Friday, 3 April 2009

858 - Niche Construction and Storymaking

Building on the ideas sketched out here, where what defines us is described as a continuous process of niche construction operating at genetic, ontogenetic (developmental) and cultural levels, and where spiritual communities are defined as groupings where such niche construction is undertaken more or less consciously, it should be possible to link the concepts of niche construction and storymaking in the following way.

With respect to any given individual, the three levels of niche construction operate effectively as separate, but interacting dimensions.

Genetics, in the wider environment, is a landscape one finds oneself in: it is about the interplay of organic and inorganic chemicals, which follow physical laws. At any given moment these may be being defined by, or defining, the environment around or within them.

Ontogenetics introduces a temporal dimension to proceedings. Ontogenetics is about bodily change over time: an immunity developed, a neural pathway altered and a new skill learned (or lost). Depending on one's age in developmental terms, one's internal landscape will behave differently, and the landscape that interacts with it will also have changed. Genes will have been switched on or off; outside influences removed or encountered for the first time. Moving in two dimensions, one is able to place oneself in the way of, or at a distance from the direct physical influence of aspects of the chemical world.

Culture introduces the element of interpretation. Chemical landscapes can be analysed according to different criteria; bodily changes monitored and explained in multiple ways; the results can be communicated through external and internal means, across genes and taking account of different developmental states. Information can be released or withheld, wholly or partially, dependant on one's sense of time and of the landscape about one. One may choose to restrict the learning of a skill, internally by removing oneself from one's learning environment, externally (in relation, perhaps, to others' learning) by disrupting a lesson. In the process new lessons become available to be taught and learnt. Other developmental processes are disrupted, proceed unaffected, or become stimulated. Moving in three dimensions, one is able to select one's life story, and other stories occurring about one, and in which one is involved. One is able to acknowledge the possibility of other stories, other options, and to take the time to communicate them.

As a chemical landscape predicts but cannot explain development, and as development predicts but cannot explain culture, so culture predicts, but cannot explain the real presence at one and the same time of conflicting stories about the same cultural states. Stories where time's arrow is reversed at the same time as it travels forward; where not just photons but bodies and whole worlds exist in two or more places at once. Stories where one is applauded for seducing the villain, who gives birth to a mantlepiece and ends twice at once, and is still in the middle of their story, and already at its start, when one pops one's clogs. Perhaps these do not exist, or perhaps they anticipate a God's eye view of the cosmos, one that only in moments out of time and space and worldview we can share. Ecstatic moments. Dreams.

If we have home, or origin of some kind, in such a perspective, then our only guarantee that it is a kind space is the nature of God. I'm not even sure conventional definitions of Love, or life after death, do it full justice. Such a home is known in one's innermost being, maybe.

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