As Hal Rager at Blivet points out, we’ve been blogging for 19 years now since Dave Winer’s EditThisPage. I can’t say it’s been continuous over that time, but it’s been an ongoing project. I always get a kick out of reading the first page I wrote here: Imagination as Simulation
Over the years, I’ve started and stopped work on a long form version of ODB, which I guess most of the world would call a “book”, but the scope of the project has always proved to be overwhelming. The work goes on behind the scenes, with lots more reading on brain mechanisms of deciding, if you look back over the 10 posts I made in 2018.
I think I can see what the outlines of a workable synthesis, but the way the brain works seems to be very, very alien compared what we perceive. It’s not surprising since neurons and their networks aren’t accessible to conscious awareness, so they work very differently from the we would guess or by analogy to mechanical devices. It’s been clear for a long time, given optical illusions that most of awareness occurs automatically. In a way it looks like Sherrington was right, way back in the 20’s that it’s all down to reflexes that act to govern the body via analogues with the external environment. I think we now understand that the awareness is built up from differences between the expected state and the contents of sensory input.
And Scully the cat’s brain mechanisms seem to be very much like our own. Minus the symbolic environment we create through culture, as we are the social animals born with the mechanisms in place to use language.
And yes it’s a bit scary to realize that our perceptions and actions aren’t based on any kind of rational engine, but instead the brain models we’ve developed over a life time of sensory experience. We don’t choose what we see and we don’t choose how we react. Yet I think that it points to relatively simple approaches to deciding better, mostly by being in better, more informative environments that nurture our best selves. And taking time to use imagination as simulation to provide more options for better decisions. Coming full circle.