The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or Gregg Henriques. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Today’s guest is Gregg Henriques, professor and core faculty member in James Madison University’s Clinical and School Psychology Doctoral Program. Gregg is one of my favorite folks here we have on the show, and he is a returning guest. He was on back aways at EP 59 and we talked about some very interesting things in Currents 009. If you like what you hear in this episode, go check those out. Welcome, Gregg.
Gregg: Jim, it’s great to be here with you.
Jim: Yeah, this is going to be fun. Today we’re going to talk about his new book, quite new, titled, A New Synthesis for Solving the Problem of Psychology: Addressing the Enlightenment Gap. Now, I’m going to say some things here which Gregg can rebut, but that’s all right. I’m the fucking host. I say what I want, right?
Gregg: Amen to that.
Jim: That title, despite its seeming boldness, is actually quite modest compared to the scope of the book. While structured formally as a critique of psychology, in reality, it’s a truly audacious attempt to explain the universe and our place in it. It’s one of the most audacious books I’ve ever read, and I read a lot of books, as people know, and I say this with tongue only mildly in cheek it’s on the scale of somebody like Thomas Aquinas. Right?
Gregg: Oh. All right.
Jim: Not kidding, right? I mean, it really does address at all, from the Big Bang to whatever, all the way, and amazingly enough, it delivers at least on a goodly chunk of its audacious goals. So this is really a book worth reading, I guess, is my bottom line, even if you don’t agree with every bit of it, which, guess what? I don’t.
Gregg: Fair enough. If that were the case, that would be really odd, but I appreciate you sunk your teeth into it and clearly got the bigness of which I was going for.
Jim: Yeah, it’s beyond big, you know? Huge is how I would describe it. Of course, as was said, I often have questions and pushbacks. For instance, let’s start with defining a couple of key words that you use and use a lot. You use metaphysics and/or metaphysical 291 times.
Gregg: Oh, yeah.
Jim: And you use ontology and ontological in its various morphemes 374 times.
Gregg: Jesus, I have not done the word count. It’s good to have them come in.
Jim: Yeah, exactly. And so I guess I’m a little perplexed about the pervasiveness of that terminology. In fact, you know me, when I hear the word metaphysics, I reach for my pistol.
Gregg: I had to have this, yep.
Jim: Yeah. Now, unfortunately, I forgot to bring my pistol over when I came to town on Sunday, even though I talked about it. I was going to pull one of my pistols down off the pistol vault and bring it over. But instead, I got a big old hunting… Bigger than a hunting knife, it’s a combat knife with a seven-inch blade that I’m waving around, but Gregg does not seem to be at all intimidated.
Gregg: Somehow I feel connected. It’s weird.
Jim: Yeah, when I hear the word metaphysics, I reach for my big, sparkly fighting knife. And in fact, I did a few experiments where I took some sections of the text and I just excised the word metaphysics or metaphysical out of them, and they often made perfect sense. And when I saw the word ontology, I substituted the word description and it often worked.
Gregg: Fair enough.
Jim: So anyway, I’m famously resistant to this stuff. I often say, “Just give me a real world and some tools of epistemology, and we’ll go from there.” But obviously, if you use it 291 times, you must be trying to say something. So let’s go into some of the definitions of metaphysics and see what you were trying to get across with this word, pull down some definitions.
One, “The branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time, and space.” And then this particular definition, they gave an example. They would regard the question of the initial conditions for the universe as belonging to the realm of metaphysics. And then a second definition, which I kind of related to, which was, “Abstract theory with no basis in reality.”
Jim: And the example they gave was, “The very subject of milk pricing involves one in a wonderland of accounting practice and a metaphysics all its own.” And in fact, I tend to put religion in that basket. Just shit somebody made up, right?
Jim: And so another definition, “Metaphysics refers to the studies of what cannot be reached through objective studies of material reality.” I thought that was a little bit interesting, and I thought about that a little bit, and then again, my position, “I don’t need no stinking metaphysics,” I said. With that definition, I’d say much of the interesting stuff is not material, right, if in material you mean things like a desk or a pen or an atom. The lens I tend to use, which is the complexity science one, is a dynamical systems lens, where it’s things in motion, the patterns of motion, the relationships rather than the things. As I often say, the study of the dance, not just the study of the dancer.
Gregg: I like that metaphor.
Jim: And that if you use that and you think of the mind, because that’s really the topic of your book, as a dynamical system that’s emergent from networked neuronal activity and patterns of attractor states, you don’t need no stinking metaphysics, right? So what are you trying to say here when you use metaphysics 291 times?
Gregg: Lovely. So thank you so much for that intro. I appreciate you getting the grandness of what I’m after, and certainly, 15 years ago, as a psychologist trained in the behavioral science methodology, trained as an empiricist, I’m really surprised that all of a sudden I’m using the word metaphysics that often. So here’s the crux of the issue. As you heard in several of those definitions, we really need to differentiate metaphysics that is helping us understand the world, okay, and I’ll come back to this, versus metaphysics that’s totally disconnected from the world. Okay?
In my book, I articulate the second definition as I call pure metaphysics. And while there is reason to engage in decent, pure metaphysics, in the context of science, pure metaphysics is like, okay, whatever. And the example I use is, “How many fucking angels can you put on a head of a pin?” as a pure metaphysical question that you can’t contact reality and engage in any scientific analysis of, because it’s disconnected from the empirical world. Okay?
So what I then argue is that we should have a descriptive, systematic metaphysics that is in contact with the natural world. Well, what is that, and why would we need that? Well, the argument that I bring forth in this book that has actually been passionate to me, you said the mind, okay? I don’t know what the fuck that means. All right? And what I have been studying is to try to figure out what is the mind, or mind or mental process or mental behavior, in relationship to matter, in relationship to culture, in relationship to life?
Now, think about those concepts and categories and their interrelation, and how we might bring a big picture, big history, complex, adaptive dynamic systems framework to describe the interrelations between all those concepts and categories. And my argument is that is a task of descriptive, systematic metaphysics, which is the concepts and categories that afford us a picture of cosmology and place our concepts and categories in right, coherent relation, and for a descriptive metaphysics, that means you are in contact with the natural world, with empirical phenomenon, et cetera. And the argument that we need this is found, ultimately, and we’ll get to it in the problem of psychology, but I’ll end there.
Jim: Truthfully, what you said, perfectly sensible, but I just wouldn’t call it metaphysics. I would just call it the-
Gregg: Yeah, I wouldn’t have originally, but then when I got into it… In fact, I make a point in this in my book, my original articulation of what’s called the tree of knowledge system, which is essentially the descriptive metaphysic, I’d say it’s a problem of epistemology. But it’s not just a problem of epistemology, it’s a problem of what is in the world and the overall cosmology in addition to how we know about it. So metaphysics is cosmology, ontology, epistemology. We need all of those. I had to overcome my own limitations, too much entrenched in epistemology, facile with ontology and metaphysics, and I grew into that as a scientist, Jim. You and I, we’re scientists [inaudible 00:08:45], okay?
Jim: Yeah, exactly. And I will say, it’s worth talking about, Gregg and I live about 45 minutes apart, and we’ve had lunch several times, and we’ve had lots of fun discussions over lunch.
Jim: And we see the world quite similarly, so-
Gregg: I would certainly agree with that, actually.
Jim: So I’m just probing here for clarity, for-
Gregg: Mm-hmm. No, it’s a really important question, and listen to all the scientists out there. I used to be, I would’ve grabbed for my steak knife when I heard the word [inaudible 00:09:09] physics. Not quite as robust, but nonetheless, I was like, metaphysics? Actually, listen to the versatile definitions, depending on how you frame it, and when you ask questions like, what is quantum mechanics? What’s space and time? What is the nature of gravity? Actually, the physics to metaphysics on the edges of those, and I’ll argue when it comes to what is mind, we definitely need a descriptive, metaphysical, systemic analysis.
Jim: Okay, let’s go into the next piece of that, which is ontology. A couple of definitions I came up with. “The branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being.” Maybe. Number two, “A set of concepts and categories in a subject area or domain that shows their properties and the relationships between them. I read that as essentially useful, but not necessarily deep categorizations, things like the Dewey Decimal system or Library of Congress, or in many of the businesses I built, we would build, we called ontologies, which were just how we chopped up the world, you know?
Jim: We developed subject codes for a level of data we had, or it turns out, when you’re dealing with companies, they’re more complicated than it seems, right? Companies have holding companies. So those are kind of arbitrary, but then there’s this more philosophical sense of the nature of being.
Jim: And I’m going to, this here again, I’m going to push back a little bit. If we think about physics and ontology, we can say fairly safely that there is something like atoms, and there’s something like molecules, and there’s something like a beastie area of subatomic particles, and maybe those deserve the big name ontology, metaphysical variety. But perhaps the stuff that you’re working on, that’s overkill. That’s hitting a pistachio with a six-pound sledgehammer. And let me give you a very specific example from your work, and this, I think, will help us understand what you really mean by ontology.
One of the most important things you have in the book is that you divide up the history of the universe, let’s call it, into four big bins, which is matter, energy, life, mind, and then human language and culture that emerges from that, and that is a perfectly reasonable taxonomy if one’s thinking about in information processing and its implications, and I’d say lens, purpose, ontology, in the Dewey Decimal System sense. The more traditional way to divide the world up is into three bins, which is matter, energy, life, and then human language and culture, at least that’s a very… It’s become a common one. In fact, frankly, a long time, is the one I used. So therefore, it must be right now.
And I would suggest that if you have the lens of the second law of thermodynamics, and the ability to locally reverse that second law to produce emergent complexity, I’d say that the three-bucket one is more relevant, and here’s why. Here’s an example of why, I actually did the research yesterday afternoon, which is less than one, a lot less than 1% of life by biomass on our planet is animals, right?
Jim: In fact, the following categories are each much bigger than animals: bacteria, fungi, protists, and archaea, individually, are a lot bigger than animals. They got no stinking minds at all, right? And then we have plants, which are 200 times the biomass of all animals, 200 times all animals combined. And it’s worth noting that the vast preponderance of animals is anthropods and fish, insects and the ocean version of them, and they may not have minds either, at least not mind two, in your terminology.
Jim: And so if you’re thinking about the energy gain, that little thing of mind is relatively irrelevant. The reversal of second law is occurring by life, and then at a whole new level by humans and their crazy-ass shit, right? So anyway, I guess that point is that either cutting is reasonable, depending on the purpose of the cut, and therefore it’s a Dewey Decimal System kind of ontology, not a atoms, molecules, subatomic particles kind of ontology.
Gregg: Okay, lot there. So let me first just say, yes, the tree of knowledge system that I use to map is not a map of aggregate scale, so it is not representing the biomass relative to, say, physical mass, Jim. Obviously we did, if we were going to do physical scale, and the matter one’s going to be the size of the universe in relationship to its mass, then the size of life would be so unbelievably tiny that we would barely be able to pick it out, right? So it’s not a mass, scale, aggregate structure. What it is is it’s tracking the evolution of complexification, that is the stacked, integrated differentiation that is going to afford us clarity about where we are as human knowers in relationship to it. So our stacked complexification is the case that we go through single-celled organisms into eukaryotic, into multi-cell, and that’s a dimension of life. Unbelievably complicated things happening there.
I’m going to argue there’s a fundamental break in relationship to the emergence of the sensory motor-loop nervous system. It’s a Cambrian explosion onto the landscape, and the behavior patterns of minded animals is absolutely central and a fundamental new layer of complex adaptive existence. And we can talk about that, of course, the whole book is about that, and it is getting that minded layer. If you want the ontology of psychology to be organized effectively, you better pull out the minded-animal layer. In fact, 4E cognitive science is trying to get this done right now. So I’m going to make the case that, absolutely, being able to see mind in nature is as important as to be able to see life in nature, if we are going to understand humans and how we know about the world. So we’ll come back to that.
Finally, you mentioned ontology, lots of different definitions of ontology. I’m actually using a really pretty simple one. So what I’m saying is that, hey, science has to figure out, it’s a system of how we know, and then science tells us what the ontological nature of the world is. Now, we can get into big debates about whether reduction versus emergence, but I’m actually talking about a very loose gripping function of the ontology of the world. And what I’m arguing in this book, and again, coming back to the problem of psychology, is that the physical sciences have a decent ontology. Standard theory of elementary particle physics, Big Bang, various states of matter, they afford us a grip about how to describe the world that’s tight with our empirical knowledge, our mathematical knowledge, our experimental knowledge, et cetera, [inaudible 00:15:50] we’re describing, we’re analyzing, we get a tight, nice grip. I mean, with questions, of course, but the standard theory of elementary particle physics is unbelievably cool, and the way it goes to elements and the periodic table of the elements and chemistry, unbelievable.
Then we get into biochemistry, we get into molecular biology, we start talking about genes and cells, and you’ve done some wonderful podcasts on how that jump happened. The biologists are pretty clear we’re talking about cells and genes and ecology. Okay? In other words, there’s a consensus about the thing in the world that the science is trying to grip. It’s the science of life. The set of life is living behaviors. The core units of them are things like genes and other jumps from the biochemistry and molecular biology. They’re structurally organized into cells. They then grow across scale and create ecologies. Biologists know this.
My whole point is my discipline, psychology, somehow emerges in relationship to that. If we’re going to put it on a natural science thing, you have to then create a coherent ontology, a consensus that we psychologists agree of what you mean by mind, or the mind or cognition or behavior. We don’t, and the breakdown of that ontological gripping is what the problem of psychology is. And I don’t mean to use technical language. I mean, we just don’t agree on what the fuck we’re talking about at the core of our discipline. And that’s unbelievable, and that’s unlike biology, chemistry, and physics and the rest of the so-called natural sciences. I would argue they’re hard, precisely not because they’re difficult, but because they’re sophisticated in the way in which they’re mapping ontology through their scientific epistemology. I say, you get to my discipline, and we’re not, and folks should know about that, and that’s a big question. Why? Why is my discipline so confused about its ontological breadth?
Jim: All right, that’s very good. And I’m going to arbitrarily put that variety of ontology in the Dewey Decimal System class.
Gregg: Fine. I’ll take that. I’m merely using it as a particular type of… I’ll tell you this, this gets back to our earlier point. As a scientist, I essentially equated philosophy with epistemology. I believe that’s a deep mistake. I had to get clear about what the thing in the world was, the ontological reference versus the epistemological nature by which I knew it, and those are two different categories for philosophically carving up the world. So that’s really just what I’m using it for. I’m not really diving into like a Heideggerian foundational being ontological sense. I’m like, what in the world are we talking about when we use the term psychologically, if we’re anchoring psychology to the natural science paradigm?
Jim: And you make a wonderful case about this. Well, let’s move on from from this. Before we go though, you mentioned the Cambrian explosion. We’ll probably talk about it a few more times, because it is an important node in the history of the universe of complexity and everything else. We did a wonderful episode with Doug Erwin back in EP 116, one of my favorite all-time episodes. Doug is one of the leading paleontologists on the Cambrian explosion and has written an excellent book on the topic, and we really get into it in great detail. This is really one of the most important things in the history of the universe, so if you want to learn more, go check that one out.
Gregg: I’m glad you say that relative to your other reference point, Jim. I totally agree.
Jim: Yeah. Even though it is number three, right?
Gregg: It’s super important.
Jim: And I just found, before we moved on, I think I mentioned this previously, even though it’s in my notes later, you did use, good boy, epistemology 282 times, right? So that’s a good thing. So let’s get into the guts of your argument here, which the book is a solution to the problem of psychology, and you identify the core. I love books that have a well-defined theme they then ramify to the nth degree, and this certainly is true in this book, that has both a theme and ramification to the nth degree, and that is what you call the Enlightenment gap. Is that fair to say that that is the center of the story?
Gregg: Absolutely. It’s the center of the story.
Jim: All right. Tell us what the Enlightenment gap is?
Gregg: So the Enlightenment gap is the argument that as the scientific Enlightenment emerged in the West, and we’re just going to shorthand that to the Galileo, Newton analysis and emergence of natural science, okay? So I’m really talking about the scientific Enlightenment, which arguably is the core of what we learned epistemologically about the world with a lot of confidence. What we did in the emergence of physics, at its core, is build an epistemological system for understanding matter in motion. Of course, you have the Newtonian version, and then modern physics comes along and breaks that with quantum mechanics and general relativity. But nonetheless, what we get in that is an amazingly tight correspondence between mathematics, matter in motion, and the articulation of the universe.
At the same time, what that seems to give in a straightforward way, and I’ve heard you talk about this, really is sort of a naive Newtonian view of the world. That is, that it’s just a bunch of billiard balls, that actually we could know exactly how they behave if we knew where everything was. We have Laplace’s famous, perhaps apocryphal notion to Napoleon that says, “Hey, I don’t have no need for the God hypothesis.” If you know where everything is and have a great computer, you could just compute where everything. And therefore, physical determinism by tiny little billiard balls is the cause of the universe.
Now, that’s an unbelievably bizarre thing then to juxtapose in relationship to us humans as, say, physicists, Newton himself, knowing about the world. Now, Kant and Newton and many other of the scientists at the time did not think that the matter in motion physical billiard ball was the real. Some did, but many didn’t. They thought complex adaptive systems, to use modern-day terminology, had to have some other kind of explanatory network in it. They had to think that this was incomplete.
But nonetheless, the point of it is that as physics grips matter in motion and does away with the old dual-world Christian metaphysical view, and I’ll use that in the pejorative sense, sorry. But when it does away with the dual-world view of supernatural versus natural, and then leaves us with a one-world naturalism, now you have this issue of, well, if the real reality, if the real, deep ontology is billiard-balled matter in motion, what the hell is this thing called mind? Okay? What is me reflecting on the world? How does consciousness emerge? And what you get is an inability of the structure to develop a coherent synthetic picture of what mind is in relationship to matter. Okay? It’s mind-body problem, and it’s everywhere when you see it and you look for it.
So we’re very clear that if you look outside, think of all the conversations going on, philosophy, science, et cetera, what is consciousness, how do we understand it? Mind-body problem is the encapsulation or the relationship between the thing that the concept of mind points to, relative to the thing that matter points to, and the inability to have a coherent, synthetic philosophy that helps us explain how we know how the world ontologically exists and how to coherently put that shit together.
I argue that my discipline, psychology, is sort of broken between kind of implying a Newtonian view of the world, almost, through [inaudible 00:22:36] matter in motion, and then a Kantian epistemology, but you can’t put those two together, meaning that how the human mind emerges to know, there’s not a good picture. So that’s one key aspect. The other thing about the Enlightenment gap that’s associated with this is what is this scientific knowledge? Does it represent this abstract, unbelievably true statements of the world? Or is scientific knowledge another way of human knowing? Do we construct scientific knowledge, and therefore it’s based on fallible human knowing? How does it connect to human subjective experience of being a subject of knowing? So what is the relationship between scientific knowing and truth claims relative to subjective and social knowing?
And here I point to the difference between modernists like yourself that are like, “Hey, scientists can yield truth-based claims,” and then Foucault or the post-structuralists, and then, really, in a sort of political way, a post-modern view that science is just a bunch of people getting to know bullshit, and it’s really white men trying to control the world. Okay? So that’s the post-modern critique, saying that science is just another form of socially constructed knowing. What is actually the relationship between scientific truth claims, subjective and social knowing?
The Enlightenment gap points to the fact that we are completely absent a coherent, synthetic philosophical structure that simultaneously resolves the matter-mind relation and the relationship between scientific knowledge and social and subjective knowledge. That’s a gap, that’s a failure, and yes, we’re going to thread a long argument to get to the end of that, where that gap potentially could be resolved.
Jim: Very good. I will defend myself a little bit about being called a modernist.
Jim: Yes, I’m definitely not a post-modernist, and in fact, I say that that is impossible for a sane person to actually be a post-modernist, and that post-modernism is a quite useful critique of modernism. We can take some of the ideas and move forward with it. And I consider myself a modernist plus relativity and quantum phenomena, and obviously there’s a third thing that unifies the two, which we’re still mystified about.
Gregg: All right.
Jim: And then, adding a complexity lens on top of that. And if you do those three things, you’re not a bad orange man. Right? [inaudible 00:24:44].
Gregg: I love it. I’m glad you’re saying that. A hundred percent agree, yeah.
Jim: And that’s an alternative. I never went through post-modernism other than as a critique that I wanted to understand, and that would not be a post-modern person. But I do want to say that I still use modernism as a frame, but I add new things to it. And then, finally, before we move on, you frame the book as an attempt to-
Jim: … move on. You frame the book as an attempt to provide a metamodern perspective. We’ve done some episodes with Hanzi Freinacht, and with Erin Anderson, Brendan, and some others on metamodernism. So we don’t need to go deep on it, but just if you could give us a little bit of a framing on how this book represents a metamodern perspective.
Gregg: Absolutely. So essentially, and you actually really articulated it in some ways. To me, if we sit intellectually at the core of this issue on the enlightenment gap, I’m saying that a old modernist school argued that, “Hey, we could divine pristine truth claims about the world through reasons of logic and science, factor humanity out, and yield objective truth. You get the postmodern claim that critiques that, wants to contextualize that, say our knowledge are both limited and a function of power structures. And there’s an entanglement between the subjective social construction of knowledge and what scientific knowledge is. So that’s the critique.
The wise critique, like you say, has a lot of validity. The extreme, not so much. But then the question, then, is what is the proper synthetic relationship between the thesis that science really does yield structural, transcendent, realist truths about the world and is also a human construction? What is the proper relationship between, then, the thesis of modernity relative to antithesis of postmodernity? A metamodern view, in my view, builds a synthetic philosophy that affords clear resolution to the tensions of both the thesis and antithesis. So it affords a synthesis that enables us to see both the transcendent realist truth claims of science and its proper local contextualization in the construction, by humans getting together in justifying their actions on the social stage.
Jim: It’s always amazing that the answer is usually both. Just like nature, nurture? Answer? Both. Anyone who thinks that it’s one or the other to the exclusion, they’re idiots.
Gregg: There you go.
Jim: So this is very similar. Metamodern, both. And more. And more. There’s a lot of good stuff in the middle [inaudible 00:27:01].
Gregg: Right. I really point to Brendan Graham Dempsey. I think he is, from a religious, spiritual view, I think he’s taken some of these ideas and really shining a bright light, shall we say, on what kind of potential future religion spirituality might look like. I appreciated your episode with him.
Jim: Yeah, we just did a episode, EP 172 with Brendan Graham Dempsey. Very excellent episode. So let’s now get in one step down further, psychology. We have a problem. It’s actually a title of one of your chapters. And you point out, and it’s one of the reasons why traditional psychology just left me shaking my head. You list a long, long list of very basic terms that you think would be the building blocks for psychology. And yet, there’s radical difference within the discipline of what they mean. What the fuck? And you contrast that with chemistry, and I’m not going to steal your thunder. Go and do that.
Gregg: Oh, absolutely. So when we look at chemistry, you ask, “Hey, what’s an atom? What’s a molecule?” You ask all the chemists. And man, you have to get really narrow by the time they’re starting to disagree. I’ll pull out a textbook, and I’ll have one textbook that says, “Psychology is the science of mind.” I’ll pull out another textbook and it’ll say, “Psychology is the science of behavior.” No mind. And I’ll pull out a third that says, “It’s the science of mind and behavior.”
I’ll show you textbooks that ground psychology in neural reflexes, animal responses, animal perception, and then grow from there. I’ll show you another psychology textbook that determines that psychology is only about the human. I’ll show you psychology texts that focus on the humanity aspect of psychology, it’s actual profession, and how it helps people with mental illness and wellbeing as the primary identity. And I’ll show you others that are totally basic science.
So let me be clear, then. Is psychology about mind and behavior, or both? Is psychology about animals, in general? Some animals, or only humans? Is psychology a science? Or is it mostly a profession or somehow amalgamation? Jim, the word psychology is completely different, depending on what group you’re in, in the whether or not it’s a referent for a basic science or a profession. Whether it’s a basic science that goes all the way into the core of animal behavior, or whether it’s just human.
And it’s remarkable what that term refers to in the world, in terms of its ambiguity. So there’s no basic gripping on behavior, mind, mental process, depending on the school of thought. And you can actually trail the history of the discipline, as it tried to get traction in the modern, natural, empirical science tradition, and then split across all sorts of different concepts around which the field was trying to be defined.
And you can see this in the early schools like behaviorism, which defines it as stimulus responses in animals. Psychodynamic or psychoanalysis defines it as a sub or unconscious process behind human rationality. There are other disciplines, like structuralism, that define it as inside your human head. So the experience of what I would call mind two, subjective conscious experience of being that is then reported on by mind three, your self-conscious reflection.
And then, finally you get people like William James, who actually does build a model that’s closest to my model, that it’s the functional mental life of both animals and humans. That’s called functionalism. But the functional mental life, stimulus response, unconscious processes, conscious processes, and those are just a smattering of the different frameworks and meanings that people have used. And they’ve never gotten resolved.
Jim: And what you’re going to try to do here, and I think you do pretty well, is provide a plausible framework that explains it all. And at least, yes, there’s going to be quibbles around the edges, but at least not these radically different views. One of the things that drives me nuts when I deal with psychology is, as you say, some people define psychology is not to include non-humans. I go, what the fuck? I mean, the difference between a human and an orangutan or a chimp is tiny.
It’s one and a half percent of our chromosomes. Many of our organs look almost identical. Shape of our brains are very similar, though human brains are much larger. And when I’m doing workups on psychology things, even people who don’t fall into this over simplification, I’m always saying, “But what about cross species?” It’s amazing. You see very smart, very intelligent people writing things of which the cross specie view would add a lot of light, but they don’t look at it at all. Because they consider their discipline to only be humans. And that just strikes me as extremely strange.
Gregg: Totally. And we should know the history of comparative psychology is, like by George Romanes and others, looking at mental evolution. Which actually defines the term very similarly to the way I would use the term, goes all the way down to basically sensory motor looping as the beginning and moves from there. And that’s a rich history. These are the mid to late-19th Century. So comparative psychology, not comparing animals to humans, but comparing across the animal landscape, the animal mental behavior patterns. Which is essentially what I’m inviting us to return to.
The other thing you said, Jim, that’s super important, super important is that when I say trouble defining, I don’t mean analogous to the way biologists debate concepts in life. You can get, “What is life?” I heard you ask several podcasts. And is a virus alive? Great question. Some 50, 70 people say no, 30 people say yes. It’s clearly in a gray area. I’m not talking about quibbling around the edges of the concept. I’m talking about what’s in the epicenter of your concept? And that’s what we can’t agree on, and that’s striking, and that’s the problem of psychology.
Jim: Got it. You also bring in a very nice lens or toolkit, which is you look at the field of psychology as it exists today in the wild, so to speak. And you describe it as both multi-paradigmatic and pre-paradigmatic, and not metaparadigmatic, at least not enough. Could you use those three terms and explain what you mean?
Gregg: Yeah. So you have to go to Thomas Kuhn here, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. This is where the term paradigm emerges and gets a script. And as critics or supporters, either way, go and you ask what Thomas Kuhn meant by the word paradigm, I think somebody analyzed it as 23 different meanings. So he uses the term in quite a wide variety of different meanings. For our purposes, it’s crucial to know, then, that because he used it in a wide variety of different meanings, that it’s then evolved.
There’s a core meaning which he uses, and that is paradigmatic within the context of normal science. And the primary reference that he’s using here is when a science coalesces around a consensually agreed upon ontology and epistemology that then says, “Hey, this is the way our institution’s moving forward, and exhibit A on paradigmatic science is the Newtonian worldview.” So Newton, prior to Newton physics, arguably was not really in a paradigmatic state.
But man, that transition from pre-Newton to post-Newton, and then Newtonian physics for 100, 200 years gives us a really, really powerful example of, “Hey, everybody’s following under Newton.” Using his analysis, et cetera, and thought that may be the solution, ultimately. And of course, it’s not. But the point of it is is that Newton’s a great paradigm. The general model of a paradigm can be, then, extended.
Things like quantum mechanics, although now that is splitting up in so many different areas. We could get into little exploration of all the 13 or whatever different models. But whatever. For a while, and certainly through the channel of quantum mechanics, that’s paradigmatic, general relativity for the cosmos, that’s paradigmatic. In other words, there’s a shared sense, big paradigm everybody falls under.
The other meaning of the term is schools of thought. So I work with Beck. He was the founder, one of the founders of cognitive psychotherapy. Which could be, then, interpreted as a particular paradigm to do psychotherapy. And here, we mean school of thought. We don’t mean everybody in psychotherapy agrees, but we mean it’s a group underneath Beck built a way of understanding the world and doing psychotherapy. So that you could say psychotherapy, the cognitive psychotherapy paradigm. That wouldn’t be a misuse of the term.
But notice here the referent is just a group of people inside the science, or inside the practice in this case, following a particular set of precepts and practices, et cetera. So sometimes paradigm is used to represent the school of thought. Sometimes it’s to represent the entire structure. Once you have that, then you know what I mean. It’s multi paradigmatic, in the sense that obviously there are all these different tribes inside both the science and practice of psychology, all the divisions in APA, et cetera, that make it multi paradigmatic.
However, there’s never been a successful true paradigm. And there’s never been a way to coalesce these into a one, “Oh, that is how all these different slices of the pie or more pieces of the elephant get coalesced into, so that we can all fricking see the elephant and work from there in a true paradigm, it lacks the metaparadigm. So in that regard, it’s pre-metaparadigmatic, and yet at the same time, multi-paradigmatic.
Jim: Yeah, it’s interesting. Early biology was also multi-paradigmatic without any organizing principle. You look back and read Aristotle, even. Very smart guy. And some of his best work was in zoology, not generally known. But until we had first Darwin, and then the bootstrap of biochemistry leading to DNA, there was not really a metaparadigm that organized all these various classes of button counters, as some physicists dismissed biology. Yet, how does that relate to your ideas about psychology?
Gregg: Totally. It’s beautiful. Look, wonderful lead-in. So, right, so you have, and people know this, Ernst Mayr has got a great articulation of the history of biology and how it was paradigmatic. And then, how the modern evolutionary synthesis there were, let’s put it simplistically, there were the naturalists out there looking at evolution by Darwinian natural selection. And then, there were mutationists basically doing lab-based genetic work. And there was no real, for a long time, there’s no way to put together the geneticists and the natural selectionists until the 1920s emerged.
And we had some great thinkers, Robert Fisher and a few other people, Ronald Fisher, and a few other people that put together what’s called the modern evolutionary synthesis. Which is the realization that Darwin’s theory of natural selection can be stated and framed as operating on population genetics. And so you get, “Oh, it’s actually natural selection or operating on genetics and shaping that to give rise to different organisms and phenotypes and whatnot.”
And the merger, then, of genetics and natural selection gives rise to our modern evolutionary synthesis. And I put that in the tree of knowledge as the basic outline, although we know the origin piece is missing, but the basic outline for how living complexity emerges. This Darwinist theory of natural selection operating on genetic combinations given right to multi-level selection, in a nutshell. So the joint point between life and matter, okay, is then a paradigm that then organizes biology.
So biologists come along, say, “Hey, yeah, there’s cells. There’re genes. There’s natural selection, given rise to a complexification process.” That’s the nutshell of a paradigm. What I am arguing is that available to us is a very similar set of ideas at the level of the Cambrian explosion. The jump from living organisms to minded animals can be pulled off as a new complex adaptive plane of existence.
And the combination, actually I’ll tie together B.F. Skinner placed on an evolutionary foundation with, wait for it, John Vervaeke, who I call the inner Skinner, giving us a cognitive model of variation, selection, retention. Which, by the way, is very analogous to genes and natural selection. Whereby genes represent the information processing. Natural selection makes the big environmentally based info selection process.
Well, Skinnerian operant selection is all about outside in environmental pressers. John’s recursive relevance realization, if you want to check those episodes, I have five of them and more, basically is a variation of selection, retention, recursive process of cognition. And I would argue we could take a blend of John’s version of animal behavior and it’s evolution towards complexification, Skinner’s version from the outside in, merge the two of those, and essentially get a modern basic psychological synthesis that explains minded animal behavior.
And then, we can follow that trail all the way up in the complexification of animals from insects to chimps. And then, 5 million years ago to 500,000 years ago, to 200,000 years ago to 50,000 years, we could place the time in there. Ultimately, there’s another jump in complexification, another joint point. And I’m going to argue, actually, it’s the evolution of proposition. But I’ll leave there for now and sit and say, “Yep, this is a really key point.”
Jim: I love it. The inner Skinner. I love John Vervaeke’s work. And as Greg alludes to, I did five two-hour episodes with John, trying to cook down his awakening from the meaning crisis from 50 hours to 10 hours, which we succeeded at. Starts at EP 143. I also did a recent episode with him and Jordan Hall on the religion that’s not a religion. I remember the episode for that.
Gregg: Beautiful stuff.
Jim: So this idea of definitions, and the fact that they’re all so slippery and all. And I said, let me go look at the mission statement from the MIT brain and cognitive science department. Turns out, I’m on the visiting committee for that lovely department.
Gregg: Oh, lovely.
Jim: And actually, visiting committees have a significant amount of actual clout at MIT, unlike other places. Although we mostly deal with, “Can we get enough daycare for the post-docs?” If I were to say, “What’s the biggest problem the department has?” Inadequate daycare slots for the post-docs. Which is great to have that be the number one problem.
Gregg: Sure. That is a good problem, and an important one.
Jim: An important one.
Jim: But anyway, I went and looked up the mission and it says, “The mission of the MIT Department of brain and cognitive science is to reverse engineer the brain, in order to understand the mind. To do that, we delve deeply into the mechanisms of the brain at all levels. Molecules, synapses, neurons, circuits, algorithms, human behavior, cognition, and everything in between.” And I go, yep, that’s what we do. But guess what? It really asks, it begs, a question. And what is that question? What is the mind?
Jim: So why don’t you take us into the various themes and variations on what people in your field, and bring in the cognitive science at MIT, consider to be the mind?
Gregg: Well, right. If this were an easy question, then my book would not be necessary. The entire argument for the problem of psychology, the entire that then situates itself inside the enlightenment gap, where matter of mind is confusion. I delineate in the book, when I’m talking about the problem of psychology and going through its history, I argue that there are clearly a wide variety of different definitions of mind. I hone in on four.
Mind as behavior. So this is what you see animals do stuff. There’s a tradition in philosophy, Gilbert Ryle has a basic tradition of this, a clear tradition in the behavioral tradition of psychology. Essentially, we’re just going to define it in terms of the overt activity of entities, and that gets framed that way. The second definition is neurocognitive, the information instantiated within and processed by the nervous system.
So when I hear brain and cognition, I’m like, “Oh, they’re looking at the nervous system and the information instantiated and processed by it.” IK, cognition, which usually points to the information within the nervous system. But also, we also mean subjective conscious experience of being, like when you have a dream, what’s behind your eyes? If you’re a zombie, there’s no mind there.
What they mean here is the felt experience of being in relation to hard problem of consciousness, the felt. What is it like to be in the world? The miracle of the wine of the experience, relative to the water of the brain, that kind of stuff. So there’s that reference. And then, finally we go to René Descartes and a few other scholars that basically is like, “What are you talking about?” Mind is this capacity to break oneself off through self recursion, reflexivity, analysis through logic and language. And that only humans really have mind.
It’s this ability basically, “Where am I in the world?” And how do I reason? This is a totally nother definition of mind that some people refer to. So mind as behavior, mind as neurocognition, mind as subjective, conscious experience, mind as self-conscious, justificatory reflection. I argue that these referents are poorly differentiated. I call this the BM3 problem.
And so my guess is you bring a bunch of people together and say, “What is the mind?” Depending on their discipline, depending on their approach, they’re going to have hugely different referents in the world. And so that’s my proposition. I think I can defend that strongly and say, “Huh, that’s a freaking problem, if all these different things, potentially, are used in the world to mean mind.”
Jim: Yeah, that’s really quite interesting. When I think about the folks at MIT that I work with, they have, I would say, more than half are cognitive. But the other models are also in play. And it’d be kind of as odd as a chemistry department with four models of the molecule. And you give it, actually, a very elegant example of the curiosity of all this. When you talk about one of the most important trends in psychotherapy, which is the rise of cognitive behavioral therapy. And you tell the story how, “Wait a minute. How did this come about?” Tell us that.
Gregg: Yeah. So I’m trained in this. I was originally trained in Beckian, it was originally called cognitive therapy. And it’s worth noting that Beck is actually grounded originally in a psychoanalytic view. He goes out, tries to sell his view to the psychoanalytic community, but they laugh him off. He then goes to behavior community, and they laugh him off. He then starts doing research, builds a program.
And they laugh him off in the behavioral community because the fundamental language in the 1950s is anchored to an entire behaviorist theory. If you know John Watson, if you know Clark Hall, if you know B.F. Skinner and the behaviorism of the day is a totally anti-mentalistic view. It means if you’re throwing around concepts like consciousness, you’re basically talking God language. The argument from a behavioral view is, “We study the behavior from the outside. Neuroscientist can tell us what’s going on on the inside. And there ain’t nothing else.” That’s the basic frame.
The mentalists always say, “Actually, there’s a construct called cognition, or information processing, or some sort of mediated hierarchy that you have to attend to. And that’s the cause of behavior.” That’s the big debate. They’re fundamental in the way they argue. But what happens down the road is once you drop all the stuff in the practice room, and you’re like, “Hey, I’m going to try to change somebody’s habits.” “Okay, well apply a behavioral view.” “But they’re also thinking about shit in a problematic way.” “Okay, try a cognitive view.”
Why don’t we put those together? We’ll attack their thoughts and their behavior. We get cognitive behavior. And that is one of the most common approaches to psychotherapy. The practitioners are fine with it, because they’re really used to what is pragmatic. But if you know the history of the field, you’re like, that’s a mentalistic, cognitive, anti-mentalistic, behavior, conception of human condition. That’s really an oxymoron and pretty silly. And it’s just an example of it.
Jim: Yeah, that’s a really good example. I read that. I go, “Ah. I know now exactly what he’s talking about.” But nonetheless, it sort of works, which is kind of cool. What you’re proposing is a metapsychological vantage point.
Gregg: Yeah. So what I’m arguing is that there’s this entire landscape and a metameans above and beyond. So I am actually arguing to zoom outside of the landscape and try to take a look at the whole. And one of the central pieces that I’m trying to do is grapple with a mentalist-versus-behavioral divide and afford a way to synthesize those two perspectives.
Jim: Yeah, soon we’ll get to that. But we can do one more piece on the diagnostic trail. Which is, you define, or I would define it in quite the right word. But you say, “What gives the field it’s identity today?” And you suggest it’s essentially a commitment to an empirical approach and not much more. So let’s explore what you mean by an empirical approach, and how it relates to your discipline, and how it does serve both as a centralizing lens, but also the problems that it brings with it.
Gregg: Totally. So the technical term I’ll introduce called methodological behaviorism. The methodological behaviorism means we’re going to bring the methods of science to assess behavior, and then we’re going to infer mental process. And the argument is we’ll never really be able to define the mind clearly. But what we can do is we know that science, and this is the academic institutions committed to being a science, science been unbelievably powerful.
What’s the most general way to describe science? Well, what’s the method? It’s like you analyze stuff, you do experiments, you measure shit, you try to rule out other elements, and you ground stuff and show me the data. And so that becomes the coalescing identity. My son just went through to get his undergraduate here at JMU. He had to take four classes of methods before he could take, after intro, any of the abnormal personality or social psych.
Why? Because JMU, James Madison University, has, as its conception, if you be a psychologist, you learn how to apply methods. That’s statistical analysis. You learn how to understand dependent and independent variables. That’s what I was socialized in, and that’s what I thought science was. So fundamentally, you can’t get agreement on the topic ontology referent. But you can get agreement on epistemology. “Oh, we measure stuff. We apply the methods of science.”
When you apply this lens, something very interesting happens. Because if you read a 101 textbook, psychology, vast majority of psychology is defined as the science of behavior and mental process. And what they tell you is, “Oh, we’re really interested in all this stuff about feelings, and thoughts, and actions. But you can’t see mental process. But you can see behavior through the lens of science. So what we do as psychologists is we assess behavior, we infer mental process, and we apply the methods of science to see whether we’re right. That’s why it’s not folk psychology. That’s why it’s grounded in science.
And now it’s telling you all the research that we have done that allows us to understand mental processes by scientifically studying behavior and inferring what’s going on behind the scenes in relationship to mental process. In other words, you can’t see them, but we can see behavior. We measure, and then infer. So the method of science and it’s accessing behavior is all tied into actually how psychology gets defined as the science of behavior, which is available to us as scientists, and mental processes, which we need to infer.
Jim: I’ve had a definition of empiricism I’ve been using for the last couple of years. And just for fun, I Googled it this morning to see if anybody else had coined it. And they haven’t, so this is a pure Ruttism. Empiricism is the intersubjective verification of the interobjective.
Gregg: All right. Ken Wilber would kind of like that de definition. I don’t know if you guys know his quadrants. But anyway, yes. So let’s hone in on something, because you’re making something very important. I’m going to say there’s, actually, there’s other definitions of empiricism. But this is actually scientific empiricism, what you’re defining. And it is the-
Gregg: … scientific empiricism what you’re defining. Okay. And it is the inter-subjective we’re going to get together, get reliable rats so that all of us could see, which by the way is going to put some constraints on.
It means it’s essentially coming through a measurement device that we can then get trained on and understand what the data being. And that becomes an inter-subjective then way of verifying stuff that’s happening in the world. But by the way, by definition, that’s going to mean subjectivity itself. The stuff that’s trapped behind your eyes. All of a sudden, it’s going to be pretty tricky to get a grip on through that kind of empiricism.
Jim: We’ll talk about this later. Yeah. Not impossible, right?
Gregg: Not impossible. Sure.
Jim: Oh, I’ve got to give you a little example about this. Yesterday, my wife and I, first, I saw it from a long distance out of my office. Really, it was an animal of intermediate size. And then my wife says, “Oh, I think there’s blah blah over here.” Gets the binoculars out. We look at it, and it turned out it was a bobcat.
Now bobcats, we have lots and lots of animals on our farm. Bobcats are always there, but you never see them. It was only the second one we’ve ever seen in our life. And there’s a certain class of these intermediate sized animals, things like raccoons and foxes and coyotes. Things that are smaller than a deer or a bear, but bigger than a rabbit or a squirrel.
And the view was far enough away and through some weeds and all this that if either of us had seen it alone, we would’ve said probably a bobcat. But the fact that we both compared our notes and discussed the details of what we had saw seen, I would describe as an inter-subjective verification of the inter-objective. There actually was a bobcat there.
Gregg: Love it.
Jim: And the fact that we both used less than pristine methods to gather data, but then compared what we had seen, we came up with a much higher confidence than either of what of us would’ve had on our own that it was a bobcat.
Gregg: Lovely, lovely. And yes, that would be a microcosm of emerging scientific kind of methodology.
Jim: Yeah. Now, moving on onto the question you just alluded to, which is this is where the rubber really meets the road. And that’s when we think about things like minds and bodies and they’re embedding in the real world, there’s two parts. There’s the interior and the exterior.
Gregg: Right. Exactly. And actually, I’m going to argue there are even more than that, but certainly there’s stuff going on with inside the nervous system and then there’s stuff going on between the animal and the nervous system. And that is the basic domain of behavior.
What we need to do is we need to map the interrelationship between neuro-cognition and the overt activity of that bobcat. We also need to know that we can track the neurocognitive activity, the overt activity, and the bobcat’s presumable, because it’s a mammal, subjective experience of being. And we need to wonder about the inter-relationships between all of those different domains.
And what I’m trying to do is map to afford us a quick and easy ontological grip on what that is. And basically you’re going to say, “Hey, there’s a way to understand the neurocognitive activity of that bobcat.” And actually, it’s going to be its minded activity both inside and out.
Jim: Cool. Then before we finish with some of these diagnosis stuff, let’s do a very brief digression into those people who don’t believe psychology is a science at all.
Gregg: Right. There’s a big question about whether it is or is not a science. And bottom line is that it depends on where you land. My fundamental argument, it’s got a potential to be a science, but I’m sympathetic to people who say it’s not. Precisely because if you can’t define the core terms, I would argue that a science is both an epistemological set of methods that gives rise to an increasingly rich ontological picture. Like the periodic table of the elements or just a picture of reality to use Jim Rutt’s term, just a picture. And because of psychology’s failure, arguably it’s a soft science in the sense that it can’t get a grip. And is that really a science? If you have a hard definition, then you could say no.
Jim: Cool. What do you see then as the three major problems with the mainstream definitions?
Gregg: Right. Bottom line is that it fundamentally defines psychology based on the methods of science. That’s a very big problem in relationship to that. It then is not clear about what it means by behavior. And I argue that actually, if you take different points of view inside and out, behavior means different. And then it’s fundamentally unclear about what its references for mental process.
And I delineate mental process, as we talked about before, could be a neurocognitive activity, a subjective conscious experience, and a inter-subjective justificatory process that we see in humans. It’s key to get those three definitions of mental process plus the behavioral component in right relation.
Jim: Okay, cool. Now drum roll, like the timpani at the beginning of the Jim Rutt show, we’re now going to turn to Gregg’s proposed solution to this mess, the unified theory of knowledge. And so, let’s start with the BM3 problem.
Gregg: I just basically delineated that my argument is we’re on an enlightenment gap in a problem of psychology. We don’t have a big picture system that enables us to get clear on the right relationship between behavior, activity, neurocognitive structure, self-subjective, conscious experience and self-conscious justification as we see in humans.
And what I’m going to then bring forth is the unified theory of knowledge is going to set the stage for a landscape of insights. And I focus on actually just some of them in the book that lay the groundwork for a unified theory of psychology. What it’s going to do is it’s going to ground us in a descriptive metaphysical system that zooms all the way back, like a big history. And takes the position of a scientist and starts carving the world up into different domains of behavior, material behavior, living behavior than mental or minded animal behavior that becomes key, and how to do that.
And then from minded animals into cultured persons. Which by the way is going to say that there’s a really important cut between psychology when it comes out of biology, life and has neurocognitive activity, mind one. Into mind, two subjective conscious experience like with bobcats. And then ultimately, there’s going to be a mind three, me and you doing what we’re doing now in a culture person.
How do we carve the joints there? What are the frame tricks for that? The unified theory of knowledge provides us a new way to carve joints there. And that’s going to do is give us a big picture grip on how to circle what we mean by basic psychology, animal mindedness, human psychology at the basis of social sciences, humans justifying as primates in a social context
Jim: And you gave a tag to it. Whether that was a useful thing or not, I don’t know. But what were you trying to point with the tag that you created called mental behaviorism as a shorthand for your unified theory of knowledge.
Jim: With respect to psychology at least.
Gregg: Right. A lot of what we’ve been talking about here is ontology, epistemology. What is the thing in the world versus how do we know? I’m critiquing modern psychology that’s trying to carve out its identity through methodological behaviorism.
In other words, anchoring itself to the epistemology of science. And basically giving up on the ontology. What is it in the world? We don’t know. It depends on how you define it. What unified theory of knowledge focused and then grounded in psychology says, “Actually, there’s mental behavior patterns in the world, the patterns of minded animals. There’s the bobcat.
The bobcat exists as a sensory motor loop that we can watch from the outside. We’re going to call that capital M, Mind. That’s as real and observable in the universe’s living processes are to a biologist. We’re going to track those sensory motor loops of animals. We’re going to frame that and understand that. That’s going to be called basic psychology. The subject matter is mental behavior, the behavior of minded animals.
Then there’s going to be human psychology on top of that as a different discipline. And we can explain why. That’s going to be human mental behavior or human mindedness. We really need a psychology that’s going to break and correspond to mindedness in the world and then human mindedness. And that’s an ontology. That’s the thing in the world that I think psychology should be a science about. And mental behaviorism then is different in the sense that it’s grounded in a coherent ontology as opposed to just the methods of science.”
Jim: Great. And then you also at this point talk about thinking about psychology as a place in a biopsychosocial view of reality. Why don’t you take us through that a little bit?
Gregg: Totally. Well, Jim, since you mentioned complex adaptive dynamic systems, then you’re well aware and your audience is probably well aware, if we just think common sensically about this, what happened to the evolution of complexity? You were talking with Bobby Azarian and certainly Brendan Gramdancy about this. Let’s just walk it through.
Well, first there were procaryotic cells like bacteria. And then somehow, they got fused together, one of them ate another, and then it became a eukaryotic cell. And then all of a sudden, there were multicellular creatures like fungi and plants. Well, these are nested domains of complexification.
And then we get increasingly complex structures in relationship to that. All right. And what we’re going to then need in relationship to that is a mapping structure that enables us to trail that complexification. And that’s what I’m after here.
Jim: But you also want to talk about the social side of that. Right. And that’s-
Gregg: Right. That’s the getting clear on the biology to psychology. And then also, virtually everyone says, “Oh, biopsychosocial analysis.” I want to do a biopsychosocial analysis on you. I’m like, “That’s the cells and the genes and you’re a primate.” But I also want to say, “Hey, where were you born? What did you live in? What’s both the technology that you live in and what’s the justification cultural that you live in? Are you a modernist or what kind of modernist are you?”
All that’s human justification, social stuff. There is a stack between almost everybody sees. In fact, the APA says, “Hey, we have to understand the biological, psychological, and social bases of behavior.” But what do we mean exactly by that? And where do we draw the lines? The psychosocial says it’s already a stack in there, but we don’t have clear where joint points to draw the lines.
We’re going to build a system that’s got clear joint points so that everybody can grapple with exactly what the reference is in the world across the life, mind and culture or biological, psychological and social science dimensions.
Jim: Okay. That makes sense. Now, let’s drill, go back to it. We’ve talked to it twice previously, but now go as deep as you can. Because of all the things you’ve talked about, if the fields that we work in would just adopt this nomenclature, a whole lot of useless bullshit would evaporate. Just think about the useless discussions. And that’s your three minds view, mind one, mind two, and mind three. Give some examples. Make this… This is, while not quite the center of the argument, it is one of the most important chunks.
Gregg: Absolutely. Yes.
Jim: That our argument is made. And also, everyone knows my favorite word is useful. If people would adopt this vocabulary, it would be very useful.
Gregg: Lovely. Yes. central to the argument is when you get into what you mean by mental process, sometimes people are going to mean there’s a activity that animals engage in. And underneath that this, there’s neurocognitive structure.
Neurocognitive activity, brain and cognition that gives rise to animal behavior. That in and of itself is one meaning of the word mind. Okay. That has both an outside reference, the activity that you could observe with a camera, and then the inside reference is the activity of the brain that is corresponding to that. That’s one meaning.
Now, to give you a meaning of that, hang out with your insects. Okay. There are complicated segmented bodies. They run around. They engage in what I would call functional awareness and responsivity. You try to swat a fly, it tries to fly the fuck away. Okay. It’s functionally aware of you and it responds. It also will fly over to a piece of shit and hang out with that for a little while because it’s enjoying a lunch. Okay.
Now, what’s going on with a fly is that it’s a complex sensory motor looping system. Just ask John Vervaeke. It’s going to engage in a kind of recursive relevance realization. It’s going to coordinate its behavior across paths of investment. It’s going to have a neurocognitive activity that does all sorts of things, mate, predation, avoid predation from others, avoid the fly swatter, engage in functional awareness and responsivity.
That’s an example of mindedness or a minded animal behavior pattern. It’s got a sensory motor loop in it. Okay. It’s got outside and in we can reference the difference between. There is a difference between overt behavior and covert neurocognitive process, but we have to put them all on the mindedness plane. That’s the first meaning of mind.
We need to pull out neurocognitive activity as mind one. And that’s available through us from an exterior scientific perspective. In other words, we can engage in inter-subjective, inter-objective analysis. Okay. Then you have this issue about, well, somewhere between a fly, maybe a fly, certainly by the time we’re at a bobcat, bobcats almost certainly have a mental experience of being. There is something that it’s like to be a bobcat as a mammal. We can talk about why. But that felt experience of being behind the eyes is another aspect of mine.
And I argue that actually, this is a hard problem, exactly the hard problem that Chalmers were talking about. But I’m going to emphasize, well, what’s the mechanism by which mine one gives rise to? This is also an epistemological problem, obviously, especially if we’re anchored in science.
How the hell do you see somebody else’s subjectivity? Tough. We can really only see the correlates of it from the outside. We can talk more about that going forward. But that becomes a whole nother meaning. Mind two is the subject of conscious experience of being. And epistemologically, that is not nearly as readily accessible as mind one, either through behavior and the neurocognitive activity of the nervous system. Mind two is very hard to see.
And then finally, mind three, which I would argue is the self-conscious justification that you and I are engaged in, is a different kind of thing in the sense that it’s subjectively available if you speak the language. Anybody that speaks English can watch this conversation and plug into our mental processes propositionally. And that flows right between us.
One’s objectively available. The other’s mind one, the other’s subjectively available, mind two. And the other’s actually subjectively available if you have access to the propositional language, mind three. And these are all different territories of mental process that have different epistemological and ontological reference. It’s really key that we get these correct.
Jim: Yeah. And as you point out, in the wild, there are people who don’t think even a bobcat has a mind.
Gregg: Well, mind too. Right. You have to think it’s got a nervous system and you have to think it behaves.
Jim: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And so, calling mind one, mind two and mind three is interesting. And mind one is… Oh, yeah. The other point I’d like to get you before we go into some of my questions about this is take a meta modern perspective. I’m not surprised that you assume we all have mind one, mind two, and mind three, all of us humans. Right?
Gregg: Right. I do not worry about zombies too much. I think they’re interesting philosophical questions. I would like to talk to somebody that would argue that we are not minded in any way. Meaning do we not have a brain and a nervous system? Do we not have complex segmented bodies?
And do we not act with functional awareness and responsivity that you can film? You know whether somebody’s passed out or in a coma or is awake, and having a conversation. To claim that you couldn’t decipher that, I’d be like, “Well, that’s skepticism.” And then there’s just stupid ass skepticism.
Mind one simply means the functional awareness and responsivity of a sensory motor loop. It’s like, can you tell whether something’s awake, or dead or asleep in a coma? That’s the difference there. And that’s as easy to tell as are there trees out there in the world.
Jim: Yeah. And that humans actually have some mind one attributes. The example of a ball is thrown at your face. It turns out that it goes through the thalamus, doesn’t even go through the cortex. And there’s a remark, not even go through the full visual stack. There’s this very rapid response that your body takes of a mind one sort, not much different than a crab picking up some rotten piece of thing at the bottom of the ocean. Right?
Gregg: Completely. Yeah. Mind two is completely dependent upon mind one. And mind three is largely dependent on mind two. We can talk about why it can get slightly independent, like if you type shit out. But fundamentally, yes, there are nested dependencies there absolutely. Mind two’s coming out of mind one, and everything that’s happening mind two wise is mediated and made manifestly possible by mind one process. Absolutely.
Jim: All right. And so mind two, then I would say in the common vernacular, though again, this is one of the most horribly, overly defined words in science, consciousness. Mind two, I suppose we can think of things that have rudimentary to more full forms of consciousness.
Gregg: Yeah. Consciousness is another word like mind that’s got multiple different reference. And I think this is happens with integrated information theory. I think there’s a broad definition of consciousness that creates a lot of trouble. And that I call functional awareness and responsivity.
It’s essentially equivalent to intelligence. I heard you have some conversations along these lines. And at that level, bacteria demonstrate aspects of functional awareness and responsivity. They demonstrate awareness of their environment and they will respond in differentiate ways. Some would argue they even are capable of learning. They certainly are capable of differentiating toxins from food sources and moving accordingly. And they are complex adaptive structures.
I would argue that actually some people have a very loose definition of consciousness that says, “Oh, that creature’s aware.” And I mean a functional awareness and responsibility, innocent behavior. Of course, is there anything likes to be a paramecium? I doubt it. Okay. We don’t know, but I doubt it. I certainly think you would need a brain.
Just because you have a brain doesn’t mean you have mind two in the subject of conscious experience, which is Thomas Nagel nails this. We really, the emphasis on subjectivity. What is it like to be? We can talk about where we think that might emerge in, for me, the animal kingdom. And you definitely need a brain. But those are totally different entities. And if you know the difference between the easy and hard problems of consciousness, I talk about that in the book that David Chalmus talks about as a distinction.
Jim: Cool. And very important distinction, people get so confused between intelligence and consciousness. For instance, a human without a cortex is still sort of conscious. And because the consciousness seems to be driven between the thalamus and the brainstem. And maybe it needs a little bit of cortex, but not much. You can be missing most of your cortex, still be conscious. You’re not very intelligent, but you’re conscious.
And as you point out, even bacteria are intelligent. And so, the two are two different dimensions. And getting the two confused is a horrible mess. And that consciousness is actually a set of biological stuff that does something. I was very pleased and surprised a little bit to find you reference Feinberg and Mallatt later in the book, two of my Favorite thinkers about consciousness.
And they are followers of John Searle’s philosophical school about consciousness. And he makes the point that it is a biologically grounded function, like digestion, that I add the rut corollary with often the same output. Ha, ha, ha. Right.
Gregg: Fair enough. That’s fair. I like that. I haven’t heard that one.
Jim: But yeah, I think this fits to your big picture tree of knowledge, which we’ll talk about later, that all this psychological stuff is also biological stuff.
Gregg: 100%. Super crucial point.
Jim: And that this function of this thing we point to and call consciousness, particularly the thing that Feinberg and Mallatt point to, that John Sorrell points to is like the evolution of the liver. It’s a new biological thing that does something. I personally have some theories on why the hack of consciousness exists. We probably don’t have time to get into that.
Gregg: I’ll say something really quick in relationship to that, because if you use the tree of knowledge system, what you say is, “Well, digestion will emerge out of living process.” But once you have in your vocabulary minded process that you’re not committed to consciousness, then you’re actually saying mind two emerges out of mindedness processes, non-conscious mindedness processes.
It puts you up in the third dimension of complexity when you’re going to see mind two emerge. And so in that sense it’s like, yeah, it’s like biological, but actually, we are operating in a higher order of complex adaptation process.
Jim: Although on the flip side, it’s not all software. There has to be some hardware.
Gregg: Oh, right. No. Yes, I agree with that. It’s got to be down into matter and energy if we’re doing one worldism.
Jim: And we’ll talk about later, there’s a specific architecture that has to support it. And that’s pointed to though the architectural details aren’t by the Global Workplace Theory. Which again, we both agree on [inaudible 01:10:53].
Gregg: Both agree on. And it’s of important and contribution in mind two for sure.
Jim: By the way, did a wonderful episode with Bernard Baars about Global Workspace Theory. Let me me see if I can pull up the number here. Baars.
Gregg: Oh, did you?
Jim: Yeah, he’s one of my real heroes. Show.
Gregg: I should listen to that. I had not. Yeah, I corresponded with him some about this book. He granted me permission to use his diagram, and I am generally a fan. I like what Dehaene does with it, with global neuronal workspace, as I talk about in the book later.
Jim: Yeah, I’ve been trying to get Dehaene or Dehaene on my show. And I’ve emailed him a couple times. He’s never responded. Stanislaus Dehaene, if you’re out there, answer your email, Goddammit. Because he takes Bernard Baar’s work to the next level. But Bernard, who’s the father of this whole space, the 108 on Global Workspace Theory, if you want to learn more about that. I think we’ve done a good job here of laying this out. Just think how much time would not be wasted if people use these three terms. Right?
Gregg: Mind 1, 2, 3. Exactly.
Jim: People out there, use these three terms. Now, let’s move on to another one of I think your really important contributions. And I will confess for a while, I wasn’t all that clear on it. I had a rough idea. But I think after reading this book, I have a much better idea on it and it’s importance.
And that is your justifications systems theory. Yeah. This is a thing that only applies to mind three, or at least a scent in its pure form. But it is what essentially makes mind three the power that it is. Take as much time as you want because this is important. Lay out the justification systems theory.
Gregg: Lovely. We went back when we were talking about modern evolutionary synthesis, I already, that’s a joint point between matter, inanimate matter and frames the understanding, the emergence of life. Justification system series analogous. And what it does is it’s about fundamentally taking us from where we were 5 million years ago, akin to chimpanzees as great apes, as particular kind of great ape, trailing us to the point where, over time, we explode onto the scene such that over the now we’re in modern society and behaving so radically different.
I will argue if we look at human evolution, we can point to two clear differences. There’s a tool-based difference, such as technology. And then there’s this mentation and collective intelligence, human language, self-conscious, recursivity that seems to be fundamentally different also. And justification systems theory, although it has things to say about tools and technology, splits that off and then says, “Hey, what’s the complex adaptive system that allows us to sync up our mentation and a whole nother level?” It’s like there’s on a whole nother mind on top of our animal minds. And that’s mind three on top of mind two and one.
Fundamentally, what are we talking about here? Well, let’s set the stage and we’ll come back to some of these ideas, but let’s really quickly set the stage. 500,000 years ago, I think there’s a very good argument to be made that humans are living in a much more socially attuned way than they were, than other great apes.
And by socially attuned, I mean there’s a shared attention, a shared intention, a cooperative network on hunting, gathering, networking structures together. Michael Tomicello does a really good job of basically saying humans can sync up their intersubjectivity much, much better. Even two-year-olds are better than most great apes in terms of when you point, looking to the intention of the pointer.
I’m going to argue that basically what happens here is that with this capacity, an increased cognitive capacity to mentally manipulate and simulate others, we also then get a symbolic tagging structure. Then we can say things like, “Oh, they’re antelope.” And that shared symbolic network is a whole nother, much more flexible kind of structure. Enabled to make us, to put attached symbols to potential things out there in a world in ways very flexible.
And so now we’re syncing ourselves up. I’m guessing that we have some form of music here. I’m guessing there’s some sort of form of dance. And there’s broken symbol tags, like they’re antelope. Well, fundamentally, this is a 1996 idea that I had and been following this ever since. Is there’s a tipping point between broken symbol tagging and symbolic syntactical speech that produces propositions. Okay. When you produce a-
Gregg: … that produces propositions. When you produce a proposition as opposed to, “There antelope,” and you say, “There are the antelope.” When you say that, you bring what I would call a positive meaning statement. A proposition is an analytic meaning statement that now can be corresponded at some level to the world. You can’t really do that with, “There antelope,” systematically.
As soon as you say, “There are the antelope,” now you’ve made positive claims, and around that is a wide variety of different potential counterfactuals. Like, “No, they’re not over there. They’re over there. Those aren’t antelope, those are gazelle.” Or a whole host of other kind of statements that would then wonder whether their legitimacy, analytic … The legitimacy, I just mean the accuracy of statement as it corresponds to the world.
And so one of the things about when you make a proposition, you open yourself up to possibilities in what I would call the negative space. My argument is that what happened very quickly with these claims is the access to the negative space in terms of cognitive gadgets in the form of questions, things like what, when, why, how. Notice how simple those are.
My argument is that part of the human cognition is, as it got propositional speech, it quickly achieved the capacity to plug into that through questions and open up negative space. Well, now you have a question-answer dynamic between individuals. It is this fundamental issue where you’re making a proposition and then engaging question-answer dynamics about the legitimacy of this that I call the problem of justification.
Furthermore, I argue that this problem creates all sorts of interesting cognitive dynamics in terms of counterfactual space, possibilities, reasoning. The other thing that it does, because we’re in the real world doing stuff, is that it plugs into our value, which I’m going to argue as a primate goes into both our investment structure and our social influence structure, and it asks why are we paying attention to this statement from my personal perspective, and then the social perspective, either you and I together, or the overall social environment.
What all this means is this, once you get propositions and the capacity to question them, you get a problem of justification. That problem of justification is the analytic truth claim and the value of it, either personally or socially. Then you engage in question-answer dynamics, justification processes to try to determine the legitimacy and the value of our networks of propositional claims. The argument is what’s going to grow are systems of justification that coordinate individuals.
I’ll pause there, see where that is, see what you want to pick up on. But that’s the fundamental insight that’s just complexity building feedback loop. Now the tipping point of propositions hits with questions and answers and explodes systems of justification onto the scene.
Jim: Wow. It’s really cool. Let me add one thing to that, which was my breakthrough moment when I reread this for the second time because I had read the justification theory in your earlier book and I said, “Okay, I understand it.” But the pawl that I had when I read it the second time, you used a lot of words, I’ll just use one word. It’s very generative. Give me an example of how a generative.
Parent dealing with a four-year-old, you used a version with your daughter. “Why can’t I have a … I want a cookie.” “No, you can’t.” “Why?” “Because it’ll ruin your appetite.” “Why?” “Because the sugar will get into your blood.” “Why?” A four-year-old can run you down and that’s generative.
Gregg: Yeah, absolutely.
Jim: If you think about this, it’s kind of like, I think Bobby Azarian had it in his very good book that we did a podcast on. It’s something I’d never thought of before, which is in evolution, whenever you get a top predator, you just opened up a new ecological niche for something that eats that, right?
Gregg: Right, problem space. Absolutely.
Jim: And so the same way is to a degree, you make a statement, there’s then a question on it. But then there’s a question on the question or there’s a rebuttal to the question. Then there’s a question on the rebuttal. You could actually start with, did you eat the cookie? And perhaps with clever navigating, recapture all of human culture from that one starting point.
Gregg: Hey, there it is. You got it. Because now once you realize question-answer dynamics and then just watch your own life. You situate yourself in relationship to other people through talking and question-answer dynamics are ubiquitous and they’re generative and they’re fraught with all sorts of different dynamics that really afford, I think a very good, I’ll use the word in a simple way, they point to an ontology.
Hey, we’re talking, we’re justifying, we’re engaging question answer-dynamics. It then spreads and so like, oh wow, this is the structure and function of Mind3 and our culture person plane of existence.
Jim: That I would suggest something you don’t have built into this quite enough for my taste. I’d love to get your thoughts on this, on the fly, which is the positive space. “There’s an antelope over the hill,” says Ogg. And Gogg says, “All right, how are we going to go after it?”
Gogg believes Ogg when he says it, because the Ogg is always good at telling the truth about there being animals to hunt, but then there’s the next branch, which is the positive response, not just the negative space response.
Gregg: I hundred percent agree, and now that you say it, I can immediately feel that here’s my justification, Jim, okay? Is that that’s taken up by a lot of different arguments. In other words, if you were to ask people, “Hey, what makes us really special?” In some case you get a opposable thumb, somebody you get talking, sometimes our ability to make tools, but many, many people talk about language and then language creates collective intelligence and essentially, they’re pointing to the spread of positive understanding and how that is generative. I sort of take that for a given, but I could’ve talked about it more for sure.
Jim: I was thinking of a general theory of this is kind of the generative tension between the positive and the negative spaces. So, Gogg says, “How do we do this?” And then Babo, the old hunter, who’s been around since the dawn of time says, “Blah, blah.” And then Yaya, the new hunter says, “Oh, Babo, you’re full of shit. That’s how you guys did it, right? You old white man or you old beige men or whatever. Us young folks, we do it like this.”
Then there’s a discussion, and then there’s this back and forth between positive and negative spaces. Again, from that you could recapitulate all of human culture probably if you had enough time.
Gregg: That’s lovely. I’ll just make a quick point here. A good friend and one of my early collaborators on this, and he really saw the truth of it. He was a sociologist and anthropologist. He had joint training in both, Leigh Shaffer. One of the things that he argued prior to us contacting was that inside of culture was a form of knowing that was very, very important that he called recipe knowledge.
Essentially, if we could tie it back to John Vervaeke, this recipe knowledge would be procedural knowledge. And so that he was extracting procedural knowledge both in terms of how it would evolve and how it would bridge human cognition into technology. He was wondering about the network of procedural knowledge.
As soon as he saw a justification, he then dropped procedural knowledge or recipe knowledge into that structure and did exactly what you just did, Jim.
Jim: Yeah. I think we’re at the same place. So I think the name justification slightly skews more to the use of the negative space because I’m justifying what I said and that if somehow you could reframe that a little more broadly or a little bit more explicitly to talk about this dance between the positive space and the negative space. But the negative space is absolutely critical.
I did two thought experiments while reading this book at this section of the book. First I said, let me imagine humans who only had the ability to make positive statements and did not have the possibility of asking questions. It’s quite possible that in our evolution there was such an epoch. Some of the theories on how language evolved, one of my favorites is that it evolved from the same machinery that we used to be able to do multi-part tools.
The loose evidence that we have is those two things occurred at very similar times and making a multi-part tool is a declarative statement essentially, and turning that into a grammar. There’s some optionality within the syntax to still have the same semantics. So that’s a grammar in some sense, but it’s all declarative.
If you look at the pre-history of humans before that breakthrough of language and multi-part tools, our tool technology was amazingly static for hundreds of thousands of years. And maybe we lacked questioning, and that questioning was when the young kid could question the old guy on making the multi-part tool, say, “Wouldn’t it be better if we did it like this?” That could have been the accelerator.
Part of the, because it is all … None of this happened instantaneously. Even though you talk about the portals. But we know that there’s a period where these things happen.
Gregg: Oh, a hundred percent.
Jim: Yeah, they could happened very rapidly, just like the Cambrian explosion happened in a remarkably short period of time for geological era of evolution, but it was still 5 or 10 million years. This thing could have been five or 10,000 years, but still-
Gregg: Oh, a hundred percent, yeah.
Jim: But it’s still be pretty short. So anyway-
Gregg: You’re making a good point.
Jim: Yeah, there’s some very interesting stuff going on there.
But anyway, so yeah, the second line, that part of the thing that you wanted to talk about, justification theory, is that it provides a bridge between the inner and the outer.
Gregg: Yes. I’m a psychologist, clinical psychologist. What we just described there was sort of the justification hypothesis as to why it was a Big Bang. Now, we can go at the human psychological level and say, this fact that propositions and question-answers open us up this line between us, this network, and that you can be questioned by another raises this really interesting fact when we connected to what I mentioned earlier, that propositional knowledge exists between people in the intersubjective.
What’s the deal here? Well, the issue is when somebody now has access to justification, John Vervaeke was just talking about this in his After Socrates series, he was building off of this. Now, people can force you to give accounts, okay?
Give accounts for what it is that you feel and what it is that you do. This becomes an unbelievably central dynamic because if you are thinking the wrong thing and then you explain it, then you’ll be costly. But you have access to your feelings. And so here’s a classic example I give in relationship to, so we can get the inner and outer. I had a friend when I was 15 or so. I had transformed into puberty and thought all the girls were attractive. Most of my other friends did, and we talked about them all the time.
This friend, pretty lukewarm in relationship to this, wouldn’t really get into it. To make a long story short, when he’s about 18 or 19, he comes out to himself. What do I mean? He felt homoerotic tendencies. But because his dad was pretty homophobic and other people around him, he repressed that. But why? Because if he is like, “I really am attracted to guys,” he would’ve been really punished.
He didn’t even let himself know, but I would say his ego know that his animal felt that way. Eventually, it came out to himself and then he came out to others. Well, why would he come out to others? Well, what do we mean is there’s a socially system of justification and the argument then says his consciousness self, you’re going to regulate your persona and reputation out here. Your ego is going to ask what the fuck you feel inside, and then it’s going to be filtering between your ego and your animal and your ego and your persona as a function of justification dynamics.
When we get this lens on human consciousness, I’ll tell you as a clinician, this is a pretty good lens for these different domains and we have a persona and ego and a core animal, experiential self. And the dynamics between these can be understood as trying to navigate the tensions and pressures of justification.
Jim: Yeah, I thought this was also a nice contribution, this tri-part model of the public self, the private self and the experiential self that you just laid out. Though I will push back a little bit that, well, this isn’t really a pushback. This is like different lenses again, which is in my own work, I think about the relationship between let’s say global workplace theory and Mind3. I was highly stimulated by the work of Terrence Deacon in a book called The Symbolic Species.
Gregg: A big fan of that. I like that book.
Jim: Not the one we did recently, but the other one, his other great book, which I hope to do some time with him. I think if you combine the two, I might say that Mind3 is enabled by the addition of only one thing to Mind2, which is the idea of symbols as new class of conscious contents. The brain is full of pointers already, so now we have the ability for symbols to be objects.
The word Gregg Henriques is a symbol now that points the stuff, and then those symbols can point to other symbols. Then from symbols, we can then bootstrap language. And so that the M3 layer is physiologically and neurologically almost indistinguishable from the M2, but that one change produced a totally different emergent phenomenon.
Gregg: Right. Well, I’m basically totally in agreement with you. I’m simply adding, I think, that once we do that and then you bootstrap that into a symbolics and tactical proposition machine that then can be shared with others and then fed back into others, then just now you take mind side. Fine, say Mind3 starts with symbol tagging and then it becomes a propositional network that creates an intersubjective highway that you get feedback through in the world. Now all of a sudden, you got a propositional network on top of your system and interfacing with it.
By the way, big deal, these systems immediately go in and outside of the skin without changing, unlike your Mind2, which is contained within you, these thoughts fly right through your skin and have access to other people in their propositional form. All I would say is symbols into propositions, well, that’s going to give Mind3 the overdrive that we currently have.
Jim: The fact that we can now build things generatively and constructively intersubjectively between people, the use of language and the idea of the three parts is actually quite an interesting way to think about how we actually do that.
Let’s see, what do we want to talk about next? Yes, this is infinitely deep, so let’s see if we can do it quickly. And that is how the justification theory coheres across many domains.
Gregg: Right. Once I stumbled into this and then I started to look at, I was being trained in both cognitive psychology, so this is both things like attribution process, how people like explanations, inferences; cognitive psychotherapy, how people engage in self-talk; social psychology, like how people have cognitive dissonance. If you look at this, you see that there’s a whole structure to our explanation attribution. It connects to our sense of self.
Cognitive dissonance, Elliot Aronson describes cognitive dissonance, really as trying to maintain a justified state of being. There’s a huge amount of data that says things like, “Oh, well, if we have bad outcomes, we try to explain that externally. If we have good outcomes, that’s a fundamental attribution bias.”
We can look at the psychodynamic world. I basically argue it’s called the updated tripartite model because Freud’s layout can be thought of as a socially acceptable context, an ego that navigates reality on top of an animal system that’s got sex and aggression sparking off, and you have to regulate it, repress it, and rationalize it out here. You have the psychodynamic view in relationship to that.
You can then go into all sorts of different literatures like anthropology, communicative action, Habermas. You can do it a wide variety. I’ll go straight into social justice concerns, a fundamental and post-modern critique. What do they say about the nature of society? Well, people get together and the in-group based on power creates normative structures to legitimize its own power. Well, in other words, they get together and they justify what’s good for them and what they ought to do in the world. So that becomes a lens through which we can see this also.
The justification systems theory, once we see the human mind as building systems of justification, you could go into psychology, cognitive, psychodynamic, social psychology, and you can go into larger pictures and all of a sudden you’re now connecting a psychological analysis, a high-level social analysis back into an evolutionary reverse engineering analysis. So, you get a really nice convergence.
Jim: That of course makes one more confident in a new paradigm when it can solve more than one problem.
Gregg: Amen to that.
Jim: That’s one of the things I really liked about this. Well, we are getting late in time. And guess what, listeners, we are about a third of the way through the book. Gregg and I agreed before we started that this wasn’t a one-episode book. I thought it might be a two-episode book, but I was doing my prep this morning afterwards I suggested to Gregg. Well, I think this is a three-episode book, and we agreed, and so we’re going to wrap it up soon, not quite yet, and we will have two more episodes that dig into the rest of this exceedingly interesting book.
Before we wrap up here though, you talked through a fair bit of known results in psychology and in other closely aligned fields. They’re supportive of this idea of justification, and of course, one of the central ones is how often do we see motivated reasoning? Let’s run through as much as you can do in say five minutes on the known results that are consistent with justification theory.
Gregg: Absolutely. We can look at this. Motivated reasoning is basically the argument that the vast majority of what humans do is engage in … They have a sense about what they want to see in the world and then reason back. That’s essential. The sense of what you see is your motivation, and then you reason back from this.
There’s a huge amount of literature that basically says, let’s take an example of watch a sports game. When you watch a sports game and you’re rooting for one team, you want the Eagles to win. I wanted the Eagles to win. All right? If you are rooting for the 49ers and then something happens where it’s a debatable call, you immediately want to see it your way and try to reason through that and yell at the refs. “Refs, I can’t believe that.” In fact, there’s empirical evidence that people on different sides of the team will see a similar play from totally different perspectives.
This is basically the fact that there’s a lawyering mechanism inside of us. In relationship to when we see in-group, we have an in-group bias. We tend to bias relative to outcomes, meaning positive bias, we get it attributed to us. A negative bias, we try to defend against. We pull in understanding that’s based on what’s relevant to a group, what’s available in relationship to that.
These are basic heuristics that enable us. We work to be consistent in the world because if we weren’t, if we’re structuring ourselves on a system of justification that legitimizes, we tend to be enhancing as the base rate can allow. Meaning, of course, if you are ugly and you try to say you’re attractive. But if we ask how good a driver are you, where do you sit in the mall, almost everybody’s above average in a particular kind of structure.
We have a huge amount of evidence for reasoning biases, cognitive dissonance. We see it clinically in a wide variety of different contexts that the ego and the management of the persona, this is how you feel about your relationships and whether or not you’re liked, whether or not you’re seen as good. We’re super sensitive to reasoning about those things. Our attention goes and we try to build narratives that legitimize what we’re doing. They let evidence for this is just truly astonishing.
If you want to see a quick book from a cognitive distance, check out Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me). That really delineates this from a social psychology view that really hits it. Jonathan Haidt, who I talk about later in the book’s Righteous Mind, puts it in political context. There’s a book on psychodynamics, the Ego and the Legitimization of Behavior that basically says all psychodynamic defenses are about the legitimization of self and behavior in a social context.
These are really big … I’m summarizing them fast because you asked that, but they really touch on a lot of different elements and justification systems theory grabs them and says, “Yeah, this makes perfect sense given this context.”
Jim: I had the same reaction when I read the longer recital of evidence. This wasn’t just some shit Gregg made up.
Gregg: Right, I got them.
Jim: Goddamn, it actually support real world. So that’s always-
Gregg: There’s some intersubjective, interobjective verification, Jim, like a science.
Jim: Exactly. So, that was really good and really important. We’re going to wrap up part one here. Look forward to parts two and part threes in the coming days. Thanks, Gregg.
Gregg: Lovely. Thank you, Jim. It’s been great.