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A Sourcebook for the Worldwide Discovery of a Creative Organic Universe
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VII. Our Earthuman Ascent: A Major Evolutionary Transition in Twndividuality

6. Our Holosymbiotic Personal Selves

Siegfried, Tom. Self as Symbol. Science News. February 11, 2012. The science writer and editor reviews the latest neuroscience and consciousness studies, with a focus on Douglas Hofstadter and Christof Koch, to offer an insightful, popular summary. “At its core consciousness is self-referential awareness, the self’s sense of its own existence. It is consciousness itself that is trying to explain consciousness.” Everyday sentience is seen as tracked and informed by relative knowledge as we endeavor to affirm our own selves, and make sense of the world. In such regard, could we people seem as that phenomenon by which a “self-referential” universe, as if a vision quest, is trying to witness, comprehend, and discover itself?

It turned out that with genes, their physical implementation didn’t really matter as much as the information storage and processing that genes engaged in. DNA is in essence a map, containing codes allowing one set of molecules to be transcribed into others necessary for life. It’s a lot easier to make a million copies of a map of Texas than to make a million Texases; DNA’s genetic mapping power is the secret that made the proliferation of life on Earth possible. Similarly, consciousness is deeply involved in representing information (with symbols) and putting that information together to make sense of the world. It’s the brain’s information processing powers that allow the mind to symbolize itself.

Smith, Roger. Being Human: Historical Knowledge and the Creation of Human Nature. New York: Columbia University Press. 2007. A Lancaster University historian of science provides a cogent survey of who do we think we are from Renaissance humanism through Western philosophy to today’s frontiers. In such regard, a novel surmise is then made. By way of the latest complexity theories of autopoietic systems, human beings are ultimately seen to form, organize, imagine, and create themselves. Which insight would fit nicely into a self-discovering cosmic genesis.

Stewart, John, et al, eds. Enaction: Toward a New Paradigm for Cognitive Science. Cambridge, MIT Press, 2011. A consummate volume from the “neurophenomenology” perspective, most due to Francisco Varela and Evan Thompson, with a diverse, international cadre of authors including Michel Le Van Quyen, Maxine Sheets-Johnstone, Linda Smith, and Rafael Nunez. See especially Stewart’s introduction “Foundational Issues in Enaction as a Paradigm for Cognitive Science: From the Origin of Life to Consciousness and Writing.” I have heard Varela speak a number of times, first in 1979 in New York City when he had recently emigrated from Chile, at a Lindisfarne lecture arranged by William Irwin Thompson. But I wonder whether we just “lay down a path by walking,” enaction’s mantra, sans prior representations, or necessarily employ both contingent creativity within an essential, remembered guidance.

The proposed paradigm, enaction, offers an alternative to cognitive science's classical, first-generation Computational Theory of Mind (CTM). Enaction, first articulated by Varela, Thompson, and Rosch in The Embodied Mind (MIT Press, 1991), breaks from CTM's formalisms of information processing and symbolic representations to view cognition as grounded in the sensorimotor dynamics of the interactions between a living organism and its environment. A living organism enacts the world it lives in; its embodied action in the world constitutes its perception and thereby grounds its cognition. Some chapters offer manifestos for the enaction paradigm; others address specific areas of research, including artificial intelligence, developmental psychology, neuroscience, language, phenomenology, and culture and cognition. Three themes emerge: the relation between first-person lived experience and third-person natural science; the ambition to provide an encompassing framework applicable at levels from the cell to society; and the difficulties of reflexivity. (Book Synopsis)

Thagard, Paul. The Self as a System of Multilevel Interacting Mechanisms. Philosophical Psychology. 27/2, 2014. To transcend either reductionist or holistic methods for cognitive science, the prolific University of Waterloo, Canada, psychologist recommends a fluid stratified definition of an individual from molecular depths to neural anatomies, behavioral features, and social contexts. See also his chapter “Mapping Minds across Cultures” in Sun, Ron, ed. Grounding Social Sciences in Cognitive Sciences (MIT Press, 2012).

This paper proposes a theory of the self as a multilevel system consisting of social, psychological, neural, and molecular mechanisms. This account provides integrated explanations of many phenomena concerning how people represent, control, and change themselves. The multilevel system theory of the self provides a scientific alternative to transcendental and deflationary views favored by philosophers. The paper identifies more than sixty aspects of the self that divide naturally into nine groups, and provides multilevel accounts of one representative from each: self-concepts, self-consciousness, self-deception, self-presentation, self-criticism, self-esteem, self affirmation, self-regulation, and self-development. (Abstract)

My account of the self is radically different from most philosophical approaches, which tend to be either transcendental or deflationary. Transcendental views, held by philosophers such as Plato, Aquinas, Descartes, and Kant, take selves as supernatural entities – souls – that are not open to mechanistic explanation using the methods of natural science. At the other, deflationary extreme, some philosophers have been skeptical of the idea of the self as a determinate kind of thing, proposing instead that the self is just a bundle of perceptions, a convenient fiction amounting to a “center of negative gravity” (Dennett), or simply a myth. (3)

So who are you? My answer is that a self – a person – is a complex system operating at four levels, each of which consists of an EPIC subsystem composed of environment, parts, interconnections, and changes. Each level includes mechanism consisting of networks of parts whose interactions produce regular changes. Because the interactions in these subsystems typically involve nonlinear dynamics resulting from feedback loops that magnify effects of small differences in initial conditions, the behaviors of such mechanisms are often hard to predict. (42)

The justification for adopting the multilevel system view of the self is that it is superior to alternative accounts in explaining a wide range of phenomena concerning human behavior. Unlike transcendental views of the self as a supernatural soul, the multilevel view understands the self as a natural but highly complex kind of entity, like a state, university, living body, organ or molecule. Unlike deflationary views of the self as a fiction, multilevelism maintains that a scientific concept of the self has sufficiently broad explanatory power to justify belief in selves akin to belief in atoms, viruses, fields, genes, organizations, and other important theoretical entities posited by successful sciences. (42-43)

Toates, Frederick. Evolutionary Psychology – Towards a More Integrative Model. Biology and Philosophy. 20/2-3, 2005. An attempt to sort through this contentious subject in search of a necessary understanding of the valid primate and animal sources of human behavior.

Tschacher, Wolfgang and J.-P. Dauwalder, eds. Dynamics, Synergetics, Autonomous Agents: Nonlinear Systems Approaches to Cognitive Psychology and Cognitive Science. Singapore: World Scientific, 1999. Many technical papers on the cross-fertilization and advance of these disciplines by the various dimensions of nonlinear science.

Tschacher, Wolfgang and Otto Rossler. The Self: A Processual Gestalt. Chaos, Solitons & Fractals. 7/7, 1996. Conceptual reasons for the evolutionary ascent of personal identity founded upon the dynamics of self-organizing systems.

Uddin, Lucina, et al. The Self and Social Cognition. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 11/4, 2007. A team including Julian Keenan reports that the frontoparietal network of the right-lateralized brain hemisphere is vital to achieve self-representation and personal self-recognition. We continue to emphasize this finding for such an integral feminine perception will be indispensable if a bicameral humankind might ever be able to heal and become whole itself.

Uttal, William. The War Between Mentalism and Behaviorism. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 2000. Their historic resolve would be a synthesis of both a mentalist focus on the brain’s internal workings and behaviorist influences from external social settings.

VanDerHeide, Nancy and William Coburn, eds. Self and Systems: Explorations in Contemporary Self Psychology. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Volume 1159, 2009. In good part, essays that aim to set aside an older Freudian focus on the patient or subject alone to the views of the Austrian-American psychologist Heinz Kohut (1913-1981) in favor of a more relational, interactive psychoanalysis. A notable paper is “Relational Trauma and the Developing Right Brain” by the UCLA psychiatrist Allan Schore.

Psychoanalysis, the science of unconscious processes, has recently undergone a significant transformation. Self psychology, derived from the work of Heinz Kohut, represents perhaps the most important revision of Freud’s theory as it has shifted its basic core concepts from an intrapsychic to a relational unconscious and from a cognitive ego to an emotion-processing self. (Schore, 189)

Wagman, Jeffrey. What is Responsible for the Emergence of Order and Pattern in Psychological Systems? Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology. 30/1, 2010. In our dawning age of a nonlinear genesis nature, as the complexity sciences reach a common maturity, an Illinois State University psychologist seeks to bring his field into the fold by showing how much holistic, self-organization principles indeed span from physics to biology and neuroscience. The paper cites further examples of the complexity turn in bodily evolution, niche construction, and flocking behavior. With this in place,their psychological acceptance can be traced in behavioral development, motor control via coordination dynamics, ecological accounts of perception and representation, and onto cognitive processes. A substantial, comprehensive contribution.

Primarily, the explanatory burden of accounting for the emergence of order by appealing to self-organization and field dynamics seems to be far less taxing that the burden of appealing to disjointed, discrete mediating endogenous entities, mechanism, or processes. The view explored here is that the emergence of order and pattern in psychological systems may be more usefully understood in this was as well. Such a perspective would bring explanations of psychological phenomena into greater congruence with natural law and reduce the explanatory burden associated with many psychological phenomena. (34)

Thus, a self-organization and field-based account of order and pattern in psychological systems may go a long way toward bringing the psychological sciences on par with the physical and biological sciences while at the same time avoiding a mere reduction of psychological sciences to the physical and biological sciences. (34)

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