FROM DUST TO DESCARTES

An Evolutionary and Mechanical Explanation of Consciousness

M. E. Tson

Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson. All rights reserved.

Summary 2

Executive Summary: A Brief Explanation of Consciousness
M. E. Tson This short paper demonstrates how subjective experience, language, and consciousness can be explained in terms of abilities we share with the simplest of creatures, specifically the ability to detect, react to, and associate various aspects of the world. Instinct. With the innate ability to detect (a physical reaction that, like rust, only takes place in the presence of certain conditions), react to (accept, reject, destroy, reproduce, explore, flee, etc.), and associate (to form/strengthen via experience new connections among detections and reactions so that the activation of one makes the activation of the other more likely) certain internal and external stimuli, an organism can begin to form de facto categories (some things are food or a mate; some aren't), develop expectations, and, to some extent, have its instinctual reactions modified by experience. Although the organism’s actions and decisions can still be completely explained in terms of instinct - it can learn and problem solve. We can see such capabilities in numerous other animals, but there is no need to assume that they have any selfawareness or are anything more than a contiguous collection of physical and chemical reactions, which happen, by evolutionary 'selection', to all work in a coordinated way to further “their” collective survival. Communication. Many young animals learn various survival strategies (hunting, fishing, social habits, means of communication, etc.) from their community. Macaques, vervet monkeys, cockerels, prairie dogs, lemurs, Californian ground squirrels, and chickens have all been found to learn and use differentiated alarm calls or “vocabulary” to indicate different threats. Just as a young macaque learns to climb down when it spies an eagle and to climb up when it spots a leopard, it also learns that one shriek is emitted in the one instance and a different sound in the other. Communication learning involves associations about when to say as much as what to say. Rather than thinking of communication as sounds associated with objects, it is better to think of them as being associated with experiences (which can include objects). As with the senses, the communication processing areas of the brain seem specially wired to find patterns and form associations between contextual (particularly social) circumstances, vocal sounds, and their order. One difference, in degree if not in kind, in the human case is our ability to articulate thousands of different sounds and to form unique associations with each of them. Like the young macaque, a child learning the word "flower" or big sister "Angela" is not learning their definitions, but when (in what situations) the words "flower" or "Angela" are used. There is no single place in the brain where a word is defined. Words like “Angela” and “flower” are simply associated with the numerous other associations and expectations about their properties and tendencies which experience has formed: with “flower” what happens when you look at it, smell it, pull it, etc., and a comparable but much more complex set of expectations for “Angela.” If we add the word look, as in “Angela looks at the flower,” certain of these associations, and those regarding one of Angela’s properties, in particular (expectations regarding eye gaze and another's attention and intentions), are triggered. “Angela picked the flower” triggers slightly different associations. A given sound’s several possible meanings are usually easily distinguishable, because the associations triggered by hearing, “I’m going to the bank” will differ depending upon whether the speaker is holding a checkbook or a fishing rod.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Summary 3

Learned words are sounds that are associated with--and thus serve as additional mental cues for--other associations experience has formed. When I meet another English speaker and use a word like “chair”, “mother,” or “honor”, I’m assuming that she has had experiences that are similar enough to mine so that she has formed similar associations with that word. A language isn’t shared words, it is shared or, rather, convergent, experiences which are associated with those words and which give them their meaning. Our capacity to form associations is wider and deeper in some areas than other animals but not substantially different. Rudimentary displaced reference and abstract thought can be seen in the fact that it is not necessary for the other macaques to actually see the approaching threat themselves before they respond to the warning by scampering in the appropriate direction for safety. The greater the number of successive associations which separate a word from detections and innate reactions, the more 'abstract' it is, but this is no less mechanical than anything we have discussed up to now. None of this requires that either party in a communication be aware of the fact that it is communicating. One instinctual or learned reaction simply follows another. Self-awareness. Detection, reaction, categorization and associations, problem-solving, community, … everything up to and including communication could have existed long before there was any creature who could observe, label, and comment on itself or the world around it. Language provides the external frame of reference necessary for labeling and reflection. A phrase like, “Angela picked the flower” leads to a certain set of mental associations and expectations about Angela and the flower, and these associations are themselves made up of other, more basic ones. Leaving aside the different subjective reaction produced in the speaker, there is no cognitive difference between saying, “She picked the flower.” or “I picked the flower.” The self is subject to observation, description, evaluation, and labeling just like any other object and reflection thus becomes possible. We observe and label ourselves using the same linguistic associations that we use to describe other objects and experiences. As can be seen in experiments with split-brain patients, beyond our capacities of detection, reaction, and association, estimations as to our own inner, unseen motivations are just as speculative as those of any other observer. Just as the young monkey can learn when to emit the "flying predator" warning, we learn in which circumstances to use "I" or "me"; just as a young cub can learn what to do when it is hungry, a human infant can learn what to say when it is hungry. But once the infant has learned in which situations to say "I am …", it enters a whole new world of possibilities in self-awareness and subjective experience. Although we often equate inner speech with thought, the mind and consciousness, it is only the “tip of the iceberg” of the reflexes, reactions, and associations that we have been talking about up until now. Nor is it necessarily or automatically the executive center of decisionmaking. Through inner speech, we can reflect upon our condition and--by bringing additional associations to bear--influence the focus of our energies and efforts. Nevertheless, while the conclusions we reach--like 'I should stop smoking' or 'I am a coward'--introduce additional associations and reactions into the decision-making process, they are not the final word. Learned associations do not erase innate patterns of detection and reaction and may even conflict with them. The result is a Man vs. Himself struggle. Personal identity has a continuity through time because of social conventions, roles, and the fact that our past associations or memories determine our present outlook on how best to approach our future. Metacognition. In short, we are not aware of what we are thinking. We are aware of what we have just thought. Only when we stop to reflect and remember do these past thoughts and actions
From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Summary 4

then become the objects of present cognition. When someone unexpectedly asks, “What color are you looking at?” we cannot answer them instantly, but we must stop and search our immediate short-term memory, which we have learned to use as a proxy for the present. Metacognition, which uses short-term memory and inner speech, is always at least one step behind cognition. We think we are aware of our present selves, but we are really only self-aware of our immediate past selves. Qualia. An organism’s subjective experience has several components. First, detection. Because unique nerve combinations fire, different sensations are immediately distinguishable. When we see the color 'orange' what we are as importantly seeing is something that is not red, yellow, blue, purple… Second, reaction or changes in relative attention and energy allocation. Although culture will help to further define and extend upon what is seen as good or desirable, and self-awareness may eventually cause us to question the propriety of our innate drives, all urges and actions have their origin in one or more of the innate primary reactions. All meaning and purpose that we see in the world arise from these instinctual reactions. We cannot conceive of or experience the world outside of them. They are our world. Usually, that world is some complex, interacting mixture of several reactions to stimuli, but at the highest levels of intensity (rage, terror, ecstasy), it becomes one instinctive reaction or inclination in particular which becomes the focus of all our energies and attention. We exist only to satisfy that drive; nothing has importance outside of the satisfaction of that drive. So the second aspect of understanding subjective experience is what portion of an organism’s attention or energies is directed towards and invested in this one particular drive. Third, innate and learned associations. Green and blue (the colors of vegetation, lakes, and sky) are considered more 'cold' and 'distant' (short-wave light and distant objects require similar optic adjustments) than, say, red (the color of fire), which in different contexts may be associated with danger, stopping, or sex. We may associate orange as being 'between' or a mixture of red and yellow as an intermediate combination of photoreceptors fires. Subjective experience is also always in some context. A “colored” object may be edible, climbable, a predator, wood, shiny, or rough. These additional associations and their consequent reactions are combined with whatever associations and reactions the color itself gives rise to. Distinct associations (and detection) account for the difference between being frightened (same reaction) by a 'snake or a bank manager.' Fourth, accompanying physiological and cognitive changes. The neurotransmitters that help to give rise to reactions also affect the speed of image formation and change. During the reactions of acceptance and reproduction (happiness), associations are formed more rapidly and are not held for as long. Association is freer and may even become over-inclusive. Motor efficiency and exploratory behavior are increased while inhibition is decreased. Additionally, our experience of a reaction like fleeing or protection isn’t merely the preparation to fight or flee. It is also to detect our heart quicken and our muscles tighten. We detect many of these and other internal changes just as we detect external stimuli, and we have reactions to and associations with them, as well. The above four components of subjective experience are shared with other animals although, without language, there is no interpretation of experience in this way. Thoughts are not yet 'about,' or 'directed toward,' anything. Intentionality is an interpretation in the eye of an observer and without language there isn't one. At this stage, there is still no need to assume that there is any reflection or self-awareness, just an ever more complex collective of physical and chemical reactions. The fifth, and most distinctive, aspect of human subjective experience is self-awareness itself: our ability to say, “I am … / I feel… / I see …”. It’s one thing to see a color or taste a fruit and

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Summary 5

have a certain reaction to it. It’s another to reflect, “Plants, mountains, and some people are unable to see, but I am seeing ‘red’. Or “This landscape is gorgeous. I have never seen anything like it before, and I will never see it again.” Because language enables us to compare our current situation with other possible ones, self-evaluative statements carry additional associations of fortune, regret, pity, self-worth, embarrassment… and their consequent reactions and associations. Free Will. We have no direct knowledge of other minds, so the only philosophical argument for Free Will is one from introspection. Yet our capacity for introspection is constrained by the very things that make it possible: our capabilities of detection, reaction, and linguistic association. The very act of introspection to determine “Do I have Free Will?” is already inescapably dependent upon the assumption of a unitary entity that is both the object of the question as well as an inquisitor with the necessary knowledge, perspective, and “free will” to answer it. So, the argument from introspection, the only argument for Free Will actually on the table, is hopelessly circular. We are forced to ignore the constituent parts of countries, corporations, and other organizations when the paradigm of discussion makes no provision for them: "The United States or Company X decided to…" While such statements may be true as far as they go, in these instances, we also have other paradigms readily available to describe the same events in terms of branches of government and business units, or even at lower levels in terms of citizens and employees. Yet, our capacity for alternative levels of introspection is limited. That said, the self is not an illusion any more than any other category like 'France' or 'tree'. No frame or category exists in the world independent of the mind; all classifications are dependent on our unique sensations, emotions, and associations. The shadows on the wall are no less real than the objects outside Plato's cave; there is just another way of understanding them. This paper presents an alternative paradigm for the self where our decisions and feelings, like those of other animals, are limited and determined by the prison of our individual instincts and experiences. Nevertheless, through self-awareness and reflection, we can seek new experiences, perspectives, and possibilities and “consciously” force back the prison walls. Conclusion. Self-awareness isn’t an all-or-nothing quality that humans are born with and animals are not, but consciousness--the information that an entity can process about itself and the world--is a continuum with bacteria (or physical reactions like rust) at one end and human selfawareness at the other. Nor is our continuum the only one imaginable. Self-awareness is possible whenever basic information processing systems are organized in such a way as to collectively detect, react to, and associate stimuli as a monad or single unit within an environment of interaction and communication with other comparatively structured individuals. Furthermore, each of the innate abilities we outlined (detection, reaction, and association) is conceivably artificially reproducible. There is no theoretical reason why we couldn’t construct an android which, like a baby, was capable of developing self-awareness through experience. Our organs and autonomic responses are unique to species that share our evolutionary history, so our android wouldn’t feel its heart quicken and muscles tighten when it was startled (although it might, in a similar way, detect changes in its internal energy level and readiness.) It might not express its emotions through laughter or crying. Nonetheless, it could come to be aware of itself and of its place in the universe in a sense that would be different than--yet still comparable to--our own.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Table of Contents 6

Table of Contents
Summary: A Brief Explanation of Consciousness Introduction: The Mystery of Consciousness............................................................................ 9 I. Instinct & Hard-wiring ........................................................................................................... 13 Detection ................................................................................................................................... 15
Detection And the External World ................................................................................................ 18 “There is more to seeing than meets the eye.”............................................................................... 20

Reaction .................................................................................................................................... 23
Nothin’ Personal, Just Business ..................................................................................................... 26

Association................................................................................................................................ 29
Association..................................................................................................................................... 29 Categorization ................................................................................................................................ 31 Memory - The Mechanics.............................................................................................................. 32 The Basic Program & The Acquisition of Knowledge .................................................................. 35

II. Experience .............................................................................................................................. 36 Perceptual Development........................................................................................................... 39
Objects ........................................................................................................................................... 39 The Binding Problem..................................................................................................................... 40 Color, Shape, and Size Constancy ................................................................................................. 40 Optical Illusions I – Now, you see it. Now, you don’t. ................................................................. 41 Space/Spatial Awareness ............................................................................................................... 42

Emotional and Behavioral Development .................................................................................. 43
Attention – “When your house is on fire, you … forget to have dinner.” .................................... 43 Emotional Intensity........................................................................................................................ 44 Extending Emotional Associations ................................................................................................ 45 Short-term and long-term goals ..................................................................................................... 46

Cognitive Development............................................................................................................. 47
Planning ......................................................................................................................................... 47 Analogical Reasoning .................................................................................................................... 48

Subjective Experience of Emotion ............................................................................................ 50
Changes in Relative Attention & Energy Allocation:.................................................................... 50 Associations ................................................................................................................................... 50 Other Cognitive Changes............................................................................................................... 51 Physiological Changes ................................................................................................................... 51

Pain ........................................................................................................................................... 53
Detection of Pain ........................................................................................................................... 53 Emotional & Associative Aspect ................................................................................................... 54 Intensity/Relative Attention ........................................................................................................... 54

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Table of Contents 7

III. Community ........................................................................................................................... 56 Culture ...................................................................................................................................... 61
Culture and Perception - Optical Illusions II ................................................................................. 63

Communication ......................................................................................................................... 65
Language Learning ........................................................................................................................ 67 Speech............................................................................................................................................ 69 “…and there is no new thing under the sun.” ................................................................................ 70 What language makes possible ...................................................................................................... 70

Abstract and Logical Thought .................................................................................................. 72
“All I know is what I read in the papers.”...................................................................................... 73 Logic .............................................................................................................................................. 75

Language, Culture, and Values ................................................................................................ 79
Shared Experience ......................................................................................................................... 81

Self-Awareness.......................................................................................................................... 84
Reflection....................................................................................................................................... 84 Personal Identity Through Time: ................................................................................................... 85 Metacognition - How do we know what/that we are thinking? ..................................................... 86 Other Minds ................................................................................................................................... 87 “I am not an animal!”..................................................................................................................... 88 The argument from introspection................................................................................................... 91

IV. The View From Here............................................................................................................ 93 Color ......................................................................................................................................... 94
Detection ........................................................................................................................................ 94 Emotional Component ................................................................................................................... 94 Associations ................................................................................................................................... 94 Do We See the Same Color?.......................................................................................................... 95 Folk Wisdom.................................................................................................................................. 95 Mary, The Color Scientist – Color & Self-awareness ................................................................... 96

Personality, Creativity, & Intelligence ..................................................................................... 98
Truth............................................................................................................................................... 99 Creativity ..................................................................................................................................... 101 Intelligence................................................................................................................................... 101

Science and Civilization, ......................................................................................................... 110
Alphabet....................................................................................................................................... 110 The Tree of Knowledge ............................................................................................................... 111

Free Will ................................................................................................................................. 114
The argument from introspection revisited.................................................................................. 114 “It’s not me, Your Honor. It’s my genes.”................................................................................... 116

Conclusions on Self-awareness and The Philosophy of Mind............................................... 119 Appendix:................................................................................................................................... 124 Boolean Logic ......................................................................................................................... 124
Logic Gates .................................................................................................................................. 124 Neural Networks .......................................................................................................................... 128

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Table of Contents 8

Imagining An Observer-less Observation............................................................................... 130 Bibliography .............................................................................................................................. 131 Chapter Summaries .................................................................................................................. 137
Part I - Instinct and innate abilities. ............................................................................................. 137 Part II - Experience ...................................................................................................................... 138 Part III - Community.................................................................................................................... 140 Part IV – The View From Here.................................................................................................... 144 Appendix: Boolean Logic. ........................................................................................................... 147

Index........................................................................................................................................... 149 Notes ........................................................................................................................................... 151

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Introduction 9

Introduction: The Mystery of Consciousness
“Man is the particular being that can know the universal, the temporal being that is aware of eternity, the part that can survey the whole, the effect that seeks the cause.”1 - Allan Bloom In philosophy’s most famous thought experiment, 17th century thinker René Descartes mused that although he could never be certain that he was not, in fact, dreaming, hallucinating, or otherwise misinterpreting his perceptions, the fact that he is thinking proves at the very least that he exists. Yet, Descartes’ celebrated deduction, “I think. Therefore, I am,” actually leaves quite a bit unsaid. How, by what means, does Descartes know that he is thinking? How could a part ever gain a vantage point from which to evaluate the whole or its role in the whole? The answers to these questions are crucial. Whether and how our awareness of ourselves and of the world differs from that of every other species on earth is the most fundamental question in any moral, political, or legal system, and only by seeking to address it can we begin to think coherently about many other perennial mysteries:  How does the mind exist in the body?  What is the origin of personal identity? Why do we identify with and care about our past and future selves?  Why are humans so different from chimpanzees in spite of the fact that we share 99% of our genetic material? Are animals conscious or self-aware?  Could a machine ever really become self-aware?  From whence the conflict between desire and virtue?  Does free will exist? If so, what is it?  Do other people see the world (colors, for example) as we do?  What is the difference between the conscious and unconscious? How can we mentally process things of which we are not aware?  It is possible to see an optical illusion in different ways or from different angles. The visual input doesn’t change. What does?  What does it mean to experience an emotion? What is the introspective experience (qualia) of seeing a color or tasting an apple? What does it ‘feel’ like to see blue? Do animals experience emotion?  Why do we experience the color, scent, and shape of a flower as a unity? This is the so-called “binding” problem. We know that these things do not simply come together in a single location in the brain.2 There is little agreement even among modern researchers and thinkers about what consciousness is or if/how the brain produces it. For example, the Cartesian, or dualist, view is that the answers to these questions lie in a brain that is material and a mind or soul that is immaterial. Another theory is that there is a special class of “consciousness” neurons that fire together in some sort of dance to produce human self-awareness.3 Nobel laureate Francis Crick and neuroscientist Cristof Koch have suggested that the synchronous firing of neurons could explain both consciousness and the binding problem. When the brain is not consciously focusing on an object, neurons fire independently, but “under the spotlight of attention” they may fire at the same frequency.4 Oxford mathematician Sir Roger Penrose has speculated that self-awareness may come from the
From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Introduction 10

interaction of neurons at the quantum level,5 and one group of philosophers has recently surrendered to the idea that we are incapable of ever understanding consciousness, just as a lobster will never grasp general relativity.6 This book, on the other hand, suggests that the solution is not that hopeless, ethereal, or complicated. … Whatever their approach, most researchers and commentators on the subject do agree that in humans and animals the basic information-processing unit is the nerve cell or neuron. The neuron can be in either one of two states: activated or at rest. The response is “all or nothing.” A neuron is either on or off. Neurons are interconnected in circuits by axons, which are the equivalent of conducting wires. Axons make contact with other neurons at points called synapses. When neurons become active or “fire”, an electrical current is passed from the cell body down the axon to the synapse. As the current reaches a synapse, it causes the release of chemicals known as neurotransmitters, which in turn operate on the receptors of the other neurons to which it is connected. Whether or not these subsequent neurons fire (and release their own neurotransmitters) depends on the cooperative interaction of adjacent neurons.7 The brain is composed of more than 10 billion neurons,* each of which has on average 1000 synapses (connections to other neurons), although some have as many as 6,000.8 As it only takes a few tens of milliseconds for a neuron to fire, this translates into millions of possible firing patterns throughout the brain in less than a second.9 Unfortunately, the above explanation, though widely-accepted, is still a long way from answering the mystery of consciousness. Nevertheless, the goal of this paper is to explain self-awareness and its perennial enigmas (creativity, free will, subjective experience) in terms of the various firing patterns of these simple on/off switches. It does not presume to be textbook of neurology, child psychology, sociology, linguistics, or philosophy. Volumes have been written about each of the subjects addressed in the following chapters. The intention here is to present a different framework for thinking about these issues and, by implication, self-awareness. The idea is to show how every aspect of human consciousness can be explained by simple physical and chemical processes and, along the way, to discover how and why human awareness of the world and of ourselves differs from that of other animals. Philosopher David Chalmers has pointed out that:  the ability to discriminate, categorize, and react to environmental stimuli;  the integration of information by a cognitive system;  the reportability of mental states;  the ability of a system to access its own internal states;  the focus of attention;  the deliberate control of behavior;  the difference between wakefulness and sleep are all the “easy” problems of consciousness.10 Modern science has no difficulty in explaining them. Rather, the “hard” problem is explaining experience, namely subjective
*

Perhaps 100 billion (1011).

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Introduction 11

experience and feelings.11 Yet, we will argue that the “hard” issues can be understood and explained in terms of the “easier” ones and so the first half of the book will focus on the latter. The first part of the book addresses the innate abilities that an infant or young pup has at birth. Part II shows how these abilities along with experience enable us to gain knowledge about the world. Part III concentrates on the essential role that other individuals play in the formation of self-awareness. Part IV then explores what follows from this explanation of human consciousness, touching on topics such as free will, personality, intelligence, and color perception which are often associated with selfawareness and the philosophy of mind. The issues we will ultimately be discussing (community, culture, personality, creativity, free will) are all engaging and colorful topics. Dust is not, but that is where we have to start. Do not lose heart if the issues addressed in the first half of the book initially seem far removed from the questions we are ultimately trying to answer. The nature of the book’s argument requires that we go step by mechanical step, covering issues of biology and child psychology before we can finally begin to suggest answers to the more philosophical questions identified at the beginning of this chapter. Nevertheless, what comes first is essential to understanding what comes next, so this paper is best read and understood in the order presented, which is roughly that of the development of consciousness in both the evolutionary and personal sense. As you are reading, try not to think too much about the end product, human self-awareness, until the end. Nature didn’t. Instead concentrate on whether the capabilities addressed in each chapter (and summarized in the italics and bold italics) could be explained in mechanical* terms.† Consciousness will eventually and gradually come into focus. That said, the impatient reader might go directly from Part I to Parts III and IV, after quickly skimming Part II (focusing on the italics and bold italics) and when necessary returning to it for specifics on emotional and cognitive development. Also, any reader more interested in the conclusion than the underlying reasoning of any particular chapter or section can consult the Chapter Summaries at the end of the book before moving on to the next chapter or part. Please send any criticisms, comments or questions to d2d.metson@gmail.com. One final word before we begin. Of course, any attempt to divine what goes on in the mind of an insect, baby, or spouse is speculation. For all that we know the newborn might already be composing jazz tunes. But, as we work our way from dust to selfawareness, we are going to take a minimalist approach: assuming a universe in which chemical and physical reactions take place (where event Y always follows event X) and then seeing where that assumption alone might lead us before we are forced to assume that there is anything else.

mechanical: “pertaining to or caused by physical forces”. Webster’s College Dictionary. (New York: Random House 1991) † I do encourage you to jot down any questions or reservations, as they occur to ensure that they have been addressed by the conclusion.

*

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. Genesis 3:19

I. Instinct & Hard-wiring

Detection 14

12

Iron in the presence of water and oxygen forms a hydrated iron oxide, commonly called rust. The process is slowly corroding these old automobiles.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Detection 15

Detection
“…an ability to separate out, of all the things there [are] to sense, the one that life itself might depend on.”13 - Toni Morrison

Amoebae, bees, chipmunks, and babies all arrive in the world with some innate abilities and tendencies. Otherwise, there would be little difference between them and rocks. We cannot interact with the world until we can detect bits and pieces of it, making detection the most basic of these instinctual or “preprogrammed” tendencies. Animal sensation is, at its core, an extremely complex detection system, but comparable information-processing systems are everywhere. The movement of a leaf indicates the presence or absence of wind. Iron can “detect” the presence of oxygen and water by rusting. A bacteria or plant “detects” light because only light will raise the outer electrons in its chlorophyll to the higher energy levels required to initiate the photosynthetic process. In the same way, the ability to detect or sense* the world begins with chemical reactions that take place only given the presence/absence of some aspect of the external† world. We have no direct information or sensory contact with the external world but are only aware of our reactions to it. At no point, need we assume that our subjective mental representation of an object “resembles” the object’s “objective” qualities (of which we can have no knowledge). Take sight, for example.‡ Nowhere in the brain are there any images or photos corresponding to what we see. As University of California at San Diego neuroscientist, V.S. Ramachandran explains, “If you think about this, you realize at once that [it is logically untenable]. There is no point in having an image being displayed on a screen in the brain, because then you need another eye looking at that image. And it doesn’t solve the problem having an eye looking at that image either because then you need another eye looking at the image of that eye and you get into an endless [regression], without really solving the problem of perception.”14 Actually, at the most basic level, all that is necessary for detection is that certain external stimuli produce consistent and distinct internal effects. Consider, for instance, a leaf blowing in the wind. We can’t see the wind, but we know it’s there by the movement of the leaf. In a similar way, when we see colors or objects, light-sensitive neurons, or cones, on the eye’s retina are stimulated by photons of light emitted by, or reflected off,
Throughout this text I use sensation, sense, see, etc. interchangeably with “detection” only to suggest that there is a chemical reaction that takes place only in the presence or absence of particular substance or external condition. Human sensation is much more, but at this stage we aren’t assuming any perception or awareness only conditional reactions. † At this stage there is, of course, no conscious separation of the organism from its environment, just localized chemical reactions. I’ll come back to this implicitly Cartesian (bodymind) view of the self later in the text. ‡ As sight is the most complicated aspect of human sensation, this paper will concentrate on it referring to the other senses when there are significant differences.
*

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Detection 16

objects. Light of short wavelengths primarily activates certain of these cones and we detect blue. Other cones are most sensitive to the middle wavelengths and indicate green. And a third type is most active in the presence of long wavelength or ‘red’ light. All of the other colors we are capable of detecting can be explained by some combination of these three sets of cones firing.*, †

Wavelength Not only is this simple system capable of detecting differences of hue (blueness, greenness, redness…), it is also sensitive to the relative amount and purity of light reflected. When objects reflect greater amounts of light (stimulating more cones more often), we say that they are brighter, and we see an object of a particular hue and brightness as paler the lower the purity or saturation of the colorants. Whites and blacks have zero hue, but represent extremes of light intensity.15 Blue is relatively darker than yellow because the eye is less sensitive to the lower wavelengths.16 It is estimated that we can thus distinguish up to 10 million colors in terms of the hue, brightness, or saturation of the emitted energy.‡

The retina has other light-sensitive cells, rods, which are sensitive to dim light but cannot distinguish wavelengths. With these, we can see shades of gray in a dimly lit room. In bright light, the rods cease functioning, and vision is provided by the wavelength-discriminating cones. Some owls that hunt exclusively at night have only rods in their retinas. Chickens, on the other hand, do not have rods, only cones, so their activity tends to end by sunset. (Hardin 10) † This is a simplification. There are actually several wavelength combinations that could produce any particular color. The ratio of cone firings can give us information about the wavelength of incoming light, but the cones themselves do not detect “wavelength”. The firing rate is actually more directly determined by the quantity of light energy absorbed. The efficiency of absorption, however, is a function of wavelength, and at a certain “peak” wavelength or frequency, a given cone will be most sensitive to incoming light. Because of this, a little light at a peak wavelength and a lot at a low-absorption wavelength will produce the same response and ‘look’ the same. An object reflecting suitable amounts of high-energy short, middle, and long wavelength light will appear just as white as one emitting at all wavelengths.(Seager 45-7) Also, some superimposed images, rapidly alternating wavelengths, or differently colored but tiny and juxtaposed elements (e.g. color television) can, if “mixed” in suitable amounts, excite the same ratio of cones as would the single wavelength of a pure color. Thus, we cannot distinguish 570 nm (pure yellow) light from a mixture of 650 nm red and 500 nm green. But even this is just further evidence that our ability to detect change in the external world lies not so much in the world, itself, as it does in our own internal reactions to the world. Disparate physical phenomena are indistinguishable when they trigger a similar set of neurons. ‡ See The Subjective Experience of Color.

*

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Detection 17

There are also neurons* that “detect” edges or indicate boundaries between colors. Some are activated by lines at 90 degrees to the horizontal, others by lines at other degrees. A light line on a dark background triggers some, and a dark line on a bright background excites others. Whenever one of these fire, we ‘detect’ an edge. A few, direction analyzers, are activated by a line or edge moving in specific direction, and others signal when the line changes direction. There are form analyzers sensitive to various shapes like rectangles or stars as well as position neurons that react to spots in certain positions of the visual field, to name a few. It is when groups of neurons fire together that we ‘detect’ colors, shapes, and objects. If a particular combination of neurons has fired before, we ‘detect’ an object that we have detected before. If, however, this is the first time this group of neurons has ever fired together, we “see” (detect) something we’ve never “seen” before. (Although with detection alone, we wouldn’t know it. At this level of awareness there is no memory and definitely no type of conscious perception of sensation, just mechanical reactions with no more self-awareness than a rusting piece of metal.) The other senses work in essentially the same way. With sight, certain forms of electromagnetic radiation excite certain detectors. Whereas in hearing, some detectors react only when a sound starts or stops; some react to the rate of change of frequency telling the organism whether the source of the sound is approaching or withdrawing. Others respond only when the frequency of a sound rises or falls, etc. With taste, certain water-soluble chemicals trigger other detectors. Wine connoisseurs, with their amazing ability to discriminate where, when, and how a wine was made, show how versatile a simple system of discrimination can be. If we had only four different types of taste receptors,† each capable of responding to different qualities, and if each of those four qualities could be detected at just ten different levels (or rather if the sets of neurons which detect them could fire at ten different levels of intensity), by combining the information into different patterns we would be capable of discriminating 10,000 tastes, each with a unique pattern. 17 This awareness of changes in our environment extends to our internal organs. For instance, sensory receptors in the muscles, tendons, and joints sense posture and movement; others, sensitive to contractions in the stomach, glucose levels in the brain, and changes in blood chemistry, are associated with the sensation of hunger. There is no single, contiguous map inside the brain, which might serve as a precursor of self-awareness, just the interaction and coordination of signals.18 In reality, we never experience anything except combinations of firing neurons from which we learn to infer facts about the world.‡ We never really ‘see’ the wind, just its effect. But as long as the response is consistent and distinct, as long as a given external condition always produces the same internal response, it doesn’t make any difference. Just as it makes little difference if a message is transmitted by Braille, Morse Code, sign
Most of these are actually located between the eye and the brain. These nerve fibers don’t just relay information. They also perform some additional information processing using logical operations comparable to those employed by a computer. See Appendix. † There is some debate as to actual number and type of taste receptors. ‡ Of course, this eventual goal of this book is to explain why we don’t experience them “as” patterns of neurons firing.
*

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Detection 18

language, or smoke signals as long as the same information is conveyed. Again, the important thing is that the mental impressions be consistent and distinct. What they are is less important. For example, in one experiment, a subject put on goggles whose inverting lenses caused him to see the world upside down. Although at first he was extremely disoriented and his vision confused, he eventually learned to deal with his new inverted world as adeptly as he dealt with his old one. In time, his visual field actually flipped over and the world appeared exactly as it did without the goggles.19 Thus, two different sets of internally consistent retinal images ultimately produced the ‘same’ mental impression. Sensation begins with a reaction to the presence of something in the world. Through chemical/physical reactions (a series of if event X then event Y relationships), physical energy (light, sound, etc.) is taken from the environment and translated into a consistent but internalized code20 of neuron firing patterns. Human sensation is much more, but at this stage we aren’t assuming any awareness only conditional reactions. The mechanics (although not the experience) of taste, smell, touch, hearing, and sight can each be explained by sophisticated and changing patterns of sensory input. There are no internal pictures, no internal smells or sounds, just reactions to the external world which act as representations of it.21 Detection And the External World Our capacities of sensation are limited by what our neurons can detect. Photoreceptors in our eyes are triggered by light with wavelengths of 650 and 450 nanometers (red and blue), but not by infrared or ultraviolet light, which have wavelengths of 750 and 350 nm. We are equally blind to X-ray, radio wave, or microwave “light”. Red, microwave, orange, radio waves, and blue “light” differ from each other only in wavelength and energy. Yet we see some and not others.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Detection 19

22

Of the myriad of things going on in the soup of interaction we call the universe, our bodies are capable of picking out only certain interactions and these at only certain levels of precision, particularly those which have had some survival advantage in our evolutionary history. We have photoreceptors to detect certain differences in the wavelength, energy, and concentration of light (vision), contact chemical receptors of water-soluble materials (taste), distance chemical receptors of vaporous substances (smell), mechano-receptors of vibrations in the air, liquids, or solids (hearing), and mechano-receptors of differences in pressure, temperature, and muscle tone (touch). We know that other animals have many of these same capabilities to greater or lesser degrees of sensitivity. Bees, for instance, can detect ultraviolet light, but don’t seem to be able to see red. Dogs can smell with a precision comparable to our ability to see, but are thought to be colorblind. The sonar capabilities of bats and dolphins allow them to use sound to ‘see’. The possibilities go far beyond our five senses. Some fish, birds, and insects, for example, use electro-receptors to detect electric fields when hunting prey or magnetic fields to aid in navigation. There may be any number of events occurring in the universe of which we have no way of knowing. When we do manage to extend our awareness

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Detection 20

beyond the boundaries of our innate sensation (infrared, sonar, and radar, for example), it is only by relating them to events within those boundaries. There are an infinite number of ways of sensing and dividing the world. How we do so is primarily a function of our biology. Nothing up to this point is particularly controversial, but it is essential to understanding the rest of the paper. The only knowledge we have of the world are our internal reactions to it. Sensations more accurately are changes in the organism rather than the external world. To borrow an expression, “It’s all in our heads.”* “There is more to seeing than meets the eye.” 23 Our ability to detect certain aspects of the world, at particular intensities, can be a complex process, and we still cannot explain all the details. The focus of this paper is not the intricate details of sensation, but how and why we are aware of its results in a way that cameras, bars of iron, amoebas, and insects are not. At this point in the development of consciousness, all we are going to ask of sensory apparatus is that it be able to consistently produce different signals indicating the presence or absence (on/off) of certain external conditions, nothing more. For the purpose of our argument, let’s imagine a substance, the brain, which instead of having the chemical property of changing its external surface in the presence of oxygen (like iron) changed, through a different, but no less mechanical, chain of chemical reactions, its internal structure in the presence of light or electromagnetic radiation -- like water, which changes its internal structure as a function of heat; carbon which becomes coal or a diamond depending on the pressure; or a plant, which changes its internal processes as a function of light. Furthermore, let’s assume that in this particular substance,  Electromagnetic radiation between 400 and 700 nm and with differences in wavelength of between 1-6 nm; edges at various degrees to the horizontal; movement in various directions, various shapes (rectangles, stars, etc…), along with the position of objects in the visual field. (as in Sight)  Vibrations in air, liquids, or solids between 15,000 and 20,000 hertz; the start or end of these vibrations; the rate of change of their frequencies; whether those frequencies are rising or falling (as with Hearing)  Various airborne and water-soluble chemicals. (like with Smell and Taste)  Changes of pressure or temperature in the body’s outer layer as well as changes in various internal systems (energy levels, position of limbs, body movement, etc.) (as in Touch) each produced distinct internal configurations. What have we got? Still not much more than a rock. A peculiar one, but a rock nonetheless. Throughout this text, I will use sensation, sense, see, etc. interchangeably with “detection” to suggest nothing more than a chemical reaction that takes place only in the presence or absence of particular
The point is not to question the existence of the external world just to point out that we only have knowledge of the external world through our own internal reactions to it.
*

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Detection 21

substance or external condition. Yet, this cannot be the complete explanation of what it means to “see” color or “hear” a sound. We can build machines and tools such as cameras, recorders, mouse-pads, smoke alarms, and litmus paper that can “sense” in this very limited way, and, in some cases, much better than we can. Our instruments, for example, can detect and distinguish electromagnetic radiation all along the spectrum, not just the limited range of visible light. But we don’t think of them as “seeing”. (Also, the photoreceptors triggered by an optical illusion remain the same, but our perception of the image changes.) This mechanical, causal explanation of sensation in terms of stimuli detection is not enough to explain what it means to consciously ‘see’ blue, ‘taste’ a dessert, or ‘feel’ hunger. There must be something more going on when I see an aweinspiring landscape than just the mere fact that I am looking at it.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Reflexes and Reactions 22

24

25

Venus’s Flytrap – Common in damp, mossy areas of a small region of the Carolinas.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Reflexes and Reactions 23

Reaction
Reflexes & The Evaluation of Sensation
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

One thing that is missing from the preceding explanation of sensation is meaning, which is something that we bring to the world, not something we find in it. “Our very sense perceptions are altogether permeated with [evaluations] (useful or harmful, hence acceptable or unacceptable) … Even [some] insects react differently to different colors, one preferring this, another that.” 26 Sensation means nothing outside of a context. We do not merely sense the world. We sense what it means to us.27 In fact, organisms never just detect things. They react to them showing different levels of attraction, avoidance, or indifference. Although, we have begun another chapter to talk about it, there is no real distinction between detecting and reacting. Iron reacts to oxygen as much as it “detects” it. A bacteria or plant does not simply detect light, but rather its presence is just the sine qua non or initial link for a chain of chemical reactions that eventually results in the creation of chemical energy. Likewise, the pressure of an insect or small animal on the hairs of Venus’s Flytrap triggers the closing of the surrounding leaves and the beginning of the digestion process. With insects and reptiles, the reactions to stimuli (detected phenomena) are more complex (because there are many more interacting chemical reactions), but no more sublime: a certain sensation sets into motion a sequence of biochemical reactions that eventually trigger a certain reflex, like pulling your hand away from a hot iron. “Every [organism] in order to develop, maintain, …and reproduce itself, must perform a number of …functions such as respiration, ingestion of food, construction of new tissue, excretion, defense against assault and disease, … copulation, and so forth.” 28 This requires that the individual have certain dispositions or tendencies toward certain sensations29 as well as towards stimuli that may aid or inhibit these functions. Take fear, for example. Although it is doubtful that animals instinctively fear specific things such as bears or eagles, they (and in many cases we also) are pre-wired to have fear responses to the detection of certain stimuli such as large size “(as in the case of large animals); large span (as in flying [predators]); type of motion (as in reptiles); certain sounds (such as growling)…A baby-chick does not know what eagles are, but promptly responds with alarm and by hiding its head when wide-winged objects fly overhead at a certain speed.”30 Sudden changes in sensation automatically place the organism in an orientation/surprise mode with its various fight or flight responses. Robert Plutchik identifies eight primary behavior patterns or orientations toward stimuli which are necessary for survival and under which we can classify the various innate reactions to sensation.31 Incorporation. The acceptance of certain external stimuli.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Reflexes and Reactions 24

Rejection. Behaviors involve ridding the organism of something that has been incorporated (such as spitting out poisonous food) or with decreasing or eliminating stimulating conditions. Destruction. The elimination of barriers to the satisfaction of other drives. In simple organisms, this may be fused with the incorporation drive as the organism breaks shells or other outer coverings to obtain the food within. Protection. The retreat from certain stimuli. Reproduction. These behavior patterns involve maintaining or increasing the stimulating conditions. Deprivation. State associated with the loss of incorporated or pleasing* stimuli. Orientation. Behavior patterns triggered by contact with a new or unexpected† sensation. It is usually transient and exists only until the stimulus has been evaluated in terms of one of the other seven behavior modes. Exploration. State in which an organism explores its environment. The exploration may involve any of the various sensations (vision, smell, tactile sensation) and the actions associated with this state tend to be spontaneous and continuous. It can almost be thought of as the default state, what the animal does if there are no other, overriding reactions. Many animals move their heads or eyes from side to side while Paramecia just move back and forth. In more evolved animals, the exploration may be more active especially in childhood. These modes may be exhibited at various levels of intensity. At the lower levels, they are not so much an organism’s exhibited pattern of behavior in response to a stimulus, as much as they are the readiness, drive, or disposition for such a behavior pattern.32 It’s an orientation towards rather than a necessarily overt reaction to a sensation. The best way to look at it is that these states are the body’s preparing itself to employ the reflexes appropriate (evolved) to the sensation or situation. It is a shifting of an organism’s energy towards examining, maintaining, increasing, or eliminating a sensation. For example, with a lower level protection response, the heart may begin beating faster in preparation for the possibility of flight. Relating these prototypic behavior patterns to higher vertebrates, the destruction pattern is associated with anger; “the protection pattern with fear, the rejection pattern with disgust, the deprivation pattern with sorrow, the reproduction pattern with joy, and incorporation pattern with acceptance. The orientation pattern would be most closely related to [surprise] and the exploration pattern with something like [attentiveness or] curiosity…” 33 Human emotional reactions are not so simple as stimuli-reflex, but our most basic, instinctual reactions to stimuli are thought to have their origin in much simpler creatures. As a form of shorthand, this book will use the word “emotion” only to refer to the eight instinctual reflex patterns outlined above, because as we explain human emotion and its subjective experience, we will build upon these simple reactions. We will revisit the uniqueness of human emotion in Parts II and III.

* †

For now “pleasing” means nothing more than incorporated stimuli. See Subjective Experience of Emotion. See Memory and Association.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Reflexes and Reactions 25

Approach/Withdrawal. This conceptualization of the emotions is even simpler when it is thought of in terms of four bipolar approach-withdrawal mechanisms: fear being the opposite of anger, joy of sorrow, acceptance of rejection, and attentiveness/expectation of surprise.34

(Plutchik’s analysis postulates eight primary emotions. Other researchers, like neurologist Antonio Damasio, have suggested five: Happiness, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust.35 It is easy to imagine there being only four or even two (attraction and rejection). For our purposes, ascertaining the exact number of primary emotions is not necessary. As we will see later, any set of categories or classifications is determined to some extent by our capabilities of detection, language and culture. The main point here is simply that organisms are born with some finite number of instinctual reactions to the stimuli that they are able to detect. Nonetheless, for convenience, we will continue to use Plutchik’s categories and framework as we explore other issues.)

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Reflexes and Reactions 26

Survey of research on basic emotions.36

Nothin’ Personal, Just Business Whether it be an initial reaction of desire, aversion, or indifference, “emotions” evaluate sensation by preparing the organism to react towards stimuli “in a way that has been most adaptive in the history of [its] species.”37 “[I]n the case of fear, [the reaction is] protection from the stimulus; in the case of anger, destruction of the stimulus; and in the case of [acceptance], encouragement or enticement of the stimulus”.38 So for every possible sensation there exists a set of instinctual emotional reactions unique to each species and individual. Yet, this ‘reptilian’ level of awareness is still no more than actionreaction, stimuli-reflex. When a snake attacks, it needn’t have any conception of attacking to eliminate a threat or even to eat. In fact, under this view, there is no conception of anything at all, just an evolved, preprogrammed attack response to, say, the sensation of being stepped on [rejection]. Whereas, in the sun, the cold-blooded creature’s instinctual incorporation/reproduction response would be to remain immobile in the absence of any overriding sensation. Responses to internal stimuli could be thought of in comparably mechanical terms: a lack of oxygen increases the rate of breathing.
From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Reflexes and Reactions 27

Nerve cells triggered by an empty stomach may cause the reptile to enter exploration mode. Once its infrared sensitive neurons detect the small, warm mass of a mouse, an attack [destruction] mode, is immediately followed by the incorporation responses (to the ‘feel’ of the prey) of eating. An increase in blood density accompanied with dryness sets the organism searching for liquid.39 … The above discussion shows how various sensations produce unique changes in an organism’s general orientation (inclinations, priorities, energy, attention)40 towards its environment. Simply put, an organism has states or modes in which various reflexes cause it to act in a certain way. Even so, reflexes are not self-awareness and alone do not involve much consciousness. Organisms from bacteria and insects to fish, reptiles and, in a very rudimentary way, even simple robots can achieve as much: reacting to a given set of conditions in a certain, predetermined way. Conceptually, it’s the same thing as flipping a switch to turn on a light, putting a car in drive, reverse, or neutral, or setting the central heating system to maintain a certain temperature by going into heating mode if the temperature falls below a certain point and into cooling mode if it rises above another. Although recognizing a snake as something to be afraid of or savoring your favorite dish requires more than just detection and reaction, for now it is only necessary that our organism have eight basic modes of operation corresponding to eight different ways of reacting to or orienting itself towards possible sensations: Incorporation, Rejection, Destruction, Protection, Reproduction, Deprivation, Orientation, Exploration. Each of these modes of operation should have various levels of intensity or activation and be capable of coexisting (at least at the lower levels of intensity). These initial reflex reactions should be predetermined and instinctual according to the organism’s environment and the sensations it is likely to encounter. For instance, rejection reactions for sensations likely to damage the organism (e.g. poisons, the puncturing of the protective tissue, extremes of temperature, sound, intense light) and incorporation/reproduction responses to certain sounds, tastes, colors, and other sensations that are beneficial in some way (food, rest, caresses, etc.). Human newborns, for instance, have reflexes for sucking, grasping, looking, turning the head, orienting themselves in the direction of a sound, and instinctively prefer [incorporation; reproduction] human cuddling, voices, and faces to non-human stimuli.41 One final point. It is extremely important for reasons of survival and evolutionary success that an organism evaluate and react to the world as a “monad”, a single unit or entity; that it is similarly concerned with how a thorn or attacking predator interacts with its tail as with its paws or eyes, for example. It is less important how these things interact with the rock it is sitting on, the food it is eating, or the potential mate it sees in the distance. Emotions and their innate algorithms for determining the organism’s attentions and priorities provide this de facto separation from the surroundings, but nothing more. Essentially, we are still left with nothing more than a contiguous collection of chemical reactions, which happen, by evolutionary 'chance', to all work in a coordinated way to further “their” collective survival.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Association 28

42

43

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Association 29

Memory &

Association
The more things change the more they stay the same.

Chipmunks will instinctively flee people or any other large moving masses. Yet, along the roadside in the Rocky Mountains44, they actually come out of hiding at the first sign of human beings and will sometimes even eat from the tourists’ hands. Somehow the innate set of detection/reaction responses to stimuli has been modified, but how? As organisms increased their ability to detect and react to different aspects of the world in order to further their own chances for survival, those species that could relate past sensory experience to present sensation would have possessed a distinct evolutionary advantage. They did not have to learn time and time again that apples taste better than rocks, for example. Of course, in the long run, evolution and natural selection result in a species whose instincts and reflexes are better adapted to the likely environment, and the metaphorical rock is just no longer appealing, while fat and sugar are. However, to paraphrase John Maynard Keynes: In the long run, the individual is dead. Memory, on the other hand, allows for much quicker and more versatile adaptations to instinct. While past sensory experience may not be completely or perfectly remembered, some aspect of it is recalled and then compared to the present experience or stimulus.* If they are “judged” similar, the emotional state that was associated with the past experience is also recalled and now associated with this new experience. We expect similar stimuli to cause a similar emotional reaction, and we adjust our behavior. A chipmunk is at first frightened by a man until it is given food. The next time it comes into contact with the man, it recognizes him by comparing him with some stored mental smell, sight, and/or sound and adjusts its behavior based upon the emotion it has associated with the stored sensation. Perhaps this time it is a little less timid, in the expectation of food. Association The simplest of these associations are of a single sensation (color, shape, smell, touch, sound). More evolved animals can remember and associate entire episodes of sensation so that stored mental images are some combination of different sensations and emotions. Although the people stopping along the mountain roadside are different each time, something about them is judged by the chipmunk to be similar enough to make it come scurrying out of the rocks. Still, in any given situation there are countless sensations that could possibly, if erroneously, be considered relevant to the given emotion. What determines the “breadth” and “depth” of the associations? How far back in time can they be made? Can events be understood in terms of chain reactions? How precise are the associations? Is the thorn or the entire rose associated with pain? Should the chipmunk associate the sound of the birds singing, the rock that it is sitting in, or the fruit that it is eating with the pleasing taste it is experiencing?
There is a trade-off here between completeness and processing time. Imagine how cluttered our minds would be if we remembered absolutely everything. The intensity of the associated emotion seems to have something to do with what is and what isn’t remembered.
*

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Association 30

Association is biased towards those sensations and events that are close in space and time.45 We automatically associate an event with the one that immediately precedes it (in time or space). In Pavlov’s famous experiment dogs, who were fed immediately after the ringing of a bell would eventually salivate simply in response to the sound of the bell. But as the time between the bell ringing and their feeding increased, the dogs were less likely to associate the two. The extent and precision of associations and the possible outcomes the organism is capable of considering are a function of the precision of its senses, the variety and sophistication of its emotions, the extent of its memory, and the specifics of the algorithms for searching that memory. So that what can be associated or remembered obviously varies from species to species and even from person to person. Organisms as simple as fish can be trained to some limited extent. Bees can remember the opening times of up to five different types of flowers based on the position of the sun. People can remember not only different sensations but also entire episodes of sensation. It is worth noting, however, that even in our case not all reflexes are subject to being directly modified by experience. Some reflexes (like eating, breathing, or blinking) are only partly surrendered to acquired associations, and still others (heartbeat, digestion, or pulling your hand away from a hot stove) hardly at all. As predator and prey moved in or out of environs, as organisms wandered from place to place, as environments and climates changed, and as sensations became more precise and emotional reactions more nuanced, there would have been a pronounced selective advantage to neural configurations that increased associative abilities and hence adaptability not over generations but in a single lifetime. This would have been truer still in social environments (remembering individual characteristics and tendencies, pack hierarchies, alarm calls) and once our ancestors left the forests and began hunting, gathering, and wandering through continents and ice ages. So, more flexible and capable association algorithms would have been preserved from generation to generation. Although increased memory abilities would confer some selective advantage, it does not follow that all of the resulting memories must then also have some survival advantage. Selective advantage determines how and why capabilities develop but not how they are ultimately used – particularly as long as that additional use does not result in some countervailing disadvantage. (Also, an evolutionary advantage does not have to be absolute, just relative, as in, “Are organisms with the ability better off on average than those without it?”) Natural selection explains why we like fat and sugar, but it does not explain obesity; it explains a moth navigating by the moon but not by a porch light. So that while the ability to associate experiences is hardwired and the result of natural selection, exactly how this ability is used is not confined to selective advantage, and, if you think about it, by definition, it never could be with memory. The ability to associate is the ability to adapt to unpredictable circumstances within some limited scope. The essence of its advantage is that it is, to some degree, flexible and open-ended. Additionally, the storage of memories without any immediate survival advantage is advantageous, because associations that are “irrelevant at one time for one purpose might be relevant at another time for another purpose.”46 ,* Again, this is especially true in
*

See Cognitive Development.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Association 31

social environments where caregivers take care of basic needs and little of what infants learn has any immediate survival value. Simple curiosity (orientation mode) and exploration are the operative emotions for much of what newborns observe and learn. The more complex and varying their environment will eventually be, the more advantageous a relatively open-ended memory. Categorization A single cell creature absorbing the edible and rejecting the inedible, an insect distinguishing the scent of a mate from that of a rival, and iron rusting in the presence of oxygen but not helium have already begun to “form” and “define” de facto categories. If some things look or smell like food or a mate, other things do not. Categorization is an inseparable aspect of detecting and reacting to things in the world.47 While organisms classify things according to their innate capabilities of sensation and the eight previously outlined responses, memory and association allows these categories to be retained, refined, and reused48. Without this automatic categorization, we would consider every event or instance of a stimulus as if it were distinct and unrelated to anything we have previously experienced.49 We would have to learn again with every new porcupine that the quills hurt, and a narrow escape from a lion would be given no importance when we encountered a different lion. However, there is still no conscious formation or use of classes or concepts, and definitely, in the absence of language, no type of mental labeling, just automatic generalized reactions which vary according to stimuli. 570 nanometer(nm) light is classified as “yellow”, but so is a mixture of 650 nm (red) and 500 nm (green) light because they trigger a similar set of photoreceptors -- this, in spite of the fact that they are markedly different physical phenomena. Our minds automatically categorize sensations in order to react to them, but those categories are things that we as a species bring to the world not something that we discover about it. Ultimately, each thing is a unique entity* unlike anything else in the universe. Regardless of the temperament of the first lion, the next might be as tame as a kitten. Every member of the herd, each tree in the forest, every atom in the universe has a unique configuration, history, and location in space and time. Although we form groups and categories, every thing is only itself and nothing else. Nevertheless, in most cases, the differences within the categories we form are irrelevant for our purposes. For the chipmunk, if you’ve met one tourist, you’ve met them all – no need to further classify them as those from in-state or out-of-state; the Christian ones or the Jewish ones; Jackie, Jo, or Chris. A rabbit, doubtless, does not “care” whether the wolf it senses is male or female, and so among rabbits, nature has made no provision for this distinction when it comes to wolves. Among the wolves, however, the ability to distinguish, not only the sexes but also the various members of the pack, is essential. The greater an individual’s memory capacity and capabilities of sensory discrimination as well as the more varied its experience, then the greater will be its ability to make distinctions within the classes it creates.
Objects and Entities Even the division of things into separate objects is contingent on our sensory abilities, experience, and perspective. Objects in the world cannot be defined outside of their relationship to
*

See box.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Association 32

other things. You cannot completely define an ‘apple’ without referring to the tree or the process of eating or seeing it. You can’t fully explain the tree ignoring soil, rain, sunlight; or the process of eating/seeing without going into the organism and its digestive or sensory processes… While the sociologist sees people as subunits in a larger social structure, psychologists, psychiatrists, priests, and most of the rest of us think of a person not only as the primary entity but also as indivisible. This view, however, ignores the role played by other “foreign” organisms (such as beneficial bacteria in the digestive and urinary tract) in the proper functioning of the human body. Doctors and biologists get around this by considering the person a collection of interacting organs or cells. A chemist or physicist, on the other hand, would see the cell in terms of molecules or atoms… Ludwig Wittgenstein observed that although “One thinks that one is tracing the outline of the thing's nature … one is merely tracing round the frame through which we look at it.” This book could be thought of as an attempt to explain the origin of the frame through which we contemplate ourselves and to, in the process, reconcile the universe of the physicist with that of the poet. Yet, although we’ve chosen the neuron as the basic information processing unit - because it fits in nicely with the rest of the paradigm we are proposing - this is no more or less “correct” than choosing the organ, tissue, atom, sub-atomic particle, etc. See also Perceptual Development and “Culture and Perception” in Culture.

Categorization is not the only thing logically shaky or arbitrary (inescapably subjective) about memory and association. Let’s go back to the example of Pavlov’s dogs. The dogs instinctively began to expect that the one would follow the other, in spite of the fact that there was no “real” or “immutable” connection between the bell and the feeding. Implicit in the survival mechanism of memory and association is a reliance on induction. We take for granted that the world will continue to behave as it has – that what’s true today will be true tomorrow- although in reality, the fact that the sun has risen every day in the past can never tell us anything about what it will do tomorrow. It’s like the famous example of the turkey who thought his morning feeding was as “certain as the sunrise” only to be deeply disappointed on Thanksgiving. Statisticians are fond of pointing out that correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation. But when you think about it, all we ever have is correlation. We just designate very strong correlation or associations, “causation.”* Although it is by no means certain that the next object that looks and feels like the last “apple” will also be as sweet or that the exact same plant that tasted awful yesterday won’t be a delicacy today, both extrapolating from the specific to the general and induction, while logically unfounded, are each implicit in memory and association, of undeniable survival value, and indispensable in our attempt to make sense of the world. † The mind doesn’t discover order in the universe. It imposes it.50 Memory - The Mechanics Keeping in mind that the brain reduces sensation to an intricate code of on/off signals, it’s easy to imagine how sensation and emotional experience might be saved and “cross-referenced”. Storage and retrieval of video, audio, and other data is nothing new or amazing. When confronted with a sensation that doesn’t cause an immediate reflexive
A common retort is that our belief in induction/causation has worked well for millions of years and so must be true. Although I, personally, am instinctively inclined to agree, this is, of course, a circular argument that attempts to use induction to prove induction. † The central assumption of this paper, a world in which IF…THEN relationships exist, is essentially the assumption of induction. See The Problem of Consciousness.
*

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Association 33

reaction, memory could then be searched for similarity of sensation in order to find a suitable emotional reaction in the same way that an Internet search engine searches millions and millions of addresses before finding the correct one. Yet, in reality, the brain does not store files of images or sound, and such a system would probably “pose insurmountable problems of capacity”51 and retrieval efficiency. Memory is currently thought to be re-constructive. Perceived images are caused by triggering sensory receptors oriented to the brain’s outside that then relay the signal to the brain’s early sensory cortices. Recalled images involve reactivating these same “early sensory” neurons.52 (It is for this reason that people with extensive damage to the early visual cortices used in perception also lose their ability to recall visual imagery although they can still recall tactile and spatial knowledge of objects as well as memories of sound or taste.53) Recalled images are usually incomplete and less vivid than the originals because not all of the original neurons are activated.54 The brain recreates a “fainter image” of a sensation or emotional state and it is “as if”55 we were reliving the experience or the emotion. The more complete the reconstruction, the more vivid the memory. Memories could then be formed by linking firing patterns so that the activation of one makes the activation of the other more likely. These “links” or potential patterns of neural activity are located in the higher order association cortices.56 The different sensory systems of the brain cannot talk to each other directly, but are connected by these intermediary brain structures.57 While these sets of “association” neurons do not contain the recalled “pictures” themselves, they do contain the ability to reconstruct previously perceived pictures, sounds, or other memories by recreating previous firing patterns. So when we recall a face or landscape several links fire more or less simultaneously to cause the same set of neurons involved in the original sensation to fire again. An organism’s first response to any sensation is to employ one of the eight preprogrammed reactions outlined in the previous chapter. In the absence of an overriding reflex, the brain “searches” for some relevant association. Memories are triggered because some element of our current sensation or emotion has a link or association with some past sensation or emotional state. When these association neurons fire back to the early sensory cortices they result in memories. The smell of pecan pie might bring memories of the summers spent with your grandparents or hearing an old song may make you think about where you were, what you felt, and what you were doing when you first heard it. So that, although this chapter is entitled “Memory & Association”, in many ways, memory is association.* By association we mean that the neurons that constitute certain mental images are neurologically linked so that the activation of one makes the activation of the other more likely. If memory is stored in the form of associations, it is easier to see how the brain’s vast memory could be ‘searched’ and managed because neurons involved in a sensation or mental image will already have a “link” (through the association cortices) with the memory it subsequently arouses. With certain memories (those repeatedly-accessed or emotionally intense, for example), the association might be made more efficient by bypassing recalled sensations and being connected directly to an emotional state or a motor response. Such is the case
*

Awareness of our memories is something else entirely.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Association 34

once we have learned to tie our shoes or drive a car and we no longer have to “remember” the step-by-step instructions. This is probably also the case with simpler memory systems. So, returning to the bee example, we don’t have to think of the bee as remembering anything. Rather, different sensory input from the sun might be directly linked with flying reflexes to various plants. With chipmunks, the smell, sight, or sound of people could be mentally associated not with food but with coming out of hiding. Whether the associations are made directly to motor movement or go through recalled images is an empirical question for biologists/neurologists and not really important for our purposes. Either way, it is mechanical association. In the case of humans, memory often, though not always, involves recalled images of situations or sensations and not just the emotional or motor response. (Our ultimate objective is to explain our awareness of those images.) Neurons interact with each other at synapses, but although the response itself is all or nothing, the facility of the response varies, as synapses can be weak or strong. It is synaptic strength that determines whether or not and how easily impulses travel from one neuron to the next58 and why some memories are stronger or more easily recalled than others. Synaptic strength and connections change to reflect an organism’s experiences.59 Whether or not an association is formed between two sensations or between a sensation and an emotion is a function of proximity in space and time: the longer the interval between two events the less likely it is that they would be associated). The strength of the connection, on the other hand, is determined by how recent it is (The name of someone you met once briefly last year vs. last night), the intensity of the associated emotion (the name of someone who saved your life years ago although you met her just once), the number of times it has been accessed (a girlfriend’s name). One example contrary to the norm (one rotten apple) won’t erase an association but form another coexisting one. Because association algorithms differ by sensation and species, so will the influence of these factors. Take proximity in space and time, for instance. A rat can easily learn to associate pressing a bar and a food reward, if the reward follows seconds (but not minutes) later. Other animals, in the same situation would have longer association windows. Yet even among rats, future food aversion is still induced when there is “a delay of hours between consumption and the negative [digestive] sensation.”60 Memory could be thought of as paths through a forest or field on a snowy day. There are an infinite number of possible paths or associations that could connect the points on outskirts of the field. Each new traveler (or experience) either creates new paths (associations) or widens old ones, and the never-used or disused paths (unrecalled memories) gradually fade away in the snow. The paths represent our long-term memory, which is permanent, stable, and limited only by our capabilities of sensation and emotion. Our short-term or working memory would be the limited number of travelers (or experiences) that are allowed on the various parts of the trails at any point in time. With bees or chipmunks, the field of possible associations appears to be pretty small, whereas in humans, it seems boundless by comparison. In summary, also required for self-awareness is the innate ability to recall relevant aspects of past sensory impressions as well as their corresponding emotional reactions in

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Association 35

order to associate these with present experience. Every imaginable sensation, each possible motion or reflex arises from a unique set of neuron firing patterns. Similar sensations will thus activate similar patterns and vice-versa. Past sensations and emotional reactions are “stored” by forming links between their firing patterns. Thus when a past pattern is reactivated because of its similarity to some aspect of present sensation, links between it and various other past patterns (representing past emotions or other sensations) would in turn cause their reactivation. The formation of new connections between various sensations or between sensations and emotions could be handled by association units. These would be unique for each sensation and would have each with its own rules and algorithms for establishing associations based upon proximity in space and time. The strength of a link or memory (the probability of reactivating a previous firing pattern) is in turn determined by how recent it is, the intensity of the associated “emotion,” and the number of times it has been accessed. The Basic Program* & The Acquisition of Knowledge The capabilities outlined in Part I do not go beyond mechanical reflexes and instinct. Yet armed with sensations (detection), an instinctual way to evaluate them (reaction), and memory (association), an organism could begin to form associations and thereby extend its innate reflexes and evaluations to other experiences. Thus an organism confronted with the same stimulus may actually develop a different response. We still aren’t supposing any awareness of memories or sensation, just reactions to stimuli, some of which are modified by experience in mechanical, predictable ways. Although the organism is still an automaton - things remain mechanical, and the “decision” can still be completely explained in terms of instinct or pre-programming - it can learn. Keep in mind that learn, expect, and know are used here to mean only that a new association is formed between two events. There is no implied will or awareness just a more complex automatic reaction. As associations are formed and reinforced by experience some become stronger than others to the point of becoming “expectations” as in the case of the bell and Pavlov’s dogs. There is no more “pre-programming” to be done so the rest of the paper concentrates on how the majority of our brains’ connection patterns and synaptic strengths are formed and on how subjective experience (feelings), our unique personalities, and even consciousness itself can be explained in terms of detection, reaction, and association. The situations, circumstances, and experiences may change, becoming more complex and demanding, but the underlying program that is applied to them -- the simple, mechanical capabilities that we have outlined here -- stays the same.61

Author’s Note: Although the book is most profitably read in the order presented, readers anxious to get to the ‘punch line’ might quickly skim Part II on the role of experience (and/or review the relevant chapter summaries at the end of the book) and then go directly to Part III, referring back to Part II to answer any questions on basic perceptual, emotional, and cognitive development.
*

For more of an idea of how if’s, and’s, or’s and other logical calculations could arise from on/off information systems see Boolean Logic in the Appendix.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

II. Experience
What is an adult? An infant inflated by time. - S. De Beauvoir

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Experience 37

Anyone who has ever watched an infant realizes how very much and how very little we come into the world knowing. The 30,000 genes we inherit at birth do not specify the exact status of the more than 10 trillion synapses in the adult brain. They do determine the configuration of several of the evolutionarily older brain structures (the brain stem, hypothalamus, and basal forebrain) involved in emotion and other innate behavior. The precise arrangements and connections of the modern brain structures of adaptive behavior arise from the influence of experience and environment as they are interpreted by these older structures.62 Now that the organism has evolved to the point that it is capable of learning, we must find a good teacher. Nature, of course, opted for the best and helped itself out by making cubs, puppies, and children so curious {easily triggered exploration mode} and playful.* Soon after birth the number of synapses in the brain begins to increase astronomically resulting in trillions more connections than the individual will ever use. Never again will the infant have so many easily formed/strengthened connections and never again will the possibilities for learning be so vast. With experience, repeatedly used connections become stronger, and eventually those that remain unused and weak are eliminated.63 The associations that a child forms or strengthens during this time will serve as the foundation for everything that comes later. Infants who are deprived early on of significant formative experiences - particularly sufficient mental stimulation, affection, or linguistic and social interaction - never manage to fully recover.64 Such is the case with infants abandoned or severely neglected in infancy and found several years later. In spite of intense, individualized pedagogical efforts, they remain not a few years, but a lifetime, behind their peers. Even when newborns are in exploration mode (just sitting and watching), the innate processes outlined in Part I “focus on certain aspects of … events… to generate [increasingly sophisticated and precise associations or] expectations about the ways in which objects can and do behave in the physical world.”65 For example, for support events, an infant first learns to associate one object’s being in contact with another with stability and an absence of such contact with instability (i.e. a falling object). At this stage, a baby will show surprise if you release something from your hand, but it doesn’t fall. A few months later, stability isn’t just associated with contact but with the type of contact, and infants expect an object placed against a wall to fall. At about six and a half months, the associations are even more precise. Babies realize that the amount of contact matters; that just a little bit of overlap will not ensure stability: at least half of the object must be supported.66 And eventually the child will learn that the amount of contact is less important than the fact that the object’s “center of gravity” is supported. Even so, we don’t start by forming expectations (acquiring knowledge) about support events or even “Mama”. While the world of a newborn baby or pup is never a senseless kaleidoscope of

As we just saw in Part I, the evolutionary “purpose” of our sensations and emotional reactions is survival. However in an environment that doesn’t demand their constant dedication/allocation just to stay alive, energy can occasionally be expended in sensory/emotional indulgence.

*

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Experience 38

colors and sounds, it must be something quite similar* as the first lessons to be learned are very basic ones.

We will return to this idea at the end of Perceptual Development. The world is never completely unintelligible to newborns because their instinctual reactions to sensations aid in interpreting those sensations.

*

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Perceptual Development 39

Perceptual Development*
A journey of a thousand leagues begins with a single step

At birth, we are already capable of detecting, locating, and discriminating certain sensations.† An infant can track moving objects and will instinctively attempt to grasp slow ones. All of these abilities improve quickly in the first few months of life. Additionally, not all of the innate perceptual abilities outlined in Part I develop in the womb. After birth, some physical maturation remains. Newborns have a visual acuity of only between 20/200 and 20/600. The muscular coordination of the eyes when viewing objects at varying distances, adjustment power of the eyes’ lens, and pupil dilation, all improve during the first few months of life. The cones that detect short wavelength (blue) light are sometimes not fully developed until 3 months after birth.67 These are questions of biological maturity and physical development, so this book doesn’t focus on them but rather on the development of the individual’s interpretation of perceived stimuli, an issue that is directly related to the development of self-awareness. We will continue to concentrate on vision, as it is the most complex (and heavily studied) of our senses. Curiously enough, the perceptual limitations of newborns probably help them in making sense out of the chaotic world around them by lowering the infinite possibilities of sensation (detection) and association to a more manageable quantity of input. Because of the limitations of their perceptual systems and their limited knowledge, until about two months of age, infants do not scan their visual environments systematically (looking for the mouth or eyes of a human face, for example).68 Instead, they tend to focus on patterns with angles, edges, high contrast (chins, hairlines, etc.), or movement. The internal elements of an object are usually ignored unless they themselves move.69 Objects In the beginning, there is no mom, dog, toys, or milk, only different shades, edges, angles, tastes, etc. One of the very first lessons to be learned (associations/expectations to be formed) is that the edges always form the boundaries of different shades of light. We’ll call these bounded colors “objects” although, of course, the infant doesn’t. She does learn, however, that the world is composed of them. By fivemonths, the child has usually learned to associate a gap between surfaces with the boundary between different objects. However, if the two objects touch, even if they have very different colors or textures, she will assume that the two objects are one. While she will reach for the nearer of two objects separated by a gap, if the surfaces are touching she will reach for the more “graspable” surface even if it is further away. With more experience, she will eventually learn to use more pictorial cues for information about object boundaries. Imagine a tree with a very still moth on its trunk. An adult looking at
Perceptual, emotional, and cognitive skills develop concurrently and are ultimately inseparable. They are separated here only to facilitate their explanation in mechanical terms. † Again sensation, sense, see are used interchangeably with detection to denote physical or chemical reactions that take place solely in the presence or absence of some external condition or substance. No awareness, perception, or will is implied.
*

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Perceptual Development 40

its exact location on the tree might see the moth, but a baby would not, at least not until the moth flew away.70 Common motion is another cue that “parts belong to a whole” even if part of the object is hidden by other objects. Four-month old infants, when shown a rectangular block with a rod coming out of the top and bottom, treated the rods and block as one if they all moved in the same direction and at the same rate. If the block was stationary while the upper and lower parts of the rod moved together, the rod and block were treated as separate objects. If the rods moved in different directions, they were treated as separate objects. 71 The Binding Problem The question still remains as to how information from different senses becomes associated with the same object. Why do we experience the color, scent, and shape of a “flower” as a unity? Each sensory system seems to have its own attention and workingmemory algorithms, and there is no single area in the brain that processes and joins simultaneous sensations.72 Each of the senses does, however, have some capacity to determine the direction and distance of detected stimuli. Newborns, for example will instinctively “orient themselves in the direction of a sound,” and can successfully touch glowing or sounding objects in the dark73. We can locate misplaced keys by sight or sound. Although, the sight of keys and the sound of keys are not joined in any specific place in the brain, events that are close in space or time are automatically linked - the closer the temporal or spatial proximity the stronger the association. The different sensations caused by a flower or crib toy originate from identical (or almost identical) locations in space and time and in the first few months of life an infant learns to associate them. Recent research suggests that the relative simultaneity of sensations does play an important part in binding them together in our consciousness.74 There is also some evidence that after a few weeks of life babies can recognize a pacifier by sight that has only been explored orally, and by four months, will look longer at “visual events which match accompanying auditory sequences in rhythm and tempo.” (e.g. when the sight and sound of a bouncing ball are in rather than out of sync).75 In any case, it is doubtful that the secret of consciousness resides in resolving the binding problem as the ability to associate information from different senses with the same object is found throughout the animal kingdom. Color, Shape, and Size Constancy The sensory impressions caused by a single object can vary. Our surroundings are constantly changing. Objects are moving. We may be moving. As the sun rises and sets, the intensity of the light reflected off an object can change. For these reasons, retinal images of the very same object may change in size, shape, and color. As they experience these changes, children eventually learn to “stabilize” their perceptions by associating certain changes with certain conditions (like a darkening of objects in low light). These associations provide additional information that is incompletely specified by actual sensation and give our perception constancy in spite of certain changes. Shape constancy (for objects rotated along the frontal plane though not in depth) is possibly present at birth. Color and size constancy aren’t learned until about 4 months later.76

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Perceptual Development 41

Infants use different cues about depth at various stages of their development. As objects change location in depth, their velocities change. These kinetic depth cues will cause a 3-month-old child to blink and exhibit startled responses when objects on a screen appear to loom towards her, although by this stage she has not learned to make these avoidance responses when she appears to be approaching the objects. One month later, infants are capable of using retinal disparity, the difference between the two separate retinal images that we fuse “into a single, three-dimensional representation of the world.” At this age, they will grab for the nearer of two objects if they are allowed to use both eyes. Yet even with a patch over one eye, six-month-olds can avoid the deeper side of a “visual cliff” by using the same pictorial depth cues that artists use to create three-dimensional impressions on two-dimensional surfaces: objects further away have finer-grain textures, are occluded by nearer objects, appear to converge in the distance, and vary in shading. After only 24 weeks of experience and associations, an infant is capable of using all three depth cues to keep from falling down the stairs or off the bed.77 Optical Illusions I – Now, you see it. Now, you don’t.

Is the shaded portion of the largest cube at the front or the back?

I doubt that an infant of a few months would see anything recognizable looking at the above Necker Cube. But once experience has taught her to decipher visual sensation in three dimensions and she has seen a box or cube, she could probably recognize the representation of one in two dimensions. Remember that when viewing an object, the neurons in the eye fire to indicate position and orientation of edges and that to recognize an object we associate it with some past experience. While the retinal image of the above cube doesn’t change, the associated “memory” of a box’s three-dimensional orientation does. In one perspective, the Necker Cube is associated with a cube of a particular orientation and in the second perspective, with another orientation.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Perceptual Development 42

Space/Spatial Awareness An infant’s spatial frame of reference develops along with his locomotion ability. Initially, a baby has a frame of reference with himself as the center. Things are classified according to their position in relation to where he is sitting or lying.78 Once the infant begins to crawl and can “change his position in his environment on his own”, the child learns that this method of orientation is not reliable. His spatial relationships with objects change too frequently. He then begins to use a non-egocentric frame of reference or landmarks so that when his displacements cause objects to “move” in relation to himself, he can still locate them in relation to the landmark.79 “Bertenthal tested two groups of infants who were of the same age, but some could crawl and some had not yet begun to crawl. An object was placed under one of two containers on a table, located on either the infant’s right or left side. Then, the infant was moved 180°, to the opposite side of the table. They found that infants who had learned to crawl were much more likely to search for the object under the correct container than non-crawling infants.” 80 Eventually landmarks can be organized into route mappings, a series of changes in direction at specific locations,81 enabling a dog to find his way every morning to the butcher’s and back or a child to find his to the kitchen from his room. … There are many other perceptual lessons to learn -- associations to form -- such as those regarding object permanence (the knowledge that “objects continue to exist even when no longer visible”82), the stability of objects, and what to expect if a moving object hits one that is movable (not stable in all the ways the child has come to associate with stability). There is no need to go into all of them here. Science has yet to determine exactly how much of the human visual system is set up prior to birth and how much about object motion the infant has to learn to predict. However, we do know that among the various processing constraints that infants use to interpret stimuli, those that are not innate are learned through experience in the first half year of life.83 From birth, the individual begins forming associations about objects in the world, their properties, and how they interact. Keep in mind that although the above goes some way towards explaining perception or detection, it still does little to explain the awareness or the subjective experience of perception. Also, we do not simply sense the world; we react to it. We are attracted by some things, while we avoid or ignore others. And that still isn’t the complete picture, because then we also have to ask, “What are the relative strengths of those attractions or aversions?” In fact, even to a newborn, the world is never really a chaotic bombardment of sensation, because from the outset the infant is capable of interpreting bits and pieces of it (colors, sounds, tastes, etc.) according to the innate “emotional” reactions outlined in the first part of the paper. Although we are all born with a very basic, instinctual set of preferences, biases, or tendencies, most of the significance we give to the world is learned as, through experience and memory, the number of things associated with those preferences increase.84

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Emotional Development 43

Emotional and Behavioral Development
The course of true love never did run smooth. - William Shakespeare85

At least as important as how sensory associations are formed is how they are translated into new, complex behavior such as walking towards a string to pull a toy. We have been using the word “emotion” to refer to the eight instinctual reflex behavior patterns: Incorporation, Rejection, Destruction, Protection, Reproduction, Deprivation, Orientation, Exploration. Although human emotions are not as simple, before we can begin to talk about the experience of emotion, we need to explore a little more its mechanics. An infant is born with a limited number of reflex reactions or schemes* (sucking, turning the head, grasping…). As these are exercised in the context of inborn “emotional” reactions and the environment that they confront, new associations are formed and these behavioral schemes are gradually modified.86 Grasping is an innate reflex. But the infant eventually associates grasping and pulling with an object’s coming closer, its coming closer with its being more manipulable, and so on. Schemes or reflexes that originate in one context are gradually applied and extended to others. The first time a child rolls over or pushes herself up, it is conceivably the accidental result of anger, contentment, or random play reflexes.87 However, with this accidental occurrence, a whole new set of associations (that of a different perspective, for example) is formed between the reflexes and the resulting body orientation. In reality, things are usually not so neat. The infant is not confronted with one sensation and “emotional” reaction at a time but with innumerable, often contradictory, possibilities of detection and reaction. Although we have been talking in terms of the “individual” and the “infant”, the explanation so far gives us nothing more than a vast ensemble of sensations and reflexive reactions. Self-awareness will eventually require some form of central control. Attention – “When your house is on fire, you … forget to have dinner.” 88 An organism has a finite amount of mental and sensory resources. Attention can be thought of as the focus of these. Although in many animals, these resources are normally biased towards whatever they happen to be looking at or smelling,† lesser amounts of mental resources (sensations, “emotions,” and associations) are still being constantly allocated to the other information-processing systems (hearing, touch…), each of which are largely autonomous. In other words, each sense provides independent, autonomous attention capabilities, but at times mental resources may be marshaled towards one or the other of them. Thus, to really concentrate on a smell, sound, or taste, we might close our eyes, or to complete a really important task we might turn off the radio. Mental resources are automatically shifted away {low level Rejection response} from stimuli that have become predictable or uninteresting, like background noise or
The ensemble of neuron firings, hormone releases, and motor contractions which apply a certain reflexive behavior pattern to similar situations. † Specifically, towards whichever is the predominant sense when in orientation mode.
*

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Emotional Development 44

returning home everyday by the same route. Novelty or unexpected change, on the other hand, causes an Orientation response and the allocation of the attention of one or more senses to be shifted or increased, like when a background noise, which we had hardly noticed, suddenly stops. At times, a given task (learning how to dance or drive a car) requires the marshaling of the vast majority of available attention from each sense. But once the tasks have been learned, less attention is required to complete them. This is especially true when with repeated tasks (tying our shoes or a tie) more efficient associations are eventually formed directly between the task and the motor skills, bypassing the explicit memories of how it’s done. This enables us to carry on a conversation and drive at the same time. However, if the traffic gets really busy or the conversation really involved and unpredictable, we may have to either stop talking or pull over.89 As in the analogy of the snow-covered field in Memory & Association, there are only a certain number of travelers, but at any given time they can be found not just on the snow-covered field but also on the paths of the villages on the outskirts of the field (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste). Although the various senses are autonomous, they cannot at the same time have equal control of the organism. The result would be an animal that tried to run in two or more directions at once. That said, there is still no need to assume some unitary or central executive control system that would serve as a seat for the emerging consciousness. Rather, as attention, emotional intensity, and priorities change, so does executive access to the central nervous system.90 For example, perhaps in a particular species, the sex drive always trumps curiosity but not hunger while hunger might always take a back seat to fear. Emotional Intensity One way of determining what gets priority access and resources is the intensity or relative weighting of the emotions in question. The limits of human emotional evaluation extend far beyond eight simple prototypes. Yet, as is the case with sensation, a small number of primary states or modes actually allows the organism countless options in the way of evaluating and reacting to the world. Each of the eight “emotional” states can be experienced along a continuum of activation or intensity, which has sleep at one end, alert attention in the middle ranges, and all-subsuming emotion at the other extreme. 91 Annoyance and rage are both expressions of the destruction pattern, and both apprehension and terror are instances of protection.92 The terms fear, anger, disgust, sorrow, etc., are shorthand expressions for entire groups of words, which sample emotional intensity at different points.93 The following table illustrates this point:

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Emotional Development 45

Emotional Intensities*,94
DESTRUCTION REPRODUCTION INCORPORATION ORIENTATION PROTECTION DEPRIVATION REJECTION EXPLORATION

Rage (9.90) Anger (8.40) Annoyance (5.00)

Ecstasy (10.00) Joy (8.10) Happiness (7.10) Pleasure (5.70) Serenity (4.36) Calmness (3.30)

Admission (4.16) Acceptance (4.00) Incorporation (3.56)

Astonishment (9.30) Amazement (8.30) Surprise (7.26)

Terror (10.13) Panic (9.75) Fear (7.96) Apprehension (6.40) Timidity (4.03)

Grief (8.83) Sorrow (7.53) Dejection (6.26) Gloominess (5.50) Pensiveness (4.40)

Loathing (9.10) Disgust (7.60) Dislike (5.50) Boredom (4.70) Tiresomeness (4.50)

Anticipation (7.30) Expectancy (6.76) Attentiveness (5.86) Set (3.56)

At the lower activation levels, the body is simply preparing itself (shifting attention, energy, priorities) to employ the reflexes necessary to maintain, increase, or eliminate a sensation or situation. If those reflexes are not readily engaged, it is probably because some conflicting emotion is also involved. At the higher levels, all of an organism’s available energy is geared towards the emotional response. Additionally, the emotions rarely occur one at a time. A situation will usually involve several, possibly conflicting, emotions giving even more variety and nuance to experience. For example, anxiety {protection} is often associated with sadness {deprivation}, and aggressive behavior {destruction} rarely occurs without some accompanying anxiety and dislike {rejection}.95 Perhaps:
Joy + Fear = Guilt Acceptance + Sorrow = Resignation Fear + Expectancy = Anxiety, Caution, Dread, Distrust Surprise + Sorrow = Disappointment Surprise + Joy = Delight Joy + Acceptance = Friendliness (?)96

and so on…. Eight emotions, each with just four distinguishable levels of intensity and combined in groups of two and three, could produce more than 224 possible emotional evaluations of the world. If we assume more levels of intensity this number increases to thousands of evaluations - all reducible to eight primary states.97 (Again, we are using Plutchik’s structure as a convenient framework for thinking about emotion. Other researchers have suggested other conceptual frameworks.) Extending Emotional Associations

A list of synonyms was given to a group of college students who were then asked to rate the words in terms of intensity, using a scale of 1 to 11. The numbers represent the mean judged intensity of each word. The table is not meant to be definitive and is included here only to give an idea of relative intensities.

*

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Emotional Development 46

As with Pavlov’s dogs, emotional responses can be extended to new sensations. Some friends of mine once had a dog, Shadow, who went wild with excitement when they got up early and brought out the coolers. Why? Apparently, because Shadow had come to associate the coolers with a trip in the car to the woods. With repeated experiences, we form scripts, or a set of successive expectations or associations about what follows next. Of course, human capabilities of association are much more extensive than Shadow’s. A child expects that before going to school he must 1) get dressed, 2) eat breakfast, 3) put on his coat, and then 4) go outside to get into the car.98 “These scripts serve as organizational frameworks for storing and retrieving specific memories.” 99 With perceptual and emotional development, the individual comes to expect that certain events will be followed by certain other events, and these intermediate events are then also associated in the memory with the end emotional state. Crying is followed by feeding or attention; kicking the crib toy is immediately followed by movement and sound. Short-term and long-term goals The intermediate events in the scripts we form may produce different or even contradictory emotional reactions. An animal fighting for the right to eat or mate may experience great pain. I’m sure that Shadow was, at times, uncomfortable in the small jeep on the ride to the mountains. The calculation of how much present pain is worth a certain future advantage is based on innate weighing of the various drives in addition to their intensities, but the emotions engendered by the intermediate obstacles will always be of a lower intensity than the ultimate emotion. Emotional intensity, instinctual preferences, and association capabilities all help decide between two options that give rise to contradictory emotional reactions. Take, for instance, the choice between accepting food from tourists and running away. In some animals, such as deer or chipmunks, intense hunger may trump low intensity fear but never terror. Gazelles flee crocodiles, but an extremely thirsty gazelle will try his chances even at a crocodileinfested stream…until the croc lunges towards him. With experience, behavior becomes more complex, but actions still aren’t the result of any “consciousness,” just an ever-longer chain of mechanical associations and robotic reflexes. As we instinctively associate our increasing knowledge of the world with our innate emotional reactions, our fairly limited initial set of reflexes is extended to the infinite number of experiences that life has to offer. We will see in Part III that with culture these learned values can come to challenge instinctual behavior patterns.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Cognitive Development 47

Cognitive Development
The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9

Cognitive processes are mental associations or schema employed for “the…purpose of problem solving.”100 But what problems? Emotions do more than give meaning to our sensation of the world. They are also essential if we are to act in it with any purpose. Although man is a “rational” creature, reason is only a tool, a means to an end. It must have a goal. Some preexistent drive or hierarchy of values must precede and direct it.101 ,* Hence, the completely logical, unemotional being of science fiction is an impossibility. “The will to overcome an emotion is in the last analysis only the will of another or several other emotions.”102 Ultimately, reason can only serve, channel, and direct sentiments and passions which are prior to and more fundamental than reason.103 So, problem-solving dissolves into learned strategies for satisfying those eight primary emotional reactions or the values derived from them through experience. Otherwise put, in the pursuit of our instinctive ends, obstacles arise that require all of the individual’s attention, memory, and judgment (relative weighing of conflicting emotions) if they are to be overcome.104 In the process of surmounting them, additional associations are formed. Planning Some problems require planning or the establishment of intermediate steps (subgoals) that must be completed before reaching the final goal. This is ultimately a question of acting on the associations that make up the scripts and schemes of the previous chapter. We have already seen how, with repeated experiences, scripts of expectations are formed and mental schemes for reacting to stimuli are modified. A dog’s attraction to beef is an entirely instinctual reflex. But the winding journey every morning to the butcher is the result of an accumulated set of associations. Leaving the yard could be associated with turning to the right which might be associated with continuing to the intersection. The other pedestrians’ beginning to cross might be associated with the cars stopping and a decrease in the fear response. Waiting outside the butcher’s would then be associated with a nice piece of steak. A bear in the wild walking to the stream to fish could use a comparable script of associations and landmarks. Delayed gratification for the sake of some future good is often cited as one of the hallmarks of planning and of higher thought. Yet, gratification isn’t really delayed with planning. Instead, the intermediate desires just have lesser rank in the individual’s hierarchy of emotional evaluations or values than the ultimate one. Infants begin to demonstrate planning between 6 and 12 months after birth, using a string, for instance, to pull a toy that cannot be directly reached.105 This, too, can be explained in terms of acquired expectations. The child sees a desired toy, enters {Incorporation} mode and crawls or turns toward it. Perhaps, the child has formed the expectation, through play and observation, that grasping [reflex], followed by a certain

*

See Part IV: Free Will.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Cognitive Development 48

movement (pulling) will be followed by the grasped string and whatever it is attached to, in this case the toy, coming closer. Analogical Reasoning While the preceding arguments explain how individuals react when faced with situations they have already encountered, it doesn’t quite explain how they could come up with innovative solutions to unprecedented obstacles, like the chimpanzee confronted for the first time with an out-of-reach banana in a yard full of empty boxes. He certainly never came across this situation in the wild, so how does the idea occur to stack the boxes in order to reach the fruit? The mind is an incorrigible analogizer.106 As mentioned in Memory & Association, categorization is inextricably tied to sensation, emotion, and memory. We jump when we see a twisted object in the water even if closer inspection reveals it to be a stick and not a snake.107 “We are compulsively drawn to see meaning in slight similarities between very different processes.” 108 When faced with a new stimulus, experience, or problem, our mind automatically attempts to form an association (using appearance, setting, goals, etc. ) with some past experience which could be useful. Depending on the individual’s association patterns, sometimes we can use a principle or procedure from one domain to solve a problem in another. However, “both children and adults regularly fail to notice that a [given] principle [or association] may be applied to a different problem unless features,” (even sometimes apparently irrelevant ones) are shared109 which can lead to the mental association. Back to the chimpanzee. Although we can assume that this exact scenario is unique, the situation of an out-of-reach desire most certainly would not be. Being unable to reach the banana, the mind first employs schemes that it has learned to use with out-ofreach desires. Walking to it isn’t an option. Jumping is unsuccessful. Climbing? There are things in the yard that could be climbed (a tree, a rock, a rope, some boxes) but nothing that would place the prize any closer. Perhaps associated with the sight of the boxes is also a memory of jumping on them, knocking them over, or moving them in some other way during play. The box can be moved. Placed closer to the banana? In reality, each of these associations entails thousands of others about the nature of objects, depth perception, physical capabilities, etc., not to mention the associations involved in considering and discarding other scenarios. In addition, there are various possible association paths that would lead to the same solution. Maybe the wood boxes bring to mind the idea of sticks which can be easily transported and which some troops of chimpanzees use as tools. The possibilities are as numerous as experience is variable. To have some idea of which association path actually led to this particular solution for this particular animal, we would need more detail about its previous experiences and associations going all the way back to infancy. Rather than thinking of planning as the construction of a newly imagined future, it is more accurate to think of it as the rearranging and reconstruction of our past experiences and expectations. (Just try to imagine a future that is not constructed from different elements of your past experience.) In the process of their reconstruction, new associations are formed. The number, complexity, and efficiency of the intermediate steps, or subgoals, is a function of memory and association capacities and experience. As a result older individuals are more

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Cognitive Development 49

likely to employ a larger number of intermediate steps or to use subgoals that may initially appear to take them away from their ultimate objective.110 Still, much of our cognitive ability is a social phenomenon. Strategies and approaches for problem-solving (e.g., using a twig to fish for termites), the tools and resources provided, (e.g., fire, metal, written alphabets, computers), sometimes even the survival tasks themselves (e.g., weaving cloth, planting crops, herding animals, learning to read) are specific to the community and transmitted to the young by their elders.111 Communities provide young organisms with a certain set of experiences from which to learn, and the most important perceptual and emotional experiences of early human infancy are probably those involving other beings who, in their role as caregivers, cuddle, nourish, and communicate with newborns112. In Part III, we will explore how, by determining the newborn’s initial experiences, caregivers influence the associations that are formed and consequently the way individuals see the world.*

*

For deductive logic, see Part III: Abstract and Logical Thought. For imagination, see Part IV: Personality, Creativity, & Intelligence.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Subjective Experience 50

Subjective Experience of Emotion
When I hear somebody sigh, “Life is hard,” I am always tempted to ask, “Compared to what?” - Sydney J. Harris

Before we talk about the role that others play in the development of selfawareness, this is a good place to begin to talk about subjective experience although a complete explanation will have to wait for the explanation of self-awareness in Part III. Earlier the word ‘pleasing’ was used in the description of an emotional state. Terms like pleasure and pain imply some type of subjective feeling that precedes emotion. This is not the case. We aren’t attracted to things because they’re beautiful; things are beautiful because we are attracted to them. Our reflexes and reactions aren’t just mechanisms to satisfy basic drives of pleasure or pain. They* define those drives. Our reactions to certain sounds, colors, tactile sensations, and tastes are reflexive. “Pleasing” stimuli are those that instinctively incite the {Incorporation} or {Reproduction} reflexes. Usually, these have some survival value, although, in the case of some stimuli, such as the taste of fat and sugar, this may no longer be the case. Painful sensations are those which instinctually place the organism in a rejection or deprivation mode and usually involve an evolved reaction to harmful stimuli. Yet, although emotions are defined here as mechanical responses, we each know that our feelings are much more than simple robotic reflexes. Our emotions also involve physiological and cognitive changes, for example. Changes in Relative Attention & Energy Allocation:
- “When your house is on fire, you even forget to have dinner.” - “Yes, but you make up for it later on the ashes.”113

Although culture will help to further define and extend upon what is seen as good or desirable, and consciousness may eventually cause us to question the truth or appropriateness of our moods, all urges and actions have their origin in one or more of those eight primary emotional states. All meaning and purpose that we see in the world arise from these eight instinctual reactions. We cannot conceive of, describe, or experience the world outside of them. They are our world. Usually, that world is some complex, interacting mixture of several of these, but at the highest levels of intensity (rage, terror, ecstasy), it becomes one emotion in particular which becomes the focus of all our energies and attention. We exist only to satisfy that urge; nothing has importance outside of the satisfaction of that urge. So the first aspect of understanding the subjective experience of emotion is to know, in relative terms of the other emotions, what portion of an organism’s attention or energies is directed towards and invested in this one particular urge? As our emotions change, so does our world. Associations

*

particularly Incorporation, Rejection, Reproduction, and Deprivation

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Subjective Experience 51

Again, through experience certain sensations are associated with certain conditions in the world. Eventually, a sharp prick alone may be enough to call to mind the visual image of a thorn or a pin. Other Cognitive Changes Emotions are also accompanied by certain cognitive styles and efficiencies. The neurotransmitters that help to give rise to emotion also affect the speed of image formation and change. For example, during feelings of happiness, associations are formed more rapidly and are not held for as long. Association is freer and may even become over-inclusive. Motor efficiency and exploratory behavior are increased while inhibition is decreased. Manic states show these changes in the extreme.114 In the negative body states (the extreme of which can be seen in depression), associations are generated more slowly and associations are narrower as the organism concentrates on the same on what "caused" or is associated with the negative emotion - over and over again. Exploratory tendencies and appetite (incorporation) are decreased.115 Physiological Changes Each emotion has not only its own behavior pattern and cognitive disposition but also unique physiological responses. They, along with the differences in disposition, give each emotion its own subjective flavor. “If we fancy some strong emotion and then try to abstract from our consciousness of it all the feelings of its bodily symptoms, we find we have nothing left behind, no “mind-stuff” out of which the emotion can be constituted, and that a cold and neutral state of intellectual perception is all that remains.”116 In some emotions, such as grief, physiological changes are among the most important aspects of our subjective experience. To feel angry or afraid isn’t merely to be in a certain disposition. It is to sense (in the same way that you sense external stimuli) changes in your body as it prepares itself for the task ahead or, in the case of grief or joy, makes sure that the experience is so unpleasant/pleasant that you never want/can’t wait to experience it again.* In The Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animals, Darwin observed, “With all or almost all animals, even with birds, terror causes the body to tremble. The skin becomes pale, sweat breaks out, and the hair bristles…The breathing is hurried. The heart beats quickly, wildly, and violently…the mental faculties are much disturbed. Utter prostration soon follows, and even fainting…Fear is often preceded by astonishment…. In both cases the eyes and mouth are widely opened, and the eyebrows raised. The frightened man at first stands like a statue motionless and breathless, or crouches down as if instinctively to escape observation…The salivary glands act imperfectly; the mouth becomes dry…All the muscles of the body may become rigid, or may be thrown into convulsive movements…”117

*

See Memory & Association.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Subjective Experience 52

Although much research remains to be done, researchers are increasingly becoming aware of even more definite physiological differences between the emotions. In one subject with a gastric fistula,* it was possible to observe his stomach secretions and other changes as he experienced various emotions. When he became sad or depressed, his stomach became flaccid and hydrochloric acid secretion was below normal; when he was resentful, his stomach engorged with blood and hydrochloric acid secretion was above normal. Anger has also been found in studies to be associated with intestinal motility, nor-adrenaline secretion, and an increase in blood pressure. The heart beats more slowly and stronger and the colon narrows. With fear, on the other hand, there is a high secretion of adrenaline and the colon slackens and becomes limp.118 Skin temperature has been found to increase when subjects expressed pleasure or sexual feelings (the “warm” feeling of happiness?) and to decrease when they expressed shame, anxiety, or guilt.119 Our experience of an emotion like fear is not merely the urge to fight or flee. It is also to feel our heart quicken and our muscles tighten. We sense many of these and other internal changes in the same way we can detect external stimuli, and we have emotional reactions to them, as well. We associate these internal sensations with the emotional state that accompanies them and they also become a large part of our emotional experience. An example is the sick feeling in the pit of the stomach which accompanies grief or extreme embarrassment, or the spasms that emotional stress may send the cricopharyngeus muscle into, resulting in a tightening or “lump” in the throat. These physiological changes work along with changes in disposition (cognitive changes of priorities and attention) to make us aware of changes in emotional intensity even when the emotion itself remains the same. Heart rate, muscle tension, respiration rate, and skin resistance have all been related to, and in some cases used to measure, emotional intensity.120

At this stage, the subjective experience of emotion is 1) some relative mixture of the eight instinctive reflexes or urges, 2) any associations derived from experience, and 3) accompanying physiological and cognitive changes, many of which are themselves perceived and evaluated in terms of the primary eight reactions. When we recall an emotional experience – like the day we pigged out on cherry pie and got sick – a similar, but less complete and intense, set of neuronal, chemical, and/or hormonal reactions takes place. It’s essential to point out, however, that even if two experiences had the exact same emotional reaction (starting at a snake or at a bank manager,121 for instance) the sensations and associations which gave rise to them would be different. And although looking at a beautiful landscape or a beautiful woman might both cause a visual incorporation response they won’t, needless to say, lead to the same physiological changes. All of the above could conceivably be possessed to varying degrees by the simplest of creatures. Subjective experience will become more complex as consciousness and self-awareness develop but not much different, with one significant caveat. One final,
*

Gastric fistula: abnormal channel or passage from the stomach out to skin

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Subjective Experience 53

and arguably the most important, aspect of human subjective experience is our ability to say, “I am tired / I feel sad / I see blue / That hurts….” In fact, this is the “hard problem” of consciousness that this book attempts to ultimately resolve. It will be addressed in Part III’s Self-Awareness. Nevertheless, in light of what has been presented so far, what follows is a mechanical explanation of the subjective experience of pain. A discussion of color follows “Self-Awareness”.

Pain
Pain, at least as we experience it, probably isn’t an essential aspect of consciousness. In fact, children with congenital absence of pain do not feel it and will tear ligaments by bending joints beyond their limits and destroy skin before withdrawing it from a hot stove or sharp blade.122 But as pain plays an important role in survival and is such an important part of what we think of as human consciousness, any theory of consciousness must address the subjective experience of suffering. Detection of Pain Our tissues have evolved sensitivities to those types of injury that they are likely to meet during life, not to those that will probably never occur. Brain tissue, which in the normal course of the things doesn’t come into direct contact with the outer environment, can be pierced, cut, and burned in neurosurgery with no sensation of pain. The same can be said of lung, liver, and spleen tissue. Yet, while the intestines are not sensitive to cutting or burning, pain can be induced by pulling on the tissue that attaches them to the abdominal wall, a sensation likely to occur in digestion. Nerve fibers tend to be more stimulus-specific. Some afferent nerve* fibers in the tendons and muscles are used only in posture and movement. Others report only deformation of the skin. Fibers such as these will not give rise to pain regardless of how they are stimulated.123 Even in tissue such as skin, which, as the outer covering of the body, must be sensitive to many different possible sources of pain, those nerve fibers that do report pain report only certain noxious or harmful stimuli. For instance, those nerves that detect heat and mechanical stimuli fire increasingly as temperatures approach levels that could damage tissue. 124Thus, the pain that results from a particular stimulus (like temperature extremes or the intense mechanical stimulation of punctures or high pressure) occurs only through the activation of those nerve fibers (or nociceptors) which detect those specific potentially destructive events† and in the absence of those particular stimuli these nerves tend to be silent.125 Of course, any particular stimulus, like a splash of liquid, is likely to activate several different types of receptors: mechanical (touch), thermal and chemical.126

Afferent nerves send impulses from the body’s periphery inward to the brain and spinal cord. In the heart, bladder, and rectum there doesn’t appear to be any special group of fibers to report harmful levels of stimulation. Some researchers believe that in these cases, pain is the result of the excessive stimulation of the same nerve fibers which are used in the reflex.

*

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Subjective Experience 54

The sensation of pain is not much different, neuro-physiologically, than any other kind of sensation. Each type of nociceptor is only triggered by certain types of energy or stimulus. In a way similar to our ability to recognize different colors, we learn to associate the existence of certain harmful stimuli in the world with the firing of certain neurons. Various sensations of pain are different because we learn to associate certain neurons’ firing with certain situations or types of damage to different areas of the body. Sensation will also vary according to the frequency, duration, location, and the size of the stimulus.127 This explains nociception, the detection (potentially harmful) stimuli, but nociception is not suffering.128 Emotional & Associative Aspect Pain can startle. It can obviously be unpleasant, and for some it can even excite. All of these different evaluations of pain are added after detection (nociception), which accounts for why the experience quite often differs from person to person. So, the sensation or detection (nociception) is one thing and the interpretation and evaluation of the sensation is another. The Rejection behavior pattern we tend to equate with pain, is actually our emotional response to it, its interpretation, as can be seen in cases where the emotive response is awry or has been disrupted. In individuals with trigeminal neuralgia, a breeze or simple caress of the face can cause excruciating pain. There is pain or suffering without the corresponding nociception or harm. In those with prefrontal damage, the emotional reaction is sometimes altered, although there is the same awareness of the sensation itself. They “know but [do] not ... feel,”129 … at least not in the same way. This “distinction between [nociception], that is, the perception of a certain class of sensory signals, and suffering, that is, ... the negative emotional reaction to that perception” can be seen in the response of one patient after receiving a prefrontal leucotomy to relieve severe, intractable pain: “Oh, the pains are the same, but I feel fine now thank you.” The operation appears to have short-circuited the brain’s ability to engender suffering while leaving its image of local alteration in the body region, intact.130 The sensation (nociception) is still there but the emotive interpretation (suffering) has changed. With varied experiences, our interpretations can eventually have an associative component, as well: It feels like “pins and needles” or “my head is going to explode.”* Intensity/Relative Attention Pain is a unique, instinctual mechanism for placing the body into one of the eight primary behavior patterns or orientations toward stimuli. Usually that state is rejection, destruction, deprivation, or some combination of them proportional in its intensity to the danger that the sensation poses to the organism, but this is not always the case. In individuals with trigeminal neuralgia, there is a problem of emotive intensity, and in the patient with the prefrontal leucotomy, the emotion of rejection was somehow eliminated. A tickle is perhaps a quirky conjunction of rejection and acceptance modes. Additionally, culture and individual personality and experience can act to change both the emotion engendered and its intensity. Masochists, for example, have a reproduction reaction to some painful stimuli.

*

We’ll address language in Part III.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Subjective Experience 55

Our whole being - the meaning and importance that we place on objects in the world and on our own actions – is circumscribed by a world of interacting and competing evaluations, attractions, and aversions. Pain is the instinctual or preprogrammed means of triggering the rejection behavior pattern and of giving that emotion a unique priority. As the pain-causing sensation increases so does the relative intensity of the emotional response until with intense pain, consciousness and being are completely consumed with eliminating the sensation. At such a point, we exist only to stop that sensation. … Pain is 1) the stimuli specific and localized perception of bodily change (Is the sensation in the hand or the leg? Was it a puncture, scratch, or was it cold? Was the sensation sharp and sudden or dull and prolonged? ), 2) its emotive/associative interpretation, (Does it repulse, frighten, or excite?) and 3) its relative intensity in comparison to other concurrent sensations or emotions (Is it a nuisance or agony?), not to mention 4) the subject’s awareness of its own suffering which we’ll address in Selfawareness. The qualitative character of subjective experience (emotion, pain, color, etc.) will vary from individual to individual according to his or her sensation, emotion, memory, and past experience, but although subjectively unique, it remains objectively explainable.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Experience 56

III. Community
No man is an island, entire of itself… --John Donne

131

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Community 57

Imagine an individual with only the innate capabilities of sensation, emotion, and association outlined in Part I and capable of using these to learn from experience as described in Part II but alone in the world with no insects, animals, or other beings. If he were to, say, injure himself, he could never have the idea of “I feel pain.” Who is I? What does I mean when there is no other? The most he could have would be a mental impression similar to “There is pain.” But even this is doubtful. Why call it “pain”? For that matter, why call it anything at all when he knows exactly and immediately what it is? Nor could he derive a sense of self by using memory to compare his past selves to his current self. The past wouldn’t be “his” past, the “past”, or anything at all other than what it was, sensations, emotions, and memories... According to the arguments presented thus far, there would, of course, be de facto categorization, categorization being an inseparable aspect of detecting and reacting to things in the world, but there be no tools (concepts, labels) or motive for reflection. Recall our central assumption of a universe where event Y always and only followed event X. In Part I, we said that in such a situation, the occurrence of Y was analogous to being able to “detect” X. Reflexes and instinctual reactions were explained in the same way: a certain external event triggers a certain internal reaction, just like iron rusting. Memory was then explained in terms of the automatic formation of new links between the reflex reaction and whatever stimuli (sensations) accompanied the event that triggered the reaction. In Part II, we saw how an individual with this basic set of instinctual reactions could, through experience, acquire some expectations or knowledge about the world. Nevertheless, as complex as his mechanical responses would be, there would be no more reason for the collection of chemical reactions we have been calling an “individual” to “step outside of” and contemplate itself than there is for an automobile, central heating system, or explosion to reflect upon the complex actions and reactions which define them. One reaction would simply be followed by another. Instinctual emotional reactions would cause our “individual” to react as an entity, but he could have no idea of himself as an entity. He is his universe. The idea of self requires a frame of reference from which to contemplate it, a vantage point from which the part can survey its place in the whole. At this point there is none – just a mass of reactions, but in Part III, community will finally provide the missing perspective. … Communities can have any of a number of possible structures. Some, like bears, consist only of a mother and her young children. Other more complex communities are formed by several females and the young (elephants); a single male and a group of females and the young (gorillas); a monogamous pair and their offspring (jackals, eagles); or a clan or pack composed of males and females (wolves, gnu, fish). It is not even necessary that the members be of the same species (i.e. dogs and humans). Whatever the evolutionary reasons why it would have evolved (sexual attraction, help in finding food, care of the young, etc…), many animals obviously have a favorable emotional reaction to the continual presence of others of their species. Perhaps, social creatures have evolved an instinctive increase in the fear response in the absence of certain communal sensations. Human infants, as mentioned in Part I, instinctively prefer and even seek out uniquely human sensations132 like voices, cuddling, and caresses.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Community 58

In social environments, our experience of the world is not only of objects that exist for us, but of objects which exist for us and others.133 From experience, we develop models - more sets of expectations - of other individuals’ behavior just as we do for inanimate objects. A fifteen-month old playing “Drop the spoon” is not only learning about how objects behave when you release them, she is also learning how people work and the ease with which they can be made to behave in predictable ways - as mommy faithfully returns the spoon every time it’s dropped.134 -- likewise, when she takes turns babbling or cooing with a parent or sibling. Eventually, we form expectations to the effect of: People tend to flee, avoid, etc. bodily damage.135 Eating before the alpha male is followed by an attack from the alpha male. A particular apple or bit of deer is edible, but not if it is eaten by another animal. A cheetah chasing another animal is not an immediate threat. Crying is followed by attention from Mommy. These simple expectations and thousands of others like them make up our knowledge of other beings.136 This separates us and other animals from colonies of ants and bees which also have complex social structures but, with limited abilities of memory and association, have no complex schemes for predicting what someone else is about to do.137 Their social behavior is apparently the result of innate rather than learned strategies.138 An ewe or antelope can acquire enough social knowledge to associate the flight of other members of the herd with an increase in its own protection responses. A lion or dingo can form the expectation that what another creature is eating may be a source of food for itself, and if he or she is higher-ranking, may just walk up and take it. Some lower-ranking dingos, having “realized” this fact (or rather having formed this association between their actions and the response of others) will then begin gnawing on a stick or digging in the sand for an “imaginary treasure” only to return to the original prize, once the other dingo’s attention has been drawn to the ruse.139,* Chimpanzee’s have social algorithms sophisticated enough to use body posture to form expectations about the focus of another’s attention or next action and so are less likely to gesture for a reward towards a researcher whose back is turned. This “social brain” is even more sophisticated in human infants, who can learn to draw attention, intention, and emotional cues from the movement of a person’s eyes† or eyebrows.140 However, in none of these instances is there any “mind reading.” Although we instinctively form expectations about the behavior of objects and beings in certain circumstances, we don’t necessarily or automatically assign to them desires, belief, hope, pain, or fear.

*

Deception does not require any attribution of beliefs, knowledge of other minds, or any other special skill or talent beyond acquired associations or exepectations that one action will produce a more or less favorable result than another. A young lion learning to stealthily stalk prey is functionally learning to deceive. † In experiments, chimpanzees have also been taught to use eye movement in a predictive way, even acquiring the proficiency of a human infant.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Community 59

A mother gazelle or cat that immediately turns and licks her newborn is actually eating the placenta, replenishing nutrients, and/or marking the newborn with her scent. The gesture is mutually pleasing and helps to establish their bonds of mutual attraction and security, but, in some cases, if the mother is somehow prevented from carrying out this reflex, she will regard her offspring as a stranger and chase it away.141 It has even been suggested that part of the attraction we feel toward infants is an instinctual, aesthetic one like our attraction for certain colors or a bright day - an attraction which cartoon characters, like Mickey Mouse, with their disproportionately large heads and eyes, small bodies, and button noses, are also said to induce. Among colobus, for example, the attraction towards infants does seem to be partly independent of parentage. The little white monkeys are universally adored, and the mother doesn’t have any problems finding a “baby-sitter” when she must temporarily leave the infant to forage for food. A mother gnu risking her life to save her child from a leopard could be no more than an instinctual {deprivation + protection} response analogous to one leopard defending a kill from another. The gnu’s depression after the newborn’s capture might then be an intense deprivation response. The beaver’s dislike for the sound of running water partly explains how it maintains its dam. Who knows? Perhaps, a bird is at once attracted to its chicks and annoyed by their chirping, which seems only to be quieted by food. At the same time, something similarly reflexive is going on on the part of the infant. A young duckling, for instance, will grow attached to any object which moves in its visual field between the thirteenth and sixteenth hours of life, its window for this type of imprinting. This is true whether the moving object is its mother, a dog, the hand of a scientist, or an inanimate object.142 The newborn will follow the object, never stray far from it, and huddle up next to it to sleep. If the cherished object, whatever it is, is somehow removed, the duckling will exhibit all the signs of acute stress, running about aimlessly, bumping into things, injuring itself, and refusing to eat, drink, or sleep.143 As far as young mammals are concerned, while the sucking reflex is instinctual, they too have been found to have a sensitive period (usually of a much longer duration) in which they are may form attachments to the sight, scent, or sound of their caregivers.* ,144 In one study, children who experienced separation anxieties when going to bed or school were pacified simply by being given an object (scarf, cap, etc.) impregnated with the odor of the primary caregiver.145 Breast-feeding, caresses, grooming, and other social behavior which serve to strengthen the relationships between members of a community are all pleasing to the giver, as well, and/or have pleasing results. Eventually, these gestures do not just form and reinforce social bonds. They actually become contingent on them.† It is not uncommon for mothers in the wild to become attached to and care solely for their own offspring.‡ A duckling will flee approaching objects but not its mother. A chimpanzee
Although attachment behavior in birds and mammals are thought to have developed independently of each other. (See Bowlby pg. 168, 183.) † Schaffer (1966) found that infants can distinguish their mothers from strangers months before they actually begin to exhibit a fear of strangers. ‡ Not all animals are so selective when it comes to doling out affection and mothering. In these individuals, the acceptance response is much more easily triggered and can at times extend to individuals who are not from the same family, clan, or species. (See Bowlby 132 fn, 163-164)
*

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

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might not feel the same way about being groomed by a member of another troop. In the absence of a social bond, other emotions, such as protection, take precedence. It’s like being tickled by a stranger as opposed to your lover. The intention here is to show how community could be explained without recourse to an awareness of either the self or the subjective experience of others. It is not to belittle animals’ subjective experience of emotion or community. On the contrary, the joy a wolf feels at encountering another member of the pack or the attraction that a mother has for her offspring, is, nonetheless, real. A mother zebra or cheetah’s sorrow at the loss of her cubs may be as “heart-rending” as our own.* There is no reason to suppose that the abandoned ducklings described earlier would be any less distraught than a human baby separated from its mother. There are feelings, but what is missing is the idea of an individual who is the subject of those feelings. Perhaps, some isolated individuals learn to associate the actions of others with their own subjective emotional experience† and thereby achieve a limited awareness of others - like the chimp that walks over to caress another who has just lost her baby. Another possible explanation is that the individual has come to expect that the other’s injury or loss will be followed by changes in comportment and demeanor (facial expressions, listlessness, or other body language) to which he (and other social animals) have evolved instinctually negative reactions. However, it is not necessary for our purposes to assume that people ever automatically make either of these mental associations, and, in any case, these associations, alone, would be insufficient to explain self-contemplation and reflection. Experience in communities provides social knowledge in the form of longer, more complex trains of associations. But, as with the individual depicted at the beginning of this chapter, there is still no ability to – or, for that matter, reason to -- “step outside of” those associations to contemplate them, their subjects (others), or their source (the self). There aren’t any labels (“me”, “him”, “pain”) just mechanical associations. At this stage, there is still no need to assume any reflection, self-awareness, or assignation of desires or beliefs, just an ever more complex train of associations and self-centered (innate or calculated) reactions to stimuli. Although now included in those calculations are complex models which can be used to predict other’s behavior, the actions of others are important only in so far as they relate to the individual’s own wants and desires. The individual’s own emotions remain the only window on, and measure of, the universe.

* †

See Subjective Experience of Emotion. Individuality will be addressed in Personality, Creativity, & Intelligence.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

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Culture*
The only thing that’s truly yours is what you feel. What you think is public domain. - F. Von Schiller

Fish and young bear cubs both live in communities, but fish already “know” at birth or can learn on their own everything they need to survive and reproduce or at least for a sufficient number of them to do so. Not everything that a mammal needs to know in order to survive and prosper can be learned in a single lifetime. A cub, pup, or human newborn would not survive if left to fend for itself or to learn on its own what is edible or dangerous. Most of what many young animals need to survive they must first learn from their parents or caregivers. So that collective knowledge is passed from one generation to another. A young bear cub whose mother takes him to the river and throws live fish to him on the shore is learning where to find food and how to obtain it. A young wolf pup playing with its siblings is fine-tuning the skills that will later be used in the hunt, and when his parents bring him killed deer he learns the smell of game. Regardless of whether or not this is the textbook definition, we will refer to it as “culture” because it consists of learned strategies for survival which vary from place to place and from group to group even within the same species and are passed from caregiver to infant.† Plants, game, and other resources differ from place to place and from continent to continent. As a consequence, so must the eating and hunting habits that the young learn from their parents. Occasionally, groups in the same environment find different solutions to the same problems. Different troops of chimpanzees have different manners of courting, grooming, and using tools.146 If we were to instantaneously transport the same brown bear cub to another part of the world - the Rocky Mountains instead of Siberia - he would learn different fishing grounds and edible fruits. A puppy’s capacities for sensation, emotion, and memory allow it to learn enough do’s and don’ts to be socialized into at least two, very different, types of communities. Leave it with his mother and he becomes a contributing member of a pack. Place him in other circumstances and he becomes a loved member of a human family. Our respective communities present us not only with the tools and strategies for survival or problem-solving but in many cases they also set what those problems will be.147 Emotional development isn’t confined only to an individual’s learning how to react to various objects in the world, but a great deal of early punishment and reward comes from parents or other members of the community.148 Much behavior is governed by how we expect others to react.149 Innately pleasing sensations such as feeding or cuddles and kisses become contingent on not biting the teat, not crying in public, or upon using the potty. 150 A young member of the pack, herd, or pride must learn his position in the hierarchy – as well as what privileges (such as feeding order) that carries with it – the hard way through growls and snaps. Likewise, the child learns to adjust its behavior according to the expected reaction of parents, other authorities, or, especially in adolescence, peers. “…Acculturation add[s] a set of socially permissible and desirable
* †

For the origin of culture, see Personality, Creativity, and Intelligence. The existence of culture among chimpanzees is now acknowledged.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

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decision-making strategies that … enhance survival…”151 A swimsuit is fine on the beach but not at school even on a sweltering summer day. And although there is no obvious difference to a toddler between picking at the grapes on the kitchen table and those at the supermarket, the first is okay and the second, a serious social offense. These last two examples also serve to highlight how cultural messages (and the associations and expectations that define them) often vary with the situation. Being tickled by your lover is fine, but not during a formal dinner. Some individuals who burp or use profanity among friends and acquaintances wouldn’t do so in the presence of strangers or members of the opposite sex. We said that, in communities, we learn how objects in the world can be manipulated by others as well as ourselves.152 Probably the most common way in which the young learn is by imitating their elders. Sometimes imitation takes the form of preexisting associations and reflexes which are triggered by the observation of others. We may feel the urge to yawn right after someone else does or reach for our glass right after our dinner partner has drunk from hers. A chicken which has already eaten to satiation will start eating again if it sees others feeding.153 At other times, observation results in new associations being formed and strengthened as when, by observing their elders hunting, fishing, or eating certain plants, young animals learn what is edible and how and where to find it. Some adult oystercatchers tend to open mussels by pecking a hole in the shell’s weakest point (hammering), others by using their beaks to cut the muscle holding the shell together (stabbing).* Members of a mating pair tend to employ the same technique; and mixed-pairing are not observed. 154 In one experiment, the eggs of parents favoring different techniques were switched. Although only three of chicks survived to an age where their feeding patterns could be observed, all three employed the method of their foster parents not that of their biological parents.† ,155 So, much of learning is “Infant see -- Infant do” as it were, and a child’s heightened curiosity for new sensations and experiences helps the process along. A youngster raised in an environment where people often read will, in play, pick up a book and pretend to read it, unaware of the fact that the book is upside down! And parents who read to (or simply in front of) their preschoolers “are not only proclaiming to their children the importance of literacy, but also demonstrating and encouraging the distinctive skills and capacities allied with it.”156 With several species (ostriches, mongooses, lions, giraffes…), the young from various parents are at times grouped and left with a single adult while the others go off to procure food. In human communities, these sitters (in schools, clubs, and religious institutions) play an active role in ensuring the acquisition of specific cultural knowledge by monitoring and regulating progress.157 The reason why human acculturation takes almost two decades while a wolf cub is a mature and contributing member of his society
Oystercatchers may employ a variety of alternative diets and feeding techniques, and these may change over time. But in all adults, at any point in time, one technique for opening mussels is favored (Sutherland 1987, 1996). † This implies only that observation of parents is a factor in determining the eventual feeding patterns of the young. In all likelihood, other factors also play a role: the techniques employed by other Oystercatchers, bill morphology, and the type of prey available. (Sutherland et. al. 1996).
*

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

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in three years is that besides (or rather because of) differences in memory, association, and communicative abilities, there is so much more to learn.* Human societies in their different environments have come up with widely varied solutions to life’s perennial problems of food, clothing, shelter, sexuality, property, division of labor, dispute resolution, and so on.† While in some societies men have several wives, in others the women traditionally take several husbands. Among the upper-caste Nayars of southwestern India, what we would call marriage didn’t really exist prior to British rule. A man’s financial and social responsibility was greater towards his sister’s offspring than his own.158 A matrilineal family structure also exists among the Ashanti of western Africa. Some communities are matriarchal and others patriarchal. Will the child learn how to build igloos, huts, or teepees; to prepare banku, fondue, tamales, cous-cous, gumbo, or steak and kidney pie? Each culture has its own unique set of survival skills and knowledge that a child must master if she is to survive and prosper. As children see how those things that are intrinsically or instinctually valuable (affection, food, clothing, shelter, mates) are given out in their community, other derived values (praise, athletic ability, status, money, etc.) are formed. Culture and Perception - Optical Illusions II

159

There is more to seeing than detection and emotion. Our biology or “hard-wiring” alone cannot explain all of what it means to see. By largely determining which will be our formative experiences and hence what will be our most fundamental associations, our culture, literally shapes how we see the world - what we see as meaningful and in what way. In the above illustration, it is possible to see either an old woman or a young one. The retinal image, we can assume, is the same for both images, but how we interpret it is heavily influenced by experience and culture. Someone who had never seen a depiction of a woman in Victorian dress might find it more difficult to see the representation of the younger woman. Their experience would not have given them any reason to associate the old woman’s thin-lipped smile with a choker necklace. Once a person does have that experience to draw on, in attempting to make sense of the picture, the mind finds the appropriate association in the memory. The above image is one of the most well known examples of people having the exact same retinal images yet “seeing” completely different things, but we come across other examples everyday. While a telephone exchange may look to the layperson like just a jumble of colored wires, a telephone engineer would see connections. Whereas the inexperienced looking at a contour map see
* †

See Scientific Thought. See Personality, Creativity, & Intelligence for a discussion of the origin of culture.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

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only lines which mean nothing other than lines on a map, a cartographer sees hills, cliffs, and ravines.160 A musician and a child listening to the same piece do not hear the same thing. The musician “hears an entire world” of notes, key strokes, other relationships to which a child or mere aficionado is both deaf and dumb.161 In one experiment, speakers from different nationalities were told to listen to a series of knocks, which, unbeknownst to the participants, were at regular intervals but with every third knock being louder than the previous two. French speakers, whose native tongue often stresses the ultimate syllable in a word, interpreted a pause after the loud knock, whereas the Czechs who regularly stress the initial syllable, placed a pause before the loud knock. The Polish participants whose language tends to stress a word’s penultimate syllable heard a pause between the two softer knocks. When the interval was lengthened but between knocks of equal loudness, the French identified the last knock as the loudest; the Polish, the second; and the Czechs, the first. 162 Not only are there an infinite number of ways to sense the world, there are also countless ways to divide and label it. What we see is determined not only by our biology but also by our knowledge and expectations. I do not mean to say that if your culture has no separate word* for 'purple' you wouldn’t be able to distinguish it from 'blue.' The ability to distinguish colors is innate, but which distinctions we consider significant or trivial are often learned. When interpreting a situation, the mind’s first response is to attempt to form an association with some memory. Past experience, of which cultural upbringing is a huge part, teaches us what to see as important and what to see as inconsequential in a certain scene. The question of perception is not just what we are capable of seeing, but also “What has our visual and conceptual experience taught us to see?” 163 … It’s quite a leap from learning to catch fish and game to explaining telephone lines, choker-collars, and musical appreciation. Nothing so far explains speech, or technology and much less discovery, reflection, or metacognition and self-awareness. At this point, we have nothing more than cycles of detection, reaction, and associations extremely sophisticated mechanical processes, but mechanical nonetheless. The following chapters attempt to close the gap.

*

See Communication.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

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Communication
I know that you believe you understood what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant. - Robert McCloskey, U.S. State Department spokesman, during the Vietnam War

By communication we mean the provocation of reactions or associations in one being by another. A brightly colored frog, a wolf growling or snapping a warning, a lion marking its territory, a gnu in heat, a prairie dog or monkey sounding a call that indicate approaching danger are all examples of chemicals, gestures, sight, and sound conveying messages in a non-linguistic environment. None of this requires that either party be aware of the fact that they are communicating or being communicated with. A wolf’s angry or annoyed growl is as instinctual, or predetermined as the other’s decision to back off or growl back in response. Although with experience, individuals will eventually come to associate a certain utterance with a certain change in the other’s behavior, there is still no need at this point to suppose any knowledge or intuition about the other’s subjective states (feelings, beliefs, etc…). Among humans, certain innate facial expressions are a universally recognized means of communicating dispositions such as joy, sadness, anger, disgust, and fear.164 In fact, communication based on gestures is thought to predate language by a million years.165 Nevertheless, expelling air from the lungs in order to produce a communicative sound is nothing new in the animal kingdom. Wolves, gorillas, lions, mice, and prairie dogs do as much to express anger, sadness, danger, etc. When a macaque “sentry” spots a leopard, he emits a warning cry that awakes all the members of the troop and immediately sends them climbing higher for safety. If, on the other hand, he spies an eagle, he shrieks a different cry and within a fraction of a second the others are scurrying for the lower branches.166 Vervet monkeys have a third, “snake,” call, in response to which, they stand on their “hind limbs and [peer] into the grass.”167 Cockerels, prairie dogs, lemurs, Californian ground squirrels,168 and chickens have all been found to use differentiated alarm calls or “vocabulary,” if you will. While a mark of some intelligence, this ability is not particularly surprising or different than anything we have discussed thus far. It's similar to learning walk to the river when thirsty, or to how to hunt or gather when hungry. Just as a young macaque learns to climb down when it spies an eagle and to climb up when it spots a leopard, it also learns that one shriek is emitted in the one instance and a different sound in the other. The macaque is not learning the "word" or "shriek" label for flying or prowling predator as much as it is learning when (in what situations or circumstances) a certain shriek is uttered. One uniquely human trait, however, is our extra capacity to vibrate the expelled air to a greater or lesser degree using the vocal chords to apply changes in frequency, pitch, and volume. (This distinctive ability is possibly just a fortunate coincidence of some unrelated evolutionary process - an “exaptation” as opposed to an adaptation. The physical structures necessary for language seem to have predated articulate speech by hundreds of thousands of years. 169 Additionally, all of the major structures involved in speech (tongue, teeth, lips, palates, larynx) play dual roles in digestion and/or are found
From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

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in other animals.) In our case, by varying the position of the tongue and lips, the friction or stoppage of this vibrating stream can also be varied making possible, by some estimates, the articulation of thousands of different sounds. Although most modern languages use only about 50 of these,170 the chosen 50 are by no means the same. The speech of the Khoisan of the Kalahari Desert incorporates more than 15 different click sounds. The Japanese make do without the l sound, and some European languages manage without many vowels.171 In addition, the human ear, as outlined in Detection, is capable of detecting and distinguishing these variations in sound,* and the human mind of forming as many unique associations with them. Human languages may have similar purposes, but they accomplish them in very different ways, and not only in terms of sounds and vocabulary. Some languages make many time distinctions.† Renowned linguist Mario Pei wrote of an Aboriginal language with five tenses for the future alone, depending on how definite and removed that future is and of an Indian language of the Pacific Northwest which employed recent, remote, and mythological past tenses. 172 Other languages have fewer tenses or none. French has no separate continuous (-ing) tenses, and Chinese does fine without any temporal inflections, merely adding “now”, “tomorrow”, and “yesterday”. Some languages use word order to convey meanings, while others use endings, prefixes, or infixes (additions within words). In English, “Peter sees Paul” has a completely different meaning if we change the order of the words. Latin’s “Paulum Petrus videt” means the same regardless of the order. The same indifference to word order characterizes Navajo, Quechua, Fore, and Lisu‡. Three-quarters of the world’s languages adhere to either the Subject-VerbObject (SVO) order of English§ and Vietnamese or the SOV structure of Japanese and Tibetan. Between 10 and 15% (Welsh, Tongan,…) use VSO, while Malagasy and Houailou have VOS word order. Object-initial languages (OVS, OSV) are rare but can be found in the Amazon basin.173 Not all tongues have the same strictly defined parts of speech. A Dravidian language of India gives adjectives no separate existence. The idea “strong man” must be rendered “strength-man”. The Aranta of Australia put a similar twist on the concept of nouns, describing things always in terms of actions or states. A “man” is a “being more” and the moon is something “stable that returns” 174. Similarities between European languages are often due to their common origin, but no grammatical

This is one “hard-wired” ability that we didn’t touch on in Part I. It is not necessary that a self-aware individual be able to speak or hear, just that it be able to communicate with its fellows in some comparable way. † I eat, am eating, ate, was eating, have eaten, have been eating, had eaten, had been eating, will eat, will be eating, will have eaten, will have been eating. ‡ This Lolo-Burmese language doesn’t appear to use either word order or cases (prefixes, suffixes, and infixes) to denote parts of speech! The only way to distinguish Peter sees Paul from Paul sees Peter is the context. § Languages are classified according to their natural word order, but exceptions within languages are common. SOV Japanese often employs OSV, and all six patterns are occasionally used in English for emphatic or poetic effect: SVO: I did it. SOV: Pensive poets painful vigils keep. (Pope) VSO: Govern thou my song. (Milton) VOS: Bless the Lord, O my soul (Psalms 103:10) OSV: Jones, I invited – not Smith. OVS: 30 days hath September…

*

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

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concept or structure seems to be indispensable or universal,*,175 which would imply that almost everything about language must be learned in the same way that what to eat must be learned. The human brain has special linguistic processing areas (Broca’s area for speech and Wernicke’s for comprehension), but they are composed of neurons, like the other parts of the brain and form associations from experience in much the same way. Neuroscientists still are not sure exactly how these areas work. One possible explanation is that they are special only in that they have been evolutionarily assigned and pre-wired to handle associations between contextual (particularly emotional and social) circumstances and sounds and their order. Just like the other sensations, these parts of the brain look for patterns - not as to the “rules” that govern language but as to the situations in which certain sounds are uttered. We are not suggesting that babies are learning which sounds to associate with which objects. Rather, as discussed below, infants learn when (in what context, in the presence of which detections, reactions, and associations) to expect or make certain sounds.† There is little agreement as to exactly how human speech arose – whether from instinctual exclamations which accompany pleasure, pain, surprise, or fear, the imitation of naturally occurring sounds176 like bird or animal calls, or from some type of earlywarning system like that of the macaques. Regardless, language is a pre-existing fact of life that a baby is presented with. For our purposes, more important than the origin of speech is how the infant herself comes to understand and employ it. If nothing else, we know that languages arise and evolve through generations of “work, needs, ties, joys, affections, [and] tastes.” 177 In these same contexts of daily experience, the infant comes into contact with language and forms the associations that enable it to be correctly understood and employed. As the child goes about forming associations and expectations about the things she sees, she also forms them about the sounds she hears and utters. Language Learning To an adult learning her second language, it first seems like an unbroken string of meaningless sounds.178 So it is all the more amazing that an infant, with no first language to translate to or from, is capable of ever learning to speak. It should be pointed out, though, that human speech is never completely unintelligible or meaningless to the newborn. She already has an “innate disposition … to learn in a certain direction and to react appropriately to patterns and objects of certain restricted types.”179 We outlined these in Parts I and II. At birth, a child will orient herself in the direction of a sound180 and, because associations begin in the womb, already prefer the stress, rhythm, and timing of her mother’s language.181,‡ Additionally, an infant would instinctively judge the

In the absence of “exception-less” universals, linguists search for trends, tendencies, and other relative or statistical universals. For example, in over 99% of the languages in which word order is important subjects precede objects. † For example, learning to say “Bye-Bye” when they or someone else is leaving. ‡ This is not the only example of prenatal acculturation. Any newborn will greet a drop of sugared water placed on the tongue with facial expressions of pleasure while rejecting bitter drops. Parisian newborns, however, have been found to exhibit these same grimaces of displeasure towards garlic-flavored pacifiers which Marseillais infants, already habituated to the flavor from the mother’s diet, adore. Japanese newborns who spent the pregnancy close to Osaka airport were quite comfortable with the background noise of airplanes and actually had trouble sleeping without it. We all have a similar set of basic emotional

*

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

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sudden, growling sound accompanying “NO!” as negative and just as instinctively find more appealing the soft purring of “Mommy loves you.” These innate emotional reactions and, of course, the context (a forbidden whim or smothering kisses) all help to give the infant a clue as to the intended meaning of language. It is often pointed out that an infant must already have some idea of the object before she learns the word for it, otherwise how would she know that the word applied to the object and not the object and its surroundings.* However, as discussed in Memory & Association: Categorization, we have begun to classify things “long before language supplies labels to identify them. We have begun to classify as soon as we notice differences, regularities, and irregularities, as soon as we make associations of any kind.”182 Dividing and categorizing is an integral part of sensation as our unconscious minds automatically divide and classify things by similarity, difference, and continuity of color, shape, smell, touch, and sound. The ability to detect, react to, and track objects (seen in insects, fish, chimps, and babies) already provides rudimentary, de facto “categories” (or experiences) to which words like “dog” can be associated. As humans all have similar abilities of sensation, when a care-giver says “dog” or “house” and looks and points in the animal’s general direction, it’s not complete chance that the child happens to key in on the dog and not the dog and the sofa that it’s sleeping on. Still, children sometimes get it a little wrong, as we see when they attempt to reapply the term in a new situation.183 Having learned that the word dog applies to the family pet, a child may initially proclaim any four-legged animal a “dog.” He or she usually must gradually learn by trial and error to distinguish a dog from a cow or a cat or a wolf.† Bit by bit, usually from parental corrections, associations are fine tuned so that there are no mental rules, per se, just associations which conform more and more to cultural ones. With profanity, for example, included are our own emotional associations with the words and expectations about the reactions of others. It bears repeating that a child learning the word "flower" or big sister "Angela" is not learning the definitions for "flower" or "Angela," but when (in what situations or circumstances) the words "flower" or "Angela" are used. There is no place in the brain where “dog”, “flower”, or “Angela” are defined. The words‡ “Angela” and “flower” are simply associated in the brain with the numerous other associations and expectations about their properties and tendencies which experience has formed: with “flower” what happens when you look at it, smell it, pull it, etc., and a similar but much more complex set of expectations make up a child’s “idea” of “Angela”. If we add the word look, as in Angela looks at the flower certain of these associations, and those regarding one of Angela’s properties in particular (expectations regarding the relationship between eye gaze and another's attention and intentions), are triggered.
reactions, but the experiences that interact with them to form new associations and reactions begin even before birth. (Cyrulnik, 1989, pg. 37, 40). * This is sometimes called the “Intentionality of Perception.” However, we still are not assuming any intent or intentionality here – only physical (If…then) reactions, just ever more complicated sets of detection, reaction, and associations. We will address intentionality again in Self-Awareness: Other Minds. † Vervet monkeys also gradually learn the meaning of alarm calls through experience. In early childhood, they sound the alarm upon sighting any bird. By adulthood, they have learned to ignore harmless species such as bee-eaters or storks. (Rogers & Kaplan 144). ‡ or signs. Again, there is no need for language to be spoken for self-awareness.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

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Angela picked the flower “calls to mind” certain other, slightly different, associations. Angela picked the yellow flower a still more specific set of associations. Thus a given sound’s several possible meanings can usually be easily distinguished. The associations triggered in the listener by the phrase “I’m going to the bank” will be different if the speaker is holding a checkbook as opposed to a fishing rod.184
Checkbooks and Fishing Rods In his famous critique of B.F. Skinner, renowned linguist Noam Chomsky pointed out how sentence structure and word-endings alone cannot be a complete explanation of grammar and meaning: “Struggling artists can be a nuisance has the same [grammatical structure]* as marking papers can be a nuisance, but is quite different in [meaning and implication], as can be seen by 185 replacing can be by is or are in both cases.” Yet, in spite of the fact that the sentence structure alone would appear to lend itself to various interpretations†, in each case only certain interpretations are compatible with the listener’s experience. English has an SVO structure, and so many sentences involve describing experience in terms of an actor, an action, and an “actee”. While preschoolers may have no knowledge of “animate”/“inanimate” objects or of transitive/intransitive verbs per se, by the time they are capable of understanding the above sentences they have formed expectations as to how certain objects behave and how (in what circumstances) certain verbs are used. Struggle, generally an intransitive verb, alone hardly ever takes a direct object, so the most likely associations will be of artists struggling rather than of artists being struggled. Although the verb “to mark” is potentially more problematic since in our experience the accompanying noun might be the actor marking or the actee being marked, drawing from that same experience, “papers” don’t mark anything. Sentences like “Slapping artists can be a nuisance” or “Swaying branches can be a nuisance” are much more ambiguous because several interpretations may actually be compatible with the listener’s experience just as with Necker cubes or the optical illusion of the old/young ‡ woman. When this is the case, associations created by context and habit will fill in the possible gaps as they do with the word “bank” (financial institution or side of the river?). There is no need to assume any explicit grammar rules governing interpretation just expectations and associations.

Speech With speech, a similar process is at work. Regardless of their mother tongue, all children begin speaking with fairly simple associations: familiar objects (cookie, ball, flower), actions, motions, routines (eat, go), modifiers (hot, dirty, all-gone), or routines for social interaction (no, bye-bye). They then progress to slightly more contextual, usually two-word, associations such as (my doll, blue flower, eat cookie, see baby, I§ want) and eventually move on to more nuanced (Me want now, Give doggie paper, I no want to go to sleep).186 The syntactical and “grammatical idiosyncrasies that distinguish one language from another – inflections of tense, the use of gender, and so on—are …generally learned last”187 as general linguistic associations (-ed with past events, for example) are gradually fine-tuned through imitation and correction. Thus, without any knowledge or awareness of linguistic rules, the goed, buyed, and eated that most children initially employ become went, bought, and ate.188
* †

{Present Participle (-ing) form of a verb} modifying a {subject (noun)} + {“can be a nuisance”} Are the artists struggling or being struggled (with)? Are the papers marking or being marked? ‡ See “Optical Illusions I” in Perceptual Development and “Culture and Perception – Optical Illusions II” in Culture. § See Self-Awareness.

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Children usually don’t learn language word-by-word or grammatical-rule-bygrammatical-rule, but in the contextual circumstances of daily experience. A child learning bye-bye, thank-you, all-gone, no… learns when to use them, not their parts of speech. Actually, for many of the things in language (idioms, expressions, slang, profanity…), context, not the grammar, gives them the bulk of their meaning. A child is learning when to say as much as she is learning what to say, and instead of thinking of words as associated with objects, think of them as being associated with experiences and different aspects of experience (which can include objects). In a manner similar to that of the other sensations, the language processing areas of the brain would seem to be specially wired to find patterns and form associations between contextual (particularly emotional and social) circumstances and vocal sounds and their order. Language predates definitions, dictionaries, linguists and grammar teachers by many thousands of years. Modern linguistics, notwithstanding, in my opinion, children learn explicit grammar rules in the classroom not at conception or in the crib. “…and there is no new thing under the sun.” It is true that a child who utters a phrase like This Snufalufagus* walked on the green planet has never heard this sentence before. In fact, it may be first time a particular phrase has ever been uttered in the history of humankind. So, simple imitation would seem to be an inadequate explanation until we remember the hungry chimpanzee in the yard full of boxes.† We don’t construct a future as much as we rearrange and reconstruct the past. Sure, the child has never heard this sentence before, but this isn’t the first time she has heard this used to refer to objects relatively close to the speaker, walk to refer to a type of movement or locomotion on a surface, -ed to refer to an event which comes before another in a causal or temporal chain, the on prepositional phrase to denote the setting or surface on which an event takes place, nor the to precede something that has already been mentioned, that is already known, or that is distinguished from something else…. A child with another mother tongue would take bits and pieces from her linguistic experience to express a similar “original” idea in a very different way. … What language makes possible In human beings, the range of sounds which can be articulated and distinguished, as well as the number of associations which are capable of being formed and recalled is greater than in any other animal.‡ Yet the ability to speak and understand, while the most significant difference between man and beast, is in end also one of detail and degree not kind, based on capacities of association that we share with many other animals. This is evidenced by the success we have had teaching dogs, horses, dolphins, elephants, cats(?) … to respond to a limited number of vocal commands. Researchers from Georgia State
Character from Sesame Street, a popular American Children’s Series. See Cognitive Development. ‡ Whales, dolphins, elephants, and hippopotamuses are just a few of the other species which have been found to produce an impressive variety of communicative sounds, many of which fall outside the human hearing range. What meaning they may or may not have, how much is instinctual, how much is learned, still escapes us.
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University recently taught a chimpanzee to use and understand a vocabulary of 3,000 words using a keyboard and voice synthesizer.189 If knowledge is the acquisition of sets of expectations about the world, language facilitates the labeling, manipulation*, and exchange of those expectations by serving as another framework for forming and retrieving associations. Knowledge (expectations which exist in the memory in the form of associations) can now be accessed by both linguistic and non-linguistic cues.190 Smelling apple pie or hearing the word “apple pie” might both bring up images from your childhood. The fact that words cause the same or similar associations to be formed in the minds of members of a given community gives rise to two additional capabilities. First, we can refer to things outside of the immediate temporal or spatial surroundings. We can communicate information about what happened at the lake or “two moons ago” as opposed to just our current sensations and emotional states. In the animal world, only the “dance” of bees† is traditionally thought of as showing this ability for “displaced reference.”191 However, contradicting this view is the fact that it is not necessary for the other macaques to actually detect the approaching threat before they scamper in the appropriate direction for safety. See Abstract and Logical Thought. Second, new words can be defined by giving them specific connections with other words and experiences already in the addressee’s vocabulary, as with a dictionary.192 Associations and expectations can now be more easily and efficiently transferred from one individual to another, and direct personal experience is no longer the only way of learning.

See Abstract & Logical Thought. A worker bee’s dance pattern upon returning to the hive indicates to the others the direction and distance of food.

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Abstract and Logical Thought
abstract adj 1: disassociated from [or considered without reference to] any specific instance; 2: expressing a quality apart from an object Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary193 “…an ability possessed by man alone. This ability has been called … abstract thought, …man's unique mental ability, consisting of assigning to things and events certain meanings that cannot be grasped with the senses alone.” Encyclopedia Britannica194

Can we really say that our ability for abstract thought is proof of a qualitative difference between us and other animals? For Pavlov’s dogs, the bell eventually acquired a meaning completely divorced from any it would have naturally had for them. When my friend’s dog, Shadow,* got uncontrollably excited from the sight of coolers in the morning, he was inside the house with nothing to suggest the outdoors except his own internal associations. The coolers had a general meaning for him “that could not be grasped with the senses alone,” likewise with the chipmunks scurrying out at the first sign, not of food, but of tourists. Just as we saw with words, flags, uniforms, paintings, traffic signs, and other human symbols (like the star of David, the Christian cross, a judge’s robe, or the useless business tie) are associated with countries, roles, organizations, objects, religions, or situations that are, in turn, defined by additional associations. So, abstractions can also be reduced to some set of associations. The greater the number of successive associations which separate a symbol or concept from detection and the eight instinctual reactions to stimuli, the more “abstract” it is, but this is no less mechanical than anything we have been talking about up to this point. Our capacity to form abstractions and symbols through associations is apparently wider and deeper in some areas than that of other animals but nothing we have seen thus far gives us any reason to suppose it is substantially different. The ability to escape from the immediate precedes language with memories (the dog who avoids, on sight or smell, the man who last week chased him away) and scripts (the cat who hungry sets out on the long winding journey home). The pain of last week and the promised meal are nowhere to be found in the current context. The ability to express things outside of the immediate is, on the other hand, a function of how developed and extensive the communicative associations are. Having a sound or other representation for “home” or “last week” not only encourages you to think in these terms but it also allows you to refer to them in conversation; whereas if your vocabulary and capabilities of association are limited to “danger above” and “danger below”, like the macaques, the abstractions you employ will be as well.† But, someone asked, “What about those words which do not correspond to anything “real”,
See Emotional and Behavioral Development. Whether language is necessary for thought is the subject of heated debate. In my opinion, thought isn’t language, but the ensemble of sensations, emotions, and associations that we have been talking about up until now. However, culture, of which language is an inextricable element (see Language, Culture, and Values), does play a significant role in directing thought. See Culture.
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which refer to creations of the mind with no tangible counterpart in experience, like the character “Hamlet,” “Truth”, or the number “2”?” “All I know is what I read in the papers.”195 The character “Hamlet” is composed of associations in exactly the same way as my knowledge of the Queen of England, Leif Eriksson, Abubakari II, my cousins Stacey and Tracey (whom I’ve never actually met either), or any other displaced reference. The only difference between Hamlet and the above lies in those associations that relate to whether we believe the events actually took place.*. If I have never personally seen Africa, Paris, or Atlantis, my knowledge of each of them arises exclusively from tales I’ve been told. And a picture is only that, a picture – dots on a sheet of paper. Prima facie, it could just as easily be labeled a picture of Paris or an airbrushed picture of Atlantis for a magazine cover.† This is not to say that there are not very good reasons for considering one explanation more plausible than another, rather that the decision depends on something more than what is “real” or apparent. It depends on internal associations and expectations. With displaced references, the only distinction between the real and the unreal is my confidence in the source as a describer of the unseen and the unheard. What I’m reading may be labeled a history book or a collection of tales, but in terms of my own personal experience, Columbus, Thomas Jefferson, and John F. Kennedy are no more “real” to me than Hamlet.
Two additional points: First, talk of differing associations regarding veracity and origin can only take us so far in accurately distinguishing the Hamlets from the Marco Polos. When it comes to displaced references, the line between fact and fiction is inherently a fine one, because there are any number of imaginable explanations which would be consistent with current available evidence (even if all available evidence were actually given equal time in the national discourse which, of course, it isn’t.) When an unexpected archeological discovery of a bone, etched stone, or lost document forces us to relegate what was once historical “fact” to the status of Hamlet and myth, nothing about the external universe (past or present) has changed outside of our own internal perspectives and associations. Is there any way to be certain that any of our current historical views are impervious to unknown evidence that may or may not ever be discovered? Is it because we have confidence or faith in the storyteller?‡ History books and newspapers occasionally publish untruths, and works of fiction often contain historical “facts”. In some cases, we are told stories and then told that they are factual and in other cases we are told stories and then told that they are fictional, but in both cases we are told nothing more than stories. Second, not only “Hamlet” but all abstractions and classifications, from “France” to “tree”, involve something that is not “real” – at least if by “unreal” we mean primarily a creation of or
* †

how have the events of the story interacted with other events in the world Even if we get past the “just dots on a screen” observation, what is presented as representative or important is heavily influenced by the reporter/cameraperson’s own perspective. Additionally, the fact that the images are selected, edited, at times arranged or modified, and almost always require some accompanying explanation, caption, or narrative makes most video, audio, photographs, and paintings closer to displaced references than direct experience. Susie Linfield writes, “Photographs…are isolated fragments of a larger truth. Photographs surely show us something, but just as surely they tell us nothing, for they are inherently lacking in narrative powers: For the proverbial beginning, middle and end, the photograph substitutes a single frozen moment onto which we project meaning. A viewer cannot, therefore, "know" reality from a photograph any more than a reader can "know" reality by isolating one word from a sentence.” (Linfield 2001). Or, as my grandmother used to admonish in another context, “Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see.” ‡ See Language, Culture, and Values and Science and Civilization.

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interpretation by the mind. All involve categories and evaluations that don’t exist in the world independent of the mind, but rather are dependent on our sensations, emotions, and associations. (See definitions of abstraction above as well as “Categorization” in Memory and Association.) The point of this chapter is that all abstractions whether they are labeled “real” or “unreal” can be reduced to some set of associations. We will further explore “Truth” in Personality, Creativity, and Intelligence, but as an Australian aboriginal adage observes, “Ultimately, everything is equally a reflection of our consciousness - what we call real as well as what we think illusory, the 196 dingo crossing the river as much as its image in the mirror of the water.”

Part of the confusion over words that “don’t refer to anything real” arises from the traditional idea of thinking of some words as being associated with objects and others as being associated with ideas or abstractions, but we are making no such claim. On the contrary, we are suggesting that from “dog” to “beautiful” to “truth” all words are associated with context. Whether terms are later thought of as referring to things “concrete” or “abstract”, the question for the language learner is always the same: not what objects sounds apply to, but when (in what conjunction of sensation, emotions, and associations) certain sounds apply. Under this conception, the traditional distinction between concrete and abstract nouns simply does not exist. The word “Two” is learned in a comparable way. An additional source of “abstract” information are the calculations done after simple perception.* Creatures from insects to humans have innate abilities to detect, react to, and track objects. Depending on the organism’s perceptual abilities, a visual image detecting one fruit, mate, or moving object would be distinct (would trigger a slightly different set of neurons) from a visual image with two fruits, mates, or moving objects. It would not be surprising if some limited ability to perform calculations regarding number had also evolved.† Calculations as to more or less (many vs. few) are of definite survival value. The ability to detect (and react appropriately to) situations where one branch had more fruit, one direction had fewer predators, or where the individual is confronted with three allied rivals rather than one, would have had a significant evolutionary advantage. It is accepted that many animals have capacities to discriminate numerosity in situations similar to the above. However, there has been some debate as to whether this ability was based on number or non-numerical features like the surface area, density, or duration of stimuli. (Three lions may simply be a larger obstacle than one lion.) The question of a homo sapiens monopoly on the concept of numbers was answered, at least as far as Rhesus monkeys, in a 1998 Columbia University study. The monkeys were consistently able to put images of objects of varying colors, sizes, and positions into numerical order, thus demonstrating an

Examples are detecting whether, in what direction, and how fast an object is moving (which enables us to track predator or prey) or whether a sound’s frequency is rising or falling (which enables us to tell whether a siren or other sounding object is approaching or withdrawing). Simple detection alone would never be enough for these feats because the information requires immediate calculations involving present and past stimuli. The simplest of creatures and artificial detectors perform such calculations. The Appendix gives an idea of how these are done. † Mechanical counting algorithms are very simple. Again, to get an idea of how these calculations could be performed see Boolean Logic in Appendix.

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understanding of number which equaled that of a 3- or 4-year old child. 197,* One thing that the Rhesus most certainly do not share with four year old children is an extensive linguistic associative ability that can be mated to this innate capacity to discriminate number. Once the child has repeatedly heard the “1, 2, 3…” mantra and seen the accompanying ritual performed in varied circumstances - with the hand always moving to a different object with every number - she learns to apply the routine to her own classifications. With additional observation, she eventually comes to associate “the final number in a counted set” with the total set.198,† But again, the issue for a child learning about “Hamlet”, “two”, or “truth” remains comparable to that of a child learning “dog” or how to express the past tense: in what circumstances do they apply, not what they apply to. … Logic The ability to reason is also often given as the most uniquely human of traits; as the clear divide between humans and animals. A specific object can simultaneously belong to various hierarchically arranged linguistic classes. (Mice are animals, mammals, and rodents. Dogs are animals and mammals but not rodents. Birds, while animals, are neither mammals nor rodents.) Logical reasoning refers to the construction and abstract manipulation of these hierarchical concepts.199 All poodles are dogs and all dogs are animals. Spot is a poodle. So Spot must also be an animal. A cow is also an animal, but Spot is not a cow. In fact, the divide between humans and other animals is not so clear or wide but, like language and memory, results from the quantitative development and extension of innate abilities we share with other animals, not some qualitative difference between man and beast. Animals, we have already seen, do form rudimentary categories,‡ and these can even have an implicitly hierarchical organization. For example, not all animals are wolves. Not all wolves are members of the pack. Not all members of the pack are of higher rank. For a wolf, each of these categories has a contingent set of behaviors. Some behaviors would be displayed towards any wolf; others only towards members of the pack. And still others in the presence of higher-ranking members. Pigeons walk over to inspect objects that might be food, but they still don’t bend over to eat everything that they walk over to inspect. Essentially the edible is a subset of the potentially edible. As for abstractly manipulating hierarchically arranged concepts, in this, logic is a function of language. “All unmarried men are bachelors.”
The monkeys faltered at nine. Yet, when the numbers are sufficiently high and the difference relatively small, so do we -- unless, of course, we use our language skills to count the objects. See 3rd box in Personality, Creativity, and Intelligence. † Upon seeing a flock of ducks, a friend’s son once exclaimed, “Look, Daddy! Two Ducks!” Not quite there but well on his way. ‡ See Memory & Association: Categorization.
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“Uncle Carl is unmarried.” “Uncle Carl is a bachelor.” If there is a forest, there are trees. If there are trees, then there is wood. If there is wood there is a flammable substance. Hence, if there is a forest there is a flammable substance The business of logic is to draw “new propositions out of premises in which they [already] lie latent”200, to make concepts clear by expressing the details of their meanings. It is essentially a clarification and then summary of definitions.201 Yet, definitions we know are culturally specific and invented, and exist in the form of associations.* The conclusion that “Uncle Carl is a bachelor” is really just another way of stating the previously given definitions. The third sentence is a summary of the first two, a sort of “associational” short-cut where a new association is created in which the intermediate associations are bypassed. A “flammable substance” is already “hidden” in the definition of -- associations that define -- “forest”. Deductive logic is a means of “backtracking” along associations and then creating newer, more direct ones.† This connection between logic and linguistic associations is suggested by the fact that logical reasoning abilities increase along with mastery of language. Very young children are often “reluctant to credit an object with more than a single label” and “have difficulty comprehending that an object can belong to several hierarchically arranged classes simultaneously.”202 “All poodles are dogs” is a definition. Poodles, dogs, etc. are arbitrary classes unique to cultures. For example, some languages have the same word for dog and wolf. Spanish and some other tongues make no distinction between pigeon and dove.‡ If children have difficulty mastering and manipulating hierarchical concepts, it is because they have not yet completely learned the specifics of their culture’s definitions. “Hierarchical organization is not immediately evident”203 when children first learn words. As children become more practiced in the nuances of not only their native language but also the sub-language of logic (comparing, joining, subtracting classes), they are more able to engage in formal reasoning such as X > Y and Y > Z so X > Z. Yet these sort of transitive inferences while seen in some situations in four year olds, are not usually observed until several years later.204 By the adolescent years, their knowledge of and familiarity with definitions and the rules of formal logic allow them to abstractly manipulate concepts. If told to assume that “ants are bigger than elephants and that elephants are bigger than cats,” they can deduce that “ants then must be bigger than cats.”
See Communication and Language, Culture and Values. The distinction between analytic judgments where one concept is contained in another (“Bachelors are unmarried males.”) and synthetic statements where the second concept is not contained in the first (“Margaret’s shirt is black”) is rejected by most modern philosophers. There is no sharp distinction between what a word means and what it applies to. Words are simply associated with all the other associations which constitute our knowledge of an object. While the truth of analytic statements is already contained in the meaning of the terms themselves, the truth of synthetic conclusions follows just as obviously and inevitably from the meaning of its terms. A synthetic judgment cannot turn out to be false…except by changing its meaning. We have continued to separate the two here only to better show how all knowledge (synthetic or analytic) can be reduced to associations. ‡ This is understandable enough given that the “dove of peace” is nothing more than a white pigeon.
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Young children, on the other hand, will never accept the hypothetical premise that “ants are bigger than elephants.” 205 This familiarity with socially defined concepts and physical objects allows other feats of problem solving. Your mother sends you to the river for exactly one pint of water, no more no less. You have only a 5-pint and a 3-pint pail. What can you do? This problem assumes that the solver already knows the following culturally defined definitions: 5-3=2 3 - 2 = 1* So that filling the 3-pint pail and pouring it into the 5-pint pail, leaves 2 of the 5 pints empty. Filling the 3-pint again and using the contents to finish off the 5-pint leaves you with one remaining in the 3-pint pail. Or, A farmer needs to transport his dog, chicken, and a bag of grain to his home on an island. The boat has room enough for only one of the three items at a time. But if left alone the chicken will eat the grain and the dog the chicken. How does he transport them to the island? Okay, the working definitions here are given. Dog + chicken - Farmer = Unacceptable Chicken + corn - Farmer = Unacceptable Options (1, 2) taking the corn or the dog over first contradict the constraints, so they are out. Option 3: Taking the chicken over first. But dumping the corn off next (3A) contradicts our definitions as does taking the dog over next (3B). But (3C) taking dog (or the corn) over second, leaving it, and taking the chicken back still satisfies the given definitions. Then we could leave the chicken on the shore. Take the corn (or dog, whichever is left) over and come back for the chicken. These last examples and that of the “gigantic ant” highlight how in addition to our linguistic abilities, logical reasoning is heavily dependent on our short term memory (as definitions and conclusions must be held in the memory in order to be reused) as well as on cross domain associations namely from the verbal to the spatial, mathematical, or

We won’t get into the cultural origins and variations of math rules in this text, but mathematics obviously involves the mastery of certain procedures as well as learning to associate these relationships, definitions, and procedures “to a specific task or problem.” (Daehler 634.)

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logical. We’ll address this subject again in Part IV: Personality, Creativity, & Intelligence. *

Another type of “logic” is inference to the best explanation. Reasoning by analogy/metaphor is dealt with in Cognitive Development and touched upon in Scientific Thought. Perspective and discovery are addressed in Personality, Creativity, and Intelligence, as well as in Culture, and Language, Culture and Values.

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From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

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Language, Culture, and Values
Traduttore-traditore* - Italian Saying206

Learned words are sounds that are associated with - and thus serve as additional mental cues for - the numerous other associations that experience has formed about objects and situations. Although your biology determines what you are capable of detecting or distinguishing, your cultural experiences play a large role in determining which of those distinctions you consider significant. A child can instinctually distinguish a wolf or dog from the rest of its environment by shape, color, movement etc., but must learn from experience to distinguish these from each other and from cats, cows, or horses. Not all of the dividing and categorizing that we do is innate. An infant also learns to categorize from objects and situations that his culture has already come to see as distinct from other objects and situations. Yet these distinctions often differ from one culture to another, as each has arrived at unique ways of dealing with their environments and of imposing order on their experiences. Those categories and distinctions that have been found to be more useful than any historical competitors are passed down. Inevitably as a child learns a language, she is being further influenced into accepting the culture’s way of seeing the world, learning what to consider important and what to consider trivial.207 Although the linguistic associations thus formed by individuals within a community are very similar, they are not identical. If I say “blue,” assuming that you think of the color and not sadness, which color do you think of? Light blue, dark blue? Do you see a blue-colored object or shape? Is it a square, a dress? Or let’s take the word, “Georgia” (the state, not the song, country, or your old girlfriend). The first association that comes to mind will still be different for each of us – peaches, Atlanta, the South, your father’s hometown. With the word “father” in particular, I always see my own. Which brings us to a much more important way in which linguistic associations differ. We do not learn about the world item by item but in contextual circumstances. As a child learns to apply the word ‘father’ or ‘brother,’ she is learning more than what ‘father’ means or who her father is. She is also learning the difference between men and women and the way in which one man in particular can be expected to behave towards her.208 Perhaps this is one reason why women who grow up in homes with spousal abuse are more likely to marry someone who is abusive. Not because they are looking for someone who will strike them, but because many of the qualities they have come to associate with masculinity are the same ones likely to be possessed by a jerk. By learning a language we are gradually assimilated into its culture (or sub-cultures): learning to accept its classifications, roles, expectations, and values as our own.† What those values and cultural perspectives are vary widely from one society to the next. An action described positively as daring could just as easily be labeled pejoratively as reckless. What some societies would describe as vengeance others would
* †

A translator is a traitor. For more, see “Shared Experience” below.

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label justice or honor. Heathen kindred of King Sigeberht of Essex found his Christian habit of forgiving his enemies so queer that they killed him.209 The media tends to portray certain perpetrators of horrible crimes as evil, uncivilized beasts and others as insane or “disturbed.” What some cultures might consider a lust for power many Americans would call healthy ambition. Lazy and irresponsible are sometimes carefree and happy-golucky.* The stories (displaced references) we tell our children introduce them to our cultural perspectives. Take, for instance, the tale of “The Ant and the Grasshopper.” The grasshopper, after playing all summer, spent the winter in the cold envying the harderworking ant. The story could just as realistically have ended with the ant dying at the end of the summer from a stress-induced heart attack. And, although it is clear that nine out of ten times the hare would trounce the tortoise, we only bother to tell our kids about the one time he lost. But realism isn’t the point and neither is simple storytelling. It is about passing on to our children our values of hard-work and delayed gratification. Other traditional tales emphasize different values. Some speak to the importance we place on female beauty: “Mirror, Mirror on the wall who’s the fairest of them all…”; The ugly duckling doesn’t end up accepting itself or its uniqueness until it becomes a beautiful swan. Others highlight the significance of male status or power: The beast in Beauty and the Beast may have been ugly, but he was loaded; The Little Mermaid did not give up her voice for a poor fisherman but for a prince. Not to mention the fact that almost all of these tales imply certain gender roles. Nor does the ‘education’ stop after kindergarten. The standard works of English or Western literature (Dr Faustus, Romeo and Juliet, Huck Finn, Of Mice and Men, 1984, etc…) which we all read in school and which constitute a large part of our shared cultural heritage, are brimming with particular perspectives such as “the ‘soul’ is more precious than riches”, “true love” conquers all, the importance of challenging authority, the definition of loyalty, or the danger of despotic government... Movies, television series, jokes, urban myths, expert testimony, and press conferences are the modern forms of storytelling and they, as well as the songs we sing, affirm our various cultural (if not always social) values and perspectives. After seeing the movie “Titanic”, Jiang Zemin, Communist Party chief and president of China, recommended it to his fellow Politburo members, but pointed out that they “should not imagine that there is no ideological education in capitalist countries. ‘Titanic’ speaks of wealth, of love, the relationship between rich and poor, and vividly describes how people react to disaster.”210 Admittedly, a society has many (even contradicting) values, but non-mainstream films with their nihilistic, crime-does-pay plots also convey a certain message or interpretation of reality. At the very least, any work of art says this: “Of the innumerable aspects of and perspectives on the human experience, these are the ones which I – the writer, director, painter, singer… – find worth highlighting.” Children have no idea how the world works, although their minds are constantly forming associations, constantly looking for clues or “rules” with which to make sense of - and deal with - the myriad of interactions going on around them. With little experience of their own to go on, one explanation (or displaced reference) often sounds just as good as another: People have flown to and walked on the moon, Santa Claus delivers toys every Christmas, sinners go to hell, the tooth fairy replaces lost teeth with bills, the world is really round and China is on the other side,
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The relative morality and/or utility of these different perspectives is another question.

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snakes are dangerous, Catholics and Arabs are dangerous... Displaced references, especially the stories we hear or see, are an important substitute for personal experience and consequently. They are also an important (although not the only) means of both reinforcing cultural outlooks and values and, whether consciously or not, passing them on to our offspring.
The Narrator’s Narrative So, stories do much more than express a certain perspective on reality. They also play a significant role in forming the perspectives that shape a society’s reality. The next question, which really goes beyond the scope of this paper, is: Of all of the equally true or plausible stories regarding ourselves, others, and the past which might be told and of all the ways of relating each of them, which narratives actually end up being told and repeated in the media and in the national discourse? What facts or perspectives are emphasized and which are downplayed?* Who makes these decisions and on what basis? I don’t have the answer to these questions except to say the obvious: The stories that are told are the ones the storytellers want to tell. So the question becomes: In a given society, who are the storytellers, and what are their interests and motivations? Of all the possible perspectives on events outside of the addressee’s own experience that could be imparted, which ones actually are?

… Shared Experience When I meet another English speaker and use a word like “chair”, ”loyalty,” or “honor”, I am assuming that she has had some set of experiences that are similar enough to mine so that she has a similar set of associations with the same word.† As culture largely determines what those formative linguistic experiences will be, it is an inseparable factor in learning or understanding a language and why some thinkers have concluded that it is ultimately impossible to translate from one language to another. With different environments, ways of life, and values, one culture’s linguistic associations – even for simple words like “mother” or “food” – will rarely, if ever, be perfectly interchangeable with another’s.‡ To an American, the phrase, “You ain’t seen nothing yet” vs. “You haven’t seen anything yet” conjures up a whole train of associations about the mood, education level, and/or geographic origin of the speaker as well as his relationship with the listener. All of these nuances arise from the myriad of times we have heard these phrases employed in certain circumstances, change according to the circumstances, and are quite literally lost or distorted in any translation, regardless of whether the translation is literal or figurative, using comparable phrases in the second language. All languages are inevitably permeated with these same peculiarities. For
In this way and others, the translator is the functional equivalent of the storyteller. This is true for all words, but it is even more exaggerated for some. If I know that English is my listener’s second language, I will try to use words which I know probably have a one for one equivalent in her personal linguistic experience, shying away from idioms (to kick the bucket, to get along, hit the ceiling, pull someone’s leg, paint the town red…), euphemisms, proverbs, colloquialisms, or other expressions which, even if “understood”, probably will not lead to the intended associations given the listener’s limited experience with Anglo-Saxon culture. ‡ For example, what it means to be a grandfather, mother, son, or cousin (the expectations and responsibilities that go along with and define these roles) would be different in a society where children were expected to leave home at 18 and move hundreds of miles away for work or school than in a culture where the offspring never leave home and extended families tend to live under the same roof or in close proximity. Not all parents are as concerned as Americans are when a child of 25 shows no indication of ever wanting to leave home.
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instance, in Central and South America, the term “negrita” is very affectionate, but how do you translate it? Whether it is rendered “honey”, “baby”, or “little black woman” in English, because our history and culture is different, the term either loses associations that were there originally or gains some that were not. In many Mediterranean countries, bread is an integral part of every meal and must be bought fresh daily. So when a Spaniard says that something was “mas larga que un día sin pan,”* she isn’t simply saying that it took a long time; likewise when a Frenchman says, “Je ne mange pas de ce pain la.”† They are at the same time putting a unique emphasis on their point by evoking and reaffirming a common cultural experience that does not translate. A language isn’t simply shared words or concepts, it is shared or, rather, convergent experiences (and hence values) which are associated with those words and which give them their meaning.‡ … The quotation at the start of the chapter Culture stated, “The only thing that’s truly yours is what you feel. What you think is public domain,” but the claim is not that we are ultimately limited to regurgitating whatever cultural values we happen to have been taught. Cultures can have many, even conflicting, values, and people may interpret them differently. Rather, the above quotation is saying is that even when we reach “independent” conclusions and “construct” our “own” value system, it is using the tools (language, values, and opportunities) that our cultural experience has given us, parting from that base.§ This is not to say that language and culture form some sort of impregnable wall of understanding. In all the ways that really matter, the human experience is the same. We all laugh, and we all cry -- over pretty much the same type of things. We all make love, and, to a greater or lesser extent, war to defend or nourish what we love. Occasionally, some individuals even discover that for them a certain “foreign” culture captures better than their own some important aspect (music, food, beauty, values, lifestyle…) of the human experience.** Additionally, many cultural images are global or span several cultures, namely languages, religions, ideologies, or certain writers, thinkers, and institutions like Hollywood. Throughout most of the world, regardless of the listener’s language, if you say something that sounds like “yankee”, people have a pretty good idea of what you are talking about. Globalization, multiculturalism, and communication technology are gradually eroding many of the cultural walls that divide us. For these reasons and others, shared interests, ends, and outlooks do not always conform to cultural or political boundaries. However, as long as American children read Dickens and listen to the Beatles and British schoolchildren watch “Cheers” and read
* †

Longer than a day without bread. Literally, “I don’t eat that (kind of) bread,” but better rendered “I don’t want to have anything to do with that.” ‡ A lighter, more contemporary example of this occurred in a debate during the 1984 U.S. Democratic primaries. After an explanation of his opponent’s proposals, Presidential candidate Walter Mondale landed a devastating blow by asking simply “Where’s the beef?” The question caught Senator Hart off guard, and for the rest of the night, he never fully recovered. Consequently, the next morning most of the press awarded the debate to Mondale. Yet, the question itself and its impact could really only be understood if the listener were also familiar with the commercials of a fast-food chain which were very popular at the time. § See Part IV: Free Will and Personality, Creativity, & Intelligence. ** See Part IV: Personality, Creativity, & Intelligence.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Language and Culture 83

Huck Finn all in the same language, the British and American peoples will at the very least understand each other better when they disagree than the French and Americans even when they agree.*

Again, not so much because of the shared language but because of the convergent experiences (and hence perspectives and values) which a common language usually entails.

*

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

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Self-Awareness
Cogito, ergo sum.* - René Descartes

Reflection Language and culture also provide the external frame of reference† necessary for reflection. With language we learn to label objects, expectations, and situations using common, externally-imposed terms, categories and values. Remember that there is no single place in the brain where a word or concept is defined, but words (flower, cat, Angela, etc…) are simply associated with the numerous other associations and expectations about their properties which experience has formed. The same could be said of the word “I” or "self" (although the emotional significance attached to egocentric associations is incomparable.) We also said that a phrase like, “Angela picked the flower” simply leads to a certain set of mental associations and expectations about Angela, the flower, and their properties and that these associations were themselves made up of other, more basic ones. Outside of the emotional significance we attach to these observations, there is no cognitive difference between saying, “He picked the flower.” or “I picked the flower.”, “I am drinking”, “You are drinking.” The self is subject to observation, description, evaluation, and labeling just like any other object, and reflection thus becomes possible. We can observe, label, and judge things about ourselves with the same linguistic and cultural associations that we use to describe others.‡ Thus, culture provides both the tools (language and cultural values) and incentive§ for self-evaluation. “Am I a good lover/father/worker?” “Am I brave, honorable, strong, attractive, etc…?” We process information about ourselves in exactly the same way we process information about other beings. In small children, these self-observations are often made aloud and are usually a repetition of the image given by parents and caregivers. “I am pretty, good, bad, smart…” In adults, when they are made, they are usually sub-vocal. Whether the observations are vocal or sub-vocal, it is essentially us having a conversation with ourselves, or rather to our emotions and values.** Otherwise put, just as the young vervet can learn when to emit the "flying predator" warning, we learn which detections and reactions to associate with uttering "I" or "me"; just as a young cub can learn what to do when it is hungry, a human infant can learn what utterances to associate with its detection of hunger. But once the infant has learned in which situations to say "I am hungry" or "I am angry", it enters a whole new world of cognitive possibilities in terms of self-awareness and subjective experience..
I think, therefore I am. or at least approximate it to the extent that the experiences of the speaker and the listener are similar enough so that the same word leads to a similar set of associations ‡ This is not to say that we always use the same criteria or standard to judge our actions as we do to judge those of everyone else. We do not because the emotional significance is not the same. We may label the actions of another as conniving and our own as clever. Yet, in both cases, we are using the same tools and materials: words whose meaning and implications were culturally defined and derived. § affection, preferential food, clothing, shelter, and mates, or simply self-esteem ** Perhaps, the separation of linguistic processing into Broca’s area for speech and Wernicke’s for comprehension plays some role here.
† *

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

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Personal Identity Through Time: We ain’t what we want to be, and we ain’t what we’re goin’ to be, but we ain’t what we wuz.211 None of this fully explains why we identify with our past and future selves. Why do I still feel anger towards someone who injured me years ago, and why do I care if the cake which tastes good now will make me sick tomorrow? At any point in time, previous experiences and our reactions to them have completely disappeared. Past or future events cannot hurt or affect us in any way. At any point in time, the only thing that we really have are our present tendencies, beliefs, and desires. Also, from whence the idea of continuity? Our feelings about a certain person, movie, food, or way of life can change and often do. You are not the same person you were two years ago or even yesterday. What makes the past relevant is how it has shaped our present thinking. Present values and outlooks are inevitably influenced by past experience. That is the whole evolutionary point of memory. Moreover, in terms of personal identity and personality what you remember (“real”, “imagined”, or “misconstrued”) is more important than what “actually” happened. The future matters because those tendencies, as well as everything instinctual about us - our sensations, reflexes, memory, etc. - only serve to decide how best to move the monad forward from its present condition or state to another one forcibly in the future.212 Outside of social convention and language, there is no past or future self, just present outlooks and the scripts and schemes to satisfy them, which are based to a greater or lesser degree on past experience and which affect to a greater or lesser degree the future. Memory and association mean that the past determines our present outlook on how best to approach the future. However, this “self” is not static but rather continuously being formed and reformed by experience. The idea of the ego as an enduring entity which is the subject of all our different experiences is partly constructed from memories which are preserved and continue213, but the idea is also, like the concept of “self”, largely a social construct. Language, social conventions (punishments, rewards, etc.), and roles (mother, student, mayor) all reinforce the individual’s identification with an enduring idea of itself.214 Religious images of the eternal bliss or damnation of Heaven and Hell or children’s stories such as the “Ant and the Grasshopper”* have the express purpose of encouraging listeners to extend their concept of the self further into the future. Cultural traditions and history classes often attempt to extend the “memories” which constitute personal identity further into the past -- occasionally, as in the Balkans, with disastrous results. Still, the most that these endeavors can hope to achieve is to change present values, scripts, and schemes so that they are based on an even more remote past or affect an even more remote future. Just as our minds and cultures organize things into classes and categories where there are in fact only unique existences,† just as we can imagine the path of a bird flying across the sky when there is no path - the bird has left no
* †

See Language, Culture, and Values. See “Categorization” in Memory & Association.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

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line - the idea of an enduring self is a mental construct formed from associations from the past used in the present215 in an attempt to affect the future. (This is not to say that the self is not "real" or is an "illusion" any more than "France" or a "tree" is not real. As we have repeatedly pointed out, all categories and classifications are primarily a creation or, rather, interpretation of the mind. All involve frames and evaluations that don’t exist in the world independent of the mind, but are dependent on our sensations, emotions, and associations.) Ages of accountability, bar mitzvahs, and other social customs that draw lines between present, past, or future personal responsibility are tacit acknowledgments of the enduring self as a mental and social construct. When we engage in activities that we know will cause us harm some time in the future (coal miners, young smokers, professional marathon runners), we challenge this idea of an immutable identity which persists through time. Defenders of “born-again” death-row inmates reject it outright. Metacognition - How do we know what/that we are thinking? So far, we have suggested that the mechanical application of associations and expectations, based on an initial set of emotional reactions could explain many things about human consciousness. Nevertheless, the analogy could still be drawn to the complex subconscious and ‘instantaneous’ calculations that a monkey makes as it swings from branch to branch, or those of a cat’s cerebrum as it makes acrobatic leaps to escape a perceived danger, or those that we make when we use a mirror or a friend tosses us an apple and we catch it. (Maybe. Sometimes the calculations are wrong.) All of these instances involve intricate sets of expectations and auto-corrections, but none of them need involve self-awareness. The previous chapters explain how an individual could function in a society, and judge and correct itself using innate and learned criteria. For all intents and purposes, an individual so “configured” might appear self-aware, but would it actually be self-aware? We have explained how an individual could observe and evaluate what it is doing, but alas, human self-awareness is more than this first-degree awareness. How does an individual observe and evaluate what it is thinking? The amazing thing about human consciousness is that we are aware that we are aware. Or at least we seem to be… Actually, we are not aware of what we are thinking. We are aware of what we have just thought. We can, and usually do, go through the day performing all kinds of complex acts of loyalty, jealousy, or compassion, reasoning, memory, and communication… without ever once stopping to think that we are doing it, why we are doing it, or even about what we are doing - in the same way that we can mindlessly drive home from work while pondering the day’s problems. The myriad of stimuli that constantly confronts us is simply followed by our own set of intricate, complex responses.* A person or a situation can “rub us the wrong way”, “give us the creeps”, charm, or astonish us, but it is only later when we force ourselves to apply the labels and descriptions which language provides that we can describe and explain our feelings to ourselves and others. And it is not always easy because “sometimes words just cannot express….”† Only when we stop to reflect and remember do these past thoughts and
*

Some people, unfortunately, go through most of their lives like this although Socrates went as far as to say that such an “unexamined life was not worth living.” † The only thing that’s truly yours is what you feel. What you think is public domain.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

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actions then become the objects of present cognition and description just like any other sensation or knowledge, and the train of internal calculations is detoured and doubles back upon itself. Nor is there any awareness of these meta-thoughts without recourse to short-term memory, ad infinitum. When someone asks, “What color are you looking at?”, we cannot answer them immediately, but we must stop and search our immediate shortterm memory, which we have learned to use as proxy for the present. We are not selfaware of our present selves. We are really only self-aware of our immediate past selves. By the time we are aware of what is currently happening to us, our actual selves are already in another present.216,* Pre-schoolers are less able to engage in metacognition,217 because they have not quite reached the heights of their self-awareness. They have yet to master their native tongue, possess a limited vocabulary, and their knowledge of themselves and others is still limited. However, once they are more self aware, metacognition is beneficial to problem solving and thinking.218 Realizing that “I am really bad with remembering names,” I can employ mental tricks like repetition or mnemonics to improve my memory. Or an architect or artist can actively search his surroundings and memory for images or ideas to associate with her work. Other Minds What is “food”, “clothing”, “shelter” for one could be considered “food”, “clothing”, and “shelter” for everyone else in a given society. From experience, we observe that others tend to use objects in similar ways to ourselves, but language makes “explicit and formal the significance which things have, not for one person alone, but for one person among others,”219 definitively positing the self as one of many, albeit still the important one of the many. Anger, hurt, pain, sadness, happiness. We learn to assign the same words to our own subjective states as we assign to others in similar situations and vice versa. With no access to their internal associations or subjective emotional states there is no way to “know” what other people feel or even that other people are self-aware. Nevertheless, this is strongly implied, even presupposed, by language and reinforced by observation. In spite of this, parents still often have to point out to young children that a sibling or playmate has wants, needs, or reactions to pain similar to their own, and some children still insist on testing the theory out on each other or small animals. Sadly, at times, adults, even entire nations, do as well. Again, you and I have no knowledge of other people’s internal associations or subjective, emotional states, so when we say something like “Jeffre is happy,” it doesn’t actually tell us anything about “Jeffre” or his internal state, at least not as he exists independent of us, the speaker/observer. Statements about “Jeffre” speak most directly of the speaker’s own explanations and expectations about what “Jeffre” is and how “Jeffre” is likely to react.†,* Under our view of a world of chemical and physical reactions,†
Benjamin Libet's Delay? See also "Other Minds" below. Jeffre might say, “I am happy”, but one could go on to argue that, at their core, our interpretations of another’s statements ultimately only reveal with certainty our own classifications, associations, and expectations regarding what we hear and see not those of the speaker regarding what he says. Nevertheless, there is no need to go to this level of analysis here.
† *

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

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agency, motivation, intent, intentionality, and purpose (like categories and beauty) are interpretations in the eye of the observer‡. This limitation extends to self-knowledge. We observe, label, and judge ourselves with the same linguistic and other cultural associations that we use to describe others, so that beyond our capacities of detection, reaction, and association, estimations as to our own inner, unseen motivations are just as speculative as those of any other observer. Studies of patients whose cerebral hemispheres have been surgically detached highlight this. The right hemisphere of splitbrain individuals can still respond to simple written commands like “Walk” or “Laugh”, but the part of the brain which handles speech, the left hemisphere, is unaware of anything in the left half of the visual field, which only the right hemisphere sees. When, after carrying out a command presented only to the right hemisphere, the split brain patient is then asked to explain why he walked or laughed, he will simply manufacture a plausible, if inaccurate, explanation: I walked “to get a Coke.” Or I’m laughing because, “You guys come up and test us every month. What a way to make a living!”220 “I am not an animal!” The Questioning of Ends and Means. Language and culture provide the objective or external frame of reference that makes possible and encourages self-awareness. In Parts I to III, we have seen how animals, through experience, gain knowledge of alternative strategies to satisfy instinctual urges; thus, the calculations employed become more nuanced and complex. But the urges themselves are never questioned. Selfawareness allows the train of internal calculations and urges to also be open to evaluation and correction. With humans, it is not only the means to achieve various preprogrammed ends (or instinctual urges) that is open to scrutiny, but we can also question the ends themselves as well as our ability to achieve them (beauty, strength, intelligence…). Whatever a person does, he is always capable of contrasting that with what others are doing, and with what he might be doing, but is not.221 As self-aware creatures, we can imagine any number of possible presents and futures for ourselves. Young adolescents may be constantly comparing their sexual attractive to that of their peers or before eating may consider which foods are healthier or less fatty in an endeavor to meet achieve a certain physical ideal. A priest, on the other hand, through chastity and fasting,
Some readers may have protested that we actually began by making assumptions beyond the acknowledged one of a universe of associated (If X then Y) events -- assumptions such as the existence of phenomena like iron, electromagnetic radiation, single-celled creatures, etc…. However, when a writer states something like <<iron rusts in the presence of oxygen and water>>, it does not actually tell us anything directly about the world outside or independent of the writer. Statements speak most directly of the writer's own associations, explanations, and expectations. When I use a word like “rust” or “single-celled creature”, I am assuming that the reader has a similar set of associations with the same word. (This is not so much an assumption about the reader as it is the definition of one. If the reader does not have a similar set of associations with the same words, the he is not reading what I have written.) So that in making my argument, I am not assuming any facts about the world or how it must be parceled and described. (There are, after all, an infinite number of ways of doing so.) Regardless of how the universe is “actually” structured, I am simply suggesting to readers who share my associations and expectations about the world (iron rusting, for example) another way of looking at those associations and expectations. At most, I am only assuming the existence of a reader who shares my associations and expectations. Admittedly, even this is an assumption which often must be discarded. † where event X always follows event Y ‡ Intentionality is to be found in the observer.
*

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

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challenges the desirability of even these most basic drives.* While the adolescent’s selfawareness is expressed in the questioning of their relative ability to achieve instinctual ends, the priest’s self-awareness results in a questioning of these very ends. Often, these acquired cultural evaluations contradict each other. For example, the demands of being a good husband, friend, and worker may conflict, as may those of being a free-thinking yet well-behaved and popular adolescent.† Furthermore, although cultural values are derived from and superimposed on those eight instinctual patterns of behavior and evaluation, they do not erase these patterns and may even challenge them. The result is the Man vs. Himself struggle that writers, sinners, and world champions often speak of. The soldier preparing for battle or the young tribesman waiting for his ritual circumcision may accept the importance of bravery and tradition, but nonetheless feel fear – the spirit being willing in spite of the fact that the flesh is weak. Inner Speech. Like the five senses, the capacity for inner speech is largely autonomous. At times, it reflects on present conditions; at other times, it gives a play-byplay commentary (self-awareness); and sometimes the mind simply “wanders,” commenting not on the individual’s present state but on a remote memory or a future goal. Again, like the senses, inner speech can be called back to “matters at hand” by a sudden or unexpected event.‡ For example, a sudden worsening of traffic conditions forces us to concentrate energies that were being spent preparing the night’s entertainment on the immediate task of getting home. The allocation of mental resources to self-awareness may even be an impediment in some circumstances, for example the self-conscious public speaker or nervous adolescent on the first date.§ Although we often equate this inner dialogue with thought, the mind and consciousness, it is only the “tip of the iceberg” of the reflexes and associations that we have been talking about up until now. Nor is inner speech necessarily or automatically the executive center of decisionmaking. Through inner speech, we can reflect upon our condition and -- because of the values and priorities inherent in language -- to some extent control or at least influence the focus of our attention, energies and efforts.222,** Nevertheless, while the conclusions we reach -- like “I should stop smoking” or “I am a coward.” -- introduce additional values and emotions into the decision-making process, they are not, we know, the final word. In fact, a large part of socialization is teaching children not to simply follow instincts, whims, or first impressions but to give priority to this reflective, linguistic subsystem.

See Free Will. It has been said that is not the case that we sometimes wear masks and at other times do not, but that the human condition (or more specifically self-awareness) is to be always exchanging one mask for another. ‡ As we saw in Emotional and Behavioral Development: Attention. § It is sometimes said that the best of is the enemy of the good. If this is true, then self-awareness may exacerbate this conflict, as well. Because we can always conceive of universals, absolutes, or situations that are marginally better than the actual, we may abandon a good situation and set off on a quest for the best one imaginable, a quest that may or may not be fruitful. John Carey writes, “[H]umanity’s perpetual golden dream of perfection … kills our pleasure in the real…Our visions of happiness make us miserable because we believe they could have come true – which is like looking at the past, ‘blindly undiminished’ in photographs, and believing that ‘By acting differently we could have kept it so’.” (Carey 156) ** Libet's "conscious veto"?

*

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

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Subjective Experience. Self-awareness adds to subjective experience an aspect that is uniquely human. It is one thing to see a color or an awe-inspiring landscape and have an emotional reaction to it. It is another to reflect, “Plants, mountains, and some people are unable to see, but I am seeing ‘blue’ and it's nice." Or “This landscape is gorgeous. I have never seen anything like it before, and I will never see it again.” Because language potentially enables us to compare our current situation with other possible ones, self-evaluative statements carry additional associations of fortune, regret, pity, self-worth, embarrassment… and their consequent emotional reactions. Saying “I see a blue sky” gives rise to additional emotional reactions that seeing a blue sky alone does not. If D.H. Lawrence is correct in saying that an animal can suffer the most horrible injustice or hardship without ever feeling sorry for itself,223 it need not be because their suffering is any less real or intense than that of self-aware individuals but because they lack the external frame of reference that language provides and self-pity requires. Under this paradigm, from the perspective of a bird suffering from exposure and dying of cold, “it” isn’t cold – the universe is. Remember that the idea of self requires an external frame of reference from which to contemplate it. The bird suffers but is not aware of the fact that it is suffering. What, if any, comfort we can take from this is another issue.* An awareness of not only of our own and others’ feelings, but also of the fact that we are capable of purposely influencing other’s subjective experiences, adds another, crucial dimension to our personal relationships. The bond between parent and infant is made stronger by the parent’s reflection that the baby’s comfort and happiness is his responsibility, and that between friends, relatives, and lovers is rendered deeper by the realization that the pleasure given is comparable to that received. Associating what we suppose to be the subjective state of others with our own subjective states is to actually ‘feel’ some faint echo of what they feel. What importance we attach to those subjective states is another question. In the case of our children, lovers, and friends, we assign an importance similar to our own and empathize, but in the case of strangers the response is often less intense and with enemies, even the opposite.
Selfless or Just Self-serving? All values, we said, were derived from those eight instinctual patterns of behavior and evaluation listed in Part I. This sounds awfully similar to the argument, often heard in university philosophy and international relations classes, that there is no such thing as a selfless act. All actions -- the argument goes -- regardless of how benevolent or altruistic, stem from, or have as their end, the satisfaction of personal values, needs, or desires. While this is true as far as it goes, it is like saying that nothing is really flat or smooth. All surfaces, if regarded closely enough will reveal slopes, ridges, and valleys. But the only thing we have done is to take a perfectly useful word (selfish, rough) and rob it of any utility by defining it as everything. Maybe there is no such thing as a “selfless” act, but some actions are still more or less selfish than others. A word like selfish is most useful when it marks a distinction in terms of the focus (self-regarding vs. otherregarding), not the locus (or origin) of desires. The argument that all individuals, regardless of how altruistic, act to satisfy their own desires is ultimately tautological. It says only that my desires are mine.224

*

The ability to reflect on experience is a significant difference between animal and most human subjective experience (consider babies, for instance), but it is the only significant difference. It seems to me that we can dismiss animal emotions and experience as mere instinctual reactions only at the expense of debasing the greater part of our own.

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The argument from introspection So, it is in our self-evaluations and our memory of our self-evaluations that we find self-awareness.* Self-evaluations, we have explained, are all reducible to simple physical and chemical reactions of detection, reaction, and association. Some readers will be skeptical of this explanation of consciousness because of the tremendous number of associations and neuron firings that would have to take place in the blink of an eye. And that is indeed one way of looking at it. An equally valid way of stating it is that a human instant is the time required for all those associations and neuron firings to take place. In a second, the still-motion picture on your television has changed 25-30 times, a hummingbird’s wings have beaten up to 80 times, and light has traveled 186,000 miles, so our perception of “instantaneous” could be compared to Rip Van Winkle’s of “overnight”. Our perception of time is as relative as any other perception. In fact, since it only takes a few tens of milliseconds for a neuron to fire, millions of associations are possible in less than a second.225 Another common reaction against any mechanical explanation of consciousness, such as this one, is the argument from introspection. Our own experience of consciousness is not of neurons and synapses or associations, but of sensations, desires, and thoughts. Therefore, the argument goes, there must be more than neurons and chemical reactions to our conscious experience. We have argued that being aware of a stimuli or event requires, at the very least, the ability to detect and react to it. In humans and other animals, detection, at its most basic level, involves neurons that fire only in response to certain stimuli. One of the reasons we do not experience the world as neuron firings is because, in order for us to detect neurons as neurons firing, we would have to have other neurons that fired simply to indicate that the first had fired. Yet, what evolutionary purpose would that serve? It is true that we do not think of our experience as neurons firing. However, although what we call thought, emotion, and sensation do not depend on language, our ability to reflect upon them does. Language carries with it the baggage of thousands of years of folk wisdom and assumptions. Perhaps if we had been raised in a culture where people said things to the effect of, “Son (or, rather, CollectionOf-Independent-Mechanical-Reactions-Which-Happen-By-Evolutionary-Chance-To-AllWork-Towards-The-Continuance-Of-My-And-Your-Mother’s-Genes), pass me the tool over there that’s causing your blue neurons to fire.” Then maybe we would see (sic) things differently. When we consider our own experience, we think of it in terms like “emotion”, “sensation”, and “thought” because these are the only tools for introspection we have. Finally, we have to wonder if there isn’t a more fundamental problem with the argument from introspection. Could the fact that we do not have introspective knowledge of neuron firings ever be taken as proof that there must be more to our experience? Consider the statement, “I don’t believe that I have a retina, because I can’t see it.” Intuitively there would seem to be a problem. In any theory, there will always be some

*

It is worth repeating that the self does not access these memories and associations, it is formed by them; it is their result. Again, there is no internal observer – only the idea of one.

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starting point or assumption that the theory itself does not question and cannot explain.* With any observation, the apparatus of the observation cannot, itself, be thoroughly observed or examined. Even if we all agreed that consciousness were the result of mechanical processes or even if we did experience and think of the world as neurons firing, there would always remain some level of explanation at which the skeptic could make this objection from introspection: “Yeah, but I don’t experience the world as atoms interacting.” Granted that our introspective feelings, knowledge and perspective must be explained on their own terms, but insisting without question that our introspective knowledge is the ultimate explanation of itself is to essentially assume without proof the dualist or Cartesian position. In Plato’s allegory of the cave, he asks us to imagine a group of people who have grown up shackled and immobile in a cave and whose only knowledge of the outside world were the shadows projected on the wall. As in shadow puppetry, these shadows would seem to have a life of their own and be amazing in and of themselves, changing size and shape, separating and merging. It is easy to see how our cave-dwellers might never imagine that there existed objects which gave rise to the shadows. Our subjective feelings are not illusions or misinterpretations. The shadows on the wall are no less real than the objects outside the cave. There is just another way of understanding them. The mistake is in assuming that because our self-awareness is formed in such a way that we are only conscious of the seemingly magical and independent shadows of our emotions, thoughts, and sensations, that there couldn’t possibly be an additional level of understanding.

As Gödel’s theorem proves “every logical system must contain a premise which it cannot define [or explain].” (Watts 74).

*

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Experience 93

IV. The View From Here

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Color 94

The Subjective Experience of

Color
There are several interacting aspects to the subjective experience of color. Detection Insects, plants, and many unicellular creatures, all have the ability to detect light. Other animals are able to distinguish not only light from darkness but also light of varying wavelengths and energies. When we see orange what we are as importantly seeing is something that is not green, red, yellow, blue, purple… Colors represent different ratios of cone firings.* We perceive orange as something between red and yellow because an intermediate combination of photoreceptors fire.† Because unique cone combinations fire for each color, they are in fact distinct sensations, and the difference between them is as obvious and immediate to us as the difference between night and day. So, the experience of color is first and foremost a change in the organism not the external world. Remember that the mind forms categories. It doesn’t discover them. The blueness of the sky, ocean, sapphire, or lapis lazuli each arises from extremely different physical phenomena,226 but phenomena that excite a similar ratio of cones will be perceived as alike regardless of how dissimilar they actually are. Nevertheless, a video camera can detect light of varying wavelengths and energies, but no one would say that it actually sees color. Emotional Component When we see a blue car or dress and then see the same make or style in red, there is something more going on than the fact that we can detect differences in the wavelength and energy of the reflected light. The red car is somehow sportier, the red dress sexier. (Much of this, we will see below, stems from learned associations, but not all of it.) A second aspect of our experience of color is the emotional component. We like some colors more than others. Bright and shiny things usually strike us as more interesting {Exploration/Incorporation} than pale, dull ones. Red, brown, and yellow hues are commonly thought of as “warm” and blues, greens and grays as “cold.” Studies have shown that a room decorated in pale blue requires a higher thermostat setting to achieve the same sensation of warmth as one painted pale orange. Grays and blacks are said to induce sadness and depression; red, yellow, and orange, cheerfulness, excitement, stimulation, and aggression.227,‡ In the wild, brightly colored prey is a sign of poison and universally associated with food aversion. Associations It is, perhaps, no coincidence that the warm hues (red-yellow) are also those of fire, and that “cold” green and blue are the colors of lakes; or that blues and greens are
See Detection. Exactly how the visual system calculates these differences and ratios of cone firings is still the subject of much research and dispute. Resemblances between the colors (orange as a reddish-yellow) are most likely due, at least in part, to these calculations. (Hardin, 31-5) ‡ Prison walls may be painted certain colors to calm aggressive inmates.
† *

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

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described as “receding”* given that focusing on short-wave (green/blue) light requires a similar set of optic adjustments as those required to focus on distant objects.228 Some part of our emotional reactions to the different shades and colors we are capable of distinguishing is undoubtedly instinctual (which may be why we think it important to choose certain colors and tones for babies’ clothes, rooms, and toys). However, much of the significance associated with color will be acquired later in life. This is where experience and culture come in. It is not uncommon for languages to use color metaphorically (“green with envy”, “seeing red”, “feeling blue”, “the Dark Side”), but the metaphors are not always identical across cultures. A child growing up in the West will learn to associate white with weddings and christenings whereas the same color, which is worn for funerals, may arouse ideas and feelings of mourning in her counterpart in China,229 where the joy of a wedding is traditionally colored in red.† In the context of transit, red is associated with danger or stopping, yellow with slowing or caution, and green with safety. In modern politics, red represents ‘social change’, dark blue ‘tradition’, and green ‘ecology.’ Advertisers are well aware that different colors give rise to different associations which is why soap packages contain lots of white and light blue (clean) and rarely come in brown (dirty) containers, although cereals often do (just like wheat fields).230 How often does American packaging contain a red, white, and blue color scheme?‡ Do We See the Same Color? Although we all label the same things orange, how can we be sure that others actually see the same thing? Our experience of seeing a color is the same in that we detect, distinguish, and label similarly various instances of electromagnetic radiation. (Usually. Have you ever had an argument with a friend over whether something was blue or black, red or brown?) Moreover, we will all experience orange as something between red and yellow.§ This is enough for us to consistently apply whatever classifications our culture employs. But this says only that our sensations are consistent and detect the same physical phenomena but not that they are interpreted in the same way. In fact, it is doubtful that they would be. We do not have identical innate emotional reactions to colors nor do we have the exact same associations derived from experience. Which answers another perennial question: “How could she wear that?!” Folk Wisdom

* †

reds and yellows as “advancing” Practices are changing with the influence of Western culture. ‡ We all know that advertising isn’t always a blunt attempt to get the consumer to go right out and buy the product, but is just as often a much more subtle endeavor to form certain associations (patriotism, youth, fun, status, nostalgia, security, quality…) in the minds of potential buyers. The most curious yet wellknown fact about advertising and associations is that from candy bars and soda pop to deodorant and sports cars, it remains almost as true today as it was in the primordial ooze: sex sells. § Of course, this is not to say that all cultures label colors in the same way. As we saw in Culture, “Not only are there an infinite number of ways to sense the world, there are also countless ways to divide and label it. What we see is determined not only by our biology but also by our knowledge and expectations. I do not mean to say that if your culture has no separate word§ for 'purple' you wouldn’t be able to distinguish it from 'blue.' The ability to distinguish colors is innate, but which distinctions we consider significant or trivial are often learned.”

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We do not see colors alone. We see them in context and situations. The “colored” surface may be plastic, metal, wood, paper, shiny, dull, smooth, or rough. The “colored” object may be edible, climbable, or a predator. These additional associations are combined with whatever associations the color itself gives rise to. This probably led to the folk belief that colors inhere in the object, and this belief is another inseparable aspect of our subjective experience. After all, we say the “yellow flower” not the “flower that causes our yellow neurons to fire.” Mary, The Color Scientist – Color & Self-awareness One final and extremely important aspect of human subjective experience is our ability to say, “I am seeing red,” a realization which will carry with it associations of its own. Frank Jackson poses an interesting dilemma that any proposed explanation of subjective experience must address.231 Let’s imagine a scientist, Mary, who has lived all her life in a black and white room with a black-and white television. Although Mary has never experienced color, she is an expert on the mechanical perception of color and has read the explanations of color and subjective experience presented here. Supposedly, she now understands “everything there is to know” about color, but if she were to walk outside and see colors for the first time wouldn’t she learn “something” new? “Something” which hasn’t been explained? Yes and no. Yes, Mary would learn what her own subjective experience was: what were her personal emotional reactions and associations* to the various wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation she could distinguish. She might find green violently repulsive and deep black might hold all the beauty of a sunset. No, although she would personally experience something new by walking outside, she would not learn anything new about the subjective experience of color itself. Okay, but now let’s assume that she can examine her own mental connections and associations so that she knows before leaving the room what her reaction will be. She knows that with “light blue”, for instance, she will have a reproduction/incorporation response of a certain intensity, certain physiological and cognitive changes to which she will also have emotional reactions, visual associations of “immensity”, “softness”… Let’s also suppose that she has already experienced this reaction before with a certain shade of gray or that she can somehow trigger this exact ensemble of emotions and associations even if she has never seen blue. (This is actually an assumption that the dilemma demands. Language isn’t just shared words; it is shared or, rather, convergent experiences or associations that are linked to those words. Our scientist has supposedly learned “everything there is to know” about color although she has never experienced it. Yet, it is impossible to learn anything about X, much less know everything about X, without some personal experience to relate to X. If Mary cannot somehow relate what she has studied to her own subjective experience, then our scholar hasn’t learned anything.) Now she walks outside. Isn’t something still different or unexpected? Not as far as the feelings or emotional reactions are concerned. These she has already experienced before. On the physical level, however, this will be the first time Mary has experienced these reactions being caused by “blue” neurons firing. It would be like being pricked in one finger and then another: although otherwise indistinguishable, it will be a unique sensation. She already knew what it “felt like” to see
*

Without a cultural experience of color, any associations would be limited.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

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blue, although she had never had the experience of seeing blue. Additionally, on the level of self-awareness, the experience would be unique because for the first time she could say, “I am seeing blue” a statement which will itself contain additional associations and emotions of good fortune or regret at not having seen it before, etc.…* And this is just a simplified scenario. Of course, Mary wouldn’t see blue alone, but would, in fact, be bombarded by a kaleidoscope of new colors and emotion/association ensembles, quite probably causing additional emotions of surprise and curiosity. … Much of our reaction to color is context dependent. Red has a positive connotation in some situations, a negative one in others. White is, at times, associated with cleanliness and at others with fear or sickness. But it is clear that emotion and associations play a central role in our perception of color. Stripped of its emotional and cultural significance, our experience of color probably would be little different than that of a video camera, distinctions without meaning.

232

*

Assuming these weren’t included in her pre-color experience of blue.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

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Personality, Creativity, & Intelligence
Cada persona es un mundo.* - Spanish saying

If we are all born with certain abilities, reflexes, and dispositions, if our consciousness is only a mechanical process, what room is there for uniqueness, originality, or imagination? First of all, there are our innate differences. Take, for instance, our capabilities of detection. Some children are more nearsighted than others. One of my freshman roommates in college had trouble distinguishing red and green. Some people are more sensitive to smells, sounds, etc. I once worked with a woman whose allergies were so strong that she could tell almost instantly if anyone anywhere on the floor had lit a cigarette. My co-worker’s predicament also shows how our instinctual reactions to stimuli (colors, tastes, smells, sounds) differ. New faces or animals initially frighten some newborns. Others have an initial reaction of curiosity. Infants may be more or less aggressive [destruction], timid [protection], curious [exploration], possessive [reproduction, protection], greedy [reproduction], cheerful [incorporation], social or sensitive to the subjective experience of others. This last example is perhaps more determined by association patterns than instinctual reflexes and reactions. But, neither are our innate association patterns or memory capacities exactly alike. Two people looking at the same scene will see different things as being important or relevant and will associate the same experience with different things. “Discovery,” said Albert von Szent-Gyory, “consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.” Imagination, upon which discovery depends, is partly a function of the sophistication and flexibility of the various memory search patterns. You can explain calculus or the general theory of relativity to a fifteen-year-old, but it remains amazing that Newton and Einstein first thought of them. Perhaps, this is why very intelligent people are often also very eccentric. Their association patterns aren’t quite like everyone else’s. Sometimes their minds make associations that the rest of us think are brilliant, but at other times those mental jumps strike us as quite strange. When interpretations of reality stray too far from the consensus, individuals are labeled “weird” or “insane.” Imagination is not just a function of innate abilities; it is also heavily dependent upon experience. If necessity is the mother of invention, environment, with its unique challenges and tools, must be the father, since environment, in conjunction with the organism’s biology, presents the problem to be solved, the goals to be reached, and the options available. If a chipmunk has had only one experience of men, one in which he is hunted, the “futures” from which he will “choose” will be accordingly limited. If, on the other hand, he has also had the experience of being fed by them, his decision begins to have more nuance. Children in some communities imagine futures for themselves as astronauts, doctors, policemen, even superheroes, futures which are cut and pasted from what they have seen and been exposed to. When children growing up in more isolated communities contemplate their possibilities, their thoughts may not be as elaborate or varied, simply because neither has been their experience. Children brought up in very religious environments often aspire to be preachers, priests, or imams. I once
*

Each individual is an entire world.

Personality 99

saw a report on a bright young adolescent from Burkina Faso who had built his own radio station and whose dream was to one day become a car mechanic. I can only suppose that if his experience had presented other, viable options, such an intelligent, ambitious young man might have chosen to be, say, an engineer. Which brings us to the next factor in personality. In addition to innate differences, from the moment of birth, experience is unique for each individual. Our cultures, families, and birth orders are different. People react to us differently based upon whether we are a boy or a girl, attractive or unattractive, Native American, Asian, or white… Even twin infants in the same room view the room from different perspectives. What we experience first constitutes the “frame of reference” for what we experience later.233 (This is why no one could ever clone you by simply copying your genes.) A child who is naturally curious can learn to be frightened by the unknown if her formative environment is one of pain and insecurity; an instinctively shy infant can acquire confidence. And these differences of perspective feed on themselves. Because the lessons we learn from our past experience differ, so will our interpretation of the present. So that even when two individuals share an experience that is the same in all “relevant” aspects, their interpretation of it may be very different.* To use a popular example, African-Americans, who historically have had a different set of experiences than whites with American “justice,” were likely to interpret situations like the Rodney King video or the O.J. Simpson trial differently. Maybe we all have similar enough experiences and education to differentiate in the same way between blue and orange. but it is less clear that we should differentiate in the same way between just or unjust, common or uncommon, likely or unlikely… Truth Each of us is born with slightly different tendencies which we use to interpret experience, and experiences, in turn, reshape our tendencies and outlooks - our personalities. So that two people faced with the same experience will approach it in different ways, interpret it differently, and learn different things from it. Usually different interpretations or conclusions can be reconciled using common values or conclusions which serve as an agreed upon landmark from which to navigate to an agreement. Let’s say that you and I have different reactions to risk. It excites you and terrifies me. Yet, although our evaluations of the safety of flying or sky-diving differ, we both agree that statistics are a reliable landmark to settle the dispute. Or maybe we disagree as to what would be the most prudent business decision but are both followers of Confucius and can find an answer in his teachings. However, when two distinct interpretations of reality are irreconcilable, the relevant question in judging them is not which is “normal” or even which is “true”. “Normal” means nothing other than “most common.” Certain interpretations manage to get a consensus, but they are no less subjective. A few interpretations do not, but they are no less real for the individual who holds them. It would be senseless, even callous, to try to convince the individual with trigeminal neuralgia† that it should not hurt because it is “just the wind.” The essential point is that it does hurt…him. Saying it doesn’t or “shouldn’t” is as ridiculous as trying to convince a friend that she really does like the taste of a certain dish or that she isn’t really cold. To use a more outrageous example, let’s suppose that we are both sitting enjoying a hot chocolate and you suddenly see before us a green man brandishing a sword and preparing to strike. Whether you can convince me or not, the instinctual - and most prudent - reaction would
* †

An additional reason for believing “none of what you hear and only half of what you see.” See “Pain” in Subjective Experience of Emotion.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson

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be to duck. Only once the potential danger has passed, can we take the leisure to decide if the green man was actually there. Now, if you accept consensus as a prerequisite for “truth”, then you would agree that the fact that no one else in the café saw the aggressor was proof that he did not, in fact, exist. Of course, it proves no such thing, just as the fact that I am the only one sneezing does not disprove my hypothesis that a cat has just been in the room; nor is it necessary for everyone to hear a distant phone ringing for that to be the case. However, maybe your standard of truth is that what is real should be constant and capable of being seen, heard, and touched. (If it comes and goes it must have been a hallucination.)* Although we do not hold smell, light, the wind, or smoke to that same standard, for the sake of argument, we will accept it. Another example: I once lived in a town where a certain gentleman could occasionally be seen walking down the street and periodically turning to scream at an imaginary/invisible something that apparently was following him. We said that for “sane” people an object “exists” if it can be seen, felt, etc.…over an “extended” period of time. Then if our gentleman actually, sees, hears, and feels his companion, for all intents and purposes the companion exists, at least for him if not for the rest of us. His friend would not be any less real for him than we are. This is not meant to support some type of extreme existential or moral relativism. If the wind causes excruciating pain or green men that no one else can see occasionally attack you, it is going to become a very real problem for you in your daily and social interactions. Additionally, I do believe that the external world exists,† so I imagine that whether the companion or green man is actually there must be true or false in some absolute, objective sense. But even if Truth is not subjective, everything we know about it is. The only knowledge any of us have of the world is through our own internal reactions to it and subjective interpretations of it. In the case of interpretations that remain stubbornly irreconcilable – where there is no common landmark from which to navigate to an agreement – it is pointless to talk about which is “true.” All interpretations and viewpoints involve some set of irreducible assumptions, be they a scientist’s faith that what’s true today will be true tomorrow,‡ a believer’s conviction that “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,” our inborn emotional reactions to various sensations or situations, or the unique priorities and values that our personal experience has given us.§ Truth cannot be the arbiter if we cannot even agree how to define it. In such cases, the important discriminator between irreconcilable interpretations must become which is more or less useful or harmful to the individual and his community.
Dreams fail both this test and the consensus one. Not to mention the fact that we live in a culture and use a language that considers them illusory and not “nocturnal out-of-body experiences”. It is not at all difficult to imagine a culture or world paradigm that gave dreams more significance. Australian aborigines considered the dreaming and waking worlds equally real, and individuals in our own culture often attempt to use dreams to predict events in the waking world. † We said that sensations were more accurately changes in the organism rather than in the external world. Does that mean that if the human race were to disappear, the universe would as well? No, I don’t think so, although the universe as we know and experience it most definitely would. Which brings us to another pressing question: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? How could it? “Sounds” are not just “vibrations” in the “air”, they are the detection of, and reaction to, those vibrations. A more fundamental question is: if there is no being to observe and comment on the occurrence, who is to say what a “tree” is, much less that one has “fallen”? The occurrence of an event may not depend upon the presence of an observer, but the interpretation of an event as “this” or “that” does. See “Sensation & the External World” in Detecting External Stimuli, “Categorization” in Memory & Association, and “Culture and Perception” in Culture. ‡ Not to mention her faith in whatever assumptions and theories underlie her method of observation and the very questions she asks. § See Free Will as well as Gödel’s theorem in Self-awareness.
*

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson

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“Speaking Truth to Power” Debates about “truth” also assume that both parties are actually engaged in an honest pursuit of it and not a veiled pursuit of power in which “truth” is a convenient, but easily discarded, tool. Leaving aside your personal positions on these issues, isn’t it at least curious how the same person can vigorously support a “meritocracy” except when it comes to inheritance taxes or equal access to the best education “that money can buy”, or how someone else can long for a society where people are judged by “the content of their character not the color of their skins” while supporting race-based standards for admission and hiring? Can overriding values, extenuating circumstances, and complex situations really explain all of these sudden changes of heart which so very often gel so very nicely with the speaker’s own subjective interests?

Creativity Language only approximates a shared objective frame of reference inasmuch as our experiences and associations are similar. Because our sensations, emotions, innate association algorithms, and individual histories are never exactly the same, neither are the associations which we form. In spite of the fact that each individual has a unique interpretation of reality, occasionally a particular individual by means of persuasion, force, rank, or example manages to convince others to accept part of their own interpretation, sometimes to the point of greatly influencing or founding entire cultures. Thales, Socrates, Confucius, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Shakespeare, Newton, Marx, Napoleon, Goethe, Gandhi are some234 of the more well known individuals. But let’s not forget the countless, nameless others: the first chimp to pull a twig out of a mound and discover that it was crawling with easily-consumed termites; the guy who said, “I’m cold. What if I wrap myself up in the skin of the antelope I just ate?”; the woman who was tired of looking for food and wondered if she could grow some next to her cave; that pioneering prehistoric left-brainer who not only found “curious” the imprints which objects made in the dust or the sound produced by a hollow log when struck, but thought it worth his time to make more; or the most common yet important example, that of a parent teaching its offspring. These widely accepted individual interpretations or discoveries are the building blocks of culture. We can look at creativity in art in the same way. Any art teacher will tell you not to think of art merely as the creation of something external but as an expression of something internal -- an expression of our unique interpretations of what we see and have been taught. Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Picasso, Mozart… each saw what those before them had done and learned the methods of their time, but they themselves interpreted it all differently. They saw what everyone else had seen, but because their senses, emotions, associations, and experience were different, they thought what no one else had thought. These interpretations were so novel, so persuasive, so “beautiful” that they changed the face of their disciplines. Sometimes art is the result of creativity on the part of the artist and her audience. Commenting on interpretations of her paintings, Georgia O’Keefe once cautioned, “Well – I made you take time to look at what I saw and when you took time to really notice my flower you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower – and I don’t.” Still, the notoriety of these geniuses is largely circumstantial. Would someone with Picasso’s artistic approach have been as appreciated during the Renaissance? And it is easily imaginable that somewhere in the Indian desert lived and died a peasant girl whose innate musical abilities were known only to her sheep but would have (with the appropriate training and formation) brought tears to Mozart’s eyes. Intelligence
(1)

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson

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Cooper ____ the circuit to become racing manager. (A) quitted (B) quit (2) When was Joan of Arc martyred? (3) ‘COMPANY : President:: (A) team : athlete (B) hospital : patient (C) airline : passenger (D) library : reader (E) army : general’235

He didn’t win, but he ____ if he had worked harder. (A) could have done (B) could have

(4) ‘Seven passengers—J, K, L, M, N, O, and P – are riding on an elevator that makes four stops. Two passengers get off at every stop except the last, when the final passenger gets off. The following conditions apply: Neither J nor N gets off with K. L cannot get off with M. O must get off with either M or P. If L gets off with P, which of the following must be true? (A) K gets off with M. (B) K gets off with N. (C) J gets off with M. (D) K gets off last. (E) J gets off last.’ 236

Intelligence. What is it? How does it differ from person to person or from species to species? How is it affected by our genes or experience? One reason for all the controversy over intelligence is that, as the above test shows, we use the word in several different ways. A question like # (1) tests experience, particularly educational and cultural.237 (See box below.) #(2) tests long-term memory or how long a given association remains viable in the brain; # (3), verbal hierarchical associations; # (4) the ability to assimilate new information and then, using short-term memory and association (particularly logical) skills, manipulate it to arrive at derived conclusions. In grade school, a child with nothing more than a certain educational or cultural experience (#1) or a good memory (#2) is often considered intelligent. Einstein, on the other hand, did not do well in grade school particularly in memory-intensive history, but is considered intelligent because he could make insightful spatial and temporal associations in his thought experiments. An individual with Savant Syndrome* could run mathematical circles around Einstein – at least as far as computation -- but no one would say he was more intelligent. Sometimes a poet, writer, or commentator is considered gifted or witty because of his or her ability to make linguistic or situational associations. Robert Burn’s depiction of a wife awaiting the return of her carousing husband as “nursing her wrath to keep it warm”238 is an excellent metaphor for bitterness. And not many people could have come up with Oscar Wilde’s quick retort when someone tried to insult the playwright by offering him a rotten cabbage: “Thank you very much. Every time I smell it I shall be reminded of you.” Along these same lines, a dog is considered more intelligent than a hamster because it can form and retain a greater number of associations. However, although neither flies nor amoebas seem to have any capacity for learned associations, we would still say that a fly is more intelligent because its sensations and emotional reactions are more complex.
*

Formerly called “idiot savants”

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson

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We be jammin’ In both parts of Question #1, (A) would be associated with a certain regional, socioeconomic, or racial background and marked incorrect in an American classroom. Among the English (who on this issue should probably be given the benefit of the doubt) (A) is acceptable and correct 239 speech. Of course, not even the English all speak exactly the same. The English spoken in Newcastle is easily distinguished from that of Liverpool, or north London. The pronunciation and grammar of “BBC” or the “Queen’s” English is generally accepted as “correct” or standard, but only a minority of the English (a certain educated class and those who work in the media) actually speaks it. Not even this is the language of Shakespeare. Surprisingly enough, “the English of Appalachian mountaineers is closer to seventeenth-century English than” anything spoken today on the streets of London.240 Does that mean that the Queen is speaking incorrectly and could do with some remedial classes in West Virginia? It could also be argued that present-day English is a simplified derivative which has lost a lot of its grammatical subtleties. Over the past 1000 years, the English language has abandoned the vast majority of complex noun, verb, and adjective inflections -- “A single adjective like green or big could have up to eleven forms.”241 -- which other languages, such as Russian or, in some cases, Spanish, have maintained. Yet no one would claim that this fact makes a Medieval English or Russian peasant more intelligent than Bill Clinton or George W. Bush speakin’ with southern twangs. Infants learn to speak by imitating the accepted speech in their immediate environment. While some linguistic standard is desirable (and perhaps essential) for a wider community, which dialect is ultimately chosen as that standard (and hence whatever answers to Question #1 are accepted as correct) is a question of might not right.

Like self-awareness, intelligence isn’t an all-or-nothing uni-dimensional concept, which is why it remains such an elusive one. Not surprisingly, many of the same factors that are involved in the development of consciousness play a role in intelligence as well: namely, differences in the sophistication of detection, reaction, and association abilities. Any cross-species comparison of intelligence would have to take into account differences in each of these areas. It goes without saying that our associative abilities outpace those of our pets. Nonetheless, in any intelligence test based primarily on identifying and employing olfactory --as opposed to visual or verbal -- patterns and distinctions, we would lose to Fido and Fluffy every time. Human capabilities of detection and instinctual reaction are usually similar enough so that differences in intelligence boil down to differences in our faculties for memory and association, but even here the issue isn’t always clear-cut. Another reason why attempts to measure intelligence are so difficult is that even in the same individual, innate association abilities can vary in different situations or areas. As for long-term memory, the strength of an association is partly influenced by the associated emotion.* If your great-grandparents were French, you have a crush on your history teacher or really want to impress your parents, you may be more likely to remember the answer to question #2 than if your family comes from New Guinea, you were hungry during the class, or at the time simply couldn’t see how any of this was going to change the fact that you didn’t have a car.242 All four of the above questions might seem ridiculously trivial and irrelevant to a child under serious emotional stress at home. Furthermore, expectations and self-image may also affect the allocation of effort and cognitive resources and hence performance. In one study, women told that a particular math test tended to show gender bias performed substantially worse than equally qualified men. However, when they were told that the test usually produced no

*

See Memory & Association.

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

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gender bias, the performance differential was eliminated.243 Hence, “intelligence” will always be influenced to some extent by values, expectations, and motivation.
Russian researchers have reported that crows are capable of instantaneously and flawlessly distinguishing between feeding troughs containing unequal numbers of worms. When the difference between the containers was tiny (11 worms in one versus 12 in the other, for example), they even outperformed the scientists!244 Motivation would indeed seem to play some role in cognitive performance.

As regards the efficiency of the association patterns themselves, various sensory, linguistic, and social associations are handled by different areas of the brain. It is easily imaginable that association patterns could be extremely efficient in some areas and “normal” or “abnormal” in others, as is the case with “savants”. After all, a mathematical genius isn’t necessarily a musical or poetic one. Your long-term memory might not be any good for remembering random historical facts but still be excellent for recalling and comparing faces, tones, poems, baseball statistics, or mathematical equations. Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner argues for seven distinct intelligences each with its own computational capacity: logical-mathematical, linguistic, musical, spatial, bodilykinesthetic, social (interpersonal), and introspective (intra-personal) 245 Perhaps, these correspond to the scientist, writer/speaker/rapper, musician, engineer/sculptor/navigator, the athlete/dancer, the charmer, writer/philosopher. Because of our preference for visual sensation, spatial associations are involved in solving most problems. However, which of these seven types of intelligence is actually prized is largely culturally dependent. Our society values the logical-mathematical. Others, depending on their values and required survival skills, may put more emphasis on music, language, hunting, or basket weaving. The Anang of Nigeria expect everyone to learn to sing and dance well. Competitive speech or verbal dueling is used by the Maori (New Zealand and the Cook Islands) to demonstrate group superiority. By six, Manus children of Papua New Guinea can adroitly balance themselves, steer their canoes, and even bale the vessel out by alternately dipping the bow and stern. Micronesian Puluwat sailors must learn to navigate by integrating the location of the area’s many islands and reefs with the rising and setting positions of the sun and stars while, at the same time, considering changes in course, wind, and weather. Eventually, the mental relationships are mastered to the point where the navigator is capable, at any point in the voyage, of immediately and accurately, pointing to even unseen islands.246 Most problems involve more than one associative domain. Let’s go back to question #4, which is comparable to the kind of question sometimes found on intelligence tests.
(4) Seven passengers—J, K, L, M, N, O, and P – are riding on an elevator that makes four stops. Two passengers get off at every stop except the last, when the final passenger gets off. The following conditions apply: Neither J nor N gets off with K. L cannot get off with M. O must get off with either M or P. If L gets off with P, which of the following must be true? (A) K gets off with M. (B) K gets off with N. (C) J gets off with M. (D) K gets off last. (E) J gets off last. 247

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We can simplify the given conditions by expressing them in symbolic shorthand, in this case borrowing from mathematical and logical associations: J  K, N  K or K  J / N LM O  M/P Most people will at least simplify the problem by thinking of it in simple spatial terms, filling in the vacant slots with the available letters (J, K, L, M, N, O & P): If L gets off with P then,

The answer is D) K gets off last.

It has also been suggested that language skills may sometimes facilitate mathematical computations. In some languages (Chinese, for example), spoken numbers correspond exactly to the Base 10 numeration system. 17 is “ten seven” and 54 is “five ten four.” “By making apparent the values of each power of ten,” these languages may assist computations involving place value. With English, on the other hand, “number words are [relatively] irregular through 100,” and children are slower to develop and master tenbased number skills.248 If there is some unitary intelligence factor or trait, which I doubt, perhaps it is the ability to make these cross-domain associations. In the case of the pailsof-water logic dilemma,* Question #4, and most intelligence and standardized tests, the focus is on associative tendencies (ability to see similarity, difference, and pattern) in the visual, spatial, and verbal domains. The bus boy, who “clears table 12 before he clears table 20” to clear space for the orders for table 13 which will soon be coming out of the kitchen or because he knows which coworker would appreciate the hand,249 is using logical, spatial and social skills. Experienced abacus users who can quickly solve

*

See Abstract and Logical Thought.

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complicated math problems by simply visualizing the movement of the beads offer another example of problem-solving involving more than one associative domain. Education Innate abilities of memory and association definitely play a significant role in the way we approach problems and the ease with which we solve them. I am sure that there are many individuals whose innate association patterns are so efficient that they could answer Question #4 without resorting to pen and paper or symbolic shorthand, like the savant who can effortlessly assemble a complicated jigsaw puzzle without referring back to the picture. Nevertheless, if this is the fiftieth, rather than the first, time you have come across this type of problem, “short-comings” in innate short-term memory or associative abilities can be partly compensated by acquired associations. Association and memory patterns and possibilities are largely, although not entirely, influenced by experience. This is why parents will search for neighborhoods with good schools, spend vast sums of money on their children’s education, encourage them to study, and occasionally place them in preparation courses to improve standardized test scores. It is, however, curious that after all this, these scores are then often equated with innate intelligence. * Let’s suppose that you have never before heard anything at all about the American civil war. Mentally, you wouldn’t have anywhere to “put” most of the information you receive about it; nothing with which to form a lasting association. From the first time you hear talk of the conflict, you might only retain the fact that sometime in the nineteenth century the American states fought a war in which slavery was a major issue. The next time you come across the subject, your mind now has a “shelf” on which to place the information or, rather, something to associate it with. This time you might retain some dates, the names of the opposing generals, etc. Thus, the associative tendencies, or mental shelves, of a child who has been to Europe five times by her fifteenth birthday may be greater in many areas than those of another with comparable innate abilities but who has never left her small town.
Story time In an effort to end de facto segregation and improve minority student performance, a 1984 federal district court ordered the Kansas City school district to institute a lavish magnet school program of more courses, smaller classes, and state-of-the art facilities. A decade later, the state of Missouri asked the Supreme Court to relieve it of the heavy financial burden which the program entailed, especially given that seven years and $1.3 billion after the start of the program, the district’s students were still scoring “far below” the national average and remained “among the lowest-achieving students in the nation.” This shouldn’t have surprised anyone. After years of substandard schooling, even fancy facilities and wonderful teachers (the teachers were the same just better paid) would be about like throwing books up against a wall with no, or relatively few, shelves. Something else that should not have been surprising but which, for some reason, was hardly (read “never”) mentioned in what became a national debate, was that scores actually were I have a good friend who started taking the SAT in the seventh grade! Many students don’t even realize that people care about the angles of triangles until the 10th grade or that their entire future may hinge on those angles until the 11th. Surprisingly, as a class, the poor seem to have bought into the idea of innate intelligence much more than the wealthier classes ever have. The attitude of many disadvantaged families is that smart children will overcome disadvantaged circumstances and rise to the top; and that a child who doesn’t do well just doesn’t have “the head for learning.” Wealthier, “smarter” families give no serious truck to this foolishness and insist on neighborhoods with good schools, tutors, and standardized test preparation, realizing that most children will rise to the top if pushed.
*

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improving at the lower grades with elementary students already scoring “at or above the national average in most subjects.”250 Because of the national focus on the mediocre performance of the older students as opposed to the outstanding performance of the younger students, the experiment was quickly put to an end before anything could come of it – yet another example of the power of the storyteller.

Although formal education and varied experiences play a crucial role in what we consider intelligence, associations build upon themselves. What comes first determines how we approach and so what we are likely to learn from what comes later. The foundation of values and association pathways laid at home in the first six years of life is usually much more important than anything that happens at school in the next twelve. Indeed, the highest and most predictable gains in childhood IQ (between 6-20, but probably about 12, points) are associated with adoption at birth into more intellectually stimulating* family environments.251 As we saw with the Anang, Maori, Manus, and Puluwat, if you want a child to develop capacities in certain areas, put her in a formative environment where those things are valued. While values conducive to education and challenging environmental stimulation are important, factors as basic as parenting style are probably at least as weighty. How much is the infant spoken with (not just to), played with, allowed and encouraged to explore? Is discipline centered on ensuring that the child simply conforms to certain socially acceptable forms of behavior or towards having her understand, accept, and internalize those values? “Be quiet.” vs. “Be quiet. Mummy is trying to talk.” Is the focus towards merely eliminating irritating behavior (“boisterous play”) or punishing malicious or otherwise problematic intent (“knowingly hurting another child”)? Is the youngster told tersely not to twist the cookie cutter or “If you twist the cookie cutter, the cookies will be rough on the edge”?252 Even for two infants who were both read bedtime stories, it is significant which child was also encouraged to ask questions or to explain the pictures on the page. Are right answers praised and wrong answers explained? Experiences such as these are the associative foundations for the imagination and abstract thought that are later demanded in school and on intelligence tests. Given comparable amounts of affection and attention, the above differences in parenting style have been found to be irrelevant in determining who is well-behaved or learns more quickly to read, but pivotal in predicting, when the teacher asks “What did you like about the story?” or “What would you have done if you had been the child in that story?”, who will respond with a pained or sheepish shrug and who will have an easy, imaginative answer.253 And this is a lead that the child (like the hare in the fable) need not ever lose.
An interesting, if oversimplified and ultimately unconvincing, argument advanced by sociologists such as Pierre Bourdieu, suggests that rather than correcting social inequalities, public education actually reproduces, reinforces, and legitimizes them. The wonderful idea of public education is that all children should have equal access to some common body of knowledge. It assumes, however, that students arrive equally ready to receive what the school has to offer. In fact, some students come already possessing the cultural capital of a certain intellectual heritage while others arrive with a different heritage. Upper-class children, the argument goes, tend to arrive with a disposition towards abstract or theoretical thought. (It is true that the above differences in parenting style and types of formative mental stimulation often fall along social class lines.) Working-class or rural children, on the other hand, generally enter school with the
*

At least, in the ways by which the larger society will later judge intelligence

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foundations of a more practical intelligence. Obviously, theoretical intelligence is more valued in modern Western society (as it must be if our priorities are to continue building ever faster computers and exploring inner and outer space). Yet, it wouldn’t be in, say, a more subsistencebased economy and actually wasn’t as esteemed or useful in the relatively simple American society of 100 or 200 years ago. Schools, it is claimed, legitimize this prevailing value system by classifying those who subscribe to it as more able or “intelligent” even though ultimately it is more a question of acquired values and worldviews than innate ability.254 (Again, while this argument is interesting as far as consciousness and intelligence, its truth or falsehood is irrelevant to the hypothesis of this paper.)

Intelligence is not as simple as Input: Formative environment (varied experiences, primary caregiver’s education level, parenting style, and expectations)* and Education Output: Intelligence. (…although at least one study has found that if we attempt to control for these inputs, correlations between IQ and ethnicity are significantly reduced.255 In all likelihood, the same is true for variations between geographic regions - the disparity between white SAT scores in Maine and Mississippi, for example). Intelligence is not some unitary, valueindependent trait, nor are we simply blank slates, waiting passively for whatever mark or imprint experience happens to make. If you could somehow replace Thomas Edison at birth with my clone, you would have to read this paper by candlelight. On the other hand, if he had been placed in my exact formative environment, you would not be reading it at all (sic). As with consciousness and personality, from the very beginning, the individual himself plays an active role in the formation of intelligence with his innate dispositions (curiosity, geniality, varying tastes…) and more or less efficient or preferred association patterns. These tendencies, not to mention the experiences that they confront and which in turn shape them, are from birth, if not before,† unique for each individual. We can almost agree with those who say that human behavior is 100% nature and 100% nurture, the two being inseparable. The acquired can only be acquired with the aid of the innate, but the innate will only be expressed vis-à-vis what the environment demands.256 Even so, going back to the metaphor of associations as paths through a snowcovered field,‡ we can still generalize about experience and its effect on personality, creativity, and intelligence enough to say that: Infants arrive with certain pre-established association paths. From these an infinite number of other association paths are possible. However, as children experience the world, only certain specific paths are formed and become more or less traveled. Since travelers will tend to follow the paths already
Socio-economic level alone will always be an imperfect way to predict success or academic performance. You could pay an unskilled worker with a tenth-grade education $100,000 and his doctor $30,000 but the former’s children will remain at a disadvantage for the reasons given above. Perfect examples are the children of the professionals who left Cuba after the communist revolution. Although they occasionally performed menial jobs after their arrival in Florida, they passed on their professional values and worldviews to their children. Many of whom have done extremely well in spite of their “socio-economic” level. † The formation of information processing tendencies and preferences possibly begins as early as the womb. (See footnote in Communication). ‡ See Memory & Association.
*

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established as long as they work, the more traveled paths are also the ones which are most likely to be used again in the future. So a particular way of viewing or approaching the world tends to be self-perpetuating.* That said, the greater the number and variety of paths strengthened in a child’s formative years and the earlier that they are formed, the easier it will be to reach new, even uncharted, destinations later in life.

*

“Such is the weakness of our reason. It most often only serves to justify our beliefs.” (Marcel Pagnol)

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Science and Civilization*,257
If I have seen further than [some], it is by standing upon the shoulders of [others].258 - Sir Isaac Newton

Although the goal of this essay to explain in mechanical terms a being capable of saying “I think. Therefore, I am,” it is a mistake and unfair to think too much about men like Descartes when we talk about consciousness. The challenge is to explain a European serf etching out a living in a medieval fiefdom or the guy who sat in the back of (and slept through) your high-school world history class. Much of what we associate with the uniqueness of human self-awareness has more to do with civilization. But civilization is not consciousness, or, rather, consciousness is not civilization. Civilizations are creations of culture, and many of the things we identify with civilization and culture (philosophy, politics, law, science, technology) actually reflect the cumulative discoveries and ideas of individuals from various cultures. Before written history, men and women in diverse parts of the world had independently discovered how to hunt, make clothing, tame fire, build houses or boats, and in some cases domesticate animals,† grow crops, and make bread. This knowledge was passed on to offspring and differed from tribe to tribe. Progress was made, but it was comparatively slow. A million years separated the use of the first stone tools‡ from the “next significant technological innovation”, the hand ax, and even that was a million and a half years ago!259 It would then take hundreds of thousands of more years before we realized that an ax-blade sharpened on both sides worked much better.260 Language and oral traditions sped things up some because direct personal experience was no longer the only way of learning, permitting ideas to be exchanged more easily and extensively. But it is only within the last 10,000 years or so that various cultures learned to cultivate rather than simply “hunt and gather” their food, and the first permanent human settlements and civilizations were born. Alphabet Languages seem to have developed wherever humans formed stable groups. Perhaps the idea of language is - like organized living sites, art (paintings and carving), music (wind instruments), personal adornments, and ritual burials, - simply an additional element of culture which our common ancestors took with them when they first left the African continent between 40,000 and 100,000 years ago.261 However, not all of these groups saw the advantages of writing (or felt the need to write) spoken language down.
See Personality, Creativity, and Intelligence. This probably was not as one-sided an affair as it is traditionally presented. Various animals possibly approached, followed, or tolerated human tribes in exchange for scraps of food or protection from predators, in the same way that herds of gnu and zebra will mix for their mutual protection. Cats, who originally hunted the rodents that fed on human stores and who even today often retain their aloof disposition, are a perfect example of this. ‡ The type of culture that a species develops is as much a function of anatomy and environment as it is personality, intelligence, and values. Although dolphins and elephants are thought to be very intelligent, their limited dexterity would seem to prevent them from ever developing the kind of tool culture seen in otters, chimpanzees, and of course, humans.
† *

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The Sumerians, who inhabited what is now southern Iraq, were probably the first during the fourth and third millennia BC. (I imagine that the idea may have occurred to isolated individuals in other cultures, but they were promptly told to get their heads out of the clouds and get back to herding the animals.) Sumerian writing consisted of twelve hundred characters representing names, numbers, and objects. It was symbolic, like Chinese or Japanese Kanji, which, although often very expressive, can be ambiguous. The Phoenicians, another Mesopotamian people, were among the first to stumble across the idea of a standard alphabet around 1100 BC,* and many of the letters we use today are directly descended from their writings. With written language, human long-term memory now really was unlimited, and the possibilities of organization jumped by an order of magnitude. But the Sumerians and Phoenicians (like the Incas though not the Europeans who conquered them) used this ingenious invention only for record keeping. The Greeks do not seem to have had a written language before the arrival of papyrus from Egypt in the middle of the eighth century BC (perhaps as many as two thousand years after its invention). But once they had the Egyptian writing materials and the Phoenician idea of an alphabet, they seem to have been the first to see writing as a tool not only for keeping records but also for storing and transferring their oral traditions and knowledge.† In the eighth and seventh centuries BC, they produced written materials on various technical subjects, which were distributed throughout the Mediterranean. Miletus, the biggest and wealthiest of the Greek cities, was soon known as a commercial and intellectual center of the ancient world, synthesizing the ideas and discoveries of cultures far and wide. The Tree of Knowledge Our experience of the world is of things that are constantly changing. People and animals are born, grow old, and die. Plants change with the season, the sea with the moon, and eruptions, avalanches, and erosion even alter mountains. All cultures have specific knowledge about how to manage and predict some of these changes in order to survive in their respective environments, but there are still things that they do not understand. For those changes that they could not predict, most early cultures assumed animistic explanations: that behind these phenomena were other, perhaps supernatural, beings and their actions. Any borderline between the human and the animal or between the material and the immaterial was considered relatively insignificant as all creatures, objects, and events were assumed to have (or be the result of) a comparable set of emotions or desires. When you look at it, this is not an altogether bad assumption given the human mind’s tendency to form associations and analogies. Raindrops fall like tears or water from a pitcher. Why could not it be other, unseen beings crying or watering the earth? Such a paradigm would explain why every encounter with a given aspect of the external world tended to unfold as a distinct and unpredictable event.262

A Semitic people living in Egypt appear to have developed an alphabetic system between 1900 and 1800 B.C. But the important point for our purposes is that the ancient Greeks got the idea from the Phoenicians. † I say “their” knowledge but, “[t]he Greeks themselves believed their mathematical science to be of Egyptian origin, and they [also] must have known something of Babylonian astronomy” to name a few of the known influences on ancient Greek thought. (Burnet Introduction)

*

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Around the sixth century BC, a man from Miletus called Thales, who is said to have been the first to predict an eclipse, hypothesized that there must be something that does not change. Otherwise, how could we ever say that “it” has changed? He proposed that the single, enduring primordial element underlying all change was “water”, but his conclusion is not particularly important. What is important is that he was the first in the history of Western thought to assume (expect) that the entire material world, not just specific, isolated parts of it, was capable of being not only understood but also accurately predicted. Thales is considered the first scientist as well as the first philosopher, and after him came an explosion of discovery and invention that the world had never seen before and wouldn’t see again for almost two thousand years. It does not matter if his assumption is “true” in some absolute sense or even if the modern scientific explanations built on the assumption are. It may still be the case that “the world is not only more amazing than we understand, but more amazing than we are capable of understanding”263; or even that at the core of it all is some huge contradiction. Some ancient Greek mathematicians thought that they had found just that when they discovered that the hypotenuses of some right triangles were numbers (such as the square root of two) that could not be expressed as a fraction or ratio of two integers. Thus, they thought, these numbers could not exist in the real world. But if they did not exist in the real world, where did they exist? Maybe there was some sphere of the universe that was unknowable by the human mind. Maybe Thales was wrong. Many Greek thinkers were deeply disturbed by the discovery of these irrational numbers, and this may partly explain why creative, original work in theoretical mathematics fizzled out in Greece around the middle of the fourth century BC.* Yet, regardless of whether or not irrational numbers or, say, electrons 'exist,' it is helpful to think of them as existing. Science need not be taken as describing the universe, but as giving us a narrative or model that in most known instances has behaved, as has the universe; not as an accurate prediction of what will take place, merely as the best prediction available. For many instances and years, phlogiston, the ancient ether, and Ptolemaic spheres and epicycles were satisfactory predictors of events. The same could be said of Aristotle’s explanation that heavy objects fall to the ground because they are seeking their natural place at the center of the universe. Newtonian physics offered a more useful model. It was (and still is) “true” enough for the speeds and the vast majority of situations of the 18th century or modern everyday life, but it is insufficient or “wrong” when trying to predict events at the quantum level or at very high speeds. Einstein’s theory of relativity works fine now but one day might itself meet a similar fate. What is important is that since Thales’ initial attempt, there has been a succession of models that have been increasingly useful in explaining and predicting natural phenomena. Yet, while science (“thinking about the world in [this] way”264), has brought us wondrous possibilities, like any other cultural invention, it is not an end, in and of itself. Of much more intrinsic value are, to borrow a phrase, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” A marginalized aborigine in Sydney or an unemployed Native American on a reservation now has modern roads, schools, and health care, but are they happier and
And why Hippasos, the Pythagorean who revealed this “scandalous exception” to the rest of the world, was drowned at sea. (Burnet 105-6).
*

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more free than their ancestors who lived without these things? I'm not suggesting any particular answer just that it is a debatable question. Science is just one way of describing and dealing with the world; it is not the only way or even necessarily the “best” way. All belief systems involve some set of irreducible assumptions, some foundation of faith. Yet, unlike other faiths or religions, science seems to offer no real answers to the questions “Why are we here?” and “How are we supposed to live?” … From the ancient Mediterranean city of Miletus, one “can see all the way to Cape Canaveral,”265 and the modern ideas of democracy, equality before the law, capitalism, etc. all have comparable, traceable histories of development that cross cultures and time. Yet, in these, too, Western Thought owes some debt to the ancient Greeks.* Before Thales, knowledge consisted mostly of practical rules for hunting, farming, pottery, or organizing households and cities, and was often the monopoly of the ruling classes. Thales and his followers invented organized knowledge, which we call “science”, and made it more public: available to and questionable by anyone who could read. The invention of writing had already greatly expanded humanity’s memory, but, with science and its new approach to knowledge, the possibilities of human reflection took another exponential leap. The idea that there was only one truth and that humans were capable of finding it eventually spread and caught on, and later, men such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle continued and extended this search for truth to medicine, government, and ethics. Although they did not always take the search to what we now see as its logical conclusions, others following their lead would. And the rest is, as they say, history.

Many of these concepts developed independently in various cultures, but their origin in Western thought can often be traced here.

*

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Free Will
We have no choice but to believe in Free Will. - I. B. Singer

An important attribute that we associate with consciousness is Free Will: the idea that human conduct stems from personal choice, not physical or divine forces; that we are “subjects as well as objects of experience…agents and not just instruments of the purposes we pursue.”266 But what room is there for Free Will in a completely mechanical process? With Free Will we are faced with a dilemma similar to the one that confronted the ancient Greek mathematicians who encountered irrational numbers. The idea of Free Will seems to conflict with everything else science assumes about the natural world. If human choice does not originate from divine, physical, social, or economic forces, from where does it originate? The only other option would seem to be that our actions were random with some sort of roulette wheel in the brain, but that would not really bring us any closer to solving the enigma of Free Will since random acts are no more “free” than determined ones. There has to be some starting point or value which is unquestioned. Freud was one of the first to point out that consciousness is only a small part of the person, just the "tip of the iceberg." There are a myriad of tendencies, presumptions, and drives that exist prior to and independent of consciousness. We saw these in the first and second parts of the book. As a self-aware being, I am able to “step back” and consider myself, to reflect upon both my desires and the past that has influenced them. But this view is not from “nowhere”. There has to be some vantage point. In the end, the point of reflection is always within the confines of our personal history,267 and our decision can inevitably only be based on the values and priorities that our experiences, as interpreted by our innate tendencies, have provided. For example, the priest referred to in Self-awareness would not have arrived to question his sexual or dietary instincts if his past education (becoming a Christian) had not taught him to do so. The argument from introspection revisited* Rather than focusing on the problems with Free Will, let’s look at the sole argument in favor of its existence. Remember that we have no direct knowledge of other people’s subjective states.† There is no way for me to know whether or not you have Free Will. For all that I know, your actions might be physically determined. You might even be a cleverly designed robot masquerading as an autonomous individual, so any philosophical argument for Free Will must be one from introspection. “I decide what I am going to do and when I am going to do it, and I am not aware of any external forces
* †

Please review “Other minds” and “The argument from introspection” in Self-awareness. Again, the statement, “Jeffre is happy” does not actually tell us anything about “Jeffre” or his internal state, at least not as he exists independent of the observer. It speaks most directly of the speaker/observer’s own observations and expectations about how “Jeffre” is likely to react. Of course, Jeffre may say, “I am happy.” Still, while our interpretations of another’s statements may possibly reveal his internal state, they can only reveal with certainty our own associations and expectations regarding the speech that we hear not those the speaker may hold regarding the speech that he utters.

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which determine my decision.” However, this argument is vulnerable to the same objections we saw in Self-awareness: our capacity for introspection is limited by the things that make it possible. At the root of the dilemma of Free Will are two conflicting paradigms: one inescapable and the other, science, extremely seductive. In the first, the world according to language and folk psychology, the “self” is an indivisible unit: “I”, “me”, “Angela”. This approach to the world can never be completely abandoned because, as this book argues, the very capacity for self-awareness arises from and is dependent on it. In this paradigm, where the self has a single label and is considered a single entity or “black box” instead of a collection of chemical reactions, “I” actually do have Free Will. The self is a first cause and not an effect. We are subjects and agents not just objects of experience. In U.S. law, corporations are also considered single entities “separate and apart from the persons who [may] compose [them].”268 Enterprises can choose courses of action, sue, be sued, and break the law, and through it all, as far as the law is concerned, the individuals who, in fact, own and run the corporation do not exist. We even say, “Company Y has decided to hire or fire X number of employees” as if the company had a unitary or “free” will! We do something similar when we speak of what “The United States” has done. While such statements may be true as far as they go, in these instances, we also have other paradigms readily available to describe the same events in terms of branches of government and business units, or even at lower levels of description in terms of citizens and employees, but no such alternative level of introspection is available. Although it is obvious linguistic and legal "shorthand", we ignore the constituent parts of countries, corporations, and other organizations when the paradigm of interaction or description has no need of them and makes no provision for them. Any attempt at introspection will, at some level, run up against the exact same problem. By the time we are capable of saying “I” or “my” (my actions, I think, I am, I choose…), everything that may determine and explain that “I” has already been ignored and taken for granted. In other words, individual claims of Free Will are ultimately the only evidence of its existence, yet, when we say, “I have Free Will” how is the “I” who can come to this conclusion and know this fact explained? Were we “free” to make the decision or was it determined? Eventually, Free Will proponents are forced to either renounce their argument or, at the very least, admit that it is hopelessly circular. Put another way, the very act of introspection to determine “Do I have Free Will?” is already inescapably dependent upon the assumption of a unitary entity that is both the object of the question as well as an inquisitor with the necessary knowledge, perspective, and “Free Will” to answer it. (See box below.) Does any of this prove that Free Will (whatever that would mean) does not exist? No, not really. But it does show how the argument from introspection, the only argument for Free Will actually on the table, can never prove it. We might then say that the belief in Free Will is an unsubstantiated assumption, but it is not that as much as it is a particular way of labeling and describing events in the world. All paradigms have at their core some “unsubstantiated” assumption or unquestioned starting point, and the fact is that this one (of language and folk wisdom) actually works fine and is logically consistent until we follow Thales’ lead and seek the definition and explanation of that “I”. When we, as Plato suggested, insist on finding the

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origin of the shadows on the wall, we are forced to see the world and ourselves in a different way. Our actions, choices, and feelings can all be explained in terms of physical events. The fact that we are not always capable of knowing what those events are cannot be taken as proof that they do not exist. If we feel a certain mastery of our actions, it is from the first introspective paradigm of language and folk wisdom and because some of our reactions to stimuli are subject to our control or, rather, the associations and priorities that our history has given rise to while others (heartbeat, pulling your hand away from a hot stove, etc…) are not. It is difficult for us to see the prison of our sensations, inclinations, background, and language as a prison because we are born in it269 and have nothing else to compare it to. So, is the will free, as in belonging to an “individual” that has already been defined or classified as separate from the rest of its environment? Yes. Is it free in the sense of capable of ever being completely severed from experience or preexistent desires? No.
“There are thoughts; therefore I (or something or another) exist.” A similar objection has been raised to Descartes’ clever deduction: “I think, therefore I am.” 1) The argument, at least as stated, is slightly circular. When Descartes says that “he” thinks, has he not already assumed that “he” exists? 2) A character in a novel, play, or Star Trek holodeck whose thoughts were, in fact remotely-controlled, could make the same boast, but it would not be true. They would not be thinking as much as the writer, playwright or programmer. Descartes has successfully proven that “he” exists, but how can he be certain that he is thinking and not some other creature or creatures through him; that he is not playing a part in someone else’s fantasy, just a fleeting character in God’s dream?270

“It’s not me, Your Honor. It’s my genes.”271 Free Will is an important assumption in most moral and legal systems, and some cling doggedly to a belief in its existence because they assume that abandoning the concept would mean abandoning personal responsibility and accountability. If everything any of us has done or will ever do was essentially decided at the Big Bang and if uncoerced, “freely chosen” actions are ultimately no less mechanical or predetermined than physically coerced ones, how can I hold someone accountable for values they cannot help but hold and actions which they cannot help but carry out? When faced with a decision, an individual chooses the option that his innate drives and preferences - as informed by his personal experience - determine. The drives and preferences are predetermined and mechanical as is the deliberation and choice. The criminal could well say (and many do), “My actions are the mechanical and so predetermined result of my innate dispositions and experience. It’s not me, Your Honor. It’s my genes!” And he would have a point. At times, we actually accept a similar excuse in the cases of small children or people who are not familiar with our ways or customs. “It’s okay. He does not know any better.” But we assume that an individual who has reached society’s age of accountability has seen and experienced enough to understand society’s norms and, even if he has not added social values to his egocentric innate ones, that he understands the possible consequences of his actions. We can hold people responsible for their actions not because their choice is voluntary in some absolute metaphysical sense, but because as adults pursuing their unique predetermined preferences, they are aware of consequences, specifically legal ones, and the decision for one option or another is an acceptance of responsibility for them. Through laws, communities pass judgment on their members’ values and hold individuals accountable

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for consequences. While arguably unfair at the philosophical level, especially given that inclinations vary and the experience and options of some are much more extensive than those of others, it is socially and legally indispensable. Given similar shortcomings in moral education, the decision not to sell drugs or become a thief is much easier if the other options are becoming an accountant, teacher, technician, or fireman. It is somewhat less obvious if the realistic options are between pushing drugs vs. a lawnmower, broom, or hamburger. To choose an even more clear-cut case of right and wrong: A pedophile might find it more difficult to make the right choice than someone who does not find minors sexually attractive. Additionally, it is a myth that all deviants face the same problems of social integration. I imagine that many of the “sexual tourists” who engage in child prostitution on their trips to Southeast Asia, are well regarded in their home communities. Is the respect for life any less for the individual who kills for his first car than it is for the executive who for his third, knowingly markets a dangerously defective product, sells arms to both sides in a conflict, or gives out free cigarettes272 hoping to create an addiction? As for property, how many law-abiding citizens have ever owned pirated music or software? Intelligence, power, and status are sometimes as important as values in determining which social deviants are ostracized. None of this makes individuals any less responsible for their actions. Accepting the privileges of being an adult means accepting responsibility for our personal inclinations and actions whatever they are. Personal responsibility extends to all adults, including those we classify as “sick”. People who murder because they have a “personality disorder”, hear voices, or were extremely angry or drunk are no less guilty. Someone who kills for money or sneakers, blows up a building of civilians to make a political point, or carries out sadistic fantasies is no less sick. All criminals inhabit a world in which their crime, at the relevant moment in time, made perfect sense. Under this view, whether or not someone “deserves” to go to jail as opposed to a mental institution is a red herring.273 Ideally, there would be little distinction between the two. Perhaps, a better way of putting the question is “Which treatment/punishment would be most appropriate for the individual and in the best interests of society?”*,274 … Our choices are determined by many factors, but they remain our choices. They reveal who or what we are. We, like other animals, are prisoners of our instinct and history, but by surrendering to our backgrounds, whims, caprices, and basest desires; by refusing to accept personal responsibility for our choices and “destinies”, we abandon what is most uniquely human about us, our self-awareness. We are born with a certain set of values, and parents, schools, religious institutions, and other experiences work to inculcate an expanded set. It is true that we don’t choose those innate inclinations nor do we have any choice over what language we speak, what country we are born in, who our parents are, or what they end up teaching us. Yet, regardless of the number we draw in the genes/formative-experiences lottery, most of us still walk away with the two most important values: a respect for the subjective experience of others which is essential for
Unfortunately, modern psychiatry has varying degrees of success treating different criminal pathologies (abnormal perception, interpretations, emotions, or values), and most people who have developed fundamental value problems are, for the moment at least, irrevocably lost.
*

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ethical, as opposed to simply social or legal, behavior* and a desire to better oneself -- the belief that currently held values are not necessarily the “best”. “Best” and “better” are, of course, biologically, culturally, and individually defined within the history referred to earlier. But even so, this is a changing, empowered self, not a static, passive one. It is one that values not only introspection and reflection, but also new experiences, new outlooks, and “improvement”. We could indeed choose to rest docile and submissive within the cell that our personal history has constructed for us. In truth, we can never hope to escape it. But if our experience and education have given us a reason to want to, through reflection, curiosity, questioning, conversing with others, reading, traveling… we can experience new images, feelings, and perspectives and “consciously” force back the prison walls. Looked at in another way, regardless of whether or not Free Will exists, the belief in its existence has some very real effects. Just as culture helps to define the self, it also plays a huge role in “free” will. If we view ourselves as having choices and as being responsible for our actions, we are more likely to reflect and consider alternatives beyond the immediately obvious or appealing than if we view ourselves as mere slaves to instinct and genetics. In other words, although Free Will does not exist, a belief in Free Will produces something akin to it.

The possibility of punishment (ostracism, jail, Hell) or reward is enough to make most people conform to social norms. Problems arise, however, when the sanctions are absent and the norms are silent or suddenly disappear: the Crusades, colonization, slavery, turn of the century (and contemporary) sweatshops, Nazi Germany, sexual tourism, the L.A. riots, Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda…

*

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Conclusions on Self-awareness and The Philosophy of Mind
Many people who feel that there should be something special and central about human beings are unhappy about the quite compelling evidence that we are just another animal…But I think it’s so much more elevating to find that we are deeply connected with all the other living things on the Earth, than to imagine that there’s something particularly special. If we want to make something special about ourselves, it is within our power to do so. - Carl Sagan275

In the end, this text, too, is only another competing paradigm -- just another way of looking at, and imposing order on, the world.* Much of what is presented here is far from being universally accepted, and some of it is highly controversial among researchers in the various fields: the ideas presented on categorization,† the emphasis on vision, the explanations of subjective experience and intelligence, associative psychologies in general… And even if we accept this as the outline of an eventual mechanical theory of consciousness, it has not begun to touch on the devil-harboring details of those mechanics. Exactly how does the neuron, not to mention the brain, work? Science still does not know. What role does the timing of neuron firings play in all this? What precisely are the innate configurations of synaptic connections and how do they translate into initial association patterns and algorithms?‡ Are detection and association indistinguishable from and reducible to reaction? Is it more useful to think of there being more or less than eight primary emotions?§ What is their hierarchy? How is it mechanically implemented? How are emotions “combined”? Which of our emotional reactions and tendencies are learned and which are instinctual…? With further research it will almost certainly turn out to be the case that behaviors we have listed as innate are actually learned and vice versa or that some of the history, modern science, and folk wisdom we have used to support our arguments will turn out to be incorrect. But none of these relatively minor issues need take away from the larger points. First, the idea of consciousness as some ethereal quality that humans are born with and animals are not is a lot like phlogiston, the ancient ether, or Ptolemaic spheres and epicycles: You can make a fairly coherent theory of the universe supposing their existence, but there are other, “better” ways of explaining the world. This is not to suggest that consciousness does not exist any more than we suggested that irrational numbers,** snow††, France,‡‡ or trees§§ did not exist. Just that, in answering the philosophical enigmas listed in the introduction, our self-awareness is better seen as the
For instance, it shows how all aspects of our experience and awareness could be explained without recourse to the immaterial, but it does not “prove” and could never prove that the immaterial does not “exist”. Nothing could. A better question is “Is the supposition of the immaterial, the best available explanation for these events?” This book argues that, as far as human consciousness, it is not, and when faced with two adequate but conflicting explanations, we tend to favor the simpler. † See “Categorization” in Memory & Association. ‡ See Appendix. § Is it helpful or necessary to consider destruction, rejection, and protection separate emotions? Could the eight primary emotions be conceptually reduced to four or even two (positive, negative)? ** See Scientific Thought. †† See first paragraph in Language, Culture, and Values. ‡‡ See box in Abstract and Logical Thought. §§ See “Categorization” in Memory & Association.
*

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result of mechanical (physical) interactions that are themselves constantly being influenced by experience. From the moment of birth, the mind begins forming associations about the world around it, and our personality and consciousness are continually being formed and shaped in the process. Different parts of the brain evolved at different times and in different ways to meet the challenges of our ancestors’ environments. Although separate areas of the brain handle separate tasks, such as language or social skills, all are composed of neurons and, if wired differently to better accomplish their specific functions, still use the mechanical processes that we have outlined here. We have separated these different aspects of human consciousness, to better explain their evolution and development in mechanical terms. In reality, of course, they evolved and develop together and are ultimately inseparable. You cannot explain human sensation and emotion without talking about personality and experience nor personality and experience without referring to culture… Like the dichotomies body/mind, nature/nurture, rational/emotional, these are labels that we, particularly Westerners, place on the world to facilitate our understanding of it, but the universe itself need not (and often does not) neatly conform to our superimpositions.276 Something similar could be said of the man/nature and human/animal dichotomies… Secondly, consciousness isn’t all or nothing. Each chapter in this book addressed a different element of consciousness. Each of these elements represents an increase in the organism’s awareness of the world and of its place in it, and each can be possessed to greater or lesser extents and in varying ways. It is said that we share 20% of our genetic material with yeast, 80% with chickens, and 99% with chimpanzees. Additionally, all vertebrates from fish to humans share the same basic brain structure: brain stem, cerebellum, cerebrum. The most important difference between them lies in the size of the associative areas, the cerebral hemispheres.277 It is not simply that we are conscious or self-aware and dogs or chimpanzees aren’t, but consciousness – the information that an individual can process about itself and the world -- is a continuum with chemical reactions like rust at one end and human self-awareness at the other.* Our mental world is arguably richer than most other animals, because the sensations, emotions, and associations we are capable of experiencing are more nuanced, and the resulting differences between us and other animals are nonetheless obvious and real. No matter how many times my dog hears his name, he will never say it278 or even think of it as “his”.† Regardless of how intense and heroic the efforts, a chimpanzee will never - this side of a million years - appreciate Steinbeck or exclaim in a burst of inspiration, “I sign. Therefore, I am.” Yet, these differences - particularly our capacity for reflection - all arise from variances in innate capabilities that we share with other creatures. In this sense, there may be something that we can learn from animistic cultures.‡ The capacity for
While we can think of there being milestones along this continuum, this book has attempted to show that the most astounding, and as yet inexplicable, of these is not self-awareness, but the self-replicating molecule. Additionally, although the chances of self-awareness evolving by chance may be astronomical, there is a sense in which it should not be at all surprising. If it had not evolved, we would not be here marveling over how unlikely it is that it did. † Simply responding to his name requires capabilities of detection, reaction, and association, but recognizing the name as “his” and not someone else’s requires the reflection which language makes possible. ‡ See “The Tree of Knowledge” in Scientific Thought.
*

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reflection arrives with language, but many of the other things we consider important about consciousness exist prior to it: emotion, intelligence, knowledge of the self and others, family and companionship, culture, and even personality. Animals think, although – with different senses, emotional reactions, experiences, and association algorithms – not necessarily about the same things or in the same way that we do* and never (in the absence of language) about the fact that “they” are “thinking”. And, of course, all this assumes that we are at the pinnacle of consciousness and that the progression of awareness stops with us. But why must it? If lobsters were capable of reflection, they might assume that the whole thing culminated with them. Who knows? Maybe the continuum of consciousness continues on,† all the way to God. Third, this is our path to self-awareness. It is by no means the only one imaginable. In spite of our similar sensations and emotions, humans do not all interpret the world in the same way. If we ever came into contact with other self-aware beings, extraterrestrial or terrestrial, it is doubtful that they would see or react to the world as we do since their evolutionary history and environmental challenges would likely be different. They may be sensitive to other areas of the electromagnetic spectrum like bees or be unable to “see” at all. Possibly they will have new and completely different senses such as sonar (like bats or dolphins) or the magnetic sense of direction and location of some birds. Two species may even have the same sensation, but process the information in different ways. Dragonflies and hawks both detect a comparable range of the electromagnetic spectrum but their sight remains unlike our own.‡ In regard to emotion, our extraterrestrials might not “laugh” or “cry” but would have different emotional reactions and different ways of expressing them. Perhaps, they would not communicate by sound but by light, electric impulses, or touch. Their language might not consist so much of parts of speech but of metaphors from a shared narrative or mythology: with no word for “love” other than something like “Romeo and Juliet on the balcony” and “betrayal” being expressed by “Brutus, the Ides of March.”279 Communication without conventional grammar is conceivable, as well. For example, a species that saw the world in sonar images and also possessed a sufficiently sophisticated ability to produce various sounds might communicate by projecting the desired mental sonar image to another.§ The
Thus, even “if lions could speak, we wouldn’t understand them.” (Ludwig Wittgenstein) In spite of this, our conceptions of the universe often do overlap those of other species. Although your dog cannot appreciate that a certain sofa has been in your family for generations, he would agree that it is much more comfortable than the floor. (Cyrulnik, 1995). † Besides more varied and precise senses (which alone would seem to be a pretty trivial difference), it is understandably difficult to imagine what a “higher” level of consciousness might be. Perhaps it would have greater capacities for association and category formation and so be less susceptible to the overgeneralization or stereotypes inherent in memory and association. Along the same lines, it might not have the tendency, seen in employers, jurors, casting agencies, animators, and even young children, to confuse certain categories (like attractiveness) with others (like intelligence or kindness). Or maybe it would, in some way, be more aware of its own emotional changes and/or more naturally empathetic or sensitive to the subjective experience of others. ‡ The center of a hawk’s field of vision is telescopic. Many insects have compound eyes that integrate multiple images into a mosaic. Compared to our own, a fly’s visual system is ten times faster - not as good at revealing detail but much better at detecting movement. § Although some researchers have suggested that dolphins may communicate in this way, there, as yet, is little evidence of this.
*

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possibilities are literally endless in all of the areas that affect and constitute consciousness (sensation, emotion, memory, culture, language etc.) implying an infinite number of possible ways to achieve self-awareness. An extraterrestrial species’ basic information processing units doubtless would not even be neurons although something comparable. Whatever those basic components were, self-awareness would be possible if they were organized in such a way as to collectively detect, react to, and associate stimuli as a single unit or 'monad' within an environment of interaction and communication with other comparatively structured individuals. If nothing else, we would have at least this capacity for sensation, emotion, memory, and community in common with any extraterrestrial or terrestrial sentience. There remains one question posed in the introduction that we have yet to address. If we can imagine how another self-aware species might not have neurons per se or our same biological and emotional reactions; if self-awareness is possible, when basic information processing units are organized in such a way as to detect, react to, and associate various aspects of the world, then could we ever build a self-aware computer? In humans and animals, the basic information processing system is the neuron, which can be in either one of two states, activated or at rest. In a computer, it is a circuit or switch that can be either on or off. It would be quite difficult to build a machine that was self-aware the instant you turned it on. There is just too much information, too many variables, too many associations. If you did manage to construct such a machine, having programmed everything into it - as in contemporary examples of artificial intelligence - is it really selfaware or does it just act like it is? Perhaps, its reactions would be as complex and nuanced as our own but the machine itself, it could be argued, would be no more conscious than a rusting piece of iron or a reptile. Along these same lines, the PC sitting on your desk could never become self-aware, because consciousness requires emotion, varied experiences, communication with other beings, and the consequent formation of associations from those experiences. That said, however, Part I of the book outlines our innate “preprogrammed” capabilities and the rest of the text explains human (and animal) consciousness in terms of these mechanical tendencies. The situations and associations become more complex, but the basic program that underlies and deals with them remains the same. Yet, each of these innate abilities is conceivably artificially reproducible.* Even if we could not build a self-aware computer, there is no theoretical reason why we could not construct a robot or android which, like a baby, was capable of developing self-awareness through experience. Suitably provided with only senses, an instinctual way to react to them, and capabilities of association in an environment of social and cultural interaction with other beings, an android could (just as a newborn) begin to form associations and learn about the world and itself. It is essential to point out, however, that such a machine would be self-aware, not human, at least not in the biological sense. Our organs and autonomic responses are unique to our species and those which share our evolutionary history, so our android would not feel its heart quicken and muscles tighten when it was startled (although it might, in a similar way, detect changes in its internal energy level and readiness.) It would not burp or be ticklish and might not express its
*

See bold italics in Part I as well as The Subjective Experience of Emotion.

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emotions through laughter or crying. Nonetheless, it could conceivably come to be aware of itself and of its place in the universe in a sense that would be different than - yet still comparable to - our own. It might eventually even conclude as did Descartes that however different, subjective, variable, and fallible was that awareness, it was at the very least irrefutable proof of an objective existence: “I think, therefore I am.” For self-awareness, what is important is what the brain does, not how it does it or what it does it with. Our awareness of the universe and ourselves is limited by our abilities of sensation and association, colored by our innate emotional reactions, and shaped by our experiences and culture. In animals, this all happens via neurons, neurotransmitters, and hormones, which in turn cause additional chemical reactions in the body resulting in the activation of drives, reflexes, and motor movement. In our android, there would be circuits and wires. Although in both cases, consciousness arrives from mechanical processes, it is not for that any less marvelous or precious.

Criticisms, suggestions, and questions are welcome at d2d.metson@gmail.com.

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Appendix: Boolean Logic
The purpose of this Appendix is to show that simple binary reactions (like our “on or off” neurons) can be arranged to perform complex logical operations and that these could have evolved over time to establish an innate set of reflexes, priorities, and association tendencies. Often, the instincts that an organism employs to identify food or a mate depend on more than one sensation or on a succession of sensations. The knowledge that an organism acquires is rarely absolute but is most often conditional. The chipmunk comes out if there are tourists but approaches only if there is food and there are not any predators. It is important to point out that on/off circuits or neurons can be structured to express conditional situations beyond the simple IF… THEN… (on/off) relationships covered in Detection.* Logic Gates280 Simple physical relationships allow an amazing variety of logical operations. Logic Gates are binary (on/off, 0/1, positive/negative, high/low, true/false, or yes/no) signals arranged so as to give a result that varies mechanically and predictably according to the input conditions. In electronics and computer circuitry, they are used to control the flow of electricity and to perform computations. AND, OR, and NOT gates are the most common.

AND Gates

In the above electrical circuit, a battery (V) is connected to a light bulb (on the far right of the picture) via switches, R and S. Electricity cannot reach the bulb, because the open switches break the circuit. Electromagnets connected to A and B can be either off, as they are in the picture, or on. If they were activated, they would pull R and S closed,
*

If there is iron, oxygen, and moisture, then there is rust. If there is current, then the light comes on.

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electricity would reach the bulb, and the light would come on. Thus, there are only four physical possibilities: 1. The configuration shown in the diagram where both electromagnets are off. 2. Only A is on and the light remains off because S would still be open. 3. Only B is on and the current still does not reach the light, because R would be open. 4. Both electromagnets are on. Only in this case could electricity flow to the bulb. The potential scenarios are summarized in the following table,

So AND Gates are configurations where only positive inputs from both A and B will result in a positive output – in our case, light. OR Gates

This configuration also allows only four possible states: 1. As in the diagram, A and B can both be off, preventing electricity from reaching the light. 2. Only A could be on, allowing electricity to reach the bulb through R, although S remains open. 3. If only B is on, then the closed S switch allows electricity to bypass the open R, and the light is on. 4. Both electromagnets are on, and electricity can flow to the light through either R or S. In summary,

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With OR configurations, a current through either A or B is enough to light the bulb.

NOT Gates

Here, the light is on. The R switch is closed in the default state but would be pulled open if A were activated. This allows two possibilities: 1. The default state (shown in the diagram) where A is off, and the light is on. 2. Another where A is on, R is open, and the light is off.

So the light is on when A is off and vice versa. The output of a NOT Gate is “yes” or “TRUE” only when the input is not.

AND, OR, and NOT gates are the most common and simple logic gates, but several other operations are possible: NAND Gates: Output is positive only when all inputs are positive. NOR Gates: Output is negative if any of the inputs are negative. XOR Gates: Output is positive when the inputs are different. XNOR Gates: Output is positive only when the inputs are the same. These Boolean operators may also be combined and arranged to perform more complicated computations such as counting, adding, comparing, and sorting. Telecommunications switchboards and digital computers use comparable relationships to route signals and perform calculations, and a single computer chip may contain thousands of logic gates. Of course, modern computers do not contain electromagnets or mechanical
From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

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switches and neither does the brain. Boolean logic operations are easier to see and explain with old-fashioned electric switches, but there are actually many other (electromagnet-less) ways of configuring binary (on/off) inputs in order to perform the above logical operations. Some examples are: RTL: Resistor-transistor logic, DTL: Diode-transistor logic, TTL: Transistor-transistor logic, NMOS: N-channel metal-oxide silicon, CMOS: Complementary metal-oxide silicon, and ECL: Emitter-coupled logic… …to name a few. While they all involve placing If… Then… physical reactions in arrangements which always yield AND, OR, * or NOT outcomes, the logic gates of these various families are differentiated not only by their components† and configurations, but also by their complexity, speed, size, and energy requirements.

NOR GATE The Apollo Space Program Guidance Computer used similar logic gates although on integrated circuits.281

* †

Or their negatives: NAND and NOR. Resistors, transistors, and diodes versus electromagnets and mechanical switches, for example.

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We do not know the exact configurations that the brain uses to implement its association algorithms. The mind performs Boolean-like logical calculations, but it is unlikely that they would fit neatly into any of the above-mentioned logic families. Again, the purpose of this Appendix is merely to show that simple binary reactions (like our “on or off” neurons) can be arranged to perform complex logical operations and that these could have evolved over time to establish an innate set of reflexes, priorities, and association tendencies. Maybe, if the chipmunk in Memory & Association hears tourists AND there are NOT any predators, he comes out. If the chipmunk can see OR smell food, then he approaches… Neural Networks Paul Churchland in Matter and Consciousness282 illustrates how a collection of sensory inputs and logical gates might come over time to solve complex problems. Imagine a submarine crew looking for enemy mines that have been strewn on a rocky harbor bottom. They possess instruments which can detect sound energy at different frequencies, but they know of no way to distinguish a mine’s sonar return from that of a rock. To attack the problem, they set up a “neural network”.

Neural Network283 Using logical gates, the crew connects the sonar equipment (input units) to several intermediate or “hidden” units at randomly distributed strengths or weights. The hidden units produce two outputs of varying intensity: one, which represents the probability that the echo comes from a mine, and the other, the probability that it comes from a rock. * The crew has collected several sample sonar echoes of known mines in various positions and of various types and has done the same for objects they know to be rocks. Ideally, the frequency analyzer would return (1,0) outputs for the mines and (0,1) for the rocks. However, the randomly assigned weights would most likely give them

*

This is an illustration of how neural networks work not of how the actual navy goes about solving such problems.

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inconclusive and useless output, like (.49, .51)* or (.7, .3) for what they know to be a rock. The sailors might then adjust the weights most responsible for the erroneous output until the network returned the desired response for a given echo. The next sample mine might produce a (.6, .4) result. Slightly better but still unacceptable, so the input weights would undergo another round of adjusting. If this process is repeated for several samples,† the crew will eventually find a set of weights that produces (1, 0) for mines and (0,1) for rocks. The neural network would have “learned,” through trial and error, to distinguish the known rocks and mines and would be only slightly less accurate at distinguishing the mines and rocks in the harbor. In the chipmunk, the sensory “input units” are linked by synaptic connections to the “hidden” information processing units (neurons) of the brain to produce a certain output or reflex. Not that any such trial and error process is involved in learning, but something similar might be involved in the evolution of survival-enhancing reflexes and association algorithms.

The units are all still binary, but the logic gates that connect them are capable of adding, multiplying, etc… An output unit might configured to require the attainment of a certain incoming firing rate or positive signals from a certain number of hidden units before producing a positive (1) response. A .49 response would mean that the system was at only 49% of that threshold. † Certain mathematical equations can help in deciding which weights to modify and by how much, but “training” the system still might require tens of thousands of trial runs.

*

From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Appendix 130

Imagining An Observer-less Observation
Although this paper argues that there is no distinction between the mind and the body, an implicitly Cartesian model of the self pervades it: Who is it that is detecting, reacting, associating, and subjectively experiencing? In the absence of an observer to interpret the soup of interaction as actors and subjects of experience , the short answer is "no one". This is not to say that these things do not exist or take place in the absence of an observer, just that without her (without language) there is no one to interpret and label them in this way. Detection, reaction, categorization and associations, problemsolving, community, … everything up to and including communication could have existed long before there was any creature who could observe, label, and comment on itself or the world around it. Essentially, before language, we are still left with nothing more than a contiguous collection of physical and chemical reactions, which happen, by evolutionary chance, to all work in a coordinated way to further “their” collective survival. Language provides the external frame of reference necessary for observation.
An Observer-less Observation? It is by definition impossible to describe a pre-linguistic observer-less world (Cf. “Categorization” in Association), but I like to think of a multi-colored fluid mishmash of interactions, of a fast-moving action scene horribly out of focus so that it is unclear where one object ends and another begins, or even of stereograms and optical illusions. We described the optical illusion in Culture as the drawing of either an old or young woman, but, “in fact”, it is neither. There’s nothing more than some ink or lines on a sheet of paper. The delineation or conceptualization of the lines as a photo of this or that is something we bring to the world not simply something we find in it. The universe may be thought of in a similar way. A commentator/observer is required to say this goes with that and this means that. Language doesn’t simply describe an ordered universe of actors and objects. It creates one.

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From Dust to Descartes
Chapter Summaries
Introduction: Although the issue of consciousness is relevant to so many others from criminal justice to artificial intelligence and animal rights, there is still little agreement among modern researchers or philosophers about what consciousness is. The goal of this book is to explain self-awareness and all its enigmas (creativity, free will, subjective experience…) in terms the various on/off firing patterns of neurons.

Part I - Instinct and innate abilities. Chapter 1. Detection. There are no internal images or photos in the brain corresponding to what we see, but in the same way that without seeing the wind, we know it is there by the movement of the leaf; in the same way that iron “detects” oxygen and moisture by rusting, the mechanics, although not the experience, of sensation can be explained in terms of various neuronal firing patterns. Certain levels of electromagnetic radiation, edges at various degrees to the horizontal, movement in various directions (sight), vibrations in the air (sound), airborne and water-soluble particles (taste and smell), changes of pressure and temperature (touch) all result in unique firing patterns. Chapter 2. Reflexes and Reactions.
Iron doesn’t detect oxygen; it reacts to it, as oxygen and moisture are simply the initial links in a chain of chemical reactions that eventually results in the creation of rust. Likewise, the pressure of an insect on the hairs of Venus’s Flytrap triggers the closing of the surrounding leaves and the beginning of the digestion process. Organisms have evolved an instinctual set of reactions for every possible sensation, but each of these reactions can be classified under one of eight primary behavior patterns: incorporation (accepting the stimuli), rejection (get rid of stimuli), destruction (removing barriers to stimuli), protection (retreating from stimuli), reproduction (maintaining or increasing stimuli), deprivation (reaction to the loss of incorporated stimuli), orientation (reaction to new or unexpected stimuli), exploration (default state: moving back and forth, hissing, or looking from side to side). These robotic reactions could be compared to acceptance, disgust, anger, fear, joy, sorrow, surprise, and curiosity, but this reptilian level of stimuli-response is still a far cry from human emotions. Human newborns do, however, have reflexes for sucking, grasping, looking, turning the head, orienting themselves in the direction of a sound, and instinctively prefer and seek human cuddling, voices, faces, etc. to non-human stimuli.

Chapter 3. Memory & Association. A single cell creature absorbing the edible and rejecting the inedible, or an insect distinguishing the scent of a mate from that of a rival has already begun to “form” and “define” de facto categories. If some things look or smell like food or a mate, other things do not. Categorization is an inseparable aspect of sensing and reacting to things in the world. While organisms classify things according to their innate capabilities of sensation and the eight previously outlined responses, memory and association allows these

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categories to be retained, refined, and reused. Bees, for instance, can remember the opening times of up to five different types of flowers based on the position of the sun. A chipmunk may learn to associate tourists with food.
Memory is thought to be reconstructive. Every imaginable sensation, each possible motion or reflex arises from a unique set of neuron firing patterns. Similar sensations will thus activate similar patterns and vice-versa. Past sensations and emotional reactions are “stored” by forming links between their firing patterns. Thus, when a past pattern is reactivated because of its similarity to some aspect of present sensation, links between it and various other past patterns (representing past emotions or other sensations) would in turn cause their reactivation. The formation of new connections between various sensations or between sensations and emotions could be handled by association units, unique for each sensation and each with its own rules and algorithms for establishing associations based upon proximity in space and time. The strength of a link or memory (the probability of reactivating a previous firing pattern) is, in turn, determined by how recent it is, the intensity of the associated “emotion,” and the number of times it has been accessed. The influence and weight of these factors will differ by sensation and species. Although the organism is still an automaton - things are remain mechanical, and the “decision” can still be completely explained in terms of instinct or pre-programming - it can learn.

Part II - Experience With the above innate abilities and experience, we develop expectations about the objects around us. Chapter 4. Perceptual Development. While the world of a newborn baby or pup is never a senseless kaleidoscope of colors and sounds, it must be something quite similar as the first lessons to be learned are very basic ones. For example, in the first few months, the child learns to associate gaps between surfaces with different objects. Later, the same association is made for objects that move in different directions or at different rates. With experience, the innate processes outlined in Part I focus on certain aspects of the events to generate increasingly sophisticated and precise associations or expectations about the ways in which objects can and do behave in the physical world. Chapter 5. Emotional Development.
The world is never completely unintelligible to newborns because their instinctual reactions to sensations aid in interpreting those sensations. The limits of human emotional evaluation extend far beyond eight simple prototypes we outlined earlier. Each of the eight “emotional” states can be experienced along a continuum of activation or intensity, which has sleep at one end, alert attention in the middle ranges, and all-subsuming emotion at the other extreme. Annoyance, anger, and rage are all expressions of the destruction pattern, and timidity, apprehension, panic, and terror are instances of protection. Additionally, the emotions rarely occur one at a time. A situation will usually involve several, possibly conflicting, emotions giving even more variety and nuance to experience. For example, anxiety {protection} is often associated with sadness {deprivation}, and aggressive behavior {destruction} rarely occurs without some accompanying anxiety. Perhaps, Joy + Fear = Guilt and Acceptance + Sorrow = Resignation. However, there is still no need to assume some unitary or central executive control system that would serve as a seat for the emerging consciousness. Rather, as attention, emotional intensity, and priorities change, so does executive access to the central nervous system.

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An infant is born with a finite number of behavioral patterns or schemes (sucking, turning the head, grasping…). As these are exercised in the context of inborn “emotional” reactions and the environment that they confront, new associations are formed and these behavioral schemes are gradually modified. As with Pavlov’s dogs, emotional responses can be extended to new sensations. Some friends of mine once had a dog, Shadow, who literally went wild with excitement when they got up early and brought out the coolers. Why? Because Shadow had come to associate the coolers with a trip in the car to the woods. With repeated experiences, we form scripts, or a set of successive expectations or associations about what follows next. Crying is followed by feeding or attention; kicking the crib toy is immediately followed by movement and sound. The intermediate events in the scripts we form may produce different or even contradictory emotional reactions. An animal fighting for the right to eat or mate may experience great pain. I’m sure that Shadow was, at times, uncomfortable in the small jeep on the ride to the mountains. The calculation of how much present pain is worth a certain future advantage is based on innate weighing of the various drives in addition to their intensities, but the emotions engendered by the intermediate obstacles will always be of a lower intensity than the ultimate emotion.

Chapter 6. Cognitive Development.
Although man is a “rational” creature, reason is only a tool, a means to an end. It must have a goal. Some preexistent drive or hierarchy of values must precede and direct it. Hence, the completely logical, unemotional being of science fiction is an impossibility. “The will to overcome an emotion is in the last analysis only the will of another or several other emotions.” Ultimately, reason can only serve, channel, and direct sentiments and passions which are prior to and more fundamental than reason. So, problem-solving dissolves into learned strategies for satisfying those eight primary emotional reactions or the values derived from them through experience. Some problems can be solved by following the previously explained schema and scripts. However, when faced with a new stimulus, experience, or problem, our mind automatically attempts to form an association (using appearance, setting, goals, etc.) or analogy with some past experience which could be useful. In planning, we don’t construct a future that we have previously planned in our heads, we rearrange and reconstruct the past or rather the expectations we have formed about the past, and in the process new associations are formed.

Chapter 7. Subjective Experience. At this stage, the subjective experience of emotion is: 1) Some relative mixture of the eight instinctive reflexes or tendencies. Although culture will help to further define and extend upon what is seen as good or desirable, all urges and actions have their origin in one or more of these eight primary emotional states. All meaning and purpose that we see in the world arise from these eight instinctual reactions. We cannot conceive of, describe, or experience the world outside of them. They are our world. Usually, that world is some complex, interacting mixture of several of these, but at the highest levels of intensity (rage, terror, ecstasy), it becomes one emotion in particular which subsumes all our consciousness and becomes the focus of all our energies and attention. We exist only to… nothing has importance outside of the satisfaction of that urge. 2) Any associations derived from experience. Through experience certain sensations are associated with certain conditions in the world. Eventually, a sharp prick alone is enough to call to mind the visual image of a thorn or a pin.

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3) Accompanying physiological and cognitive changes. The neurotransmitters that help to give rise to emotion also affect the speed of image formation and change. For example, during feelings of happiness, images are formed more rapidly and are not held for as long. Association is freer and may even become over-inclusive. Motor efficiency and exploratory behavior are increased while inhibition is decreased. Manic states show these changes in the extreme. Additionally, our experience of an emotion like fear isn’t merely the urge to fight or flee. It is also to feel our heart quicken and our muscles tighten. We sense many of these and other internal changes in the same way we can sense external sensation, and we have emotional reactions to them, as well. When we recall an emotional experience – like the day we pigged out on cherry pie and got sick – a similar, but less complete and intense, set of neuronal, chemical, and/or hormonal reactions takes place. It’s essential to point out, however, that even if two experiences had the exact same emotional reaction (starting at a snake or at a bank manager, for instance) the sensations and associations which gave rise to them would be different. And although looking at a beautiful landscape or a beautiful woman might both cause a visual incorporation response they won’t, needless to say, lead to the same physiological changes. Subjective experience will become more complex as consciousness and selfawareness develop but not much different, with one caveat. One final and arguably the most important aspect of human subjective experience is 4) our ability to say, “I am tired / I feel sad / I see blue / That hurts….” This will be addressed in Self-awareness. Part III - Community The essential role that others play in the formation of self-awareness. Chapter 8. Community. As complex as his mechanical responses would be, there would be no more reason for the collection of chemical and physical reactions we have been calling an “individual” to “step outside of” and contemplate those reactions than there is for an automobile, personal computer, or explosion to reflect upon the complex actions and reactions which define them. Instinctual emotional reactions would cause our “individual” to react as an entity, but he could have no idea of himself as an entity. He is his universe. The idea of self requires a frame of reference from which to contemplate it, a vantage point from which the part can survey its place in the whole. At this point there is none, but community will eventually provide it. In social environments, our experience of the world is not only of objects that exist for us, but of objects which exist for us and others. From experience, we develop models - more sets of expectations - of other individuals’ behavior just as we do for inanimate objects. A fifteen-month old playing “Drop the spoon” is not only learning about how objects behave when you release them, she is also learning how people work and the ease with which they can be made to behave in predictable ways - as mommy faithfully returns the spoon every time it’s dropped. -- likewise, when she takes turns babbling or cooing with a parent or sibling. However, at this stage, there is still no need to assume that there is any reflection, self-awareness, or assignation of desires or beliefs, just an ever more complex train of associations and self-centered (innate or calculated)

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reactions to stimuli. Although now included in those calculations are complex models that can be used to predict other’s behavior, the actions of others are important only in so far as they relate to the individual’s own wants and desires. The individual’s own emotions remain the only window on, and measure of, the universe. Chapter 9. Culture.
A cub, pup, or human newborn would not survive if left to fend for itself or to learn on its own what is edible or dangerous. Plants, game, and other resources differ from place to place and from continent to continent. As a consequence, so must the eating and hunting habits that infants learn from their parents. A young bear cub whose mother takes him to the river and throws live fish to him on the shore is learning where to find food and how to obtain it. If we were to instantaneously transport the same brown bear cub to another part of the world - the Rocky Mountains instead of Siberia - he would learn different fishing grounds and edible fruits. So that collective knowledge is passed from one generation to another. Different troops of chimpanzees have different manners of courting, grooming, and using tools. Regardless of whether or not this is the textbook definition I call it “culture” because it consists of learned strategies for survival which vary from place to place and from group to group even within the same species and are passed from parent to offspring. Human societies in their different environments have come up with widely varied solutions to life’s perennial problems: food, clothing, shelter, sexuality, marriage, property, dispute resolution, etc…. Each culture has its own unique set of survival skills and knowledge that a child must master if she is to survive and prosper. As children see how those things that are intrinsically or instinctually valuable (affection, food, clothing, shelter, mates) are given out in their community, other derived values (praise, athletic ability, status, money, etc.) are formed.

By largely determining which will be our formative experiences and hence what will be our most fundamental associations, our culture, literally shapes how we see the world - what we see as meaningful and in what way. When interpreting a situation, the mind’s first response is to attempt to form an association with some memory. Past experience, of which cultural upbringing is a huge part, teaches us what to see as important and what to see as inconsequential in a certain scene. The question of perception is not just what we are capable of seeing, but also “What has our visual and conceptual experience taught us to see?” Chapter 10. Communication. Communication is the provocation of associations in one being by another, but none of this requires that either party be aware of the fact that she is communicating or being communicated with. A wolf’s angry or annoyed growl is as unconscious, instinctual, or predetermined as the other’s decision to back off or growl back in response. When a macaque “sentry” spots a leopard, he emits a warning cry that awakes all the members of the troop and immediately sends them climbing higher for safety. If, on the other hand, he spies an eagle he shrieks a different cry and within a fraction of a second the others are scurrying for the lower branches. One uniquely human trait, however, is our ability to articulate, by some estimates, thousands of different sounds and to form as many unique associations with them. Yet, language learning involves associations about when to say as much as what to say. Instead of thinking of words as associated with objects, it is better to think of them as being associated with experiences and different aspects of experience (which can include objects). In a manner similar to that of the other sensations, the language processing areas of the brain would seem to be

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specially wired to find patterns and form associations between contextual (particularly emotional and social) circumstances and vocal sounds and their order. Complicated language predates linguists and grammar teachers by many thousands of years. Modern linguistics, notwithstanding, in my opinion, children learn grammar rules in the classroom not at conception or in the crib. The ability to detect, react to, and track objects (seen in insects, fish, chimps, and babies) already provides rudimentary “categories” (or experiences) to which words like “dog” can be associated. Regardless of their mother tongue, all children begin speaking with fairly simple associations: familiar objects (cookie), actions, motions, routines (go), modifiers (all-gone), or routines for social interaction (no, bye-bye). They then progress to slightly more contextual, usually two-word, associations (my doll, eat cookie) and eventually move on to more nuanced situational associations (Me want now, Give doggie paper, I no want to go to sleep). The syntactical and “grammatical idiosyncrasies that distinguish one language from another – inflections of tense, the use of gender, and so on—are …generally learned last.” There is no place in the brain where “dog”, “flower”, or big sister “Angela” are defined. The words “Angela” and “flower” are simply associated in the brain with the numerous other associations and expectations about their properties and tendencies that experience has formed. With Angela looks at the flower, certain of these associations, and those regarding one of Angela’s properties in particular, are triggered. With Angela picked the yellow flower a still more specific set of associations is called to mind. Chapter 11. Abstract and Logical Thought. The ability to assign to things and events meanings that cannot be grasped with the senses alone is usually considered a trait only possessed by man. However, when Shadow got uncontrollably excited from the sight of coolers in the morning, he was inside the house with nothing to suggest the outdoors except his own internal associations. The coolers had a general meaning for him “that could not be grasped with the senses alone,” likewise with the chipmunks scurrying out at the first sign, not of food, but of tourists. Just as with words, flags, uniforms, paintings, traffic signs, and other human symbols (like the star of David or the business tie) are things we associate with countries, roles, organizations, objects, religions, or situations. And these things are, in turn, defined by even more associations. The greater the number of successive associations which separate a symbol or concept from detection and those eight instinctual reactions to stimuli, the more “abstract” it is, but this is no less mechanical than anything we have been talking about up to this point. Our capacity to form symbols (associations) is wider and deeper than that of other animals but not substantially different. “All unmarried men are bachelors.” “Uncle Carl is unmarried.” “Uncle Carl is a bachelor.” If there is a forest, there are trees. If there are trees, then there is wood. If there is wood there is a flammable substance. Hence, if there is a forest there is a flammable substance.

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The business of logic is to draw “new propositions out of premises in which they [already] lie latent”, to make concepts clear by expressing the details of their meanings. It’s essentially a clarification and then summary of definitions. Yet, definitions we know are culturally specific and invented, and exist in the mind in the form of associations. The conclusion that “Uncle Carl is a bachelor” is really just another way of stating the previously given definitions. The third sentence is a summary of the first two, a sort of “associational” short-cut where a new association is created in which the intermediate associations are bypassed. A “flammable substance” is already “hidden” in the definition of -- associations that define -- “forest”. Deductive logic is a means of “backtracking” along associations and then creating newer, more direct ones. Chapter 12. Language, Culture, and Values.
Learned words are sounds that are associated with - and thus serve as additional mental cues for - the numerous other associations experience has formed about objects and situations. Inevitably as a child learns a language, she is gradually assimilated into its culture (or subcultures): learning to accept its classifications, roles, expectations, and values as her own. When I meet another English speaker and use a word like “chair”, “mother,” or “honor”, I’m assuming that she has had a set of experiences that are similar enough to mine so that she has a similar set of associations with the same word. A language is much more than shared words, it’s shared experiences and values which are associated with those words and which give them their meaning.

Chapter 13. Self-awareness.
Sensation, emotion, internal mental associations, community, culture… everything, if you will, up to and including communication could have existed long before there was any creature who could label and comment on what was going on around him. When the commentator finally does make his appearance he is, himself, a construction of the very tools he employs -- language and culture. Language and culture provide the external frame of reference necessary for reflection (or at least approximate it to the extent that the experiences of the speaker and the listener are similar enough so that the same word leads to a similar set of associations.) Outside of the emotional significance we attach to these observations, there is no cognitive difference between saying, “She picked the flower.” or “I picked the flower.”, “I am drinking”, “You are drinking.” The self is open to observation, description, evaluation, and labeling just like any other object and reflection thus becomes possible. We can observe, label, and judge things about ourselves with the same linguistic and other cultural associations which we use to describe others.

Although we often equate this inner dialogue with thought, the mind and consciousness, it is only the “tip of the iceberg” of reflexes and associations that we have been talking about up until now. Nor is it necessarily or automatically the executive center of decision-making. Through inner speech, we can reflect upon our condition and - because of the values and priorities inherent in language -- to some extent control or at least greatly influence the focus of our energies and efforts. Nevertheless, while the conclusions we reach -- like “I should stop smoking” or “I am a coward.” -- introduce additional values and emotions into the decision-making process, they are not, we know, the final word. Although they are derived from and superimposed on those eight instinctual patterns of behavior and evaluation, cultural values do not erase those patterns and may even challenge them. The result is the Man vs. Himself struggle that writers, sinners, and world champions often speak of. In fact, a large part of socialization is

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teaching children not to simply follow instincts, whims, or first impressions but to give priority to this reflective, linguistic subsystem. Self-awareness adds to subjective experience an aspect that is uniquely human. It’s one thing to see a color or an awe-inspiring landscape and have an emotional reaction to it. It’s another to reflect, “Plants, mountains, and some people are unable to see, but I am seeing ‘blue’. Or “This landscape is gorgeous. I have never seen anything like it before, and I will never see it again.” Because we can compare our current situation with other possible ones, self-evaluative statements carry additional associations of fortune, regret, pity, self-worth, embarrassment… and their consequent emotional reactions. Part IV – The View From Here Chapter 14. The Subjective Experience of Color. The experience of color is first and foremost an ability to distinguish varying wavelengths and energies. Orange is something between red and yellow as an intermediate combination of photoreceptors fire. A second aspect of our experience of color is the emotional component. We like some colors more than others. Bright and shiny things usually strike us as more interesting {Exploration/Incorporation} than pale, dull ones. Red, brown, and yellow hues are commonly thought of as “warm” and blues, greens and grays as “cold.” Thirdly, much of the significance associated with color will be acquired through experience and culture. A child growing up in the West will learn to associate white with weddings and christenings whereas the same color, which is worn for funerals, may arouse ideas and feelings of mourning in her counterpart in China where the joy of a wedding is traditionally colored in red. Added to emotional and cultural associations are the associations of the moment. We don’t see colors alone. We see them on surfaces or objects. The surface may be plastic, metal, wood, paper, shiny, dull, smooth, or rough. The colored object may be edible, climbable, or a predator. These additional associations are combined with whatever associations the color itself gives rise to. One final and extremely important aspect of human subjective experience is our ability to say, “I am seeing red,” a realization which will carry with it associations of its own. Chapter 15. Personality, Creativity, and Intelligence. “Discovery,” said Albert von Szent-Gyory, “consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.” Because our sensations, emotions, innate association algorithms, and individual histories are never exactly the same, neither are the associations that we form. Each of us is born with slightly different tendencies that we use to interpret experience, and experiences, in turn, reshape our tendencies and outlooks - our personalities. So that two people faced with the same experience will approach it in different ways, interpret it differently, and learn different things from it. In spite of the fact that each individual has a unique interpretation of reality, occasionally a particular individual by means of persuasion, force, rank, or example manages to convince others to accept part of their own interpretation, sometimes to the point of greatly influencing or founding entire cultures. Like consciousness, intelligence isn’t an all-or-nothing uni-dimensional concept, which is why it remains such an elusive one. Not surprisingly, many of the same aspects

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that are involved in the development of consciousness play a role in intelligence: namely, differences in the sophistication of sensation, emotion, memory and association abilities. Human sensations and emotions are usually similar enough so that differences in intelligence boil down to differences in our faculties for memory and association, but even here the issue isn’t always clear cut. Even in the same individual innate association abilities can vary in different situations or areas. As for long-term memory, the strength of an association is partly influenced by the associated emotion. Hence, “intelligence” will always be influenced to some extent by values, expectations, and motivation. As regards the efficiency of the association patterns themselves, various sensory, linguistic, and social associations are handled by different areas of the brain. It is easily imaginable that association patterns could be extremely efficient in some areas and “normal” or “abnormal” in others, as is the case with “idiot savants”. Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner argues for seven distinct intelligences each with its own computational capacity: logical-mathematical, linguistic, musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, social (interpersonal), and introspective (intra-personal) perhaps corresponding to the scientist, writer/speaker, musician, engineer/sculptor/navigator, the athlete/dancer, the charmer, writer/philosopher. “Short-comings” in innate short-term memory or associative abilities can be partly compensated by acquired associations. Different cultures value different skills. Association and memory patterns and possibilities are largely, although not entirely, influenced by experience. Education and varied experiences play a crucial role here, but associations build upon themselves. What comes first determines how we approach and so what we are likely to learn from what comes later. The foundation of values and association pathways laid at home in the first six years of life is usually much more important than anything that happens at school in the next twelve. Chapter 16. Scientific Thought. Civilization is a creation of culture and many of the things we identify with “culture” (philosophy, politics, science, technology) are actually the cumulative result of discoveries and ideas of various individuals and of many cultures. Before written history, cultural knowledge was passed on to offspring and differed from tribe to tribe. The ancient Greeks, armed with the Sumerian idea of written language, Egyptian writing materials, and the Phoenician idea of an alphabet, were the first to begin to see writing as a tool not only for keeping records but also for storing and transferring their oral traditions and knowledge. They produced written materials on various technical subjects, which were distributed throughout the Mediterranean. Miletus, the biggest and wealthiest of the Greek cities, was soon known as a commercial and intellectual center of the ancient world. All cultures have specific knowledge about how to manage and predict some physical changes in order to survive in their respective environments, but there are still things that they don’t understand. For those changes that they could not predict, most cultures assumed animistic explanations: that behind these phenomena were other, perhaps supernatural, beings and their actions. Around the sixth century BC, a man from Miletus called Thales, became the first person in the history of Western thought to assume (expect) that the entire material world, not just specific, isolated parts of it, was capable of being not only understood but also accurately predicted. Thales is considered the first scientist as well as the first philosopher, and although his model of the world as

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long since been abandoned, he has been followed by a succession of models that have been increasing useful in explaining and predicting natural phenomena. Chapter 17. Free Will. As a self-aware being, I am able to “step back” and consider myself, to reflect upon both my desires and the past that has influenced them. But this view isn’t from “nowhere”. There has to be some vantage point. In the end, the point of reflection is always within the confines of our personal history, and our decision can inevitably only be based on the values and priorities that our experiences as interpreted by our innate tendencies have provided. At the root of the dilemma of free will are two conflicting paradigms: one inescapable and the other extremely seductive. In the first, the world according to language and folk psychology, the “self” is an indivisible unit: “I”. This approach to the world can never be completely abandoned because the very capacity for self-awareness arises from and is dependent on it. Yet, Any attempt at introspection will, at some level, run up against a serious problem: By the time we are capable of saying “I” or “my” (my actions, I think, I am, I choose…), everything that may determine and explain that “I” has forcibly been ignored and taken for granted. This paradigm works fine and is logically consistent until we follow Thales’ lead and seek the definition and explanation of that “I”. When we, too, insist on finding the origin of the shadows on the wall, we are forced to see the world and ourselves in a different way. Our actions, choices, and feelings can all be explained in terms of physical events. We could indeed choose to rest docile and submissive within the cell that our personal history has constructed for us. In truth, we can never hope to escape it. But if our experience and education have given us a reason to want to, through reflection, curiosity, questioning, conversing with others, reading, traveling… we can experience new images, feelings, and perspectives and “consciously” force back the prison walls. Conclusion. First, self-awareness isn’t some ethereal quality that humans are born with and animals are not. It is the result of mechanical interactions that are themselves constantly being influenced by experience. From the moment of birth, the mind begins forming associations about the world around it, and our personality and consciousness are continually being formed and shaped in the process. Secondly, consciousness isn’t all or nothing. It’s not simply that we are conscious and dogs or chimpanzees aren’t, but awareness – the information that an individual can process about itself and the world -- is a continuum with bacteria (or chemical reactions like rust) at one end and humanity at the other. Our mental world is obviously much richer than most other animals, because the sensations, emotions, and associations we are capable of experiencing are more nuanced. Yet, these differences - particularly our capacity for reflection - all arise from variances in innate capabilities that we share with other creatures. Third, this is our path to self-awareness. It is by no means the only one imaginable. In spite of our similar sensations and emotions, humans do not all interpret the world in the same way. If we ever came into contact with other self-aware beings, extraterrestrial or terrestrial, it is doubtful that they would see or react to the world as we do since their evolutionary history and environmental challenges would likely be

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different. The possibilities are literally endless in all of the areas that affect and constitute consciousness (sensation, emotion, memory, culture, etc.) implying an infinite number of possible ways to achieve self-awareness. An extraterrestrial species’ basic information processing units doubtless wouldn’t even be neurons although something comparable. Finally, if we can imagine how another self-aware species might not have neurons per se or our same biological and emotional reactions; if self-awareness is possible, when basic information processing units are organized in such a way as to detect, react to, and associate various aspects of the world, then could we ever build a self-aware computer? It is quite probably impossible to build a self-aware machine. However, Part I of the paper outlines our innate “preprogrammed” capabilities and the rest of the paper explains human (and animal) consciousness in terms of these mechanical tendencies. The situations and associations become more complex, but the basic program that underlies and deals with them remains the same. Yet, each of the innate abilities is conceivably artificially reproducible. Even if we couldn’t build a self-aware computer, there is no theoretical reason why we couldn’t construct a robot or android which, like a baby, was capable of developing self-awareness through experience. It’s essential to point out, however, that such a machine would be self-aware, not human, at least not in the biological sense. Our organs and autonomic responses are unique to our species and those which share our evolutionary history, so our android wouldn’t feel its heart quicken and muscles tighten when it was startled (although it might, in a similar way, detect changes in its internal energy level and readiness.) It wouldn’t burp or be ticklish and might not express its emotions through laughter or crying. Nonetheless, it could conceivably come to be aware of itself and of its place in the universe in a sense that would be different than - yet still comparable to - our own. It might eventually even conclude as did Descartes that however different, subjective, variable, and fallible was that awareness, it was at the very least irrefutable proof of an objective existence: “I think, therefore I am.” Appendix: Boolean Logic. On/off circuits or neurons can be structured to express conditional situations beyond the simple IF… THEN… (on/off) relationships covered in Sensation. (If there is iron, oxygen, and moisture, then there is rust. If you flip a switch, then the light comes on.) Boolean operators may be combined and arranged to perform more complex computations such as counting, adding, comparing, and sorting. We do not know the exact configurations that the brain uses to implement its association algorithms, but the mind does perform Boolean-like logical calculations. The process of training neural networks shows how Boolean operators could have evolved over time to establish an innate set of reflexes, priorities, and association tendencies.

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From Dust To Descartes, Copyright © 2000 by M. E. Tson.

Index 149

Index
A
abstract thought (See also displaced reference), 3, 51, 72, 74, 75, 76, 107, 142 animism, 111, 120, 145 argument from introspection, 5, 91, 114, 115 attention, 2, 4, 9, 10, 27, 40, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 50, 52, 58, 68, 89, 107, 138, 139

H
hard problem of consciousness, 10, 53

I
inner speech, 3, 4, 89, 143 intelligence, 11, 65, 88, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 110, 119, 121, 122, 137, 144 intentionality, 4, 68, 88 introspection, 5, 91, 92, 114, 115, 118, 146 argument from, 5, 91, 114, 115

B
binding problem, 9, 40 Broca's area, 67, 84

C
categorization, 2, 3, 25, 31, 32, 48, 57, 68, 74, 75, 79, 84, 85, 88, 94, 119, 121, 130, 137, 142 Chalmers, David, 10, 131, 151 Chomsky, Noam, 69, 131 color, 4, 9, 11, 16, 21, 29, 40, 53, 55, 68, 79, 87, 90, 94, 95, 96, 97, 101, 144 communication (See also abstract thought and displaced reference), 2, 3, 5, 65, 82, 86, 122, 130, 143 creativity, 10, 11, 101, 108, 137 culture, 4, 11, 25, 46, 50, 54, 61, 63, 64, 72, 76, 79, 81, 82, 84, 88, 91, 95, 100, 101, 110, 118, 120, 121, 122, 123, 135, 139, 141, 143, 144, 145, 147

L
language, 2, 3, 4, 5, 18, 25, 31, 54, 60, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 74, 75, 76, 79, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 89, 90, 91, 100, 103, 104, 105, 110, 111, 115, 117, 120, 121, 130, 141, 142, 143, 145, 146 Libet, Benjamin, 87, 89 conscious veto, 89 Libet's Delay, 87 logic, 49, 75, 76, 78, 105, 126, 127, 128, 129, 136, 143

M
machine consciousness, 9, 122, 147 Mary, the color scientist, 96 metacognition, 3, 86 Miletus, 111, 112, 113, 145 mind, 3, 5, 9, 11, 15, 32, 35, 42, 48, 51, 58, 63, 64, 66, 69, 73, 74, 79, 86, 89, 94, 106, 111, 112, 120, 128, 130, 131, 139, 141, 142, 143, 146, 147, 151 other minds, 58, 68, 87 mirrors, 74, 86 morality and ethics, 116, 118 crime, 80, 116, 117, 137 questioning of ends and means, 88 selfless acts, 90 social norms, 118

D
Damasio, Antonio, 25, 132, 151 deception, 58 Descartes, René, 9, 84, 110, 116, 123, 132, 137, 147, 151 displaced reference (See also abstract thought), 3, 71, 73, 80 driving, 34, 44

E
emotion, 9, 24, 29, 33, 34, 35, 37, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 50, 51, 52, 54, 55, 57, 60, 61, 63, 91, 97, 103, 120, 121, 122, 138, 139, 140, 143, 145, 147 basic emotions, 26, 134 emotional intensities, 44, 52, 138

N
Necker cube, 41, 69

O
observer, the, 3, 4, 87, 88, 91, 100, 114, 130 optical illusions, 9, 21, 41, 63, 69, 130 other minds, 58, 68, 87

F
free will, 5, 9, 10, 11, 47, 82, 89, 100, 114, 115, 116, 118, 137, 146

G
God, 100, 116, 121 Gödel's Theorem, 92, 100

P
pain, 29, 46, 50, 53, 54, 55, 57, 58, 60, 67, 72, 82, 87, 99, 100, 139 Penrose, Sir Roger, 9, 134, 151

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Index 150

personal identity, 9, 85 monad, 5, 27, 85, 122 unitary self (see also introspection), 5, 115 personality, 11, 54, 85, 99, 108, 110, 117, 120, 121, 146 planning, 47, 48, 139 Plato, 5, 92, 113, 115 allegory of the cave, 5, 92, 116, 146 Plutchik, Robert, 23, 25, 45, 134, 151

S
Skinner, B. F., 69, 131 Socrates, 86, 101, 113 split-brain patients, 3, 88 subjective experience, 2, 3, 4, 10, 11, 24, 35, 42, 50, 51, 52, 53, 55, 60, 84, 90, 94, 96, 98, 117, 119, 121, 137, 139, 140, 144 truth, 73, 74, 99, 100, 101

Q
qualia (See also subjective experience), 9

T
Thales, 101, 112, 113, 115, 145, 146 tip of the iceberg, 3, 89, 114, 143

R
Ramachandran, Vilayanur S., 15, 131, 132, 135, 151 Wernicke's area, 67, 84

W

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Notes
The Mystery of Consciousness Front Cover: Autostereogram Tutorial Random Dot Shark. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 1 Allan Bloom, Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987) 292. 2 Antonio R. Damasio, Descartes’ Error. Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain (New York: Avon Books, 1994) 84. 3 C. Koch and F. Crick. The neural basis of consciousness. Intl. Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral SciencesElsevier, (2001) 0, pg. 2602; F. Crick and C. Koch. 1998 Consciousness and neuroscience. Cerebral Cortex 8: 97-107; The Human Quest. KCET in Los Angeles. WETA-PBS, Washington, D.C., 24 March 1996. 4 F. Crick and C. Koch. Toward a neurobiological theory of consciousness. Seminars in the Neuroscience. 2, 263-275 (1990). F. Crick and C. Koch. The problem of consciousness. Scientific American 267(3):152-60 (1992). The Human Quest. 5 Roger Penrose, "The Emperor's New Mind", Oxford University Press, 1990. 6 “Are we just not clever enough to understand the mind.” Economist. 1 May 1999: 85-6. 7 Damasio 29. 8 Damasio 29. 9 Damasio 259. 10 David Chalmers. Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness. Journal of Consciousness Studies 2 (3), 1995, pp. 200-219. 11 Chalmers, pp. 200-219. Detection 12 Photo Researchers Picture Number: 3W4385; Credit: Jeffrey Greenberg / Photo Researchers, Inc.; License: Rights Managed;. Description: Rusty antique cars in Wakulla County, Florida. 1954 Ford in foreground. 13 Morrison, Toni, Song of Solomon (New York: Picador, 1989) 277. 14 V.S. Ramachandran, The Human Quest. KCET in Los Angeles. Aired WETA-PBS, Washington D. C., 24 March 1996. 15 C.L. Hardin, Color for Philosophers (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1988) 25. 16 Hardin 164. 17 The Human Quest. 18 Damasio 66. 19 Thomas S. Kuhn. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970) 112, 127. 20 Laura A. Thompson & Dominic W. Massaro, “Perceptual Development,” Encyclopedia of Human Behavior (San Diego: Academic Press, Inc., 1994) Volume 3, 442. 21 The Human Quest. 22 Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5. 23 N.R. Hanson from Nigel Warburton, Philosophy, The Basics (London: Routledge, 1992) 83. Reaction 24 Photo Researchers Picture Number: C5271; Credit: Dan Suzio / Photo Researchers, Inc.; License: Rights Managed; Description: Venus flytrap. 25 Photo Researchers Picture Number: C5272; Credit: Dan Suzio / Photo Researchers, Inc.; License: Rights Managed; Description: Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) with a trapped insect. 26 Friedrich Nietzsche from Mary Warnok. Existentialism. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970) 14. 27 Mary Warnok. Existentialism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970) 135. 28 Murray (1954) from Robert Plutchik, The Emotions (Lanham, Mass.: University Press of America, 1991) 45. 29 Murray (1954) from Robert Plutchik, The Emotions (Lanham, Mass.: University Press of America, 1991) 45. 30 Damasio 131-2. 31 Robert Plutchik, The Emotions (Lanham, Mass.: University Press of America, 1991)

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Plutchik 36. Plutchik, The Emotions 71. Italics added. 34 Plutchik 112-113. 35 Damasio 149. 36 Ortony, A., & Turner, T. J. (1990). “What's basic about basic emotions?” Psychological Review, 97, pg. 316. 37 Paul Ekman, The Human Quest. 38 Tolman (1923) from Plutchik 36. 39 Boris Cyrulnik, La Naissance Du Sens (Paris: Hachette Littératures, 1995) 123. 40 Damasio 149. 41 Laura A. Thompson & Dominic W. Massaro, “Perceptual Development,” Encyclopedia of Human Behavior (San Diego: Academic Press, Inc., 1994) Volume 3, 441, 444. Memory & Association 42 By M.E. Tson. 43 Feeding Chipmunk by hand at Harrison Park in Owen Sound, ONT, Canada; Date: 4 September 2007 by Dew26m. 44 Picture actually taken at Harrison Park in Owen Sound, ONT, Canada. 45 Damasio 117. 46 Steven Pinker. How the Mind Works. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company 1997) 138. 47 Alan Watts, The Way of Zen (New York: Vintage Books, 1989) 73-4. 48 Damasio 235, 261. 49 Marvin W. Daehler, “Cognitive Development,” Encyclopedia of Human Behavior (San Diego: Academic Press, Inc., 1994) Volume 1, 633. 50 Cf. Immanuel Kant. 51 Damasio 102-4. 52 Damasio 105. 53 Damasio 102-4. 54 Damasio 102-4. 55 Damasio 155. 56 Damasio 102. 57 Damasio 92. 58 Damasio 29. 59 Damasio 112. 60 Brans B. M De Waal, “The End of Nature versus Nurture.” Scientific American. December 1999: 61. 61 Daehler 636. Experience - Introduction 62 Damasio 108-111. 63 Richard L. Gregory, ed., “Brain Development,” Oxford Companion to The Mind (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987) 102-6. & J. Madeleine Nash. “Fertile Minds” Time. 3 February 1997. 64 Lucien Malson. Les Enfants Sauvages, (Paris: Union Générale d’Éditions, 1964) 8. 65 Renee Bailargeon, The Human Quest. 66 Renee Bailargeon, The Human Quest. Perceptual Development 67 Thompson & Massaro 444-5. 68 Daehler 631. 69 Thompson & Massaro 445. 70 Thompson & Massaro 446. 71 Thompson & Massaro 446. 72 Damasio 95-6. 73 Thompson & Massaro 444-5. 74 Damasio 84. 75 Daehler 632 Thompson & Massaro 449. 76 Thompson & Massaro 446.
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77 78

Thompson & Massaro 446. Thompson & Massaro 444. 79 Thompson & Massaro 444. 80 Thompson & Massaro 444-5. 81 Daehler 634. 82 Daehler 634 & The Human Quest. 83 Thompson & Massaro 447. 84 Damasio 117. Emotional & Behavioral Development A Midsummer-Night’s Dream, I,i,132 86 Daehler 627, 629. 87 Compare John Bowlby. Attachment. Chapter 10. Pg. 146 (generally), 159 (feeding behavior: pecking, sucking). 88 Nietzsche 60. 89 Bernard J. Baars & Katherine McGovern, “Consciousness,” Encyclopedia of Human Behavior (San Diego: Academic Press, Inc., 1994) Volume 1, 691. 90 Baars & McGovern 698. 91 Plutchik 71, 112-115. 92 Plutchik 71. 93 Plutchik 71. 94 Plutchik 114. 95 Plutchik 17. 96 Plutchik 17. 97 Plutchik 124-5. 98 Daehler 633. 99 Daehler 633. Cognitive Development 100 Daehler 635. 101 Hume, David. Enquiry Concerning Principles of Morals, Section 8 “Of Liberty & Necessity” & Treatise Book II, Part III, Section 3 “Of The Influencing Motives of Will”. 102 Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil. Trans. Marion Faber (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998) 117. 103 Allan Bloom. The Closing of the American Mind. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987) 146, 150, 299. 104 Jean Itard. Mémoire et Rapport sur Victor De L’Aveyron from Malson (1964). 105 Daehler 635. 106 Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1987) 195. 107 James Geary. “A Trip Down Memory’s Lanes,” Time 5 May 1997: 44. 108 Dawkins 195. 109 Daehler 635-6. 110 Daehler 635. 111 Daehler 631. 112 Thompson & Massaro 441. Subjective Experience of Emotion 113 Nietzsche 60. 114 Damasio 162-4. 115 Damasio 147, 162-4. 116 William James (1890). The Principles of Psychology. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press 1981) vol. 2, Chap. XXV, pg. 1067 cited in Damasio 129. 117 Charles Darwin, The Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animals. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965) Chapter III, pg. 77 Chapter XII, pg. 289-291 cited in Plutchik 72-73. 118 Plutchik 48-9, 82. 119 Plutchik 88-9. 120 Plutchik 15. 121 “Science Does it with Feeling,” Economist 20 July 1996: 72.
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Pain Damasio 264. 123 Fields, Howard L., Pain, McGraw-Hill, 1987, pg. 18. 124 Edward R. Perl and Lawrence Kruger. “Nociception and Pain.” Pain and Touch. Ed by Lawrence Kruger (San Diego: Academic Press, 1996), pg. 192. Fields, Howard L., Pain, McGraw-Hill, 1987, pg. 20. 125 Fields, Howard L., Pain, McGraw-Hill, 1987, pg. 18; 126 Joel D. Greenspan and Stanley J. Bolanowski. “The Psychophysics of Tactile Perception and Its Peripheral Physiological Basis.” Pain and Touch. Ed by Lawrence Kruger (San Diego: Academic Press, 1996), pg. 26; Fields, Howard L., Pain, McGraw-Hill, 1987, pg. 25 127 Fields, Howard L., Pain, McGraw-Hill, 1987, pg. 25 128 Damasio, 263; 129 Damasio 45-6. 130 Damasio 264-6. Community 131 Zebras in Ngorongoro Crater by Janet (August 18, 2006); Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License. 132 Thompson & Massaro 441. 133 Warnok 37-8. 134 Alison Gopnik, The Human Quest. 135 Paul M. Churchland, Matter and Consciousness: A Contemporary Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1988) 58. 136 Churchland (1988) 59 137 Leslie Brothers, The Human Quest. 138 Damasio 123. 139 Chroniques du Dernier Continent. (1999). Télé Images Nature. Director, Christophe Rouvière. Episode 4/5. France 3. 23 December, 1999 & Episode 10. 29 December 1999. 140 “Chimps or Chumps?” Economist 11December 1999: 83. 141 Cyrulnik (1995) 38. 142 Lorenz (1935) cited after Wyrwicka (1996) and Hess (1973) pg. 70.. See also Cyrulnik (1995) 33-5, 737. 143 Lorenz (1935) cited after Wyrwicka (1996) and Hess (1973). See also Cyrulnik (1995) 33-5, 73-7 and Petrovich and Gewirtz (1991) pp. 75-76. 144 Cyrulnik (1995) 33-5, 73-7; Petrovich and Gewirtz (1991) pp. 70-71; Hess (1973) 339; Bowlby 162 (mammals), 166-172 (generally), 222-223 (humans). 145 Cyrulnik (1995) 33-5, 73-7. See also Bowlby Chapter 15, pg. 313 (generally). Culture 146 Natalie Angier. “Chimps’ Culture? They Pass It On,” International Herald Tribune: 18 June 1999. & “Chimpazee Behavior, Culture Club.” Economist. 19 June 1999. 147 Daehler 631. 148 Damasio 179. 149 Daehler 634. 150 Suttie from Plutchik 99. 151 Damasio 126. 152 Warnok 37-8. 153 Katz and Revesz (1921) cited after Wanda Wyrwicka (1996). 154 Norton-Griffith (1968) cited from Sutherland (1996). 155 Norton-Griffith (1968) cited from Sutherland (1996). 156 Daehler 631. 157 Daehler 631. 158 The Toda women of southern India can traditionally have several husbands. “Family and Kinship,” Encyclopedia Britannica (1990) Volume 19: 67-69. 159 Created by W.E. Hill, first published in Puck 1915. 160 Nigel Warburton, Philosophy, The Basics (London: Routledge, 1992) 83. 161 Paul M. Churchland, “Reduction, Qualia, and the Direct Introspection of Brain States,” Journal of Philosophy 82 1985: 15.
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Mario Pei, The Story of Language (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1965) 112-113. Kuhn 113, 198. Communication 164 Ekman, Paul, pg. 149. 165 Mario Pei, The Story of Language (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1965) 14-17. 166 Cyrulnik (1995) 96-7. 167 Lesley J. Rogers & Gisela Kaplan, Songs, Roars, and Rituals: Communication in Birds, Mammals, and Other Animals (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2000) 44. 168 Rogers & Kaplan 56-7. 169 Tattersall, Ian. Once We Were Not Alone. Scientific American. January 2000: 44. 170 Pei 105-8. 171 Pei 114. 172 Pei 128-9, 388. 173 David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987) 98. 174 Pei 128-9, 388. 175 Crystal 85 and Pei 121-131. 176 Pei 21-23. 177 Whitman, Walt, “Slang in America” from Mario 159. 178 Thompson & Massaro 443. 179 Noam Chomsky "A Review of B. F. Skinner's Verbal Behavior" in Language, 35, No. 1 (1959), 26-58, Section V. 180 Thompson & Massaro 444. 181 Thompson & Massaro 448. 182 Alan Watts, The Way of Zen (New York: Vintage Books, 1989) 73-4. 183 Churchland (1988) 51 184 Baars & McGovern 696. 185 Noam Chomsky "A Review of B. F. Skinner's Verbal Behavior" in Language, 35, No. 1 (1959), 26-58, Section X. 186 Pinker, Steven, The Language Instinct (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1994) 266-69. Gardner, Howard, Frames of Mind. (New York: Basic Books, 1983) 79-80. Bryson, Bill, The Mother Tongue. (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1990) 26. 187 Bryson 26. 188 Bryson 27. 189 Jonathan Leake, “Scientists Teach Chimpanzee to Speak English,” Sunday Times. July 25, 1999. 190 Damasio (1994) 191 Encyclopedia Britannica. “Language”. Volume 22. 1990. 192 Churchland (1988) 51. Abstract and Logical Thought 193 Encyclopedia Britannica CD 98 and Microsoft® Encarta® 97 Encyclopedia. 194 “The Concepts and Components of Culture,” Encyclopedia Britannica CD 98; Leslie A. White. The Science of Culture. (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1969). Pg. 15, 30-31, 35. 195 Will Rogers. 196 Chroniques du Dernier Continent. “Le Wet” (10/12). 1725 hrs. Wednesday, December 29, 1999. France 3. Unfortunately, I don’t have the saying in the original tongue. I’ve translated from, “Ici, selon les hommes vrais, les aborigènes, chaque chose n’est que le reflet de la conscience. Ce que nous appelons réel aussi bien que ce que nous croyons illusoire. Le dingo qui traverse la rivière autant que son image dans le miroir des eaux.” 197 Elizabeth M. Brannon and Herbert S. Terrace. “Ordering of the Numerosities 1 to 9 by Monkeys.” Science Oct 23 1998:746-749. & Paul Recer, “As Easy as 1,2,3…” Associated Press. October 23, 1998. 198 Daehler, 634. 199 Daehler 635. 200 “History and Kinds of Logic,” Encyclopedia Britannica (1990)Volume 23: 234. 201 Robert S. Hartman & Wolfgang Schwarz, introduction, Logic, by Immanuel Kant (New York: Dover Publications, 1974) xxii-xxvii. 202 Daehler 635.
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203 204

Daehler 635. Daehler 635. 205 Daehler 635. Language, Culture, and Values Pei 404. 207 Kuhn (1970) and The Human Quest. 208 Kuhn (1970) and The Human Quest. 209 Dorothy Whitelock. The Beginnings of English Society. (London: Penguin Books, 1954) 42. 210 “US Products Abroad Pay the Price of Popularity,” International Herald Tribune. 28 October 1998. Self-awareness 211 South Carolina mountain proverb taken from Pei 35. 212 Warnock 55. 213 Watts 122. 214 Watts 122. 215 Watts 47. 216 Damasio 240. 217 Daehler 633. 218 Daehler 633 219 Merleau-Ponty from Warnok 86. 220 Steven Pinker. How the Mind Works. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company 1997) 422. 221 Warnok 100. 222 Baars & McGovern 694-8. 223 David Herbert Lawrence, Self-Pity (1923). “I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself.” 224 Snare, Francis. The Nature of Moral Thinking. Chpt. 4. pp. 43-60. 225 Damasio 259. The Subjective Experience of Color 226 Hardin 5. 227 “Colour.” The New Encyclopædia Britannica (1995) Volume 16: 603. 228 Hardin 129 229 “Colour.” The New Encyclopædia Britannica (1995) Volume 16: 603. 230 Max Luscher, The Luscher Colour Test. 231 Frank Jackson, "What Mary Didn't Know", Journal of Philosophy, LXXXII, 5 (May 1986): 291-295. 232 Reprinted with permission from Encyclopaedia Britannica, © 1995 by Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. Personality, Creativity, & Intelligence 233 Damasio 160. 234 Allan Bloom. The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987). 235 Cracking the SAT & PSAT. 1998 Edition, Princeton Review (New York: Random House, Inc., 1997) 65, 78. 236 Cracking the GRE. 1993 Edition, Princeton Review (New York: Random House, Inc., 1997) 276-7. 237 Swan, Michael, Practical English Usage (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996) 50, 165, 294. 238 Burns, Robert. Tam O’ Shanter. 1790. 239 The Times. “Obituary: John Cooper” Tuesday December 25, 2000. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/0%2C%2C60-58146%2C00.html Swan, Michael, Practical English Usage (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996) 50, 165, 294. & The Oxford English Dictionary. Second Edition. Prepared by J.A. Simpson and E.S.C. Wiener. Volume XIII (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989) Pg. 43. 240 Pei 48-51. 241 Bryson 51. 242 Example taken from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
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Spencer, Steele, & Quinn (1999). Stereotype threat and women's math performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 4-28.

Kokourina, Elena, OBCHTCHAÏA GAZETA from “Le Corbeau Plus Rusé Que Le Renard?” Courrier International No 481 Du 20 Au 26 Janvier 2000, p 50. 245 Gardner 94, 202-3, 234.

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Gardner 94, 202-3, 234. Cracking the GRE. 1993 Edition, Princeton Review (New York: Random House, Inc., 1997) 276-7. 248 Guberman, 1999 citing Fuson & Kwon, 1991, 1992; Fuson et al., 1995; Miura, 1987. 249 Herrnstein, Richard J. & Murray, Charles S., The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (New York: Free Press, 1994) 78-9. 250 Horsley Lynn. (1995, January 8) “KC District Looks For Ways To Measure Magnet Success.” Sunday, January 8, 1995. Kansas City Star, p. A6. Celis, William (1995, January 11). “Kansas City’s Widely Debated Desegregation Experiment Reaches the Supreme Court.” New York Times, p. B7. Greenhouse Linda (1995, June 13). “Justices Say Making State Pay in Desegregation Case Was An Error.” New York Times, p. A1.Celis 1995 Johnson, Dirk (1995, June 14). “Kansas City Uncertain on Its Schools’ Fate. New York Times, p. A17. 251 Herrnstein and Murray 389, 410-413. 252 Herrnstein and Murray 205-7. 253 Herrnstein and Murray 205-7. 254 Miaille, Michel (1999). Lecture: “Sociologie Politique.” Lecture at Faculté de Droit. Montpellier, France. December 14, 1999. 255 Herrnstein and Murray 305. 256 Cyrulnik (1995) 119-20. Scientific Thought 257 For much of this chapter I am indebted to: Charles Van Doren, A History of Knowledge (New York: Birch Lane Press: Carol Publishing Group, 1991) 29-59 & Bloom 270. See also Chalmers, A.F., What Is This Thing Called Science? (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1978) & Kuhn, Thomas S., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd Edition. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970). 258 “If I have seen further (than you and Descartes) it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” Letter to Robert Hooke. February 5, 1675/6. 259 Ian Tattersall. “Once We Were Not Alone” Scientific American January 2000: 43. 260 “What is Civilization?” Microsoft Encarta 97. 261 Ian Tattersall “Once We Were Not Alone.” Scientific American January 2000: 44. 262 Sir Edward Burnett Tylor, Religion in primitive culture. (New York: Harper, 1958) pp. 10-11, 61-63, 194-195, 270-271; Robert H. Lowie. Primitive Religion (London: George Routledge and Sons, 1925) pg. 117-118, 134. . 263 J.D.S. Haldane 264 John Burnet. Early Greek Philosophy. (London: A. & C. Black, 1952). Preface. 265 NOVA #2106-8: In Search of Human Origins. PBS Airdates: June 3, 10, 17, 1997. Free Will 266 Micheal J. Sandel, “The Procedural Republic and the Unencumbered Self.” Political Theory, Vol. 12. No. 1, February 1984: 81-96 267 Sandel 81-96. 268 Allan E. Farnsworth, An Introduction to the Legal System of the United States (New York: Oceana Publications, 1983) 139. 269 Cyrulnik (1995). 270 See generally, Anthony Kenny. Descartes: A study of his philosophy; Bernard Williams. The Project of Pure Reason; E. M. Curley. Descartes Against the Skeptics; and Margaret Wilson 271 Unknown. 272 McGruder, Carol (1997). Tobacco’s Global Ghettos: Big Tobacco Targets the World’s Poor. San Francisco: San Francisco Tobacco Free Coalition. 273 Unknown. 274 For more on this issue see M. E. Tson, Moving Beyond Good and Evil: A Theory of Morality, Law, and Government. Conclusion
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Interview given to Brian Hayes with the London Broadcasting Company (LBC). Headway Advanced. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989). 276 De Waal (1999) 60. Cyrulnik (1995) 120. 277 "Reptiles: Class Reptilia: Form and Function: Internal Features: Nervous System," Encyclopedia Britannica CD. 278 Cyrulnik (1995) 94. 279 Example taken from Star Trek: The Next Generation: Darmok, but the elder Kpelle of Liberia do have a complex secondary dialect of proverbs and traditional phrases which may be unintelligible to the younger members of the community (Gardner, 94). Appendix 280 Barry Wood, University of Nottingham, http://nott.ac.uk/~cczwood/logic-intro.html, July 7, 2000. 281 Wikipedia Commons by Inductiveload; http://klabs.org/history/ech/agc_schematics/ 282 Paul M. Churchland, Matter and Consciousness: A Contemporary Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1988) 156-162. 283 Paul M. Churchland, Matter and Consciousness: A Contemporary Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1988) 159.

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