Richard F. Taflinger, PhD

Interlude II:

The Black Box

Cogito, ergo sum.
Rene Descarte

"I think, therefore I am." Descarte express to this philosophy in 1637. On the basis of this philosophy he proved to the existence of the world. Not bad for three words. What is thinking? What is the process that results in all of human thought (whatever that may be)? The purpose of this chapter is to define the term, think.

The dictionary has 13 different definitions of the word "think". This might lead one to belief that nobody really knows what it means. However, an examination of the definitions show a common characteristic. Phrases such as "formed or conceived in the mind", "have in mind", "have an idea", "have an opinion", "imagine", "remember", "intend", "make, bring, affect, etc., by thinking", "have consideration or regard" all require a mental concept of something that you can then examine in conjunction with other concepts of other things. An "idea" is a concept, to "have [something] in mind" requires a conception of the thing, to "imagine" there must be some way of envisioning what is being imagine. The common characteristic that appears is symbolization. Thus, the definition of thinking is the creation and manipulation of symbols.

Do conceived, imagine, ideate, to think, requires input from the world around the brain. Without that input, there is nothing about which to think. Human is received input through their five senses and from mechanical, associative, and vicarious input. These inputs are processed through the mechanism called thinking.

However, before exploring the creation and manipulation of symbols, let's examine what happens to the input.


The brain build its perception of the world on the basis of what it receives through the senses. What it receives are impressions of what exists: what tactile, visual, auditory, olfactory or gustatory sensations are experienced. Those that are not experienced do not directly exist to the brain.

Due to the limitations on perception the world must be a construct, and illusion created from the raw material of photons, pressure waves, and other forms of primary sensory stimuli. No one can directly experience all there is to experience and create a mental duplicate of the world as it is. The stimuli people do experience they processed into abstract symbols such as "red" for a color or "sweet" for taste. These symbols are either created by the person or inherited from the family, culture, etc., as described above the abstract symbols are then assembled via the nervous system into conscious experience of people, places, and things.

As external realities, the people, the places, and the things exist only as bare frameworks. The mind projects covering, form, warmth, color, and other attributes which in the mind itself creates onto them. Thus, each mind manufactures its own illusory world upon a minimum of shared reality. The shared reality is those things that people sense in common: the feel of corduroy, the smell of a rose, the appearance of a tree, the sound of a violin, but taste of an apple.

However, even shared reality is only that which people have agreed to share. Without the agreement there is no sharing.

People may share reality, but the world constructed from that reality can and it does vary according to each individual's perception. Each person's world conforms to its own set of culturally defined expectations and in such a way as to appear satisfyingly real in total to its creator. The taste of roasted beetle grubs can be delicious or recalls and depending upon the taster's culture. The definition of feminine or masculine beauty depends on gift of your is European or Australian Bushman. As Arthur Clarke says, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Thus, if a culture does not include television as a natural part of its world, it must be un- or supernatural. Any report of television to others in that culture is considered unreliable, no matter how much a part of the reality of other cultures television might be.

Pre-conceptions, prejudices, biases, cultural norms and mores, education, superstition, peer opinion, all play their role in people creating their own realities. This process I call filtering.

No matter what the senses perceive, the mind has to understand the information in terms that it can believe. This information filters through the person's experience, education, culture and upbringing. These intern can affect the person's sense all politics, morality, religion, race, sex, economics, and even humor. These filters are pre-conceptions, biases, prejudices and attitudes that influence away the mind processes information and therefore how the individual constructs his or her world and reality.

For example, several witnesses see a traffic accident no one could survive. Nonetheless, nobody is hurt. All the witnesses see, objectively, the same event. Yet, what they "see" differs according to how they filter the information: a devoutly religious person will see the hand of God in sparingly victims; a politician may see a necessity for government action to make that intersection safer; an attorney may see a potential lawsuit; a sexist may blame a driver of the opposite sex. It is a problem of well-known to law-enforcement and be legal profession: eye witnesses can't seem to agree on what they saw. It is not the fault of the witness. It is simply that what is perceived must be understood, and understanding usually comes through relating new information to wool. Whatever the old information is influence is how the new is understood.

For another example, take the case of several young black man walking down a street. What are they: a peace gathering, a civil rights march, a street gang, a protest parade, the local black student union? Or are they simply several young black man who, by pure chance, happened to be walking in the same direction at a pace sufficient to bring them close together? Any of the above answers could be correct. They could also all be wrong. Until one asks each man what he is doing, pre-conception will create the reality of the observer. Of course, even the post- questioning reality can be wrong to give one or more of the men lie.

Because the world is a subjective construct unique to each person, it isn't possible for there to be an objective discussion on the world bar the events that take place in it. What is possible is for people to describe the world they have created on the basis of what they have perceived.

However, to do this it is necessary to have a standard set of mutually agreed upon ways of viewing what people perceive in common. These are symbols.

Go To Chapter Four: Storage of Impressions

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