At a conference last month called Investigating the Mind, held here at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, neuroscientists and Buddhist scholars discussed attention, mental imagery, emotion, and collaborations to test insights gleaned from meditation.
Open peer commentary on the target article “Who Conceives of Society?” by Ernst von Glasersfeld. Excerpt: In the face of modern neuroscience we should give up on constructivism, even more so on radical constructivism, and stick to the physical and psychological reality given in science and daily life, even if it is the brain’s illusion from associative networks. The illusion of constructivism may hurt!
Six arguments against the view that conscious experience derives from a material basis are presented, none of which is entirely new taken in isolation but whose conjunction is compelling. These arguments arise from epistemology, phenomenology, neuropsychology, and philosophy of quantum mechanics. It turns out that any attempt at proving that conscious experience is ontologically secondary to material objects both fails and brings out its methodological and existential primacy. No alternative metaphysical view is espoused (not even a variety of Spinoza’s attractive double-aspect theory). Instead, an alternative stance, inspired from F. Varela’s neurophenomenology is advocated. This unfamiliar stance involves (i) a complete redefinition of the boundary between unquestioned assumptions and relevant questions ; (ii) a descent towards the common ground of the statements of phenomenology and objective natural science: a practice motivated by the quest of an expanding circle of intersubjective agreement.
Purpose: Constructivism postulates that the perceived reality is a complex construct formed during development. Depending on the particular school, these inner constructs take on different forms and structures and affect cognition in different ways. The purpose of this article is to address the questions of how and, even more importantly, why we form such inner constructs. Approach: This article proposes that brain development is controlled by an inherent anticipatory drive, which biases learning towards the formation of forward predictive structures and inverse goal-oriented control structures. This drive, in combination with increasingly complex environmental interactions during cognitive development, enforces the structuring of our conscious self, which is embedded in a constructed inner reality. Essentially, the following questions are addressed: Which basic mechanisms lead us to the construction of inner realities? How are these emergent inner realities structured? How is the self represented within the inner realities? And consequently, which cognitive structures constitute the media for conscious thought and selfconsciousness? Findings: Due to the anticipatory drive, representations in the brain shape themselves predominantly purposefully or intentionally. Taking a developmental, evolutionary perspective, we show how the brain is forced to develop progressively complex and abstract representations of the self embedded in the constructed inner realities. These self representations can evoke different stages of self-consciousness. Implications: The anticipatory drive shapes brain structures and cognition during the development of progressively more complex, competent, and flexible goal-oriented bodyenvironment interactions. Self-consciousness develops because increasingly abstract, individualizing self representations are necessary to realize these progressively more challenging environmental interactions.
Open peer commentary on the target article “Who Conceives of Society?” by Ernst von Glasersfeld. First paragraph: Cognitive psychology, neurobiology, and cognitive systems research provide diverse clues as to how we are able to incrementally construct representations of the perceived environment and how we consequently understand other individuals and society. The construction of an individual’s reality starts with the capability to control one’s own body and to be able to predict the usual sensory effects caused by body movements. To be able to infer the potential intentions of others, mirror neurons project one’s own behavioral codes onto perceived patterns that are caused by others. Equipped with representations of many other individuals, personal social realities are constructed. In this commentary, I focus on these points for the construction of social reality and the consequent existence of society as a whole.
Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to outline an integrative, high-level, neurocomputational theory of brain function based on temporal codes, neural timing nets, and active regeneration of temporal patterns of spikes within recurrent neural circuits that provides a time-domain alternative to connectionist approaches. Design/methodology/approach – This conceptual-theoretical paper draws from cybernetics, theoretical biology, neurophysiology, integrative and computational neuroscience, psychology, and consciousness studies. Findings: The high-level functional organization of the brain involves adaptive cybernetic, goal-seeking, switching, and steering mechanisms embedded in percept-action-environment loops. The cerebral cortex is conceived as a network of reciprocally connected, re-entrant loops within which circulate neuronal signals that build up, decay, and/or actively regenerate. The basic signals themselves are temporal patterns of spikes (temporal codes), held in the spike correlation mass-statistics of both local and global neuronal ensembles. Complex temporal codes afford multidimensional vectorial representations, multiplexing of multiple signals in spike trains, broadcast strategies of neural coordination, and mutually reinforcing, autopoiesis-like dynamics. Our working hypothesis is that complex temporal codes form multidimensional vectorial representations that interact with each other such that a few basic processes and operations may account for the vast majority of both low- and high-level neural informational functions. These operational primitives include mutual amplification/inhibition of temporal pattern vectors, extraction of common signal dimensions, formation of neural assemblies that generate new temporal pattern primitive “tags” from meaningful, recurring combinations of features (perceptual symbols), active regeneration of temporal patterns, content-addressable temporal pattern memory, and long-term storage and retrieval of temporal patterns via a common synaptic and/or molecular mechanism. The result is a relatively simplified, signal-centric view of the brain that utilizes universal coding schemes and pattern-resonance processing operations. In neurophenomenal terms, waking consciousness requires regeneration and build up of temporal pattern signals in global loops, whose form determines the contents of conscious experience at any moment. Practical implications: Understanding how brains work as informational engines has manifold long-reaching practical implications for design of autonomous, adaptive robotic systems. By proposing how new concepts might arise in brains, the theory bears potential implications for constructivist theories of mind, i.e. how observer-actors interacting with one another can self-organize and complexify. Originality/value – The theory is highly original and heterodox in its neural coding and neurocomputational assumptions. By providing a possible alternative to standard connectionist theory of brain function, it expands the scope of thinking about how brains might work as informational systems.
A review of the attempts at establishing neurophenomenology as a new research paradigm for neuroscientific research on music concludes that the integration of the first-person perspective of phenomenology and the third-person perspective of neuroscience remains an unfinished project. Relevance: This paper proposes methods for phenomenological investigation of music, and discussion of research in the neurosciences and music.
The paper proposes a renewal of the problem-space in which the relation between psychoanalysis and the cognitive neurosciences is played out, this is in response to the persistent embarrassment or stand-off that characterizes current attempts at dialogue. The authors suggest going beyond classical conceptual oppositions, (mind-body, subject-object etc.), and beyond the seduction of the idea of some ‘natural’ conceptual translation between the two practices. A process of reciprocal ‘transference’ becomes central to creating the space in which the “mixed,” (both biological and subjective), quality of our objects may be recognized and the pitfalls of reductionism be avoided. For psychoanalysis the hysteric was originally such a mixed or “quasiobject’ in which psyche and soma were in a relation of reciprocal representation. On the other hand, the cognitive neurosciences’ ‘embodied-enactive’ and neurophenomenological perspectives provide a philosophical framework for the place of subjectivity and interpretation in scientific work. This important epistemological shift in scientific thinking offers evocative conceptual tools (emergent processes, circular causality), which should transform the difficult dialogue between the neurosciences and psychoanalysis.