Questioning Minds

Question of the Day ~ 23 Dec. ’13 ~ Questioning Minds

Why do questions arise in our minds???

That is such a complex question.

It seems that at the base level it is most powerfully understood in terms of evolution.

To begin to get a glimmering of an understanding one needs to examine the data on the evolution of living systems.

We live in complex environments.
We live in complex contexts.

For even simple organisms, determining an appropriate response to a particular environment can be a very complex task.

For something like a jellyfish, even a simple light sensor allows it to orient, so that it could swim toward the light and stay in a region most likely to contain food (the upper photosynthetic zone of the ocean).

Even rather simple single celled organisms can react to touch, to light, to heat, and to a variety of chemical gradients. Even such simple stimuli can lead to very complex behaviours.

When we get to more complex organisms, with more complex neural networks, those neural networks can be configured with very complex expectation functions, that allow complex behaviours to be triggered by certain sets of stimuli. Most complex neural networks allow for a certain amount of learning overlain on top of any default fixed action patterns.

As we move to organisms like ourselves, with very complex brains, and very few fixed patterns set by genetics, most of our patterns are learned in context (learned from culture in the widest sense).

What seems to be going on in our brains as we learn from culture is that there are “expectation functions” potentiated at the neural synapses which allow our brains to recognise some context and trigger some action as appropriate to that context.
This ability to recognise a context and trigger happens at many levels simultaneously about 100 times per second in our brains (in millions of different processing centres).
Not surprisingly they don’t always agree.
Sometimes we get competing action potentials generated.
Sometimes, in our higher level processing systems, these competing potentials express themselves to our awareness as questions flowing into our minds.

I skipped over a lot of levels in there, and I hope I have left enough to give a sense of what is going on inside a human brain.
We have millions of advanced pattern recognitions neural bundles.
All of these self configure as a result of our experience of life.
A lot of them are dedicated to producing the model of reality that we get to experience as reality itself.
A lot more are dedicated to our higher level conceptual understanding of the world in which we exist (which includes ourselves).
Quite a few are there dealing with projections of probable futures, so that we can make sensible long term choices.
Quite a few are there dealing with anomalies and conflicts in all of the above, and making subconscious choices about whether or not to kick any particular anomaly up to the next conceptual level (terminating in our conscious awareness).
All of them are linked to each other.

It seems we typically have something close to 20 conceptual levels of data processing prior to information becoming available to the conscious.

Thus a short answer as to why do questions arise in our minds could be that they are evolution’s way of preparing us to deal with situations that might effect our survival or the survival of our genetic relatives.

The subtlety of the mechanisms that evolution has primed into the mechanics of our brains, and the patterns of our culture, is sublime.
If anyone is interested in such things, then a study of computer systems and neurophysiology will deliver profound insights that reveal the major causal mechanisms for why questions arise in our minds, without necessarily giving us any specific insight about any specific question (the specifics are just too complex for the conscious mind to deal with).

[followed by]

Hi Brian

I don’t spend much time in the realm where “right” questions exist.

Most of the time there are only choices and consequences, with the ongoing dance of consequences, and none of us is sufficiently prescient to foresee all the consequence of any choice. [In that sense, I feel a certain empathy with many of the Taoist practices.]
So it seems we all do the best we can, in the moment, with what we have, our genetics, our culture, our history, our contexts; everything influencing everything else. And at certain levels we can make choices of contexts. It seems to me most powerful to choose those contexts that are most empowering to self and others in the longest term we can contemplate.

In that I make no claim to any sort of perfect knowledge of anything. All I can do is point to the things that seem to be falsified by sets of observations, and show what is left, as “not yet falsified, and seemingly useful in current context”.

And the more detailed one looks at any aspect of it, the more the detail seems beyond any chance of conscious comprehension. Consciously we seem able to deal with the highest levels of abstraction, and can most powerfully leave most of the rest to our subconsciousnesses, even if, on occasion, we need to delve deeply into the detail to work on some specific issue which is out of sync with out higher context sets.

[followed by]

Hi Brian

I have never been an advocate of reason alone. If you read what I have written, I am a very frequent request of people to be prepared to question everything, and to trust their own intuition as to what is the most appropriate answer.
Please don’t set me up as some sort of straw man to demolish.
I freely present what my intuition has delivered to me, for others to do with as they will. I make no effort to deceive nor to withhold. I make no claim of absolute truth. What I give is the best of what I have, no more, no less. It just is what it is, one human being’s imperfect understanding of a reality so vastly bigger than any awareness that it is {beyond words}.

I get you have had some profound experiences.
Whether you believe me or not, I have had a few myself.

You stated that there are “the two principles of judgment: faith (a submission to trust in pure love) and will (direct action based upon the impulses of our ego)” which I say is false, as there is actually an infinite spectrum in between those extremes. There are also a potentially infinite number of poles other than love one can choose. In practice, it seems to me that most of us form some sort of complex multidimensional topology in the interaction of the contextual dimension of whatever now we find ourselves in, with the various polarity dimensions of our distinction sets.
We are not simple, none of us.
I doubt any of us attain any of our chosen modalities in any sort of purity for more than a few microseconds, if at all.

For myself, if push comes to shove, I tend strongly to trust my intuition, and when time allows, I do what work I can to back up those intuitions with science and logic.
I understand a little about systems, having spent over 40 years working with them, both biological and computer based.
I understand something of the numeric complexity of the human mind.

I don’t see inanimate matter seeking to be conscious. All I see is evolution exploring the possibility spaces available to it, one of which just happens to contain languaging consciousness (us), and all that derives from that.

In 1978 as leader of the Auckland University Humanist group I was involved in a discussion/debate of theology and ontology with the Auckland University Jesuit group. About 20 of us started our meeting at 7pm. At 6am the following morning, the leader of the Jesuit group and I were the only two left in the discussion, and we agreed to differ in our interpretations of the dictates of Ockham’s Razor, as to what came before the big bang. My understanding of systems has deepened by a couple of orders of magnitude since then. I have never had a deeper discussion than that one, yet feel that many of the arguments that I had little in the way of numerical support for previously now have overwhelming probabilities behind them.
And in saying that, I am clear of the vast ignorance I have of the complexity of the interactions of living systems, at all levels, from the molecular on upwards.
And very few people are prepared to take on such a journey, of open exploration of all possibilities put forward. I think it could take several weeks of full time effort to conclude such a discussion at this stage in my development.
And I don’t have any takers 😉

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see
This entry was posted in Philosophy, Question of the Day and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comment and critique welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s