In my last two posts I introduced Peirce’s phenomenology of thirdness. The American Pragmatists were exploring a perspective of unified emergence that was taking the implications of Darwin’s evolutionary theory into the realm of metaphysics. This work on emergence was continued in America by Alfred North Whitehead and Process Theologians to the present day.
Carl (our Behaviorist in residence) has effectively and admirably countered most of my complaints about behaviorism and tells us that Skinner’s Radical Behaviorism reincorporated the interior of consciousness that had been orphaned by some of the early Behaviorists.
In one of his last posts Carl was saying that some present day Behaviorists aim to find a way to measure thought. I am curious how they will try to measure thought? I assume that it will be through some physiological effect, but this is one of my lingering questions. If thoughts are reduced only to their physiological effects, are we missing something important? I believe that Peirce (and Heidegger) would say yes. The perceived meaning of thoughts is a higher emergence of reality that cannot be reduced to physiological effects at a lower realm of being. That is the basic principle of emergence; lower realms of being give rise to higher realms and the higher realms are dependent on, but not limited to the lower.
One of the classic thought experiments used by emergence thinkers is the common human ability to recognize faces. We are all able to recognize other people’s faces, but if you tried to create a computer program that could do the same you would find it impossible. No matter how many traits of human countenance you identify that can be in some way measured or codified and input into a computer, the computer would never be able to recognize faces with the effectiveness of the human mind.
Emergence thinkers say that this is because the human mind has the ability to take in the entire face and to make distinctions that can’t be reduced to identifiable and measurable traits. In the same way I find it doubtful that we will ever be able to take enough measurements of thoughts to reconstruct their meaning or to be able to unravel the complexities of human behavior. The original artificial intelligence explorers tried to simulate intelligence by collecting separate pieces of data for decades before stalling out. Similarly, I think that the model of the mind as the functioning of electro-chemical impulses in the brain – while certainly in many ways accurate and useful – will not be enough on its own to guide humanity into the future.
Our thinking needs to expand to take on more complexity and interconnectivity. We need to see the wholes that parts are connected to and recognize and work with subtle relationships that cannot be understood one at a time, but as whole interconnected systems. This was the kind of thinking that the American Pragmatists were pushing into. It was an evolutionary philosophy that conceived the universe as a whole that grew and was embracing a universe centered (kosmo-centric) vision of reality.
The next thing that I want to do is take Peirce’s ideas of thirdness and show how they were expanded upon by John Dewey whose philosophy was more socially oriented. In doing this I hope to be able to begin to create the vision of an emergent universe that I believe was held by the pragmatists and is at the heart of evolutionary philosophy and spirituality today.
We count thoughts over time — count per minute, count per hour, or day We discriminate between different types or categories of thoughts, depending on what we are trying to understand and do (e.g., positive thoughts about others, negative thoughts about others, new thoughts, recurring thoughts, etc.). We can count them in categories. We also would perhaps identify thematic content of thoughts and count types of content, if we wanted a very specific categorization and measurement. We’d then look at what happens to thoughts when we introduce something different, e.g., a form of practicing thoughts, some environmental stimulus, reading, talking… Read more »
Great post, Jeff – I agree that we cannot tell the meaning of our thoughts from measuring them in an electro-chemical fashion in the brain – this is a strong argument against the absolute identification of the mind with the physical brain only I’m not sure about thinking of mind as somehow being at a higher level of emergence than the human brain – I prefer to think of the brain and the mind as two sides of the same coin that emerge together in complexity – that way, we remain grounded in physical reality at all times (thereby avoiding… Read more »
I’m reading “Galileo’s Daughter” having never studied Galileo before. The resistance he faced was not only from the church but also from the philosophers, who were not accustomed to trusting emperical evidence. Next on my read list is “Copernicus’ Secret”.
My wife just finished “Galileo’s Daughter” and thought it was excelent. I have that book on my list and am looking forward to it. Carl what you are saying is interesting, especially when you state that… describing events at one level of observation (behavior) by reference to events at another level of observation (physiology), would be in Skinner’s terminology, a “theory.” … I guess what I am asking myself is, if there is a need for theory of that type. My feeling is and has been that there is, but I also know the obvious dangerous of theory which can… Read more »
In a famous paper called “Are Theories of Learning Necessary?” Skinner argued that explaining something at one level of observation by referring to events at another level is not useful, unless you can directly manipulate the latter. In his era, there was very little that one could say about the central nervous system that was not grossly inadequate to explain anything specific in behavior. Today, the functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) people are trying to convince us that brain localization through MRI studies is helpful, but really it’s mostly just kind of interesting, at best. The best neuro scientists recognize that… Read more »
A link to Skinner’s paper, “Are Theories of Learning Necessary.” http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Skinner/Theories/
Carl, thanks for that comment and this link. All of this back and forth seems to be creating more and more clear explanations – or maybe I am learning 🙂 I am looking forward to reading the paper. I think it might help me get beyond some of the questions that I have – which I don’t think are questions only about Behaviorism, but gaps in my own thinking about development, emergence and evolution.
To take a bigger perspective than the details of Skinner’s article or the technical details I have been dipping into, the general idea I have been trying to communicate through all of this is that we can understand the dynamics of the “system” of which we are all a part, the non-dual process of interaction between everything in the universe and everything else. We are the conscious ones, and that involves our inner “behavior” (thoughts and feelings) as well as our outer behavior and the interactions between those types of behavior and everything else (“the environment”). If we can see… Read more »
I just finished reading Skinners article on theory and wanted to set down a few thoughts and check my understanding. I think I get his basic point. Without going into the experimental stuff he presents what he is essentially saying is that in the study of learning it is generally considered that we start with a theory – which means an idea about how we think learning happens – and then we test the theory. He is saying that there are serious negatives to this procedure. Mainly he sees that theories are often dramatically wrong and can lead to lots… Read more »
Hi Nishad, re: ” I prefer to think of the brain and the mind as two sides of the same coin that emerge together in complexity”
Is it perhaps useful to consider the brain as hardware and the mind as software? Our brains enable us to program what we think, something like that?
Anyone, pls comment.
Darwin procrastinated pubishing his theory in consideration of his wife’s religious faith and knowing the waves his theory would cause. Isn’t it incredible that Darwin and Lincoln, two superstars of evolutionary consciousness, were born on the same day? PBS is currently showing the beautiful encomium to “Saint” Lincoln, “Lookin for Lincoln”–a most impressive fitting 21st century TV documentary to our revered president who realized the implications of the preservation of the American Experiment that serves, even with all our shortcomings, to enlighten and inspire other nations about Democracy and the idea that all humans are entitled to the god-given human… Read more »
I stumbled on this fascinating site by writing “thirdness” on my google search. My PhD was earned at Rice University. I have written a book entitled This is My Body which attempts to re-think Merleau-Ponty’s corp vecu usually translated as “lived body”. I was “blown away”, as they say ,when I found what I think are kindred thinkers from whom I can learn and who might be interested in what I think I have re-discovered about being-in-the-world. Perhaps too briefly and crudely stated I contend the following: I am neither a body nor a consciousness. There is no ghost in… Read more »
Hi William, I totally resonate with what you say. I am currently on retreat in Italy, but in a week or so i would love to connect. My email address is email@example.com.