(these books are to be read in order and discussed in a dialogue setting)
This book is invaluable in how it chronicles the overshadowing of natural philosophy by the birthing of nominalism.
Welcome to Episode #5 of Mapping the Medium, titled ‘A Bird’s Eye View’. I’m Catherine Tyrrell.
It’s been more than a year since I’ve published a new episode, and I’d like to start by telling you about a few changes I’ve made. Please take some time to go to SynechismCenter.com and watch the introduction tour video that you’ll find featured there. My hope is that it will help you with navigating the sites and the many different information resources posted on them. There is also a link to the Center posted at the top of the ‘MappingtheMedium.com’ website.
In addition to the introduction tour video, I’ve also put together a supplemental review that you’ll see posted on all of the Center’s sites. Just look for the image of a heart with puzzle pieces. These periodic supplemental reviews will help to refresh your understanding as we move forward to future sets of episodes.
You may also notice some slight production differences in setup and sound. These are meant to be positive changes, but I’m certainly always open to your suggestions and feedback.
Please also keep in mind as we move on to this episode #5 and beyond, that you will probably feel a bit lost if you haven’t yet listened to the previous episodes. AND, if you decide to participate in any of the sites’ discussion pages, I’m certain that others will definitely appreciate it if you’ve actually listened to the material before posting comments and questions.
Speaking of questions… As I’ve done in other intros, I now have a question for you relating to a previous episode. This question actually refers to episodes 3 AND 4.
As I explained in Episode 3, sign observance, as the processing utilization of the semiotic scaffold that developed over an individual mind’s lifetime, and the interflow with others, as various life forms process information between each other respective to their ‘shared medium’, is, at its most fundamental engagement, biological dialogue. I expanded on this in Episode 4, when I explained how sign observance (semiotics), and the resulting processing of meaning, is ‘epi’, on top of or in addition to, archetypes as described by Carl Jung. I also touched briefly on some examples of archetypes, and I provided an analogy meant to illustrate the difference between semiotics and archetypes. Archetypes, being a deeply held reactionary perception common to all of a particular species, could be thought of like internal hardware, and semiotics (as sign observance) could be thought of like external software that more actively engages dialogically with others sharing the medium.
So here’s my question…..
Accepting that archetypes are impressive perceptions that are unconscious, and collectively shared by a particular species, and accepting that semiotics (sign observance) is the ‘epi’, interflowing biological dialogue of that same species, when we say that something is ‘universal’, aren’t we then saying that it is really only universal to human beings?
I’d love to read your response and additional thoughts. There are feedback sections on all of the Center’s sites, as explained in the SynechismCenter.com introduction video. I welcome you to post wherever you feel most comfortable.
Okay. Let’s get on with ‘A Bird’s Eye View’.
Once upon a time when pigs spoke rhyme
And monkeys chewed tobacco,
And hens took snuff to make them tough,
And ducks went quack, quack, quack, O!
This silly little children’s poem that begins the classic old fairy tale ‘The Magpie’s Nest’ also works rather well for us to begin our current topic. You can find this particular story on page 204, in a collection by Joseph Jacobs, published in 1890, and titled ‘English Fairy Tales’. Not only is it fascinating to explore the differences between children’s stories of that time with those of today, but it might even cause one to pause for a moment and imagine how different our culture might potentially be in another hundred and thirty years.
As much as I want to get on with our topic, I can’t help but stop here to point out something interesting at the very beginning of ‘English Fairy Tales’, where Joseph Jacobs explains how to get into the book. He writes,
“Knock at the Knocker on the Door,
Pull the Bell at the side,
Then, if you are very quiet, you will hear
a teeny tiny voice say through the grating
“Take down the Key.” ……
Hmm… How reminiscent that is of what we explored in Episode 2, ‘The Traveler and the Road’. We find ourselves once again following through with knocking on a door. And we even find ourselves once again in the company of a bird. The magpie in our current episode, however, is not flying up out of a turret. Now we will be exploring this particular bird species’ social intelligence, and even the interactive semiotic perceptions and displays characteristic of other bird species. The journey we took in episodes 1 through 4 walked us up to the door of recognition of the placement of our own perspective in relation to that of other human beings, in preparation of the complexities of the many future topics we will explore regarding human nature. Let us first work a little more on the humility aspect, by recognizing that universes of experience are not just limited to human beings. So for now, let’s try to understand them from ‘A Bird’s Eye View’.
In the story ‘The Magpie’s Nest’, all of the birds of the air came to the magpie and asked her to teach them how to build nests. These other birds were not magpies. And even though they were all birds, they were of many different varieties, which, in the course of each of their days, found themselves encountering very different events and experiences. The seeming intent of this story as it was written for children was to illustrate a spectrum range consisting of flighty impatience, focused logic, and inattentive rudeness. In keeping with the purposes of this episode however, we are going stay focused on the logic aspects. Besides, those who would land in the other positions on the spectrum are probably less likely to be listening to this podcast.
If you are not familiar with the magpie as a bird species, I encourage you to at least read the short article titled ‘Eurasian Magpie: A True Bird Brain, located at britannica.com/story/eurasian-magpie-a-true-bird-brain. The article explains that the Eurasian Magpie is one of the most intelligent of all animal species. Their brain-to-body-mass ratio equals that of the most intelligent marine mammals and great apes, and is only outmatched by the human species. They use tools, even devising utensils to assist in portioning the food that they feed to their young. They also imitate human speech, play games, work in teams, and when one of their own kind dies, they even gather to grieve with squawks and cries. Magpies are also one of only a few animal species to be able to pass the mirror test, having self-awareness, and understanding that their reflection is not that of another. Recent scientific research has been focusing on how the Australian Magpie’s cognitive performance is linked to group size. One article referencing this can be found at nature.com/articles/nature25503, explaining the ‘social brain’ theory that intelligence is related to societal complexity. I would argue that when it comes to groups of human beings, society is definitely becoming more and more complex. But when considering that science has also been concerned in recent years with what appears to be a drop in human attention span and intelligence, there must be something else going on which would explain this. If you would like to learn more about the drop in human intelligence and attention span, here are a couple of articles addressing these topics: sciencealert.com/iq-scores-falling-in-worrying-reversal-20th-century-intelligence-boom-flynn-effect-intelligence# and eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-04/tuod-aoi041119.php .
So the question inevitably becomes, “Why would the levels of human attention span and intelligence be dropping, when it’s so obvious that society is becoming more and more complex?” It is my hope that by this point in these episodes you’ve had a chance to read the information on the Discussion tab on SynechismCenter.com. There you will find links, videos, and a detailed explanation of what I would argue is the clear answer to this very concerning question.
Along with the links provided on the Discussion tab, we can also take a look at this from Charles Peirce’s perspective, as he did address the big picture of humanity’s wrong turn through his brilliant lens of logic. In realizing through his studies of history that this ‘turn’, likened to a ‘gripping of the wheel’, began to take place in the era of Scholasticism, when Catholic scholars devoted themselves to the study of Greek philosophy, trying to reach consensus on Plato, Aristotle, and the problem of ‘universals’ with that of the Christian Bible, Peirce chose this point in humanity’s intellectual development in which to apply his highly skilled logic. It’s important to note that Muslim and Jewish scholars also turned attention to this subject during the same time frame in humanity’s intellectual and religious studies as Scholasticism, and generally for the same reasons as the Catholics, to glean the aspects that would support their own cultural perspectives.
So it was that Peirce began his excavation and analysis of Scholasticism by reading what was and still is available to us of the perspective of one of its pioneers, Peter Abelard. You can read what Peirce himself read of Abelard’s ‘Historia Calamitatum’, aka ‘A History of My Calamities’, by following this free link at gutenberg.org/ebooks/14268. Peirce spoke of his impressions of Scholasticism and of Abelard regarding the ‘problem of universals’ in his ‘How to Make Our Ideas Clear’. … And I quote…
“Thus, even the scanty records we possess of those disputes enable us to make out a dozen or more opinions held by different teachers at one time concerning the question of nominalism and realism. Read the opening part of the Historia Calamitatum of Abelard, who was certainly as philosophical as any of his contemporaries, and see the spirit of combat which it breathes. For him, the truth is simply his particular stronghold. When the method of authority prevailed, the truth meant little more than the Catholic faith. All the efforts of the scholastic doctors are directed toward harmonizing their faith in Aristotle and their faith in the Church, and one may search their ponderous folios through without finding an argument which goes any further.”
What Peirce is pointing out to us here is that throughout the history of dogmatic perspectives, it is clear that we, as the whole of humanity, do ourselves a serious injustice when as individuals and collectives we constantly justify and reinforce beliefs only for the sake of holding on to them.
At this point in this episode, it would be wise for us to revisit something discussed in Episode 4 of this podcast, when I explained how it is because of our individually unique semiotic cognitive scaffolding that emerged and evolved as we each mapped our medium over the course of our lives, hence developing completely individualized models of the world, effectively placing each of us in the universal extension of thought like points on a web, and how really recognizing this provides the wonderful opportunity to step beyond cultural and individualized barriers. And in doing so, we begin to understand that what is considered ‘universal’ to humanity is not the same as ‘universes of experience’. By focusing on the ‘universal’ from the limited and subjective point of view of what it means to only human existence, we have not been able to step beyond that subjective self and understand the Universe as it really is, the slight differences for each human, and the gradient differences in the spectrum range of all other life forms. THIS is why philosophy in its general history has never solved the ‘problem of universals’. The arrogance that is human exceptionalism is directly responsible for our inability to understand the damage that our powerful but ignorant actions can have on all of life, human and otherwise.
So what does it mean to think of the Universe from some other life form’s perspective, say from ‘A Bird’s Eye View’? How would we start? We can’t possibly really know what it’s like to live within a bird’s body, to see the huge spectrum of colors and recognize atmospheric changes through the very different optical lens’ of their eyes and the sensory perceptions of their feathers, or even hear the myriad of sounds tuned to the same frequencies of that of bird songs by listening through the more limited ears of a human being, but we can get closer to understanding their perspectives by bringing the complexity of this problem down to what it is we do have in common with all other life forms, and then applying the cognitive tools we discussed in Episode 4. I am referring here to that of archetypes and semiotics.
Now it is true that we can only imagine what archetypal representations might be perceived within the unconscious depths of a bird’s mind, so perhaps it would be helpful for us to consider using an analogy in regard to this question. Let’s compare, for example, how a human being might respond to the ‘garden’ archetype, or the very common literary usage of an ‘oasis’, or even a ‘well’. We should easily be able to understand the unconscious, and very primitive, quenching or place of gathering that these archetypes bring to mind due to thousands of years of evolutionary ‘habit’ ingrained in these representations. They are representations that have epigenetically influenced the collective psyches of our species because of the repeated understanding of the meanings they hold. Just as how repeated events for the individual mind become ingrained in the neural network during childhood development as we reviewed in Episode 1, evolutionary processes, and the habitual nature that reinforces the recognition of an archetype, also become ingrained in the collective induction of a species. As Charles Peirce explained, and I quote…
“Thus the formations of a habit is an induction, and is therefore necessarily connected with attention and abstraction. Voluntary actions result from the sensations produced by habit, as instructive actions result from our original nature.”
THIS was the important point that Episode 4 pointed to in ‘Peter and the Wolf’, about how we can understand the archetypal representations of the sounds of the different musical instruments, without needing to see images or hear words. THIS ingrained law of habit is an example of one of Peirce’s three categories of universes of experience. This is Thirdness.
Instinct is an instructive, involuntary response from a life form’s original nature, but Induction emerges beyond instinct, by perceiving, paying attention to, and responding voluntarily, while preceding and then initiating the abstraction of further information, acting as a bridge between instinct and abductive inference. Therefore, induction is not conscious, just as riding a bike or driving a car becomes so habitual that you are not conscious of every movement. Our actions respond according to the law of habit. To reiterate, law as this is an example of Thirdness.
It’s also extremely important that we understand how Thirdness operates both bottom up AND top down. An example of this would be that from one direction we can note the bottom up expression of an archetypal representation coming up from the unconscious, such as the musician’s process of selecting and playing the flute to represent the bird in Peter and the Wolf, or from the direction of the listener we can note the top down perception as the understanding of the flute as the sound of the bird. Both representation and understanding emerge and take hold without us consciously thinking about them. Either can say after the fact that “the flute sounds like a bird”, but the inductive inference emerged from the unconscious before the abductive inference became conscious.
How this acts within a collective group is what Jung meant by collective unconscious. This is habit as it applies to a culture or society. This is species relative Thirdness. And, as I’ve not yet seen or read elsewhere what I’m about to say here, either written or discussed, I will now posit that a recognized cultural symbol is actually a manifested collective induction. And as we discussed in Episode 3, semiosis as biological dialogue has reached a level of complexity in human beings that has become language, so I suggest that the evolutionary counterpart that is archetypal representation has reached the level of complexity in human beings that has become symbols. It’s also important to note here that both Peirce and Jung included imagination as a very important aspect of these bottom up and top down reasoning processes towards reaching a belief that will ultimately ignite purposive action.
As I stated earlier, we can only imagine what perception might be like from the perspective of a bird, so I would suggest that when we are trying to understand the perspective of another, whether human or otherwise, we should start with a commonality. That being said, when considering my prior references to archetypal gardens, oases, and wells, might a backyard bird bath be a comparable archetypal representation for us to use in our analysis? Human beings have been intentionally creating bird baths for as long as anyone can remember. The earliest forms were simply depressions dug into the ground. Then in 1830, almost two hundred years ago, came the first creation of a bird bath on a pedestal. It would certainly seem that enough time and evolutionary process has gone by for the bird bath to take its place in the collective induction of backyard song birds. To these birds, a bird bath might actually carry even more in the way of additional meanings than we as human beings can only imagine, but if we take the commonalities of quenching and gathering as a primitive necessities and purposes for action, and realize that this also applies as habitual meaning for any life form, it would make sense that in this case we can get closer to understanding how such an archetypal representation might be seen from the perspective of a bird.
But what about the gradient difference between an unconscious collective induction and a manifested collective induction, as in what I posited about symbols? Science has confirmed that several animal species can understand and communicate with humans using human symbols, but is collectively inductive manifestation of archetypal representation only present in human beings? I would argue that we should consider what science has observed in the mating behavior of the White-spotted Pufferfish, who creates elaborate circular patterns on the ocean floor to attract a mate, and the many intricate dances and feather displays of various species of birds, or even the more specific example of the Satin Bowerbird’s collection and offering of only blue objects to its mate. Each of these behaviors may not have reached the level of complexity comparable to human symbolism, but they carry meaning that is collectively understood within those species. I suggest that these behaviors are emergent collective inductions that evolutionarily speaking are less complex examples of collectively inductive manifestations. Per the analogy I put forth in Episode 4, the gradient emergence illustrated in these spectrums of different species is where the so-mentioned hardware connects to the software, where archetypal representations evolve and expand into connective sign observance, where primordial instinct converges and develops into inductive, abductive, and deductive reasoning, and how individual differences ‘form’ according to the influence of events and environment. This emergence from bottom up ultimately becomes a culture specific semiosphere, where the give and take dialogue of semiosis feeds top down back to the base organism. If we turn this self-sustaining system upside down, what is bottom becomes top, and vice versa, illustrating that it is clearly irreducible. And on the grander scale, when we pan out and view this as the genetic and epigenetic gradient spectrum that encompasses all life forms, we can clearly see that there is continuity in all that exists. Just imagine what lies beyond what we as only human can perceive.
To sum up these very important points, Thirdness cannot be escaped. It renounces human exceptionalism, solves the problem of universals because it explains how all that exists is a continuous, gradient spectrum that cannot be reduced to particulars, and is the archical momentum in the manifestation of physical, conscious, and unconscious forms. The nominalist materialism and reductionism approach that developed because of human beings’ desire to elevate themselves to an exceptional status among life forms, and its view that all that exists are only individuals and particulars to be judged and hierarchized to support the instant gratification benefit of this human exceptionalism, is a blinders wearing, severely disabled view, and its severing nature is tragically destructive, not only to humanity, but to all other life within our Medium. Nominalism is the proverbial ‘bull in a china shop’.
With a now much broader and clearer perspective, let’s set the bull that is nominalism aside for a moment and revisit our story of ‘The Magpie’s Nest’. All of the birds of the air came to the magpie and asked her to teach them how to build nests, but these other birds were not magpies, even though they were all birds. They were of many different species, and in the course of each of their days, they found themselves encountering very different events and experiences. Perhaps we can now understand that what we previously viewed as flighty impatience or inattentive rudeness towards the magpie by the other birds, could also be seen as the unwillingness or the inability of the instructing magpie to find a common perspective with which all of the birds could start from and then perceptively learn together. It seems that they all needed to understand that exceptionalism keeps everyone from reaching their full potential.
Thank you for listening to this episode of Mapping the Medium. I hope you will consider sharing it with others. If you would like to post your thoughts, questions, or show your support by donating or sponsoring, please visit mappingthemedium.com.
Until next time, be well, be safe, be inquisitive, dialogue with others of different perspectives, and always be sure to steer clear of that bull.
Okay, so let’s take what these noted thinkers had to say about our ‘map-medium’ relationship and revisit our developing child. … His cognitive map began prenatally, according to his perceived environment. That continued into his early childhood, mapping his place in a much larger expanse, and trying to navigate his ‘perceived’ medium accordingly. And although actual brain ‘growth’ does slow after early childhood, cognitive mapping continues. Every perception of every event, and the perception of the environmental circumstances surrounding each event, is incorporated into his already ingrained cognitive map, and attached to a previously understood, or often ‘misunderstood’, perspective, reinforcing it, and ultimately affecting the way future experiences and perceptions are processed, incorporated, and mapped. … What all of this boils down to is that the ‘true’ medium is ‘always’ cloaked, and is not ‘possibly’ accessible to any ‘one’ individual’s cognitive map. .. The way we ‘each’, as ‘individuals’, see the world, is never the actual ‘reality’ of the medium, no matter who we are, what experiences, or even what opportunities, we may have.
Once the fifteen minutes had gone by, they were standing ready to report their chosen names. A representative from each color stepped forward. First to speak was the color orange. … “It didn’t take us long to figure out how much we have in common,” he said. “We actually know of each other. … Although we’re not close friends, we all attended the same military boot camp, and we all belong to the same hunting club. We have all, at one time or another, hunted here, on this hundred acre parcel. And we’d like to be known as The Hunters.”…. Next to speak was the color green. ….. “It is similar with us,” she said “in that we are not close friends, but we all know of each other. We graduated in the same class from an Ivy League college, and we all pursued careers in academia. Not only are we all environmentally conscious intellectuals, but every one of us, at one time or another, has fished for trout in the river that winds through this tract of land. .. Therefore, you can refer to us as The Fishers of Trout.”… And then an older woman holding a purple envelope stepped forward. . “We also know about each other, she said, “We all come from the poor side of town, and we all belong to the same house of worship there. Our strong sense of community has helped us survive. And each of us, when we were children, at one time or another picked blackberries on this land, to sell at a fruit stand and help buy our new school clothes for the coming year. We would really like for you to call us The Berry Pickers.” … And lastly, a smiling young man bounced forward to speak. ..”All of us yellow ones can tell you story after story about the fun times we’ve had on this hundred acres. Running through the woods, climbing trees, ‘eating’ those blackberries, and swimming in the best swimming hole anywhere! So sure,” he grinned, as he turned away to high five the others, “I guess you can just call us The Swimming Holers.”… Now that everyone had had a chance to speak, the Proposer began explaining the final details of the instructions. …
So, what of ‘choices’? In today’s complicated world, trying to stay alert in an atmosphere of constant distractions, trying to discern truth, and trying to choose the least harmful directions for self, let alone society, can seem like such a daunting challenge. But perhaps this is a self-inflicted paradox. .. Many try to ease this mental burden by pointing out the deficiencies in others in order to point that same finger away from the mirror of self, but this is circular reasoning. If everyone is doing that, nothing gets accomplished. Whereas, we might actually find a different perspective, one that generates real momentum, through an exercise in humility.
What I am referring to is a seed of thought that developed in the 14th century and sprouted the ontological individualism that I referred to in episode one.
As specific topic opportunities arise, we will explore more of those details in the future. And like a sleuth, we can uncover interesting human activities that clearly exhibit it. And they are, not surprisingly, everywhere!
… in which he raises issues of cultural relativity, responsibility, self and other, the moral significance of outsidedness, participatory thinking, and the implications of the individual having “no alibi in existence”.
… how we approach a ‘choice path’. Do we think of it as Bakhtin’s “obligatory ought”, knowing that each step along the way impacts the medium as a whole, or do we just follow along distractedly and then profess claim or blame in hindsight down the road? The point seems to be that our individual journey (way leads on to way) can only ever be taken by one traveler. But if hundreds, thousands, or millions each understood that because of our individual relations to the whole, how strongly small choices can influence other events, how no one else is standing at that particular place in existence and can do what can only be done by the one traveler, and then actually realize those ‘obligatory oughts’, .. That’s exactly how we will leave those side by side footprints of intention…
An icon is a sign that refers through similarity to its object. Some examples of an icon are a portrait, or a diagram, such as a portrait of Jesus or a diagram of a human heart. … An index is a sign that refers through factual connection to its object. For example, where there’s smoke there’s fire, or footprints in the sand indicating that a person had been there. . … And a symbol is a sign that refers to its object through interpretive habit or norm. Some examples of a symbol would be a crucifix, the Star of David, or a peace sign. If you were an alien from outer space, a crucifix, Star of David, or a peace sign might only look to you like lines drawn in a particular arrangement. The meanings they hold are relative only to cultural conventions.
What all of these types of signs have in common is that they are all relative to a person’s experience, and how those building blocks of inference have shaped the cognitive mapping in an individual’s mind as an ‘extension’ of the person’s culture. To reference Gregory Bateson again, you may think you’re thinking your own thoughts, but you’re not. You’re thinking your culture’s thoughts. Biology and the understanding of emergence, process, and relational dynamics is quite clear on the matter of ‘thought and extension’. There is no detached individual, and it is through our observance of ‘otherness’ that we develop a sense of ‘self’ in relation to that which is ‘not self’. Sign observance is inference processing of the otherness that is the medium we are navigating, and it is how we orient what we know of ‘self’, and recognize that among others we too are alive. It is the mechanism by which everything is born, interacts, grows, and dies. In essence it is biological dialogue… that begins simply and develops into more complex systems. In human beings it has reached the level of complexity that has become language. This being the reason dialogue is so crucial to a healthy society.
As I explained in previous episodes, we each have a multi-layered and multi-dimensional semiotic ‘scaffold’ in our individual minds that has exponentiated during our lifetime of interactions and cognitive mapping, resulting in individualized ‘models’ of the Medium reality that affects our personal perspectives on the world around us. This is what effectively ‘places’ each of us in our relational positions in the universal extension of thought. And when we ‘know’ this and are aware of the effects of this, we can then improve our ability to better recognize what actually lies ‘outside’ of our individual perspective….
To understand this means to understand that even in the case of what appears to be a contrary, something is only recognized as a contrary in ‘relation’ to that which appears to be its opposite. This can be applied when considering a musical ‘moment’, which is typically heard as ‘standing alone’ within the larger composition. This can also be applied to the importance of the silence between notes. There is no ‘standing alone’ or ‘silence’ without that which is not standing alone, or that which is actually a played note. There is always a relationship between what appears to be contraries, meaning there is always ‘continuity’ in all things. Stop here for a moment and think of what we reviewed in episode 3 about how we recognize ‘self’ only in relation to that which is ‘not self’.
Because it is innate human nature to look for, recognize, and differentiate patterns and signs. It’s extremely important that we use this gift to ‘gather’ our understandings, not separate them. Nature constantly hints at this not only on the backs and bellies of spiders, but from every angle of our perception. We need only to pay attention.
Hello, and welcome to the online version of the Synechism Center for Learning and Dialogue. I’m Catherine Tyrrell.
Before diving in to explore the Center on your own, I do hope you will allow me a moment to show you around a bit with this short introduction.
You may be watching this on YouTube, listening to this through MappingtheMedium.com, or reading this on CulturalMetapatterns.com, but however you found your way here, it truly means a lot to me that you did.
The Synechism Center for Learning and Dialogue was designed to be useful to people coming from many different perspectives, languages, and cultures. To accomplish this goal, each of the sites are set up for a different means of perception. One for viewing, one for listening, and one for reading.
The YouTube site at SynechismCenter.com provides Mapping the Medium audio episodes, channel links to specific topics, an interactive discussion page that I really hope you will visit, and a learning library playlist for those who want to explore advanced understanding of the various topics discussed. Please keep in mind that the Mapping the Medium first four episodes were not originally formatted for YouTube, but I encourage you to listen to them anyway because they include important information that pertains to future episodes.
The podcast website at MappingtheMedium.com is what feeds out to the many different podcast platforms around the world. There you can download episodes, comment on specific episodes, or use the contact form to send me a direct message.
The blog site at CulturalMetapatterns.com is where the written transcripts are posted. Non-English speaking visitors may find this to be a convenient way to translate the episodes. This is also where you can go to easily find and retrieve written web addresses to articles and papers that I may refer to in the audio episodes. Scholarly web addresses can be lengthy, so please go to the written transcript before deciding to skip something important because of having to write it down from listening to the audio. There is also a contact form there as well, for anyone who may want to send me a direct message from the site.
And lastly, those who enjoy social media may want to visit the Center’s Facebook page at facebook.com/SynechismCenter. There you will find a variety of posts that relate to our discussion topics, as well as the additional opportunity to interact with others. Dialogue is key, and very much encouraged.
That concludes our tour of the online Synechism Center for Learning and Dialogue. Get comfortable, and stay as long as you like.
Photo by Pok Rie
Welcome back, and thank you for joining me for Episode #4. …
As I do in the beginning of every episode, there are three things I need to address before we can get to the main body of our topic. … Firstly, I want to remind anyone who may be new to listening to this podcast that you might have difficulty following along if you’ve not heard the previous episodes in the order of their release dates. I truly appreciate your willingness to do that, as your ability to understand these topics is very important, and each episode provides crucial bits of insight into the subsequent ones. . … Secondly, as always, I have a question for you that relates to a previous episode. This one pertains to episode #3, ‘Do You Hear What I hear?’. .. Here it is. .. If you happen to be outside and turn over a log in a wood pile, and see a black spider with a red hourglass on its belly, what type of sign would the red hourglass be? You can respond on this episode’s ‘read more’ link on mappingthemedium.com, or beneath this blog posting on culturalmetapatterns.com. I look forward to reading your thoughts. .. And now, thirdly, here’s a little insight into what this new episode #4 is about. … In order for you to get the most out of our current topic, I’m going to ask you to do something a little different. It will take a bit more of your time, but I hope you will find it enjoyable. .. Since this ‘piece’ I want you to hear is not yet on public domain where I can include excerpts in this podcast, I ask that you please go to the following web address and listen to what you find there. So grab a notepad and jot this down. Here is the address.
Once you’ve gone there and listened to the piece, I’ll meet you back here and we’ll pick up where we left off, exploring and mapping ‘A Musical Moment’. See you then!
Ok, now that we’re back from our online field trip, let’s get on with our topic. …. If you’ve heard ‘Peter and the Wolf’ before, I certainly hope that brought back wonderful memories for you. And if you haven’t heard it before, I certainly hope you enjoyed exploring music in this very innocent way. .. ‘Innocence’ is really the best mindset for us to wear when gearing up to explore the many facets of semiotics and ‘archetypes’. …
As I explained in previous episodes, we each have a multi-layered and multi-dimensional semiotic ‘scaffold’ in our individual minds that has exponentiated during our lifetime of interactions and cognitive mapping, resulting in individualized ‘models’ of the Medium reality that affects our personal perspectives on the world around us. This is what effectively ‘places’ each of us in our relational positions in the universal extension of thought. And when we ‘know’ this and are aware of the effects of this, we can then improve our ability to better recognize what actually lies ‘outside’ of our individual perspective and is ‘universal’ to ‘all’ human beings.
In episode #3, we briefly touched on some very basic elements of semiotics in order to introduce you to the mechanism that generates the momentum for what we sense as cause and effect in our individual perceptions. We will expand on our understanding of semiotics in future episodes of this podcast, but it’s important that we parallel that understanding as we go forward with the difference between semiotics and the more universal mechanism of ‘archetypes’. So it is in this episode that we will explore the very basics of ‘archetypes’, and music is definitely an aesthetically pleasing way for us to do that. …
Born into the late 19th century, but with his most profound work taking place in the mid 20th century, Carl Gustav Jung became a renowned Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, whose work was influential in the fields of psychiatry, anthropology, archaeology, literature, philosophy, and religious studies. There are many aspects of Jung’s work that relate to so much of what we will explore in this podcast, and I definitely recommend that you consider learning about this brilliant man if you are not already familiar with him. For now we are only going to focus on Jung’s ideas and perspectives regarding ‘archetypes’ and their relations to what Jung called the ‘collective unconscious’.
Archetypes are primitive, collectively inherited, unconscious ideas, patterns of thought, images, etc., that are universally present in individual psyches, and are a worldwide recurring motif in literature, art, mythology, and religion. There are many different kinds of archetypes, but they are all unconscious, cognitive models, after which other things are patterned. They can be categorized as settings, situations, or something symbolic. Here are some examples of archetypes; a garden, a mountain, a quest, a martyr, a damsel in distress, a savior, fire, water, wilderness, a tyrant, a wizard, and many more. They recur in all global cultures, religions, and societies. Collectively, archetypes are the primitive, base footers on which semiotic, cognitive scaffolding attaches and develops.
If we were to try and apply a commonly understood, modern analogy to the relationship between semiotics and archetypes, semiotics might be thought of as the cognitive mapping ‘software’ that engages in an exchange of activity that is external to ‘self’, while ‘archetypes’ might be thought of as the cognitive mapping ‘internal’ hardware, that is fundamental to knowledge as a ‘collective’, and provides the platform for what arises as semiotic cause and effect. Let me explain more of how I come to this analogy, but in order to do that I will need to backtrack a little to a field of study I mentioned in episode #1; Epigenetics’. ….
Epigenetics is the study of changes in organisms cause by ‘modification’ to gene expression, rather than alterations to the genetic code itself. The Greek prefix ‘epi’ in epigenetics refers to features that are ‘on top of’ or ‘in addition to’ the genetic basis for inheritance. What’s fascinating about this field of research is how these scientific discoveries are confirming that there is ‘continuity’ in all things, and every ‘thing’ is just an aspect or ‘mode’ of the greater Whole. For example, in a December 1st, 2013 Nature Neuroscience article, located online at http://www.nature.com/articles/nn.3603, researchers found that when mice are taught to fear a particular odor, both their offspring and the next generation are subsequently born fearing that same odor. The findings indicate that environmental information may be inherited transgenerationally. And in a more recent study published in the scientific journal ‘Cell’, found at www.cell.com/cell/pdf/S0092-8674(19)30448-9.pdf, researchers confirmed that the nervous system ‘can’ transmit messages to future generations.
If we look at this with a parallel frame of mind regarding semiotics and archetypes, we can consider how semiotics is ‘epi’, or ‘on top of’ or ‘in addition to’ primitive archetypes. In other words, what makes our species ‘human’ in a genetic sense is our common genetic code, and what makes our species human in a cognitive sense is our primitive and collectively common archetypes. Our genes are influenced by our environment, or Medium, per epigenetics, and expressed as creative diversity manifested over and above genetic copies. Our collective, cognitive foundation (archetypes) is also influenced by our environment, or Medium, per semiotics, and expressed as creatively diverse ideas, and manifested in our verbal, non-verbal, and written dialogue.
I imagine that right about now you might be asking yourself, “What does all of this have to do with music?” Carl Jung had no skills as a musician, but he had an understanding of music’s emotional power. He did express his thoughts on this matter in a letter he wrote January 20th, 1950 to author Serge Moreux about how music is an expression of the emotive aspects of the collective unconscious. And I quote:
“Dear M. Moreux,
While I thank you for your kind letter, I must tell you that unfortunately I am obliged to limit my activity for reasons of age and health, and so it will not be possible for me to write an article for the projected number of Polyphonie.
Music certainly has to do with the collective unconscious-as the drama does too; this is evident in Wagner, for example.
Music expresses, in some way, the movement of the feelings (or emotional values) that cling to the unconscious processes.
The nature of what happens in the collective unconscious is archetypal, and archetypes always have a numinous quality that expresses itself in emotional stress.
Music expresses in sounds what fantasies and visions express in visual images.
I am not a musician and would not be able to develop these ideas for you in detail.
I can only draw your attention to the fact that music represents the movement, development, and transformation of motifs of the collective unconscious.
In Wagner this is very clear and also in Beethoven, but one finds it equally in Bach’s “Kunst der Fuge.”
The circular character of the unconscious processes is expressed in the musical form; as for example in the sonata’s four movements, or the perfect circular arrangement of the “Kunst der Fuge,” etc.
I am with best regards,
Side note: You can reference this letter by researching Carl Jung, Letters Vol. 1, Page 542.
As we have touched on previously, semiotics dates back to the origins of biological dialogue, and according to Carl Jung, archetypes are the anchors of primitive pattern recognition in human beings. …. Noting that archeologists have uncovered bone flutes dating back to 45,000 years BCE during the Paleolithic era, it’s clear that music is an innate aspect of our base organism. Listening to and exploring the sounds in Peter and the Wolf is a great way to discover how ‘tone’ touches us in our understanding of archetypes. The sounds of the instruments assigned to each of the creatures in the story as representing archetypal, primitive knowledge of the physical characteristics of those creatures, and the way the melodies are played according to the actions of each creature, quickly takes over the narrative, and we can follow the tones in the story without the actual semiotic signs, or words. When the words do follow in parallel unison with the melody, we ‘feel’ how both are tugged from our emotional core, and elicit a trinity response. This manifests as the epigenetic influence of the ‘sensory sound’ of the Medium, the cognitive influence of the ‘semiotic expression’, and the emotional response as we follow the flowing, suspended ‘potential’ of the melody. In starting with an innocent reflection of a piece like Peter and the Wolf, we can then expand on that and better understand how a more complex piece of music, or a different type of cultural genre of music, is artistically expressed and received by humans from a perspective relative to their placement within the Medium.
Expression and reception of music can be more deeply examined by reflecting on them together as a Janus-like, cosmic law. For ease of your research, the spelling of Janus is J-A-N-U-S . . To understand this means to understand that even in the case of what appears to be a contrary, something is only recognized as a contrary in ‘relation’ to that which appears to be its opposite. This can be applied when considering a musical ‘moment’, which is typically heard as ‘standing alone’ within the larger composition. This can also be applied to the importance of the silence between notes. There is no ‘standing alone’ or ‘silence’ without that which is not standing alone, or that which is actually a played note. There is always a relationship between what appears to be contraries, meaning there is always ‘continuity’ in all things. Stop here for a moment and think of what we reviewed in episode 3 about how we recognize ‘self’ only in relation to that which is ‘not self’. . .. This is also a good place in this podcast for me to mention Charles S. Peirce’s three ‘categories’ of Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness. … I encourage you to read more about these, as we will delve into them in later episodes down the road. But before we do that, we will need to incorporate many other beautiful, parallel topics, into our map legend, color being one example. There are many additional tools needed for our journey. …But with regard to music, it’s also interesting to consider how it relates to patterns of sound throughout nature and all of the various life forms. There is even recent research being conducted in the field of ‘plant bioacoustics’, indicating that plants and fungi may share information acoustically as well as chemically.
So in the spirit of Janus and what Carl Jung referred to as the ‘circular character of the unconscious processes”, and in order to bring us full circle back to my opening statements in this episode, I present now a short piece of music played by a single stringed instrument that just happens to connect back to my opening words. While you are listening to this music, see if you can make that connection.
Now, from a child-like, innocent perspective, imagine the poisonous brown recluse spider, taking a bow, after playing that beautiful music with the violin that he carries on his back, and ask yourself, why do we recognize the sign of a violin on his back versus just an oddly shaped brown marking. Because it is innate human nature to look for, recognize, and differentiate patterns and signs. It’s extremely important that we use this gift to ‘gather’ our understandings, not separate them. Nature constantly hints at this not only on the backs and bellies of spiders, but from every angle of our perception. We need only to pay attention.
Thank you for listening to this episode of Mapping the Medium. I hope you will consider sharing it with others. If you have interest in being a guest on this podcast, or would like to share your thoughts or show your support by donating or sponsoring, please visit http://www.mappingthemedium.com.
Until next time, be well, be safe, be inquisitive, dialogue with others of different perspectives, and never forget to listen for the music.
Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán
Welcome back, and thank you for joining me again. It does mean a lot to me that you are here, and it’s also very important to me that you find each episode interesting and valuable. .. So I’d like to mention to you that if you’re just now joining in as a listener, and you’ve not yet heard any of the previous episodes, you might not fully recognize all the references as we go forward. So I hope you’ll consider listening to this podcast in order of the release dates. That way you can get the most out of it. You’ll also be more likely to answer the questions that I regularly pose in my opening comments. …Today’s question about a previous episode ‘flows’ perfectly into our next subject matter. Listen to this sound, and think of how it relates to episode #1, ‘A Place to Begin’. Once you’ve determined what the sound is, then think about the name of the group associated with it, and whether or not you might read anything else into that name. Please leave your comments under this episode listing on mappingthemedium.com. .. OK. Here’s the sound. … (STREAM) …….. It sounds like a nice place to be, doesn’t it? …. In addition to mappingthemedium.com, where I can read your comments and we can correspond dialogically, I also have a blog site, where I will soon be posting all of the transcripts from this podcast. You can find it at culturalmetapatterns (that’s all one word, no dots or underscores), culturalmetapatterns.com. You’re welcome to post your comments there as well. I do hope you’ll check it out. . …. Ok. Now let’s move on to ‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’.
Here now is another sound for us to consider….
Ah… If you listened to episode #2, ‘The Traveler and The Road’, you probably recognize my reference and reason for using this sound. We know it as the traveler leaving the scene, after no one responded to his ‘keeping his word’. So in this sound of ‘plunging hooves’, we might hear resolve, perhaps frustration, or even determination, to get past it and move forward. …. We can understand this sound reference only because we associate it with the last episode of this podcast. But what if we considered this same sound under a different context? Such as the American Indian Wars, the Scottish Border Reivers during the 16th century, or even ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’? Whether it’s a sound, a smell, a color, a pattern, or the combination of all of these wrapped up into human being’s spoken or written shorthand, that being a word,… (For instance, the word ‘sizzle’ immediately makes most people think of the sound, sight, smell, and color of frying bacon). … This all leads us to ask the question, “What is it in our perception that elicits an immediate understanding and cognitive ‘mapping’ of the meaning that lies behind these separate or combined stimuli?
To understand and answer this question, we need to explore the work of a fascinating individual. … Charles Sanders Peirce. For ease of your research, his last name is spelled P-e-i-r-c-e, but pronounced ‘Purse’, like a lady’s handbag. He was a brilliant and deeply profound American philosopher, scientist, mathematician, and first and foremost, an astounding logician, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Because he was so far ahead of his time, and his insights were not easily understood by the academic culture of his day, his ability to obtain tenured employment was severely hindered, resulting in a very difficult life of poverty in his older years. In spite of that, he continued to spend his time working on his system of thought, documenting his insights, lecturing when he could, and submitting papers to philosophical and scientific journals. We are very fortunate that his wife saved his extensive volumes of work, later donating them to academia. Even though Peirce was overshadowed during his lifetime and little known for many years following his death, many scholars today regard him as America’s most brilliant logician and one of the world’s greatest philosophers. If you are not familiar with him, I strongly encourage to learn more about this brilliant man’s mind. Of his many contributions, and there are so many that scholars around the world are finding extremely valuable, one of his most well-known is ‘semiotics’, which is the ‘philosophical study of signs’. The term derives from the Greek version of the word meaning “observant of signs”, and it was first used in English prior to 1676 by physician, writer, and scholar, Henry Stubbes, to denote the branch of medical science relating to the interpretation of signs. English philosopher and physician, John Locke, later used the term in book 4 chapter 21 of ‘An Essay Concerning Human Understanding”. .. Charles Peirce’s work on semiotics, however, proposed extensive definitions of the signs, and he understood them as the building blocks of inference. Stop for just a moment here and think about how you ‘inferred’ the meanings behind the sounds of the stream and the horse hooves as you associated them with previous episodes of this podcast. .. We will certainly explore in more depth Peirce’s definitions and the building blocks of inference as further opportunities arise in this podcast’s future, but for now we will just start with understanding these three types of how a sign stands for its denoted object; whether as an icon, an index, or a symbol, and how these might be considered in relation to sounds that cause us to ‘infer’ and reach conclusions that map our understanding as we interact with others and the world around us. … An icon is a sign that refers through similarity to its object. Some examples of an icon are a portrait, or a diagram, such as a portrait of Jesus or a diagram of a human heart. … An index is a sign that refers through factual connection to its object. For example, where there’s smoke there’s fire, or footprints in the sand indicating that a person had been there. . … And a symbol is a sign that refers to its object through interpretive habit or norm. Some examples of a symbol would be a crucifix, the Star of David, or a peace sign. If you were an alien from outer space, a crucifix, Star of David, or a peace sign might only look to you like lines drawn in a particular arrangement. The meanings they hold are relative only to cultural conventions.
What all of these types of signs have in common is that they are all relative to a person’s experience, and how those building blocks of inference have shaped the cognitive mapping in an individual’s mind as an ‘extension’ of the person’s culture. To reference Gregory Bateson again, you may think you’re thinking your own thoughts, but you’re not. You’re thinking your culture’s thoughts. Biology and the understanding of emergence, process, and relational dynamics is quite clear on the matter of ‘thought and extension’. There is no detached individual, and it is through our observance of ‘otherness’ that we develop a sense of ‘self’ in relation to that which is ‘not self’. Sign observance is inference processing of the otherness that is the medium we are navigating, and it is how we orient what we know of ‘self’, and recognize that among others we too are alive. It is the mechanism by which everything is born, interacts, grows, and dies. In essence it is biological dialogue… that begins simply and develops into more complex systems. In human beings it has reached the level of complexity that has become language. This being the reason dialogue is so crucial to a healthy society. … And by written word, one human being can express and communicate to another human being the types of signs that are icon, index, and symbol into a quick to communicate package consisting of only a few letters. The power in that can have much more impact than we often realize, and can be either nurturing or destructive. … So it was that, in the beginning, there really was the Word, as in ‘sign’, and creation cannot exist without semiosis. It is an innate aspect of our being. Charles Peirce held that “The entire universe is perfused with signs, if it is not composed exclusively of signs.” Semiotic causality is what we cognitively experience as the flowing, universal momentum of cause and effect determinism. And as Mikhail Bakhtin said, “The better a person understands his determinism (his thingness), the closer he is to understanding and realizing his true freedom.” … When we realize that what we ‘think’ is our individual mind when we hear, read, or encounter something with our senses, is actually inferences we make based on cognitive, semiotic cause and effect scaffolding within our own mind (and that of other minds that by way of extension we have incorporated into our own), we can better understand how our expressions and reactions are then received by others, ultimately creating a more responsible culture.
So as we once again listen to the horse hooves as the traveler rides away, think about what you infer from this sound from your current perspective placement in the universal extension of thought. Can you recognize the influence of others in your thoughts about the sound? Can you separate the sound from all that you are inferring, making it purely sound with no meaning at all? You can’t, can you? Practice doing this a few times each day with something you see, read, or hear. Your world will soon seem bigger, more colorful, and much more dynamic. And with all of that, your perspective on the challenges we face today will change as well, and you’ll soon find that your input is much more effective, especially when you can find others who are doing the same.
Thank you for listening to this episode of Mapping the Medium. I hope you will consider sharing it with others. If you have interest in being a guest on this podcast, or would like to share your thoughts or show your support by donating or sponsoring, please visit www.mappingthemedium.com.
Until next time, be well, be safe, be alert, dialogue with others of different perspectives, and always watch out for those signs.
© 2019 Catherine Tyrrell All Rights Reserved
Photo by Irina Iriser
Welcome back, and thank you for tuning in to episode number 2. As I promised in the first episode, I’m going to start off by giving you a little insight into what this next one is about. But before I do that, I want to share an idea with you that I came up with as a way to get your feedback and involve more listeners in dialogue. .. At the beginning of each episode, look for me to ask you a question about a previous one, where there might have been a hidden clue, or a meaning that you may have overlooked. Let’s have fun with it, and see what you and others come up with. It’s very possible that you have a perspective that I hadn’t thought of before. This will give you a way to participate in how this podcast grows and develops, and I’d like that. Ok, here’s my first question:
In episode number 1, what is the significance of the Proposer giving precisely 15 minutes to the participants to talk among themselves and come up with a descriptive name for their group? You can reply on whichever app you are listening through, or you can submit your comment on mappingthemedium.com. I look forward to reading your thoughts.
Now for a bit about this new episode… We are going take a look at two different written works, both published in the same decade but across the big pond from each other, and both expressing how humans might view the ‘footprints’ that we each leave on the ‘Medium’ in which we all travel.
It’s easy to understand why I titled this episode ‘The Traveler and The Road’.
‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest’s ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
‘Is there anybody there?’ he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
’Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:—
‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,’ he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.
This haunting, early 20th century poem, written by British poet, short story writer, and novelist, Walter de la Mare, strikingly depicts man’s perplexity with his place in the universe and what the great unknown expectations of humanity may be, if any. How many of us actually travel this medium with purpose and intent, keeping our word, as the poem so brilliantly illustrates, .. That we will arrive, and knock, prepared to meet what lies behind that door? Some might question what choice they had in being here to begin with, blurring in their minds the lines between free will and intention, and choosing to not be burden with responsibility for their actions. But in their darkest hours of reflection, could it be that they do still knock? That they do still ask who is listening. …. Do the phantoms of an eternal consciousness still bend an ear to each traveler’s words, however impotent they may be in meaning or however tragically they’ve been reduced by our culture to no more than a mere echo? … And what of the horse? It may bring us there, but how much time do we devote to that effort of knocking before we ride away. Our level of sincerity and intention seems to be either a deficiency or an innate quality of how our footsteps travel the Medium, and how our choices impress against the journey’s momentum, even when the choice is not to make one at all, sometimes having violent consequences. The horse is only a means of placement, just as the four corners were in this podcast’s previous episode. It’s how we respond as we meet each event on the road that either nurtures or scars the potential. …. Future potential lies before us in every moment of every day, but as only one traveler the story of an individual life will always be a ‘less traveled road’ because no one else has compiled the same genetic history, and the combination of that with events and experiences, always molding and eliciting unique responses by the individual to the medium. … So, what of ‘choices’? In today’s complicated world, trying to stay alert in an atmosphere of constant distractions, trying to discern truth, and trying to choose the least harmful directions for self, let alone society, can seem like such a daunting challenge. But perhaps this is a self-inflicted paradox. .. Many try to ease this mental burden by pointing out the deficiencies in others in order to point that same finger away from the mirror of self, but this is circular reasoning. If everyone is doing that, nothing gets accomplished. Whereas, we might actually find a different perspective, one that generates real momentum, through an exercise in humility.
This next written work is probably familiar to you, but there’s a very strong possibility that you completely misunderstand it. …..
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
This poem titled ‘The Road Not Taken’, written by Robert Frost and published only 4 years later than our first poem, ‘The Listeners’, interestingly points to a real difference in the way Western culture was escalating in America in comparison to the slower, resistance to it in Europe. What I am referring to is a seed of thought that developed in the 14th century and sprouted the ontological individualism that I referred to in episode one.
As specific topic opportunities arise, we will explore more of those details in the future. And like a sleuth, we can uncover interesting human activities that clearly exhibit it. And they are, not surprisingly, everywhere!
For instance, in the first stanza of ‘The Road Not Taken’, we find a traveler examining a choice. He wishes he could explore the future of those choices before actually choosing one and going down that path. In the second stanza, it’s made clear that there really is no discernable difference in the paths. And in stanza number three, he just picks a path for no specific reason, and plans to remember the other to travel for another day. But ‘knowing how way leads onto way’ (stop for a moment here and think about our biological mapping that I referred to in episode one), he doubted he should ever come back. .. And then in the last stanza, we are presented with the ‘pride’ that he professed later in life when he attributes his success to having been special in that he chose a road supposedly less traveled, and that it made all the difference, when there was definitely no discernable difference in those roads at the time. … As I mentioned before, any road traveled by an individual is a ‘less traveled road’. …but Robert Frost actually wrote this in a spirit of sarcasm and jest, that his friend carried his ontological individualism like a medal. And this poem has been incorrectly used as a source of pride in graduation speeches, car commercials, and other such displays for many many years. Our culture is so submersed in ontological individualism, and the addiction to how it pats our individual selves on the back at every turn, that we are pathologically and pathetically blind to the problem, even when it’s right there in front of us, in such places as a poem that everyone knows.
It’s time we stop this addiction and neediness and get back to acts of a more humble and focused nature. ….. Here is one resource that I have found to be helpful when contemplating these things.
Mikhail Bakhtin was a profound philosopher, literary critic, and semiotician in early 20th century Russia. His work was suppressed by the Russian government until he was rediscovered by scholars in the 1960s. One of his first manuscripts, written between 1919 and 1922, titled ‘Toward a Philosophy of the Act’, was actually rescued in 1972 from an old storeroom full of rats and seeping water. This work was the “heart of the heart” of Bakhtin, in which he raises issues of cultural relativity, responsibility, self and other, the moral significance of outsidedness, participatory thinking, and the implications of the individual having “no alibi in existence”. … No one else can do or be what we each need to be as life is laid before us, and as we travel and map our journey, we are constantly presented with choices that Bakhtin called a ‘once occurrent ought’. .. How can we be better aware of this ‘ought’, as the traveler clearly was in our first poem. We are so busy patting our own individual selves on the back, and encouraging a façade of accomplishments that are less and less real as we play out our narcissistic fantasies in a screen infested, techy world. …
I’ve come to the conclusion that in ‘The Road Not Taken’, Robert Frost wants us to think about how we approach a ‘choice path’. Do we think of it as Bakhtin’s “obligatory ought”, knowing that each step along the way impacts the medium as a whole, or do we just follow along distractedly and then profess claim or blame in hindsight down the road? The point seems to be that our individual journey (way leads on to way) can only ever be taken by one traveler. But if hundreds, thousands, or millions each understood that because of our individual relations to the whole, how strongly small choices can influence other events, how no one else is standing at that particular place in existence and can do what can only be done by the one traveler, and then actually realize those ‘obligatory oughts’, .. That’s exactly how we will leave those side by side footprints of intention, and then purposefully make all of the difference.
Thank you for listening to this episode of Mapping the Medium. I hope you will consider sharing it with others. If you have interest in being a guest on this podcast, or would like to share your thoughts or show your support by donating or sponsoring, please visit www.mappingthemedium.com.
Until next time, be well, be safe, be hopeful, dialogue with others of different perspectives, and always be on the lookout for those side by side footprints.
© 2019 Catherine Tyrrell All Rights Reserved