Sunday, July 26, 2009

NOTES: What Makes Us Think? by Changeux & Ricoeur

What Makes Us Think? A Neuroscientist and… (Princeton, NJ and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2000)

p. 5 [Ricoeur {R} describes phenomenology as "reflective, descriptive, interpretive"]

p. 6 Changeux {C}: The brain cannot be viewed as a strictly genetic machine; … it incorporates, within a defined genetic envelope peculiar to the species, a series of nested "epigenetic" imprints that are established by variation and selection. n. 5

p. 12 C: …the Russian prince Peter Kropotkin, remembered chiefly as the theoretician of anarchism, found in nature an objective moral law in the form of mutual aid.

p. 14 R: My initial thesis is that these discourses [viz., the neural and the mental] represent heterogeneous perspectives, which is to say that they cannot be reduced to each other or derived from each other.

p. 16 R: …there is no parallelism between the sentences "I grasp with my hands" and "I think with my brain." … Does the new knowledge that we have about the cortex add to what I already know through direct bodily experience and, in particular, everything that I know about emotions, perception, everything that is genuinely and connected with my possession of my body?

p. 17 C: No neurobiologist would ever say that "language is the posterior part of the frontal lobe of the cerebral cortex." That is meaningless. One says instead that language "makes us of" or, better yet, "mobilizes" particular ares of the brain.
[This sounds strikingly, if unwittingly, like the Aristhomistic theory of how forms dematerialize matter from potency to act, viz, how agents "inform" matter.]

p. 19 R: The way in which you present the research program of the neurosciences, incorporating consciousness in it, makes it clear that you are not a reductionist.

p. 20 R: I, too, a concerned with… a semantic dualism. If I had to claim a philosophical ancestor it would be Spinoza…. … Whence my question: does any knowledge that I may have of the brain add to the knowledge that I have of myself simply through direct acquaintance with my body, without knowing anything about my brain?

p. 21 R: My first problem is therefore epistemological: do the neurosciences allow us to correct the linguistic dualism that I am insisting on?

p. 29 C: …the emendatio intellectus, the discipline of thought…: ?

p. 30 C: Theory assumes the intelligibility of the world in advance of experiment.

p. 32 R: For me, the able man is one who is capable of speaking, acting, talking about himself, subjecting himself to norms, and so on. Certainly the endowment with capacities is deeply rooted in the biological world, but the accession to moral competence supposes language, moral obligation, institutions––a whole normative, juridical, and political world.

p. 35 C: [Descartes, L'Homme:] "…I must show how these two natures would have to be joined and united in order to constitute men who resemble us." n. 1

p. 36 C: …it [i.e., Descartes' Treatise on Man] represents the first attempt to model reciprocal regulation between levels of organization. The point of the Cartesian enterprise as a whole, in my view, is to establish a causal relation between neural structure and sensory-motor––ultimately, cognitive––function at each defined level of hierarchical organization.

p. 40 R: …my brain does not think, but when I am thinking something is always going on in my brain––even when I am thinking of God!

p. 42 C: In Purposive Behavior in Animals and Men (1932) [Edward] Tolman introduced the notion of anticipation––intentional behavior. … Our brain is constantly attributing significance.

p. 44 R: A phenomenology of action allows us to give meaning to the notions of anticipation and projection that marked a break with the reactive conception of early behaviorism, which assigned priority to stimuli emitted by the world as it was understood by the scientists, and not as living beings organize it and structure it by choosing meaningful signals. … From the optical [viz., neural ]point of view, light comes into the eye, passing from the outside to the inside. But from the mental point of view, you look out, which to say that your look goes out from your eyes. The two points of view cross each other. You [Changeux| attribute this to the brain's capacity for projection. But what I cal "projection" involves a mental activity that I understand reflectively. …the notion of the neuronal self is itself a mental construction.

p. 46 R: …the uncritical use that you make of the category of causality in passing from the neuronal to the mental. The question is whether it is possible to extend the notion of correlation from the semantic to the ontological plane…. I propose we adopt the term substrate to denote the relation of the body-as-subject to the body as it is experienced, and therefore of the brain to the mental. … I refer to material [i.e., 'substrate'] causality only in a limiting sense, to indicate a cause sine qua non, in order to resist the extrapolations of the Churchlands' brand of eliminitavist monism. … Against the effective [i.e., 'efficient'] causality that you advocate I oppose substrate causality, in the limiting sense I have just indicated. I quite willingly grant that it constitutes nothing more than a sort of cache-misère, a presentable cloak worn to cover up the shabby clothes one wears underneath while traveling…. … [p. 47] …the brain is the substrate of thought….

p. 50 C: The perception of the body therefore assumes the integrity of the somatosensory areas [cf. anosognisic patients who deny various limbs belong to them].
[Changeux's point is that Ricoeur's phenomneological sense of the self as bodily-being-being-lived itself requires sufficient neural integrity, in which case, phenomenology derives from neurology.]

p. 52 C: Consciousness occurs in the brain, but we have no conscious perception of our brain!

p. 53 C: It becomes possible to interpret images of the mental states of another person and also, in the first place, one's own mental states. / R: You assume here a physical notion of an image, for example as the optical projection of one object upon another; but to have an image in the sense of imagining, that is something different––it implies absence, the unreal. … / C: The phrase "medical imagery," I grant you, involves the word image in the sense of a picture book or a graph. / R: Somebody reads the picture book. / C: In this case it is the scientist who reads these images in the brain of another person or possibly in his own. He interprets them as an observer in relation to his own brain. / R: The observer makes a mental operation on a physical object.

p. 62 C: Certain neurons in our brain liberate neurotransmitters that have an excitatory effect, as in the case of glutamate: they trigger or facilitate the production of electric impulses in the target neurons; other neurons liberate a nuerotransmitter such as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which reduces––indeed eliminates––excitation, on which account they are called inhibitory.

p. 64 R: …I side with Canguilhem, who points out in La Connaisance de la vie that living creatures organize their environment, something physical bodies cannot be said to do. …a link between organization and function. …it is in terms of this organizational hierarchy that neuroscience classifies distinct yet interconnected functions. … [p. 65] Thus organization may be said to be the substrate of function, and function the sign of organization.

p. 66 R: …in a scientific reading [of observation], the subject also becomes one of the objects: he enters into an object-object relation; but in this objectivized situation, you have suspended the subject-object, an intentional relation that does not come within the view of neuroscience.
[cf. D. Melser on the 'asymptotic' nature of scientific objectivity as a human enterprise]

p. 68: R: …no matter how careful an experimenter may be, he will still need to have recourse to other verbal reports to develop his analysis. … Ordinary experience does not exactly coincide with what scientists include under the term introspection.

p. 69 C: I can never imagine any scientists saying, "I will never succeed in understanding."

p. 71 R: Being in the world is first experienced globally. One then proceeds from the global to the particular, whereas the legitimate scientific approach will always be to pass from the simple to complex: in this respect, there is no isomorphism or toerm-by-term correspondence between the two planes of experience.

p. 72 R: …the psyche you associate with a neuronal world that is legitimately constructed is itself very much a construct…, but the mental world you correlate with the neuronal substrate is very, very simplified….

p. 73 C: The ambition of the neurobiologist is very limited. The object that he studies is much too complex to be grasped in its totality.

p. 82 C: …the tow leading principles of the architecture of the brain, parallelism and hierarchy… on account of which analysis and synthesis occur concomitantly.

p. 83 C: The determination of function by structure can only be usefully done if one aims at a level of organization that is adequate to the function.
[cue the argument for the immateriality of the intellect based on the incommensurability of physical organs and intelligible realities]

p. 85 C: Psychological functions are to cerebral organization what, at a lower level, the catalytic activity of an enzyme is to the sequence of its amino acids.
[What grounds the analogical parallelism of nature? If analogia entis is a reality from lower levels to higher, how high does this analogical hierarchy extend, I wonder?]

p. 86 R: The cognitive sciences do not lead on to the symbolic, lexical, and syntactic activities of language; these activities are their point of departure.

p. 87 C: Our nervous system is now active only when it is stimulated by sensory organs. … [The brain] is the permanent seat of important internal activities… [which elaborate and organize] the representations that will be projected onto the world….
[Unless the brain is constituted by a rational order which itself intelligibly orders natural reality, then what assurance do we have that the brain's projective syntheses are truthful?]

p. 89 R: What the phenomenologist objects to is the primacy assigned to the environment, which the experimentalist considers as a world wholly made up of things from which messages emanate and to which replies are given.

p. 91 C: …we live in an "unlabeled" universe… a world that has neither fate nor meaning. …when our brain interacts with the external world, it fevelops and fucntions according to a model of variation-selection… [in which] variation… precedes the selection of adequate form.

p. 95 C: A mental object is a representation that codes a natural sense––a meaning that "represents" an external or internal state of affairs….

p. 96 R: A code… is inert so long as it is not integreated as part of a speech act that actualizes [!] a capacity of which I have vivid experience, an I can. But there is nothing that corresponds to this I can in a neuronal assembly. … / C: By "code" I mean the maching up of an external state of affairs, an object, a situation, on the one hand, with a neuronal organization and the state of activity that invests it on the other. This term is also used by analogy [!] in the case of geentic information. One says, for example, that the base sequence of a gene's DNA codes codes for the sequence of amino acids that consitutes a proetin possession, for example, an enzymatic function. … I want in any case to find a way to say that this set of neuronal activities, which exhibits a well-defined geogrpahy and is very richly connected with others sets of neurons in our brain, has an indication function––or, better still, that it materially, physically possesses meaning (in Saussurian terms, a signigifed). It would correspond to state C in the schema proposed by Fred Dretske and Joëlle Proust:

F <–––– C ––––> M

where F is an external state of affairs and M a behavioral outcome.

p. 99 R: …the index is opposed to the icon and the the symbol: the index is a sign that would immediately lose its cahracter if its object were suppressed (the hole of a wound, for example, and a gunshot). Indication, according to semitoic theory, consists in a very strong link founded on a commonality of nature and a causal realtion. It is in a realted sense, and in agreement with Dretske and Proust, that you yourself appeal to the category of indication. But you go further, since for you neuronal reality materially continas the sign. … [p. 100] By contrast it is the semantic heterogeneity between the mental phenomenon and its cortical basis that I stress by making the former the index of the latter….

amphiboly: ?

p. 100 C: The concept of mental object defines a unique entity located where the two discourses meet. To use Spinoza's trms, I wold say that there is a "substance" conceived in two "aspects." … The term mental object therefore links the two [i.e., the mental and neural discourses]. / R: then it's an illegitmate term. / C: Yes, but intentionally illegitmate! It draws attention to itself because it is synthetic. … it's a hybrid that links the two discourses. / R: You are saying, then, that it's necessary to employ a hybrid vocabulary. Once again, this Desacrtes's problem in the sixth Meditation.
[BOOM! Or, why physicalism is just Cartesian dualism in denial.]

p. 102 R: Something happens in my brain, and when you tell me what happens in my brain, you add to my knowledge of the base, the underlying neural reality; but does this knowledge help me in trying to decipher the enigma of a face?

p. 106 C: When the subject listens without understanding, activity is restricted to the auditory system; when he understands, his brain finds itself invaded, as it were, beseiged with activity. … The isomorphism with objects of the external world is progressively lost, giving way to more formal, more abstract representaions. Conversely, these higher, more "abstract" representations projectively mobilize first assocaitive areas, and then motor areas, with a view to [!] acting in a definite way upon the world.
[In other words, as intelligible form rises in nobility, the formal activity of matter increases away from hylic potency, and in accord with final ends, no less.]

p. 111 C: This universe is intrinsically empty of meaning and intention. [Yet, recall Changeux's earlier claim on p. 96 that meaning is inscripted physically-materially.] …knowledge cannot be reduced to recognizing, to "reading" categories already established in nature; it consists first of all in establishing categories. [I consider this one of the most destructive statements Changeux could make for the case of scientific objectivity and epistemological realism.]

p. 113 C: [A sentient organism] proceeds by trial and error, trying to spot, to define, to frame, to categorize … the objects and phenomena of the reality tha surrounds him. The external world then retroacts on the transient mental state that determined the behaviro. Depending onthe signal recieved from the external world, the intial prerepresentation is stabilized or not. … According to Panskepp's theory, the affective system is divided into four great subsystems that mobilize topologically and biologically distinct sets of neurons involved in producing the fundaemtnal emotions: desire/pleasure; distress…; anger/violence; and fear….
[The classical four humors redivivus!?]

p. 115 C: …the return of a positive signal leads to the stabilization of the prepresentation that provoked it, whereas a negative signal leads to the reactiviation of the generator of diversity, the production of new prerepresentations…, and so on.

p. 117 R: …you avail yourself at the outset of a notion of the environment that is that of a world wholly made up of realities that you define in terms of physics, chemistry, and biology––a world that is already scientifiaclly organized. And it is this smae world that you decalre "empty of meaning and intention." But it had previously been emptied of meaning and intention by the Copernican, and then the NEwtonian, revolution, which effectively left us a dead physical, as Hans Jonas emphasizes in his philosophical studies of biology. Yet this doesn't prevent us from seeing it as populated with vegetables and animals, before the human child undertakes to "read" it.

p. 119 R: The notion of mental objects was used by the psychologist before you used it. You have transpalnted in the domain of neurosciences a notion tha is itself a construct of psychology.

p. 118 C: …al-mal-gham or "work of union."

p. 120 R: There is nothing magical about the [Husserlian] idea that the inside is outside. Its pradoxical form only expresses in a critical way the rejection of the dual prejudice that makes consciousness an inside and the world an outisde. … Accordingly, I don't see how one can natualirze this primitve structure, which canbe captured only by suspending the naturalization of he intentional realtion of consciousness to the world implicit in the model of the natural sciences.

p. 137 C: …under many circumstances the signals we recive from the external world acquire meaning only in an intentional framework, internal to our brain, whose structure is derived from our immense repertoire of long-term memories.

p. 147 C: Two psychologists, Hermann Ebbinghaus at the end of the nineteenth centruy and F. C. Bartlett in the 1930s, were the first to quantitatively analyzye the development of memory traces.

p. 162: R: …phenomenology challenges he idea that there exitts a replica, in the mind, of some external reality belonging to a wholyl finished world. …considering mental ideas as actual pictures that are painted in consciousness poses a problem. Here we encunter misleading Cartesian heritage of a soul populated by ideas, which later became representations in Egnlish empiricism and, subsequently, Kantian idealism.

p. 164 R: …what we call representation also involves a power, a capacity, that we experience in the feeling I can. It is this I can that carries the scope of intentonality beyond itself. Through the I can, and perhaps more through the I think, I am over there––I am not in my head, I am next to things outside me.

p. 168 R: Anyone who has read the psychiatric litearture can understand why Patricia and Paul Churchland mockingly ask whether assigning fragmentary perosnalities not only to each of our cerebral hemispheres, but also to groups of mental functions correlated with disjoint neuroanl architectures, doesn't amount to conting how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

p. 177 C: For me, nothing is unknowable––this is a term I excluded from my vocaublary long ago.
[Is ultimate unknowability itself knowable?]

p. 182 R: …it is because man exists, and poses the question of meaning, that the directionalessness of evolution troubles us. Evolution has meaning… because man is capable of inquiringinto nature.

p. 185 FIGURE 5.1: It is remarkable that the topography of the parietal meningeal vessels of Australopithecus robustus (having a cerebral capacity of 520 ml) resembles that of the modern newborn. The distribution f vessels ni the earliest humans, Homo habilis (with a cerbreal capacity of 700 ml), is similar to that of a forty-day-old child and that in Homo paleo-javanicus (1,000 ml) resembles that of a one-year-old child. From R. Saban, "Image of the human fossil brain: Endocranial cast and meningeal vessels in young and adult subjects," in J.-P. Changeux and J. Chavaillon, eds., Origins of tghe Human Brain (Oxofrd: Clarendon Press, 1995).

p. 191 R: …we always interpret animal behaviors from a human perspective.

p. 192 R. One searches for what in biological evolution prepared the way for the golden rule. But this rule had first to be formulated [viz., before we could think to research it], following the example of humanity's greatest sages.

the trompe l'oeil effect: ?

p. 195 R: I don't understand what it can mean to say that a brain evaluates. A person––a someone––evaluates.

p. 200 R: …to understand what is really meant by deferring the satisfaction of a desire…, I have no need to know anything about the brain. Now, must we know our brain in order to better behave? This is an open question.

p. 201 C: "We judge a thing to be good because we endeavor, will, seel after and desire it"; n. 30 [Spinoza]
[Was there nothing good in the cosmos till there evolved beings capable of willing and seeking things that eo ipso constituted those things as good?]

p. 203 R: [re: Hans Jonas, Organismus und Frieheit, autointegration, the notion of an individual] …the price of individuation, then, is the growing awareness of the otherness of the world and the growing solitude of the self.

p. 204 R: "The peculiar characteristic of living beings," Canguilhem insisted [in La Connaissance de la vie], "is that each of us make a milieu for themsleves." n. 32 … To live is to spread otuward.
[bonum sivi diffusum est]

p. 206 C: Jonas goes on to assert that the "concept of 'ends' beyond subjectivity [is] compatible with natural science." n. 37 and that "on the strength of the evidence of life…, we say therefore that purpose in general is indigenous to nature." n. 38

p. 207 C: "I have attempted elsewhere," Jonas says, "to show how already in the 'simplest' true organism––existing by way of metabolism, and thereby self-dependent and other-dependent at once––the horizons of of selfhood, world and time, under the imperious alternative of being or nonbeing, are silhouetted in a prenatal form." n. 39

p. 210 R: Humanity, like language, exists only in the plural. … Plurality thus proves to be inherent in the question of universality.

p. 213 R: …experience… doesn't include only the idea of representation, which has dominated the analysis of perception, memory, image, and concept, but also that of capacity, whose biological equivalent is that of disposition.

p. 215 C: Scientific knowledge needs validation and demonstration rather than justification. Mythic discourse, by contrast, requires an "account of beginnings" as justification of its origins. n. 1

p. 216 R: Here I would like once again to refer to kant, who aregues in Anthropology from a Pragmtic Poine of View n. 4 that man's natural endowment [having-been-giftedness!] is incongruent with his moral and political obligations: although nature has left us unfinished with regard to our faculties and dispositions, nonetheless it falls to us to take responsibility for organizing our experience, which we do through a structuring activity that is normative in character.
[NS says that only those organisms that happened to be disposed to self-propagation in their environments were selected for so that we see them thriving today. But teleology is implicit even in that sheerly negative stipulation, to wit, insofar as those organism were disposed towards anything at all. Further, the structure of selection itself is dynamically teleological in that it is directed towards "culling" those structures and organisms that conform to a pre-given environment. …]

p. 221 R: For normativity to emerge, it must presuppose itself; that is, become a self-referential notion.
[metaphysical irreducibility…]

p. 226 R: ataraxia

p. 228 "Why is there somehting rather than nothing?" Well, Jonas says, the answer is to be found in the affirmaton of life, which unites "is" and "ought." Life prefers itself to nothing; life thinkgs higly of itself; life approves of itself.
[meatphysical irreducibility, a donative diffusion is a sine qua non even of NS]

p. 230 C: …this disposition to cooperation, which after Darwin was noted by Kropotkin (Figure 6.2) in his book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, based on his own observations in Siberia.

p. 231 C: Kropotkin considered the instincetive practice of "mutual sympathy" as the point of dearture for all the "higher feelings"––justice, equity, equality, self-sacrifice––which jointly lead to moral progess. n. 25

p. 233 R: …your main argument, that the norms invented by human beings in the course of their history naturally exploit sympathy abd the inhinbiton of violence, must in my view be reinterpreted in the sense of a subsequet search for a fruldrum in evolution. …the golden rule, it seems to me, is a pointof arrival in evolution because it is a point of departure in moral refleciton.

p. 237 C: Rawls, following Kant, dinstinguishes "reasonable" form "rational," arguing that rational person will act in an intelligent manner but that reasonable person will do more than this. They will take into account the effect of their actions on the well-being of others.

p. 239 C: …I would say once more that the adult human brain may be considered as the result of at least four interlocking evolutions, each one subject to random variability: the evolution of species in paleontoloical time, together with its consequences for the genetic constitution of human beings; individual evolution, the the epigenesis of neural connections, which occurs throughout the individual's development; cultural evolution, likewise epigenetic but extracerebral, which spans not only psycological time but also age-old memories; and finally the evolution of personal thought, which occurs in psychological time and draws upon individual and cultural memories that are both cognitive and emotional. …variation-selection-amplification…

p. 246 R: …it is under the name of phenomenology… that he [Hegel] understakes to examine the sensible history of the mind. This history, attracted by its end, is presented as a progression that moves from threshold to threshold through an increase of meaning: there is more meaning in perception that in sensation, more in the concept than in perception, more in communcal expeience than in individual coonsciousness, and so on. … [p. 247] What Hegel makes us reflect upon is this feeling of degrees––not only of complexity but also of evaluation, through the augmentation of meaning.

p. 252 C: …from Fontenelle to Vico and on through Comte, the progress of human socieites was coneived as a successions of ages––theocratic, heroic, and civilized for Vico––or states––theological (or fictive), metaphysical and positive (or scientific and industrial) for Comte……that corresponded to the deployment of an existing potential [!], analogous to the mental development of a child.
[The crucial clash between materialist NS and classical natural philosophy is not the about the presence and palsticity of potentia, but over the bedrock ability or inability of sheer potentia qua materia prima to actuate itself in a dynamically selective manifold. The more potential the, say, quantum vacuum is for breeding a mateiralist worldview, the less able it is to actuate itself, since, of course, a self-caused cause is impossible. Conversely, the more innate potential prime matter has for generating distinct actualities, including the dynmaic of NS itself, the more it indicates irreuducible metaphysical complexity, or design. If potentia materiae primae is not ordered towards any ends wahtsoever, and by definiton in itself lacks any efficient means to actuate them, then ex nihil nihil fit. But if there is at least some, say, self-diffusive, finality in the basest potentia of matter ab initio, then we have detected the most basic structure of creation.]

p. 254 C: …[there is no reason to advert to] the notion of a "mind" or "spirit" that somehow "attracts" history. To the contrary, it is a matter quite simply of human being trying to [actualizing potency] make better use of [formal hierarchy] in order to [finality] live better [formal hierarchy].

p. 255 R: There has to be a basement in order to be able to build higher, but having an understanding of the basement doesn't give me an understanding of the building.

p. 267 C: Religious life… is a sort of epigenetic intermediary aimed at containing individual self-interest through the establishment of arbitrary social conventions that give rules of moral conduct their force.

p. 268 R: The idea of being preceded in one's capacity for speech by the word of another is for the point of origin, the point of departure, and, in the last resort, the ultimate source of religious authority.

C: …Nouailhat's thesis that a simple and unique beginning was only imagined and defined at the time of the great councils of the fifth century A.D. n. 6

p. 277 C: The extreme intolerance of the Christian doctrine of universal love opened the way to anti-Semitism.

p. 279 R: Still one has to want to control violence. …ne still has to wish to enter into dialogue. … What makes us want to enter into dialogue with others rather than remain in violence?

p. 280 R: For me, evil is the capacity to challenge the value of life.

p. 287 R: The function of myth is entirely different––it consists in coordinating the nature of the world with that of ethical commandment. … How can it be, one wonders, that evil is radical and yet goodness is still more fundamental?

p. 289 C: Spinoza's herem (ban) by Amsterdam Jewry

p. 290 C: Reference to some unnamed "fundamental" seems to me very dangerous.
[Is not sheer matter fundamental in materialism? Is not humanity itself fundamental in humanism?]

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