Alva Noe say things that at first disturb me until I try to see them in my own life or as a reflection of my own beliefs. So among many of his opinions like on pg 83-84, at first I was a little disturbed by his statement following his discussion about Japanese children constantly pinging each other with their phones, and then extending this phenomena by saying, “siting at a computer, reading and typing could be a genuinely, active outgoing socially engaged mode of being. But after doing a little research I discovered that Noe is considered by some in his field to be of an ‘enactive’ mind set ( knowledge obtained through enacting with the environment is the best I can come up with). So the belief of a “presence in absence” would possibly be consistent with his beliefs. The question that comes to my mind was, “So Jeff, do you believe the possibility of something being present in your mind even though it is physically absent from your sight. All the time! As I write this my wife is out and about. Yet she exist in my mind because I am now distracted enough to think about her moving in space even though she is not physically present for me to see. But then I get confused, sciences such as quantum physics believe in things they have never seen, as does religion, when we get statements such as “faith is hope in that which we cannot see.” Are the validity of our mind’s thoughts just to be limited to what biology can produce, or knowledge that comes from interaction with our environment?
On Page 90 Noe says “words are meaningful…thanks to the existence of a social practice in which I’m allowed to participate.” I think he is only partially right here. I’d rather say , “Consciousness allows me to use words to participate in a social practice because I have a brain similar to others of my species. In this statement I have externalized consciousness both from the brain and the social practice. Is this possible? I like it because it avoids the duality…the either/ or arguments of Damasio and Noe regarding consciousness , by saying consciousness is a field like gravity or the strong force. It allows ‘ like things’ to come together in complex unions. Sometimes temporary, more often than not imperfect unions, but unions of like to like none the less. In the case of language, words are like (the yet to be discovered) Gravitons of gravity, that allow for the temporary attraction, coming together, working together, of a person to a person.
I remember reading somewhere in Out of Our Heads about our interaction with animals. We even sometimes think that words allows us to have a connection to our animals, along with our facial expressions and body posturing. Interestingly we cannot and do not just count on words…words are our conscious expression of a thought, the body posturing and facial expressions are our unconscious expression of a conscious thought. Some people cannot talk without using their hands…have you ever noticed how uncomfortable you feel about convey important information, especially of an emotional nature over the phone, or worse yet in an email.
For some reason writing about this made me wonder what it must have been like for young Western Union telegram delivery boys who had to deliver messages from the War Office during the two World Wars. Knowing that they were, more often than not, messages to a family about a son, or husband or father missing in action?
I think Noe sums up what his book is about on page 65. “…careful examination of the way experience and the brain’s activity depend on each other make plausible the idea that the brains job is, in effect, to coordinate our dealings with the environment. I’m not sure that my interaction with just the environment is enough to generate consciousness. Regretfully this statement, easy to read linguistically as the book is (vs. Damasio) , does not tells us how it happens. The focus seems to be on how things should not be thought about. Like Damasio’s work there is an explanation gap. Noe seems to touch around the edges, with stimulating questions implied in his statements which we still have to answer for ourselves or maybe with the next book on our reading list.