Text in pdf : Clémence Ortega Douville – The place the hands can’t seek – II – Heterogenous spaces and capacity to action
The mind is a network. It is formed to a great extent through learning, experimenting, connecting experiences and reinforcing them. To know what to do with our body in our environment includes at least three levels of these learning, experimenting, connecting and reinforcement.
Those1 are : the physical environment which I learn the reality of my body from ; the physiological changes in my body, including the images and sounds coming to my head ; and the moral contracts I make with the other people belonging to the same place.
These three interlocked, nested and intricated spaces are interdependent and codependent. We are always engaging the three of them, even when we are focusing on one particular level of behaviour (the latter being the learning, experimenting, connecting and reinforcing quartet).
If I wonder if I can write on the table (not on a paper on the table but on the table itself), I sollicitate several levels of decision : whether I suddenly have the urge to write wherever it comes first possible to write on ; whether it should work, if my pen or whatever marker would leave any trace on the table, if it is possible to write on ; and at last, whether I am allowed to write on the table. You would have recognised here the three levels : the physiological sensation, the experience of my physical surroundings, and the feeling of the moral debt.
Such are the levels of the three paradoxes studied in the former essays : the sensorimotor paradox of the hand (physical level), the symbolic paradox of the word me (moral level), and the capacity to stand alone in the silencing of the stream of conscious (physiological level).
The fact that all levels of this network are connected means that, as we saw, spaces are not neutral. They are as well connected to our physical experience as they are connected to our moral experience and to our more intimate reflection. Then, it appears quite obvious that identity relies on those three aspects of experience as a capacity to action and to realisation of the self in their environment.
If I can’t climb and step on the table like the chimpanzee would do, it is not because I wouldn’t have the urge and phantasy to be inspired to do so. It would not be either because it is physically impossible. It would only be because I don’t judge that I am allowed to do so.
Morals prevail over the two other aspects. Then, what is to phantasy remains to phantasy, and what is to physiological impulse has to be tamed, calmed, driven somewhere else, to an urge to occupy myself in another work.
Identity is composed by heterogenous spaces that are at the same time moral spaces, physical spaces and inevitably, physiological spaces – what I’m feeling inside. The better connected to each other, the more resilient identity is to shocks, and the more open it remains to learning more. It is also more confident as to the level of integration of the moral, physical and physiological values of its being inside of its social and natural environment.
The heterogenous social, natural and intimate spaces any individual experiences are either solved or damaged. If one of those spaces is determined by the privilege of the other(s) over me and it, their domination and their aggression stronger, it is a place where my capacity to action and realisation – as well as my being a person to be trusted for my capacity to listen and comfort – is a place that has been damaged. I am not safe there. However, I might be forced to go and be present there, suffering this moral, physical or physiological damage anyway.
This is where psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott’s false self takes place, a mask of patterned behaviour to prevent myself from being exposed on a more intimate level than the one I am capable to defend and protect. To a greater extent in pathological cases, this is where George Devereux’s and Darian Leader’s statements on the personal strategies of self-cure and self-protection prove right.
If I am hurt on such a level to a particular experience, in a place not communicated to the others and not connected to the rest of the network of identity, on any level whatsoever capable to resist, this particular spot in the unconscious will fall collapsing. And depending on the weight of it, the identity is at risk of collapsing as well.
On the contrary, even if a traumatic experience happens in my life, the fact that it should be nested enough in a tighter web – by the solidity and efficiency of my actions in the other spaces -, an effect of solidarity and share of the reception of the impact occurs. The physiological distress is redistributed to the stimulation and emulation of the other fields of my unconscious network. Then it would be more sustainable, and I am more resilient.
The mind as incarnate in the body and in the sensorimotor experience and ontogenic development has been notably put forward, as mentionned previously, by neurobiologist Francisco Varela. We also lean on Ellen Dissanayake’s neuroæsthetic studies as well as neurobiologist Gerald Edelman’s views on the necessity for the human mind to delay or lag neural responses to their environment.
Thus, this nesting of the three levels of the human experience is fundamental. Because no one of the aspects of this experience can be put aside. Everything is codependent, like a spider web. If a fly gets stuck in a part of the web that has not been successfully connected to the rest of it, it will damage the whole ensemble, and the spider won’t be able to correct it by getting to the trapped bug. It will have to wait until the damaged part of the web tears and falls apart. Then only, there could be a possibility to correct and rebuild, to refabricate with its own matter, its own fluids.
So is important the capacity to analyse the intrication everyone shares with the whole of humans’ social and moral structure we are aware of, because everyone comes to be for themselves a part of its centre. To recreate connections through positive corrective actions in the social world, which means we do not specify, allows us to create connections possible between spaces we thought there were no connections to be granted.
To shed light on a part of the landscape makes us more comfortable with communicating between and amongst them. We are able to move and importantly, to choose to move.
Then, we come with structure, rooted deep enough not having to think or mind it. It becomes genuinely part of us and thus, we become more open to other points of view.
1Inspired by Jaak Panksepp’s classification, in Jaak Panksepp, Stephen Asma, Glennon Curran, Rami Gabriel & Thomas Greif, The Philosophical Implications of Affective Neuroscience, « A Synopsis of Affective Neuroscience – Naturalizing the Mammalian Mind », Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2012.
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