Posts Tagged ‘Piaget’

The Language Of Freedom

June 11, 2011





While puzzling over how to respond to INspired Ink’s post, “The Here and Now”– A Post A Day 2011 post, I stumbled upon the following 2008 post of mine and thought it special enough to post again (my response to Ink’s post was a single paragraph response from the below post).

The Reciprocal Relationship Of Content/Form Interdependence

What’s Going On With These Posts—Are They Random, Directed, Or Something Else?

I think I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating. If there’s a common theme running through these posts, it’s my quest to understand what I don’t understand. That said, in this post the suggestion is that I understand something, or, to put it more gently, what I haven’t understood so far, begins to make more sense if understood in the following way:

The subject of freedom is a major theme in my writing. Freedom, depending on its context, means many things to many people. Operationally speaking, though, we first encounter freedom as the freedom to act. Satisfying our biological needs frames this freedom. I associate Aristotle with this freedom because he was the first to recognize, as far as I can tell, the importance of the sensation/understanding connection. Freedom is not just a sensation, however. The freedom to avoid the unpleasant and pursue the pleasant has the indirect effect of creating the environment out of which all other freedoms are expressed.

On another level, a higher level, phenomenological freedom expresses the question that theoretical freedom answers (the freedom to be logically consistent). This answer, scientifically speaking, is verified through its reliable predictions as they relate to our aesthetic experience. This answer, sociologically speaking, allows for behavioral change and emotional growth. In other words, as a dynamic process, freedom (or lack there of) is continually being discovered in the “universal limiting space that defines it.” As knowledge accumulates, for instance, life’s expectations and goals may change. The value and meaning of relationships may change. What at one time was sought for pleasure and comfort may, with increased understanding, become unpleasant, and so on and so forth.

But there is another kind of freedom, one that escapes categorizations. This is Buddhist freedom– a freedom we cannot sense, a freedom that is by definition indeterminate. Even so, paradoxically, much has been said (and written) about this freedom. Fortunately, the Japanese sage, and student of Zen Buddhism, Nishida Kitaro, has discussed Buddhist freedom without venturing outside the “limiting space” framework of freedom.

Nishida went looking for “pure experience” and found it in the “absolute free will” emerging from and returning to absolute nothingness. Since Nishida wanted to communicate this realization, he created his own logic, the logic of basho, because he believed the only way to communicate ultimate reality—true selfhood, was through a rational methodology. To be fair, I think his logic referenced existence more than analysis, but when you need to communicate the reality at the center of the creative world, where “absolute free will” lives in the “eternal now,” analysis by itself just can’t do the job. Anyway, three categories distinguished Nishida’s logic: basho of being, basho of relative nothingness, and basho of absolute nothingness. (Most of my information on Nishida comes from the book, Great Thinkers Of The Eastern World, Ian P. McGreal, Editor, p. 384-5.

For me at least, basho logic seems to be describing three different levels of interconnectivity—the interconnectivity of three different “pulses of freedom.” The basho of being becomes the limiting space of existence while the basho of relative nothingness becomes the defining characteristic of that limitation. The basho of absolute nothingness, on the other hand, is the glue and ultimate reality that Nishida is trying to communicate. In this interconnectivity a dual purpose is at work. As the ground of everything, the logic of basho works to support and restrict all beings. Upon achieving a state of self-realization, however, one experiences the absolute interpenetration of nothingness with all the particular existents in the universe. According to Nishida, everything that Is, is within the interconnectivity of basho, and, at bottom, the “self as basho” identifies itself with all the existents and beings of the world. The “self as basho,” “self as absolute nothingness,’’ wakes to perfect freedom, perfect wisdom and perfect bliss.

The fact that language will not (can not) permit a description of “fully enlightened beings,” is what inspired Nishida to create his basho logic. Was he successful? I cannot say, but I’m glad he tried because the second major theme in my writing is to search out a language rich enough to express all of freedom’s ramifications. Next week’s blog, in fact, will be a good indication of just how far I’ve come in achieving that goal. Like Nishida, I believe that a sufficiently strong freedom language will incorporate logic, albeit a logic referencing existence and analysis, and the concepts of interconnectivity and interpenetration. This language will require also (for me at least) the concepts of transformation and reciprocity, more specifically, the reciprocity that exists structurally in content/form interdependence.

One of the things I’ve found intriguing is how certain conceptual forms can go through various transformations without loosing meaning, e.g. 2 means two, two also means 1+1=2, two also means 4-2= 2. In logic, in a like manner, A and ~A cannot exist at the same time (the law of non-contradiction wherein a statement and its negation cannot both be true and false at the same time), but, ~~A then A (the principle that any proposition implies and is implied by the negation of its negation) is perfectly true, e.g. it is the case that not, not A implies A.

Transformations like above are not limited to analysis. For instance, suppose that my own self-awareness was a product of mind and something else. Suppose also that this something else not only defined (formed) self-awareness, but also was responsible for the interconnectivity of my self-awareness across time, which is to say past mind events connect present mind events and present mind events connect future mind events in the same way that form interpenetrates content, i.e., the reciprocal relationship of content/form interdependence.

Self-awareness as a structured reciprocal relationship is not simply a product of my imagination; it surfaced for me after reading a book by Jean Piaget. Before I describe what I found in his book on Structuralism, here’s what the Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Vol. 6, p.306) has to say about what he studied: “Piaget examined the development of not only abstract concepts such as classes, relations, and numbers, but also physical concepts like space, time, atomism, conservation and chance, all of which he has regarded as constructed from behavioral activities.” My search for a vocabulary rich enough to describe freedom’s ramifications increased ten fold after reading Piaget.

The Psychologist, Jean Piaget, put the origin of structure and the symbolic content that it generates, in an organisms capacity for action. For Piaget then, the knowledge of our objective and subjective experience begins in the recognition and coordination of sensorimotor activity. By locating the source of cognitive structure in the sensorimotor activity of babies, Piaget opened up the possibility that “structure” was grounded in “nature”– not in “mind.” Through his investigations, he was able to show how the subject and object poles of experience are “products” of experience. In fact, what we typically call “normal cognitive skills,” for Piaget, is a product of necessary developmental stages, i.e. sensorimotor, representational, and formal operative. Only after the individual passes through theses stages does one acquire “normal cognitive skills.” The subject pole and object pole of a child’s experience remains undissociated early in the sensorimotor stage, but after passing through the stage of formal operations the child (8-12 year old), in his/her capacity to invoke reasoned judgments and deductive thought, is then able to conceptualize what is not perceived (e.g. principles of conservation, reversibility, transitivity, etc.). For Piaget then, cognitive-awareness is not something we are born with; rather it is the product of an ongoing developmental process. This is important because it tells us that logic stems from a sort of spontaneous organization of activity,– that the pre-condition for knowledge is an assimilation of a given external into the structures of the subject,– and that out of these subjective structures arise, phoenix like, the genesis of self-awareness. Thus, not only do we find the relationship of context/form interdependence in the ongoing activity of accommodation/assimilation of environment, we also find it in the relationship that binds natural structure to cognitive structure.

The mental event structure that we cognitively experience as “movement into the future” becomes (according to the way I understand Piaget) a product of the externally given context/form interdependent relationship of accommodation/assimilation. In the externally given accommodation/assimilation structure, accommodation is understood to be a change in the assimilated product of environmental interaction, i.e. acting on the past to create a present, and, likewise, assimilation is understood as an action actively reproduced in such a way as to incorporate new (accommodated) objects into one’s own assimilated experience, i.e. actualizing the potential to intelligently navigate a course through an uncertain future, thus, this externally given “structure” of accommodation/assimilation becomes (when subjectively internalized) what Piaget calls the center of functional activity, or, the context/form interdependent experience of “self” moving from past, to present, to future. However, to introduce a caveat that I believe any anthropologist would agree to, the capacity to dissociate one thing from another is itself a product of social evolution. The “self” experience of today is not the “self” experience of archaic people. Social consciousness is intimately connected with its environment, and only gradually, through the process of reification, does that environment become externalized as an object of consciousness. In other words, today what is perceived in clarity and sharpness was, for archaic people, perceived as a relatively undifferentiated whole. The evolution of mind then, in addition to evolving structurally, “in time,” also evolves linearly, “across time.”

The question that still needs to be answered is where exactly is Piaget’s “self” located? According to Piaget, “the center of functional activity is not located in the traditional ‘me space’ that we so often take for granted; nor is it located in the ‘lived space’ that is described in the works of various existentialists; nor is it located in the positivists physico-chemical brain activity,” Nietzsche’s will to power, Marx’s economic determinate, or Durkheim’s normative order etc. Rather, Piaget locates his “constructionist self,” in general terms, “somewhere midway between the nervous system and conscious behavior (because) ‘psychology is first of all a biology.”’ To be more specific, however, Piaget locates the “constructionist self” in the structure of content/form interdependence. Piaget explains:

“But what manner of existence is left, then, for the mind, if it is neither social, nor mental in the subjective sense, nor organic?

…If it is, as Levi-Strauss says, necessary to ‘reintegrate content with form,’ it is no less essential to recall that neither forms nor contents exist per se: in nature as in mathematics every form is content for ‘higher’ forms and every content form of what it ‘contains’….

This uninterrupted process of coordinating and setting in reciprocal relations is the true ‘generator’ of structures as constantly under construction and reconstruction. The subject exists because, to put it very briefly, the being of structures consists in their coming to be, that is, their being ‘under construction.”’ [Piaget, Structuralism, p. 112]

If Piaget is right, and intelligence is an extension of natural structure then intelligence arises, phoenix like, from natural structure, but, suppose intelligence (rather than arising from structure) was, just as Piaget believed, contained in the structure of content/form interdependence, and here’s where it gets somewhat tricky,
what if this content/form interdependence became self-conscious, and, this self-consciousness then became the “start up” of human intelligence, and/or what Piaget calls the center of functional activity.

This is a bit much to take in, to be sure, but that is what I will write about in next week’s blog. In closing, I want to end this blog with a modern day description of self-awareness, one that also upholds the idea that human intelligence is a product of context/form interdependence.

Identifying Jean Paul Sartre’s philosophy as structuralism is, I am aware, pushing the envelope. However, an authority on structuralism has proposed this option (without, I might add, elaborating on it.) “One might go as far as to say…that structuralism is analogous to Sartre’s view of consciousness — it is what it is not, and it is not what it is.” [Jean-Marie Benoist, A Structural Revolution, p. 1] In Sartre’s book Being And Nothingness, his chapter on Being-For-Itself is subtitled “Immediate Structures of the For-Itself.” [Jean-Paul Sartre, Being And Nothingness, p. 119] Structure is not hidden in Sartre; it’s just that on the whole Sartre’s book is a polemic against reading structure as anything more than appearance.

In the representation of Sartre’s thought as “consciousness is what it is not, and it is not what it is,” we find reciprocal movement, the same reciprocal movement encountered, in Piaget’s content/form interdependence. Specifically, Sartre defines the consciousness of the transcending For-itself (our self-space) as: “Consciousness is a being such that in its being, its being is in question in so far as this being implies a being other than itself.” (Ibid. p. 801) [As far as I am concerned this for-itself concept, and much of what is also written in Being And Nothingness, is as much a product of the thought of Simone deBeauvoir, Sartre’s life long confident, as it was the creation of Jean Paul Sartre. Throughout the writing of the book she (PhD in Philosophy) was his sounding board, and editor. Unlike Sartre, she stayed committed to this philosophy until she died.) In an extrapolation on Sartre’s definition of consciousness, Benoist describes the relationship inherent in consciousness as: “it is what it is not, and it is not what it is.” My own reading of this relationship is: being-what-is-not-while-not-being-what-is. In either case, however, we end up with a description of content/form interdependence.

This double movement is represented on many levels in Sartre’s exegesis on being and nothingness. This double movement becomes very specific in Sartre’s description of his pre-reflective Cogito. In so far as we find ”nothingness” at the center of Cogito, consciousness per se must be understood to be set apart from itself, therefore, Sartre’s pre-reflective Cogito will always form one pole of our conscious experience while the “objects” of consciousness will take their place at the other pole of conscious experience. This condition, where the pre-reflective Cogito becomes the preexistent structure for conscious awareness of objects, is another way of arriving at what Piaget called the center of functional activity. Depending on where “you” focus your concern, the content of consciousness is either pushed to the front of consciousness (the unreflective consciousness), or, the object of consciousness is pushed into the background, as the “negation of consciousness” is brought into the foreground (the reflected upon object of consciousness).

Together, our pre-reflective Cogito and the object of consciousness form our conscious experience of the knower-known dyad– content/form interdependence. In so far as this double movement turns on the pivot point of pure negation, the known exists for the knower, but the knower can never be fully known. As self-consciousness rises in consciousness, it is denied the possibility of becoming fully self-aware. This result, the incompleteness of self, brings us back to Sartre’s original definition of consciousness, or, “consciousness is such that in its being its being is in question in so far as this being implies a being other than itself.” This center of functional activity, this content/form interdependence that makes thinking possible, this symbol-generating movement of free thought that emancipates language, myth, science, and morality, pushes and pulls self-awareness down the road that hopefully leads to a more civilized society. In the absence of this center of functional activity, “thinking” is restricted to the manipulation of signs—mere sensual indicators, minus the symbols that carry the significance of those same indicators. In other words, in the absence of this center of functional activity, language becomes severely limited, if not impossible.

Self-consciousness emerges where the center of functional activity– begins. This experience comes with a price. As individuals, we are condemned to be free. In the words of Sartre, we must perpetually “confront the world and self as a lack,” and, because of this, we cannot escape responsibility for our choices. Irregardless of how we choose to act, we must take responsibility for our choice. For Sartre, responsibility lies in the chosen act and therefore can never be separated from the person who chooses. If, on the other hand, we happen to be living in the episteme that the postmodernist Foucault characterized as, “belonging to the questioning of that to which one belongs,” then responsibility becomes absorbed into the power/knowledge relationship of “responsible to whom for what ends.” Certainly Foucault argues this position and, I might add, it is not a coincidence that Foucault characterized the modern episteme as “man’s obsession with what eludes him.” Just as I am sure that Foucault read Sartre, I am also sure that Foucault’s description of epistemes is off the mark and here’s why:

While Sartre has delineated the not-self and the consequences that follow from not-self in our everyday world of social interaction, he stops far short of identifying the structure of his pre-reflective Cogito— the content/form interdependence that constitutes self-awareness—with what Piaget called natural structure. The short answer here is that content/form interdependence encompasses both nature and human consciousness– as the “innate structuring capacity of all structures,” and this will be the subject of next week’s blog.

End Of Life Story Redemption Chapter 2

December 26, 2009

My end of life conversation with the devil continues here with more dialogue about consciousness, freedom, God, religion, and intelligibility. At the end of this story post and all subsequent posts, I refer to some of my written work that compliments my conversation with the devil. I will not include, for the most part, the referenced work in this story. Instead, I will skip to my next redemption conversation with the devil. However, a lot of the work referenced (for instance, at the end of this post I am referring to my description of God’s footprint) is posted under a different title. If already posted, I will ID the referenced work.

Redemption—Freedom/Consciousness And Content/Form Interdependence

Future Time Nine Continued

“Stop whining. It doesn’t become you,” replied MV.

“I’m not whining, you’re the whiner,” I said. “Or if you’re not then you should be! But, hey, I’m willing to give the Devil his do. I can not compete with the enabler of creation, so tell me about God. Obviously, you are in the knowing position. After all we’ve been through, the least you can do is share a little of that knowledge with me. Come on, what do you say?”

“You already know God,” replied MV. “Err let me rephrase that. Because of our metaphysic, you know as much as you need to know about God. But, you’re right, we have been through a lot and I’m feeling a bit generous, so tell you what, I’ll tell you what you already know, but coming from me, any doubt you might be entertaining concerning the One On High, ought to be put to rest.”

“Great! You begin and I’ll follow.”

“As you know, God is all about communication,” said MV, “communication and structure. Remember the ‘affirmative ideal’, the underlying principle of structuralism? Well God is It, and from the ‘affirmative ideal’ communication follows. I’m sure you’ve heard these words before: “(1) In The Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (2) He was in the beginning with God; (3) all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. (4) In him was life, and the life was the light of men. (5) The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it….” [Holy Bible. Revised Standard Version. Gospel According to John, 1952] Well, we’re all talking about the same thing here!”

“What are you’re telling me, that the God of Christianity is the God On High?”

“Well I am the Devil aren’t I? Oh, forgive me,” said MV, “I’m saying that there are many people, just like you, who have come to know the one true God. Besides, God does not discriminate! I’m the one that discriminates. Through me, religions thrive. God simply makes my job possible. If God plays favorites, it’s not found in icon worship; rather, it’s found in the discovery and application of universals, in the logical structure of all things reasonable,—in language, freedom, goodness, and in all heavenly gifts that rain down upon humanity. Do you remember these words? They are your words not mine: ‘In the negation of God, God becomes immanent and free. God’s immanence is important to us because this immanence is what we call physical reality.’”

“Your right, I don’t remember,” I replied, “but it sounds like something I should or could have said. When things start to go, they really go. Old age– can’t live with it, can’t live without it, but hey, if it gets too bad just stick around because you’ll forget about it eventually.”

“Do you remember your concept of reciprocal movement?

“Of course,” I replied. “As the source of all things physical, biological and divine, reciprocal movement weaves its way up the synchronic ladder producing identity, language, and free thought. Need I say more?”

“Very good,” said MV. “Then you also remember the interdependence between content and form. I believe you first discovered that relationship in the work of Piaget, more specifically; it was the driving concept in his constructionist theory. Am I right?”

“As I recall, yeah, in biological terminology,” I replied, “in addition to natural selection, Piaget believed something more was going on in an organism’s adaptation to its environment. For him, the life process proceeded along two developmental lines. First there was the assimilation of objects to individual activity, and second, the accommodation of organisms to their environment, and these two processes didn’t necessarily operate in equilibrium. It was in this ‘content/form interdependence’ where Piaget located biological development.”

“That’s not exactly what I’m talking about, but it works,” said MV. “Actually it works well because it demonstrates how ‘content/form interdependence’ moves all creation forward. You see, the open ended relationship between content and form not only drives life, it drives knowledge as well. In fact, Piaget described the nature of knowledge as being ‘a spiral the radius of whose turns increases as the spiral rises…This means, in effect, that the idea of structure as a system of transformations becomes continuous with that of construction as continual formation.’ Piaget further elaborates on the idea that knowledge, as a system of transformations, is always undergoing reconstruction when he says:

“Since Godel,…the idea of a formal system of abstract structures is thereby transformed into that of the construction of a never completed whole, the limits of formalization constituting the grounds for incompleteness, or, as we put it earlier, incompleteness being a necessary consequence of the fact that there is no “terminal” or “absolute” form because any content is form relative to some inferior content and any form the content for some higher form.” [Piaget, Structuralism, 1970 p. 140]

“You lost me,” I replied. “Where’s God in all of this?”

“My, my, you have slipped in your old age, haven’t you,” responded MV, “for every time there is a season and yours, perhaps, has come and gone?”

“Stop that! I know all about Piaget,” I replied, “but you’re supposed to be clarifying God, not obscuring the issue, so I repeat myself what does all this have to do with God?

“You’re right, I’ll try and be more clear,” responded MV, “but it had to be this way because from here on out it’s mostly logic; that is, the logic behind the ‘structure of transformations.’ But let me answer your question: God is found in the ‘continuous construction of system transformations.’ Or, to put this idea in your own words, the words that you have so earnestly developed over the course of your life: Freedom is form. Consciousness is content. Freedom expands consciousness. Form restricts freedom. God is free in the continuous construction of system transformations that result in more freedom, more consciousness.

Redemption—The Story Continues

Future Time Nine Continued

“The story of God,” said MV, “is the story of the rise and fall of freedom and consciousness. Does that help?”

“I think so, but I think also that I will better understand if we stay with my vocabulary when we talk about God.”

“No problem,” replied MV. “How’s this: Where consciousness is most restricted, where the form of freedom is reduced to the condition of ‘neither this, nor that,’ you find all the ‘strangeness of the quasi-real world of quantum mechanics.’ But, after a sufficient complexity arises in the universe, after freedom and consciousness go through a sufficient number of transformations, consciousness breaks out of the condition of ‘neither this nor that,’ and becomes more free in an environment that both sustains and propagates life, albeit an environment which limits longevity and the possibilities of adaptation. This process continues, though, and once again, upon achieving a level of sufficient complexity, consciousness becomes conscious of identity and reason. At this level of transformation, consciousness becomes free to confront obstacles and ask why! Of course, it is still limited by its environment and mortality, but, in terms of liberation, consciousness experiences an exponential rise in possibilities! There; are we on familiar ground yet?”

“You bet!” I replied. “But how about slowing down so I can get a better handle on form, content, and the God connection.”

“As you wish,” said MV. “We’ll start over. It all begins with the diachronic movement of physical events through time. These events—the charged particles, masses, forces, fields, etc. of nature, are embedded in the laws of nature. However, these events are also embedded in synchronic structure–the reciprocal movement of form and content, which also is bound by law, the law of intelligibility. Transformation is the medium of synchronic movement and transformation need not be a temporal process: 1+1=2; 6 divided by 2=3; clearly, the ‘following and making’ here meant, are not temporal processes. The law of intelligibility is the foundation of all ‘laws.’ As you already know, the whole of synchronic movement is framed by the double negative, ~(~b), and, as is the logical case with double negatives, affirmation is implied. This double negative encapsulates all diachronic movement. In other words, all phenomena takes place between the negative poles of the ‘affirmative ideal’ and, you and I call this ‘affirmative ideal’ God.” God’s freedom expands through synchronic transformations, and within this process, the horizon of consciousness expands also.”

“How come I never learned about the law of intelligibility in logic class?” I interrupted.

“You did,” MV replied. “In order to know anything at all you start with what’s given and whatever that is, it is not compatible with its negation. We’re talking about the principle of non-contradiction my friend, but in this particular case, I’m talking about the negation of an already negative condition, thus an implied affirmation is the result.

“If this wasn’t already my religion, I’m not to sure I could follow what you are saying,” I said. “But what about content and form movement, does it have to be that difficult to comprehend?”

“Well, here it is in a nutshell,” responded MV. “Try to remember it, okay. “Content is form relative to some inferior content and any form the content for some higher form.” Take, for instance, the form we’ve been discussing, the ~~b form. Content encapsulated in this form is all there is; that is, no other content can be identified outside ~~b. Diachronically speaking, this content evolved into the universe that we experience today. But, synchronically speaking, our knowledge of that universe is more about the liberating transformations of freedom and consciousness; the transformations that occur when ~~b becomes ~bb, and when ~bb becomes b~b~bb. And, in terms of the “contents of these forms,” mass/energy evolves into living energy that exists far from equilibrium, which, in turn, evolves into the electrical synapseing that produces human intelligence. In the “affirmative ideal of human intelligence,” form and content merge to create an environment of physical events (facts). You know this experience as the implicative affirmative of the not-me-self embedded in a physical event, but everybody else knows this experience as the beginning of the culture produced by the species Homo sapiens. In the end, this experience is the effect of the ongoing evolution of how “content is form relative to some inferior content and form the content for some higher form.” Death is important here for not only does it conserve the law of intelligibility that allows for the comprehensibility of the universe, it also moves life forward into expanded realms of freedom and consciousness.

“And that’s where we are at right now,” I replied, “here, where the bell tolls and it tolls for me and, as the great equalizer, for all others eventually.”

“Yes,” replied MV, “I’m glad you worked through those cobwebs, but there’s still a bit more to say on this subject. Things get more complicated at the next level of transformation. Perhaps you’d like to move this conversation in that direction?

“Now you’re talking,” I replied, “why don’t we take a closer look at freedom and consciousness; we can’t really go too far without that exploration. God knows, I spent a lot of time struggling with those two topics.”

“Certainly we will get to freedom and consciousness,” responded MV, “but first we should refresh your memory concerning the physical consequences that make possible the expansion of freedom and consciousness. We can refer to work already done, your work. That will make it easy for both of us.”

“Of course,” I replied, “let’s do it!”