Thinking Too Far Outside The Box Pt2 – Exposing the “Homunculus Fallacy” Fallacy

In the first post by this name I pointed out that whenever we try to imagine something or picture it “objectively” in our “minds eye” we have to look on it as we do with any other object in our experiential world: from “outside” of that object looking towards it. We have to take some perspective on it to see it objectively. Thus, when we imagine the universe, we actually take an impossible vantage point outside of some sphere called the universe, looking in on it. This of course leads to all sorts of problems, such as the problem of “why is there a universe rather than nothing,” or “what causes the universe,” and so forth; problems that result purely from our failure to take a perspective within the concept in question. However, the very same problem of thinking too far outside the box has created the Homunculus fallacy, a serious obstacle to understanding vision, mental imagery, and so forth. The “fallacy” only occurs when the concept in question (mental imagery) is re-presented, as in the below picture. The “fallacy” is actually built into the “objective” picture of introspection or mental imagery. Thus the homunculus fallacy is a straw man, or straw homunculus as it were. I realized this while watching a video lecture from Susan Blackmore, which is where the below picture is taken from:

Blackmore asks the audience to introspect and then tells them that this picture is what they seem to experience. She is dead wrong. The picture she shows is a re-presentation of what we see in our “minds eye;” it is the attempt at an objective perspective on mental imagery. The “homunculus fallacy” is created in this step from introspective experience to describing or representing that introspective experience. It is built into the representation of our mental representations. This picture is a description of the experience of mental imagery from a perspective other than the one that we actually take during mental imagery: that of a first person orientation. This is what results when she re-presents it to the audience, which necessitates giving them a perspective on her internal perspective. Thus, we see Blackmore’s actual perspective from a third person point of view, which includes tons of other features other than the screen. In actual introspection, there is no other content or features but the “screen,” which is actually much more like the immersion of good 3-D goggles. You see, in the above picture, there is an invisible projector where your (the readers’) actual eyes are, painting the whole scene, including the little man, his TV, his recliner, and so forth. You see this picture from the first person perspective of your eyes, just as you see your inner visions: from a first person perspective immersed in a 3-D landscape. The picture is trying to convey this fact, that there is “space” between the origin of your perspective and the actual imagery, but it portrays this as an “audience” that is spatially separated from the theater’s 2-D “screen,” when in fact your perspective is immersed in that screen and cannot see anything but the contents of that screen. The picture mistakenly represents a perspective on our mental stream instead of a perspective in our mental stream.

My reference to 3D goggles and landscapes is crucial. Our mental imagery is truly “imagery” similar to visual imagery, but the mistake comes in thinking that either involves 2-D images instead of 3-D images; that space is missing, when in fact “space” is never missing from either internal (introspective/imaginary) or external (sensory) imagery. When you are looking at this very post, you are aware of there being space between you and the computer screen; it does not appear to you as a flat, 2-D image (though your retina must take in such a 2-D image). The failure to see this distinction has bedeviled philosophy and psychology for far too long. Even our auditory “imagery,” the sound of our inner monologue, is in 3-D; that is, it is immersed in a spacial metaphor. When we close our eyes and hear our inner voice, or repeat something we want to remember, and so forth, we hear it as if it echoes in a big cavernous chamber; we hear it in stereo. We fall into error when we separate the spatial metaphor from our sensory experience of visual imagery. Titchener, for example, does this with his “stimulus error.” When we look at a rectangular table top from one of the tables’ chairs (as opposed to directly above it), the “real” conscious content (on Tichener’s view) is a trapezoidal shape that the table top must project upon the retina, and we later extrapolate or infer that this trapezoidal shape is actually a rectangle; that is, we add the spatial metaphor. However, Kant showed that space is simply part of our perceptual manifold, that we don’t actually see the trapezoidal table, but the rectangular one. Tichener’s “stimulus error” is the strong tendency to confound the conscious experience itself with whatever it might represent, but he fails to realize that we “represent” the table as rectangular in a 3-dimensional landscape in the very act of perception; there is no second stage where the concept is pasted into view. Tichener thought that the people in his experiments were not reporting the intrinsic nature of their conscious contents, but instead what those contends signified, but he failed to realize that the significance is part of the perception; we can’t have a visual experience of the outside world without the spatial metaphor, or the “signifier” that is the concept of space. Similarly, when we see a beautiful girl, we do not first see a girl, and then later feel a sort of “shwaaangg” or sense of sexual excitement–they happen simultaneously. The significance of the girls hourglass shape is simply built into the perception of that hourglass shape.

In a different part of the lecture Blackmore asks the audience to be conscious, to be really conscious for a moment, by which she means conscious of one’s surroundings and full sensory experience. If you try to do this right now, you will notice that all of that sensory experience is still organized around a central perspective, roughly where your eyes are. The eyes are still the center of the perceptual field, the “projector” lighting up the space in view. It is not as if you are viewing a 2-D image that is being projected from behind and above you onto a flat, 2-D screen that is some distance in front of you. This is absurd. But yet this is exactly how philosophers like Blackmore describe introspection, as if it were quite different from inspection of our sensory experience.

This picture was taken from the Humunculus argument wiki, but the same error is built into the picture itself. The little person is supposed to be “you” or your perspective, but the projector is placed just above the head, when in fact we actually experience both the perspective and the projector to be in the same place; a sort of camera/projector combo.

We only see the sort of picture off to the left here when we imagine what its like subjectively for us to imagine something. We only see it this way when having a meta-thought, or a thought about thought. In actual fact, we experience mental imagery exactly as if our eyes were turned inward–as they often begin to do when we are confabulating stories, crunching numbers, or remembering a faint memory–and the little man is rarely on the scene in most introspection. He is actually there, however, in the sense that your consciousness is not a polished mirror or completely translucent lens, but a lens which will embue all the quale in its field with its values and wants (ala the beautiful girl example above). This self or lens is often represented during introspection, such as when we view ourselves from above or from a third person perspective in our minds eye, but “it” is seen as the “self-concept” associated with our external appearance, and moreover, it is seen from the perspective of another such lens or self. This leads many to think that there is regress here, as it seems like I am explaining something with the very concept that I am trying to explain. However, this is not actually the case if Julian Jaynes’ theory of consciousness is correct, which I think it is.

“The homunculus argument accounts for a phenomenon in terms of the very phenomenon that it is supposed to explain (Richard Gregory, 1987).” This is almost correct. However, nobody has ever (to my knowledge) considered the implications of Jayne’s conception of the brain: that is, that we have one brain, but two minds! These minds are not mirror images of each, but have subtly different roles, exactly as our left and right hemispheres are nearly identical, but have subtly different roles. “The homunculus argument says that if there is a need for a ‘little man’ to complete a theory then the theory is incomplete.” (taken from wiki). There is in fact a need for a “little man” to complete the theory of consciousness, but this little man is just one of our two minds, stored in one of our two hemispheres. There is no infinite regress. Thus, when I explain consciousness as one mind interfacing with the other, I am not explaining the phenomenon of consciousness in terms of the very phenomenon that I am trying to explain. The way that I interpret Jaynes, one mind could provide the metaphorical space as well as the perspective on it (the “analog ‘I'”), while the other mind provides the images in the stream. One mind forms the stream, the other mind creates the water, rocks and fish in it, but neither is “conscious” until the two minds interface or meet each other. They are just two separate spheres of cognition until such an interface, at which point they become “thought.” When we introspect upon our selves, however, one mind creates the metaphorical space/perspective (Jaynes’ “analog ‘I'”), and the other mind models the self-concept and other quale in our mental stream. If you were to hear that modeled self-concept speak, you would be experiencing true, spiritual self-awareness; one mind speaking to the other.

“The regress argument says that an intelligent agent would need to think before it could have a thought.” In fact we do think before we have a thought, or more precisely, we have cognition before we have a thought. A “thought” is what happens when one mind creates a perspective on the other mind’s cognition. There is no infinite regress here. In fact, there is no regress, but instead, pro-gress.

Thus, my interpretation of Jaynes’ view of consciousness could be seen by simply rotating the Cartesian Theater model by 90 degrees (in either direction, left or right):

The crucial part that this naive hemispheric division in the picture to the left is missing is that there is an analog of Wernicke’s area (which is in the left hemisphere and dedicated to language and meaning) in the right hemisphere, which is also capable of producing speech and meaning. When we fib, confabulate, or otherwise use our imagination (right hemisphere), our eyes tend to dart to the upper left quadrant of our visual field, because our hemispheres are cross-wired to control the opposite side of the body. When we do math problems, our eyes generally go more toward the upper right quadrant of our visual field, as we are utilizing our left hemisphere more. Notice what happens when someone is “searching” their memory or “searching” for the right word, their eyes often flit back and forth, from left to right or right to left. It is obvious to me that what we call “thinking,” “introspecting,” or even “recall” is essentially an interface of our hemispheres, a conversation between each of our two minds. This view solves the homunculus problem with no regress.

Blackmore argues that vision cannot be like the Cartesian Theater because of saccades, of which you have 4 or 5 a second. But in each saccade you absorb quite a bit of the whole scene…perhaps a few discrete objects. This is exactly how introspection works. Each ‘structure’ is like a single saccade, and a chain of thought is a flitting of successive saccades. It is very difficult for us to imagine an object sitting motionless in our inner view, but it can be done with effort. It is easier, more natural to imagine an object doing something, changing, moving, because 1) this is how visual perception happens (with 4-5 saccades per second), and 2) because each of your two minds is wont to move and evolve. Blackmore, who thinks that consciousness is a “grand illusion,” wants to show that Buddhism is true, and so attempts to characterize the mind as constantly wandering, constantly flitting from one object of perception to another, without any stable “self” to be found. My next post will be on this “wandering mind fallacy,” and will show that in fact one of our selves (one of our minds) is remaining totally still, holding a ‘struction’ in place that allows the other mind to dance about. “Mindfullness” in Buddhism is simply the ‘struction’ “let the other mind wander,” which requires the first mind to stably hold that ‘struction’ in place. Moreover, that stable, unmoving mind, as stated above, is no translucent lens, but imbues the quale in the mental stream with its values, with its character.  It is in such moments of value recognition that we are truly self-conscious, but only by inferring this self. Most of the time the self-concept is not on the scene, but can be inferred by the values endemic to that scene.

The thing is, the “body-image,” which is an actual map in the brain that survives even if limbs are amputated, is more or less stored in the right hemisphere. Ramachandran tells us that “This representation of the body in the SPL (and probably its connections with the posterior insula) is partly innate. We know this because some patients with arms missing from birth experience vivid phantom arms, implying the existence of scaffolding that is hardwired by genes.” He goes on to explain where this body-image is stored: “The right parietal, especially the right superior lobule (just above the IPL), is also responsible for constructing your body image—the vivid mental awareness you have of your body’s configuration and movement in space.” Through our mirror neuron system, we are able to simulate other people’s body-states and thus mind-states by essentially “running a simulation of [their]…actions using your own body image,” Ramachandran explains. The cool thing is that we can do the same thing with our selves! “With the mirror-neuron system thus ‘bent back’ on itself full-circle, self-awareness was born,” Ramachandran explains. To use a bit of a simplification, we can use the body-image mind of the right hemisphere in a simulation that is orchestrated by the ego-mind of the left hemisphere. This is how mental simulation, or thinking takes place: one mind holding the instructions of the simulation, the context if you will, and the other mind running an object through that context. This is also why Ramachandran is so correct when insisting that the problem of “self” and the “hard problem” of “qualia” cannot be separated: because it requires an interfacing of two minds to produce self-consciousness and thus self.

Ramachandran explains that the “internally consistent belief system, I suggest, is constructed mainly by the left hemisphere. If there is a small piece of anomalous information that doesn’t fit your ‘big picture’ belief system, the left hemisphere tries to smooth over the discrepancies and anomalies in order to preserve the coherence of self and the stability of behavior. In a process called confabulation, the left hemisphere sometimes even fabricates information to preserve its harmony and overall view of itself. A Freudian might say that the left hemisphere does this to avoid shattering the ego, or to reduce what psychologists refer to as cognitive dissonance, a disharmony between different internal aspects of self.” I would simply add that the left hemisphere is reducing disharmony between the two minds, which are both “internal aspects of self,” and together create self. But it gets more interesting still. Ramachandran explains that “a ‘devil’s advocate’ in the right hemisphere…allows “you” to adopt a detached, objective (allocentric) view of yourself. This right-brain system would often be able to detect major discrepancies that your egocentric left hemisphere has ignored or suppressed but shouldn’t have. You are then alerted to this, and the left hemisphere is jolted into revising its narrative.” This right hemisphere “devil’s advocate” I suggest is made possible by a Wernicke’s area “backup system” in the right hemisphere, is what essentially “tries on” other peoples minds, and is what “tries on” our own left hemisphere mind during thought, introspection, imagination, and all truly self-conscious experience. I believe that this can also explain strange phenomenon like false awakenings and the sense of a hostile presence that most often accompanies them.

False awakenings can be absolutely terrifying, even if a hostile presence is not detected. This is because we have no “free will” and quite literally cannot move a muscle in our bodies consciously. When we sleep there is a neural paralytic agent that immobilizes our muscles. During a false awakening, our mind begins to “boot up” before that paralytic agent wears off, and so we have this vague, haunting sense of there being a hostile presence in the room because we are sensing the body-image map of the right hemisphere. The body, totally relaxed, is sending the right hemisphere body-image map no new information to check against the map, but the right hemisphere is booting up nonetheless, sending the left hemisphere ego-self the impression that a body is certainly in the room. During normal waking life the information that “there is a body in this room” is not scary or sensed as something “external” because it exactly coincides with the body’s actual sensory experience; the map and the sensory information match up exactly. While paralyzed, there is no input from the senses to check against the map, but the map still informs the mind of the presence of a body. The strange feeling of an absence of Free Will is scary, and this fear gets caught in a feedback loop between the two minds, leading one of those minds to hypothesize that the fear is justified based on some perceived hostility from the presence in the room. It confabulates this so as to make sense of the two pieces of information it has: 1) a body is in the room, and 2) I feel afraid and claustrophobic. Thus, what has conventionally been termed the experience of “mind-body dualism” is in fact just the experience of hemispheric dualism. The existential dilemma is a seeming irreconcilability between a private, symbolic self (left hemisphere) and a corporeal body-self (right hemisphere) that can interface using not just “mentalese,” but actual language (given Wernicke’s twin on the right side). The symbolic self feels like it is “one” mind because that is what the whole brain is trying to produce: integration between the selves, which it of course accomplishes during true self-awareness.

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4 Responses to Thinking Too Far Outside The Box Pt2 – Exposing the “Homunculus Fallacy” Fallacy

  1. Apparently Sartre also saw this mistake of thinking in terms of 2-D pictures as opposed to 3-D objects:
    “The fact of the matter is that the expression ‘mental image’ is confusing. … But since the word image is of long standing we cannot reject it completely. However, in order to avoid all ambiguity, we must repeat at this point that an image is nothing else than a relationship. The imaginative consciousness I have of Peter is not a consciousness of an image of Peter: Peter is directly reached, my attention is not directed on an image but on an object (Sartre, 1940 p. 8).”

    The object is “directly reached.” I like that. There is still “space” in between the perspective and the object, but that perspective is immersed in it and “directly” related to the object.

  2. “Laboratory studies have shown that, when people hold a visual image in mind, they spontaneously and unconsciously make saccadic eye movements that (at least partially) enact the stimulus-specific pattern of such movements that they would make if actually looking at the equivalent visual stimulus (Brandt & Stark, 1997; Demarais & Cohen, 1998; Spivey & Geng, 2001; Laeng & Teodorescu, 2002; de’Sperati, 2003; Johansson et al., 2005, 2006; see also Jacobson, 1932). ”
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mental-imagery/

  3. “Although the mechanisms and real therapeutic effectiveness of EMDR remain controversial (Herbert et al., 2000; Davidson & Parker, 2001; Perkins & Rouanzoin, 2002), the disruptive effect of deliberate eye movement upon visual imagery appears to be well established, and it implies that the eye movements that spontaneously occur when people visualize things (or, at the least, the brain processes that initiate and control these movements) are not mere accompaniments or epiphenomena of the imagery, but are (as enactive theory would lead one to expect) a true, functionally significant part of the physiological process that embodies it.”

  4. Pingback: A Solution To The Hard Problem Of Consciousness Pt 3 « Think On These Things

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