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Nicky

Do we have a "primitive mind"?

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I'll keep this simple, to start out with. Could it be that parts of the human brain are remnants of evolution (vestigial, like the appendix, the tailbone on an embryo, pseudo genes, etc.), and that they produce chemicals (such as serotonin) in reaction to outside stimuli, that affect our state of mind, entirely independent of our conscious mind (our values and knowledge)?

(what I'm getting at is that this notion is fairly widely accepted in Psychology, and it does not gel with "tabula rasa"...that's the subject I'm ultimately hoping to revisit)

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First off, how was it discovered by those who accept the notion?

Secondly, how would its veracity be independently verified by our conscious mind.

Thirdly, how might a conclusion that a conscious mind is not capable of verifying such data escape the paradox that it is making a claim of knowledge?

This smells like leftover determinism repackaged to masquerade as a scientific banquet.

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1 hour ago, Nicky said:

I'll keep this simple, to start out with. Could it be that parts of the human brain are remnants of evolution (vestigial, like the appendix, the tailbone on an embryo, pseudo genes, etc.), and that they produce chemicals (such as serotonin) in reaction to outside stimuli, that affect our state of mind, entirely independent of our conscious mind (our values and knowledge)?

I assume that's basically true: i.e. that physical conditions -- illness or something else -- can impact "mood", which -- in turn -- can impact thinking. At least that's what layperson experience would indicate.

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Yes.   Rand's rejection of tabula rasa applies to conceptual knowledge.  That consciousness has an identity and therefore specific causal means and mechanisms for its functions should not be controversial for an Objectivist to accept because that is not conceptual knowledge.  Do not make the error denying the slate exists when you only need to insist on its blankness.

Edited by Grames

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3 minutes ago, Grames said:

Do not make the error denying the slate exists when you only need to insist on its blankness. 

If parts of the brain react independently from the conscious mind (to produce mood altering chemicals, automatically, NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO, because that's what they've been doing for the past 250 million years), how is that a blank slate?

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Just now, Nicky said:

If parts of the brain react independently from the conscious mind (to produce mood altering chemicals, automatically, NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO, because that's what they've been doing for the past 250 million years), how is that a blank slate?

Moods are not knowledge.

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Just now, Grames said:

Moods are not knowledge.

Sure. But that's not the issue. The issue is, the brain (it is claimed, I'm happy to name the people who make the claim, but I assume you're aware) reacts automatically to something being perceived (perceived automatically... this part Oism agrees with).

The effect of that reaction (the mood) isn't knowledge. But what about the cause? If event X is automatically, and entirely independently of anything a person learned in their life, is causing reaction Y, isn't the ability of the primitive mind to recognize event X, and KNOW that this is the time to react in manner Y, "knowledge"? It is the brain acting on information (information that is innate, it's not information gained through perception + integration).

I mean sure, it's not knowledge the way Rand defines it...because her definition of knowledge assumes tabula rasa ("Knowledge is a mental grasp of a fact(s) of reality, reached either by perceptual observation or by a process of reason based on perceptual observation"...ItOE). But there's a lot of of editorializing in that. The actual definition should just be "knowledge is a mental grasp of a fact of reality". Perceptual, innate, however it came about.

I would also like to remind you of this claim in Objectivism: " man’s values and emotions are determined by his fundamental view of life". ("Philosophy: Who needs it?", via the AR Lexicon). So okay, moods are not knowledge, they're emotions. But are they determined solely by knowledge as defined by Ayn Rand, or can you get into a mood because a primitive part of your brain has the ability to automatically react to something in the outside world that invariably causes it to release a mood altering chemical? No matter what you do, think, value, etc.?

 

 

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16 minutes ago, Nicky said:

If parts of the brain react independently from the conscious mind (to produce mood altering chemicals, automatically, NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO, because that's what they've been doing for the past 250 million years), how is that a blank slate?

Human beings do not  always apply their full mental focus to everything they do. In fact, many tasks that we have to focus on and prctice very consciously become increasingly automated over time, so that we can drive 100 miles on a daily commute and hardly know how we got to our destination. This clearly has many advantages, and yet the risks are also pretty clear. 

That's just automated tasks. There are also "automated judgments and decisions"  which follow the same theme of economizing the need to spend time thinking everything through. Sales people take advantage of this "thinking" that people do based on a quick pattern recognition, and without spending the time needed for a good decision. 

The conscious mind is always there to be awakened. This allows for a "meta" approach: after an experience where we did something unthinkingly, we can analyse it, and fit that into the same pattern-recognition machinery. So, the next time, it can be a reminder to wake up and start to think more critically about something. Or, one could decide that when one recognizes the same pattern one will not make a decision without sleeping over it. 

One can go beyond one's own experiences and learn from the experience of others. Books like Cialdini's "Influence" and Kahneman's "Thinking Fast and Slow" have many such examples. They can be tools to prepare oneself for such situations. 

Yes, this is not about chemicals that "pre-exist". But, I think it is analogous. In the sense that after some experiences, a thoughtful person might decide not to make a major decision if he's feeling particularly unwell.... or some such thing. The classical example is PMS. At least one woman has told me that there are some times in some months where she (paraphrasing) puts her conscious mind on high-alert for a few days, and also tries to avoid certain situations where she thinks she might react in a way that she will later regret.

Does this contradict "blank slate". It really depends what exactly one means by a blank slate. Every time the topic comes up, people argue about what it really means. I'll suggest that the way to clarity is to replace the term with something more descriptive, for the duration of this topic.

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Just now, softwareNerd said:

Human beings do not  always apply their full mental focus to everything they do. In fact, many tasks that we have to focus on and prctice very consciously become increasingly automated over time, so that we can drive 100 miles on a daily commute and hardly know how we got to our destination. This clearly has many advantages, and yet the risks are also pretty clear. 

That's just automated tasks. There are also "automated judgments and decisions"  which follow the same theme of economizing the need to spend time thinking everything through. Sales people take advantage of this "thinking" that people do based on a quick pattern recognition, and without spending the time needed for a good decision. 

The conscious mind is always there to be awakened. This allows for a "meta" approach: after an experience where we did something unthinkingly, we can analyse it, and fit that into the same pattern-recognition machinery. So, the next time, it can be a reminder to wake up and start to think more critically about something. Or, one could decide that when one recognizes the same pattern one will not make a decision without sleeping over it.  

One can go beyond one's own experiences and learn from the experience of others. Books like Cialdini's "Influence" and Kahneman's "Thinking Fast and Slow" have many such examples. They can be tools to prepare oneself for such situations. 

Yes, this is not about chemicals that "pre-exist". But, I think it is analogous. In the sense that after some experiences, a thoughtful person might decide not to make a major decision if he's feeling particularly unwell.... or some such thing. The classical example is PMS. At least one woman has told me that there are some times in some months where she (paraphrasing) puts her conscious mind on high-alert for a few days, and also tries to avoid certain situations where she thinks she might react in a way that she will later regret.

Does this contradict "blank slate". It really depends what exactly one means by a blank slate. Every time the topic comes up, people argue about what it really means. I'll suggest that the way to clarity is to replace the term with something more descriptive, for the duration of this topic.

No, none of what you are describing contradicts tabula rasa. I'm currently reading (almost finished) a book called "The power of habit" (I recommend it, because it doesn't just spout advice, it describes the cutting edge science and studies that back up the advice), which goes into detail about how habits are formed, which parts of the brain light up or go dim when they take over, and how we can consciously determine or affect these subconscious, semi-automatic habits.

These are not fully automatic reactions, they can be created, bypassed or altered through conscious mental effort.

I'm also not talking about physiological reactions like PMS, or a reaction to illness. That doesn't contradict Oism either.

But Oism makes the claim that, in human beings, emotions can only be caused by values, and that old "instincts" are entirely defunct. And that's being contradicted by some very convincing voices these days...they're not looking to contradict Objectivism, just trying to figure out human psychology, and they are making a convincing case that parts of the brain are left over from before humans became rational, and are doing their own thing, sometimes in spite of our rational mind. That is the key here: they're not just controlling physiological functions the rational mind has nothing to do with, and occasionally reminding the conscious mind about these physiological problems. They're recognizing outside events that DO NOT PHYSICALLY AFFECT US, and reacting in a prescribed manner, in a muted version of the way the primitive, non-rational ancestor's brain used to react to them before we developed a rational ability.

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11 minutes ago, Nicky said:

If event X is automatically, and entirely independently of anything a person learned in their life, is causing reaction Y, isn't the ability of the primitive mind to recognize event X, and KNOW that this is the time to react in manner Y, "knowledge"?

Can you apply the correspondence principle to it?  Reaction Y is not true or false it simply is, the legacy of your biological inheritance and integral to your identity as a rational animal (don't deny the animal part).  So no, it is not knowledge.

Genetics encodes a great deal of information and it is expressed in the material form of the body and in its behaviors.  If you study photosynthesis you gain knowledge, but when a plant performs photosynthesis that is not application of knowledge.  'Information' already has a general, low level and thoroughly objective definition given by Claude Shannon that doesn't really focus on a biological context.  Using 'instinct' on plants doesn't seem correct either.  I think of it as 'technique'.  It is capacity for action which is genetically encoded, and action is not true or false.  An action improves evolutionary fitness or does not.

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39 minutes ago, Nicky said:

But are they determined solely by knowledge as defined by Ayn Rand

It is not clear to me that Rand has committed to a position that emotions can only ever be caused by one's conscious integrations, or how how important that is to the rest of Objectivism if Rand did make that commitment and was wrong.  Emotions are not tools of cognition, after all.

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48 minutes ago, Nicky said:

...  old "instincts" are entirely defunct.

Instincts is a pretty nebulous concept: perhaps it means something like "pre-programmed and choice less". The extent to which is true of non-human animals is debatable. Once we take evolution as factual, a good going-in assumption is that there is something closer to a continuum in animal kingdom, ... or at least that there once was, even if there are many missing links if we only consider current species.

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1 hour ago, Nicky said:

They're recognizing outside events that DO NOT PHYSICALLY AFFECT US, and reacting in a prescribed manner, in a muted version of the way the primitive, non-rational ancestor's brain used to react to them before we developed a rational ability.

There are a lot of things to consider and unpack when talking about emotions. For one, as Grames was saying, I don't think Rand took the position that emotions can only ever be caused by conscious integrations. This is probably true about value judgments, but not necessarily true about noncognitive information (imagination, responses to physiological danger, awareness of body states, perception, etc.). 

To help keep it clear, it's better to think in terms of specific processes, all of which can impact your mood indirectly. We don't need to think in terms of primitive and not primitive parts of the brain. When people say primitive, they think of things at the bottom of the brain, like the amygdala, and the big part that sticks out underneath, the cerebellum. It's not that these function in a primitive way. They are actually extremely important to how you interact with the world. The cerebellum allows you to be coordinated and plan your actions in physical space. The amygdala is extremely important for physiological responses associated with simple emotions. If either of these goes wrong, these would affect the person's state of mind. Similarly, as these operate throughout the day, they impact your relationship with the world around you. The amygdala would also be important to remembering an event that scared you. 

In other words, there is actually still a lot of room to disagree with the idea that primitive parts of the brain are doing their own thing. A lot of the brain can act somewhat independently, but it's also important to remember that they work together as a system. You can look at this link for some more ideas. http://www.cisek.org/pavel/  

 

 

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3 hours ago, Nicky said:

Sure. But that's not the issue. The issue is, the brain (it is claimed, I'm happy to name the people who make the claim, but I assume you're aware) reacts automatically to something being perceived (perceived automatically... this part Oism agrees with).

The effect of that reaction (the mood) isn't knowledge. But what about the cause? If event X is automatically, and entirely independently of anything a person learned in their life, is causing reaction Y, isn't the ability of the primitive mind to recognize event X, and KNOW that this is the time to react in manner Y, "knowledge"? It is the brain acting on information (information that is innate, it's not information gained through perception + integration).

I mean sure, it's not knowledge the way Rand defines it...because her definition of knowledge assumes tabula rasa ("Knowledge is a mental grasp of a fact(s) of reality, reached either by perceptual observation or by a process of reason based on perceptual observation"...ItOE). But there's a lot of of editorializing in that. The actual definition should just be "knowledge is a mental grasp of a fact of reality". Perceptual, innate, however it came about.

I would also like to remind you of this claim in Objectivism: " man’s values and emotions are determined by his fundamental view of life". ("Philosophy: Who needs it?", via the AR Lexicon). So okay, moods are not knowledge, they're emotions. But are they determined solely by knowledge as defined by Ayn Rand, or can you get into a mood because a primitive part of your brain has the ability to automatically react to something in the outside world that invariably causes it to release a mood altering chemical? No matter what you do, think, value, etc.?

 

 

This topic has actually been a great interest of mine as of late. Can you provide a concrete example of the “primitive” part of the brain reacting to outside stimuli?

Let’s suppose what you are putting forth is true, which I wouldn’t be surprised if it is, what significance does this have?

Edited by Theg_01

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3 hours ago, Grames said:

It is not clear to me that Rand has committed to a position that emotions can only ever be caused by one's conscious integrations, or how how important that is to the rest of Objectivism if Rand did make that commitment and was wrong.  Emotions are not tools of cognition, after all.

That has always been my understanding of her view. http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/emotions.html

An emotion is an automatic response, an automatic effect of man’s value premises. 

Edited by Theg_01

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If I feel a prompting to eat more sweets when I've already had as much as I should, or a prompting to make a pass at a sexy looking stranger, I need to let my reason be the final arbiter of what I actually do   I should be able to make a good decision without spending a long time thinking about it.  This is true whether the prompting is a natural reaction to the physical pleasure available from eating sweets and having sex, or the result of some past irrationality of which I have been guilty, or a product of some primitive remnant in my brain.  On the other hand, if a primitive remnant in my brain enhances my pleasure from eating what I should or from the sex in a good romantic relationship, I can enjoy the benefit, and don't necessarily have to know exactly where each part of the pleasure is coming from.

As far as the blank slate metaphor goes, would it help any to think of a slate that changes color, and that sometimes is harder to write on than others?

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One issue I haven't seen addressed in this thread at all is: What is the philosophical worldview of the scientists performing this alleged research?

Objectivism holds that philosophy controls science, not the other way around. The philosophical conclusions that a person holds will control the outcome of their scientific inquiries. For example, this is why logical positivists who go into physics tend to end up thinking that physics refutes causality (e.g., Neils Bohr), whereas Objectivists who go into physics do not (e.g., Travis Norsen).

No one here has the ability to really evaluate the science first hand as far as I know, so in my opinion two of the first questions we should be asking on this or any controversial scientific issue is (1) whether the scientists involved hold premises compatible with Objectivism and (2) whether scientists in the same area of inquiry who accept Objectivism tend to agree with them.

Obviously, this is only a heuristic - you can't draw a definitive conclusion on a scientific issue without looking at the scientific data itself. But as laymen, this may be one of the strongest indicators we have as to which side we ought to be on.

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It's not a very controversial scientific issue at all. It isn't controversial to say that your thinking and even emotions can be affected by noncognitive stuff going on in your head. I mean, we're not talking about a Freudian thing where we have unconscious thoughts. The only controversial thing is how different brain regions connect to one another. That's a different topic though.

What I'm getting at is that calling parts of the brain the "primitive mind" is only a metaphor used in pop psychology. It's just a simple way to explain to laypeople what goes on in the brain without getting into details like naming specific brain regions. It's a pretty basic observation that some states of mind aren't due to conscious integrations or premises. Like sNerd was saying in his first post.

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Few questions:

1) What about people who are in chronic state of being “moody” due to this or other factors? To what extent does this render them deterministic, if at all? If, for example, someone is in a chronic state of mind due to the part of the brain releasing or restricting chemicals because of a reaction to outside factors outside of their control, how much freedom of choice do they really have if they are unable to think properly?

2) To what extent does the conscious mind have the ability to bypass this mood? For example, I was listening to a Jordan Peterson lecture and he mentioned the fact that introverted people are put into moods in large social settings that make them irritable and not happy (for lack of a better word) in those situations vs 1 on 1 where they are perfectly fine. Assuming the reason for this is the “ancient brain” determining their “rank” in society, as he likens to the lobsters in his book, and not other factors (like diet, etc.), to what extent are we able to bypass or control this feeling? (Please don’t harp on the example, I’m just trying to concretize my question) Is it the more successful we are as determined to be by the conscious mind, the way that the ancient mind ranks us follows and the way it reacts to outside factors changes? Or is this reaction unchangable and determined genetically? I.e. can we change the way the “ancient brain” restricts or releases seratonin?

3) just going off #1 + 2, do we need a corresponding period of normal state of mind and reflection to necessarily change the way we think during the state of moodiness? Essentially creating a habit of focus and awareness during these periods, etc. that alerts us to recognize and act accordingly during these states of moodiness? Is it possible to do so without that state of normalcy?

4) how do you know when you are in a state of normalcy? By normalcy I mean a state where your mind is clear and is able to process information and think properly according to your values. Is it a continuum - e.g. depression would be farther from normalcy than a headache.

Edited by Theg_01

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Jordan Peterson is not a good example here, because I think as far as personality and things like that, I think he is more deterministic on average. 

1: Being moody is actually just your emotional range and how often it changes. A mood is at best a culmination of many mental activities going on. It would include all the stimuli coming in, your interaction with values, your physical health, how tired you are, what you ate, your level of focus, and basically anything that goes on in your head. This doesn't prove or demonstrate anything about how deterministic your behaviors are. You can alter your mood, it just takes time. 

Usually psychologists who write about or mention a primitive mind ultimately are getting at creating a more balanced mind. Integrating all aspects of your mental world through understanding how the brain works, instead of haphazardly doing what strikes you as right.

2: So it's not a question of bypassing the mood, it's a question of controlling your mood. This can be done through attention, selecting different environments to be a part of, what food to eat, sleeping more, all sorts of ways. This is why the primitive mind versus the modern mind is a messy distinction. Once we start to think about moods overall, and how much information we deal with all the time, it's easier to see the brain as a complete system.

3: If by normal state of mind you mean stable, it helps a lot for figuring out what frame of mind you want. But that doesn't mean you have to be feeling normal. If you are manic, you would find strategies to calm yourself down if you needed to. If you are depressed, you would find strategies to start being active. That's why people with bipolar or any mental illness goes to therapy.

4: Recognizing what is normal, healthy, or beneficial depends on your introspection techniques. I don't mean that we recognize what the "primitive" brain does. I mean that you think about and consider your overall condition. You think about your emotions. You point out your emotions to yourself. Other people pointing out your behavior also helps. Eventually you would figure out the ways that a headache affects your mood, and how that is different from an emotional state like depression, and even different from being tired.

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All the books mentioned in this thread are good choices. Especially "Thinking Fast and Slow". Other terms you should look into are embodied cognition, and cognitive behavioral therapy; for anything on mood, at least for what I was getting at, just read up on bipolar disorder and treatment of it.

Before these though, and since I don't know your background, I would recommend "Understanding Objectivism". Not because it has something specific to say about psychology, but because it's some philosophical grounding to think about how we should deal with these sorts of concepts. The way I think of it, the idea of a primitive mind is an overemphasis on rationalism, rather than keeping in context that even though we can distinguish between rational thought and nonrational thought, in a concrete way, they operate together.

Edited by Eiuol

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