The Kekule Problem: Language and Consciousness

This topic contains 205 replies, has 17 voices, and was last updated by  Richard L. 4 months, 2 weeks ago.

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  • 16 Apr 2017 at 5:22 pm #9137


    I still haven’t got my hard copy.

    I read that “Are you sure?” as an de facto apology for the article he has just written. Maybe wishful thinking. If it is not intended that way then maybe McCarthy really does believe the hype that he is some sort of gadfly pointing researchers in a new direction. Incredibly arrogant if that’s the case. I fret about my favorite octogenarians succumbing to Pierre Salinger syndrome or Seymour Hersh disease, mostly because even though I’m 30 years his junior I fight them sicknesses myself sometimes.

    The dropping of the larynx must have come with some evolutionary benefit to compensate for the increased risk of choking. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it correlates with the rise of language. Simple language would still be possible. But perhaps the language of the aesthete would not. Wine was either a little less rank than water or not for thousands of years. Then all of a sudden retronasal smell had its way. Wine now had diesel notes, tobacco notes, etc etc. It was still wine but it had become a multiple of others. It now has terroir – a little plot of earth, stony soil, marl. It boggles the palate

    16 Apr 2017 at 5:31 pm #9138


    Does anyone of you guys have a digital copy of Whales and Men? I looked all over the internet, but all of my efforts were to no avail.

    16 Apr 2017 at 5:40 pm #9139

    Candy Minx

    I feel like the Skinner example is not talking about the same sort of thing that Steinbeck, Deidre Barrett, or McCarthy are talking about in regards to an unconsciousness aiding in waking life.

    I don’t know but they seem like different things.

    The example of compartmentalized selves….as you describe Skinner saying…”someone might be a different self with his family than with his drinking buddies or in his work environment”

    To me that sounds like someone with self-esteem being compromised rather than their unconsciousness helping them.

    We can not know what the unconscious is, or the committee…and that is why the article is humorous to me….because McCarthy ends by saying “Are you sure?”

    Overall the article is a humorous article….contesting the science on unconsciousness. (making fun of “influential persons” or saying they don’t have answers)

    Let me try this…

    The inspiring part of Deirdre Barrett’s work, “The Committee of Sleep” with the artist, or creative , or scientist allowing their unconsciousness to help them solve problems is an act of INTEGRATION.

    Where what you quote of what Skinner is describing is a problem solving that is an act of SEPARATION.

    What Skinner seems to be describing is something sad, low self esteem and social anxiety….a bit like this…

    “According to the compartmentalization model of self structure (Showers & Zeigler-Hill, 2007 & Zeigler-Hill & Showers, 2007), some individuals conceptualize their positive and negative characteristics as segregated from one another, called evaluative compartmentalization. For example, they might associate their social and family lives with positive qualities, but associate their work and recreational lives with negative characteristics. In contrast, other individuals conceptualize their positive and negative characteristics as related to one another rather than isolated from each other, called evaluative integration. They might, for instance, feel relate their work, school, social, and sex lives all to both positive and negative characteristics.

    The extent to which individuals exhibit compartmentalization rather than integration affects many properties of their mood, emotions, and self esteem. In general, compartmentalized self structures correspond to increased variability in mood and self esteem.”

    I have no idea if I am making any sense here…I am willing to take a risk at sounding foolish in order to find a cohesive understanding of what different people here think about consciousness and unconsciousness. Or to try to understand what the purpose of McCarthy writing this article is about too.

    The idea that you might think anyone is an expert or thinks of them selves as an expert suggests that the punchline of McCarthy’s article has been missed.

    • This reply was modified 9 months, 1 week ago by  Candy Minx.
    17 Apr 2017 at 4:42 am #9141

    Richard L.

    Re: Are you sure?

    As I pointed out before, this is just a magazine article. A nice one too. “Are you sure?” is an appropriate closing line, just like Morgan Freedman uses for a typical episode of THROUGH THE WORMHOLE. Here, the “committee” makes consciousness by talking to each other:

    Of course Morgan Freeman, like Cormac McCarthy, is not a scientist, but like McCarthy, he talks with scientists. He’s a question man, not an answer man.

    My wife and I went to see his new movie (he stars with Michael Caine and Alan Arkin) and it was very enjoyable. Ann Margaret was in it too, still lovely to look at. GOING IN STYLE is the title, a lot of fluff, but there are also some very anti-capitalist moments.

    17 Apr 2017 at 1:26 pm #9142


    JVH5 is a much more intuitive interface. Planned obsolescence in roughly 6 months when the new JVH6s+ will be rolled out! How are things in Trump county? When are you visiting the trudeau north strong and free? I haven’t been to a CJ concert in a while.

    I just read the scanned images made available upthread, so my impression is just from a first fuzzy read. Does he mention that Robert Calassio? I missed that.

    What’s this about a committee of selves? I also missed that! Is that Skinner? It sounds like a conception of the unconscious not as a unitary thing, a psychic container or basin, but as a multiplicity of larval subjects. I can dig that. “Larval subjects” and “multiplicity” come from Deleuze, but you get that conception in an analytic philosopher like Dan Dennett, who sees consciousness as a “pandemonium” of larval “agents.” So the unconscious is a multiplicity of agents, i.e. of little desiring machines. The only thing is why organize the multiplicity into a “committee”? Isn’t there some better organizational metaphor than this? Committee reeks of business. Does consciousness really operate like a business, with business principles? That would be the dream of business people everywhere, and would explain the lameness of the world. I guess there are political committees too, or were. It’s just for me the business usage of the term prevails as an association. Which is why I’d prefer a generic term like multiplicity. (It’s also more mathematical.)

    McCarthy is saying the unconscious may have a kind of moral agency, insofar as it appears to guide its subjects to solve various kinds of problems. A scientist’s dream helped solve the problem of the structure of benzene. A hunter’s dream helped solve the problem of the movement of the herd across these plains. An Underground Railroad operator’s dream helped solve the problem of where in this forest to cross a river. A poet’s dream helped solve the problem of sending word of Xanadu. A composer’s dream brought the devil’s music back from Hell. The anecdotes go on. The unconscious aids its subjects, in ways that suggest it transcends its subjects’ limitations of apprehension in space and time. And it speaks almost exclusively figuratively, insofar as it is a machine that produces representations of things that lie beyond the conscious subject’s capacity to know. And it somehow knows what is good for the subject, which is why McCarthy calls it moral? Maybe my problem with McCarthy’s presentation–as I remember it at the moment–is the tendency to anthropomorphize: to make the agency into an agent. Am I remembering this right? I guess the temptation to anthropomorphize stems from the difficulty of imagining how a multiplicity of desiring machines can aid a subject in an unorganized way. Maybe only some parts of the multiplicity have the capacity to search the future for the good and bad possibilities it comprises.

    Perhaps by immediately capturing the pandemonium of the unconscious into a form like “committee,” something important is overlooked. Which is that the disorganization of the unconscious may account for the all important element of stupidity in the individual, group, species.

    • This reply was modified 9 months ago by  JVH5.
    17 Apr 2017 at 6:52 pm #9144

    Richard L.

    re: “Which is that the disorganization of the unconscious may account for the all important element of stupidity in the individual, group, species.”

    Yes, indeed, and H. L. Mencken once made the contention that the trouble with the universe is that there is not just one God, but a bureaucracy of gods who all have the ego of God and vie for political favors like a damn board of directors or a Congressional subcommittee, making compromises, adding superfluous pet projects like the human appendix, and generally screwing up everything.

    I don’t think that Cormac McCarthy’s magazine article was meant to say anything grand, it was probably originally meant as a follow-up to his appearance on Oprah, when the O sat open-mouthed at McCarthy’s belief in the power of the unconscious and said to him, “Don’t let your scientists friends hear you talk like that,” or somesuch thing.

    Anyway, the article is conversational, playful, seems meant to raise questions rather than to answer them. Not a landmark Cormac McCarthy work, other than it is his first and perhaps last venture into magazine articles.

    18 Apr 2017 at 9:58 am #9145

    Candy Minx

    One thing I was thinking about the dropping of the larynx…is it may have helped give us singing! I sent this article to my voice teacher….she is always talking about the history of the voice and anatomy of singing.

    John, this is a bit like the game of telephone….

    “The Committee of Sleep” is a book whose title is riffing on a comment made by John Steinbeck. “It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.” John Steinbeck.

    A book, took it’s title from that John Steinbeck quote…and it is called THE COMMITTEE OF SLEEP. The book is exploring how or if dreams…may help resolve issues for some disciplines practitioners.

    From book blurb “Dr. Barrett offers insights showing us how to encourage lucid, meaningful dreaming, and how to apply the meanings of our dreams to solving problems–from the everyday to the extraordinary. This is the stuff dreams are made of. In the visual arts, Jasper Johns couldn’t find his unique artistic vision until he dreamed it in the form of a large American flag. Salvador Dali and his colleagues built the startling new genre of surrealism out of dreams. Kubla Kahn dreamed the design for his stately pleasure dome; thousands of years later, Lucy Davis, chief architect at a major firm, continues the tradition of dreaming designs into life in her extraordinary buildings. Film is a fertile avenue for dreams: “Twice I have transferred dreams to film exactly as I had dreamed them,” confides director Ingmar Bergman, as have Federico Fellini, Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa, Robert Altman, and John Sayles.

    18 Apr 2017 at 10:18 am #9146

    Richard L.

    Re: “This can be that,” etc.

    In the article, McCarthy goes through a brief litany of “this can be that,” which might seem awkward unless you have read Robert Calasso’s KA: STORIES OF MIND AND GODS OF INDIAN/strong> (1996), which translates from the Sanskrit the Hindu mythology. (Calasso is otherwise brilliant for his works on Kafka and some other classics, but let’s stick to this one for now):

    The first equivalences were the sampads that flashed across Prajapati’s mind as he was dueling with Death. A sampad is a falling together, a chain of equivalences…He thought: This is like that, this corresponds to that, this is equivalent to that, this is that…if this is that, then that corresponds to this other thing. . .

    He went on doing this. Slender bonds wrapped themselves like ribbons around this and that. The bonds stretched, invisible to many, but not to the one who put them there. . .he could now see how every dapple of vegetation, every outline of a rock, concealed a number, a word, an equivalence; a mental state that clung and mingled with another state. As if every state were a number. As if every state were a number. . .

    Of course there’s a lot more, but the gist is that somehow these ancients knew to be true what we know to be true today, that names and descriptions, metaphors, combined to form language by using our innate higher math skills. This is what McCarthy alludes to in the article, or so it seems to me.

    You might be saying that no, that’s something different, I use numbers all the time but I don’t see language the same way. If so, that’s because you haven’t given it enough thought. You should read Keith Devlin’s THE MATH GENE: HOW MATHEMATICAL THINKING EVOLVED AND WHY NUMBERS ARE LIKE GOSSIP. The author says he wrote the book “to show how mathematical thought differs from numerical computation.”

    Language is not arithmetic; language is higher math, complicated math, concept math. If this is all new to you, you should read Devlin’s book before you tackle Max Tegmark’s OUR MATHEMATICAL UNIVERSE.

    18 Apr 2017 at 10:35 am #9147

    Candy Minx

    Richard, I’m not sure how using double bind as a communication technique helps the discussion. I took your fervent defense of mathematics seriously, even if I don’t agree. I take your exploring Skinner seriously, even if I think you are conflating a theory of behavior with a metaphor about creativity. But I’m not going to consider your arguments seriously if you are going to use the double bind.

    I am willing to risk being a fool to talk about this article…and consider all the viewpoints here…but you turning to a double bind isn’t really a positive technique to discussing the nature of reality, memory, unconsciousness or anything for that matter. It’s too much of a control system of behavior in any environment.

    The article was worth defending your position on mathematics…but now it’s just “a nice article” when I explore whether Skinner and Steinbeck were talking about the same thing. Richard your energy and participation is an inspiration. Isn’t it okay if we disagree? Can’t we disagree and still have a cup of coffee? Without using double binds?

    18 Apr 2017 at 10:47 am #9148

    Candy Minx

    And..having said that…it’s a bit like Devil’s Advocate. I don’t like the Devil’s Advocate approach…however, it is a debate and learning tool.

    when the double bind is out in the open…and we know we are using it…it’s integration becomes less damaging.

    And…perhaps in this discussion of unconsciousness….isn’t it really also a discussion of the nature of reality?

    Isn’t it also…in McCarthy’s article that he is aware he being meta?

    And we are here…looking at each others arguments…approaches…feelings and it becomes a bit meta.

    Perhaps…in a Zen sort of way…the double bind is acceptable?

    I notice that in “real life” double binds arise as managerial failings….but they also emerge during generational communications..

    Overall…maybe i shouldn’t be so concerned about the double bind Richard…because McCarthy’s article is the biggest double bind…because the unconsciousness seems to depend upon the contradictory experience of trying to talk about it…

    ha ha…and this is why I find the article humorous…for two reasons….one McCarthy is so bitchy to “influential persons” and he ends with this strange sense we can’t really know ourselves very easily…or at all…

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