What Do You or I Know, Really?

Posted: July 28, 2020 in Media, Mental Health, Narrative, Philosophy
Tags: , , , , , ,

Once in a while, when discussing current events and their interpretations and implications, a regular interlocutor of mine will impeach me, saying “What do you know, really?” I’m always forced to reply that I know only what I’ve learned through various media sources, faulty though they may be, not through first-hand observation. (Reports of anything I have observed personally tend to differ considerably from my own experience once the news media completes its work.) How, then, can I know, to take a very contemporary instance this final week of July 2020, what’s going on in Portland from my home in Chicago other than what’s reported? Makes no sense to travel there (or much of anywhere) in the middle of a public health crisis just to see a different slice of protesting, lawbreaking, and peacekeeping [sic] activities with my own eyes. Extending the challenge to its logical extremity, everything I think I know collapses into solipsism. The endpoint of that trajectory is rather, well, pointless.

If you read my previous post, there is an argument that can’t be falsified any too handily that what we understand about ourselves and the world we inhabit is actually a constructed reality. To which I reply: is there any other kind? That construction achieves a fair lot of consensus about basics, more than one might even guess, but that still leaves quite a lot of space for idiosyncratic and/or personal interpretations that conflict wildly. In the absence of stabilizing authority and expertise, it has become impossible to tease a coherent story out of the many voices pressing on us with their interpretations of how we ought to think and feel. Twin conspiracies foisted on us by the Deep State and MSM known and RussiaGate and BountyGate attest to this. I’ll have more to say about inability to figure things out when I complete my post called Making Sense and Sensemaking.

In the meantime, the modern world has in effect constructed its own metaphorical Tower of Babel (borrowing from Jonathan Haidt — see below). It’s not different languages we speak so much (though it’s that, too) as the conflicting stories we tell. Democratization of media has given each us of — authorities, cranks, and everyone between — new platforms and vehicles for promulgating pet stories, interpretations, and conspiracies. Most of it is noise, and divining the worthwhile signal portion is a daunting task even for disciplined, earnest folks trying their best to penetrate the cacophony. No wonder so many simply turn away in disgust.

  1. Greg Knepp says:

    If we can agree that consciousness is that quality called ‘presence of mind’ then we must assume that any creature capable of planning beyond the purely instinctual level is, at least intermittently, self- aware.

    Animal Communication Systems, however extensive in terms of vocabulary, nonetheless almost always address the ‘here and now’. For example: if a Resus Monkey calls out “eagle!” his fellows will immediately follow suite. And even though only one monkey actually spots the eagle, all of the monkeys express the exact same emotion, “eagle – here, now!” There can be no other eagle in the creatures’ limited mind-space – neither tomorrow eagle nor next-grove-of-trees eagle.

    The Mid-Pliocene saw the jungles receding in east-central Africa, and some adventurous, clever monkeys heading for the savannah. Those few who managed to scrape out a living as aggressive scavengers fashioned crude proto-languages out of their raw vocabulary of grunts, hisses, howls and gestures. When confronted with a pride of lions ripping into a downed buffalo, the diminutive primates may well have sent a courier to a nearby clan to conscript members in order to drive away the big cats.* The clarion call would have been “buffalo-there-quick” pointing to an apparently empty horizon. It was this ability to linguistically communicate that which is neither in the here nor the now that gave the early language clans a competitive advantage. This enhanced ability to communicate in the abstract was reserved for those with a slightly larger frontal lobe capacity, thus language became a primary driver in neuro-evolution.

    I believe that the development of language would, early on, have compelled hominids to think, and to take into account a blend of both internal and external influences, so as to mentally dwell within a reasonably comfortable and functionally integrated personality. For this reason I cannot agree with those who contend that complex, abstract consciousness did not flower until the advent and early development of civilization. This seems chauvinistic to me. Frankly, it’s like putting the cart before the horse.

    *scavenging has traditionally been seen as a rather passive affair – not so; timid scavengers died of starvation eons ago.

    • Brutus says:

      Most of this sounds reasonable and plausible. Do you have a reference or two to cite? However, two remarks concern me. Your phrase “eke out a living” probably ought to be “eke out an existence” when applied to prehistory. A “living” implies earnings and monetary systems that don’t apply to subsistence. Also, who is arguing for “complex, abstract consciousness” flowering only with civilization? Is that a straw man? We have both read and commented on Jaynes’ thesis regarding modern consciousness. The main development was not complexity or abstraction but rather the subject/object or self/other distinction. My suspicion is that earlier styles of consciousness possessed plenty of social complexity. And language itself is abstract. Insofar as anything can be known about psychohistory beyond conjecture, this line of inquiry is sorta inconsequential yet fascinating.

      • Greg Knepp says:

        Jaynes, Eric Neumann, and to some extent Jung seem to see consciousness developing with civilization. Linguist Derek Bickerton (Adams Tongue) pushes consciousness back much earlier and links its development to speech. Though the monkey story is his, he doesn’t hark back as far as the Pliocene.

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