Monday, April 26, 2010

Introduction in Nair's "Narrative Gravity"

Introduction in
By Rukmini Bhaya Nair
Published by Routledge: New York, 2003

Prof. Rukmini Bhaya Nair at Indian Institute of Technology offers a very good theoretical framework of narrative.

Working definition of narrative:

Nair's working definition of narrative is "a dynamic structure that converts 'talk' into 'text'". Narrative turns conversation "detachable and iterable" to make a story, one that can be "repeated in other conversations, other contexts, other cultures." As she puts it, "the structure of narrative appears beautifully adapted to time-transfer, to taking away, to having and holding in some kind of formal permanence." (p. 5)

"Fragility" and "durability" as a critical criterion in narrative:

Nair does not see narrative in terms of 'truth' and 'non-truth'. her framework is a "cline from most fragile(implausible, boring and culturally alienated) to most durable(plausible, interesting and culturally salient). So an apparent fiction, if it is a good story, still retains 'durability' and tits audience has a "willing suspension of disbelief". (p. 9)

N.B. Nair uses "plausibility" to mean "durability" on page 10.

Balance between the expected and the unexpected:

One interesting feature of narrative is that it must have the foreground of what is unexpected, a surprise in the story against the background of what is expected and taken for granted. A story teller must maintain a good balance between them and cannot make her story too fancy or too mundane. (p. 11)

Reviewing and reforming ourselves with wider horizons:

Because the criterion of narrative is durability/fragility rather than truth/falseness, understanding caused by narrative allows "contradictions and irrationalities without having to abandon a basic commitment to 'rational' choices, causal explanations and so on" (p. 16). Thus, narrative gives us wider horizons of understanding.

Story-telling seems to me to permit high quality resolutions of experience, either representing it analytically as fiction or reappraising its contingencies as factual narrative. It is this ability to crystallize experience, re-form it, so that it allows us to reform, or at least review, ourselves, that we celebrate when we share our stories. (p. 11)

"Authorless narrative" or "co-authored narrative"?

Nair takes the view, together with Dennett (1991), that narrative is not produced bu a singular 'self'. However, she "wants to replace Dennett's 'authorless narrative' with the idea of a 'co-authored narrative'" (p. 22). Describing her position, she explains as follows.

All our narratives have to be communally authored, and authorized, by listeners whose job it is to 'correctly' process tellers' implicultural meanings. Even though the single authorships of selves is a convenient fiction, which, given our physical separation from each other, all societies must, in general, underwrite, Nair holds that narrative activity depends on tacit acceptance of the notion of multiple authorship in all human communities. (p. 22)


Narrative is an integrated story made from detachable and iterable parts of our daily discourse. It is evaluated by its degree of durability/fragility rather than by the dichotomy of true or false. It allows wider horizons than the positivist dictum of truth, making flexible understanding of ourselves. It is an act of a community, not an act of an individual person in isolation.


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Monday, April 19, 2010

Information and knowledge

Common words are ambiguous, indeterminate and confusing. However, they're what we have to use constantly.

So, here's my working definitions of the two very basic words, information and knowledge, each provisionally created from online sources.

INFORMATION: 1. a measure of the freedom of choice with which a message is selected from the set of all possible messages; 2.a difference which makes a difference

Online source 1
INFORMATION THEORY or communication theory, mathematical theory formulated principally by the American scientist Claude E. Shannon to explain aspects and problems of information and communication. While the theory is not specific in all respects, it proves the existence of optimum coding schemes without showing how to find them. For example, it succeeds remarkably in outlining the engineering requirements of communication systems and the limitations of such systems.

In information theory, the term information is used in a special sense; it is a measure of the freedom of choice with which a message is selected from the set of all possible messages. Information is thus distinct from meaning, since it is entirely possible for a string of nonsense words and a meaningful sentence to be equivalent with respect to information content.

Numerically, information is measured in bits (short for binary digit; see binary system ). One bit is equivalent to the choice between two equally likely choices. For example, if we know that a coin is to be tossed but are unable to see it as it falls, a message telling whether the coin came up heads or tails gives us one bit of information. When there are several equally likely choices, the number of bits is equal to the logarithm of the number of choices taken to the base two. For example, if a message specifies one of sixteen equally likely choices, it is said to contain four bits of information.


See C. E. Shannon and W. Weaver, The Mathematical Theory of Communication (1949); M. Mansuripur, Introduction to Information Theory (1987).

From Information Theory.The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Columbia University Press: New York. 2009.
(Obtained from Questia)

Online source 2
"In fact, what we mean by information - the elementary unit of information - is a difference which makes a difference". (Bateson [1973], 428).

Bateson, G., 1973, Steps to an Ecology of Mind (Frogmore, St. Albans: Paladin).

From "Semantic Conceptions of Information" in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

KNOWLEDGE: The objects, concepts and relationships that are created from logical inference using prior-knowledge and/or information with justification or explanation.

Online source
Computing Dictionary
knowledge definition
artificial intelligence, information science

The objects, concepts and relationships that are assumed to exist in some area of interest. A collection of knowledge, represented using some knowledge representation language is known as a knowledge base and a program for extending and/or querying a knowledge base is a knowledge-based system.
Knowledge differs from data or information in that new knowledge may be created from existing knowledge using logical inference. If information is truthful data plus meaning then knowledge is information plus justification/explanation.
From The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing. website:


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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Consciousness from the media ecology perspective


The Future of Consciousness.
By Lance Strate
In ETC.: A Review of General Semantics.
Volume: 66. Issue: 1. Publication Year: 2009. Page Number: 63+
(Available from Questia)

Prof. Lance Strate's brief summary of consciousness from the media ecology perspective is highly enlightening. Surely, a wise way to speculate on the future is to look back on the past and think about the present, for we're all blind to the future.

To quote his passage is quite tempting. But copying a 1485 word passage may not be quite decent (I want to read Lawrence Lessig's Remix!) So what follows is my clumsy summary and paraphrases of the passage. The original thought is contaminated by me. If you're interested, please refer to the original paper.

* We began to interiorize speech after we developed spoken language.

* Through the internalization of speech, we began to interiorize the speaker, the other human beings we interact with.

* Written language was first just a means of recording spoken language. Later, written words were also interiorized, to create a new form of consciousness, a literate consciousness. Words were regarded more as fixed static objects than as a passing event in speech.

* Writing separated the knower from the known. Our thoughts, which were only fleeting and could not be captured in mind or in speech before the invention of writing, were now written down. They were separated from us, and we were on a new level of self-consciousness, where it was possible to (re)view ourselves as the other.

* Literacy is isolating, Whereas we listen all together, we read or write alone. With the invention of printing, a new form of consciousness emerged, where we began to see ourselves as the individual. Our sense of collective consciousness began to recede. (Welcome to the Modern!)

* We developed the generalized other: when we write for publication we imagine a fictitious being, the reader; when we read a printed book we often imagine the role of a imaginary being, the writer.

* With novels, popularized because of printing, we interiorized writing and our individual minds more. Narrative shifted from telling stories about agents doing action to the interior examination of the individual consciousness. (It was probably no accident that Freud followed the spread of the novel.)

* However, there came a new turn of media development. Radio and film revived our sense of collective consciousness (or created a new one). (Literacy remained as the norm of higher education, though.)

* The future of consciousness may lie in how we interiorize contemporary communication technologies. The current heterogeneous mix of oral, literate, and visual modes of communication may 'undo' the fixed and/or separated sense of consciousness. There may be more selves for each of us and a more fragmented and complex inner life.

The original article is based on a presentation given at the Envisioning the Emerging Future Colloquium sponsored by the Institute of General Semantics, following the fifty-third Annual Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, April 23, 2005.


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"The Future of Consciousness" by Lance Strate

Quotation from

The Future of Consciousness.
By Lance Strate
In ETC.: A Review of General Semantics.
Volume: 66. Issue: 1. Publication Year: 2009. Page Number: 63+
(Available from Questia)

To continue the story of the difficulty of conceptualizing consciousness, we may add a self-reflexive paradox that Lance Strate, Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University, introduces.

Consciousness is a curious topic to consider, because it at once places us in the realm of self-reflexiveness. It is the mind thinking about the mind, which is very much akin to the blind leading the blind. I am at once reminded of the biologist Lyall Watson's self-reflexive paradox that "if the brain were so simple we could understand it, we would be so simple that we couldn't." (1) It is a basic tenet of systems theory that you cannot completely understand a system from within. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and you have to step outside of the system to see that whole. (2)

(1.) I originally came across this quote in Patrick Hughes, More on Oxymoron. (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1983). 145. The quote was only attributed to "a philosophically minded biologist." but a quick internet search revealed that Lyall Watson was the biologist's name, although I was unable to find a specific bibliographic citation for his quote.
(2.) See, for example, Ludwig Von Bertalanffy, General System Theory: Foundations, Development, Applications. New York, G. Braziller, 1969; Ervin Laszlo, The Systems View of the World: A Holistic Vision for Our Time. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 1996; and Fritjof Capra, The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems. (New York: Anchor Books, 1996).

We also talked about confabulations. They are not to be taken as a proof that we're evil or constant liars. Rather they just reflect the fact that our narrative is a product of our consciousness that is almost a closed system or that we are 'structually coupled with the world.'

The nervous system is close to being a closed system, and it requires that closure in order to allow a worldview and a consciousness to form. If it were any more open, too much chaos would come in, and consciousness would not be able to organize itself. By the same token, the nervous system is not and could not be an entirely closed system. It needs that limited amount of chaos to allow for growth and increasing complexity. And while our sense of being in direct contact with the outside world is a false consciousness, it is still true that our perceptions are a response to outside stimuli, a reflection of the world. Even if they are just shadows on the cave wall, they are directly and immediately connected to what they represent: objective reality. As complexity theorists Humberto R. Maturana and Francisco J. Varela put it, we are structurally coupled with the world. (28)

(28.)The two Chilean biologists provide an accessible introduction to their perspective in The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding (revised ed., translated by Robert Paolucci). Boston: Shambhala, 1992).

Systems theory may also explain that our narratives are cultural products and possibly the consciousness expressed by an individual narrator is part of the consciousness of the community.

A basic point in systems theory is that systems are in a sense self-reflexive. Systems can exist within larger systems and those systems within systems that are larger still. It follows that the individual consciousness, which can be understood as a system of thoughts or ecology of mind, can also be seen as an interdependent part of a larger system, a group or collective consciousness if you will. This is not necessarily a spiritual concept, as collective consciousness corresponds to some extent with the concept of culture. However this theory of metamind, the idea that we are part of a larger whole, is difficult to accept because we remain inside the system, unable to get out. Moreover, western culture's emphasis on individualism leads us to think of ourselves as alone and unique in the world. But on the biological level, we all share the same basic genetic code. And on the social level, members of the same culture use the same linguistic and symbolic codes. We think with forms of communication that are community property. We think with tools that are not of our own devising. As much as we would like to think otherwise, our thoughts are not ours alone.

I just want to read the works of Niklas Luhmann more carefully.


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Friday, April 16, 2010

The metaphor of a boy and an elephant

Quotation from
By David Brooks
Published on October 8, 2009
on Five Books

David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times who writes about politics and American culture, talks about The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt.

The metaphor for our mind of a boy and an elephant is exquisite.

Haidt uses the metaphor of a boy and an elephant. He says our minds are structured like a boy riding an elephant, and the boy is the conscious reasoning part, the cortex-based brain. And it can see very far, and make certain steering decisions. But most of the work is done by the elephant, which is the unconscious part of the brain. His work is to try to explain what the elephant is doing.

I agree, although I sometimes feel like an extremely nearsighted boy on an elephant.


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David Carmel on consciousness

Quotation from

by David Carmel
Published on April 8, 2010
on Five Books

David Carmel, a research scientist at the Carrasco Lab, part of New York University’s Department of Psychology and Center for Neural Science, recognizes the importance of philosophical conceptualization of consciousness.

Below is his response in the interview.

Whereas you would say there is actually more to the science than that [=philosophy] ?

Not necessarily. I’m a scientist, and my own approach to these questions is scientific. But I got interested in consciousness because of the philosophical issues. What is consciousness? How can we possibly understand it? One of the frustrating things for scientists who deal with consciousness is that nowadays we have lots of great methodologies to look at the brain and at complex forms of behaviour. But we still lack a conceptual framework with which we could recognise an answer if it came along. The answer might be all around us: we may just not see it yet.


Do you think you’ll find the answer in your lifetime?

Well I, personally, won’t! Others might…When I got into this originally, when I started graduate school, I thought: ‘Yes! Here’s an interesting question, give me a few years and I’ll solve it.’ I no longer think that. Science works incrementally; we will know a lot more than we know now by the end of my lifetime ? we already know a lot more than we knew when I started graduate school in 2002. But all we know are details, we’re still looking for that conceptual framework ? and that would require a revolution in thinking, and there’s no way of knowing when those might occur.

For the topic of "selective attention" that he introduces, just see the video below and follow the instruction without any prior knowledge!

He has also chosen 'Failure to Detect Mismatches between Intention and Outcome', that argued that "normal participants may produce confabulatory reports when asked to describe the reasons behind their choices. (p. 119)"

So now on to ‘Failure to Detect Mismatches between Intention and Outcome’. Why have you chosen this?
Another aspect of consciousness is the consciousness of self. And this is what this particular article sheds an interesting light on. We each walk around the world, constantly telling ourselves a story. The narrative of our lives is the narrative we use to construct our sense of self, who we are, why we do what we do, why we choose what we choose ? everything we do, we justify to ourselves. And we have this illusion of stability. We think we know why we did what we did, why we chose what we chose. And what this article does really well is to show that, actually, that sense of self, that narrative, is a lot more fragile than we might normally think. We’re probably updating it on-line all the time. We probably know why we did something because we see what we did ? rather than the other way around.

When we think about consciousness, let's not forget that our consciousness is easily deceived and that our narratives may contain confabulations. In the first place, we even do not have a good conceptual framework for it.


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Chapter 2 of Narrative and Consciousness, edited by Fireman, Mccay and Flanagan

Quotation from

Chapter 2 Narrative and the Emergence of a Consciousness of Self
By Katherine Nelson
Edited by Gary Fireman, Ted McVay and Owen Flanagan
Published by Oxford University Press (New York) in 2003

We don't learn to narrate alone. Narrative is a social and cultural act. We grow from a biological being to a social-cultural being through narrative.

Narratives emerge as social forms,which include explanatory myths, among other genres that support the coherence and cohesiveness of the community. In this framework narrative making is a specifically human characteristic. However, it is not an individual capacity but a social-cultural one. It results from a long historical process of the development of social communicative skills at different levels (motoric and linguistic) and of concurrent development of group construction of communities. These are complex system developments that go beyond individual participants, wherein narrative emerges as an explanatory format of the cultural group. (p. 22)

Development of consciousness through narratives in children are summarized as follows. Through narratives children learn to see others as independent beings, begin to see themselves the self-observed ME as well as the Experiencing I.

A new level of consciousness emerges in the early childhood years that is based on the differentiation of the self-awareness of the early years and the self-and other awareness of the transition period. The first is consciousness of the here and now, informed by previous experience but without conscious reflection on that experience. The strong hypothesis that emerges from this perspective is that the new level of consciousness is dependent upon language used to exchange views of self and other, primarily through narratives but also through commentary on the self by others, as well as on their own feelings, thoughts, and expectations of what might happen (Nelson, 1993). This new kind of consciousness is a different kind of self-consciousness that brings the self into the observed world where others have been playing out their roles in the child's view of the experiential world. This is James's or Mead's ME rather than the Experiencing I (Nelson, 2001). The I of the transition period can be self-aware and therefore bashful and embarrassed but is not yet capable of both acting and observing at the same time. Perhaps this sketchily presented development (see Nelson, 1997, 2001), with such profound implications, seems too weighty to place on the vehicle of narrative. Yet it is worth the effort to see how far such a proposal can take us in understanding the early development of self, language, and cultural consciousness.

In brief, the account here is that narrative emerges from and belongs to the community, but in the individual lives of children it is a vehicle through which consciousness of both self and the wider social and temporal world becomes manifest and gradually emerges as a new subjective level of conscious awareness, with a sense of a specific past and awareness of a possible future, as well as with new insight into the consciousness of other people. (p. 33)

Nelson, K. (1993). Events, narratives, memories: What develops? In C. Nelson (Ed.),Minnesota Symposium on Child Psychology: Vol. 26 (pp. 1-24). Memory and affect in development Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Nelson, K. (1997). Finding oneself in time. In J. G. Snodgrass & R. I. Thompson (Eds.),The self across psychology: Self-recognition, self-awareness, and the self-concept, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 818, 103-118.

Nelson, K. (2001). From the Experiencing I to the Continuing Me. In C. Moore & K. Lemmon (Eds.), The self in time: Developmental issues(pp. 15-34). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.


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Chapter 1 of Narrative and Consciousness, edited by Fireman, McVey and Flanagan

Quotation from

Chapter 1 Introduction
By Gary Fireman, Ted McVay and Owen Flanagan
Edited by Gary Fireman, Ted McVay and Owen Flanagan
Published by Oxford University Press (New York) in 2003

A very general understanding of narrative is given first.

The stories we tell to ourselves and others, for ourselves and others, are a central means by which we come to know ourselves and others, thereby enriching our conscious awareness. (p. 3)

Of more importance is theoretical understandings of narrative by various late 20th century thinkers. Many aspects of our cognition seem possble through narratives, if not entirely by it. (I have to read Dennett (1991)!

The concept of narrative has been called “one of the more prominent currents in late 20th-century intellectual life” (Neisser & Fivush, 1994, p. vii), and a number of philosophers of mind have argued that the portions of human consciousness beyond the purely somatic- self-awareness, self-understanding, and self-knowledge - are products of personal narratives (e.g., Dennett, 1991). It is “because of the nature of our minds,” as Dan P. McAdams (1993) claims, that “we are impelled as adults to make sense of our lives in terms of narrative” (p. 134). This powerful role for narrative is realized by the linking of personal memories to present conditions and future hopes, by organizing, translating, and providing continuity and coherence to experience. Self-awareness and self-knowledge are constructed, to a significant degree, through narrative as we compose and assemble stories for ourselves and our world. In a complex interplay between the experience that makes for the personal story and the personal story that structures the experience, the narrator discovers the meaning and significance of the experience. It is through narrating that we learn about our selves, our community, and the social world (Bruner, 1986, 1990). (p.4)

Bruner, J. (1986).Actual minds, possible worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Bruner, J. S. (1990). Acts of meaning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Dennett, D. C. (1991). Consciousness explained. Boston: Little, Brown.
McAdams, D. P (1993). The stories we live by: Personal myths and the making of the self.New York: Guilford.
Neisser, U., & Fivush, R. (1994). The remembering self: Construction and accuracy in the self-narrative. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

One common criticism against narrative studies is that they are "subjective and relativistic." Critics of such a remark, true believers of positivism, seem to have a narrow understanding of objectivity. However, objective inquirey is possible even for something mechanically immesurable. The criterion of objectivity, in my understanding, is that an inquiry is publicly observable.

As the various chapters in this book demonstrate, personal stories are jointly constructed through social relations, are shaped by our nature and culture, and are logically compatible with the naturalistic scientific method of investigation. If yesterday's model of positivist naturalism (with the constraints of causal explanation, prediction, and control) is surrendered, then a plurality of methodological approaches are available and may be used to understand the meaning that informs a person's action in the world as lived. Narratives are available for observation; they are public and shared, and as a result their examination does not of necessity result in subjectivism and relativism. (p. 5)


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Library of Congress Will Save Tweets

Quotation from
Library of Congress Will Save Tweets
Published: April 14, 2010, The New York Times

Gee, is Twitter so good?

Not everyone would think that the actor Ashton Kutcher’s Twitter musings on his daily doings constitute part of “the universal body of human knowledge.”

But the Library of Congress, the 210-year-old guardian of knowledge and cultural history, thinks so.

The library will archive the collected works of Twitter, the blogging service, whose users currently send a daily flood of 55 million messages, all that contain 140 or fewer characters.

Library officials explained the agreement as another step in the library’s embrace of digital media. Twitter, the Silicon Valley start-up, declared it “very exciting that tweets are becoming part of history.”

To read more, go to:


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Friday, April 9, 2010

"The collective cognitive imperative" or the power of socially accepted stories

Hypnosis, like placebo effect, is dubious and mysterious. The trouble is that it is a fact.

Julian Jaynes gives a highly interesting account of hypnosis. ("Hypnosis" Chapter 4, Book II)

Jaynes (1976/1990, pp. 380-383) points out that early forms of hypnosis were based on metaphorical interpretations. The first metaphor used in modern times is animal gravitation, of which, according to Anton Mesmer (1734 - 1815), Newton's (1643 -1727) gravitation is a special case. Mesmer then began to use the term animal magnetism from his association of magnetic attraction with gravitational attraction. His wild imagination did not stop there and he later began to use the metaphor of static electricity, the scientific concept popularized with the famous experiment by Benjamin Franklin (1706 - 1790). It seems that Mesmer just needed to authorize what he did to make it work with people of his age.

Jaynes uses his scheme of "metaphier/paraphier => metaphrand/paraphrand" to explain hypnosis.

In order to explain what he was able to do (later termed as hypnosis by James Braid), he used better known, and well accepted, words like "gravitation", "magnetism" and "static electricity" as metahiers. Together with the metaphiers were conveyed paraphiers, associations of the metaphiers, like penetrating or transferring power between things. Thus, his "trick" began to be accepted by people as a metaphrand, a novel concept familiarized by the metaphiers. Also accepted were parahrands like the penetrating or transferring power. Mesmer and his people shared this story.

Jaynes states (1975/1990, p. 383):

That the phenomenon of hypnosis is under the control of a collective cognitive imperative or group belief system is clearly demonstrated by its continual changing in history. As beliefs about hypnosis changed, so also its very nature.

Jaynes argues that the collective cognitive imperative was behind the phenomena known as hypnosis.

Jaynes (ibid) then cites the shift of the type of hyponsis from strange sensations and convulsions (with Mesmer), to spontaneous speech during trance state (a few decades after Mesmer), then to self-diagnosis of one's own illness (around 1825), and to responses that ought to happen if you believed in phrenology (and people believed this pseudo science at that time).

An interesting thing was that the new types of hypnosis had not been recoginzed before their appearaces (you may argue that if hypnosis were an objective (ie, human independent) phenomenon, the 'new' types of hypnosis must have been observed before they became popoular (there's nothing new under the sun!)).

New types of hypnosis continued but the above should be enough to make the point of the power of the collective cognitive imperative.

Here is Jaynes's summary (pp. 384 - 385):

It is not simply that the operator, Mesmer or Charcot or whoever, was suggesting to the pliant patient what the operator believed hypnosis to be. Rather, there had been developed within the group in which he worked a cognitive imperative as to what the phenomenon was 'known' to be. Such historical changes then clearly show that hypnosis is not a stable response to gven stimuli, but changes as do the expectations and preconceptions of a particular age.

Jaynes (p. 385) then cites the case of "stage hypnosis" as an example of demostrating the power of group expectation or belief (the same is true with feligious feeling and belief enhanced by crowds in churches and oracles by the throngs that attend them.)

It may be after all that 'trust' between people that make hypnosis possible.

Indeed, most students of the subject insist that there must be developed a special kind of trust relationship between the subject and the operator. One common test of the susceptibility to hypnosis is to stand behind the prospective subject and ask him to permit himself to fall voluntarily to see what it feels like to 'let go'. If the subject steps back to break his fall, some part of him lacking confidence that he will be caught, he almost invariably turns out to be a poor hypnotic subject for that particular operator. (Jaynes 1975/1990, p. 394)

What happens to consciousness at the time of hypnosis? Jaynes says that the consciousness of a subject under hypnotic trance is diminished.

Narratization is severely restricted. The analog 'I' is more or less effaced. The hypnotized subject is not living in a subjective world. He does not introspect as we do, does not know he is hypnotized, and is not constantly monitoring himself as, in an unhypnotized state, he does. (p. 387)

Jaynes argues that consciousness can be diminished because it is only a learned feature.

Learned features, such as analog 'I,' can uder the proper cultural imperative be taken over by a different initiative, and one such instance is what we cally hypnosis. (p. 398).

Consciousness is not the complete master of our actions. The narratization of the analog 'I' is only an attempt to monitor and partially control the self in the complexity of the world around him and the uncounscious impulses within him.

We live in a buzzing cloud to whys and wherefores, the purposes and reasonings of our narratizations, the many-routed adventures of our analog 'I's. And this constant spinning out of possibilities is precisely what is neccessary to save us from behavior of too impulsive a sort. The analog 'I' and the metahor 'me' are always resting at the confluence of many collective cognitive imperatives. (p. 402)

Narrative in self-referential consciousness is not the ultimate cause of our actions. Rather, it seems to me, it is a fleeting story of self-observation that you create to live in your learned, thus unnatural, environment, better known as society. You feel assurance by telling yourself your story. You feel empowered. If the story is shared by other people around you, you feel much more empowered. On a rare occasion, even to the extent to do what you don't usually do under the guidance from a hypnotist.

Julian Jaynes (1975/1990) The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. New York: Mariner Books.

See also some Wikipedia articles.


History of hypnosis

Franz Mesmer

James Braid

Related articles in this blog:

Language and consciousness according to Julian Jaynes

Science of socially shared stories

Consciousness according to Julian Jaynes


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Imitation as cultural learning

Quotation from

Learning through Others.
Daedalus. Volume: 133. Issue: 1.
2004. P. 51+.
(Available from Questia)

What is 'social learning' ?

For social species such as humans and other mammals, an especially important form of learning is social learning. Observing the activities of others and learning about the world from or through them enables individuals to acquire information with less effort and risk than if they were forced to learn on their own.

What, then, is cultural learning?

'Cultural learning', that involves the perception of intentions of others is a special type of social learning.

In brief, because human beings perceive the behavior of others in intentional terms--that is, because they perceive a person 'cleaning the table' or 'opening the drawer,' rather than simply moving her limbs in a particular way--they learn from the behavior of others in unique ways. We have called this process 'cultural learning' to distinguish it from processes of social learning in general, and also to highlight the crucial role of culture in the acquisition of many human skills.

Understanding intentions of others

The recognition of others as intentional beings like oneself is crucial in learning to use tools and linguistic symbols.

The recognition of others as intentional beings like oneself is crucial in human learning, most importantly because artifacts and practices--exemplified prototypically by the use of tools and linguistic symbols--invariably point beyond themselves to the phenomena for which they have been designed. To learn the conventional use of a tool or a symbol, an individual must therefore come to understand why, toward what outside end, another individual is using it. (4)
4 Tomasello, The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition.

'Imitation' by humans and 'emulation' by chimpanzees

'Imitation' and 'emulation' are almost synonyms but the former emphasizes the aspect of impersonation.

1. to follow or endeavor to follow as a model or example: to imitate an author's style; to imitate an older brother.
2. to mimic; impersonate Unabridged.
Retrieved April 08, 2010, from website:

Emulate: To strive to equal or excel, especially through imitation

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition.
Retrieved April 08, 2010, from website:

Given the above distinction, it is possible to say that humans are good at imitatation, while chimpanzees at emulation.

In some circumstances, emulation learning is a more adaptive strategy than learning by imitation. For example, Kathy Nagell, Kelly Olguin, and I presented chimpanzees and two-year-old human children with a rake-like tool and an out-of-reach object. (6) The tool could be used in either of two ways leading to the same end result of obtaining the object. Within each species, one group of subjects observed a demonstrator employ a relatively inefficient method of tool use, while another group observed a more efficient method of tool use. The result: human children in general copied the method of the assigned demonstrator (imitative learning), while chimpanzees used the same methods to obtain the object no matter which demonstration they observed (emulation learning). The interesting point is that many children insisted on reproducing adult behavior even if it seemed inefficient--leading to a less successful performance than that of the chimpanzees. Imitation is thus not a 'higher' or 'more intelligent' learning strategy than emulation; it is simply a more culturally mediated strategy--which, in some circumstances and for some behaviors, has some advantages.

6 Katherine Nagell, Raquel Olguin, and Michael Tomasello,
"Processes of Social Learning in the Tool Use of
Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and Human Children (Homo sapiens),"
Journal of Comparative Psychology 107 (1993): 174-186.

Apprenticeship by trusting the intentions of a mentor?

Humans can 'trust' others by understanding their intentions separately from their behaviors.

Humans perceive the demonstrator's apparent intention as centrally important, and they understand this goal as something separate from the various behavioral means that may be used to accomplish it. In the absence of this ability to understand goal and behavioral means as separable in the actions of others, chimpanzees focus on the changes of state (including changes in the spatial position) of the objects during the demonstration, perceiving the actions of the demonstrator just, in effect, as other physical motions. The intentional states of the demonstrator, and thus her behavioral methods as distinct entities, are simply not a part of their experience.

Apprenticeship, sometimes criticized as uncritical imitation, may be a very smart strategy.


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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Who is Harry Stack Sullivan and what did he say?

Quotation from

By F. Barton Evans III
Routledge: London, 1996.
(Also available in Questia)

Harry Stack Sullivan, "was the founder and chief proponent of a branch of psychodynamic/psychoanalytic thinking called variously interpersonal psychiatry or interpersonal psychoanalysis." (p. 3)

Sullivan is often criticized for his "lack of concern for intrapsychic phenomena." However, Greenberg and Mitchell (1983) believe that the criticism is mistaken:

The belief that Sullivan's theory ignores intrapsychic phenomena is what one usually hears from psychoanalytic colleagues, indicating that it is deeply in the lore of the psychoanalytic community. Yet, as Greenberg and Mitchell (1983) state, the criticism that Sullivan favored interpersonal over intrapsychic phenomena is largely due to a misreading or lack of understanding of Sullivan. Regarding the so-called debate between interpersonal versus intrapsychic models, Sullivan pointed out that human experience is a dynamically unfolding interaction between interpersonal, environmental influences and the internal (i.e. intrapsychic) meaning system of self and other personifications which interpretatively modify one's perception and responses to these external experiences. (p. 7)
Greenberg, J.R. and Mitchell, S.A. (1983) Object Relations in Psychoanalytic Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard.

Sullivan's theory is to be described as an interpersonal theory of psychiatry.

Whereas great thinkers like Freud, Jung, and Kraepelin oriented their penetrating insights on the functioning of the individual, Sullivan offered a systematic conception of humankind in its social world or context. (p. 55)

It is not that Sullivan neglected the intra-psychic.

For Sullivan, that which is truly intra-psychic is purely private and essentially unknowable. Once a person discusses, or even anticipates discussing, an “internal” experience, it is no longer private or internal, but becomes an interpersonal event, affected by social forces. (p. 57)

A psychiatrist or indeed any observer interferes with her own observation and everything she observes is at least partially affected by her: other observer would see a different picture and no one is the true observer.

As Sullivan observed, everyone has his or her own conception of human living (i.e. our personal “theories of personality”) which is experienced and strongly held as intuitively correct. This deeply personal conception of “reality” is central in bringing coherence to the personal and non-personal world around us and to whom we are in that world.
Similar to Heisenberg's (1958) principle of indeterminacy (which, in sub-atomic physics, is where the measurement of a phenomenon with the same level of phenomenon alters the phenomena measured), the psychiatrist observer participates in and alters every interaction that he or she observes. Unlike Heisenberg's measurement electrons whose properties are well known, the properties of the psychiatrist are far more puzzling. (p.58)
Heisenberg, W. (1958) Physics and Philosophy. New York: Harper & Row.

Likewise, other persons around a person constitutes what the person is through interactions.

Sullivan's central definition and most distinguishing contribution is a revision of psychiatry as the science of interpersonal living,that personality could not be separated from the interpersonal world in which the person lives. The interpersonal theory is a significant critique and reworking of Freud's psychoanalytic approach and major departure from Kraepelin's descriptive psychiatry. (p.60)

Sullivan also takes a developmental approach. Of great interest is his distinction of prototaxic, parataxic, and syntaxic modes of experience.

The following is a summary of Sullivan's idea of epochs of development.

Sullivan defined infancy as the period from birth until the development of articulate speech. Childhood marks the appearance of the need for playmates, both adult and child, and is the first step in developing interpersonal communication through language. The juvenile era begins with the child's entrance into school and continues until the child finds a chum. Most importantly, it was the first developmental stage where family limitations and peculiarities were open to substantial modification. In pre-adolescence, the need for chumship, an intimate relationship with a compeer, a person of comparable age and status, is the central developmental event. Early adolescence begins with puberty and genital sexuality, the psychologically strong interest in members of opposite sex, and involves resolving the complex interplay between the dynamisms of lust, security, and intimacy. In late adolescence, the person begins to integrate the partially developed aspects of the personality into an age-appropriate, early adult identity. The task of adulthood is to establish a relationship of love with another person, someone who becomes as important as oneself. For Sullivan, this adult intimacy is “not the primary business of life, but is, perhaps the principal source of satisfactions in life” (1953:34). (p. 73)
Sullivan, Harry Stack (1953) The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.


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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Ch.1 of "Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences"

Quotation from

Chapter 1: Introduction of
By Donald E. Polkinghorne
State University of New York Press: Albany, NY.:1988.
(Also available in Questia)

The study of human experience needs to include "meaningfulness."

EXPERIENCE is meaningful and human behavior is generated from and informed by this meaningfulness. Thus, the study of human behavior needs to include an exploration of the meaning systems that form human experience. (p. 1)

Three levels of human existence: matter, life and consciousness.

The two most dramatic threshold points for the organization of human existence appear at the transition from matter to life and the transition from life to consciousness. (p. 2)

An explanation at a lower level reduces complexity of a higher level and leads to loss of information.

[T]ranslation across realms of existence requires reduction of complexity and loss of information, as, for example, when narrative's intricacy is reduced to only those structures or operations that are recognized in the organic or the material realms. (p. 10)

The human disciplines as distinct from the physical sciences.

Although the material realm might best be studied by the use of quantifying procedures and statistical estimates, the realm of meaning is best captured through the qualitative nuances of its expression in ordinary language. The disciplines of history and literary criticism have developed procedures and methods for studying the realm of meaning through its expressions in language. The human disciplines will need to look to those disciplines, rather than to the physical sciences, for a scientific model for inquiry of the region of consciousness.(p. 10)


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