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This excellent and very readable book shows much of the common sense alluded to in the title. The mind is both one of the most familiar and most mysterious of things we encounter. Auyang is careful both to include the familiar and to define the boundaries of what we do and do not yet know. The result is both a devastating critique of many prominent scientific and philosophical approaches to mind that fail on both counts, and a plausible guide as to how we might extend our current knowledge. Given the popularity of the autopoietic approach of Chilean writers Maturana and Varela among psychotherapists, I will mention in particular Auyang's criticisms of their closed view of the mind, and where Varela , in particular, stood shortly before his recent death.
Auyang presents four major hypotheses:
1. Monism: mind is not a nonphysical entity but a kind of emergent dynamical property in certain complex physical systems.
2. Infrastructure: the locus of current cognitive science is not the mid as we experience it ... but in its infrastructure ... of underlying processes.
3. Emergence: conscious mental processes emerge from the self-organization of many [a]conscious infrastructural processes.
4. Openness: ... The subject is aware of himself only as he engages in the intelligible and social world.
Emergence and openness are major conclusions, whereas monism and infrastructure are used as the basis for argument. The emergence occurs through the self-organization of infrastructural processes in a way that permits engaged interaction, or openness to the world. Even scientists of mind like Humberot Maturana and Francisco Varela, who do not fall into the trap of defining mind in terms of its infrastructure, have fallen afoul of the openness requirement with their autopoietic view of mind and language. In his most recent work on consciousness, however, Varela emphasized the "transparency" referred to by Heidegger, according to which we mostly deal not with representations, but directly with objects in the world. This is contrary to the phenomenological bracketing of Husserl, taken up by Maturana, but consistent with the way in which Merleau Ponty places perception as primary (though this in itself, it seems to me, ignores the importance of action in engagement). Common sense tells us that we perceive and interact with objects in the world, not their representations, and that we communicate directly with other people, not with constructions of them that we make in our heads. That is not to say that we do not make mistakes, but that any satisfactory explanation of our mental activity must explain the mistakes that we make in a way that does not require an intervening stage of mental representations that is our real source of data, rather than the world itself. Auyang's view is different from that of Husserlian bracketing, in which questions of reality and existence are set aside. It is also radically different from that of computational, neurophysiological, evolutionary, ecological and behaviorist approaches to the mind, which, according to Auyang, concentrate on various aspects of the infrastructure of the mind, rather than on the mind as we experience it in everyday life.
The book has eight chapters. The second chapter, following a brief introduction, is a devastating attack on theories of mind that close off the mind from the world, generally taking what Auyang calls the designer's stance. Following Heidegger, Auyang holds that in normal activity there is not an internal or infrastrucutral stage between the mind and the world. In theoretical, or reflective activity, however, especially when the object of study is the mind itself, it is all to easy to confuse the theoretical stance with the object of that stance, and place a non-existent intervening layer between the mind and the world. Auyang's views on the emergence of mind from its infrastructure is essential for understanding the dynamical connectedness of the mind with both the world and the infrastructure of the mind. Auyang makes some terse but pointed criticisms of philosopher Jaegwon Kim's empty and insubstantial notion of supervenience, which he uses as a ghostly stand-in for the more substantial and explanatory dynamical concept of emergence. In previous books on quantum mechanics and especially complex systems, Auyang has argued for the widespread existence of self-organization and emergence in dynamical systems, and here carries the idea over to deal with the mind. We should not let a focus on the mysterious mind blind us to widespread dynamical emergence. We have the capacity to understand emergent systems by approaching them from both the supervenient and subvenient levels, to use Kim's language. Superveninece alone leads to either downwards reduction or ghostly ontological islands that float above the world. Emergence integrates the dynamics of the emergent mind with both the dynamics of the world and the dynamics of the mental infrastructure, merging them into a monistic dynamical picture.
In the second chapter, Auyang presents her positive view, as outlined in the four points above, and clarifies the dynamical unity of the mind with its infrastructure and the world. The next four chapters focus on empirical evidence from language, perception, memory, and emotion and reason. The chapter on language, especially, contains further arguments for Auyang's position. The final chapter is a summary of the ideas developed in the book in terms of an overall picture of mind open to the world.
Despite my praise of the book, I do have a few bones to pick. First, the ideas of self-organization and emergence are more used than explained. If they can be used effectively, they are shown to have some value, but a more analytical approach is required to fill in the gaps. Others, like the late Robert Rosen, several philosophers like Paul Humphreys and Anthony Reutgers, as well as our Newcastle Complex Systems Research Group, are dealing with these issues. A second beef is with Auyang's implicit assumption that thought is necessarily conscious. The locus of thinking, beliefs and the rules governing reason (such as they are) is at least partially tacit. We often come to conclusions, only becoming aware of the conclusion after it has been reached. Practiced reasoners can reason just as unconsciously as a chess master finds a good move or strategic position, or as a pianist plays a well practiced piece while attending only to a few abstract aspects. Auyang adopts the rather awkward device of infrastructural preparation for conscious thoughts to explain how turning away from conscious thought on a problem for a while can get us closer to a solution. To a external observer, however, and even ourselves, at least some of this sort of "preparation" looks a lot like thinking. I think that we should accept that it is thinking, despite potential difficulties this might raise for distinguishing thinking from non-thinking. I also think that this approach would sit more comfortably with the open view of mind as emergent from its infrastructure.
The book contains some spelling and grammatical peculiarities, and often adopts a colloquial style. Neither affects the readability or precision of the arguments. It is a book one would wish to be able to write. John Collier is a Research Associate of the Newcastle Complex Systems Research Group. His work is in foundations of information theory, autonomy, evolutionary theory and theory change, as well as various papers in metaphysics and the philosophy of physics. he is currently working on a book on reduction in complex systems with C.A. Hooker.
© 2001 John Collier