The Captured Thought~ Lectures

~ An experimental analysis of memory, perception and mental time travel.

NS Clayton and CAP Wilkins

~This 6-lecture series investigates fundamental features of the thinking mind. We shall study the cognitive abilities of humans and animals using a variety of techniques to provide insight into how thinking works and has evolved.

The titles and order of lectures are listed below

Lecture 1 The Principles of Memory 

Mental time travel allows us to re-visit our memories and imagine future scenarios. In this paper we will explore the complex relationships between memory and human experience, including examples taken from ‘The Moustachio Quartet’, a series of novels that can be read in any order. Integrating evidences from science and the arts we will explore the subjective nature of memory and mental time travel, and will argue that it has evolved primarily for prospection as opposed to retrospection. Furthermore we will question the notion that mental time travel is a uniquely human construct, and argue that some of the best evidence for the evolution of mental time travel comes from our distantly related cousins, the corvids.

Lecture 2 Constraints on Memory and Perception 

 If we could tell you where you were going and how you could get there, would you want to know? Imagine a crystal ball that could anticipate the future: would you want to gaze into it, and if you did, what do you think you would see? Would you see yourself looking into it to know your personal future, the futures of your loved ones, or the society of which you are a part, or would you be looking for an overview of the great schema of things? Is it the case that any of these are fundamentally different in the way that they affect our perception of the world? In making an assessment of any future we may perceive, it’s all too easy to make the assumption that what we imagine and remember are accurate reflections of reality. Many of our greatest deceptions evolve out of such a faulty supposition.

Lecture 3 Cognition of Beauty 

The cognitive abilities of humans and their self-centered appreciation of beauty have become inextricably linked in fascinating ways~ many of these ideas have been reinforced by the time line travelled by a species over millennia. We argue that the ways in which we view our surroundings tell us more of how we think, than how the world actually is. Beauty isn’t just about the ways things look~ the concept exists in the mind as an idea~ one so ephemeral, we struggle to express its potency in words.

Lecture 4 The Process of Repair 

Where we live is how we live- as exemplified by the topography of our surroundings and the inner workings of our mental processes. Using Berlin as a marker, and a group activity in which you will produce a life sized sculpture of the human form, we explore renewal, regeneration and the act of repair. Join us to investigate the devices used to capture thoughts~ the methods by which we preserve the past and anticipate our future.

Lecture 5 The Myths of Memory

Memories are not only about the past~ they also affect the future. This lecture includes a screening and discussion of the film La Jetée that explores the shifting nature of memory, and questions our assumptions about how time unfolds and its implications for mental time travel.

Lecture 6 The Tool Box of Creativity

It is claimed that language and in particular the ability to read and write makes humans unique amongst the animal kingdom. But why have we evolved such a complex form of communication? We argue that story telling is central to this ability. It is the very fact that memories are made for the future which allows us to develop sophisticated acts of scenario building and planning, these skills are factual and counter factual and work in fiction and non fiction alike~ with and without words. Herein lie the tools for creativity.




~ An experimental analysis of how minds work.

NS Clayton and CAP Wilkins

~This 6-lecture series investigates fundamental features of the thinking mind. We shall study the cognitive abilities of humans and animals using a variety of techniques to provide insight into how thinking works and has evolved. The lectures include: the self, the altered self, the social self, perspective-taking and metacognition.

The titles and order of lectures are listed below

Lecture 0: Imagination~ the door to identity.

Lecture 1: The development of self~ what lies beneath.

Lecture 2: The altered self~ the storm within consciousness.

Lecture 3: The social self~ the need for communication and language.

Lecture 4: Perspective-taking~ understanding other minds and other times.

Lecture 5: Metacognition~ from thinking about thinking to the consciousness of consciousness.

Lecture 6: The Creative Navigator’s Lenses~ How to Capture New Thoughts.




Lecture 0: Imagination~ The Door to Identity

This lecture will focus on the ability to re-live our memories and imagine the future. It is key to creativity and innovative problem solving. Artists have this ability in spades: but we all do it and on a daily basis. It allows us to understand diverse realities ~ to see alternative temporal and spatial perspectives, as well as the way in which others may see things similarly and differently to ourselves. It forms the cornerstone of our identity, both individually and within society. Identity is not the same as a label, and this will be discussed.

Imagination is essential for considering future scenarios but in so doing it erodes our memories: for each time we retrieve the information we re-evaluate all that has gone before. This process is both disadvantageous and opportunistic in equal measure.

The absence of the ability to engage in mental time travel is both striking and devastating, and fundamentally changes the way a person thinks. We see this exemplified in very young children and in patients with specific brain damage. The question can be asked whether we are unique among the animal kingdom in travelling mentally in time.

Studies on animals create a window of opportunity to ask whether other alien minds might be capable of such feats. Such insight might open the door to new ways of thinking, providing a gateway to understanding alternative realities and ones beyond our own.

Lecture 1: The Development Of Self~ What Lies Within

In this lecture we shall focus on an awareness of what it means to be~ to possess a subjective consciousness of one’s self, and the world beyond that~ of when the self interacts with other selves, and how it develops. We shall first discuss some of the signposts indicating an awareness of self, and cognitive development. This will include an apposite analysis of children’s early mark making as evidence of the development of a schema for self. Our fascination for mirrors provides further evidence of the ways in which we view ourselves from inside and outside our own bodies, and how these change over time. Such source for self-reflection is both literal and metaphorical.

These things provide insightful markers that capture the development of a person’s expanding consciousness within the world they inhabit, in the absence of any reliance on language and verbal or written report. This approach is critical for it allows us to study the emergence of the conscious self before young children have mastered basic linguistic skills. What’s more this approach~ of using behavioral markers rather than verbal report provides us with an important tool not only for studying cognitive development in humans, but also for asking questions about whether or not other animals have these abilities. Finally we shall consider what it is like not to have elements of these abilities, by looking at case studies of patients who have impairments to their concept of self. What is it like to stare at one’s reflection in the mirror and question whether the image looking back at me is the real me, an altered me or some imposing imposter? No matter how often we look at ourselves can we ever be sure who we really are.

Lecture 2: The Altered Self: The Storm Within Consciousness

For this lecture we are going to focus on a journey ~ it’s the self as it travels through time in what might be described ‘the miasma of being’. This will be informed by an analysis of those influences and strictures that alter the self. These are often issues outside of ones personal control, that need to be adapted to in order to survive life in a hostile environment, where features of the landscape are constantly changing in space and time.

 This lecture is about the self~ defined by its surroundings, the topography it travels through and our ongoing plight and determination to take control of the environments that we live in, in order to preserve the self or better still to flourish. For, as humans we have a deep-rooted need to prevail, in the hope that the process of change will allow us to grow, to achieve our imagined potential. In order to assess how the self might be subject to change we shall discuss the self on a time line, and the extent to which it might be affected by disease- mental and physical, by education and experience, how it is also shaped by influences within society, technology and the very act of aging itself. This is development of self across a life’s span.

These things all constitute what might be described as the storm within consciousness. Every one of us has been affected by them. Dealing with chaos in what is a hostile world subjects the self to major challenges; used wisely the ‘upside’ is that the process inspires creativity.

Lecture 3: The social self~ the need for communication and language.

This lecture is concerned with the social self.

The self does not exist in isolation. There are two primary observations we would like to make here. The first is that the self extends beyond its own body, infiltrating and inhabiting the landscape and the environments in which it exists and through which it passes. This topography has many features, both physical and social, as we will explore. The second reason is that we share the planet with many other selves. Initially with just our parents and siblings~ our blood ties, but as we grow our social world expands as we begin to formulate our developing ideas through our shared interactions with others and with society itself. These are experiential and important factors in the emergence of the integrated social self.

We will investigate the manner in which the self is subsumed and conforms to the needs of the society in which it exists. To do so we discuss some of the striking psychological research on conformity. We then go further and describe the surprising parallels that can be seen in the politics of other primates and even more distantly related life forms with which we share our planet. We will evaluate the salience of language, behaviour, mimicry and other forms of social communication writ large that are used to survive the trials and tribulations of a social life. In addition we explore the need for cooperation and the tension between social cohesion and change.

We conclude that the human self is indeed a social self. It is an extended self, one that can views itself in context through the eyes of both others and its own ‘being’.

Lecture 4. Perspective-Taking: Understanding Other Minds And Other Times.

This lecture focuses on perspective taking. There are tools, both sensory and cognitive, that we use to enable ourselves to see and know the world. Perspective taking is the acknowledgement that there are multiple versions of what we experience existing both within  ourselves and within those others with whom we share similar (but alternative) versions of  reality. Perspective-taking  plays a key role in our ability to understand other minds and other times.

These aspects of perceptual social and temporal perspective taking play a critical role in our ability to imagine. Imagination forms the cornerstone to our identity and creativity. There are however down sides to the subjective experience of perspective taking~ our brains too readily anticipate and associate, we look for patterns that we can see with immediacy, in the here and now, which blind us to that which may be beyond.

In this lecture we will also consider the impact these perspective taking abilities have upon our social world, with a focus on both the challenge of monogamy and of movements within society.  We shall discuss how, in an idealized world, these things can be used to enhance the emergent properties of collective consciousness. Writ large this is all about the subjective experience of thinking, both individually and collectively.

Where can this logically be taken? Is it a short distance or an enormous one? The ability to see both self and society with clarity is no easy task. Such meta cognition is the subject of the final lecture in this series.

Lecture 5. Meta-Cognition: From Thinking About Thinking to the Consciousness of Consciousness

In this lecture we propose to move towards the frontiers of our own thinking, into those places where we make ourselves press noses hard up against a glass to see what might lie beyond. We are referring to the consciousness of consciousness, the ability to think about seeing outside of the box. This will include various features of meta-cognition that we hinted at in the previous lecture.  It is the place this series of lectures has been heading towards. We have traveled through the self, into the altered self, further still into the society of self, and beyond that into perspective taking. Finally we arrive at the pinnacle of cognition, being that ability we have to be aware of thought; and our own and others’ consciousness of it.

We are going to explore a number of key features that comprise meta-cognition~ an awareness of perception, memory and thought, in our self and other selves, in the here and now and in other times. These are topics that we have touched on before. They will be revisited in a new light and experienced in a new way. A feat we can only achieve with the meta-cognitive brain. To do this we will evaluate and indeed re-evaluate the evidence from comparative cognition and cognitive neuroscience. Where does this take us? In order to address this question we consider what consciousness is for and where its potential applications may lie. It’s the construction of a self-aware road map, one that might define the future for our planet and our place upon it. Beyond that, we begin to define further opportunities for ourselves, in the hope of breaking the code of which we are part. Are we standing at a cross roads where the next future might allow us to think in remarkably new ways, ones that we have never seen or recognized before?

Lecture 6. The Creative Navigator’s Lenses~ How to Capture New Thoughts.

On a good day we can delight in a new thought. But where do our new ideas come from? Can we make more good days for ourselves? What needs to be in place before that happens?

Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different.

Creativity is knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do.

In this lecture we propose to explore the essential strategies that can aid and support the generation of new ideas that can in turn trigger new thinking.

We are going to explore a number of key features about the process of discovery and the nature of creativity.

In order to do this the spectator will be encouraged to view their world and appreciate the cognitive experience using a series of different lenses, as if wearing alternative optics or spectacles, as it were; to exemplify the process of making sense of seeing, of appreciating alternative ways of thinking. Expect the unexpected, however radical this may seem~  for these are important indicators of the creative brain.

The lecture consists of a series of live experiments that will take place in the minds of the audience.  The objective is to generate a series of phenomenological experiences that capture the process of creative thought. How do we make the brain discover a new idea? How might we trick ourselves into developing new patterns for thinking? One size might fit all~ but the ability to modify, minimize and magnify makes the creative thinking process so much more flexible.

We offer a series of six strategies that illuminate and focus on various aspects of creativity.  Furthermore using specific examples we will highlight ways in which these strategies have been incorporated into the innovations we currently live with~ ideas that have become integral to our everyday existence.



1 Response to The Captured Thought~ Lectures

  1. James says:

    I was just browsing the web and decided to type capture thought, I was trying to figure out was my thoughts being captured for others to hear, it may sound absurd, so I decided to read, and couldn’t stop reading, very informative information.

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