8 May 2013

Nobel-Level Self-Assurance

Filed under: Psychology — ktismatics @ 7:17 pm

“This is not the place to go into detail about how the brain gives rise to consciousness. I have done that in several books, which may be consulted.”

– Gerald Edelman, Second Nature (2006)


  1. Moving on. Who put the ram in the ramma lamma ding dong?


    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 8 May 2013 @ 10:01 pm

  2. Edelman was awarded the Nobel for his work in immunology, which is interesting in its own right. He and his associates found that the immune system functions through variation and natural selection, analogous to the Darwinian apparatus for the evolution of species across multiple generations but operating at the molecular level within the individual organism during its lifetime. Here’s his synopsis:

    Your body recognizes shapes of foreign molecules (such as portions of bacteria or viruses or even simpler organic compounds) through a system of molecules called antibodies. These proteins circulate in your blood and are also present on the surface of the central cells of immunity called lymphocytes.

    Immunologists, confronted with the fact that antibodies could bind and even distinguish foreign molecules that never existed before, came up with an instructive theory. It proposed that an antibody, as it was formed, would fold around the shape of the injected foreign molecule (or antigen). The antigen would then be removed, leaving a cavity complementary to its shape. The antibody would then bind this antigen on future encounters. The idea was beguilingly simple, and it turned out to be wrong.

    In fact, it turned out that immune recognition takes place by selection, not by instruction. Within each lymphocyte in your body, the gene for an antibody undergoes variation by mutation and a process called recombination. The result is that the part of the antibody protein that can bind to a foreign antigen on the surface of a given cell is distinctive and unique. Inasmuch as there are as many as one hundred billion lymphocytes, each with one kind of antibody on its surface, a diverse population is formed. When a foreign antigen binds to one or more of the cells via the antibodies that fit its shape, those cells get a signal to divide and reproduce more of that antibody. The outcome is that subsequent exposures to the immunizing antigen result in speedy binding and neutralization by the much larger number of “specific” antibodies.

    Edelman’s neural theory is an extension by analogy of his empirically supported understanding of the immune system. I.e., because neural cells are so plentiful, the number of possible synaptic connections is vast — hence the variation. Only those synaptic connections are formed which prove adaptive in the organism’s engagement with the environment. It’s intriguing, but I’m not sure he has the evidence to support this sort of reasoning by analogy.


    Comment by ktismatics — 9 May 2013 @ 7:58 am

  3. John that’s fascinating but harking back to your O.P. even if he’s a brilliant scientist and big brain what difference does it make to his method and his procedure. None I would think other than the meaning that he might give it, perhaps his sense that he was wearing away the shackles of the occult. The odd events that happen in most lives he would discount. I would see that as a limitation . Even using that great touchstone of Logical Positivism: The meaning of a statement is the method of its verification his view falls into the bardo of the meaningless.


    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 9 May 2013 @ 3:47 pm

  4. I’m not sure I understand, or perhaps I’m sure I don’t understand, but we can’t let that stand in the way. As for wearing away those shackles, for Edelman it’s only practical, just business, not the main course:

    I have found that some people do not believe that a scientific account of consciousness offers much in the way of consequences. My remarks here are not specifically aimed at these doubters, but I hope they will persuade some at least to consider the contrary position. I start with a big assumption: that we have a satisfactory scientific theory of consciousness based on brain activity. What would its significance be? First it would clarify the relation between mental and physical events and clear up some outstanding philosophical puzzles. We would no longer have to consider dualism, panpsychism, mysterianism, and spooky forces as worth pursuing. Time would be saved, at the least.

    I’ve not read far into this book, and I’ve not consulted the others, but Edelman seems to be making a strong case for individuation of consciousnesses. A human brain, he says, has 30 billion neurons and a million billion connections. Any individual human brain, he asserts, has more potential connective pathways than the number of elementary particles in the universe. So the preconditions are in place for differentiation among individuals. Does he offer a praxis for enhancing individuation? Probably not. He asserts the reality of subjectivity, of consciousness, of intentionality. Does he then also assert the possibility of intentionally and consciously pursuing a path of subjective individuation, or is everything caused? I don’t know yet. However, he’s clear that he doesn’t regard unconscious neural activity as causing consciousness, as if consciousness is an outcome or product or “excretion” that lags behind neural activity. Edelman says that consciousness is a neural process, that consciousness is “entailed” by neural activity. He draws a parallel to hemoglobin and its function in circulation: it’s not caused by the quantum structure of the molecule; it is entailed by that structure, inseparable from it in cause-effect sequence.


    Comment by ktismatics — 9 May 2013 @ 4:49 pm

  5. Shifting frames a bit… On his Three Pound Brain blog, Scott Bakker is concerned explicitly about the inability of metacognitive intuition to achieve accurate understanding of mind and consciousness. But we don’t have accurate intuition about plenty of things outside of our own heads: how solar systems work, or germs and how the immune system fights them, or the chemical composition of water and fire and air and earth. Scientists have to use their human brains to advance understanding beyond intuition in these other fields. It’s part of what scientific knowledge does, isn’t it, to extend human understanding beyond what’s readily intuited from routine observation? Science doesn’t achieve complete understanding of anything: why expect complete understanding of consciousness? Alternatively, why wouldn’t metacognitive blindness apply also to scientists thinking about their own ability to know things scientifically? Doesn’t Bakker eventually undermine the science he uses to debunk philosophy? And so on.

    Maybe the more interesting question is why Bakker is able to drive widespread interest and attention to his Big Brain Theory when he’s a self-avowed amateur as both a cognitive scientist and a philosopher. Does it come down to the rhetorical and literary skill, the force of personality, the perseveration on topic, the accumulation of a critical mass of discussants? But of course brain science is hot anyway, regardless of Bakker. And I’m already a psychologist by training and inclination since before brain science got hot. Metascience was something that I pursued in my own scientific doctoral work: what characterizes a “hot topic” in science? Maybe I’ll write a post about that some day.


    Comment by ktismatics — 10 May 2013 @ 6:16 am

    • Bakker though explicitly regards his outsider status not as a failing but as a strength. He has written caustically about the philosophical establishment that closes ranks around itself, its own pet ideas, its priestly authority. Only an outsider with sufficient brashness can break through the established paradigms to come up with something new and vital in philosophy. He’s written similarly about literary fiction as an insular high priesthood, such that literary innovation can come only from the ranks of the lowly genre outsiders. Genre he regards as a more democratic form of fiction, written not for the writer but for the reader. I wouldn’t be surprised if Scott’s fantasy novels feature the brash outsider confronting the establishment, mounting a populist revolt, and overthrowing traditional authority. But that’s the archetypal story line driving the fantasy genre, isn’t it? This sense of an uprising of the dispossessed overthrowing the staid regime: it might account for a lot of Bakker’s blogging popularity. Many of his commenters display on their own blogs this self-identification as brash outsiders having been unfairly excluded from the intellectual elite. Hell, I share this sentiment too: don’t most of the bloggers?


      Comment by ktismatics — 10 May 2013 @ 6:33 am

      • Most of the bloggers? Not necessarily, because bleuging is much broader than most seem to give any kind of credence to. One discussion I had with traxus that was half-decent one time was about the bleugs that mainstream papers and such as columnists have. Most don’t consider these ‘real bleugs’, and that’s because there are some bleugs where the provider, like Krugman, just doesn’t have time to get into discussions, just posts and lets other people talk; and they usually don’t exchange much dialogue either. I thought about this some maybe 2008 or so when I wasn’t talking with Arpege or even Dejan that much for awhile, then the ‘lust talk’ started, and then I started the bleug after the book came out. Then there are also the ‘elite bleugs’ like TPM and HuffPo which don’t have a print form and make a lot of money anyway. The hardcore leftist bleugosphere doesn’t want much to do with them, although the commenters do argue with each other a lot of TPM, although the regular writers don’t get on the comments threads, doing usually 3 or 4 new posts on political news daily. I looked at Nick’s bleug again yesterday; he’s ‘dazzled’ at the plethora of ‘new neo-reactionary bleugs’, and now they want to get bigger and find funding. and blah and blah and blah.

        But even in the leftist bleugs, not all feel ‘unfairly excluded’ from the ‘intellectual elite’, because what is that anyway? Jodi Dean can’t feel excluded, Michael Sayeau and Laurie Penny write for The New Statesman, Nina Power for Comment is Free and god knows what else, Steven Shaviro and Harman and Bryant are academic successes and they talk to people who do feel ‘excluded’ and so on.

        I thought about how you said something recently about being ‘ignored and rejected’, but everybody feels that in some area. Also, you’ve got your reasons for not wanting to push your books to the general public, that came up too. Isn’t that partially your choice? That you talk about looking for means of publishing and publicizing and lit. agents, but then decide you’d rather write some more? I could have done the same thing, tried harder to get a bigger audience, been less lazy in a number of ways.

        “He’s written similarly about literary fiction as an insular high priesthood, such that literary innovation can come only from the ranks of the lowly genre outsiders.”

        Which is ridiculous, even if one doesn’t feel ‘included enough’, at least for you and me, if not Bakker. Because we read literary fiction more than the ‘lowly genre outsiders’. Innovation could come from these lowly ones, and surely does, but the insiders were often outsiders once too, and shoved it up and in.

        “Genre he regards as a more democratic form of fiction, written not for the writer but for the reader.”

        That’s as political as ‘socialist fiction’ or poetry in some ways. It’s valid, but not the only way. I don’t think ‘democracy’ means much in the Arts, because it requires deciding that the amateur should always be preferred over the professional. I know about this in my piano playing as opposed to my music writing and book writing and bleuging. I try to make the best possible result in composing and writing, but I do know I didn’t have formal training in them as I did in piano playing, as you did in psychology (when did the ‘talking in tongues’ come in, before the psychology or after? I’d like to hear more about this, and why you did it). Of course, that’s my curse, because I won’t be a professional pianist because of not wanting the life, but I couldn’t figure this out properly when I was young enough. That’s why I recently said you were more of a ‘real fiction writer’, because you could write a passage about the bathrobed man invented by the two writers, but I write and there’s all sorts of things outside fiction that my writing is talking about, and that may often seem to supersede the fiction, even be more important to me. And it’s only fictional because my life already seems fictional, relatively speaking. I don’t recommend it, but I have little choice but to live it, since it’s all I’ve got.

        Just throwing out some ideas your last two comments suggest. Even Krishnamurti praised the ‘amateur’ over the ‘professional’, and when I hadn’t played the piano professionally for a long time, the Cambridge Whorebag told me that I was ‘an amateur pianist’, and that wasn’t true either, just because she wasn’t paying me or getting me any expenses paid either. Nor was I a ‘Steinway Artist’ because Prill P. wanted to sell me a piano, and I would have been if I’d brought my credit card to the factory. I wouldn’t buy anything, so she enjoyed total defeat, along with the Steinway Establishment. I wanted to go to Bora Bora. Christian calls me a ‘professional writer’, but I hardly think I am, since my books have sold little (and I’ve gotten none of the profits). And I don’t have even a decent modicum of ambition in that regard either. He IS a professional publisher, because he also has a science journal he does, even though he makes little on the art publishing, if anything. The Cambridge IS a professional art historian and has a big reputation. But the known high quality of my playing makes me ‘professional’ even without the money. In my case, it’s a matter of being too creative in some ways, having too much artistic intelligence, and very stupid in others, smart at getting through tough obstacles, but never seeming to not find more of them.

        You also get infinitely more hits on your bleug that I do, but I don’t think about it that much. But that should be itself an ‘inclusion’ that I don’t have. I don’t think bleugs are looked down upon except by a few, or Nic Kristoff and Krugman wouldn’t have them in addition. Real snobs like Didion say ‘I can’t imagine bleuging, i have enough trouble with the people I know’, and so on and so on. Dowd was accused of plagiarizing Josh Marshall at TPM but said ‘I never read the bleug’, and she sometimes gets ‘old media snob’ going.

        There are always going to be elites in every field, how couldn’t there be, and why wouldn’t there be, even if there are occasional undeserving minor talents. Not everybody can be at the top. But even if you perceive that there is a kind of established ‘top’, you don’t have to recognize it as such. That’s worth thinking about, and something I’ve worked on a lot recently; it can work if you’re pushed into enough of a corner where you have to figure out that that’s the truth. Lots of people ‘at the top’ write real shit. And all the disciplines are different. There really is a limit as to how far a dancer or musician (whether in classical or more populist areas like jazz or even pop, where you gotta have a voice, at least sometimes) can go without ‘the chops’, because that requires years of technical training that can’t ever be faked, e.g., Natalie Portman’s shit job even after a year or more of training when some of her ‘dancing’ was seen in ‘Black Swan’.

        I think you and I have both insider and outsider status in different fields. You mention psychology ‘by training and inclination’ and I know I’ve been trained to a farethewell as a pianist, and could get it all back with a week of practice daily. I am an outsider as a writer, and it was in some ways a ridiculous risk. You are an outsider as writer as well, but it’s not clear you’d want to be an insider. I don’t know whether I would either, I think what I said about being ‘more of a performance artist’ is true, and that that’s why my career has taken all these detours into itself and out, and is such a pain. We’ve got different sorts of frustrations as we try to do ‘outsider’. But if the outsider is so innovative, shouldn’t ‘outsider status’ be sufficient? The only way to keep it pure? Once someone once thought potently innovative really becomes established, they are pounced on by the ‘purist outsiders’ as well. But on that end, they quit caring and sign the big contracts. The ‘true outsider’ is still for me like Simon Rodia doing those Watts Towers, he never was envious of anyone else, and worked 30 years without thinking of anything else to erect those extraordinary structures. There’s something moving about the outsider, but then we read DeLillo or Faulkner, and they have some of both, but are partly insiders no matter what.

        Way too long again, but some ‘outsiders’ are not insiders just because they don’t have much talent. A choirmaster who wanted to be a Metropolitan Opera tenor may well have had a mediocre voice. I imagine most outsiders are, percentage-wise, less talented than most insiders, even if I hate some of the insiders too. But they go in and out of each other too. Some of it is almost caricature of ‘outsiderness’ and ‘brashness’. Joan Didion’s ‘Blue Nights’ was, she said, supposed to be much ‘rougher and brasher’, but she also said that she didn’t want to write it, but then got this check for an advance: “I could have bought an apartment with it”. Then she writes this book full of the names of all her starry friends. Some people are just a bitch.


        Comment by Patrick — 10 May 2013 @ 10:58 am

      • These are critical considerations about the elite and their relation to public taste. Thinking about Bakker along these lines was probably prompted by my having just reread the Commercial Fiction Writers’ Group encounter. Bakker has achieved some success as a fiction writer, which surely enhances the visibility of his blog. Awhile back I picked up one of his fantasy novels: the writing was intricate, with lots of characters swirling around — it’s probably a stylistic distinction of his, but I got too confused to continue, not being particularly drawn to the genre in the first place. It was notable that most of the public readings at the Open Mic event I attended that one time were fantasy genre, and I couldn’t get interested in them either. Bakker had been a theory grad student before jumping ship to write fiction; now, though, it’s my understanding that he’s going for his doctorate again. It’d be interesting to know whether he regards fiction as a second choice, whether he’d rather have been, would rather become, a theory maven.

        When I quit college and embarked on my would-be World Tour I intended to become a fiction writer, using my experiences on the road as material. In a real sense I’m trying to redeem through fiction all of the intervening years between my abandonment of that road and my getting back on it. So it’s hard to say that my psychological inclinations were foreordained to take shape as empirical academic science. As I was moving toward the dissertation I was aware that my interests had veered significantly away from the hot topics in my field. Intellectual sharpness, creativity, and technical rigor are essential but not sufficient for success in any field of pursuit. Many of the outsiders, maybe most of them, just don’t have the chops, as you point out, but a lot of those who do have the talent remain obscure.

        I wonder what constitutes an insider writer? Is it someone with a degree in English and an MFA, someone who has workshopped his prose with fellow aspirants? Almost surely being an insider would be stultifying to both of us, but there’s the collegial support, the sense of shared taste, the trends, the connections that come with the professional training. The lone wolf strategy has its price. Could IDNYC or its predecessors in the series ever get noticed? It’s doubtful they’d ever appeal to popular tastes, but from an elite individuating literary perspective they offer something distinct, obviously unfolding within an aesthetic subjective milieu, sui generis.


        Comment by ktismatics — 10 May 2013 @ 5:54 pm

  6. In a way the assertion of identity between mind and brain or brain states and consciousness is empty because we have no way of knowing what that sort of identity amounts to. They are not kinds or of a nature that identity can be claimed of in an empirical sense. The professor is indulging himself in a little transcendental hypothesis which is fine. They can’t touch you for it. He is saying in effect – this is how things must be for things to appear as they do. Other transcendental hypotheses are offered by other hardened philosophers which contest this metaphysics for that is what it is, pure metaphysics.

    I’ll read Bakker’s blog and see what he’s on about. I don’t think that real philosophers are as haughty about naive errors of points of historical doctrine as the terrors of the seminar rooms. Like craftsmen they like work of a certain sweep, that has a sense of line and form and overlook technical errors.


    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 10 May 2013 @ 4:06 pm

    • I agree. There’s always a gap between observation and explanation; no one can read the truth straight off the data. And even if the empirical linkages can be strongly established between brain activities and mental activities, any number of metaphysical explanations can be invoked as to why the associations occur. The wielding of Occam’s Razor is part of the contemporary scientific ethos, but sometimes things are intrinsically Rococoesque. Of course the question “how do you know?” must be asked and answered. Asserting the impossibility of knowing, qua Bakker w/r/t metacognition and Harman for essences and Laruelle for pretty much anything, does offer a graceful exit strategy. In empirical psychology certainty is always expressed in probabilistic terms, and the probability is never 100%. Maybe Edelman’s scientific subdiscipline is hampered by pretensions of certainty.


      Comment by ktismatics — 10 May 2013 @ 6:04 pm

    • Bakker was getting beat up tonight at the Agent Swarm blog based on the same objection I noted earlier on this thread. If all he wants to do is claim that through introspection or intuition people don’t have access to how their brains work, then that’s a no-brainer: people don’t have intuitive knowledge about lots of things. But Bakker also wants to contend that neuroscience is the means of attaining accurate knowledge about brains. However, if human minds don’t have reliable understanding of how they think, then scientific understandings are discounted to zero as well, regardless of whether the subject matter is brains or digestion or gravity or the flight of birds. Based on the discussion either Bakker is stumped, or else he doesn’t understand the hole he’s dug himself into.

      The point is, even scientists don’t have to understand how their own brains think up hypotheses, design experiments to test their hypotheses, evaluate the data collected in the experiment, compare the findings with hypothesized expectations, and all the other mental activities they perform while doing science. The validation of scientific knowledge doesn’t take place in scientists’ brains, but in the world scientists investigate. What my retinal cells and neurons and synapses do to discern that it’s presently not raining outside doesn’t determine whether it is in fact raining or not. Other mechanisms besides my own visual and auditory perception can confirm or refute the contention of not-raining. Sure, eventually a human has to look at the rain gauge to confirm that it’s dry, or if a telemetric device evaluates the status of the rain gauge a human still has to read the telemetry data. But the criteria for asserting not-raining are in the world, independently of how those criteria are apprehended by any particular human. There’s probably some philosophical principle to be invoked that short-circuits this infinite-regress agnosticism regarding the possibility of humans knowing anything at all about the world. I suspect, though, that the guys beating up Bakker would assert the hard agnosticism or epistemic nihilism: that it’s not possible to know anything with certainty, either through intuition or through observation or through remote sources of evidence not directly observed by humans.


      Comment by ktismatics — 10 May 2013 @ 11:41 pm

  7. ‘Could IDNYC or its predecessors in the series ever get noticed? ‘

    Yes, because they already have by you and other intelligent people and at least one minor celebrity–who definitely wouldn’t have bothered had she not wanted to. But the bleugers were definitely going to boycott me, mainly because there had been much talk of this book long before it appeared, and there were the great sustained beliefs that it would not exist, that it certainly would not be impressive. So only you and Dominic (due to his contribution) had copies, and not a single one of these people were interested. The ‘lafayette’ had a half-interest, but that’s the way he approaches everything as I perceive it. He wouldn’t buy it, pretending I would ‘find out who he was’, as if knowing he was a Scotsman wasn’t enough.

    No, it wouldn’t ever have a wide audience, but it should have had a wider audience in those very elites we’re talking about, and I didn’t have the energy,. wherewithal to push it (or really even know how to) by myself.

    “insider writer? Is it someone with a degree in English and an MFA, someone who has workshopped his prose with fellow aspirants? ”

    Most of the time, although it’s very recent I read that Faulkner was not the only one who didn’t, and someone else also didn’t, and it was supposed to be admirable if you hadn’t. Those qualifications are not in themselves terrible things, if only because you automatically are networking. It’s all a matter of what you will sacrifice or not. My tendencies to isolation with a few close friends make me basically a real garden-variety extreme introvert, and I won’t have the resources when the time comes to promote. That is to say that I did try, but then ran out of steam, and end up having only this ‘adventurer’s steam’. This is no doubt self-destructive to many perceptions, and sometimes seems absurdly treacherous even to me; sometimes my luck runs all the way out, then I figure out something else. Not that all of my luck may not run out (everybody’s does at some point, but hopefully you’re ready for it.)

    If my works ever got a broader appeal, I’m sure I could deal with the ‘stultifying’ aspect of ‘insiderism’, given that I’ve done an enormous amount of outsider R & D. My bleug proves that. But I can’t ‘get with’ trends at this point, and it would come more naturally if I had combined the social and creative elements much longer ago. But I have a certain ‘lack of focus’, in that I am trying to find something essential by exploring different domains, which is not necessarily dilettantism, although it is to a certain degree. I may not really like ‘joining’ much, period, though. I can’t seem to do it except one-on-one, whether it be musicians, writers, or even keeping up concentration on the ballet board, which I never even think of anymore. I got what I needed there, and moved on. But then I discovered I was actually among the ‘young old’. This caused caution, and near-disaster, which was only very narrowly averted, and, in the past, I would have easily not learned any lessons (i’m not being specific here, as is necessary) and started playing with fire again. But there are advantages to aging, and even people like me become a little less selfish, although not probably to people we don’t personally know. However, I do think the neo-reactionaries are truly oafish talking about procreation, as if there weren’t enough bodies in the world, not to mention in my own family: I have 4 married brothers and sisters, and 11 nieces and nephews, I haven’t even counted the grand-nieces and nephews (I was an uncle at age 8), and one great-grand-niece. That ought to suit any nuclear family’s responsibility, and they even like it that I’m different from them by now (they didn’t always.) btw, I also read on that bleug that the term ‘neo-reactionary’ was only invented in the last 4 months. Isn’t that earth-moving? As though it were a big difference from ‘neo-conservative’, which all these were when that was the term.


    Comment by Patrick — 10 May 2013 @ 6:23 pm

  8. Ok. I’ve had a look at Bakkers ‘crux’ and I find it to be very much along the lines of John Locke’s mediate realism/scientific realism/representationalism. His distal/proximal polar conceptualisation of perception is a clear indication of that. The simultaneous metacognative inferring to an ‘external’ reality is another aspect of the Lockean view. However it is unstable and was allied with a Scholastic concept of matter i.e. the corpuscular theory which meant that it tended to devolve into Idealism and Immaterialism which is the direction that Berkeley took it.

    Drawing Spinoza into the discussion is an irrelevance. Spinoza was a Rationalist whose plan was to find unexceptionable axioms and from them build a total metaphysical picture. Scientism which is associated with scientific method and empirical procedure has no part to play in this. His model was Euclid.


    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 11 May 2013 @ 1:48 pm

    • I’ll take your word for it, Michael. His skepticism about metacognition does seem to antedate hot-off-the-presses scientific findings about brains. It’s easier for me to critique Bakker’s BBT with respect to specific empirical findings on cognition. It seems that BBT falls short also on philosophical grounds. In response to critique he frequently avers that he’s being misunderstood, but aren’t we all?


      Comment by ktismatics — 11 May 2013 @ 3:59 pm

  9. On the subject of metacognition which might be one of those areas where a philosophical understanding of the ‘meta’ tag might be different from that of neuroscience. Elements of it seem to me to be akin to the learning levels (Steps to an Ecology of Mind) that Gregory Bateson wrote about and which he used therapeutically. Personally as a civilian I’ve always been amazed that he is not more referred to as a deep thinker, ALAQ as Wilber puts it.

    The primacy of practice as against the constant taking stock of metacognition violates the Zen dictum – When you walk, walk; above all don’t wobble.


    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 12 May 2013 @ 7:58 am

  10. When you walk, walk, when you sit, sit; above all don’t wobble
    (metacognitive correction_


    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 12 May 2013 @ 8:04 am

  11. I tend to steer clear of analyzing people’s motivations for their projects, but I wonder what brought Bakker to the point of focusing so persistently on his Blind Brain Theory. Does he regard others as self-deluded and so he’s offering a palliative? Has he come to doubt the self-discovery aspect of his own fiction writing practice? Is the self-assurance of his blogging persona a mask hiding profound self-doubt? It seems mostly that he wants to critique the professional discipline of armchair philosophy, from the outside looking in with a mixture of disdain and envy. But enough about Bakker: what about me? I tend to go meta when I begin losing focus, doubting the importance of the work, questioning my own ability, drifting off from the task at hand. And so I make a study of wobbling, cultivate wobbling as a discipline.


    Comment by ktismatics — 12 May 2013 @ 9:37 am

    • I’m glad you said that. I think it’s true. It seems you not only don’t want people to read your fiction, that if they like it, you either don’t believe it or think maybe even that makes it bad (or less good.) The symptoms are worse after you’ve opened up a really good piece of work, as if you have to compensate or something, and also you sometimes tell the person ‘you don’t really like it’, something to that effect. It makes one think you don’t know what you want, and that’s all right if one knows it. It’s a bit too Peter Lorre, don’t you think?


      Comment by Patrick — 12 May 2013 @ 9:48 am

  12. I think it’s about finding my own center of gravity — or center of ludicity. Instead of being ambivalent about writing, I write about ambivalence. And now I’ve strung together a whole collection of books dealing ambivalently with different/same, elite/ordinary, visible/invisible. It has to do with leveraging my own pathologies instead of curing/denying them. It’s like my prior work in empirical psychology: instead of worrying about my own expertise, I studied the nature of expertise and the process of attaining it. In so doing I achieved my own kind of meta-expertise.

    I don’t think I have that sort of Lacanian ambivalent jouissance though about whether I want others to read/like what I write. I think what I write is great, and think that everyone on earth would be a better person for reading it. What threw me off my game for a long time was the gap between my high opinion of my own writing and others’ disdain or, more often, indifference to my writing. And not being able to span the gap stopped me in my tracks for a long time. Going meta in the writing is what got me beyond it — that, and setting aside the distraction of finding agents and publishers until the writing momentum took me to the end of the project. I’m still on track to finish the current draft by this coming Thursday. Then it’s editing of this book, followed by a round of editing the whole sequence together. Then it’s time to see about getting them published.

    And I must say, Patrick, that your self-assurance about your own work has been beneficial to me. I respect technical mastery and seek to cultivate it, but then there’s the matter of deploying craft in pursuit of… of what? Achieving popularity in a recognized genre? No. Exploring one’s own idiosyncratic vision, or art, or obsession? Yes. And so I write about characters like Karas who try to cultivate this trajectory beyond good and bad, beyond popular and obscure.

    Today I’m trying to finish up a chapter I started on Friday. At this point in the narrative the world is crumbling, which means at the meta-level that the narrative too begins to crumble. Friday’s chapter entails a kind of curtain call for many of the characters who have populated these books, a last chance to strut and fret. And so I’m giving each of them a monologue. Since the Stations of the Cross played an early key role in building out this world, and since there are 14 Stations, I’ve been kind of kabbalistic about it; e.g., books with fourteen chapters. So for these monologues I’ve pressed the numerology to an extreme: 14 monologues, each one 14 lines long, each line comprised of 14 syllables. Am I purposely undermining the fictional suspension of disbelief by shifting to something like prose-poetry? Yes, but the undermining fits the narrative. And on some level it’s also an act of self-assurance on my part, disregarding the conventional structure in order to advance the work itself, while also doing a bit of my own strutting and fretting.


    Comment by ktismatics — 12 May 2013 @ 10:38 am

    • That mostly makes sense. Some resemblances to Dominic’s interest in numbers of things. On some level an act of self-assurance, yes, or you wouldn’t do it. But you don’t always present it that way, certainly not when you talk about being ‘rejected and ignored’. But if you think your work is ‘great’, I think mine is too; if you think that everyone on earth would be a better person for reading it, we differ there. I don’t think anyone would be a ‘better person’ for reading me, although they’d be more cultivated and sophisticated, to be sure. But not everybody (or even most) wants or needs that, since some of the extremes I always try to reach when they are not impossibly dangerous are going to (understandably) turn people away.


      Comment by Patrick — 12 May 2013 @ 11:05 am

  13. “I don’t think anyone would be a ‘better person’ for reading me, although they’d be more cultivated and sophisticated, to be sure. But not everybody (or even most) wants or needs that”

    Right. It’s taken me awhile to regard “more cultivated and sophisticated” as a mark of the “better person,” having cultivated my own regular Joe persona for a long time. “Cultivated and sophisticated” is almost by definition an elite undertaking, something that turns many people away, like a taste for haute cuisine, which of course I love. So that’s another of my ambivalences — elite/democratic — that I try to work out for myself in the process of fiction writing, giving my fictional fiction writer the name Bud and so on.


    Comment by ktismatics — 12 May 2013 @ 11:15 am

    • “It’s taken me awhile to regard “more cultivated and sophisticated” as a mark of the “better person,” having cultivated my own regular Joe persona for a long time. ”

      Awhile? You certainly still haven’t, and no one said you should, that’s why the remark is so fucking duplicitous. Maybe you can write, but your ‘ambivalence’ gets you off all hooks, and your ‘regular Joe’ is not convincing in the least. Does Dan = cold and flat and murky? Jesus. The ambivalence is the same as some ‘icon that can do and/or mean everything’.


      Comment by Patrick — 13 May 2013 @ 2:33 pm

      • I meant ‘Bud’, not ‘Dan’.

        I imagine there are a lot of people who want to be respected for some skill, such as writing, rather than ‘liked’. It’s understandable, so find the contracts. Peter Lorre was right, you’re sneaky.


        Comment by Patrick — 13 May 2013 @ 2:37 pm

      • Sneaky and duplicitous? Well you might be right, but then again…


        Comment by ktismatics — 13 May 2013 @ 3:01 pm

      • I don’t regard myself as either sneaky or duplicitous, hiding my true opinion or persona behind a facade. I don’t always say everything that’s on my mind, but I don’t lie.

        Bud, Karas, the bathrobed man, the Icon that can do everything: they’re all my avatars, at least in part.


        Comment by ktismatics — 13 May 2013 @ 3:13 pm

  14. As an ordinary Joe I don’t harbor ambitions to become something other than human — not posthuman, or transhuman, or post-traumatic zombie, or non-conscious swarm drive, or schizophrenic rhizome, or theotic transcender. I think that ordinary language does describe real things in the world rather than separating humans from the Real. I don’t see any point in accelerating into sociopathy as the expression of a protean will to power. I don’t believe that bioengineering merged with AI will spawn a new hybrid post-human species.

    Browsing around the blogs I’m reminded of the value that many bloggers and commenters place on holding extreme positions, then arguing with people who hold the polar opposite position. I’m reminded of some recent posts I wrote, one in which I contended that human self-awareness is a glass half-full, the next in which it is half-empty. A negative construal of my position is that it’s wishy-washy. I’d say that my views are nuanced, specific rather than general, open to exploration without locking down on one side of the argument or the other. Often I’m also not well informed enough to lock into a particular point of view, although that might be a matter of temperament since plenty of ill-informed ordinary Joes hang onto their positions tooth and nail. In short, I’d rather discuss than argue.


    Comment by ktismatics — 14 May 2013 @ 4:01 am

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