Friday, April 30, 2010

Informing Simulation Theory of Mind with Historical Ontology: Vindicating the Humanities by Unifying Collingwood, Foucault, and Clausewitz? I'll Hope.

So this post was inspired by a phone conversation I had with Ryan Gleason. A pleasant surprise, seeing as he accidentally called me from his pocket while getting dolled up. But lets get at the core issue and solution raised by Mr. Gleason: how to monitor your own ability to engage with a text so as to successfully facilitate a simulation and encapsulation of that mind (that text, that writer) within your own mind. Ryan is getting into some stuff with Belano and Borges. Getting excited about some ideas about how the task of engaging with other minds through text after text becomes daunting. It is an impossible task, to engage with every mind and to encapsulate them in your own mind. Only so many encapsulated minds can fit into your own mind. Then they just start getting cluttered, like a bunch of marbles packed inside a skull. I am going to talk about this term 'encapsulation.'

I don't quite understand Ryan's ideas these days so forgive me if I am misrepresenting them. But the basic idea is that texts allow you to personally engage with another intellect, and that after some time you may begin to doubt two things: 1. your ability to accurately engage with many many different minds (texts) and keep them distinct in your mind. and 2. your own ability to account for the complexity of the context it was written in (historical, social, personal, etc.) Number 1 corresponds to the legitimacy of simulation theory of mind. Number 2 corresponds to the idea of historical ontology. This is about unifying simulation theory of mind with historical ontology. I think they might (in some ways) be contained in one another, utilize one another, imply one another.

So my big claim stated simply: I think the task of engaging with many texts should be facilitated by an understanding of simulation theory of mind that is reinforced by a historical ontological perspective of the self. Further, that the combination of these disciplines could redefine the humanities as a way to cultivate intuitive judgment and social sensitivity through the internalization of synthetic experience.

This discussion is going to break down into two basic parts, followed by lots of elaboration on the connections between the two.
The first part will focus on how intellectual engagement with a text (as I and Mr. Gleason are grappling with) can be seen as a process of mental simulation. This discussion will draw on R.G. Collingwood's work on historical reenactment, and on Alvin Goldman's Simulating Minds. Second, I'm going to discuss the role that historical ontology could play in properly understanding a mind/text. Namely, a historical ontological perspective could provide a reader with the proper understanding of themselves and their own historical context, as well as a historical perspective, so as to promote accurate simulation of other's thoughts. The historical ontological component of this will revolve around the work of Michel Foucault and Ian Hacking. I think I can show that Collingwood (simulation) believed in historical ontological practices, and that Foucault (historical ontology) expressed views that align with simulation theory of mind. And most importantly, to show that the unification of these two ideas (way beyond Collingwood and Foucault) would shed new light on the purpose and possibilities for the humanities. In the elaboration section I will draw heavily on Clausewitz's ideas on the use of synthetic experience as a way to cultivate sensitivity and a capacity for intuitive judgment.

Table of Contents:
1. Historical Text and Self: Collingwood and Goldman on Simulating Other Minds via Encapsulation and Quarantine
2. Thought's History and Self: Foucault and Hacking on the Historistic Limitation of Our Thought
3. Text, History, and Self: Finding Personal Transformation in Synthetic Experience and the Contingency of a Dual Historical Perspective
3a.The Transformative Historistic Self
3b. Foucault and Clausewitz on Decision Making in War and Peace: Applying the Clausewitzian Model of Synthesizing Experience to Foucault's Everyday Politics
3c.
The Exploration of the Self Through Text
3d.
The Exploration of the Self Through Memory
3e. The Empathetic Palette
3f. Conclusion on Transforming the Self Through Dual Historical Ontologically Informed Simulation
4. How Do You Like Your Pain?
5. Conclusion

Begin:
Historical Text and Self: Collingwood and Goldman on Simulating Other Minds via Encapsulation and Quarantine

I see engagement with a text primarily in terms of simulation. You are bringing to life the thoughts of another person within your own present mind and context. My thoughts are influenced a lot by Collingwood's views on the philosophy of history. My views on this were furthered by a book by Alvin Goldman called Simulating Minds.

Collingwood's philosophy of history is based on the question: how is it possible to have something that can be called historical knowledge? The discipline is difficult and elusive because the phenomenon under question has already gone and will never be back. Time passes, and the only way to recover history is to examine the pieces of evidence that have been left behind. Given the difficulties or recovering the past, how can we have historical knowledge?

Collingwood's solution depends on a specific definition of history, and a specific definition of thought. Collingwood believes that all history is the history of thought/experience. Any time we study the past we are trying to study the thoughts/experiences of the individuals involved. He says that when we talk about 'events' we are typically talking about the thoughts of the individuals the experienced those events. A volcano's eruption is not in itself an event, but it invokes people to think a certain way, and those thoughts are what history ought to study.

So, if all history is the history of thought, then how can historians recover and understand past thought? Well, any kind of recovery requires that thought was expressed in some way that can still be perceived now. Someone wrote a government document with thought and intention, and it is a legitimate piece of historical evidence. Similarly, pottery, old buildings, other archeological findings can be considered an expression of thought.

Now, given these methods of recovering evidence, how do historians understand what thought was being expressed in the past? Well, Collingwood believes that historical thoughts only make sense if they are reenacted in the mind of the historian. So, a historian has to internally simulate the thoughts that were expressed in the past in order to understand them. To understand an expression of thought inaccurately is to inappropriately apply present or personal standards to the past. When studying ancient Greece, for example, it would be inappropriate to speak of them as being homosexuals, as they did not use that terminology to describe their practices.

The historian's task, therefore, is to see from the eyes of the historical figure in their own terms, and prevent his own thoughts from permeating his reenactment/simulation of past thought. This is what Collingwood calls 'encapsulation' of thought. These thoughts existed in the past and were expressed, and we can now bring them back to life, so to speak, in the present moment. Through a successful reenactment we are encapsulating them in contemporary context, within our own minds.

Collingwood backs his claims about the reproducible nature of thought (i.e. it can be accurately reenacted/simulated), by asking the question 'what happens when I think a thought, and then I wait a few hours or a few days, and then I think the same thought again. Am I thinking a different thought or am i thinking the same thought?' His answer is that you are indeed thinking the same thought again. The point being that thought is not defined by its location in time but by its general quality.

Collingwood's thought on historical thinking (reenactment) are highly simulative in character. He believes that historical knowledge is attained by discovering evidence of thought (texts, constructed objects, etc.), and by properly reenacting/simulating those expressed thoughts. Accurate reenactment depends on the historian's ability to put aside his own personal opinions and assume the perspective of the historical figure. When thought is successfully reenacted it is 'encapsulated' in the contemporary context of the historians mind.

Two things I'd like to note, the first a concluding remark, the second point is where I will move next: 1. the subjective nature of Collingwood's reenactment, and 2. the historical ontological perspective that seems present (at least implicitly) in Collingwood's work.

Collingwood's account of historical reenactment involves a very subjective process: the historian literally brings historical thought to life within his own mind. Once it is properly encapsulated those past thoughts begin to exist within the historians mind and can potentially permeate the deepest layers of the mind, working their way into the unconscious, becoming synthetic experience. When you bring other people's experiences to life in your mind you are enriched by the process, you attempt to simulate those minds and you can come close to attaining those states of mind. You can feel the pain of history, you can feel the intellectual struggles of history, you can feel quite a lot through history. And based on the subjective nature of it (and the neurological similarities between imagination and experience, which I'll go into with Goldman) historical study, and specifically the historical imagination, can change your mind (and brain) in ways that could allow you to become a more aware, empathic thinker. I'll also explore how Foucault has similar tendencies to treat historical thinking as a personal and simulative process.

Collingwood's work also seems to be influenced by a historical ontological perspective, even if he doesn't use this term. I associate historical ontology with Michel Foucault, and with Ian Hacking, who were writing until 1984 and presently, respectively, well after Collingwood. My main discussion of historical ontology will revolve around these two writers. But I want to give a short account of Collingwood's historical ontological tendencies.

I can think of two instances in which Collingwood seems to think in a historical ontological fashion. First, in The Idea of History, and second, in The Idea of Nature. The Idea of History I read last summer, The Idea of Nature I have skimmed and read some of it, so I only have a vague sense of what is going on with it. TIOH is centered around a 200 pg historical analysis on the way in which 'history' has been conceived by many of its practitioners in the Western world. He runs through prominent ancient Greek views on history, through Christian, Renaissance, and finally Modern views on the philosophy of history. He concludes the whole thing with a 130 page explication of his own ideas on the philosophy of history, such as reenactment, imagination, encapsulation, as discussed above. (I certainly have a lot more reading to do with Collingwood and the TIOH in particular, so don't think this talk is close to exhaustive). But Collingwood's historical survey of the idea of history shows that he is very concerned with the historical origins of his own thoughts and concepts. He wants to know how the idea has changed over time so he can know why he is thinking the way that he is thinking in his particular historical moment. This is the general aim of historical ontology: to understand the nature of your own being by understanding the historical contingencies that allow you to live in the very specific ways that you do. Collingwood's explication of the idea of history is a very specific example of a historical ontology of personal thought. So in addition to the simulative nature of his thinking, he also finds historical ontology of importance.

Collingwood's concern for historical ontology is also seen in The Idea of Nature. It follows a similar format to TIOH, a historical survey of how 'nature' (cosmology,etc.) has been understood in ancient Greek, Renaissance, and Modern times. Again, haven't read more than 30/130 pages. He closes the book, however, by concluding that that the idea of nature inevitably leads to the idea of history. I suspect this means that his historical survey shows that the concept of 'nature' is incredibly variable across time and cultures, and that any proper understanding of nature in the present can only be accomplished with a historical understanding of the concept. In other words, without a historical ontological perspective on your conceiving of 'nature,' you won't be able to accurately understand your own thought and therefore will not be able to soundly conceive of 'nature.'

Historical ontological perspective seems pretty clear in Collingwood. This is leading me to believe that the of process simulating historical perspectives (historical reenactment, encapsulation) is intimately intertwined with a historical ontological perspective on the self. Once I recognize that historical thinking is grounded in simulation, then I must accept that I myself, as a subject, as a historian, am limited in my ability to conceive of historical thought. Accepting simulation makes the subject's ability to conceive an issue, and the historicity of the subject's thought becomes an extremely pertinent factor. Without recognizing the historicity of your own thought you have no chance of properly simulating past thought (or contemporary thought, for that matter, to be explored next).

Collingwood actually expresses this view quite explicitly: "This is... the discovery of a second dimension of historical thought, the history of history: the discovery that the historian himself, together with the here-and-now which forms the total body of evidence available to him, is a part of the process he is studying, has his own place in that process, and can see it only from the point of view which at this present moment he occupies within it" (IDOH, 248). It seems obvious, therefore, that the historian must achieve a historicized view of his own thought, he must have a historical ontological perspective on himself.

In short, Collingwood's reenactment logically implies a historical ontological perspective on the self. The ability to simulate past thought is contingent upon understanding the historistic limitations of your own thought, making a historical ontological perspective essential.

Now what I want to do is provide a little bit of evidence to legitimize Collingwood's claims about historical thinking as reenactment of past thought, and it's ability to provide something like a synthetic experience. This discussion is going to be based mainly on Alvin Goldman's
Simulating Minds. I am going to explore a few things, 1. that simulation is a way that people naturally read other minds, 2. how there are multiple types of imagination (hypothetical, past, etc.), 3. how the imagination causes neurological activity that is comparable to actual experience, 4. that the ability to read other peoples mind's depends on your ability to have experience with what they are feeling, 5. how this confirms that historical (and other humanities) studies can provide a synthetic experience that can facilitate the growth of imaginative compassion and empathy. I'll discuss something I call the 'empathetic palette,' and how it can be expanded by the humanities.

So first things first, Goldman claims that mental simulation (combined with tacit mental theories) are the main way that people attribute mental states to others (mind reading or mentalizing). He is trying to create a comprehensive theory of mental simulation that answers the central questions of the field: how do people attribute mental states to other? how do they attribute mental states to themselves? how is the mindreading capacity acquired? and what are the contents of people's concepts of mental states (i.e. how do they conceive the difference between belief and desire, anger and disgust)? As I said, Goldman believes that a simulation theory of mind can answer all of these questions. People attribute mental states to others by simulating their thoughts in their own minds, by imagining other people's thoughts. (putting themselves in their 'mental shoes'). When someone has engaged in a successful simulation (i.e. when thoughts are close to accurately reproduced) the simulator has managed to 'quarantine' his own thoughts that conflict with the other person's thoughts. This resembles Collingwood's idea of 'encapsulation' of thought. People attribute states to themselves through introspection etc. The mindreading capacity is acquired mainly through experience. The last question I need to finish the book to figure out.

But the imagination is central to Goldman's concept of simulation. In fact, Goldman claims there are different forms of imagination that differ in quality. His most important category for the imagination is the Enactment-imagination. When we imagine being wet, or being sad, or being happy, we are enacting those thoughts and feelings in us. We can imagine what wind or fear feels like, and when we do, we create quasi-fear, and quasi-wind experience in our imagination. In short, the E-imagination invokes the qualities of reality in the mind (we feel what we imagine).

Two types of imagination, which fall under E-imagination, are the future-hypothetical imagination and the historical imagination. When we think about the future and we anticipate upcoming events we often use our E-imagination to 'practice' for future events, or merely to anticipate them. It seems like hypothetical future experience to me. The historical imagination is similar, except it is based in the past, and is supposed to be true. Similarly, however, the historical imagination, just like all forms of E-imagination, can invoke something akin to an experience. With the historical imagination, we have the benefit of being able to (re)enact a wide variety of situations that would provide many different types of synthetic experience. I think this makes the historical imagination a particularly promising source of synthetic experience.

The efficacy of the E-imagination can be explained by the neurological overlap in experience and imagination. Goldman uses neuroscience tests to show that when individuals imagine certain experiences, neurological activity corresponds to that actual experience. When you imagine being angry, for example, you will experience neurological activity in the amygdala (anger center). This applies to a wide range of imagined situations. When people were shown videos of spiders crawling on people, or asked to imagine spiders, they experienced neurological activity in parts of the brain responsible for touch. The imagination seems to draw on the same parts of the brain that are used in actual experience. If this is true for basic things like touch, emotions, etc., then I suspect it may also apply to more complex forms of simulation (like historical reenactment, or reading fiction). Goldman also speculates that fiction and other reading can provide something like experience.

If we understand people primarily by internally simulating their minds, which is carried out through the imagination, then the strength of our ability to imagine other people's thoughts becomes very important. The most crucial factor in being able to simulate other people's thoughts is experience with those types of thoughts and emotions. When someone is experience deficient in a certain type of emotion they struggle to understand people who are expressing those emotions. People with a damaged amygdala, for example, have a hard time recognizing that people are feeling angry. Again, this applies to many different emotions. If you have no experience in a certain thought or emotion you will struggle to recognize that in other people. Our ability to imagine a wide range of thoughts and feelings, therefore, is crucial to being able to identify the thoughts and feelings of other (which is essential to social life).

Experience is thus a prized commodity. It gives us the means of connecting with many people in many different situations. It is what we draw on to figure out why other people are feeling how they are. We need our own experience to simulate the thoughts and feelings of others.

All of Goldman's work, the importance of simulation in mindreading, the importance of the imagination in simulating, the ability of the imagination to replicate the effects of experience, and the key role experience plays in our ability to simulate others, leads me to conclude that the the humanities must be re-conceptualized around the axes of simulation, synthetic experience, social sensitivity, and intuitive judgment. The most important thing we can do as members of society is behave sensitively to other people's feelings. There is enough pain in the world, and we need to do something about that. We need sensitive people. We need people who know how to intuitively recognize a wide variety of thoughts and emotions in other people. The humanities could provide the synthetic emotional, moral, and intellectual experience that can create a sensitive, simulative mind. Fiction would expose us to a wide range of emotions that would involve death, pain, love, suffering, sadness, etc. We need to have experience with those feelings, and sometimes life offers them only in extremely difficult ways. History would provide us with a range of moral and intellectual experiences. We could examine the decisions made by others in the past and see how they handled their incredibly difficult circumstances. Philosophy would also provide us a with a form on intellectual, and perhaps moral, synthetic experience.

I think that I have made a good case that Collingwood's philosophy of history is simulative in nature, and that a historical ontological perspective on the self is necessarily implied. Moreover, Goldman's work legitimizes the notions of simulation, E-imagination, and historical reenactment, and suggests that the historical imagination would be powerful enough to generate something like a synthetic experience. Furthermore, Goldman's work on experience deficient simulation shows the critical role that experience plays in our ability to connect with others on a mental level. I can't help but conclude that we must reconfigure our understanding of the humanities so that we think of them in terms of synthetic experience and sensitivity.

From here I am going to move on to writers I associate with historical ontology, Michel Foucault and Ian Hacking. But first, I'd like to say I have a few questions I want to explore:
Reenactment necessarily implies a historical ontological perspective, but is the inverse also true? do they imply each other? does historical ontology necessarily imply that history is the history of thought as reenacted/simulated in the historians mind? My suspicion at this moment is yes. I hope that the discussion of Foucault and Hacking will make this a little clearer.


Thought's History and Self: Foucault and Hacking on the Historistic Limitation of Our Thought

Onward to Foucault and Hacking. Again, I would place both of these authors under the category of historical ontology (HO). HO is concerned (with other ontologies) with determining the nature of our being. How is it that I exist this way? Why do I perceive the world the way I do? Why do I think with the specific terms that I think with? How did I come to be this particular way? HO uses historical methods to illuminate the nature of our being.

Foucault, for example, historically analyzes parts of Western life that seem to be universal. He shows the historical development of some our most important institutions like prisons, hospitals, mental institutions, or ideas of sexuality. Foucault's intention is always to use historical study to illuminate contemporary ways of being and thinking. If we understand how prisons developed the way they did, then we will have a new perspective on how we, ourselves, conceive of morality in relation to juridical institutions. Similarly, if we study the historical evolution of understandings of bodies and practices (i.e. sexuality) then we can gain a new perspective on how we think of our bodies, how we relate to practices. Same thing with madness. By studying the history of insanity we can gain a clearer understanding of what exactly society means by 'sane' or 'rational.' In the case of prisons and insanity, by studying the outsiders, the outcasts, we gain a better sense of how the insiders are defined. But overall, we can understand ourselves by studying the history of the institutions that define our lives.

Ian Hacking poses similar views, and explicitly discusses Foucault in his version of HO. I am not as familiar with Hacking's work as I would like to be. But I have an okay understanding of where he is coming from. He wants to take Foucault's work, which is somewhat obscure, and clarify his general intention through the idea of HO. Further, he wants to expand the discipline of HO so as to make a more viable philosophical perspective. Two things, first, a good example of Hacking quoting Foucault: "Foucault propounds an extreme nominalism: nothing, not even the ways I can describe myself, is either this or that but history made it so." I do not do anything that history has not compelled in certain ways. I can attempt to behave and think differently within my historical moment, but the historical moment will always define the space of possible thought and action.

Once you recognize the historistic limitation of our own thought, the task becomes to discover the historical conditions that gave rise to my thought. Second thing, Hacking gives some attention to Foucault's 1984 essay 'What is Enlightenment?' which I think is one of the most important things I have read from Foucault's later work. In this essay Foucault explains how we can undertake the 'historical ontology of ourselves.' This is a big line for Hacking, and for me as well.. The historical ontology of ourselves involves a few things. It involves the '
archeology' of old forms of knowledge that will give us an understanding of how our contemporary thought was historically constructed. It involves a 'genealogical' understanding of that knowledge that will allow us to apply these new historical perspectives to contemporary power struggles. Lastly, once the limitations, the boundaries or borders of our thought have been determined through archeology and genealogy, it becomes an experiment in transgressing the frontiers of our thinking.

By pushing ourselves beyond the frontiers of our thought we can gain new ways of relating to things (knowledge), others (power), and ourselves (ethics). Foucault and Hacking believe this to be important because it can enable something like a new form of consciousness (thanks Jason Guthrie for this phrasing). Foucault talks about modernity as an attitude, a philosophical ethos. The modern ethos is characterized by its concern for the self in relation to history. It asks the question: how is it that I live in this particular way, thinking these thoughts, and how does my understanding of history change the way that I perceive myself in this present moment?

Well, it seems like historical study could illuminate your personal position in two ways, one that fits pretty straight forwardly into the definition of HO, and another that seems to be of a simulative nature (which could produce a synthetic experience). First I'll talk about how HO alone as it can improve the self in the present, and then I'll try to show that some of Foucault's thinking was simulative. The one thing I really want to explore Foucault's claim that our power struggles, our daily lives, resemble a war more than a game of meaning. He claims that power and war is the basis of all our interactions. So, seems like a great opportunity to incorporate two things: 1. Jon Sumida's idea on how war is like peace only much more so, and 2. to incorporate simulation and synthetic experience into the picture as a form of training for everyday life, which might end up resembling something like Buddhist mindfulness.

Straight up HO: Right now, it seems to me that HO serves to provide a
dual historical perspective; first, a general historical perspective on the past and the present (how thoughts from the past have interacted to create the present), and second, a historical perspective on the self. These two perspectives are mutually supportive. A general understanding of history fosters a concern for a historicized understanding of the self. Similarly, a historicized understanding of the self will facilitate the search for a more general historical knowledge.

So the first step is to just study history. Then you think of yourself as a historically contingent person and you explore your own thoughts in relation to history. Then your historical thinking will be improved by your historicized sense of self. It will be easier for you to engage in historical reenactments (simulations) if you understand the historicity of your own thought. So, it appears that historical ontology is something that supports the process of reenactment/simulation.

Now I want to explore how Foucault and Hacking express views that are of a simulative nature. I can think of two ways that Foucault presents himself as a 'simulative thinker.' The first comes from his definition of history as the history of thought, and his related thoughts on switching to ancient Greek texts. The second has to do with his thoughts on the 'reactivation' of old thoughts and techniques. The way he talks about historical practices very much resembles Collingwood's idea of reenactment.

So, Foucault on the history of thought. He expresses this very clearly in The Use of Pleasure, and somewhat less clearly in The Order of Things. In UOP he says that the moral problematization of sexuality is the"proper task for a history of thought as against a history of behaviors or representations: to define the conditions in which human beings 'problematize' what they are, what they do, and the world in which they live." This idea of a history of 'thought' is crucial. It seems as though Foucault's project, at its core, is about uncovering the ways in which individuals thought in historical moments.

In TOOT his project revolves around understanding how scientists and philosophers thought in their own terms. He chastises historians for readily applying contemporary terms like 'biology' or 'economics' to works done in the 15th through 19th century. While works produced in those periods are clearly antecedents to our contemporary disciplines, it is inappropriate to use those terms to refer to them. That isn't how individuals thought of those disciplines in those periods. Biology(as we know it) was referred to as 'natural history,' and it involved a totally different set of ideas than modern biology. In short, Foucault is very concerned with accurately representing history(as the history of thought) from the perspective of the individuals under study. This strongly resembles Collingwood, and implies something like reenactment.

Defining history in this way prompts the question, how can we have access to past thoughts? Collingwood's answer, if you recall, was that we first need evidence of past thought in writing or production of an object, and that evidence enables historians to reenact the thoughts expressed in that evidence. Foucault seems to follow this. He uses texts produced during a period, and he attempts to determine how those individuals were thinking at that time. Foucault's statements on his switch to ancient Greek history show that he was aware of what 'historical thinking' meant. He said he feared that he would subject the texts to 'ahistorical analysis.' Meaning the he feared he would project his own contemporary conceptions onto them.

This is precisely Collingwood's concern. Collingwood came up with the idea of reenactment in order to define proper historical thought. Reenactment communicates the idea that a historian must separate himself from his personal and historical prejudices in order to properly think the way that people thought in the past. Recall that Collingwood explained a successful reenactment with the term 'encapsulation of thought.' When a historical thought has been properly reenacted in becomes encapsulated in the contemporary context of the historian's mind. Or what Goldman calls a 'quarantine' of personal views.

So Foucault's definition of history as the history of thought hinges on this idea that thoughts expressed in the past have to be accurately brought to life (reenacted/simulated) in the historians mind. Foucault expressed a view that brought his ideas even closer to Collingwood's. In an interview he said that there were a multitude of techniques, practices, and ways of thinking that existed in the past but that no longer exist within our society. Through historical study, however, we can 'reactivate' these old thoughts and techniques (to a certain extent). In particular, Foucault believes that these reactivated techniques can be useful in contemporary power struggles because they can prompt us to think differently than we would otherwise.

This notion of 'reactivation' sounds uncannily like Collingwood's reenactment. Furthermore, one of Collingwood's major interests was the way that historical study can help people think in ways that they would not have thought otherwise. Collingwood, for example, believed that WWI would have been avoidable if politicians had managed to think differently than they had. If they had been historically informed, or had used history to gain synthetic experience, then it could have potentially been averted.

Foucault is also deeply concerned with changing how it is that we think. He believed that philosophical practice should always be about transformation. The goal is always to become something different than you were in the beginning. One technique/practice Foucault specifically said we could reactivate was something from ancient Greek culture. Generally, the idea is 'an aesthetics of existence,' a 'practice' or 'care of the self,' a personal ascesis that is focused on beautifying your own life. Foucault believes that this may be a viable option for modern ethics.

Since the 15th century, Foucault claims, power relations have increasingly come under the locus of state control. Juridical, medical, religious, military, educational, scientific, and social institutions (i.e. family, sexuality), all contribute to an interlocking body of knowledge that gives rise to certain forms of power (relations to others) and ethics (relations with self). In the modern age most forms of power and ethics are constituted in relation to a state institution. We use religious or juridical models to conceptualize right and wrong, to conceptualize how to treat other people. We use understandings of medicine, insanity, and science to determine how we understand ourselves (we think in terms of healthy bodies, healthy minds, and standards of 'normalcy' communicated by institutions).

The ancient Greeks, on the other hand, had no religious, political, or any other type of institution that was powerful enough to guide relations with others (power) and relations with ones self (ethics). Their ethics, rather, was based on a philosophical exercise that was meant to strengthen ones relationship with the self. It was everyone's goal to become 'stronger than themselves.' To be capable of exerting mental effort to suppress appetites and desires. If one was capable of living a life of self control, ascesis, then you would be beautifying your existence. People admired individuals who were strong enough in character to not over indulge in food, drink, or sex. The ideal was to attain a state of Sophrosyne: a state of true self knowledge that comes from intense personal discipline. This is what the practice or care of the self is all about. The aesthetics of existence. Why should art stop at life? Can't existence itself become an art form?

In ancient Greece political power depended on personal reputation. The beautification of ones life, therefore, was always about governing ones self so as to be capable of governing others. If you aren't capable of controlling your own desires, how will you govern the people? So the aesthetics of existence was always intended to beautify your reputation to improve your political career in this age, and to leave beautiful legacies to those who come after you.

To wrap up, Foucault and Hacking represent something called historical ontology. HO is about determining the limitations of contemporary thought so as to better understand our thought and ultimately have different thoughts. This is something I am describing as a dual historical perspective. It gives you a general historical perspective, an understanding of the general chronology of the world. And it gives you a personal historical perspective. You are able to see yourself as a historically contingent being who thinks the way they do based on the thoughts that have come before you. The space of possible thought has already been set by the historical context.

Foucault's definition of history as the history of thought also falls in line with Collingwood. They both engage in something that looks like simulation/reenactment, but Foucault has one concern that seems to obscure his interest in thought. He regards thought as highly historically deterministic. He typically treats subjects as if they were determined in the way that they think. This is why he spends so much time not talking directly about what people said. He spends more time sketching the background context in which thoughts took place. In TOOT, for example, he devotes his time to examining the systems of representation that were available to thinkers, and claims that ideas have more to do with the representational tools at hand than the actual content or originality of an idea. Despite this heavy emphasis on the determined nature of historical thought, Foucault still believes that it can (and must) be accurately replicated in the present, and that this practice can lead to new thoughts, and change the way we think, making him similar to Collingwood in this regard.

The major difference between their approaches to the history of thought seems to be that Foucault believes that deterministic forces (language systems, epistemes, institutional apparatuses, etc.) need to be extensively explicated in order for reenactment to be successful. In other words, reenactment cannot be accomplished without the dual historical perspective(on past and self) provided by historical ontology. Like Collingwood, however, Foucault believes that it is the task of philosophical history to liberate thought from its historical confines. In short, it is history's job to open us up to new ways of thinking.

We all enter into a universe of determined thought. Whether we know it or not. It can be hard to know why we think the way we do. Foucault and Collingwood, however, think there is a way to gain a historical perspective on our own thought, and thus change our thought. For both of them this seems to involve two things.

First, it involves defining history as the history of thought, which implies a simulational method of understanding history (i.e. reenactment). With this definition, these authors recognize that expressed thoughts can only be understood if they are reenacted/reactivated in the minds of historians. Furthermore, the reenactment/reactivation of these thoughts opens us up to new ways of thinking in the present moment.

Second, both believe that the dual perspective provided by historical ontology is essential to a succesful reenactment. Collingwood begins both The Idea of History and The Idea of Nature with historical surveys of those ideas. He establishes the history of the concept so as to attain the historicity of his own thought. Having achieved this dual historical perspective, a successful reenactment is much more likely. Foucault follows a similar pattern with his explications of 'the space of possible thought.' Foucault is always concerned with how past thought was determined, and in turn, how his own thought is historically determined. His historical surveys of ideas and practices reveal the historicity of past thought and our own thought, and, just like Collingwood, it opens us up to the possibility of thinking differently.

So, I really feel like I have a strong argument that Collingwood and Foucault held similar views. In particular, they both believed that the history of thought could be understood through a reenactment supported by a dual historical ontological perspective. Historical simulation (reenactment) and historical ontology must go hand in hand. They seem to be inseparable. This is because in reenactment the historian is a key figure, and therefore his own thought must be questioned. The historical limitations of thought is the natural concern.
So a simulationist approach to historical thinking logically leads to a historical ontological perspective on the self.

Now, I have implications to draw, connections to explore.

Text, History, and Self: Finding Personal Transformation in Synthetic Experience and the Contingency of a Dual Historical Perspective

So I am going to entertain several different ideas here that are various combinations of all these ideas and maybe others, not sure yet.

The Transformative Historistic Self

One thing I definitely want to talk about is the potential for historical study to transform perspectives and minds. I see this being accomplished primarily through the internalization of synthetic experience, which is produced by reenactments supported by a dual historical perspective. The effects of synthetic historical experience can manifest itself in two ways, what I'll call explicitly and implicitly. The implicit level concerns me more, since this is the level that improves intuitive judgment (as I have discussed in previous posts, and will discuss more in forthcoming posts).

Synthetic historical experience can have an explicit impact when the reenactment/reactivation of an old idea immediately prompts a question about the present. A historical thought/experience might be in such contrast to the present that it causes a present problem to be seen in a new light. The effects of these synthesized experiences would be overt, and relatively straight forward. When I am curious about modern sexuality, for example, I can study past sexual practices and see that people lived and thought in very different ways than I think and act now. Past experience (history) would merely prompt questions about the present, and thus the effects of synthetic experience would be explicit, noticeable.

The implicit effects of synthetic experience, however, are more nuanced, and have much greater implications. When I say the effects of SE are implicit, I mean that the SE has become so absorbed into the mind that it begins to function on an unconscious level. In other word, SE replicates the actual effects of experience and improves intuitive decision making.

My ideas on this are heavily influenced by Carl von Clausewitz and Jon Sumida. Clausewitz was a philosopher of war that was focused on finding a way to use history to train military officers and commanders. Clausewitz believed that you could never create a theory of war that would be useful at the exact moment when a command decision had to be made. Decision making at the national level is incredibly difficult and complex and it typically relies more on intuition than logic. No theory could ever capture enough of wars nature to create a prescriptive or predictive theory.

How do great commanders do it then? Clausewitz says, intuition, as in the ability to make clear articulable decisions without going through a process of ratiocination. You don't use reason, you don't make a chart and map out the factors, you rely on the deeper, less conscious parts of your mind to turn the complexity of the situation into a definite decision. Clausewitz uses the french phrase Coup d'œil, which means 'stroke of the eye,' or 'at first glance.' It is an 18th century military term that typically refers to cavalry and their ability to scout enemy troops. Once a cavalry scout can see the enemy, the enemy can also see him, so scouts have no choice but to take a single glance at the number of enemy units, instantly determine their numbers, and immediately start running to avoid enemy cavalry sent in pursuit. In this context, Coup d'œil is the ability to instantaneously determine the number of enemy units without actually counting them. Intuitive counting. Intuitive, fast decision making.

Clausewitz, however, applies Coup d'œil to high command decision making. In high command Coup d'œil is the ability to intuitively make a difficult decision military/political decision. Your mind has to handle all of the uncertainty and complexity of the military/political situation, and this has to happen on an unconscious level. The amount of information involved in these instances is too vast, and war is too hectic to allow for rational decision making. Definite decisions have to be made and clearly communicated. Decision making in war, therefore, rests more on a commanders ability to intuitively process the relevant information and deliver a clear order despite the uncertainty of the situation.

Next, Clausewitz asks, if decision making in war depends primarily on intuition, how does one improve their intuition? The answer: experience. Experience greatly improves a person to function in warfare.

But what if experience isn't available? What if there has been a long peace? What if there are no officers who will come from abroad to train our military? How do I gain experience in warfare?

Clausewitz believed that there is indeed a way to provide officers/commanders with experience, or something that resembles experience, without actually sending them to war. History, Clausewitz thought, could provide a substitute for experience if it was not available elsewhere. Ordinary historical study, however, would not be a sufficient substitute for experience. Instead, Clausewitz invented a unique form of historical study that uses military theory to expand conventional historical narratives into theoretical explorations of command dilemmas.

Clausewitz called this 'critical analysis,' but Jon Sumida has compared this process to Collingwood's notion of reenactment. Indeed, it seems very similar. Both involve the collection of traditional historical evidence, followed by a stage in which that evidence is interpreted through a historical reenactment of the thoughts under study. The only difference, is that with Clausewitz the historical case study is augmented and expanded by theoretical historical surmise. In other words, Clausewitz, too, promotes the reenactment of past thought, but he suggests that theory be used to account for things not shown in the historical record (accidents, thoughts, etc.), and to explore alternative courses of action that could have been taken by historical actors.

Clausewitz believed that by repeatedly engaging in these types of historical study (theoretically reenacting command dilemmas) the reenactor would gain something that resembled experience with high command decision making. Think about it, by reenacting these situations for yourself you would be exposing your mind to many of the emotional and intellectual difficulties of high command. Doing this over and over again would familiarize your mind with the types of challenges associated with decision making. All of these reenactments are to be absorbed into the mind on an unconscious level. It is intended to provoke creative and intuitive decision making in actual moments of warfare. The idea is that when the time comes to make a decision, your unconscious intellectual framework will be primed with all the synthetic experience you gained from your reenactment, and you will be more likely to make a good intuitive decision. Improved capacity for judgment.

Historical study, augmented by theoretical historical surmise about thought processes, provides a synthetic experience, that improves judgment. That is Clausewitz in an extremely simplified form.

It's pretty obvious that Clausewitz's work is substantially confirmed by my reading of Goldman. Goldman's idea of the E-imagination (in which the imagining of a feeling/action and the performance share similar neural activity) would apply to Clausewitz (and Collingwood and Foucault's) version of reenactment. By imagining the dilemmas experienced by historical commanders your brain is likely utilizing the same neural equipment that will be active in actual command decision making. So, it seems fairly clear why the creation of synthetic experience would be se valuable: it would give your brain 'practice' in making difficult decisions that it will encounter in the future.

Clausewitz's work is probably the most specific example of an example of the implicit effects of synthetic experience. The effects of Clausewitz's reenactment could also be explicit, but he is more concerned with the implicit effects. Synthetic experience must permeate the whole of your decision making apparatus. It must cease to exist as a separate of your mind. It needs to become integrated into the rest of your experiences. This would result in an increased capacity for intuitive judgment, which seems to me, at this point, the primary purpose for all synthetic experience of any kind. Life should be lived mindfully and intuitively, and I think this is what synthetic experience is ultimately aiming for.

Now I want to use Jon Sumida to transition to some comments Foucault made on Clausewitz, and how they may show that Clausewitz's model of training intuitive judgment through historical reenactment could be applied to a wide array of human situations, not just war.

Jon Sumida was a great professor for me and wrote a fascinating book on Clausewitz. I have read Sumida's book and substantial portions of Clausewitz. In his book, Sumida argues a lot of what I have been explicating here. But in another article, "Pitfalls and Prospects: the Misuses and Uses of Military History and Classical Theory in the 'Transformation' Era," Sumida provides a great line that demonstrates the general import of Clausewitz's pedagogical model. Sumida expresses the idea that all decision making, whether in war or in daily life, consists of many of the same elements: complex personalities, uncertain information, contingencies, etc.. In war, however, the circumstances are intensely amplified. Political personalities are elusive, information is rarely reliable, and contingencies abound. Sumida concludes, therefore: "War is like peace, only much more so."

Now, if synthetic experience is a viable form of improving intuitive decision making in war, can much more general types of experience be synthesized to improve every day intuitive decision making? First, I will talk about Foucault's idea that all our social interactions resemble war, and how this implies the relevance of Clausewitz's ideas. Second, I will move to how fiction and reflection on memory can be sources of synthetic experience. Lastly, I will discuss how I think our ability to empathize with and understand others, which I'll call our 'empathetic palette,' can be improved when history, fiction, and reflection on memory all generate synthetic experience. All this rests on the claim that history, fiction, and memory can all be counted as forms of simulative imagination, which I believe.

Foucault and Clausewitz on Decision Making in War and Peace: Applying the Clausewitzian Model of Synthesizing Experience to Foucault's Everyday Politics

So, in an interview in Power/Knowledge, which I read and which Hacking analyzes, Foucault discusses Clausewitz's most famous phrase, 'war is nothing but the continuation of politics by other means.' Meaning that war is always generated by a certain political climate, and that politics/policy will affect the course of the war throughout.

Foucault reverses the statement, saying 'politics is the continuation of war by other means.' He speculates that all of our political relationships rest on the implicit threat of physical violence. To me, all of society seems to be based on the implicit threat of armed force. The police, the military, they represent the potential to use force. And they use force sometimes. Anyways, Foucault's inversion of Clausewitz is a fascinating statement, considering Foucault considers any interaction that happens within the field of force relations to be political. Most of our interactions with institutions, other people, and ourselves, therefore, are political issues. Feminism: the personal is political. Similar idea.

Taken together what are the implications of these two statements? If much of our life is 'political,' and politics is the continuation of war by other means, then does much of my life resemble war? Recall what Sumida said, 'war is like peace, only much more so.' In their comparisons of peace and war, Sumida's meaning is much clearer than Foucault's.

I am going to have to reread Foucault's discussions on Clausewitz and war. But I will draw one conclusion right now that seems impossible for me to avoid: Clausewitz's method of training intuitive judgment in military commanders may be of use in training the intuitive decision making capabilities required in every day life. War and peace time (political) decision making have obvious similarities (as Sumida and Foucault note), such as the incompleteness of information available, contingencies, complex personalities, and not enough time for ratiocination to be the primary method of thinking. So, intuition seems indispensable to most things/people. I think Foucault's comparison of everyday politics to war adds weight to the idea that Clausewitz's model could be applied to more generic types of experience.

I like to think that most thinking is more intuitive than anything else. But focusing, working hard to train intuition seems like a real task. A tough task I mean. But I don't think it is as tough as I might think it is. I'm really unsure about how difficult this sort of idea would be to implement. That is why I'm contradicting myself I guess. But I think it can be done. I think I have done it to some extent.

That is why I am writing all of this, because I hope that I am capable of engaging in the thought that I am capable of describing.

But anyways, I think Clausewitz's model is great and could be applied to much of the humanities, and could draw on elements of the natural and social sciences. The humanities all provide different types of synthetic experience. Experience is the key thing in improving intuitive capabilities (i.e. you need to have experienced, at least synthetically, a large range of feelings in order to connect with a wide range of other people). You can't make decisions about complex situations unless you have experience in them and can handle it intuitively. Rational decision making about large complex social situations is really difficult. So we need experience. We need more emotional and social experience. More historical experience. We need people who feel a lot. Who can feel lots of different things, and want to feel lots of different things.

But thats just ideals. But I am still interested in pursuing this trail.

I want to bring a new clarity to the purpose and possibilities of the humanities. Science is great. Other disciplines are great. But I just think that the humanities don't have the best reputation. Their purpose seems muddled and unclear. I think I can explain their purpose in some new and interesting terms.

I really want to finish this cause I'm about to leave on a camping trip. So these last 3 notes on the humanities will be abbreviated.

The Exploration of the Self Through Text

One of the major things I see in the humanities is the ability to explore yourself through a variety of different texts. Historical, fictitious, and philosophical texts all allow us to ask ourselves different questions, and to gain a sense of our different ways of feeling and viewing things. History is able to provide very specific types of synthetic experience (both explicit and implicit). Fiction is able to provide emotional synthetic experience. We can feel a wide range of feelings that will be useful to our ability to empathize with others. Philosophical texts provide intellectual synthetic experience. They allow us to think differently than we thought before we accessed the experience of that particular philosopher.

The Exploration of the Self Through Memory

I think the self can also be explored through memory exercises. By actively engaging in introspection you can reenact memories. You can use your E-imagination to bring memories back to life. By reading things you wrote in the past you can reactivate old thoughts and gain new insight on your past behavior. These memory based reenactments, however, are a contemporary exercise, they happen right now and they impact us right now. So they would be another way to explore the contemporary self through texts. Texts you have written in the past that allow you to recover your past experiences.

Foucault describes a Stoic philosophical exercise that strongly resembles a daily mnemonistic reenactment of the days events and decisions. In particular you are supposed to review the way you treated other people, and explore hypothetical options of how you could have behaved differently. In essence, your E-imagination would be priming your brain to be more likely to behave that way in the future. Sounds like implicit synthetic experience from mnemonistic reenactments.

This would be worthwhile because the Greeks and Romans recognized that most of our behavior happens on a pre-reflective level, so our moral code would need to function in the mind on an unconscious level. Plutarch, for example, said "You must have learned principles so firmly that when your desires, your appetites or your fears awaken like barking dogs, the logos will speak with the voice of a master who silences the dogs by a single command." Foucault says "You have there the idea of a logos who would operate in some way without you doing anything. You will have become the logos or the logos will have become you."(6). Fantastic, yeah? I want to make it so logos acts without us 'doing anything.'

This reminds me of Goldman and the idea that the mind works primarily on simulation, but is augmented by tacit theories of emotion and social behavior. Individuals who lack experience in anger, for example, can still rationally deduce that someone might be angry because they lost their dog, or something. Simulation wouldn't be possible if we didn't have some sort of tacit theoretical understand of emotions and people.

The above idea, however, makes me think that it might be possible for us to refine our tacit theories. If we engage in mnemonistic reenactments we are drawing on our tacit theories, but the process of exploring hypothetical alternative courses of action forces our mind to reexamine it's pre-reflective behavior (which is governed by tacit theory). So mnemonistic reenactment both draws on tacit theory and refines tacit theory. I imagine that most forms of simulation involving tacit theories may refine them in some way. But if we began to think of ourselves as modifying our unconscious understanding of others, if we could conceive of ourselves as modifying our tacit theories, then that may help us modify ourselves on an unconscious level. Pursue the unconscious conceptually, familiarize your mind with the idea that you act pre-reflectively, prime yourself to think differently, and you will modify pre-reflective behavior.

The Empathetic Palette

I see all of this personal exploration as critically linked to what I call the 'empathetic palette.' It is the range of experiences that we have that allow us to empathize with other people. Goldman shows that in order to empathize/simulate another person's thoughts, you need experience in those thoughts or feelings. Without them you can only engage in 'experience deficient simulation.' You can attempt to understand other people, but unless you have an expanded empathetic palette (i.e. unless you can feel lots of different feelings), you won't really be able to feel what other people feel, you won't be able to really understand.

The empathetic palette can make us better people, I hope. It can make us invested in ourselves. The exploration of ourselves through a variety of texts. The politics of ourselves. We need to use the humanities to cultivate this intuitive sensitivity to others. Personal and social life are what matters most.

Conclusion on Transforming the Self Through Dual Historical Ontologically Informed Simulation

In this section I explored the way a dual HO perspective could facilitate reenactments based on the history of war (Clausewitz), the history of every day political struggles (Foucault), fiction, and memory. All of this contributes to the expansion of the empathetic palette, which fosters intuitive simulation and sensitivity in others. While I did not make the importance of the DHOP explicit throughout, it should inform all of the types of simulation described above.

How Do You Like Your Pain?

Either way, my take on the humanities involves pain. Either you engage in experience deficient simulation, you let your thoughts get in the way of reading other peoples thoughts, and experience pain on the level of incomplete understanding. Or you try to engage in verisimilitudinous simulation. You try to feel what other people feel, and you feel their pain. So many bad things have happened in history, in novels, and in my past, that if I really want to understand them, I need to focus on all of that pain. I need to feel all of that pain for myself. I want that pain that leads to understanding. Not that pain that comes from not understanding.

How do I like my pain? I like it in historical, fictitious, and mnemonistic simulation that facilitates a deep personal understanding of my and other people's pain. Cause I think this makes me a better person. I think it makes me more sensitive.

Conclusion

This has been a monumental post for me. I have convinced myself that simulation theory of mind (especially when applied to historical study) demands a historical ontological perspective on the self. Similarly, a historical ontological approach cannot but embrace the simulationist view of historical thinking. Based on all of this, and specifically on Foucault and Clausewitz's definition of politics and decision making, I think the humanities could be a way to improve people's ability to intuitively simulate, it could expand people's empathetic palettes, it could make the world more compassionate, all through the creation of synthetic experience from historical, fictitious, and mnemonistic simulation.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mindfulness, Attention, the Quantum Brain, Synthetic Experience, and Memory Based Reenactments

This post is based on a book that I finished at the beginning of this week: The Mind & The Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force by Jeffrey Schwartz. I mentioned a few things about this book in previous posts on neuroplasticity or some other related stuff. But now that I have finished it I realize what he is saying is much broader than I had understood halfway or even 3/4 of the way through. His full argument hinges on the incorporation of quantum physics into an understanding of the brain and the mind. He proposes that based on the rules of quantum physics it is possible to use Buddhist mindfulness techniques to alter neurological pathways in the brain. He works with OCD patients. With OCD patients there is a clearly identifiable neural circuit that is overactive and causing the desire to check, wash, etc. So it is a good opportunity to show how self-directed mindfulness techniques can alter the physical brain.

So I'll do this in three steps. First I'll talk about mindfulness. Then I'll talk about attention is the key factor in both mindfulness and quantum physics. Then I'll talk about how quantum physics explains how it is that mindfulness techniques could change the brain.

Mindfulness. Something I have been thinking about for a little while now. Something I find elusive when I try to write about. But here goes. Schwartz describes it as a state of mind where you are aware of your thoughts, but you don't pursue them, you acknowledge them and you let them pass. Much like you let your breath come and go. He describes it as mental note taking, you check off each thought that comes and you let it go. He also uses the idea of the 'impartial spectator.' When you are mindful you are able to view yourself, your thoughts, and others from a somewhat removed point of view. E.M. Cioran says wisdom is 'non-action as first impulse.' And I think that is in line with these other ideas. You are primarily existing as a calm observer of your reality.

Schwartz, however, has his OCD patients follow a slightly more elaborate/complex mindfulness technique. Four R's. Reattribute, Refocus, Relabel, Revalue. He admits it sounds a little bit like shtick. Something kinda BS someone might try to sell. But the basic ideas seem sound when put in context with mindfulness and quantum physics. You reattribute OCD impulses to a dysfunctional brain circuit, you refocus your attention elsewhere, you relabel behavior, you revalue behavior. I forget the nuance. He describes it better. But these steps have their nuance.

The key factor in all of this mindfulness training is attention. You have got to pay attention. You need to be looking at and thinking about your own thoughts and surroundings. You need to pay attention.

He talks a lot about William James's work from the end of the 19th beginning of the 20th century. James was concerned that materialist science was forcing us to regard the brain as deterministic, and the will as epiphenomenal (an experience that is produced by brain chemistry alone). But James believed that we did have something like will, or mental force. And he thought that it manifested itself primarily through attention. Our thoughts pretty much always just come to us. We do not actively create them. BUT we can direct our thoughts so that we maintain focus on a certain thought for longer than it would have stayed in our minds otherwise. So James believed that we did posses mental force, and that it manifested itself in attention. That we could hold something in mind on purpose.

This Jives with mindfulness and with quantum physics. In mindfulness the key factor is attention. You are paying attention to your thoughts. You are acknowledging them and letting them pass so you can pay attention to what happens next. Always paying attention to right now. With Schwartz's OCD treatment attention gets taken to another level where patients redefine, redirect their thoughts, it is a little bit more about self-directed neuroplasticity. The type of attention is much more specific and has a specific goal of redirection.

Attention is also the key factor in quantum physics.

So, let me delve into how attention is the key in quantum physics, how the brain exists in the quantum world, and how we might use specific types of attention (i.e. going off Schwartz's OCD model) to attain self-directed neuroplasticity in different ways. I am thinking primarily about attention to history, to fiction, and to others, that would be involved in changing the brain so as to promote intuition.

Once I get past quantum physics and attention (measurement, discontinuity of movement, non-locality, quantum zeno effect), and I turn to specific types of attention (historical, fictitious, empathetic), It is going to be mostly wild speculation. We will see what happens when I get there.

So, my understanding of quantum physics so far. The crucial thing is that matter exists simultaneously as waves and particles. This was discovered when some physicists tried to emit a single photon of light, single particle. They can measure that, so they release a single photon and measure it as it goes along a certain path through a single rectangular slit. Only thing is that they notice when they pass this small amount of light through two slits simultaneously the photon behaves as a wave. It passes through the slits as a wave and curls and forms circles like a wave would, then reforming as proton to arrive at the other end.

The question, how can things exist simultaneously as particles and waves? From what I am reading, the observation of a wave collapses it into a definite particle. Before something is observed it exists as a wave of possible positions, but the observation of it forces it to form as a particle in a definite location. The particle can form along any area that the wave covers, but before it is observed it only exists as a wave of possibilities. The observation of a wave is what forces it to become a particle in one of the possible locations. So conscious observation brings possible realities into concrete existence. Consciousness is the key factor.

I was watching some youtube interviews with Amit Goswami, a quantum theorist, and he thinks that consciousness is more fundamental to the universe than matter. That many quantum phenomenon cannot be explained by the materialistic laws of traditional physics. His examples were discontinuity of movement and non-locality.

Discontinuity of movement describes how certain subatomic particles move. I really don't understand the evidence for this very well. An electron can be in one spot, it will be in one orbit, then it will appear in a completely different orbit, completely different location, without traversing the space in between. It literally disappears and reappears in a different spot.

This is somewhat related to non-locality. Material science holds that any molecules that affect one another must be within the same physical area. They must be close so that light or waves or energy of some sort can affect each other. Molecular interaction must be local. But quantum physics disagrees. It seems that certain molecules can become entangled and will respond to on another across large distances by means of non-material forces. Two good examples of this. First is an experiment explained by Goswami in which two ordinary people meditated in a room together for 20 minutes. Then they were separated and placed in separate chambers that were sealed so that no electromagnetic activity could penetrate the walls. When one of the subjects was shown a video they monitored the brain activity that corresponded with his seeing colors. As soon as one was shown the video, the other subject experienced identical brain activity, as if they had seen the video. He said it has been replicated 3 times in different labs. He called it a quantum transfer potential. These people's meditative connection was enough to transfer brain activity non-locally, there was no possible electromagnetic connection, no material connection, between their brains. Goswami basically says that consciousness is the fundamental thing about all existence, and so consciousness was the non-material thing that made this non-local transfer possible.

Non-locality and entanglement have also been tested on the subatomic level. When two subatomic particles collide they become entangled, meaning that a measurement of one of them immediately predicts the measurement of the other. The collision does something that aligns their poles, or something, I forget. But anyways, so they have collided particles, gotten them entangled, then separated them up to 11 kilometers, and then tested them. Measuring one simultaneously affects the other one. Non-locality essentially implies that something happening on this end of the universe can affect something on the other end of the universe. They are working on using non-local particles to create communication systems that don't need radio or satellite waves or whatever.

Okay, so consciousness collapses waves of possibilities into actual existing particles, subatomic movement is discontinuous, particles become entangled, and they act non-locally.

Last quantum thing before the brain, the quantum Zeno effect. When observing a molecular system that has the potential of transforming, it is possible to slow or stop the transformation of the system by repeatedly observing it. The example I read was like a single molecule of ammonia. It has 3 parts of one element and 1 of another. The three always form a triangle, but the one can either be on the top or the bottom of it, and it transforms at random. By repeatedly observing it over and over in a small amount of time the transformation can be stopped. The idea is that observation prevents it from existing as a wave that would allow it to transform. It is forced to materialize as an actuality over and over, and it is more likely to stay in that form when consciousness has forced it to manifest over and over.

So, Schwartz claims that because the brain is made up of quantum particles, it is subject to many of these laws regarding observation, transformation, etc. In particular, Schwartz believes that we can use Buddhist mindfulness techniques to pay attention to our thoughts, we can force our brain to bring certain possible brain states into being on a more regular basis than others. The brain is filled with ions that determine whether or not a synapse fires. They exist as waves that contains the possibilities of firing and not firing. By paying attention we can direct consciousness at certain parts of the brain, certain ideas, and bring them into reality more attention via laws of quantum physics.

With OCD patients, for example, when they feel a compulsion, and they redirect their attention to a healthier habit like gardening or something, then their act of attention is able to redirect the brains neural circuitry. When they do this on a regular basis, Schwartz claims that patients can take advantage of the quantum Zeno effect. They are redirecting their thoughts towards healthier expression, and their mental force is acting on those parts of the brain responsible (which are subject to quantum laws, especially ions that are responsible for synapse firing), and by repeatedly directing consciousness on their own brains they force those parts of the brain to collapse into realities (as opposed to staying quantum possibilities, which would facilitate the brain switching to different thoughts). Paying attention causes your mind to avoid brain chatter (which I guess has something to do with quantum physics) and brings a definite and intended brain state into being on a more regular basis. Through repeated application these brain states can become the default state of a brain.

So the mind has the ability to alter brain chemistry because the quantum particles in our brain respond to consciousness. And when we consciously redirect our thoughts towards certain things, we force our brain to realize those possibilities.

Great stuff, if that makes sense. But one of the things that I find most fascinating/compelling for my ideas in general, is the power of the imagination to invoke the qualities of experience that cause neural rewiring. The best examples: when piano players brains are monitored, playing a piano part and their imagination of playing that piano part is no different neurologically. When they are running through the piano routine in their head they activate all the same areas or memory and motor skills that they use in the actual performance. There are some other examples. But the general lesson is clear: mental reenactments have the potential to be as potent, neurologically, as the actual events.

This interests me in three ways in particular. In terms of historical study and what is called the 'historical imagination,' and its capacity for generating synthetic experience. Second, it makes me think about fiction and its ability to provide synthetic experience. Last it makes me curious about the general utility of simulation theory of mind, and how to cultivate a simulative perspective, which may actually resemble something called the quantum mind or self.

So the historical imagination. Collingwood talks about the historical imagination and how it exists as a specific form of thought. When we think about the past we can gain access to forms of thought and experience that were lost, or are new to us, or can be useful. He called the process of historical thinking 'reenactment,' implying that when we read a thought or experience expressed in the past we can only understand it by engaging in a historically accurate internal simulation of that thought or experience.

This is very similar to a book I am reading right now by Alvin Goldman called Simulating Minds which is proposing a tentative simulation of mind theory. The major claim is that our ability to attribute mind states to others depends on the ability to internally simulate the thoughts, feelings, and goals of other people. In other words, we understand people largely by simulating their thoughts of feelings for ourselves. Collingwood maintains this exact same idea in relation to the nature of historical thought. Historical understanding can only be accomplished through a successful reenactment of past thought or experience. Interestingly, Goldman has an idea that resembles Collingwood's version of the historical imagination, but it is much more general. He calls it the enactment-imagination, E-imagination. This term is addressing imagination as something that brings an experience back to life for you. You imagine being in pain, standing on a beach, being hungry, being happy, being sad. We can imagine all of those feelings and, according to Goldman, when we imagine pain or happiness we are producing a sort of quasi-pain or happiness within us. The E-imagination is about simulation. Historical thinking is a subset of the E-imagination, the reenactment-imagination. E-imagination also encompasses the exploration of hypothetical future events, or fictitious events I suppose.

I am giving a short note to the E-imagination and fiction. The rest of this will be primarily about E-imagination and synthetic experience. Fiction can also be a source of synthetic experience. Surreal or fantastic novels in particular seem like a pretty interesting source for synthetic experiences. If you can get into a novel and really for what the others are feeling, engage the E-imagination on a strange novel, your mind, and your brain, must be changing in interesting ways to deal with it. But onward to other things

Goldman is actually arguing for a hybrid of simulation theory and theory-theory. theory-theory argues that humans understand other individuals based on naive or tacit psychological theories that exist in our brain. Basically, our brings contain implicit theoretical understandings of other people's behavior and minds, and relies on these to ascribe mental states to others.

I had been throwing around the terms intuitive theory, or innate theory for the last year and half. I had learned about historical reenactment via Clausewitz. His ideas were very similar to Collingwood, but he believed theory should be brought into the process of historical reenactment. Believing the historical record to be inadequate, Clausewitz believed historical case study could be augmented by a theory that would facilitate intelligent surmise about certain factors that were beyond the historical record (such as accidents, emotions and thoughts of decision makers, etc.). So, for Clausewitz, history relies on simulation of past thought, and theory is a tool that helps you understand the thoughts and actions of others.

The most important part of this process for him is that theoretical reenactment of past situations should provide a synthetic experience for the reenactor. It should change the way his mind works. By imagining and simulating past decisions made by intelligent historical figures, you expose your mind to this quality and type of thought, and thereby give your mind a synthetic experience that will facilitate your own intuitive decision making in the future. As the piano playing example showed, the imagination of a physical and mental process is neurologically identical to the actual performance of that process. So when politicians need political experience but can't get it yet, they can study history and engage in simulations of past political thought and experience. This will improve their sense of what political decision making is all about, and will help them make better decisions in the future, both because they have an understanding of history, and because historical study can produce a synthetic experience that fosters creative thinking.

As does the simulation involved in fiction. The key thing in ALL OF THIS is that simulating the thoughts of others can inspire creative thinking. Your mind can entertain and bring to life many other intelligent minds. You can read books and simulate the thoughts of anyone from anywhere who thought about anything. That is exciting. And if you can manage to convert reading about experience into a sort of synthetic experience, then your ability to make intuitive decisions can't help but get better. More knowledge of human experience, greater ability to move through your own experience.

When I learned about Clausewitz and Collingwood I had no idea about simulation theory of mind or anything like that. So I was just fascinated by this idea that historical understanding involved the subjective simulation of other people's thoughts. I also was fascinated by the idea of empathy, and that somehow I was engaging in something that resembled a reenactment, but it happened so effortlessly, so naturally. To look at someone is to empathize with them.

But one major question popped up to me. If Clausewitz says historical reenactment depends on a body of theory to surmise with, how is my surmising (my empathizing) facilitated so naturally? Do I have an intuitive or innate theory of emotions that allows me to understand others? Goldman warns against a loose definition of the word theory, but does admit that the idea of a tacit theory seems probable. So, I seem to think that my ability to empathize is possible because of a tacit theory of emotions that I possess. My mind has an understanding of other people's emotions, and that is how I can instantaneously simulate, and thus understand, someone's feelings when I see their facial expressions, or body language or words or whatever.
I like this simulation theory hybrid idea. Tacit theory facilitates simulation.

One idea that I had was of a self-conscious effort to refine my tacit theory of emotion and morality through a sort of mental reenactment. I had this idea last summer when I was reading Foucault's lectures on the hermeneutics of the subject. He described an ancient Roman practice that involved a daily mental reenactment of the days events with the aim of picking out instances in which you should have behaved differently than you did. So you use your memory to think about the events of the day and think 'oh I shouldn't have been so hard on so and so. I should have said this instead.' This process of personal reflection sounds a lot like Clausewitz, the reenactment of your own past experience and the theoretical/hypothetical exploration of possible alternatives. This process is probably supported by a sort of tacit theory, a naive understanding of how I and other people think, and what constitutes a good moral view. The interesting thing for me is that this process could also be used to refine the very tacit theory that underlies it. When we engage in critical reflection on the day we engage in a mental simulation/reenactment of the day that is supported by a tacit theory that allows explorations of the hypothetical. When we explore these hypotheticals, we are simulating how we think we should have behaved in that moment. Thus we are probably using all the same neurons that would have been required to act more compassionately, or whatever, at the time. So, this memory based reenactment is meant as a sort of practice, it makes us more likely to act a certain way in the future based on when hypothetical experiences we have explored/synthesized.

So this synthetic experience would probably work its way into the unconscious workings of our mind. If you are doing it properly (a la Clausewitz), then synthetic experience becomes a complete part of your intuitive decision making ability. So in the future when you are merely intuitively having a conversation your moral theory will guide you in the direction that you have focused on in your daily reenactments. So, this daily memory reenactments are a process in which we imagine alternative courses of action using tacit theory, and simulate and focus on a preferred course of action, making that type of action a greater possibility in the future (quantum laws?). But the major point is that these memory reenactments are supported by a tacit theory, but the process itself refines that tacit theory and implants it further in our intuitive mind.

I am not sure where else to go with this. Wrap it up.

So, this took some turns. Buddhist mindfulness is a state of semi-objective attention to your own thoughts and actions. In quantum physics attention is also the key factor, in that it forces waves of possibility to collapse into a definite reality. They are connected in that when we pay attention to certain forms of thought over another, we are causing quantum particles in our brain to become more likely to fire. We direct conscious attention towards desirable thoughts so that the quantum particles will be more likely to do what we want (quantum Zeno). While Schwartz was concerned with OCD, I am concerned, like Goldman, with how placing attention on imagined situations can be useful in terms of modifying the brain. Particularly, fiction, the historical imagination, and the personal/memory imagination. Fiction and history are both great sources of synthetic experience. Fiction is likely supported by a tacit theory of life. Historical reenactment/simulation is in some cases supported by an explicit theory, others by tacit. Memory based reenactment of our own experience, however, must be supported by a tacit theory.

The most fascinating thing is that the memory based reenactments refine the tacit theory that we are using the produce them. We pay attention to certain types of thought, we imagine and explore more desirable courses of action. In doing this we activate all of the neurons responsible for behaving that way at the time. Based on quantum laws we can say that we are bringing those preferred courses of action closer to reality by focusing on them. So memory based reenactment, in light of quantum laws and simulation of mind theory, can do three things: 1. it allows us to explore hypothetical courses of action that would be desirable; 2. it allows to refine the tacit theory that we require for much simulation; and 3. it allows us to focus attention on forms of thought (and thus parts of the brain) that we find desirable, forcing them to become reality on a more regular basis (based on quantum ideas).

This is weird speculation. I had this idea on memory based reenactments a while ago. Seems strange, all these quantum connections, and the tacit theory connections. I'll finish Simulating Minds, then I'll probably have a deeper view of this simulation stuff. That'll be good, it is my main thing.

Followers