readings and links

Here are a selection of articles, book chapters, columns and book reviews by John McCrone, which have appeared in The Guardian, Lancet Neurology, New Scientist, Journal of Consciousness Studies and other places. All of them are to do with the mind - its anthropology, psychology and neurology. It was working on the problem of how to deal scientifically with human consciousness that eventually led me to organic logic, the main subject of this web site.

A place to start could be this three page summary of how the brain~mind works.

Note that links to my favourite theorists and favourite papers will be added at a future date.

the bifold model of the mind

Before you can even talk about the biology of consciousness, you have to consider its socio-cultural story - the way that language allowed Homo sapiens to create higher mental abilities like self-awareness, recollective memory, abstract thought, and so on. This leads you into the topics of Vygotskian psychology, social constructionism, memes, and language evolution.

For a primer on Vygotskian psychology, see this article on inner speech. For a more academic exposition of the bifold model, see this Journal of Consciousness Studies paper. Then this chapter from Going Inside presents the full evolutionary and neurolinguistic picture.

Good evidence for the Vygotskean or bifold approach comes from considering minds without language. Here is an article on the deaf. And a more detailed book chapter which includes deaf mutes like Helen Keller. This leads to a second book chapter telling the fascinating tale of feral children - kids brought up by wolves! And this is an article about attempts to teach dolphins to talk. We can also ask why, if our apeman ancestors were speechless, they still managed to invent fire.

Of course, as you will find from reading my books or this article on spindle cells, I do allow for actual brain differences in Homo sapiens. The dichtotomistic or bifold model is about both biological and cultural evolution.

Finally, for a general introduction to the history of Western thought about the nature of consciousness (both in philosophy and popular culture) you can check this book chapter from The Myth of Irrationality which I wrote back in 1993. And for a comment on the status on the Hard Problem, see this dichotomistic approach to the issue of zombies

the cycle of processing

Benjamin Libet famously suggested it takes about half a second for the brain to get through all the processing steps needed to settle our view of the moment just past. But this immediately raises the question of why don't we notice a lag? How does anyone ever manage to hit a tennis ball or drive a car? The answer is that we anticipate. We also have a level of preconscious habit which "intercepts" stuff before it reaches a conscious level of awareness. And yet it really does take something like half a second to develop a fully conscious experience of life. You can read about the cycle of processing story and its controversies in the following.

For a fun starter, there is this article on how sports people need to anticipate - it includes the basics of Libet's experiments. Then there is this more detailed book chapter about anticipation. Of course you also ought to read about Libet's experiments as well. Finally there is what saccades tell us about the same issue and what we can learn from distortions of time perception,

The cycle of processing also works in reverse. Stuff that reaches the eye of consciousness can work back down the same pathways to become habits - that's how we turn hitting tennis balls and driving cars into preconscious-level automaticisms.  

A couple of other articles that bear on the cycle of processing model are this one about the real difference between the left and right side of the brain, and this one about metacognition - the aha! feeling or buzz of familiarity that tells us when we know that we know something. And this article explains why humans have a sense of humour, which again is connected to the aha! feeling.

the dynamic brain

I wrote a whole book, Going Inside, about how the brain works, exploring its dichotomies such as attention~habit, focus~fringe and impression~idea. These three pages precis Going Inside. And I will add some chapters in time.

But for some more useful neuroscientific insights, here are some shorter articles. What about considering the brains (and minds) of birds or spiders? There is the old myth that we only use 10 per cent of our brains.

Then we should consider how the brain~mind of babies develop, and later the brains of teenagers and adults continue to change.  The question of how all our brain molecules can change and yet our minds persist. And whether glial cells matter.

Variations in brains also create variations in conscious experience, and that is worth knowing. Here is how people vary considerably in their visual cortex and also in their colour experiences.

weird stuff like psi, dreams and quanta

You can't claim to understand the mind unless you can also explain all the weird stuff. So here is how the bifold model, the processing cycle model, and the dynamic approach, combine to explain a few of the things you are probably most interested in.

So are you interested in psi research? I'm not a believer but the researchers felt my articles gave a fair summary of their science. See these articles on Chuck Honorton's ganzfeld experimentsRobert Jahn's micro-PK work, and the Wiseman/Schlitz remote staring controversy.

Then here are some articles about strange states of mind. Why do we sleep and dream. What is the truth about hypnosis? Or multiple personalities? Or photographic memories?

A few more oddities to explore - surgery to transplant a head  and how our modern diets may be poisoning our minds, causing autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders.

Sigmund Freud is one of my pet hates because he represents the sloppiness of so many would-be mind theorists. I give him a merciless kicking here. And later take a swift swipe at Freud "the neuroscientist".

For those interested in the quantum explanations of consciousness, here is both a debunking article and a book chapter.

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