Showing posts with label Cognition. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cognition. Show all posts

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Bell Curve of Normality

It is natural to assume that normality is an end in itself, or that the 'normal' mode of life is all that can be aspired to. People generally hold great stock in normality as a mode of being. But just because normality is our modus vivendi (way of life) does not make it our summum bonum (ultimate end.) Any religious person must realise that normality is simply a transitional state and not the end of life. You don't want to be subnormal, but the religious life calls you to be more than normal. It calls you to a state beyond the 'normal' concerns of the 'normal' life.

The way normal people worship fame and riches betrays the notion that, for them, 'normality' defines all our notions of reality and they can conceive of nothing beyond it. For being rich and famous - being a Star - is conceived of by the normal person as being the best thing that normality has to offer. Being A Star is the excellent version of normality, that to which all of us ordinary bourgeois individuals can only aspire. Stardom, or being rich and famous, is the Ultimate in Normality - it represents all of the things which normal people have and enjoy, but in more or less infinite supply and variety. Getting everything you want, in a world where getting what you want is the most important thing. Hence the paparazzi, and a large part of the 'normal' media. People are transfixed by it. They will kill for it. And because most people are normal, then naturally this is an enormous audience.

At this point I wish to introduce a different dimension to the human condition, that of the 'Self-Realised Individual' in the sense defined by the non-dualist schools of Indian philosophy. Now without going into the profound meaning of this term, let us just say that 'Self Realisation' is definitely not part of the normal condition of humanity. In other words, 'Self Realised Persons' are not 'normal persons'. The normal person is not self-realised, and the self-realised individual is not a normal person.

But self-realised individuals are not sub-normal. They are actually super-normal, they are outside the scope or realm of what we call 'normality'. Yet they are not mad, or psychotic, or degenerate. My thesis is, that if degrees of normality can be represented on the Bell Curve, then the self- realised individual is on the extreme right side of the curve.

So at the far left of the Bell Curve of normality are the sub-normal: psychotics, sociopaths, those who for one reason or another cannot live in 'normal' society (defined by Freud as 'the ability to love and to work').

Then you have the vast bell of the curve, 'normal people', moving, from the left, from those who are barely integrated, through the middle, where almost everyone you will ever know is, to the right of the bell curve, where those superbly integrated people are - commensurately few in number, of course.

Then, probably fewer in number than the psychopaths and sociopaths, are the Completely Integrated Humans, those who are as far above 'normality' as your psychopath is below it, on the extreme right of the bell curve. And I believe that the 'self-realized individual' is on this part of the curve.

Now it is important that those for whom normality is the summum bonum ought not to mistake the people on the far right for psychopaths. In other words, your scientists, scholars, and the like, for whom Normality is actually Normative, ought not to think that enlightened people are just mad. They need to know that, just as there are some people who fall far short of their understanding, on the left, there are those, few in number, who surpass it, on the right.

Self-realised individuals are indeed 'not normal' in the sense that they are not part of the world of normal convention and meaning. Yet it is a big mistake to believe they are 'deluded' or that their consciousness is the result of injury or pathology. This, of course, is what your materialists - Freud, Dawkins, and the like - must believe. Because a major part of materialism is to believe that normality is the summum bonum. You could almost say that materialism is the determined belief that Normal is Ultimate, and that there is nothing beyond it. So they have to believe that self-realised individuals are injured, psychopathic or damaged, because if they are not, their whole thesis is undermined.

Well - sorry. For those that have seen beyond it, normality is simply a set of shared conventions and beliefs, a familiar milieu within which we can all pursue our limited aims. And nothing wrong with it, as far as it goes. Normality beats schizophrenia and alienation any day. We do not want to fall short of normality.

But normality can also be surpassed. As far as the self-realised individual is concerned, our 'normality' is very similar to what us 'normal' people understand as the reality of psychopaths and schizophrenics. However, self-realised individuals are generally exceedingly compassionate and kind, and they generally won't cast aspersions on normal people or look down on us in any way. Rather, they will, as they have throughout history, gently, persistently, unfailingly, ceaselessly, remind us 'Normal People' that all the stuff we think is real, all the things we take for granted, are empty, unreal, phantasmagorical. They will attempt to help us, in exactly the same way that we attempt to help those among us who need guidance.

And so we all move along, through the bell curve of normality.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Santiago Theory of Cognition, and related ideas

In the Santiago theory the relationship between mind and brain is simple and clear. Descartes' characterization of mind as the "thinking thing" (res cogitans) is finally abandoned. Mind is not a thing but a process - the process of cognition, which is identified with the process of life. The brain is a specific structure through which this process operates. The relationship between mind and brain, therefore, is one between process and structure. 


"The Embodied Mind provides a unique, sophisticated treatment of the spontaneous and reflective dimension of human experience. The authors - argue that only by having a sense of common ground between mind in Science and mind in experience can our understanding of cognition be more complete. Toward that end, they develop a dialogue between cognitive science and Buddhist meditative psychology and situate it in relation to other traditions such as phenomenology and psychoanalysis."

The Tree of Knowledge Francisco Varela, Humberto Mutarana.

"Knowing how we know" is the subject of this book. Its authors present a new view of cognition that has important social and ethical implications, for, they assert, the only world we humans can have is the one we create together through the actions of our coexistence. Written for a general audience as well as for students, scholars, and scientists and abundantly illustrated with examples from biology, linguistics, and new social and cultural phenomena, this revised edition includes a new afterword by Dr. Varela, in which he discusses the effect the book has had in the years since its first publication.

Mind in Life Evan Thompson

Thompson draws upon sources as diverse as molecular biology, evolutionary theory, artificial life, complex systems theory, neuroscience, psychology, Continental Phenomenology, and analytic philosophy to argue that mind and life are more continuous than has previously been accepted, and that current explanations do not adequately address the myriad facets of the biology and phenomenology of mind. Where there is life, Thompson argues, there is mind: life and mind share common principles of self-organization, and the self-organizing features of mind are an enriched version of the self-organizing features of life.

Mind in Nature Gregory Bateson

Far more than just a re-statement of Darwin, the essential unity of Mind and Nature described by Bateson has vast implications for our understanding of ourselves and our place in the universe. We are as one with Nature, as one with the way of the Universe. Each of us in our individual being, learning our individual lessons, goes through exactly the SAME process of stochastic learning as the greater group, the species. It's not just trial and error: We can ACTIVELY CO-EVOLVE with the messages of our world. What those messages are, Bateson teaches in stunning clarity: Modern systems thinking and complexity theory as maturing (yet still not mature) arts truly starts with Bateson's analysis.