Dialogue is an opportunity to proceed as climbers do. We are tied together and are able to alternately anchor each other as we move into precarious territory. We can rely on each other to warn us of dangers beyond our own views. Within dialogue we can go where it is impossible to go any other way.
These are the thoughts that came to me after a conversation I had yesterday. There is nothing that compares to the dynamic that occurs when two or three people meet within dialogue. It's in no way mysterious, but it can seem quite foreign to the way we are accustomed to comport ourselves in other types of conversation. I keep coming back to the need to experience it to understand what it makes possible, and how simple a framework it actually is.
As with so many other activities that can be deemed practices, dialogue is both an action and a practicing – in both meanings of that word. A student of the violin practices. A surgeon practices. Both meanings blend into each other, neither is monolithic. Practicing dialogue is like this. Practice, at least the first stages of entering into practice, is facilitated more by observation and forays into participation than by any description or explanation of how it is done. In this way practices are not trapped as techniques and technologies are in the narrow realm of that which can be described fully and which is predictably repeatable.
Actually that is not today's topic, just some thoughts on how this topic came up. Conclusion.
We seek conclusions. We strive for a conclusion. We admire a firm conclusion.
Is this helpful?
Why do we have the relationship with conclusion that we do?
So much of what is examined here, and that fills the conversations I find most challenging and worthwhile, has to with our tendencies to jump to conclusions. Our inability to suspend judgement, to utilize negative capability.
My climbing partner yesterday Peter Kajtar, brought up the term conclusion. He began by relating the way it's now being discovered that our perceptual system acts in many ways as a predictive system. When we look at what goes on and slow things down enough so that we can examine it by the nanosecond we find that it is not an accumulation of inward flowing signals that patiently fill out an image or sensation of the world around us. Instead for every signal coming in there are many "heading out." These are in effect predictions that are tested against trends as they come in and are replaced by new predictions as the old ones are found lacking.
This, as with so much of what actually occurs when we do what we do, is counter intuitive at first blush. This shouldn't be surprising. If as Peter and I agree so much of what is broken comes down to what Bohm & Krishnamurti identified as our misunderstandings of the nature of thought, then it would be more surprising if we didn't find these sorts of blips in our common sense of the way we think and what it means. We can begin to see that if we look at perception with this insight on prediction that so much of what commonly occurs make a lot of sense!
Jumping to conclusions is at the heart of how we perceive. We're back in the territory of the Portuguese zoo monkey! We sample the world with agendas at the ready even at the most quantum level of perception – that's using the term quantum to mean the smallest known integer of a phenomenon. That neurologically we are dealing with discreet jumps and not a smooth "analog" signal without steps.
Our daily experience with computers brings us face to face with many cases of running into the limits of pixilated perception. If we blow up a rasterized image beyond a certain threshold we see the jagged edges of its original "quanta," the pixels that defined its shape. These were below our threshold of acuity while the image was small, but the errors compound and grow as it gets enlarged.
Dealing with these effects in a computer environment is an example of what Bohm describes as being able to recognize inconsistency within a system by stepping outside its bounds. We are not as limited as computers, we can "see through" their ways and their errors and their reasons become clear to us.
It is extremely difficult to do that when it comes to our own system of perception. We can approach it, as a system, cautiously, with the fruits of insights which lead us to understand that every system has internal inconsistencies that lead to incoherence, but we can never truly step outside our own perceptual system and clearly see its inconsistencies, say the way we can watch an ant "army" marching across our path heading for some danger that is over their horizon but clearly visible from our point of view.
The "Submariner's Creed" I've written about before is an empirical response to understanding that we cannot ultimately trust our "tools," even when those tools are the eyes, ears, and brains we were born with!
Say not, “This is the Truth!” but “So it seems to me to be as I now see the things I think I see.”
Such a creed stands on hard won understanding of the dangers of assumptions and what happens if we allow ourselves to happily jump to conclusions without concern.
Of course, and Peter and I got into this yesterday as well, when dealing with the ocean, the comfortable illusions of stability and permanence that are so easy to maintain on land are constantly assaulted by the facts of our surroundings. Sea-sickness can be thought of as the direct physical manifestation of the disorientation which takes place when our predictive assumptions and expectations are assaulted at the most visceral level without respite and with no regard for our wishes that things "should be" otherwise!
Sea legs, then can be seen as a fundamental adjustment to a new set of predictive parameters,
"The world is not steady and flat and consistent. It is ever changing, and always moving, and full of surprises."
It matters which kind of conclusions we allow ourselves to jump to! Here, since we are inside the system of our own perceptions, we find paradox. It is better to jump to the conclusion that jumping to conclusions is hazardous!
For me this relates directly to the longstanding tensions between my instincts regarding fiction and the common understanding. This post, written concurrently with this one, looks at the same questions from within the lens of writing fiction and my own approach to it.
By now, accustomed to finding a conclusion, you may be asking, what's the point?
Precisely! That is the point. One person alone, rambling along the knife edged precipice will fail to see how their own perceptions, enmeshed as they are in predictive strategies, is likely to stumble, and the risk of a dangerous fall is great. In dialogue, we watch each others forays and we provide each other with the opportunity to see an other, with the same "equipment" as we have, operate. Some of what their shifted point of view shows us can act as a direct warning of dangers we cannot see, of predictions, of conclusions we have been inclined to jump after. But also, their presence, the way in which they allow us to enter into their processes, gives us insight into our own systems we could never get otherwise, trapped inside our selves. This analogous peering into a similar system to our own therefore illuminates our own systems, as if we are seeing ourselves from the outside!
But, this is not a conclusion! That's the point! These are all ways in. We don't need to find a way out!
Our desires for a "way out," for escape, salvation, what have you; are symptoms of our sea sickness. If we can accommodate ourselves to the flow we can enjoy the ride, without constantly seeking an end to it.