionate world view.
The post was prompted mainly by David Foster Wallace's lecture titled This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life. Foster Wallace discusses the ways that an education in the humanities can make you a more compassionate person. He says it comes mainly from the ability to recognize that we engage with the world primarily in terms of meaning. By analyzing fiction or analyzing history or film or whatever cultural output, we are learning to assign meaning to the same thing in different ways. We are learning to craft the meaning that we perceive around us. He says a liberal education allows you to exercise a little control over what you think about and how you think about it.
The main examples Foster Wallace gives are everyday examples. He talks about being in the grocery store after a long week at work and feeling extremely frustrated that other people are in his way. He just needs to get his bread and get home, why are all these people blocking him? Same thing with traffic, why are these people going so slow? Why are they cutting me off? Why are they so stupid, and why does their stupidity prevent me from doing what I want to do?
These are obviously all very self-centered thoughts that take minimal imagination: these thoughts in no way try to explore beyond the immediacy of our lives. They take our pain and frustration to be the only pressing or real 'reality.'
Foster Wallace says a liberal education can train our minds to imagine other people's pain and adopt a more forgiving stance towards actions that may upset us. Running with the same examples: perhaps these people blocking you in the store have a dying relative and they are so preoccupied and upset that they failed to notice that they were blocking your way. Or perhaps these people in traffic are trying to get to the hospital with chest pains, or to deliver a baby. Perhaps you are in their way.
Foster Wallace quickly recognizes that this takes effort. It takes an awareness of your own thought and an attempt to imagine circumstances in which someone isn't just an idiot, or not paying attention. You need to imagine that their are circumstances that make an action forgivable.
Does it matter whether that person is really dumb or they are really struggling? No, it makes no difference (or maybe it does?). But, either way, I think it is more important to grapple with the way that I attribute meaning to other people's actions and how that effects me. I care about how I perceive other people because in the end it causes me pain or brings me peace.
I was really struck by Foster Wallace's ideas. Mainly because they resemble my mothers practical wisdom so much. She would always discourage road raging by stressing the importance of 'giving people the benefit of the doubt.' Maybe that person is having a heart attack or their wife is dying. These are actual examples that my mom has used so many times. So to read Foster Wallace using the same examples struck a major chord.
I read This is Water while I way in New York. When I was driving back to Maryland I had an incident on the road where all of these ideas clicked. Someone sorta cut me off, and my immediate reaction was 'oh god dammit what are you doing not paying attention etc.' Almost as quickly, however, I started thinking about how immediately I was able to make a totalizing judgment about this person based on a single moment on the road. I realized that my judgment of this person, my assessment of their actions (and thus their mind) unfolded instantaneously. It took close to no time for me to imagine that this dude was not paying attention and being dumb and getting in my way. I seemed to imagine this a priori. It just unfolds for me.
I quickly caught myself and placed a fairer judgment on the whole thing: perhaps he was confused, maybe he was having a hard time with something else, etc.. But it was very easy for my mind to instantaneously imagine a mindset that was responsible for the actions that displeased me. My mind immediately told me he was just dumb or not paying attention, and I was instantaneously able to assign meaning to his actions.
In the post of 3/30/10 I was trying to explore how we could exert attention and modify the way our mind works on this a priori level. At the time I reflected on the way that Foucault's work could contribute to the modification of the a priori imagination. In particular, I speculated that Foucault's work on the 'care of the self' could be seen as a form of self-directed neuroplasticity. I plan on extensively exploring Foucault's relation to the a priori imagination at the end of this post. Before I turn to Mr. Foucault, however, I would like to corroborate the notion of the a priori imagination with a discussion of Alvin Goldman's Simulating Minds and Jeffrey Schwartz's The Mind & The Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force. Goldman's work will show that the imagination, and in particular unconscious imaginative processes, are key to understanding the actions of others in everyday life. Schwartz's work will help us understand how it is that the mind could possibly rewire the brain, making the modification of the a priori imagination a definite possibility.
Goldman on Imagination and Tacit Theory in Interpersonal Simulational Mindreading
So Alvin Goldman's work has a lot to offer in terms of explaining how it is that the imagination is involved in attributing mental states to other people. And since my major concern is the unconscious imagination of other people's mental states (i.e. the Everyday a priori imagination), Goldman will be useful for me.
The main thing I would like to discuss is discussions distinction between low-level simulational mindreading and high-level simulational mindreading. Earlier I mentioned the term mindreading, and the notion of the Enactment imagination (E-imagination). The E-imagination belong to the realm of high-level simulational mindreading, so before I address that, I want to discuss low-level simulational mindreading. I suspect that the low-level/high-level distinction my be a good way to understand when the imagination does and does not contribute to mindreading processes. At this point I suspect that low-level mindreading does not involve the imagination, which I believed Goldman, and also Marco Iacoboni's work on mirror neurons, confirms.
Low-Level Simulational Mindreading: Mirroring and Resonance Based Understanding:
Now, Goldman's notion of low-level simulational mindreading revolves primarily around the existence of mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are a special class of neurons that help us understand the facial expressions, emotions, and actions of other people. Mirror neurons do this by internally replicating the neurological activity of the individuals we are observing. The best examples are facial expressions and physical movements.
Mirror neurons are primarily motor neurons. They are activated when we move our face into a certain expression or when we grasp a certain object. When we observe someone making a facial expression or a grasping motion, however the mirror portions of our motor neurons become activated.
In the case of facial expressions our mirror neurons are the main way we understand what emotion is being communicated. For example, when people see an angry or a sad facial expression the mirror neurons that we would use to make that same facial expression are activated. Furthermore, the process of communication between our motor/mirror neurons and our limbic system (emotional center) is reversed. Typically the limbic system experiences a certain emotion and then communicates to the motor neurons what facial expression to make. When observing facial expressions, however, our motor/mirror neurons are activated first, and that then communicates the appropriate emotion to the limbic system. This is interesting given Goldman's quoting of Poe. Poe said something like 'Whenever I want to understand how a person is feeling I make my facial expression as close to his as I can, and then I wait for a thought or feeling to come to me.'
The process of observing physical movement is much the same. When we watch someone grasp an object our brain activates all the motor/mirror neurons required to perform that action. Mirror neurons even understand actions based on intention. Experiments with monkeys show that neural activity changes depending on whether a monkey picks up a banana to eat it, or to put it into a container. Similarly, when monkeys observe a human pick up a banana to eat it or to put it in a container, the activity of mirror neurons confirms that the grasping of the same object involves different neural activity depending on the intention of the action.
Low-level mindreading seems to not involve the imagination. It is immediate and unconscious. Goldman says it is mirror and resonance based. Our brains, and bodies, simply resonate with the emotions of the people around us. It is an unconscious form of simulation that allows us to understand why other people are acting the way they are. My main point here being that there are many instances in which the imagination does not play a role in understanding others minds. Sometimes it just happens via mirroring. Unconsciously. But how does that differ from tacit theory? Well, significantly, and hopefully I will explore that.
High-Level Simulational Mindreading: The a priori E-Imagination
In high-level simulational mindreading, however, the imagination becomes a crucial factor. In particular, I think that the imagination becomes important when we have incomplete evidence yet still ascribe mental states to others. I think the best examples of using the imagination to fill gaps in evidence involve depersonalization, they involve complex face to face interactions with other people, and they involve communication through text. Before I give accounts of these examples, though, I would like to spend some time on high-level simulational mindreading in general, and on the role of the E-imagination.
Goldman's notion of high-level simulational mindreading serves the same purpose as low-level mindreading: they are both ways of understanding other people's thoughts/actions by internally simulating them in our own minds.
High-level mindreading, however, differs in a few important ways. These simulational processes are more accessible to consciousness, they are able to induce the effects of actual experience more fully, and they can involve the simulation of more abstract modes of thought.
Now when Goldman says that high-level mindreading is more accessible to consciousness, it implies that high-level mindreading can also exist on an unconscious level. It makes sense, to me at least, in this moment, that most or all thought processes could exist on an unconscious level while bubbling into consciousness. So high-level processes are more complex and abstract thoughts that are often unconscious, but have the potential to become conscious or even to be manipulated by consciousness. (Manipulating high-level mindreading, remind you of Foster Wallace yet? Sure reminds me of Foster Wallace).
So, if high-level mindreading is a process that is both unconscious yet accessible to consciousness, how does it induce the effects of experience? Well, Goldman says this is exactly the role of the enactment-imagination (E-imagination). The E-imagination is a form of the imagination that allows us to feel the things that we are imaging. We can all imagine what it is like to be happy or sad, or to feel the breeze on our skin. We can create a quasi-happiness, a quasi-sadness, or the quasi-sensation of a breeze by imagining it.
Now the E-imagination can work either consciously or unconsciously. For example, when individuals are shown a video of a spider crawling on someone's skin, they are likely to imagine that experience for themselves and respond accordingly. My friend Franklin Mesa told me about OCD patients he has worked with who cringe while simply being read stories about vomit or whatever their obsessions are. In both of these instances the E-imagination is acting on a mostly unconscious level. People are being given evidence of a certain experience, and their mind just brings it to life for them as an experience. Do they imagine it a priori seems like it.
Now, how about the conscious use of the E-imagination? Well, I think Foster Wallace, again, is a pretty good example of how to consciously or deliberately use the imagination. A liberal education allows us to gain a little control of our imaginations, choose how we bring other people's experiences to life. We can choose to exercise a little bit of control over how we assign meaning to other people. Examples, we can choose to adopt a more forgiving stance by imagining that a person is having a hard time. We imagine those difficult circumstances and we are able to feel for the pain of that imaginary person in those imaginary circumstances. But either way, it is our sense of being in a certain difficult position, our ability to feel for another persons experience that drives our decision making.
The Centrality of the A Priori E-Imagination in Our Depersonalized Culture
Now, I want to move from the E-imagination as a general phenomenon to the particular ways that we engage with it in our social and historical moment. This theme, the historical contingency of our modes of E-imagination, I am going to build on extensively in my final section of Michel Foucault's work. But for now I just want to stress that the depersonalized nature of our particular social context forces us to imagine people's thoughts to a greater extent than was probably the case in previous historical moments.
I am going to run through a few different examples of how modern life has a certain amount of depersonalization that would force us to imagine people's thoughts based on evidence other than facial expressions of body language (which would belong to the realm of low-level simulational mindreading, not high-level and E-imagination). The depersonalization of society is exacerbated by our large store of classifying concepts. We refer to people as 'crazy,' 'perverts,' 'sluts,' etc.. We use preformed concepts to connect with people through technology and through writing. Many of our interactions with other people are facilitated by machines and by text. Since we are dealing with so many intermediary factors, we no longer perceive other people on the basic levels of resonance and mirroring. We more often experience them as imagined figures that have been filtered through our depersonalized set of concepts.
My examples: cursory/new social interaction, cars, writing and texting.
So when I first meet a new person it is always a very interesting process getting to know them. When you don't have any experience with a person it is hard to tell what they are like, hard to tell what they are thinking about what you say, or what they say. It becomes a process of gauging how to imagine a person. In these fledgling social interactions the a priori imagination probably is at work. It seems like our preconceived notions of social life would guide the imagination in these instances. Whether they are correct or not, we have been taught to think about people in certain ways based on what they do, how they talk, and how they dress. So I think that the existence of technology combined with the elaborate nature of our social knowledge often allows us to E-imagine people rather than get to know them on the level of mirroring/resonance (i.e. direct empathy, etc.).
While driving I think cars provide us with a similar sense of depersonalization that inclines us towards the imagination of other people's thoughts. When we are on the road we know that every car has a person inside of it, the movements of a car represent the movements of a mind. Our evidence for that mind, however, is fairly limited and is based on the formalized rules of driving. When someone makes a mistake driving it is easy to fault them for being stupid or being lazy or not paying attention. In reality driving is a very dynamic thing and sometimes people make mistakes. Sometimes I make a mistake and feel like I look like a bad driver in front of other people. And I imagine that the person I accidentally cut off is really pissed at me, but again, I'm imagining it (in an a priori fashion, probably). I have seen people who tend to make these sort of totalizing judgments about driving mistakes. A bad lane change or something can be enough for you to write someone off as stupid. It seems to unfold a priori, but we don't have to think that way. We can exercise control over our imagination and ideally envision circumstances in which they can be forgiven. But still, I think that the world of driving inclines us to judge people based on very limited evidence. We see a car and know a person is responsible for it, but that lack of knowledge about the person seems to lead to egocentric understandings of them. They are dumb for making a mistake, and they are in our way. Depersonalization and egocentrism, certainly a thing.
The world of the internet and text messaging also contributes to a depersonalization that brings the imagination to the forefront. Facebook is a key example of how the internet and writing has given us the ability to imagine other people's lives. Look at everyone's pictures, read about their favorites and their interests. Look at the life presented in the template. Imagine being that life. Imagine living those moments in those pictures and loving those books and movies. Again, our unconscious conceptions about what social life is about will guide our a priori imaginings in life. Text messaging is another instance in which we have to imagine thoughts behind words. I don't want to elaborate on this much. But lets just say that words have their vagueness, and text messaging is such a simplified form of communication that it brings the imagination to it in a new and strange way.
Let me wrap up now on how the (a priori) E-imagination is involved in daily life and how our historical moment has created a specific form of the a priori imagination. Goldman's work shows that there are two distinguishable forms of simulational mindreading: low-level mindreading that operates on direct facial expressions and other mirror/resonance based forms of understanding, and high-level mindreading which utilizes the imagination to think about more complex and abstract forms of thought. Living in the West, at this particular moment, means that I have to engage in a world in which technology and words separate me from other people. High-level mindreading, therefore, is going to be more of a factor. I am going to have to imagine complex states of mind that are veiled by technology and words. Furthermore, these imaginings often unfold a priori and are guided by unconscious factors that are beyond us. We can, however, exert a little effort to modify the way our mind works on that unconscious level. We can change the underlying structure of our brain. In a minute I am going to corroborate the idea that we can transform our minds with J.M. Schwartz's work on self-directed neuroplasticity. But before I do I would like to discuss Goldman's notion of 'naive' or 'tacit' psychological theory, and how it is that a tacit theory may be involved in our unconscious imagining of other people's thoughts.
Tacit Theory and The A Priori Imagination
In philosophy of mind one of the major schools of thought is known as 'theory theory,' no joke. These people believe that mindreading is accomplished primarily through naive psychological theories. These tacit theories would allow us to make theoretical inferences about why a person is behaving the way they do. Goldman, however, stresses the centrality of simulation to the mindreading process. The existence of mirror neurons, as well as our understanding of the imagination strongly suggests that we understand other people mainly by simulating their thoughts for ourselves.
Despite his emphasis on simulation, Goldman believes that tacit mental theories may also play a role in mindreading. He believes that tacit theories would come into play in at least two instances. 1. Tacit theory would allow us to understand a person's thoughts even if we lack the experience necessary for a simulation. A person with a damaged amygdala, for example, has a hard time experiencing anger, so cannot directly empathize (i.e. mirror) with someone feeling anger. They can, however, infer that someone might be feeling angry because their property was stolen, etc.. 2. Tacit theory may be involved in the initiation of simulation processes. In other words, when we have incomplete information of another person's thoughts, we may use unconsciously theoretically surmise about their behavior. In the car, for example, we may attribute a complex mental state to someone who makes a mistake while driving, even though we have only seen them make one mistake. That judgment (which unfolds via the a priori imagination), is initiated and supported by a tacit mental theory that encompasses many things: our general understanding of intelligence, our knowledge of driving, of laws about driving, our experiences with driving, our understandings of forgiveness. Quite a lot of unconscious material has to play into our simulation of that driver's thoughts. And it all happens unconsciously. Sort of.
So, what I want to stress here is the second aspect of of Goldman's claim: that tacit mental theories give rise to our unconscious imagined simulations of other people's thoughts. This fits in very well with the notion of the a priori imagination. Once I recognize that my imagination unfolds on an unconscious level, and that my thoughts on other people are often imagined in this unconscious way, then how does that happen? How is my mind able to instantaneously concoct these imagined simulations? Well, tacit mental theory serves as a sort of underlying structure that supports our a priori imagination. This is how theory could precede narrative. Our mind has an unconscious, somehow integrated understanding of certain phenomena of the physical and social world, and it guides our minds in the process of explaining other people's thoughts.
In my section on Foucault I am going to explain how it is that we might be able to modify the tacit theories that underly/limit our a priori imagination, and thus change the way that our mind works on an unconscious level. In that section I will work with the distinction between the physical limitations of the a priori imagination and the social/historical limitations of the a priori imagination. In both instances I will explain how our thoughts are limited, and how we may be able to overcome those limitations
For now, however, I believe I have shown a few things. 1. That there are distinct levels of mindreading, low-level and high-level. 2. That the intense depersonalized nature of our historical moment forces us to rely primarily on high-level mindreading, which means we can consciously access these imaginative processes. 3. That tacit mental theories unconsciously structure the output of our a priori imagination. 4. That because there are unconscious theories that support our imagination, and because we can consciously think about these processes, we have the possibility to modify the tacit theories that underly our imaginings and thus change the way our minds work on an unconscious level.
Now I am going to turn to Schwartz's work on self-directed neuroplasticity. I think that his work will show how exerting mental effort at our tacit theory and imaginings could bring about physical change in the brain. I am using Schwartz to show that if we pay attention we can modify our a priori imagination.
Schwartz and Self-Directed Neuroplasticity: The Neuroscience of Modifying the a priori Imagination
I don't want this section to be as extensive as the previous ones or the final one. I merely want to show that it is possible for the mind to change the brain. If you believe that you can modify the way the mind works on an unconscious level (i.e. that we can change the a priori imagination), you have to believe the mind can change the brain.
In the Mind & The Brain Schwartz argues that his work with OCD patients, understood in the context of quantum physics, proves that self-directed mental effort can reconfigure neural circuits in the brain. To be perfectly honest, I found Schwartz's work to be very compelling. Perhaps because it substantiates so much of my thinking about the uses/effects of the imagination and its ability to transform the self (i.e. brain). I am, however, incredibly afraid of the quantum aspect of his claims. So, I will largely avoid his claims about the role of quantum physics and defer primarily to a discussion of his claims and evidence on OCD patients. I will still reflect on the role of physics in these ideas and discuss the quantum aspect of Schwartz's work, but this will be secondary. My primary purpose with Schwartz is to show that exercising will power and cultivating self-discipline can modify thought on an unconscious level (i.e. the a priori imagination), and would therefore result in physical changes in the brain.
That being said, lets talk about how OCD patients have been able to use their minds to change their brains. Schwartz claims that his work on OCD patients works by teaching them Buddhist mindfulness techniques. He teaches them to recognize their thoughts as caused by a compulsive neural circuit, to reassign meaning to their thoughts to think of them as compulsions and not part of themselves, and to redirect their thoughts towards other actions.
The basic idea is that Buddhist mindfulness techniques can give you enough awareness of your thought processes to exert enough effort to change your thoughts/actions. Volition is the key thing. Schwartz very firmly believes that we can exert mental force to control our own behavior. He is firmly opposed to epiphenomenalism, which claims that our sense of consciousness is just an illusion produced by brain chemicals. That consciousness is an epiphenomenon of the brain. Schwartz draws heavily on William James, who also believed that consciousness could not be an epiphenomenon and must have served an evolutionary purpose. James also said that he believed volition expressed itself primarily in terms of attention and focus. Consciousness, mental force, is our ability to maintain concentration on something for longer than we would have otherwise.
This fits in perfectly with Schwartz because in Buddhist mindfulness the most important thing is attention. You pay attention to your thoughts. You check them off, acknowledge them, and let them pass. You don't pursue them with words, you just acknowledge them. Once you have acknowledged them and learned to reattribute meaning to them, you can hope to change them.
So Schwartz believes that with OCD patients who learn mindfulness techniques, the ability to pay attention and redirect action will eventually result in physical changes in the brain. In the case of OCD patients brain change is relatively easy to measure. When people have OCD there is a clear neurological circuit (in the areas responsible for warning/danger/etc.) that is overactive. When patients have successfully redirected their thoughts enough times, that compulsive OCD neural circuit will literally disappear. In his therapy groups many of the people were totally cured and many of them had no instances of relapse.
So, based on Schwartz's data alone it seems that, if people are given the training, the mind can exert meaningful power on the brain. It seems undeniable that Schwartz trained OCD patients in Buddhist mindfulness, and that this eventually led to physical changes in the brain. So, for my purposes, this is all I want you to know. It is indeed possible for us to modify the way our brains work on an unconscious level. We could exert mental effort to modify our a priori imaginations. In fact, I think Foucault gives quite clear instructions on how to achieve this goal. He does it through the language of transformation of knowledge/power/ethics, but I think that bringing the Foucaultian conversation to the neurosciences is incredibly important for me. In my section on Foucault I will actually turn to another scholar who thinks likewise.
The Stakes of Physics
Now before I turn to Foucault I would like to discuss the role of the physical sciences in these ideas. Schwartz was really the first writer that made me realize that our understanding of physics has very serious implications for our sense of the mind and the brain. The main tension comes from the physical reductionist (Newtonian) model of the physical world in which particles and molecules are involved in a set, unchangeable chain of cause and effect. This model of the physical world implies a physical determinism. It makes it seem like the mind should be a product of nothing but endless sequences of cause and effect in the brain (thus the popularity of epiphenomenalism). Schwartz, contrary to epiphenomenalists, believes that the Newtonian physical model cannot account for the existence of consciousness. Schwartzinstead proposes that the laws of quantum physics are consistent with his findings of self-directed, volition based, neuroplasticity. How could quantum physics make it so that the mind could change the brain? I'll tell you what Schwartz says.
But before I do I just want to share one quotation from John Searle, a UC Berkeley philosopher of minds and science. In his lectures titled Minds, Brains, and Science he addresses the role of physics in our understanding of the mind/brain problem. He basically says: 'To believe in free will is to believe that every single human being is capable of disrupting the physical chain of cause and effect.' When I read that I basically had to stop and say whoa wtf. I mean, it makes sense. But to put it in those terms is just so powerful. So how could that possibly be the case? How could mental effort change the physical sequences of cause and effect? Schwartz literally claims that quantum physics can explain how directed mental effort (attention) could change the physical world.
So, in the quantum world the most important factor is attention and observation. In the quantum world a physical particle exists only as a wave of possibilities until it is observed. Schwartz basically says that the brain is subject to the laws of quantum particles because ions are the main things that cause neurons to fire or not. Since Buddhist mindfulness techniques also revolve around the role of attention, Schwartz believes there is a quantum explanation for the changes in his patient's brains. Basically, he says that when we direct attention to our thoughts we can change which thoughts come into being on a more regular basis than others. The quantum zeno effect plays a role. But basically, our brain often exists as a superposition of possibilities, just like an unobserved wave. But once we exert attention on it, we can force it to become an observed reality, and by coming to our observation of ourselves with a certain intention in mind, we can alter our brains to favor certain types of thoughts more than others. When we do this enough we can make those other states of mind our default frame of mind. So by going to the garden every time we want to wash our hands (OCD style) we can redirect our neural activity from hand washing to gardening. By doing this repeatedly we weaken the OCD neural circuit and eventually make our brain inclined, on an unconscious level, to not be OCD.
I gave Schwartz's work, and especially its relation to quantum physics, a much more extended discussion in my post of 4/25/10, "Mindfulness, Attention, the Quantum Brain, Synthetic Experience, and Memory Based Reenactments." It mostly fits in with all my other thinking, but I am not a physicist, and like I said, I am really afraid of dabbling into this quantum physical stuff with any real sort of authority. It seems very dangerous, but is completely central to Schwartz's full argument in The Mind & The Brain. But if this discussion of the quantum aspect, or any of Schwartz's work, doesn't make sense, feel free to refer to my post of 4/25.
So, I am now fully prepared to discuss Michel Foucault's work and how it is that he offers very clear instructions on how we could modify the way our mind is working on an intuitive level. I really believe that Foucault's emphasis on personal transformation should be connected to this notion of the a priori (intuitive)imagination. Further, I think we should conceptualize Foucault's work in light of Schwartz's thoughts on self-directed neuroplasticity. Since Foucault is giving us instructions on how to modify our mind on an unconscious level, it must involve physical changes to the brain. It is very powerful to know that that is indeed possible, and that is what Schwartz does for me.
A Summary Before Foucault Tells us How to Change Our Intuitive Imagination:
But a quick summary before I turn to Foucault. I began by explicating Collingwood's notion of the a priori imagination and ended up concluding that Collingwood believed it to be a very general concept. He thought it was particularly useful to understand for historians, but that it permeated much of our daily perception. I then reflected on my first attempts to explicate the generality of the a priori imagination. David Foster Wallace's thoughts on the role of a liberal education, and in particular its ability to change and strengthen your imagination, gave me some insight into how the humanities might be connected to the modification of the a priori/intuitive imagination. Having established the generality of the a priori imagination I turned to Alvin Goldman to try to draw a blurry line between the parts of life that involve the a priori imagination and those that do not. I used Goldman's distinction between low-level and high-level simulational mindreading to argue that the a priori imagination would be involved in instances of high-level mindreading, and would thus be excluded from direct interaction that could be facilitated by mirror neurons and empathy. I also argued, however, that our contemporary moment, with all its technology and writing, is heavily depersonalized and knowledge-saturated, and therefore demands that we use high-level a priori imagined simulations on a more regular basis than low-level simulations. To demonstrate the depersonalized nature of our experiences I used the example of fresh social interaction (with its over reliance on preformed concepts about people), the example of driving (with its tendency to attribute complex mental states with extremely limited evidence), and the example of facebook and text messaging (with their reliance on self-presentation and text based understanding). I then discussed Goldman's claim that tacit theories underly our a priori imagined simulations, and the possibility of using attention and education to modify our tacit theories, and thus our unconscious mind. I then discussed Schwartz's work on self-directed neuroplasticity, and how it is essential to these ideas. If we are to believe we can change our minds on an unconscious level (through attention) we have to believe it will bring about physical changes in the brain. All of this has been building to Foucault's work and how he is giving us a way to modify our a priori imagination.
So, what I have told you so far, in however many words, is this: Most of our social interactions are facilitated by intuitive (a priori) imagined simulations of other people's thoughts. That our depersonalized and knowledge-saturated historical situation binds our a priori imagination by forcing us to intuitively imagine people with little evidence and with a limited set of tacit mental theories. And lastly that it would be possible to exert mental effort to modify our tacit theories and a priori imagination (on a neurological level). And that this is my goal: to change the unconscious/intuitive/a priori imaginings of my brain. More than anything else I am trying to address the centrality of intuitive thinking, and the importance of attempting to use rational and deliberate thinking to address, and most importantly, to modify intuitive thinking.
Now, let me tell you about how Foucault says we can do this work historico-philosophical study. Yikes. This is a bit much for me. That bold and italicized chunk above felt really good to write. I have been brewing these ideas for quite a long time. My foray into Foucault has been going on for about the last year or so. Immediately I thought he contributed to the bigger picture of what I was after. The next section I am about to write, however, is without a doubt my most complex, integrated, and pragmatic statement on his work in relation to the rest of my thinking. Let me see if I can say this. Let me see if I can take myself (and hopefully you, my invisible readers) to these places of transformation that Foucault wants to take me.
Foucault and Modifying the a priori Imagination: Possibilities for Practice
First things first, what is Foucault's overarching concern in all of his work? It is the subject and how the subject is formed by certain forms of power/knowledge/ethics. Furthermore, Foucault believes that subject's are constituted (i.e our identities are formed) primarily by the limitations of thought. What are the limited tools and concepts that I have to work with? What are the major forms of knowledge that I engage with in order to constitute my identity and my relations with others? What is the historicity of my own thinking?
Earlier I claimed that the a priori imagination functioned primarily on the limitations of our thought. Our experience often makes it that we can't help but imagine something being a certain way. Thoughts often unfolds naturally to us based on our experience, that is the a priori imagination, and it is guided by our store of experience that gives us an unconscious understanding of the world. Foucault's emphasis on the limitations of our thought, therefore, is extremely important to the modification of the a priori imagination. Here I want to say, however, that there are two types of limitations to the a priori imagination. One is physical and the other is social/historical.
The physical limitations of the a priori imagination are fairly straight forward. When we see a person in one spot and then five minutes later in another spot, we can only assume that they traveled across that space. In other words, our a priori imagination is guided by our experience in the physical world, and it tends to obey our intuitive understanding of the physical world. There is little hope or need, therefore, to try and modify the physical limits of our a priori imagination.
The social/historical limitations of our a priori imagination, however, can and should be addressed. We can address the historical/social limitations of our thought by recognizing their contingency. Our understanding of the physical world is not contingent, it is consistent, it doesn't really change. It is safe to assume that the laws of physics were the same for people 500 or 2,000 years ago. The social/historical world is entirely contingent, though. Most of our modes of thinking are not universal, they are not ahistorical, they are contingent, they rest on certain social processes. The point being that even though society and history has set the limitations of our a priori imagination, it is certainly possible to find new ways of thinking about the social/historical world (which is not necessarily true for the physical world, or at least not the same degree, or with the same pragmatics).
So, since the a priori imagination operates on the limitations of our thoughts, and the social social/historical limitations of our thought are far more contingent and manipulable than the physical limitations, Foucault's work on the historicity of our thought will have a major bearing on the application of these ideas.
But how, exactly, does Foucault's work apply? Well, at this point I can say there are at least five ways in which he can help us.
First, his method of history is explicitly aimed at exposing the ways in which contemporary thoughts have been historically constructed. He refers to this process as the 'archeology' of thought. He says that the label is somewhat arbitrary, but that it generally is about uncovering how it is that our forms of thinking were historically constituted. He researches institutions that almost everyone takes for granted, like mental institutions, hospitals, prisons, and scientific classifications. This aspect of Foucault's work reveals that many of the concepts we use to think about the world are historically constructed, and by showing the historicity of our concepts, Foucault is essentially exposing the historical/social limitations of our a priori imagination. Most of us navigate our daily life by relying (consciously or unconsciously) on knowledge produced by these institutions to. In other words, Foucault's archeologies are often aimed at explicating the historical conditions of our a priori imagination. Though Foucault never speaks in terms of the imagination, I think this makes him perfectly applicable to the modification of the a priori imagination. I will discuss this topic as Foucault and the Birth of the Modern a priori Imagination.
Second, Foucault's emphasis on the importance of hierarchical observation, and in particular his notion of the 'gaze,' makes the internalization of other people's perspectives key, which applies directly to simulation theory of mind. In Discipline & Punish Foucault talks about how hierarchical observation is most important because the people below know they are being watched. Employees, criminals, children, all know that authority is watching them. It is this internalization of another person's perspective that truly keeps people disciplined. This makes the subject a crucial factor, and more importantly it makes simulation theory of mind extremely relevant. In order for another person's invisible gaze to effect your behavior you have to be using your knowledge of their gaze on yourself. This I will discuss under the headingFoucault's 'Network of Gazes' as Implying the Centrality of Simulation.
Third, late in his career Foucault began to corroborate the importance of the subject by explicitly addressing ethics: i.e. the way in which subjects constituted themselves as subject of knowledge/power. How does this power/knowledge effect how I relate to myself? Most of the discussions on Foucault I have with people typically revolve around the power/knowledge element of this work. His late articles and his last two books he makes ethics his primary concern. He says he believes he focused too much on disciplinary power, and the more important issue was ethics and the self. Every form of power/knowledge has a correspondingpractice of the self that allows individuals to transform themselves into subjects of that power/knowledge. How do I work on myself? Foucault's late work is aimed at finding new ways to relate to things (knowledge), new ways to relate to others (power), and new ways to relate to ourselves (ethics). Ethics, therefore, is a theoretical shift Foucault made at the end of his career that allowed him to make the transformation of the self a more explicit theme in his work. At the end of his career Foucault claimed that his work was about finding new forms of knowledge/power/ethics. The addition of ethics to the notions of power/knowledge means that Foucault's work can be easily connected to simulation theory of mind and the modification of the a priori imagination. I will discuss this under the heading, New Forms of Knowledge/Power/Ethics as the Modification of the A Priori Imagination.
Fourth, Foucault's work on ancient philosophy implies some methods by which the self could be modified, namely through a form of historical study that resembles Collingwood's notion of reenactment. In particular, Foucault discusses an ancient Greek memory exercise that resembles the reenactment of the days experiences, with an emphasis on exploring other possible courses of action that would have been more desirable. On other occasions Foucault expresses views that resemble Collingwood's which I discussed some of in my post of 4/30/10. Given Foucault's similarity to Collingwood, it is easy to connect him with Clausewitz and the notion of improving intuitive decision making with synthetic experience. Comparing Foucault to Collingwood and Clausewitz also gives me an opportunity to clarify how the notion of tacit theory is linked to the modification of the a priori imagination. I'll discuss all of this under the heading Foucault, Simulation, and Synthetic Experience: Utilizing and Refining Tacit Theory as Modifying the A Priori Imagination.
Lastly, I think that Foucault's work on the idea of the 'care of the self' makes his theme of transformation even more explicit, it ties it directly to Buddhist mindfulness, and it lines up very well with Schwartz's work on self-directed neuroplasticity. Drawing on the other previous section, I will show how Foucault's ethics and care of the self can be conceived as a form of self-directed neuroplasticity. Just like Schwartz, I believe Foucault's instructions on the transformation of the self resemble Buddhist mindfulness techniques. The key factor in transformation again being attention. Foucault's abstractions of reality are meant to facilitate a meaningful observation of the self that could bring about personal transformation. Jon Sumida has often told me that abstraction is useful so long as it facilitates observation. In this final section I will explain how Foucault's abstractions can help us observe ourselves, uniting it with Buddhist mindfulness and Schwartz's conception of self-directed neuroplasticity. I will discuss this under the heading Foucault as Striving for Mindfulness: The Care of the Self as Self-Directed Neuroplasticity
Now, onward to the subsections!
Foucault and the Birth of the Modern A Priori Imagination.
So as I said I believe that Foucault's archeologies essentially explicate the most common facets of the a priori imagination. He writes histories of our most central institutions that we tend to take for granted: hospitals, mental institutions, prison systems, political institutions, scientific discourses, and understandings of sexuality. I will go ahead and claim that in our day to day lives these institutions provide us with our main conceptual tools. It is easiest for us to think in terms of healthy/unhealthy, sane/insane, legal/illegal, gay/straight, scientific/not, etc.. In other words, Foucault is essentially performing archeology on the fundamental components of our a priori imagination. He believes most of these things have gone unconscious, and he is trying to make them more conscious, more explicit.
In Discipline & Punish Foucault claims that these notions began permeating society on a deep level. He says it amounts to a 'new describability' in which "the child, the patient, the madman, the prisoner, were to become, with increasing ease from the eighteenth century and according to a curve which is that of the mechanisms of discipline, the object of individual descriptions and biographical account. This turning of real lives into writing is no longer a procedure of heroization; it functions as a procedure of objectification and subjection." (192).
This new set of classifications has now permeated the unconscious minds of most people. I find it particularly interesting that foucault says these ideas began to flow from people 'with increasing ease.' It became easier for people to think in these terms. When it is easy to think something it is often thought on an unconscious level. So it seems that individuals themselves begin to internalize these concepts, and their minds begin to rely on them on an unconscious level.
This is precisely what the a priori imagination is: the unconscious reliance on a set of ideas that allows our minds to intuitively ascribe mental states to other people. It is a form of intuitive simulation that lets us understand people. The internalization of these social ideas is what I am calling the birth of the modern a priori imagination. With that phrase I am trying to communicate the historicity of those ideas, and that they continue to pervade our vocabulary and our understandings.
So, like I said, it seems pretty clear that Foucault's archeology, with its focus on showing the historicity of our most important institutions, in reality illuminates the contents of our a priori imagination. Further, seeing as how Foucault's concern is with the transformation of thought and the self, the modification of the a priori imagination seems undeniable. Either way, Foucault definitely wants to change the unconscious, and I think the term a priori imagination is a bit more precise than 'the unconscious.'
Now I'll turn to Foucault's notion of the 'network of gazes,' and how it implies the importance of simulation theory of mind. I think my analysis will help explain how it is that individuals engage with power/knowledge, learn to internalize certain moral perspectives, and thus regulate themselves. Anytime people are thinking about other people watching them, simulation theory of mind has to be a factor. Goldman's work certainly implies this. More importantly, linking Foucault to simulation theory of mind, especially in light of his transition to /ethics, greatly clarifies the pragmatics of his project. In other words, by thinking of Foucault in terms of simulation we could make the transition to Foucaultian pedagogy with much greater ease and clarity. In these next four sections I want to explain how.
Foucault's 'Network of Gazes' as Implying the Centrality of Simulation
In Discipline & Punish Foucault spends some time discussing the development of systems of hierarchical observation. He examines late 18th century and early 19th century schools, factories, military units, and prisons to show that they all exercised power through an 'economy of visibility.' All of these institutions constructed buildings that would facilitate near constant observation of its subjects. Observation typically ended in an examination, which Foucault claimed transformed the economy of visibility into the actual exercise of power.
The examination is central because it makes individuals aware that they are indeed being watched by someone. "In discipline, it is the subjects who have to be seen. Their visibility assures the hold of power that is exercised over them. It is the fact of being constantly seen, of being able always to be seen, that maintains the disciplined individual in his subjection" (187). So why does it matter so much that someone knows they are being watched? Why would that make us behave in a more disciplined fashion to know that someone with a strict mind was watching us? Intuitively this makes sense, it feels uncomfortable to be watched and examined, organic action becomes awkward. But how can we explain that it can actually modify our behavior? How could the establishment of a "network of gazes that supervised one another" modify the behavior of the masses? (171) This notion of network of gazes is great, and immediately made me think of simulation theory of mind and the internalization of other people's perspectives.
I think simulation theory of mind provides a pretty solid explanation of how a 'network of gazes' would lead a large number of people to modify their behavior. In Simulating Minds Alvin Goldman presents a convincing case that human beings understand one another primarily by internally simulating other people's thoughts for our selves. As I discussed above, and in other posts, often when we are interacting with another person we are using our a priori imagination to simulate their thoughts. Further, the simulation of other perspectives can reach a very abstract level. Foucault's notion of a network of gazes, therefore, forces individuals to internally simulative authoritative perspectives that will punish them if they misbehave. The constant potential of being observed forces an individual to constantly simulate that potential gaze. The network of gazes gives rise to a world of internally simulated authoritative perspectives.
This explains how it is that power/knowledge would act through subjects, constitute them in their identity, enable their thoughts and actions. I haven't finished DnP yet, but I am about to read the section on panopticism. Seems like it runs with the rest of this. If our society is moving to a panoptical state in which individuals are constantly under the threat of observation, then simulation theory still applies. It just means that much of modern morality is governed by the internal simulation of authoritative perspectives. Whether it is religious leaders, gods, police men, philosophers, we often turn to another person's perspective to establish a moral boundary. Well, we form our own views too, but in some instances we rely on the simulation of other perspectives. WWJD? maybe a good example. I speculated on the role of internalizing and simulating certain perspectives in religious morality in my brief post of 5/28/10. I think I did a cursory job in that post, but I think Foucault in DnP clarifies how it is that an authoritative gaze could force individuals to internalize a perspective and simulate it in order to modify behavior.
But anyways it seems like the notion of the panopticon would mean that the government's gaze has spread to many of the minds of individuals in society, forcing them to simulate the perspective advocated by the state. Simulation theory of mind always involves a heavy emphasis on the subjective nature of perception. We are always simulating other people's thoughts for ourselves, so it is actually possible to gain a little bit of control over it. That is exactly what this whole post is about. Gaining a little control of how you simulate other people's thoughts. But I am speaking strictly in terms of Foucault right now. I think that I have shown that Foucault's work on observation and panopticism can easily be linked with simulation theory of mind. I think this explains how it is that a network of gazes would give rise to the machine of power Foucault describes in which power/knowledge acts not only on subjects but through them, through their thoughts.
I now want to turn to Foucault's work on ethics. Foucault defined ethics as the way in which we relate to ourselves, while power as how we relate with others, and knowledge as the way we relate to things. Given the simulative themes of Discipline & Punish, I will argue that his transition to ethics was meant to explicitly address the issue of how it is that individuals regulate themselves, how it is that a network of gazes could force individuals to regulate themselves. Furthermore, in this period Foucault came to a fuller understanding of the pragmatics of his project. He started giving explicit instructions on how we could transform ourselves (our knowledge/power/ethics relations) by engaging in certain historico-philosophical exercise. Given the heavy emphasis on subjectivity in Foucault's ethical work, simulation theory still has quite a lot to add to his thinking.
Foucault's Move Towards Ethics and Simulation: New Forms of Knowledge/Power/Ethics as the Modification of the A Priori Imagination
I think Foucault's turn to ethics is one of the most important thing that he did for two reasons I can think of right now. First, it allowed him to specify the nature of his overarching project much more clearly. Second, it makes him easily connectible to simulation theory of mind and the a priori imagination. I believe that Foucault's overarching project resembles the modification of the a priori imagination with historico-philosophical simulation.
So what is the overarching nature of Foucault's project? And why is the ethical component so essential? Well in the 1982 essay "The Subject and Power" Foucault discusses the central focus of his research or the prior twenty years. He very clearly says that his work has been focused on writing a "history of the different modes by which, in our culture, human beings are made subjects." Foucault believed that if he could illuminate the historical deterministic factors shaping our modern lives, then he would be able to illuminate how subjects were formed. Why is it that people exist the way that they do right now? Why are people to say the things they say, do the things they do? How are these identities and lives historically constituted?
Once Foucault identifies his overall project with the subject he was able to state the pragmatics of his project much more clearly. In particular, Foucault is interested in how to transform the subject into something different. This has been stated in a lot of things I have read by him, and it is even very clear on his wikipeadia page. He said "The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning." He has expressed a similar view in interviews when he essential said that his studies were 'trying to create a point of view that did not exist before the study took place.'
His main goal is transformation of the self. He wants people to find new ways or relating to things (knowledge), new ways of relating to others (power), and new ways of relating to themselves (ethics). His are these new relations of knowledge/power/ethics to be found? Well, Foucault believes that historico-philosophical study can prompt us to think differently. If we can study history to understand how we became this way then we open ourselves up to the possibility of being something new. Through historical study Foucault believes he could free our thought from our historical confines. That is what his historical studies were meant to do: "I think we have to refer to much more remote processes if we want to understand how we have been trapped in our own history." (The Subject and Power: 780).
I believe that Foucault's turn to ethics became his main way of addressing how the individual was supposed to use historico-philosophical study to transform themselves. Simply because the process of transforming forms of power/knowledge would be enormous, and couldn't possibly be controlled by a single individual. The relationship with the self, ethics, on the other hand, could be modified by each and every person if they were given the proper tools. I love this move because it recognizes the fact that all life does come back to subjective experience. Subjective decision making is the most importnat level to address, and this is what Foucault was doing with his turn to ethics.
The importance of the individual in ethical transformation is shown in this quotation: "I have sought to study–it is my current work–the way a human being turns himself into a subject. For example, I have chosen the domain of sexuality–how men have learned to recognize themselves as subjects of 'sexuality.'" How do people work on themselves? How do people engage with notions of power/knowledge to constitute their own behavior and identity?
Well, in the last two section I am going to discuss the actual pragmatics of this personal modification, but right now I would like to establish how this connects Foucault to simulation theory of mind.
Now how does Focuault's turn to ethics make him more directly tied to simulation theory of mind? Well, I believe that because he starts explicitly addressing the way the subject relates to the self, to others, and to things, it raises certain questions about how the subject actually relates to the self, to others, and to things? How do ordinary people think about the world around them? How do they make sense of other people's and their own thoughts?
Well, simulation theory of mind has very much convinced me that people engage with other people's thoughts, and often their own thoughts, through an internalized simulation of thought. The level of transformation of our own thoughts, therefore, has to address the level of simulation. If we understand ourselves and other people primarily through interpersonal simulation, then any modification of our thoughts has to come back to modifying the way in which we are simulating other people's thoughts.
Further, given Foucault's emphasis on the unconscious nature of our historical determinism, we can be sure he is talking about modifying thought on an unconscious level. The emphasis on the unconscious nature of our determined thought is expressed in The Order of Things, but even more clearly in The Use of Pleasure: He says his goal was to "learn to what extent the effort to think one's own history can free thought from what it silently thinks, and so enable it to think differently." To me that is just so strong and so clear.
To rethink one's own history is to write a history of ideas that successfully illuminates how my forms of thought have been historically constituted. What does it mean to 'rethink' it? To me that has hints of simulation, as does some of his other work, as I discussed and will discuss more.
But as you can see Foucault believes that studying the history of our own thought can transform 'silent thought,' it can transform the way our minds function on an unconscious level.
This is also what the modification of the a priori imagination is all about. We need to address the unconscious conceptual tool kit that we are working with, and we need to change it. Our tacit theory, which gives rise to our simulations (our a priori imagination), can go completely unexplored if we are not spurned to examine it. But if we examine it we can realize that our unconscious set of concepts is historically contingent and has actually trapped us in its own historical development. But through Foucaultian historico-philosophical study we can illuminate and change the fundamental parts of our a priori imagination.
Foucault's goal of finding new forms of knowledge/power/ethics, therefore, placed in light of simulation theory of mind, should be considered as a way to modify the a priori imagination. Foucault undoubtedly believes that systems of k/p/e infiltrate individual's minds on an unconscious level. When he turns directly to the subject, and how the subject engages with systems of k/p/e, he was able to specify how the subject should transform their unconscious thought. I believe that the language of simulation theory of mind and the a priori imagination can help us conceptualize Foucault's project in a much more pragmatic light. In other words, by thinking of Foucault's project in terms of the a priori imagination it is much easier to see what he means by self-directed transformation of unconscious thought.
I think I have made a convincing case that Foucault's turn to ethics greatly clarifies the transformative element of his project. Further, that once the transformation of the subject's thought becomes a central issue, Foucault can easily be connected to simulation theory of mind and the transformation of the a priori imagination. If we wish to understand how we can transform our relations of k/p/e then we need to understand how our thoughts work in general. Simulation theory offers a convincing explanation of our thoughts, and one that lines up with Foucault's notion of a network of gazes, and which makes sense in light of transforming the self (ethics) as transforming both relations with things (knowledge) and with others (power). Since simulation theory of mind shows that understanding other people often comes down to a subjective simulation of their thoughts, it makes sense that the transformation of the self would lead to new relationships with others and things. We change the way our brain brings other people to life and we change how we relate to others. In other words, Foucault's work and simulation theory show that to change our relationship with things and with others we have to change our relationship with ourselves.
Now I will turn to Foucault's work on ancient philosophy, and how it implies that synthetic experience may be a form of modifying the unconscious. This deepends Foucault's relationship with simulation theory of mind, and it makes him easily connectible to Clausewitz and the notion of tacit mental theory. Finally, it greatly clarifies the pragmatics of personal transformation through historico-philosophical study.
Foucault, Simulation, and Synthetic Experience: Utilizing and Refining Tacit Theory as Modifying the A Priori Imagination
Now in this whole section I want to show that late in his work Foucault began exploring personal and historical techniques that imply that synthetic experience, provided by personal and historical simulation, would be a means to modify the self (in particular something like thea priori imagination. In the next two sub-subsections sections there are two aspects of Foucault's work I would like to discuss: his notion of the 'reactivation' of certain historical techniques, and his discussion of ancient greek memory exercises. I believe that both of these ideas connect Foucault very strongly to the notion of synthetic experience. Further, I think that these two topics, 'reactivation' and memory exercises, correspond well with my distinction between the explicit vs. the implicit effects of synthetic experience. Meaning that the idea of 'reactivation' has an explicit, more conscious effect, while his description of memory exercises creates synthetic experience that has an implicit (or unconscious) effect, meaning the it effects intuitive behavior. I think that this further clarifies how Foucault is related to simulation theory of mind, and that it explains how exactly Foucault's work could lead to the transformation of the self and the a priori imagination.
Foucault and the 'Reactivation' of Old Techniques as Explicit Synthetic Experience from Historical Simulation
I think some of Foucault's statements on the nature of historical thinking resemble the idea of R.G. Collingwood, and are thus simulative in nature. Further, Foucault's comments on the 'reactivation' of old techniques resembles Collingwood's notion of reenactment, and seems like it would produce something like explicit synthetic experience.
In the introduction to The Use Of Pleasure Foucault openly states his worries about switching his historical focus from modern to ancient times. He says his lack of familiarity with the texts would leave him open to "the risk of adapting them, without fully realizing it, to alien forms of analysis or to modes of inquiry that would scarcely suit them" (8). I believe this brief remark reflects a certain amount of awareness about the nature of historical thinking. Foucault is worried about his unconscious contemporary biases and how they may effect his interpretation of ancient texts. Collingwood answers this question with his notions of reenactment and encapsulation. Collingwood says proper historical thinking can only be achieved if a historian can successfully recreate past thought in his own mind, which he called the 'reenactment' of past thought. When a thought was properly reenacted it became 'encapsulated' in the present context of the historians mind. What I have quoted of TUOP is not sufficient to justify the connection to Collingwood, but they certainly hint at his ideas, and I think Foucault probably would have agreed with what Collingwood had to say. Further, Foucault's statements on his histories as 'histories of thought' very closely resembles Collingwood's thinking.
Just like Collingwood, Foucault recognizes that what he is after is primarily a history of thought and experience. This was the biggest statement of Foucault's ethical period that I know of. He claims that he is trying to understand the ways in which individuals were taught to monitor themselves, how did forms of power/knowledge allow people to constitute themselvesas subjects? Foucault wants to know "how, why, and in what forms sexuality was constituted as a moral domain? why this ethical concern that was so persistent despite its varying forms and intensity? Why this 'problematization'?" Foucault believes this type of his is "the proper task of a history of thought as against a history of behaviors or representations: to define the conditions in which human beings 'problematize' what they are, what they do, and the world in which they live." Foucault's definition of history as the history of thought/experience very closely resembles Collingwood, and I think implies something like reenactment and synthetic experience. Foucault's statements about the reactivation of old techniques, however, makes the comparison between Collingwood and Foucault even stronger, lending more weight to the idea that Foucault's work can help change the a priori imagination through synthetic experience.
In an interview titled 'On the Genealogy of Ethics: An Overview of Work in Progress' Foucault expresses a view on the reactivation of old techniques that are similar to Collingwood's idea of reenactment. He says, "Among the cultural inventions of mankind there is a treasury of devices, techniques, ideas, procedures, and so on, that cannot exactly be reactivated but at least constitute, or help to constitute, a certain point of view which can be useful as a tool for analyzing what is going on now – and to change it." Now I find this statement to be very indicative of Foucault's subjective and simulative approach to historical thinking. Furthermore, the reactivation of techniques and ideas to constitute a new world view sounds an awful lot like the reenactment of past thought providing a synthetic experience. Foucault's emphasis on the ability of historical thinking to bring about contemporary change is absolutely crucial. And given that Collingwood recognized that thought could not be perfectly replicated in its immediacy, I am confident making the connection between their forms of historical thinking despite the fact Foucault's seems hesitant about the potential of fully reactivating a thought. But as I said, Foucault's primary concern is transforming our ways of thinking right here and right now. I would actually like to give a specific example of one synthetic historical experience Foucault believed could be partially reactivated to constitute a new form of contemporary ethics.
One aspect of ancient Greek culture that Foucault found useful was their approach to ethics (i.e. relationship with self). In contrast to our moral codes, which are usually in relation to state or religious institutions, the Greek form of ethics was about having a healthy relationship with yourself. In particular one was supposed to 'care for ones self.' A person was supposed to exercise self-control so as to avoid overindulging in food, alcohol, or sex. By limiting ones self a person could attain a state of sophrosyne, a state of extreme personal discipline that gave way to true self-knowledge. This was greatly respected in the political sphere and was thought of as creating a beautiful existence for those around you and for those who come after. It was an aesthetics existence, the beautification ones life, transforming life itself into an art form. Interesting stuff. The care of the self was able to exist as an ethical system because the ancient Greeks had no state or religious institutions capable of producing enough knowledge to constitute a totalizing world view.
While Foucault by no means thinks that we should adopt the Greek system of ethics. He does believe, however, that properly simulating their thoughts, and understanding that there is a form of ethics that is about beautifying your own life. He believed that this could be a way to escape from the power/knowledge relations of the state. He believed that since the sixteenth century power relations have come more and more under the locus of state institutions. Escaping them in actuality may be impossible. But Foucault believed that by reactivating historical experiences we could find new ways of relating to things, others, and ourselves (i.e. knowledge/power/ethics).
I think that what Foucault has to say about the partial reactivation of Greek ethics is a form of explicit synthetic experience. He believed that their way of thinking no longer existed in our historical moment, and by studying them we could reactivate (i.e. reenact/simulate) their way of thinking, and use it to help us think now, to 'analyze' he said, to pay attention to the world and ourselves. But right now I think I have demonstrated that Foucault's definition of history as the history of thought, coupled with this thoughts on the reactivation of old techniques, makes the comparison to Collingwood appropriate. Foucault's emphasis on transformation, therefore, can only be enacted by synthetic experience that is produced by historical simulation. I also discussed how his use of ancient Greek thought was an explicit effect of synthetic experience. I will now turn to Foucault's work that can produce the implicit (unconscious) effects of synthetic experience.
Foucault and Mnemonistic Simulation as Modifying the Self Through Implicit Synthetic Experience:
In the volume The Politics of Truth Focuault discusses an ancient Stoic memory exercise that was intended as a way for us to regulate our own behavior. Foucault finds ancient philosophy particularly important because it almost always emphasizes the importance of transforming the subject. Their goal was always to enable the individual to understand new things by transforming him. Modern morality, on the other hand, typically focuses on distilling the truth or essence from a person. He talks about modern confessional practices and their tendency to try and decipher a hidden truth within each individual. This is in stark contrast, Foucault claims, to the ancient philosophys that were focused on transforming individuals. Transformation, not decipherment, was always the way that people accessed truth in ancient philosophy.
Foucault focuses on one exercise in particular to show how ancient philosophy focused on transformation rather than decipherment. It is a daily memory exercise proposed by an philosopher ancient Roman philosopher, Seneca. Seneca describes a daily exercise that would involve the memory based reenactment of the days interactions and decisions. First I'm just going to give a description of this exercise. Then I'm going to explain how it is a form of simulation that produces a synthetic experience that is aimed at modifying the a priori imagination.
Seneca believes that at the end of everyday when we are peaceful and preparing for rest we should use our memories to examine the events and decisions of the day. We should think back on the things we did, the interactions we had and the way we conducted ourselves. In particular, we should be paying attention to instances in which we behaved out of line with our moral precepts. In Stoic philosophy moral action is typically based around a set of rules that an individual has to internalize. They should be so firmly internalized that they begin to work on an unconscious level.
This memory exercise, therefore, is meant to expose instances in which you acted out of line with your philosophical precepts. Once you have identified a lapse in behavior you are supposed to mentally explore other courses of action. Seneca, for example, reproaches himself for being too harsh while correcting a peer. Rather than engaging him in an enlightening conversation Seneca had in fact offended this man. To address this issue Seneca engages in this memory based reenactment of the day "I reason with myself and take the measure of my acts and of my words.... I can say 'Be vigilant in not beginning it again; today I will forgive you. In a certain discussion you spoke too aggressively or you did not correct the person you were reproaching, you offended him.'" Seneca's tone towards himself is one of compassion and hope for change. Indeed, Foucault notes that the purpose of this self-examination is not to punish the self, but to refresh ourselves of the way we should have acted. These are not permanent faults he is identifying, they are simply mistakes that are to be avoided in the future. By engaging in a mental reenactment of the day and hypothetically exploring alternate courses of action, Seneca is able to correct his own behavior for the future.
Foucault claims that this work in many ways resembles that of an administrator. He says "It is much more administrative than judicial... he is not a judge who has to punish he is, rather, an administrator who, once the work has been done or the year's business finished, does the accounts, take stocks of things, and seeis if everything has been done correctly. Seneca is a permanent administrator of himself, more than a judge of his own past" (159). The notion of personal administration implies a disconnect between the part of the mind handling language and reason and the parts of the mind inaccessible to language, which I guess you can call the unconscious. Seneca reproaches himself for conduct in a conversation. Conversation is often a pre-reflective process that leaves us open to behaving in ways we didn't intend. I am often surprised by some of the things I say, I know some other people who are to. Generally I think that conversation flows unconsciously more than it comes rationally. So, if Seneca's daily reenactment is a rational process then what process does it aim to modify?
I think it aims to modify the a priori imagination. It seeks to internalize rational precepts at an unconscious level. I think this is what Foucault means when he says that "in this Stoic exercise the sage memorizes acts in order to reactivate the fundamental rules," and "his only goal is to memorize the rules which he had to apply." In an interview in The Final Foucault, Foucault explains how ancient Greek philosophers depended on this idea of internalizing the rational rules they wanted to live by. 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 logoswill 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). Becoming logos, or making logos become you, is a great way to put this stuff. Your mind will have become, on an unconscious level, the forms of behavior that you wish to see. This is what I mean by an implicit effect of synthetic experience. It would change your mind at a deep level and all of your thoughts and actions are implicated in it. It takes place on an implicit level? Well, I think this idea of an implicit effect of synthetic experience contrasts well to my notion of an explicit effect, which I will discuss Foucault's relationship to in the next section.
I think this memory exercise, this mnemonistic reenactment of the day, is meant to modify thea priori imagination by addressing the underlying principles that guide your thought. I think that this can be explained in terms of simulation and synthetic experience. Alvin Goldman's work shows that memory can possess the qualities of actual experience, it can feel like the real thing, and it can cause similar neurological activity. By engaging in this memory exercise you are engaging in a mnemonistic simulation of the day's experience. Most importantly, by imagining alternative courses of action you are creating a synthetic experience of that day. By imagining yourself doing the preferred action you are priming your brain to behave that way on an unconscious level. Goldman's notion of the E-imagination explains all of this quite well. You would be pushing your mind in the direction of who you wanted to be. This explains how this process would help to 'constitute a subject' as Foucault claims.
It is about crafting yourself! It is about imagining yourself as you want to be! And the exciting thing is that it seems really likely that by imagining yourself as you want to be you are moving your brain closer to becoming that way. Just imagining yourself doing good things could make you more likely to do good things. I think this is what Seneca is trying to do, and I think this is what Foucault is trying to do. To transform ourselves by imagining different ways of thinking. Or by imagining other people's thoughts and letting them modify our thoughts. Either way, these mnemonistic exercises that Foucault talks about almost certainly about modifying the a priori imagination. It is trying to modify the brain at an unconscious level, and it is doing it through a simulation and an exploration of hypothetical courses of action. All of this simulating provides a synthetic experience (with similar neural activity and all) that can help you transform yourself into that way of being.
Were you an asshole to someone and you could have been nice? Well reflect on it, and imagine what it would have been like to be nice. What could you have done? What could you have said? I think most people know what its like to think 'oh snap I totally should have said duh duh duh when that guy insulted me, then he would have seen.' Those instances are not opportunities for regret, however. They are moments when we can utilize mnemonistic simulation to create a synthetic experience that will help us have better come backs in the future. We still have to act intuitively throughout our conversations. But we can refine the way that we act intuitively by engaging in simulations for the sake of synthetic experience. I now want to discuss the role of tacit theory in relation to mnemonistic simulation and the a priori imagination.
Mnemonsitic Reenactment as Simultaneously Utilizing and Refining Tacit Theory: Foucault and Clausewitz on Modifying the A Priori Imagination
Now as soon as I learned about Seneca's memory exercises I had some questions about the possibility of reenacting memories. I had learned about Collingwood's notion of reenactment from Sumida's course on Clausewitz. Clausewitz never explicitly said 'reenactment' or anything, but Sumida makes the comparison to Collingwood, and it seems pretty good. The major difference between Collingwood and Clausewitz, however, has a bearing on the issue of the a priori imagination and its modification. The key difference is that Clausewitz believed thattheory could be used to aid in the process of historical reenactment, while Collingwood believed that reenactment was accomplished simply by reading historical sources properly.
Clausewitz believed that a body of theory about war could be used to intelligently surmise about gaps in the historical record, namely people's thoughts. This would amount to a historical reenactment of command dilemma that would be produced by the writing of an expanded historical narrative. By engaging in these theoretical historical reenactments Clausewitz believed someone could gain synthetic experience with high command decision making.
So with this in mind, the questions I had for mnemonistic reenactment were: is memory sufficient evidence to support something like a reenactment? if I were to surmise or imagine hypothetical alternative courses of action, would my mind be aided by some kind of theory? If Clausewitz believes a theory is necessary to intelligently surmise, then does my mind possess some kind of intuitive theory that allows me to surmise about hypothetical pasts? So basically after reading about these memory exercises I was clumsily throwing around the term 'intuitive theory' and came up with a way in which mnemonistic reenactment could be seen as a twofold process of utilizing and refining intuitive or tacit mental theory.
When I am engaging in a mnemonistic simulation and I explore an alternative course of action I am drawing on the things I intuitively understand about the world, my assumptions about people I know, about how things work, and about how I am. Tacit theory is all those assumptions that I am largely unconscious of, and it probably allows me to imagine hypothetical realities. I think that tacit theory, as Goldman suggests, is probably involved in structuring our intuitive simulations (i.e. a priori imagination). Based on Seneca's description of memory exercises, however, it seems that the possible courses of action that we are to hypothetically explore are meant to refine tacit theory as well. Seneca says that when you were too harsh on someone you should explore the possibility of having behaved differently. He uses these memory exercise to monitor himself, to pay attention to himself, so as to transform himself and make him better suited to act properly in the future. Seneca's memory exercises, therefore, can only be meant to refine the tacit mental theory that gives rise to our everyday a priori imagination.
- I don't have it in me to write a section on mnemonistic reenactment as retroactive freedom. But I'm thinking about it
In the last two subsections on Foucault's move towards ethics I have been trying to show that Foucault's work is simulative in nature, and its emphasis on transformation can only be explained if synthetic experience is the means of transforming the self. Further, I am claiming that Foucault's work can provide both the explicit and implicit effects of synthetic experience. Moreover, that these forms of synthetic experience would be specifically aimed at modifying the tacit mental theories that underly our a priori imaginings and simulations. I claimed that this was possible based on the different types of synthetic experience that Foucault believed we could reactive through ancient Greek morality.
I now want to discuss more in depth how it is that those types of synthetic experience could lead to a transformation of the self. I think Foucault is trying to use historical analysis to make us think hard about the things around us. I want to show that Foucault is trying to teach us how to pay attention to the world, to others, and to ourselves. I want to show that Foucault is trying to teach us to be mindful. Perhaps most interestingly, I want to discuss how Foucault's mindfulness could be thought of as a form of self-directed neuroplasticity. Jeffrey Schwartz believes mindfulness can change people's lives, and literally change their brains. If Foucault is indeed trying to let us change our behavior by transforming our thoughts through mindfulness, then the modification of the brain is an inevitable conclusion.
Foucault as Striving for Mindfulness: The Care of the Self as Self-Directed Neuroplasticity
As soon as someone tells me that they are going to change my behavior on an unconscious level, which both Clausewitz and Foucault tell me, I have to stay: are you serious? How are you going to do that? Won't that do something to my brain? How could that be the case? But it Foucault and Clausewitz's ideas persist in my mind regardless. When they told me how they wanted to change my mind all I could do was be in awe.
But now I feel like some of my reading has finally explained to me how Foucault (and Clausewitz) would be able to transform my mind, and literally my brain.
So, in order to prove to you (and myself) that Foucault's 'Care of the Self' can be considered a form of self-directed neuroplasticity I am going to draw on three major sources beyond Foucault. First I am going to get some help from my friend Jason Guthrie, who in an e-mail communicated some pretty profound ideas that linked Foucault with Buddhist mindfulness. I have done a bit of thinking about this and will try to explain how Foucault is attempting to cultivate a mindful world view. Second I will turn to the article "From 'Bio-power' to 'Neuropolitics': Stepping Beyond Foucault" by Ivelin Sardamov, a political scientist at American University in Bulgaria. In this section I am going to be confirming that Foucualt can be legitimately connected to neruoscience, and in particular the notion of neuroplasticity. Lastly, I am going to revisit Jeffery Schwartz's work on self-directed neuroplasticity. After grounding my ideas in those works I will elaborate on Foucault's statements on the Care of the Self, and how they are aiming at self-directed neuroplasticity.
Foucault and Mindfulness: Paying Attention as Transforming Ourselves
I believe that Foucault's main objective in his ethical work is to cultivate a certain form of awareness, a new form of consciousness. In fact, I believe that this form of awareness that Foucault is interested in resembles Buddhist mindfulness. For a while I had been trying to grasp what Foucault was really up to. I could tell it was something big and involved transformation. And then my friend Jason Guthrie, a history doctoral student at UMD, gave me a little help in an e-mail correspondence. Me and Jason worked together at the archives and quickly became philosophy/history/academic whatever conversation buddies. For my last six months at the archives I was reading a fair amount of Foucault. Jason had read some of his books in his graduate seminars, but hadn't looked at him in a while.
Then when we both left the archives he began to read a fair amount of Foucault and I continued my reading of him. In an e-mail we were talking about the importance of preformed schemas or understandings of the world. What I sort of think of as tacit theory, our basic underlying understand if the world that informs the unconscious. But Jason is not so sure, he thinks that it may be possible and preferable to approach the world without a set of concepts or schemas. He is sorta right, we should approach the world blankly as best we can, and that is something like Buddhist mindfulness. Anyways, here is a quotation from Jason's e-mail, because I think it is pretty potent phrasing.
He said to me that he wasn't sure we really needed preformed concepts but he was"however, increasingly persuaded that you are absolutely right that F was in fact on the trail of something more profound, what basically amounted to a new kind of consciousness. Clearly, part of the project he was engaged in was exploding established discourses, categories, and ways of relating to the world and showing them for what they are, i.e. historically constructed/situated mechanisms, apparatuses, technologies of power. Now, of course there are different types of power. The power exercised via the state, for example, could be physical violence. But F concluded that it was precisely because the physical violence exercised by the state is clumsy and unpredictable that new, more efficient rationalities of government became necessary. Without eschewing the use of violence altogether, the epicenter of modern technologies of power is located in a capacity to produce truth, which could be widely dispersed, internalized, and reproduced more efficiently than ever before. I think this is one of F's most important insights.The forms of power F is investigating do their work subtly, but more completely than what can ever be accomplished by shear physical force. Take 'biopower,' for example. It targets/objectifies individual bodies (i.e. the whole organism as a living, breathing, thinking entity) and whole populations (i.e. the body politic, the social organism), it works by building a knowledge about its subject and via that knowledge it outlines the limits of what is possible, acceptable, objectionable, etc.
"What I find interesting about all this is not that F resisted a label like structuralism; he typically preferred his own neologisms to established categories/classifications. In an interview included in the Foucault Effect, F responds to a question about the reaction/effect his work has produced in the academy. In answering, he suggests that an important difference between the orientation of his work and that of most historians is that they "take 'society' as the general horizon of their analysis." In contrast, he said, "My general theme isn't society but the discourse of true and false, by which I mean the correlative formation of domains and objects and of the verifiable, falsifiable discourses that bear on them; and its not just their formation that interests me, but the effects in the real to which they are linked." F tried to speak through a new or revised idiom, one tailored to a systematic deconstruction of modern conditions that would bring the "prison" of modern discursive thought and the technologies of power attached to it into the light.
"So to summarize, it's the cure that interest me. Would not the antidote to the social imaginary constructed by the state (to all forms of coercive power) be a form of perception or awareness that's able to see things as they really are, without all the rickety scaffolding of concepts and schemes? It would be rooted in the present moment and would be neither a prisoner of discursive thought nor afraid to engage it. If I'm not mistaken, this is what Buddhism generally refers to a 'mindfulness.'"
Anyways, long quotation from Mr. Guthrie, but I find it all very interesting and help to what I am trying to say right now.
So, how is it that Foucault's work could be aiming for a sort of mindfulness?
Well in mindfulness the key thing is typically attention. It is about paying attention to your thoughts, being in the moment and perceiving and noting everything that comes in. But at the same time not producing any thoughts, not turning to words at each moment. If words come up that is fine, but to simply be and to pay attention is the goal.
So how does Foucault's abstract history help us pay attention? Well, earlier I mentioned that Sumida had told me that abstraction was fine so long as it facilitated observation. This is something that I have thought about a lot. It pertains heavily to Clausewitz, and I believe also to Foucault. With Clausewitz it is fairly clear, an abstracted understanding of war could facilitate historical observation through reenactment. But what phenomena is Foucault's abstraction meant to help us observe better?
The Order of Things has been heavily influential to cultural historians, while The History of Sexuality has been useful for scholars of queer and gender studies. And while this use of Foucault's work is all well and good, I do not believe that this was Foucault's main intention. I think that Foucault intended us to use his books to better observe ourselves and our own thoughts and behaviors. Foucault's emphasis on the transformation of the subject, and his thoughts on the general applicability of his work, show that he was primarily interested in helping individuals gain new ways of living.
His three major categories of knowledge, power, and ethics are to be used as general pillars by which we can gauge our relationship with the outside world. We can use these ideas of knowledge, power, and ethics in our own lives to better monitor our behavior. They can help us pay attention, be more mindful. Examples.
By understanding Foucault's definition of knowledge as socially created forms of understanding I can ask myself the questions: What are the articulable forms of understanding that I have access to? What are the words that are constantly being used around me that are unconsciously shaping the way I think about things? Where did this knowledge come from? What are its historical constituents? In short, Foucault's questions about knowledge let me question the history of the words that I have available to me.
Foucault's work on power, and in particular the relationship between power and knowledge, can also help us observe the world around us. Why do I relate to some people in one way and to some people in a different way? Why do I relate to women differently than men? Why do I relate differently to older people? with homeless people? with people of different races? What are the forms of knowledge that are enabling me to relate to people in this way? Could a history of sexuality help me understand why I relate to these other people in this way? Foucault's work on power/knowledge is meant to help us understand why we relate to other people the way we do.
Finally, Foucault's ethical period asks provides us with the most significant observational tool he has to offer. His ethical work helps us ask questions about ourselves. Why do I relate to myself in this way? Why do I think of myself in terms of mental and physical health? Why do I think of myself in terms of legality and criminality? Why do I think of myself in terms of sanity? Why do I think of myself in any of the ways that I think of myself? What are these ideas of normalcy that I let constitute my sense of my self?
In short, Foucault's notions of knowledge, power, and ethics are meant to facilitate mindful observation of our own lives. He wants us to better understand our relationship with things, with others, and with ourselves. I believe the ethical component is the most important. In fact, it seems like relations of knowledge and relations of power are constitutive of the relation of ethics. In other words, how we relate to things and others directly effects how we relate to ourselves. Of course, how we relate to ourselves can also effect how we relate others and things, making them knowledge/power/ethics all constitutive of one another.
Foucault's emphasis on transformation, however, can only take place in the domain of ethics. Ethics, therefore, is the most important aspect of Foucault's work in that it is the focal point of any transformation in any of the three realms of knowledge/power/ethics. In other words, any change in relations to knowledge or power must ultimately come back to a change in a relation with ethics. So we are using a change in the domain of knowledge or power to bring about a change in ethics. It seems like it could go either way though. A direct change in ethics may bring about a change in knowledge and power. It seems as though the trifecta of knowledge, power, and ethics is a sort of swirling triangle of transformation. A change to any of the three axis can bring about a change in the other.
I think that Foucault's notion of transformation and his method of writing history are extremely positive and creative. He wants to make it possible for us to observe the world in new ways and thus create forms of thinking that have never existed or been named before. Again, his wikipedia provides a great quote showing the large scope and generality of his work: he wanted his books "to be a kind of tool-box others can rummage through to find a tool they can use however they wish in their own area… I don't write for an audience, I write for users, not readers." Foucault writes for those interested in transforming themselves.
His major concepts used in historical analysis are not meant simply for that purpose. They are meant to be an everyday tool kit that enables a different kind of observation of our lives. Foucault's conceptual tool kit is meant to engage us in a form of mindful observation of our own experience. He wants us to pay attention because he thinks if we pay attention we can transform ourselves. He thinks that new forms of knowledge/power/ethics are waiting to be discovered, and that we can do so by observing our lives in relation to philosophically informed history.
Anyways, all I am trying to say is that Foucault's abstraction is meant to make us mindful of ourselves. At least his late, ethical work, in which he is so explicit about the importance of transforming the subject. I think he wanted to transform himself. I think that he wanted to be mindful of the world around him and that is what led him to write these histories. I think he wanted to be able to pay attention, and I think he wants us to pay attention too.
Having made my case that Foucault's ultimate purpose is to cultivate mindfulness, I will now establish Foucault's relationship with neuroplasticity. Sardamov's article "From Bio-Power to Neuropolitics" will be very useful here, if only as a launching pad.
Sardamov and Connecting Foucault to Neuroplasticity: From Neuropolitics to Neuroethics
Now I have a mixed relationship with Ivelin Sardamov's article, "From Bio-power to Neuropolitics: Stepping Beyond Foucault." First, the good parts. Sardamov is able to make a very meaningful connection between Foucault's notion of bio-power, and particularly the internalization of perspectives which I discussed above. Further, Sardamov explicitly claims that this internalization of power (the network of gazes/panopticon) is probably governed by neuroplasticity. He draws on basic neuroscience research to show that human's brains change based on the stimuli around them. In western societies, therefore, human brains would probably have an enlarged frontal cortex (as a result of self-discipline). He shows that this notion of 'neuropolitics' does fit in generally with Foucault's notion of power. Moreover, Sardamov's research fits in with a slew of articles I have been seeing lately on the adverse effect of the internet on intelligence. In short, Sardamov is important because 1. he generally connects Foucault to the neurosciences and to neuroplasticity, 2. he recognizes that neuropolitics would be internalized at a subconscious level, and that they could adversely effect people.
Now the bad. I find Sardamov's article to fall short in three ways.
First, I think that he has an Incomplete and sketchy understanding of Foucault's notion of power. Foucault does indeed us the term power in a wide range of senses. But I think that Sardamov gives an overly vague description of it.
Second, he only briefly and implicitly describes Foucault's turn to ethics, and therefore gives a picture of neuropolitics in which the masses are acted upon by a social/political apparatus that is beyond their control. In his ethical period Foucault thought it was impossible for power to function as it does without the individual relating to themselves in some way. Power, as Foucault depicts it, cannot exist without the subjective, ethical component of transformation, the practice of the self that allows an individual to internalize power/knowledge. Sardamov fails to recognize the centrality of practices of the self and ethics, and instead relies too much on the notion of disciplinary power, and gives the care of the self cursory treatment.
Third, Sardamov's over-emphasis on disciplinary power leaves him lacking any reasonable way to propose a pedagogy that would counteract the effects of neuropolitics. Perhaps Sardamov is making new ground by proposing the connection between Foucault and neuroscience, but I think his work does not go beyond a top-down understanding of power. He only describes the ways in which individuals would passively be effected by the play of neuropolitics. He claims that gaining an awareness of the neuropolitical process we would be able to counteract his effects. Sardamov has nothing to say, however, on how we would actually go about doing that. How do we battle the neuropolitical apparatus that we are unconscious of? Now I know that my brain is being rewired by society's power/knowledge systems, but so what? What now? What can I do about it?
These are the questions I intend to pick up on. Sardamov's article is an extremely useful launching pad for me. He is totally right that research on neuroplasticity implies that human brains are being rewired by the systems of power/knowledge that Foucault describes. He fails to recognize, however, that Foucault's turn to ethics is in reality Foucault's solution to the problem of top-down, disciplinary, power. It would allow individuals to modify the way they engaged with the systems of power/knowledge that were inscribing their neural pathways. In other words, Foucault's ethics is a form of self-directed neuroplasticity that would let us escape the neuropolitical structures that we obey unconsciously. I think that we should start thinking of a 'neuroethics' in which Foucault's version of personal transformation is conceived of as a form of self-directed neuroplasticity.
I now want to wrap up on my neuroscienctific take on Foucault's ethical transformation.
I am going to do this by discussing Jeffrey Schwartz's work on self-directed neuroplasticity and how it confirms the connection between mindfulness and self-directed personal/neural change. If Foucault is indeed striving for mindfulness, and if it is supposed to bring about a transformation of the self, I cannot avoid the conclusion that it is comparable to Schwartz's version of self-directed neuroplasticity that utilizes mindfulness techniques.
Foucault, Schwartz, and Mindfulness: Paying Attention Can Change Your Brain
So I discussed Jeffrey Schwartz's work above. But I am briefly rehashing it because it has significant bearing on Foucault's form of mindfulness and its goal of personal transformation. With Schwartz's work it is very easy to conceptualize Foucault as providing instructions for a form of self-directed neuroplasticity.
So in The Mind & The Brain Jeffrey Schwartz argues that training OCD patients in Buddhist mindfulness techniques can help them redirect their thoughts and eventually cure their OCD by reconfiguring their neural connections. Schwartz believes that the laws of quantum mechanics explain how paying attention to thought could brings certain possibilities into reality on a more regular basis. By regularly engaging in this attentive redirection of thought, Schwartz claimed that OCD patients could rewire their brains and cure their OCD.
Schwartz's model of self-directed neuroplasticity is what I am using to conceptualize Foucault's notion of transformation. Seeing as how I have already established the connection between Foucault and mindfulness, and that Schwartz's model is based around mindfulness, it is easy for me to conclude that Foucault's version of mindfulness would lead to self-directed neuroplasticity.
The methods I discussed earlier, (memory exercises, reactivation, etc), can all be considered a form of self-directed neuroplasticity. I fear I have lost the connection to the a priori imagination at some point, so let me bring that idea back into play to establish a little bit more clearly what is being changed.
By using Foucault's (or Clausewitz's) method of philosophical historical study we can change our a priori imagination, which is undoubtedly a change in the brain. As I discussed, these modifications to the brain would be caused primarily by the creation of synthetic experience. Historical thinking essentially amounts to a simulation of past thought, which is capable of providing many different types of synthetic experience.
Alvin Goldman's work helped me understand the importance of experience in being able to intuitively mindreading. In particular, it is important that if you lack experience with a certain emotion or experience you may have a difficult time simulating the thoughts of a person in that situation. Experience deficient simulation, is what I call it.
I think the a priori imagination is primarily a product of our experience. So synthetic experience would become the way to overcome our lack of real experience and transform the a priori imagination. That synthetic experience would be striving for a state of mindfulness in which you could gauge your own thinking in new ways, pay attention to yourself, others, and the world in new ways. All of this would cause a transformation of your own thinking that should be thought of as self-directed neuroplasticity, a neuroethical transformation.
When I quoted Foucault on Plutarch I was getting at something that appears to be a form of neuroethical transformation. Plutarch explained how the internalization of logical principles, the logos, should be so strong that your mind automatically thinks that way whenever you experience a desire to lapse. To so firmly internalize logos that it becomes your minds default states must certainly involve some physical change to the brain.
I think Foucault's notion of the 'care of the self,' in particular, is connected to his work on ancient philosophy. Further, I think the care of the self is a good chance to connect Foucault to self-directed neuroplasticity. Mainly because the care of the self is a technique that was all about an individual paying attention to his own behavior in order to modify. Furthermore, the care of the self was often a process that was overseen by an older, mentor type figure, which I think makes simulation theory of mind important in the process of transformation.
But anyways, given that Foucault that the care of the self might be an interesting alternative form of ethics for modern individuals, it seems like he wanted it to function on that individual, subjective level. He wanted people to have the opportunity to transform themselves. And this was supposed to be accomplished by learning to pay attention in new ways.
I'm having a really hard time elaborating this connection to the care of the self and self-directed neuroplasticity. The comparison makes total sense, but I am having a hard time elaborating. I think the connection is firm. It feels like a good connection to me. But I will save its exploration for another time.
(6/18/10 final editing note - I really do not do a very good job in this section. It was late when I wrote it, I was tired, and I was struggling to pull all of these ideas together. Then I just wrote that brief section trying to draw the care of the self in to it more explicitly.
I need to do more research into the actual workings of the brain, and how rational, deliberate, imaginative mental exercises could change the brain. I know that synthetic experience is neurologically possible, I have read enough to know that. But how does imagining complex mental states, intense historical synthetic experience, how does that really effect the brain? How would Foucault's mindfulness really change the brain? I need to do more research.
But for now I think I have presented a pretty convincing argument that Foucault's thinking is simulative, personal, and practical in nature. That it is aimed at cultivating a state of mindfulness that would allow people to engage with the world, with others, and with themselves in new ways. Further, I argued that Foucault's thinking is directly tied to the a priori imagination in a number of ways. Most importantly, Foucault's work should be seen as attempting to modify the a priori imagination. He is trying to modify our minds on that deep of a level, so that our first reactions and thoughts become different than they were before. Finally, that in light of Jeffrey Schwartz's work on OCD, Foucault's version of mindfulness should be considered a form of self-directed neuroplasticity in which an individual modifies their brains to be more open and understanding (or whatever you want to be like, I am saying you can change your brain to become that way). In short, Foucault is providing instructions on how to engage in a neuroethical transformation that uses mindfulness and synthetic experience to change the a priori imagination.
Concluding it All
This essay turned into an enormous explication of Foucault's method, and its possibility for application and comparison with some other philosophers and some neuroscience. Again, I believe this writing is very closely related to my writing of 4/30/10. But in this essay I was trying to accomplish something very different. I was trying to explain how it is that the mind typically functions on a preconscious, pre-reflective, level. Yet that there are ways to identify how the mind is working on that level, and ways to modify the way it works on that level. Ultimately I believe this issue, this idea of the modification of the a priori imagination has to come back to a form of self-directed neuroplasticity. So i came back to Foucault and conceptualized his studies as guides to a form of self-directed neuroplasticity that is aimed at creating new, creative transformations of the a priori imagination.
I began this overall explication by exploring Collingwood's notion of the a priori imagination, concluding that he believed it to be a very general phenomenon. I then discussed David Foster Wallace's thoughts on the imagination, and how I interacted with them in my daily life to produce my post of 3/30/10. I then used Goldman's work to draw a line between the parts of life that would involve the a priori imagination, and those would not. I concluded that Goldman's distinction between low-level and high-level simulation was useful for this line. I also concluded, however, that a plethora of of knowledge and technology make our culture prone to more high-level, rather than low-level, mindreading. This heavy reliance on high-level mindreading makes the a priori imagination, and its cultivation, very important. I also discussed the possible role of tacit theory in the a priori imagination and its modifications, agreeing with Goldman that tacit theory probably gives rise to intuitive simulations (i.e. a priori imaginings). I then discussed Jeffrey Schwartz's work on neuroplasticity, and speculated on the changes in the brain that may come from modifying the a priori imagination, paying attention to Schwartz's focus on mindfulness.
Having made my arguments about the centrality of intuition and the a priori imagination, I discussed how Foucault could offer some very real possibilities for modifying the self and the brain. I first tried to establish that Foucault's archeologies were directly aimed at explicating the unconscious contents of our thoughts, and thus our tacit theories, or a priori imagination. Then I tried to explain how his work on panopticism, and his turn to ethics recognized the importance of subjectivity and the internalization of perspectives, which easily connects him to simulation theory of mind. Building on this connection, I explained how some of Foucault's ideas could provide forms of synthetic experience that would modify the a priori imagination. I compared him to Clausewitz and discussed the possibility simultaneously utilizing and refining tacit theory in memory based reenactments. I then tried to show that Foucault's work could be connected to neuroscience, and that it resembled a form of mindfulness. I then connected Foucault's version of mindfulness to Jeffrey Schwartz's version of mindfulness. Making this connection I am able to claim that Foucault's notions of synthetic experience, like the Care of the Self, should be thought of as forms of self-directed neuroplasticity. I called it neuroethics, building off of Sardamov's term neuropolitics. I think I have shown the importance of the a priori imagination, and that Foucault is providing us with a means to change it. I also think the neuroscience connection is legit. I also think this fits in somehow with my post of 4/30/10, but I'm not sure how yet. But anyways. Rough stuff.