Saturday, December 08, 2007

"Tree of Knowledge" : Part III "On the Razor's Edge"

When trying to understand how we think, the authors say:
"..our first tendency to describe what happens in each case centers, in one way or another, on the use of some form of the metaphor of "getting information" from the environment represented "within"."

But, they point out, there is no one home in there. There is no "little man" inside the brain, operating visual mechanisms to see the outer world on a representational "screen" inside the brain. If there were, who runs the "little man's" "brain"? Another "little man" inside his brain?

The authors have already, for the first 128 pages, explained that life forms itself, that organisms as small as single cells, no nervous system whatsoever, still manage to conduct themselves and all the processes that are inherent to life - seeking food, avoiding predation, metabolizing, growing, reproducing, etc.

"Our course of reasoning (...) has made it clear that to use this type of metaphor ( i.e., the "little man" in the brain idea) contradicts everything we know about living things. We are faced with a formidable snag because it seems that the only alternative to a view of the nervous system as operating with representations is to deny the surrounding reality. Indeed, if the nervous system does not operate - and cannot operate - with a representation of the surrounding world, what brings about the extraordinary functional effectiveness of man and animal and their enormous capacity to learn and manipulate the world? If we deny the objectivity of a knowable world, are we not in the chaos of total arbitrariness because everything is possible?

This is like walking on the razor's edge. On one side there is a trap: the impossibility of understanding cognitive phenomena if we assume a world of objects that informs us because there is no mechanism that makes that "information" possible. On the other side, there is another trap: the chaos and arbitrariness of nonobjectivity, where everything seems possible. We must learn to take the middle road, right on the razor's edge."
My bracketed comment. My bold.
At this point the authors direct the reader to a figure showing a version of the sailing of a ship between the sea monster and the whirlpool, the Scylla monster of representation and the Charybdis whirlpool of overly rigid solipsism.

They are suggesting that the Razor's Edge is a Third Way.

So, what is a "third way"? Dorko's essay is good doorway into what a "third way" means for a therapist. A visual idea that can help us understand how to travel or think a third way, on a razor's edge, is to contemplate a mobius strip:
"If you put an ant somewhere in the middle of the strip and get it to start walking in a line parallel to the edge, then after travelling a distance that is twice the length of the paper, it will arrive back at its starting point — without ever crossing the edge of the strip!"

What if we had that hypothetical ant walk on the edge of the mobius strip? It would be able to walk between the sea monster on one side and the whirlpool on the other.

I got this mobius-strip idea from Ramachandran. In his book, A Brief Tour of Consciousness, he says,
My own philosophical position about consciousness accords with the view proposed by the first Reith lecturer, Bertrand Russel, that there is no separate "mind stuff" and "physical stuff" in the universe: the two are one and the same. (The formal term for this is neutral monism.) Perhaps mind and matter are like the two sides of a Mobius strip that appear different but are in fact the same.

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