Embodied Pleiotropy and Cognition

Pleitropy is an interesting concept: How a single gene/mutation has distributed effects in the organism.

Difficult to conceive of the complexity of evolution that would ensure organism fitness through single mutations.

Illustrates how single genes are responsible for networks of functioning. Isolating a single gene function presents difficulties.

Genes operate within a symphony of interdependent networks.

Changes in genes impact not only the distributed network of processes it expresses, but concurrent networks within the organism, which in turn effect the functioning of that genes effects.

Genes are embodied.

You can imagine the parallels to embodied cognition, and the concurrent distributed network of cognitive processes that give rise to emergent conscious phenomena.

I think a central takeaway of embodied cognition is that the phenomenal “self” can be reduced to ego. And ego is an adaptive survival mechanism. But self/ego doesn’t actually exist. It’s just a reflexive process that accumulates through habituation, habits which we identify as self .

Cognitive theories struggle to account for the mechanism of sentience because they haven’t accounted for the mechanism of ego, the very mechanism which allows the cognition to adapt to novelty and change and persist, which follows a path dependency because of habituated cognitive processes.

Reflexive in the sense that the organism and world are not separate entities, but interdependent, working on each other. When the organism changes, the life world changes, when the life world changes, the organism changes. The external world is not pregiven, and cannot be represented as an accurate ideal of what is, because the organism essentially defines the world.

This, along with the fact that the reflexive relationship between the organism and world is actually comprised by not one “conscious process”, but regulated by distributed layers of concurrent networks possessing this reflexive embodied relationship with the life world.

You can conceive of these networks as individual communities of builders or societies of agents working amongst themselves and/or with other communities of builders. It is an ecology or economy of builders. They do not exist independently, but they do not exist as one whole.

The process of developing cognitive structures is as fundamental as the cognitive structures themselves, because there is an inter-action among them and with the life world of lived experience as they develop and evolve.

Meditative Phenomenon

I had an interesting experience while doing some meditation today.

Typically meditation is just an observance of thoughts. Surveying the percolating mental contents that arise moment to moment, coupled with reflection to identify the source of these thoughts. But mostly just letting thoughts and feelings wash over and through me, and opening myself to the moment. Relaxing. Releasing physical and mental tension.

However, I’ve been giving a lot more thought to the phenomenal conscious experience, inspired by recent readings.

I was closing my eyes, aware of my breathing tempo, and observing my thoughts. But I became acutely aware of my sensations.

Not just their existence, but their source.

This conscious experience is permeated with sensational qualities. The five senses color every thought, imbuing conscious experience with this texture that I take for granted. These senses are atomized as “pre given”. They just appear.

But I began to reflect on their source.

My eyes are closed, and yet permeating my conscious awareness are sensations. They just are. In. On. Throughout. They almost sneak into the periphery. But then you go there, and they are not. They are no where.

Where is the source of sound? Not outside me, but in me? Where is the source of touch? Where does it begin to appear in my conscious awareness? Is there an edge I can peel up and look behind?

And so I sat there, and began a process of identifying these sensations, and observing their source. Or at least, attempting to.

This process of mindful observation resulted in a streaming recession of awareness. Not sleep. But into this bleeding edge of consciousness, where all my senses began to strip away, and almost unplug, which created a certain timelessness.

I kept reeling back and forth between this state, trying to stay “aware” or “conscious” while turning my reflective gaze back into this source, but each time I’d be flung into this event horizon.

I realized this is an interesting meditative exercise: observing the source.

If for no other reason than it facilitated this mind bending effect

Ideology and Identity

The ideological cosmology of religion is a powerful tool for transcending differences and creating a meta unity.

I suspect, on some level, differences in ideology are really differences in what is defined as sacred and profane. They demarcate the boundaries of experience, of what is to be explored, and what is to be forbidden. A population of groups with conflicting definitions threatens cosmological disintegration, which results in massive fear and violent reaction.

I’ve been reading about European history recently, and specifically the history of the North Sea, and consequently the origins of Great Britain starting with the invasion of the Romans in 43AD.

Civilization in general has been a fascination, and trying to understand how and why western civilization, beginning with the Babylonians, Egyptians, Mycenaeans, Greeks, and Romans, managed to continually enlarge their reach in ways that no other civilization had done before.

I’ve always had intuitions about the power of religion and the unique role of written language as a vehicle for absorbing tribes and communities into these nation states. When I first learned that the word religion means “to bind together again”, it stuck with me as being having a peculiar role in the formation of institutions, which in turn assimilate populations into an order and structure that serves as an identity.

And I’ve always suspected the fall of the Roman Empire was somehow linked to the decline of their religion. There’s a curious coincidence of secularism, and the fall of the Roman Empire.

What struck about the history of Britain was how conflicted this island had been from the arrival of the Romans, to about 1200AD. Invasions, immigrations, multi ethnic communities populating such a small island, and the enduring violence and bloodshed during that time is astounding.

There was a single central figure, however, King Alfred, who was the catalyst that seemed to rectify this disunity, and create a national identity.

What was most intriguing, was that King Alfred had visited Rome before he became king, and was fully christianized. Apart of this devotion was his potent emphasis on writing and recording history. He was a man of letters, and during his reign, he quite literally began to write the Historical narrative of Britain, which was inseparable from his mission to Christianize the country into a United whole, beginning with his Angle Saxon Chronicle.

Up until then, none of the other tribes had a written language with which to preserve their pagan religion. Some had primitive runes, but there was no literacy.

King Alfred not only introduced Christianity, but he used literacy as a means of recording the historical identity of Britain through his religious vision.

When you look at other countries at the time, such a Denmark, they have no written history. European History began with religion, began with the preservation of sacral text, of symbolism and rituals and rites contained therein. Prior to the introduction of literacy, history is merely an inquisition of piecing archeological fragments together. The narrative is applied retroactively.

Religion is cosmology, and cosmology is identity. Preserving this requires the introduction of a standardized common history which possesses continuity, a living memory.

Buildings and art are as much an expression of this cosmology as text, but text contains the logic that transcends the boundaries of immediate community.

Artificial Memory

I’m reading the book The Art of Memory by Frances Yates.

Memory is something we don’t think much about in contemporary society, but historically it was of paramount importance.

Artificial memory, or utilizing images within the mind’s spatiotemporal framework, was foundational for the development of civilization, and I dare say consciousness.

What’s interesting, is that buildings were constructed as a direct reflection of memory palaces, specifically temples and institutional buildings.

There was a methodological framework for constructing a good memory palace, which included proper dimensions, and “notae” or markers which signify loci for referencing memories, as well as the “imagines agentes” or striking symbolic images that represent “things” or “words”.

The pre-Socratics knew of these memory methods, but historians believe that these were derived from Egyptian formulations, but they were formalized by the Greeks and later the Romans, and revitalized in the Medieval period by the scholastics followed by the renaissance thinkers, but the disciplines of artificial memory methods seem to disappear soon thereafter, likely due to the advent of the printing press and the proliferation of text.

When architects of past built cathedrals or temples or government buildings, they deliberately constructed them as a reflection of an internal memory palace, and the values contained within.

This is a fascinating thought.

Physical Buildings were reflections of internal memory palaces, and the living memory of the enduring cultural values they sought to preserve.

Their dimensions, their sculptures, their ornamentations, all referenced the importance of retaining memory.

I think of modern architecture…. and how god ugly and plain and utilitarian they are, devoid of humanistic values, and what a pitiful example of a memory palace they are.

Moreover, from a linguistic development perspective, written script started out as iconography, literal images which the mind’s eye could place within a memory palace.

Images, and the symbolic power they possessed as a memory tool, were the foundations of thought, and sophisticated culture more generally.

What’s Important to note, is that for intellectuals of past who prized the role of memory, they made a strong distinction between memory and recollection.

With all the written information infused throughout our daily lives, Memory is an art that’s rarely practiced. Rarely emphasized in education. Rarely prized for its merits.

But until very recently, memory quite literally was a key ingredient to invention and discovery.

The trinity of man was: memory, understanding, and will.

Cicero’s books on rhetoric which contain the best remnants of the ancient art of memory were named “De Inventione”, and Aristotle wrote at length about the role of memory for creation.

A common definition of memory was “a thesaurus of inventions and of all parts of rhetoric”.

I find this all fascinating.

Additionally, Platonists placed the most importance on memory. The idea of a memory palace and the utilization of images situated at loci within reveals their commitment to “forms” which reveal the highest truth.

Believing in the transmigration of the soul, they believed the life was a process of “remembering” universal truths which were forgotten at birth. These platonic forms are like Jungian archetypes, which reveal themselves through meditation.

The process of creating memories, of constructing internal worlds and memory palaces, is literally a meditative one. It is the process of quieting the mind, freeing oneself from extraneous distraction, and concentrating to affix vital truths and the images representing them within the interior palaces of the mind.

This tradition was manifested most plainly in monasteries and by monks.

I wish I could relay all the idiosyncratic details supporting all this, but you should read the book.

The discipline and art of memory is an almost spiritual enterprise, in that it deals with the formation of consciousness, of expanding internal worlds.

Learning, knowledge, wisdom…. these are impossible without a robust memory. And there is an explicit art of memory that’s existed since the dawn of civilization… and which I fear is losing its power.

Memory via internal palaces and images requires responsibility and self possession, a result of self discipline and mastery.

External images require none of this, and leave man dispossessed, and open to persuasion and influence.

Anyway. It’s all very interesting.

The Problem of Spatial Compression for Linear Signaling

What makes explaining ideas or concepts to people difficult, is that my internal “knowledge” world is a spatial or visual place.

So communicating ideas takes it from this spatial world of information, and translates it into a linear string.

Sometimes I find myself overwhelmed about how to accommodate this spatial idea, full of complex relationships, and flatten it into a linear message.

If you want someone else to inhabit this world of yours, communication is the tool is get this done.

But sometimes it’s like, where do you start?

Having a good understanding of the audience/interlocutor is incredibly helpful for framing proper context. But even then it’s difficult, especially if it’s a casual conversation.

I feel like to properly articulate ideas requires a 60 second buffer to examine the idea and compress it properly into a coherent string of logical relationships before you begin communicating.

Which is why I always prefer writing my ideas out, because to me it’s akin to sketching, fleshing out the contours and outlining the substance before drawing hardened lines around core ideas, erasing superfluous strokes, and shading and coloring where necessary. Properly writing out ideas is very much like drawing in this regard.

So speaking becomes increasingly difficult with the complexity of the idea. But the thing is, most significant ideas are situated in this spatial place. So to truly communicate the significance of where it’s situated consistently seems like an overwhelming task.

In fact, it makes me just not want to talk. I end up at a loss for words.

I think if my brain processed faster, I’d be able to optimize this compression and simplification process.

Like someone asks you something, or you’re talking about something, and as you speak you keep having to stop and mentally restart again and again because accommodating all the relevant information into a simple linear message seems to be overwhelming? It’s like compressing a 3D image into a 1D signal, whatever that means.

Does this make sense?