This article does not have a place assigned for it in MND, because it is about science, not politics. But I think that our illustrious editor, Paul Elam, should assign a special place in MND to consider current developments in science because a new way of interpreting things is going to be crucial to the survival of our cause.
Any hope of intellectual progress through conventional means Ã¢â‚¬â€œ meaning, mainstream academia Ã¢â‚¬â€œ is uncertain. We only need to remind ourselves of what happened to Lawrence Summers at Harvard University. Can we really rely on academia to be receptive to any kind of paradigm that might threaten the socialist-feminist agenda? There is hope on the horizon. With the support of MND, Wagner College is holding a male studies symposium on the 7th of April this year, chaired by anthropologist, Lionel Tiger. This new academic discipline, male studies, provides the opportunity to establish a rigorous, innovative and interdisciplinary approach that is no longer hobbled by the agenda of the left.
There are some brilliant innovators among us who are at the cutting edge, and who are obviously receptive to some new concepts. One only needs to visit the likes of The Spearhead or In Mala Fide , to realize that there are some powerful, compelling ideas brewing. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s up to us. And so to this end, for the purpose of starting the ball rolling on some real intellectual debate, I state my case that this type of topic, dealing with the cutting edge of science, should be assigned a place in a new category or section on MND Ã¢â‚¬â€œ perhaps a Ã¢â‚¬Å“Science WatchÃ¢â‚¬Â or Ã¢â‚¬Å“Cutting EdgeÃ¢â‚¬Â section.
The most serious controversies in our life sciences revolve around the nature/nurture debate. ClichÃƒÂ©s abound, with adjectives like Ã¢â‚¬Å“reductionistÃ¢â‚¬Â taking the nature side of the debate and Ã¢â‚¬Å“systemicÃ¢â‚¬Â favoring the nurture side. For those familiar with Evolutionary Psychology (EP) and its foundations in genetic determinism, the default (reductionist) position is that behavior is accounted for in a genetic blueprint, and mechanisms such as epigenetics account for how experience Ã¢â‚¬Å“reprogramsÃ¢â‚¬Â behavior. The metaphor comparing the brain to a computer dominates this interpretation. There are variations on this theme, of course, and some people like to mix and match lego blocks of nature with lego blocks of nurture. But the reality is that the brain is nothing like a computer. It is more like a colony. Mixing and matching nature with nurture is fraught with inconsistencies.
The systemic perspective, on the other hand, regards the brain as a living, self-organizing system. It is a colony of neurons. Colonies, irrespective of whether we are talking about human colonies, bee colonies, ant colonies or neural colonies, restructure themselves according to experience. We must therefore factor choice into the questions of our existence. Associationism , I predict, will play a central role in this new science that unifies mind with body with culture.
Our first priority, then, should be to understand culture, because it is culture that brought us to our current predicament. Associationism is integral to achieving this end, because it addresses the nature of desire and how the motivations of men and women Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the choices that men and women make from culture – differ.
Let us begin by considering a recent innovation that has important implications for cognitive science and how the brain works.
Seeing in tongues
The Youtube video from ITN News (2010) opens with the comment, “It’s a technological marvel that almost defies explanation.” It’s a video about Craig Lundberg, who was blinded after being hit by a rocket grenade, and who now “sees” via an image that is projected onto the surface of his tongue, instead of his retina. And no, it does not defy explanation, if we understand some simple principles doing the rounds:
Associationism relates to conditioning and associative learning, and neural plasticity relates to systems theory, and the idea that the brain self-organizes in order to accommodate experience.
The fact that Craig Lundberg is able to see in this manner is a fundamental manifestation of the mind-body unity – the idea that you cannot consider mind separately from body. In the above example, what is happening is that an image from a camera is projected onto the subject’s tongue instead of his retina. The brain takes over and the neurons self-organize to redirect the image to the visual cortex.
As is explained on the Youtube video CBS News (2007) , though, this is much more than simply Ã¢â‚¬Å“inferringÃ¢â‚¬Â an image the way you would when someone traces a picture with their finger on your skin. What happens with this device is that the brain, with practice, incorporates the visual cortex in interpreting the signals on the tongue as an image.
Associationism* enables LundbergÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s brain to learn to re-interpret the stimulation patterns on the taste buds into an image – more specifically, the brain is able to associate the stimulation pattern with image formation. This is made possible because of two of the most fundamental of cognitive processes, that being associationism and neural plasticity (the ability of neurons to restructure themselves with experience – Doidge).
Incidentally, that image from the camera could just as easily have been projected onto the skin of the subject’s back. It is because the brain is capable of associating meanings with different patterns of experience that the subject is able to learn to “see” again. It does this by re-assigning a different part of the body to the role that the retina once had.
This interpretation of how the brain works has more going for it than the standard brain-as-computer interpretation, which isolates the “computer” from the “machinery”, thus failing to appreciate the ever-dynamic interplay between mind and body.
Colonies colonies everywhere and nary a spot to think
Let us consider another example of associationism taken to a more abstract (societal) level – how we associate meanings to arrive at a culturally shared understanding:
We know that feminism has played an important part in the evolution of our cultural zeitgeist. We know that feminism is about the liberation of women and equal rights and so on. Or is it? What if I was to tell you that feminism is nothing of the sort? What if I was to tell you that feminism is merely a reinterpretation of something as old as European history? Most of us are caught in a cultural hallucination, a shared understanding as to what feminism is. But quite contrary to our established, mainstream interpretation of feminism within the context of gender equality, it is more correct to regard feminism as just a restatement of an ancient tradition, that being chivalry. Feminism is chivalry. What do we think affirmative action and VAWA are, if not a restatement of the traditional obligation requiring a gentleman to offer up his seat to a lady, or the traditional obligation requiring men to protect their women-folk? Affirmative action is about men offering up their workplace seats to ladies in the work environment. The only difference between feminism and chivalry is the role that modern technologies (such as contraceptive technologies) have played in how that chivalry should be reinterpreted and implemented. And where old-fashioned chivalry conditioned men to treat women with respect, today’s anti-harassment laws and VAWA legislate for men to continue treating women with respect.
So we see that associationism is important at different levels of experience, from the neural to the cultural. And let us not forget what it implies for feral children and domesticated animals. We thus see that associationism has implications for both medicine and politics… and indeed, the most fundamental aspects of our existence.
Associationism is so basic that it is integral to our ability to perform any function, be it walking to the corner grocery store, or sneezing, or combining images from two eyes into 3-d perception. It is even crucial to how individual cells and neurons function (refer also to Eric Kandel). And the peculiar thing about this novel interpretation is that associationism is not new at all. It is as old as David Hume (1700s), and as important as Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) and his “law of mind”.
* In my paper (2001) I consider “associationism” withing the context of two principle dimensions of thought, that being associative learning (conditioning) and habituation.
- CBS News. Blind learn to see with tongue.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKd56D2mvN0. January 19, 2007. As on March 28, 2010.
- Doidge, Norman. The Brain that Changes Itself. Scribe, Melbourne, 2008.
http://www.normandoidge.com/normandoidge/MAIN.html. As on March 28, 2010.
- ITN News. Blind soldier learns to Ã¢â‚¬ËœseeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ with his tongue.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RaTzQVHi-C4 March 15, 2010. As on March 28, 2010.
- Jarosek, Stephen. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Law of Association of Habits.Ã¢â‚¬Â Semiotica 133:1/4 (2001): 79-96.
- Kahneman, Daniel. Two big things happening in psychology today. Edge: The Third Culture. July 25 2008.
http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/thaler_sendhil08/class4.html. As on March 28, 2010.