Innate Progress

About half-way through Kevin Mitchell’s “Innate” as I type.

Highly recommended as an educational read – very matter-of-fact / common-sensical style – on understanding that pre-wired traits are not hard-wired (plastic) and that genes & DNA really do drive (most of) the whole (genetic) process of development of the human individual – traits, propensities, capabilities of brain and mind – without being reductively deterministic. From conception to our early 20’s, birth itself is just one point in the complex processes of development in a multi-layered landscape of time and location.

Very good on distinguishing between individuals and population distributions when it comes to human nature(s) and the value in understanding these without being in any way prescriptive or limiting of individuals. Makes it easy and natural to talk about differences – not least for example sex/gender differences and preferences, free of “woke” politics. In fact difference – differences that make a difference – is a strong theme.

The complexity of the many feed-back and feed-forward loops in the nature of nurture – and the scale of the numbers involved – in neural and mental / behavioural development are endlessly fascinating and yet, as I say, presented in a very readable and digestible style. Highly recommended.

I will further gut and unpick specific topics below that relate to my own writing agenda, but one to highlight first is that infamous Pinker “Blank Slate” finding, much quoted here since 2002 about the rough ratios of development “nature vs nurture” influence between genetics (~30-40%), parenting (~10-20%) and wider social environmental peer-group experience (~50-60%). Mitchell shows that the “environmental” aspect is so misleading – actually very like the content<>context distinction in knowledge generally. At any point, our existing brain / mind IS the context for our ongoing content development. We are a large part of our own environment. That large mysterious part of our development is mostly indirectly – many layered loops of influence – driven by our own genes and those we share with our parents and siblings. Nurture is natural too.




Wendy Pirsig Interviewed on Quality

In connection with the publication of “On Quality”, the Spectator book club has Sam Leith interviewing Wendy Pirsig. (30 minute audio).

Actually quite fascinating since Leith actually appears to have prior understanding and research (and empathy) on the relevant topics. Great also to hear Wendy talking so enthusiastically with him about Bob and his work and their travels.

(Hat tip to David Matos and Artun Turan for spotting and sharing the link variously on social media.)

Innate by Kevin Mitchell

I’ve just taken possession of Kevin Mitchell’s (2018) “Innate – How the Wiring of Our Brains Shapes Who We Are”.

No idea why it’s taken me so long to acquire a copy, he’s been on my book list for some time and I’ve been following him for a few years on Twitter – he’s a gold-mine of sharing sources with images of brain architectures and processes and comments approvingly on McGilchrist and Solms and related references, though neither appear in his book so far as I can see. Just doing my usual first-impressions / skim before I start.

Guess it was the wiring diagrams aspect that prompted my actual purchase. I noted yesterday that meaningful graphical language was a a bottleneck for my own writing project. Mitchell’s book is indeed full of black and white line-diagram illustrations of his story, so far so good.

Lots to like in the chapter titles and sub-headings too:- differences that make a difference; you can’t bake the same cake twice; perception as active inference; ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls; exceptions, to name a few.

Usual suspects include Hofstadter (Strange Loop), Pinker (Blank Slate) and Sacks (Wife / Hat) in the end notes. (Acknowledgement to Adam Rutherford, will be interesting, been trouble in the past.)

Great to see “Active Inference” in there – very much part of my emergent architecture systems-thinking. Game on.

Distractions from “Just Write Something!”

I am again, as once or twice previously, in a “Just Write Something” mode.

In many ways it’s how I came into blogging itself – when wrestling with complex issues beyond the day job – writing – putting into language in any medium – is part of the thinking processes. Dialogue about it helps too. Nothing new there.

The quoted “Just Write Something” mantra is something I’ve often referred to as the key piece of advice a psychotherapist gave to Robert Pirsig, starting the recovery from his descent into institutionalised madness. The result was “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and “Lila”. His mission was “outflanking the entire body of western thought” no less. I know how he felt.

Anyway, whatever actual piece of writing saves me from wherever “there but for grace” I might go, the jury is still out. But it’s pretty clear a comprehensive capture of “my thesis” will need to be part of the process, even though the aspirations are literary. And even though it’s on a scale where it will be impossible to dot every “i” and cross every “t” to the satisfaction of every technical critic – an occupational hazard of all multi-discipline discourse – it’s real life.

This post is itself one of the distractions – in fact “housekeeping” all the resources that contribute to the thinking behind writing is itself a distraction to the writing.

Housekeeping – literal housekeeping – has thrown-up two other relevant distractions recently. Having moved house at the end of last September, we got the office / library set-up pretty quickly, but there were quite a few archive resources still boxed-up in the garage and other hidey holes like the under-stairs and linen / airing cupboards. Anyway having got a shed up in the garden last month, we managed to shift stuff that was taking up space in the garage and … long story short, I have a few more “resources” taking up mental bandwidth in or about the office:

(1) One source of distraction is where I made the simple reference to important resources behind the “Pirsig / On Quality” post last Friday, I noticed how many of my topics went back as far as my Masters project back in 1988/91. Whilst I have a later html version of that thesis, it’s poorly formatted and has dodgy links to dumb scanned versions of the graphics and tables. The distraction was to find the original figures – in the physical archive unearthed above – and generate better future-proof versions or the graphical figures in an updated rendition of that thesis.

(2) Secondly, since making architectural / systems-thinking explicit as the default view of ALL my evolutionary thinking of the physical and psychical worlds, it has become clear my thesis is going to need a graphical language to present that thinking – networks of stuff and relations with clear semantics (noted here too.) That’s pretty close to my “day job” (eg on LinkedIn). It turns out that the semantic capabilities of my preferred language (IDEF0, for the past 3 decades) have become subsumed into standard language developments up to and including The Open Group’s ArchiMate – and there are quite a few tools that support this. One of which is “Archi” and having installed that, I’m trying to establish templates and palettes of semantic objects my thesis is going to need. Getting there.

Distractions, distractions, but resources contributing to the writing project, nevertheless 🙂

[Post Note: Oh, and I’m learning / practicing the guitar again, at least to get a few tunes to performance standard. Whether that is a distraction from or a contribution to “the writing project” we’ll see.]

Louis Sass

I’ve actually blogged only one reference to Louis Sass – when talking about the mental illness created by crises of denial by the left of our right brain worldviews (McGilchrist, Sigmund, et al).

The story of where “knowledge” went wrong in the 20thC. The denial of sacred nature beyond objective science. (Myself, above.)

Following that reference I acquired:

The Paradoxes of Delusion
– Wittgenstein, Schreber, and the Schizophrenic Mind.
Louis A Sass (1994)

Still sat on the night-stand beside me, since I have struggled to get into it, and haven’t blogged another reference since, until this morning.

And a thread under that post.

(“He” in Sam’s post is McGilchrist in Master & Emissary. Richard, and AJ, meet Sam – see comment thread in the linked post above. And noticed the “Madness and Modernism” Sass reference too, in a comment from AJ.)

Time to pick-up Sass again? – Hmmm. We’re actually in the therapeutic mode advised by Pirsig’s own psych0-therapist – “Just write something!

IF, THEN, ELSE – It’s Not Complicated

Still drafting a longer thesis on my full metaphysics, prompted in this earlier post, but the premises are quite straightforward:

IF – we allow that physics (physicalism / materialism) are
fundamentally about information and processes (ie computation).

THEN – I’m happy to be considered a physicalist, and that all evolved phenomena, including those of subjective consciousness and intuitive right-brained world-views, are also physical, BUT physicalism is then more than materialism (with more than matter & energy as fundamental, see IF).

ELSE – “Orthodox” physical science
cannot explain consciousness.


IF – we allow that physical science involves more than logically objective determinist causation – including an organic subjective perspective.

THEN – I’m happy to agree that all that exists and can be known in the universe can be described by physical science.

ELSE – “Orthodox” physical science has many limitations
and cannot even address “the hard problem” and many more aspects of human subjectivity..

This post prompted by this ludicrous twitter exchange this morning:

And of course the whole thread is simply a follow-on from my two previous posts about the hopelessness of any “definition” of consciousness and definitions generally.

Goff is right on one thing. It’s healthy that public media carry dialogue that is sceptical of physicalism as materialism.


[Post Note:

BTW, I completely give up on Goff as any kind of progressive thinker – his political ideology means he simply cannot see through the dimwit @OwenJones84, a conspiracy theorist of the highest order.

Many patient attempts by @NaturalPhilosopher to get him to see multiple subtle views in the “TERF Wars” for example – another culture war stirred-up by the likes of @OwenJones84 – are rejected or simply ignored. I once called him “close but no cigar” in his pan-psychist thesis, but all evidence in dialogues since suggests he’s just in it for disingenuous mental exercise. He really holds no coherent view on anything. A lost cause imho.]

Important Pirsig Highlights

I made a single reference to Pirsig and “quality” in the previous post about Kastrup and “consciousness”. It prompted me to re-read a few earlier references I’d written – a couple of which I realise I’m quite proud of, and thought I’d “re-up” on these pages:

“After the Fireworks” (July 2018)
– a retrospective on the Pirsigian journey shortly after his death.

If Something’s Missing, Just Write it” (August 2018)
– subsequent reflection on shared / parallel life trajectories.

“Hoops of Fire” (September 2008)
– an earlier signing-off at a Minnesotan cross-roads in my own life.

And for completeness simply bookended by:

The most recent “On Quality” (2022)
and earlier
my conference paper “It’s Evolutionary Psychology, Stupid.” (2005)
and (pre-Pirsig) my MBA Dissertation on Change & Culture (1991)
where some of my issues were first documented.

All prompted by getting my head around “just write something!

Kastrup’s “Definition” of Consciousness

In this dialogue Bernardo Kastrup gives us his working definition of “consciousness:

That whose excitations
are the experiences we have.
(Independent of our experiencing of them.)

The sine qua non of experience.

Raw subjectivity
Raw basic experience.

This is Pirsigian quality.

He doesn’t use the formulation above in his book “The Idea of the World”, but I concluded there that his perspective there was already Northrop, Pirsig, Whitehead, take your pick. (That link to the book review in fact includes as comprehensive a statement of my position as any.)

Since most people using the word consciousness mean something – stuff & things – much richer, many layered, experience in many dimensions, than this raw essence I see this qualitative essence of experience as proto-consciousness – so rather than seeing pan-psychism or literal idealism, I say pan-proto-psychism. Framed like this it’s not remotely contentious?

[His model of Alters and TWEs – in his book above – just seems to pile confusion on top of what is quite a straightforward monism. Why do people go for controversy and disagreement when there is synthesis and agreement there to be had? Yeah, I know, clicks and sales.]

Anyway just more grist to my definitions mill:

“The trouble with definitions is that although they can be practically useful, the one thing which they cannot do, is definitively define a thing”

[Broad v Narrow. Systems Thinking – architectural levels of detail ignorable. Onward and upward.]

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