Category Archives: scientific approach

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 His bottom line and with which I agree, is that the IP model is outdated, that our mind/brains do not process and store information like a computer, and it’s time to move on to the interactive mind/brain/body/environment metaphor,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.

Krakauer: The landscape of 21st century science

Krakauer is the new President of the Santa Fe Institute. Here is his interview on the above topic. The blurb follows. There’s also a transcript at the link.

“For 300 years, the dream of science was to understand the world by chopping it up into pieces. But boiling everything down to basic parts does not tell us about the way those parts behave together. Physicists found the atom, then the quark, and yet these great discoveries don’t answer age-old questions about life, intelligence, or language, innovation, ecosystems, or economies.

“So people learned a new trick – not just taking things apart but studying how things organize themselves, without a plan, in ways that cannot be predicted. A new field, complex systems science, sprang up to explain and navigate a world beyond control.

“At the same time, improvements in computer processing enabled yet another method for exploring irreducible complexity: we learned to instrumentalize the evolutionary process, forging machine intelligences that can correlate unthinkable amounts of data. And the Internet’s explosive growth empowered science at scale, in networks and with resources we could not have imagined in the 1900s. Now there are different kinds of science, for different kinds of problems, and none of them give us the kind of easy answers we were hoping for.

“This is a daring new adventure of discovery for anyone prepared to jettison the comfortable categories that served us for so long. Our biggest questions and most wicked problems call for a unique and planet-wide community of thinkers, willing to work on massive and synthetic puzzles at the intersection of biology and economics, chemistry and social science, physics and cognitive neuroscience.”

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.”

Mental rigidity in both Parties

Another one of those studies comparing political identification. The study is about extreme attachment to a Party. What about those who strongly identify with humanity with high cognitive complexity and flexibility who don’t identify with a Party? Are their nuanced arguments that account for numerous factors and their interplay ‘extreme?’ Is the Green New Deal extreme? If a living wage extreme? Is corporations paying their fair share extreme? Is addressing the climate crisis extreme? Is transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy extreme? I think we all know the answer to those questions.

“They also found that self-described Independents displayed greater cognitive flexibility compared to both Democrats and Republicans. Other cognitive traits, such as originality or fluency of thought, were not related to heightened political partisanship. […] The aim of this research is not to draw false equivalences between different, and sometimes opposing, ideologies.”

Objective reality does not exist

From this article at MIT Technology Review:

“Massimiliano Proietti at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and a few colleagues say they have performed this experiment for the first time: they have created different realities and compared them. Their conclusion is that Wigner was correct—these realities can be made irreconcilable so that it is impossible to agree on objective facts about an experiment. .[…] ‘This calls into question the objective status of the facts established by the two observers,’ say Proietti and co.” […] Proietti and co’s result suggests that objective reality does not exist. In other words, the experiment suggests that one or more of the assumptions—the idea that there is a reality we can agree on, the idea that we have freedom of choice, or the idea of locality—must be wrong.”

History of complexity science

Here’s an interesting infographic of the main concepts and thinkers in complexity science across time. Notice S. Kauffman is slated in the 1980s column, suggesting the graphic depicts when influential thinkers first make their marks. 

https://www.art-sciencefactory.com/complexity-map_feb09.html

‘Neurosexism’ debated

Neuroscientist Larry Cahill takes issue with a Feb 2019 Nature favorable book review of Gina Rippon’s The Gendered Brain: The New Neuroscience That Shatters The Myth Of The Female Brain.

Cahill’s response prompted an interview by Medium Neuroscience writer Meghan Daum.

Scientific findings have a way of upsetting apple carts, especially when we consider our oft-demonstrated human capacity to bend science to advantage some power-coveting groups over others.

Valid research amply shows there are real differences in male and female neuroanatomy and functions. Honest science must follow the evidence where it leads. Clearly, any discovered differences cannot be allowed to justify unequal social or economic opportunities or treatment. Cahill compares the situation to genetics. That people differ genetically in a vast number of ways cannot be taken as cause to misstate scientific findings or preclude further learning about genetics.

There are times and circumstances in which certain research approaches must be blocked for humane or other reasons but that is a different argument than denying the findings of a body of research because they are uncomfortable or inconvenient.

Thoughts?

Ideas of Stuart Kauffman

If you are familiar with complex systems theorist Dr. Stuart Kauffman’s ideas you know he covers a broad range of disciplines and concepts, many in considerable depth, and with a keen eye for isomorphic and integrative principles. If you peruse some of his writings and other communications, please share with us how you see Kauffman’s ideas informing our focal interests: brain, mind, intelligence (organic and inorganic), and self-aware consciousness.

Do you find Kauffman’s ideas well supported by empirical research? Which are more scientific and which, if any, more philosophical? What intrigues, provokes, or inspires you? Do any of his perspectives or claims help you better orient or understand your own interests in our focal topics?

Following are a few reference links to get the conversation going. Please add your own in the comments to this post. If you are a member and have a lot to say on a related topic, please create a new post, tag it with ‘Stuart Kauffman,’ and create a link to your post in the comments to this post.

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)

Informative neuroscience presentations at NYU Center for Mind, Brain & Consciousness

The NYU Center for Mind, Brain & Consciousness hosts presentations, including topical debates among leading neuroscience researchers. Many of the sessions are recorded for later viewing. The upcoming debate among Joseph LeDoux (Center for Neural Science, NYU), Yaïr Pinto (Psychology, University of Amsterdam), and Elizabeth Schechter (Philosophy, Washington University in St. Louis), will tackle the question, “Do Split-brain patients have two minds?” Previous topics addressed animal consciousness, hierarchical predictive coding and perception, AI ‘machinery,’ AI ethics, unconscious perception, research replication issues, neuroscience and art, explanatory power of mirror neurons, child vs adult learning, and brain-mapping initiatives.