Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Mind - Brain dichotomy: What it means to have a mind

Researchers at Harvard, Gray et al, are conducting an ongoing mind survey, and have also reported some findings from that online survey, based ona asmaple of more than 2,000 people.

The survey attempts to make one think about different forms of entities that may have a mind and to assign different degrees of consciousness/ mind on them.

Gray worked alongside fellow psychologists Heather Gray and Daniel Wegner on the study, which presented respondents with 13 characters: 7 living human forms (7-week-old fetus, 5-month-old infant, 5-year-old girl, adult woman, adult man, man in a persistent vegetative state, and the respondent himself or herself), 3 non-human animals (frog, family dog, and wild chimpanzee), a dead woman, God, and a sociable robot.

Participants were asked to rate the characters on the extent to which each possessed a number of capacities, ranging from hunger, fear, embarrassment, and pleasure to self-control, morality, memory and thought. Their analyses yielded two distinct dimensions by which people perceive the minds of others, agency and experience.

The participants attribute different degrees of these factors to the characters based on a forced choice between a pair of characters on a particular ability related to a mind capacity like feeling fear or making moral decisions. I believe they than id factor analysis or some such statistical method to come up with two independent dimensions or factor underlying the concept of mind: Agency or Experience.

Agency seems to be related to the fact that people (entities with mind) can take volitional actions and are thereby responsible for their actions. They can thus also be judged morally based on their actions and the choices they make.

Experience seems related to the fact that people (entities with mind) have an ability to feel and are emotional entities that have subjective experience of emotions like pain, fear and hunger and also have desires, longings and feelings etc.

The ability to perceive qualia surprisingly didn't come out as a separate entity and consciousness or ability to perceive qualia is supposedly covered under the Experience factor.

These dimensions are independent: An entity can be viewed to have experience without having any agency, and vice versa. For instance, respondents viewed the infant as high in experience but low in agency -- having feelings, but unaccountable for its actions -- while God was viewed as having agency but not experience.

"Respondents, the majority of whom were at least moderately religious, viewed God as an agent capable of moral action, but without much capacity for experience," Gray says. "We find it hard to envision God sharing any of our feelings or desires."


The regular readers of this blog will remember that one of the important distinction that I hypothesized between Schizophrenia and Autism was that due to agency: with schizophrenics attributing too much Agency; and Autistic attributing too less Agency to others (other people or other entities that may have mind). Also as God is perceived as having too much Agency, but not much Experience, thus when the Schizophrenia end of spectrum kicks in, they may also attribute too much agency to themselves and feel God-like or Divine. The negative symptoms related to less of experience would also fit the fact of being God-like or being an angel/ special person and thus not having too much emotions. The Autistic end of the spectrum however would be guided by too-less-mind sort of attributions and thinking; and thus they may view themselves and others as brains and not minds. They might thus be more capable with inanimate objects and rules of nature (thus making them good scientists/ engineers/ systemizers) ; but poor at social/ ethical aspects that require attributing minds to animals for example.

One should also distinguish between the two dimensions of Agency and Experience. Thus Autistic may have a defect due to Agency, but may have mirror neurons or other systems that confer on them the ability to feel , not only subjective feelings of self - but empathetic feelings of others too.

Also, it has been this blogs contention that the Dimension of experience is best seen as a dimension on one end of which is the Bipolar patients and on the other end of which is the Deprosanalisation/ apathetic / derealization spectrum. while the Bipolar feels too much emotions and motivations; the depersonalised/ derealized person may show too less emotion/ motivation.

Thus in mind at one end we have people having too much mind/ believing in too much mind (and exemplified by Schizophrenic and Bipolar ) and at the other end we have too people having too much brain/ believing in too much brain (exemplified by Autistic/ depersonalised people). One gives great Art, the other great Science.

Returning to the current study:

"The perception of experience to these characters is important, because along with experience comes a suite of inalienable rights, the most important of which is the right to life," Gray says. "If you see a man in a persistent vegetative state as having feelings, it feels wrong to pull the plug on him, whereas if he is just a lump of firing neurons, we have less compunction at freeing up his hospital bed."

This is exactly one of the pertinent point made by the film Munnabhai MBBS- that coma patients have feelings and have a right of life. While I have featured the effects of Lage Raho Munnabhai earlier; I would also like to pay tribute to its prequel/ precursor.

On that note, let us keep our antennas up for how thinking about us as entities with Agency and Experince can lead to Art; while thinking of us as brains can lead to good scince. I'm sure you'll agree that we need both of these concepts about us humans.


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1 comment:

Ricercar said...

Hi! Long time ...
I liked this article and linked to it from my other blog)