Friday, August 26, 2011

WHAT WE THINK ABOUT WHEN WE THINK ABOUT THOUGHT

A few weeks ago I got into a debate with a chemist friend regarding the ability to think two simultaneous thoughts; I felt it was possible, he felt it was not. The question of whether a human can think two thoughts at once is interesting, but it raises a larger overarching question of whether a human can perceive their own thinking with any degree of accuracy in the first place e.g. what is apparently a single thought could be made of numerous competing sub-thoughts, which amalgamate into a something that is perceived as a single thought. Conversely, something that may feel like a chaotic jumble of parallel thought tracks may be a single thought that is chaotic in its character, or a fast oscillation of many competing single track thoughts that never quite run in parallel. What I am talking about is the inherent flaw of metacognition, the distortion one likely encounters when thinking about their own thoughts i.e. the problem that arises when one tries to measure the performance of a device with the same device performing the measurement. I am not talking about the observer effect per se. 


Here is an example: when one ingests a reputed nootropic and 'feels' more intelligent as a result it does not necessarily mean their cognitive performance has been improved in anyway that could be externally measured. Self-perception has very little to do with actuality of self, in fact I believe it is quite likely that a true nootropic may fill one with feelings of inadequacy, stupidity, and intellectual insecurity. This is the nootropic paradox, feeling smart and being smart are two completely separate things, an effect demonstrated by Dunning and Kruger and hinted upon in an infamous passage from HMV by Stanislaw Lem, "I had learned to apply a kind of test. I would read my own articles, those I considered the best. If I noticed in them lapses, gaps, if I saw that the thing could have been done better, my experiment was successful. If, however, I found myself reading with admiration, that meant I was in trouble."


Does anyone know of a word for this concept? The probable gap between perception of thought and actuality of thought (if there is such a thing as actuality of thought beyond action potentials and and other neurochemical interactions*), the idea that we cannot accurately perceive our own thinking because we think about thinking with the same instrument performing the thought.


*In which case, our perception of thought is the only thought that exists. Although I'm talking about the kinds of 'thoughts' that seem to have metabolic correlates in fMRI, the question I am asking is philosophical not scientific––I am simply wondering if this concept of not being able to accurately measure our own thoughts because we are thinking them has a name...but even using the word 'accurate' is troublesome, because all measurement is relative to a standard and without a standard of thought measurement is impossible. So the question of 'accurate' perception of our own thought may be moot. 

17 comments:

Tom - Chicago said...

The Splintered Mind blog by Eric Schwitzgebel - he's your guy on this subject

Wiles said...

Ha, as i was reading this i was thinking there should be a lengthy, consonant heavy, german word for this concept. Schwitzgebel may have been the string of phonemes i was imagining but had yet to think of.

In regards to your question there is a similar & somewhat parallel concept developed by the psychologist Carl Rogers. He termed it simply "incongruence," or "incongruity." And to put it succinctly it is the gap between how one perceives one's self & how one behaves in reality. If i remember correctly there was an implication that the perceived self was an unattainable ideal.

I tend to think it is possible to accurately perceive one's thoughts, albeit only in rare, fleeting moments.

AK said...

Have you read about second-order cybernetics?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second-order_cybernetics

"a brain is required to write a theory of a brain. From this follows that a theory of the brain, that has any aspirations for completeness, has to account for the writing of this theory. And even more fascinating, the writer of this theory has to account for her or himself. Translated into the domain of cybernetics; the cybernetician, by entering his own domain, has to account for his or her own activity. Cybernetics then becomes cybernetics of cybernetics, or second-order cybernetics."

jan said...

being smart and feeling smart are like an integral function:
with f(x) = 1/x²

so, even if you're infinitely smart, you still won't feel completely dumb.
i hope.

b said...

(it is difficult to objectively analyse yourself because everything is subjective)

Hamilton Morris said...

But everything is NOT subjective, thoughts occur in real time and do have physical correlates that can be measured. Technology has a long way to go before we have the resolution to identify the nuances of thought character but things like thought speed can already be measured. It would be interesting if, say, there was a larger disparity in perceived speed of though vs. actual speed of thought in depressed vs. normal subjects, that would be another example of the concept I am describing.

b said...

oh i see. yes i recall shulgin saying he tested a chemical that "allowed for multi-task thinking" but equally i also saw an interview and he thinks measuring the brain is soon to become outdated; in favor of psychology and the study of "the mind"

but nonetheless that chemical that allowed for "multi-task thinking" combined with some thought measuring system could find interesting results

b said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike said...

I find it interesting how when I think about thinking and try to analyse my own thoughts I always have the perception that my perception of my own thoughts has become muddled and confused. Whereas when I (rarely) practise meditation and concentrate on something as simple as my breath I often percieve my perception of my own thoughts to be more 'accurate' (although you've pointed to the problem of using this word perhaps clear would be a better word). Perhaps this level of self awreness and consciousness of our own thought exists in a concious level of our own brain where it is hard to pick out a thought to analyse.

Hamilton Morris said...

Thanks for that reminder b. The compound that facilitates "multi-task mental activities" is 5-MeO-aMT.

Dead Soda Girl said...

“In shamanic cultures, synchronicities are recognized as signs that you are on the right path."
— Daniel Pinchbeck
I believe in the power or conscious thought (about anything) eventuating in an altered future. Everything is spiraling down a black hole, it doesn't end. Something that correlates strongly with this is the image of the fractal. ~infinite centre~
Therefore I believe you cannot have two thoughts at one time because thoughts aren't just 'one' or 'two' things...they are a fractal spiral of everything you're perceiving with every sense (chakra energy too?), every conditioned feeling associated with, and coming in from all ends mixing up in a electric fucking mind implosion that doesn't stop. Eastern philosophy claims that enlightenment is 'stopping all thought' this is death in its most purest sense..death of thought..simply being. Everything is illuminated?
anyway..

tad ghostal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tad ghostal said...

Reminds me of Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, in which he criticises Descartes "cogito ergo sum" (I think therefore I am) as being flawed because not only does it presuppose the 'I' to which the thoughts are happening, but also presupposes that which are happening are thoughts.

Prince Myshkin said...

A thought derives truth from the fluidity of its articulation. If thinking about a thought is necessary, than it is the thought itself which is insincere. All honest thought is axiomatic and thus requires no effort of articulation or even contemplation. The fact that this thought itself requires contemplation renders its validity null. The closest one can ever get to an honest thought is an onamonapia.

Mie Kosta said...

I suppose all thought is inherently flawed due to the fact that it is a translation of abstract cognition into a finite lexicon. The most we can do is look into our own existence and describe it, or experience it without being constrained by the limitations of language.

Joseph Roolins said...

Your contents are too straightforward to browse and easy to understand. Modafizone

Suggs Jennifer said...

There are also a number of cognitive taking Cerebrrin effects, which include increased memory and improve mental energy, expanding the capacity of attention, concentration and overall thought. Although tolerance may occur, this could be an excellent complement Cerebrrin for those who need a quick response to a high demand for labor and academic load.

http://www.viewersfacts.com/cerebrrin