To be conscious means not simply to be, but to be reported, known, to have awareness of one’s being added to that being. -William James
The Report Of Self
This quote is clearly a description of double-mindedness. However, our awareness of “‘being added to that being,” as James puts it, can manifest in a few different ways, further complicating an already “hard” problem of explaining consciousness. For example, sometimes we invest so much of our conscious ego into something that we can’t even manage to file this “report” of our being added to our being. Such a situation is described by Oscar Wilde’s ironic statement that “I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.” That is, his ego is so heavily invested in producing something clever, Wilde is reaching so far beyond himself, that there is not enough spare cognitive power to understand the clever product before it is uttered in the speech act. The only thing that somehow “reports” the contributions of the ego to the idea being expressed while Wilde is speaking is the feeling he has while speaking. This may simply be the feeling of mental toil that one has while thinking and which assures one that though he can’t see them, the mental cogs are in deed turning, but it also may include that “trippy” feeling of immanent qualia described in Pt 1 and Pt2; that feeling of over-saturation or overabundance of mind in a given experience. In addition to these indications, after his speech act Wilde can infer the contribution of his ego to the thought, because it is just too damned clever to be the product of his unconscious mind alone! Far from being an exception to James’ description of consciousness, Wilde’s statement simply expresses one way in which we become aware of the contribution of one mind to the other. This is why performance is such a paradoxical thing to analyze. Take a musical performer, for example: she, like Wilde, invests so much of her ego into her performance that she cannot also be aware of that ego, but instead must infer its contribution based on how well she plays. The only thing “reporting” the ego’s presence in the act while she is performing it is that feeling of mental toil or struggle. In less demanding situations, we are much more aware of our ego, its various movements and its potential for movements of thought. The activity of the ego in these less-than-demanding situations is much easier to record in declarative memory than, say, the activities of the performing musicians ego. This would seem to present a problem for Jaynesian consciousness, whose hallmark (among some others) is declarative memory or recall, but it actually only deepens Jaynes’ picture. When the musician is practicing at home, for example, there is plenty of spare cognition left for her to have conscious recall of many of the movements of her ego, as well as many of the movements of her will. It is only during the performance that she is reaching so far beyond herself, or more accurately into herself, that conscious recall of the ego’s movements becomes impossible.
It is my contention, elaborated first in a prior post, that during introspection one mind acts as the “analog ‘I'”and “metaphorical space,” while the other mind provides the content that is run through this space. That is, subjective consciousness occurs when one mind forms the stream and the other provides the water, rocks, and fish in it. This describes Ned Block’s “access consciousness,” but not his “phenomenal consciousness,” a distinction that Dennett summarily dismisses. I would side with Dennett entirely, but there is one grain of truth that can be salvaged from the distinction. You see, during perception, one mind does not need to provide the metaphorical water, rocks, and fish in the stream of awareness; there are literally objects out there to be captured instead of created, which saves the mind a considerable amount of cognitive power. Similarly, no “analog ‘I'” needs to be simulated, because your real eyes are doing this already. When you are driving your car on autopilot, for instance, one mind is clearly taking care of objective matters like capturing features of the road, steering, avoiding obstacles, etc, while the other mind is free to do other things. When we are really exhausted, maybe the other mind doesn’t do anything, in which case, we will have no conscious recall of most of our trip. Most of the time, however, our other mind is daydreaming, or talking on the phone, or some other activity, which we can recall far more easily than the details of the road or the actions we took to navigate over it. We have such recall because there is enough cognitive power left from the mind doing the driving to affect or listen in on the mind doing the conversing or daydreaming. Notice, however, that when the auto-pilot starts dealing with a more complicated picture of the road ahead, the bulk of awareness drifts from our conversation or daydream back to the road, and we lose conscious recall of what we had just then been attending to with the bulk of awareness. If the two tasks are more or less equally balanced between the two minds, there is no recall of either driving or the specific daydream or conversation. Though we rarely acknowledge it, much of our life is spent in such mentally balanced multi-tasking, such that we don’t actually have exquisite recall of either of the tasks being performed! That is, we are not subjectively conscious during a good portion of our waking lives. We can often fabricate a memory post hoc, by inference, and it is usually pretty accurate, but this is only possible because we were fully conscious while performing that same task in the past. Such a fabrication is not episodic recall, but rather, a movement of imagination. Introspection or access consciousness is a little more cognitively demanding than phenomenal consciousness because the percepts have to be created or simulated on top of being recorded, viewed, and/or manipulated. This makes multi-tasking in introspection nearly impossible. But this is precisely what my model of consciousness would predict! It would predict that we would have great recall for the contents of introspection, but that it would be rather impossible to multi-task, which requires a separation of the two minds as they attend to their respective tasks. According to my theory, introspection demands that both minds converge on one another. We should now be in a good position to understand the phenomenon of “the observer,” which is intimately tied up with our discussion about recall and declarative memory.
That our subjective consciousness is rendered subjective by a subject, by an obsever, is a universal intuition that humans have regarding their minds (at least in post-bicameral times). Many today, such as Dennett, reject this observer as an illusion; this intuition as a lie. I don’t think that writing it off as an illusion grants us much knowledge at all. We have this sense of an observer during introspection because this activity is modeled on perception, but also for a far more interesting reason: one of our minds is set to “record.” That is, one of our minds is passive but for “recording” the activities of the other mind. When we really listen to ourselves, this is what is taking place: one mind recording patiently while the other speaks. Not much would get done if both minds were constantly in the dominant position (if both minds were “speaking”). This would be total gridlock. Look at a paranoid schizophrenic’s state of confusion trying to balance his voice with the voices, which, importantly for Jaynes’ hypothesis, have been shown in recent neuroimaging findings (Dierks 1999; Lennox 1999; Olin 1999) to often have their source in the right middle temporal gyrus. Regardless, this potential for gridlock is why the fMRI results of healthy patients show that most of the time dominant activity in one hemisphere inhibits activity in the other hemisphere. However, humans have developed such elaborate mental software that sometimes each hemisphere can be highly active at the same time without producing gridlock, so long as both are attending to the same performance. The musician described above is the perfect example. She doesn’t even perceive from behind her eyes during most of the performance, but instead almost watches herself from a third person perspective. She doesn’t have much conscious recall of the performance because neither of her minds is set to “record.” Both minds are too heavily invested for declarative memories to be laid down. This too is what Oscar Wilde was describing. These situations involving maximal mental output are the only exceptions to Jaynes’ equation of conscious subjectivity always being attended by declarative memory. So, the “analog ‘I'” is simply the report “recording,” and is perceived as a perspective or a “view” of mental contents because this is all that it can do while the other mind simulates this content in the metaphorical space or “view” of the “analog ‘I.'” It is extremely interesting that after intense musical performances, the performer, having abruptly shifted back into a normal mental mode, feels that same “trippy” feeling that we have been describing. This is so because she is experiencing self-awareness; she is finally able to receive a “report” of her ego’s contribution to the performance, her “being added to that being,” by way of inference. The cocktail party effect would guarantee that a major error in performance would be noticed and recorded, so the absence of any such memory grounds the inference that her ego performed well. Thus she becomes aware of her profound, almost dizzying contribution to the music.
Let’s try illustrating the above theory with an example. Imagine in your metaphorical mind-space a familiar object, like the crescent moon. Notice that this last sentence is an instruction. If I were not here giving this instruction, one of your minds would have to have done it. In this case, what happens is that one of your minds sets up a “struction” that governs both minds. The struction tells the other mind to simulate the crescent moon, while it tells itself to cease setting further strutions and simply “record.” You see, when we “free-associate,” we are not actually doing so, well, freely. We are free associating around a given concept, emotion, category, etc. That is, we are holding a struction in place that tells the other mind to free-associate around something that is held by the mind giving out the struction. The best we can do as far as truly “free-associating” is to setup our struction to hold either the concept ‘everything’ in place, or the concept ‘nothing.’ Buddhist mindfulness mediation seems to be a case of the latter. Try as such a mediator might to avoid “grasping,” he can’t help but hold that concept in place. I think this accounts for their experience of ‘no-mind’, or ‘anatman:’ they are literally holding ‘anatman’ in mind! This seems to allow them to shift over into their right hemisphere and experience an “oceanic” feeling like that described by Jill Bolte Taylor; to again walk in the Garden of Eden.
If the reader will forgive this brief digression, I wish to note also that the Buddhist concept of ‘anatman’ might be an artifact of the breakdown of the bicameral mind. Jaynes held that all religions were essentially one long lamentation for the days when the gods were immediately present, when “He-who-is could be seen and talked with like another man.” Thus, all religions are essentially religions of exile. In Joseph Campbell’s “Mythos” documenataries he discusses Christianity as being “basically a religion of exile,” hinting at a convergence with Jaynes’ perspective. Campbell explains that in Buddhism various “gods” are depicted, like the intimidating door guardians often seen in sculpture, but that these are not gods that were worshiped, but are rather symbols for the fearful, grasping ego, which stop the person from entering the garden where the Buddha sits silently under the Tree of Life. Campell goes on to suggest that Christianity is a “religion of exile” because it was the Christian god who placed those same door guardians (the angel with the flaming sword) in front of the gates to Eden, effectively exiling man from both the peace and safety of Eden as well as from direct communication with god. Since the right hemisphere’s homologue of Broca’s area serves a more passive role than in antiquity, that is, the gods have grown “silent,” perhaps this accounts for why the Buddhists who “enter the garden,” unfazed by the door guardians, find no god or personality of any kind therein. I too have experienced this “anatman;” every time I tried to hear gods voice while praying as a child actually. Now, back to our main topic.
We normally do not experience much qualia during perception. Just like the driving example illustrates, we spend much of our time on auto-pilot regarding the outside world; multi-tasking with abandon. Thus, we are rarely struck by “the redness of the rose,” or what have you. We cannot be struck by such quale when daydreaming because the mind doing the daydreaming is what supplies the “raw feel” or the irreducible subjective quality that people are trying to capture with the concept of ‘qualia.’ Give it a try. Try to daydream about something while appreciating some quality or feature of an object in your sensory experience. You can’t! You have to switch between the two. We do this rather seamlessly, but the switchover is still noticeable! The only way of truly experiencing quality “out there” is to focus both minds on your phenomenal field. The trippy feeling of over-saturation, of overdetermined reality, and also of self, comes from the fact that one mind is sort of “free-associating,” in the sense described above, using the object as its focus. The associations that come to mind are yours; that is, they are a part of you. Thus, qualia and self are intimately merged. You cannot separate them out as the “hard problem” and the “easy problem” of consciousness as Chalmers does.
People are rather deeply confused when they think that they are “recording” most of their sensory awareness at any given time in declarative memory or that they often experience qualia “out there.” They don’t. They (their symbolic selves) need to relate to their sensory experience in order to perceive qualia. Even when we are paying complete attention to the road we don’t have very good episodic recall of specific features at all. Why? Where did all of that qualia go? Well, unless you were trying to relate features of the road to your self, to your values, aspirations and plans, then what the hell is there to remember? There are no “handles” to hang onto in that vast ocean of stimuli. Strangely, driving on autopilot while daydreaming is a surer road to experiences of qualia than focusing, trying really hard to be super, extra conscious of the road. At least the daydream might relate your symbolic self to something you see in your sensory experience, for that you might actually remember in declarative memory. This underlies one of the single biggest contributors to general confusion regarding the topic of consciousness. When Alison Gopnik tells us that babies are more conscious than adults, or when Susan Blackmore asks an audience to “really be conscious for a minute,” they are really just referring to ‘awareness.’ Gopnik’s maternal instincts are simply clouding her judgment when she observes that “you sit opposite a seven-month-old, and you watch their eyes and you look at their face and you see that wide-eyed expression and you say, goddamn it, of course she’s conscious, she’s paying attention.” Well, a puppy can “pay attention,” or track reality. So can a fly for that matter. This is not consciousness with a big ‘C.’ What is important is what the organism is paying attention to! A baby is paying attention to its sensory experience, not its internal monologue or some simulation of what it must be like to be a thirty year old, or what have you. To claim that babies are more conscious than adults because they attend to more of their sensory experience is rather daft. Have you ever walked in your sleep? Your brain was tracking reality; there was ‘awareness’ there, for sure, but certainly no consciousness! Gopnik might be able to convince me that babies or at least children experience more qualia than adults, as they haven’t cleanly differentiated their selves from their perceptions, much like pre-logical peoples. However, this is just the result of defining qualia so that it more easily includes sensory experiences than experiences of introspection. Let me just coin a distinction, then, between “p-qualia” and “a-qualia.” Adults, in actual fact, experience much more internal qualia or “a-qualia” than children and pre-modern peoples, while the latter are probably experiencing dramatically more “p-qualia” (that is, undifferentiated experience). However, those relegated to “p-qualia” only are simply not self-conscious beings. Once again, Jaynes’ qualification of declarative memory is invaluable. Why can’t you remember much during your magic mushrooms trip, despite all of that rich “p-qualia”? Well, for the same reason you have trouble remembering dreams or the precise details of the road you just spent hours driving on: because you were not self-aware during much of the trip! You were not conscious! Furthermore, unlike the examples of Oscar Wilde or our musical performer, there is no basis for inferring the contributions of your ego post hoc even if it was on the scene periodically (except in the case of driving in which your not crashing can ground such an inference).
This discussion also informs the phenomenon of morbid self-consciousness. When you are controlling yourself, keeping the beast in check, so to speak, making sure to bring your social polish, etc, you are essentially dividing mental tasks between your two minds as follows: one mind is observing you from a third-person perspective while restraining your other mind from expressing its will unchecked. That is, that same “auto-pilot” that drives your car most of the time is in this situation scanning for social obstacles instead of physical ones, navigating a social landscape instead of a physical one, and keeping your will (your other mind) in check just enough to keep you from crashing and burning socially. Since these obstacles are not constant and unrelenting, the bulk of awareness can safely be dedicated to your conversations or daydreams, eclipsing any input from the third person perspective in consciousness. However, when the social landscape get’s too complicated, you feel a dramatic, visceral shift of your awareness away from the conversation or daydream, and towards a third person perspective: that same third person perspective that your mind had been taking the whole time rather imperceptibly (ala the cocktail party effect). Suddenly you are morbidly self-aware, looking upon yourself from an oppressive and alien perspective. This is “trippy” not only because we don’t usually perceive from a third person point of view, but also because we are suddenly aware of both perceiving and introspecting at the same time (the third person view is a projection of mind). We are again tripped out by our experience being of self, but of other, but also of self: something is the same and different simultaneously. This view converges nicely with that of V. J. Ramachandran, who argues thus:
The mirror neuron mechanism–the same algorithm–that originally evolved to help you adopt another’s point of view was turned inward to look at your own self. This, in essence, is the basis of things like “introspection.” It may not be coincidental that we use phrases like “self-conscious” when you really mean that you are conscious of others being conscious of you. Or say “I am reflecting” when you mean that you are aware of yourself thinking. In other words, the ability to turn inward to introspect or reflect may be a sort of metaphorical extension of the mirror neurons’ ability to read other’s minds.
Levy’s “Switch Model” And Other Empirical Foundations
The origin of the concept ‘consciousness’ is often attributed to John Locke, who defined it as “the perception of what passes in a man’s own mind.” Not only must stuff “pass” in one’s mind, as it also does during sleep, but one must perceive this stream as it flows. The concept actually dates back a bit further to the 1500’s. The English ‘conscious’ derived from the Latin ‘conscius:’ con (“together”) + scire (“to know”). The Latin word meant to have joint knowledge, to have knowledge with another. This often occurred in Latin writings as the phrase conscius sibi; literally “knowing with oneself” or sharing knowledge with yourself. If this is not a description of our mental duality, I don’t know what would suffice. So, given how sure I am about my hypothesis, how does it meet the empirical evidence?
My theory ends up being extremely similar to Levy’s “switch model,” with the important exception that the more silent or interfered-with hemisphere is also playing an important role in consciousness. It is “listening” or, as I have described it above, “recording.” In Levy’s model, split-brain patients are rapidly switching between RH consciousness and LH consciousness, giving the illusion of a totally unified stream of consciousness. This would suggest that a single hemisphere is sufficient for consciousness. I, however, argue that both hemispheres are required for true subjective consciousness in Jaynes’ sense. I found out after writing Pt1 that my description of hemispheric switching while viewing bistable phenomenon, like the Necker Cube, was spot on! This is solid science already. According to this paper: “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” (that is, following the disruption of one of their hemispheres). Some have elaborated views of bipolar disorder that hinge on hemispheric rivalry and hemispheric switching, as well: the “sticky switch model.” This too gave me great encouragement. However, there is one essential objection that could be raised against my model: split-brain and hemispherectomy patients seem to function almost “normally.” If subjective consciousness requires both hemispheres, then these two kinds of patients should have no such consciousness.
First of all, many mentally ill patients pass as “relatively normal” for most of their lives without letting on that their subjective experience is remarkably different than most people. So just because someone seems normal does not make it the case. Secondly, split-brain patients do have both hemispheres and for their entire lives before the operation these were also connected with the corpus collosum and anterior commissures. This is important because there was ample time for the “software” of subjective interiority or Jaynesian consciousness to be installed. Moreover, many declarative memories were laid down prior to the commisurotomy procedure; memories that could pop up during recollection, though they would be inaccessible to recall after the operation. The point applies equally to most hemispherectomy patients also. Thus, these patients could answer questions about their past experiences and appear to all observers to be picturing these past experiences in mind, when in fact recollection only is taking place. If I may use a bad analogy, perhaps consciousness and recall are like capturing pictures on a digital camera with its lens cap off, and recollection is like the digital display of pictures already taken. Now, if we glue the lens cap on and disable the “capture” button (or remove a hemisphere in my admittedly poor analogy), no new pictures can be taken, but old ones can still be displayed. I have great confidence in this point because of personal experiences of mine that can only be explained in this way. Sometimes I’ll have a dream where I will articulate some long, beautiful piece of rhetoric, even though I’m unconscious and dreaming, but this has only been made possible by the fact that earlier that day (while conscious) I composed the backbone of that piece of rhetoric. I was simply recollecting a previously stored “script” which my unconscious mind is reading off in the dream, as opposed to composing. Thus, split-brain patients could be “reading off” a recollection instead of “composing” an imagined scenario or recalling a past experience in their metaphorical mind-space.
After finishing Charles E. Marks “Commissurotomy Consciousness & Unity of Mind,” as well as “The Dual Brain” by Zaidel and Benson, I find even more encouragement for my view. First of all, most discussions of “consciousenss” regarding split-brain patients mean this in the sense of ‘awareness’ or ‘sentience,’ as opposed to Jaynes’ more elaborate concept. No studies have specifically looked at the level of Jaynesian consciousness in these patients. Paul Crandall gives a telling clue when he writes that “the acute disconnection syndrome is one of the most dramatic syndromes found in neurology.” Although complex motor tasks requiring both hands remain extremely difficult, “automatic early motor patterns such as tying shoelaces or neckties are completely unchanged.” This significantly backs up my digital camera metaphor, as learning to tie a necktie is nearly impossible for these patients if they had not learned it while the hemispheric connections were intact. Crandall offers further hints, writing that these patients have an inability to keep track of more than three patterns perceived sequentially by touch and that “they give up easily in tasks that require prolonged concentration.” These symptoms do not always abate after the acute disconnection syndrome dies down either. Bogen writes that “split-brain patients soon accept the idea that they have capacities of which they are not conscious, such as left-hand retrieval of objects not nameable. They may quickly rationalize such acts, sometimes in a transparently erroneous way. But even many years after operation, the patients will occasionally be quite surprised when some well-coordinated or obviously well-informed act has just been carried out by the left hand.” The most compelling evidence for my view comes from Warren D. TenHouten, who writes the following: “Bogen and Bogen contend that creative thinking depends on hemispheric interaction made possible by the cerebral commissures, and that cerebral commissurotomy would have the side effect of reducing the creative thought of an initially creative person.” He later adds that
“There is a specific form of creativity that has been shown to be lacking in commissurotomized patients: It is the creative expression of significant symbols, fantasies, and feelings in the form of words. Such expression presumably requires both the right hemisphere’s grasp of significant meaning, of symbols, and of the cognitive representation of (negative) emotions, and the left hemisphere’s verbal capabilities. The pathological lack of this creative capacity is called ‘alexithymia.’ Hoppe, in psychiatric interviews with commissurotomized patients, found a quantitative as well as a qualitative paucity of dreams, fantasies, and symbolizations. Hoppe and Bogen scored 12 commissurotomized patients for Sifneo’s measure of alexithymia and found them to be highly alexithymic. The patients also experienced a lack of investment in subjective interpersonal relationships and a reduced capacity to engage in produce work.”
So, alien hand syndrome, alexithymia and lack of creative ability, paucity of dreams, fantasies and symbolizations…the list goes on. Is it not reasonable to ask whether some of these people are lacking consciousness in Jaynes’ sense? My interpretation of Jaynes’ theory would predict that recall but not recognition would be affected by callosotomy and this is precisely what the research proves! Gazzaniga, for example, writes that “In these new tests, an interesting picture emerges: commissurotomy affects free recall mechanisms but recognition memory remains largely unchanged (Phelps et al., 1991).” Later, he writes that “There are many reports in the literature of patients who have virtually no episodic memory but do have intact semantic memory (Tulving et al., 1988).” It is my contention that recall is so affected because introspection requires a courtship between the two hemispheres; that a Cartesian Theater cannot exist without both hemispheres interacting with each other in a special way. Consciousness, then, is a dialectical monism of the cerebral hemispheres.
Marks’ book was very well written and I learned a lot from it, but he does not conclude one way or another. I take encouragement that he states at the end that: “I do not think that there are any logical grounds for rejecting a two-minds account of split-brain patients.”
The topic of hemispherectomy patients presents the biggest challenge to my case, but mostly because of how little these patients have been studied in depth. It should again be noted that my digital camera analogy as an explanation for apparently “normal” behavior applies to these patients as well, unless, of course, the patient was born without one hemisphere. Battro’s “Half A Brain Is Enough” is more of a treatise on the use of web and computer technologies as “neural prostheses” than a careful description of the mental abilities of a patient (Nico) who had his right hemisphere removed at age 3. The very fact that “neural prostheses” were so instrumental in Nico’s recovery, allowing him to “display no delay in the acquisition of mental skills as assessed by the classic Piagetian tasks,” pollutes any of these findings regarding my hypothesis, as Nico really didn’t need to “visualize” all that much, but instead had this all done for him. For example, Battro writes the following:
In the case of a right hemispherectomized child this digital shift amounts to forging a new way of representing space with the left hemisphere. In fact, Nico has an astonishing ability to move in hypertexual space, where buttons and icons may open new windows, change colors and shapes, produce sounds, create drawings, and letters, etc.
Well, the big question in terms of my hypothesis is whether Nico would have forged a new way of representing space in his LH without such “neural prostheses.” Battro himself notes that “it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for Nico to remain at school without this empowering instrument.” The case is further obscured by the fact that Nico was only 8 when the book was published and so none of the features of his entering the “age of Reason” could be assessed. Battro is very careful to mention in a few parts of the book that “the question is: how will his potential develop in the future?” He latter adds “we cannot take for granted that he will continue to learn and develop without major problems.” The highest level skill that Battro measured, which he refers to as a sort of paradigm case of Nico’s great intellectual abilities, is that Nico “with only one brain…has reached the last stage of the conservation of substance in both visual and tactile modes.” The most damning evidence as far as my hypothesis is concerned comes from Battro’s statements that “he can give a lively account of any particular event, be it a holiday trip, a video or a sporting activity. He has a pleasant voice and speaks with great self-possession.” The question I would pose would be this: “can he give a lively account of events that he has not pre-narratized using his computer?” Regardless, it is impossible to separate out Battro’s own feelings from Nico’s here. Battro feels that Nico is “lively” and displays “self-possession,” but he could simply be projecting this onto Nico as nearly all of us do with even our pets, let alone our small children. When someone gives a “lively account,” we presume that their emotional excitation results from the scene that they are actively picturing. Nico could simply be excited that people are listening to him as he reads off of a pre-articulated script, as opposed to getting emotionally stimulated by the scene that he is rendering or creating in his verbal composition. Thus, the question of Nico’s mental abilities vis a vis Jaynesian consciousness will have to wait until I have read more literature on these patients.