Ep. 36 – Awakening from the Meaning Crisis – Religio/Perennial Problems/Reverse Eng. Enlightenment

Welcome back to awakening from the meaning crisis. So last time we were continuing our examination of sacredness, the experience of sacredness, the Schleiermacher side of things, and I was trying to develop an account of what symbols are – at least symbols insofar as they are distinct from signs – is a way of trying to understand the role that symbols have in our understanding of sacredness. So I was presenting to you the view that symbols are a participatory [-] act. And that that participation has a a connection to the activation of a profound kind of metaphor; by activating that metaphor we are reaching backwards through our exaptation and reactivating that material so that we can re-exapt our cognitive processes and re-experience re-appreciate re-see, re-understand some aspect of reality. And that re-exaptation makes the use of a symbol a deeply participatory, transformative thing that we do and that with a symbol we are activating all that exaptive machinery in order to hold something in mind so that we can see more deeply into it, be more in contact with it. And then I argued [that] the point of that is ultimately to set up an anagogic process by which I am transformed so I can see through the symbol into reality and so that reality can speak through the symbol to me, and that we get an anagogic flow happening, and I’m becoming deeply integrated, the world is becoming disclosed, and that mutual, reciprocal realization feels deeply like love coupling to reality in a profound way.

And so [I argued that] symbols are in that sense designed to get me into a trajectory of trans-framing; they’re designed to, in wonder, open op the world and also grow me so that I can be in that larger world. And that points to how symbols are ecstatic; they’re participatory, they’re integrative. They’re complex because they helped to complexify me and disclose the complexity of the world in a coordinated fashion. And then I suggested to you that we understand symbols as Mythos; that it’s always a symbol and a story together and that the story points to the ritual and the ritual is also… because the Mythos is always enacted if it’s going to bring about the transformations that it wants to bring about, or that we want to use it to bring about. I think both of those are right!

We can use Mythos to activate, accelerate, articulate, and appreciate Religio. Religio is inherently valuable to us so even that alone is going to be very valuable to us. But in addition, the act of seriously playing, not only is it developmental of what we find intrinsically valuable because it’s constitutive of our ability to value anything else or interact with anything we consider valuable – because it’s primordial – not only is that the case, but Relevance Realization – which is at the heart of Religio, and I’m giving you an argument for that – is constituted to it, it functions, it is structured to function, it functions by being interested in itself, correcting itself, transcending itself, developing itself. So that’s why we love the flow state, right? Not only is it optimal in this ‘playing with Religion’…/ like, the flow state is not only optimal in that it’s getting us to be our best, [but] we also find it to be an optimal experience because we’re seriously playing with this intrinsically valuable machinery in a way that is constituently, intrinsically significant to us. And I propose that when we are using the symbol to get us to play with the machinery, the Meta-assimilation, the Meta-accommodation of sacredness – or at least the Meta-assimilation, the Meta-accommodation of the higher order Relevance Realization within sacredness – then that’s what we deeply mean by the experience of Sacredness.

The New Proposal: Relevance Does Not Have An Essence

And then I propose to you a proposal I need to return to now. Because I only initiated it last time! I proposed to you that we move off of sacredness and onto the sacred, in a particular proposal as to what is the cause or the source of sacred-ness, “The Sacred”. And again, I’m using that term because it’s as neutral as I can find. And the proposal, which, again, you don’t find in some accounts of sacredness: The Sacred that is the Tao, I do not think is supernatural or absolute. The sacredness of Shenyata is definitely not! Right? So when Prince Wu asked Bodhidharma what was Holy about his doctrine, and he keeps pressing Bodhidharma and he keeps saying, “No, no, not that!” and then the Prince gets upset and says, “well, what is Holy about your doctrine?”, Bodhidharma says, “Nothing holy! Vast emptiness!”. Shunyata is, in that sense, sacred. But it is not Holy! At least not in the sense of a supernatural source of righteousness.

So I proposed an alternative to that idea, born from a critique. The critique was [that] there is something wrong about trying to essentialize ‘Sacredness’ in The Sacred. To say that the source of sacredness is something that is essentially relevant to us, absolutely unquestionably, undeniably relevant to us, and that it is the origin and the culmination of relevance. And then I proposed to you that that just struck me, ultimately – and I do mean this with as much respect as, I mean, this is, hopefully regarded as a respectful criticism, but nevertheless, it’s a criticism – I regard that as a category mistake. Relevance Realization is not about detecting, finding something that’s inherently relevant in the sense that it absolutely commands our attention. Relevance does not have an essence. It doesn’t work that way! Relevance Realization is, intrinsically, an evolving process. It functions by evolving and it evolves in its functioning. Does that mean we should just dispense? No, because I propose to you a couple [of things]. Well, I propose one thing and then I want to add another thing to it! I proposed to you that there’s a different way of thinking about sacredness that comports well with this idea of the of sacredness; there’s an idea, a way of thinking about the source of sacredness, that comports well with the picture of sacredness that I’ve tried to argue for which is, namely, the idea of sacredness as the inexhaustible. The inexhaustible aspects of this reality (knocks the wall and the desk).

It’s kind of like turning Kant on its head! This reality is always a source of wonder for me, not because there is an object that specifically or absolutely has the claim on me of being the source of wonder! Every object, every thing is combinatorially explosive: vast emptiness. Ultimately, there is a ‘no-thingness’ to reality because everything is combinatorially explosive in terms of what it is. But my processing, precisely because of the way it operates, has an inexhaustibleness to it too – a no-thingness to it! The “I” that is never reducible! There is always the framing that can never be captured in the frame because the process of Relevance Realization is ongoing, it’s inexhaustible because it can’t stop. It’s like a Shark that if it stops swimming, it drowns! And there’s a deep transjectivity, there’s a deep participatory identification between the inexhaustible no-thingness in me and the inexhaustible no-thingness of reality: vast emptiness. The Tao that can be spoken is not the Tao! …and so I can return again and again and again to the world. And again and again and again, there is the real potential in the world of sacredness.

Symbols As Being Indispensable

Now, why might people – now this is a conjecture on my part! I’m trying to offer an explanation and it is not intended to be a justification because that would be inconsistent with what I’m saying! – but why is it that we might get this way, where we get ‘this’ (uses his bottle as an example), this is where it is to be found! And this is where I think we do need to be more charitable. Oh man, and I don’t want to sound condescending!! There is a real sense in which particular symbols, particular Mythos is indispensable for people (writes indispensable on the board, with Mythos off it). It might be, and in fact it’s highly plausible if you think about it: given my own personal history, the way Relevance Realization has unfolded, the way Religio is for “here, now, me”, that certain symbols are indispensable for me to activate, articulate, appreciate, accelerate my Religio. Those symbols may be indispensable for me because of the way my Relevance Realization machinery is evolving. They may be indispensable to my Religio because of the Kairos that is always part of my ongoing – see, the problem with ‘Religio’ is it’s a Noun, right? – but my ongoing Religio – even saying ‘my’ is wrong!!! Right? Because that makes it sound like something I possess; the Religio that my world and I participated in and co-emerge from! It may be to a certain set of individuals that these sets of symbols are indispensable. That makes sense to me! That is how Relevance Realization works!

You may say that only through this Mythos (draws arrows through Mythos; Fig. 1 arrows), do I get the access I need to activate, accentuate, appreciate, accelerate, articulate my Religio. I think that is a completely plausible hypothesis. I think, therefore, it makes sense to say, for example, that given the way this person’s evolved fittedness has unfolded, and the particular timing – the historical context – that only this Mythos gives them the access they need. And in that sense – maybe it’s a Christian Mythos, maybe it’s a Hindu Mythos – that Mythos is indispensable to them. But here’s what we shouldn’t do. We shouldn’t confuse indispensable to an individual, to a community, to a group to a tradition. We shouldn’t confuse psycho-cultural, cognitive cultural indispensability with metaphysical necessity. Metaphysical necessity. English is indispensable to me; I cannot communicate to you without it! Given this time, this place, my own history, where we are, the timing of things, English is indispensable to me! That doesn’t mean that English is metaphysically necessary. It didn’t exist and it will not exist at some point. And it is not some final, complete or absolute version. It is not the perfect language. It is not the final language. In fact, it performs precisely because it’s continually evolving as a language so that it stays, at least to some degree, in touch with the world.

Fig. 1

The First Step Towards Solving The Meaning Crisis

I don’t think we should confuse these (adds ≠ metaphysical necessity to the board); they are not the same. I do not think we should understand the sacred…/ We shouldn’t do ‘this’ (writes The Sacred ≠ The Supernatural). Of course, these are linked (links The Supernatural with Metaphysical Necessity). The inexhaustible source of perspectival, participatory, procedural, and ultimately propositional intelligibility (writes inexhaustible off The Sacred). (Connects Indispensable to inexhaustible) We may have, I think it’s reasonable that – in fact I think it’s highly plausible that – a certain Mythos is indispensable for an individual, a group, a community, a tradition. But that should not be confused with metaphysical necessity, nor should it license the idea that that inheres in some supernatural entity or thing (indicates the link between Metaphysical Necessity and The Supernatural). The shark, being the way the shark is, is indispensable to the sharks capacity to survival. But that doesn’t mean that that is the final finished absolute form of fittedness. The world and the capacity for biological adaptation, the process of evolution means that there’s an inexhaustibleness to life’s capacity for fittedness. That to me is a reasonable alternative to understanding sacredness, than to think of it as inhering in some final absolute.

So if we could give up the confusion of indispensability with metaphysical necessity, if we could give up identifying the sacred – that which generates sacredness – as the supernatural, then we would not have to be committed to a two world’s mythology for accessing sacredness, the deep connectedness of Religio! Now that in [and] of itself is not… well, that’s not the response to the Meaning Crisis! That’s insufficient! That is, and I mean this seriously: this is the first step! The first step is to try to understand the machinery of connectedness and understand it in a way that allows us to disconnect it from a metaphysical essentialism, disconnect it from the supernatural and its commitment to a two world’s mythology. Instead, understand it in a fashion that is completely integratable with science! Because if you remember, this is all grounded in a naturalistic interpretation of Relevance Realization. This would be an account that re-situates us back within that scientific worldview while also giving us a way – a deep way – of talking about, experiencing sacredness, deep connectedness, deep self-transcendence, deep transformation, et cetera. Now I need to do a lot more work. And that’s why this series is not yet finished! I need to show how this model of Relevance Realization does address the historical issues. I’ve already [been] suggesting that to you, but how does it help to address where we got to historically, the historical factors?

But there’s another thing that I’ve been alluding to, that we also have to address and they are integrated together. And now that I have this theoretical machinery, I can talk about it better (wipes board clean) because we now have, I think, a more careful way of understanding the meaning crisis (writes Meaning Crisis on the board). So we have, and we did this in the first half of the series, we have the historical factors (writes this off to the side of Meaning Crisis, pointing below it) that basically have un-homed us, thwarted a worldview attunement, all the stuff we’ve been talking about. And of course they need to be addressed. And part of how we can awaken from the meaning crisis is we have to respond to these historical factors. We have to come up with a way of re-articulating our worldview in which we can get back that sense of deep connectedness; what I’ve been calling, in the last couple of lectures, sacredness. That kind of deep connectedness that affords the satisfaction of our sense of being in contact with the world, affords self-transcendence, affords meaning in life in a profound way. So can this view give us something analogous to what the three orders [give]? We’ve got to get to that; that’s how we respond to the historical factors! But you’re starting to see how it might do that. We’re starting to see how we can get an account of sacredness that can fit into the scientific worldview and fit us back into it. We need to do more on that; you’re getting a beginning of that. But there’s something else now that’s coming to the fore that we need to address (adds another arrow, mirroring the one from Historical Factors), which is the structural functional analysis of meaning making – what I’ve been calling the scientific analysis, because I think that’s fair in contrast to the historical analysis – is also disclosing something else! And we’ve seen this all the way along and I’ve been hinting at it! Because the machinery of Meaning Making of course, also, is the machinery that is going awry when people are experiencing a sense of meaninglessness.

Perennial Problems

Remember the core argument that the very machinery that makes you adaptive is the machinery that makes you vulnerable to self deceptive, self-destructive processing. The very machinery of RR, Relevance Realization (indicates the convergence point between the two arrows, below Meaning Crisis), that is making all of this deep connectedness possible for us is also the machinery that can go horribly wrong. We’ve already seen that. I want to start talking about the perennial problems (labels the second arrow on the right with Perennial Problems). You’ve seen examples along the way, but I want to bring them out more. I want to develop that thesis about how the very machinery that makes us adaptive is the machinery that makes us prone to self deceptive, self-destructive behaviour. Here’s what I want to argue. I want to argue that all cultures, all people – all people in the sense of being participants in their culture, not necessarily every single individual – but all cultures, across time, place, history, right? People are prone to perennial problems. These are ways in which the machinery of Relevance Realization can drive them into meaninglessness, despair.

So the idea is that, inherent in the machinery that makes us adoptive, is inescapable vulnerabilities to self-deceptive, self-destructive patterns that can deeply undermine our Religio – the Agent:Arena relationship – such that we experience meaninglessness, absurdity, alienation, et cetera. We fall into despair. These are perennial because they are inherent in our machinery. Now, cultures – and individuals, communities, at multiple scales – what people have developed is they have developed sets of psycho-technologies (draws a big arrow back up towards Perennial Problems), ecologies of practices that help alleviate the suffering of these perennial problems. So for example, in India, you have the rise of Buddhism as a set of psycho-technologies for dealing with Duka, et cetera, dealing with modal confusion. This is, broadly, we have practices for cultivating wisdom and pursuing enlightenment or salvation (adds these to this big arrow). The meaning crisis emerges, I would argue, when historical factors have undermined – and that’s what I’ve tried to show you in the history – have undermined a worldview, a tradition; de-legitimised a language, a cognitive grammar; made obsolete or made dismissive practices, sets of psycho-technologies so that this (Historical Factors) undermines this (puts a big X through Wisdom, Enlightenment, Salvation – See Fig. 2). The historical factors lead to the undermining of the whole ecology of practices and psycho-technologies and cognitive cultural grammar that people have created in order to respond to the perennial problems.

Fig. 2

So we need to do two things. And now this is where we’re going to start drawing the historical and the scientific together. Is this account that I’m trying to argue for – for Relevance Realization as our meaning making machinery and for understanding sacredness in terms of Religio, a higher order form of Relevance Realization – can I also use that machinery to give – and I’ve tried to suggest how this is possible – to give a response to the historical factors? (See Fig. 3) I’m going to try and do that in terms of what’s called third generation or 4E Cognitive Science. And I’m already doing that! And I’ve already been exemplifying it to you throughout this course!

Fig. 3

Reverse-Engineering Enlightenment

But right now I want to do something else. I want to take all this machinery of Relevance Realization (RR) and Religio and Sacredness (adds the circle – Fig. 4) and I want to use it to talk about how we can address the perennial problems.

Fig. 4

I want to do something that’s at the core of a cognitive scientific project. This sounds pretentious and maybe hubristic and I hope it’s not! I want to reverse-engineer enlightenment. I want to understand what the perennial problems are and using this machinery (indicates RR, Religio, Sacredness), what are the practices (indicates Wisdom, Enlightenment, Salvation), what are the processes we can use in order to address the perennial problems? In fact that’s what I’m going to take enlightenment to mean. Enlightenment is the set of practices that ameliorate the perennial problems and alleviate us from the distress and the suffering that they inflict upon us. I already suggested the possibility of that when we talked about higher States of consciousness and trying to give a cognitive scientific account. But now I want to take that deeper because to awaken from the meaning crisis is not just to have a theory. It is not even to have a good scientific historical theory. It is to have an understanding that helps afford and facilitate the process of transformation that we need to undergo in order to awaken from the meaning crisis. (Wipes board clean.)

I have failed if what I’m doing will not ultimately lead to ways in which you, in your life, can respond to how the perennial problems might be gnawing away at the fabric of meaning, in your life. So I want to concentrate on that. I want to concentrate on trying to reverse-engineer enlightenment, and then if I can take that and situate it into this account of sacredness and Relevance Realization and show how that fits into our scientific worldview – and you can see how this [is] potentially coming together – then we have a way of awakening from the meaning crisis. Not as an absolute final answer; that’s ridiculous! But as a way of maybe getting the process of awakening from the meaning crisis started.

All right, let’s think of Relevance Realization and Religio… We can think about [how] there’s a functional aspect, a structural aspect, and a developmental [aspect] (lists these three on the board – See Fig. 5a)). All of this has been seen throughout the series. Of course the functional aspect is ultimately the Relevance Realization [and] there [are] three central features [of this]: the way in which it is self-organizing, and then there’s aspects of self-identification and self-reflection. The structural has to do with the whole Meta-meaning of the Agent:Arena relationship. Developmental: I’ll come back to because I need to unpack these more (the above two) before I can talk more about that, but we’ve already seen how an intrinsically developmental Relevance Realization and Religio are.

Fig. 5a

Okay, the self-organizing aspect. How can that go awry? Well, I’ve already made, I think, a very good case for that for you. That’s Parasitic Processing when we get into those complex cycles that take on a life of their own and take life from us; complex patterns of self-deception, and self-destruction. Self-identification: Well, we know what that is, that’s Modal Confusion. What about Self-reflection? Well, I haven’t talked about that very much, so I need to talk about that now.

The Problem Of The Reflectiveness Gap

This goes to some important work done by Velleman and others. So we have to go back again to the work of Harry Frankfurt and Frankfurt’s notion of a “Wanton”. A Wanton is a being who acts in a wanton fashion, that acts completely impulsively. And so the idea is if I just act completely impulsively, I’ll actually lose my agency because my impulses are often in conflict with each other, they undermine each other. Think about Plato and the inner conflict. So what I need to do is I need to step back and reflect in order to try and get a coordination and integration, and reflection actually helps reduce my wantonness. See when I’m enmeshed in a perspective – here’s a particular perspective (Fig. 6a) – I am enmeshed in it’s salience landscape, how it’s making me care, how it’s motivating and arousing me. So when I’m thirsty, I’m seeing the world ‘thirstily’ right? So things having to do with water [-] become salient and I’m drawn [to them]. That’s to see the world ‘thirstily’!

Fig. 6a                                                 Fig. 6b                               Fig. 6c

But I can do a transparency opacity shift. I can actually step to a different perspective in which I’m aware of my thirst (Fig. 6b). Now I’m not…/ this perspective is not thirsty (Fig. 6b 2). This is thirsty (Fig. 6b 1)! But this perspective (Fig. 6b 2), for example, is curious: “Oh, that’s what thirst is like!” Now my motivational machinery is not driven just by thirst. It is driven by, perhaps, curiosity! And what happens is I start to gain some relief from the compulsion of immediacy and urgency of my thirst. I’m using thirst, by the way, because that’s also a metaphor in Buddhism for craving. So if you’re at the bottom and if you don’t do any self-transcendence you are awash in impulsiveness, and self-destructive wantonness! And as I start to move up, away, as I self-transcend, I start to regain agency (Fig. 6c). But as you may expect, you can’t simply maximize this, and this is Velleman’s point and it’s an excellent point. As I open up, this is the reflectiveness gap. I get a gap by reflection. As I open up this reflectiveness gap, I’m gaining agency. But if I keep opening it up, do I keep enhancing agency? No, because then you get into the problem that is typified, beautifully by the way, in one of our great tragedies, namely Hamlet.

Hamlet is always reflecting and he’s always reflecting on his reflection. And so he’s always stepping back and looking at, always stepping back and looking at. And so he becomes incapable of acting! His tremendous – because he is gifted, right? – his tremendous powers of reflection and self-transcendence are actually making him incapable of acting. As Velleman says, he becomes disconnected from the motivational machinery of interacting with the world. He loses agency. See, as I open up – here’s Agency, here’s the Reflectiveness Gap (R.G.): as I opened it up, I gain Agency, but as I push it too far, I lose it (Fig. 7). Now, of course, you’re tempted to, you know, the Canadian response, “Oh, I’ll just stay in the middle!” (Fig. 7 m). And remember, that never works because how much I need to be towards this end and how much I need to be towards that end is going to be very contextually sensitive.

The problem with this is how do I optimise this? How do I get the involvement, the immersion of the wanton? How do I get the flexibility, the self-correcting capacity of Hamlet? How do I get them together? How do I optimise them together? So this is the problem of the Reflectiveness Gap (adds this to Fig. 5 – see fig. 5b)

Fig. 5b

And of course, the fact that it’s an optimization problem tells you that it’s immediately enmeshed with Relevance Realization because another trade off that…/ remember, there’s trade offs, we’ve seen, between exploring and exploiting. There is trade offs between generalising and specialising. Another trade off is [when] you’re constantly trading between stepping back and looking at your cognition to monitor it and stepping through and being involved with intervening in the world. There’s a trade off relationship between them. It’s also part of Relevance Realization.

What about Meta-meaning? Well, there’s three I want to talk about: absurdity. We’ve talked about [-] this one already: anxiety. Alienation (adds these to the board – Fig. 5c). All of these, of course, show up in Domicide, because Domicide is the loss of the Agent:Arena relationship.

Fig. 5c

So alienation is when the connectedness between you and other people is lost. Absurdity is when the connectedness between you and the world is lost and absurdity can be pushed into horror. When you’re finding a particular absurdity deeply mysterious, so it’s drawing you in [-] such that your ability to make sense and get a grip on the world is being deeply thwarted. That’s horror! And of course anxiety… remember, it’s not the same as fear. Anxiety is ultimately when you are disconnected from yourself in an important way.

The two problems we face down here (Developmental) are ones we’ve talked [about] already before. This is existential inertia; when you’re trapped in a worldview and you can’t get out of it, you can’t activate Anagoge and move to a new worldview. Or existential ignorance; you’re indecisive, you don’t know what you’re going to lose if you go through the transformation, you don’t know what you’re going to miss if you don’t! This is existential entrapment (Fig. 5d)

Fig. 5d


So let’s talk a little bit about [Absurdity]. I talked a lot about [Parasitic Processing] and [Modal Confusion], I explained [Reflectiveness Gap]. We know a lot about anxiety, the inner conflict. We’ve got aspects of the alienation I’ve been talking about. I’ve talked about [Existential Entrapment] already. But [Absurdity], which I’ve alluded to many times, we need to talk about this because it points to something really central and important. A very important article on this is by Thomas Nagel, it’s called The Absurd. It’s also talked about in his book, The View From Nowhere. And what I want to try and show you is how much absurdity is a perspectival, participatory [knowing]. All of this (Fig. 5d) is at the level of perspectival, participatory knowing, but [Absurdity] in particular. First of all, Nagel does something very, very important in the absurd. He talks about how we behave as if the absurd is a result of our inferential processing. And we purport to give arguments that lead to the conclusion of absurdity. So we give an argument like, “Well, what I do now doesn’t matter because it won’t make any difference to people a million years from now!” This is [the] “I’m made insignificant by the vast expanse of time”. And Nagel points out that that argument doesn’t work because if what’s happening now is irrelevant – notice my language – to people a million years from now, the symmetry applies. Their opinion of me a million years in the future is irrelevant to me! It is [-] a symmetry. If I make no difference to them, they also should make no difference to me! It can’t matter to me cause I can’t matter to it.

“Well, you know, what, what people are pointing to is, you know, they, you know, they’re so small. They’re so brief!” Well, Nagel says, “Well, if you existed for millions and millions of years, would that make your life more meaningful? In fact, isn’t it a very real possibility that existing for a very long period of time would make your life absolutely absurd!?” If your smallness in reality makes you feel absurd, makes you insignificant, then would your life be more meaningful to you if I blew you up to the size of a galaxy? Why would that do anything? And as [Susan] Wolf has argued in her book, Meaning In Life And Why It Matters, this sense of being bigger is actually a metaphor for being connected to something larger than oneself. And that’s ultimately a metaphor for being connected to something that has a value independent of my valuing of it. And we’re going to come back to that because that’s at the core of sacredness. Because there’s a problem for all of these (gesturing to the whole board – Fig. 5d).

So what’s going on with absurdity? If it’s not really being generated by these arguments, what are the arguments doing? Well, he’s basically saying the arguments are after the fact expressions of absurdity, not before the fact generators of absurdity. “Well, I might, you know, Whoa, my life is made absurd by the fact that I’m going to die!” You can’t experience being dead! How can that be relevant to you? “Well, I won’t exist!” You didn’t exist a million years ago! Is that particularly relevant to you? Now notice what I’m doing: I’m not trivialising your experience, I’m trying to say that the arguments aren’t generating it because the arguments are ultimately invalid. So let’s drop out of propositional knowing. And don’t we know that that’s right? We’ve had this whole argument that Relevance Realization, the meaning making processes, are below the propositional level, below the level of our inferences and our beliefs. It’s at the level of procedural and ultimately perspectival and participatory knowing.

Let’s take an example. So Nagel gives an example. Now he wrote the article in the 80’s, and that was way before cell phones and people had voice recorders, which is a very different time! A very, very different time! But he gives the example of what he calls everyday absurdity and the example goes like this: Tom is on the phone and he calls – he’s been all day just, “ahhhh, I got to do this, I gotta do this. I’m going to call Susan. I’m going to tell her that I love her. I’ve gotta do it. I’ve been working on this all day here…” working himself up and it’s “Ohhhhh, [-] we got a friendship, but I might be losing a friendship, but I might be gaining a lover…” and all this is happening (Fig. 5), right? So he picks up and calls, Susan, dials, he hears the phone picked up, click, and he goes, “Susan, don’t say anything. Don’t say anything at all! Before you can say anything I have to tell you, I love you. I love you, Susan!” And then he hears, “Susan is not here right now. Please leave a message. Beeeeep!” and it’s kind of funny and it’s kind of sad at the same time!

And humour has… humour can overlap with absurdity! In fact, you can get a lot of humour by playing with absurdity: Monty Python, you know, [-] those guys, that troop was talented in that! Because what’s going on in humour points to what’s going on in absurdity. What’s happening is a clash of perspectives. We have Tom’s perspective, and from within his perspective, his action is deeply meaningful. But the machine gives us an impersonal, mechanical perspective in which his actions make no sense. They have no meaning. Absurdity is a clash of perspectives. Because, of course, that’s why it overlaps with humour because in humour, what you do is you play between a clash of perspectives and then you resolve it by a trick, by an equivocation. You play with two different perspectives. That’s why it’s a punchline. You were in this perspective, and then you’re suddenly shifted to this one! But not in some incongruous way; in a way that you can ultimately make sense of. But of course, absurdity doesn’t always, and very often does not overlap with humour because the perspectival clash can be one that we can’t ultimately resolve with humour and make sense of. The clash instead is a raw clash of perspectives. And we experienced just the incoherency, just the loss of connectedness. So absurdity is this clash of perspectives. That’s why it can become horror! Because this perspective (gestures a small ball), the perspective that I’m looking at, if I look at this perspective, from the perspective of all of time in history (gestures a massive ball), what’s relevant here (small), is undermined there (massive). There’s a clash in these perspectives.

So what do we need to do? We can see how all of this machinery, all of this (Fig. 5), is ways in which the adaptive nature of Religio and Relevance Realization is also making us prey to, vulnerable to losing our agency, to suffering distress, to experiencing horror, meaninglessness, absurdity, being trapped, being deeply confused, overwhelmed by parasitic processing… These are perennial problems because the very machinery that is making us adaptive is making us always susceptible to them. We can’t jump over our own shadows.

Now, what I want to do next time with you is, can we use the very same machinery of Relevance Realization and see how we could engineer a comprehensive response to all of these perennial problems? Because I would propose to you that any developmental change, any development of our perspectival, participatory and procedural knowings that affords a response, a reliable response that ameliorates and even alleviates the perennial problems, [then] that is a good candidate for enlightenment. Instead of making enlightenment as this unachievable superlative that only the superhuman beings in the distant past can achieve… What’s the use of that? Let’s make enlightenment what it… It might be difficult, but let’s not do “that”. Let’s acknowledge the difficulty with an understanding that actually facilitates us being able to respond. Let’s… I’m going to stipulate that enlightenment is the developmental process that gives us reliable amelioration and alleviation of the perennial problems.

And I’m going to show you next time, how that can be explained with the theoretical machinery of Relevance Realization, and Religion. Thank you very much for your time and attention.

– END –

Ep. 36 – Notes

To keep this site running, we are an Amazon Associate where we earn from qualifying purchases

JD Velleman
“What about Self-reflection? Well, I haven’t talked about that very much, so I need to talk about that now. This goes to some important work done by Velleman”
Plenty of books on Amazon!!
On Being Me: A Personal Invitation to Philosophy – Buy Here
Beyond Price: Essays on Birth and Death – Buy Here
Self to Self: Selected Essays – Buy Here

Harry Frankfurt
Harry Gordon Frankfurt is an American philosopher. He is professor emeritus of philosophy at Princeton University, where he taught from 1990 until 2002. Frankfurt has also taught at Yale University, Rockefeller University, and Ohio State University.

Thomas Nagel
“A very important article on this is by Thomas Nagel, it’s called the absurd. It also talks about in his book, the view from nowhere”
Thomas Nagel is an American philosopher. He is a University Professor of Philosophy and Law, Emeritus, at New York University, where he taught from 1980 to 2016. His main areas of philosophical interest are legal philosophy, political philosophy, and ethics.
The View From Nowhere – Buy Here

Susan Rose Wolf
“And as [Susan] Wolf has argued in her book, Meaning In Life And Why It Matters”
Susan Rose Wolf is an American moral philosopher and philosopher of action who is currently the Edna J. Koury Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She taught previously at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland and Harvard University.
Meaning in Life and Why It Matters:: 40 (The University Center for Human Values Series) – Buy Here

Other helpful resources about this episode:
Notes on Bevry
Additional Notes on Bevry

Ep. 35 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - The Symbol, Sacredness, and the Sacred

Welcome back to awakening from the meaning crisis. Last time we were continuing our exploration of Sacredness and I talked about that in contrast, but also in concert with, Geartz’s notion of Sacredness as homing us against horror we have the proposal from Otto that Sacredness puts us into contact with the Numinous, which basically exposes us to what is horrifying. At least at the limits of us, because it has an aspect of awe with a little bit more which is to remind us - humiliation in the original sense of the word - to keep us, to give us humility to remember that as we are feeling that sense of expansiveness with awe that we are precisely, ultimately, limited creatures. And so I propose to you that these two opponent aspects of sacredness can be seen very readily within the light of the machinery of relevance realization, where the Worldview Attunement is a form of meta-meaning and therefore meta-assimilation; ultimately compression, integration, things fitting together. We get an opposite, which is the meta-accommodation afforded by confronting the numinous in awe and potentially horror and we talked about how horror is about exactly the demand, the confrontation with that, which demands from us unanswerable, unachievable accommodation.

So I propose to you that what sacredness is, is to play with, seriously play with, the machinery of relevance realization as found within the primordial aspects of Religio and that doing this would be deeply advantageous to us because it is so foundational to our agency, to the world as an arena for our action, to our capacities for self-transcendence and so forth. But caught up with that, when I invoked music as an example of this, was the idea that we often do this serious play by engaging in symbolic behavior. And so I'm putting the symbol here as something that has the capacity to function both ways: it can bring us into meta-accommodation, but of course it can also bring meta-assimilation (writes “Meta-Assimilation — Symbol — Meta-Accommodation” on the board See Fig. 1).

Fig. 1

It can bridge between these two and it can go in both directions. And so we were starting to unpack what the symbol is (draws a big downward arrow from Symbol). And then I propose to you to, first of all, [I] emphasised its distinction from a mere sign: a Symbol doesn't just refer, a Symbol exemplifies, it has a participatory aspect to it right from the beginning. And as I've already mentioned that's going to be central to what we're talking about here, because these (both “meta’s”) are at the level of our, ultimately, our participation in the Agent-Arena transactive evolution of our relevance realization processes.

So I suggested to you that at the core of a symbol is a metaphor (adds this to the arrow down from Symbol). Already we know that this (Symbol) has to be participatory (adds this to another arrow coming down and to the left of Symbol, below meta-assimilation); we'll come back to that. And I pointed out that the metaphors we're talking about here are profound in the sense that they are pervasive in our cognition and they are highly functional (adds “profound - pervasive - highly functional” to an arrow down from Metaphor) and pointed here to the work of Lakoff and Johnson and their idea about, their work in metaphors we live by and a whole bunch of other books about how much our cognition is metaphorical. I then said there's some issues here - and this goes to some critiques made by Vervaeke and Kennedy, and Kennedy and Vervaeke - basically saying that they have this purely bottom up notion that the physical, sensory motor domain is just projected up into the conceptual. I suggested that it's more complex than that and we took a look at that and I suggested to you that instead of just the machinery of projection, which tends to be this one way, that we should think of the participatory relation as reflecting our capacity to play with exaptation (adds exaptation to participatory on the board); we can go both ways with our exaptive machinery.

Then I tried to bring all these ideas together: the notion of participatory knowing, the notion of exaptation (brings two arrows down from both to a single point), with this idea that what assemble is, [is] it's a metaphor that allows me to hold something in mind that I normally can't hold in mind. So that I can activate the machinery - the machinery that was at work in exaptation - and I can, in a sense, reverse, go back through it. I can have a symbol of a scale, and I could just stay there and think that, [but] what I can do is I can actually try to participate, perspectivally; I can engage with actually balancing. And then what I can do is reverse that process, to some degree, by which my capacity for balance has been exapted via some exaptive processing on my cerebellum, so that I actually use it to find complex contingency relationships between any areas of my brain.

So what's been happening, in fact, in neuroscience over the last 10 and 15 years is this revolution of our understanding of the cerebellum. We used to think the cerebellum was primarily about balance. And now we know that the cerebellum has all these terrific cognitive functions, because what it does is it basically… here’s (gesticulating) two areas of the brain that are often correlated together. The cerebellum picks up on trying to improve, smooth out, find the patterns of contingency and independency between them. And so what I can do is I can activate - if you'll allow me this way of talking - my cerebellum and that machinery which is precisely the machinery I need to practice the skill of being more just; I need the ability to coordinate, to find, to sense complex contingencies between multiple variables and make that better. The cerebellum is exactly the machinery I want to activate - I'm using activation as like the reverse of acceptation - I want to activate it because that will actually allow me to participate in the processing that will allow me to cultivate the skills that will make me just, that will then ultimately ground my conception of justice.

So this holding in mind (adds “holding - activation” to the double arrow), activating process allows me to deeply participate in justice, because I'm literally becoming more just! The Symbol is affording me, by making use of the exaptation machinery, which is - do you see that this (participatory side) is bi-directional in a way in which the projection (bottom up side) isn't - The Symbol is doing that for me in a powerful way. And you're saying, “Wow, this is so… Ahhhhggg, really? Come on!!!” Okay… You are much more symbolic, in a participatory fashion, than you might think. Okay, look at these quickly:
Without thinking, which one is “Buba” and which one is “Kiki”?
Which one is Buba, which one is Kiki?

Fig. 2

Overwhelmingly - and I mean [overwhelmingly] because this experiment has been done by Ramachandran (The Emerging Mind & The Tell Tale Brain) and others - this is Buba and this is Kiki (indicates which is which on the board - you know!!!). I do this all the time in my class! What's going on there? Why is this Bubba and this Kiki? You've never heard these words before! They don't mean anything to you! And people will say things like, “Well, this is sharp and spiky (the ‘star’). And so is this (the word Kiki)!” And I say to them, “what do you mean? How is this sharp? I can't cut myself on it. And how is this sharp and spiky (the word)?” And they're doing all this bridging and this cerebellar coordination between different sense modalities and different ways of acting, and you're doing it like that (dramatically claps hands)! There it is! Now, this is playful, right? I'm just activating it to no purpose, but of course I can activate this machinery to a purpose. That's what I'm doing when I'm holding up the scales! But you have to participate in it, you have to live with the symbol. You have to internalise it. It's almost like you have to savour it. One of the things we need to pay more attention to, I would argue, is the work of Jonathan Pageau. I mean, his work on the symbolic world is largely about trying to get us to remember the symbolic aspects of our existence. And I mean this in a deeply respectful way, and I hope Jonathan takes it that way: to get us to savour the symbolic and how deeply functional and active it is in us.

So symbols are participatory in this fashion that I've tried to explain to you, and then because of that, symbols have a capacity to put us into this relationship with something. So here's justice, here's the symbol, here's me (writes: “Me Symbol justice” (Fig. 3)), and as I've tried to argue, we've got the symbol, and what it's doing is it's actually transforming me in a powerful way (see Fig. 3, arrow 1). It is reactivating, reconfiguring my machinery so that I become capable of interacting with the world, so that I now start to be able to see through this symbol (Fig. 3, arrow 2) - here's the original m[etaphor]; remember how you’re looking through the pig at Sam? - I'm looking through, which means beyond and by means of, the symbol (gestures along arrow 2). I get to see more and realize and make more justice. So, I'm becoming (gestures along arrow 1), I'm activating the machinery of balance that's allowing me that perspectival awareness that’s sensitizing me to the contingent relationships between variables; it's actually helping me to cultivate the skills of justice. And of course, as I start to get better contact with [justice], [it] is disclosing itself in a new way (fig 1, arrow 3) and it discloses itself more through the processing I'm doing.

Fig. 3

Meditation As An Example Of Breath As A Symbol

And so what starts to happen is this interesting thing that's going on. So let me try and give you another example of this, and let's use something at the other end, something that's not so conceptual, at least in one sense. So I'm meditating and I'm following my breath in meditation, breathing in and out following my breath. Some of you have seen, perhaps, the videos I've given on the instruction on how to practice Vipassana. Now what's happening is normally I am focusing on my breath, and that act of focusing and following my breath is helping me to scale down, and we've talked about that; [to] scale down my attention. And for a long time, it can stay that way. But what can happen is I can become sensitized by scaling down - because you increase your sensitivity - to how much in process my mind is. So I'm normally thinking of my mind as a thing. I might even think that my mind is a container that contains things! Like, here's my mind (gesticulating) and in it is an experience of pain, for example. But when I practice watching my breath, I start to realize that that's - I start to realize - that that's not actually how my mind is unfolding!

My mind really isn't like a container in that sense. It's much more like my mind is a very fine grained process! And even something like pain isn't a thing; there's ‘paining’. And it's multiple. When I'm watching my pain, for example I've got a pain in my leg while I'm meditating, there's all these different layers. There's all these things unfolding and happening in a complex fashion. It really isn't a noun as much more like a verb. And it's really not something I possess. It's really much more something I participate in. So, do you see what I'm saying? The breath starts to become a participatory symbol of the impermanence of things, how much they are interconnected and flowing! And that can then have an impact on my sense of myself! …that maybe I am much more impermanent and interconnected. And so the breath can become, in that sense, symbolic for me. I can start to see [-] through the breath (Fig. 3, arrow 2) into impermanence and interconnectedness and I start to look back (Fig. 3, arrow 3). And so what's happening - now, you can also train this deliberately - is in addition to scaling down, I might suddenly find myself scaling up [to] seeing how all of reality, including myself, is impermanent and interconnected.

Flags And Patriotism As Another Example

So notice what the symbol is doing for you here. And here I want to go back to Michael Polanyi again… Let's take another symbol. Here's the Patriot looking at the [American] Flag. [-]. So Polanyi says [that] when you're looking at a flag - of course, you're always doing that thing he talked about: all their subsidiary awareness (SA) is being integrated together into your focal awareness (FA) (draws many instances of SA converging together onto the flag (FA)). Now, normally, [-] I'm [-] doing all of this [convergence/SA] because what I'm interested in is what I'm focally aware of (FA); I'm interested [in the flag] (circles the flag). So [-] normally, when I [-] want to drink, I'm doing all of this subsidiary integration into my focal awareness of the bottle, because what I'm actually interested in is the bottle. I need to get the bottle to drink, right? But sometimes - and again, notice my language - we play with this! We look at the flag - not because we're actually intrinsically interested in using the flag in some fashion - we’re using the flag symbolically, right? I'm looking at the flag because by looking at the flag I’m actually integrating (Fig. 4a, a) different aspects of myself together. So although I'm doing this process (indicates the convergence flow), normally what I'm inherently interested in is the focal object (flag). But sometimes, when I'm acting symbolically [-] - although I'm focusing my attention on [the flag], like focusing my attention on the breath - what I'm actually interested in is playing with the process (the convergence SA arrows - see Fig 4a - a)

Fig. 4a

 Fig. 4b

So by contemplating the flag the Patriot is bringing up all kinds of emotions and associations and other things - and think about the cerebellar activity here - and integrating them together. By looking through all of these - and think about the metaphor; “by looking through” - by looking through all of these things, like (demonstrates on the board through Fig. 4a, a) I'm looking through all of these different subsidiary things onto the flag, and by doing that I'm actually integrating all of these aspects of myself together and I'm becoming more patriotic. I'm actually participating in patriotism.

Focusing On The Breath

That's powerful, right? Now, put that together with what I just did: I'm looking at my breath (changes the flag in the diagram to “breath” (See Fig. 4b), and I'm doing all this and the point about all of this is to [-] integrate all of my processing together. But what can happen…/ And that's one way in which my breath is symbolic! So one way in which my breath is symbolic is it gives me a focal thing that I'm aware of, I can activate all of this stuff and I can integrate myself onto the thing; I’m becoming somebody else. But, as I just said a few minutes ago, the thing is the breath can also suddenly disclose reality to me (Fig 4b, b). The breath can also reveal an aspect of reality. Okay, let's try and put this together very carefully here. (Wipes board clean.)

At one stage, I'm doing this (Fig 5a - draws converging arrows as in Fig. 4a&b) and what I'm interested in is this, this is my Inherent Interest (labels these arrows “I.I.”). Although my Focal Awareness is here (circle - FA), I'm focusing precisely because I'm trying to, via a metaphorical process by looking through all of these subsidiary elements, I'm actually integrating them together. I'm not actually trying to get an insight like I normally do in metaphor, but what can happen is [that] I can actually get an insight! This (Fig5b, circle) can suddenly reveal aspects of the world to me (Fig 5b arrows), the impermanence and interconnectedness. And now I'm actually interested in my breath, because my breath is a symbol in another sense! My breath is a symbol in that it allows me to see into the impermanence and interconnectedness of reality. Notice what could happen is I can resonate between these (Fig 5, arrow r).

Fig. 5

Okay, let's do it: I'm looking at my breath. I become more integrated and precisely because I'm much more integrated, my processing becomes more powerful. And then suddenly what happens is I see something in my breath. I get a realization. The world is disclosed to me and that opens me up in powerful ways. And then now, when I refocus on the breath again, now I'm reintegrating all of that. But then what can happen is [that] now, as I reintegrate and re-coordinate again, I can more deeply see into what the reality of my breath is disclosing to me and I move more deeply. Do you see what I'm saying? You get this symbolic resonance that's going on. As I see more deeply into the object, it draws me in, and then that affords much more powerful integration, but the much more powerful integration actually coordinates my cognition much more so [that] I can see more deeply into the reality, if I'm relating to it symbolically.

Symbols are in this sense capable of affording Anagoge. They are capable of giving you this capacity whereby I get inner-optimization and then I see more deeply into the thing. And then by seeing more deeply into the thing, I get more inner optimization and the whole process flows Anagogically. So I'm looking at the balance, and then I activate all of this machinery and then I look through it at the symbol, and I'm looking through it at justice and coordinating all the things. But then I start to see aspects in the balance that I hadn't seen before, precisely because of how sensitized I am to the symbol. I start to see how it's actually never completely stable; if you look at the pictures of the scales, they are often always off! Balance is something very much a process, not a thing. And then that causes me to activate different aspects of myself. This is like, if you remember, when the mother-in-law has the bi-directional insight; the Sensibility Transcendence. Not only seeing her daughter-in-law differently, but seeing her own seeing differently; that trans-framing.

So symbols have the capacity to do this. Let's return back to something that I think is purely symbolic, in the sense that I mean, which is music. So you're listening to the music, but it's not like when you're listening to a sound and you're trying to make out like, “What's that? What's causing that sound? Is it a tiger? Is it a noise in the bush…?” You're listening the music and although you're focusing on it, you're not trying to get behind it. You're, focusing on it because the way in which you're being integrated in, together by, onto the music is crucial. But then what happens of course, is that aspects of the music are disclosed to you and you realize things, you see things that you haven't seen before, and that changes and alters how you can then understand and listen to the music. And so you get drawn in, in a very powerful way.

Symbols And The Mysterious

Now let's put [-] all of this machinery together with another aspect of the symbol that I've already hinted at which is, of course, the way in which symbols are putting you into confrontation with what is potentially mysterious. So here's your frame (draws box - Fig 6, box 1), and here is a frame you aspire to, a more comprehensive one (draws larger, dotted box - Fig 6, box 3), and you need something that can reach you inside this frame (Fig 6, arrow 1), but it can't be totally captured by this frame (box 1), because if it's captured by this frame, you'll stay in this frame. It has to insinuate itself into this, but change stuff such that [-] it actually drives you to expanding your frame (Fig 6, arrow & box 2). So it has to both activate you, but draw you beyond yourself to a state of trajec— (pauses) I'm trying not to use some technical terms here!!

Fig. 6

What a symbol has to do is, it has to reach into your world view, but remember what the Gnostics we're talking about here! Remember how you're existentially entrapped! You want to be in another worldview, you want to find that world view viable. You need something that can come into this worldview, but won't be stable within it; it has to be transgressive, it has to shake things up and then put you into all of this machinery - all of this machinery that we've been talking about - but in a way that is making you move to and become capable of dwelling within that more expansive worldview. In this sense, symbols are deeply ecstatic (writes ek-stasis on the board) - we got our word ecstasy from this - but what this literally means is a symbol helps you to stand beyond yourself.

So let's go back to the example… I'm trying to use as many examples as possible! I've got the scales, I'm activating balance, that allows me to start doing the skills that gets me some sense of justice. I start to be able to see justice and realize justice in the world that I couldn't before because of my sensibility change, my skill acquisition, my sensibility transcendence. And that starts to make me more just. And then what's happening is my world is being opened up and, in a coordinated fashion, I'm being transformed to fit that expanding world. This is of course why symbols often are associated with wonder and awe, et cetera. So symbols are ecstatic in that fashion. As I've tried to show you throughout this, they're Participatory (writes this on the board below ek-stasis). And I’ve tried to show you how they're integrative, not just in a simple part: whole, but in the Anagogic sense - Sensibility Transcendence (writes Integrative - anagogic below Participatory). They're integrating you together, [-] they're integrating a new world together, and they're integrating that new world together as they're integrating you together in an integrated fashion.

So when a Christian sees the cross, first of all the cross is tapping into that exaptive machinery; it's taking all this perceptual machinery and it's playing with it - the vertical and the horizontal. That's being exapted, and all of that machinery that we normally look through is being exapted and is being used, and then we're looking into there… and if we are receptive - and of course the question is why some people are and why some people aren’t, right? - but if we're receptive, then that interaction starts to affect us! We start to become a different kind of person as we're integrated in our attention on the cross.
But that, of course, starts to also disclose to us aspects of reality that we normally might not be able to hold in mind, like suffering, like the relationship between eternity and time. And those goes from being ideas to things that we are confronting, engaging with, and they can draw us in which then of course integrates me more powerfully while disclosing a world. And if I'm willing to play the serious play with the symbol, I will start to be transformed in a coupled fashion to my world, such that perhaps Christianity becomes viable for me, for example. This is how symbols work. So they're integrative in the Anagogic sense. This is of course, if you remember, why people do things like Jeepform.

Finally, symbols are Complex (writes Complex below Integrative). And we have to remember: I'm using the scales to stand for justice, but justice isn't a single thing. And even when I talk about the breath and it's [-] showing me impermanence and interconnectedness, those aren't single static things. They are complex unfolding realities. So symbols often are multifaceted. You'll get Athena, she's the symbol of wisdom, but she's also the symbol of weaving! She's the symbol of warfare! All these different areas are actually being drawn together because the symbol is also the potential for radically reconfiguring the shape of your salience landscape, connecting things that you normally do not connect together, such that you might have an insight into reality.

Notice how the symbol is trying to do all of this! Because it’s trying to set you in motion! It's trying to get you to do this. (Draws out fig. 7 from the small box to the large, then the arrow - See Fig 7a). And in that sense, if you'll forgive the little bit of playfulness, it's ‘Epic’; it's trying to draw you into something E.P.I.C. (circles the acronym for Ek-Stasis, Participatory, Integrative & Complex. See Fig 7b). It's trying to afford a way in which you can radically open up your world in meta-commendation - triggering it, participating in it, confronting it - but also trigger your best machinery for being able to draw it into, relate it to who and what you are, so that you can become capable of dwelling within that expanded world. So meta-accommodation and meta-assimilation are both at work within the symbol.

                               Fig. 7a                                                                   Fig.7 b

How Symbols Relate To Sacredness

So, symbols are inherently transjective (indicates the dynamic in Fig.6) because they are between two worlds: the world you’re in/the framing you're in and the world you're trying to move to/the world that you aspire to. They are transgressive in all the ways I've tried to suggest to you. They try to trigger transframing. They're transformative. Now, how does all of that machinery relate to sacredness? Well, I've already shown you how it can be bound up with awe and horror and wonder, but let's try [to] make this a little bit more precise (cleans the board). I'm going to propose something to you. I'm going to propose that we can use this term [differently] - as I have been throughout the series (writes Mythos on the board). We don't mean…/ I’m going to use Mythos rather than Myth, to keep that distinction! By mythos I mean something that's always deeply connected to ritual, where ritual - and I've already argued this - doesn't mean some neurotic routine that I engage in!Ritual means enactive analogy, enactive Anagoge (writes ritual below mythos). It means the processes by which I try to activate the machinery of transformation. So when I'm saying ‘mythos’, don't just hear ‘patterns of representation’ hear ‘patterns of interaction’; these are deeply enmeshed together. And then what we have are symbols - in the way that I'm describing - and these symbols are always going to be enmeshed with story because you have to bring in the Perspectival, Participatory knowing - and we've talked a bunch about how important narrative is for participatory and perspectival knowing. And of course the story connects to the ritual, because if its ‘storied’, you can enact it (writes symbols to the right of mythos and story completing the square on the bottom right, with mythos also connecting to story - see Fig. 8a). Okay. So this is what I mean by mythos. This is what I mean by mythos (indicating the whole of Fig 8a).

When we have a mythos that is about Religio, such that we can activate Religio and seriously play with it in order to enhance it - enhance its capacities for meta-assimilation [and] meta-accomodation - that's sacredness. That's sacredness (Fig 8b). Of course we can invoke, we can make use of Mythos for other things, for other patterns that we care about. [-] Of course our Religio is always at work just in our day to day interactions with the world, but when we want to activate, accentuate, articulate Religio itself, we rely on Mythos to do that because our relationship to Religio is one that can only be born symbolically because of the primordial, participatory nature of Religio.

Fig. 8a                                                   Fig. 8b

Now here's something else: Of course, at the core of Religio, as I've argued, is Relevance Realization, and one of the things we know because of the phenomenon of insight and the phenomenon of flow, is one of the things that relevance realization is intrinsically interested in is itself. Relevance Realization, because it is a self-organizing, self-transcending, self-correcting process - remember, in insight you are correcting for a misleading salience pattern, given an incorrect problem formulation - Relevance Realization is intrinsically set up to be interested in itself it’s part of it's structural design. If your Relevance Realization machinery is not directed [-] to be interested in itself, it's ultimately not a self-organizing, self-correcting, self-developing process, which would mean it would cease to be relevance realization. It is constitutively necessary of relevance realization that it finds itself inherently interesting (see Fig 9).

Fig. 9

So we can find the process… So this (buts a box around Religio in Fig 9) is just deeply valuable to us because it's constitutive of our being in the world. We can use this, mythos (boxes mythos) to activate, articulate, accentuate, celebrate Religio. And of course, we find that a deeply interesting thing to do (Fig. 9 arrow i) because relevance realization is set up, by it's evolutionary heritage, to be intrinsically interested in itself. And so we are going to find all of this deeply valuable, deeply meaningful. This is the machinery of meaning making (indicates Religio in Fig 9), and then we're using mythos to celebrate it and trigger the fact that relevance realization is constituted to finding itself interesting.

So what we have is, I think, a way of talking about a lot of the aspects of Sacredness. We get the experience of Sacredness out of the deep machinery of Religio and when we're using the centrally important machinery of Mythos to activate it, accentuate it, articulate it, celebrate it, and that in itself is developmentally important to us, [and] serious play is the way in which we go through development. But we also find that process intrinsically interesting - like an insight, or the flow state - precisely because relevance realization is constituted to reflectively be interested in itself as a process. Now, the question is: “Yes, okay, maybe all of that is right! Maybe what I'm doing in sacredness is using mythos in order to celebrate and appreciate and accentuate Religio, and I'm going to find that valuable because Religio is inherently valuable to me, and relevance realization is inherently interested in itself…. I get all of that! And I get why this can be so deeply transformative of people and why it can open up their world and open up themselves in this way that feels like making love with reality…. But still, you're not getting the essence of sacredness…?” Because the essence of Sacredness is in The Sacred (writes The Sacred on a cleaned board). And The Sacred takes us back to the metaphysical proposal.

The Metaphysical Proposal & Distinguishing Product From Process

The metaphysical proposal is the proposal that what ultimately generates the experience of Sacredness is something that [-] has an absolute [-] value because it has a particular metaphysical status, namely it is Supernatural (Fig. 10)) - it is above nature - and it's ‘above-ness’ means that it is always inherently valuable to us. And therefore we will find it sacred because of its absolute value. Now this carries with it a particular way of understanding the process of meaning making. It's to claim that, ultimately - I think that's what people are claiming - that there are things - maybe that's the wrong word, I don't [know], language is failing me! I'll use this word as neutrally as I can - there are ‘things’ that are always of relevance to us. What I'm suggesting to you is that this is the claim that there is an essence to relevance (writes this to the right of the list)! That there is a final formula for being relevant and that that essence inheres in some particular thing/object (Fig. 10 arrow i). And so if I come into the relationship with that object, the relevance, the essence of relevance is inhering in it and I will therefore find that object sacred!

Fig. 10

I'm trying to be respectful here, but I think this is ultimately a mistake. The reason why I think it's a mistake is because there is no essence to relevance. There isn't even a thing, there is only the ongoing process of relevance realization. There is nothing other than itself that is intrinsically interesting to relevance realization. And the relevance realization isn't even absolutely interesting to relevance realization because, of course, your salience machinery can actually lead you to kill yourself! You may even find your own existence is no longer relevant or salient to you. So again, to say it's intrinsic, even that is not to say that it's absolute! The notion of sacredness here seems, to me, to be a category mistake. It seems to me to be saying that there is some-thing, some-one, some-place that essentially, absolutely, always is relevant! But that is to misunderstand the nature of relevance. It's to confuse the products of relevance realization with the process of relevance realization. And that of course is a hallmark of one of the ways in which we make mistakes. We get fixated on the products of our cognition and not paying attention to the process.

Let's go back to the Gnostics. Remember that one of the things that they're contemporary apostolic Christians criticised them for is that they were constantly inventing new myths, in this sense (as detailed above) - of mythos - because they saw the relationship to sacredness as an evolving one, a deeply transgressive one, a one that was supposed to always be launching you into a trajectory of trans-framing. Might that suggest another way of understanding sacredness? [One] that, I think, would be respectful to a lot of the texts considered sacred without committing us to, or needing the supernatural as a category? Or maybe [-] it means a significant [-] transformation of what we've ever meant by this term “Supernatural”, I don't know!

There's an inexhaustibleness in this whole process. There's a sense in which Reality can continue to disclose itself to me; it's inexhaustible. And that's ultimately, I think, because of the reality, that Reality is itself combinatorially explosive. There's an inexhaustibleness to the process of relevance realization, not in the sense that I'm infinite - that's ridiculous - but in the sense that the process is constantly evolving; it is constituted by its evolution, it is not something other than its evolution. What if sacredness is not about finding the completion, the essence, the stabilised final form? What if sacredness is actually an experience of the inexhaustibleness of reality and the inexhaustibleness of the relevance realization machinery and it's coupled response to that reality? What does that look like more concretely?

Let me give you an example of where you could see these two concretely distinguishing from each other. For me, Plato is Sacred. That doesn't mean that I think Plato has some absolute or supernatural value; that he has an unquestionable authority! Or that my understanding of Plato should be stabilised or finished or complete! Instead, what happens is exactly the opposite: I read some Plato and I understand some Plato - I get some insight - and that has an impact on me. And that does all of this (gestures to the board) to me, and then I go out in the world and that understanding - in a perspectival and participatory way - transforms me and I engage and I become, and the world discloses in a certain way. And after that process I return to Plato, and then I can see in Plato what I did not see before! I can realize things I did not see before and those realizations reach deeply into me again. And then again, there's that engagement, there's that transformation, and then I go out in the world… You see how I'm doing the Anagogic thing, right? I go out in the world and the world is disclosed to me in ways I hadn't seen before and then I go through transformation: I become something different, the world becomes different at the level of co-identification. Agent and Arena are being opened up. And then I go back and when I read Plato I see something again that I didn't see before… And that has happened to me throughout my life! There isn't some final form there! I'm meaning this very carefully: this is a “Gnostic” - not in the sense of the two world mythology or something like that - there's Gnosis here: I am constantly finding Plato to be fount, an inexhaustible fount of insight, transformation, an inexhaustible source of trans-framing of my world and who I am. If it's ongoing it's filled with a kind of developmental wonder for me. I don't think Plato is supernatural. I don't think Plato is absolute. I don't think Plato has the final account. I don't think Plato can give me a final definition of what is relevant. But nevertheless, again and again and again, I get into symbolic resonance with the text; I see through it and then the world reaches back through it to me.

I mean, even Nietzsche has this, right? “If you stare long enough into the abyss, it begins to stare back through you.” He has a kind of sacredness around that. But it's of course open-ended, it's deeply symbolic - read “Also sprach Zarathustra”. But as I said, I think it's bound up with a problematic grammar of simply inverting Christianity. I don't want to invert Christianity. That's not what I'm proposing to you, at all. I'm trying to suggest to you that the idea I propose to you about what Sacredness is, can be connected to an alternative proposal of what The Sacred is. The sacred is the Transjective relationship between the combinatorially explosive nature of Reality - that reality is ultimately a no-thing-ness, that ultimately it is not a thing that you can frame. Reality will always transcend your framing. That's what ‘combinatorially [explosive]’ says. And this is linked to the no-thing-ness of yourself! The ‘I’ that can never be captured, the framing that can never be captured in the frame, the ongoing, never ending - not in you, particularly, but as a process. It doesn't come to a completion is what I meant by ‘never ending’ - process of Relevance Realization. There's a deep, non-logical identity, a deep symbolic resonance between these two (Fig 11. Arrow i). I think it's what a lot of the mystics were talking about! This is a deep, participatory identification: the inexhaustibleness of Reality, and the inexhaustibleness of Relevance Realization are deeply, deeply coupled at the primordial levels of Religio. This is The Sacred as this (gestures to the board - See Fig 11), the inexhaustible that powers the experience of Sacredness in a deeply, profoundly, participatory fashion.

Fig 11

Thank you very much for your time and attention.

- END -

Ep. 35 - Notes

To keep this site running, we are an Amazon Associate where we earn from qualifying purchases

Vilayanur Subramanian Ramachandran
Vilayanur Subramanian Ramachandran (born 10 August 1951) is an Indian-American neuroscientist. Ramachandran is known for his wide-ranging experiments and theories in behavioral neurology, including the invention of the mirror box.
Book Mentioned:
The Emerging Mind: The BBC Reith Lectures  - Buy Here
The Tell Tale Brain: Unlocking the Mystery of Human Nature - Buy Here

Michael Polanyi (flags as symbols)
Book Mentioned: Charles Taylor, Michael Polanyi and the Critique of Modernity - Buy Here

Here, again, I believe Taylor's approach could benefit from Polanyi's explication of how symbols work in Meanings (with ... a unity and project it beyond the symbol, which may have no intrinsic interest in itself (e.g., the flag; metaphors, however, ...

Ékstasis (ἔκστασις) is the Ancient Greek word for ecstasy.
Ecstasy (from the Ancient Greek ἔκστασις ekstasis, "to be or stand outside oneself, a removal to elsewhere" from ek- "out," and stasis "a stand, or a standoff of forces”.

Also sprach Zarathustra - Nietzsche
Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None(German: Also sprach Zarathustra: Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen, also translated as Thus Spake Zarathustra) is a philosophical novel by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, composed in four parts written and published between 1883 and 1885.
Book Mentioned: Also sprach Zarathustra - Buy Here

Other helpful resources about this episode:
Notes on Bevry
Additional Notes on Bevry

Ep. 34 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - Sacredness: Horror, Music, and the Symbol

Welcome back to awakening from the meaning crisis. So last time I tried to develop with you the right side of the plausibility argument I'm making, and tried to give an account of central features of human spirituality and to try not [to] use that term, therefore, in a vague, indefinite way. And then I made an argument for how Relevance Realization can explain many of the facets that are found within the normal attribution of human spirituality. And I proposed a term, “Religio”, to cover all of those aspects of spirituality that can be explained by the machinery of relevance realization. There was, of course, an important lacuna; there was something that was still missing from that account and this was the account of the Sacred. And then I propose to you, in order to avoid confusion especially post-Schleiermacher, that we should make a distinction between the metaphysical proposal of the ground or the cause of the experience of sacredness, where Schleiermacher is emphasising the experience. And then for reasons of the way my argument has unfolded, since I'm talking about the psycho-existential machinery of sacredness as opposed to the metaphysical proposal, at least initially that is where I should begin.

So I'm talking now, we began to speak about, a way of using the theoretical machinery we have developed here in order to talk about Sacredness, and we began by going to the work that we'd already talked about, about Domicide, back to the work of Giertz. We talked about [how in] Sacredness, one of the ways it functions, one of the ways we can experience it is that it functions is a meta-meaning system that affords a worldview attunement and thereby homes us against horror. But then I noted that, of course, in the Hellenistic Domicide there was not only the machinery that attempted to re-home us like the syncretic religions and, one could probably argue, also Stoicism as I've already argued. But there was also an alternative response which was the transgressive response of the Gnostics, ultimately.

And I then said that gives us an opening into another aspect of Sacredness, and this is the work of Otto and his book that, as I mentioned, was typically entitled The Idea Of The Holy, and I said a better translation would perhaps be The Experience Of The Numinous. And what Otto was proposing is that before we had a moral interpretation of holiness, there was a pre-moral view of what I'm calling sacredness, [-] or at least an aspect of the sacred of sacredness, I should say. And what Otto was pointing to was the experience of the Numinous, which is closely related to the adjective that is most applied to God, for example, in the Old Testament, which is Glorious; God is shining and overwhelming and powerful, but Glory does not carry with it any moral sense. In fact, one way of interpreting what's going on in the book of Jobe is a contrast between some of Jobe’s moral arguments about his suffering and God's response is to present his glory and how numinous he is. And so you're seeing sort of a conflict between these different aspects of holiness in Jobe. Of course, that's not all that's happening in the book of Jobe, and perhaps when I speak of Jung we'll get back to that.

The Numinous

But right now what I want to pick up on is this insight by Otto that a part of sacredness seems to be the experience of the numinous (writes the numinous on the board). And the numinous seems to be transgressive in important ways. In fact, it seems to be taking us into the heart of the very thing that the Giertzian model of sacredness was supposed to home us against, which is experiences that border on horror. Now Otto describes this experience of the numinous as having three central aspects to it. It is a mystery (writes mystery off of the numinous) very much in the way I argued last time; the sense that we got from Marcel of something that brings about sensibility transcendence, that sort of trajectory of transframing. And then it has two opposing poles in it which make a lot of sense, I think, given what we've built together. One is that it is deeply fascinating (writes fascinating off of mystery), it compels. So a good way [-], I think a very plausible way, of understanding this is [that this is] super-salient to you (labels fascinating with super-salient). It is really grabbing your attention, involving you, you can't pull away. So it's super-salient. And then the other is, he said, it's terrifying! It's horrifying! There's an aspect of horror to this (writes horror off of mystery).

Now I’ve got to stop for a minute. I don't want to use the word terror! It goes back to his original term, but the problem with terror is, of course, it has become deeply enmeshed with us with notions of terrorism. And I want to put that aside. I'm gonna use the word horror because it doesn't have that kind of association, but I have to now distance how I want to use this word from how it's become typically used by us.

So I [once] mentioned to you that most mystery novels and mystery movies aren't mysterious at all, that they don't have you confront mystery! They give you just a difficult problem to solve. And in that sense, they're instances of a kind of important modal confusion that is pervasive in our culture. Same thing with many horror movies! Many horror movies do not actually expose you to horror. Many horror movies actually expose you to being deeply startled with fear. So deeply startled with fear! So much of what passes for horror movies are movies that prey on our sort of ancestral fear of predation [-] where there is some monster that - although the monster points towards something and I'll come back to that, and this is [-] good work done by Jonathan Pageot on how we should think about monsters; we’ll come back to that (writes monster off horror) - and the monster is basically hidden in some way or unknown and it's preying upon people… And most of what's called horror is the surprising way in which the monster will suddenly appear and pray upon its victims, and then they get ripped apart! So you were startled: “Oh no, no. Ah…” right? And most of that is not horror! I mean, I imagine it has…/ I find those movies boring, actually!!! I understand why some people - this is just a statement of taste - I don't find them very interesting. The sort of “startle and puncture” movies don't appeal to me! And they're often enmeshed also with sort of crypto-messages about sexuality and things like that that need to be challenged!! Putting all of that aside, when I say horror, you have to…/ There's a few movies that capture it! Because horror has to do with what we talked about with respect to Giertz. Horror is when your sense of contact with reality is being challenged, undermined, where you feel you have a grasp on things and then it's slipping away. So horror, therefore, is often prototypically not associated with fear or directly with fear, it's associated with insanity or madness. And of course there is the primordial fear of becoming insane (writes madness off of horror).

Horror Out Of The Inter-Categorical

Now, the monster points to something very, very interesting. And this goes back to the work of Mary Douglas: that we often find creatures that are inter-categorical for us monstrous (writes inter-categorical off of monsters), because that's on a continuum with another important feature of things being inter-categorical. So what is meant by inter-categorical? Inter-categorical are things that don't fall into our ready-made categories and therefore we typically regard them as ‘weird’. [Douglas] talks about how they're ‘unclean’. She does an interesting discussion about [how], in the Bible, the book of Leviticus, all the animals that are unclean, they're very weird! It's a very weird collection! If you tried to find some sort of essence, like why Owls are unclean and Crocodiles are unclean and whatever, and certain birds are unclean… It doesn't make any sense! And then she goes in and argues, “Well, no, what happens is, is [-] there's ways in which people have categorized things and those categories have a certain pattern. And when that pattern is being broken then these things challenge our grip on the world!”
They challenge our grip on the world. For example, there's an idea, Douglas argues, that you should have an interconnection between a creature’s shape - it’s morphology - it’s means of locomotion and it's location, like where it lives (writes shape, locomotion and location in a triangle). So if it lives in the sea, it should swim and therefore it should have a fish shape. So you have things that are in the sea that don't seem to be swimming, like the “Crawlius” (?) Shellfish, and therefore they're kind of weird and they turn out to be unclean. Right? And then you also have this same, she argues, this same schema is applied (indicating the above triangle). Now we think, “Ooooh, those archaic ancient people…!” No, but remember, don't do that because we talked about how we also have purity codes.

We find things unclean that thwart our system of categorisation. Remember, if I take this (picks up his water bottle) and spit into it repeatedly and then swirl it around and drink it back, you're grossed out! That's unclean to you because I have this whole structural functional organization, a way of categorizing myself and my self's relationship to my body and how that's other than the environment. And then there's important boundaries that shouldn't be crossed. And when the spirit comes out of me, it becomes inter-categorical. It's me, but it's not me because it's not inside me, it's outside of me, but somehow it was produced… and ahhhhh! It's inter-categorical, it's yucky and get rid of it! So this is not a feature of ancient thought. This is a way in which we respond to things that violate our core categorical ways of making sense of the world.

Now, some of those things we just regard as yucky or gross or unclean. But if the inner-categorical thing is inter-categorical between really, really central categories, and it is represented as threatening to us, then it [-] originally invoked horror for us. So if you take a look at many horror creatures, they're prototypically inter-categorical. The Wolf man is inter-categorical between the beastial and the personal. The ghost is into categorical between the living and the dead. The vampire is also inter-categorical between the living and the dead and also between being alive in the sense of consuming and being alive in the sense of being able to be generative. Because of course the vampires consume and do not produce. And of course there's the work that Christopher Mastropietro and Filip Miscevic and I did, and Jonathan Pageau [-] independently did work on the zombie and how the zombie is an inter-categorical monster to represent our current situation, the Meaning Crisis, and you're going to see a video of Chris MasterPietro and I talking about all of that, so I won't get that into detail. So the fact that the monster is inter-categorical points [to] - and that inner-categoricalness can be on a spectrum from just “eww, yucky!” to, “AHHHHH!”, losing a grip on reality, and intelligibility, because of the deep connectedness between realness and intelligibility - this points, again, to the connection to madness and all of this points to losing a grip, losing that contact, that comprehensive grip, losing that optimal grip on reality.

An Example Of Horror From Fiction

So you can create pretty significant horror without having to do the startle and puncture moment! I want to relate one to you where I've had the most, for me, the most prototypical and salient example of an experience of horror that had nothing to do with the prototypical ‘something jumping out the shadow with sharp, pointy bits!’ I was watching Kubrick's The Shining. Many of you have probably seen it. If you haven't seen it, of course, there's been 10,000 memes about it and it's pervasive throughout popular media. And I guess my own intellectual arrogance contributed to the aesthetics of the horror. I was watching this movie - and spoilers here, but this movie has been around for a long time, so I think it's fair game - as I was watching this movie, I'm watching this character and he seems to be going mad, that Jack Nicholson character, and that in and of itself is very interesting; it’s of course evocative of all of this (board). And then I'm getting, “Oh, right… Stephen King has some deep criticisms of alcoholism! And so this is a very extended metaphor for the descent through alcoholism into madness!” and then I was patting myself on my back, I get this movie, this movie is just a symbolic way of talking about alcoholism and everything. And he's hearing voices in his head and that's a clear sense of madness. And I had it all well-structured; well in-hand, as we say, and then there's a scene where [-] his wife actually traps Jack Nicholson inside some sort of pantry and locks it from the outside. And then I remember coming to a full stop and I said, “Well, what's going to happen now? She’s trapped him! He's locked in. That's it!” Then the voices are talking to him in his head and I'm sort of dismissing that because “yeah, yeah, he's mad. He's going to talk to the voices! But so what?” and the voices in his head or sort of chiding him and, you know, “what are you doing? How'd you let it get to this…” and I'm going, “Yeah, yeah, you’re mad and you're going to spiral into insanity. Great, great and everything!” And then the voice would say, “Okay, it's time to go!” And then the voice to say, “Now we're going to let you out!” And then they open the door from the outside, the voices in his head!! And a chill went down my spine because I realized, “Oh, I'm in a much different world than I thought I was in!!” I thought I had this completely down. And no, no, these voices have an independent reality and there is something else going on here. Now, nothing startling was happening. All they were doing was opening the door so he could get out, but it was an absolute chill of horror going through me [-].

And that's the most profound experience of horror I've ever had in a movie precisely because what had happened there was I went from being out here, looking at all of this to, “I don't know what's going on!” And I was suddenly participating in his madness because I didn't know what was going on. And I was losing a grip on this situation and there were forces at work here that I didn't understand! That’s horror. Okay. That's horror. And, I think there's situations that bring people into genuine horror, but I think it's much rarer than we realize. All right, so given that (inter-categorical discussion), and like I said, we will return to talk about this (monster) later… Given the sense of horror as being the polar extreme of this continuum of the weirdness, the eeriness, the yuckiness of the inter-categorical; the spaces in our grip on reality, through which things can slip. We can return to this (horror).

An Example Of Horror From Every Day Life

So the numinous is super salient. There's almost something like a flow state in that we're being drawn into it. But it also has with it, aspects of horror. It shakes at the structure of our worldview. Now you say, “Wow!! Like, what's an example of this?” Okay. So here's an example of where I think people brush up against the numinous, and it's fairly widespread so many of you will have encountered it. It's one that I find, I guess, annoying because I find it dangerous!

So this happens, you're driving home and there's been an accident on the highway. And people are slowing down. It's very dangerous to slow down. Everybody knows you shouldn't slow down like that because it's dangerous to slow down because the chances are you're going to cause another accident, which does in fact frequently happen! But nevertheless, people feel compelled to slow down. They are fascinated by this because they hope to see something horrifying! Not just disgusting; they're hoping that they will see death! That they'll somehow get a confrontation with this. And that of course is horrifying because death has the capacity to… the confrontation with the threat of death, the presence of death, has the possibility to completely sever your grip on reality. Literally, in fact! But they can't look away! But if they see something, they have the potential of being very unpleasantly horrified! But of course, there's something also missing in this because they can't actually see death! Right? They can see the fact of death, in the sense of the result of something or someone dying. But that won't actually put them into something we've already discussed; that won't actually give them what they want: a grip on the mystery of death, the phenomenological mystery of death. And that tells you something! Wonder and awe have us open up to mystery. But if the mystery becomes overwhelming, if it is causes us to lose any potential sense, any sense of our potential ability to get an insight or an understanding that typically comes with wonder… Awe is sort of liminal, but with horror, it's like, “ahhhh” (gasping) and it's expanding so fast and “ahhhhh!” (gasping again), I'm getting overwhelmed so fast, I'm being forced to accommodate so fast, this is like the absolute worst culture shock, and I'm experiencing horror!

Horror From a Fascination-Like Flow State

We can think of horror [as] when…/ notice what you've got here (indicates fascination/super-salient), you've got all the indications of flow, right? Or something like flow, at least the beginning of it, where you're getting drawn in [to] this accelerating loop. Something like it at least. It's super salient to you, but it's super salient - and this is why I'm hesitating to just call it straight out flow - it’s super salient, but not in the fact that you're deeply coupled; it's super salient in the way that you're seeking to be deeply coupled. And your machinery is going faster and faster, but it's not actually getting a purchase. Because what's happening is you're getting horrified by mystery. Now it's like, “Wow! That’s… that's an experience of the numinous?” And if you read parts of the Bible - or like, or you can read other literature too, but the Bible of course is prototypical for a lot of these people, these researchers like Otto - like there's passages in the Old Testament in which God is like this! Right? …it’s just weird and strange and horrifying aspects of God! Fascinating, super-salient and you're drawn in and it's like - like I said, I don't want to call it anti-flow because anti-flow is depression - but it's like the shadow of flow, you're trying to (GASPS), and you're getting drawn in and all the machinery of coupling is speeding up to try and get what it can get, which is a stable relationship. And so wonder… you don't get wonder… you might not even get awe! If it's too much, it can pass into horror.

Awe, Bordering On Horror And Our Ultimate Insignificance

So it's plausible that this is one of the ways of interpreting certain, even, commands in the Bible. [-] It's often translated as you're supposed to fear God. This doesn't make any sense for a lot of reasons because God is prototypically not the object that you can run away from or fight. Like, your fear would be absurd! It doesn't make any sense. But I think a better account of this is [that] you're supposed to have Awe for God. And notice how [awe] is the basis of this word Awesome. But it's also the basis of this word, awful, right? Because it borders - awe borders on horror! So there's a sense of the experience of sacredness that is supposed to take us to the very horizon of our intelligibility. The very, very precipice of our ability to make sense and make meaning of the world. It’s supposed to take us, I would say, it's supposed to draw us in and the hope is not to just throw us into horror, but to take us towards horror until we experience that boundary between awe and horror, where we are forced into a situation of confrontation with a demand to change. A demand to change who and what we are. And in that sense, this will overlap with the higher States of consciousness in that this carries with it a sense of being terrifically real - and I mean that, ‘terrifically real’ - and that it is putting a demand on us to accommodate, to expand our capacity for framing that it is pushing us to our very, very limits. And the aspect of horror is the sense - a stronger word is needed here! - the realization that we are indeed finally, ultimately, limited. That no matter how much we grow, we can't grow enough to encompass the mysteries that we are confronting. So the point of the horror, I think, is to get us not only to grow, but to remember that our growth will always be the growth of a mortal, limited being. A being that is always caught up in relevance realization.

So, notice how I've been pushing how much this is taking you to the deepest powerful accommodation, the deepest opening up, right? Forcing tremendous change on you. Varying who you are. This is also an aspect of the sacred. Now think about how you can relate [to] this on the continuum that we've been talking about. This is the ultimate frame breaking! But this isn't just breaking any frame. This is trans-frame breaking! This is breaking your capacity for framing, or at least taking it to the very, as I said, the very limits where you are forced into a trajectory of trans-framing that is also acknowledging that you are ultimately insufficient. It's supposed to, in this - and I'm using this in a technical sense - it is supposed to humiliate you. The problem for us is that we can only hear this negatively! But of course, humility - a deep, deep appreciation of one's inescapable limitations - is part of, I've argued, the function of horror. It is to bring you to that state of accommodation, maximal accommodation, while also deeply reminding you - sati - that you can never become anything beyond a finite meaning. It is to prevent inflation. It is to prevent you ever assuming that you are more than you can ultimately be. So it's a deep kind of reminding that's put at the heart of this p[-?]…/ Look, if I could just sort of accommodate in wonder and awe, there's a temptation that I would inflate and think “I am…” (gestures with opening arms). (Wipes board clean)

The High Order Opponent Processing Of Sacredness

Now, [the numinous therefore] puts you into contact, confrontation with something that is much greater than yourself, and also that has an existence, by definition, independent of you precisely because of the way that it can threaten you. So notice what we've got here. We've got over here… (Making a mistake between Sacred/Sacredness Vervaeke says: “Sorry, I keep slipping on that - it’s just the way language drives you, eh? ‘I feel we're not getting rid of God because we still believe in grammar’!”) Okay, so sacredness (writes Sacredness at the top of the board). Over here (down to the left, off of Sacredness) we have Worldview Attunement, and it's very clear why that would be regarded as sacred - this homes us against horror (writes this below Worldview Attunement). But we've got this other notion of sacredness, which is the numinous (writes this below and to the right of Sacredness), which is designed to do the opposite! It's designed to expose us, to fascinate us with horror (writes these below Numinous). So over here (on the left) we have, basically, what I'm going to argue is meta-assimilation (writes this below the list on the left). We had that meta-meaning that is designed to get everything to fit together, to belong together. The agent and the arena fit together. But then you have the opponent process (draws a double ended arrow between the left and the right), the opponent process. And this is, as I've already argued, this is meta-accommodation (writes this below the list on the right).

Sacredness is doing a very powerful at - not at the level even of your individual projects or problems - this is doing it at the level of your existential being in the world. It is doing higher order relevance realization. It is pushing the machinery of relevance realization, again, down through all of the levels of your knowing into your existential modes, into the depths, the primordial depths of the agent-arena relationship, and then it's blowing it apart, setting it in motion with opponent processing, that's doing powerful, powerful, higher order relevance realization. Sacredness, I think, is a deep way in which we are seriously playing with - and now the seriousness is at the level of awe and horror and also home, which is also deeply serious to you - we are seriously playing with the machinery of relevance realization and pushing it towards a greater and greater development of optimising it, improving it, enhancing it.

So if that's right, if sacredness is the experience of this machinery (gestures full diagram on the board), as opposed to either one of its poles (left side or right), [then] that tells us again about a deep functionality that what we're doing in sacredness is we're playing with the machinery of relevance realization in order to try and create states of mind, states of body, states of interaction with the world that optimise - in a comprehensive and profound manner - the machinery of relevance realization, our connectedness to the world, to ourselves and to each other.

Considering Music

This would, for example, explain why music is so deeply associated with sacredness. I mean, music isn't about anything, not in a conceptual referential sense! Nevertheless, as Nietzsche said, “Life would be a mistake without music” because in music we are playing just with the machinery of salience landscaping, just with all of this machinery in a powerful way, for no other reason than for its own sake! We try to get into a flow state in which we are - just for its own sake - seriously playing with this machinery. And that's why music is such a pivotal way in which we try to convey and represent The Sacred, and why music strikes us so perspectively, in such a participatory way. We don't just think about music [-] it insinuates its way into our perspective of salience landscape and we embody it, the rhythms and what's happening in the music becomes sewn into our processes of co-identification; the way the world as an arena is disclosed to me, and the way my agency is being structured are being deeply transformed by music. One of the great difficulties with our culture, of course - and I suppose we need to do work on this, how it contributes to the meaning crisis - is the degree to which we have trivialised music and the degree to which we have severed it from, at least explicitly and consciously, from it's connection to The Sacred. I think why many people still are so deeply dependent on music, especially when they're going through any transformative period in their life, is precisely because of the way it puts them back in touch and helps them remember, at least intuitively, some of this machinery of seriously playing with the higher order relevance realization machinery of sacredness.


Now that opens up something that we need to talk about because I'm now invoking how we can use something that's - and we're gonna have to do work on this - something that's symbolic, like music, in order to like play, in order to activate, accentuate and play with this machinery in a powerfully transformative manner. And of course Religions, which have these aspects to them, also are rich with the symbolic machinery that is designed to activate and seriously play with this. So I want to talk about the relationship or the role that symbols have in our experience of sacredness. (Cleans the board)

So the important thing is how we're going to use this word, and ‘symbol’, originally means to put two things together (writes Symbol - Sign on the board). And I want to distinguished this - and the talk that I did with Chris that you'll see on one of the talks also distinguishes - between a symbol and a sign. So I'm not going into great detail here; this is sort of central and semiotic. Because we use this term (symbol) in multiple ways, like we talk about abstract symbolic thought, but then we talk about the cross as an important religious symbol and we can get very quickly confused! And so a sign refers (writes refers off of Sign)… So, by looking at it, we can look through it to look at something else. So I can use this (draws a heart) as a sign for love, because when you see this, it helps you to think of love. But this doesn't actually exemplify! Symbols refer (writes refer off of symbol), but more importantly, they exemplify (adds exemplify to refer under symbol) in a particular way: they exemplify by getting you to participate in that to which they refer (adds participation off of refer/exemplify). They're going to invoke, of course, participatory knowing because they have to do, ultimately, with getting down to the machinery of the agent arena, participatory relationship.

So compare this (the heart) as a sign for love, and this (symbol side) is something - as I said that Chris and I did - [a-likened] to kissing someone, because kissing someone doesn't just make you think of love that actually gets you to participate. It activates and gets the machinery…/ kissing is, and I mean this, carefully, is a serious play with the machinery of the agent arena relationship so that we can participate in a reciprocal relationship with another human being, where [-] there's reciprocal realization occurring between us; we can together remember the being mode, et cetera. So there's a difference there.

Bringing Metaphor Back In

I want to try and unpack this a little bit more. Symbols do this sort of double job (indicating refer/exemplify [by] participation). And they do this by having at their core, a metaphor (writes metaphor off of participation). Now, we’ve got to slow down here because this is also something that needs to be understand a little bit more carefully. And we've talked about this before! About [how] the word metaphor is itself a metaphor! It means ‘to carry over’ or ‘carry across’. What I'm doing in a metaphor is I have two different domains (draws a circle and a square) and I want to see this domain (the square) differently. So I basically look through - this was, at least, the theory of Black - I look through this thing (circle) to look at this (square). So I'm saying that ‘Sam is a pig’! Here’s Sam (the square), here's a pig (the circle), I put on sort of ‘pig glasses’ - sorry for that - and then I look at Sam differently (draws an arrow through the circle to the square) and the salience topography of Sam is altered - Ortony talks about this in salience imbalance - and that reconfiguration of what I find salient in Sam allows me to see Sam differently. I get an insight into Sam. And of course I'm not actually claiming that Sam is a pig and I'm not just comparing and saying, Sam was like a pig. I'm doing this act of looking through and seeing this and thereby getting an insight into it in an important way. That's fine. Okay, now we have to understand, first of all, how pervasive and profound metaphor is (writes these off of metaphor) because we have a tendency to think of it, again, as largely ornamental! Our culture is so beset, comprehensively, by patterns of trivialisation! Again, and again, again, you hear me say, we have trivialised this, we have trivialised that!

Okay, we've talked about this, but I want to bring it back and develop it a little bit, how much of our thinking - and this goes to the work of Lakoff and Johnson, but I'll criticise it in a minute, and also somebody who I'm going to talk about later, Barfield - that we don’t realize how much of our cognition, our ways of thinking and interacting with the world, are being structured by metaphor. So to use an example “I’m halfway through this lecture” as if I was moving through a space, but I hope you get my point (holds up a bottle (half full?)). Or at least see what I'm saying (points to his eyes). But you might not be able to, because some of this stuff I'm saying is really hard (presses down firmly on the desktop), it's really hard! It's really hard to get my point (picks up a pen and taps the pointy end), but I hope you ‘understand’ me! It used to be unterstand, by the way, stand within, but we changed it to understand, stand under. It's interesting. Even words that you don't realize are metaphorical, have a metaphorical origin like interest! Remember this? ‘Inter esse’, to be within something? So there were often…/ see we're much more naturally poetic than we realize! We are constantly trying to do this! Use one thing, look through one thing at another.

Now I have some criticisms of Lakoff and Johnson because they argue that what it is, is [that] I have some embodied practice, and then that just gets projected up into abstract thought (details this on the board: ‘embodied’ UP via ‘projected’ to ‘abstract thought’). And so one of their prototypical examples is [that] we'll say things like “he attacked my argument!” And that's supposed to be from the hallmark of abstract thought that's from argumentation where we're at our most rational, but we're actually using this word ‘attacked’ which goes back [down] to physical assault (has now detailed attacked DOWN to physical assault). And the idea is we take what we have [DOWN] here and we project it [UP] onto here (physical assault up to attacked). I think this notion of projection is too simplistic. But this is the basic idea: I know what this is because it's embodied physical interaction (does lots of moving with his arms); it's participatory, right? I know what it is to attack somebody (throws some punches) and then I use that, I sort of just project that onto the abstract conceptual domain. And that's how I get “he attacked my argument”! This reminds me of a point in Barfield. Barfield says you read in the old texts, and they'll use words like pneuma - which stands either for wind or spirit - and we can only hear it one way or the other and that's why we break it into two words. I sort of get what Barfield is saying here, but the point is [that] we use this word (attack) and we move between these without realising it: “we attacked the castle” [and] “he attacked my argument”, and those aren't the same, but we may actually not notice that we're using them differently.

Now why do I say that? Well, this is work that I published - a couple articles with John Kennedy - where we said this simple model of just projecting (up) doesn't seem quite right! Because this (attacked), for example, carries with it, I can say “I attack the castle” or “I assaulted the castle!” Right? But if I say “I assaulted his argument”, it's like, what?? What does that mean? That's weird!! The near synonym doesn't transfer! And notice the reverse [starting with] abstract thought and instead of saying, “I attacked his argument”, I can say “I criticised his argument”. But if I say, “ah, let's criticise the castle”, you don’t… what? WHAT? That sounds like a weird Monte Python routine!!

See, what I'm trying to show you is [that] there isn't a simple sort of identity relation, we didn't just project this (indicates relation between attacked and physical assault)! And it's not that we're just sort of trapped between two meanings. We seem to clearly have a sense of this (attacked) that points downward towards the physical assault and then points upwards - if you'll allow me these metaphors! - towards the conceptual. Notice also something else. Notice the [four] things I used earlier: I used “Did you see my point?”, “Do you grasp what I'm saying?”, “Do you understand it?”, “Do you get it?” Okay? (Writes these four things out together) These are very different interactions! These are very different things! There’s seeing, there's understanding, there's getting and there's grasping (physically demonstrates these four different things). And yet all of those independently converge towards making something intelligible, right? (Draws four converging lines up from these different things to a common circle) The act of making something intelligible - what selected these four very different things and drew them up to their common converged meaning (the circle)? See, what I'm trying to show you is [that] it's not simply that this (physical assault) gets projected up. There's also something up here (draws a similar circle beside attacked) that's constraining and acting downward, helping us select which of all of our embodied existence we are going to use for our more abstract, conceptual topics. So why is that important? Because I think that points towards a different way of understanding what the metaphor is doing. There, of course, is an element of projecting - if projecting means to throw - but I think there's something much more complicated and interesting going on in a metaphor that isn't simply projection, which is of course itself a metaphor.

So I think that symbols are going to tap into these deeper kinds of metaphors, not just the metaphors that are the ornamentations of language. These are the metaphors - these more profound metaphors - that are structuring our cognition and I'm trying to point out to you that they have not only a bottom up emergence; they have a top down emanation going on in them [too]. There's a sense in which both sides are interacting in a powerful way. We need a much more dynamic account of what's at work in metaphor. So let's build towards that dynamic account and we've already gained something that symbols are going to be making use of these profound metaphors - the metaphors that are not just metaphors of speech, but are structuring the way we are making sense, making meaning of the world.

Holding In Mind

Now, one important point of these kinds of metaphors that triggers on the participation gets into the profundity, but is doing something with it is one of the jobs of these metaphors is to hold in mind. So let me give you an example of this. We care about justice. We really do! It's important to us. Our culture in fact is really wrestling with what “does justice mean” and “how do we best serve it? How do we best realize?” But that means you need to be able to reflect on justice. You need to be able to contemplate it, to think about it. If you're going to think about it - and not just emote or assert about it - if you're going to think about it, you need to hold it in mind! But how do you hold it in mind? If I were to ask you, without repeating the word justice, hold justice in mind. Do it! Hold it! What are you doing? You might be holding sort of a prototypical instance. But when I do this, and I do this repeatedly with my class, what people tell me is, well, when they want to contemplate justice so [that] they can reflect on it and get clear about what it means to them, they often invoke a symbol. They invoke the symbol of the woman, blindfolded, holding a sword, [-] holding the scales. So one of the things you notice is that this of course is a profound metaphor. We use the notions of balance all throughout our talk about justice. We also use the sword as deciding, cutting, right? But let's stick with the balance. This allows us to hold justice in mind. That's like stop! Pause. If that's all a symbol was doing that in and of itself is such a valuable thing! We need to pause and appreciate! If I can't relate to justice in a participatory fashion where I can engage in it and I'm trying to internalise it and I'm trying to get clearer about it, I can't do any of that unless I can activate it and hold it in mind. And I need a symbol to do that. Well, the symbol is metaphorical! Justice isn't literally a scale, a balance!

What's going on here and how does it plug into where I'm trying to argue? There's something more than just projection going on. And this gets me to a notion that I've mentioned to you before: Exaptation. [There’s] really, really important work - you gotta read his book - by Michael Anderson (“After Phrenology” - Neural Reuse and the Interactive Brain) on this. This is the idea that your brain is a self-exaptation machine, not only across species evolutionarily, but more recently in his work within a brain and its own development. So to remember the example, my tongue has been exapted for speech. It has a structural functional organization for doing a particular set of tasks, but of course it has - remember, the robot and the battery? - it has all kinds of side effects. And those side effects are an ongoing reservoir of sets of capacities that I can tap into and make a new structural, functional organization to do a new thing, which is what I'm doing right now. I'm speaking. So the tongue has been exapted for speech. And what he's arguing is that a lot of what we see in our cognition is what he calls circuit reuse. Circuits that have been used for one thing get reused, can get exapted in the way I've just described by reconfiguring their structural functional organization so that side effects become central effects. And what you do is you get a new machine, a new capacity created that way.

So let's try and think about this. We've got a clear example in the cerebellum. The cerebellum originally evolved for helping you to keep your physical balance. And what it does is it takes information from many different sense modalities and is constantly looking for how to find patterns of contingency, patterns of relationship between what's happening in my vision, what's happening in my body. And it's really helping to do all this sophisticated coordination and smoothing out so that they start to coordinate together much better. That's your cerebellum. It's centrally involved in your balance. But you know what you've done? The cerebellum has been exapted to… It's [-] used not only for finding balance between my seeing and my moving, it’s been exapted to find deeper coordination between any different areas of domain in your brain. The cerebellum also allows you to integrate your vision with your working memory so that you can do visual imagery. Now let's put this together carefully. You've got this machinery of exaptation, you've got balance, and now what you're doing when you call up the balance idea, is you're actually - notice your cerebellum has been exapted up to helping to manage massively complex contingencies between variables - you know what you have to do to be a just person? You have to know how to balance. You have to optimise the relationship between, you have to pick up on and coordinate and smooth out the complex interaction between multiple variables.
That's justice. You know what you can do if you invoke balance and don't just talk about it, but try and participate in it? You can actually do the reverse of this. You can go back through balance and trigger, activate… You can go from justice through balance back to activating the machinery of the cerebellum (writes, top down, Justice => balance => activating the machinery of the cerebellum).

Normally I am looking through all of that machinery at something. But what I can do with the symbol is “No, no! I want to actually, sort of retrace, reactivate, go back through exaptation and activate the machinery of balance so that I can then use that machinery in order to get an optimal grip on this other domain, which is justice!” See this isn't just simple projection. There is not only a projecting up, there is an emanating back down. You're also reversing and going down and trying to reactivate this machinery in important ways. There's a top down guidance that is intersecting with the bottom up projection. And so the symbol is, in that sense, deeply participatory.

You are trying to participate in this activation of the very cognitive machinery that is used both in participating in balance - you don't just look at balance, you have to be balanced perspectively [and] participatory - and then taking that machinery into being just, having your perspectival and participatory machinery aligned in a certain way. That's what the symbol is doing for you. It is deeply participatory. It allows you to hold in mind and then look back through to activate, and then bring that back up to have insight - participatory and perspectival insight - into something like justice. We're going to talk more next time about The Symbol and how it relates to our experience of Sacredness.

Thank you very much for your time and attention.


Episode 34 - Notes

To keep this site running, we are an Amazon Associate where we earn from qualifying purchases

The Idea of the Holy
"Otto and his book that, as I mentioned, was typically entitled The Idea Of The Holy"
“The Idea of the Holy”: An Inquiry into the Non-Rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational is a book by the German theologian and philosopher Rudolf Otto, published in 1917. It argues that the defining element of the holy is the experience of a phenomenon which Otto calls the numinous.
Book mentioned: The Idea of Holy - Buy Here

Mary Douglas
"The monster points to something very, very interesting. And this goes back to the work of Mary Douglas"
Dame Mary Douglas, DBE FBA was a British anthropologist, known for her writings on human culture and symbolism, whose area of speciality was social anthropology. Douglas was considered a follower of Émile Durkheim and a proponent of structuralist analysis, with a strong interest in comparative religion.

Max Black
"Metaphor - this was, at least, the theory of Black"
Max Black was a British-American philosopher, who was a leading figure in analytic philosophy in the years after World War II. He made contributions to the philosophy of language, the philosophy of mathematics and science, and the philosophy of art, also publishing studies of the work of philosophers such as Frege.

Andrew Ortony
Ortony talks about this in salience imbalance
Andrew Ortony - Google Scholar

Lakoff and Johnson
“Metaphors We Live By” is a book by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson published in 1980. The book suggests metaphor is a tool that enables people to use what they know about their direct physical and social experiences to understand more abstract things like work, time, mental activity and feelings.
Book Mentioned: Metaphors We Live By - Buy Here 

Arthur Owen Barfield (9 November 1898 – 14 December 1997) was a British philosopher, author, poet, critic, and member of the Inklings.

John Kennedy
"Well, this is work that I published - a couple articles with John Kennedy"
Kennedy, J. M. and Vervaeke, J. (2008) How does body ground mind?

Michael Anderson “After Phrenology” - Neural Reuse and the Interactive Brain
A proposal for a fully post-phrenological neuroscience that details the evolutionary roots of functional diversity in brain regions and networks.The computer analogy of the mind has been as widely adopted in contemporary cognitive neuroscience as was the analogy of the brain as a collection of organs in phrenology.
Book Mentioned: After Phrenology: Neural Reuse and the Interactive Brain - Buy Here

Other helpful resources about this episode:
Notes on Bevry
Additional Notes on Bevry

Ep. 33 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - The Spirituality of RR: Wonder/Awe/Mystery/Sacredness

Welcome back to awakening from the meaning crisis. Last time I suppose I probably taxed your attention quite a bit because we got into, I tried to keep it as accessible as possible, as jargon free as possible, but we got into some of the nitty gritty of how we could potentially give a naturalistic explanation of Relevance Realization, and see it potentially in being implemented in terms of self-organized criticality and small world networks formation in the brain. And that that in turn could help us to understand general intelligence, insight and a lot of the functionality - and I was even arguing - a lot of the phenomenological aspects of consciousness. And that gives us reason to believe that we may be able to use this machinery to elegantly explain a lot of the central features of human spirituality. We've already seen that this Relevance Realization is Transjective; it’s about our fundamental connectedness. Connectedness to the world, connectedness with mind, body together. I'll have to come back to connectedness, to other people. That Relevance Realization is always deeply affective - that at the core of Relevance Realization is a caring that is integral to your cognitive commitment of your precious cognitive, metabolic and temporal resources. That we can see a lot of the stuff that Heidegger was talking about when he was trying to get us back to this primordial sense of meaning in the Transjectivity of Relevance Realization, and that that interpretation of Heidegger comes via Dreyfus and our being in the world.

The Phenomenology Of Relevance Realization

I want to pick up on that now. Instead of just being suggestive, I want to now try and carefully unpack what I want to call the phenomenology of Relevance Realization in terms of meaning making, the kind of meaning making that, ultimately, we have gathered together by the term “Spirituality. So let's gather what we've done. (Proceeds to list all the following on the board) Okay. So we had Problem Solving, and we went over this again in more detail last time. We have Insight, Categorization… all of these things seem to be pro…/ Demonstrative Reference; that's the Finsting, and we put that within the Salience Landscaping. Consciousness, and closely tied to it Working Memory (WM). And then tied to that of course, is (g) (General Intelligence). We’ve got Inference; that was the stuff with Cherniak. We've got Communication. All of this (draws convergence arrows from all of these) is feeding into Relevance Realization (R.R.). We could give a naturalistic, structural functional organization of it in terms of Self-Organizing Criticality (SOC) and Small World Networks (SWN), where these are understood to mean families of processes, and these are deeply related together (draws circular feedback arrows between SOC and SWN). And as I've said, we've already got that this is inherently a Transactive. We've got [that] this is an ongoing Evolving [and] Involving - that's what I'm trying to get with caring and participation and how [-] the knowhow is grounded in the situational awareness of Perspectival Knowing, that's grounded in the Participatory, Transjective coupling to the world. So it's this Evolving, Involving Optimization process of your Connectedness; your Fittedness to yourself, to the world, to other people in communication, for example.

All right. (Begins a list on the RIGHT side of the diagram - the post RR divergent side.) I’ve already given you an argument about how, via Complexification this gives us an account of our capacity for Self Transcendence, our capacity to produce emergent functions. And we saw that even connected with insight. And we can see that at work directly out of this now (Indicates SOC <=> SWN + (Naturalistic Account of RR)), why self-transcendence, the capacity for self-transcendence to overcom[e] self-deception is actually endemic to your meaning making machinery. In connection with that, of course, this would also explain - these two are related - your tremendous capacity for Self Deception, for bullshitting yourself! Because this has to do with, ultimately, your Salience Landscaping, et cetera. As I mentioned - and that's part of here (SOC <=> SWN +) - the Connectedness that's so central to people's sense of meaning in life - being connected to something that is in some sense greater than them, other than them in an important way, but to whom their identity is nevertheless coupled. I've tried to show you how it gives us a nice account of Perspectival Knowing and Participatory Knowing, and how these two can come together in Procedural Knowing - we'll talk a bit more about that - but the creating of affordances, we've talked multiple times how affordances are the obviation of a transjective relationship within which my skills, my capacity to solve problems, can be reliably trained and developed. [We] talked about, like I said, that this has an aspect of deep Caring in it, so you're going to find the sense of Significance here; this is something that you care about, you bind yourself to, you commit yourself to in a very important way. I already suggested, and I tried to give you that with the account, last time, of insight, how this can help explain what's going on in Altered States of Consciousness (ASC), while you're getting both a change in your salience landscaping, the change in your Relevance Realization machinery, how it can be altering your optimal grip. Optimal gripping is also a case of optimization that fits within this (SOC <=> SWN +), helped to explain our Higher States of Consciousness.

Now I want to start pointing out some other aspects of it that I think contribute to it being - how do I want to say this? - represented, understood, grasped as spiritual in nature. Let's take a look at some of the features of Relevance Realization that have come out of this argument. (Continuing the list on the RIGHT side of the diagram.) So these are all going to be ways in which we experience this as our Fundamental Framing of reality. But I…, [-] but that's good, but it has a sense of us standing outside! We're inside the framing. We are participating in it. Okay? It has to do with the framing is at the level of the Agent: Arena. It's not just looking out. It's the inclusive relationship. But I want to point to the fundamentality of this, what I would argue this as a way of interpreting what Heidegger means by the Primordiality of what he was talking about. I'll criticise Heidegger later - I have criticisms of him - but I'm also trying to point out how this work (indicates the entire board), which seems so technical in some sense, can be connected to some very, well, deeply existential and phenomenological philosophy.

The Fundamentality Of Spirituality

Okay, so first of all, the Fundamentality of this: So notice that this (RR) is ultimately Pre-conceptual in nature (adds Pre-conceptual to the list, off of Fundamental Framing). It has to be because it's below your level of propositional processing: In order to have concepts, you have to categorize (left side). In order to categorize, you have to have Relevance Realization. Also, in order to categorize, you have to first have demonstrative reference (also left side), which is pure pre-conceptual Relevance Realization… So this (Fundamental Framing) is ultimately pre-conceptual in a deep way. And in that important sense, it’s ultimately Pre-Propositional. If what we mean by belief - and it's often what we mean by belief - is the assertion of propositions and their implications, then Relevance Realization is taking place at a level fundamentally deeper than the level of belief. Now, you understand that I'm not proposing that this is just a bottom up process!! Of course, how we conceptualise things and how we have beliefs about things feeds back down! That's why all those diagrams have feedback down arrows in them. But, we're talking about belief ultimately as an effect, it feeds back and effects, but it is ultimately have an effect of Relevance Realization because, of course, this fundamental framing is Pre-Inferential in a deep way because inference [(indicates bottom of the list on the left)]. It's Pre-Communication. That means you can…/ “oh well, I learned this from other people!” Well, no, you can’t! There's a sense in which you can refine it from other people, but you can't ultimately learn it from other people because (indicates left side of the diagram) learning presupposes it! Being able to pay attention to your mother and pick up on how she's communicating with you and make inferences from that so that you start to categorize the world and figure out that this is a bottle presupposes this (RR). And that points to something else: this is Pre-Experiential. Not in the sense that it's happening to you before you have, like, in some previous life! What I mean is that your meaningfully structured experience, the level of common sense obviousness is a result of it. It [is] not generate[d] it by the level of common sense, obvious, meaningful world. It is generated…/ that world (SOC <=> SWN +) is generated out of Relevance Realization being coupled to the environment. So it is pre-experiential.

It is Pre-Egoic - I think in some important ways it's also Post-Egoic, but I'll come back to that - because your agency and the world as an arena in which you have a narratively structured, reliably acting ego, emerges - these co-emerge out of Relevance Realization. That's why they are primordially connected together in Participatory Knowing. So Relevance Realization is Pre-Egoic. By the time you have ‘you’ in a ‘commonsensically’, obviated world of meaningful objects and situations, Relevance Realization has already done a tremendous, tremendous amount of work. So it's Pre-Egoic. It's Pre-Normative, and that's gonna, “Oooooh!!!” some people are not going to like that. Let me… I’m got to qualify that! It's Pre-Normative in the sense that it's your primordial normativity. Before you can assess truth, things have to be meaningful to you. Before you can assess beauty, they have to be aspectualized for you. Before you can assess goodness, you have to have agency and arena. This makes possible your normative judgments as to what is true, what is good and what is beautiful! I'm not saying that those judgments are reducible. That's ridiculous! I'm not saying that, but I'm saying this is primordial to them. That was part of what I think Heidegger was going on about.

So, what I want to talk about now is doing a little bit more of filling out… Putting all of this together (indicates all of the right side of the diagram). Notice how much this points to aspects of human spirituality. You have self-transcendence but you also have foolishness. You have the connectedness, you have the perspectival and participatory knowing you have the co-creation, the co-emergence, the core determination of the agent: arena. You have the core binding together of your agency, your caring and your cognition. Think about Plato. It helps to explain the association of altered States of consciousness and especially higher States of consciousness with human spirituality and notice a lot of the features that, you know, that our spirit is somehow it's deeper, it's deep! Like we have all these deepness metaphors and profundity metaphors, because, well, look what I'm showing you: that it's deeper than your ego, it’s deeper than your judgements of truth, goodness and beauty. It's deeper than your propositional thinking. It's deeper than your conceptualisation. The way that can be spoken of is not the way! It is pre-inferential. It is pre-communication. It is pre-experiential. It is a fundamental grounding of your being and you're being connected because I'm arguing that those are one and the same.

Religio And “The Joy Of Secularism”

A lot of what is captured by your spirituality is captured by this, the way this machinery unfolds phenomenologically, prospectively, in a participatory fashion. There's these aspects of this that [are] therefore, in a fundamental sense, unconscious, but there are deep aspects of this in our consciousness and there are deep aspects in this, in how our cognition and our consciousness are connected to the world. I want to use a term here, and then I'm going to develop it, for the whole right hand side. I want a term for all of this (gesturing and flinging his arms in a semi-organised fashion at the board). So that I don't have to keep just gesturing and flinging my arms in a semi-organised fashion at the board. I'm going to use a term here. I'm going to use the term Religio, and I'm using it deliberately. Let me explain why! First of all, as soon as you see that many of you are hearing “Religion”, but I'm not using the word religion, I'm using the word Religio, but I want the associations with religion, nevertheless, to be there. Religio is one of the purported etymological origins of the word religion: ‘religare’, which means to read back - which is importantly similar. This (Religio) means to bind together, to bind together, to connect. So it obviously is pointing to this (RR), but it carries with it many of these aspects (right side of the diagram); the primordiality, the fundamental framing of Relevance Realization and all of this machinery. So when I invoke Religio, I am basically invoking the right hand of this diagram. So Religio is in that sense, I'm using the term, I'm using it in a spiritual sense but…/ okay! So the thing here, you know, Paul Vanderclay would probably say that this is a word that fudges ‘spiritual’ and I don't want to be fudging! I am trying to specify how I'm using this word in detail and in organization. Religio is… I'm using it in a spiritual sense, [in] the sense of a pre-egoic, ultimately a post-egoic, binding that simultaneously grounds the self and its world.

Now I want to pick up on that, and pick up on the evolving, involvement, caring, participant… like all of this (right side of the diagram). And I want to read you a couple of quotes from an article by Paolo Costa in a book called the joy of secularism. He has a fantastic article there called “A Secular Wonder”, and he wants to try and explain what's going on in wonder - and think about wonder; think about how it's pointing towards the insight, the sense of opening up, but also the connectedness, how it’s perspectival and participatory, how it involves your caring, how it often can merge with awe and altered States and potentially higher States!

So wonder is central, right? But notice [-] the machinery he uses to explain wonder, this is a quote: “The very ordinary fact that things always matter...” and he puts [matter] in quotes “…in some way or other to us, and that we cannot help but be affected by things as if we were immersed in a sort of bubble of meaningfulness…” Notice it's the Relevance Realization, how things matter to us, and he uses the word matter because it's that importance, that constitutive kind of Relevance Realization and we're immersed in it. (Indicates SOC <=> SWN + on the board) We're immersed in it. “…we were immersed in sort of a bubble of meaningfulness, or better in an atmosphere of significance…” an atmosphere of significance (points at the board) “…an import…” notice the word import is already here! “…that we do not create from scratch…” We do not create it, but are absorbed by! “…the metaphor of the atmosphere should see that it's not only the image of a global container, but also of a rhythm of breathing…” breathing (indicates SOC <=> SWN +) - the compression and particularization, the generalisation and the [-] specialisation, the assimilation and the accommodation… The breathing are the lifeblood of our spirit. “…The metaphor of the atmosphere should [see that it’s] not only the image of a global container, but also that of a rhythm of breathing and of a light refraction…” it's doing Relevance Realization!!! It's refracting the light, structuring the intelligibility!! “…to which a living being must…” listen to this word, “…must attune or adjust herself.” All the Participatory Knowing! This is from somebody who's commenting on secularism!

He goes on to point out there's a central consequence of what he calls a ‘bubble of significance’. This is another quote, “The experience of having a world…” hear the Heidegger in here? “…has its roots, not in a head on and focused relationship with a clearcut object…” it is not something that we have as a focal object, something that we can objectify with an ‘I: it’ conceptualisation “…the experience of having a world has its roots, not in a head on and focused relationship with a clearcut object, but in the emergence of a bubble of significance that for a Sentient Being plays the same role that is played by the atmosphere with regard to the earth.” You participate in the atmosphere; you contribute to it, but you emerge from it and you did not make it. “…It creates, that is, ‘special’ conditions of life where existentially crucial distinctions between inside and outside are drawn.” That primordial ground makes all the distinctions between the inner and the outer possible for us. The Transjectivity is deeper than our subjectivity and our objectivity because the constitution of subjectivity and objectivity require all of this machinery (indicates the left side of the diagram).

Wonder And Awe

He then goes on to argue that because we aren't aware of the atmosphere in a focal, objectified way - I mean, as a perceptually focalised object, I don't mean as an object of thought, right? - he then goes on to argue that “The atmospheric nature of the bubble of significance means that we don't experience it as a focal object, but through non-focal states such as…” and here's the point of his article “…wonder and awe.” Or, I would add, their opposites, which we'll talk about later, absurdity and horror. So wonder is that state in which we become aware in a Participatory and Perspectival way, not in a focal way, but in a Perspectival and Participatory way of the significance (indicates middle section of the diagram on the board) and our involvement and our indebtedness to, and our participation from, and our committedness to the atmosphere of Relevance Realization.

One is tempted here - and I'm worried here about being sacrilegious, so I’m using this analogously, please! But the analogy is meant to be a strong one also - this ‘atmosphere’…/ you see what Costa is doing here? He's invoking [-] what Saint Paul said “God is in whom we live and move and have our being”. I'm not claiming that Relevance Realization is God, that's ridiculous. I'm not doing that. But what I'm saying is [that] wonder and awe - which are often directed towards things like God - are ways that Costa is arguing in which we disclose the Relevance Realization and it's spiritual significance to us (indicates central and right side of the diagram respectively), the way in which within it, we live and move and have our being. Again, this is from a person who is trying to articulate a secular sense of spirituality.

Now, somebody who is aligned with this, but I don't think is secular, is the masterful work by Robert Fuller on Wonder. His book on Wonder (called “Wonder: From Emotion To Spirituality”) is just a fantastic book, and he also argues how central wonder is! Now what’s interesting [is] he does two things that align with this (Religio) so well, and I highly recommend this book [-] because it's a book “From Emotion To Spirituality”, and what he argues, what Fuller argues, is that of course wonder is responsible for some of our deepest spiritual experiences, our deepest experiences, of what I'm calling Religio. But he does that by precisely explaining the fundamental functionality of things like wonder. See wonder is basically in the Being mode where curiosity is in the Having mode. And curiosity - now I'm using these terms in their prototypical senses! We use these terms in various slippery fashions, so I'm not claiming that every time we use the word wonder, [that] every time we use the word curiosity… but I'm talking about the kind of wonder that can overlap very readily and prototypically with awe, and I'm talking about the kind of curiosity that overlaps prototypically with our solving our problems and are manipulating the world in a way that we find powerful and efficacious. See, and again, remember what I said, and it's not the one mode is good and the other mode is bad, but you've got curiosity within the having mode, and that's great! Right? Because curiosity is problem solving. It's focused, it has a focal object. Curiosity is directed: “What is that? What does that do? How does that work?” Wonder is (big gasp!!! Arms outstretched) it's non-focal, it's the opening up. It's the awe, it's the sense of the atmosphere. It's the perspectival and participatory sense of (gasping again) “Oh! Oh! Ahhh!” And what Fuller argues is - and he makes use of [-] people like Fredrickson and others - it’s this emotion, the point of wonder is, if curiosity gets you to focus in on specific features of the world, specific objects, wonder tries to get you to participate in the gestalt, the whole, how does it all fit together? Awe pushes you towards on opening, an ongoing accommodation, a sense of the inexhaustibleness, the combinatorial explosive nature of reality and the ongoing, evolving adaptability of your Relevance Realization to that explosive potential within reality itself. That's what wonder does. Wonder isn't about solving a problem. Wonder is about remembering Sati, your Being, by putting you deeply in touch - notice the language - in touch with Religio.


Now, that brings me to another aspect that overlaps with the primordiality, or what I'm calling the Fundamentality, the Fundamental Framing. But [-] think about how wonder gives you something like Da'ath again, it gives you the sense of participating, emerging from, co-creating with, the ongoing course of your world. Not as a story though! But something you can talk about with a story, like we talk about evolution as a story, but it isn't itself a story, it's grounded in something deeper. So, Wonder, Awe… It’s not about solving problems. Remember the Having mode is about solving problems, the Being mode is about confronting a Mystery. Okay, I’m going to take it that this (diagram) has been now etched into your brain, and I am going to [-] rely on the word Religio to invoke all of the right side and the fact that [that] is dependent on the argument that came from the left side as well (wipes the board clean). So think about, wonder, think about awe (writes these on the board, Awe above Wonder) and what we've been talking about and this remembering of the Being mode - which is so central to spirituality, right? So that's another aspect of this. Okay, so think about this (Awe) as Accommodation, that ‘opening up’, [-] when I accommodate, I come to know something by how I am transformed in order to come into contact with it, and in [-] my self-knowing of how I've changed and [-] the disclosure, my realization of that, what that is, are bound together. Like prototypically, when you're in love with somebody, Da’ath. Okay, so this is accommodation and it's in the being mode (underlines accommodation and adds Being mode), you're remembering Sati. And in the Being mode, you're confronting a mystery (adds mystery, off of Being mode). Do you remember, [we] talked about Marcel's idea about how a mystery - and notice the machine - we’ve got (draws a little box), here's how I framed my problem, and then I realized - there's a kind of insight - that my, so there's an insight that “Oh, that framing is, it's problematic!” And I moved to a more encompassing frame (draws another slightly bigger box around the first), and “Oh, no!” And then what starts to happen is (draws yet another encompassing box with an arrow going from inside the first box to the outer box), [Gasp!!], I'm opening up, “Ahhhhh”, right? I'm opening up, and my insight goes from a reframing to a transframing, because I stopped having insights about my focal problem [and] I start getting an insight, not about just the problem or the world, I also - remember of the sensibility transcendence; I'm also getting an insight into the inadequacies of my style of framing, my way of framing - I'm getting a trans-framing happening.

You get this Trajectory Of Transframing. It doesn't stabilise, and that's the point! It can't land on a focal object! All it's disclosing in the trajectory of transforming is the machinery of Religio. And yet you find that - like flow - you find that deeply meaningful. To a point. If it's pushed too far it becomes deeply meaningful in a negative sense, of horror. Now think about this. Think about how - and we have to be really careful here - I want to talk about the mystery of Religio (writes Religio off of mystery). But I need to make a distinction here and it’s a distinction I've discussed before, but let's go over it very carefully. There's a distinction between something being a phenomenological mystery and it being something that I can not theoretically explain. To equivocate them is to equivocate between Propositional and Perspectival Knowing, for example, and we should not equivocate between them because they're not identical. So for example, it is phenomenologically impossible for me to Perspectively know what it is like to be dead, because whenever I try to conjure up a frame (indicates the smallest, central box in the diagram), “Oh, I'm in a dark room! But wait, I'm still there in the dark room. There's the hereness and the nowness… Oh well, then I'm nowhere! Well, then I'm just an empty…!” No matter what I do, I can't get a framing that has within it my own non-existence, perspectively. But that is not proof that I'm immortal. It is not proof that I've existed for all time. Of course not. That's ridiculous! That's a mistake. That's an equivocation. So when I'm talking about mystery, I'm not talking automatically…/ you need an additional argument. You need an additional argument to go from phenomenological mystery to the claim of theoretical inexplicability. They do not follow because they are not identical for the deep reason that Propositional and Perspectival Knowing are not identical. That is an equivocation.

So I'm talking about a phenomenological mystery here. Well, what is at the core of Religio? Well, the death example actually points to something more primordial! It points to the fact that I can never make a focal object of my framing, my capacity for Relevance Realization. I mean, Perspectively. What I mean by that is whenever I am thinking or doing anything, [-] it's always framed because if I'm unframed, I'm facing combinatorial explosion, which is not intelligible to me. So whatever I'm thinking of is inside the frame (draws another little frame/box). But what is precisely not inside the frame is the framing process (draws a little arrow connecting to the frame/box). So here's the frame, or here's the framed - even better! (Writes framed inside the box.) And here's the framing (the arrow), and what's not in there is the framing! “OH!!!” you say, “Oh, what I'll do is I'll do this. (Draws a bigger frame around the framing + framed diagram, encompassing it all) HAHA! That was easy, John!!! HAAA, John! I got you! That was easy!!!” NO! You didn't get me because (changes Framing to another Framed and draws another arrow outside the bigger box, connecting to it) what's outside here still is… what is framing that? You cannot have this… You can't have it as a focal object. It is mysterious. It is phenomenologically mysterious. James pointed to this in a wonderful distinction between the I and the Me (I: Me). These are the aspects of you that you can bring into view. “Well, who am I? Well, I'm John Vervaeke and this is what I look like” - here's an image in my mind - and what's not there is whatever it is that's generating that name and that image. And then I go deeper and say, “Ah, but here's the part [-] that was generating the part that was… (gesticulates a regression)” [-] I can never see - and the pun again, right!? - “I can never see the I, I’m always seeing by means of the I”. It is phenomenologically mysterious to [us], but it doesn't mean that I'm unaware of it. I always have - to use older language, from the course I mean - I always have a subsidiary awareness. I'm always aware through my “I” of my “me”. I'm always aware through my framing of my framed. I'm not completely out of touch with it. It is not inaccessible to me, but I cannot focalised it. I can not make it a focal object. I cannot frame it. The machinery of Relevance Realization is in that sense, deeply phenomenologically mysterious to me. It doesn't mean I can't talk about it theoretically. I've just been doing it! But it has a deep phenomenological mystery to me! The fact that it grounds, it makes possible my subjectivity and the objectivity, where what I mean by that is things constellated into objects that we can make inferences about, et cetera (writes subjectivity and objectivity on the board and triangulates them with RR transjectivity). I can't use the grammar of subjects and objects, subjects and predicates, conceptual categories to talk about this (RR transjectivity) in the sense of exemplifying it! I can use words to talk about it in the sense of pointing to it, but I can't produce it in subjective and objective categories precisely because the whole argument points towards its transactive nature. Again, that only [-] makes it phenomenologically mysterious. It doesn't make it a theoretical inexplicability.

I can… look, you cannot confuse properties of your theory with properties of what your theory is about. If I have a theory of light, it itself isn't light! If I have a theory of war, my theory isn't itself an instance of war. If I have a theory of gravity, my theory isn’t itself generating gravity! My theory of vagueness doesn't itself have to be vague! In fact, my theory of vagueness should be clear. My theory doesn't have to exemplify what it's talking about, and there are cases where it cannot exemplify what it is talking about. But that doesn't mean I can't talk about what I'm talking about. It has to be that I have to understand the limitations that are given by the differences between the kinds of Knowing and also the ways in which I can and cannot bridge between these kinds of Knowing.

So there's something deeply phenomenologically mysterious. And in that mystery, the mystery opens up an affordance of a trajectory of transframing that allows us to participate in, perspectively, the kind of wonder and awe of Religio. You can get into something very much like a transjective trajectory flow state in which we are basically celebrating, in flow, our participation in Religio. And we do this, I would argue, for the very good reason that to make significant, to reflect upon, to celebrate and enact Religio is to fundamentally enhance our agency, the disclosure of the world and our connectedness to it. And what else could be more valuable to us? What else could be more valuable to us? (Board is wiped clean.)

The Sacred and Sacredness

So I think there is now a major objection that could be levelled against the argument that I am building. And I take this objection very seriously. This is the argument that, “Yes, John, I will grant you [that] with Costa there's all kinds of wonderful, spiritual, meaningful things on this side. And you're capturing a lot about mystery and self-transcendence and also the negative capacity of bullshitting ourselves and reciprocal narrowing and falling into despair and addiction. That you're capturing all of that! I'll grant you all of that. Perhaps you're not, but just for the sake of the argument… So I'm granting you all of that…” But there's still something missing that I think is central to how I use the word spirituality and what I would say [is] missing from Religio that's found in religion is to confront The Sacred (writes The Sacred on the board). I'm trying to use a term as neutral as possible here because it's unclear, I think, if we should apply the term divinity, for example, to the Buddhist notion of Śūnyatā or the Taoists notion of the Tao. I don't think calling it divine is a plausible interpretation. Whereas God is divine, I don't think you should call the Tao divine, but the Tao is clearly sacred in an important way. And I think for many versions of Buddhism the Śūnyatā has a kind of important kind of sacredness. So the thing here is there's two things we have to talk about and we have to talk about them carefully; keep them distinct, but also show how they're connected (writes The Sacred and Sacredness on the board). So The Sacred is typically when we want some account of the metaphysics of what grounds our experience of sacredness. So this is basically a metaphysical proposal (writes this under The Sacred). A standard Western proposal - although I've already given you an indication that it's not universal; it’s not in things like Buddhism or Taoism - is that the sacred[-] is grounded, the metaphysical proposal is grounded in being supernatural in some sense, and of course that's a very loaded term (adds Supernatural under metaphysical proposal). I'm going to use it in the way I've argued for in this video series, something that is historically constructed, running through people like Aquinas and beyond.

[-] So [that] is the metaphysical proposal, and then you ultimately have a psycho-existential proposal over here (writes psycho-existential proposal under Sacredness) which is… well, this is what it's like to experience sacredness. This distinction comes to the fore, for example, historically - and there's so many people, right? I wish I could talk about more. I need, you know, I need three more series!! But if I tried to run this for 150 episodes, my crew would kill me and then, then there'd be a tragedy! They’d end up in jail! It would just be a mess!! So I'm going to stick to the 50, right? - But [these] proposal[s], pulling these apart, you find this, of course, prototypically, in the work of Schleiermacher where he puts aside this proposal (The Sacred/Metaphysical Proposal) because it's coming into serious disrepute because of the advent of the scientific revolution, and he shifts towards, “well, but what's the psychological, existential experience of sacredness?” and his proposal that it's the experience of absolute dependence coupled, I would argue, with things like wonder and awe. But that distinction came to the fore in work by Schleiermacher. And you can see a lot of theological debate, I would argue - I can't do the argument here - but you could see [a lot of the] theological debate as the debate between a side that wants to emphasise sacredness and a side that wants to emphasise the sacred.

So I want to talk about this (Psycho-Existential Proposal), but I want to talk about this in a way that reflects back on that (Metaphysical Proposal). Why do I start here (Psycho-Existential Proposal)? I start here because, of course, I've argued that Religio is exactly a psycho existential. Very powerfully read this though (underlines existential boldly). This has to do with modal, with the Being mode, it has to do with your modal existence. It has to do with transjectivity, it has to do with primordiality. You have to read this in a deeply Heideggerian sense, but that's what I mean… And psycho (underlines also) meaning having to do with cognitive processing, all the kinds of knowing, your embodiment, your ‘embededness’… So reading psycho - psychological - in also a very comprehensive way. But I'm clearly arguing that Religio [is going] on here (psycho-existential properties). So first of all, I should start here because that's where I'm starting from (Sacredness). And I want to talk about Sacredness within a psycho-existential sense. And then if I can, if - because I’ve already done this (Religio); [I’ve] ground this in RR (writes RR beside Religio), Relevance Realization - then I'm going to make proposals about what this (indicates Metaphysical Proposal & Supernatural) tells us about the kinds of constraints that are available to us in our metaphysical proposal. And I'm going to propose an alternative to this (again indicates Metaphysical Proposal & Supernatural) which I imagine will be controversial, but I hope that the controversy will be constructive rather than merely adversarial. All right, [-] I'm going to start here (Psycho-Existential) and I'm trying to be honest with you, I'm trying to be clear about what I'm trying to do. I'm not trying…/ I don't want to be shuffling any cards from the bottom of the deck here. Right. I'm trying to be as upfront as I possibly can be. Of course I'm not unbiased, or any kind of magical claim like that, but I'm trying my best to put the machinery that I'm aware of using and that I'm deliberately putting into play out front so that we can talk about this as clearly, and as honestly as possible. (Cleans board.)

Okay. So let's talk about Sacredness as a psycho-existential thing. And where I want to start is in the machinery of the agent: arena relationship (writes agent - arena on the board). And I want to bring back the work of Geertz, and we talked about the work of Brian Walsh and we talked about this when we talked about domicide, and domicide as the loss of something. And this points to a very central feature of sacredness, that is so, so central that we can… it’s so backgrounded that we can, I think inappropriately, trivialise it. But remember [-] how disastrous domicide is, remember what happens if you actually experienced domicide: if [-] I fling you into another culture and you experienced deep culture shock, or I isolate you in solitary confinement. Okay. So that deep loneliness, that deep homesickness, that deep cultural shock, that's domiciled. And so part of sacredness, Geertz argues, part of sacredness is ‘to home the world’. That’s… I mean, I understand why he puts it [that way], but it's not homing the world, it's homing us and the world together. Right? [-] We are homed into the world and the world homes around us very much like Costa’s atmospheric bubble. So this is the idea that one of the functions of sacredness is what Geertz called a Meta-Meaning Function. Now he talks about this in his work on religion, but he's definitely in the Schleiermacher side of things. So this is not inappropriate for me to do it this way. And this is something that fits in with our argument very well. Geertz argues - and be careful here because people jump…/ - he argues that religion isn't a system of meaning - “Ooooooooh no!!!” Okay, wait, wait! He thinks it's a system of Meta-Meaning. So, whatever distinct meaning systems we make - here's a legal system, here's a moral system, here's a fashion system, here's an entertainment system - we have all these meaning systems, but notice the argument that we've already made: those are all dependent on the primordiality of the transjective relationship between the agent and the arena. If that relationship doesn't hold, none of those other systems can work, which is why when, if you go to another culture and you don't go through the participatory transformation, right? If you don’t, and you're just experiencing culture shock - domicide - the agent arena relationship isn't in place! Then none of those other meaning systems can work for you. There'll be absurd. They won't make sense. That's what he means by it being a Meta-Meaning system. What it does, he argued, [is] that religion - I would argue what the experience of sacredness is because, again, the word religion fudges between, ‘are we talking about the Schleiermachian sense’, or are we talking about ‘the Metaphysical Referent’? Okay? So, remember, I'm pulling these apart to try and avoid that confusion. So, but what Geertz is talking about here is that if you don't have that (agent/arena), that none of your individual meaning systems work, and ‘religion’, in the sense of the experience, the cultural and individual experience of sacredness, is what gives us the Meta-Meaning system that protects us from domicide. It protects us from the horrors and the absurdities of domicide. So one of the functions of sacredness is the Meta-Meaning process of homing us against horror (Meta-Meaning => Sacredness => Homing Against Horror) where horror would be to be overwhelmed by loneliness. Would be overwhelmed by homesickness, cultural shock and a tremendous sense of alienation, absurdity, and anxiety.

Now that's important! I think that's a very important function of sacredness. What we do when we go into a sacred setting, is we play with Meta-… We have psycho-technologies - and I'll come back and give a [-] clear definition as we work that out, of a psycho-technology - but we have psycho-technologies that allow us to do this serious play with sacredness so that we are constantly being homed against horror. And of course, many of you are aware of all the research showing that people that belong to religious communities or spiritual pathways are much more resilient in the face of the tragedies and horrors of life. That's a reliable finding. [-] You have to seriously consider the other costs, but one of the ways in which you can improve your capacity to make your way through the world is to be committed to a spiritual community and a spiritual path. And presumably it also has a history behind it. It has institutions, et cetera, and that would make it, more prototypically, like a religion. Again, you know me by now, I'm not advocating for a nostalgic return to religion! I'm trying to point out, though, the functionality. So, Worldview Attunement (adds this: Meta-Meaning => Sacredness => Homing Against Horror=>Worldview Attunement). Homing us against horror. Remember Costa even used the word attune in there. That's definitely a function of [Sacredness]. [This is definitely a function of sacredness.]

Now here's where I want to criticise Geertz. I think that while this is definitely an important part of…/ [-] I think that there is a mistake if we think that sacredness can be reduced to, or identified solely with, the machinery of Worldview Attunement and homing us against horror. It's very plausible to me that this is a necessary feature of sacredness, but I do not think it is a sufficient feature. So if we go back to Hellenistic domicide, if you remember, we talked about the different kinds of responses. There was syncretism, and then there was things like stoicism and the remembering of the being mode. But there was also Gnosticism. And Gnosticism keeps reverberating, right? It keeps reverberating through everything we're doing here! And Gnosticism, of course, is a way of trying to awaken us to the primordiality of, and the mystery in some important sense, of Religio. That's definitely what's going on, but there's something interesting about the Gnostics and that's the element that Decoda emphasised: that the trajectory of transframing is ultimately understood as transgressive. It's trying to overturn the grammar of a worldview. It is transgressive in a deep, deep sense. And I think that that points towards something else that the sacred does for us. And this goes towards the work of Otto - deeply influenced by Kant! I hope you see how, in a way, my work is deeply influenced by Kant, also by Hegel.

But Otto, in his book, which [has] translated the idea of The Holy - [a] very bad translation! Many people argue [that] a better translation would be something like the experience of the Numinous, because Otto's argument is precisely [that] this notion (Holy) has become very clouded for us. Okay. It is plausibly related to notions of wholeness and completeness. There's probably connections to words like health which people wouldn't automatically think of. But we know that people typically think about this connected now in terms of a moral term or righteousness (writes both health and moral righteousness off of Holy on the board). But this association (health) says “well, something else is going on here!!” Again, the etymologies are contested. Of course, with a word like that (Holy)!! We know that this (Holy) is also weirdly associated with this (Glory), and I mentioned this before: glory; the “glory of God”, which is the predicate most often applied to him in the old Testament. And that's not a moral term.

So what we've got to get to is what's going on here in this experience of the Holy (circles Holy with Health, Moral Righteousness and Glory coming off it) and Otto created this term, the Numinous - picked up of course, by Jung - to describe what the original, the primordial experience of the numinous is. Before all of these (circled terms), but what this (Glory) is most pointed towards. A little bit of this (Health), not so much this (moral righteousness). What the numinous is, is the fundamental experience.
And here's what I'm going to talk about next time: that the experience of the numinous is ultimately to experience the transgressive side of the sacredness, how it opens us up in wonder and awe, and even takes us to the horizon of horror.

Thank you very much for your time and attention.


Episode 33 - Notes

To keep this site running, we are an Amazon Associate where we earn from qualifying purchases

Cherniak (3:49)
Christopher Cherniak is an American neuroscientist, a member of the University of Maryland Philosophy Department.

Paul Vanderclay / Vanderklay?

Paolo Costa
"Paolo Costa [contributing to] a book called the joy of secularism"
Book Mentioned:The Joy of Secularism - by George Levine - Buy Here
He has a fantastic article there called a secular wonder: (PDF) A Secular Wonder | Paolo Costa - Academia.edu

Book Mentioned: Robert Fuller; his book on Wonder - Buy Here

Gabriel Marcel
"Marcel's idea about how a mystery…"
Marcel argued that scientific egoism replaces the "mystery" of being with a false scenario of human life composed of technical "problems" and "solutions".

Book Mentioned: The Mystery of Being: Reflection and Mystery - Buy Here
The Mystery of Being contains the most systematic exposition of the philosophical thought of Gabriel Marcel, a convert to Catholicism and the most distinguished ...

William James
"James pointed to this in a wonderful distinction between the I and the me (I: Me)"
William James was an American philosopher and psychologist, and the first educator to offer a psychology course in the United States. James is considered to be a leading thinker of the late nineteenth century, one of the most influential philosophers of the United States, and the "Father of American psychology".

Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher was a German Reformed theologian, philosopher, and biblical scholar known for his attempt to reconcile the criticisms of the Enlightenment with traditional Protestant Christianity.

Clifford James Geertz was an American anthropologist who is remembered mostly for his ... Worldview and the Analysis of Sacred Symbols", writing that "the drive to make sense out of experience, to give it form and order, is evidently as real…

Brian Walsh
Brian J. Walsh serves as the Christian Reformed Church chaplain to the University of Toronto. With Richard J. Middleton, he wrote The Transforming Vision and Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be
Book Mentioned: Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be - Buy Here

“there's something interesting about the Gnostics and that's the element that Decoda emphasized”
Decoda - ??

Rudolf Otto was an eminent German Lutheran theologian, philosopher, and comparative religionist. He is regarded as one of the most influential scholars of religion in the early twentieth century and is ...

Other helpful resources about this episode:
Notes on Bevry
Additional Notes on Bevry

Ep. 32 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - RR in the Brain, Insight, and Consciousness

Welcome back to Awakening from the Meaning Crisis. So last time we were taking a look at the centrality of Relevance Realization, [at] how many central processes - central to our intelligence [and] possibly also to, at least the functionality of, our consciousness - presuppose, require [and] are dependent upon Relevance Realization. So we had gotten to a point where we saw how many things fed into this (convergent diagram drawn on the board, into RR), and then I made the argument that it is probably, at some fundamental level, a unified phenomenon because it comports well with the phenomenon of general intelligence, which is a very robust and reliable finding about human beings. And then I proposed to you that what we need to do is two things: we need to try and give a naturalistic account of this (RR), and then show, if we have naturalised this, can we then use it in an elegant manner to explain a lot of the central features of human spirituality. And I already indicated in the last lecture how some of that was already being strongly suggested; we got an account of self-transcendence that comes out of dynamic emergence that is being created by the ongoing complexification. And this has to do with the very nature of a Relevance Realization as this ongoing, evolving fittedness of your sensory-motor loop to its environment, under the virtual engineering of bioeconomic logistical constraints of efficiency that tends to compress and integrate and assimilate, and resiliency that tends to a particularise and differentiate. And when those are happening in such a dynamically coupled and integrated fashion within an ongoing opponent processing, then you get complexification that produces self-transcendence. But, of course, much more is needed.

Now I would like to proceed to address…/ Now I can't do this comprehensively (indicates RR in the convergence diagram on the board), not in a way that would satisfy everybody who is potentially watching this. This is very difficult because there are aspects of this argument that would get incredibly technical. Also, to make the argument comprehensive is beyond what I think I have time to do here today. [-] I’ll put notes for things that you can read or point you to, if you want to read it more deeply. What I want to do is try to give an exemplary argument, an argument of an example of how you could try and bring about a plausible naturalistic account of Relevance Realization. Now we've gone a long way towards doing that because we've already got this worked out in terms of information processing processes. But could we see them potentially realized in the brain? And, one more time, I want to advertise for the brain! I understand why people want to resist the urge of sort of a simplistic reduction that human beings are nothing but their brain. That's a very bad way of talking! That's like saying a table is nothing but it's atoms, that doesn't ultimately make any sense. It's also the structural functional organization of the atoms, the way those, that structural functional organization, interacts with the world; how it unfolds through time. So, simplistic reductionism should definitely be questioned. On the other hand, we also have to appreciate how incredibly complex, dynamic, self-creating, plastic, capable of [-] very significant qualitative development the brain actually is.

So, I proposed to you that [-] one aspect of Relevance Realization, the aspect that has to do with trading between being able to generalise and specialised, as I've argued, is a system going through compression - remember that [is] something like what you're doing with a line of best fit - and particularization - when your function is more tightly fitted to the contextually specific dataset. (Writes compression and particularisation on the board with a vertical, double ended arrow between them.) And, again, this (compression) gives you efficiency, this (particularisation) gives you resiliency. This (compression) tends to integrate and assimilate. This (particularisation) tends to differentiate and accommodate. Okay, so try to keep that all in mind. Now, what I want to try and do is argue that there is suggestive - it's by no means definitive - and I want it clearly understood that I am not proposing to prove anything here; that's not my endeavour. My endeavour is to show that there is suggestive evidence for something. And all I need is that that makes it plausible that there will be a way to empirically explain Relevance Realization.

So, let's talk about what this looks like. So there's increasing evidence that when neurones fire in synchrony together (writes => synchrony off compression), they're doing something like compression. So if you give, for example, somebody a picture that they can't quite make out and you're looking at how the brain is firing, the areas of the visual cortex for example, if it's a visual picture are firing sort of asynchronously, and then when the person gets the “Ahaaa!”, you get large areas that fire in synchrony together. Interestingly, there's even increasing evidence that when human beings are cooperating in joint attention and activity, their brains are getting into patterns of synchrony. So that opens up the possibility for a very serious account of distributed cognition. I'll come back to that much later. Now what we know what's going on in the cortex - and this is the point that's [-], I think, very important: This is scale in-variant (writes this on the board to the left of particularisation) - what that means is that [at] many levels of analysis, you will see this process happening. Why is that important? Well, if you remember, Relevance Realization has to be something that's happening very locally [and] very globally, it has to be happening pervasively throughout all of your cognitive processing. So the fact that this (compression => synchrony) process I'm describing is also scale in-variant in the brain is suggestive that it can be implementing Relevance Realization.

Now, what happens is (writes => asynchrony off particularisation, with a double ended arrow between synchrony and asynchrony), at many levels of analysis, what you [-] have is this pattern where neurones are firing in synchrony and then they become asynchronous and then they fire in synchrony and then they become asynchronous. And they're doing this in a rapidly oscillating manner. So this is an instance of what's called Self-Organizing Criticality (writes above framework on the board). It’s a particular kind of opponent processing, a particular kind of self-organization. So we're getting more precision in our account of the self-organizing nature, potentially, of Relevance Realization. Okay. So let's talk a little bit about this (Self-organising Criticality) first and then we'll come back to its particular instantiation in the brain.

Self Organising Criticality

So self-organizing criticality - this [originally goes] back to the work of Per Bak. So let's say you have grains of sand falling, like in an hourglass, and initially it's random - well random from our point of view - [as to] where, within a zone, individual grains will end up somewhere in that zone. We don't know where because they'll bounce and all that, but over time what happens, because there's a virtual engine there - friction and gravity, but also the bounce - so the bouncing introduces variation, the friction and [-] the gravity put constraint[s on…] And what happens is the sand grains self-organized (draws a little mound within a circle representing the above mentioned ‘zone’) - there's no little elf that runs in and shapes the sand into a mound! it self-organises into a mound like that. And it keeps doing this and keeps doing this (draws progressively bigger mounds)… Now at some point it enters a critical phase. Criticality means the system is close to, is potentially breaking down. See, when it's self-organized like this (in a mound), it demonstrates a high degree of order. Order means that as this mound takes shape the position of any one grain of sand gives me a lot of information about where the other grains are likely to be, because they're so tightly organised, it's highly ordered. But then what happens is that order breaks down and you get an avalanche, it avalanches down and the system… And if and if this is too great, if the criticality becomes too great, the system will collapse. And so there are people that argue that civilizations collapse due to [-] what's called General Systems Failure, which [-] is that these entropic forces are actually overwhelming the structure of the system and the system just collapses. So collapse is a possibility with criticality. However, what can happen is the following: the sand spreads out due to the avalanche. And then that introduces variation, important changes in the structural functional organization of the sand mound, because now what happens is [that] there is a bigger base. And what that means is now a new mound forms (draws a bigger mound on a bigger base/‘zone’), and it can go much higher than the previous mound; it has an emergent capacity that didn't exist in the previous system. And then it cycles like this, it's cycles like this. Now at any point - again, there’s no telos to this - at any point it can just, the criticality can overwhelm the system and it can collapse at any point. The criticality within you can overwhelm the system and you can die.

But what you see is [-] the brain cycling in this manner: Self-organizing Criticality. The neurones structure together - that's like the mound [of sand] forming - and then they go asynchronous. This is sometimes even called the neural avalanche. And then they reconfigure into a new synchrony and then they go asynchronous. So do you see what's happening here? What's happening here is the brain is oscillating like this (sand diagrams) and what it's doing with self-organizing criticality is it's doing data compression and then it does a neural avalanche, which opens up, introduces variation into the system, which allows a new structure to reconfigure that is momentarily fitted to the situation. It breaks up… Now, do you see what it's doing? It's constantly, moment by moment - this is happening in milliseconds! - it's evolving it's fittedness, it's complexifying it's structural functional organization. It is doing compression and particularization, which means it's constantly, moment by moment, evolving it's sensory motor fittedness to the environment. It's doing Relevance Realization, I would argue.

Now, what does that mean? Well, one thing that we should be careful of: when I'm doing this, again, I'm using words and gestures [-] of course, to convey and make sense, but what you have to understand is [that] this is happening at myriad of levels! There’s this self-organizing criticality doing this fittedness at this level and it's interacting with another one doing it at this level all the way up to the whole brain, all the way down to individual sets of neurones. So this is a highly recursive, highly complex, very dynamic evolving fittedness. And I would argue that that is thereby implementing Relevance Realization. There is some evidence to support this. So Thatcher et al. did some important work in 2008, 2009 pointing towards this. So here's the argument I'm making: I'm making the argument that RR can be implemented - it's not completely identical to, because you remember there's also exploration and exploitation - but it can be implemented by this (writes RR - SOC). And I've also, last time, made the argument that Relevance Realization is you're general intelligence (g) (writes (g)-RR-SOC). If this is correct, then we should see measurable relationships between these two ((g) and SOC). Of course we've known how to measure this (g) psychometrically for a very long time. And now we're getting ways of measuring this (SOC) in the brain. And what Thatcher found was exactly that. They found - Thatcher et al. - found that there's a strong relationship between measures of self organization and how intelligent you are. Specifically, what they found was the more flexibility there is in this (synchrony <=> a-synchrony), the more intelligent you are; the more it demonstrates a kind of dynamic ‘evolve-ability’, the more intelligent you are.

Is this a conclusive thing? No, there's lots of controversy around this and I don't want to misrepresent this. However, I would point out that there was a very good article by Hess and Gross in 2014, doing a comprehensive review of the application of Self Organizing Criticality as a fundamental property of neural systems. And they, I think, made a very good case that [-] it's highly plausible that self-organizing criticality is functional in the brain in a fundamental way and that lines up [with], it's convergent with, this (indicates the board). So what we've got is the possibility, I mean… and this carries with it… so I'm hesitant here because I don't want to… by drawing out the implications I don't want to there by say that this has been proven. I'm not saying that. But, so - remember the if - but if this is right, this has important implications. It says that we may be able to move from psychometric measures of intelligence to direct measures in the brain - much more, in that sense, objective measures. Secondly, if this is on the right track, it will feed - remember, a lot of these ideas were derived from sort of emerging features of artificial intelligence - if this is right, it may help then feed back into this and help develop artificial intelligence. So there's a lot of potential here, unfortunately for both good or ill! I'm hoping - if you'll allow me a brief aside - I'm hoping, by this project that I'm engaged in, to link as much as I can and the people that I work with can - you know, my lab and my colleagues - link this emergent, scientific understanding, very tightly to the spiritual project of addressing the meaning crisis rather than letting it just run rampant, Willy nilly. Alright, so if you'll allow me, that's (convergent framework on the board) a way in which we could give a naturalistic account of RR in terms of how neurones are firing, [their] firing patterns.

Networks: From Neurones To Graph/Network Theory

Now I need another scale in-variant thing, but I need it to deal with not how neurones are firing, but how they're wiring - what kinds of networks they're forming. I'm not particularly happy with the wiring metaphor, but it has become pervasive in our culture and it's mnemonically useful because firing and wiring rhyme together. So again, there is a sort of a new way of thinking about how we can look at networks, it's called Graph Theory or Network Theory. It's gotten very complex in a very short amount of time. So I want to do just [-] the core, basic idea with you, that there's three kinds of networks.

Chapter 32

All right (Drawing empty network points (nodes) on the board (3x6)), so this is [-] Neutral, this doesn't mean just networks in the brain. It can be networks like how the internet is a network. It could mean how an airline is a network or a railway system, et cetera. This analysis, this theoretical machinery is applicable to all kinds of networks, which is part of its power.

So you want to talk about nodes; these are things that are connected and then you have connections. So these - I'm drawing two connections here, this isn't a single thick one (connecting two nodes with two connections in the first group of 6 nodes), these are two individual ones. Okay. Two individual connections here (completes first network). So that's the same number of connections and nodes in each network (completes the other two networks differently). (Shows included diagram onscreen.) So there are three kinds of networks. This is called a Regular Network (1st). It's regular because all of the connections are short distance connections. Okay. And you'll notice that there's a lot of redundancy in this network. Everything is double connected. Okay. This is called a Random or Chaotic Network (2nd). It's a mixture of short and long connections. And then this is called a Small World Network (3rd). This comes from the Disney song, “It's A Small World After All”, because this was originally discovered by Milgrom when he was studying patterns of social connectedness. And it's a small world after all.

Mutual Reinforcement Of Self Organising Criticality And Small World Networks

Now, originally people were just talking about these (indicates the three diagrams). It's now understood that these are [-] names for broad families of different kinds of networks that can be analysed into many different subspecies, and I won't get into that detail because I'm just trying to make an overarching core argument. So, remember I said that this [Regular] network has a lot of redundancy in it? [-] That's really important because that means that this network is terrifically resilient. I can do a lot of damage to this network and no node gets isolated, nothing falls out of communication. It’s tremendously resilient, very resilient. But you pay a price for that, all that redundancy; this is actually a very inefficient network. Now your brain might tricky because that looks so well ordered. It looks like a nice clean room, and clean rooms look like they're really highly ordered and that's, “Oh, this must be the most efficient, because cleanliness is orderliness and orderliness is efficient” and you can't let that mislead you! You actually measure how efficient a network is by calculating what's called its Mean Path Distance. I calculate the number of steps [-] between all the pairs. So how many [-] steps do I have to go through to get from here to here. One, two… how many do I have to go [through] to go from here to here? One, two, three, four. I do that for all the pairs, and then I get an average of it. And the Mean Path Distance measures how efficient your network is at basically communicating information. These (Regular Networks) have a very, very high Mean Path Distance. So they're very inefficient. You pay a price for all that redundancy and that's of course because redundancy and efficiency are in a tradeoff relationship.

Now this (indicates Random Network diagram) - and again here's where [-] your brain is going to like [explode] - this is so messy, right? This is so messy. Well, it turns out that this is actually efficient. It's actually very efficient because it has so many long distance connections. It's very, very efficient. It has a very low Mean Path Distance. But, because they're in a tradeoff relationship, it's not resilient. [It’s] very poor in resiliency. So notice what we're getting here. These networks are being constrained in their functionality by the trade off in the bio economics of efficiency and resiliency. Markus Brede has sort of mathematical proofs about this in his work on network configuration. Now what about this one - the Small World Network? Well, it's more efficient than the Regular Network, but less efficient than the Random Network. But it's more resilient than the Random network, but less resilient than the Regular Network. But you know what it is? It's Optimal. It gets the optimal amount of both. It optimizes for efficiency and resiliency. It optimizes for efficiency and resiliency. Now that's interesting because that would mean that if your brain is doing Relevance Realization by trading between efficiency and resiliency, it's going to tend to generate small world networks. And not only that, the small world networks are going to be associated with the highest functionality in your brain. And there's increasing evidence that this is in fact the case. In fact, there was research done by Langer at al in 2012 that did the same thing, similar thing, to which Thatcher did.

So here we got this, again: RR is G ( (g) - RR ) and it looks like RR might be implementing - this is what I'm putting here, Small World Networks (SWN) - (writes this at the top of the board: (g) - RR - SWN). And what Langer et al. found is a relationship between these ( (g) and SWN ): the more your brain is wired like this, the better your intelligence. Again, is this conclusive? No, still controversial. That's precisely why it's cutting edge. However, increasingly we're finding that these kinds of patterns of organization make sense. Remember Markus Brede was doing work looking at just artificial networks, neural networks, and you want to optimise between these. So you're getting design arguments out of artificial intelligence [and] you're starting to get these arguments emerging out of neuroscience. Interestingly Langer et al. did his second experiment in 2013, when you sort of put extra effort, task demands on working memory, you see that working memory becomes even more organised, like a small world network. Hilger at al. in 2016 found that there was a specific kind of small world network having to do with efficient hubs. Their thing is entitled “Efficient hubs in the intelligent brain, nodal efficiency of hub regions in the salience network are correlated with general intelligence”. So what seems to be going on is suggestive, not conclusive, but you know, you've got the Langer work, working memory goes more like this. And then you've got this very sophisticated kind, a species of this in recent research, correlated with the salient network in the brain. Do you see that? That as your brain is moving to a specific species of this (Small World Network), within the Salience Network you become more intelligent. And the salience network is precisely that network by which things are salient to you, stand out for you, grab your attention.

One more time, is this conclusive? No. I'm presenting to you stuff that's literally happening in the last two or three years, and as there should be, there's tremendous controversy in science. However, this is what I'm pretty confident of. That that controversy is progressive. It's ongoing. It's getting better and better such that it is plausible that we will be able to increasingly explain, and it will be increasingly convergent with the ongoing progress in artificial intelligence, that we will be able to increasingly explain Relevance Realization in terms of the firing and the wiring. Remember, the firing is Self-Organizing Criticality (Firing - SOC), and the wiring is Small World Networks (Wiring - SWN). And here's something else that's really suggestive: The more a system fires this way (SOC), the more it wires this way (SWN). So the system is firing in a self organizing, critical fashion; It will tend to network as a small world network. The more it wires this way (SWN), the more it is wired like it's a small world network, the more likely it will tend to fire in this pattern (SOC).

These two things mutually reinforce each other's development. So remember - let's try to put this all together! I want you to really [try], I mean it's hard to grasp this, I get this, but remember - this (SOC) is happening at a scale in-variant, massively recursive, complex, self-organizing fashion. This (SWN) is also happening, scale in-variant, at a very complex, self-organizing, recursive fashion. And the two are deeply interpenetrating and affording and affecting each other in ways that have to do directly with engineering the evolving fittedness of your salience realization and your Relevance Realization within your sensory-motor interaction with the world. This is, I think, strongly suggestive that [-] this (RR) is going to be given a completely naturalistic explanation. Okay, notice what I'm doing here! I’m giving a structural, a theoretical structural functional organization ( Firing - SOC <=> Wiring - SWN) for how this (RR) can operate. So [-] the last couple of times we had the strong convergence argument to this (RR). We have a naturalistic account (above looping framework) of this, at least the rational promise that this is going to be forthcoming. And then we're getting an idea of how we can get a structural functional organization of this (RR) in terms of firing and wiring machinery.

Possible Naturalistic Accounts of General Intelligence And Consciousness

Now this is again, like I said, this is both very exciting and potentially scary because it does carry with it the real potential to give a natural explanation of the fundamental guts of our intelligence. I want to go a little bit further and suggest that not only may this help to give us a naturalistic account of general intelligence, it may point towards a naturalistic account, at least of the functionality, but perhaps also of some of the phenomenology of consciousness (writes ->(g) and ->consciousness, both off the Firing <-> Wiring framework above). This again is even more controversial. But again, my endeavour here is not to convince you that this is the final account or theory. It's to make plausible of the possibility of a naturalistic explanation.

Okay. So let's remember a couple of things. There's a deep relationship between consciousness - remember the global workspace theory (GWT), the functionality, and that that overlaps a lot with working memory (WM) (both written off Consciousness). [-] And we already know that there are important overlaps in the [-] brain areas that have to do with general intelligence working memory (connects (g) <=> WM), attention, salience, and also that measures of this ((g)) and measures of the functionality of this (WM) are highly correlated with each other. That's now pretty well established. We've also got that, we know from Lynn Hasher’s work, that this (WM) is doing Relevance Realization. Do you remember [I] also gave you the argument when we talked about the functionality of consciousness, that many of the best accounts of the function of consciousness is that it's doing Relevance Realization. And so this (framework below Firing/Wiring loop) should all hang together. This should all hang together, such that the machinery of intelligence and the functionality of consciousness should be deeply integrated together in terms of Relevance Realization.

We do know that there seems to be some important relationships between consciousness and self organizing criticality (Consciousness - SOC). This has to do with the work of Cosmelliet at al. and others ongoing. Their work was in 2004. So they did what's called the Binocular Rivalry Experiment. Basically you present two images to somebody and they're positioned in such a way that they are going to the different visual fields and they compete with each other because of their design. And then, so what happens in people's visual experiences - let's say it's a triangle and a cross - [is] that, what they'll have experientially is “I’m seeing a cross. Oh, no, I'm seeing a triangle! I'm seeing the cross and I'm seeing a triangle!!” and don't forget that that's not obscure to you. So, you know, the Necker cube, right? (Draws a cube.) When you watch the Necker cube, it flips, right? So this can be the front and it's going back this way, where you can flip and you can see it the other way [-] where this is the front and it goes that way, right? So you are constantly flipping between these, and you can't see them both at the same time. So that's what Binocular Rivalry is. And so what you have though, is you do this [under] more controlled [conditions]. You present it to different visual fields, so different areas of the brain… And so what you can see is what happens when the person is seeing the triangle? Well, one part of the brain goes into synchrony and then as soon as the triangle [goes], that goes asynchronous and the other part of the brain that's picking up on the crosses [goes into synchrony], because that's a different area of the brain because it’s more basic [-]. And what you can see is, as the person flips back and forth in experience, different areas of the brain are going into synchrony or asynchrony. So that is suggestive of a relationship between consciousness and self-organizing criticality. Again, [only] suggestive. But, we’ve already got independent evidence, a lot of convergent evidence, that the functionality of consciousness is to do Relevance Realization, which explains it's strong correlation via working memory with measures of general intelligence. And so, we know that this (Consciousness <-RR (on the board)) is plausibly associated with self organizing criticality.

Back To The Machinery Of Insight

So again, convincing? No. Suggestively convergent? Yes. There's another set of experiments done by Monti et al in 2013, and what you're basically doing is you're giving people a general anaesthetic and then you're observing their brain as they pass out of consciousness and back into consciousness. And what did they find? They found that as the brain passes out of consciousness, It loses its overall structure as a Small World Network and breaks down into more local networks and that as it returns into consciousness, it goes into a Small World of Network formation again, so that consciousness seems to be strongly associated with the degree to which the brain is wiring as a Small World Network. Now I want to try and bring these together in a more concrete instance where you can see the intelligence, the consciousness, and this dynamic process of self organization, all at work.

I want to bring it back to the machinery of insight, the machinery of insight. So if you remember, we talked about this, because we talked about the use of disruptive strategies. And we talked about the work of Stephen and Dixon. Do you remember that what they found was they found a way, a very sophisticated way, but nevertheless a very reliable way, of measuring how much entropy is in people's processing when they're trying to solve the insight problem. Remember they were tracing through the gear figures? And what they found is that entropy goes up right before the insight and then it drops and the [behavior] becomes even more organised (draws a bell curve that drops lower on the right). Now, that's plausibly - and they suggested - that's plausibly an instance of self organizing criticality; that what's happening is (works through the bell curve) you're getting the neural avalanche, it's breaking up, and then that allows a restructuring, which goes with the restructuring of the problem - remember, so you're breaking frame with the neural avalanche and then you're making frame like the new mound - as you restructure you're problem framing. And you get the insight! And you get a solution to your problem. [So, this is linking insight to SOC, very clearly.]

[Now, interestingly enough, Schilling has a mathematical] model from 2005 linking insight to Small World Networks. She argues quite persuasively that what’s - this is very interesting, since what you can see happening in an insight is that people's information is initially organised, like in a regular network! Just think about that intuitively, like so my information is sort of integrated here, right (draws a little circle of dots)? Local organization, a regular network. Local organization. Right (draws a second little circle of dots)? So the whole thing is, right, all I've got is a regular network. But what can happen is here's my regular network (draws bigger, simple, six node diagram) and what happens is [with] one of these I get a long distance connection that forms (each node is connected to the ones beside it with double connections, except for one long one across the middle). So my regular network suddenly is altered into a Small World Network, which means I lose some resiliency, I lose some resiliency, but I gained a massive spike in efficiency. I suddenly get more powerful. So insight is when a Regular Network is being converted into a Small World Network, because that means this is a process of optimisation, (Regular Network => SWN). Because remember, this (SWN) is more optimal than this (Regular Network). And you can see that in how people's information is organised in an insight. They take two domains; here's - think about how metaphor affords insight - you take two domains, “Sam is a pig” and you suddenly [get] this connection between [them] and those two Regular Networks are now coalesced into a Small World Network.

Okay, that's great! So in some of the work I've done with other people I've been suggesting because of this (SOC <=> SWN), the following: That what happens in insight - a la Stephen and Dixon - is you get Self-Organized Criticality, and that Self-Organizing Criticality breaks up a Regular Network and converts it into a Small World Network. So what you're getting is a sudden enhancement, increased optimisation of your Relevance Realization - and what's it accompanied with? It's accompanied with a flash in salience! Remember? And then that could be extended in the flow experience. You're getting an alteration of consciousness, an alteration of your intelligence. An optimisation of your fittedness to the problem space. Okay. (Wipes board clean except for the expanded convergence framework) Again, I'm going to say this again, right? I'm trying to give you stuff that makes this plausible. I'm sure that in specifics, it's going to turn out to be false because that's how science works, but that's not what I need right now. What I tried to show you is how progressive the project is (indicates the framework on the board), of naturalising this and how so much is converging towards it, that it is plausible that this will be something that we can scientifically explain. And more than scientifically explain, that we'll be able to create as we create autonomous Artificial General Intelligence.

RR, Consciousness And Our Salience Landscape

Okay. Let’s return back. If I've at least made it plausible that there's a deep connection between Relevance Realization and Consciousness, I want to try and point out some aspects to you about Relevance Realization and why it is creating a tremendously textured, dynamically flowing, salience landscape. So remember how Relevance Realization is happening at multiple interacting levels. So we can think about this where (writes featurization on the board) you're just getting features that are getting picked up. Remember the multiple object tracking (taps a few objects around). [-] ‘This’, ‘this’, ‘this’ (individually holds up some pens), so basic salience assignment, right? And [-] this is based on work originally from Matson in 1976, his book on salience. I’ve mentioned that before, and then some work that I did with Jeff Marshman and Steve Pearce?. And then later work that I did with Anderson Todd and Richard Wu. The featurization is also feeding up into foregrounding and feeding back, right? (Writes foregrounding above featurization with a double ended arrow between.) So a bunch of ‘this’, ‘this’, ‘this’, all these features and then presumably I'm foregrounded and other stuff is backgrounded. This (foregrounding) then feeds up into figuration (double arrowed above foregrounding). You're configuring me together and figuring me out - think of that language, right? - so that I have a structural functional organization. I'm aspectualized for you.

That's feeding back (figuration <=> foregrounding). And of course there's feedback down to here (figuration <=> featurization). And then that of course feeds back to [-] framing how you're framing your problems (framing/formulation double arrowed above figuration). And we've talked a lot about that and that feeds back [to featurization). So you've got this happening and it's giving you this very dynamic and textured salience landscape.

And then you have to think about how that's the core machinery of your Perspectival Knowing. Notice what I'm suggesting to you here: you've got the Relevance Realization that is the core machinery of your Participatory Knowing - it's how you are getting coupled to the world so that co-evolution, reciprocal realization can occur. That's your Participatory Knowing (RR - Participatory Knowing). This (RR) feeds up to/feeds back to your Salience Landscaping (RR <=> Salience Landscaping). This is your Perspectival Knowing (Salience Landscaping - Perspectival Knowing). This is what gives you your dynamic, situational awareness. Your dynamic, situational awareness; this textured, Salience Landscaping (gestures the four levelled diagram above). This of course (Salience Landscaping) is going to - and we'll talk more about that - it’s going to open up an affordance landscape for you. Certain connections, affordances are going to become obvious to you. And you say, “Oh man, does anybody… like, this is so abstract!” But this is how people are trying to wrestle with this now! Here's an article from Frontiers In Human Neuroscience: “Self-Organizing Free Energy Minimization…” - that's Kristen's work, and it has to do with, ultimately, [-] getting your processing as efficient as possible, …”And Optimal Grip On A Field Of Affordances” using all of this language that I am using with you right now. That's by Bundaberg and Rhett Velde from 2014 “Frontiers In Human Neuroscience”. Just as one example among many!

So this (Salience Landscaping) is feeding up and what it's basically giving you is Affordance Obviation (Salience Landscaping <=> Affordance Obviation). Certain affordances are being selected and made obvious to you. That of course is going to be the basis of your Procedural Knowing, knowing how to interact (Affordance Obviation - Procedural Knowing). And I think there might be a way in which that more directly interacts here (Affordance Obviation —> Salience Landscaping & —> RR), maybe through kinds of implicit learning, but I'm not going to go into that. We'll come back later on to how Propositional Knowing relates to all of this ((Affordance Obviation + <— Propositional Knowing)). I'm putting it aside because this (RR <-> Salience Landscaping <-> Affordance Obviation) is where we do most of our talking about consciousness. With this (Salience Landscaping), I think, at the core, the Perspectival Knowing. But it's the Perspectival Knowing that's grounded in our Participatory Knowing, and it's our Perspectival Knowing…/ look: your situational awareness that obviates affordances is what you need in order to train your skill. That's how you train your skills. And we know that consciousness is about doing this higher-order Relevance Realization because that's what this is (framework on the board) - this is higher order Relevance Realization that affords you solving your problems.

Three Dimensions of Salience Landscaping

So this is… I mean, I'm trying to say, I need all of this (gestures to include both the above frameworks) when I'm talking about your Salience Landscaping. I'm talking about it as the nexus between your Relevance Realization [&] Participatory Knowing and your Affordance Obviation [&] Procedural Knowing - your skill development - Perspectival Knowing at the core, and that what's happening in here is this (indicates the Featurization framework). If that's the case, then you can think of your Salience Landscape as having at least three dimensions to it. (Draws X, Y, Z axis on the board as it is also shown, in detail (although with differently labelled axes), on-screen.)

So one is pretty obvious to you, which is the aspectuality (X axis). As I said, your salience landscape is aspectualizing things. Things (picks up a marker pen…) so the features are being foregrounded and configured and they're being framed. So this is a marker. It is aspectualized. Remember? Whenever I'm representing or categorizing it, I'm not capturing all of its properties, I’m just capturing an aspect. So this is aspectualized - everything is aspectualized for me.

There's another dimension here of centrality (Y axis). I'll come back to this later, but this has to do with the way Relevance Realization works. Relevance Realization is ultimately grounded in how things are relevant to you, right? Literally, literally, how they are important to you. You “import” how they are connotative…/ At some level, the sensory-motor stuff is to get stuff to you [that] you literally need to import materially, and then, at a higher level, you literally need to import information to be constitutive of your cognition. We'll come back to that transition later. But what you have is the Perspectival Knowing is there's ‘doing aspectualized’, and then everything is centred. It's not non-valanced, it’s vectored on to me. And then it has temporality (Z axis) because this is a dynamic process of ongoing evolution. Timing, small differences in time, make huge impacts, huge differences in such dynamical processing. Kairos is really, really central. When you're intervening in these very com[plex], massively recursive, dynamically coupled systems, small variations can unexpectedly have major changes. So things have a central relevance in terms of their timing, not just their place in time. So think of your Salience Landscape as an unfolding, like in these three dimensions of Aspectuality, Centrality and Temporality.

There's an acronym here: ACT. This is an enACTed kind of Perspectival Knowing. All right, so you've got a consciousness and what it's doing for me, functionally, is all of this (indicates expanded convergence framework of RR), but what it's doing, in that functionality, is all of this (both other frameworks - Featurization + & RR-Participatory Knowing +). And what that's giving me is Perspectival Knowing (gestures up) that's grounded in Participatory Knowing (gestures down) that affords Procedural Training (gestures middle ground) and that it has Aspectuality, a Salience Landscape that has Aspectuality, Centrality and Temporality.

It has… look at what it has: Centrality is the ‘hereness’ (adds hereness to centrality on X, Y, Z) -my consciousness is ‘here’, because it is indexed on me. Of course it has ‘nowness’ because timing is central to it (adds nowness to Temporality on X, Y, Z). Now, that was intended, that move (gestures to hereness and nowness having been added to the graph). And it has ‘togetherness’ (adds togetherness to aspectuality on X, Y, Z), unity, how everything fits together - I don't want to say unity because unity makes it sound like there's a single thing - but how there's a ‘oneness’ to your consciousness; it’s all together. You have the hereness, the nowness, the togetherness (indicates the X, Y, Z graph), the salience, the Perspectival Knowing (indicates RR - Perspectival + framework), how it is centred on you… A lot of the phenomenology of your consciousness is explained along with the functionality of your consciousness. Is that a complete account? No, but it's a lot of what your consciousness does and is. It's a lot of what your consciousness does and is.

Getting Ready To Complete RR Convergent Framework (*?*)

I would argue that at least what that gives us is an account that we are going to need for the right hand of the diagram. Why altering States of consciousness can have such a profound effect on your reaching down to your identity (RR - Participatory Knowing), up into your agency (Affordance Obviation - Procedural Knowing). Why it could be linked to things like a profound sense of insight. We've talked about this before, when we talked about higher States of consciousness. How it can feel like a dramatic coupling to your environment (tapping RR - Participatory Knowing); that's that participatory coupling that we found in flow. This all, I think, hangs together extremely well, which means it looks like I have the machinery I need to talk about that right hand [part] of the [convergence] diagram (*?*).

Before I do that, I want to make a couple of important points to remind you of things. Relevance Realization is not cold calculation. It is always about how your body is making risky, affect laden choices of what to do with its precious, but limited cognitive and metabolic and temporal resources. Relevance Realization is deeply, deeply, always - and think about how this (X, Y, Z graph) also connects to this and to consciousness - it's always, always, an aspect of caring (adds caring to the expanded RR convergence framework). That's what Read Montague argues - the neuroscientist - in his book “Your Brain Is Almost Perfect”. That what makes us fundamentally different from computers, because we are in the finitary predicament, is we are caring about our information processing and caring about the information processed therein. So this is always affect. It's things are salient! They're catching your attention! They're arousing, they're changing your level of arousal - remember how arousal is an ongoing, evolving part of this? And they are constantly creating affect, motivation, moving, emotion, moving you towards action. You have to hear how at the guts of consciousness [and] intelligen[ce], there is also caring. That's very important. That's very important because that brings back, I think, a central notion, and I know many of you are wondering why I haven't spoke about him yet, but I'm going to speak about him later - from Heidegger that at the core of our being in the world (indicates RR - Participatory Knowing +) is a foundational kind of caring. And this connection I'm making, this is not farfetched!

Look at somebody [who was] deeply influenced by Heidegger, who was central to the third generation, or 4E Cognitive science! That's the work of Dreyfus and others, and Dreyfus has had a lot of important history in reminding us that our Knowing is not just Propositional Knowing, it's also Procedural and, ultimately I think, Perspectival and Participatory - he doesn't quite use that language, but he points towards it. He talks a lot about Optimal Gripping and, importantly, if you take a look at his work “Being In The World” on Heidegger, when he's talking about things like caring, he's invoking, in central passages, the notion of relevance. Relevance. And when he talked about what computers can't do and later on what computers still can't do, what they're basically lacking is this Heideggerian machinery of caring, which he explicates in being in the world in terms of the ability to find things relevant. And this of course points again towards Heidegger's notion of Dasein; that our being in the world - to use my language - is inherently transjective. Because all of this machinery is inherently transjective. And it is something that we do not make. We, and our intelligible world co emerged from it. We participate in it, and I want to take a look more at what that means for our spirituality (gestures that this belongs in the empty part of the convergent diagram (*?*)) next time.

Thank you very much for your time and attention.


Episode 32 - Notes

To keep this site running, we are an Amazon Associate where we earn from qualifying purchases

Per Bak - Self Organising Criticality
Per Bak was a Danish theoretical physicist who coauthored the 1987 academic paper that coined the term "self-organized criticality."

Self Organized Criticality
Self-organized criticality is a property of dynamical systems that have a critical point as an attractor.

Thatcher et al.
Scholarly articles for Thatcher et al.

Hess and Gross in 2014
Scholarly articles for Hess and Gross et al 2014

Langer at Al in 2012
Scholarly articles for Langer et Al in 2012

Hilger et al. in 2016 “Efficient hubs in the intelligent brain, nodal efficiency of hub regions in the salience network are correlated with general intelligence”
Scholarly articles for Hilger et al. in 2016

Lynn Hasher
Lynn Hasher is a cognitive scientist known for research on attention, working memory, and inhibitory control. Hasher is Professor Emerita in the Psychology Department at the University of Toronto and Senior Scientist at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care.

Cosmelliet et al - Binocular Rivalry Experiment - 2004
Manipulative approaches to human brain dynamics

Monti et al - experiments in 2013
Scholarly articles for Monti et al - experiments in 2013

Stephan and Dixon - Disruptive Strategies
The Architecture of Cognition: Rethinking Fodor and Pylyshyns Systematicity Challenge - Buy Here

Schilling - 2005

Matson on salience 1976
"And then this is based on work originally from Matson in 1976, his book on salience"
Scholarly articles for Matson on salience 1976

Here's an article from Frontiers In Human Neuroscience: “Self-Organizing Free Energy Minimization And Optimal Grip On A Field Of Affordances” by Bundaberg and Rhett Velde from 2014

Read Montague argues - the neuroscientist - in his book “Your Brain Is Almost Perfect” - Buy Here

Martin Heidegger was a German philosopher who is widely regarded as one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century. He is best known for contributions to phenomenology, hermeneutics, and existentialism

“Being In The World” on Heidegger - Buy Here

Heidegger uses the expression Dasein to refer to the experience of being that is peculiar to human beings. Thus it is a form of being that is aware of and must confront such issues as personhood, mortality and the dilemma or paradox of living in relationship with other humans while being ultimately alone with oneself.

Other helpful resources about this episode:
Notes on Bevry
Additional Notes on Bevry

Ep. 31 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - Embodied-Embedded RR as Dynamical-Developmental GI

Welcome back to awakening from the meaning crisis. This is episode 31. So last time we were taking a look at trying to progress in an attempt to give at least a plausible suggestion, a scientific theory, of how we could explain relevance realization. And one of the things we examined was the distinction between a theory of relevance and a theory of relevance realization. And I made the argument that we cannot have a scientific theory of relevance precisely because of a lack of systematic import, but we can have a theory of relevant realization. And then I gave you the analogy of that, which I'm building towards something stronger than an analogy of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection and that in which Darwin proposed a virtual engine that regulates the reproductive cycle so that the system constantly evolves the biological fitedness of organisms to a constantly changing environment. And then the analogy is [that] there is a virtual engine in the embodied brain - and why it’s an embodied, embedded brain will become clear in this lecture - but there is a virtual engine that regulates the sensory motor loop so that my cognitive interactional fittedness is constantly being shaped. It's constantly evolving to deal with a constantly changing environment. And what I in fact need, as I argued, is a system of constraints because I'm trying to, between selective and enabling constraints, to limit and zero in on relevant information.

And then I was trying to argue that the way in which that operates - we saw that [-] needs to be sort of related to an auto poetic system - and then the way that operates the self organization, I suggested, operates in terms of a design that you see in many scales - and we need, remember, a multi-scaleular theory in terms of your biological and cognitive organization. And that's in terms of Opponent Processing. And we took a look at the opponent processing within the autonomic nervous system that is constantly, by this strong analogy, evolving your level of arousal to the environment; opposing goals, but inter-related function. Then I proposed to you that we could look for the kinds of properties that we're going to be talking about, the level at which we're going to be pitching a theory of relevance realization, which is the theory of bioeconomic properties that are operating, not according to normativity of truth or validity, not logical normativity, but logistical normativity. And the two most important logistical norms, I would propose to you, are efficiency and resiliency.

And then I made an argument that they would be susceptible to opponent processing precisely because they are in a tradeoff relationship with each other, and that if we could get a cognitive virtual engine that regulates the sensory-motor loop by systematically playing off selective constraints on efficiency - selective logistical economic constraints on efficiency - and enabling economic constraints on resiliency, then we could give an explanation, a theory deeply analogous to Darwin's theory of the evolution across individuals of biological fittedness, we could give an account of the cognitive evolution within individuals cognition of their cognitive interactional fittedness; the way they are shaping the problem space so as to adaptively be well-fitted to achieving their interactional goals with the environment.

Relevance Detection VS Relevance Projection And Resisting Both

Before I move on to try and make that more specific and make some suggestions of how this might be realized in the neural machinery of brains, I want to point out why I keep emphasising this embodied embedded. And I want to say a little bit more about this, because I also want to return to something I promised to return to: why I want to resist both an empiricist notion of relevance detection and a romantic notion of relevance projection.

So the first thing is, why am I saying “embodied”? Because what I've been trying to argue is [that] there is a deep dependency, a deep connection - and the dependency runs from propositional down through to participatory - but there is a deep dependency, between your cognitive agency as an intelligent general problem solver, and the fact that your brain exists within a bio economy. The body is not Cartesian clay that we drag around and shape according to the whims or desires of our totally self-enclosed, for Descartes, immaterial minds.

The body is not a useless appendage. It is not just a vehicle. So even here I'm criticising certain platonic models! The body is an auto-poetic bio-economy that makes your cognition possible. Without an auto-poetic bio-economy you do not have the machinery necessary for the ongoing evolution of relevance realization. The body is constitutive of your cognitive agency in a profound way. Why “embedded”. And this will also lead us into the rejection of both an empiricist and a romantic interpretation. Why “embedded”? The biological fittedness of a creature is not a property of the creature per se. It is a real relation between the creature and its environment. Is a great white shark intrinsically adapted? No! That makes no sense to ask that question, because if I take this supposedly apex predator, really adopted, and put it in the Sahara desert, it dies within minutes, right? It's adaptivity is not a property intrinsic to it per se. It's adaptivity is not something that it detects in the environment! It's adaptivity is a real relation, an affordance, between it and the environment. In a similar way, while I would argue that relevance is not a property in the object, it is not a property of the subjectivity of my mind. It is neither a property of objectivity nor a property of subjectivity. It is precisely a property that is co-created by how the environment and the embodied brain are fitted together in a dynamic evolving fashion. It is very much like the bottle being graspable (picks up his water bottle to demonstrate); this is not a property of the bottle nor a property of my hand, but a real relation, a real relation, on how they can be fitted together, function together. So I would argue [that] we should not see relevance as something that we subjectively project, as the romantic claims. We should not see relevance as something we merely detect from the objectivity of objects, as perhaps we might if we had an empiricist bent.

I want to propose a term to you. I want to argue that relevance is in this sense, transjective (writes this on the board). It is a real relationship between the organism and its environment. We should not think of it as being projected. We should not think of it as being detected. This is why I've consistently used the term… We should think of relevance as being realized, because the point about the term realization is it has two aspects to it. And I'm trying to triangulate from those two aspects. What do I mean by that? There is an objective sense to realization (writes Objective Realization below and to the right of transjective), which is to “make real”, and if that's not an objective thing, [then] I don't know what counts! “Making real”, that's objective! But of course there is a subjective sense to realization (writes Subjective Realization below and to the left of transjective), which is “coming into awareness”, and I'm using both these words, I'm using both these senses of the same word (connects both realisation’s with a line (base of a triangle)) - I'm not equivocating - I am trying to triangulate to the transjectiveity of relevance realization (completes the triangle). That is why I'm talking about something that is both embodied, necessarily so, and embedded, necessarily so! Notice how non-, or perhaps better, anti-Cartesian this is! The connection between mind - if what you mean by ‘mind’ is your capacity for consciousness and cognition - and body is one of dependence, of constitutive need. Your mind needs your body. We're also talking, not only about it being embodied [and] embedded, it is inherently a [transactional] relation of relevance realization. The world and the organism are co-creating co-determining co-evolving the fittedness.

All right, let's now return to it: the proposal. Now… before, we return, notice what this is telling us. This is telling us that a lot of the grammar by which we try to talk about ourselves and our relationship to reality - the subjective, objective… both of these are reifying, and they are inherence claims! They are the idea that relevance is a thing that has an essence that inheres in the subject or relevance is a thing that has an essence that inheres in the object. Both of those, that standard grammar and the adversarial, partisan debates we often have, I am arguing need to be transcended (indicates ‘transjective’), need to be transcended. And I would then propose to you that that's going to have a fundamental impact on how we interpret spirituality, if again, by spirituality, we mean a sense, and a functional sense, of connectedness that affords wisdom, self-transcendence, et cetera.

Efficiency And Resiliency

So back to the idea of efficiency, resiliency, tradeoffs. I would point you to the work of Marcus Brede and he's got work sort of mathematically showing that when you're creating networks, especially neural networks, you're going to optimise - and we talked about optimisation in the previous video - you're going to optimise between efficiency and resiliency. That's how you're going to get them to function the best you can. Now what I want to try and do is try to show you the relationship, the poles of the transjectivity and how that's going to come out, or at least point towards the generative relationship that can be discussed in terms of these polls.

So I argued that, initially, the machinery of relevance realization has to be internal. Now again, this is why I just did what I did: when I say “internal”, I don't mean to subjective. I don't mean inside the introspective space of the mind. When I'm talking about “the goals are internal” I mean internal to an embodied, embedded, brain/body system; an auto-poetic system of adaptivity. In fact, there [are] many people who are arguing in cognitive science that those two terms are interdependent. Just like I'm arguing that relevance realization is dependent on auto-poesies being an adoptive system and being an auto-poetic system are also interdependent. The system can only be continually self making if it has some capacity to adapt to changes in its environment. And the system is only adoptive if it is trying to maintain itself. And that only makes sense if it has real needs, if it's an auto-poetic thing. So these things are actually deeply interlocked: Relevance Realization, auto-poesies, and adaptivity (writes out another triangle with the three of these).

So, as Markus Brede has argued and other people, and I'm giving you independent argument, you want to get a way of optimising between efficiency and resilience. You don't want… remember with the autonomic nervous system, this doesn't mean getting some average or stable mean, it means the system can move. Sometimes giving more emphasis to efficiency, sometimes giving more emphasis to resiliency; just like your autonomic nervous system is constantly evolving, constantly recalibrating your level of arousal.

Now, what I want to do is pick up on how those constraints might cash out. In particular [-] how these logistical norms, understood as constraints, can be realized in particular virtual engines (writes efficiency above resiliency on the left side of the board with a double ended arrow joining them). And I want to do this by talking about Internal Bioeconomic Properties (writes this on the board, to the right of efficiency) and then, for lack of a better way for this contrast - and again, this does not map onto the subjectivity objectivity! I don't have to keep saying that, correct (looks at audience - stern face!!)? Okay? External Interactional Properties (writes this on the board, to the right of Internal Bioeconomic Properties). By external I mean that these eventually are going to give rise to goals in the world as opposed to constituent of goals in the system. And what I want to do is show you how you go back and forth. Now it'll make sense to do this in terms of reverse engineering, because it will just help to make more sense, because I'm starting from what you understand in yourself, and then working [back]. So often I will start here (External Interactional Properties) and go this way (indicates moving right to left across the board).

So you want to be adaptive. We said, we want to be a general problem solver, and that's important, but notice that that means there's two kinds of, and people don't like when I use this word, but I don't have an alternative word, so I'm just going to use it… There's two kinds of “machines” you can be. What I mean by that is a system that is capable of solving problems and pursuing goals in some fashion. If I want to be adaptive, what [-] kind of machine do I want to be? Well, I might want to be a general purpose machine (writes general purpose below External Interactional Properties). Now these terms are always, and I keep showing you that, are always relative; they're comparative terms and relative. I don't think anything is absolutely general or absolutely special purpose. It's always a comparative term.

Let me give you an example. My hand is a general purpose machine, right? My hand is such that it can be used in many, many different contexts for many, many different tasks. So it's very general purpose. Now, the problem with being a Jack of all trades is that you are master of none. So the problem with my hand being general purpose is that for specific tasks, it can be out competed by a special purpose machine. So, although this is a good general purpose machine, it is nowhere as good as a hammer for driving in a nail. Nowhere as good as a screwdriver for removing a screw, et cetera, et cetera. So, in some contexts, special purpose machines, outperform general purpose machines, but you wouldn't want the following: you wouldn't want [if, for example,] you're going to be stranded on a desert Island, like maybe Tom Hanks in Castaway, and he lost all of his special purpose tools. They sink to the bottom of the ocean, that causes him a lot of distress! Literally what he starts with at first is his hands, the general purpose machines! And the pr[oblem], and you see that, “Wow, they're not doing very good! If I just had a good knife!” But the problem is you wouldn't want well, not Tom Hanks, but his character, I forget the character's name. I think it was Jack. You wouldn't have Jack, “Jack, I'm going to cut off your hands and I can attach a knife here and a hammer here and now you have a hammer, a knife!” It's like, “no, no, no, I don't want that either. I don't want just a motley collection of special purpose machines”

So sometimes you're adaptive by being a general purpose machine. Sometimes times you're adoptive by being a special purpose machine (writes Special Purpose beside General Purpose, below External Interactional Properties). So general purpose machine, you use the same thing over and over again. Sometimes we make a joke about somebody using a special purpose machine as a general purpose machine, right? “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”, right? And the joke there is, and it strikes us as a joke because we know that hammers are special purpose things and everything isn’t a nail! It's not so much a joke if I say, “sometimes when all you have is a hand, everything looks graspable!” That's not so weird. So what am I trying to get you to see? What I'm trying to get you to see is you want to be able to move between these (general and special purpose). This (general purpose) is very efficient. Why? Because I'm using the same thing over and over again, the same function over and over again, or at least the same set of tightly bound functions. The thing about a special purpose is I don't use it that often. I use my hammer sometimes and my saw sometimes and my screwdriver sometimes and I have to carry around the toolbox. Now the problem with that is it gets very inefficient because a lot of the times I'm carrying my hammer around and I'm not using it. So I have to bear the cost of carrying it around and I'm not using it. So it's very inefficient, but you know what it makes me? It makes me tremendously resilient because when there's a lot of new things, unexpected, specific issues that my general purpose thing can’t handle, I'm ready for them! I have resiliency. I've got differences within my toolbox kit that allow me to deal with these special circumstances.

So notice what I want to do. I want to constantly trade between them (draws a double ended arrow between general and special purpose). I want to constantly trade between them. Now, what I'm going to do - I did that to show you this (points at External Interactional Properties, then wipes general and special purpose off the board). I'm then now going to reorganise it this way… because what I’m going to show you, what I'm arguing, is general purpose is more efficient, special purpose is making you more resilient (now writes general purpose (gp) ABOVE special purpose (sp) with a double ended arrow between them, just like efficiency and resiliency on the left side of the board) and you want to trade between them. Okay, so those are interactional properties, and you said, “so I sort of get the analogy. What does that have to do with the brain and bio economy?” So how would you try to make information processing more efficient? Well, what I want to do is I want to try and make the process I'm using, the functions I'm using, to be as generalisable as possible. That will get me general purpose, because I can use the same function in many places. Then I'm very efficient. How do you do that? How do you do that?

Well, here's where I want to pause and I want to introduce just a tiny bit of narrative in here. When I was writing this paper with Tim Lilicrap and Blake Richards, but especially this was Tim's great insight. You've got to get in[to]… If you're interested in cutting edge AI, you really need to pay attention to the work that Tim Lillicrap is doing. Tim’s a former student of mine and his calling, in many ways of course he's greatly surpassed my knowledge and expertise. He's one of the cutting edge people in Artificial Intelligence, and he had a great insight here. I was proposing this model, this theory to him and he said, “but you know, you should reverse engineer it in a certain way!” And I said, “what do you mean?” He says, “well, you're acting as if you're just proposing this top down, but what you should see is that many of the things you're talking about are already being used within the AI community!” So the paper we published was “Relevance Realization and the Emerging Framework in Cognitive Science”, namely that a lot of the strategies [that we] are going to talk about here (indicates Internal Bioeconomic Properties) are strategies that are already being developed.

Now, I'm going to have to talk about this at a very abstract level, because which one of the particular architectures or particular applications is going to turn out to be the right one, we don't know yet! That's still something in progress. But I think Tim's point is very well taken that we shouldn't be talking about this in a vacuum. We should also see that the people who are trying to make Artificial Intelligence are already implementing some of these strategies that I’m going to point out. And I think that's very telling, the fact that we're getting convergent argument that way.

Compression And Particularization

Okay, so how do I make an information processing function, more generalisable? How do I do that? Well, I want to… I mean, you know how we do it now! Because we've talked about it before! But you do it in science. So here's two variables, for example (draws and x y graph), it's not limited to two, right?! And so I have a scatter plot (puts a bunch of dots in the graph) and what they taught you to do was a line of best fit (draws a line up through the dots, bottom left to top right through the dots - a best fit). All right, this is a standard move in Cartesian graphing. Now why do you do a line of best fit? [-] and my line of best fit might actually touch none of my data points. Does that mean I'm being ridiculously irresponsible to the data? [That] I’m just engaging in armchair speculation? No! Why do we do this? Why did we do a line of best fit? Well, why we're doing this is because it allows us to interpolate and extrapolate (extends the line far beyond the data points). It allows us to go beyond the data. Now we're taking a chance and, of course, all good science, and this was the great insight of Popper: “all good science takes good chances!”, right? But here's the thing: I do this so that I can make predictions [of] what the value of Y will be when I have a certain value of X that I've never obtained. I can interpolate and extrapolate. That means I can generalise the function. So this is data compression. This is Data Compression (writes Data Compression above the graph). What I'm trying to do is basically pick up on what's invariant. The idea is that the information always contains noise, and I'm trying to pick up on what's invariant and extend that. And of course that's part and parcel of why we do this because in science, we're trying to do the inductive generalizations, et cetera, et cetera.

So the way in which I make my functionality more general, more general purpose, is if I can do a lot of data compression (writes compression under Internal Bioeconomic Properties inline with gp under external interactional properties, with a double ended arrow between compression and gp)). So if the data compression allows me to generalise my function and that generalisation is feeding through the sensory motor loop in a way that is protecting and promoting my auto-poetic goals, it’s going to be reinforced. But what about the opposite (draws a little double ended arrow down from compression in anticipation…)? What was interesting at the time - I think [-] some people have picked us up on a term - we didn't have a term for this, and I remember there was a whole afternoon where Tim and I were just trying to come up with, “what do we want for the trade off?” So this is making your information processing more efficient (up the little arrow towards Compression), more general purpose (across to gp). What makes it more special purpose, more resilient? And so we came up with the term Particularization writes this below Compression.

And Tim's point - and I'm not going to go into detail here - Tim's point is this is the general strategy that's at work in things like the wake-sleep algorithm that is at the heart of the deep learning promoted by Geoffrey Hinton who was at UFT, and Tim was a very significant student of Jeff's. And so, this is the abstract explanation of how that strategy that’s at work in a lot of the deep learning that's at the core of a lot of successful AI. What particularization is, is I'm trying to keep more in track with the data (draws a squiggly line up through the data points in the graph, overlying the line of best fit). I'm trying to create a function that over fits in some sense to that data. That will get me more specifically in contact with “this” particular situation. So this (compression) tends to emphasise what is invariant. This (particularization) tends to get the system to pick up on more variations. So this (compression) will make the system more cross contextual. It can move across contexts because it can generalise. This (particularization) will tend to make the system more context sensitive.

And of course you don't want to maximize any one of these. You want them dynamically trading and notice how they are - is this the right word? I hope so! - obeying! It sounds so anthropomorphic. Notice how they're obeying the logistical normativity trading between efficiency and resiliency (indicates mutual double ended arrows). And then there's various ways of doing this, right? And there's lots of interesting ways of engineering this into — but it's creating a ‘virtual’ engine — engineering this, creating sets of constraints on this so this will oscillate in the right way and optimise that way (relationships between compression & particularization and gp & sp). And so the idea is when you've got this (compression <—> particularisation) as something that's following the completely internal Bioeconomic logistical norms, it will result in the evolution of sensory motor interaction that is going to make a system or an organism constantly adaptively moving between being general purpose and being special purpose. It will become very adaptive. Now different organisms will be biologically skewed one way or the other, even individuals will be biologically skewed.

Psychopathological Interpretation, Cognitive Scope And Applicability

So there are people now proposing, for example, that we might understand certain psychopathology as in terms of ‘some people are more biased towards overfitting, to particularizing’, and ‘some people are more biased towards compressing and generalising’. These people (compression) tend towards seeing many connections where there aren't connections. And these people (particularisation) tend to be very ‘featurely’ bound. (Wipes graph off the board.)

Okay, what's another one… Oh, so this is “Compression <-> Particularization”. We called [it] “Cognitive Scope” (writes Cognitive Scope beside Compression <-> Particularization), and we called this (gp <-> sp) “applicability” (writes applicability beside gp <-> sp), how much you can apply your function or functions. And the idea is if you can get scope going the right way, it will - and there's no other way of [putting it] - it will attach to, it’ll get coupled to - it's not representing - it will get coupled to this pattern of interaction (indicates gp <-> sp), which will fit you well to the dynamics of change and stability in the environment.

Exploitation VS Exploration

Okay. What's another thing? Well, a lot of people are talking about this (writes “Exploitation <—> Exploration” below External Interactional Properties). You'll see people even talking about this in AI very significantly. Exploitation versus exploration. So here's another trade off. This (Internal Bioeconomic Properties) tends to be in terms of the scope of your information. This (Exploration <—> Exploitation under External Interactional Properties) has to do more with the timing. So here's the question: should I stay here and try and get as much as I can out of here? [-] That's exploiting. Or should I move and try and find new things, new potential sources of resource and reward? They are in a tradeoff relationship, because the longer I stay here, the more opportunity costs I accrue, but the more I move around, the less I can actually draw from the environment. So do I want to maximize either? No, I want to trade between them. I'm always trading between exploiting and exploring. There's different strategies that might be at work here. I've seen recent work in which [-] this (exploitation) is your reward when a system doesn't make an error and then your reward (exploration) when it makes an error. And of course those are in a tradeoff relationship and this sort of makes it more curious (exploration). This makes it more sort of conscientious (exploitation), if I have to speak anthropomorphically!

[-] (on the left, under Internal Bioeconomical Properties) So one way you can do this is you can Reward Error [-] Reduction or Reward Error increase (writes these both on the board, separated by another double ended arrow). The way we talked about in the paper is you can trade off between what's called Temporal Displacement Learning (writes TDL level with Reward Error Reduction) and Inhibition on Return (writes IR level with Reward Error Increase). I won't go into the dynamics there. What I can say is there's different strategies being considered and being implemented. And this is Cognitive Tempering (writes tempering with TDL and IR), having to do with both temper and the relationship between ‘temp’(?) and time. And this has to do with the ‘projectability’ of your processing (writes project ability with exploitation <-> exploration).

Now, first of all, a couple of things: are we claiming that these are exhaustive? No, they are not exhaustive. They are exemplary. They're not exhaustive. They're exemplary of the ways in which you can trade between efficiency and resiliency and create virtual engines that will adapt by setting up systems of constraints, the sensory-motor loop, the interactions (indicates External Interactional Properties) with the environment in evolving manner.

So why is exploitation efficient? Because I don't have to expend very much. I can just stay here. But it depends on things sort of staying the same. Exploration is I have to expend a lot of energy, I have to move around and it's only rewarding if there's significant difference. If I go to B and it's the same as A, you know what I should've done? Stayed at A!! Do you see what's happening? All of these in different ways - this has to do with the applicability, the scope; this has to do with the projectability, the time - but [with] all of these you're trading between [the fact] that sometimes what makes something relevant is how its the same, how it's invariant! Sometimes what makes something relevant is how it's different, how it changes. And you have to constantly shift the balance between those, because that's what reality is doing. That's what reality is doing. (Draws a double ended arrow left to right, joining Exploitation & Exploration and Reward Error Increase/Decrease.)

What's another one? Well, another type of one… I think there are many of these (Internal Bioeconomic Property list), and they are not going to act in an arbitrary fashion because they are all regulated by the tradeoff normativity, the opponent processing, between efficiency and resiliency. Notice, these (compression & particularisation) are both what are called different cost functions; they are dealing again with the bio-economics - how you're dealing with the cost of processing. So playing between the costs and benefits of these, et cetera. But you might also need to play between these (draws two vertical double ended arrows, one between Scope and Tempering on the left and one between Applicability & Projectability on the right). So it's also possible that we have what we called Cognitive Prioritization (written on the board, at the bottom left) in which you have cost functions being played off against each other. [-] So here's a cost function (compression <-> Particularization), here's a cost function (Reward Error Increase <-> RE Decrease) and they’re play[ing]… So cost function one (writes CF1), cost function two (writes CF2), they’re playing off against each other. And you may… and you have to [-] decide here - and this overlaps with what's called Signal Detection Theory, and other things I won't get into… - you have to be very flexible in how you gamble, because you may decide that you will try [to] hedge your bets and activate as many functions as you can. Or you may try to go for the big thing and say, no, I'm going to give[-] a lot of priority to just this function. Of course, you don't want that to maximize, you want flexible gambling (writes Flexible Gambling to the right of CF1 & CF2, with a double arrow between). Sometimes you're focusing. Sometimes you're diversifying. (Writes Focusing on the bottom right, above Diversifying, both next to Flexible Gambling and with an up down double arrow between them). You create a kind of integrated function. All of this can be, and if you check it in the paper, all of this can be represented mathematically. Once again, I am not claiming this is exhaustive. I'm claiming it's exemplary. I think these are important. I think scope and time cost functions and prioritising between cost functions… I think it's very plausible that they are part and parcel of our cognitive processing. (Wipes board, except for efficiency <—> resiliency on the left)

What I want you to think about is - I'm representing this abstractly - think about each one of these, you know, here's scope (X axis of a graph drawn), here's tempering (Y axis), and then of course there is the prioritization that is playing between them (Z axis). I want you to think [-] of this as a [3D] space and these functions [-] are all being regulated in this fashion (circles efficiency <-> resiliency). Relevance Realization is always taking place in this space, and at ‘this’ moment, it's got ‘this’ particular value according to tempering and scope and prioritization, and then it moves to ‘this’ value, and then to ‘this’ value and to ‘this’ value and then to ‘this’ value, and then out to ‘this’ value… It’s moving around in a state space (joins dots throughout the 3D represented space within the graph). That's what it is. That's what's happening when you're doing Relevance Realization. But although [-] I've represented how this is dynamic, I haven't shown you how and why it would be developmental. (Wipes graph off the board.)

Compression And Particularisation, A Deeper Investigation Through To Complexification

I'm going to do this with just one of these, because I could teach an entire course just on Relevance Realization. When you're doing data compression, you're emphasising how you can integrate information - remember, like the line of best fit, you're emphasising Integration, because you're trying to pick up on what's invariant. And of course this is going to be verses Differentiation. (Writes these on the board Compression - Integration <—> Particularization - Differentiation.) I think you can make a very clear argument that these map very well onto the two fundamental processes that are locked in opponent processing that Piaget - one of the founding figures of developmental psychology - said [-] drive development. This is what Piaget called Assimilation (writes this on the board: Compression - Integration - Assimilation). Assimilation is you have a Cognitive Schema - and what is a cognitive schema again? It is a set of constraints - and you have a cognitive schema and what that set of constraints do is it makes you integrate, it makes you treat the new information as the same as what you got, you integrate it, you assimilate it; that's compression. What's the opposite for Piaget? Well, it's Accommodation (writes this on the board: Particularization - Differentiation - Accommodation) (NB: there are now 3 arrows on the board: Compression <-> Particularization; Integration <-> Differentiation; Assimilation <-> Accommodation. All three in line with Efficiency <-> Resiliency). And that's why, of course, when people talk about exploratory emotions, like awe, they invoke accommodation as a Piagetian principle because it opens you up. What does it do? It causes you to change your structure, your schemas. Why do we do this (assimilation)? Well, because it's very efficient. Why do we have to do this (accommodation)? Because if we just pursue efficiency, if we just assimilate, our machinery gets brittle and [distortional]. It has to go through accommodation. It has to introduce variation. It has to rewire and restructure itself so that it can, again, respond to a more complex environment.

So not only is relevance realization inherently dynamic, it is inherently developmental. When a system is self-organizing, there is no deep distinction between its function and its development. It develops by functioning, but by functioning, it develops. When a system is simultaneously integrating and differentiating it is complexifying; Complexification (labels this on the board: Integration <-> Differentiation } Complexification). A system is highly complex if it is both highly differentiated and highly integrated. Now why? But if I'm highly differentiated, I can do many different things (waves his arms about!). But if I do many different things and I’m not highly integrated, I will fly apart as a system. So I need to be both highly differentiated so I can do many different things and highly integrated so I stay together as an integrated system. As systems complexify, they self transcend; they go through qualitative development (writes Self-transcendence off of Complexification).

A Further Biological Analogy

Let me give you an analogy for this. Notice how I keep using biological analogies! That is not a coincidence. You started out life as a zygote, a fertilized cell, a singular cell. The egg and the sperm (gesticulates coming together), zygote. Initially, all that happens is the cells just reproduce, but then something very interesting starts to happen. You get cellular differentiation. Some of the cells start to become lung cells. Some of them start to become eye cells. Some start to become organ cells. But they don't just differentiate. They integrate! They literally Self-ORGANize into a heart organ, an eye… (writes Self-organize on the board, highlighting ‘organ’). You developed through a process, at least biologically, of biological complexification. What does that give you? That gives you emergent abilities (Writes Emergent off of Complexification). You transcend yourself as a system. When I was a zygote, I could not vote. I could not give this lecture. I now have those functions. In fact, when I was a zygote, I couldn't learn what I needed to learn in order to do this lecture. I did not have that qualitative competence. I did not have those functions! But as a system complexifies - notice what I'm showing you: as a system is going through relevance realization, it is also complexifying, it is getting new emergent abilities of how it can interact with the environment and then extend that relevance realization into that emergent self-transcendence. If you're a relevance realising thing, you're inherently dynamical, self-organizing, auto-poetic thing, which means you are an inherently developmental thing, which means you are an inherently self transcending thing. (Wipes board completely clean.)

An Argument For Relevance Realization As A Unified Phenomenon

Now, [I] want to respond to a potential argument that you might have. It's like, “well, I get all of this, but maybe relevance, realizations is a bunch of many different functions!” First of all, I'm not disagreeing with the idea that a lot of our intelligence is carried with heuristics and some of those are more special purpose and some are more general purpose, and we need to learn how to trade off between them. However, I do want to claim that relevance realization is a unified phenomenon. And I'm going to do this in a two part way. The first is to first assert, and then I will later will substantiate that when we're talking about general intelligence - in fact that's what this whole argument has been - we’re talking about relevance realization. Now this goes to work I did with Leo Ferraro, who was a psychometrist, somebody who actually does psychometric testing on people's intelligence. And one of the things we know from Spearman, way back in the twenties, is - and he discovered what's called the General Factor of Intelligence, sometimes called General Intelligence; there's a debate about whether we should identify those or not. I'm not going to get into that right now! What Spearman found was that how kids were doing in math was actually predictive of how they were doing in English and even how they were doing - contrary to what our culture says - how they're doing in sports. [-] How I'm doing in all these different tasks (writes A B C D on the board in a square) was… how I did in A was predictive of how I did and B, and vice versa! (Connects all letters to all other letters with double ended arrows.) This is what's called a Strong Positive Manifold. There's this huge, Inter-predictability between how you do on all these very many different tasks. That is your general intelligence. Many people would argue, and I would agree that this is the capacity that underwrites you being a general problem solver.

Often when we're testing for intelligence, we're testing, therefore, General Intelligence (circles G.I. on the board). I'll put the panel up as we go along. What Leo showed me - he made a good argument - is that the things we study when [-] we’re doing something like the Wechsler's test, or something like that, a psychometric test… So you will test things like “The Comprehension Subset”.

General Intelligence 1

And of course you'll concentrate on “Similarity Judgments”, right? You'll also do what, right? “The Similarities of pictures”. Okay. Other people have talked about your “Ability to Adapt to Unpredictable Environments”. There's other work by (?) and others… Your “Ability to deal with complex workplaces”, what are called “G-Loaded” that require a lot… (shows these all circled in the diagram onscreen, and writes a few of them off GI on the board).


Now when you trace these back, what this points to is your capacity for “Problem Formulation”, the “Similarity Judgments”, and what are called the “Eduction abilities”, the ability to draw out latent patterns. This of course is similarity judgment. This is a similarity judgment and pattern finding. The complex [workplaces] is basically dealing with very ill defined dynamic situations. [-] and adapting to complex environments. So this is general intelligence.

This is [-] how we test general intelligence. We test people across all these different kinds of tasks and what we find is a Strong Predictive Manifold - there's some general ability behind it. But notice these: problem formulation, similarity, similarity judgments, pattern finding, dealing with ill-defined dynamic situations, adapting to complex environments… That's exactly all the places that I've argued we need relevance realization. (Completes the above diagram by bringing everything together to R.R. at the bottom.)

Relevance Realization, what I would argue, is actually the underlying ability of your general intelligence. That's how we test for it (indicates framework on the board). This is the things that came out. And you can even see comprehension aspects in here, all kinds of things. So relevance realization, I think, is a very good candidate for your general intelligence. Insofar as general intelligence is a unified thing, and we have…/ this is, look, this is one of the most robust findings in psychology (Indicates Spearman / ABCD Manifold). It just keeps happening. There's always debates about it, blah, blah, blah, and people don't like the psychometric measures of intelligence. And I think that's because they're confusing intelligence and relevance and wisdom - we'll come back to that. The thing is, this is a very powerful measure. It's reliable! This is from the 1920s that this keeps getting replicated. This is not going through a replication crisis. And if I had to know one thing about you in order to try and predict you. The one thing that outperforms anything else is knowing this (again, taps Spearman/ABCD Manifold); this will tell me how you do in school, how you do in your relationships, how well you treat your health, how long you're likely to live, whether or not you're going to get a job. This crushes, how well you do in it and an interview in predicting whether or not you'll get and keep a job. Is this the only thing that's predictive of you? No! And I'm going to argue later that intelligence and rationality are not identical. But is this (Spearman/Manifold) a real thing? And is it a unified thing? Yes. And can we make sense of this (G.I. on the board) as relevance realization? Yes. Is relevance realization, therefore, a unified thing? Yes. So relevance realization is your general intelligence and what I'm arguing - well at least that's what I'm arguing - and that your general intelligence can be understood as a dynamic developmental evolution of your sensory-motor fittedness that is regulated by virtual engines that are ultimately regulated by the logistical normativity of the opponent processing between efficiency and resiliency. (Wipes board clean)

So we've already integrated a lot of psychology and the beginnings of biology, with some Neuroscience, [-] and we've definitely integrated with some of the best insights from artificial intelligence. What I want to do next time to finish off this argument is to show how this might be realized in dynamical processes within the brain and how that is lining up with some of our cutting edge ideas. I'm spending so much time on this because this is the linchpin argument of the cognitive science side of the whole series. If I had to show you how everything feeds in to relevance realization (draws a convergent diagram into RR), if I can give you a good scientific explanation of this (RR) in terms of psychology, artificial intelligence, biology, neuroscientific processing, then it is legitimate and plausible to say that I have a naturalistic explanation of that. And if the history is pointing towards this, what we're going to then have the means to do is to argue how this - and we've already seen it, how it's probably embedded in your procedural, perspectival, participatory, knowing, it's embedded into your [transactional] dynamical coupling to the environment and the affordance of the agent arena relationship; the connectivity between mind and body, the connectivity between mind and world. (Represents all of this with the divergent side of the diagram, coming out of RR.) We've seen it’s central to your intelligence, central to [the] functionality of your consciousness. This is going to allow me to explain so much! We've already seen it as affording an account of why you're inherently self transcending.

We'll see that we can use this machinery to come up with an account of the relationship between intelligence, rationality, and wisdom. We will be able to explain so much of what's at the centre of human spirituality. We will have a strong plausibility argument for how we can integrate cognitive science and human spirituality in a way that may help us to powerfully address the meaning crisis.

Thank you very much for your time and attention.


Episode 31 - Notes

Markus Brede
Networks that optimize a trade-off between efficiency and dynamical resilience:

Tim Lilicrap and Blake Richards (& John Vervaeke)
“Relevance Realization and the Emerging Framework in Cognitive Science”

Sir Karl Raimund Popper CH FBA FRS was an Austrian-British philosopher, academic and social commentator. One of the 20th century's most influential philosophers of science, Popper is known for his rejection of the classical inductivist views on the scientific method in favour of empirical falsification

Geoffrey Hinton
Geoffrey Everest Hinton CC FRS FRSC is a British-Canadian cognitive psychologist and computer scientist, most noted for his work on artificial neural networks. Since 2013 he divides his time working for Google and the University of Toronto.

-wake-sleep algorithm that is at the heart of the deep learning promoted by Geoffrey Hinton
The wake-sleep algorithm is an unsupervised learning algorithm for a stochastic multilayer neural network. The algorithm adjusts the parameters so as to produce a good density estimator. There are two learning phases, the “wake” phase and the “sleep” phase, which are performed alternately.

Piaget - one of the founding figures of developmental psychology
Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist known for his work on child development. Piaget's 1936 theory of cognitive development and epistemological view are together called "genetic epistemology". Piaget placed great importance on the education of children.

Charles Edward Spearman, FRS was an English psychologist known for work in statistics, as a pioneer of factor analysis, and for Spearman's rank correlation coefficient& General Factor of Intelligence

Strong Positive Manifold

Wechsler's test
The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) is an IQ test designed to measure intelligence and cognitive ability in adults and older adolescents. The original WAIS (Form I) was published in February 1955 by David Wechsler, as a revision of the Wechsler–Bellevue Intelligence Scale, released in 1939.

Other helpful resources about this episode:
Notes on Bevry
Additional Notes on Bevry

Ep. 30 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - Relevance Realization Meets Dynamical Systems Theory

Welcome back to awakening from the meaning crisis. This is episode 30. So last time we decided to dig into the central issue of realising what’s relevant. And we are following a methodological principle of not using or presupposing Relevance, the capacity to realize relevance, in any process, purported cognitive process, or brain process that we’re going to use to try and explain that ability. I gave you a series of arguments that we can’t use representations to explain relevance because representations crucially presuppose it. And then we took a look at some very interesting empirical evidence that really comports very well with that: The evidence supporting FINSTING and your ability to do Enactive Demonstrative Reference, this Salience Tagging, just making ‘stand out’ the hereness and the nowness of something.

Are we then took a look at, and we drew a few conclusions about the ‘meaning’ we are talking about in meaning in life - that ‘connectedness’. That connectedness is ultimately not generated by representations. Again, I’m going to keep saying this, I’m not denying that representations and belief in that level can alter and transform what we find relevant. We are talking about the explanation of the phenomenon, not how it is causally affected by other aspects of cognition. We then took a look at a syntactic level, the computational, level and saw arguments that neither inference nor rules can be used to explain the generation of relevance precisely because they also presuppose it. We looked at trying to deal with relevance in terms of some sort of internal module dedicated to it and that that won’t work; it’s homuncular and Relevance Realization needs to be scale invariant or at least multiscalular. It has to be happening simultaneously in a local and global way and that points towards something else we noted about any theory that has to account for this self-organization of relevance that is demonstrated in the phenomenon of insight.

So we then saw that a theory has to use explanatory ideas that point to processes that are, at least in the original sense, internal to the Relevance Realization, the Relevance system. I tried to get clear about how not to misunderstand that. What I meant was the goals of that govern relevance realization initially have to be constitutive goals. They cannot be goals built upon representing the environment in a particular way, instead they have to be the constitutive goals that are part of an auto-poetic system, a system that is self-organized because it has the goal of preserving and protecting and promoting its own self-organization. That draws deep connections between relevance realization and life and relevance realization and being an auto-poetic thing. And of course, as I’ve already mentioned, Relevance realization processes have to be multiscalular, they have to be self-organizing and they have to be capable of developmental self-transcendence, self-correction, insight , etc.

We noted along the way about how this links up with an argument about how the Propositional depends on the Procedural, which then depends on the Perspectival, which then depends on, is grounded in the Participatory.

Distinguishing Between Theories Of Relevance And Relevance Realisation.

But we hit a roadblock, [which] I want to now zero in on. I had been treating them as identical but I’m going to [now] make a very important theoretical distinction between a theory of relevance and a theory of relevance Realization. Because what I want to argue is that there cannot be a theory of relevance, at least a scientific theory of relevance, and since we are playing in the arena of science, scientific explanations, I am just going to keep doing that qualification, I’m just going to say there could not be a theory of relevance, a scientific theory of relevance. Why not? Well, this has to do with an issue that was originally brought up by Chiappe and Kukla in an article, a commentary on Behavioral Brain Science. Dan Chiappe and I have published work together. We are collaborating right now on a work on telepresence. I recommend you to take a look at the work of Dan Chiappe. But they made a point, and I think this point is very well taken, it’s a point that goes back to JS Mill but you can also see an updated version of it in the work of the important philosopher, and philosopher of Science, Wilford Quine (writes Quine on the board).

So this has to do with how science works. Now of course, the philosophy of science tackles all kinds of controversial claims about ‘what is science?’ and how science works, but I take it that one thing that is agreed-upon in science is that science works through “Inductive Generalisations” (writes Inductive Generalisation on the board) or it tries to generate inductive generalisations. What do I mean by that? In science youIn the science you study a bunch of things here (draws a little container with vertical lines) and then you make predictions and claims that that will be the case for all of that type of thing. So you know hereSo here I study a bunch of... (back to the diagram) here is a hunk of gold, here is a hunk of gold, here is a hunk of gold... I come up with a set of features or properties... does that generalise to all the instances of gold? And if it does then I come up with an Inductive Generalisation. I want to get the broadest possible inductive generalizations that I can, because that’s how science works. It’s trying to give us aIt’s trying to give us a powerful way ofIt’s trying to give us a powerful way of reliably predicting the world. It’s doing other things, very importantly it’s also trying to give us a way of explaining the world — I am not claiming this is.../ I’ve tried to make it clear, this is not meant to be an exhaustive account of science, it’s meant to point to a central practice within science, but a constituent practice nevertheless. If you can’t generate inductive generalizations in your purported endeavour, then you don’t have a Science. This is why pseudo-sciences like astrology fail, precisely because they cannot do inductive generalizations.

You say “OK great!” So what JS Mills pointed out is that that means that we need what’s called Systematic Import (writes systematic import on the board). And this is soAnd this is so relevant to what we were talking about last time; even using the word import is really relevant. What that means is science has to form categories because that’s what I’m trying to do right? I’m gathering a bunch of things and saying they belong, they are the same type of thing, they’re all instances of gold, they all belong to the category of gold. Science has to form categories that support powerful - meaning as broad as possible - inductive generalizations (draws another container diagram with more vertical stripes and an arrow coming out to ‘support powerful inductive generalizations’). To be able to do that is to have systematic import. Now what do I need? Think about reverse engineering this! In order to have reliable — that’s what powerful means, reliable and broad inductive generalizations — in order to have those what do I need to be the case here? Well, I need there to be important properties for that category. One thing is I need the category members to importantly be Homogenous (writes homogenous on the board). There’s a sense in which all the members of the category have to share properties (drawing) that’s me indicating they’re all sharing properties (draws a line horizontally through all the vertical lines in the diagram), right? And it’s because they share properties that I can make the inductive generalisation that other instances will also have those important properties (draws two little rectangular boxes with the same horizontal lines indicating that they are identical instances of the category). That’s exactly what I need because if the members are heterogeneous there’s no set of properties I can then extend the generalisation. They have to be homogenous.

Back To Essence - Gold, White Things & Horses

Now this gets us towards something very important. This gets us towards an idea from Quine because there’s a lot of discussion about this word right now in the culture (writes essence on the board). And I think the discussions is too polarised, and this has to go, again, with an issue made by Wittgenstein, but I want to put Wittgenstein and Quine together on this — very important modern philosopher (writes both Wittgenstein and Quine on the board and points at Quine) — because Wittgenstein, and this is what some of the critics of essence say, because if you remember according to Aristotle, and we talked about this when we talked about Aristotle, essence is a set of necessary and sufficient conditions. And what Wittgenstein pointed out, and remember we did this with the example of a game, that many of our categories don’t have essences. There is no set of necessary and sufficient conditions that will pick out all and only games, there’s no set of necessary and sufficient conditions that will pick out all and only tables. So many of our categories don’t have essences. That was Wittgenstein’s point! Now Wittgenstein, I don’t think you could ever pin him to the claim that no categories have essences, and that’s what some people, I think, have concluded: that no categories have essences, [that] everything is just nominal description! But that’s not right because of course, non-controversially, for example, Triangles have essences — that’s why Aristotle thought many things did — if it has three straight sides, three angles, it’s inclosed [then] it’s a triangle! That’s an essence to [being] a triangle. Now, that’s mathematical. Here’s what Quine argued, at least I think this is an interpretation of Quine that is philosophically defensible: Science… these things, like triangles, these are deductive essences, these are the essences that we can deduce. But what science discovers are inductive generalizations, and if they’re powerful enough, science gives us the essence of something. The essence of gold is the set of properties that will apply to all instances of gold; all and only instances of gold.

That homogenous set that can generalise is what an inductive essence is. Now, what that means is we shouldn’t.../ a couple of ways of talking in the media shouldn’t, or the general culture, should not be so uncritically excepted! Essentialism isn’t bad for things that have essences; why would it be!? Essentialism is the mistake of treating a category as if it has an essence. It is a mistake for things like games and tables precisely because they don’t have an essence. It is not a mistake for things like gold because gold has an essence, inductively. Or triangle, because triangles have a deductive essence. It is too simplistic to say ‘everything’ has an essence, or ‘everything’ doesn’t have an essence; it cuts both ways. It cuts both ways! There are many things that don’t have essences, that’s what’s right about the critique of essentialism. But it is wrong to [conclude that there is no the it’s wrong] to say that Wittgenstein’s argument [point] it is not an argument. Because it’s not a deductive argument that concludes that there are no essences, it only points [out] that many categories don’t have essences. So that means it is possible to do a science when we do what? When we categorize things in such a way that we get this (indicates ‘support powerful deductive generalizations’ on the board) because when we get ‘this’ then we have the essential properties of the thing.

Now, the reverse is the case. That’s what I mean by it cuts both ways. We can’t have a scientificWe can’t have a scientific explanation of everything. We can’t have a Scientific explanation of everything. If the category is not homogenous, if it does not support powerful Inductive generalizations, if it does not have an inductive essence, we cannot have a science about it. It doesn’t mean those things don’t exist it means we cannot scientifically investigate them. So for example, I can’t have a science of white things! Now, are there things that are white? Of course there are. This blackboard is white. This pen, at least part of it, is white. This piece of paper is white. To say there are white things in this room is to say something true. Noticed that: there are truths that are state-able, but the category that I am using — this is JS Mills’ example, White things — does not support any inductive generalizations other than the thing is white. Now don’t give me “well, we can have a theory about light and lightness!” we are not talking about a theory about light, we are talking about a theory about white things. Knowing that this is white (piece of paper) what does it tell me [about this pen]? So I study this white thing, OK? What do I learn about it other than... oh, nothing!! Other than it’s white! Is there any other important shared... (indicating the whiteboard and the piece of paper) well, no! They’re both flat but this is vertical this is horizontal...! You see? It doesn’t generalise! It doesn’t generalise. So it is correct to say that there are many categories that we form for which we could not generate a scientific theory or explanation, precisely because those categories are not homogenous; they don’t have an essence.

So notice what that doesn’t mean. The fact that I cannot have a scientific theory of it does not mean that the white things are made out of ghosts or dead Elves or ectoplasmic goo! It licenses no metaphysical weirdness. It just says that category functions in the sense that I can make true statements about its membership but it does not function in so far as it supports through systematic import, [through] powerful Inductive generalizations. What else do I need? Well, let’s compare the white things, as JS Mills did, to horses. Now, do you see, we depend on the fact that horses seem to have an essence? Now, whether or not they ultimately do, at some sort of species level or something really argued about in biology — and I’m not trying to be negligent of that, but I’m also not trying to resolve that — what did Mills mean by his example of horses? Well, what he meant by.../ if I learn a lot about this horse, it will generalise to other horses. It will generalise. So horses are in really important ways Homogenous. That’s why we can I have a veterinary medicine, and things like that, I can learn about it in terms of horses that have already been studied and it will generalise well two horses that have not themselves yet been studied. That’s fine. What else? ...and this is, I don’t mean this to be a pun! I need the category membership to be stable. That doesn’t mean to be ‘horses and stables’. What’s in the category, the kind of things that are in the category, should be stable. It shouldn’t be constantly shifting or changing because if this — and this was a point made a long time ago by Plato — if what in here is constantly shifting (refers back to container diagram), now I don’t mean particular members, I mean what kind of thing is in here is constantly shifting, then of course I can’t do inductive Generalisation because I will get into equivocation. I will get into equivocation.

The word ‘gravity’ originally meant having to do with drawing down into the grave, as we mentioned, it had to do with a sort of important seriousness, but now we use that term to describe a physical mode of attraction and interaction. And if I don’t notice the change in what goes into my categorisations I am not making a good inductive Generalisation, I am engaged in equivocation. And as I’ve tried to show you, equivocation is a way in which we make invalid, often ridiculous arguments. So it needs to be stable. We need the properties of the objects to, in some sense, be intrinsic or at least internal, inherent. This also comes from an argument by John Searle. Many objects have properties that are not intrinsic to the object but come from the object’s relationship to us, for example, then they are attributed properties. So a clearSo a clear example a sort of non-controversial example is something being money. Now here’s, again, ‘is money real?’ Well, a lot of my life is bent around money, so in that sense it seems to be real! But does anything intrinsically possess the property of being money? If I take out some coin or piece of paper, is it intrinsically money? No, it’s only money because we all attribute it as being money, we all treat it as money and that’s what makes it money. If we all decided to not treat it as money, it ceases to exist as money! We can’t do that with gold. Now, notice what I’m saying: we could all decide that gold is no longer valuable, no longer analogous to money, but we can’t all decide that gold no longer possesses it’s mass [or] atomic number! We can’t do that!

Now, the thing you have to remember is that many things that we think are intrinsic are actually attributed. (Holds up a plastic water bottle) this being a bottle is attributed because what it means to call it a bottle is the way it is relating to me and my usage of it! If there had never been human beings and this popped into existence because of some quantum event near a black hole or something, it isn’t a bottle! It is an object with a particular mass, a particular structure, but it’s not a bottle because being a bottle is something that it gets in its relationship to me. Now again, did I just show you that everything is an allusion? No! Again, the fact that there are many things that are genuinely relational, genuinely attributed, doesn’t mean that I’ve shown you that everything‘s false! I’ve just shown you that you can’t do science unless the members of your [category] are homogenous, stable, intrinsic or at least inherent (has listed these on the board), because that’s what you need to have powerful Inductive Generalisation.

OK lets see something that fails this - all of these tests. Things that happened on Tuesday, OK? Events that happened on Tuesday - Tuesday events! Are there events that happened on Tuesday? Yeah! And there are even events that can happen on multiple Tuesdays! We categorize things in terms of the days, we categorize events in terms of the days. Now are all the events on a Tuesday homogenous? No! Are all the events on many different Tuesdays homogenous? No! They are very, very different and widely varying. Is it stable, the things that happen on Tuesday, is it the same every Tuesday? No, that’s Groundhog Day or some kind of horrible Nietzchean hell! Oh and what about “TuesdayNess”, being Tuesday, is that inherent? I mean is there Tuesday in the room when it’s Tuesday? It can’t be because there was a time when we didn’t even have calendars. But notice how hard it is to realize that: there’s no “Tuesdayness”! So can I make true statements? “Last Tuesday I went to a movie”, is it true? Yes! Can I do a science of events that happened on Tuesday? No, I can’t because it doesn’t satisfy these criteria (indicates Homogenous, stable and inherent on the board). Does that mean that Tuesday is made out of ectoplasmic goo, Tuesday events actually take place in a different dimension? No, it doesn’t, none of that! None of that! You have to be careful on — and this is what we learned from Vittengstein — we have to be very careful about the grammar of our thoughts, how we are regulating our cognition.

Now, what I want to try and show you is that relevance does not have Systematic Importance. Relevant events are like Tuesday events. Here let me show you: the things that I find relevant, other than me finding them relevant, what do they share in common? I might find this pen relevant, I might find my knee relevant, I might find this air relevant, I might find the fact that it’s a particular day in May relevant. Do you see what I’m showing you? The class of things that we find relevant is not homogenous other than [that] we find them relevant, there is nothing that they share - it’s exactly like the class of white things! What about [being] stable? So when I find something relevant do I always find it relevant? “This is relevant to me now...” (holds up a pen) “...will it forever be relevant to me? I will carry it, oh, it is relevant...!” No! Things are not ‘stably’ relevant - relevant one minute, irrelevant the next! You may say, “well there’s things that are always relevant to [me]!” Always!? Don’t know, very hard to find them! ...maybe, maybe oxygen, maybe? But that’s only relevant to me if I want to keep living! A person who commits suicide, and some people commit suicide this way, they suffocate themselves to death, because that was more important to them than oxygen! It’s not stable! Is relevance, and here’s where I think we’ll get into some difficulties I suppose, with some people, but is relevance internal or intrinsic to the object? Is there a way, if there had never been human beings or sentient beings, could this have relevance (referring to plastic bottle again)? It doesn’t seem that that’s, at all, a plausible intuition! Relevance always seems to be relevant to someone or something! And that, of course, I think is going to be bound up, that relevance, ultimately, has to be relevant to an auto-poetic thing. Only things that have needs, only things that are self-organized so that they have the constitutive goal of preserving their self-organization - that’s what it is to need; I need food because I am self-organized to preserve my own self-organization, which means I need food; food literally matters to me, food literally “matters” to me (physically indicates that food becomes the matter of his body) - it’s hard to see how things could be relevant unless they were in relationship to an auto-poetic thing! Relevance is not something for which we can have a scientific theory. I want you to notice what has come along the way: relevance is not intrinsic to something. There can be no essence to relevance; nothing is essentially relevant. That’s the whole point about talking about the problem of essentialism. And relevance is not stable, it’s constantly changing!

A Helpful Analogy Of Relevance, Backed Up By Darwin

OK so what do we do? Well, first of all we add to our set of criteria that we need for good theory. OurOur theory of relevance realization can’t be a theory of relevance detection. I’ve given you a sustained argument for that! This is not how relevance realization works, it’s not detection, it’s not this (holds up a pen) has relevance, and I detect it’s relevance! And you might say, “well maybe relevance realization is just projective!” I’m going to reply to that too, I think that’s also inadequate. InIn order to see how it’s an adequateIn order to see how it’s inadequate, in order to get out of the bind we seem to be getting in, I want to open up the distinction between the theory of relevance and a theory of Relevance Realization with analogy. Oh it’s going to turnOh it’s going to turn out to be a very, I hope, helpful analogy. And this will also, I think, help us to see why relevance is not something we merely project on the world. This is why I have a sustainedThis is why I have a sustained criticism against both empiricists — we just detect it — and the Romantics — we just project it. So let’s get into that. What’s the analogy that will help develop an argument to show why we neither merely detect it or merely project it, and help us get out of the bind that we can’t have a theory of Relevance?

OK, notice a very important and, I think this is one of the central insights of Darwin and we talked about Darwin when we talked about Aristotle and dynamical systems — so if you need to, please go back and look again at video six; I don’t want to repeat all those arguments right now [as] we built them so that we can use them now. See beforeSee, before Darwin’s time, the people studying the natural world were often clergymen. Darwin himself was thinking about going into the clergy and that’s because people thought that if they studied the natural world they could understand the essence of how things were designed because, if we could get at the essence of how things were designed, how things were sort of fitted to their environment, then of course that would give us some deep insight into the mind of God. That’s why clergyman are collecting species and doing all this. But I think one of the insights, and it’s not given enough attention in the analysis of the brilliance of Darwin’s theory, is to realize that things don’t have an essential design! There is no essential design. So consider the notion of evolutionary fitness... Now, there’s a problem! There’s a technical definition of ‘fitness’ which means the capacity to survive long enough in order to be capable of reproduction that will allow the gene pool or species — all of these are kind of controversial terms — to propagate and exist. So if we want to useSo if we want to use that technical definition of ‘fitness’ then I need, or I will be talking about “fitedness”, and what I mean by “fitedness” is ‘what is it about the organism that makes it fit, what is it about the organism that allows it to survive long enough to reproduce?’, and what I want to argue is [that] there is no essential design on fitedness.

Some things are ‘fitted’ in the sense precisely because they are big, some because they are small, some because they are hard, some because they are soft, some because they are long-lived, some because they are short-lived, some because they proliferate greatly, others because they take care of a few young. Some are fast, some are slow, some are single-cellular, some are multi[cellular]... like nothing, nothing! And the answer for that, of course, is deep and profound because the environment is so complex and differentiated and dynamically changing that niches in which you can fit into the environment in order to promote your survival — auto-poetic — are varied and changing. See this is Darwin’s insight: there is no essence to design; there is no essence to fitedness. If you try and come up with a theory of how organisms have their “design” — I’m using this in quotation marks — in terms of trying to determine or derive it from the essence of design, you are doomed because it doesn’t exist. But what Darwin realises is he didn’t need such a theory! He needed a theory about how what is relevant, in this biological sense, a theory about how an organism is fitted, how it is constantly being designed, re-defined by a dynamic process. See fitedness is always redefining itself, reconstituting itself. It is something that is constantly within the process of self organization because there is no essence, there is no final design on fitedness. Fitedness has to constantly be redesigning itself in a self-organizing fashion so it can constantly pick up on the way in which the world is constantly varying and dynamically changing. There is no essence to fitedness, but I don’t need a theory of fitedness. All I need is a theory of how fitedness is constantly being realized in a self-organizing fashion. That’sThat’s exactly what the theory of evolution is.

Do you remember, there’s a feedback cycle in reproduction (draws a circular feedback arrow), and there is a virtual engine, selection, variation (labels the circular feedback arrow with selection and variation), and that virtual engine constantly shapes and regulates how the reproductive cycle (indicates a circular motion through selection and variation around the feedback arrow) feeds back onto itself and there is no — and of course, this is why some religious people get very angry about this process, but notice that this is exactly what we need — there’s no intelligent designer to this (indicates cCircular diagram on board). ThisThis is a process that is completely self-organizing. The fitedness of organisms constantly evolves out of and is constantly evolving towards other instances of fitedness. Fitness has no essence, it is not a stable phenomenon. I should not try to give a definition of a theory of fitedness, what I have is a theory of the evolution of fitedness. And again, even when I say that, you’re tempted to think “what Vervaeke means is there was no fitedness and then there was evolution and it resulted in fitedness! That is not what Vervaeke is saying! Vervaeke is saying fitedness and the evolution of fitedness are the same thing.

So, what Darwin proposed, of course, it was the first Dynamical Systems Theory of how fitedness evolves, so that fitness is ongoing. That’s the theory of evolution by natural selection. Now that tells us something that we need. First of all, this is a self-organizing process (indicates the circular feedback diagram on the board, the ‘virtual engine’), it is not Homuncular, it can generate intelligence without itself being an intelligent process. It’s doing a lot of what we need, it’s doing a lot of what we need. Here’s the analogy I want to propose to you: Let’s make relevance analogous to biological fitedness. In fact let’s call relevance Cognitive Interactional — what I mean by that [is] both in your cognition and how that cognition is expressing itself in problem-solving — Cognitive Interactional Fitedness (writes these terms on the board). And I don’t need a theory of [Cognitive Interactional Fitedness], what I need is a theory of how [Cognitive Interactional Fitedness] evolves.

A Theory Of How Cognitive Interactional Fitedness (Relevance) Evolves

My ability to formulate problems, form categories, pick up on conveyance, make inferences, all this stuff... what about that ability? Because, what I’m doing.../ what do I need? I need something that constrains the search space, that constrains how I pay attention. I need systematic constraints. And what are they doing? Those systematic constraints have to regulate a feedback loop. And what’s the feedback loop? The feedback loop is my Sensory-Motor Feedback Loop: I’m sensing, but I’m also acting, and my acting is integral to my sensing and my sensing is integral to my moving and so my moving and my sensing are doing this (indicates a rotation gesture with both hands, one over the other) a sensory-motor loop. I interact with the world and then that changes how I sense it and then I inter[act]... and so there’s a sensory-motor loop. What if there is a virtual engine, broadly construed, that is regulating that sensory-motor loop so that it is constantly evolving it’s Cognitive Interactional Fitedness to its environment? It doesn’t have to come to any final essential way of framing the environment, but what it’s constantly doing is evolving it’s Fitedness, it’s cognitive — not just it’s biological fitness, although I’m going to argue, as many people do that there’s important continuity between those two — it’s constantly evolving it’s cognitive Fitedness to the environment. Then what I need is not a theory of relevance, I need a theory of Relevance Realization. How Relevance is becoming effective, how it is altering, shaping the sensory-motor loop. I need a dynamical system for the self-organizing evolution of Cognitive Interactional Fitedness. And if I could come up with that then I would have an account of relevant realization that was not Homuncular, would be consonant and continuous with how the organ, the embodied organ, the embodied brain that is responsible for intelligence itself involved. It would plug in very nicely to what we need. Well, what do we need?

We need a set of properties, if you remember, we need a set of properties that are Sub-Semantic, sub-syntactic, that ultimately have to ground out in establishing the Agent-Arena Participation. The processes have to be Self-Organizing, they have to be Multi-Scale, they have to originally be ground out in an Auto-Poetic system. Well, what kind of properties are we talking about then? Well, we are talking about — and this again is deeply analogous to the Darwinian picture — we are talking about Bio-Economical Properties (writes bio-economical on the board). And what do I mean by that? Think, again, of your Biology as ‘economic’ - this is, again, part of Darwin’s great insight. Now don’t be confused here; when a lot of times people hear ‘economic’ they hear ‘financial economy’. That’s not what an economy is! An economy is a self-organizing system that is constantly dealing with the distribution of goods and services, the allocation and use of resources, often in order to further maintain and develop that economy. So your body is a bio-economy. you have valuable resources of time, metabolic energy, processing power — think about how we say “pay attention” by the way — processing power, and what you do as an auto-poetic thing is, you are organised such that the distribution of those resources serves the constitutive goal — it will serve other goals, of course — but it serves the constitutive goal of preserving the bio-economy itself. And the thing about economies is — of course it’s they’re self organizing (points to self-organizing) — [boi]economic properties are... They’re ‘bio’, they are part of [you], they come out of your biology, right? They are not semantic or syntactic properties. Now, we use semantic and syntactic terms to talk about them, blah blah, blah, Let’s not keep making that that confusion. They are multi-scaled (points at multi-scaled on the board); economies work locally and globally simultaneously, bottom-up, top-down. So bio-economic properties are great and that’s good because that comports well with the analogy because Darwin’s theory is ultimately a bio-economic theory.

Efficiency And Resiliency In Bio-Economies

So can we think about what kind of norms are at work in a bio-economy? So here we are dealing with norms, ultimately, of truth (writes truth beside sub-semantic). Here we are dealing, probably, with norms of validity, at least formal validity, in some way (writes validity beside sub-syntactic). When we are here (indicates bio-economic properties) we are not dealing with these kinds of logical, semantic norms - economies are governed by logistical norms (writes ‘logistical norms’ beside bio-economic properties) or at least regulated by logistical norms. I want to try to use the word ‘governing’ for selective constraints (indicates sub-semantic & truth and Sub-syntactic & validity) and ‘generating’ for enabling constraints (indicates bio-economic properties and logistical norms), I apologise if I sometimes flip! Economies are regulated by Logistical Norms. Logistics is the study of the proper disposition and use of your resources. So, [for example], if you are doing a logistical analysis for the military you are trying to figure out how [your] limited resources [of] food, and ammo and personnel and time and space... how can I best use them to achieve the goals I need to achieve? So what are logistical norms? Well, logistical norms are things like efficiency (writes efficiency on the board) and resiliency (writes resilience under efficiency on the board). Efficiency and resiliency. We’ll talk about each in more detail, ... A way of thinking about these is [that] resiliency is basically long-term, broadly applying efficiency. But instead of using efficiency and efficiency, which is confusing, we’ll talk about efficiency and resiliency.

So what if, let’s go step-by-step, this is very (does confusing gesture)... what if relevance realization is this ongoing evolution of our cognitive interactional fitedness, that there is some virtual-engine that is regulating the sensory-motor loop and it is regulating it by regulating the bio-economy and it’s regulating the bio-economy in terms of logistical norms like efficiency and resiliency? Now all of this, of course, can be described scientifically, mathematically , etc., because, of course, Darwin’s theory is a scientific theory; we can do calculations on these things etc... (indicates logistical norms efficiency resiliency on the board). (wipes board clean.) One more time: the fact that I use science to talk about it does not mean that it exemplifies Propositional properties. My properties of my theory and the properties that my theory is about, are not the same thing. What kind of relationship? How do we put this notion of self-organization and this notion of the logistical norms governing the bio-economy together? So one way of doing this is to think about a multi-scaled way in which your bio-economy is organised to function; a multi-scaled way, many scales of analysis. There is a way in which your bio-economy is organised to function.

Let's take your Autonomic Nervous System as an example. This is not exhaustive, in fact my point is [that] you will find this "strategy," this "design" at many levels of analysis in your biology. I'm only using this as an example. So your [autonomic] nervous system (writes this on the board)… this is part of your nervous system that is responsible for your level of arousal. That doesn't mean sexual arousal. Arousal means how — and notice how this is logistical — how much your metabolic resources are being converted into the possibility of action; interaction. So you have a very low level of arousal when you're falling asleep. You have a very high level of arousal when you're running away from a tiger. Now think about this. You need your level of arousal.../ there is no final, perfect design on your level of arousal. There is nothing you should.../ There isn't a level that you should always shoot for! You shouldn't maximise your level of arousal. IF I'M ALWAYS ARGGHHHHH (shouting), that's not good! I'm never going to sleep, I'm never going to heal, right? If I'm just like (half lies down on the counter) always, “Okay, that's it, I’m going to sleep!” That's not good! And the Canadian solution? “Well, I'll always have a middling level of arousal!” That's not good either because I can't fall asleep and I can't run away from the tiger!!

So what does your autonomic nervous system do? Well, you're autonomic nervous system is divided into two components. There is your sympathetic, and your parasympathetic (writes these both on the board). So your sympathetic system is designed.../ it's really biased. It's designed towards interpreting the world in a way…/ it's biased — notice what I said! Remember the things that make us adoptive also make us susceptible to self-deception — it's biased, because you can't look at all of the evidence! It's biased to looking for and interpreting evidence that — and I mean, evidence non-anthropomorphically — that you should raise your level of arousal. Your parasympathetic system is biased the other way. These are both heuristic ways of processing; they work in terms of biasing the processing of data. So the parasympathetic system is constantly trying to find evidence that you should reduce your level of arousal. So they're opposed in their goal, but here's the thing: they're also interdependent in their function (writes ‘opposed’ and ‘interdependent in their function’ on the board). So the sympathetic nervous system is always trying to arouse you (hooks both hands together vertically with fingers), this is this hand pulling up, and the parasympathetic system is always trying to pull you down. And as the environment changes that tug of war shifts around your level of arousal. The Opponent Processing is when you have two systems that are opposed, but integrated. You have opponent processing (writes opponent processing on the board), the opponent processing means that your level of arousal is constantly evolving, constantly evolving to fit the environment. Is it perfect? No, nothing can be. Any problem solving machine in order to be perfect, would have to explore the complete problem space. That's combinatorially explosive, it can’t! But what is this? Well, you've seen this before! Opponent Processing is a powerful way to get optimisation (writes optimisation on the board). Remember when we talked about optimisation when we talked about Plato. You're optimising between systems that are working different goals, but are integrated in their function. And that way the system constantly self-organises and it then thereby evolves it's fittedness to the environment.

So the way we can get this, I would argue, is by thinking about how the brain, and I am going to argue very importantly, the embodied, imbedded brain uses opponent processing in a multi-scale way in order to regulate your bio-economy, your auto-poetic bio-economy, so that it is constantly optimising your Cognitive Interactional Fittedness to the environment. Let's think about it this way: let's think if we can get a virtual engine out of efficiency and resiliency (writes these both on the board, efficiency above resiliency), because here's the thing about them: they are in an Opponent Relationship. They pursue... — “pursue”! The problem with language, eh? It's like, Nietzsche said: "I fear we are not getting rid of God because we still believe in grammar", right? The problem with languages is it makes everything sound like an agent! It makes everything sound like it has intentionality. It makes everything sound like it has intelligence. And of course that's not the case. So bear with me about this! I have to speak anthropomorphically just because that's the way language makes me speak! — Let's use a financial analogy to understand the trade off relationship between efficiency and resiliency. Not all economies are financial because [-] the resource that's being disposed of in an economy is not necessarily money. It might be time, etc… Okay, I'm using a financial analogy, or at least a commercial analogy, perhaps is a better way of putting it, in order to try and get some understanding of how these are in a tradeoff relationship.

So you have a business. One of the things you might do is you might try to make your business more efficient because - ‘ceteris paribus’ - if your business is more efficient than that person's business, you're going to outcompete them. You're going to survive and they're going to die off - obviously the analogy to evolution. So what do I do? What I do is I try to maximise the ratio between profit and expenditure/cost. Well, we did it.../ we keep thinking of it as the magical solution, but we've been doing it since Ronald Reagan, at least. We do massive downsizing. We fire as many people as we can in our business. And that way, what we have is we have the most profit for the least labor costs. That's surely the answer, right? So notice what efficiency is doing. Notice how efficiency is a selective constraint (writes selective constraint beside efficiency). The problem is if you are “cut to the bone”, if you "reduced all the fat", if you've got all the efficiencies, and this is the magic word that people often invoke, without remembering, and forgetting the relationship, the Opponent Relationship to resiliency… See if I cut my business to the bone like that, what happens if one person is sick? Nobody can pick up the Slack because everyone is working to the max. What happens if there's an unexpected change in the environment, a new threat or a new opportunity? Nobody can take it on because everybody is worked the limit. I have no resources by which I can repair, restructure, redesign myself. I don't have any precursors to new ways of organizing because there is nothing that isn't being fully used. Notice also, if there's no Slack in my system — and this is now happening with the way AI is accelerating things — error propagates, massively and quickly. If there's no redundancy, there's no Slack in the system, there's no place, there's no wiggle room and error just floods the system. You see if I make the system too efficient, I lose resiliency. I lose the capacity to differentiate, restructure, redesign, repair, exapt new functions out of existing functions, [to] slow down how error propagates through the system. Efficiency and resiliency are in a tradeoff relationship.

Now, what resiliency is trying to do is enable you to encounter new things (writes enable beside resiliency), enable you to deal with unexpected situations of damage, or threat, or opportunity. It's enabling. These are in a tradeoff relationship. As I gained one, I lose the other. What if I set up a virtual engine in the brain that makes use of this trade-off relationship. It sets up a virtual engine between the selective constraints of efficiency and the enabling constraints of resiliency and that virtual engine bio-economically, logistically shapes my sensory-motor loop with the environment, so it's constantly evolving it's fittedness. We'll take a look at that possibility and some suggestions on how that might be realized in the brain, in the next lecture.

Thank you very much for your time and attention.

- END -

Episode 30 Notes

To keep this site running, we are an Amazon Associate where we earn from qualifying purchases

Dr. D.L. Chiappe

A. Kukla

Chiappe and Kukla
an article/commentary on Behavioural Brain Sciences

J.S. Mill
John Stuart Mill, usually cited as J. S. Mill, was an English philosopher, political economist, and civil servant. One of the most influential thinkers in the history of classical liberalism, he contributed widely to social theory, political theory, and political economy.

Wilford Quine
Willard van Orman Quine was an American philosopher and logician in the analytic tradition, recognized as "one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century".

ceteris paribus
Ceteris paribus or caeteris paribus is a Latin phrase meaning "other things equal"; English translations of the phrase include "all other things being equal" or "other things held constant" or "all else unchanged".

Other helpful resources about this episode:
Notes on Bevry
Additional Notes on Bevry

Ep. 29 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - Getting to the Depths of Relevance Realization

Welcome back to Awakening from the Meaning Crisis. This is episode 29. So last time I went through with you a series of arguments, trying to show you the centrality of the issue of Relevance Realisation. I want to review that with you and then try and begin an account of how we might come up with a naturalistic explanation of Relevance Realisation, and then build that into an overall plausibility argument about using that notion of Relevance Realisation to explain many of the features that we consider central to human spirituality, meaning making, self-transcendence, altered States of consciousness and wisdom. Before I begin that, I want to remind everybody of how much the work I'm talking about now has been done in collaboration with other people, especially the work with Tim Lillicrap and Blake Richards in 2012, the article we published in the Journal of Logic and Computation. Work with Leo Ferraro in 2013. Some current work with Leo Ferraro, Anderson Todd, Richard Woo. Current work I'm doing with Christopher Mastropietro and some past work with Zachary Irving and Leo Ferraro on the nature of intelligence.

So, we want to take a look at what we did last time. We did, very quickly to remind you, a series of arguments. A series of arguments that pointed towards how central Relevance Realisation is. We did arguments around the nature of problem solving. And you remember, we saw the idea there of the Search Space, as proposed by Newell and Simon, and we faced a couple of important issues there. We faced issues of Combinatorial Explosion and what we need is Problem Formulation or Problem Framing that allows us to avoid combinatorial explosion by zeroing in on relevant information. I also proposed to you, and I'll return to this later, that problem solving is our best way of trying to understand what we mean by intelligence - your capacity as being a General Problem Solver. Also, we know the problem of Ill-Definedness - very often a problem formulation is needed in order to determine what the relevant information is and what the relevant structure of that information is. So that, again, points us into relevance. These two together (Combinatorial Explosion & ill-definedness) also pointed towards a phenomenon we've already talked about — insight — and the fact that you often have to solve a problem by altering your problem formulation and re-determining what you consider relevant.

We then took a look at Categorisation. I'll come back to this again in another way, a little bit later in this lecture, but we took a look at how categorisation ultimately depends on judgments of similarity and can get into an equivocation there. We can equivocate between a purely logical notion of similarity in which case any two objects are indefinitely similar or dissimilar to each other. And if we mean, instead of logical similarity which would not help us to categorize, psychological similarity? Okay, then we're talking about making a comparison of two things in terms of the relevant features of comparison, the relevant aspects. So we're into relevance and we're also introducing an important idea [that] I want you to remember; this notion of an Aspect, a set of relevant features that cohere together and are relevant to us, especially in projects like categorisation. So we keep getting [Relevance].

Of course, if you remember, doing good Cog-Psi I do a convergence argument (draws Convergence diagram again) to get a trustworthy problem or construct. And then I basically do a divergence argument (draws equally balancing, diverging lines on the right) to show how it has the potential to explain many important phenomena and establish a relevant balance between them. And so that's what I'm building here (indicates the balanced construct drawn on the board). Right now we're on this side (left; converging), how all these things are converging on Relevance Realisation (writes RR in the circle in the middle of the diagram). And then, as I said, can we use this to explain many of the features that seem to be central to human spirituality, meaning making, self-transcendence, altered States of consciousness and wisdom.

We then took a look at Communication. [-] We might've done the robot first. It doesn't matter! We did communication and we saw the issue there is the fact that you have to convey more than you can say. And then that led us into the work of Grice and the series of maxims that make conversational implicature possible. And that got us into that all of the maxims collapsed to the maximum of being relevant. We then did [-] the issue of robotics, the actual interaction with the environment. Here's the idea of being an agent and we saw the robot was trying to pull the battery that's on the wagon and that wagon also has the bomb on it. And what we saw is the problem of the Proliferation of Side Effects. You can't ignore all side effects or you'll be grotesquely stupid. You can't check all side effects or you'll be grotesquely incapable, and so therefore you have to zoom in on their relevant side effects. So again and again, and again everything is centring on this (indicates the diagram of convergence/divergence construct - Synoptic Integration of Relevance Realisation).

I want you to also now remember a couple of other things from previous lectures, how we talked about the convergence argument. This is an independent convergence argument when we talked about consciousness — not the nature of consciousness, but the function of consciousness — all the convergence arguments (duplicates the convergence diagram for consciousness), that what's going on in consciousness is doing Relevance Realisation (puts RR at the centre of this convergence diagram for Consciousness). Especially in complex, ill-defined situations in which our agency is directly involved. So consciousness seems to be bound up with Relevance Realisation. And we also talked about how this overlaps with how Working Memory -- the work of Lynn Hasher -- the job of working memory is to be a relevance filter and to screen off irrelevant information and allow in to processing, deeper processing, more relevant information. And I also pointed out — I want you to see how all these connections are forming — that there's deep connections between working memory and your measures of your general intelligence - how intelligent you are. So we see that we're getting, actually, a very powerful convergence argument towards the centrality of Relevance Realisation as constitutive, as constitutive of your intelligence, your cognitive agency, as significantly contributory towards your existence as a conscious being.

Where Relevance Fits Into Meaning

And I also suggested to you last time that this notion of Relevance Realisation — and this is what we're going to develop today — may be a way of explaining that sort of fundamental aspect of meaning — the kind of meaning that was lost in the Meaning Crisis that's expressed in the three orders, in which we were pursuing coherence and significance and purpose — that sense of connectedness, connectedness. And I'm going to try to argue that as we understand what relevance is, that relevance is exactly that sense of connectedness. So there will be deep connections between meaning and relevance (from boiling down all the arguments to being about relevance). There's deep connections between relevance and agency. That's the whole point about the robot (robotics) and communicating (communication). And there's going to be deep connections, we've already seen, between meaning and agency (completes an important triangle on the board between Meaning — Relevance — Agency), that one of the whole things about agency is its relationship to the arena, the agent-arena relationship, and how that grounds, that's the meta-meaning grounding of all our other more specific meaning making projects.

So I hope I've made at least a good convergence argument for you. That many things converge upon, many things that we're interested in — many central, defining features of intelligence and agency and aspects of the functionality of our consciousness — everything is sort of converging on this Relevance Realisation. What I want to try and show you now is how you might move towards — and this has been sort of the core of my, I guess you'd call it my scientific work — how you move towards trying to offer a scientific explanation of relevance and what that would look like and the difficulties you face doing so. I also want to try and argue that there's good reason to believe that we're talking about a unified phenomenon, a unified thing here: relevance. That this isn't just a family resemblance term for a lot of disconnected things, that there's reason to believe this is a central thing.

Theories Of Relevance - A Guiding Principle

Let's start with trying to offer theories of relevance, and there are good ones out there. There's the work of Sperber and Wilson and others, and I will refer to some of that work as we move along, but let's try and work towards it at the metal-level. What do we need for a good theory of relevance to do? What kind of mistakes do we need to avoid when we're trying to explain relevance? The main mistake that I want to point to is a mistake in which we are arguing in a circle. If you remember, this is part of what goes into things like the Homuncular Fallacy - remember when I tried to explain vision with the little man in my head having vision?! I don't want to use whatever I'm using.../ Let's put it this way: whatever process or entity that I'm trying to use to explain relevance should not itself require relevance. What do I mean by that? If I have something "X" and I'm using ["X"] to explain relevance, [then] [X] cannot itself presuppose relevance for its function, because if it does that, I'm ultimately arguing in a circle. I have to find processes that are themselves, not processes that realize relevance if I'm going to explain in terms of those processes, Relevance Realisation itself.

Another way of putting this is [that] I ultimately want to explain intelligence in terms of processes that are not themselves intelligent. Because if I don't, if I'm always explaining intelligence in terms of processes that are themselves intelligent, that is no different than homuncular fallacy of explaining vision in terms of internal processes that are themselves visual processes. So that's going to be a guiding methodological principle. Now that turns out to be very powerful and as many people have pointed out — Fodor famously has pointed out in repeated places — it's actually very difficult to explain relevance without presupposing relevance in the machinery that you're using to explain it.

Let's take a look at some candidates. We might think that we could explain relevance in terms of how we use Representations. This is a very powerful way we think about the mind, that there are things in the mind, ideas, pictures, that stand for, represent the world in some way. We might think that perhaps it's much more that relevance is a function of Computation; computational processes. Or we might think that we explain relevance in terms of what's called Modularity, that there's a specific area of the brain dedicated to processing relevance. (writes Representation, Computation and Modularity on the board.) I want to take a look at each one of those, and I want to try and argue as to why I think they're inadequate and what that helps us to see. And what I want you to see is, and I'll try to show this along the way, that [-] if, and I'm trying to make it more than an if, but if Relevance Realisation is so central to our meaning making, our cognition and our consciousness and our self-transcendence et cetera, as we learn about how we have to best try to explain or understand it we should garner lessons about how to best think about and reflect upon human spirituality. At least in the terms that I have defined it for us.

Breaking Down Representation

So, Representation... Now this is just a terrifically hot issue both in terms of interest and controversy within cognitive science in general and I'm not going to try and completely decide this issue right now although I think I'll say things that are pertinent to that debate, but let's take it that what we mean by a representation is something, as I said, some mental entity that stands for, refers, directs us towards an object in the world. That's all I need! Whatever else representations are in all that controversy, that’s all I need for the point I want to make! Because I want to show you something very important about a representation and I mentioned it a few minutes ago and this is a point that John Searle has famously made. Representations are aspectual. OK so I hold this thing up (pen) and you form a representation of it. Remember all the things we talked about when we talked about categorisation, we talked about similarity etc. So when you form a representation, you do not grasp all of the true properties of this object because all of the true properties, the number, is combinatorially explosive. We’ve already seen that. So out of all the properties (draws a circle) you just select some subset (draws a small wedge of the circle), and what subsets do you pick? Well, you pick a subset that is, here it comes, relevant to you!
Are they just a feature list? No, we’ve already seen that along time ago; they have a structural functional organization, they are made relevant to each other.

So here’s what we’ve got: a set of features that are relevant to each other and then a set of features that have been structurally functionally organised so that they have co-relevance, is then relevant to me. That’s what an aspect is (underlines aspect in aspectual). So whenever I’m representing anything, this is a marker (holds up marker), however I could change it’s aspectuality (changes his grip on the marker): it’s now a weapon! And we do that all the time! In fact one of the ways we check peoples creativity is to do exactly that; we will give some object and say how many different ways can you use it? How many different ways can you categorize it? Namely, how many different ways, how flexible are you at getting different aspects from the same object? So representations are inherently aspectual, but notice the language I’m using: You’re zeroing in on relevant properties out of all the possible properties, you’re structuring them as how so-relevant to each other and then how that structural functional organization is relevant to you. Aspectuality deeply presupposes your ability to zero in on relevance, to do Relevance Realisation. That means that representations can’t ultimately be the generators, creators of relevance, they can’t be the causal origin of relevance. Now, can representations feedback and alter what we find relevant? Of course, nobody’s denying that. That’s of course why we use representations! But [what we can’t serve], they can’t serve as the ontological basis the stuff in reality that we’re trying to use to generate a noncircular account of Relevance Realisation.

Things And Places - Multiple Object Tracking

Now that’s going to tell us something really interesting. It’s going to tell us that if this meaning and this spirituality is bound to Relevance Realisation, that the place to look for it is not going to be found at the level of our representational cognition, the level of our cognition that is using ideas, propositions, pictures, etc. Once again I am not saying that those things do not contribute or affect what we consider relevant. What I am saying is that they are not the source, the locus of how we do Relevance Realisation. I want to show you have this cashes out even in an empirical manner. This goes to some really interesting work done by Zenon Pylyshyn on what is called Multiple Object Tracking. Multiple Object Tracking is really interesting. So basically what you do is give people a bunch of objects on a computer screen, let’s say I have x’s and o’s (draws several on the board) and they’ll be different colours and different shapes all kinds of different things like this, and what I do is I have the objects move around and let’s say this was a red X and then after it moves around I ask you “where is the red X?” and you have to points at it. I may ask you “where is the green circle?”, “where is the blue square?”, you get the task… Now what’s interesting is how much you can do this! You can track about eight, that’s on average, objects reliably. What’s really interesting about them is the more objects you track the less and less features you can attribute to each object. What do I mean by that? Suppose I’m tracking — well that’s six shapes (on the board) — suppose I was tracking the red X and I have to keep it… I can, after lots of movement, say “oh, it’s there now. It started there, and it’s there now!”. What I won’t notice during that is that the red X has become, for example, a blue square! So all of its content properties get lost! All I’m tracking — and I need you to remember this — is what you might call the hereness, where is it, and the nowness. Where is it?

It’s here now, it’s here now, it’s here now, it’s here now, it’s here now (pointing in various different directions in the room). Everything else, it’s shape, it’s colour, it’s categorical identity, all get lost! So he calls this FINSTING. This stands for Fingers of Instantiation. it’s basic idea is like this: your mind has something equivalent to putting your finger on something - I don’t know what this is (water bottle), suppose I didn’t know what it was, I put my finger on it. I don’t know what it is, I just know it’s here, nowness! And it’s here now, it’s here now… (moves bottle around, with finger attached!). Here and now are indexicals: these are just terms that refer to the context of the speaker, so here now (lifts the bottle and moved it around with his finger again) so it’s here now and it moves around and my mind can keep in touch. Noticed my language: in touch, in contact, in touch with something. But that’s all it’s doing, it’s just tracking the here-nowness.

Well, that’s really cool! Why do we have this ability? Well, first of all I’m going to propose a way of thinking about this - he doesn’t use this language, but I think it will be helpful! I don’t think it’s in any way inconsistent. This ability to do this is like salience tagging (writes salience tagging on the board). When I touch this (bottle) I am making this here-nowness salient to me. This here-nowness is salient to me. Not the bottle, not even the flat surface because remember I lose all of those particular qualities. All I have is the here-nowness. This is salient to me, and we do this with demonstrative terms like this! Notice the word this is not like the word cat. Cat refers you to a specific thing, meow meow the animal that pretends to love you! Actually I know some cats now that I am actually convinced do actually love me, so I have to amend my usual comments about cats!! But this isn’t like cat! This can go, watch: this (pen), this (bottle) this (wall) this (light switch), OK? It doesn’t refer to a specific thing, it picks out, it does a salience…/ it makes something, it doesn’t make some-thing, it just makes some hereness and nowness!! Sorry for talking about this [like this], but this is how we have to talk ‘salient’ to you!

Now I want you to pick up on something I just said with this. Terms like this and here and now but especially this. These are linguistic terms and they do what is called demonstrative reference. They do not refer to a particular thing they do not refer to the bottle or to the marker or to the wall but this, this, this, this (pointing to these various things) OK? All they do is salience tagging; this and that. Now why is that important? Well, Pylyshyn wants you to understand FINSTING — FINSTING is obviously not a linguistic phenomenon, I’m not speaking in my head when I’m doing this (points to the X’s and O’s) in fact if you try and speak in your head you’re going to mess yourself up — so he is using demonstrative reference as a linguistic analogy for something you enact. So I’m going to try to draw that out by calling it Enactive Demonstrative Reference (writes this on the board), rather than linguistic demonstrative reference. Which I’ve tried to explain to you with this notion of the salience tagging of hereness and nowness.

Why is this so important? WellWell here’s where the analogy can you help me: I need demonstrative reference I need enactive demonstrative reference before I can do any categorisation. Look, if I’m going to categorize things I need to mentally group them together. This is mental grouping: this, this , this (three individual pens), this (the group of the three pens together). That’s what mental grouping is. Mental grouping is to salience tag things and bind them together in salience tagging. So what am I showing you? What I am trying to show you is any categorisation you have depends on Enactive Demonstrative Reference and Enactive Demonstrative Reference is only about salience and here-nowness! You see, all of your concepts are categorical! That whole conceptual, representational, categorical, pictorial… all of that depends on this (categorisation), but this (categorisation) depends on something that is pre-categorical, pre-conceptual. And you say but you’reAnd you say “but you’re using concepts to talk about it!”. Don’t confuse properties of the theory with properties of what the theory is about! Of course I have to use words to talk about it! I have to use words to talk about atoms! That doesn’t mean that atoms are made out of words or dependent on words! I have to use words to talk about anything, and I don’t want properties of my theory and properties of the phenomena of the theories to be confused. I want a theory about, for example, vagueness to itself be clear! I want a theory about a illogicality to itself be logical. I want to theory about irrationality to itself be rational. Do not confuse properties of the theory with properties of the thing being referred to. Yes, I have to use language and concepts to talk about it, but that does not mean that the thing itself is made out of, or dependent on, concepts and categorisation. I’ve given you an argument and I’ve given you empirical evidence towards this claim and they massively, they massively, converge together.

Now notice, this is a fundamental connectedness to reality you’re getting with the FINSTING, with the Enactive Demonstrative Reference, when you’re getting that initial salience tagging, because it’s like the mind being in contact with the world. That’s why Pylyshyn even uses the metaphor of contact! All right so the representational level is not going to give us what we’re looking for. In fact we need to think about ways in which we need to pursue something that is sub-representational. So in Cog-Sci we would call that.../ the representational level is called the semantic level (writes semantic above aspectuality). Because this is the level at which words have meaning or, by analogy, at which representations have representational meaning. So we have to go sub-semantic, we have to go sub-categorical, we have to go sub-conceptual. Now, is that such a bizarre claim? We saw, in Higher States of Consciousness, that people claim to have the most profound sense of meaning and it is precisely ineffable. They reliably, across traditions, across historical contexts, claim that it is not conceptual, it can’t be grasped categorically and they use the language of hereness and nowness to describe it - it’s fully present, it’s like at eternal hereness and nowness. So this is actually not a bizarre claim to consider. Now it’s difficult for us because we habitually identify with — that’s our ego structure m, I would say — we tend to identify with the way in which we are running representations in our mind; inner pictures, inner speech etc...

Breaking Down Computation

All right so perhaps we could consider the computational level [as] the level in which we could explain Relevance Realisation because we have found that the semantic level of representations is inadequate. This is often called the syntactic level. Semantics is about how your terms refer to the world. Syntax is about how your various terms have to be coordinated together within some system. So for example you know that there are grammatical rules in English about how you can put certain things together, that’s the syntax. So in computation what were usually doing is we’re thinking about the relationship between our symbols — I don’t mean symbol in the religious sense, I just mean the things that we’re using within, for example, a code or a program or something like that — we’re talking about the relationship between them. Now there’s been a lot of issues around this and I want to point to a core argument by one of the strongest defenders, one of the originators and defenders of the computational theory of mind (writes Fodor on the board). So this is a tradition — you remember, it goes back to Hobbes — of the idea that cognition is computation, we talked about this, the manipulation of an abstract symbolic system, like a generally logical or mathematical symbolic system. The manipulation of that is what it is to think; to think is to do a computation. Now, Fodor has pointed out, and I think these are arguments in many ways analogous to Wittgenstein and you have to remember [that] he’s a defender of the computational theory of mind. He’s considered to be one of the founding figures within cognitive science, so when he criticises it we have to first of all do two things, he died not that long ago, but we have to congratulate him on his honesty as a researcher. The capacity for self criticism is, for me, a demonstrative measure of how good a researcher is. If you’re finding people that are incapable of self criticism in their intellectual pursuits then I would suggest you give them quite a wide berth in how much confidence you place in their work. So the fact that he does that is important and the fact that he launches into that self criticism means he’s not being driven, not being motivated by his own particular theoretical bias. All that being said, what’s the nature of the criticism? Well, the nature of the criticism is you have to make a distinction; ultimately you have to make a distinction between implication and inference.

Implication And Inference

People sometimes confuse these together (writes implication and inference on the boards). So implication is a logical relationship based on syntactic structures and rules, a logical relationship between propositions. So here’s an abstract symbol: so if I have “A & B” and I know that’s true, I can conclude that “B” is true; I don’t know what B is, see I don’t have any semantic content, it’s purely semantic, but I can derive that. Now, when we try to think about implications, what we have to remember is an inference is when you’re actually using an implication-relation to change your beliefs. And the thing about beliefs is that they have content. So when I’m making an inference I am not just making an implication I am using implication-relations in order to alter belief; changing belief. OK, you say, “well why does that matter?”. Because changing beliefs to us brings up the important issue right away, the important issue right away is what beliefs should I be changing? What beliefs should I be changing? Let me try and show you what I mean: any proposition technically is defined in terms of its logical, syntactic structure by all of its implication-relations, and logicians can get very technical here about whether or not negation and implication are identical blah blah blah I’m just going to speak very broadly here because that’s all I need. So a proposition: it’s logical, it’s computational Identity is defined by all of its implication relations to other propositions. So, for example, part of the identity of this “A & B” is that it implies B; it also implies A and all kinds of things!

Now the issue that we have, and this is a point that was made, also independently, by Cherniak, is the number of implications, logical relations between any proposition and all the other propositions is combinatorially explosive. Combinatorially explosive! You cannot ever make use — and we talked about this, about how you can’t be comprehensively logical — you can’t make use of all of the implications of any proposition, ever; you cannot be completely logical, ever! What you do is, out of all of the implications, you decide which one of the ones you select, which one of the ones are going to be used in an inference. Fodor and Cherniak both independently talk about this as a kind of cognitive commitment: which of the implications are you going to commit to? And this matters to you! It matters to you because commitment is an act that makes use of your precious and limited resources of attention, memory, time, metabolic energy... you cannot afford, you cannot afford to spend them on all possible ones. You cannot even afford to spend them on inferences that are not — and here’s what you knew I was going to say — relevant to the context! Which beliefs do I need to change — and that can mean strengthen by the way — which beliefs do I need to change ‘in this context’?

So notice, what out of all of these (implication relations), what am I doing? I’m choosing — and this is what Cherniak specifically argues, this is his term not mine — what makes, according to Cherniak, somebody rational — we’ll come back to whether or not this is a good definition of rationality but it’s at least what makes you intelligent as a cognitive agent — is that you select out of all the possible implications, the relevant ones because those ones are relevant to the context, because they’re going to affect the beliefs that you’ve already done Relevance Realisation on, as applying to this situation, or representing the situation well. So inference massively presupposes Relevance Realisation.

Now you may think “well, but I can get around that because logic isn’t just implications, it’s the rules governing the implications. And maybe all I need to talk about is the rules!” And then here’s the argument, that comes from Wittgenstein but I think ultimately it goes back to Aristotle, is how rules work, right? And this is an argument that Brown and others have made very, very clear: rules are... obviously they are propositions! [But] they are not just propositions, they’re propositions that — and this is perhaps why you’re considering them — propositions that tell you where to commit your resources. Now the problem with that is that, of course, every rule requires an interpretation, every rule requires a specification of it’s application. Let’s just use a moral rule because they are the easiest for people to have a connection to. I assume that many of you have this rule: “be kind”, which means in a situation I will use inferences to derive actions and changes of belief and those will fit together in a certain way that will result in me achieving kindness towards others. So I have this rule, it tells me which implications to pay attention to, which beliefs I should make salient , etc. Now, what’s the issue about this? Well, think about being kind... what do I mean by this problem of interpretation by specifying the application of the rule? The way I am kind to my son Spencer, what it means to be kind to Spencer, should I use that in the how I’m trying to be kind to my partner Sarah? No! That would be anThat would be an appropriate. It could be condescending. It could be patronising. Now I want to be kind to both of them, in fact I love both of them deeply, but I’m not going to be kind to them in the same way most of the time. Well, what about how I’m kind to a friend? Should I be kind to a friend the way I’m kind to either Spencer or Sarah? That doesn’t seem right either! What about how I’m kind to my students, should that be like I’m kind to a friend? No! How I’m kind to Spencer? No! How I’m kind to Sarah? No! What about how I’m kind to a stranger, should that be like I’m kind to my students? No! How about when I am kind to myself? Should it be like any of those?

So here’s the thing and this is bound up with the fact that we have to always convey more than we can say - you can probably see that! I cannot specify all the conditions of application of the rule in the rule because the rule always has to convey much more than it can say. If I try to specify it in the rule the rule will become unwieldily because it will become combinatorially, explosively large; it will no longer serve. Well, you say, “well what you might do is put in a rule on how to use this rule - a higher order rule!” That’s not going to work because the same problem is going to happen here! And this was Wittgenstein’s point: you can’t ultimately get an explanation of how you follow rules in terms of just the rules. Your ability to follow rules is actually based on something else. Brown calls this, in his book on Rationality in 1988, the Skill of Judgment. Notice what we’ve moved here, we’ve moved out of the propositional language of a rule and we’ve moved into the procedural language of a skill. The skill: knowing how to judge what is relevant, pertinent in this situation. Now again, notice how we can’t even maintain the two things that are supposed to be central to computation: we can’t use inference because it presupposes relevance [and] we can’t use rules because what is this procedural skill of being able to determine what is appropriate or what fits in the context, what fits the people or the situation, what fits the problems or task at hand? Well, that’s the skill of Relevance Realisation.

Situational Awareness

So we’re seeing that the computational level isn’t going to do it for us. I want to stop here, before we go to this modularity issue, and point out something really interesting. Notice what we got with Fodor and Wittgenstein, and like I said, I think this ultimately goes back to Aristotle... Notice how the propositional — and this was one of Wittgenstein’s famous arguments — ultimately depends on the procedural (writes propositional above procedural with a down arrow between them). One of my favourite quotes from Wittgenstein has to do exactly with this. He said, “even if lions could talk we would not understand them.” Even if they could use all of our words we would not understand them because their skills of what is relevant or important or central to them are very different to ours. He called this “a form of life”. Their form of life, the way they exercise across many contacts the skill of doing judgments of what is relevant, of what is salient and important to them, is fundamentally different from ours because they are cats rather than humans and therefore even if they spoke we would not understand them.

So we see that the propositional actually depends on the procedural (taps this on the board), but notice — and this is really important — if I am exercising the skill, so I’m going to throw this (pen), or do a Martial Art block (demonstrates block), or something [like that], that depends on what’s called Situational Awareness. if I am a good martial artist, I don’t just have my skills and just apply them mechanically — it’s a great thing if you spar with somebody that’s fighting mechanically, because they don’t have situational awareness! Now what is situational awareness? When I’m exercising a skill it depends on my situational awareness. What is situational awareness? Well, you know what it is! We’ve already talked about it! It’s your perspectival knowing, it’s your ability to do salience landscaping [and] it’s ability to foreground, background, formulate the problem… it’s all of that perspectival stuff. So my situational awareness is how my salience landscaping - foregrounding what’s most relevant to the task, [backgrounding], how was it and is it [relevant?] [-]. What’s irrelevant? How it’s adjusting as the situation is changing so that the way I’m applying my skill is more adaptive and more fitted to the situation… (all the while demonstrating martial arts movements). So your procedural knowing depends on your perspectival knowing (writes perspectival below procedural with a downward arrow between them).

Well, you know where I’m going to go with this, right? Your perspectival knowing ultimately depends on how well the agent and arena fit together and generate affordances of action and affordances of intelligibility. If the agent and arena need to be in a conformity relationship, they need to be well fitted together — you’ve seen lots of arguments to this — in order for my salience landscaping to function appropriately. So the perspectival ultimately depends on the participatory (writes participatory below perspectival with a downward arrow between them). Now of course it goes this way, right? (changes the three down arrows to up arrows also.) They affect each other in multiple interactions (draws arrows linking different levels), I was not originally drawing the arrow of causal interaction, I just did that, but what I was trying to draw originally was the arrow of dependence: asymmetric dependence. This depends on this (Propositional and procedural), this depends on this (procedural and perspectival), this ultimately depends on this (perspectival and participatory) (works down through the different levels highlighting dependency). So we are getting a lot about how we should think about Relevance Realisation where we should look for it and notice it’s starting to give us a way of connecting and thinking about the four kinds of knowing.

What About Modularity?

What about modularity? Well the idea would be something like this, and to be fair this comes up a lot, the idea [that] (drawing) here’s the mind or the brain (draws a circle) and here’s something like the “Central Executive”, or something like that (draws a smaller circle Inside the big circle and labels it Central Executive) — it’s weird we use a business term for an aspect of our cognition, this is used in psychology — and the idea is that the central executive is making all kinds of important decisions. Well, maybe the central executive is responsible for Relevance Realisation and a lot of people — and I know this because I interact with psychologists — they say “well, that’s it! That’s the answer!”. But it’s not an answer, it’s not an answer at all! Because if it’s right, it’s ridiculously homuncular, because what does the central executive have to possess [if] inside the central executive is the capacity for Relevance Realisation? I haven’t explained it! I’ve just pointed to a place and the problem is you shouldn’t.../ So first of all I haven’t explained it, it’s homuncular, and secondly you shouldn’t point to a place! Look, Relevance Realisation can’t be in any one place, it has to simultaneously — you know this we’ve talked about this with how attention works, remember? — you know that you’re always going from feature to gestalt and from gestalt to feature (draws two parallel up-and-down arrows beside each other to demonstrate to this). Attention has to be moving out towards the gestalt and down to the features. Relevance Realisation has to be happening both at the features level and the gestalt level in a highly integrated, interactive fashion. You can’t point to one place and say “that’s where Relevance Realisation is going on” because Relevance Realisation has to be happening at multiple levels of cognition in a simultaneous, self-organizing fashion. That’s why it can lead to insight. And as I said, pointing to any one thing and labelling it is not an explanation. It is a homuncular diversion, that’s all it is!

OK let’s try and draw this all together... what are we learning? What I’m trying to show you, we are already learning something very interesting about meaning making. We are learning what we need, the kinds of properties and processes we need, in order to explain Relevance Realisation. First of all our account of Relevance Realisation — and bear with me on this because there’s an important way in which I am going to modify this — but our account of Relevance Realisation has to be completely internal. Now what do I mean by that? It has to work in terms of goals that are, at least initially, internal to the brain and emerge developmentally from it. Why? Look, any goal in which the brain is representing, or referring to something in the world (draws another circle for the brain and an arrow labeled ‘representing’ shooting way outside) can’t be the place where we can generate an explanation of relevance because in so far as I’m representing a goal to myself, I’ve already got the capacity for Relevance Realisation. The goals that are the originating source of Relevance Realisation have to be internal to the Relevance Realisation process. Now what does that mean? The goals have to be goals that are constitutive. What are constitutive goals? Constitutive goals are goals that a system or process have helped to constitute it for being what it is. And this is especially the case for auto-poetic systems. We’ve talked about this. Living things are not only self-organizing, living things are self-organized because they have the constitutive goal of preserving their own self-organization. To be alive is to have, or maybe even better, to be the goal of preserving the self-organization that is giving rise to you. That is a constitutive goal. Auto-poetic things are self-organized such that they can protect and promote, they are constituted to protect and promote their own self-organization. Which means we should see that there’s going to be a deep connection between your ability to do Relevance Realisation and being an auto-poetic thing because Relevance Realisation ultimately has to work in terms of auto-poetic systems - systems that have goals that are completely internal in the constitutive sense. Now that’s important because that means there’s going to be a deep connection between doing Relevance Realisation and being a living thing.

Next, so when I say internal I mean auto-poetically internal. A theory of Relevance Realisation has to talk in terms of processes that are scale invariant. Relevance Realisation has to act simultaneously at multiple levels — local and global, feature and gestalt — and it has to do it in a self-organizing fashion such that it is capable of insight, self correction. And that means, of course, and that ties in again with, being auto-poetic, that the Relevance Realisation process has to be fundamentally self-organizing in nature.

Now we have a problem here, and it’s a problem that might derail the whole project! It might make it sound like the attempt to give a scientific explanation of Relevance Realisation is impossible! Now notice I’ve been sort of playing between those and treating them as synonymous: a theory of relevance and the theory of Relevance Realisation. That’s ultimately because I’ve been dodging an issue, because I am going to argue [that] you can’t identify them. Because here is what I want to argue, or at least I’m going to state what the argument is going to be and then we’re going to pick it up in the next video: I’m going to argue that we cannot have a scientific theory of relevance, we cannot have a scientific theory of relevance. I’m going to try and argue that that tells us something very deep about the nature of relevance and therefore something deep about the nature of meaning and our attempts to explain, articulate and celebrate our meaning making capacities. But I’m going to ultimately argue that that is no reason for despair because what I’m going to argue is that the fact that we don’t have a theory of relevance doesn’t preclude us from having a theory of Relevance Realisation. In fact it’ll give us a good understanding of what the theory of Relevance Realisation is and that will help us because we will realize, pun intended, that all we ever needed was a theory of relevant realization.

Thank you very much for your time and attention.

- END -

Episode 29 Notes

To keep this site running, we are an Amazon Associate where we earn from qualifying purchases

Tim Lillicrap
Timothy P. Lillicrap is a Canadian neuroscientist and AI researcher, adjunct professor at University College London, and staff research scientist at Google DeepMind, where he has been involved in the AlphaGo and AlphaZero projects mastering the games of Go, Chess and Shogi.

Blake Richards
The article we (John Vervaeke, Tim Lillicrap and Blake Richards) published in the Journal of Logic and Computation can be found here.

Leonardo Ferraro

Sperber and Wilson's book: "Relevance: Communication & Cognition" shown on screen.
Book mentioned - Buy Here

Jerry Alan Fodor was an American philosopher and the author of many crucial works in the fields of philosophy of mind and cognitive science.

John Searle
John Rogers Searle is an American philosopher. He was Willis S. and Marion Slusser Professor Emeritus of the Philosophy of Mind and Language and Professor of the Graduate School at the University of California, Berkeley.

Zenon Pylyshyn
Zenon Walter Pylyshyn FRSC is a Canadian cognitive scientist and philosopher. He holds degrees in engineering-physics from McGill University and in control systems and experimental psychology, both from the Regina Campus, University of Saskatchewan.

Things and Places - Buy Here

Christopher Cherniak is an American neuroscientist, a member of the University of Maryland Philosophy Department. Cherniak’s research trajectory started in theory of knowledge and led into computational neuroanatomy and genomics.
Book Shown - Minimal Rationality - Buy Here

Harrold Brown
Rationality - Buy Here
An introduction to one of the major controversies in the modern philosophy of science. The author describes the philosophical problem of rationality and provides a new approach to its solution.

Other helpful resources about this episode:
Notes on Bevry
Additional Notes on Bevry

Ep. 28 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - Convergence To Relevance Realization

Welcome back to Awakening from the Meaning Crisis. So we have been looking at the Cognitive science of intelligence and we've been looking at the seminal work of Newell and Simon, and we've seen how they are trying to create a plausible construct of intelligence. They're drawing many different ideas together into this idea of intelligence as the capacity to be a General Problem Solver. And then they’re doing a fantastic job of applying the Naturalistic Imperative, which helps us to avoid the Homuncular Fallacy because we’re trying to analyse, formalise and mechanise our explanation of intelligence, explaining the mind, ultimately, in a non-circular fashion by explaining it in non-mental terms. And this will also hopefully give us a way of re-situating the mind within the scientific worldview. We saw that at the core of their construct was the realization via the formalization and the attempted mechanization of the combinatorial explosive nature of the problem space and how crucial relevance realization is and how somehow you zero in on the relevant information. They proposed a solution to this that has far reaching implications for our understanding of meaning cultivation and of rationality. They propose the distinction between heuristic and algorithmic processing and the fact that most of our processing has to be heuristic in nature. It can't pursue certainty. It can't be algorithmic. It can't be Cartesian in in that fashion. And that also means that our cognition is susceptible to bias. The very processes that make us intelligently adaptive, help us to ignore the combinatorial explosive amount of options and information available to us are the ones that also prejudice us and bias us so that we can become self deceptively misled. This was a powerful…/ They deserve to be seminal figures in that they exemplify how we should be trying to do Cognitive science. And they exemplify the power of the Naturalistic Imperative.

But, there were serious shortcomings in Newell and Simon's work. They themselves, and this is something we should remember — even as scientists, the scientific method is designed to try and, it's a psycho-technology designed to try and help us deal with our proclivities towards self-deception — they fell prey to a Cognitive heuristic that biased them. They were making use of the essentialist heuristic which is crucial to our adoptive intelligence. It helps us find those classes that do share an essence and therefore allow us to make powerful predictions and generalizations. Of course, the problem with essentialism is precisely [that] it is a heuristic. It is adoptive. We are tempted to overuse it, and that will make us miss-see that many categories do not possess an essence. Like Wittgenstein famously pointed out: the category of game or chair or table. Newell and Simon thought that all problems were essentially the same. And because of that, how you formulate a problem is a rather trivial matter. Because of that, they were blinded to the fact that all problems are not essentially the same, that there are essential differences between types of problems and therefore problem formulation is actually very important. This is the distinction between well-defined problems and ill-define problems, and I made the point that most real world problems are ill-defined problems. What's missing in ill-defined problems is precisely the Relevance Realization that you get through a good problem formulation.

We then went into the work in which Simon himself participated, the work of Kaplan and Simon, to show that this self-same Relevance Realization, through problem formulation, is at work in addressing combinatorial explosion. We took a look at the problem of the mutilated chess board in that if you formulate it as a covering strategy, you will get into a combinatorial explosive search. Whereas If you formulate it as a parody strategy, if you make salient the fact that the two removed pieces are the same colour, then the solution becomes obvious to you and very simple to do. Problem formulation helps you avoid combinatorial explosion and helps you deal with ill-definededness and this process by which you move from a poor problem formulation to a good problem formulation is the process of insight. And this is why, we have seen throughout, insight is so crucial to you being a rational cognitive agent. And that means that, in addition to logic being essential for our rationality, those psycho-technologies that enhance our capacity for insight are also crucially important; indispensable.

We know that in insight Relevance Realization is recursively self-organizing, restructuring itself in a dynamic fashion. So insight, of course, it's not only important for changing ill-definededness — so this is what problem formulation is doing, or as I'll later call it problem framing (writes P.F. - Problem Framing as a heading on the board) — it's doing this (writes ‘ill-defined —> well defined’ on the board). It's also doing this: it’s helping me avoid combinatorial explosion (writes ‘avoid C.E.’ on the board). But it's also doing something else, something that we talked about and saw already before with the nine dot problem. It's helping you to overcome the way in which your Relevance Realization machinery is making the wrong things salient and obvious for you. So insight is also the way in which this process is self corrective (writes ‘self corrective’ on the board) in which the problem formulation process is self-corrected because you can mislead yourself, be misdirected.

So insight deals with converting ill-defined problems into well-defined problems by doing problem framing, problem formulation, or doing reframing when needed. It helps us avoid combinatorial explosion by doing problem formulation or reframing as with the person who shifted from a covering strategy to a parody strategy in the mutilated chess board. Or it also helps us correct how we limit, in-appropriately, our attempts to solve a problem by what we consider salient or relevant. And it allows us to reformulate, reframe and break out of the way we have boxed our cognition and our consciousness in. So insight is crucial in the cultivation of wisdom.

I want to go on now… What we're seeing is [-], we're doing this thing where we're understanding intelligence and we're seeing many things just converging on the idea of being a general problem solver (draws several converging lines). And then where we're seeing many instances already within that, once we get this notion of trying to come up with a general problem solver, we see that that in turn.../ many different things are feeding into this issue of Relevance Realization as what makes you capable of being a General Problem Solver. So we have many things feeding into this (GPS) and then we're analyzing (has written RR at the convergent point, with GPS above it, with it’s own lines in and out and refers to a relationship between the two with a line representing ‘analysing’). So this (GPS) has tremendous potential — I'm trying to show you a plausibility structure — many converging lines of how we measure, investigate and talk about intelligence lead to understanding intelligence as a General Problem Solver, and then we're starting to see that many of the lines of investigation are converging [to show that] what makes you generally intelligent is your capacity for Relevance Realization. I want to continue this convergence. I want to make it quite powerful for you.


So presumably one of the things that contributes, as I mentioned, to your capacity for being a general problem solver, Is your capacity for categorizing things. I already alluded to that when I just discussed this issue last time. Your ability to categorize things massively increases your ability to deal with the world. If I couldn't categorize things, if I couldn't see these both as markers (holds up two markers), I would have to treat each one as a raw individual that I'm encountering for the first time, kind of like we do when we meet people and we treat them with proper nouns. So this would be Tom, and then this would be Agnes and meeting Tom doesn't tell me anything about what Agnes is going to be like. And we talked about this when we talked about categorical perception. But if I can categorize them together, I can make predictions about how any member of this category will behave. It massively speeds up my ability to make predictions, to abstract important and potentially relevant information. It allows me to communicate. I can communicate all of that categorical information with a common now: "marker". Your ability to categorize is central to your ability to be intelligent.

So what is a category? A category isn't just any set of things. A category is a set of things that you sense belong together. Now we noted last time that your sense of things belonging together isn't necessarily because they share an essence. That's the common mistake, right? How is it that we categorize things? How does this basic ability central to our intelligence operate? I'm not going to try and fully explain that, I don't know anyone that can do that right now! All I need to do is show you, again, is how this issue of relevance realization is at the centre. The standard explanation, the one that works from common sense, is the one you see in Sesame street! You give the child [four] things (places out three markers and a board cleaner), “here are three things… three of these things, they're kind of the same. One of these things is not like the others, three of these things are kind of the same…”. And you have to pick out the one, right? And so these go together, this one doesn’t. These are categorized as markers… That's the Sesame street explanation. What's the explanation? I noticed that these are similar, right? I noticed that this one is different. I mentally grouped together the things that are similar. I keep the things that are different mentally apart. And that's how I form categories! Isn't that obvious?

Differentiating Between Logical And Psychological Similarity

Well again, explaining how it becomes obvious to you and how you make the correct properties salient is the crucial thing. Why? Well, this was a point made famous by the philosopher, Nelson Goodman. What a great name, Goodman! Nelson pointed out that we're often — well, I'm going to use our language, I think this is fair — but we're often equivocating when we invoke ‘similarity’ and how obvious it is, between a psychological sense and a logical sense, and in that sense we're deceiving ourselves that we're offering an explanation. So what do I mean? Well, what does similarity mean in a logical sense? Well, remember the Sesame street example: "kind of the same". Similarity is Partial Identity: kind of the same. Okay, what does Partial Identity mean? Well, you share properties, you share features, and the more features you share, the more identical you are, the more similar you are. There you go! Okay, well, that's pretty clear! Well, once you agree with that, Nelson Goodman is going to say, “well, now you have a problem because any two objects are, logically, overwhelmingly similar!”.

Because pick any two objects, I would say a bison and a lawn-mower! All I have to do is list lots, I have to pick properties that they share in common. Well, they're both found in North America. Neither one was found in North America 300 million years ago. Both contain carbon. Both can kill you if not properly treated. Both have an odour. Both weigh less than a ton. Neither one makes a particularly good weapon. In fact, the number of things that I can say truly that are shared by [a bison] and [a lawnmower] is indefinitely large. It's combinatorially explosive. It goes on and on and on and on. And this is Goodman’s point: they share many, many indefinitely large number of properties. Now what, I imagine, you're saying is, "yeah, that's all true..." — I didn't say anything false! Notice how truth and relevance aren't the same thing; I didn't say anything false — but what you're saying to me is, “yeah, but those aren't the important properties, you're picking trivial and..." notice what you're doing. You're telling me that I haven't zeroed in on the relevant properties, the ones that are obvious to you, the ones that stand out to you as salient.

So what you're now doing is you're moving from a logical to a psychological account of similarity. For psychological similarity is not any true comparison, but finding the relevant comparisons. And the thing about that is that doesn't seem to be stable - Barsalou pointed this out. So I'm going to give you a set of things; Is it a category? Okay. So it's your wife, pets, works of art, gasoline, explosive material. Is that a category? Works of art, your children, your spouse, gasoline, explosive material. Is that a category? And you go, “no! They don't share enough in common!”. Now here's what I say to you: “There's a fire!”. “Oh, right!! All those things belong together now!”. Because I care about my wife, I care about my kids because fire can kill them [and] pets! And explosive stuff and flammable stuff is dangerous. Now it forms a category! In one context, not a category and another context, a very tight and important category!

Now the logical sharing has not changed. What’s shared psychologically is what properties or features you consider relevant for making the comparison. Out of all of what is logically shared, you zero in [-] on the relevant features for comparison. You do the same thing when you're deciding that two things are different because any two objects, any objects you think are really the same also have an indefinitely large number of differences. And when you are holding things as different, because you have zeroed in… here [for example] (indicating the pens and cleaner), shape and use are relevant differences. So at the core of your ability to form and use categories is your capacity, again, for zeroing in on relevant information.

A Robot With A Problem - The Proliferation Of Side Effects

Okay. Now, one thing that people sometimes say to me when I start talking this way is they say, “Oh, you know, Darwin, Darwin, Darwin, Darwin…” And we'll talk about Darwin again! And Darwin's very important and we'll talk about his work, but what they mean by that, it's like you're doing all this abstract, you're, you know…/ Concrete, survival situations: I’ve just got to make a machine that can survive. Right? And that's just obvious, right? It avoids this and it finds that. Well, first of all, is it? So one of the things a machine has to do, for example, Is avoid danger. “Danger will Robinson!” right?! Danger. What set of features do all dangerous things share? Don't tell me synonyms for danger. I mean, holes are dangerous. Bees are dangerous. Poison is dangerous. Knives are dangerous. Lack of food is dangerous. What do all of those share? And don't say, “well, they lead to the damaging of your tissue”. That's what danger [is]. Those are synonyms for danger. What I’m talking about are causes of danger. What do they share? How do you zero in on them? And you still say, “well, I sort of get that, but still, you know, just moving around the world, finding your food!?” Okay. Well, let's do that. Let's try and make a machine that's going to find [food]. It's going to deal with that very basic problem. It's going to be a cognitive agent looking for its food.

Now, because it's an electronic machine - it’s a robot - we’re going to have it look for batteries. This is an example from Daniel Dennett. So here's my robot (draws on the board), it’s mobile, It's got wheels. It's got this appendage for grabbing stuff. It's got all these wonderful sensors. It's got lots of computational power duggaduggadugga…! So we know what we need to do: In order to make it an agent, a cognitive agent — that's what we've been talking about from the very beginning — it has to be different from merely something that generates behaviour. Everything generates behaviour! This behaves in a certain way, this behaves in a certain way, this behaves in a certain way (indicating various random things around him). What makes you an agent — I mean, this isn't all that makes you an agent, this is a philosophically complex problem — but the crucial thing about what makes you an agent is the following: You can determine the consequences of your behavior — I'm using that term very broadly — you can determine the consequences of your behavior and change your behavior accordingly. So this ability to determine the consequences, the effects of your behavior is crucial to being an agent. So we build a machine that can do that: it can determine the consequences of its behavior.

(Drawing) So here's a wagon. It has a nice handle and on it is a nice juicy battery. Now, the robot will try and do what you and I do. And this is also a Darwinian thing because for, most creatures, you have to not only find food, you have to avoid being food. And so you don't just eat your food where you first find it. Even powerful predators, like leopards, move their food to another location because it will get stolen, they could get preyed upon, et cetera… You don't eat your food where you first come across it. Fast food restaurants are somewhat of an anomaly, but [for example] when you walk into the supermarket, you just don't start eating. You try and take your food to a more safe place. You try and share your food with other people because that's a socially valuable thing to do. That's why, when you're eating something you don't like, you give it, "eew, this tastes horrible! Taste it..." you want to share, right? You want to use food as a way of sharing experience, bonding together.

So the robot is programmed to take its food, the battery to a safe place, and then consume it. Well, that seems just so simple, right? That's so simple. Well, we have to make this a problem because we were talking about being a problem solver! And on this wagon is a lit bomb. The bomb is lit, which means there's a very high probability [that] the fuse will burn down and the bomb will go off! And we put the robot in this situation. Now what does the robot do? The robot pulls the handle because it has determined that a consequence, an effect of pulling the handle is to bring the battery along. So it pulls the wagon and it brings the battery along because that's the intended effect. That's the consequence that it has determined is relevant to its goal. But of course the bomb goes off and destroys the robot and we think, "Oh, what did we do wrong?" What did we do wrong? There's something missing. And then we realized, "ah, you know what? We made the robot only look for the intended effects of its behavior. We didn't have the robot check side effects!”. And that's really important, right? Every year this happens; people fail to check side effects. They go into a situation in which they know flammable gas is diffuse, but it's dark! And so they strike a match because they want the intended effect of making light. But it has the unintended effect of creating heat, which sets off the gas and explodes and harms or kills them.

So we say, "ah, we have to have the machine not only check the intended effects. It has to check the side effects of its own behavior." Okay, so what we're going to do is we're going to give it more computational power, right? It's going [have] (draws) more sensors, way more sensors, way more comp[utational power]. And we're also going to put a black box inside this, like they do in an airplane so that we can see what's going on inside the robot. And then we're going to put it into this situation (as above), because this is a great test situation because once we solve this simple Darwinian problem, we'll have a basically intelligent machine. So we put it in this situation. And it comes up to the wagon and then… nothing happens! It doesn't do anything! And we go, "WHAT???" The bomb goes off! Why didn't it just move away from the wagon or why didn't it try to lift the battery off? Well, we take a look and we find that the robot is doing what we programmed it to! It's trying to determine all of the possible side effects. So it's determining that if it pulls the handle, that will make a squeaking noise. If it pulls the handle, the front left wheel will go through 30 degrees of arc, the front right wheel will go through 30 degrees of arc. The back wheel, same way. Back left wheel, back right, there'll be a site wobbling and shifting in the wagon. The grass underneath the wheels is going to be indented. The position of the wagon with respect to Mars is being altered… Do you see what the issue is here? The number of side effects is combinatorially explosive. Oh crap!!!

So what do we do? Well, we think "we'll give..." — and this is something that I'm going to argue later [that] we can't do: we come up with a recipe, a definition of relevance. Nobody knows what that is. I'm going to, in fact, argue later that that's actually impossible and that's going to be crucial for understanding our response to the Meaning Crisis. But let's give them the possibility: we have a definition of relevance and what we'll do is we'll have the robot determine which side effects are relevant or not. Oh, so that's great. So we add that new ability here (draws into the new robot). We give it some extra computational power. We put it in here (same situation as above again) and it goes up to the wagon and the battery and the bomb goes off and it doesn't [do anything], it just sits there calculating! What's going on? And what we notice [is], we look inside and it's making two lists! And it's, (mocks creating the two lists) here's the wheel turning, that's irrelevant and it's judging it, “That is irrelevant”. Oh, here's the change in Mar “it's irrelevant”. And it's making a list and this list is going and it's correctly labelling each one of these is irrelevant, but the list keeps going and going and going!

See, this is going to sound like a Zen Koan: you have to ignore the information, not even check it.../ See Relevance Realization isn't the application of a definition. It is somehow intelligently ignoring all the irrelevance and somehow zeroing in [on], making the relevant stuff salient, standing out so that the actions that you should do are relevant to you, are obvious to you. This is the problem of the Proliferation of Side Effects in behavior, in action. This is called the Frame Problem. Now there's different aspects of the frame problem. One was a technical aspect, a logical aspect of doing computational programming and Shanahan, I think, is correct that he and others have solved that technical problem. But when Shanahan himself argues is once you've solve that technical version of the frame problem, this deeper problem remains. And of course he calls this deeper problem, this deeper version of the frame problem, the Relevance Problem. He happens to think that consciousness might be the way in which we deal with this problem. We'll talk about that later. Many people are converging on the idea that consciousness and related ideas like working memory have to do with our ability to zero in on relevant information. But let's keep going…

Communication Problems

Because what about communication? Isn't that central to being a general problem solver? You bet! Especially [when] most of my intelligence is my ability to coordinate my behavior with myself and with others. Communication is vital to this. We see this even in creatures that don't have linguistic communication; social communication makes many species behave in a more sophisticated fashion. And I already mentioned to you, there's a relationship between how intelligent an individual is and how social the species is. It's not an algorithm. There seem to be important exceptions like octopus, the octopus, but in general, communication is crucial to being an intelligent, cognitive agent. Let's try and use linguistic communication as our example, because that way we can also bring in the linguistics that's in cognitive science. So the point is when you're using language to communicate, you're involved with a very particular problem. This was made really clear by the work of Grice, HP Grice. He pointed out that you always are conveying much beyond what you're saying. It's much more than what you're saying. It always has to be! And that communication depends on you being able to convey much more than you say.

Now, why is that? Because I have to depend on you to derive the implications — that's a logical thing — and then, what he also called implicature — which is not a directly logical thing — in order for me to convey above and beyond what I'm saying. So [for example] I drive up in my car, I put my window down and I say, "excuse me..." there's a person on the street, "I'm out of gas!" And the person comes over and says, "Oh, there's a gas station at the corner". And I go, "thank you", and drive away! So notice — lets go through this carefully — so I rolled down the window and I just shout out, "EXCUSE ME!". Okay? Now what would I actually need to be saying to capture everything that I'm conveying? I would have to say.../ I'm shouting this word EXCUSE ME in the hope that anybody who hears it understands that the ME refers to the speaker and that by saying “excuse me” I'm actually requesting that you give me your attention understanding, of course, that I'm not demanding that you'll give me your attention for like an hour or three hours or 17 days, but for some minimal amount of time that's somehow relevant for a problem that I'm going to pose that's not too onerous.

"I" — and again, when I'm saying “I”, I mean, this person making the noises who is actually the same as the one referred to by this other word, “ME” (in ‘excuse me’) — “I’m out of gas”. And, of course, I don't mean ME or I, the speaker, I mean the vehicle I'm actually in! I'm not asking you to make me more flatulent! I'm asking for you to help me find gasoline for my car! And I'm actually referring to gasoline by this short term ‘gas’. And by saying this, I know you understand that my car isn't completely out of gasoline. There's enough in it that I can drive, you know, some relatively close distance to find a source of gasoline.

The other person, "Oh!”. [Just] by uttering this otherwise meaningless term, I'm indicating that I accept the deal that we have here, that I'm going to give you a bit of my attention, and I understand that it's not going to be too long, too onerous. I can make a statement, seemingly out of the blue, that you will know how to connect to what you actually want, which has gasoline for your car, that's not completely out of gas. I will just say the statement, "there is a gasoline station at the corner!" You will figure out that that means that you can drive to it. I'm talking about a nearby corner. Somehow relevantly similar to the amount of gasoline [left in the car], like this isn't a corner halfway across the continent! There's a gasoline station [which] will distribute gasoline for your car. It's not for giving helium to blimps. It's not a little model of a gas station. It's not a gas station that's closed and not has not been in business for 10 years! It's a gasoline station that will accept Canadian currency or credit. It won't demand your firstborn or fruits from your field! And you know how all of that's going on? Because if any of that is violated, you either find it funny or you get angry. If you say, “excuse me, I'm out of gas” and the person comes up and blows some helium into your car. You don't go, "Oh, thank you! That's that's, that's what I wanted! I wanted some gas, helium. Yeah!!!” It's ridiculous! If you drive to the corner and there's a gas station that's been out of business for 10 years, you go, “What? What's going on? What's wrong with that person?”.

Always conveying way more than you're saying. Now, notice something else. Notice I tried to explicate what was [said], I gave you a whole bunch of sentences to try and explicate what I was conveying. But you know what? Each one of these sentences is also conveying more than it was saying! And if I was trying to unpack what [they] said, what [they] were conveying and what they say, I would have to generate all of their sentences and so on and so on. And you see what this explodes into: You can't say everything you want to convey! You rely on people reading between the lines. By the way, that is actually what this word means! At least one of the etymologies of “intelligence” is “Inter-ledger”, which means to read between the lines. So what did Grice say we do? Well, what we do is we follow a bunch of maxims. We assume that when we're trying to communicate, there's some basic level of cooperation — I don't mean social cooperation, just communicative cooperation — and we assume that people are following some maxims.

So you're at a party, and you hear me say [-] you asked me, "well, how many kids do you have?", and I say, "Oh, I have one. I have one kid", "Oh, okay." And then later on I'm talking and you overhear me -- somebody asked me the same [question] -- " how many kids do you have?", "Oh, I have two. I have two sons." And, "What?", you come up to me and say, "what's wrong with you? Why did you lie?", "What? I didn't lie. If I have two kids, I necessarily have one child. I didn't say anything false saying I have one kid!" And you'll just say "what an asshole!". Because I didn't provide you with the relevant amount of information. I didn't give you the information you needed in order to try and pick up on what I was conveying. You spoke the truth, the logical truth. Or I did in this example. But I didn't speak it in such a way — this is, again, why you can't be perfectly logical — I didn't speak it in such a way that I aided you in determining what the relevant conveyance is.

The Four Maxims Of Conveyance In Communication

So Grice said we follow four maxims. (Proceeds to write these on the board) We assume the person is trying to convey (1) The Truth. And then (2) a maxim Quantity; they're trying to give us the right amount of information. This is actually often called the maxim of Quality (rubs out Truth and replaces it with Quality), it has to do with truth though. And then there's a maximum of (3) Manner. And then there's a maximum of (4) Relevance. So this is basically, we assume that people are trying to tell the truth (1). They're trying to give us the right amount of information (2). They're trying to put it in the kind of format that's most helpful to us in getting what's conveyed beyond what's said (3), and they're giving us relevant information (4). There it is again, Oh, look!! there's the word: Relevance! . Then Sperber and Wilson come along writing a very important book, which I'll talk about later and I have criticisms of, but the book is entitled "Relevance". And what's interesting is they're proposing this — not just as a linguistic phenomenon, but a more general cognitive phenomenon: They argue that all of these (1,2 & 3) actually reduced to the one maximum: be relevant.

Okay, so manner: [-] what is it to be helpful to somebody? Well, it's present[ing] the information in a way that's helpful [to] them. Well, what you do is you try and make salient and obvious what is relevant. Okay. That was easy! Quantity: give the relevant amount of information. What about this? And you say, "ah, John I got ya! You can't reduce this one. Because this is truth. And you have been hitting me over the head since the beginning of this series that truth and relevance are not the same thing!" You're right. So what does Sperber and Wilson do about that? Well they do something really interesting, they say, "we don't actually demand that people speak the truth, because if we did, we're screwed because most of our beliefs are false! What are we actually asking people to do? We're actually asking people to be honest or sincere. That's not the same thing." You're allowed to say what you believe to be true, not what is true. Okay. "So what?" you say. Well, that means the maximum is actually 'be sincere'.

What does sincere mean? "Well, convey what's in your mind", "everything that's in your mind? Everything that's going [on]?”. So when you asked me, "How many kids do you have?" I've got all this stuff going on in my mind about this marriage is failing. What am I going to do to take care of these kids, I love this kid, but it's okay... all of that and (gestures a head exploding from so much related content) oh man, have you been trapped with somebody that's getting drunk and they talk like that at a party? It’s horrible! You're trapped! If you say one [thing][-] "do you have any kids?" And you're trapped for three hours! So that's not what we mean. We don't mean “tell me everything that's in your mind right now. Convey it all to me, John, give it to me all!” That's not what we mean. What do we mean? We mean convey what is relevant to the conversation or context. Out of all of the possible implications and implicatures, zeroing in on those that you might think are relevant to me, our conversation and the context. So that also reduces to relevance.

The Relevance Problem

(*proceeds to work through detailing this on the board)

So at the key of your ability to communicate is your ability to realize relevant information. Notice what I'm doing here. I'm doing this huge convergence argument again and again, and again, what's at the core of your intelligence (draws converging lines like in the construct of Synoptic Integration)? What's at the core of your intelligence again and again, and again, is your capacity for relevance realization (writes R.R. where the lines converge to). It's even more complicated than this! (Wipes board clean.) [-] Remember this: all of the information available in the environment, overwhelming combinatorially explosive! You have to selectively attend to some of it. So this is doing relevance realization: Selective Attention (1). And then you have to decide how to hold in Working Memory (2), what's going to be important for you. Lynn Hasher's excellent work showing that working memory is about trying to screen off what's relevant or irrelevant information. You're using this (Working Memory) in your problem solving. You're using this (Working Memory) and here is where you are trying to deal with the Combinatorial Explosion in the Problem Space (3), all that stuff we talked about. Also interacting with the Proliferation of Side Effects (4), like we saw with the robot and the battery when you try to act. So you're trying to select [something], what do I hold in mind? How do I move through the problem space? Once I start acting, what side effects do I pay attention to? Which ones do I not pay attention to? And all of that has to do with, out of all the information in my Long Term Memory, how do I organize it? How do I categorize it? How do I improve my ability to access it? Longterm Memory Organisation and access (5) is dependent on your ability to zero in on relevant information.

And this of course feeds back to here (5 —> 3). This feeds back to here (5 —> 2), This feeds back to here (5 —> 1),
These are interacting (2 & 4), these are interacting (1 & 3).
This is the Relevance Problem. That (what he’s detailed on the board)! That's the problem of trying to determine what's relevant. It's the core of what makes you intelligent?

Now, why does that matter? What I'm trying to show you is how deep and profound this construct is. This idea of Relevance Realization is at the core of what it is to be intelligent. And we know that this isn't just cold calculation. Your Relevance Realization machinery has to do with all the stuff we've been talking about: salience, obviousness, it's about what motivates you, what arouses your energy, what attracts your attention? Relevance Realization is deeply involving. It's at the guts of your intelligence, your salience landscaping, your problem solving. Okay, so what do I want to do? What I want to do is the following: I want to propose to you that we can continue to do this (draws the convergence argument diagram - 5 lines converging to RR). I can show you how all of this is... I could do more! About how it's all converging on this. Then I want to do two things. I want to try and show how we might be able to analyse formalize and mechanize this (writes these down from in the convergence diagram) in a way that could help to coordinate how our consciousness, our cognition our attention, access to our longterm memory... how all that's working. Then what do I want I do with this? I want to try and show you how we can use Relevance Realization in a multi-tap fashion (draws lines diverging out of RR in a similar way to the Synoptic Integration construct), to try and get a purchase on these things we have been talking about in the historical analysis.

Can we use Relevance Realization and how it's dynamically self-organizing in this complex [construct] (indicates the Relevance Problem construct on the board)… It's self-organizing within each one of these (1 to 5 individually). Remember I showed you how attention is bottom up and top down at the same time — all of these are powerfully self-organizing — and how the whole thing is self-organized? We know it's so organizing in insight. Can I use Relevance Realization to explain things that are crucial to wisdom, to self-transcendence, to spirituality, to meaning? That's exactly what I'm going to do. I'm going to use this construct (convergence construct) once I've tried to show you how it could potentially be grounded (down through analysing, formalising and mechanising), building the synoptic integration across the levels and then do this kind (the multi-apt, diverging lines of the construct) of integration.

And think about why this makes at least initial plausible sense. Relevance Realization is crucial to insight and insight is central to wisdom. Relevance Realization — and you're getting a hint of it — seems to be crucial to consciousness and attention and altering your state of consciousness. We've already seen it can be crucial two Wisdom and Meaning Making. And that would make sense. Look, isn't it sort of central that what makes somebody wise is exactly their capacity to zero in on the relevant information in a situation? To take an ill-defined, messy situation and zero in? To pay attention to the relevant side effects, the relevant consequences? To get you to pay attention to what are the important features to remember the right similar situations from the past? Right? Well you say, "okay, I sort of see that. Well, what about the self-transcendence?" Well, we already see that this is a self-organizing, self-correcting process. We already know that there's an element of insight. The very machinery that makes you capable of insight is the machinery that helps you overcome the biases, helps you to overcome the self deception. And it helps you solve problems that you couldn't solve before. We talked about this with Systematic Insight. "Okay... so consciousness, insight, wisdom, but what about meaning? Come on! Like, where's all that?”.

Well, here's the proposal, (taps the Synoptic Integration construct of Relevance Realisation on the board) right? That what we were talking about when we talked about meaning in terms of the three orders -- the normal logical, the narrative and the normative -- would, yes… were connections that afforded wisdom, self-transcendence very much... "But what connections?" Well, the connections that were lost in the meaning crisis! The connections between mind and body, the connections between mind and world, the connections between mind and mind, that connection of the mind to itself! These are all the things that are called into question: the fragmentation of the mind itself. [-] And we saw how this, all throughout, had to do with, again, the relationship between salience and truth, what we find relevant in terms of how it's salient or obvious to us and how that connects up to reality. And how it connects — remember Plato — [it] connects parts of us together in the right way, the optimal way. What if what we're talking about when we're using this metaphor of meaning is we're talking about how we find things relevant to us, to each other, parts of ourselves relevant to each other, how we're relevant to the world, how the world is relevant to us? All this language of connection is not the language of largely causal connection. It's the language of establishing relations of relevance between things.

Perhaps there's a deep reason why manipulating Relevance Realization affords self-transcendence and wisdom and insight precisely because Relevance Realization is the ability to make the connections that are at the core of meaning, those connections that are quintessentially being threatened by the Meaning crisis. That would mean if we get an understanding of the machinery of this (Synoptic Integration Construct of RR), we would have a way of generating new psycho-technologies, re-designing, reappropriating older psycho-technologies and coordinating them systematically in order to regenerate, [be] regenerative of these fraying connections. Relegitimate and afford the cultivation of wisdom, self-transcendence, connectedness to ourselves and to each other and to the world.

And that's in fact, what I want to explore with you and help explain to you in our next session together on Awakening from the Meaning Crisis. Thank you very much for your time and attention.

Episode 28 Notes

To keep this site running, we are an Amazon Associate where we earn from qualifying purchases

Lawrence W. Barsalou is an American psychologist and a cognitive scientist, currently working at the University of Glasgow. At the University of Glasgow, he is a professor of psychology, performing research in the Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology.

Daniel Clement Dennett III is an American philosopher, writer, and cognitive scientist whose research centers on the philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, and philosophy of biology, particularly as those fields relate to evolutionary biology and cognitive science.

Murray Patrick Shanahan is a Professor of Cognitive Robotics at Imperial College London, in the Department of Computing, and a senior scientist at DeepMind. He researches artificial intelligence, robotics, and cognitive science.
Learn more about him in this website

HP Grice
Herbert Paul Grice, usually publishing under the name H. P. Grice, H. Paul Grice, or Paul Grice, was a British philosopher of language, whose work on meaning has influenced the philosophical study of semantics. He is known for his theory of implicature.

Sperber and Wilson
Relevance Theory is a framework for understanding utterance interpretation first proposed by Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson and used within cognitive linguistics and pragmatics.

Relevance, first published in 1986, was named as one of the most important and influential books of the decade in the Times Higher Educational Supplement
Book mentioned – Relevance – Buy Here

Lynn Hasher
Lynn Hasher is a cognitive scientist known for research on attention, working memory, and inhibitory control. Hasher is Professor Emerita in the Psychology Department at the University of Toronto and Senior Scientist at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care

Other helpful resources about this episode:
Notes on Bevry
Additional Notes on Bevry

Ep. 27 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - Problem Formulation

Welcome back to awakening from the meaning crisis. This is episode 27. So last time we took a look at the nature of Cognitive Science and argued for Synoptic Integration that addresses equivocation and fragmentation, and the ignorance of the causal relation between these different levels which we [use to] talk about mind and study mind, and it does that by trying to create plausible and potentially profound constructs. And then I proposed to you that we'd start doing cognitive science in two ways: First of all, just trying to look at the cognitive machinery that is responsible for Meaning Cultivation. But also trying to exemplify that pattern of bringing about Synoptic Integration through the generation of plausible and potentially profound constructs. So we took a look at the central capacity to be [a] cognitive agent, and this is your capacity for intelligence and, of course, intelligence is something that neuroscientists are looking for in the brain and that artificial intelligence machine learning Is trying to create. They're trying to create intelligence. Psychology, of course, has famously been measuring intelligence since its very inception. The word intelligence has reading between the lines which seems, we'll see, has a lot to do with your use of language, et cetera. Culture seems to be deeply connected to the application and then development of intelligence.

So intelligence is a great place to start. And then I said we need to be very careful. We don't want to equivocate about intelligence. We want to make sure we approach it very carefully because, although it is very important to us, we often are using the term in an equivocal and confused manner and [are] therefore bullshitting ourselves in an important way. And then I proposed to you that we don't focus on the results, the product of our intelligence — our knowledge and what our knowledge does for us — our technologies, for example. We focus instead on the process that allows us to acquire knowledge because that way we have something we can use intelligence to explain how we have acquired the knowledge we have.

I then proposed to you to follow the work that was seminal, both in the psychometric measure of intelligence — Binet & Simon — and the attempt to artificially generate intelligence — the work of Newell & Simon — and this is the idea of intelligence as your capacity to be a General Problem Solver, to solve a wide variety of problems across a wide variety of domains. And then, in order to get clear about that, we took a look at the work of Newell and Simon, trying to give us a very careful formal analysis of what is going on in intelligence. And I'm going to come back to those ideas in a minute or two - this idea of analysis, of formal analysis.

(Now referring to the diagrams from the end of the last episode which are still on the board) A problem was analysed into a representation of an Initial State and a Goal State, and I have a problem when my Initial State and my Goal State are significantly different. I can then apply Operations or Operators, these are actions that will change one state into another state — remember me moving towards the cup, raising my hand, for example — and I can have a sequence of operations that will like take me from my Initial State to my Goal State, but I have to follow the Path Constraints. I want to remain a General Problem Solver. I don't want to solve any one problem to the detriment of my capacity to be a general problem solver, or then my solving this problem will undermine my intelligence in general. So to solve a problem is to apply a sequence of operations that will transform the initial state into the goal state while following the path constraints. And then you can analyse that by taking a look at the Problem Space. And it was this explication — making explicit — of the Problem Space that was the radical — and I will in fact argue profound — power in what Newell and Simon were doing. That's what made their work so impactful in so many disciplines.

Now there's two things we have to note about this (diagram of problem solving) that are potentially misleading. First of all, one is I didn't draw the whole diagram out, and that wasn't just happenstance - we'll come back to that. The second one is this diagram is misleading precisely because it is created from God’s-eye point of view. If I were to fill the diagram out, you could see all of the pathways at once and you could see, at once, which pathway leads from the Initial State to the Goal State. But of course in life, when you have a problem, you are not out here (John’s point of view, looking at the board). Having a problem is precisely to be here (John moves to the left of the Initial State, assuming it’s point of view) and you do not know which of all these pathways will take your Initial State to Goal State while obeying the Path Constraints. You don't know that. You're ignorant. Because remember, we're not confusing intelligence with knowledge. Solving this is how you acquire knowledge. The problem solving method is any method for finding the sequence of transformations that will take you from the initial state, into the goal state while obeying the path constraints.

And you say, “okay, I get it! The diagram isn't complete. And you're over here. You can't see the whole thing. You don't know which of all the pathways…. Yeah. So what?”. Well, here's so what: When I have analysed this and formalised it, when I've explicated it, in terms of problem space, it reveals something. I can calculate the number of pathways here by the formula F to the D (*** ), where F is the number of operators I'm applying at any stage and D is the number of stages I go through. So Keith Holyoak gave a very famous example of this — a psychologist who was instrumental in doing important work on the psychology of problem solving. Let's do a concrete example of this - it's a great example because it brings up machines that we have today.

Combinatorial Explosion

So let's say you're playing a game of chess. So on average the number of operations you can perform on any turn — that's F — is 30. Now don't say to me, “well, how many of those are stupid?”. That's not the point! I'm trying to explain how your intelligent; that's what I have to explain. It's not what I can assume. So there's 30 legal moves and, on average, there's 60 turns (**Writes 30 to the power of 60 on the board**). That's the number of pathways that are in the problem space. This is known as Combinatorial Explosion. It sounds like a science fiction weapon, but it's actually a central fact! This is a vast number. It's something like 4.29 times 10 to the 88th in standard, sort of scientific notation. Now, I want you to understand how big this is; how astronomically, incomprehensibly, large this is. So one thing you might say is, “well, you know, that's easy! I have many different neurones and they all work in parallel and they're all checking different alternative pathways, and that's how I do this: Parallel Distributed Processing!”. And there's an important element in that, but that's not going to be enough, because you probably have around that many neurones (writes 10 to the power of 10 on the board, below the last figure). Now that’s a lot! But it's nowhere near this (1st number) and you say, “ah, but it's not the neurones. It's number of connections” and that's something like 5 to the 10 to the 15th (**), and that's a big number! But you know what it's astronomically far away from? It's astronomically far away from this (1st number). So even if it's each synaptic connection is exploring a pathway, this is still overwhelming your brain. In fact, this is greater than the number of atomic particles that are estimated to exist in the universe. This is, in a literal sense, bigger than the universe. It's big.

And what does that mean? That means you cannot do the following: you cannot search the whole space (Problem Space). For very, very many problems, the problems are combinatorially explosive and therefore you cannot search that space. You do not have the time, the machinery, the resources to search the whole space. Now here is what is deeply, deeply interesting about you. This is sort of my professional obsession, you might put it (wipes the board clean), If I could represent it this way. If this is the whole problem space (draws one big circle) — this is what you do somehow — you can't search the whole space… I mean, you can't search, you can't look here (one section within the circle) and then reject. Because if you look at this part of the space and reject it, and then look at this part of it, then you end up searching the whole space. It's not a matter of checking and rejecting because that's searching the whole space! What you do is somehow do this: you somehow zero in on only a very small subsection of that whole space (draws a thin, 3 to 5 degree wedge of the circle at 12 o’clock) and you search in there and you often find a solution!! You somehow zero in on the relevant information and you make that information effective in your cognition, you do what I call Relevance Realisation. You realise what's relevant. Now this fascinates me, and that fascination is due to the work of Newell and Simon, because… how do you do that? You say, “well, the computers are really fast…!”. Even the fastest chess-playing computers don't check the whole space! They can’t! They're not powerful enough for fast enough. That's not how they play.

So this issue of avoiding combinatorial explosion is actually a central way of understanding your intelligence. And you probably hadn't thought of that before - that one of the things that makes you crucially intelligent is your ability to zero in on relevant information. And of course you're experiencing that in two related, but different ways. One way is [you're], and the way this is happening so automatically and seamlessly for you, is the generation of ‘obviousness’. Like, what's obvious? Well, obviously I should pick up my marker. Obviously I should go to the board. Obviousness is not a property of physics or chemistry or biology. Obviousness is not what explains your behavior - it explains your behavior in a “common sense” way, but obviousness is what I scientifically have to explain. How does your brain make things obvious to you? And that's related to, but not identical to, this issue of how things are salient to you. How they stand out to you. How they grab your attention! And what we already know is that that process isn't static because sometimes [-] how you zeroed in on things as relevant, what was obvious to you, what was salient to you, how you ‘join the nine dots’ is obvious and salient to you, and yet you get it wrong! And part of your ability is to restructure what you find relevant and salient - you can dynamically self-organise what you find relevant and salient.

Now Newell and Simon wrestled with this and there's a sense in which this (indicates the thin wedge of the circle on the board) is the key problem that the project of Artificial General Intelligence is trying to address right now. In fact, that's what I argued. I've argued in some work I did with Tim Lillicrap and Blake Richards, some work I've done with Leo Ferraro - there's related work by other people. But new Newell and Simon realised that in some way you have to deal with combinatorial explosion - to make a general problem solver, you have to give the machine, the system, the capacity to avoid combinatorial explosion. We're going to see that this is probably the best way of trying to understand what intelligence is. People like Stanovich argue that what we're measuring when we're measuring your intelligence in psychometric tests is precisely your ability to deal with computational limitations, to avoid combinatorial explosion. Christopher Cherniak argues something similar.

Heuristics And Algorithms

So what did Newell and Simon propose? Well, I want to talk about what they propose and show why I think it's important and then criticise them in what they mistook or misunderstood and therefore why their solution — and I don't think they would have disputed this — why their solution was insufficient. They proposed a distinction that's used a lot, but these terms have slipped - I've watched them slip in the 25 years I've been teaching at UFT. I've seen the term slip around, but I want to use them the way Newell and Simon used them within the context of problem solving. And this is the distinction between a heuristics and an algorithm (writes these both on the board). They actually didn't come up with this distinction. This actually came from an earlier book by Pólya called How To Solve It, which was a book just on the psychology and it was a set of practical advice for how to improve problem solving. So remember we talked about what a problem solving technique is? A problem solving technique is a method for finding a problem solution. That's not trivial because a problem solution has been analysed in terms of a sequence of operations that takes the Initial State into the Goal State while obeying the Path Constraints.

Okay. So what's an algorithm? An algorithm is a problem solving technique that is guaranteed to find a solution or prove — and I'm using that term technically, not ‘give evidence for’ but prove — that a solution can't be found. Okay. And of course there are algorithmic things you do. You know the algorithm for doing multiplication for example - you know, 33 times 4, right (writes this sum on the board)? There is a way to do that in which you can reliably guarantee / get an answer. So this is important, and I remember I said I'd come back to you and explain why Descartes' project was doomed for failure? Because algorithmic processing is processing that has held to the standard of certainty. You use an algorithm when you are pursuing certainty. Now what's the problem with using an algorithm as a problem solving technique? Well, it's guaranteed to find an answer or prove that an answer is not findable. So algorithms work in terms of certainty! Ask yourself: in order to be certain that you [have] found the answer or proved that an answer can not be found, how much of the problem space do you have to search?

There's some a-priori things you can do to shave the problem space down a little bit. And you know, computer science talks about that, but generally, for all practical purposes and intents, in order to guarantee certainty, I have to search the space, the whole space, and the space is combinatorially explosive. So if I pursue algorithmic certainty, I will not solve any problems. I will have committed cognitive suicide. If I try [to] be algorithmically certain in all of my processing, if I'm pursuing certainty, as I'm trying to get over to the cup, a combinatorially explosive space opens up and I can't get there because my lifetime, my resources, my processing power is not sufficient to search the whole space. That's why Descartes was doomed from the beginning. You can't turn yourself into Mr. Spock. You can't turn yourself into Data. You can't turn yourself into an algorithmic machine that is pursuing certainty. That is cognitive suicide. That tells us something right away, by the way, because logic — deductive logic — is certainty. It is algorithmic. It works in terms of certainty. An argument is valid if it is impossible for the premises to be true and the conclusion false. Logic works in terms of the normativity of certainty. It operates algorithmically. So does math. You cannot be comprehensively logical: If I tried to be Mr. Spock and logic my way through anything I'm trying to do, most of my problems are combinatorially explosive and I won't solve even one of them because I'd be overwhelmed by a combinatorially explosive search space.

This tells you something. This is what I meant earlier when I said trying to equate rationality with being logical is absurd. You can't do that. The issue: these terms are not, and cannot be — as much as Descartes wanted them to be — they are not, and cannot be synonymous (writes rational ‘does not equal’ logical on the board). Now that doesn't mean that rational means being illogical or willy-nilly. Ratio / rationing (underlines Ration in Rational) pay attention to this. ‘Ratio’, ‘rationing’, ‘being rational’ means knowing when, where, how much and what degree to be logical. And that's a much more difficult thing to do. And I would argue more that: being rational is not just the psycho-technology of logic, but other psycho-technologies - knowing where, when, and how to use them in order to overcome self deception and optimally achieve the goals that we want to achieve. Ofter when they talk about rationality, people think I'm talking about logic or consistency and they misunderstand that is not what I've meant. And that's what I said when Descartes was wrong, in a deep sense, from the beginning.

Newell and Simon realised this. That's precisely why they proposed the distinction: a heuristic is a problem solving method that is not guaranteed to find a solution. It is only reliable for increasing your chances of achieving your goal. So I've just shown you: you cannot play chess algorithmically. Of course you can — and even the best computer programs do this — play chess heuristically. You can play chess doing the following things. Here are some heuristics… ‘get your queen out early’, ‘control the centre board’, ‘castle, your King’. You can do all of these things and nevertheless not achieve your goal - winning the game of chess. And that's precisely because of how heuristics work. What heuristics do is they try to pre-specify where you should search for the relevant information (draws a bigger, 45 degree wedge in the circle). That's what a heuristic does: it limits the space you're searching. Now, what that actually means is it's getting you to ‘prejudge’ what's going to be relevant — and of course that's where we get our word ‘prejudice’ from — and a heuristic is therefore a bias, it's a source of bias. This is why the two are often paired together - the heuristic-bias approach.

Look, what my chest heuristics do is they bias where I'm paying attention. I focus on the centre board, I focus on my queen. If I'm playing against somebody who's very good, they'll notice how I'm fixated on the centre board and the queen and they'll keep me focused there while playing a peripheral game that defeats me. I played a game of chess, not that long ago and I was able to use that strategy against someone. This it's called the “No Free Lunch Theorem”; that it is unavoidable - you have to use heuristics because you have to avoid combinatorial explosion. You can't be comprehensively algorithmic, logical, mathematical. The price you pay for avoiding combinatorial explosion is you fall prey to bias again and again, and again. The very things that make us adoptive are the things that make us prone to self deception.

But if you remember, we talked about these heuristics and biases when we talked about the representativeness heuristic, and the availability heuristic that were at work when you take your friend to the airport, because you can't calculate all the probabilities - it’s combinatorially explosive. So you use the heuristic: How easy could I remember plane crashes? How prototypical to do they…/? How representative are they of disasters and tragedies? And because of that, you judge it highly probable that the plane will crash and then you ignore how deeply dangerous your automobile is. So the very things that make you adoptive make you prone to self deception. (Wipes board clean, except for the circle diagram.)

Praise For Newell And Simon

Now, this account. I think… I have tremendous respect for Newell and Simon. First of all, let me tell you why I have respect and then what criticisms I have. So, first of all, this idea that [that] part of what makes you intelligence is your ability to use your heuristics, I think that's a necessary part. And the empirical evidence that we use these heuristics is quite, quite powerful and convincing and well replicated. This is also an instance of doing really, really powerful work and this will add one more dimension to what it is to do good cognitive science. Yes, it’s about creating plausible constructs that afford Synoptic Integration, but there is another way in which Newell and Simon exemplified, they modelled to us, what it is to do it well, do it properly. And again, this is going to relate to the meaning crisis.

Notice what they've done. Notice how all of the aspects, all of the great changes that have made the scientific way of thinking possible are exemplified in what Newell and Simon are doing. Notice that they're analysing (writes analysing on the board). They're taking a complex phenomenon and they're trying to analyse it down into its basic components. Just like Thales did so long ago when he was trying to get at the underlying substances and forces. They're trying to do that ontological depth perception. And then, like Descartes, they're trying to formalise it. They're trying to give us a graphical mathematical representation. The problem space is a formalisation that allows us to do calculations, equations (writes formalisation below analysing). That's how I was able to explain to you combinatorial explosion. And then what they were doing is they were trying to mechanise (writes mechanise below formalisation). I know that will make some people's hackles rise, but the point of this is if I've got this right, if I can make a machine that can carry out my formal analysis, because that means I haven't snuck anything in. And that really matters because it turns out that [in] trying to explain the mind, we often fall into a particular fallacy.

Ok, so how do you see? Well, here's a triangle out here (draws a little triangle) and the light comes off of it and then it goes into your eye (draws a little eye) [-], and then the nerve impulses — and then I'll equivocate on the notion of information to hide all kinds of theoretical problems — and then it goes into this space inside of my mind — let's call it maybe working memory or something (draws a circle to represent this) — and it gets projected onto some inner screen (draws a little screen in the circle with the image of the triangle on it) and there it is, it’s projected there. And then there's a little man in here (draws a little stickman) — the Latin for little man is Homunculus — and the little man, maybe it's your central executive or something, says “triangle”. …and that's how it works, right? And notice what's going on here: It sounds like I'm giving a mechanical explanation, and then I invoke something.

Now what you should ask me right away is the following: “Ah, yes, but John, how does the little man, the little Homunculus, see the inner triangle?”, “Oh, well, inside his head is a smaller space with a smaller projection in the middle. And there's a little man in there that (draws a smaller repeat of the above diagram) [says] “triangle!””, and so on and so forth… And do you see what this gets? This gives you an infinite regress. It doesn't explain anything. Why? This is the circular explanation. Remember when we talked about this, right? This is when I'm using vision to explain vision. And you say, “well, yeah, that's stupid! I get why that's stupid. That's non-explanatory. Circular explanations are non-explanatory!”. Yes, they are: they're non-explanatory.

The Naturalistic Imperative Of Cognitive Science

But here's what I ultimately have to do. And this is what Newell and Simon are trying to do. They're trying to take a mental term — intelligence (writes intelligence on the board, labelling it ‘mental’) — and they're trying to analyse it, formalise it and mechanise it so they can explain it using non-mental terms. Because if I always use mind to explain mind, I'm actually never explaining the mind. I've just engaged in a circular explanation. What Newell and Simon are trying to do is analyse, formalise and mechanise an explanation of the mind. They're not doing this because they're fascists or they're worshipers of science, or they're enamoured with technology! Maybe some of those things are true about them, but independent from that I can argue is — which is what I'm doing — that the reason they're doing this is that it exemplifies the scientific method because it is precisely designed to avoid circular explanations. And as long as I'm explaining the mental, in terms of the mental, I'm not actually explaining it. I call this the Naturalistic Imperative in Cognitive science (writes Naturalistic Imperative at the top of the board): try to explain things naturalistically.

Again, some of this might be because you have a prejudice in favour of the scientific worldview and there's all kinds of cultural constraints. Of course! I'm not denying any of that critique. But what I'm saying is that critique is insufficient because here's an independent argument: the reason I'm doing this is precisely because I am trying to avoid circular explanations of intelligence. Why does that matter? Remember, the scientific revolution produced this scientific worldview that seems to be explaining everything except how I generate scientific explanations. My intelligence, my ability to generate science, is not one of the things that is encompassed by the scientific worldview. There's this whole in the naturalistic worldview! That's why many people who are critical of Naturalism, always zero in on our capacity to make meaning and have consciousness as the thing that's not being explained. They’re right to do that! I think they're wrong to conclude that that somehow legitimates other kinds of world-views — we'll come back to that. Because I think what you need to show is you need to show that this project is — because this is an inductive argument, it’s not a deductive [argument] — you have to show that this project is failing, that we're not making progress on it. And that's a difficult thing to say! You can't defeat a scientific program by saying, [by] pointing to things it hasn't yet explained. Because that will always be the case! You can't point to problems it faces! What you have to do — and this is something I think that Lakatos made very clear — you have to point to the fact that it's not making any progress in improving our explanation. And it's really questionable, and I mean that term seriously, that we're not making any progress in explaining intelligence by trying to analyse formalise and mechanise it. That's getting really hard to claim that we're not making any progress.

Now, why does this matter? Because if Cognitive science can create a Synoptic Integration by creating plausible constructs, theoretical ways of explanation, like what Newell and Simon are doing, that allow us to analyse formalise and mechanise, they have the possibility of making us part of the scientific worldview, not as animals or machines, but giving a scientific explanation of our capacity to generate scientific explanations. We can fit back into the scientific worldview that science has actually excluded us from as the generators of science itself. (Wipes board clean.) Newell and Simon are creating this powerful way of analysing formalising and mechanising intelligence. There's lots of stuff converging on it. There's stuff from how we measure intelligence — we talked about it, how we're trying to make machines — and that holds a promise for revealing things about intelligence that we didn't know before! Like the fact that one of the core aspects of intelligence is precisely your ability to avoid combinatorial explosion, make things salient and obvious and do this in this really dynamically self corrective fashion like when you have an insight.

A Critique Of Newell And Simon

So, I'm done praising Newell and Simon for now, because now I want to criticise them because Newell and Simon's notion of heuristics — also a valuable part of the multi-aptness, a valuable new explanatory way of dealing [with], thinking about our intelligence — while necessary is insufficient because Newell and Simon were failing to pay attention to other ways in which we constrain the Problem Space and zero in on relevant information, and do that in a dynamically self-organising fashion. Well, what were they failing to notice? They were failing to notice that they had an assumption in their attempt to come up with a theoretical construct for explaining general problem solving. They assumed that all problems were essentially the same. This is kind of ironic! We have a heuristic - as you remember, challenged a long time ago by Ockham. We have a heuristic of Essentialism (writes Essentialism on the board, under Heuristic) - this is also a term that has been taken up and, I think, often applied loosely within political controversy and discourse.

The idea of Essentialism is that when I group a bunch of things together with a term — remember Ockham’s ideas about [how] we group things together just by the words we use for them; that's Nominalism — but when I group a bunch of things together, they must all share some core properties. They must share an essence. Remember, that's the Aristotelian idea of a set of necessary and sufficient conditions for being something, right? It is of course the case that some things clearly fall in that category. Triangles have an essence: all triangles, no matter what their shape or size have three straight lines, three angles, and the angles add up to 180 degrees. And if you have each and every one of those, you are a triangle. And there are also natural kinds. One of the things that science does, and we'll see why this is important later, is it discovers those groupings that have an essence. So all gold things have a set of properties that are essential to being gold. And we'll talk about why that's the case later.

Not everything we group together — and this was famously pointed out by Wittgenstein — has an essence [-]. [For example] we call many things ‘games’. Now, what set of necessary and sufficient conditions do all and only games possess? “Well… Oh! They involve competition!”, “well, there are many things that involve competition that aren't games — war — and there are games that don't seem to involve competition, like catch!” “ Oh, well at least they involve other people”, “solitaire?”, “Oh, um, they, well, they have to involve imagination!”, “Solitaire?”, “but they have to involve pretence…”, “catch?? What are you pretending to do?!” And this is the constraints point. You won't find a definition that includes all and only games. And this is the case for many things like chair, table, et cetera. Remember, this was all part of what Ockham was pointing to, I think!

So the idea is we come with a Heuristic. We treat any category as if it has an essence. But many categories don't have essences. We're going to come back to that shortly in a few minutes when we talk about categorisation. Why do we use this Heuristic? Because it makes us look for essences. Why do we want to look for essences? Because this allows us to generalise and make very good predictions. Yes, I can over-generalise. But I can also under generalise! That's also a mistake. So we use this heuristic because it's adaptive. It's not algorithmic because there are many categories that don't have essences. Newell and Simon thought this category (Problems) had an essence that all problems are essentially the same, that all problems are essentially the same and therefore they could come up with one base…/ [-] if all problems are essentially the same, then to make a general problem solver, I basically need one problem solving strategy! I just have to find the one essential, I may have to make variations on it, but I have to find the one essential problem solving strategy. And because of this, how you formulate a problem, how you set it up to try and apply your strategy, how you represent the Initial State, the Goal State, the Operators, the Path Constraints, that's trivial, right? That's not important because if all problems are essentially the same, you're going to be applying basically the same problem solving strategy. Both of those assumptions [-] were in fact being driven by a psychological heuristic of essentialism. Essentialism isn't a bad thing! At least talking about it as a cognitive heuristic. It shouldn't be treated algorithmically, but we shouldn't pretend that we can do without it.

Well And Ill-Defined Problems

Now, if Newell and Simon were right about this, then of course these aren't problematic assumptions (that problems are of one essential kind and that they are trivial). But they're actually wrong about it because there are — and many people have converged on this at different times and using different terms — but there are fundamentally different kinds of problems, and there are different ways in which there are different kinds of problems. I just want to talk about a central one that's really important to your day to day life. This is the distinction between well-defined problems and ill-defined problems.

In a well-defined problem I have a good meaning and effective guiding representation of the Initial State, the Goal State, the Operators, so that I can solve my problem. So I take it that for many of you, that problem I gave earlier (writes 33 x 4 on the board again) — and there is a relationship between something being well defined in algorithmic. They are not identical, but there is a relationship — for many of you, that should be a well-defined problem. You can tell me your Initial State: this is a multiplication problem. And that gives you useful guiding information. You know a lot of things by knowing your initial state. You know what the Goal State should look like: this should be a number when I'm done. And you know that this number (the answer) should be bigger than these two numbers. The most beautiful picture of all time of a Platypus does not count as an answer. You know what the operations are - singing and dancing are irrelevant to this. This is well[-defined], and a lot of your education was getting you to practice making whole sets of problems well-defined and part of what psycho-technologies do is they make well-defined problems for us. Like literacy and numeracy - mathematics. And because of that power and because of their prevalence in our education, we tend to get blinded and we tend to think that that's what most problems are like. And that means we don't pay attention to how we formulate the problem, because the problem is well formulated for us precisely because it's a well defined problem. But most of your problems are ill-defined problems. In most of your problems, you don't know what the relevant information about the Initial State is, you don't know what the relevant information about the Goal State is. You don't know what the relevant Operators are. You don't even know what the relevant path constraints are.

You're sitting in lecture perhaps at the university, and you've got this problem: “Take good notes”. Okay, what's the initial state? “Well, I don't have good notes!”, “And?”, “Uh, well, um, yeah. Okay. Okay……!” So what should I do? And all you'll do is give me synonyms for relevance realisation: “I should pay attention to the relevant information, the crucial information, the important information…”, “and how do you do that?”, “Uh, well, you know, it's obvious to me, or it stands out to me!”, “Great! But how? How would I make a machine be able to do that? What are the operations?”, “Oh, I write stuff down!” Do I just write stuff down? Like, I draw, I make arrows. Do I write everything down? “Well, no, I don't write everything down and I don't just…” What are the operations? Does that mean everybody's notes will look the same? No, when I do this in class everybody's notes look remarkably very different! So what are the Operations and what does the Goal State look like? “Well, good notes!”, “Great! What are the properties of good notes?”, “Well, they're useful!”, “Why are they useful?”, “Well, because… Oh because they contain the relevant information connected in the relevant way that makes sense to me. And so that I can use it to…”, “yeah, right… I get it…”!

What's actually missing in an ill-defined problem is how to formulate the problem: how to zero in on the relevant information and thereby constrain the problem so you can solve it. So what's missing and what's needed to deal with your ill-defined problems and turn them into something like well-defined problems for you is good problem formulation, which involves, again, this process of zeroing in on relevant information: Relevance Realisation. And you see if they had noted this, if they had noted that this bias made them trivialise formulation, they would have realised that problems aren't all essentially the same and they would have realised the important work being done by problem formulation. And that would have been important because that would have given them another way of dealing with the issue of combinatorial explosion.

Let me show you: So we already see that the Relevance Realisation that's at work in problem formulation is crucial for dealing with real world problems. Taking good notes - that's an ill-defined problem. Following a conversation - that's another Ill-defined problem: “Well, I should say things!”, “What things?”, “well, Oh…”, “When?”, “well when it's appropriate…”, “How often?”, “Well, sort of…”. Tell a joke. Go on a successful first date. All of these are ill defined problems. Most of your real world problems are ill-defined problems. So you need the Relevance Realisation within good Problem Formulation to help you deal with most real world problems; already, Problem Formulation is crucial! But here's something that Newell and Simon could have used, and in fact Simon comes back and realises that later in an experiment he does with Kaplan in 1990 (writes Kaplan and Simon 1990 on the board). And I want to show you this experiment, because I want to show you precisely the power of problem formulation with respect to dealing with constraining the problem space and avoiding combinatorial explosion. I need to be able to deal with ill-defined problems to be genuinely intelligent. I also, as we've already seen, have to be able to avoid combinatorial explosion. That has something to do with relevance realisation, and that has a lot to do, as we've already seen, with Problem Formulation.

The Mutilated Chess Board

Let me give you the problem that they used in the study of the experiment. This is called The Mutilated Chess board example, right? There are eight columns and eight rows. And so we know that there are 64 squares. Now, because this is a square, [-] if I have a domino and it covers two squares — it'll cover two squares equally if I put it horizontally or vertically — how many dominoes do I need to cover the chess board? Well, that's easy: 2 goes into 64… I need 32. 32 dominoes will cover this without overhang or overlap. Now I'm going to mutilate the board. I'm going to remove this piece and this piece (two diagonally opposite corner pieces). How many squares are left here? 62. There are 62 squares left. So I've now mutilated the chessboard. Here's the problem: Can I cover this with 31 Domino's without overhang or overlap? And you have to be able to prove — deductively demonstrate — that your answer is correct.

Many people find this a hard problem. They find it a hard problem, perhaps you're doing this now, because they formulate it as a covering problem. They're trying to imagine a chess board and they're trying to imagine possible configurations of Domino's on the board. So they adopt a covering formulation of the problem, a covering strategy, and they try to imagine it. That strategy is combinatorially explosive. So famously there was somebody, one of the people in one of the experiments, one of the participants, trained in mathematics and was doing this topographical calculation and they worked on it for 16 to 18 hours and filled 81 pages of a [-] notebook. And they didn't come up with a solution! Why? Because if you formulate this as a covering strategy, you hit combinatorial explosion. The problem space explodes and you can't move through it. And that's what happened to that participant. It's not because they lacked the logic or mathematical abilities. In fact, it was precisely because of their logic and mathematical abilities that they came to grief. Now, you should know by now that I am not advocating for romanticism… “Oh, just give up logic and rationality…” That's ridiculous. You've seen why I I'm critical of that as well. But what I'm trying to show you, again, is you cannot be comprehensively algorithmic.

Okay. So if you formulate this as a covering strategy, you can't solve it. Let's reformulate it. And you can't quite see this on the diagram (the drawing on the board), but you'll be able to see it clearly in the panel that comes up (clear, onscreen picture of a chessboard). These squares (the two diagonally opposite corners that were removed) are always the same colour on a chess board. In fact that's not hidden in the diagram and what's used in the actual experiment - that's clearly visible; these squares are always the same colour. You say “so what?” Right! That's the point! You can see them, but they're not salient to you in a way that makes a solution obvious to you. They’re not salient to you! They're there, but they're not standing out to you in a way that makes a solution obvious to you.

Let's try this: If I put this domino on the board, if I put it horizontally or vertically, I will always cover a black and white square. Always. There is no way of putting it on the board that will not cover a black and white square. So in order to cover the board with dominoes, I need an equal number of black and white squares. I must have an equal number of black and white squares. That must be the case, but these squares (the two removed) are the same colour! Is there now an equal number of black and white squares there? No! Because these [removed ones] are the same colour. There's not an equal number of black and white squares.

I must have an equal number of black and white squares. I know for sure — because these [two] are the same colour — I do not have an equal number of black and white squares. Therefore I can prove to you that it is impossible to cover the board with the dominance.

If I go from formulating this problem as a covering strategy, which is combinatorially explosive, to using a Parody strategy in which the fact that [these two] are the same colour is salient to me, such that now a solution is obvious — now, it's obvious that it's impossible -- I go from not being able to solve the problem because it's combinatorially explosive to a search space that collapses (clicks fingers) and I solved the problem. This is why the phenomenon we've been talking about when we talked about flow and different aspects of higher States of consciousness is so relevant. This capacity to come up with good problem formulation — problem formulation that turns ill-defined problems into well-defined problems for you; problem formulation that goes from a self-defeating strategy because of combinatorial explosion to a problem formulation that allows you to solve your problem — that's insight. That's insight. That's why the title of this experiment is “In Search of Insight”. That's exactly what insight is. It is the process by which bad problem formulation is being converted into good problem formulation.

That's why insight, in addition to logic, is central to rationality. And in addition to any logical techniques that improve my inference, I have to have other kinds of psycho-technologies that improve my capacity for insight. And we've already seen that that might have to do with things like mindfulness - because of mindfulness’ capacity to give you the ability to restructure your salience landscape. So we're starting to see how Problem Formulation and Relevance Realisation are actually central to what it is for you being a real-world Problem Solver: avoiding combinatorial explosions, avoiding ill-definedness. We're going to continue this next time as we continue to investigate the role of Relevance Realisation in intelligence and related intelligent behaviours like categorisation, action [and] communication.

Thank you very much for your time and attention.

- END -

Episode 27 Notes

To keep this site running, we are an Amazon Associate where we earn from qualifying purchases

Keith Holyoak
Keith James Holyoak is a Canadian-American researcher in cognitive psychology and cognitive science, working on human thinking and reasoning. Holyoak's work focuses on the role of analogy in thinking.

Tim Lilicrap
Timothy P. Lillicrap is a Canadian neuroscientist and AI researcher, adjunct professor at University College London, and staff research scientist at Google DeepMind, where he has been involved in the AlphaGo and AlphaZero projects mastering the games of Go, Chess and Shogi

Blake Richards
Blake Richards is an Assistant Professor in the Montreal Neurological Institute and the School of Computer Science at McGill University and a Core Faculty Member at the Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute.

Keith E. Stanovich is Emeritus Professor of Applied Psychology and Human Development, University of Toronto and former Canada Research Chair of Applied Cognitive Science. His research areas are the psychology of reasoning and the psychology of reading.

Christopher Cherniak
Christopher Cherniak is an American neuroscientist, a member of the University of Maryland Philosophy Department. Cherniak’s research trajectory started in theory of knowledge and led into computational neuroanatomy and genomics.

George Pólya was a Hungarian mathematician. He was a professor of mathematics from 1914 to 1940 at ETH Zürich and from 1940 to 1953 at Stanford University. He made fundamental contributions to combinatorics, number theory, numerical analysis and probability theory.

How To Solve It
How to Solve It (1945) is a small volume by mathematician George Pólya describing methods of problem solving
Book mentioned - How to Solve It - Buy Here

Mr. Spock
Spock is a fictional character in the Star Trek media franchise. Spock, who was originally played by Leonard Nimoy, first appeared in the original Star Trek series serving aboard the starship Enterprise as science officer and first officer, and later as commanding officer of two iterations of the vessel.

Data is a character in the fictional Star Trek franchise. He appears in the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Picard; and the feature films Star Trek Generations, Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: Insurrection, and Star Trek: Nemesis. Data is portrayed by actor Brent Spiner.

“Data is in many ways a successor to the original Star Trek's Spock (Leonard Nimoy), in that the character offers an "outsider's" perspective on humanity.”

No Free Lunch Theorem
In computational complexity and optimization the no free lunch theorem is a result that states that for certain types of mathematical problems, the computational cost of finding a solution, averaged over all problems in the class, is the same for any solution method. No solution therefore offers a "short cut"

Imre Lakatos was a Hungarian philosopher of mathematics and science, known for his thesis of the fallibility of mathematics and its 'methodology of proofs and refutations' in its pre-axiomatic stages of development, and also for introducing the concept of the 'research programme' in his methodology of scientific research programmes.

Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein was an Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language. From 1929 to 1947, Wittgenstein taught at the University of Cambridge.

Craig A Kaplan
In Search of Insight - Kaplan and Simon 1990

Other helpful resources about this episode:
Notes on Bevry
Additional Notes on Bevry