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Niall McLaren’s Dual Aspect Theory

January 23, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

This video lecture series https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjABUhyu6dw does a good job showing how a psychiatrist, Niall McLaren,  argues toward a dual aspect theory. I recomend his books: http://www.niallmclaren.com/bibliography

Nice, thanks. I watched the series and took some notes (and sent them off to him also).

I like that he clearly sees the limitations of the other approaches, but he does not yet see the problems with the assumption of ‘information’ and the ‘semantic realm’. He is modeling experience logically in space rather than naturalistically through time.

1. He says that meaning “emerges from neuronal function”.
I would dispute that and say that nothing emerges from neuronal function except more neuronal function. Personal meaning is instead recovered as an experiential recapitulation of higher and lower levels (super-personal and sub-personal) of experience since experience is primitive and personal. His view mistakes the difference between one level of impersonal phenomena (form, matter) and another impersonal level (function, logic) for the difference between personal, private presentations and impersonal, public presentations. *

His view overlooks the same issue all the way down the line:

2. Logic gates, in his view, “coopt the mechanical function to acquit the semantic function of defining relationships”.

I suggest pivoting that assumption. It is we, the human end user or programmer who coopts both the a-signifying mechanical forms and a-signifying semiotic functions of the logic gate for our personal agendas. The logic gate has no semantic agenda, it is, like a marionette or cartoon character, a mindless machine with two mindless aspects – a spatially extended form and a temporally inferred function. There is no temporally intended motive, except the one which has been co-opted by the third and primary influence – participatory awareness .

We are exploiting the public physics of the logic gate’s form to generate a more subtle level of public physics which we read as signs. In other words, we exploit the public facing forms and functions of the gate to exploit our own public facing forms and functions (optical patterns to tease the eye, acoustic patterns to call to the ear), allowing a sharing and communication of experience in spite of forms and functions, which are completely hidden from the conscious spectacle. In fact no ‘information’ is exchanged, except metaphorically. What is exchanged is concretely real and physical, although physics and realism of course, should only be thought of as a range of scaled or scoped experience based on time-like frequencies on space-like obstructions.

3. His view focuses on the logic of the mind rather than the richness of qualia.

I suggest instead that the mind tries to be logical only when focusing on public interactions. Private fantasy would be the more raw presentation of mind; dreams, visions, delusions, etc. Logic is born out of necessity, not innate to consciousness. Left to our own devices, a brain in a nutritionally rich vat would wallow in a paradise of illogical raptures forever.

4. His view conflates grammatical structure for meaning.

This overlooks the point that communication is a skill learned expressly for public interaction, not for private understanding. The true meaning itself is not assembled internally from parts using logic and grammar, but rather ‘insists’ as a narrative gestalt. ‘The boy is eating some cake’ is only an experience of verbal syntax through which we recover a deeper perceptual understanding of the referent, based on our experiences with or about boys, eating, and cake. The order of words is no longer important within the private range of experience.

While it is important to model thought backwards through communication like he does for purposes of AI development, it is a mistake to apply the model the ontology that way. The horse is not an assembly of carts, so to speak. The cart without the horse is useless. The words and sentences are empty carts without the personal experience of semiosis, which is not included in physics or information theory. Experience is the key.

5. His views on personality and mental disorder are the weakest parts of the presentation in my opinion. They are normative and nakedly behaviorist, mistaking again public behaviors for private realities. What he sees as simply a collection of habits, I see as a vast interiority of identity and influence rooted in the sub-personal, super-personal and super-signifying bands of sensory-motive experience.

6. I disagree too that neurons “pass information mindlessly”. 

I would say that the same could be said of our own mass production systems. All mechanism is mindless, but that doesn’t mean that sub-personal organisms like neurons are devoid of intention or participatory experience. It is that sub-personal experience which our experience is made of; not the motions of structures within cells, but the private content associated with the public bodies which we define as cells (through our human scaled perceptions).

The three pronged plug that he says we are looking for is sensory-motive participation (or ‘sense’). The three prongs are (I) private experience, (II) public bodies, and (III) the potential for significance-entropy to be generated through the multiple levels of spacetime-body::timespace-experience interaction.

I was sure to mention that I do appreciate his work. I think that he is doing a great job, and I probably disagree with his model less than I do most scientific models.

* to be precise, impersonal public presentations are representations from a fundamental or absolute perspective, while personal private presentations are representations from a derived or secondary perspective. This is very confusing, but  something like a chair which is objectively real is fundamentally a representation within the experience of whoever is encountering it. The chair seems like a presentation to us because that is the function of the representation – to warn us of the presence of something completely outside of ourselves.

A feeling or a memory, by contrast, which is subjectively experienced is fundamentally a presentation within our experience but seems like a representation to us because it lacks the realism of a public representation. This is an ironic twist, that we see as real that which we have only indirect contact with through our body’s interactions and we tend to consider as less than real that through which we are directly manifested. I suggest that from an absolute or fundamental perspective, the personal, private range of presentation extends far beyond the public range in terms of phenomena which can cross the boundary of realism to allow experiences which are more than real and less than real. This feat, in my estimation, is far more impressive than the not-unimpressive feat of public presentation, which although staggeringly complex and orderly, is bound by the shackles of realism, empty of participation, meaning, and sensory quality.
  1. February 3, 2013 at 11:18 am

    Hey man, that’s a bit rough, I’m a “naked behaviorist”? I define personality as “the sum total of rules (hopes, ambitions, beliefs etc) by which we run our lives; some are explicit, some implicit. This is frankly mentalist in nature; behaviorism was violently antimentalist. I don’t see how that leaves me open to being behaviorist. My theory explicitly says people can be in a terrible mental state and yet nobody guesses, they conceal it. That’s not behaviorist.

    • February 3, 2013 at 1:19 pm

      You’re right, that is a bit rough. Sorry about that. I’m used to arguing with a lot of hostiles online, and it seems that the only way I can propose this new view of mind-body as private-public physics is to really harp on the differences. That being said, from my perspective your model’s treatment of human psychology is still behavior-centric, as far as rules, ambitions, beliefs etc are all about the relation of the individual to their public environment. Yes, rules are mental, but they are mental in a very Western sense, so I see it as cutting off all of the weird and interesting aspects of subjectivity which have nothing to do with our role as a person in society; images and fantasy, intuition, spiritual impulses, charisma, etc. I think that logical rules are actually a posteriori to this kind of swirling cauldron of experiences and influences. The rules accumulate through a history of experience, but experience itself does not arise in the universe from a construction of rules. That’s just my conjecture of course, but I haven’t found anything to give me cause to doubt it yet.

      • February 3, 2013 at 7:23 pm

        We are in close agreement. I see experience as central to the fact of being human but I cannot give an account of it. I don’t dismiss it, as Dennett and company do (Dennett says pain is a matter of “vanishing moral significance,” which seems to justify torture) but also, it isn’t the direct cause of mental disorder. The significance of mental disorder is as a terrible experience which cannot be ignored or explained away, but the immediate cause is the interaction between our visions of ourselves and the place we occupy in the world. Experience and the cognitive knowledge we need to survive in the world arise simultaneously; they constantly interact but the point of intervention (in mental disorder) is via the rules, not the experience. We can reduce a person’s fear of his experience (eg. fear of hallucinations, fear of anxiety itself) but this is a cognitive intervention, we don’t actually know what he is experiencing – that’s all private. My model of mind is itself dualist, i.e two minds, as in Chambers’ approach. As for dealing with hostility, I know too well from trying telling orthodox psychiatry that their model of mental disorder as pure biology is wrong. Now that’s hostility!

      • February 3, 2013 at 9:46 pm

        Yes, I have written a bit on how Dennett and James Randi both use their stage magician powers for somewhat dark purposes – to trick their audience into making themselves disappear.

        I agree certainly that in actually treating a person who is presenting mental disorder, the approach has got to be aligned with restoring them to their faculties as much as possible. My only beef is that if we limit the phenomena of psyche as a whole to the realm of rehabilitating human personalities, then we close the door on the deeper resolution of the dualism. What I’m interested in is reframing interiority as private physics and physiology, biology, etc as parts of the public range of physics. Instead of a dualism, it’s like a Mobius strip – an involuted monism in which the outside looks like bodies in space and the inside feels like experiences through time. I do think that if this is on the right track, that it would ultimately have consequences for psychiatry, but for my focus I am only looking at the fundamental principle of experience, not limited to human experience.

        “I know too well from trying telling orthodox psychiatry that their model of mental disorder as pure biology is wrong. Now that’s hostility!”

        I can only imagine! Yes, to me it has become so obvious that the old models are failed that it has become surreal talking with most people, who seem openly irrational and quite angry about defending what they really have little understanding of, as it turns out. A lot of people are knowledgeable, but they don’t seem to be able to get behind that knowledge and question the conventional wisdom. People don’t seem to know how to question the conventional wisdom.

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