At play in the fields of the lord: the role of metanoia in the development of consciousness

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*This paper was the keynote address delivered at the 1990 annual meeting of The Association for the Study of Play, Las Vegas, Nevada. Charles Laughlin is with the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, CANADA K1S 5B6. The author wishes to acknowledge the helpful dialogues he has had with John McManus and Susan Sample.

1Although it took some years to be published, our earlier theory of play was actually completed in 1975 and was an application of a more general biogenetic structural perspective on the relations of brain and culture (see Laughlin and d'Aquili 1974, d'Aquili, Laughlin and McManus 1979). At that time, biogenetic structuralism had not fully incorporated an experiential and transpersonal dimension into its formulations, a defect that has been rectified over the past decade and a half (see e.g., Laughlin 1989a, 1989b, Laughlin, McManus and Stephens 1981, Laughlin, McManus and Shearer 1983), leading eventually to a neurophenomenological approach to symbolism, epistemology and consciousness (see Laughlin 1988, Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990).

2I am grateful to Ms. Susan Sample for providing me with this useful concept. Metanoia derives from the Greek and means to change one's mind, to reorient one's way of life, to be spiritually converted, or to repent or do penitence.

3When we speak of a model, we do not refer either to an ideal type or a description of a theory. A model is an actual organization of tissue the function of which is to constitute some aspect or aspects of the world before the mind (see Davis et al. 1988).

4The cortex is the phylogenetically newest part of the nervous system and forms a corrugated layer of tissue on the top of the brain. We agree with Doty (1975) that conscious processing is largely a cortical function.

5The concept of neurognosis is complex and refers to the essential genetical component producing universal patterns of neural activity, and the experiential and behavioural concomitants of that activity; see Laughlin and d'Aquili (1974: Chapter 5), Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili (1990: Chapter 2) and d'Aquili et al. (1979: 8ff).

6See Varela 1979 on "structural coupling," Piaget 1985 on "adequation," Bateson 1979 on "co-evolution." There is a great deal of evidence that the relative richness or poverty of the outer world has a determinant effect upon the complexity and growth of neural networks in ontogenesis (Diamond 1988, Renner and Rosenzweig 1987).

7We borrowed the concepts of cognized and operational environments from Rappaport (1968), but have changed their meaning substantially from his usage. For further elaboration of these concepts, see Laughlin and Brady (1978: 6), d'Aquili et al. (1979: 12ff), Rubinstein et al. (1984: 21ff), and Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili (1990).

8"Entrainment" is a technical term in neurophysiology that means the linking of neural systems into larger configurations by way of dendritic-axonic-synaptic and endocrinological interconnections (see Hebb 1949, Davis et al. 1988). Entrainments may be momentary or enduring. A change in a pattern of entrainment is termed "re-entrainment."

9It is our contention that Piaget (see e.g., Piaget and Inhelder 1969) placed too great an emphasis upon the necessity for physical exploration of the world for models, or "schemes" to develop. Some models undoubtedly require a motor component for their development, while others do not.

10One mechanism of "loosening" is the release of the inhibitory influences that models have upon competing models.

11Moreover, it is requisite to an optimal acquisition of curiosity and refined motor skills in later life (Welker 1956, Sutton-Smith 1967, Menzel et al. 1970) and adaptation to novelty (Menzel 1963, 1966, Menzel et al. 1970, Berkson et al. 1963). Play is involved in the production (behavioral or otherwise) of novelty, thus enriching the experience of the organism and triggering more complex somatic, perceptual, affective and cognitive development. The emergence of play has been shown to follow a developmental progression in various animals (see e.g., Hoff and Nadler 1981 for gorilla). The drive to seek novelty is intrinsic to the organism. It is known that a number of higher vertebrates are more interested in novel objects than familiar ones; e.g., primates (Menzel 1963, 1966), ungulates (Thorpe 1966, Darling 1964), and dolphins (Tavolga 1966). Play objects or "toys" are of intense interest to captive dolphins, who will complete tasks with such objects as the sole reward (Pepper and Beach 1972). And research has now shown that curiosity about novel objects among human neonates is a predictor of intelligence later in life (Fagan 1984a, 1984b).

12A number of researchers have seen the relationship between play and ritual (see e.g., Bourguignon 1979, Cheska 1978, Norbeck 1979, Kilmer 1977, Schwartzman 1978:124-125, Riner 1978, Fox 1980, Miracle 1986, n.d., Southard, Miracle and Landwer 1989, Dunleavy and Miracle 1981, Turner 1983).

13We mean by experience "that which arises before the subject" in consciousness (see Dilthey 1976, Husserl 1977). This includes perception, thought, imagination, intuition, affect and sensation. Experience, as we use the term, is a function of this intentional dialogue, and involves the entrainment of a phenomenal field within the networks of cells comprising the sensorium, to which are entrained the cognitive processes that associate meaning and form in a unitary frame. It is important to emphasize that the phenomenal attributes of the object of consciousness are themselves produced in experience by neural models in the sensorium and are, for each moment of consciousness, the central focus of conceptual, imaginal, affective, metabolic and motor operations of the organism towards itself (Neisser 1976: 20ff). For example, if you look at yourself in the mirror, the visual image of your exterior body may become the intentional locus of thoughts ("I have to get a haircut."), feelings ("God, I'm too fat!"), behaviors (shaving, brushing teeth), etc.

14Piaget (see e.g., Piaget and Inhelder 1969:62) was resistant to either the idea that dreaming is homologous to play, or the idea of innate, archetypal symbolism in the young child, both of which are held to be the case in biogenetic structural theory (see Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990).

15According to Roffwarg, Muzio and Dement (1966:608), newborns spend 50% of their 16 hours of sleep a day in REM stage, and 6 month old infants spend 30% of their 13 hours of sleep in REM stage.

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