Archivo de la etiqueta: Brains

The logical ballerinas: “State”

 

 

“State”. The Tao Te Ching says that it is a very spiritual apparatus. Very delicate. Is that “apparatus” made with the same material with which, according to Shakespeare, dreams are made? I think so. The world is a network of dreams and dreamers.

But the historic pandemic caused by the coronavirus could transform such dreams into political nightmares. I mean a hypertrophy of the states because the human beings, out of fear, might eventually sacrifice the last cells of his sacred freedom. It could happen that human beings let (and beg) the states enter, and build, and rule, in the most sublime valleys and forests of his soul. That would be a great mistake, a huge sin indeed, since the state, by itself, lacks life, soul, magic, sacredness. It is nothing at all without the prodigy of the individual human being: you and me. The state can be a real threat to the ecology of the soul. But it can also be (before its necessary auto-erase) a guarantor: a kind of macro-priest of that sacred ecology. Our civilization should move in that direction.

“State”. What is that? Has anyone seen it? Has anyone been able to touch it, to smell it… to really love it?

Is the state a human creation or the human being a creation of the state?

The disturbing (but also somehow beautiful) image that lives in the sky of this text corresponds to an astonishing living being called Dictyostelium discoideum. It is also known as “slime mold”. I knew about its very existence reading this book: Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software, by Steven Johnson. That mold seems to me a perfect image of a state. I will explain later.

Before expressing my ideas about what might be behind the word “state”, I think it can be very useful, as propaedeutic, to walk and listen through the following not exhaustive landscapes:

1.- Tao Te Ching. “The empire is a very spiritual apparatus. You cannot manipulate it. To manipulate it is to spoil it. To take it is to lose it”. I believe that “manipulating” it is simply corrupting it. Not setting it up at the service of the sacralization of -all- human beings.

2.- The sophists of ancient Greece. The state would be equivalent to a mixture of what they called “Polis” and “Nomos”. Is the state –polis/nomos– the enemy of human beings? Is it simply an instrument in the hands of the powerfull ones? Protagoras of Abdera: the state is a collective agreement derived from necessity (of inborn human weakness). Thrasymachus: the one who governs calls fair what satisfies his selfish interest. Gorgias: the state is at the service of the strongest (and the strongest is the one -human being- who dominates the word). We return to our goddess Vak, the word-goddess, who speaks and boasts of her own power in the Rig Veda [See]. As Gorgias seems to have thought, the (powerful/selfish)  human being would consider himself as the owner of that goddess. Michel Foucault or Claude Levi-Strauss, among many others, believed, or at least said, the opposite. Is the human word the one that governs the states, or do these govern human beings by virtue of a statistized word? Regarding the treasures of ideas available in ancient Greece, be sure to read these classic work: W. K. C. Guthrie: A History of Greek Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 1969).

3.- Plato. Republic. The perfect state is the one ruled by philosophers (men and women).

4.- Augustine of Hippo and The City of God: the state should be a congregation of human beings who have common beliefs, and who share an object of their love. Augustine of Hippo distinguishes between a spiritual celestial city (civitas coelestis spiritualis), a spiritual earthly city (civitas terrena spiritualis) and a carnal earthly city (civitas terrena carnalis). There is a page in the Internet that I find extremely useful for anyone who wants to study this Christian thinker: http://www.augustinus.it/. And a work of great interest on the possible survival and transformation of the concept of “City of God” throughout history is the following: Étienne Gilson: Les métamorphoses de la cité de Dieu (Vrin, Paris 1952).

5.- Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan. The state as necessary and violent monster. That monster might be the only way to stop the “war of all against all”. Sad. Shameful. Don´t you think so?

6.- Baruch Spinoza (A Theologico-Political Treatise, Chapter XX): In a free state everyone is at liberty to think as he pleases, and to say what he thinks. Okay. It sounds beautiful. But an abyssal, wild metaphysical question arises: Are human beings free and powerful enough to master their own thinking-process? Schopenhauer would answer no. No as simple/pure human beings. But we are much more as only that…

7.- Nietzsche: Thus spoke Zarathustra. In the chapter entitled “Of the new idol”, the philosopher of the hammer says this: “There, where the state ends, take a good look my brothers! Don’t you see the rainbow and the bridges of the Super-human being?”  Based on these phrases by Nietzsche, it could be said that every state needs human beings who are able to overstep its frontiers in order to revive itself, from outside, with new ideas, new things to be loved collectively: new dreams to be dreamt in our network of dreamers. And such departure from the state would not necessarily involve a physical, spatial activity. It would be enough a certain mental capacity of auto-deprogramming: lucid and revivifying distance. Nietzsche actually considered himself a kind of therapist, a vitalizer of the human civilization. He believed in creating a radical-healthy logos that might raise up, and eventually transform, the state of consciousness of human beings.  It could be said that a political state is the image, the outcome, of a state of consciousness shared by human beings.

8.- Simone Weil: “A collective life that, while warmly encouraging each human being, leaves space and silence around it”. If you haven´t read these works, please do it: La pesanteur et la grâce (Plon, Paris 1988) and The Need for Roots: prelude towards a declaration of duties towards mankind. 

9.- The slime mold (Dictyostelium discoideum). Steven Johnson´s Emergence. The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software (Scribner, New York 2001). The fundamental thesis of this work is that systems (such as cities for example) are organized “from the bottom up”, without a superior guide. Everything would work perfectly without anyone -any individual  intelligence- knowing how it works. The slime mold would be a prodigious biological system: a spontaneous congregation of individual living beings that temporarily cease to be several individuals and become one single individual: they start to yearn, to love, to be, the same. It seems to be a biological but also mystical process… That might be the core idea of a state: collective illusion, and also dangerous fusion. Collective, multilateral bewitchment (but also fragile and mutant, even deliquescent, bewitchment).

And now some personal reflections about the state:

1.- The issue of the state seems to me of capital importance. The human being -the individual- is radically social, and society, that multi-human body, is decisive for his development possibilities. And vice versa.

2.- The state as objectification and, at the same time, guarantor, of collective dreams. A bureaucratic god created by human beings (and creator of human beings) who uses violence and love, at the same time, to unite wills and fears and dreams. Let us think of that Escher’s painting in which two hands paint each other.

3.- The state is a very powerful being. It controls, to a large extent, education: the basic program of all human-dreamers. The state installs an entire cosmos in the consciousness of its citizens. It can be said that the so called  “universe” is stateized, because it is an educational, paradigmatic product. We don’t really know what the universe itself is like beyond our stateized models.

4.- The state discursively creates (theorizes) itself, as a god with a certain aseity. But, at the same time, the state ontologically depends on the stateized brains of its citizens to exist at all. The state is something thought, theorized, loved and feared by stateized souls. But once believed, thought, assumed, it deploys a huge physical power.

5.- A good state must create permanent illusions. Possible illusions. Its greatest threat is not, as Hobbes said, civil, permanent war, but boredom: the lack of illusion: the absence of spells capable of mobilizing us biochemically (to use a word accepted today by the educational system of this state of states we vaguely call “international community”).

6.- A disconcerting, metaphysically fabulous phenomenon: the state is a powerful source of emission of Logos (the educational system, the Law, the media, etc.), but that emission, at the same time, is nourished by the logical emission of its citizens. Where is the power? It seems to be ubiquitous.  Maybe God (understood as an infinite power) is whole everywhere. Even in every single word that is said.

7.- What might be the “state in itself”?  I mean: How might it look observed from outside of our stateized eyes?

8.- The state is a myth that makes itself, and also an invisible force that modifies matter at the service of that myth (weapons, for example, are radically material). It is pure pragmatic magic at the service of an idea.

9.- Which are the physical or even spiritual limits of the state? What are the boundaries between the state and “Nature” (as idea, as concept, as model)? None. [See “Nature”]. But it could also be said that the infinite magic burns (with conscious fire) in all the logical, physical and bureaucratic corners of all states. These artificial beings -the states- cannot escape the storm of wonders that shakes every corner of reality. Nothing can do it.

10.- From the Apara-Vidya [See], I would say that every state must have an inescapable objective: to open and free the eyes and the hearths of all human beings. And above all, it must be able to update human beings (to develop them fully). This actualization, as Aristotle would say, occurs when the human being fully activates himself as philosopher.

11.- Not only should Philosophy be fostered and loved by the state, but also the creativity of its individuals. Precisely from there (from the individuals) it obtains its nutrients, its life, its dreamlike texture, its illusionary power.

12.- The so attractive totalitarian, hyper-collectivist states, do first dry up the spiritual springs of their citizens and then they mummify themselves.

13.- In the spiritual state of meditation, the political state fully disappears. Every state must be able to give its citizens space and time so that they can meditate: be radically free. Thanks to those open spaces, to those unlimited silences, the infinite energy of what can´t be said will be able to enter and illuminate (and erase) the state.

14.- A state that fosters, with love and respect, Philosophy and Art and Mystics will have to endure -it and its citizens- very difficult and disquieting mental sets, but that tolerance will eventually facilitate human beings access to the sacred smell of fertility and beauty.  Only this way will be the state sublimated before its final and necessary extinction.

One day states (even the international community of states) will no longer be needed. Hobbes´ Leviathan will be part of our past. I hope so.

Human beings deserve that. And much more.

David López

This Philosophy blog does not have advertising or institutional support. And I don’t have the financial resources to sustain it and to develop it. However, I do have an enormous amount of ideas and philosophical projects still to be developed and communicated. For all these reasons, if you believe that the work I am offering here has value, please consider making a donation (through the “Donate” button). Your help can be decisive for the survival of this project. I give you my word.

The logical ballerinas: “Brain”

 

 

“Brain”. It is supposed to be the crucial but also imaginary organ of this famous sculpture of Rodin. As physical, tangible reality, the brain is said to be the most sophisticated and dazzling object of the known universe. I have one of those inside me. And you, by the very fact that you are reading these words, have another one. Another one of such amazing living diamonds. Do we own such a jewel or are we owned by it? 

“Brain”. The purpose of this philosophical dictionary is not to give meanings to words, is not to confine their semantics, but to calibrate their spell ability: their strength to configure contents of consciousness. Worlds.

Let’s go now into a fabulous labyrinth of mirrors. One first step: Who or what wants to study, to see, to consider, to measure, to modelize, etc., the so called “human brain”? Who or what wants to create in its own brain an image, an idea, a map, of its own brain? Can the brain be object and subject of knowledge at the same time?

It was reading the great Schopenhauer when I was dazzled for the first time by what is called “brain paradox”. It can be stated as follows: the brain, as a thing between things, is part of the world (like trees or snails or cars or stars). Seen like this, as a particular cut of the visual impact of the world, it appears as something three-dimensional, tiny, vulnerable, and apparently created, configured and also pitiless submitted by the so called “laws of Nature”.

But, on the other hand, according to Schopenhauer (who was a lover of Kant´s Philosophy), it is precisely inside the brain, and only there, where occurs that what we call “world”, or “universe” (with all possible physical brains inside). 

If we do not philosophize  (if we are not conscious of our thinking) we will not notice that  the theories of a neurophysiologist (if we accept and follow those same theories) are phenomena within the electrical and viscous inner-cosmos of their own galaxies of neurones.

It could be said, from the current scientistic materialism, that the brain is one of the things that can be contemplated inside the brain if the brain works properly (inside that magic box can also happen an Autumn breeze that bristles the skin of memory). And from that materialism it can also be said that we will be more connoisseurs of the brain the closer we get to a certain neuronal conexions-path, to a certain form, or dance if you want, in the matter of our brain: the precise one that propitiates a suitable representation of what the brain is in itself.

Let’s look at what is behind the word “brain”. Let’s do it with the infinite and dazzling eyes of the Goddess Philosophy, which, according to neuroscience, is just a cerebral activity (the cerebral activity modelling itself, looking at itself… From where?).  The word “brain” (that powerful logical ballerina) is going to give us a wonderful opportunity to philosophize seriously, powerfully: without laziness, with extreme courage but also rigor, ready to swim in the sacred ocean of the infinite, of the nearly unbearable (but unbearable, sometimes, because of its extreme beauty).

The great intellectual ecstasy of Philosophy begins. And I truly believe that our philosophising can receive an extremely fertile rain if we look at what is said about the brain from the current models of neurophysiology  (from these determined configurations of the chemistry of our brain, if we accept and follow those very models). 

But, what do those models say? 

I will focus on the human brain. As far as I know, it is said that the brain is a concrete part of the human body, an organ which is considered the centre of the nervous system. It contains billions of a special type of cells called “neurones”, which, amazingly, connect with each other, or not, creating, or not, clusters of connexions, or associations (let’s say societies). I have read that the neurones can cooperate in societies of millions of members and that it is still uncovered the mystery of the way that cooperation really works. It is also said that the brain tissue produces energy, electricity indeed (like a small, organic nuclear power station), which, if many neurones work together, can be powerful enough to get out of the skull (the box of the brain) and be measured outside. That organ, that crucial ‘machine’ [See “Machine”], is comprable with a computer. Actually, some current models of neuroscience use that comparison to improve their insight of the brain. And they do it on the grounds that the brain is a centre of perception and processing of data. The scope of such perception, as far as it is commonly accepted in today’s science, is quite amazing: light, sound, chemical composition of the atmosphere, temperature, head orientation, limb position, chemical composition of the bloodstream… The hypothalamus, which is one part of the brain, can even check the sodium level, the glucose level and the blood oxygen level, and send some of those outputs to the pituitary gland, which reacts introducing hormones into the bloodstream that are capable to change cellular activity.

It is also said that learning and memory are core activities of the brain. Santiago Ramon y Cajal explained such capacities arguing that they were just changes in the synaptic connexions between neurones. Such theory is said to be fully proved by a stream of investigations triggered by a paper of Tim Bliss and Terje Lømo published in 1966 in Journal of Physiology. The key discovery of that paper was the so-called “long-term potentiation”: the strengthening of the synapsis between neurones caused by recent activity. There is also the opposite: the “long-term depression”. Both phenomena might be showing what is now called “synaptic plasticity”, which implies that the connexions between neurones can strengthen or weaken depending on their activity during a period of time. Thousands of millions of neurones willing to connect among each other… What might occur if that total inner-connexion takes place? The brain (that  mighty mystery) being completely conscious of itself? Of its unfathomable reality? And the very Philosophy, viewed from the current models of neurophysiology, could be therefore described as a bomb of conscious thoughts set inside those galaxies of neurones in order make possible its final, ecstatic connexion: the infinite synaptic plasticity.

The strict scientific models of reality I have just shown are the framework of some amazing projects that I would like to mention (and to thank too): 

  • https://alleninstitute.org/what-we-do/brain-science/ . On the webpage of this institute (which was founded by Paul Allen, one of the founders of Microsoft along with Bill Gates) we are said what follows: “The human brain is the most complex piece of organized matter in the known universe. We use our singular approach to uncover its mysteries and share valuable resources with the global community of neuroscientists”.

It seems that our civilisation is now fascinated with the human brains: with those complex pieces of organised matter [See “Matter”]. Inside those cosmic jewels might be the key of everything.

Neuroscience. Philosophy. Let’s see what the following individual thinkers (individual brains) say about the brain:

1.- Schopenhauer. The paradox of the brain. Let’s go back to it:  the brain, as thing of the physical universe, is in space, but space (the continent, the ‘box’ of the physical universe) is only in the brain (Pararega and Paralipomena II, p. 48, according to the classic edition of Arthur Hübscher, revised by his wife Angelika, and published in Mannheim in 1988). The philosophical system of Schopenhauer overcomes such paradox placing the physical brain as part of the created world, as a kind of tool used by our deepest I in order to contemplate our own creation.    The brain might be our tool. One of them. But “we” would not really be humans: humans might be our creations (our sacred tools).

2.- Humberto Maturana. Biology of Cognition (Biological Computer Laboratory Research Report BCL 9.0. Urbana IL: University of Illinois, 1970). Maturana is one of the three creators of the concept “autopoiesis”, which refers to the alleged capacity of self-generating and self-maintaining of the so-called “living systems”. (It is said that the other two creators of such concept are Francisco Varela and Ricardo B. Uribe). The brain: Maturana says the frog can not see all the animals (it does not see those that are especially large and slow). The activity of the brain is the result of the demands of the living system that nourishes it. Reality is indeed fabricated by living systems in order to enhance their survival possibilities. So… Is it also the very theory that generates the brain of Maturana something (let’s say bio-artificial) that nurtures and guards the living system that owes him? How can that theory be true if it is generated by a biologically enslaved brain whose sole purpose is to nourish something called “living system”? It deserves to be read the schematic study on the thought of Humberto Maturana offered by John Lechte in this work: Fifty Key Contemporary Thinkers: From Structuralism to Postmodernity (Routledge, London 1994).

3.- The computational functionalism of Hilary Putnam as solution for the mind/brain problem: the mind is the software; the brain is the hardware. The criticism of John Searle in his paper “The Chinese room argument” (“Minds, Brains, and Programs”, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1980): A computer can behave as if it understood Chinese, but it would nevertheless not be a mind, because it can not think, be conscious, of its own behaviour. Searle does focus its criticism on digital computers. But, what kind of machines are still to be created? Schopenhauer, as I said before, already considered the brain as our most sophisticated artificial creation. Because, indeed, we would not be “human beings”…

4.- Antonio Damasio: Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain, 1994. This neuroscientist asserts that such alleged error was to believe that the most refined operations of the mind are separated from the structure and functioning of the biological organism. The brain and the rest of the body constitute an inseparable organism composed of biochemical and neural regulatory circuits that relate to the environment as a whole, and mental activity arises from that interaction. So…  Does our brain have the size of the whole physical universe? Do we think with all that? By the way: How big and deep is the so called “physical universe”?

5.- Richard Dawkins: The God delusion, 2006. In this book there is a chapter entitled “The mother of all the burkas”. And from the groove of his own burqa, and always through the kaleidoscopic lens of his radical scientist materialism, Dawkins states that what we see of the real world is not the real world, but a model of the real world, regulated and adjusted by sense data (a model that is constructed in such a way that it is useful to deal with the real world). Dawkins also states that the nature of that model depends on the type of animal we are. According to that theory we could ask: Is not that very theory (the model of reality that Richard Dawkins exposes) just something useful that his brain (his body, his matter) needs in order to deal with the real world? Do brains reflect reality or create it? Does the survival of the system require ‘reality’ reflected cerebrally or just fantasy capable of triggering will to live? Is there a “world” out there? How can we go out of our brains to see it?

Now I will try to convey what seem to be my own thoughts (the products of my own brain) about the mystery of the brain:

1.- “Brain” is, first of all, a word. Nothing else. Nothing less… It can also be said that it is the result of applying a certain system of cuts in the visual reality of the so-called “universe”. I can see no brain beyond a certain mental software (if we use the metaphor of Hilary Putnam), beyond a certain way of cutting the reality into individuals.

2.- We are always bewitched by language, by The Word: Vak in Sanskrit [See]. If you want to (momentarily)  scape from such paramount, almighty Goddess, you should to be able to think and feel that “atom”, “neuron”, “science”, “virus” or “brain” are words: artificial fruits of mental models: secretions of something ineffable that, given that I am now inside a phrase, I have no choice but to name it “brain”. In fact, it is posible that in a very close future a new model of “brain” might emerge. For example a model that affirms the identity between what we now name “brain” and what we now name “biosphere” or even “universe”.

3.- The logical ballerina “Brain” usually dances together with another: “Mind”. It is said that from the last third of the twentieth century the philosophy of the mind is acquiring an increasingly  privileged place in what we call philosophical reflection. But the leading idelogy nowadays is the one which asserts the pure material dimension of the brain. [See “Matter”]. Okay. But every physical object, according to current Physics (M-Theory), is supposed to have eleven dimensions, not only three. Therefore,  the current models (the draws) of the brain are mutilated: the brain in itself (even considered as a pure physical object) is impossible to draw. Impossible to see. Even impossible to imagine.

7.- The brain… I don’t really know what is that, but, if I close my eyes, I can feel it, ‘there’, like a huge magical, infinite whale. And I can also send it calm, silence, even love… That is something really astonishing I do almost everyday. Believe me: after no more than one minute, that mysterious, unsayable ‘thing’ we call brain seems to be born again, ready to go on loving life, producing worlds if you want. 

The brain… I don’t really know what is that, but, if I close my eyes, I can feel it, ‘there’, like a huge magical, infinite whale. And I can also send it calm, silence, even love… That is something really astonishing I do almost everyday. Believe me: after no more than one minute, that mysterious, unsayable ‘thing’ we call brain seems to be born again, ready to go on loving life, producing worlds if you want. 

The wild philosophical question is:

From where do I feel and bless and vivify my own brain in such magical moments? Where am I really located? And, above all: What am I? What are you, dear reader?

This Philosophy blog does not have advertising or institutional support. And I don’t have the financial resources to sustain it and to develop it. However, I do have an enormous amount of ideas and philosophical projects still to be developed and communicated. For all these reasons, if you believe that the work I am offering here has value, please consider making a donation (through the “Donate” button). Your help can be decisive for the survival of this project. I give you my word.