Author Topic: Wy We Have Brains  (Read 2833 times)

Matt Koeske

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Wy We Have Brains
« on: May 08, 2012, 10:26:20 AM »
I was perusing some of the TED talks online and came upon Daniel Wolpert: The real reason for brains.  It's basically a primer on why brains exist.  Short answer: to calculate and coordinate movement (at least this is Wolpert's and others' seemingly sound theory).

Like many TED talks, it is worth checking out for some fun, interesting science in an entertaining 20 minute package.  But one thing that came to mind for me in watching this (but that Wolpert doest go into) is how the tremendous sophistication brains needed to develop to coordinate movement could have been retooled in various ways in the abstract intelligence of humans. 

There have been many essays and books that discuss the physicality of thought.  One I have mentioned occasionally on this site is Steven Pinker's The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature (2007).  In our use of metaphors and in the construction of language in general, intuitive concepts of space, action, force, effect, relationship, and the laws of physics ground the way words (and thoughts) work and mean.

Our cognitive bias is to assume that our abstract thoughts are very complex and advanced while the body's movements (many of which are significantly unconscious and automatic, especially after they are learned) are comparatively basic.  After all, many animals with smaller brains and simpler cultures are tremendously physically coordinated and agile.

But one example Wolpert gives that seems to contradict this bias involves chess-playing computers.  We can build a computer that can defeat the greatest human chess players in the world, but we can't build a computer that can physically manipulate chess pieces on the board as adeptly as even a human child.  This may not be a fair analogy, I don't know.  But as an arguing and taking off point, it is very interesting.

Even our most sophisticated thought remains anchored in physicality and dimensionality . . . and essentially dependent on brains "designed" for movement and calculating motion within a three dimensional, physical universe.  I think this is definitely something an analytical psychologist would need to keep in mind in constructing and studying the concept of archetypes or the autonomous psyche.  It helps us understand that the "sublayer" of the mind (the so-called "unconscious") is bound to be an especially physical realm.  Even as this autonomous mind can form images that defy the laws of the physical universe we live in externally, these defiances are possible only because the laws are well known . . . and these defiances have specific meanings in many cases.  For instance, when one dreams that one can fly or is capable of some other superhuman physical act, we have the makings of a symbol, part of the meaning of which is defiance of a natural law.

There is great value for an analyst of psychological phenomena to understand that thought is complex, by which I mean that more complicated structures of thought are made out of less complicated structures, which are made out of less complicated structures, etc.  In other words, thoughts are made up of very basic elements combined in potentially elaborate ways and through numerous iterations.

Complex thoughts are not equivalent to their divided parts, but understanding complex thoughts psychologically requires that the psychologist understands the way the elements of thought fit together.  As we approach the "quantum" level of thought elements, we also come close to segueing from subjective sense of cognition to brain function.  That is, of course, something interesting to neuroscientists.  But I would argue that it should be equally fascinating to those making a study of themselves or of the "deep psyche".  The common archetypal characterizations of the Self and the archetypes show many indications of the quantum elements of thought and of the physicality of brain functions.

My feeling is that to be an explorer in the deep psyche (a part of individuation, for instance), is to be constantly confronted with the physicality and "animalism" of the archetypal aspects of the autonomous psyche.  That explorer must ask what these things mean, why they are the way they are.  It can be tempting to imagine these seemingly intelligent and autonomous others as gods and angels and demons, spiritual entities . . . but I think this is a level of gloss we add subjectively, a kind of projection of anthropic egoism and mind unto them.

It isn't wrong, in my opinion, to see these structures of the autonomous psyche as egoistically as we typically do.  It is natural.  But I don't think the depth psychologist is "allowed" (as a depth psychologist) to stop at this stage of projectively familiarizing psychic otherness.  It is essential for the depth psychologist to have the courage to see through, to see more deeply, to allow the autonomous psyche to be truly other.  That is both a psychological obligation and, I believe, part of the spiritual journey toward the Other or in valuation of the Other.

Essentially, we do not seek God in order to find a way of worshiping ourselves . . . or else we have failed in the spiritual quest we set out on.  We seek in order to recognize and reveal the Other.  And only in relationship (which requires contrast, differentiation) with that Other does self begin to individuate.
You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.

   [Bob Dylan,"Mississippi]