Mind and me

I’m always surprised that concepts like mind are still being used today in academic discourse. I find it odd that a renowned complexity researcher, such as Kauffman, calls a video clip “How can mind act on matter?” For me the old question “what is mind” is resolved.

“Mind” is a pattern created by neural activity.  So if one would follow the above question it would mean that neural activity (the pattern) acts on neural activity, which is a tautology. Instead of pattern one could use the term code, which sounds more familiar in our digital age. Although there is nothing digital in the brain, there are nevertheless hard-wired patterns, chemically mediated or modified by a soup of neurotransmitters, and resembling code. So would we say code acts on matter? Code is created by matter and is in flux, thus it “switches” binary circuits, creating new patterns, in that sense acting on matter. But is is only a matter, sorry the pun, of convenience in expression. The code is no ghost, but only the form matter takes on when certain binary switches are switched. Back to the brain.

The open question, maybe, would be the meaning that resides in the pattern. For meaning to be recognised as meaning there seems to be an necessity for an act of recognition. So there may also be a recognition pattern, a pattern that says “I can see what you mean”. Now that reminds me of the concept of “intrapersonal communication” (Stacks & Salwen, 2009, p. 323). I can only recognise a pattern and with that “meaning” if I “hear” it, that is if it is spoken, even if silently. There must be an inner auditory capacity that “hears” my inner “speech”. Meaning is mediated through language and through  social context.  Enter linguistics. However, there also appears to be a shortcut. Reflective processing is usually not required when moving around in the world. It would be tedious if we would have to speak “there is a red light” while driving, and only then be able to stop the car. Intrapersonal communication, or just simply talking to oneself, may be a communicative phenomenon, that is fairly recent in human development. Julian Jaynes would not have seen it happening before 500 BC, at that time the voices in your head were not your own, they were the voices of the gods (Jaynes, 1982). So the ability to reflect verbally within oneself may be a more recent acquisition in human evolution. Reflection is slow but powerful when it comes to problem solving.



Stacks, D. W., & Salwen, M. B. (2009). An integrated approach to communication theory and research (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Jaynes, J. (1982). The origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind. Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin.

A nice little new application

One of my current ideasis that multiple personalities, positions, opinions, arguments, can comfortably reside in one’s head for the b

Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Nietzsche (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

enefit of creativity, even if they contradict each other. Think of Nietzsche’s contradictions! Education on the other hand is really about preventing that in a unified Ego, as Freud would probably like to see, there should be no contradictions, most of all know opposition to the prevalent paradigm of the particular culture and its enforcers. Deviations from the normal Armstrong would call bizarre. Yet we know how necessary this kind of subversive thinking is, as art and artists testify. So referring back to the voices in one’s head they must engage in a critical, controversial, dialectical dialogue in order to advance one’s thought processes.

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Twitter / @marcoiacoboni: the new nazi state? RT @ma …

The eternal return of the same … Nietzsche is jubilating

Creativity in the Brain

Fuster nailed it! See also the Lloyd Armstrong video clip in this blog.

    •    It has been said that creative intelligence is the ability to invent goals, projects, and plans-in other words, we might say, to invent the future (242).

    •    A reasonable assumption is that the creative process consists of the formation of new cognits (brain circuits) , that is, new network representations in the cortex (the brain´ś grey outer shell).

    •    These representations result mostly from divergent thinking as opposed to convert thinking.

    •    Convergent thinking consists of inductive and deductive reasoning, which converge towards logical inferences and the solution of problems(Guilford, 1967).

    •    Divergent thinking, on the other hand, is free of logical constraints, autonomous and to some extent free-floating, reliant on the imagination, and minimally anchored in the immediate reality.

    •    Creative cognits emerge mainly from divergent thinking.

    •    To create, in the present context, is to make new cognits out of old ones.

    •    At the root of this process is the formation of new associations between old cognits.

    •    Thus, to reinvent the future is to reinvent the past by making new associations in it.

    •    The new cognits are potentially infinite, much as the old ones where, because the range of either is determined by the practically infinite combinatorial power of some 10 billion cells or subgroups ( i.e Modules, assemblies) of them.

    •    Therefore, the spread and configuration of created cortical cognits and their supporting networks are extremely variable.

Fuster, J.M. (2003). Cortex and mind: Unifying cognition. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Exciting times

I do not want to comment on what is happening right now worldwide on a political level. Everybody can see for themselves. Occupy wall street is certainly the most interesting worldwide phenomenon. What is quite new is how social media to become a decisive tool not only in spreading the message, but also in direct interacting with those in power by posting images of pepper sprayers; lampooning them, ballooning them, mocking them out of their wits. Powerful media in people’s hands will influence the world’s social, political, and economic structures dramatically over the next few years.

Nauseating …

There is a fly in my soup …

Pushing my thoughts away from the cacophony of Twitter’s #cablegate, I read Sartre’s last Interviewwhere he indicates some of the things that had moved him in his

Sartre's novel Nausea

life. He confesses to some sort of anarchism and to having been a loner, apart from the women he adored. Sounds almost like Assange – only joking.

Funny how people see themselves. Interesting his take on transparency. He reckons that in the future there will be a time where we have no more secrets from one another. An early Facebook aficionado!

He said:

I think transparency should always be substituted for what is secret, and I can quite well imagine the day when two men will no longer have secrets from each other, because no one will have any more secrets from anyone, because subjective life, as well as objective life, will be completely offered up, given. It is impossible to accept the fact that we would yield our bodies as we do and keep our thoughts hidden, since for me there is no basic difference between the body and the consciousness.”

A dreamer like Mark Zuckerberg?

Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sarte
Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sarte

The world, in terms of a network of human actors, is a complex and an emergent system, that also includes technologies and communication systems and is getting more complex every day. Yet our emphasis is still on humans and how we interrelate with objects. Here I disagree with some aspects of object-oriented philosophy. Keep in mind, deception has been an important positive evolutionary development of early hominids, still to be seen in Chimpanzees, who separated from us only 5-7 Million years ago! Positive in the sense of an adaptive trait enhancing survival.

These post-war intellectuals, no matter how high I hold them in my esteem, didn’t know much about biology, anthropology, evolutionary psychology, nor physiology itself. Freud was the star in the study of the soul in those days, but unfortunately not much of his wisdom holds up to scientific scrutiny. His theories were based on spurious evidence. See Why Freud Was Wrong – Sin, Science and Psychoanalysis by RICHARD WEBSTER.

Neuroscience, as we know it, wasn’t around yet. For them, and for many intellectuals today,  mind and spirit was made of different stuff than brains, peptide molecules and atoms. The Cartesian split, the ethereal mind versus the material body. They knew nothing about information theory or the phenomenological experience of selfhood.

Their perception of total freedom, i.e. Sartre, seems to us like Kindergarten spiel or Disneyland, whatever angle you take. There is no such thing as total freedom. We are constrained by our social environment and our upbringing. Imagine walking around dressed up like Mozart. You would never do this unless you would be singing an aria on stage. Why not? You are free to do so. As you can see there are some serious constraints on what we allow ourselves to do and what not. But there are situation where we might have to jump over the fence.

The current wikileaked world  shows that certain political groups of interest use information deceptively if required to get their imperial agenda across.  Others try to foil their attempts, so it’s spy versus spy! Or is it chimp versus chimp? Or us versus THEM? I wonder whose side is FOX BUSINESS rooting for these days? Watch this! Or are we still all deceived and there is yet another agenda behind all of this?

Whatever it may be, there is grounds to believe that we do have SOME freedom to decide whose side we’re on. So Sartre, you’re still cool, maybe more than ever, we still need you.

Please Turn on Your Cell Phone …

Ink well desks from Jean Vigo's hilarous 1933 movie, Zero for Conduct

In Opinion Juliette LaMontagne writes:

Please Turn on Your Cell Phone

Mobile devices aren’t distractions in schools; they’re machines for learning.

It might surprise you to learn that students from New York City’s most impoverished neighborhoods arrive at school each day with personal computers. The problem is that they deposit these powerful learning tools at the nearby bodega — where they’re held like a coat check service for a dollar a day — because their personal computers are cell phones, and they are banned by New York City’s school chancellor, Joel Klein. Many students will circumvent the ban by blind-texting from their backpacks or from the bathroom. But it’s not that simple for those who have to pass through metal detectors and scanners to gain entry into the school building each day.

The rationale for the cell phone ban will not surprise you: critics claim the phones are distracting, can be used to cheat and add no educational value. In a speech to the National Urban League, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “You come to school to learn, not to play games or send text messages.” Apparently, his words were aimed at students and administrators alike; last month, text-messaging service on all Department of Education issued devices was disabled. Only weeks earlier, the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, came out in support of cell phone use saying, “Finding ways to use cell phones to deliver lesson plans to students would improve education and meet federal guidelines.”

Once again the battle rages between technophobes and technophiles. Read the comments to her article. I remember vaguely my school days when in education (that is amongst my teachers) the battle raged about students using ball point pens instead of fountain pens, and earlier, using a fountain pen instead of a dip pen and an ink well. They were machines for learning as well.

The prime argument against cell phones in school is distraction. But that is not something new. I used to goof off for hours in class, playing battleship with pen and paper with my class mates, writing love letters, or reading comic books under the table.

Let them text or hide behind their Facebook screens. I’m happy that they attend my class at all, and quite often they all look up, drop their distractions and we have some cool discussions about some video clip that I show them about a particular topic. It’s my delivery that counts.

But presumably the issues run much deeper. Apart from the student’s Karma running over the teacher’s Dogma we as educators tend to forget one of our prime justifications for our educational existence, namely to discipline. Remember Foucault:

Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons ? (Foucault 1975)

So it may be about the fear of loosing control in the classroom. But, apologies for being sarcastic, we don’t need Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon anymore. We have the iphones and ipads in class, surely allowing any interested party to not only identify location via GPS but also monitor their subversive and not so subversive thoughts as they drill themselves through SMS connections and web URLs.

But there are more interesting considerations.

Contrary to McLuhan, and more in line with Friedrich Kittler, it may be legitimate to see ourselves as extensions of  technologies instead of technologies being extensions of ourselves. You don’t need a chip implant to get inside into someone’s head. The Vatican knew that when in 1622 A.D. Pope Gregor IV set up the congregatio de propaganda fidei, the Vatican’s spin doctors (Kittler, Optical Media, 2010, p.76). He was quite ahead of his time.

Vigo: French revolt

Kittler quotes McLuhan in his book “Optical Media” on page 29:

McLuhan went so far as to write that under audiovisual Kittlerconditions our eyes, ears, hands, etc. no longer belong to the bodies they are associated with at all, let alone to the subjects that figure in philosophical theory as the narrators of the afore-mentioned bodies, but rather to the television companies they are connected to.

Replace television companies with the media industrial complex (pun intended!) and you can see that the issue is not the cell phone at all but our understanding of the role of media in society, or as Morpheus in the Matrix would put it, it’s the machine, stupid, turning us into batteries. And here it takes a lot of guts from educators to unplug their students. This of course is impossible. But it may also not be necessary, because the better students learn how to handle the new media, whether in class or outside of classrooms, the better they will learn how to poke holes into the fabric of media reality. The “(wiki) leaks” are (still) easy to find, yet the censors of the inquisition are not sleeping.

P.S. Zéro de conduite (English: Zero for Conduct) is a 1933 film by French film director Jean Vigo. It was first shown on April 7, 1933, and was subsequently banned in France until February 15, 1946.  Sarkozy you haven’t got a chance.