Let's Prehend
A Manual of Human Ecology and Culture Design

DUCK, A Model in the Mind - Pity the Child

"If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck!"
—Senator Joseph McCarthy, Chairman of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, 1950's

One of life's greatest joys is watching a baby constructing her model of reality. Soon after nipples and faces, fingers and toes, lesser objects come into focus. When the baby comes upon a rubber duck for example, she begins constructing a model of the duck in her mind. First she sees the duck, then touches it, perhaps hears it squeak, smells it, tastes it. Through such sensory verification her mental model of duck is developed over time, and quickly. Neurophysiologists point out that the human at age two has the maximum number of neurons - it's down hill after that. Each sensory verification is linked by a vast array of reference systems to the growing mental model of duck. The generality, `duck', develops gradually, connected in countless ways to the baby human's ever growing world view.

This world view, this mental model of reality, is the essential mechanism to the consciousness process. Consciousness is sequentially made of memories and data; but, in contrast, reality is holistic, happening all at once. The infinite barrage of sensations must be integrated through the model of the mind into a train of thought. The faintest of clues can elicit the entire model of the duck, including all its complexity and implications to the individual's life process. Gradually this train of thought, and the model by which it operates, has an integrity of its own. The model gradually becomes self conscious, becomes what might be known as the self or ego.

The ego demands its own integrity. The onslaught of conscious and non-conscious information is more than the mind can digest. In sleep, the ego is turned off so that the model of reality can assimilate the new data. Real-time processing would require a brain very much larger. God's design engineers may have tried but failed to build a real-time mind. The dream state is a window to part of this process, concerned mostly with integrating new data into the world view. But the ultimate validity of reality is its sensory verification, whether for the baby or for the experimental scientist.

Unfortunately, but necessarily, the duck-model in the mind can never match the infinitude of the duck in reality. As the scientists point out, the duck, like the frog, is part of the entire universe, part of the ecosystem, part of the economy, part of the great subconscious life. But the model of the duck can never match the real duck. The mind may assert duckness in the idealist fashion of asserting that reality is made of essences. In whatever mode, the model of the duck is always limited and fixated. The mind has made an idea-model of the duck as an object or a thing, and this model is built of memories from the past, regularly updated in sleep. It may look like a duck, quack like a duck, but it is not a duck. Regretfully, the duck-model is not and never can be a duck.

As modern abstract life and culture develop, the model of the duck becomes farther removed from sensory verification. The duck-model is especially abstracted when it is given a verbal referent and called "duck". The problem worsens in our abstract culture that represents it as a yellow figure on paper, named Donald. Imagine the contrast in world view between the lucky child who helps her family tend real ducks, and the pathetic child who has only a yellow plastic duck or a CD ROM image of a virtual duck.

The narrow, contracted mind may even see the complexity of the real-live duck as a threat to its own integrity and respond by reasserting the power of self over the integrity of the duck. After all, man was given dominion over nature. Also, humankind is scared of the dark, existentially frightened in an infinitely complex universe. It may be adaptive on a primitive economic level to hunt ducks, but now it's a sport: the assertion of the victory of the human ego over the integrity of the duck by simply shooting it.

In contrast to this `contracted' narrow-minded position, the more `expanded' broad-minded holistic tradition affirms the duck as part of the ecosystem, responsible in its own way for the continuing complexity of reality. If the duck species dies out as did the passenger pigeon a century ago, the ecosystem has lost value. Worse than that, like the dead canary in the coal mine, the dead duck is a warning of impending disaster, a token of tragedy, a death in the ecosystem's display.

The basic task of human ecology and culture design, as well as a basic issue in psychology and culture, is to replace this contractive compulsion with a broader more expansive position.

The mind wants to make the duck a "thing in itself". The harder we think, the more the mind asserts this false reality. Amusingly, this common limited model of duck is believed to be real while and the real infinitude of the duck is seen as mystical, spiritual, even unreal. Such is the distortion of the contracted rationalist mind and culture.

The distorted image model of the duck-as-a-thing is not simply wrong or inadequate. The duck description may even be quite accurate, especially in the minds of ornithologists and their ilk, who struggle with this problem. In general, the distortion of image from reality takes certain forms based on the way the mind works and the nature of the conscious process. First, the duck is false-focused, FF. It becomes defined by its model. This model, instead of being acknowledged as one narrow aspect of duck on a limited level, becomes a high abstraction, `dragged away' in its duckness.

The mind must generalize about duckness, as the only way our sequential consciousness can survive in a simultaneous universe. Generalization is necessary, but when asserted as absolute reality, it becomes an abstraction, fixated and trivialized as a denial of organic reality. In this sense, abstraction is an idealist pathology.

Of course, there is no firm line between a useful generalization and distorting abstraction. We exaggerate when we use the term "abstract" as a negative pathological state, at the same time presenting this extremely generalized image of reality. Let's hope that `generalize', our necessary mode of thought, is alleviated from its abstractness by being freer of fixation and more broadly inclusive. Perhaps the difference between the essential, descriptive and even poetic generalization and the stagnant dissociated abstraction is an understanding heart.

The mind fights against the frightening infinitude of the universe of duck. As if in unconscious panic, the mind then demands its integrity by asserting a belief - the belief that a duck is a duck. Belief is the desperate assertion of a verbal truth that we know ain't so.

Another distortion pattern: The image of the duck is built over time from memories of sensory validations and verbal descriptions in the past. As a result the image is never here and now, it is always there-and-then, TT. Thus, the idea of duckness is not only trivialized by FF, it is also fixated by TT. This is not just some error in thinking, it is a distortion inherent in the machinery of the human mind.

Take this point to its extreme: Logic, like consciousness, is a pathology in that it is a dissociation from reality, a fall from grace as we shall see in Chapter 9. In view of the observation that a duck is not a duck, what can logic do but prove that a duck is a duck? If it is proved that a duck is a duck, the implicit assertion, perhaps compulsion, is that the duck is really an idea. Reality is reduced to a word. Such reductionism is the bane of intellectual life.

The philosophical position that the duck is an idea is called idealism. In our philosophical objectivism, the word duck attempts to describe and generalize about that creature we all love, acknowledging that the burden of false-focus and there-and-then is always with us. We must admit that all our sciences and our poetry can never do justice to God's creature, the duck.

A duck is not a duck, but a rose is a rose. QED[ This statement summarizes the objective and subjective mode: The DUCK model can never match the real duck, but poet Gertrude Stein made it subjectively obvious that a rose is a rose.]

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