Monthly Archives: November 2016

When Objects and Actions are Laced with Meaning

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There are many ways to look at language. Depending on the lens we use to look at it, different aspects of how language relates to our experience of life are revealed. If we use a lens that looks at language as a two pronged process, the first based on identifying objects and actions, and the second, optionally breathing meaning into these objects and actions, this lens enables us to clearly see the roots of human identity and culture. From this perspective, we can form a map that is able to move us more effectively in intentional directions.

The first aspect of language is in identifying objects and actions. This is the basis of understanding the physical world, the second aspect is the basis of identity and culture and also becomes the means by which we express the nature of our emotional being. A rock is a rock, unless it’s a special rock, imbued with meaning. A rock embellished with a story, and a history, with cultural significance can become an object for which people act to fight and die for.

Throwing is an action involving an object in motion, until and unless it is imbued with meaning. Throwing a coin into a fountain for instance means nothing more than the description of the process, unless that action also symbolizes the hopes for the thrower to realize a wish. If the act is connected to meaning it is then transformed from a mere act, to something significant. It is this significance, that the individual and cultural world is built on. This blend of objects and, or actions and meaning is the fire on which our individual and group identities, indeed our perception of consciousness is formed.

We could study the structure of the alphabet for an eternity and never have the key to know it’s significance unless we shares meaning. Meaning, until and unless it is shared is sterile. It can only live within an individual, but if it is packaged up and transmitted one to another, its significance can spread. It is this replication of, and defense of a particular set of shared meanings which defines groups or cultures. Our experience of life is determined by object and action to be sure, but it is also defined by meaning. Our cultural bonds grow in a soil of object and action, but the energy that drives the experience is built on meaning.

So powerful is this aspect of meaning in our lives, that we humans can suffer from ideological blindness where we become so lost in the meaning that we lose sight of their connection to objects and actions. At the extreme, it is possible to become infected by a totalitarian regime of meaning, that locks us in a frustrated prison of expectation and frenzy, where we fruitlessly attempt to get reality to conform using our ideals, not realizing that it is the loss of our moorings in reality that is the problem, and not reality’s failure to conform.

Reality sets the boundaries to the possible, it is up to us to appropriately blend significance into the mix of objects and actions to accomplish anything real. It is this awareness of the basis of expression that enables us to express a meaningful life.

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Humans are Part of a Much Larger Biological Parliament of Relationships

We humans are part of a much larger biological parliament of relationships. It is this wide context of relationships that transcends “human” and includes the other life forms we live in the context of is what defines how we experience our life. It is the whole community, not any isolated part that defines what we call “us”. Injuries that impact this larger biological parliamentary body of relationships we are composed of can powerfully shape us over time. Minor injuries for instance can heal without any long term effects, but deeper kinds of injuries can echo for long periods. We commonly know that serious wounds to our physical body, or severe trauma experiences can reshape our brain structure and define how we respond to the world from that point forward,. What is not as commonly known is that injuries to the collection of microbes that live in and on us (called the microbiome) can also affect the way we see and respond to the world for a long time. In this case, research done in mice indicates that a mother under stress can result in injuries to the microbiome we depend on for many aspects of development. This can cause cognitive defects and anxiety in the child, and the effects of these injuries can persist all the way through adulthood.

Life is an interconnected tapestry of relationships that requires certain conditions to be cultivated in order to be able to realize it’s full potential. Recognizing these the widely dispersed cause and effect cues in this complex relationship field is the key to being able to shape them intentionally.

Click here to read further “Stress During Pregnancy Negatively Impacts Fetus, Microbiome may Explain Why

The Two Primary Drivers of Biological and Social Order

Any coherent unit of order, no matter if it is biological or social from an organism, to a group, to organizations and communities, or nation states are established by two primary behavioral drivers. The first driver is a collection of coordinated activities that establish the integrity of the unit. A group needs a cementing bond to identify “self” from “other”. Self behaviors are aligned around the community. In biological terms, an individual organism is built on a framework of shared genetics and common epigenetics that form a cohesive bond. In the case of complex creatures like ourselves, this coordinated effort extends to specialized organs that coordinate activities to maintain integrity, and the ability to collectively obtain and metabolize nutrients that also maintain the integrity.

In social terms, integrity also has bonds, these bonds may be formed with a set of ideas. It could be the love of a sport, or the behaviors that support the commonwealth of the community. In all cases, the global principle is that there is some form of cohesive glue that establishes and maintains the integrity of the group, thus establishing a metabolism social order.

Behavioral expressions are the way a social group demonstrates and reassures itself that it is maintaining integrity as a cohesive unit. These behaviors are how a group nourishes itself. This can come in the form of ritual behaviors such social nit picking in chimpanzees, or in the case of humans, it could come in the form of uniform clothing, symbols, the wearing of hats, common language, saluting a flags, the saying of pledges, or taking of oaths either formal or informal. These things, and how they are valued determine the strength of the bonds that maintain the metabolism of the group.

The second primary driver of group cohesion is the development of a kind of “behavioral immune system” that has the capacity to reject any behaviors or contend with situations that are perceived to be potentially harmful or destructive to the integrity of the group. This social immune system that provides a defensive group cohesion engine is not unique to humans by any means. In fact, we are but one expression of this global biological driver that is threaded throughout the entire web of biological life from top to bottom. We see its expression biochemically and socially.

Here is one small example of this principle at work in the case of ravens, those that cheat are excluded from the protective network of cooperative birds. Ravens are able to cooperate when, for example, mobbing predators, but they exclude cheaters because they free ride on the assumed risks the others take. Here is more detail on this group cohesion behavior in ravens.