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The Self-Organizing Social Mind

The Self-Organizing Social Mind

John Bolender
foreword by Alan Page Fiske
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: MIT Press,
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    The Self-Organizing Social Mind
    Book Description:

    In The Self-Organizing Social Mind, John Bolender proposes a new explanation for the forms of social relations. He argues that the core of social-relational cognition exhibits beauty -- in the physicist's sense of the word, associated with symmetry. Bolender describes a fundamental set of patterns in interpersonal cognition, which account for the resulting structures of social life in terms of their symmetries and the breaking of those symmetries. He further describes the symmetries of the four fundamental social relations as ordered in a nested series akin to what one finds in the formation of a snowflake or spiral galaxy. Symmetry breaking organizes the neural activity generating the cognitive models that structure our social relationships.Bolender's primary claim is that there exists a social pattern generator analogous to the central pattern generators associated with locomotion in many animal species. Spontaneous symmetry breaking structures the activity of the social pattern generator just as it does in central pattern generators.Bolender's hypothesis that relational cognition results from self-organization is entirely novel, distinct from other theories that describe sociality in terms of evolution or environment. It presents a picture of social-relational cognition as resembling something inorganic. In doing so it reveals deep connections among cognition, biology, and the inorganic world. One can go too far, he acknowledges, in taking a solely dynamical view of the mind; the mind's innate functional complexity must be due to natural selection. But this does not mean that every simple mental feature is the result of natural selection. By noting a descending symmetry subgroup chain at the core of relational cognition, Bolender takes the first step in an important investigation.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-28923-8
    Subjects: Philosophy, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-xii)
    Alan Page Fiske

    Thoughts about thoughts about thoughts about social relations …

    In this extraordinarily original book, John Bolender outlines not simply a new explanation of the forms of social relations, but an entirely newkindof explanation. Science is the process of looking for patterns, and Bolender describes a fundamental set of patterns—and patterns of patterns—in social life. He explains the fundamental structures of social life—and the systematic relations among them—in terms of their symmetries and the breaking of those symmetries. Electrons are symmetrical to positrons; matter is symmetrical to anti-matter. Symmetries structure crystals and galaxies, the movements...

  4. Gratitude
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introductory Chapter
    (pp. 1-8)

    There is reason to suspect that there are deep necessities in how humans mentally represent social relations.

    Some necessities are deeper than others. One and one equal two. That is either absolutely necessary or as close to being absolutely necessary as we need to get for present purposes. Very little, if anything, needs to be assumed to appreciate the necessity of two equaling one plus one. On the other hand, there is also some sense in which the Wall Street Crash of 1929 was probably necessary. But, if so, it was necessary only relative to certain events and generalizations about...

  6. 1 Symmetry and Its Undoing
    (pp. 9-32)

    Symmetry and the products of spontaneous symmetry breakdown are everywhere.

    There are symmetries in the social mind. There are breakdowns of symmetry there too. The latter closely resemble the spontaneous breakdowns of symmetry observed in nature, including inorganic nature. It is the breakdowns in symmetry that explain the emergence of complexity throughout nature, the dawn and growth of form, such as the emergence of an ice crystal out of the more symmetrical, and hence less formed, liquid water. This includes the dawn of forms in social intelligence; they too evidently arise due to spontaneous symmetry breakdowns starting from an initial...

  7. 2 Physics in Language and in the Control of Behavior
    (pp. 33-58)

    There is evidence of self-organization in cognition and in the control of behavior.

    The notion that thought can be studied using concepts from physics may, for many, have a twisted and surreal feel to it, like something out ofThrough the Looking-Glass. The point of this chapter is to show that, at the very least, the idea is not unheard of or unpromising. In several fields, in fact, scientists have made reasonable attempts to connect the cognitive and behavioral sciences to physics. The study of the intricate control of limb movement, and even aspects of language such as speech rhythm...

  8. 3 The Relational Models
    (pp. 59-84)

    There are a small number of basic mental models that structure cognition of social relations.

    In the first chapter, we noted that a descending chain of symmetry subgroups in a biological structure is a good indicator that dynamics is a big factor in the genesis of that structure. One finds a descending chain of symmetry subgroups in some phase transitions. The homogeneous drop of water is more symmetrical than the ice crystal, for example. But each symmetry of the crystal is found in the water drop. The symmetries of the snowflake were always there, but became visible to the human...

  9. 4 Symmetry and Its Undoing in the Relational Models
    (pp. 85-122)

    The relational models, by reason of corresponding to the classic measurement scales, exhibit symmetries that form a descending chain of subgroups. This reveals an affinity between relational cognition and the emergence of certain forms in inorganic nature. It strongly suggests that spontaneous symmetry breaking plays a central role in how the mind represents social relations.

    To what extent can the relational models be understood as complex Darwinian adaptations and to what extent as spontaneously emerging beautiful forms? Fiske himself has paved the way for a non-Darwinian approach to explaining the relational models by placing heavy emphasis on their formal properties...

  10. 5 Framing the Essential
    (pp. 123-140)

    The social pattern generator is, of course, not the entire mind. Its outputs are further modified by interactions with other mental faculties. This adds to the complexity of relational cognition.

    One cannot acquire a deep understanding of a phenomenon except by blocking some things out. Consider the case of Solomon Sherashevsky (Luria 1987). He was subject to an extreme synesthesia, meaning that he would experience a single sensation as though it existed across senses. For example, he might hear a color or taste a musical sound or even see a concept. His synesthesia made Sherashevsky an outstanding mnemonist. He showed...

  11. 6 Living with Platonism, if Necessary
    (pp. 141-158)

    A tentative argument can be made that the relational models are not brain states resulting from self-organization in neural activity but are, rather, abstract objects akin to numbers and sets. However, even if this turns out to be true, it would not invalidate the naturalism of earlier chapters. One could still appeal to self-organizing brain activity to explain how the brain forms representations of such abstract objects.

    So far, we have been enjoying a biophysical Garden of Eden. We have been considering the possibility that the elementary relational models are patterns of brain activity that spontaneously form due to principles...

  12. Concluding Chapter
    (pp. 159-162)

    Legend has it that the philosopher Sidney Morgenbesser remarked to B. F. Skinner, “Let me see if I understand your thesis. You think we shouldn’t anthropomorphizepeople?” This has not been a Skinnerian book. I have availed myself quite freely of mental representations, something Skinner would not have done. But even so, the book has been an attempt to anthropomorphize people less than one automatically would. Morgenbesser’s remark is funny, because when one follows the dictionary definition ofanthropomorphism, it would be absurd not to anthropomorphize people. One must recognize human traits in humans. But there is the strict dictionary...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 163-170)
  14. References
    (pp. 171-186)
  15. Index
    (pp. 187-190)