Thursday, October 9, 2014

Genius Thinking?

Have you ever been shocked/surprised/blown away by the reasoning or behavior of someone you consider an outstandingly smart individual?

Here are some patterns observed on how genius thinks.  

Chaplin and Einstein
Extremely talented at going up and down levels of abstraction. Geniuses tend to be able to fit seemingly unrelated facts into the big picture almost instantly, and drill down to any level of detail. On a related note, when learning they tend to learn at every level of abstraction at once, rather than simply building from the bottom up or top down like most people.

Make a lot of assumptions. This may seem counter-intuitive - we've often heard that creative thinking requires breaking existing assumptions. And this may be true, but it seems like geniuses tend to make a lot of assumptions very quickly, test their hypotheses, and then change their assumptions very slowly if it's necessary.

Come up with unique ways to compress information.
 A smart person might see a difficult Mathematical theorem as a connection of ten steps, whereas a genius might visualize it and see it all as one picture.

Separate emotion or external thoughts from their thinking.
 At least in science, geniuses tend to never attach any external meaning to their thoughts-as an example, they could think about how to efficiently invade a country or release a horrible weapon without feeling phased by the image of the devastation that would involve. Similarly, they can often focus on their work no matter what they're going through-whether it's loud noises or personal trauma.

Connect seemingly unrelated things. 
A genius will frequently follow a T-shaped model of learning: be an expert on one things and dabble in a lot. They will frequently get inspired by or make connections between things that are unrelated to their main research.

I'll not argue for or against these observations, but present them as an interesting data point worth taking a moment to consider.

Satvik Beri wrote this on Quora.  You can see more of his thoughts here.  

Friday, September 26, 2014

500 Single Sentence Studies

The series of single sentence summarized studies has been steadily sustained.

For the first 365 click here.

"When I pay too close attention to boundaries I fail to see what is."  ~366
"Should people suffer or die because they can not afford treatment?" ~367
"Beauty does not require uniformity." ~ 368
"Does the newborn begin with a debt to it's society?" ~ 369
"When a light shines upon our strengths, it profiles weakness in our shadows." ~ 370

"How do I stop my motivations from skewing my view of reality?" ~ 371
"When someone wishes to stand upon on your shoulders, should you take pride in being a giant or dismiss those whom can not raise you up?" ~372
"Does consciousness require categorization?" ~ 373
"My limited time on earth is so dear a commodity how can I ever say money is it's measure?" ~ 374
"A wise man spends his adult life unlearning his childhood" ~ 375
"Does love require suspension of the law?" ~376
"Without empathy morality is brutal." ~ 377
"Humility in ignorance eases learning." ~ 378
"Everyone is occasionally not delusional." ~ 379
"When I am not present in the moment, I am absent in reality." ~ 380

"If a chicken is a way for an egg to make another egg, then my daughter and mother need a serious conversation." ~ 381
"When I stop changing, my existence ceased." ~ 382
"Any business that is unable to pay its workers a living wage is not viable." ~383
"The problem is not what is yet unproven but what is proven and ignored." ~384
"People with holy books tend to ignore some part of it." ~ 385
"The pain and uselessness of old age is scarier than dying." ~ 386
"Unrestrained passions most often end in pain." ~ 387
"In physics and habits overcoming inertia requires significant force." ~ 388
"True humility needs no sharing" ~ 389
"Bias is a well tied blindfold." ~ 390

"We forget more easily long words than short ones." ~391
"Fear is a foolish counselor." ~392
"The unobserved life cannot be lived." ~ 393
"Observing my own actions, it is easy to remain humble." ~ 394
"A well held grudge binds me." ~ 395
"There is no pride in our enemies pain." ~ 396
"Thinking without rhetoric is like sports without rules." ~ 397
"I act more by habit than choice." ~ 398
"Should my version of God be made law? Or only yours?" ~ 399
"Bias generates moral conflict." ~ 400

"Should I love the unmet?" ~ 401
"Moral utility resists quantification." ~ 402
"Emotions persist only with focus." ~403
"All struggles eventually end in death." ~ 404
"Admitting ignorance requires more courage than pretending knowledge." ~ 405
"Should fear ever replace respect?" ~ 406
"Anger could be the engine but never the steering." ~ 407
"Self reliance is only the beginning of citizenship." ~ 408
"Division sells soap and garners political donations." ~ 409
"Certainty closes the mind to the unknown." ~ 410

"All opinion uses incomplete information." ~ 411
"Patiently suffering a bore is its own reward." ~ 412
"Belief based on concealing evidence eventually fails." ~ 413
"Authority provides only mythic victory."  ~ 414
"New opinions come from the strange." ~ 415
"Democracy rarely produces a government of wise people." ~ 416
"If as I age my value system does not change then I cease to grow." ~ 417
"Competition favors cooperation." ~ 418
"The wise ever hunt evasive truth.  The foolish trap evidence as a trophy of bias." ~ 419
"The right to speak does not include the right to an audience." ~ 420

"Wisdom ought not be copyrighted." ~ 421
"What is the price of morality?" ~422
"Insanity is merely another opinion." ~ 423
"Most political movements, like bowels, start with a lot of hot air and end with a pile of fertilizer." ~ 424
"Ignorance is only bliss as a gift of blind fortune." ~ 425
"Is it vanity to imagine we know God?" ~ 426
"Being unable to stop an act does not remove the obligation to minimize its impact." ~ 427
"What value beauty in war?" ~ 428
"Is it just when the lazy starve?" ~ 429
"Discouraging thinking is contagious." ~ 430

"A healthy mind requires more exercise than a healthy body." ~431
"We more often see how we are different rather than how we are the same." ~ 432
"A rival teaches us our weakness." ~ 433
"Ignorance provides room for dreaming." ~ 434
"Desire overwhelms the search for truth." ~ 435
"Total self reliance can be a very lonely life." ~ 436
"Death doesn't scare me enough to pretend its not real." ~ 437
"If I could use my weapon to save my life, could I give it up to save someone else's?" ~ 438
"Admitting one's error builds respect among the wise." ~ 439
"Bringing a knife to a gun fight is foolish, but bringing a gun to word fight is bullying." ~ 440

"Categories are only symbols to remember patterns; sorry Plato, they are not ideal." ~ 441
"Shall mercy or vengeance define me?" ~ 442
"Beware! Suppressed ideas overreact." ~ 443
"Information can not be created or destroyed, it can it can only be changed from one form to another." ~ 444
"The world does not owe me a living; I owe the world my life." ! 445
"Emotion is the pipe by which destructive memes flow." ~ 446
"We should neither martyr ourselves to other's desire nor hoard our plenty from those in need." ~ 447
"We mostly squander in vanity the few moments of opportunity a finite life provides." ~ 448
"Others intelligent dissent is better than their passive agreement." ~ 449
"Much misery can be avoided by seeing your mates faults clearly before wedding them." ~ 450

"Our grasp is limited to our vista." ~ 451
"Without the humility of ignorance, I am unable to admit error." ~ 452
"Freedom and anarchy are twin sisters." ~ 453
"The information of an isolated system cannot decrease yet trends toward entropy." ~ 454
"What profit anger for that which we are unable to change?" ~ 455
"A loss of empathy will enable cruelty." ~ 456
"Myth arises from the abyss of the unknown." ~ 457
"The current of society that carries us to War may be necessary, but is never good." ~ 458
"Feeling superior at the ignorance of another is vain glorious." ~ 459
"Shared exploration is almost always more useful than shared conflict." ~ 460

"What is the price of morality?" ~ 461
"After success is had, laziness often ensues." ~ 462
"Liberty without equality and fraternity is savage."~ 463
"In an infinite universe we appear an infinite number of times in variation beyond imagination." ~ 464
"I will neither a Henny Penny nor an ostrich be." ~ 465
"I can choose what to think about but rarely do." ~ 466
"Intuition is insufficient as evidence." ~ 467
"Can ignorance be revealed without damaging pride?" ~ 468
"Can I exist without knowing the answer?" ~ 469
"Faith which ignores evidence is corrupt."~ 470

"Isolationism and xenophobia are not among the better angels of our nature." ~ 471
"Most trivials are pursuits" ~ 472
"People in stone houses shouldn't throw glass." ~ 473
"The gift horse cares not when it's teeth are examined." ~ 474
"Self is a limit imposed upon being." ~ 475
"We exist in the moment, on a crest of an unfolding wave." ~ 476
"Habit usually trumps free will." ~ 477
"For Sale: Sherlock Holmes thoughts. To highest bidder. Inquire within." ~ 478
"Empathy begins to diminish when we use the word 'them'." ~ 479
"The lazy and bored invent troubles to fill their tedium with drama." ~ 480

"Freedom, writ too large, can lead to destructive behaviors; insanity is not a freedom, yet foolishness is." ~ 481
"That I would have a soldier die in my name, yet not pay taxes to support him, makes me one with my enemy." ~ 482
"Whereof we do not know, we should not speak." ~ 483
"Joy attracts more company than misery." ~ 484
"We fear science from it's reminder that we do not know." ~ 485
"Is brutality ever a moral good?" ~ 486
"Do we choose to hold emotions or do emotions hold us?" ~ 487
"A bane for liberals is in embracing diversity over conformity, yet demanding conformity to diversity." ~ 488
"Is the goal to change their view or to prove we are right?" ~ 489
"Every statement of science begins with an unsaid 'The best we know so far'." ~ 490

"Truth is neither a possession or destination." ~ 491?
"The sum of all our knowledge is less than it's parts." ~ 492
"Oh that evil would cease and never again call good men to war." ~ 493
"We are apart of the all that is; only to ourselves separate and finite." ~ 494
"To speak as if of truth, while remaining ignorant, is the essence of bullshit." ~ 495
"A mirror provides a memory of the cosmos; it is an extension of mind." ~ 496
"I hear dead people, I read." ~ 497
"A fuss budget can prioritize worry" ~ 498
"Some infinities are bigger than others." ~ 499
"Most of us are content to remain ignorant." ~ 500

Thursday, August 21, 2014

We Contain Multitudes

We are patterns, processes, interconnected life forms sharing a space. That our minds have thoughts in each moment, that our brains exist longer than the rest of us, gives rise to the illusion of consistency. In reality, throughout our entire lives, we are in a constant state of becoming.

Cell Life Times

Adult humans have about 37 trillion cells (37,000,000,000,000). Each has its own life span ranging from a few hours to our entire lifetimes. Red blood cells live for about four months. White blood cells average more than a year. Skin cells die in about 18 days. Colon cells live less than five days. Some brain cells live an entire lifetime.

The number, arrangement, life, and state of our cells undergo constant change. They are never the same from moment to moment. For the middle aged like me, most of my body is less than ten years old, although in total cell's average about a 16 year lifespan.

Our brains are standout exception to this aging. Most brain cells live as long as we do. A few die, a few arrive to fill in, but most are with us through our entire lives. This persistence in our brains existence is part of the reason we perceive ourselves as being more consistent than we are.

Body Biomes

We are more than just human cells, our genetic makeup is only a tiny fraction of the total genes that exist inside our bodies. There are many bacteria that live inside us, on us, with us.

In this sense we humans are more like biomes or ecologies than individuals. In a 200-pound adult, 5 pounds of us are not truly us. For every human gene in our body, there are 360 microbial genes. This includes viruses, micro-phages, and other tiny organisms.

There are about a two thousand trillion bacteria (2,000,000,000,000,000) in our bodies. Our human cells are outnumbered by twenty to one by bacteria. Human cells tend to have more weight and size, but lose the numbers and diversity game.

Bacteria and yeast colonies live through most of the body. Coexisting in symbiotic relationships with us from our bellybuttons to our eyebrows, from our blood vessels to our ear canals. Bacteria are so vital to our survival that we would soon die without them.

More than 500 species of our co-life-forms are living at any one time in an adult intestine.
Our friendly passengers produce molecules that help us harness energy and extract building blocks from food, act as a first line of immune defense, and provide communication pathways between our cells.

Inside Cells

Even though an individual cell may exist for a period of time, The contents of cells are also constantly changing. All cells are in constant motion within.

Inside each cell has a ongoing flurry of activity as it builds, transports, uses, then recycles proteins. There are about 100,000 different kinds of proteins necessary for each human cell to function. Each protein exists for about one to two days.

Molecules go in and out of cells constantly. Large complex molecules containing energy, raw materials, signals for behavior and more; pass in, move through, and leave cells regularly. Smaller molecules like oxygen, water, and carbon dioxide move in, out, and about cells freely.

Very well, then I contradict myself,
I am large, I contain multitudes.
We Are Multitudes

We have a over five hundred (500) times the number of cells in our bodies as there are stars in the milky way galaxy.

It is our shared illusion to perceive ourselves as humans rather than ecosystems with a human framework. Not sensing the cells, the proteins, or bacteria allows us to ignore their fundamental part of our existence.

We think ourselves a single thing, but we are much more than that.

At each moment we are something. In the next moment we have changed all over. As time passes what we are is completely different.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Limited Will

Choice-less Starting

Sometimes, at conception, parents choose to have a child. More often than not it just happens. Parents do not choose which child they will have, a genetic lottery selects which features will grow.

We do not choose who our parents will be.  After birth years pass before we even become aware of choice, much less those made by parents.  We do not choose the society we are born into, the planet we appear on, or even the star around which we zoom.

We are thrust into existence with out our intent.

After birth a long period of time passes where we are driven by simple responses to senses: emotional at best, instinctual at worst.  Our family, society and environment put upon us what we can learn, what we can know, providing a framework of what we can be.

The demands of being drive us until we finally become aware of our own existence, only gradually do skills develop allowing mastery of body and desire.

Life Divided

A third of our lives are dissipated in sleep.  Dreams only a small part of this unconscious portion of our lives.  Making choices within dreams can be a rare treat, a momentary fantasy of self control.

Eating consumes another thick slice of life; finding things to put in our belly, chewing and swallowing, seeking a place to relieve the unused excess.  These autonomous actions, rarely reach our conscious thought, much less require considered selection.

Taking pause to rest, even in the midst of our labors, it is healthy to let the mind wander a bit.  Day dreaming is the flip side to focus, a time to deliberately not act, to stay our hands from making choices become real.

Who among us chooses at each moment to make their heart beat, ears hear, or skin itch?  Indeed our bodies function mostly without mindful intervention.

Another piece of life is used putting on clothes, taking them off again, brushing teeth, grooming bodies, and maintaining the space to live in.  These actions are in the main conducted with wandering thought, by rote and habit.

Reality Intervenes

Living among others, we often find choice limited.  The needs of spouse and children, family and friends, even society at large limit the range of choices available.

Habits formed from expectations guide much of our time.  Listening to other's tell about their own thoughts is necessary to keep relationships healthy.  Caring for children and the aged demand attention from other choices that might be made.

Work demands action from us.  Boss or customer schedules toil where we attend and interact.  Plans made by others guide our activity.  We do what is required of us in order to gain those resources necessary for life.  Making a choice to work, is followed by many demands we do not choose.

Sometimes, the world intrudes in more harsh ways.  Accidents happen.  Government requires time to pay and then file tax.  Things wear out and break requiring attention to maintain our lives.  Natural disasters and weather can interrupt our intent.

Room for Will

The moments of choice that transcend our environment, ignorance, and emotion are small.  In a life of 80 years we are lucky to have but a few where our own will can be expressed.

The considered choices we are able to make, much less implement to our plans, are often so slight as to fade into insignificance.

Even the simple act of selecting from a menu at a restaurant requires we wait for the menu, scan the options, filter those that will not suit, and then, only then, make a choice about what we might eat.

Each selection made, each choice of will, requires two separate activities: assessment and decision.

Our choices begin by comparing our desires.  What of all our current wants should have a priority.  A part of the brain determines value of each, categorizing them by immediacy, risk, and reward.

We then must begin to consider potential actions, what could we do that might result in realizing what we want.  Picking which path might get us to the end of our desire.

Decision Fatigue

Deliberate acts based on the choices require effort and time.  Everyday we face small decisions both major and minor.

Our thoughts are occupied with comparing and choosing.  Rarely does this process happen instantly.  Different parts of our prefrontal cortex, our fore-brain, hold symbolic patterns, metaphors of desire, potential solutions, and determine choice.

Making choices wears us down.  We expend focus and energy.  With no nerves sensing the usage of our brain, we feel no fatigue, but the brain does tire from exertion. No matter how sensible we attempt to be, we can not make decision after decision without paying a biological price.

The more choices we make in a day, the harder each one becomes.  Like a weight lifter, we tire from the exertion.  As we make more and more choices, we start to look for shortcuts, even become reckless, are more prone to act on impulse.

Experiments have clearly shown that there is a finite store of mental energy available for exerting will. When people resist the desire to eat a donut, they become less able to resist other temptations.

Limits to Free Will

Even if we do not accept that our existence is pre-determined, that fate does not rule us, that our choices are not an illusion; our free will is fleeting at best.

Harsh environments, social, financial, and environmental, radically reduce our chances to prosper.  When our lives are full of hard choices, when we our focus must be on finding the next meal, the next place to sleep, resolving crises after crises, we use up our ability to create a better existence for ourselves.

When the affluent expect others to make choices like theirs, they assume others have the mental reserve to act as they do.  Picking one's self up by their bootstraps requires more effort than picking which stock to buy next.

Children gradually develop their ability to exercise free will, so we must help them make choices until are able to do it on their own.  This requires us to put aside our own choices for their survival.

Judging the success and failures of others, without being able to sense the energy expenditure of choice, is an illusion.  This does mean we have to accept their poor choices, but rather we ought understand they have limits to choosing.

When we choose to judges others harshly, we use up some of our own capacity to act with our own free will.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Breath of Vanity

"Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher, "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity."
What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun?

Angry about Israel?
Disturbed about the plight of a Palestinian?
Do you demand that Obama is evil?
Is Limbaugh pissing you off?

Have you a bed?
Is your belly full?
Does someone cherish you?
Do you yet breathe?

I read a letter from father to son, their children's children's children long ago turned to dust.  An Egyptian father urged his son to make something of his life, to do his duty, to bring honor to his family.

His worry and admonition so familiar, so far away.

Now, except some fragment of his scratching, they are both nameless, mostly forgotten.  Even the worms that ate their bones, dispersed amongst us all.

Photograph by Ryan Mckee
Some claim that if we know the secret symbols etched out on some rock or page, we can have eternal life, live forever in an ecstatic paradise.  All we have to do is believe.

Others claim the whole universe will fade out, in some entropic heat death at the end of time from a hot bright flash of nothing becoming something it will slowly all fade until something means nothing.

Looking up on a clear, starry night at a two dimensional view of a cosmos only grasped on the fringes of awareness, I see billions of galaxies each with billions of stars, long gone, pale photons emitted from some violent eon gone action, pushing upon my eyes.

What am I to them, these stars these photons?
What small significance would I, this little pattern of energy and matter, matter so much to them?

Then a plane passes in my direct view, just overhead, full of Fed Ex's bound for someones expectation of desire.
Boxes of hope.  Boxes of wants. Boxes of some scheme.
Busy expectations of a tomorrows arrival.
A reason to strive and reach and climb and achieve.
Dead trees of cubical enclosures with ink arranged on paper just so to let everyone know they exist.
Meaning created for meanings sake.

At my knee is a rose.  A beautiful pink explosion of life.  At my feet a quiet ant hill, still from its many lives exertions for food to procreate the next colony of being.  Within each ant cells process, divide, grow and pass on, full of molecules and quarks moving in a complex dance.

My grown daughter, far away, yet so close in space, puts down her head on dead birds remains covered by rearranged plant fiber and begins to snore.  I hope she knows peace.  A step son, unseen, unheard for many a year, goes about his day in a land on the other side of this tiny, revolving sphere unaware of my trivial existence.

In this moment I breathe.  I feel the oxygen and nitrogen, born in dead distant stars, rush past the hairs of my nose, giving my little pattern of existence one more brief moment.  I am content to have the token of
it's presence and I too fade to vain sleep.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Tokens of Being

Stumbling In the Dark

Getting out of bed late one night to answer bladder's demand for a release of pressure, I blindly walked in the darkness toward the toilet.  With scant light, I was following a mental picture of the room, groping my way toward where I remembered the porcelain throne might be.

Suddenly a sharp pain shoots up from my toe.  It had collided with a forgotten coffee table.  A sensation of pain demands my focus.  I had felt this pain before and knew it meant trouble.

Hopping toward where I remembered the light switch to be, I groped to flick it and gain a better sense of how the room was laid out.  It was obvious that my mental map of objects did not meet it's reality.  I was paying a price for a bad idea.

Tracing Experience

The sense of pain works by a series of events that starts in the toe and ends in my brain.  The skin has cells which act like sensors, gadgets that detect temperature, pressure, damage and more.

These sensor cells respond to their environment by sending chemical signals to nearby nerve cells. The nerve cells are like long wires that feed the signal into the spinal column, up my back, and on to my brain.

From the top of my spine the signal is split into three parts. One part of the information goes onto the thalamus where memories are associated. A second signal is sent to the part of the brain governing awareness and attention.  A third signal is sent to the body map laid out on the very surface of my brain.

My awareness of the pain, where it came from, and how it may have been caused, are all wired into what I am.  My sense of the world is fed chemically from toe to thought.

Indirect Experience

The pain in my toe is experienced indirectly, but this is not how it feels.  The awareness of my toe and its pain is triggered by conditions in the toe.  What happens to the toe is relayed to my brain where the experience is felt and understood.  I am wired in such a way that the map in my brain seems as if it is the toe, but it is not.  The toe is connected by signals to an area of brain is associated with the toe.  My experience of my toe is actually the part of my brain that understands my toe.  The signal is understood to be the toe.

The signals that damage has occurred are symbols.  The signals are not the pain itself.  The signals are representations, metaphors of the experience of the toe's condition.

The direct connection between the sensor and the represented gives us an illusion of being all at once, when in reality we are manipulating signals, symbols, metaphors of the experience.

Symbols travel down the nerves to provide information.  It is a symbol of the damage to my toe that reaches my brain.

A clearer example of this happens when a person's toe is amputated.  The amputee continues to experience as if the toe existed when it is long gone from their bodies.  The nerves which carry information about the toe can read false triggers.  Symbols travel to the brain from sources that no longer relate to any toe.

Signals of existence of the toe are still mapped to the brain area that relates to the toe.  This area of the brain tries to interpret the signals as if the toe where still there.  If the amputee is lucky, the brain will adapt to ignore the false signals and begin to forget the toe.  Unlucky amputees can experience pain from a toe that no longer exists.

This idea, that our experience is symbolic, runs counter to our experience.  We feel as if we are a body in the world.  Our sensors give us information about the world in what seems like presence.  We are unaware of the translation of sense into symbol and so find it hard to accept.  Our being is experienced differently than our actuality.  What seems direct experience, is indirect as symbols.

Senses as Representations

Boxes are a thing we can put other things in.  The box could hold fruit or toys or even just air.  The box's function, its ability to hold contents, gives rise to the idea of what a box is.  At first, this idea is confusing.  The box is a squarish thing with five sides and a hole in the middle.  When we think of a box, we think of the cardboard on it's boundaries, physical shape, and size.  The boxes ability to contain other things comes later.  Seeing the box's utility is added as a characteristic of the box as a thing.

If the box is full of something, it takes on the properties of that thing in our mind.  A box of light bulbs is about the light bulbs and the box only a way of saying "these light bulbs belong together".  The box has become more than its cardboard and shape, it is a placeholder for stuff in it.

This is also how our brain operates on sense data.  We have the equivalent of boxes where symbols are stored. Our sensory data is is held in a mental equivalent of a box that allows us to put a boundary upon it, to fix a limit where the symbol can exist.

The things in the box are like the sensory experience held in our brains.  We hold indirect, symbols of the sense data in our brains.  We do not have the actual reality, only a symbol bounded by the boxes that make up our brains.

Experience Disconnect

Understanding that our experience is not the thing that actually happens assaults the mind.  Our moment to moment feeling does not feel abstract.  Our lives do not feel symbolic.  We feels as if it is in the now, as if reality is happening to us.  Our symbols feels as if they are us.  This feeling is an illusion, an abstraction of the reality we exist in.

Another way to approach this seeming disconnect between reality and our experience is to consider what it means to look at a tree.

When I look at a tree's leaves, I see green.  That frequency of light that hits my eye is the wave length of the color green.

The light photon vibrates in a way that triggers my eye sensor, sending a chemical impulse to my brain saying "green was detected".

The light that hit the tree had many frequencies, many colors.  The tree absorbed all of the light except what was green.  The tree contains, absorbs, holds all those colors of light.  The only light that gets reflected away from the tree is the green light.  The green light is the part that is NOT the tree.

When I see the green from the tree, I'm seeing what the tree is not.  The reality is that the tree is all the colors except green.  My experience of the tree when I look at it is not what the tree is, but what the tree it is not.

If I go to a friend and say "The tree is everything but green", they will most probably think I am a little crazy.  Their experience of the tree being green is a strongly held illusion.  Challenges to the illusion violate their pattern of experience.

 Not knowing the tree as it is, a thing that absorbs everything but green, we assume the green we see is what the tree is.

Our symbolic experience of reality can be understood, but remains remote from our seeming experience of it.

Symbols of Stored Experience

The brains neurons are plastic.  The connections between them and the chemicals held inside the cells of our brain are in a constant state of flux.  Each new sensory input changes quantity and position of chemicals held in each neuron cell.  Neuron cells make connections, break them, and reconnect in new ways to hold symbolic representations of the total reality we experience.

In a sense, each neuron and its connections acts like a box.  It holds symbolic information, a representation of the sensory data.

Each new sense from our body is layered on top of the senses we have had before.  A more and more complex set of symbols is built through this chemical and mechanical storage of symbols we have experienced.

As we live life, we gain more and more sensory data.  The experience is translated into symbols that wash over the brain.  Each experience is layered into the very structure of our brains.  Our brains become many symbols held together.  The longer we live, the more symbolic information is layered, the more accurate our symbolic model of reality can become.

Experiencing the Moment

Each moment has a unique content of chemicals and structure that we experience as "now".  Our constant plasticity, our constant changing of our brains structure, our constant input of new senses gives rise to the feeling of being in the moment.

Each thought can be understood as a brain structure of symbols experienced.  This does not happen all alone.  The brain is always receiving new signals.  The symbols, the content of the brain is always changing.

Watching the waves crash or lap onto the a beach is another way of absorbing how the brain works.  As the water flows in and out in waves or ripples, it acts like the sensory data hitting our brains.

Our brains store senses like sand on the beach.  Each wave pushes the sand particles about, changing the shape and structure of the beach.   The overall shape of the beach remains.

The waves never stop.  The focus of changes can move up and down the beach.

Sensory data puts pressure on the pattern of our brains as the waves water pulls and pushes the sand.  The beaches shape is constant yet plastic. The brain holds symbols from previous waves of thought, adding each new sensory experience on top of those that came before.

Our experience of consciousness, our experience of mind, is both the wave and the beach at once.  Our sense data provides the waves of water, while our brain remembers the previous waves in the very structure of the beach.  We experience both the wave and the sand at once.  We are our memory and our senses at the same time.

Soul as Symbol

Experiencing the world through indirect symbols, feeling the sense data in context of what was already in our minds, gives us an experience of being.  Our past experiences are apart of our interpretation of the moment of sensation. This constant connection between the experience of now and the past layers of experience gives us a feeling of self as a being in time.

We experience ourselves only indirectly.  We form a symbol, a metaphor of what we are.  This idea of our existence exists as a symbol of symbols is an abstraction, a meta-symbol defines us to ourselves.

Another way of thinking about this returns us to the box and its contents.  We commonly view our body as a box that holds our mind.  We put our mind's existence into the box of our body.  We consider our mind is not the box, but our mind is it's contents.  Yet the box is required to hold the symbol.

We are confused by the need for a box and the description of our minds as a symbol in the box.  In order to understand this relationship between box and the symbol it holds, we isolate them, objectify them, considering the box as separate and apart from the symbol.

Assigning a separateness to the box and symbol is an misconception, a by product of how we experience reality, but not the actual reality we are experiencing.  This leads us to see the world as dualistic, two separate but connected parts united into a single thing.

Token Culmination

Starting with sensors of experience, our nerves send patterns representing the reality to our brains where a symbolic abstraction is held.

Our awareness is a symbolic translation of reality.  Our physical experience of the world is indirect, metaphorical, an analogy of what is.

Knowing no other but the symbol, we presume it is the reality.  Unable to transcend ourselves in experience, we are a bounded, closed system.

Our minds are symbolic representations of reality. In this way we only experience the symbols, never the reality.

Our symbolic experience maps so well with our expectations of being, we are tricked us into thinking the symbol is the reality.  Never experiencing reality as it is, we only know tokens of being.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

We Aren't Really Here

As I lay on my couch watching a talking head on the projection TV, I noticed the pundit had on a blue and red tie.

On the lapel of the jacket was a pin.

It wasn't a flag, like so many wear.

It was difficult to make out what the pin was, so I stood up walked closer to the wall to see more detail.

Approaching the wall, the image of the pin blurred like some impressionist painting from the hand of Van Gogh.

It wasn't possible to make out the detail on the pin because the shimmering dots reflected upon the wall were too few to see the pundits pin clearly.

The pin and pundit were not really there.  The pin and pundit were my minds conception of so many waves of light streaming from the video lamp, bouncing of the wall and landing on my eye.

The universe is like this.

We think in terms of there being an image we can see on the wall.

Our brains resolve reality into models of what we want to believe.

Our mind divides the world into what is inside and outside of us.

When we zoom down from the world of every day experience into the exceedingly, immensely small; we find that the universe is composed of ripples in a field.  A field of existence that extends everywhere.

Like the pundit on the wall, when we look closely, we find that it is not what we think it is.  The pundit and pin are extensions of our own world views.  As are all objects.

Suddenly from the distance I hear the sound of my neighbors Harley.

Its conversion of matter into energy create ripples in the fabric of reality that strike ear drum, sending signals to neurons.  Neurons compare these ripples to previous ripples and yield a model that suggests my neighbor has come home.  Experience layers and reinforces our model of the world.

The bike is not there.

The bike is compose of billions of little ripples in space. The bike is a pattern in space.

Every electron, proton and neutron in the Harley are not little tiny balls of matter moving around.  They are tiny waves in the cloth of space.

The interactions of these waves reach across space and become apart of my mind.

The pin and pundit, TV and bike, even me and you, are patterns of waves.

Our minds trick, very useful for survival, is to categorize these things into discrete objects.  Our pattern tries to maintain its vibrations in space. This is what it means to survive.

I, you, the motor, and pin are mental models, metaphors that help us to exist in the world.  They do not exist separate and apart from one another.

We do not see the fabric.  We see the patterns in the cloth.

At the fundamental base of reality, we are all apart of the universe.  The division between things is not real. Everything is a part of the same thing.  The division between me and you is an illusion.

We are the complex patterns of the cloth, able to understand some small part of the other ripples in the fabric.

Our isolation from one another, from the objects around us, when we look closely at the light reflecting from the wall, do not exist alone.  It is all the same cloth.

Everything is apart of everything else, there is only one thing, the universe itself.

Of course, none of us are able to throw off these ideas of things being separated.

We are unable to see the universe as it is.

We need our story of separateness so that we may live, love, and die.  Stories give us a context, a means of dealing with existence. Our imagined model helps make sense of the patterns that are.  It is in the very fabric of space that we perceive this way.

"We are a way for the cosmos to know itself." ~ Carl Sagan

Sunday, March 9, 2014

American Exceptionalism and Self-Esteem

We citizens of the U.S.A. seem to have a cognitive disconnect between our ideals and our image of ourselves.  We think we are uniquely special and deny how this view limits our potential.

American Exceptionalism

We Forget The One on the Bottom
Many citizens of the United States believe that their country is different, special, and better than other states.  Claiming the revolution of the colonies into a new nation gave it advantages over all others. Stating that the United States has a special place among all nations.  This conclusion is based on liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, republicanism, populism and laissez-faire.

Some see this country as the "shining city on the hill", a lighthouse of liberty, immune to the failures of lesser nations, uniquely advantaged to bring knowledge, peace, and stability to the world.

This idea has become to be known as "American Exceptionalism."


What we think about ourselves effects who we become.  Our concept of our own strengths and weaknesses places limits upon our actions.

Self-esteem is a mental model which represents our judgments of our own worthiness.

Self-esteem grows from accomplishment against obstacles.  When we are met with a challenge and overcome it our senses of our abilities grows.  Self-esteem shrinks when our actions fail their purpose.  Defeat can lower our views of who we are and what we are capable of.

People who have high self-esteem believe they can do more.   Individuals with low self-esteem see themselves as unable and try less.  Self-esteem has both positive and negative feedback loops into our actions.  The more we accomplish, the more we try and the easier it seems.  The more we fail, the harder it becomes to try again.

Artificial self-esteem is dangerous.  When self-esteem is not grounded in a reality of accomplishment, it allows us to repeat bad behaviors or take higher risks.

Our View of Ourselves

America has a dysfunctional relationship with its past.  We tend to down play our failures and over focus on our successes.

Many citizens consider pointing out bad actions in our collective history as a nation is an unpatriotic act.  This comes from the belief that admitting error lessens us, makes us appear weak to others.  Showing weakness of any kind has a risk that others might take advantage of.

Yet ignoring our mistakes permits us to have a collective self-esteem that is unrealistic.   It is also easy to err in our views of our own accomplishments, giving us an over inflated ego that stops us from seeing our real limits.

Individuals and nations can not grow if they do not admit their mistakes.  We admire others who can admit their mistakes and become better for it.  We disrespect those who pretend their mistakes never happened.

Selective Imagining of How It Was
Cognitive Disconnects

Over and over we point out to ourselves that we first placed a man on the moon.  Yet we let our efforts towards leading mankind into space dwindle, thinking that they are too difficult and expensive to continue.  In this act, we forget the motivations that led us to greatness and continue to assume we are great without further effort.

Most citizens believe the United States was the main actor that ended Nazi Germany.  Yet most of the fighting and winning was done by Russia, China, India, Britain, Australia, and many more.  All these nations struggled mightily significantly, reducing our opponents ability wage war.  Yet our majority view internally is that we won the war single-handedly and all others who helped matter only on the fringes.

We have repeatedly and frequently manipulated the governments of other nations to meet our own economic aims.  In Chile, Iran, Vietnam, the Phillipines, to name but a few, we have removed those peoples right to self determination.   Usurping their lives for our own selfish wants, desires and needs, we seem surprised when these peoples act against us by revolution, terrorism or even simple disrespect.

It is pleasant to believe that through a quick build up of arms and single speech by one President telling the U.S.S.R to "tear down this wall" we beat communism.  We tend to ignore that the people inside the communism were tired of it and wanted it gone regardless of what we did.  It is against our ego to admit they did the bulk of liberating of themselves for themselves.

We frequently ignore the conditions that permitted us to succeed, preferring to think ourselves as more important than we actually are.  We tend to ignore or gloss over our failures, blaming the victim or other actors.

These failures to admit our mistakes or over blow our accomplishments lead us to a false sense of self-esteem.

Not Everyone Can Win This Race
Raising Children's Self-Esteem

From experience we know that children who get artificial self-esteem are less likely to succeed.  When everyone wins, winning loses its meaning.  Some must win and some must lose for all to grow.

Parents and educators best build high self-esteem in children by guiding them to overcome the obstacles in front of them.  When we help them to see their mistakes and correct them, they do better and achieve self-esteem by their own acts.  This act of guidance yields realistic self-esteem in children.

If we allow children to always think they are special, then they will tend to an over-inflated senses of self.  Helping them to build self-esteem by our opinions and rewards rather than their own overcoming of obstacles betrays the lessons they can learn.

Further egoism, an over estimation of ourselves, trends to unwarranted aggression.  Not only does too high a self-esteem allow us act foolishly, we tend to act more violently.

False Patriotism
Better Child of Our Nature

We ought apply this knowledge that self-esteem should be earned and not just given out freely to our nation as well as ourselves.

While it is pleasant to assume our children are perfect in every way, so to is the idea that our nation is exceptional.

We must earn our national self-esteem so that our views of who we are reflect our reality.

A part of overcoming obstacles is to first admit they exist.

We must come to terms with the idea that it is Patriotic to admit failure or weakness.  We must come to terms with the idea that admitting weakness can make us stronger and not weaker.  By learning from our mistakes we will adapt and grow.  Those other nations who see us admit weakness will err to their own peril as we adapt and achieve more.

As our self-esteem grows through performance, perhaps we can then earn the place of being special among other nations.  To continue claiming it as the natural order without further accomplishments can lead us to decline.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Who Pays for Education?

Some have put forth the theory that by charging money for school, individuals will value it more, try harder, make better educational decisions.   This idea supposes that the individual, if self reliant, will do better for themselves.

If this theory is true, then all schooling, from daycare to high school graduation should be paid for by the person being educated. The earlier a person would start to have debt for education, the better.

Self Financing Education?

This self financing theory of education has several issues to overcome which, to date, it has been unable.

First, ignorance breeds ignorance. Those who are uneducated make poorer decisions. Allowing the uneducated to self direct their education will reduce the net knowledge of the society.

Second, those with unfair advantage will pass it on. If we wanted to build an aristocracy of wealth, then allowing the richest to educate their children better and the poor to educate their children worse will be self reinforcing. In a few generations a society that allows extreme differences in education will cease being a democracy and evolve into oligarchy.

Who Spends on Education?

Third, education is not just about money. Knowledge about art, philosophy, morality, ethics, etc. provide value to us which can not be quantified. Education is about becoming a better person, not just a better earner of dollars. The side effect of being a better person is one ought to be able to earn better too. Money is a side effect, not the primary purpose of education.

Who Benefits from Education?

The entire society benefits when one person graduates from college. Education of each of us contributes to the whole. 

Oppositely, ignorance by one drags us all down. 

It is in our own best selfish interest to have as many people as highly educated as possible. 

Which Economies Do Best?

When I was a child, many states provided college educations for free. Those states that did so boomed; the entire state flourished.

Not all human activity can be reduced to financial currency. The tragedy is that we have allowed it to become so.

The countries with the most social and government support for education do far better in measures of happiness, length of life, and individual prosperity than those who allow education to be market driven.