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Transcendentalist Philosophy

More Philosophy of Mind

I think of philosophers as inventors, mostly of language or languages. The psychoanalysts were and are philosophers. Take Lacan for example and his elaborate vocabulary. Such extraordinary language affects meanings going forward. Words change in meaning, thanks to ripple effects, osmosis, echo chambers, advertising and the like.

Consider advertising: what is Pepsi? One person may think of a sweet tasting carbonated liquid in a bottle or can whereas another thinks of a company with shareholders. Advertisers create campaigns to affect the meaning of both, and use lots of psychology to amplify their effectiveness. Imagine a language of all connotations and no denotations, but with some connotations much stronger than others. Is that what we’ve got? Perhaps there’s no direct way to discuss what’s unconscious.

New England Transcendentalism, often treated by literary critics as a completed lineage, continued well into the 1900s under the sway of R. Buckminster Fuller, another philosopher inventive with language. Important to his lexicon was a “mind versus brain” distinction which coupled transcendentalism with intuitionism. In Synergetics, Fuller’s philosophical brand, brains traffic in special case temporal experiences, their storage and retrieval, whereas Mind is the more mathematical source of their interweaving coherence.

Through the mind, we come into contact with the proverbial Zeitgeist, or Holy Spirit. The brain downloads and upgrades, or gets stuck in some holding pattern. The dogma (or doctrine) of continuing revelation fits in to this model. Synergetics articulates, per its own special case namespace, what many philosophical and religious teachings seek to impart. For this reason we may speak of “lineage” in sketching the graph of intellectual history.

Psychoanalysis traces back to Vienna Circle days, where and when the young Wittgenstein was reading Schopenhauer and meditating on what could, and could not, be sensibly said. Wittgenstein’s pragmatism is reflected in his strong sense of language having limitations in practice. We may want to “make meanings” in ways exceeding our sense-making capabilities. Think of magical incantations and spells that fail to achieve their intended outcomes. By implication, some spells do (or did) achieve their purpose, with some demonic process disrupted, and some patient cured.

We may consider “mind” a pointer to something nebulous and incoherent, or not a pointer at all, whereas with the word “brain” we suppose a more concrete meaning, a bodily organ or gland, a thing in our heads that must be fed.

However, looking at words in general, we may come out where Wittgenstein finally did, with the insight that “words do not point” no matter how concrete their meanings. Meaning is not a matter of pointing, but of operating with tools. “Brain” is one more such operator. Language is operational. All languages are programming languages.

As many commentators have suggested, reaching a Wittgensteinian view of sense-making may involve inducing “aspect shifts” or even developing new perceptions (“gestalts”). Insights are not a matter of memorizing new trivia, but of altering one’s worldview, one could say one’s nervous system.

Bucky Fuller’s notion was this was “mind’s” role: our everyday thinking is reshaped by that which transcends everyday brain activity. Is this by means of a process of meditation? Of prayer? Drug use? What self disciplines might help a patient become more open to leadings of Spirit? Does greater satisfaction in life stem from such openness? What metrics might apply?

In that last paragraph I’m shifting my terminology to bring in more of a Quaker flavor (“leadings of Spirit”). I regard New England Transcendentalism, and Quakerism, as interlinked. The reshaping of one’s consciousness is reflected in one’s changing narratives. Intuitions affect storytelling. Quakers in education have an opportunity to share more of what’s in Synergetics. That’s been my calling to some degree.

Lets remember P. D. Ouspensky at this juncture, and his influence on psychoanalysis through the work of Maurice Nicole, the Scottish Jungian. This branch of psychology emphasizes the robotic side of human nature, including with regard to thoughts and emotions. The idea of humans behaving like automatons, programmed machines, appears throughout literature, often as a way of explaining the error of their ways. Nicole portrayed The Work as a discipline for reconnecting to a higher consciousness, a rescue operation reversing one’s descent into semi-paralyzing negativity and myopia.

The themes of robotic thinking and artificial intelligence featured in language games around est as well. Instead of “brain versus mind” the driving meme was “mind versus being” with “mind” standing for (connoting) the machine-like aspects of our existence.

Rescuing a sense of well-being (satisfaction) or aliveness, from the matrix of relatively unaware “just going through the motions” was the objective of the est Training and related disciplines. Fuller and Erhard logged quite a bit of stage time together, around the time both were experiencing a peak in public scrutiny and popularity.

The Hunger Project, a spin-off from est, was about consciously bringing the power of advertising to bear by encouraging a shared worldview wherein the elimination of death by starvation was a real possibility.

Given the associations between advertising, brainwashing, ideology and propaganda, the project encountered a lot of defensive cynicism. The World Game idea of using machine learning against big data to constructively solve world problems was still somewhat ahead of its time.

Fuller’s expectation was that emerging technology known collectively as the internet would counter the trend towards overspecialization, which he considered a number one threat to humanity’s continuance. He called for a “design science revolution” which in retrospect we might link to the rise of both Linux and GNU (GNU is Not Unix), along with maker spaces.

Attitudes toward intellectual property ownership has changed in some engineering subcultures, countering the artificial scarcity of at least some digital assets. New forms of collaboration emerged, often without much regard or attention to political boundaries. Fuller was prescient, and yet the promise of doing more with less (ephemeralization) has not yet paid off, in terms of raising global living standards. The new consensus reality has yet to emerge.

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