Saturday, June 13, 2009

Kaleidescopic Consciousness

Dissapointingly, mildly, Daniela Vallega-Neu's The Bodily Dimension in Thinking makes no reference to Erwin Straus' work on the upright posture. I'm reminded of Straus by Dylan's latest post (in a series of excellent posts on the theme of embodiment) which specifically explores a relation between thinking and standing. Some cursory googling on Straus unearthed a real find, a book which will move to the top of my wish list: The Child in the World: Embodiment, Time, and Language in Early Childhood, by Eva Maria Simms.

Uprightness requires resistance against gravity and the constant work of opposing its pull. Human walking is arrested falling: a carefully balanced play between letting oneself fall forward and arresting the fall through the movement into the next step. It requires the courage to let go of the father's hand or the table's edge and risk hitting the floor. It is truly amazing to watch an infant fall and pick him- or herself up over and over again in order to be upright. And how exciting it must be for a toddler to cruise th[r]ough the living room, initiating movement forward but then be carried along by its velocity! Without motility, the upright posture is hard to maintain. We cannot stand still for hours on end, and every night sleep forces us to give into gravity and recline: "in sleep we no longer oppose gravity; in our weightless dreams, or in our lofty fantasies, experience becomes kaleidoscopic and finally amorphous" (Strauss 1966/1980, 142). The posture of the body determines the quality and range of attention and activity. Letting go of uprightness restructures the experienced world, as every bed-bound hospital patient knows. We become dependent on others, unable to care for ourselves, and we easily fall into reverie and sleep. The horizon of the world closes in around the bed, and the beckoning "action space" is lost in the fog of amorphous and fragmented events. With activity restricted, attention tends to wander and lose its focus: it becomes kaleidoscopic.

(p. 37, Simms' emphasis, my bold)

Do we feel the ebb of momentum as we lie flat on our backs or stand perfectly still? Do we become less playful in these dilated moments, or does another kind of playfulness come to hold sway, something removed from all equipoise?

I find a tranquility in walking, I must admit. Just for kicks I will think about the question while walking, and also while in triangle pose (trikonasana), and compare my thoughts.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 1:04 PM.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

One wonders, would this mean that we would dream more clearly if we could dream standing up?

Are our dreams marked by their very untruth, as a factor of their act of motility (note to self: check spelling)?

Or is there such a thing as supine travel and clarity?

Are people in wheelchairs imagined to be mentally impaired? So much for conclusions to be drawn from our projected memories and imposed categories of experience.

June 13, 2009 2:15 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

"Are people in wheelchairs imagined to be mentally impaired?" Or mentally assisted? As for me, I stipulate that as long as one can move an eyelid one can evidently live a rich, meaningful mental life.

June 13, 2009 4:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What seems implied by the quoted material is that the very experience of standing upright is a determinative of clear and precise thinking (it is less fogged, fragmented, amorphous and kaleidoscopic. Is this something we can really agree upon? One wonders if clarity and standing are so determinatively linked, how did Hawking get all that math right?

I'm not saying this to debate with you, but the quoted material, and perhaps to seek clarity on what "rich and meaningful mental life" means to you under the thoughts in the text.

June 13, 2009 5:31 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Locked-In Syndrome. For example.

I tend to be wary of determinisms so we could disagree with the proposition, yet I still find value in opening the question of how posture interrelates with thinking. Generally I am more interested in lasting dispositions, habits, attitudes, and "structures" than in isolated poses, but isolated poses interest me too. I am more interested in humanity and specifically Homo sapiens than you are, I presume. Simms' argument concerns a transition from the horizontality of infancy to the verticality of the toddler. She deals with cases of feral children, a signal that acculturation is of key concern to her. Uprightness may be both a physical posture and a cultural construction. Thus a charitable reading of Simms needn't imply that if we agree with her we must logically conclude that Stephen Hawking (who was an athletic young man and who has routinely sat upright in a wheelchair) can't think clearly. I must say I am pleased that his condition has recently been described as "comfortable." Perhaps resistance is an indispensable concept here.

June 13, 2009 9:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is interesting that you still include a determination in your explanation,

"Thus a charitable reading of Simms needn't imply that if we agree with her we must logically conclude that Stephen Hawking (who was an athletic young man and who has routinely sat upright in a wheelchair) can't think clearly."

It seems to be your implicit thought that if Hawking had not been upright and athletic, then he very well may never have been as capable in mathematics (why include the biographical note?). I certainly can see how postures affect psyches, something someone can experience in just a few minutes of experimentation. Body armoring, meditation, etc. all are worthy things to study and invoke. But I am resistant to the idea that a posture is determinative, that someone who has never stood, never run, could never also think very clearly. Physical pain also can be a hazer of mental capacities, but sometimes people in pain produce very lucid and brilliant thoughts. The human capacity to organize itself under a variety of circumstances seems like something best not to undervalue.

I am very interested in Homo sapiens, but not as an essentially privileged sort. I am interested because I am a Homo sapien. It is natural/rational to be very interested in things that are most like you. But freedom often comes from caring about things that seem least like you, as through them you tend to discover how different from "you" you really are.

I don't know, these are just my thoughts. Best to you.

June 13, 2009 10:32 PM  
Blogger Dylan Trigg said...

Just heading out to countryside, so will digest this properly when I'm back. This is great, though. "Bodily Dimension in Thinking" looks very good - is it? Simms I like very much.

Regarding bodily and mental impairment, speaking of phantom limbs and insect dismemberment, Merleau-Ponty says: "The insect simply continues to belong to the same world and moves in it with all its powers." One might wonder if "impairment" is a misleading term. Yes - the eyelid. But also blindsight. Can we speak of a "hermeneutics of the body?" The body as something both lived and objective in the world, read by the subject who also *is* the body?

More later.

June 14, 2009 5:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I like the phantom limb invocation here. Most interesting with its associations of bodily wholeness. And then on the other side we might add apotemnophilia, the sense that one is not complete without the severance of a limb.

Both seem to fit nicely into you hermeneutics of the body.

June 14, 2009 9:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This reminds me of Moshe Feldenkrais' early bk 'The Body and Mature Behaviour: sex, anxiety, gravitation and learning.' I always thougth this was a good title for a book....! Interestingly he did say things about 'cripples' often having 'better' posture than the non physically challenged. I still have a couple of his later bks based on workshops - I'll dig them out.
Interesting to see Straus' name crop up. He is invoked in the concl to D@G's What is phil? where they invert his formulation 'it is man that thinks, not the brain', which becomes 'it is the brain that thinks, not man.' The book is not at hand, but they were having a go at phenomenology I think. Not so keen on 'man.'.....seems like easy shots. Then they embrace the work of Ruyer oh la la.

June 14, 2009 3:35 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Bodily Dimension has been good to skim many times and promises to be a good read someday soon, Dylan.

I might speak of a trismegistics of the body because of my rather idiosyncratic sense of hermeneutics.

I wonder if being my body merits being thought of as a method of understanding. (method of methods.)

How did Feldenkrais fall off my radar, Paul?? Must have been during my book buying moratorium. It looks like essential reading.

June 14, 2009 7:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wouldn’t rush out and buy Body and Mature Behaviour (1949), but his last bk The Elusive Obvious (1981), sums it all up well – ‘it is sad to say that only by attending to the crippled that I was able to learn how to help normal people as well…Most of the content of this bk is not to be found in my former publications. The material is new; it is the writer who is older.’
The Straus bk is The Primary World of the Senses: A vindication of sensory experience (1963).

‘To state it briefly and precisely: it is man who can make predictions not the brain. It is man who thinks, not the brain. Men and animals hear and see, but not the retina or the Corti’s organs……’

He also claims that a way beyond eliminative materialism (the mind is the activity of the brain) could be provided by Spinoza’s doctrine ‘that the order and connection of ideas is identical with the order and connection of things. But separated from his metaphysics the dogma of parallelism becomes unintelligible.’

June 15, 2009 1:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

funny, there seems to be an icon of a person in a wheelchair nxt to the word verification box? I must be mistaken...

June 15, 2009 1:42 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

You're not mistaken. That's a clickable for an alternative to graphic word verification.

June 15, 2009 9:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

FtY: I might speak of a trismegistics of the body because of my rather idiosyncratic sense of hermeneutics.

Kvond: I love this, especially considering the jargon-like incantational force of some of phenomenological study. I find the pre-positing history of Hermes Three Times one of the most fascinatingly productive "errors" in history.

Perhaps a trismegistics of the Body would involve appreciating the way in which we build false histories of the Body in order to make the most perfect sense of its coming possibilities. False Archaeologies of Incanational force. This would include both apotemnophiliacs and phantom limb producers.

June 15, 2009 10:55 AM  

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