According to behavioural theories deriving from pragmatism, gestalt psychology, existentialism, and ecopsychology, knowledge about the world is gained by intentional action followed by learning. In terms of the neurodynamics described here, if the intending of an act comes to awareness through reafference, it is perceived as a cause. If the consequences of an act come to awareness through proprioception and exteroception, they are perceived as an effect. A sequence of such states of awareness comprises consciousness, which can grow in complexity (...) to include self-awareness. Intentional acts do not require awareness, whereas voluntary acts require self-awareness. Awareness of the action/perception cycle provides the cognitive metaphor of linear causality as an agency. Humans apply this metaphor to objects and events in the world to predict and control them, and to assign social responsibility. Thus, linear causality is the bedrock of technology and social contracts. Complex material systems with distributed non-linear feedback, such as brains and their neural and behavioural activities, cannot be explained by linear causality. They can be said to operate by circular causality without agency. The nature of self-control is described by breaking the circle into a forward limb, the intentional self, and a feedback limb, awareness of the self and its actions. The two limbs are realized through hierarchically stratified kinds of neural activity. Intentional acts are produced by the self-organized microscopic neural activity of cortical and subcortical components in the brain. Awareness supervenes as a macroscopic ordering state, that defers action until the self-organizing microscopic process has reached closure in reflective prediction. Agency, which is removed from the causal hierarchy by the appeal to circularity, re-appears as a metaphor by which events in the world are anthropomorphized, making them appear subject to human control. (shrink)
Traditional cognitive science is Cartesian in the sense that it takes as fundamental the distinction between the mental and the physical, the mind and the world. This leads to the claim that cognition is representational and best explained using models derived from AI and computational theory. The authors depart radically from this model.
Study of electroencephalographic brain activity in behaving animals has guided development of a model for the self-organization of goal-directed behavior. Synthesis of a dynamical representation of brain function is based in the concept of intentionality as the organizing principle of animal and human behavior. The constructions of patterns of brain activity constitute meaning and not information or representations. The three accepted meanings of intention: "aboutness," goal-seeking, and wound healing, can be incorporated into the dynamics of meaningful behavior, centered in the (...) limbic system interacting with the sensory and motor systems. Evidence is noted for the maintenance in cortical neuropil of a felt work of synaptic connections, that have incorporated past experience by changes in learning, and that act as a unified whole in shaping each intentional action at each moment. This constitutes the intentional structure of the brain. Meaning is a focus having a place without edges in this structure. The focus continually moves through it along a chaotic trajectory; the meaning occupies the whole structure. In this view, consciousness is the active state of an intentional structure, and awareness is the subjective aspect of the shifting focus. (shrink)
Introduction to Special Issue on ‘Reclaiming Cognition: The Primacy of Action, Intention and Emotion’. Making sense of the mind is the human odyssey. Today, the cognitive sciences provide the vehicles and equipage. As do all culturally shaped activities, they manifest crystallized generalizations and ideological legacies, many of which go unquestioned for centuries. From time to time, these ideologies are successfully challenged, generating revisions and new forms of understanding. We believe that the cognitive sciences have reached a situation in which they (...) have been frozen into one narrow form by the machine metaphor. There is a need to thaw that form and move from a reductionist, atemporal, disembodied, static, rationalist, emotion- and culture-free view, to fundamentally richer understandings that include the primacy of action, intention, emotion, culture, real-time constraints, real-world opportunities, and the peculiarities of living bodies. These essays constitute an array of moves in that direction. (shrink)
A unifing theory of spatiotemporal brain dynamics should incorporate multiple spatial and temporal scales. Between the microscopic (local) and macroscopic (global) components proposed by Nunez, mesoscopic (intermediate-range) elements should be integral parts of models. The corresponding mathematical formalism requires tools of nonlinear dynamics and the use of aperiodic (chaotic) attractors. Some relations between local-mesoscopic and mesoscopic-global components are outlined.
Thelen et al. have a strong case for linking behavior with mind through nonrepresentational dynamics. Their case linking mind with brain is less compelling. Modified avenues are proposed for further exploration: greater emphasis on the dynamics of perception; use of chaotic instead of deterministic dynamics with noise; and use of intentionality instead of motivation, taking advantage of its creative dynamics to model genesis of goal-directed behaviors.
Recurrent excitation is experimentally well documented in cortical populations. It provides for intracortical excitatory biases that linearize negative feedback interactions and induce macroscopic state transitions during perception. The concept of the local neighborhood should be expanded to spatial patterns as the basis for perception, in which large areas of cortex are bound into cooperative behavior with near-silent columns as important as active columns revealed by unit recording.
Tsuda offers advanced concepts to model brain functions, includ-ing “chaotic itinerancy,” “attractor ruins,” “singular-continuous nowhere-differentiable attractors,” “Cantor coding,” “multi-Milnor attractor systems,” and “dynamically generated noise.” References to physiological descriptions of attractor landscapes governing activity over cortical fields maintained by millions of action potentials may facilitate their application in future experimental designs and data analyses.
In “Lifelines” Steven Rose constructs a case against neurogenetic determinism based on experimental data from biology and in favor of a significant degree of self determination. Two philosophical errors in the case favoring neurogenetic determinism are illustrated by Rose: category mistakes and an excessively narrow view of causality restricted to the linear form.
“Decortication” does not distinguish between removing all cerebral cortex, including three-layered allocortex or just six-layered neocortex. Functional decortication, by spreading depression, reversibly suppresses only neocortex, leaving minimal intentionality. Removal of all forebrain structures except a hypothalamic “island” blocks all intentional behaviors, leaving only tropisms. To what extent do Merker's examples retain allocortex, and how might such residues affect his interpretations? (Published Online May 1 2007).
EEG evidence supports the view that each cerebral hemisphere maintains a scale-free network that generates and maintains a global state of chaos. By its own evolution, and under environmental impacts, this hemispheric chaos can rise to heights that may either escape containment and engender incontinent action or be constrained by predictive control and yield creative action of great power and beauty.
A distinction between the self and its superstructure, the ego, supports Mele's conclusions. The dynamics of the limbic system generates the self through behavior that is subject to societal observation. The rest of the brain contributes awareness that, by ingenious back-dating and rationalization, gives the ultimate in self-deception: the illusion of control of the self by its own derivative.
[opening paragraph]: Walter Freeman discusses with Jean Burns some of the issues relating to consciousness in his recent book. Burns: To understand consciousness we need know its relationship to the brain, and to do that we need to know how the brain processes information. A lot of people think of brain processing in terms of individual neurons, and you're saying that brain processing should be understood in terms of dynamical states of populations?
Two hypotheses concerning nonlinear elements in complex systems are contrasted: that neurons, intrinsically unstable, are stabilized through embedding in networks and populations; and, conversely, that cortical neurons are intrinsically stable, but are destabilized through embedding in cortical populations and corticostriatal feedback systems. Tests are made by piecewise linearization of nonlinear dynamics at nonequilibriumoperating points, followed by linear stability analysis.
Too little has been written about the biology of joy. Most of the articles in the medical literature about brains and emotions are devoted to explaining how we feel fear, anger, anxiety and despair. This is understandable, because we don't go to doctors when we are feeling optimistic, happy and joyful. Most of what we know about the chemistry of our emotions has been learned from the disorders and the treatments of people who are sad and depressed. -/- But we (...) can't just accept this and say, ‘Why bother?’, because too many of us are seeking to find joy by taking chemicals. We need to ask, ‘What happens inside our brains when we experience happiness? Is there a way to stimulate pleasure in our brains, and what really happens when we do that?’. (shrink)