Empathy

Empathy is an interesting thing. It causes me to behave in a way that seems at first glance to be against my own self interest. But it is?

I have been pondering this. Empathy is at the core of what makes us human. We are so social, as social as any creature on the planet. And we are fairly unique in having empathy.

One guy I love to listen to is Jeremy Rifkin, who talks about empathy a lot. As Rifkin points out, empathy is something we are quite selective about. We tend to have more empathy for some folks than others. In the beginning, humans really only had empathy for their own family group, and regarded all other humans as hostile. (Paleolithic humans still live in pretty much this same way today.) These humans had tremendous empathy for their own family members. But for others, not so much.

Enter religion. As Rifkin points out, religion gave humans a way to expand their empathy set: By identifying another creature as being part of my religious group, I get to have more empathy for that person. I have seen this play out in my own life and the life of my family. For example, there was recently a flood in our area, and some folks we knew lost everything. My wife and I know these people because of religious affiliations from the past. As a result, we gave them clothes, food, etc. Another family down the street who was not in our religious group, we did not even care to look in on them.

So, this family is inside our empathy set, which is defined, at least in part, by religion.

Given that empathy causes me to give away things I need and make other sacrifices, the question is: How did empathy arise in human consciousness? I think I have an answer for that one.

Assume a proto-humanoid male is in the rain forest in some ancient time. He has an interesting mutation: He has developed what Rifkin calls “mirror neurons”. That is, when he sees another creature who he identifies as being like him who is having some kind of experience (say intense pain), his neurons light up in exactly the same manner as the creature who is suffering. In this way, this individual experiences (to a certain extent) the suffering of the other creature.

This causes our male humanoid (we will call him Lim) to suffer more than other humans around him. But he is also able to relate to the experiences of other humans better.

One day he comes upon a female. She is badly hurt! Her ankle is seriously twisted and bruised. She cannot walk at all. Worse, she has been stranded here for some time. She is very hungry, thirsty, and tired.

He finds that he feels some of her distress as well. He ponders what he has done when he has been in a similar situation. Suddenly, he has a remarkable idea. He will bring her food! So he goes to a place where he knows there are some ripe berries, and uses a large leaf to carry a bunch of these back to the female. She hungrily devours them with great joy.

Then he goes to the river and after some fumbling finds a hollow gourd that he fills with water. Again, she receives the water gratefully.

Finally, he lies down beside her and cuddles with her for warmth. In this manner, they fall asleep together.

The next day, she is feeling much better. She finds that she likes him, so they have sex. She continues to enjoy his company, so she stays with him, and they have several children, which inherit this odd mutation. Because these young children are able to exercise this new-found ability to form empathetic bonds, they make exceptionally good mates, and they easily find a partner, and in turn reproduce again.

And so on and so forth, until the entire human race runs on empathy.

Remember this, please: Evolution encourages one thing, and one thing only: Reproduction. Whatever improves the chances of reproduction (including the rearing of competent, viable adult offspring who can in turn reproduce) will be selected by evolution. Thus, although empathy seems to be against my best interests (in the sense of material belongings, time, etc.) it dramatically improves my chances of reproducing. In this way, the development of empathy is fairly obvious.

More later.

Transformational Thinking

The Human Consciousness Programm perhaps could be compared to the personality, but the HCP also includes all of the autonomic stuff, like sensory processing. I was playing with this a bit today while walking. I do a 2 mile loop most days with my dog, Diogee. While we were walking, I was playing with my sensory perception functions. Like switching awareness to the visual: Focus on that for a while, and notice how I can focus on different things, and how other things fade into the background when I do so. Similarly, switch my awareness to my hearing, and notice how I can focus my attention on a bird. Or there! That’s Diogee walking beside me. Or the sounds of my own footsteps. Or the sounds of my own breathing. And now switch to the emotional state. Ahhh! I have some anxiety going on. What is that about? OK, I need to pay some bills.

Again, thinking about thinking, as broadly as possible, and especially if I include things like emotions and sensory awareness in the generic term “thinking”. All while engaging the “Watcher”, or unbiased, nonjudgmental observer, as the yoga crowd likes to call it. The part of me that can observe myself.

I was pondering how similar this approach is to Christianity in many ways. For example, while I utterly reject the idea of sin, listening intently to my own thoughts makes me acutely aware of my own dysfunction. I definitely know that I am far from perfect, which is certainly consistent with the idea of sin. Also, the act of reprogramming is very similar to repentance. After all, the Greek word translated as “repent” in the NT literally means to turn down another path, or to change your mind. Repentance never really worked for me very well, though. I have analyzed why it didn’t, and near as I can tell, due to the cultural issues within Christianity, I was focused on the wrong things. Like sex, once again.

I was immediately told after I got saved about how bad sexual lust is, and how I should never, ever masturbate. This from all of my male Christian single friends. I, like the lemming I am, immediately take a solemn oath with my buddy to never masturbate again, ever. Broke that one within 24 hours, with great condemnation. This thing had me balled up for years, during which I made no real progress spiritually. All this negative energy about masturbation and male heterosexual desire, generally.

Eventually, I figure out that all of my male single Christian friends were masturbating just as much as I was, and were all just as condemned. And the message from the pulpit only made it worse! I was actually invited to seminars where I could be set free from masturbation!

Of course, that’s all bollocks. Masturbation is something I should keep private but certainly not condemn myself for. It is a harmless and healthy release, after all. And sexual desire is a great thing overall. I wouldn’t be here without it! So deciding that a basic autonomic response like sexual desire is somehow “sinful” doesn’t help me at all. Although I have no doubt that my male single Christian friends were well-meaning, they were obviously just as deluded as I was, and the culture was keeping them just as immobilized. This example is one of the most glaring, but there were many others.

In order to help me spot things that are broken inside me, I basically set up a watcher to keep track of my emotions and to tell me if I am feeling anything negative, like resentment, sadness, sullenness, loneliness, or fear. Once I spot that, I go after what’s driving it. Generally, given enough time and thought, I can figure it out. Almost always, there is some form of selfishness or greed behind it. Like insecurity over Ruth leaving me. That’s really my selfish little greedy desire to keep her with me. Fear over the impact on my life if she were to leave me, etc. Not wanting to have to endure the pain, discomfort and stress of a break-up. And so forth.

Solution: Understand and accept that Ruth can leave me if she likes. She is perfectly free to do so, and there is nothing that I can do to directly prevent it. I do not own her, regardless of what the Marriage contract might say. Would it be painful if she left me? Definitely. Would I survive? Very likely. Would it make the slightest difference in the lifespan of the universe? None at all. And, after all, I don’t even know if I am going to take my next breath. So how does creating a stressful emotion like insecurity help either me or Ruth? Am I not simply detracting from both our joy, peace and happiness by surrendering to a parasite emotion like insecurity?

And it’s all about stressing about the future, anyway. Which, again, does not exist. Worrying about the future is meaningless. (Not to say that I do not need to be responsible and make plans: I do. That’s different from fear, worry or stress, though.)

How then shall I live? First, by loving Ruth as unselfishly and purely as possible, I will be a person she wants to be with. My insecurity and persistent need to be constantly reassured sure as *&^# won’t do that! Instead, I will cultivate an attitude of quiet, humble confidence. I will aspire to be a person who will lend to her joy, peace and happiness. I will enjoy the present moment that I am spending right now in her presence, and cherish the journey that brought this amazing creature to me.

So, by carefully and methodically listening to my own thoughts, I am trying to become a better person. Inherent in that process, though, is a sense of humility. The more I get inside my head, the more aware I become of my own imperfections and need to be more empathic. How broken and selfish I am. And, hopefully, I make some progress in the quest to become more selfless and empathic in the process. Again, a similarity to taking on the mind of Christ from the Christian perspective.

Of course, there is no end state. This process will keep going on for the rest of my life.

More later.

Sexual Programming

In my last post, I indicated that I would let my readers in on what happened when I deconstructed the Marriage Module, and made some modifications. I will do that, but, as I have been taking a bit of heat lately, I thought it would help to review, once more, the terms of the experiment.

All scientific experiments start with a hypothesis. That is a statement which will turn out to be true (and proven) if the experiment is a success. Otherwise, the hypothesis will either be false or unproven. Got it? OK, then, here is the hypothesis:

Although Human Consciousness evolved, it developed in a manner which makes it very similar to a piece of software. Thus, it has the ability to process, store and retrieve data, and perform certain calculations. Essentially, Human Consciousness is a mechanism, a natural phenomenon, with  discrete properties and capabilities, and these can be studied by a careful, meticulous observer, simply by listening to the thoughts in one’s head.

The experimental procedure, then: I will listen, carefully and often, to my own thoughts. In the process of doing this, I will discover some interesting insights about the nature of human consciousness, and record them in this blog.

I have been told that this is pseudo-science. I submit that this is as valid an experiment as any. I do not have access to a large lab like the one that will be used by the Human Connectome Project, which was the beneficiary of a major federal initiative recently. Certainly, the goal of this project is very similar to mine: To understand the nature of human consciousness. In the case of the HCP, they will use neuron mapping technology to fully explore and understand the hardware (wetware?) of the human brain.

My approach is different: I am going after the software. Given that the human brain is effectively a general purpose computer, understanding the hardware is of some value, certainly. But the real intelligence is always in the software. It is possible that the HCP may crack that too. But I submit that it will eventually take an approach like mine where folks sit around and think about what they are thinking (possibly combined with neuron mapping) to get into the nitty gritty of how the software of Human Consciousness really works.

At any rate, the only inner consciousness I have direct access to is mine. And this is something I decided to do, crazy as it seems. Certainly, my recorded impressions of my own brain’s activities is valid experimental data. Completely subjective, to be sure. But recorded by a person who is reasonably careful and meticulous.

At the end of the day, all of this is really about me. That’s why all of my messages in this blog are in the first person. I am journalling here. Understand clearly that I do not necessarily agree with myself all of the time. So here goes.

Now, in terms of what happened when I deconstructed the Marriage Module, like I said last time, that one is interesting. One aspect of my Marriage Module is that it contained an assumption that I had some form of ownership or control over my wife in the area of sex. There is actually support for this in the bible. 1 Cor. 7:4 states:

The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.

Now, given that I supposedly have authority over my wife’s body, then I could somehow enforce that authority and force her to have sex with me. Right?

The way this was working out for me was not so good. When I became aroused and my wife did not want to engage, then I would become sullen and resentful. This made me a not nice person. And it caused my wife to be turned off in the area of sex. Not good. I was actually sabotaging myself!

I decided this was bad programming. So I rewrote it. I decided in my own mind (and communicated to my wife) the following new terms for our sexual relationship:

  • I want to empower my wife to enjoy herself sexually to the maximum extent possible for her. As much sexual enjoyment as she wants, and no more.
  • Thus, I completely set my wife free from all sexual expectations from me. If sex is not delightful today, then we will not have sex. (And I am absolutely OK with that.) We will cuddle, hold hands, gaze longingly into each other’s eyes, or whatever. Emotional intimacy, in other words. Most importantly, intimacy which is not linked to sex, which is the type of intimacy that I learned that my wife craves.
  • Also, I had a frenetic sense of anxiety about my own performance. This was because I was effectively impotent for about six years of our relationship, due to some serious complications from a major health problem in my own life. Amazingly, my wife did not leave me during this period, nor was she unfaithful to me. In my mind, that makes her one of the most amazing people I have ever met. Anyway, I decided in my own mind (and communicated to my wife) that I surrender all anxiety about my sexual performance. I don’t care if I respond or not. It’s like worrying about the weather anyway. Whatever happens, happens, and I will enjoy that.

Once I got these ideas across to my wife, the response was absolutely stunning. Our relationship is doing better than it ever has. Wonderful!

This is one of the first modules I tweaked. I discovered a few things along the way on this one. First, the reprogramming only works when I face the truth of whatever dysfunction or delusion I am dealing with at the moment. Also, the change must be sincere on my part. There is no way that I can fake this. Otherwise, it simply doesn’t work.

Also, I am not suggesting this is a panacea for all human ills. It has helped me greatly though, and as I have said before, I would not want to go back to the way I was before. No, thank you!

More later.

Reality

While I was cleaning up the kitchen tonight, I got another big piece of the puzzle. There is a module called the Reality Module which is responsible for creating my experiences. This is how it works inside my head.

I have senses which receive the data I call the primitive data types. These include (and there may be more):

  • Images (this is the primary sense in humans)
  • Sounds
  • Tastes (a complex subject, more later)
  • Smells (ditto)
  • Touch experiences
  • Sexual experiences (different from touch, more later)
  • A time-based datatype I call the Moment
  • Pain, itching, and other discomforts
  • Body awareness other than pain (includes things like sneezing, urinating, etc.)
  • Emotions (probably the most interesting, more later)

These various sensory datatypes are tied to pieces of hardware in the human body. Things like ears, eyes, touch sensory organs in the skin, and so forth. I have a dedicated Module in my HCP which processes each of these input streams. Each sensory module feeds the output of that process to the Reality Module.

Think of the Reality Module as a kind of Master Control Program (remember Tron?). All other Modules in the HCP (pretty much) run inside the Reality Module. This module takes the input it receives from the sensory modules and maps it onto a filter. I call this filter the Context.

Assume for the moment that there is an objective, absolute, reality. I still maintain that this idea is unproven, and unprovable. The world may be an illusion, nothing more. But for purposes of this discussion, please assume that there is an objective reality. Let’s call that reality the sum total of the environment around me. We will refer to this reality as the variable R.

R is constantly changing, though, as reality flows along the temporal stream. And so I as an organism in the environment am receiving a constant stream of input reflecting an image of that objective reality. This is the first distortion: My senses are far from perfect, and so I see only an image (constantly darkening as I age) of whatever R actually is. Call that reality S, for sensory reality. And S<R, always, because S has the distortion of my physical body, with my limited, failing hardware.

Then comes the big distortion: Reality takes that input and maps it onto all other modules in the entire HCP. Again, the Context. This is effectively the set of assumptions in the form of culture that I possess as a human. The value of S will then again take a big swack, and we get the state that I call D, for delusional.

Yes, oddly I know that I am still delusional. And I always will be, as long as I am running this piece of software in my head. The best I can do, from what I can tell, is to optimize the process. As I told my wife that I want on my tombstone:

Maturity consists in accurately perceiving reality and appropriately responding to that perception

A practical example may help. I have a module running in my head I call Marriage. All humans have this module, pretty much. It is a fundamental nature of humans to be married. All cultures have their particular take on marriage. But everyone gets married, pretty much. Given that, this module looks to me to be a built-in, i.e. instinctive module.

Now, my particular culture has a form of marriage referred to as Monogamy, but in practice is much more like polygamy. Essentially, my wife and I enter into a fiction in which we both agree to behave in a manner in which we believe that we will both be completely faithful and loving to each other. And then we are able to make the assumption that we will each be there for each other no matter what.

As I told my wife tonight, this is obviously complete hogwash. All I would have to do is to be sufficiently insufferable, cruel, arbitrary, dishonest, and just plain mean, and my wife would flee from me. I know this utterly. However, by living inside a Context which contains this particular form of Marriage, I am able to pretend that the outcome of my life does not depend on me. That I cannot blow it sufficiently to completely drive away my wife. This reduces my stress and allows me to behave in a much more calm manner in all of my interactions with my wife. Unless, of course, I let go of that particular delusion. Then what happens?

Well, that one turns out to be pretty interesting.

More later.

Memes vs. Modules

I have been studying a bit on the area of brain science, much of which explores the idea that human consciousness is best understood as a piece of software. A good example is Daniel C. Dennett’s book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. Dennett lays out a theory that religion is a meme, basically a self-replicating idea which propagates in human culture in a manner similar to a gene. Dennett thinks that human consciousness can best be thought of as a collection of memes. This idea was first proposed (at least so far as I know) by Richard Dawkins’s seminal work The Selfish Gene.

I find that I do not agree entirely with Dennett’s analysis, though. Based upon my own experience, I still believe that the cultural phenomenon we refer to as religion has a genetic basis. I call this basis the Faith Module. I refer to the units of design within human consciousness as modules, and some of these modules (the Instinctive Modules) have a genetic basis. One of these, I believe, is the Faith Module.

In my own personal experience, my Faith Module fired, big time, when I was 28 years old. Prior to this point in my life, I had dabbled a bit in religion, largely as a result of influence from my wife at the time. But I regarded religion as a social club. I did not take any of the ideas of religion any more seriously than I took  the science fiction books which I loved to read at the time.

Until my mid-twenties, I had a serious case of what psychology calls infantile omnipotence. This is the idea that I am invincible. Then a series of traumas hit me. The first trauma was my daughter who was diagnosed as autistic at the age of 4 (although she had been an undiagnosed autistic for two years). This was followed by the death of my sister who committed suicide at the age of 28 (when I was 26).

And then very quickly, I lost my job by getting fired for being stupid, and had to move to a city where I knew no one in order to find work. As a result of all of this, I was simultaneously emotionally devastated and socially isolated. Also, my entire sense of invincibility had collapsed, and I was at an all time low in terms of self confidence and self esteem. At that time, an older man approached me and showed an interest in my life.

I was desperate. The deal was simple: Believe, truly believe that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, died on the cross for my sins, and rose from the dead and is at the right hand of God the Father. Then accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior. At that point, I will be saved, and Jesus will take over my life. Although I will be aware, my life will now belong to Jesus.

And the unspoken part of the deal: By accepting these historical facts on Faith (i.e., complete, uncritical, uncompromising adherence to the truth of these tenets, with never ever even admitting to a shred of doubt), I would have access to the love and support of my new friend, plus his entire social group. I would obtain all kinds of emotional and physical support as part of the deal.

No problem. I had nothing to lose. I took the deal. Big time. And I did this without reservation. That is, I completely believed these propositions. As I result, I became seriously buzzed by religion, and this buzz lasted for years.

When I say buzzed, I mean high. You know, euphoria, pleasure, whatever you want to call it. Anyone who says that Faith does not make you high has never experienced Faith, in my opinion. In any event, the Faith Module flooded my brain with all kinds of positive emotional sensations continuously until my delusions began to collapse. But it took a good 4 or 5 years for that to begin, during which period I had a very good time, believe me. I did make some terrible decisions during that period, though.

I found the experience of Faith very similar to my experience with believing in Santa Claus. In many respects, I think that Santa Claus can be thought of as a religion with training wheels. Certainly, believing the fiction about Santa Claus comes with very real benefits. And all I had to do was convince my parents that I had been good this year. Not that hard, assuming fairly loving parents.

Have you ever noticed how parents speak to their children when teaching them about Santa Claus, fairy tales, or similar things? There is a special voice I call the Faith Voice. I certainly did this with my own children. This voice for me is a little breathier. It has more variation in tone than normal, kind of sing-songy. And my Faith Voice is always accompanied with a loving smile that’s difficult to resist.

My children bought into a bit of my Faith Voice, but ultimately the Faith Module only really fired in one of them: My daughter. Both of my sons never really had the Faith experience, at least not up to this point in their lives. But they’re young. Who knows what the future holds?

So Faith is a module which enables me to believe something that my senses may disagree with. Certainly, during my normal daily life, I did not see a lot of folks who looked like Santa Claus and did the things he supposedly did. Thus, the story of Santa Claus can be thought of as astronomically improbable. I certainly reached that conclusion very early, much earlier than I let on to my parents. But remember those benefits? Believing in Santa Claus (or pretending to believe) is a really good deal.

But Faith is qualitatively different than believing in Santa Claus as well. In the case of Faith, if it truly fires (and I readily admit that many, many so-called Christians have never truly had a Faith experience), then my entire identity and survival becomes bound up with the idea of Faith. I would truly and sincerely die for my Faith, willingly and without reservation. If I am willing to sacrifice my life and potential to reproduce for something, then there must be a very, very good reason for this.

And I think I understand the reason fairly well. Again, evolution only favors reproduction. And we have established that Faith dramatically enhances one’s chances for reproduction. Enough said on that score.

On the meme vs. modules debate, I think the difference matters. (Again, technically the distinction is that a meme is merely an idea, whereas a module may have a genetic basis.) The difference matters because of the outcome in terms of how I approach life and society. One of the areas where I think Richard Dawkins is completely full of crap is the idea that we should make teaching children about God illegal. Aside from being fascist and ugly, it wouldn’t work: Assuming that Faith has a genetic basis, then trying to stop Faith from spreading would be stupid, evil, wrong-headed, crazy, etc. By assuming that religion is merely an idea, Dawkins goes down a very ugly and negative path.

Having said that, the Faith Module can be trained. As I have experienced in my own life, it is possible to unlearn the lessons of religion. A few years ago, I took the things that I believed on Faith and placed them on a mental shelf. I had figured out that being religious wasn’t working for me. I needed to do something else. So I evaluated and deconstructed the things I believed on Faith. Once I began to examine these beliefs, I found the evidence for them wanting. Eventually, I came to the state I am in now: I could no longer believe that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, etc., than I could fly to the moon of gossamer wings. Physically impossible.

More later.

Temporal Module

In an earlier post, I referred to my idea that human consciousness consists of a highly evolved piece of software, which I like to call the Human Consciousness Program (HCP). As I also expressed earlier, I believe that the HCP consists of modules. An example of a module would be Marriage, which I believe to be an instinctual module. Another would be Hearing, a module responsible for the processing of sound information. Many of these modules also have a bit of hardware associated with them. For example, Hearing obviously has some hardware in the form of the ears, auditory nerve, and sound processing center of the brain.

The most basic of all of the modules, though, is the Temporal Module. This guy also has a piece of hardware: The Temporal Processor. Functionally, the Temporal Processor observes the passage of time. The mechanism whereby the brain is able to do this is poorly understood, but we know that it is associated with the part of the brain known as the Temporal Lobe, because if this part of the brain becomes damaged, that poor person is no longer able to experience the passage of time. Bummer! Also, the way I perceive of the passage of time is closely linked to my age: The older I am, the faster it seems time passes to me.

The reason I consider the Temporal Module to be so foundational is because all human perception is ultimately temporal: Every experience either becomes a memory – or it doesn’t. In which case that experience is lost. In either case, the term “experience” is defined as the output of a module (say, Eating) which is running in the Foreground at the time.

Here’s how it works, at least in my head. My brain focuses on one or more things in an area I refer to as the Foreground. If I am really paying attention (as I am right now as I write this blog), then I pretty much only experience one thing. However, I can (as I did tonight) simultaneously eat and watch TV. This means my awareness is at least partially on both. Although I may remember less of both the black berries with Greek Gods Honey Vanilla yoghurt and the movie One For the Money with Katherine Heigl as a result of giving less attention to both.

The “one or more things” that my brain focuses on are, of course, modules as well. Take Eating. Definitely an instinctual module, i.e. a built-in. I certainly did not have to be taught to eat. I had to be taught how to eat, that’s table manners. I also had to be taught to cook, that’s cuisine. Both table manners and cuisine are examples of human culture. But eating? It’s not that hard: Just put nutrients in my mouth, chew and swallow. Repeat often and so forth.

The form of entertainment I was enjoying, though, that’s Art. There is an Art Module, of course. Every human on planet Earth makes art in some way every day of their lives, even if it’s only a PB&J. But Art gets turned into more varied and wonderful forms of culture than any other module that I know of.

Anyway, I take the output from modules like Eating and Art. These flow through the Foreground Processor. Intimately associated with this is the perception of time, again the Temporal Processor.

These experiences are eventually stored in two places: Short term memory and Long term memory. These are two of the most fascinating parts of the brain of all. I have spent a lot of time observing the way my memory works and how I learn. Basically, what I see is a rather small storage space for short term memory. The exact size of this space is variable, depending on a lot of factors, including fatigue, overall health, genetics, etc. It can also be trained. I find that I am able to dramatically enhance the size of short term memory by simply using it a lot. I engage in games like Scrabble which exercise this part of the brain for this reason.

About 90% of my experiences are stored in my short term memory, and I am told that’s pretty good. Then the Short Term to Long Term Memory Module (ST2LTMM) kicks in. This guy is interesting: It’s his job to sift through my short term memory and decide what’s important enough to keep. About 99% of all of my experiences simply get chucked.

I heard a fascinating piece on NPR about folks who have a photographic memory. These guys (and gals) can literally repeat a narrative of every experience they have ever had (at least after long term memory starts work at around 3 or 4). In fact they talked about that on the piece: These folks literally remember when their long term memory started firing, because that’s the first experience they can remember.

This condition can be thought of as a dysfunction of the LT2STMM, because it simply stores everything in long term memory. (Probably folks with this condition have a redundant short term memory, but the ST2LTMM simply copies everything into long term memory.) This works because the human brain is vastly over-sized for the amount of data I need to store. The estimate in this article is around 2.5 PB of space, enough for around 300 years of experiences, even assuming all of them are stored.

Anyway, as my experiences in long term memory age, they decay over time. Refreshing them again by washing another similar set of experiences through short term memory helps make them retain longer. Eventually, if I repeat the same data stream often enough (like watching the movie Gladiator 20 times), I know the whole thing by heart.

That’s just how the Foreground stuff works. I used to think the Foreground was one experience at a time, effectively single threaded. But now I know there is limited multi-threading. Still the number of modules I can run in the Foreground at a time is very small, maybe 2 or 3 max. And some of them effectively steal your entire awareness. Sex for example. Ever tried to have a conversation, eat, watch TV or anything else, while having sex? Impossible. Sex takes full and complete control of my entire Foreground space, which is one reason why it is so enjoyable.

There are also a class of modules I call Awareness Stealers. These modules are constantly clamoring for my attention. Examples include things like Itching, Pain, Worry, and so forth. Sex is also an Attention Stealer, assuming that I am randy.

In the Background space there are hundreds (possibly thousands) of modules all running at the same time. I am still in the process of figuring out many of these, and the task is rather daunting. Lots of background modules are completely autonomic, although they also respond to commands from the brain.

An excellent example of this type of module is the Immune System, which has lots of dedicated hardware, but definitely also responds to commands from the brain. That’s the reason why the placebo effect works, of course. I think that the saw palmetto that I am taking is going to help my seasonal allergies. And lo and behold: It does! That’s because my brain fired a module called Faith. Faith allows me to believe things which my senses may not agree with at the moment. I may think saw palmetto is hokey, but if I exercise my faith, I might just catch a healing!

Other deep background modules include Heartbeat, Breathing, Sweating, UV Response, and others. Heartbeat is a fun one. Of course the brain controls my heartbeat: We all know that! But Heartbeat can actually be trained. I have done a bit of this, and have met folks who have done far more. Practitioners of Buddhist meditation obtain some limited control over their heart rate. Thus, Heartbeat has at least a bit of conscious control, since it can be trained.

I am trying to develop a system to diagram all of this. If any of my readers has a handle on the best way to diagram the structure of modules in the human brain, please let me know.

More later.

Conscious Inspiration

The various bits and pieces suddenly fit together perfectly in my mind today as I was walking my Yorkie, Diogee. I had a moment (well, several moments actually) of inspiration.

Please remember that I have been attempting to decompile the piece of evolved software that I refer to as the Human Consciousness Program (HCP). I have spent a lot of time (hundreds of hours I would suppose) simply listening to my own thoughts. I know this may strike you as an odd activity. You need to remember two things:

  • I have been practicing Buddhist style meditation for most of my adult life
  • I am married to a woman whom I find devastatingly attractive, and thus will lie in the bed with her cuddling for hours, and not get bored by this.

Thus, I lay in my bed and listened, perfectly awake, to the sounds of my own thoughts. And I did this for a long, long time.

Anyway, I have been working on a overall framework for understanding the HCP, and today, three big pieces came together.

1. Awareness vs. Background

OK, first the HCP has two main areas: The foreground (what I refer to as the Point of Awareness) and the background (I call this the Dark Place). Now, originally, I thought that the Point of Awareness was a single threaded thing, whereas the Dark Place was massively parallel. Now I understand that this is merely a range.

Frequently I can pay attention to more than one thing at a time. For example, I can eat and watch television at the same time. That’s because the mechanics of both activities are very familiar to me, and I do not require my full attention to be devoted to either of them.

On the other hand, if I am attempting to learn something new, say a musical instrument or a foreign language, then I probably can’t do much other than really, really concentrate on that activity. Or else I simply won’t make much progress.

The first insight today, then, was this thing: I can be (slightly) multi-tasking in the foreground, and I also have things of which I am partially aware. I can have a limited number of these, but that number can be varied, depending on how distracted I am, and how much attention I need to pay to any particular thing.

2. Instinctive Modules vs. Combination Modules

OK, then. It’s time to define the “thing” I am talking about when I referred to how much attention I need to pay to “any particular thing”. I call these things modules.

Let’s take for example my Check Timer. I have a module that contains a timer. When I don’t know where my wife is, this timer begins a countdown. When that timer expires, if I don’t know where my wife is, then the Check Timer module fires another module called Worry. Worry in turn fires an emotional module called Anxiety. That creates a form of discomfort (emotional stress) that I then have to pay attention to.

At that point, I have to take action to alleviate that discomfort. This usually takes the form of my walking around so that I can figure out where my wife is, and make sure that she’s OK. Once I have done that, then the Check Timer module resets, and I go back to whatever I was doing.

The Check Timer contains a variable numeric value. For me, when my wife and I are at home, this value is set to about 10 to 15 minutes. However, this is a tunable. If my wife tells me that she needs space and wants to talk to her friend on the phone for a while, I will reset the Check Timer variable to around an hour or so.

And it’s even situationally specific. If I am on a business trip and 3 timezones away from my wife, I may decide that I can set the Check Timer variable to around 24 hours. And I can even adjust that to various situations. Thus, I am actually in control (whatever that means) of this to some extent.

Now, the specific insight that I had today while walking Diogee was that some modules are built ins: I don’t have to learn anything in order to have those modules. They are Instinctual. A good example is Insect Avoidance. I had a module when I was born which causes me to avoid insects. If an insect flies at me, lands on me or the like, I have an automatic reaction. I think most people have this same module.

Some folks, however, choose to be involved in professions or hobbies (like beekeeping or butterfly collecting) which require close contact with insects. So even an instinctive module can be unlearned.

But back to my insight. Some modules are Instinctive. These modules were in me when I was born. At some point in my development, these modules fired. At that point, I had those abilities.

Other modules are created by a process of learning, through a combination of the Instinctive Modules. An example would be the module Music, which is a Combination Module consisting of the Instinctive Modules: Hearing, Art, Logic and Reasoning, and, of course, the Temporal Module. (All modules include the Temporal Module in some form, as all of this is about human experience which occurs in a temporal framework, and no where else. However, Music includes the Temporal Module in a more direct way, since music really is all about time.)

Anyway, I can now categorize modules as either Instinctive or Combination, and most of the time I can get pretty close to coming up with the module stack. At the base of the stack are always Instinctive Modules.

One interesting side effect of all this is that I can now watch myself actually writing these modules in my own mind. Weird!

3. Data Storage

The third insight had to do with something that I have mentioned already: Modules contain data. For example, as I have already alluded to, the Check Timer module contains a value I called the Check Timer variable. This is effectively a timer which tells me when to check on my wife. That’s obviously a data structure.

Given that modules contain data, that makes a module look pretty similar to the object-oriented programming construct known as an object. I am pretty familiar with object-oriented programming, which as I recall was invented for this very reason: Object oriented program emulates the way we think about the real world. It should be unsurprising, then, that the human mind (at least my mind, remember please that I am the subject of the experiment) resembles objects in a sense.

Anyway, some modules are entirely about data storage. For example, there are modules related to Memory. That’s a really interesting one. Memory contains two spaces of data storage: Short Term Memory and Long Term Memory. Short Term Memory is a variable amount of storage (depending on the individual, the situation, state of health, etc.). Generally, though, Short Term Memory is good for about 24 hours. After that the Short Term to Long Term Memory Module kicks in. It is the job of the ST2LTM to sift through my short term memory, decide what is important, and transfer that to the Long Term storage area. The rest gets chucked. That means I remember maybe 1% of what I experience. Oh well. Remember that stuff about the human condition? Yeah. Big time.

Anyway. Bottom line: I have data storage in variables inside my head. Go figure.

More later.