Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Inhibition of the Self as the Enrichment of the Self: The Encapsulation and Diffusion of Other Minds

So in this post I want to discuss some nuanced points about the nature of simulation and synthetic experience. In particular, I want to explain how it is that the simulation process can provide synthetic experience. Further, I want to try to show that the inhibition of the self required for an accurate simulation will ultimately lead to an enrichment of the self. I will be exploring this primarily through the notions of 'encapsulation' and 'diffusion' of other minds. The former term is Collingwood's, the latter term is mine. I plan on drawing on Alvin Goldman's Simulating Minds, as well.

This post is in direct relation to my post of 4/30/10, which argues for the importance of simulation theory of mind, and its ability to improve intuitive judgment by providing synthetic experience. So if you aren't familiar with the notions of simulation, encapsulation, or synthetic experience, please refer to that post.

This idea was prompted mainly by a discussion I had with Ryan Gleason after he read my post of 4/30. I spent a lot of time talking about Collingwood's notion of 'encapsulation' of thought, and Goldman's notion of a 'quarantine' of thought. In both instances we have to inhibit our thoughts, our biases, in order to accurately reenact/simulate another person's thoughts. Mr. Gleason, however, seemed to think that encapsulation/quarantine involved the 'destruction of the self.'

This couldn't be further from my view of it, so I want to clarify. The process of simulation is ALWAYS meant to enhance the mind of the person engaging in simulations.

It does, however, involve the inhibition of the self. You have to suppress your own thoughts, your own biases, your own beliefs that interfere with your ability to understand other people. The notions of encapsulation and quarantine are meant to communicate this inhibition of the self.

This post, therefore, will be spent explicating these terms, and explaining their effects. I am going to describe the process of simulating another mind as the encapsulation of another mind followed by the diffusion of that mind into your own mind. With the notion of diffusion I am trying to explain how after encapsulating another person's thought/experience, we can transform it into synthetic experience that effects our own thought and behavior.

In short, this is all about explaining how synthetic experience, acquired from simulations of past thought, which requires a degree of inhibition of the self, can ultimately transform the self by diffusing the encapsulated synthetic experience throughout your mind.

Collingwood on Encapsulation as the Enrichment of the Self
Well Collingwood's uses the term encapsulation to explain the process of reenacting past thoughts. When we have successfully understood past thought we encapsulate it in our own minds, in our present context. I experience the word encapsulation in a very visual way. It is an image for me, in which the mind is a space filled with a sort of substance, filled with thought. And the process of encapsulation literally forms a circle around this special type of thought we are thinking. It encases past thought inside our own minds. We can only understand history by subjectively recreating past thought in our own minds. We are attempting to understand other people's minds, and Collingwood (and Godldman and Searle) say this can only be accomplished by rethinking their thoughts for ourselves.

Thus encapsulation involves a certain amount of inhibition of the self. We have to suppress our own biases and make it so that our minds can adopt a highly specific form of thought within the context of our own thought. Here is a quotation from Collingwood where he explains how we have to change ourselves into understand history.

He says "the mere fact that someone has expressed his thoughts in writing, and that we possess his works, does not enable us to understand his thoughts. In order that we may be able to do so, we must come to the reading of them prepared with an experience sufficiently like his own to make those thoughts organic to it" (300). We have to craft ourselves in order to understand the past. In order to understand other people.

I believe that the process of inhibiting yourself, and thus enabling to make yourself think differently, can have very positive benefits. The three most important ones I can think of are 1. self-knowledge, and 2. an ability to transform your own thought, 3. increased capacity for empathy 4. it can help us exercise more freedom by freeing us from historical limitations of thought. Indeed, I have found four Collingwood quotations in which he says that reenactment of past thought can both provide us with self-knowledge, give us a chance to transform ourselves, and can make us more empathic. Thus, inhibition of the self as enrichment of the self.

In this next quotation Collingwood says that reenacting past thoughts is ultimately a form of self-knowledge. He says that the subjective nature of reenactment means it has a positive effect on the reenactor, by providing him with self-knowledge.
"And because this act is subjectivity... or experience, it can be studied only in its own subjective being, that is, by the thinker whose activity or experience it is. This study is not mere experience or consciousness, not even mere self-consciousness: it is self-knowledge. Thus the act of thought in becoming subjective does not cease to be objective; it is the object of a self-knowledge which differs from mere consciousness in being self-consciousness or awareness, and differs from being mere self-consciousness in self self-knowledge: the critical study of one's own thought, not the mere awareness of that thought as one's own" (292).

The self-knowledge described by Collingwood can also be seen in this next quotation. He says that the self-knowledge comes about by discovering the abilities and limitations of our thought. He also says, however, that we may be able to transform ourselves and overcome the limitations of our thought: "It thus may be said that historical inquiry revels to the historian the powers of his own mind. Since all he can know historically is thoughts that he can re-think for himself, the fact of his coming to know them shows him that his mind is able (or by the very effort of studying them has become able) to think in these ways. And conversely, whenever he finds certain historical matters unintelligible, he has discovered a limitation of his own mind; he has discovered that there are certain ways in which he is not, or no longer, or not yet, able to think" (218)

All this inhibition of the self required by reenactment can also lead to a great capacity for empathy. When we truly understand the thought of another person their actions should become more intelligible. If we really understand someone's thought we should be able to forgive them. This is very important to me. "[I]f we re-enact the past in our own thought, the past thought which we re-enact is seen in re-thinking it as valid.... The more adequately we re-enact the past, the more valid we see it to be: hence the differential result. What we judge negatively as error or evil in history is what we fail to understand" (470n). As I said, this quotation shows Collingwood believed that to understand someone's thought was to regard it as legitimate. History and pain. Think of all the terrible things that have happened that we need to accurately reenact if we want to understand. Ouch. But empathy, and creative empathy, is very important, and it flows out of Collingwood.

Further, Collingwood believed that all of this effort in historical thinking could help us construct our own lives with more awareness. He believed it would enable a greater degree of freedom: "sensation as distinct from thoughts, feelings as distinct from thoughts,.... Their importance to us consists in the fact that they form the proximate environment in which our reason lives, as our psychological organism is the proximate environment in which they live. They are the basis of our rational life, though no part of it. Our reason discovers them, but in studying them it is not studying itself. By learning to know them, it founds out how it can help them to live in health, so that they can feed and support it while it pursues its own proper task, the self-conscious creation of its own historical life" (231). Rational thought is supposed to create its own historical life. It is supposed to recognize its emotional and historical place and work within it to construct itself. Collingwood wants us to build our lives in light of history.

In short, Collingwood's reenactment, which requires encapsulation, and thus the inhibition of the self, can enrich the self in four ways. First, it can provide us with self-knowledge. Second, it can help us transform our own ways of thinking. Third, it can give us a greater capacity for empathy. Fourth, it can help us act with more freedom within our historical moment.

I'd like to say that although I am not using the word synthetic experience very regularly in this post, it is incredibly relevant. In fact, it is probably the most important thing. The process of reenacting another person's thought, encapsulating past thought, always provides a synthetic experience. This is one of the major sources of enrichment in all four of the ways I mentioned. This is all about synthetic experience.

Collingwood's notion of reenactment, therefore, is a process in which the encapsulation of past thought requires and inhibition of the self leads to an enrichment of the self. Next I am going to talk about Alvin Goldman's work Simulating Minds, and in particular his notion of 'quarantine' which parallels well to Collingwood's idea of encapsulation. After that I will explain my idea of diffusion. With the idea of diffusion I'm trying to explain how the synthetic experience provided by encapsulating thought can permeate our unconscious layers of thought. But first Goldman.

Goldman on Quarantining the Self in Simulation
Goldman is also trying to explain how understanding another person's mind is a process of simulating their thoughts for ourselves. Collingwood's notion of reenactment is primarily historical in nature, but Collingwood also says it applies on a general level. I believe that Goldman's use of the term simulation is meant to communicate the same thing as Collingwood's reenactment is: that in order to understand someone's thoughts we have to internally simulate their thoughts in our own mind.

Goldman's term 'quarantine' sounds to me somewhat similar to the notion of encapsulation. Similar enough that I need to explore the connection somewhat, if only to articulate their differences more clearly.

But anyways, Goldman says that simulating another person's thoughts properly often involves an inhibition of our own thoughts and knowledge. He draws on some experiments with children who have not reached the age in which they can inhibit their own self-knowledge. Children are told a story in which a person does not know where an object has been hidden in a kitchen, say its a banana under a bowl. The children, however, are told that the banana is hidden under the bowl. When asked where the person will likely look for the banana, the children consistently say under the bowl. The conclusion being that these children have not yet developed the capacity to inhibit their own perspective in understanding another person. I think these were three year olds. By the age of six or so children have gained the ability to inhibit their own perspective, and an thus understand other people's mental states in a larger range of situations.

So the important thing being that understanding other people's mental states (if done properly) always involves a certain amount of inhibition of the self. We can't understand people unless our mind is able to recognize that people don't think the way we do. Goldman, however, does talk for quite a while about 'egocentric' simulations, and how common they are. Basically that people tend to take their thoughts and emotions as the most important thing and they fail to understand other people because they can't move beyond their perspective. I have written about this a lot in my posts on the a priori imagination.

When we have successfully inhibited our own perspective and properly simulated another person's thoughts, Goldman says we have achieved a 'quarantine' of our own views that interfere with the simulation. It would only be select things we would be inhibiting. We wouldn't need to inhibit our views on gravity, or heat, or love to understand someone, but we may have to inhibit our views on religion, or politics, or other things. Goldman uses a visual representation to explain this idea of a quarantine. It helps me because, as I said, I already experience the idea of encapsulation very visually, lots of mental imagery in my conception of encapsulation and quarantine. But anyways I don't feel like recreating his image. But just imagine that in your mind you separate and encase all of your views that may not apply to the person you are trying to understand. You quarantine your views that interfere with simulating another person's thoughts.

In short, I think Goldman's notion of quarantine communicates the same thing as Collingwood's encapsulation: they both explain how you have to inhibit your own perspective in order to properly simulate and understand another person's thoughts. Goldman is less explicit about the possible benefits of simulation, and I think I am not as familiar with his work as I need to be. But still, given everything Collingwood, and given the similarities of these ideas, I think I have said enough that I can move on to how the necessity of inhibiting the self can lead to an enrichment of the self.

The Diffusion of Other Minds Within Your Own
Now as I have been saying, I am now going to explain my idea of the 'diffusion of encapsulated minds.' So, when we have successfully inhibited our own perspective, and have therefore properly reenacted/simulated another person's thoughts, we have accomplished an 'encapsulation' or a 'quarantine' of that mind.

We have successfully encased another person's way of thinking within our own mind. But how could this inhibition of ourselves lead to an enrichment of the self? The notion of diffusion is meant to explain how it is that these encapsulated minds can enter our unconscious. How encapsulating another person's experience can permeate our general experience and change us for the better.

This revolves mainly around the idea of synthetic experience. When we encapsulate another person's thoughts we are encasing their thought and experience. We are making their experience part of our own general experience. In order to really synthesize someone else's experience we have to inhibit ourselves. Once this inhibition has been done, and we have successfully encapsulated this other mind, what happens when we cease to pay attention? What happens to this encapsulated mind once we stop thinking so clearly about it and we enter our normal unreflective mode of life?

This is what I am trying to talk about with diffusion. Once we have encapsulated a mind it is going to maintain its form in some sense even when we stop thinking about it so explicitly. As I said, I experience the notion of encapsulation as imagery. So let me use a little imagery to conceptualize the diffusion that would take place post-encapsulation.

Well an encapsulated mind is a solid object, as far as I am concerned. Books, etc. we turn them into solid objects by constructing them in our own minds. Encapsulation is a solid, round object. Most thought, however, I like describing in terms of fog. Thought that is fog like is vapid, it is elusive, it is inarticulate, it is daydreamy. I think most thought exists in this fog like form. We don't usually have solid words to rest on for our thought. For me, at least, I experience my thought as a swirl, as a tornado of sorts. My mind spins with new concepts and ideas, and every now and then I am able to create solid objects. These essays.

Dealing with other minds is very similar. Starting a new book, meeting a new person, it can be like stepping into a space of mental fog. It is unclear how this person thinks or what they are thinking. But once we have understood another mind, we have managed to transform that fog into an encapsulated object. We have made it 'firmer' in our minds. I love these metaphors of fog and solidity. Collingwood discussed fog.

So, once we have turned a foggy mind into a solid object, successfully understood and encapsulated someone's thought, how does it interact with our general foggy thought? Well what I am saying is that once we have encapsulated that mind it will begin to exist as fog. We will have that person's thought accessible to us on an unconscious level, as well as on a conscious level.

Diffusion of another mind is allowing a mind to become fog. It is allowing deliberately encapsulated experience to permeate our thought on an unconscious level. Once we encapsulate that mind it will undoubtedly still exist within our thoughts on some level even when we don't explicitly think of it.

I think this is how synthetic experience ultimately permeates our unconscious thinking. It is the post reenactment reflection (as described by Clausewitz) that allows us to assimilate encapsulated minds, synthetic experience, into our own thoughts and experiences.

I think that once you encapsulate a mind you can let it diffuse into your own general thoughts. Fog. You create a solid object, an encapsulated mind, then it interacts with the fog of your general thought. I find fog to be a great way to think of my own thinking. So encapsulation and diffusion seems good to me.

I could explore this at much greater length. I could draw on Clausewitz to talk about this. But this is enough for now.

I am just saying that the inhibition of the self required by simulation leads to an enrichment of the self. This is because once a mind has been encapsulated it will begin to exist in our mind as fog as well. Fog being the unconscious content of our thoughts, the inarticulate contents of our thought. We work hard, we inhibit ourselves, we encapsulate another mind, and then we reflect on that mind in a daydreamy fashion. We let our mind engage with that other mind in a foggy space. This is diffusion. Turning a solid, encapsulated mind, into a fog that mixes with the rest of our experience.

The inhibition of the self as the enrichment of the self.


Original notes that I wrote when I began this on 6/16/10-
Ryan thought that simulation, and in particular encapsulation/quarantine amounted to a destruction of the self. Quite the opposite, it is the inhibition of the self that leads to an enrichment of the self. We have to inhibit ourselves in order to understand another mind, but once we have succesfully encapsulated that mind we let its experience blend with ours. It is encapsualted so it can properly turn into fog.

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