The Captured Thought

~ An experimental analysis of how minds work

NS Clayton and CAP Wilkins

This 6-lecture series investigates fundamental features of the thinking mind. We shall study the cognitive abilities of humans and animals using a variety of techniques to provide insight into how thinking works and has evolved. The lectures include: the self, the altered self, the social self, perspective-taking and metacognition.

The titles and order of lectures are listed below

Lecture 0: Imagination~ the door to identity.

Lecture 1: The development of self~ what lies beneath.

Lecture 2: The altered self~ the storm within consciousness.

Lecture 3: The social self~ the need for communication and language.

Lecture 4: Perspective-taking~ understanding other minds and other times.

Lecture 5: Metacognition~ from thinking about thinking to the consciousness of consciousness.



Lecture 0: Imagination~ The Door to Identity

In this lecture we shall focus on our ability to re-live our memories and imagine the future. It is key to creativity and innovative problem solving. Artists have this ability in spades: but we all do it and on a daily basis. It allows us to understand diverse realities ~ to see alternative temporal and spatial perspectives, as well as the way in which others may see things similarly and differently to ourselves. It forms the cornerstone of our identity, both individually and within society. Identity is not the same as a label, and this will be discussed.

Imagination is essential for considering future scenarios but in so doing it erodes our memories: for each time we retrieve the information we re-evaluate all that has gone before. This process is both disadvantageous and opportunistic in equal measure.

The absence of the ability to engage in mental time travel is both striking and devastating, and fundamentally changes the way a person thinks. We see this exemplified in very young children and in patients with specific brain damage. The question can be asked whether we are unique among the animal kingdom in travelling mentally in time.

Studies on animals create a window of opportunity to ask whether other alien minds might be capable of such feats. Such insight might open the door to new ways of thinking, providing a gateway to understanding alternative realities and ones beyond our own.

Lecture 1: The Development Of Self~ What Lies Within

In this lecture we shall focus on an awareness of what it means to be~ to possess a subjective consciousness of one’s self, and the world beyond that~ of when the self interacts with other selves, and how it develops. We shall first discuss some of the signposts indicating an awareness of self, and cognitive development. This will include an apposite analysis of children’s early mark making as evidence of the development of a schema for self. Our fascination for mirrors provides further evidence of the ways in which we view ourselves from inside and outside our own bodies, and how these change over time. Such source for self-reflection is both literal and metaphorical.

These things provide insightful markers that capture the development of a person’s expanding consciousness within the world they inhabit, in the absence of any reliance on language and verbal or written report. This approach is critical for it allows us to study the emergence of the conscious self before young children have mastered basic linguistic skills. What’s more this approach~ of using behavioral markers rather than verbal report provides us with an important tool not only for studying cognitive development in humans, but also for asking questions about whether or not other animals have these abilities. Finally we shall consider what it is like not to have elements of these abilities, by looking at case studies of patients who have impairments to their concept of self. What is it like to stare at one’s reflection in the mirror and question whether the image looking back at me is the real me, an altered me or some imposing imposter? No matter how often we look at ourselves can we ever be sure who we really are.

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