STATES AND ‘MULTIPLE-I’S
Reading-I is deep in Antonio Damasio’s Descartes Error. Getting to page 87 it came across this:-
In the discussion ahead there are many references to ‘body states’and ‘mind states’. Living organisms are changing continuously, assuming a succession of ‘states’, each defined by varied patterns of ongoing activity in all of its components. You might picture this as a composite of the actions of a slew of people and objects operating within a circumscribed area. Imagine yourself in a large airport terminal, looking around, inside and outside. You see and hear the constant bustle from many different systems: people boarding or leaving aircraft, or just sitting or standing; people strolling or walking by with seeming purpose; planes taxiing, taking off, landing; mechanics and baggage handlers going about their business. Now imagine that you freeze the frame of this ongoing video or that you take a wide-angle snapshot of the entire scene. What you get in the frozen frame or in the still snapshot is the image of a state, an artificial, momentary slice of life, indicating what was going on in the various organs of a vast organism during the time window defined by the camera’s shutter speed. (In reality, things are a bit more complicated than this. Depending on the scale of analysis, the states of organisms may be discrete units or merge continuously.)
Just to find out where it would get me, I decided to capture a ‘state of being’ for myself.
This paper goes on and on and on. To save reading the whole thing apart from the beginning and the end, the gist is:-
• I have a friend whom I suppose one might call a ‘professional philosopher’. With a degree in it, he teaches philosophy and has written books on the subject. He dismisses the concept of Multiple-I’s as ‘Eastern Mumbo-Jumbo’ peddled, in my case, by somebody who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
• He asks, “Why don’t you just talk about ‘states of being’?” Hilary Cooke long ago gave me the answer to this!
• A state of being consists of a huge complex of things which present a real challenge to grab hold of and use in a practical way as I shall demonstrate in the body of this paper.
• States of being are generally construed as belonging to a single Unified-I; something Unified-I possesses.
• My belief (after Gurdjieff) is that there can be no progress, no resolution to ‘problem states’ while we still think of ourselves as single Unified-I. We habitually attach Unified-I to everything we do/think/feel. We are conditioned to do this because [apparently unified] ‘I’ is the subject of all the verbs we use to describe our own behaviour. Changing the behaviour of one part of ourselves (one ‘I’) is a waste of time when we don’t take other ‘I’s into account.
• Experimenting-I takes ‘a state of being’ and sets about describing it in earnest only to find what it suspected in the first place that a state of being is a complex that in itself provides no way forward; it is stuck in time and place.
• To release its many elements into some kind of functional usefulness, to promote a slightly more resourceful living of life, ‘a state of being’ can be analysed in terms of Multiple-I’s. The analysis generates possibilities for action and thinking and feeling.
• Though I could easily think myself back into it, the ‘state of being’ described here has already been left behind in ‘yesterday’ as it drifts or melts into other (as yet) unexamined ‘states of being’…
• Anybody could do this for themselves.
Take a Snapshot
Take a Snapshot at one moment of a mind/body state… ‘Snapshot’ is an impossibility— more like a brief video loop—something that keeps on going back in on itself like a Robbe-Grillet novel—round and round a mark on the wall as in Jealousy… A state of being is a complex. It’s not long after sunset on a Sunday evening in October. The sky has cleared so that it has returned to the cloudlessness that was there at sunrise. Through midday, cloud had gathered. I have lit a fire and a log sinks down on the coals. A feeling of body-mind contentment steels over me. Not happiness—contentment, full of content… An interim moment between action in relation to a journal I edit for which in this month I have to process daily showers of emails from all over the world—between that and sinking back into the book I’m reading knowing that what I read there will cause me to reach for pen and notebook from time to time. The very phrase ‘Autumn Sunday evenings’ provides a warm reminder of things I used to do on such occasions in the past which ministers to my state of being: coming home after a cycle ride in the fifties, bringing a girl home to tea whose presence was not at all welcome to my mother—momentary recollection of adolescent anguish & incomprehension—walking with the same girl in various romantic venues—same mixture of warmth & anguish—my mother whom I blamed for causing the anguish now dead and unanswerable. My ex-father-in-law who used to say that he was always miserable on Sunday evenings because of some family religious observances in his youth. All of this enters into my state of being and the feeling of contentment is a little affected by the memories; but I can re-establish it by thinking of a little garden I had established for myself in an alleyway which I often used to tend on Sunday afternoons. And now I go into Monday, anticipating a journey by train to Colchester where I shall play music for an hour or so; I feel at home with this idea. I will have to prepare scores in the morning, leaving everything till the last minute which is my usual pattern. Things always seem to get done that way. Once on Sunday evenings it was preparing lessons for the following week. Right now I wonder what music to put on the gramophone for the evening and it’s time for crumpets. All this of course takes place much more quickly than the time it takes to write it all down—it’s a composite, memories, wonderings, immediate responses to things. Much of my state of being is left out. How does one move from this complex to another one? What is it that moves? It’s not the state that moves for whatever state of being I go into next will be complexly different; it will all just flow. The general feeling of contentment persists into the evening with a piece of music I’d forgotten I had—Qunikio Hashimoto’s 1st Symphony; it’s been a long-time habit to buy records of things totally unknown to me—one of the joys of going into a record shop & chancing your arm. Big ginger cat on my lap looking into my eyes. Hip pain at a low ebb. The warmth of the fire. All this is my state of being. How to manage ‘state’? Can’t be done as a whole; all the bits keep shifting around. What are the bits? Transient connections between neurons in different parcels across the brain responding to remembered items, sudden shifts of images, different bits of the story I tell myself. My being is dependent on images & stories. The bits keep shifting: bit 1 is, as it were, contented; bit 2 is a crick in the neck which I solve by changing my position; bit 3 remembers ancient Sundays in Autumn; bit 4 responds to the music that’s playing; bit 5 squints at cat on lap; bit 6 looks to see if another log’s needed. Rather than call them bits or sub-states, I’ll them parts of me or, since it’s all just words, meaningless squiggles and sounds which we interpret, separate Multiple-I’s. So long as you know I’m not talking about a ghost or two in my machine, or a congregation of homunculi, so long as you know that I do not intend reification but simply aim to tag the bits of my experience somehow to tie them back to a functional concept there need be no scrap. Within my ‘state of being’ which it’s taken me the length of a football match, including interval, to depict, to construct as a composite whole, in my terms there has been quite a variety of ‘I’s jostling for attention. When marshaled into some kind of order, these ‘I’s enable me to manage my ‘state’ which, in itself, is all over the place. in this case, it really doesn’t matter that it’s all over the place because what over-arches it is Being-contented-I. In a situation where ‘I’ was being driven into a state of exasperation (for instance), choosing to be driven thus, I might not wish to be in Exasperated-I and a quick cataloguing of the ‘I’s I was going through would enable me to re-establish Being-in-equanimity-I or Being-indifferent-I or whatever else came up. From experience, there does seem to be an ‘I’ that can generally manage I-ness by contrast with trying to poke its finger into a ‘state of being’ which is more or less unmanageable because of its complexity—one might even call its stream of consciousness a ‘mess’. But I’m not in Exasperated-I right now though I could easily get there by contemplating going back to a shop owner who’s done an expensive job for me in completely the wrong way—sufficient unto the day…
I am now inclined to go back over this Sunday-evening-in-October-state and note the ‘I’s I’ve been through. This would be to go into what I find it useful to call ‘Meta-I’, the ‘I’ that can stand back from all the others and take a dispassionate, non-involved, view of things in order to manage the shiftiness of ‘I’s. An Executive-I. In this case, since I am fundamentally in Being-contented-I it will just be a resumé—I’m not aiming to resolve anything, not even to abolish past anguish from which there is an ‘I’ that derives a certain obscure pleasure.
Here are some ‘I’s visited:-
• Tending-a fire-I
And so on… The complex I described as a ‘state of being’ can be more usefully broken down into Multiple-I’s. What is the use of it?
• Realising much more about the intricate make-up of my being, how things overlap and coalesce;
• Understanding the fleeting nature of untagged states.
• Noticing more clearly how one moves smoothly, unquestioningly between this & that.
• Developing the ability to stand back from it all and watch it happening.
• Recognising patterns in the way I choose to live my life.
• Becoming more experienced at managing them.
The Enneagram provides a way of putting some order into our Multiple-I’s
Is there anything else?