As a part of an evolving system of information streams that organize themselves into increasingly complex structures, humans and their capacity for imagination, symbolic thought, and abstract language fit within a larger scheme of patterns (and its underlying processes) found in nature. This process and pattern scheme relies on barrier-interfaces to segregate, regulate, and transform information. The "social" is another medium for information processing regulating, and transforming information and is related to the mental and biochemical media through a neurosocial interface.
Our identities, our sense of how the world is, and our sense of how the world ought to be is part of system of interacting personal and collective narratives whose embodiments we refer to as culture. The emotional and moral content of social information, regulated through the reciprocity of interpersonal relationships in the social landscape, determine how such information is received and processed (accepted, explained away, etc), and is therefore critical to changing people's beliefs (ideas, thoughts, attitudes, etc). The ability to accept counter-intuitive or unpopular beliefs arising from such social embodiment of truth can lead to innovation as well as stall it. The concept of the neurosocial and its support for humans existing as and within symbolic narratives suggests a continuity of information from the biochemical to the social without reducing the former to the latter. It also has implications for fields such as medical anthropology, the nature of creativity, and the study of consciousness.
Slightly longer version:
Information (at least from our species' POV) is a fundamental aspect of the universe, which can flow like a stream and organize itself into structures of matter/energy such as the lattice of crystals or dipolar molecules such as water. Life can in part be seen as a particular way that this information flows and organizes itself involving imperfectly self-replicating processes housed in structures such as proteins, cells, etc. Communication and coordination are basic to life, and the formation of barriers (which also act like interfaces) emerge which separate basic units such as organelles, cells, organ/tissue systems, and individual multi-cellular organisms. These barriers, such as the cell membrane, the integument (skin), etc, create spaces where information can differentiate itself or be stored in different types of media, preserving its processes of replication from disruption or contamination. These barrier-interfaces can allow/stop the flow of information, increase/decrease the flow, selectively allow only certain aspects or media of information to flow, or transform/translate the information as it passes from one medium or one side of the barrier to the other.
The presence of such barrier-interfaces aids in/allows the increased organization needed for greater complexity in living systems. Imagine a series of boxes drawn on a board as squares, boxes within boxes. The lines represent the barrier-interfaces and the space inside the compartment containing a particular medium or self-contained processes for certain information. Each new box appears with an increase in complexity in evolution. Now, imagine that we take a highly social species that, like cells, begins to coordinate on a high level and modify their collective external environment to create a new barrier-interface. The species is us (and some of our ancestors/their close relatives). The new barrier-interface is reflected physically in material culture (but non-material culture is not ignored!), and the new space is also a new medium that we can refer to as social, as opposed to the former prevalent biochemical medium.
The interface through which this emerges I am calling the neurosocial interface, and it is basically at the locus of consciousness where the psychological meets the sociological, that is, what we tend to think of as the mind. No particular model of consciousness is presumed, such as physicalism or panpsychism. But clearly the brain is the physical center of this interface, hence neurosocial. It is further assumed/proposed that humans create and live in a subjectively constructed reality in which meaning is attributed/discovered/imbued in everything, and thus we live in a world of symbols. This is organized into personal narratives which are integrated within larger collective narratives, so that the main view of culture I develop/support is one which sees culture as the (mental, social, physical) embodiment of a collective narrative. Of course, there are different narratives, versions thereof, and interpretations, at the personal/collective level, all reacting with each other, but that's getting off track.
Further, based on my scattering of knowledge of relevant subjects, I suggest that our identities form within this matrix, so that our sense of self, our sense of how the world is, and our sense of how the world ought to be is caught up in these different interacting narratives as they harmonize and clash. Hence, a threat to a key or fundamental structure of a meta-narrative (which often operates below our awake and focused states of awareness) can be seen as an existential threat, to which rhetorical and even physical violence may seem justified. I suggest that we over-estimate logic and argumentation in how people adopt their narratives and derivatives of narratives, such as ideas, attitudes, and convictions (i.e. beliefs). Instead, I think that we rely on relationships we trust in the social landscape (a landscape defined by our narratives and superimposed on the physical landscape), whether that be with people or other objects of social import. The emotional and moral (ought/is) content can determine which content (such as ideas) make it more easily across the neurosocial interface in a way that allows them to be integrated into a person's worldview. That is, integrated in a way that allows change, rather than having the new content be explained away in terms of the pre-existing perspective.
Thus it is relationships of trust within a social group that (largely or even mostly) determines what we find to be credible. Without sharing a sufficiently similar narrative framework or having sufficient trust in the source of information, logic and arguments will tend to be less effective or even ineffective. If enough people you trust share the same basic narrative/worldview, humans are able and willing to believe just about anything even when presented with what seems like obvious practical evidence to the contrary. This can actually be useful for developing new counter-intuitive theories and perspectives that might otherwise be overlooked, but can be dangerous with issues like global warming and climate change.
In my writing I also work in topics like reciprocity for how humans interact and share information, as well as issues of medical anthropology and even spirituality and religion. These are not areas of specialty in my background (i.e. evolutionary theory, osteology, taxonomy/systematics), but I love teaching them when the occasion arises and they seem to fit well within the larger framework. I do make caveats about old ideas of organicism, or reducing humans to faceless bits in a system, and in talking about my views of creativity I support the idea that whatever larger network/system humans are building/integrating themselves into, individual creativity is an essential component.
OK, so, neither of those summaries may have seemed brief, but I wanted to try to capture enough of what is involved to allow for a decent perspective for any commentary. I am open to any recommendations, suggestions, or corrections. For example, I realize that there are anthropologists who've emphasized the narrative-like nature of culture or the importance of symbols, but deep knowledge of their work is outside of my wheelhouse. My ideas may also share similarity with other scholars inside of and beyond anthropology, and I am grateful to hear about that if folks want to share. And what I am wondering is, does this seem like silly or self-indulgent hot air? Is it just pointless and over the top dilettante fluff? Or does this synthesis of ideas and the new perspective growing out of it seem to have potential?
If the former, please say so and I will just follow my initial ho hum plan of writing it for my own reasons. If the latter, please say so and if possible point to me to scholars/areas of scholarship that you think I might want or need to be aware of, or better yet, ask me for a copy of some or all of my writing on the topic if you are really interested and want to see something come of it. I am a major fan of small doses of friendly competition and even bigger doses of friendly advice, encouragement, and cooperation, so I am reaching out to get views of those from different backgrounds who haven't been thinking and writing about these ideas on and off since last fall.
For context, I am on the job market and have been (mostly) unemployed for almost a year and have limited resources. The time (in between preparing applications and doing job interviews) has allowed me to develop what you've just read. But my time and resources are going to be getting more limited as time goes by, so I'm really looking for honest opinions here. If this doesn't seem like something that would be of interest or use to a broader audience, that would be good to know. My original premise was to show why the liberals arts, and especially anthropology, is vital to interdisciplinary perspectives/models and that there is a lot we can do with the knowledge we already have. This is still consistent with where things have developed so far.
In your opinion, would something like his be of interest to you or someone you know? If so, what suggestions might you offer about where to look or who to contact, etc? Who do you think would be interested in this kind of idea? Other opinions and other types of suggestions also welcome.
If you've read to end of this, my gratitude for your kindness and patience.
I am currently soliciting opinions about a project I have been working on that touches on several areas of anthropology. All constructive opinions and suggestions are welcome. I started a writing project several months ago which was initially just intended to result in a self-published book (or a book published through a tiny start up) that contained a series of informal lecture-essays on issues of interest to me and presented at a broadly accessible level. Ideas developed as I wrote, and…Continue
Posted on June 17, 2013 at 2:30pm — 2 Comments