Friday, December 07, 2007

"Tree of Knowledge": Part II "The Razor's Edge"

The book is subtitled, The Biological Roots of Human Understanding. It was first published in 1987, an afterword by Varela was added in 1992, and the copy I'm holding was revised and published in English 1998.

I began to find the book riveting about page 129, when I got to this section:
"On the Razor's Edge
The most popular and current view of the nervous system considers it an instrument whereby the organism gets information from the environment which it then uses to build a representation of the world that it uses to compute behavior adequate for its survival in the world. This view requires that the environment imprint in the nervous system the characteristics proper to it and that the nervous system use them to generate behavior, much the same as we use a map to plot a route.

We know, however, that the nervous system as part of an organism operates with structural determination. Therefore, the structure of the environment cannot specify its changes, but can only trigger them."
Second bold mine.

There is no "little man" (or woman) inside the brain, running things from within. The whole thing runs itself, responds to and adapts itself to various external stimuli. If we want what we observe to make any sense, the "we" who we observers think we are, must each consider ourselves as only a "construct" of the nervous system within the organism that we actually are.

We as observers have access both to the nervous system and to the structure of its environment. We can thus describe the behavior of an organism as though it arose from the operation of its nervous system with representations of the environment or as an expression of some goal-oriented process. These descriptions, however, do not reflect the operation of the nervous system itself. They are good only for the purpose of communication among ourselves as observers. They are inadequate for a scientific explanation.
My bold.

It's good mental exercise to hold two or more ideas aloft at once, like juggling several balls; one's physicality as an organism, one's environment, one's nervous system, one's personal vantage point as a perceiver, one's social identity as an observer talking to other observers. That is at least 5 right there, more if you consider the nervous system as not monolithic but rather comprised of many levels of integrated function inherited from all "life" from simple sea creatures down through time, each level perhaps capable of "perceiving" a perturbation in its own way, and responding from its own "perspective", the ultimate unifying integration completely hidden from any outside observer.

Now consider and add to that the innocent expectation people have of you if you are their physiotherapist.
Think about it.
I, as a therapist, cannot "specify" changes in any patient. I have no power over someone else's nervous system. I cannot with any degree of legitimate or ethical or scientific certainty, say to someone, I will do x,y,z, and you are guaranteed to improve. No one can say this to anyone and still be honest. In general, maybe. Specifically, to any individual, no. You buy a treatment slot and you take your chances.

If you are a patient, you are juggling the same five ideas as I am, whether you know you are or not. I simply become part of your environment, from your nervous system's point of view. You have to do your own observing and perceiving, and your own nervous system will do its own observing, perceiving, adapting and stabilizing, in response to "changes" that I can help "trigger", in the combined "you", the organism or unity that you are.

More to come.

No comments: