Chapter 6. Anomalous Visual Qualia and Losing the Way
This chapter discusses the anomalous visual qualia reported in Chapter 5. First, we will refer to the Dao De Jing for guidance to interpret them in terms of the TOSCA model. Finally, we will examine their interpretation with respect to pursuing a path to enlightenment . Quoting from DDJ 42:
“The Way generates the One. The One generates Two. Two generates Three. Three generates the myriad beings. The myriad beings carry yin and embrace yang, fusing vital breaths to create [sustainable] harmony.”
This verse was discussed in Chapter 1. It’s time to refine that first-cut. The myriad beings/things have already been refined from “expressions of our tripartite body-mind system. These include actions, thoughts, and physical conditions (like being tired, hungry, etc.); anything that originates from our physical and mental state.” We now define them as qualia, generated in the conscious mind, in response to the arrival of packets of visual (for now) stimuli generated by the ordered firing of connected neurons (bits and bytes). This focuses on electrical signals and ignores chemical signals. We’ve thus restricted the TOSCA model to electrical communications (i.e., neural pathways or virtual networks carrying packets). This doesn’t restrict its application however since the central nervous system (composed of neurons connected to the brain) runs throughout the body.
Yin and yang were introduced as pseudo forces in Chapter 1 with the implication that they were invented by the authors of the Dao De Jing as an explanatory mechanism for a binary process (on or off). It is reasonable therefore to refine the definition a bit: Yang and yin represent the binary states of the individual neurons that contribute to packets merged into qualia.
Fusing vital breaths from yang and yin carried by qualia (myriad beings above) suggests that the definition used in Chapter 1 is no longer sufficient. The refined definition of vital breaths from DDJ 42 is that they are the packets arriving from the distributed network of neurons supplying the components of the final perception. This puts us on the path to how to interpret the anomalous qualia presented in Chapter 5.
Let’s differentiate an abstract object from a process. From DDJ 25:
“Something formed in chaos existed before the birth of Heaven and Earth. Vast and still, solitary and unchanging, it moves in a cycle…We do not know its name. If a word is needed we call it Dao…The Way [Dao] is a law unto itself.”
This is a reference to the universal unknown, but hints at the application of principles that can be inferred from the Way to earthly matters. There are many references in the Dao De Jing to the Great Way. This one from DDJ 18 gives a hint (that’s all you ever get from the DDJ) as to what is lost when the Way is abandoned:
“When the Great Way was abandoned, the ideas of moral perfection and correctness appeared.”
In other words, morality and correctness are artificial concepts introduced when the Way is not applied to the activities of humanity. Someone following the Way doesn’t need socially constructed ideals of behavior. This duality of the Way is probably the source of Taoism (Dao is also translated as Tao; I’m not an ancient Chinese scholar), a non-ritualistic religion that espouses joining with the natural flow of the universe. That’s not where we’re going in this study. This holistic interpretation is too metaphysical, although the result is the same. The TOSCA model doesn’t assume any metaphysical phenomena, but instead interprets the Dao (Great Way) as an abstract plan for mental-physical development. In other words, no belief system is required or encouraged.
The Way influences qualia in an indirect way, as alluded to in DDJ 34:
“The Great Way floods forth. It can flow left or right. The myriad beings rely on it to live and it does not refuse them. It accomplishes works of merit, but does not take possession of them. It clothes and feeds the myriad beings, but does not act as their master.”
And from DDJ 51:
“The Way gives life to the myriad things. Its endowment rears them, matter forms them, circumstances complete them…its endowment fosters, increases, nurtures, shelters, nourishes, supports and covers them.”
In other words, the Way guides the creation of qualia in consciousness, but cannot be expected to magically control how we think. It is only a plan of action. Our perceptions, thoughts, and emotions are created in our conscious minds from the huge number of neurons firing systematically. Often, however, neurons misfire or fire in a pattern following a less-than-optimal sequence of events (e.g., make a bad decision or don’t see everything in our field of view).
Finally, we can return to the anomalous visual qualia in the title of this chapter. The wild display of partial images I reported in the previous chapter are not the result of the orderly arrival of packets to my consciousness. My inability to control them, much less create them intentionally or stop them, is strong evidence that they are created by randomly arriving packets from the visual cortex. In a perfectly functioning tripartite mind-body system, visual qualia without retinal input (i.e., eyes closed) would only be created on demand, as when remembering or imagining, and they would be complete if not highly detailed. Something is malfunctioning.
The Dao De Jing refers to losing the Way and what happens; “moral perfection and correctness appeared.” In other words, we create rules to replace the smooth operation of our minds. The rules our subconscious/conscious mind creates aren’t necessarily accurate, just as social mores can vary widely among nations and through time. To recover the Great Way (the Dao), we must influence (but not master) the communication pathway from the conscious to the unconscious mind. The feedback loop identified in the visual cortex.
Notes: The Original Wisdom of the Dao De Jing, Translated by P.J. Laska, ECCS Books, Green Valley Arizona, 2012.