Friday, April 27, 2007

Systematic Theology and The Body Politic, My Answers to Thomisticguy: 3 of 6, McLuhan's Sensible Self Image

This is the thirst post in a series of six, which will, for the most part simply record part of a recent conversation with Thomisticguy at his post called "The Emerging Movement," on the importance and function or role of Systematic Theology.

B. 2. Consider again the man in B.1. who would rather have his wife perceptually “present” with him. That was part of an exercise meant only to describe and go through the dynamics of the kinds of things that actually are present and absent in any given situation. In that light, however: that my ex-roommate felt like he was actually loosing a part of himself when his fiancée quite breathing when she had a seizure is why McLuhan was saying the following, which I quoted above: “Going along with the total and, perhaps, motivated ignorance of man-made environments is the failure of philosophers and psychologists in general to notice that our senses are not passive receptors of experience...They [psychologists of all periods] prefer to study the mechanisms of the senses rather than the worlds created by them...Every human being is incessantly engaged in creating an identity for himself. The image differs with the stages of youth and age, but even more it differs with the technological service environment within which this image-making activity proceeds." - McLuhan, The Medium and The Light, p. 91.

So consider the web of relationships between what is absent and present for a group of pre-alphabet Greeks speaking in their Forum about…whatever. I could go in any number of directions here, but the point I want to make is that the words present in their minds as they speak them have a meaning relationship given to them based on a code that they first learned and have only ever processed or perceived through the ear. Their memory of the word, and even how they associate meaning with any given word is associated for them with the very process of how hearing occurs, as opposed to their other four senses. This is why McLuhan talks about how the acoustic man experiences things in terms of a temporal “simultaneity” and “heterogeneity” (both special and temporal) in which everything seems to come from all angles at the same time, and in which there seem to be gaps between the pieces of information or thought or memory (or whatever you want to call it) that “become present” to your mind, or to some other person’s ear when you speak it, or to your own ear if it was spoken by the other person.

Now consider the same exact conversation occurring in the same exact place by a group of post-alphabet Greeks. How the words that are “present” to their mind, to their ears or to another’s ear has meaning in reference or relation to an “absent” piece of papyrus with those very words written on it, words which that person has actually viewed before on that piece of papyrus. The absent visual image of the written or carved word is actually now present in or to his mind. This man has a very different relationship to the word(s) that he is speaking than did the pre-alphabet Greeks who were having the same exact conversation not too long before him. For this man, his memory of the word, and even how he associates meaning with it is associated for him with the very process of how SEEING occurs, as opposed to HEARING. This is why post alphabet man thinks more in terms of temporal sequence of one after the other in which everything is connected through a special homogeneity that corresponds to the visual field before him.

Visually right now, I can see the wall, the computer screen, pieces of paper, my cell phone, a marker, some yellow post-its on the wall…I can see them all in my visual field but the way they are perceived by my eyes and processed by my brain is one after the other in the context of that unified field of vision. That is different from if I close my eyes and don’t know when what sound might come next from what direction or how it might relate to any other sound that might occur before or after and come from any similar or different angle in my acoustic field.

Again, however, because man is always busy building a self-image for himself, these perceptual processes that occur are not just incidental things that happen without consequence or effect on our being. Like it was hinted at above, how we actually perceive or process our environment actually effects how we think and how we define who we are. The visual man comes to think more in terms of connectedness and sequence. The visual man comes to think of himself as a homogeneous being who experiences the world in a sequence of moments that follow upon each other (Aristotle). Truth for the visual man is only valid or legitimized if one thing can be successively matched up with or can correspond with another things homogeneously (Plato’s idea of Truth in the Timeaus). McLuhan notes that Plato and Aristotle funnily fancied that the sudden cultural shift in emphasis to such connectedness (“mistaking matching for truth in genral”) was owed solely to their THEORETICAL endeavors!

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