Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Novelty, accidents and intention

By suggesting that we don't entirely plan new actions, I don't mean that they're completely arbitrary. Of course not; I definitely agree with Neal that future actions arise out of the past. The question is, though, how much agency do we have in changing habits, and when does that agency come in? We all agree -- I think -- with the general phenomenological stance on time: the present distends into past and future, and that habit stretches across all this. But, what we're worried about is how habit varies: i.e. in our gender example, how we perform differently. (I very much like, by the way, Neal's emphasis on encountering pain/insufficient relations with members of certain genders as a motive to acting differently)

Let me stick with the evolution example (keep in mind I'm just testing it out!): evolutionary developments -- new skin colors, new spots -- are random mutations but they happen for being with a past and with motivations. The body does not "produce" variations in response to a situation; variations just happen and either succeed or fail. That said, variations can only vary current conditions that depend on personal and collective past.

The reason I like this analogy is because it takes some of the conscious intention out of doing something new. Sometimes, we don't plan our new action; I try cooking something, dump in too much wine or salt, and find I have a new dish that I like. Of course, I start out with my particular recipe, my particular cupboard of ingredients and my motivation to cook a meal in the first place ... and then I affirm the changes I like based on my preferences, past and future. (Sometimes I throw out the batch of cookies with too much salt) Unlike in real evolution -- although weird things happen with epigenesis -- my predilations might sometimes guide my 'accidental' actions (I lean a little heavy on the salt because I unconsciously crave salt) but don't necessarily (someone just bumps my arm when I'm using the salt shaker)

So when you say "But what about the possibility of my experiencing something new that comes from elsewhere", I think that self-revelation must include this other-revelation. I can't always decide what my new behavior ought to be, until 1. something in the world calls me to act and 2. I see what I do. So... I say I can't "always" decide because I'm leaving open the possibility that there are situations in which we act with more intention. But I'm more interested in the situations in which we have 'less' intention. In childhood, for example, I think we often discover novelty quite accidently... but of course that discovery is conditioned by our motive to act in the first place and our past and future actions.

When you say "we can't change what we think and do until we realize that what we think and do aren't just the 'way things are', but they can be different"... I agree, but I think that sometimes we don't know things can be different until we find difference/newness accidentally. Change/novelty entered, not arbitrarily, but not through my premeditated, active consciousness.