Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I Am a Strange Loop -- and a strange digression on Foucault--Chapter 13

     In Chapter 13, Hofstadter focuses on the notion of the "I" as a large structure of neural processes within the brain best represented symbolically, recall the much earlier description of large scale structures being causally effective as opposed to only crediting micro-processes with causal power.   He talks about the sense of self as extensible through our past and providing a sense of unity to our experience, prompting, Kant to think of it as the "transcendental unity of apperception". He says:

"Since we perceive not particles interacting but macroscopic patterns in which certain thing s push other things around with a blurry causality, and since the Grand Pusher in and of our bodies is our "I", and since our bodies push the rest of the world around, we are left with no choice but to conclude that the "I" is where the causality buck stops."(Hofstadter, pg. 217 Nookbook).

This "I" gains structure as we get older:

"We begin life with the most elementary sorts of feedback about ourselves, which stimulate us to formulate categories for our most obvious body parts, and building on this basic pedestal, we soon develop a sense of our bodies as flexible physical objects.  In the meantime, as we receive rewards for various actions and punishments for others, we being to develop a more abstract sense of "good" and "bad", as well as notions of guilt and pride, and our sense of ourselves as abstract entities that have the power to decide to make things happen ... begins to take root."(Hofstadter, pg.  218, Nookbook)

This remarkable passage bears a striking resemblance to some ideas of Michel Foucault in Discipline and Punish, one of the most important books of the 20th century, and one of the most influential on me:

"This real, noncorporal soul, is not a substance; it is the element in which are articulated the effects of a certain type of power and the reference of a certain type of knowledge, the machinery by which the power relations give rise to a possible corpus of knowledge, and knowledge extends and reinforces the effects of this power.  On this reality-reference, various concepts have been constructed and domains of analysis carried out: psyche, subjectivity, personality, consciousness etc.; on it have been built scientific techniques and discourses, and the moral claims of humanism.  But let there be no misunderstanding: it is not that a real man, the object of knowledge, philosophical reflection, or technical intervention, has been substituted for the illusion of the theologians.  The man described for us, whom we are invited to free, is already in himself the effect of a subjection much more profound than himself.  A 'soul' inhabits him and brings him into existence, which is itself a factor in the mastery that power exercises over the body.  The soul is the effect and instrument of a political anatomy; the soul is the prison of the body""(Foucault, Discipline and Punish pg. 29-30)

"In discipline, it is the subjects[think "I" for Hofstadter] who have to be seen.  Their visibility assures the hold of the power that is exercised over them.  It is the fact of being constantly seen, of being able always to be seen, that maintains the disciplined individual in his subjection"(Foucault, Discipline and Punish pg. 187)

And some more:

"The individual is no doubt the fictitious atom of an 'ideological' representation of society; but he is also a reality fabricated by this specific technology of power I have called 'discipline'(Foucault, pg. 194)

In Foucault, self-consciousness is the the result of a technique of power being exercised on us by those in power.

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