Brains Constructing Stories (that could be otherwise...?)

Towards Day 21 of Evolving Systems course



I. coursekeeping
*conferences: 
Bingqing, Tiannan, Sarah, Kirsten tomorrow morning;
Betrice on Thursday (4:30??)

*for Thursday's class:
we'll be pursuing the key idea of how the "brain constructs the universe" by looking @ Illusions, ambiguous figures, and impossible figures: spend some time exploring the web page Paul created on this topic; we'll be joined by his class for Thursday's discussion

* in your next paper, due Friday @ 6,
please reflect on the implications of thinking about the brain as the site of story-construction (get started on this in a moment, by reviewing forum comments, thinking about possible locations-and-directions)

* there will be no papers due, and no writing conferences, during Thanksgiving week



II. cf'ing 2 papers "about" Beethoven

III. David Lancy's talk on Friday,
about teaching in our "WIERD" society

2 comparative cultural models, one derived from contemporary sources and one from the ethnographic and historical records (village model)

U.S. Mainstream Neontocracy (children atop pyramid, supported by pre-schools, pediatricians, Barney, Toys R Us, Baby Gap, Dr. Spock, neonatal medicine, babysitters, Gerbers, playgrounds, Disney, etc.)
“your womb becomes the perfect classroom"; BabySign language programs
Gopnik, The Scientist in the Crib—> hyperbole associated w/ infant cognition (="How Babies Think")
teaching going on all the time: inescapable
parent-child make-believe: parents as play partners
play seen as so important that it cannot be left to the kids themselves
not just popular culture, but scholarly opinion: nurture seen as nature
our widespread cultural practices seen as natural, essential for child development

vs. Gerontocracy of Agrarian Societies (ancestors/elders/adults/adolescents/children)
keeping the baby alive/reducing the mother’s investment
strategies: swaddling, nursing as pacifying (ideal=quiet child)
children seen as “unripe fruit,” not fully human
“toddler rejection”: abrupt weaning process, endistanced from mother
not thought of as ready for intervention and training; rather; not bothering anyone
appreciation for need for children to watch adults to learn, from periphery
perfect synchrony between what they see and what they pretend
teaching is very seldom seen; adults might facilitate play, but don’t engage in it
a sense of developmental progression, age-appropriate opportunities to learn
teaching=unnecessary interference: really unnecessary
children can learn on their own; you can do harm if you interfere, get in their way
teaching implies status differentials (which are bad, so avoided!)
motivation to learn, become competent has to reside w/in them;
intervening can short circuit that process; learning seen as inevitable
kids learn from observation, make-believe, emulating older siblings as role models, given responsibility (as a kind of test) for useful work
“the chore curriculum”: every undertaking related to survival can be broken down into smaller components of varying degree of difficulty: running errands, farming—something for everyone to do; multi-step; apprenticeship

vast majority of what one needs to learn to become a competent adult in the typical village setting is readily accessible or transparent

Teaching (as we understand it) emerges where the process is truly opaque: kin systems, protocols; religious esoterica; long-distance navigation; acquisition of great quantities of critical information; and in our own society, where what we need kids to learn doesn't lend itself to this form of learning--

or does it?

contrast of two cultures makes our behavior absurd

clear children don’t get enough unsupervised independent play

model contributes to harmful political rhetoric re: role of teachers in student success

inappropriate focus on reward structure

critique of parent-child model of teaching

we deny them opportunities to learn many things on their own, deny their initiative

helped me make sense of y/our resistance, last Thursday, to unremittingness of thinking (metaphors re: own brain, as questioner, controller, machine, puppet master, can’t turn it off...)
learning all the time doesn’t have to mean teaching on task all the time

"Teaching emerges when the process to be conveyed is truly opaque"-->
we like what is opaque=what we value, can teach
do teachers manufacture opacity?
great mystery in history of civilization:
why it took 2000 years to invent an alphabet
earlier, very cumbersome writing systems used signs:
all those scribes didn’t want to lose their jobs!
what we call rigor is really opacity?
(IT: keep making it harder, changing it up)



 

III. reflecting back on what we learned from Ramachandran, and about our own brains,
constructing stories that "could be otherwise..."?

Paul's class took Ramachandran's "phantom limb" stories to focus on the question of the reality of "reality":

kbonds:
This year I coined this phrase for myself:
"You are the center of your own universe"...there is no reality but my own...what makes each reality different: not the things we observe, but the way our brains observe them.

CParra: I think whatever reality you think is true should be the one you live by.

ecollier: I often allow other people’s realities to influence my own ... My reality is changing to match someone else’s .... But how can I possibly understand the way that our thoughts transfer to our actions?

mwechsler: we have no way of knowing what it would mean for reality to "exist" out side of our own perception of it.

jordania: I find it rather comforting to think that we live in a matrix .... wouldn't it be cool if there were multiple dimensions or universes existing in the same place, but we can't tell they're there? I remember in high school talking about Socrates' Allegory of the Cave ...if I would rather be the one person who escaped the cave and saw the light, or if I would prefer being ... perfectly content with the shadows on the cave wall.  Is ignorance bliss? ... what about ... genocide and starvation and widespread poverty ... does the fact that it doesn't affect us mean that isn't real? How far can we trust what we perceive and our brains know?

Angela_MCA:  if what exists is only what one perceives, then everyone and everything could be in a different reality and we wouldn't know. Our brain might interpret all information as something different than the next person....its possible...

LAJW: do you think it is contradictory to study our brain functions using the brain itself? Is it just another story that is constructed by our brain to explain the phenomenons we have observed so far? ... consciousness and reality are actually constructed by the human brain ... nothing accounts for everything... we live in our own brain constructions.

Imittelman: I find a measurable reality ... much more valuable than another's perception ... we are stuck in our own realities and can't scientifically compare them ... a "standard" is necessary

Hillary G: I'm very stressed out about some of my classes at the moment and the possibility that they aren't real makes ignoring my homework very tempting. Because what good would it do for any "productive" member of society to believe nothing was what it seemed?... the more I doubt reality, the farther I am from getting anywhere I want to be.

some of them saw some possibilities here, though (as per Einstein: "Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world")

christinequeho: It's funny ... how some brains process faster than others.  Sometimes brains can "absorb more information" than others.  I wonder why that is.  Is it possible to train the brain?  And ... can it hold infinite amounts of information?... does the brain get rid of some memory to make space for more information ?

JulieG: I think of my brain as this crazy machine with bzzzts! sshpssshs! and chuuungs! ... what I feel, see, taste, smell, hear, and think ... different from yours, because we're different: genetically, perinatally, and experientially. But I can change them, these neural functions of mine; I can help them learn new things. So I can influence who I am. I can think about how I want my thoughts to be different. I can self-condition. And that is incredible!

we seem primarily to be interested in how the brain works...

Olivia: study on the brain only tells us how brain works and how we behave, but it doesn't tell us how we think ... the structure ... or the function of the brain doesn't help us to understand the consciousness better ... which I don't think is what Psychology focuses on.

nina44: I never think about it. I never say "oh hey good job brain" ... in fact that sounds like an oxymoron. Think about your unconscious .... How can little parts of your brain control something so important as being able to make you feel good when seeing someone?

Serendip Visitor: my brain should be my friend. I mean, it is a part of me and it does a lot of work for me. So how come I don't think about it often? ...Maybe ... thinking about the brain makes us realize that under all of this skin we're all just a bunch of gooey squishiness and we just don't like that idea. Anyways ... I always felt like my mind was my own private movie theater because I could imagine anything I wanted to with it ... pictures are going through my mind all day .... I always liked the idea that ... we can't explain our brain.

Bingqing: Brains are like play-writers while human beings are performers who think and act follow the plots ... I wonder which role human beings’ proud consciousness plays here ... I feel confused ... that we can conceive something’s existence because of the complex interpretations and syntheses of brain .... The truth is we never know whether a desk (the reality) really exists.

Lemon Koala: things are getting more complicated ... Prianna’s metaphor about the puppet ... reminds me of several experiments Biological lab ... about perception ... don’t trust your feelings ... The structure of body which processes the data we receive ... leads to various ... imperfect observations .... I don’t believe seeing is believing ... seeing is not accurate ... given same situation our perceptions help our brains draw different conclusion just as given the same topic our stories will be diverged

SoundsLikeBanana: What I found interesting from Thursday’s discussion was Aimee’s feeling of betrayal towards her brain and my contrasting thankfulness for it.... I was happy that my brain was taking over for me and keeping some of my necessary bodily functions to itself .... Our conscious mind is in control of our “here and now” thoughts, such as what is going on at this very moment .... Unconscious holds all your unspoken, and maybe even unknown, desires and thoughts.


schu: in bio lab, I was quite shock when Wil showed us that how untrustable our brain is. But we have to trust our brain ... It is protecting us ... it does things that truely help us ...If you are the one to deal with the high-throughput messages every second, you are going crazy ... we are not  the main characters of TV shows who know exactly what to do in the nick of time ... am I just a part of my body which is not that intelligent who is in charge of the thinking part of my body? All the features that we can't control are called human nature, but where do they come from?

Summer:  I have tons of questions about the brains .... What makes them capable of control the bodies? Why are they like hard drives? What role do the brains play in dreams? ... The idea of subconscious confuses me ... is there another thing inside us ... beside "self"? ... very close to the concept of souls?

Sarah: I fell asleep before posting. That pertains to our discussion... My brain making my body do what's on its subconscious agenda, rather than what I consciously want it to do ... evidence of a true two-part (if not more...?) brain ... panic attacks and anxiety disorders wouldn't happen if we were consciously in control of everything our brains do. Sometimes that deeper part, the part we don't always listen to, takes over and makes our bodies act in ways we wouldn't necessarily choose for them to do. Not only do psychosomatic repsonse demonstrate this, but the things we say .... Haven't you ever slipped and said something you didn't mean to? Your subconscious ... overrode what you were consciously trying to say.

And let me just say this now: if we start talking about perception, like whether we can know if we see colors the same way, we're all going to realize that we don't exist. Or at least feel like it. I love discussions like that. Hooray for brains!

Let's work with these ideas. Can we "construct," for example, an alternate explanation in the Capgras case (i.e., another story to account for someone who looks like your mother but doesn't produce the expected emotional responses?) Can we construct an alternate story to account for .... fear of snakes?  racism?  infatuation with that boy in the dining hall, etc etc etc??

IV. consolidating these ideas:
* "everything" we experience/are aware of is a brain "construction" (including tables, people, motivations, theories, education, mind, etc - it's all "story")
* this means that different people will have different constructions of what they are speaking of
* this means that universe has multiple centers (or no center?)--so everyone has the power to create universes ...
?

Come back on Thursday
for more on how the brain "constructs"
* using both consciousness and the unconscious:
* What is the relation between the two?
* How can we use that relationship to enhance our constructive powers (to tell multiple stories)?