Saturday, October 22, 2016

{M}anifesto :: Commentary on the enigmas of {M}

Commentary on the enigmas of {M}

{M} is pronounced “em” like the letter. The curly braces come from set theory. The idea is that {M} is the collection of all the works of art that help viewers directly experience the workings of their MINDS. The result is a simple logo that is easy to make on any keyboard.
The enigmas are the fundamental ideas of {M}. The word “enigma” was chosen because it resembles “dogma” and “pragma” which are words used for the rules and recommended practices of {M}.

The enigmas are not new. They can be found in religion, mysticism, philosophy and psychology. The idea that the world is constructed by the mind is almost universal among scientists who study perception and cognition. Note that I have written “mind” and not “brain”. Although I firmly believe that the mind has the brain as its substrate and emerges from the activity of neurons, I don’t see why {M} has to be based on this belief. It makes no difference if the idea of mind in {M} is based on the brain or is viewed as somehow existing independently of the brain.
An enigma is a kind of mystery. The enigmas of {M} deal with the relationships between the mind, our constructions in our minds of the world, and a somewhat mysterious external world. Much of what occurs in all this is hidden from our conscious, hence is enigmatic. 
  • imperfect and incomplete sensory inputs.
  • filling in missing parts, correcting distortions and adding things.
The following illustrations come from visual perception, but you can be sure that the other senses have their own lack of completion, distortions, and fabrications.
The retina of the eye has a blind spot, where the optic nerve connects. In the left eye, it is a little to the left of the center of vision. You don’t see it because the brain fills it in with a kind of wallpaper that looks like whatever is near the blind spot. The center of vision, called the fovea, shows very fine details. Away from the fovea, the retina has fewer sensors and the resolution of the image in the retina becomes more and more degraded. At the periphery of vision, only the overall shapes of things are visible. Yet the brain takes this mostly sketchy information and creates a highly detailed picture of external reality.
Optical illusions...
There is a wonderful psychological experiment in which subjects are asked to watch a video of a group of people passing basketballs to each other. There are really two groups, one in white shorts, the other on black. The subjects are asked to count the number of times a white shirt passes a ball to another white shirt. This requires so much focus that the majority of subjects fail to notice the person in a gorilla suit who saunters into the scene, beats their chest with their fists and saunters out. 
When dreaming, the visual cortex in the brain is very active, creating detailed visual images, without any sensory input. 
  1. The systems in the mind which construct and interpret the external world do so almost entirely unconsciously.
No one is sure what consciousness is for, but it does seem to have limits on how many things it can pay attention to. All that the mind does in constructing the world is done by a huge number of parallel processes, vastly more than consciousness could be aware of. Most processes in the mind have to be unconscious.
  1. Deciding on and initiating actions are also largely unconscious
Scanning the brain of a person deciding to initiate some kind of action show an “action potential” occurring about half a second before the person is conscious of initiating the action. It seems the decision to act has been made unconsciously and then becomes conscious. 
Sometimes one is aware of an impulse to act arising from who knows where which one then vetoes because it is obviously foolish, hurtful or unethical. This lends weight to the idea that consciousness is a kind of clearinghouse for all sorts of unconscious processes. Sometimes one is aware of two conflicting impulses to act (very often two or more possible words to say) and then has to consciously choose one.
  1. interface … through which the unconscious communicates
 When speaking, one puts thought into words by selecting the words and organizing them into a structure based on parts of speech and relationships, that is to say—syntax. One is not conscious of this process, that seems to be done by many different parts of the mind simultaneously, in parallel. The utterance is delivered somehow from the unconscious to consciousness, and the interface is what connects the first to the second.
When one has a gut reaction to something, say, a feeling of discomfort about a person, this is the unconscious communicating something to consciousness. There is constant communication at the periphery of consciousness, which brings unconscious things into consciousness, but the actual feelings, images, words are usually more or less ignored. They stay in the periphery, unless an effort is made to pay attention to them. 
  1. The true nature of the external world is unknowable.
Often people who promote the idea that the mind constructs the world also claim that there is no external reality. I prefer to say that we can only know our internal construction of external reality, but that there is an external reality on which our construction is based. We can’t  know what  it is really like. We construct our realities out of separate things and events but external reality is not made of things and events. These are categories our minds make. External reality has no categories and we cannot imagine what it really is.
Metaphysical solipsism is the philosophical position that only one’s mind exists. There is no external reality nor other minds. Apart from the fact that my gut reaction is to disbelieve this, I also find it hard to believe because when I dream, my mind is cut off from the external world, or, more accurately, from sensory inputs from the external world, and my mind generates a chaotic dream world. One might think the “real world” is chaotic, but relatively speaking the dream world is much more so. If metaphysical solipsism were true then there would be no difference between the real world and the dream world. Both are without anchors, just made up by the mind. So why is the dream world chaotic and the real world relatively orderly? I really must believe there is an (unknowable) external reality that, through sensory inputs to my brain, acts as an anchor.
  1. The self is a construction and its true nature is also unknowable.
It’s like trying to see one’s eye without the aid of a mirror or camera.

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