After a career in software development and earning two academic degrees, I found that my natural mode of thought is stitching together diverse intellectual threads, not axiomatic deduction. The psychology of thinking and the operations of the mind fascinated me even before I joined Mensa four decades ago. I’ve studied neuroscience, cognitive science, and philosophy not a specialist, but as a generalist.
Sometimes, it’s hard to trace where an interest arises, but my interest in the human brain and its relation to physical reality has certain high points that I’d like to mention.
In 1979, sitting at my work desk faced with a large sheet of blank paper, I mulled over my off-the-cuff comment to a fellow programmer: “It’s a mark of intelligence if a person can figure out a word if he only sees part of the word.”
I floated a bunch of ideas on the deskpad. The figure below (External reality to internal worldview) is a dressed up version of that early attempt to understand the relationship between external reality and internal worldview.
Everything we know starts with sense data. We use memories and emotional values to arrange our world we care about. Knowledge and creativity bridge the gap from start to finish. But what mechanism provided this creativity eluded me! I also wondered why some people are so rigid in their interpretations of reality and others so free. I wanted to know.
Without understanding how these operations occurred, certain steps appeared to occur.
- The complexity of environmental situations are simplified before we apply logic.
- Categorized occurrences cause us to think of other occurrences that share much of those categories, but not all.
- We smooth out objects and relationships to fill in the gaps of our knowledge.
I tried to figure out decipher the mechanisms that caused these steps, but my attempts failed. I spent much time trying to compare images by summing up the column and row pixels into groups, but got nowhere. It was a dead end.
Neural Networks, Artificial
In 1992, I took a class on Artificial Intelligence at The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. It showed me a new way to condense information. Little artificial neural components which had multiple inputs, processed them with a simple algorithm, outputted an answer, and then adjusted the network according to the deviation from the desired.
Backpropagation sort of worked, but it demanded an overseer, a set of good answers to calculate the errors to be propagated backward. That was interesting, but exceedingly unlikely as an explanation of how the human brain works. However, the idea of neurons as simple processing units was planted in my brain. At work, I gave a presentation on neural networks to the technical staff. I stressed the observed phenomenon of the brain, like speed of neurons, since I didn’t yet have a neural mechanism which could account for processing the raw sense data.Maureen Caudill and Charles Butler covered numerous neural network types in Understanding Neural Networks, but I was too busy with work and home to explore it thoroughly at the time. Instead I stored my notes in a folder, “Artificial Neural Networks,” for later investigation.
The Mind in the Net
My interest never flagged. I avidly made notes on books in neuroscience, cognitive science, and biological science. Books that influenced my ideas are listed in Works Cited.
Early in 2006, I bought Manfred Spitzer’s The Mind in the Net. He introduced semantic maps, Kohonen artificial neural networks with their self-organizing property, and a sober development of brain processes.
The Finite Mind
I slowly developed the idea that, although the brain has billions of neurons with thousands of interconnections between them, the existence of a limited working storage meant that thoughts went through a narrow sieve at times. Although our brains could hold and remember vast amounts of information, when it came to making decisions, only a subset of that information was available at any time. Another aspect is the locus of interest a person has, through which attention rotates. The Finite Mind is briefly mentioned in the main argument of Mental Construction.
In 2011, now retired, I went through my hanging folders, getting excited once again about how the flux of external reality becomes stable objects in my mental world. When I tried to bring my ideas into sharper focus, I saw how much I had to learn, but finally I had time.
As I mentioned above, I am a generalist, not a specialist in any of the areas discussed here—neuroscience, cognitive science, philosophy, or psychology. I am not consumed with the latest research questions unique to a specialty. I am fascinated with how the operation of the human mind relates to issues in biology, psychology, and philosophy.
Burning Thoughts, my blog, allows me an outlet for political, economic, and science in daily life posts.