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1999 - Volume 20, Number 4, Autumn

Virtual Objects
Thomas Natsoulas, University of California, Davis
The Journal of Mind and Behavior, Autumn 1999, Vol. 20, No. 4, Pages 357–378, ISSN 0271–0137

What should be done theoretically regarding those “virtual objects” that James J. Gibson refers to several times in his last book? Does not Gibson’s view that we visually perceive, sometimes, items that are merely “virtual” produce a contradiction within his theory of visual perceiving? How can something unable itself to have effects on what occurs in the visual system justifiably be claimed to be an object of visual perceiving? I address among other issues: whether there is a sense in which a theory that treats of perceiving as direct can allow for the visual perceiving of “virtual objects.” Also, with specific reference to seven cases of perceived “virtual objects” according to Gibson, I argue against the notion that something “virtual” is what is visually perceived. In the seven cases, the visually perceived items either are, have been, or will be actual parts of the one and only world that we all inhabit or they have no existence. I conclude with comment pertaining to the question: Should physical presence — that is, an item’s stimulational presence in relation to our visual system — be necessary for us to be said to perceive that item?

Requests for reprints should be sent to Thomas Natsoulas, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, University of California, Davis, One Shields Avenue, Davis, California 95616–8686. Email:

Social Constructionism, Postmodernism, and the Computer Model: Searching for Human Agency in the Right Places
Joseph F. Rychlak, Loyola University of Chicago
The Journal of Mind and Behavior, Autumn 1999, Vol. 20, No.4, Pages 379–390, ISSN 0271–0137

It is not uncommon today to find the claim made that the computer’s capacity to adjust its course of action based on negative feedback satisfactorily explains human agency or free will. Conversely, postmodernism and social constructionism are said to be theories of behavior in which a language system locks people into a cultural determination that denies them agency. The author argues that precisely the reverse is true: computers cannot account for true agency whereas both postmodernism and an important wing of social constructionism do have certain loopholes enabling agential explanations to be developed. The key here is the employment of oppositionality in the theories under analysis. The ability to freely select the grounds for the sake of which one is determined requires an oppositional cast to human cognition and behavior. The author’s Logical Learning Theory is offered as an example of theorizing that is amenable to genuine human agency thanks to its central reliance on oppositionality.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Joseph F. Rychlak, Ph.D. Department of Psychology, Loyola University of Chicago, 6525 North Sheridan Road, Chicago, Illinois 60626.

Why Isn’t Consciousness Empirically Observable? Emotion, Self-Organization, and Nonreductive Physicalism
Ralph D. Ellis, Clark Atlanta University
The Journal of Mind and Behavior, Autumn 1999, Vol. 20, No. 4, Pages 391–402, ISSN 0271–0137

Most versions of the knowledge argument say that, since scientists observing my brain wouldn’t know what my consciousness “is like,” consciousness isn’t describable as a physical process. Although this argument unwarrantedly equates the physical with the empirically observable, we can conclude, not that consciousness is nonphysical (some physical processes might be observationally inaccessible) but that consciousness isn’t identical with anything empirically observable. But what kind of mind&endash;body relation would render possible this empirical inaccessibility of consciousness? Even if multiple realizability may allow a distinction between consciousness and its physical substrata, why does this distinction make consciousness empirically unobservable? The reason must be that the emotions motivating attention direction, partly constitutive of phenomenal states, are executed, not undergone by self-organizing processes actively appropriating and replacing needed physical substrata; we feel motivations by generating them. But all consciousness is motivated; visual cortex activation is unconscious of red unless the emotional limbic system and anterior cingulate motivatedly “look for” red. Experiencing entails executing motivations. Experimenters do know what subjects’ brain events “are like” — but from the standpoint of the experimenter’s motivational processes.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Ralph D. Ellis, Ph.D., Department of Religion and Philosophy, Clark Atlanta University, Atlanta, Georgia 30314. Email: ralphellis

Internal Representations &emdash; A Prelude for Neurosemantics
Olaf Breidbach, Friedrich Schiller University
The Journal of Mind and Behavior, Autumn 1999, Vol. 20, No. 4, Pages 403–420, ISSN 0271–0137

Following the concept of internal representations, signal processing in a neuronal system has to be evaluated exclusively on the basis of internal system characteristics. Thus, this approach omits the external observer as a control function for sensory integration. Instead, the configuration of the system and its computational performance are the effects of endogeneous factors. Such self-referential operation is due to a strictly local computation in a network. Thereby, computations follow a set of rules that constitutes the emergent behaviour of the system. Because these rules can be demonstrated to correspond to a “logic” intrinsic to the system, it can be shown that the concept of internal representation provides the basis for neurosemantics.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Prof. Dr. Olaf Breidbach, Ernst Haeckel Haus, Institut für Geschichte der Medizin, Naturwissenschaft und Technik, Friedrich Schiller University, Berggasse 7, 07745 Jena, Germany.

A Testable Mind-Brain Theory
Ralph L. Smith, Tucson, Arizona
The Journal of Mind and Behavior, Autumn 1999, Vol. 20, No. 4, Pages 421–436, ISSN 0271–0137

Proceeding from the observation by Ryle (1949/1984) that I cannot prepare myself for the next thought that I am going to think, I argue that conscious acts cannot control my bodily motions or thoughts. This position is not compatible with indeterminism. I also argue that consciousness represents the irreducible and multi-modal output (across a hypothetical brain-consciousness interface) of the behavioral control system sensors necessary for the control of human behavior demonstrated by Marken (1988). My analysis supports one experimental result obtained by Libet, Gleason, Wright, and Pearl (1983), namely, that the initiation of a “voluntary act” is an unconscious cerebral process. I conclude that the following are not realizable: “mental intentions” acting on the supplementary motor area as postulated by Eccles and Robinson (1984), and “veto,” a conscious abort of a motor act after subjects reported “wanting to act” (Libet, 1985). These two items would seem to be amenable to test by studies similar to or refinements of Libet’s.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Ralph L. Smith, Ph.D., 2740 North Tomahawk Trail, Tucson, Arizona 85749.

Book Review
The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory
Book Author: Brian Greene. New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999
Reviewed by James Bense, Moorhead State University
The Journal of Mind and Behavior, Autumn 1999, Vol. 20, No. 4, Pages 437–444, ISSN 0271–0137

[Note: First paragraph, no abstract available.] Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe offers a challenging and rewarding experience for those of us who occasionally like to reflect upon the ultimate mysteries of the physical universe. Moreover, as his subtitle indicates, there is in the present state of physics the aspect of a real quest in the search for a “‘theory of everything'” (p. 16). Greene draws the reader into an intriguing state of affairs at the outset. “There are two foundational pillars upon which modern physics rests”: “general relativity” has revealed much about “the universe on the largest of scales”; “quantum mechanics” has successfully done the same “on the smallest of scales.” Although “physicists have experimentally confirmed to almost unimaginable accuracy virtually all predictions made by each of these theories,” Greene says, in their present forms they “cannot both be right. The two theories underlying the tremendous progress of physics during the last hundred years &emdash; progress that has explained the expansion of the heavens and the fundamental structure of matter &emdash; are mutually incompatible” (p. 3). In view of “this ferocious antagonism” (p. 3), string theory (short for “superstring theory”) promises a grand resolution: “Within this new framework, general relativity and quantum mechanics require one another for the theory to make sense. According to superstring theory, the marriage of the laws of the large and the small is not only happy but inevitable” (p. 4).

Requests for reprints should be sent to James Bense, Ph.D., Department of English, Moorhead State University, Moorhead, Minnesota 56563.

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