Category Archives: stages

Six world hypotheses or how we explain eyerything and anything

I recently came across this blog post by Christopher Peterson and was immediately drawn into the work of Stephen Pepper and using Google books access tried to read as much as I could of his print-on-demand book ‘World Hypotheses‘.

It is a philosophical work of how people reason about their world and ‘carve nature at the joints’ but despite being a philosophical work and thus being dense and obtuse to a degree, it is surprisingly lucidly written and in my opinion is an important work that needs to be highlighted.

As per Pepper, we have four valid and mature world hypothesis that are adequate in scope (explain everything) and precision (explain uniquely and not vaguely) and two immature world hypothesis that fail the test of scope/precision in their adequacy. I do not make that distinction and will be treating all six world hypothesis on equal footing. For the record, the inadequate world hypothesis are animism and spiritualism.

A world hypothesis is a way to explain everything in the world and relies on root metaphors to explain thus. Each hypothesis has a pet root metaphor which is sued to illustrate and explain phenomenon or categories, and their relationships.

To met the six world hypothesis follow a stage pattern and it would be my contention that as one matures one may discard one world hypothesis lower down the ladder in favor of the other more developed and mature.

With that let us introduce the world hypothesis. Also taking the lead from Peterson, I’ll be taking an example of my neighbor playing loud music at 2:00 in the night to illustrate different ways of explaining the same event according to the different hypothesis and different root metaphors (and will be lifting from the Peterson article the examples he gave there).

The first hypothesis is that of Formism (realism/ platonic Idealism) i.e. everything is explainable because they belong to a particular category/ form and have characteristic qualities. The root metaphor is that of analogy or similarity. Formism explains in terms of placing whatever we are trying to explain into a category (form). Why did my neighbor play his music loudly at 2:00 AM? Because he is an a**hole!
This theory belongs to the first stage where one is more concerned with Describing things and concerned with traits.

The second hypothesis is that of Animism i.e. everything (even inanimate things like weather) has an underlying spirit that explains the way it behaves. The root metaphor is that of spirit and agency. Animism explains by associating everything we are trying to explain with an underlying spirit that has agency . Why did my neighbor play his music loudly at 2:00 AM? Because he was suddenly possessed by the Michael Jackson spirit!
This theory belongs to the second stage trying to Explain the phenomenon and concerned with impulses and agency.

The third hypothesis is that of Mechanism (most common amongst reductionist scientists) i.e. everything is a machine following laws of cause and effect. If something happens, it happens because of a well defined and unavoidable cause. The root metaphor is that of machine. Mechanism explains in terms of causes: events that regularly precede whatever we are trying to explain. Why did my neighbor play his music loudly at 2:00 AM? Because he passed all of his final exams and that is what people do when they pass exams!

This theory belongs to the third stage that tries to predict and is centered around observable behavior and causal chains.

The fourth hypothesis is that of Contextualism (pragmatism) i.e. everything can be explained in terms of the context or surround in which the figure/event takes place. this is most popular with historians who are used to see events as uniquely determined by the historical and cultural milieu. The root metaphor is that of a historic event. Contextualism explains in terms of the interplay between whatever we are trying to explain and its larger context. Why did my neighbor play his music loudly at 2:00 AM? Because it was Saturday night, and this is a college town!
This theory is properly of the fourth stage focused on how society / larger context can influence and control the phenomenon and is most concerned with social influences.

The fifth hypothesis is that of Organicism (absolute Idealism)i.e. everything is an organic complex whole. The theory is still determinate but as compared to Mechanism is ‘life’ oriented. The root metaphor is that of coherence. Facts are sparse at present and as they emerge and become more complex one reaches in the limits the absolute truth. Organicism explains in terms of the unfolding of the inherent nature of whatever we are trying to explain. Why did my neighbor play his music loudly at 2:00 AM? Because he is a young man who just moved into his own apartment!
the fifth theory is at the fifth stage concerned with integration/ individuation etc and is concerned with emergent properties.

The sixth hypothesis is that if Spiritualism i.e everything is not what it seems and can only be really grasped through the spiritual experience. The root metaphor is that of the spritual experience. All said and done, there is no substitute for experience. the metaphor is also that of Love and can be only felt inter-personally. Only Love is Real. Why did my neighbor play his music loudly at 2:00 AM? Because he loves music and felt at oneness with the world and forgot about time as he got absorbed in the music.
This is clearly a jump from previous stages and belongs to stage 6 dealing with transecdence and interpersonal concerns.

Of course there are bound to be higher (7 & 8) stage theories equally and perhaps better explain the world, and I woudl be glad if readers can point me to those world hypothesis, no matter how inadequate/mystic they may appear at first appearance.

I’m hooked to Pepper, what about you?

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Perry’s stages of intellectual and ethical devlopement

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In one of the recent posts we saw that Averill believed that ethics or moral domain in psychology can be derived from focusing on emotions, will, motivation , ethics and virtue; while the mental domain in psychology and philosophy evolved by studies of epistemology. Today I wish to focus on one way of how we come to know i.e. a theory of epistemology and how a staged theory for the same has been proposed by Perry in a student education domain.

To quote from wikipedia:

The Perry scheme is a model for understanding how college students “come to know, the theories and beliefs they hold about knowing, and the manner in which such epistemological premises are a part of and an influence on the cognitive processes of thinking and reasoning”.

Perry has split his analysis of how college students “come to know” into nine position further grouped into 4 stages, but I will treat all of them as stages only and try to fit them in my eight stage model by trying to draw parallels with Selman’s role-taking or perspective taking stages. I’ll be using material extensively from Wikipedia and this page about Perry’s scheme.

  1. Stage 1: Dualism/Received Knowledge:There are right/wrong answers, engraved on Golden Tablets in the sky, known to Authorities.Basic Duality:All problems are solvable; Therefore, the student’s task is to learn the Right Solutions.The authorities know: e.g. “the tutor knows what is right and wrong”. Contrast this with the undifferentiated perspective of Selman, the first stage. In it “one attributes one’s or protagonist perspective to everyone else’s. One may have a concept of perspective or Theory-of-mind but may suffer from an inability to attribute any other perspective to anyone else distinct from one’s own”. The underlying theme in both the cases is that there is only one reality- one perspective-mine; one knowledge or right answer- my authority’s.
  2. stage 2: Full Dualism: Some Authorities (literature, philosophy) disagree; others (science, math) agree. Therefore, there are Right Solutions, but some teachers’ views of the Tablets are obscured. Therefore, student’s task is to learn the Right Solutions and ignore the others! The true authorities are right, the others are frauds “e.g my tutor knows what is right and wrong but others don’t”. Contrast this with second stage of Selman that of social-informational perspective taking: It is a stage “whereby one comes to realize that not only there exits a perspective, but that it can be different for different persons. Nevertheless, despite the realization that the perspectives can differ ( based on say the different information that each may have) the preponderant tendency is to consider one’s perspective as valid and by exchanging information attempts to make others perspective inline with one’s own.”. the underlying theme in both cases is that there is one reality, but there can be two views of it; my view or my authority’s view is , of course, the correct one.
  3. Satge 3: Multiplicity/Subjective Knowledge: There are conflicting answers;therefore, students must trust their “inner voices”, not external Authority.Early Multiplicity:There are 2 kinds of problems:those whose solutions we know and those whose solutions we don’t know yet (thus, a kind of dualism). Student’s task is to learn how to find the Right Solutions.There are some uncertainties and the authorities are working on them to find the truth “e.g my tutors don’t know, but somebody out there is trying to find out”. Contrast this with Selman;’s third stage that of self-reflective perspective taking. It “marks the first empathetic perspective taking whereby one sees, thinks and feels from other person’s perspectives using first person. This is literally stepping in someone else’s shoes and truly seeing as if the situation concerned oneself. This not just a logical realization that someone can have a different perspective but also realizing that that perspective can be equally valid given the other person’s unique situation. Thus one thinks and feels like the other person and can both suffer and enjoy the outcomes of situations as they unfold from the other person’s perspective. The emphasis is on understanding. And empathy.” The underlying theme here I believe is understanding that instead of just right and wrong answers / solutions, there are different approaches to solve the problems which are indeed solvable. Also the theme is to feel from inside the authority, to understand how authority is gained- and know how to find the answer rather than just what is the right answer. While the first two stages focused on what is the right answer, after realizing that there may not be a right answer, the focus changes to how to find the right answer. this is akin to finding that there is no one valkid perspective and thus changing focus to how one feels in other persons shoes and having his/her different perspective.
  4. stage 4: Late Multiplicity: Most problems are of the second kind(we don’t know solution yet); therefore, everyone has a right to their own opinion; or some problems are unsolvable; therefore, it doesn’t matter which (if any) solution you choose. Student’s task is to shoot the bull.(Most freshman are at this position, which is a kind of relativism)At this point, some students become alienated, and either retreat to an earlier (“safer”) position (“I think I’ll study math, not literature, because there are clear answers and not as much uncertainty”) or else escape (drop out) (“I can’t stand college; all they want is right answers” or else “I can’t stand college; no one gives you the right answers”.) (a)Everyone has right to their own opinion “e.g different tutors think different things” (b) The authorities don’t want the right answers. They want us to think in certain way “e.g there is an answer that the tutors want and we have to find it”. Contrast this with the fourth ‘third-party or bystander stage‘ . In it “one has decentred in the emotional/cognitive personal sense and can see a situation not only from first and second person perspectives of interacting parties, but also from that of a neutral bystander. This includes the ability to keep multiple perspectives in mind at the same time. One does not see from this perspective and then from the other – one looks at the entire big picture or view and understands that different people are having different perspectives.” The underlying theme is that of relativism and that there are as many solutions/perspectives and right answers as there are people involved. My tutor/authority doesn’t want the absolute right answer (as there are none) but a certain type of answer that he considers is right and neutral and thinks that the answer doesn’t necessarily stem and is embedded in his own perspective. Thus, the right answer, if any, is taken by consensus, and can be different form my own or my tutors own perspectives/ beliefs about the right solution.
  5. stage 5: Relativism/Procedural Knowledge: There are disciplinary reasoning methods: Connected knowledge: empathetic (why do you believe X?; what does this poem say to me?) vs. Separated knowledge: “objective analysis” (what techniques can I use to analyze this poem?) Contextual Relativism: All proposed solutions are supported by reasons; i.e., must be viewed in context & relative to support. Some solutions are better than others, depending on context. Student’s task is to learn to evaluate solutions. Everything is relative but not equally valid “e.g there are no right and wrong answers, it depends on the situation, but some answers might be better than others”. contrast this with Selman’s fifth stage that of societal perspective. In it “one realizes that the neutral third party perspective is not really neutral but influenced by the societal and cultural context in which the bystander lives and is reflective of those values. One realizes that one can have different neutral perspectives on a situation, each of which would be colored by the values that are dear to the social and cultural context in which the situation occurs and which dictate what a neutral perspective is. One may realize that some values are desirable and others are not and that the perspective that is informed by desirable values is more preferable.” the underlying theme in both cases is to move away from decontextualized value-free equality of all perspectives/ solutions to a contextual and value-laden evaluation of relatively better/ more valid perspectives/ answers given a particular context.
  6. The sixth stage: “Pre-Commitment“: Student sees the necessity of: making choices and committing to a solution. You have to make your own decisions “e.g what is important is not what the tutor thinks but what I think”. I had not delineated any stages of Selman beyond the fifth stage for the perspective taking, but if I have to venture it may be akin to choosing a particular value-laden way of looking at things irrespective of the given context. It would be akin to choosing your attitude to life no matter what you have been served. To paraphrase Victor Frankl , your own unique attitude/ perspective is one thing no one can take away from you. you can always choose how to see things , not objectively as per a some gold standard, but subjectively , but a subjectivity that is informed and grounded in a prior commitment. For eg., you can choose to be positive (have a positive attitude) and focus on the silver linings in the clouds. The underlying theme would be existential theme- that of creating your own meaning- your own perspective, your own right solution/ answer. Nothing is given. You are . The problems are. You have to construct and create your own answers and meaning. You are free and can exercise choice as to commit to a way of life, a perspective, a solution, an answer- something that leads to coherence for you and your life.
  7. Satge 7 : Commitment/Constructed Knowledge: Integration of knowledge learned from others with personal experience and reflection. Commitment: Student makes a commitment. Challenges to Commitment: Student experiences implications of commitment. Student explores issues of responsibility. First commitment “e.g for this particular topic I think that….”; Several Commitments “e.g for these topics I think that….”. I have collapsed stages 7 and 8 of Perry into one stage . The corresponding Selman’s stage would be measuring, aligning and integrating one’s chosen perspective with those of ones con-specifics and bringing things in harmony. The underlying theme I believe is on communicating with others regarding ones committed answers and either modifying ones perspective or trying to modify others perspectives/ solutions/answers as per one’s committed solution/ perspective/answer. On not only is and has chosen a right answer/perspective, one is also forced to convince others of the rightness of ones perspective and ones solution/answer. With great commitment, comes great responsibility.
  8. stage 8: “Post-Commitment”: Student realizes commitment is an ongoing, unfolding, evolving activity. Believe own values, respect others, be ready to learn “e.g I know what I believe in and what I think is valid, others may think differently and I’m prepared to reconsider my views”. stage 8 of Selman may have been a step away from proselytizing tone of seventh stage and more of (in)tolerance of equally strongly committed views by others. The ingroup/outgroup dynamic is at play and while some groups of people may adhere to our shared committed solutions/ beliefs/ perspectives; other groups may have other solutions/ beliefs/ perspectives and we can perhaps mutually agree to disagree at worst, if not to learn from the different committed views and enhance and deepen our view of reality, at best. The underlying theme being that of tolerance for others who ware equally committed to their view/ solution and may be correct in a way in their own right.

Phew! This post was a handful. Hope you like it and like my theorizing and dogged attempt to fit everything in a eight fold developmental model.

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universal human mate preference: four dimensions or eight factors?

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In  my last post I had mentioned how Seligman and Peterson have tried to correlate their structure of human virtues/character strengths with work of other researchers like the universal dimensions of human mate preferences discovered by Buss et al.  Today I wish to discuss in detail the universal dimensions of human mate preferences discovered by Buss  et al.

Buss et al looked at data , using an 18 item preference ratings archival database, of about ten thousand people, from various cultures across the globe, and used the analysis strategy outlined by Bond to take care of different sample size from different cultures. they then applied the Principal component analysis to the refined data so obtained to determine the underlying structure of the mate preferences.

Their PCA analysis led to discovery of four dimensions all of which could be quantified as bipolar dimensions with one pole representing a different construct and another representing a sort-of-but-not-really opposed construct. For eg.,the first factor included loadings from ‘‘good financial prospects’’ (-0.65), ‘‘favorable social status or ratings’’ (-0.62), and ‘‘ambition and industriousness’’ (-0.41), each of which loaded negatively. The component also included ‘‘mutual attraction—love’’ (0.49), which loaded positively. They thus labeled this component ‘‘Love vs. Status/Resources.’

Similarly the 3 other components were labeled “Dependable/Stable vs. Good Looks/Health”; “Education/Intelligence vs. Desire for Home/Children”; and “Sociability vs. Similar Religion”.

To my naive mind all of these bipolar dimensions seem to be separate constructs in themselves and I cannot fathom why dependable/stable should be taken as opposed to good looks/health. to me they seem sort of independent constructs. I would rather view the findings as eight separate poles than 4 bipolar dimensions with each dimension conflating two constructs/factors.

The paper immediately drew to my mind this paper, by Haslam et al, that while finding the underlying structure of positive characteristics, found three consistent bipolar dimensions using multi dimensional scaling. However, when the same data was subjected to cluster analysis, 6 factors were or clusters were apparent , each cluster being the pole of a single bipolar dimension. These 6 factors were “self-control,” “love,” “wisdom,” “drive,” “vivacity,” and “collaboration” which to my mind seems to map onto the virtues of self-restraint/temperance strengths, interpersonal or humanity strengths, intellectual or wisdom strengths, courage or emotional strengths , activity or vitality strengths and justice or civic strengths. Of course I think their MDS missed a fourth dimension which would have led to 8 clusters , the 2 remaining being religious and transcendence strengths.

Returning back to our current paper on universal mate preferences, I would like to break up the 4 dimensions into 8 factors and present them in a staged developmental order. It would be worthwhile to note that the two opposed dimensions are usually two adjacent stages following each other and may indeed reflect some conflict in mind of people as to which stage of mate preference to prefer based on their evolved natures . Here goes:

  1. first stage: Physical/biological : good looks/health
  2. second stage: will, restraint and control: dependable/stable.
  3. third stage: dominance/hierarchy, friends and foes: status/ resources.
  4. fourth stage: interpersonal: Love
  5. fifth stage: cognitive: education/ intelligence
  6. sixth stage: intimacy: desire for home/children.
  7. seventh stage: communicative/ generative:  sociability
  8. eights stage: integrity, ingroup/outgroup: similar vs dissimilar religion.

Of course this is not the first time I have tried to put Buss’s findings in a 8 stage model; earlier I had tried to put his views on personality in a  eight fold structure- whereby the last three stages of reproduction/evolution may be now characterized as biological, linguistic and cultural evolution. Anyway getting back to universal mate preferences, I can see that eight fold structure is found in the mate preferences too depending on which stage of preferences you have evolved/developed.

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SHACKELFORD, T., SCHMITT, D., & BUSS, D. (2005). Universal dimensions of human mate preferences Personality and Individual Differences, 39 (2), 447-458 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2005.01.023
Haslam, N., Bain, P., & Neal, D. (2004). The Implicit Structure of Positive Characteristics Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30 (4), 529-541 DOI: 10.1177/0146167203261893

The factor structure of virtues and perosnality: a continuing mess

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Continuing my theme of focusing on human character strengths and virtues and relating them to personality,  I have been doing more reading of the literature and want to discuss three papers today.

First up is Shyrack et al’s recent paper that again explores the factor structure of VIA-IS and finds support for a 3 or 4 factor solution. They discuss the various conflicting/mutually supporting factor analytical results and the resulting 4 or 5 underlying components or factors. the VIA-youth scale consistently gives 4 factors while the VIA-Is (adult form) gives 5 factors.

However, I have issues with the samples on which the factor analysis is done. the mean age in Shyrack’s current study was 50 years approx, but in most other analysis, the analysis is conducted on university students. The age and developmental stage of the sample is important because as per a developmental stage perspective many of the virtues will not become manifest/ apparent and bloom in full strength until a particular age has been reached. for eg, till age 50 people have perhaps mastered the first 6 stages (including intimacy as per Erikson’s model) but still have not finished to satisfaction the developmental tasks of generativity (seventh stage) and integrity (eights stage). Not faced with any developmental challenges to these situations, the people may have lacked incentives to develop the corresponding virtues; thus I would not be surprised if people identify / relate to only at most 6 virtues. I would suggest that new tests be developed for post middle age and senior citizens than the normal adult scales and their data analyzed to understand the true factor structure of virtue. This is akin to their being different measurement instruments for children, adolescents and adults for character strengths and perhaps rightly they reflect different underlying factors thus validating a developmental stages approach. If analyzed this way I am sure the data for aged people will support a eight factor structure. Much of the data obtained from college students, in my view would only support 4 or 5 factor virtue structure.

Shyrack et al find support for 3 or 4 factor model, but based on a cursory look at their extraction using goldberg technique (see figure) I can extrapolate that a support for eight factor structure , with social strengths splitting in justice and humanity, and temperance splitting in temperance proper (restraint) and emotional strength. I hope someone perofmrs extraction till 8 factors and tries to label them, especially with aged poulation.

That bring me to Munro et al paper that also used undergraduate students as samples and performed factor analysis to come up with 5 factors ; however they also centered their data and after centration (to reduce social desirability effects). Their scree plot supported a 9 factor structure. See the scree plot that clearly shows at least eight factor (eigenvalues > 1) . to me it is not understandable why they left this centered data and instead went on to derive a five factor structure from the non-centered raw data.

That brings me to the last paper. It is by Cawley et al and is based on lexical analysis of virtue adjectives and nouns and also uses a different Virtue scale the Virtue Scale instead of VIA-IS. This approach too yielded a found fold structure (Empathy, Order, Resourceful, Serenity), but I believe there is much scope for more exploration with their data. However the best take home from the very insightful article is that virtue and ethics are separate. Virtue is related to being; while ethics is related to doing. Ethics is more cognitively grounded , especially the one gauged by DIT or Kohlberg’s moral dilemmas and is not related much to virtue which is more grounded in character or personality. And they found support for this in their data. That I believe is an important difference an finding to keep in mind. Also I liked this paragraph that lists the attributes that give rise to moral domain competency. To me they follow naturally , as stage tasks and issues , in reverse order as one undergoes moral development:emotions (1st stage), will (second stage) , motivation (3rd stage), Ethics (4th stage) and Virtue (5th stage).

The independence of this measure of the virtues and the personality measures from the more cognitive DIT measure of moral development may also reflect the independence of the mental (cognitive±intellectual) and moral (emotional±motivational) domains in psychology and philosophy (Averill, 1980). Averill observes that the mental domain evolved from studies of epistemology, while the moral domain (including personality) evolved from studies of virtue ethics, motivation, will, and emotion. Thus, from Averill’s observation, one would expect a measure of virtue to be more strongly related to measures of personality than to measures of cognitive moral development. Additional empirical data on the relationships among virtue, personality, moral cognitive development, and epistemological style can be found in Cawley (1997).

Also, I liked this para, that distinguishes between temperance proper (2nd stage doing with restraint) and Activity (7th stage that is more agentic):

McCrae and John (1992) also acknowledge that there are two components of Conscientiousness (C): an inhibitive view and a proactive view. They note that:
A number of di?erent conceptions of C have been o?ered. Tellegen’s Constraint and Hogan’s Prudence re¯ect an inhibitive view of C as a dimension that holds impulsive behavior in check. Digman and Takemoto-Chock’s Will to Achieve represents a proactive view of C as a dimension that organizes and directs behavior. The term Conscientiousness combines both aspects, because it can mean either governed by conscience or diligent and thorough. Empirically, both kinds of traits seem to covary. (p.197)
Perhaps the virtues factor Order represents the inhibitive, non-impulsive aspect of Conscientiousness as a virtue, and the virtues factor Resourcefulness represents the proactive, diligent aspect of Conscientiousness as a virtue (see also Johnson & Ostendorf, 1993).

Overall, I highly recommend reading the Cawley et al paper (available freely on the web) and encourage more research that utilizes multiple approaches to correlating Virtues with other constructs as outlined in this bit from munro et al:

In addition to developing their classification system, Peterson and Seligman (2004) have also suggested how their classification of character strengths and virtues is related to, but distinct from, already established theories of values. For example, Peterson and Seligman (2004) see their classification of character strengths and virtues as being related toMaslow’s (1973) idea of self-actualised individuals, the Five FactorModel (FFM) of personality (McCrae & John, 1992; Costa & McCrae, 1994), Cawley’s virtue factors (Cawley,Martin, & Johnson, 2000), Buss’ evolutionary ideas about what is attractive in a mate [i.e. what character traits are essential for survival and propagation, (Botwin, Buss, & Shackelford, 1997; Shackelford, Schmitt, & Buss, 2005)], and Schwartz’s (1992) Universal Values.
Some research into establishing the validity of these claims has begun. Haslam, Bain, and Neal 2004) found that both Schwartz’s (1992) Universal Values and the Five Factor Model (FFM) of personality were conceptually linked to the 24 character strengths. However, as these constructs were defined and subsequently measured by only one or two terms that were ranked and grouped together by participants on the basis of conceptual likeness, more thorough research is needed before we can draw any firm conclusions.

Heer is toast to more such research!

Shryack, J., Steger, M., Krueger, R., & Kallie, C. (2010). The structure of virtue: An empirical investigation of the dimensionality of the virtues in action inventory of strengths Personality and Individual Differences, 48 (6), 714-719 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2010.01.007
MACDONALD, C., BORE, M., & MUNRO, D. (2008). Values in action scale and the Big 5: An empirical indication of structure Journal of Research in Personality, 42 (4), 787-799 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2007.10.003
CAWLEY, M., MARTIN, J., & JOHNSON, J. (2000). A virtues approach to personality1 Personality and Individual Differences, 28 (5), 997-1013 DOI: 10.1016/S0191-8869(99)00207-X

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Character strengths and virtues: a 5/8 factor structure?

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Positive psychology is based on the premise that it is equally important to study what is good in life as it is to study what goes wrong. Positive psychology thus focuses on building and capitalizing on existing strengths of people while not focusing too much on their weaknesses, which has been focus of the traditional pathological view of humans.
Martin Seligman, the founding father of positive psychology, and Christopher Peterson, accordingly, have developed a Values In Action (VIA)-character strengths inventory and classification scheme to measure and classify the virtues or character strengths in a taxonomic system. It is a 240 items self-report measure that identifies 24 character strengths and orders them as per their predominance in a person’s life. These 24 character strengths are further classified in 6 broad virtues. I am reproducing teh 6 broad virtues and the 24 character strengths below:

  1. Wisdom and Knowledge Cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge
    • Creativity: Thinking of novel and productive ways to conceptualize and do things
    • Curiosity: Taking an interest in ongoing experience for its own sake
    • Open-mindedness: Thinking things through and examining them from all sides
    • Love of learning: Mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge
    • Perspective: Being able to provide wise counsel to others
  2. Courage-Emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external and internal
    • Bravery: Not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain
    • Persistence: Finishing what one starts; persisting in a course of action in spite of obstacles
    • Integrity: Speaking the truth but more broadly presenting oneself in a genuine way
    • Vitality: Approaching life with excitement and energy; not doing anything halfheartedly
  3. Humanity-Interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others
    • Love: Valuing close relations with others, in particular those in which caring is reciprocated
    • Kindness: Doing favors and good deeds for others; helping them; taking care of them
    • Social intelligence: Being aware of the motives and feelings of other people and oneself
  4. Justice- Civic strengths that underlie healthy community life
    • Citizenship: Working well as a member of a group or team; being loyal to a group
    • Fairness: Treating all people the same according to the notions of fairness and justice
    • Leadership: Encouraging a group of which one is a member to get things done
  5. Temperance-Strengths that protect against excess
    • Forgiveness and mercy: Forgiving those who have done wrong; accepting others’ faults
    • Humility/Modesty: Letting one’s accomplishments speak for themselves
    • Prudence: Being careful about one’s choices; not taking undue risks
    • Self-regulation: Regulating what one feels and does; being disciplined
  6. Transcendence-Strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning
    • Appreciation of beauty and excellence: Noticing and appreciating beauty, excellence, and/or
      skilled performance in various domains of life
    • Gratitude: Being aware of and thankful for the good things that happen
    • Hope: Expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it
    • Humor: Liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people
    • Spirituality: Having coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of the universe

Seligman and Peterson arrived at these strengths via an esoteric route: they analyzed the major ethical and religious teachings of major eastern (Taoism, Confucianism, Hinduism and Buddhism) and western  (Judaism, Christianity, Athenian virtues and Islamic) religions and going by the authoritative texts of these religions tried to find universal and ubiquitous character strengths or virtues.  They themselves and others performed factor analysis on their 240 item questionnaire, and data obtained from different people who answered the questionnaire, and obtained at different time 5 factor or 4 factor solutions.

Seligman and Peterson themselves identify the following five factors from exploratory factor analysis. :

  • strengths of restraint (fairness, humility, mercy, prudence)
  • intellectual strengths (e.g., creativity, curiosity, love of learning,appreciation of beauty)
  • interpersonal strengths (e.g., kindness, love, leadership, teamwork,playfulness)
  • emotional strengths (e.g., bravery, hope, self-regulation, zest)
  • theological strengths (e.g., gratitude, spirituality)

Some other researchers found a four factor structure ( Interpersonal Strengths, Fortitude, Vitality, and Cautiousness) while some others have found related four or even one factor structure.

To my mind the original character strengths seem to follow the five/eight staged developmental/evolutionary model, especially when seen from the big 5/8 personality model ,  as follows:

  1. stage 1: related to emotions: personality trait neuroticism. character strength of Courage/Fortitude. Also known otherwise as emotional strength.
  2. stage 2: related to impulses/will: personality trait conscientiousness: character strength of Temperance. Also known otherwise as  strength of restraint.
  3. stage 3: related to forming alliances and friendships and concerned with dominance/submission. the social domain and group dynamics.  personality trait extraversion. character strength Justice. Leadership, fairness and citizenship are all civic strengths.
  4. stage 4: related to close interpersonal relations. personality trait agreeableness. : the personal and interpersonal domain. character strength humanity. Also known as interpersonal strength.
  5. stage 5: related to self-discovery and cognition; personality trait openness to experience. the cognitive and intellectual domain. character strength wisdom. also known as intellectual strengths .
  6. stage 6, 7 and 8 are qualitatively different and thus might have been clubbed into the transcendence/religiosity factor, but I believe as we evolve and understand better we would be able to classify the transcendence / religiosity factor into 3 separate factors and identify the individually. For a starter distinguishing amongst religiosity (trust vs distrust the sixth stage)  and transcendence (the eighth stage) may be called for.  Also, Todd Kashandan et al found that Vitality may be an apt name for the factor representing transcendence/religiosity and by vitality they meant Zest, hope humor etc all traits that are related to personality dimension of 7th stage viz Activity. thus I propose to split transcendence in 3 factors: one religious strengths ( stage 6 consisting of gratitude, hope); activity strengths (stage 7 consisting of Zest, humor, vitality etc) and transcendence strengths (stage 8 consisting spirituality, appreciation of beauty etc)

I would be on the lookout for the astute experimenter/observer who first fits the eight stage factor model to the character strengths and confirms the eight factor structure of character strengths and virtues and also relates them to underlying personality traits.

Seligman and Peterson have themselves tried to relate the character strengths to personality traits and so have been other recent attempts, but they will remain insufficient till the eight stage theoretical model is taken as a foundation. Seligman and Peterson note, in respect of the five factor structure they discovered using factor analysis:

What we call here strengths of restraint correspond closely to virtues of temperance; intellectual strengths correspond to virtues of wisdom and knowledge; interpersonal strengths collapse the virtues of humanity and justice ; emotional strengths correspond to virtues of courage; and the theological strengths are included among our transcendence virtues.
We also note that the first three factors here correspond to the Big Five factors of conscientiousness, openness, and agreeableness; the fourth factor—emotional strengths—may correspond to the opposite of the Big Five factor of neuroticism. The fifth factor—theological strengths—has no Big Five counterpart.

I believe their attempts, and the attempts of other researchers will go futile, till the eight fold developmental/evolutionary model is taken as the theoretical bedrock on which to perform confirmatory factor analysis.

Dahlsgaard, K., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. (2005). Shared Virtue: The Convergence of Valued Human Strengths Across Culture and History. Review of General Psychology, 9 (3), 203-213 DOI: 10.1037/1089-2680.9.3.203
Brdar, I., & Kashdan, T. (2010). Character strengths and well-being in Croatia: An empirical investigation of structure and correlates Journal of Research in Personality, 44 (1), 151-154 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2009.12.001

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The five domains of human social experience:the SCARF model

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I recently came across David Rock’s Psychology Today blog named your brain at work. He has recently published a book by the same name and though I haven’t read the book yet, I was sufficiently engrossed by his ideas to read up on his  proposed SCARF model in the NueroLeadership journal (2008). David has himself written a series of five posts explaining each domain of his SCARF model, so you can refer them and read starlight from the horse’s mouth. David maintains that the five major goals of human brain are geared towards maintaining (increasing positive and reducing negative) these five dimensions- Certainty, Autonomy, Status, Relatedness and Fairness. Please note that I have reordered the SCARF factors as per the fit with my own 5 and 8 stage theoretic models.

I’ll now quote extensively from his NeuroLeadership article and try to integrate this within my fisrt 5 stages of development/evolution. :

The SCARF model involves five domains of human social experience: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness.

Status is about relative importance to others. Certainty concerns being able to predict the future. Autonomy provides a sense of control over events. Relatedness is a sense of safety with others, of friend rather than foe. And fairness is a perception of fair exchanges between people.

These five domains activate either the ‘primary reward’ or ‘primary threat’ circuitry (and associated networks) of the brain. For example, a perceived threat to one’s status activates similar brain networks to a threat to one’s life. In the same way, a perceived increase in fairness activates the same reward circuitry as receiving a monetary reward.

It is my contention that these domains or brain regions specific to these domains evolved because of the peculiar demands of each type of social situation and need. And I also wish to relate this to personality evolution especially the five factor OCEAN model. Perhaps some people who are more Open to experience are also having regions more sensitive to Fairness.

In a nutshell, in increasing evolutionary stages, the mapping is as follows: Certainty: Neurtoicsim; Autonomy: Conscientiousness;Status: Extraversion; Relatedness: Agreeableness; and Fairness: Openness to Experience.


The brain is a pattern-recognition machine that is constantly trying to predict the near future. For example, the motor network is useless without the sensory system. To pick up a cup of coffee, the sensory system, sensing the position of the fingers at each moment, interacts dynamically with the motor cortex to determine where to move your fingers next. Your fingers don’t draw on fresh data each time; the brain draws on the memory of what a cup is supposed to feel like in the hand, based on expectations drawn from previous experiences. If it feels different, perhaps slippery, you immediately pay attention (Hawkins, 2004). The brain likes to know the pattern occurring moment to moment, it craves certainty, so that prediction is possible. Without prediction, the brain must use dramatically more resources, involving the more energy-intensive prefrontal cortex, to process moment-to-moment experience.

Even a small amount of uncertainty generates an ‘error’ response in the orbital frontal cortex (OFC). This takes attention away from one’s goals, forcing attention to the error (Hedden, Garbrielli, 2006). If someone is not telling you the whole truth, or acting incongruously, the resulting uncertainty can fire up errors in the OFC. This is like having a flashing printer icon on your desktop when paper is jammed – the flashing cannot be ignored, and until it is resolved it is difficult to focus on other things. Larger uncertainties, like not knowing your boss’ expectations or if your job is secure, can be highly debilitating.

Much of Neuroticism is marked by anxiety and worry about unforeseens- a personality trait directly fine tuned to detecting and being sensitive to uncertainties in the environment. A nervous person is easily affected by uncertainties while a calm person hardly bothers about his predictive abilities and doesn’t get bothered no matter what the future may have in store.


Autonomy is the perception of exerting control over one’s environment; a sensation of having choices. Mieka (1985) showed that the degree of control organisms can exert over a stress factor determines whether or not the stressor alters the organism’s functioning. Inescapable or uncontrollable stress can be highly destructive, whereas the same stress interpreted as escapable is significantly less destructive. (Donny et al, 2006). The difference in some rodent studies was life and death (Dworkin et al, 1995).
An increase in the perception of autonomy feels rewarding. Several studies in the retirement industry find strong correlations between a sense of control and health outcomes (Rodin, 1986). People leave corporate life, often for far less income, because they desire greater autonomy. A reduction in autonomy, for example when being micro managed, can generate a strong threat response. When one senses a lack of control, the experience is of a lack of agency, or an inability to influence outcomes.

Dopamine is heavily involved in this system – the feeling of choice of control is a theme underlying conscientiousness trait too- whether one is conscientious and acts in a methodical manner assuming one has control over events or one cats irresponsibly and without feelings of agency.


In researcher Michael Marmot’s book The Status Syndrome: How Social Standing Affects Our Health and Longevity, Marmot makes the case that status is the most significant determinant of human longevity and health, even when controlling for education and income. This finding is supported by Sapolski’s work with primates (Sapolski, 2002). Sapolski found that in primate communities, status equals survival: higher status monkeys have lower baseline cortisol levels, live longer and are healthier.
Status is about relative importance, ‘pecking order’ and seniority. Humans hold a representation of status in relation to others when in conversations, and this affects mental processes in many ways (Zink, 2008). The brain thinks about status using similar circuits for processing numbers (Chaio, 2003). One’s sense of status goes up when one feels ‘better than’ another person. In this instance the primary reward circuitry is activated, in particular the striatum, which increases dopamine levels. One study showed that an increase in status was similar in strength to a financial windfall (Izuma et al, 2008). Winning a swimming race, a card game or an argument probably feels good because of the perception of increased status and the resulting reward circuitry being activated.
The perception of a potential or real reduction in status can generate a strong threat response. Eisenberger and colleagues showed that a reduction in status resulting from being left out of an activity lit up the same regions of the brain as physical pain (Eisenberger et al., 2003). While this study explores social rejection, it is closely connected to the experience of a drop in status.

The third stage and personality trait of extarversion is all about one-up-manship, hierarchy and kissing the boss’s arse. If you are good and sensitive to power games you are more extrovert (directed towards the world), else you are more inner directed or intravert.


Relatedness involves deciding whether others are ‘in’ or ‘out’ of a social group. Whether someone is friend, or foe. Relatedness is a driver of behavior in many types of teams, from sports teams to organizational silos: people naturally like to form ‘tribes’ where they experience a sense of belonging. The concept of being inside or outside the group is probably a by-product of living in small communities for millions of years, where strangers were likely to be trouble and should be avoided.

The decision that someone is friend or foe happens quickly and impacts brain functioning (Carter & Pelphrey, 2008). For example, information from people perceived as ‘like us’ is processed using similar circuits for thinking one’s own thoughts. When someone is perceived as a foe, different circuits are used (Mitchell, 2006). Also, when treating someone as a competitor, the capacity to empathise drops significantly (Singer et al, 2006).

Neuroscientist John Cacioppo talks about the need for safe human contact being a primary driver, like the need for food (Cacioppo, 2008). In the absence of safe social interactions the body generates a threat response, also known as feeling lonely. However, meeting someone unknown tends to generate an automatic threat response. This explains why one feels better at a party knowing three people rather than one. Alcohol helps to reduce this automatic social threat response, enabling strangers to communicate more easily, hence its use as a social lubricant the world over. In the absence of alcohol, getting from foe to friend can be helped by an oxytocin response, an experience of connecting with the other person. Oxytocin is a hormone produced naturally in the brain, and higher levels of this substance are associated with greater affiliative behavior (Domes et al, 2007). Studies have shown far greater collaboration when people are given a shot of oxytocin, through a nasal spray. (Kosfield, 2005). A handshake, swapping names and discussing something in common, be it just the weather, may increase feeling of closeness by causing the release of oxytocin (Zak et al, 2005). The concept of relatedness is closely linked to trust. One trusts those who appear to be in your group, who one has connected with, generating approach emotions. And when someone does something untrustworthy, the usual response is to withdraw. The greater that people trust one another, the stronger the collaboration and the more information that is shared.

The fourth stage/trait of Agreeableness is undoubtedly analogous to the relatedness social domain. Note the focus on in-group versus out-group dynamic at this stage and the importance of oxytocin at this stage.


Studies by Golnaz Tabibnia and Matthew Lieberman at UCLA showed that 50 cents generated more of a reward in the brain than $10.00, when it was 50 cents out of a dollar, and the $10 was out of $50 (Tabibnia & Lieberman, 2007). This study and a number of others illustrate that fair exchanges are intrinsically rewarding, independent of other factors. The need for fairness may be part of the explanation as to why people experience internal rewards for doing volunteer work to improve their community; it is a sense of decreasing the unfairness in the world.
Unfair exchanges generate a strong threat response (Tabibnia & Lieberman, 2007). This sometimes includes activation of the insular, a part of the brain involved in intense emotions such as disgust. Unfair situations may drive people to die to right perceived injustices, such as in political struggles. People who perceive others as unfair don’t feel empathy for their pain, and in some instances, will feel rewarded when unfair others are punished (Singer et al, 2006).

The last stage /trait of opennesses to experience/conformity/rebellion is directly mapped to sense of fairness and inequity aversion. Note also the visceral references to sense of taste by activation of disgust module in these cases of inequity aversions. The famous capachuin monkeys study also comes to mind where monkey refused cucumber when their colleagues got grape slices.

Overall, David Rock has provided an important framework that fits within the 5 stage theoretic model and has proven useful in industrial and organisational psychology. It would be good if more and more people started paying attention to the five stage theories (extendable to 8 stages), many things become clear and easy to remember when viewed from that particular lens.

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The five tribal stages

I recently came across this TEDx video by David Logan talking about the five tribal stages and was glad on discovering another confirmation to my stage theoretic model. Dave along with King and Haleee have also written a book titled “Tribal Leadership” which summarizes their research, their tribal leadership model and how corporates and other organizations can move from one tribal stage to another.

As their theoretical background they have rhetorics, organizational theory and chaos theory and they view ‘culture as a self-correcting system of language’. This needs a bit of elaboration. What they mean is that the day to day language we use in our workplace or tribes and our relationships with other members of the tribes (behavior) is indicative of the stage at which the tribe is functioning. They explicitly dismiss all ‘cognitions, beliefs, attitudes, or other factors we cannot directly observe’ and in doing so and thus focusing solely on language and behavior are more in the behavioristic tradition, than grounding their tribes in a cognitive framework. Despite the resistance to cognitive framework, they do take recourse to developmental theory and Ken Wilbur’s spiral dynamics . However, their stages do seem to be good enough and are elaborated below:

  1. stage 1: Despairing Hostility :“Life sucks”: If people at Stage One had T-shirts, they would read “life sucks,” and what comes out of their mouths support this adage. People at this stage are despairingly hostile, and they band together to get ahead in a violent and unfair world.
  2. stage 2: Apathetic Victim: “My life sucks”: People in this cultural stage are passively antagonistic; they cross their arms in judgment yet never really get interested enough to spark any passion. Their laughter is quietly sarcastic and resigned. The Stage Two talk is that they’ve seen it all before and watched it all fail. A person at Stage Two will often try to protect his or her people from the intrusion of management. The mood that results from Stage Two’s theme, “my life sucks,” is a cluster of apathetic victims.
  3. stage 3: Lone Warrior: “I’m great (and you’re not)”: People at Stage Three have to win, and for them winning is personal. They’ll outwork and outthink their competitors on an individual basis. The mood that results is a collection of “lone warriors,” wanting help and support and being continually disappointed that others don’t have their ambition or skill. Because they have to do the tough work (remembering that others just aren’t as savvy), their complaint is that they don’t have enough time or competent support.
  4. stage 4 : Tribal Pride :“We’re great (and they’re not)”: A “we’re great” tribe always has an adversary— the need for it is hardwired into the DNA of this cultural stage. In fact, the full expression of the theme is “we’re great, and they’re not.” For USC football, the “you’re not” is usually UCLA (and in good years, whichever team is contending for the national championship). For Apple’s operating systems engineers, it’s Microsoft (although this is changing as Apple has moved to using Intel processors). Often, it’s another group within the company. A tribe will seek its own competitor, and the only one who has influence over the target is the Tribal Leader.The rule for Stage Four is this: the bigger the foe, the more powerful the tribe.
  5. stage 5 :Innocent Wonderment: “Life is great”: Stage Five’s T-shirt would read “life is great,” and they haven’t been doing illicit substances. Their language revolves around infinite potential and how the group is going to make history—not to beat a competitor, but because doing so will make a global impact. This group’s mood is “innocent wonderment,” with people in competition with what’s possible, not with another tribe.

This fits with my own stage model pretty well: the first stage is pretty much about survival and safety and getting together to outsmart the cruel environment. The second stage is more personal and (non) motivational in nature. The third stage is about accomplishment and has an achievement focus. The fourth is the most tribal with social focus and a visible ‘enemy’ or competitor tribe. The fifth stage has an imaginative and innovative focus.

It is possible and desirable to move from one stage to other and Dave shows that nicely in his TEDx talk embedded below:

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Five kinds of self/self-knowledge

Ulric Neisser
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What can one say about an article that explores self in terms of stage theories (5 stages that match my own stage theoretic framework), has references to infantile autism and paranoia , and even references Carol Dweck‘s entity vs incremental intelligence theories and George Lakoff‘s ‘idealized cognitive model‘- all focuses of this blog…Well I just love this article by Ulric Neisser titled ‘Five kinds of self-knowledge’. That artcile gives me an opportunity to integrate and synthesize many of the prominent threads of this blog in a coherent narrative.

Let me start with core thesis of Ulrich that there are at least five different types of selves that we gradually become aware of in developmental time frame. Because Ulrich does such a nice job of presenting his findings , I’ll quote at length from him.

The analysis to be presented here distinguishes among several kinds of self-specifying information, each establishing a different aspect of the self. These aspects are so distinct that they are essentially different selves: they differ in their origins and developmental histories, in what we know about them, in the pathologies to which they are subject, and in the manner in which they contribute to human social experience. Here, in capsule form, is the list:

The ecological self is the self as perceived with respect to the physical environment: I am the person here in this place, engaged in this particular activity.
The interpersonal self, which appears from earliest infancy just as the ecological self does, is specified by species-specific signals of emotional rapport and communication: I am the person who is engaged, here, in this particular human interchange.
The extended self is based primarily on our personal memories and anticipations: I am the person who had certain specific experiences, who regularly engages in certain specific and familiar routines.
The private self appears when children first notice that some of their experiences are not directly shared with other people: I am, in principle, the only person who can feel this unique and particular pain.
The conceptual self or ‘self-concept’ draws its meaning from the network of assumptions and theories in which it is embedded, just as all other concepts do. Some of those theories concern social roles (husband, professor, American), some postulate more or less hypothetical internal entities (the soul, the unconscious mind, mental energy, the brain, the liver), and some establish socially significant dimensions of difference (intelligence, attractiveness, wealth). There is a remarkable variety in what people believe about themselves, and not all of it is true.

Note the five stage model fitting perfectly to the T. The first stage marked by a sensory stage that is more defined in relation to the environment around. The second stage more subjective in nature and based on agentic conceptions of intersubjectivity- related to significant humans around and also valence and affect based. The third stage being ‘experiential ‘ in nature and marked by remembered/internalized activities with family playing a major role in its development. The fourth stage marked by hidden or private stage in which peers or social sphere plays a significant role- also the most traditional defintion and conceptualizations associated with a trait. The fifth, and for now the final, stage associated with abstracting and conceptualization and model-driven depending on culture and subject to cultural variations and also cognition based. Many of the stage features may not be readily apparent and map to the five forms of selves described above, but bear with me- they will become clearer as I elaborate on the selves and quote more from the article.

First let us take the ecological self: Neisser describes them in slightly technical and inaccessible terms of ‘optic flow’ and ‘looming’ -some difficult concepts to grasp but which basically focus on the fact that relative motion between eye(observation point) and the environment (say a wall) lead to this sense of an ecological self that is perceiving the immediate environment and also acting on it. Neisser discusses experiments with children in this context like the child when he closes his eyes claims that you cannot see him. See more below:

One surprising bit of evidence for the importance of optical flow for the ecological self comes from a phenomenon investigated by Flavell, Shipstead & Croft (1980). The phenomenon is amusing in its own right and has often been described: young children cover their eyes with their hands and say “You can’t see me!” Prior to the work of Flavell et al. (1980), this behavior was typically interpreted in Piagetian terms: since the child cannot see anything, s/he assumes that you can’t see anything either. Indeed, when these experimenters asked their eyes-covered subjects “Can I see you?”, most 2- and 3-year-olds answered No. Surprisingly, however, the same subjects answered Yes to many other questions about what the experimenter could see. “Can I see Snoopy (a doll located nearby)?” Yes. “Can I see your leg?” Yes. “Can I see your head?” Yes. These results show that “You can’t see me” does not reflect any egocentric misapprehension about other people’s seeing; rather, it is a clue to the speaker’s own conception of self. The child’s ‘me’—the entity to which the adult’s question “Can I see you?” refers—is evidently somewhere near the eyes. To be sure, that localisation is not precise: Flavell et al. got mixed results when they had their subjects cover only one eye, or stand behind a barrier with a hole in it so that nothing but an eye was visible. Nevertheless the implication seems clear: children locate the self at the point of observation, as specified by the optical flow field.

Important as it is, optical flow is by no means the only determinant of the ecological self. The self is an embodied actor as well as an observer; it initiates movements, perceives their consequences, and takes pleasure in its own effectivity. Infants love to look at their own hands in action, and they can distinguish their own moving legs, seen in real time on a TV screen, from the moving legs of another baby (Bahrick & Watson, 1985). Many theorists have noted the importance of agency in establishing a sense of self. I can cause changes in the immediately perceptible environment, and those objects whose movements and changes I can inevitably and consistently control are parts of me. This kind of self-perception is precisely time dependent and richly intermodal. I can see and feel what I do: the optical and kinesthetically-given structures that specify the consequences of movement are exactly synchronous, and both coincide with the efferent activity by which the action itself is produced. In general, then, the two principal aspects of the ecological self are defined by two distinguishable kinds of information. The existence of a perceiving entity at a particular location in the environment is most clearly specified by the optical flow field (though touch and hearing also contribute); the existence of a bounded, articulated and controllable body is specified not only by what we can see of it but by what we feel and what we can do6.
The ecological self does not always coincide with the biological body. In particular, anything that moves with the body tends to be perceived as part of the self—especially if its movements are self-produced. This principle applies most obviously to the clothes we wear. It is / who kick the soccer ball, though in fact its only contact is with my shoe; when you touch my shoulder you are touching me, even when a shirt and a jacket interpose between your fingers and my skin. These experiences have nothing to do with my ownership of the clothes. The same jacket is not part of my ecological self when it hangs in my closet, or when I am carrying it home from the cleaners; to touch it in such cases is not to touch me at all. What matters is not possession or contact but agency and co-ordinate movement. The same principle explains why the practised wearer of an artificial limb so naturally perceives it as a part of the self. Such wearers have not mistakenly come to believe that the limbs are flesh-and-blood parts of their bodies. On the contrary, their perceptions are exactly correct: to the extent that the motion of a limb is responsive to one’s intentions and is co-ordinated with movements of the point of observation, it belongs to the ecological self.

He also gives example of the colloquial use of identification with your car while you are driving one. He also claims that this self is present from birth and only refines a bit with experience. He believes phantom limbs and neglect are pathologies associated with this kind of self.

In summary, here are some of the characteristics of the ecological self:
• The self, like the environment, exists objectively; many of its characteristics are specified by objectively-existing information. That information allows us to perceive not only the location of the ecological self but also the nature of its ongoing interaction with the environment.
•Much of the relevant information is kinetic, consisting of structure over time. Optical structure is particularly important, but self-specifying information is often available to several perceptual modalities at once.
•The ecological self is veridically perceived from earliest infancy; nevertheless self-perception develops and can become more adequate with increasing age and skill.

Next we come to the inter personal self:

The interpersonal self is the self as engaged in immediate unreflective social interaction with another person. Like the ecological self, it can be directly perceived on the basis of objectively existing information. Again like the ecological self, most of the relevant information it is essentially kinetic, i.e. consists of structures over time. In this case, however, the information—and the state of affairs that it specifies—come into existence only when two (or more) people are engaged in personal interaction. If the nature, direction, timing, and intensity of one person’s actions mesh appropriately with the nature/direction/timing/intensity of the other’s, they have jointly created an instance of what is often called intersubjectivity. The mutuality of their behaviour exists in fact and can be perceived by outside observers; more importantly, it is perceived by the participants themselves. Each of them can see (and hear, and perhaps feel) the appropriately interactive responses of the other. Those responses, in relation to one’s own perceived activity, specify the interpersonal self.

Then he illustrates some mother-child cooing examples and elaborates:

These interactions illustrate what Trevarthen has called ‘primary intersubjectivity’. The participants respond to each other immediately and coherently, in both action and feeling; their reciprocal activities are closely co-ordinated in time. The result is a shared structure of action—a structure that both of the participants enjoy, and that neither of them could have produced alone. Indeed, the contributions of the individual partners would be useless and foolish if they occurred by themselves. An elegant experiment by Lynne Murray (Murray & Trevarthen, 1985) demonstrates this point. Mothers and their 6 to 12 week-old babies, actually in separate rooms, interacted via double closed-circuit television. Each partner saw and heard a fullface, life-size video image of the other, with appropriate eye contact being made. As long as the video presentation was ‘live’, this system allowed interaction to proceed normally: the babies looked intently at their mothers with open and relaxed mouth, slightly raised eyebrows, and other signs of interest. The first minute of live interaction comprised the control condition. It was recorded on videotape; the tape of the mother was then rewound and immediately replayed on the infant’s screen. This second (replay) minute comprised the experimental condition. Although what the infants saw and heard was identically the same in both conditions—the same mother, the same gestures, the same displays of affection—their responses were dramatically different. In the experimental condition, the babies who had been happy a minute ago now exhibited signs of distress: they turned away from the mother’s image, frowned, grimaced, and fingered their clothing.10. (A final control presentation ensured that they had not simply become tired of the situation itself.) The subjects’ distress during the replay was evidently produced by some kind of mismatch between their mothers’ responses and their own.
Murray’s study shows that infants in normal face-to-face interactions are not just picking up information about their partners; they actually perceive the ongoing intersubjective relationship. J. J. Gibson’s (1979) principle that all perceiving involves co-perception of environment and self applies also to the social environment and to the interpersonal self, i.e. the self that is established in these interactions. Just as the ecological self is specified by the orientation and flow of optical texture, so the interpersonal self is specified by the orientation and flow of the other individual’s expressive gestures; just as the ecological self is articulated and confirmed by the effects of our own physical actions, so the interpersonal self is developed and confirmed by the effects of our own expressive gestures on our partner.

These examples (Stern gives many others) show again that intersubjectivity is anemotional business: the two partners are obviously sharing an affect. Nevertheless,the ordinary vocabulary of the emotions is not adequate to describe what is going on. It is not just that both are ‘happy’ or ‘excited’, but that the mother is precisely matching the pattern and temporal contour of the infant’s activity with her own. Such ‘vitality affects’ (Stern, 1985) are specified by information in several sensory modalities: in visible movement, in the emphasis and modulation of the voice, in bodily contact. Their specification is so rich that they are readily perceived and shared, not only between mothers and infants but between any two individuals in social contact. The resulting experience is an immediate awareness of both the other person and the (interpersonal) self, as well as of the specific present relationship between them.

Now comes the important part. The claim that developmental failures at this stage are associated with autism. I would in parallel surmise that too much reliance on this intersubjective self should however dispose towards psychosis too.

The close parallels between ecological and interpersonal self-perception should not be allowed to obscure certain important differences. The successful achievement of intersubjectivity depends not only on the operation of the perceptual and motor systems but on some additional, specifically human mechanism that permits us to relate to members of our own species. The mechanism can fail, and it has often been suggested that the dramatic condition called infantile autism, characterised from the outset by a total lack of interest in relationships with people, results from just such a failure. Leo Kanner made this point explicitly in the paper that established autism as a diagnostic category: “We must, then, assume that these children have come into the world with innate inability to form the usual, biologically provided affective contact with people, just as other children come into the world with innate physical or intellectual handicaps” (1943, p. 250). Murray (1984) has recently presented a similar argument, and suggested that the effects observed in her double closedcircuit television paradigm may provide useful models for autism research.

Awareness of the interpersonal self is almost invariably accompanied by a simultaneous awareness of the ecological self. A wealth of information specifies their co-existence: I can see that the person to whom you are addressing yourself (the interpersonal me) is the very person who is located here, at this point of observation in this environment (the ecological me). For this reason, these two aspects of the self are rarely experienced as distinct. Such a separation can occur, however, if we attend exclusively to one class of information and ignore the other entirely. To attend only to ecological information structures, ignoring the interpersonal, is to treat another individual merely as a non-human object—perhaps to walk past him, or shove him aside, without engaging in any form of intersubjectivity. The opposite case can occur in very intimate personal contact, as between lovers or (as psychoanalysts have long suggested) between mothers and infants: one’s attention is so fully directed to the ongoing intersubjective experience that one does not pick up any ecological-self-specifying information at all. This does not mean that lovers and infants have no ecological selves, but only that there are moments at which those aspects of their selves may go unnoticed.

It is interesting to note that Neisser equates too much inetrsubjectivity with the obsession (or colloquial) madness involved in bond between lovers/ parents-child.

Next he analyzes the extended self:

The objectively-existing kinds of information considered so far—optical flow, effective movement, other people’s expressive gestures—specify only the present self. We can see what we are doing right now, and with whom, but how can we know what we did yesterday or last week? The answer, of course, is just that we remember, the information is in our own heads. The extended self is the self as it was in the past and as we expect it to be in the future, known primarily on the basis of memory.

He discusses amnesia as a pathology of thisslef and distinguishes between episodic memory and scripts involved at this stage.

Genuine remembering occurs when at least some information about the past is disentangled from the current situation. In many cases, that information is about my past, i.e. it is a record of some aspect of the extended self14. In remembering something that I did or experienced on some’other occasion—by remembering that I did it rather than merely how to do it—I necessarily became aware that my existence transcends the present moment. This can happen in two rather different ways. To the extent that what I recall is a unique and particular past event (say, presenting a colloquium talk at the University of Aberdeen in November 1987), I am having an episodic memory (Tulving, 1972). But to the extent that what I recall is a repeated and familiar routine (there is a script for colloquiua that includes arriving in town, talking to colleagues, being introduced, giving the talk, answering questions, etc.), I am using a general event representation (Nelson, 1986) or script (Schank & Abelson, 1977). Both kinds of memory contribute to the extended self. / am the person who gave that colloquium in Aberdeen: I am also a person who gives colloquium talks from time to time. While these two examples are certainly not among the most central components of my extended self (!), that self can be thought as a kind of cumulated total of such memories: the things I remember having done and the things I think of myself as doing regularly.

Recent studies show that episodic recall, like script knowledge, is in place by the age of three. A 2 \ -year-old child will often fail to remember the particular ‘target event’ that an interviewer first asks about, but s/he will usually have at least some fairly accurate memories that go back 3 or more months (Todd & Perlmutter, 1980; Fivush, Gray & Fromhoff, 1987). Despite these findings, I doubt that episodic memory contributes very much to the sense of self at this early age. Children under 3 years are not very interested in the past, even when they can recall it. They would much rather talk about something in the present—or play and not talk at all—then spend effort in remembering earlier experiences (Galotti & Neisser, 1982). That interest increases as the child come to realise the social significance of autobiographical recall, i.e. its potential for extending relationships beyond the present moment. The most important adaptive function of memory may be that it makes permanent interpersonal relations possible, and thus vastly strengthens the coherence of human groups (Neisser, 1988). Note that even rather sloppy memories can serve this purpose: my recall of a shared event must be close enough to yours to avoid bizarre discrepancies, but it need not be accurate in every detail. Unsurprisingly, this is just the level of mnemonic accuracy that people generally achieve.

I would like to pause here and reflect on the fact that in amnesia the intersubjective self is dysfunctional- that in my view should lead to problems at this level too. In particular because they do not appreciative the social subtleties that should guide the appropriate memory and scrips generation, they end up with too much detailed memory (savant abilities) and too rigrous scripts (repetitive and restrictive movements and interests). On the other hand too much intersubjectivity reliance in memory and scripts formation should lead to inaccurate and self-serving memories and scripts that are partly delusional and confabulatory.

The extended self becomes increasingly important as we grow older. Most adults develop a more or less standard life-narrative that effectively defines the self in terms of a particular series of remembered experiences. These accounts are continually being extended (and occasionally revised!), creating a narrative structure much like that of more formal autobiographies (Barclay, 1986). As in the case of social relationships, the memory that supports these narratives need not be highly accurate. It also need not deal in equal detail with every epoch of life. Recent studies suggest that elderly people have particularly rich and accessible memories for the period of adolescence and young adulthood.

Note also that how as we move up the developmental stages we move from agentic/experiential “I” to narrative ‘me’, the two types of selves I discussed recently in a different context.

Next he moves to the Private self:

Each of us has conscious experiences that are not available to anyone else. Some of these are the inner aspects of perception and action; others (dreams, for example) are quite independent of the individual’s actual present circumstances. These personal experiences are an important source of self-knowledge15. When are they first used for that purpose? While even the youngest children surely have a conscious mental life (including an awareness of the ecological and interpersonal selves!), I suspect that they do not yet take the immediacy of their experience as an important line of demarcation between themselves and the rest of the world. They do not need to: such a line already exists for them, established by ecologically available information. Although each of us certainly “dichotomizes the Kosmos in a different place,” as William James put it (1890, p. 290), we first do so by exterospection rather than by introspection.

We not only have private experience but remember it, recalling dreams we had last night or thoughts we had last week and thus augmenting the extended self. The importance of this contribution varies substantially from one person to another, perhaps in part because memory for mental experiences is relatively poor. Pains are notoriously difficult to recall; we remember that we were in pain, but cannot easily recapture the quality of the experience. Most people forget most of their dreams almost immediately.

Philosophers in the Western tradition—indeed, in many traditions—have often treated the private self as the only self worth knowing. Descartes is primarily responsible for the further claim that it is the only self we can be sure about, all other experiences being subject to error and delusion. I have argued, in contrast, that the ecological and interpersonal selves are perceived effectively and surely from the beginning of life. (This argument does not dispute the value of the private self, only its epistemiological priority.) In any case it is worth noting that individuals differ widely in the value and importance they attach to inner experience. This was roughly Jung’s original distinction between extraverts and introverts. In the extravert, ” . . . thinking is oriented by the object and objective data” (Jung, 1921/1971, p. 342), while introverted thinking ” . . . is neither determined by objective data nor directed to them; it is a thinking that starts from the subject and is directed to subjective ideas or subjective facts” (p. 344). These are essentially differences in the allocation of attention. All such forms of information and experience are available to everyone, but within the normal range they are not all equally noticed, equally used, or equally valued. Outside the normal range are the pathologies of the private self, which include obsessive thinking, repression and denial of feelings, multiple personality, and related conditions.

The private self to me is the most mundane and boring aspect of self- the “I think therefore I am” dictum.

Next we move on to the most interesting conceptual self:

Each of us has a concept of him/herself as a particular person in a familiar world. These self-concepts originate in social life, and so they vary widely across different societies and cultures. A few concepts of my own can serve as convenient examples: I am an American, a husband, and a professor. I assume that I have certain social obligations and political rights; that I have a liver and a spleen and a distinctive pattern of nuclear DNA; that I am a fast reader, poor at remembering names, and neither handsome nor ugly; that in general I do not think enough about the future consequences of my actions. Everyone could make such a list, and no two lists would be the same. Even the relevant dimensions need not be the same: a member of the Lohorung Rai in East Nepal would include the state of his Niwa (Hardman, 1981), and a medieval Englishman the state of his soul.

In the face of this complexity, it is useful to begin by considering concepts and categories of other kinds. What do we mean, for example, when we say that something is a ‘dog’? The so-called classical theory of concepts, which would claim that the class dog is defined by certain necessary and sufficient features, no longer seem adequate: it is too difficult to think of really definitive features, and those that do come to mind (e.g. ‘has four legs’) are just as hard to define as dog itself (Murphy & Medin, 1985). The classical theory also fails to explain the typicality effects discovered by Eleanor Rosch (1978); in most categories, some members function as ‘prototypes’ while others are more marginal. But category membership cannot just be a matter of similarity to the prototype either: besides the difficulty of defining ‘similarity’, such a definition would miss the point that many categories, including dog, are conceptually all-or-none. (Any given animal either is or isn’t a dog.) These difficulties are resolved by realising that concepts do not stand alone: each is defined with reference to a network of others, i.e. to a theory.

Many linguists, philosophers, and psychologists have made this point (e.g. Lakoff, 1987; McCauley, 1987; Medin & Wattenmaker, 1987). To call something a dog is to assign it to a place in our theory of animals in general and dogs in particular, i.e. to assert that it occupies space, has internal organs, must eat or starve to death, is likely to behave in certain ways, is bigger than a mouse and smaller than an elephant, should be treated in a particular manner appropriate to dogs, had two parents who were dogs and will (if it becomes a parent) have puppies, etc. These beliefs are components (not all equally central) of our implicit theory of doghood—of what George Lakoff (1987) would call an ‘idealised cognitive model’. Children have such models quite early, at least where animals are concerned (Carey, 1985).

I love the references to Lakoff and am a firm believer in his other theory of conceptual metaphors. Next he talks about paranoia and how that may be a result of too much theorizing. This is fortunate reference I have found because just the other day CMB, a reader of this blog pointed that paranoia is hard to explain if we treat autism and schizophrenia as opposites and grant a role for opposing effects of Oxytocin. My reply was that oxytocin may be more a social hormone than a trust hormone and paranoia is more a excessive theorizing about others defect than a suspicion deficit.

These principles apply equally to the concept of self. My notion of what I am, like your notion of what you are, reflects a cognitive model embeded in a theoretical network. It too is based primarily on what I have been told, not only in the form of general cultural assumptions but also of communications addressed to me in particular. Like other concepts it tends to govern what I notice; in this case, what I notice about myself. Like other theories, it is not necessarily correct; all of us know people whose self-theories seem off the mark in certain respects. Nevertheless most self-theories do work fairly well, at least in areas where they make predictions about real experience. (Where this is not the case—e.g. in paranoia—we tend to classify them as pathological.) When Epstein (1973) proposed that psychologists should think of the self as a theory rather than as an independently-existing entity, he was talking about the conceptual self.

Next closely followed are references to Carol Dweck- another psychologist I just adore.

Although the self-concept can usefully be regarded as a single cognitive model, it usually comprises several more or less distinct sub-theories. Three of these deserve specific mention, although they cannot be considered in detail here. Role theories, which have been much studied by sociologists, are our own notions of how we fit into society: of what we should do and how we should be treated. They originate, I think, in children’s understanding of the scripts in which they participate; hence they are in place very early. Internal models, in contrast, concern or bodies and our minds. In modern Western culture, self-theories of the body (like my firm belief that I have an internal organ called the liver18) are mostly based on biology and medicine. Theories of the mind, in contrast, are the province of psychology, philosophy, and religion. Children are presented with these theories by the people around them, and do their best to interpret their own lives in terms of what they have been told. When and what they are told depends, of course, on the particular culture in which they are growing up.

Trait attributions are an important class of self-theories that straddle the boundary between social roles and internal models. We may believe, for example, that we are clever or stupid, handsome or ugly, fortunate or unlucky. Although these dimensions are essentially conventional—not all cultures classify along the same dimensions, or value them to the same extent—they can be of considerable importance. In this vein, Carol Dweck (1986) has shown that children’s beliefs about intelligence affect their actual performance in school. Those who believe that intelligence is a fixed quantity (and that they themselves are stupid) learn much less from school experience than those who have a self-concept that allows for intellectual growth and development. Although such attributions are acquired early, they are not impervious to change.

And thus he concludes talking about some tantalizing tangential thoughts on the perceived and felt unity of self, how we know our neighbors as ourselves , the ‘doer’ as opposed to ‘knower’ and admiring or despising oneself- all perhaps food for the next three stages (relational, reflexive/recursive/generative and integrative ) of self.

I enjoyed reading the article and would like to thank whole heartedly the ‘References wanted’ room on FrinedFeed and Kubke in particular, without whom I would have not had access to this lovely article.

Neisser, U. (1988). Five kinds of self-knowledge Philosophical Psychology, 1 (1), 35-59 DOI: 10.1080/09515088808572924

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Major conscious and unconscious processes in the brain: part 5: Physical substrates of A-cosnciousness

This is the fifth post in my ongoing series on major conscious and unconscious processes in the brain. For earlier parts, click here.

Today , I would like to point to  a few physical models and theories of consciousness that have been proposed that show that consciousness still resides in the brain, although the neural/ supportive processes may be more esoteric. 

I should forewarn before hand that all the theories involve advanced understanding of brains/ physics/ biochemistry etc and that I do not feel qualified enough to understand/ explain all the different theories in their entirety (or even have a surface understanding of them) ; yet , I believe that there are important underlying patterns and that applying the eight stage model to these approaches will only help us further understand and predict and search in the right directions. The style of this post is similar to the part 3 post on robot minds that delineated the different physical approaches that are used to implement intelligence/ brains in machines.

With that as a background, let us look at the major theoretical approaches to locate consciousness and define its underlying substrates. I could find six different physical hypothesis about consciousness on the Wikipedia page:

  1. * Orch-OR theory
  2. * Electromagnetic theories of consciousness
  3. * Holonomic brain theory
  4. * Quantum mind
  5. * Space-time theories of consciousness
  6. * Simulated Reality

Now let me briefly introduce each of the theories and where they seem to have been most successful; again I believe that though this time visually-normal people are perceiving the elephant, yet they are hooked on to its different aspects and need to bind their perspectives together to arrive at the real nature of the elephant.

1. Orch-OR theory:

The Orch OR theory combines Penrose’s hypothesis with respect to the Gödel theorem with Hameroff’s hypothesis with respect to microtubules. Together, Penrose and Hameroff have proposed that when condensates in the brain undergo an objective reduction of their wave function, that collapse connects to non-computational decision taking/experience embedded in the geometry of fundamental spacetime.
The theory further proposes that the microtubules both influence and are influenced by the conventional activity at the synapses between neurons. The Orch in Orch OR stands for orchestrated to give the full name of the theory Orchestrated Objective Reduction. Orchestration refers to the hypothetical process by which connective proteins, known as microtubule associated proteins (MAPs) influence or orchestrate the quantum processing of the microtubules.
Hameroff has proposed that condensates in microtubules in one neuron can link with other neurons via gap junctions[6]. In addition to the synaptic connections between brain cells, gap junctions are a different category of connections, where the gap between the cells is sufficiently small for quantum objects to cross it by means of a process known as quantum tunnelling. Hameroff proposes that this tunnelling allows a quantum object, such as the Bose-Einstein condensates mentioned above, to cross into other neurons, and thus extend across a large area of the brain as a single quantum object.
He further postulates that the action of this large-scale quantum feature is the source of the gamma (40 Hz) synchronisation observed in the brain, and sometimes viewed as a correlate of consciousness [7]. In support of the much more limited theory that gap junctions are related to the gamma oscillation, Hameroff quotes a number of studies from recent year.
From the point of view of consciousness theory, an essential feature of Penrose’s objective reduction is that the choice of states when objective reduction occurs is selected neither randomly, as are choices following measurement or decoherence, nor completely algorithmically. Rather, states are proposed to be selected by a ‘non-computable’ influence embedded in the fundamental level of spacetime geometry at the Planck scale.
Penrose claimed that such information is Platonic, representing pure mathematical truth, aesthetic and ethical values. More than two thousand years ago, the Greek philosopher Plato had proposed such pure values and forms, but in an abstract realm. Penrose placed the Platonic realm at the Planck scale. This relates to Penrose’s ideas concerning the three worlds: physical, mental, and the Platonic mathematical world. In his theory, the physical world can be seen as the external reality, the mental world as information processing in the brain and the Platonic world as the encryption, measurement, or geometry of fundamental spacetime that is claimed to support non-computational understanding.

To me it seems that Orch OR theory is more suitable for forming platonic representations of objects – that is invariant/ideal perception of an object. This I would relate to the Perceptual aspect of A-consciousness.

2. Electromagnetic theories of consciousness

The electromagnetic field theory of consciousness is a theory that says the electromagnetic field generated by the brain (measurable by ECoG) is the actual carrier of conscious experience.
The starting point for these theories is the fact that every time a neuron fires to generate an action potential and a postsynaptic potential in the next neuron down the line, it also generates a disturbance to the surrounding electromagnetic (EM) field. Information coded in neuron firing patterns is therefore reflected into the brain’s EM field. Locating consciousness in the brain’s EM field, rather than the neurons, has the advantage of neatly accounting for how information located in millions of neurons scattered throughout the brain can be unified into a single conscious experience (sometimes called the binding problem): the information is unified in the EM field. In this way EM field consciousness can be considered to be ‘joined-up information’.
However their generation by synchronous firing is not the only important characteristic of conscious electromagnetic fields — in Pockett’s original theory, spatial pattern is the defining feature of a conscious (as opposed to a non-conscious) field.
In McFadden’s cemi field theory, the brain’s global EM field modifies the electric charges across neural membranes and thereby influences the probability that particular neurons will fire, providing a feed-back loop that drives free will.

To me, the EM filed theories seem to be right on track regarding the fact that the EM filed itself may modify / affect the probabilities of firing of individual neurons and thus lead to free will or sense of agency by in some sense causing some neurons to fire over others. I believe we can model the agency aspect of A-consciousness and find neural substrates of the same in brain, using this approach.

3. Holonomic brain theory:

The holonomic brain theory, originated by psychologist Karl Pribram and initially developed in collaboration with physicist David Bohm, is a model for human cognition that is drastically different from conventionally accepted ideas: Pribram and Bohm posit a model of cognitive function as being guided by a matrix of neurological wave interference patterns situated temporally between holographic Gestalt perception and discrete, affective, quantum vectors derived from reward anticipation potentials.
Pribram was originally struck by the similarity of the hologram idea and Bohm’s idea of the implicate order in physics, and contacted him for collaboration. In particular, the fact that information about an image point is distributed throughout the hologram, such that each piece of the hologram contains some information about the entire image, seemed suggestive to Pribram about how the brain could encode memories.
According to Pribram, the tuning of wave frequency in cells of the primary visual cortex plays a role in visual imaging, while such tuning in the auditory system has been well established for decades[citation needed]. Pribram and colleagues also assert that similar tuning occurs in the somatosensory cortex.
Pribram distinguishes between propagative nerve impulses on the one hand, and slow potentials (hyperpolarizations, steep polarizations) that are essentially static. At this temporal interface, he indicates, the wave interferences form holographic patterns.

To me, the holnomic approach seems to be the phenomenon lying between gestalt perception and quantum vectors derived from reward-anticipation potentials or in simple English between the perception and agency components of A-consciousness. this is the Memory aspect of A-consciousness. The use of hologram used to store information as a model, the use of slow waves that are tuned to carry information, the use of this model to explain memory formation (including hyperpolarization etc) all point to the fact that this approach will be most successful in explaining the autobiographical memory that is assited wuith A-cosnciousness.

4. Quantum Mind:

The quantum mind hypothesis proposes that classical mechanics cannot fully explain consciousness and suggests that quantum mechanical phenomena such as quantum entanglement and superposition may play an important part in the brain’s function and could form the basis of an explanation of consciousness.
Recent papers by physicist, Gustav Bernroider, have indicated that he thinks that Bohm’s implicate-explicate structure can account for the relationship between neural processes and consciousness[7]. In a paper published in 2005 Bernroider elaborated his proposals for the physical basis of this process[8]. The main thrust of his paper was the argument that quantum coherence may be sustained in ion channels for long enough to be relevant for neural processes and the channels could be entangled with surrounding lipids and proteins and with other channels in the same membrane. Ion channels regulate the electrical potential across the axon membrane and thus play a central role in the brain’s information processing.
Bernroider uses this recently revealed structure to speculate about the possibility of quantum coherence in the ion channels. Bernroider and co-author Sisir Roy’s calculations suggested to them that the behaviour of the ions in the K channel could only be understood at the quantum level. Taking this as their starting point, they then ask whether the structure of the ion channel can be related to logic states. Further calculations lead them to suggest that the K+ ions and the oxygen atoms of the binding pockets are two quantum-entangled sub-systems, which they then equate to a quantum computational mapping. The ions that are destined to be expelled from the channel are proposed to encode information about the state of the oxygen atoms. It is further proposed the separate ion channels could be quantum entangled with one another.

To me, the quantum entanglement (or bond between different phenomenons)and the encoding of information about the state of the system in that entanglement seems all too similar to feelings as information about the emotional/bodily state. Thus, I propose that these quantum entanglements in these ion-channels may be the substrate that give rise to access to the state of the system, thus giving rise to feelings that is the feeling component of A-consciousness i.e access to one’s own emotional states.

5. Space-time theories of consciousness:

Space-time theories of consciousness have been advanced by Arthur Eddington, John Smythies and other scientists. The concept was also mentioned by Hermann Weyl who wrote that reality is a “…four-dimensional continuum which is neither ‘time’ nor ‘space’. Only the consciousness that passes on in one portion of this world experiences the detached piece which comes to meet it and passes behind it, as history, that is, as a process that is going forward in time and takes place in space”.
In 1953, CD Broad, in common with most authors in this field, proposed that there are two types of time, imaginary time measured in imaginary units (i) and real time measured on the real plane.
It can be seen that for any separation in 3D space there is a time at which the separation in 4D spacetime is zero. Similarly, if another coordinate axis is introduced called ‘real time’ that changes with imaginary time then historical events can also be no distance from a point. The combination of these result in the possibility of brain activity being at a point as well as being distributed in 3D space and time. This might allow the conscious individual to observe things, including whole movements, as if viewing them from a point.
Alex Green has developed an empirical theory of phenomenal consciousness that proposes that conscious experience can be described as a five-dimensional manifold. As in Broad’s hypothesis, space-time can contain vectors of zero length between two points in space and time because of an imaginary time coordinate. A 3D volume of brain activity over a short period of time would have the time extended geometric form of a conscious observation in 5D. Green considers imaginary time to be incompatible with the modern physical description of the world, and proposes that the imaginary time coordinate is a property of the observer and unobserved things (things governed by quantum mechanics), whereas the real time of general relativity is a property of observed things.
These space-time theories of consciousness are highly speculative but have features that their proponents consider attractive: every individual would be unique because they are a space-time path rather than an instantaneous object (i.e., the theories are non-fungible), and also because consciousness is a material thing so direct supervenience would apply. The possibility that conscious experience occupies a short period of time (the specious present) would mean that it can include movements and short words; these would not seem to be possible in a presentist interpretation of experience.
Theories of this type are also suggested by cosmology. The Wheeler-De Witt equation describes the quantum wave function of the universe (or more correctly, the multiverse).

To me, the space-time theories of consciousness that lead to observation/consciousness from a point in the 4d/5d space-time continuum seem to mirror the identity formation function of stage 5.This I relate to evaluation /deliberation aspect of A-consciousness.

6. Simulated Reality

In theoretical physics, digital physics holds the basic premise that the entire history of our universe is computable in some sense. The hypothesis was pioneered in Konrad Zuse’s book Rechnender Raum (translated by MIT into English as Calculating Space, 1970), which focuses on cellular automata. Juergen Schmidhuber suggested that the universe could be a Turing machine, because there is a very short program that outputs all possible programmes in an asymptotically optimal way. Other proponents include Edward Fredkin, Stephen Wolfram, and Nobel laureate Gerard ‘t Hooft. They hold that the apparently probabilistic nature of quantum physics is not incompatible with the notion of computability. A quantum version of digital physics has recently been proposed by Seth Lloyd. None of these suggestions has been developed into a workable physical theory.
It can be argued that the use of continua in physics constitutes a possible argument against the simulation of a physical universe. Removing the real numbers and uncountable infinities from physics would counter some of the objections noted above, and at least make computer simulation a possibility. However, digital physics must overcome these objections. For instance, cellular automata would appear to be a poor model for the non-locality of quantum mechanics.

To me the simulation argument is one model of us and the world- i.e we are living in a dream state/ simulation/ digital world where everything is synthetic/ predictable and computable. The alternative view of world as real, analog, continuous world where everything is creative / unpredictable and non-computable. One can , and should have both the models in mind – a simulated reality that is the world and a simulator that is oneself. Jagat mithya, brahma sach. World (simulation) is false, Brahma (creation) is true . Ability to see the world as both a fiction and a reality at the same time, as a fore laid stage and as a creative jazz at the same time leads to this sixth stage of consciousness the A-consciousness of an emergent conscious self that is distinct from mere body/brain. One can see oneself and others as actors acting as per their roles on the world’s stage; or as agents co-creating the reality.

That should be enough for today, but I am sure my astute readers will take this a notch further and propose two more theoretical approaches to consciousness and perhaps look for their neural substrates basde on teh remianing tow stages and componenets of A-consciousness..

Major conscious and unconscious processes in the brain: part 4: the easy problem of A-consciousness

This is the part 4 of the multipart series on conscious and unconscious processes in the brain.

I’ll like to start with a quote from the Mundaka Upanishads:

Two birds, inseparable friends, cling to the same tree. One of them eats the sweet fruit, the other looks on without eating.

On the same tree man sits grieving, immersed, bewildered, by his own impotence. But when he sees the other lord contented and knows his glory, then his grief passes away.

Today I plan to delineate the major conscious processes in the brain, without bothering with their neural correlates or how they are related to unconscious processes that I have delineated earlier. Also I’ll be restricting the discussion mostly to the easy problem of Access or A- consciousness.  leaving the hard problem of phenomenal or P-consciousness for later.

I’ll first like to quote a definition of consciousness form Baars:

The contents of consciousness include the immediate perceptual world; inner speech and visual imagery; the fleeting present and its fading traces in immediate memory; bodily feelings like pleasure, pain, and excitement; surges of feeling; autobiographical events when they are remembered; clear and immediate intentions, expectations and actions; explicit beliefs about oneself and the world; and concepts that are abstract but focal. In spite of decades of behaviouristic avoidance, few would quarrel with this list today.

Next I would like to list the subsystems identified by Charles T tart that are involved in consciousness:

  • EXTEROCEPTION (sensing the external world)
  • INTEROCEPTION (sensing the body)
  • INPUT-PROCESSING (seeing meaningful stimuli)

With this background, let me delineate the major conscious processes/ systems that make up the A-consciousness as per me:-

  1. Perceptual system: Once the spotlight of attention is available, it can be used to bring into focus the unconscious input representations that the brain is creating.  Thus a system may evolve that has access to information regarding the sensations that are being processed or in other words that perceives and is conscious of what is being sensed. To perceive is to have access to ones sensations.  In Tarts model , it is the input-processing module  that ‘sees’ meaningful stimuli and ignores the rest / hides them from second-order representation. This is Baars immediate perceptual world.
  2. Agency system: The spotlight of attention can also bring into foreground the unconscious urges that propel movement. This access to information regarding how and why we move gives rise to the emergence of A-consciousness of will/ volition/agency. To will is to have access to ones action-causes. In tarts model , it is the motor output module that enables sense of voluntary movement. In Baars definition it is clear and immediate intentions, expectations and actions.
  3. Memory system:  The spotlight of attention may also bring into focus past learning. This access to information regarding past unconscious learning gives rise to A-consciousness of remembering/ recognizing. To remember is to have access to past learning. The Tart subsystem for the same is Memory and Baars definition is autobiographical events when they are remembered. 
  4. Feeling (emotional/ mood) system: The spotlight of attention may also highlight the emotional state of the organism. An information about one’s own emotional state gives rise to the A-consciousness of feelings that have an emotional tone/ mood associated. To feel is to have access to ones emotional state. The emotions system of Tart and Baars bodily feelings like pleasure, pain, and excitement; surges of feeling relate to this.
  5. Deliberation/ reasoning/thought system: The spotlight of attention may also highlight the decisional and evaluative unconscious processes that the organism indulges in. An information about which values guided decision can lead to a reasoning module that justifies the decisions and an A-consciousness of introspection. To think is to have access to ones own deliberation and evaluative process. Tarts evaluative and decision making module is for the same. Baars definition may be enhanced to include intorspection i.e access to thoughts and thinking (remember Descartes dictum of I think therefore I am. ) as part of consciousness.
  6. Modeling system that can differentiate and perceive dualism: The spotlight of attention may highlight the dual properties of the world (deterministic and chaotic ). An information regarding the fact that two contradictory models of the world can both be true at the same time, leads to modeling of oneslf that is different from the world giving rise to the difference between ‘this’ and ‘that’ and giving rise to the sense of self. One models both the self and the world based on principles/ subsystems of extereocpetion and interoception and this give rise to A-consciousness of beliefs about the self and the world. To believe is to have access to one’s model of something. One has access to a self/ subjectivity different from world and defined by interoceptive senses ; and a world/ reality different from self defined by exterioceptive senses. The interocpetive and exteroceptive subsystems of  Tart and Baars  explicit beliefs about oneself and the world are relevant here. This system give rise to the concept of a subjective person or self.
  7. Language system that can report on subjective contents and propositions. The spotlight of awareness may  verbalize the unconscious communicative intents and propositions giving rise to access to inner speech and enabling overt language and reporting capabilities. To verbally report is to have access to the underlying narrative that one wants to communicate and that one is creating/confabulating. This narrative and story-telling capability should also in my view lead to the A-consciousness of the stream of consciousness. This would be implemented most probably by Tart’s unconscious and space/time sense modules and relates to Baars the fleeting present and its fading traces in immediate memory- a sense of an ongoing stream of consciousness. To have a stream of consciousness is to have access to one’s inner narrative.
  8. Awareness system that can bring into focal awareness the different conscious process that are seen as  coherent. : the spotlight of attention can also be turned upon itself- an information about what all processes make a coherent whole and are thus being attended and amplified gives rise to a sense of self-identity that is stable across time and  unified in space. To be aware is to have access to what one is attending or focusing on or is ‘conscious’ of. Tarts Sense of identity subsystem and Baars concepts that are abstract but focal relate to this. Once available the spotlight of awareness opens the floodgates of phenomenal or P-consciousness or experience in the here-and-now of qualia that are invariant and experiential in  nature. That ‘feeling of what it means to be’ of course is the subject matter for another day and another post!