Monday, November 17, 2014


172. What do you have in mind?

 In thought and language, we treat abstractions as if they were objects in time and space. That is what in this blog I called the object bias (in item 29). One major instance is the container metaphor: people are ‘in love’, ‘in the mood’, ‘in error’, ‘in panic’, and so on. Also, we have things ‘in mind’.

As if thoughts were entities contained in our brain, as stowed away in a drawer, which we can ‘look at’ from within that brain. In fact, ideas are as much outside the brain, in practices, habits and institutions, as in it. There is no private language, as argued by Wittgenstein. To make sense we need corrections from others. Making sense is playing a ‘language game’. One cannot have an idea and ‘look’ at it from outside the idea. Some things are not selected but happen to us. There are things we do not believe but ‘have’. It is odd to say ‘I believe I have a pain’.

So what, if anything, do we have ‘in mind’? As I discussed earlier in this blog, I propose that we do have ‘representations’ in the mind, of a sort, in the form of neural pathways that are constructed from our interaction with things and people in the world. But one cannot step out of a representation and ‘look at it’ ‘from outside’. One dwells in it. One cannot have the cognitive cake and eat it too.

Also, I proposed that much of our thought is based on scripts, structures of connected nodes, which represent structures of logic, causality and action. The classic example is a restaurant script of entering, seating, food selection, eating, paying and leaving. The order and precise content of nodes was upset with the invention of the self-service restaurant. There, selection of food is not from a menu but from a display. If you do not play the game and sit to be served, you get no food.

Scripts are triggered in the mind by circumstance, and perception is unconscious assimilation into scripts, attempting to find a fit into a node of a script.

I imagine that in the brain such scripts are embodied in patterns of connection between neurons. That, I propose, is the embodiment of Wittgenstein’s language games. The scripts emerge as a function of perceived success or failure, with corresponding emotions, with neural connections strengthening or weakening (in adaptation of synaptic thresholds) or arising anew. Neural networks that occur simultaneously, or under similar conditions, more or less often, are tentatively connected. This is the embodiment of association.

The triggering of a script by circumstance embodies what in social psychology is known as framing. Scripts entail prejudice, stereotyping. If observations cannot be fitted into scripts they are ignored, not even registered. If something does fit into a node or several nodes of some script, the rest of the script is attributed to it, in ‘pattern recognition’. People ‘see’ things that are not there.

This prejudice limits substantive rationality, but in evolution it probably was adaptive, in speedy recognition and action, conducive to survival and procreation.

All this, I propose, is how the formation of ideas and meanings from practice, discussed in foregoing items in this blog, is embodied. In terms of the theory of meaning: a script represents what is identified in reference, or denotation, and the ‘slots’ of nodes and features fitted into them constitute the sense or connotation that produces reference.