also, PsyArt Journal
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and his online intellectual autobiography
Longer more personal version
Norman N. Holland's Thinking
You only know things through some human act of perception.
- There is no "god's eye" view.
- As a reader or critic, you only know "the text" through your own or someone else's act of construction.
- You only know "the text" (or anything else) through your identity or personal style of perceiving, experiencing, etc.
You can read a person's style as an identity. Definition: a person's identity is--a person can be described as--an identity theme plus the history of variations acted out on that theme.
- An identity theme is a phrasing of a distinctive style that permeates the person's actions and thoughts, a unifying theme in that human being.
- Weak version: "one can read" someone that way.
- Strong version: evidence from brain science says that early experience marks the brain, inscribing an identity of this kind on the brain. Hence we can count on consistency in the people around us.
One can, however, only infer an identity through one's own or someone else's act of construction. One can only know an identity through an identity. Identity, one's own or anyone else's, cannot be known absolutely.
A person--an identity--senses and acts on the world through processes of feedback.
- A feedback consists of three elements: a standard or hypothesis that one applies; a physical or mental way of applying that hypothesis to a text (or the world) and sensing what happens; a comparator that compares what is fed back from a text (or the world) to the original hypothesis.
- The familiar example: a thermostat. The setting for desired temperature is like a hypothesis: Is this room 68 degrees? The device compares the temperature its thermometer senses with the desired temperature. If they are not the same, the device acts on the furnace and tries the hypothesis again.
- One can put feedbacks in a hierarchy. A "higher" feedback loop can act by providing the standard for a "lower" feedback loop. Thus, perception controls motor activity (a "lower" loop) that feeds back and so controls perception.
- One can distinguish three levels of feedback, hierarchically arranged
- The highest level, the standard or hypothesis that governs everything else, is a unique identity interpreted as a theme and variations. It sets standards for the lower-level feedbacks and emotionally reacts to feedback outcomes
- that identity governs, at intermediate levels, loops internalized from one's culture:
- canon-loops, rules chosen, about which different "interpretive communities" regularly differ (e.g., political and aesthetic values)
- code-loops, rules dictated by culture, about which no member of the culture would disagree (e.g., a red light means stop, green means go)
- a special intermediate type of these rules are the metaphors described by cultural linguists (e.g., understanding is seeing).
- identity and culture govern physiological loops of perception and activity common to all humans.
- In a specifically literary or filmic context, one can distinguish four kinds of hypotheses--questions--we bring to a work (DEFT):
- Expectation: what do I hope for from this work?
- Defense: will this work cause me guilt, anxiety, or other unpleasure, or will I be able to manage it?
- Fantasy: will I be able to get from it the kind of gratification I favor?
- Transformation: can I achieve the kind of "making sense of it" that I favor?
- The text has vanished? No. The text is very much there. It is what the reader is responding to.
- The system is solipsistic? Not in the technical sense that the self is the only reality. There are all kinds of realities, but we only know them through a self.
- The system makes everything subjective? The system rests on what seems to me a truism, that we only know things through some human act of knowing. Any person's act of knowing expresses an identity and will be in some respects different from any other person's act of knowing the same thing. All knowing is, in that sense, "subjective." But acts of knowing also share codes and canons that make them similar.
- Any reading is as good as any other? No. One can make judgments of good and bad--indeed, one cannot avoid doing so. From this perspective, however, one should state the basis on which one is making them. Otherwise one asserts an absolute, and the conversation ends.
- There is no point in teaching? No. A good teacher helps students discover the canons and codes by which we know things. A good teacher challenges, develops, and adds to those codes.