About the Presence of Mind

What Interests Me

Like many curious kids, I tried from an early age to figure the world out, and quickly become more entranced by the complexities of how we think about the world that about the world itself. How can one distinguish true from false? The revelation that struck my 13-year old mind was that the answer was relative, relative to the framework in which the question was asked and in which the answer would be applied. Veracity could not be independent of context. In a thoroughly specified framework, everything that is true is defined to be true or follows inescapably from clearly defined truths. Vaguer frameworks work more like a set of possible worlds, each of which is well-defined and full of necessary truths, but together just define a range of possibility. These thoughts left me with the notion that the mind could be explained, but the idea of studying it formally never entered my mind. When I got to college in 1979, cognitive science was only eight years old (as a named field), and the first cognitive science department would not be formed until 1986. Nowadays most universities have one. My first thought was to study genetics as it is surely the source of the mind, but I lacked the patience for lab work, and the field seemed decades away from world-changing results. Artificial intelligence was a more direct path, but the heuristical approaches of the day struck me as wrong. Computer programming satisfied my impatience and seemed both a good and fun way to make money while I ruminated on how to crack the AI problem. Life got in the way, and I ended up working as a computer programmer for thirty years both designing and implementing a number of large-scale systems for both personal and high finance. I never lost my interest in explaining the mind, and it developed into a strong sideline interest I worked on for decades. I have been focusing on it full-time since I left programming in 2016.

In brief, the mind creates a subjective world of ideas that makes human life special, just as Plato and Descartes thought, as culture has always maintained and as our intuition tells us. The subconscious mind does most of the hard work for us with specialized modules that process senses (e.g. 3-D color vision), recognize things, manage our bodies, distinguish causation, process language, understand other people, attach emotional color to experience and more. The conscious mind is a top-level process of the mind that funnels inputs from the subconscious into a single stream so it can direct the body. Free will exists despite the world being deterministic because free will derives from a lack of foreknowledge, not from the ability to break the laws of nature. I’m looking to strengthen the foundations of science, explain the meaning of life, and provide a better basis for human action (a field called praxeology). Also, an objective understanding of the mind can inform metacognition (our subjective self-knowledge) to optimize our use of innate, personal and cultural sources of knowledge to serve us better.

But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too. — John F. Kennedy1

Providing a single but objective explanation of the mind in one text is hard. Further claiming that it will lead to across-the-board improvements in the way we do things will be hard to back up. I have reformulated and rewritten my ideas now many times now, each time seeming to get closer to a comprehensive and consistent overall theory, but it is like chasing one’s own tail. I think understanding the mind is a prerequisite to being able to “organize and measure the best of our energies and skills,” and so without it, we will not be able to meet our increasingly challenging future proficiently.

Approach

I am trying to write an explanation of the mind that anyone can understand, that aligns with current scientific thinking, that solves the major problems in the philosophy of mind, and that fits the pieces together coherently. There is no one straight path that can do all these things, so I will be iterating on the topics, trying to go into more detail each time. Just as the mind has a gestalt feeling of wholeness that is larger than our understanding of individual conscious states or abilities, so so does an explanation of the mind (or of anything) develop a gestalt feeling that derives from the combined understanding of its major and minor parts. I will develop a hierarchical and networked explanation of information and understanding that should make this position clearer.

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The full content of the site (except this About page) is on the Chapters Wide page. Clicking on a post title on this page takes you to the page for that post, which is helpful to comment on the post or see footnotes or comments for it.

Resumé

I have bachelor degrees in computer science and molecular biochemistry & biophysics (Yale, 1983). I am well-versed in logic, math, and science overall, and I have studied the mind extensively for decades. I worked from 1983 to 2016 as a computer programmer and systems architect. My more notable projects include:

• Andy Tobias’ Managing Your Money, the bestselling personal finance package of the 1980’s. I wrote the back end for this program called SEESAW (System Elegantly Enmeshing Screens and Worksheets) from 1983-85 at MECA (Micro Computer Corporation of America).

• JAVAH (Just Another Value and Hedge), a program to model and manage complex derivative products. I wrote much of the back end, including JPL (JAVAH Programming Language) from 1998-2010 at AIG Financial Products Corp. Marketers and traders themselves could enter existing or new kinds of trades with no back-end support because it had a flexible way of representing cash flows that could leverage JPL to adjust default behavior (which was itself complex) to anything they liked. With no per-trade manual back-end support, JAVAH could manage those trades as entered through their maturity up to 30 or more years later, revaluing and hedging them every day.

• IDR (Investments Data Repository), a data warehouse for investments information. I developed the data governance model from 2010-2016 at AIG. AIG used dozens of systems to trade and account for many kinds of investments, including stocks, bonds, real estate, partnerships, and derivatives, but had no reliable way to report up-to-date, accurate totals. This project included standardizing the definitions, sources, and governance of thousands of fields from all these programs and presenting them in a single reporting framework powered by MicroStrategy. This project bridged the gap between data representation and data meaning, which comes up a lot in this work on the mind.

I consider myself more an engineer than a scientist, more a synthesist than an experimentalist, more a pragmatist than a realist or idealist. As a software engineer, I like to pull diverse ideas together into elegant and encompassing solutions, and I have translated this skills to this project.

I have any number of other hobbies and interests, all pretty mundane, and a pretty normal family and American lifestyle. I am a nature lover and environmentalist, a vegan, and a trivia buff. I enjoy speculating on and debating any topic, especially from a nonconformist or devil’s advocate position.

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Blog Announcements

Starting a blog 5/4/16
My blog goes live 11/7/16

  1. John F. Kennedy, John F. Kennedy Moon Speech – Rice Stadium, September 12, 1962