Category Archives: metaphors

The empty brain

Article by Robert Epstein. He begins by noting the various metaphors we’ve used throughout the ages to describe the workings of our mind/brain: clay infused with spirit; the hydraulic model; springs and gears; and now the information processor (IP). While the author claims we can get to a real model without metaphor, he suggests the embodied model in direct interaction with the world. But that too is a metaphor, for we cannot escape using them to frame our minds, or anything, for that matter. His bottom line and with which I agree, is that the IP model is outdated, that our mind/brains do not process and store information like a computer, and it’s time to move on to the interactive mind/brain/body/environment metaphor, what we could just called the ecological metaphor. As a species we do seem to be making progress with our understanding, and this appears to be our next best guess.

Robert Epstein is a senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology in California. He is the author of 15 books, and the former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today.

The blind spot of science

Good essay by an astrophysicist, theoretical physicist and philosopher on the nature of human experience and its relationship to science. Some excerpts:

“This brings us back to the Blind Spot. When we look at the objects of scientific knowledge, we don’t tend to see the experiences that underpin them. We do not see how experience makes their presence to us possible. Because we lose sight of the necessity of experience, we erect a false idol of science as something that bestows absolute knowledge of reality, independent of how it shows up and how we interact with it.”

“To bring the point home, consider that in certain intense states of absorption – during meditation, dance or highly skilled performances – the subject-object structure can drop away, and we are left with a sense of sheer felt presence. How is such phenomenal presence possible in a physical world? Science is silent on this question. And yet, without such phenomenal presence, science is impossible, for presence is a precondition for any observation or measurement to be possible.”

“Scientific materialists will argue that the scientific method enables us to get outside of experience and grasp the world as it is in itself. As will be clear by now, we disagree; indeed, we believe that this way of thinking misrepresents the very method and practice of science.”

“The Blind Spot arises when we start to believe that this method gives us access to unvarnished reality. But experience is present at every step. Scientific models must be pulled out from observations, often mediated by our complex scientific equipment. They are idealisations, not actual things in the world.  […] Scientific ‘objectivity’ can’t stand outside experience; in this context, ‘objective’ simply means something that’s true to the observations agreed upon by a community of investigators using certain tools.”

“So the belief that scientific models correspond to how things truly are doesn’t follow from the scientific method. Instead, it comes from an ancient impulse – one often found in monotheistic religions – to know the world as it is in itself, as God does. The contention that science reveals a perfectly objective ‘reality’ is more theological than scientific.”

“Recent philosophers of science who target such ‘naive realism’ argue that science doesn’t culminate in a single picture of a theory-independent world. Rather, various aspects of the world – from chemical interactions to the growth and development of organisms, brain dynamics and social interactions – can be more or less successfully described by partial models. These models are always bound to our observations and actions, and circumscribed in their application.”

Divided brain, divided world

I was reminded of the video below, and this longer examination of the ideas therein. Here’s the blurb from the latter:

“Divided Brain, Divided World explores the significance of the scientific fact that the two hemispheres of our brains have radically different ‘world views’. It argues that our failure to learn lessons from the crash, our continuing neglect of climate change, and the increase in mental health conditions may stem from a loss of perspective that we urgently need to regain. 

 
“Divided Brain, Divided World examines how related issues are illuminated by the ideas developed in author and psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist’s critically acclaimed work: The Master and his Emissary. It features a dialogue between McGilchrist and Director of RSA’s Social Brain Centre, Dr Jonathan Rowson, which informed a workshop with policymakers, journalists and academics.

“This workshop led to a range of written reflections on the strength and significance of the ideas, including critique, clarification and illustrations of relevance in particular domains, including economics, behavioural economics, climate change, NGO campaigning, patent law, ethics, and art.”
 

New scientific model can predict moral and political development

According to this study in Nature Human Behavior, in time frames about fairness and preventing harm triumph over those about loyalty, purity and authority. The latter might succeed temporarily, like now in the US, but the more the former frames are strongly and repeatedly reinforced the quicker the results. Let’s keep up our passionate frames, for this research supports that we will overcome the dark forces that have a temporary hold on our government. Also see Kohlberg‘s moral stages, showing that the former frames are more developed that the latter set.

“Their conclusion is that the key characteristic of opinions that gain ground is that they are supported by arguments about what is fair and what does not cause harm to others. […] Opinions based on other classical grounds used to determine right and wrong actions—loyalty, authority, purity, religion—can gain support temporarily, but over time, opinions based on these arguments lose support all over the political spectrum. The stronger the connection an opinion has to arguments about fairness and harm, the greater the probability that it will gain ground in public opinion. Also, the stronger the connection is, the faster the change will come.”

40 year update on memes

From this piece:

“There is not one, but at least four, hereditary systems recognized by biologists today. Eva Jablonka and Marion Lamb lay this out clearly in their 2006 book, Evolution in Four Dimensions, as they walk through the research literature on genetics, epigenetics, behavioral repertoires, and symbolic culture as four distinct pathways where traits are ‘heritable’ in appropriately defined fashion.”

“Specifically, I am thinking of three areas where significant progress has been made during the last forty years: the birth of complexity science in the early 1980’s, developments in the study of human conceptualization and cognitive linguistics since the mid-70’s, and the explosion of digital media in the age of personal computers and later via the internet.”

“Applied to meme theory, this body of tools and techniques [cognitive linguistics] demonstrates that researchers across many fields have found value in the perspective that culture can be studied as information patterns that arise in a variety of social settings routinely and with modular elements that are readily discernible in each new instance. The claim that information patterns do not replicate is contradicted by the evidence for image-schematic structures.”

The neuroscience of creativity

Since this came up in our book discussion or Range yesterday,  something relevant from this article. It’s interesting how the salience network mediates between and integrates two normally one on, one off networks.  And how it is the connections between networks that seems to do the trick akin to the book’s description of how those with range make analogous connections between ideas and domains.

“Three of these distinct brain networks — the default mode, the executive control network and the salience network — have been identified by Dr Beaty and colleagues as being associated with creativity.

“The default mode network is activated when people are relaxed and their mind is wandering to different topics or experiences, associated with remembering past experiences, thinking about possible future experience and daydreaming.

“The executive control network comes into play when you need to pay close attention and focus on something in the environment. It comes online when we have to focus our attention and cognitive resources on more demanding tasks that require us to hone our attention and manage multiple things in our mind at one time, directing the content of our thoughts.

“The salience network plays a significant role in detecting and filtering important — or salient — information. It’s called salience because it helps us to pick up on salient information in the environment or internally. Interestingly, the default mode and the executive control networks don’t typically work together — when one network is activated, the other tends to be deactivated. One thing that we think the salience network might be doing is switching between an idea-generation mode, which is more of a default process, and the idea-evaluation mode, which is more of a control way of thinking. […] More creative people tended to have more network connections.”

The root of the power law religion

New draft paper by me. Update: Published here. The abstract:

A ‘power law’ refers specifically to a statistical relationship between quantities, such that a change in one quantity has a proportional change in another. One property of this law is scale invariance, otherwise known as ‘scale-free,’ meaning the same proportion repeats at every scale in a self-similar pattern. Mathematical fractals are an example of such a power law. Power laws are taken as universal and have been applied to any and all phenomena to prove the universality of this law.

However, a recent study (Broido and Clauset, 2019) claims that “scale free networks are rare.” They conducted an extensive review of one thousand social, biological, technological and information networks using state of the art statistical methods and concluded what the title of their article states. To the contrary, “log-normal distributions fit the data as well or better than power laws.” And that scale-free structure is “not an empirically universal pattern.” Hence it should not be used to model and analyze real world structures.

Rapid Personality Change and the Psychological Rebirth

Informative video on this process. Ofttimes we need to descend into hell before we can ascend into a new life. And this seems the overall process of human development, that for each stage we must go through this spiraling process of dissolution and reorganization. Hence we are far more than twice-born; we are multiply born anew at each stage. It seems though that the further we go in this process the greater the risks and rewards.

Speaking of which, the inaugural issue of Phi Mi Sci will address this issue:

“The inaugural issue of PhiMiSci will be a Special Topic on Radical Disruptions of Self-Consciousness (see the Manifesto of the Selfless Minds workshop). The call for papers for this Special Topic was closed on May 1. Submissions are currently under review. The guest editors of this Special Topic are Thomas Metzinger (Mainz) & Raphaël Millière (Oxford). The expected publication date of this Special Topic is late 2019.”

Running on escalators

Ideally, automation would yield a Star Trek reality of increasing leisure and quality of choice and experience. Why isn’t this our experience? An article on Medium offers insight into why this is not occurring on any significant scale.

Evolved behavioral strategies explained by the prisoner’s dilemma damn the majority of humans to a constant doubling down. We exchange the ‘leisure dividend’ (free time) granted by automation for opportunities to outcompete others.

Apparently, the sort of reciprocal social learning that could lead us to make healthy choices with our leisure opportunities depends on us and our competitors being able to mutually track our outcomes across consecutive iterations of the ‘game’. That ‘traceability’ quickly breaks down with the complexity inherent in vast numbers of competitors. When we conclude that any viable competitor may use her leisure dividend to further optimize her competitive position, rather than to pause to enjoy her life, we tend to do the same. Each assumes the other will sprint ahead and so chooses to sprint ahead. Both forfeit the opportunity to savor the leisure dividend.

The prisoner’s dilemma shows that we (most humans) would rather be in a grueling neck-and-neck race toward an invisible, receding finish line than permit the possibility a competitor may increase her lead.

Any strategy that’s so endemic must have evolutionary roots. Thoughts?

The info processing (IP) metaphor of the brain is wrong

Psychologist Robert Epstein, the former editor of Psychology Today, challenges anyone to show the brain processing information or data. The IP metaphor, he says, is so deeply embedded in thinking about thinking it prevents us from learning how the brain really works. Epstein also takes on popular luminaries including Ray Kurzweil and Henry Markram, seeing both exemplifying the extremes of wrongness we get into with the IP metaphor and the notion mental experience could persist outside the organic body.

The Empty Brain (Aeon article with audio)