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Recursion And The Evolution of Self

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posted on Oct, 22 2015 @ 12:23 AM
When it comes to this 'thing' we call self, we have to first realize that this 'thing' is a process.

Everything about our self is based in the evolution of our species over the last 500,000 years. We moved from hand walkers to leg walkers, giving our hands the freedom to communicate more abstractly with others. But why do we have hands to begin with? We derive from the branch called "primates", who brachiate, which means they swing from tree to tree. So in order to get hands that can be cognitively manipulated, you first need to develop arms, elbows, wrists, hands and fingers i.e. brachiating.

I find it so interesting that all this "form" is a result of evolutionary function. The species that became primates became as they did because they were a mammal surrounded by trees. The evolutionary ancestor of primates (lemurs, monkeys, apes and human) created together a 'niche'. All species are niche creators. The environment presents a certain set of conditions (trees, in this case), and the species adapts itself genetically make use of the "ladder like" nature of trees.

This is how the world moved forward as it does. Environment and species co-create one another. Species of a higher recursion - like primates - act upon the environment by becoming tree climbers, while the trees keep on being trees. The primate-tree relationship presents the primate as more recursively "separated" from the older evolutionary species we call trees. Primates live with trees, make use of trees, giving trees a 'moving life' to be with.

The human self exists and reflects a similar recursivity. The self as our general consciousness, built by evolution to be genetically programmed to express a particular recursive organization, will always express the same embedded structure. For example:

When we talk, we talk in a way that makes each of ourselves comfortable as we do it. Thus we communicate and express something, in which I am expected to respond in a civil manner, because "this is how we do things".

We in other words are organized in the same way to know in the same way. My awareness of your interest in something, for instance, allows me to predict what will effect you. The psychologist Michael Tomasello persuasively argues that human beings evolved towards a state he calls "shared intentionality", where human beings can together share a common referent, not only in a joint way, as chimps do (that is, we all focus on the same environmental object) but in an embedded way: I know that YOU know this.

This process is both affective (or bodily feeling) and cognitive, each acting upon and changing the other. Cognitions such as, I know you believe this, so I way will talk about this, are based upon feelings and emotions that impel you to care about another persons feelings. Cognitions, very often, are expressions of deeply felt emotional energies.


What's very interesting, in terms of psychotherapy, is how human beings come to heal themselves. Its all about self awareness, we know. Our brain has a "high road" and a "low road". fMRI data show impulsive actions as being mediated by 'ventral' or lower brain structures (like the striatum). These low road ways of acting and being are compulsive in our lives. A nice term for it, coined by the psychologist Alan Fogel, is "Subjective emotional present". In this state, we reflexively respond, speak words, and only catch the "tail end" of our selves having just acted. Indeed, this experience is mediated by different brain processes from those involved in 'high road' processes.

When we act this way, we relate with that built in genetic awareness of other peoples emotions. This is made possible by a fundamental communicative musicality, a rhythmic, vitalistic flow of energy from person to person. The late psychologist Daniel Stern called this experience "vitaity forms", which he described as electo-chemical rhythms that organize how information is felt by the organism. The whole idea of metaphor builds from this process. Vitality forms are generic, archetypal, and can be reconceived in different formats and domains. A hard sound is similar to a punch in the face. They both have a "bang quality"; this 'quality', is what Stern means by vitality forms. They are the very feelings that allow semantical associations to even exist in the brain.

But when we move to a higher level, we move to a higher level of recursion. We watch ourselves, catch ourselves in action, and then wonder, curious, what am I feeling? And what can I do about this? This level of recursion is the self turning towards the experiences it picks up in social interactions. The recursion of the original is itself brought under a watching eye.

But this process doesn't end! The mind watches the mind and actually "catches up", plays with itself, understands itself, and influences how the self is 'flowing' through the feedbacks that make its every state. Any thought is to be attended to; the more morbid, the more shock-inducing, the more interesting. The more complicated the "low road" state, the mote complex the relationship with the "high road" state. The high road acts upon the low road as the low road acts upon the high road. And there is of course the additional complexity of doing such stuff while in the process of communicating with other people.

The whole idea of mindfulness is about remembering. Being 'conscious' is to activate, again and again and again, a certain focused relationship towards something. I do not, however, wish to diminish the joy and pleasure in being in low road states; for play, dance, and fun, they're a must. But there is still nevertheless a dissociation - a moral blindness - to the ways these states of consciousness organize us. Unconscious defense mechanisms fly out our mouths and fixate our minds because the emotional process has already started - and were already too 'in it' to stop ourselves.

I just find it funny that this mindful relationship of a calm, active awareness with a reflexive, embodied being, can stimulate such wondrous organizations in human beings. Just as monkeys needed trees to brachiate, and thus become us, we need consciousness of suffering, to expand our awareness beyond ourselves, and realize our embeddedness in a larger system. This human response is just as "functionally adaptive" as primates making use of trees. We find the meaning the universe puts into us. We position ourselves, find ourselves, and lo and behold, we are in the middle of it all. We are conscious actors that can imbue - and take intense pleasure in doing so - goodness into the world around us. That we feel this way was just what worked. The environment set up some fairly abstract conditions for 'mere' multicellular organisms. The organisms - us - communicate not just with their unconscious behaviors, but with conscious reflections on one another's mental states. Our body's are 'tuned' into one another; knowing before we consciously know that this person feels this way; we only know because our body's 'cue' us towards this cognitive interpretation.

To be our own "physician", in the words of the dalai lama, is an enormously high state. But it is a state that we all desperately need to cultivate and know; we need to know our embeddedness; our structure; our biology.

posted on Oct, 22 2015 @ 01:12 AM
a reply to: Astrocyte

It's unfortunate that mist people don't think in terms of totality, because they are too busy with miniscule other things.

Life is a constant cycle of transformation, and near the end if the cycle, I wonder what happens.

posted on Oct, 22 2015 @ 04:27 AM
a reply to: Astrocyte

You definitely brush over some great points. Our species are indeed perplexed with an array of dilemmas drawn from a '' lower self '' perception of the world around them. Heck to some extent we are guilty of it from time to time. If we can consider the massive implications of the human ego and how modern day life only further fuels a sense of self gratification through fabricated self displays on social networks and all the other accessories we can adopt to develop our so called image.

New generations are becoming ever so more isolated from physical human communication and ironically as I am typing this I realize how simple it can be to elude people from my true self by hiding behind a computer screen on a website where no one knows my flaws to begin with. Certainly this process of self development is crucial for our species as a whole to break past the barrier of self destruction so that we may survive far into the future. I for one enjoy the delicacies of modern day technology but I try to understand that becoming dependent on these gadgets and aids can only further stun my growth If I do not also work on my mentality and perception.

The thing you mentioned about suffering being crucial for our development, I could not agree more. From a turbulent past and making impulsive and poor decisions I can testify the worth of those mistakes in the growth of my mentality. As of late I am more aware of the process of life in all its subjective forms and although I get frustrated with the world I still remain empathetic to the struggles of other. It can be so overwhelming to grasp the complexities of our physical world and all the processes within it but it also a very beautiful dance of chemical reactions so fine that we can be here having this very discussion. That thought alone fires so many synapses between my ears and keeps me thankful and humble that this experience is a very unique opportunity to feel and to discover. All the best to you Astrocyte


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