Human learning would be more simplistic if human beings operated only on an imitative or first order mental plane. We believe, however, that human beings are active participants in the learning process and operate on an imaginative plane. Thus, any material presented has at minimum, eight optional impacts which then can be exponentially expanded: It is believed [true]/not believed [false]; it is understood as meant/ not understood as meant; or it is valued [given emotional status]/not valued [ignored].
Thus a new proposition can be considered by the recipient as:
- true, understood and valued
- true, understood and not valued
- true, misunderstood and valued
- true, misunderstood and not valued
- false, understood and valued
- false, misunderstood and valued
- false, understood and not valued
- false, misunderstood and not valued
The potential for such variation is enhanced by two basic variables: first, the ambiguity of words and their usage. ‘You are a bad boy’ – meaning – you acted inappropriately OR you are not a good person. The second is the meta ability of imagination. When experiencing a new proposition an individual has the ability to mull the meaning not only as it applies here and now, but how it compares with the past and the future. Margaret Donaldson touches on this when she discusses a ‘framework’ of different minds.
My account of the common framework entails the distinguishing of four main modes of mental functioning. These come in succession upon the scene as we grow older, but they do not replace one another. None of them is ever lost, except in severe injury or illness. But within each mode changes occur over time.
Donaldson then goes on to define the locus of concern. A mind’s concern at any given time is what its percepts, thoughts [concepts], emotions or actions are about. The locus of concern is defined in terms of space-time. The point mode is always concerned with the present moment, the directly apprehensible bit of space, the ‘here and now’. By contrast the line mode includes the personal past and the personal future although concern is still with the special events, actual or conceivable. The line mode transcends the here and now and imagines the future and perhaps even the past in relation to the event.
When one talks about causes one must be cautious to understand that it is not simply that one action results in another action such as the reciprocal action described in Newtonian physics. An action regarding human beings is more comparable to the ‘probability shells’ of particle or quantum physics. We can expect that if certain events occur there will be a higher probability of positive social adjustment, but we cannot know that it exists until we observe it. When Donaldson talks about the development of the human mind, and therefore the etiology of social adjustment, she suggests that we are talking about a self-transformation; process by which we turn ourselves into different beings. The paradox is that while this is a solitary effort, we are dependent in the most crucial ways on the help of others – and others may hinder or constrain.
Our experience of the world is an interpretation. Interpretations may be better or worse. We have certain strategies for deciding. These strategies may be to some extent based genetically. In tests with babies it is found that certain patterns are more attractive or in some sense more rewarding than others; this may be what scientist call elegance in describing a theory that is somehow more satisfactory than others. One interpretation is that babies are not so much choosing a pattern as being ‘captured’ by it. This argument rests on the idea that infants are drawn automatically to certain features of the world; those perhaps that are specially effective, in stimulating their nervous systems, such as saturated colors, horizontal and vertical lines vs oblique ones. These attractors which may be necessary elements of formulating the world as reality and thus have evolutionary value, become the aspects upon which patterns or mental representations are built.
If a baby gets satisfaction from learning to predict events in the world and to control them, then presumable s/he has some conception of a world ‘out there’ to be controlled. And by the same token presumably s/he has some conception of herself as a controlling agent. Our fondness for shaping things is balanced by the aim of understanding. Thus the patterns we find are the products both of a ‘bottom-up’ process of perception, perhaps, mediated by attractors which are genetically set, and a ‘top down’ process which gradually develops emerging organization of self, which stems from conceptions of self as controlling agent.
As this emerging organization occurs, generalization becomes conceptualized as mental representation. ‘Generalization’ is a primitive and widespread feature of animal behavior. Another way of putting this is to say that when an animal – even a very simple organism – has learned to make a response to one stimulus, the behavior tends to occur subsequently in response to others that are like the first one in some way. It generalizes or spreads. Thus we may say that the perception of likeness is pervasive and fundamental.
Conceptual thinking [the development of mental representations] entails the recognition of points of likeness and at the same time¬of points of unlikeness – the simultaneous grasp of the ways in which things resemble one another and of the ways in which they differ. Gradually these organizing patterns become a fabric of “top down” themes or ideologies which make up the personality of the individual. These themes give birth to explanatory styles, and mental schema regarding self, others and prospects. These themes or ideologies alert the individual to certain expectations about what they will perceive in certain scenarios or situations and therefore “color” the way in which they perceive the world. We will explore Donaldson’s suggestions further as we examine a more specific explication from David Hofstatder of similar notions.
Before we do that however, a second caveat needs to be stated which was referenced by Donaldson – the rule that social skills can only be learned in social environments – in interaction with other people. Therefore, the absence of other people will significantly impinge on the ability to learn. So-called feral children , those raised somehow without human involvement suffer dramatically in both language and social skills. However, it needs to be noted that social skills seem much more easily acquirable, even under these circumstances than language. Steven Pinker in the Language Instinct  has surmised a language framework which fades as the child matures. Thus the window of opportunity is limited for language. Speculations on a similar framework for learning social skills would apparently leave the window open. This is a very optimistic idea since it implies that no matter how old or ingrained certain social behaviors are; they can change.
Breakthroughs in methodology for assessing infants’ perceptual abilities have shown the even newborns are quite perceptive, active, and responsible during physical and social interactions. Increasingly, an infant will engage in social exchanges by a “reciprocal matching” process in which both the infant and adult attempt to match or copy each other by approximation of each other’s gaze, use of tongue, sounds, and smiles. Infants’ physical requirements are best met when delivered along with social contact and interaction. Babies who lack human interaction may “fail to thrive”. Such infants will fail to gain sufficient weight and will become indifferent, listless, withdrawn and/or depressed, and in some cases will not survive [Clarke-Stewart & Koch, 1983 as reported by Oden, 1998].
This human interaction is vital in the first six months as a growing bonding attachment, marked by strong mutual affect, with at least one particular adult, is critical to the child’s welfare and social emotional development [Oden, 1998]. In fact, if one were to identify a single major cause of failure to thrive physically, emotionally and socially, one could explore the failure to bond. Such a failure need not be caused by intentional neglect – mother dies or is incapacitated at birth, father mourns, no single nurse is available – serial adults occur – time passes. The breakdown of the extended family increases the opportunity for such occurrences. Single parents, teen age births, substance abuse and other social factors can contribute. But don’t forget our first caveat: the infant plays a role and some individuals have a strength and tenacity of character which help them overcome all obstacles.
Freud conceived of the mother-child relationship as encompassing all the forces that shape the adult personality, with maladjustments at this level the sole cause of any later emotional catastrophes. While we may agree that the bonding factor is a critical factor which influences the depth of later adult social and sexual relationships; it would be misleading to judge the importance of one affectional system in terms of end result. Each system [maternal love, infant love, peer or age mate love, heterosexual love and paternal love] evolves from the one that precedes it, and the faulty development of any system, or the faulty transition from one system to another, may arise from any number of variables [Harlow, 1974].
Nonetheless the social infant needs to have an experience of attachment to another human being. The etymological meaning of attach is to seize – an appropriate description of the need for the child to seize and fasten onto a significant adult, but one which has also been described by Donaldson as one which seizes the interest of the child. The process of attachment can also be examined, and it starts with attraction – which etymological meant literally to “pull towards oneself”. The infants pulls towards him/herself in a patterned way. We will explore the pattern mechanism from a model developed by Hofstatder later.
Harlow suggests that the response of a human mother to her newborn depends on many personality and cultural variables and reveals a complexity of concern. These personality and cultural variables are important to our exploration since we posit that they are parts of a single system – the first, where the individual builds his/her own belief system which defines the self or personality and the second, where groups of individuals develop similar belief systems which define the nature of the group. In both systems, the actual day to day operation occurs by habit , reflex or without thought. The way individuals believe is closely tied to their culture, since the culture is the milieu in which they have learned. Yet we cannot forget that in systems theory [Cybernetics II] that the micro-organism and the macro-organism are mutually influential.
Such mutuality, however, increases as the infant develops and matures and the events of maturity are contingent upon social interaction, including intimate bodily contact, which is the basic mechanism in eliciting love from the neonate and infant [Harlow, 1974]. While we often talk of the maternal instinct, many mothers have little maternal feeling until their infants have matured to the point that they can interact by means of vocal and facial responses. In this case, the infant contributes to the degree of maternal involvement by his/her own reciprocal actions. An infant who has a developmental delay or a disability may, in fact, get less response from even a loving mother because s/he gives so little back.
Another factor that arises from this interactive failure is the creation of anxiety in the mother, which may be easily transferred to the child. A relationship with mixed messages of love and anxiety may make transfer to the next affectional system unpromising since new learning is open to a variety of potentially negative interpretations based upon a context built by experience. On the other hand, where the love between the infant and the mother is so strong and so enduring that there is an unwillingness to let go another crises occurs. In fact, it is important as we think about growth and development that we understand that each stage offers important learning experiences, but the transitions offer the test. If the individual has learned the appropriate [utile] skills in one stage, the transition to the next can be viewed as an exciting new experience full of curiosity. If the learning has not been sufficient, the attitude can be one of fear and trepidation.
Related to these childhood experience, of course, is the parental method of family management, which is usually based upon the parent’s own experiences both in family and culture. If bonding and other interpersonal experience are critical to either help or hinder the development of self, such family management methods are of importance. Oden suggests that these fall into more or less predictable categories:
- authoritarian [high control]
- authoritative [through knowledge and providing direction]
- permissive [low control]
- some combination of the above.
It is the last, of course, which is most problematic, since it has the potential of the unknown. If the internal logic is to pursue pleasure and avoid pain, but the family management is inconsistent, the logic may not be implementable. The child is then “at the mercy” of the adult and is unable to predict and control events and experiences. On the other hand, it has been suggested that mothers who are more verbal in their influence on children’s actions use “benign” instructive direction that appears to result in the child having greater social competence at home, with peers, and in school settings [Oden, 1998]. How this is concluded is not specified and therefore may simply be the reiteration of a preferred method of professionals. However, the process of cognitive intervention would be verbal, provide direction and be essentially ‘benign’ since the individual child can reject the input, so the conjecture is supportive, if not sufficiently documented.
Perhaps we should now move from the social content and look at the individual process of development of intelligence and personality. We will use as our guide, the theoretical framework developed for Artificial Intelligence by Douglas Hofstadter . In his book Fluid Concepts & Creative Analogies. The development starts with a pattern sensitivity.
- noticing sameness [e.g.
- noticing simple relationships [e.g., ]
- noticing analogies [e.g., this pattern-fragment looks like that one];
- imposing consistency [e.g., let me alter this pattern fragment so it looks more like that one];
- building abstractions [e.g., this shared pattern fragment can be summarized in a template];
- shifting boundaries [e.g., this might better grouped with this rather than that];
- driving towards beauty [e.g., let met alter this pattern-fragment because it would be more balanced this way].
The activity of building up a coherent stream of packets from an unpunctuated, structured sequence, and coming to understand their interrelations, is thus a nontrivial task. It should be clear also that these pattern forming mechanisms operate at higher and higher orders of intelligence. This should not be interpreted, however, to mean that infants do not utilize them in some naive form; moving perhaps, from a point mode to a line mode and ultimately reaching a transformational clarity.
Hofstatder suggests that the processes involves segmentation – that is, figuring out where the boundaries of packets ought to lie and, unification – that is, figuring out how the packets are related to one another. This requires an internal logic. It seems apparent that the first logic is pursuit of utility. The most basic definition of utility as reported by Fukuyama is the narrow one associated with the nineteenth-century utilitarian, Jeremy Bentham: that utility is the pursuit of pleasure or the avoidance of pain. The internal logic of utility becomes for each of us the starting point of decision making.
What Hofstadter suggests in pattern or schema building is that the emerging individual would need to find types of structures that are echoed throughout the experience, and hopefully at regular intervals. Thus it makes more sense to let different types of attributions “bubble up” independently here and there in the experience, and then see if there are correlations. The stronger the correlations, the more one will feel on the right track. Thus, for the sake of efficient picking-up of ideas, one wants to encourage diversity in the types of experiences being built up, rather than uniformity. On the other hand, too much diversity will simply turn the experience into a jumble of random, uncorrelated events of order, thus completely blocking the discovery of patterns, which, after all involve uniformity, by definition. So there has to be a balance between the overly chaotic strategy of encouraging different kinds of experiences to bubble up completely randomly and the overly rigid strategy of always trying one type first throughout, then another type, and so on.
This kind of subtle balance, he suggests, can be struck by employing parallel processing with probabilistic biases. The way this works is to let perceptual glue of various sorts bubble up in parallel in different regions of the experience, with a tendency but not a rule for sameness glue to emerge the fastest,….each dab of glue then acts as a small local pressure towards building a particular type of island of order in a particular location. This way, natural perceptual biases can be respected but not slavishly so, and diverse ideas – ‘hunches’ …- can arise independently and be explored simultaneously in different regions of the experience.
Glue alone does not make an attribution come into existence; it merely serves as a hint or suggestion to build an attribution of a certain sort in a certain region. Attributions, being larger and more global, are the next stage of perception beyond dabs of glue, and any actually-built attributions represents much more commitment to a particularly theory of what is going on. However, a fully-built attribution can be sacrificed, under pressure for the greater good and – destroyed, that is, releasing its constituents so that they can be perceptually reinterpreted and incorporated into different attributions that hopefully will fit more coherently into the emerging global order. The process of developing a pressure for the greater good – i.e. an increased utility in every day experience – is part of the cognitive restructuring process. Further, it is the sacrifice of fully built attributions or schemas that is required for social change.
A second tier of exploratory process can be going on as well – namely, perception of regularities among the attributions themselves, leading to multilevel packets and ultimately to templates, or as we would name them scenarios or schema.. However, this level of perception is considerably trickier because an attribution of order is a more complex entity than a mere event.
An attribution of order is a little structure that can be characterized by a name and one or more parameters, with the parameters themselves having different degrees of interest to people and therefore different probabilities of being perceived. As we have noted elsewhere the ability to use words to describe a proposition moves it from an intuition to knowledge; what we can name becomes known.
Searching on the second tier of abstraction therefore involves two intertwined activities; perceiving each attribution on its own, and perceiving relationships between different attributions. Each activity necessitates the other. It is very important to understand that these two intertwined activities on the second tier of abstraction are also intertwined with the perceptual activities on the first tier of abstraction – the two tiers of perception are not serially separated. Many things are going on at once and affecting each other.
The act of connecting up two different attributions in one’s mind is a very simple instance of analogy-making. Analogies vary not only in their degree of salience [i.e., obviousness] but also their degree of strength. What would it mean for some perception to exert influence on the perceptual process? The only reasonable idea would be for it to enhance the likelihood of similar perceptions to be made, and simultaneously to weaken the commitment to dissimilar perceptual structures.. Thus an obvious or powerful analogy is required to weaken the commitment to schemas which are highly valued. This means that the probabilistic biases guiding the search for regularities are altered on the basis of discoveries already made and can only be overcome through powerful intrusions which hold the potential for better utility.
For Hofstatder Analogy-making lies at the heart of pattern perception and extrapolation. Pattern-finding is the core of intelligence, [and] the implication is clear: analogy-making lies at the heart of intelligence. Analogies are the means of building upon present learning and represent a natural way of thinking as it relies on the human capacity for association. The principal technique is that of “changing contexts” in one of two ways which separate into learning and innovation. In learning we change contexts by transforming the strange into the familiar. In innovating we change contexts by transforming the familiar into the strange. Analogies are reliant not just on imitation or “reciprocal matching” as occurs with the infant, but upon imagination which requires a meta analysis of ideas and a projection of the locus of concern into the past or the future.
If, as Hofstatder suggests analogy making is the building block for increased learning, the status he gives it is supported by Myrna Shure [Interpersonal Cognitive Problem Solving] who has learned that alternative-solution thinking relates most strongly to social adjustment in young children, followed by consequential thinking. Creating alternatives may rely on the ability to use analogies in both a learning and innovative manner. What is most exciting, of course, is that such skills can be taught.
What Hofstatder is describing is a perceptual process that begins in a pure bottom-up manner but that is gradually invaded by increasing amounts of top-down influence. ‘Bottom-up’ here describes perceptual acts that are made very locally and without any context-dependent expectations; ‘top-down’ pertains to perceptual acts that attempt to bring in concepts, and to extend patterns, that have been noticed in the experience [and are ipso facto presumed to be relevant to its underlying rule]. Another term for ‘bottom-up’ is thus ‘data-driven’; and ‘top-down’ corresponds to ‘theory-driven’. As the theory or schema becomes valued [given emotional content], it become increasingly difficult to displace. Donaldson describes the potential of internal conflict regarding the interpretation of possibilities as diminishing as the top down ideologies strengthen into belief systems and to the extent she suggests that consciousness and representational resources are limited, such conflicts, even if they occur, will not even be experienced. Thus, dichotomies of thinking can and are often tolerated by individuals because they are unaware.
For Hofstatder, progress comes from repeated acts of generalization. The art of choosing the most elegant generalization [remember that elegance indicates some innate level of satisfaction and gratification] for some abstract pattern. Inventing, creating, discovering new concepts by discovering patterns in known concepts. There has to be a tacitly shared sense of worthwhile pathways to follow in the development [via generalization] of a concept; otherwise there would be no coherence. Thus Donaldson’s emerging organization of self, needs to seek a coherence within a sense of worthwhile pathways and generalization of learned responses.
Generalization outward from a conceptual center is an automatic, unconscious process that pervades thought – indeed, it defines thought. Generalization involves the ability to internally reconfigure an idea, by
- moving internal boundaries back and forth;
- swapping components or shifting substructures from one level to another;
- merging two substructures into one or breaking one substructure into two;
- lengthening or shortening a given component;
- adding new components or new levels of structure;
- replacing one concept by a closely related one;
- trying out the effect of reversals on various conceptual levels; etc.
It requires the ability to perceive a theme in all sorts of novel ways by bringing in unexpected concepts and ‘trying them on’ to see how they fit. Lastly, it requires a sense of naturalness versus forcedness, and a sense of elegance versus primitiveness. Such sense and abilities, which taken together, certainly deserve the label intuition, are subtle and elusive. The question of whether such intuition is are based on a genetic framework such as Pinker’s language instinct or Donaldson’s modes of mental functioning, remains to be seen. However, it is clear that all human beings have a sense of elegance; a sense that this proposition is more fit than that one. This sense of elegance provides an ability to dispute less rewarding concepts and presenting more utile [or elegant] ones.
Some of the important themes that crop up over and over again are the following:
- the inseparability of perception and high-level cognition, leading to the idea of a perceptual architecture being at the heart of cognition;
- the fruits of high-level perceptions being easily reconfigurable multilevel cognitive representations held loosely together by bonds of different types and different strengths;
- the idea of subcognitive pressures – namely, that the more “important” a concept or a representation is, the greater an influence it should be allowed to exert, in a probabilistic sense, on the direction of the processing;
- the commingling of many pressures, both context-dependent and context-independent, leading to a nondeterministic parallel architecture in which bottom-up and top-down processing coexists gracefully;
- the simultaneous feeling-out of many potential pathways at differential rates governed by quickly-made estimates of degree of promise;
- the centrality of the making of analogies and variations on a theme in high-level cognition;
- the possession, by cognitive representation, of deeper and shallower aspects, with the former remaining relatively immune to contextual pressures; and the later being more likely to yield under pressure [to “slip”];
- the crucial role played by the inner structure of concepts and conceptual neighborhoods in all these goals, particularly context-dependent conceptual overlap and proximity, and context-independent conceptual depth.
Pattern perception, extrapolation, and generalization are the true crux of creativity, and one can come to an understanding of these fundamental cognitive processes only by modeling them in the most carefully designed and restricted microdomains. Modeling, role playing, behavior rehearsal, feedback and reinforcement are the activities of cognitive behavior management. The teaching of skills or the extrapolation of awareness of thinking and experiences in small, progressive, continually improving steps are the keys to social change.
Cognitive change is based on the simple fact that how people think has a controlling effect on how they act. As an example of the kind of outcome personalities which are maladaptive, John M. Bush & Brian Bilodeau  describe offenders in an Options Program in prison. Common themes of antisocial thinking which include the belief and mind-set that they are being victimized. Many offenders are accustomed to feeling unfairly treated and have learned a defiant, hostile attitude as part of their basic orientation toward life and other people. From the cognitive perspective, both their perception of being victimized and their hostile responses to it are learned cognitive behaviors. They are learned ways of thinking that are reinforced by experiences of success and self gratification. For instance, the sense of victim outrage is itself a feeling of strength and righteousness, much preferable (in their mind) to feelings of weakness and vulnerability.
Offenders often think they are entitled to a kind of absolute freedom in the way they conduct their lives. They may picture themselves as living in isolation from the world, in a kind of world of their own. In their subjective world, they are in absolute control and have the absolute right to do as they please. From this point of view, any restrictions of their freedom is resented as an unjust intrusion.
When the real world fails to comply with their expectations and demands, they take a stance of righteous defiance. Relationships with other people are dominated by a struggle for power. Cooperation is seldom more than a passing convenience. Win-lose (“us and them”) is the dominant form of personal relationship.
Righteous anger, retribution, and license to do as they please, without regard to rules and consequences, become dominant themes of living. It all holds together in a kind of self-supporting logic.
This network of attitudes, beliefs, and thinking patterns on the part of offenders set up an adversarial relation to the world around them. Winning is defined in their mind as forcing someone else to lose. The gratification that comes with this kind of winning is, in some offenders, the only real satisfaction and gratification they have ever learned.
Antisocial winning has lots of forms. It may consist of direct physical assault. It may involve controlling people through fear and intimidation. Some armed robbers, for instance, take gratification in making their victims fear for their lives. It may involve the thrill and excitement of stealing, or lying, or conning, or is some other way breaking the rules and getting away with it.
When offenders win their struggle with the world, they may feel a towering sense of elation. They’re on top of the world. When they lose – for instance, when they are caught at a crime and held accountable – they feel terrible, but usually not for long. Their basic cognitive structure of attitudes, beliefs, and thinking patterns provides them with a ready interpretation of their difficulties that takes the sting out of their failure. They picture themselves as the victim and righteous anger displaces the feelings of loss and failure. With victim-stance thinking, there is no room for remorse. Righteous anger produces feelings and images of power. This logic is a vicious cycle. Whether they win or lose, the underlying cognitive structure is reinforced.
Such themes [mental schema] can be defined for each individual. While it may have no logic and even be considered bizarre to the uninformed observer, it is likely to have an internal logic based upon what the individual thinks. While such social change efforts have been the most researched and documented of all social interventions, we continue to operate on biomedical models based on reductionist theories.
We have identified social and psychological perspective of a potential process of learning which allows for social adjustment or maladjustment. The interactive quality of learning which requires at least one bond of love and security along with the continued support of both individuals and fields of influence such as group [family or peer] and culture, all of which combines to impact on how the individual creates him/herselves. The process is one which could be identified as trial and error, examining, combining and uncombining until generalizations become powerful enough to set a tone for future expectations. A selection of utile propositions occurs; a natural selection which is contingent upon past selections.
But while this social and psychological process correlates well with our experiences, what is happening in biology which may support what we have outlined? We would suggest that reductionism in search of cause and effect concerning animal behavior is simply not helpful in its present state. While one cannot ignore the biogenic aspects of behavior, it is absurd and irresponsible to suggest that a ‘chemical imbalance’ is responsible for behavior. While it is clearly true that electrochemical process must take place for any behavior to take place and that a genetic propensity allows for optional levels of performance to be available, reduction of mind to brain is simply not a valid approach.
Steven Weinberg, a physicist and avowed reductionist talks about consciousness in his book “Dreams of a Final Theory”. “It is clear that there is what a literary critic might call an objective correlative to consciousness; there are physical and chemical changes in my brain and body that I observe to be correlated [either as cause or effect] (emphasis added) with changes in my conscious thoughts.” “…it seems reasonable to suppose that these objective correlatives to consciousness can be studied by methods of science and will be eventually be explained in terms of the physics and chemistry of the brain and body.”
Notice two things about his comments. First, that he expects that science will be able to explain the objective correlatives to consciousness; not consciousness itself. Second, that he is not clear whether these objective correlatives are cause or effect. As to the first, there is no argument. The problem is that when the objective correlatives are clearly understood, they will not explain consciousness, or the mind. Part of the difficulty will be the question of cause and effect. If we correlate an adrenalin rush with fear and anger, can we assume that the adrenalin causes fear and anger? Or does the fear or anger cause the adrenalin rush? If it is the latter, consciousness somehow primes the objective correlation in order to act.
We know that the body is a self adjusting organism. This is very unlike a car or a rock. Part of the difficulty of current medicine is that it often interferes with the body’s adjustments. Thus, the immune system is weakened because of antibiotics and consciousness is weakened by psychotropic drugs. Weinberg goes on to admit that we won’t be able to predict very much, but we will understand in the same sense that we understand weather. This is an interesting comparison, which is worth pursuing. Weather, as you may be aware is a chaotic system. Weinberg later quotes James Gleick who introduced the physics of chaos to general readership.
“Chaos is anti-reductionist. This new science makes a strong claim about the world: namely, that when it come to the most interesting questions, questions about order and disorder, decay and creativity, pattern formation and life itself, the whole cannot be explained in terms of its parts. [emphasis added]
There are fundamental laws about complex systems, but they are new kinds of laws. They are laws of structure and organization and scale, and they simply vanish when you focus on the individual constituents of a complex system – just as the psychology of a lynch mob vanishes when you interview individual participants.”
The brain is a tangible physical organ constituted from molecules; but that collection of molecules seems mockingly remote from the insubstantial, complex, transient thoughts that combine to endow us with conscious awareness (Greenfield 1995). However, most scientist have sought to identify the workings of the mind, through the “objective correlate” workings of the brain.
In her exploration of consciousness called Journey to the Center of the Mind,  Susan A. Greenfield, a neuroscientist who teaches in the Laboratory of Physiology in Oxford identified some of that history.
Democritus (c. 460 – 370 B.C.) argued that there had to be a physical basis for the mind because everything in the universe was composed of small invisible particles; he envisaged the mind as made of particularly special atoms. While his intuition regarding the existence of such particles was astounding, it did little to help with our understanding of how those particles actively come to function in such a manner as to constitute the mental facilities which we call the mind.
Six hundred years later, in the second century A.D., Galen (129 – 199) proposed that our mental faculties, which was termed the psychic pneuma, resided in the cerbrospical fluid, the colorless liquid that flows within the interconnecting cavities (ventricles) lying deep in the brain and bathing the external surface of the and spinal cord. While this had substantial merit for the age, since this is a special fluid, it cannot account for the specialness of the individual personality.
Much later, Luigi Galvani (1737 – 1798) was the first to suggest that living nerve cells were conductors of electricity. This was a brilliant insight, but it took two hundred years, until the physiologists Alan Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley developed a model for describing how living nerve cells could generate electrical signals.
We now know that this electrical activity can be transiently and dramatically changed when a chemical, released by a neighboring brain cell, latches onto the outside of a neuron. This transient change in electrical activity (an action potential) causes the release of a chemical from the second nerve cell, which, in turn, acts on a third, and so on. This repeating chain of electrical and chemical events forms the basis for communication among brain cells.
In fact, neurons differ from other cells in the body in that they can generate electrical signals. These electrical signals are simply the result of an imbalance of just four types of ions (charged atoms of chloride, calcium, sodium and potassium), amounting to a net imbalance of charge across the outer wall of the cell. This imbalance of charge generates a potential difference, a voltage.
The charge allows the neurons to communicate with one another and, as we shall see, provides the basis from which the mind is developed. However, these traditional biological models, in and of themselves, are highly incongruent with reality as most of us know it. We cannot simply extrapolate from a physical situation concerning the net status of brain chemicals to a phenomenological one. Although a neuroscientist may state that depression is correlated with a decrease in the levels of a certain class of brain (amines) (Leonard 1992), that chemical change in itself does not tell us all we may want to know about the state of depression. A full understanding of depression would draw not just on the immediate physical facts but on other, phenomenological factors such as a divorce or the loss of a job (Greenfield 1995).
In fact, the cause and effect problem already mentioned may be supported by just such factors. We know that an increase in adrenaline occurs when a person experiences fear or anger, but we are not clear as to whether the fear causes the increase in adrenaline or the adrenaline causes the fear. Our experience would indicate the former.
We cannot just switch from a desire to move or from an emotion such as depression to a lone chemical or a solitary brain cell any more than we can explain fully how a car works by simply saying that the amount of fuel is a factor or that the engine needs to be turned on. Further there is no clear causal relation between the discharge of a neuron and the concomitant behavior, how would we know if one were a direct consequence of the other? This is a particularly important point because one of the more ubiquitous features of the nervous system is that neurons are often activated in just such a way (known as corollary discharge) that they might register events, and send appropriate signals to other parts of the brain, but do not necessarily mediate those events (Humphrey and Freud 1991). If the red light were broken, the iron would work just the same. (Greenfield 1995)
Everything we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell is laced with associations from previous experiences. Such associations can reasonably be assumed to contribute to a consistent profile of individuality. The neuro-ecosphere, built up slowly by a lifetime’s conglomeration of associations, determines the quality of our conscious experience. Our consciousness is not all-or-none but a variable phenomenon that grows as we do. This phenomenon is congruent with our intuitive experience of reality.
One can very easily imagine that individual brains, or rather their intrinsic neuronal connections, are gradually shaped by experience, and that in turn these modifications to the brain are constantly modifying the mind and hence the consciousness of an individual throughout life. The fact that the self can evolve does not invalidate its existence. (Greenfield 1995)
This history would suggest that there is an acute incompatibility between observations and existing theories about the mind. Medical science generally continues to reduce human consciousness to objective correlates. Oliver Sacks in his article “A New Vision of the Mind”, suggests that new theories arise from a crisis in scientific understanding, which virtually excludes the concepts of ‘mind’ and ‘consciousness’. The new vision that he reports on is a theory developed by Gerald Edelman with his colleagues at the Neurosciences Institute at Rockefeller University. This biological theory of the mind, which he calls neural Darwinism , or the Theory of Neuronal Group Selection [TNGS], serves quite well as the underpinnings for the management of cognitive behavior. What follows is a synopsis of the Sacks article. Obviously any errors in concept or intent are mine.
The answer Edelman proposes, is that an evolutionary process takes place – not one that selects organisms and takes millions of years, but one that occurs within each particular organism, and within its lifetime, by competition among cells, or selection of cells for, [or rather groups of cells] in the brain.
Edelman discusses two kinds of selection in the evolution of the nervous system; ‘developmental’ and ‘experimental’. The first takes place largely before birth. The genetic instructions in each organism provide general constraints for neural development, but they cannot specify the exact destination of each developing nerve cell, for these grow and die, migrate in great numbers and in entirely unpredictable ways; all of them are ‘gypsies’, as Edelman likes to say. Thus the vicissitudes of fetal development themselves produce in every brain unique patterns of neurons and neuronal groups [‘developmental selection’]. Even identical twins with identical genes will not have identical brains at birth; the fine details of cortical circuitry will be quite different. Such variability, Edelman points out, would be a catastrophe in virtually any mechanical or computational system, where exactness and reproducibility are of the essence, But in a system in which selection is central, the consequences are different, here variation and diversity are themselves of the essence.
The creature is born, thrown into the world, there to be exposed to a new form of selection based upon experience [‘experiential selection’]. Despite a sudden, incomprehensible [perhaps terrifying] explosion of electromagnetic radiation, sound waves, and chemical stimuli; the world encountered is not one of complete meaninglessness and pandemonium, for the infant shows selective attention and preferences from the start. These (innate) biases, Edelman calls ‘values’. Such values are essential for adaptation and survival. These ‘values’ – drives, instincts, intentionalities – serve to weigh experiences differently, to orient the organism toward survival and adaptation, to allow what Edelman calls ‘categorization on value’. ‘Values’ are experienced, internally, as feelings: without feeling there can be no animal life. Cognitive approaches acknowledge that emotions place value; thus what a person loves or hates are the most important objects, propositions or schema to them. This is highly compatible with the ‘value’ of Edelman.
At a more elementary physiological level, there are various sensory and motor ‘givens’, from the reflexes that automatically occur [for example the response to pain] to innate mechanisms in the brain, as, for example, the feature detectors in the visual cortex that, as soon as they are activated, detect verticals, horizontals, angles, etc., in the visual world. Thus we have a certain amount of basic equipment; but very little else is programmed or built in.
It is up to the infant animal, to create its own categories and to use them to make sense of, to construct a world – and its not just a world that the infant constructs, but its own world, a world constituted from the first by personal meaning and reference. The personality of the individual is just such a construction, built upon the ‘categories’ which make up the cognitive structures or schema, which in turn make up the whole person.
A unique neuronal pattern of connections is created and then, experience acts upon this pattern, modifying it by selectively strengthening or weakening connections between neuronal groups, or creating entirely new connections. The connection that Edelman identifies are what might be referred to by some biologists as ‘hard-wiring’. However, as we shall see, the wiring is not so ‘hard’ after all.
Thus experience itself is not passive, a matter of ‘impressions’ or ‘sense-data’, but active, and constructed by the organism from the start. Every perception … is an act of creation. This perceptual generalization is dynamic and not static, and depends on the active and incessant orchestration of countless details. Such a correlation is possible because of the very rich connections between the brain’s map connections, which are reciprocal, and may contain millions of fibers. A continuous ‘communication’ occurs between the active maps themselves, which enables a coherent construct such as ‘chair’ to be made.
The outputs of innumerable maps not only compliment one another at a perceptual level but are built at higher and higher levels corresponding to the themes of Hofstadter. The brain ‘categorizes its own categorizations’, and does so by a process that can ascend indefinitely to yield more generalized pictures of the world, providing a world view.
This re-entrant signaling is different from the process of ‘feedback’, which merely corrects errors. At higher levels, where flexibility and individuality are all-important and where new powers and new functions are needed and created, one requires a mechanism that can construct, not just control and correct.
The construction of perceptual categorizations, maps or themes, the capacity for generalization made possible by re-entrant signaling, is the beginning of psychic development, and far precedes the development of consciousness or mind, or of attention or concept formation – yet it is a prerequisite for all of these. Perceptual categorization is the first step, and it is crucial for learning, but is not something fixed, something that occurs once and for all. On the contrary – there is then a continual re-categorization, and this itself constitutes memory. Unlike computer-based memory, brain-based memory is inexact, but it is also capable of great degrees of generalization.
Primary consciousness is the state of being mentally aware of things in the world, of having mental images in the present. But it is not accompanied by any sense of [being] a person with a past and a future…In contrast, higher-order consciousness involves the recognition by a thinking subject of his or her own acts and affections, It embodies a model of the personal, and the past and future as well as the present…It is what we as humans have in addition to primary consciousness [Edelman].
The essential achievement of primary consciousness is to bring together the many categorizations involved in perception into a scene. The advantage of this is that ‘events that may have had significance to an animal’s past learning can be related to new events.’ The relation established will not be a causal one, one necessarily related to anything in the outside world; it will be an individual (or ‘subjective’) one, based on what has had ‘value’ or ‘meaning’ for the animal in the past. The ‘scene’ is not an image, not a picture, but is a correlation between different kinds of categorization.
Higher order consciousness arises from primary consciousness – it supplements it, it does not replace it. It is dependent on the evolutionary development of language, together with the evolution of symbols, of cultural exchange; and with this brings an unprecedented power of detachment, generation, and reflection, so that finally self-consciousness is achieved, the consciousness of being a self in the world, with human experience and imagination to call upon.
Higher order consciousness allows us to reflect, to introspect, to draw upon culture and history, and to achieve by means of a new order of development and mind. To become conscious of being conscious, Edelman stresses that systems of memory must be related to representation of a self. This is not possible unless the contents, the ‘scenes’, of primary consciousness are subjected to a further process and are themselves recategorized.
Language immensely facilitates and expands this by making possible previously unattainable conceptual and symbolic powers. The use of words to describe the variation of emotional levels is the cognitive construct which links here. Teaching a person to discriminate between rage and irritation is not simply an expansion of vocabulary; it is an expansion of conceptual and symbolic powers making possible new links.
Thus two steps, two re-entrant processes, are envisaged. First, the linking of primary (emotional or ‘value-category’) memory with current perception – a perceptual ‘bootstrapping’, that creates primary consciousness; second, a linking between symbolic memory [cognitive] and conceptual centers – the ‘semantic boot strapping’ necessary for higher consciousness. “Consciousness of consciousness” becomes possible.
In suggesting the necessity for flexibility in the classification process, Sacks relates that the theory suggests that the body-image of a person is not fixed, but plastic and dynamic, and dependent upon a continual inflow of experience and use; and that if there is continuing interference with one’s perception of a limb or its use, there is not only a rapid loss of its cerebral map, but a rapid remapping of the rest of the body which then excludes the limb itself.
Such an experience is not unlike the cognitive restructuring process in which present schema are disputed and replaced. Repetition soon overwhelms the memories [schema] providing that the continual inflow of experience provides evidence of a better way to predict and control future events. The term ‘hardwiring’ is obviously not appropriate for the ‘experimental’ evolutionary process although it may be for the developmental. For purposes of ‘higher consciousness’ the theory allows for the very changes that cognitive restructuring requires.
Daniel Dennett (1991) answers the question of “Who’s in charge?” by replying “first one coalition and then another, shifting in ways that are not chaotic, thanks to good meta-habits that tend to entrain coherent, purposeful sequences rather than an interminable helter-skelter power grab. It is this sense of purpose that is consciousness. This is a far cry from a electrochemical reaction even through that reaction is a necessary part of the process.
The theory presented by Edelman seems to holds much promise for supporting cognitive approaches. His basic thesis correlates well with the Hofstatder framework. Edelman proposes, an evolutionary process takes place – not one that selects organisms and takes millions of years, but one that occurs within each particular organism, and within its lifetime, by competition among cells, or selection of cells for, [or rather groups of cells] in the brain. This is highly coherent with the social and psychological process already described. It will be interesting to see how this evolutionary theory is accepted by the scientific community. If acceptance compares with the theory of self actualization which supports cognitive theory, there will be an effort to absorb and conquer. Since the outcomes of cognitive interventions are so powerful, it has been absorbed as a psychotherapeutic technique [despite the fact that it is of an entirely different order from introspective therapy] – the next step, if history is a guide, will be to suggest that it only works in combination with medication and incarceration. Of course these are mutually exclusive approaches; and one can expect the most intrusive to survive.
If that fails, it will be a simple matter of following the history of Moral Treatment. Moral Treatment was based “on the conception that mentally ill persons were by no means deprived entirely of susceptibility to the same influences that determine the behavior of well persons” – a revolutionary concept when doctors were bloodletting, purging, blistering, and inventing the “gyrator” machine which reduced the activity of the violent patient by making him dizzy.
Moral Treatment was so successful that in 1831 the Asylum committee of New York Hospital determined:
The physician alone is responsible for the cure of patients and the grand means of effecting this object is moral treatment; it therefore of right belongs to him.
And, of course, once the physician took control, Moral Treatment failed. Could we suggest that the belief system was not utile?
Bush, John M., & Bilodeau, Brian, Options: A Cognitive Change Program, 1993 – Prepared under an Interagency Agreement with the U.S. Navy and the National Institute of Corrections, U.S. Department of Justice.
Donaldson, Margaret, Human Minds, 199x
Greenfield, Journey to the Center of the Mind, 1992
Harlow, Harry F., Learning to Love, Albion Publishing Company, 1974.
Hofstatder, Douglas, Fluid Concepts & Creative Analogies, 1995
Sacks, A New Vision of the Mind, found in Natures Imagination, John Cornwell, Ed., Oxford University Press, 1995.
A companion article by Gerald M. Edelman and Giulio Tononi called ‘Neural Darwinism; the brain as a selectional system’ is available to outline the scientific details of the theory and the biological bases of psychological phenomena, which is not necessary for the average reader. Both articles, however, can be found in NATURE’S IMAGINATION, edited by John Cornwell and published by the Oxford University Press in 1955.
Weinberg, Steven, Dreams of a Final Theory, Pantheon Books, New York, 1992.
See Also: Bernard J. Baars “A Cognitive Theory of Consciousness”, Cambridge University Press, 1988 & Paul Pietsch “Shufflebrain” A Quest for Holographic Memory, found on the internet at http://www.inidana.edu/~pietsch/shufflebrain-bok01.html.