10/23/2009

(dis)connected thoughts

A recent report in the New Scientist describes strange findings on the mind/body relation, how easy people can be tricked into a dissociation of their body feeling: "They film each volunteer from behind and project the image into a head-mounted display worn by the volunteer so that they see an image of themselves standing about 2 metres in front. The experimenters then stroke the volunteer's back - which the volunteers see being done to their virtual self." Then, the volunteers got an "out of body" experience, despite a normal strenght of their body perception. The perception of one's thoughts is much weaker than the body feeling, as the popularity of rethorics about 'subconscious' mental processes shows. So, could "thinking" be in a similar way dissociated from other aspects of one's personality, like the body feeling? The way one teaches in school looks a bit similar to the feedbackstructure in the experimental design described above. A dissociation of "thinking" and other parts of the personality could explain why e.g. exam cheating is apparently independent from ethical values, or why it makes no difference if professors are exchanged by actors and why a secondary reconnection of the separated parts by symbols of status and importance creates the "monsters of the id" discussed here. The same New Scientist report even hints to an other indicator of such a dissociation - if asked to remember some situation in which they had been, e.g. last holiday or a party, most people's visual memories are from an "outside" perspective, they see themself from above, even their backs. One needs not to have read Proust to guess how significant that would be, if it really should be true. I imagine historians in a far future puzzling deeply about that, like we puzzle about the - for us - weird and alien specifics of ancient mentalities, like their visualizations of time or their "bicameral" mindedness. At least that could explain why the investigative mentality in science is rarely applied to areas outside the individual's field of research - it's because the 'individual' mind is by the mentioned teaching induced disconnection 'divided' and stunned by gradings. And it explains why crucial inputs of global insight and sense of direction often come from people less influenced by school education. Using the metapher of 'climbing the shoulders of giants', one could say that such a climbing needs not only strong legs, but a sense for direction and eyesight too, else one neither finds the way nor sees something once in the crow's nest. Perhaps school education splits both from the mental toolset. One could generalise the idea a bit further: The similarity of operating and feeling abstract concepts with reports about cases of a visual pseudo-blindness "blindsight", when people have intact eyes and visual brain parts but experience themself as blind because the visual input never reaches consciousness, makes wonder if the degree to which one is "platonist" comes just from existence or absence of an "idea-blindness". The reports from blindsight people reacting to visual signals like approaching thrown objects, how they experience and explain their behaviour, look much like descriptions of how people get ideas and abstract insights. Recent reports tell that this processes are flexible enough to be improved.