The birth of meaning into a world of caprice
The birth of meaning into a world of caprice
‘Mind’ is merely a style of reaction. One might correctly say that ‘mind’ is the measure of reaction a creature makes to a given range of stimuli. The world of meaning for any creature is bounded by the measure in which that creature is able to react to its perception of the world. Paying attention to the world that is bounded by reaction ability is described by Leslie White as “reactivity meaning”.
There are four levels of reactivity of an organism to its environment: 1) Simplest response wherein the organism responds directly to stimuli, 2) Conditioned response is best represented by the “Pavalovian Response” wherein there is a response by association, 3) Indirect association takes place when a tool is used to acquire desired object (an ape knocking a banana from a tree with a stick), and 4) Symbolic response wherein a symbol becomes the object causing response, which entails the creation of a symbol representative of an object.
These four different responses are evolutionary but are different in kind. Only humans are capable of all four levels of reactivity. Only humans have the capacity for creating a relationship such as “house” with an object. We might appropriately state that the evolutionary development of mind is a “progressive freedom of reactivity”. “Mind culminates in the organism’s ability to choose what it will react to.”
Delayed reactivity is the birth of freedom; this ability, plus the mammalian evolution of long prolonged development of new born growing up into a society that demanded ever increasing norms of behavior, led to the further development of mind.
Freud helped us comprehend that the ‘id’ represents the ‘it’ and the ‘ego’ represents the ‘I’ of the dual nature of humans. Our animal nature leads to immediate response to stimuli and our ego leads to this reactivity being held in abeyance until further consideration. The brain becomes a form of “internal gyroscope” that keeps the organism balanced and keeps the environment at a distance and sorted out.
The ego forms a protective force that organizes perception and bodily control. Most importantly the ego helps the organism avoid anxiety; it provides a rallying point whereby all that is alien to the organism can be monitored and controlled.
In order to separate the ego from the world it seems that the ego must have a rallying point. It must have a flag about which to rally. That flag is the “I”. The pronoun ‘I’ is the symbolic rallying point for the human’s ego; it is the precise designation of self-hood. It is concluded by those who study such matters that the ‘I’ “must take shape linguistically”. The self or ego “is largely a verbal edifice”.
Everything friendly is “me” everything hostile or unfriendly is “not-me”. “Speech, then, is everything that we call specifically human, precisely because without speech there can be no true ego. Every known language has the pronouns “I”, “thou”, and “he”, or verb forms which convey these reference points.” The large central control brain is there before language, apparently in a potential state just waiting to be galvanized into directivness by wedding itself to the word “I”. This wedding made possible the unleashing of a new type of creature to take command of the planet.
“The “I” signals nothing less than the beginning of the birth of values into a world of powerful caprice…The personal pronoun is the rallying point for self-consciousness.” The wedding of the nervous ability to delay response, with the pronoun “I”, unleashed a new type of animal; the human species began. The ‘I’ represents the birth of values.
The ideas and quotes are from “The Birth and Death of Meaning” by Ernest Becker. I have only recently begun to read this author who died at the age of 50. His books are a broad synthesis and seem superior to all others that I have studied in an attempt to comprehend the human condition.
To conclude that the self is a verbal construct is rather silly, on the foundation that a self must be concluded in any creature that senses. That is to say, a creature which senses anything must recognize when it is sensing and when it is not, and how somethings are not sensed by it, and other things are.
Though it might never cross the mind of a protozoa to ponder its origins, it nonetheless realizes, through its senses, that there is a self and non-self. It needs not a complex language to know "me" as the sense experience.