Dialogue between Christine Hardy, author of Networks of Meaning* and Fred Abraham.
*Published by Praeger, Greenwood Publishing Group, Westport, CT, USA. 1998,
232 pages, ISBN: 0275960358 , US$: 55. Order from www.greenwood.com
Enclosed please find the final manuscript of my book. Networks of Meaning
A Bridge Between Mind and Matter . As you know, it is about the generation of meaning which is the most fundamental process of the mind. It underlies all major mental functions, such as intelligence, memory, perception, and communication. Not surprisingly, it has been one of the most difficult processes to understand and represent in a model of human cognition. In it I address two fundamental concepts to address the complexity and richness of meaning. First, is that of Semantic Constellations, which constitute the basic transversal network organization of mental and neural processes. Second, there is a highly dynamic connective process that underlies conscious thought and constantly gives birth to novel emergents or meanings.
Taken together, they assert that the mind's network architecture and connective dynamics allow for self-organization, generativity, and creativity. They can also account for some of the most interesting facets of mental processes, in particular, nonlinear shifts and "breakthroughs" such as intuition, insights, and shifts in states of consciousness. This connective dynamic does not just take place within the mind. Rather, it involves a continuously evolving person-environment interaction: meaning is injected into the environment, and then retrojected, somewhat modified, back into the psyche. This means that, simultaneously, we are both perceiving reality and subtly influencing the very reality we perceive: objects, events, and other individuals. The way in which we think and feel, both individually and collectively, interacts with the physical world and directly shapes the
society in which we live. The very same connective dynamic is the foundation for those rare yet striking transpersonal experiences known as synchronicity and psychic phenomena. We live in a world in which we interact with reality at a very fundamental level. I hope this work is a major analysis for scholars and researchers in the cognitive sciences, psychology,
The contents include chapters on The Mind; Semantic Constellations; Conscious Experience; The Mind's Architecture; The Mind's Dynamics; Connective Learning; Semanitic Constellations as Dynamical Networks; Mind-in-the-World, Environment, Endo-context, Exo-context; Mind, Matter, and Quantum Mechanics; Eco-semantic Fields; Events-in-Making; Communication and Collective Consciousness.
I hope you find it of interest,
At last, I get to see your final manuscript. It has been a pleasure watching this work evolve over the past couple of years into a mature, cohesive, and beautifully written thesis. I especially like the fact that you have forged your own innovational views, being immersed within field and systems concepts, but wonderfully transcending simply synthesizing and complexifying them into a traditional system and disciplinary mixture. Like many authors, I have felt that a writing project is principally a benefit to the author's own growth and learning process. If it is of value to share with others, especially in inspiring them to develop their own ideas, then that is a bonus. I am sure that your book will inspire many to do so.
Your friend, Fred
Thank you for your kind words. I think you have captured the essence of my process. When I started this journey several years ago, I did not have the slightest idea that semantic fields theory would take me through so many different domains of research, each one imposing itself as an absolute necessity to the main development. Had I known what I was getting into, I would certainly have balked and given up—recognizing that I was just not up to the task.
When I began, in fact, what I had in mind was to express and formulate concepts that I had been implicitly using to make sense of my own mental processes. These concepts not only fit well with my personal experience, but they also seemed to have a life of their own, a sort of generativity: as they changed and evolved, they stimulated new inner explorations, leading to novel ideas. In retrospect, I realize I have been caught in one of those transformative, self-generative processes that make life so fascinating. In so doing, I was developing a framework in which the continuous generation of meaning is the very essence of the mind.
My own work has been rather more traditional in trying to convince others of the richness of the interactive, nonlinear, dyanamical systems approach by using simple examples for easy comprehension of the path to complexity. I note with pleasure that you start with the richness of your subject matter. Unlike much work in neural nets, connectionism, games of life, and complex systems theory, you get right into the richness of the mind and society. I think this shows the usefulness of dynamics in a much more satisfying way.
Vôtre ami, Fred
Yes. In many ways my approach has been the inverse of classical model building. Rather than first developing a specific formalism, and then trying to extend it to the mind, I started by focusing on the processes that needed to be explained in a systemic way and sought to develop a framework that would account for those processes.
Contemporary science is intent on understanding systems as wholes. A truly adequate theory of the mind should account for the most unique facets of human cognition: consciousness and the sense of self: states of consciousness; nonconscious cognitive processes; the generation of meaning; and the dynamics of underlying intuition and creativity. It must also address the interweaving of sensations, feelings, and abstract concepts in thought processes, as well as two-way mind-body interactions, free will and our capacity of choice. Finally, a complete theory must look beyond the individual and understand the rich exchanges of the sensory-affective-mental mind with its meaningful environment: psychosocial interactions, cultural knowledge-systems, collective consciousness, synchronicities, and "nonlocal" forms of communication. A very tall order indeed.
I cannot be sure of the success of my attempts, but this project has been both arduous and joyful. I appreciate your interest and encouragement in this project.
I think it a tribute to you and your work that you have received the encouragement of many, including Isabelle Stengers, Karl Pribram, Allan Combs, Steven Guastello, and Stanley Krippner among others.
Writing to you from here in the Philippines, I also appreciated that your cross-cultural travels contributed to your recognizing different flavors in semantic fields. I have seen this from my experiences too, and have seen it in books as divergent as René Dubos' A God Within, and my friends, Mike Coles' Cross-Cultural Psychology, and Bill Calvin's The Cerebral Code.
I noticed that your own introspections of the reemergence of meaning-clusters after a long hiatus gave rich instantiation to my own concept of dynamic memory undergoing implosive and explosive bifurcations, as well as instantiations of earlier Gestalt dynamical psychology.
Exactly. These cultural experiences helped to lead me to my concept of the semantic field that took on a central role signifying, for me, the coherent organization of meaning clusters and related processes in a dynamical, evolving network.
As you noticed, such experiences led me to the concept of semantic constellations (SeCos)—self-organized, coherent clusters within a person's semantic field. These interact with each other continuously, and consciousness strives to integrate them into a coherent whole, interweaving a range of cognitive and psychophysical processes: ideas, concepts, and beliefs are intimately linked to specific feelings, mental states, gesture, and behaviors.
Semantic fields theory adds two features to traditional cognitive network architecture. The first is the concept of the SeCo, a specialized network clustering and organizing related experiences. These may be nested within each other. The second added feature is that SeCos link all possible types of elements, not only linguistic items or propositions, but any psychological, physiological, or brain process (such as sensation, affect, procedure, gesture, behavior, and their related neurological processes.
We are coming to recognize that, while humans certainly engage in abstract reasoning, this is not the way our mind operates most of the time. Computational rule-bound processing, as expressed in logical or mathematical reasoning, must be seen as a high-level process—more akin to something we painfully learn and force our minds into, rather than a basic, natural working of the mind.
Semantic fields theory posits an underlying, low-level connective dynamic: the spontaneous linkage process. Essentially, clusters of semantic elements are attracted to, and link themselves to, other semantically related clusters. This highly generative dynamic, based on network-connections rather than algorithmic operations, is proposed to be the ground of thought. This is what creates the network of semantic constellations that operate at the semantic level and branch into neuronal networks.
Connective processes display great flexibility, plasticity, and adaptability, as well as a pronounced capacity for associating, comparing, and recombining, and consequently they have the potential for truly dynamical and creative mental processes. They may thus be a prime candidate for describing the natural elementary operations of the mind.
As I advanced in my conceptualizations of semantic fields, I cam to realize that complex dynamical processes are truly fundamental to the creative and generative aspects of the mind. Chaos theory, or the study of order underlying apparent order or randomness, provides very fecund ways of understanding the evolution and self-organization of a wide range of complex systems—including mental systems.
SeCos behave as attractors in the sense that, when a SeCo is reactivated by a familiar external event, the mind will tend to relive the pervious states of that SeCo. Thus SeCos typically organize similar subsequent experiences. On the other hand, a significant change in the context (or parameters) of an experience may trigger a modification of the SeCo's attractor, that is, a bifurcation. Thus we have both convergent and divergent forces, allowing for flexible, evolving processes. These allow for creativity, choice, and adaptive behavior.
It is no coincidence that many of the newly emergent research fields—the cognitive sciences, systems theory, chaos theory, parapsychology, and consciousness studies—are transdisciplinary in nature. Throughout the book, my intent has been to apply these premises of dynamical network architecture and self-organization to the study of mind-in-the-world—the dynamical network interactions of the mind with its physical and social world.
Thus the first part of my book focuses on the mind itself, and the second part its interaction with external semantic field, or eco-fields. I take Karl Popper at his word, when he says that science truly advances with the posing of bold hypotheses.
Your ideas are not only bold and stimulating, but I find another feature about that them I also much admire.
In some ways you are like Kristeva—though I recognize that you are not a postmodern writer—your ideas center on both cognitive and emotional dynamical psychology as involved in pointing to important avenues for social change. As you point out, the transformation and broadening of our mental frameworks comes with enormous responsibility. As you say in your last sentence in the book, "Collectively, we co-create our culture and civilization, we inform the future of humanity." It is time we all take this responsibility seriously.
A very nice job, much congratulations.
In admiration, your friend, Fred