brain functioning and speakOverview

Language, consciousness and brain functioning: read this section to appreciate the two-way interconnection of brain and body, how thinking will involve a social dimension as we respond to outside stimuli, and how — contrary to Derrida and the Postmodernists — thought may be grounded in physiological processes and so precede more precise formulation in language.



What can science tell us of the brain and its speech-generating powers? Can it resolve the long-standing disputes of philosophy: that thought cannot be independent of language, that each person creates their own world view, that private languages are impossible? Much has been done — indeed an enormous amount, impossible to summarize here {1} — but only in broad outlines is brain functioning understood, and then not unequivocally.

First there is the complexity of the human nervous system. Though the greatest mass of nerve cells is collected in the brain, the nervous system links all parts of the body, in a most intimate way, the nerve cells ramifying into and connecting the cells in the bone, skin, organs of digestion, perception, respiration, etc. That needs emphasizing. The body is not a puppet jerked into life by the nervous system: the two are thoroughly interconnected, with multiple feedback systems continually in operation. Literary critics and linguists overlook what is obvious from a biological point of view: language is only one activity of the human organism. Nonetheless, it is one which (by involving the brain, the local nervous systems and the hands, mouth, throat, etc.) necessarily implicates the whole body in its activities. Body language is a cliché, but describes a blatant truth. Speech causes body changes, and vice versa. Philosophy, science and literary theory that attempt to build rational systems independent of how the body actually operates may not be helpful. Much of bodily activity is instinctive, or hidden from consciousness, but drugs, brain injury and mental illness each demonstrate that physiology affects understanding. Lacunae or opacities in our intellectual constructions are only to be expected in an organism that does not operate like an extended computer. {2}

Then there is the brain itself, an enormously complicated organ with one hundred thousand million nerve cells, and some thousand million million connections. Man's brain is considerably larger than those of chimpanzees or gorillas, and this fact no doubt explains our superior skills in what is specifically human: language, tool-making, consciousness. Some doubt whether the higher primates possess these skills at all, but the arguments turn on definitions. (Chimpanzees, for example, can be trained to speak, but don't seem to engage in spontaneous conversation.) {3}

Though there is considerable overlap, parts of the brain appear to have their own responsibilities. The overarching cortex deals with motor functions — the cells controlling speech, vision and hearing being concentrated in certain areas. The hippocampus is responsible for long-term memory. The basal ganglia act with the cortex in choosing between plans of action. The cerebellum smooths gestures. The limbic system generates emotions. The reticulate formation (RF), situated at the top of the brainstem, but with nerve cells (RAS: reticulating activation system) reaching into the limbic system and cortex, is responsible for three matters. The first is consciousness: what part of sensory input reaches the brain. Second is control of the sleep/wake cycle: damage to the RF results in coma. Third is the level of activity in the brain — when stimulated, the RF generates neurotransmitters like dopamine, excess levels of which are associated with schizophrenia. {4} In fact, all parts of the brain are interconnected, and all are subject to multiple feedback. Nerve cells connect in synapses, in a multiple fashion, and these synaptic connections seem able to repattern their activities. Memory, therefore — apart from that of DNA replication, and possibly of antibodies formed by cell action — lies in the reflex actions of neurons, i.e. in re-categorization under the stimulus of the body as a whole and stimulus from the world outside. {5}

The brain is also divided vertically into right and left hemispheres, the two being connected medially by the thin corpus callosum. The vertical symmetry is continued through the body but reversed, so that the nervous system of the right half of the body connects to the left brain hemisphere, and vice versa. But there is a fundamental difference when it comes to further processing of information. The left hemisphere is more concerned with matters of logic and perception. The right hemisphere controls imagination, art, speech and language. {6} When the corpus callosum is cut and the two hemispheres separated — as happens occasionally as a treatment for epilepsy — it becomes possible to test perception independent of language. The results are startling. A patient instructed by information fed into the right hemisphere to perform an action (e.g. scratch himself) will oblige, but not know why he has done so. More than that, because the human organism is always seeking to make a coherent whole of its thoughts and actions, the patient will come up with some plausible but quite spurious reason for his actions ('I scratched because it itched'). {7} Linguistic skills are not only somewhat independent of skills in perception and reasoning — which intelligence testing has long known {8} — but of a different character. Indeed it would seem that the fundamental issues of ontology (the philosophy of being: self-awareness, consciousness of identity, knowledge of the self) that reasoning has struggled with for centuries are not matters to be resolved by this type of mental investigation. Language is essential to self-understanding, but that understanding is necessarily different from — on the evidence of scientific testing itself — the clear-cut categories of science and logic. And since language develops to understand and regulate our interactions with other people, that language automatically includes the social dimension.

This conclusion is obvious and disconcerting. Mankind since the collapse of the medieval world-picture has attempted to find something more fundamental on which to base knowledge, truth and belief. Success has been patchy. Science is not independent of human understanding because theory and concept are threaded into the act of observation. Languages can be studied by scientific procedures, but not encompassed by reasoning. Mathematics is not reducible to logic, and even logic ramifies into probabilities and competing schools. Man is a social animal and his speech reflects this fact. There are few limits to what man can examine and discover in and through language, but he cannot escape what is presupposed by that language: the context of his times and the basic physiology of his make-up. What was known to the ancients has been underlined by the most successful of western achievements: science itself.

Consciousness: Edelman, Pinker & Shea

Little is settled in a discipline as young as brain science, and there is no shortage of conflicting evidence. What, for example, is consciousness? There are several views. Gerald Edelman {9} distinguishes primary from secondary consciousness. The first encompasses feeling and intentions, being aware of the world, and having mental images of the present. It depends on specific areas of the primary and secondary cortex for the functions of sight, touch, hearing, etc., which are all linked together through a complex system of neural loops and feedbacks. There is also a reentrant loop to category memory that uses the frontal, temporal, parietal cortex, and further loops to functions of correlation sited in the hippocampus, amygdala and the septum. All respond to signals from the primary and secondary cortex, and from the brain stem, the hypothalamus and the autonomic centres.

Higher consciousness Edelman regards as primary consciousness plus the ability to construct a socially-based selfhood. Only man has this ability, which is much bound up with speech and language. Speech came with developments in the mouth and larynx, and specific areas of the cortex: Broca's and Werniche's areas. Sounds were linked by learning with concepts and gestures to give meaning. Syntax emerged to connect concepts with words. In this T.N.G.S (theory of neural group selection) the world is real, governed by the laws of physics, but qualified by the way concepts arise. Mind is an emergent property of brains, and all knowledge — philosophical, mathematical, scientific, artistic — is inevitably fragmentary and discontinuous. Since he adapts physically to stimuli, man is not a computer, and the theories of Chomsky and Structuralism fall short of the facts.

Stephen Pinker {10} takes a more orthodox, hard-science line. Though stuttering, dyslexia and specific language impairment does run in families, there seems to be no language gene as such. Language is instinctive — witness the ease with which children learn. Contrary to Edelman, he believes that Chomsky's transformational grammar is supported by laboratory testing, grammatical complexity being reflected in response times. As with scientists and philosophers generally, Pinker does not like cultural relativism, and believes that basically we are all the same. Hopi Indians are not less aware of the passage of time than Europeans, and the Eskimo do not have hundreds of words for snow, just the odd dozen that we use. Human nature is not infinitely malleable, and Pinker's model of human behaviour employs heredity, environmental factors, skills, knowledge and innate psychological mechanisms that include learning.

What part of the brain is responsible for consciousness? All of it, say most authors, with the cortex in the leading role but profoundly influenced by operations in the limbic system (emotions) and the reticulate formation (RF: attention, sleep-wake cycles, control of the body's physiological functions). {11}. But Eugene Shea {12} places consciousness in the reticulate formation, which he views as a servomechanism for the brain, and an interface between the brain and the organs of perception. By regulating sensory input through the reticular activating system, the RF decides which inputs need to be processed in consciousness, which should be inhibited, and which can be handled by unconscious stock responses. Indeed, it is these inhibitions and stock responses developed to meet our social and animal needs, and now remaining as outmoded value and belief systems, that need to be unlearnt if we are to capture the saintly bliss of mystics and see God as an abiding presence in the world. Shea pictures a hierarchy of more elevated needs, which he terms the love/belief system, but in contrast to Maslow, has them controlled by an individual and indeed immortal "I', which includes a human soul, both in the Christian sense and as recognized by the perennial philosophy {13}.

On a more mundane level, of what exactly are we conscious when we read a poem? Thoughts, perceptions and emotions that seem exact, certainly, but which are difficult to pin down further. We surrender to their particular fusion, but do not regard them as calls to action. Treating a poem's element of thought as a separate entity can indeed produce statements that are not strictly true, or not true in a wider context. Aesthetic response seems a special sort of consciousness, and it may well be that this consciousness is not a generic one, but specific to individual poems, or even to individual readers, if the differing brain activities of experimentees watching the same film are to be believed. {14}

Brain Cell Hierarchies: Hawkins

Jeff Hawkins {15} starts with the neocortex, that crumpled, outermost layer of the brain. It's 2 mm thick and about the area of a large dinner napkin. Six layers can be distinguished, which Hawkins enumerates as L1 (top) to L6 (bottom). All layers in all areas perform the same function, though different areas show small differences because they're connected to different organs.

The first key feature of Hawkins' hypothesis is memory. These are the key features of invariant representation:

1. Memories are sequences of patterns.

2. They are recalled auto-associatively.

3. Storage is in invariant forms.

4. The store is ordered hierarchically.

Second comes prediction, which is the primary function of the neocortex, and the foundation of intelligence.

Thereafter, the matter becomes rather technical, the important points being as follows:

1. The neocortex is adaptable in its functions, but in an undamaged brain there are areas set aside for various functions (visual processing, motor functions, etc.)

2. These areas (though laterally arranged over the cortex) are functionally hierarchical. Biologists label them IT (top) down through V4 and V2 to V1 (bottom) when applying to visual processing. The most primary sensory information arrives in area V1, and is processed upwards into increasing invariant representations.

3. The areas are interconnected, so that layer L6 of one area will connect to the L1 layer of the area immediately below (in hierarchy). IT connects upwards to the hippocampus (important for new memories).

4. Information flows in both directions through layers: upwards to create representations (patterns) and downwards to check that the representations match the inputs. If they do, the representations handle the response (understanding and/or action). If they don't, the input is passed progressively upwards until a representation is found that does. In fact the V1, V2 and V4 areas consist of sub regions interconnected at higher levels, but invariant representations become progressively more general.

5. Cells fire if they receive the right combination of inputs. In general, information flowing up is transferred by nearby synapses. Information flowing down is often via dendrites far from the centre.

6. The composition of layers is important:

L1 is a mat of axons running parallel to the cortex surface (allowing different columns to connect).

Layers 2 and 3 have closely packed pyramidal cells (axons to neighbours

Layer 4 has star-shaped cells (converging connections).

Layer 5 has pyramidal and extra-large pyramidal cells (last having a wider role).

Later 6 has pyramidal cells that project to L1 of the next area down, or to inner brain organs.

7. Information generally passes vertically, up and down columns. Firing of the synapses strengthens connections. Those patterns can change-decay with disuse or develop with new inputs: i.e. we forget and learn. Before learning, a column can fire only if driven by a Layer 4 cell. After learning, levels 2, 3 and 5 can anticipate based on layer 1 pattern, and will fire on only partial input from layer 6 - i.e. the column anticipates. Layer 1 also takes input from layer 6 in the next area up, so that e.g. phonemes become words become sentences becoming understanding. Input that is not required, i.e. usual patterns already covered by invariant representations, is blocked from firing by inhibitory cells. (Layer 2 cells may also be controlled by invariant representations in higher areas: pp.154-5 of Hawkins).

8. Motor and sensory perception are closely interdependent. We learn to anticipate from context. Predicting, thinking and behaviour are all a hierarchy of invariant representations.

9. Only the most novel information reaches the hippocampus. Cells in layer 5 also project to the thalamus and thence to the next higher area. Information passed upwards between two areas also passes indirectly through the thalamus. (The thalamus is part of the sub cortical, inner brain and so can add emotional colouring.)

10. Each cortical area creates predictions, which are sent down the hierarchy: Imagination simply turns this around and lets predictions be input.

What does this mean? That we sidestep the all or nothing position of Derrida, just as evolution overcomes the 'which came first, chicken or egg?' conundrum of biology. Being stored in increasingly precise form as invariant representation, words, phases and their associations do have an independent existence, but authors also have control in rearranging and extracting them for thought and expression. Vague ideas give way to more precise formulations, and these can be tested against experience.


In one sense, all language is metaphorical, since meaning is developed through approximate family resemblances and what is literal is only that which no longer calls attention to itself, the metaphors (extended, literal, longer, calls, attention) being dead (another metaphor). {16} To understand the meaning of metaphors we have to recognize the referent in context, i.e. use words appropriately, but also call to mind the ideas, linguistic and empirical, that are embodied in mental schemas and social practices. And we have to find meaning in metaphors, their frames of reference interacting and combining so as to make sense to us. And that sense is further constrained by cultural expectations. The metaphors of science are mechanical and developed rationally. Literary metaphors are more matters of analogy, chosen for expressive vividness.

Schemas: Theories of Lakoff and Johnson

Schemas are constructions of reality using the assimilation and association of sensorimotor processes to anticipate actions in the world. They are plural: our minds are a richly connected network of schemas by which we perceive, act, react and consider. Of course we use logic, but more often our view of the world is through the analogical frames of schemas, where representation can only be partial and approximate. Clearly, metaphors and schemas are closely associated, and the theories of schemas by Lakoff and Johnson grew out of their 1980 work on metaphor. {17} Far from being mere matters of style, metaphors organize our experience, creating realities guiding our futures and reinforced interpretations. Lakoff and Johnson were relativists. There was no absolute truth, but only truth relative to some understanding. And that understanding involved categories which emerged from our interaction with experience. They were neither fixed nor uniform, but defined by prototypes and family prototypes, both being presented by metaphors.

Metaphors were matters of thought and action, then, not simply of language. This view Lakoff and Johnson independently took further in books published seven years later. {18} {19} Human beings created cognitive models that reflect concepts needed for interaction between themselves and their surroundings. Such concepts are made by bodily activities prior to language. The cognitive models proposed were very varied, with the most complex being radial with multiple schema linked to a common centre. Language was characterized by symbolic models (with generative grammar an overlying, subsequent addition) and operated by constructing models — propositional, image schematic, metaphoric and metonymic. Properties were matters of relationships and prototypes. Meaning arose through embodiment in schemas. Schemas could also be regarded as containers — part-whole, link, centre-periphery, source-path-goal, up-down, front-back.

Schemas recognized the different languages of human expression. Linguistic functions were propositional and symbolic. Propositional logic used basic-level concepts only — entities, actions, states, properties — and meaning was built with link schemas. Complex propositions were built from simple propositions by modification, quantification, conjunction, negation, etc. Scenarios were constructed through an initial state, sequence of events, to a final state with source-path-goal. Syntax was simply idealized cognitive models (part-whole, centre-periphery, link, container schemas). Knowledge and truth, however, were radial concepts depending on basic-level concepts and social context — these indeed being the only grounds for certainty. Objectivity was never absolute, and we could only look at a problem from as many aspects as possible.

Though schemas were hypothetical, and lacked the analytical power of other approaches, {20} Lakoff and Turner have enlarged their potential. Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought {21} attempted to refound philosophy on cognitive science. It employed three premises: that mind is inherently embodied, that thought is mostly unconscious, and that abstract concepts are largely metaphorical. Out went Platonic Idealism, Cartesian Dualism, and much of the Anglo-American analytical philosophy. As ever, the concepts were intriguing, indeed liberating, but the empirical evidence was not compelling, and the arguments advanced did not fully engage with those of different intellectual tribes (mathematicians, philosophers, scientists in general). Mark Johnson had independently extended the notion of metaphor to parables {22} — not a word standing for something else, but a whole story standing for a particular description of the world. Narrative imaginings allow us to understand and organize experience. We project one story onto another, language emerging to allow this process. Again, a useful top-down alternative to the bottom-up (and not over-successful) approach of traditional linguistics, but still only straws in the wind. {23} Then came Where Mathematics Comes From: How the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics into Being by Lakoff and Núñez, {24} that did build rigorously on two decades of cognitive science. Arithmetic arises from four metaphoric processes: object collection, object construction, using a measuring stick, and moving along a path. Three difficult problems could be examined in depth: 1. the grounding of arithmetic, logic and set theory, 2. infinitesimals, hypereals and transfinite numbers, and 3. e to the power ix, with its application to Euler's equation. None of this is easy reading, but metaphor theory and schema now have to be taken seriously.

Irreducible Mind

Entirely different is the approach of Edward F. Kelly {25} and co-workers who build on the work of F.W.H. Meyers (1843-1901), William James and other researchers into the paranormal. On this evidence the mind is not generated by brain activity, but, on the contrary, the mind is focused, limited and constrained by the brain. Most scientists assume, of course, that psi activities cannot occur, and that the evidence must therefore be nonexistent or fraudulent. Yet clearly it's not. Many thousands of well-documented studies exist in the following areas:

sychosomatic medicine, psychoneuroimmunology, bereavement and mortality, sudden and voodoo deaths,  influence of mind on health, postponement of death, positive effectd of religion, healing with meditation, faith healing, placebos, false pregnancies, stigmata, non-religious skin wounds, hysteria, multiple personality disorders, yogi accomplishments, effects induced under hypnosis ( analgesia, bleeding, healing, burns, warts, skin disease removal), sympathetic symptoms, maternal impressions, suggestion at a distance, distance healing by prayer, birthmarks in reincarnation, extrasensory perception, psychokinesis,  telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, prodigious memories, automatic writing, near-death (NDE) and out of the body (OBE) experiences.

The better-investigated cases are persuasive individually, and compelling en mass. Fraud is an ever-present danger, but the great majority of cases cannot be written off so easily. Skepticism probably thrives because mainstream writers have not investigated the literature properly (or at all), and because paranormal questions the materialism of contemporary science.

Kelly reviews the history of twentieth-century psychology. {25}  The behaviourism dominating the first half of the 20th century eliminated the mind entirely: everything was reduced to directly observable input-output  responses. The approach coincided with the logical positivists, who saw the mind as unnecessary, the 'ghost in the machine'. But pain and pain behaviour are not the same thing, and logical behavourism gave way in the 1950s and 60s to identity theories. Mental states correspond to brain states or neural processes. 

The brain is very plastic, however, and high IQs are sometimes found in individuals with very incomplete brains. With advances in computing machines, brains too came to be seen as information processing machines, computers in fact, which are bound by rules. Turing, for example, proved that a machine could be constructed to give a required output by following algorithms, even a universal Turing machine. John von Newmann (1947) invented the basic architecture of the stored program digital computer, and Chomsky linguistics introduced transformational grammar, which is again rule-based. Higher level programming languages were devised, which further suggested the brain was a super computer (CTM). Computer simulation (CS) and artificial intelligence (AI) became exciting possibilities. Nonetheless, even simple translation machines were limited and 'brittle'. The brain operates on something other than rules: it is more creative and operates within the total context. Cognitive Neuroscience became important from the 1970s. Biological processes could accept both information processing and pictorial representation as important. Scientists studied the effects of physical and mental damage to brains, aided by neuroimaging technologies (electric and magnetic fields and metabolic processes). 

Neural nets made a comeback with the connectionists. But there are problems as networks are scaled up, and such nets are not good at capturing characteristic human cognition. They have been joined or replaced by complex systems theories, which the brain must certainly be in many respects, with its time-dependent states and feedback processes. Contemporary theories therefore combine several approaches in a 'global operation room' where different actions of the brains disparate functions are bound together by gamma bands of frequencies. These still give no clue as to what consciousness really is, however. Kelly argues it's important to continue these experiments, and for these concepts to be pushed as far as they will go. 

John Searle's Chinese Room thought experiment shows that semantics is more than syntax. In the absence of consciousness, the brain can turn out the right answers without understanding a thing. Searle in fact believes consciousness is simply the low-level activity of the brain: no more and no less. But it certainly does not seem that way: mind has integration and intention. In William James's view, matter did not create consciousness, but consciousness shaped and limited matter. Psi phenomena seem real if intermittent, moreover, and are inexplicable in orthodox physical terms, particularly post death survival. 

F.W.H. Meyers wanted to unite materialism and philosophy in a 'tertium quid'. His terminology (subliminal and supraliminal) was unfortunate and inconsistent, but in his view our everyday waking states occupy just a narrow band of the individual's potential. Some gifted individuals, especially under trauma, illness and certain states of consciousness, can access other bands : the 'lower' automatic body processes or the 'higher' ones like telepathy.  That is the only way the well-documented psi experiences can be explained and incorporated into a broader and more honest view of consciousness. That consciousness is incorporeal, larger than indivual brains and may in some way or to some extent survive physical death.  

No currently accepted medical view of memory really meets the facts. Episodic memory (of an event involving us) has a personal element: we were there. Who is the 'we' observing the memory? Early theories of memory supposed that 'traces' were laid down in parts of the brain, and that they involved the hippocampus in converting short term to long term memory. The hippocampus is involved, it seems, but also surrounding brain areas, and other quite distant parts of the brain. Brains don't have anything like the data stores of computers. Neurons do grow new spikes but too slowly to 'contain' or cope with memories' which are in fact diffusely spread throughout the brain, in different patterns as memories are consolidated in the one person, and in different ways in different persons : support for connectionists but still a long way from explaining matters, especially recall. Episodic memories have 'warmth and intimacy'. But they are recalled in a context of events : which also need to be explained : and cannot simply be a faded photograph of an event. Some memories have an hallucinatory vividness, moreover, without being genuine. Matters apparently long forgotten may sometimes be accessed in dreams and under hypnosis. Remembering is different from reliving, because we are conscious that we are looking back on memories from the present. Memories of people, landscapes, objects, emotions, etc. are shaped by human agencies, moreover: they are not passive snapshots. Nor are they inner representations, or prepositional tokens in languages of thought (LOT): context and the vague web of associated memories is important: we understand memories. In short, an enormous amount of data has been acquired on brain operations, but memory is as puzzling as ever. Neuroimaging adds to the complexity: the same part of the brain may be involved in several functions concurrently, and 'subtraction' results in false pictures. Physical damage usually results in memory etc. impairment, but a few individuals can operate quite normally, even well, on 95% removal of brain material. 

Some people in somnambulistic states have access to extraordinary abilities. Multiple  personalities are sometimes alternate and sometimes coexisting. Each may or may not know of the others. Brain scans and other imaging techniques show the personalities to be distinct. Similar tests on mediums also show distinct personalities, which they do not with skilled actress playing several roles. NDEs, OBEs and similar experiences often bring enhanced consciousness the very time the brain should be at its least functional : indeed the anaesthetics effects entirely rule out brain waves in the gamma frequency binding together disparate parts of the brain in the 'global operating room' manner. No physiological processes — low oxygen, high carbon dioxide levels, stimulation of temporal lobes, neural transmitter levels, etc. — can account for the usually reported feelings of vivid contentment, bright light, surpassing peace, separation from the body, life reviews and appearance of the previously departed dead. These last only the short duration of the NDE, not the usual hours of medication. A few OBE details can sometimes be independently verified: details of the operation, conversation between surgeons, etc., but mostly not. Approx 10% of death-threatening operations are accompanied by NDEs, but such experiences can occur in other situations, often when the patient is expecting death. Curiously, the extra effects (faces of the dead, etc.) are more common when the patient really is near death or clinically dead, i.e. when the brain is most incapacitated. Many NDEs are transformative, profoundly affecting lives thereafter, and lessening the fear of dying. Similar are death-bed experiences, occasionally collective (i.e. witnessed by others too), and visitations when loved ones have just died: in many of these it can be verified that did die then, which the experiencer could not otherwise have known about. As in other psi experiences, the documentation is extensive, and NDEs in particular have become the subject of popular treatments.  

Genius is the happy cooperation of subliminal with supraliminal consciousness. Geniuses, particularly in poets, are more likely to show pathologies, but they also exhibit greater mental health. Genius is something exceptional, more than greater creativity, The creative breakthrough comes in stages : preparation, incubation, illumination and verification : but in practice the process is much more confused, mysterious and fluid than this. It involves elements of dissociation, automatisms and even hysteria, expressing an indwelling and general perceptive power. There is a self surrender to something larger than the ego, and taking precedence over the established order. Skilled and voluntary effort is necessary, and the products of inspiration generally have to be evaluated and further shaped. Many writers depend on dreams and sleep processes, and admit that their creations are not constructed but given to them, as though dictated by other agencies. Some astonishing works have been produced by the ouija board or automatic writing, quite beyond the author's usual personality, knowledge or range. As Kant put it: genius is a talent for producing that for which no definite rule can be given: it itself gives the rule to art.  Creativity is not necessarily pathological, and where the insane are overwhelmed by subliminal uprushes, genius remains in control. Many creative geniuses were clearly sane and balanced individuals, and if many geniuses suffer neuroses and periods of depression, only few of the insane are artists. Poets and writers often create depression by their activities, and use their insights in their work. Both creativity and psychosis tends to run in families, but schizophrenia and depression of course end creativity, at least for a time. Artists of all types feel they are exploring self-knowledge, and hope that self knowledge illuminates others' lives. Artists find themselves in their work, what Jung calls individuation. 

However unlikely the irreducible mind must seem to scientists and lay opinion, it is an approach with a long philosophical history, from Plato, Plotinus, through Berkeley, Leibnitz and Hegel to nineteenth-century idealists.  Its champions did not generally derive their theories by argument (though Berkeley thought God had to exist to give the world a reality beyond our fallible sense expressions), but by rationalizing what they had actually experienced. Even today, writers on quantum mechanics often accept what is some sort of over-reaching mind or universal consciousness to explain the behaviour of particles that react instantaneous with each other (i.e. faster than the speed of light), and in some cases, with pre-knowledge. {27}

This and other pages in the theory section have been collected into a free pdf ebook entitled 'A Background to Literary Theory'. Click here for the download page.


1. Refer textbooks on biology, brain functioning and human physiology, e.g. Rita Carter's Mapping the Mind (2000) and Susan Greenfield's (Ed.) The Human Mind Explained: The Control Centre of the Living Machine. (1996). Also P.N. Johnson-Laird's An Introduction to Cognitive Science (1988). A useful site is Physiology of the Human Body.
2. Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela's The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding (1992).
3. Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct: The New Science of Language and Mind (1994), and Chapter 9 of Maturana and Varela 1992.
4. Physiological details of the brain are given in NNA.Sleep and Language.
5. Gerald Edelman's Bright Air, Brilliant Fire: On the Matter of the Mind (1992).
6. Patricia Smith Churchland's Neurophilosophy: Toward a Unified Science of the Mind/Brain (1986).
7. pp. 225-235 in Maturana and Verela 1992.
8. P. Evans and G Deeham's The Descent of Mind: The Nature and Purpose of Intelligence (1990).
9. Edelman 1992.
10. Pinker 1994.
11. Carter, 1998.
12. Eugene B. Shea's The Immortal "I": Toward a Fourth Psychology of Being/Loving/Knowing (1991).
13. Aldous Huxley's The Perennial Philosophy (1944/1970).
14. p. 22 in Carter (2000).
15. Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee's On Intelligence (Times Books, 2004).
16. Michael Arbib and Mary Hesse's The Construction of Reality (1986).
17. G. Lakoff and M. Johnson's Metaphors We Live By (1980).
18. G. Lakoff's Women, Fire and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind (1987).
19. M. Johnson's The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination and Reason (1987).
20. J. Bresnan's (Ed.) The Mental Representation of Grammatical Relations (1982).
21. George Lakoff and Mark Turner's Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought. (1999). Also the review by Francis F. Steene: Grasping Philosophy by the Roots in Philosophy and Literature 24. 1 (2000) 197-203.
22. Mark Turner's The Literary Mind: The origins of Thought and Language (1996).
23. Mark Tuner pp. 22-25. Also Alan Richardson's Review, Brains, Minds and Texts at of May 2001.
24. George Lakoff and Raphael Núñez's Where Mathematics Comes From: How the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics into Being (2000).
25. The Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century by Edward F. Kelly and Emily Williams Kelly et al. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc. 2007.
26. Randi's Prize: What Sceptics Say About the Paranormal, Why They are Wrong & Why It Matters by Robert McLuhan.Matador, 2010.
27. The Awakening: Quantum Mechanics of the Human Brain. EndGameTime.

Internet Resources

The Internet literature is vast, but here is a brief listing that provides some insight into the diversity of views and philosophical positions that can be adopted.

Nature of consciousness

1. scientific dualistic view: e.g. Harnad.
a. Consciousness has to be explained through cause and effect. We don't seem to be able to do that, which means that our feeling of being alive is something superfluous to the efficient operation of the human machine, and/or
Could only occur if mind could exert a control over matter. But mind and matter are separate realms, and the necessary telekinesis doesn't exist.
c. mental events cannot be understood by the strict laws of science: Davidson.

2. Wider scientific dualistic view.
a. Mind and matter are separate realms, but interrelated:
Matter can control mind (injury, drugs) and mind can control matter, not only gifts of people like Geller but in other ways, as listed here:
Winston Wu
Scalar physics

Psi research

3. Scientific non-dualistic view: e.g. Damasio.
Mental events can be correlated with neural activities, and that is sufficient: we don't need telekinesis because the mind/matter divide is something we have falsely created by purely 'logical' processes. At a certain level, the functioning of the brain is consciousness.

4. Science is only one facet of our understanding of the world.
a. Idealism: e.g. Bishop Berkeley: matter is an illusion: we live in a mental realm only.
b. Creation of language: what we say and believe depends on the realm of discourse we employ.
c. A small part of a religious outlook.

Nature of human identity

1. Human identity doesn't exist: we sense only a stream of impressions: Hume
2. Scientific: differences in genetic inheritance and stored memories are sufficient to individuate us. We don't need a centralising control of brain activities, which is the homunculus fallacy. See also Inside the neuron
3. We need something that gives us a coherent identity: this is mental, and immortal: Shea

Additional Information Sources

Journal of Consciousness

Additional Information on the RAS

Brain action is inhibited within the whole brain, not only through the RAS: some 20-50% of brain neurons are inhibitory. Religious experiences can be induced
RAS can be influenced by the
hemi-sync process.
A physical model
can be made for clearing of consciousness.
States of consciousness arise from the activities of the RAS and neurohormonal system
Neural models
of the unconscious can be made without invoking Freud's unconscious
RAS controls but does not blank out consciousness of objects: example of visual processing.
RAS is the doorkeeper to consciousness
Mind/brain is amenable to change.
Emotion is far more complicated than suggested by Carter (above).

Philosophical Dimensions

The philosophy of being, or ontology, is very technical, but some resources:

Introductory Articles
Encyclopedia: upinfo

Descriptive and Formal Ontology
Google Listings

Open Directory Listings
Yahoo Listings
University of Buffalo
Stanford Encyclopedia
Internet Encyclopedia

Individual Philosophers or Concepts
Aristotle: Internet Encyclopedia
Gruber: AI Perspectives
Sowa: Categories
Sowa: Guided Tour of Ontology
Husserl: Internet Encyclopedia

Mathematical Platonism


Amoeba Web
Cognitive & Experimental

Behavioural & Brain Science

Internet sources

Four stages
Four stages in more detail
Internet sources

Erikson and other's stages

Keeping an Open Mind