Episode 1: A Place to Begin


Photo by Matt Wolf

Thank you for joining me on this very first episode of ‘Mapping the Medium’. .. Before I grab your hand, and your attention, to take you down this rabbit hole with me, I’d like to tell you a little bit about the overall format of this podcast so that you may better understand what to expect…… At the beginning of each episode, I will do my very best to include a short outline to help you get a better idea of what the episode is about. .. And as you come to know me better, you’ll discover that there may be subtle, and perhaps even not so subtle, ‘meanings’ in my choices of titles, topics, and content that may only be revealed to you by listening to the episodes in their entirety. It is my sincere hope that you will find value and entertainment in the hidden treasures that we uncover together. .. I say ‘together’ because I do appreciate your feedback, and I encourage you to comment, and potentially start a dialogue that may find its way into future episodes. .. At the end of each one, I will always remind you of the website address at http://www.mappingthemedium.com, where you can easily share your thoughts and offer your support for the podcast. … In addition, to assist you in researching the topics before you comment, I will always do my best to provide scholar names and sources to any information that I have cited. ..… It is also in my plans to have guest participation, and I warmly extend an invitation to any interested parties having the appropriate knowledge of the topics as listed on the website, and who view our world and humanity in a spirit that is compatible with this podcast. ….. Okay, let’s move on and get started with ‘A Place to Begin’.

There’s really no better place to start than at a beginning, and to properly begin this podcast journey, it is very important that we all understand the meaning behind the title ‘Mapping the Medium’. .. Since the word ‘Medium’ is the noun in our title, and will be the subject of what we are ‘Mapping’, it only makes sense that I begin this explanation by exploring the meaning of the word ‘Medium’. .. There are many meanings of this word, as defined in most online sources that very well illustrate why it has made its way into the title. The primary meaning that seems to stand out is usually listed as the ‘second’ definition in most dictionaries. ….. Here it is …“the ‘intervening substance’ through which impressions are conveyed to the senses or a force acts on objects at a distance” …. Some commonly listed synonyms (or other words with similar meaning) are habitat, element, environment, surroundings, conditions, circumstances, and atmosphere …
And a great example of usage is found in the following sentence “these organisms were growing in their natural medium”. …
Humans, being the biological creatures that we are, and this podcast, being focused on human perspective, ‘clearly’ THIS is the meaning that makes so much sense, and the main one we will use as our foundation. …. Now, the ‘first’ most common definition of ‘medium’ found in most dictionaries is this one “an agency or means of doing something”, which also includes a ‘mode’ of expression, … a means by which something is communicated … We are all certainly familiar with the impact the ‘media’ has had on our world today …. But Medium can also mean the actual ‘material’ or ‘form’ used by an artist, composer, or writer. …. This definition also includes ‘language’, as a medium for communication. …. Another noteworthy meaning includes this one “a solution used to mix paint colors”. .. Hmm, it’s interesting to think about how all of these are related. … Yes, these ‘other’ definitions can also be applied as a strong foundation for our purposes. ….. Finally, I think I should also point out one last crucial definition. …Here it is, “the middle quality or state between two extremes; a reasonable balance”. …Hmm… I think I’ll just ask that you hold this definition in the back of your mind for now, and perhaps at a later date we can consider how it relates to all that we’ve explored.

Now that we’re clear on our meaning of the word ‘medium’, it’s time to move on and explain the verb in our title; ‘Mapping’.

For the purposes of this podcast, the term ‘mapping’ is used to refer to ‘cognitive mapping’. .. “A ’cognitive map (sometimes called a mental map or mental mode) is a type of mental representation that serves an individual in acquiring, coding, storing, recalling, and decoding information about the relative locations and attributes of phenomena in their everyday or ‘metaphorical’ spatial environment”. You can easily research ‘cognitive map’ online by entering that term into your browser search engine. There is also an article located on Nature.com explaining more about this. You will find it at http://www.nature.com/articles/nn.4656 . In the article, scholars discuss how three basic elements of cognitive ‘map based navigation’, that is… spatial coding, landmark anchoring, and route planning, might also be applied to ‘non-spatial’ domains, providing the building blocks for many core elements of human thought. … My point here being that what I previously mentioned about the ‘medium’ in which we all live, and impressions on us being made through our senses, including the impressions of our ‘environment’, ‘conditions’, and ‘circumstances’, ‘is’ the momentum for the brain mapping process in our individual minds,… a ‘perceived’ model of the world,… starting as early as the very first impressions our senses pick up while still in our mother’s womb. … I won’t delve into this right now, preferring to explore it in a future episode, but research in the field of epigenetics is potentially indicating that some of the brain modeling that takes place may actually have to do with regulatory information affecting gene expression that is genetically handed down from previous generations. Could it be that we inherit some of our fears, prejudices, and other such traits, from our ancestors? This would certainly seem to make sense for the survival of any primitive animal species born into a jungle full of predators. .. Another question resulting from this might be whether or not the ‘mapping’ of our ‘perceived’ world is fully encased in an ‘individual’ mind. … Is your mind fully your own? Or did it have, and could it still have, some existence outside of your individual body? … We will explore these questions more in future episodes, when we delve further into linguistics, semiotics, religion, the biological sciences, and other such relevant topics, but for right now we will stay focused on the developing brain of a child.

Out of all natural fertilizations of a human embryo, researchers estimate that approximately 60% never become properly implanted in the uterus, thereby ending the new life before the mother is ever even aware that she is pregnant.
For the fertilized egg that does implant properly, it will be approximately 22 days later that the neural tube will begin to form, with head development following quickly at about the fourth week. Neural connection development in the brain begins in the sixth week, and is near or at completion around the middle of a full term pregnancy. … Side note here, …There are many reliable online resources if you’d like to do further research, however, I do always recommend that you check the credentials of any source of your information. .. My background includes studies in prenatal and early childhood development, leading to my certification as a developmental parenting educator. The science is always improving and updating. And yes, there are many fascinating things about human development that I truly wish the general public would take more time to understand. …Now back to our topic, so it is that around the ninth week of prenatal development, the embryo is now a fetus, and this is the period that begins what we might think of as the more ‘perceptive’ changes in the brain. Neurons continue to form and ‘migrate’ to their appropriate places according to their genetic instructions. … Synapses also form, becoming the connections between the neurons that transmit information from one neuron to another, allowing the brain to process information and promote further growth and development in the domains of intellectual, social-emotional, language, and motor skills. Synapses are really quite fascinating. Although the neurons are ‘connected’ at the synapse, they are not actually ‘attached’ to each other. There is a gap between each one of them. It is the synapse that permits a neuron to engage in a dialogue of sorts, of chemical and electrical ‘signals’, in the localized neural circuit for the larger network processing, and all of this without actually touching the neighboring neuron. …. So what kind of information is a fetus processing? Science has determined that the ability to hear sound during gestation does not begin until about 18 weeks, and ‘sensitivity’ to sound isn’t really developed until closer to 24 weeks. And even then, the sounds are distorted and muted, similar to hearing under water… There ‘is’ also the mother’s rhythm and movement to consider, and even what she has consumed, but just what else is the brain of a fetus processing prior to 18 weeks of gestation? … Along with the necessary decoding of genetic information, as the neural connections in the brain of a fetus form and multiply, it is processing its environment, conditions, and circumstance. And as each neuron repeats the detection of a perception, that circuit in the brain becomes more ingrained and reinforced. .. The forming child is rapidly ‘mapping’ his ‘medium’, and this mapping will continue at a phenomenal rate until the child is six years old, when his slowed head growth will constrain further brain growth, and at which time the neural connections least useful to the child in his daily environment will be pruned back. The child has been as biologically prepared as possible for his particular environmental surroundings. Wherever, and under whatever circumstances those may be.

But how do we understand ‘mapping’ as it relates to an adult human brain, especially when we consider that the early childhood brain has been biologically prepared for one type of environment, whether nurturing or not, but adult mental health and survival in today’s world means being subjected to and navigating an environment that is a wide open medium, flooded with accurate, and inaccurate, information?

In a 1933 book titled “Science and Sanity”, Polish-American scientist and philosopher, Alfred Korzybski, elaborated further on statements he had made in a previous paper, in which he wrote “the map is not the territory” and “the word is not the thing”. Korzybski held that many people do confuse maps with territories, or models of reality with reality itself. In this same book, Korzybski did acknowledge his debt to mathematician Eric Temple Bell whose epigram “the map is not the thing mapped” appeared in his book titled “Numerology”, which also happened to be written in 1933. … I detect a difference between what Bell was talking about and Alfred Korzybski’s take on it, but I will save my thoughts on that for another episode. .. Anyway, I also find it interesting to think about Korzybski’s choice of words in describing Bell’s epigram. .. 1933 was the middle of the Great Depression, and the same year in which Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany. Perhaps we should consider the meaning of Korzybski’s usage of the word ‘territory’ in relation to the predominant mental and emotional perspectives of the time. .. Korzybski is also known for using another term, ‘abstraction’, to illustrate his view that humans filter the information content of a concept or an observable phenomenon, and select ‘only’ the aspects that are relevant for a particular ‘subjectively valued purpose’. ..Hmm… In today’s world of technology and video games, one might be inclined to think of an avatar cruising around a territory to be conquered, selecting which specific power pods to land on in order to abstract, boost, and reinforce that avatar’s ‘subjective purpose’. … The map-territory relation was also broached some years later by British-American philosopher Alan Watts when he said “the menu is not the meal”. Again, we might consider the meanings of the words ‘menu’ and ‘meal’ in relation to the then world of the 1960s, when consumerism was in high gear. In this case, our ‘avatar’ might be more likely to resemble Pac Man. …

And to more deeply expound on the relation, in a 1972 book titled ‘Steps to an Ecology of Mind’, English anthropologist, social scientist, linguist, and semiotician, Gregory Bateson, wrote this… And I quote…

”We say the map is different from the territory. But what is the territory? Operationally, somebody went out with a retina or a measuring stick and made representations which were then put on paper. What is on the paper map is a representation of what was in the retinal representation of the man who made the map; and as you push the question back, what you find is an infinite regress, an infinite series of maps. The territory never gets in at all. … Always, the process of representation will filter it out so that the mental world is only maps of maps, ad infinitum.” … End quote.

Okay, so let’s take what these noted thinkers had to say about our ‘map-medium’ relationship and revisit our developing child. … His cognitive map began prenatally, according to his perceived environment. That continued into his early childhood, mapping his place in a much larger expanse, and trying to navigate his ‘perceived’ medium accordingly. And although actual brain ‘growth’ does slow after early childhood, cognitive mapping continues. Every perception of every event, and the perception of the environmental circumstances surrounding each event, is incorporated into his already ingrained cognitive map, and attached to a previously understood, or often ‘misunderstood’, perspective, reinforcing it, and ultimately affecting the way future experiences and perceptions are processed, incorporated, and mapped. … What all of this boils down to is that the ‘true’ medium is ‘always’ cloaked, and is not ‘possibly’ accessible to any ‘one’ individual’s cognitive map. .. The way we ‘each’, as ‘individuals’, see the world, is never the actual ‘reality’ of the medium, no matter who we are, what experiences, or even what opportunities, we may have.

So how do we address ‘fixations of beliefs’ in our current world, with people so polarized in their thinking? Their cognitive maps of their own individual truths have been reinforced, and subsequently ingrained, due to the cultural encouragement of something philosophers call ‘ontological individualism’, creating divisive societies that are every day becoming more and more void of the dialogue needed to encourage a ‘shared understanding’ of the medium in which we all live. Rather than reaching out to and dialoguing with others of different perspectives, as we desperately need to do, ontological individualism encourages people of different cognitively mapped worldviews to shut each other out. .. How do we overcome this, and move forward in a positive, rational, problem solving way? Some people may be able to understand the science of human development, and some others may even have historical knowledge of thinkers like Gregory Bateson. But how do we explain all of this to people who are not familiar with these understandings? I spend a lot of time asking myself questions like these. What I try to focus on is how to express my thoughts to those closest to me, with the hope that the ideas will radiate beyond my immediate sphere. Another method I’ve decided might be helpful, since it has been such a successful teaching tool throughout human history, is storytelling. Here now is an example of the type of story that I mean. …..

It was a beautiful spring morning in mid-April, when many of the town’s people woke up to find an anonymous post on their Facebook newsfeed. They had never seen this poster’s icon before, and there was little information to be found on the profile page, only that it was locally based. The identifying name on the account was ‘Proposer’, and many came to the conclusion that it might be a local business or a government entity. The post on the newsfeed read as follows:

“An opportunity to acquire a phenomenal prize. A treasure so wonderful that it will change your life and the life of your family for generations to come. To participate, submit by private message telling a little bit about yourself and why you are interested. There will only be twelve selected, and if chosen, you will receive further instructions.”

Well of course there was much suspicion and hesitation, but the post quickly went viral, and hundreds of people sent in messages explaining why they thought they should be selected. .. Within a few days, twelve very excited respondents received replies in their inboxes containing the detailed but still quite vague instructions. They were each told that, in order to learn more about the proposal, they would have to be at a specific latitude longitude coordinate at noon, no later, and no earlier, on the upcoming Sunday.

Well the day finally came. All of the respondents arrived in their vehicles and gathered at the head of a wooded trail leading to the destination point. With curious anticipation, they walked down the path as a group, insuring that they all arrived at the same time and precisely at noon. There at the coordinates, they discovered a kiosk, with a large microphone and speaker, mounted on a platform and holding twelve colored envelopes. Three green, three orange, three purple, and three yellow, and each bearing the name of a participant.

A voice was heard coming from the kiosk speaker. …. “Welcome, to all of you. You have each found your way here because you responded to my proposal and made a case for why you should be a recipient of a treasure that will change your life. Please find and open your personal envelope. In it you will find a survey map of this one hundred acre parcel of land of which you are currently standing directly in the middle. .. You will note that the survey shows it to be an exact square, and that it also illustrates some of the natural features of the property. At each corner of this tract, I have placed a flag of the same color as your envelope. Before hiking to the corners, please take fifteen minutes to talk with one another. And then, using the microphone, report back to me with a descriptive name for your group.”

And so the participants broke into groups according to the colors of their envelopes. It wasn’t long before each person realized how much they had in common with the other members of their same color. .. Once the fifteen minutes had gone by, they were standing ready to report their chosen names. A representative from each color stepped forward. First to speak was the color orange. … “It didn’t take us long to figure out how much we have in common,” he said. “We actually know of each other. … Although we’re not close friends, we all attended the same military boot camp, and we all belong to the same hunting club. We have all, at one time or another, hunted here, on this hundred acre parcel. And we’d like to be known as The Hunters.”…. Next to speak was the color green. ….. “It is similar with us,” she said “in that we are not close friends, but we all know of each other. We graduated in the same class from an Ivy League college, and we all pursued careers in academia. Not only are we all environmentally conscious intellectuals, but every one of us, at one time or another, has fished for trout in the river that winds through this tract of land. .. Therefore, you can refer to us as The Fishers of Trout.”… And then an older woman holding a purple envelope stepped forward. . “We also know about each other, she said, “We all come from the poor side of town, and we all belong to the same house of worship there. Our strong sense of community has helped us survive. And each of us, when we were children, at one time or another picked blackberries on this land, to sell at a fruit stand and help buy our new school clothes for the coming year. We would really like for you to call us The Berry Pickers.” … And lastly, a smiling young man bounced forward to speak. ..”All of us yellow ones can tell you story after story about the fun times we’ve had on this hundred acres. Running through the woods, climbing trees, ‘eating’ those blackberries, and swimming in the best swimming hole anywhere! So sure,” he grinned, as he turned away to high five the others, “I guess you can just call us The Swimming Holers.”… Now that everyone had had a chance to speak, the Proposer began explaining the final details of the instructions. … The participants were told that there is an unknown number of easily recognizable clues scattered throughout the hundred acres that they must find. Once they believe that they have found them all, and have marked the locations on their maps, they are to return to the kiosk and present their findings to the Proposer. If they have not found all of the clues, they will be told to continue looking. They must all be found by noon on the coming Saturday.

And so it was that the participants had all of the information and instructions, and each of the four colors began the trek to find the corner with their flag. As they hiked, they discussed their strategies. “Oh man, we’ve got this in the bag!” remarked one of the Hunters to his group, “Our military skills will kick in and we can pace off this hundred acres, then systematically search each quadrant. We can also build deer stands in the trees and scan the property with our rifle sights. Finding all of the clues shouldn’t take us more than a day or two, max.” He was confident. ……. And following suite, The Fishers of Trout were certain of their abilities to contemplate the locations using their focused intellectual skills, The Berry Pickers were certain of their knowledge of the topography, and the Swimming Holers were certain of their free spirit thinking and love of nature. They all had a plan.

As each day went by, more and more clues were discovered by each of the groups. The Fishers of Trout realized that some of the river rocks were broken, and would fit back together like a jigsaw puzzle, revealing a clue. They also discovered a natural sundial, and deduced a time for the sunshine to hit the reeds, revealing another clue. The Swimming Hollers found a clue inside a tire swing, and then discovered another by laying on their backs and looking up at the tree canopy. The Hunters peered through their gun sights, and were able to see isolated clues that could be overlooked by the others. And the Berry Pickers found several clues hidden underneath the bushes and between some rocks. …. As the week progressed, each group would periodically take their clues and present them at the kiosk, always being told that there were still more to find and to continue their search. As the days went by, and the groups became more frustrated, they also became more suspicious of each other, fearing that whenever they ventured close to the middle, another group might see where they were looking and claim a clue before they could, and acquire the treasure that they were sure was meant for them. On one occasion, the Hunters happened to be looking down upon the Berry Pickers, when one hunter who was peering through his gun sight remarked to the others, “From this vantage point, I could pick a few berries of my own, if you know what I mean.” .. The Berry Pickers overheard him, and one whispered to the others, “Don’t look up. We are vulnerable to them because they are above us. Just keep looking for clues. When ‘we’ get the prize, ‘they’ will be the ones looking up to us.” … But by the sixth day of looking, many of the participants were ready to give up. They were sure they had found all of the clues, and were even talking between themselves that perhaps they had been deceived, and that this whole ‘proposal’ thing was an evil game and that they were being played. They were no longer searching for clues, and they were ready to confront the Proposer.

At noon on Saturday, the frustrated participants gathered at the kiosk to demand an explanation. The Proposer welcomed them, and addressed the group. …“Gooday to all of you. It is unfortunate that the time has come to end the challenge. Each time that participants came to the kiosk to present their clues, there were still missing many from their maps. Even though every clue has been discovered, no one has been able to present a complete map marked with every location.”

“How could we?” yelled one of the participants. “You tricked us. How could we stay in our colored corner and still find all of the clues?” Plus, the other groups had skills and perspectives that we didn’t have. Your proposal was a dead end from the get go!” ….

After a long silence, the Proposer concluded with these words. . … “At no time in the instructions did I say for you to stay separated, or that you could not engage in dialogue, and share in the search for clues. … There was only one group, and there were twelve people in it. I color combined you with those you would recognize for companionship and encouragement. Then I spread you out across the land in order to cover the most terrain. .. But as for the four corners? That was just a place to begin.

Until next time, be well, be safe, be hopeful, and always remember to ask yourself what unknown clues you’re missing from your map, and who can help you find them.

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