The Kekule Problem: Language and Consciousness

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  • 09 Apr 2017 at 5:44 pm #9000

    Candy Minx
    Member

    Okay. He has said “influential persons” four times now. No all together he says it six times.

    That was a very sweet article, charming and conversational. Not what I was expecting.


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    09 Apr 2017 at 6:09 pm #9001

    Candy Minx
    Member

    “Language is a virus” 1962, William Burroughs in his novel “The Ticket That Exploded”

    (and Laurie Anderson named a song, after Burroughs, “Language Is A Virus” in 1986)


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    09 Apr 2017 at 6:39 pm #9002

    Glass
    Member

    Old dreams, sometimes very troubling. Loved that bit. He’s as comfortable as an old shoe talking about these deep and ancient mysteries.


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    09 Apr 2017 at 7:00 pm #9003

    efscerbo
    Member

    First thing I thought of was Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow:

    “Friedrich August Kekule von Stradonitz, his dream of 1865, the great Dream that revolutionized chemistry and made the IG possible. So that the right material may find its way to the right dreamer, everyone, everything involved must be exactly in place in the pattern. It was nice of Jung to give us the idea of an ancestral pool in which everybody shares the same dream material. But how is it we are each visited as individuals, each by exactly and only what he needs? Doesn’t that imply a switching-path of some kind? a bureaucracy? […] Young ex-architect Kekule went looking among the molecules of the time for the hidden shapes he knew were there, shapes he did not like to think of as real physical structures, but as “rational formulas,” showing the relationships that went on in “metamorphoses,” his quaint 19th-century way of saying “chemical reactions.” But he could visualize. He saw the four bonds of carbon, lying in a tetrahedron – he showed how carbon atoms could link up, one to another, into long chains. . . . But he was stumped when he got to benzene. He knew there were six carbon atoms with a hydrogen attached to each one – but he could not see the shape. Not until the dream: until he was made to see it, so that others might be seduced by its physical beauty, and begin to think of it as a blueprint, a basis for new compounds, new arrangements, so that there would be a field of aromatic chemistry to ally itself with secular power, and find new methods of synthesis, so there would be a German dye industry to become the IG. . . .

    Kekule dreams the Great Serpent holding its own tail in its mouth, the dreaming Serpent which surrounds the World. But the meanness, the cynicism with which this dream is to be used. The Serpent that announces, “The World is a closed thing, cyclical, resonant, eternally-returning,” is to be delivered into a system whose only aim is to violate the Cycle. Taking and not giving back, demanding that “productivity” and “earnings” keep on increasing with time, the System removing from the rest of the World these vast quantities of energy to keep its own tiny desperate fraction showing a profit: and not only most of humanity – most of the World, animal, vegetable and mineral, is laid waste in the process. The System may or may not understand that it’s only buying time. And that time is an artificial resource to begin with, of no value to anyone or anything but the System, which sooner or later must crash to its death, when its addiction to energy has become more than the rest of the World can supply, dragging with it innocent souls all along the chain of life. […]

    But who, who, sent, the Dream? Who sent this new serpent to our ruinous garden, already too fouled, too crowded to qualify as any locus of innocence – unless innocence be our age’s neutral, our silent passing into the machineries of indifference – something that Kekule’s Serpent had come to – not to destroy, but to define to us the loss of. . . we had been given certain molecules, certain combinations and not others. . . we used what we found in Nature, unquestioning, shamefully perhaps – but the Serpent whispered, ‘They can be changed, and new molecules assembled from the debris of the given. . . .’ ”

    I’ve long thought that Pynchon’s answer to “Who sent the Dream?” is (his own analogue of) the judge. That for Pynchon, there’s some evil force at work putting ideas into people’s heads to foment violence and war. And that crucially, those infected with these thoughts consider them their own, rather than being distrustful of them. (Kind of like the modern Western Buddhist “Don’t believe everything you think.”) But I get the sense from McCarthy that, rather than in the unconscious, the judge manifests in language, in distinguishing and discriminating and conceptualizing. (This kind of thing is what I was talking about in my long essay in the Mysticism and Nonduality thread.)

    Either way, interesting that the two of them have such similar ideas going on and use the exact same story about Kekule, even though it seems they may have opposite points of view on the matter.


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    09 Apr 2017 at 7:17 pm #9004

    efscerbo
    Member

    Candy,

    Speaking of Burroughs, there’s another quote by him that always made me think of the judge’s war speech:

    “This is a war universe. War all the time. That is its nature. There may be other universes based on all sorts of other principles, but ours seems to be based on war and games.”


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    09 Apr 2017 at 7:27 pm #9005

    Clement
    Member

    First full paragraph on Pg. 28 with its’ morality – is McCarthy throwing us back to Plato’s anamnesis? Substitute past lives with the genetic past lives of a unconscious as biological system. This paragraph made me stop in my tracks.


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    09 Apr 2017 at 7:29 pm #9006

    Candy Minx
    Member

    Yes, another good quote. Pretty much every thing in McCarthy can be found in Burroughs.

    That quote about war is a fave because of the games aspect not just the war (competition)


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    09 Apr 2017 at 7:37 pm #9007

    efscerbo
    Member

    100% agreed, Candy. Men are born for games, after all, are they not? Lol


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    09 Apr 2017 at 7:42 pm #9008

    Glass
    Member

    That war and games quote from Burroughs is really something!

    Clem, definitely think you are spot on about the anamnesis. Isn’t The Passenger going to explore mathematical Platonism quite a bit?


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    09 Apr 2017 at 8:11 pm #9009

    Candy Minx
    Member

    Puzzle-solving, yes. Game-theory, yes.

    Let me see if I am understanding the overall theme of this article…I have a knack for misunderstanding some things…and it seems to me, my feeling is…that there is some if not humour…then some slight cat-sac
    watching fun in this essay.

    I can not get past six uses of “influential persons.” It has to be on purpose….or else it’s just soppy…and this is not a sloppy article…it is written like buttery conversation. But it does have an intent….I think (ha)

    I see that perhaps is McCarthy referencing someone like Thomas Nagel?

    Or of this “This is not to say of course that the human brain was not in any way structured for the reception of language. Where else would it go? If nothing else we have the evidence of history. The difference between the history of a virus and the history of language is that the virus has arrived by way of Darwinian selection and language has not. The virus comes nicely machined. Offer it up. Turn it slightly. Push it in. Click. Nice fit. But the scrap heap will be found to contain any number of of viruses that did not fit.

    There is no selection at work in the evolution of language because language is not a biological system and because there is only one of them. The ur-language of linguistic origin out of which all languages have evolved.

    Influential persons will by now of course have smiled to themselves at the ill-conceived Lamarkianisms lurking here. We might think to evade it by various strategies or redefinitions but probably without much success. Darwin of course was dismissive of the idea of inherited “mutilations”-the issue of cutting off the tails of dogs for instance. But the inheritance of ideas remains something of a sticky issue. It is difficult to see them as anything other than acquired. How the unconscious goes about its work is not so much poorly understood as not understood at all. It is an area pretty much ignored to analytics and to the question of whether the brain is like a computer. They have decided it is not, but that is not altogether true.”

    The ending of the article seems to hint rather comically…that again….can we know ourselves? How can we ask the unconscious for help? How would we be sure it was helping/us/useful?


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