|Lincoln Stoller, PhD, 2020. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
The human world is the world humans see. There are other worlds: the geological, celestial, and microscopic in which we don’t play a role. In fact, were it not for the inferences of science, we would hardly be aware of these other worlds. We only affect the worlds with which we interact.
We affect the world through our ecology, or rather, our niche in the ecology. This is a niche into which we’ve evolved and has evolved around us. If we simply lived in nature along with the other animals, we would have little effect in changing the world. That is not the case; our reach extends beyond our niche. We are changing the world using our minds.
By gaining a better understanding of the world we’ll be able to do new things. Understanding ourselves better can have a great effect because understanding ourselves affects and enlightens everything we do. In terms of the trends of human behavior, our minds don’t change because of our technology; our minds change when we understand ourselves.
I’m working up to something I have to justify, or else you won’t be interested. So bear with me.
First, the way we understand ourselves is lame. Everything I know about insight, intellect, psychology, and the brain’s structure has little effect on how humans act to change the world. We still act the same way, we just do different things.
Second, people’s behavior has changed somewhat as a result of civilization over the past 10,000 years. People are less savage. We’ve been domesticated, but that’s not an intellectual achievement. It certainly has changed our genetics, but not by much.
By themselves, I don’t think the arts, or sciences have had much effect on who we are or what we’re prone to do. For these changes to occur there has got to be feedback through culture and the environment. Human nature does not change in response to theory, it changes in response to consequential shifts in our ecology and our role in it.
“In The Better Angels of Our Nature, published in 2011, [Steven] Pinker argues that violence, including tribal warfare, homicide, cruel punishments, child abuse, animal cruelty, domestic violence, lynching, pogroms, and international and civil wars, has decreased over multiple scales of time and magnitude. Pinker considers it unlikely that human nature has changed.”
— from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Pinker
How We Might Change
I feel I might change how I perceive the world if I could change the patterns of my thoughts. I don’t mean the kind of fluff that passes as “free will,” which I don’t much believe in, but rather how ideas come to me. I’m referring to the voices of insight, inclination, intuition, or similar guidance that precedes intellect, reason, and volition. I’m interested in learning as an abstract thing: the question of how we change when, left to ourselves, we can’t.
I compare our effort of using thinking to change our behavior to the process of trying to change the nature of time by moving the hands of a clock. Nothing changes except what the clock says. You can change the time but not the nature of time. Similarly, most thinking just changes what we say, not what we are.
But we do change. We usually change as a result of breaking ourselves, which we can and often do. Most of people’s troubles result from this: the need to change and the resistance to it. This is why I pursue dreamwork, trance, and altered state work. These are thought-less causes that have thoughtful results. This is a “pulling the rug out from under you” approach to change. It’s usually quite emotional, but I don’t think it has to be.
A Fruitful Theory
I think you can rearrange reality’s “bite” by simply knocking some of its teeth out. Emotions ride on top of what we think and, as in most dreams, you can experience radically different realities with little emotional bite if you can think differently.
Emotions are reactive, they protect us from change, but in a safe environment we should not need them. Under protected conditions, many of the changes that would frighten us don’t feel dangerous.
I think that I can (and you can) take apart your thoughts before you have them and, in doing so, create new ones. That is, that we can get behind the clock face and build a different kind of time machine. What will this look like? Probably nothing that will make much sense at first.
Now that you have some idea of where I’m going, I can move forward. Now I’ll talk about the work I’ve been doing for a while. It may not make any sense to you, but I have at least I’ve set it up.
I want to talk about what’s going on beneath your thoughts and feelings. I believe you can operate there in an altered state of mind.
I will explain this using a model. I believe some aspects of this model correspond to measurable truth, while other aspects are simply rhetorical devices that make the model plausible. It takes some things we’re vaguely aware of, connects them in new ways, and generates things we take for granted. In particular, it takes the precursors of thoughts, puts them in relationship with each other, and generates the thoughts we consider to be our “free will.”
It’s easy to make the model complicated but what is obscure is useless. I have to give you something you can understand, and that means I’ve got to give you something that demonstrates the elements in their most basic relation. From this, I will argue that we can work our way to something more realistic, but I’m not going to do that here.
Everyone is math-phobic because they think their ignorance will be exposed. That’s what math is used for: it’s a stick to beat the self-confidence out of you. It’s been applied to women in particular. Got to put them in their place!
The most rigid-minded people survive this hazing because they’ll allow themselves to be led by reason, and that means they can be led anywhere. The rest of us are put in our place and, for most of our lives, defer to experts, too frightened to raise our hands in public.
If you are not a master mathematician, then admit you’re not an expert. Say that to yourself until you no longer give a damn. Now you can leave that childhood trauma behind and we can do some real math. I’m no expert, but that doesn’t stop me and it shouldn’t stop you, either.
You may think that math is based on measurements but it’s not; it’s based on comparison. You don’t need measurements. You can demonstrate comparisons using measurements but the truth of a relationship does not depend on measurements. We don’t care what we’re measuring, we only care how things are related.
The only thing we’re concerned about in mathematics is balance. If you can’t maintain balance in your thoughts, then your thoughts fall down. We need balance, so we need math.
Arousal and Repression
Your thinking is based on what emerges into your consciousness. I call this “arousal.” The things that emerge “arise.” They have a force that brings them to consciousness. Let’s call this “the force of consciousness.” We may not be able to measure it, but we can compare the varying amounts of “force” that different things have.
There are things we don’t want to bring to consciousness. They are distasteful or unattractive. We don’t even need to know what these things are and we don’t need to think twice about them. We can smell them a mile off and we bury them. We repress them. Repression is what you do unconsciously.
What are these things that arise or are repressed? They’re not thoughts because we have not had them yet. What makes it into consciousness congeals into thoughts, but I’m talking about what comes before that. They’re not feelings either because we have not had them.
They are unconscious memories and associations: thought elements. They are memories and associations we had at some time, so we know whether or not we like them, and there is definitely someone below our consciousness who knows about these and manages them without our having to become aware of them. I call these thought elements “oughts,” and when you put these elements together you get “thoughts.”
You don’t have to see yourself chopping your family to bits with an axe to know that you don’t want this image, and it’s not going to accidentally pop into your head because you are not actively opposing it. The thought of this slaughter is large, it involves many elements, actions, and images and it’s fair to say that you never have them.
There are positive thought elements that do pop into your head with the slightest encouragement. You have not decided to think about these things because you are not aware of them before they occur to you. You were aware of them in bits and pieces at some point, but when they pop up you feel the process is spontaneous.
For attractive thoughts to emerge, the oughts of which they’re composed can be said to have a positive valence. They are buoyant. If you want the repellent thoughts to remain concealed, then their constituent oughts can be seen to have a negative valence.
Stimulation motivates us. Without it we go blank. Some of us don’t need much stimulation, some of us need a lot, and some of us are generally blank. But with no stimulation, or if we perceive no stimulation, our minds turn off. To a large extent, we seem to stimulate ourselves, and internal stimulation is stimulation. There is a stimulus, no matter where it comes from, and the thoughts we have result from this.
So too, the oughts result from stimuli. Remember, oughts are just memories and associations, and they’re triggered by stimuli. There is some measure of the stimuli, it could be large or small, and there’s some force of consciousness for each ought that results from it.
We have four things: the stimuli, the force of consciousness that results from it, an action to arouse, and an action to repress. Every stimulus has some of both, and when there’s more arousal than repression, then the ought enters consciousness to some degree.
When there’s more repression than arousal, the ought does not become conscious. When enough ougts become conscious and assemble into a recognizable form, then we have a thought. And if they don’t, then it does not form an idea in our minds. It falls apart and disappears.
Sensitive to the Negative
We’re more sensitive to the negative. We tend to remember negative things longer and react with more aversion to negative things than attraction to the positive. This may not apply to ketchup versus mustard, or pickles versus sauerkraut, but it should apply to going to visit friends and encountering lions. In survival terms, it pays to be more vigilant than impetuous. Outside of the necessities, we are more likely to have lingering fears than lingering attractions.
For the sake of having a model to work with, here is a formal way to put it: for a given stimuli that is arousing there will be a certain positive valence for it to arise in our thoughts, while for an equal stimuli that is repressing there will be a larger negative valence.
It will turn out in the end—though we are far from the end—that it doesn’t matter too much at this point just how much more the negative stimuli are negative than the positive ones are positive, but only that they are by a different and potentially larger degree. And because something must be put forward or else nothing comes of it, I’ll suggest this:
- For some stimulus that I label with a number j—and j is just an index to help keep track of things—we measure its stimulation as Xj. That is, there is a thought element j that is being stimulated to an amount Xj.
- For this stimulus we either have an arousing or a repressing response. We could have both to varying degrees, and that’s easy to add later, but for the moment assume it’s one or the other.
- We are aroused by this stimulus to a degree represented by some number times the stimulation, and this represents our sensitivity. We could represent this with the number A. If we’re very sensitive, then A is large, and if we’re not sensitive, then A is small, but in either case, the amount by which we’re aroused by Xj is given by A*Xj.
- We might have a repressing response to Xj, and this might be large or small. In contrast with arousal, this produces a repressive force which we can call -B*Xj, but that’s not right because it says that if we’re equally sensitive, that is our sensitivity to the positive is equal to our sensitivity to the negative, then our repression is equal and opposite to our arousal. Since repressing effects are stronger, the repression should be stronger for a given stimulus.
In order to represent this we can say, instead, that the repressing response is -B*(Xj)2. The value of a number squared grows much faster with larger numbers than the value of the number itself. You know the area of a floor grows much faster than the length of the sides.
You might complain that using this relationship is arbitrary and you’d prefer something else. It turns out it doesn’t much matter what else you choose as long as the repression grows more quickly than the arousal. It makes a difference in the values you get in the end, but not the structure of how things evolve. The repression does have to grow more quickly than a straight line. That is, it’s not enough just to have B greater than A. You have to accept this for this proposal to work out in the end.
So, we’ve got a little equation that relates the valence of our response to stimulation with the force to which these oughts impinge on our consciousness. The idea being that if this force is large enough, then we become aware of these oughts and they assemble into a thought. If not, then they don’t. Here’s the equation for Force of Consciousness, or F:
Force of Consciousness
To review: we’ve got a bunch of memories and associations that we’ve labeled with the index j. Each is linked to a thought element, or ought. There is a stimulus X which triggers each ought by an amount Xj.
Our minds have arousing or repressing reactions to these oughts, aroused by an amount A*Xj and repressing by -B*(Xj)2. Our net reaction is the sum of the two.
This is a toy model. It’s linear. That is, the A and the B forces are separate, and because of that it’s easy to add detail: more elements simply add and you get a force that has more pieces, representing more oughts, responding to more stimuli. We’ll look at that later, but for the moment we’ve got a simple formula.
Actually, it’s not a simple formula. Our formula for F is called the logistic equation. It was first explored a century ago. This equation, and others of this sort, are the source of deterministic chaos, fractals, self-similarity, and phase transitions.
As I mentioned above, my particular choice of Xj and (Xj)2 are not critical. There is an infinity of similar equations that display similar properties when you apply them in the manner I intend. How I apply the equation will make all the difference, but you’ve got to start with an equation, which is why I dragged you through the math.
It takes a few more steps to make a plausible case for applying this to consciousness, but they’re not difficult. You can follow them, and I’ll present them to you next time.
We reframe things for various reasons, but because our rational mind is always given the same puzzle pieces to build with, we keep reassembling the same picture. If we can work with different oughts, then we should more easily have new thoughts.
The logistic map for deterministic chaos.
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