Interacting with the world

by Neil Rickert

Here’s something to try:

With your eyes closed, touch the tip of your nose with your finger.  You will probably find that you are fairly good at it.  Not perfect, but still pretty good.

Or try to touch your ear lobe, again with your eyes closed.  Or try to touch your eyebrows with your eyes closed.

Monitoring your actions

What is happening there, is that your brain is tracking your finger even when you cannot see it.  And your brain is also tracking your nose, eyebrows and ear lobes.  The brain is monitoring your activity.  And a good part of your abilities to interact depend on this monitoring.

While walking, you step on a banana peel, or something else that is slippery.  Maybe you will fall.  But, most of the time you are able to recover your balance without falling.  And that’s because of the monitoring that your brain is doing.  As you begin to transfer weight to that foot, the brain detects a problem and you are able to react before you have fully transferred weight to that foot.

Proprioception

Much of this has to do with proprioception, which is that part of our perceptual system that handles such monitoring.

Ordinary perception is something that we have to learn.  And some of my earlier posts about carving up the world have to do with perceptual learning.  It is much the same for proprioception.

As I type this post, I am using touch-typing.  I’m not all that good at it, but I did put some effort into mastering touch typing back in my teen years.  When I’m typing, most of the time I know when I have hit a wrong key because of that monitoring by the proprioception system.  I expect it is much the same for a pianist.  Learning to play the piano is going to involve learning to know where one’s fingers are, relative to the keyboard.

Or watch somebody knitting.  They can usually carry on a conversation, yet get those knitting needle motions right without having to continually look at the fingers and knitting needles.

Language

Something similar is involved when a child acquires language.  The child first has to learn to recognize the phonemes of the language that she will acquire.  And these differ for different languages.  And then the child has to learn how to produce those phonemes.  By the time that the child is an accomplished user of the language, she will be able to produce those sounds without even having to think about how she is using her mouth, tongue, vocal chords.  And if she changes her mind while talking and flubs a phoneme, she will be quite aware of that.

School work

It is much the same for a student in school.  The student must first learn to evaluate himself as to how well he is doing.  And only when he can do well at evaluating his own performance, will he be able to perform well.

This is probably related to the Dunning — Kruger effect.  Weak students tend to think that they are doing far better than they actually are.  They have never learned how to evaluate their own performance, and that will make it very difficult for them to ever perform well.

Interaction

And that gets us back to the topic of interaction.  There’s a tendency for people to think in terms of taking actions.  We observe something happening, make a decision, and then act.  But it does not work that way.  In order to act, we are continually observing ourselves and correcting our actions as we go.

That basketball player takes a shot and lands the ball in the basket.  It all looks so simple.  But, as he does this, his perceptual system (including proprioception) is monitoring it all the way until the basketball leaves his hands.  Maybe there is a slight misstep as be begins his approach.  But, because of the monitoring, he can correct for that and still send the ball in a suitable trajectory that will give him a score.  His skill as a player depends on his skill at self-monitoring.

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4 Responses to “Interacting with the world”

  1. Hi Neil,
    This is only your second post I have read, the first being Consciousness and Experience. I guess I need more background on your “philosophy,” as this post at least I am not sure of where you are going with this idea. You say we need all this learning in order to be good at self-monitoring, and you are right that the better you can monitor your actions the better you will be at acting. But are you suggesting the better you are at self-monitoring, the better you will be at thinking, or ideating, or listening to others, or whatever else your mind is doing? Or am I reading too much between the lines, and you are only talking about physical acts?
    Meanwhile, your discussion of Consciousness and Experience has been closed, before you could be called on your theory that it is the atoms that would contain your consciousness if such a thing were possible. I would like to change your question and ask, could it not be the living cells that make up your body that contain the basic level of your consciousness, and working together they form what you think of as “you”? I would see this as the more logical idea, as each cell is alive on its own, each doing its part to run the system that is you. Over 37 trillion cells would produce a helluva lot of consciouness, don’t you think? I do.

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    • But are you suggesting the better you are at self-monitoring, the better you will be at thinking, or ideating, or listening to others, or whatever else your mind is doing?

      As it happens, I am planning my next post to be about thinking. And this post was preparatory to that. So maybe just wait a day or three.

      Meanwhile, your discussion of Consciousness and Experience has been closed, before you could be called on your theory that it is the atoms that would contain your consciousness if such a thing were possible.

      I have the blog set to close comments after 30 days, because that reduces spam.

      That’s really not my theory. That’s what some of the proponents of panpsychism seem to be arguing.

      I see consciousness as being properly attributed to the person as a whole, rather than the cumulative effect of lots of tiny conscious parts. If anything, I would attribute consciousness to the cooperative interaction between cells

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      • I’ll wait.
        Meanwjhile, the more I delve into thinking, and consciousness, the more I am convincing myself our consciousness building-blocks are those cells that make us up. Cells are the building blocks of all life, as well as all living beings. Each cell could be expected be expected to have the spark of life within them, and combining those sparks would most likely produce whatever thinking ability that being might have. This is all conjecture, of course, since theorizing about thought and consciousness is easy, while proof may be impossible. The future has exciting places to go, if only it chooses to go there.

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