The Beginning Disguised as an End

“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

So the semester is officially over. There will be no more caffeine and will-power fueled discussions when I would sort of rather be snuggled on my sofa watching Grey’s Anatomy. I have no idea where the last three months of my life have gone but I know I learned a lot more and a lot less than I expected. I did not learn the names of more than 3 names in psychology, I did not learn dates and achievements, but I did learn a lot about the world. From within the four walls of LMX219 I have questioned some of my most fundamental assumptions, coming up with a lot more questions than answers, and really only apparently learning that certainty is complete and total bullshit. A thought that should serve me well in life in general.

We’ve tackled some pretty big questions, and as Claude so cogently pointed out – few of us posed questions, most sought answers. For me this only resulted in more questions. But let’s look at the Big Questions Directory:

  1. What is psychology?
  2. What is science?
  3. Is Psychology a science?
  4. What are the flaws with science?
  5. Do we ever know anything?

I was going to source back to the answers to these, but I realized that these were evolving answers, like knowledge in general, as time passed I evolved the answers got into finer detail, brought up the things that really bugged me, like emotions, multiple times. You want my answers? My thoughts still in development? Start here.

What’s really funny for me is that from all the talk of magic and thinly veiled, perhaps unknowing references, the most significant and valuable lesson I learned from this course is that life really is Harry Potter.

No seriously, hear me out.

Gateway to the ShireEvidence:

  • Science was often discussed as magic, don’t believe me – ask Google.
  • Way back, we were told to go home and sit in front of our toilets – why? Because he wanted us to go into the Chamber of Secrets. Or gain access to the Ministry of Magic (I didn’t know the toilets fed into D’Orio and Marion, I thought Marion only had the gateway to the Shire.) Really, which is all a giant metaphor for our access to knowledge and awareness – he wanted us to reveal the dirty, messy truth of life
  • There was talk of divination
  • Science does a lot of stuff that no one knows how – they just do it.
  • The scientists hide away in their secret labs – kind of like Hogwarts no?
  • Herbology = botany, potions=chemistry, charms = physics; best of all – History and Systems = Defense Against the Dark Arts, complete with a Claude-Lupin parallel.
  • My cross-cultural prof and forensic psych profs both brought up Harry Potter completely unprovoked – cross-cultural pointed out how strange it would be if he walked in in the robes like they wear in Harry Potter.
  • There are certain behaviours that are often classed as unforgiveable – just like the unforgiveable curses – for example, we don’t like psychopaths, because they try to control us (ahem, Imperio!) and am I the only one who classed Voldemort as a psychopath?! We’re also not such big fans of murderers or people who knowingly make people suffer pain. When thinking of the big unforgiveables in society, really those are the big universals
  • taken from teeturtle.com

    taken from teeturtle.com

    Look at the four houses – they are based on core personality traits and diagnostic categories – Slytherin for example are quite obviously the psychopaths, Ravenclaws are extremely smart (IQ), Griffindor are the highly loyal and brave, and then there’s Hufflepuff, which I could probably label too but really function as comic relief, they are the opposite of Ravenclaw

  • Notice how Harry’s mother’s love provided a shield against evil, not saying science is evil, just that traditional magic (science) could not account for the old magic (love and emotions) much in the way that I have argued that the area that science cannot explain is love and emotions.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point.

Moving on.

While I intend to continue on with this exploration and questioning, both from my notes as well as from readings of material that provoke more question, I feel like I should at this point go over some closing thoughts for the course. Because let’s face it, from here I have no idea what I am doing or how I’m going to do it. I am however working on pieces on emotions and on what the brain does, so check back in the coming weeks!

A general discrepancy between what science should be and what it is was present in most of the course, and now that I am reflecting back on the course, that was the ultimate point.

The difference between what is and what should be – the failed expectations.

See science is lovely, in theory, it works out perfectly, it is a very powerful system if it works but the problem is that it essentially relies on assumptions. Like I talked about – it measures a few singularities and then leaps to the general. Which is somewhat logical – the classic “If Socrates is a man and all men are mortal then Socrates is mortal.” But the problem is that we don’t really know anything, we just pretend to.

Then life gets in an muddles everything.

Science tries to eliminate emotions, to eliminate humanity to a degree because it mutates what is potentially an all powerful system into a believable, but vulnerable, system – it creates flaws that dent its utility. Just like us. What surprises me is how science tries to deny its flaws. It expects to be rational, it labels emotions, the essence of humanity, as irrational or problematic for some other reason. Essentially, it seems to me that scientists attempt to pathologize humanity in an attempt to deify itself – to perfect our exploration and development of knowledge. Accepting that we cannot be completely unbiased, that emotions colour everything (perhaps the source of the colour associations with emotions? Just a thought), then you have to accept that our expectations are baseless and we are helpless to find reality and truth.

But see the thing is that just because we might be wrong, doesn’t mean we cannot be right. It just means that you should not be too convinced that you have found a truth unless you are prepared that you may have found nothing more than a stepping stone, a false truth.

We become frustrated in life when what we expected to happen fails. We want to believe we are as powerful as our thoughts. We come equipped with all this big beautiful brain power, we have the capacity to understand limitless possibilities, imagine things that don’t exist yet. But I was watching Grey’s Anatomy last night and an interesting thought came up

“We’ll try again, and we’ll going to fail again, because that’s what progress looks like.”
“Progress looks like a dead sheep?”
“No, progress looks like a bunch of failures.”

Word. Thanks Grey’s. And my parents told me TV rots your brain. Pft.

calvin-and-hobbes ontologicalThis course has allowed me to question everything I know, even the things I didn’t know I didn’t know. This has not weakened my faith in psychology, one course could not do that. It has given me an appreciation for the issues and complexities and has taught me that this is the tragedy of human life. We come equipped with the power to learn anything, but we are limited by time, our existing knowledge, and the currently available explanations.

We talked about science versus art versus … something else? And I realized that science, because it believes in its methods, when it fails blames the technology, when it can’t find an answer it’s because the technology, the tools, have not developed enough to meet the ideas of the scientist’s mind. Art doesn’t really fail per say, except perhaps in trying to convey the message, except, art is almost more about what you do see than what you were supposed to see. Art does not have an expectations necessarily, it is developed over time, and what comes out of it, appreciated by the artist, if they really hate it, it’s their fault, or maybe just a lack of inspiration, a lack of a light inside themselves. Then there’s the grey areas like psychology. I hate to call it an art, because I think in society’s mind that makes it less legitimate, but it’s not always as cold and methodical as science, it requires more intuition and humanity than that. See when science fails it blames the technology, but if psychology does the same – it blames the technology, for me that says that all humanity is the same. It denies that it failed not because the technology doesn’t exist but because the same patterns cannot be found because humanity is not a set of carbon atoms (well we are. But not really. At least for me. I am sure the Brain Campers would have something to say about this) – so we’re not going to be identical, patterns are going to be harder to find, expectations more frequently denied. End game? Psychology is a science in it’s methods, but an art in its conclusions and applications.

In understanding expectations versus reality I realized how this explains everything.

Depression becomes a realization that our expectations and reality don’t match.

Schizophrenia, a refusal to accept this.

Anxiety, a fear that because of this we are not the foolproof dieties we want to be. A realization that our brain allows us to imagine beyond our lifetime, but that we have a lifetime.

Science, an attempt to deny this, by rigidly controlling how we make expectations.

Art, the realization and expression of this beauty and pain through some medium – baring our humanity to the world.

Psychology an attempt to figure out what this expectation-reality discrepancy means to us, and attempt to accept it and bring peace to our existence.

We can’t be perfect. Life isn’t perfect. Sometimes things go horribly and painfully wrong. And there is nothing we can do about it. The problem of science is the same problem humanity has faced for years – the problem that we are stuck in this loop of thinking we know and then realizing that we don’t. This is life and the course and this is my realization of the course. The last AHA! Moment of the semester!

I’ve still got a fair amount of material I’m working on, but I’d love to hear from you. Send me your suggestions, let me know what you think.

“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.”

― Voltaire

Psych, Psyche, Psycho, Psychic?

“I don’t believe that consciousness is generated by the brain. I believe that the brain is more of a receiver of consciousness.”

― Graham Hancock

Ladies and gents, go get some paper towel because your mind is about to be blown.

Mindblown

Like this is big. I wrote a piece sort of in advance (mostly because I realized that my post was getting too long) that I planned on using this week. I came to some pretty big insights into the function of psychology and why we accept the flawed system and how the system is still incredibly useful. The level of insight I am feeling now relative to then is like the difference between a firecracker and the atomic bomb.

The Psyche

As I mentioned last week this week we got into the depth of what is psychology, and while last week I got caught up in justifying all the systems – the education system, the system of psychology, the system of science – I think it is important at this point to talk about what is the psyche? Or so Claude drew me back to. This very quickly developed into a debate of the brain versus… something else?? One student raised the concept of the soul as the psyche, the brain camp quickly fired back that no – everything is a function of the central nervous system (CNS), and just for fun, I threw in the grey area of something that, I believe, cannot be boiled down to a set of neurotransmitters and electrical impulses, neurons depolarizing while still refusing the concept of a soul that transcends our being. 

I think at the time this was taken as I lie in the soul camp.

I don’t.

It sounds incredibly sad, and atheistic, and I want to make it clear that I am not out to question anyone’s religious beliefs, nor am I atheist – I was raised Catholic, but I have come to develop my own belief system, independent of any church. Which really I guess is atheism in the general public’s mind (which I argue shouldn’t be taken as a bad thing). Except I do believe in a higher power, something bigger than ourselves. I just don’t quite know what I expect this higher power to do. Some may argue that this sort of system is almost at complete odds with science – how can you believe religion when it defies all tenets of science? Answer – I can believe in the power and importance of science, while acknowledging that it hasn’t figured everything out yet, and there are some things it seems unable to figure out – there is still an explanation, but not everything needs to be explained.

So, all those qualifiers and asides… aside… why do I not hang out with the soul camp if I appeal to an area that science can never, in my mind, truly explain? Because I don’t believe that anything happens after death. When you die, I do not believe in reincarnation (though it creates a wonderful idea, an opportunity to repair your mistakes, find your “soul mate” whatever that actually means), I do not believe in some afterlife. When you die, people’s memories of you live on, if you’re famous, you may live on in textbooks, but eventually every trace of you is gone. When you die, everything that is you, dies too. All that is left is the memories of who you were.

Which suggests that I would find a better fit within the brain camp – if there is nothing intangible to continue on then everything must be housed in the brain.

No.

There is something that goes beyond the neurons, the connections alone are too vast to be coded by DNA, perhaps the environment takes over from there, but babies are born with a personality (or so we are told). At least they are born with a temperament, which evolves into personality which is supposedly unchangeable. So maybe personality is just the more describable version of temperament, ascribed only due to how we as a culture ascribes the behaviour. It is temperament once those around us have had sufficient experience with us to describe us on broader terms.

Call it what you will – Call it life force, call it your essence, your personality, your you-ness. I simply believe that there is something that goes beyond the brain, but that which is dependent on the vitality of our systems, and impacted by the activities of your brain. Two gears working together that require the same engine to function.

So I don’t seem to have blown any minds yet. Heck I don’t even appear to have come to any conclusion other than I don’t like options A or B, give me a new option. Stick with me – we have to build up to the mountain peak before you can experience the awe.

This is the screen shot for this video. Watch it. Watch all of them.

This is the screen shot for this video. Watch it. Watch all of them.

The idea of a continuum was raised, which I think fits beautifully with my desire to give a only semi-concrete answer to what is the psyche. I lie closer to the brain end, but barely past middle.

The point was raised that we are essentially big giant bundles of carbon. True. Somewhat depressing, but true nonetheless. So at what point did we decide that the soul exists? At one point in the arrangement of carbon did we decide that something more than the brain existed? We claim cats and dogs can’t have the same emotions we have, but they have the same brain structures – they too have an amygdala (the supposed seat of emotion in humans) so why not emotions? We assume they do not experience emotions by entirely subjective observations and assumptions. We don’t know they don’t think and feel, they communicate in a way that cannot be converted to any known language so we assume they don’t think. The anthropomorphism debate is probably better left alone for now – I raise it only to bolster the implied argument that the existence of anything other than the soul is incredibly arbitrary.

Perhaps it is the result of some evolutionary hat trick – the one that allowed us “higher thinking” – we at some point developed a brain structure that allowed us to meditate on the functions of our brain?

But if the brain is the end game why would it create a sort of separate state of awareness and experience. For example, we talked about colour being in your brain versus your experience of the colour and the objective firing pattern of neurons, your experiences associate with specific colours. At this point the wise ass joke was made when Claude asked if “redness” was in your brain, to which, “well yeah, it’s pretty bloody in there” was given as a response.

I see what you did thereSo I arrive at the first major mind-blow of the night: Perhaps the mind was something that was invented to protect us from the terror of the unknown. In the same way, that I believe we create an afterlife because the concept that we will cease to exist is too much for us to handle, I realized that perhaps the mind was something I can believe in because without it we are powerless. If I accept that all that we are and do is because of a complex set of neurotransmitters and electrical impulses, then there essentially is nothing I can do to control anything. That is terrifying. We need to predict, in my mind, because we need to feel like we have some control, some ability to influence our environment. And I would argue that we cannot doubt that we can influence the environment. Or at least my theory has yet to be proven wrong. If I want everyone in Starbucks to start looking at me, I can say with reasonable certainty that standing on my chair and screaming at the top of my lungs will do the trick. I can “make” people look at me. I can control something. If my neurons tell me what to do, I can decide to do nothing. I am helpless, at the whim of the availability of neurotransmitters and neuron depolarization. 

In that sense perhaps the mind was a creation from before we could grasp the capacities of the human brain, before we had the technology to see the brain and all it’s power of computation. We need to know something about why we do what we do, we cannot accept our ignorance, yet the knowledge is too much for us to grasp. And yet the brain in its survival of the fittest goals would have us keep this knowledge to ourselves, but we don’t we share it and develop these every expanding extensions of our mind. As a great video from Jason Silva (seriously get more paper towel and go check him out on YouTube or TestTube Shots of Awe) pointed out – we are finding new ways to remove our intelligence from the confines of the human brain – create it in other substrates. The awe of human creation for me means that there has to be something else. We have to believe that there is something else, because to believe otherwise bursts the bubble on the philosophical question of “why am I here?”

Which is a powerful thought and realization for me, I was quite impressed with myself. Not bad But then I realized, wait why would the brain, if it is so powerful, give off some of it’s control to another entity. Why would it create something that would allow us to question it? What would the use of such a system be? Which I suppose strengthens my conclusion that there must have always been this mind – and really who can argue it wasn’t. It is an essentially irrefutable argument. I choose to see it as a theory that has yet to be disproved. I just don’t know how it would be disproved.

Or maybe the brain kids are right. I also entertained the possibility, that since the frontal cortex is praised as the epitome of higher thought, it is like a specific division of our brain that tells our brain how to interpret the stimuli? But perception and processing areas are all so spread out? Maybe we process, then send the info to a central analysis centre where we derive meaning from the processed input?

I will admit, I’m not really 100% on board with that explanation, doesn’t entirely fit with my concepts of the nature of experience and reflecting on the experiences.

Psychology as a Science?

Psychology is awash with terms that describe something that in no way can be measured, which has lead to two camps. The first accepts that we are using subjective or proximal indicators, but that allows things to go unexplained and allows for potential error. The second camp, argues that by studying the brain we can explain everything in concrete, objective terms – except it can’t explain everything, or at least the general population will never accept all of its explanations entirely. And it tries to ignore the fact that there are vast variations between individuals on the activity of the brain – it tries to deny the frustration of the individual in science. They can’t pin down the science enough to make it any more useful in explaining behaviour and creating useful generalities than the first camp. But oh, it’s science, it is measuring something much more concrete and objective

I prefer to take the sampler tray, and admit that some things neurosciences can explain – there are certain correlates between behaviour and brain activity. But this boggles my mind – in psychology we talk all the time about how correlation does not indicate causation, and yet the brain campers, on the basis of correlations seem to be suggesting that the brain activity precedes and creates the experiences of say love.

say whaaatApparently correlation=causation is the kind of stuff they accept in “science,” sweet, rigorous, careful, science.

So let’s return briefly to what is science?

  • the testing and validating of our generalities (in which case psychology is a science)
  • strict standards for measurement and evaluation of data (which is somewhat arbitrary – each field has it’s own standards for how likely or how frequently the null must be voided )
  • convincing everyone else that you are right (in which case arguably English essays are a sort of research report)

I took Claude’s advice and asked a science major the answer:

“Error bars – each field accepts progressively larger error bars, biology has the biggest error bars that should be accepted, psychology as a field accepts too big an error bar”

Doesn’t seem like a very scienc-y answer to me. And at any rate, the pharmacologists can never state anything for certain either, if the issue is that psychology is simply more accepting of the human condition, and the knowledge that we can know nothing, then the argument of psychology not being a science is pretty lame.

So I went to the chemistry building to find someone to give me an answer, all the doors were closed. Will continue that mission later

Google told me:

Good answer Google

Good answer Google

Thanks wikipedia

Thanks wikipedia

The Hard Problem

skeptical african

So you’re telling me, that you use what proves you wrong as proof that you are right?

Simply put, the Hard Problem (an idea I already had, now I knew the name) asks how can the brain activity explain experience? How can the depolarization of neurons explain how we experience things?

Theoretically neurons should react the same way to the same stimulus, but they don’t. So science argues that people have different sensitivities. So science uses the inherent individuality of it’s subject matter to explain the generalities of it’s subject matter.

Building on this, it was raised by Claude tonight, that you cannot put a brain up to a painting and have it communicate an experience. To which I raised a mental point – but we can trigger hallucinations by stimulating neurons? Which somewhat bolsters the idea that maybe we are just a hot mess of neurons, and we’re back at the idea that we created the idea of the mind, because the idea that this is the case, is too much. Like the concept of mortality is too much so we have created an afterlife, and a religion that promises a sort of immortality.

But if the brain is responsible (assuming an evolutionary perspective) for protecting us from harm, why did the capacity for such complex and harmful emotions come up – why would it create the possibility of love, when with this also comes the possibility of deep heart-wrenching heartbreak and loss. Why would it allow us to feel sorrow and rage?

Ultimate point it comes down to for me – we cannot know for sure what does and does not exist. The concept of the mind, appears to be somewhat like religion – it cannot really be disproved, because it cannot be separated from it’s opponent – the brain. There is no way of knowing for certain.

Expanding once more on this – the brain perceives itself – thus perception is inherently biased, both the brain and the mind become hypotheses, that only in death can be proved or disproved. Once we die, so does the brain – it ceases to exist. What makes it the possible source of intelligence, thought, and you-ness is no longer functioning. It cannot exist.

To bolster this view is the concept of mental illness. Science has not found a way to diagnose someone of, say depression, or eating disorders, exclusively on patterns of brain activity – because as mentioned above, it is too variable. The only thing neuroscience can diagnose is the dementias because they have an actual, biological cause, there is something concrete that you can observe. Things like depression are diagnosed not on the presence of some brain chemistry, it is diagnosed based on the feelings, and yes to a degree the somatic symptoms, but the feelings are required, the physical symptoms are considered to be side effects in a sense of depression.

A brain scan cannot capture all the thoughts and worries an individual has. It cannot show or tell anything. It knows nothing beyond the electrical signals, and it doesn’t even fully understand those.

This is truly a thing of beauty taken from here

This is truly a thing of beauty
taken from here

BAM! Another mind explosion.

Emotions and such phenomena as the placebo effect were discussed tonight as biological – but then why do the drugs that treat depression not act as quickly as the placebo effect? Why have we evolved a need for these drugs? Perhaps if evolution had its way there would be no treatment, those whose brain chemistry or neural pathways were improperly assembled would die off. Which sounds callous. But I mean it in the nicest possible way – I raise it to point out that we have found a way around the problems of our brain. Has our brain manufactured them? Maybe. That’s something I cannot resolve. Going back to emotions – they can change on a dime. I know the speed at which the brain can process information, it is truly astounding, but how do emotions arise? We know where emotions are located, why we experience things such as fear, but not how they are created. Is it that we do not have the technology yet to discover this? Maybe. After all we used to believe the heart to be the seat of the soul – the site of thought and emotion, we no have demoted the heart to a pumping position, and went to the higher ups 😉 hehehe.

Perhaps one day science will find a way to disprove the theory of the mind, but until then, I will believe in this sort of consciousness, me-ness, thought bank, that is beyond the power of my genes and neurons.

What is the psyche that psychology is after?

It is the sum of the powers of the brain, and the attempt at understanding that which goes beyond the brain. The human experience. Call it a soul, call it consciousness, or you-ness, call it flipenflagen – there is something that science cannot explain yet, and until it can, if it can, there has to be something beyond the neurons.

A cogent explanation can be found from Shots of Awe, discussing singularity- Sylva argues that “religious myths reflect our yearnings to transcend our limits.” A way to deal with the fact that “with our minds we can ponder the infinite, yet we are housed in these heart pumping, breath gasping, decaying body.” Check it out here.

I found this from Dishing It Up Daily, but I was unable to track down the original source, which appears to be a tumblr account know-knowledge? Either way add to this that maps of the internet look like the same maps of the universe and neurons and you can see how connected these concepts and perceptions are - how the internet is an expansion on our own minds, one that has gone beyond the capacity of any one mind

I found this from Dishing It Up Daily, but I was unable to track down the original source, which appears to be a tumblr account know-knowledge?
Either way add to this that maps of the internet look like the same maps of the universe and neurons and you can see how connected these concepts and perceptions are – how the internet is an expansion on our own minds, one that has gone beyond the capacity of any one mind

So what is psychology? It is the study of everything man can and cannot know, attempting to converge the two into one coherent understanding of the universe, man, and reality. It is both the study of the concrete and measurable brain activity and behaviours, and the study of the unknowable state of the mental world of the individual. Attempting to understand how the two converge into one being.

“Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever.”

― Ernest Becker

Cyclones of Knowledge: Perpetual Cycles of False Certainty and Predicting the Unpredicatable

“The idea that the future is unpredictable is undermined every day by the ease with which the past is explained.”

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

And the Harry Potter references continue. This week it was in the discussion of divination and how science is magic. At least one thing is standing the test of time.

Beyond my near constant search for Harry Potter references, this week was actually pretty big for me.

I present to you the cyclone of knowledge. No I did not have my nephew draw it. I just have the same level of artistic skill.

I present to you the cyclone of knowledge. No I did not have my nephew draw it. I just have the same level of artistic skill.

The class finally caught up to my realization from a month ago that the accumulation of knowledge is like a cyclone. Well they said spiral, but given how messy my thought process is, a cyclone seemed more appropriate analogy. From there we went into a discussion of how this cycle works and what differentiates predicting from the sensory-motor level and if prediction is even necessary.

To me the logical answer is of course we need to predict. It’s how we survive, how the animals survive. The problem for me becomes that if predicting is something even the animals can do, what separates us from the animals? If animals can predict, and rely on some form of prediction to survive, and they clearly have perceptual skills of sorts, then are we essentially no different than animals? Well that can’t be the case. There has to be something.

We often argue that it is our capacity for “higher thought,” but what does “higher thought” mean? It’s a term that is raised often enough in all my classes, but we never really talk about what it means. It’s like “inborn” or “Western.” Professors just sprinkle them like fairy dust, and we all nod and smile. Of course, the behaviour is inborn. Yes, Western psychology is different from East. No we don’t care where “west” is.

At the end of the discussion I was no closer to determining what separates us from the animals. I think that it probably that we try to predict more than is warranted. Or that we are capable of a wider range of emotions. That we can think about thinking instead of simply being. Probably aimed at improving our survival rates, though given the frequency with which humans suffer “mental health” problems I would argue that it is not doing such a great job. But still it has allowed us to develop art; we’ve invented cars, and computers; and we’ve found ways to map the essence of humanity (the human genome). So all that “higher thought” can’t be entirely useless, but still, animals have complex mating patterns, birds migrate thousands of miles and hide seeds in hundreds of locations and apparently never forget where a single one is. So creative and unique thoughts and behaviours can’t really be “higher thinking,” and it can’t be the thing that separates us from the animals. But then what is it? Is there anything other than our belief that we are superior to animals? Maybe our capacity to see and imagine things that we have never seen? The ability to praise an unseen God? The need for that unseen higher power?

Of course, this is all speculative, because no one can say for certain that animals don’t have this capacity, or that they do not have similar thoughts. It could arguably be boiled down to a capability-performance distinction.

Perhaps that is what our more developed brain is for. We have used it for various things, including invention and religion, but maybe that is the core of higher-order thought processes – we think beyond what has been, in a non-evolutionary way (thus excluding reflexes and species specific behaviours including stranger fear that we cannot explain). And we hold those predictions and beliefs despite lack of evidence, and on occasion despite evidence that our predictions and beliefs are false. So higher order thought=the ability to be guess at the future and being overly confident in things we can’t see? DIVINATION! And we’re back to Harry Potter.

Do you see what this class has done to me? I am now convinced that I am essentially no different than my cat other than an ability to believe and imagine things that have never been and may never be.

coffee posterThis seems to answer the question of what the human mind is for – i.e. is it exclusively a predicting machine? – but it doesn’t really. Our beliefs in an unseen reality could be argued at predicting, or they could be argued that the human mind also exists to create new ideas and bonds, thus not necessarily predicting the future, but creating it. An inherent belief that we can control such things.

Returning to the concept of the necessity of prediction that started this whole mess – if I believe, as I do, that predictions are crucial to survival,  does this mean that all predictions are based on survival needs? No. Predicting the speed at which a car is travelling towards me and the likelihood that said car will hit me is survival based.  Predicting that my Keurig will drip/pour coffee into my mug when I push the “brew” button is a prediction, but I survived the first twenty years of my life without coffee. Thus that prediction has nothing to do with my survival and everything to do with.. well my conditioned need for coffee. But also, potentially this exposes another class of predictive reasoning – the need to understand the world – presumably out of some need for control.

Part of our predictions lies on the inanimate objects in our environment that have no will, and thus simple principles of physics really, but part of our environment is also with living organisms that can choose to act or react as they please. Thus can we truly predict? Assuming predicting is synonymous with expecting, then yes, based on prior experience, we can form expectations of how people will react. But those are potentially flawed predictions. There is always the potential for some confounding variable to interfere with our predictions, our predictions could be based on flawed understandings or premises. A whole host of factors exist that diminish our ability to predict accurately. So if we can so easily make false predictions, is the utility of predictions also lost? Or do these flawed predictions also have a use? Assuming they are not so flawed that they result in our death, our errors in predictions, signaled by some sensory-motor input that contradicts the input we were expecting, show us how to improve our ideas and understanding of the world, which potentially improves our odds of survival.

Assuming you accept that the evidence that they were flawed in the first place.

What if you don’t? What if just as we refused to believe that the Earth was not flat and does not revolve around the sun, or that evolution is a thing – we resisted the predictions others made persistently? If we resisted incorporating knowledge of others into our own predictions and understandings?

This poses a challenge. As we discussed tonight, science is about inductions (moving from the specific to the general), which is inherently allogical. What passes for science and fact varies across generations – is this species wide engagement in our “cyclone of knowledge” or a perpetual cycle of false beliefs? Too bad there’s no logical and infallible way of determining which is the case.

But the way I see it, three scenarios exist:

  1. We got it right. We are correctly refusing to incorporate false knowledge into our predictive schemas and correctly accepting appropriate modifications.
  2. We got it wrong. We are rejecting correct information on the basis of its conflict with our false beliefs, or we are naively accepting inaccurate information.
  3. We have no clue what we’re doing. We just incorporate on whim and hope it doesn’t kill us.

In an ideal world it would always be scenario one – we would always be adhering to pure fact. It is the aim of virtually every science. For two years in stats I had it drilled in my head, reduce error! Always find better ways to be more accurate. I also had it drilled in that an error rate of zero is suspicious. We acknowledge that perfection is impossible, so we will do our best, hope our best was done right, and accept that that is all we can do.

Worst case scenario – case three is the true state. Albeit it is very unlikely, it is a case more commonly attributed to pill bugs that will scurry when you turn on a light without any sense of direction or strategy. Case two is ineffective though, predictive schemas that aren’t truly functional are essentially useless. And all our mental power can’t be for nothing. Then again our belief that case one is usually the case, may just be a byproduct of case two at play.

Have fun with that. And I said I hated philosophy.

Where does this leave us?

  1. The human mind isn’t only about predicting – it is also for understanding and imagining that which has yet to be.
  2. Predictions are only as accurate as the premises they rest on, which we can never be truly sure of.
  3. Predictions, even flawed ones, still have a use – we need to have some sense that we know where we are going and what we are doing.
  4. If our predictions are truly dysfunctional we will die or their predictive schemas will be adjusted. If we don’t we assume it is a sign of mental illness and we see to fix it.
  5. Predictions are based on an attempt to generalize the past experience and knowledge into our experience of the presence and expectations of the future.

But how do we predict that which we have never experienced? Especially when we have not made the effort to gather information. Take for example – my first half marathon – I made my way to the start line because that seemed like a good place to start (haha pun) and I knew I had to walk, but before that moment, I did not know what to expect at the start, I did not know the emotions I would feel, what it would look like from the middle of the crowd. Is the unknown what generates anxiety? The inability to predict? An interesting thought.

I think I have caused enough of a mind warp for now.

I posted the offer to Facebook, but aside from the possibility to believe in things that can’t be seen or that have yet to be seen – if anyone can propose a valid and well supported reason we differ from the animals, I will hand deliver a batch of Oatmeal Chocolate Cheesecake Cookies. Or do we not differ? Tell me what you think down below!

“When the number of factors coming into play in a phenomenological complex is too large scientific method in most cases fails. One need only think of the weather, in which case the prediction even for a few days ahead is impossible.”

Albert Einstein