Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Monday, August 23, 2010day link 

 Where's Ming?
I'm usually always active somewhere. Not necessarily in my blog. Maybe it is time to invent a new type of site that shows one's activity, even if it is spread over multiple sites. People have already invented sites that track somebody down across many social network sites. But that still isn't quite right. Would make more sense with a site that I control that makes it easy to see what I'm up to.

Anyway, one can usually find me on Twitter, and recently I've posted stuff on Quora. It is a site where people post questions and answers in different topics. And since I often get triggered by a question, that kind of works well for me, even if it is somewhat random what I end up answering.
[ | 2010-08-23 00:36 | 151 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Semantic Pauses
picture 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.
[ | 2010-08-23 01:31 | 125 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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