Immediate Sensory Perceptions
Sensory patterns are the basement of thoughts. The new patterns increase in abstraction and are tied in with memories and the time at which the memories were formed. They rise and converge into a unified model model which we base decisions upon.
As discussed in maps in the brain, Hebbian learning, neurons that fire together stay together, and its refinement long-term potentiation, strengthen neural links that regularly are triggered.
Almost Gate and Abstraction
Patterns increase in abstraction as the pass from neuron to neuron, in their long trek from sensory organs through the thalamus onto their specific cortical lobe which enhances the sense data thence integrating the sensory picture, aligning the raw data with memories of past occurrences before finally passing it all to the frontal lobe for integration with theories of interaction tying it all together for executive action and decision-making.
In Intelligence and the Brain, Dennis Garlick (p 95),neatly explains the inevitableness of abstraction and why use generalized objects rather than specific objects in our thinking. He uses the term “abstract representations” to highlight the loss of specificity in our mental imagery.
“Information that is unique to a particular concrete instance is not frequently experienced—so connections representing this information will be lost. On the other hand, information that is consistent across concrete instances is frequently experienced—so connections that represent this information will be retained and strengthened. In this way, by experiencing many different concrete instances over childhood, the brain gradually changes its connections to extract the commonality across the situations and ignore information that varies from one concrete instance to the next. This leads to abstract representations.”
The process Garlick describes is accelerated and made unique for individuals by the particular height of each person’s Almost Gate, enforce during the learning process.
A net electrical charge of between 78 and 85 mV will cause the neuron to fire. On average seven thousand excitatory and three thousand inhibitory signals arrive at the cortical neuron. Only one output is derived. That one output is the result of a wide range of unique input combinations, when the sum of their electrical charges exceeds the threshold, the Almost Gate, means that the unique combination causing the output signal is lost. It takes only three or four excitatory inputs, with full strength, to overtop the Almost Gate, if there are no inhibitory inputs. I mention this, not that the situation occurs, but to give a hint at the immense number of ways the inputs can arrive and surmount the Almost Gate. The tremendous range of input possibilities is not available in the output signal. That is abstraction in action.
Stages of Concept Elevation
Consider metaphorically some information from Development to the Adult Brain, our mental worldview is like the top story of a three story house. Critical stages of learning are the nails and mortar that fix the time when different floors are built.
- Atop the sensory basement, we have our self-worth and place in the world first floor planks fixed while we are young children.
- The walls and furniture are the social norms that we take in from family and friends. The time when our limbic system develops emotive values on situations, relating to the 3S’s – Safety, Sustenance, and Sex. Because each situation has different strengths and weaknesses with respect to satisfying the 3S’s, emotional values are not pure good, bad, or indifferent.
- The ceiling of the first floor is set at our introduction to novel responses to situations that we had only known one reaction. Typically this occurs when we make friends out of our local neighborhood, often in middle school grades.
- The house’s second story is populated with ideas that come from study and from media. Sometimes we are aware of them and their origins as received ideas, sometimes not.
- Finally, we get to attic. It’s often the smallest room, but being the highest it can often see far. That’s our conscious mind.
When consciously observe a new fact that does not fit in with our mental worldview, we do not tear down the entire house and rebuild it to accommodate the new fact.I won’t go into detail here, but it’s important to note that conscious knowledge is at the top of a hierarchy. The hierarchy is not like a cheer-leading pyramid where one problem and the entire pyramid tumbles down. The knowledge hierarchy traversed in concept elevation has web-like characteristics. If a piece of information does not fit well, it can be:
- Ignored. Often we do not recognize that the new fact clashes with other ideas we hold, because they aren’t active at the same time. This can later be the source of cognitive dissonance.
- Squeezed in. By modifying its characteristics, including likelihood.
- Change a conscious mental structure in the attic.
- Rarely, change a belief about society that we’ve held since teenage years
- Very rare, change a belief about interpersonal relations that we picked up from our family and local friends
- A significant psychological trauma may cause us to reevaluate the sense we have of our self-worth and our rightful place in the world
Next the separate sensory patterns are integrated into a model of the outside world. Then the model, the current situation, is compared against memories including those of similar situations. Also the model is further modified by limbic selection according to our biological imperatives, 3S’s (safety, satisfaction, and sex) . Finally, the prefrontal lobe neurologically summarizes the model, resulting in a behavioral choice. From that point, the neurological action is outwardly directed. Directions are sent down a path to the motor centers and eventually to the muscles or speech centers.
A caveat. The sequential aspect of the staging is emphasized here; however, there is an iterative nature in the staging. The knowledge in memory of a prior situation having a particular result which had a strong impact on the 3S’s can affect the focus of attention to other sensory data and to its processing.
There are two pathways that visual data have been traced to in the occipital lobe—where and what (Carter, p.68). The where path occurs beneath consciousness. It leads to the parietal lobe, which contains information about our body’s position and is adjacent to the cortical cells that direct movement. We do not recognize its operation in our logical, rational mind. This path is the one that is executed when you see a rock coming at your head. You do not consciously decide to duck. That order, to duck, does not come from the prefrontal lobe. It is not a conscious decision. You duck then only after the fact you say that it was because the object was coming at your head.
The what path is a conscious path. It sends the shape and particulars of the object to the temporal lobe, which handles hearing, auditory data, and speech. In the what path, the object gets a name. It is placed in a mesh of meaningful words. This information then is shuttled forward to the prefrontal lobe where it is fodder for further thought.
With this sketch of the stages of concept elevation, you can see that much neural processing, mediated by the Almost Gate and focused on your particular experience, takes place before your reality becomes available to your conscious thought.
Language, the concepts it provides and the behaviors it describes, forms a very important help in organizing reality, planning reactions, and guiding our decision-making.
With respect to concept elevation, most patterns get assigned to words, which we then use with our memories and needs, to eventually decide on an action, a behavior, which includes talking. Of course, once the action is decide it must be transmitted down a skein of neural connections to the sculus where the motor homunculus takes over and coordinates the cerebellum through the pons in the brainstem, to the spinal cord and eventually the muscles. If the action is speech, the temporal lobe is called on to convert the thoughts into words and thence sounds.
Concept elevation occurs as neural information is passed again and again across Almost Gates. The resultant Neural Cascade affects knowledge.