notebook entry 2009

Lee Smolin: The Trouble with Physics, p44: a description of non-background-dependent descriptions. “We no longer have fields moving in a fixed-background geometry. We have a bunch of fields all interacting with one another, all dynamical, all influencing one another…”

Personality generated the same way, as a product of all the interacting systems of a body. Even the context, which seems like a fixed frame, is a process & part of the process. Personality a constantly shifting product of these processes & interactions. Every process is responding to every other one via “rules of engagement” that only apply to that type of transaction. No station-master is needed—or could be developed—to oversee the process. When was the last time you gave an instruction to your liver ? A liver cell knows nothing but how to be a liver cell; its “knowledge” of being a liver cell consists in operating. It never gets instructions from above, from a unifying regulator. It reacts to inputs in ways determined by its own rules. “You” is the second-by-second product of a billion decisions taken second-by-second by thousands of totally autonomous systems. “You” stacks up; it accretes, or agglomerates–but it also falls down and changes and shifts evanescently moment by moment. “You” is a by-product, an artefact of all those processes. You don’t like to be told that. It’s offensive. But once you understand it you understand the evanescence and undependability of a conscious personality.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “notebook entry 2009

  1. I am thinking about how systems emerge from the interaction of multiple autonomous processes. Some examples – cultures, TV series, wars. Awareness of a different way of being is an input to the composite process. So a culture can change, or a person can change. The collective self develops into a team with a project. I love stories where groups of individuals come together and make a team which is greater than the sum of the parts. I link it in my mind with the idea of a personality developing cohesion and power.

  2. uzwi

    Hi Alison. Does the personality develop cohesion & power ? Or is that only a view it must have of itself, to avoid being offended–in the sense of traumatised–by the understanding of its own nebulosity ? Is consciousness precisely that ? Those are the questions I love. I like the vision of personality as nebulous, shifting, occurring without agency moment-to-moment in an interactive space which can never be defined as a whole except at the next level. But I’m not trying to foist this essentially Gothic/Gödelian view on anyone.

  3. I would say system cohesion doesn’t have to happen, and it’s not a stable state, but it can happen

  4. ‘ “You” is a by-product, an artefact of all those processes. ‘

    I am thinking here about Pursewarden — what he wrote in God is a Humorist, or what we heard him say that night, before his suicide. (He was very drunk.)

    * * * * *

    ‘We live’ writes Pursewarden somewhere ‘lives based upon
    selected fictions. Our view of reality is conditioned by our position
    in space and time — not by our personalities as we like to think.
    Thus every interpretation of reality is based upon a unique position.
    Two paces east or west and the whole picture is changed.’ Something
    of this order….

    And as for human characters, whether real or invented, there are
    no such animals. Each psyche is really an ant-hill of opposing predispositions. Personality as something with fixed attributes is an
    illusion — but a necessary illusion if we are to love!

    * * * * *

    ‘Holding a candle in your hand, I mean, you can throw the
    shadow of the retinal blood-vessels on the wall. It isn’t silent
    enough. It’s never dead still in there: never quiet enough for the
    trismegistus to be fed. All night long you can hear the rush of
    blood in the cerebral arteries. The loins of thinking. It starts you
    going back along the cogs of historical action, cause and effect.
    You can’t rest ever, you can’t give over and begin to scry. You
    climb through the physical body, softly parting the muscle schemes
    to admit you — muscle striped and unstriped; you examine
    the coil ignition of the guts in the abdomen, the sweetbreads,
    the liver choked with refuse like a sink-filter, the bag of urine, the
    red unbuckled belt of the intestines, the soft horny corridor of the
    oesophagus, the glottis with its mucilage softer than the pouch of
    a kangaroo. What do I mean? You are searching for a co-ordinating
    scheme, the syntax of a Will which might stabilize everything and
    take the tragedy out of it. The sweat breaks out on your face, a
    cold panic as you feel the soft contraction and expansion of the
    viscera busy about their job, regardless of the man watching them
    who is yourself. A whole city of processes, a factory for the production
    of excrement, my goodness, a daily sacrifice. An offering
    to the toilet for every one you make to the altar. Where do they
    meet? Where is the correspondence? Outside in the darkness by the
    railway bridge the lover of this man waits for him with the same
    indescribable maggotry going on in her body and blood; wine
    swilling the conduits, the pylorus disgorging like a sucker, the
    incommensurable bacteriological world multiplying in every drop of
    semen, spittle, sputum, musk. He takes a spinal column in his
    arms, the ducts flooded with ammonia, the meninges exuding their
    pollen, the cornea glowing in its little crucible. . . .’

  5. ‘You’ is phenomenal and continually regenerated; some sort of threshold between contextual realities and biological imperatives and experiential sediment. But does this imply a greater you–a “meta-you”, measured by the contours and dynamics of the trendline that emerges when all the “phenomenal-you’s” are viewed as datapoints in a sequence?

    Which brings ‘you’ back around to a sort of narrative–but not one that’s logical or neat or even meaningful.