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    • #5267
      Agile Otter

      This one I’ve read more than once, because some of the sentence structure needs parenthesis. Or sentence diagramming.

      But, just as Esther brought it to mind that trust is not a point value but rather a spectrum of spectra, the same can be said about consciousness and will.

      The recognition of consciousness without memory connecting one conscious moment to the next really stuck with me. As did “in every grade of consciousness we can move our limbs, or compose poems, or discover mathematical solutions.”

      Other quote of the chapter, IMHO: “The most perfectly trained scientist or poet can no more be sure that he will be able to make his mind produce the solution of a complex problem, or a new poetical image or cadence, or q really original sonnet on the death of a monarch or a president, than can the most perfectly trained clergyman be sure that he will feel really sad at Tuesday’s funeral or really joyful at Thursday’s wedding”

    • #5269

      I’ve started reading, and I understand the “multiple reads”. I need to finish reading the first time so I have time to read again.

    • #5270


        Tools for Critical Thinking

      David Levy talks about Differentiating Dichotomous Variables and Continuous Variables: Black and White or Shades of Grey?

      Some phenomena in the world may be divided (or bifurcated) into two mutually exclusive or contradictory categories. These types of phenomena are dichotomous variables.

      Other phenomena, by contrast, consist of a theoretically infinite number of points between two polar opposites. These types of phenomena are continuous variables.

      The problem is that we often confuse these two types of variables. Specifically, we have a natural tendency to dichotomize variables that, more accurately, should be conceptualized as continuous.
      I wonder if this results from biology. We process external events first as “safe/not safe” and then “flight/fight”. (Maybe it’s the same processing”?) This (if I correctly remember) happens in the amygdalae. Using the prefrontal (neo?) cortex means the data/impulse has already been yes/no filtered. As such it’s easy to continue with the binary thinking.

      Jerry Weinberg teaches the “Rule of Three” to specifically combat binary thinking. If I follow the Rule of Three, I need data (or ideas) between, beyond, or combining the binary opposites.

      We also need to overcome habitual thinking.

    • #5271

      Awareness. My first pull was to Mastery, and while Wallas may be headed there, I feel this chapter speaks to awareness, at least for me.

      I like awareness over consciousness for the following reasons.

        Awareness is easier for me to spell
        To me they mean the same thing
        It allows me to consider and separate thinking from doing.
        I can easily go meta (aware of my awareness) and sub (habits).

      For example. Today’s “run” to my client’s location took 25%+ more time than usual. Knowing it was a holiday weekend and this should be expected (even though I didn’t until I hit the first 2 to 1 lane crunch), triggered my “we’re all doing the best we can with what we have where we are” reflex. And running over the car in front of me wasn’t going to help me get to Atlanta quicker. This is the “separate thinking and doing”. My thought / desire was to get here (finally made it!) in the normal time. My doing acknowledged my desire would not happen. This affected my thinking and allowed me to chill, and provide room for others.

      Being aware of my awareness moves me to a meta-state where I have more options to act. And in general, whoever has the most options for acting, controls what happens.

      • #5272

        I join you in preferring “awareness”, and add as a reason that “consciousness” is so laden with wished-for meanings. I doubt a book about the kind of specialized behavior that currently earns us humans our particular niche is going to devote many sentences to the fact that we are not more special than the other animals with specialized behaviors that currently earn them their niches. But “consciousness” is the kind of word that, in uncareful moments, sounds like something we’ve got that the others don’t, and for that matter like something we’re pretty sure what we mean by it. I don’t think either of those outcomes is particularly true or useful, so I prefer a word without those affordances, and think “awareness” is harder to misconstrue.

        My own awareness (and meta-, and sub-) varies. In my self-observation — which is of course limited by the very thing I’m observing — I’ve noted that my awareness closely correlates with attention, focus, and the cognitive and bodily energy to operate myself coherently. In myself and in others, I’ve noticed that Aristotle’s genus-differentia definition of human as “the rational animal” is more aspirational than observational: we can sometimes, under ideal conditions, operate our machinery in such a way that produces results that appear (and perhaps feel to us) produced by reason. The conditions come and go; one meta-aspect of “ideal conditions” is the ability, more often than not, to control the environment to enable one’s own ideal conditions. Pain, hunger, and other pressing needs exact a toll on cognitive capacity, and when one’s environment limits one’s options to begin with, that toll can be self-reinforcing. I’ve been poor enough and hungry enough to get an idea of how limiting that can be, of how difficult it can be to bootstrap oneself out to where options start to increase.

        The chapter concludes with an asymptotic tendency away from mind-body dualism, which pleases my preconceptions just fine. A few days ago, as part of a toot-rant about teaching more effectively, GeePawHill said:

        plato, may he burn in a perfect geometric hell for all eternity, launched this great lurching horror of mythical not-personal “knowledge”.

        And my preconceptions replied:

        “knowledge”, being an abstraction, doesn’t exist. Since it doesn’t, harmful to think it does. There’s just what’s in our bodies.

        Which, to me, coheres nicely with my favorite definition of learning: a change in observable behavior.

        • #5273

          Which, to me, coheres nicely with my favorite definition of learning: a change in observable behavior.

          I agree, and have a “pre-step” of change in thought. As I learn, I think differently. When I think differently, I act differently.

          A while back I journaled how learning and change inter-twine. I wonder if I can find those entries.

    • #5274
      Agile Otter


      Where did you gather those attachments to the word “consciousness”? I’m curious what influences are indicated in what you said. I’ve heard people used it in qualitatively ways, and even as a synonym for ” life ” or “soul”

      Just wondering b/c it sounds like an interesting entree to knowing each other.

      And of course a hat tip to Don’s pragmatic choice of the more easily spelled option.

      • #5275

        I think I grew sensitized to it in philosophical discussions with people who were either less attached to precision in language and logic than I was, more attached to humanocentric worldviews than I was, or both. I’m sure I grew firmer in my distaste for the word in philosophical discussions with my fiancée, who’s doing Ph.D. work in social learning behavior in animals (including, but not limited to, humans). We both have strong reactions to the notion — which in my experience is exceedingly commonly held — that humans are somehow above the other animals or somehow apart from them, that we are right to act as though we have dominion over the others. So we both have strong reactions to certain words that seem to correlate strongly with that notion. “Soul” is another word I recoil from, in part because it’s similarly commonly treated like something humans have and other animals (dogs sometimes humorously excepted) mostly don’t.

        You’re right, that was a great question to start getting to know me by!

        Am I right in guessing that you (Tim and any other of yinz reading this) don’t have the same sort of baggage about “consciousness” as I do? How do you feel about the term and my reaction to it? If you had to prognosticate, where would you guess Wallas is headed with the idea?

    • #5276
      Agile Otter

      Amitai: It’s not really fair for me to say, as I’ve read some of the later chapters prior to this group forming. I recommended the book to Don & Ryan on a podcast because of the later chapters on creative thought processes.

      Most of the baggage I carry around “consciousness’ tends to come from pseudo-mystical claptrap, where some guru will “raise you to a higher plane of consciousness” through whatever hokum.

      It’s a funny word, regardless. One one side, it describes your ability to be aware of, and interact with, beings and surroundings in your field of view. On another, it’s an awareness of invisible intentions and meanings that my take you out of your physical moment.

      I think, there fore I am conscious. I react to stimuli, therefore I’m not unconscious. I have a sense of object persistence, I have empathy, I have intentions beyond instinct and food- or sex-seeking. But some animals allegedly given only to instinct and selfishness seem to have a higher degree of presence and focus and some kind of “consciousness” than I do. The family dog is often more aware, intent, focused, and present than I am.

      That might even be his point, recognizing that animals and babies have consciousness — it’s not purely an attribute of the adult human mind. You might see him calling the example as accepting non-adult non-humans as conscious, not refuting it.

      This chapter really builds on the prior, about being whole and accepting the wholeness of being and thinking more than seeing oneself as a forebrain with some training. He hints at our ability to observe our thinking, including the nonverbal thinking, and watch to see how it works and when. Our ability to hold focus and observe the thinking at the periphery of our vision he holds as a kind of self-awareness that goes past intention and will in some ways to the person we are in our whole being.

      But that might be a spoiler.

      • #5279

        Oh, I didn’t know you’d read (some of?) this book and that’s how we came to be reading it. In that case la la la la I can’t hear you!

        Nah, it doesn’t feel like a spoiler to me. I don’t know where we’re going but I guess I’ve been assuming that there’s no way to get more artful at thought than to get more artful at seeing ourselves doing it, reflecting on how well it’s working, and ultimately injecting tiny additional bits of intentionality to see if that makes it work better. (Seeing other people do this was one of the joys of my recent PSL experience.) If Wallas leads us somewhere different, then I’ll have more new to chew on.

        Your angle on “consciousness” resonates gently, now that you mention it. But I’ve been bit by that kind of handwavy thinking much more gently than the vague-and-privileged-position-of-our-species kind, so that’s where my word association prefers to run off to.

        Whatever this capacity is that we have — with its range from being fully where we are to being fully elsewhere and elsewhen — comes with a cost to its owners. I don’t claim to understand what’s going on in the perception-worlds of dogs and babies, but my mental model is that their awareness operates over a narrow, now-centered time horizon. If it’s true that they don’t have the option to dwell much on the past or plan much for the future, then it’s also true that they don’t incur any load deciding which era they’re going to attend to. (Maybe babies can’t be loaded with the option of awareness over any longer time horizon because they’re already so heavily loaded attending to the present one, for which they have so little practice and so few coping mechanisms.) But us grownups have to choose to focus our attention on the present or not, or somewhere in between, or not at all, or to move back and forth between multiple time horizons for retrospection or planning.

        I’m getting this faint signal, from my own thoughts written aloud here, that when we acquire the ability (and the responsibility) to choose our time horizon of attention, we’ve leveled up at the kinds of things we can learn. We can learn from things long ended, and we can — performatively? — expect to learn from things yet to occur.

    • #5278

      I’m a bit behind based on events of last week, but I’m just about wrapping up Chapter 2.

      When I review your comments, allowing myself a moment of awareness, the impact on me is a feeling of intimidation. I realize that I have nothing as insightful or exploratory to share with you. I can’t seem to allow my thoughts to reach a level of sophistication that feels as natural and fluid when compared to the three of you.

      The idea that we can learn from each other is somewhat lost in this moment, as I’m learning from you, yet cannot contribute. At least right now.

      We’ll see what happens next, I suppose.

      • #5280

        Zach, I see artfulness in your thoughts here. By observing something about your thinking about the reading, and by acting on your self-observation about your thinking, you’re doing exactly what I take this book to be about. Your modeling the behavior gives me insight into myself, and feels like an invitation to explore sharing more of my own self-observations (and maybe, if I’m lucky, to be more consistent about making them!). So in my opinion, for what it’s worth, you’ve just contributed. Maybe my reaction can influence your choice of how to act on your next self-observation while reading.

    • #5285
      Agile Otter

      The title of the chapter is not “self-consciousness and can’t.”

      You are invited here intentionally, and you deserve to be here.

      Not only that, but you modeled a beautiful bit of self-awareness in that you weren’t only thinking, you were thinking about how you were thinking and about whether you feel that you have sufficient background data.

      A huge component of the art of thought is that awareness; the ability to watch yourself think is a primary point of this chapter. Your will and consciousness is observable and by observing it you can influence it.

      We’re fancy-schmancy literary writers, but remember that we’re just as full of shit as anyone else, and suffer from all the same thinking incapacities that you’ll identify shortly. We’ve all got our heads up our considerable backsides sometimes.

      So you’re here. Do enjoy that. Don’t hold back. And thanks for the compliments just the same.

    • #5286
      Agile Otter

      Oh, and in conversation, I’m told that it’s helpful to surrender the idea that you should be “providing value” because it takes us out of the moment and our attention off the person we’re speaking with.

      It was a revelation to me. I guess it goes with the idea of guys “always trying to fix it” instead of “just being present” — a common complaint I have heard from women in my life. I think I’m guilty.

      You’re not required to “provide value.” But we want to hear your opinions. Is there anything quotable in that chapter to you?

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