The human mind, I am convinced, operates in terms of sameness and difference*. From this conviction I have recently come to label two modes of thinking – ways which the mind ‘makes sense’ of the world:
- Apophatic Thinking (AT)
- The mind begins from the notion that everything is the same, and makes sense of the world around it by asking “How are these things different?”. AT thus identifies a Thing by what it is not.
- Cataphatic Thinking (CT)
- The mind begins from the notion that everything is different, and makes sense of the world around it by asking “How are these things the same?”. CT thus identifies a Thing by what it is not-not – i.e. what it is.
Note here that CT is not-AT, but AT isn’t not-not CT – instead AT is not-CT. To understand what I mean by this is that you can get to CT from AT-thinking, but not the other way around. This is like how you can get a positive number by subtracting a negative, but you can’t get a negative by adding a positive.
Note also the effect of analogy in the above, being sameness – thus Cataphatic Thinking – which it seems Douglas Hofstadter has successfully put his finger on (see this and this for more reading on his work), but it seems to me he hasn’t yet qualified Apophatic Thinking – but again, having not read his book on analogy, I very well could be wrong. I would playfully call an analogy a cataphatism. That leaves room for its antonym, the apophatism – whatever that ‘is’… a distinction perhaps? Is that sufficiently cataphatic (analogous)?
Indeed the mind uses both modes constantly. The more you think about how sameness and difference provide meaning to a mind, the more you will see where it’s in AT-mode or CT-mode.
But, and here again, those who’ve been following please forgive my repetitiveness, I would stress the importance – even the foundational necessity of the involutory function that is not. From not we can ‘build’ not-not, not the other way around!
And now for the speculation (girded by cautious rationalization of course):
Let us begin with a nascent, naïve, even thoroughly-ignorant mind. Within this new mind, this blank mind, there are no Things yet because all of them are the same as each other. There is, as yet, no difference within the mind, by which a Thing can begin to exist. One might call it ‘dead’ – or ‘unborn’ – which I would grant without too much hesitation.
I tend somewhat towards a ‘naturalist’ philosophy (though that term, I gather from various philosophy fora and the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Naturalism, among various sources, is still ill-defined), so I will presume here that this blank mind isn’t even a ‘mind’ yet, but would be in the physical realm a ‘dormant’ brain – one with neurons and synaptic connections, but which haven’t fired yet, nor received any ‘external’ stimulus from nerve endings. Needless to say, this state of dormancy doesn’t last very long, if this is indeed the brain of a prenatal infant human being (I’m also being deliberately vague here, so I’m omitting mention of factors such as gestation and development of a human brain, because I do not want to write a whole book here but want to press-on), because, again if it’s in its mother’s womb, the first stimulus could be anything – light through the mother’s womb, a sound outside the womb, a jostle of the amniotic fluid within the womb as the mother moves, or most inevitably, the sound of her heartbeat. This stimulus sends a ripple of nervous activity through the infant’s body and up into the dormant brain. Neurons fire, synapses transmit and a chain reaction may ‘shoot’ through the brain.
The neural pathways of this dormant brain may lead nowhere – they may peter-out at a neural ‘dead-end’. No matter – another stimulus may occur in the next few seconds. As yet, I think, there is no ‘self’ so I would still not call it a ‘mind’ yet. I think the ‘mind’ occurs only when a neural pathway successfully loops back on itself, thus setting the ‘clock’ in motion, if I may. This still isn’t a ‘self’, but I wager it is a ‘mind’. I posit that this ‘clock’, this neural loop (if indeed a signal does loop more than once – I’m not a neuroscientist!), could be the sort of ‘base state’ of a blank mind. This loop is the ‘new normal’ for this mind. This is a ‘listening mind’ waiting for input. But as yet there is still no Thing.
There could be any number of stimuli that occur in exact lock-step as that first loop, and still no ‘self’ would qualify. Instead, I think the self emerges via the asynchrony between the ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ stimuli. It is at this moment, the exact moment that some external stimulus does not exactly match with the internal loop that difference becomes a measure for the mind. I think this is where the mind models the involutory concept of ‘not’, so that This (a Thing) is not That (another Thing).
Each new stimulus which does not match any of the other loops (yes, I’ve skipped-ahead and posit that a few more neural-loops have been locked into the now active brain) then qualifies to the mind as ‘not any of the others’, and is thus a new Thing.
Now we have a system of sameness and difference which is constantly comparing. But how is ‘sameness’ determined by the brain? Well, the very nature of an involutory function is that a second application cancels both – so ‘not not’ is not ‘not’ – and therefore is. The ‘self’ is, in this system of the mind, forever ‘not’ every external stimulus and asychrony coming into the brain. So “I” am forever “not” everything-that-isn’t-me.
As the body begins to send signals to the brain, slowly there builds a repertoire of Things which are not-not ‘me’ – signals which occur in lock-step with ‘me’. So I come to know ‘my’ hand when ‘I’ wave it, because the visual signals (i.e. the sight of my waving hand) correspond (i.e. are same) to ‘my’ internal loops. This ‘sameness’ can lead to illusory impressions: Take for instance the situation where I have thought that you will move your hand in a particular way. If, perchance, you do move your hand in exactly that way, I am liable to ‘believe’ (ever-so-briefly) that I was the one who made you do that – telepathy anyone? Now, that illusion might be broken just as quickly by further asynchronous stimuli – whatever might occur to ‘break’ the illusion.
I end here with some wondering, for you to chew on:
“Hmm… I wonder whether already having two nots mightn’t enable a mind to ‘break’ them apart…? I did, after all, begin this postulation with a mind of utter ‘sameness’ – which is ‘not-not’… But how, if at all, would that work?”
*[You may have read my earlier posts on Adjacency Theory and the significance I hold of the Involutory Transformation or my ideas on The Emergence of Self so you may see this is merely a reformulation of those earlier ideas. Rightly so.]