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June 15th, 2010. Colorado Front Range.  After a week of rain the clouds have parted to reveal severely clear azure skies and a fresh layer of snow above ~ 11,000′.  The grass is growing so fast you can hear it if you listen carefully. The lagomorphs are frolicking in the dewy turf and the adjacent prairie dog colony is overflowing with barking rodentia. The landscaper’s lawnmower releases a refreshing bouquet of terpenes into the air from freshly severed plant tissues. 

As I wave my card in front of the security card reader, the electromagnetic door release mechanism clicks and I leave behind the flora and fauna of the great outdoors and enter the world of mass selective detectors, nmr, and exotic molecules.  It is a transition from the macro to the micro, from the kilo to the nano. The world on the other side of the wall is immediately concerned with turf management and burrows. In this tiny space we’re concerned with nuclephiles and kinetics, exotherms and yields.  Interesting, yes. But in the end, where is it taking us?

Some essays by Peter Watkins caught my eye recently. In particular, the essay about what Watkins refers to as the Monoform is especially well written and worth reading-

“The MONOFORM is the internal language-form (editing, narrative structure, etc.) used by TV and the commercial cinema to present their messages. It is the densely packed and rapidly edited barrage of images and sounds, the ‘seamless’ yet fragmented modular structure which we all know so well. This language-form appeared early on in the cinema, with the work of pioneers such as D.W.Griffith, and others who developed techniques of rapid editing, montage, parallel action, cutting between long shots/close shots, etc. Now it also includes dense layers of music, voice and sound effects, abrupt cutting for shock effect, emotion-arousing music saturating every scene, rhythmic dialogue patterns, and endlessly moving cameras.”

Watkins builds a case for the notion that what people see and hear in the media is the result of a type of editing philosophy that has become common over much of the world. In large part because of the precociousness of American media. What we see and hear is always a type of presentation put on by people who want to emphasize particular aspects of events in a manner that satisfies their need to supply a stimulating stream of imagery.

I think most of us have always understood that the mass audio visual media (MAVM) have always had a show business flair, but that the persuasiveness of editing was always secondary to content. Watkins suggests that editing is what primarily influences viewers in terms of the sequence and stimulus provided by well chosen cuts. It is an interesting viewpoint and one worth considering.

Below is a comment that I left on the Volokh Conspiracy some time ago. Rather than squander perfectly good ramblings there, I have reproduced it here and attached a link.  Th’ Gaussling

Broadly, we have two kinds of marriage in the USA. One is before a god and the other is before the state. Marriage before a god is a supernatural arrangement that is beyond the scope of this letter.

It would seem that the states compelling interest in marriage is mostly confined to the disposition of debts, assets, and minor children during the marriage and in the event the marriage fails. Married partners have an obligation to the welfare of minor children born to them or adopted. Married partners also have a status that allows for decision-making in critical care situations. It seems to be a kind of partnership whereupon responsibility for the secular aspects of married life are defined. After all, the state is called in to make decisions as to the disposition of civil matters in the event of a divorce. Surely the state can clearly define certain basic responsibilities and privileges in advance.

The moral/spiritual aspects of marriage “can” be interpreted as being perpendicular or orthogonal (like the x and y axes in a graph) to the legal dimension of property rights and other secular aspects of married partners. The state is without supernatural powers, thankfully, so it is inherently impotent in the spiritual dimension. If that is the case, and in the absence of a uniform interpretation of supernatural governance, it should be silent on spiritual matters.

The state should have no interest in how married partners conduct their lawful affairs beyond the normal confines of civil and criminal law.

A code defining the responsibilities of married partners in a variety of configurations could be modeled easily. If you accept the premise that secular marriage is confined to the mundane matters that are already contestable in a court, then it is a simple matter to imagine same sex or plural marriages under the same constraints. What is the compelling interest of the state in barring same sex partners from having automatic authority in giving comfort to a dying partner? We already have codes regulating many other kinds of complex relationships between people- corporations, partnerships, LLC’s, government, etc. Minimally, the state should entertain the prospect of recognizing limited entry of some new definitions of marriage to adult parties wanting to be responsible members of society with the rights and responsibilities thereto appertaining.

In his Seed article Questioning Consciousness, author Nicholas Humphrey asserts that if we are to understand the phenomenon of consciousness, we must begin to formulate better questions.  Humphrey has written on the problem of consciousness and has been be promoting some new vocabulary and arguments to address this challenge.

The basic question that people have struggled with is this: How does the brain elicit consciousness? Obviously, this is a very hard question to answer. It requires the brain to reason about its own function and within the very constraints of those brain functions.

Naturally people want to find a mechanistic picture and the notion that the brain is a processing system that accepts inputs and delivers outputs is normal. But outputs to what? Well, your consciousness- your eternal, first person, live on the scene, internal-telecast of stimulus and response.

Humphrey defines “Sentition” as real world brain activity. Presumably this includes the sum of electrical and chemical activity that operates within the brain’s distinctive architecture.  Humphrey goes on to define more language to describe our perception of sentition-

The real-world brain activity is the activity that I call “sentition.” In response to sensory stimulation, we react with an evolutionarily ancient form of internalized bodily expression (something like an inner grimace or smile). We then experience this as sensation when we form an inner picture—by monitoring the command signals—of just what we are doing.

Sentition has been subtly shaped in the course of evolution so as to instill our picture of it with those added dimensions of phenomenality. Sentition has, in short, become what I call a “phenomenous object”—defined as “something that when monitored by introspection seems to have phenomenal properties.”

While it may seem trivial, the definition of appropriate terms to describe key attributes of consciousness is critical to how we think about it. New terms may be better as they are not burdened with common usage that distract from the problem.

This article in Seed is not a seminal work. It is a short essay on consciousness and an introduction to some interesting ideas for hackers like myself who realize that the field is very significant. I believe that a comprehensive theory of consciousness is as important as the ToE the physicists are looking for- Theory of Everything.


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