Sunday, July 6, 2008

Thought blindness

I haven't had as much time as usual to think, due to illness of a family member. Thankfully, that problem seems to have resolved, so I tried to take a thought pathway that I had started a couple of weeks ago but stayed underdeveloped due to the situation previously described.
The baseline where I started this thought pathway is based on the fact that I am partially color blind. The pigments that should absorb the red light wave and send the signal to my brain to interpret it as red color, are defective or in lower than normal amount in my eyes, so this makes me see red objects as brown or green, even though I know from other people descriptions that it's not the case.
So from there I started generalizing this idea to a bigger concept. What if there are people that are simply thought blind? This would not be a reflection of their lack of knowledge of a particular culture or their general grade of intelligence, but simply an effect of an abnormal wiring of their brains when it was formed.
If you look at the medical literature, there are some reports of phenomenon similar to this, the so called "Neglect". This usually happens after a stroke or a traumatic injury to the brain, causing the patient to lose some superior brain functions, and they are not able to notice a certain portion of reality, for example the left side of their bodies, or one of their legs. It is not that they are not able to "see" that part, it is only that the wiring of their brain is affected thus that they simply "ignore" that area. There are also focused defects like in reading (called alexia) or writing (agraphia).
The difference between this phenomena and my "thought blindness" concept is that usually the defects that are noticed are in big areas of functionality, and that they are not congenital, but acquired. I don't see any particular reason why the thought blindness causes should all be congenital, so that is not a problem with our thinking pathway, but the extension of the defect that we are able to detect can be a problem.
Let's think for a moment, what would happen if for example you are not able, by the wiring of your brain, to understand some particular concepts, for example, to be provocative, religion, or even more interesting, the lack of religious feeling. Think about would you explain it to the person that has an structural deficit concerning that concept?
Obviously you may say that brains do not work like that, that there is not a religion center, or a belief center, because our brains are capable to absorb a much bigger amount of concepts that what you would expect from the physical capacity of it. I understand that point and after looking at the medical literature, I am sure that that counterargument has complete validity.
But I can change a little bit my approach, and postulate the hypothesis in a somewhat different fashion that still lets me discuss the same general topic. Let's see...
OK, I concede the point that probably there is not a specific "idea" center that people can "NOT" have, but what if they lack an intrinsic pathway/neuron/whatever you may call it that is necessary (but not sufficient, to avoid the "one place one idea error from before) for you to be able to process that concept? I am sure that a lot of different concepts, due to intrinsic brain plasticity, are able to be processed in multiple ways, but what if some of them (and I am sure that by statistical reasons there must be at least a couple) actually pass through this rate limiting area? An easier way of explaining this would be to say that in the city of my brain, that is comprised of multiple concept-islands linked by bridges, there are no specific "idea" buildings that can be bombarded to make my brain city lacking, but there is the possibility that if I destroy the bridge that helps the people to go from one island to the other, the products that are made in that island are not able to be exchanged with the rest of the islands,even though the rest of the city island is completely able to function . I don't really see a logical reason why this couldn't happen. I understand that the brain has innate redundant systems, but I am also sure that there are points that are immutable. If not, there would be no irreversible damage during strokes, and sadly, in most of them there is.
So if we accept this premise, then we would have a person that is not be able to think a particular concept, while being able to otherwise maintain really complex thought pathways that don't involve this limitation. The interesting thing with this situation is that just as somebody that has post stroke neglect, they CAN'T realize that there is a lack in their thought processes, simply because only with your brain you can realize this, and in this circumstance the brain itself is affected.
Could this be a factor that affects the difficulty that fundamentalists of any kind have in seeing the other "side" point of view? It would be completely unrealistic and reductionist to think that it's the only element of importance here, but it strikes me that it could be one of the important questions to answer, because if this actually happens, then some situations can't actually be discussed with the other "side", simply because they are physically unable to understand your point.
Also knowledge of this could help us to improve our tools for discussion in the cases of lack of conciliation between parties. If we are able to detect that there is some "thought blindness" in play, then with other thinking process' tools we can indicate to the person that there is something lacking, even if they don't perceive it, just as for post-stroke patient you do "imagining" training, where you tell them that even if they don't "have" (in their personal realities) a right side of the body, they should "imagine" that they have it, and behave like this "imaginary" side is real. You can pinpoint to consequences of their neglect that they can notice, like not being able to go through a particular space, to help them imagine that they actually have the "neglected" part. Can we invent thought process' tools for this purpose? I am sure we can, as there are thought pathway verification tools that use extrinsic tools (for example lists of thought process errors that you can check) that exist at the moment.
I estimate that this topic can be applied to multiple other purposes, from educational to business related, but for now I've only reached this portion of the thinking pathway. Probably I will explore in the future some more of the implications, but for now...
It's time to think another thought.

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