Darwin’s interest 140 years ago was in comparing human minds to animal minds from the point of view of evolution. I devoted my last post to a brief treatment of his findings. My interest today is in comparing the dimensions of my personal experience of my own mind with the notion of artificial intelligence.

The basic assumption is that artificial intelligence is in some way based on the genuine article, human intelligence, of which any given mind is but one unique example. What is the connection between the two?

Introspection has a bad name because scientists keep imposing their so-called objective standards on its fundamentally subjective nature, so any qualities of individual intelligence keep getting thrown out with the bath water. Accepting the intimate, subjective nature of personal experience, I offer my findings concerning the facets of intelligence I discover in myself, not because I am egotistical, but because my findings are based on a thirty-years study of the one mind I have immediate access to, which happens to be my own.

What I find is a mind divided into three parts: perception, judgment, and action. The first part answers the question, “What’s happening?” The second, “What does that mean?” or “So what?” The third, “What should I do?” The three parts taken in serial fashion lead to my engagement with the external world, which I divide onto four levels of nature, culture, community, and family.

My proposal is that my intelligence is spread between all four parts of the continuous and ever-changing loop of engagement between my inner and outer worlds. Perception contributes its share, judgment its, my behavior its, and the world I live in contributes its share on the levels of nature, culture, community, and the family I live in.

My mind absolutely depends on there being an outside world to connect with and seek guidance from. The natural and humanized world I am born to contains a good share of my personal understanding and intelligence. It is up to the inner parts of my mind to figure out how to engage the external parts so that I fit in as an integral part of our common planet’s share of universal intelligence.

In this post I can’t fit in much more than a partial listing of some of the dimensions I discover from studying my own experience in perceiving, judging, acting on, and engaging with the inner and outer worlds I have been given for exactly one lifetime.

I start with the dimensions of my personal perception, which include: arousal, excitement, expectancy, curiosity, my personal perspective at the time, my outlook, the sensory qualities I discover, the level of detail I observe, and the concentration and attention with which I reach out as the price I pay to observe anything at all.

The result of that effort leads to a sensory impression made up of contributions from my various senses, the clarity with which I regard that impression, the aesthetic framework within which I receive it as an integral image composed of many complex relationships, together with the awe and wonder that well up within me. Leading to a recognition of what it is I am witnessing, an interpretation of its nature, and a linking of that interpretation to conceptions I have derived from previous rounds of perception.

Then my faculty of judgment takes over from perception and tries to figure out the significance and meaning of that phase of my engagement. Immediately I am confronted by the situation I am in as modified by my current perception. That situation takes shape as its various dimensions become established by my streaming experience and engagement. I understand what’s going on to some degree, derive meaning from that understanding, partly by intuition, partly by direct perception of the latest bulletin from the exterior.

I compare that meaningful understanding to what it was a few moments ago, developing a sense of how things are developing in comparison to what they were when I was last moved to act, that comparison giving rise to a delta signal that spurs my current state of conscious awareness. I am immediately aware of the polarity of what’s happening from my point of view—whether it makes a good or bad fit to my expectations.

That disparity stirs up a new round of thought, which I measure against my biological (survival) values, taking into account the emotions I find welling up as a result of my expanding experience. My intuition and imagination come into play, stirring my judgment to review my priorities in this particular situation and come to a decision of how best to direct my life force into an appropriate course of action.

If I recognize the drift of the situation as being one I am familiar with, I resort to a reflex or habitual action, mimicry of actions I have seen others perform, familiar routines dictated by prejudice (prejudgment) or ideology. I set a goal and begin to plan my physical response through a particular project, sequence of steps involving relationships I can count on with others, or call on familiar skills, gestures, postures, and other behaviors that might help me reach the goals I have set for myself on this particular occasion.

With the result that perception and judgment have led me to act in the world on a level appropriate to the situation I believe myself to be in.

In my next post I will deal with the possible dimensions of what happens on the level of nature, culture, community, and family as a result of the action I have taken in the context of my grasp of the situation I am trying to develop or modify through exercise of my situated intelligence.

Again, what I am trying to do is explore the complexity of the everyday workings of our minds that we collectively gloss by the word “intelligence,” with an eye to our hopes and fantasies for the achievements of machine or “artificial” intelligence which is rapidly trying to substitute for the native version I am here roughing-out in these posts.


These heady days of artificial intelligence imply that we have a full understanding of intelligence in its native form. Apparently it has something to do with the ability to solve problems. Or at least to get good grades in school. Or to appear bright, quick, and agile in dealing with mental issues.

We rate individuals on a scale of intelligence where a score of 100 is judged to be normal. I once saw a vanity plate in Harvard square, IQ 205, so I assumed the driver of that car had a higher intelligence quotient than 204. If we can measure it that finely, and can make machines having artificial intelligence, surely we must recognize the real McCoy when we meet it face to face, mind to mind.

But since every person on Earth is unique in having a different immune system, nervous system, upbringing, education, work history, emotional life, reservoir of life experience, etc., I wonder how we can claim to measure intelligence as if it were the same mental quality across all those fundamental variables.

For myself, I find that my performance on a specific task depends on the situation I am in at the time, and also on whether or not I have been in that situation before. My mind is a mix of facets, elements, or dimensions of conscious and habitual experience. These facets come into play in varying degrees and proportions, so that on each occasion my mind is composed to meet the needs of the moment. That is, I find my so-called intelligence is present on a sliding scale. Or, put differently, is composed of different facets as called up in me by different situations.

As I was starting to think of writing this blog, I happened to be reading the 1874 edition of Charles Darwin’s book on human evolution, The Descent of Man. In the third chapter, Darwin compares the “mental powers of man and the lower animals.” I took those mental powers to be an early treatment of what today we might collectively refer to as intelligence. I perked up and paid close attention to what Darwin had written to see how his list of mental powers compared with the one I have been compiling under the guise of dimensions of consciousness or, as I now say, situated intelligence.

In my system I break consciousness into three main divisions: perception, judgment, and action. Perception deals with sensory input to the mind, judgment deals with determining the meaning of such input as a preparation for action, and action itself deals with how we go about forming an apt response to that input. These three divisions of mind connect our continuous loop of engagement with the world so, like the old serpent Ouroborus depicted as biting its own tail, our actions come full circle and we are in a position to compare the bite of perception in the context of our intended action, allowing us to revise our stance in making another round of action unto subsequent perception. That act of comparison is what we are conscious of at the moment so, as I see it, is the fundamental basis of what we call intelligence.

How do my 2014 dimensions of consciousness stack up against Darwin’s 1874 treatment of mental powers shared by people and animals? His point, of course, is that human minds have evolved from animal (primate) minds, so our mental powers are variations on the earlier powers possessed by our ancestors. Those variations can be either elaborations or diminutions, depending on the developmental pressure applied by our need to fit into the particular environmental situations we face from year to decade to century to millennium. Our sense of smell and pedal dexterity, for example, have decreased from what they were in the wild, while our vocalizations and manual dexterity have increased.

Grouping Darwin’s mental powers according to my distinctions between Perception, Judgment, and Action, I discover under the heading of Perception the following mental powers in common: same senses in man as primates, curiosity, anticipation, foresight, dread, danger, attention, distraction, senses of pleasure and pain, memory required for recognition, wonder, and sense of beauty.

Under the heading of Judgment: choice, instincts, intuition, abstraction, conception, association of ideas, episodic memory, cunning, deceit, deliberation, imagination, dreams, emotions (affection, alarm, ennui, fidelity, gratitude, jealousy, happiness/misery, love, magnanimity, passions, revenge, ridicule, suspicion, sympathy), reason, language (cries of pain, fear, surprise, anger, murmurs mother to child, song), self-consciousness, sense of humor.

Darwin glosses entire repertoires of behavior under Action, along with self-improvement. In the following chapter, he deals with the common powers of sociability, social instincts, social virtues, judgment on conduct, and transmission of moral tendencies.

His conclusion in 1874 is that the “intellectual powers” “of the higher animals, which are the same in kind with those of man, though so different in degree, are capable of advancement.” Wayfarers that we are today, up on two legs and following our inclinations, our modern intelligence is living proof of Darwin’s belief.

The question now is, can we transfer that advancement to our machines so that they serve as the next stage in the trend we have begun? Taking us with them, or leaving us behind?

I will follow up that query in my next blog.

(Copyright © 2009)


In this post, my topic is introspection, which raises eyebrows in some circles To start with, I offer these caveats from Joseph LeDoux, author of The Emotional Brain and Synaptic Self:


1. We have to be very careful when we use verbal reports based on introspective analyses of one’s own mind as scientific data (Emotional Brain, 32).


2. Introspection is not going to be very useful as a window into the workings of the vast unconscious facets of the mind (Same, 33).


3. Introspections are often going to be a poor window into how processing that gives rise to conscious content works and are no window at all into processing that does not give rise to immediate conscious content (Same, 66f.).


It is a good idea to post such no trespassing signs at the entrance to your territory. I read them as cautionary, not prohibitive. To go point by point:


1. Yes, it is always wise to be very careful, no matter what methods we use in our investigations.


2. Yes, again, introspection is not going to shed much light on the workings of the unconscious mind, but it can prove an aid in suggesting some of the features to be accounted for by other means of research.


3. True, introspection, as an emergent property of neurological processes, won’t have much to say about the biological and chemical process making them possible, any more than words in everyday language can adequately describe or explain how they occur to the mind in the first place.


But these warnings do not mean that introspection is worthless or should be avoided. This blog, is based on introspection, supplemented by readings in the literature of neuroscience. My method of investigation is wrong for Joseph LeDoux, as his is wrong for me. We have no choice but to be who we are and act accordingly. I opt for introspection. Which I claim is ethical because it does not impose my will or beliefs on anyone but myself. I don’t experiment on animals, I don’t manipulate people. What I do, I do unto myself and bear the consequences.


And by the way, even LeDoux relies on introspective methods when it suits him. He quotes Charles Darwin:


I put my face close to the thick glass-plate in front of a puff-ader in the Zoological Gardens, with the firm determination of not starting back if the snake struck at me; but, as soon as the blow was struck, my resolution went for nothing, and I jumped a yard or two backwards with astonishing rapidity. My will and reason were powerless against the imagination of a danger which had never been experienced (Emotional Brain, 112).


There in that account is introspection concerning personal will and reason. When it comes to personal consciousness, every person bears the authority of Charles Darwin in her own instance. Being both subject and object of study in one person has tremendous advantages. Your research never ends or runs out of material. You are always in the lab when something significant happens. You occupy a seat of tremendous privilege in actually being in someone’s mind all the time. Your findings will be as valid as the fineness of your observational skills, the questions you ask, and the time you put in.


Phenomenology is the basic discipline of introspection. Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty have developed techniques for productive self-observation. One of the most useful is bracketing a sensory phenomenon in awareness, which requires holding it suspended in your mind before rushing to impress rational or emotional meaning upon it. This lets the observer feel the tensions toward meaning within him or her self, leading to exploration of the qualities of meaning elicited in such a situation.


In various posts, I have given a first-person report of a mental occurrence, using bracketing to focus my attention on what has transpired. I do not necessarily see things as they are, and I often miss things that should be clearly evident. Too, I sometimes experience things that aren’t there at all.


The most glaring way I fool myself is in believing that consciousness depicts events in the real world. As if my entire mental apparatus did not come between me and that world, skewing it, distorting it, shaping it to fit my personal fears and desires. Which (as I wrote in Reflection 32: Slap My Face) is why I blog—to keep myself awake, like slapping my face when I’m driving while tired. And to remind you to slap your face. To ask questions. To both wonder and ponder. That’s the only way I know to get better at this consciousness game, by not taking it for granted. I am out to improve the practice of consciousness, not to document it as a given. The world situation is a catalogue of what happens when consciousness fails us. If we are to do better, we need to learn to govern our conscious actions more effectively.


Blogging has given me a motive to do this research, and a platform for presenting it to the world. My primary learning is that consciousness supports whatever endeavor I engage in—as long as I do my part by putting my heart into it first and doing my homework. Insight is more likely to come to those who prepare the ground. I have woken up many times at three in the morning with the answer to a question I posed upon going to bed. My job is to goad consciousness into doing its thing by presenting it with a worthy challenge. Consciousness, I have found, always rises to the task. I don’t know why or how it does that, which is the sort of question Joseph LeDoux likes to take on regarding the workings of the emotional brain.


As for that, LeDoux himself acknowledges that introspection might have some heuristic value at least in shedding light on the mind and its brain:


While personal experience is not a good way to prove anything (we’ve seen the perils of introspection as scientific data), there’s nothing wrong with using it as a takeoff point for a more penetrating analysis (Emotional Brain, 295).


I am convinced consciousness is sufficiently complex to warrant attention from investigators of all sorts using a variety of methods. I am pleased to share these findings with others who wonder about the workings of the mind. I offer them as examples of what can be accomplished largely through curiosity, openness, and determination as posted to the global forum of the World Wide Web for public consideration.