Posts Tagged ‘Donald


Donald’s Origins of the Modern Mind

Merlin Donald
Origins of the Modern Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition
Area: History of Rhetoric and Memory Studies
Chapter Eight: Third Transition: External Symbolic Storage and Theoretic Culture

•    Before the human body could be dissected and catalogued, it had to be demythologized
o    Demytholgoization illustrates the transformation in mythic (narrative) → theoretic (analytic)
•    Rhetoric is a set of skills that controls language use on the level of discourse
•    The Trivium: Rhetoric, Logic, Grammar
273: “Whereas oral-mythic cultures rely heavily on individual biological memory, modern cultures rely much more on external memory devices, mostly on various classes of graphic symbols, from pictures and graphs to ideograms and writing.  Thus, the shift is from internal to external memory storage devices.  As the pattern of memory use shifts toward the external symbolic store, the architecture of the individual mind must change in a fundamental way, just as the architecture of a computer changes if it becomes part of a larger network.”
308:  “As long as future recipients possess the ‘code’ for a given set of graphic symbols, the knowledge stored in the symbols is available, transmitted culturally across time and space.  This change, in the terms of modern information technology, constitutes a hardware change, albeit a nonbiological hardware change.”
309:  External memory is best defined in functional terms: it is the exact external analog of internal, or biological memory, namely, a storage and retrieval system that allows humans to accumulate experience and knowledge.”
314:  “The major locus of stored knowledge is out there, not within the bounds of biological memory.  Biological memories carry around the code, rather than a great deal of specific information.  Monads confronted with a symbolic information environment are freed from the obligation to depend wholly on biological memory; but the price of this freedom is interpretative baggage.”
344:  “the result was that, for the first time in history, complex ideas were placed in the public arena, in an external medium, where they could undergo refinement over the longer term, that is, well beyond the life-span of single individuals.  This meant that the EXMF could be fully exploited for the first time; where its use had been restricted to analog models, lists, and a few simple narratives, it was not the field of more elaborate symbolic structures.”


Donald’s A Mind So Rare

Merlin Donald
A Mind So Rare: The Evolution of Human Consciousness
Area: History of Rhetoric and Memory Studies
Chapter 7: The First Hybrid Minds on Earth

•    The minute you embed a brain into a cognitive community, you change what you must do in order to remember, think, and represent reality
•    The relationship between consciousness and culture is a reciprocal one
o    Immersion in culture that defines our human modes of consciousness
•    Subdivided working memory into self and other
o    Even in simple two person interaction, it’s important to control and monitor the attention of the other person
Chapter 8: The Triumph of Consciousness
•    The literacy brain is a cultural add-on to the normal pre-literate state of the brain
•    Literacy skills are the response to the invention of external symbols
•    Symbolic technology allows readers to think thoughts that were previously impossible for them to conceive
•    The mirror arrangement also changes the reflective power of the conscious mind, because the external memory field gives working memory a much more solid display system for representations
•    Our most challenging symbolic representations deliberately exceed capacity
o    Ex: Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel plans
302:  “The most important of these is literacy.  Literacy skills change the functional organization of the brain and deeply influence how individuals and communities of literate individuals perform their cognitive work.  Mass literacy has triggered two kinds of major cognitive reorganizations, one in individuals and the other in groups
309: “Although this arrangement constitutes a very ordinary work environment in our highly literate society, it is an extraordinary historical development because it changes the long-standing relationship of consciousness to its representations.  We can arrange ideas in the external memory field, where they can be examined and subjected to classification, comparison, and experimentation, just as physical objects can in a laboratory.  In this way, externally displayed thoughts can be assembled into complex arguments much more easily than they can in biological memory.”
311: “The external memory field is not just another sector of working memory.  IT taps directly into the neural networks of literacy, located in brain regions that are distinct from those of working memory.  Working memory and the external memory field thus complement each other, and this allows the brain to exploit their distinct storage and retrieval properties.  This gives awareness a much richer structure.”
316:  “The external memory field is really a sort of Trojan Horse into the brain, a device that invades the innermost personal spaces of the mind.  It can play out cognitive instrument, directing our mind toe predetermined end states along a set course.”


Some talking points on the digital

Merlin Donald’s term, “external memory devices,” or EMDs henceforward. Until called upon, EMDs remain suspended and retain the exact information one uploaded onto the device. The increasing utilization of EMDs suggests that our bodies are not enough.
Vilem Flusser argues for a distinction between cultural memory and genetic memory, noting that the former is, “is shorter than genetic memory, and even less trustworthy” because the individual re-remembers an event over time (397). Electronic memories are simulations, within inanimate objects, of the memory functions of the human brain. Even though EMDs only simulate memory, they do not disregard all other aspects of the brain. EMDs do indeed exaggerate memory, but rely upon computers (or, the “rest” of the brain) to function properly.
A crucial distinction between personal memory (storage apparatuses) and collective memory (libraries) is the notion of progression. Whereas collective memory is themed knowledge, we place ideas that are important to ourselves in our EMDs.
Collective memory entails privileged access to particular places, but personal memory is not limited in this sense, as EMDs only demand an internet connection or a USB port. Simply, personal memory is individualized.


Deleuze states that, “time simultaneously makes the present past and preserves the past in itself” (98).
According to Henri Bergson’s essay, “Of the Survival of Images,” time is a constantly formed and reformed trinity: past, present, and future. We simply “define the present in an arbitrary manner as that which is, whereas the present is simply what is being made” (Bergson 149-150). This is the critical illusion of time according to Bergson—the present is ‘being made’ as it is at the same time disappearing.
Bergson designates three important processes through which one can examine time and, ultimately, one’s personal history: pure memory, memory-image, and perception. Just as the past/present/future trio function only as a result of each other, “perception is bound to expel the memory-image, and the memory-image to expel pure memory” (Bergson 134).
Derrida calls this recurrence “hauntology,” defining it as, “repetition and first time, but also repetition and last time, since the singularity of any first time, makes of it also a last time. Each time it is the event itself, a first time is a last time” (10).
As Stelarc admits in, “Prosthetics, Robotics and Remote Existence: Postevolutionary Strategies,” “evolution ends when technology invades the body” (591). Arguing for the need to begin thinking about our future selves, Stelarc suggests that we should replace parts of the body as they fail, rather than temporarily repairing the body with modern medicine.
“The body need no longer be repaired but simply have parts replaced. Something other than the present, something yet to come, insures the cryonic body,” the body in suspension, too, risks the possibility of never being resuscitated (Doyle 65).
Van Dijck argues that memories are never stable over time, and how we choose to remember them and the technologies that we use to recall such memories are actually the concerns. In chapter three, van Dijck shows how some Alzheimer patients are utilizing blogs and lifelogs to record their deteriorating memories. Although van Dijck argues that memories are never stable, Alzheimer blogs are functioning in the exact opposite way by storing memories so that they become stabilized. Also, the shared experience between the blogger and the blog reader further compliments the notion of collective digitized memory. This specific type of collective memory suggests that the Alzheimer blogger will experience her own memory as though it is not actually hers. Moreover, while the disease actively deteriorates the mind, the Alzheimer blogger is actively posting to suspend his memories in order that he, his family, and others who may be experiencing similar deterioration can return to these memories knowing they will be constant and unchanged.
Extending the brain with the development of exteriorization
Today, we are dramatically externalized, so much so that our physical memories are under worked and reliant upon outside sources. However, Leroi-Grourhan views externalization as a “logical stage of evolution,” as noted in the following:
“These machines […] reflect a logical stage in human evolution. As with hand
tools the process whereby all implements came gradually to be concentrated outside the human body is again perfectly clear: Actions of the teeth shift to the hand, which handles the portable tool; then the tool shifts still further away, and a part of the gesture is transferred from the arm to the hand-operated machine” (245).
By looking at Leroi-Gourhan’s argument for extending our bodies, it appears that technologies have always encouraged the expanding of the brain in one fashion or another. Currently, we are experiencing the ability to “store” our brains: “evolution has entered a new stage, that of the exteriorization of the brain, and from a strictly technological point of view the mutation has already been achieved” (252). Compared to the reformation of the skull to hold our physical brains, this mutation of which he speaks occurred rather immediately. Consequently, we are externalizing the self with more frequency and relying upon a stored, technologized memory. It should be noted that while Leroi-Gourhan refers to encyclopedias and punch-card indexes, he was indeed able to see where externalization is heading.
Memory is becoming individualized, rather than group oriented
One might argue that with the prevalence of externalized memory, a collective memory is replacing our individual memory. However, I believe that it is the reverse that is occurring: because a collective memory is no longer necessary, our memory is strictly individualized. Real memory of specific, collective, survival behaviors that were passed on through a group are no longer necessary for the species to endure. We simply store the information that we need and seek out only what we deem important. Perhaps, then, the next step in externalized evolution is maintaining a certain technical savvy-ness—if one does not have the means (economic, knowledge or otherwise) to externalize, you will not evolve.
Hawhee’s detailing of ancient gymnasia perfectly illustrates the interrelation of mind and body training. Both types of training are initiated through a seeking out, a dedication to becoming, which is initially motivated “by a concomitant submitting: active submission is thus a necessary first step for transformation” (87). This transformation is a recognition that the individual wants to become something more, something other than his/her natural self. Only through the 3Rs (rhythm, repetition, and response) can one remold his/her current nature, thus forming new habits, or a “second nature,” that “become so ingrained in a person they become almost instinctual responses and most closely approximate a ‘natural’ response” (95). This sounds quite like the flatterer who “has no principles in him, and leads not a life properly his own, but forms and moulds it according to the various humors and caprices of those he designs to bubble, is never one and the same man […] like the water that always turns and winds itself into the figure of the channel through which it flows” (5). Interestingly, Hawhee calls upon Heraclitus’ saying ‘it is not possible to step twice into the same river’ during her discussion of cyclical differentiation, the notion of simultaneous combination and scattering (141). We can see cyclical differentiation represented in both the flatterer and the trainee, for both are learning new skills while abandoning the older ones.
The flatterer, whose “second nature” is based solely on imitation, is unlike the ancient ‘gym rat’ in the sense that the latter has “the desire to become something else” permanently (97). Instead, the flatterer is never completely transformed, but only performs as someone based upon his/her situation. The athlete—and here I use athlete to recognize the training of both the mind and the body—has the potential for self-improvement and true change through his/her training. In order “to make oneself capable of training,” self-control is the necessary component of self-improvement; therefore “the transformative work of practice relies upon the readiness, the submission, the painful subjection’ for the athlete’s total transformation (146). Only others motivate the flatterer, whereas the self motivates the athlete.
Turning to Antidosis, Isocrates notes at the start that we are “not to form opposite
judgements about similar things” (1). From Hawhee, we have learned that the body and mind were not trained separately, but rather informed the other through similar training styles (the 3Rs). Speaking on the gymnasium, Hawhee notes, “the inculcation of such knowledge in a crowd heightens the embodied nature of such learning, as the space of the ancient gymnasium emerged as a network of forces” (128). This “network of forces” can be compared to Isocrates’ “similar things”: the physical space representing the convergence of mind, body, sophistry, and athleticism.
Foucault notes that the panopticon is the “perfect exercise of power” for several reasons, although most significantly “because it can reduce the number of those who exercise it, while increasing the number of those on whom it is exercised” (206). The panopticon, just as the parked police car, does not need a physical body behind it to instill a sense of control. Because any of the prisoners may be watched at any time, simply the possibility of being watched should be enough to maintain order. Further, Foucault says that, “because without any physical instrument other than architecture and geometry, it acts directly on individuals; it gives ‘power of mind over mind’” (206). The panopticon’s strength lies within the ‘power of mind over mind’ since it is the prisoner’s mind that is being controlled. One could assume that no one is ever looking, but one assumes that one is always looking, without ever knowing which is true at any given time. Becoming posthuman, or becoming body-less, is previewed by the panopticon. Some sort of actual human presence is not necessary for the panopticon to function—it is self-sufficient. This self-sufficiency is not the issue though, but rather that human presence is no longer needed. We are in a time when we can be absent and present concurrently (i.e. on dating websites, blogs, and myspace and youtube postings). Just as the prisoners did not know when they were being watched, no one knows when we are ‘available,’ as the webpage, posting, etc. stands in for us even when we are offline.
“[…] force-feedback devices are enabling varied forms of haptic actions at a distance. These range from the simulated handling of molecules by research chemists and telesurgery effected through visually enhanced feedback loops, to cross-planetary arm wrestling, and the inevitable attempt to realize sex-at-a-distance, or teledildonics (“Corporeal” 431).  If ‘avatars sexing other avatars’ enables an actual feeling, how are the lines of private and public redistributed? And further, is there a private self anymore if public actions (i.e. the sexing avatars’ deeds) are responsive to and received by the lone, haptic recipients? As Brian Rotman notes earlier in “Corporeal or Gesturo-haptic Writing,” this results in “a form of transposed physicality,” where we can be both ‘here’ and ‘there’ simultaneously (430). Although because ‘sex- and arm-wrestling-at-a-distance happens’ here and there, the haptic response seems to suggests that there is no ‘there,’ anything that is being felt is only happening ‘here.’ To explain, even though I might be tele-arm-wrestling someone else across the globe, the only sensation I am feeling is their presence back on me. The action is only taking place for me ‘here’; I am exerting strength, but I don’t feel it there (where my opponent is ‘located’). There is a supposed ‘there’ (with which I am supposedly interacting), but since I do not feel my actions, the only ones that ‘count’ are the ones being received. The tele-arm-wrestling is transpiring in two separate places, and the same event is identical and separate.
To add to this, Rotman says in “Going Parallel” that “the I/me unit is disintegrating, the one who says ‘I’ is no longer singular, but multiple: a shifting plurality of disbursed, distributed and fragmented personae” (60). To return to the above example, the tele-arm-wrestling “I” materializes in two locations at once, creating two copies of the same action. The idea of “copies” is an interesting thread, as the transported self is not necessarily a reproduction, but is the same action And, MMOGs such as Second Life foster this distribution and fragmentation of the individual—there (in Second Life’s virtual world), one can be both “serial” and “parallel”; behind the computer is one “operator” with the ability to create multiple selves “doing many things at once” (“Going” 57). In this life (and I am not referring to reincarnation here, but distinguishing our lives from virtual ones), one can be a starving grad student, while at the same time have enough Linden Dollars to consistently devote to groceries in Second Life. Also in Second Life, we are able to foster our “alters” by creating various personae; there we can create “The Angry One” and “The Innocent Child” while we, “The Actual One” maintains control over all of them. What I find most interesting about MMOGs such as Second Life is that they still require an actual person to foster action. They are not, to borrow Varela’s term, “selfless selves” (“Becoming” 6). Although limiting, one can play MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft by oneself, while Second Life would not exist without involvement from other people (actual ones, not their avatars).

July 2017
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