Thursday, March 14, 2013

The meeting place

Foetus, 1911, Encyclopaedia Britannica
  I stand before you today naked and afraid.  No, no, sethren, uncover your eyes, surely the power of my words is not so great that they can tear this palpable, though not thermal, robe from my shivering body.  Intellectually naked and afraid.
  I have no more idea of what the workspace is than you do.  The Cartesian stage with its infinitely receding subject homunculus has vanished i’the air, into thin air.  Saint Daniel talks of multiple drafts, and a virtual machine that hovers in the brain and shuffles these drafts in and out.  I am a simple man, and know nothing of computers or, I often feel in the fastnesses of the night, much else.
But enough of modesty.  Here’s what I think.
  The problem of exactly what it is that  does all this grandstanding at the centre of our identity is huge and difficult, and I promised to go nowhere near it.  So I will just look at it from afar.  I talk only in my language.  Things might be different for you.  There is I, who does things, emotes, and am, and there is me, which cannot am, but only is, and that only retrospectively. “Who’s that?”  “It’s me.”  “Who’s next?”  “Me.”
  “It’s me”  suggests at least two, and then there’s you.  “You’re lying.”  I know that you is me, but me in your ideoverse, not mine.  Three, then, at least.  And then your name.  Oi! Sether Albert!  There, see what I mean.  You know it’s you, we know its him, he knows this him is me.  And other forms of reference.  “That fucking git in a dress who spouts garbage on the ringroad.”  Alas, I.  And me.
  No, sethren, language will get us nowhere.  Sed in machina sit deus.  My Latin is a bit rusty, but on this day of new leadership for a different and archaic faith, I thought I should celebrate it in its own tongue.
  Let us look elsewhere.  Let us look at the foetal brain, the brain before Culture.  The thing to get hold of here is that we don’t have brain as one thing, then all that goes on in and around the brain as another.  We don’t have brain and then, in the old philosophy, thought.  From blastocyst to neonate, the brain develops as a working process.  The foetal brain forms along with light and darkness, the noise of a mighty rushing wind and pipes gurgling, the sacred and the profane, the thunder and jitter of drums, voices, the aching distance of a bone flute, the flutter of fire, the rock and jiggle of kinesis, the stutter of rap.  And these don’t work on an inert receiver.  The foetal brain is not a vinyl disc onto which the world engraves itself.  The foetal brain, can you not remember it, that dance of colour, not kaleidoscopic, as I recall, but dancing orientations of colour and lines (yes, sether, colour does seem to be part of cognitive bias, where do you get these things?) a visual and aural synaesthesia, the kora as it sweeps the heavens, that harpsichord bit in maybe the fourth Brandenburg, the Madonna of the Rocks at the stratum of pure hue.  That at some stage is what is going on in the foetal brain.
And then suddenly, the child is born, and the hugest changes we will ever feel take place, just like that.
And the energy of the universe rushes in, magnificent and terrifying.  Five seconds.  Enough.
  “Enough” is the beginning of what we might understand as the centre of the neonate’s ideoverse, the top of the hierarchy of neurons and connections, the meeting place, where things are decided.  Like “Enough”.  The baby closes down the portals to the world, and begins the infinite process of sorting out that energy.  Huge demons spin in the neural substrate.  Gradually they settle and calm.  For a moment the baby sleeps.  Then again it’s eyes open.
  The process continues over hours and years.  The demons increase in number geometrically, have to be re-sorted, they drift together in alliances, alliances muscle in on the processes of perception and organisation. Demons evolve an economy, they become smaller and more differentiated.  Alliances drift up the taxonomy:
demon      thing      action    concept     map       praxis    Culture
  This goes on for the rest of our lives, sethren, or as long as we are properly alive.  Elderliness is not a neurological condition like dementia. It is the fading away of that thing we are looking for, that which is not I or me or you, though I or me or you is exactly what we call it.
  But from neonate, even from foetus, to last conscious breath, the meeting place where in the just new-born there fires “Enough”, and the portals to the universe are closed down, and the brain does miraculous work on what is there; and then in the meeting space there shouts “More”, and the portals are opened again to more wonder; that meeting place is what we are after, but it is nameless.  The workspace is hardly an elegant phrase for the unnameable.  What else can we properly call it?
  Oh.  Off they have fucked, without my adjuration.  And I have no dinner money.  Fuck.

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