10 Questions about Mnemonic Automaticism

That last essay on Science Fiction didn’t quite go where I wanted it to or expected it to: it seemed to suggest that insanity is at once a state best described by science fiction, and that characterizes science fiction itself. We are caught between a model of insanity as a form of rigor (and we associate rigor with evasiveness) and as that which is referenced by this rigor, I mean, so that science fiction is also an effective model for this rigor. So it proposes a kind of liminal state of thinking, a moment when the thought and the thinking are indistinguishable, and a moment when the thinker is INTERESTING, in the Conradian sense:

“I remembered the old doctor,–‘It would be interesting for science to watch the mental changes of individuals, on the spot.’ I felt I was becoming scientifically interesting.”

Indeed, we are indeed always wondering wether “we are interesting” to ourselves, I mean, which means, whether we need to sort of step in someone else’s shoes, or make an imaginative excursion in order to get to the important things in history.
But, on the other hand — I mean, with respect to where that last essay ended up suggesting — there is the far more definite issue of the nature of automaticism. However these concepts may pan out, it seems to me the most interesting one is automaticism (or insanity) itself — something that begs to be modeled. And the whole discussion on science fiction originally came after an unsuccessful attempt to model automaticism psychologically and realizing that it wouldn’t work, that we needed to take a step back and realize that this concept may be more preliminary than we thought, that automaticism — which we believe is real — is something that is neither conscious nor unconscious, cultural nor psychological, phenomenal nor mnemonic, but rather seems to blur the line between all these terms.

I had the thought today that automaticism was really related to the old question of *free will*. Aren’t we ALWAYS “automatic” in some respect? The CPU never stops humming. We don’t have free will because — well, free will requires some notion of authenticity, and I think that we can just agree that that is the moment when automaticism in fact comes most into play. But, barring this simplistic dismissal, automaticism, like will, is something that is always there, subtle, undetectable, but fundamental, something that seems to direct us somewhere. We can never “reflect” or step beyond automaticism because in seeking truth we are engaged in a circuit too.
The basic model I have in mind here is *mnemonic* automaticism rather than one that is based on desire. It is an automaticism of memory, which seems to bring up some notion of even a *program* or something, as if our behaviors can be encoded with some neurological machine language. But it is not quite that; I conceive it as the automaticism of memory traces that hijack earlier, and perhaps non-mnemonic, automations. That is, let’s just assume that everything we do is automatic. The emphasis isn’t so much here that we can’t choose — let’s just dismiss that as a moot question. It’s rather this notion — as Faulkner says — “I can’t stop thinking!” There are layers and layers of automation in our mind, but the one that we are interested in is the automation of memory or of external memory, of the mark. Marks aren’t machine language but they are more fundamental than meaning. The processing of meaning may indeed be automatic — eveything is automatic — but — and this is the wishful hypothesis — there may be a layer of automaticism that involves the abstract porcessing of marks before the automaticism of meaning. But — keeping in mind our notes about science fiction and abstraction — this isn’t a literal psychological layer. It is perhaps a kind of *prehistoric* processing — without suggesting that we are beyond that stage, in modernity.

So, without further ado, I want to address 10 questions regarding mnemonic automaticism that I have written here in my notebook — I’m not sure how many are still relevant after this discussion, I mean, I am not going to try to edit or organize these questions beforehand, but we shall see:

(1) Is sustaining automaticism?
Sustaining is what I use to describe “staying the course” in technical circuits, or “algorithms”. This is actually related to the more general question or complaint that we don’t really address *pragmatism*, I mean, how pragmatic circuits tend to be, and how they are organized by logic. We haven’t mentioned the word logic, or reality, and it seems as though we would like everything to occur in some vacuum.

Actually, I think that we can for the most part maintain this view, and dismiss pragmatism as operating on too tame a world. Pragmatic circuits are like roller coasters — what they teach you in school is like a roller coaster. Technical circuits are tricks.

(2) Does language imply that automaticism is a prior?
Language is certainly an interesting form of automaticms, deeply integrated into our thinking, I mean, as mentally mouthed words even. But although we speak of “layers” of automaticism we are wary of taking this literally. There is no langauge before meaning, and yet we want to say that the use of language is automatic, and that meaning is an after-the-fact selection, even.

I mean, let’s consider the usual understanding of grammar and rhetoric, or maybe truth and lie. Truth, sense-making, meaningful statements, whatever, is viewed as the original construction of language; in contrast, rhetoric, lie, senselessness, is viewed as a *disruption* of this originality, so that, however you want to valorize these terms, order is seen as somehow more fundamental than disorder. This is basically what I called my “liberal individualism” error — that I had merely inverted the valorization without inverting the fundamental dependency.

Which is not, on the other hand, to say that language can be a priori, that there is an automaticism of sounds or of marks before meaning… before the automaticism of pragmatic tricks, or technical tricks. There is a grandmother theory of language, I think, which goes, that langauge could only evolve when families became extended, so that there was a grandmother always to take care of the kids. (And so this, surprisingly enough, suggests an evolutionary *benefit* to menopause.) So language was transmitted from mother or grandmother to infant, through long periods of repetitition. It is at this infant stage that the an automaticism of marks was developed, or actually, trained, and integrated into other automatic circuits.

(3) Does “random play” suggest otherwise?

That is, we tend to view these automaticism of the mark as a kind of unpredictable “play” on top of the general circuits of meaning — the technical circuits of meaning. Let’s talk breifly about Faulkner. He writes some very touching novels, I think, especially his later stuff, and this is something we have trouble letting go of, sometimes. But overall, there is a sense of darkness to his novels which we tend to treat exotically, as if the South were “really like that” or something. Faulkner seems to come from another time — I mean, one of his most well known works is “The Sound and the Fury”, which is told through the mouth of a retarded boy. There is no real sympathy or pity going on here, but the overall sense is that we were stepping back in time, so it seemed.

In other words, we want to subsume his writings under some sort of thematics. I feel this to be, at the same time, a most preliminary, fruitful, but also erroneous understanding. I mean, it is incomparably better than the later “biographical”, “political” understanding written on by liberal airheads. What is in fact going on, I believe, is not so much a thematics as a *darkness*, a “fumbling”, an automatic struggle that takes place with language *prior* to meaning — and this is possible.

(4) How does the negativity in automaticism come to influence the entire construct?

(5) How can a macroscopic circuit be constructed independent of a microscopic one, if sustaining is indeed not automaticims?

(6) Is thinking therefore, by (5) heterogenous?

(7) If thinkign is automatic, does it “form around the mark” or come to be “structured by the mark”?

(8) What is the relationship between autoamticism and the symbol?

(9) What is the relation of automaticism with nothingness / the zero?

TBC….

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