What, you may ask, is the difference between a concept and an act?
|Apple tree; damn concept, damn demon|
When the high-jumper does her little hop, her run-up, her three lengthening strides, her spring, her turn, the backward arch and snake-like flow of her body over the bar, all ‘in her head’, before she starts the real thing, it is not really just in her head. Her ideoverse is distributed about her body, singing gently in the motor nerves, alerting every muscle to its contraction and just as vital relaxation, an immensely complex sequence. It is only the final stage, the firing of the muscles themselves, that is suppressed. Then, “Now,” and the kinetic four dimensional amplification of a sequence of alliances of demons begins, she runs, she jumps, she clears the bar.
There’s your act.
Initially, in the neonate, acts are spontaneous. The arms and legs flex and extend, the eyes and head move as they have in the womb. But pretty soon intentional acts emerge, albeit with a random element. The hand grabs the thing. The head turns, the eyes search for Mama. And much later she may be able to jump over a bar higher than her head.
Such acts are the stuff of behaviour throughout the animal kingdom. And we remain capable of such acts, spontaneous, involuntary or practised and overlearned (playing the Goldberg Variations, for instance) throughout or lives. But early in a baby’s life its ideoverse will begin to be occupied by demons. This is not in itself an evolutionary innovation. A dog can tell a ball from a beanbag. Demons occupy dogs as well as humans. But the demons are sterile. A ball, let us say a yellow tennis ball, has evolved in the metaverse, and the metaverse is continuous with seven billion ideoverses, all of them human. No ball ever evolved in a dog’s brain. Nothing did. No ball ever went out of one dog’s brain, through the world, and into another dog’s brain. Dogs do not have an evolving culture, they do not have Evoculture.
Dogs do have a culture. African hunting dogs when they are running down prey have distributed roles which are integrated. The pack of hunting dogs sleeps in the sun. One wakes up. It whines. It goes around trying to rouse the others. If it succeeds with one, the rousing behaviour multiplies until all are awake. They stretch and yawn and begin to move, vocalising, making social contact, building up energy, tending this way, tending that, sniffing, scent cues giving direction and then they are off, moving at an economical trot, and the hunt begins.
All this is a network of acts, a sequence that has evolved. Each dog will experience arousal, interest. The scent cues will be demons that evoke prey species, or not, the vocalisations will elicit excitement. You could maybe say that in each dog there is the natural concept of a hunt. But I doubt it. The hunt is merely learned acts in sequence, distributed about the pack. An individual dog may dream about hunting, who knows, and the dreaming is likely to be a rehearsal, with variations, and in that sense the dog will learn from the rehearsal. But the dream will be a succession of acts analogous to the high jumper’s run-up. Nothing will change apart from, probably, its role in the distributed acts of the pack, as it develops from tyro to old hand.
So a dog is capable of a kinetic four dimensional amplification of a sequence of alliances of demons. It couldn’t survive if it wasn’t. And the behaviour of the pack can gang these acts into a higher order effective sequence. But there is no evidence that in the dog’s brain, two loci of irreducible difference become interlocked and superimposed, making a third locus of irreducible difference. There is no evidence of a concept in a dog.
You can say to a dog, “Walk”, and it will look alert. You can get its leash, and it may go into paroxysms of excitement. You can open the door, it will rush out, tugging at the leash. Acts, one after the other, sethren. There is no evidence from the demons walk and lead that there is in the dog’s brain a third locus of irreducible difference, the concept walk. In the economy of a dog, there would be no use for such a concept, since for dogs even demons are untransferable, or at least to other dogs. Acts suffice.
A dog can recognise a human, but it has no concept of a human. A human can build up a concept of a dog fairly quickly, if an in-the-world dog is available. The demons which congregate around the demon dog, a certain size, hairiness, oblongity, something fourish about the legs (the scientific concept four may not yet be developed), tail, conformation of eyes and ears; may not at first be transferable, nor sufficiently exclusive. The infant may see a cat, and take it for another dog. But soon the demons which differentiate cat from dog will become apparent, and with time and maturity the once-infant will be aware of the scientific concepts cat and dog, and be able to instruct another infant to recognise the distinction, first naturally, then, hopefully, scientifically. A human being can, natural pedagogy, transfer a duplicate of a concept from her mind to the mind of an infant, through the skilled and watchful manipulation of demons.
Dogs cannot do this.
So that is how a concept is different from an act, sethren. But a bigger question arises, a more troubling one, that may be a weak link, an inapposite joint which could bring the whole architecture of Evoculture crashing down in a cloud of dust.
I have been emphatic, some would say arrogantly emphatic, in fact they have said it; that I am an idle and ignorant wastrel, a loudmouth, ranting garbage in a layby on the Huddersfield ringroad; one of those self-taught gobshites who reads half a book and then comes up with a tortuous narrative, without discipline, without data, without peer review, and chooses to think of it as a hypothesis. You know better, my disciples — all two of you as there seem to be today.
So be it. I have been emphatic that the evolution of culture can only take place at the level of the demon, the locus of irreducible difference. And this morning, this very morning, the morning when Big Ben has been stopped in its mighty bongs in the furtherance of a myth fostered by the criminal classes, politicians, bankers, the defence and extractive industries, a myth that coheres round the corpse of a dead woman, long demented, this very morn, I was looking at an apple tree. And I was thinking, that apple tree, that’s a concept, that is. There are demons that make it a tree and not something else. If, for instance, I noticed that some of its twigs had turned to pure gold (yes, sether Pritchard-Achebe-Wajda, there would be structural problems) I would begin to question the pure treeness of it. Likewise if it started waving its branches at me, and then began to walk towards me, shedding clay from its roots as it dragged them over the lawn. Likewise if from its blossom grew oranges. If any of these features became permanent in apple trees, then the concept of an apple tree would have to evolve or die. But I think it is quite clear that the evolution takes place at the level of demons. A concept, apple tree or green triangle, cannot spontaneously evolve into an entirely different concept, purple tetrahedron or sea anemone. It can only evolve demon by demon, locus of irreducible difference by locus of irreducible difference.
That’s not the problem. That part of the hypothesis is secure.
The problem is that, if an apple tree is both demon and concept (demon when I’m running through a list of trees looking for a medlar, concept when all its constituent demons are remarked) then so is a needle a concept. In fact, what is not a concept? Red? Red is a demon, but it is also certainly a concept, because we can anatomise it; locus on the electromagnetic spectrum; locus of process in the visual cortex.
We make this journey, demon, thing, act, concept, and are dragged kicking and screaming straight back to the beginning again. Am I fucked, sethren?