This site is the intellectual property of John McCrone -
email: mccrone 'at' dichotomistic.com.
published on-line in 2006 but contains material from a previous site,
Going Inside - the Neuronaut's Guide to the Science of Consciousness,
that was mainly about mind science.
The reason it exists is to define a new logic based on asymmetric dichotomisation or symmetry breaking. This developed out of 25 years working on the problem of explaining consciousness. It eventually became obvious that a different model of causality was required. After long discussions with many people, particularly Stan Salthe, the results are presented here. An unexpected result was that a logic initially developed for modelling complex systems like minds also turns out to offer a new way of modelling reality as a whole - the realm of matter as well.
So this site divides into three general sections. The main bit is the logic pages. Then there is a large chunk of material about the brain~mind. A lot of this was written before I sorted out the underpinning logic but is still valid. The section I will then be adding to most in future will be the matter pages.
So who am I? I am a science writer. Author of four
articles - both popular and scholarly. I started out writing about
technology, then human evolution and neuroscience. Eventually I ended
up working on complexity and causal modelling.
I started out at Auckland University in the 1970s studying psychology and ecology. Mind science was of course pretty dire back then. Rats in boxes. Cognition as a bunch of computational modules. People literally fell asleep in the neuroscience class.
I was briefly interested in artificial intelligence but it turned out to be an even bigger load of crock. I mean, conscious machines! So in the mid-1980s I took a step back and asked what seemed to be the most obvious question about the human mind. How did it evolve? What makes it so different from the animal mind?
This was quite a few years before the evo-psych bandwagon got going (another reductionist load of crock by and large). I discovered that the answer was shockingly simple. The great Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, had pretty much said it all in the 1920s.
Of course, Vygotsky had an organic view of the way things worked. Which is why it resonated with me I guess. Anyway, a book emerged out of that - The Ape That Spoke. The paleoanthropology in it still holds up. The psychology and neurology are a little sketchier, although at least I was into neural networks and co-evolutionary mechanisms right from the start.
To get a little deeper into the Vygotskean story, and social constructionism generally, I wrote a second book, The Myth of Irrationality. Some of the chapters from both my first two books can be found in the mind section of this site. The ones on feral children and Helen Keller have been especially popular with people.
By the early 1990s I was an established science writer doing articles for the New Scientist and others. Having started with the story of the sociocultural development of the human mind - our psychological evolution - the next obvious step was to study the biological roots of consciousness, the much bigger question of how brains can have minds.
Five years of study went into my third book, Going Inside, which aims to tell how the brain generates a single moment of consciousness. I also did an illustrated schoolbook version called How The Brain Works.
But by now my real goal had become clear. Ordinary logic and reductionist thinking just seemed to work against you when you are trying to talk about complex systems with holistic or hierarchical organisation. So the next step was to identify some more natural brand of logic.
Cutting a long story short, I found that the people who seemed to have the most to say about the causality of complex systems were theoretical biologists like Stan Salthe, Robert Rosen, Robert Ulanowicz, Humberto Maturana and Howard Pattee. There were a few others with a neuroscience connection, such as Walter Freeman, Karl Friston, Stephen Grossberg and Scott Kelso. And thankfully I was pointed in the direction of some more ancient thinkers like Peirce and Anaximander. Fritjof Capra and Ian Stewart/Jack Cohen are popular writers that I also rate highly.
Anyway, this is a brief explanation of how I got to where I am now - the concerns that motivated my research.
about my books
How the Brain Works, John McCrone (2002)
This is a pocketbook aimed at students and lay-readers. Part of the Dorling Kindersley Essential Science series, How The Brain Works is a summary of the story told in Going Inside. It is an excellent place to start if you really want a basic but up to the moment account of the brain and consciousness. Lots of explanatory pictures and short sentences.
How the Brain Works - A Beginner's Guide to the Mind and Consciousness by John McCrone
Dorling Kindersley, 2002, 72 pages, ISBN 0-7513-3712-9
Going Inside, John McCrone (1999)
Going Inside tells the story of a single instant of consciousness, showing how the brain pulls together a state of subjective experience in about a third of a second. There have been many heavy-duty books on mind science to chose from over the past few years, but this covers very different terrain to most. It gets more deeply into the actual neuroanatomy of brains and the personalities that shape the field. It also reveals the struggle to break away from old computational and reductionist ways of thinking about the mind-brain connection, looking at what it means to take a holistic or complex systems approach to neuroscience.
Going Inside - A Tour Round a Single Moment of Consciousness by John McCrone
UK -Faber & Faber, 1999, 368 pages, ISBN 0-571-17319-5
US- Fromm International, 2001, ISBN 0-8806-4262-9
More about Going Inside
The Myth of Irrationality, John McCrone (1993)
The Myth of Irrationality is about how language and culture shape the human mind, giving us all our higher mental powers. This social constructionist or Vygotskian story stands in stark contrast to the usual assumption that human mental abilities such as self-awareness, imagination, creativity, recollective memory and "sophisticated" emotions are innate. Much of the book actually traces the history of why we believe what we believe about the mind, focusing especially on the Romantic myth that the most important parts of us are buried deep in our unconscious brains (and hearts) rather than being socially-created in childhood. Read the first chapter. And how feral children prove the case. Or this paper on freewill. Or this chapter debunking Freud.
The Myth of Irrationality - The Science of the Mind from Plato to Star Trek by John McCrone
UK - Macmillan, 1993, 340 pages, ISBN 0-333-57284-X
US - Carroll & Graf, 1994, ISBN 0-7867-0067-X
The Ape That Spoke, John McCrone (1990)
My first book, The Ape That Spoke, tells the tale of human mental evolution, asking the question what could have transformed Homo sapiens almost overnight from a smart ape to a self-aware, abstract-thinking and complex being? The answer of course is language - the theme I've developed in all my subsequent books. And while the Ape That Spoke was pretty sketchy on the neurological underpinings of consciousness (well, it did require six years to research Going Inside) it has stood up well in terms of its account of human evolution.
The Ape That Spoke - Language and the Evolution of the Human Mind by John McCrone
UK - Macmillan, 1990, pages 232, ISBN 0-333-53792-0
US - Morrow, 1991, ISBN 0-688-10326-X