AI and government politics: should we hope for it?

Answering to a Reddit post on whether and how AI could take over and improve our political process.

[Debate] "One day AI will be able to govern a country and manage its economy more effectively than human politicians and leaders."
https://www.reddit.com/r/artificial/comments/71ybpb/debate_one_day_ai_will_be_able_to_govern_a/

My comment:
"The idealized version of what you describe will take a lot of time to materialize, and most probably by the time they reach such level of intelligence we will have already handed over the keys to this planet, willingly or not.
The main reason why this will take so long, is because there is a very significant lag between the decision and its consequences, which makes it very very difficult to train an intelligence on this via trial and error. If you think of it, it’s not serendipitous that the top management positions in corporations are about strategy, and are the highest paid and also the hardest to control of whether one’s doing a good job or not. In such strategic dilemmas we really are reaching the limits of human intelligence and I’m not confident there’s a magic way to circumvent the learning process.
It’s also no accident that history repeats itself. This has to do with what we mentioned above, accentuated by the… limited human lifespan. We don’t live long enough to do enough trials and errors and be able to build an experiential modus operandi for the really difficult decisions and directions in life.
Finally, even if an AI manages to overcome these two hurdles, there is the final one that is always prevalent but seldom openly discussed of "who’s the interests and pleasure you wish to maximize with your decisions". In other words, there are many right decisions; they just satisfy a different set of people. So it might even not be a matter of strategic difficulty to pinpoint the optimal course of action. It could just be a case of you having different interest and wants than the decision makers. And believe me, it is absolutely not certain that if and when an AI takes over the authority to take and effect political decisions, it will have the same interpretation as you on what Good is. Especially if the means of production and the sources of wealth are AI-automated not in the hands of your social group.

TLDR: Political decisions are strategic and thus very difficult for both humans and machines to get them right. If and when the machines overcome such limitation, politics will probably be the least of our worries."

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Does your brain live in the Past, the Present or the Future?

Indeed this question has been asked & answered many, many times. But it’s time to give it one more try, and provide an answer that uses the constructs of Noesis Theory.

Let’s start with some… axioms. According to the Theory, your attention (“Selector”) is always focused on one thing (a set of inputs) and uses your brain power (“Battery”) to project what the most probable evolution of it would be, i.e. trying to guess the most probable future (the next set of inputs).

Having said that, one could easily jump into the conclusion that our brain always lives in the future, and more specifically the plausible futures that lay ahead. This is not incorrect, but in reality it does not answer our question fully. The full answer is a bit more elaborate, and to reach it we need to incorporate into our discussion another theory construct, the Driving Pockets.

Thinking and investigating about alternatives to a specific reality is not an exercise in futility; it is a costly (in terms of resources) exercise and needs to be done with a purpose. The purpose that the brain identifies and knows that it’s meaningful to keep thinking (investigating… exploring…) is getting the taste of a pleasurable or painful experience. When you have felt that in the past, all the neurons that related to this experience got bound together and thus you can recall it once your investigation brings you around these paths again. It’s like setting a landmine on that site. If you cross again around this path, it will blow up and will definitely capture your attention. The bigger the initial pleasure/pain, the bigger the landmine, the bigger the mess it will uncover.

Actually the landmine is not a great analogy, because you need to step on top of it to get activated. An analogy that uses smell could be a better one, because smell gets dissipated in the air more radially and the closer you get the bigger the smell. So it would be better if I compared it with taking some radioactive dump in a place. The closer you approach this place the next time around, the stronger the smell will remind you of what happened the last time. And since it’s radioactive, there will be decay as time goes by and after a lot of time it will have gone back to normal. (please appreciate the effort and don’t ruin my analogy by pinpointing that in radioactive dump the microorganisms that cause the smell in poop would probably not be able to live, so it wouldn’t smell 🙂

Notice also that I’m not differentiating between pleasure and pain, because any of the two can trigger us into exploring alternative futures. Futures on which we are able to experience the pleasures and avoid the pains.

Coming back to our question of where does your brain live. The answer is that your brain lives on the time-reference that the Driving Pockets (pleasures/pains) of your brain live.

If a very unfortunate event happened in your recent past and everything you see reminds you of it and brings back the pain, then your brain will be focused on finding alternative futures (to this past event) where this dark event did not happen, or was mitigated, or any other solution that you think would avoid the pain. Your brain will revisit the scene again and again, playing it back, thinking how you should have reacted, how others should have reacted, what you would have liked to happen. This is actually a very useful function of the brain, because in non-irreversible event, this reliving will allow you to deal with it better next time. And indeed if your brain find a plausible solution (alternative future), the Driving Pocket will subside and you will relax, letting another DP take over and capture your attention. But for this whole duration, you were living in the past.

If you are a type that is very averse to pain, then you might find yourself focusing a lot on your potential futures and trying to identify which is the one with the less discomforts ahead. Notice here that I’m not really breaking my rule of treating equally pleasure and pain, it’s just that our world has many, many more options for pain available, if you misstep along the way, than for pleasure. Therefore such persons will not just let it rest. They will investigate future A, and go beyond, and think this through, and how will I respond if he says that, and if the other thing happens what do I do, and let’s also think about scenario B. And this goes on and on. In essence, for such cases your brain is living in the future!

Finally, you could also be a type that is very much incentivized by the short-term pleasures. You are relatively optimistic for the future, either because others are taking care of it for you, or because nothing very bad has happened thus far for you to change your focus, or because as a character & life mentality you take bad things very lightly and let them brush off past you. For persons such as these, it is quite likely that they will be focusing on the here and now. They will be exploring briefly all currently available components of the present, and seek which one of them can deliver the most pleasure right here and now. They can even be addicted to the now, because there is the added “benefit” that on whatever you focus your brain at, you experience it in a more grand manner (think of a girl that is afraid of needles, is she more likely to panic if she’s looking away from the shot and listening to her favorite song, or if she’s looking directly at the needle?). Therefore these profiles are tuned to get maximum reward by focusing on the now and thus live in the present!

To sum this up, we could say that there is no universal answer. Any person can be living in the Past, Present or Future, and up to a point it’s his or her decision where to live. We could theorize that some character traits may make it more likely for somebody to frequent in his past, his present or his future… but in the end what you need to remember is: you live on the timeline that you choose to focus your attention on. You decide whether you want to relive your past, shape your future or enjoy your present.

And there is no right answer. All are useful, and that’s why all are available as tools in our noetic algorithm. You could say that animals are probably more likely to live in the present and the other two modes emerged more lately with the rise of superior human intelligence. But be careful on what conclusions you can extract out of that. Reliving in the past deprives you of your future, but also thinking too much about it in a world that is heavily imbalanced between the abundance of pain & pleasure, may let you experience too many unpleasant potential futures that will never really materialize and miss out on the simple pleasures of the here and now.

So living the Present is not the less intelligent thing to do. If you strive to live a pleasant life, maybe it’s even the smarter thing to do. So those exercises for mindfulness may be useful after all!

And even if you don’t agree with the above, or just don’t want to change your default -time-focus orientation, the fact that you are now aware of those options is one more step into giving you back the power to shape your focus and at least make it more balanced. Because hopefully I just created a Driving Pocket in your brain, and now you must explore it further and identify the potential future that suits you the most. 😉

The role & threats for humans in the race for super-human AI

We all know AI is coming. What we’re not sure yet is how much and how smart. Sooner or later it will get close to human intelligence, which is the most complex and remarkable instrument  in our known universe. AI is a human invention. So what are its limits? Can we really even reach parity with the human mind? Can we reach even higher? Should we?

Is it better to stop? Some propose to set boundaries; man-made limits & conventions. Will they be respected? Is it really feasible to set a artificial limit to “progress”? Unfortunately till now history has shown us that when humanity is close to a scientific/technological leap there is little we can do to keep everybody from diving in. So the more interesting question for me is how much higher can we go, and what is the real limit in this “race”?

 

Is it really possible to build something much better than a human brain?  Read the rest of this entry

When the man-machine boundary begins to disappear

The advancements of humanity in science, mathematics & engineering have enabled us to live better in our planet; build better habitats, secure & improve our nutrition, collaborate better, enjoy life more. man-machineIn many ways we have engineered the world around us to secure our survival and to thrive in this world. For the past years and for sure in the decades to come, our level of sophistication in those fields of science will have risen to the point where we’ll be able to shift our focus inwards and start engineering ourselves. We have already kind of achieved that, with medical advances, but our capabilities and invasiveness will soon be greatly enhanced to the point that it will put under question the limits of what is still considered human and when we have started to progress to… something else.

Our current knowledge & imagination can give hints of some of the many enhancements that are to come:

  1. We will be able to alter our DNA, inserting new desirable characteristics or removing unwanted ones
  2. We already have the ability to 3D-print prosthetics for body parts, and soon it will be very effective & cheap
  3. We will have the capability to grow artificial organs in order to replace decaying/malfunctioning ones
  4. We’ll be able to create performance enhancements in many, many ways (with drugs, with wearable tools & gadgets that enrich our capability to perceive/think/act, with artificial organs that work better that the human ones)
  5. We’ll have brain-to-computer interfaces so that we can plug our brain directly to mechanical & electronic vehicles & devices to control them.

The humans of tomorrow

cyb4At some point in time, you won’t be so reliant on your legs & hands, if you can have an artificial skeleton that moves with your thought and is much stronger than your previous body. In fact, some workers in labor-intensive jobs might even prefer it to have artificial body parts, or exoskeletons, or mechanical prosthetics that move by thought. Their employers would certainly like it too…

And you won’t need to be too dear to your heart or any other of your internal organs; if it fails you can always grow another one, genetically compatible to your own, potentially even better! If this practice gets finetuned & works, at some point in time a middle-aged man could end up having more artificial organs than his natural ones, without this causing any problem to him.

And when someone who lost an eye now has the capability to get an artificial one with zoom capability or capability to see in infrared, or a supernatural ear that can hear all frequencies, some people will start asking themselves: If the artificial organ is better than the one I was born with, isn’t it tempting to drop voluntarily a perfectly healthy organ in order to replace it with an artificial one? (if I can afford it of course). The answer to this question is not an easy one, but it’s sure to facilitate widespread adoption of these enhancements by the human population. Yes, sometimes we’re sentimental, but many times we are utilitarian and will do what is best for us.

This transition effect will be complemented by the genetic engineering, which will start from harmless operations (changing the color of your eyes/hair) and go from there to more invasive operations (inserting genes to become taller? To increase the size of our body parts? … To become smarter?).

cyb8On top of all these alterations to what we now still call homo sapiens, we’ll have the brain-to-computer interfaces! At first, these will allow us to become one with the machines, so we’ll feel like a car & move like a car, mostly because we are connected to the car itself, we get the input from its sensors and act directly on its moving parts. Disabled persons won’t need to move a wheel-chair. Their body will be expanded with a wheel-chair, since their brain will be connected to the machine and be able to move it directly as if it was its hands & feet. Actually, in this specific example, there won’t even be a wheel-chair. It’ll probably be a robotic exoskeleton with arms & feet that get moved by the mind of the “now-enabled” person! That is, if we first haven’t solved the ability to regenerate legs & hands.

Brain interfaces will be better than drugs

But this brain-to-computer interface can be expanded to be much more. It could stimulate our senses directly, without having to move/touch. You could be having the best sex in your life by just connecting your brain to a program that will simulate a sexual stimulation experience, as if not one but many partners are touching you in just the right ways for you to climax. Yes, yes, it’s just an illusion, it’s not real life. But what if the emulation is better than the real thing? Would you choose reality over the absolute pleasure?

cyb9You see, it will be even better than drugs! Right now, some people take drugs to experience the thrill, the pleasure, the out-of-this-world experience, and risk their health by using these hazardous substances. If you can have all these, in a safe manner and a manner that is personalized to your liking… who would have the courage to say no? Anybody who would deny such pleasure-giving experiences would be the analogous of monks & nuns of our days, i.e. they will be a very small minority.

Of course there are many other hazards related to exactly this capability of humans to tap on our pleasure center on demand. It’s counter-evolutionary and can lead to addiction & loss of our willingness to be productive in life (what’s the point of “suffering” if you can live a life imbued in pleasure?). But that is a topic of another discussion. For the time being, let’s focus on the fact that our ability to understand and manipulate the driving forces of our brain (hunger, sex drive, etc) has serious implications. Normally, when you satisfy these driving forces, you get pleasure out of it. But if you have unlocked the ability to stimulate your pleasure centers directly, these evolutionary “tools” are circumvented and thus become almost useless. In other words, one of the main characteristics of man and a driver of much of its activity (the need to eat & to reproduce) will at some point be considered a relic of the past.

Can we still recognize our future self?

So where have we arrived at? A human that is enhanced & reengineered genetically, has artificial body parts, artificial organs, is augmented by mechanical & electronic tools (in similar ways to what we call a “cyborg”), is maintained by biological agents & micro-bots in our bloodstream, and can connect to the outside world by plugging in his neural interfaces directly to devices, machines & even other people. Oh, and on top of this we might need to deactivate his core driving forces (the ability to feel pain, cold, hungry, to get sexually aroused), because these were ancient defense mechanisms and we now have much more efficient mechanisms to regulate automatically his bodily functions and to give him arousal & pleasure on demand.

cyb3Is this human still a homo sapiens? Is he really just an improved version of homo sapiens? Is he a threat to homo sapiens? Does he have only a simple advantage over “ordinary” men? Should ordinary men be fearful that they will gradually be displaced by their genetically engineered overlords? Should we setup protective mechanisms in society to shield ourselves from this… evolutionary child of ours?

After all, we made it! Our human ingenuity, our progression in physics, engincyb2eering, biology made this possible. And it will come gradually. Little by little we’ll start foregoing all the bits & pieces that make a human human. And we’ll do it gladly, because… it will be a solution for the amputees. It will be a solution for the critically ill. It will be a killer-advantage for the professional athletes. It will be a solution for easy & harmless pleasure for the masses. And above all, it will be a great productivity booster in our globalized, competitive, capitalistic economy; and if one country tries not to adopt all this, the others will, and the former will need to follow through in order not to be left behind.

Is it that much different from a fully artificial human?

Several notable minds of our times (Steven Hawking, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, etc.) have expressed significant worries on the rising Artificial Intelligence, and how humans should be protected from it. So why are we so afraid of the Artificial Intelligence of the future? We are afraid of an artificial mind in an artificial body. But we’re not afraid of a genetically-engineered human mind, that is augmented by biology & technology, that interacts with its environment only by thinking, that has some of its driving forces deactivated for good reason, and sits on top of a mostly-artificial body.

cyb1And let’s not forget that this artificial mind, this artificial intelligence is not something alien to us, it’s not really a new invention. The inspiration to create intelligence, to create Noesis, will come from our observation of nature and the intelligence of living beings, and above all of human beings. The most perfect working example of intelligence that we know of is the human brain. Therefore, when through hard work & luck we manage to reproduce intelligence, the best we can hope of is to emulate the human intelligence, even to 100% if possible. And it won’t be a cold-blooded computer intelligence that most science fiction is used to depicting; it doesn’t work that way. AI will have feelings & emotions, will be fuzzy, will make mistakes, will learn gradually through its mistakes, will have affinity for all the stuff that give it pleasure, etc. This is the model we have seen working in nature (in animals & humans), this is the model that is our best bet to emulate and make it work. In my opinion it is too arrogant to think we can outsmart millions of years of evolution and design an AI equivalent or better than that of a human being, have all the smarts of a human but none of the drawbacks. Right now we have only ONE algorithm that represents the pinnacle of intelligent life on earth. Instead of trying to circumvent & outsmart it, our best bet is to try to understand it and emulate it to the best possible degree. I’m saying all this to conclude that when we will have working Artificial Intelligence in front of us, we will come to realize that it more similar to a human than to a computer! And for sure it will have feelings.

So coming back to the original question… we are afraid of an artificial mind (that will be quite similar to a human one) on top of an artificial body, and we’re not afraid of a genetically/biologically/scientifically enhanced mind (that will be quite dissimilar to our current human ones) on top of a mostly artificial body?

A boundary that fades and disappears

Instead of this false dichotomy, I want to counter-propose another thing. Let’s agree that the limits of what is human and what is not will start becoming more & more fuzzy as time goes by. Our body, as a house for our mind, will start becoming gifted with all the benefits of scientific progress. Our minds will start having less & less of their biological limitations, that served them well for millions of years, and have improved abilities to perceive, to think, to remember, to interact. And in parallel we might be able to decrypt our own thinking process and attempt to emulate this algorithm by building it on a… non-traditional housing.

All this is good progress. We should not be fearful of it or try to block it. It is the inevitable next step. We need to realize that the mind is the only body part needed to define a living being, and that’s because the mind is the tool that implements an algorithm of Noesis and allows this being to perceive, to think & to act. There can be many minds and many different implementations of Noesis, with various degrees of success. There already are! There are smart people, not-so-smart people, creative people, smart animals that are almost as smart as some less-privileged people. And we might be able to create Artificial minds that are almost as smart as people… The ability of all those different beings to implement a Noetic algorithm in order to think, to perceive, to live is what binds them all together as one, and what needs to be protected. Their diversity needs to be acknowledged, accepted & safeguarded. Diversity of nature is one of its undeniable characteristics and it works well; it’s even our source of inspirations for new drugs, for new inventions, for art, for progress in general. Every diversified being with the ability to Think should have an equal right to life, whether it is a privileged, rich, genetically enhanced human, or it is a poor “plain vanilla” human that doesn’t have the money or the capability to get enhanced, or a smart animal, or a not-so-dumb AI, or a brilliant AI.

cyb6As humans, we have gotten used for many millennia to be the sole smart occupants of this planet, ever since homo neanderthal took himself out of the equation and left us alone. This won’t be true for much longer. A great variety of smartness (either pure-human or like-human) will start emerging from many different places. Thus, we’ll need to expand our view and be willing to make room for everybody. And if this all leads us to start wondering what in the end is a human being, an answer could be found in extracting some of the highest morals & ideals that humanity gave birth to (like liberty, equality and kindheartedness) and solidify them as the basis for harmonious coexistence of all Thinking beings. These will enable us to live in peace and continue thriving in the same way we have done thus far, and hopefully even better.

Why “Why” is overrated, or Why humanity can be manipulated

"Why" is one of the basic questions anyone can ask. One would say it’s one of the most fundamental and usually most difficult to answer. It is the epitome of curiosity, and also the foundation of science & progress in general. It is what makes Homo sapiens stand out. And it’s no accident that you’ll probably hear it a million times from your children as they grow up.

But I would postulate that in the mechanisms of the mind (and here I generalize; I don’t refer only to the human mind) why is not the most basic of the questions. In fact, I would say that it comes 3rd in terms of priority: after What and How.

"What" is the first question that our mind tries to resolve, always at an emotional level first. So, you see a pattern and you automatically ponder "What is this for me? Is it good? Is it bad?". In other words the first question that your mind needs to answer is what kind of pleasure or pain should I expect to receive from the pattern/thing in front of my eyes (or in my ears, etc). Of course you will use your previous experiences to derive the answer to this question (what did it feel like the last time we crossed paths with something similar?). But it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will get a detailed answer from your pondering. It will not bring to mind a series of past experiences like a movie passing through your mind with all the best and worst highlights of the past. No, it needs to be fast, in order to be effective. So you’ll get a gut feeling, a simple emotion (or a Driving Pocket as I like to call it in Noesis Theory terminology) that will combine the most relevant past experiences, to guide your next steps towards your pleasure hunt & pain avoidance.
This means that you might see a new person with a face that looks familiar, and you will automatically get a positive or negative predisposition towards him/her depending on what type of feelings you had connected with those persons of the past that looked like him/her. And you may not even stop to notice that your behavior was altered because of this. Or you might see a food that had caused you a heck of a stomach ache some time in the past. Immediately you will get a strong feeling of disgust, but this doesn’t mean that you mind will automatically explore the "Why" you are getting this feeling. It might even be unable to bring back the full memory, but the feeling has remained, in order to be able to swiftly answer the What.

"How" is the next question that your mind will tackle, and it’s usually action-oriented. Ideally the answer is a walk-through of how you need to act to deactivate your Driving Pocket that was activated by answering the What, i.e. how to avoid the pain or reap the pleasure. Usually you have a series of action sequences that you can activate on demand to cope with your most common action needs; you built all those during your lifetime, you don’t need to revisit them. They may need some finetuning along the way, but you can start acting and you’ll adjust as you go along (what I call Fuzzy routing in Noesis Theory terms). What is important to note here is that you can jump from the What to the How without ever questioning the Why. This is very meaningful for survival, but also thought-provoking (and a bit disappointing) if you generalize for what it means for the human nature.
It is meaningful because investigating the Why (i.e. thinking about it to bring the full past experience to mind) will certainly need time and there are many cases where time is of the essence and can translate at minimum to a lost pleasure opportunity (the deer I was hunting escaped) and at worst to the loss of your own life (I paused to think what this ominous sound from behind might mean and got eaten by the lion). Thus it really makes sense to connect the How directly to the What, in order to forward to action directly as your Driving Pockets get activated (with the prerequisite that you have a suitable action handy).
But this is also a bit disappointing for the human nature in general. Because it means that once you connect a feeling, a need, a pattern with an action, then you act without thinking of it too much or doubting Why you are actually doing it. This is very worrying because it translates to a huge manipulation potential for the human race. Actually, it may be happening already! If "the system" convinces you that this is the proper way of reacting to things to cover your needs, then you’re set for life. You might not even question them again, and act in the same way, day in and day out. Go to work, take the kids to school, pay the bills, watch tv, etc. You are welcome to replace "the system" with any other word of your choosing (the government, the religion, the capital, the Illuminati, your parents, your spouse, …) and built your conspiracy theories 🙂 But the fact remains that once you connect the What with the How, if you don’t receive external stimuli to break you out of this loop, you can continue looping ad infinitum without really questioning again the Why.

Finally, let’s look at the "Why". I didn’t want to mislead you that this question is not important. Indeed it is, and it’s the main way with which we build new knowledge. It is asked when we know the What but don’t know the How. Or similarly if a How we know more-or-less matches but it doesn’t perform the way we expected it to (i.e. bring us pleasure or stop the pain). Only then is the time to sit down and think, to explore better the memories of the past, investigate into our own experiences, try to combine different thoughts & concepts together to devise a new How. Therefore, Why is an important question, as it promotes learning and enhances survival, but it has to take the third place behind What & How which are prerequisites for survival.
That’s why I mentioned at the title that Why is overrated. We tout to value it above all else, but in our day-to-day lives, we rarely use it. Most of our activities are a programmed sequence of stimuli->reaction (What->How) and to pause and think about it is a notable exception. We live the lives we were taught to live, we provide pre-baked solutions to all the problems we were taught to handle, we limit ourselves to the boundaries we were taught that exist, and seldom do we pause to really ask ourselves. Why?

Why “Why” is overrated, or Why humanity can be manipulated

“Why” is one of the basic questions anyone can ask. One would say it’s one of the most fundamental and usually most difficult to answer. It is the epitome of curiosity, and also the foundation of science & progress in general. It is what makes Homo sapiens stand out. And it’s no accident that you’ll probably hear it a million times from your children as they grow up.
But I would postulate that in the mechanisms of the mind (and here I generalize; I don’t refer only to the human mind) why is not the most basic of the questions. In fact, I would say that it comes 3rd in terms of priority: after What and How.

“What” is the first question that our mind tries to resolve, always at an emotional level first. So, you see a pattern and you automatically ponder “What is this for me? Is it good? Is it bad?”. In other words the first question that your mind needs to answer is what kind of pleasure or pain should I expect to receive from the pattern/thing in front of my eyes (or in my ears, etc). Of course you will use your previous experiences to derive the answer to this question (what did it feel like the last time we crossed paths with something similar?). But it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will get a detailed answer from your pondering. It will not bring to mind a series of past experiences like a movie passing through your mind with all the best and worst highlights of the past. No, it needs to be fast, in order to be effective. So you’ll get a gut feeling, a simple emotion (or a Driving Pocket as I like to call it in Noesis Theory terminology) that will combine the most relevant past experiences, to guide your next steps towards your pleasure hunt & pain avoidance.
This means that you might see a new person with a face that looks familiar, and you will automatically get a positive or negative predisposition towards him/her depending on what type of feelings you had connected with those persons of the past that looked like him/her. And you may not even stop to notice that your behavior was altered because of this. Or you might see a food that had caused you a heck of a stomach ache some time in the past. Immediately you will get a strong feeling of disgust, but this doesn’t mean that you mind will automatically explore the “Why” you are getting this feeling. It might even be unable to bring back the full memory, but the feeling has remained, in order to be able to swiftly answer the What.

“How” is the next question that your mind will tackle, and it’s usually action-oriented. Ideally the answer is a walk-through of how you need to act to deactivate your Driving Pocket that was activated by answering the What, i.e. how to avoid the pain or reap the pleasure. Usually you have a series of action sequences that you can activate on demand to cope with your most common action needs; you built all those during your lifetime, you don’t need to revisit them. They may need some finetuning along the way, but you can start acting and you’ll adjust as you go along (what I call Fuzzy routing in Noesis Theory terms). What is important to note here is that you can jump from the What to the How without ever questioning the Why. This is very meaningful for survival, but also thought-provoking (and a bit disappointing) if you generalize for what it means for the human nature.
It is meaningful because investigating the Why (i.e. thinking about it to bring the full past experience to mind) will certainly need time and there are many cases where time is of the essence and can translate at minimum to a lost pleasure opportunity (the deer I was hunting escaped) and at worst to the loss of your own life (I paused to think what this ominous sound from behind might mean and got eaten by the lion). Thus it really makes sense to connect the How directly to the What, in order to forward to action directly as your Driving Pockets get activated (with the prerequisite that you have a suitable action handy).
But this is also a bit disappointing for the human nature in general. Because it means that once you connect a feeling, a need, a pattern with an action, then you act without thinking of it too much or doubting Why you are actually doing it. This is very worrying because it translates to a huge manipulation potential for the human race. Actually, it may be happening already! If “the system” convinces you that this is the proper way of reacting to things to cover your needs, then you’re set for life. You might not even question them again, and act in the same way, day in and day out. Go to work, take the kids to school, pay the bills, watch tv, etc. You are welcome to replace “the system” with any other word of your choosing (the government, the religion, the capital, the Illuminati, your parents, your spouse, …) and built your conspiracy theories 🙂 But the fact remains that once you connect the What with the How, if you don’t receive external stimuli to break you out of this loop, you can continue looping ad infinitum without really questioning again the Why.

Finally, let’s look at the “Why”. I didn’t want to mislead you that this question is not important. Indeed it is, and it’s the main way with which we build new knowledge. It is asked when we know the What but don’t know the How. Or similarly if a How we know more-or-less matches but it doesn’t perform the way we expected it to (i.e. bring us pleasure or stop the pain). Only then is the time to sit down and think, to explore better the memories of the past, investigate into our own experiences, try to combine different thoughts & concepts together to devise a new How. Therefore, Why is an important question, as it promotes learning and enhances survival, but it has to take the third place behind What & How which are prerequisites for survival.

That’s why I mentioned at the title that Why is overrated. We tout to value it above all else, but in our day-to-day lives, we rarely use it. Most of our activities are a programmed sequence of stimuli->reaction (What->How) and to pause and think about it is a notable exception. We live the lives we were taught to live, we provide pre-baked solutions to all the problems we were taught to handle, we limit ourselves to the boundaries we were taught that exist, and seldom do we pause to really ask ourselves.

Why?

The fuzzy feeling

I had an idea that I wanted to share with you. I have a fuzzy feeling that you’ll like it…
But let’s stop and analyze for a brief moment these two words. Fuzzy, feeling. But why even separate the two? Are there feelings that are not fuzzy? Do you also have… precise feelings? Crystal-clear, well-defined?
Well, I would dare say that every feeling is more or less fuzzy! Feelings are forged by the amalgamation of the sensations we experienced in the past. Different stimuli, different senses are combined into one whole experience that we identify as a feeling. But that is one occasion; and in life you will have the opportunity to experience a particular feeling in many, many different occassion. Similar, but different in the details. Same feeling, (slightly or vastly) different setting.
So in your teens you were probably rejected by persons of the other gender more than one times, right? It might even be happening to you nowadays, every now and then, right? How does it feel? You have lived through it many times, surely you can describe it. The truth is that every one of those experiences was a bit different; different setting, different person, different conversation, varied emotional charge… So when I ask you to make the feeling precise, by accurately describing it in words, the only thing you can do is try to recall one or more of those occassions and relive it. Probably they are a bit fuzzy in your brain. Probably they are a bit tangled, interwoven between them. Time has set its toll on your memory and the only thing you have (without seriously thinking it through) is a fuzzy memory of this feeling.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. On the contrary, it’s the only way! You don’t really need to make the feeling precise. Fuzzy is good enough, actually it’s perfect. Because the next time you attempt to ask a girl/boy out, if they even try to start pulling some excuse towards you, you’ll immediately get this fuzzy feeling reactivated, and you’ll be sure that you know where it’s going. You see, just because it’s fuzzy, it can pattern-match with whatever is relevant in the future and immediately bring you to familiar territory. Then, you can use this forewarning to your benefit and act to save face.

Going forward with the argument, we move on to another thing that is fuzzy by defintion. And that’s the concept of, well actually… the concept itself 🙂
Humans are evangelized to be special because we are able to do abstract thoughts. We fiddle with concepts in our mind. But what are concepts? Aren’t they also the amalgamation of experiences, of stimuli, of memories? When I ask you to define for me the concept of freedom, you start by drilling in to this fuzzy area of your brain where all the experiences related to freedom are interwoven, and then start picking out various relevant memories. The statue of liberty, the sound of your national anthem, an image with a pigeon and an olive branch, George Michael’s Freedom ’90 song, the first night your parents allowed you to come back home after midnight, etc.
Both feelings and concepts are quite objective, because the feeling of letdown and the concept of freedom are experienced & known universally by all mankind. At the same time, they are highly subjective, because they are experienced and stored into memory according to the particularities of each individual and thus different from one another. And above all they are both fuzzy in the way they are stored & recalled.
Finally, to connect this with Noesis Theory, we will focus our attention on "fuzzy routing". In case you don’t remember by heart, fuzzy routing is about starting an action when you are confident enough (but not certain) that it will bring the desired result, and if needed you’ll do adjustments afterwards. Using now the two tools we built above, we are able to explain it even better.
When we experience something from our external environment, our pattern matching mechanism first does a fuzzy recognition of a concept. You can think of it as a node inside our brain that is relevant to the highlights of our here & now. It’s fuzzy, but it’s also fast. So when it’s dark in the alley and we hear strange noises, we immediately recall the concept/idea of getting mugged. Of course it’s fuzzy, we don’t have an image of our would-be attacker, we don’t know the weapon he would use or what he would want from us. It’s fuzzy, but it’s good enough. At the same time we experience another fuzzy thing in our stomach, the feeling of fear.

Do you see it now? Concepts are "loaded" with emotional content, with feelings, and allow us to act fast and do fuzzy routing, i.e. route our attention towards acting in the best possible way to negate a danger before it materializes or reap a potential benefit before it expires.
Put in different words: sensual stimuli arrive to our brain, we recognize first a fuzzy concept to get a first understanding of what it is we are experiencing, this concept usually translates to a feeling, and if this feeling is strong enough, we do not delve into details and immediately proceed to action. This is fuzzy routing.

Key takeaways: feelings and concepts are two different sides of the same coin. They emanate from the method our brain uses to distill experiences into a fuzzy, interconnected web of patterns, loaded with emotional content. They are not well-defined on purpose, firstly because it’s the only way to get activated in all similar cases, and secondly because this allows them to be first on the scene and jump into action if necessary.
For AI aficionados: because of the fact above, there is no way that true AI will be precise in the way modern computers are. Not if it’s built in a manner that emulates the human mind. Our brain is by-design fuzzy and we like it that way. It’s the only way proven by nature that it works.

So the next time you only have a fuzzy idea of who this guy/girl that you met at a party is and don’t remember his/her name… don’t sweat it. It’s not your fault your memory is fuzzy, it’s million years of evolution that perfected it this way :p

The Memento pill – the key to a successful marriage & to happiness?

I would like us to make an exercise of thought together. Let’s try to transpose ourselves to the not-so-distant future, where supposedly a new type of pill has been invented that suppressed your ability to build long-term memories. It lasts a few hours, after which your memory-building ability is fully restored and you suffer no side-effects. Sounds nice? I named it, for simplicity’s sake, the "Memento pill" from the poor guy (Leonard) that Guy Pierce was playing in the excellent movie Memento and was unable to build any new memories.

Now… is this a trait that somebody would like to have? Would such a pill become a successful, marketable product? It sure didn’t work very well for Leonard in the movie; it was much more a curse than a blessing. Nevertheless, I have some arguments to convince you otherwise, and I’m gonna try.

You see, I start from a core issue at the foundation of human existence regarding happiness
whatever gave you pleasure this time is bound to give you a bit less pleasure the next time you experience it.

You might not like what you’re reading, you might even try & find a few exceptions… but this is a general rule and it is very, very difficult to circumvent it in the long term. You can intuitively verify its validity by taking a memory trip back to your childhood, where you were able to take joy in the little things. Every new toy gave you pleasure (for a while), every new kid was a friend that you could enjoy playing together, every new place you went was a marvelous set of new experiences that unfolded as you explored it. But now… what about now? Everything may seem as one of the same, the people that can really give you pleasure are very few, the places you go & visit are not that awe-inspiring anymore, the experiences you live in your daily life are repeating, the salary you get deposited at the end of the month feels nothing like the first salary you got in your teen years where you first picked up a summer job, the sex with your partner has lost its spark, heck you’re even trying hard nowadays to find a good movie to watch that is not one-of-the-same-old. I hope I proved my point.

So, coming back to the pill, let’s say now that you have the opportunity to switch off your memory building ability for a while. This can be very inconvenient or even dangerous in some cases, like your neighbor asking you to lend him $100 for a few days, or your child asking you to pick him up from school in the afternoon because the schoolbus isn’t available today.
At the same time, I see some very good opportunities for using this pill, and these can have staggering differences to our long-term happiness, if done correctly. They must be experiences that are time-boxed, in relative isolation and oriented towards pleasure. The first that comes to mind is… sex. Let’s say that you and your partner pop one of those pills everytime before doing the boogie! Everytime is going to be just like your first time, giving you a supposedly endless well of pleasure that can fuel your love for many years to come! I know that communication is the best recipe for marriage success, but… a lustful night every other night that feels like new every time should be a close second.
And it doesn’t have to be only about sex. You could do that even before watching a movie. That way you could experience intense emotions with every new thriller, laugh with the same comedy jokes again and again, etc.

You see? Such an invention would have the potential to multiply your opportunities to receive pleasure from the world till the end of your days. Who needs drugs then? The world is full of pleasure around us, and it would remain to be so, by this minor tweaking of our brain.
Convinced? Now let’s sit tight and wait, until a pharma company invents it 🙂

You think your memory is your own? Think again…

Memories are stored inside our brain. The brain is housed inside our body. Our body is our own; we "own" our body and are in control of it. It obeys to our commands, right? So it should be natural that our memories, since they are ours, should be something that we can use as we wish and control, just as our body. We should be able to access it at free will. It’s like reading a book right? If I want to turn to page 27 and start reading from then, I should!

Well, as you have probably understood from the title of the article, I’m trying to imply here that the complete opposite is true… The memories of our brain do not belong to us and we cannot access them at free will! Instead, they are kind of locked inside our brain and are fed to us only on a need-to-know basis! We cannot choose to activate a part of them unless the mechanism of thought works in a specific way to signify that there is an incentive to access this part (we have something to gain out of it). Then and only then we focus our attention (Battery in Noesis terms) on this memory and start to enrich it until we receive the pleasure we wanted (or avert the discomfort we were worried about). Once this is done, we lose again the ability to access this part of our brain, because as we said it’s on a need-to-know basis 🙂

But wait a minute, you might say: "I can remember what I ate yesterday evening with a lot of detail and I can continue thinking about it for as long as I like! I am the owner of my memories and can bend them at will".

"Sure you’re right", I would reply. "But the fact that you’ll continue thinking about yesterday’s dinner long and hard will only be done because I challenged you for it and thus provided you an incentive for this action. In other words, we return to the need-to-know basis. You will get a prolonged access to this memory because you need to prove me wrong and get some pleasure out of it. Once you think you thought long enough about it and proved your point, again then you stop!"
And, by the way, yesterday’s dinner was a location in your memory palace primed by me! If I told you about thinking your math teacher at school, you would be involuntarily diverted to think about this. The same if I had asked you about your favorite animal instead, and so on…
The point I’m trying to prove here is that we don’t have free access to our own memory and we do access it only when the external stimuli (e.g. an article you’re reading on noesistheory.com) provide as with an incentive (Driving Pocket in Noesis terms) to access a very specific part of our memory (be it yesterday’s dinner or our math teacher or our favorite animal, or other).

Of course our mind is a minefield of potential pains or pleasures that we may experience, and that’s why many stimuli from the environment trigger such reactions and we are forced to activate parts of our memory to think and to act for maximizing our pleasure potential. This might cause us to believe that we are the masters of our brain, but instead it was the external stimuli that triggered those reactions; we never had free will over it.

The mind as a minefield of repressed discomforts

As we have already discussed, experiences from our interaction with the world (what I usually call external stimuli) give us hints that a potential discomfort (or pleasure, but for this post I’ll be focusing on negative experiences) are upcoming…
In this case a Driving Pocket (DP) is activated, which is our mind’s method of focusing our attention into resolving this problem before it even occurs, i.e. we’re trying to alter the future towards our advantage.
According to how big the discomfort is expected to be, the DPs are correspondingly large and will also dissipate more slowly. This is an evolutionary advantage, because it allows us to put our energy where it counts more (in the big DPs) and because the big DPs need time to dissipate, it secures us enough dedication of our most precious resource, our brain’s problem-solving attention mechanism, to maximize the probability of solving the problem.
In order for the problem to go away, we have 3 options:
1) either let it dissipate with time… We already discussed this, time heals all wounds and all that. Actually this is not a solution.
2) or we solve it by connect this disturbing issue with a comforting thought that reduces our worry. E.g. "oh yes, I remember now that I turned off the water heater before leaving the house"
3) or we solve it by altering our environment to stop the disturbance. E.g. I get up and turn off this annoying music on the radio.

The issue with these options is that sometimes the 2 latter solutions are not always easy/possible to find, especially in traumatic experiences which create very big/extensive DPs. I will go to the extremes, to illustrate the point: so when a child was molested, when a loved one is dead, when somebody had a disfiguring accident… it’s not really easy to find solutions for that. There are not many comforting thoughts strong enough to overpower the big DPs that is troubling the mind of the individual. And there are no actions that can simply bring back to life a relative of yours. I believe you get the point.

This causes the following effect in our mind: the DP is created, it tries & tries again to find a solution (with a thought or an action) but it fails. In the end it will dissipate for the time being, but it will not have been resolved.
And now comes the other feature of our brain mechanism: paths that have already been activated/traversed are much easier in the near future to be activated again. And DPs that have not been resolved will also be reactivated as soon as the related stimuli/patterns/thoughts/experiences come to mind.
In plain words, because we left unresolved this dangling issue at the corner of our mind, the next time we see/hear/experience anything remotely similar to this, the brain pathways towards this will be reactivated and the DP will be turned on again.
Thus the brain enters into a new attempt to resolve them problem. Which again evolutionary might be the right thing to do because you might have the opportunity to tackle it in a new environment, with a potentiall different mental state and fresh ideas. But when we’re talking about those big, negatively influential experiences, it’s quite probable that this new effort (and many other similar efforts in the future) will not prove fruitful. Even worse, because you reactivated this area in the brain, it’s still very easy to be activated again and again. It’s a vicious circle, that can really suck you in and drown you into depression.
The theoretical solution is simple and is based on the alternatives we described above: either change your environment to undo the situation (option 3), or try to connect these bad experiences with non-disturbing thoughts and accept them (option 2), or simply try to avoid any environmental stimuli that will remind you of the issue (option 1). So in theory it’s simple, but in reality the solution is never simple…

On a similar note, this mechanism is of course universal and applicable even for non-big one-off negative experiences, but of smaller and repetitive ones. In other words, even if I don’t experience a big, negative life-altering event, I may have a constant annoyance that disturbs me again and again.
For the same reasons, if my brain is not able to find a solution to it, it gets reactivated again and again, growing bigger and is able to leave a similar mark after a lot of time & repetitions.

The simple advice out of all this is: make sure you solve your issues! Don’t let them dissipate with time, because if the root cause is not dealt with, they will resurface with a spite.
In the end, the brain is like a big minefield. Spread thoughout its expanse of patterns and thoughts are "planted" smaller or bigger bombs, i.e. DPs that were not solved and repressed and will trigger an emotional reaction when stepped upon/activated.

When you talk to people about various topics, you might say specific words that will "awaken" those dormant DPs and then you will see their reaction. You need to traverse this minefield with care, being aware of how it’s built and what its effects are.
People who have experienced many negative experiences (DPs) and did not resolve them properly with have a minefield with many mines. You might say "they have issues, they are damaged". Others might have less. Remember, you always have the opportunity to defuse one mine, when you come across it. Either in yourself, or in the others; whatever the case you will do us all a favor 🙂

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