Ming the Mechanic:
Semantic Pauses

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Semantic Pauses2010-08-23 01:31
11 comments
picture by Flemming Funch

This is an answer to the question How does one perform a "cortico-thalamic pause"? on Quora.

The idea of a "cortico-thalamic pause" springs from General Semantics and was popularized in the Null-A science fiction books by A.E. von Vogt.

It has also been called a Semantic Pause or a Cognitive Pause.

Thalamus/Thalamic is here used as a shorthand for the lower brain functions, associated with feelings, sensing, pain, pleasure, instincts, bodily functions, etc. Massive sub-conscious parallel processing goes on there and responses are often immediate.

Neo-Cortex/Cortical is the shorthand for the higher, more recently developed, brain functions, associated with conscious thinking, reasoning, language use, deliberate decision making, etc. It can do abstract thinking, but can't focus on more than a couple of things at the same time.

We easily get in trouble when we mix the two. Our ability to abstract is rather new and apparently a bit faulty. The cortex might construct a "meaning" for some lower level sensations which gives rise to faulty decisions. The thalamic system might launch instant action based on what was sketchy reasoning in the cortex. E.g. killing somebody because they have the wrong religious belief.

Note that I don't personally buy the idea that consciousness originates in the brain. But clearly it is involved in the process, and what we know about brains is very useful in helping us understand the structure of thinking.

The idea of the semantic pause is basically to be conscious of the link between one's reactions and one's reasoning, and to make sure they're in sync. It doesn't have to be a literal pause in time, but it could be. It is an equivalent of "count to ten before you...".

If you were about to take impulsive physical action, the pause would allow you to think through the logic and implications of what you were about to do.

The other way around, if you thought you just arrived at a logical, well reasoned conclusion, a semantic pause would allow you to notice what you actually feel about it, what your instincts tell you. Does it feel right? Does it work?

The pause is an opportunity for testing all levels of the machinery that is in play. If you were doing an experiment that you were about to draw certain conclusions from, it would of course be very wise to check and double check everything from the bottom up. What are the characteristics and limitations of the parts and materials you're using? Are there outside influences? At which points do you abstract (simplify) a complex phenomenon into something more simplistic? Are there ambiguities? Are there multiple possible interpretations? What would the words you use mean to different people?

The objective is to take decisions and actions that are coherent, congruent and sane at all levels. The cortico-thalamic pause is a system check and a consistency check at and between multiple levels.

The primary ingredient is consciousness. Pay attention. Be aware. Examine everything that is there, including your own thoughts, your premises, your feelings, what you perceive.

There are certain tools that are helpful. A consciousness of abstraction is vital. Simply being aware that there are many levels of abstraction between what really is there and what you put into words and thoughts. Not just being aware of that, but specifically examining the transition between a "thing" and its abstraction. At what point do some rays of light become a picture in your brain? At what point do you group it together with other tables you've seen, to identify it as a "table"? At what point does the word "table" lose its connection with the particular image you saw?

There are many ways that perceptions and cognition can be fooled. There are fallacies, there are the mis-directions of stage magicians. You'd need to be well versed in such tricks, and you'd need to be skeptical about what you're being presented with. Is there any way you might be fooled? It might not really be a table, just because it looked like one, or because somebody says it is.

There are degrees to all of this. For a person to be expected to act and respond sanely, he/she must have a certain command of infinity valued logic. Which means to always be aware that there are degrees of abstraction, degrees of certainty, etc., and to be able to make the best possible conclusions based on that, despite the always present degrees of uncertainty. Somebody who thinks in black and white two-valued logic is easily manipulated and fooled.

If you have some of these skills, they will naturally be active in parallel. It will be something you'll be aware of more or less all the time.

On top of that, it will be a moment of reflection, paying full attention at as many levels as possible.

Imagine yourself waking up at a level of a dream, like in the movie Inception. How do you know if you're dreaming? Can you trust your perceptions? Are you being fooled? Is there any test you can do to verify your conclusions?

It is that kind of awareness, but applied also to possibly very routine moments in life. Pay attention. Question everything. Perceive. Feel. Think systemically.


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11 comments

23 Aug 2010 @ 05:56 by mortimer : Layers of Abstraction
People start interpreting abstractions as literal. Oh I used the term 'upper-level' once on your news log. And I placed a disclaimer with it. I place that disclaimer because I don't need nor desire the 500 year karma. You say "levels of abstraction". Would we be on the same page if I called it compartmentalization. I do initiate compartmental concepts. But they serve one ultimate purpose to de-compartmentalize.

Besides, most these layers of abstraction are accessory.
E.g. the old man with a beard in the clouds. Kids believe that abstraction. Some grow up and continue believing it.

I don't need as many levels as possible. I don't need all the extra accessory's.
Its better worded...pay full attention at as many effective levels of abstraction as possible.  



23 Aug 2010 @ 17:00 by energy : Question
Hey Ming! No time, no blog! :)

What is that link that shows real-time world problem map?
Do you know what I'm talking about?  



23 Aug 2010 @ 22:27 by ming : World problem map
Hm, no. It rings some kind of bell, but I don't remember which one.  


23 Aug 2010 @ 22:33 by ming : Abstraction and compartmentalization
Mortimer, hm, no, I'd consider compartmentalization as something else. But maybe you use it in a similar way.

I use "abstraction" about the action of creating a representation of something. The result is abstraction as a noun. Instead of a rainbow, we have a picture of a rainbow, instead of a picture of a rainbow, we have the word "rainbow", etc.

And, sure, "God" is an abstraction. And people start believing in some of the abstractions, forgetting to plug into what the abstraction was about. Other people again start attacking one abstraction with another, getting even further away from what's actually there.  



24 Aug 2010 @ 01:26 by mortimer : Attacking one abstraction with another
Well ya if the abstraction leads to rape and pillage then invalidate it. And the hit list could go on and on...

Attacking one abstraction with another. Everybody is doing it. Even those who think they are not.  



24 Aug 2010 @ 04:23 by mortimer : Abstraction
For a minute there I was getting clear meaning but alas its all fuzzy now.

Jim Craven told me they want internet radio in China. Right now sure glad I spent three months running that shout cast server. They got big ears over there in China. Funny how nobody here in the States hear the indigenous peoples. I asked my girl friend what it was like over there. She said it was bad. Then I asked her if she would move back. She said yes everybody we know here struggles to get by. I laughed. She reminded me that its not funny. I been carry that around for a month. I would ask somebody for advice. But I know what they would say.

Cost 5k to open the worlds most secure bank account in Hong Kong. The good news, my music is finally for sale.
You want to know, what's steeper than a hill. A mountain. [link]  



24 Aug 2010 @ 05:36 by mortimer : Energy : World problem map
Hi Energy. A link fitting that description recently showed up on drum robot. [link]  


14 Sep 2010 @ 14:44 by jmarc : Doug
and there is this. LINK  


24 Nov 2010 @ 18:29 by Cataclysm Leveling Guide @216.108.225.211 : Abscrations are...
Abstractions are just that, things that aren't meant to be read in such great depth.  


24 Nov 2010 @ 18:31 by Cataclysm Guide @216.108.225.211 : it is our Cognitive ability
Also it is of prime importance that we have the cognitive capacity to understand when something is beyond our grasp. Why cant we just stick to world of warcraft?
- Admin at cataclysm leveling guide  



24 Nov 2010 @ 18:33 by Gary Simmers @216.108.225.211 : Google is god
Google is great - Google is god. We just google everything..even if it means landing up on such pages taht change the way you view the world
[link] is god
[url="http://google.com"] is god!  



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Other stories in
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2014-09-26 15:15: Brevity
2011-11-06 21:33: Counting what counts
2011-01-23 13:46: Authenticity
2010-06-27 02:28: Doubt
2009-10-25 17:04: Opinions, perceptions and intuition
2009-10-15 08:32: Abstraction
2008-06-29 16:47: Complicated and Complex
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2007-12-08 23:53: Blindness and cognitive panoramas



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