LifeOS: exploring the system that executes DNA

December 24, 2008

The Point Is

Think about how this works. Deep inside the wetware we call the brain, resides a virtual world that matches the environment. It isn’t in one spot, but spread over billions of brain cells. Exactly how that world is created is a mystery, but the fact that it exists is right in front of us. That “us” is the little body that inhabits that internal world, the hands and feet you see when you look down. That self is also a virtual entity, complete with virtual body and virtual feelings.

Pinch the big body and the little body feels it. The little body reacts as does the big body. That there exists this connection between the mental image and the physical body cannot reasonably be denied. We can trace nerve impulses from a source of pain to the brain and the return messages from the brain. However, we can also trace the actions of muscles and see quite clearly that they react to pain before the message has had time to return from the brain. The body doesn’t wait for the brain to decide what to do in an emergency.

Virtual Self

So the little body, Captain Self, doesn’t exist as a physical reality. It is a virtual copy of the big body, used as a control element. The big body is the reality, the little body is pure imagination. The little body is not responsible for every action, but has a specific role within the system. The ship basically runs itself, so the Captain can focus on important details, like the hairdo.

The rub is that the little body, our Captain Self, is the one that feels most real. It feels separate from the big body. It feels like the one doing the feeling. It is like the senses focus down to a point.

A Point of Awareness

A point of awareness is absolutely necessary for decisions to be made. It takes an entity with a very fixed and limited point of view to act on specific information. The criteria one uses to make decisions needs a fulcrum or pivot point around which to form an opinion. That point is represented by the combined beliefs, prejudices, desires and other elements that make a personality. One must have a sense of self, an understanding of what is to be “individual”.

Captain Self is that point of awareness. In this view the self is a necessary component for the agent to do its job, but not really in charge of present behavior. The subconscious handles that, but the self has the ability to modify future behavior. The self can change.

Captain Self can plan strategically to modify behavior toward specific goals. The crew can be taught new behavior, as can the ship, but neither is able to use a behavior that has not been learned. This is where one can find wisps of the elusive free will. This is where imagination can outline the future. This is where the self can grow.

September 3, 2008

Free Will Power?

Free will and the power to exercise it have been thought to be the exclusive domain of human beings, but from a systems view, a measure of free will is necessary for all mobile agents. Of course, the free will of human beings is more expansive than in lower animals… or is it?

From the position of an outside observer, the agent makes the final choice. The agent navigates, selects and chooses when and how to act. From our personal point of view, we make our own choices; we exercise free will. But research has shown that the process is not what it seems.

In experiments reported in Nature Neuroscience,(01 May 2008), human subjects were tested for decision making while hooked to brain scan equipment. The experiment showed that the brain made the decision as much as ten seconds before the conscious mind was aware of it. The area of heightened brain activity just before the decision was made, was so specific and consistent that researchers could predict the choice the subject would make, several seconds in advance. The subconscious made the decision and then let the conscious mind take the credit.

“Your decisions are strongly prepared by brain activity. By the time consciousness kicks in, most of the work has already been done,” said study co-author John-Dylan Haynes, a Max Planck Institute neuroscientist. (Article)

Will Power

Ask anyone who has ever tried to lose weight or kick a habit, if will power is an effective tool. It isn’t. These experiments gives us a clue as to why changing one’s behavior can be so difficult. The ego is the last to know what is going on. I have often said that most of the human intellect is used making excuses for bad behavior, brought on by bad habits and hormones.

Our behavior is a joint effort between our conscious mind and our subconscious. In our culture, the conscious ego has a tendency to ignore the subconscious and pretend to be totally in charge. This can lead to trouble.

It isn’t that free will doesn’t exist, it just isn’t what we thought it to be. If we wait until the last second to exercise our free will, it is too late. The subconscious will have already chosen from the short list of options it has provided the conscious. If the ego wants to change behavior, it has to start before those hormones and habits take over. Changing habits or managing hormones, takes strategic planning and practice.

The subconscious can be conditioned to offer better options and make better choices, but the ego has to initiate the action. The ego has to anticipate future situations and condition the subconscious to give the desired response. Like i said, a joint effort.

For example, raised in a bad assed neighborhood, one might learn to react to potentially hostile encounters with an immediate display of aggression. If that behavior is successful, the subconscious gives it a high rating and stands ready to use it whenever threatened. No amount of will power will get the subconscious to drop that behavior from its options, especially if there are no other options sufficiently practiced and rated as successful. Aggression will remain the preferred behavior by the subconscious.

Jail time and warzones condition the subject to reactive behaviors that are inappropriate outside their context. However, changing those behaviors can’t be done with will power alone. It literally takes reprogramming one’s behaviors. It is very much like breaking an addiction.

Looking at this process of learned behaviors from a systems view, we see that there is really no difference between them and instinct. From flatworms to humans, the same system of storing experience is at work. Memory is fundamental to the system. The concept of instinct is a throwback to the days when people thought that human beings were not animals. Animals were believed to live by instinct while humans lived by free will. We are indeed animals, sharing functions, like navigation, food capture and mating with all other mobile species.

DNA delivers the same potential behaviors to all animals. The two strands of DNA contain only a vague pattern for a behavior; one bit of a holographic memory that has to be filled in as the organism develops. In animals that have these basic patterns reinforced constantly as they develop, they build very tight behavior routines that are almost never found unsuccessful, and therefore become extremely difficult to change. These “instincts” appear hard wired, but are actually habitual behaviors that have been super reinforced. Human beings are subjected to more dynamic experience which keeps their behavior patterns more flexible, but still not as easy to change as they seem.

Membership in the Holoverse

The Universe is composed of two totally integrated and inseparable aspects: the material world of atoms, molecules and other solid things, permeated by the holographic projection the material totality produces; the realm of information, consciousness and spirit. This is the holoverse. The holoverse is all of the information pertaining to the matter it represents. Within that holoverse, each physical entity, or agent, has an automatic account that gives them a bubble of consciousness, which includes a spongy block of holographic memory. This account is generated by the physical structure that comprises the entity itself. The account also represents membership in a species, possibly other evolutionary guilds and symbiotic partnerships.

This bubble of consciousness has two aspects; the conscious ego that deals with the physical side and the subconscious that deals with the informational/spiritual side. The relationship between the conscious ego and the subconscious mind is fundamental to a good life. Most people in our culture have a somewhat contentious relationship with their own subconscious. That’s too bad, because this relationship is one’s primary interface with LifeOS. Yours and my subconscious are very much a part of the system. Through our subconscious, the system presents information and options for our conscious mind to ponder and select, but then can override any decisions made by the conscious mind. Meanwhile, it saddles the ego with the responsibility for whatever behavior results. We are free to do whatever our subconscious wills us to do.

All of this control by the system serves us well. Stability is maintained while innovation can be tested thoroughly. In order to allow change in the established protocols, the system must loosen the constraints of past rules and allow for the exploration of new options. In order to live in a dynamic environment there must a balance between habitual behavior and new options developed to deal with environmental variation.

Ego Separation

In order to meet crisis on a local level, the ego is allowed to imagine itself separate from the system, giving it the ability to ignore system protocols and develop new strategies pertinent to specific local conditions. The system does this by granting you and i a little bit of free will, and the illusion of a lot more of it. This keeps us trying new behaviors while still maintaining a level of stability.

You might recognize this strategy for teaching new subjects to students. The object is to get the student to practice the desired new behavior in a meaningful, but safe context. Like a flight simulator, where mistakes aren’t terminal. However, safe simulation lacks a certain degree of motivation that only risk can provide. So, the illusion of risk is employed. Tying performance to a score or grade, usually does the trick. However, it doesn’t work on students who put little, or no, value on grades or scores.

If the students can be made to believe that their performance really matters to them personally, they do much better. Say you could put the student at the controls of a real plane, flying low over the desert; one mistake and its curtains. But you have rigged the plane with computer controls, so that the student can’t make a fatal mistake. The commands issued by the student are followed as long as they don’t put the plane in danger, but overridden when they do. Of course, you don’t tell the student. So in this manner, free will is constrained to safe limits while the student learns to function within those limits. The fear of certain death is great motivation.

Isn’t it interesting that our subconscious uses the same kind of strategy on us. The ego is told that it is in charge, but in reality the subconscious calls the shots. We have been convinced that we possess free will, but most of that is an illusion. The ego is being treated like a difficult student.

We are multifaceted beings, but we have a lot to learn. We will do better.

June 14, 2008

Free Will

Free will: the ability of the individual to make the final choice.

We have always claimed that territory for ourselves, denying that animals possess free will or the thought process necessary to use it. However, if you ask animals, they will tell you that they follow the same steps that you do to get what they want. Many do it with far simpler equipment than the hunk of gray matter we lug around, but they all make their own choices.

Freedom is so important to some animals that they cannot live in captivity. Others can adapt to some degree, but often suffer severe depression when caged. You might claim that animals are ruled by instinct and therefore have no freedom of choice, but you misunderstand free will. Animals build very rigid behavior patterns or habits that they always do the same way, but every animal has the ability to choose the appropriate behavior. Humans build their habitual routines by the very same process as do other animals. Our free will is more expansive than other animals, and we have the ability to make up routines on the fly, but the ability to choose is the heart and soul of biological systems.

Navigation, choice of food and mate selection all areas where some degree of free will is necessary.

Individual freedom has proven to be the most effective way for big business, big government and big religion to deal with day to day activities of their followers. Those organizations have discovered that total control over people depresses them like it does caged animals. However, a degree of freedom, even within a rigid structure, makes people work harder.

It has also been discovered that the the closer the decision making process is to the problem, the more likely it is that the problem will be solved. Rather than having information travel up the chain of command to a qualified decision maker, and then return back through channels to the point of action, it is better to give the authority and the necessary training to the person at the point of action. Of course, for that to work there must be strict limits to the scope of the granted authority and some sort of oversight. Besides shortening the feedback loops, a measure of free will is certainly good for moral.

Biological systems make use of this concept at every level. A measure of free will is granted to all mobile creatures. The ability to navigate demands that real time adjustments be made by the individual. Birds in a flock are following the flight pattern dictated by their peers, but each one is doing its own flying. Schools of fish perform in the same way, with the group navigating as one, but each fish is still in charge of its own fins.

In experiments where worms are put in a simple T shaped maze with one branch leading to food and the other to something unpleasant, appear to ponder their options, pointing what sensors they possess first down one tunnel and then the other, until they finally make a choice. Eventually, they can learn the clues that lead them to the right choice, and repeat successful behavior. The individual makes the choices and remembers the results.

Mating rituals are highly stylized, and certainly part of species specific inherited behavior, but the fact is that the female of even the tiniest insect species, deliberates and chooses her mate. If everything is not just right, she might not mate at all.

Cats demand their measure of free will to the point of trying to boss the rest of the household around. They like to initiate feeding, games and contact in general. They like to set the rules for each activity. If you spend enough time observing nature at play, you will see this behavior is common in animals and even insects.

Boss Fly

There was a big black and gold stripped fly that hung out just outside my trailer. One of his favorite perches was on the crank handle on the trailer hitch. The handle stuck straight up. It had a chrome tip on the handle that was just about the same diameter and this fly’s wingspan, probably 3/8 of an inch. The convex chrome surface displayed his undercarriage like mirrors under the fenders at a custom car show.

I would talk to him when and he would move around, it seemed in response. When I wasn’t talking he stayed still. So, after a few days of this, I offered him the back of my hand. He looked up at me, and climbed on. I turned my hand around and he reacted by turning his body so we stayed face to face. Then when I stopped turning my hand, he would turn in circles. After a short time, he would fly back to his chrome perch. He would only perform this trick once in each session. He would still give me his attention, but he wouldn’t get back on my hand.

We did this a few more times in the days to come. One day, I held out my hand from five feet away and called him to get on. He did! He took off and made one or two circles and landed on the back of my hand. We did this trick every day for quite a while. I even got to show it to a couple of friends. He turned to me and then turned to the audience… and I think he made a little bow.

Then one day, he wouldn’t do it at all. He just turned his back on me. I tried to coax him on by putting my hand up close like I had days before, but he just flew off to another perch. I tried for several days, but he just wouldn’t play. So, after about a week, I was standing there with my hands on my hips, talking to him and I asked him what the deal was. He immediately took off and made a couple of circles. I held out my hand and he landed on it. I was astounded. He wanted to initiate the action. We did it that way many times after that. I would stand there and talk to him, with my hands at my sides. When he was ready, he would take off, I would hold out my hand, and he would land on it. If I held out my hand too soon, he would turn his back on me until I put my hands back to my sides. He liked this trick and would do it more than once per session.

Not only does this exhibit free will, but also the desire to demonstrate it to others.

Farewell Performance

One day there were two of them and they would fly around and around in tight circles for several minutes and then fly off. They would come back in a few minutes and circle again. They were flying really fast and their buzzing was very loud. Then they disappeared. A few days later, he was back. His wings were in tatters and he was all beat up and ragged looking. He did his trick a couple more times that day, landing on my outstretched hand. That was his farewell performance; I didn’t see him again.

In this view of biological systems, memory, an understanding of time and space, a sense of self and the exercise of free will are all attributes possessed by each and every mobile species. The difference is in the scope of available choices, but the ability to choose is the same. Successful navigation, feeding and mating require that the agent have final control over the process. Free will is universal within the System.

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