The Case of the Missing Concepts

Hypocognition, in cognitive linguistics, means missing and being unable to communicate cognitive and linguistic representations because there are no words for particular concepts.”

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The enthusiasm for evidence-based medicine (EBM) has not been accompanied by the same success in bridging the gap between theory and practice. This paper advances the hypothesis that the phenomenon psychologists call hypocognition may hinder the development of EBM. People tend to respond to frames rather than to facts. To be accepted, a theory, however robust, must fit into a person’s mental framework. The absence of a simple, consolidated framework is referred to as hypocognition. Hypocognition might limit the application of EBM in three ways. First, it fails to provide an analytical framework by which to orient the physician in the direction of continuous medical development and variability in individual people’s responses. Second, little emphasis is placed on teaching clinical reasoning. Third, there is an imbalance between the enormous mass of available information and the practical possibilities. Possible solutions are described. We not only need more evidence to help clinicians make better decisions, but also need more research on why some clinicians make better decisions than others, how to teach clinical reasoning, and whether computerised supports can promote a higher quality of individualised care.”

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Americans, especially, suffer from what linguists call hypocognition: the lack of a core concept we need in order to thrive. The missing concept is of democracy as a way of life; democracy not as a set system–something done to us, for us, finished and done–but as a set of system values that usefully apply in all arenas of life. In the dominant, failing idea of democracy, society is a subset of economic life. To make the needed planetary turn to life, we must envision the opposite: economic life re-embedded in society guided by shared human values, including fairness, inclusion, and mutual accountability.”

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Frances Moore Lappe (Hope’s Edge, 2002) makes the case that often politicians and corporations use terms that leave us suffering from “hypocognition.” Hypocognition results when a term is used to conjure up all-positive images to prevent us from understanding what is really going on. For example, hypocognition makes it hard for the public to believe there can be anything wrong with “globalism” or “free trade,” which sound like the apple pie and motherhood of the 21st century. It is easy for the press to portray those who protest against “free trade” as fringe lunatics.

“Ms. Lappe coined the term “primitive marketism” as a more appropriate name for what has become the accepted standard of world trade over the last 20 years — that the single principle of highest return to existing wealth is the sole driver of the world-wide system of production and exchange. That leaves cultural integrity, human rights, environmental protection, and even the ability of people to feed themselves as inconsequential to multinational corporations reaching around the world for opportunities for the highest return to existing wealth.

“As much as the term “primitive marketism” helps identify problems inherent to the way global trade is structured today, it takes a bit of bending of the mind and tongue to use it. It seems to me that a term that more immediately and clearly identifies where we are headed with world trade — a term which leaves no room for hypocognition — is “corporate colonialism.””

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This perspective on reason matters to the discussion in this forum about global warming, because many people engaged in environmentalism still have the old, false view of reason and language. Folks trained in public policy, science, economics, and law are often given the old, false view. As a result, they may believe that if you just tell people the facts, they will reason to the right conclusion. What actually happens is that the facts must make sense in terms of their system of frames, or they will be ignored. The facts, to be communicated, must be framed properly. Furthermore, to understand something complex, a person must have a system of frames in place that can make sense of the facts. In the case of global warming, all too many people do not have such a system of frames in the conceptual systems in their brains. Such frame systems have to be built up over a period of time. This has not been done.” (pp. 72-73)

“Have you ever wondered why conservatives can communicate easily in a few words, while liberals take paragraphs? The reason is that conservatives have spent decades, day after day building up frames in people’s brains, and building a better communication system to get their ideas out in public. Progressives have not done that.” (p. 73)

“The right language is absolutely necessary for communicating ‘‘the real crisis.’’(p. 74)

“‘Hypocognition’ is the lack of ideas we need. We are suffering from massive hypocognition in the case of the environment.” (p. 76)

“An important frame is in throes of being born: The Regulated Commons – the idea of common, non-transferable ownership of aspects of the natural world, such as the atmosphere, the airwaves, the waterways, the oceans, and so on.” (p. 78)

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Not all corrections to hypocognition have to be heavy stuff, like grief and scientific advancement. One of my favorite authors tried to give everything a word. Douglas Adams, author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, put out a book with John Lloyd called, The Meaning of Liff. It started as a slightly-drunken party game, during which Adams and his friends picked out the names of English towns and pretended the names were words that they had to define. As they were coming up with different definitions, they realized that, as humans, they all shared common experiences that don’t have names.

“My favorite word of the book is “shoeburyness,” which is defined as “the vague uncomfortable feeling you get when sitting on a seat which is still warm from somebody else’s bottom.” Everyone has felt that. One author I read went to a strict college at which men were forbidden to sit in a seat directly after a woman vacated it, because he would feel her residual body heat and the dean of women considered that too sexual. But no one came up with a word for it. Once there is a word for it, people can begin to refer to it. What concept do you think needs a word? I nominate “splincing” — when you’re completely in the wrong, and hate it, and you daydream about someone wronging you so you can feel righteously aggrieved about something.”

Re: Ideas are alive. We are their hosts.

I recently noticed another interesting blog post by Matt Cardin:

Ideas are alive. We are their hosts.

I posted it on Facebook which led to a conversation with a friend.

She wrote: “So, ideas as a kind of AI…”

I responded with: “Yeah, something like that. Ever since I heard of the theory of memes, it’s always made sense to me. It really makes sense to me when combined with Jung’s view of archetypes and the view of the imaginal.
“However, I’m not sure about the criticisms of Marx. I don’t consider myself a Marxist (mostly because I’m too uninformed about Marxism), but I’m certainly not an anti-Marxist. I do see truth that ideas often are fake, especially on the level of politics. A meme is amoral. It simply seeks to propagate itself. Political power is similar. A meme can reflect a deeper level of truth, but not always and maybe not usually.”

She then asked: “But what is it that feeds memes or ideas, that helps them propogate?”

The following was my answer:

That is an interesting and insightful question. It’s hard to answer as it implies further questions.

Asking what memes or ideas feed upon is the same as asking what are they dependent upon for their very existence and the continuation of that existence. How independent are they? To what extent are they self-propagating and hence independent of humans? Even if memes feed upon human psychic energy, is that their only food source? And either way, who created them originally or where do they come from?

It reminds me of the idea of thought-forms in the Tibetan tradition. They put an interesting twist on it. A ‘god’ or ‘buddha’ or other spiritual being is a thought-form. Ultimately, thought-forms aren’t real. They are merely useful in aligning our minds with some higher truth or, if they are of another variety, then they are the opposite of useful. This value of usefulness is held above any claims of reality. Focusing on thought-forms is useful because it makes us realize that we too are thought-forms and ultimately not real.

No matter their origins or their nature, it does seem that memes and thought-forms feed upon human psychic energy. In terms of human experience, at least, the paranormal tends to pay attention to a person when that person pays attention to the paranormal. Or is it that the person pays attention to the paranormal when the paranormal pays attention to that person? Are we feeding the beings of the imaginal realm or are they feeding us? Or is it a symbiosis?

Maybe the best explanatory model would be a metaphor, especially since we are trying to explain the imaginal where metaphors can resonate more deeply. The metaphor I had in mind is the garden.

The human psyche is a garden. All plants come from the wild as do humans. We create a garden that is separate from the wild, a safe area that we defend and tend. Humans eventually become so dependent on their garden that they forget about the wilderness except when it presents dangers and problems. The supernatural is the wilderness, the area we’ve chosen to exclude from our cultivated human reality. The garden is a reality tunnel, a filter throught which we see the world and a set of beliefs by which we interpret our experience.

The garden we create becomes an extension of ourselves. Maybe a meme is a humanized idea. Out in the wild, there are many thought-forms that float in and out of existence, that mate and evolve. When we domesticate an idea, we make it a part of the human world. We claim it as our own and if it is successful as a meme it becomes a part of our sense of identity. Eventually, the thought-form can become so domesticated that it can no longer survive in the wild.

This could be where symbiosis becomes possible.

Here is a quote from an article (Smithsonian.com: “What Defines a Meme?” — James Gleick, May 2011) in the above blog post:

“That “soup” is human culture; the vector of transmission is language, and the spawning ground is the brain. For this bodiless replicator itself, Dawkins proposed a name. He called it the meme.”

This seems to be the environment in which symbiosis takes place. When humans developed abstract thinking and language, they were able to grasp and more clearly perceive the non-material. This led to a familiarity, a closeness between the human species and the wild thought-forms. Humans became something more than just animal. As fairytales and UFO experiencers explain, maybe there even was a cross-breeding of sorts, a psychic melding between self and other.

I wanted to add some more commentary on Marx. I noticed that Matt Cardin linked to some writings by Marx:

“In every epoch the ideas of the ruling class are the ruling ideas, that is, the class that is the dominant material power of society is at the same time its dominant intellectual power. The class that has at its disposal the means of material production also for that reason disposes simultaneously of the means of intellectual production, so that in general it exercises its power over the ideas of those who lacke the means. The dominant thoughts are, furthermore, nothing but the ideal expression of the dominant material relations; they are the dominant material relations conceived as thoughts, in other words, the expression of the social relations which make one class the dominant one, and thus the ideas of its dominance.”

This relates to two aspects.

First, there is propaganda that is controlled by those with the power, propaganda being a manifestation of and an extension of power. Even with the acceptance of the reality of the imaginal, the power of propaganda is no less real. Propaganda just demonstrates how we are controlled by ideas and how, therefore, we seek to control ideas. However, it must be pointed out that even the powerful end up falling under the sway of the ideas that they think they control. Memes are powerful, even more powerful than the most powerful humans, for the reason that their power is subtle.

Second, this can be interpreted in a more contemporary understanding through the lense of what Robert Anton Wilson wrote about reality tunnels. We get trapped in a reality tunnel and can’t see outside of it. It determines our thinking. An example of this is that the medium is the message. When humans shifted from oral speech to written text, all of society shifted and all of collective reality shifted with it.

This notion of reality tunnels is elucidated, in different terms, within Marxism:

“This phenomenon is not restricted to individuals; but can, significantly, be applied to the various classes in a society. Class ideals spring from the conditions and necessities of its members. The bourgeois notions of private property and marriage are thus extensions of the material position of the bourgeoisie. “But don’t wrangle with us so long as you apply, to our intended abolition of bourgeois property, the standard of your bourgeois notions of freedom, culture, law, etc. Your very ideas are but the outgrowth of the conditions of your bourgeois production and bourgeois property, just as your jurisprudence is but the will of your class made into a law for all, a will whose essential character and direction are determined by the economical conditions of existence of your class” (Communist Manifesto). Culture, as it is understood in the larger sense, can be viewed as an outgrowth of the beliefs held by that society’s dominant class, as it has the power to impose its perspectives and make them seem ‘natural’ or ‘universal’. Thus, institutions such as the family, law, and religion as manifested in bourgeois society should not be dealt with in the terms of ‘universal law’ in which the bourgeois is likely to understand it. Rather, they should be viewed strictly in terms of the ‘life-activity’ of the bourgeois class, namely, accumulation. Ideals such as that of the free market are merely the beliefs held by the dominant class. Marx cites the case of classical economists: “There are only two kinds of institutions for them, artificial and natural. The institutions of feudalism are artificial institutions, those of the bourgeoisie are natural institutions… Thus there has been history, but there is no longer any” (Capital 92). These constructs become the cultural norm insofar as they are imposed by the ruling class.”

Marx is challenging ‘natural law’. This is a fair criticism. By claiming that one’s beliefs are ‘natural law’, one claims one’s beliefs can’t be challenged as if one was speaking for God. The powerful will claim their beliefs are ‘natural’, meaning real, and everyone else’s beliefs are unnatural or unreal, somehow unworthy and even dangerous.

A reality tunnel is about what is perceived as real. Also, a reality tunnel is typically a collective phenomena. We all share some basic reality tunnels or else we couldn’t communicate at all.

“Thus, Marx views consciousness as interwoven with the practical elements of individuals’ lives; a person’s place in society conditions his or her opinions. Ideas and consciousness must necessarily be rooted in an individual’s life and daily activity; earlier thinkers’ notion of a ‘self-sufficient philosophy’ cannot accurately explain the relationship between consciousness, ideas, and life. Significantly, these ideas extend beyond the individual level such that one can speak of class-consciousness. Marx elaborates on this notion, understanding the power relations and struggles as having ramifications in the moral or ideological realm, as the dominance of one ideology or the conflict between ideologies speak to the underlying class dominance and struggles. In this way, material conditions are able to determine what human beings, as historical actors, are able to do.”

Marx was challenging Enlightenment ideals. He was pointing out that abstract thought isn’t separate from the everyday world. To most people today, that is commonsense and to claim otherwise would seem silly. After all, thoughts exist in the realm where psyche and biology meet. We aren’t disembodied thinkers. Enactivists most strongly challenge this false notion and they do so from within a scientific framework. The ideal of disembodied thought is a meme that has haunted modern humans for quite a while now and has caused Cartesian anxiety.

It’s probably true that Marx tended to go too far in the opposite direction in emphasizing the material world, but his insight shouldn’t be dismissed. In the context of the imaginal, a deeper resonance can be given to the Marxist worldview. The imaginal is the meeting and merging of the subjective and objective, the inner and outer, the material and non-material. Ideas, like plants, grow in the mud of the earth. An idea is just a seed until planted.

Here is another link from Matt Cardin and the relevant quote:

“Marx is, in fact, more complicated on this issue, however, since at other times he suggests that some aspects of ideology (for example, literature) can have a semi-autonomous existence; that is, that such cultural products can exert an influence that is at odds with the dominant mode of production.”

So, apparently Marx didn’t merely see ideas as being entirely controlled. Rather, he saw ideas as sources of power, both power to control and power to challenge control. Some aspects of ideology such as literature touch upon the imaginal and tap into the power of the imaginal, a power that isn’t human. I realize Marx probably didn’t understand it in this way, but Marx did recognize that ideas couldn’t always be controlled.