Notes toward the Origins and Building of Consciousness
Exploring feedback and self-recursion

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.

Some background and definitions
  • "Niteflite" — Unofficial presentation sessions at a conference, usually in the evening, usually at the annual Creative Problem-Solving Institute each June in Buffalo, where I've been teaching for 21 years. Both old hands and "young Turks" use these unofficial evening sessions to try out things we're not yet ready at the time to include in our official teaching sessions.

  • "Creative Problem-Solving Institute," aka "CPSI" or "Sipsi" — the annual world congress on creativity. It was created in 1954 by the originator of the creativity movement, Alex Osborn. Together with others also wishing to learn, the most creative people on the planet rally together each June on a university campus to celebrate and exchange. Together with the "house technology" or original Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem-Solving methodology centering in the "Springboard" program there, nearly all other systems and divergencies of creative method are represented in the "Extending Program" there, including the various programs of our own Project Renaissance.

  • Harvard's "Institute of Cognitive Studies" has continued to pioneer in discoveries about the formation and development of human mental processes long after the departure of the noted Jerome S. Bruner. In the study cited below, behind a puppet-theater-type stage set before infants only three months old, experimenters would pass 3 dolls behind a visual barrier and have but 2 emerge, in seemingly the same motion, or vice-versa. When the number emerging was the same as had disappeared, the infant paid little attention; but when there was discrepancy between the number of objects disappearing and the number emerging beyond the barrier, the infants would stare in apparent surprise. Thus, infants only months old were shown to have a sense of number or at least of quantity.

  • "Mandelbrot Set" — the center of fractal geometry and chaos or complexity theory. It is the most complex and, one must say, the most gorgeously complex and the most gorgeous, mathematical figure ever discovered. One of its defining qualities — and the one which interests us here — is that of a complex and evolving system which takes in and incorporates into its ongoing evolution a portion of the feedback it receives upon its own activities. This makes possible an extraordinarily richly complex range and series of behaviors and phenomena ... and turns out to define the behavior of all living systems in a changing world.


From a Niteflite in June 1996
I need to hear what NLP has to say, and what you have to say, about "going meta" to one's own perceptions and thought processes. I have the feeling that together we might unearthe some key considerations regarding the origins and building of the conscious mind.

Consciousness is the Mandelbrotian window on infinity which emerges when we (as self-evolving systems incorporating a portion of our feedback into our ongoing evolution) start looking at perception and thinking about thought.

It goes without saying (?) that such Mandelbrotian evolving systems also incorporate something of themselves into their ongoing responses to the universe, rather than "being totally in the moment" a la amoeba, with no prior recorded experience remaining to interfere. We carry not only our biological history but our societal and our personal experiential history with us as part of ourselves — we humans, as Korzybski put it, are time-binders.

Our continued selves, our expressive behavior, and our feedbacks, all intermodulate into often incredible new orchestrations of effect — and must do so, if we are to continue to survive in a complexly changing universe which often demands the extraordinary.

Moiré pattern created by Jacob Yerex
"Orchestrations of Effect" — Moiré pattern by Jacob Yerex

Two major elements in birthing a conscious mind, I believe, are

  1. The person responding to his or her own perceptions (thereby reinforcing them per the Law of Effect). Note:  Each time you respond to your own perceptions,

    • You reinforce that particular perception.

    • You reinforce the behavior of being perceptive (why all creativity programs desire that you carry around and use a "portable memory bank" —such as notepad and pen — to "capture ideas" in). And, if the perception you're thus reinforcing is initially subtle for you, so that it arises in regions of the mind at some distance from your verbal-conscious left temporal lobe, then

    • You cumulatively and permanently are reinforcing more onto line with that immediate conscious sector, those remote regions of the brain, together with their resources and intelligence.

    The model thus emergent is that we all have immense quantities and qualities of intelligence scattered about the brain, but what's useful to us and what shows up on I.Q. tests is that which has gotten wired-enough into consciousness to be immediately engaged in what's going on.

  2. The feedback we get from doing so (responding to our own perception), this time contains enough unexpected within it to raise questions, inducing us to start examining our own perceptions and thought processes as such, "going meta to them."
I propose that the first time this self-recursive process is substantially engaged, in anyone's life history, is the birth of his or her conscious mind. Who is it that now is thinking about their own thoughts, looking at their own perceptions?

  But in this model, that previous reinforcement, feedback on one's own expressed behavior responding to one's prior perception(s), may be an essential precondition, as it defines the main way of growth for any organic pattern.

This self-recursive element is the main Mandelbrotian precondition. It has also caught my attention in a host of other ways and contexts:

  • An example is my proposal to solve the problems of gifted children by teaching them the contents of the field of gifted education (plus some problem-solving techniques) and sic them onto the problems of giftedness and appropriate or special education of the gifted.

  • Or, when those South Africans were here at the 1992 CPSI, talking about the hopeless and gang-ridden "schools" of that country: I found myself suggesting that we teach them CPS and then let them solve their problems instead of our always thinking what we can do for or to such populations.....
In my own memory, I can pinpoint the moment of the beginnings of my own conscious mind, as distinct from mere memories from early childhood which were only experiences that did not involve conscious behavior as such. I have memories before and after the event that are merely memories. The event:  at about age two years, standing on the screened-in porch and hearing a sound which I thought was my mother calling me. I toddled down to that part of the house, only to learn that my mother hadn't called me; it was instead the sound of the washing machine. That started me wondering about what was real and what wasn't and how one might tell the difference. In effect it started me to thinking about my own thought and looking at my own perceptual process.

My theory on the matter used to be that, to create gifted children, we need to expose them early on to the great philosophic issues and questions — matters general enough that broad sectors of subsequent incoming experience will organize themselves around them at intellectually useful, accessible levels instead of going tracklessly into the great underground, undermind, depot for storage. That may still be correct, merely inadequate. I think the self-recursive, "going meta" aspect is crucial, and that is where I'd like to hear your exposition from NLP's and your own perspectives.

I'm reminded also of some of the experiments of Harvard's Institute of Cognitive Studies, which shows 3-month-old babies with a number sense and expectation, drawing stares from the infant when that number conservation expectation is confounded. Perhaps that is the path toward creating super-super gifted? 3 months?

My own initial experience was mostly non-verbal, as I'm sure many or most are. Of course words, objectifying whatever they are referring to — real, imaginary, subtle or loud — help us become self-recursive on thought and perceptual matters.

Perhaps this is part of the magic-like takeoff of thoughtfulness, articulateness, and apparent awareness and intelligence of the young child when introduced to Image-Streaming, though Image-Streaming hitherto has not been deliberately aimed at this self-recursive aspect.

This topic is ideal for CPSI, primed as we have been by Jon Pearson's relevant inputs, not just my own. His "moogie art" is an easier way than the verbal to get swathes of young non-verbal and pre-verbal and marginally-verbal children to start responding to their own perceptions. Concurrent describing while examining, in words, gives us greater focus and detail, but overall, for some years now, I've had cause to define our present intelligence, person by person, as largely reflecting our prior history of having responded in some way to our own perceptions, in almost an existential sense to having made, and acted out the consequences of, choices — and borne the consequences, the feedback reinforcements, from those choices....

The strongest form of this consideration may be all those instances where individuals have literally had to lay their life on the line for some reason or cause. Talk to someone who has in fact done so and they will tell you that the occasion has profoundly altered their life from that point on, made far more of a person out of them. (Aside from extreme instances where they are so traumatized or so hooked on adrenaline highs that they become repetitive daredevils. That's another issue.)

If we can together in this Niteflite develop enough this topic, "The Origins and Building of Consciousness," maybe some of us together can formally co-present on this in a future CPSI, and/or co-author journal papers and/or even a book — depending in part upon what comes up from NLP and from your end of the whole shebang.

I would also very much like to involve Jon Pearson, whose work is so illustrative and invaluable but who I don't think yet appreciates the theory significance of his own work.

I think a look at the basic physics, not only of chaos theory but of interference-pattern physics, would be useful — a basic appreciation of how parallel inputs and outputs in that Mandelbrotian pre-condition can intermodulate into exquisitely elaborated standing-wave effects. But who here knows enough interference-pattern physics to bring home to us a well-understood such appreciation?

These are some of the elements. Let's see what we can, together, do with them. Thanks!


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Win Wenger

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