by Glyn Hughes
Draft No94 of Thu 3 October 2019
Body text: 10,000 words / 35 minutes
HUMAN NATUREThis little essay isn't designed to win philosophy competitions. Or book deals. It is about how I've tried to construct a system which lets me make sense of the world around me. And how, at least for me, I've succeeded.
The human genius for sorting things out seems to be matched only by their ability to screw things up. They can achieve the most wonderful, most glorious, most useful stuff. But they are also capable of breathtaking stupidity, they can even work together to act entirely against their own interests. Which is, to put it mildly, odd.
What the fuck is going on here? Surely there must be some system to all this? In order to be safe, I need to know what's going to happen next. But what humans are about to do next seems unfathomable. Surely there must be some underlying 'nature' there, some definable system? How do humans work? How do they make decisions?
Well, I'm not exactly the first to ask that sort of question. So I trudged through Kant and Kuhn and Maslow and Marx and Paine and Piaget and Hulme and Habermas and the rest and (tried) to build a Minsky Machine, and a Turing Engine. And it is all very interesting. Well, sometimes it's interesting, but mostly it is dull, dismal and, at the end, just some bloke's opinion, often decorated with dubious research and obscure reasoning.
QUOTE: "What best distinguishes our species is an ability that scientists are just beginning to appreciate: We contemplate the future.. A more apt name for our species would be Homo prospectus, because we thrive by considering our prospects. The power of prospection is what makes us wise." Martin Seligman, USA psychologist, in a New York Times Op-Ed with John Tierney, 2018And it is all too, too, too complicated for me. So I decided to give up, and try and work it out for myself. In my own way.
I made charts and diagrams. I produced lists. I didn't take long to conclude that the mind is caused by the brain. That seems settled. But the brain is a complicated place.
So I set to work to understand the brain. I got some brains to dissect - calf brains, which are the only sort you can easily buy from the butcher. Which got me nowhere. I tried making cardboard models of parts of the brain and connecting up, with coloured wool, which bits produced and which bits reacted to which chemicals. Which was fun, but just left me with a rather confused tangle.
All of which was actually no help at all. Problem was, I was trying to discover how the system worked by looking at it from the outside, a 'top-down' approach, if you like, and it is just too complicated for that. I know from long experience that very complex things often emerge out of very simple ingredients, and you don't really stand much chance of getting the cake back into its ingredients once it is out of the oven.
And, I wasn't really clear about what it was I wanted to discover, I suppose I was just hoping that, if I poked round in the tangle for long enough, I'd spot something. Some hope!
I realised I needed a different approach
Rather than looking at the edifice from outside, could I see how it was built by trying to construct a version of it myself? Could I work like a builder, and start with some sort of simple bricks, and try to create the whole thing from the ground up? Or, at least, a simple model of it? What sort of solution would that lead to? So...
1. I want a system - a model, or an algorithm if you like - which explains and predicts how humans make decisions. This will make my life safer and better.
2. It has to be so simple that even I can understand it, and apply it to everyday problems.
3. But it doesn't have to be right. It could even be, in itself, wrong. The test will be 'does it work?' 'does it actually predict how humans operate?' After all, the 'Almagest', the ancient book of the stars, turned out to be completely wrong in its reasoning, but, for a thousand years it safely guided mariners to new worlds.
4. It may not be too difficult to see why informed humans make wise decisions, but much more useful to understand how and why humans make bad decisions, to be able to predict when those bad decisions will turn up. I will judge the explanation a success when it can explain the inexplicable.
5. I'm absolutely not bothered whether my explanation fits in with the usual ways of sociology or philosophy or whatever. All I'm bothered about is producing an explanation which works.
REF: It has been said (Wolfgang Pauli?) that "The ability to predict is often the consequence of understanding, of having the right concepts, but it’s not identical with understanding." - expanded by Frank C. Keil (2011) in 'Explanation and Understanding'So, can find some suitable blocks to start building with...
If it seems obvious to begin with brain, do remember that many people still assert that the mind arises, at least in part, not from the physical brain, but from some non-physical 'spirit'. But three thousand years of people getting hit on the head, and the observation that such-and-such alteration to the brain always matches some particular change in ways of thinking has, I think, pretty much settled the matter.
REF: Theist religion requires that mind not be physical - Brace (2007) "Scientific Evidence Grows that Mind and Brain Are Separate!" http://www.ukapologetics.net/07/mindandbody.htm
REF: ... but there are physicalists, too, who postulate that brain doesn't (quite) cause mind, either by definition, eg - Sacha Bem (2013) "The Explanatory Autonomy of Psychology - Why a Mind is Not a Brain" or because the whole body influences the mind, eg - Alva Noë (2009) "Out Of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain" etc. or because some other (unknown) force governs mind, eg; Penrose (1994) "Shadows of the Mind"You can go back to the Egyptian medical textbook known as the 'Edwin Smith Papyrus' and find that ancient surgeons knew that "If you treat a man for a fracture in his temple … you may call him, but he is dazed and does not speak to you". The bit of brain behind your left temple is now known as 'Broca's Area', after the French physician who discovered that it is usually (if you're right-handed) associated with the formation of speech.
REF: Broca (1863) "Localisations des fonctions cérébrales. Siège de la faculté du langage articulé" https://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Broca/aphemie.htmWe've come a long way since the 1870s when Camillo Golgi discovered that a silver-based dye would only colour the little nerve fibres which make up the brain, so they could be seen individually for the first time.
REF: Golgi (1873) "Sulla struttura della sostanza grigia del cervello" http://ppp.unipv.it/camillogolgi/pdf/Sullasostanza%20grigia.pdfNow there's all those PET and fMRI scans with nicely-coloured images of brains purporting to show where the 'chocolate-desiring nodule' or the 'music appreciation zone' has been discovered, or even that the 'believing in God area' is above your right ear. But those brain-spot pictures are rarely quite as clear and simple as the Sunday Papers make out. Even where it seems clear which brain zones usually do what, they're still just bits of brain, even while they're doing it. The 'knowing pears' bit doesn't contain a picture of a pear or even glow or throb when pear is present.
At first I though neurotransmitters would hold the key to a simple understanding how the brain constructs the mind. These are the chemicals released when signals cross the boundary from one nerve cell to the next. Dopamaine seems to be associated with pleasure and motivation, serotonin to discernment of significance and oxytocin with trust.
But, of course, it isn't anything like that simple. Although they're all built out of the same four or five elements, there are actually dozens and dozens of different substances which act as neurotransmitters. And they interact, not just with the brain, but with each other, some excite production, and some inhibit it. It is far from clear precisely when or why, or often where, they're produced, or what effect they have on nerve cells.
I've learned that neurotransmitters may be where I end up, but they're not the place to start. Though I have learned a few things along the way:
1. I've found no evidence for the right-brain=artistic v. left-brain=analytic story.
2. "We only use 5% of our brains". Well, I only use 1/8th of the gears in my car at any one time.
3. I can't find any significant male/female brain differences.
4. While certain brain bits commonly seem to do such-and-such, localisation is rarely absolute.
But, if I'm going to have any chance of making simple sense of it all, clearly a quite different approach is needed. I've spent years going through all this, and I have not been hasty in coming to a conclusion.
It is tempting to assume that complicated things should match to complicated causes, but it is the history of useful Modelling that simple principles have been found to explain complex phenomena. It is a difficult observation of the world to discover that quarks give rise to nuns.
So, if the general principles of mind are the same everywhere in mind, and if mind is caused by brain, I need to first find that which is the same everywhere in brain. What is the universal building block from which I can try to assemble my model of mind?
Which is easy. The whole brain system - and nothing else - is made up of little fibre-like neurones, each like a bit of frayed string. They differ in shape and size, but they all work in more-or-less the same way.
The neurones together form a vastly complicated system with myriads of connections and multitudes of branches. Perhaps 20 thousand million neurones in the wrinkly outer cortex of a human brain and another 60 thousand million or so across the various fiddly little brain-organs on the inside
Neurones carry impulses round the brain, so it has been tempting to think of them as being like wires and the whole system as something like a telephone exchange or a computer. But this is a very wrong analogy, which has led to considerable confusion.
It is a very wrong analogy because electrical impulses in wires can be strong or weak, they can operate at different frequencies. They can have polarity one way, or the other. The electrical potential in a wire affects the whole wire. It can be tapped-into at any point and directed-off in any number of directions simultaneously. Electrical signals can carry information, even several different informations in the same wire. It can stop and start instantly. Telephone systems send messages. Computers store data, retrieve 'memory', find 'files'. Neurones aren't like any of that.
Treating the entire system as, at its simplest level, just an assemblage of similar blocks immediately suggests a view that many mental functions - reasoning, decision-making, memory and judgement - can be done anywhere across the brain, for any purpose, rather than there being a special, say, 'reasoning organ' or, in the old meaning of the term, a central 'common sense'. And it seems to be so.
REF: Experiments seem to confirm that judgement is a thing done 'supermodaly; across the brain - Olaf Blanke (2017) 'A Brain System That Builds Confidence in What We See, Hear and Touch'
REF: An interesting pointer to decision-making being possible throughout the brain comes from people suffering an absolute inability to make decisions (akinetic mutism) where "Lesions that disrupt agency occur in many different locations, but fall within a separate network, defined by connectivity to the precuneus" - Darby &.al (2018) 'Lesion network localization of free will' https://www.pnas.org/content/115/42/10792.short?rss=1There are much better analogies for how the neuronal system works. The one I suggest using is that of the old-fashioned pinball game machine.
THE PINBALL BRAINThe journey of an impulse along a neuronal track is rather like the journey of a shiny ball along the track of a pinball machine.
REF: The, now universally-accepted, principle that nerve transmissions involve a something taking time to travel along a track is generally traced to Emil du Bois-Reymond (1866) 'Vitesse de la transmission de la volonté et de la sensation a travers les nerfs' (who then spoiled it by declaring that thought, language and free-will were unanswerable riddles "Ignoramus et ignorabimus")
With pinball you can't get the ball rolling directly. You have to bash - or pull - a knob, which puts energy into a spring. It is then, not the initial impulse, but the spring which releases that energy in its own way and shoves the ball along a track to go about its business.
The impulse which starts the ball rolling along a neuronal 'track' has to be strong enough to energise the start mechanism. If it isn't strong enough, the ball just stays where it is.
If the impulse is strong enough then it properly energises the starting spring and away the ball goes. If the impulse is very strong or even very, very strong, it makes no whit of difference. It is the spring which does the work. Pulling the knob harder or faster don't not make no difference at all.
REF: The universal 'threshold potential' spring. - Rushton (1927) 'The effect upon the threshold for nervous excitation of the length of nerve exposed...'One ball at a time, and only one ball in only one direction. Always at the same speed, and the same sort of ball every time, everywhere. And what's more, you have to wait for one ball to go on its way before the next one can be fired off.
REF: The 'one at a time' firing is a consequence of 'afterhyperpolarization' and thus the delay needed for membrane potassium permeability to return to its usual value before the next 'pule' or 'ball'. It is about 3ms, widely established and measured - Curtis & Eccles (1958) 'The time courses of excitatory and inhibitory synaptic actions'Neurones really are a bit like trackways, but the 'ball' isn't a steel sphere of course. It is sometimes called an 'action potential' - a sort of bundle of electrical charges - which dashes down the track transferring bits of itself back-and-forth with the track as it goes, keeping up its speed.
Where it gets interesting is what happens when the 'ball' arrives at a junction. Will it go this way? Or that? This isn't just "the moment of decision" in any abstract sense, it is actually what happens to make decisions one way or the other. It is the process of Reason.
The connections are actually effected by the transfer of ions across the little gap between the end process of one neuron and the start process of the next. By 'ions' is meant molecules with a + or a – electrical charge, so that. ultimately, the 'decision' about which route to take is dependent on electrical attraction. That is not to say that the system is like the electrical circuits we builds - I will say again that the brain is not like a computer - but rather that all chemical, and most physical, effects occur, at the smallest scale, by virtue of electrical attraction or repulsion, '+' charge teams up with '-', the 'finding of matched pairs'
REF: The 'HH' model gives a working electrical description of how neurones operate, by processes of attraction and repulsion along the nerve fibre - Hodgkin & Huxley (1952) 'A quantitative description of membrane current and its application to conduction and excitation in nerve'The 'ball' will it will go towards the thing on the other side which is, in terms of electrical potential, provides a matched pair with itself.
REF: The 'Synaptic Gap' and the doctrine of independent neurones - Ramón y Cajal (1900?) 'Histology of the nervous system of humans & vertebrates'
This too complicated. How can I get just the essence of it in a few words? Well, Dalton summarised atoms in just 5 lines, Newton explained motion in 3, Clausius did thermodynamics in 2 and Bullialdus first explained gravity in 1. I'll roughly summarise how neurons work, like this:
An impulse bashing on the end of a neuron, if, only if, and when sufficiently strong, pushes off a single 'ball' of fizzing potential forwards along the single neuronal 'track', until, at the end, it bashes a way across to the start of that next nearest neuron whose potential does not (by comparison) entirely match its own (is more attracted, than repulsed) (best matches its requirements) (its potential need). So on and on, each successive new ball smoothing out ('habituating') the trackway for the next time as it goes, until the 'ball' eventually meets a place where its own potential compares completely to a matching potential (is wholly attracted), then its journey ends and it, and its energy, is taken up (accepted) into the system..
..the whole process can be described as a system of comparison-and-match - does the polarity of this ion form a matched pair with that one. If the match is imperfect but strong - the impulse goes that way and smooths that route for next time. If the match is perfect, the impulse is taken up.OK, that's a bit wordy yet, and a hugely simplified explanation. I should have also explained how those neurotransmitter chemicals inhibit or encourage the match-process, how one little change can lead to a cascade of events, about averaging and parallel processing and summation and a dozen other things. But I haven't. I'll stick with just this very simple explanation of the basic building-block and see where we can get from there. It's crude, and it has been done with words, and worse, written words, which can never be more than a rough approximation of the world of real things. All the same, as far as it goes, it is quite a good explanation.
Unfortunately it is also one of those explanations which commits the Philosopher's Sin of 'reductionism' - it reduces the problem to a mechanism, but doesn't really show what it does. A bit like taking an idea apart to see how it works, and then leaving the bits all over the floor of the philosophical workshop.
Equally, it is leading towards the Scientist's Sin of conflating levels of analysis and the Logician's Sin of Improper Composition, of assuming that what happens at one level is what happens at others.
However, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with a reductionist explanations, as long as I can put the bits back together and make the edifice tick again. And it is fine to treat different levels of analysis as giving the same results if, on inspection, they do give the same results.
NOTE: One day I'd very much like to introduce a set of tests for theories of mind along the lines of the famous Koch’s Postulates used in pathology.So, if I want to show how the brain constructs the mind, I need to show that this explanation of what the brain does actually matches our observations of what the mind does. Demonstrate it, as it were, from both directions.
Which I will now proceed to do.
REF: Sigmund Freud, before he was famous, put a huge amount of work into trying to do the same as I'm doing here - to infer from the polarity of ions in neurons how the whole shebang worked. Unfortunately, rather than just letting the thing grow itself, he tried to skew it towards proving the existence of the 'id' and 'ego', so it didn't work and he withdrew it - (1895) Project for a scientific psychology'
Remember the ball? The whole system is absolutely all-or-nothing. At each junction, either this one thing matches that one thing and the ball goes. Or it doesn't. There isn't any half-matched or a bit matched. It is all or nothing, one thing or the one other. This is the process of thinking.
REF: The 'Rulkov Map' is neat way of modelling the distinct 'on'-'off' cycling of neurones - Rulkov (2001) 'Modeling of spiking-bursting neural behavior using two-dimensional map'
REF: "The types of mathematical model which have been used to represent all-or-none behavior in the nerve membrane.." - FitzHugh (1955) 'Mathematical models of threshold phenomena in the nerve membrane'Now the world 'out there' isn't like that, black and white. The world is a place of subtle graduations, variation, fuzz, wobble and bits of this and that. But because of the way our neurones work, human Reason puts stuff into pairs - where one 'matches' and the other doesn't - even when the world isn't like that. We pass judgement only in dichotomies.
Of course, there are occasions where things are actually black and white, for instance if one thing is black and another white. But when there is only a limited data set, which is a way of saying "most-of-the-time", the neuronal system picks one-and-the-other all-or-nothing judgements, which make for easy comprehension, but which usually just aren't there
QUOTE: "For I assure you that the darkest man is here the most highly esteemed & considered better than others who are not so dark. These people portray & depict their gods and their idols black & their devils white as snow." Rustichello of Pisa, translated by Ronald Latham (1298) 'The Description of The World, as told by Marco Polo'Consider the commonplace practice of referring to human people as 'black' and 'white' according to their skin colour. Why such a judgement ever happens ought to be a puzzle, because it is entirely ludicrous. Paper is white and ink is black, but not even albino Norwegians have white skin nor do suntanned Namibs have black skin.
Yet this false duality is so pervasive that it may sometimes be necessary to point to a cosmetician's colour chart to show that humans are actually all variegated pinky-brown. Black and white are opposites, and humans do not by skin tone belong in opposing camps.
Then there's the whole class of 'boundary problems', where it is thought very important for us to decide where one thing becomes the other thing. Like the ancient 'sorites' question "how many grains of sand do you need to make a heap of sand", or the general 'demarcation' problem of deciding what is 'science' as opposed to 'guesswork'. For the most part these problems can't be solved by observing the world, and the solutions often don't matter much anyway. They arise as 'problems' simply because our mind is not content until it finds a clear match-non-match pair.
REF: The centrality of Demarcation Problems - Popper (1935) 'The Logic of Scientific Discovery'
REF: ...and how explanation of why they arise or seem important is lacking - Laudan (1983) 'The Demise of the Demarcation Problem'
If you're not sure whether or not we really do think in dichotomies, then:
Yes and No. Good and Bad. Faith and Doubt. Fast and Slow. Forward and Backward. Hard and Soft. Crooked and Straight. Angels and Demons. Beautiful and Ugly. Mind and Body. Blunt and Pointed. Bright and Dark. East and West. Far and Near. Acid and Alkali. Guilty and Innocent. Communists and Capitalists. Fat and Thin. God and The Devil. Happy and Sad. Left and Right. Legal and Illegal. Accepted and Rejected. Light and Dark. Long and Short. Love and Hate. Heaven and Hell. Help and Hindrance. Honesty and Deceit. Fine and Coarse. Old and New. Fact and Fiction. Friends and Enemies. North and South. Gay and Straight. Friend and Foe. Hot and Cold. Common and Rare. Humans and Animals. In and Out. Induction and Deduction. Major and Minor. Heavy and Light. Clean and Dirty. Native and Immigrant. Nature and Nurture. Now and Then. Odd and Even. Open and Shut. Me and You. Here and There. Men and Women. Metal and Non-Metal. True and False. Universal and Particular. Yours and Mine. Natural and Fake. Up and Down. Pass and Fail. Subject and Object. People and Animals. Monism and Pluralism. Order and Chaos. Success and Failure. Tall and Short. Private and Personal. The Reds and The Blues. Them and Us. Top and Bottom. Tough and Weak. Partial and Complete. Past and Present. Positive and Negative. Rationalism and Empiricism. Realism and Idealism. Organic and Inorganic. Rich and Poor. Right and Wrong. Rough and Smooth. Self and Others. Sensible and Stupid. Slow and Fast. Us and Them. Wet and Dry. Positive and Negative. Win and Lose. Smooth and Rough. Spiritual and Material. Wise and Foolish. Yes and No. Yin and Yang. Rulers and Ruled. Off and On. Kind and Cruel. Real and Imaginary. Science and Supposition. Pure and Defiled. Art and Craft. Home and Away.
And this dichotomous thinking seems equally prevalent among people from the political left or the right, members of the upper and the lower class, natives and foreigners.
REF: In ‘The Evolution of Manuscript Traditions’ (2015) Michael P. Weitzman tries to show that the curiosity of two-valued analysis of manuscript history has a statistical inevitability. Paolo Canettieri et.al in 'Ecdotics and Information Theory' (2005) in deciding how to unravel the reasons for the two-branching form of phylogenetic trees, amongst other things, begin by deciding that “There are two different approaches…”!
Administrative politics is a great case. There, the subtle and complex interplays of the world are crushed down to a simple right and wrong. 'Our party' offers absolute improvement and lasting joy in every sphere of life, while 'their party' guarantees only failure and misery. This is rubbish, of course, but we are made of the same flabby brain-matter as the politicians, and we go along with it.
REF: 24,100+ references in published papers to something-or-other being a 'false dichotomy', and that's just since 1950 - Google Scholar "False Dichotomy" https://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=%22false+dichotomy%22&btnG=&hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C5&as_ylo=1950
REF: The concept of a basic 'a priory' knowledge 'built-in' to all humans, from which all other understandings arise occurs in Latin translations of Euclid (c300BC) 'Elements of Geometry'I'll call this simple Model the 'ToC', the Theory of Comparison.
Do you agree with it? Or disagree? Is that right, or wrong? Is the theory good or bad? Help or hindrance?
Even where it seems that something is 'a bit right', you find that you have no choice but to determine how many individual bits of it are right or wrong, and do a calculation. Which will need mathematics …
The principles of logic and mathematics are not simply true because we volitionally choose never to allow them to be anything else, they are true because they match the very system on which our brains and our minds operate.
It is not surprising, therefore, that mathematics is held in such high esteem as an inviolable source of proofs which humans ought to accept.
Humans can only reason by matching one thing with one other thing, so what do we do when there are several things to compare, or messy graduations? We resort to our structured Logics - mathematical, philosophical, tabular, Bayesian, statistical - which have been invented to allow incomprehensible multi-factored arguments to be re-assembled, one-by-one, in ways which allow one-by-one comparisons. Tellingly, such logics can never determine whether a thing is True or not, just that the form of making-a-match is sound.
Though it may sometimes seem, as Galileo said, that the universe is written in the language of mathematics, rather, mathematics is the written language of Our universe.
REF: "La filosofia è scritta in questo grandissimo libro, l'universo ... Egli è scritto in lingua matematica," - Galileo Galilei (1623) 'Il Saggiatore (The Assayer) Capitolo VI'
According to this theory, Truth is robbed of its independence. Facts are never true. There are no definitive facts, only comparisons. They only become true in comparison with something else. Truth resides in the logical space between two facts. It is the comparison which creates Truth, not the things being compared.
But what compared to what? One situation is where new information is compared to the natural world, or to a recollection or report of the state of the natural world. This 'Natural Truth' is the perhaps the commonest type of truth-comparison, and is the basis of what we call the Natural Sciences. 'Natural Truth' has the advantage of being largely independent of human systems - so we can always go out there to check again if some assertion does really match the world. But Natural Truth is not the only possible truth.
Our experience of making comparisons and so creating truths tends to inform us that there is only one match, and so there can only ever be one truth, making it very puzzling when another person asserts a different truth regarding the same subject-matter. There is indeed only ever one possible truth, because the truth-making system is of one thing compared to one other thing and either it matches or it doesn't. But it is easy to miss that it is the process of comparison and match which constitutes the truth, not the things compared.
So, if one person judges the truth of some bit of information by comparing it with the Natural World, but another by comparison with the pronouncements of The Holy Book, or the words of The Great Leader, or simply with 'the way Our Gang usually do it', there is absolutely no point whatever the one declaring the other wrong. There is equally no point in trying to show that any particular comparison-base, say, the Great Founding Document, is itself wrong when compared with some other - even if the other is the Natural World.
REF: Even when presented with clear evidence that they're wrong, people are still biased towards their customary expectations - Kahan &.al (2013) 'Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government'
REF: ... and people highly accustomed to their judgements matching the world are even less likely to accept it when it don't - Taber & Lodge (2013) 'Motivated Scepticism in the Evaluation of Political Beliefs'In the judicial system, 'justice' - the circumstance where events are matched with equity to their outcomes - may or may not coincide with 'law', where circumstances are compared with the established written records. When Justice v. Law themselves don't match, this is seen as bad and wrong.
REF: That if the necessary matches of Justice and Law don't themselves match it makes a 'double wrong' is well-established, eg; Martin Luther King, Jr (1963) 'Letter from Birmingham Jail'To His followers, if new stuff matches the teachings of The Wise Sage, then it is true. And it is quite genuinely and completely True, for them if not for you.
REF: There may be just one system to find truths, but there can be more than one truth - Gould (1997) 'Nonoverlapping Magisteria 'NoMa'
REF: ... and it's surprising who sort-of agrees - Pope John Paul II (1996) "Truth Cannot Contradict Truth" and (1998) "Fides et Ratio"
REF: ... and the occasional distinguished philosopher agrees too, with only the proviso that 'my truth is actually the right one' - Dennet (2008) 'Problems with NOMA' (Interview) and - Pigliucci (2010) 'Nonsense on Stilts'
I should be able to use ToC itself to determine which, but when I try to compare these three tricky terms with the real world, or with popular usage or with this book or that pronouncement, I find that there is no sharp distinction out there.
The best I can do is aggregate the comparisons I find and say that: Truth is found between things which match, it can take many forms, but only ever has one, absolutely definitive, cause. Belief is that particular truth which I - by virtue of the various comparisons I've done in my time - have no choice but to accept. Opinion is usually 'that truth which I am willing to profess, or, to use an old word, 'to opine'' and is therefore a social construct made by comparing effective utterances with the results they get from the others.
One would hope that a person's Beliefs matched their Opinions, because ToC. But they don't have to, and when we discern they don't match, that person is bad.
(I've rather conflated 'all good things' v 'all bad things' with ToC when I should be able to tease out 'good' from 'right' or 'true' and 'bad' from 'wrong' or 'failed'. But this whole ToC thing is a very, very simplified system, so it'll have to do for the minute)
An aside: It is amusing to speculate that we might all be living in a computer simulation, or a hologram, or that the entire universe and everything in it keeps expanding, or contracting, or pulsating, or in solipsism, or that there is another universe, or that my brain has been transferred to something else, or there are two worlds or that I've been reborn into completely different life, or that time keeps stopping and starting – ToC shows these are unanswerable, because, as they concern 'everything', there is nothing left to compare with.
REF: Sense of 'self' is not continuous, it is dependent on inputs - Goldberg &.al (2006) 'When the Brain Loses Its Self: Prefrontal Inactivation during Sensorimotor Processing'
REF: When contact with other humans is lost, sense of selfhood is substantially lost too - Lisa Guenther (2013) 'Solitary Confinement, Social Death and Its Afterlives'
REF: "We do not have access to other people’s internal experiences, and we may use our own experience to try to simulate what someone might be feeling or thinking" - 'The advantages and disadvantages of self-insight:New psychological and neural perspectives' Jennifer S. Beer, Michelle A. Harris (2019)In this way, gang allegiance is always some sort of extension of self, is always available to match things to, and so can be extraordinarily strong. It can be as strong in accepting things which match as it can be violently opposed to things which don't.
REF: People divide into two groups even when there's no practical difference between the groups - Xin Yang and Yarrow Dunham (2019) "Minimal but Meaningful: Probing the Limits of Randomly Assigned Social Identities"Nations, States, clubs, work-groups, religions, sporting clubs, political parties, academic institutions and 'our culture' are all gangs, all can be constructed in the same way, and with much the same consequences. 'Our Gang' is completely right, not because it has any unusually advantageous features, but simply because it matches what we're used to.
It is often asserted that religion is the cause of wars - this is not the case. Rather religion and war both have the same genesis.
QUOTE: "Thus, we never see the true state of our condition till it is illustrated to us by its contraries, nor know how to value what we enjoy, but by the want of it." Daniel Defoe (1719) 'Robinson Crusoe'Understanding humans is substantially the matter of understanding how they form gangs, and which one each believes they rightly belong to.
Where the first encounters with other humans are with ones very closely matching oneself, in looks, speech and style, then everything around is 'correct' and 'good'. This circumstance seems to create a wonderfully strong, stable, contented, sense of gang membership and 'belonging', but it can leave people genuinely terrified by the prospect of even slightly different - non-matching - people or manners. It can also leave them prey to Hermann Göring's Principle that; "The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked..."
REF: Politically 'right' people are more constant, but 'left' people react better to change - Amodio &.al (2007) "Neurocognitive correlates of liberalism and conservatism"
REF: There need be no absolute correlation of poor education with a poor store of knowledge of the world, but there seems to be an intriguingly clear correlation between poor education and strong 'status quo ante' politics - Parameshwaran (2015) "The UKIP voters of tomorrow" - New Statesman (2014) "Ukip does well in areas with failing schools" Pew Research Centre (2015) Democrats lead by 22 points among adults with post-graduate degrees "Probability of voting for Le Pen decreases as the level of education rises" -Vincent Tiberj (2013) "Des Votes et des Voix"If, on the other hand, self comes to be compared to a wide range of different human types, the result is less 'belonging', and so a much stronger sense of individual identity. The 'self' is central and all is compared to it. Such people seem to be significantly insecure but much more adaptable and not so easily frightened or controlled.
If that sounds a bit like the sociologists old idea of 'socially-actualized' versus 'self-actualized' persons, then so it is, and there you have the mechanism behind it. But pause a moment. As usual, there aren't really just two opposed socialisation types, there's a whole host of fiddly variants. I can't seem to escape from the ToC, even while trying to explain the ToC.
REF: 'Self-Actualisation' begins with - Kurt Goldstein (1939) "The Organism: A Holistic Approach to Biology Derived from Pathological Data in Man" and goes on with many others, including - Maslow (1943) "A Theory of Human Motivation" etc...
QUOTE: 'Grammatica una et eadem est secundum substantiam in omnibus linguis, licet accidentaliter varietor' (Grammar is one and the same in all languages, substantially, though it may vary, accidentally, in each of them.) Roger Bacon (1245) 'Summa Grammatica'Grammar is demonstrably far too wildly variable for it to be the root cause of language as Bacon (and Chomsky) suggest. But it just 'feels', doesn't it, that there must be some sort of built-in system which 'runs' language? ToC.
REF: Children have to learn to separate into two by gender, it is not inborn: Children's Search for Gender Cues Martin & Ruble (2004)It might well be a better world if those of atypical sexuality could simply be such as they are, but the too desperate human need to divide-to-two and match-to-normal means that even they themselves often feel that it is impossible to identify with anything other than one of the established one-or-the-other, which may then be uncomfortable, because it doesn't actually match the facts.
ToC provides an explanation for why the puzzle exits, and no solution.
One day I may go through the current list of 177 Cognitive Biases, but, so far, I think pretty much all of them, from the Framing Effect and Berkson's Paradox to Ingroup Bias and Ultimate Attribution Error can be explained by the ToC fact that humans aren't seeking truth or value or goodness - we're simply seeking things which match.
REF: Jason Collins agrees that the many cognitive biases must have all one, fairly simple, cause, but he goes for - I think needlessly complicated - reproductive biology - Collins (2019) 'Please, Not Another Bias! The Problem with Behavioral Economics'
QUOTE: "So long as an opinion is strongly rooted in the feelings, it gains rather than lose in stability by having a preponderating weight of argument against it. For if it were accepted as a result of argument, the refutation of the argument might shake the solidity of the conviction; but when it rests solely on feeling, the worse it fares in argumentative contest, the more persuaded its adherents are that their feeling must have some deeper ground, which the arguments do not reach ; and while the feeling remains, it is always throwing up fresh entrenchments of argument to repair any breach made in the old."- JS Mill (1869) 'The Subjection of Women'
REF: Motivated reasoning - When people receive information they are often reminded of what beliefs they currently hold, and what beliefs they aspire to hold (motivated beliefs) - Michael Thaler (2019)The 'Fake News' Effect: An Experiment on Motivated Reasoning and Trust in News -
REF: Racial preference can be correlated to neuronal activity, but it is still just familiarity at work - Golby &.al (2001) "Differential responses in the fusiform region to same-race and other-race faces"
REF: This paper, reviewing racial familiarity/preference reports with conclusions about n-plasticity was reviewed as "Racism is hardwired into the brain, say scientists" in the Daily Mail and "Jew scientist outlines brainwashing plans" on 4Chan - Kubota &.al (2012) "The neuroscience of race"Thus the person accustomed to little (or no) variety in humans will crave a world around them of people who look and sound, and think, like themselves. We should not think of such racists as being perniciously nasty - they are genuinely terrified of difference.
THE 'CENTRAL MISTAKE'A similar process can also lead us, idiot children and distinguished professors alike, to make 'The Central Mistake' of assuming that "everybody knows... what I know".
QUOTE: "Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world. This is an error of the intellect as inevitable as that error of the eye which lets us fancy that on the horizon heaven and earth meet. This explains many things, and among them the fact that everyone measures us with his own standard — generally about as long as a tailor’s tape, and we have to put up with it: as also that no one will allow us to be taller than himself — a supposition which is once for all taken for granted." Arthur Schopenhauer (1890) 'Studies in Pessimism'
Whether something is 'right' or 'wrong' is determined by whether it matches what we have previously come to know. If it is the case that the new thing matches the other known thing then we ought and must accept it as 'correct'. This simple rule is the rule of human conduct.
My behaviours are 'correct' and 'good' - are 'moral' - when they match the behaviours previously presented to me. This presentation could be behavioural descriptions passed to me in laws or other social rules. It could be by matching what everybody else is doing. Or it could be by observing that other persons match me in many respects, so they should match what seems nice for me.
REF: People will profess very obviously wrong things as 'right' if people around them do so too - Asch (1951). 'Effects of group pressure on the modification and distortion of judgments'So strong are such rules that it sometimes seems as if they ought to have some real, definitive and factual basis beyond just the relative correctness of human opinion, a 'universal moral code'. And they do indeed have such an unshakeable and independent basis - it is , as always, the process of comparison and match itself.
This is broadly similar to Walter Isard's principle, in economics, of 'Trade Gravity', and, I suspect, can be predicted using more-or-less the same formula, as it has more-or-less the same ToC cause:
REF: Isard's famous analysis is in economics, but just as valid in ethics; "..the research has largely been conducted .. in a dimensionless world; and the variables in whose analyses regional scientists are expert have by and large been neglected" - Walter Isard (1954) 'The projection of world (multiregional) trade matrices'
REF: Just one example of many - Paul K. Piff &al. (2012) 'Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior'
Human societies have different rules on all sorts of bits of life, but there is no society which does not laud Honesty, Faithfulness, Justice, Diligence, Fairness, Freedom and Courage.
|The Seven Necessary Virtues
|What I say = What I do
|Allegiance then = Allegiance now
|Extent of action = Extent of recompense
|What I begin = What I complete
|What one has = What all have
|That I wish to do = That I may do
|Danger presented = Danger confronted
There are some puzzlingly clear demonstrations that humans don't generally act for their advantage, but are led by the absolute need to find a matching thing. Which works all the way up to; "They killed our innocent people, so we are OK to kill their innocent people."
There are some are traits so prized, simply because they involve accurate matches, that it is even customary to laud those who use them to disadvantage. "They may have made a rubbish job of it, but, hurrah! they diligently carried it out to the end!" Or, "None of us got enough of the stuff to do anything with, but at least it was fairly distributed!" "We didn't want to hear it, and I wish I hadn't, but he did tell the truth!" "It may be rubbish, but it is what we voted for". This is the cause of the 'sunk cost' fallacy.
Foolish warriors in pointless wars still get given medals.
REF: Creatures get angry if their treatment doesn't match that of their neighbours, even if the treatment is helpful - Brosnan & DeWaal (2003) "Monkeys reject unequal pay"Equally oddly, we commonly decry people who do a great and helpful job, but didn't abide by some matching thing. Consider the politician who changes a policy to improve it, and is then, not praised, but shouted down for 'inconsistency' and 'hypocrisy'.
Consider, too, the proponent of some doctrine – say Marxism or Austrian Economics – who require the world to match their plan, even in cases where their plan is demonstrably incompetent. Much harm has come because of this.
QUOTE: "..the search for a single, overarching ideal because it is the one and only true one for humanity, invariably leads to coercion. And then to destruction, blood—eggs are broken, but the omelette is not in sight, there is only an infinite number of eggs, human lives, ready for the breaking. And in the end the passionate idealists forget the omelette, and just go on breaking eggs" - Isaiah Berlin '(1994) A Message to the 21st Century'Think for a moment - the dislike of hypocrisy seems to be obvious and intuitive, but, really it is quite puzzling. There is no particular reason why one shouldn't condemn in others the behaviours you approve in yourself. But the two attitudes, when compared, don't match, so it's bad.
REF: "we are more confident that two people who have committed similar crimes should get a similar sentence than we are confident of what that sentence would be." - Jeremy Waldron (2018) 'One Another’s Equals: The Basis of Human Equality'Human value-judgements often seem deeply puzzling. But it isn't necessary to pretend a solution by invoking some mystical origin. Nor is it necessary to try to show that they are derived from any need to create benefit - sometimes they do, but they often don't. The Necessary Virtues are simply embodiments of the neuronal rule that things which match are accepted. That's it.
REF: Ian Morris looks to social interactions to create values, and correctly (according to ToC) guesses that "fairness and justice" must be neuronal hardwiring - Morris (2015) "The Unexpected Origin of Human Values"Were it not for the rule of the ToC, 'fairness' would just be somebody's random preference.
REF: It has been taken that a child's sense of fairness is 'constructed' from experience and arises about age 8, but this study suggests it is (1) apparent from age 3, (2) children will accept unequal distributions if the procedure gave everyone an equal chance - Jan M.Engelmann and Michael Tomasello (2019) Children’s Sense of Fairness as Equal Respect
QUOTE: "Obedience is, without doubt, more meritorious than any austerity. And what greater austerity can be thought of than that of keeping one’s will constantly submissive and obedient?" Saint Catherine of BolognaThe functionary at Nuremberg expecting their "I was only following orders" to be accepted, or the daily irritation of petty officials and parking wardens "only doing their job" are equal instances of precisely the principle that if a thing (my plan of behaviour, my orders) matches (my actual behaviour) then I have done that which is correct and right and good.
REF: People will do nasty stuff if you clearly tell them to - Milgram (1962) "Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View" - Haney &.al (1971) "The power and pathology of imprisonment" etc...
REF: The Milgram Experiments - where volunteers gave dangerous electric shocks to 'victims' have often been presented as showing that humans will 'do as they are told'. In fact, they aren't that simple, though they did show that when other actors volubly 'refused' to comply, the volunteers did so too. The general 'do what matches' is shown - Nissani (1990) " A Cognitive Reinterpretation of Stanley Milgram's Observations on Obedience to Authority" - Blass (1999) "The Milgram Paradigm After 35 Years: Some Things We Now Know About Obedience to Authority"What ought to be especially baffling here is that the 'following orders' excuse is often accepted - another demonstration that there is no special moral sense in humans beyond 'it matches'.
Likewise and conversely, we daily discover that our internal conceptions and beliefs don't always match the imputs and visions we get from outside, so it is clear that our internal world is not a source of correct perceptions and so we are forced to conclude that an outside world exists.
But dreams are identified as not-correct because they don't match other experiences. When we wake from dreaming sleep we find a world around us which correctly matches the world which we left behind when we went to bed. It is then we realise that our dreams didn't match what is around us, and so dreams get marked as 'unreal' and 'not true'.
REF: Neural activity associated with bizarre dreams is 'loose'; it does not correlate to other n-activity in the way normal recollection does - Benedetti &.al (2015) "Right hemisphere neural activations in the recall of waking fantasies and of dreams"How and why the world of dreams runs into a channel of its own and seems so real and so complete (as long as there is nothing else to compare it with) is closely bound up with the nature of consciousness itself …
REF: I've been intrigued by the discovery by Carson Stringer and chums that brain activity in what are taken to be 'dedicated' brain areas continues - to some extent - when stimulus is withdrawn (2018) "Spontaneous behaviors drive multidimensional, brain-wide population activity"
REF: The 'Hard Problem' - Chalmers (1995) "Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness"Actually, not a just a Hard Problem, but an insoluble problem. Why? Because the essence of consciousness being that it is internal and personal means that there isn't really anything outside itself to compare it with. And, if you can't make a comparison, you can't define a thing. Judgement is the making of comparisons. Everything has to first be like something to be explained.
All the same, consciousness seems to be important, so it would be handy to know how it arises and what it does.
About the only thing you can say of consciousness with any concord is that it is more than just 'awareness'. A thermostat is aware of the temperature around it. But our experience of consciousness is set apart by a certain reverberance - I'm aware that I'm aware, I know that I'm knowing, I can 'see' that I'm seeing and so on. How does this arise? And why and when?
REF: Conscousness has no single 'seat' in the brain but is characterised by widespread interrelated activity - Gaillard &.al (2009) "Converging Intracranial Markers of Conscious Access"Which brings us up against the BIG Problem of Consciousness, the problem of trying to explain it when any explanation is likely to be clouded by the assumptions forced on us by consciousness itself - particularity the assumption that consciousness is frequent or even particularity important to the bureaucracy of mind.
The Big problem is that the resonating back-on-itself nature of consciousness means that the only thing we're ever conscious of is always itself an aspect of consciousness. You'll never find yourself 'just conscious', you're only ever conscious of something.
REF: Ordinary brain activity is localised, but consciousness involves neurones distributed across many different regions of the brain - the "global workspace" - Baars (1993) "A cognitive theory of consciousness"
REF: ... which seems to be confirmed experimentally - Sergent &.al (2005) "Timing of the brain events underlying access to consciousness during the attentional blink"I'll just have to ask you to suspend judgement for a bit. Sort-of try to ditch your consciousness of being conscious for a bit. Which isn't easy.
Go back to neurones and that rolling ball. What happens if the ball-on-a-track doesn't find a match for itself? It just keep going on. And in going on, it can form a loop where it meets itself. Seeing itself, so to speak, in its own mirror. This unusual loop is how consciousness, the sense of self, arises.
REF: Neuronal activity related to consciousness is differentiated from other n-activity by being long-lasting - Schurger &.al. (2015) "Cortical activity is more stable when sensory stimuli are consciously perceived"
EXPERIMENT: The Schurger discoveries do imply this looping mechanism, but an experiment could check this.
REF: Difficult decisions seem to generate wider-than-expected neuronal activity – Urai, Braun & Donner (2017) 'Pupil-linked arousal is driven by decision uncertainty and alters serial choice bias'This, oddly simple, explanation solves a number of puzzles about consciousness, and leads to a number of conclusions which may, at first, seem rather strange...
REF: Stuff can be swimming around the brain for 10s or more before consciousness of it arises - Soon, Brass &.al (2008) "Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain"
PAUCITY OF CONSCIOUSNESSConsciousness, according to the ToC, only arises where there is not a readily available match. If a new input arrives in the neuronal system which pretty-much exactly matches a thing found before, then the route will have already been 'smoothed out' for it and a match is quickly found. No round-and-round searching is needed, so no consciousness arises.
REF: Ability to react to change is dependent on the extent of difference, not its absolute magnitude - famously observed by Ernst Heinrich Weber (1795–1878) and developed into Weber's Law of Just Noticeable DifferencesIf that seems difficult to comprehend, then try stopping reading for a moment while you consider precisely how conscious you were about the shape and size and position of every letter and word. Everyday reading by an skilled reader gives rose to consciousness only inasmuch ass it present new or unusual stuffs.
REF: Familiar visual inputs fire very few neurones, new inputs fire many - Charles E. Conn (2005) "Friends and grandmothers"
REF: A spider camouflaged against a branch loses its invisibility once it starts moving. A friend you’re trying to spot in a crowded airport terminal is more distinguishable once they begin waving their hands. (2019) Spatial suppression promotes rapid figure-ground segmentation of moving objects
QUOTE: "[being a writer] was as natural to me as the taste of water in my mouth – it has no taste because it is always there" George Bernard Shaw (1946) BBC TV interview,Consider the way you can travel a familiar root, perhaps even carrying out very complex tasks of walking, cycling or driving, with absolutely no recollection of having done so. Consider the famous 'cheese-in-the-fridge' problem - the piece of Gouda which has puzzlingly been invisible for a year, until a change, foul smell or perhaps some visible fungus, calls it to consciousness.
REF: As long as the performance of a product matches what is customary, the consumer has no consciousness of that aspect. The 'Kano Model' - Kano &.al (1984) "Attractive quality and must-be quality"Consider; typing, playing a musical instrument with skill, catching a ball, lying, opening a packet, picking-up a dropped thing.
Or consider the puzzle of prayer. I don't mean the sort of contemplative prayer or communal invocation of sympathy or hope which anyone can rationally join in with. I mean the sort of intercessory prayer where the supplicant petitions a divine being to alter the course of the universe. This just doesn't work, so why do so many people think it does? Especially those who do it a lot, who, you'd have thought, would have the most experience of it not working.
REF: That intercessory prayer doesn't work has been shown dozens of times, but here's one of the first - Galton (1872) "Statistical Inquiries into the Efficacy of Prayer"Do the same thing over and again with the same result and it will soon cease to create consciousness, so that the occasional rare instance of, say, a prayer actually matching what does happen becomes the only occasion you're aware of it. Why does it always rain after I've washed the car? Why does bread always fall butter-side down? Why are coincidences so surprising?
Which similar reason is why a person may be entirely oblivious to the glorious spectacle of our astonishing planet, and the amazing theatre of its inhabitants right in front of them, while being highly conscious of, and even distressed by, a minor change in the bus timetable.
REF: ToC provides a mechanism for the central puzzle in economics of 'diminishing marginal value' and the Jevons Paradox- William Stanley Jevons (1866) 'Brief Account of a General Mathematical Theory of Political Economy'I like breaking the rules! No you don't. You like breaking just a very tiny bit of them - enough to make others conscious of your effort.
QUOTE: "Wir sind so eingerichtet, dass wir nur den Kontrast intensiv geniessen können, den Zustand nur sehr wenig" (We are so made, that we can only derive intense enjoyment from a contrast, and only very little from a state of things) - Sigmund Freud (1930) 'Das Unbehagen in der Kultur' (Civilization and Its Discontents)So 'no inputs' = 'no consciousness'? Could that be right? Well, if this ToC is right, even with no new inputs, any left-over un-matched bits of old input will carry on busily whizzing round your dreamscape until they find a match. Which, with nothing new coming in, might take a long time, and ought to produce some sort of consciousness, albeit probably a rather mixed-up and shallow one. And this, indeed seems to be what happens if people are either deprived of sensory stimuli, or subjected to a simple, unremitting stimulus.
REF: The ganzfeld (German = "entire field") experiments were intended to test for telepathy, but instead seem to show that subjects deprived of sensory input consistently hallucinated - Wolfgang Metzger (1930s) (NTSelf: Although this is widely referenced, I can't find the actual paper)
REF: There have been various experiments into forms of Sensory Deprivation, which show the same sort of thing. I do not think it is necessary to ascribe these effects to Source-monitoring errors
REF: The 'surprising' discovery that the brain is busier when there are no new inputs - Buckner (1991) 'The serendipitous discovery of the brain's default network'I think it is the case that only the unusual creates consciousness. But that is something extremely difficult to test externally, because as soon as you ask about it then you've introduced an unusual input. So the answer to the question "are you currently conscious of..." is always "yes", and trying to discover how the mind works by 'introspection' is pointless.
REF: "Self-insight can fail because people find comfort in the belief that they already know themselves despite evidence to the contrary." - Kwang & Swann (2010). Do People Embrace Praise Even When They Feel Unworthy? A Review of Critical Tests of Self-Enhancement Versus Self-Verification.
REF: Ten days in a far-off land produces a richer treasury of detailed memories than 10 weeks back home - Tim Hartford (2018) Why going on holiday gives us more memories
IN TWO MINDSWhen trying to navigate the rough landscape of human systems it is tempting to compare and contrast 'Mind' and 'Body' or 'Reason' and 'Emotion', 'Thoughts' and 'Feelings', or the 'Conscious' and 'Unconscious', or, indeed 'Thinking' and 'Thinker'. Processes can be 'Voluntary' or 'Involuntary', we divide the whole nervous system into the 'Central' and 'Peripheral' and then into the 'Somatic' and 'Autonomic', the 'Sympathetic' and 'Parasympathetic'. To Daniel Kahneman thinking can be 'Fast' or 'Slow', according to Julian Jaynes it's two-part 'Bicameral', to Freud everything comes down to just 'Pleasure' and 'Repression' and to too many psychojunk magazines you are 'Left-Brained' or 'Right-Brained'.
Why always a process of comparing, and why always two?
THE VALUE OF CONSCIOUSNESSThere is no 'conscious mind' and an underlying 'unconscious mind' or 'subconscious'. There is only 'mind', a function of the brain, which occasionally generates things that lead to behaviours, and parts of which occasionally flicker with consciousness. But why? What is the evolutionary advantage of consciousness?
Managing to get yourself into a situation where life is secure will tend to mean that things will go much the same every day, so very little ever rises into consciousness. But any change in the world around - bringing a new set of inputs to the brain - may likely represent a danger. Inputs from such possible risks can't find a straightforward match - they have to do a lot of whizzing around the brain, and in the process give rise to the looping instances of consciousness.
Which makes us good at spotting danger; "The vices of others are always before us, but their virtues are not sufficiently remembered".
REF: People will much more readily ascribe harm to an action than ascribe help. The 'Knobe effect' from Joshua Knobe (2006) "Folk Psychology, Folk Morality'We have big brains, each, hopefully, with a lot of the old stuff we call 'experience' ready and waiting to be found to match new situations. Consciousness is a bit of the procedure of finding out how to cope with change.
It has always seemed obvious that consciousness is something to do with choosing, but never been quite clear what. By the ToC Model, consciousness is neither the absolute cause nor the effect of human decision making. Rather, it is a part of the decision-making process.
REF: Consciousness doesn't initiate intention - Libet &.al (1983) "Time of Conscious Intention to Act in Relation to Onset of Cerebral Activity"
REF: Electrophysiological signs occur before an apparent decision, whether a positive or a negative one - Trevena & Miller (2009) "Brain preparation before a voluntary action: evidence against unconscious movement initiation"
EXPERIMENT: These, and similar, experiments have been taken to conflict, but ToC suggests they actually show the same thing. We do need a better experiment though. I can't think of a one.
REF: Work with direct brain implants demonstrate the ToC views that (1) consciousness is a 'middle' part of decision-making and (2) that 'well-worn' tasks form a neural route which does not give rise to consciousness, and suggest the ToC view that (3) consciousness requires a new input - Afllalo &.al (2015) "Decoding Motor Imagery from the Posterior Parietal Cortex..."Which is great for human adaptation. But terribly gloomy for news and gossip, where we discover that the things which get attention do indeed tend to be the dismal and dangerous ones. 'Everything is just normal' isn't noticed, and doesn't make a headline. "No one" as Lord Russell put it, "gossips about other people's secret virtues."
REF: "Our algorithms exploit the human brain's attraction to divisiveness.. if left unchecked [Facebook would give] more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention & increase time on the platform.
The mind is set-up to spot danger, to concentrate on problems and ignore everyday success. Which is great for human survival. But it is also why the memories of all your most embarrassing mistakes and inglorious failures keep bouncing themselves so brightly into your consciousness, while the little victories and occasional successes seem rare and distant.
REF: We barely notice good news - Trussler & Soroka (2014) "Consumer Demand for Cynical and Negative News Frames"
REF: Mediatization and the Disproportionate Attention to Negative News & The case of airplane crashes - van der Meer &.al (2018) https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1461670X.2018.1423632
EXPERIMENT: Go out and buy a national newspaper
Troublesome, too, for management and administrations where both the everyday ordinariness of the excellent, and the true crap of 'we've always done it that way', can both get forgotten alongside the glow of the new thing. And often devastating for the organisation of society when huge resources are misdirected or wasted against trivial (new) problems while really bad (old, familiar) problems are ignored...
REF: Mental depression is associated with a lack of 'good' 'correct' matches, of awareness and an inability to make decisions - Leykin &.al (2010) "Decision-Making and Depressive Symptomatology"
REF: Indecisiveness is actually part of the criteria for diagnosing depression - "Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders" (4th edition, Text Revision) Washington, DC, USA.Consciousness-free Zombies, were they to exist, would mostly behave normally, but have great difficulty adapting to new situations.
Utopia would always offer you exactly what you wanted, just what you expected. But the brain only creates awareness in the mind when something unexpected happens. When things happen regular and perfect, they don't create consciousness. So, just as you're completely unaware of the feeling of clothes against your skin until you move, of your bowels while they work fine, completely unaware of the complexity of words until I write something odde, you'd be completely unaware of all that every-single-day perfection in the city of Utopia. Absolute perfection every day, will pass by unnoticed.
QUOTE: "The lowest order of the potentates of mind - the negative or destructive philosophers; those who can perceive what is false, but not what is true..." J.S.Mill (1852) 'Essay on Bentham'The only things which raise consciousness is strange things, which usually meanz faults. The nearer perfect a society becomes the more it carries the seed of its own destruction. Utopia's citizens will always be bored and dissatisfied, nit-picking and unhappy, and the real Utopia will always be over the hill to elsewhere. The search for Heaven is both necessary, and impossible.
REF: In the year 2000, with heating and lighting by electricity, credit cards, universal health care and (most wonderful of all) music chosen from a menu and delivered into your home by wires, everyone will, obviously, be perfectly content and blissfully happy – or so thought Edward Bellamy in his 1889 book 'Looking Backwards',If we were already in paradise, we couldn't know it.
A ritual is a behaviour which follows a precisely defined formula. A ritual, by definition and of itself, matches precisely 'what is to be done'. It is like stepping into a warm bath of 'correct' and 'true' and 'good' which can often go some way towards compensating for non-matching bad things. Unless of course, it is done not-according-to-plan, in which case it is very, very bad and wrong.
REF: Inducing stress leads to repetitive, ritualised movements. And invoking ritual movement reduces stress. Fascinating! - Martin Lang (2016) "Effects of Anxiety on Spontaneous Ritualized Behavior"
REF: Joshua 10:12–14 "And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies." Well, mine's as good an explanation as any.
REF: Sun-stopping during battles also occurs in the Mahabharata during the fight between Arjuna and JaydrathaAnd ToC offers to explain the 'autumn time perception' effect where a person who has had a long life of often-repeated experiences will find that each one no longer generates consciousness so that incidents of awareness become rare and the days seem to pass quickly...
REF: Time seems to speed up as one ages, and it affects how people find meaning in life and plan their future - Landau &.al (2016) 'Why life speeds up: Chunking and the passage of autobiographical time'
1. Everything is dreadful and we demand that everything be improved
2. But we absolutely refuse to allow anything to be altered
The chap here is distressed because the world around him has changed so it doesn't match what he is accustomed to any more, so therefore it is bad. But changing things to make them better would involve new things, which would be bad too!
The Curmudgeon may claim that they want to 'get back' to some imagined glorious past against which they are comparing the current horrors. A little questioning tends to reveal that this 'past' was when they were aged about ten, when people gave them sweets and before they had to work for a living.
If you want to control people, to get them to laud you, then give them an enemy.
QUOTE: "The anti-semitism of today.. is no object in itself. It is nothing but a wrench to unscrew, bit by bit, the whole machinery of our civilization. Or, to use an up-to-date simile, Anti-Semitism is like a hand grenade tossed over the wall to work havoc and confusion in the camp of democracy. That is its real and main purpose." - Nobel Prize winning author Thomas Mann (1930) 'Address to the Germans: An Appeal to Reason' (Radio talk)Show them how their gang - long-suffering, noble and radiant with virtue - does not match some dangerous enemy. Choose an enemy they don't know, so you can decide what non-matches to offer. And it mustn't be anyone who might 'come round' to your side, because then followers might waste their time proselytising, or even meet the enemy and see humane matches of themselves there. Then you'd have no enemy, and you'd be screwed. So foreigners and homosexuals are a popular choice, or vague out-groups, or distant barely-understood organisations, or even invented chimera - devils, ghosts or witches. Imaginary enemies work better.
QUOTE: "..the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger." - Herman Goering to USA psychologist Gustave Gilbert, in interview in Nuremberg jail.(1946)
QUOTE: "It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love, so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressiveness. I once discussed the phenomenon that it is precisely communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and in ridiculing each other—like the Spaniards and Portuguese, for instance, the North Germans and South Germans, the English and Scotch,and so on. I gave this phenomenon the name of 'the narcissism of minor differences', a name which does not do much to explain it." - Sigmund Freud (1930) 'Civilization And Its Discontents'
Vague accusations against undefined enemies work best, as your 'marks' will find a matches to their own pre-existing enemy. And I think we all know which filthy liars and cheats we're up against here, don't we?
REF: By promoting an 'enemy' it took teacher Ron Jones just 4 days to create a fascist mass-movement - Ron Jones (1976) "The Third Wave"The politician who famously said that you can't build a politic just out of opposition was quite wrong. In fact, it is opposition which creates political force and many an 'Enmity Priest' has risen to power solely by promoting hate of the secret enemy - the enemy which their people barely know, but from whom the Priest promises salvation. It is tragically, pitifully simple to create hate, any fool can do it. And it requires a fool to do it. A fool who can lie.
REF: There was one man who was entirely clear about the need to fabricate a supposed opponent "so that the mass of followers ... may see only one common enemy" - Hitler (1929) "Mein Kampf"
REF: The story about Oswald Mosely trying to raise funds for his Fascist party, explaining that he was going to pick the Jews as the random enemy needed to generate the hate necessary to hold his followers... from Lord Rothschild
QUOTE: "The problem with hatred however is that, once used casually as an instrument in political discourse it can prove very effective in reproducing itself. And then it has the propensity to spiral out of control." Frans Timmermans discussing Boris Johnson and the Brexit campaign, 2016
Lying means saying things which don't match, so it is naturally repugnant to humanity, and liars are hated. Fortunately it is fairly rare for someone to rise up with sufficient resistance to the natural self-loathing of dishonesty to do much damage. But, unfortunately, such people do arise from time-to-time, and once a liar starts lying this provides something to be matched against, which makes other lies easier and rise of other Enmity Priests more likely.
REF: Hate is easily built, while care is readily overlooked. Disturbingly demonstrated in that many a human will rather see their enemies fail than they and their friends prosper - Jonathan Metzl (2019) 'Dying of Whiteness'Fear is fear of the unknown, and the solution is to stop it being unknown, which is why it is necessary for the would-be controller-of-men to ensure that the enemy remains unknown, if necessary even removing the enemy people from sight, lest contact with them would cause compassion and fellow-feeling . There is good evidence that even a brief encounter with the supposed enemy changes opinions forever.
REF: How news-entertainment entities place events in a false 'problem frame', and handy data on how it is those people who don't know the object of fear who fear it most - David Altheide (1977) 'The News Media, The Problem Frame, And The Production Of Fear'
REF: Results from forcing people together are mixed if they don't like mixing. However... when people of different castes get randomly thrown together as neighbours in a housing project, they largely stop hating each other - Shreya Bhattacharya (2019) 'Intergroup Contact and its Effects on Discriminatory Attitudes: Evidence from India'
Why do people do these things? Are they intrinsically evil, or morally corrupt or just don't understand?
REF: People mostly commit violence because they genuinely feel that it is the morally right thing to do - Tage Shakti Rai, Alan Page Fiske (2014) 'Virtuous Violence'There is no puzzle. ToC demonstrates that there are only two states, and if 'We' are All-Good, then 'The Enemy', and anyone even vaguely connected with them, is completely, absolutely and utterly bad and wrong and evil in every respect, entirely and without limit.
QUOTE: "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." H. P. Lovecraft
There is no need to look for a reason above what the IRA or the Shining Path Warriors do - the not-us-people must die because they are not-us. That is all.
It is not necessary to postulate some 'random element' or some innate principle of genius, or invoke Quantum wotnots. Humans discover new ideas by comparing things coming in to their (each unique) system with known problems and then finding matches. The results often seem surprising and unique because each person's fund of comparable experiences is different and unique.
QUOTE: "The discoveries of science, the works of art are explorations — more, are explosions, of a hidden likeness. The discoverer or the artist presents in them two aspects of nature and fuses them into one. This is the act of creation, in which an original thought is born, and it is the same act in original science and original art." - Jacob Bronowski (1956) Science and Human Values (p19)I'm not sure it is true that James Watt was inspired to invent the pressure operated steam engine having seen a condensing engine at work and comparing it to the action of steam on the lid of a kettle, but you get the principle.
Thus it is necessary to have a diversity of ideas presented in order to do the process of comparison which leads to innovation. The more different people you can get together, the better your chances of coming up with solutions to problems. The lone would-be inventor in a shed produces nothing.
There is a further feature to this; groups of people must necessarily compare their performance with each other. Sameness, as always, = comfort, but diversity throws up new consciousnesses and diverse groups very clearly perform better
REF: "Diversity in a group creates awkwardness ... homogenous groups feel more confident ... it is the diverse groups that are more successful" - Phillips, Neale, Liljenquist (2016) 'Better Decisions Through Diversity' http://insight.kellogg.northwestern.edu/article/better_decisions_through_diversity
REF: Racially diverse groups do better legal decision-making - Samuel Sommers (2006) 'On Racial Diversity and Group Decision Making'
REF: Tim Harford (2016) 'Messy: How to Be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World'
QUOTE: "Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing" Salvador Dalí (1904) 'Autobiography'
There is a famous technique for getting people to accept strange political beliefs - you just repeat them over, and over, and over, and over again.
REF: Like a placebo, it seems to work even if you know about it "statements that are judged to be repeated are rated as truer than statements judged to be new, regardless of the actual status of the statement" - Frederick T. Bacon (1979) Credibility of Repeated Statements: Memory for TriviaWhat happens is - hear it once, you compare it to stuff you know, it doesn't match, so it's wrong. Hear it a second time, and now it does match something you heard before - you may still go down the aggregated route and decide it doesn't match. But, the third time, it now matches TWO things you know from before. So.... you get the idea. By this means the super-lie becomes ordinary. As always, that which matches is true.
REF: "repeated statements are easier to process, and subsequently perceived to be more truthful, than new statements... illusory truth effects occurred even when participants knew better" - Fazio, Brashier, Payne, Marsh (2015) Knowledge does not protect against illusory truth.
QUOTE: "It’s scarcely possible for the artist to write a word (or render an image or make a gesture) that doesn’t remind him of something already achieved." Susan Sontag (1967) 'Aesthetics of Silence 'Wonderfulness arises when a thing gives rise to enough familiar matches to be 'correct' but enough new bits to enter consciousness and so be 'interesting'. Which is why fascinating things have to have an element of the new. And why there's no perfect art.
QUOTE: "All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare." last line of the Ethics by Benedict De Spinoza. Well, it seems that way, of course, because it is the difficult and rare which create consciousness, but the things truly excellent are so commonplace that we've long since stopped noticing them.The ToC would suggest that the most delightful form of a class of thing will be the one with the most matches to other elements of itself and to other things. Which means that the most beautiful form of a class will not be, as you might have supposed, the most outstandingly unusual version but actually be characterised by averageness and symmetry. But with just enough oddness to give rise to consciousness and so make it significant.
REF: An averaged facial phenotype of the familiar group is always judged the most beautiful - Galton (1878) "Composite Portraits" – nicely confirmed a centuty later - Langlois &.al; Roggman (1990) "Attractive Faces Are Only Average"
REF: Actually it's the average of the judged best, ie. average but-a-tiny-bit-odd which is always judged the most beautiful - Perrett &.al (1994) "Facial shape and judgments of female attractiveness"Think of what poets do - mix ordinary writing up with odd weird stuff. Theme and variation in music.
The ToC shows that the long-held assumption that Truth and Beauty, if not quite the same things, do have the same mental origin, is correct.
REF: 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty, - that is all. Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.' Keats (1819) 'Ode on a Grecian Urn'
REF: Stewart (2007) "Why Beauty is Truth: a History of Symmetry"
REF: "..now came a tremendous change, which, unfolding itself slowly like a scroll through many months, promised an abiding torment" - Thomas de Quincey (1821) 'Confessions of an English Opium-Eater'Contentment comes in situations where almost everything nicely matches expectations. There needs to be a little non-matching for the system to rise to consciousness. And when contentment can't be found, we can create artificial contentment through the comforting correctness of familiarity, ritual and normality.
QUOTE: "Those only are happy (I thought) who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way." John Stuart Mill (1873) Autobiography
IS ToC WRONG?Perhaps all I've done with ToC is just divide-down everything to the simplest form of binary reasoning, and that it is 'just obvious' that all reasoning will end there?
If a thing seems 'obvious' that's saying "it's because of how our brains make our minds think". The world out there is very definitively not one-one. It is actually full of gradients and wobbly bits and sets of three and strange series and there is absolutely no intrinsic reason why on-off or one-one should be simpler to understand than a gradation.
Of course the '+' and '-' of electrical charge, which is the basis of this whole thesis, is actually a plain dichotomy? Well, no, not even that. While it is naturally true that differences in charge reach a point where things 'flip' from one state to another, the actual charges are graduations of electronegativity and it is the comparative difference in charge which does the job.
USEFUL AND DANGEROUSGiven time, I think ToC could usefully explain..
The power of the shared lie and why people will defend a lie more fiercely than they'll promote a truth. Why people direct fear onto risky ventures and onto hate. How comedy works. The search for truth. Envy. Bistable images. The allure of symmetry. Why we dislike paradoxes. Risk-taking and risk aversion. Deference. Hats. 'Reflex-Loop' reasoning. Wonder and Glory. The nonsense bunny-hop. Wabi-Sabi and the Persian Flaw. The source of Free-Will - free as a bird. The terror of being proved wrong. Wonderfulness. Multiple consciousness and the double-entry bookkeeping account of mind. Cognitive Dissonance. Most of the puzzles of behavioural economics - sunk-cost, loss aversion, the endowment effect. The ragged jumble of language. Methods of adjudicating knowledge claims. Why we insult people by analogy. Memory as a route, not an image. The dogmas of empiricism. A new, more compassionate, and much more effective approach to dealing with criminality. The limits of our knowledge.
...but it seems to be particularly helpful in explaining why it is we sometimes can't explain things, and why we're terribly bothered about trying to explain things which don't really matter.
There is also a danger. If ToC is really that simple and useful in explaining humans, it could be a powerful tool to control them.
Which might not necessarily be a good thing.