October 2006

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Neo-cons and strong religious thinkers are looking “backward” to ancient prophets, texts, and philosophers. In this climate of thought, it is crucial to be envisioning the future. As change – technological, conceptual, world-spanning – is increasing, we seek for meanings to give us substance and purpose. It is vital that we pursue visions for a democratic future, not the least because if we don’t, others are constructing their own visionings! Educating ourselves and our youth toward thinking and acting in terms of such visions, is crucial to the future, especially for a democratic society.

The human body is an amazing instrument. Not to be merely or simply compared with the bodies of other species, we live “out of balance,” love the faces by which we note and remember others, and are deeply interactive. We have vastly underestimated the human body (Dewey, Nietzsche), and need to appreciate that human language is about our so-complicated tongues and expressive parts. As violin-teacher Suzuki claimed, anyone who can speak language is a genius – speaking is much more complicated than learning the violin. I think we have underestimated the intelligence of other creatures, and by extrapolation to human uniqueness primarily as language, have depreciated the human.

We “emerge” from a deep “attachment” with our m/others, as the self, the “I” develops. (G.H. Mead) Who we are and how we know are not directly from the world, but from our being as and with our m/others. How this happens: the Question-Response System by which our m/others frame questions (who, what, when, where, etc.) to which we learn responses as “open sets.” How a finite being (you and I), comes to be able to phrase all the ideas and syntax: development, not fixed.

The questions of this moment remain: how do we think and know, what is the human?

With Pinker’s recent claims that the brain is all, then Lakoff that our mind and thought are full of metaphors, most recently Goleman that the brain is “wired” for social intelligence, these questions seem to be taking on a sense of urgency. Left out in all cases is the fact that humans “love faces,” that we are social in actuality from the moment of birth to the “emergence” of the self.

It’s time to rethink Dewey and Mead, and extend their ideas to the pursuit and understanding of doing and experience: we interact with others; not just or merely brains full of “stuff.” Life is more interesting than we have been letting on. Let’s take a look, beginning with ourselves, not just “make it all up!” How to go about this? Next posts.

At the Rockridge Institute’s site George Lakoff posted his reply to Steven Pinker’s critique of Lakoff’s new book Whose Freedom.

Lakoff and Pinker, both students of Chomsky, have split deeply over the question of whether the brain determines our abilities to talk, to think, to be.

Lakoff’s critique claims that Pinker (and Chomsky) are stuck in a medieval Cartesian account of the human mind, and that it’s finally time to move more into the human actuality.

To go even further and more critically, I hope it’s finally a time when actually observing humans can begin to be done, and to be heard in this conversation. Children (and their m/others) are much more complicated in interaction, in facial expressions, than these forms of thought have led us to note. Time to begin to observe again!

In the ever emerging nature and nuture research, this NY Times article, written by Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence (1996) and recently Social Intelligence (2006), reports the following:

“Such coordination of emotions, cardiovascular reactions or brain states between two people has been studied in mothers with their infants, marital partners arguing and even among people in meetings. Reviewing decades of such data, Lisa M. Diamond and Lisa G. Aspinwall, psychologists at the University of Utah, offer the infelicitous term “a mutually regulating psychobiological unit” to describe the merging of two discrete physiologies into a connected circuit. To the degree that this occurs, Dr. Diamond and Dr. Aspinwall argue, emotional closeness allows the biology of one person to influence that of the other.

John T. Cacioppo, director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, makes a parallel proposal: the emotional status of our main relationships has a significant impact on our overall pattern of cardiovascular and neuroendocrine activity. This radically expands the scope of biology and neuroscience from focusing on a single body or brain to looking at the interplay between two at a time.”

Anthropoligists of the ordinary have predicted and deduced this via observation for some time. Will all of what was leading anthropological research 30 years ago need to be restated in neurosciene terms before the pithy qualitative ‘what now’ and ‘what next’ questions can be picked up again? Are anthropologists better predictors than biologists of understanding what is human? Should a new interdisciplinary field be formed?

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