My observation is that whenever you do anything that's unscripted or unplanned - it's "someone else". Say - answering well an interview with questions that you never expected and had relatively less exposure to, writing a blog post when you plan to write something but then all the ideas rush in and begin to write themselves and so on. I'm from India and I find it hard to communicate with western people these ideas directly. A contemporary ideas that's closest is the Dennet's theory of Narrative Self. Essentially, this article is the author's narrative self trying to make sense of the overnight solution the got.
it was interesting when in article he says such ideas come to him sometimes not all the time - one thing he can do to improve this is to subdue this narrative self a bit. A very good video on this point is by Alan Kay in context of Inner Game of Tennis: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50L44hEtVos
Who are you asking? Who is answering?
I don't "visualize" things I think about automatically. I'd need to concentrate on trying to visualize pizza to see it and even then it's a vague visualization with no real defining features. When casually thinking about pizza I don't visualize anything.
Some of my friends couldn't not visualize what they were thinking about. If they think of pizza, they "see" pizza in their head, and could even describe what they were visualizing in that instance in surprising (to me) detail.
We found that we were pretty well split 50/50 with no obvious associations.
If people are able to "see" their thoughts in the same way as they see something with their eyes, wouldn't it be difficult to think about a cat while driving a car, because the cat would be in your visual field? Or is the "mind's eye" somewhere else, if so where do you feel it is?
If I think about a cat, it's kind of a concept. If I try to think harder, I can sort of trace its tail and fur and ears, but it seems very different to actually seeing one. Just as when I imagine a taste, it's very different from actually tasting something (otherwise I would just imagine food all day without actually eating as much).
The only time when these seem the same is when dreaming.
(from phantasia, the greek word for fantasy, literally meaning "lack of imagination")
Very interesting posts, thank you for sharing.
I can only liken it to trying to catch yourself looking to the side in a mirror in front of you. Clearly impossible but as a kid I recall trying this. Tantalising.
And in a few minutes I'll forget this other me and he and I will work together in concert until the next time someone blows his cover with a blog post.
Also the thing when experience coalesces into aesthetic taste that makes wrong solutions just feel bad or ugly.
(It's also very possible to develop intuitions and tastes that actually aren't based in reality, kind of like erroneous folk wisdom.)
I'm from a Western country, and understand what you're saying, though I admit I did pick up on the general idea from Eastern philosophy.
If you were interested in sharing the ideas with Western people, perhaps you could do so in the form of thought experiment? For example (and this is only an example, I'm confident this won't be the best example for everyone), you could point out how much of human life exists at the subconscious level. Nobody knows how the mind works, yet the mind works regardless. Nobody consciously tells their bodies how to process food, or repair itself after it's damaged, yet it happens anyway. Considering the myriad of processes that the subconscious undertakes, wouldn't it be fair to say a large part of what makes us 'us' exists at the subconscious level?
That's not to say the 'narrative' side of our mind is not part of us too, but if that's all we know perhaps we're missing the bigger picture.
Yes, we do don't we. Yet reality remains what it is. Perhaps by exploring with an open mind we can stop our preconceived notions from clouding our understanding.
Though I am more curious how you can "turn it off" and be the one who does all the things all the time. Some people suggested meditation but I have yet to try.
Depends how you view your brain and consciousness. If you consider your brain to be made up of many components, consciousness being one of them, then your inner monologue is a way of communicating you intent to those other components. These will then respond back as best they can, and the act of learning trains them to be able to give better responses in the future.
I always come up with good ideas when relaxed, usually when not working on the problem (showering / running).
God why are they working us to death?!
So in terms of the headline, your unconscious is not a better developer than you are; your unconscious is your only developer.
Furthermore, [while emotion and logic both exist] there are not logical thoughts and emotional thoughts, emotion is engaged in thought all the time. You will actually form different "logical" conclusions on the basis of your mood, emotional state, etc. (As an example in grossly stereotypical terms, this is what you might imagine happening "so clearly" in a PMSing woman; the fallacy is that men are not doing the same thing all the time, they are.) So, to the blog poster's point, his unconscious "better developer" is actually the emotional preoccupations of his consciousness getting in the way of his being able to get to realize what his uncounscious developer is capable of. [Didn't mean to overstate that: in the case where he notices his unconscious mind coming up with good work, sometimes it just takes more time to create/uncover a good solution; just saying it's the same portions of the brain continuing to chew on the problem, conscious or not.]
For people interested, the brain science book "Thinking Fast and Slow" is very good, it will convince you that your brain does not work the way you think it does. It doesn't necessarily say all what I said above, some of that comes from psychiatry. Freud's enduring contribution to the field was his realization how much unconscious thought was taking place. BTW the term "unconscious" is preferred because historically in the field, "subconscious" is a term associated with Jung's "collective unconscious".
> computational neuroemotional physiology
Not sure what you mean by this. Computational neurophysiology would obviously subsume emotional behavior (unless you subscribe to dualism).
I am certain that your emotions on the subject are clouding your judgement. But to be the consistent razor of occam as you present yourself, shouldn't your term be computational neuro? what does physiology have to do with it?
I hope you don't imagine that consciousness in the human brain would be possible without integrating all of the unconscious thoughts and emotion-thoughts taking place under the hood. I'm certain that you are not aware that it was your emotions driving you to reply to me, and not logic.
And building a computational brain neuron by neuron? sure, as long as you throw in 20 years of cyborg childhood too... let us know how you're coming with that.
Also, the mathematician Ramanujan often stated that a god handed the solution to him (I remember something about doing mathematics in his dreams as well, but I'm not sure if I'm correct on this one).
This seems very interesting. Is there a way one can get so familiar with material that you can use it without effort? The key seems to be a good mind and a lot of work. Ramanujan had to be fed by his wife, because he would prefer doing math to eating dinner, and I imagine Donald Knuth is very intelligent and a hard worker too.
A thing I've noticed is that repeated exposure works better than long exposure. I sometimes come up with some neat ideas when I read stuff (usually mathematical or coding stuff).
It happened a couple times that I remembered such an idea, looked at it again, and discovered the idea would not work because of a single inconsistency. I am quite chaotic, and I imagine that smarter people would have this problem a lot less, but still I think this is a general principle that holds: working conciously on a problem causes tunnel vision. If you don't know how to solve an exercise in an hour, you're not very likely to solve it in ten if you just keep working on it.
If you let it rest and look at it again after a day or two, there is a moment where you try to recap and remember everything. In this instance, simple inconsistencies are easily spotted. Letting the problem rest gives you a chance to look at the problem with a fresh view, which is very important sometimes.
You can see the effect of this very clearly while talking. You don't plan out each word ahead of time, you go to say something and the words come out. You can choose to take a step back and plan things in more detail, but this isn't your default mode of operation. Also even then in your head the words tend to seem to just come from somewhere in a stream, like a little stimulation of what you were doing talking out loud.
It is not generally helpful to think of this as a different person, it is you and you stand to gain a lot from learning to trust it. Like how you trust it to be able to recall minute details of API documentation despite not being able to reproduce them in full. You can't recall every code problem you have ever solved, but in a way your subconscious has, and it has been refining them into a process to produce those incredible insights.
>It is not generally helpful to think of this as a different person,
I think this is down right harmful and one of the psychological manifestations of the mind/body dichotomy. Disowning your subconscious is a path to neurotic behavior and unhappiness. It is "you" just automatized from your past and one of the most important tasks of the conscious mind is to monitor and correct automatized past errors through introspection.
Edit: for clarity
If freewill is an "illusion" then "argument" is a hollow concept as well. If we don't have a choice in what to believe then what is the point of arguing?
The essence of your position is that you are trying to convince me to change my mind and agree with you that I do not have the capacity to change my mind. It is a self-contradiction, as all forms of determinism are, and if you were consistent with your belief you wouldn't be arguing at all, yet here you are. I think (beyond a certain point) denying freewill is an inherently dishonest position but unfortunately you have plenty of company.
(Just explaining, personally I consider the question of free will to be a non-question.)
I can't think of a time where this instinct has been wrong (except when it instantly thought that Twitter was a terrible idea - and I'm still awaiting the final verdict on that one), although the real reasons why it was the right choice for a situation did not always become apparent until much later. I learnt to listen to this instinct, but wish I could gain better insight into its decision making process! :)
You might also call them the seat of learning. Dopamine is very sensitive to errors in prediction, which is how learning is mediated. What they are not is the seat of reason.
This is also (partly) why we are bad at distinguishing things we desire from positive judgements: they use the same signalling. That is when your neocortex is useful. Being able to override the limbic system is one of the defining characteristics of conscious behaviour. Feeling driven to do so is another dopamine-mediated reward structure: the satisfaction of solving a puzzle.
p.s. my limbic system agrees with yours re.Twitter.
Dopamine in what way? Since so many things affect its levels, from sexual stimulus to most drugs to simple sugars, are we at risk/chance of helping or hurting the seat of learning through such factors materially in your opinion?
As for those well-known dopamine stimuli like alcohol, sugar &c, I believe the worst case scenario is that you reinforce an incipient dependency on those things, thus contributing to addiction. I'll hold back on having an opinion about whether the reward sensitization itself directly harms learning. When it comes to sugar overuse, I'd worry more about insulin resistance having an effect on glucose uptake throughout the brain rather than specifically harming the limbic structures.
When I write proofs I experience it even more, there is a voice in my head (one that I do not identify as being 'me' and is virtually a black box) that directs me. I often have no idea where it is going as I am writing down statements, but it never fails to produce good results.
Reminds me a little of Socrate's voice.
Socrates' voice absolutely reminds me of this. Jaynes thinks that the first "conscious" humans literally heard the "voices of gods" and that we eventually evolved to lose that as subjective consciousness took over performing the same function.
But the more I've learned (thus the more complex the block), the less effective this became. I worked on a passion project a few years ago where I was coding between twelve and sixteen hours a day for several months. When I was finally so burned out and weary that nothing worked anymore, I took that as a cue to call it a night. The next morning, almost without fail, I had an elegant solution in mind before I could even make it from bed to keyboard.
My subconscious definitely IS the ultimate problem solver. The form that it takes has evolved with the difficulty of the challenges it has to solve.
So many here (and I and folks I know) had this experience that it might be productive to schedule 1 or 2 naps into such long work days. Could very well enhance the total daily outcome of the 12-16 hour day and nights will be proportionately shorter more or less. Will try.
have you tried meditation too? exercise works great for me but it can also make me tense if I overdo it. meditation has many additional benefits particularly for this sort of subconscious delegation and helps to wind down after exercise (reduces cortisol, which exercise increases)
Maybe that's why so many people say that meditation helps. Personally I prefer exercise though.
Sometimes I write a line of code and have this feeling that it's somehow _wrong_. More often than not, the moment I try to compile and run it, it fails. The problem is that usually it's only at that point that I become fully aware of this feeling. I'm actively trying to pay more attention to this, and really listen to my subconscious when I "know" that the code is wrong at a subconscious level.
The morning always brings answers no matter how complex something seems. I find it extremely relaxing, just being aware that if something is frustrating I can just drop it for the day and tomorrow I'll know what to do.
Sleeping me is a damn fine mate to have covering my back.
Paul Graham has an essay "the top idea in your mind" where he talks about what you think about in the shower:
It's pretty much the same idea... what you go to bed thinking about is probably the same thing you think about in the shower in the morning. For me the solution comes WHILE sleeping; I don't have to wait to get up and think about it.
I would argue this is the line of thinking that makes us miserable throughout our lives. Associating 'me' with nobler instincts and pushing off all the undesirable traits to the 'other me that's not me' , the other me that needs to be constantly repressed via dieting, meditation, mindfulness,empathy training, zoloft, CBT ect. And of course none of these things actually work in any meaningful way because they are built on false premise of 'two of me'.
and really it'd be more accurate to say there are three of us: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triune_brain
You cannot deny there is a duality of subconcious vs conciousness in most people, but I definitely agree with you, if there is not a unity in those two parts, that can cause a lot of misery.
I find this video helps my understanding:
oh well. the internet has ruined me (every me, not just the the me).
The Milton H. Erickson NLP Model is just one model out of many that NLP practitioners are talking about. But it is one of the more popular ones.
I never seem to actually 'dream' the answer, or know what it is ahead of time. It just seems obvious when I look at the code again later, and I totally rely on it now.
As others have said, actively thinking about the problem makes it less likely I'll solve it. Usually I just keep looking through my open issues, maybe writing a few lines, until I get that feeling I know how to do it.
Any other disciplines where this is 'a thing' - or is it just programming? I heard someone mention maths...
Sometimes I feel like a problem is way easier in unconscious space, like I'm sure solution is there, I can almost see it but it needs time to encode it in the much slower conscious form.
The way i see it is not something that is solved while i don't think about it. Rather it is the brain moving information around and placing it in spots that fit and make it easier to access making the solution seam obvious.
Every HN'er should read it. Basically, we have all these "mini-mentalities" in our brain, but they "talk" (or don't talk) together in different ways. Definitely interesting if you're an AI guy.
Thing is, it only works if I really care about the problem. I have to have gone through a period of trying to see it from multiple angles and failing to find a nice solution. I have to have tried and failed. I never get the answer for free.
I've even dreamed of coding the solution, either seeing the code or some geometric solution in my dream. When I see the code in my dream, it's not readable, it's just the "form" of the code.
edit: it's almost as if conscious thought is "programming" my subconscious to find a solution
Absolutely my experience. One person who changed my entire belief around creativity is John Cleese. His basic premise is that creativity is all about hard, really hard work. You will spend the majority of your time coming up with the obvious ideas, and only after exhausting them will the truly creative ones happen.
More often than not I will do exactly this and it isn't until a night of sleep afterwards that the best ideas surface. This has been my experience with tough problems in coding as well as those with game design.
But if you didn't do the work of accumulating information and gaining experience everyday, your brain wouldn't give you those solutions/conclusions at all. So in reality it is you solving those problems all the time.
The same applies to many mental skills: you learn about problems and possible solutions, and then when you approach new problems, you recognize parts of those problems, or structural similarities.
How likely is it, that given the C language reference, and some hardware specification manuals, you'd arrive at the Linux kernel, with no programming experience? Possible, but only in the theoretical sense.
The message behind my ramblings is that you should embrace your experience and intuition rather than striving to work from first principles.
Sometimes when I'm working on something really hard I purposely go to sleep in order to keep thinking about the issue in my half-sleep, when the limit between conscious and unconscious thought starts to fade.
Then more often than not I wake up with an uncontrollable urge to implement a crazy solution that often happens to work.
I believe the credit is still mine, and the mind works in mysterious ways.
Also, keep a paper and a pencil next to your bed just in case you think about something in your sleep, it helps you fall asleep better.
(And yes, I've woken up in the middle of the night and had to start working on my computer because the solution to a problem came to me in a dream.)
* Learn basic endings like KKR
* Review their tournament length games for where they made sub-par moves
* Learn tactics like pin and fork
* Replay grandmaster games
* Do two to mate chess problems, and other such problems
* Learn strategies like best placement of pieces, proper pawn structure etc.
* Learn openings (when one is more advanced)
Some of these can be reasoned out or explained step-by-step. Some can not - like doing chess problems. How does that make one a better player? In some ways it does not make sense, but in some ways it does - after doing many chess problems, I start "seeing" two to mates when they appear on the board, whereas I may have missed them before. When you do dozens, or hundreds, or thousands (Polgar book) of these two to mate problems, and redo them until you can see two to mates within seconds, your brain gets good at pattern matching, and you become more adept at seeing two to mates when they appear on the board during games.
One interesting thing is the first time you see a two-to-mate, it may take a few minutes, maybe even 20 minutes to find it. After subsequent review it may take a few seconds. Do this thousands of times, and it shifts from rational analysis to pattern matching.
Any difficult concept I've learned has co. e to me when I havent been actively rhinkong about it, Voila moments if you will
Probably true in this age given how much interaction with other develops we have