Tonicity II

To Michael

More on Tonicity and the Image
April 15/2012

Hello Michael.

Here is an informal (if somewhat lengthy) reply. I hope you’ll forgive my mixing of levels of language sometimes talking in psychological terms, sometimes in existential ones, sometimes using technical terms and sometimes… well you get the idea. Also please remember in what follows the term image doesn’t just refer to visual images. All our senses (external and internal) are translated into, and registered as images whether they are visual, auditory, coenesthetic (i.e. internal sensations) etc.

But starting with your recent question. In the demonstration of perceiving and interpreting variations in the other person’s muscle tone without touching them. Negro’s focus was on the task, not on the people who were standing around, i.e. he was looking at and focused on the shelf and then the books. He could however see everyone except the person standing directly behind him, and possibly those who had made sure he wasn’t “peeking”.

In the writings by, and discussion among, magicians and mentalists who claim to know about these things one often finds “non-contact mindreading” explained on the basis of interpretations of tells and clues. For example, they say things like: “observe which way the feet of the audience are pointing” or “see where they look” or on the other hand they suggest the opposite “note where they are trying not to look”. It sounds like a less than reliable method. In any case, I think these sorts of explanation reveal both a lack of understanding and of experience. In my semi-informed opinion, those who have practical experience with these odd little works would say that it is in fact easier to do it with your eyes closed. That’s for a very good reason; the appropriate mental attitude is exactly the opposite of what these self-proclaimed experts are proposing. My understanding is that it’s a matter of tuning into the coenesthesia (i.e. the sensations of the intra-body) than to clues from the external senses. That’s certainly my memory of what Negro told us and that approach worked for Petur who, as I previously mentioned, successfully tried it out immediately after Negro’s demonstration.

Be that as it may, it is the theme of the image and its function that’s really what’s interesting in all this – even though it may not be as ”flashy” as mindreading. The theme of the image is central because it really is a key to understanding what we are, and how it is that we are “in-the-world”. As Negro has said, the image is the point where consciousness becomes behaviour. It’s thanks to images that we organize our world! I don’t think it would be putting it too strongly to say that images are the key to many of the greatest mysteries, to questions that have puzzled people since there were people – and maybe earlier than that.

There’s lots of aspects to all this, and lots of ways to approach this very rich theme of images. One way starts with that fundamental question that Silo’s Message explicitly presents in The Path: “who am I?”

I tend to find it easiest to understand all this in terms of the relation between the external and internal landscapes. It’s a subject that is beautifully rendered in that extraordinary little book The Internal Landscape. For a lot of reasons, its one of my favourite books and I think it presents great (and very helpful) insights into all this.

Here’s how I see it: Many times I ask myself “who am I?” and its just words. Maybe I repeat the question hoping for…  I don’t know what. Then I feel vaguely uncomfortable, I’m not sure what the words signify or even what would count as an answer. But at one moment, for whatever reason, the chatter in my head stops and in that moment many things could happen. For example, I suddenly feel that somehow things have changed, as if I find myself somewhere unexpected – I’m not sure where, and I don’t know how I got there, and I say in surprise “what? Me here?” With that I fall back to something closer to my usual state. With luck, perhaps without even noticing it, I bring, something back. Over time I might start to notice a change in my perspective, new insights, etc. However, all that’s not something we can easily control or induce – though we can prepare conditions for it to arise.

But here’s something that we can do quite simply and at any moment. I ask myself “who am I?” And instead of looking for a verbal answer I instead notice that, “I am here” that is there is a “me” (a look, an awareness, a consciousness, a subjectivity) and that this consciousness is “somewhere” (that is, the I that is asking is always somewhere, I have a surrounding, I am in the world). I can then say (not from theory, or because on someone else’s authority) that there is a structure: consciousness/world. That is, putting it abstractly there is no consciousness without a world and no world without a consciousness (remove the consciousness and whatever there is it isn’t a “world”). But that’s the theoretical version, more concretely: I am always in the world. I may be somewhere on the Earth, or diving deep into the sea, or walking on a different planet but I am always embodied and embedded in a world.

In the same way, “I” might be in the world of dreams, or of vigil but in all cases “I” am always “being-in-the-world”. That’s not an empirical fact that you have to confirm by going around and checking all possible situations. It is a structure, in the same way that colour and extension form a structure. You can’t (by definition if you like) have a colour that isn’t extended in space, or imagine extension without colour (variations in transparency are colour). The structure consciousness/world doesn’t need “fact checking” it is the condition for all other “facts”.

The point however is that, I find myself here (whatever “I” am, and wherever “here” is). But I experience this structure (I/everything else, consciousness/world, me and my environment, etc) as having two seemingly irreconcilable components. Normally, there is both a deep connection, and at the same time an impassable abyss between these two permanently linked components. The link is obvious: I am affected by every change in my environment, or in the objects around me, in the other people I interact with. The separation is equally obvious –I don’t have the immediate access to other things and people that I have to myself. My intentions don’t reach them as directly as they do me. That is I don’t normally (in vigil) mistake myself for others or for the things around me.

Somehow inside my body (in normal conversation we might say “in my head”) I find myself and on the other side of my skin is everything else. In other words my skin seems to divide a space of representation (i.e. where sensory information is translated as images) and a space of perception (where the sensory organs seem to receive stimulus). These spaces are the scaffold of my external and internal landscapes. But all of that structure is a structure of images (in the widest sense).

Well there you are, some thoughts on Silo’s ideas. To compare it to what he says (and you certainly should) take a look at As I’ve mentioned you could start with his book Contributions to Thought (Contribuciones al Pensamiento) which appears in the first volume of his Complete Works. This book is made up of two essays: Historiological Discussions and Psychology of the Image. It might be helpful however to start with a talk that he gave about that book on October 4, 1990, in Buenos Aires’ San Martín Cultural Center.

In that talk he sets out “the most important points of the first essay, Psychology of the Image. He goes on to give an overview of that book and its concerns. Among other things, he introduces us to some of the historical background of these questions. He gives, for example, the case of the French philosopher Renee Descartes (early 17th C.) As you may know, if you’re into that kind of stuff, Descartes felt, for various reasons, that soul and the world were totally separated and only appear connected. Remember, for Descartes and his buddies the “soul” wasn’t just the “ghost in the machine” (i.e. it wasn’t just the religious bit but also what we’d call your internal world) and the world (we’d say external world).

Silo insists that consciousness is not just like a mirror reflecting the world. He insists that we should love the reality we build, not only because our actions build the world but also because our consciousness itself is active and shapes our world. As he says: “This essay attempts to establish the basis for a hypothesis that posits consciousness as not simply the product or reflection of the action of one’s surroundings. Rather, it holds consciousness as something that, taking the conditions imposed by the surroundings, constructs an image or complex of images that are capable of mobilizing human action toward the world and, through this action, modifying the world. The one who produces the action is in turn modified by that action, and in that constant feedback there emerges the structure subject-world, and not two separate terms that only occasionally interact.” And all that is mediated by images (and their relationships). For Descartes the pineal gland was the juncture between the soul and the body. For us it is the image. It connects the so called external and the so called internal, the “subjective” and the “objective”. Well obviously this is going to take some study since most of us aren’t accustomed to thinking in these terms but I think it’s a fascinating, important and very useful subject.

warmest greetings,