The Real Convention: Psychic Node Space

Saturday, July 17th 2010

"He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side; if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion." - John Stewart Mill

What if there are no "sides" to the case? What if there is no case at all?

Bertrand Russell famously said:

"Conventional people are roused to fury by departures from convention, largely because they regard such departures as a criticism of themselves."

I think one things all sides will agree to is that there are "sides" involved. That is the convention when it comes to most discussions and most thinking.

The classic example is the way political ideas get put on some arbitrary system "left" to "right", "middle".

Bunk!

Example

If you were to disagree, then you could say what I'm writing is a "side" to the discussion. The side that says:

I think one things all sides will agree to is that there are "sides" involved. That is the convention when it comes to most discussions and most thinking.

And you might say:

People have opinions. When opinions gravitate to a certain set of ideas or principles then you have a ideology. I don't think you can avoid that.

Or something like that.

But that is beside the point.

Nodes

The ideas:

I think one things all sides will agree to is that there are "sides" involved. That is the convention when it comes to most discussions and most thinking.

... and ...

People have opinions. When opinions gravitate to a certain set of ideas or principles then you have a ideology. I don't think you can avoid that.

... are not what's interesting.

The fact that we position ideas in relation to one another is the point. If these two ideas were floating in space, they'd be closely related nodes.

Argument

"Argument", in the traditional academic sense and in the more general sense, happens when nodes come into conflict. Usually, a person sees the opposing node as the source of conflict.

If only you'd agree with me! I'm right!

The ideas are held in place by two things: the logic of dichotomy and something stronger. The "something stronger" is the strength of the emotion that binds the two ideas together. That holds them in position. In the way the Sun holds Earth in its orbit. The emotional gravitational pull of the ideas hold them in place.

But the source of conflict is the emotional, gravitational connection between the ideas.

Not just abstract ideas fit into this scheme. So do memories, dimly perceived atavism, hazy notions, inspiration, and so on.

A new idea is like a bolt of energy zipping through the branches, triggering nodes and then finding a resting place where it is held in place by some sort of set of connections between nodes. It becomes a node itself.

You may have had the experience is hearing something that immediately triggered a childhood memory, for example. And all the associated feelings.

And emotional gravity - experience, deep feelings - holds the entire psychic universe together. The structure reacts to new stimuli and suggests courses of action. Deviation from those suggestions ... is dangerous. If you haven't experienced something before how can you be safe? This is where fear comes in. if you have experienced something before, and liked it, chances are you'll want to do it again. If you question this structure you question two things:

  • the basis for personal existence;
  • the basis for all future action and habit.

People are often conservative about questioning these too deeply. It means questioning emotion, ideas, traditional juxtapositions - thought itself. That's a costly, navel-gazing exercise. Who knows how it will turn out! Whereas the current structure works. It has been proven through experience.

Hey, I'm not dead! It works!

So things only really change with crisis. When experience proves experience isn't working, if you will :-).

I just don't know what to do!

In fact, people start to associate crisis with change. And no-one likes a crisis! So they avoid change.

Imagine a psychic universe, filled with idea and memory stars, all held in position by the forces of emotions. Without that ... what? A black hole? A supernova? A collapse into a tight ball of ... weirdspace?

So people end up quite attached - through habit, fear and positive feelings - to the way their "psychic node space" is set up (sorry about that jargon!). Any threat to that needs to be despatched - back, foul crisis-generating navel gazing!

This structure is where a lot of real, hard-to-communicate convention lurks. People are forever defending their "psychic node space".

And it is collective, too. It doesn't begin and end with the individual. Instead, we are also nodes in a wider "collective node space".

That Bertrand Russell quote again:

"Conventional people are roused to fury by departures from convention, largely because they regard such departures as a criticism of themselves."

More than that, they are literally departures from the basis for their survival - for their existence.

No wonder people get upset in arguments!

Related ideas: