The Matter with Things: Chapter Three Summary: Perception

In this segment, I continue the journey through Iain McGilchrist’s masterwork, The Matter with Things by summarising chapter three, Perception, a followup to the previous chapters, respectively titled Some Preliminaries and Attention. I strongly recommend that you listen to these in turn, but feel free to play the rebel and cut queue. No one will even notice but you, and if you don’t tell, neither shall I. Come join me.

Podcast: Audio rendition of this page content

Intro

Chapter two of The Matter with Things is titled Perception. Following the previous chapter, Attention, it’s about how we perceive what we attend to. Without attention, there is no perception, but perception is not always correspondent with the so-called reality “out there”.  

Content

From the start, McGilchrist wants to assess which hemisphere is more veridical. Spoiler Alert: It’s the right half. But you already knew that because you’ve been keeping pace. And you also know that I feel he is leaving an option on the table, that neither is veridical to the actual terrain; rather, one just better maps the map. But the question essentially resolves to the same place, not as much verity as trust.

Sensory perception occurs in both hemispheres, but it is better in the right hemisphere than the left, as the left has been somewhat relegated to re-presentation over time—the same hemisphere that is better suited for codifying and mapping using symbolic language—something reserved for the brains of primates—which gives us a virtually inexhaustible way of mapping the world.

Perception is holistic, something better handled by the right hemisphere, being as the left hemisphere is more about focus and specificity. On balance, the right hemisphere is the arbiter of performance delegation, whether to perform a task or delegate it to the left hemisphere. About three-quarters of perception functions are right hemisphere processes.

McGilchrist is partial to the position advanced by Merleau-Ponty, that is “perception as a reciprocal encounter.” Perception is not a passive act. It is an interactive intercourse with the environment. What and how we perceive is affected by our experience and the situation.

Visual Perception

Perception involves all the available senses—and by definition none of those otherwise unavailable. He starts with vision. The right hemisphere does a lot of heavy lifting here. It handles size, shape and pattern recognition, contour, shadows, distance and depth, for example, three-dimensional space, and motion and time as well as the ability to recognise objects from unusual angles or from incomplete information, which I tend to think of as playing some Gestalt role. The right also handles colour perception, though the left maintains the colour name mapping.

The left hemisphere is slightly faster at detection, but if what is detected has any signal degradation, the right hemisphere tends to be more accurate. And since the left hemisphere is, what I’ll call lazy, it may tire quickly and space out, so the right hemisphere may have to intervene, if even a bit more slowly. Paradoxically, if the left hemisphere is given more time, its recognition error rate increases. Incidentally, one reason the right hemisphere may respond more slowly is that it is deliberating to attempt to deliver the correct response whilst the left tosses out its first best guess and declares victory. Nailed it!

Nailed It!

Recall from the last chapter that the left hemisphere is also a master of denial, so it is unapologetic when it guesses wrong. I imagine it signalling ‘that’s not a bus’ just as it hits you and then insists that it never was a bus; that injury must have been caused by something else. Perhaps it was an untoward wrecking ball. 

Without delving into details here, McGilchrist points out that much early research might be invalid because it employed cathode ray tubes—CRTs—whose mechanisms present biased information to the visual field, thereby invalidating conclusions.

the left hemisphere is better at recognising tools—hammers and spanners—, but not musical instruments, which it perceives more as living entities

An interesting area for me is that the left hemisphere is better at recognising tools—hammers and spanners—, but not musical instruments, which it perceives more as living entities. And this is an apt segue to auditory perception.   

Auditory Perception.

Whereas the left hemisphere is better at symbolic language processing and “the processing of meaningless noises, such as clicks”, the right hemisphere pretty much handles the rest, from pitch, inflexion, tone, phrasing, metre and complex rhythm, and melody. The left keeps tabs on basic rhythmic patterns. It is assumed that rhyming relies on both hemispheres working in concert.

For most people, music processing is a right hemisphere event, but this is not true for professional musicians, who utilise both hemispheres, likely owing to the musical language translation processing unnecessary for the casual listener.

Olfactory Perception

Interestingly, the acuity of the nose is orders of magnitude superior to that of the eyes and ears. Olfactory recognition and discrimination have a right hemisphere preference, but emotional reactions to scent may be stronger in the left hemisphere.

Gustatory Perception

“Apart from five very basic tastes – salt, sweet, sour, bitter and umami – which come from the tongue, all flavours come from the olfactory sense.” In general, gustatory perception is a right hemisphere function. However, there is an exception for professional wine tasters, who like professional musicians need to map experiences to words associated to rating and naming.

Tactile Perception

Remembering that the right hemisphere controls the left half of the body, whilst the left hemisphere controls the right, the sense of touch is superior in the left hand. Feelings of warmth, and temperature discriminations in general, are associated with right hemisphere activation. Interoception, the ability to perceive the internal workings of the body, is another right hemisphere process.

Local versus Global Perception

Recall that the right hemisphere captures the world holistically whilst the left hemisphere has a laser focus. This equates respectively to global and local perception. As it happens, the right can do both, but the left is limited to local. This means that if the left hemisphere is damaged, the right can pick up the slack, but if the right hemisphere is damaged, the left cannot compensate for the lost holistic perspective. In practice, the right runs the show and delegates to the left when it deems it to be appropriate for the circumstance. For some reason, normal adolescents have a bias toward local perception over global.

Pathologies of Perception

This leads us to abnormalities, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Deterioration of right hemisphere function leads to a sense of disorganisation and loss of sensation. This hemisphere is also responsible for constructing a sense of self and self-awareness. McGilchrist calls out that the term self has multiple meanings. Much of the notion of self is associated with the medial prefrontal cortex in both hemispheres, but the objectified self and the self as an expression of will (in the respect Schopenhauer spoke of) are left brain aspects.

Perception of a contiguous self over time is a right hemisphere function, the loss of which is not uncommon in cases of schizophrenia.

In discussing visual hallucinations and distortions, almost ninety per cent of these have been attributable to right hemisphere anomalies. McGilchrist shares examples over several pages, but I’ll summarise by description alone of what can be categorised under the umbrella term of metamorphopsia. These might lead to object impermanence, or viewing things as too large or too small, too close or too distant, skewed, or the wrong shape altogether. In some cases, only half of an object, including self-perception, was outsized. This might occur on a macro level or a micro level, which is to say that it may be entire objects or bodies or just faces, or just familiar faces or just eyes or just one eye.  This might occur on a macro level or a micro level, which is to say that it may be entire objects or bodies or just faces, or just familiar faces or just eyes or just one eye.

Some of these cases involved motion, for example, the sense that some object is receding away from the observer as the observer draws nearer to it.

After a journey through Charles Dodgson, AKA Lewis Carroll, and Alice in Wonderland, provides a plethora of examples in prose of some of these visual effects.

From visual hallucinations, we wonder through hallucinations of the other senses, though the data points on these are much sparser, but the left hemisphere does seem to be the culprit of most auditory hallucinations.

Perspective

To summarise, I am again left to feel that the left hemisphere is a deadbeat hanger-on. It’s there in a pinch, but it’s an unreliable narrator and worker that falls asleep at the wheel. Psychology does have a position on what a normal person should see and hear and taste and touch, but normal doesn’t mean real. 

I was hoping to see some information and perspective on synaesthesia, a condition where people perceive experiences through sense-perception organs different to normal. These people see music and hear smells or taste colours and so on. We consider this to be anomalous, but does it provide a fitness benefit, and are these people ahead of “normal” people or are they carrying excess baggage that creates a burden, even if the condition is otherwise benign.

Now that we’ve covered attention and perception, we’ll be covering judgment in the next chapter.  I hope you’ll join me.

What are your thoughts? What did you think of this chapter? Have you experienced or know of anyone who has experienced any of these so-called anomalies. Are you familiar with any of the effects mentioned in Alice in Wonderland? Leave comments below.

Cyclists are Economic Disasters

A colleague of mine posted this today. It was in quotations but was uncited. I attempted to discover the source, but the best I could do was to find a post from 2017 citing another author, Kaushik Patel on LinkedIn, but I do not know if this person originated this. It doesn’t really matter. In the spirit of full disclosure, my colleague is a fully indoctrinated, unapologetic Libertarian Capitalist. He also is an avid bicyclist, so reconciling the meta must be a challenge.

A Cyclist – is a disaster for the economy:

1. He does not buy the car and does not take a car loan.
2. Does not buy vehicle insurance.
3. Does not buy fuel.
4. Does not use the services of repair shops and car washes.
5. Does not use paid parking.
6. Does not become obese.
7. Yes, and well, dammit ! Healthy people are not needed for the economy. They do not buy drugs. They do not go to private doctors. They do not increase the country’s GDP ! On the contrary, every new McDonald’s outlet creates 30 jobs: 10 Dentists, 10 Cardiologists and 10 Weight Loss Experts.

So, what do you prefer- Cycling or fast food?

Like the Jackass parable, I recently shared, how one reacts to this is largely predictable if you know the worldview of the reactor.

This piece takes the perspective of the cyclist critiquing GDP economics satirically through the lens of an orthodox economist. Of course, there are also many internal contradictions and mistruths. I don’t intend to fully critique what I take to be a meme, but I’ll comment somewhat. To be fair, I get annoyed by bicycles intermingling with either automobiles or pedestrians. I’d prefer there be dedicated thoroughfares for bikes. When I am walking, I feel they’re like mosquitos or horseflies. When I’m driving, I see them as drunken toddlers. Who knows what they’re going to do next.

Meantime

Crossed my Facebook Feed

To be honest, I see them as anachronistic. They serve a purpose—many purposes, in fact—, but that doesn’t obviate the nuisance factors. I am not wholly anti-bicycle, but I feel they need a better implementation strategy. I rode bicycles until I was twelve years old or so. Not being the nineteenth century, I still view them as child’s toys. Regarding adults, there are generally two categories—the privileged (and self-righteous) and the underprivileged (and disenfranchised).

Privilege

The author of this quote is likely in this category. How dare someone try to undermine my god-given right to responsibly ride a bike for the greater good of humankind. These people not only own expensive bicycles. Some own several for on-road cycling, off-road cycling, and perhaps even performance cycling. Generally, they own the accoutrements and matching aerodynamic vestiments—padded bicycle shorts, a tight jersey, a sleek helmet, and proper cycling shoes, each contributing to the economy.

In the categories are the commuters, who cannot necessarily wear their gear on the commute, but trust me, they got it in the closet, and they’d wear it if they could.

Underprivilege

This category is for the poor who need to commute a relative distance but either can’t afford or justify an automobile or have had their licence revoked. These people are not a part of bike culture. They are bicyclists by necessity. This is not a play to the greater good. It’s just a way to not have to walk as much.

More Colour and Shape

There is a large cultural component evident here. Japan has a bike culture. When I lived outside of Tokyo, I could drive past parking lots filled with thousands of bicycles. But that’s their culture.

A parking lot for bicycles in Niigata, NiigataJapan

I didn’t even own a car in Japan. I relied on their public transportation system and my feet. I drove friends’ cars and motorbikes. Japan also has favourable motorbike regulations, but that’s another topic.

What does it mean?

The meta of this satire is that from the perspective of the GDP, the cyclist does not contribute to the larger economy. I’ll not mention beyond this that the cyclist is a male.

He does not buy the car and does not take a car loan

This presumes that the bicycle is the sole means of transportation. Perhaps it is. Perhaps it isn’t. Perhaps he buys a car but pays cash. Why is he introducing financing into the equation? Of course, the bike needs to be purchased. Some are more expensive than a used car.

Does not buy vehicle insurance

This relies on the previous situation, but—and I hate to be the one to break it to you— not all people who own cars or drive buy automobile insurance. Do all jurisdictions actually require a person to purchase insurance?

Does not buy fuel

Ditto. Presuming this means petrol for the motorcar.

Does not use the services of repair shops and car washes

This is just silly. As with fuel, obviously, this is scoped to auto repair. And many people don’t use or rarely use car washes. Whilst one may bypass auto repair, you may not escape the need for bicycle repairs or tyres or frames and so on. Sure, these might be less expensive, but they are no zero-cost events.

Does not use paid parking

I am presuming this person either does not live in a congested city where one would have to pay for parking or his city subsidises parking, thus contributing to GDP.

Does not become obese

A bit of fat-shaming, perhaps? I guess he’s never seen a fat person on a bike. I’ll give him that the person on the bike might get some cardiovascular activity that wouldn’t have happened otherwise, and perhaps he’d avoid becoming morbidly obese, but I’m not accepting this one. Moreover, I’ll suggest that selection bias is more the factor.

Healthy people are not needed for the economy

Here’s the punchline. Healthy people don’t contribute to the Medical-Industrial Complex. Speaking from the perspective of the US, these people pay for preventative care, buy upscale food, eat in upscale restaurants—not to mention McDonald’s—, live in upscale housing in upscale neighbourhoods, shop in upscale stores, and so on. I’ve heard the sentiment that if you don’t spend money on Organic™ food and health supplements and treatment modalities, then you’ll spend it later in trying to recover your (inevitable) lost health.

How does McDonald’s generate dentists? Conveniently, he left out the medical personnel who get to treat knee injuries, injuries from falling and getting hit by cars (or maybe just car doors).

Closing

In the end, economics is not a good measure for much of anything, but it is a measure that can increase or decrease and, for what it’s worth, we can compare X to Y.

After all is said and done, I don’t care about the GDP, and I don’t care about cycling. Chalk it up to non-attachment or apathy—perhaps a little of each.

Lions and Tigers and—a Jackass?

The donkey told the tiger, “The grass is blue.”

The tiger replied, “No, the grass is green .”

The discussion became heated, and the two decided to submit the issue to arbitration, so they approached the lion.

As they approached the lion on his throne, the donkey started screaming: ′′Your Highness, isn’t it true that the grass is blue?”

The lion replied: “If you believe it is true, the grass is blue.”

The donkey rushed forward and continued: ′′The tiger disagrees with me, contradicts me and annoys me. Please punish him.”

The king then declared: ′′The tiger will be punished with 3 days of silence.”

The donkey jumped with joy and went on his way, content and repeating ′′The grass is blue, the grass is blue…”

The tiger asked the lion, “Your Majesty, why have you punished me, after all, the grass is green?”

The lion replied, ′′You’ve known and seen the grass is green.”

The tiger asked, ′′So why do you punish me?”

The lion replied, “That has nothing to do with the question of whether the grass is blue or green. The punishment is because it is degrading for a brave, intelligent creature like you to waste time arguing with an ass, and on top of that, you came and bothered me with that question just to validate something you already knew was true!”

Moral of the Story: The biggest waste of time is arguing with the fool and fanatic who doesn’t care about truth or reality, but only the victory of his beliefs and illusions. Never waste time on discussions that make no sense. There are people who, for all the evidence presented to them, do not have the ability to understand. Others are blinded by ego, hatred and resentment, and the only thing that they want is to be right even if they aren’t.

When emotions run high, intellect goes low.

This story is circulating on LinkedIn and has made the social media circuits. As you can judge from the attendant ‘moral of the story’ that this has been interpreted by an absolutist. This is a telltale sign of a Modern versus a so-called Postmodern who will allow for a different translation.

Ten Women

Given my last post, it had me reflecting on some women who’ve influenced me—especially my thinking and worldview. Unlike Mitt Romney, I don’t have binders full of women.

Spotify

Positive

Simone de Beauvoir (Philosopher)

Simone de Beauvoir

Beauvoir is brilliant. I consider her to be the first feminist. The women before her, I rather consider being proto-feminists. I was immediately gripped when I read her book, The Second Sex, and her idea that women are not born that way, and it’s not even a simple ageing-maturity function. It’s a performative role.

Addendum: Perhaps not as famous, she’s at least as apt as Sartre as an Existentialist philosopher. I still have a fondness for Existentialism in the same way I like Pragmatism. Although life has no inherent meaning, if making one up gets you through your life, by all means, conjure up a meaning.

Judith Butler (Philosopher, Gender Theorist)

Judith Butler

Butler taught me the perspective of gender expression and performativism. Whilst Beauvoir was more describing gender as a role, Butler extends the notion to that of performative speech acts, which is to adopt the identity and declare, I am a woman.

Ruth Shore (English Professor)

This was my undergraduate Critical Writing professor. All but one of the assignments were by female authors. And the only male author was for an assignment to critique, compare, and contrast articles by Gloria Steinham and Thorstein Veblen. I don’t remember Steinham’s article (though I recall coming down hard on her for citing sources that did not tie back to her position). Veblen’s work was Conspicuous Consumption, an essay from The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions, which is worth the read even today.

To be completely honest, I’m not sure I’ve quite remembered her name. I believe it’s her name, but I’m not great with names. As evidence, I turned in a final essay for one of my undergraduate English Literature courses. His trip was American fiction authors and interpreting literature by understanding the life and time and place of the author—clearly not into Barthes or Derrida. In this case, on the cover page, I had typed the course name and Professor David Grace (or some such). It was returned by post a week or so later with two remarks. The first: ‘I’ll miss your sardonic humour‘; the second: My name is whatever it was [sorry again], not David Grace. I’m pretty sure Professor was one of my maths professors, but don’t hold me to that. As far as I know, not-David doesn’t identify as a woman, but I do recall spending time on Edgar Allen Poe (also not a woman) and Donald Barthelme (still not a woman), the Postmodern Absurdist, who at fate would have it, died a couple of months after I graduated.

Hannah Arendt (Philosopher)

Hannah Arendt

Arendt’s concepts of the banality of evil and totalitarianism. My first exposure was through Eichmann in Jeruselum, where she discusses the banality of evil and how my postmodern roots become more ossified. Sadly, here Origins of Totalitarianism are too relevant for comfort these past few decades in the West.

Sunera Thobani (Sociologist, Feminist)

Sunera Thobani

Thobani’s post-colonial feminism is a newer influence, but she really drives home the point that the Western perspective is privileged and intervention in other cultures to ‘save the women’ from oppression is imposing the privileged perspective in a colonial manner.

Elinor Ostrom (Economist)

Elinor Ostrom

I was inspired by her work showcasing that coöperation prevails over tired competitive models. She was also the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize for economics just before her death.

Margaret Atwood (Author)

Margaret Atwood

Before Handmaid’s Tale was a Hulu series, it was a book. When I read this genre-establishing speculative fiction in the 1980s, I took notice. That it remains relevant is cause for trepidation.

Ursula K. Le Guin (Author)

Ursula K Le Guin

Le Guin’s story, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, truly unveils the Utilitarian, Consequentialist narrative of the greater good. This is more speculative fiction in the domain of Margaret Atwood, but Le Guin’s domain is typically science fiction. As often as I’ve tried, science fiction narratives don’t typically resonate with me, so I haven’t engaged her longer works. But the impact this had and continues to have on me should suffice.

Herculine Adélaîde Barbin (Intersex Case Study)

I believe I was introduced to Alexina through Michel Foucault. It helps to shine a spotlight on how arbitrary identity really is. Perhaps not capricious, but definitely arbitrary. A few years back, I even created a short video that, as I recall, commenced my YouTube channel.

Negative

I had originally intended to make this a post on the positive influences of women, but as I was searching my memories, a couple of reprehensible influences came to mind. Thatcher topped that list.

Margaret Thatcher (Politician)

Margaret Thatcher

In the US, Liberals and we Leftists demonise Ronald Reagan for being the beginning of the end of cordial US politics. Whilst this is true to a point, Thatcher predates Reagan’s destructive national policies by a couple of years. If not for the path she paved, we may never have taken it. Granted, the Clintons made sure to drive nails into the bipartisan coffin to seal the pact, and perhaps Thatcher and Reagan were just symptoms, not causes, in the manner that Johnson, Trump, and Biden are more expressions and conduits than catalysts…or at least generators.

In any case, she’s left a lot of destruction in her wake.

Ayn Rand (‘Philosopher’)

Ayn Rand

Rand is another woman I love to hate. Her so-called Objectivism has given permission to so many looking for an excuse or justification for their assholery.

To be fair, when I read Atlas Shrugged as an impressionable youth, I was taken in. I decided to read it after having heard her speak in an interview. I fell into her storyline without critical examination. I even tried to adopt it as a frame or lens. And then I read Fountainhead, which added nothing.

Fast-forward to the late ’90s, I was reevaluating my vantage and perspectives, so I decided to re-engage Atlas Shrugged as an audiobook. It was embarrassingly bad writing with 1-dimensional characters, which is appropriate because 1-dimensional people adopt this worldview. Apologies for the ad hominem, but I include myself in this cohort. I hope I’ve actually come to evolve additional dimensions rather than simply swap them, but Rand is a hack writer who had helped make the world a more toxic place to live. Not a fan.

Honourable Mention

Sophie Germain (Mathematician)

I named my second daughter Sophie Germain Surname, hoping it would be aspirational. Although it wasn’t, she is still proud to point out her legacy.

Harriet Tubman (Abolitionist)

Rosa Parks (Civil Rights Activist)

Jane Austen (Author)

Tori Amos (Musician)

PJ Harvey (Musician)

Sarah MacLauchlan (Musician)

Fiona Apple (Musician)

Kate Bush (Musician)

Laurie Anderson (Musician, Performance Artist)

More Women, But No

I could laundry-list a bunch of women I am aware of, but I can’t really claim they influenced me in a way I can grasp, so I won’t bother.

Trustwise

The lamb spends all its time worrying about the wolf and ends up being eaten by the shepherd.

— Unknown

I think one could look at this from several perspectives or through different lenses.

We worry about the wrong things.

At some level, this is about trust.

We trust the wrong people. Those whom we most entrust do us in. But I feel this is contextual.

One might feel this shepherd is Capitalism or the State or organised religion. Perhaps it’s culture or identity cohorts. Or all or these or none of these.

On another level, it recalls the inevitability of death. This shepherd reaper is always waiting in the wings whether or not one worries.

In the words of RATM, Know Your Enemy.

No Better Time Than Now

I saw this first on LinkedIn—that Instagram for personal promotion in a sea of vanity and hubris of all flavours—and had been sourced from Twitter, a more free-form universe.

Image

As the narrative went, this was written by a Parkinson’s-afflicted father to his daughter. There are many ways to interpret this. Ostensibly, it’s in line with Nike’s Just Do It tagline of a few decades back or perhaps Joseph Campbell’s advice to follow your bliss, but what is it?

To me, the it involves socially sanctioned activities, whether in commerce or the arts. If the it is robbing banks or shooting fentanyl, perhaps the drive should rather be suppressed. So the do it or go for it operates within boundaries. Nothing new here.

Then there’s the ‘no time is better than now’—exclamation—bit. Why privilege now? Why wouldn’t it have been a better yesterday or last week or tomorrow?

I love quotes—or they pique my interest—if they interest me. But vapid platitudes annoy me to no end. They are beyond being trite. I suppose I can forgive the person who finds solace in this note, but these almost always preach to the choir. They resonate with the daughter—first on an emotional level owing to the familial connection and next to a connection in worldview. I don’t need to point out the connection between worldview and upbringing. Let’s pretend there is no covariance.

Meantime, whatever you’re doing go for it. Just do it. Or not. Take the path on the left. Or the right. Or just sit and meditate. Or turnaround and try something else. But whatever you do, just do it. There’s no better time than now.

Descent of Man

Joe Talbert, singer and songwriter for IDLES, shares some of his perspective with us. Cued is a bit on masculinity, particularly the toxic variety.

Interview with Joe Talbert of IDLES

For me, it’s a breath of fresh air. Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but the IDLES bring some of the lost energy back into music. I’m old enough to remember the first Punk wave of the 1970s and the next waves as well as the ripples.

The Descent of Man clearly explains how masculinity as a construct is dangerous, problematic, and … bullshit

Joe Talbert

I’ve always been out of step with my music interests, ability, and availability. In the ’70s, I was raised on the Classic Rock of the day, from the Beatles and Stones in the ’60s, to Zeppelin and Sabbath in the ’70s before focusing more on the likes of Jeff Beck, John McLaughlin, and then Allan Holdsworth. In the mid-’70s, came vapid and syrupy, saccharine pop and the nonsense that was Disco. Thankfully, this was disturbed by Punk on one hand and Eddie Van Halen on the other. Then there was New Wave and the Hair Bands.

When I wanted to play Rock in Japan, I had offers for Country. My mates in Los Angles were into retro when I was into Progressive and Jazz Fusion. I did get on a Blues kick for a while, but I didn’t really feel like I could pull it off—some affluent white kid and all. Besides Hair Bands in the ’80s, there was a Euro-synth wave, but I wanted something more complex and experimental. By the ’90s, I finished grad school and was career-oriented. I fell in love with Grunge and post-Grunge, but that was a personal endeavour. I did finally play that in the 2000s as covers sprinkled with originals, but it was a side-gig not designed as a career. That train had sailed. Nowadays, I still dabble, but I’m not all that motivated to compose much.

Anyway, IDLES is refreshing. I don’t critique it as music. It’s not particularly melodic or harmonic. It’s about the message and the energy. There’s a beat that drives, and there is instrumentation and vocals. It’s an experience.

IDLES – Car Crash (Live on KEXP)

But this isn’t about the music. It’s about the notion of normalcy. In this clip, Joe talks about his longing for normalcy. Maybe that’s just normal, but I’ve never subscribed to the notion of normalcy, so I’ve never longed for it. Truth be told, my preference is for people to realise that it’s all a control mechanism.

Joe was influenced by therapy and The Descent of Man by the artist Grayson Perry. In this book, Perry, clearly giving a nod to Darwin’s earlier work, takes on toxic masculinity and attempts to reframe the very notion of masculinity. Like normalcy, I am not interested in gender roles either.

I worked as a statistician for a couple of years way back when, so it turns out that I have a perspective on normal. The problem with the notion of normal is that deviation for normal is seen as broken. Social sciences and pop-psychology have done this. Foucault wrote a lot on this phenomenon. I won’t address his work here.

Joe viewed himself as broken because he bought into the narrative. He feels better now. He feels he’s in a better place. Perhaps this was necessary for him. I can’t speak to that. It’s not a goal I aspire to. Perhaps I’m privileged. I can’t say. For now, I get to enjoy the respite Joe & Co afford us.

Authentic Authenticity

Although I have written about authenticity in the past, I’ve been wanting to delve deeper for a while. I’ve been engaged in a discussion thread, which has motivated me to accelerate. This acceleration has forced some trade-offs, but I feel I can present a cogent position nonetheless. This segment will be more editorialising than academic, and I expect to short-shrift the historical perspective. Perhaps I’ll expand on these aspects in future.

I expect this graphic to serve as a visual reference to abbreviate some typing. Below, I reference the captions of the cards in order.

Self-Oriented Authenticity

Let’s commence with some definition and exposition.

Self

This is the unadulterated core of a person’s existence. The religious might term this as a soul. For those who favour reincarnation, this is the bit that travels from time to time, body to body.

Identity

Identity is a shell formed around the Self based on environmental inputs such as social cues. It’s about perception. Essentially, the goal would be to mimic the Self. There are several challenges to this notion. I’ll return to this, but one of these is identity composition.

Identity Composition

The notion of identity is that it is a composite of various dimensions, each of which is a social reflection if not actively socially generated. Combined, these dimensions constitute identity. Does one self-identify as athletic, intelligent, witty, gregarious, quick-tempered, altruistic, and on and on. Does one have a certain gender identity? What about sexual orientation? Occupational identity? Identities around affiliations of religion or philosophy? Identities related to personae—a worker, an entrepreneur, a day-trader? Mother, father, sibling, coworker, student…

In the end, the picture illustrates that identity is a bundle of particular identities. Presumably, these identities can shift or reprioritise by time or place. You may choose to hide your Furry identity from your mum and coworkers—or your preference to identify as a CIS male with a sexual orientation toward women and yet prefer to wear dresses.

This brings us to authenticity.

Authenticity

Facile authenticity might be thought of as how well aligned your behaviours are with your identity and your Self. According to the mythos, the perfect trifecta is that these are all in perfect alignment—like Babushkas, Russian stacking dolls, neatly nested. This notion has some practical problems already hinted at.

Authenticity Composition

The first challenge is an extension of the identity composition problem. As Identity is multidimensional, so must authenticity be. If one dimensionalises identity into some array from 0 to 6, then in a perfect arrangement, each of the expressions of these particular identities needs to have a corresponding authenticity pairing. Yet this is unlikely.

Performance

In practice, we need to look at how a person performs and compare that to their self-identity. This creates a challenge. How another person identifies a person may not align with their self-identity. We may have no insights into how a person sees themself. This is the reaction we have when someone we ‘know’ commits suicide. S/he seems so happy. S/he had everything. We see smiling depression.

Assuming we have some magic identity lens, we are left with a self-alignment challenge. A person has no access to their own Self, and others have less access still. This is where psychoanalysis fails practically and succeeds economically. They get paid to divine the Self, but that pseudoscience is for another day.

Regarding the illustration, we see a derangement of performances. This is in a lesser state of disarray because the Self is sublimated, but we notice that dimensions 1 and 3 are aligned, whatever they might be. Dimension 0 is off centre, but it somehow remains within the bounds of identity. But dimensions 2, 4, and 6 are ostensibly inauthentic. This person claims to be a vegan, yet is eating Wagyu beef in a teppanyaki house.

And dimension 5 is absent. This person identifies, say, as a musician, and yet plays no instrument efficiently. Whether s/he claims to be a musician or just feels that s/he is a musician seems beside the point. There is no performance. There is no expression.

Summary

Not even a summary. This was a concise download of my current perspective. I hope that it at least provides something to react to. If you have any perspective to lend, feel free to comment below.

Metanarrative Problem

Postmodernism was summarised by Lyotard as having an incredulity toward metanarratives.

What does this mean? What are metanarratives, and why harbour incredulity toward them?

Metanarratives are narratives. Stories presented through a lens with a certain perspective. These stories provide a historical account of how a culture arrived to where it has. They can be viewed as origin stories. Metanarratives are also teleological, as they provide the foundation to progress, to advance the culture to a better future. Embedded in these metanarratives are the rules and conditions necessary to navigate, both from the past and into the future.

We’ve got stories. In his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, historian, Yuval Noah Harari tells us how important stories are for having made human progress. Hooray for us!

This sounds good so far. Right? We’ve got Caesar, Cornwall, and Kahn. We’ve got triumph of us over others. Good prevailing over evil. Right over wrong. So why the incredulity?

Let’s keep in mind that Lyotard is suggesting incredulity and not rejection. The narrative could be fine and accurate enough. One might argue that the benefit of the narrative for the purpose of cohesion outweighs the detriments posed.

There are several notable problems with metanarratives.

Firstly, the past suffers from a cherry-picked survivorship bias. The story threads that don’t support the narrative are abandoned, and some threads are marginalised. So, there’s a dimensional problem. As with any historical account, one needs to adopt a perspective and create a story. Let’s not forget that the word history comes from the word story. In fact, French only has one term: l’histoire. History is story.

Secondly—and this is somewhat related to the survivorship bias problem—, is that we privilege the perspective we take to view this history. In his book, We Have Never Been Modern, Latour uses this line of argumentation to arrive at the conclusion that we have never been modern. It is only because we are here now and surveying history through a rearview mirror that we can even look into the past. And we feel that we have somehow overcome this past. The past was primitive, but we are modern. Some time in the future we’ll deservedly be viewed in the same light because that’s how progress works. But there is no reason to accept this privileged assignment. It’s a function of ego—and to be even more direct: hubris.

Lastly, there’s the issue of teleology. Through this privileged vantage, we orient toward some alleged destination. Like fate, it’s just there for the taking. The only barriers are time, not keeping your eyes on the prize, and not following the rules to get there. There’s an embedded deontology. Those other societies don’t understand what it takes. You need to follow this path, this religion, this sports team. Because this is the best there is.

But there are no crystal balls. We cannot divinate the future. There is no particular reason to believe that our imagined path is the best path. If you don’t believe this, just ask the culture next door.

I’d like to think that somehow Progressives would be more aware of this tendency—and perhaps in some sense they are, but it’s not very apparent pragmatically. I don’t want to get distracted by the notion of institutionalism, but that is evidence of taking a privileged position regarding the status quo—even if your vision of the future would take a different path than your more conservative brethren and sistren.

In closing, this has been a summary of the problem postmoderns have with metanarratives. It could be that the metanarrative you believe to be valid is valid. It could be that your religion is the true religion. It could be that your sports team is the best sports team. That your system of government is the best of all other alternatives. It’s more likely that you’ve convinced yourself that these things are true than them being true.

We can either adopt the perspective of Voltaire’s Dr Pangloss and consider our world to be the best of all possible worlds, or we can step back and consider that we haven’t exhausted all of the possibilities.

Disintegration Street

Riffing on my recent post, I wanted to provide a tab more perspective on my claim that postmodernism serves a purely disintegrative function. Anyone can disintegrate a narrative into constituent parts, but postmodernism provides no grounds for privileged reintegration, as this too can be disintegrated. So, whilst one is free to disintegrate and even to reassemble the parts, one is never in a position to claim that this is how it should be put together because this privileges the subject and another subject can always come along and privilege another perspective. Also, there is no PoMo toolkit available to reassemble the parts that I am aware of.

When I was a child, a neighbour owned and operating a demolition company. He disintegrated buildings. He kept some of the materials and sold some other for scrap. Whilst these materials could be repurposed and used in the construction of another building—or a picnic table—, this was not the function of the demolition company. It’s safe to say that no one was ringing him up under the premise that he had tools, so why won’t he build them a house. He knows houses, right?

This is the same problem we face when deconstructing a narrative with postmodern tools. If we want to construct something, we can, but we should expect that no matter what we do, the next wave can readily knock it down. And though we can rebuild more castles made of sand, they are all subject to the same forces.



* I admit that this title was lent from The Cure’s Fascination Street, which does happen to be on their album Disintegration.

The Cure – Fascination Street video