Qualitative Jump To Self-Consciousness
"Self-consciousness appears to have emerged as a linguistic byproduct generated by our use of language."
In the chapter on “The Emotional Variable in the Logic Equation”, we stressed the necessity for a theoretical framework of reference to validate our conclusions on the ontology of self-consciousness, however tentative or speculative they may still remain. In brain science the theoretical framework is, of course, inferential but based on the direct observation of human behavior (sometimes with the help of instruments) or indirectly as we struggle to simulate it in the Artificial Intelligence (AI) or related laboratories. In either case, we strain to accommodate the observations within the constraints of logical formulations, be they ultimately reduced to logical sentences or symbolic equations. This is so because that way they can be subjected to combinations, permutations, contrasts, comparisons, relations, etc. or any other logical operation that may result in practical adaptive forecasts of future events, the eliminativist pipe dream hoping to transform ‘folk psychology’ into a hard science (see Paul Churchland, “Matter and Consciousness”).
The complexity of consciousness studies continues to elude the most sophisticated experimental strategies to capture the essence of any of its bio-psycho-social dimensions in any of their ascending hierarchy of complexity. We find that the substantive content of all three levels can be explained as being generated by two lower sub-levels, a genetic and a social memory. Ultimately we observe that ‘language’, in all its manifestations, is a common denominator to both explanations.
Throughout recorded history two events have remained constant, the use of signs-language (sounds, words, music, visuals, body movements, etc.) for communicating our biological, psychic or social experiences logically or the appeal to extra-physical explanations when these elude being fitted into conceptual, logical straitjackets. Either way we quench our natural thirst for explaining the world, inside and outside of us, as captured in the practice of ‘folk psychology’.
Within this general context, we have always approached a study of reality with three working hypothesis: 1) man’s unconscious priority is his individual biologic and mental viability / survival and that of his species (the survival / reproductive imperative) 2) this goal is accomplished with an eco-logic and an anthropo-logic elaborated by the Turing component of his brain and a 3) theo-logic to accommodate the extra-sensorial, extra-physical presence. The first hypothesis is self evident under behavioral optics, the third hypothesis is well supported under historical optics. The second hypothesis we still labor to develop as a bridge between the first two in a comprehensive, coherent, consistent and credible fashion, not necessarily aiming at an absolute account of the Kantian ontological reality in itself but a working reality we can peacefully and productively live with.
With such an expanded view, after much reflexive activity in search for a common denominator encompassing all levels, we have come to visualize language as a system of symbolic representations containing a combinatorial syntax structure, layered during intra-uterine and post natal life over an inherited combinatorial proto-semantic foundation, i.e., a layering of social memory over genetic memory. Thus conceived, language, whether signs, sounds or movements, bond the primeval past with the future, the genetic with the learned, the abstract with the concrete, the biological with the sociological, the individual with the group, the observed with the inferred, the certain with the alleatory, the material object with the ideal, the immanent with the transcendental, technology with philosophy, art and science.
We will describe to follow new insights into that lofty but elusive goal to describe the ontology of mind by using a psycho-linguistic probe to identify the transition from phenomenal to self-consciousness, a qualitative jump. Contemporary philosophy of language seems centered on semantic theory but includes truth theory and psycho-linguistics.
Nobody really questions the fact that linguistic expressions require some thought but, does thought require any form of ‘language’ to build it or access it, whether inherited or acquired? We are adding the inherited mode of language to include, besides natural languages, any conceivable form of communication, be they body movements, the signs of language or video or the sounds of speech or music, even DNA-coded genetic language.
We always suspected that language (L) is somehow implicated in thought (T) processes, whether in a constitutive modality in its formation, as a mere vehicle or conduit that facilitates its mere communication (i.e., not involved in the process of thought itself) or a combination thereof. The battle between those purists in cognitive theory favoring an a-priori conceptual relation between (L) & (T) in both roles or as independent cooperating entities is alive. Other moderates would settle for a more modest, non-constitutive, independent exclusive role of language in the communication of thoughts. One can further refine a distinction among cognitive theorists, some arguing that thoughts are only structured as language propositions, others as both logic sentences and other non-logic forms. We will contribute our two cents on non-logic representations in a future publication. A careful dissection of these complex abstractions is crucial if we ever hope to get a handle on the conundrum of self consciousness, a giant pole vault jump above known logical paradoxes discouraging the attempt.
Let us start by adding another layer of complexity. We need to make a further distinction between accessing somebody else’s thoughts from their language expressions (heard, read or in any other manifestation) and accessing one’s own thoughts by introspection. In the first case the language expressions gives us the key to access his thoughts by placing ourselves in his position by simulation. This we call 'theory of mind'. When we access our own thoughts introspectively the trigger is usually some external sense phenomenal event (usually audio-visual), a memory or an internal body-proper visceral event. The dialogue with ourselves is what we call ‘inner speech’ or soliloquy. For reasons that will become clear as we go along we need to distinguish the co-existence of two very distinct thought processes in ‘inner speech’, extremely difficult to dissect out. The term ‘inner speech’ or ‘soliloquy’ may contain both sense-phenomenal representations and conceptual introspective elements as we will argument below. The latter case we prefer to call introspective-propositional and excludes images or verbalizations of content. For pedagogic reasons we use the conversation with our own virtual mirror image as exemplifying an introspective (inner talk) conversation with ourselves. The thinking subject and his thoughts (man shaving) can become the object of his own thoughts because he is an empirical ontological 'being' identifiable in 4-d space (his essence) whereas his thoughts and self are only in virtual 'existence', no invariant measurable essence in dimensional space is available (the mirror reflection). For reasons pedagogical we can call 'you' the virtual image reflected (the 'self'), now the object of an observation by the 'I' and the soliloquy as a dialogue between an ontological 'being' standing inside his bathroom 'I' and the virtual adimensional self 'you'. The ability of a subject ('I') to know what someone else ('you') in the ecological niche may be thinking (theory of mind) is predicated on subject's ability to know himself by introspection. The capacity to have thoughts about oneself comes about when we can inferentially separate 'essence' (4-d being, the 'I') from 'existence' (adimensional virtual entity, the 'you') with the aid of combinatorial logic as it exists in language formation. Attending the linear inferential processing is the co-generation of thought as a by-product of the process. See Heidegger's "Essence and Existence".
To illustrate. When I stand alone shaving in front of a mirror and feel the touch of the telephone bill with my hands inside my pocket I may immediately but silently (the soliloquy model requires passive verbalization) express in a perfect logically structured sentence: “I paid the phone bill, now I can call her.” How did that happen? The physical contact with the paper bill (sense-phenomenal event) in my pocket triggered an immediate, non-inferential, non explanatory access to my sense memory of similar phenomenal events. The resulting comparative identification of the object as a phone bill led into automatic (unconscious?) correlations with memory in data bases leading to an inferential formulation of that sentence in a structured representation of the appropriate correlates. As the relevant elements get linguistically assembled a thought slowly emerges.
We can legitimately ask whether the natural language particles of the assertion participated constitutively in the formation of the thought formed or were they mere conduits of the pre-formed thought during the inner speech formation? There are actually two separate sequential processes going on so fast that they can hardly be distinguished from each other. The first sense-phenomenal stage was immediate, triggered by digital contact with phone bill and no inferences, interpretations or judgments were made initially as revealed by the immediacy of the non-verbalized initial identification (we verbalize it for illustration purposes as part of the structured sentence). We will argue that this primitive identification may be a simple, non-judgmental, non-verbalized, first order awareness response triggered by a phenomenal (sensory or memory recalls) event. The event may be accompanied by sudden unexplained and ephimeral affective or qualic experiences. This we call the unconscious non-inferential event leading merely to the identification of the phone bill object as a paper which soon became inferentially “the phone bill” as the image is co-generated as a thought. We do not feel comfortable with the designation of the initial event as conscious in that it just entails the execution of a complex reflex act where a touch receptor senses (phone bill), transmits, integrates and executes an adaptive pre-programed response (identification as a particular object, different from others), something a robot, a pre-conscious newborn or an unconscious fear response can ellicit. This is the easy aspect of the cognitive event. What is important is what the identified object means to the economy of the whole organism individually and then in a society context. To follow is a description of the second stage formation of the inner speech following the primitive identification of the bill as an ontological known object.
Continuing with the illustration imagine now that somehow the mirror reflection reacts to your initial inner speech “I paid the phone bill,…” expression answering back: “...now I can call her (on the phone)” This response is very DIFFERENT from the original in many important ways: it is delayed (follows the tactile identification), paused (non-immediate) and constitutes a pondered reaction questioning perhaps the stupidity of calling someone who is trying to avoid you, etc. This delayed ‘speech’ interactive exercise between the real 'I' and the virtual 'You' is not necessarily ideally structured syntactically / semantically, is replete with inferences, judgments, qualia, affect and interpretations, and more important is introspective and while arguably exclusively propositional, it is characteristically devoid of images. The delayed reaction is not related to the identification of the phone bill (first order 'thought' triggered by sense-phenomenal touch of the bill) but recursively and interactively questioning the wisdom of using it under the stated circumstances, a higher order introspective thought. This is a two-way communication with self (the virtual image reflection from the mirror) that exemplifies two different aspects of language processing as will be expanded further on. See previous chapter “Soliloquy with my Virtual Image". Before we proceed with this analysis, it should now be focused within the general perspective of the genesis of self-consciousness in the newborn and its definitive attainment in the adult.
Under the guidelines of the second hypothesis stated earlier, vide supra, we have provided evidence linking novel language processing with higher order consciousness, see chapter on “Working Language Memory and the Emergence *of Self.”. Unlike Myers, we distinguish between three co-existing cognitive subsystems, a) one that functions automatically, unconsciously (implicit, genetic) without any possibility of being accesed for a conscious introspection, typical of subhuman species and distributed among archilayers, e.g., the human amygdaloid complex, b) a subconscious system with limited opportunity of being accesed for introspection except when a novel object / event is encountered and c) a deliberate and conscious (explicit, social) thought and cognition. We will try now to develop further the structure of the unconscious, implicit, inherited system as it relates to the development of human natural languages and self-consciousness. We will need to digress briefly to lay the foundations.
We have elaborated at length in previous publications on the bifurcating neuronal connectivity details on the ultra-rapid motor response (short route) humans display when exposed to a novel, potentially noxious object or event before there is time to establish logically (long route) the adequateness or even need for such response. Both are stereotyped avoidance reflex motor sequences with the essential difference that, whereas the ‘short route’ via the amygdala remained sub-cortical (perceptual, unconscious, implicit, genetic), in the ‘long route’ there was a brief opportunity to recruit the participation of the audio-visual primary (occipital),secondary (parietal) sensory cortex and hippocampus formation en route to the forebrain executive cortex (pre-conceptual, subconscious, explicit, acquired). This description may not necessarily qualify as a typical transition from the sense-phenomenal perceptual > conceptual requiring a self-conscious level of analysis unless in the presence of a novel situation. We have speculated before on the existence of an audio-visual ‘gallery’ of sorts in the amygdaloid complex storing basic coded genetic information for the individual-biologic and species-social survival, for the biological preservation of self and the reproductive perpetuation of the species. The organism biological survival is predicated on the amygdaloid anticipatory co-activation of autonomic and endocrine servo-control mechanisms. The process of social adaptation to the hostile environmental milieu depends on the elaboration of an effective interactive communication system, a language, see chapter on “Regenerative Semantics & Generative Grammar in Pre-Linguistic Organ & Noesis 2002”.
A proto-linguistic organ is a complex adaptive system as discussed in the referenced chapter. As such, a limited number of simple participating elements should spontaneously assemble themselves into a hierarchy of increasing levels of complexity. (see Holland 1998). Practitioners of the materialist religion choose to ignore the mathematical-statistical arguments of the ‘Intelligent Design’ (ID) program and now preach that all living systems self-organize in this way. In our paradigm we may consider the ability to detect the audio-visual (multimodal) sensory inputs from the lactating mother as crucial elements acquired early in the development of the newborn. We described elsewhere the pertinent neuronal overlap accompanying the unfolding of the embryonic genetic memory while in the container womb and its subsequent post-natal modification. The emergence of ‘self’ in the newborn is preceded by the satisfaction of basic nutritional survival needs in the womb and during the first month of lactation when eye contact with the mother is first made. This event signals the beginning of an ongoing interactive signaling process slowly evolving into the primitive psychological structure of the newborn. We must keep in mind that the driving force behind this process is a Freudian diminution or extinction of urge and an inborn curiosity and need for stimulation. Self organization is a description of how perceptual external objects in the immediate vicinity of the newborn are no longer considered as exclusively related to feeding or as an extension of self. Now the objects acquire an existence and permanence of their own, different from him. As we have said, contingent upon the concomitant developmental maturation of the input / output sensori-motor reflex system there is now a transition from unconscious, gene-driven robotic infant to the pre-conscious state of awareness of self as distinct from mother and surrounding objects. We have argued that, a linguistic semiotic process generated with the eye contact with mother’s facial expression, her voice sounds, face presentations, her eyes and head movements, and with proximity games, need to be self-organized in place as a complex adaptive system capable of the eventual generation of a second order level of consciousness. This event heralds the dawning of a primitive human conscience of self. How does it all happen?
Experiments with children born deaf and blind indicates that occipital region V1 need not be involved exclusively in the newborn’s recognition of mother’s facial features nor we expect it to be essential at a time (4-6 months) when visual cortex connectivities are not fully developed although there is evidence of metabolic activity measured by fMRI imaging. Most likely the newborn's retinal input (especially movements) is being integrated at the developing lateral geniculate body of the thalamus and the superior mesencephalic colliculus. It is likely that mother’s baby talk cooing sounds are similarly analyzed at the medial geniculate body and inferior colliculus. All these structures provide ‘short route’ connections to the amygdaloid complex. Recognition of these maternal features is essential in the baby’s data acquisition process and it presupposes the beginning formation of an internal image ‘representation’ useful for comparison / identification purposes (see Chapter 1).
We have learned from the computer sciences that sound and visual images take a lot of hard drive space and most likely the brain does not store audiovisual information as such. We have long suggested that the multimodal or ‘audio-visual gallery’ of genetic information stored in the amygdaloid complex, useful for the comparison / identification of the newborn’s acquired image of his mother, are coded as ‘archetypes’ (semanticles ?), those psychological invariants responsible for triggering mental states when processed in the brain. One need not be concerned with the proportionality between the complex sense-phenomenal coded information stored in the ‘gallery’ and the complexity of the causal DNA genetic precursor code. It is very likely that the mother’s image (or the phone bill of the example above) are brought into a ‘de novo’ existence when a subsequent equivalent sensory perception brings the correspondent match with the coded information. The roles played by mirror neurons (MN) and Fodor’s ‘propositional attitude’ coding in this respect will be briefly discussed below.
Interestingly this solution to the ‘storage space’ problem is similar to our explanation of self-organization phenomena. Language development, like the phylogenetic / ontogenetic embryological emergence of new features as a function of time, depends on the sequentially-induced layering of complex sub-structures, each individually self-organized according to a plan dictated by the presence of chemical inducers, the sort of ‘specific’ design ID group advocates and the main reason why it has failed to be rationally reduced. The amygdaloid neural code representation, like the DNA code it derived from need not be isomorphs with any structural or functional entity (visual, sound, etc.) it represents, it simply stands as an algorithm specifying the amounts of reactants, direction and kinetics of a reaction intended to be executed in an anticipated environment and with its participation (see Piaget’s model). The latter specifications need not be coded into the algorithm. The algorithm is NOT a blueprint, it is a set of coded instructions to be executed when required conditions in the participating chemical inducer environment are met. The environmental conditions act as inducers or triggers. A self-organized system takes whatever reactant resources the ecosystem provides in its environment and integrates them into its own structure. Archetype coding provides the means by which, when activated by relevant sensory input, it can elicit specific motor behavior along with its affective component (propositional attitude?) which, being resolved as pleasurable or aversive, may induce repetition or avoidance of the trigger. This is the basis of our 'bps' ‘simulation theory’ of socio-cultural development.
A simulation theory presupposes that when the newborn comes to ‘interpret’ mother's state of mind what he is doing, in effect, is to engage in role-playing, i.e., at an appropriate time in his development schedule he will 'make sense’ of' her actions by trying to imagine how reality looks from her perspective. Even before that stage the pleasurable or aversive physiognomy triggered by an object or event in the mother’s experience becomes his own. This is the most efficient way of culture transmission we can think of. How does the newborn ‘interpret or ‘make sense’ of mother’s state of mind by studying her facial features? We do not intend to revive the famous *controversy between Bard and Langley as to whether we fight because we are mad or we get mad because we are fighting. Bard’s ‘decisive’ experiment of injecting nor-adrenaline into subjects without eliciting aversion may have had more to do with socially acquired controls than natural responses as we will find in a new born. Even in adults, imitating a smile or a frown will elicit, as demonstrated, the appropriate quale. This is typical of the species and the response is archetypal for the human species. We have personally witnessed a demonstration of ‘sham rage’ (elicited by hypothalamic electrical stimulation) in a cat followed by real rage! When the newborn adopts mother’s facial expression by simulation he is incorporating not only the species invariant response but the mother’s acquired social behavior as manifested in her facial features. He does not need to interpret or make sense, the amygdala will guide his response as it always does when facing environmental features it has archetypically coded for as illustrated in the fear response reflex (see Ledoux “Synaptic Self”). Disparities or conflicts between mother’s invariant genetic and relevant learned behavior, as manifested in her facial expressions may, when acquired by simulation by the newborn, be at the root of future child behavioral pathology. Growth executes an innate potential for development rather than a plan. The goal of down streaming volcanic lava is to find its way to the lowest available terrain level, getting there was not part of a plan. It was ‘innate’. The underlying suggestion is that, as adults, when we interpret another's actions, we are in fact employing our imaginative skills in trying to come to grips with what things look like from the perspective of that role player. It is incumbent on us as proponents of this approach to explain how the newborn is able to engage in interpretative role-play, how the mother facial cues are acquired, transduced and incorporated into his psyche.
The first clue comes from the studies we reported before on the synaptic plasticity affecting the amygdala’s adaptive response to threatening situations. See also J. Biol. Psychiatry 1999 Nov. 1 46(9):1140. There is also evidence on the involvement of the baso-lateral nucleus in memory consolidation most likely through its connections with the prefrontal cortex. These activities strongly extend the role of the amygdala to include attention (input to magno-cellular basal forebrain) and cognition. There has been a steady build up of literature on pattern recognition and perception of facial expressions (see Cottrell J. Cognitive Neuroscience 2002). Before that publication we had detailed the significance of that type of research in the context of language development (“Regenerative Semantics & Generative Grammar in Pre-Linguistic Organ”), Based on those results we suggested how the newborn decodes mother’s baby talk priming the hippocampal formation into syntactic ordering coding activity after the phonemes had been processed in the amygdala for their primeval semantic content as it related to biological preservation. Now we are in a position to elaborate further.
There has been recently discovered a new class of neurons in the primate’s frontal cortex, 'mirror neurons' (MNs), the new kid in the block. These amazing neurons show a similar pattern of electrical activity in relation to specific actions performed by an observer and matching relevant actions performed by the primate, providing a potential communication bridge between both minds. These MN systems demonstrated in primates suggest their utilization to perform social cognitive functions in their ecological niche. We suspect that in a human newborn, armed with imitative and ‘theory of mind’ potentials, an equivalent sophisticated cortical neuronal systems must have evolved in which MNs function as key language development elements in association with the execution of amygdaloid-hippocampal fear reflex adaptive responses, the complex constituting the possible anlagen of the proto-linguistic organ (plo). It has been recently suggested that failures in their early development in the newborn trigger a chain of subsequent impairments giving rise to the clinical syndrome of autism. The multi-modal sensory integration capabilities of the amygdala is unique because of its anatomical position at the crossroads of axonal signal traffic. This is important not only to generate adaptive responses by integrating multiple modalities, including affect (maybe part of the solution of the famous ‘binding problem’?) but in the subsequent development of linguistic capabilities. Regardless of our stated doubts regarding the possibilities of a future demonstration that thoughts or self-consciousness are physical realizations in the brain of the subject (never demonstrated to be logically supervenient on the physical brain), we have found the analysis of language formation a convenient handle to conceptually link the physical brain with the elusive non-physical mind. At this point we have chosen for now, with Carruthers, to restrict a language causal influence to the formation and / or conduit of specific kinds of thought, particularly the conscious propositional thoughts type. It would be premature to assume that all human thought constitutively involves natural language as its precursor, as when consciously improvising jazz music or recalling a visual episodic memory where propositional language (as we conceive it) may not be involved. In this respect we use the term language semiotically to mean sounds (including music), signs of all kinds (including visuals) and movements (hands, body or otherwise) as aforementioned. It may also be premature to stress the role of language exclusively as a medium, or conduit, through which thoughts may be transmitted from mind to mind, rather than being involved in the process of thought itself. It is not necessary either that we commit ourselves to a restricted view of our ‘talking brain’ as innately and exclusively structured and specialized for crunching, interpreting and assembling of natural language sentences, the only interest cognitive scientists seem to have in linguistics now (see Pinker, 1994). It is more likely that language may be constitutively involved not just in some of our conscious thought-processes (as in the identification of sense-phenomenal objects) but also directly implicated in central, introspective, cognitive processes of believing, desiring, and reasoning. The crucial ability of of language symbols as stand alone carriers of information bridging the gap between empirical reality and its representation is unique in nature. See also our discussion of ‘inner speech’ above.
Inner speech, as analyzed before, can be considered as constitutive of both thinking and / or the expression of thought, perhaps being the only medium through which we can either generate or gain access to our thoughts. This is a mouthful that requires further refinement at another time but we will attempt to elaborate further here. We have to keep in mind the distinctions we made earlier between phenomenal (sense perceptual and memory code) consciousness and reflexive (or higher-order) conceptual consciousness. Some familiar sense-phenomenal mental states may brief and un-explained and may be thus characterized as operating unconsciously as argued above. Likewise, if the sense-phenomenal perception is unfamiliar then more information is needed for its identification. We have explained the 3 stages of identification, the fast event id (un-conscious) and the slower context id (subconscious) and finally the role such event plays within an existential context that requires accessing inferential, combinatorial syntacto-semantic consumer systems to unconsciously inform the subject in anticipation of the selection of the best adaptive motor response. Assembling the appropriate ingredients is the introspective state (see an objection, e.g. Davies, 1993; Block, 1995). Mental states are phenomenally conscious if they have both phenomenal properties, e.g., all special sense intuitions (or their neurally-coded representations including sense qualia) AND novel unfamiliar elements to reckon with, otherwise they are experienced as fleeting, unexplained visceral sensations. Mental states are reflexively or introspectively conscious when they are available or accessible to be thought about by the subject (the ontological 'I'). The mental state object of an ongoing analytical scrutiny represents the virtual self (the metaphysical 'You'). We should not restrict the immediacy of access to higher level consumer systems exclusively to our phenomenally conscious thoughts as will discuss below for unconscious protective responses mediated in complex real fear responses requiring coordination. In other words, we can demonstrate an immediate but unconscious reflex access to raw data about the phenomenal content of my perception (e.g., a real snake sound) followed by subconscious and conscious experiences as the adaptive response materializes. We can see in this example a transition from an unconscious perceptual state > conceptual thought but only after accessing higher order consumer systems. Keep in mind that when the sense phenomenal perception is substituted by a memory of it, (a memory representation of the sense perception), the transition is between one or more neurally coded phenomenal states. In our 'bps' model the conscious event requires a previous parsing among candidate language particles for an initial extraction of un-ambiguous meaning followed by an assembly according to the grammar rules of the adopted language acquired.
At this point it is crucial to see the distinction between that initial unconscious fast screening of an empirical (or memory thereof) object and its context accompanied by an unexplained visceral sensation and the thought which remains in consciousness after the initial object / context identification was completed. What remains is a representation of a different experience based on the previous identification and added afterwards by an interpretation, inference and judgment of that object / context and its existential circumstance. The initial ephimeral experience is one pre-constructed (and transmitted?) immediately processed with no time available for inferences or interpretations. The subject may initially count on the safety surrounding the perceived object or even achieve a nominal identity of the object. But conscious identity at this level does not imply much, even verbalizing its features if any exist. What we need is a further stage to resolve its integration with the totality of the subject's personal circumstances.
Accepting that a nominally identified object may not require self-consciousness necessarily is difficult to accept because of its counterintuitive nature. However, let us continue to elaborate further on these considerations using the ‘soliloquy’ model for pedagogical reasons.
When we silently talk to our virtual image reflection in the mirror, it is like the flesh and bone ontological 'I' is talking to 'the other I" reflected representing the 'self' we call 'You' because it is analogous to talking to another person. Our speech is structured and paused albeit with incomplete phrases; i.e., we are not doing it reflexly, non-inferentially and non-interpretatively, just the opposite. This is evidenced by the way we logically structure (articulate) our choice of language (subject, predicate, etc.) as will be explained later. When we say in the example used “The phone bill is paid…” we syntactically structure and verbalize it. Yet, when the respondent ('You') subsequently ponders introspectively on that expression (like when we hear ourselves talk), a distinctly different thought process is taking place. One similar to that experienced when we gain access to the thoughts of other people as when we watch their facial expressions and hear them speak. In the example the other 'I' reflected in the mirror is the respondent. Once the subject has initially identified the empirical object under consideration as the monthly phone bill and initiates the dialogue. The respondent (other 'I') accesses the 'I’ thoughts as inferred from that initial expression. The response “…now I can call her.” is the result from interpreting the content of that initial expression, inferring its meaning and making a judgment based on all circumstantial things considered.
Based on the content and linguistic structure of the dialogue the reader may have noticed a difference, the subject’s initial ‘talk’, the statement to his mirror image, is little more than a narrated identification of an object sensed, like a programmed computer-aided expression would read. But when the primitive statement is 'responded' to, the response evidences a higher degree of introspection by the self (other 'I'). There is a substantial transformation in the sentential structure and meaning of the response, where its constitutive elements are now parsed more discretely, more combinations and permutations are possible and result in less ambiguity and there is always an affective element present, an interpretation and a judgment. How can this complex feat be organized unconsciously before it reaches consciousness, the reader may ask?
Surprisingly, the initial part of the dialogue resembles the case of a sense-phenomenal (or memory thereof) awareness (first order consciousness) whereas the response requires introspection (higher order or self-consciousness). A first sight the initial statement can proceed subconsciously (and in theory programmed), but not the response. Be prepared for surprises!
What has surprised us is to discover in our analysis, and to our amazement, is that the initial event starts as an unconscious sense-phenomenal (tactile) primitive identification of an empirical object subsequently enriched by being aware of the subset it belongs to (familiar phone bill). At this point events are subconscious (unlike unconscious events, it can be brought to consciousness it needed). If the unconscious identification had been unfamiliar a conscious identification required accessing higher order consumer systems to bring more certainty in the identification. So far the sense-phenomenal processing had been non-linear, non-inferred and communicative (not interactive) not requiring an understanding of its characteristics. Now we need a recursive parsing among all possible symbols (words?) representing the object sensed, its semantic identification. Depending on the grammar rules of the adopted language a structured sentential or symbolic arrangement will be linearly assembled making possible the cogeneration of a thought at conscious levels. An ulterior recursive parsing at even higher cognitive orders will situate the prospective adaptive solution in an existential context that include psycho-social parameters. This view is consistent with the previous discussion characterizing the relationship newborn > mother ‘talk’ at a time when the newborn is not developmentally ready to infer, interpret or make judgments, because it all happens at unconscious levels at least during the first year of life. The ontological 'I' is present where clearly the first baby talk is not interpretative or inferential and definitively not an expression of a propositional thought or self awareness at that stage. If he were to be engaged in conscious propositional thinking at all natural language sentences must be constitutively involved in such thinking; but those conditions obviously do not obtain, not yet.
What exactly happens at that critical stage when the newborn becomes aware that he is different, not an extension of the other objects in his environment, or when shortly thereafter he takes that qualitative jump to self-consciousness?
Several years ago, at the Sloan-Kettering Institute of N.Y. we attempted (and failed) to identify that particular moment in cellular ontogeny when its complex macromolecular structure became ‘animated’ into life (see our description at Perfection, Pi Society 2000, France). We had to conclude from a metaphysical analysis that every quantum of energy / particle of cellular matter is alive! Is it also conscious?
If we extrapolate further into adult life we find yet another inconsistency with accepted cognitive theory to reckon with in our present analysis. Is perceptual objective reality faithfully represented in our brains (like a photo of its intimate features) or is our functional, existential reality a diluted version of its Kantian reality in itself (poor human sensory resolution) as modified by our own mental states, the latter dependent upon our particular beliefs about our current environment or circumstances, or about our recently prior thoughts or other mental states? If that is the case then the Wittgenstenian specter would rise again to remind us that our conscious introspective awareness of being in a particular mental state is subject to not only a recognitional deployment of theoretically-embedded concepts, but also on interpretations and inferences drawn upon my ongoing beliefs about the physical or cognitive environment, in which case an introspective journey into our selves and the judgment concluded therefrom would be like the ones described for in the soliloquy above, inferential, interpretative and non-propositional in structure. Is that reminiscent of the way we acquired it from the lap of our lactating mother?
Final Arguments and Conclusions.
If, arguably, conscious thinking is preceded by an immediate, non-inferential, non-interpretative, ‘on line’ access how can it be then so rapidly constructed and verbalized in so finely elaborated a natural language? Especially when we know that it is essentially the same sort of access we have to the thoughts of other people when we hear them speak? We obviously have to interpret other people’s speech to infer its content by a process of “off-line” simulation, like “..how would I feel if I were saying the same words under similar (and known) circumstances”? It matters not whether an interpretation occurs after an original phenomenal thought is first tokened “on line” and then used to construct a natural language sentence which is interpreted; this is the ‘communicative’ conception. Even the rival ‘cognitive’ conception, that conceives the token thought as a representation of the sense image, precedes the inferred, interpreted pondered thought vocalized as a natural language. To ascribe the original representation of the sense image as the ‘interpretation’ and the subsequent natural language elaboration as ‘further effects’ is unnecessary and confusing, we will see why.
The neurophysiology of visual identification / interpretation of an external object has been worked out ‘ad nauseam’ and provides for an original occipital cortical stage (V1) where the physical object is ‘represented’ and subsequent parietal > > prefrontal stages where the image is ‘interpreted’ according to the existing internal / external individual circumstances attending the subject. To the layman, the inner speech of a soliloquy is like my mirror reflection talking back TO ME until I can analyze the structure and content of the utterances to realize that I can break it into an initial conscious, sense-phenomenal ('auditive') stage and a subsequent eloquent natural language-structured thought are amalgamated as a unit, and thus in the inner speech, whether vocalized or not. We have been watching the internet for more than a year for any research on the generation of ‘ inner speech’ and we find nothing other than learned speculations. To conceive of the sense-phenomenal identification of the physical object (phone bill) as proceeding in various stages before becoming a primitive conscious process was difficult enough but persuasive in that cognitively we ‘know’ we have a unique physical object to reckon with but it is not until we ascribe a meaning of it within the totality of the subject’s existential reality that the ‘hard’ problem appears, especially when we hesitantly have to conclude that the pondered, inferred, interpreted judgment was subconscious, maybe even unconscious in its initial stages!! The bold font totality in the previous sentence should give us a clue to the riddle.
Re-stating, we have reasons to believe that once the physical object (phone bill or mental representation thereof) is perceived the digitized input has to be sorted out, classified and identified as to the set and subsets of real objects it belongs to. This implies a judgment at the unconscious level. Thereafter this primitive identification will constitute the subsequent input into the language system to be able to generate the introspective thought, i.e., after subjecting the input to yet another filtering process of parsing and / or disambiguation to extract its proto-semantic content before proceeding to the process of combination, permutation, sorting out and final sequential processing by the Turing ‘talking brain’, according to the rules of grammar of the adopted language. This results in a higher order judgment articulated in our natural language, narrated or not. Semantics precedes syntax. Just like the amygdala had to extract the semantic content of the sense-phenomenal input before organizing a motor response strategy with the help of the delayed hippocampus context input, so does the phone bill tactile-sense phenomenal input has to be identified first, place its meaning in the context of existential priorities (filtering, parsing, disambiguation, etc.) before organizing eventually the syntax structure most adequately representing the problem to solve; in the process a thought is co-generated.
The difficulty resides in accepting that a ‘thought out” further judgment elegantly expressed in perfect English (or any other natural language) could possibly result from an unconscious process preceding it!! How could that be! Before we can completely work out the algorithm(s) describing the equilibrium state of various brain (visceral / affective archilayers, parietal multimodal paleolayer, executive, ‘talking’ neolayer) modular systems we will try to make our point by making reference to well documented sources on brain pathology, e.g., see Glynn’s Anatomy of Thought, Oxford Press and our Amazon review (Telicom 2001). Barely a few years ago Michael Gazzaniga speculated on the existence of our ‘talking brain’, he called it the “Interpreter”. This designation was based on his now famous split brain experiments now extended to the clinical scenario. The most convincing of the many experiments in support of the operation of an unconscious system in the formulation of rational judgments came from experiments describing patient confabulations (false self-appraisal of factual events) which the patients thought were true. Somehow, we think, the underlying pathology had negated in these patients access to relevant, factual information stored in social memory. Thus they had to rely on their common sense folk psychology to sort out a situation where the essential social event for the formulation of a true, adaptive solution (all things considered) is missing. But there is the ‘talking brain’, the big confabulator which deals only with the reality data it can access from its various modular memory data bank according to a hierarchy of priorities genetically pre-ordained, biological > social survival. For reasons of space we are not now able to develop the rationale justifying the conclusion that the conscious propositional content of a 'thought' may also represent the root of the subject’s core general principles which, while consciously accessed in a normal subject, ocassionally its content may need to be unconsciously influenced by subconscious introspective misinformation inputs demanding to be linearly processed, to be explained, inferred, etc. so as to be able to participate in providing a ‘logical’, albeit untrue picture with the incomplete information available. The sub-conscious access to the mis-information makes it impossible for the patient to realize his true existential state of affairs in a precise moment in space-time, a classical confabulation. The example always cited in the literature is that of a split brain patient asked to walk where the command could only reach into his non-dominant brain of limited language abilities whereupon he stands up and walks outside and returns with a refreshment. It would seem that the current conscious propositional locus in his left brain was accessed by the non-verbalized, non-linear representation ‘walk’ (originating from a right brain subconscious introspective locus) was rationalized and the command "walk", out of context was interpreted within the circumstances of a thirsty patient in a warm day (folk psychology) when asked to walk. His behavioral response was ‘logical’ but untrue as verbalized when asked to explain, he confabulated a false self-explanation, the story he believed to be true. The literature is replete with confabulation stories like this. It is interesting, in this respect, that skillful lawyers and psychotherapists have been reported to have been able to implant false core beliefs in their clients to induce self-accommodating confabulations during a trial. Fortunately these beliefs do not survive long after the trial.
We would like to intercalate this analysis now within the context of the newborn whose future core principles of social behavior are being socially layered by his mother baby talk upon an inherited set of biological and pre-social principles. We argued above that the newborn inherits ‘archetypes’, a multi-potential set of possibilities to develop according to the influence of social inducers in the environment, all within the constraints of the pre-ordained guidelines of the genetic template. The newborn is far from being a ‘tabula rasa’ where social inducers will be deterministic of future behavioral developments, there will always be the biosocial survival imperative for the species as Skinner must have learned observing the events inside his famous behavior box after re-reading Freudian and Jungian psychology. In this context we are not sure if instincts as such can be inherited as much as specially designed human structural / functional deterministic constraints for the social environment to act upon. Thus a newborn brought up living with monkeys in isolation never becomes or behaves like a monkey no matter the intensity of surrogate parental cues to the contrary.
We have argued above how may a newborn learn to communicate and eventually incorporate the cultural (linguistic) milieu by imitation using the postulated memory neurons (MN) as intermediary between self and mother as demonstrated in apes. It is not easy to articulate at this stage how may this recursive interactivity lead to a spontaneous self organization along specific design guidelines giving rise to an emergent level of order, more complex than the one preceding it (see Holland 1998), first an awareness of self during the first trimester of post natal life and the qualitative jump to self consciousness with further development of linguistic capacity.
We have no choice but to characterize the attainment of this high order level of consciousness (self-consciousness) as a ‘qualitative’ jump because what has really subconsciously emerged in this very complicated process, as here argumented is no less than the psychological self, the sum total of conscious, subconscious and unconscious events and contents, hopefully in harmony with its internal body and external physical environmental niche for its bio-psycho-social survival. At first sight this leaves no space for ‘free will’, everything seems to be determined by genetic or social forces outside my capacity to control effectively. Everywhere around us we witness a palpable progression in the structure and function of our most important cultural institutions, a verifiable case of negentropy, notwithstanding the failed results of the materialist parishioners to demonstrate a corresponding increase in the environment along thermodynamic conceptual thinking. It should not be difficult to logically conclude, along mathematical statistic guidelines, the operation of an intelligent special design, call it what you may. Social and historical experience records that man can exercise his free will within the constraints of that ever-present but invisible intelligence. If we ever hope to be able to characterize His ontological features, we must first become the unconscious self explaining the conscious rationalization, a self-evident paradox.
“..natural language is not only imperfect, but even in principle incoherent.” Frege
End Chapter 14