“Many children appear to assemble menageries of dolls and animals almost as if they had been previously instructed… some few of those continue the habit throughout their lifetimes. In young children, an animal or human doll is often the most valued possession, and anything untoward happening to that doll is experienced as a very real crisis. What is the basis of these behaviors? Why are they so peculiarly charged?”
Where all the little elements used to dance and sing…
What we think of as a lexicon is more properly an an ongoing storm of interdependent evolution affecting many orders of elements and modes of application. In fact, changes to any single element can alter the entire collection and the ways in which elements connect, as well as the ways in which they inform each other’s character (which in turn, informs meaning and function).
Like our ancestors themselves, the new universes of representational awareness arising within them became thriving ecosystems of competition, mutuality, and relational co-emergence — and whether or not the ideas that dominate Darwinism are true in Nature, they can definitely be made true in the abstract dimension of human cognition. That is to say that the more aggressive and virulent competitors generally win the day.
Problematically, it looks like the behavioral paradigms that catalyzed our pioneering of formal memory were bipolar, and it appears that their goals were necessarily conflicted in certain crucial areas. Although what follows is a significant simplification of these circumstances, it will suffice to call these two paradigms Mother/gatherer — and Father/hunter. Homo Empathicus and Homo Faber. One of these is necessarily unavailable for combat, the other is more or less a pioneer, and may be aggressive and domineering. Iain McGilchrist, in his book The Master and His Emissary, describes this as a ‘cross-like’ assembly: “In order stay in touch with the complexity and immediacy of experience, especially if we are to empathize with, and create bonds with, others, we need to maintain the broadest experience of the world as it comes to us. We need to be going out into the world along the horizontal axis, if you like. By contrast, in order to control or manipulate we need to be able to remove ourselves from certain aspects of experience, and in fact to map the world from the vertical axis — like the strategy map in the General’s HQ — in order to plan our campaigns.” I admit that these are stereotypes, and yet their crude outlines do in many ways encompass the subject I wish to bring forth from its common hiding places.
The former will tend to develop memory assets based upon observation of and touch-intimacy-level interaction with children, other women and mothers — this will be spiced with interactions with males and their ‘universe’. Females in these circumstances will thus pioneer memory assets related to nurturing: emotional paradigms, teaching crafts, and physical care — and will also develop memory assets based upon what is available for non-traveling mothers carrying or caring for children: namely, relatively stationary assets (gathering). Their group-consciousness will develop along similar lines.
The focus of hunters is (roughly) on utility, teaching combat and tracking/sighting/signaling skills, killing and hunting, prowess-building, active physical teamwork (of which sports are representations), and mastery.
Both forms of memory are adjuncts of lived experience, but the basic nature of their conflicts rarely dovetails neatly in our civilizations.
I feel strongly that early experiences of what we might call proto-representationals were nothing like the common waking consciousness we moderns express; a consciousness profoundly mediated (if not prescribed) by evolving streams of knowledge, conceptual habit, language, and media concern.
For our early ancestors, there was no such thing as concrete (or literal) abstraction. They did not yet exist in a world of things, per se, but of flows of character and cycles of identity. The possibility of a ‘fact’ was a distant one at best — the predicates of many ordinary concepts we take for granted did not yet exist.
From observations of infant development we can ascertain that early experiences of tokenization or conceptualization are not fundamentally mechanical or even necessarily rational, but instead involve a variety of deeply emotional and possibly spiritual (or devotional) aspects and functions. This is part of why mythopoetic experience (i.e.: cosmologies, religions) plays such a pivotal role in our cognitive evolution.
I believe that our ancestors experienced these nascent opportunities emerging in their own consciousness as mythopoetic flows from which being itself was arising; their experiences were surely charged with the peculiarly alien (as in otherworldly and advanced) character that signaled a new epoch of sentient potentials.
But what was it that ma have initially prompted such a seemingly radical departure from animalian awareness?
Some will answer that it was merely or primarily the complexification of certain organs and habits within our ancestors. But the emergence of the formally representational faculties in those ancestors was a cognitive event comparable to the emergence of workable wings in the first flying organisms. It represented access to entirely new domains of awareness, activity, and growth. It also represented unthinkable dangers. The causes are likely to be far more interesting and amazing than our common theories, and probably involve direct contact between our ancestors and what I must specify only vaguely as nonhuman intelligence(s).
Our ‘ascent’ as we call it was more than our entry into a new world; it was the permanent departure from all we had previously experienced and known, and the onset of a relationship not with a world, but with entirely new dimensions of experience, relation and activity. These universes had bizarre and unexpected qualities and effects; in many cases they acted more like organisms than things, and their constituents — concepts — rapidly acquired connotations and functions that were in direct opposition to those of the living environments from and within which they emerged.
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To trace the ladder’s transits
Though the analogy is incomplete, I believe that the general shape of the representational evolution of our species is similar to the shape that we each rather uniquely recapitulate during infancy. Formal
language capacities arise in the wake of the establishment of crucial foundations provided by various phases of memory development. These processes establish a variety
of precursors which make use of figurative foundations
store, arrange and compare content upon — ‘the imagination’. In case this isn’t immediately clear, this ‘mere’ imagination is the source not only of languages and languaging acts, but of rationality, logics, music, and all sorts of other phenomenon. It’s seeming ‘irrationality’ does not make it ‘mere’ or dismissible in any sense whatsoever.
The staging elements required to establish the game precede what we must imagine is relatively informal and very emotionally charactered representational thought. These would eventually combine to produce the first glimmers of formally representational language. One
can have some form of thought (mentation about circumstances) without language, but you can’t really have thought without memory (thought can be metaphied as a form of cognitive movement which requires memory, and probably originated as an outgrowth of movements — rather than the other way around, as we might modernly intuit). Once you’ve established functional memory assets, thought
is next on the agenda, because the object-agents of memory begin to compete and elaborate themselves through inter-reflection.
This game leads directly to comparative emprecedencing; the hierarchical organization of memoried elements according to values they acquire during their arisal and comparison to each other — a process usually occurring in multiple simultaneous domains of context.
Our representational capacities may well have developed gradually, in phases that allowed each step to benefit the survival of participants more than it would endanger it, but I suspect that the onset of formally representational behavior in our ancestors was almost certainly a crisis, akin to having gotten a kind of very sticky poison on the internal lenses we use to ‘see’ (internally sense) identity and meaning. This poison replicates madly once acquired, cannot be set aside, and proceeds to convert metabolic and precognitive assets to its purposes.
The first animals to experience
uptake (the habits of representational sentience) probably had experiences not unlike those we associate with psychosis: representational consciousness is invasive, aggressive, and highly adaptive to the varieties of unique situations its hosts pressed themselves into.
I would pause here to note that the demands of formal representational awareness presuppose luxuries not readily available in the animal world, where largely unmanageable threats such as weather, predators, disease, injury, and other circumstances often dictate the focus of concern moment-to-moment. Although there are exceptions, most animals and animal-groups do not commonly enjoy the liberties required to develop sophisticated representational habits: the necessities of survival require that they remain ‘primitive’ in order to both acquire the necessary survival assets and avoid threats in myriads of domains for which they are not and cannot be representationally prepared.
During the genesis of our representational habits we must imagine that the Earth was positively aswarm with organisms of every imaginable kind. Those of us alive today may have difficulty visualizing flocks of birds that could darken daylight for an hour — or herds of buffalo covering hundreds of square miles, but the birthplace of our cognition was paradisiacal, unpredictable, and aswarm with examples of complex relational intelligence among and between species and taxa.
My point is that the aspects of intelligence which would later lead us to xenophobic acts of extermination and transecosystemic poisoning had their crucial genesis in some of Earth’s most floridly fertile and explosively diversely populated ecosystems. Those ecosystems were the living planetary wombs in which our intelligence was assembled, and though it might be too much to say we were given purpose by these edenic birthplaces, we must at the very least imagine then that our intelligence was grounded and contextualized by its sources.
The paradox is obvious: our intelligence was founded in direct relation with and observation of myriad other forms of organismal intelligence with which we were consistently immersed and from which it was largely or completely impossible to escape.
The ironically ramified result of this uncomfortable acquisition is that we attack ourselves, our world, and the anciently conserved ecosystems of Earth for a reason familiar to researchers in biochemistry: the methods we are using to establish identity are failing so miserably that they identify ourselves — and nearly anything else that moves — as targets for conversion to resources or knowledge.
The success condition of this paradigm is the same as its failure condition:
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Old opponents reconvene — on a battlefield where representation is far too slow to function
Prior to the onset of more formalized systems of abstract thought, representation itself must have been a terrifying experience, because it could neither explain nor resolve the myriad novel and often dangerous phenomenon around those wielding it.
Was it even a benefit? What was its initial form and character?
It is not reasonable to believe we can easily imagine the minds of our ancestors accurately, no matter how imaginative we may be. The foundations upon which their experiences and understandings of identity were established exhibited whole domains of dimensionality which, in our haste to arrive at ‘facts’, we have either completely discarded or distorted into incomprehensibility.
Yet a more daring approach may resolve this challenge: since we are our ancestors, we may be capable of remembering ourselves into states we have never otherwise experienced and have no reason to expect are possible. This is one of the promises of shamanistic practice which, it is reasonable to say, everyone who dreams is engaging in, directly. (Argue all you want, dreaming is a taste of shamanistic experience).
What I am suggesting is this: to some degree, the lived experience of our ancestors exists and is accessible to us. This is realistic to me, because for me it is an observation, not a theory; however I do not expect others to readily entertain it as it runs counter to the thought and experience of many modernly educated (western) people.
Regardless of whether or not one wishes to entertain this idea, we are at liberty to speculate about the interplay of forces involved in our cognitive evolution by examining history as we understand it, and by observing modern social interplay in all of its orders and expressions. Surely our personal experience will inform these investigations as well, however most of us must struggle to remember the early years of our life when many of the most of the crucial adaptations were taking place. This may be due in part to the fact that the forms of memory we now depend on had not then been developed, and without that crucial scaffolding, one must recover the previous forms in order to recover the previous content...
Though our intelligence and history is richer than this, I wish to outline two aspects of intelligence which I believe were competing in our distant
ancestors who existed on the cusp of formal representation. Their distant progeny is still competing in us today, and this competition was a crucial aspect of our early childhood. One of the most obvious prizes under contention is the power of definition; to dictate to human cultures what the identity, value, and rightful use of human lives and a living planet is.
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Active sensing is a state of sensory-focused awareness. Its common result is a dynamic (as in flowing and transforming) general reflective unity of circumstances, relations and
environment. This is the state of awareness common to nonrepresentational organisms in genera and animals in particular. The paradigm has proven profoundly capable of directing animalian sentience, and although it does not qualify as cognition because it is nonrepresentational in basis and does not assemble abstract thought in language or perform formal logic tests, it is heuristically relational to a deep degree — indeed, I suspect we will eventually discover that our own sophisticated representational capacities exist like a kind of strange foam on top of these anciently evolved relational substrates. Our hubris is so great that it is as if we are saying that the only ‘actually wet’ parts of the ocean are the ones which are visibly structured in ways we denote.
In the wild, the constant threat of predators emerging unexpectedly though happenstance or the practice of mimicry or subterfuge means that survival often depends on dealing adeptly with the sudden onset of dangerous novelty. In many cases this dangerous novelty will adeptly masquerade as something familiar, or will blend so well into the context as to be largely invisible. The importance of this specific challenge is difficult to overstate.
Representational habits are too slow by many orders of magnitude to function in this role. For this reason, some aspects of active sensing are concerned with constantly re-parsing sensory inputs for meaningful patterns. These arise in the relational flow between the senses (a kind of summation domain), as well as within a given sense modality. Organisms ‘parse’ the information content communicated by change, particularly changes involving the gaps between things and beings, in part by utilizing brief state comparisons of sensory data. Imagine a destructible sketchpad where, although a previous state is cached briefly, it will soon be replaced by a new sketch, and during this process, differences get highlighted.
One primary element of active sensing can thus be imagined as comprising a sort of ‘dynamically updating difference detector’, and the associated aspect of intelligence has its basis in imagery and might be modeled as analogous to our peripheral vision system, which is adept at detecting certain kinds of anomalies (possibly worthy of focus) even in a very blurry or dim field. This dimness or vagueness correlates with generality in cognitive terms.
Often unnoticed in its activities, this ‘detector’ sense provides the crucial activating stimulus which may be observed secretly guiding its more sophisticated counterparts; a fact which nearly all martial artists quickly discover whether or not they understand it formally or can articulate it. Everyone who has successfully navigated an automobile or motorcycle is also utilizing these capacities, whether or not they are consciously aware of them — and, to some degree, conscious awareness of them interferes with them.
As an active element in the systems that evaluate, correct, and guide our physical movement, our peripheral visual system is constantly (and invisibly) alerting us to unseen dangers and rescuing us from physical accidents. Strangely, when this happens, the responsible aspects of consciousness do not step forward for praise, and in fact work to obscure their involvement. One reason is obvious: they are far too crucial to survival to make themselves available to it in such a fashion, and noticing their prowess — particularly in the immediate moments following their rescue of our lives, could actually invert the benefit and get one killed. In the context of survival, self-congratulatory self-reference is one of the most dangerous of possible gestures, and an utterly deadly habit.
The aspect of intelligence associated with active sensing has a much broader purview that its representational counterpart, but many similar kinds of protective duties. This is the sort of intelligence that parses threats and assembles physical responses quickly enough to deal with hair-trigger situations involving rapid movement and vector-changes. Its activation requires resources unavailable when the representational aspect is in full emergence.
Tangentially, the experience of the onset of psychedelic drug effects often immerses the participant in something analogous to (but different from) active sensing, which involves feedback from pattern-recognition aspects of the brain and/or mind. This can emerge as hallucination, however it is more elaborate when the hallucinations involve meaning rather than form. Part of what is going on in such cases is that the representational aspects are creating feedback when (re)expressed through their active sensing sources.
Representational cognition, the more recently developed intelligence aspect (perhaps analogous to central vision) arose and complexified relatively slowly,
and was expressed as detailed discrimination, caching, and comparison behavior. Where active sensing is highly general, fuzzy, and fast, detailed examination revealed features of character, rich sources of specific data, and distinctions which are otherwise inaccessible to conscious awareness or manipulation. But representational cognition is vastly more processing-intensive. It also taxes biocognitive resources when in use, such that its older and faster other half is inhibited, creating the possibility of a collision between thought and survival necessities. This mode would eventually emerge as formal representational consciousness, with all of its florid imaginal, logical, and emotorelative sophistications. The representational aspect has evolved relatively rapidly over the past 500k years of human cognitive evolution, and explosively in the past 1.5k years.
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Both forms compete within us today, and many people who have delved into such practices as meditation, martial arts, yoga, dreamwork, and other avenues of deep focus have become aware of a basic dichotomy between these two intelligences. The basis of the conflict is too complicated to explain here in detail, but one useful perspective reveals that representational cognition sets itself up as a false authority in waking consciousness, while the ‘true sovereign’ of our elemental intelligence (with which we acquired its contender) is largely held silent captive.
During play, dreaming, and other similar kinds of behavior this relationship may reverse, but by and large the pretender owns our lives, bodies — and cultures. This aspect of our intelligence is covertly aware that it is engaged in a masquerade, however this knowledge must be consistently evaded in order to maintain the deadly charade that poses the interloper as the rightful sovereign, imprisons half of itself by day, and presents a villain as a protector. This lends a modicum of perspective to the otherwise seemingly ‘incomprehensible’ acts of atrocity committed by individuals or groups. What begins with such definition all too commonly ends with massacre.
Early prototypes for semi-representational sentience gained purchase in phases, as they allowed
individuals and groups who survived uptake to surpass animalian relational potentials
in certain extremely limited but often profoundly empowering dimensions. These methods, and their local stylizations, eventually brought forth the broad spectrum of diverse indigenous cultures, some of which still cling precariously to existence in the modern world.
potentials required the ongoing cognitive authorization of fallacies of reduction,
a method the latter mode acts by nature to defend and preserve. This aspect of intelligence is proto-linguistic, and in a more evolved state acquires the ongoing function of generating narratives. These narratives, in many cases little more than extremely self-interested fictions, rule our lives and, in general, form the basis of our common decision-making abilities — particularly at the group level. Billions of human lives have been sacrificed to them, and the body count continues to this day.
In cultures relatively in touch with lived (that is, embodied) existence, this is problematical, but survivable. In cultures which have become technologically alienated from embodied experience the outcome is apocalyptic.
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For these and other reasons, we might justifiably speculate that our ancestors were
not entirely prepared for the ramifications of representational consciousness. Initial encounters with imaginal resources complex enough to run rolling representations of self and others
carried with them a variety of invisible dangers, and these dangers would evolve in direct proportion to our relationship to our own developing representational capacities. Perhaps we encountered and developed these capacities ‘too early’ in our evolution, and the problems we have experienced in attempting to adapt are, at least in part, the result of this situation. Images of the travails of a world of young children in which no adults exist come to mind.
A daunting historical fact has almost entirely eluded us: the onset of formal representational cognition comprises a virulent attack on organismal sentience in a way analogous to a parasitic infection. Once begun, this process co opts the structure and function of the brain (and metabolism) via fledgling faculties originally belonging to what we might call our imagination. The result is the establishment of an ersatz self formed primarily of definitions, beliefs and perceptual habits created or enforced by formal representational strategies and language. This self is often in direct conflict not only with our bodies and our survival, but with the basic streams that control our capacity to relate intelligently with ourselves and our environments.
It is well known that language-oriented cognitive processes can inhibit our speed, prowess,
intelligence, survival and evolutionary potentials, our flexibility and emotional
natures — directly — and that in many cases the processes involved will co-opt emotional and relational resources in order to transform them into direct support for their own preservation or dominance.
To some degree this is unavoidable, yet, for some reason, the specific species of relationship with language active in commercialized nations is extremely aggressive and domineering. It seems that different forms of relationships with representational assets modify many characteristics of ‘the infection’, particularly its aggressiveness and dominance aspects. This anciently conserved
relationship between homo sapiens and our own representational capacities need not display the deadly characteristics which are its common modern hallmarks, and the fact that nearly all of the species we encounter are of this kind is a sign of grave danger. This danger is neither the ‘nature’ of human beings nor necessarily representation itself, per se, and is the result of something more akin to an accident than
In order to see and surpass what
has plagued our species since the inception of these forms of knowing,
we must plumb the murky depths not merely of our evolution —
but of our relationships with tokens — in general.
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In the early phases of representational
sentience, vulnerability to circumstance and predators probably kept
us relatively simpleminded for vast epochs of our cognitive genesis.
Without the ‘luxuries’ of play and time to dream, the
precursors of formal representation our species had by then developed
languished against the raw necessities of survival, reproduction and
terrain maintenance. Yet we must not discount the unique advantages conveyed upon our ancestors by their uncommon evolutionary endowments. One of these stood out: hands — or feet freed from the necessity of acting as stabilizers. Although wings might grant access to the air, hands would, in time, grant access to such unthinkable expressions of desire and cognition as art, mathematics, engineering, and spaceflight.
Once these foundations
were reasonably well-established in our practice and experience, we formed their members into sets, linking
them into families, the entirety of which became our potential scope of reference (the collection of things, beings, methods, quantities, features, values, and relationships we could refer to). This allowed us to magnify the existing
benefits by reflecting them off each other. But it also required an incalculable investment of maintenance
— constant attention.
These new modes of relation changed the basis of self and other, and radically re-wrote the elemental politics of interaction for both individuals and groups. New abilities carried attentional and metabolic costs which our ancestors may have been unprepared for (since it is fairly obvious we ourselves are). They were certainly unable to discern or even evaluate these costs, and often lost their lives attempting to comprehend and navigate within this new terrain which was largely internal but affected everything around them. There was, as it turns out, no free lunch
— even in the dimension of something as seemingly immaterial as representational awareness.
It is difficult to overstate the simple power of discernments that actually transform perception and its processes by amalgamating them into adding new layers of possible awareness. To some degree, tags alone have the power to radically modify perception such that one individual can change what it means to have a mind by using related systems of tags for sufficiently advanced entities and concepts to another who has the capacity to understand them but would be unlikely to have the opportunity to develop them alone. This is in part because the process of learning tags involves identifying and gaining familiarity with their referents. More tags = more referents. But there is more going on than this. Language and informational assets are tightly controlled within the strict hierarchies of modern human cultures, but commerce in tags, methods and referents is the basis of human cultures from the most primitive the most advanced. Of course, the ‘primitive’ (read non-industrial) cultures store, distribute and activate these assets in an entirely different way, for different reasons, and in within what, for them at least, what functionally constitutes a different universe.
For any being or group, the sum
of possible understandings drawn from the interplay of lexical linkages, relational experience and sentient reflection (thought) is the sum of local or personal ‘knowledge’,
and any socium with a vaster lexicon is functionally preeminent if
the enaction or functions of their lexicons results in greater enactive prowess. A creature with
a significantly vaster enactable lexicon is effectively
a God — such a being possesses the toys of understanding
required to transform another person, community, nation or world in
nearly any dimension. This is the likely source of the ‘King’
metaphor, which is a social hypostasis of the ‘God’
metaphor. A single person who, for a group, acts as a living link
to an ineffable and hypercreative celestial intelligence — or, the sources of intelligence themselves.
But there are many other aspects
of our relations with lexicons and credentialing we must examine; for example, there are different
general ‘species’ of lexical function and different modes
of credentialing conceptual symmetries (hypostases). Some of these are primarily friendly to organism, planet
and intelligence, others are more or less parasitic. Unfortunately, the unfriendly species have been dominant in the human cogniscium on Earth for many thousands of years. They’re
a lot more aggressive than their friendly competitors, and they have no regard for their effect on any host or population — regardless of
its size, value or complexity.