At first glance it seems that you and i are dealing directly with the environment. We can see it, touch it, smell it, hear it and otherwise interact just as if we were really observing reality directly. However, we interact with the environment through an interface. Why is it important to know this? Because it gives us the power to choose hidden options or even update its features.
I can remember the picture that became my view of the self for many years. It was from an old Flash Gordon comic strip. Back when i was a kid, we used to spread out the Sunday Comics on the floor, and listen to the radio. There was a guy who would go through the funnies and read with us. One episode of Flash Gordon was a mechanical football game. The players were thirty feet tall human replicas that played a brutal brand of train wreck football. Each machine had a pilot and copilot that sat inside the helmet, right behind the “eyes”. It was like the cockpit of an airplane, with gauges and dials everywhere. From there they worked control levers and switches to play the game.
That’s the way i had it pictured in my head, Captain Self, at the controls of this biological machine. Since then, control systems for aircraft have advanced, and over the years, i tended to add the same new capabilities to the Captains control room. Then there was Captain Kirk’s control room to borrow from. However, there were some problems with my model.
Learning about how the senses work and then following their information channels into the brain, it becomes obvious that there is nobody sitting behind the eyes. The senses each provide information to different parts of the brain. These different sections somehow work together to display a seamless virtual reality to the user. This is truly an amazing feat of biological information processing.
The captain of this ship is isolated somewhere in a back room, without windows and certainly no real view of the outside world. The Captain is led to believe that the view presented by the eyes is reality, but we now know better. It is all done with smoke and mirrors. The user/conscious mind is being presented with a virtual reality, that has been filtered, cropped, censored and otherwise altered by subsystems beyond conscious control. Who’s in charge, here?
This virtual reality display has some very interesting attributes. One is the fact that this internal display is so well linked to external reality. The virtual image of my hands at the keyboard is so well linked to the external world that i am sure i am seeing the real thing. The sounds of the keys and the movements of my fingers, all in perfect sync. However, this complex display takes some time to conjure up in the brain; it is fast, but not instantaneous. There is another time lag in the decision making process. By the time i see something, some tenths of a second have elapsed. Deciding what to do takes a little time, then getting that decision out to the body uses up some more. That might not seem like a lot of time, but airbags can deploy faster. If the user were left to deal with such erratic transmissions, precise navigation would be difficult to impossible.
The subconscious clears that troublesome mismatch up by using a subtle deception. The subconscious goes ahead and makes the decision when it needs to be made to compensate for the time lag, and then delays informing the conscious mind until it matches the scenario. Clever stuff.
Then one night i was watching a TV show about virtual reality gaming and saw a guy in a suit wired up to input body movements into a computer. He was wearing a helmet that projected his virtual reality onto a screen in front of his eyes. He moved his body and his virtual persona moved in sync. That was my new Captain Self.
Gone were those primitive control levers and switches. The Captain moves and the ship moves. That’s what’s going on in the brain. It is creating a virtual reality with neurons and waves of sensory information, that matches the environment. The user interacts as if it were a direct connection to reality.
My Captain Self model also demonstrates how intelligence relates. The Captain has an intellect inside the helmet that is the user, and then there is the intelligence that manages the virtual displays and their complex interactions. This is the same intelligence that manages other, less sensual, but no less complex, internal affairs.
Captain and Crew
Captain Self is in charge and responsible for the behavior of the ship and crew. However, the good Captain is a relative newcomer, only being in charge for this lifetime. The crew has a long history of operating these ships and really doesn’t consult the Captain, except in emergencies. The crew is so good at doing their jobs that the Captain is seldom aware that there even is a crew. All the Captain has to do is think of an action and the ship responds. That makes a good interface: seamless, intuitive and invisible to the user.