The Cognitive Theory of 'Inside Out'

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The Cognitive Theory of 'Inside Out'

#1  Postby kennyc » Jul 25, 2015 12:56 pm

The Awkward Synthesis That Is 'Inside Out'
....
Inside Out begins with a question, posed by the movie's narrator, Joy, who is an emotion living inside of Riley: Did you ever look at a baby or a person and ask yourself what's going on in there? A good question, but the movie's playful answer unfolds more like a textbook presentation of the Awkward Synthesis than by providing any insight into what it is like to be Riley or any other person. Headquarters is staffed by five Emotions (Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust). These compete among themselves to operate the joysticks and dashboard that control the person whose emotions they make up. They handle, store, protect and disregard memories and experiences. At night they do "dream duty," projecting film clips (memories) onto the screen of Riley's consciousness. Each of them, driven by their own dominant disposition — Sadness tends to be sad, Joy tends to be optimistic and happy — participates in a kind of give and take, a negotiated peace in which they manage Riley's states and cause her to react to events in the world around her....


....Descartes (1596-1650) offered, but did not endorse, the idea that the body is a ship and the self resides in the body the way a pilot resides in the ship. Hume (1711-1776) advanced the idea that there is no self, that what we call the self is in fact just a bundle of perceptions, feelings and ideas. Contemporary cognitive science combines these two ideas in a most awkward synthesis: We are the brain, which in turn is modeled not as a self, but as a vast army of little selves, or agencies, whose collective operations give rise to what looks, from the outside, like a single person or animal; but, so the "Awkward Synthesis" would have it, some of the events happening inside of us really are ours, they really are experienced, and this is because they happen in a special way or in a special place — in what Dennett has called the Cartesian Theater.
....


http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2015/0 ... inside-out
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Re: The Cognitive Theory of 'Inside Out'

#2  Postby don't get me started » Jul 26, 2015 2:04 pm

I’m not sure whether to put this here or in linguistics or even philosophy.

The title of this movie is revealing of a certain view of what human cognition is, and how we experience reality. By this I mean that the distinction humans have between the ‘external’ and ‘the internal’ seems to be fundamental our sense of the way the world is and the way we are. This internal/external binary distinction seems to be one of the most basic categorizations that we engage in, and the categories seem to be hard-edged and non-overlapping. That is, the internal, mental world of thoughts, emotions, dreams, memories and so on are seen to be only and ever internal, and somehow apart and distinct from the external world.

The crossing over from internal to external, or vice versa does occur, but perhaps because such a crossover violates our sense of the way the reality is, the feeling that the internal and external are wholly separate, such crossovers often cause problems for people when trying to tease out the nature of the relationship between ‘in the head’ and ‘out there’.

In my job as teacher of English, I have noticed that there are differentials in the ease with which vocabulary can be explained to learners. It is pretty easy to explain the difference between words such as ‘walk’ and ‘run’, ‘drop’ and ‘throw’ and the like. But words like ‘see’, ‘look’ and ‘watch’ are much more problematical to explicate, and I think it is partially due to the fact that the visual sense involves crossing this internal/external boundary.

I’ll explain what I mean by this. Now I’m not going to talk about the actual physical/neurological processes that underlie the visual sense in humans (although that is interesting enough in itself). Rather, I’m going to refer to the way in which language encodes the visual sense in (At least in English), which I think is revealing about humans’ sense of the ‘in the head’ world and the ‘out there’ world.

So, my students often have trouble with the English verbs of vision, and produce sentences such as ‘I saw out of the window’ or ‘ I looked a movie’. When I was first asked to explain why these are incorrect I was pretty much at a loss.
These days I set up a concept check to try to delve into the underlying meanings of the visual verbs. I hold some coins cupped in my hands and rattle them. I then ask the students if they know what is in my hands. They usually reply ‘coins’ to which I ask the further question ‘How do you know? By your eyes or by your ears?’ To which they reply ‘By ears.’ Next, I show the coins and ask the question, ‘How much is there?’ The students answer 510 yen or whatever, and I ask them, ‘How do you know? By your eyes or by your ears? The answer is ‘by my eyes.’

By this process I try to indicate that the verb ‘see’ encodes a situation where data about the external world (in the form of light) crosses the external/ internal demarcation line, and becomes internalized, in that the value of the coins presented is now known, that is, the knowledge now exists within the individual mind of the observer. (In academic terms, the observer has undergone a change of epistemic state, from K- to K+.) It is perhaps no accident then that in English the expression ‘I see’ usually means ‘I understand, i.e. ‘I have come to know.’

All well and good, you might say. Nothing too revolutionary happening here. Light travels from the outside world into the eye and subsequently the brain of the observer, not the other way around.

So, lets move on to the verb ‘look’. In this case, I hold a coin in each and stand with arms outstretched. I say ‘Look at the 500 yen coin.’ Heads and eyes swivel to the relevant coin. Then I say ‘look at the 10 yen coin.’ Heads and eyes swivel in that direction. This indicates that the verb ‘look’ refers to an act of conscious attention on the part of the observer, unlike ‘see’ which does not presuppose such a conscious focusing of attention.

Now comes the twist. I hold up two British coins, arms stretched out and say ‘look at the 50 pence.’ My students are usually not familiar with British currency and cannot follow my directive. It is impossible to fully ‘look at’ something when you don’t know what it is. You can direct your attention, but you cannot really say that you are looking at a 50 pence piece if you don’t already know what a 50 pence piece looks like. (Consider also if I said look at the 25 pence coin, when, in fact no such coin exists. Clearly, in this case no looking at a 25 pence coin can take place, but the unknowing observers might be squinting for all they are worth to work out which coin they should look at.) This illustrates that ‘looking’ is based on knowledge, that is, something ‘head internal’ to the observer, and this knowledge prefigures any looking that can take place. That is, in one perhaps metaphorical sense, the visual sense is characterized by movement from the internal to the external, the knowledge extant inside the head of the observer is somehow mapped onto external reality.

It should be mentioned here that the theory of extramission, that is, that light emanates from the eyes and illuminates the external world, was held as true in antiquity, by such thinkers as Ptolemy, Galen, and Plato. This theory was dismissed by Ibn Al Haytham (965-c1040 (Known to the west as Alhazen.) Extramission is of course nonsense in any practical way, but its persistence for over a thousand years in the thinking of the west is, it seems to me, interesting in that it might conform to some deeply felt sense of the workings of our minds and the interactions of those minds with the external world. The act of looking, I would argue, is perceived by lookers to be, in some vague, indefinable way, an act involving extramission, some projection of the internal, across the (supposedly inviolable) demarcation line between the internal and the external. The inexplicability of what it is that crosses this line, and the deep category violation of crossing the line at all, may account for some of the difficulties that people have in explaining the differences between two verbs that are just commonplace words, used unconsciously by speakers many times a day.
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Re: The Cognitive Theory of 'Inside Out'

#3  Postby Spearthrower » Jul 26, 2015 4:29 pm

kennyc wrote:*snip*


Aha! Thanks for posting that - I was trying to explain this to an ex-Pixar guy two weeks back about why the film made me nervous, but my fumblings were not as clear as this - I will forward the article to him.
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Re: The Cognitive Theory of 'Inside Out'

#4  Postby kennyc » Jul 26, 2015 5:02 pm

Spearthrower wrote:
kennyc wrote:*snip*


Aha! Thanks for posting that - I was trying to explain this to an ex-Pixar guy two weeks back about why the film made me nervous, but my fumblings were not as clear as this - I will forward the article to him.


You're welcome sir.

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