How do our mental representations become intentions?
For a materialist scientist, sensory data transformed into mental patterns is not a hard problem. Neurons modify the tree structure of dendrites and synaptic values to establish a symbolic code of the objects presented to the senses. The sight of an apple activates a specific pattern. The brain creates its virtual reality superimposed on the real one. My reality experienced.
At this stage, however, the mind should remain a mere mirror of reality. Passive representation, like a camera simply recording the images behind the lens. How does the brain distance itself from this reality in order to influence it?
Neural configurations have a significant inertia in the face of the profusion of information poured daily by the senses. They don’t stick to the changes as faithfully as the camera. Sensitive surfaces have an equivalent role: the retina reacts finely like the digital sensor. But from behind, the fate of the signals becomes very different. The camera stops at the recording of light points. No meaning in the absence of an observer. While the brain, behind the eye, interprets. It manufactures the observer in real time.
It does not start from scratch. Reorganizing the complexity of the signals into visual objects at every moment would slow it down dramatically. Its past experience benefits it. At the reception of the signals are patterns proven by a life of decryption. Identity tattoo. Personality begins in the way we perceive reality. A way common to our species, which separates us together from animals, then whose refinement separates us from each other.
Reversal of the origin of reality
The brain gradually reverses the generator of its reality. In early mental life, sensory signals engrave mental patterns. Dominant but not exclusive direction: genetics has already installed some basic patterns. With maturation the direction is reversed. In adults, existing patterns are searching themselves in sensory inputs. They predict our sensory reality as much as they are interested in novelties. If our attention is drawn elsewhere, incongruous objects go unnoticed! The inner reality is not updated.
Our representations, initially subservient to objective sensory reality, become independent, as a description but also as a prediction. Multiple predictions. From this gap arises the possibility of acting on reality to make it correspond to one of them. Future more advantageous. The process contains the parameters to be adjusted to get closer to the result. The prediction, deliberately shifted, became intention.
Proprietary reality tends to freeze
Of course, the patterns continue to evolve under the pressure of the environment, but mainly where they are not yet competent. Are they all accessible for remodeling? The mind is a hierarchy. The representations formed at the base, consolidated into ‘habits’, are buried under the higher concepts, the only ones to remain evolving. The retro-control of consciousness is weak on habits. Easy rehabilitation in the very young, laborious in the old. It’s not just a matter of mental plasticity. The schemes of the old are engraved by decades of use. Their repetition is also a backup.
Our patterns, which have become intentional, tend to sediment over time. To prevent the mind from ending up looking like a rocky surface is to expose it to the storm. Destabilizing readings, disruptive concepts, provocative situations, crack the gangue of our mind, letting our intentions grow perpetually.