Sunday, July 29, 2012

Philip Dick and the frontier of Soul

Philip K. Dick and the Frontier of Soul

This one will be ‘way, ‘way out.

In many spiritual paths, people are told that all esoteric or paranormal experiences should be 100 percent personal and kept secret from everyone. That makes sense in many contexts, but should not be taken to extremes. I suddenly associate this with a time when I was on a quiet little tourist boat on the peaceful lake in the center of Guilin in China, passing by a very small island with just a few trees and rocks and low pi nk light to warn ships – and a speaker, through which filtered an instrumental version of the old song “The sound of silence.. silence like a cancer grows..” And before that, I was reminded by a couple of scenes on the theme of “when the truth must out” in The Dark Knight Rises, a movie I saw with Luda and Chris at noon yesterday (this is 3AM Sunday).

Whether the human species survives or (not), I resolved about a year or two ago (or three, when I saw the US Senate at work) that I personally at this stage of life should give the spiritual side of life its due. Whatever the story of other people – my own “soul” has at least much chance of survival as anything on this planet, and something which is half my being should get at least half the energy, especially since it has more useful life expectancy than the other half right now. Also, it is half my own special comparative advantage. (From age eight or ten to 21, I thought mathematics was my comparative advantage, and maybe some genetic correlates of that, but I learned otherwise… though like Jung and Pythagoras I see the associations between mathematics, music and mysticism.)

But how to DO that? Given our ignorance, given the huge mix of rational and irrational barriers, how can we really do justice to spiritual development?

There are so many reasons for inhibitions in even talking about it, rationally based on the fact that we are all so uncertain about the meaning of our experiences, which we encode differently in our psyches. But if we firmly develop the discipline of how to live with uncertainty, and how to map out the diversity of coding systems, we can be rational about some of these things (not omniscient but rational!), and not totally flip out or succumb to destructive forms of imbalance. We can maintain a kind of impedance matches, to avoid the twin dangers of deadening ourselves or overwhelming ourselves… let alone falling into nutty wrong convictions.

In my case, I do have one “secret weapon” on the coding side. The Rosicrucians call it “assumption.” My paper in August 2012 Neural Networks has a section on dreams where we “are” another person. That section is a Trojan Horse. It is totally justified by very serious science, a bit like the original “Lucid Dreams” work at Stanford (but more mathematically grounded than that.) Yet in the same way, it urges the reader to open up in a way which mobilizes certain spiritual or paranormal powers. Some folks have been unhinged by lucid dreams, but I hope my version is relatively safe as such things go. I hope that the experience, by a person grounded in sanity (the main theme of the ugust 2012 paper), of what it feels like to be a DIFFERENT PERSON, will generally lead to more ethical and socially constructive behavior and thought.

For myself, I have had such experiences for many years, since the 1970’s, maybe a bit less just a couple of years ago. But there have been literally thousands of them,
And lots and lots of veridical support. In the bulk of the cases, where they see “green,” I also see green … but I remember a white woman who saw herself as black when she started to feel sexual feelings she felt she shouldn’t. And how they see life and society and other people is incredibly different, so much so that it’s hard to adapt to, especially when you see that person the next day and need to behave almost as if nothing happened. (“Almost”: one can be a bit more sensitive to them, of course, in the usual case where people are not too touchy about their motives. And tuning into most people around you is not advisable, when stronger spiritual connections between you and them are not appropriate – a special consideration for me, since I tend to amplify the projections of anyone I connect to strongly. Flows of qi or backpropagation, as in a neural network or vine.)

But all of this is baby stuff. Preface.

I also have experience which I have not fully digested involving time, and the survival of the soul, which I have never expressed yet to anyone. Lots of it.

This morning I feel especially called to record two “assumption dreams” I had after
reading the first 20 or 30 pages of “The Exegis of Philip K. Dick” before going to
bed. Let me emphasize that I do not just take dreams at face value, that I have far more trust in a state I think of as “cosmic consciousness” when I am not dreaming at all (which usually happens AFTER all dreams but before I leave bed), etc.

But I must give one more piece of background. I have at times had assumption dreams and others exploring the realm of the dead. And yes, I have had a bit of contact with Dr. Joel Whitton, author of Life Between Life and the recent sequel
not yet published (I think), who has worked hard to reconcile what he has seen in neuroscience and hypnosis and parapsychology experiments with theory from the Tibetan Book of the Dead and Rosicrucianism (by giving more definition to those viewpoints). I think back to meetings with my father, with an old friend Jeff Keppel, and with the crew of the Challenger (translated in time to two weeks before the actual crash). I am not a Swedenborgian, but the book What Dreams May Come by Mathieson struck my fancy; even though the movie does not do full justice to the book, I did send a video of it to my mother when she was going through a rough patch.

So… perhaps it was predictable, but after reading Dick’s material for an hour before going to sleep, and thinking loosely about that stuff… which I had some direct insight into… It is not surprising that I had two dreams which I remember right now which reflect that. My crude summary:

1. Second visit to a kind of tour service (organized a bit like a cruise line) to a kind of peaceful Jurassic park, on the first leg finding a peaceful place to sleep amongst the human-sized brown dinosaurs (among other things), and on the second leg visiting the new headquarters (reminding me of a new building on an old road in Urumqi, where I was last week) of the tour service to discuss the next phase of the tour.
2. Starting from a kind of normal social gathering at a kind of campus or party kind of area … moving on to inspect a kind of tough hiking trail for future use, going up in the final trek to an alternate trail much more rugged than the usual one, by a very vigorous mountain stream with great energy… one place with no handholds requiring great care but flat and no cliff type hazards.. and another next to a huge cliff, but with some plastic clear barriers to prevent any real danger, closer to the end.

What are these? In a more conscious state as I woke... I had not CHOSEN or MEANT to tune into Dick, but I >80% interpret these as assumption traces of what he himself is going through right now, considering choices for his next incarnation. They are encoded versions (>90%) of the issue of choosing incarnations.

AFTER that… I attribute somewhat higher probability to the general gist of Whitten or core Tibetan (“mindfulness”) Buddhism. (Rosicrucianism is more consciously a “big tent” which discusses several possibilities.) After that and a
few other things. Also, my thinking is more precise than anything in this posting.

Again, I did not do anything whatsoever to create this kind of assumption effect,
nor did I even think of it as I read those pages. There were too many other things going on in those pages. As I sat in the big brown chair in our living room, I mentioned to Luda that some parts of those pages reminded me of the quote from Meng Tze in Yung Fulan which seemed fuzzy and weird to others but perfectly clear to me and resonant with very definite experience. (I actually had a bit of contact with Dick himself in old days. His book on Palmer Eldritch really hit home, when I was a graduate student at Harvard.. before the Civil Service dampened out so much.)
Gossamer threads connecting us all… some aspects of time. In those days, I projected a lot about tachyons myself, after Schwinger expressed some interest and I asked myself some questions… though I later learned other options.

I am tempted to say more about time (which has been very striking to me in recent experience not in dreams at all) and about the soul interface (following on thoughts started when I was in Istanbul a couple of years ago).. but it is now 4AM, an hour after I started typing this. I promised Luda I would return after this
“bout of the muse,” which I do not plan to mention on Facebook… only in the most obscure place…

Best of luck,


Added at 6AM:

In any discussion of Philip K. Dick, I should mention that -- unlike
Bill Clinton or Barack Obama -- I emphatically never touched marijuana
or any other illicit substance at all, even though the cultural pressures
I experienced were stronger that way to at least try marijuana once.
I remember in the early 1970's learning that all the dozens of former students from Lawrenceville I could track had tried marijuana at least once -- except me and a
Chinese friend, Chen.

Many reasons why. Not least of them -- the realm of human experience is complex enough without adding gross additional random disturbance. Also... knowing how difficult it is to evolve something as well crafted as a human brain (for all its limits)...
to me, taking psychedelic substances would be like booting up a high precision computer, and then hitting it with a sledge hammer. No way.

Other that that, I was a lot like Palmer Eldritch, as part of my life, in the 1970's.

There was also a Dick novel where there was a minor character, whose
name for psychic purposes was the Chinese word for "word" (I then often
used Verbus, the proper pronunciation of my own last name) projecting as a simple kitchen pot... warning him not to put too much faith in a less honest projector who was
a bigger part of that particular story.

Another reason is that what we have by nature is powerful enough... and I did resonate
a bit with a little book by Annie Besant which I had read which discussed such things.

Yes, I read Andrew Weil's Natural Mind (when a suitemate showed it to me)
and, in more detail, the Castaneda series of books. Still no real temmptation,
given my awareness of the other aspects. I remember a very intelligent anthropologist I met circa 1980, who had studied in the Amazon, and also read Weil... and,
intelligent or not, ended up dead as a result of believing Weil too much.

I have had moderate use of alcohol and caffeine, on-again off-again,but
lately more off-again. They start to hurt my body long before they do much to
my brain. I join my Chinese compatriots at baijiu at dinner, but I always say
"saluda" instead of "kampei," even though some do not like that, because it is better to really taste the flavor of a small amount than wash too much down the throat.
Two big decafs every day at work... and a cup of caffeinated coffee in the morning
only at some special times (like with my wife on a weekend, or at a conference where
there is little choice).


3PM the same day:

I have scanned through the whole of the Exegesis of Philip K. Dick.

Quite a trip.

From pages 20 to 45, I was happy to see some progress from commonplace delusions
to signs of real insight. When he got to The Other, he began to seem as if he
was intuiting something about "Assumption" (though he did miss some basic aspects).

But... after the last lucid bit, about page 179... it never really seemed to
converge with reality.

The bit about "hypertime" reminded me of my first Nuovo Cimento paper, circa 1974...
though as I learned better math, I saw less and less need for such scaffolding.
Only very recently have I begun to think again about that kind of possibility, but
not in florid sort of way Dick does.

In general, it reminds me of how some dreams can be a MIX of fantasy and
real inputs..

Best of luck...

Friday, July 27, 2012

Status of Threat of Great Depression II

About a month ago, definitive op-eds in the Financial Times and
elsewhere were warning us that
the possibility a new Thirties style Great Depression starting within
about one year is far too serious
and realistic to ignore.

It is still so.

Before the details and possible response, some background....

Budget sequestration doesn't get many headlines this month, but it is
very much in process.
As I understand it, January is when it all hits the fan for actual
government net spending. I have seen estimates that
unemployment will quickly go over 9%. And, yes, I wonder what the
specific impacts will be;
it's hard to know, and the House has even passed a bill demanding more
details. All of us wonder what
the impact will be on us. In addition, I pray that it doesn't kill the
unique new DARPA
plan for hypersonics research, which has the chance of saving the US
future capabilities in space just in time before it is too late.
(It's not a billion dollar item, but at a time of cutbacks, it is
common for bureaucracies to circle the wagons and save
old stuff first.)

Likewise, the Financial Times said this morning that many are expecting
the shoe to finally fall off for Greece
before too long, and -- despite what was achieved this past month --
for the dominoes to keep falling.
A lot was achieved this past month or two, but not enough. It reminds me of the story about
the guy who finally got usable tires for his car, but
never got around to the engine.

I don't know how it cuts in China, but I don't expect deus ex machina
from them. They have their own problems.

One humorous aside: in China, I ran across quite a few Moslem people
this time. Honest to God, some were truly excited
about the prospect of the US electing a President who would be a
devout member of the Mormon brotherhood, and
finally put alcohol and caffeine in their proper places, and show a
little more respect for polygamy. The Saudis who own so much of Fox
would undoubtedly agree. More seriously, I can imagine a scenario in
which Romney takes office in January, and unemployment immediately
ticks up a point or two,
and half the lights go out due to unprotected EMP, and then things
become really messy. It could really happen.


Of course,everything above and below is just personal rumination, not
representing anyone, and not
proposing A Position.

I have tried to back off a little, and map out what COULD be done, in
principle, in a broad way, to prevent a new global depression.

It seems to me that there are two essential global constraints we need
to think about.

1. First, there are constraints due to the need for each major
decision center (US, EU, China) to maximize its goal independently.
I strongly conjecture that we are caught in a kind of "prisoner's
dilemma," which I have talked about before. This leads to the first
major domain
for possible action to make things better: could we somehow come up
with workable agreements of US, EU and China to get out of the
prisoner's dilemma situation
somehow, and move to more of a Pareto optimum? Note that I haven't
given details, but in general, in principle, this is a very
fundamental tool
for saving ourselves, if we can use it effectively. Let me call this
"lever one."

2. In the US, dollar bills and coins only get into circulation by the
action of Federal Reserve Banks LOANING them to other banks, who in
turn loan
them to others. This puts a pretty firm constraint on TOTAL debt in
the US. (Of course, folks like Milton Friedman undoubtedly have texts
giving much more
detail on exactly how this works.) Federal debt is not the only debt
which matters; consider China's problem with provincial debt, and our
problems in earlier years with consumer debt!.
Yet it is not so realistic to talk about lowering TOTAL debt, under
this system. In a way, the goal may be to MOVE debt to places like
where it may be offset by real tangible value of productive assets.

In theory, we do not have to stay with this general system. The Roman
Empire survived reasonably well for awhile just using the new
currency for
direct spending. I do not know what China really does here. In theory,
there could be a second lever of changing the system, to make
total net debt more avoidable. I would call this the second possible
lever for action... but it has obvious problems, and I have far less
specifics I can see here right now.
I mention it for completeness, not because I have anything to propose
right now. But for the long term, I do wonder just how necessary such
debt really is?
How much could it be biasing the future of humanity?


And then, we get back to the usual "two practical levers" that
everyone knows about, the "fiscal" and "monetary policy" levers.

For fiscal policy... it still comes back to something I have discussed
before: the importance of estimating the total job creation value
PER DOLLAR of government debt, either spending or tax incentives. So
far as I know, a few Japanese eoconomists in the office of their
president are
the only ones who have taken this very simple common-sense approach to
minimizing debt without raising unemployment, or maximizing employment
living within some debt constraint. Unemployment does not HAVE to rise
above 9% for the level of debt reduction implied by the sequestration
if we take such an approach, but can we? Not if sacred cows rule the Congress.

But there is another aspect of ordinary government policy which also
can help. For example, we have discussed the Shield Act, which would
add to the deficit to any significant degree. But by mandating
hardening of the power grid, it would mandate electric utility systems
to invest (hopefully VERY QUICKLY)
in off-the-shelf equipment to harden their systems. This would cause a
small increase in electricity rates, spreading out the cost over many
years, accompanied by
a much larger immediate private sector investment ( financed by the
"good" kind of corporate debt) creating jobs in the construction and
heavy industry sectors,
which are especially depressed even now. The Open Fuel Standard bill
would have similar benefits, on balance, though not quite so graphic.
Changing Renewable Fuel Standards to an appropriate equally strong
Low Carbon Fuel Standards law (as we have discussed before) likewise.
Much larger and more important, in my view, would be measures in
Europe mandating utility purchase at 15 cents per kwh for all solar
from solar farms operating within the EU, as much as people can
generate up to about half of daytime peak demand. (Of course, the US
and China could do the same,
and we could even possibly AGREE to some form of this by treaty.)

Regarding monetary policy, second-guessing someone as smart and as
focused as Ben Bernanke is very hazardous. He says he is doing all he
can do,
but that monetary policy is not enough. That suggests that the minimum
risk to the world economy would come from maximizing what we do on the
fiscal/regulatory side (REMEMBERING to maintain shock absorbers for
the eventual time when unemployment gets all the way back down to 5%),
and MAKING that enough to get us back to 5% smoothly, and making deals
between US and EU and China such that all three know they can get away
with zero real interest rates in paying off
resulting government debt.

But... maybe there is also something else which could be done on the
monetary side, at least in the long term.

One may ask:

Is the present system for channeling loans really the most efficient
in the long-term, for dealing with the uncertainties and reflexive
and vicious cycles of pessimism (positive bubbles and negative
bubbles)? Just as electricity markets now work better
since the era of Enron, now that new computerized markets based on
more modern algorithms get rid of some of the
erroneous arbitrage noise, could they do the same for financial
markets somehow, and not just in the realm of millisecond twitch
Could a different structure of "plays" better factorize the gigantic
"matrix" of uncertainties and actors?

Stuff like Glass-Steagel might help a little, but maybe a more truly
optimizing alternative might be possible, if the very best new
systems methods are applied. Worth thinking about.

This final "lever" reminds me a bit of Martha's question about
batteries. To PROPERLY value and operate a battery within the power
grid really requires
an advanced form of adaptive dynamic programming (ADP), because of the
difficult uncertainties, context complexities, and need for correct
I suspect that NONE of the technical traders in the world financial
market know the relevant mathematics; a lot of what they do is based
on applying metaphors from domains like
superstring theory or Soviet aircraft design (recycled from a guy at
Bell Labs) or local, myopic chaos. Large scale financial flows are not
really easier than batteries.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

kung fu style mind discipline

Grasshopper – how to train your mind

Or: Mathematics comes to the Shaolin Monastery

Just as the kung fu fighter gains power by studying and emulating the crane, the kung fu thinker can gain power by studying and emulating a variety of creatures… from the fish to the dinosaur to the mouse to the monkey, and only then beyond.

Do you remember those old movies where a student of gung fu at the Shaolin monastery learns to appreciate and imitate the fighting styles of a bird, a preying mantis, a tiger, a monkey and so on? Now, with our new understanding of the brain really works, we can start to do the same kind of thing in training our mind. And since the power of the mind is the most important qi of all (at least on earth), this is serious stuff. But in this case, it’s pretty clear that the animals form a progression… from the least intelligent to the most intelligent, all of them offering important lessons.
At the lowest level is the “vector intelligence,” a level so low we do not see it in real animals. It is actually much higher than what we use in control systems in the world today, but I will not say much more about it now. (Some day I will scan and post an old 1980 paper, from the time when I thought that ordinary mammals only had vector intelligence. We can learn from that level, but now I would want to move higher. Even the simple “perfect vector intelligence” experiences pain and pleasure, and hope and fear. Even the simple vector intelligence may be confused by traumatic and euphoric experiences which he cannot yet explain, and may have all kinds of dreams.)

Next up is “spatial intelligence.” Still not any animal I know of, but maybe the fish might be so low.
The fish does not have grand plans for life, and he does not show much creativity. He does not develop new technologies or build cities. His schools are not really schools. But he does live and survive in a very complex world, full of myriad threats and opportunities. He is assessing these threats and opportunities at every moment of his life.
Can you imagine a fish as a master class player of chess? Actually, it is true in a way. A simple system of spatial intelligence was built by David Fogel in 2005. (It is described in an article in Proceedings of the IEEE, which is the highest ranked journal of the world’s largest engineering society.) Just by learning and paying attention to its simple world, the world of the chessboard, it learned how to beat master class human chess players. Even a fish brain has more neurons and a more sophisticated brain than this simple spatial intelligence which Fogel put together. So how could it beat humans?
This was not like Deep Blue, an ultrafast computer programmed with rules about chess, which beat even the best human chess players. This was only master class. But Fogel’s system was not told any special tricks about chess from human teachers. It had to learn to play all on its own, without so many clues as a human gets form reading chess books. So how could the “baby fish” computer learn better than most of the humans serious about chess?

Its only real advantage was that it PAID ATTENTION. The chessboard was its whole world, and its whole life. The human researcher did work to give this creature good learning experiences, struggling to defeat mirrors of its own self and its own capabilities. Of course it had to work through many experiences of defeat and victory, struggling the whole time. Unlike the simple vector intelligence, it would always pay attention to the symmetries and patterns and connections in its world, just as the fish pays attention to the symmetries and patterns and connections in its own very complex world.

Could a fish then play a master class game of chess, as good as what Fogel’s system could, if properly trained and motivated? Would it require some kind of brain-computer interface to make it pay attention, like what we see in the movie The Matrix? Maybe… maybe not.

Whenever I think of computers playing chess, I think of a strange night at MIT at around 1971. In that year, I went to Harvard graduate school, and had a friend from France. On a lark, for fun, he proposed that we go to visit the MIT Artificial Intelligence center one night. It was then just one part of a floor in a modern building at Kendall Square, where I later worked myself on another floor.

As we entered that mostly dark place, it was an eerie experience indeed. Strange Gothic music imitating Bach suffused the whole place; small white lights gently turned on and off, hundreds of them, near the tops of beautiful baby blue DEC computers which lined most of the walls of this big open area. These computers were mostly implementing a program which was trying to imitate Bach; it was not like real Bach, but the differences only contributed to the sense of unearthly weirdness permeating the whole area.
Off to the right was a special enclave, more brightly lit, where a robot arm was playing with blocks with a baby or very young child. Of course, some computer was implementing a new AI program, “blocks” developed by Richard Winston; it was not a human-like program, but it was entertaining enough for the baby, playing in effect both with the blocks and with the computer. As we stared at this spectacle, the mother rushed up to us, somewhat apologetic and embarrassed, and explained that it was such a nice toy for her child…
And then, off to the left was the chess-player. A magnificently intelligent and serious human face, with a high brow and a countenance a bit like a general of a Roman or Celtic army, was pondering ever so seriously at the well-lit chessboard in front of him, with a computer on the other side. This was not Big Blue; only an older generation hard coded master class computer chessplayer. But as we looked at this master class human, and at the chessboard itself, it was overwhelming to see how the computer slowly and implacably crushed him, despite his best efforts and his obvious intelligence, certainly playing better chess than I or my friend could play (short of some kind of terrible and painful psychic cheating). It reminded me a lot of the Swedish movie, the Seventh Seal, where a human plays chess with the devil.

So whenever I think of a “merely master class” chess machine, I imagine that ponderous scene from the seventh seal, and I also remember the fish. Do not underestimate the fish, and do not underestimate the power of paying attention to the hall of mirrors right in front of you. A fish is not a jellyfish, as any biologist could tell you.
When I look at the wiring diagram of the brain of a fish, I do have some idea of how these circuits work, to give the fish the power to cope with complexity in space. There is a three-layer cortex in the fish, which seems like three of the layers of the cerebral cortex of the human. Three layers are already enough for the fish to learn to predict the complex spatial world it lives in. They allow some circuit properties we call multiplexing and nonlinear state estimation (creating an image of complex reality in its brain). We are very close to building this in computers today.

But beyond the fish lies an impressive animal indeed -- the next level of intelligence, up beyond the spatial intelligence. The level of the dinosaur. The dinosaur is what I use to symbolize this level of intelligence in my slides on the mathematics of intelligence.
In formal terms – the dinosaur level has a brain which can handle multiple time intervals effectively as it decides what it expects and what it will do.

Roughly – look at a big dinosaur and think: “This guy sure knows how to be DECISIVE.
He knows how to make decisions, to set goals and to stick with them over time.”

I look at the dinosaur this week, and I also think of Dick Cheney (recent VP of the US under George Bush) and of Zhou in China (the security guy who worked with Bo Xilai, purged this year). Those people rose very high by being very decisive. Just as the fish and chess player focus so well on space, on a pattern in front of them here and now in space, these more powerful creatures focus on patterns of their own will. When I think of these powerful creatures, I also think of our former President Jimmy Carter, who was so enlightend and intelligent in some ways, but lost power as people concluded that he was simply not decisive enough. Reagan was simpler, but more decisive. And to be honest, I think of my self in some ways. I believe in organisms governed by values and criteria at the highest levels, but I have often been almost a kind of hypocrite… living much of my own life obsessively pursuing a variety of well-defined goals. But deciding to attain a well-defined important goal, and working back how to reach it and visualizing a workable path, is a very important power of the human mind as well. The dinosaur inside us had great powers, if we can keep it under control and not let it serve goals which do not lead to dark outcomes in the end, in the larger picture.
In 1998 and the early years of this century, I published many equations and design details for how to build a dinosaur level of brain in computers. But these were not politically acceptable to the computer scientists, who had more fun playing with simple designs which would not work from their cute old friends. For tough engineers, building a system at the fish level is already a great challenge; so I have mainly talked about that level, and even simple vector intelligence, in recent years. When creatures are not yet ready to stand on two legs, I do not want to just torture them by asking for feats they cannot yet achieve. Yet for us as humans, we can still cultivate and master our inner dinosaur. (Much of the politics of human survival involves trying to master or control the powerful dinosaurs of our world – but we should
not underestimate those dinosaurs as we do so.). But – is a human turtle just a dinosaur with less of an inflated ego? Many emperors of China have identified with the turtle. (Or the snake?)

When I look at the brain of the reptile or the bird, I see another three-layer cortex which helps run the decision making, working with a system called the basal ganglia which executes decisions and learns to perform or lead the variouus kinds of actions or “verbs” which that cortex may ask for.

On my roadmap for mathematical neural networks, the highest step of all, above the dinosaur, is a creature which is even grander and more powerful, the creature with the power to totally defeat and destroy all the dinosaurs of earth, whose fate was sealed but not determined by a great comet in the end – a sign of celestial support to resonate with and accelerate the inevitable defeat of the dinosaur by this more powerful creature.

The more powerful creature, the higher level of intelligence, is the mouse, a high creature worthy of great veneration. (In my mind, I can even imagine Jesus looking at the mouse and the dinosaur and repeating his famous words “the first shall be the last and the last shall be the worst…”).
The basic power of the mouse is the power of creativity.
For many years, I wondered exactly how the mouse achieves the kind of power of creativity which it has. It is easy to build a computer system which, like the dinosaur, easily gets trapped in a rut, a boring cycle of life which is not so great as what a creative creature might learn to discover. How can a mouse possibly be so creative? The mathematics of this problem are very interesting and very challenging. Sometimes I called this “brain-like stochastic search.”

I did not really have the basics figured out until 2009, when I wrote a paper for the journal Neural Networks, stimulated by friends like Dan Levine, Robert Kozma and Frank Lewis. At that time, I thought back to many things, including a paper I read long ago in a classic anthology on neuroscience, called “the Rockefeller series.”
In that book, they explained how the brain of the mouse seems to come from a MERGER of the two older three-level cortex structures. I thought about how this connects to what we now know about the basal ganglia and about spatial complexity… and the explanation flashed immediately to mind:
By COMBINING its power of spatial complexity with the power to make decisions, it is wired up so that it can perform spatial mapping of the space of POSSIBILITIES.
As soon as I understood this, I could make sense of many of my own experiences in finding answers to difficult questions, and in quickly getting a feeling and assessment for complex areas of thought either as an introduction or as a way to get some useful understanding when my time is limited.
In many difficult areas, there is a key stage in the beginning when I do a kind of thrashing around in thinking, considering many different points of view. The possible ways of thinking seem to curve around and connect in a very strange kind of space, repeating and revisiting or contradicting, forming areas where people cannot escape unless they explore a certain other direction. What happens in that very important time of thrashing? It seems… this is how one engages the natural ability to map out the space of possibilities of ways of thinking. And that thrashing is absolutely essential to the highest levels of creativity we humans are capable of. Of course, there must also be a motivation – like the big question or goal we are thinking about… but we need to do this cognitive mapping.
Many people become famous dinosaurs, but actually hold back progress, because they do not ever do this kind of thrashing around in thinking. Maybe they thrash just once or twice, and settle down to some comforting ideology, and never thrash enough to have a good map of the territory.
But for real creativity of real humans, there is another factor -- the social factor.
Some very lucky people have free and flexible friends they can trust, who are just as advanced as they are in probing the limits of the questions they are working on. They can have deep “brainstorming sessions,” where they thrash freely through the space of possibilities, without ideological or conventional limitations, without reinventing simple issues, and each do the cognitive mapping of this space. Because of the way we humans are – with the social aspect of our motivational systems and our natural tendency to feel that things are “real” when other people also feel they are real – this is extremely important in mobilizing the full power of the human mind. In my own life, I have only really experienced this twice – once in 1979, when I worked with a guy named Joe Firestone at Census Use Research (a research organization which no longer exists) and now with my wife Ludmila.

But with these kinds of brainstorming sessions, there are two dangers which we also must remember. First, they always have some degree of limitation. It is especially dangerous to creativity when they become brainstorming sessions of like-minded people, who exclude other points of view which a true creative thinker of high integrity would not ignore; it can reinforce irrational “groupthink,” a major threat to creativity. Second, they are never quite as free or as fast as what a powerful thinker can do on his/her own, at times of peak clarity and focus. For myself, my ability to answer really difficult questions which others have mostly give up on has depended a lot on being able to drive myself despite lack of social reinforcement to keep thrashing through questions which others mainly hide from. Of course, exploring the space of possibilities means exploring the space of possible strategies to answer the question; strategic thinking, both in words and in images, is a central part of this thrashing.
After I wrote this, and expressed my thanks to my wife again for the unique importance of our relationship, I suddenly realized: of course the mouse too is a very social animal, much more than any reptile. Mice do not have the deep empathy and mirror neurons that a monkey has, but they do have strong families, and some kind of communication abilities. I wonder: how much do “smiles” and petting influence the ability of some mice to boldly explore their environment, and find new paths to cheese or even to dinosaur eggs? I do not know. I have even seen a baby mouse “smile” at a cat, who then carried it away to a safe place in the forest behind our house.
I can even imagine someone saying: “How can you have so much reverence for the mouse? What’s next? Will you be telling us that Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney deserve more serious reverence than the Bible?” Actually, when my son was small, I remember a time when came home and asked: “Daddy and mommy, the kids at school said they believe in Adam and Eve, and asked whether we believe in Adam and Eve too?” My immediate response: “Well, I believe more in Lilo and Stitch than in Adam and Eve. And if they say Santa Claus is on the north Pole… I think he would be all wet by now, and I really think it is more true that Big Bird lives on the South Pole.” (Side note: NSF runs the biggest base on the South Pole, and also funded the development of Sesame Street.) In actuality, I do believe it would be a great mistake to underestimate the depth and validity of many of things which Walt Disney tried to portray. And certainly, many adults would be more creative if they could remember some basic aspects of reality which are clear to children.

But then, even higher than the great mouse is the great monkey…


All of the above was written in Shenyang, China, where I saw thousands of people
in the morning, 4:30AM to 6:30 AM, doing morning exercises in Bei Lin Park, next to the conference hotel where I was staying --- some of them wu shu of various kinds,
including tai qi.

The monkey is revered in China, but really this leads to more advanced stages
discussed in my paper "Neural Networks and the Experience and Cultivation of Mind,"
in the journal Neural Networks, August 2012. With a brief extension under submission elsewhere...

Of course, one cannot mention the Great Mouse without paying some respects to Walt Disney. I meant to say more of the serious respect we should have for Disney... but
time ran out in Shenyang for this kind of thing, and I am not ready right now to fill in that gap.

Regarding the neuroanatomy ... I resolved to go back and reread the sources on comparative neurology and comparative neuroscience of the vertebrates, to nail down all of this. Last night, I reread the first part of the Neurosciences Rockefeller book, second study series... mainly the first half of Nauta's piece... and it seems
I should properly review a whole lot of other stuff, some which I read and some not,
to nail down some of this.

In Nauta's version, he refers to "external striatum" for what I saw described
as "another 2 or 3 layer cortex", perhaps in Bitterman. So instead of merger
of two cortices, in the mouse, I should have said merger of 3-level cortex with
external striatum, to follow Nauta's way of describing things.
Do we have fish, say, with all the spatial stuff but not the external striatum?
Nauta leaves that open; when he wrote, apparently people did not know as much
about the fish as we do now. Certainly the external striatum appeared at SOME
point in the evolution of the vertebrate brain... even if the modern fish should have an external striatum, it would have to have an aquatic ancestor who did not.

Best of luck....