Friday, September 30, 2016

Consciousness is not a symptom!

This morning, to get away from politics- a frequent necessity in my line of endeavor- I went to the Lancaster City Library to read an excellent British journal, New Scientist.  Like most science journals, New Scientist is under the influence of Mammon, the god of Reason, but there are amazing things in it.  For instance, did you know that nostalgia was originally a disease?  It's main symptom was loneliness ("Wistful thinking," 9/24):

The word nostalgia- from the Greek nostros, to return home, and algos, meaning "pain"- was coined by medical student Johannes Hofer in 1688, when he described a disorder observed in homesick Swiss mercenaries stationed in Italy and France. Hofer saw nostalgia as a disease whose symptoms included weeping, fainting, fever and heart palpitations.  He advised laxatives, narcotics, bloodletting or- if nothing else worked- sending the soldiers home.

The article details the evolution of "nostalgia" to its current, pleasant connotation:

By the second half of the 20th century, the notion of nostalgia shifted away from one of illness.  In the past 20 years, researchers have come to understand that nostalgia is not some rare affliction, but an emotion found in all cultures.

Thanks, then, to the rigor of the scientific method, we now know that homesickness is caused by not having a home or having one but not being in it, possibly ever again.  Armed with this knowledge, we can suggest appropriate therapies (sending patients "home" has apparently been dropped).  The article reviews psychological terms bolstering the modern positive bias of "nostalgia," e.g. personal nostalgia, nostalgic memorycollective nostalgia and national nostalgia (this last being memories of how great your country used to be, employed in different ways by both Trump and Clinton).  These concepts lead to therapies urging people to think mainly about positive memories, because, as I understand the theory, that cheers them up.  I'm not sure I subscribe to this approach.  Wouldn't it be better for society's purposes to reinforce memories of a hellish, miserable past, compared with which our present is a near paradise?  That would seem the cheerful way to go.

There was an engaging concept towards the end of the article: anticipatory nostalgia, which happens "when people miss the present before it has passed." That could be a common symptom in the crazy-quilt of human cultures steadily losing definition in modernity's osterizer.  Too much thinking about the future brings it closer.  The present becomes memory.  Consciousness becomes memory.   In the final step, one we may already have taken, consciousness becomes a symptom.

This is how I unwind after a week of sweating the "real" world.  An absurd way to relax, you say?  I considered that, but then just to experience "action," and maybe "agency," I went home and made a picket sign reading, "Consciousness is not a symptom!", then took my protest down to Pearblossom Highway, where I stood like a nut on the side of the road, waving my sign and scowling at bemused motorists whizzing by.  Even Robert was appalled, and it takes a lot to appall a gila monster.  All I could explain to him was, sometimes you just have to do something.





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