How can I tell what I think until I see what I say?

April 21, 2007


Consciousness begins when brains acquire the simple power of telling a story without words using a nonverbal vocabulary of body signals about the living organism constantly altered by internal and external adjustments of the life process. The self appears then as the feeling of a feeling. Knowledge of those feelings emerge as a response to a question never asked (Damasio 1999:30-31).

Consciousness is, in effect, the key to a life examined [...] At its simplest and most basic level, consciousness lets us recognize an irresistible urge to stay alive and develop a concern for the self. At its most complex and elaborate level, consciousness helps us develop a concern for other selves and improve the art of life.” (Damasio 1999:5)

Damasio calls these two phases of consciousness core consciousness which engenders and is engendered by a core self in the here and now, and extended consciousness, the zenith of consciousness, which is dependent on and built upon the foundation of core consciousness. Extended consciousness has many levels and grades with a unique autobiographical self and autobiographical memory (Damasio 1999:16-18).

In describing the course of events from emotion to conscious feeling, Damasio argues that there is no central feeling state before the emotion occurs and that expressing an emotion precedes feeling. To illustrate this Damasio paraphrased E. M. Forster words as “How can I know what I think before I say it?” 1

Damasio’s (1999) perspectives on emotion, feeling and knowing is unorthodox. Neural patterns or images arise in changes related to body state and changes related to cognitive states. Through chemical and electrochemical messages the body landscape is changed. Having a feeling and knowing a feeling are not the same. Knowing a feeling requires a knowing subject endowed with the faculty of consciousness (Damasio 1999:283-4).

Damasio, Antonio. 1999. The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company.
Notes:

1Daniel Dennett also cited Forster’s phrase in Consciousness Explained. Damasio’s paraphrase in spite of its quotes is incorrect according to bloggers Zimmermann (2005) and Fitzgerald (2006).

Zimmerman argues that‘How can I tell what I think till I see what I say? is from E. M. Forster’s (1879-1970) essay Aspects of the Novel (1927) written when he was forty eight years old and after he completed his final novel, A Passage to India. It was first delivered as part of a series of Clark Lectures given at Trinity College, Cambridge. In it Forster reveals his own unique perspective on literary history, style and form from Defoe to Joyce including a criticism of Henry James’ The Ambassadors.

“Another distinguished critic has agreed with Gide–that old lady in the anecdote who was accused by her niece of being illogical. For some time she could not be brought to understand what logic was, and when she grasped its true nature she was not so much angry as contemptuous. ‘Logic! Good gracious! What rubbish!’ she exclaimed. ‘How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?’ Her nieces, educated young women, thought that she was passée; she was really more up-to-date than they were.” (Zimmermann, Heiko . 2005. citing Forster, E. M. 1976. Ed. Stallybrass, Oliver. Aspects of the Novel. Harmondsworth: Penguin. p.99 )

Aspects of the Novel (1927) was written when Forster was forty eight years old and after he completed his final novel, A Passage to India. It was first delivered as part of a series of Clark Lectures given at Trinity College, Cambridge. In it Forster reveals his own unique perspective on literary history, style and form from Defoe to Joyce including a criticism of Henry James’ The Ambassadors. Childs. 2001. Aspects of the Novel.

Fitzgerald claims that this is the source of the citation:
The little girl had the making of a poet in her who, being told to be sure of her meaning before she spoke, said, ‘How can I tell what I think until I see what I say?’ Graham Wallas The Art of Thought (1926) [ODQ & B16] cited by Fitzgerald (2006).

 

Essayist and poet Matthew Arnold (1822-12-24 – 1888-04-15) wrote in “St. Paul and Protestantism” (1870),

“Below the surface stream, shallow and light,
Of what we say and feel — below the stream,
As light, of what we think we feel, there flows
With noiseless current, strong, obscure and deep,
The central stream of what we feel indeed.”

Attribution:

Alan Greenspan: “I know you think you understand what you thought I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

“I know that you believe that you understood what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” Robert McCloskey. U.S. State Department spokesman at one of his regular noon briefings during the worst days of the Vietnam War. Marvin Kalb in TV Guide, Mar. 31, 1984.

Alternative: “I believe that you think you understand what I said, but I fear, that you don´t realize, that what I say is not always what I really mean.”

John Weakland: “‘The meaning of any communication is the response that it gets.”

 

 

 

One Response to “How can I tell what I think until I see what I say?”

  1. Sharon Says:

    Hello, Maureen,
    It is good to see you back on Speechless. I stopped by here a lot of times since the 7th of March, and wondered if you had migrated to a new site without leaving a forwarding address.
    It is very exciting to see your new photographs. I am pleased that you got a new camera. I cannot make comments on flickr.com anymore, unless I register & that seems so complicated (first get a yahoo account, etc.) just for the purposes of saying I love the green hill with all the flowers, Who is the man on the big rock?, Is that rock near where you live?
    Are you doing any painting these months?
    Love, Sharon


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