Vincent B


Open Thread March 2019

New favorite example of 'undecidable':

My imagination is quite good. So when I recently read how people are liable to discount the likelihood of what they find hard to imagine and overestimate the likelihood of what they find easy to imagine, I tried to imagine what I would find hard to imagine... and found this hard to imagine.

Which means I find it easy to imagine something which I find hard to imagine, since I just imagined it! But then it is no longer hard to imagine, so I can't have found it... But if I haven't found it, then it's hard to find; so I can imagine it...

Subagents, introspective awareness, and blending

Out of curiosity: could anybody explain what this ...

Blackmore’s report of “with more practice [the students] say that asking the question itself makes them more conscious, and that they can extend this consciousness from a few seconds to perhaps a minute or two”.

... feels like from the inside in contrast to 'not-conscious' (or aware, or self-aware, or whatever term is appropriate)? What does it mean to be "conscious [just] for a few seconds to perhaps a minute or two"? What is the rest of the time spend like, when one is not in this state? Is one just blindly following their own thoughts and sensations or just ... to some degree aware of the world around you, but not of yourself ... or ... I really can't imagine what else.

Subagents, introspective awareness, and blending

No, it developed over the years. Honestly it just feels normal for me. I like being in control of my mind, so everything I do is somehow related to that. What I described in the previous comment is a somewhat idealized description. When I was younger, I used to experience consciousness as a stream-of-thought. I had much less control. Here are a few examples:

• I used to be annoyed at myself for forgetting important thoughts, so I got into the habit of writing them down (which now I no longer need all that much).

• At age 11, I began developing stories in my mind every evening until sleep. This eventually developed into the habit of introspective thinking every evening before sleep, where I would go through the day and sort everything out, make plans, etc.

• When I discovered 'important' new thoughts, through reading or introspection, I would focus on these and make them the object of my attention; but this happened frequently (every few days), so of course I jumped quite a bit from topic to topic. This annoyed me, so I started writing down goals; but it took me years to learn how to mentally prioritize thoughts, so that I'm now able to recognize when I can investigate a new topic or when it is prudent to finish the project I'm working on.

• I had several competing behaviors, some that I wanted to get rid of, only I didn't know how: on the one hand, I could start a project and work on it steadily until I finished; on the other hand, I would endlessly put off starting work. Finding strategies to control my behavior took several years of trial-and-error. I've only recently started to become good at it. Now I can (mostly) control my activity throughout the day.

Putting things off: Used to be a problem, hasn't been for some time. I'm still learning better scheduling though, and getting used to working effectively.

Doing things I know I will regret later: This is basically just reading for too long, which was a coping mechanism for many years. I recently installed an app used for children on my tablet, so now I have a bed-time. This is very effective!

I'm looking forward to you new post!

Subagents, introspective awareness, and blending

This was very strange for me to read. I don't think I can quite imagine what it must be like to not be conscious all the time (though I tried).

Let me explain why, and how I experience 'being conscious'.

For me, being conscious and aware of myself, the world aroung me and what I am thinking or feeling is always ON. Being tired or exhausted may narrow this awareness down, but not collapse it. Of course, I don't remember every single thought I have over the day, but asking wether I'm "conscious right now" is pointless, because I always am. Asking that question feels just like every other thought that I deliberately think: a sentence appearing in my awareness-of-the-moment, that I can understand and manipulate.

I'm also almost always aware of my own awareness, and aware of my awareness of my own awareness. This is useful, because it gives me a three-layered approach to how I experience the world: on one level, I simply take in what I see, feel, hear, think etc., while (slightly time-delayed) on another level I analyze the contents of my awareness, while on a third level I keep track of the level my awareness is at. For example, if I'm in a conversation with another person, there is usually only one-to-two levels going on; if I'm very focused on a task, only one level; but most of the time, all three levels are 'active'.

The third level also gives me a perspective of how 'involved' I get over the day. Whenever I pop out of being immersed in one-to-two level situations, I immediately notice how long I was 'in', and wether it served the goal I was following at the time or if I lost track of what I was doing.

Over the years I learned to use my consciousness with more deliberation: I can mark certain thoughts I want to contemplate later; I have the habit of periodically checking wether there is anything in my 'to think about' box; I can construct several levels of meta-structure that I can pop in- and out of as I complete tasks; I can prompt my subconscious to translate intuitions into more concrete models for my contemplation, while I think on other things; ...

On summaries of thought:

Moments of introspective awareness are summaries of the system’s previous mental activity, with there being a dedicated subagent with the task of preparing and outputting such summaries. Usually it will only focus on tracking the specific kinds of mental states which seem important to track.

I use this summary function in order to remember the gist of my detailed thoughts over the day. When the theme of my thought changes, I stick a sort of 'this was mostly what I thought about' badge on my memories of that time. Depending on how important the memories or the subject are to me, I make an effort to commit more or less details of my conscious experience to memory. If it is more feelings-related or intuitive thinking, I deliberately request of my unconscious (in the post: subagents) a summary of feelings to remember, or an intuitive-thingy I may remember it by. This works surprisingly well for later recollection of intuitive thoughts, meaning thoughts that aren't quite ready yet for structured contemplation.

There are other functions, but those are the ones I use most frequently.

I would be curious to hear what you thinking of this. By the way, I am greatly enjoying this series. Especially the modelling with robots helps to recognize ideas and think of them in a different perspective.

Toolbox-thinking and Law-thinking

In the post it was hinted at several times that there is another way of thinking:

Are there Laws of optimal thought governing the optimal way to contextualize and caveat, which might be helpful for finding good executable recipes? The naturally Lawful thinker will immediately suspect so, even if they don't know what those Laws are. Not knowing these Laws won't panic a healthy Lawful thinker. Instead they'll proceed to look around for useful yet chaotic-seeming prescriptions to use now instead of later - without mistaking those chaotic prescriptions for Laws, or treating the chaos of their current recipes as proof that there's no good normative ideals to be had.
Indeed, it can sometimes be useful to contemplate, in detail, that there are probably Laws you don't know.


The idea that there's a shortest path through the maze isn't a "normative ideal" instead of a "prescriptive ideal", it's just true. Once you define distance there is in fact a shortest path through the maze.


If you're allergic to normative ideals, maybe a helpful course would be to discard the view of whatever-it-is as a normative ideal and try to understand it as a fact.

Let's call this "Fact-thinking". I'm not sure if it's just me seeing this distinction, so feel free to comment.

  • Fact-thinking relies on the assumtion that there is such a thing as 'true underlying reality'.
  • It doesn't really matter if the whole of this 'reality' can be expressed in a bunch of single true sentences (facts), or just parts of it. (Presuming that you are an omniscient being that knows everything there is to know about this 'reality'.) Either way, there is a (presumably) bounded amount of distinct facts which describe as much of reality as is possible, given its nature. Wether you are aware of all these facts or not is irrelevant to their existence.
  • Assuming that there are processes which can distinguish truths from falsehood given enough time; and assuming that there are hypothesis-producing processes that generate enough hypothesis to cover the whole of 'reality that can be expressed as facts'; then it is possible to distinguish the whole package of these facts after some finite amount of time, dependend on the efficiency of the processes.
  • These facts can be used to describe literally anything that you can do in reality, because they describe the whole of reality, which you are a part of. Therefore, they can describe all laws that you can come up with to approximate or describe some process; they can describe any tool and any box of tools; etc.
  • Given some problem or situation to puzzle through, the Factual thinker doesn't dither over wether or not the knowledge they're using to solve this relates to some approach called 'Law-thinking' or 'Toolbox-thinking'. It doesn't really matter if you use the left-hand-method to find your way out of a maze, or your knowledge of there being a shortest path to build a cellphone app which finds a way for you, or if you burrow underneath the maze, or teleport to the other side. What matters is that, whichever approach you use, it depends on your knowledge of the situation at the time; and this knowledge is either correct in some approximate fashion to the facts that literally describe the situation in every possible way, at every possible time, or it is not. That is, you should be aware that your knowledge and ideas of how to conquer the maze is only a subset of all possible ways to conquer the maze; and, within this subset or outside of it, there may or may not be a better approach to how you can get to the other side, given the parameters you care about (wheelchair-accessability, fastest time of all possible times, balancing a red triangle made of jelly on your head while singing to the tune of your favorite childhood song, ...).

Factual thinking seems to be alreay hinted at in the post. I just wanted to point to it, because I have seen examples of 'Law-thinking' and 'Toolbox-thinking' in people, but if I was pressed to categorize my way of thinking into something slightly idealised, I favor what I would call the 'Fact-thinking' approach, which, if I haven't misunderstood something greatly, is distinct from the other two.