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4. The Mind's Algorithm

 

“All men by nature desire to know.” - Aristotle

“What we call learning is only a process of recollection” – Plato

 

Evolution has selected for learned homeostats because they automatically identify the causes of life-threatening and life-sustaining sensations and provide effective muscle instructions to thwart or utilize whatever they represent. Algorithmic rules create each learned homeostat by selecting repeated sensations associated with a change in emotion and recording the action that enhanced a pleasurable change or quenched a painful change. These records become the instructions to take advantage of opportunities to survive and reproduce.

At the beginning, all sensation can only be chaos. Every newborn's evaluative sense organs must wait, like smoke alarms, for specific sensations that trigger pleasure or pain. One of these organs found in the digestive system or skin soon detects a change in a sensation, like sweetness, hunger or cold; those changed sensations knock on their door with a conscious feeling. The first recognized sensation is usually evaluated by pain. Sensations like hunger or cold automatically produce the reflexive muscle actions of frowns and cries, which advertises the evaluation of pain. Normally the parent fills in the recognition and action components by quickly recognizing the cause and solving the problem with food or a blanket, but children later take steps to recognize the cause of such evaluations and find a useful response for themselves. These steps provide a solution to a puzzle because, before they can respond independently, children must hunt out which part of the unintelligible world is knocking this time and how to act accordingly. The evaluated sensation only triggers consciousness of pleasure or pain and some rudimentary, unconscious, reflex actions appropriate to simpler animals, not the needed recognition of the cause and actions useful for a complex being to produce a homeostat that will recognize the same situation and automatically produce the learned behavior in future. There is obviously a process for identifying the cause and producing a useful response to deal with it. This process feels like a search for truth, but, as we will see, the determining factor is pleasure, not truth. We search for truth but can only find pleasure.

Bionics engineers use the word ‘hunting’ to describe how electronic governors in self-correcting mechanisms like vehicle cruise controls and building thermostats use feedback to zero-in on preset speeds and temperatures. ‘Hunting’ can also be used to describe how a mind, consciously zeros-in on causes and useful responses when the world comes calling with some previously, unexperienced change in evaluation. We do not hunt with God-like intelligence; we hunt algorithmically in a two-stage, four-step, learning and remembering process. ‘Hunting’ deals with our very first experience with an evaluative sensation. Humans can also learn the cause and useful responses through instruction, but we, like all learning animals, must start with the basic four-step hunting process because we must learn how before we can learn through instruction.

The algorithmic rules, detailed in the coming paragraphs, consist of four steps in two learning-and-remembering cycles. In this paragraph, we will briefly outline the steps using the information from the last chapter. The first cycle begins when a change in emotion triggers the learning of all coincidental sensations. The same change when repeated will match and trigger mirror neurons to reproduce the sensations from the first instance in a second cycle. We relearn repeated sensations with the sum of evaluations from the first and second instances. Third and subsequent instances will match and trigger the higher evaluated sensations automatically identifying and confirming the causal and appropriate action sensations.

We will detail this process, which can take nanoseconds or minutes, next because that would be a normal process to create a homeostat to deal with easy situations. Nevertheless, because humans can communicate to future generations, the learning and remembering cycle can continue, sometimes thousands of times over many generations, each repeat refining the search for cause. It took more than two thousand years to find the Higgs boson subatomic particle. Once learned, the fourth step of this same hunting process will, as automatically as a heartbeat, identify and respond to the cause unconsciously. All learning animals use this algorithmic process to create and use learned homeostats and it is understandably simple. Our human superior mental performance depends on our superior communication skills.

 

 

1. Gather the Possibilities

 

The first step in the hunt is a sensation that changes the feelings of pleasure or pain for which no previously learned matching cause exists. As a sensation of cold in the night proves, life normally keeps evaluative organs turned on, paused, but primed to recognize the changes in evaluative sensations that evolution has flagged as life promoting. Such reflexively identified changes trigger consciousness of one of the two emotions of pleasure or pain, setting off the alarm that starts the hunt. Adults have learned to focus the search for the cause of an injured finger to the place where the hand just left, but that is an upgraded learned response; a newborn would just be astounded.

This first change in emotion triggers the learning of all coincidental sensations, which makes a good first step in the hunt because it casts a wide net to include all the possible causes of the change and immediate DNA programmed responses to it. This is a sorting algorithm. Evolution bets that the cause of the emotional change is in amongst the identifying sensations just learned and useful muscular actions to deal with it can be fine-tuned from our knee-jerk reactions. Evolution hunts for both the externally generated perception and internally generated behavior associated with a change in the feelings of pleasure/not pain at the same time. Evolution could have programmed us to separately search for cause first, and then later searched for an effective muscle response, but it is more efficient to do both at the same time so the sensations learned include those generated by reflex muscle actions. The algorithm will sort these perceptions and responses to find, again not the true, but the most pleasurable response.

 

2. Filter the Possibilities

 

The first step in the hunt was learning. The second is remembering, which is triggered by any current sensation that matches a previously learned sensation. Analyzing what we remember and when we remember it helps us understand what happens behind the unconscious firewall, deducing the unconscious operations by comparing the initial conscious experience with the re-experience. Re-experience leads us to wonder what evolutionary advantage accrues from remembering any particular memory at any particular time. We find that we remember experience at the prompt of matching current experience and that is how we normally identify or recognize currently significant things. This recognition process depends on two matches: a preconscious match in the brain and a conscious match in the sense organ. However, not all possibilities are recognized. Of the possible matches only the one that will produce the greatest emotional change, whether an increase or a decrease in pain or pleasure or a change from one to the other, bubbles up to consciousness. The matching process starts with a sensory flood. For instance, the eye can take in the sensations from a hundred objects with a glance, but we do not notice all of them. The eye has seen them all, it cannot discriminate, and it has sent all sensations to the brain. Again, this is biology. It has no choice. Nevertheless, absent a change in current emotional feeling, we would not notice or learn any of these hundred sensations. They are just more signage in the continuum. However, should one of these afferent identifying sensations match or nearly match a sensation with the potential to trigger a change in emotion, it will be reconstituted and sent back to its originating organ where the match can be consciously experienced. We see everything, but because our emotional feedback loop varies the sum of emotions felt by weighing current conditions, we only notice what happens to be highly evaluated at the time.

Early experimenters with photography were amazed to find things in their photographs that they had not noticed in the original scene. Selection by the greatest emotional change had filtered all the matches to memory currently available by ignoring the identifying sensations not evaluated by feedback as irrelevant to current experience. Photographs, of course, do record the whole scene. A full half of any currently experienced recognition comes from memory because we only recognize those things with matches to memories that cause the greatest change in current emotion. At any given moment, only some of the perceptions from within our field of perception come to consciousness, and they only become conscious because we currently experience memories that match them. Some of our current experience comes from current time and some comes from memory. The recognition process plucks one current sensation from the sensation flood for recognition because the combination of past experience with current effect provides feedback interesting enough. It triggered a survival or reproductive sense organ to produce a change in emotional power necessary to notice it. (We could speculate that this summing, cancelling or reversing of emotional valence characteristic suggests that on a physics level they are acids and bases or electrical charges or something else that sums or neutralizes each other proportionately. Future investigators may take on that kind of question.) The photographers’ amazement resulted from the minds filtering process that limited their original experience and contradicted their belief that we, like cameras, all see the same whole view objectively. As experimenters in witness reliability have shown, our memories are far from a complete record of events. Our ability to respond quickly to the world depends on our ability to filter by only recognizing its currently relevant parts. Re-experience of a sensation with the same recognition and evaluative components as one in current time will combine the evaluations doubling that emotion and triggering relearning, which is the next step in the hunt.

As a second step, recognition has the effect of drawing the net in around the cause of the life-promoting change in sensation by filtering the possibilities. It may have even identified the cause. While much of the learning of the first experience was irrelevant, repeated sensations in different circumstances more likely link causally to the triggering change in emotion. Because we can experience both circumstances simultaneously, one from current experience and the other from memory, (just as we compared sensations in a single organ, photo over negative) we now compare all the sensations from two moments. The next step eliminates any sensations from the first instance, not present in the second instance.

 

3. Re-evaluate the Possibilities

 

The third step is relearning of any change in emotional value or valence experienced with recognized duplicated identifying sensations.

Relearning has the effect of editing the evaluation of the homeostat from the first step by re-evaluating any repeated sensations with the sum of emotions from both the first and current experiences. Any repeated sensations might have been the cause of the original change in emotion. This selects to find the cause of the first emotion because the value associated with repeated identifying sensations causes it to shine from accumulating evaluations added from each re-experience.  As any teacher knows, repetition reinforces the ability to remember and as readers know, re-reading unfamiliar material increases comprehension.

We cannot neglect the fact that this reasoning process also searches for useful responses simultaneously with the search for cause of the evaluation. No doubt, our first movements result from left over reflexive responses to emotional triggers and all humans automatically smile at feeling pleasure and grimace at pain. We also automatically suck, grasp and gag on cue and randomly lash out at pain and relax from pleasure. These kinds of automatic responses are the beginnings of a tailored response. For instance, sucking is the start of chewing. Actions that change emotional valences, pain to pleasure or pleasure to pain, are made conscious and learned proportionally to the change in value. In the absence of instruction, we tune and develop our reflex actions like sucking, converting them to actions like chewing, by accident. We learn any random actions that changes emotion and include it in the homeostat for use or avoidance next time.

We cannot match nor recognize nor re-learn non-repeated sensations from the first step homeostat in the replacement homeostat, which narrows the field of candidates for our hunt’s cause. The third step recognizes and relearns any identifying sensations repeated from the first step, any action sensation that produced a change in evaluation with the sum of remembered and current values. The feedback-enhanced value in the second homeostat will set up a tightening of the net that, in step four, will normally identify the source of the emotion in question and respond with actions that utilize or avoid it.

 

4. Act on the Most Probable

 

In the fourth step eating food will, from now on, be selected as the solution to hunger because of all the matches to quenching hunger it had the greatest emotional value and relearning has now stored it in the same homeostat as hunger.

We notice that we can remember the homeostats from both learning steps (1 and 3) and conclude that the second one has not replaced the first one but joins it in memory. This presents no problem because, again by nature, when two or more matches to current experience exist in memory, we follow the heuristic rule, selecting the one producing the greatest emotional change first. (That is normally the most recent, and for that reason, generates the illusion of a short-term memory.) If there is only one identifying sensation in common between the two circumstances, we select the cause and solution by their now higher emotional values. The second and subsequent experiences of the same situation produce the already learned solution from memory.

The fact that eating quenches hunger seems painfully obvious to us as adults, but to a newborn, it might as well be differential calculus. Not all problems yield easily. What if two actions often coincide with quenched hunger? At first, there may be several candidates for the cause of this emotion but repeated experiences in different environments and times should eliminate the pretenders by increasing the evaluation of the repeated sensation. The third or fourth, fifth, or sixth experience narrows the causal possibilities and we automatically act to or not act to maximize pleasure or minimize pain. One important exception (parental bonding), caused by consistent coincidence of two sensations that form a pleasurable but not a truly causal relationship produces our improved human communication and social skills. This superstitiously learned relationship will be discussed in the next chapter.

These four steps describe an Archimedean, eureka moment, and most of the time, the DNA-produced life promoting, emotional, seal of approval provides learning animals with a survival advantage. DNA always told you that coconuts taste sweet and therefore provide nutrition, but learning to recognize them by sight provides an extra advantage. Your mouth no longer needs to bump into them; you can see them from across the beach and know they will taste sweet. Combining cause with effective action in a homeostat makes recognition the trigger to feel the evaluation and act. Now that hunger and coconuts reside in the same homeostat, "what’s wired together fires together" and recognition of any sensation in the homeostat produces all, including the instructions to eat.

 

Re-Hunting

 

We learn the now identified cause and the useful actions as a homeostat or series of homeostats ready to deal with repeated circumstances - and then we lose consciousness of it. No one exclaims that food and eating are the solutions to hunger; we automatically look for food and eat whenever hungry. Learned homeostats take on the automatic characteristic of DNA programed homeostats like taking a breath or the beating of our hearts. The response to recognition has become habitual. We can recognize the cause of our discomfort after sitting for a while and shift our weight, or dial a familiar phone number without saying the numbers, or coordinate actions to compensate for the limits of sight, even climbing stairs on the run, without being very conscious of recognition, emotion, or action. Such an automated system has been difficult to fathom precisely because step three relearning edits so much of it out. Ordinary life would be an emotion-dominated drama if we could not perform routine actions without the amazement probably felt by a baby at discovering that it can move its fingers.

Emotions are the feedback that regulates behavior. They not only rate and select between perceptions and actions, but we can observe that they also release the energy needed. Perception prompts emotion to feed energy to action thereby linking the parts into a whole. The parts of our biological being feel simultaneously unified by a wave of energy from our control system.

Every repeated incidence of recognition produces some valence and strength of evaluative feeling and thereby re-writes the currently conscious elements in a new homeostat. In practice, this means that the currently available sensations are relearned. Relearning provides an opportunity to link another homeostat, add or subtract sensations, increase or decrease the strength or change the valence of the evaluation. Those of us who drive to work almost every day can usually remember yesterday's trip as distinct from other such trips because yesterday's sensations that were different from any other trip were added to or subtracted from the homeostats that recorded that trip. This constant homeostat editing both adds new sensations to and cuts out unused portions of our homeostats.

Unchanged reuse of the recognized solution will eventually edit the re-learned homeostat to contain only the recognition and response sensations by leaving out the first and second steps of the process that were initially needed to find it. As with the calculations of our manager sending his product to North Bay, we need not make the steps once needed to identify the response conscious, so they cannot be re-learned. This creates the instantaneous pairing of recognition with response necessary to drive a car and perform other complex tasks needing various repetitive nimble responses. Complex skills, like learning to drive a car, consist of the gradual accumulation of the needed recognition and response pairings required for competence. This automatic editing process is one of the reasons that the steps in our thinking process have been so hard to follow. Those steps are not unconscious; they are edited out of the currently used homeostats, and do not exist. The missing steps cause both the stereoscopic illusion mentioned in the first chapter and the inherent meaning illusion discussed under the subheading Personality in the fifth chapter.

The response remains linked-in to the recognized sensations (we always retie our shoe with a bowknot) until a change in emotional feedback triggers the four-step hunting process to start over again. Disappointment results from an unexpected emotional response (the knot comes undone) and we automatically search for a new cause and response triggered by that pain. Re-hunting writes a new homeostat. We all learn something that was pleasurable but later turned out to be painful; sweets lead to toothache, or something painful that later leads to pleasure; bitter medicine that cures an illness.

Mental homeostats are stable and re-written in the same way for years, or renewed by re-hunting. This re-hunting to change a homeostat plays out as a change of mind. The pain of the toothache cancels the pleasure of candy many times over and the pleasure of restored health cancels the bitterness of the medicine too. We reconsider a homeostat by re-evaluating the action because, just as repetition juiced the value of repeated emotions, the new homeostat supersedes the old one since it has a higher value. Therefore, we will automatically select it first, causing us to decline the sugar and accept the medicine. This stunningly useful feature allows us to automatically and continuously re-evaluate the best response and rewrite our software, improving the efficiency of our stored homeostats and maturing our ability to survive and reproduce.

 

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