I Was Right!

I’m here outside Chicago with my grandchildren finishing up my 2nd full day. By the time you read this, however it will be the next day, so ‘yesterday’ below really means ‘two days ago’. Sorry for the confusion…

Yesterday I mentioned William’s multimodal way of taking in information: his eyes staring at things I could only guess at; his head moving in all directions; his hands touching and caressing everything; grabbing; making crinkly noises with water bottles; putting everything in his mouth. From time to time he would bend slightly and grunt a little. I soon learned what that meant. At any rate, I was sure that he was somehow in the process of integrating all this outside information with anything that he felt on the inside into a big picture of the world. Most of it, of course will be unnoticed by him as he grows older.

This brings up an interesting question. Although William certainly is awake and conscious of his surroundings, does he have an unconscious? No one can tell us about his or her unconsciousness. A baby cannot tell us about either. Is the baby’s consciousness the tip of the consciousness/unconsciousness iceberg which emerges with age?

BBC Article

The BBC published an article on 18, October 2013, which I read after I posted yesterday, called Peek-a-boo: A window on baby’s brain, by Anna Lacey.[1] Here is part of it: “Especially rewarding [among the joys of watching the baby] is the onset of smiles, squeals and laughter – the kind of milestones that make all the disturbed nights worth it.  But is it all just wind? Apparently not, as researchers now think that laughter and games like peek-a-boo could be telling us something more, and giving us a way to peer inside the workings of their minds.

“A way to peer inside the workings of their minds.”  AHA! I was right.

It seems there a “baby laugh researcher” on the job to see what the laughter actually communicates and where it comes from. Fascinating area of research. The idea is that, for someone, even a baby, to laugh, he or she must get the point of a joke. By definition, the baby will only laugh after the center or combination of centers that can integrate the point of a joke are developed. The question should then be, how do the researchers determine which parts are responsible. This sounds a lot like clinical neuropsychology in reverse.  Where a Clinical Neuropsychologist is supposed to determine which part of the brain has a deficit by psychological testing of the individual, the doctors looking laughing are trying to determine which part or parts of the brain develop to allow that enhancement of behavior. This sounds like an exciting field.

Neuroscience and Philosophy

Unfortunately, there is great debate about the philosophical basis for this field to come up with logical results. Neuroscience & Philosophy, Brain, Mind & Language, [2] a book I just started reading, discusses the logic of whole/part relations, called mereology. “The neuroscientists’ mistake of ascribing to the constituent parts of an animal attributes that logically apply_only to the whole animal we shall call ‘the mereological fallacy‘ in neuroscience. The principle that psychological predicates which apply_only to human beings (or other animals) as wholes cannot intelligibly be applied to their parts, such as the brain, we shall call ‘the mereological principle’ in neuroscience.” [3]

While I am just beginning to learn about the philosophical foundations of neuroscience, I certainly look forward to reading and understanding the rest of the debate.

William Awed


[2] Bennett, M., Hacker, P. et. al Neuroscience & Philosophy – Brain, Mind & Language. New York: Columbia University Press 2003 – 2007

[3] Bennett, M. and Hacker, P. An Excerpt from Chapter 3 Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience, quoted from: pg 14 Neuroscience & Philosophy – Brain, Mind & Language. New York: Columbia University Press 2003 – 2007

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