Chapter 7: So What Is the Mind?

I seem to be a verb.

--R. Buckminster Fuller

Mind your elders.  Mind your manners.  Mind your step.

We seem to have some difficulty in understanding the mind because of one major grammatical hurdle: its primary definintion is as a noun, rather than a verb.  I humbly submit that changing that little detail may help clear up a lot of confusion.  If mind is the "pattern which connects," in Gregory Bateson's famous turn of phrase, then it is a very dynamic pattern, and it behooves us to think of it as such.

I have already demonstrated that the human nervous system is an example par excellence of what we call dynamic systems, so it should come as little surprise that the mind is also a dynamic entity.  Mind is what mind does, and it is also what it feels like.  "Mind is what it feels like" is the same as saying that we are the experience of ourselves.  That it is what it does makes mind out to be an engine of doing; thinking and feelings are artifacts like friction and heat to the central driving function of an internal combustion engine.

The mind is a dynamic syntax, parsing a perceptually-generated sense of self (the "subject") driving various actions (the "verb") toward various objects of consciousness (the "object").


VII. So What Is the Mind?

  1. There's still a "hard problem" in connecting
    the quantitative facts of brain function with the qualia
    of personal phenomenology (Chalmers 1995, 1996)- but hard
    does not mean insoluble, merely difficult or counterintuitive
  2. A very difficult hurdle is to stop intuiting a "Big
    Boss", a "Central Meaner" or an observer
    in the Cartesian Theatre (Dennett, 1991)- there is
    no movie theater or sound system in our heads.
  3. The hardest part is "picturing" how neuronal groups, however complex, could give rise to primary consciousness- the phenomenal experience of, for starters, a visual field (Crick, 1994). "[Our new psychological understanding of the brain] concerns cell assemblies of lower and higher order, abstractions and generalization increasing as one goes from first-order to third- or fourth-order assemblies" (Hebb, 1968). Generalization for example:

    "In essence, suppose that the child's perception of an adult is the excitation of, say, 100 million neurons, a different set each time, but suppose also that there may be a thousand neurons common to all those different excitations. If those thousand become organized in an assembly, because of being active every time the child sees a human being, the activity of that assembly will be the idea of a person, generalized. Abstraction is involved also, for the assembly is representative only of characteristics that people have in common- head, hands, voice, and fso forth. The idea of a particular person, or a particular voice, would require the added activity of other assemblies ('schema with correction')."


    (Hebb 1980a, p.23)
     

  4. The "A,B,C's of psychology": affect, behavior,
    and cognition. While we are concerned with affect
    and cognition, bear in mind that thoughts and feelings
    are inextricably intertwined with motor plans (behavior).
  5. That having been said, we may think of mind as being
    constituted by 3 basic parts:
    1. Attention ("Everyone knows what attention
      is. It is the taking possession by the mind, in clear
      and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously
      possible objects or trains of thought . . . . It implies
      withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively
      with others." -William James, The Principles of Psychology, vol. 1, 403). This, paired with short-term memory, is what we experience as consciousness: we never have conscious control of the actual mechanisms of language production or memory retrieval. Memories come back to us, verbal responses arise in ways we don't (can't!) understand- we simply remember, we simply speak. However, the "train of thought" is frequently concerned with navigating a particular linguistic sequence in addition to attending to whatever combination of sensory modalities (sight, smell, etc.). Attention, the ongoing remembered present, is the "flow of consciousness" described in Joyce's Ulysses; memory and language are support mechanisms, absolutely necessary scaffolding for our higher-order consciousness.
    2. Memory:
      1. short-term (part of consciousness) --- include section on Miller's Law?
      2. long-term (all unconscious, until reactivated):
        1. episodic
        2. categorical
        3. proceedural
    3. Language
      1. Uncontroversial referentiality at simplest level ("Grunt and point" origin of language)
      2. universal grammer (S-V-O structure underlying all human languages [though not necessarily in that order])


        1. Hebb (1980, last section in Chapter 7): Perception in the development of language: "nounness" and generalizations to action ("What are those things, Mommy?")
      3. some essential features of language, such as recurring metaphors "up = more" and "down = less", are learned but may be considered as basically hard-wired in the sense that they are simple products of how our bodies interact with the physical environment (M. Johnson, The Body in the Mind, also Hebb, Essay on Mind pp.116-17)
      4. higher order / abstract concepts contained in multiple and conflicting metaphors, such as "mind as cutting tool" and "mind as growing thing" ("She's got a razor-sharp mind" and "He's got a fertile imagination") (Lakoff and Johnson, Metaphors to Live By) This may indicate that higher-order concepts don't have a simple location in the cortex, but are instead triggered by reentrant loops between various circuits (e.g.- between
        one center for cutting things and another for growing things).
  6. Attention and short-term memory constitute "Primary Consciousness" (defined as such), possessed by most mammals.
  7. Language and long-term memory constitute "Higher-Order
    Consciousness" (again by consensus definition), possessed only by humans (with apologies to Nim Chimpsky!).
  8. Fun stuff we care about:
    1. Gender
    2. Handedness
    3. Orientation
    4. Race (hint: it doesn't matter!)
    5. Introversion/Extroversion
    6. Birth Order
    7. ...?