Friday, August 29, 2008

On the Second Day...

You would think that the anxiety level would drop a bit, that things would seem easier, that breathing would be easier. You would think. But still, even on the second day: new classes, new faces, new ways to notice that it's not easier. Not yet.

2nd day:

Psych 1010: Prof. Jim Cantrell

It's a larger lecture hall. Larger than the other classrooms I've seen anyway. Nothing as large as the BYU lecture halls I've seen, but larger enough to make me want to shut the door and pretend I was never here. I steel myself instead and walk into the room, taking the syllabus from the professor and making my way across the entire front of the hall and up two levels to take an empty chair. He is talking loudly about something, but I don't really hear it. I experience a sensation of vertigo as I shove my bag under the table and pull out the massive psychology text and my notebook. I close my eyes and try to slow my heart. Just breathe...

I look at my third professor. He is maybe fifty-five? He looks a bit wild, with absent-minded-professor white hair, glasses and a look that says, "You people are mine for the next fifteen weeks." He speaks very quickly, and gesticulates wildly too, so that's it's difficult to follow what he is saying from one subject to the next. After he finishes going over the syllabus, he launches into an explanation of the origin of psychology: from the Greek psyche meaning mind or soul and logos, being the study of. "What is the mind?" he says loudly. "Where is it located? What is evidence of the mind?" He speaks of a man, Watson, a behaviorist in 1928 and says again, "What is the mind?" He pauses for a long moment and then says, "C'mon people, wake up!" I raise my hand and reply loudly, "Are you asking us?" He stares at me. "Yes!" he says. He keeps staring at me. I don't say anything more, cowed by his expression. I was just wondering. A couple of people raise their hands. Their answers seem rote, but maybe just to me. We have minds because we think! We have memories and stuff! I wonder what Cantrell thinks of these answers. Are they what he is looking for? He speaks of MRI's, CAT scans, and ways to see how the brain works. I think, Are you looking for evidence of the mind, or evidence of a super-processing biocomputer? The mind is not the brain. The brain can be measured with advanced machinery, its processes and energy tracked and quantified. The brain is merely a super-complex data processor. The mind is something different, something that is, as they say, more than the sum of its parts. This line of thought reminds me of the film "I, Robot". In the film, Dr. Lanning questions the differences between advanced data processing and the advent of the mind. He says:

"There have always been ghosts in the machine. Random segments of code, that have grouped together to form unexpected protocols. Unanticipated, these free radicals engender questions of free will, creativity, and even the nature of what we might call the soul. Why is it that when some robots are left in darkness, they will seek out the light? Why is it that when robots are stored in an empty space, they will group together, rather than stand alone? How do we explain this behavior? Random segments of code? Or is it something more? When does a perceptual schematic become consciousness? When does a difference engine become the search for truth? When does a personality simulation become the bitter mote of a soul?"

I love these words. "the difference engine" vs. "the search for truth"... "the bitter mote of a soul..." All of these things run through my brain as I listen to Cantrell. He seems so scattered, jumping from one thing to another, scribbling names and dates on the board, throwing questions out in our direction and then saying, "Is any of this making sense?"

At one point, one kid says, "You're talking about a human being using positive reinforcement to control animals. I don't think that control would work on a human being. Human beings have intelligence, logic. They can choose. They aren't controlled by pleasure and pain." I think, Really? Is he really saying this out loud? Surely he realizes that not everyone is self-aware enough to use logic to reason out what they want based on their values, ethics and ideals. Surely he realizes that people operate on different cognitive levels. Much of the human race operates precisely on what feels good. So many people are motivated by their desire for fulfillment of pleasure that they don't think much beyond that. I concede that there are others, people who have learned enough about themselves and the world around them to operate on a higher level, but I think that this subject is exactly why we as a society are so dysfunctional. Most of us don't realize why we are the way we are, why we do what we do, and so fall into co-dependent relationships, addictive behaviors, self-destruction and manipulation to get what we want.

He tells us to read chapters one and two. I don't catch any other specific assignment. I guess I'll check the syllabus online to make sure. I wait after class to shake his hand. He looks at me questioningly, "Yes?" I reach out and say, "I just wanted to say thank you." He shakes my hand quizzically. "But we'll see you next Tuesday, right? And the rest of the semester?" I nod, "Yes, of course." He smiles, "Good. See you then."

Art 1110: Michelle Shepherd

This campus (North Valley) was difficult to find. It wasn't where I thought it was, and so makes my record 4-4: late to class again. If only my professors knew that this is not the norm, at least for me. I suppose it will have to be something they learn over the semester. That I like to be prompt and prepared.

My fourth professor, Shepherd, is dressed in garish colors. She has a strong nose and a strident voice and big blond hair. She has us do a display pretest, to gauge our current skills. It's a still life, and though still life has never been enjoyable to me, she says, "Being able to render a still life well means that you will be able to draw anything well." and I believe her. She talks to us about relative proportion and line of sight. It was a class I thought would be one of my favorites. It may just prove to be the greatest challenge.

Perhaps after a couple of weeks, when the schedule has settled in and the experience is more familiar, I will feel better about everything. I'll hope for that. Hope. Yes, I'll hope for that.

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