Bundle Theory: Embodied Mind, Social Nature

I was listening to the audio version of Susan Blackmore’s Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction. It’s less than five hours long and so I listened to it multiple times to get a good sense of it. I’ve read plenty about the topic and I’m already generally familiar with the material, but it was still helpful getting an overview.

One part that interested me was about split brain research, something that always interests me. The roles of and relationship between the hemispheres indicates much about how our minds operate. Blackmore discussed one often referenced study where split brain patients had information given separately to each hemisphere in order to see how the individual would explain their behavior. As the left hemisphere typically controls linguistic communication, individuals couldn’t give accurate reasons for what was done by their right hemisphere.

The author wrote that (pp. 72-3),

“In this way, the verbal left brain covered up its ignorance by confabulating. It did the same when the other half was shown an emotional picture – making up a plausible excuse for laughing, smiling, blushing, or whatever emotional reaction had been provoked. This might help to explain how these patients can appear so normal. But it should also make us wonder about ourselves. Our brains consist of lots of relatively independent modules, and the verbal part does not have access to everything that goes on, yet it frequently supplies convincing reasons for our actions. How many of these are plausible confabulations rather than true reasons, and can we tell?

“From these experiments, Sperry concluded that his patients had two conscious entities in one head; each having private sensations and free will. In contrast, Gazzaniga argued that only the left hemisphere sustains ‘the interpreter’, which uses language, organizes beliefs, and ascribes actions and intentions to people. Only this hemisphere has ‘high-level consciousness’, leaving the other hemisphere with many abilities and skills but without true consciousness.”

She points out that there is no way to resolve this issue. We can’t prove what is really going on here, even as it touches upon our most personal experience. But she adds that, “Bundle theory does away with the problem altogether. There is neither one self nor two selves inside the split brain; there are experiences but there is no one who is having them” (p. 74). What this means is that our experience of an egoic consciousness is overlaid on the entire experiential field, one experience presenting itself as all experience. Or else an interpretation of experience that alters what we experience and how we experience it. The self as coherent individuality is a mirage. That isn’t to say it is meaningless. Our minds naturally look for patterns, even or especially within our own minds. Meaning is always what we bring to our experience.

As for actual reading, as opposed to listening to audiobooks, my focus has still been on Daniel Everett’s recent publication, Dark Matter of the Mind. It is a difficult read in many parts because much of the linguistics scholarship goes over my head and the academic language can get tiresome, but I’ve been determined to finish it and I’m now near the last chapter. Parts of it are quite interesting, such as his mentioning the theory that “gestures and speech were equally and simultaneously implicated in the evolution of language” (Kindle Location 5102). He then details the relevance of gestures and the embodied communication (Kindle Locations 5108-5111):

““Mead’s loop,” wherein one’s own gestures are responded to by one’s own mirror neurons in the same way that these neurons respond to the actions of others, thus bringing one’s own actions into the realm of the social and contributing crucially to the development of a theory of mind— being able to interpret the actions of others under the assumption that others have minds like we do and think according to similar processes.”

That is what came to mind while listening to what Blackmore had to say about bundle theory of experience. The parts of the ‘self’ don’t form a coherent whole so much as they are involved in intimate contact and communication.

Our experience is social at the most fundamental level, a social phenomenon within each person’s body and social connection to the bodies of others. Our embodied selves are shifting realities with blurred boundaries, out of which forms patterns of social order and social identities. As others have argued, we develop a theory of mind within ourselves by first sussing out a theory of mind about others. So, our sense of self is built on our sense of others, which is to say we understand the relationships between experiences within own embodied minds as an inseparable understanding of our relationships with the larger world.

It’s hard to get at what this might mean. But one important factor is that of language. As Julian Jaynes argued in his book about the bicameral mind, “language is an organ of perception, not simply a means of communication” (p. 50, Kindle edition). Perception is always embodied. In The Master and His Emissary, Iain McGilchrist offers a summary that resonates with what I shared above by Everett (pp. 122-123):

“language originates as an embodied expression of emotion, that is communicated by one individual ‘inhabiting’ the body, and  therefore the emotional world, of another; a bodily skill, further, that is acquired by each of us through imitation, by the emotional identification and intuitive harmonisation of the bodily states of the one who learns with the one from whom it is learnt; a skill moreover that originates in the brain as an analogue of bodily movement, and involves the same processes, and even the same brain areas, as certain highly expressive gestures, as well as involving neurones (mirror neurones) that are activated equally when we carry out an action and when we see another carry it out (so that in the process we can almost literally be said to share one another’s bodily experience and inhabit one another’s bodies); a process, finally, that anthropologists see as derived from music, in turn an extension of grooming, which binds us together as physically embodied beings through a form of extended body language that is emotionally compelling across a large number of individuals within the group.”

Both Everett and McGilchrist are concerned with the evolution and development of language. They see it as inseparable from the embodied mind and the enculturated self. As Everett discusses the importance of gesture, McGilchrist explores the role of music and poetry. There is a strong argument that non-linguistic communication (gesture and/or poetry-music) was well established and highly effective among the earliest hominids, including pre-linguistic homo sapiens. It seems likely that this was the base upon which was built language as we know it.

Jaynes argues that written language was one of the factors that weakened the bicameral mind, a particular pre-egoic bundle theory. Prior to that, oral culture dominated; and in oral culture, language is intertwined with other aspects of human experience and behavior. Some of the evidence supporting this is how ancient humans sometimes spoke of body parts as having their own minds (a way of talking that continued into late Axial Age such as the New Testament canon, such that hands and eyes aren’t necessarily considered part of an integrally whole self; and it should be noted that the New Testament tradition was passed on orally for a number of generations before being written down). This is an experience still spoken of by some of those with schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder. Even otherwise normal people will have voice-hearing experiences where the voices heard aren’t located in the head, sometimes in or around other parts of the body.

Most of human cognition and behavior is unconscious. The same goes for most of human communication and much of that non-conscious communication is also non-linguistic. This is the bodily or embodied unconscious. This relates to the social nature of our psyches, as with rapport where people mimic each other unawares (gestures, posture, breathing, etc) along with how yawns and laughter can be contagious. What I’m wondering about is how does the body-mind create rapport with itself in order to coordinate its vast multitudinous complexity.

Because of hemispheric divisions, for example, parts of the mind act rather independently. The corpus callosum doesn’t just allow the hemispheres to communicate for it also inhibits and restricts that communication, in ways and for reasons we don’t yet fully understand. Even when the corpus callosum is entirely cut making direct neurological communication impossible, the two hemispheres are able to coordinate behavior such that a person appears normal, even as two separate minds seem to be operating within the skull. Without directly communicating with one another, how do the hemispheres accomplish this?

The simplest answer is that both hemispheres have access to the sensory organs on the opposite side of the body and so can indirectly observe what the other hemisphere is doing (and, in the case of the left hemisphere, hear it’s explanations). But interestingly the two divided hemispheres can come to different conclusions based on different their separate input and processing. They can also act independently, a literal scenario of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.

Here is a different kind of example from Everett (Kindle Locations 5071-5076):

“At age nineteen, IW suddenly lost all sense of touch and proprioception below the neck due to an infection. The experiments conducted by McNeill and his colleagues show that IW is unable to control instrumental movements when he cannot see his hands (though when he can see his hands, he has learned how to use this visual information to control them in a natural-appearing manner). What is fascinating is that IW, when speaking, uses a number of (what IW refers to as) “throwaway gestures” that are well coordinated, unplanned, nonvisually reliant, speech-connected gestures. McNeill concludes that at a minimum, this case provides evidence that speech gestures are different from other uses of the hands— even other gesturing uses of the hands.”

So, gestures are connected to speech. And gestures happen spontaneously. But even without proprioreception, other senses can be used to bridge the gap between conscious and unconscious expression. There are clearly different areas of behavior, cognition, and communication that relate in different ways. We are embodied minds and we know our minds through our bodies. And most of what our mind does is never accessed or controlled by consciousness. As research has shown, consciousness often only plays a role after behavior has already been initiated (less a power of will than a power of won’t).

So, what kind of mind is it that we have or rather that has us?

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8 thoughts on “Bundle Theory: Embodied Mind, Social Nature

  1. “In this way, the verbal left brain covered up its ignorance by confabulating. It did the same when the other half was shown an emotional picture – making up a plausible excuse for laughing, smiling, blushing, or whatever emotional reaction had been provoked. This might help to explain how these patients can appear so normal. But it should also make us wonder about ourselves. Our brains consist of lots of relatively independent modules, and the verbal part does not have access to everything that goes on, yet it frequently supplies convincing reasons for our actions.”

    I think the proper question to ask here is whether verbalism is the right way to judge reason. Perhaps because of Aristotle, Plato and ultimately Socrates, it appears all of Western sense of Reason or Logic, is conclusively verbal. But even IQ tests have visual components. So the question is: do people simply like to make up sweet smooth sounding stories, or do they want to communicate what precisely occurred. This really hits at the morality of us all.

    However this is only a fraction of the issue: under pressure or in a defensive mode, people confabulate or what is simply called lie.

    Growing up I recall I was the why child. I asked many many questions but they’d only give me cheeky or clever answers to make me go away. However what I noticed was the rest of us simply took this as nothing and accepted it into their lives, and probably into their ways of life as well. Whether this tendency persists as the poverty of people to question themselves, who knows?

    “In contrast, Gazzaniga argued that only the left hemisphere sustains ‘the interpreter’, which uses language, organizes beliefs, and ascribes actions and intentions to people. Only this hemisphere has ‘high-level consciousness’, leaving the other hemisphere with many abilities and skills but without true consciousness.”

    There again is my problem with mainstream human biology. What makes this mere linguistic ability “higher level consciousness”. What the heck does that even mean?

    “being able to interpret the actions of others under the assumption that others have minds like we do and think according to similar processes.”

    Is that not what goes on in cultural supremacy beliefs and human supremacy (the belief that humans are superior to other species, with no particular reason)?

    “As others have argued, we develop a theory of mind within ourselves by first sussing out a theory of mind about others.”

    Heeyyy, say that for yourself. Hahaha. I didn’t do that, although I found many others around me fell for it. It’s just a bald-faced logical fallacy. All I ever did was associate mannerisms, actions, postures and expressions with particular outcomes. Thus just because someone is angry does not mean they will get violent for instance. It is difficult for one to claim to “know” anyone. But one can make an adequate diagnosis of someone’s nature based on the choices they have made is my argument.

    However, though in another context there’s another way of viewing this: that this placing others in our experiential context or placing ourselves in theirs is the basis of empathy, which underscores the importance of the realisation that empathy is just a tool and like all tools it is only as good as how it is used, which ultimately depends on its user.

    • “I think the proper question to ask here is whether verbalism is the right way to judge reason.”

      The kinds of social science books I’ve been reading lately bring up issues of the verbal and non-verbal (such as Daniel Everett’s writing about the dark matter of the mind). Obviously, the mind is complex and involves many aspects. Very little of cognition happens verbally, as research shows. Much of the social science research is about figuring out what we even mean by such things as ‘reason’.

      “So the question is: do people simply like to make up sweet smooth sounding stories, or do they want to communicate what precisely occurred. This really hits at the morality of us all.”

      I doubt the average person exactly cares or ever gives it much thought. Humans are natural born storytellers. It’s just what humans do most of the time. There usually would have to be a specific motivation for doing otherwise, specifically to “communicate what precisely occurred”. Yep, it would involve morality and much else.

      “Whether this tendency persists as the poverty of people to question themselves, who knows?”

      What would be the practical, personal, and compelling reason for people to question much of anything? What is the average person to gain by such activity? It’s not as if society tends to reward individuals for being obsessively curious.

      “There again is my problem with mainstream human biology. What makes this mere linguistic ability “higher level consciousness”. What the heck does that even mean?”

      Mainstream anything tends to have, well, typical mainstream biases. It’s not just the West. The entirety of modern industrial society prioritizes verbal skill. It’s because verbal skill is so essential to every aspect of our society, no matter what kind of work you do. Literacy rates are amazingly high today, considering how few people were able to read just a century ago.

      I would note that the quote has those words put into scare quotes: ‘high-level consciousness’. The author is clarifying that this is how others have referred to it or else he is indicating a common cultural view. Either way, he is distancing that from his own views. He seems to be making the point that this ‘high-level consciousness’ what so many modern people have come to identify themselves with. Or something like that. I’d have to go back to the book to see the whole context.

      “Is that not what goes on in cultural supremacy beliefs and human supremacy (the belief that humans are superior to other species, with no particular reason)?”

      Everyone thinks according to their culture. We couldn’t do otherwise. We are products of culture. Unless someone was raised by wolves, culture is internalized in their mind. And some would argue that even wolves have culture. As for the author, I’m not sure he ever discusses the issue of other species to any great extent. The book is about a specific topic, not attempting to explain all life and evolution.

      “Heeyyy, say that for yourself. Hahaha. I didn’t do that, although I found many others around me fell for it. It’s just a bald-faced logical fallacy.”

      This theory is about young children, not adults. According to the theory of mind view, this is something we pick up early on. It’s unlikely many people would have any memory of developing it. For one, because of context-dependent memory, it would be difficult to recall experience prior to having a theory of mind and so it would be hard to recall the process of gaining a theory of mind. This is happening for most people when they are just a few years old.

      Besides, there isn’t really a need to develop a theory of mind of oneself, at least initially. One already knows one’s own experience. It’s only when children start interacting with more people that it becomes all that necessary to understand what motivates other people in order to predict their actions and to interact with them in a way that leads to pleasant responses, rather than conflict.

      Infants, in particular, have little use for theory of mind. Their entire existence is encompassed by mother and immediate family, under normal conditions. One would assume that the infant is fully identified with the other, typically the mother. That intimate human contact is their entire world. In many traditional societies, the mother rarely is far until a child becomes a toddler.

      “However, though in another context there’s another way of viewing this: that this placing others in our experiential context or placing ourselves in theirs is the basis of empathy, which underscores the importance of the realisation that empathy is just a tool and like all tools it is only as good as how it is used, which ultimately depends on its user.”

      Empathy as cognitive empathy would relate to theory of mind. They are sometimes used synonymously, although they can be used differently. There apparently isn’t much research about how the two relate.

      It is even more complicated than this, if one really wants to dig into the topic. There are endless debates and complicated research about every aspect of all this. There are even those who disagree with the entire concept of a theory of mind (the same goes for the modular theory of mind). They don’t think it is necessary to explain anything. But that is largely irrelevant to the point being made in my above blog post. I have no strong opinion about theory of mind. It’s simply a way some people discuss such things.

      If you’e interested in theory of mind and related stuff, here is some random info and views:

      http://www.hanen.org/helpful-info/articles/tuning-in-to-others-how-young-children-develop.aspx
      http://ilabs.washington.edu/meltzoff/pdf/99Meltzoff_BornToLearn.pdf
      https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/73444/j.1468-0017.1992.tb00202.x.pdf%3Bjsessionid%3D2F1DA660C4EB86944BE4990D63D795D5?sequence%3D1
      http://www.open.edu/openlearn/ocw/pluginfile.php/621879/mod_resource/content/1/ed841_reading_meltzoff_and_gopnik_1993.pdf
      https://philpapers.org/archive/SHAECA-3.pdf
      http://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1128&context=tpr

      • “This theory is about young children, not adults.”

        No, I actually grew up that way as a child. I related words with specific objects. And like most children I knew and as the stereotype went about children, I liked books with pictures.

        It also relates to this:

        “It’s only when children start interacting with more people that it becomes all that necessary to understand what motivates other people in order to predict their actions and to interact with them in a way that leads to pleasant responses, rather than conflict.”

        I wasn’t one for avoiding conflict. Neither does it mean I am cantankerous. Yes, both statements nullify each other but it speaks to another factor: that I knew all I needed was to avoid verbal or physical abuse and if troubled by another to report to the appropriate authorities. I just always understood things in a very objective fashion and even today I refrain from predicting others.

        If there was anyone I didn’t get along with I just avoided them as much as possible.

        But they’re just theories, they’re not supposed as absolute universal truths, as you say, and though some do get dogmatic with them. My comment about not learning language and developing a theory of mind as they says was mostly humorous.

        “What would be the practical, personal, and compelling reason for people to question much of anything? What is the average person to gain by such activity? It’s not as if society tends to reward individuals for being obsessively curious.”

        For one, it’s helped some women break out of abusive relationships and avoid self ruin.

    • My main interest is the bundle theory of mind. I’m actually not clear how theory of mind does and does not fit into the bundle theory. If the bundle theory proves to be correct, it will bring into doubt so much of what we believe about mind, identity, and consciousness. It would be a game-changer.

      There was an interesting thing I came across with Blackmore’s book. She was discussing the theory that language is at the root of consciousness, specifically in terms of self-awareness and theory of mind. Some species are able to pass the mirror test of self-recognition, although others debate whether or not that indicates actual self-recognition or simply bodily perception.

      Anyway, one species that doesn’t typically pass the mirror test is gorillas. But Koko who was taught sign language did pass the mirror test. Koko, besides learning a human language, regularly interacts with humans and regularly watches television (Mr. Rogers is her favorite). To me, I would assume that Koko has crossed some kind of threshold of self-awareness and self-identity. The key component seems to be cultural, not biological, which is to say many species probably have immense potential within their genetics and their brains.

      It’s all very interesting. But such research is in its infancy. It’s safe to assume that much of what we believe will be proven wrong or lacking.

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