Saturday, July 12, 2008

A New Theory of the Mind Part I

I was musing on the porch tonight when I thought of what it must be like to create a theory of the mind without modern discoveries, as Freud and Jung did. And my thoughts took this shape:

Thought. As soon as you say the word in your mind, thought has begun. But what generates thought? And how is thought integrated with emotion and memory, and how does it generate future projection or re-imagining past events?

First, in my most parsimonious construction, consider five parts of the mind: thought (verbal and non-verbal) , emotion (expressed or contained), emotional memory, intellectual memory, and the synthesizer.

You can make a mandala of this:




Where does thought come from? A variety of stimuli can spark thought, but when thought appears in its most easily translatable form, it appears in words. You look at a tree and think “tree.” After the image of the tree is recognized by memory, there follows a distinctly human urge to name it, to mark it with a word as if marking intellectual territory, the constant, silent narration of the mind's word generator.

One can have thought without words, but only when the mind comments in words does recordable thought really begin, unless we resort to gestures and pictures.

Here the role of emotion can be causative or reactive; a bad feeling can trigger a bad thought as easily as a bad thought can trigger a bad feeling. More often than we suspect, emotion precedes thought, especially in extreme emotional states where we “get angry with everyone and everything.” In consciousness, however, thought prefers to think that it dominates as the initiator, when often it is only the verbal midwife for emotion.

There is also a body quotient for emotion. How much physical expression will we yield to emotion and in what environment? Will we laugh at a bad joke to make our boss feel better? Will we make a disgusted face when someone farts although we really think it's funny? This is complex but belongs to the emotions, which are much more firmly welded to the body than thought.

Memory functions both intellectually and emotionally; emotions can ignite memories that recall those emotions, and intellectual memories—images and words and sounds and other storage methods—can recall emotions, which can provoke other memories, and so on. Clearly there is an interplay between intellectual and emotional memories, and clearly both can be incarnated into words, or conscious thought, by another part of the mind, its central hub, so to speak, the synthesizer, of which the “I” is only one voice.

Thought is, in fact, in so far at it is verbal or symbolic, as in mathematics, rather divorced from the body. But thought can also be automatic. Every day I wake up with a different song playing in my head. Today it was Peter, Paul, and Mary with “I Dig Rock and Roll Music.” Many other automatic thoughts occur, like birds flying through our heads.

What is particularly impressive is the power of the synthesizer to take intellectual and emotional memories and imagine the future, as I did when I visualized approaching my desk to write this down while staring at the ocean। I don't know if I ever translated it into thought; I didn't say, “I will go write this down.” I actually visualized the future in a non-verbal way, imagining the visual path to my desk and computer.

We construct our futures piece by piece through the imagination of the synthesizer, the ability to take present data and push it forward in time to imagine an action. We take this foresight for granted, when indeed it is not reality but the synthesizer imagining it.

What or who is the synthesizer? Any attempt at explanation would be oversimplification. It contains the will, desire, prejudice, stock reactions, measured reactions, associative bird walks, everything except thought—the reification or output of the synthesizer in words or other defined symbols—though thought can include spatial images just as easily, as non-verbal thought is possible, yet inevitably the synthesizer will initiate verbal thought at some point--”Wow! That's an awesome equation you just thought up!” Or, “What a boat that would be! But could I afford it?”

So to confine thought to words is premature. Still, when words appear, they take on an entirely different quality, somehow outside the synthesizer. They take on an objective quality, why I equate thought in my system with verbal assignment, and with visualization and other forms of thought to a lesser degree, as visualization is more dependent on drawing from intellectual memory.

If this model is a useful, I should be able to use it to describe my actions। First I felt anxiety about risking this description; then a thrill about the attempt occurred. Now I am eager to go outside and smoke a cigarette and re-process my thoughts. In doing so I imagine the white wooden porch, the chair I will sit in, the porch light, the path through the living room, all without thinking. “Here I go,” I verbalized when I noticed the pain in my lumbosacral spine protest about rising from this chair. Then I wondered whether to go on writing about the ache in my back, the slightly uncomfortable rub of the desk against my forearms, the ache in my feet and other bodily sensations. These sensations sparked no emotions, however, they were simply flat inputs from the body, perhaps necessitating an intellectual body sense as well, a body monitoring. So the monitoring of the body is another intellectual function of the intellect.

In looking for an analogy in nature for the human mind, everything I can imagine falls short. If a computer had emotions, self-consciousness, body-consciousness and functional movement, along with the ability to relate to other computers so gifted, it might approach the human mind, save for the role of the will. Would enough memory and processing power ever be able to summon self-consciousness and initiative? At this point it is doubtful. But I digress.

To be continued...


1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:41 PM PDT

    Fascinating stuff CE. I would pursue this. Is 'pre-reflective thought' an oxymoron, thought that precedes the assignment of language? As soon as I, the subject, resort to language, I objectify the world. Can you have language without parts of speech, s-v-o?

    just some adjunct thoughts put to language


Please share your opinion!

Unexpected Light

Unexpected Light
Selected Poems and Love Poems 1998-2008 ON SALE NOW!