Tuesday, March 27

From a recent interview with David Graeber:

We have a false model of what thinking is. Because you can't really think by yourself, can you? You have to create someone else in your mind to explain things to, and to have an imaginary conversation with. This idea was inspired in part by the philosopher of cybernetics, Andy Clark, who proposed something he calls the extended mind hypothesis. Basically, the argument goes like this: Say you're doing long division on a piece of paper instead of doing it in your head. Clark asks why the piece of paper is not just as much a part of your mind while you're doing that calculation as the part of your brain that's doing the math. He says there's no reason at all.There are a million similar examples that philosophers like to trundle out—you have a bad memory so you write everything down. Is that piece of paper then part of your mind?

"Mind" isn't "brain"— the brain is just an organ; your mind is the dynamic interaction of various moving elements that culminates in thought. Philosophers like Clark are willing to take that argument this far, but the question that never seems to occur to them is this: when you're having a conversation with someone else, is their mind part of your mind? Nowadays, many philosophers of consciousness like to note just how razor-thin this thing we call "consciousness", that self-aware part of our mental operations, really is. The average person can rarely hold a thought for more than three or four seconds, eight at the most, before the mind wanders. It's very unusual to be fully conscious for more than a tiny window of time. That is, unless you're having a conversation with someone else, in which case you can often do it for long periods of time, especially if the conversation is with someone you find particularly interesting. In other words, most of the time we're conscious is when we're talking to someone else, or otherwise interacting intensely; during moments in which when we're not clear whose mind is whose. So consciousness is interactive, it's dyadic or triadic. It's a fallacy to imagine that thinking is something you largely do alone. On some level, of course, we already know that. But I don't think we've even begun to explore the full implications.

Quoted at length because otherwise the meat-based portion of my mind will lose track of it.

Monday, March 26

1 a.m. is usually where i find myself
drifting in the silence of a sleeping house,
all easy thoughts evaporated along
the slow descent from late afternoon,
the previous a.m.'s potential energy
resolved into bleary eyes, an aching
shoulder, that handful of dishes
in the sink

i can remember and imagine other
kinds of hour this might be, in other kinds
of life than the one i'm living

bar rooms full of smoke and arguments
train windows and the moving darkness
an empty street and the smell of the ocean
the shape of a woman's shoulder, sharp edged
beneath the sheet, the half-castoff blanket
a bright pattern half-crumpled
into shadow on the floor
some city alive outside the curtains
a night bird screaming out in the trees
in the nowhere countryside a hundred
miles from anything

memory and conjecture always building
a lattice of these bad poetics
through the here and now

saturday, march 17

i guess maybe we ask too
much of a poem — too often
go looking for some incantation,
some deep well of sense
and clarity, a refinement
into something more than prose
a frame that briefly holds
the peace which passes

we want to hold the guilt
and regret and sorrow of every
endlessly dying moment in accord
with all the happiness and love
we've ever felt, all bound up in
the structure of a kind of
perfect, suspended longing

we want to put down the
page and look off into
the middle distance - to
realize we're scaring the
other customers, and step
out into the day, shaken,
with a kind of stillness
lodging in our chests and
suffusing all our limbs,
with memory and a strange
hopeless hope brimming
in our throats —

you should take it easy
not even the poem, that memory of
a memory, is ever going to
shake you loose quite the same way

nothing will ever be like
the first time you turned
a record up real loud
the first time you toked hard
enough to light your lungs
on fire and turn the room
the voice of that girl
telling you to sit beside her
on the steps, in some dying
afternoon when you were young