Unified Rationality

In today’s socio-political climate, our attitude toward each other is often characterized as polarized, hostile, intolerant, divided, and so forth. The current situation’s emotional charge intensifies as the confluence of significant factors (e.g., pandemic, natural disasters, scarcity of resources including economically) both increase in magnitude and expand in scope. Consequently, the continuation of these tests continues to test the integrity of the system, as a society and as individuals.

As those experiencing these events transpire in the present, at the most technologically advanced point in history, there is a natural human tendency to amplify the significance of what is happening in the present and characterize these events as unprecedented. While these events may be unprecedented in many ways, particularly in their magnitude and scope, the psychological forces at play are anything but unprecedented. In fact, it is only due to our assumption of superiority over all previous stages of civilization that allow us to maintain a position of confidence when discussing these psychological matters, citing the advances in neuroscience among other disciplines of the mind to console ourselves that the deepest and most terrifying stages of psychic development are behind us, as a collective.

To expand on this point, I will return to Carl Jung’s 1957 book The Undiscovered Self for a humbling and frightful quote: “Consciousness is a very recent acquisition and as such is still an ‘experimental state’ ––frail, menaced by specific dangers, and easily injured” (p. 74). By returning to the level of consciousness, we shift to a universal plane of thought that is shared by all and even extends historically, stretching back to the origins of consciousness itself. Even through doing this as a cognitive exercise, there already is a greater degree of separation from the present day. Moreover, Jung reminds us that despite our technological advancements, that our consciousness is not to be taken for granted, explaining, “The development of consciousness is a slow and laborious process that took untold ages to reach the civilized state. . .Although the development since that date seems to be considerable, it is still far from complete” (p. 73).

If these quotes about consciousness seem too abstract and unrelated to the initial points of the first paragraph, then it might be useful to pivot toward addressing why this disconnect directly: Why does thinking of the term consciousness provoke a sense of resistance? Maybe it’s that discussion or thought of the matter seems arbitrary and futile, or possibly it is easier and simpler to dismiss the topic altogether, selecting from the various connotations linked to consciousness as a way of sidestepping further investigation into the matter.

There is another reason for the resistance or uneasiness to the idea of consciousness that also accounts for why mental health and psychology have lagged behind that of the physical sciences, as Jung puts it, “When it comes to psychology, one of the youngest of the sciences, you can see misoneism at work” (p.72). Misoneism is defined as “the hatred or dislike of what is new or represents change.” As Jung identifies its role in psychology, I am extending it to our general uneasiness toward the topic of consciousness and our specific aversion toward the talk of unconsciousness.

While our society may be characterized by stark divisions and widening schisms of perceived and real differences, we share many similarities with how we respond to the notion and the reality of the unconscious. While the mere mention of the unconscious may provoke an urge to double down on the supremacy of rationality, declaring “our present knowledge of nature to be the summit of all possible knowledge,” we, nevertheless, can be “possessed and altered by our moods, we can suddenly be unreasonable, or important facts unaccountably vanish from our memory” (p. 74). Furthermore, this “basic resistance of the conscious mind to anything unconscious and unknown” serves to further our state of division from one another and dissociation from ourselves (p. 72).   

Resistance toward change is at the core of both of these rifts, within and without. They fuel one another as we seek to compensate for our feelings of inferiority evoked by the mere acknowledgment of unconsciousness. Through rational compensation and continued one-sided emphasis of consciousness, we, at the forefront of humanity, revert back to primal methods of denial and suppression, just as our ancestors did when faced with unprecedented events. The primary difference between our moment in time and that of our ancestors is the artificial integration that the internet and, specifically, social media platforms have provided us with that allow us to pull at the seams of not only our individual psyche (the container of consciousness and unconsciousness) but also that of the collective psyche. Our fears are absolved as we allow ourselves to be dissolved into a group that grants us an escape; this temporary refuge can blur over time and transform into a constant on which we depend and from where we operate, creating such a degree of normalcy and familiarity that we invert even the most basic principles to the point that “the right hand does not know what the left is doing, and in a state of violent affect one frequently forgets who one is” (p. 74).

While people are finding ways to accept the severe divisions among political parties, ideologies, and directions for the future of these United States, it is of the utmost importance for humanity that we do not forget that “Even in our days the unity of consciousness is a doubtful affair, since only a little affect is needed to disrupt its continuity” (p. 75).  

References:

Jung, C. G., Hull, R. F. C., & Shamdasani, S. (2010). The Undiscovered Self: With Symbols and the Interpretation of Dreams (Bollingen) (Revised ed.). Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1957)

The Fundamental Divide

Many living in this modern age will agree with the statement that “we have never been more divided.” If not to this extreme, then at least to the degree of acknowledgment of the strong division among the citizens of society.

While I am specifically referring to the discord within the United States, the principles and mechanisms of actions underlying this division are far more universal than any single country or period within human history.

Often when thinking about divisions within society or among peoples, there is a basic mistake made in the first movement of thought; that is, the natural tendency appears to look outward and continue the investigation from this starting point. However, while this can yield useful and insightful discoveries, it also serves to overlook another source of division because of this initial outward movement: We neglect to inquire into internal divisions.

The consequences of this inward inquiry are different from that of the outward one; however, there are many similarities between the internal and the external. Both are necessary for deepening understanding of each other.

Throughout the work of Carl Jung, there is an emphasis on the inner and outer, moreover, the interplay between these two. There is a tremendous amount to expand on from this point, so instead, I would like to redirect to the initial divide that he so often wrote about: the division of the physical and the mental (i.e., psychic).

While Jung is by no means the originator of this idea, his psychological approach to this mind-body division was novel for the time since this question had previously been delegated to the realm of philosophers. Moreover, Jung was one of the forerunners for the relatively young field of psychology, beginning as a discipline around the late 1900s. Still, more than a century after Jung’s first publication in 1912, it is only in recent years (especially the last two decades) that the field of psychology, mental health, and the psychic side of life are beginning to gain traction. At least, relative to being treated on equal terms with the physical side of life.

As a society, there is a growing movement to remedy injustices and advocate for equality. Yet, even with the increased acknowledgment and receptivity to the reality of mental illnesses and the necessity for psychiatric and other related interventions, the inner world or the psychic side of existence still must overcome a more considerable burden of proof than the physical side.

Jung emphasizes this disparity in our treatment of the physical and the psychic in his 1957 book The Undiscovered Self, writing, “One can regard one’s stomach or heart as unimportant and worthy of contempt, but that does not prevent overeating or overexertion from having consequences that affect the whole man. Yet we think that psychic mistakes and their consequences can be got rid of with mere words, for ‘psychic’ means less than air to most people” (p.47).

Even today, the term “psychic” is likely to be less well-received than “mental” or “psychological.” However, the correspondence between the terms physical and psychic is the most logical pairing and usage for the natures being described. This may seem like an arbitrary point, but I believe that solidifying psychological terminology is essential to increase understanding and awareness of the nature, components, and disorders that occupy this psychic landscape.

Moreover, Jung’s quote can be applied to the original point of societal divisions, for he is indeed addressing a very similar topic. This is evident in his subsequent writing, “when everyone admits that the weal or woe of the future will be decided neither by threat of wild animals, nor by natural catastrophes, nor by the danger of world-wide epidemics, but simply and solely by the psychic changes in man. It needs only an almost imperceptible disturbance of equilibrium in a few of our rulers’ heads to plunge the world into blood, fire, and radioactivity” (p.47).

While on the surface, these outer divisions appear distinctly separate from that of those inner divides, Jung’s work highlights how our inner and outer worlds are deeply interconnected. Furthermore, he emphasizes how the outer worldly situations are collective externalizations of suppressed content from our inner worlds. For example, the increasing focus on materialism and objectification has parallels to how the physical side of life, and, particularly the rational and scientific side more recently, represent a one-sidedness that obscures and diminishes the significance of the inner, psychic side of life; both on the individual and collective levels.  

As psychology and the mental world gain more acknowledgment and receptivity than in previous points in time, and there is increasing focus on the outer world, Jung’s work invites us to explore the inner world as a method for understanding and addressing the variety of manifestations that arise within the outer.

Reference:

Jung, C. G., Hull, R. F. C., & Shamdasani, S. (2010;1957). The Undiscovered Self: With Symbols and the Interpretation of Dreams (Bollingen) (Revised ed.). Princeton University Press.

An Analysis: The Logic of Social Media

In today’s essay, I will analyze the logic of our modern-day discourse, particularly through the virtual public square that has become such an influential part in both our individual and collective lives.

If you are interested in what position I hold regarding specific current debates, then I am afraid you will be disappointed. After years of studying language, logic, and psychology in mostly academic realms, I have sought to someday utilize these tools in such a way that would help unify people.

However, in recent years, I have become increasingly aware of the futility of this endeavor. The reasons behind this change in heart is not due to adopting a pessimistic outlook of life or vilifying those who harbor different views than mine; rather, it has been through the realization that the deck is stacked against anyone trying to unify people—to be clear, I am not implying there is a secret cabal exerting control, at least for the purpose of what I am saying in this context because I equally can never rule out that there isn’t some secret cabal that I am unaware of (i.e., it’s not falsifiable).

Rather, I focus on what I can observe, analyze, and hypothesize about, which inevitability leads me back to examining language and how we use language, both with its content but also with its rules.

When you think of the rules of language, you likely think of grammar, since that is nearly the exact definition; however, that is not what I am focused on when contemplating the dynamics of the intensifying social media debates. If you spend time reading the comments on social media postings, such as Instagram pictures, Facebook news articles, Tweets, etc., you do not usually see people arguing about the appropriate application of grammar within these contexts.

This is the first way the deck is stacked: Social media discourse is governed by linguistic and social rules that are, novel, rapidly evolving, and vary depending on platforms. While there are still features of language that remain, these aspects are not determining features when people are arguing on these platforms.

Instead, the uniting feature of these social media interactions is the users appeal to logic. Although these interactions usually devolve due to the abundance of logical fallacies, the interesting part is that both parties want to use logic, albeit in a biased self-serving manner, but this is nevertheless a point of common ground. We must cling to whatever vestiges of common linguistic territory that we Americans still have left, before completely severing ties among ourselves due to our private beliefs.

I say private beliefs because whether beliefs are amplified to the scale of the collective or remain at the order of the individual makes no difference to where the beliefs reside, at least from the individual’s point of view. The main, and central, difference that does arise from scaling up to the collective level is the individual’s private beliefs now provide them with a sense of belonging, satisfying a core human need; moreover, the collection of individuals now can access and enter into groupthink (which has bad connotations but has its places in life).

However, with the public square transcending to the realm of the virtual where social media are [is] now the platforms to engage in various forms of social interactions, beliefs that were once held privately, even secretly to oneself, can now be voiced to a host of other “nodes” within this social system.

Not only is this option now available and easily accessible to the individual, but the nature of the internet being transcendental, as in not grounded in the physical (at least in a way understandable to the average person). This transcendental property of the internet and the platforms it hosts provides implicit validation of beliefs sharing transcendental elements given that the medium of the internet inherently extends beyond the physical; moreover, the acceptance of these types of beliefs by other entities (bots and people) further reinforce these same beliefs through explicit social validation.

While the details mentioned above can be further explored, the important takeaway is the notion that transcendental beliefs (those extending beyond the physical) have increased in their general acceptance among users on these platforms, even through the mere exposure effect of having been made aware of beliefs of this kind with their different varieties. Furthermore, within the groups whose social cohesion is clustered around beliefs that are transcendental produce a secondary effect in how members within these groups use logic.

In my previous process writing essay, I termed Tripartite Flow to describe a sequence of events flowing in a logical progression. The full description of the term is not necessary for what I wish to illustrate in this essay. However, I will continue by using the analogy of a neuron’s action potential (also, outlined in more detail in my last essay).

When I first learned about action potentials, it seemed straightforward: (a) strong stimulus -> (b) triggers action potential -> (c) transmission of information. Stripping away the neuroscience jargon, this is a simple chain of causality flowing from some initial thing (a) to some effect from (a) producing (b) leading to end effect (c).

There are countless examples to illustrate this point; moreover, this is one of many examples of how we operate within the framework of logic personally, relationally, even transcendentally, whether we are aware of this framework or not.

Enter my frustration: putting aside the content and emotional charge to all the matters we find ourselves arguing about, what remains is crudely formed attempts to wield logic on platforms that are not conducive to even handling such an interaction.

Nevertheless, we enter the virtual arena once more believing we might be able to help someone see the “truth” behind a given issue. Still, the medium through which we are engaging others is already biased toward short exchanges rather than lengthy, well-crafted arguments, in addition, we are bound by the inherent limitations of using the tool of written language.

One of the effects of operating on a virtual function that transcends the physical reality, especially when validated by in-group members’ support, is that we believe ourselves experts in a variety of fields and a multitude of topics. Having access to an abundance of information, we can easily succumb to an illusion of intellectual grandiosity that functions to help us feel more in control of life than we actually are.

However, when interlocked with another user on some social media platform arguing positions of some given issue, we often end up violating laws of logic due to either an indifference toward them or an ignorance of them.

The most common forms of logical fallacies I have observed through studying sparing matches in the virtual arena are false dilemmas (false dichotomies) and fallacies of causation. False dilemmas essentially restrict the range of potential options to a choice between only two options; for example, you either like ice cream or cookies (first example that came to mind)—if the other person responds to the question framed this way, then it is already setup on an illogical foundation and will continue to produce subsequent arguments because there could exist a third option or the initial choice is not a true dilemma. In the dessert example, engaging with this question overlooks the possibility of liking both ice cream and cookies since they can coexist without violating the law of contradiction.

Regarding fallacies of causation or causal fallacies, this is a category of logical fallacies that has numerous types of how it manifests, but the common feature of all these fallacies is misunderstandings of what causes or reasons are producing what effects or conclusions. Determining causality is an essential part of human reasoning and has serious effects on our lives; however, it can be quite difficult, and I believe it is important to have enough intellectual humility to acknowledge our blind spots or mistakes when utilizing human reasoning. One common example of a fallacy of causation is known as the Post hoc fallacy. It is useful to translate the Latin of Post hoc to understand the meaning of this fallacy; in Latin, this means to the effect of “after this, therefore because of that.” It is the idea that because an event happens after another event, there must be a causal connection between the two events. This is not always true because, again, discerning causation is an incredibly difficult endeavor, which is the task of many academics and researchers.

However, the internet and social media have produced something of a levelling effect where any user believes their posts and views are as credible as those who hold credentials on the matter. In part, it might be because everyone looks the same on these profiles, despite the blue check next to one’s name or the academic/professional credentials, people can discount these aspects; moreover, it seems that people tend to give more credence to user’s opinions who have many followers, though this too is a string of digits representing some abstraction that is often entirely arbitrary to the content of the discussion.

Nevertheless, social media is having an increasingly significant effect on people’s choices, and the stakes are incredibly high. However, I have learned that social media allows for members to find a sense of belonging, but it is that sense of belonging that fortifies the individual’s beliefs. Consequently, my goal of possibly changing other’s minds has shifted, and I hope to move forward with subsequent posts about reasoning and helping to increase understanding of logic and the serious consequences of operating from faulty reasoning.

A Return to the Beginning

We start our journey today with a different approach to writing, so I want to set the initial expectation for this piece of writing as one of being-in-process; that is, I am process writing, and you are reading with my flow of consciousness (for the most part).

My issue with writing is typically, when I want to write, I fail to think of a topic worthy of the time and effort needed for writing. Although, when speaking casually with family, friends, or colleagues, I have an abundance of topics that I wish, at the time, to write about further in the future. When the future comes, I feel stagnated, and often, this is enough to stop me from taking the initial actions necessary to express myself in written form.

As I reflect on this issue with writing, I am reminded of how frequent and ubiquitous this issue is—not the issue of writing hesitancy—the issue of being unable to think of the intermediate parts and/or the end products for a given flow; thus, this mental poverty provides me with the justification never to start the task.

In some ways, what I am referring to sounds almost like a self-fulling prophecy (and it possibly is). Nevertheless, whether what I am describing is precisely defined in the term self-fulling prophecy or my description is something similar but not yet encapsulated in static language makes no difference.

Words or phrases are just shorthand signifiers for the broader definition or concept that they represent, so in this case, I am more focused on analyzing the definition of the phenomenon I am describing and less focused on what symbol (word) is used to signify the concept that I wish to explore.

On a brief aside, what I have outlined above regarding language can be, crudely, summed up as bottom-up (definition to corresponding word/symbol) and top-down (word/symbol to definition through derivation). These terms bottom-up/top-down are used in a variety of domains and relate to many aspects of life; however, I am using them in the specific context of language.

I say this to take a second aside to briefly address how these two directions of language processing contribute to the ongoing, intensifying social-media-fueled cultural wars here in the United States. Social media floods our senses with sights and sounds, even physical sensations to a less direct degree, that are consumed with such frequency and quantity that our brains have become desensitized, to some extent, to the valuation of symbols—including words. Prior to social media and/or the internet, written symbols were not available to be consumed almost constantly and instantaneously, much less was there such an accessible avenue that allowed for these written expressions to become interactive with the engagement of others. Therefore, the abundance of symbols available in the modern age lessens the value of each individual symbol, at least, based on the principles of supply and demand ecnomics.

Even writing those last few sentences became complicated for me to track my initial point and how that corresponded to the intermediate point and the end conclusion. And, alas, we have returned from our aside movements to the opening example.

In my initial example describing my personal challenges with the writing process, I avoided taking the initial actions of preparing the necessary conditions for writing the intermediate parts and end products by using the excuse that I cannot think of these subsequent steps and, therefore, do not have sufficient cause to begin the endeavor.  

As much as I may wish that this issue mattered on an individual level, it truly does not. Still, when this same type, or form, of issue is amplified to the context of the structure of social media interactions in general, then there is likely something meaningful to analyze in the dynamics and constituents of this process.

To practice what I hope to preach, I want to be clear in defining the way in which I am using the constituent elements involved in my subsequent analysis.

First, I am defining social media as any platform or website that allows for interactions with other entities. Additionally, I am defining the internet as the broad physical and virtual infrastructure that forms the network that includes social media. The physical body can provide an analogy to better illustrate these concepts before continuing: The internet is the system and social media the various nodes. For specificity and foreshadowing future analogies, this can best be conceptualized thinking of the lymphatic system and the lymph nodes distributed within this system.

Second, starting with the definition, I am describing a process that operates in a sequential order flowing from the initial conditions, to the intermediate parts, to the end product; this process is scale-independent, meaning it can operate and can be applied to any level of a system (e.g., simple to complex, micro to macro, possibly part to whole – though this will be affirmed or negated through analysis).

Unfortunately, I lack a shorter term to function as a signifier for this definition in my vocabulary at present. Therefore, I will take the liberty of creating a term that I believe corresponds to the above description (I am open to alternative ideas).

Tripartite Flow is the term I believe best describes this particular definition in the specific way I intend to utilize it. To further elucidate the core concept that I am describing, here are a few familiar definitions similar to what I am referring to: Story – beginning, middle, and end; Time – past, present, and future.

Additionally, the body can offer another useful analogy for the concept of Tripartite Flow: One way neurons communicate with one another is through action potentials which are impulses that stimulate a cascade of events to occur that result in the transmission of information. In this example, the action potential is the intermediate step because once it is triggered, the transmission will produce an electrical impulse to move across the cell’s axon; however, the initial condition that must be present for an action potential ever to occur is a stimulus that is powerful enough to surpass the threshold potential to activate (a) the subsequent steps of action potential (b), and information transmission (c).

Before concluding this preliminary deliberation, I want to acknowledge that it is quite likely that much of what I have defined above may already have field-specific definitions (e.g., in the field of philosophy, psychology, biology, etc.). However, through today’s writing, I have realized that one of the purposes for this type of writing is to free myself personally from becoming bogged down with fretting about using the correct nomenclature. Instead, aware of the risk of possibly repeating elements of the work of others, I have chosen to engage in a stream of active deliberation that has produced fruits that are at least novel to myself. Moreover, this initial writing, both with its content and in its style, has provided a foothold for future writings, as I realized during the process how the various topics that continually manifest in my speech could be expressed through the written word if I remove some of the mental barriers imposed on myself that are limiting my expression.

The Factor of Time in Goal-Directed Behavior

This essay will start by expounding on the concluding topics from my last paper; however, I intend to take more of a thematic approach for this essay, providing a general treatment of aspects relating to goal-construction, valuation of goals, and the influence of time perspective on the perceived salience of future goals.

Starting with this last topic of time’s influence can help to explain the topics of goal valuation and construction. I believe that how we perceive time (i.e., time perspective) affects how we arrange our mental landscape, including our future goals. Therefore, this element is integral to the fundamental understanding of what goals genuinely are.

A thought experiment can help extend the influence of time perspectives to our perception of valuation. For example, let us suppose you receive an email informing you that next week you will receive $1000 if you meditate for 30 minutes each day. Also, for the sake of this example, let us assume that $1000 is considered a high-value reward and that you dislike the act of meditation, so the task of 30 minutes daily is appraised as a high-effort task.

Given these conditions, receiving this email will likely produce enough motivation to stimulate committed action for at least a week until the monetary reward is received.

To this point, I presume this thought experiment seems straightforward and is aligned with how you would respond to this hypothetical situation, given the specific conditions. However, what would change if the time commitment required was doubled to two weeks? If you are like me, then this time expansion would not significantly change my response to the valued reward.

However, if we continue iterations increasing the time commitment, then there would eventually be a point where the threshold between reward value and effort is reversed. This shift would result in the $1000 reward value being less than that of the magnitude of the perceived effort and commitment required to receive the reward (assuming a stable condition of dislike for meditation across time).  

Now, let us manipulate the other side of the equation and increase the reward value to $10,000, with the daily meditation requirement being over a year. At this point, we could bounce back-and-forth manipulating variables in our thought experiment and noticing how our perception changes with each manipulation.

However, this hypothetical has served the primary purpose I wished to highlight: dilating or constricting time horizons for given goals directly influences one’s motivational levels, despite the constant objective outcome value.

A quote on reward valuation may help to emphasize the significance of the variable of time:

“Reward valuation involves assessment of the relative value of rewards that guide approach and motivated behaviors. For example, rewards of higher value are expected to produce greater anticipation of and motivation to obtain the reward compared to rewards of lower value. Prior experiences allow individuals to create representations of reward value for future stimuli” (Der-Avakian et al., p. 240, 2016).

Our thought experiment encompassed much of what this quote highlights, only it provides an academic lens. For example, it states a direct connection between the valuation of a reward and the degree of behavioral motivation; moreover, it demonstrates the correlation between expected reward value and anticipatory motivation.

However, I chose to introduce this quote not solely to corroborate our thought experiment; instead, it interested me that the variable of time is only implied in the last sentence of this quote. As we have demonstrated in our hypothetical, manipulating the variable of time affects reward valuation and, consequently, motivation levels. 

Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd (2009) posited the time perspective theory (TPT) in their book The Time Paradox Time. This theory explains that people vary in terms of their time orientation. Zimbardo developed an inventory for categorizing these different types, and if you are interested, you can learn more here: https://www.thetimeparadox.com/surveys/

For this essay, we will not delve into the specifics of Zimbardo and Boyd’s time perspective theory. Instead, I mention their work to note the emphasis they place on the influence time has on almost all aspects of our decision-making processes; furthermore, their work was driven by the acknowledgment that the influence of our time perspectives is so far-reaching that it has been overlooked (as is often the case with aspects of life that appear so elementary).

However, I will borrow a few of the terms from TPT to help integrate the theory’s significance into our discussion of goal construction, reward valuation, and motivation. TPT divides time perspectives into six categories: past negative, past positive, present hedonism, present fatalism, future, and transcendental future (Metcalf & Zimbardo, 2016). 

Each person presumably possesses all of these to some degree, but there are differences among individuals regarding which time perspective is dominant. While people typically do not have only one dominant time perspective, we will adopt this notion for the sake of simplicity.  

Let us imagine a person whose dominant time perspective is present hedonism. This perspective is associated with maximizing pleasure in the immediate while minimizing or avoiding potential pain; it focuses more on the short-term goals and payoffs rather than the long-term consequences. Conversely, someone dominant in the transcendental future TP would have the opposite priorities.

In my last essay, I concluded by stating that people diagnosed with schizophrenia have impairments with formulating mental representations of future events; consequently, the dysregulation in their motivational systems is mainly attributed to impaired anticipatory motivation (Der-Avakian et al., p. 237, 2016).

Interestingly, both Major Depression Disorder (MDD) and schizophrenia are characterized by diminished functioning of anticipatory motivation (or pleasure); moreover, the consummatory pleasure pathways are intact, at least for those with schizophrenia (Wu et al., 2017).

These findings suggest a connection between diminished or impaired anticipatory motivation and these individuals’ inability to construct mental representations of future events, resulting in the inability to formulate concrete behavioral steps directed toward a specific desired end goal.

To link this back to our initial thought experiment, individuals with these impairments may respond consistently despite manipulations to the time variable because their conception of the future is blended. For example, they may experience the same degree of motivation for the task regardless of whether the task’s time commitment is on the order of weeks or years because their time perspective for future events is undifferentiated.

That is, if we were initially able to manipulate the duration of time required for receiving the task-dependent reward ($1000, for the initial example), and alter our level of anticipatory motivation by increasing or decreasing the time commitment of the task, then we are demonstrating some degree of discrimination in appraising more shorter time durations with a more immediate reward and vice versa.

However, imagine the future is homogenous and undifferentiated. It comprises only unknown potentialities that cannot be weighted differently because the knowledge we possess for events next week versus those next year is, practically speaking, both equally unknowable. If we make mental calculations from this understanding of time, then it would be most reasonable to adopt the time perspective of present hedonism and focus on maximizing the pleasure in the present rather than sacrificing present-focused reward for a reward in the future, even if the future reward appeared to possess a higher reward value. To some extent, the magnitude of reward value depends on our ability to conceive of time.  

We can turn to one final thought experiment to conclude this exposition and illustrate this point of reward value’s dependence on time perspective (I am using this term loosely, not strictly in a TPT manner). Let us imagine we are given the choice of receiving $1000 in the present or $10,000 after five years. Now, there is no task commitment required for this hypothetical, isolating the two variables of reward value and time perspective; moreover, because this is a hypothetical, the value and purchasing power of the currency will not change over time.

Given these conditions, the decision of which to take is entirely constructed within one’s time perspective. For example, while countless subjective variables could affect one’s decision, all of these are embedded within a mental framework of how we perceive time.

You might have an upcoming bill that needs to be paid not to lose your place of living. In this case, the future reward is discounted relative to the immediate reward that could help your situation. Conversely, you may be doing well financially and plan to retire in the coming years, and the future reward appears like a worthwhile addition. Given no urgent need for the $1000 in the immediate present, this reward seems relatively less than the $10,000 reward.

Again, I could continue to write what-if examples that account for additional factors that would influence one’s decision; however, this is not the point of this hypothetical. Instead, I wish to highlight that the decision is based on probabilistic reasoning. The reward after five years relies most heavily on this type of reasoning because it accounts for a variety of what-if scenarios and factors that only apply when projected forward over an interval of time.

However, suppose we adopt the mindset of the individual unable to mentally construct future representations, including the various likelihoods of certain potentialities occurring and accounting for other factors that may emerge over a futuristic time interval. This long-term, or distant, reward would likely be perceived as an ambiguous abstraction. Consequently, it would probably only be accounted for in comparison to the reward’s face value. With one’s ability to understand the present time intact, the immediate factors are experienced as more concrete and understandable. Therefore, the immediate reward value would likely be appraised as having a higher value than the futuristic one, despite this future reward value being several orders of magnitude more in objective weight.

This has been a lengthy and, admittedly, more muddled exposition than I initially had intended. However, I believe it has served to elucidate some of the nuanced connections among appraising reward value, constructing goals, and incorporating the significant influence exerted by the variable of time (and one’s time perspective).

Moreover, I would like to conclude with foreshadowing a topic that I wish to explore further in subsequent writings: Are there parallels between the mental processes for conceptualizing distant future events and distances in physical reality? For example, we use the phrase “far off” or “in the distant future” to describe events that are far away from the present moment, and, in terms of physics, there is an intimate connection between space and time. Therefore, I am curious to explore if we conceptualize physical distance similarly to how we mentally represent distances in time.  

References

Der-Avakian A., Barnes S., Markou A., & Pizzagalli D. (2016) Translational assessment of reward and motivational deficits in psychiatric disorders. In: Robbins T.W., Sahakian B.J. (eds) Translational Neuropsychopharmacology. Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences. https://doi.org/10.1007/7854_2015_5004

Metcalf, B. R., & Zimbardo, P. G. (2016). Time Perspective Theory. In H. L. Miller (Ed.), The SAGE Encyclopedia of Theory in Psychology (1st ed., pp. 937–939). SAGE Publications, Inc.

Wu, H., Mata, J., Furman, D. J., Whitmer, A. J., Gotlib, I. H., & Thompson, R. J. (2017). Anticipatory and consummatory pleasure and displeasure in major depressive disorder: An experience sampling study. Journal of Abnormal Psychology126(2), 149–159. https://doi-org.libproxy.txstate.edu/10.1037/abn0000244

Zimbardo, P., & Boyd, J. (2009). The Time Paradox. Adfo Books.

Understanding the Function of Motivation in Addiction and Information Processing

Continuing with the themes from my previous essay discussing motivation and functional autonomy, I will start by expounding upon my claim that this principle is a factor in addiction. Next, my goal is to provide a selective overview of pertinent topics related to reinforcement learning and perception before concluding with neuroscience and psychiatry topics that I will likely continue to investigate in subsequent writings.

To state simply, the principle of functional autonomy espoused by Gordan Allport (1937) is significant in that it demonstrates that not only does a complete set of instincts or inherent drives not exist but, in fact, initial motives for behaviors can be severed and replaced with novel ones that function to maintain motivation to conduct the same behavior. Therefore, there exists an expansive, diverse, and emergent set of potential motives that drive a person’s behavior at a specific point in time.

Since I first was introduced to the concept of functional autonomy years ago while completing my undergraduate degree, the connection between this principle and addiction has remained in my memory primarily due to an illustration my professor provided to explain functional autonomy. While I do not remember the specific class (or professor to give them credit), I recall the general gist of the example because of how directly it corresponded with functional autonomy.

Imagine there is a young person in high school or college who has never smoked a cigarette and is detested by the smell, in addition to being frightened of the health risks. However, they desperately want to socialize with a group of peers and realize that smoking cigarettes is a means to achieve this end. Let us assume this plan is successful, as this hypothetical peer group has only smoking as their shared interest.

At this point, this fictional person likely feels a sense of reward from attaining their goal of a sense of belonging; however, as time passes by, this person’s initial motive of smoking for social inclusion is replaced by the rewarding pleasure of smoking itself. It is here, at this point, that their initial means (smoking cigarettes) to the end (social inclusion) has been transformed into an end in itself. Consequently, this new end goal of feeling satisfaction from smoking is capable of functioning independently of the initial end goal of social inclusion—in fact, it may even be that smoking cigarettes is hindering social inclusion with desired groups, but this person now is driven by a motive that is exerting a more significant influence relative to this other potential desire.

With this hypothetical case study in mind, let us broaden our view to examine how the brain’s general processes function to navigate daily life.

Our brains constantly receive and process information from our external environment via perception and our internal environment via interoception (or internal (Chen et al., 2021). For this paper, I will remain on the surface of these deep topics, but I hope to write about them in further detail in the future.

Throughout our days, these input data are being filtered, sorted, and processed for relevancy, particularly as it relates to the future. Our brains generate models based on past experiences and data from our current sensory inputs to create representational models that account for our current state of being and futuristic thinking. We conduct mental cost-benefit analyses for our future behaviors, taking into consideration the effort and energy required to perform some action or series of actions to obtain a given reward outcome; moreover, our brain seeks to minimize the energetic cost while maximizing the reward of our selected outcome (Peters, McEwen, & Friston, 2017).

These are topics rich in-depth that I hope to return to in the future. Still, this essay will focus on the more surface-level takeaways: Our brains process troves of information, and our values, prior experiences, future goals, and availability of environmental rewards all function to assist in sorting and filtering the stream of raw sensory data. This is by no means an exhaustive account of the cognitive process of perception, reinforcement learning, and decision-making.

However, embedded with this brief overview are core assumptions of human motivation that are applicable and well-documented for the general population; however, an additional inquiry is necessary for individuals who possess serious psychiatric disorders, particularly schizophrenia (though similarities are found in other psychiatric disorders).

For example, central to the mental processes I have highlighted for perception and predictive planning is the ability to create mental representations. Closely related (if not integral) to this process is reward valuation; that is, associating varying degrees of reward value with different reward stimuli, typically relying on past experiences and personal values to facilitate this determination (Der-Avakian et al., 2016).

The ability to formulate goals is indeed so significant that machine learning researchers Richard Sutton and Andrew Barto write in their 2018 book Reinforcement Learning: An Introduction:

“A learning agent must be able to sense the state of its environment to some extent and must be able to take actions that affect the state. The agent also must have a goal or goals relating to the state of the environment…Rewards are basically given directly by the environment, but values must be estimated and re-estimated from the sequences of observations an agent makes over its entire lifetime.” (pp. 5-6)

However, aberrant reward learning, dysregulated goal-directed behaviors as a result of inappropriate attribution, and the inability to accurately discriminate relevant stimuli from those irrelevant are precisely central areas of deficit identified by those researching the mechanisms of schizophrenia. In fact, researchers Der-Avakian et al. reported, “pleasure and valuation have been dissociated in schizophrenia, with patients showing intact capacity to experience pleasure, but deficits in properly representing the value of future rewards” (2016, p. 237).

Additional research findings further elucidate the implications of these findings and provide other intriguing points that extend the scope to incorporate other psychiatric disorders, such as mood and development disorders. The most intriguing aspect for me is discovering the common themes that exist across diagnoses. I believe this indicates overlaps in the underlying mechanisms responsible for the symptomatology of these different categories of disorders.

With this in mind, the theme that has become most apparent as a significant diagnostic challenge is further understanding how goals are constructed, what factors are involved in attributing and experiencing reward values as outcomes of goal-directed behaviors, and how does one’s time orientation affect their creation and implementation of futuristic goals. These are topics that I will seek to (or attempt to) unravel in my subsequent writings.

References

Allport, G. W. (1937). The Functional Autonomy of Motives. The American Journal of Psychology, 50, pp. 141-156.

Barto A.G., & Sutton R.S. (2018). Reinforcement Learning: An introduction (adaptive computation and machine learning series) (2nd ed.). The MIT Press: Cambridge.

Chen W., Schloesser D., Arensdorf A., Horowitz T., Vallejo Y., & Langevin H. (2021). The Emerging Science of Interoception: Sensing, Integrating, Interpreting, and Regulating Signals within the Self. Review Special Issue: The Neuroscience of Interoception. 44(1) 3-16. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tins.2020.10.007

Der-Avakian A., Barnes S., Markou A., & Pizzagalli D. (2016) Translational assessment of reward and motivational deficits in psychiatric disorders. In: Robbins T.W., Sahakian B.J. (eds) Translational Neuropsychopharmacology. Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences. https://doi.org/10.1007/7854_2015_5004

Peters A., McEwen B.S., & Friston K. (2017). Uncertainty and stress: Why it causes diseases and how it is mastered by the brain. Progress in Neurobiology. Volume 156, pp.164-188. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pneurobio.2017.05.004

Exploring the Nature of Motivation

Motivation is fundamental to understanding why people act in their unique manner; moreover, motivation is closely linked to one’s personality as a whole. However, the depth and nuance of an individual’s motivational system are often overlooked or oversimplified due to the scientific bias toward viewing and understanding human motivation solely in general terms.

Gordan Allport espouses his principle of functional autonomy in his 1937 article, The Functional Autonomy of Motives. I will provide a general overview and selection of key points, quotes, and context from Allport’s article before concluding with a discussion of the role and application functional autonomy has in contemporary thought.

In fact, Allport believed “motivation is always contemporary” (p.144, 1937). This conviction about the nature of motivation is likely one reason he writes so critically of the scientific thought of his time. He stood opposed to the attitude of always seeking to generalize; however, he was still aware of the need for this attitude, in some regards, stating, “Science must generalize” (p. 154). Moreover, he explains how relying on generalizations can result in negative consequences, characterizing that “it is a manifest error to assume that a general principle of motivation must involve the postulation of abstract or general motives” (p.154).

Allport uses these critiques as a way to highlight the gaps present in the scientific foundation of his time, and he proceeds to explain how the principle of functional autonomy is both “general enough to meet the needs of science, but particular enough…for the uniqueness of personal conduct” (p.155).

This claim is likely related to an assumption central to the principle of functional autonomy: life is inherently dynamic. Therefore, the motivation that underpins a person’s behaviors is not a static entity that can be quantified, isolated, and said to be fixed, rather a fluid force that possesses the property of emergence (this concept will be further addressed, subsequently).

Allport uses a variety of everyday examples, among other kinds, to demonstrate that even if there exists an “unchanging set of original urges,” it comprises far less than the “plurality of constantly changing [motivational] systems of a dynamic order” (p.153).

At the core of functional autonomy is the notion that the initial motive driving a given behavior does not necessarily entail that it will be the same motive through which the behavior is maintained. Instead, Allport believes “original motives [can be] entirely lost. What was a means to end has become an end in itself” (p.150).

For instance, selecting one of the many everyday examples Allport provides, there is a description of “a businessman, long since secure economically,” yet this businessman continues to work himself into poor health because of a drive that is different from the original. Allport does not expand much on this example but rather explains how all of these examples illustrate “some new function emerg[ing]” (p. 146).

Not only does Allport put forth the notion of emergent motives, but he also describes these emergent motives as being “independently structured units” that function without dependence “upon the continued activity of the units from which they developed” (pp.146-147).

Allport writes about the maturation process of a seed into a tree, “The life of a tree is continuous with that of its seed, but the seed no longer sustains and nourishes the full-grown tree. Earlier purposes lead into later purposes, and are abandoned in their favor” (p.144).

Although this tree imagery is before Allport introduces functional autonomy, I believe it captures both the sophistication and simplicity possessed in the principle of functional autonomy. It is simple in that the tree could never have emerged into being if not for the seed’s existence, in addition to suitable environmental conditions for growth; consequently, there logically exists a point when the seed ceases to exist as a seed.

For the sake of sanity, I implore you not to become fixated on identifying the transitionary point where this identity change occurs—if you cannot resist, then research Sorites paradox—because the primary point that has practical significance is the notion that we are able to sever connections with even original and necessary causes. For example, the process of a child maturing and cleaving with their parents is analogous to the tree analogy (as well as an example Allport provides).

However, this can be applied in other domains than solely developing functionally autonomous drives after maturing to a particular biological or temporal point; in fact, I think addiction is the most straightforward application of the principle of functional autonomy.

While Allport acknowledges this as a domain where functional autonomy applies, he is brief in discussing the matter, and it does not seem to have received much attention to the present day. Nevertheless, the principle of functional autonomy assists in understanding how someone becomes addicted to a given substance or behavior and how it is maintained.

In future writings, I intend to further explore the potential descriptive and explanatory role the principle of functional autonomy may offer the issue of addiction. Additionally, I hope to incorporate relevant takeaways from further research into the Rescorla–Wagner model that is a contemporary model for understanding associative and reward learning.

References

Allport, G. W. (1937). The Functional Autonomy of Motives. The American Journal of Psychology, 50, pp. 141-156.

Exposition of Modern Discourse

Technology has provided a medium through which we are allowed opportunities to feel a sense of social connection and communal belonging; however, real or actual these people or interactions may be, the objective reality of this activity is often overlooked or ignored: it is still mediated through an individual’s interaction with a piece of technology; that is, it is still me, the individual author, typing away at this keyboard, viewing words on my screen, and conceptualizing a general audience who will read these words.

However, no matter my degree of precision or accuracy, there will always be a degree of disconnect between my intention and the audience’s interpretation. Nonetheless, the medium of the written tradition using expository prose has far deeper roots than those of Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, or other modern-day, internet-based forms of communication.

The historicity of the linguistic form of prose provides my expression a higher probability of concordance between the audience’s reception and my intention as the author. Conversely, these new social media platforms lack this kind of historical foundation yet are treated as if they are the same. As a result, tools of rhetorical analysis and logical examination are employed while using these platforms that I argue demonstrate an invalid usage of such analytical tools.  

For example, one common distortion that I believe social media platforms have allowed to become rampant is conflating particular and universal statements. These platforms are intended to provide an outlet for truncated expressions, yet we utilize them as if they may also allow us the nuance of having an in-person debate. Moreover, we forget how arduous it is to use language precisely and employ logic even during in-person interactions.

Using nonverbal communication, oral expression, and gauging the reception of our message through analyzing our audience’s demeanor, serve to highlight the complexity of in-person interaction, despite this medium being biologically hardwired. However, we have somehow found ourselves assuming that this same level of human communication can be experienced via technological mediums.

Yet, is reading not different than hearing? Is interacting through Zoom not different than interacting with someone in person? Is it not different to interact with someone one-on-one rather than to interact in front of a group?

Social media platforms are so often vilified for promoting division and groupthink among people—and I am not here to defend these mediums—instead, I desire to point out that these platforms are nothing more than a technological medium that has amplified and underscored fundamental issues within human communication that were present before these platforms existed.

Therefore, my emphasis is to not place our hope in the notion that abandoning the usage of these platforms or refining the etiquette of how they are used will solve the divisions we are witnessing as a collective society. Even if we were to leave these platforms altogether and return to a prior state of communication standards, we still would be plagued by our challenges with wielding language, our proclivity toward fallacious arguments, and reliance on personal biases.

While technological interconnectivity may have accelerated these ailments, even accentuating them to new levels, it is nonetheless exploiting weaknesses in human communication and social discourse that have long existed.

The emphasis should be placed on understanding the tools of rhetoric, the structure of logic, and the importance and purpose of argumentation as a medium for discovering the truth. To place the burden on social media platforms or even news sources is to fall, once more, into the trap of oversimplification, treating everything as either a friend or foe in a perpetual fight on one side or the other of a raging societal debate—all the while glossing over or willfully ignoring the deficits of discourse that continue to result in arguments premised on false dilemmas, misunderstandings stemming from conflated terms, and so forth.

I believe we are desperately craving conversations that are deeper than those mediated through social media platforms. Unfortunately, these platforms also serve as the easiest and most accessible way for us to connect with a vast number of others; moreover, social media has become integrated into our social lives and does allow for genuine social connection, despite it being a novel medium for it.

However, the structures of these platforms are not neutral. Even for those who set out with the sincere desire to engage in an authentic social interaction can easily find their desire for a meaningful discourse devolve into debates and diatribes, serving only to increase their sense of isolation and wish to find a community that provides a sense of belonging.

Meaning is use: Wittgenstein on the limits of language

An Interesting Read About Language & Words

Philosophy for change

LudwigWittgensteinLudwig Wittgenstein (1889 – 1951) was one of the most important philosophers of the twentieth century. Wittgenstein made a major contribution to conversations on language, logic and metaphysics, but also ethics, the way that we should live in the world. He published two important books: the Tractatus Logico Philosophicus (1921) and thePhilosophical Investigations (1953), for which he is best known. These were major contributions to twenty century philosophy of language.

Wittgenstein was a difficult character. Those who knew him assumed he was either a madman or a genius. He was known for working himself up into fits of frustration, pacing about the room decrying his own stupidity, and lambasting philosophers for their habit of tying themselves in semantic knots. In his favour, Wittgenstein was not afraid to admit his own mistakes. He once said: ‘If people never did anything stupid, nothing intelligent would ever get done’. He also said:…

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