Film doing philosophy; nature of the conscious mind

After quite a while of considerably potent troubles (inanimate equivalent of illness), my six-year old laptop is back on its feet today (I love to speak of things in my possession in this way) and it exudes a quaint old familiar feeling of being new so comfortably that it, as soon as it was back to its place on my table, coaxed me smoothly into browsing through old files to see with my own eyes that everything was intact and well in place. Of all the relatively older files, one particularly tempted me to open and read. That was from an e-mail list conversation at a film and philosophy (or rather film-philosophy) discussion salon. Opening it, I saw that was part (not the entirety) of a conversation between a philosopher and professor (I fondly remember he was an old honorable gentleman, and I have yet to write about his book) and me (actually the thread had many participants)—I remember me starting to copy the conversation text on to a MS Word file in the hope of developing the matter into a detailed study, which I must have forgotten about later.

That was between late 2009 and mid-2010, and many studies have been done and several titles have come out after that on film-philosophy and the relationship between film and philosophy. I have not done anything about this, and have not followed up on the developments after 2011. I have to make up for the three or four years since if I want to write anything significant.

That said, I am not in the right state of mind for any studies these couple of days—I am more inclined toward poetry at the moment, for the joy of my soul and the peace of my mind. Perhaps some sort of therapy. However, I think it would be better if I reproduce the copied part of the e-mail conversation between the gentleman (for some reason I have chosen to keep his identity secret) and me in case it becomes something that helps my memory sometime in future.

DB’s response to an earlier reply from me:

Of course there will be conflicting opinions about what constitutes thinking two things at once. According to some theories of mental process we are processing many many things at once. See Daniel Dennett’s Consciousness Explained. What I was referring to is more akin to your example of holding simultaneous perspectives, but still, I think, different.

What do you think of this? You are watching a film. The image on the screen is pastoral. Suddenly a scratch appears. You see it on the screen and you realize at the same time that you are really seeing a scratch on the print running through the projector. Your are looking at the screen, at a shadow of the print and at the scene at the same time. Strictly speaking these thoughts are not simultaneous, but for all practical purposes they are. This duality in perspective I would claim invokes a kind of intellectual parallax that produces a new view of the ontology of the experience (in a thoughtful person). Films that self-consciously modulate light in a way such that it is the surface of the screen that becomes the locus of action usually produce a tension between the screen as surface and the screen as window. I usually point to Michael Snow’s film “Back and Forth” as an illustration of this effect. This film, I believe, goes one step further and demands (of thoughtful persons) introspection into the act of assembling a perception of space.

In terms of a philm doing filosophy, I guess this is a shorthand for a filmmaker using film in order to do philo (as distinct from merely being philosphical. Strictly speaking I suppose you are correct, though. MF’s earlier post has something interesting to say about an issue that is parallel to this, and that I am still thinking about.


My reply to the above response:

Dear BD,
When I wrote about film doing philosophy and conscious mind being conscious of only one thing at a time, I worked from the basic, that is from a purist and strict sense, and when you say ‘strictly speaking I suppose you are correct’ I suppose we have gained the common ground. My view is philosophy is philosophy, and this can be done in various mediums – in mind, books or films etc. Traditionally philosopher writers do philosophy in mind and books (and there are of course Socrates-like philosophers who do/did not write); however, books being a means of information storage and dissemination among others, they can speak their philosophy into an audio recorder, or in front of an audio visual recorder (camera), and movie being an art form, the director can design the shape of his work which will determine its artistic success or failure in a general sense though the content plays a good part in it. Different practitioners in different mediums use different tools and devices inherent in the medium. And box office is clearly no ideal measure for the work’s value if majority is not synonymous with truth as in the case of crucifying Jesus and poisoning Socrates. What I have in mind when I say this is that movies and books (in such contexts) are different ontological categories though both do philosophy, and neither has the privilege of claiming philosophy as inherently its based on which came first and befriended philosophy before the other.

Now that we have more or less gained a common ground, we can start the original question in some different way in which examples will come last.

As regards the nature of the conscious mind, I wrote from congnitive science ground in general and a purely clinical standpoint in particular; and if I have not misread the philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett (and all other cognitive scientists and neurologists), what he says is the same: the human conscious mind can process only one sensory datum at a time. Part of what Dennett says is this:

…computer programmers will tell you that it is fiendishly difficult to program the parallel computers currently being developed, and relatively easy to program a serial, von Neumann machine. When you program a conventional von Neumann machine, you have a handy crutch; when the going gets tough, you ask yourself, in effect, “What would I do if I were the machine, trying to solve this problem?” and this leads you to an answer of the form, “Well, first I’d do this, and then I’d have to do that, etc.” But if you ask yourself “What would I do in this situation if I were a thousand-channel-wide parallel processor?” you draw a blank; you don’t have any personal familiarity with — any “direct access to” — processes happening in a thousand channels at once, even though that is what is going on in your brain. Your only access to what is going on in your brain comes in a sequential “format” that is strikingly reminiscent of the von Neumann architecture… (Consciousness Explained, p. 215)

The substance is this – conscious mind is capable of being conscious of only one thing at a time and another thing at another time resulting in the formation of a stream of consciousness, though thousands of impressions may enter the brain (?) undetected by the conscious mind. Yes, our conscious mind processes many many things in a duration of a fraction of fraction of a second. However, a second is a very long time, for even a normal camera can take 24 pictures in a second, and now we have cameras (STEAM or serial time-encoded amplified microscopy) taking 6.1 million pictures in a single second. And it is clear that this camera stops after taking a picture and before taking another during which a few milliseconds pass. If this is the case what about a conscious non-stop mind (our conscious mind)? Of course it looks like the mind doing so lots of things at a time while in fact it is not the case, and what appears to be at a time really happens in a length of time of milliseconds, not at a particular single fraction of a millisecond.

Dennett’s Multiple Drafts model in Consciousness Explained itself has also accounts of results of researches in other areas answering for the conscious mind’s apparent multitasking which is a myth, and if one believing the mind to be able to do multitasking puts oneself under pressure by handling several many tasks compressed in a short period of time thinking oneself doing multitasking, mental impairment is at the end of the road awaiting as a prize.

This knowledge of the conscious mind forms one of the cornerstones of Psychiatry persuading its patients (their minds are generally too restless and jump from one thought to another) to learn and hold a positive thought for a longer time, and then another, rather than (as is generally believed) persuading them to think of only one thing at a time, because thinking of more than one is (physiologically?) not possible. If this which is being held as psychiatry truth is in fact flawed, then the world has been misled by flawed mental scientists for so many years; and if this is the case, this should be corrected immediately, for an error repeated over and over again will not become correct. No matter how terribly daunting this task may be, but we must do it for a salvation.

As regards your example of watching a film, I think we also have gained a common ground here too when you agree ‘strictly speaking these are not simultaneous’. How the scratch appearing suddenly affects (depending on its quality/nature and time of its appearance in course of the film) will differ from person, though most people will get distracted from the movie to the scratch. If the scratch really disturbs a serious viewer at a very crucial moment in the movie, this will shock him and rock him from the movie (now off-focus) and the scratch will occupy his consciousness; and if he feels the scratch in spite of its disturbance is negligible, compared to the film’s seriousness, he will tune his mind back to the movie, though he can lose concentration any time leading to change of his mental focus. In all these the events of the conscious mind’s being conscious of the things happen in a sequential format. And again if the person who has been watching the film happens to think that the film is projected on a silver-screen, there must be a break in his consciousness marked by shift of focus.

Matters of perspectives and parallax are related in a different way to the conscious mind from the context in which I mentioned it. Perspectives and parallax are matters of subject-object spatial relation, while the relation was one, in my context, time plays a crucial role though a special sense takes a marginal position, which is also virtual. Holding beliefs of various isms (even including conflicting ones) is not a matter the conscious mind, but of the subconscious mind, the repository of all our past experiences in the form of sensory data (retrieved the same way they were processed through metaphorically the single-lane-traffic-neck of the conscious mind) the values of which determine our personalities.

Thanks and regards,
Thoithoi O’Cottage


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s