What are Thought Gems?

Arash Naghdi  2/3/2018
What are Thought Gems?
The idea from the cognitive revolution that the mind is a system of universal, generative computational modules obliterates the way that debates on human nature have been framed for centuries.

Obviously, colored stones don’t possess what neuroscientists and neurophilosphers call “consciousness.” The British scientist Susan Greenfield succinctly defines it as the hard problem of, and current philosophical bafflement about, “how the water of brain functioning is converted into the wine of subjective experience.” But, much like viewing pictures—as the Argentine fantasist, Adolfo Bioy Casares, writes—gazing into precious and semiprecious gems causes “new objects” to appear “in an endless succession.” The magical realist is not referring just to the filmic stimulation of the eye. As with Carl Jung’s study of the “psychification” of rocks across world cultures, so-called “dead matter” everywhere seems imbued with life.

Do gems have agency? Do they incite the brain to inference the existence of a hidden order inside the reflective mass, and are actual transformations of substance possible? That is, does their structure provoke mentalizing, and are they in some way “minded”—do they have a particular tendency or do they tend toward something? As the cognitive scientist Steven Pinker states, it’s the combinatorial modular organization of the brain (i.e., the brain as crystal) that generates an unlimited set of thoughts and behavior. What is it about crystal-chunking that encourages inferencing from the seen to the unseen, generating intense emotional and hypnotic states? Is there something special about such compressive modularity that synchronizes our inner situations with outer realities? If so, the allure of gems consists in more than reward-system response to consumer flash.

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