Thursday, February 25, 2010

Western bias toward consciousness?

Quotation from



Arthur S. Reber
Brooklyn College and the Graduate
Center of the City University of New York


Implicit Learning and Consciousness: An Empirical, Philosophical, and Computational Consensus in the Making.
Contributors: Robert M. French - editor, Axel Cleeremans - editor.
Publisher: Psychology Press. Place of Publication: New York.
Publication Year: 2002.

From his long-standing interest in the history of psychology, Reber is convinced that "our discipline is nothing more (or less) than the bastard offspring of the union of philosophy and physiology." (xii). While physiology made psychology experimental and laboratory based, philosophy produced difficulties. One of the reasons was that modern Western philosophy was more or less divided into the Continental and the British and these two traditions disagreed on so much. However, Reber says:

But there was one common theme: in both, consciousness and cognition were seen as coterminous. If some mental act were to be seen as cognitive, if some process or mechanism or the products of that process or mechanism could be viewed as part of the “higher mental processes”, then you could be certain that it was available to consciousness and to introspection. The abstract and the symbolic were confined to the privileged realm of consciousness. The unconscious, the implicit, the procedural elements of human conduct were primitive, unthinking, elemental, and reflexive. The indubitable, in Descartes' famous stab at scepticism, was the conscious mind. And, as Daniel Dennett (1987) put it, to a Lockean the notion of unconscious thought was “incoherent, self-contradictory nonsense”. From this point of view the notion that any interesting mental event could be opaque to consciousness was near heresy.

In a similar vein, it is my read on history that the criticism and abuse that was heaped upon Sigmund Freud's early work was not because of his infusing of sex and sexuality into every psychic corner, but was caused by his truly astonishing argument that the mind was not rational, that we were driven by base motives over which we had little control and which functioned very much outside the reach of normal consciousness. We have our history and it follows us.(French & Cleeremans, 2002, pp. xii-xiii)

When we work on the issue of consciousness and learning in Japan (or in the Orient), are we being stupid intellectuals who struggle with a non-problem in their own tradition? Or, after the processes of modern history, are we not just "the Japanese" or "the Oriental"?


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The “bicameral mind” 30 years on: a critical reappraisal of Julian Jaynes’ hypothesis

A personal memo on

The “bicameral mind” 30 years on: a critical reappraisal of Julian Jaynes’ hypothesis


Andrea Eugenio Cavanna
Michael Trimble
Federico Cinti
Francesco Monaco

Functional Neurology 2007; 22(1): 11-15

Three neurologist and one philologist reviewed Julian Jaynes The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Boston, MA; Houghton Mifflin 1976) after 30 years of its publication.

This review article had three parts: (1) neurophysiological / neuropsychological examination; (2) philological / anthropological and psychological / philosophical examination; (3) overall assessment.

The neurophysiological / neuropsychological examination reported that "neurophysiological data provide weak support for a bicameral structure of the preconscious mind." (p. 12). It also concluded that Jaynes' attribution of hallucination to stress was "far too simplistic to be a valid model for common aetiological processes" given "the variety of hallucinatory phenomena observed in normal subjects and different neuropsychatric disorders, ranging from schizopherenia to epilepsy" (p. 12). However, no negative conclusion was presented; no neurophysiological / neuropsychological data falsified Jaynes' theory.

The philological / anthropological and psychological / philosophical examination repeated the inconsistency of Iliad, a point Jaynes made clear in his book. However, it raised an interesting issue of "qualia", a relatively recent philosophical term, was not included in the theory of consciousness by Jaynes.

The overall assessment was positive: The reviewers stated that the Jaynes' non-unitary concept of Self -- one valid interpretation of his theory of bicameral mind -- "happens to converge with some of the findings that have emerged from cognitive neuroscience studies during the past few decades." (p. 14) and quoted the following literature.

Minsky M. The Society of Mind. New York; Simon and
Schuster 1986
Fodor J. The Modularity of Mind. Cambridge, MA; MIT
Press 1987
Dennett DC. Consciousness Explained. Boston, MA; Little,
Brown 1991
Baars BJ. A Cognitive Theory of Consciousness. Cambridge;
Cambridge University Press 1988

The reviewers concluded as follows.

Therefore, the debate raised by Jaynes' hypothesis seems to support some contemporary attempts to deconstruct the concept of a unitary Self - a coherent centre of consciousness and engine of human actions. Converging evidence suggests that our common sense-based intuition of the unitary Self could be considered an illusion created by Western cultural and social paradigms, developed after the Homeric ages and philosophically enhanced by Plato's thought in terms of mind-body dualism. (p. 14)

This review article confirms the importance of Jaynes' work.


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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rational and romantic entrepreneur

Quotation from

The Sure Thing: How entrepreneurs really succeed.
by Malcolm Gladwell
on pp. 24-29 in The New Yorker,
January 18, 2010

On John Paulson, the most successful entrepreneur on Wall Street -- certainly of the past decade and perhaps even of the postwar era

What Paulson's story makes clear is how different the predator is from our conventional notion of the successful businessman. The risk-taking model suggests that the entrepreneur's chief advantage is one of temperament -- he's braver than the rest of us are. In the predator model, the entrepreneur's advantage is analytical -- he's better at figuring out a sure thing than the rest of us. (p. 27)

Successful predators/entrepreneurs don't seem to mind their reputation. They don't seem to need public approval.

His [=Paulson's] real motivation was the challenge of figuring out a particularly knotty problem. He was a kid with a puzzle.
This is consistent with the one undisputed finding in all the research on entrepreneurship: people who work for themselves are far happier than the rest of us. Shance says that the average person would have to earn two and a half times as much to be as happy working for someone else as he would be working for himself. And people who like what they do are profoundly conservative [=not risk-taking].


The predator is a supremely rational actor. But, deep down, he is also a romantic, motivated by the simple joy he finds in his work.  (p. 29)


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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wanted: a revolution in reviewing and editing

Quotation from

Non-stop news

by Ken Auletta

on p. 42 in The New Yorker,
January 25, 2010

Journalism may now not offer food for thought, but food for responses.

Peter Baker says that a reporter covering his beat ten years ago had “the luxury of writing for the next day’s newspaper. He had at least a few hours to call people, to access information, to provide context. Today, as much as you want to do that, by the time your deadline comes around you’ve already filed for the Web” – often more than once. In between times, you’ve files for radio, and appeared on TV, and maybe done a podcast or blog.


Everything is rushed. Anita Dunn says, “When journalists call you to discuss a story, it’s not because they’re interested in having a discussion. They’re interested in a response. And the need to file five times a day encourages this.”

Information consumes attention. We no longer want more information. We need less information.

Now that we’ve seen revolutions in recording (digital input devices), storing (massive hard disk drive and cloud storage) and searching (Google), we may need a revolution in reviewing and editing (abstracting knowledge).

Monday, February 8, 2010

Damasio on Mind and Body

Quotation from

Damasio, A., & Damasio, H. (2006).
Minding the Body. Daedalus, 135(3), 15+.

The brain is connected to the body through chemical channels as well as neural channels:

The chemical bath in which all body cells live and of which the blood is an expression--the internal milieu--also ends up sending signals to the brain, not via nerves but via chemical molecules, which impinge directly on certain parts of the brain designed to receive their messages. The range of information conveyed to the brain in this manner is extremely wide. It includes, for example, the state of contraction or dilation of smooth muscles (the muscles that form the walls of the arteries, the gut, and the bronchi); the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide concentrated locally in any region of the body; the temperature and the pH at various locations; the local presence of toxic chemical molecules; and so forth.

'Body loop': Mental states => brain states => body states => brain states => mental states

The idea here is that the body and brain are engaged in a continuous interaction that unfolds in time, within different regions of the body and within mental space as well. Mental states cause brain states, which cause body states; body states are then mapped in the brain and incorporated into the ongoing mental states. A small change on the brain side of the system can have major consequences for the body state (think of the release of a hormone); likewise, a small change on the body side (think of a knife cut, or a tooth infection, or the rupture of an ulcer) can have a major effect on the mind once the change is mapped as a nociceptive state and perceived as acute pain.

'As-if body loop': Unfolding emotion => body states constructed in advance before (or even instead of) the emotional change => brain/mental states:

But this is not the only network that links mind and body--there is another we call the 'as-if body loop.' Some fifteen years ago, Antonio proposed that in certain circumstances, as an emotion unfolds, the brain rapidly constructs maps of the body comparable to those that would result were the body actually changed by that emotion. The construction can occur well ahead of the emotional change, or even instead of the change. In other words, the brain can simulate a certain body state as if it were occurring; and because our perception of any body state is rooted in the body maps of the somatosensing regions, we perceive the body state as actually occurring even if it is not. (This functional arrangement can work for emotion because there is no need for fidelity of information concerning the body states that define an emotion provided the kind of emotion in question can be detected without ambiguity.)

Mirror neurons as 'as-if body' device originated in its body first, and then in the body of someone else:

Mirror neurons are, in effect, the ultimate 'as-if body' device. The mirror-neuron system achieves conceptually what we hypothesized as the 'as-if body loop' system: the simulation, in the brain's body maps, of a body state that is not actually taking place in the organism. The fact that the body state the mirror neurons are simulating is not the subject's does not minimize the power of this functional resemblance. On the contrary, it stands to reason that if a complex brain can simulate someone else's body state, it can simulate one of its own body states. Take, for example, a state that has already occurred in the organism: it should be easier to simulate since it has already been mapped by precisely the same somatosensing structures that are now responsible for simulating it. In fact, we suggest that the as-if system applied to others would not have developed had there not been an as-if system applied to the brain's own organism.

Emotions are 'felt' in our flesh (hence, 'feelings'!):

The as-if body loop, the body loop, and mirror neurons all point to a few remarkable features regarding the perception of the body during the experience of an emotion: The emotion ends up felt in our flesh. The process unfolds in time and is both sensory and motor. The sensing of body changes leads to motor activations that, in turn, can be sensed. All of these steps have the power to evoke related knowledge held in memory.

Related posts:
A summary of Damasio’s “Self Comes to Mind” 

'Feeling' of language as a sign of autopoiesis 

Damasio (2000) The Feeling of What Happens 

Another short summary of Damasio's argument on consciousness and self

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Language and Consciousness according to Julian Jaynes

Quotation from

Consciousness and the Voices of the Mind

Consciousness is not about everything we do:

That consciousness is in everything we do is an illusion. Suppose you asked a flashlight in a completely dark room to turn itself on and to look around and see if there was any light - the flashlight as it looked around would of course see light everywhere and come to the conclusion that the room was brilliantly lit when in fact it was mostly just the opposite. So with consciousness. We have an illusion that it is all mentality. If you look back into the struggles with this problem in the 19th century and early 20th century, this is indeed the error that trapped people into so much of the difficulty, and still does. (p. 3)

We often think or act from "struction" not always or necessarily from consciousness:

Structions are like instructions given to the nervous system, that, when presented with the materials to work on, result in the answer automatically without any
conscious thinking or reasoning. (p. 5)

Consciousness may precede "struction," but it is "struction" that solves a problem, according to some physicists.

Consciousness studies a problem and prepares it as a struction, a process which may result in a sudden appearance of the solution as if out of nowhere. During World War II, British physicists used to say that they no longer made their discoveries in the laboratory; they had their three B’s where their discoveries were made - the bath, the bed, and the bus. And, as I have mentioned earlier, this process on a smaller scale is going on in me at present as I am speaking: my words are as if chosen for me by my nervous system after giving it the struction of my intended meaning. (p. 6)

The space of consciousness ("mind-space") exists only where we assign a location to it:

The space of consciousness, which I shall hereafter call mind-space, is a functional space that has no location except as we assign one to it. To think of our consciousness as inside our heads, as reflected in and learned from our works like introspection or internalization, is a very natural but arbitrary thing to do. I certainly do not mean to say that consciousness is separate from the brain; by the assumptions of natural science, it is not. But we use our brains in riding bicycles, and yet no one considers that the location of bicycle riding is inside our heads. The phenomenal location of consciousness is arbitrary. (p. 6)

What is metephored ("metaphrand") is produced by what metaphors ("metaphier"). Metaphier usually has an association, the original (literal) use of the metaphorical expression, called "paraphier." "Paraphier" produces "paraphrand," an entity created newly, which will be united with metaphrand, making us believe that the metaphrand really exists physically:

As a more relevant example, suppose a person, back in the time at the formation of our mental vocabulary, has been trying to solve some problem or to learn how to perform some task. To express his success, he might suddenly exclaim (in his own language), aha! I ‘see’ the solution. ‘See’is the metaphier, drawn from the physical behavior from the physical world, that is applied to this otherwise inexpressible mental occurrence, the metaphrand. But metaphiers usually have associations called paraphiers that project back into the metaphrand as what are called paraphrands and, indeed, create new entities. The word ‘see’ has associations of seeing in the physical world and therefore of space, and this space then becomes a paraphrand as it is united with this inferred mental event called the metaphrand.


(p. 7)

Narrating 'I' started consciousness:

When did all this ‘inner’ world begin? Here we arrive at the most important watershed in our discussion. Saying that consciousness is developed out of language means that everybody from Darwin on, including myself in earlier years, was wrong in trying to trace out the origin of consciousness biologically or neurophysiologically. It means we have to look at human history after language has evolved and ask when in history did an analog ‘I’ narratizing in a mind-space begin. (p. 8)

There is no evidence of consciousness in Iliad:

But if you take the generally accepted oldest parts of the Iliad and ask, “Is there evidence of consciousness?” the answer, I think, is no. People are not sitting down and making decisions. No one is. No one is introspecting. No one is even reminiscing. It is a very different kind of world. (p. 9)

How did men decide without consciousness:

Then, who makes the decisions? Whenever a significant choice is to be made, a voice comes in telling people what to do. These voices are always and immediately obeyed. These voices are called gods. To me this is the origin of gods. I regard them as auditory hallucinations similar to, although not precisely the same as, the voices heard by Joan of Arc or William Blake. Or similar to the voices that modern schizophrenics hear. Similar perhaps to the voices that some of you may have heard. (pp. 9-10)

The "bicameral" mind without consciousness:

This mentality in early times, as in the Iliad, is what is called the bicameral mind on the metaphier of a bicameral legislature. It simply means that human mentality at this time was in two parts, a decision-making part and a follower part, and neither part was conscious in the sense in which I have described consciousness. And I would like to remind you here of the rather long critique of consciousness with which I began my talk, which demonstrated that human beings can speak and understand, learn, solve problems, and do much that we do but without being conscious. So could bicameral man. In his everyday life he was a creature of habit, but when some problem arose that needed a new decision or a more complicated solution than habit could provide, that decision stress was sufficient to instigate an auditory hallucination. Because such individuals had no mind-space in which to question or rebel, such voices had to be obeyed. (p. 10)

Writing weakened the bicameral mind:

Another cause is writing itself, because once something is written you can turn away from it and it has no more power over you, in contrast to an auditory hallucination, which you cannot shut out. Writing, particularly as used extensively in Hammurabi’s hegemony, weakened the power of the auditory directions. The spread of writing, the complexities of overpopulation, and the chaos of huge migrations as one population invaded others: these are the obvious causes. And in this breakdown, various things started to happen, including I think the beginning of consciousness. (p. 12)

The birth of men who self-reflect and invent 'I' and the mind-space:

Solon is the first person who seems like us, who talks about the mind in the same way we might. He is the person who said “Know thyself,” although sometimes that’s given to the Delphic Oracle. How can you know yourself unless you have an analog ‘I’ narratizing in a mind-space and reminiscing or having episodic memory about what you have been doing and who you are? In Greece, then, one can see in detail the invention and learning of consciousness on the basis of metaphor and analogy (as I have described above) by tracing out through these writings the change in words like phrenes, kardia, psyche (what I have called “preconscious hypostacies”) from objective referents to mental functions. (p. 12)

Summary: (1) Metaphors and analogies though the use of language created consciousness; (2) The bicameral mind existed before the creation of consciousness; (3) Consciousness follwed the bicameral mind:

I can sum up what I have said so far as three major ideas about the origin of consciousness. The first concerns the nature of consciousness itself and that it arises from the power of language to make metaphors and analogies. The second idea is the hypothesis of the bicameral mind, an early type of mentality. I think the evidence for its existence is unmistakable. Apart from this idea, there is a problem of explaining the origin of gods, the origin of religious practices in the back corridors of time that is so apparent with a psychological study of history. The bicameral mind offers a possibility to tie it all together and to provide a rationale for it. The third idea is that consciousness followed the bicameral mind. I have placed the date somewhere between 1400 B.C. and 600 B.C. This is a long period and that date may have to be adjusted. But I believe this to be a good approximation. (p. 14)

Conscious life is not all about human life:

The final thought I will close with is that all of this that is most human about us, this consciousness, this artificial space we imagine in other people and in ourselves, this living within our reminiscences, plans, and imaginings, all of this is indeed only 3,000 years old. (p. 16)

Welcome back to the life as we knew it:

It is easy for the average layman to understand. But paradoxically, for philosophers, psychologists, and neurophysiologists, who have been so used to a different kind of thinking, it is a difficult thing. What we have to explain is the contrast, so obvious to a child, between all the inner covert world of imaginings and memories and thoughts and the external public world around us. (p. 1)

This lecture was given at the Canadian Psychological Association Symposium on Consciousness in Halifax, Canada, in 1985 and first appeared in Canadian Psychology, April 1986, Vol. 27 (2). It is now available at:

To learn more about Julian Jaynes, please go to:

Friday, February 5, 2010


Quotation from

The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism [5.30.06]
By Jaron Lanier

The Internet is not about technology but people.

The beauty of the Internet is that it connects people. The value is in the other people. If we start to believe that the Internet itself is an entity that has something to say, we're devaluing those people and making ourselves into idiots.

Science is not "Wisdom of Crowds."

It's safer to be the aggregator of the collective. You get to include all sorts of material without committing to anything. You can be superficially interesting without having to worry about the possibility of being wrong.

Except when intelligent thought really matters. In that case the average idea can be quite wrong, and only the best ideas have lasting value. Science is like that.

Science or democracy is not achieved by the collective.

The collective is good at solving problems which demand results that can be evaluated by uncontroversial performance parameters, but it is bad when taste and judgment matter.


Every authentic example of collective intelligence that I am aware of also shows how that collective was guided or inspired by well-meaning individuals. These people focused the collective and in some cases also corrected for some of the common hive mind failure modes. The balancing of influence between people and collectives is the heart of the design of democracies, scientific communities, and many other long-standing projects.

When the collective becomes a gigantic mob.

Nasty hive mind outbursts have been flavored Maoist, Fascist, and religious, and these are only a small sampling. I don't see why there couldn't be future social disasters that appear suddenly under the cover of technological utopianism.


The best guiding principle is to always cherish individuals first.

The Cloud Culture

Quotation from
by Charles Leadbeater

The Cloud Culture Equation

More cultural heritage stored in digital form.
More accessible to more people.
People better equipped with more tools to add creatively to the collection.
Exponential growth in mass cultural expression
Cloud Culture.

Cloud culture should be a rare and delicate mix: more decentralised, plural and collaborative; less hierarchical, proprietary and money driven; the boundaries between amateur and professional, consumer and producer, grassroots and mainstream are breached, if not erased. Open source software communities and collaborative science, based on shared data sources and open access journals, point the way for what will be possible in other areas.

The article is not entirely optimistic, though.


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Too much success in the past

Quotation from

Microsoft’s Creative Destruction
Published: February 4, 2010

Too much success in the past may make a company too adamant.

Microsoft’s huge profits — $6.7 billion for the past quarter — come almost entirely from Windows and Office programs first developed decades ago. Like G.M. with its trucks and S.U.V.’s, Microsoft can’t count on these venerable products to sustain it forever. Perhaps worst of all, Microsoft is no longer considered the cool or cutting-edge place to work. There has been a steady exit of its best and brightest.

Internal competition is common at great companies. It can be wisely encouraged to force ideas to compete. The problem comes when the competition becomes uncontrolled and destructive. At Microsoft, it has created a dysfunctional corporate culture in which the big established groups are allowed to prey upon emerging teams, belittle their efforts, compete unfairly against them for resources, and over time hector them out of existence. It’s not an accident that almost all the executives in charge of Microsoft’s music, e-books, phone, online, search and tablet efforts over the past decade have left.


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