Re: Presuppositions? Assumptions? LO1929
Tue, 04 Jul 95 09:31:00

Replying to LO1809 --

Michael, I am just beginning to catch up to about a week's mail, and I
assume there is more discussion awaiting me on your "opening" of the
mental model thread from Rick's posting. Here's something that struck me
about something you said:

"The problem with the terminology is that it implies something far too
fixed and static compared for what is going on in an intelligent being.
There is no single mental model. There is no mental model that is
unchanging. There isn't even a coherent set of mental models that are
reliable. It is far more like there are stacked assumptions (or
presuppositions) that are endlessly connected. _Any_ particular idea,
statement or mental construct emerges from a much larger complex of
thoughts, experiences, beliefs, etc. More simply put, it emerges from the
linguistic background that is triggered by the environment of the moment
and the intentions of the being."

Now, I don't have an understanding of the perspective you bring to all our
conversations regarding the uses of language and their relation to
experience, what you have called the "postmodern" analysis. I know this
warrants further study, and you have aroused my interest in ways that
other proponents encountered earlier have never done for me.

Nevertheless, I would like to propose what I would like to think is a
neurological systems model for this discussion. My sense of how people
view the world at any given moment is the outcome of comparing the
particular current stimuli with prior experience. That experience has
been "interpreted" and has created neural pathways, which over time become
pathways of preference. For me, this is what we mean when we say something
has been "reinforced" (and I have an entire mental construct which I won't
digress into here to explain why stimuli *intended* to reinforce
negatively, reinforce positively). In my model,external intention is
meaningless unless declared, in which case it is a stimulus, but *imputed*
intention is a particular neural pathway, and will influence the
interpretation of what is going on. On the other hand, internal intention
(why I am here experiencing this) is critical.

Now imagine people experiencing the world through a series of archetypal
filters, which - though more complex than this - tend to fall into two
main groupings: reinforcing and balancing. In this model, all learning is
in a balancing loop - that is, learning takes place in a balance with
unlearning. I think of this as dynamic - as you do - but not as
continuously emergent, because with very rare exceptions, people are
inclined to use their reinforcing filters. That is, they *want* to
continue to see the world in accordance with their most recent adjustment
to their interpretation, and they will disregard contradictory ideas,
messages, facts, perceptions, etc. accordingly.

I am reminded of an experiment conducted with students at Harvard in the
early 60s (either as part of a class taught by Jerome Brunner or under his
tutelage) in which a group of people were shown slides well out of focus
and were asked to shout out descriptions of what they saw as the picture
came very slowly into focus. Shortly before the picture was clear (that
is, while still unintelligible) the group would settle on a story as to
what they were seeing, and they stuck with this story even after the image
resolved and was clearly something else. The experiment was designed to
demonstrate some principle of mass psychology, but for me it has always
been an emblem of the capacity for self-delusion resident in every mind
(and the ability of "groupthink" to reinforce it - but that idea came

In this sense, mental models can not only get frozen in specific
individuals, but, in my opinion, they will be further cemented even by
contrary evidence and experience if the neural pathways have been deeply
enough etched and barriers erected to other neural behavior.

Jack Hirschfeld

Would you like to swing on a star, carry moonbeams home in a jar and be better off than you are? Or would you rather be a mule?