Automating Meat Puppets On an Insanely Complex Stage

by Mike Levin

Sunday, May 08, 2022

A very common pattern now that I have this nifty release system based on Github Pages, Python, bash scripts and markdown is to start typing in my personal private journal (:b1), and for one of those open-ended free associating therapeutic writing sessions which tease out what’s important and most trying to surface in my mind, morph into something I want to publicly publish, if for no other reason that the serendipitous search-hit it may produce to touch someone’s life, perchance to help them.

And if not for altruistic reasons, then at very least for the principle of committing myself. Commitment and consistency is what Robert Cialdini called it in his classic marketing research book, Influence and The Art of Persuasion. The mere process of writing is in and of itself good. It’s a developed skill and sets yourself at sort of odds with yourself, in a good challenging way. First, you have to choose writing tools. Next you have to have the discipline to keep using them. Third, you have to overcome internal show-stoppers.

And believe me, LOTS of things will be show-stoppers with writing. Even professional writers face this. But it’s all the more so if writing professionally isn’t your thing. It’s like talking to someone who isn’t there, but that someone is you. You have to be a good listener, which again isn’t really an easy thing, and you have to ask yourself just the right questions at the right time, which in addition to just listening skills takes a sort of objectiveness and insight that is not typical of either one’s self or outside listeners. Everyone’s got agenda.

So the agenda with one’s self is to get a bit closer to objective outside observer. And if you can’t do that, you should go for “bracketing” your view-points. As a purely mental exercise, take the opposing view-point to your own. Put yourself into the mind of an internal fictional character. Use Carl’ Jung’s “Shadow” version of yourself, if you will. If you fear yourself a monster, ask yourself what would that monster say? I find myself more often than not realizing that monster is just a silly, scared lizard and not nearly as “dark” as movies and stories about such monsters make out. At least for myself. I can’t speak for others.

So, the lizard. You’ll hear the lizard-brain talked about a lot. There’s also the monkey-brain that sometimes gets confused with it. But no, here I specifically mean the part of your brain that hasn’t developed the complex social interactions of mammals. Mammals are born helpless and rely on the support of their societies to grow up and become interdependent members of that society. Generally, reptiles are just fine on their own. And generally, reptiles lack the types of emotions that evolved as a part of mammal society to keep the children alive. Yes, there are always exceptions like alligators. But for the most part, reptiles are ambush predators, and we all have one inside of us. All that talk about reptile-brains is absolutely true.

So sometimes you hear it called the limbic system. And while the idea that there is a discrete limbic system which is the reptile brain has been discredited, the general idea still stands. The worm lives in your spinal cord and controls a lot of unconscious muscle-memory functions like walking. At the top of your spine lives the frog who will jump away from danger at the slightest provocation, or alternatively freeze and blend into the surroundings. That’s the pituitary gland and the source of cortisol that throws you into fight-or-flight anxiety. Above that’s the lizard, above that’s the monkey, and above that’s the human.

And yes, I do mean “above”. Make a fist enclosing your thumb. The thumb is the spinal cord and the worm. Your pointer finger is your pituitary gland. And so on through your fingers to your seat of conscious thought, your prefrontal cortex is your pinky. Above is in a spacial-sense and not just an evolutionary sense. Although of course, it is in an evolutionary sense too. Your human-like sentience a righteous feedback-loop of the sensory and processing equipment that allows you to keep a calculated simulation of the world in your head. All animals have that, because the whole purpose of awareness is awareness of your environment to avoid danger, whether it’s simple as with single-cell animals or complex as with us.

We all live in our heads. We run these simulations of the world from amoeba and paramecium up through Einstein and Ada Lovelace. It’s just that some of these simulations in our heads are more imaginative, far-reaching, or perhaps even accurate representations of some unknowable (because of the problem of induction) objective reality that we all occupy. But in any of those cases, the world we live in is primarily in our heads, and we’re controlling through vastly simplified interfaces, a sort of meat-puppet on an insanely complex stage.