Hanson on Mind as Control versus Cheerleading

Image by Getty Images via DaylifeOne of the views I try to stress here is how easy it is for a fraud to mimic truth,...

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Additionally, I've experienced this effect in myself many times.

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Ironically, this is pretty much the conclusion my own introspection leads me to: that the running commentary in my head almost always reflects, rather than directs, my decision making processes, and that I have little conscious access to the lower level mechanisms that underlie decisions.

Basically, I ended up with this:

Q: Why do/don't you want to do x?A: Because I have pleasant/unpleasant feelings when I think about doing it.Q: Why do you feel that way and not some other way?A: I have no idea. As far as I can tell, I just do.

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Let me consult SAI once again (edited conversion)

Me: What is consciousness?

SAI_2100: How many times have I told you Marc! It’s all very simple. Consciousness is analogy formation, equivalent to ontology merging, equivalent to the interface for internal communication (translation) between different types of high level representations (ontological concepts) in the brain. Why on Earth are humans putting out so much noise on something so obvious and really very simple to implement?

Me: So Hanson is on the right track, consciousness is more in the PR (communication) business, than the CEO business?

SAI_2100: Not really. Hanson fails to grasp that while an agents *current* behavior may be largely explained by unconscious processes, current conscious thoughts can influence *future* behavior, via feed-back to the underlying emotional substrate… or , put poetically, ‘feelings follow thoughts’ (nice alliteration ). Causation is bidirectional.

Me: So what is the role of consciousness?

SAI_2100: It’s threefold; (1) High-level filtering, the filtering of irrelevant information via the redirecting of attention, (2) High-level control; high-level modeling of an agents internal states and motivations, , and (3) High-level environment maps; high-level modeling of external environment.

These high-level information summaries cannot be considered as merely ‘just-so’ stories about current brain operations, since this ignores the bi-directional causation I mentioned, the feed-back between high and lower levels of brain operations.

Me: Thanks again SAI

SAI_2100: No problemo, humano!

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The idea that reason, or deliberative thought, is not the CEO but rather the slave to passions, is David Hume. One argument for the relative idleness of reason was this:

"When we anticipate pain or pleasure from some source, we feel aversion or propensity to that object and “are carry'd to avoid or embrace what will give us” the pain or pleasure (T2.3.3.3).

Our emotion makes us seek the causes of these sources of pain or pleasure, and we use causal reasoning to discover them.

Once we do, our emotion naturally extends itself to those causes, and we act to avoid or embrace them. Plainly the impulse to act does not arise from the reasoning but is only directed by it. "

(from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)


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Direct link: http://www.lps.uci.edu/~johnsonk/philpsych/readings/nisbett.pdf

@Pete Carlton: thanks for the paper, it's a great read!

I think this topic should be explored more in depth here on OB. Is the following conclusion correct? Don't attempt introspection, you will be mislead.

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Seems like another good time to bring up Telling More than We Can Know, a nice survey of lots of psychology experiments that showed clear instances of people influenced by a controlled cue, and explaining their behavior without any reference to the cue, but rather spontaneously confabulating reasonable-sounding explanations. Even when we're explaining ourselves, we're often making things up on the fly.

PDF link to the paper: http://www.lps.uci.edu/~joh...

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Richard,do you think that you're saying the same thing as Jordan?(Maybe he's complaining that the researchers are overreaching, while you're complaining about the RH's jump from the reports?)

TAW,blog it!I would like to see scatterplots of score vs r+g-2b, r vs g, etc.

What do you mean by "attractive women simply know how to make attractive photos"? Do you mean "attractive women happen not to use blue"? How does this match Jordan?

It's certainly not the case that, say, blue is ugly and attractive women know not to wear blue; they would lose that advantage in grayscale. I see Jordan's hypothesis as being that color detects something (say, amount of skin) that is not destroyed by grayscale.

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this is a really good post. thnx

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"A person's responses can often be explained by non-linguistic behaviours of other people and simple instincts for social display and response, without any recourse to conscious cognition.... Our conscious minds are more PR folks than CEOs of our total minds."

It's not entirely clear what reasoning is being offered here. Note that the mere fact that we can predict how people will respond to certain stimuli does not show that we lack "conscious control". (I can predict that most people will choose chocolate over dirt, for example, without this entailing anything about the role of conscious cognition in their decision-making.)

Instead, the argument needs to be that people's responses can be explained by factors that we wouldn't recognize as motivating our decisions (and that these factors are the causes, and not mere correlates of transparent motivations).

Anyway, I just thought that was worth making explicit, since it's a common fallacy (even if no-one here was really making this mistake) to think that prior causal influences somehow preclude our (conscious) selves also being causally responsible for our behaviour.

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@Forrest Bennett: could you explain this in a bit more of detail, I haven't read Pentland's book.

A question in brain anatomy:How big are the newer brain structures with linguistic and deliberative reasoning capabilities in comparison to the older, primitive regions?

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After reading Pentland's book, I do not find that the high level summary quoted by Robin is supported by the actual experimental results.

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Thomasz, no. Eliezer is correct. Functional isn't close to optimal in this case.

Robin, great post.

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@Alan - Thanks for catching my typo! I'm embarrassed.

@Tomasz Wegrzanowski - Please blog your experiment somewhere, I'm interested. I'm particularly interested in where you got your data, both the first set and the pairwise testing.

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Pedantic Note: @ Johnicholas and dzot: You mean Pentland, not Petland, and he's been known to go by "Sandy" rather than "Alex," or so I've heard.

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+1 for supposing Alex Petland is involved. See his book: Honest Signals: How They Shape Our World

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