book icon

Notes by Alan Dix on "A Mind So Rare"

See more booknotes by Alan Dix

A Mind So Rare


When I read a book I use a folded sheet ofA4 paper as a bookmark and write notes on the sheet. For this book I ended up with 4 sheets of notes. The book is all about the cultural nature of mind and in particular the way that language as the carrier of culture and consciousness are intimately linked.

For some reason, even though the book was packed with insight I found it difficult to read, not in the sense of complex, but for some reason I kept thinking "when is the end of this chapter". Steven Rose describes the book as "Elegant, witty and accessible" which is absolutely right, and yet for some reason I found it hard to maintain concentration ... maybe others do not have this problem. However, it is certainly worth the read whether or not it is hard work!


It is one of the few books or articles I have read that mentions the middle ground of memory between classic short term memory (e.g. keeping track of a telephone number until you write it down), and long-term memory (e.g. the things you remember from childhood, or last month). I have myself argued for the importance of this 'mezzanine' memory (my term) and so great to see it not only mentioned, but regarded by Donald as a key feature of more advanced consciousness.

I say 'advanced' because Donald sees consciousness as much more of a continuum rather than a 'got it or not' phenomenon, for example, regarding dogs as having some level of consciousness, albeit not the same as human consciousness.



mind inextricably part of culture


spatial awareness - unconscious ability to put spin in slot, but not when consciously focused


conscious attention of infants essential for perceptual learning


analogy to San Andreas fault - not detectable close in, only from distance - similarly small time-scales do not reveal true conscious experience (N.B. MD's idea of consciousness is not awareness, but more attention stream plus idea of context) - c.f. small world networks


the hybrid mind - individual+culture - evolved mechanisms to enable this


Marcus Aurelius quote "For the sole thing of which ant man can be deprived is the present; since this is all he owns, and nobody can lose what is not his."


William James 5/6 marbles at a glance (me - not 3?) c.f. Millers 7+/-2 - MD seems to conflate, but seem different to me


inability to introspect many thought processes


suggests sensory awareness is "hardliners" defn. - not my interpretation of them, seems to be just what they ignore except Chalmer's 'Hard Problem'


but critically 'Hardliners' believe awareness does not 'do'anything (trying to recall which of the ones I have read which argues this very strongly and yet clearly we are able to talk about this awareness, so it must at least affect us at that level!)


subjective nature of consciousness likened to physics - cannot tell real world form hallucination or simulacrum, but we still do physics!


no abstractions in awareness (according to Hardliners) - why?


Jaynes - consciousness as _recent_ cultural invention


Chomsky: language and imagery; and Fodor - language as link between special intelligences


description of Dennett's views -- agency, awareness and consciousness mashed up


Bela Julesz Cyclopean images - can these be used subliminally?


time frame - c.f. me not aware if memory part of consciousness or brought to it


in between memory :-)


MD says no unconscious learning - surely Skinner kind??


- - no objects outside conscious attention? again surely not


continuity of experience when waking & sleeping




diff. between Broca's & Wernicke' aphasia - latter lose 'inner speech'


Broather John - temporary epileptic language loss


Zasetsky's diary acting as external memory


"he had difficulty remembering things he knew he should know" meta-knowledge


Zasetsky - amazing!!


prefrontal compromised => lose capacity to plan, self-regulate, etc.


William james is Henry james brother!!


Balzac created complex sociogram of French society

p.86 (lower)

MD's argument is a little wooly here - arguing that only conscious can update …

p.89 (lower)

need for mezzanine memory study


Chalmers "Hard Problem" a "squabble between members of s species" - but MD says interesting thing sis that we are even able to have the discussion


MD says debate is interesting feature of humanity, but that it does not mean consciousness of human's different only in the ability to talk about it


"exaction" - Stephen Gould word for "adoption with accidental spin-off gains"


comparison with "élan vital" surely "consciousness" should compare with "life"


"The activity of a brain in deep sleep is very complex but it is not conscious" … what about dreaming?


columns ~ 100,000 neurones each ~ 600,000 columns


re humanities and social sciences "the fields naturally assume that humans are completely distinct from other creatures" - a bit diss=missive, literature replete with understanding of animal side of human nature