Discussion #4 – Levels of Consciousness, Meta-Cognition and Supercharged Evolution

[Today’s discussion inspired by Richard Brodie‘s website http://www.memecentral.com/]

Richard Brodie is an interesting cat – author, computer programmer and the inventor of Microsoft Word (!). He likes talking about memes. He writes some wonderful anecdotes. He loves to play poker. And he talks about living at a Level 3 of consciousness.

As Gentlemen Scientists we found Brodie’s ideas to be very thought-provoking, and his website design to be very nostalgic. It seems that “thinking about thinking” leads us to heightened levels of self-control and improves out ability to direct our lives. This kind of “meta-“cognition and self-awareness also leads, somewhat paradoxically, to the ability to consciously take action in the world, rather than simply reacting to stimuli.

Are we on the journey up the ladder of consciousness, and do the rungs of the ladder correspond to extra-levels of “meta-“feedback in our cognition? As we become more receptive to patterns across time and space, are we supercharging cultural and biological evolution by running memetic evolution within our own minds in our own lifetimes?

Untitled-3Cover image from Enchanted Looms, Rodney Cotterill

We have reached the age where we can start discerning patterns in our past behaviour and learning lessons. And now we can ‘direct’ the evolution of the memetic machine in our own heads. Is this what the Eastern religions advocate as ‘self-discovery’? Not only seeing patterns, but then acting on that knowledge. The essentiality of action is something the Gentlemen Scientists agree on. The ‘brain in a vat’ is not viable – one must experience the world through action.

We finish up with a couple of suggestions for machines that might test our ideas – a ‘jazz-aficionado’ computer and an ‘anger-inducing’ machine. The key thing is that each of these AIs would have a ‘body’ to provide a channel for action and a source of randomness and noise. Maybe it’s time we took our own advice and sprung into action ourselves and built one of these machines.

1Richard Brodie’s ideas about ‘Level 3’ consciousness are found on his website at http://www.memecentral.com/level3.htm

2Hysteresis – your current state depends on your history, not just on your current environment http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hysteresis

4Ordering off the Menu – essay by Richard Brodie at http://www.memecentral.com/L3Ordering.htm

4My take on levels of consciousness:

Level 0 – deterministic machine, no learning. Reactive only, respond to stimuli. Machines and maybe the simplest one-celled organisms

Level 1 – live entirely in the moment. Learn but don’t really remember. No concept of self. No self-awareness. Babies and dogs.

Level 2 – live as a Self. Integrate past and imagined future with the present moment. Make decisions based on modelling and recollection (also modelling). Have a solid model of the world and other people that you use as a reference. Interested in absolute positions and times, static patterns in space and time. Self-awareness but little or no meta-level introspection. Most humans live like this.

Level 3 – consciously self-modifying Self. Interested in gradients, rates of change, patterns in phase space or dynamic/changing patterns in space and time. Thinking about thinking. Constantly trying to find patterns in your own behaviour. Able to control Level 2 thinking consciously. Encouraged by some semi-mystical traditions such as meditation and yoga which seek “self-enlightenment” – at their best they encourage meta-level thinking.

Level 4 – who knows, but maybe capable of meta-meta-cognition. Look for patterns in patterns of change.

5Richard Brodie’s anecdote about self-programming at http://www.memecentral.com/L3Programming.htm

6Neuro Linguistic Programming was started in the mid-1970s and informed many ideas in memetics and all kinds of developments in cognitive science and AI

7Enchanted Looms, Rodney Cotterill

8The Way We Think, Fauconnier and Turner – an evocative and detailed overview of the theory of “conceptual blending” which argues for thinking as a series of metaphors that are ultimately informed by embodied experience

9Self-programming – does it really work? And if it does – how the hell can we possibly program ourselves? What is it about our minds that makes it possible to self-modify effectively? Are we supercharging what cultural and biological evolution does? Can one lifetime of Level 3/4 cognition take a human mind to a new level of operation that no one else has attained?

10Thinking about thinking is good. If I think about my thoughts, I can identify errors. Then I can modify my *strategies* to minimize those errors in future.

Thinking about feelings is good. If I think about my feelings, I can identify damaging correlations between my feelings and outcomes. And I can modify my life to avoid those feelings. Or try to detach my actions from those feelings to avoid the damaging actions. A feeling that does not modify my actions cannot hurt me (can it)?

Feeling about feelings is good. If I listen to a song that makes me sad, then I get nostalgic and romantic about the fact that I am sad. Which is kind of bittersweet.

11Not 10,000 generations as mentioned, but maybe 500 generations between us and the authors of the Vedas. Is that long enough for evolution, under a high level of change and stress in the human environment, to have made us into ‘different people’?

12Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahnemann


One thought on “Discussion #4 – Levels of Consciousness, Meta-Cognition and Supercharged Evolution

  1. Hi Guys,

    Love the audio blog. Had a few thoughts while listening.

    Perhaps consider a feedback loop which verifies with previous releases that the new code is considered “better”, or if not to roll back to some point.

    Maybe this is not even the right way to think about it. Maybe massively multiple concious paths is the way to build a system like this, perhaps reconciling the “better” paths using a Map Reduce function.

    Perhaps this Reduce function is competitive.

    Keep it up!

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