Tuesday, 24 February 2015

On Human Nature...

My go at explaining how the brain constructs the mind. How truth and evil arise. The cause of war and prayer, pinball, pairs and why bread always falls butter-side down...

First published on 24/02/2015 10:23


I can't understand The World. It is too complicated for me.

If you're rich or clever you get given 'education', where they tell you how you should understand things. But the rest of us just have to make it up for ourselves as we go along. Which is a pity, because we're the ones who really could do with knowing.

So this is the start of my attempt at a way of understanding things, starting with, well... with 'understanding' itself. I'm not bothered whether my explanation fits in with the usual expectations of sociology or philosophy. All I'm bothered about is producing an explanation of 'understanding' which works. Which means one which supplies answers and successfully predicts what is going to happen next in the world of humans, because that is what will make my future safer.

Where to start? Well, for all the baffling complexity of stuff, somehow, we humans seem to be able to make sort of sense of it. And how did we do that? By gathering information, sorting it out, tidying it up, and making it into simplified sets of rules-of-thumb. And using these rough 'Models' as maps we can know with certainty things we can't even see. We can predict what will happen in the future. And we can prepare for it. Which allows us to do  more stuff in less time, more usefully and with fewer mistakes. Which what has brought us to where we are now.

But the one thing we've just never been very good at generalising about, let alone Modelling, is ourselves.

Humans seem to be impossible to make sense of. When you're just dealing with one or a few familiar ones you can usually sort-of understand of them. But en-masse? Human are completely, and infuriatingly, unpredictable. Except, of course, when they're entirely, and infuriatingly, predictable.

The human genius for sorting things out seems to be matched only by their ability to screw things up. Many of them believe in entirely stupid things, or (which is even weirder) they'll openly announce that they do. They often act entirely against their own interests, and they do so entirely knowingly and deliberately. What the fuck is going on here?

How do we know what we know? By what mechanism do we make sense of the world and discover our place in it? How do we really make decisions and know right from wrong?

So, wouldn't it be useful to begin by constructing a complete working Model of our Reason? An Almagest of Human Nature, which will show how and why humans do the stuff they do. Even if it was a bit rough-and-ready, it could help overcome a lot of the fears and confusions which so much human trouble is heir to.

So, where to start? Where I'm not going to start is with any assumptions about how 'mind' works and then find some, perhaps physical, explanation for it. That's been done. Lots. I'm going to do it the other way round. The place I'm going to start is with the human brain, and see if I can discover all that feeling and decision-making and mental what-not from there.

My brain, courtesy of the Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre. Thank you.
If it seems obvious to begin with brain, do remember that many people still assert that the mind arises, at least in part, not from the physical brain, but from some non-physical 'spirit'. But three thousand years of people getting hit on the head, and the observation that such-and-such alteration to the brain always matches some particular change in ways of thinking has, I think, pretty much settled the matter.
REF: Theist religion requires that mind not be physical, eg - Brace (2007) "Scientific Evidence Grows that Mind and Brain Are Separate!" etc
REF: ... but there are physicalists, too, who postulate that brain doesn't (quite) cause mind, either by definition, eg - Sacha Bem (2013) "The Explanatory Autonomy of Psychology - Why a Mind is Not a Brain" or because the whole body influences the mind, eg - Alva Noë (2009) "Out Of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain" etc. or because some other (unknown) force governs mind, eg; Penrose (1994) "Shadows of the Mind"
You can go back to the Egyptian medical textbook we call the 'Edwin Smith Papyrus' and find that ancient surgeons knew that "If you treat a man for a fracture in his temple … you may call him, but he is dazed and does not speak to you". We now name the bit of brain behind your left temple 'Broca's Area', after the French physician who discovered that it is associated with the formation of speech.
REF: Broca (1863) "Localisations des fonctions cérébrales. Siège de la faculté du langage articulé"
Then there was Camillo Golgi who discovered that a silver-based dye would only colour the little nerve fibres which make up the brain, so they could be seen individually for the first time.
REF:  Golgi (1873) "Sulla struttura della sostanza grigia del cervello"
Now there's all those PET and fMRI scans with nicely-coloured images of brains purporting to show where the 'chocolate-desiring nodule' or the 'music appreciation zone' has been discovered, or even that the 'believing in God area' is above your right ear.

But those brain-spot pictures are rarely quite as clear and simple as the Sunday Papers make out. The whole thing is really very much more complicated. This bit seems to do one thing this time, but different things the next, and which bit is connected physically to which other bit, and what? And where?

Even where we clearly know which brain zones usually do what, they're still just bits of brain, even while they're doing it. The 'knowing pears' bit doesn't contain a picture of a pear or even glow or throb when pear is present.

That's the very simple version

The brain is a rather complicated organ. Or rather collection of organs, for the the wrinkly outside depicted in cartoons is just the cortex (Latin = bark or rind) which hides a collection of other little organs - each as separate from the next as your heart is from your kidneys. The cortex itself is clearly divided into at least four bits, and seems to have about six different layers. There's the odd-looking hind brain and, inside the thalamus, the hypothalamus, the amygdala, and hippocampus, and more.

And then there's the way they're connected, which seems very strange. This bit is connected to that bit, but not to this bit. Then there's the chemicals - at least fourteen classes of neurotransmitter released at various times by various bits of brain, which then affect how other bits work.

At first I though neurotransmitters would hold the key to a simple understanding of mind - after, all they seem to be associated with emotions. But twenty years of study suggest not. I have been able to dispel a few myths:
  1. The cortex is in two halves (though other brain bits aren't), but I've found no evidence for the right-brain=artistic v. left-brain=analytic story.
  2. We only use 5% of our brains. Well, I only use 1/7th of the gears in my car at any one time.
  3. I can't find any significant male/female brain differences.
  4. While certain brain bits commonly do such-and-such, localisation is only rarely absolute.

But, if we're going to have any chance of making simple sense of it all, clearly a quite different approach is needed. I've spent years going through all this, and I have not been hasty in coming to a conclusion.

I've decided not to even try to make sense of it all. I'm not going to look for specifics in the brain, be they chocolate, or music, or God, or pears. Instead, I want to go in search of the basic general principles of 'desire' and 'like' and 'believe' and 'know' which seem to be precisely the same for all those things, and, indeed, for everything else.

We tend to assume that something complex and subtle like out own mind must arise from something equally so. But it is the history of useful Modelling that simple principles have been found to explain complex phenomena, though it is not without difficult observation of the world that one accepts that quarks give rise to nuns.

So, if the general principles of mind are the same everywhere in mind, and if mind is caused by brain, we need to first find that which is the same everywhere in brain.

Which is easy. The whole brain system - and nothing else - is made up of little fibre-like neurones, each like a bit of frayed string. They differ in shape and size, but they all work in precisely the same way.

The neurones together form a vastly complicated communication system with myriads of connections and multitudes of branches. Perhaps 20 thousand million neurones in the wrinkly outer cortex of a human brain and another 60 thousand million or so across the various fiddly little brain-organs on the inside.

Neurones carry impulses round the brain, so it has been tempting to think of them as being like wires and the whole system as something like a telephone exchange or a computer. But this is a very wrong analogy, which has led to considerable confusion.

It is a wrong analogy because electrical impulses in wires can be strong or weak, they can operate at different frequencies. They can have polarity one way, or the other. The electrical potential in a wire affects the whole wire. It can be tapped-into at any point and directed-off in any number of directions simultaneously. Electrical signals can carry information, even several different informations in the same wire. It can stop and start instantly. Neurones aren't like any of that.

There are much better analogies for how the neuronal system works. The one I suggest using is that of the old-fashioned pinball game machine.

The journey of an impulse along a neuronal track is rather like the journey of a shiny ball along the track of a pinball machine.
REF: The, now universally-accepted, principle that nerve transmissions involve a something taking time to travel along a track is generally traced to - Emil du Bois-Reymond (1866) "Vitesse de la transmission de la volonté et de la sensation a travers les nerfs"  (who then spoiled it by declaring that thought, language and free-will were unanswerable riddles "Ignoramus et ignorabimus")

With pinball you can't get the ball rolling directly. You have to bash - or pull - a knob, which puts energy into a spring. It is then, not the initial impulse, but the spring which releases that energy in its own way and shoves the ball along a track to go about its business.

Likewise, the impulse which starts the ball rolling along a neuronal 'track' has to be strong enough to energise the start mechanism. If it isn't strong enough, the ball just stays where it is.

If the impulse is strong enough then it properly energises, or 'pulls back', the starting spring and away the ball goes. If the impulse is very strong or even very, very strong, it makes no whit of difference. It is the spring which does the work. Pulling the knob harder or faster don't not make no difference at all.

Pulling it bit-by-bit over time won't make any difference either - you can't pull and then wait in the hope that your effort will be saved-up for later. It has to be one impulse strong enough to fully energise the spring, at one go, acting on only one ball.
REF: The universal 'threshold potential' spring - Rushton (1927) "The effect upon the threshold for nervous excitation of the length of nerve exposed..."
One ball at a time, and only one ball in only one direction. Always at the same speed, and the same sort of ball every time, everywhere. And what's more, you have to wait for one ball to go on its way before the next one can be fired off.
REF: The 'one at a time' firing is a consequence of 'afterhyperpolarization' and thus the delay needed for membrane potassium permeability to return to its usual value before the next 'pule' or 'ball'. It is about 3ms, widely established and measured - eg: Curtis & Eccles (1958) "The time courses of excitatory and inhibitory synaptic actions" etc...
Neurones really are a bit like trackways, but the 'ball' isn't a steel sphere of course. It is sometimes called an 'action potential' - a sort of bundle of electrical charges - which dashes down the track transferring bits of itself back-and-forth with he track as it goes, keeping up its speed.

Where it gets interesting is what happens when the 'ball' arrives at a junction. Will it go this way? Or that? This isn't just "the moment of decision" in any abstract sense, it is actually what happens in your brain to make decisions one way or the other. It is the process of Reason.

Strangely, perhaps opposite to what you might imagine, the ball will always go towards the route least like itself. It is a bundle of fizzing electrical charges and, as they say 'opposites attract'. It will go towards the route with the electrical charge most unlike itself. Same at the next junction. And the next.
REF: The 'HH' model gives a working electrical description of how neurones operate, by processes of attraction and repulsion along the nerve fibre - Hodgkin & Huxley (1952) "A quantitative description of membrane current and its application to conduction and excitation in nerve"
And then? When it reaches the end of the neuronal fibre, what then?

The funny thing about the structure of the brain is that the ends of the fibre tracks don't actually meet each other. There's always a tiny gap - the synaptic gap - between each end and the next thing. This gap is a difficulty, a problem, for the ball, but the same rule as always applies - it will go to the thing on the other side which is, in terms of electrical potential, most different to itself.
REF: The 'Synaptic Gap' and the doctrine of independent neurones -  Ramón y Cajal (1900?) "Histology of the nervous system of humans & vertebrates"
And when it gets there, all the ball does is bash the spring of the next neurone and start the whole process over along another little trackway.

From spring to spring across many synaptic bridges, the 'ball' can go on forever. Reaching the end of one trackway to energise the next.

'Complicated', anyone know who this is by?

How does the journey end? When the ball comes to the end of a neuronal branch and finds there, not a potential different to itself, but one precisely the same - a perfect match. Then the energy of the ball has nowhere to go and it is finally taken up into the system. That is the end.

There is one other thing - what is called 'habituation'. The process whereby a track once followed is rather more likely to be followed the next time. The process is not yet (2015) comfortably understood, but you can think of it being a bit as if the ball smooths-out a route for itself as it goes along.

There you go then, here's the essence of the Model; The brain just a grand system of comparison. Stuff comes in and only gets accepted if it nicely matches stuff which is already there. If it doesn't match, the search for a match goes on, smoothing-out the route for the next time.

OK, that's a hugely simplified explanation, and it has been done with words, and worse, written words, which can never be more than a crude approximation of the world of real things. All the same, as far as it goes, it is quite a good explanation.

Unfortunately it is also one of those explanations which get called 'reductionist' - it reduces the problem to a mechanism, but doesn't really show what it does. A bit like taking an idea to apart to see how it works, and then leaving the bits all over the floor of the philosophical workshop. Now, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with a reductionist explanation, as long as I can put the bits back together and make the edifice tick again. Which, here, means that if I want to show how the brain constructs the mind, I need to show that this explanation of what the brain does actually matches our observations of what the mind does.

Which I will now proceed to do.

Remember the ball? The system is absolutely all-or-nothing. Either this one thing matches that one thing. Or it doesn't. There isn't any half-matched or a bit matched, or match-this-not-that. Nor is there any strong or weak match. Nor any match these-two to those-three to that other. It is all or nothing, one thing or the one other.
REF: The 'Rulkov Map' is neat way of modelling the distinct 'on'-'off' cycling of neurones - Rulkov (2001) "Regularization of Synchronized Chaotic Bursts"
REF: ... and another model is: FitzHugh (1955) "Mathematical models of threshold phenomena in the nerve membrane"
Now the world 'out there' isn't like that, black and white. The world is a place of subtle graduations, variation, fuzz, wobble and bits of this and that. But because of the way our neurones work, human Reason puts stuff into pairs - where one 'matches' and the other doesn't - even when the world isn't. We pass judgement only in dichotomies.

Of course, there are occasions where things are actually black and white, for instance if one thing is black and another white. But when we have only a limited data set, which is a way of saying "don't have much experience", or "most-of-the-time", our neuronal system picks one-and-the-other all-or-nothing judgements, which make for easy comprehension, but which usually just aren't there.

Consider the commonplace practice of referring to people as 'black' and 'white' according to their skin colour. Why such a judgement ever happens ought to be a puzzle, because it is entirely ludicrous. Paper is white and ink is black, but not even albino Norwegians have white skin nor do suntanned Namibs have black skin.
Yes, it really ought to be that simple.

Yet this false duality is so pervasive that it may sometimes be necessary to point to a cosmetician's colour chart to show that humans are actually all variegated pinky-brown. Black and white are opposites, and humans do not by skin tone belong in opposing camps.

Then there's the whole class of 'boundary problems', where we think that it is very important for us to decide where one thing becomes the other thing. Like the ancient 'sorites' question "how many grains of sand do you need to make a heap of sand", or the general 'demarcation' problem of deciding what is 'science' as opposed to 'guesswork'. For the most part these problems can't be solved by observing the world, and the solutions usually don't matter much anyway. They arise as 'problems' simply because our mind is not content until it finds a clear match-non-match pair.
REF: The centrality of Demarcation Problems -  Popper (1935) "The Logic of Scientific Discovery"
REF: ...and how explanation of why they arise or seem important is lacking - Laudan (1983) "The Demise of the Demarcation Problem"
If you'd like some more examples; Yes and No. Good and Bad. Faith and Doubt. Fast and Slow. Forward and Backward. Hard and Soft. Crooked and Straight. Angels and Demons. Beautiful and Ugly. Mind and Body. Blunt and Pointed. Bright and Dark. East and West. Far and Near. Acid and Alkali. Guilty and Innocent. Communists and Capitalists. Fat and Thin. God and The Devil. Happy and Sad. Left and Right. Legal and Illegal. Accepted and Rejected. Light and Dark. Long and Short. Love and Hate. Heaven and Hell. Help and Hindrance. Honesty and Deceit. Fine and Coarse. Old and New. Fact and Fiction. Friends and Enemies. North and South. Gay and Straight. Friend and Foe. Hot and Cold. Common and Rare. Humans and Animals. In and Out. Induction and Deduction. Major and Minor. Heavy and Light. Clean and Dirty. Native and Immigrant. Nature and Nurture. Now and Then. Odd and Even. Open and Shut. Me and You. Here and There. Men and Women. Metal and Non-Metal. True and False. Universal and Particular. Yours and Mine. Natural and Fake. Up and Down. Pass and Fail. Subject and Object. People and Animals. Monism and Pluralism. Order and Chaos. Success and Failure. Tall and Short. Private and Personal. The Reds and The Blues. Them and Us. Top and Bottom. Tough and Weak. Partial and Complete. Past and Present. Positive and Negative. Rationalism and Empiricism. Realism and Idealism. Organic and Inorganic. Rich and Poor. Right and Wrong. Rough and Smooth. Self and Others. Sensible and Stupid. Slow and Fast. Us and Them. Wet and Dry. Positive and Negative. Win and Lose. Smooth and Rough. Spiritual and Material. Wise and Foolish. Yes and No. Yin and Yang. Rulers and Ruled. Off and On. Kind and Cruel. Real and Imaginary. Science and Supposition. Pure and Defiled. Art and Craft. Home and Away.

Administrative politics is a great case. There, the subtle and complex interplays of the world are crushed down to a simple right and wrong. 'Our party' offers absolute improvement and lasting joy in every sphere of life, while 'their party' guarantees only failure and misery. This is rubbish, of course, but we are made of the same flabby brain-matter as the politicians, and we go along with it.
REF: 24,100+ references in published papers to something-or-other being a 'false dichotomy', and that's just since 1950 - Google Scholar "False Dichotomy"
Do you agree? Or disagree? Is that right? Or wrong? Even where it seems that something is 'a bit right', you find that you have no choice but to determine how many individual bits of it are right, and then do a calculation which ends up saying something like 'that is 70% correct' or 'it's ¾ true'. Which will need mathematics ...

Indeed our whole process of number calculation is a formalising of precisely the comparison-and-match process of the neurone, using an 'equality' sign to show which one set of things is compared to what one other. Maths is, after all, only the art of saying the same thing in different words.

The principles of logic and mathematics are not simply true because we volitionally choose never to allow them to be anything else, they are true because they match the very system on which our brains and our minds operate. It is not surprising, therefore, that mathematics is held in such high esteem as an inviolable source of proofs which humans ought to accept.
NOTE: Humans can only reason by matching one thing with one other thing, so Structured Logics - mathematical, philosophical, tabular - have been invented to allow incomprehensible multi-factored arguments to be re-assembling in ways which allow one-to-one comparisons.

Though it may sometimes seem, as Galileo said, that the universe is written in the language of mathematics, rather, mathematics is the written language of Our universe.
REF: "La filosofia è scritta in questo grandissimo libro, l'universo ... Egli è scritto in lingua matematica," - Galileo Galilei (1623)  "Il Saggiatore (The Assayer) Capitolo VI"
This 2-way comparison and match is the 'first knowledge', the long-sought 'a priori' on which everything known is built. It brooks of no exception of any sort. It is the centre of all our decisions and of everything which is human.
REF: The concept of a basic 'a priory' knowledge 'built-in' to all humans, from which all other understandings arise occurs in - Euclid (c300BC) "Elements of Geometry"
I'll call this Model the 'ToC', the Theory of Comparison.

Central to the ToC is that when the incoming thing matches what is already there, it is accepted, and thereby marked as 'good', 'right', 'proper', 'correct', 'true'.

According to this theory, Truth is robbed of its independence. Facts are never true. There are no facts, only comparisons. They only become true in comparison with something else. Truth resides in the logical space between two facts. It is the comparison which creates Truth, not the things being compared.

But what compared to what? One situation is where new information is compared to the natural world, or to a recollection or report of the state of the natural world. This 'Natural Truth' is the perhaps the commonest type of truth-comparison, and is the basis of what we call the Natural Sciences. 'Natural Truth' has the advantage of being largely independent of human systems - so we can always go out there to check again if some assertion does really match the world. But Natural Truth is not the only possible truth.

'True' arises from 'it matches' - and, in the absence of any already-established matches, it can be found in absolutely any pair of similarities.
Our experience of making comparisons and so creating truths tends to inform us that there is only one match, and so there can only ever be one truth, making it very puzzling when another person asserts a different truth regarding the same subject-matter.

There is indeed only ever one possible truth, because the truth-making system is of one thing compared to one other thing and either it matches or it doesn't. But it is easy to miss that it is the process of comparison and match which constitutes the truth, not the things compared.

So, if one person judges the truth of some bit of information by comparing it with the Natural World, but another by comparison with the pronouncements of The Holy Book, or the words of The Great Leader, or simply with 'the way Our Gang usually do it', there is absolutely no point whatever the one declaring the other wrong. There is equally no point in trying to show that any particular comparison-base, say, the Great Founding Document, is itself wrong when compared with some other - even if the other is the Natural World.
REF: Even when presented with clear evidence that they're wrong, people are still biased towards their customary expectations - Kahan &.al (2013) "Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government"
REF: ... and people highly accustomed to their judgements matching the world are even less likely to accept it when it don't  - Taber & Lodge (2013) "Motivated Scepticism in the Evaluation of Political Beliefs"
In the judicial system, 'justice' - the circumstance where events are matched with equity to their outcomes - may or may not coincide with 'law', where circumstances are compared with the established written records. When Justice v. Law themselves don't match, this is seen as bad and wrong.
REF: That if the necessary matches of Justice and Law don't themselves match it makes a 'double wrong' is well-established, eg; Martin Luther King, Jr (1963) "Letter from Birmingham Jail"
To His followers, if new stuff matches the teachings of The Wise Sage, then it is true. And it is quite genuinely and completely True, for them if not for you.
REF: There may be just one system to find truths, but there can be more than one truth - Gould (1997) "Nonoverlapping Magisteria 'NoMa' "
REF: ... and it's surprising who sort-of agrees - Pope John Paul II (1996) "Truth Cannot Contradict Truth" and (1998) "Fides et Ratio"
REF: ... and the occasional distinguished philosopher agrees too, with only the proviso that 'my truth is actually the right one' - Dennet (2008) "Problems with NOMA (Interview)" - Pigliucci (2010) "Nonsense on Stilts" (ch 5)
So, you must make a comparison to make a judgement. But what to compare stuff with? Well, there's one thing always available to compare things with - ourselves, our own bodies, our own minds and abilities. This makes the comparison to 'self' most important, and from it we discover not just ourselves but all others. We find that we match features of the creatures around us, and that they with us are correct and true and right. We discover an intersubjective world, and construct the 'gangs' we are part of.
REF: Sense of 'self' is not continuous, it is dependent on inputs -  Goldberg &.al (2006) "When the Brain Loses Its Self: Prefrontal Inactivation during Sensorimotor Processing"
When contact with other humans is lost, sense of selfhood is substantially lost too - Lisa Guenther (2013)  Solitary Confinement, Social Death and Its Afterlives
In this way, gang allegiance is always some sort of extension of self, is always available to match things to, and so can be extraordinarily strong. It can be as strong in accepting things which match as it can be violently opposed to things which don't.

Nations, States, clubs, work-groups, religions, sporting clubs, political parties, academic institutions and 'our culture' are all gangs, all can be constructed in the same way, and with much the same consequences. 'Our Gang' is completely right, not because it has any unusually advantageous features, but simply because it matches what we're used to.

It is often asserted that religion is the cause of wars - this is not the case. Rather religion and war both have the same genesis.

Understanding humans is substantially the matter of understanding how they form gangs, and which one each believes they rightly belong to.

Where the first encounters with other humans are with ones very closely matching oneself, in looks, speech and style, then everything around is 'correct' and 'good'. This circumstance seems to create a wonderfully strong, stable, contented, sense of gang membership and 'belonging', but it can leave people genuinely terrified by the prospect of even slightly different - non-matching - people or manners. It can also leave them prey to Hermann Göring's Principle that; "The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked..."
REF: Politically 'right' people are more constant, but 'left' people react better to change - Amodio &.al (2007) "Neurocognitive correlates of liberalism and conservatism"
There need be no absolute correlation of poor education with a poor store of knowledge of the world, but there seems to be an intriguingly clear correlation between poor education and strong 'status quo ante' politics -  Parameshwaran (2015) "The UKIP voters of tomorrow" - New Statesman (2014) "Ukip does well in areas with failing schools"
Pew Research Centre (2015) Democrats lead by 22 points among adults with post-graduate degrees
"Probability of voting for Le Pen decreases as the level of education rises" -
Vincent Tiberj (2013) "Des Votes et des Voix"
If, on the other hand, self comes to be compared to a wide range of different human types, the result is less 'belonging', and so a much stronger sense of individual identity. The 'self' is central and all is compared to it. Such people seem to be significantly insecure but much more adaptable and not so easily frightened or controlled.

If that sounds a bit like the sociologists old idea of 'socially-actualized' versus 'self-actualized' persons, then so it is, and there you have the mechanism behind it. But pause a moment. As usual, there aren't really just two opposed socialisation types, there's a whole host of fiddly variants. I can't seem to escape from the ToC, even while trying to explain the ToC.
REF: 'Self-Actualisation' begins with - Kurt Goldstein (1939) "The Organism: A Holistic Approach to Biology Derived from Pathological Data in Man" and goes on with many others, including - Maslow (1943) "A Theory of Human Motivation" etc...

It has sometimes been suggested that a racial identity, and with it, racism, is 'built-in' to humans. This is not so. Rather, what is built-in is simply that-which-matches is 'good' and that-which-doesn't-match is 'bad'. Just depends what you're accustomed to match against.
REF: Racial preference can be correlated to neuronal activity, but it is still just familiarity at work -  Golby &.al (2001) "Differential responses in the fusiform region to same-race and other-race faces"
REF: This paper, reviewing racial familiarity/preference reports was reviewed as 'Racism is hardwired' in the Daily Mail and 'Jew scientist outlines brainwashing plans' -  Kubota &.al (2012) "The neuroscience of race"
Thus the person accustomed to little (or no) variety in humans will crave a world around them of  people who look and sound, and think, like themselves. We should not think of such racists as being perniciously nasty - they are genuinely terrified of difference.

A similar process can also lead us, idiot children and distinguished professors alike, to make the 'Central Mistake' of assuming that "everybody knows..." the same things we know.

Bombings, massacres and random killing of those who have nothing more than a vague connection with the not-us group, seems not only evil, but risible and counter-productive.

But it should not be puzzling. ToC demonstrates that there are only two states, and if 'We' are All-Good, then The Enemy, and anyone even vaguely connected with them, is completely, absolutely and utterly bad and wrong and evil in every respect, entirely and without limit.

There is no need to look for a reason above what the IRA or the Shining Path Warriors do - the not-us-people must die because they are not-us. That is all.

People don't like things because they are good, they like them because they are familiar. Whether something is 'right' or 'wrong' is determined by whether it matches what we have previously come to know. If it is the case that the new thing matches the other known thing then we ought and must accept it as 'correct'. This simple rule is the rule of human conduct.

My behaviours are 'correct' and 'good' when they match the behaviours previously presented to me. This presentation could be behaviour descriptions passed to me in laws or other social rules. It could be by matching what everybody else is doing. Or it could be by observing that other persons match me in many respects, so they should match what seems nice for me.
REF: People will profess very obviously wrong things as 'right' if people around them do so too -  Asch (1951). "Effects of group pressure on the modification and distortion of judgments"
So strong are such rules that it sometimes seems as if they ought to have some real, definitive and factual basis beyond just the relative correctness of human opinion. And they do indeed have such an unshakeable and independent basis - it is , as always, the process of comparison and match itself.

'Good' is what matches, and 'good behaviour' is just that which is customary. Problem is - what to do when a new situation arises which doesn't quite match the usual practice, or which could match more than one custom, and more-than-one won't do. It has to be all or nothing. Then you have a 'moral problem', and just have to pick the solution which nearest matches what everyone around is used to. That's it.

Human societies have different rules on all sorts of bits of life, but there is no society which does not laud; Honesty, Faithfulness, Justice, Diligence, Fairness, Freedom and Courage. Yet there is no technical reason why any of these should be considered necessarily good. They don't, in themselves, bring any practical advantage either to the individual or to the gang.

There are some puzzlingly clear demonstrations that humans don't generally act for their advantage, but are led by the absolute need to find a matching thing. "Somebody stole my umbrella, so I'll steal someone else's", "They killed our innocent people, so we must kill their innocent people."

There some are traits so prized, simply because they involve accurate matches, that it is even customary to laud those who use them to disadvantage. "He may have made a rubbish job of it, but, hurrah! he diligently carried it out to the end!" Or, "None of us got enough of the stuff to do anything with, but at least it was fairly distributed!" "We didn't want to hear it, and I wish I hadn't, but he did tell the truth!" Foolish warriors in pointless wars still get given medals.
REF: Creatures get angry if their treatment doesn't match that of their neighbours, even if the treatment is helpful - Brosnan & DeWaal (2003) "Monkeys reject unequal pay"
Equally oddly, we commonly decry people who do a great and helpful job, but didn't abide by some matching thing. Consider the politician who changes a policy to improve it, and is then, not praised, but shouted down for 'inconsistency' and 'hypocrisy'.

Think for a moment - the dislike of hypocrisy is seems to be obvious and intuitive, but, really it is quite puzzling. There is no particular logical reason why one shouldn't condemn in others the behaviours you approve in yourself. But the two attitudes, when compared, don't match, so it's bad.

Human value-judgements often seem deeply puzzling. But it isn't necessary to pretend a solution by invoking some mystical origin. Nor is it necessary to try to show that they are derived from any need to create benefit - sometimes they do, but they often don't. The Necessary Virtues are simply embodiments of the neuronal rule that things which match are accepted. That's it
REF: Ian Morris also looks to social interactions to create values, but correctly, by ToC, guesses that "fairness and justice" must be neuronal hardwiring - Morris (2015) "The Unexpected Origin of Human Values"
Honesty means "what I offer" matches "what I do", Faithfulness means "allegiance now" matches "allegiance then" and so on. Were it not for the rule of the ToC, 'fairness' would just be somebody's random preference.

Give a human a clear plan for their behaviour, and they'll make sure their actions match it. Unless it conflicts with some previous plan. There is no need to postulate some 'agentic' state of mind - give a human a plan of behaviour to follow, and they'll think it 'right' if their make their behaviour matches it. Because that which matches is correct.

The functionary at Nuremberg expecting their "I was only following orders" to be accepted, or the daily irritation of petty officials and parking wardens "only doing their job" are equal instances of precisely the principle that if a thing (my plan of behaviour, my orders) matches (my actual behaviour) then I have done that which is correct and right and good.
REF: People will do nasty stuff if you clearly tell them to - Milgram (1962) "Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View" - Haney &.al (1971) "The power and pathology of imprisonment" etc...
REF: These sorts of results have been, justly, criticised, but the general 'do what matches' is shown - Nissani (1990) "A Cognitive Reinterpretation of Stanley Milgram's Observations on Obedience to Authority" - Blass (1999) "The Milgram Paradigm After 35 Years: Some Things We Now Know About Obedience to Authority"
What ought to be baffling here is that the excuse is often accepted.  - another demonstration that there is no special moral sense in humans beyond 'it matches'.

We identify the world about us as 'real', 'genuine', 'true', because it possesses continuity. Every new instance of it which we experience substantially matches the previous instance, and the next one.

But dreams are identified as not-correct because they don't match other experiences. When we wake from dreaming sleep we find a world around us which correctly matches the world which we left behind when we went to bed. It is then that we realise that our dreams didn't match what is around us, and so dreams get marked as 'wrong' and 'incorrect'.
REF: Neural activity associated with bizarre dreams is 'loose'; it does not correlate to other n-activity in the way normal recollection does - Benedetti &.al (2015) "Right hemisphere neural activations in the recall of waking fantasies and of dreams"
How and why the world of dreams runs into a channel of its own and seems so real and so complete (as long as there is nothing else to compare it with) is closely bound up with the nature of consciousness itself ...

Consciousness. Everybody knows what it is. It is the absolutely easiest thing to understand, because consciousness is simply we ourselves understanding that we're understanding things. But it is a Hard Problem to find any way of explaining OUR consciousness to other people in words.
REF: The 'Hard Problem' - Chalmers (1995) "Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness"
Actually, not a just a Hard Problem, but an insoluble problem. Why? Because the essence of consciousness being that it is internal and personal means that there isn't really anything outside itself to compare it with. And, if you can't make a comparison, you can't define a thing. Judgement is the making of comparisons. Everything has to first be like something to be known. That's the ToC.

Consciousness seems to be important, so it deserves some sort of explanation.

About the only thing you can say of consciousness with any concord is that it is more than just 'awareness'. A thermostat is aware of the temperature around it. But our experience of consciousness is set apart by a certain reverberance - I'm aware that I'm aware, I know that I'm knowing, I can 'see' that I'm seeing and so on. How does this arise? And why and when?
REF: Conscousness has no single 'seat' in the brain but is characterised by widespread interrelated activity - Gaillard &.al (2009) "Converging Intracranial Markers of Conscious Access"
Which brings us up against the BIG Problem of Consciousness, the problem of trying to explain it when any explanation is likely to be clouded by the assumptions forced on us by consciousness itself - particularity the assumption that consciousness is frequent or even particularity important to the bureaucracy of mind.

The Big problem is that the resonating back-on-itself nature of consciousness means that the only thing we're ever conscious of is always itself an aspect of consciousness. You'll never find yourself 'just conscious', you're only ever conscious of something.
REF: Ordinary brain activity is localised, but consciousness involves neurones distributed across many different regions of the brain - the "global workspace" - Baars (1993) "A cognitive theory of consciousness"
REF: ... which seems to be confirmed experimentally - Sergent &.al (2005) "Timing of the brain events underlying access to consciousness during the attentional blink"
I'll just have to ask you to suspend judgement for a bit. Sort-of try to ditch your consciousness of being conscious for a bit. Which isn't easy.

Go back to neurones and that rolling ball. What happens if the ball-on-a-track doesn't find a match for itself? It just keep going on. And in going on, it can form a loop where it meets itself. Seeing itself, so to speak, in its own mirror. This is how consciousness arises.
REF: Neuronal activity related to consciousness is differentiated from other n-activity by being long-lasting - Schurger &.al. (2015) "Cortical activity is more stable when sensory stimuli are consciously perceived"
: T
he Schurger discoveries do imply this looping mechanism, but an experiment could check this.
REF: Difficult decisions seem to generate wider-than-expected neuronal activity Pupil-linked arousal is driven by decision uncertainty and alters serial choice bias
This, oddly simple, explanation solves a number of puzzles about consciousness, and leads to a number of conclusions which may, at first, seem rather strange...
REF: Stuff can be swimming around the brain for 10s or more before consciousness of it arises - Soon, Brass &.al (2008) "Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain"
Consciousness, according to the ToC, only arises where there is not a readily available match. If a new input arrives in the neuronal system which pretty-much exactly matches a thing found before, then the route will have already been 'smoothed out' for it and a match is quickly found. No round-and-round searching is needed, so no consciousness arises.
REF: Ability to react to change is dependent on the extent of difference, not its absolute magnitude - famously observed by Ernst Heinrich Weber (1795–1878) and developed into Weber's Law of Just Noticeable Differences
If that seems difficult to comprehend, then try stopping reading for a moment while you consider precisely how conscious you were about the shape and size and position of every letter and word. Everyday reading by an skilled reader gives rose to consciousness only inasmuch ass it present new stuffs.
REF: Familiar visual inputs fire very few neurones, new inputs fire many - Charles E. Conn (2005) "Friends and grandmothers"

Consider the way you can travel a familiar root, perhaps even carrying out very complex tasks of walking, cycling or driving, with absolutely no recollection of having done so. Consider the famous 'cheese-in-the-fridge' problem - the piece of Gouda which has puzzlingly been invisible for a year, until a foul smell or visible fungus calls it to consciousness.
REF: As long as the performance of a product matches what is customary, the consumer has no consciousness of that aspect. The 'Kano Model' - Kano &.al (1984) "Attractive quality and must-be quality"
Consider; typing, playing a musical instrument with skill, catching a ball, lying, opening a packet, picking-up a dropped thing.

Or consider the puzzle of prayer. I don't mean the sort of contemplative prayer or communal invocation of sympathy or hope which anyone can rationally join in with. I mean the sort of intercessory prayer where the supplicant petitions a divine being to alter the course of the universe. This just doesn't work, so why do so many people think it does? Especially those who do it a lot, who, you'd have thought, would have the most experience of it not working.
REF: That intercessory prayer doesn't work has been shown dozens of times, but here's one of the first - Galton (1872) "Statistical Inquiries into the Efficacy of Prayer"
Do the same thing over and again with the same result and it will soon cease to create consciousness, so that the occasional rare instance of, say, a prayer actually matching what does happen becomes the only occasion you're ever aware of it.

Which similar reason is why a person may be entirely oblivious to the glorious spectacle of our astonishing planet, and the amazing theatre of its inhabitants right in front of them, while being highly conscious of, and even distressed, by, a minor change in the bus timetable. 
REF: ToC provides a mechanism for the central puzzle in economics of 'diminishing marginal value' and the Jevons Paradox: William Stanley Jevons (1866) Brief Account of a General Mathematical Theory of Political Economy
I like breaking the rules! No you don't. You like breaking just a very tiny bit of them - enough to make others conscious of your effort.

Only the unusual creates consciousness. A feature extremely difficult to test externally, because as soon as you ask about it then you've introduced an unusual input. So the answer to the question "are you currently conscious of..." is pretty much always "yes".

There is no 'conscious mind' and 'unconscious mind'. There is only 'mind', parts of which occasionally flicker with consciousness. But why?

It is a precious achievement to manage to get yourself into a situation where life is secure. In such a happy circumstance things will tend to be much the same every day, so very little ever rises into consciousness. But any change in the world around - bringing a new set of inputs to the brain - may likely represent a danger. Inputs from such possible risks can't find a straightforward match - they have to do a lot of whizzing around the brain, and in the process give rise to the looping instances of consciousness.

We have big brains, each, hopefully, with a lot of the old stuff we call 'experience' ready and waiting to be found to match new situations. Consciousness is a bit of the procedure of finding out how to cope with change.

It has always seemed obvious that consciousness is something to do with choosing, but never been quite clear what. By the ToC Model, consciousness is neither the absolute cause nor the effect of human decision making. Rather, it is a part of the decision-making process.
REF: Consciousness doesn't initiate intention - Libet &.al (1983) "Time of Conscious Intention to Act in Relation to Onset of Cerebral Activity"
REF: Electrophysiological signs occur before an apparent decision, whether a positive or a negative one  - Trevena & Miller (2009) "Brain preparation before a voluntary action: evidence against unconscious movement initiation"
EXPERIMENT: These, and similar, experiments have been taken to conflict, but ToC suggests they actually show the same thing. We do need a better experiment though. I can't think of a one.
REF: Work with direct brain implants demonstrate the ToC views that (1) consciousness is a 'middle' part of decision-making and (2) that 'well-worn' tasks form a neural route which does not give rise to consciousness, and suggest the ToC view that (3) consciousness requires a new input - Afllalo &.al (2015) "Decoding Motor Imagery from the Posterior Parietal Cortex..."
Which is great for human adaptation. But terribly gloomy for news and gossip, where we discover that the things which get attention do indeed tend to be the dismal and dangerous ones. 'Everything is just normal' isn't noticed, and doesn't make a headline. "No one" as Lord Russell put it, "gossips about other people's secret virtues."
REF: We barely notice good news - Trussler & Soroka (2014) "Consumer Demand for Cynical and Negative News Frames"
EXPERIMENT: Go out and buy a national newspaper
Troublesome, too, for management and administrations where both the everyday ordinariness of the excellent, and the true crap of 'we've always done it that way', can both get forgotten alongside the glow of the new thing. And often devastating for the organisation of society when huge resources are misdirected or wasted against trivial (new) problems while really bad (old, familiar) problems are ignored...

See what I mean?

REF: Mental depression is associated with a lack of 'good' 'correct' matches, of awareness and an inability to make decisions - Leykin &.al (2010) "Decision-Making and Depressive Symptomatology"
REF: Indecisiveness is actually part of the criteria for diagnosing depression - "Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders" (4th edition, Text Revision) Washington, DC, USA.
Consciousness-free Zombies, were they to exist, would behave normally, but have great difficulty adapting to new situations.

The strange, sad, consequence of this neuronal mess is that all perfect systems - a perfect society, say - must fail. Utopia would always offer you exactly what you wanted, just what you expected. But the brain only creates consciousness in the mind when something unexpected happens. When things happen regular and perfect, they don't create consciousness. So, just as you're completely unaware of the feeling of clothes against your skin until you move, completely unaware of the complexity of words until I write something odde, you'd be completely unaware of all that every-single-day perfection in the city of Utopia. Absolute perfection every day, will pass by unnoticed.

The only things which raise consciousness is strange things, which usually means faults. The nearer perfect a society becomes the more it carries the seed of its own destruction. Utopia's citizens will always be bored and dissatisfied, nit-picking and unhappy, and the real Utopia will always be over the hill to elsewhere.

ToC doesn't explain time. But it does offer an explanation of why time - observed by comparing the frequency of conscious events - seems to slow down when a huge bash of new inputs arrive creating new points of consciousness. This is the 'time seemed to slow down' effect regularly reported just before, say, the aircraft crashed. And ToC offers to explain the 'autumn time perception' effect where a person who has had a long life of often-repeated experiences will find that each one no longer generates consciousness so that incidents of awareness become rare and the days seem to pass quickly...

 ... which is why you get, commonly, the old and dull espousing the bizarrely illogical 'Curmudgeon Paradox' of
  1. Everything is dreadful and we demand that everything be improved
  2. But we absolutely refuse to allow anything to be changed
The chap here is distressed because the world around him has changed so it doesn't match what he is accustomed to any more, so therefore it is bad. But changing things to make them better would involve new things, which would be bad too!
The Curmudgeon may claim that they want to 'get back' to some imagined glorious past against which they are comparing the current horrors. A little questioning tends to reveal that this 'past' was when they were aged about ten, when people gave them sweets and before they had to work for a living.

The necessity of thinking in matched or non-matched pairs means that 'us' and 'our gang' must necessarily have a 'not-us', 'not our gang' - in other words, an enemy. It equally follows that, once shown an Enemy, then 'We' must realise that we're necessarily by contrast, better.
If you want to control people, to get them to laud you, then give them an enemy. Show them how their gang - long-suffering, noble and radiant with virtue - does not match some dangerous enemy. Choose an enemy they don't know, so you can decide what non-matches to offer. And it mustn't be anyone who might 'come round' to your side, because then followers might waste their time proselyting, or even meet the enemy and see humane matches of themselves there. Then you'd have no enemy, and you'd be screwed. So foreigners and homosexuals are a popular choice, or vague out-groups, or distant barely-understood organisations, or even invented chimera.
REF: By promoting an 'enemy' it took teacher Ron Jones just 4 days to create a fascist mass-movement - Ron Jones (1976) "The Third Wave"
REF: There was one man who was entirely clear about the need to fabricate a supposed opponent "so that the mass of followers ... may see only one common enemy" - Hitler (1929) "Mein Kampf"
The politician who famously said that you can't build a politic just out of opposition was quite wrong.

If, as ToC, suggests, humans just process 'match' and 'non-match', how is it that they can sometimes come up with completely new and ingenious ideas? It is not necessary to postulate some 'random element' or some innate principle of genius. Humans discover new ideas by comparing things coming in to their (each unique) system with known problems and then finding matches. The results often seem surprising and unique because each person's fund of comparable experiences is different and unique.
I'm not sure it is true that James Watt was inspired to invent the pressure operated steam engine having seen a condensing engine at work and comparing it to the action of steam on the lid of a kettle, but you get the principle.
Thus it is necessary to have a diversity of ideas presented in order to do the process of comparison which leads to innovation. The more different people you can get together, the better your chances of coming up with solutions to problems. The lone would-be inventor in a shed produces nothing.
There is a further feature to this; groups of people must necessarily compare their performance with each other. Sameness, as always, = comfort, but diversity throws up new consciousnesses and diverse groups very clearly perform better
REF: "Diversity in a group creates awkwardness ... homogenous groups feel more confident ... it is the diverse groups that are more successful" Katherine Phillips, Margaret A. Neale, Katie A. Liljenquist (2016) http://insight.kellogg.northwestern.edu/article/better_decisions_through_diversity
REF: Racially diverse groups do better legal decision-making - Samuel Sommers (2006) OnRacial Diversity and Group Decision Making

REF: Tim Harford (2016) Messy: How to Be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World
Salvador Dalí: Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing

How do you get people to believe in things which just don't seem to match anything at all? Some beliefs might not be 'right' because they match the natural world, but are made right by matching, say, Holy Writ. Yet, clearly, some people profess strong belief in all sorts of weird things which don't look as if they match anything at all, most notably in the field of politics.

There is a famous technique for getting people to accept strange political beliefs - you just repeat them over, and over, and over, and over again.

I think what happens is - hear it once, you compare it to stuff you know, it doesn't match, so its wrong. Hear it a second time, and now it does match something you heard before - you may still go down the aggregated route and decide it doesn't match. But, the third time, it now matches TWO things you know from before. So.... you get the idea.

So far I've sort-of presented the whole comparison-match business as if it consisted of isolated 'inputs' being processed one-at-a-time. Which it isn't. Even just touching something with your fingertip may fire up a dozen sensory neurones or more. Observing things, experiencing stuff and whatnot, of course, consists of a myriads of comparisons being made more-or-less simultaneously. There has to be a certain aggregation.

Wonderfulness arises when a thing gives rise to enough familiar matches to be 'correct' but enough new bits to enter consciousness and so be 'interesting'. Which is why fascinating things have to have an element of the new. And why there's no perfect art.

The ToC would suggest that the most delightful form of a class of thing will be the one with the most matches to other elements of itself and to other things. Which means that the most beautiful form of a class will not be, as you might have supposed, the most outstandingly unusual version but actually be characterised by averageness and symmetry. But with just enough oddness to give rise to consciousness and so make it significant.
REF: An averaged facial phenotype of the familiar group is always judged the most beautiful - Galton (1878) "Composite Portraits" - Langlois &.al; Roggman (1990) "Attractive Faces Are Only Average"
: Actually it's the average of the judged best, ie. average but-a-tiny-bit-odd which is always judged the most beautiful - Perrett &.al (1994) "Facial shape and judgments of female attractiveness"
Think of what poets do - mix ordinary writing up with odd weird stuff. Think of theme and variation in music.

The ToC shows that the long-held assumption that Truth and Beauty, if not quite the same things, do have the same mental origin, is correct.
REF: 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty, - that is all. Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.' Keats (1819) "Ode on a Grecian Urn"
REF: Stewart (2007) "Why Beauty is Truth: a History of Symmetry"
Contentment comes in situations where almost everything nicely matches expectations. There needs to be a little non-matching for the system to rise to consciousness. And when contentment can't be found, we can create artificial contentment through the comforting correctness of ritual. The content of a particular ritual is not important, what matters, of course, is that it matches what is expected. We put an awful lot of energy into rituals of all sorts. Often without naming them as such.
REF: Inducing stress leads to repetitive, ritualised movements. And invoking ritual movement reduces stress. Fascinating! Martin Lang (2016) "Effects of Anxiety on Spontaneous Ritualized Behavior"

I could go on to ToC and... The power of the shared lie. How comedy works. Envy. Bistable images. The allure of symmetry. Deference. Hats. 'Reflex-Loop' reasoning. The nonsense bunny-hop. Wabi-Sabi. The Will - free as a bird. The terror of being proved wrong. Wonderfulness. The ragged jumble of language.

One day I'll try to finish this, to neaten it all out. And I will get all the references properly referenced. But, for now, I'm too, too tired, and this will have to do.

So that's that. There's yer model of Reason. A bit scratty and incomplete. But I dare say you get the gist, and perhaps you can explain it better. Fill in the gaps. Point out where the ToC is useful or damaging, help or hinderance. What do you think? Is it good or bad? True or false? Right or wrong?

Anyway, that'll do for the time being. Now I need to apply myself to the next problem, which I'll take to be "how do humans value things", or, in common words, the science of Economics. I have no more training in Economics than I do in anything else, so it'll be interesting to see what I come up with...


  1. But is doesn't explain anything about the real nature of consciousness, or belief or anything like that.

    1. Well it isn't meant to. It is meant to provide a roughly-right predictive model. That's all.

  2. What about the emotions? You suggest that they just don't play any part at all.

    1. No, this essay just covers the system of Reason. Some thirty years ago, beginning this project from the method of introspection, I originally took it that emotional states - love, despair, joy etc - would be central to solving the problem. It turns out that they are rather the messaging systems which both affect and effect the rest of the mental economy.

      Those other systems, of emotion, instinct and memory, I will have to explain separately and later.

  3. First, thanks for this - if it is accurate, it seems like a very important thing to have understood. I'm wondering though, is your ToC identified and described in more detail in academic literature already? Or is this something unique you've come up with yourself... It seems based on science, but there are no references, so I'm not sure where it all really stands. If it is your own thing, it seems that you've revolutionised psychology. It it is not, then it would be good to have some major references! All the best.

    1. Thanks Anonymous!

      The general putting-it-all-together concept is my own thing. But every individual detail is validated against sound, (= empirical, experimental and reproducible) published academic research, and I'm on with collating those references at the moment. Which is quite a big job. By the time you read this I might have already added a few.

      I'd love to discuss more; glynhughes@btinternet.com