Friday, March 07, 2008

Selfless Self

Is the self of a cellular self and the self of a sensorimotor self the same self, or are they different selves joined together by the power of a single abstraction? If autopoieisis can be thought of as a process of the reduplication–there's a reason for that redundancy, I'm sure–of self, is it then, paradoxically, an allopoietic process as well? It surely must be polypoietic or carry a potential for the generation of multiple instances of self, but until we can clear up the question of whether autopoiesis generates different instances of the same self or different selves even this must be placed in doubt. But we are just beginning to ask questions. Evan Thompson has some things to say about autopoeisis (Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind, Harvard University Press, 2007). I'll get deeper into his thinking on the subject in the near future. For now let's take a brief look at how he addresses the question of autonomy, which I reckon has everything to do with the business of autopoiesis.

In addition to these cellular and sensorimotor forms of selfhood, other forms of selfhood arise from other organizationally and operationally closed systems. The immune system, for instance–understood as an autonomous immune network that establishes a coherent somatic identity for the organism, rather than as a mere mechanism of defense–brings forth a dynamic, somatic identity at a distributed cellular and molecular level. The animate form of our living body is thus the place of intersection for numerous emergent patterns of selfhood and coupling. Whether cellular, somatic, sensorimotor, or neurocognitive, these patterns derive not from any homuncular self or agent inside the system organizing it or directing, but from distributed networks with operational closure. In Varela's image, our organism is a meshwork of "selfless selves," and we are and live this meshwork.

(p. 49, citations omitted)

The selfless self would be a paradox, no? Well, Thompson goes on to argue that the whole business of calling something autonomous or heteronomous has merely a heuristic value (p. 50), so my inclination then is to regard the reality of autopoeisis as unsettled. Of course if a self isn't real it can easily be paradoxical or an absurdity (like reduplication for instance), and that puts me at a loss to account for what we have discovered by differentiating between autonomous and heteronomous systems. (Here I've gone and redoubled my critique of repetition without knowing what the other players are holding.) Is there a Russian doll aspect to all this production of interiors? Or do we simply find various meshes more or less overlapping as if by accident? I rather doubt I'm going to get to the bottom of this any time soon. I'll dig into autopoiesis a little deeper next week.

posted by Fido the Yak at 10:35 AM.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The selfless self would be a paradox, no?"

"Selfless self" appears paradoxical because of an equivocation on the meaning of self which appears here in as if disguised or even indistinguishable.

I think that if you make the difference explicit, the paradox disappears, and that's all to the good, because the other problems you are touching on are real ones.

It appeared to me as if you are asking whether the self was natural or cultural, and I believe that's a vexed question in the form it is usually asked. The problem, I think, is to find the form of the question which is not vexed, and then pursue the answer of that formulated question as fearlessly (boldly?) as possible.


March 09, 2008 1:41 PM  
Blogger razorsmile said...

The claim that Evans makes regarding the heuristic value of calling something autonomous seems very much in line with Humean fictionalism - that there's a heuristic value to the sense of identity, a claim that I find both compelling and difficult. The difficulty is simply 'in what sense' is there a heuristic value, I've not yet cashed that out yet...but it does need to be answered in terms of who and how I think.

I'm not so sure I find the selfless self so paradoxical, working on the basis that the self is an ambiguous name, locating at one and the same time both a field of cohesion and a control centre or ego. The selfless self, one in which the control center is given up, the ego lost or averted to (without wishing to sound too 'new agey'). Of course, this again is compelling to me but difficult in that a loss of agency, decision and indeterminacy might be thought to follow from the loss of control and I'm not sure that's either satisfactory or desirable or necessary.

March 10, 2008 3:43 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

If you wanted to be enslaved to culture every waking moment you would be frustrated. Would this frustration be due to some difficulty in the practice of enslaving oneself, perhaps because the nature of enslavement is never to be complete or more importantly static, or would the frustration arise from the nature of the object of enslavement, that is, culture, or, alternatively, to some necessary perturbation in the relation between the subject and the object of enslavement? None of us would make the leap to think that what prevents a constant enslavement to culture must be nature, and indeed we might be inclined to view nature as merely a cultural category, and yet we must entertain the idea that culture cannot encompass everything at every moment. (I have been thinking about the encompassments (in the oldest sense) of the real and the irreal, and I wonder if we could hash out the same issues in those terms. Well, in those terms you clearly have a figment of negation. Would that distract from the problem, transposing a problem of how to live into a problem of how to think? I'm not sure.) So we might be tempted to imagine that a recurrent slippage into freedom, or a constant resurgence of freedom, which is of course a mirror of constant enslavement that can only end in frustration, is a necessary element of the modus operandi of culture, and that in fact the enslavement we seek is governed by this insistence upon indeterminacy. Does that give culture too much credit? Perhaps culture is constitutionally weak, or simple, and it is our desire for enslavement that (apparently, which may be all we are dealing with) vests it with a power and a complexity that is not innate to its own functioning. Now it occurs to me that I am at risk of mistaking pulsation for negation, and I may fall victim to a momentarian illusion, if I may resuscitate a word and bend its meaning, for "occasionalist illusion" has a slightly different sense pertaining to drawing inferences from what actually happens in a moment. If being itself is pulsative, as I have reason to suspect that it is, then it would be a mistake to attribute to culture what characterizes it by virtue of belonging to being. (I am under no illusion that the discussion of being isn't a cultural undertaking, btw.) However, would it also be a mistake to take the pulsation of slavery for the frustration of slavery? Perhaps.

This brings me to the question of the self. I haven't quite been burdened with a sense of the self that is controlling–the contrarotulus strikes me as a matter of representation (not in Nancy's intensive sense)and that would mean that the self would be a kind of a mirror or mirroring and could not be the self, hence a paradoxical ipseity–in a moment I'll touch on this question of paradox and whether I might actually communicate an idea here, though I am not wedded to believing that the selfless self is in fact a paradox. For my thinking the self has been all about, on the one hand, a cohesion of experiences, the fact that a variety of experiences all appear to belong to me, and, on the other hand, a position in relation to other people. So there is already an ambiguity in my thinking about the self without touching on the notion of mirroring. That notion must be touched on. In the first sense of self, that of a field of cohesion of experience, there is an inherent question of reflexivity, such that we would be justified in asking whether a self that doesn't relate back to itself is really a self. In the mode of relation that is consciousness, it might appear that the esemplasticity of the self is an achievement of consciousness itself, and not a question of the self. This is misleading. Perhaps it is the reflexive relation that achieves the esemplasticity of the self, its most essential quality, and consciousness represents but a single modality of the reflexive relation. I hate to talk in circles, but here is the idea that the self itself is an achievement of the self. We're just getting started with the vexation. I think we ought to seriously consider an ontology of the interior which is also an ontology of the relation and perhaps specifically an ontology of the reflexive relation.

It is obvious to me by my treatment of ambiguities that I have not been trained in philosophy. I tend to think that if a word can go two ways it will go two ways and that simply is its journey (ahem, paradoxically). You can't cross out one of an ambiguous word's senses by following the other sense. Well I can see that both of you would rather not have an ambiguity presented as a good and proper paradox, certainly not without discussion, so I will be mindful of that in future.

I think it would be good to take apart the idea of heuristics because it covers too much.

Oh, I meant to say something about the self as (ir)regulator being in the sense of the positional self, but the thought eludes me, and I feel that I might have talked myself out of being able to argue that so I would need to revisit how I feel about ambiguities.

March 10, 2008 12:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hmm, autopoiesis. Maturana claimed that folk looked for things in autopoietic systems which were not there. What they were looking for (e.g minds or psychic phenomena) arose in language(ing) in a domain of interactions btwn autop systems...

Varela never signed up to this languaging thing and did run with some kind of embodied self trip and the immune system (for example) as a cognitive system...(life is cognition).

The thing is they're prob. all wrong in the way they deal with empsyched beings and their presuppositions play a big part. (Maturana: Kantian biology; we live in a closed bubble of languaging. Varela: husserlian buddhist?).
Autopoiesis was just another neologism for providing a generalised definition of all living systems...

There is a good article in Spanish on the Argentinian Neurobiology website about the phil. origins of autopoiesis but what is pasted below is not from that!

"What is Restored on Recovery from Ordinary Sleep, Hibernation, General Anesthesia, “Absence,” Swoon, Coma, or Vegetative States?

A pair of essential components of every mind cannot be supplied by the brain that becomes her’s (rather than availing, instead, to another person).
Namely, for every subjective existence, psyche, or personal existentiality found in nature, her ontic consistency and her cadacualtez (defined hereafter) cannot be pro-vided by the brain itself nor by its functioning.

Her ontic consistency, that is every mind’s semovient-sensing makeup, is the extramental actuality availed by each personal existence.
This extramental actuality is also availed by her intramentality which – finite minds being plural and their respective actions being kept mutually apart by extramentalities – never relinquishes its extramental condition and could never exhaust itself in sheer appearing or phenomenicity (as, in contrast, phenomenisms assert, true to their onticity-emptying belief that minds and mental contents are, by definition, only and no more than subjective).[...]
Mariela Szirko, 'Effects of relativistic motion in the brain...'

March 15, 2008 2:32 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

The desire to see life and psyche as organized by a single process is understandable, I think. However, if it leads to a misapprehension of psyche, it equally leads to a misapprehension of life. Maybe there is some cause for saying that only a psychic entity can understand life, if life can indeed be understood. But that life can be understood isn't a given.

March 19, 2008 11:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The article I mentioned on Autopoiesis and German Idealism is actually in German...

There's also another one on Christfried Jakob trip. He is the main 'german' in the AGNT..

SUMMARY: A "Rennaissance amplitude" of scientific interests brands Christfried Jakob's neurobiological tradition.

It requires from researchers to furnish every acquisition of data – whether observational, experimental or clinical – with context in other sciences and humanities. The criterion arrived to Jakob transmitted by his master and friend Adolf von Strümpell, whose father in turn cultivated it in Dorpat (today Tartu, Estonia), in the line of theoretical biology and philosophy going from Burdach and von Baer to von Uexküll and Kalevi Kull.
On this criterion, besides his lifelong research pursuits in comparative and human neuroscience, the multifarious Professor Christofredo Jakob integrated intellectual interests spanning over a wide spectrum of fields, and put forward to his disciples a taste for their serious parallel cultivation.

Such fields include general biology, anthropology, paleontology, biogeography, philosophy, and music.

A landmark experience in Jakob's studious itinerary must have been his 1923 voyage to Tierra del Fuego on board the steamer Cap Polonio. Jakob presented a narrative of his impressions at the 12th ordinary session of the Popular Institute of Conferences, held on Sept. 5, 1924 in Buenos Aires.
He studied the geography, marine biology, fauna and flora of Patagonia, and gathered a great collection of specimens and documents. The original text of his lecture, published in the 1926 Proceedings of the Institute, is reproduced herein.
Jakob covers elements from the geography, history of explorations, fauna, and flora of Tierra del Fuego; he details the stops made and the species observed.
Photographic documentation has been added to help recreate the journey's biological and historical atmosphere. (English-Spanish edition.)

March 19, 2008 3:49 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

That one passage from Die Cytoarchitektonik is simply fascinating:

"Like the sensory organs (for example, the eye pouches from the mesencephalon), the hemisphere pouches of the cerebrum develop in pairs from the single telencephalon, and one could interpret them as a sensory organ whose view is on the internal events in the central nervous system. The stimuli which enter this organ do not come directly from the periphery, but are merely internal stimuli that come from the entire remaining nervous system, to be received and processed as a total. The cerebral cortex is also capable of accumulating these stimuli, so that the surplus part of stimulus energy, which is not used in the simple reflex arc, collects in the brain. By being able to change past energy into present and future energy, it frees the organism from the brutal primitive law of the reflex act and gives him individual freedom and personality (CHR. JAKOB)."

Well, you know, there is the thought that I associate with Hans Jonas that freedom begins with the membrane, so the question then would be whether freedom and personality are co-emergent, or whether freedom cosmologically precedes personality. For myself I don't know how to reconile the two views of freedom. Are we talking about a metaphysics of delay here? I don't see why the membrane or metabolism doesn't introduce a liberating delay analogous to breaking free from the reflex act, albeit perhaps we would be talking about a more primitive kind of freedom. All are freedoms equal? Well, I'm back where I started, I think.

March 20, 2008 9:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'are we talking about a "metaphysics of delay" here?

that's an interesting turn of phrase - is it your own invention?

There certainly is a kind of delay occurring with the brain's em field producing a kind of relativistic 'time dilation'. This phenomenon has been experimentally observed (e.g. in atomic clocks slowing marginally on high speed jets).

Bergson talks about a 'delay' btwn sensor and motor that allows for freedom...(Deleuze takes this up in the cinema bks).

I mentioned this to Mario Crocco and will have to check as to why he rejected Bergson's position...
It's tricky, I think, and connected with the absence of time coursing inside the instant!

In Matter and Memory B. deals with the 'interval' btwn received and executed movement. He also has a theory of memory in which memories are preserved in 'duration'.....

In fact, distinguishing Bergson from the AGNT would be an interesting and clarifying exercise for some bright young student....

happy easter!

The only bk I know on Deleuze's cinema stuff that is any good is
'gilles deleuze's time machine', by D.N. Rodowick.

"The operations of observers (minds or existentialities) in nature seem localized in such actions carriers, slightly slowed from near-c speed motion by electroneurobiological variations – which thus gate the observer’s time resolution and put her or him in operative connection or discon-nection with the surroundings.
Thereby minds and sensory knowledge appear in a particular point of causal sequences."

March 21, 2008 2:07 PM  

Post a Comment

Fido the Yak front page