Conversations August 19, 2010

Thursday, August 19, 2010

12:30 AM. Unable to sleep longer, might as well use the time.

You were going to replace “threads and rings” with a more animated concept, one not so static or mechanical. Up to the task at the moment?

We shall see, won’t we? For of course it depends more on your calmness and absence of mental chatter and emotional anxiety than on any variables on our side.

Well, it’s too early to be drinking coffee. Other than that, things are the same as far as I can tell. Let’s try.


The rings-and-threads analogy was meant to loosen your prevailing model of individual-as-unit. There might have been other ways to do it — other analogies that would have worked — but this one seemed safest in part because of its limitations. If it had seemed more complete, more satisfying in itself, it might have been difficult to pry you away from it when the time came. Thus other cultures have had the same functions and structures described in terms more obviously alive, and people mistook concepts, abstractions, for reality in the sense of it being the only way to see things. Thus, spirit possession, for one example only. It’s easier by far to move on from ring-and-threads because it is so clearly only an analogy. But that doesn’t guarantee that it’s going to be easy to get to a new place and still remember that it is only one way of seeing things.


To strip that analogy down to basics, you could say it concentrates on the connections between what seem to be units, rather than the connections within what seems to be units. But once you realize that you may be considered a person-group federating into social-groups, the seemingly absolute boundaries reveal themselves as more permeable, and little-noticed connections become seen in closer to their true importance.

So. You as individual are the physical heir to two sets of physical characteristics from your parents (and, as we have said, from them back to Adam and Eve, though there are practical limits to how far back traits are inherited from). Since there is no such thing as a purely physical trait, this means that you as constituted comprise a congeries of what could be looked at as intelligent beings that have learned over time to cooperate to different degrees.

That isn’t quite clear to me. I may make coffee after all.

Make it weak. Use what grounds are left over, if you have not dumped them. You can always have coffee for the taste later in the morning if you choose to.

Okay. It’s pretty weak, all right. But it’s warm and liquid. Proceed.

The difficulty here continues to be the same one: The concept of individuality continually sneaks in through the back door. Thus, as we started to describe the real effects of heredity — or our way of seeing it, put it that way — we could feel the difficulty, and weren’t unhappy that you wanted a little break. So let us begin again from the other end and see where that takes us.

In a way, you as investigators into the true nature of your individuality are in much the same position as investigators into the ultimate constitution of matter. You could wind up looking for smaller and smaller “irreducible” particles, only to see each in turn recede as a prospect, as each proposed new “smallest unit” proves to be constituted of still smaller ones, or ones of another nature (as energy bundles rather than very small marbles).

So we have talked of threads affiliating into strings, into ropes, into cables, extending the analogy but then being unable to make it meaningful beyond the very most elemental relationship. There isn’t any way to move from cables, seen as an image, to the person-group you experience yourselves as. And if we try to build things up from traits, as if a couple of traits decided to combine, and gradually acquired a following and began operating as more complicated strings, or ropes, or whatever — well, you can see the difficulty. So how to approach it without silently postulating an “ultimate particle of matter,” so to speak, or leaving the composition and even the origin of traits up in the air, unconnected to other things?

The only way we can see to approach it is to begin from behavior and your common experience, so that we don’t just create a pretty but ungrounded metaphor. And in fact you can see that this has been a recurring theme. How did you discover robots and their effects, if not by listening to intuition in the presence of actual phenomena as manifested in a human being? That same procedure followed here should lead to results no less.

You seem unusually tentative about this.

Perhaps we are on new ground, too. Some explanations come easier than others. It depends partly on how we are accustomed to thinking.

Hard to imagine, but go ahead.

You can recognize, now, that you are not a unit that is in any way indivisible, seen over time, seen in space, seen mentally — which means non-physically — or spiritually, which we will discuss some other time.

Within you, you may experience various automatic mechanisms, or habit-systems. External life presses a button, your various internal mechanisms deliver their programmed responses. (We refer here not to your physical-body-maintenance mechanism but to what may seem to you sometimes mental reactions, sometimes emotional ones.) If these automatic responses no longer serve you, you refer to them as robots, and attempt to reprogram or remove them, usually with more success at the former than at the latter. But if they do serve you, or if you are unaware of them, they nonetheless function, and their existence provides an approach to the new description.

You have seen that a “robot” becomes programmed in response to some original situation. It is made of your own psychic stuff, of course. What else could it be made of? Another way to put it would be to say, a part of your mental world, as expressed through your physical brain, is detached to deal with that situation automatically for whatever reason, traumatic or otherwise. This is Colin Wilson’s use of the term — basically, a splitting-off of a bit of mental energy in a coherent pattern that can automatically function when circumstances allow or dictate. Thus, when you learn to drive a car, the learned behavior — the habits of driving — form a unit. As long as the task must be done consciously, it is slow, awkward, all-absorbing. Once learned, it functions as if by itself except in particularly complicated or stressful conditions. Normally you can drive while talking and listening to the radio, etc.

In other words, robots are not restricted to pathological manifestations. They may be looked at as learned behaviors functioning automatically.

But what do these words mean? You know in practice what a learned behavior is, but if you consider yourselves in person-groups what does it mean?

We suggest you think of it this way. Your total mental energy, your total resources, never function in an undifferentiated way. You are a community of more or less differentiated energies. Some of them get used to drive a car, or to provide an automatic emotional response to a given stimulus, or to remember a joke, or to react in complicated but definite ways to another given person. Each bundle of energy that is thus bound to a task is thereby removed from what you might call the reserve pool of energy available for any new thing that might pop up. And of course there are endless numbers of side-trails we could go down at this point — how high psychic stress reduces effective functioning of the individual, for instance — but we can’t stay for that right now. Make a note for later, if you are interested.

Suppose you analyze any of these bits of mental energy that are doing a particular task. Take handwriting. You had to learn to write. If you can’t remember how hard that was to learn, and probably you can’t, try writing with your non-dominant hand. Try writing in cursive in that hand, and try making it legible. You’ll be surprised how difficult it is, how frustrating perhaps, what extreme concentration it requires. That’s what it is like, teaching various sub-skills to cooperate so closely as to form a skill at a higher level. That is, the skill you need to employ just to hold a pencil, or to apply only the right amount of pressure on the paper, and to orient it so that the words fall between the lines on ruled paper — none of these sub-skills is rocket science, but none of them is innate. They all have to be learned, and put together.

What about Mozart?

A very good illustration of a couple of points, another time. Don’t forget that one. But for the few minutes you have left, we’ll stick to our example of normal development.

Your sub-skills have to be supported by your physical heredity. If you are born without motor skills, if you are born paralyzed, if you are born with any number of conditions that make it impossible for you to learn handwriting — inability to concentrate, say — then it doesn’t matter how many of the traits you do have, the determinant may be the one or ones you don’t have.

So — and we’ll have to stop here, we can feel it — you could look at the necessary traits as threads, the sub-skills as strings made by combining the threads; the skill itself as a several-ply string, perhaps. And if you use handwriting for any given thing it may be considered a strand in a rope. We aren’t going to make a habit of tying into the strings and threads analogy, but we thought it might help this once.

Your acquired skills require certain specific talents and the physical features supporting those talents. Everybody can see this. But looking at it in a new way may lead to other things not so well known, or rather — not well understood, though commonly seen in other contexts.

Okay. Thanks for all this. I think I can sleep again now! This took about 80 minutes, and I’m tired! See you later.

7 AM. Real coffee, this time. Awake again. Haven’t transcribed the above yet — but offering you another bite of the apple now, if you want it.

Better to send it out and then see how you feel. You may not have the energy to do this.

Then why not do this first?

Well, we are dubious, but we can try. Glance over what we just gave you.

All right, did. I’d say let’s try.

We can at least bring up the question of heredity. This is one potential limitation of possibilities. If nowhere in your genetic structure was there any of the traits needed to be a successful Mozart, you wouldn’t need to worry about becoming one. And this bears explaining, in that we have said that each of your parents’ contributions to your physical heredity goes back to the beginnings of humanity. That is true in a way, and essentially not true in another way.

For all practical purposes, your hereditary traits go back only so far (the “seven generations” article you were led to notice a while ago), because any trait by itself (i.e., not reinforced by other contributors of the same trait) must be lost.

May I rephrase what I think you just said? I’d say it — well, I need to think how I would say it. I can see it as a matter of numbers and competition, but it isn’t quite as simple as “it has half a chance the first generation –“

We see the difficulty. Try it this way. One half of each parent’s characteristics are passed on in each child. Not necessarily the same half, of course, but half. One quarter of each grandparents’, and one eighth of each grandparents’ parents’. Contributions to your physical skill-sets are 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128. Seven generations winnow 128 sets of contributions down to one. But that is not the end, for each generation is itself a sifting process. That is, how you live determines to a degree which members of your person-group will be passed on enhanced, and which enfeebled or unchanged.

It should be obvious that here we deal with more than the composition of the parents at the time of conception of the child. Their subsequent life affects the child’s heredity in effect, by, as it were, participating in the on-going debate, or jockeying for position, among the child’s person-group.

Nature versus nurture.

Yes, but quite a bit differently seen than what you are used to. We are not saying some qualities are innate from birth — determined by genetics — and others are the expression of a person’s experiences thereafter, the results of their life in family and society. But we can’t go off on this topic yet. Let us remain at genetics.

In any given life, there are some things fixed — time and place of birth, birth order within family, etc. — and some things fluid, and some things that might be called something between fixed and fluid. This too is a topic apart, but notice: Your life — as we have emphasized from the beginning — is shaped by your choices, and is created specifically to allow and express those choices, and then to present further choices from those you already made. Until today we have emphasized choice in relation to the mind you are creating on an on-going basis, and that mind’s function on the other side — the non-physical side — after death. (Before, too, but that is yet another topic. We are getting the hang of spinning off side-trails and sticking to one thought. It is a skill like any other.)

Now we present another aspect. Your choices also help shape possibilities in time, for the time line downwind of you, so to speak.

That makes it sound like we don’t bathe regularly. I think you mean downstream.

We smile. Yes, downstream. But who is the wordsmith responsible, after all?

Your choices in life determine what further choices will become available to you; they also determine what choices will become available to your genetic and your contemporary posterity. And yes, of course that will take some explaining. And perhaps it would be as correct to say they determine which choices will be foreclosed, or prevented, or pre-empted. In that sense, choice could be looked at as a continuing winnowing, a non-stop process of attrition from the stock remaining — a process of attrition compensated for by the continual presentation of new possibilities. But surely it can be seen that the winnowing process tends to limit the quality of what new elements are received. If you keep discarding artistic expression, let’s say, then fewer such possibilities will be presented as viable options. You don’t get to Carnegie Hall without practicing, and at some point — perhaps quite an early point — it becomes too late to overcome the gap between what you need to have done and what you have done. When you are 30, you can’t be retroactively different at 20, in any given time-line.

So we have begun on the intricate subject, and we are going to stop here for the day however alluring you find the work. As Hemingway would say, stop while you’re still going good and know what’s coming next.

But I don’t know what’s coming next.

No, but we do. Invite your readers to question or object to this material, as it will help us to judge what is or isn’t coming through.

Okay, but be careful what you ask for!

What do we care? It’s you who have to deal with the e-mail. We smile.

Me too. Okay, see you next time. I’m very interested in this.

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