Posts Tagged ‘Contemplation’

Theorizing Consciousness

April 6, 2016

“Theorizing Consciousness” is the fifth chapter of “Consciousness and the Brain:  Deciphering How the Brain Codes our Thoughts” an outstanding book by the French neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene who is the Chair of Experimental Psychology at the College of France.  This is the sixth consecutive post on this outstanding book.   At this point a theory is needed to explain how subjective introspection relates to objective measurements.  Dr. Dehaene does this  by introducing the notion of a global neuronal workspace.  This global workspace theory was developed along with the psychologist Bernard Baars.

The notion is simple.  Consciousness is brain-wide information sharing.  The human brain has developed efficient long-distance networks, particularly in the prefrontal cortex, to select relevant information and disseminate it throughout the brain.  Consciousness has evolved  to allow us to attend to a piece of information and disseminate it throughout the brain.  Once the information is conscious, it can be flexibly be routed  to other areas according to our current goals.  We can name this information, evaluate it, memorize it, and use it to plan for the future.  We can use it to simulate the prospects of different courses of action.  Computer simulations of neural networks have been run and shown that the global neuronal workspace hypothesis generates precisely the signatures we see in experimental brain recordings.

Many neurons  in the brain differ substantially from other cells in the body.  These are the neurons with exceptionally long axons.   These neurons are most abundant in the prefrontal cortex.   Moreover, each human prefrontal neuron  may host fifteen thousand spines or more. This allows these neurons to transmit information to distant parts of the brain, making the global neuronal workspace truly global.   The prefrontal cortex is the area responsible for decision making and executive control.

The global neuronal workspace hypothesis also explains why vast amounts of knowledge remain inaccessible to our consciousness, namely, there is too much of it. Global workspace theory helps bring order to this jungle of information.  It leads us to pigeonhole our unconscious feats in distinct bins whose brain mechanisms differ radically. There is only a limited amount of attentional resources that can be devoted to conscious processing.  One can argue that the judicious selection of what information to attend to and to devote conscious thought is one of the primary determinant of a happy and successful life.  This is a primary reason why meditation is important.  Contemplation and meditative exercises provide practice in training our attention.

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Using or Abstaining from Technologies in Ways That are Restorative

October 20, 2013

The eighth principle of contemplative computing1 is using or abstaining from technologies in ways that are restorative. With the possible exception of flow, using technologies requires mental effort. Even in the case of flow, eventually we all tire. In other words, our conscious mental resources deplete and need time to be restored.

So we need to know how to restore our mind’s ability to focus. We can arrange our environments to make it easier to concentrate for longer periods. It is also important to find activities that offer a respite, but not a complete break from steady concentration. Things that offer a sense of being away with a mix of fascination and boundlessness can help our minds recharge. Complete breaks are also essential. Take time off to meditate. A good walk can help the mind recharge. Then, too, it is also necessary to know when it’s time to quit for the day (or night). Be assured that even when we give our conscious minds a break, our subconscious minds keep working. It is possible that our conscious minds can get caught in a rut thinking about the same things, and a complete break can facilitate our subconscious minds breaking through with the answer.

So, there we have it. The eight principles of contemplative computing: be human, be calm, be mindful, make conscious choices, extend our abilities, seek flow, engage with the world, and use or abstain from technologies in ways that are restorative.

1(2013) Pang, Alex Soojung-Kim. The Distraction Addiction.

Engage with the World

October 16, 2013

Engage with the world is the seventh principle of contemplative computing.1 Engage with the World complements very nicely the fifth principle of contemplative computing, Extend Your Abilities. They both involve transactive memory. Whereas Extend You Abilities focused on using the memory resident in technology to enhance your cognitive growth, Engage with the World, focuses on engaging with you fellow humans to enhance your cognitive growth. Remember that transactive memory includes both memories resident in technology (both electronic and conventional such as books and journals), and in your fellow human beings. Engaging with the world implies both that we will receive knowledge from our fellow humans, but that we shall also contribute knowledge to the store of human knowledge. Do not underestimate yourself. You have knowledge to contribute. If not, acquire additional knowledge so that you can add your own unique contributions. These contributions might be additions/corrections you make to Wikipedia, or contributions you make through your own blog. It might even be information you pass on to individual humans. Remember that social interaction is a key component of a healthy memory.

When engaging, please keep the following in mind.” Engaging with the social world isn’t just interacting, it’s about putting people rather than technology at the center of your attention. For some, this involves applying Christian or Buddhist precepts to their virtual interactions and using media in ways that let them be spiritual presences, not just social ones, and see the spark of divinity in everyone”.2

The first six principles of contemplative computing have been discussed in the immediately preceding healthymemory blog posts. The next blog post will discuss the final principle of contemplative computing.

1(2013) Pang, Alex Soojung-Kim. The Distraction Addiction.

2Ibid p. 225.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Seek Flow

October 13, 2013

Seeking flow is the sixth principle of contemplative computing.1 Flow is a state identified by Mikhaly Csikszentmihalyi (Chick-sent-me-high’-ee).2 It has the following components. “Concentration is so intense that there is no attention left over to think about anything irrelevant, or to worry about problems. Self-consciousness disappears, and the sense of time becomes distorted. An activity that produces such experiences is so gratifying that people are willing to do it for its own sake, with little concern what they will get out of it, even when it is difficult or dangerous.”3 He says that you can reach flow doing almost anything. He gives an example of how lox cutters achieve flow.

Situations in which there are challenges, clear rules, and immediate feedback are likely to achieve flow. Usually video games are good for achieving flow, and they have been found beneficial in helping older people keep mentally sharp. Unfortunately, once you become especially good at something it can become boring. That is why many games have different difficulty levels. Once you have become bored with one level and are no longer achieving, you can advance to the next level and improve to the point where you again achieve flow.

Flow can be experienced in many activities, and some require considerable time before you start to achieve flow. I remember studying German in college. The first course was slow going. In fact, I received my first and only “D” in introductory German . I then learned that I needed to spend time drilling in the language laboratory until things started flowing. As I studied further, I could read German without consulting the dictionary so frequently. And got to the point where I could understand lectures when they were given in German.

Seeking flow can be regarded as an extension of the preceding principle, extend your abilities. Play video games and achieve flow. But don’t stop there. Consider athletic, and especially mental, activities were flow can be achieved. Mnemonic techniques can be developed to the point where flow is achieved in memorization.

The first five principles of contemplative computing have been discussed in the immediately preceding posts. The final two principles will be discussed in the subsequent posts.

1(2013) Pang, Alex Soojung-Kim. The Distraction Addiction

2 (2008) Csikszentmihalyi, E. The Psychology of Optimal Experience

3 (2013) Pang, Alex Soojung-Kim. The Distraction Addiction

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Extend Your Abilities

October 9, 2013

The fifth principle of contemplative computing1 is to Extend Your Abilities. Readers of the healthymemory blog should realize that this is one of the healthymemory themes. It comes under the rubric of transactive memory. Transactive memory refers to knowledge that is resident in technology, ranging from the world wide web to conventional texts, as well as knowledge that is resident in our fellow human beings.

Some of what we know is resident in our individual minds, our brains. There is other information that we know, cannot recall, but know how to find. This is referred to as accessible transactive memory. That is, we know how to find and access it quickly. Then there is information that we know exists, but cannot find or access readily. This is referred to as available accessible information. This is information that we are fairly confident we can locate given enough time and searches. Finally, there is potential transactive memory. This is all the knowledge and information that is available on earth. As individuals, our task is to transfer some knowledge from accessible transactive memory to our individual minds and brains. Then we need to transfer some knowledge from available transactive memory to accessible transactive memory. And, finally, there is this vast store of information and knowledge that is currently unknown. Although we can hope to learn only a fraction of this information, this is still a matter of extending our abilities.

We are constantly confronted with the epistemological question, how well do we need to know something? Do we need to know it well enough so that we can expound upon it without notes? Perhaps knowing how to access it quickly will suffice. Or perhaps, we only need to know that it exists, and that we can find it if we search long enough for it. It would be a mistake to put too much knowledge into any one of these categories. The percentage placed in each, will be a matter of individual choice. But we still should have the goal of upgrading the storage category for a certain amount of this knowledge. And we should always be extending our knowledge into the potential transactive memory category. This is all a part of extending our abilities and growing cognitively.

The first four principles of contemplative computing have been discussed in the immediately preceding posts. The next three principles will be discussed in subsequent posts.

1(2013) Pang, Alex Soojung-Kim. The Distraction Addiction.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Be Calm

September 29, 2013

The second of eight steps to contemplative computing1 is to be calm. Contemplation involves a special kind of calm. It’s active rather than passive. It’s disciplined and self-aware. It’s like the placidity of the samurai. Or the coolness under pressure exhibited by an experienced pilot. It’s the product of masterful engagement that fills one’s attention and leaves no room for distraction.

Training and discipline are required for this type of calm. It involves a deep understanding of both devices and the self. This calm does not require getting away from the world. Rather it allows for fluid quick action in the world. The goal is not to escape, but rather to engage. We need to set the stage on which we can bring our entanglement with devices and media under our control so that we can more effectively engage with the world and extend ourselves.

Remember that technology affords the opportunity to be calm, if only we make use of it. There is voice mail, so phone messages can be answered, or not answered, when we decide to answer them. Similarly, email awaits our attention. Always remember that it is our attention. We can decide if and when to devote our attention to it.

Also remember, that meditation is a practice that can help us be calm. You will find many posts on meditation in the healthymemory blog.

Zenware, which assists us in being calm, is discussed in The Distraction Addiction. Writeroom and Ommwriter are two examples of Zenware. Try going to http://www.donothingfor2minutes.com/.

The remaining six principles of contemplative computing will be discussed in subsequent healthymemory blog posts. The first principle, Be Human, was discussed in the preceding blog post.

1(2013) Pang, Alex Soojung-Kim. The Distraction Addiction