Ronin of the Spirit

Because reality is beautiful.

I talk to the physical manifestation of the conceptualization of my wife (and get advice about asking her for advice)

One of my favorite concepts about the human mind is the idea of the human mind as an operating system for the brain, just as Linux is the operating system of the computer that I am writing this on.

This concept is a whole mental toolkit, with fascinating rabbit trails relating to almost any issue of the mind and brain. Mental problems, for instance, could be caused by single component hardware failure (traumatic brain injury), system wide hardware failure (biochemical imbalance), operating system failure (neurosis), or application failure (disorders that have limited “system wide” problems, but effect certain tasks deeply, such as phobias.)

Within the framework of popular computing, avatar has different meanings depending on context. The word is borrowed from Hindu, where it means the physical incarnation of a deity. In online forums, an avatar can be something as simple as a picture. This picture represents the user in someway. In 3D online games the avatar is the player’s body in the game’s universe (metaverse). Both of these qualities represent the avatar as a representation of user within the system.

However, unique to advertising, an avatar is a program which interacts with people. Often, avatars in the context of advertising are called bots. If you would like to talk to one, Ikea has famous avatar named Anna. In the first 2 cases, the avatar was a user of the system. Anna, however, is the system, or at least a part of it. So an avatar becomes any human faced set of code, regardless of whether the input and output functions of said code are controlled by a human mind, or a mechanical one.

Today, I was lying in bed after my wife had gotten up. I was not quite asleep, but neither was I fully awake, which, often as not, results in a unique dream state. (I should mention before I explain all this, that I am an extremely lucid dreamer. I often interact with people in my dreams with both me and the person I am dreaming about understanding that I am dreaming. This one was a little weird even for me, though.) I was simultaneously dreaming of speaking with Becky and hearing her real, non-dream voice from downstairs. I found this disconcerting and asked my dream wife what was going on.

Oh,” replied dream Becky, “I’m an avatar of Becky. The real Becky is downstairs. I represent every thing that you know about Becky, accessible through a normal conversational interface.”

So,” I asked “Technically you are me, in the sense that you are my memories of Becky?”

She frowned. “Yes, technically, I am you, or at least of you, but it’s best if you think of me as Becky, because if you think of me as you, then I cease to be an incarnation of everything you know about Becky and just become the form of Becky. I can’t provide you with her unique perspectives. I become a projection of yourself into Becky’s form, rather than Becky’s form projected onto your understanding of her identity.”

I get it,” I said “By having you as an avatar of Becky, it gives me a second way to access Becky’s mind when I need her perspective and she’s not available.”

Right,” said dream Becky “Of course, I can’t give you her real perspective. It’s not telepathy or anything. If she’s available, by all means ask her, but if you are deployed to forward base or something, you can ask me.”

I thought about this for bit. “But if you are the sum of everything I know about Becky, then I already have access to all the information that makes you. To access you, I need to be in a dream state, whereas to access your constituent data I only need to concentrate for a moment when fully awake.”

Well, first of all, I can provide you the information in a much more intuitive, conversational manner, “ she said. “Further, since a dream state is more relaxed, I can often give you more accurate information. If you deeply desire to do something that you need to ask Becky about, that desire will cause distress. When you access her/my data intellectually, your mind will color how you conceptualize Becky to bias the resulting conclusions to cause less distress. By taking the time to be relaxed enough to be in a dream state you get marginally less data mined information. Thirdly, I offer a unique service if you are mourning.”

What’s that?” I asked surprised.

She explained, “If something happens to real world Becky that makes her totally unaccessible, ie death or coma, I can provide a way for you to interact with her. In the coma example, I can provide you with the parenting advice you need to raise your daughter without Becky. When you hear of a deceased spouse visiting someone in a dream thats an avatar like me.”

So what you are saying,” I began, “is that anyone I know well, exists in two states. The real world state and the pretend state?”

She responded, “Pretend isn’t quite right. When you play Star Wars Battlefront you aren’t really a Storm Trooper. There is no reality in which you are a Storm Trooper, but the ones and zeros of the Star Wars Battlefront game are as real as you are. While I am not strictly speaking, real, the biochemical interactions that create and define me are real and objectively verifiable.”

And continued, “More correctly, all human beings react both with real people and with their avatars in their respective minds. When you and real Becky fight about something it is often because one of you does not meet the other’s expectations. I said one thing, Becky said another. You are angry because the real me outside your mind did not respond the same way as the real me in your mind.”

I was dumb founded. “So this explains why humans believe in an immortal soul even though there has never been any evidence of it? If something happened to real world Becky, I would still run into you from time to time. To the non-skeptical this would imply a visit from the afterlife.”

Exactly, “ she smiled. “It actually explains a whole a whole slew of paranormal phenomenon: ghosts, doppelgängers, messages from the afterlife, etc. And might even offer insight into mental illness. What do you think would happen if your own avatar was based off of a false concept of self?”

I thought about it. I really had no idea, though I agreed it was a fascinating question and worthy of further thought. “I don’t have any idea, Becky.”

Avatar Becky smiled coyly. “Then, I can’t either, silly. Time to get up.”

I woke up, and went downstairs to tell Becky how smart she/I is/am.

June 30, 2008 Posted by | Paranormal, Religion, Self discovery, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Ruled by madmen


It is not hard for us as human beings to believe everyone is born with different capacities based on the organs which they receive. If you are born with long, strong legs, a slight build, and heart which responds well to aerobic training, you have the capacity to be a marathon runner. This doesn’t mean you will be a marathon runner, merely that if you chose to, you could be. Where as, if you are born squat, broad, stubby, and with skeletal muscle that responds well to resistance training, you have the capacity to be a Navy seal. This “navy seal” guy might really want to be a marathon runner. He might compete in many marathons and work out 6 days a week. He might become the best bulldog shaped marathon runner ever. But despite his drive, he will regularly get trounced by people who are more physiologically ideal for the task. Ditto if the bean pole guy decides to become a special forces member. Training can only improve our innate capacities; it can not create them. This is seen most clearly in women’s versus men’s athletics. Some women are better athletes than men, but in general women are smaller and weaker, so they compete with other women instead of men.

Evolutionary biologists believe consciousness is a meta organ. Consciousness is like man’s freakishly large brain, or upward pelvis. All have unique attributes that helps us to advance ourselves. Consciousness is not as clearly understood as the angle of the pelvis, however. Our understanding is largely gleaned from things which we understand better in other disciplines.

The brain is a very advanced computer. The mind is ALL the software on the brain at a code level. Consciousness is the operating system which allows the different parts of the mind to relate to each other. The mind presents us with an environment which is subjectively real, but objectively false. For example, when the mind is dreaming, one may dream of people who are long dead. This dream is real. The chemicals and electrical activity that the brain is experiencing during the dream are objectively real. The dreamer’s body responds in an identical way as if the experience were truly happening in that moment. But while the dreaming itself is real, the dream has no counter point in reality.

The consciousness is the buffer between the reality outside the mind and the reality within it.

A classical explanation of consciousness in self awareness. This self awareness is seen as the line of demarcation between man and animal. Realistically, however, consciousness exists as a gradient based on mental function. Higher mammals with advanced social structures, such as wolves, elephants, and chimpanzees, all experience symptoms analogous to mourning when a member of their social construct dies. Mourning is indicative of consciousness, because mourning expresses an inability to rectify the object reality (non-existence) with the subjective reality inside the mind where the loved one continues to exist. Memories of interaction with oneself and another imply a concept of self.

Back in the human experience, psychologists define sanity as a continuum of communication with reality. The deeper the communication with reality, the more sane the person is. In other words, the more effectively the consciousness divides the reality within from the reality without, the greater the person’s sanity. Very few people are profoundly mentally ill. The National Institute for Mental Health says that 1 out of 17 people suffer from serious mental illness. Using this left side of a bell curve, it might be reasonable to believe that around 1 out of 17 people populate the right side of the bell curve. These people represent what can be called hyper realists, who have profound and meaningful communication with reality. The remaining 15 people will fall somewhere between.

The most common manner in which consciousness fails to provide a buffer between the inner and outer realities is known as magical thinking. Wikipedia says magical thinking “…is nonscientific causal reasoning that often includes such ideas as the ability of the mind to affect the physical world, correlation equaling causation, the law of contagion, the power of symbols, and the meaningfulness of synchronicity …” More simply, magical thinking is the idea that things in the reality of the mind effect things in the reality outside the mind. Most people engage in magical thinking to some degree, despite the fact it is madness. Indeed, studies have proven a direct link between propensity to magical thinking and propensity to psychosis. (Eckblad & Chapman, 1983, and Thalbourne and French, 1995)

Within man’s social groupings there will be some truly mentally ill, some truly mentally healthy, and many retaining enough mental health to function normally in the reality outside the mind, but suffer from grievous disillusions in the inner reality. A simple example, again from Wikipedia: “31% of Americans polled expressed a belief in astrology and 39% considered it scientific according to another study.” So one out of three people believe magic determines reality to some degree.

Recall the example of mourning: the mourning process is a gradual reduction of distress as the inner reality learns to accept the death which the outer reality has already confirmed. However, perhaps a full third of the population does not feel the need to accept the outer reality of death. They choose to believe instead that death is not real. The loved one has not ended, but merely changed state and continues to live in an unseeable, unprovable reality called the afterlife. If pressed, the bereaved might admit why they believe so strongly in an afterlife: to believe something actively argued against by reality brings them less distress than allowing their mind to agree with reality.

The ramifications of this to man’s social groupings are enormous and terrifying. Man is a highly social animal who forms groups whenever he interacts with other members of his species. These groups will always have a leader. The leader will be the person who offers ideas which cause the least distress, and the ideas which cause the least distress will be the ones farthest removed from reality. To be very clear: The leader of most human groups will be the one who has the deepest internal mental illness, while exhibiting the greatest outer mental health.

A hyper realist will rarely be seen as a leader, for his grip on reality denies him the ability to provide simple answers to the complicated and interconnected problems which plague mankind. The truly mentally ill have an obviously insufficient grip on reality and are not sought to be leaders. As far as “the center of the bell curve” is concerned, the best leader is the one who grips as much reality as possible but has the most heartfelt belief in non-reality. He is the one who can provide simple answers. He is the one who can substitute correlation for cause and make trustworthy sounding fictions.

Imagine, a corporation on the verge of bankruptcy. The stockholders meet together to decide whom of the various executives available is the best candidate for the job. One candidate says, “I have analyzed our situation, I have consulted the world’s leading experts on our situation, I have run every number, and my conclusion is this: We can save this company, but it will be risky and difficult. We will have to do many unpleasant things and be very unpopular with certain groups of people, but I think we may be able to save it.” Another says “I believe in this company! I believe in America and the American system! The great people of this company have pulled together against adversity before and they can do it again!” Most often, the executive who states that it is his personal belief, and the personal beliefs of others, that will make the company work, will receive the job over the executive who takes an honest assessment of the risks.

In short, the cynics cry that we are ruled by madmen is not false, but reasonable and likely. People who are a little mentally ill (which statistically most people are) will be most pleased with a leader who appeals to their latent illness without alienating their overt sanity. Remember the opening line of this blog? “It is not hard for us as human beings to believe everyone is born with different capacities based on the organs which they receive.” It is however, hard to accept, that different consciousness will decide the capacities of a human as well. Some people are prone to be realists, some are prone to be mystics. A mystic might discipline his consciousness to accept realism, and realist might grow up in culture that values mysticism. We all have different capacities based on what we inherited. The humanist hope however, of a wise world, undistracted by beautiful fancies and noble lies, is not to be had anytime soon.

The best we can hope for is rule by realists rather than mystics. If history is any indication, this a rare and unlikely state of affairs. Thankfully, realists are up against, not other realists, but against people who think they can change the world by thinking about it. Realists will prevail eventually. Its just too bad the mystics have to take so many good people with them in their orgiastic self destruction.

May 6, 2008 Posted by | Paranormal, Politics, Religion, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment