Some while back, Willie Hoffman, talking a little about Lakoff and the subconscious, threw down the nicely startling idea about that class of experiences that momentarily bridge the large bulk of the subconscious with the conscious mind. What is this class of experiences? Dreamstates belong to this class, you could say, or maybe I should say the “waking memory of dreams.” And other prolonged “states”— the hypnoidal, the traumatic, the moment of orgasm (not trying to be graphic here). Aside from this though, I think it also happens infinitessimally; on the corners of every thought and action; sudden awareness, accidental awareness, brainfarts, deep-stretch recall, catching ourselves at the mercy of the mechanisms of reflexes and previous learning. The lightbulb that Willie lit above me, though, was in line more with the strategic use of these experiences— not in the sweeping, surrealist, Andre Breton idea of unleashing the subconscious, with the surging, oceanic, Freudian idea of a suppressed subconscious besting the superego— though I guess this qualifies. A strategic use, instead, of the cognitive subconscious— doing for Lakoff, what Breton, Masson, and Eluard did for Freud. Every aspect of thought-into-action, from the slightest assumption to whole modes of being.
Have you seen that spiel (or jesusfreak pamphlet) about a “recent discovery at Cambridge” demonstrating that we read words rather than letters? To prove its point it read:
” I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. It deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae.”
Well, seems to me that this little parlor trick quickly reveals the mind at work, but not in a third-personal form of knowledge, as cognitive science, but in the process of reading only the first few lines, before the idea is learned. It is uncanny in the way dreams are uncanny, despite its tiny size on the scale of experiences. What happens when other principles of Order and Learned Action are put under a similar puzzles; revealing if not the force of hardwired mechanisms, then the arbitrariness of The Learned. Another linguistic example and experiment, for you at home…
Word order is arbitrary. That is, for any given language it is arbitary. You just pick the order of subjects, objects, verbs, prepositions, question particles, names of fathers and mothers– and you run with it. It has no bearing on sense. Given that, English word order can be relearned, and rather fast. Take a short story— Richard Scary or Bernstein Bears, to cut your teeth with— and have a friend read it aloud— only have them read the sentences backwards, though still in their original order. Confusion meets you in the beginning. After a while though you start to get the cadence, and sense is once again restored.
This is not just new learning: it is an abstraction of impulse. This does not solely teach you “something interesting about the mind” but forces you to think differently. It is not just a delcarative fact, that can be shelved and observed, but an alteration in means. Oddly enough, this phenomenon occurs in another cache of the mind— in hypnosis. In the shrink biz, they call it “abstract conditioning,” the snowball effect of suggestability. As you achieve smaller feats under hypnosis, you are able to get more and more versatile, more and more abstract, with your suggestions. The subject first “feels warms” before trying to control involuntary eye muscles. Or something like that. The point of this comparison being that there might be something interesting in these collision between Old and New Learning— and that the firmer the Old and the more radical the New, the more uncanny and expansive the results of this collision. I want to call this, for now, astonishment. Only pretend I spelled it in French— étonnement— to express its gravitas and technical employment.
I want to enlist in a kind of cognitive spacecamp; throwing myself around and seeing what yields to new abstraction and what stays solid as a fixed piece of cognitive plumbing. Abstraction of impulse would be the key. A long, annoying stress gaunlet of thinking with my ass screwed on backwards. Of performing with every form of normal reasoning turned on its head; where even little tasks, like asking the time or spelling your name, adopt the severity of concentration of a zen koan (again, the comparison is no accident). It is no coincidence that there are whole bodies of ancient wisdom founded on counterintuition— and that they are accompanied by profound, but wordless and undeclarative, revelation. It may sound fruity to some to ring the East, but I stay true to my idea that the West is spelling out what the East has known all along. The same parallel holds for what I was saying about declarative knowledge versus employed knowing— both are necessary.
Trivia question: what would happen if you “expanded” on the most basic of cognitive assumptions? For instance, on the idea that effect follows cause, that up is up, that pain is avoided. Stupid questions, I know. This is Vomit Blog. These things are allowed and even highly prized.
Monday, 31 January 2005
You may have noticed that many of my detournement and concept games involve space— spatial terms. And that, even in the wonderland of metaphor, I still pull words like “on their head” “inside out” “screwed in ass backwards”— terms of disorientation to speak about transformation. Space comes first precisely because space is such an overarching schema to thought and life alike. Even other giant Jovian concepts like time, dualism, and metaphysics are thought out spatially, made to resemble things like string, see-saws, and trees (respectively); forced into the form of the everyday object. Space may or may not come first, who cares, I don’t know, but it is pretty heavy and popular concept. But just as important as tackling space to get at concepts, is to understand space by fiddling by our concepts. Up, down, north, south, west, east, forward, backward, inside, outside, boundary, containment, conjunction— and so on. Really fuck with those a little bit.