Posts Tagged ‘Multitasking’

OF MANY MINDS WE ARE, Therefrom Our Volition’s Enormous Inertia

December 6, 2017


Many view the following as smart, deep and wise, what we could call the empty-headed view of wisdom:

“When I dance, I dance; when I sleep, I sleep; yes, and when I walk alone in a beautiful orchard, if my thoughts drift to far-off matters for some part of the time for some other part I lead them back again to the walk, the orchard, to the sweetness of this solitude, to myself.”

Michel de Montaigne

I, myself, and me, Michel, or how to focus on numero uno? Is that the epitome of mountainous wisdom?

This thought of Montaigne reflects a whole current of thought back in Eastern Eurasia. Where is the wisdom in that? Right, sometimes one should confer with oneself, I do it nearly 24/7. But who established scientifically that mono-thinking is superior to multi-tasking?

What is the difference between mono-thinking and Pensée Unique?

“Pensée Unique” is the ultimate instance of intellectual fascism, organizing one’s thinking around few, all too few thoughts, and emotions. “Pensée Unique” goes hand in hand with Political Correctness, the latter being possible only with the former.

Oriental thoughts masters, and Montaigne were, and are, searching for a vacuum, where none is to be had.

In truth, the brain is an intensive, gigantic and ultimate multitasker: giving haphazard orders to the brain is like giving haphazard orders to the ocean. One has to be smarter, and more conniving than barking out orders to billions of entangled neural networks. (Yes, entangled, and probably not just classically so: quantum entanglement has now been demonstrated over 500 nanometers…)

When Montaigne danced, he could do so because many parts of his brains synchronized. OK, right, when a cockroach is looking for food, it probably does not let its thoughts wander. And the species has been around thousands of times longer than ours. Is that why we should imitate them?

In truth longevity of cockroaches has to do with their stupidity: were they more clever, they would have bigger brains, eat more energy, and thus would have been more prone to extinction, like T Rex. However, even coackraches let their thoughts wander: turn the light on, they will notice it, although all they thought about a second before was food. They are therefore multitasking: part of their brain is out to detect the exposition light brings them.

If we are into wisdom, we are into brains, and if we are into brains, we are multitaskers.

Drus, peak of death, Chamonix, Alps. I should have died at the location of the upper dust cloud, more than half way up, in the hidden very steep ice gully on the right. That I didn’t is a mystery (had I kept on falling, after huge rocks hit the ropes in the ice gully, by partner would have died too).

The ability to multitask does not mean that the wise should be incapable of concentrating. Just the opposite. Concentration comes naturally, when the situation requires it. I tend to be a scatterbrain, in the noble sense of the term, yet, I am a mountain climber, an activity which, like mountain running, requires concentration (so does deep-sea diving which I still do when next to a non-freezing sea).

More than once, I found myself in desperate situations when only hyper concentration and resulting superhuman strength and agility were required to bring my survival. However, the way survival was achieved reveals how the brain works. The last time this happened was 15 months ago, when I broke a crucial hold in an overhanging traverse where falling was an option implying death and, or, a very grave injury (and thus helicopter rescue, at best). But I didn’t fall, and i am still mystified by it.

I have faced, at least once, certain death, and I pulled it off. How? I don’t know. In cases like that the brain is so fully concentrated that the short-term memory system ceases to work. Motor neurons all fire together, and the frontal lobes, the strategic thinking is actually employed tactically, 100%.  Yes, it’s addictive. When I mountain run on snow, going down at high-speed, and I have to visualize trajectories carefully, to avoid blatant ice, and finishing in the trees, downslope, at 5 meters per second, I sure have to concentrate. I am not like the presumably half senile Montaigne, proud of being able to dance by only thinking about dancing, an occupation I could engaged in, with a blindfold.

So I don’t know what the admirers of  Pensée unique” hope to achieve. An early death of the mind?

I go the other way:

When I run, I think. When I sleep, I think. In both cases I think, but not in the same way. That’s the trick of superior wisdom acquisition. By not thinking in the same way, I mean not with the same parts of the brain, not with the same neural circuitry, not with the same neurohormones. I try to approach any subject from many different paths, many different neuronal pathways, many different neurohormonal environment. Thinking becomes a sum over all neurohormonal and neurological pathways.

It is indeed amazing how different a subject become, when one is ten miles from the closest human being, running on snow on top of a mountain ridge, much of the brain monitoring the next ten strides, one after the next, besides searching for ice and other indications of various traps.

Of all the things I have thought about, all of them literally got run in the ground at some point. Thinking, when running, is conducted bare boned, as the brain eats oxygen (and I only do mountain running, which demands very high brain activity to select placements and trajectories whereas running around a track can be conducted with a blindfold, holding someone’s hand)

Thus, thinking about a given subject when conducting a brain intense sport forces the brain to consider only the essence of a problem. Similarly, and for the same reason, multitasking forces into concentrating into the essence of any subject, by forcing mental concentration on the bare bones aspects of said subject. Another effect is that reducing by force the usual neurological, and neurohormonal approaches to a subject enables said approaches to rest, and thereupon, reduce themselves to a more concentrated essence, and being approached afresh.

“Free will” or more exactly, volition, is not free: it is a prisoner of our own brain, its neural networks, its experiences, associations, theories and emotions. All those, in turn, were built progressively, over years and even decades, nonlinearly feeding on themselves, and back to the environment they evolved from and modified in turn (in that environment, typically, one’s family).  Volition is a house we helped built, and also a robot we inhabit.

This fits with the rolling cylinder metaphor familiar to the ancient Greco-Romans. Cicero, in De Fato (43), presents Chrysippus’ metaphor of the rolling cylinder as follows: “‘In the same way therefore, as a person who has pushed a roller forward has given it a beginning of motion, but has not given it the capacity to roll, so a sense-presentation when it impinges on the will, it is true impresses and as it were seals its appearance on the mind, but the act of assent will be in our power, and as we said in the case of the roller, though given a push from without, as to the rest will move by its own force and nature.”

Some impulse, say a sensation gets something to roll (or not) according to its nature, inertia does the rest.

The Greco-Romans didn’t have inertia as an explicit concept, they touched it there. Rolling cylinders were used as an important example which Galileo Galilei rolled away with, establishing deep laws thanks to smart experiences involving them. (too bad Greco-Roman society, then, had become adverse to too much thinking, they could have discovered Galileo’s physics)

This distinction between impulse and subsequent evolution, is actually fundamental to differential equation theory: the initial conditions are a different input from the structure of the equation itself. Different initial conditions can give completely different results, from the same differential equation.

The nidopallium in birds is involved in executive functions, and higher cognitive functions. One intricate behavioural process governed by the nidopallium in birds is migration. There is significant neuronal recruitment to this region of the avian brain during migratory flight. It enhances cognitive potency in the nidopallium.

Thus birds benefit from improved navigational capabilities during migration, prompted by the significant changes in spatial sensory stimuli. This illustrates that neuroplasticity in the brain, avian, or not, depends upon the mission. We build the cylinder we are going to roll, depending upon what we do, and, or, plan to be doing. But, once it’s mostly built, our existing neural networks, and the neurohormonal machinery bathing them, presenting enormous inertia, is how volition rolls.

The great masters wanted concentration? Well, the best way to get it is through deconcentration, and subsequent recreation.

One may wonder why so many sages insisted so heavily that “Pensée Unique” is the way of wisdom. The reason is always the same: the elite, the establishment is plutocratic in nature. That means it rules, fully using the Dark Side. That works best when the people’s operating system is a sort of sheep mentality, transforming them into the placid “sheeple” (sheep + people). This is a generalization of Nietzsche’s dual morality model of European civilization: Christianism for the masses, lion (“blonde beast”) for the aristocracy.

It goes without saying that all and any wisdom propagandized to the masses for more than a generation or two was sustained and amplified by the aristocracy (power of the best), truly a plutocracy (power of evil). By telling the masses they should concentrate on the task at hand with one and only one thought, “Pensée Unique” at any given moment, the elite told the masses they worked best as robots, and made sure no wandering thoughts would compromise the established order.

Montaigne was the first of his very wealthy family to achieve nobility status. That implied that Montaigne didn’t have to pay taxes (just like today’s plutocrats). He could just live off the considerable revenue of his immense domain, making wine (the domain still does).

Montaigne knew higher-ups intimately: not only his friends forced him to become mayor of Bordeaux, but he was a personal friend of the King of Navarre, selected and elevated later to King of France, Henri IV (and one of the best leaders civilization had).

Montaigne was a sage, one of the best groundbreaking thinker ever. He broke free of some of the stranglehold of wisdom, Greco-Roman style. He was not always right. For example Montaigne was against the colonization of America, whereas the Greeks’ spirit was to colonize away… And it’s easy to argue Montaigne was wrong on colonization: it’s impossible to pretend, that, in the fullness of time, we are not all descendants of colonizers, because, we are. Even inside Africa, colonization started long before Neanderthal genes made it all the way to South Africa.

Science can, and always does, beat back received wisdom, make it much more nuanced. Yes, the world is local, as field theory has it, but not really, as Quantum Physics, and the dismayed Einstein himself, established, and now confirmed with countless experiments. Truth is true, but in a certain context, thus will always surprise us, as contexts change. Thus so it should be with minds, especially when they think anew..

Montaigne objected to colonization. It was not really original: the first to object to colonization were the Native Americans Jacques Cartier debated with on ther Saint Laurent, in 1534.

So France bungled the colonization of America. Philip II of Spain, himself the son of a wise emperor native French speaker, didn’t have this pangs of conscience: he sent an armada, exterminated the French in the Carolinas, who left only a name behind (and maybe some genes among the Natives). To be a saint, when confronting evil, does not destroy evil, it helps it out.  

Montaigne objected to colonization on moral ground, he wanted the savages to be free and prosper. But, actually, the French “mission civilisatrice” and trade colonizing model, would have saved the Native Americans from the holocausts which lay in their future as they were left to the tender mercy of the English “West Country Men” and other Bible, holocaust stomping colonizers of the enslaving and scalping sort.

Montaigne would have discovered that possibility, had he debated all the possibilities. He wanted to save the savages, he insured their ruin.

Of many minds we are. And the more minds of which we are, and cultivate, the more human we get.

Patrice Aymé