history 2

[From: Bruce Nevin (Mon 93053 12:52:50)]

[Bill Powers (930501.1200)] --

Dan Miller, in his beautifully-wrought post, was trying to say
that the past is NOT brought into the present. What exists in the
present is only a memory, and a memory subject to all the
fallibility of human perception, recording, and playback. What
REALLY happened in the past is irrelevant; all that matters now
is how we remember it, and how we choose to deal with the
memories. What we remember IS the past for us, regardless of the
accuracy of the memory.

Yes, yes, the past is a perceptual construct in exactly the same
way that the present is, and "boss reality" is not directly
accessed in either case.

All that we have of the past is memories and reconstruction on
the basis of present perceptual evidence. But we assume that we
do in fact have access in the present to something of the past.
Just as we assume that we have access to something of the present
"boss reality" in our present perceptual universe, whatever its
distortions. The justification and caveats appear to me to be
identical in the two cases.

That is irrelevant to the point. Perceptions that transpired in
the past are brought into the present as memories. Yes, of
course they are distorted. For example, perceptions are
interpreted as being instances of category perceptions, as
justifying attitudes, and as fulfilling expectations (including
an expectation that certain other expectations not be fulfilled).
These interpretations and the stories we tell ourselves about
them are remembered, and it is predominantly those memories that
are brought into the present.

The perceptions that constitute the interpretations, attitudes,
expectations, stories, and so on, are not all created de novo by
each human being. They are learned. They are taught by example
even more than by overt precept. And they are historically
contingent, as I was saying.

We don't have to go along with these interpretations, attitudes,
expectations, stories, and so on. We can put more weight on
present-time perceptual input, we can learn to suspend "the
burdensome practice of judging" (3rd Chinese Patriarch of Zen),
but if we care about cooperative relationships with those around
us we will do so with circumspection. I think this is in part
what has been meant by suggestions like "be in the world but not
of it."

In all this I believe I am agreeing with [Dan Miller (930430.1120)]

the past is significant only to the extent that it is brought into the
present situation. We are not determined by history. It is a perception
(or more likely a set of them) that we may use as reference signals in
the upper levels of the hierarchy. Also, we may not use it.

[i.e. we may choose not to use a given higher-level reference.]

However, if we do not exercise this capacity, then we are making
ourselves determined by history to the extent that those
reference perceptions are historically contingent. And any
reference perception that is socially standardized or calibrated
by individuals for conformity to a community norm is, by the very
processes of teaching/learning/acquiring/calibrating over time,
historically contingent.