Friday, June 20, 2014

Centric Thinking (Determined Determinism)

I love to travel to other cultures to expose myself to different perspectives. Travel helps me practice the discipline of seeing the world from another person's point of view. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to spend the day with someone who had lived in Ireland for the past 25 years. As we were talking over a cup of tea, he pointed out how "American" my perspective was. On my long walk home, I got to think about his comment and our conversation. I realized he had made a very good point (obvious from his perspective, blind from mine).

Why DID so many of my comments reflect a "United States"-centric perspective? That's easy: I spend most of my time in the United States, so the vast majority of my reference points come from stories told from a U.S. geo/socio-centric perspective. And so the stories I told him tended to be the stories I had heard. (i.e., I am more likely to recall a meme than imagine one.)

[Note: I use the word "stories" in a broader sense of the word, where everything that I observe is a "story." I prefer to think of memes/ideas as stories, too. Everything I learn, fact or fiction, is a story, stor(i)ed away in my brain. I like the word "story" because it helps me remember just how much of my perception of the world is the story I tell myself about the world, as seen through my associative brain. My brain sees the world as it understands the world, rather than as the world might actually be.]

This all got me thinking about "centrism" (e.g. ego-centrism, ethnocentrism, anthropocentrism). "Centrism" is something I cannot avoid, because it is all I have, really. I am centric because I have no choice but to experience the world through my ego-/ethno-/antropo- self.

This led me to think about "centrism" and "being centric" - being in or at the center, being central. Which led me to the concept of centric observation, the need for observation to be central in time and space. Centric observation in time means at the beginning. Centric observation in space means at the origin. It came to me just how much of a "centric" thinker I am. I search long and hard for the the beginnings of things, their origin. I realized just how much I am tied to "causal" thinking, searching for the starting point, searching for the earliest and smallest origin. (By "smallest" I mean the smallest number of assumptions from which all results/consequences flow in a determined, expected, predictable way.)

This line of thinking took me back to my thinking about causality, and causality's relationship to how our brains work, rather than causality's relationship to how the universe works. Is our fascination with causality our brain projecting our centric story about survival? What if I tried to think outside of this anthropocentric story?

Okay, so I know it's impossible, but I do have a good imagination, so let me just make something up: There are other ways of experiencing the universe that are not anthropocentric. There are other ways of being that are not centric to human perceptions of time and space. There is another way of being we are slowly becoming aware of. This is the perspective of Buddhism (connectedness) and more recently the perspectives of ecology and evolutionary biology, complex systems with large numbers of objects interdependent on large numbers of objects. These sciences are harder for me to understand because they tend not to have clear beginnings or ends, and tend to involve very complex processes that are not reduced to simple cause-effect statements. They remind me of the complexity introduced to me in algebra with the solution of simultaneous equations, with the added twist that there is no stable solution and the equations are changing over time!

I accept that I might never be able to understand. I accept that I am trapped "inside the box," because my brain doesn't know anything but "the box." But perhaps by stretching my imagination, writing down some of these ideas, and sharing them with other people around the world, our combined efforts of lots of brains will result in understanding something that none of us can understand individually.

At least I know one thing: I am determined to continue to search for answers, so I better get that trip to China on the calendar!
Derivative wanderings:

1. Some interesting questions: How is compassion NOT anthropocentric. How are other life forms compassionate? Animals? Plants? Fungi? Bacteria? Viruses? Why might alien life forms be compassionate? How is compassion intelligent? Is imagination necessary for compassion (i.e., does compassion imply imagination)? Is there anything that is sufficient for compassion (i.e., what implies compassion)?

2. Interesting connection between "store" and "story, " which led me to use the phrase, "stor(i)ed away in my brain." I looked up the origins of the verb "to store" versus the noun "story" and interestingly didn't find that much overlap, though I am certain "to store" and "story" come from the same concept of information preservation and retrieval, where a "story" is a technology for "storing" memes that exploits the associative nature of the brain's memory:

 - "to store" (from Online Etymology Dictionary)
store (v.)  mid-13c., "to supply or stock," from Old French estorer "erect, construct, build; restore, repair; furnish, equip, provision," from Latin instaurare "restore, renew, repair, make," in Medieval Latin also "to provide, store," from in- "in" + -staurare, from PIE *stau-ro-, suffixed extended form of root *sta- "to stand" (see stet, and compare restore). The meaning "to keep in store for future use" (1550s) probably is a back-formation from store (n.). Related: Stored; storing.
 - "story" (from Online Etymology Dictionary)
story (n.1) "connected account or narration of some happening," c.1200, originally "narrative of important events or celebrated persons of the past," from Old French estorie, estoire "story, chronicle, history," from Late Latin storia, shortened from Latin historia "history, account, tale, story" (see history). Meaning "recital of true events" first recorded late 14c.; sense of "narrative of fictitious events meant to entertain" is from c.1500. Not differentiated from history till 1500s. As a euphemism for "a lie" it dates from 1690s. Meaning "newspaper article" is from 1892. Story-line first attested 1941. That's another story "that requires different treatment" is attested from 1818. Story of my life "sad truth" first recorded 1938, from typical title of an autobiography.