Showing posts with label self. Show all posts
Showing posts with label self. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Thoughts on having a self - Deric's MindBlog as WebLog - January 2024

In the spirit of the original personal WebLogs of the 1990s that morphed into Blogs that enjoyed a golden era in the 2000s, I am offering readers a trial version of a putative series of posts containing selected and edited free standing clips from my personal  ‘mind journal’ - which is a subset of paragraphs taken from the larger personal journal that I have been maintaining for over 25 years.  Most of these paragraphs suggest perspectives on how our minds work, some are on random topics. I hope these perspectives might not seem too alien to readers, and possibly be found useful by a few.  Below are some mind journal paragraphs from January 2024.

1/2/24
The I* signifier,  (from a recent community.wakingup.com discussion) might be a good minimal token for expressing the space or process from which the present moment’s version of a self or I can appear. During moments of renewal or recharge,  when awareness first intuits this process, there can be an intense brief sense of naïveté, openness and joy - excitement at the prospect of novelty, experiencing new things. For original mind no activity is off the table.

1/3/2024
Has my timing been right a second time?

In the early 1990s I decided that the cream had been skimmed with respect to discovering the basic molecular steps that turn photons of light into a nerve signal in our eyes. Some of the steps were revealed by experiments in my laboratory. I decided to switch my attention to studying how our minds work, not in direct laboratory experiments, but through studying, writing about, and lecturing on the work of others.

Moving from the early to mid 2020s I’m feeling a second ‘the cream has been skimmed’ sentiment with respect to the biology of mind:  There is a general understanding and acknowledgement by the scientific and educated lay community that our illusory predictive selves are generated by impersonal neuronal nerve nets. There is no 'hard problem of consciousness’ - it is an illusion like everything else in our heads - and the main function of counter theories (explanations at the level of quantum physics, etc.) is to sustain the continued academic employment of those espousing them.

I feel like my 2022 UT Forum lecture, “New Perspectives on how our Minds Work” may have been a last hurrah with respect to studying the Biology of Mind, just as the 1996 Brain and Behavioral Sciences article was a last hurrah in my vision research career.

It is feeling like it's time to let go, to move on…perhaps to art, music, AI, studying the emergence of trans-human forms…..

1/3/24
…if other people choose behaviors that will lead to their demise there is little one can do, even with physical restraint and medication, to compel them to choose otherwise. They are performing a version of their I or self that is self destructive, and that they are unable to escape. 

Some are able to escape to feel redemption in surrender to a higher power, being ‘saved by the Lord’ or a secular equivalent such as non-dual awareness. Both are defined by yielding ultimate agency to something other than the experienced I or self - allowing a return to feeling the sense of security and repose of the newborn infant feeling loving care. As that infant begins to develop an I or ego it loses awareness of how much of its well-being depends on powers beyond its control and generates an illusory sense of agency.  

1/4/24
A general rule is to see people as they are, not as you want them to be. However, if you treat people as you want or expect them to be, not as they are, sometimes they might begin to slowly conform to your expectations.  This would be the basis of the effectiveness of Gandhi’s advice to “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

1/8/24 When attention is at bay, the gremlins will play, letting one’s disposition and temperament be molded more by outside input and less by internal reflection. The ending slide of several of my talks is the simple phrase “pay attention.”  The ability to do that is a good assay of biological aging and a predictor of longevity.

1/9/24
Attention doesn’t have to be ‘at tension.’ Priors that have pre-tensed muscles for the most probable action to be taken can sometimes be let go.

1/10/24
Now that I know that I can go to the engine room and reboot the Deric-OS with relative ease, there is no compelling reason to emphasize remaining there. What is needed is an appropriate balance between the brain’s attentional and default mode (mind wandering or rumination) systems,  just as with sympathetic and parasympathetic autonomic nervous systems. Going to extremes interferes with remaining gently attentive to one’s states of arousal, valence, and agency (A/V/A) and in touch with value, purpose, and meaning (V/P/M).

The point of paying attention is not to be in some sort of constant blissful or calm state, but rather just to be a normal creature. This journal is a useful present centered tool that modulates appropriate function by enhancing recall of the recent past and projected future.

There wants to be a spontaneous dance between intentional and mind wandering modes in the present moment. That way, one might manage to break the pattern of having a morning high energy caffeine fueled attentional focusing, which with the fading of the chemistry turns into an overly aimless mind wandering in the afternoon. Perhaps, if both could be kept in check, one might have a more seamless moving through a day, particularly as one’s energy begins to wane towards its end.  

1/14/24 Trying to describe the 'new platform' (Deric-OS, self center of gravity, I*, where experienced self is coming from) doing frequent resets to zero in the midst of change that toggle the system to problem solving, matching input to appropriate output, like a learning newborn. Short circuiting blips of arousal or fear that are irrelevant, but still able to run from a lion attack. Going with the computer metaphor, ‘processing platform’ as a candidate for a bit of language that describes what is indescribable in words.

1/17/24
Mulling over how little of my self (I*, it)  experience is spent outside of my linguistic narrative self thread.
 
1/18/24
Arousal/Valence/Agency (real/real/imagined) are the deep structure of the whole show, and well being occurs to the extent that the sliders are the the direction of low/high/high.

1/19/24
Construing oneself as kind and caring caretaker of family and friends yields value, purpose, and meaning (V/P/M), and integrates it with the machine room viscera.. And, the kindness and positivity of the caretaker role nudges the valence part of A/V/A towards being more positive. This supports being a caring presence that observes, listens, asks questions. Wishing the best for others, while letting their experiences and issues be their own.

1/19/24 The pre-linguistic animal platform as experienced center of gravity with language bits that rise from the simmering caldron to enable connections with other humans experienced as ephemeral transient wisps or vapors, with the real biological creature being the vastly larger originating presence, the creature's experienced place of rest and residence.

1/20/24
A grandiose fantasy: The Imperial Poobah, secure in its belief in itself as master of the random, the surfer of uncertainty. Ready to face the  “There be dragons there” description sometimes written on unexplored areas depicted on ancient maps of the world.

1/21/24 There is so little to provide a sustaining narrative in the current social and geopolitical context that expanding awareness towards its interoceptive, prelinguistic, gestural and prosodic animal state becomes more appealing and sustaining, along with letting awareness focus on potential remedies rather than further detailed descriptions of dysfunctions. Being active in pursuing small sanities.

1/23/24
Mulling over the calm and equanimity offered by impersonality, being 'it', the animal, just resting, watching. Also able to be kind and caring in response to input from others, offering sympathy, empathy, and accepting that one might influence but can not  compel fixes to problems that are not one’s own.

1/27/24
Mulling over how I continue to spew out chunks of ideas, presenting them in the flow of the present moment, from which they then recede to become part of a largely lost and unrecognized archive, still accessible in principle by searches - but I frequently have difficulty finding them. My golden bonbons of the moment, finding their resting place among their previous instances. Think of Andrew Sullivan’s once prominent blog ‘The Daily Dish,’ mostly unknown to the present. It doesn’t matter. One still keeps banging out the material.

Friday, January 26, 2024

Tolerance of uncertainly as a key to resilience.

As a followup to the previous post on The Neurobiology of Stress I want to point to Maggie Jackson's opinion piece in the NYTimes titled  "How to Thrive in an Uncertain World."  A few clips:

...a wave of new scientific discoveries reveals that learning to lean into uncertainty in times of rapid change is a promising antidote to mental distress, not a royal road to angst, as many of us assume...Studies of the pandemic era offer a starting illustration of the links between uncertainty and flourishing. Ohio State researchers have found that adults who scored high on a measure of “intolerance of uncertainty” were more likely to struggle with stress and anxiety during the pandemic....a British study found. In contrast, those who struggle less with uncertainty were more likely to accept the realities of the situation.

Tolerating and even delighting in uncertainty doesn’t merely help us to accept life’s unpredictability; it also readies us to learn and adapt. Each day, the brain uses honed mental models about how the world works, which are used to process a shifting environment. When we meet something unexpected, a neural “prediction error” signals a mismatch between what we assumed would occur and what our senses tell us. Yet our uneasy sense of not knowing triggers a host of beneficial neural changes, including heightened attention, bolstered working memory and sensitivity to new information. The brain is preparing to update our knowledge of the world. Uncertainty offers the opportunity for life to go in different directions...and that is exciting..

The article continues to describe several experiments showing that generalized anxiety disorder can be relieved by therapy sessions that focus on reducing aversion to uncertainty by introducing it in small doses.


Sunday, January 21, 2024

Titles and URLs for key MindBlog posts on selves

I pass on a chronological list of titles and URLs of MindBlog posts assembled in preparation for a video chat with a European MindBlog reader:

An "Apostle's Creed" for the humanistic scientific materialist?
https://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2006/03/apostles-creed-for-humanistic.html

Some rambling on "Selves" and “Purpose”
https://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2007/10/some-rambling-on-selves-and-purpose.html

Self, purpose, and tribal mentality as Darwinian adaptations (or…Why why aren’t we all enlightened?)
https://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2020/05/self-purpose-and-tribal-mentality-as.html

MindBlog passes on a note: on the relief of not being yourself
https://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2020/03/mindblog-passes-on-note-on-relief-of.html

Points on having a self and free will.
https://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2021/03/points-on-having-self-and-free-will.html

I am not my problem
https://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2022/06/i-am-not-my-problem.html

The non-duality industry as a panacea for the anxieties of our times?         https://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2022/11/the-non-duality-industry-as-panacea-for.html

Enlightenment, Habituation, and Renewal - Or, Mindfulness as the opiate of the thinking classes?
https://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2023/01/enlightenment-habituation-and-renewal.html

A quick MindBlog riff on what a self is….
https://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2023/01/a-quick-mindblog-riff-on-what-self-is.html

MindBlog paragraphs bloviating on the nature of the self ask Google Bard and Chat GPT 4 for help
https://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2023/05/mindblog-paragraphs-bloviating-on.html

A MindBlog paragraph on non-dual awareness massaged by Bard and ChatGPT-4
https://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2023/07/a-mindblog-paragraph-on-non-dual.html

Constructing Self and World
https://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2023/09/constructing-self-and-world.html  

Anthropic Claude's version of my writing on the Mind - a condensation of my ideas
https://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2023/10/anthropic-claudes-version-of-my-writing.html  

A Materialist's Credo
https://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2023/10/a-materialists-credo.html

How our genes support our illusory selves - the "Baldwin effect"
https://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2023/11/how-our-genes-support-our-illusory.html











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Friday, January 05, 2024

Capturing non-dual reality in language

For my own future reference and for MindBlog readers interested in my previous MindBlog posts on non-duality,  I want to pass on the start of a discussion thread in the Waking Up Community at WakingUp.com written by Rish Magal, London, U.K, on the subject of capturing nondual reality in language. One of the discussants makes reference to the Laukkonen and Slagter article whose ideas were referenced in my recent lecture on New Perspectives on how our Minds Work.  


From Rish Magal,   London, UK

Prompted by a really great discussion in another thread, I thought it would be an interesting experiment to try and express some important nondual insights in English. Comments and responses would be very much appreciated 😀.
Disclaimers:
    1    Despite being a very long post (sorry!), this is only a very very rough outline. I’m cutting lots of corners, and it would take a book to explain and defend all these ideas.
    2    I needed to stretch some of our normal concepts. This is not surprising, since our concepts are integral to a misguided way of looking at the world. I’ve tried to explain the stretching, but I might not have succeeded to your satisfaction!
    3    This is only one attempt to describe nondual reality. I’m not claiming it’s The One True Way. The purpose of the exercise is to explore whether it’s possible to capture the essence of nondual reality. If this version looks at all promising, other versions are surely possible too.


I’ll label each step, in case anyone wants to respond to an individual piece.

A) What we call a “self” is a useful fiction. Humans use it to plan their interactions with each other, to hold each other accountable, to organise their own behaviour … and a host of other purposes.

B) The fictional “self” is created by the human brain, acting in concert with other human brains. From cognitive science comes the idea that the self is part of a predictive model used by the brain (e.g. Anil Seth). From philosophy comes the idea that a self is a ‘Centre of Narrative Gravity’ (Dan Dennett). Perhaps both of these can be accurate together.

C) From psychology, we know that the human brain does not understand itself very well at all. It has very limited understanding of its own reasons for acting (Michael Gazzaniga). In fact it can easily be mistaken about whether it has even acted at all (Daniel Wagner).

D) There is no ‘Free Will’ or responsibility for actions. (Sam Harris makes a strong case on this, but there are several ways to argue for this conclusion.) Causal chains move through human bodies in the same way that they move through billiard balls. There’s no agency in a human brain, much less a “self”.

E) Perhaps the biggest flaw in our language is the idea that objects cause events. We reify objects with nouns, and causing with verbs. It would be more accurate to say: reality is a succession of events. But even that is too dualistic. More accurate still: there is simply one continuously unfolding process. Events inside human brains are like tiny ripples in this huge universe-sized sea.

F) By various means*, a human brain can come to Realise** that its habitual way of looking at the world is badly flawed, and can grasp one or more of the preceding points.

G) Such a realisation is usually accompanied by a huge emotional sense of relief, release, and bliss — especially the first few times.

H) A human brain which doesn’t have access to a structure of revised concepts (such as the one outlined here) will struggle to interpret its own experience. It is likely to attach to the emotional content, and try very hard to recapture that.

I) Over the centuries, many human brains which have glimpsed these truths have struggled and failed to express them in language. (Until very recent advances in science, psychology & philosophy, it would have been almost impossible to fill out a plausible account of what's going on.) Over the centuries, it has become common to say that these insights cannot be expressed in language.

J) My first claim is that nondual insights can be expressed in language. These steps are one attempt to do so.

K) *My second claim is that describing nondual reality in language (however imperfectly) can be extremely helpful in triggering a brain to grasp these insights. And help it return to them reliably.

L) **By "Realise" I mean something beyond (but including) understanding and agreeing with a statement. "Realising" means deeply believing it to the point of feeling in my bones that it is true.

As an analogy: I understand and believe that I'm going to die one day. But in terms of my daily activities it doesn't really feel like it's true, and my behaviour is basically indistinguishable from someone who thought he was immortal 😁. If tomorrow a neurologist shows me a scan of a huge tumour in my brain, I will Realise the truth that I am going to die in an entirely different way, and my behaviour is likely to change radically.

Note that I already have all the concepts I need to understand this truth. I think the shift from simple understanding & cognitive assent, to what I'm calling Realisation, is a much more immediate and tangible kind of belief, with much more emotional content. I now feel it to be true, as well as simply agreeing with the statement intellectually. But the content of the belief is the same, and can be expressed in language and concepts.
 
M) In this brain, the experienced shift from understanding to Realising usually produces symptoms like laughter, releasing, euphoria, connectedness, presence, empathy, equanimity. But after many such experiences, their intensity varies (at least in this brain). Importantly (IMO): these feelings/experiences are not the point of meditation. The point is the insights themselves — to realise/recognise the nondual nature of reality.

N) These statements above are not an attempt to capture the experience of realising/recognising them. There’s definitely a limit to the usefulness of words in conveying an experience. When people say that the experience of realisation cannot be captured in language, I would agree (though I think we can say a few things about it). But that’s not the case I’m making here. My case is that statements about nondual reality can be expressed in language, and doing so can be extremely helpful.

O) This list is not meant to be exhaustive. No doubt there are more statements about nondual reality which can be expressed in language, which this brain hasn’t grasped. If “your” brain knows of some, please post about them! Thankswhich can be expressed in language, which this brain hasn’t grasped. If “your” brain knows of some, please post about them! Thanks

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Meta-Learned Models of Cognition

I pass on the text of a recent email from Behavioral and Brain Sciences inviting commentary on an article by Binz et al.  I am beginning to plow through the interesting text and figures - and will mention that motivated readers can obtain a PDF of the article from me.

Target Article: Meta-Learned Models of Cognition

Authors: Marcel Binz, Ishita Dasgupta, Akshay K. Jagadish, Matthew Botvinick, Jane X. Wang, and Eric Schulz

Deadline for Commentary Proposals: Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Abstract: Psychologists and neuroscientists extensively rely on computational models for studying and analyzing the human mind. Traditionally, such computational models have been hand-designed by expert researchers. Two prominent examples are cognitive architectures and Bayesian models of cognition. While the former requires the specification of a fixed set of computational structures and a definition of how these structures interact with each other, the latter necessitates the commitment to a particular prior and a likelihood function which - in combination with Bayes' rule - determine the model's behavior. In recent years, a new framework has established itself as a promising tool for building models of human cognition: the framework of meta-learning. In contrast to the previously mentioned model classes, meta-learned models acquire their inductive biases from experience, i.e., by repeatedly interacting with an environment. However, a coherent research program around meta-learned models of cognition is still missing to this day. The purpose of this article is to synthesize previous work in this field and establish such a research program. We accomplish this by pointing out that meta-learning can be used to construct Bayes-optimal learning algorithms, allowing us to draw strong connections to the rational analysis of cognition. We then discuss several advantages of the meta-learning framework over traditional methods and reexamine prior work in the context of these new insights.

Keywords: meta-learning, rational analysis, Bayesian inference, cognitive modeling, neural networks

Friday, November 03, 2023

How our genes support our illusory selves - the "Baldwin effect"

I have been thinking about giving more explanation of a paragraph from my Oct. 25 post, A Materialist's Credo:
Modern neuroscience has proved that our experienced perceptions of sensing and acting are these predictions. They are fantasies, or illusions, as is our sense of having a self with agency that experiences value, purpose, and meaning. Everything we do and experience is in the service of reducing surprises by fulling these fantasies. An array of neuroendocrine mechanisms have evolved to support this process because it forms the bedrock of human culture and language.

The sentence "An array of neuroendocrine mechanisms have evolved to support this process because it forms the bedrock of human culture and language." is invoking what is called "The Baldwin Effect" or Baldwin hypothesis. 

I decided to turn to Chat GPT-4 for some help.

Deric:  

What is the "Baldwin effect" in evolutionary biology, particularly with respect to human evolution?

ChatGPT: 

The "Baldwin effect" describes a mechanism by which learned behaviors can eventually become inherited traits through the process of natural selection. Named after the psychologist James Mark Baldwin, who proposed the idea in the late 19th century, this concept bridges the gap between phenotypic plasticity (the ability of an organism to change its phenotype in response to changes in the environment) and genetic evolution.

Here's a simplified overview of how the Baldwin effect works:
    1    Initial Variation: Within a population, there are variations in behavior. Some individuals can learn a new beneficial behavior in response to a change in the environment, while others cannot.
    2    Learning as a Temporary Solution: The ability to learn this behavior offers a short-term advantage. Those who can learn the new behavior have a better chance of surviving and reproducing.
    3    Genetic Fixation Over Time: Over generations, there can be genetic changes that make this learned behavior easier to acquire or even innate. As those with a predisposition to the behavior have a better survival and reproductive rate, genes that support the behavior become more common.
    4    Reduced Reliance on Learning: As the behavior becomes more genetically rooted, the population may become less reliant on learning the behavior from scratch. Eventually, what was once a learned behavior can manifest itself as an instinctual behavior.

With respect to human evolution, one could theorize the Baldwin effect playing a role in various capacities. For example, our ancestors might have learned specific skills, like tool use or certain social behaviors, that provided survival advantages. Over time, genetic predispositions towards these skills could have developed, leading to humans having innate tendencies or quicker learning capacities in these areas.

However, it's essential to note that proving the Baldwin effect in human evolution is challenging due to the intricacies of genetic and cultural evolution. Still, it offers an exciting perspective on the interplay between learning and genetics.

Deric: 

How might the Baldwin effect hypothesis be applied to the human invention of an illusory "I" or "self" capable of forming social groups, whose cohesion is reinforced by emotional behaviors driven by evolved neuroendocrine mechanisms?

ChatGPT:

The concept of an illusory "I" or "self" is deeply rooted in both philosophical discourses and cognitive science studies. When considered in the context of the Baldwin effect, the evolution of such a self-concept could be framed as an adaptive trait in the intricate web of human social structures. Here's one way to interpret this:   

    1    Initial Variation and Learning: Early human communities might have had members who had stronger self-awareness or more robust personal identities than others. Such individuals might have been better at recognizing their roles within groups, remembering past interactions, and predicting future interactions. This self-awareness might initially emerge as a learned or nurtured cognitive trait.
    2    Social Advantages: Individuals with a pronounced sense of self could have been more adept at forming and maintaining social bonds, making them crucial members of their communities. They might have been better at understanding social hierarchies, reciprocity, and the nuances of cooperation, which are essential for the survival and success of early human societies.
    3    Emotional Behaviors and Neuroendocrine Mechanisms: As these individuals navigated their social landscapes, their brains could have evolved neuroendocrine mechanisms to support the complex emotions related to social interactions—empathy, jealousy, gratitude, shame, etc. These emotions, in turn, would reinforce the cohesion and stability of social groups, ensuring the group's collective survival and success.
    4    Genetic Fixation Over Time: Over generations, the capacity for a strong self-concept and the accompanying emotional depth might become increasingly genetically ingrained. This evolution would mean that newer generations would be born with an innate predisposition towards these traits, reducing the learning curve required to acquire them.
    5    Cultural Evolution: Parallel to the genetic fixation, cultural mechanisms might evolve to further reinforce the idea of the self and its importance in the society—through stories, traditions, rituals, etc. The interplay between genetic predispositions and cultural learning might lead to the establishment of the 'self' as a foundational concept in human societies.

In this context, the Baldwin effect would suggest that our ancestors' learned behavior—forming a concept of self for social advantages—over time, became a genetically supported predisposition. This evolution would mean that the complex cognitive and emotional behaviors supporting a strong self-concept became more instinctual and less reliant on individual learning.

Wednesday, November 01, 2023

David Brooks on "What is a Person?"


David Brooks has an astounding ability to simplify and present important ideas. I pass on a few clips from Chapter 5  - titled "What is a Person?" - of his new book  “How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen.”  In chapter 9 he offers an equally lucid presentation of work in the cognitive sciences by Gibson and Proffitt showing how people in different life circumstances literally see different worlds. I've enjoyed reading this book and recommend that you read it. 

As we try to understand other people, we want to be constantly asking ourselves: How are they perceiving this situation? How are they experiencing this moment? How are they constructing their reality?
Let me dip briefly into brain science to try to show you how radical this process of construction is. Let’s take an example as simple as the act of looking around a room. It doesn’t feel like you're creating anything. It feels like you're taking in what’s objectively out there. You open your eyes. Light waves flood in. Your brain records what you see: a chair, a painting, a dust bunny on the floor. It feels like one of those old-fashioned cameras—the shutter opens and light floods in and gets recorded on the film
But this is not how perception really works. Your brain is locked in the dark, bony vault of your skull. Its job is to try to make sense of the world given the very limited amount of information that makes it into your retinas, through the optic nerves, and onto the integrative layer of the visual cortex. Your senses give you a poor-quality, low-resolution snapshot of the world, and your brain is then forced to take that and construct a high-definition, feature-length movie.
To do that, your visual system constructs the world by taking what you already know and applying it to the scene in front of you. Your mind is continually asking itself questions like “What is this similar to?” and “Last time I was in this situation, what did I see next?” Your mind projects out a series of models of what it expects to see. Then the eyes check in to report back about whether they are seeing what the mind expected. In other words, seeing is not a passive process of receiving data; it’s an active process of prediction and correction.
Perception, the neuroscientist Anil Seth writes, is “a generative, creative act.” It is “an action-oriented construction, rather than a passive registration of an objective external reality.” Or as the neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett notes, “Scientific evidence shows that what we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell are largely simulations of the world, not reactions to it.” Most of us non-neuroscientists are not aware of all this constructive activity, because it happens unconsciously, It's as if the brain is composing vast, complex Proustian novels, and to the conscious mind it feels like no work at all
Social psychologists take a wicked delight in exposing the flaws of this prediction-correction way of seeing. They do this by introducing things into a scene that we don’t predict will be there and therefore don’t see. You probably know about the invisible gorilla experiment. Re- searchers present subjects with a video of a group of people moving around passing a basketball and ask the subjects to count the number of passes by the team wearing white. After the video, the researchers ask, “Did you see the gorilla?” Roughly half the research subjects have no idea what the researchers are talking about. But when they view the video a second time, with the concept “gorilla” now in their heads, they are stunned to see that a man in a gorilla suit had strolled right into the circle, stood there for a few seconds, and then walked out. They didn’t see it before because they didn’t predict “gorilla.”
In my favorite experiment of this sort, a researcher asks a student for directions to a particular place on a college campus. The student starts giving directions. Then a couple of “workmen”—actually, two other researchers— rudely carry a door between the directions asker and the directions giver. As the door passes between them, the directions asker surreptitiously trades places with one of the workmen. After the door has passed, the directions giver finds himself giving directions to an entirely different human being. And the majority of these directions givers don’t notice. They just keep on giving directions. We don’t expect one human being to magically turn into another, and therefore we don't see it when it happens.
In 1951 there was a particularly brutal football game between Dartmouth and Princeton. Afterward, fans of both teams were furious because, they felt, the opposing team had been so vicious. When psychologists had students rewatch a film of the game in a calmer setting, the students still fervently believed that the other side had committed twice as many penalties as their own side. When challenged about their biases, both sides pointed to the game film as objective proof that their side was right. As the psychologists researching this phenomenon, Albert Hastorf and Hadley Cantril, put it, “The data here indicate that there is no such ‘thing’as a ‘game’ existing ‘out there’ in its own right which people merely ‘observe’ The ‘game’ ‘exists’ for a person and is experienced by him only insofar as certain things have significances in terms of his purpose.” The students from the different schools constructed two different games depending on what they wanted to see. Or as the psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist puts it, “The model we choose to use to understand something determines what we find.”
Researchers like exposing the flaws in our way of seeing, but I’m constantly amazed at how brilliant the human mind is at constructing a rich, beautiful world. For example, in normal conversation, people often slur and mispronounce words. If you heard each word someone said in isolation, you wouldn't be able to understand 50 percent of them. But because your mind is so good at predicting what words probably should be in what sentence, you can easily create a coherent flow of meaning from other people's talk.
The universe is a drab, silent, colorless place. I mean this quite literally. There is no such thing as color and sound in the universe; it’s just a bunch of waves and particles. But because we have creative minds, we perceive sound and music, tastes and smells, color and beauty, awe and wonder. All that stuff is in here in your mind, not out there in the universe.
I've taken this dip into neuroscience to give the briefest sense of just how much creative artistry every person is performing every second of the day. And if your mind has to do a lot of con- structive workin order for you to see the physical objects in front of you, imagine how much work it has to undertake to construct your identity, your life story, your belief system, your ideals. There are roughly eight billion people on Earth, and each one of them sees the world in their own unique, never-to-be-repeated way.





Wednesday, October 25, 2023

A Materialist's Credo

This post passes on a recent effort to put down some basic ideas in as few words as I can manage.

A Materialist’s Credo

In the beginning was the cosmos, fundamentally as incomprehensible to our human brains as quantum chemistry is to a dog’s brain.

What our human brains can understand is that our ultimate emergence from countless generations of less complex organisms can be largely explained by a  simple mechanism that tests the reproductive fitness of varying replicants.

Systems that try to predict the future and dictate whether to go for it or scram - from the chemotaxis of bacteria to the predictive processing of our humans brains - have proved to be more likely to survive and propagate.

Modern neuroscience has proved that our experienced perceptions of sensing and acting are these predictions.  They are fantasies, or illusions, as is our sense of having a self with agency that experiences value, purpose, and meaning. Everything we do and experience is in the service of reducing surprises by fulling these fantasies. An array of neuroendocrine mechanisms have evolved to support this process because it forms the bedrock of human culture and language.

We are as gods, who invent ourselves and our cultures through impersonal emergent processes rising from our biological substrate.

Personal and social dysfunctions can sometimes be addressed by insight into this process, as when interoceptive awareness of the settings of  our autonomic nervous system's axes of arousal, valence, and agency allows us to dial them to more life sustaining values and better regulate our well-being in each instance of the present.

We can distinguish this autonomic substrate from the linguistic cultural overlay it it generates, and allow  the latter to be viewed in a more objective light. This is a deconstruction that permits us to not only let awareness rest closer to the 'engine room' or 'original mind' underlying its transient reactive products, but also to derive from this open awareness the kind of succor or equanimity we once found in the imagined stability of an external world.

Hopefully the deconstruction that takes us into this metaphorical engine room makes us more able to discern and employ illusions that enhance continuation rather than termination of our personal and social evolutionary narratives.