Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Hologram Metaphor in Mind and Culture

From some old notes:

Finally, I'd like to suggest cultures encode their master patterns like holograms encode images. If you rip a hologram of, for example, a coin, in half, you can still use it to view the entire coin. If you rip one of those halves in half, you can use either of the resulting quarters to view the entire coin. This is quite different from an ordinary photograph where, if you rip it in half, you get one half of the coin on one piece of photograph and the other half on the other piece. If you rip one of those pieces in half you will be down to photographic fragments showing a quarter of the coin. A piece of a photograph contains a piece of the image.

A piece of a hologram, however, still contains the entire image. The resolution of the image, that is, its sharpness, will be somewhat reduced—the smaller the piece, the lower the resolution—but the entire image is there. A hologram is thus a way of distributing the entire image throughout the representing medium (the piece of photographic film). Similarly, the pattern of a culture is distributed throughout all the artifacts and practices of the people who live that culture. Each piece and aspect reflects the pattern of the whole.

My use of the hologram metaphor is not accidental. There is a considerable body of research and theory which indicates that the brain stores information holographically (Karl Pribram is perhaps the most vigorous proponent of this; see Languages of the Brain, 1971). Thus it may be no accident that a man's essence shows in everything he is or does or touches. That is so because that's how the brain works. The brain also encodes culture.

For culture ultimately resides in the brains of those who carry the culture. If those brains store information so that each physical part reflects the pattern of the whole, then that is how they will organize culture. It is thus no accident that students of culture from Ruth Benedict through Claude Levi-Strauss and Clifford Geertz and Erik Erikson find correspondences, for example, between the pattern of a wedding ceremony and the layout of a dwelling, between patterns of infant weaning and adult aggression, and so forth. Cultures form coherent patterns because the brains of culture-bearers seek to impose coherence everywhere.

Similarly, each individual carries a low-res version of the entire culture. Oh, each person is an expert (high res) in this or that aspect of culture; but has only a nodding acquaintance with most of it. And there is some body of knowledge and practice all hold more or less in common in some reasonable detail. But the full culture in all its richness exists only in the interactions among all the individuals.

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