Entries Tagged 'mind' ↓

Of poisonous people and memes

When we interact with people, our mind models them. Thus, as a consequence we also end up modelling other people’s beliefs, which in turn can potentially affect our beliefs. I don’t believe that the contextual belief systems of humans (self vs. other) is absolutely isolated – if you are surrounded by contrary beliefs long enough, they could slowly seep into your unconsciousness. Which leads me to wonder if this might have some relation to Stockholm Syndrome? With perhaps stress priming the mind to accept new beliefs more fluidly than usual, in order to allow humans to adapt and survive, even in unpleasant scenarios. Peer pressure and conformity bias might be otherways in which other people’s beliefs can unintentionally alter our own. Of particular interest are the experiments where all but one of the participants in a group are told to lie about observing a phenomenon and the the other, whom are making a decision purely on what they see, tend to agree with the rest of the group. Even when they are later asked about their decision, and told that the other participants were told to lie, generally the one will still swear they saw the phenomenon anyway (see the Solomon Asch study of social conformity).

There are lots of self-help articles and books that tell you to surround yourself with inspiring and positive people and avoid people who are stuck in a life of negative thought, or otherwise are poisonous to people’s happiness. And from the above, it makes sense that negativity is actually contagious. Let alone whether we have empathic tendencies, and mirror their feelings, just mirroring their viewpoint of the world would transfer those beliefs. I certainly don’t want to argue we should all become heartless isolationists, because compassion for other people is always important. But in the end, you are responsible for your own happiness over others (although not at the cost of others, through causing unnecessary harm) and to that end, I think it’s important to sometimes check whether the negativity of others is morphing your beliefs and outlook on the world.

This spread of belief occurs for small chunks of knowledge, and through modelling others at a personal level, but also occurs for larger concepts and ideas. Memes are particularly adapted to play to parts of the human condition so that they get actively spread by us. Things like quizzes that tell us how we fit in the world or appeal to our narcissism and ego, telling us we are unique in some way and that help to define our identity, are particularly virulent. Not that there’s anything wrong with them, as I’ve wasted plenty of time finding out I used to have a “pool boy” dating personality, that at some stage I was 45% pure, and that I am simultaneously a dozen historical figures. They also promote participation – which would arguably work better to promote the spread of the meme over a purely academic piece of knowledge or trivia. Tests that are also related in the attention sphere of Pop culture, the contents of which are themselves memes, piggy-back on the success of other ideas and memes.

Memory enhancement software

Last year I read about the “formula for genius”, by Dr Piotr Wozniak. I found it very interesting and changed my view on the relation between memory and intelligence. In the past I’d written off the memorisation of facts as being relatively unintelligent (not least because it was boring), and with the internet and personal wikis there was no longer any need to remember trivial information. However, if your brain has access internally to a larger amount of knowledge, it’s able to draw more abstractions, generalise better and find new connections. Which makes sense in hind sight, if you don’t have that knowledge in your mind, how are you going to draw comparisons with new knowledge?

I was also intrigued by his learning software SuperMemo, but it looks like it’s become outdated, and more specifically it’s confined to windows and isn’t open source (meaning I can’t easily modify it if it doesn’t work the way that’s right for me). Thus, I went looking for some new learning software and came across JMemorize and Mnemosyne.

Both are based on the Leitner principle (proposed by the German psychologist Sebastian Leitner in the 1970s) which is described on jMemorize’s about page:

“The basic idea is to divide the cards into different decks depending on the difficulty they present to you. This is done by repetitive quizzes in which you try to answer the question out of your mind. Every time you know the correct answer to a card, it is put on the next higher card deck. If you fail at a card, it is put back to the starting deck.”

I ended up using Mnemosyne for the following reasons:

  • it is written in gtk
  • supports pictures, sounds, and 3 sided cards
  • it also is a research project, allowing you to optionally submit your learning to their server (not the content of the cards, just your performance through time).

Plus it’s in ubuntu so you can just type the following to install it:

sudo apt-get install mnemosyne

So far I’ve been using Mnemosyne for 8 or so months. I’ve learnt the periodic table as a test (Ialways found chemistry my downfall in school due to it mostly being memorisation). I’ve also learnt the French words for dates and body parts, and now I’m learning Spanish (in a more concrete way than just random words, including phrases and the various parts of speech). So far there are 2700 facts, which for the most part I can recall relatively easily.

Another method of memorisation specifically for numbers is the Major memory system. There is a perl script for helping using this system here.

Navel gazing from the past…

I’ve going back through some draft posts which I never published. Here’s one from way back last year some time. I should note that I don’t really believe I have Asperger’s or anything like that. I also now believe that “breadth of ideas” is a natural consequence of the parallel nature of the brain. But, being the hoarder and preservationist of digital information that I am, I couldn’t just delete this… so here it is.

In the past I’ve read about aspects of Asperger’s syndrome and in the past have wondered if I’ve got some small inclination towards it. I function reasonably well now though, but this is only through years of practice and working on the things the are traditionally deficient in someone with the syndrome. On deeper reading of the wikipedia article, it’s more likely that they are simply surface similarities. I certainly learnt a lot from being in intimate relationships and am constantly trying to improve (and maintain) my social abilities, but the fact is that I taught myself to look people in the eye while holding a conversation, to exhibit confidence instead of trepidation and to use my empathy to feel what others feel (instead of shutting it out of my head due to it being overwhelming).
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Telling stories and priming the mind

As a kid, and even in the first few years of University, I used to have trouble understanding why things needed to be explained in detail. Essays were difficult because I’d take the point I was trying to make and think of it like a logic problem:

This interesting fact and this analysis, thus this is the point.

Except that made for very short essays that were no where near the word limit.

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Is Zen is the opposite of life?

Prompted by reading a chapter on Zen in “Gödel, Escher, Bach”:

Zen seems to be a sort of holism to the extreme… dissolving the self to become one with the universe and achieve enlightenment.

In some ways I see the use for this viewpoint while meditating and as a relaxation technique. In particular the concept that all the universe and time in static and immutable, and time and space is mere illusion, has a remarkably calming influence (at least for me). In some ways this reminds me of something I did that was somewhat odd as a kid. I think I first thought this around 5… I found time strange, and my memory of it also strange, thus I decided to imprint a distinct memory of that moment. I was sitting at the dinner table and I focussed on the fork I had. I can remember this moment, whereas many other parts of my early childhood are but a blur. There are other moments too, such as when I was riding a bike home in a ridiculously strong wind at age 11… again I committed this to memory because I reasoned “this is incredibly hard work, I feel exhausted! But in but 30 minutes I’ll be at home and this will purely be a memory. In fact, it may as well not be happening since this is a small fraction of my total experience at any time and will continue to get smaller as I continue in my life.”

Did other people do this too? Or was I just a somewhat strange kid?

Zen philosophy is somewhat relaxing and find kōans play novel games with the logic in our heads. As a life philosophy however, I think it’s flawed since the separation of us from the rest of the universe is what makes us human. In fact, it’s what life is all about. The localised increase in pattern and extropy within a system. Maybe Zen boils down to being an acceptance of possible the heat death of the universe when everything becomes a homogeneous soup? Which, if time is but an illusion has already happened and is the culmination of the universe’s evolution!

Before I sign off, time for a kōan:

A monk asked Zhaozhou, “What is the meaning of the ancestral teacher’s coming from the west?” Zhaozhou said, “The cypress tree in front of the hall”.
case #47 of the Book of Serenity

Zen also seems to have mastered the art of surrealistic humour.

Modafinil in Silicon Valley

Looks like I’m not the only one:

“Is someone you work with taking Provigil to give them an extra competitive edge? I’ve spoken with one executive who says he uses it regularly to work twenty hour days, and the buzz lately is that it’s the “entrepreneur’s drug of choice” around Silicon Valley. Over the last week two separate entrepreneurs have mentioned it casually in conversation, and one said he tried it once and loved it.”

An interesting conversation was had at a friend’s bday dinner about drug prohibition, and I meant to mention this kind of thing while dining. Another reason I think the whole recreational drug thing needs to change or be approached without a maxim of “drugs are bad” is because performance enhancement is going to become more common.

What’s so funny is that entrepreneurs apparently aren’t interested in typical drugs – instead they find the one that gives them a mental and stamina advantage.

“What’s so funny” about this statement is that I’m sure this is a completely false claim. It’s merely more socially accepted to take drugs to be a more productive member of society. Thus it’s easier to admit this to colleagues. Possibly it conveys “I’m a hard worker”, not that it really does (since you can still be unproductive even if you’re awake), but the dissonance between the reason behind taking drugs and the public’s perception of it is annoying.

I’ve personally talked to several entrepreneurs who’ve had the seeds of their business inspiration arrive while under the influence.

Note however I’m not saying innovation and new ideas can’t be arrived at without drugs, since that’s patently untrue.

The power of affirmations

What ever Tyler Durden from Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club may say, I am a beautiful and unique snowflake.

You see, your reality is your delusion. Whatever your outlook on life, yourself, or others, it’ll always be subjective. You may align your outlook with thousands or millions of other human beings, but their observation of the universe will also be subjective. In essence, you can believe what you want to believe. Obviously, if you stray to far from the collective reality then bad things will start happening, like bankruptcy if you believe you are materially wealthy beyond your means, or being committed to an institution if you start proclaiming yourself as Jesus. However, small deviations from what your mind (and especially your insecurities) might initially tell are actually incredibly powerful.

I’m a firm believer in the mind being part of the body. You can believe things about soul, or spirit, but your existence is intricately tied to how your body, and in particular your brain works. The brain is a neural network, neural networks work through updating the connections between neurons based on feedback of whether they were useful to activate at a certain time (in an extremely abstract and slightly incorrect summary). Another feature of the brain’s neural network, is that connections are established and only reinforce themselves if they are actually used. Thus if you repeat an affirmation, you are literally making yourself believe it. It doesn’t matter if you initially don’t believe it, the fact that the sentence… for example “I eat healthy foods”, might not apply immediately, doesn’t matter. Purely by parsing and processing THAT idea, it’s becoming part of your consciousness. If you repeat this 100 times a day “I eat healthy foods” becomes a stronger connection (indeed, VERY strong, since most ideas we have are not repeated so frequently unless we are studying or whatever) and more ingrained in your psyche. Later, even if you don’t consciously perceive that thought, it’s still being activated and used at an unconscious level.

Now, I’m not going to claim this will suddenly change you, but like anything worth doing, it takes time. In particular, intermittent learning is a lot more powerful than swatting for an exam and forgetting everything afterwards, and the same applies to affirmations. Doing affirmations for a couple of days won’t make much of a difference (although it’ll plant a seed).

Since most of this post has been me spouting knowledge which I’m too lazy (oops, this is a negative identification… I’m not actually lazy, I’ve just got more pressing matters to attend to then searching the net to support one of my mind dumps) to find references for, here is something related. The idea of affirmations could be made even more powerful by watching your brain in real-time as you make the statement, and compare it to the reaction of other statements you either believe to be stronger true or false as recently seen on TED.


Your mind can never change
Unless you ask it to
Lovingly re-arrange
The thoughts that make you blue
The things that bring you down
Only do harm to you
And so make your choice joy
The joy belongs to you

Massive Attack – What your soul sings

You/Food/Exercise are the perfect drug

This is the first of a number of essays I’ve drafted out, but have left stagnating in my “to write” pile. They are distinctly without references, because I didn’t have the time to trawl for them, but I welcome critique and/or addendum from my readers.

Government’s seem to have a fascination with criminalising substances that change mental awareness, however there are so many things that do this, it’s strange that they intervene in some cases but not in others. Consistency and reliability are key components of trust, how does one trust a government with an erratic value system for experiencing our consciousness?

It’s been exclaimed in poetry and songs, love is a drug, a quintessential part of human experience. The euphoric highs when you meet someone special, planning how you might met with them again for a coffee in order to get another dose of those powerful attractants. Let alone all the other emotions which they themselves are based on a concoction of organic compounds. Being human, love is a strong attractor for the complex system of the human mind. If you get torn asunder from this attractor, it can feel like physical pain: severe withdrawal symptoms that can lead to anger, regret, and depression. In extreme cases murder (if other people are involved), and/or suicide. And yet the government allows it. This seemingly random experience that we cannot control – unlike substances that change our awareness, which we are free to control through our own will and determination in the universe (if you believe in free will of course, I chose to, even if I don’t really, because it’s leads to a much more effective life).

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Without stimulus the mind is not alive

This is my hypothesis. The mind is not a object but a process, it takes information from the outside world and transforms it into pattern. That pattern is not the mind, it’s just the way the mind sustains itself from moment to moment. That pattern still exists when you die, albeit temporarily until decay sets in, but we aren’t alive because the mind isn’t receiving any new input.

Now that doesn’t mean a consciousness can’t be revived, the pattern is still there, and if the process can be restarted then I suspect the consciousness would continue as if nothing happen. One moment about to die, the next revived. This is essentially what proponents of cryogenics expect to occur.

Did I just contradict myself, by saying that consciousness can be revived from the pattern, even though I claimed the pattern wasn’t the mind? I don’t believe so. The pattern is the painting, the mind is painter. In humans, the painter is the physiological processes that generate the electrical signals shooting through our body and that update the neuronal structure in our brain.