Form, Representation, Presence

  • Michael L. Johnson


Young argues that in the evolution of human consciousness ‘the critical stage was the acquisition of the power to make symbolic representations by language of concepts indicating the distinction between self and other’. That this distinction, in man—machine terms, may be confused by metaphors that extend self into other (‘face of a clock’) is fairly obvious, but that it also may be confused less comfortably by metaphors that extend other into self is less recognized though commonly observable. Technological man must be very canny about how he conceives himself, by this second kind of metaphor, as an extension of the environment of his artefacts, mind as an imitation of machine (an inversion that has engaged Derrida); for, as Young notes, ‘as man devises tools to substitute for the functions of his body he also creates new language to describe these very functions…’, a language almost invariably derived, by a perverse McLuhanism, from the terminology of the substitute. So a more specific caveat emerges: ‘We cannot hope to describe in detail how the brain works by looking at the bits of metal and minerals inside a computer.’ (The physical machine is not the simulation: the simulation is the computation of the consequences of a theory expressed as a program that more or less approximates what it models.) Rather, ‘What we have to use is the understanding of the principles….’1


Symbolic Representation Physical Machine Neural Code Human Consciousness Infinite Regress 
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  1. 1.
    J. Z. Young, Programs of the Brain (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), pp. 39, 41.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    René Thom, Structural Stability and Morphogenesis: An Outline of a General Theory of Models, trans. D. H. Fowler (Reading, Mass.: Benjamin, 1975), p. 127.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    Daniel C. Dennett, Brainstorms: Philosophical Essays on Mind and Psychology (Montgomery, Vt.: Bradford Books, 1978), pp. 39, 42, 46, 47, 49, 50.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Francisco J. Varela, ‘The Creative Circle: Sketches on the Natural History of Circularity’, in The Invented Reality, ed. Paul Watzlawick (New York: Norton, 1984), p. 320.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Michael L. Johnson 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael L. Johnson
    • 1
  1. 1.University of KansasUK

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