A Solution To The Hard Problem Of Consciousness Pt 1

In 1981 Roger Sperry was awarded a Nobel prize in physiology for his work with split-brain patients, which highlighted the dual nature of the brain. It is uncontested that the human brain shows unusually great lateralization of function between it’s hemispheres. What is hotly contested (or just ignored) is any theory defending the dual nature of the mind, as Julian Jaynes did and A. L. Wigan before him. Wigan published The Duality of the Mind in 1844 after performing an autopsy in which his subject, who was otherwise thought to be completely normal, was discovered to have lived with only one hemisphere. This led him to formulate the following theory:

  1. That each cerebrum is a distinct and perfect whole, as an organ of thought.
  2. That a separate and distinct process of thinking or ratiocination may be carried on in each cerebrum simultaneously.
  3. That each cerebrum is capable of a distinct and separate volition, and that these are very often opposing volitions.
  4. That, in the healthy brain, one of the cerebra is almost always superior in power to the other, and capable of exercising control over the volitions of its fellow, and of preventing them from passing into acts, or from being manifested to others.

Wigan goes on to claim the following:

“I think it may be assumed without risk of contradiction, that the fact of each brain being a perfect and complete instrument of thought is abundantly proved. That each, while in health, corresponds entirely with its fellow, is obvious from the fact that this unison and correspondence gives only one result, as in the case of the two eyes producing single vision (204).”

The major obstacle to this view, as Roland Puccetti points out, is that we don’t seem to experience two trains of thought going on simultaneously. As Puccetti states the problem: “Wigan couches his theory in terms of one person having two minds, which, if understood literally entails our having, e.g., double vision, though we experience nothing of the kind.” Puccetti aims to avoid this objection by suggesting that in deed two trains of independent thought are occurring, but in separate spheres of autonomous consciousness. He reformulates Wigan’s theses as follows:

“the individual human organism, having two brains, is the biological substrate of two persons, each of which has one mind. In that case, there will be, e.g., double vision at the level of the organism, but each of the two persons will experience only single vision because, while each cerebrum receives input from the contralateral hemisphere about ipsilateral body space, neither cerebrum has introspective access to the conscious contents of the other.”

Although his solution is true of our mental state much of the time, as the now dominant left hemisphere routinely inhibits the contents of the right hemisphere, I would like to contest his claim that we “experience nothing of the kind” regarding mental duality. No, I am not going to talk about synesthesia, nor about cognitive dissonance. I’m going to talk about the experience of listening to music. It occurs to me that Roger Scruton has described quite eloquently just this duality of mind in his wonderful book Understanding Music (2009). I’m not sure if he realizes it, but he has solved the problem of “qualia,” or the Hard Problem of Consciousness with his theory of “double intentionality.”

Scruton explains that when listening to music, “you hear in those sounds a melody that moves through the imaginary space of music. This is not something you believe to be occurring, but something you imagine: just as you imagine the face in the picture, while seeing that it is not literally there.” He goes on to show that double intentionality “is explained by our ability to organize a single Gestalt in two ways simultaneously—in one way as something literally present, in another way as something imagined.”

“Double intentionality arises when a mental state involves both belief and imagination: the first focused on realities, the second on what can be imagined in those realities… And because they belong to different orders of mental organization, beliefs and imaginings can co-exist, with a common focus, so that the one informs and controls the other.” (p 45)

How does this solve the problem of qualia? The key was provided to me by the great V. S. Ramachandran, who in this video suggests that you cannot separate the problem of self from the problem of qualia; that this makes the hard problem intractable only by erroneously separating something that is actually whole. There is no qualia without self; no self without qualia. The semanticist Alfred Korzybski also warns of verbally splitting that which is never split existentially, a practice that always brings fallacies into our thinking (e.g. ‘space’ and ‘time,’ instead of ‘spacetime’). In Scruton’s example, then, the belief held by the left hemisphere and the imaginings held by the right hemisphere are experienced simultaneously, or as two trains of thought that instead of being superimposed one upon the other, are rather merged and experienced as one. This feels mystical or “trippy” because of your vague realization that the sounds you are hearing, which are objectively present (out there in the world), are not the same as the music or melody you are experiencing, which is actually a projection of self. Though many of us never think about it this way, we are actually experiencing our other self when we imagine or project. We feel transported and “lose ourselves” in music, we feel this magical quality, because we are actually experiencing something akin to participation mystique. That is, we are connecting with an older form of mentality; one which used to completely dominate the mind instead of occasionally splash onto the scene during rare moments of sublimity. Music is magical for the same reason that dreams are magical, and so too with qualia.

In a section of Psyche & Symbol titled “The Detachment of Consciousness from the Object,” Carl Jung explains that one of the hallmarks of psychological health is a certain kind of detachment:

“This detachment is something I am familiar with in my practice; it is the therapeutic effect par excellence for which I labor with my students and patients, that is, the dissolution of participation mystique. With a stroke of genius, Levy-Bruhl has established participation mystique as being the hall-mark of primitive mentality. As described by him it is simply the indefinitely large remnant of nondifferentiation between subject and object, still so great among primitives that it cannot fail to strike European man, identified as he is with the conscious standpoint. In so far as the difference between subject and object does not become conscious, unconscious identity prevails. The unconscious is projected into the object, and the object is introjected into the subject, that is, psychologized. Then plants and animals behave like men; men are at the same time themselves and animals also, and everything is alive with ghosts and gods.” (p339)

Jung discusses a paradigmatic case of participation mystique in which a young boy falls in love with a girl without ever questioning whether that love might be reciprocal or not. This question would never occur to him because he has mistaken this feature of his phenomenal experience for an objective fact about the world around him instead of the world inside him–in fact, he doesn’t even think about the “world around him” at all, but simply is that world. One can hardly fault him, as this love-feeling is actually an objective fact about the world: namely an objective fact about this boys physiology, the pheromones he is giving off and receiving, etc, etc. Us “normals” experience the same thing all the time, but correctly separate such projections from their objects. We write off our subjective feelings as easily as we write off our daydreams and imaginings, instead of taking them more seriously as this boy does, or more seriously still as pre-modern peoples did. We have installed mental “software” that allows us to remain detached from these projections, allowing us an enormous amount of mental versatility for running simulations, entertaining hypotheticals, and so forth, but also estranging us from our other self. We too quickly write off such projections instead of seeing our own will operating in them. Look at Scruton’s definition of the imagination:

“Imagination, I suggest, is the capacity, which all rational beings exhibit to some degree, to entertain thoughts without affirming or asserting them, and to create an order among those thoughts which makes each in some way answerable or appropriate to the others. It is a cognitive capacity which, unlike belief or desire, is directly subject to the will.” (p44)

Now, previously, I had thought that one cannot experience imagination without sinking back into ones self; that is, without introspecting. I thought that it was impossible to process both one’s phenomenal experience and one’s internal imaginings at the same time; that one has to quickly flip between the two, which we seem to be able to do quite seamlessly and without noticing the changeover. Though I was right, this thought was incomplete. There are times when we experience the contents that we would find upon introspection in our phenomenal field, but without introspection. Scruton’s description of listening to music is one such example. The key is feelings or emotions. The music that I hear, as opposed to the sounds that I perceive, just is a feeling or emotion. More importantly, this feeling happens at the same time as I perceive the sounds; both exist in my phenomenal field simultaneously! This is only possible because we have not just a dual brain, but also a dual mind! This can be experienced more fully on drugs, of course, which many of today’s left-hemisphere-addled rationalists or “reality heads” require in order to experience it at all. However, they are actually experiencing it more often than they think. When they see a hot girl walk down the street, the picture of her hour-glass figure in their phenomenal field is suffused with that “shhwanng” feeling of sexual attraction. She presents us with mystical “qualia” because we are experiencing two autonomous trains of thought merged onto a single object. If this rationalist were quite attuned to himself, or studied any Buddhism whatsoever, he would realize that the “shhwanng” feeling isn’t “out there” but is coming from himself. Thus, the qualia, the feeling of what its like to experience the sight of a beautiful woman, is also the experience of self-awareness.

My first experience with a mystical state happened the first time that I realized (ala Kant) that everything in my phenomenal field was actually going on in my brain; that I wasn’t “directly” perceiving objective reality. I didn’t know whether I had lost myself or found myself, when in fact I had done both! I had lost my normal, left-hemisphere sense of self. I was rendered speachless; awestruck. Yet, it was in a profound moment of self-realization, of self-awareness. I realized that what I had mistaken for objective reality, for the reality “out there,” was actually part of me! That phenomenal field was both me and not me at the same time, just as in Scruton’s example the sound is both a bunch of objective pitches played (“out there”) one after another as well as enchanting music (“in here”). This feels enchanting and magical because we are temporarily introspecting and perceiving at the same time–that is, we are quite literally sowing up “a rent in the seamless fabric of the universe,” as Benoit so aptly describes the primary dualism of self and other, subject and object, inside and outside.

Puccetti claims that all vertebrate species have developed both two nerve ganglia and a connection between them because of the dangers of one ganglia being “ignorant of what is gong on in the ipsilateral body space,” adding that “it would be equally important for such species that consciousness not span the two cerebra, i.e. that there not be a unity of consciousness within the whole cranium, to avoid subjective double-mindedness: imagine the effect, for example, on our arboreal primate ancestors of seeing two branches out there side-by-side, when in reality there is only one!” There are two things that he seems to be missing here. First, the images would not be side-by-side but instead superimposed onto each other. More importantly, however, Puccetti misses the fact that humans do in fact experience this at times! While swinging from tree to tree Jane of the Jungle might see the next branch not as two branches side-by-side, but, somehow, mysteriously, magically, as both a branch and a phallus! She might, as Puccetti implies, be shocked by this and miss the branch-phallus all-together. Perhaps this is why true self-awareness didn’t happen until we left the tree tops, but that is not germane to my point. The important thing to notice here is that being “shocked” is a feeling; one that is included in one’s phenomenal field. It is a moment of realization eerily similar to the frame shift that happens while looking at the Necker Cube. The Necker Cube can produce two frame shifts. The first occurs when we shift from seeing the cube as two dimensional lines to seeing it as three dimensional (either popping out or sinking in, but never both). The second occurs when we switch between the two 3D interpretations of sinking in or popping out. This and other optical illusions produce the same “shocked” or “trippy” feeling that Jane felt, or that I felt when I realized that my phenomenal experience was not so much “out there” as a product of “in here.” The “trippy” feeling, the feeling of awe, is a realization of a new dimension in our phenomenal experience: the inner dimension. Or, to say it more plainly, we are tripped out by our own duality of mind; by the discovery of our second mind. To put it into Janyesian language, we have added a metaphorical space to the literal space before us in our phenomenal field. Thus, it seems more than 3D, more than real, or “overdetermined,” to appropriate a concept from Freud.

When James Clerk Maxwell remarked on his deathbed that “what is done by what is called myself is, I feel, done by something greater than myself in me,” he could not have made my point more clear. He “feels” this truth! That is, he is “tripped out” or “shocked” by the fact that he is his own “higher power;” that the organism James Clerk Maxwell is really two people–one rarely conscious of the other but for moments suffused with awe and inspiration. The Hard Problem of Consciousness and the Humunculus Fallacy disappear once we make a similar confession to Maxwell’s. The great mystery of self-awareness and self-reference comes from the fact that it is not exactly the same mind that is bending back on itself, but rather, a second mind–the mind from which the ego was born. I don’t know Jung enough to put it in his terms, but essentially the LH ego-mind is a “rational map” of the RH mind (the “intuitive map”). This leaves room for divergence and misunderstanding between the selves while at the same time leaving open the possibility for true unification, which is quite possible. Our moments of Jaynesian consciousness require both minds, both hemispheres, while normal awareness does not. Meta-thought requires both minds, while thought requires only one.

Qualia is mysterious because it contains both subject and object. The subject of conscious perception or thought is seeing an object in his view, but is also seeing himself (his other self) in that object; that is, he is identifying with it. The person stuck in “participation mystique” is just missing that last part: seeing himself in that object. He is not “self-conscious” during perception, though there is of course awareness tracking reality. That awareness is simply not recognizing itself (its other self) in its perceptions. That awareness is identifying with the object without then detaching from this identification and tagging it as “inner feeling,” as opposed to “outer fact.”

There is a ton of evolutionary psychology that I would like to indulge in at this point, but for the sake of brevity I will just mention one angle. It seems highly adaptive to me to have what Ramachandran calls a “devil’s advocate” module in the right hemisphere to accurately model the intentions of others as well as to critique ones self from other points of view. After all, it is other minds that we have to compete with most in society, whether in the modern metropolis or the ancient village. Thus, being able to have two trains of thought going on at the same time is essential: you must have your intentions and the others’ intentions in mind at the same time! Take boxing, for example. When I am boxing with someone, when I am in my “fighting mode,” I am completely attuned to the others’ actual movements and potential movements, while almost completely letting go of control to my now highly re-programmed instincts (RH mind). What this amounts to is something like consciously pre-authorized hallucination. I interpret my opponents movements in my phenomenal field as identical with my proper response or counter-attack. When someone moves in with a jab, I find myself performing a maneuver in response without requiring a subsequent thought–the thought has been fused with the phenomenal picture of the threat. When I anticipate someone throwing a jab, the mental picture includes my response. Thus, I don’t perceive “man-throwing-jab,” as this leaves me too little time to respond. What I actually “see” is “man-whose-jab-is stopped-with-my-parry-and-counter-punch.” I see this in anticipation and I see this in reality when it happens. This is what it means to be sensitive to or to “see openings.” When I look at a person shadow boxing in front of me, I don’t actually see the same thing that Mike Tyson does. Mike Tyson likely sees many more openings; completely different qualia! The picture of someone dropping his lead hand after a punch can be reinterpreted to be the picture of an opening through which my own jab is sent. They become the same, creating qualia–or as Scruton would put it, the Gestalt is organized in two ways at once. That qualia is experienced as the phenomenal picture plus a feeling: for example, the feeling of my body shifting towards a lead jab mixed with the feeling of “opportunity!” or “NOW!”. When I am sparring with someone, these feelings are waxing and waning even when I am not throwing any punches. I am processing my phenomenal field at the same time as those feelings, making my phenomenal field rich with detail or reality. But that detail and reality is also my other self, the one that I have been programming for some ten years of martial arts training. This is the equivalent of having autoscopic visions outside of the inner sanctum of introspection, but instead “out there” in the phenomenal field. Consider the following clip and pay special attention to Matt Mitrione as he jolts his head out of harms way:

Matt Mitrione is literally jolted backwards by a phantom; by a counter-factual! His head is thrust backwards by what the stoics and Sartre might call ‘nothingness,’ or ‘non-being.’ During this half-second period Mitrione is not aware of the fact that his opponent hasn’t actually thrown a punch. Mitrione could not have properly differentiated his instinctive recoiling from the picture of a threatening punch coming his way; could not have differentiated what is “in here” from what is “out there.” That is, he is hallucinating. He is doing so in precisely the way that Jaynes’ “bicameral man” experienced himself, but with two exceptions: 1) Mitrione consciously pre-authorized his unconscious mind to perform this maneuver instinctively at the mere threat of a certain attack, and 2) he could exercise his conscious veto if time permitted. In this case, Mitrione experienced a command hallucination (from a god of his prior choosing) that he could not help but obey; that he didn’t have time to consciously veto. Afterward, of course, he realizes that no punch was thrown and that he reacted to a phantom of his own will; a serendipitous hallucination. The DSM IV defines a hallucination thus: “A sensory perception that has the compelling sense of reality of a true perception but that occurs without external stimulation of the relevant sensory organ.” Mitrione’s sense organs never properly received the picture of a punch coming in, but rather, this picture was projected into view simultaneous with the instinctual recoiling of his head. He didn’t have time to differentiate between his instinct-map and his objective-map and thus experiences participation mystique for a brief moment; a moment suffused with a ‘quale’ unsupported by objective reality. He experienced not the “raw feel” of reality, but the “raw feel” of himself; the “raw feel” of his instinctive mind as it contributes to his phenomenal experience. This is all that “qualia” really is.

You see, the mystical experience that I had at an early age was just the first of two steps towards self-realization. At that moment I realized that my phenomenal field was actually both “me” and “not me.” What I realize now is that this knowledge was one half of the Gestalt; the other being this feeling of shock, awe, excitement, and terror. I was realizing not only that my phenomenal experience is in a very real sense “thought” or “mind,” but also that the feelings that suffused this “mind” were also “me,” “thought” and “mind” as well. They were thoughts going from my first mind to my second. Nietzsche writes that “thoughts are the shadows of our feelings–always emptier, darker, and simpler.” What he is describing is information passing from the “intuitive map” of the right hemisphere to the “rational map” of the left hemisphere, which can better verbalize thought. As he points out, however, this information transfer is fraught with error, especially when we think that we are already “one” mind instead of the correct picture: two minds trying to become one. Subsequent posts will elucidate how this picture fits in with Schopenhauer’s philosophy, though the title of his magnum opus should leave little to the imagination: The World as Will and Representation.

This entry was posted in Consciousness, Martial Arts, Morality & Ethics, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A Solution To The Hard Problem Of Consciousness Pt 1

  1. Reading this guy’s summary of Jaynes would have saved me some time in writing this post:
    Very interesting allusion to published work confirming parts of this view form the Weizmann Institute.

  2. Apparently I am on solid empirical grounds with this post! Wish I had found these before publishing…
    A “sticky” interhemispheric switch in bipolar disorder

    Interhemispheric switching mediates perceptual rivalry

    According to this paper (http://sulcus.berkeley.edu/wjf/m/Miller_Cerebral_Hemispheres.pdf):
    “Two subjects who experienced normal baseline Necker cube rivalry exhibited such a strong effect that they effectively failed to perceive one of the two depth perspectives following stimulation.”

  3. Pingback: A Solution To The Hard Problem Of Consciousness Pt 2 « Think On These Things

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