Welcome to Episode #5 of Mapping the Medium, titled ‘A Bird’s Eye View’.
Please keep in mind as we move on to this episode #5 and beyond, that you will probably feel a bit lost if you haven’t yet listened to the previous episodes. AND, if you decide to participate in any of the sites’ discussion pages, I’m certain that others will definitely appreciate it if you’ve actually listened to the material before posting comments and questions.
Okay… Speaking of questions… As I’ve done in other intros, I now have a question for you relating to a previous episode. This question actually refers to episodes 3 AND 4.
As I explained in Episode 3, sign observance, as the processing utilization of the semiotic scaffold that developed over an individual mind’s lifetime, and the interflow with others, as various life forms process information between each other respective to their ‘shared medium’, is, at its most fundamental engagement, biological dialogue. I expanded on this in Episode 4, when I explained how sign observance (semiotics), and the resulting processing of meaning, is ‘epi’, on top of or in addition to, archetypes as described by Carl Jung. I also touched briefly on some examples of archetypes, and I provided an analogy meant to illustrate the difference between semiotics and archetypes. Archetypes, being a deeply held reactionary perception common to all of a particular species, could be thought of like internal hardware, and semiotics (as sign observance) could be thought of like external software that more actively engages dialogically with others sharing the medium.
So here’s my question….. Accepting that archetypes are impressive perceptions that are unconscious, and collectively shared by a particular species, and accepting that semiotics (sign observance) is the ‘epi’, interflowing biological dialogue of that same species, when we say that something is ‘universal’, aren’t we then saying that it is really only universal to human beings?
I’d love to read your response and additional thoughts. There are feedback sections on all of the Center’s sites, as explained in the SynechismCenter.com introduction video. I welcome you to post wherever you feel most comfortable.
Okay. Let’s get on with ‘A Bird’s Eye View’.
Once upon a time when pigs spoke rhyme
And monkeys chewed tobacco,
And hens took snuff to make them tough,
And ducks went quack, quack, quack, O!
This silly little children’s poem that begins the classic old fairy tale ‘The Magpie’s Nest’ also works rather well for us to begin our current topic. You can find this particular story on page 204, in a collection by Joseph Jacobs, published in 1890, and titled ‘English Fairy Tales’. Not only is it fascinating to explore the differences between children’s stories of that time with those of today, but it might even cause one to pause for a moment and imagine how different our culture might potentially be in another hundred and thirty years.
As much as I want to get on with our topic, I can’t help but stop here to point out something interesting at the very beginning of ‘English Fairy Tales’, where Joseph Jacobs explains how to get into the book. He writes,
“Knock at the Knocker on the Door, Pull the Bell at the side, Then, if you are very quiet, you will hear a teeny tiny voice say through the grating “Take down the Key.” ……
Hmm… How reminiscent that is of what we explored in Episode 2, ‘The Traveler and the Road’. We find ourselves once again following through with knocking on a door. And we even find ourselves once again in the company of a bird. The magpie in our current episode, however, is not flying up out of a turret. Now we will be exploring this particular bird species’ social intelligence, and even the interactive semiotic perceptions and displays characteristic of other bird species. The journey we took in episodes 1 through 4 walked us up to the door of recognition of the placement of our own perspective in relation to that of other human beings, in preparation of the complexities of the many future topics we will explore regarding human nature. Let us first work a little more on the humility aspect, by recognizing that universes of experience are not just limited to human beings. So for now, let’s try to understand them from ‘A Bird’s Eye View’.
In the story ‘The Magpie’s Nest’, all of the birds of the air came to the magpie and asked her to teach them how to build nests. These other birds were not magpies. And even though they were all birds, they were of many different varieties, which, in the course of each of their days, found themselves encountering very different events and experiences. The seeming intent of this story as it was written for children was to illustrate a spectrum range consisting of flighty impatience, focused logic, and inattentive rudeness. In keeping with the purposes of this episode however, we are going stay focused on the logic aspects. Besides, those who would land in the other positions on the spectrum are probably less likely to be listening to this podcast.
If you are not familiar with the magpie as a bird species, I encourage you to at least read the short article titled ‘Eurasian Magpie: A True Bird Brain, located at britannica.com/story/eurasian-magpie-a-true-bird-brain. The article explains that the Eurasian Magpie is one of the most intelligent of all animal species. Their brain-to-body-mass ratio equals that of the most intelligent marine mammals and great apes, and is only outmatched by the human species. They use tools, even devising utensils to assist in portioning the food that they feed to their young. They also imitate human speech, play games, work in teams, and when one of their own kind dies, they even gather to grieve with squawks and cries. Magpies are also one of only a few animal species to be able to pass the mirror test, having self-awareness, and understanding that their reflection is not that of another. Recent scientific research has been focusing on how the Australian Magpie’s cognitive performance is linked to group size. One article referencing this can be found at nature.com/articles/nature25503, explaining the ‘social brain’ theory that intelligence is related to societal complexity. I would argue that when it comes to groups of human beings, society is definitely becoming more and more complex. But when considering that science has also been concerned in recent years with what appears to be a drop in human attention span and intelligence, there must be something else going on which would explain this. If you would like to learn more about the drop in human intelligence and attention span, here are a couple of articles addressing these topics: sciencealert.com/iq-scores-falling-in-worrying-reversal-20th-century-intelligence-boom-flynn-effect-intelligence# and eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-04/tuod-aoi041119.php .
So the question inevitably becomes, “Why would the levels of human attention span and intelligence be dropping, when it’s so obvious that society is becoming more and more complex?” It is my hope that by this point in these episodes you’ve had a chance to read the information on the Discussion tab on SynechismCenter.com. There you will find links, videos, and a detailed explanation of what I would argue is the clear answer to this very concerning question.
Along with the links provided on the Discussion tab, we can also take a look at this from Charles Peirce’s perspective, as he did address the big picture of humanity’s wrong turn through his brilliant lens of logic. In realizing through his studies of history that this ‘turn’, likened to a ‘gripping of the wheel’, began to take place in the era of Scholasticism, when Catholic scholars devoted themselves to the study of Greek philosophy, trying to reach consensus on Plato, Aristotle, and the problem of ‘universals’ with that of the Christian Bible, Peirce chose this point in humanity’s intellectual development in which to apply his highly skilled logic. It’s important to note that Muslim and Jewish scholars also turned attention to this subject during the same time frame in humanity’s intellectual and religious studies as Scholasticism, and generally for the same reasons as the Catholics, to glean the aspects that would support their own cultural perspectives.
So it was that Peirce began his excavation and analysis of Scholasticism by reading what was and still is available to us of the perspective of one of its pioneers, Peter Abelard. You can read what Peirce himself read of Abelard’s ‘Historia Calamitatum’, aka ‘A History of My Calamities’, by following this free link at gutenberg.org/ebooks/14268. Peirce spoke of his impressions of Scholasticism and of Abelard regarding the ‘problem of universals’ in his ‘How to Make Our Ideas Clear’. … And I quote…
“Thus, even the scanty records we possess of those disputes enable us to make out a dozen or more opinions held by different teachers at one time concerning the question of nominalism and realism. Read the opening part of the Historia Calamitatum of Abelard, who was certainly as philosophical as any of his contemporaries, and see the spirit of combat which it breathes. For him, the truth is simply his particular stronghold. When the method of authority prevailed, the truth meant little more than the Catholic faith. All the efforts of the scholastic doctors are directed toward harmonizing their faith in Aristotle and their faith in the Church, and one may search their ponderous folios through without finding an argument which goes any further.”
What Peirce is pointing out to us here is that throughout the history of dogmatic perspectives, it is clear that we, as the whole of humanity, do ourselves a serious injustice when as individuals and collectives we constantly justify and reinforce beliefs only for the sake of holding on to them.
At this point in this episode, it would be wise for us to revisit something discussed in Episode 4 of this podcast, when I explained how it is because of our individually unique semiotic cognitive scaffolding that emerged and evolved as we each mapped our medium over the course of our lives, hence developing completely individualized models of the world, effectively placing each of us in the universal extension of thought like points on a web, and how really recognizing this provides the wonderful opportunity to step beyond cultural and individualized barriers. And in doing so, we begin to understand that what is considered ‘universal’ to humanity is not the same as ‘universes of experience’. By focusing on the ‘universal’ from the limited and subjective point of view of what it means to only human existence, we have not been able to step beyond that subjective self and understand the Universe as it really is, the slight differences for each human, and the gradient differences in the spectrum range of all other life forms. THIS is why philosophy in its general history has never solved the ‘problem of universals’. The arrogance that is human exceptionalism is directly responsible for our inability to understand the damage that our powerful but ignorant actions can have on all of life, human and otherwise.
So what does it mean to think of the Universe from some other life form’s perspective, say from ‘A Bird’s Eye View’? How would we start? We can’t possibly really know what it’s like to live within a bird’s body, to see the huge spectrum of colors and recognize atmospheric changes through the very different optical lens’ of their eyes and the sensory perceptions of their feathers, or even hear the myriad of sounds tuned to the same frequencies of that of bird songs by listening through the more limited ears of a human being, but we can get closer to understanding their perspectives by bringing the complexity of this problem down to what it is we do have in common with all other life forms, and then applying the cognitive tools we discussed in Episode 4. I am referring here to that of archetypes and semiotics.
Now it is true that we can only imagine what archetypal representations might be perceived within the unconscious depths of a bird’s mind, so perhaps it would be helpful for us to consider using an analogy in regard to this question. Let’s compare, for example, how a human being might respond to the ‘garden’ archetype, or the very common literary usage of an ‘oasis’, or even a ‘well’. We should easily be able to understand the unconscious, and very primitive, quenching or place of gathering that these archetypes bring to mind due to thousands of years of evolutionary ‘habit’ ingrained in these representations. They are representations that have epigenetically influenced the collective psyches of our species because of the repeated understanding of the meanings they hold. Just as how repeated events for the individual mind become ingrained in the neural network during childhood development as we reviewed in Episode 1, evolutionary processes, and the habitual nature that reinforces the recognition of an archetype, also become ingrained in the collectiveinduction of a species. As Charles Peirce explained, and I quote…
“Thus the formations of a habit is an induction, and is therefore necessarily connected with attention and abstraction. Voluntary actions result from the sensations produced by habit, as instructive actions result from our original nature.”
THIS was the important point that Episode 4 pointed to in ‘Peter and the Wolf’, about how we can understand the archetypal representations of the sounds of the different musical instruments, without needing to see images or hear words. THIS ingrained law of habit is an example of one of Peirce’s three categories of universes of experience. This is Thirdness.
Instinct is an instructive, involuntary response from a life form’s original nature, but Induction emerges beyond instinct, by perceiving, paying attention to, and responding voluntarily, while preceding and then initiating the abstraction of further information, acting as a bridge between instinct and abductive inference. Therefore, induction is not conscious, just as riding a bike or driving a car becomes so habitual that you are not conscious of every movement. Our actions respond according to the law of habit. To reiterate, law as this is an example of Thirdness.
It’s also extremely important that we understand how Thirdness operates both bottom up AND top down. An example of this would be that from one direction we can note the bottom up expression of an archetypal representation coming up from the unconscious, such as the musician’s process of selecting and playing the flute to represent the bird in Peter and the Wolf, or from the direction of the listener we can note the top down perception as the understanding of the flute as the sound of the bird. Both representation and understanding emerge and take hold without us consciously thinking about them. Either can say after the fact that “the flute sounds like a bird”, but the inductive inference emerged from the unconscious before the abductive inference became conscious.
How this acts within a collective group is what Jung meant by collective unconscious. This is habit as it applies to a culture or society. This is species relative Thirdness. And, as I’ve not yet seen or read elsewhere what I’m about to say here, either written or discussed, I will now posit that a recognized cultural symbol is actually a manifested collective induction. And as we discussed in Episode 3, semiosis as biological dialogue has reached a level of complexity in human beings that has become language, so I suggest that the evolutionary counterpart that is archetypal representation has reached the level of complexity in human beings that has become symbols. It’s also important to note here that both Peirce and Jung included imagination as a very important aspect of these bottom up and top down reasoning processes towards reaching a belief that will ultimately ignite purposive action.
As I stated earlier, we can only imagine what perception might be like from the perspective of a bird, so I would suggest that when we are trying to understand the perspective of another, whether human or otherwise, we should start with a commonality. That being said, when considering my prior references to archetypal gardens, oases, and wells, might a backyard bird bath be a comparable archetypal representation for us to use in our analysis? Human beings have been intentionally creating bird baths for as long as anyone can remember. The earliest forms were simply depressions dug into the ground. Then in 1830, almost two hundred years ago, came the first creation of a bird bath on a pedestal. It would certainly seem that enough time and evolutionary process has gone by for the bird bath to take its place in the collective induction of backyard song birds. To these birds, a bird bath might actually carry even more in the way of additional meanings than we as human beings can only imagine, but if we take the commonalities of quenching and gathering as a primitive necessities and purposes for action, and realize that this also applies as habitual meaning for any life form, it would make sense that in this case we can get closer to understanding how such an archetypal representation might be seen from the perspective of a bird.
But what about the gradient difference between an unconscious collective induction and a manifested collective induction, as in what I posited about symbols? Science has confirmed that several animal species can understand and communicate with humans using human symbols, but is collectively inductive manifestation of archetypal representation only present in human beings? I would argue that we should consider what science has observed in the mating behavior of the White-spotted Pufferfish, who creates elaborate circular patterns on the ocean floor to attract a mate, and the many intricate dances and feather displays of various species of birds, or even the more specific example of the Satin Bowerbird’s collection and offering of only blue objects to its mate. Each of these behaviors may not have reached the level of complexity comparable to human symbolism, but they carry meaning that is collectively understood within those species. I suggest that these behaviors are emergent collective inductions that evolutionarily speaking are less complex examples of collectively inductive manifestations. Per the analogy I put forth in Episode 4, the gradient emergence illustrated in these spectrums of different species is where the so-mentioned hardware connects to the software, where archetypal representations evolve and expand into connective sign observance, where primordial instinct converges and develops into inductive, abductive, and deductive reasoning, and how individual differences ‘form’ according to the influence of events and environment. This emergence from bottom up ultimately becomes a culture specific semiosphere, where the give and take dialogue of semiosis feeds top down back to the base organism. If we turn this self-sustaining system upside down, what is bottom becomes top, and vice versa, illustrating that it is clearly irreducible. And on the grander scale, when we pan out and view this as the genetic and epigenetic gradient spectrum that encompasses all life forms, we can clearly see that there is continuity in all that exists. Just imagine what lies beyond what we as only human can perceive.
To sum up these very important points, Thirdness cannot be escaped. It renounces human exceptionalism, solves the problem of universals because it explains how all that exists is a continuous, gradient spectrum that cannot be reduced to particulars, and is the archical momentum in the manifestation of physical, conscious, and unconscious forms. The nominalist materialism and reductionism approach that developed because of human beings’ desire to elevate themselves to an exceptional status among life forms, and its view that all that exists are only individuals and particulars to be judged and hierarchized to support the instant gratification benefit of this human exceptionalism, is a blinders wearing, severely disabled view, and its severing nature is tragically destructive, not only to humanity, but to all other life within our Medium. Nominalism is the proverbial ‘bull in a china shop’.
With a now much broader and clearer perspective, let’s set the bull that is nominalism aside for a moment and revisit our story of ‘The Magpie’s Nest’. All of the birds of the air came to the magpie and asked her to teach them how to build nests, but these other birds were not magpies, even though they were all birds. They were of many different species, and in the course of each of their days, they found themselves encountering very different events and experiences. Perhaps we can now understand that what we previously viewed as flighty impatience or inattentive rudeness towards the magpie by the other birds, could also be seen as the unwillingness or the inability of the instructing magpie to find a common perspective with which all of the birds could start from and then perceptively learn together. It seems that they all needed to understand that exceptionalism keeps everyone from reaching their full potential.
Until next time, be well, be safe, be inquisitive, dialogue with others of different perspectives, and always be sure to steer clear of that bull.