Bigsley the Oaf

Regulation and Non-linguistic Abstract Thought

Posted in Uncategorized by bigsleytheoaf on November 29, 2010

To an extent, social interaction dictated by a sufficiently rigorous set of principles has a role in regulating the beliefs of entities involved in that interaction.

Take as a prototypical example mathematical discourse. In discussing a conjecture, two mathematicians could make a series of statements whose individual properties are examined. A consequence of this examination is that statements are discarded for one reason or another; perhaps a discarded statement is inconsistent, intuitively unappealing, aesthetically displeasing, etc. In this way, the interaction of the mathematicians is a regulating force acting on the mathematicians’ thoughts.

A sufficiently rigorous thinker might be able to regulate their own thought process on any topic in a similar way. Perhaps when they make a statement they can decide whether or not that statement is acceptable. If the statement implies something false, for example, it could be discarded. If the statement implies too many things or too few things, it might be discarded. In this way, the thinker is in some sense having a conversation with himself.

One can extract an abstraction from both of the above examples: namely, the abstraction of creator/regulator. Lots of things can be said about this dichotomy.

To what extent does this abstraction play a part in non-linguistic thought*?

Characterizations of thought seem to fall along nearly the same lines as activities. To name a few**, thought can be destructive/critical, generative/creative, exploratory/speculative, transformational/deductive.

Each of these characterizations carries with it a metaphorical lower-level description in terms of interacting entities. What I mean by this is that I don’t think of “creative thinking” as a monolithic activity, incapable of dissection and examination. I think of it as being very rich and complicated.

Now, the question that I’m driving at is to what extent regulation can be made to play a part in this inner life of a thought process. So far, I’ve specifically examined the mechanism by which regulation arises in social interaction and in individual (linguistic) thought, but what’s missing from the picture is the question of how one improves the quality of their non-linguistic modes of thought.

Minsky might say that these modes of thought should themselves be thought of as semi-linguistic interactions of brain-bound “entities” which are having conversations in symbolic languages which are not usually thought of as “languages.” Perhaps this is the case, but I’m afraid that if it is then it’s just pushing the solution that I’m working towards “down” by one level. Namely, how do these entities think and regulate their thought?

If I had to guess as to what the solution to the question of non-linguistic regulation would look like, I’d say it probably looks something like the regulation inherent in discussion between rigorous mathematicians. A project that I’d very much like to work on, and that I’ve repeatedly started (though obviously never concluded), is the creation of an idealized/formal framework for describing such regulation.

One intuition that jumps out at me when I think about this question is that regulation is learned at a “location.” This is equivalent to the idea that someone “notices” they’re doing something wrong. E.g. suppose you notice that you’re producing art that looks too similar. “Learning” a regulation is then the extremely complicated process whereby this immediate awareness is translated into a complex process for classifying non-linguistic low-level thought as leading to something “too similar” to what has been done before, coupled with a process for shutting down such thought, followed finally by the re-adjustment/normalization of other cognitive processes to take into account the higher order effects of such elimination.

Metaphorically, this action might vary along a number of characteristic dimensions.

One such dimension is “violence.” When a problem is noticed at one location***, the action of eliminating that problem is generally located elsewhere. Is that action violent? Does it vary from person to person? Perhaps when I notice that I’m thinking incorrectly I rip that shit out. Perhaps I attenuate its emitted signals slightly.

Another is “distance.” Is the action from afar, abstractly? Do I notice that my music is dull and thus change my hand position? Does my hand hurt from overuse in some way and so I change my style?

A final question to keep in mind, though perhaps of somewhat more general interest, is the question of whether or not or to what extent such actions exist totally. Namely, is such an action an Action which the Brain Performs, or is it simply just some effect which we notice because in its total form it can be described, but which can be incompletely performed, etc. This is too hard to talk about and probably you don’t know what I mean, so I’m going to stop here.

* I don’t believe a distinction exists between conscious and sub-conscious thought. I’m much more interested in understanding the differences between thought whose stuff is language and thought whose stuff is somehow otherwise composed.

** It’s certainly not my desire to claim that this constitutes an ontological basis for the description of thought, I’m merely trying to describe modes that one might intuitively agree a person is engaged in. E.g. when a person is drawing they are being creative, when they are doing math they are being deductive, when they are looking for a mate they are being exploratory. These modes can mix and mingle and perhaps they’re the same thing – whether this is the case or not is not within the scope of this essay.

*** I’ll use the metaphor of cognitive “location” freely since it has been used in the past. I wonder whether a consistent/interesting theory of computational “location” could be created in the field of computer science? That is, can we think of a statement in the lambda calculus as occupying “space?” Can we think of such a statement as consisting of “parts” which are in different “locations” in that “space?” Etc.

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