September 12, 2004

Limited Conciousness

I resemble Bill´s topic title on Limited Imagination because this question arouse in my head while reading attentively what you are saying at that thread.

The question is: What if the constitution of our intelligence / mind / conciousness -what we use to learn, think, feel, remember and create, the SOFTWARE that runs the Brain, but at the same time is built by it with adjustment, expandings, prunning, etc... What if the "self" of it, by definition, will never allow us to understand it?

Is clear the question? What if the mind, on order to be what it is entirely, makes its true full constitution unreachable to our conciousness? I just wonder...

5 Comments: (go down to newest )


  • Blogger kasimir-k ::


  • Well, depends what you mean with understanding. If understanding requires us to be able to inspect the subject from the outside, then I guess it is impossible for the mind to understand the mind... But if understanding can be achieved with metaphors and models, then I'd say that it's possible to understand - well, anything!

    Another question is whether the understanding is based on actual facts or not. People used to clearly understand that the earth is the centre of the universe, and the sun orbits the earth. So isn't understanding having a model that is coherent with what is perceived as facts?

    Or do you by understanding mean a state of no more questions? A system with all its parts exhaustively explained by its other parts? In that case, I'm afraid that we can understand very, very little... people have asked and answered pretty far reaching questions, quantum mechanics, relativity and the like, but after all the answers new questions keep on popping up.

    Your question implies our thinking, our understanding, is something separate from the "software", "my thoughts" and "my mind" being different, but they can be seen as one too.

    And even though I'm passionate about understanding, I'd say that it is something not to be taken too seriously :-) And really, if you want to understand your mind, just alter your perception of it, gain new angles, join the pieces and enjoy the picture!

    11:07 AM  

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  • Blogger epp ::


  • After reading this question I have pondered on it for some time. First of all, I needed to understand the question exactly. From what I understand, you are wondering whether, in order to function, the mind should not be understood by consciousness. I felt like a dog chasing my tail as I thought about it at first. Then I changed the question around so that it became: would a conscious understanding of the mind interfere with its functioning.

    This made me first think of the potential of sensory overload - because the whys and the hows of the existence and the functioning of our minds is connected to so many different levels of interconnectedness. It's almost like having to understand the entire universe at once, which does appear impossible and leads to thoughts that we will never quite understand the mind. Yet, at the same time, I have a firm belief that some people, upon experiencing "mystic" moments where they perceive "all of time" in an "eternal present", have come close to understanding the relationship between the "illuminating light" of consciousness and the mind which it uses to establish intricate pattern associations - in order to generate certain perceptions of reality and to experiment with many other potential realities. It seems here that the mind can barely understand consciousness, but consciousness uses the mind as a tool.

    It also makes me think of people with post traumatic stress disorder who need the protective mechanism of being able to delay (put on hold) understanding of trauma related thought processes until they are emotionally ready to deal with them. Unfortunately there are situations which trigger these thought processes when they are not ready, leading to emotional responses which these people are unable to handle. This seems to indicate that there is definitely an essential emotional dimension in determining the conscious ability to understand the mind.

    I also think of the developmental stages of people from babies to children to young, middle-aged and older adults. The mind and consciousness develop and evolve all the time in direct relation to the sensory experiences - what we think can be "measured" is constantly changing. This is a familiar dilemma experienced by atomic physicists, who have to deal with probabilities. We can never really define the mind except at a given moment but by the time this moment has passed, the mind has changed. We as a species are evolving too and are learning to use our minds in ways that they have never been used before.

    What I come out of this thought process with, is a return to the idea of the mind as a tool of the consciousness, where possibilities of application are "infinite". We need not understand the mind completely to use it to its maximum potential. We just need to recognize the patterns of possibilities.

    1:57 AM  

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  • Blogger Ideasware ::


  • I think there are a couple of insights here:

    1) Human minds are extraordinarily limited, severely constrained in what they can think, or understand. We have only a few basic senses, and we think in those terms. We have a language-based analytical facility that is completely dependent on the limitations of the physical organ -- numbers of language elements, types of relationships supported, complexity supported, etc. We have a very poor memory capacity. We have an amazingly sparse, narrow bandwidth communication technique, which limits us to expressing one basic idea at a time, in very unclear terms. We only think a few thoughts at a time, preventing us from perceiving, remembering, understanding, or communicating most of what is really going on.

    In short, our thought processes are based on a specific, somewhat accidental biologic machine. Because information processing is power, AI is rapidly evolving that will replace us, including our poor thought, memory, and communication processes, and fundamentally alter what is thought and understood.

    2) We are "selves" -- living beings, a step "above" molecules, competing to be alive, competing for biologically dictated goals like food, sex, status, security, etc. We have sensory reactions, interpersonal needs, psychological weaknesses, human frailties, etc. As such, we are simply out of tune with the fundamental nature of the universe, and the elements and principles that it instantiates. We are not in the business of understanding things; we are basic information processing units, goaled and optimized to support life's local, short-term needs.

    That said, it also seems true that we are Godlike in the flexibility of our minds. My dog, or the bug on the sidewalk, are really missing an incredible amount of what is going on in this world that we, with our incredible good fortune, are able to grok. It is extraordinary what we are, with all our limitations, able to understand over time. But I suspect that there are emergent levels of "consciousness" (or whatever comes next) that we simply cannot comprehend. Including what that level would see as the underlying nature of our selves.

    3:10 AM  

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  • Blogger epp ::


  • Just as an aside, Ideasware, (because I just can't help it). I think it is dangerous to make the assumption that we (and other forms of life) must fight and compete to survive as a proven theory. There is a lot of evidence supporting the idea that evolution of life has been made possible by way of "cooperative" processes. Plant and animal cells, for example could not exist without a historic "event" involving symbiosis of two different sorts of single celled organisms. (To this day every cell in our body carries this historic event and its significance in two separate forms of DNA - the mitochondrial and the DNA in the nucleus. I speculate that the former enables the duplication of "sameness" and the latter the duplication of "otherness" - though I really do not know. Human society has also evolved by way of cooperation - civilizations created by force and fighting tend to collapse under the force after a while. We have experienced our greatest successes when we have learned how to pool our different abilities and strengths and to use these to develop complex stuctures and networks that are highly benefitial for survival and continuity. Our minds also reflect these processes. When two different ideas are presented to our minds and we are forced to choose the "better" one (a case scenario at a lot of jobs), if these ideas end up competing and fighting with each other in our minds, we feel confused,indecisive, perhaps even frustrated and agitated. But if our minds find ways to integrate and synthesize the two separate ideas, a better and possibly even more "evolved" synergistic solution may emerge from this as a result. Using all the different parts of the mind, like the members of a meeting, to brainstorm, is a kind of cooperation leading to new ideas. These sorts of things have led us to make such gigantic leaps of growth in the "information age". Or so I perceive it... War and fighting and competition just set us back in our evolution - cause us to de-evolve. Co-operation is recognized by the link that our consciousness has with both "oneness" and "otherness", I think. It seems the mind is a tool for achieving such cooperation based evolution - as it is set up to function this way. Our educational systems (while playing an important role in disseminating information) generally seem to serve to de-evolve us regarding this function, with their emphasis on competition and forced conformation to a harmful kind of "sameness". (New voices in pedagogy speak of about a dozen different kinds of intelligences each with their own characteristic thought processes that require the involvement of different parts of the brain. Schools tend to address only one or two of these kinds of intelligence. Only a small proportion of the population is naturally gifted with this sort of intelligence - the rest of the kids either struggle and just make it, or lose out. And so are created the "failures" in our society - sitting on the curbside, begging for bread - while our idea resource bases are being depleated of essential "other" perspectives in problem-solving processes.) I guess that how the "mind" of society functions, depends on society's level of consciousness.

    (One long paragraph - no time to edit, sorry. Thanks for "listening".)

    1:21 PM  

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  • Blogger Ideasware ::


  • Epp -- It's late, and I may be forgetting some contradictory statement I made, but I think we agree. I do not believe that we only evolve by fighting and competition... I agree that cooperation is a valid, often optimal strategy, that is a key part of evolution. And in the context of the evolution of information structures and processors, cooperation is key. Whether "coopetition" among IT companies, or among programmers getting something done (e.g. open systems) or even in the symbiotic relationships among cellular actors... the cells of our own body, for example. And this carries forward to governments and economies as well.

    I must have disagreed with this somewhere, but I'm not sure where or why (i.e. what context)...

    Of course, cooperative strategies are constrained by having to compete with competitive strategies.. :-) Where another actor chooses to compete, others are forced to respond. Even if they respond by "cooperating" with colleagues against the competitor, or even by trying to cooperate directly with the competitor, it only takes one to fight. Against violence, one MAY be forced to compete, or be overcome (i.e. die)... it depends on how the competitor responds. Perhaps this is our issue. But surely, this is exemplified in all the same cooperative contexts you would cite. Viruses, bullies, companies, nations, terrorists...

    By the way, we also agree on the nature of intelligences. I've spent a lot of time with children, and I find that all kids are bright and capable, although they have unique talents and dispositions. But our society often "brings them down" and by the time they are adults, they are customer service reps and rude drivers. Many people become dehumanized.

    Must go, still working, ugh. Thanks for the thoughts.

    5:40 AM  

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