Monday, May 23, 2011

the althing

Wikipedia | The Alþingi, Anglicised variously as Althing or Althingi, is the national parliament—literally, "(the) all-thing" (= general assembly)—of Iceland. The Althingi is the oldest parliamentary institution in the world still extant.[1] It was founded in 930 at Þingvellir, (the "assembly fields" or "Parliament Plains"), situated approximately 45 km east of what would later become the country's capital, Reykjavík, and this event marked the beginning of the Icelandic Commonwealth. Even after Iceland's union with Norway, the Althing still held its sessions at Þingvellir until 1799, when it was discontinued for 45 years. It was restored in 1844 and moved to Reykjavík, where it has resided ever since. The present parliament building, the Alþingishús, was built in 1881, of hewn Icelandic stone.

The constitution of Iceland provides for six electoral constituencies with the possibility of an increase to seven. The constituency boundaries are fixed by legislation. Each constituency elects nine members. In addition, each party is allocated seats based on its proportion of the overall national vote in order that the number of members in parliament for each political party should be more or less proportional to its overall electoral support. A party must have won at least five percent of the national vote in order to be eligible for these proportionally distributed seats. Political participation in Iceland is very high: usually over 85 per cent of the electorate casts a ballot (87.7% in 2003). The current president of the Althing is Ásta Ragnheiður Jóhannesdóttir.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

consciousness come after language!

OCBBM | The Features of Consciousness - I. Spatialization. The first and most primitive aspect of consciousness is what we already have had occasion to refer to, the paraphrand of almost every mental metaphor we can make, the mental space which we take over as the very habitat of it all. If I ask you to think of your head, then your feet, then the breakfast you had this morning, and then the Tower of London, and then the constellation of Orion, these things have the quality of being spatially separated; and it is this quality I am here referring to. When we introspect (a metaphor of seeing into something), it is upon this metaphorical mind-space which we are constantly renewing and 'enlarging' with each new thing or relation consciousized.

In Chapter 1, we spoke of how we invent mind-space inside our own heads as well as the heads of others. The word invent is perhaps too strong except in the ontological sense. We rather assume these 'spaces' without question. They are a part of what it is to be conscious and what it is to assume consciousness in others.

Moreover, things that in the physical-behavioral world do not have a spatial quality are made to have such in consciousness. Otherwise we cannot be conscious of them. This we shall call spatialization.

Time is an obvious example. If I ask you to think of the last hundred years, you may have a tendency to excerpt the matter in such a way that the succession of years is spread out, probably from left to right. But of course there is no left or right in time. There is only before and after, and these do not have any spatial properties whatever — except by analog. You cannot, absolutely cannot think of time except by spatializing it. Consciousness is always a spatialization in which the diachronic is turned into the synchronic, in which what has happened in time is excerpted and seen in side-by-sideness. (leading to other problems and limitations previously noted (Bearden's 4th Law of Logic))

This spatialization is characteristic of all conscious thought. If you are now thinking of where in all the theories of mind my particular theory fits, you are first habitually 'turning' to your mind-space where abstract things can be 'separated out' and 'put beside' each other to be 'looked at' — as could never happen physically or in actuality. You then make the metaphor of theories as concrete objects, then the metaphor of a temporal succession of such objects as a synchronic array, and thirdly, the metaphor of the characteristics of theories as physical characteristics, all of some degree so they can be 'arranged' in a kind of order. And you then make the further expressive metaphor of 'fit'. The actual behavior of fitting, of which 'fit' here is the analog in consciousness, may vary from person to person or from culture to culture, depending on personal experience of arranging things in some kind of order, or of fitting objects into their receptacles, etc. The metaphorical substrate of thought is thus sometimes very complicated, and difficult to unravel. But every conscious thought that you are having in reading this book can by such an analysis be traced back to concrete actions in a concrete world.

2. Excerption. In consciousness, we are never 'seeing' anything in its entirety. This is because such 'seeing' is an analog of actual behavior j and in actual behavior we can only see or pay attention to a part of a thing at any one moment. And so in consciousness. We excerpt from the collection of possible attentions to a thing which comprises our knowledge of it. And this is all that it is possible to do since consciousness is a metaphor of our actual behavior.

Thus, if I ask you to think of a circus, for example, you will first have a fleeting moment of slight fuzziness, followed perhaps by a picturing of trapeze artists or possibly a clown in the center ring. Or, if you think of the city which you are now in, you will excerpt some feature, such as a particular building or tower or crossroads. Or if I ask you to think of yourself, you will make some kind of excerpts from your recent past, believing you are then thinking of yourself. In all these instances, we find no difficulty or particular paradox in the fact that these excerpts are not the things themselves, although we talk as if they were. Actually we are never conscious of things in their true nature, only of the excerpts we make of them.

The variables controlling excerption are deserving of much more thought and study. For on them the person's whole consciousness of the world and the persons with whom he is interacting depend. Your excerptions of someone you know well are heavily associated with your affect toward him. If you like him, the excerpts will be the pleasant things; if not, the unpleasant. The causation may be in either direction.

How we excerpt other people largely determines the kind of world we feel we are living in. Take for example one's relatives when one was a child. If we excerpt them as their failures, their hidden conflicts, their delusions, well, that is one thing. But if we excerpt them at their happiest, in their idiosyncratic delights, it is quite another world. Writers and artists are doing in a controlled way what happens 'in' consciousness more haphazardly.

Excerption is distinct from memory. An excerpt of a thing is in consciousness the representative of the thing or event to which memories adhere, and by which we can retrieve memories. If I wish to remember what I was doing last summer, I first have an excerption of the time concerned, which may be a fleeting image of a couple of months on the calendar, until I rest in an excerption of a particular event, such as walking along a particular riverside. And from there I associate around it and retrieve mem-ories about last summer. This is what we mean by reminiscence, and it is a particular conscious process which no animal is capable of. Reminiscence is a succession of excerptions. Each so-called association in consciousness is an excerption, an aspect or image, if you will, something frozen in time, excerpted from the experience on the basis of personality and changing situational factors.

3. The Analog 'I'. A most important 'feature' of this metaphor 'world' is the metaphor we have of ourselves, the analog 'I', which can 'move about' vicarially in our 'imagination', 'doing'things that we are not actually doing. There are of course many uses for such an analog 'I'. We imagine 'ourselves' 'doing' this or that, and thus 'make' decisions on the basis of imagined 'outcomes' that would be impossible if we did not have an imagined 'self' behaving in an imagined 'world'. In the example in the section on spatialization, it was not your physical behavioral self that was trying to 'see' where my theory 'fits' into the array of alternative theories. It was your analog 'I'.

If we are out walking, and two roads diverge in a wood, and we know that one of them comes back to our destination after a much more circuitous route, we can 'traverse' that longer route with our analog 'I' to see if its vistas and ponds are worth the longer time it will take. Without consciousness with its vicarial analog 'I', we could not do this.

4. The Metaphor 'Me'. The analog 'I' is, however, not simply that. It is also a metaphor 'me'. As we imagine ourselves strolling down the longer path we indeed catch 'glimpses' of 'ourselves', as we did in the exercises of Chapter 1, where we called them autoscopic images. We can both look out from within the imagined self at the imagined vistas, or we can step back a bit and see ourselves perhaps kneeling down for a drink of water at a particular brook. There are of course quite profound problems here, particularly in the relationship of the 'I' to the 'me'. But that is another treatise. And I am only indicating the nature of the problem.

5. Narratization. In consciousness, we are always seeing our vicarial selves as the main figures in the stories of our lives. In the above illustration, the narratization is obvious, namely, walk-ing along a wooded path. But it is not so obvious that we are constantly doing this whenever we are being conscious, and this I call narratization. Seated where I am, I am writing a book and this fact is imbedded more or less in the center of the story of my life, time being spatialized into a journey of my days and years.

New situations are selectively perceived as part of this ongoing story, perceptions that do not fit into it being unnoticed or at least unremembered. More important, situations are chosen which are congruent to this ongoing story, until the picture I have of myself in my life story determines how I am to act and choose in novel situations as they arise.

The assigning of causes to our behavior or saying why we did a particular thing is all a part of narratization. Such causes as reasons may be true or false, neutral or ideal. Consciousness is ever ready to explain anything we happen to find ourselves doing. The thief narratizes his act as due to poverty, the poet his as due to beauty, and the scientist his as due to truth, purpose and cause inextricably woven into the spatialization of behavior in consciousness.

But it is not just our own analog 'I' that we are narratizing; it is everything else in consciousness. A stray fact is narratized to fit with some other stray fact. A child cries in the street and we narratize the event into a mental picture of a lost child and a parent searching for it. A cat is up in a tree and we narratize the event into a picture of a dog chasing it there. Or the facts of mind as we can understand them into a theory of consciousness.

6. Conciliation. A final aspect of consciousness I wish to mention here is modeled upon a behavioral process common to most mammals. It really springs from simple recognition, where a slightly ambiguous perceived object is made to conform to some previously learned schema, an automatic process sometimes called assimilation. We assimilate a new stimulus into our conception, or schema about it, even though it is slightly different. Since we never from moment to moment see or hear or touch things in exactly the same way, this process of assimilation into previous experience is going on all the time as we perceive our world. We are putting things together into recognizable objects on the basis of the previously learned schemes we have of them.

Now assimilation consciousized is conciliation. A better term for it might be compatibilization, but that seems something too rococo. What I am designating by conciliation is essentially doing in mind-space what narratization does in mindtime or spatialized time. It brings things together as conscious objects just as narra-tization brings things together as a story. And this fitting together into a consistency or probability is done according to rules built up in experience.

In conciliation we are making excerpts or narratizations compatible with each other, just as in external perception the new stimulus and the internal conception are made to agree. If we are narratizing ourselves as walking along a wooded path, the succession of excerpts is automatically made compatible with such a journey. Or if in daydreaming two excerpts or narratizations happen to begin occurring at the same time, they are fused or conciliated.

If I ask you to think of a mountain meadow and a tower at the same time, you automatically conciliate them by having the tower rising from the meadow. But if I ask you to think of the mountain meadow and an ocean at the same time, conciliation tends not to occur and you are likely to think of one and then the other. You can only bring them together by a narratization. Thus there are principles of compatibility that govern this process, and such principles are learned and are based on the structure of the world.

Let me summarize as a way of 'seeing' where we are and the direction in which our discussion is going. We have said that consciousness is an operation rather than a thing, a repository, or a function. It operates by way of analogy, by way of constructing an analog space with an analog 'I' that can observe that space, and move metaphorically in it. It operates on any reactivity, excerpts relevant aspects, narratizes and conciliates them together in a metaphorical space where such meanings can be manipulated like things in space. Conscious mind is a spatial analog of the world and mental acts are analogs of bodily acts. Consciousness operates only on objectively observable things. Or, to say it another way with echoes of John Locke, there is nothing in consciousness that is not an analog of something that was in behavior first.

This has been a difficult chapter. But I hope I have sketched out with some plausibility that the notion of consciousness as a metaphor-generated model of the world leads to some quite definite deductions, and that these deductions are testable in our own everyday conscious experience. It is only, of course, a beginning, a somewhat rough-hewn beginning, which I hope to develop in a future work. But it is enough to return now to our major inquiry of the origin of it all, saving further amplification of the nature of consciousness itself for later chapters.

If consciousness is this invention of an analog world on the basis of language, paralleling the behavioral world even as the world of mathematics parallels the world of quantities of things, what then can we say about its origin?

We have arrived at a very interesting point in our discussion, and one that is completely contradictory to all of the alternative solutions to the problem of the origin of consciousness which we discussed in the introductory chapter. For if consciousness is based on language, then it follows that it is of a much more recent origin than has heretofore been supposed. Consciousness come after language! The implications of such a position are extremely serious.

broken machines break a tele-path...,

In the context of Jaynes, Mute is arguably the most sophisticated Twilight Zone episode ever made, notwithstanding the absurd narrative device required to tell the story and/or the preposterous feel-good nod made to the evil broken machines at the end.

understanding as metaphor

OCBBM | We are trying to understand consciousness, but what are we really trying to do when we try to understand anything? Like children trying to describe nonsense objects, so in trying to understand a thing we are trying to find a metaphor for that thing. Not just any metaphor, but one with something more familiar and easy to our attention. Understanding a thing is to arrive at a metaphor for that thing by substituting something more familiar to us. And the feeling of familiarity is the feeling of understanding.

Generations ago we would understand thunderstorms perhaps as the roaring and rumbling about in battle of superhuman gods. We would have reduced the racket that follows the streak of lightning to familiar battle sounds, for example. Similarly today, we reduce the storm to various supposed experiences with friction, sparks, vacuums, and the imagination of bulgeous banks of burly air smashing together to make the noise. None of these really exist as we picture them. Our images of these events of physics are as far from the actuality as fighting gods. Yet they act as the metaphor and they feel familiar and so we say we understand the thunderstorm.

So, in other areas of science, we say we understand an aspect of nature when we can say it is similar to some familiar theoretical model. The terms theory and model, incidentally, are sometimes used interchangeably. But really they should not be. A theory is a relationship of the model to the things the model is supposed to represent. The Bohr model of the atom is that of a proton surrounded by orbiting electrons. It is something like the pattern of the solar system, and that is indeed one of its meta-phoric sources. Bohr’s theory was that all atoms were similar to his model. The theory, with the more recent discovery of new particles and complicated interatomic relationships, has turned out not to be true. But the model remains. A model is neither true nor false; only the theory of its similarity to what it represents.

A theory is thus a metaphor between a model and data. And understanding in science is the feeling of similarity between complicated data and a familiar model.

If understanding a thing is arriving at a familiarizing metaphor for it, then we can see that there always will be a difficulty in understanding consciousness. For it should be immediately apparent that there is not and cannot be anything in our immediate experience that is like immediate experience itself. There is therefore a sense in which we shall never be able to understand consciousness in the same way that we can understand things that we are conscious of.

Most of the errors about consciousness that we have been studying have been errors of attempted metaphors. We spoke of the notion of consciousness being a copy of experience coming out of the explicit metaphor of a schoolboy’s slate. But of course no one really meant consciousness copies experience; it was as if it did. And we found on analysis, of course, that it did no such thing.

And even the idea behind that last phrase, that consciousness does anything at all, even that is a metaphor. It is saying that consciousness is a person behaving in physical space who does things, and this is true only if ‘does’ is a metaphor as well. For to do things is some kind of behavior in a physical world by a living body. And also in what Space' is the metaphorical 'doing' being done? (Some of the dust is beginning to settle.) This 'space* too must be a metaphor of real space. All of which is reminiscent of our discussion of the location of consciousness, also a metaphor.

Consciousness is being thought of as a thing, and so like other things must have a location, which, as we saw earlier, it does not actually have in the physical sense.

I realize that my argument here is becoming fairly dense. But before coming out into the clearing, I wish to describe what I shall mean by the term analog. An analog is a model, but a model of a special kind. It is not like a scientific model, whose source may be anything at all and whose purpose is to act as an hypothesis of explanation or understanding. Instead, an analog is at every point generated by the thing it is an analog of. A map is a good example. It is not a model in the scientific sense, not a hypothetical model like the Bohr atom to explain something unknown. Instead, it is constructed from something well known, if not completely known. Each region of a district of land is allotted a corresponding region on the map, though the materials of land and map are absolutely different and a large proportion of the features of the land have to be left out. And the relation between an analog map and its land is a metaphor. If I point to a location on a map and say, "There is Mont Blanc and from Chamonix we can reach the east face this way," that is really a shorthand way of saying, "The relations between the point labeled 'Mont Blanc' and other points is similar to the actual Mont Blanc and its neighboring regions."

The Metaphor Language of Mind
I think it is apparent now, at least dimly, what is emerging from the debris of the previous chapter. I do not now feel myself proving my thesis to you step by step, so much as arranging in your mind certain notions so that, at the very least, you will not be immediately estranged from the point I am about to make. My procedure here in what I realize is a difficult and overtly diffuse part of this book is to simply state in general terms my conclusion and then clarify what it implies.

Subjective conscious mind is an analog of what is called the real world. It is built up with a vocabulary or lexical field whose terms are all metaphors or analogs of behavior in the physical world. Its reality is of the same order as mathematics. It allows us to shortcut behavioral processes and arrive at more adequate decisions. Like mathematics, it is an operator rather than a thing or repository. And it is intimately bound up with volition and decision.

Consider the language we use to describe conscious processes. The most prominent group of words used to describe mental events are visual. We ‘see’ solutions to problems, the best of which may be ‘brilliant’, and the person ‘brighter’ and ’clearheaded’ as opposed to 'dull', 'fuzzy-minded', or 'obscure' solutions. These words are all metaphors and the mind-space to which they apply is a metaphor of actual space. In it we can 'approach' a problem, perhaps from some 'viewpoint', and 'grapple' with its difficulties, or seize together or 'comprehend' parts of a problem, and so on, using metaphors of behavior to invent things to do in this metaphored mind-space.

And the adjectives to describe physical behavior in real space are analogically taken over to describe mental behavior in mind-space when we speak of our minds as being 'quick,' 'slow', 'agi-tated' (as when we cogitate or co-agitate), 'nimble-witted', 'strong-' or 'weak-minded.' The mind-space in which these metaphorical activities go on has its own group of adjectives; we can be 'broad-minded', 'deep', 'open', or 'narrow-minded'; we can be 'occupied'; we can 'get something off our minds', 'put something out of mind', or we can 'get it', let something 'penetrate', or 'bear', 'have', 'keep', or 'hold' it in mind.

As with a real space, something can be at the 'back' of our mind, in its 'inner recesses', or 'beyond' our mind, or 'out' of our mind. In argument we try to 'get things through' to someone, to 'reach' their 'understanding' or find a 'common ground', or 'point out', etc., all actions in real space taken over analogically into the space of the mind.

But what is it we are making a metaphor of? We have seen that the usual function of metaphor is a wish to designate a particular aspect of a thing or to describe something for which words are not available. That thing to be designated, described, expressed, or lexically widened is what we have called the metaphrand. We operate upon this by some similar, more familiar thing, called a metaphier. Originally, of course, the purpose was intensely practical, to designate an arm of the sea as a better place for shellfish, or to put a head on a nail that it might better hold a board to a stanchion. The metaphiers here were arm and head, and the metaphrands a particular part of the sea and particular end of the nail that already existed. Now when we say mind-space is a metaphor of real space, it is the real 'external' world that is the metaphier. But if metaphor generates consciousness rather than simply describes it, what is the metaphrand?

Paraphiers and Paraphrands
If we look more carefully at the nature of metaphor (noticing all the while the metaphorical nature of almost everything we are saying), we find (even the verb “find”!) that it is composed of more than a metaphier and a metaphrand. There are also at the bottom of most complex metaphors various associations or attributes of the metaphier which I am going to call paraphiers. And these paraphiers project back into the metaphrand as what I shall call the paraphrands of the metaphrand. Jargon, yes, but absolutely necessary if we are to be crystal clear about our referents.

Some examples will show that the unraveling of metaphor into these four parts is really quite simple, as well as clarifying what otherwise we could not speak about.

Consider the metaphor that the snow blankets the ground. The metaphrand is something about the completeness and even thickness with which the ground is covered by snow. The metaphier is a blanket on a bed. But the pleasing nuances of this metaphor are in the paraphiers of the metaphier, blanket. These are something about warmth, protection, and slumber until some period of awakening. These associations of blanket then auto-matically become the associations or paraphrands of the original metaphrand, the way the snow covers the ground. And we thus have created by this metaphor the idea of the earth sleeping and protected by the snow cover until its awakening in spring. All this is packed into the simple use of the word ‘blanket’ to pertain to the way snow covers the ground.

Not all metaphors, of course, have such generative potential. In that often-cited one that a ship plows the sea, the metaphrand is the particular action of the bow of the ship through the water, and the metaphier is plowing action. The correspondence is exact. And that is the end of it.

But if I say the brook sings through the woods, the similarity of the metaphrand of the brook's bubbling and gurgling and the metaphier of (presumably) a child singing is not at all exact. It is the paraphiers of joy and dancingness becoming the para-phrands of the brook that are of interest.

Or in the many-poemed comparison of love to a rose, it is not the tenuous correspondence of metaphrand and metaphier but the paraphrands that engage us, that love lives in the sun, smells sweet, has thorns when grasped, and blooms for a season only. Or suppose I say less visually and so more profoundly something quite opposite, that my love is like a tinsmith's scoop, sunk past its gleam in the meal-bin.5 The immediate correspondence here of metaphrand and metaphier, of being out of casual sight, is trivial. Instead, it is the paraphrands of this metaphor which create what could not possibly be there, the enduring careful shape and hidden shiningness and holdingness of a lasting love deep in the heavy manipulable softnesses of mounding time, the whole simulating (and so paraphranding) sexual intercourse from a male point of view. Love has not such properties except as we generate them by metaphor.

Of such poetry is consciousness made. This can be seen if we return to some of the metaphors of mind we have earlier looked at. Suppose we are trying to solve some simple problem such as the circle-triangle series in the previous chapter. And suppose we express the fact that we have obtained the solution by exclaiming that at last we 'see' what the answer is, namely, a triangle.

This metaphor may be analyzed just as the blanket of snow or the singing brook. The metaphrand is obtaining the solution, the metaphier is sight with the eyes, and the paraphiers are all those things associated with vision that then create paraphrands, such as the mind's 'eye', 'seeing the solution clearly’ etc., and, most important, the paraphrand of a 'space' in which the 'seeing' is going on, or what I am calling mind-space, and 'objects' to 'see.'

I do not mean this brief sketch to stand in for a real theory of how consciousness was generated in the first place. That problem we shall come to in Book II. Rather I intend only to suggest the possibility that I hope to make plausible later, that consciousness is the work of lexical metaphor. It is spun out of the concrete metaphiers of expression and their paraphiers, projecting paraphrands that exist only in the functional sense. Moreover, it goes on generating itself, each new paraphrand capable of being a metaphrand on its own, resulting in new metaphiers with their paraphiers, and so on.

Of course this process is not and cannot be as haphazard as I am making it sound. The world is organized, highly organized, and the concrete metaphiers that are generating consciousness thus generate consciousness in an organized way. Hence the similarity of consciousness and the physical-behavioral world we are conscious of. And hence the structure of that world is echoed — though with certain differences — in the structure of consciousness.

One last complication before going on. A cardinal property of an analog is that the way it is generated is not the way it is used — obviously. The map-maker and map-user are doing two different things. For the map-maker, the metaphrand is the blank piece of paper on which he operates with the metaphier of the land he knows and has surveyed. But for the map-user, it is just the other way around. The land is unknown; it is the land that is the metaphrand, while the metaphier is the map which he is using, by which he understands the land.

And so with consciousness. Consciousness is the metaphrand when it is being generated by the paraphrands of our verbal expressions. But the functioning of consciousness is, as it were, the return journey. Consciousness becomes the metaphier full of our past experience, constantly and selectively operating on such unknowns as future actions, decisions, and partly remembered pasts, on what we are and yet may be. And it is by the generated structure of consciousness that we then understand the world.

metaphor and language

OCBBM | THUS HAVING CHISELED away some of the major misconceptions about consciousness, what then have we left? If con-sciousness is not all these things, if it is not so extensive as we think, not a copy of experience, or the necessary locus of learning, judgment, or even thought, what is it? And as we stare into the dust and rubble of the last chapter, hoping Pygmalion-like to see consciousness newly step forth pure and pristine out of the detritus, let us ramble out and around the subject a little way as the dust settles, talking of different things.

Metaphor and Language
Let us speak of metaphor. The most fascinating property of language is its capacity to make metaphors. But what an under-statement! For metaphor is not a mere extra trick of language, as it is so often slighted in the old schoolbooks on composition; it is the very constitutive ground of language. I am using metaphor here in its most general sense: the use of a term for one thing to describe another because of some kind of similarity between them or between their relations to other things. There are thus always two terms in a metaphor, the thing to be described, which I shall call the metaphrand, and the thing or relation used to elucidate it, which I shall call the metaphier. A metaphor is always a known metaphier operating on a less known meta-phrand. I have coined these hybrid terms simply to echo multiplication where a multiplier operates on a multiplicand.

It is by metaphor that language grows. The common reply to the question “what is it?” is, when the reply is difficult or. the experience unique, “well, it is like —.” In laboratory studies, both children and adults describing nonsense objects (or meta-phrands) to others who cannot see them use extended meta-phiers that with repetition become contracted into labels. This is the major way in which the vocabulary of language is formed. The grand and vigorous function of metaphor is the generation of new language as it is needed, as human culture becomes more and more complex.

A random glance at the etymologies of common words in a dictionary will demonstrate this assertion. Or take the naming of various fauna and flora in their Latin indicants, or even in their wonderful common English names, such as stag beetle, lady’s-slipper, darning needle, Queen Anne’s lace, or buttercup. The human body is a particularly generative metaphier, creating previously unspeakable distinctions in a throng of areas. The head of an army, table, page, bed, ship, household, or nail, or of steam or water; the face of a clock, cliff, card, or crystal; the eyes of needles, winds, storms, targets, flowers, or potatoes; the brow of a hill; the cheeks of a vise; the teeth of cogs or combs; the lips of pitchers, craters, augers; the tongues of shoes, board joints, or railway switches; the arm of a chair or the sea; the leg of a table, compass, sailor’s voyage, or cricket field; and so on and on. Or the foot of this page. Or the leaf you will soon turn. All of these concrete metaphors increase enormously our powers of perception of the world about us and our understanding of it, and literally create new objects. Indeed, language is an organ of perception, not simply a means of communication.

This is language moving out synchronically (or without reference to time) into the space of the world to describe it and perceive it more and more definitively. But language also moves in another and more important way, diachronically, or through time, and behind our experiences on the basis of aptic structures in our nervous systems to create abstract concepts whose referents are not observables except in a metaphorical sense. And these too are generated by metaphor. This is indeed the nub (knob), heart, pith, kernel, core, marrow, etc. of my argument, which itself is a metaphor and ‘seen’ only with the mind’s ‘eye’.

In the abstractions of human relations, the skin becomes a particularly important metaphier. We get or stay ‘in touch’ with others who may be ‘thick-’ or ‘thin-skinned’ or perhaps ‘touchy’ in which case they have to be ‘handled’ carefully lest we ‘rub’ them the wrong way; we may have a ‘feeling’ for another person with whom we may have a ‘touching’ experience.

The concepts of science are all of this kind, abstract concepts generated by concrete metaphors. In physics, we have force, acceleration (to increase one's steps), inertia (originally an indolent person), impedance, resistance, fields, and now charm. In physiology, the metaphier of a machine has been at the very center of discovery. We understand the brain by metaphors to everything from batteries and telegraphy to computers and holograms. Medical practice is sometimes dictated by metaphor. In the eighteenth century, the heart in fever was like a boiling pot, and so bloodletting was prescribed to reduce its fuel. And even today, a great deal of medicine is based upon the military metaphor of defense of the body against attacks of this or that. The very concept of law in Greek derives from nomos, the word for the foundations of a building. To be liable, or bound in law, comes from the Latin ligare, meaning to bind with cord.

In early times, language and its referents climbed up from the concrete to the abstract on the steps of metaphors, even, we may say, created the abstract on the bases of metaphors.

It is not always obvious that metaphor has played this all-important function. But this is because the concrete metaphiers become hidden in phonemic change, leaving the words to exist on their own. Even such an unmetaphorical-sounding word as the verb 'to be' was generated from a metaphor. It comes from the Sanskrit bhu, “to grow, or make grow,” while the English forms ‘am’ and ‘is’ have evolved from the same root as the Sanskrit asmi “to breathe.” It is something of a lovely surprise that the irregular conjugation of our most nondescript verb is thus a record of a time when man had no independent word for ‘exis-tence’ and could only say that something ‘grows’ or that it “breathes.” Of course we are not conscious that the concept of being is thus generated from a metaphor about growing and breathing. Abstract words are ancient coins whose concrete images in the busy give-and-take of talk have worn away with use.

Because in our brief lives we catch so little of the vastnesses of history, we tend too much to think of language as being solid as a dictionary, with a granite-like permanence, rather than as the rampant restless sea of metaphor which it is. Indeed, if we consider the changes in vocabulary that have occurred over the last few millennia, and project them several millennia hence, an interesting paradox arises. For if we ever achieve a language that has the power of expressing everything, then metaphor will no longer be possible. I would not say, in that case, my love is like a red, red rose, for love would have exploded into terms for its thousands of nuances, and applying the correct term would leave the rose metaphorically dead.
The lexicon of language, then, is a finite set of terms that by metaphor is able to stretch out over an infinite set of circumstances, even to creating new circumstances thereby.

(Could consciousness be such a new creation?)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

did the drugs work at all?

Guardian | Is LSD a great spiritual teacher? Or indeed a teacher at all? My answer is an emphatic "Yes", even though there will always be students who learn nothing from their teachers or misuse what they do learn.

For me LSD is the ultimate psychedelic. It's a tough one – one not to be taken lightly or often. A typical trip lasts eight to 10 hours and there's no respite or way out once you've popped that tiny scrap of blotter in your mouth. I will even admit that on those rare occasions when I take it I feel some deep physiological reaction that makes me involuntarily shaky and afraid just before that fateful moment.

So why do it? Because the fear is worth – a million times over it's worth – the experience.

That experience, as many writers have explained, depends dramatically on the set and setting – on what you expect of the trip, where you are, whom you are with, and how safe you feel. One of the tragedies of drug prohibition is that we have never developed a culture in which young people can learn how to use powerful drugs properly from older, wiser and more experienced psychonauts. I count myself lucky to have encountered such good teachers to guide me with such drugs as LSD, psilocybin, DMT, MDMA and mescaline.

Of course the psychedelics can be just plain fun – the amazing colours, the shifting and moving scenes, the flowers that turn into cats that turn into rabbits that disappear down holes; the sounds that turn into streams that flow away into the sky. But very few people have eight hours of simple fun. This drug, above all, confronts you with yourself. The flickering flowers can turn into scenes of horror and desperation, the coloured-streaked sky into a theatre of unwelcome memories and shame.

i take illegal drugs for inspiration

susanblackmore | Every year, like a social drinker who wants to prove to herself that she's not an alcoholic, I give up cannabis for a month. It can be a tough and dreary time - and much as I enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, alcohol cannot take its place.

Some people may smoke dope just to relax or have fun, but for me the reason goes deeper. In fact, I can honestly say that without cannabis, most of my scientific research would never have been done and most of my books on psychology and evolution would not have been written.

Some evenings, after a long day at my desk, I'll slip into the bath, light a candle and a spliff, and let the ideas flow - that lecture I have to give to 500 people next week, that article I'm writing for New Scientist, those tricky last words of a book I've been working on for months. This is the time when the sentences seem to write themselves. Or I might sit out in my greenhouse on a summer evening among my tomatoes and peach trees, struggling with questions about free will or the nature of the universe, and find that a smoke gives me new ways of thinking about them.

Yes, I know there are serious risks to my health, and I know I might be caught and fined or put in prison. But I weigh all this up, and go on smoking grass.
For both individuals and society, all drugs present a dilemma: are they worth the risks to health, wealth and sanity? For me, the pay-off is the scientific inspiration, the wealth of new ideas and the spur to inner exploration. But if I end up a mental and physical wreck, I hereby give you my permission to gloat and say: "I told you so".

My first encounter with drugs was a joint shared with a college friend in my first term at Oxford. This was at the tail end of the days of psychedelia and flower power - and cannabis was easy to obtain. After long days of lectures and writing essays, we enjoyed the laughter and giggling, the heightened sensations and crazy ideas that the drug seemed to let loose.

Then, one night, something out of the ordinary happened - though whether it was caused by the drug, lack of sleep or something else altogether, I don't know. I was listening to a record with two friends, sitting cross-legged on the floor, and I had smoked just enough to induce a mild synaesthesia. The sound of the music had somehow induced the sensation of rushing through a long, dark tunnel of rustling leaves towards a bright light.

I love tunnels. They come on the verges of sleep and death and are well known in all the cultures that use drugs for ritual, magic or healing. The reason for them lies in the visual cortex at the back of the brain, where certain drugs interfere with the inhibitory systems, releasing patterns of circles and spirals that form into tunnels and lights.

I didn't know about the science then. I was just enjoying the ride, when one of my friends asked a peculiar question: "Where are you, Sue?".
Where was I? I was in the tunnel. No, I was in my friend's room. I struggled to answer; then the confusion cleared and I was looking down on the familiar scene from above.

"I'm on the ceiling, " I said, as I watched the mouth down below open and close and say the words in unison. It was a most peculiar sensation.

My friend persisted. Can you move? Yes. Can you go through the walls? Yes. And I was off exploring what I thought, at the time, was the real world. It was a wonderful feeling - like a flying dream, only more realistic and intense.

The experience lasted more than two hours, and I remember it clearly even now. Eventually, it came to seem more like a mystical experience in which time and space had lost their meaning and I appeared to merge with the universe. Years later, when I began research on out-of-body and near-death experiences, I realised that I'd had all those now-familiar sensations that people report after close brushes with death. And I wanted to find out more.


EnergyResources | In summary, the Inquisition has, no doubt, committed many crimes with innocent people for centuries, but the image that still project, pales when compared with the new forms of torture, slavery, massive killings, global robberies, etc., made by the wealthiest and most powerful on the rest of the world. Perhaps the insistence in perpetuating the bad image of the Inquisition is promoted by those fearing that Torquemada may come back again and make justice with the handful of criminals launching all the days Financial Weapons of Mass Destruction (FWMD's) on the world population.

What happened some centuries ago, is that other Christian religions (Protestant, Calvinist) decided to abandon the principle of interests being a sin. And under these conditions, the lenders started to accumulate huge amounts of wealth, in front of the borrowers, winning a competitive edge in the accumulation of wealth, versus those still reluctant to ask for interests.

The Catholic Church and related countries entered then in a competitive disadvantage and lost control of many resources (and hence, power) in front of those other accepting to ask for interests on the principal, as a mean to become wealthier by the minute. Catholic countries passed through mixed feelings for centuries, where bankers (banksters?) already changed themselves to the interest demanding side, but the religion was still considering usury a bad idea; a cloud of doubts raised many debates (still alive) whether 1 or 2 percent per year could be acceptable and perhaps a 20% per year could be punishable. The borders of usury are always difficult to draw, unless the line is set at zero level.

It has been only recently (from a historic perspective), where the Catholic Church decided to change the Lord's Prayer, at least in the nominally Catholic Spain, from the traditional

Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And bring us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.

To the most modern and convenient

Our Father, Who art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. Amen.

So that the Catholic banksters could go to sleep with a clean conscience and start to compete again with the rest of the banksters on equal basis.

It is curious, for instance, how the manger and trough world media has dealt with the managing director of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Khan, now in a jail in Harlem, for having allegedly raped a waitress in a hotel. And it is amazing how the media and many Western people have ignored that this specimen was in a plane to come back to Europe, having in this agenda for the next night, to rape 11 million Portuguese, innocent victims (his substitute, immediate replacing him,
has decided to impose overnight some 7,500 Euros per capita of additional debt, to be returned, with terrifying interests, in 3 years. And if there are doubts, as per his lawyers, that the first rape was consented, it is clear that the 11 million rapes two days later were not.). And he had already raped another 11 million Greeks a la Greek style with similar or even more stringent debts plus interests.

Apparently, nobody thinks that he should deserve a trial (or a pyre or a trial in an International Court, a la Gaddafi or Saddam style) for the big number of rapes on behalf of "the Markets" (who are "the Markets"?)

But something may be moving in the world. Some eruptions in Northern Africa are still raising smoke columns and I am assisting, completely astonished, to a sudden, unprogrammed eruption of youngsters, retired people, housewives, or jobless, or even people wearing ties, in many Spanish cities, by tenths of thousands, peacefully but angered, in the middle of the boring falsified bipartisan rotten election campaign. They are demanding a change of life from the roots. They are asking for responsibilities to the banksters and to the rotten politicians to change to a direct, assembly democracy. They are fed up of corrupted democracy.

Perhaps this time is rien ne va plus. No more Go West. No more Non Plus Ultra. Enough is enough. They are quoting the book of Stephane Hessel "Indignez Vous!" (get indignant!) We shall see.

hide y'kids, hide y'wife...,

USCCB | A Report Presented to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops by the John Jay College Research Team: John Jay College Reports No Single Cause, Predictor of Clergy Abuse. A landmark study by researchers at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York, which examined the causes and context of the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the U.S. Catholic Church, concluded that there was no single cause or predictor of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. The report added that that situational factors and opportunity to abuse played a significant role in the onset and continuation of abusive acts.
REPORT: Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors
by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010
Backgrounder: Timeline
Backgrounder: Catholic Church in the United States at a Glance
Backgrounder: Key Points (En Español )
Statement of Bishop Blase Cupich
Statement of Diane Knight
Statement of Karen Terry

criminal probe into the vampire squid?

Zerohedge | In yet another confirmation that Goldman's multi-million dollar push to advertise its humanitarian image on various websites has been a colossal failure, the WSJ has just broken news that the firm will shortly be the proud recipient of yet another barrage of legal inquiry in the form of subpoenas relating to its mortgage-related business, only this time not from the SEC but from criminal prosecutors. This stems from Carl Levin's massive 639 page report which referred the firm to the justice department (and whose findings were summarized best by Matt Taibbi), an escalation which could rekindle not only a civil case against the squid, but also potentially force the new District Attorney to finally lob a couple of criminal indictments here and there, thus guaranteeing that GS stock is about to be pulverized (and cementing those plans to finally MBO the company, as the Fed's balance sheet has largely served its purpose). The WSJ clarifies: "Subpoenas don't necessarily mean criminal charges against Goldman or individuals at the firm are inevitable or even likely. The company turned over hundreds of millions of pages of documents to the Federal Crisis Inquiry Commission, a 10-member panel that examined the causes of the financial crisis. Goldman also gave tens of millions of documents to the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations." Yeah, but... ""Any step in the direction of criminal charges would be bad news for Goldman's stock price," said Jeff Harte, an analyst at Sandler O'Neill + Partners LP." And now that Rolling Stone has peeled off the scab once more and made it all too clear that the villain is and has always been GS, Lloyd may find himself on the wrong side of the Q&A session all over again.

the people vs. goldman sachs

Rollingstone | They weren't murderers or anything; they had merely stolen more money than most people can rationally conceive of, from their own customers, in a few blinks of an eye. But then they went one step further. They came to Washington, took an oath before Congress, and lied about it.

Thanks to an extraordinary investigative effort by a Senate subcommittee that unilaterally decided to take up the burden the criminal justice system has repeatedly refused to shoulder, we now know exactly what Goldman Sachs executives like Lloyd Blankfein and Daniel Sparks lied about. We know exactly how they and other top Goldman executives, including David Viniar and Thomas Montag, defrauded their clients. America has been waiting for a case to bring against Wall Street. Here it is, and the evidence has been gift-wrapped and left at the doorstep of federal prosecutors, evidence that doesn't leave much doubt: Goldman Sachs should stand trial.

This article appears in the May 26, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone. The issue is available now on newsstands and will appear in the online archive May 13.

Friday, May 20, 2011

ritual habitual: technology-enabled digital self-segregation

Video - Eli Pariser on the risk of Internet Filter bubbles.

CNN | Eli Pariser made his mark on the Internet as the executive director of MoveOn.Org, the liberal group that was perhaps the first to turn the Web into a tool for massive political action.

Now he's worried the Internet is becoming too polarized, politically and otherwise, because of tools used by some of the technology and social-media world's biggest players.

His new book, "The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You," details the ways Facebook, Google, Aol and numerous other online hubs quietly are personalizing the Internet for their users.

The stated goal is to make it easier for Web users to find the things online that they like. (And, of course, to make it easier for advertisers to hawk things to you that you're more likely to buy).

But the end result, Pariser says, is a silent, subtle bubble that isolates users from new discoveries and insights that may fall outside of their usual tastes and interests.

Pariser stepped down as chief of MoveOn in 2008 but is still president of the group's board. He spoke to on Tuesday, the day his book was released.

On "the filter bubble" and how it works

One of the things that's really interesting about the filter bubble is that it's invisible. You can't see how your Internet, the websites you visit, are different than what other people see. They are sort of slipping further and further apart.

A couple of years ago, when you Googled something, everyone would get the same result. Now, when I've done these experiments, you can really get these dramatically different results. One person Googles and sees a lot of news about protests and the other person gets travel agents talking about traveling to Egypt.

I'm basically trying to make visible this sort of membrane of personalized filters that surround us wherever we go online, and let's see what we see. Fist tap Arnach.

the hidden message in pixar films

Video - This mash-up is a trip in the films of Pixar Animation Studios

Discover | Taken together as a whole narrative, the Pixar canon diagrams what will likely this century’s main rights battle – the rights of personhood – in three stages.

First are the Humans as Villain stories, in which the non-humans discover and develop personhood. I mean, Buzz Lightyear’s character arc is about his becoming self-aware as a toy. These films represent nascent personhood among non-human entities. For the viewer, we begin to see how some animals and items we see as mindless may have inner lives of which we are unaware.

Second are the Humans as Partners stories, in which exceptional non-humans and exceptional humans share a moment of mutual recognition of personhood. The moment when Linguini realizes Remy is answering him is second only to the moment when Remy shows Ego around the kitchen – such beautiful transformations of the Other into the self. These films represent the first forays of non-human persons into seeking parity with human beings.

Third, and finally, there is The Incredibles, which turns the personhood equation on its head. Instead of portraying the struggle for non-humans to be accepted as human, The Incredibles shows how human enhancement, going beyond the human norm, will trigger equally strong reactions of revulsion and otherization. The message, however, is that the human traits we value have nothing to do with our physical powers but are instead based in our moral and emotional bonds. Beneficence and courage require far more humanity than raw might. The Incredibles teaches a striking lesson: human enhancement does not make you inhuman – the choices you make and the way you treat others determines how human you really are.

Pixar has given those who would fight for personhood the narratives necessary to convince the world that non-humans that display characteristics of a person deserve the rights of a person. For every category there is a character: uplifted animals (Dug), naturally intelligent species (Remy and Kevin), A.I robots (WALL-E, EVE), and alien/monsters (Sully & Mike). Then there is the Incredible family, transhumans with superpowers. Through the films, these otherwise strange entities become unmistakably familiar, so clearly akin to us.

The message hidden inside Pixar’s magnificent films is this: humanity does not have a monopoly on personhood. In whatever form non- or super-human intelligence takes, it will need brave souls on both sides to defend what is right. If we can live up to this burden, humanity and the world we live in will be better for it.

An entire generation has been reared with the subconscious seeds of these ideas planted down deep. As history moves forward and technology with it, these issues will no longer be the imaginings of films and fiction, but of politics and policy. But Pixar has settled the personhood debate before it arrives. By watching our favorite films, we have been taught that being human is not the same as being a person. We have been shown that new persons and forms of personhood can come from anywhere. Through Pixar, we have opened ourselves to a better future.

hans rosling and the magic washing machine

Video - What was the greatest invention of the industrial revolution? Hans Rosling makes the case for the washing machine.

TED | What was the greatest invention of the industrial revolution? Hans Rosling makes the case for the washing machine. With newly designed graphics from Gapminder, Rosling shows us the magic that pops up when economic growth and electricity turn a boring wash day into an intellectual day of reading.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

is consciousness necessary?

Video - Stuart Hameroff goes through a wide array of quantum mind concepts

OCBBM | Let us review where we are, for we have just found our way through an enormous amount of ramous material which may have seemed more perplexing than clarifying. We have been brought to the conclusion that consciousness is not what we generally think it is. It is not to be confused with reactivity. It is not involved in hosts of perceptual phenomena. It is not involved in the performance of skills and often hinders their execution. It need not be involved in speaking, writing, listening, or reading. It does not copy down experience, as most people think. Consciousness is not at all involved in signal learning, and need not be involved in the learning of skills or solutions, which can go on without any consciousness whatever. It is not necessary for making judgments or in simple thinking. It is not the seat of reason, and indeed some of the most difficult instances of creative reasoning go on without any attending consciousness. And it has no location except an imaginary one! The immediate question therefore is, does consciousness exist at all? But that is the problem of the next chapter. Here it is only necessary to conclude that consciousness does not make all that much difference to a lot of our activities.

the location of consciousness

OCBBM | The final fallacy which I wish to discuss is both important and interesting, and I have left it for the last because I think it deals the coup de grace to the everyman theory of consciousness. Where does consciousness take place?

Everyone, or almost everyone, immediately replies, in my head. This is because when we introspect, we seem to look inward on an inner space somewhere behind our eyes. But what on earth do we mean by ‘look’? We even close our eyes sometimes to introspect even more clearly. Upon what? Its spatial character seems unquestionable. Moreover we seem to move or at least ‘look’ in different directions. And if we press ourselves too strongly to further characterize this space (apart from its imagined contents), we feel a vague irritation, as if there were something that did not want to be known, some quality which to question was somehow ungrateful, like rudeness in a friendly place.

We not only locate this space of consciousness inside our own heads. We also assume it is there in others’. In talking with a friend, maintaining periodic eye-to-eye contact (that remnant of our primate past when eye-to-eye contact was concerned in establishing tribal hierarchies), we are always assuming a space behind our companion’s eyes into which we are talking, similar to the space we imagine inside our own heads where we are talking from.

And this is the very heartbeat of the matter. For we know perfectly well that there is no such space in anyone’s head at all! There is nothing inside my head or yours except physiological tissue of one sort or another. And the fact that it is predominantly neurological tissue is irrelevant.

Now this thought takes a little thinking to get used to. It means that we are continually inventing these spaces in our own and other people’s heads, knowing perfectly well that they don’t exist anatomically; and the location of these ‘spaces’ is indeed quite arbitrary. The Aristotelian writings, 23 for example, located consciousness or the abode of thought in and just above the heart, believing the brain to be a mere cooling organ since it was insensitive to touch or injury. And some readers will not have found this discussion valid since they locate their thinking selves somewhere in the upper chest. For most of us, however, the habit of locating consciousness in the head is so ingrained that it is difficult to think otherwise. But, actually, you could, as you remain where you are, just as well locate your consciousness around the corner in the next room against the wall near the floor, and do your thinking there as well as in your head. Not really just as well. For there are very good reasons why it is better to imagine your mind-space inside of you, reasons to do with volition and internal sensations, with the relationship of your body and your ‘I’ which will become apparent as we go on.

That there is no phenomenal necessity in locating consciousness in the brain is further reinforced by various abnormal instances in which consciousness seems to be outside the body. A friend who received a left frontal brain injury in the war regained consciousness in the corner of the ceiling of a hospital ward looking down euphorically at himself on the cot swathed in bandages. Those who have taken lysergic acid diethylamide commonly report similar out-of-the-body or exosomatic experiences, as they are called. Such occurrences do not demonstrate anything metaphysical whatever; simply that locating consciousness can be an arbitrary matter.

Let us not make a mistake. When I am conscious, I am always and definitely using certain parts of my brain inside my head. But so am I when riding a bicycle, and the bicycle riding does not go on inside my head. The cases are different of course, since bicycle riding has a definite geographical location, while consciousness does not. In reality, consciousness has no location whatever except as we imagine it has.

23. It is so obvious that the writing ascribed to Aristotle were not written by the same hand that I prefer this designation.

consciousness not necessary for reason

OCBBM | The long tradition of man as the rational animal, the tradition that enthroned him as Homo sapiens, rests in all its pontifical generality on the gracile assumption that consciousness is the seat of reason. Any discussion of such an assumption is embarrassed by the vagueness of the term reason itself. This vagueness is the legacy we have from an older ‘faculty’ psychology that spoke of a ‘faculty’ of reason, which was of course situated ‘in’ consciousness. And this forced deposition of reason and consciousness was further confused with ideas of truth, of how we ought to reason, or logic - all quite different things. And hence logic was supposed to be the structure of conscious reason confounding generations of poor scholars who knew perfectly well that syllogisms were not what was on their side of introspection.

Reasoning and logic are to each other as health is to medicine, or - better - as conduct is to morality. Reasoning refers to a gamut of natural thought processes in the everyday world. Logic is how we ought to think if objective truth is our goal - and the everyday world is very little concerned with objective truth. Logic is the science of the justification of conclusions we have reached by natural reasoning. My point here is that, for such natural reasoning to occur, consciousness is not necessary. The very reason we need logic at all is because most reasoning is not conscious at all.

Consider to begin with the many phenomena we have already established as going on without consciousness which can be called elementary kinds of reasoning. Choosing paths, words, notes, motions, the perceptual corrections in size and color constancies - all are primitive kinds of reasoning that go on without any prod, nudge, or even glance of consciousness.

Even the more standard types of reasoning can occur without consciousness. A boy, having observed on one or more past occasions that a particular piece of wood floats on a particular pond, will conclude directly in a new instance that another piece of wood will float on another pond. There is no collecting together of past instances in consciousness, and no necessary conscious process whatever when the new piece of wood is seen directly as floating on the new pond. This is sometimes called reasoning from particulars, and is simply expectation based on generalization. Nothing particularly extraordinary. It is an ability common to all the higher vertebrates. Such reasoning is the structure of the nervous system, not the structure of consciousness.

But more complex reasoning without consciousness is continually going on. Our minds work much faster than consciousness can keep up with. We commonly make genera assertions based on past experience in an automatic way, and only as an afterthought are we sometimes able to retrieve any of the past experiences on which an assertion is based. How often we reach sound conclusions and are quite unable to justify them! Because reasoning is not conscious. And consider the kind of reasoning that we do about others’ feelings and character, or in reasoning out the motives of others from their actions. These are clearly the result of automatic inferences by our nervous systems in which consciousness is not only unnecessary, but, as we have seen in the performance of motor skills, would probably hinder the process. [19]

Surely, we exclaim, this cannot be true of the highest processes of intellectual, thought! Surely there at last we will come to the very empire of consciousness, where all is spread out in a golden clarity and all the orderly processes of reason go on in a full publicity of awareness. But the truth has no such grandeur. The picture of a scientist sitting down with his problems and using conscious induction and deduction is as mythical as a unicorn. The greatest insights of mankind have come more mysteriously. Helmholtz had his happy thoughts which “often enough crept quietly into my thinking without my suspecting their importance . . . in other cases they arrived suddenly, without any effort on my part . . . they liked especially to make their appearance while I was taking an easy walk over wooded hills in sunny weather!” 20

And Gauss, referring to an arithmetical theorem which he had unsuccessfully tried to prove for years, wrote how “like a sudden flash of lightning, the riddle happened to be solved. I myself cannot say what was the conducting thread which connected what I previously knew with what made my success possible.” 21

And the brilliant mathematician Poincaré was particularly interested in the manner in which he came upon his own discoveries. In a celebrated lecture at the Société de Psychologie in Paris, he described how he set out on a geologic excursion: “The incidents of the journey made me forget my mathematical work. Having reached Coutances, we entered an omnibus to go some place or other. At the moment when I put my foot on the step, the idea came to me, without anything in my former thoughts seeming to have paved the way for it, the transformation I had used to define the Fuchsian functions were identical with those of non-Euclidian geometry!” 22

It does seem that it is in the more abstract sciences, where the materials of scrutiny are less and less interfered with by everyday experience, that this business of sudden flooding insights is most obvious. A close friend of Einstein’s has told me that many of the physicist’s greatest ideas came to him so suddenly while he was shaving that he had to move the blade of the straight razor very carefully each morning, lest he cut himself with surprise. And a well-known physicist in Britain once told Wolfgang Köhler, “We often talk about the three B’s, the Bus, the Bath, and the Bed. That is where the great discoveries are made in our science.”

The essential point here is that there are several stages of creative thought: first, a stage of preparation in which the problem is consciously worked over; then a period of incubation without any conscious concentration upon the problem; and then the illumination which is later justified by logic. The parallel between these important and complex problems and the simple problems of judging weights or the circle-triangle series is obvious. The period of preparation is essentially the setting up of a complex struction together with conscious attention to the materials on which the struction is to work. But then the actual process of reasoning, the dark leap into huge discovery, just as in the simple trivial judgment of weights, has no representation in consciousness. Indeed, it is sometimes almost as if the problem had to be forgotten to be solved.
19. Such instances were early recognized as not conscious and were called “automatic inference” or “common sense.” Discussions can be found in Sully, Mill, and other nineteenth-century psychologists.

20. As quoted by Robert S. Woodworth, Experimental Psychology (New York: Holt, 1938), p. 818.

21. As quoted by Jacques Hadamard, The Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1945), p. 15.

22. Henri Poincaré, “Mathematical creation,” in his The Foundations of Science, G. Bruce Halsted, trans. (New York: The Science Press, 1913), p. 387.

consciousness not necessary for concepts

OCBBM | A further major confusion about consciousness is the belief that it is specifically and uniquely the place where concepts are formed. This is a very ancient idea: that we have various concrete conscious experiences and then put the similar ones together into a concept. This idea has even been the paradigm of a slew of experiments by psychologists who thought they were thus studying concept formation.

Max Muller, in one of his fascinating discussions in the last century, brought the problem to a point by asking, whoever saw a tree? “No one ever saw a tree, but only this or that fir tree, or oak tree, or apple tree . . . Tree, therefore, is a concept, and as such can never be seen or perceived by the senses.” [7] Particular trees alone were outside in the environment, and only in consciousness did the general concept of tree exist.

Now the relation between concepts and consciousness could have an extensive discussion. But let it suffice here simply to show that there is no necessary connection between them. When Muller says no one has ever seen a tree, he is mistaking what he knows about an object for the object itself. Every weary wayfarer after miles under the hot sun has seen a tree. So has every cat, squirrel, and chipmunk when chased by a dog. The bee has a concept of. a flower, the eagle a concept of a sheer-faced rocky ledge, as a nesting thrush has a concept of a crotch of upper branch awninged with green leaves. Concepts are simply classes of behaviorally equivalent things. Root concepts are prior to experience. They are fundamental to the aptic structures that allow behavior to occur at all.8 Indeed what Muller should have said was, no one has ever been conscious of a tree. For consciousness, indeed, not only is not the repository of concepts; it does not usually work with them at all! When we consciously think of a tree, we are indeed conscious of a particular tree, of the fir or the oak or the elm that grew beside our house, and let it stand for the concept, just as we can let a concept word stand for it as well. In fact, one of the great functions of language is to let the word stand for a concept, which is exactly what we do in writing or speaking about conceptual material. And we must do this because concepts are usually not in consciousness at all.
7. Max Muller, The Science of Though: (London: Longmans Green, 1887), 78-79. Eugenio Rignano in his The Psychology of Reasoning (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1923), p. 108f., makes a similar criticism to mine.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

the mcgurk effect

Video - The McGurk effect is a compelling demonstration of how we all use visual speech information. The effect shows that we can't help but integrate visual speech into what we 'hear'.

consciousness not a copy of experience

OCBBM | Although the metaphor of the blank mind had been used in the writings ascribed to Aristotle, it is really only since John Locke thought of the mind as a tabula rasa in the seventeenth century that we have emphasized this recording aspect of consciousness, and thus see it crowded with memories that can be read over again in introspection. If Locke had lived in our time, he would have used the metaphor of a camera rather than a slate. But the idea is the same. And most people would protest emphatically that the chief function of consciousness is to store up experience, to copy it as a camera does, so that it can be reflected upon at some future time.

So it seems. But consider the following problems: Does the door of your room open from the right or the left? Which is your second longest finger? At a stoplight, is it the red or the green that is on top? How many teeth do you see when brushing your teeth? What letters are associated with what numbers on a telephone dial? If you are in a familiar room, without turning around, write down all the items on the wall just behind you, and then look.

I think you will be surprised how little you can retrospect in consciousness on the supposed images you have stored from so much previous attentive experience. If the familiar door suddenly opened the other way, if another finger suddenly grew longer, if the red light were differently placed, or you had an extra tooth, or the telephone were made differently, or a new window latch had been put on the window behind you, you would know it immediately, showing that you all along ‘knew’, but not consciously so. Familiar to psychologists, this is the distinction between recognition and recall. What you can consciously recall is a thimbleful to the huge oceans of your actual knowledge.

Experiments of this sort demonstrate that conscious memory is not a storing up of sensory images, as is sometimes thought. Only if you have at some time consciously noticed your finger lengths or your door, have at some time counted your teeth, though you have observed these things countless times, can you remember. Unless you have particularly noted what is on the wall or recently cleaned or painted it, you will be surprised at what you have left out. And introspect upon the matter. Did you not in each of these instances ask what must be there? Starting with ideas and reasoning, rather than with any image? Conscious retrospection is not the retrieval of images, but the retrieval of what you have been conscious of before, [5] and the reworking of these elements into rational or plausible patterns.

Let us demonstrate this in another way. Think, if you will, of when you entered the room you are now in and when you picked up this book. Introspect upon it and then ask the question: are the images of which you have copies the actual sensory fields as you came in and sat down and began reading? Don’t you have an image of yourself coming through one of the doors, perhaps even a bird’s-eye view of one of the entrances, and then perhaps vaguely see yourself sitting down and picking up the book? Things which you have never experienced except in this introspection! And can you retrieve the sound fields around the event? Or the cutaneous sensations as you sat, took the pressure off your feet, and opened this book? Of course, if you go on with your thinking you can also rearrange your imaginal retrospection such that you do indeed ‘see’ entering the room just as it might have been; and ‘hear’ the sound of the chair and the book opening, and ‘feel’ the skin sensations. But I suggest that this has a large element of created imagery - what we shall call narratizing a little later - of what the experience should be like, rather than what it actually was like.

Or introspect on when you last went swimming: I suspect you have an image of a seashore, lake, or pool which is largely a retrospection, but when it comes to yourself swimming, lo! like Nijinsky in his dance, you are seeing yourself swim, something that you have never observed at all! There is precious little of the actual sensations of swimming, the particular waterline across your face, the feel of the water against your skin, or to what extent your eyes were underwater as you turned your head to breathe. [6] Similarly, if you think of the last time you slept out of doors, went skating, or - if all else fails - did something that you regretted in public, you tend not to see, hear, or feel things as you actually experienced them, but rather to re-create them in objective terms, seeing yourself in the setting as if you were somebody else. Looking back into memory, then, is a great deal invention, seeing yourself as others see you. Memory is the medium of the must-have-been. Though I have no doubt that in any of these instances you could by inference invent a subjective view of the experience, even with the conviction that it was the actual memory.
5. See in this connection the discussion of Robert S. Woodworth in his Psychological Issues (New York: Columbia University Press, 1939 Ch. 7

6. An example taken from Donald Hobb’s provocative discussion, “The mind’s eye”, Psychology Today, 1961, 2.