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Mental Duality Essay

Everyone is familiar with the famous Rubin face-vase drawing, a black and white print in which one can simultaneously perceive faces by focusing on the black ink or a vase by focusing on the white. If I announce that this is a picture of a vase, am I right? However you announce you see a picture of two faces, are you right? Who’s right? Are we both right? Or are we both wrong? Is it right and wrong; good and evil? I believe neurobiological research, as well as personal anecdotal study; have demonstrated that dichotomous thinking, (mental duality) is an appropriate expectation for developing brains. However an evolved adult brain has developed the ability (free will) to reconcile their emotional reactivity with reality to understand that there are very few absolutes in life.

The picture is both face and vase. You and I may only see one figure; however that does not mean the other does not exist. To see the truth one must integrate the entire picture, black and white, good and evil. In studying Roger Sperry and A.L. Wigan’s work on mental duality, Roland Puccetti believed there were two people inside each human organism. By saying there were two people; Puccetti believed there were two minds with separate streams of consciousness that were therefore capable of separate volitions, or courses of action. Puccetti was attempting through science to justify dichotomous thinking, and therefore indirectly justify dichotomous concepts of good and evil. Critics of Puccetti often pointed to an introspective argument to counter his ideas.

This argument was based on someone looking within oneself and realizing they had only one mind because they did not feel two streams of consciousness or separate volitions. This was based on the idea that at one exact point in time, a person seemed capable of realizing and reacting to only one stream of thought. Likewise, there was also a behavior-based argument to reject Puccetti’s hypothesis. This objection, unlike the introspective, asked the reader to examine the behavior, more specifically the volition, of others. In looking at others, it appeared fairly simple for the reader to reject dual minds, because, anecdotally, it never seemed like people behaved with two different minds and decision-making centers. To the onlooker, it never seemed that a person had one decision-making center fighting to act over the other. Ultimately, these introspective and behavioral arguments created a lot of doubt about the idea of dual mindedness and by extrapolation cast doubt on simplified concepts of good and evil.

There is reassurance in the certitude of a definitive right and wrong. People, including myself, like to believe they are right and good. Ironically, it is in the believing that I am right that makes me wrong! We mortals have the capacity (free will or volition) to be infinitely right or wrong. However, if God is right and evil is wrong, and this dichotomy exists, then I (and Pucetti) want to be “right”. In response to the introspective argument, Puccetti looked to the distinction between persons and human organisms to explain his reasoning. He defined a person as a complex minded entity that actually had experiences, whereas a human organism was the combination of the biological substrate of two persons, each of which had one mind. In his view, the human organism did not see or experience anything so therefore the human organism was incapable of being conscious.

Puccetti, however, believed there was interconnectedness between the left and right hemisphere in which the left hemisphere received a stream of stimuli or experience from the right side of the body and through the corpus callosum this signal went to the right hemisphere. This connectedness worked both from the left hemisphere to the right hemisphere and also right to left.

The two hemispheres were able to create their own consciousness through the unique capabilities of each hemisphere once this stream of experience was shared from one side to the other. This idea ultimately allowed each person and corresponding mind to know what was happening to the other side of the body, without being conscious of the experience in the other. While introspection argued that we only received one stream of experience or stimuli at a time, this idea put forth by Puccetti offered a union of two streams of experience before the conscious state. Therefore, while introspectively it seemed there was only one stream, there quite possibly were two conscious streams that joined together through the complex network of commissures.

While Puccetti was convinced of dual mindedness, Thomas Nagel suggested that our idea of “single mind” precluded this possibility in normal functioning humans. Nagle believed that if a single mind did not apply to ordinary individuals with intact brains then the idea of a single mind should be scrapped altogether. For his argument, Nagle relied heavily on paradigm, or model, examples.

Nagle compared how the mind was defined to the idea of how colors were assigned. When we were all young, we learned the concept “red, the color” likely by being shown an object that was red and taking it as fact. However, the world presents with much more complexity. Even when examining color, few things are absolutely 100% red. The human eye sees red when it looks at light with a wavelength between 620-740 nanometers. In the 1600s, people were wrongfully accused of being witches (evil) after people (presumably people who were struggling with mentally duality) went out looking for them and pointed them out. They were identified as witches, and therefore 100% evil. The definition of a witch implied evil, magical powers, and witchcraft; however, the identification of these individuals was made on an emotional and unfortunately finite basis. Similarly, in ancient times, an element was thought to be the most basic material that could not be broken down. Examples of such elements were earth, wind, fire, and water.

We now know, however, that this was not true and that these elements were not the most basic building materials. Seen through both witch and element, dichotomous thinking or mental dualities are extremely difficult to support by simple paradigm example. These two examples hardly defined themselves because they were not correct examples only perceptions. In these cases the examples did not match what they were intended to; they were misapplied concepts.

Likewise, this idea would be useful in describing a “single mind”. Just like the aforementioned examples, one could be drastically misapplying the concept of what a single mind is. While we may see what appears to be a single mind and call it a single mind, the question of whether or not we know what that concept truly encompasses comes to issue. Nagle showed the complexity of the mind as he somewhat contradicted himself when he described simultaneous attention to two incompatible tasks; perhaps similar to our vase and our faces. The threat to the absolutes implicitly calls into question our perception of our internal absolute. Are we good, intelligent, strong?, absolutely? As he threatened assumptions about the unity of consciousness, he also hindered understanding and empathy of another individuals.

Puccetti’s belief of “no-creation-by-splitting” implied that if Sperry’s split-brain patients were thought to have two minds, then one must also assume normal functioning individuals had two minds. If we assumed that brain-splitting could not create two minds, however, and believed that Sperry’s patients actually had two minds, then we needed to conclude that normal functioning humans with intact brains still had two minds. While Puccetti did not provide concrete reasoning to why he believed splitting a brain could not create two minds, he did believe it made more sense to assume the two minds existed prior to surgery. To Puccetti, it is more believable that such a condition was present to begin with than gained through such a procedure.

As put forth by Nagle, however, an explanation of mental unity, a capacity to accept the co-existence of complexity, helped to explain the “split minds”. Nagle stated that we subtly ignore the possibility that the unity of our mind was not actually absolute, but rather another case of integration to one’s control system. Nagle believed the unified brain was made through numerous functional connections across itself. These connections ultimately could be rerouted and cut to create separate minds. Modern research on brain plasticity certainly validates portions of Nagle’s premise. Therefore, while we often think of this unity as numerically absolute, the number of minds was likely relative and performance a function of integration. Through this thought of unity, it was clear why Nagle believed that it was possible to create separate minds through brain splitting and disconnection.

… And when I was a child, I thought that God was the God who only saw black and white. Now that I am no longer a child, I can see, that God is the God who can see the black and the white and the grey, too, and He dances on the grey!…” ― C. JoyBell C.

There are not two minds. While I do believe there are two parts of the brain connected by certain commissures and connections, I do not believe there are two separate streams of consciousness. Never have I seen someone strain and fight between two different minds. However, often have I witnessed and felt the strain between good and evil and the struggle to understand the grey. Name one premise that every single person in the world would absolutely agree is absolutely positive and has absolutely no negative consequences? There is scientific research to show the interconnectedness of the brain. In previous articles the brains were often manipulated to act independently from one another. Current science details physiological processes and peripheral cues between the two parts of the brain resulting in one conscious mind and an individual in full control of his decisions. I believe much of the search for the dual-minded, was to alleviate the discomfort of moral ambiguity and organic complexity.


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