Saturday night at Allan Bros Coffee House

Two books tonight “Synaptic Self” and “The Meme Machine”.

My mental focus is not here yet. I am not “seeing” the words on the page… my mind is a haze. I seem wide awake. I am not groggy, I do not necessarily wander in thought… but my visual focus of the mind is not clear. I say “not necessarily” because my mind always wanders somewhere or other. So I write, trying to focus. I try to write while not using cursive to focus my attention to one point. While I look at the one point I can thereby “pick-up” peripheral points in relation to the one point. This is helpful because it brings the opposing forces together; focus on singularity one one hand, and wide-ranging imagination on the other. A yin/yang event. It takes more energy now than I realize to write without cursive. The music is good but the equalization is horrible. Not enough high-end, too much low-end.

I am thinking a little now. On the cover of the book “Synaptic Self” there is a pciture of a neuron. It looks quite odd, a large round blob with about 18 or so arms extending into the darkness toward others just like it. My attention is centered on an axon near the receptical. The gap between the two is the domain of neurotransmitters. Now, my thoughts don’t go along “how does the electrochemical impuls differentiate in order to send one type of neurotransmitter over th other other”, though that is a mystery I have not learned yet. No, the first question in mind is on the understanding consciousness. LeDoux makes the point that understanding consciousness to be a little off the goal proper. Meaning that people generally talk about the riddle of consciousness not seldom of the riddle of self. Yet I am reminded of an organizational psychology class (gee… three, four years ago?) where the point was driven home “there is not a group/organization identity, but only a collection of individuals.” You didnt’ actually put a group in a box, (like collecting stamps) but you collected individuals. This thought alone can carry me into pages of thhought.

I remember a visiting neurologist’s lecture about “consciousness” from a neurological, anatomical point of view. Neurons, he said, weren’t either on or off, but there were varying levels of excitability througout the brain all of the time. The sensory routines alone are, excuse me, mind blowing. Yet add the feedback loop of memory, learning, pro-active perpception to the mix and the brain puzzle becomes maddingly and infinitely complex. The world does not need a 31 year old amatuer psychologist in a coffee house late on a satruday night to spread this notion. But in keeping with my origional thought, let me return. I recall the examples in the book “Emergence” of how complex behavior evolved within simple mechanics and programs. Open-ended feedback systems. The horizons of such thoughts are unknown to me. Looking at this one picture of this one synapse I ask myself (possibly a novice question to some, but to myself at this time an immense one) “is this neuron ever conscious?” It is readily discerned as quite an absurd question. Yet I ask it in all seriousness for it is of the theme given at the guest lecture that I attended to those years ago and of which runs counter to the everyday notion of what our consciousness is (and who we are).

Is there more than a fine line between consciousness and self-consciousness? Are they two expressions of the same or two different states or conditions? The neurologist stated how it was theoretically possible for the neural portions below a break in the spinal cord to achieve consciousness itself, though we’d (the rest of our brains, the “self” we generally make out to be our self) not know it. The Gestalt view of the brain was in my mind during this lecture, as it is now. Speaking purely on guess now, one neuron does not itself achieve consciousness, nor two neurons, but something between them all.

Return to my thought on organizational psychology. The organization is made up of its members, but if the organization has enough identity, it also gives to the members identity. Not only did I bring my own behavior to the Marines, but I also internalized the values and history of the Marines within me. And lets note the complex social aspects of behavior as well. Now, along the lines of thought from earlier, the physical “marine corps” does not exist. It is not a thing in and of itself. It is a hard idea to sell because the Thomas could say “see the tanks, the bases, the papers!”. Okay, fine. Take away the bases, the uniforms, the tanks and stick some marines in a situation. I regularly meet ex-marines in day to day life. We show comraderie to each other, swap stories, and between strangers in a room the marines have already developed a bond between them. The Corps lives on in our hearts and minds. But where is this Corps at? Is it only in our minds? Again, I think the answer is in the interaction between the individuals, the interaction is in the spaces between.

I am finishing chapter two of the book… on to chapter three.


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