First things, first.

There have been a lot of topics on my writing queue lately, but wanted to start off with an idea I’ve been ping-ponging with my rediscovered friend, Jude Safo.

The topic in question is choice and how it manifests itself. In a recent conversation, Jude brought up this Freudian principle: the idea that the unconscious mind comes into contact with a near infinite amount of stimuli, filters it, and then propagates high level concepts to our conscious mind. Thinking about it from a software engineer’s perspective, this explanation involves a lot of hand waving. For example, how the unconscious mind filters everything to come up with the high level priorities it does is beyond me. Also, the difference between the conscious and unconscious minds is a ambiguous, at best. If the unconscious mind works linearly and deterministically, whereas the conscious mind is more ad-hoc, incorporating memory and inference into its workings, then what processes are really influencing the conscious mind? Seems like there’s still a lot to be defined…

None the less, however lacking in depth, these are the models I use in every day language, so I’ll roll with it.

Just to clarify, at this point we’re talking about how the unconscious mind deals with the moment’s direct stimuli – observations made with one of our direct senses – and uses that information to inform the higher level conscious mind of what’s going on. The conscious mind then uses that information along with other stored information – like memory and imagination – to form a decision.

OK. So here’s the question that pops up into my head.

For things like ants, it’s pretty easy to work with the above model. Their high level brain function seems to be somewhat predictable as indicated by how we can model their behavior on the colony level. How ‘bout that for hand waving, eh! But when you start talking about people, things get more complicated.

People can predict the future state of the world. That’s our niche. We have high level intuition. Not just instinct or reflex, but the ability to consciously think of what might happen next, and assign a rough probability to each potential option. Well, what happens when such an ability has a misadvertised level of accuracy? If I think everyone is going to laugh at me when I give that speech next week, it’s going to influence my behavior, undoubtedly. Yet, most of the time when I think of things in a self-conscious manor, the expectation is way worse than the reality. These kinds of biases exist all over the place. Alright, fine. No big deal, right?

Here’s where I think it get’s real interesting. If I manage to convince someone else that getting laughed at while giving a speech is feasible, next time said person listens to a speech, they might actually laugh at the person giving it. So now, a behavior I just imagined, which was an inaccurate model at the time, has become accurate. What if this kind of recursion goes on indefinitely. How does that affect the human colony’s behavior?

What happens when you start applying this principle to other fields of study; those which are built on top of the idea that human behavior is linear and deterministic?

Economics: If I make an investment, does it follow that other people are likely to think that investment sound? Relationships: If I think my friend/lover is thinking something, and act on it, and it turns out that they weren’t thinking that something, how does that affect the outcome of our relationship. If I think that they’re thinking about me thinking about something. How does that affect things? What happens when you go N levels deep? 

Those are the first things that come to mind…

Anyway, my train is pulling into my stop. Let’s call it at this; more proofing to come.