Our human interface with reality

Article in Alphr Science reveals how to learn new skills twice as fast

If one views training as the process of building a predictive mental model for the task (learning how to move a computer cursor by squeezing a device), then it is seems obvious that learning for Two levels of sensitivity, will be far greater value than learning for One. Learning One sensitivity level requires reliance on memory (of the squeeze sensitivity). Learning different sensitivities trains us to perform an initial calibration, far more valuable.


Repeated chorus aids popularity:


Less total information to be learned. Easier for our memory to record the song.


And when I get old and have dementia, please plug me in to my oldies!

Oliver Sacks – “Awakening” the nearly dead with familiar music

newscientist article-imagine-storing-all-the-worlds-archives-in-a-box-of-seeds

Archiving of data addresses two different scenarios: In the first, intelligent humans are available and encouraged to transcribe archive files into a currently readable digital format and onto a currently accessible physical format, and to do this as frequently as necessary to avoid problems of obsolescence.
In the second scenario, “intelligent” humans have become absent for a duration such that the first method cannot be relied upon. For example if we were to bomb ourselves back to the stone age, or become extinct due to climate change, then that regular process would be considerably interrupted and inconvenienced, and all records of our contemporary history lost.
Assuming we do not perfectly sterilise our planet, the ideal solution for an enduring archive might be to encode our data into the DNA of something more robust, something with a long history of endurance such as a bacteria or cockroaches. Writing DNA might be a slow process at present, but afterwards life itself will take care of the need for regularly refreshed copies. Who knows, perhaps our junk DNA already carries the archived data of some ancient intelligent species!

Interesting debate about whether a footballer can run faster than Usain Bolt


“When Usain Bolt broke the 100m world record in 2009, it took him 4.64 seconds to run the first 40m. But it’s been reported that Arsenal defender Hector Bellerin ran the same distance in 4.41 seconds.

Even this is only 8.62 metres per second, less than the record speeds here:Male Running Record Speeds


“Reality is what we take to be true.
What we take to be true is what we believe.
What we believe is based upon our perceptions.
What we perceive depends on what we look for.
What we look for depends on what we think.
What we think depends on what we perceive.
What we perceive determines what we believe.
What we believe determines what we take to be true.
What we take to be true is our reality.” – Physicist David Bohm (1917–1992) in 1977

Aphantasia: A life without mental images BBC article and Radio4 program

All this discussion (about whether we have a visual imagination or not) ignores the evidence that we are only able to see the world around us by imagining it. Our eyes are physically incapable of giving us an instantaneous high-resolution view of “out there”. We see the world out there in our mind’s eye.
So the discussion is really about why we might be unable to visualise with our eyes closed. Our “mind’s eye” creates an idea of a 3D world out there, from the somewhat limited 2D images falling on our retinas, added to greatly from our previously acquired expectations. The blind person has a similar idea of what is “out there” but with details developed through touch and hearing, and this idea is also held within the “visual” cortex.
Most of us non-artists have difficulty visualising from memory the faces of people (especially those close to us) because the emotional messages are more important to us than visual detail.

See how you can manipulate someone’s emotions Make anyone smile!

I have my doubts about this test of Aphantasia using an image of a friend or relative who you frequently see: If I am familiar with someone in ways beyond the superficial visual, then I remember the sense of the person far more than their visual image. I would remember a photo of them to draw them from memory. I scored only scored 22 out of 40, so I’m hardly superficial! I expect that these people with Aphantasia can still navigate round their bedroom in the dark, implying that they have a 3D spatial memory.

Thanks to Peter Calver, of genealogy site www.lostcousins.com, for this great review in his LostCousins May newsletter:

Review: Bottleneck

Not a genealogical mystery, but a real-life psychological mystery, Bottleneck: Our Human interface with Reality by Richard Epworth is a most unusual book, which convincingly demonstrates that our brain can only take in information very slowly (ironically the author spent much of his career working with optical fibres, which transmit incredible amounts of data at approaching the speed of light).

However, we’re very good at convincing ourselves that we know more than we do, which is why witnesses to crimes often give plausible, but highly inaccurate, accounts – and why family stories are often at odds with the documented facts.

Everyone will get something different out of this book – in my case not only did I end up understanding myself a little bit better, I also began to realise why my view of the world is so often at odds with the views of others. The author quotes from hundreds of sources in order to make his case: from the writings of Alan Turing and Oliver Sacks to humbler sources, such as song lyrics – and even the LostCousins newsletter!

It isn’t light reading, but nor is it hard to read – I read it from beginning to end over the course of three days. Will it change my life? Probably. Not bad for under £2 on Kindle!

You’ll find the book and more reviews here:

Amazon.co.uk  Amazon.com  Amazon.ca

Last time I checked all the reviews gave the book 5 stars – pretty impressive!

Peter Calver


LostCousins.com is the only family history website able to match you with others researching the same ancestors (out of more than 250,000 genealogy websites). LostCousins.com identifies members who share the same ancestors by comparing census information each member has entered. Very useful for converting fanciful family myths into rigorous family history.

As I describe in the final chapter of Bottleneck, it appears that the speed of our response to novel information is limited by the size of our world view. Whatever we sense must be integrated with our idea of the world out there, and the bigger and more complex and detailed that idea, the slower we learn and the longer delay in our response. (The smart chimps at Tokyo University are evidence for this; they outperform humans in rapid learning tests, suggesting that they have a wider learning “bottleneck” and faster responses to unique situations.)

This narrower learning bottleneck is only a disadvantage when we encounter something that we cannot in any way predict. A simple dragonfly can catch a fly “on the fly”. Though we may be unable to catch a fly in our hand, we can design and build a fly-trap or invent an insecticide. Most things that we experience are similar to things we have experienced before, so we generally benefit from our more extensive world view. We have a greater ability to predict a suitable response based on limited sensed information.

What has this got to do with Artificial Intelligence? Our world view incorporates our ethics, morals and ideas of how we should treat our fellow man. Similarly any robot/AI can only have a human-like ethical and civilised sense if its world view is of similar complexity and detail. But there is a very fundamental difference between us and them.

A child’s ethical sense grows from infancy. When very small it is uniquely selfish, no idea of others as people with similar needs and feelings. An adult with this world view would be considered psychopathic, but as a baby is almost powerless without independent access to guns and cars, it represents no threat to society. Our human capability for good or harm grows together with the scale of our world view. We are safe from the hedonistic behaviours of our infants (provided we don’t leave our loaded hand-gun within their reach).

In contrast, our robots begin their robot lives with their physical capabilities fully formed and fully available from the moment they are switched on. The extent of their world view has been predetermined by us. Generally we only provide our Artificial Intelligent robot with sufficient world view to perform the tasks for which we design them. My automated washing machine presents no threat as it has very limited physical capabilities, and while my robot vacuum cleaner may be quite adventurous around my home, there is negligible risk that it might go rogue and clean me out of food or money.

Today we have taken huge strides in the development of robotic hardware, and in the software that enables them to function physically, to balance to walk to fly (consider what cheap drones can now achieve), but the software that might match this capability with anything like consciousness is way behind. Our autonomous military drones know nothing of world politics, the behaviour of different ethnic groups, or what physical emotional pain feels like in a human body.

So we must tread carefully as we enter this era. A mismatch between power and scale of world view also occur in human groups, whether they be the mafia, bankers, traders or armed religious fundamentalists, and we all know how much trouble they have got us into.