[unrev-II] Where does meaning come from, anyway?

From: Henry van Eyken (vaneyken@sympatico.ca)
Date: Fri Mar 10 2000 - 04:51:06 PST

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    From: "Henry van Eyken" <vaneyken@sympatico.ca>

    During Session 8B, Jon Bosak the question, where does meaning come

    I believe it is important to introduce here a modicum of psychology
    and I do so under the authority of one of the grand old men of
    "classical" psychology, Michael Gazzaniga. Here two IMPORTANT
    paragraphs copied from something I wrote for Fleabyte and in which I
    paraphrased some of what Gazzaniga wrote in a small, popular book,
    "The Mind's Past." Here goes:

    The word Past in The Mind's Past refers to what brains do before we
    ourselves get involved. Gazzaniga links our mind's past to our self
    with a device he calls interpreter. The interpreter functions
    somewhat like a computer's central processing unit. Neural
    computerese goes in, awareness comes out. "After the brain computes
    an event, an illusory we (that is, the mind) becomes aware of it,"
    writes Gazzinga. "The brain, particularly the left hemisphere, is
    built to interpret data already processed. Yes, there is a special
    device, which I call the interpreter, that carries out one more
    activity upon completion of zillions of automatic brain processes.
    The interpreter, the last device in the information chain in our
    brain, reconstructs the brain events and in doing so makes telling
    errors of perception, memory, and judgment."

    The interpreter, in other words, looks at what has been wrought by
    our brains and then -- experimenters have timed it to be about half a
    second later -- takes full credit by acting as if it itself made it
    all happen. The interpreter is the treshold to our conscious selves.
    The interpreter fools us into thinking that we are in control. The
    interpreter serves our self-assuredness. Our interpreter helps us
    maintain our mental balance. Telling it like it is, the truth, and
    nothing but the truth, is not the interpreter's top priority. Its
    priority is to make sense of the data it receives, even when fed with
    outrageous nonsense. Like our intestinal tract, the interpreter works
    hard to make do even with junk food.

    [The Fleabyte page, referred to above, gives an example of what
    lengths the interpreter will go to make "objective truth" palatable.

    Gazzaniga tells us of an intelligent lady who suffered from a
    malfunction called reduplicative paraamnesia. "The standard
    interpretation of this syndrome is that the patient has made a
    duplicate copy of a place (or person) and insists that there are
    two." He interviews her in his office.

    "I started with the 'so where are you?' question. 'I am in freeport,
    Maine. I know you don't believe it. Dr. Posner told me this morning
    when he came to see me that I was in the Memorial Sloan Kettering
    Hospital and when the residents come on rounds to say that to them.
    Well, that is fine but I know that I am in myhouse on Main Street in
    Freeport, Maine!' I asked, 'Well, if you are in Freeport and in your
    house, how come there are elevators outside the door here?' The
    grand lady peered at me and calmly responded, 'Doctor, do you know
    how much it cost me to have those put in?'

    "The patient had a perfectly fine interpreter working away trying to
    make sense out of what she knows and feels and does. Because of her
    lesion, the part of the brain that represents locality is overactive
    and sending out an erroneous message about her location. The
    interpreter is only as good as the information it receives .... The
    interpreter tells us the lies we need to believe in order to remain
    in control." Better change what one believes than find onself at a

    So far my paraphrasing Gazzaniga. If I remember correctly -- how I
    wish I had a DKR to help me be accurate and up-to-date -- many, many
    years ago it was demonstrated that information entering the visual
    system of the brain can travel along, basically, two pathways to
    parts of the cortex: one that leaves the travelling info
    unadulterated by emotions, the other along which emotional
    contamination occurs.

    Off hand -- how dangerous to say things off-hand! -- I am inclined to
    think that a DKR preoccupied with nuts and bolts will by and large
    (but not altogether) get along reasonably well with people's
    interpreters. But what about a DKR in the public domain concerned
    with the origins of the Universe and the species in it and zillions
    of other subtle things that guide our demeanor? Maintained through
    CoDIAK and OHS. The kind of public DKR that, I am so naieve to hope
    for, will
    eventually come to guide an educated, general population in
    contributing to decisions made on their behalf by democratically
    elected reps.

    I am tempted to now write scenarios and vignettes about the effect of
    an authoritative, "nothing-but-the-truth" DKR full of holy books,
    Joseph Campbell's interpretations of myth, vengeful prophets,
    lessons from evolutionary psychology, you and your lover's follies.
    &c., &c.) on the mental balance of people. Right now, people can
    argue things out in Kansas, but what then, when the time between
    confrontation and judicial resolution is shortened from months to
    minutes? "Oops," says Doug. "Surprise!"


    BTW: Do yourself a favor, buy that magnificent little book.

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