Saturday, January 21, 2012


There are resemblances between Blake's thought and the current theories of cognition. In Fritjof Capra's The Web of Life we read of the development of theories of cognition which go under the names such as 'dynamical systems theory', 'the theory of complexity', 'nonlinear dynamics', and 'network dynamics.' Capra has attempted to follow the change of paradigms from the mechanistic to the ecological worldview in understanding living systems.

When I read of nonlinear thinking, feedback loops, and bringing forth a world, I am reminded that Blake spoke of these things in his own language of symbolic poetry 200 years ago.

p 264
"In the emerging theory of living systems mind is not a thing, but a process. It is cognition, the process of knowing, it is identified with the process of life itself. This is the essence of the Santiago theory of cognition, proposed by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela.
In ancient times the rational human mind was seen as merely one aspect of the immaterial soul, or spirit. The basic distinction was not between body and mind, but between body and soul, or body and spirit. While the differentiation between soul and spirit was fluid and fluctuated over time, both originally unified in themselves two concepts - that of the force of life and the activity of consciousness.
In the languages of ancient times both of these ideas are expressed through the metaphor of the breath of life. Indeed, the etymological roots of 'soul' and 'spirit' mean 'breath' in many antique languages."

p 267
"Since cognition traditionally is defined as the process of knowing, we must be able to describe it in terms of an organism's interactions with its environment. Indeed, this is what the Santiago theory does. The specific phenomena underlying the process of cognition is structural coupling. As we have seen, an autopoietic system undergoes continual structural change while preserving its weblike pattern of organization. It couples to its environment structurally in other words, through recurrent interactions, each of which triggers structural changes in the system. The living system is autonomous, however. The environment only triggers the structural changes, it does not specify or direct them.
Now, the living system not only specifies these structural changes, it also specifies which perturbations from the environment trigger them. This is the key to the Santiago theory of cognition. The structural changes in the system constitute acts of cognition. By specifying which perturbations from the environment trigger its changes, the system 'brings forth a world', as Maturana and Varela put it. Cognition, then, is then not a recognition of an independently existing world, but a continual bring forth of a world through the process of living."

p 271
"Maturana and Varela do not maintain that there is a void out there, out of which we create matter. There is a material world, but it does not have any predetermined features. The authors of the Santiago theory do not assert that 'nothing exists'; they assert that 'no things exist' independent to the process of cognition."

Image from New York Public Library Digital Gallery
Milton, Plate 45

Songs of Experience , Song 40, (E 23)


"Little Fly
Thy summers play,
My thoughtless hand
Has brush'd away.

Am not I
A fly like thee?
Or art not thou
A man like me?

For I dance
And drink & sing:
Till some blind hand
Shall brush my wing.

If thought is life
And strength & breath:
And the want
Of thought is death;

Then am I
A happy fly,
If I live,
Or if I die."

Jerusalem, Plate 27, (E 173)
" He witherd up the Human Form,
By laws of sacrifice for sin:
Till it became a Mortal Worm:
But O! translucent all within.

The Divine Vision still was seen
Still was the Human Form, Divine
Weeping in weak & mortal clay
O Jesus still the Form was thine.

And thine the Human Face & thine
The Human Hands & Feet & Breath
Entering thro' the Gates of Birth
And passing thro' the Gates of Death"

Milton, Plate 26 [28], (E 122)
"These are the Sons of Los, & these the Labourers of the Vintage
Thou seest the gorgeous clothed Flies that dance & sport in
Upon the sunny brooks & meadows: every one the dance
Knows in its intricate mazes of delight artful to weave:
Each one to sound his instruments of music in the dance,
To touch each other & recede; to cross & change & return
These are the Children of Los; thou seest the Trees on mountains
The wind blows heavy, loud they thunder thro' the darksom sky
Uttering prophecies & speaking instructive words to the sons
Of men: These are the Sons of Los! These the Visions of Eternity

But we see only as it were the hem of their garments
When with our vegetable eyes we view these wond'rous Visions"

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