Monday, June 18, 2012

alfie again

Alfie again

16 June 2012 – response to an email from Heike concerning an email I sent
Heike <<< What about thoughts and feelings that do not belong to the category of "most of them are rooted in temporary structures ..." What about those "few" as opposed to "most"? What do you think? Are those (few) archetypical, highly individual, logical (deriving from "reason"?) >>>

Fair cop governor – I was using waffle words – most, some, a few. I will unpack some of the stuff in the relevant paragraph from my last rant. It is quoted below.

{{{ Thoughts and feelings … come and go. Most of them are rooted in temporary ‘structures’ in the unconscious and some of them enter the attention centre and thus become conscious. But they do not last long. A few milliseconds or maybe a few minutes. There are causes and conditions for both conscious and unconscious thoughts and feelings and their sources are nature, nurture and serendipity. The past and the future exist only in the present. }}}

{{{ Thoughts and feelings … come and go. }}}

This is indisputable from my subjective point of view and I assume (why?[1]) that it is indisputable from the point of view of other people.

Where do thoughts and feelings come from? Presumably from the brain. They will have had their causes and conditions in recent inputs through the sense organs. And these would have been ‘mixed’ with memories of earlier inputs and of their subsequent relevance/utility/value (eg hints, signs and suggestions about lions on the prowl on the savanna). Nature (your genes) will have created the generalised container, and nurture (your enculturation) will have filled in enough detail to enable you to survive and reproduce.

Where do thoughts and feelings go to? Presumably back into the unconscious where the new stuff will get processed and integrated into the ‘memory circuits’ which are in a state of ongoing, vital churn.

(Note that this can be poetically viewed as the same ongoing, vital churn that is creating and destroying the stars and galaxies and thus the cosmos itself[2]. There is only the Oneness which is everything.)

(Note: what is the structure and function of (a) a thought and (b) a feeling[3].)

{{{ Most of them (thoughts and feelings) are rooted in temporary ‘structures’ in the unconscious and some of them enter the attention centre and thus become conscious. }}}

Image - an iceberg. Consciousness is the little bit sticking out of the surface and the unconscious is the vast bit below the surface.

Beware the waffle words little and vast. There is no obvious way to measure it but my gut feeling[4] is that less than 1% of brain activity is conscious. Probably much less.
Consider, for example, the concept of linear single-tasking in the conscious mind and parallel multi-tasking in the unconscious (Think of the ‘Aha’ experience when the solution to a problem suddenly emerges from the unconscious).

Consider also the more recent work on visual consciousness[5]: the eye is nothing like a pin hole camera – not even vaguely. The many receptors in the eye are stimulated by a wide range of mini visual signals. The receptors fire and create coded pulses in the nerves carrying the messages to those parts of the brain that can decode them. The new inputs are then linked to memory; and the importance of what is being ‘seen’ can thus be assimilated into the overall functioning of the brain/mind and appropriate actions and behaviours are thus generated.

{{{ temporary ‘structures’ in the unconscious }}}

We are back with the vital churn. Constant flux and transformation (the yin yang principle). It would appear (to neurologists) that particular parts of the brain perform particular functions; but there is a lot of cross connection that helps to create cognitive consonance and thus the subjective experience of discrete things and feelings. But – the subjective experiences do not last long in either their conscious or unconscious manifestations. As the Buddhist texts would have it, “Form is emptiness and emptiness is form”. That which is subjectively experienced has no abiding reality[6].

{{{ some of them (thoughts and feeling) enter the attention centre and thus become conscious }}}

“You’re not paying attention,” said the Hatter. If you don’t pay him, you know, he won’t perform.” (after Lewis Carroll in Francis Crick (1994))
“Everyone knows what attention is. It is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought … It implies withdrawal from some things in order the deal effectively with others.” William James (1890)

Heike <<< What about thoughts and feelings that do not belong to the category of "most of them are rooted in temporary structures ..." What about those "few" as opposed to "most"? What do you think? Are those archetypical, highly individual, logical (deriving from "reason"?) >>>

It is possible to think about permanent ‘structures’ in the brain (and nervous system). There are three main areas - the medulla, cerebellum and cerebrum. And there are hundreds of sub-areas that have been identified. But there is considerable underused capacity and plasticity. There are many recorded cases of patients with brain damage being able to relocate particular functions to unusual locations.

There is the notion of hardwiring. There is the classic tale of a nesting species of bird that was raised in the lab for several generations without nest building material. During the fourth generation nest building materials were provided and the birds could build immaculately. They did not need to go to school. The knowledge that they needed to survive was hard wired into them by their genes.

Mammals are generally not so rigorously hard wired. Primates generally depend on learning rather than instinct to build their repertoire of knowledge and survival skills. And there is much debate on the extent to which humans are hard wired - and this links to the determinism v free-will debate.

To cut a long story short – most reasonable people[7] acknowledge that modern humans are genetically programmed (hard wired with instincts) to learn a language but that the particular language that they learn will depend on their cultural context. This leads to the concept of a universal grammar[8]. The idea is that the various languages all point to the same ‘reality’ in the same way and that thus they have equivalencies. How many colours in the rainbow? How many types of snow? How many constellations in the night sky?
So the ‘permanent structures’ are genetically programmed and manifest as hard wired instincts. The range and meaning of facial expressions are the same in all cultures (is this true?) All cultures have myths dealing with beginnings and endings and there is a widespread occurrence of what Joseph Campbell labelled as the monomyth[9] "A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man."
SO – back to most, some, a few. To what extent can human thoughts and feelings be thought of as eternal verities and how many of them are there? I am not aware of how a rational, evidence-based answer might be given to that question. But, elsewhere, I have conceptually mapped the options[10] -

“There are causes and conditions for our nature and our nurture and in both cases these can be thought of as good, neutral or bad. By plotting these options on a table we can generate nine viewpoints.” …

SO – note what you are believing then go searching for facts (evidence?) to suggest that your beliefs are rational and should thus be cosmopolitan (global?).

You’ll find plenty question masters
Making quagmires of their brain.
The man said, “There are no answers”,
They said, “You are insane”.

The reality which can be described is not the real reality.
Those who know do not speak (language is not up to the task).

[1] I will skip over that issue for the moment
[2] Carl Sagan has the cute notion of our being stardust
[3] Another skip over for the moment.
[4] Huh?
[5] Eg Francis Crick (1994) The Astonishing Hypothesis – The Scientific Search for the Soul. ISBN 0671712950
[6] There could be an aside about the limitations of language and the damage it can do by way of reifying and concretising illusory manifestations of mind. But that can wait for another rant.
[7]  Be reasonable, do it my way!

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