Self, Reality and Reason.
According to the ancient Greeks, humans can only acquire higher knowledge and insights,
when we have Self Knowledge. And, in order to know oneself, one must
surely know what the self is all about.
And that is what Bruce Hoods book, The Self Illusion, is all about!
And it is certainly a very interesting read.
See: Self, Reality and Reason.
It is all tricky territory though, as we know so little about what
reality really is. See Reality Loops.
Indeed, how much can we actually know about the world using our five senses?
More than plants
probably, even though it now turns out that they also have five senses. See Plant senses.
But, like the plants, we must probably realize that the bigger reality out there, our Umgebung, we know very little about (What it is, and how it works).
Still, the world we do know about is a pretty spectacular place.
own constructions begin to be rather spectacular. See Shanghai.
As we learn more about our world it all goes into our memories. Which is actually a place of construction,
rather than storage.
Hopefully, it will all turn out useful in the end... :-)
Self, Reality and Reason.
Amazon review (4 stars out of 5)
October 28th, 2012 by Simon Laub.
of Bruce Hoods book ''The Self Illusion''.
- Why there is no ''you'' inside your head.
Bruce Hoods book The Self Illusion is a great book about
the mental constructions that makes us who we are.
According to Hood, deep down, our selves might not be all that solid.
Instead, other people influence us, and changing circumstances continually
update our beliefs and our sense of self.
Bundle Theory and The Self:
Philosopher David Hume was the first to advance the view, ''bundle theory'', that the mind is nothing but a bundle of thoughts, passions and emotions piled
on top of each other.
According to Hume:
For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble upon some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred. ... I never catch myself... distinct from such perception.
Hume then concluded that the self emerged out of the bundling together of
these experiences [p. ix].
In the Self Illusion Bruce Hood concludes that the self is not as solid, as we sometimes tend to think:
We do not see the cognitive illusions that create the self.
Cognitive dissonance protects us from ruminating over failed goals,
positive biases keep us motivated, free will give us grounds
for praise and blame, decision-making gives us the illusion of control.
Without these cognitive illusions, we would not be able to function, because we would be overwhelmed by
the true complexity of the hidden process and mechanisms that
control us. And that, in the end, is a good thing.
Pretty similar to the conclusion in Julian Bagginis book The Ego Trick:
This is the heart of the ego trick: Creating a strong sense of unity and singleness from what is actually a messy, fragmented sequence of experiences and memories.
For more, see my Review of The Ego Trick.
Our Social World.
Humans live in a social world and our selves are very much influenced by this.
In 1902, the American sociologist Charles Horton Cooley coined the term,
The Looking Glass Self to express the way that the self is shaped by the
reflected opinions of others around us.
Individuals with autism have a problem with social interaction because
they lack the repertoire of developmental social skills that enable humans
to become expert mind readers.
''By the time they are around four years of age, an average child sees
other people as being goal directed, purposeful, having preferences, desires,
beliefs and even misconceptions'' [p. 65].
In a sense, who we are really comes down to those around us. We may all be born
with different biological properties and dispositions, but even these emerge in the
context of others and in some cases can be triggered or turned off by environmental
factors [p. 82].
Jane Elliots told her third grade class that either blue eyed or brown eyed
kids were superior to other kids. And sure enough children, who were designated as
inferior, took on the look and behaviour of genuinely inferior
students, performing poorly on tests, whereas the superior group became hostile
to the inferior group thinking them less worthy (See Youtube Video).
Solomon Aschs Conformity Test tells us that grown ups aren't much better.
In Hoods words: ''If we are susceptible to group pressure, subtle priming cues,
stereotyping and culturally cuing, then the notion of a
true, unyielding ego cannot be sustained. If it is a
self that flinches and bends with tiny changes in circumstances,
then it might as well be non-existent'' ... [p. 160].
And we are surely all very much social creatures, that wants to be part of the group ...
Hood gives us the rather interesting story of Alicia Head,
to show us that people will do almost anything for attention and sympathy from others.
To be part of the group. See: Alicia Head
(Youtube Video) [p. 164].
And it gets worse. Not only do we desperately want to be part of the group,
our uniqueness is also much closer to the average than we might think.
The Forer Effect, named after a study by psychologist Bertram Forer,
is the observation
that individuals ''will give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of
their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically for them, but are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people''.
Forer told his students they were each receiving a unique personality analysis that was based on test results. The students should then rate their analysis on a scale of 0 (very poor) to 5 (excellent) on how well it applied to themselves.
In reality, each received the same analysis:
You have a great need for other people to like and admire you. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. Your sexual adjustment has presented problems for you. Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others' statements without satisfactory proof. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. Security is one of your major goals in life.
On average, the rating was 4.26 .
If you look closer at the statements most are all to do with how others perceive us.,
social anxieties and concerns that we are more complicated than others realize.
Again this is more damning evidence that we are preoccupied with what others
think, and less independent that we imagine [p. 173].
Matrix Reality, The Construction of the Self and Free Will:
''Many things in life are not what they seem. Arguably all of our perceptions
are illusions because we don't have any privileged access to reality. Our minds
are a matrix simulating reality'' [p. 91].
For more, see my Review of The Ego Tunnel.
And inside this matrix reality we have our selves.
Selves that it takes a long time to construct:
People don't remember much from before the age of four.
According to Bruce Hood, the reason for this is that our selves have
not been fully build at that age:
It's not that you have forgotten what it was like to be an infant -
You were simply not ''you'' at that age because there was no constructed self,
and so you cannot make sense of early experiences in the context of
the person to whom these events happened [p. 54].
(For more, see my notes on Memories, in danish.
As an infant we did not have the capacity to integrate
our experiences into meaningful stories. we did not have world knowledge.
Most important, we did not have an idea who we were. We did not have an initial
sense of self to integrate our experiences [p. 60].
BTW. Indeed, generally, meaning and context improves memory, as decades of psychological research has shown).
The world is a confusing place though - and sometimes the construction
of a unique self doesn't work out:
In dissociative identity disorders (DIDs), formerly known as multiple personality disorders,
where there are alternative selves or ''alter ego's '', people easily seem to have multiple
Even the internet can play havoc with our sense of a unique self
(See: UK Couple to Divorce over Affair on Second Life ,
Maybe, we should not be all that surprised when something goes wrong with
the self construction. Perhaps, we should be more surprised to find a self at all - inside our Matrix simulation.
Surely, it takes a lot of cognitive effort to keep the self on track:
The self illusion is really the culmination of a multitude of processes.
These usually work together in synchrony to produce a unified self,
but when inconsistencies arise, the system, strongly influenced by language,
works to re-establish coherence [p. 170].
Still, most of the time thing turns out ok.
But the self is fragile. Even thinking too much about it might be a dangerous thing?
We might be confused, begin to wonder if the construction, the self, can really
do anything on its own? Do we, the self, have free will?
The absence of free will is a terrible thing to most of us.
No matter what you do, you can't change things. A demoralizing outlook on
life that is bound to undermine any motivation to do anything.
E.g. workers who believe in free will outperform their colleagues,
and be rewarded by supervisors. So when we believe in free will we will enjoy life more.
The constructed self (?) will start constructing stories that it really isn't constructed,
and that it has free will.
The meaning of the Self - Conclusion.
Experiences are fragmented episodes unless they are woven
together in meaningful narrative. This is why the self
pulls it all together. Without a focus, the massive
parallel processing in our brain means that we would be overwhelmed
by the sheer volumen of computations, if we
had to deal with them individually.
We also think of others as having selves:
Rather we get a summarized headline, that relates all the outputs
from these unconscious processes [p 214].
We have not evolved to think about others as a bundle of
processes. Rather we have evolved to treat others as individual selves.
It is faster, more economic and more efficient to treat others
as a self rather than an extended collection of past histories,
hidden agendas. unresolved conflicts and ulterior motives [p. 214].
What a story, what a book.
Amazon: , .
Great article about reality in this weeks NewScientist (September 29th, 2012):
Is consciousness all there is? Certainly we run into ''strange loops'' back to our minds as we investigate the world:
Loop 1 - What is fundamental is not material.
The human mind (our mental world) lives in a world of large things. These large everyday things are made of atoms, which are quantum stuff, which can only be described as space time points, which are mathematical objects,
which are really mental entities.
If we pursue a reductionist explanation for the things around us, we start from the
medium sized objects around us (cars, houses, people, planets) and work our way down to molecules
Loop: From the mind, via various components of matter back to the mind.
But instead of talking about a particle that exist in a certain place at a certain time,
we could just as well talk about whether certain positions in space are occupied
at certain times. Is (x,y,z) occupied at time t ?
Then reality is just numbers. And numbers can be represented by abstract sets.
But mathematical objects are mental constructs - thoughts and ideas.
I.e. if we follow reductionism all the way down we end up, not with string theory
or likewise, but with pure mathematical objects (numbers and sets). Which are mental entities.
Reality ends up being nothing but mental representations, even down to the deepest levels.
Loop 2 - Nothing at all is fundamental.
When we analyze the world in terms of smaller and smaller constituents we eventually
reach the quantum level. But we don't ground our observations in the very small,
but at readings made by non-quantum high level things.
When we explain what is going on in the quantum world, when a wave function collapses
into an electron hitting a phosphor screen, we ground it in readings
by non-quantum material things.
Loop: From the macroscopic to the microscopic and
then back to the macroscopic level.
We don't say that the quantum world is fundamental,
rather we say that the measuring device is fundamental (but the measuring device
is made of quantum stuff so we can't really do that either).
- The electron is described based on measuring devices, so the electron is not fundamental.
- But a measuring device is made of quantum particles, so it is not fundamental either.
With everything based on something else, nothing is fundamental.
- What is fundamental is not material.
- Nothing at all is fundamental.
And there is great comment by Mark Harrison in NewScientist one week later:
Reality might be just a computer simulation:
For more about global computer simulations see my post The Simulation Argument.
There are two strategies to reduce processing requirements:
The first is the use of probabilities, and the second is the special
position given to observers (conscious occupants of the simulation).
Consider a tree in a forest. While unobserved, we would not want to
model it in full detail. We would only assign probabilities. Only when
observed would these probabilities need to be resolved.
By probing the quantum world we see the limitations of the simulation...
Reality: Plants sense their environments and react accordingly...
People might not be comfortable by the idea that plants see, hear,
smell, taste and touch.
- but in a NewScientist cover-story (August 25th, 2012) by
Daniel Chamovitz plants seems to be not so different from us.
Sight: Plants bend to the light as hungry for the sun's rays.
They do this using phototropins - light receptors in the membranes of cells in the
plants tip. When they sense light, hormonal signals are sent out in the plant that causes the plant to bend towards
Touch: All plants can sense mechanical forces to some degres. Just think of the
carnivorous Venus flytrap. It knows when to shut because it
feels its prey touch large hairs on its trap.
Smell: Smell allows plants to communicate. In some cases trees
send signals to other trees about certain dangers (such as caterpillar infestation).
Priming healthy trees to prepare for imminent attack.
Taste: Plants can use underground chemical messages to
communicate between each other. Sending messages about e.g. lack of water
from root to root (probably in the form of a soluble molecule).
Hearing: Corn roots apparently grow towards specific
frequencies of vibrations. And the roots might even be sending out
sound signals themselves (according to Stefano Mancuso from the University of Florence).
Even though noone knows how the plants might send these signals ...
Reality, October 2012.
- Shanghai, towards the Blade Runner year 2019 and beyond.
For more, see my Shanghai PhotoBlog.
Brilliant article in this weeks (Oct. 6th 2012) NewScientist about memories.
We are all collections of memories. They dictate how we think, act and make decisions,
and even define our identity.
But why are our memories so unreliable? Why do we sometimes ''remember''
events that never actually took place?
Memory researchers believe that might be:
That human memory didn't evolve so that we could remember, but to allow
us to imagine what might be...
From that perspective a lot of things start to make sense....
For more, see my Notes about memories (FolkeUniversitet 2011).
That deals with issues like:
- Memories and Childhood.
- Purpose of Memories.
- Memories and Culture.
- Memories and Identity.
And btw. Just how do our memories compare to todays PCs?
We can remember about 7 pieces of information at any one time.
If the brain processed binary information like a computer
(with each synapse holding a single bit of information) we could
store roughly 12.000 GB.
Memorising a substantial work of e.g. litterature takes years.
A mid-range computer may hold 6 GB in its random access memory (RAM).
A mid-range computers harddrive stores approximately 500 GB.
Which makes it possible to store Moby Dick 400.000 times.
Memorising a substantial work of e.g. litterature takes about 0.5 seconds.