Human mental mapping - A preliminary attempt

- - K. K Verma, Ph.D.
HIG 1/327, Housing Board Colony
Borsi, Durg (M.P.) 491001, INDIA


Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 13 (2003), 41-42.

I congratulate Darryl Macer for initiating his proposal for a project on mental mapping (EJAIB 12 (Nov. 2002), 203-6). This project should help in solving moral and ethical dilemmas, in understanding regional diversity in ethical considerations, and in establishing global ethics. A preliminary picture of human mental working is presented here with a hope that it may stimulate discussion leading to a generally accepted mental map and a plan for the project.

Intelligence has a genetic basis. Several types of genetic abnormalities are associated with mental retardation. In human beings the gene FOXP2 is connected with speech, and speech is manifestation of intelligence. In recognition of this, the Hindu Goddess Saraswati, the Goddess of learning and wisdom, has been referred to as "Vani", which means speech.

Learning is a necessary corollary and functional need of intelligence. The general accepted definition of intelligence is that it is a capacity to utlise elements of past experience and learning to solve a new problem. Thus intelligence works on the basis of experience and exposure. A simple illustrative example of intelligence working is of the Kohler's young chimps, which in captivity used to play with bamboo sticks having one end thinned out. They, in their play, often pushed the thinner end of one stick into the hollow of another stick to make a longer pole. When a banana was placed at some distance from their cage, the chimps tried to rake in the fruit with a bamboo stick. On finding that the fruit could not be reached with a single stick, they connected two sticks, and then they could successfully bring the fruit within their arm's reach.

Intelligence works in problem solving in conscious as well as subconscious states. Many a difficult scientific riddle could be solved by science workers in sleep. One, a dreaming of standing under a cold shower, on waking up may find some of his exposed to chill air, as his blanket was not fully covering him.

Working in conscious or subconscious state or in both, human rationality, i.e. our intelligence, on the basis of our experience and learning suggests some alternative steps in view of existing circumstances in view of existing circumstances or problem. These alternative response plans have been shown as idea a, b and c in the accompanying diagram. Now the subject decides or chooses which among these ideas should be accepted. In this decision-making, besides rationality several other factors exert influence. One such factor is visualizing the resultant. This visualizing is a special feature of human intelligence, which incorporates great capacity of conceptualization and symbolization. The symbolization helps both internal audio and video. Internal or silent talking is a great help in carving out concepts and in decision making.

Another factor affecting decision-making, is the current practices and norms. If in a tribal society theft is not considered a crime, instead it is taken as a joke, the decision-maker may easily be led to commit theft. On the other hand, in a society, in which theft is taken as a crime, a member, though he feels like grabbing an article, which is not part of his possession, will hesitate to lay his hand on it, lest he is branded as a criminal.

Among factors affecting decision-making, is human instinct. Intelligence is dominant in guiding human behavior, but instincts have not been wiped out in human beings, though their role in shaping behavior is secondary. Instincts in humans include social instincts, instinct for race or species survival, instinct for self survival, maternal instinct, sexual instinct etc. An example of instinct influencing decision-making is a person being murdered will evoke intense hate response in a witness. This hate response may find expression in witness moving forward to save the victim or in running away from the ghastly sight. But, if a goat or a cow is being slaughtered, the hate response will be milder, as the victim, though large and even if profusely bleeding, does not belong to human species. If an insect is being crushed, the hate response will be negligible. Role of the race survival instinct or the instinct for the survival of the like is obvious in this instance.

The decision is followed by response/ action. The resultant has a feedback effect on learning experience. If the resultant is not desirable of satisfactory, the subject will avoid a similar decision in a similar situation next time.

The diagram accompanying this note, is rather simplified. Learning through experience and exposure may influence the mental process not only during working out of ideas but also during decision making.

(The figure is available in the hard copy).

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