Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Ghost in the Machine

   To some degree, after the mind, reading, logical thought, and writing are in place, concepts mob about us like panhandlers in parking lots, wanting not spare change but rather our spare logic, our belief systems, our giving up of the connective tissue that helps us evaluate to make useful decisions.

The French philosopher, Rene Descartes, brought such a concept into our culture, the duality of I think, therefore I am.  A classmate of your once made fun of this with his Latin parody of the original Descartes Cogito ergo sum, rendering his version Cogito cogito ergo cogito sum, I think I think, therefore I think I am.

The English philosophical writer, Gilbert Ryle, published a rebuttal to the Descartes concept in 1946, The Concept of Mind, speaking to the foolishness of such dualist body/mind theories, referring to it with a phrase that captured your attention when you first heard it and later, when Arthur Koestler used it as a title for a subsequent book, The Ghost in the Machine.  Koestler’s “ghost,” and to an extent Ryle’s is the more primitive portions of the brain, parts that have remained while others have evolved or at least been equipped with modifications that allow a more straightforward use of the mind’s capacities to calculate, perceive, use logic, and override such primitive aspects as articulated by the ghost.

Ryle speaks of what he calls category mistakes, arguments in logic made by persons whose brains are still haunted with the demanding voice that overrides abilities and developments in language and cognition.

Wherever there is spoken and written language, such ghosts patiently await the opportunity to override evolutionary progress.

Thanks to, among other sources, poetry, nonfiction, drama, and fiction, intellectual and emotional understanding of the human condition have grown in exponential leaps.  Artists and scientists, curios about the way the human mind works, have in a sense produced the dramatic equivalent of Sanskrit, a language in large measure enhanced to discuss spiritual and religious themes, with a major goal being the definition of the ways for an individual to experience cosmic understanding and, thus, cosmic awareness of the nature of reality.

Literary theory and criticism ask us to examine texts from numerous perspectives so that, for example, a text as diverse as a Tolstoy or Nabokov novel emerges not as one single text but as a stack of texts with different possible interpretations, say Marxist or post-modernist, or even post-colonial.

The closest you can come to an acceptable “theory” is the value you place on the first emotional response to the entire text, before the conceptual biases are discussed and identified.

The ghosts begin walking when the critics link characters and inanimate objects to symbols of a movement or theory.  The arguments in logic and the concepts related to literature are the defining factors as they describe us.  Even when a scene or entire piece emerges as absurd, say a Beckett or Ionesco, the scene is illuminating the absurdity of the universe but also the absurdity resident within the observer.

To say of a thing that it exists, “is” as it were is to give it theoretical life.  Adjectives and adverbs extend some greater specificity to the thing and to us as observers.  When we recognize a thing as absurd, are we drawing defining boundaries?  Are we describing ourselves?  Are we describing or defending the universe?

Arguments about the logic of a premise or a condition abound, making in the abundance drama, story, events with consequence.  The more story attempts to define with specificity, the more it becomes vulnerable to misinterpretation and fallacious logical provenance.  The more story becomes open-ended, the greater our opportunity for looking in, then seeing sanity.

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