On Change, Perception and the Idea of Maturity

John Armstrong’s The Conditions of Love is obviously far from through with me, and I with it.  My encounter with this writing has challenged me in so many ways.  Principally, I think, in querying my bases of knowledge in neuroscience, literature, philosophy, psychology and art – and struggling what is known (or supposed, or observed) in these disciplines toward our lived experience of love, of loss, of change, of survival.  Our brains, our stories, our bodies are all so very highly attuned to patterns in our world, perception, experience…how does that work itself out in our lives of loving and losing, changing and adapting?  What is difficult, what is beautiful in such behavior and practice?  What do domain-specific, developed human disciplines offer us in our mind/body organismic goings-on?

Maturity - John Armstrong

Enormous changes…you could say…REQUIRE all sorts of perspectival changes.

If only, simply, to adapt to the new WORLDS initiated by the universe-altering adjustments that major life changes (positive, negative, or, usually, BOTH) introduce:  couplings and separations / relocations / employment, vocation, education / grief, loss, birth, reduction, addition / success and failure and so on…

Our experiential/perceptual “worlds” have been aptly described and ascribed as Umwelten (see also – Paul Bains, Primacy of Semiosis).  In drastically simplified form: the concept that we are (each sort of organism) evolved in such a way as to perceive and engage with that in our environments that pertains to our survival and flourishing, our continuance of existence.  Those elements or that structuring and interacting with what we select out of our replete environments and surroundings – including ourselves – constitutes our Umwelt – our little “life-world” – species-specific bubble of “reality” (what is real to us, for us).

The sorts of change(s) that provoke potential for maturity tend (I think) to be changes that evince larger (or larger-scaled) patterns of experience and events (although all the minute alterations ever occurring – to the attentive and aware – also constitute mature adaptations for the human – the meditator recognizes the flux in each moment and works to adapt to this flux with openness and acceptance) – in other words, such things as by their very occurrence create/disrupt/introduce significant and substantial structural alterations – profoundly unavoidable – changes to the content AND context of the individual organisms perceptual/experiential SURROUND.

Changes (like those listed above) that, if NOT adapted or adjusted to, evidence a socially recognizable UNreality – a person clearly maladapted to the realities of their situations.  An example would be CHANGE or DIE; ADAPT or FAIL in some socially undeniable sense.

ADAPTING – in a “to-obvious-Umwelt-alteration-sense” is what I comprehend as an instance of maturity (a la Armstrong).

The loss of a child or spouse or health or limb.  New employment, habitat, geography.  Freshly developed abilities, knowledge, or lost capacities or income.  New love, memory, trauma – and so on – all represent an altered human Umwelt – adaptation to the ever-changing “reality” would be an instance of maturity – while maladaptation/denial/resistance would be a kind of instantiation of insanity – dis- or mis-alignment/-integration/-accordance to the altered Umwelt/environment/world-circumstance/perceivable “reality.”

Maturity then is our relatively accurate adjustment and adaptation to – our expectations and perceptions – to the “realities” of our ALWAYS-changing life-world.

I think Armstrong is right that we have a love/hate relationship to maturity.  It is something I (we?) HATE and HOPE for – the changes in our personal and public worlds so mostly beyond our control – air quality, abandonment, accident, reward, attention, ignor-ance, and so on.  As he puts it: “maturity is not the idea but the actual reduction of expectation.  That is why we fear as well as desire maturity.”  I question whether the adaptation is always “reductive” – in some cases, where we tend to be ruled by “patterns” (our past, our available information, our individual perceptions, our nature/culture development, etc.) maturity would constitute expanding, extending and opening our perceptions to the wider, complex and dynamic possibilities of an ever-changing life-world (I think).

For myself:  I HATE it (the death and loss implied in honest, authentic reductive maturity – mapping my individuality to my actual surroundings and situations) – I often resent and resist the ongoing change – erosion and eruptions – of the world I’m embedded in.  AND I WELCOME it – the reality-check of it, the alteration, breath, fresh potentials of “new worlding” that constant change instigates and offers.

As if our “realities” were 1000 plateaus – layered, indistinct, overlapping, vague and enmeshed.  As if “reality” were only (for me) what is perceivable (to me) and a dramatically altered Umwelt STRIKES into me whole new wild conceptions of what the world might be.  Reduction / Expansion.  Every change offers this.  The death (amputation, loss, etc.) and birth (regeneration, appendices, new growth).  Every vacancy corresponds with potential and unknown occupancy and vice-versa…

Or so I’m thinking…at this moment in this circumstance…

“Questioning places us in relation with what evades every question and exceeds all power of questioning…it seems that we question more than we are able to question”

-Maurice Blanchot-

…and so it goes…

Or perhaps correspondence…(Asking after the Nature of Nobody, pt. 3)

from pt. 2:

This is a portion of a map that does not represent the territory.  There are, perhaps, moments – instances – in which I fit with my surround – but usually it is organizing a mapping conference of sensation, affect, percept and infinite inputs coupling to pre-formed acquired categories and classes, fuzzy generalizations to stencil lines and rivers, mounds and fissures with very little correspondence to the world.

It writes this as “my world,” or “the world that I in-habit.”

Or perhaps correspondence…

(Asking after the Nature of Nobody, pt. 3)

…is precisely what is occurring.

“Each biological life-form, by reason of its distinctive bodily constitution (its ‘biological heritage,’ as we might say), is suited only to certain parts and aspects of the vast physical universe.  And when this ‘suitedness to’ takes the bodily form of cognitive organs, such as our own senses, or the often quite different sensory modalities discovered in other lifeforms, then those aspects and only those aspects of the physical environment which are proportioned to those modalities become ‘objectified,’ that is to say, made present not merely physically but cognitively as well…the difference between objects of experience and elements of sensation is determined primarily not by anything in the physical environment as such but by the relation or, rather, network and set of relations that obtains between whatever may be ‘in fact’ present physically in the surroundings and the cognitive constitution of the biological organism interacting with those surrounding here and now.”

-John Deely, Umwelt

Given the apparent disjunction of its maps to the potential largesse and intricacy (unknowns) of the territory, it reconsiders.

It thinks it may be inextricably related to the territory.  In no way accurately or exhaustively (in relation to the territory) yet constitutively via what kind of co-respondence pertains (in relation to the species of which it is an example).

In other words, by inter-relation to the territory, and by nature of its dynamic organismal systems of sensation-perception-cognition and communication (+ language – the capacity to model the above relational systems): it is I.

It co-evolves personhood.  The capacity to refer to an I among Is.  An individual personality among a We.

Map and territory, co-respondent.  The map being a model of that correspondence and correlation.  Therefore, of course it is idiosyncratic and fraught with misperceptions, disjunctions and erroneously organized interpretations and representations of the networked environments…yet the map = correspondence with the territory in species-specific experience.


Correspondences of one to many and many to one, and to a very delimited aspect of the territory, but still constructed by real linkages (reciprocal relations and responses) to that “Territory.”

Bees’ links look different.  If a lion were to speak we would not understand.  Every organism its own relations to the territory, selecting and responding, sensing and processing various aspects of the territory into species-specific lifeworlds, but correlated and corresponding particular to their kind.

Or…our maps are our maps.  Ever changing, adapting, responding to our environments and experiences, genuinely related to the territory, representations of our habits of being in the world (in-habit-ing it as humans).

I can’t lay claim to truth about the territory, but my maps derive from it and shape my forays within it, can be shared and examined, evaluated and adjusted with other mapmakers, and trusted as the experience of a peculiar entity of a particular species modeled in reciprocal relation to specific environs of the territory.

“The map is not the territory” but a model, a depiction, a fragment co-evolved in and with that territory, a specific kind of rendering and representation, and valuable for the explorer-species of the sign.

Umwelt by John Deely

Other Worlds / Our World … as conceived by a Semiotic Animal

The following is, again, a fairly dense essay, but I find the content so fascinating and very well presented.  The concepts and observations herein form a central core of what I desire to use language to explore – signs upon signs within signs over signs – living in the specificity of our species – and attempting to discover what/where/how that specificity (namely language) might lead/take/auto-generate itself forward.  If these sorts of things interest you as well, i encourage you to lend Deely’s writing your time.

(click here for essay) – Umwelt by John Deely