Tuesday, February 26, 2013

More on Gazzaniga

A few comments on the last post, then some new information. He is making a clear distinction between brains and minds. Brains are determined, people with minds are not, at least completely. This is in part because the mind is emergent and exerts downward causation on the brain and body. While constrained by the body and brain it is not reducible to it, i.e., the parts cannot fully explain the whole, which has emergent properties. Yes, there is still upward causation but there is also downward causation. Hence he thinks causation, still very much alive, goes both ways and it is in trying to see how so that is his main concern.
Also his comments that just because this thing we call consciousness is very complex that we cannot yet comprehend it much is absolutely no reason to not explore it vigorously. Like my diatribe here he agrees that we cannot sit around and wait for it to be fully defined, for that will never happen unless we proceed to study it now, to form hypotheses based on what we know, and then do experiments. It doesn't just happen by itself, and such a effete denial of consciousness based on nothing but one's confirmation bias is cowardly.

Let's explore some more of his work. Granted he shows that the 'interpreter' in the left brain often gets reality wrong with stories it makes up after the facts. But is that all it does? Did we evolve an entire half of a brain to be wrong all the time? What good is that? What adaptive purpose does that provide? It seems it is also the very same interpreter that coordinates with the right brain to exert top-down causation that changes our body-brain and environment to conform to our goals and decisions. Goals and conscious decisions are not from the bottom up. According to this review of this book the interpreter is also that which integrates the various modules of the brain (p. 2). It not only gets the story wrong after the fact but also integrates modules, creates goals and makes decisions which changes the body-brain and the environment before the fact. And in so doing it has evolved humanity far beyond mere natural adaptation and selection; we are now doing the selecting.

It doesn't appear Gazzaniga shares that view, since most of what he's said about the interpreter is that it is mostly if not entirely mistaken. But that is inconsistent with his views on how society shapes our behavior and brain. Society itself is created from brains and minds in communion, sharing ideas and interpretations and stories. And through a variety of means of testing those interpretations we collectively ascertain which are better and which are closer to 'reality.' Which then feeds back into our individual minds and brains, which learn better and more accurate interpretations. The interpreter, both individual and collective, itself learns and evolves. It's not some static, unchanging, billiard ball. Recall it emerged from that sort of thing and is not only no longer reducible to those balls but is continuing to develop. And in concert with the right brain it gets better at its job all the time, unlike split brains. Arguing the interpreter is limited to what we discover from split brains is a prime example of the kind of reductionist thinking Gazzaniga himself decries from one side of this mouth while engaging in it from the other.


  1. And lest we forget, Mead elucidated how the 'intepreter' originates in the first place, from the outside in via the very social matrix where Gazzaniga finds the emergent structure to ground his social responsibility. Perhaps he needs to read more outside his insular world of neuroscience and understand better of what he speaks?

    See this thread for a refresher on Mead:

  2. And as I said in the main post, the 'self' itself evolves within both the individual and the culture. A refresher on stages of self-development might be in order for our neuroscientific friends. I have my disagreements with some of Cook-Greuter's interpretations on stages but it's a good place to start for the developmentally challenged neuroscientist:



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