Jaynes: The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind

On Frazer and Fertility Cults:
The most popular view goes back to the uncritical mania with which ethnology, following Frazier, wished to find fertility cults at the drop of a carved pebble.  But if such figurines indicate something about Frazerian fertility, we should not find them where fertility was no problem.  But we do.  (The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind, Part I, Chapter 1, page 166).

On Ballet and Church Cultural Roots In Oracles:
The golden oracle at Ephesus, famous for its enormous wealth, had traced eunuchs as the mouthpieces of the goddess Artemis. (The style of their vestments, incidentally, is still used today by the Greek Orthodox Church.) And the abnormal dancing on the tips of the toes of modern ballerinas is thought to derive from the dances before the altar of the goddess.
(The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind, Part III, Chapter 1, page 327).

On Jealous Gods:
Every god is a jealous god after the breakdown of the bicameral mind.
(The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind, Part III, Chapter 1, page 336).

On Glossolalia:
As we might expect, glossolalists by the Thematic Apperception Test reveal themselves as more submissive, suggestible, and dependent in the presence of authority figures than those who cannot exhibit the phenomenon.”
(The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind, Part III, Chapter 2, page 360).

On Hypnosis: 
But repeated attempts [at hypnotic induction] on such subjects [who cannot narrow his consciousness in this fashion] often succeed, showing that the “narrowing of consciousness in hypnotic induction is partly a learned ability; learned, I should add, on the basic of the aptic structure I have called the general bicameral paradigm [that encodes collective cognitive imperative, induction, trance, archaic authorization].  
(The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind, Part III, Chapter 4, page 387).

If calling hypnosis a vestige of the bicameral mind is valid, we might also expect that those most susceptible to being hypnotized would be the most susceptible to other instances of the general bicameral paradigm.  In regard to religious involvement, this appears to be true.  Persons who have attended church regularly since childhood are more susceptible to hypnosis, while those who have had less religious involvement tend to be less susceptible.  At least some investigators of hypnosis that I know seek their subjects in theological colleges because they have found such students to be more susceptible.  
(The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind, Part III, Chapter 4, page 396).

On The Dogma Of Science:
We sometimes think, and even like to think, that the two greatest exertions that have influenced mankind, religion and science, have always been historical enemies, intriguing us in opposite directions.  But this effort at special identity is largely false.  It is not religion but the church and science that were hostile to each other. And it was rivalry, not contravention.  Both were religious.  They were two giants fuming at each other over the same ground.  Both proclaimed to be the only way to divine revelation.  
(The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind, Part III, Chapter 6, page 434).

[See Also]

Feser: Aquinas

A disappointing text.

Perhaps my expectations were calibrated too highly. I was hoping for an introduction that would sketch both the theoretical manifold of Thomism, and its motivations. I was only satisfied with the former. The proffered justifications of Thomism seemed targeted towards New Atheists, failing to engage more sophisticated philosophical frameworks. Further, Feser motivates his account by way of spurious empirical examples that I will now proceed to debunk.


Page 21 was particularly disappointing:

> Aquinas would also be baffled by the modern tendency to think of causation as essentially a relation between temporally ordered events.. For Aquinas, it is things that are causes, not events; and the immediate efficient cause of an effect is simultaneous with it, not temporally prior to it.. In the case of the broken window, the key point in the causal series would be something like the pushing of the brick into the glass and the glass’s giving way. These events are simultaneous; indeed, the bricking’s pushing into the glass and the glass’s giving way are really just the same event. Or (to take an example often used to illustrate the Aristotelian conception of efficient causation) we might think of a potter making a pot, where the potter’s positioning his hand in just such-and-such a way and the pot’s taking on such-and-such a shape are simultaneous, and, again, the same event described in two different ways.

Sheets of glass and shards of pottery are physical substances extended in space. Force-carriers do not travel from the point of contact to the rest of the surface instantaneously. Like all other particles, they are constrained by the speed of light. These analogies are empirically bankrupt.


Causal Series.

Feser introduces the concept of causal series in chapter 2. The idea is embedded within the standard Aristotelian Four Causes that Aquinas adopts: material, formal, efficient, and final. A key distinction here is that, whereas modern philosophy tends to read causality in the language of events, medieval philosophy interprets in the language of things. The two types of causal chains considered are the accidens series and the essential series. Let us now examine what Feser means by this distinction.


On page 13, Feser explains how substance and matter change:

> Sometimes change concerns some non-essential feature, as when a red ball is painted blue but remains a ball nonetheless. Sometimes it involves something essential, as when the ball is melted into a puddle of goo and thus no longer counts as a ball at all.. For a ball merely to change its color is for its matter to lose one accidental form and take on another, while retaining the substantial form of a ball and thus remaining the same substance, namely a ball. For a ball to be melted into goo is for its matter to lose one substantial form and take on another.

But this account does not treat the problem of ambiguity. Suppose I am microwaving my red ball:

* Eighty seconds into the process, 60% of Thomists would agree that the ball retains its Form.
* Eighty-one seconds into the process, 60% of Thomists would agree that the ball has traded its Form.

Let us suppose that, per Thomism, my red ball really did lose its form at the eighty-one second mark. What is it about the physical phenomena during that second that differed from the previous eighty seconds? If Forms substitution is really as clean and binary as Aquinas suggests, why don’t Thomists remain equally vulnerable to epistemic disagreement as the rest of us?


On page 15, Feser underscores a Thomistic asymmetry:

> On the hylemorphic analysis, considered apart from the substances that have them, form and matter are mere abstractions; there is no form of the ball apart from the matter that has that form, and no matter of the ball apart from the form that makes it a ball specifically.. While (contra Plato) no form exists apart from some particular individual substance that instantiates it, not every form exists in a material substance. There can be forms without matter, and thus immaterial substances – namely, for Aquinas, angels and postmortem human souls.. This recapitulates an asymmetry noted earlier: just as act can exist without potency even though potency cannot exist without act, so too form can exist without matter even though matter cannot exist without form.

But Feser does not provide an explanation for this curiosity.


This book could have been improved by a treatment of the following topics:

How can { Forms, final causality } be epistemically accessible?
How can the A-T framework mediate intra-group disagreement?
How does change in matter lead to change in substance, or change in Form?


On page 48, Feser presents an argument for teleology:

> As philosopher David Oderberg has noted, it is particularly evident in natural cycles like the water cycle and the rock cycle. In the former case, condensation leads to precipitation, which leads to collection, which leads to evaporation, which leads to condensations, and the cycle begins again. In the latter case, igneous rock forms into sedimentary rock, which forms into metamorphic rock, which melts into magma, which hardens into igneous rock, and the cycle begins again. Scientists who study these processes identify each of their stages as playing a certain specific role relative to the others. For example, the role of condensation in the water is to bring about precipitation; the role of pressure in the rock cycle is, in conjunction with heat, to generate magma, and in the absence of heat to contribute to generating sedimentary rock; and so forth. Each stage has the production of some particular outcome or range of outcomes as an “end” or “goal” towards which it points. Nor will it do to suggest that either cycle could be adequately described by speaking of each stage as being the efficient cause of certain others, with no reference to its playing a “role” of generating some effect as an “end” or “goal.” For each stage has many other effects that are not part of the cycle. As Oderberg points out, sedimentation might (for example) happen to block the water flow to a certain region, the formation of magma might cause some local birds to migrate, or condensation in some area might for all we know cause someone to have arthritic pain in his big toe. But [these examples] are no part of the water cycle. Some causal chains are relevant to the cycles and some are not. Nor is it correct to say that the student of the rock or water cycles just happens to be interested in the way some rock generates other kinds and how water in one form brings about water in another form, and is not interested in [these examples]. For the patterns described by scientists studying these cycles are objective patterns in nature, not mere projections of human interests. But the only way to account for this is to recognize that each stage in the process, while it might have various sorts of effects, has only the generation of certain *specific* effects among them as its “end” or “goal” and that this is what determines its role in the cycle. In short, it is to recognize such cycles as teleological.


> As philosophers like G.F. Schueler and Scott Sehon have argued at length, no attempt to analyze human action in non-teleological terms has succeeded.



On page 52, Feser addresses a counter-argument to the principle of proportionate causality (a cause cannot give to its effect what it does not have itself, whether formally, eminently, or virtually):

> It is nevertheless sometimes suggested that this principle is disproved by evolution, since if simpler life forms give rise to more complex ones then they must surely be producing in their effects something they did not have to give. But this does not follow.. Just as water in conjunction with something else might be sufficient to produce a red puddle even if the water by itself wouldn’t be, so too do the existing genetic material, the mutation, and environmental circumstances together generate a new biological variation even though none of these factors by itself would be sufficient to do so. Thus, evolution [does not] pose a challenge to the principle of proportionate causality. Indeed, as Paul Davies points out in *The Fifth Miracle*, to deny that the information contained in a new life form derives from some combination of preexisting factors – specifically, in part from the organism’s environment if not from its genetic inheritance alone – would contradict the second law of thermodynamics, which tells us that order (and thus information content) tends inevitably to decrease, not increase, within a closed system.

This appeal to the Second Law seems empirically dubious.  In no sense is the Earth’s biosphere a “closed system”.


On page 57, Feser defends Aquinas against Anthony Kenny’s arguments are inadequate from a Fregean perspective.

> As Gyula Klima has said, “it is ludicrous to claim victory by yelling ‘Checkmate!’ in a game of poker. But this is precisely what Kenny seems to be doing whenever he is yelling ‘You are not a good enough Fregean!’ at Aquinas.’ Certainly other conceptions of existence are possible..

Tasteless, and misses the point. In order to sustain their school, Thomists must do more than simply regurgitate theories of a medieval Scholastic. They must engage with the current theoretical climate. If you want to deny Fregean essences wholesale, you must interact with their argumentative traditions.

Feser does later partially address Fregean thought, which to my mind partially redeems the above rhetorical device.


On page 28, Feser explains how Aquinas defends angelic differentiation:

> With what Aquinas calls “separated substances” – immaterial realities like the soul, angels, and God – things are not so straightforward. The soul.. must on Aquinas’s view be conjoined to matter at some point in its existence.. God is necessarily unique, so that the question of individuation cannot arise. But what about angels, which are supposed to be both distinct from one another and yet completely immaterial? An angel, says Aquinas, is a form without matter, and thus its essence corresponds to its form alone. But precisely because there is no matter to distinguish one angel in a species from another, “among these substances there cannot be many individuals of the same species. Rather, there are as many species as there are individuals”.

After this concession, Feser promptly moves on to a separate topic. But consider what this means: besides Triangle and Redness forms, Aquinas affirms that there is also JoeTheAngel form and a RobertTheAngel form. This seems an astonishingly ugly band-aid, and its ontological awkwardness is not acknowledged nor ameliorated.


On page 63, Feser sets the stage for the Quinquae Viae:

> The Summa, it must be remembered, was meant as a textbook for beginners in theology who were already Christian believers, not an advanced work in apologetics intended to convince skeptics. The Five Ways themselves are merely short statements of arguments that would already have been well known to the readers of Aquinas’s day, and presented at greater length and with greater precision elsewhere.

Historically accurate. But, if the Five Ways are not Aquinas’ best case for theism, I would rather attention be devoted to other, more incisive, arguments.


On page 65, Feser insulates Aristotelian metaphysics from Aristotelian physics:

> It has also sometimes been claimed that Aquinas’s proofs rest on outdated Aristotelian scientific theory, and thus are irrelevant in the present day. But as noted in chapter 2, Aristotle’s metaphysics stands or falls independently of his physics and, as we shall see, there is never a point in any of the arguments where appeal need be made to now falsified theories in physics or any of the other sciences.

Perhaps such sharp bifurcations between physics and metaphysics are irredeemably anachronistic. Aristotelian metaphysics were originally motivated by his physics. To insulate the former from the latter is to remove its original motivators.


On page 68, Feser addresses empirical counterexamples:

> As Rudy te Velde has suggested, some critics place too much significance on the physical details of the examples Aquinas gives in the course of the proof, failing to see that their point is merely to illustrate certain basic metaphysical principles rather than to support broad empirical or quasi-scientific generalizations.

If you can’t defend Thomas’ examples, fix them! Immersed in the context of the section, this passage seems to evidence a pathological reluctance to improve upon Aquinas at any point.


I stopped here. Since medieval philosophy poses an interesting challenge to more modern approaches, I hope to locate a more rigorous replacement soon.

Ramachandran: The Tell-Tale Brain

This book contained more idiosyncrasies than I expected. Time was spent on the Victorian sentiments of R’s research paradigm, with his preference for simple experiments with everyday tools.

R was also uncomfortably rigid in his treatment of the ape-human divide. While postulating a continuous evolutionary link between different species within our clade, R claimed that the evolutionary progress between homo sapiens and our near-neighbors are about as significant abiogenesis itself.

I wouldn’t characterize the above as an extreme position, perhaps, but R does not hesitate to remind the reader every few pages, how this behavior is unique to humans. Some of these claims were well-founded, but many lacked evidence, and some were plainly false (“apes don’t have theory of mind”, “apes don’t appreciate humor”, etc).

For a researcher seeking to democratize scientific progress, Ramachandran displayed a disappointing poverty of integrative thinking. In particular, R’s tone towards psychology is sometimes measured, sometimes awkwardly uninformed (dismissing out of hand the psychometric concept of the general intelligence factor, g, as “absurd”), but never collaborative. A more promising way to progress in the sciences: higher-level fields structure lower-level fields, and fields closer to implementation details constrain those engaged with more general abstractions.

I was unhappy with the degree to which Ramachandran leaned on mirror neuron systems. Mirror neurons are neurons discovered in apes that fire for some arbitrary action, regardless of whether it is performed by the observer, or by some other agent. To me, it felt like Ramachandran abstracted this idea to be the neurological basis of two distinct things: theory of mind, and conceptual representation. And, because these two things are such important conceptual building blocks,
mirror neurons appear practically everywhere Ramachandran looks…

All of that said, this book does have a lot to offer to those uninitiated in neuroscience. Its introduction to the nervous system felt especially competent. The section on body map failures, e.g., people whose body map for an arm is corrupted and they seek amputation, was particularly interesting. Some connections were made from these neurological structures, to sexual orientation and transgender behavior, which I bookmarked for further research. Finally, I appreciated the book’s breadth, particularly enjoying its explorations in theories of humor (Benign Violation Theory), the tri-stream visual systems, autistic savants, and neuroaesthetics.

Siegel: The Neurobiology of “We”

I enjoyed the ambiance of this audiobook. Siegel’s pace was measured and calm, his tone disarmingly personal. It turns out that he literally founded the field of interpersonal neurobiology, which purports to synthesize vast swathes of scientific disciplines into a coherent whole. Large claims by an influential man.

The author was careful to precede his discussion by asserting that the mind and the brain are distinct, that he would like to move away from the aphorism that “the brain is the seat of the mind”. Instead, Siegel advocates a philosophical stance of emergentism, that the brain-mind connection is causally bidirectional. In my view, this point was rather underdeveloped & the book as a whole does not hinge on the point.

One interesting chapter relates to attachment theory. Children-caregiver relationships tend to group into four distinctive categories. These can be divined from the Strange Situation test, which places the child in a foreign environment, and then removes the caregiver for a few minutes. Attachment style is linked to child response: secure-attachment children reach out to the parent, and then resume play; avoidant-attachment children ignore the parent; anxious-attachment cling to the parent and are slow to be comforted; disorganized-attachment exhibit confused, contradictory responses.

What Siegel demonstrates is how later in life, a particular interview called the Adult Attachment Interview can predict, with 85% accuracy, the attachment style learned by the adult, earlier in life. When asked to explore feelings about early childhood relationships: the secure adult will be able to fluently conjure feelings; the anxious adult will be derailed by more present anxieties (“just last week, my mom did something nice for my brother, but not for me”; the avoidant adult will not be able to fully access emotional data (“my mom was organized, beautiful”); the disorganized adult will answer relatively normally until faced with questions of loss or abuse.

The demographic ratios between these styles in US society tends to be 55% secure, 20% anxious, 20% avoidant, 5% disorganized.

Another interesting point of the book relates to trauma, or PTSD. Siegel summarizes an impressive swath of research that suggests that PTSD is the result of memory-encoding inconsistency. Memory is not a monolithic system, but rather divides into myriad subsystems. Siegel argues that trauma occurs when the threatening event is encoded into implicit memory, but stress hormone prevents the hippocampus from encoding it into episodic memory. Without access to the conscious “metadata” for the event in episodic memory, flashbacks trigger confusion between the memory, and the event itself.

Finally, Siegel presented a way of thinking about the brain that I found more helpful than Latin names. If one curls up the thumb into the palm, and curls the fingers around the thumb, it is a half-decent model of the brain. The palm represents the brain stem, the wrist the spinal column, the thumb the limbic system, the fingers the cortex. Within the “fingers”, the back section between second and third knuckles represent perceptual systems, the tips, the prefrontal cortex.

I’ll now list two criticisms I have, one specific and one general. The first is a matter of definition; Siegel likes to define the mind as a “process that organizes matter and energy flowing through the brain”. This is largely fine, and reflects the consilience between thermodynamics and information theory. But, he tends to conflate the use of “energy” between thermodynamics and emotional/psychic energy, which is unfortunate. My second criticism is one that I have so far felt against the fields of positive psychology as a whole: I just didn’t learn very much from this book. The brain sciences don’t seem to be sophisticated enough yet to give Siegel the mileage he needs to establish his conclusions. With so little attention given to mechanism, books such as this one will always feel empirically inadequate.

That said, this book does represent a fairly compelling “beginner’s guide” to interpersonal neurobiology, and I look forward to learning more (especially how interpersonal neurobiology relates to mindfulness meditation).

Csikszentmihalyi: Flow


Hedonism Is Inadequate.
Human beings do not need pleasure above all else. People report enjoying watching TV, but often feel listless afterwards. “The future will belong not only to the educated man, but to the man who is educated to use his leisure wisely.” (pg 163, citing C.K. Brightbill).

Psychic Entropy Threatens Our Health.
Attention can be thought of as psychic energy reserves, and is a finite resource. Data bombards our senses continuously, the mind must try to organize and derive meaning from this flood of information. Failure to impose adequate structure leads to feelings of listlessness, boredom, and apathy.

Flow Introduces Structure To The Mind.
Another expression for flow is being “in the zone”.

On page 49, C enumerates distinctive phenomenological characteristics of enjoyment (flow):
1. Challenge: An achievable activity that engages skill sets.
2. Immersive: Awareness becomes fused to the activity (“in the moment”).
3. Clear Goals: Success is well-defined.
4. Clear Feedback: Participant can evaluate their performance reliably.
5. Focused attention: Everyday concerns are removed from attention.
6. Control: A sense of autonomous responsibility for action.
6. Muted self-awareness: Ego is suspended only to return, energized.
7. Time Distortions: Time moves quickly, or slowly, or seems irrelevant.

Flow only occurs when skills are well-matched with challenge intensity. If the flow activity continues to be experienced without change, personal skill can outpace challenge, leading to boredom. If the activity requires skills which outpace personal skill, this only introduces stress. The trick is to keep skills & challenges matched in an ascending cycle as the participant learns. As this two elements grow, so does the ability of the ego to bring order to psychic chaos.

Autotelic Personalities Find Internal Motivations Via Flow.

A distinction is made between exotelic and autotelic motives. Exotelic refers to commitments induced by external forces, autotelic desires directly emerge from the self. C uses this distinction to get at what he believes to be wrong about modern education.

On page 97, C describes a “formula” for how autotelic personalities typically transform simple physical actions into flow-producers:
1. Set an overall goal, and as many sub goals as are realistically feasible.
2. Find ways to measure progress in terms of the goals chosen.
3. Maintain concentration of task at hand, and make finer and finer distinctions in the challenges involved in the activity.
4. Develop the skills necessary to better engage with available opportunities.
5. Keep raising the stakes when the activity becomes boring.

Flow Informs The Human Condition.

The remainder of the book goes on to apply this framework. Conditions that induce flow are explored, physical and mental flow activities are compared, social and philosophical implications are explored.


C gave me the impression that he was politically conservative at times, which is unusual for this kind of book. I found myself sympathetic to C’s argument against certain strains of multiculturalism: perhaps cultures can, in principle, be comparatively evaluated based on how well they fit to universally-human psychological structures.

I generally liked what C had to say. I largely agreed with his critiques of utilitarianism (that pleasure is the universal unit of value).

But the above points of agreements are little more than bookmarks. The book suffers from a fairly ubiquitous lack of empiricism. General principles are woven together, but precision and rigorous empirical research are undervalued. An example: C claims that the ability of flow to escalate skills & challenges improves the “complexity of the soul”, but nowhere is this loose concept truly nailed down.

Thus, I do not feel like I have emerged with a deeper knowledge of the human mind. For me, this book only served to refine my intuitions about which aspects of cognitive psychology deserve empirical attention.


“Dr Hamilton found that the students who reported less intrinsic motivation in daily life needed on the average to fix their eyes on more points before they could reverse the ambiguous figure, whereas students who on the whole found their lives more intrinsically rewarding required fewer points.” (pg 87)

“Bertrand Russell described bow he achieved personal happiness: ‘Gradually I learned to be indifferent to myself and my deficiencies; I came to center my attention increasingly upon external objects: the state of the world, various branches of knowledge, individuals for whom I felt affection.’ There could be no better short description of how to build for oneself an autotelic personality.” (pg 93)

“Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god.” (Francis Bacon, cited pg 173)

Metzinger: The Ego Tunnel

With this book, Metzinger furthers an encouraging trend in academia: superstar theoreticians are writing accounts of their work for the layman.

His book is carved into three parts. The first summarizes his theory of consciousness, as rigorously developed in Being No One. The second introduces his theory of self-hood in the context of clinical neuroscience. The third discusses the imminent social conflict that will erupt as the public acquaints itself with the increasingly-surprising results of cognitive science.


M fails to adequately consider evolutionary mechanisms other than natural selection. Some textual evidence from pg 43: “in principle, consciousness could be a by-product of other traits that paid for themselves, but [its stability] over time suggests that it was adaptive.”

While M excels at presenting cutting-edge research, he often neglects to leave his readers with tools for further research. I kept hoping that he would cite the concepts of “umwelt” and “semiosphere” but he never did. Also, pages 111-113 were stunningly eloquent, but if I had not read the physiological journals beforehand, I would have completely missed the fact that M was describing the theory of pain known as the neuromatrix.

The text is laced with insinuations of consensus. While this is often applicable in surprising ways (scholars agree that thoughts can be inferred from lab equipment), M can cast this authoritative weight inappropriately (his self-less Ego theory is itself immersed in controversy).


M’s exceptionally lucid writing style, combined with a compelling bird’s eye view of genuinely pivotal cogsci research, makes this a compelling read. The wealth of illuminating graphics didn’t hurt either.

Three sections stood out as independently valuable. Chapter 2 explores six themes: the One-World Problem, the Now Problem, the Reality Problem, the Ineffability Problem, and the Who Problem. I found this journey to be compelling, and it left me itching to buy M’s magnum opus (Being No One). In addition to this, Chapter 3’s discussion of Out-Of-Body experiences stitched together a fascinating collection of research. Finally, chapter 7 included a well-overdue discussion of the effects of, and viable policy strategies towards, nootropics.


I warmly recommend this book. A tasty quote to conclude (pg 20):

“The evening sky is colorless. The world is not inhabited by colored objects at all. It is just as your physics teacher in high school told you: Out there, in front of your eyes, there is just an ocean of electromagnetic radiation, a wild and raging mixture of different wavelengths. Most of them are invisible to you and can never become part of your conscious model of reality. What is really happening is that your brain is drilling a tunnel through this inconceivably rich physical environment and in the process painting the tunnel walls in various shades of color. Phenomenal color. Appearance.”

Kahneman: Thinking, Fast and Slow

The best popular science book I have encountered to date.

Extremely well-organized with short, self-contained chapters. Kahneman is an intellectual giant, and it shows in his writing. The book surveys an impressive amount of material. His seminal paper on prospect theory – the most widely cited article in the social sciences – is explained in detail. Every chapter ends with “water cooler quotes”, which I found to be a surprisingly-useful way to recap new material.

Kahneman’s book is organized into three distinctions:

1. Cognitive Systems. “System1” is the first system discussed, and is summarized as “fast thinking”. It is associative, subconscious, heuristic-oriented. “System2” is a more recent biological phenomenon; it is more analytical, abstract, purposive, effortful, and also more lazy. This distinction is not merely a theoretical construct of a researcher, it is the basis of dual-process theories of psychology, which is one of the most active areas of psychological research today.

2. Behavioral Agents. “Econs” are the decision making agents found in classical economic textbooks. Their preferences are constant, consistent, and geared towards maximizing utility. “Humans” are the decision making agents in the real world, cognitively driven by System1 and System2. Their preferences change, are manipulable, and are deeply inconsistent. This distinction is rooted in the modern field of behavioral economics (which Kahneman helped found).

3. Phenomenological Selves. The “experiencing self” is the self that experiences the moment, the self that perceives the world as it flies by. The “remembering self” is the self that constructs a narrative of personhood; it derives on memory to reconstruct the experiencing self, but its restorative work is – as with everything else in the book – subject to error. Here is a TED talk Kahneman gave on the subject: http://www.ted.com/talks/daniel_kahne…

I highly recommended this book.

Evans: In Two Minds


In Two Minds surveys state of the art dual-process theories that have become enormously influential within modern psychology.

Dual-process theory holds that our mental lives are the result of activity of, and interactions between, two separate minds. The first mind – System 1 – is the mind that drives your car when you daydream. It is fast, implicit, subconscious, associative, and evolutionary ancient. System 2, in contrast, is the mind that generates directions. It is cognitively taxing, language-oriented, conscious, abstract, and a relative newcomer on the ecological scene.

Numerous flavors of dual-process theory have emerged over the years. The theory has emerged, relatively independently, from among the following traditions: social psychology, cultural psychology, psychometrics, developmental psychology, behavioral economics, and artificial intelligence. While such creative independence suggests a common biological substrate, little effort had been made to synthesize these different perspectives until now. This anthology, itself written to complement an interdisciplinary academic conference, represents a significant step towards such a harmonization.

One of my few complaints is that the lack of a canonical vocabulary made comparative analysis between chapters difficult. That said, the breadth of subjects treated was astonishing, and the writing quality was generally excellent. I should mention that most chapters have been made publicly available via their originating universities. The following chapters struck me as especially significant:

Ch 2: Evans: How many dual process theories do we need?
Book editor, and leader of the dual-process synthesis movement, Jonathan Evans presents his vision for dual-process theory development. He begins by presenting the clusters of properties associated with either mind. Insights from a diverse set of traditions are collected, with a particular interest taken in mediating inter-system communications. The chapter closes with a hybrid model of mental architectures. An ideal one-shot introduction to the field.

Ch 3: Stanovich: Distinguishing the reflective, algorithmic, and autonomous minds: Is it time for a tri-process theory?
Psychometric legend Keith Stanovich rocks the boat by his proposal to bifurcate System 2 into reflective and algorithmic types. The algorithmic mind is what IQ tests measure, and is correlated with working memory. It is also thought to be a measure of cognitive decoupling, echoing Aristotle’s famous dictum: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” The reflective mind is, in contrast, driven by thinking dispositions. It is an explanation for how otherwise extremely intelligent people flounder – smarts need to be complemented by work ethic, mental resource-management, innovation, and other properties. The chapter closes with a stunning taxonomy of thinking errors, which explores in great detail how the heuristics and bias literature motivate the movement.

Ch 5: Carruthers: An architecture for dual reasoning
Philosopher of mind Peter Carruthers explores concepts developed in his acclaimed work, Architecture Of Mind. His argument, inspired by the massive modularity thesis of evolutionary psychology, moves at a brisk pace. Breathtaking structural diagrams are presented, and grounded in wide swathes of empirical data. Carruthers’ main thesis is that this architecture is shared between System 1 and System 2: when consciousness takes over, it disconnects the modules from the action production systems to simulate various outcomes.

Ch 8: Thompson: Dual-process theories: a metacognitive perspective
While theorists have much to say about the different roles of either system, little is known about how they interact. Thompson seeks to fill this gap with an account of the emotional payload people experience when, say, they solve a riddle. Such Feelings Of Rightness (FORs, also known as yedasentience) are transmitted from System 1 to System 2, which only decides whether to intervene when the FOR is insufficiently strong.

Ch 10: Buchtel, Norenzayan: Thinking across cultures: implications for dual processes
It is an unfortunate truth that many psychological studies generalize their conclusions even though their polled subjects consist entirely of American psychology undergraduates. In this important chapter, Buchtel and Norenzayan explain why such a scope conceals the true breadth of human cognitive diversity. Cross-cultural studies are analyzed, with the conclusion that the System 2 characteristics of East Asian peoples consistently diverge from Occidental students. Subjects immersed in East Asian culture tend to focus more attention at contextual features of problems. The implications of this difference – for theory modification, and an account of how culture shapes ontogeny of cognition – are explored.

Ch 11: Sun, Lane, Matthews: The two systems of learning: architectural perspective
Artificial intelligence research Ron Sun reviews his architectural innovation CLARION. Since this computational innovation is well-documented at length elsewhere (including Wikipedia), Sun zeroes in on its relationship with dual-process theorizing. Specifically, and in contrast with Carruthers above, his software posits two distinct computational entities, and is able to recreate human idiosyncrasies via an exploration of the systems’ interactions.

Ch 13: Lieberman: What zombies can’t do: a social cognitive neuroscience approach to the irreducibility of reflective consciousness
For centuries, academics have countenanced philosophical zombies: what would it mean if a human being could behave normally but lack conscious experience? Lieberman here harnesses dual-process theories and neuroimaging data to explore the more focused question on whether such a phenomenon is nomologically possible.

Ch 15: Saunders: Reason and intuition in the moral life: a dual-process account of moral justification
Saunders examines the phenomenon of moral dumbfounding, via one of its manifestations regarding incest. Most people, when asked whether a short story about incest represents something morally wrong, will answer affirmatively and provide their reasons. However, when the storyteller removes the offending reasons (both parties are psychologically unharmed, there is no risk of pregnancy, etc), subjects generally maintain that the behavior is wrong, yet they cannot explain why they think so. The author goes on to explain how such moral dumbfounding is the result of clashing moral conclusions between the still-outraged System 1 and the deprived-of-reasons System 2.

This is my favorite cognitive science text to date.

Jaworski: Philosophy Of Mind

Part Of: Philosophy of Mind sequence
Content Summary: 500 words, 5 min reading time

Let me now review this textbook, which I recently had the pleasure of reading.

My Overall Impressions

A thorough survey of philosophy of mind. I enjoyed the author’s style, particularly his accessible vocabulary and propensity for explicitly communicating premises of the more involved bits of argumentation.

This textbook is unusual insofar as it presents novel content, as opposed to only synthesizing current knowledge. In a surprising move, Jaworski devotes two out of eleven chapters exploring an idiosyncratic version of hylomorphism. While regrettably diverting attention from other under-explored areas, I found Jaworski’s blend of Aristotelian and embodied cognition traditions to be worth reading.

High-Level Picture

The book opens with a taxonomic bang, sporting a graphical enumeration of different theories of mind, along with their interrelationships and metaphysical assumptions. Here are the ten leading theories, along with their key beliefs.


We can organize these theories into the following taxonomy:


Chapters 1-2

Here Jaworski does the necessary work of painting the philosophical landscape within which all theories of mind reside. He begins by discussing three problems that theories of mind tend to gravitate towards:

  1. The Problem Of Psychophysical Emergence: “how did mental activity appear within the sparse, particulate sea of the universe?”
  2. The Problem Of Other Minds: “how do people infer facts about the private mental lives of others?”
  3. The Problem Of Mental Causation: “how do mental phenomena affect physical phenomena?”

While these problems motivate mental theories, they do not prepare the reader for the breadth of discussions within the literature. In this light, the mental-physical distinction is explored, as are questions of first-person authority, subjectivity, qualia, mental representation, intentionality, and other topics.

Chapter 3

Substance dualism is discussed. This chapter was unusually well structured, perhaps on account of the length of time that society has countenances its subject. Supporting arguments, grounded in modal conceivability-possibility links, proved inconclusive. Counter arguments (problems of other minds, of interaction, of explanatory impotence) extract the following concessions:

  1. Denying knowledge of the mental states of others.
  2. Discarding conservation of energy *or* mental-physical causation.
  3. Rejecting the need to explain mental-physical correlations.”

Chapter 4

The physicalist worldview is introduced, with some overlap with philosophy of science giants like Hempel. Only eleven pages are devoted to exploring theories of consciousness, including first-order-representation, higher-order-perception, higher-order-thought, and sensorimotor ideas.

Chapters 5-7

Reductive, non-reductive, and other specific physicalist theories are treated. The author was not shy about marshalling arguments against the current philosophic consensus that is realization physicalism. Multiple-Realizability arguments prominently featured in the discussion; I especially enjoyed the typology-based reductivist responses to the MRT.

Chapters 8-9

Dual-Attribute Theory, and other specific non-physicalist theories are treated. An interesting discussion of Dennett’s and Wittgenstein’s arguments against qualia spiced the presentation.

Chapters 10-11

Jaworski’s brand of hylomorphism is presented, along with a related hylomorphic theory of mind. While Aristotelean approaches are becoming more popular within philosophy – notably philosophy of biology – there exists an uncomfortable lack of exposition into its tenets which these chapters help to fill. I found the connections with Morleau-Ponty’s empirical phenomenology, and modern embodied cognition theorists like Noe and Regan, to be a helpful inspiration for future research.

Despite the few targeted criticisms above, I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to efficiently absorb philosophy of mind material.

Fodor: Modularity Of Mind

Part Of: Cognitive Modularity sequence
Content Summary: 1100 words, 11 min reading time

Let me today review this text, which is widely held to be one of the most influential texts in the cognitive psychology tradition.


A milestone within the cognitive psychology tradition. This extended argument for the modularity of input systems reoriented the field back when it was published in 1983, and responses continue to emerge to this day.

Modularity Of Mind is one of those rare books that combine a formidable vocabulary with a concise communicative style. Fodor’s dry humor and deep familiarity with relevant empirical results redeemed the occasionally abstruse discussion. The author’s penchant for polemics was not apparent in this essay. Five sections divide the work:

Part 1: Four Accounts Of Mental Structure

To Fodor, the four competing theories of mental structure are:

  1. Neo-Cartesianism
  2. horizontal faculties
  3. vertical faculties
  4. Associationism

While discussing Neo-Cartesianism, Fodor draws the distinction between innate faculties: propositional vs. architectural. Specifically, there are two kinds of reactions to the tabula rasa. The first is to propose that the mind does not begin life completely undifferentiated; rather, infants come into the world already possessing “cognitive furniture”, such as image rendering engines. The second kind of reaction is to claim that humans are born with a certain set of pre-installed knowledge (e.g., Chomskyan universal grammar).

After the discussion regarding innate faculties, Fodor treats the horizontal/vertical distinction within architectural theories of cognition. Horizontal modular theories are those that would have cognitive furniture be domain-general. Such ideas go back to ancient Greece; a good current exemplar is what modern psychology believes about long-term memory. Vertical modular theories hold cognitive furniture to be domain-specific. Rather than fractionating the mind into perception, memory, and motivational modules, vertical theorists such as Franz Gall (father of phrenology) would insist on different modules for mathematics, music, poetry, etc. Gall would go on to say that there is no such thing as domain-general memory. If there are similarities between musical memory and mathematical memory, that is merely a coincidental similarity across module implementations.

Finally, Associationism (incl. Behaviorism) is treated. Unsurprisingly, given the author’s functionalist credentials, arguments are presented that purport to demonstrate the inadequacy of the movement.

Part 2. A Functional Taxonomy Of Cognitive Mechanisms

Fodor outlines a three-tier mental architecture: transducers, input processing, and central systems. The brain is thought to transduce signals via sensory organs, and feed such raw data to input processing systems. These iteratively raise the level of abstraction, saving intermediate results into states known as interlayers. Finally, the final results of the input systems are presented to the central systems, which are responsible for binding them into coherent beliefs with the help of background knowledge. Interestingly, Fodor holds that language processing is its own sensory system, distinct from acoustic processing, and that this system encapsulates the entire lexicon. Organism output (behavior) was not considered.

Part 3. Input Systems As Modules

The most empirically rich and impactful section. I will briefly sketch each subsection.

  1. Domain specificity. There appear to be separate mechanisms to process distinct stimuli. While several systems may share select resources, they never share information.
  2. Mandatory operation. While human beings can ignore their phenomenological experiences, they cannot consciously repress them.
  3. Hidden interlevels. Introspection cannot unearth the intermediate states of visual stimuli transformation, only the finished product.
  4. Fast processing. Driven by evolutionary pressures, sensory processing is very rapid. For example, many people are able produce a mirrored language stream that trails the original by an astonishing one-quarter of a second.
  5. Informational encapsulation. In principle, input processing can never access the organism’s broader knowledge base. There are few to none feedback loops that inform sensory processing.
  6. Shallow outputs. Input systems do not issue beliefs, but rather non-conceptual (“shallow”) information. Other systems are responsible for subsequent conceptual fixation.
  7. Fixed neural architecture. In contrast with central processes, input systems appear to be localized to specific neural locations (e.g., Wernicke’s Area for language processing).
  8. Idiosyncratic breakdown patterns. Brain damage is associated with selective, severe failures of input processing, not general deficiency introduction.
  9. Shared ontogeny. Cognitive structural maturation occurs in an innately-specified way.

Informational encapsulation is singled out as the most important element of the thesis. This feature explains how an organism protects its raw percepts from contamination from its own biases. Constraining information flow is essential to human beings, and this feature goes a long way in motivating the existence of the others.

During his discussion of shallow outputs, Fodor makes an interesting observation about conceptual fixation. Human concepts are organized hierarchically: “a poodle is a dog is a mammal is a physical organism is a thing”. Central non-modular systems must locate their conclusions at a specific level within this hierarchy. Interestingly, beliefs tend to fixate at a particular level (e.g., “dog” in the above example).

What makes the “dog” level so special? It tends to be: (a) a high-frequency descriptor; (b) learned earliest within development; (c) the least abstract member that is monomorphemically lexicalized; (d) easiest to define without reference to other items in the hierarchy; (e) most informationally dense, in the sense of being the most productive item if one asks for the properties of each item in the hierarchy from most to least abstract; (f) used the most frequently in everyday descriptions; (g) used the most frequently in subvocal descriptions; (h) the most abstract members that give themselves to visual representation. These facts call out for explanation and further research.

Part 4: Central Systems

Fodor perceives little evidence to explicate central processes, so he reverts to analogy. Scientific confirmation is presented as an analogue of psychological belief fixation. An enthusiast of Quinean naturalized epistemology, Fodor is also sympathetic to Quinean holism: that any belief can in principle affect any other. But requiring unconstrained information transfer is a recipe for intractable computation. This is the deep trouble underlying the framing problem of artificial intelligence. According to Fodor, intractability is precisely why academic journals tend to avoid topics of general intelligence.

I found the previous section on input modules to be of greater import. Fodor’s arguments here are empirically impoverished, and his vague notions of networked learning leave much to be desired. If this section characterized the entirety of the text, the reader would be better advised to research modern probabilistic graphical models, and attempts within the AI community to approximate universal induction.

Part 5: Caveats and Conclusions

The essay concludes with a few comments regarding modularity and epistemic boundedness (“are there truths that we are not capable of grasping?”). After reviewing the historical discussion surrounded bounded cognition, Fodor ultimately has little to say on the matter, arguing that this conversation should proceed with little appeal to concepts of modularity. He closes with self-styled gloomy remarks about how our best thinkers have consistently evaluated local phenomena more effectively than global phenomena (c.f., deduction vs. confirmation theory), and that this sociological reality is unlikely to change in the near future.

An incisive, important text that helps to place modern cognitive science debates in sharper focus.