Thursday, 30 July 2009

What a brain means:the deployment of expression

If you are a human mind, you already found yourself lots of time communicating, exchanging and creating content. This is pretty normal for a human mind; except we don’t really know what we are doing and what is the subject of this action (what is the meaning of meaning? ). I mean we all know for practical reason what we are doing, but tons of philosophy, linguistics and neuroscience still struggle to find an objective definition, a measurable expression, a normative way of defining what our brains mean with all this activity. Here I shall explain it. I’m kidding. But I’d like to address some points in the direction of the explanation.

Our neuronal architecture is build to exchange information amongst neurons; neurons are exchanging information about the external system but also about the internal systems: new configurations of the world triggers information exchange for neurons, but also new neurons configuration triggers information exchange amongst neurons themselves. This is called information re-entry and it’s a high level control of the system about itself; it’s pure old-school cybernetics (biology). The difference with humans is that we make a lot of noise, we produce an astonishing amount of higher and higher level of re-entry (we are dealing with configurations of the world plus new configurations of other brains plus the dynamic change this provokes on our own brains plus the new configuration this provokes on the world and other brains etc. etc.) . This is the source of stories. I see a man with a woman, I tell you. You hear of your woman with a man. You tell a stranger about his woman with me. Years afterwards I tell my grandchildren of a mad who chased me all my life to kill me. In decades there is a legend about a lost soul cursed to chase innocent guys.

Hang on a minute: we were speaking very seriously about neurons and now you started with tales and me and you and legends. That’s not neuroscience, this is not science at all probably! This smells like vested philosophy! Probably yes, but the story is still the same, so let me finish.
Cognitive systems are supposed to build representations of their environment (to some extent this starts very early in the hierarchy, basically at the unicellular level)(this is what I call a very early beginning for a story…). Human brains are not different. We build representations of our environments. Unfortunately (for a simplistic storytelling) the environments in which we are hosted are made of buildings, law of physics and also of previous stories, running stories and even stories we are telling in that precise moment. So our environments are changing our brains and our brains are changing our environments. This is the capacity of narrativity: the generative process of being manipulated by stories, of manipulating stories and of creating stories and being created by stories.

But for god’s sake, what is the reason of all this storytelling? It would be much simpler with a sound economics, a light state intervention, few dreams, more engineering departments, more hospitals. Why all this fuss about stories and tales? I guess: without stories, why we should build hospitals and societies at all?

Speaking more scientifically, the amount of informational re-entry of just one brain is such of an astronomical complexity; you need a control system as much as powerful. And you know a thing? Evolution already brought us a solution: our environment of tales supports this informational exchange. A brain to understand what’s happening must tell something: when a brain is telling something, is just scanning its environment. The deployment of expression is the way human brains represent their narrative environment.

In other words in order to be hosted in this narrative environment, a brain must be narrative; in order to represent the complexity of this expression, must express the complexity of this representation. In order to understand a story, you must be able to tell one.

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