An integration of the hypercognition model for the development of the self with theories of the unconscious.

The Base Hypercognition Model
The Base Hypercognition Model


One of the problems with developing an interdisciplinary paradigm is that all the specialists think it is wrong. The first few times I sketched out this idea, I never heard so much naive accusation that I am naive. Behaviorists screamed at me that there is no such thing as the unconscious; developmental psychologists were totally disinterested, because the current trend is to dismiss any 'tabula rasa' theory as impossible; neurologists sneered at the simplistic modeling of all the other parts of the brain; metaphysicists objected to Kripke's theory of causal naming theory (1980) because ideas are Platonic 'things in themselves' (380 BC); linguists relished the chance to smash another universal language; artificial intelligence programmers wanted me to choose between template mapping and neural networks before thinking about a self-aware software intelligence; logicians hiccupped at the concept of non-Aristotelian logic...and philosophers of mind object to the idea of a software AI possessing self awareness.

To speak in defense of those who would rather I didn't actually have a new paradigm, it is the nature of science to be skeptical of anything that can't be proven. Scientists have become so accustomed to hearing improvable ideas, they dismiss ideas as improvable before trying to understand them. Philosophers also tend to adopt one school of thought, believing all others to be insensible. My contention is that this theory is sensible and provable, although it may be beyond my scope to do more than indicate how, because, given the state of advancement in the above eight fields separately, it should be possible to develop a self-aware software intelligence from tabula rase using established theories from each. The reason it has not yet happened became quite obvious when I tried discussing it with people. This paradigm draws from different disciplines that have been educated to hate each other more than their own competitors in the same field of study.

Nature versus Nurture

Historically, there are two strong camps on the nature/nurture debate:

  • The extreme 'nature' view is that the human brain is entirely preprogrammed with objectified language, emotions, social attitudes, and desires. This is scientifically popular at the moment, the fashionable view is to agree with Pinker ("The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature," 2002), but in my view, that is just an easy exit for those who don't want to consider how self-awareness, at least, could develop from a blank slate. It's much easier to assume self cognitions are already there but not observable, because a baby doesn't have the skill to prove so at birth.
  • The opposing extreme 'nurture view' is that there may be autonomous responses, but cognition itself is a 'blank slate' (also called 'tabula rasa') at birth. The problem, historically, has been that philosophers preferring this view (dating back to Aristotle and Locke) have also been Platonic idealists. This is to say, they assume there is some abstract ideal form behind concepts, such as equality or justice, which we initially perceive only as if they are shadows on a wall, but not knowing they are only shadows, we think they are real; and as we mature, we may discover the Truth (with a capitol 'T').

From a scientific perspective, both the nurture argument and the Platonic ideal of forms are both mostly removable with Occam's razor (which is a method of inquiry based on removing unnecessary presuppositions). I believe it could be possible to create a software intelligence which could be self aware and dream with a balance between nature and nurture, and somewhat less nurture than nurturists now advocate. The issue I faced was more a problem of determining a necessary subset of theories which would make it possible to do, and it transpired I needed theories from many different disciplines that don't normally like each other.

This is the first in a series of discussions on how to do so.


Any model of the self has to explain not only what the self is, but also and perhaps more importantly, how the concept of self came into existence in the first place, and how it develops over time. This is because, the concept of self cannot exist until we exist, and therefore, it must have been created somehow, where there was no such self concept before. Indeed, the method by which we conceive ourselves may also change over time, as we learn various aspects of ourselves. For instance, while we may have earlier conceptions, we don't really understand social interactions based upon sexual differences until after puberty.

Piagetian Development

The Piaget theory of cognitive development holds that we are aware of ourselves even before birth, but we lack the cognitive ability to differentiate our own senses, body, and actions from the surrounding material world. We perceive the world as a general undifferentiated mass of sensations, not even being able to distinguish between our own body, and the world around it. Then gradually, over time, we discover which experiences, causes, and actions are of ourselves, and which experiences, causes, and actions are of the external world, in a series of stages.In later stages, we also form the ability to reason about our own consciousness and emotions, but initially, we don't have the ability to reason about what part of our conscious emotions are from ourselves, and what part are from other people's emotions;and this in particular takes a long time to learn.

While the theory was very exciting and well thought out, Piaget based all his observations on his own child. For example, Piaget suggested that we initially think something taller must have a larger internal surface area, and later learn that area is not related to height. After we learn height, we learn volume;and so on. Piaget performed simple game experiments with his child, over time, to create the theory of developmental stages.

Later 'Piaget bashing' psychologists performed variations of Piaget's experiments to disprove, for example, concept of area precedes concept of volume. And slowly, over time, so many flaws in his theory of progressive development were created by finding anomalies in developmental sequence, his entire model of cognition no longer made sense. However, for many decades,there was no alternative model.

The Hypercognition model

In more recent decades, a large number of alternative theories have appeared. For example, in the 1990s, Demetriou and Case modeled the action and development of neocortical activity as a three-stage process across six levels, corresponding to the six layers and three intersecting zones found in the physical neocortex area of the brain.

Cognition Stages

The three stages are:

  1. CONTROL ~ Before performing higher-level reasoning, a core process sets the speed and amount of neural activity across six domains which will be assigned to a learning or reasoning from learned facts. The core process itself is an automatic regulatory system.
  2. DOMAIN-BASED PROCESSING ~ Six domains of processing are applied. The categories are described below.
  3. HYPERCOGNITION ~ A strong directive-executive function sets and pursues mental and behavioral goals until they are attained, based on sensations, domain-based processing, and emotions. The results may be seen as 'stored' in short-term memory, then long-term memory.

Processing Domains

The six domains of processing are:

  1. CATEGORICAL - Enables hierarchical grouping of concepts, based of similarities and differences.
  2. QUANTITATIVE - Evaluates quantitative variations and relations, including mathematical concepts and operations;
  3. CAUSAL - Forms propositions, based on deciphering trial-and-error tests and isolation of variables; and evaluates truth/falsity and validity/invalidity of propositions or representations.
  4. SPATIAL- Creates mental image maps with imaginal representations, either of material objects or concepts, and performs operations on them, such as scaling and rotation,
  5. SOCIAL - Monitors non-verbal communication, manipulates social interactions, and evaluates moral relationships.
  6. LINGUISTIC - Forming syntactical and grammatical relationships out of cognitions from the prior six domains.

The following diagram illustrates Demetriou's original model.

Demetriou's Model for Cognition in the Neocortex
Demetriou's Model for Cognition in the Neocortex

Feedback from Executive Function

The result of the processing is action (either as motor action or speech), emotion (which feeds back into the model's first stage to control speed and amount of neural activity), and cognitive development (which is applying the hypercognition's results to change and store the information in the six processing domains). The amount that hypercognitive activity changes cognition may be short term, or long term, depending on input from the control stage.

The Self, Self Awareness, and Self Conception

This model conceives the self in two respects:

  • First, Demetriou states that we are conscious of the hypercognitive process, although we may not be conscious of how the process itself works.
  • Second, we form a hypercognition of ourselves, termed self awareness, as a learned experience of prior consciousness. The learned experience is itself found inside the hypercognitive stage, based upon input from the six processing domains. That is, we use the same cognition system to define ourselves, and that cognition is where we reason about our own emotions and causes.

Phases of Development

The model of hypercognition permits there to be domains of cognitive development which can progress at different rates,and that during learning, we also have to learn in which domain our consciousness should focus, in order to understand an experience, and react to it. This schema overcomes the problem with Piagetian theory that staged development cannot be empirically demonstrated.

Demetriou's Model for Cognitive Development from Birth
Demetriou's Model for Cognitive Development from Birth

The model is useful in two respects. First, the long history of experiments in Piagetian development, and its problems, is still applicable within the model, but the conclusions from the experiments are redefined. Thus the model provides a new paradigm in defining the needs of education which already contains much empirical research. You may observe, by the diagram, the postulation of four phases of development:

  • Sensorimotor (1st-order relations)
  • Inter-relational (2nd-order relations, 1st-order symbolic)
  • Dimensional (3rd-order relations, 2nd-order symbolic)
  • Abstract (4th-order relations, 3rd-order symbolic, 2nd-order dimensions)

Each of these four developmental phases may occur at different rates for different parts of the cognition system. So for example, a child may be able to understand that taller cylinders may be thinner and therefore have less volume than a shorter cylinder, before understanding that a tall, thin rectangle could have a larger area than a square. This is because the quantitative, causal, and spatial domains of understanding are separate, and so may develop at different rates. This was in fact the basis for defining separate domains of understanding in the cognitive model.

Second, the model helps with understanding how cognitive errors can be created in neocortical development, which, if they cause psychological disorders and memory problems, for example, may be resolvable cognitively.

Relating the Hypercognition Model to Theories of Unconscious

A Model of the Psyche.
A Model of the Psyche.

Hypercognition provides an excellent model for the conscious self, but it makes no mention of the 'unconscious' as in the Freudian and Jungian models of the psyche. In fact, the models are not inconsistent.

When forming a basic causal relationship, one first experiences a sequence of sensations with consequent results. Initially, one forms a direct causal relationship between the sensation and result;then, after aggregate experience, one forms an abstract relationship instead. For example, a child touches the stove when it is cooking and is burned, learning that the stove can cause pain. Later, with aggregate experience, the child learns to abstract the sensation of the stove as 'heat,' so it is the heat from the stove which causes pain, and other hot objects may also therefore cause pain. Consequently, the memory of the stove itself as the cause of pain is discarded as a primary factor, because the child learns that the stove causes heat, and it is the heat that causes pain.

Id and Shadow

In Freudian and Jungian thought, the memory of being burned by the stove remains in the unconscious, and later, if there are developmental difficulties, the stove may be seen as some evil object in dreams, or in irrational fear patterns. It is this unconscious connection between events which originally caused the formation of abstract relationships that Freud and Jung explore, at a deeper level.

  • In Freud, the emphasis is on early experience with taboo and sexual organs, associated with toilet training and dressing in clothes, which the child unconsciously applies to sexual interactions and social relationships. In Freud these unconscious relationships become part of the unconscious conception of the self, called the 'id.' If there were severe problems in early childhood, the unconscious problems associated with the primal causes becomes complex, as many ancillary cognitions may be associated with the problem, especially if ancillary cognitions caused fear or anger, the two primary emotional drives. The purpose of Freudian psychoanalysis is to find all those associations through a deep social relationship with the therapist as anew authority figure, who then guides the patient into a more reasonable interpretation of new events.
  • In Jung, the emphasis is instead on dreams, as they reveal archetypal symbols in the unconscious which drive the individual's interpretation of social interaction. Jung classifies such archetypal symbols as part of the undifferentiated awareness, which as shared by all people, defines a 'universal unconscious, from which the self cannot be differentiated, which in the psyche forms the individual's shadow. For both Freud and Jung, as well as there being a 'lower' unconscious state, there is also an unconscious element in self conception. According to the hypercognition model, self conception is the result of turning one's own cognitive processes onto one's own consciousness, and therefore, just as for the stove being replaced by heat, there are elements in one's experience of one's own awareness which become unconscious.

Superego and Persona

To both Freud and Jung, this element, the unconscious awareness of oneself, forms a higher-order abstraction in self awareness.

  • In Freud, it is called the superego, which is the unconscious representation of one's strong directive-executive function in hypercognition. Freud's interest is to correct the behavior of the directive executive function.
  • In Jung, it is called the persona, which is the 'mask' that the self wears in social interaction. In formal relationships, the persona should be dominant, as the person acts in accordance with learned social conventions. In informal relationships, the self lets parts of the unconscious freely change the persona, deepening its ability to respond to new situations.

Clarifying the Jungian Model

While most people are somewhat familiar with applications of Freud's model of psyche. most don't know the application of the Jungian model, because it has been obscured by an almost excessive interest in its mythological and mystical implications (which are certainly not scientific). So first, to sum up the axioms: the Jungian model of the mind has three elements:

  • The persona ('mask'), which is how we choose to project ourselves on the world
  • The self, which is rational, Kantian in nature, and contains of one's memories of self apperception
  • An ultimately unknowable fragment of the collective unconsciousness called 'the shadow,' manifest as dream states and unconsciously motivating the persona.

Because one tends to reject or remain ignorant of the least desirable aspects of one's personality, the shadow is largely negative. The shadow merges with imperceptible division into the collective unconscious. Hence in absolute terms, the shadow is everything of which a person is not fully conscious, but about which a person is aware of the nature of others' minds.

The shadow is like a bottomless bag. The individual self attempts to construct a rational model of realty, from which successful results are 'pushed up' into the persona. Unsuccessful results cause 'cognitive dissonance, that is, 'a mental stress of discomfort from attempting to hold conflicting beliefs or ideas.'

As we encounter facts and events causing cognitive dissonance, we shove the implications deeper into the 'bottomless bag' of our shadow. The greater the cognitive dissonance, the deeper we push them down. The deeper we push facts and events irreconcilable with our persona down, the more emotional is our response when the rational persona is confronted with a conflict needing those buried truths to resolve.

By contrast with Freud's 'id,' which was formed from trauma during childhood in response to sexual and toilet problems, the shadow is not a static predefined element of the mind, but rather continually evolving. Most people are too involved with the persona to understand their own shadow at all until in their 50s, but some younger people are capable of appreciating the significance of the model. I should state, I was rather insulted myself when I was younger that Jungians dismissed me as unable to understand my own shadow,but now I feel they may actually have had a point.

So it is, according to Jung, "the shadow, in being instinctive and irrational, is prone to psychological projection, in which a perceived personal inferiority is recognised as a perceived moral deficiency in someone else." (wikipedia)

Jungian Interpretation of Emotional Criticism

Let us consider one example: suppose an individual criticizes another in an insulting way, while thinking they are responding rationally. According to the Jungian model, this provides an insight into deep conflicts they cannot resolve in their own persona. They are unconsciously aware that their persona is inadequate, and the emotional response appears as ridicule of others, which the scorners themselves do not recognize as revealing their own inadequacies buried in their shadow. According to this view, the scoffing, emotional impatience, hostile objection, and insults are all conscious criticisms of others produced by an unconscious criticism of ourselves.

This is because the persona is our attempt to project ourselves rationally on the world; but the shadow, in being that which we rationally deny as valid, contains all that is irrational, for which we desire a rational explanation but cannot produce. All events which do not fit within our desired values of love, justice, order, etc., appears in the shadow as denied frustration.

These frustrations with the rationality of others, which we cannot reconcile with our own rationality, unconsciously pop up into into the persona as emotional objections to others; but the emotional objection is only apparent. The real objection is, in fact, with our own inability to reason rationally about the world all people share, and interact with the shared reality in the same way we would like others to interact with us.

But the shared reality contains both their truth and ours, which ultimately must coexist. Most importantly, according to Jung, we cannot ever ultimately separate our shadow from the universal unconscious, and so there is no real division between ourselves and others whose persona may significantly and materially differ with our own.

Because there is no absolute division, we necessarily reveal our own imperfect thought by criticising others. The more emotionally charged the hostility to other interpretations, the more problematic is the unconscious fracture in our own mind which caused us to react so emotionally.

Thus in situations where no empirical resolution of differing views is possible, it will always remain impossible to define, in any Aristotelian sense, whether an objection to another's mind is true or false. We can only know that, by thinking such objections are absolutely true or false with any emotional reaction, we necessarily introduce the possibility that our statements may be hypocritical. The only fact we cannot really deny is that we may be wrong, but unable to know it.

The apparent deduction from Jungian thought may appear to be thus: the strength of emotional reaction is an indication of the amount of hypocrisy. And that may be reasonable within a shared framework of reality that opposing groups share commensurably. But there's no way to be sure that the emotional reaction was caused irrationally, by some other, totally unrelated factor in the unconscious. If there is an unconscious emotional reaction, then the rational statements we make, based on our individual cognizance, could be founded on an irrational flaw in the premises, which we buried in our unconscious, because we could not resolve them. Therefore, if we have a strong, negative, unconscious emotion, then the argument we are making in criticizing someone else is definitely based on an irrational premise, and may even be hypocritical too.

The Jungian approach to helping those who wish to improve their psyche is to determine the location of such flaws in the unconscious and bring them to the surface, so that the individual can resolve the previously unknown paradoxes, develop a deeper rationality, and thus overcome emotional problems.

The Model of Rational Self

In both Freud and Jung, the intermediary between id/shadow and superego/persona is the Self. In normal situations, the self is rational, and fully conscious. When an individual is mentally disturbed, or in an unusual situation, or in an unexpected situation, the Self becomes irrational Parts of the id appear in the superego; or parts of the shadow appear in the persona, when they should not.

The irrationality may take two main forms: neurosis and psychosis.

  • Neurosis refers to dangerous behavior when the understanding of the world is rational, but the reactions to it are irrational. That is, the executive function in hypercognition is not functioning correctly.
  • Psychosis refers to dangerous behavior when the understanding of the world itself is irrational. That is, there are flaws in the processing domains.

A Direction for Future Endeavour

It has been described how the new model of hypercognition can integrate with traditional Freudian and Jungian models of psychoanalysis. The hypercognition model defines three stages of cognition across six domains, learned in four phases, and is consistent both with much experimental research, and the neurological structure of the brain itself.

It therefore seems reasonable to infer that new insights, discoveries, and methods for education and abnormal psychology could result from analyzing how the stages, domains, and phases of hypercognition fit with psychoanalytical theory at a deeper level.

An Example: The Feelings of Color

This semiotic model organizes sensory connections at the top, and deeper glandular connections at the bottom. Direct paths or positive and negative association are black and red, respectively. Indirect paths are other colors. Strong associations are thicker lines, and weak associations are thinner lines.

A Semiotic Model Linking Perception with Emotion
A Semiotic Model Linking Perception with Emotion

The primary network shown here is of shade, with strong associations to black and white, and weak associations to dark and light.

The primary network for the color associations connects to a deeper network. The deeper network has primary connections to romance and innocence. These in turn connect to deeper abstractions of fear and hope.

Fear and hope are considered deep-rooted abstractions, sometimes referred to as the 'lizard brain.' The lizard-level reactions are known to pass through the hypothalamus, the third ventricle in the brain, for stimulation of the autonomic nervous system and endocrinal response. Fear may stimulate the adrenal gland, for example, to produce adrenaline. Adrenaline is known to accelerate cognition, and therefore affects the control stage in our cognitive model. Hope may connect, through the cerebral peduncle, to the reticular formation in the brainstem and spine, stimulating serotonin release throughout the body.

In this network, romance has a deep, strong association with hope; however romance also has a deep, weak association with fear. Hence the color black causes a mild, indirect cognitive dissonance, as it stimulates both fear and hope. The cognitive dissonance causes an emotional association with the color.

Hypercognition and Cognitive Dissonance

This model is based on merging separate theories into a unified semiotic model.

  • HYPERCOGNITION, as described above, is a recent cognitive model with three stages and six processing domains. The stages are control, domain processing, and action thought the executive function (consciousness). The domains are categorical, quantitative, causal, spatial, social, and linguistic. For a more detailed description and its link to the unconscious, please see the earlier article in this series.
  • COGNITIVE DISSONANCE is a process by which conflicting signals passing through the unconscious create an emotional reaction. For a more detailed description of its implications in this model, please see the next article in this series.

About the Semiotic Approach

Semiotics is the study of signs and theories, often divided into semantics (meaning), syntactics (relationships), and pragmatics (agents). It is a relatively new field, with applications in many areas.

As cognition refers to the process of understanding (either consciously or unconsciously), the semiotics of cognition belongs in the semantics category. However, that does not imply that this article is about semantics. It is about applying semiotics, the theory of signs and relationships, to model the semantics of cognition.

This is an important distinction between a semiotic and a semantic approach, because the semiotic model proposed here for cognition only attempts to understand the nature of cognition via symbolic relationships. It does not claim to produce 'meaning' from those relationships in a semantic sense, and it does not claim that the model directly corresponds to some physical structure in the brain. Rather, it is a higher-level abstraction to aid in understanding how the mind functions.

How the Abstraction Corresponds to Meaning and Physiology

The higher-level abstraction could correspond in functionality to a semantic model, or a physiological model. A true semantic model, or a true model of the physiological functions, would seek to map the higher-level abstractions to absolute ideas, or actual neural structure; that is, a semantic model would attempt to derive the genuine primary and secondary relationships for the word 'light;' and similarly, a physiological model may attempt to claim that there is one specific cell in the brain which is stimulated by the word 'light,' and determine its connections.

The Linguistic Correspondence

In actuality, there may be no such direct correspondence. As described in the prior article INSERT LINK, this cognition model has six separate processing domains. One of these domains, the linguistic domain, translates the abstractions from the other processing domains into language. So in this model, there is no absolute direct relationship between the cognition associated with the word 'light,' and the word 'light' itself. The cognition acts on symbols, maintained in the other five cognition domains. Then, if one attempts to describe the cognitions, they are mapped to actual words by the linguistic processing domain and passed to the executive function (the seat of consciousness).

The Neural Correspondence

Again, there is no absolute direct correspondence, but here we can sketch out some underlaying physiology. This is a rapidly developing field, so there is always new information on the specifics.

For the purposes of discussion, let's imagine that a single color has been perceived, then passed up to the neocortex for hypercognition. The control stage determines how much processing to devote to the task, then passes the stimulus through categorical and spatial processing domains for finding the abstract associations linked to the stimulus. While those higher-level abstractions are being formed, the linguistic domain, receives stimuli from those abstractions to indicate specific words. The executive function receives possible words to describe the abstraction from the linguistic processing domain, and passes the specific word to the executive function.

The individual then consciously chooses a word, passes it to lower-level processing for utterance, The result is also routed back to the beginning of the cognition stages, passing through the control stage via the short-term memory store. The cognition then reaches long-term memory, and may pass through the processing domains too, to modify the higher level abstractions.

This feedback loop is demonstrable scientifically, as the length and extent of cognition which can be maintained in short-term memory is measurable by scientific experiment, Generally speaking, these experiments creating additional tasks for cognition, before the feedback from the cognition can complete, causing the subject under experiment not to be able to remember details or adjust cognitive processing. Such experiments indicate that the feedback loop, though short-term memory, is quite long in neural terms: 20~30 seconds. An individual neuron typically fires and stimulates another neuron in about 2 ms.

This implies that the shortest path in the cognition feedback loop contains a series of 10,000 neurons.

Hence, it would be very difficult to model the complete cognition process. The feedback loop alone contains 10,000 neurons at a minimum. The human neocortex itself contains between 19 billion and 23 billion cells, or an average of 3 billion cells for each of the six main processing domains. In studies of mice, each neocortical cell was found to have about 45,000 connections to other cells. Clearly, it is unfeasible to construct a complete model of every single cell at this time.

Minimizing the Model Requirements

Semiotics provides a way to represent cognition at a more abstract level, in the same way that models of atoms can describe molecules made from them, and moreover, properties of atoms can not only be used to predict the characteristics and behavior of chemicals, but to form predictions for similar chemicals. For example, by understanding the different kinds of atoms in the periodic table, one can not only understand why hydrogen is explosive and helium is non-reactive, but also, one can infer the same properties for other elements with electron valences of similar characteristics.

Hence, it could be possible that a semiotic model could provide the basis for modeling the overall characteristics of cognition in ways that would apply multifold. As yet, this endeavor is still speculative. The challenge, in the future, may be to determine what the specific characteristics of the model should be, such as for example, how logical relationships are best represented; the number of *actual used* connections to provide analogous functionality to cognition (as it is known only a fraction of neural connections actually fire for any one cognition)..

The Resulting Integrated Model
The Resulting Integrated Model


  1. Demetriou, A. (2006)Neo-Plagetian Theories of Cognitive Development.
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  3. Freud, S. (1933) New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, Penguin Freud Library
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More Complete Reference List

Some have asked for some more references, I am still compiling it, but here is a start.

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