Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Rhetoric and the Plastic Brain: The Manuscript

Four chapters of Rhetoric and the Plastic Brain are once again available at

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Rhetoric, Neuroscience, and the Nonhuman

Abstract for SLSA Conference:

This paper reflects on the rhetoric of animal and human studies in affective neuroscience. I begin with a narrative about methodological struggles involving behaviorist B.F. Skinner, neuroscientist Jak Panksepp, and neuropsychologist Richard Lane. The narrative introduces a tension between experimental methods as a function of ethos in this hybrid field.

One of the interesting structural features of affective neuroscience as a field of inquiry is that animal studies produce methodological imperatives to which human studies cannot aspire for ethical reasons, while the onto-teleological focus on human affect tacitly supports the inhumane treatment on nonhumans. In some quarters of neuroscience, for example, only animal studies are considered legitimate because they provide direct proof of neurogenesis (via autopsy). In other quarters animal studies are considered arcane because researchers accept indirect evidence of neurogenesis, available through PET scans and fMRI.

What interests me primarily are the underlying assumptions of the two camps. Animal scientists regard their “hard” evidence as more real than the “soft” evidence of PET scans and the like, reproducing inherited value distinctions. (But this is an old and tired critique.) On the other hand, scientists who privilege human experience as the proper subject or end of neuroscience privilege human “creatureliness” in a way that tacitly supports animal experimentation. What would an affective neuroscience uninterested in the differences between human and other creatureliness look like? What scientific assumptions would it challenge and what kind of methodologies might it produce? And how would it discipline techno-science not only ethically but epistemologically?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sustainailbity, Politics, and a Conscious Turn

Please see my new Environmental Critique post:

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Reading Eliade’s the *Sacred and the Profane* over the holidays I offer these seven old ideas for the new year:

1) Welcome the new year as a new world. (Seriously reject history.)
2) Celebrate the new year by creating utter chaos—what came before creation.
3) Lay on the ground as a ritual of rebirth (after it snows).
4) Travel to the underworld to retrieve a lost soul.
5) Accept woman as your god. (My first commandment.)
6) Understand that change requires transformation, loss, and inevitably grief.
7) Leave your body (on occasion . . . see point 2).

Monday, October 24, 2011

Objects of Desire

New or slightly altered perspective on desire . . . . The other is surely unavailable, withdrawn (to use OOO terminology), but the psyche might confuse emotional and physical needs/access (re. contemporary psychological and neuroscientific research on cognition and affect). This makes sense of pathological jealousy--the lover is possessive, obsessive, and controlling of *the psyche* because he cannot bear the thought of loosing physical access.

On the other hand I think it quite proper to physically want, crave (yes, “crave” my Buddhist friends), need, and be devoted to another. It can be fun, healthy (good exercise), adaptive, and unavoidable. A contrary view might even be masculinist. (Though, in truth, I am an unrepentant romantic.)

Maybe the error is in trying to consciously or unconsciously employ the psyche to control, guarantee, or even understand the challenges and opportunities of physical access. If two people cleave, they cleave. Why regret physical desire that isn't mutual? "I'm Scandinavian and everything is what it is [and what it's not]" (Timbaland v. Nephew). In fact the emotional pain of not being with another we desire may just mask the even more painful, but ultimately liberating, reality that everyone (even mummy and daddy) is dark, strange, and withdrawn. (I'm thinking of O3 and the Gothic novel suddenly, the labyrinth of Northanger Abbey . . . ).

But when two people cleave (two meanings, yes) —that can be good. Beautiful. True. Love. We are inseparable, because we are incapable of separation, even in our strangeness.

Interesting to me is not that everyone withdraws (though they do), but that some withdraw more than others, and that some may withdraw emotionally and not physically, or the opposite . . . or can't help but withdraw. I think of my former analyst’s over-the-top, knee-jerk reaction when I touched his shoe on the way out of the office one day. (The one who called me on vacation when I first terminated, and whose “little voice inside said, ‘don’t leave me’” the second time.) What more obvious tokens of withdrawal . . .

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Empiricism and the Unconscious

Given recent and robust scientific evidence of the existence of the unconscious, it behooves us to become our own observers and/or analysts, in a sense. I don’t mean by that interpreting dreams and such. I mean taking seriously the notion that we can’t understand our deepest motivations—at least not based on our own current tales. At some point we have to look at our behaviors and derive the deeper motivations from the behaviors. This also means looking at one’s behavior with an empirical eye.

If I want to paint but never find the time, doesn’t that prove that I really don’t want to paint, so much? If I want more leisure time but keep taking on new projects doesn’t that suggest that I am somehow afraid of or don’t feel entitled to that leisure? And what about “tough-love” tactics that aren’t so tough after all. In the classroom, for example . . . if I never follow through on my “threats,” who am I kidding?

The existence of the unconscious challenges our illusion of a unified, coherent self . . . but that’s another story, for another time.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Nested Questions

Thank you very much for the article which is indeed relevant to my work.

A few sincere questions regarding "primary" and "secondary" consciousness in that article: If "awareness" of feelings, let's say, requires some type of verbal representation (as in naming or definition, even in addressing oneself) is there always some distance between the immediate feeling (X) and the mental representation? In other words, how do I consciously know or recognize a truly unmediated, outwardly directed, feeling (as a feeling)? (Again honest questions; I'm not prone to employing overused figures.)

Also, if LeDoux (as I recall) posits the possibility of a "short circuit" between immediate perception and "procedural" response (in some cases), is the immediate affective response conscious or unconscious? To put it another way, when I am startled am I immediately aware of my response or does it, perhaps, seem so because conscious awareness follows fast on the heels of the initial "physiological" response?

Well, this may be all to close to that debate between Lane and Pankseep a few years ago, which (as Locke might have predicted) had a lot more to do with terminology than the interlocutors understood at first . . . .

But I appreciate "The Freudian xxx," and will review/revise my unpublished MS accordingly. (I have undoubtedly misrepresented Freud more than once.)

Regarding James, for whom I have a deep affection: Have you seen *The Mind & the Brain" by Jeffrey M. Schwartz or Henry Stapp's *Mindful Universe*?