|Intelligence and Learning|
Inside and Outside
Humans are animals in motion. They all appear to be looking for something or someone. Humans, like other animals, continuously interact with their environment to bring their existing or anticipated state into congruence with a desired state. The paradox is that the maintenance of inner homeostasis relies on continuously regenerating state of behavioral dysequilibrium. To maintain blood sugar at a relatively stable level, for example, humans have to make repeated trips out of their comfort zone to find food. Humans and other animals are engaged in a continuous tracking operation to locate sources of food and water and to avoid danger. Drives are states of disequilibrium that originate with body needs and are briefly stabilized by satisfying the need, finding, for example, food and water.
The basic idea behind animal and human brains is to bring information about the outside world together with information from inside the body. Intelligence refers to the abilities involved. Consciousness consists of monitor images of the inside and outside, a container for the representation of all experiences. The distinction between inside and outside origins for conscious experiences is irresistible. To use Kant’s terms, phenomena are events out there in the world and noumena are conscious experiences that originate from within. Representations of phenomena are said to be objective.
Events out there occur in great profusion. A complete account of a single moment of experience could easily consume hours of careful documentation. Humans tend to simplify and approximate what is really going on. We cleave the phenomenal field into discrete events and treat these cognitive objects as the contents of our experience. Meshes are made of complexly interacting and continuously emerging events. We are nodes of consciousness in the mesh of the cosmos. Conscious nodes interact with the mesh, warp the mesh and form an integral part of the mesh. The eye, for example, is a photon sensor that sends electrochemical signals to the occipital cortex and other regions of the brain that utilize visual input as information. The inner ear is a mechanical sensor that turns sound waves in the air into electrochemical signals that are processed in the temporal lobes of the brain.
An essential feature of a brain is the ability to tune into what is ongoing on out there using a variety of input devices. Tuning is not a feature of digital computers but is found in all radio communications. An old radio set with a tuning knob is a good place to start when you want to understand brain function. There is a range of electromagnetic frequencies broadcast in the universe, involving a range of energies. Animal brains tune into a small range of highly selected frequencies and extract data from this continuous and prolific stream of information. Scientists and engineers have advanced our abilities by inventing devices, optical and electronic, that extend our senses. We have invented devices that can tune into every known electromagnetic frequency and we detect photons as particles that expose film and activate photon-energy-sensitive electronic detectors. Our ability to magnify and amplify events in an otherwise unseen microcosm is the foundation of science and technological advances. All our marvelous devices are extensions of our native ability to sense what is going on out there.
Tuning in the brain involves clusters of processors for every sensory system. Careful studies of the visual cortex, for example, have revealed clusters of highly specialized cells that detect single features. Discrete columns of specialized neurons respond as if they were programmed to deliver specific information such as . Brain mapping using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) reveals complex assemblies of cortical processors that are specialized to individual tasks. The recognition of visual objects, for example, is assigned to different domains for different classes of objects.
The combination of tuning circuits extracting specific information (focal awareness) with a scanning, broadband information seeker (global awareness) appear to be the basic plan of interaction with the outside world. Images of the outside tend to be detailed and explicit in consciousness. In contrast, monitor images from inside the body tend to be vague and variable. No one can see and understand their own heart, liver, kidneys and intestines. We sense their presence only when something is wrong. Without specialized training in anatomy, and physiology, no one understands how they work inside. Even physicians with advanced training and daily application of anatomy and physiology have difficulty visualizing and understanding their own organ functions. The least accessible of all organs is the brain. The inner workings of the brain are usually hidden from consciousness. When the brain malfunctions, the mind malfunctions and the person inside the dysfunctional mind is often confused, often projects the malfunction into the world and seldom has insight into the nature and cause of the disturbance.