Mental categories do not exist independently, our ‘thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviour tend to organize themselves in meaningful and sensible ways' (Zajonc, 1960, p.261). In other words, the constructs are connected in a system, an ‘inner structure' that can be loosely defined as a network of prior knowledge, or a set of memory schemas that support each other. Processing new information means fitting it into this overall structure that is created through interaction between the person and the world. Everybody starts building shis inner structure from the beginning, and continues to do so throughout shis life. Some parts are adopted and some are the result of personal experience. As sociologist Peter Marris points out, ‘in part, these mature structures of meaning can be represented as the common knowledge into which the members of a society are inducted by the language they learn, the principles of classification and causality they are taught - its science, cosmology, ideology, and cultural assumptions. But they also interpret the unique experience of each personal history' (1982, p.192). So, the structure is not only physically and socially determined, but also depends on the individual.
There are indications that the inner structure is organised into several layers or rings. Although the content of the rings can be extrapolated through introspection, verbal reports or behavioural clues, perception of the rings is prevented by our own rings. Thus, while the body can be perceived indirectly (through the senses) and some processes in the soul directly, the rings cannot be. Their existence and organisation is postulated here on the basis of two revelatory experiences and deductive inferences. Considering that it is difficult to validate revelatory insights, the rings do not need to be accepted literally. They can be taken as a conceptual device that is conducive to providing a fuller account of mental operations. Such tools have been used in other disciplines. Science, for example, has created several models of the atom, of which some appeared later not to be entirely accurate, but nevertheless have served a purpose at a certain stage of understanding.
It is suggested that human beings can have up to four rings (while animals have only one). Any mental event can, of course, cut across the rings as brain modules cut across several layers of neuro cells. Each ring has two aspects: one forms the self-concept (personality, or ‘I'), while the other forms the world concept. Every further ring is less conditioned and rigid, and therefore more susceptible to the influence of intent.
The first ring is primarily constructed through images (and other perceptions). The reference point is physical reality. As all the other rings, it has two faces: one consists of the perception of the material world, and the other of the perception of one's own body (as a primary identifier). Virtually everybody agrees that our perception of the physical world is a part of consciousness consisting of constructs that correspond (to some degree) to reality. This applies to our own bodies too. The image of the body is also a construct reinforced by physical sensations from moment to moment. Searle writes:
Common sense tells us that our pains are located in physical space within our bodies, that for example, a pain in the foot is literally in the physical space of the foot. But we now know that is false. The brain forms a body image, and pains like all bodily sensations, are part of the body image. (1992, p.63)
But the brain constructs a ‘wrong' image, very different from our perception of our bodies (e.g. the neck is not next to the head). We, however perceive the body correctly. It is proposed that this is due to the first ring. A so created image is, of course, a dynamic structure - as the body changes, the structure changes too (often in a subtle way).
The two sides, the perception of one's body and of the physical world, are closely related and integrated. Their de-fragmentation can have a devastating effect (as it is well documented in psychiatric literature). Although a largely spontaneous process, sustaining the ring requires some effort. As early as the 1920s, neurologist Paul Schilder wrote that ‘The body-image is the result of an effort and cannot be completely maintained when the effort ceases' (1935, p.287). This effort consists of the attention to sensations received through the body from physical reality and the body itself, and of intentional control over some parts of one's body (as already mentioned, if one's limb, for example, is paralysed or cannot be controlled, it is almost immediately perceived as alien).
The second ring consists of socially determined constructs and is primarily structured through language. The reference point is social products (e.g. text-books, religious texts, instructions, rituals). These conceptual schemas create a net of information that becomes, beside the body-world image, another frame of the soul. It is more permeable and broader because it has elements that cannot be physically perceived (e.g. abstractions such as ‘happiness') and because it has more flexible rules.
This ring also has two complementary sides: the one that relates to oneself (one's name, social identifications, roles and functions, etc.) and another relating to one's social world, the particular ideological framework within which a society operates - in other words, the cultural embodiment (e.g. one's religion).
The third ring also has two aspects: one relates to personal views, opinions and values about the world and others (e.g. friends). The other incorporates personality constructs (the self-image or ego). The reference point is not the physical or social world but one's own private world, which is why a sense of personal importance is one of its main characteristics. Self-creation is also an imperative. Ego, therefore, is not permanent - it is an evolving projection, a construct, an image that we have about ourselves (which does not need to correspond fully to the real person). It is largely based on impressions that we leave on ourselves, self-assessments. For example, although judgements such as ‘I am old, fat, beautiful...' refer largely to the body, they belong to the third, not the first ring. This construct is another embodiment of the soul, another identity besides the body and social roles. As the other rings , self-image has a protective role - we create an ego-shell as a psychological shield to protect us when we go beyond the conventional and start developing individuality. This ring not only enables further separation of the soul from other non-material energy, but also its intentional shaping based on self-reflection (rather than just through instincts and responses to the environment) and a better control over mental processes. It is, therefore, more modifiable and permeable than the previous rings and can accelerate development.
The fourth ring has two sides as well. One consists of global ideas about oneself as a human being (e.g. perceiving oneself as an electro-chemical process, an emergent brain process, or an interaction process). The other consists of the constructs related to wider reality beyond an individual's immediate experience. In other words, a ‘cosmology' that defines one's view of reality (which may involve, but does not need to, the non-material aspect). So, the reference point is the universal. All the major ways of acquiring knowledge, at their best, contribute to this ring. For example, the laws or thermodynamics in science, the dialectic principle in philosophy, common sense realism, and the notion of the purpose, meaningfulness of life in spirituality. Not all of them, of course, need to be correct, but it is notoriously difficult to prove or refute them (even the laws of thermodynamics are in fact not laws but theorems). Thus, an element of belief and choice (that is sometimes based on unadulterated intuition) may be involved. This does not mean that they are relative and subjective, only that their validation (or refutation) requires a complex or multidisciplinary process, often difficult to achieve using existing language and linear logic. For this reason, they are frequently expressed in highly symbolic ways (e.g. geometrical and mathematical representations, archetypal images, metaphors etc.). This ring has the most permeable boundaries.
The following diagram is suggested as a schematised representation of the rings:
This diagram, of course, is only an abstraction. As already mentioned, the rings cannot be observed, and the part of the soul associated with physical life is perceived as a whole (like a ‘person' in a dream that appears as a whole, although only the part of the one who is actually sleeping and dreaming is involved). The figure is also an idealised representation, the rings are not so clearly demarcated in reality, they may cross or overlap with each other.
In any case, this representation shows that both, the brain field (that consists of waves produced by neurons) and the soul field, go beyond rings. On the other hand, the field of awareness (marked out by the two lines coming from the self) is normally restricted to the rings. To use the above analogy again, it is like a dreamer who is usually limited by the boundaries of the dream and does not remember anything else. Moreover, at any particular moment, we are aware of only a small part of the rings (and, of course, not all four need to be included). However, awareness can move, in which case we become aware of different constructs.
It is important to clarify that although the rings are constructed with the help of images and words, they do not consist of them, but of ideas extracted from personal information and organised into schemas. They capture abstract, ideational content (similar to propositional representations in psychology but more fluid and fuzzy). Their constitutive elements are representations of conceptual objects and relations in a form that is not particular to any language or to any modality (e.g. vision, audition). So, although they may contribute to especially long term memory recall or restoration, they are likely to have a negligible role regarding specific memories. This is evident from mistakes that those who have suffered brain damage typically make (e.g. misplacing time, locations or persons). Therefore, there is no straightforward correlation between the rings and either episodic memories (experience related) or semantic memories (information related).
Some possible questions
Is walking, for example, also a construct?
Constructs do not need to be associated with symbolic representations. Walking is a type of knowledge that is based on a selection of movements, affirmed by repetition and habituated. Walking is, therefore, an action based on physical constructs.
Are animals more aware because they have only one ring to limit their awareness?
The further rings, in fact, enable an expansion of awareness (because it is possible to encompass more). For example, animals are not aware of what they know (they can use their knowledge, but cannot reflect on it). On the other hand, although the first ring may have a narrow scope and is the least permeable, it is still more so than all four rings together. This is why animals may be sensitive to some information to which humans are normally not (besides the point that their sensory apparatus may also be superior).
Does information arrive first in awareness or in the rings?
Information is not information if somebody is not aware of it. However, any new information is perceived through the ‘glasses' of the existing constructs. In other words awareness is filtered, and therefore, when a sensation becomes information, awareness and the rings operate simultaneously.
- . If an attempt is made to bracket our own rings, the rings of others get bracketed too, so again we cannot perceive them.
- . Recalling that the basic shape of the soul is a torus, can explain how it is possible that a part of the soul that identifies with a physical body can be separated from the rest of the soul and at the same time feed the experiences into it.
- . Barry Stein's laboratory at Wake Forest University found that the shape of a right angle drawn on the hand of a chimpanzee starts the visual part of the brain working, even when the shape has not been seen.