Wednesday, 29 June 2011

not another post about the education white paper: some uncomfortable thoughts about inequality

Is there something about maintaining inequality in society which can contribute to society working effectively? This is an uncomfortable thought, but I think it needs to be considered carefully. To unpick it, we need to consider where the inequality might lie: obviously we think about wealth... but I'm not sure wealth is the most useful distinction: after all, everyone has got wealthier at the same time as inequality appears to have risen.

Thinking about the distribution of risk is more interesting because it relates directly to biology, and risk is partly managed through economic behaviour. Does an inequality in the distribution of risk produce a more viable economy? I'm wondering if in creating pockets of risk creates social dynamic forces that can drive sections of the economy - like education, for example.

In a sense we have always done this: maybe prison represents a 'risk concentration', which in turn concentrates the minds of those not in prison, and leads them through anxiety to pay their taxes and stay within the law.

What about a multi-tier education system, where the rich get 'the best' and the poor get low-grade privately funded facilities with accreditation from remote universities? Individuals are born with unequal risk burdens to begin with. Might the levels of risk in different levels of the education system serve to create a dynamic economy in education? Where are the dangers for such a system? What is lost? What are the long-term consequences for society?

It seems almost certain that an uneven distribution of risks in education is what is being unleashed. On a number of levels I'm left wondering if it might actually 'work' in the sense that the young will be presented with a variety of options with varying levels of risk, and they will be 'free' to choose. Certainly a broadening-out in higher-education provision will create employment in the education industry. But I doubt if it will be as simple as that: the inherited burden of risk will force most into well-trodden routes for their economic and social class. Social mobility will become even more difficult. But of course,  might that increase the distribution of risks and the dynamism of the economy? I find this hard to think about.

What seems very clear is that the education we are about to see is not the education that I received, and certainly not the education that existed for my parents. Education appears to be reinventing itself as a fundamental part of the economy - not to train workers (as it might have once appeared) but in itself to create employment and stimulate local economies. The 'code' of education is changing. But it will only work if the young are anxious enough about their future that they reach for education as a key to realising their potential. Inequality in risk distribution could work to produce that anxiety.

This seems very depressing. But the uncomfortable questions are nevertheless there for us, and challenge us to suspend our idealism for a second and look at what's happening. For me the hope is to find a way of describing what's happening that allows us to grasp how we might undermine it. My instinct is that it's simple: don't worry - be happy!

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Education and the Litany of Memory

Litanies are very repetitive. Each time the a petition comes around (typically a prayer to Mary or Jesus), it is different... and the same. In music, the technique of 'litany' is one where a melody is continuously repeated and harmonised in different ways. All this seems closely related to the idea of 'eternal return'. Because in 'eternal return' we see patterns and archetypes return but always with a different colour or harmony. So King Kong is the same as Beauty and the Beast which is the same as Cupid and Psyche... and so on.

Composers and novelists often use the technique of litany to indicate the symbolic eternal return. Berlioz is the best example in music: the idee fixe in the Symphonie Fantastique (see below)  is a melody which occurs throughout the work, from the ball to the countryside to the scaffold.

What does it represent? the burning love for a woman which through all the trials and tribulations of life endures.

Elgar's 1st symphony has a different sort of musical idea and story, but uses a similar technique.
There's something in this about the recognition of patterns (I'm reminded of Jung's comment that all cognition is re-cognition). We constantly feel ourselves to be "where we started and know the place as if for the first time". 

What happens with each passing-through of the melody? Where does it go to? How do we know it when it returns?

What about each passing-through of a phase of education? How do we know it when it returns?

Related to this is the possibility that education is always changing and always the same. Music works in the similar way: always changing and always the same. Luhmann would say that the code of communication keeps changing around a central 'contingency formula'. Education today is not the education of 1945 or the education of 1420. Each of those oriented around a central contingency formula (which Luhmann calls 'cultivation'), but the code is fundamentally different. In 1420, the curriculum was the medieval trivium and quadrivium and the purpose was ecclesiastical education. In 1945, the curriculum was much as we have it today, and the purpose was feeding the economy with workers and consumers. In 2011, both the curriculum and the purpose of education are questions which the education systems of the past don't seem to help us answer. 

But I think the code of education of 2011 is radically different from the code of education even in 1945. It is wired to the economy in quite a different way. Yet the contingency formula is the same: cultivation. 

The code of education, I think, is like the  harmony of a musical litany: recolouring an idee fixe, where motifs (archetypes) keep returning, but the code makes them appear at once different and the same. Technology is clearly part of the transformation of the code. And it may be that the continuing transformation of the code leads to continuing recurrence of the motifs. This is the way that education always goes round in circles!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

John Bowlby's Cybernetics of Attachment

At the exhibition on 'Who Cares' at the Whitworth Gallery last week, I stumbled across a book on 'teenagers and attachment', which opened my eyes to John Bowlby's work. I like these random discoveries - they tend to be the best!

Bowlby is an extraordinary character and his 'attachment theory', whilst concerning human relations seems to also fit my thinking around property. I was thinking this with regard to Melanie Klein's object relations theory too recently, and that was an important influence on Bowlby (although he seems to take what he wants out of it).

I'm interested in Bowlby's work for its relevance to economics. The emotions associated with economic crisis are fear of loss. Bowlby's idea of feedback loops between child and mother are equally applicable, understood as a broad understanding of adaptation to the environment. Bowlby argues that:
"the only relevant criterion by which to consider the natural adaptedness of any particular part of present-day man's behavioural equipment is the degree to which and the way in which it might contribute to population survival in man's primeval environment." (p 59)
And here Bowlby clearly allies himself with Freudian thinking about instinct, and indeed his work is about unpicking the nature of human instinct. (I'm sure that Bateson's famous discussion about instinct with his daughter where he introduces the idea of an 'explanatory principal' relates to the discussion by Bowlby, Klein and Anna Freud about instinct in the 60s).

The primeval environment is an environment of human relations - in Bowlby's language, attachments: those relations which are equally observable in the animal world. For example, Bowlby writes that:
The types and sequences of behaviour that lead a pair of birds to reproduce their kind illustrate the sort of problem that any theories of instinctive behaviour must solve. All the following behaviour, and more, is required if outcome is to be successful: male identifies territory and nest-site; male ejects intruding males; male attracts female and courts her; male and /or female build(s) nest; pair copulate; female lays; male and/or female brood(s); pair feed young; pair ward off predators.  (p 50)
He then comments:
In what way do we imagine all this to be organised? What principles of organisation are necessary if behaviour is to attain these ends? (p50)

With regard to the attachment processes between mother and child, Bowlby identifies four principle theories in the psychology literature (as it was in 1958), which he divides as primary and secondary, dependent on whether the propensity described depends on learning (secondary) or not. These are presented:
i. the child has a number of physiological needs which muyst be met, particularly for food and warmth. In so far as a baby becomes interested in and attached to a human figure, especially mother, this is the result of the mother's meeting the baby's physiological needs and the baby's learning in due course that she is the source of his gratification. I shall call this theory of secondary drive, a term which is derived from Learning Theory. It also has been called the cupboard-love theory of object relations.
ii. There is in infants an in-built propensity to relate themselves to a human breast, to suck it and to possess it orally. In due course the infant learns that, attached to the breast, there is a mother and so relates to her also. I propose to term this the theory of Primary Object sucking.
iii. There is in infants an in-built propensity to be in touch with and to cling to a human being. In this sense there is a 'need' for an object independent of food and warmth. It is proposed to term this the theory of Primary Object Clinging.
iv. Infants resent their extrusion from the womb and seek to return there. This is termed the theory of Primary Return-to-womb Craving.
 Bowlby largely rejects these approaches and argues for a simpler alternative theory of attachment as:
"the child's tie to his mother is a product of the activity of a number of behavioural systems that have proximity to mother as a predictable outcome"
I think there's something in all of this which gives a new perspective on economics when we consider the impact not of hunger, but of risk and anxiety in human behaviour.

Bowlby's systems model may be re-applied to consider the attachments that humans form to material artefacts, ideas and other people as they seek to manage their anxieties in an environment which constantly creates the conditions for new anxiety.

By conceiving of commodities and services as 'objects of attachment', a link can be made between the biological organisation of humans and economic behaviour.

In our current economic climate, some of these behaviours both respond to and lead to emotions of anxiety, loss and fear - all of which stimulate new desires for commodities and services.

What's fascinating me is that Keynesian thinking about propensities to consume and save may be conceived within this biological framework.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Listening to the Economy

At this time of economic crisis, the most obvious thing to do is to question our assumptions. Unfortunately, many of those assumptions are seen to be simply too difficult, or worse, simply too 'obvious' to be critiqued. We need powerful questions to kick-start a process of critique making what seems obvious less so. Here is my attempt:

1. What is property?
Our attachment to material artefacts, other people, intellectual ideas, religious belief, language, culture and personal habits are all considered factors which underpin economic behaviour. From Keynes's 'propensity to consume' to Sen's recent work on identity, it seems that the core of our values lies in attaching value to things external to us. In the case of people who we love, one set of economic behaviours arises: the provision of safety and opportunity, for example. In the case of material things, another set of economic behaviour arises: the exchange of goods and services, the management of money. When we get to intellectual ideas, it starts to get more confusing, and religious belief and culture are clearly more aligned to personal identity.

But Sen might be right in thinking that it all relates to identity in some way, and the essential balance with regard to property and identity fundamentally relates to peace and violence.

Our conventional view of property, and the related concepts of commodities, services, value, exchange, etc have received little attention since Marx, and indeed much of his thinking preserved basic assumptions by Smith and Locke.

But we are getting a feeling for how property and identity might be biological. The hints that this is so are coming particularly from our realisation of risk being a major factor in the organisation of our economy. Risk clearly has a bio-psychological component in the emotion of anxiety that associates with it.

That starts to open things up with regard to identity. For the function of property may be related to the management of anxiety in some way. I'm wondering if John Bowlby might characterise this as a form of 'attachment' - and that makes things really interesting for me because Bowlby is fundamentally cybernetic in his thinking.

If property relates to emotions of anxiety, then the question is 'how might it work?', and with a description of how it might work, we might be able to gain a deeper insight into an alternative view on property.

2. What is money and exchange?
This obviously is a fundamental question, although it has received rather more theoretical attention than property. However, if property is conceived in biological terms as feedback mechanisms, then money (which is also a kind of property) is there too.

The deeper question is to consider the nature of exchange, where property seen from a biological context is transferred from one person to another. Money, as an abstract medium for this transfer to take place, can also then be seen from a biological perspective. Such things as money, property, exchange, etc can all then be seen as regulating mechanisms.

3. What lies behind the 'propensity to consume' and the 'propensity to save'?
I'm tempted to give a simple answer to this: individual identity. If identity is constituted through relations with property (i.e. property is essentially something against which identity is established), then consumption is at once a process of adapting identity and regulating it.

The regulatory means by which this is conducted in society may require economies to ensure that the material constituents of identity are made available to individuals in society.

4. What are services?
Services are, I think, ways in which the biology of identity may be regulated without property being exchanged as such, but instead for the actual regulation that might be provided by property to be 'simulated' with something artificial.

Services have providers, and service provision tends to manipulate the provision of property so as to create the demand for the service where a property relation is prevented.

Our economy is increasingly organised in this way I think. It also explains the increasing gap between rich and poor, and indicates that this gap is only likely to increase: the service-providers will increase their capital assets - both to form a base for service provision and to deprive the masses from access to property, and thus drive up demand for the 'service alternative'.

5. What is education and capabilities?
Education can be fundamentally characterised as a service. To see it as a 'right' would have been to see it as property, but now education is not seen as a right, but a service. With the 'right' removed, the services of education are the substitute, and the demand for that substitute is only likely to increase.

Education is a way of managing risk and the anxiety that rises from it through the establishment of new capabilities (however, education may give rise to other risks and other anxieties.. so I'm not sure about this).

Education works by establishing property relations (attachments) to ideas, capabilities and to some extent people: cultural and social capital is one way of seeing this. Through establishing property relations to ideas, identity is formed, adapted, etc. Most parenting concerns the establishment of property relations with the world - the continual encouragement to greater independence is basically a way of nurturing more robust identities.

6. What is the market?
The market reflects a theory and a set of values. If the theory was changed, the market would change. Much of what the market does depends on people not understanding what it does. If we understood what it did better, it would do different things. It's interesting that as awareness of Marx's ideas grew, capitalists changed their practices of employment - frustrating Marxist predictions of worker unrest. Instead, we had a burgeoning middle class of consumers. Perhaps not such a great outcome, but it illustrates the point that theory is transformative (although often in unpredictable ways!).

It may be however that our current theory and the market upon which it is based is such a bad theory that it is a threat to our future survival.

A bad theory is an opportunity however. For it tells us what might really be going on.

Making a better theory might at least help us to see what we are doing to ourselves.

Monday, 13 June 2011

What do artists know? (and why do social scientists find it so hard to articulate?)

At the end of Shaw's Pygmalion, Eliza, now fully transformed into a ‘lady of the upper classes’, explains how it was Mr Pickering and not Professor Higgins had taught her to become a lady:
LIZA. It's not because you paid for my dresses. I know you are generous to everybody with money. But it was from you that I learnt really nice manners; and that is what makes one a lady, isnt it? You see it was so very difficult for me with the example of Professor Higgins always before me. I was brought up to be just like him, unable to control myself, and using bad language on the slightest provocation. And I should never have known that ladies and gentlemen didnt behave like that if you hadnt been there.
LIZA [continuing] It was just like learning to dance in the fashionable way: there was nothing more than that in it. But do you know what began my real education?
LIZA [stopping her work for a moment] Your calling me Miss Doolittle that day when I first came to Wimpole Street. That was the beginning of self-respect for me. [She resumes her stitching]. And there were a hundred little things you never noticed, because they came naturally to you. Things about standing up and taking off your hat and opening door—
This difference in treatment between Higgins and Pickering that Eliza draws attention to what we HarrĂ© might call 'positioning'. Pickering positioned Eliza differently to Higgins. In being polite and respectful, Pickering revealed something of himself and his own values - perhaps an insight into his personal 'storyline'. That story had a particular effect on his communications. In being rude and obnoxious, Higgins similarly revealed his 'storyline' - but it was a rather miserable and conceited story. As Eliza points out, she already knew stories like this all too well.

Shaw didn't know about Positioning Theory. He might have known something about Freud, but I suspect he didn't really need to. He knew about people. And he moulded that knowledge into the form that he left us in Pygmalion. That others could relate to the characters was a testament to the fact that his knowledge wasn't far off-the-mark. No questionnaires, no data analysis, no triangulation of results - just a story that 'rang true'.

Shaw knew his archetypes, and his reference to Ovid in the title bears witness to a much deeper pattern of human relations. It is one that has echoes in mythology and history for centuries. And I think the thing that separates Shaw from Sociology is Shaw's comfort with working with archetypes, and the distrust for them by sociologists. The real discomfort that Jung causes psychologists is not his theory of personality types (that bit's more widely used than any other piece of psychological work!), but his theory of archetypes and the collective unconscious. Similarly, Freud causes the most consternation when he reinvents the Fall of Adam with the Oedipus myth.

Something sticks in the throats of social scientists at this point of encountering the 'eternal recurrence'. It's presented as being fanciful, unscientific. But give it to Shakespeare, and he'll write something of such power that it resonates across time.

Social science is gradually get to grips with emergence. The point is that emergence has a pattern. Something in the interactions and the properties of agents cause patterns of events to repeat, so that as Jung commented: "all cognition is recognition". Eliot said the same thing in 'Little Gidding' (oft quoted by Bateson):
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time
Elliot knew his archetypes too!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

The frightening ease with which I can become an extremist...

I'm preparing to defend my PhD thesis on Thursday, and reviewing my arguments. There's always some fundamental level of an argument which rests on values which are hard-wired into my identity, and defending those arguments (more than others) can lead me into a state of raised passion. At that point, there is always the risk that I become an extremist.

My fundamental argument rests on the nature of causality and effective methodology. I've got this from Bhaskar, and I still think it's broadly defensible. But defending it can sometimes lead to deep and impenetrable philosophical argument that ends up as existing for its own sake (or the sake of preserving my identity) than working towards any deeper understanding of the matters in hand. Critical Realists (and I consider myself one to a point) and Radical Constructivists (which I don't think I am) are notoriously bad on this, and I suspect it's because what they really have is not an argument but a religion which is embedded in their identity.

There's nothing wrong with having a religion. But I think it's important to recognise that that's what it is. This is why I think the remedy to avoid extremism is self-revealing through skilful teaching and positioning of others. The more open I am about what these ideas do for me, the more I can invite others to inspect my testimony as a way of their coming to an understanding themselves (and of themselves).

It is to turn my testimony into an invitation for a learning activity of engagement. It has a peculiar feeling for me. Giving up the need to defend identity and merely state it has a visceral effect - a relaxing of the stomach muscles, a greater sense of mental focus, awareness of the heart. Actually, I think the heart really is at the heart of it...

I'll always turn to what poets, musicians and novelists say about the world. The best of them speak from the heart, and speak what they know to be true. There is clearly a disconnect between what rational argument can represent and what artistic expression can reveal. The extent to which that disconnect is predicated on the methodological assumptions about the way the world is is what interests me - "causes are real, not constructs!" I will argue.. But whilst I might want to say "you've got it all wrong - the world isn't like that!", I know that I mustn't - that is the point at which we turn into extremists.

We may all have got it all wrong, but we wouldn't be the first! One of the fundamental aspects where social scientists and artists differ is that whilst social science might (now) talk about 'emergence', artists always reveal their understanding of 'eternal recurrence'. That I find particularly interesting.

Somehow, we haven't yet been able to look at the recurrent patterns in emergent phenomena and say "We have seen this before... maybe the world ticks like this!"

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Statistics in Social Science and Causal Reality

The issue over the nature of causes is all about the defensibility of explanations. Statistics in social science help to establish regularity in observations. By doing this, it is hoped that social science can be seen to be compatible with successionist causal theory (Humean theory) that was so effective in physical science. Hume's assertion that causes were constructed in the light of observation of regular successions of events seems reasonable in physical science, but in the open system of social science, it was always problematic. So statistics comes to the rescue!

But this is problematic for a number of reasons. Firstly, following Kuhn, the closed system of physical science wasn't that closed: the scientific community, ideas of other scientists, instruments, etc all played a role in the construction of causes, so that the regularity that was observed was tensed and situated in a social situation which was not accounted for in the construction of a theory. In short, 'my head' was not just 'my head' - it was mine and the heads of others in history, the ideas of the time, the ideas that influenced the design of instruments, and so on. What we judged we judged together, but assumed it to be individual judgement that was reproduced in the light of phenomena, and therefore those judgements were defensible on the basis that they were agreed. But at the deep ecological, historical, political and psychological level, their agreement was just another level of 'something going on'.

Then there's the issue of what scientific explanations seem to do. Whilst they were concocted in closed system experiments, they had explanatory power in open systems too: things work in the world as well as in the laboratory. What does that tell us? Possibly that whatever was imputed to exist through experiment and construction of causes actually did exist in reality independently of any construction of causes. Therefore something must be happening which is outside peoples' heads and which somehow we have managed to grasp hold of.

In social science, the same is true: things happen in the world, and deep down, artists and poets know what it is. Social scientists are less confident to express what it is, and so they turn to statistics. What does statistics do? Statistics supposes that for a science of society to be possible, regularities of observation must be possible, so it finds a way of producing regularities in an open system.

The central question is "does the possibility of a social science depend on regularities?". I think the answer is no. The possibility of social science depends on explanatory power, and that depends on understanding the nature of explanation and understanding. In physical science, mechanisms are likely to exist outside the close-system experiment. Similarly, in social science, mechanisms are likely to exist beyond any local regularity or statistic. The challenge is "how can we come to rational and defensible knowledge about it?"

Each thing that happens tells us something about what's going on. This is probably what scientists really do - they are like detectives, piecing together clues and constructing possible ways in which those clues might be connected. The thing that they're describing is however a real thing, and they're making guesses as to how it might work. Social scientists are the same, but the mechanisms are more complicated, and they are always part of them (in fact so are the physical scientists!). But with enough evidence, and enough creativity in postulating what might be going, a science of society is no less possible than physics.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Connotation and causation

I've been reading Ian McGilchrist's book "the master and his emissary". I found it fascinating, but it left me wondering "where's the politics? Why isn't it there?" Yes, I'm sure the 'hemisphere thing' is really important, but to me the question is not about the evolutionary/environmental causes of different mental balances (although fascinating), but simply about asking people: "what sort of a world do you want to live in?"

McGilchrist doesn't really talk about causation and Hume. Descartes gets the usual drubbing (poor Descartes - I want to rehabilitate him) but Hume's view on causation receives little attention. McGilchrist's argument is that the relationship between emotion and reason is poorly understood. He re-echoes Heideggarian themes of the need for 'dwelling' thinking - poetic thinking, and argues against Damasio that emotion is not a servant of reason, but reason is a servant of emotion.

It's very scholarly and I learnt a lot. However, for me it doesn't deliver the 'killer blow' that would make me really sit up and think. It probably falls into the trap it describes so well. If metaphor (for which I think McGilchrist means 'connotation') is the thing, and metaphor is a right-brain thing, how is the balance between connotation and denotation causal in the things which happen to us - in wars, famine, divorce, and schizophrenia? Basically he seems to lay the blame for the ills of the world on poor connections between 'left brain' - the logical rational bit and right brain. But his model of causation is Humean.

To my mind, the real argument is that the brain (whichever hemisphere) doesn't cause anything on its own: it is part of a mechanism which is biological, psychological and social all at once. Reducing it to hemispheres doesn't reveal the full picture for me. And for me, Humean causation can't account for this because the mechanism is ecological. To understand the causation of connotation, you need a connotative metaphor of causation, and essentially that is what Aristotelian causality is.

Dealing with the ills of the world requires rethinking our metaphors and dealing with the balance between our sensual experience and our rationality. It means changing peoples' minds. But changing someone's mind isn't easy, as any teacher will tell you. I think it requires skilful positioning. And that requires an understanding of how connotation (perhaps the poetry of teaching) causal.... And that requires an understanding of how cognition works.... And that requires an understanding of causal relationships between brain and environment.

In that sense it's more than some balance between left and right hemispheres. It is what the two hemispheres do to our bodies and to the world, and what the world in turn does to us.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The constitution of Identity

What is it to be me? Is my me-ness in my head? Is my me-ness in my environment? If it's both, how do they relate? What is 'mine' about my life? My head? My little finger?

What about "my phone"? computer? blog? tweet? (etc...) For some of these things (like my blog) I might say "I did it, therefore it is mine". There are a number of things to say about this in particular. Firstly, it clearly is related to the issue of 'intellectual property'. Secondly, it clearly is an example of Locke's 'labour mixing' theory of property. To that, we might ask whether the labour-mixing theory is really any good as a theory of property - and, personally, I find it rather unsatisfactory.

Rather than labour mixing, I think my-ness (property) is constituted by sensual relations with things around us and communications with others. What is 'mine' is that in the environment which serves a purpose in the sensual relationship I have with it, to contribute to the mechanism of my personal viability. Seeing property like this means that we can begin to appreciate how the changes we are experiencing in the world are impacting on our human nature - on our very sense of 'identity'.

If individual identity is constituted by 'property relations' then this means that the manipulations of capital and matter are manipulations of personal identity. And identity is probably the most significant causal factor in conflict, as Armatya Sen has recently highlighted. The evidence for identity being constituted by sensual 'property relations' I think is compelling. Only this perspective allows us to consider the impact of grief on the death of a loved one: "part of me died..". And even the 'first scratch on the new car' can instil feelings of 'incompleteness' and regret in our identity. Justice and crime also relate to these feelings of identity: to have property stolen is felt as an affront to identity. And as Erich Fromm has pointed out, individuals have property relations to ideas too. And, again, when our cherished ideas are challenged, we similarly feel an assault on who we are.

Moreover, I think that such transient insecurities of identity lie at the heart of economic processes. Property relations pass from one thing to another: the mobile phone gradually gets battered and the battery fails; a new 'compensatory' product appears and we re-establish our identity with that, discarding what we had before.

Education may be a process of building identity. As parents, we begin by encouraging our children to be more independent: from being in the playground and helping our child see if "you can come down the slide on your own" to trusting children to go to the shops on their own, much of our parenting would appear to be a process of scaffolding the establishment of property relations with the world. In higher education, I think this process continues, but it is not the slide in the playground, but the sensual relations with the great and the good, the works of art, the canon, the library. In this sense, even skills become sensual relations, like the hard-won technique of the artist or musician.

But what I don't think is that any of this actually 'exists' in individual brains. I suspect instead that the brain regulates a 'game' that is played with those things with which we have sensual property relations. But that isn't my idea. I think Kant got there first in the Critique of Judgement...

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Human analogue nature and Depth Psychology

It's worth stating why my interest in depth psychology has been re-awakened (after having rejected Jung particularly as 'obscurantist' many years ago; Freud I still find fascinating because I think sex does seem to be behind most things...). It really derives from the fact that we are not digital; we are not on-off: we are analogue, and more than that the world caresses us with it's phenomena: that means that perception is a wave-like 'motion towards something'. What that 'motion towards' is actually towards is an interesting question, but I think it's something 'big': Bataille might say 'death', and I am attracted by that idea. Perhaps in 'death' Jung would identify the 'shadow', or Freud the libido. All of these are possibilities.

The technical problem is 'pinpointing the wave': what is it's cycle? how does it oscillate? How does it progress? Is it purely driven by internal forces, or do external forces (the material world) play a role in its progress? As with all my thinking about this topic, music illustrates spectacularly. The caressing short phrases of Webern (in the piano variations, for example), are one type of wave expression: short, distinct; the overlapping phrases of a Bach fugue have a collectively different effect. Larger musical forms have a technical architecture which is clearly delineated into 'movements' (interesting word!) of different characters (for example, Beethoven's late work - say piano sonata op. 110). One might be tempted to say these are almost archetypal. There appear to be moments of 'character' at all levels... "When I first looked into her eyes, I felt a rush of emotion gradually giving way to a realisation that..."

I'm most attracted by Jung because I can see the archetypes in the larger-scale structures of art, literature and music. This also takes me back to my degree-level studies in the music of the Jungian Michael Tippett. Is it that Jung gave greater definition to the dialectic of Freud's Id? Yet maybe Freud has something when he talks about repression, and the dialectical consequences of that. The dialectic that arises from psychological repression is also a way of making distinctions about 'the wave' - diachronic distinctions. It is also what Roy Bhaskar is trying to do with 'absence' and dialectic.

This is best played with in a modelling environment. However, the criteria for any explanatory power here would have to be the match between emergent outcomes in a model and emergent outcomes in the world. Clearly, we all have a subconscious. None of us quite know how it works, but it would appear to play a key role in making each of us different from one another.