RE: [unrev-II] Digest Number 59

From: John \ (
Date: Sun Mar 12 2000 - 01:17:34 PST

  • Next message: Henry van Eyken: "Re: [unrev-II] Digest Number 59: Where does meaning come from, anyway"

    From: "John \"sb\" Werneken" <>

    My thanks too to Doug for the LEADERSHIP he has displayed and the personal
    energy he has spent, down to telling us that the cow was Samantha.

    Meaning: I have my own opinion on where meaning comes from, which may or may
    not be of use or interest, but here goes:

    I think humans evolved to a point where our fellow humans became the most
    significant environmental feature for us as individuals, and to a point
    where the effective unit of evolution was the clan or extended family, a
    small group living together. Pattern-sensing and applying that in
    anticipation of events was a great skill added by evolving brains.

    Perhaps consciousness evolved as a way of dealing with other people -
    becoming able to self-model and thus to model how the other people might
    act. Perhaps becoming necessary as the brains' modeling is becoming dominant
    over just reacting to the environment.

    Who will have descendants? Members of a successful clan. Also those who
    survive and thrive through personal actions/abilities. Also those whose
    children get a good start, both from them and from the clan.

    There's debate about how long ago humans essentially gained modern
    intellectual abilities. I've heard from 10,000 to 300,000 years ago, but
    most frequently maybe around 35,000 years ago. Whenever, it has been a while
    now! And one supposes that precursor abilities date back far further. So I
    will suppose that our intelligence has been evolving with the rest of our
    equipment for quite some time.

    So the human can think about and determine what is selfishly desired, right
    here and right now, and figure out a plan of action to get it. The same
    human can imagine what course of conduct best serves the Clan. The same
    human can readily identify what conduct may be acceptable if done by one or
    by a few but unacceptable if done by many or by all.

    For a long time, there has been evolutionary favor for the human whose
    thinking equipment tends toward choices that are advantageous for both
    individual and clan. A tautology really.

    The result is a piece of physical and psychic equipment, which on a largely
    unconscious basis aligns contemplated actions with predictable consequences
    and attaches emotional, motivating weights. Not a part of the conscious mind
    or ego, this facility assigns Meaning to actions. People see meaning in
    Horatio at the bridge, or in Ghandi making salt.

    I think in the long run the bigger heroes are not so much the ones who
    accomplished for themselves or who affected lots of others powerfully, but
    those who made possible a major advance for a nation or for a whole people.
    And the biggest heroes are those whose words and deeds show others how to

    This Meaning I think exists to exalt and reward consistency of thought,
    deed, and feeling - to promote action furthering individual aims, clan aims,
    and remaining compatible with the internal vision of what would be OK if
    done by all. Also known as a conscience, a sense of right and wrong, or
    knowledge of God's will.

    I fell this internal Voice of Meaning is real, universal, and in origin a
    fairly recent evolutionary development, an imperfect means of harnessing the
    powers of individual consciousness on behalf of the long-term survival of
    human kind.

    > -----Original Message-----
    > From:
    > Sent: Saturday, March 11, 2000 4:18 AM
    > To:
    > Subject: [unrev-II] Digest Number 59
    > Message: 1
    > Date: Fri, 10 Mar 2000 12:51:06 -0000
    > From: "Henry van Eyken" <>
    > Subject: Where does meaning come from, anyway?
    > During Session 8B, Jon Bosak the question, where does meaning come
    > from?
    > I believe it is important to introduce here a modicum of psychology
    > and I do so under the authority of one of the grand old men of
    > "classical" psychology, Michael Gazzaniga. Here two IMPORTANT
    > paragraphs copied from something I wrote for Fleabyte and in which I
    > paraphrased some of what Gazzaniga wrote in a small, popular book,
    > "The Mind's Past." Here goes:
    > The word Past in The Mind's Past refers to what brains do before we
    > ourselves get involved. Gazzaniga links our mind's past to our self
    > with a device he calls interpreter. The interpreter functions
    > somewhat like a computer's central processing unit. Neural
    > computerese goes in, awareness comes out. "After the brain computes
    > an event, an illusory we (that is, the mind) becomes aware of it,"
    > writes Gazzinga. "The brain, particularly the left hemisphere, is
    > built to interpret data already processed. Yes, there is a special
    > device, which I call the interpreter, that carries out one more
    > activity upon completion of zillions of automatic brain processes.
    > The interpreter, the last device in the information chain in our
    > brain, reconstructs the brain events and in doing so makes telling
    > errors of perception, memory, and judgment."
    > The interpreter, in other words, looks at what has been wrought by
    > our brains and then -- experimenters have timed it to be about half a
    > second later -- takes full credit by acting as if it itself made it
    > all happen. The interpreter is the treshold to our conscious selves.
    > The interpreter fools us into thinking that we are in control. The
    > interpreter serves our self-assuredness. Our interpreter helps us
    > maintain our mental balance. Telling it like it is, the truth, and
    > nothing but the truth, is not the interpreter's top priority. Its
    > priority is to make sense of the data it receives, even when fed with
    > outrageous nonsense. Like our intestinal tract, the interpreter works
    > hard to make do even with junk food.
    > [The Fleabyte page, referred to above, gives an example of what
    > lengths the interpreter will go to make "objective truth" palatable.
    > Here:]
    > Gazzaniga tells us of an intelligent lady who suffered from a
    > malfunction called reduplicative paraamnesia. "The standard
    > interpretation of this syndrome is that the patient has made a
    > duplicate copy of a place (or person) and insists that there are
    > two." He interviews her in his office.
    > "I started with the 'so where are you?' question. 'I am in freeport,
    > Maine. I know you don't believe it. Dr. Posner told me this morning
    > when he came to see me that I was in the Memorial Sloan Kettering
    > Hospital and when the residents come on rounds to say that to them.
    > Well, that is fine but I know that I am in myhouse on Main Street in
    > Freeport, Maine!' I asked, 'Well, if you are in Freeport and in your
    > house, how come there are elevators outside the door here?' The
    > grand lady peered at me and calmly responded, 'Doctor, do you know
    > how much it cost me to have those put in?'
    > "The patient had a perfectly fine interpreter working away trying to
    > make sense out of what she knows and feels and does. Because of her
    > lesion, the part of the brain that represents locality is overactive
    > and sending out an erroneous message about her location. The
    > interpreter is only as good as the information it receives .... The
    > interpreter tells us the lies we need to believe in order to remain
    > in control." Better change what one believes than find onself at a
    > loss.
    > So far my paraphrasing Gazzaniga. If I remember correctly -- how I
    > wish I had a DKR to help me be accurate and up-to-date -- many, many
    > years ago it was demonstrated that information entering the visual
    > system of the brain can travel along, basically, two pathways to
    > parts of the cortex: one that leaves the travelling info
    > unadulterated by emotions, the other along which emotional
    > contamination occurs.
    > Off hand -- how dangerous to say things off-hand! -- I am inclined to
    > think that a DKR preoccupied with nuts and bolts will by and large
    > (but not altogether) get along reasonably well with people's
    > interpreters. But what about a DKR in the public domain concerned
    > with the origins of the Universe and the species in it and zillions
    > of other subtle things that guide our demeanor? Maintained through
    > CoDIAK and OHS. The kind of public DKR that, I am so naieve to hope
    > for, will
    > eventually come to guide an educated, general population in
    > contributing to decisions made on their behalf by democratically
    > elected reps.
    > I am tempted to now write scenarios and vignettes about the effect of
    > an authoritative, "nothing-but-the-truth" DKR full of holy books,
    > Joseph Campbell's interpretations of myth, vengeful prophets,
    > lessons from evolutionary psychology, you and your lover's follies.
    > &c., &c.) on the mental balance of people. Right now, people can
    > argue things out in Kansas, but what then, when the time between
    > confrontation and judicial resolution is shortened from months to
    > minutes? "Oops," says Doug. "Surprise!"
    > Henry
    > BTW: Do yourself a favor, buy that magnificent little book.

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