Thinking & Realism

Marxism has a grand tradition concerning realism. There are many documents by major figures in the movement concerning materialism and science, culture and writing, etc. We have invented methods of describing consciousness which are ubiquitous in the world, for example raising consciousnessı. After WWII the world wide scientific community began to seriously approach how the brain works (not to discount prior external studies of behavior). Prior to this point there was speculation about the mind, for example much of philosophy is concerned with how the mind works, and developing methods related to those speculations.

Such speculations though have always reflected the prevailing cultural ideologies. There are tools emerging now to examine the mind and turn upon their head those ideologies that structure us now. I want to put out some of the current scientific understandings of how the brain works in biological terms. I think there are obvious inferences about these typical current theories of the brain. I sense multiple implications for describing directly the structures and causes of racism, and sexism though that does not mean a solution. A solution would be clear enough, with an end to class society.

Some of these fundamental brain understandings have been around for quite awhile, but the ability to know extensive brain details only began during the recent Reagan/Thatcher era (Certainly not because they were interested in brains). We have some sketchy descriptions of the overall system that crudely have been proposed, but at the same time are way beyond anything previously available for Marxist to use.

I will use a study guide text that is now available as a reference in bringing up what is currently understood. "Introducing Mind & Brain", by Angus Gellatly and Oscar Zarate, Totem Books, 1999 (see below a small list of more serious books roughly on the same topic). The virtue of this book I am quoting is the visual illustrations of the text available at a moderate price for those interested. And the clarity of the text that the author uses to explain what is known. However, a warning about the quotations repeated here, The author holds views about the mind at odds with a connectionist view. Connectionism is merely a name for a kind of theory of neural networks which precludes Œalgorithmic rulesı inherited in the mind (see Noam Chomsky as the leader of the innate school). For example; Œthe brain is computer ruled by an algorithmı represents a typical "cognitive" psychologists understanding of the brain which this writer holds to. A neural network does not work like a rule based instantiation (another phrase meaning algorithm) of a logic computation. So the authors words need a context themselves.

"Introducing Mind & Brain", by Angus Gellatly and Oscar Zarate, Totem Books, 1999.

Page 162, "Evolution of the Mind

How did matters come to be this way? We assume that mind evolved to solve the problems faced by primates in the wild. Color vision is useful for finding colored fruits amongst green foliage. And cognitive maps in memory are useful for finding the same fruit tree again next day or next year.

However, because they live in social groups, primates have a social environment to cope with as well as a physical environment. The social intellect hypothesis says that much of the evolution of the brain/mind may have been in response to the complexity of the social world rather than of the physical world.

The social intellect

Of course, being social does not guarantee evolution of a big brain. Ants make the point. However, ants appear not to recognize each other as individuals. One worker ant is as good as another because they all exhibit very similar, pre-wired behavior. By contrast, animals who learn a lot of their behavior are not so readily interchangeable.

Each may have habits but, being learnt, these differ between individuals. Therefore, the ability to recognize individuals becomes important, and a brain system for face recognition develops. For animals who recognize each other visually, it soon becomes worth knowing which individuals can and cannot be relied upon in this or that circumstance.

Humans are not the only ones to engage in this "social trade". To be effective at it, animals must not only recognize faces but also be able to predict individual behavior. They have to be able to experience others as "personalities".

Mind Reading

Recently, it has been proposed that there is a "mind reading" module in the brain that allows us to experience a world of individuals with dispositions and preferences just as our complex visual system allows us to experience a world of objects with particular shapes, colors, locations and movements. Mind reading is thought to involve the amygdala, the superior temporal sulcus, the medial frontal cortex and the orbito-frontal cortex.

If there is a mind reading module, then damage to it should produce abnormal experience of other minds, just as damage to the visual system gives abnormal visual experience.

People with autism may have damage to this module. They seem to be "mind blind", unable to experience others as personalities with mental states. Take this example of failure to understand mental states.

An adult female show a packet of sweets to an autistic boy.

Woman: What is in this tube? (A tube labeled "Sweets")

Autistic Boy: Sweets.

Woman: No sweetsŠ only a pencil.

Woman: If I show the tube to your friend, what will he think is in this tube?

Autistic Boy: A Pencil.

(Doyle: The Autistic Boy knows the tube has a pencil in the can. He seems to be unable to understand someone else seeing the tube for the first time would read the label and think sweets. Therefore the Autistic boy can only understand his own thoughts, not "read" someone elseıs.)

Ordinary children and children with Downıs syndrome pass this test with ease. Autistic children fail it. They do not seem to understand about other peopleıs mental states.

Continuing page 168Š

"We have seen that vision and memory fractionate into many component processes. Other categories of our commonsense folk psychology have stood up no better to scrutiny. Emotion, attention, action and the self all fragment under inquiry. There is a multiplicity of selves. (Doyle: This comment does not do justice to the sense of wholeness that consciousness imposes, and therefore the writer is lacking in the sense of synthesis that is part of consciousness. This is an example of the writer failing to grasp what a neural network does) The narrative self is the most prominent. Yet the confabulations of people with brain injury show that the narrative self has limited understanding of the individuals behavior. And now we are suggesting that peopleıs mental states exist only in other peopleıs experience of them. Does all this mean that mentalist folk psychology is wrong?

Do we have to abandon the idea of the mind as the organ of a personıs beliefs, desires and intentions, and replace it with something more scientifically respectable?Š Š

page 171

"Study of the brain teaches us that human beings are complex in unsuspected ways. Behavior arises from the co-action of many brain modules, and there is no single self exercising overall control. This does not mean the end of "morality as we know it.". What it means is gradual transformation. "Morality as we know it: is a product of historical developments in how we think about personal responsibility, free will, rights, expediency and the good of the community."

Doyle The above text describes some important elements of what transpired between me and Philip Ferguson on this list. For Philip it was outrageous that I did not understand who he really was (know his mind). Whatever confusion I might have, For Philip that confusion merited this quote:

Philip Ferguson Since you obviously know nothing abut me, this is incredibly arrogant. It is also, like, Duh! So you can keep your patronising idiocy to yourself instead of making a jackass of yourself.


What means the most to Philip here is that I donıt know Philipıs mind. For him the most important issue to raise is any confusion I might have about who he is. In that regard then Philip calls me a jackass. Or more generally calls me a name which creates an impression of a cognitive comparison concerning my mind to his.

The modular theory of the mind gives us a great deal of insight about this exchange between two ordinary people. We all know these sorts of problems come up, and come up often. They arenıt easily overcome, but they also reflect in microcosm the look and feel of those experiences which racism generates, or sexism generates. In other words a general failure to grasp that the "other" is human and united to oneself. Currently the modular theory of the mind does not offer a direct solution to these problems, but suggests strong new ways to approach an understanding of the whole problem. We can see in work concerning neural networks that we can make new kinds of insights about what is showing up in language exchanges between opposing viewpoints (opposing world views).

In this case for example understanding what language accomplishes is important. Two of the most important language modules of the brain are Wernickeıs and Brocas. (See Stephen Jay Gould on the role these two fine onesı played in racism and intelligence) Yet it is clear:

Page 64

"However, Wernickeıs model is far too simple to explain all of language use. Modern investigators have repeatedly found that severe forms of the language disorders invariably involve sub-cortical as well as cortical damage Once we realize that control of well-practised behaviours (habits) passes to sub-cortical centers, the reason for this becomes clear (Doyle: Are we then discussing the origins of sectarianism by showing that sub-cortical regions control habits?). Much of daily conversation is routine, and much of our speaking and listening is inattentive."


Well we all know how much of a problem not paying attention to things is. But we also donıt know much as a society what "paying attention" really is. The lack of basic understanding of what happens when we don't pay attention represents the origin of the contemporary term, folk psychology. Where one can describe a way of understanding the mind in ordinary experience (I love you), but not have a material basis for the description of how the brain really works. In other words as the recent example between Philip and I implies, even amongst people with considerable socialist and Marxist inclination we havenıt solved relatively common problems.

I think the main appeal of the modularity of the mind for Marxist is to probe ideology with respect to how the brain really works. To research the meaning of the relationship between how we feel about our "autobiography" or the way we act in the world, and the meshing of the whole of society. To know the "mechanics" (A reductionist account) of thoughts that halt social equality, and impede workers rights. Or for example to better understand why when engineers learn procedural work, they tend to think without feeling, and therefore to see how feelings are important to ideology when contrasted to other modules of the brain.

Autobiography (seat of ideology) is primarily in the frontal lobe, area 46, and connected to the nuclei identified with the limbic system which when severed ends an individuals social motivation (ability to understand self interest through feelings). I will give Frances Farmer as an example. This rebellious woman in American culture was hospitalized for a so-called mental disability and given a frontal lobotomy. That destroyed her ability to form feelings about the values she had. Her leftness was erased. She was from then on a passive and lumpish product of this medical intervention. We might then understand what it is that is really involved in the formation of feelings that yield "consciousness", or "ideological commitment" Feelings seem blended into the planning of consciousness. In that sense intensely felt words such as "Jackass" which donıt issue from the same sort of speech centers as does most conversation can evolve into a better understanding between people.


Doyle Saylor

Reading list concerning the brain:

"Enchanted Looms, Conscious Networks in Brains and Computers", Rodney Cotterill, Cambridge University Press, 1998. The best basic text on how Neural Networks work, and a general description of the entire operations of the brain. Everything theoretically explained for the first time. While there may be errors in this explanation, this represents the level of qualitative leap that has happened.

"Rethinking Innateness, A Connectionist Perspective on Development" Jeffrey L. Elman, Elizabeth A. Bates, Mark H. Johnson, Annette Karmiloff-Smith, Domenico Parisi, Kim Plunkett, Bradford Book, MIT Press, 1996. The basic theory that attacks the foundation of inherited intelligence that shapes Cartesian (Platonic) thought in the west. See chapter six for the problems with a genetic code controlling the mind. The best source of arguments marshaled against socio-biology I have ever seen.

"Tools, Language and Cognition in Human Evolution", Edited by Kathleen R. Gibson, and Tim Ingold, Cambridge University Press, 1993. The breadth of arguments about the cognitive origins of human. How tool use, landscapes, and language emerged in the first humans. The evolutionary basis for understanding the origins of our social problems now. Human beings of course can construct answers to these problems and not wait for genetic codes to evolve. Hence culture.

Doyle Saylor