Archive for January, 2006

Neurotheology

I was reading in the Boston Globe today about Daniel Dennett’s new book titled Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenonemon (see

http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2006/01/29/supernatural_selection/ ).

I would classify it in the realm of “neurotheology,” the topic of a different book I’ve looked at on this topic (titled Why God Won’t Go Away by Andrew Newberg et al.). The idea that religion is an evolved phenomenon that bestows some form of evolutionary advantage makes complete sense to me. The book is not out until Feb. 2nd or I would already have it. . . .

The article mentions that he resorts to “meme theory” to explain the phenomenon:

In ”Breaking the Spell” he [Dennett] takes a stab at reconciling rational and pre-rational, individual and group explanations under the umbrella of ”meme” theory. Memes, an invention of the British biologist Richard Dawkins, are gene-like units of culture that proliferate, virus-like, using human minds as carriers: a preference for a certain brand of sneakers, say, or the opening bars of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, or, in Dennett’s version, an article of faith like the belief in reincarnation. Dennett is one of the idea’s few serious proponents.

Meme theory also makes a great deal of sense to me and is part of my theory of energonomics. Organized religion is a way of channeling “human energy” (as Teilhard de Chardin would phrase it) in certain directions and for particular purposes. An energonomist must take into account the influence of religion on the flow of energy through our universe.

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30 January 2006 at 1:02 pm Leave a comment

Energy and the Evolution of Life

I just got this book in the mail by Ronald F. Fox–Energy and the Evolution of Life.  Imagine my excitement as I read sentences like this:

“Biological organization and its evolution are consequences of the flow of energy through matter. . .” (2).

“Energy flow supports the existence of life’s dynamic molecular state and is the key to evolutionary trends that lead to more complex forms of life, especially multicellular forms that have muscle and nerve tissues” (5).

I will want to think more about flow and through and what this all means. . . Flow suggests fluid, and if it flows “through” matter, matter becomes a kind of conduit, a pipe, or a medium (like water to a wave).  And if the concern should be with energy flow, then energonomics should focus on increasing this flow, or improving the flow . . .

26 January 2006 at 10:25 pm 1 comment

Energenesis as Consilience

It occurred to me that my concepts of “energenesis” and “energonomics” are very similar to E.O. Wilson’s idea of “consilience”:  both are meant to collapse the distinctions between disciplines and provide a kind of overarching unification of all knowledge.  Of course, I have to believe that my ideas do a better job of capturing just how this can happen. . . .

The focus on energy flow, from the Big Bang to our brainstorms, can change the way we think of living, eating, reading, thinking, writing, speaking.  It can lead us to a new kind of ethics based on the rights that human beings have to a fair share of energy (for what is great wealth but energy hoarding, and what is poverty but a great lack of energy?).  It can lead us to a new form of materialistic religion.  Call me Reverend Richard of the Church of White Lightning!!

25 January 2006 at 8:56 pm Leave a comment

An Introduction to Energenesis

Another concept that I have created–energenesis (pronounced e-ner-gen-EE-sis)–is closely related to “energonomics.”  It asks us to consider the origin, the genesis, of energy.  My curiosity about this subject knows no bounds.  It is perhaps the naive curiosity of the humanities student who is enamored of the sciences.  But I like to think of it as a child-like exuberance, that which is critical to the scientific endeavor itself (See for example, Kay Redfield Jamison’s book on Exuberance which quotes Richard Feynman as follows:

“Well, these scientific views end in awe and mystery, lost at the edge in uncertainty, but they appear to be so deep and so impressive that the theory that it is all arranged as a stage for God to watch man’s struggle for good and evil seems inadequate.  Some will tell me that I have just described a religious experience.  Very well, you may call it what you will.”  Also: “Where did the stuff of life and of the earth come from?  It looks as if it was belched from some exploding star, much as some of the stars are exploding now.  So this piece of dirt waits four and a half billion years and evolves and changes, and now a strange creature stands here with instruments and talks to the strange creatures in the audience.  What a wonderful world!” (240). 

I read Jamison as part of my ongoing researches into energenesis–into the origin of energy.  What is the source of my energy, I wonder?  That excitable energy, that is, that I feel when it comes to considering the big questions of life?  I wonder about the biophysics of exuberance vs. depression (Jamison writes that “Depression conserves energy; mania expends it” [121]).  Someday they’ll measure the caloric expenditure of exuberance. . . 

And what I’m especially curious about is the “infectious nature” of enthusiasm.  Jamison speaks of it often but never explains the physics of such energy transfer–unless it’s just a kind of interpersonal thermodynamism whereby we “become-molecular”:  one person gets excited and burns more glucose in the process of thought, and upon expressing this enthusiasm to others, the excitement spreads the way heat spreads among a cluster of molecules. . .

Ultimately, this is the point at which we leave off the energy trail that I have described:  from the sun into food into humans to the brain.  What happens then?  Where does the energy go?  The energy of our thoughts, the energy it takes to generate thought?  I believe that thinking itself is an expenditure of energy, and has as much effect on the universe as a pot of boiling water, or–to be a bit more dramatic about it–a volcanic upsurge, or a star bursting supernova:  things happen in the world.  This is the point where the interdisciplinary study of sciences–astrophysics, botany, nutrition, neurology–leads to the interdisciplinary study of social sciences–psychology, social psychology, anthropology, economics.

 

24 January 2006 at 6:26 pm Leave a comment

Quantum Epistemology

I was digging through my file cabinets and came across a file labeled “Quantum Philosophy.”  It included excerpts from a book by Ronald Omnes called Quantum Philosophy:  Understanding and Interpreting Contemporary Science (Princeton UP, 1999).  I photocopied the introductions to each of the sections because it seemed like an extremely significant book that I didn’t have time to get to (or thought I’d have trouble getting through after glancing at it).  From what I can gather from the few pages that I’ve read, this book calls for a reconsideration of philosophy based on new discoveries in science.  (Sounds a lot like Lakoff & Johnson, who call for starting philosophy over from scratch now that we know what we know of brain science–see the posts “On Wandering” and on “Metaphorical Concepts”).  As Omnes writes at one point, “There can only be one remedy:  to invent a new way of understanding” (82). 

A tall order!  But exciting, and a call for interdisciplinary generalization.  If we want to be doctors of philosophy, we must take into account these latest findings in physics, neurobiology, mathematics, etc.  We have to read as much as we can as often as we can.  Turn off the TV–forever!!

23 January 2006 at 9:40 pm Leave a comment

Positive Psychology as Energonomics

I picked up Martin Seligman’s Learned Optimism:  How to Change Your Mind and Your Life over the weekend and have read almost half of it so far.  Seligman is a founder of the “Positive Psychology” movement which studies healthy people and derives psychological theories from positive human qualities rather than their mental illness, which has been the model since Freud.  Seligman was mentioned in another book of psychology I finished recently called Destructive Emotions, which records dialogues between the Dalai Lama and Western psychologists and brain scientists and which also speaks of how we can literally change our minds, our synaptic connections, via meditation.  Learned Optimism speaks of the methods of Cognitive Therapy which direct us to pay attention to our self-talk and to change the destructive “explanatory styles” of interpreting our experience in pessimistic ways.

It occurred to me that this is another powerful example of “energonomics,” the concept I’ve created to lead us to focus on the literal energy flow into and through us.  The roots of the word suggest that we should consider our “management of energy,” and while this sounds like it applies to our use of fossil fuels (and it does, by God, it does!), it could also apply to our very thoughts.  If we remember that a mere 1% of the sun’s energy gets captured by plants and eventually makes its way into our body via food (I find it fascinating that British products label as “energy” what we label as calories), and that our brain, which is only 3% of our body’s weight, burns 20% of the sugar we consume, it becomes clear that our thoughts are a form of energy consumption.  Therefore, “changing our minds” by changing the way we think can be seen as a form of energy management, and trying to think more optimistically, as Seligman proposes we do in his book, is energonomically wise.

 

23 January 2006 at 8:44 pm 2 comments

“Interpretive Energies” and Energonomics

I’d like to follow up on my entry about Dimock’s “Theory of Resonance” (see “Acoustic Metaphor for Textuality” 1/19/06) and introduce a concept that I have created called “energonomics.” She suggests that this notion of resonance, which posits texts as “time-travelers” and “puts the temporal axis at the center of literary studies,” is like a Bahktinian dialogue which is “above all temporal” and which incorporates “an interaction between texts and their future readers, complicated by the dynamics of historical change and by the interpretive energies thus released” (emphasis added).

I have spoken of the text as a form not only of information storage and retrieval but also of energy storage: the energy of the writer gets transferred to a book, for example, and it could be decades, even centuries later that that energy is released (in the form of memes — Mihaly Csikszentmihaly writes that “memes shape human energy through ideas” in his book Creativity) into the brain of another. I’m not talking about spacy new-age energy here: I’m talking about the real thing: sunlight into plants (and then animals or directly) into humans into the brain (which consumes 20% of the calories we consume). When we use our brains to organize language in written form, we are storing the brain-energy that memes are (see Robert Augner’s The Electric Meme for more on this).

Dimock’s acoustic metaphor of textuality invokes this model when she speaks of “interpretive energies” being released from a text upon being read. You might say that her theory “resonates” with mine. . .

And so I introduce the concept of energonomics — the management (nomos) of energy (energaia). It is my hope that someday energonomics will be an interdisciplinary field of study at the university level. Ambitious perhaps, but I hope to prove in subsequent posts why this concept can provide an alternative method of organizing knowledge, one that is especially critical in this day and age.

19 January 2006 at 9:09 pm Leave a comment

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