Saturday, February 27, 2016

Mental Hallways of Potential Knowledge & Self-Imposed Red Herrings: What I have learned from The Talos Principle (Part 2)

This article is part 2 of this article.

I am going to go right into it so please read part 1 lest ye be burned by the ignorance.

Self-imposed Red Herrings - a.k.a - trolling yourself - a.k.a. - your sub-conscious trolling your conscious.

The Talos Principle introduced me to a type of puzzle I had hitherto never seen in a puzzle game.  So unnatural within a typical game setting yet so natural within a typical life setting, it caused me to see the situation where it often occurs in life from a new, gamey perspective.  I am talking true gamification of life, not that "replace checklists with XP bars" shit companies love doing these days.  I now view something that often occurs to every single human being, something at the sub-conscious level, in nearly the same form as it occurred in The Talos Principle.  I find this perspective very intriguing - an intrigue I hope to explain from this point.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Mental Hallways of Potential Knowledge & Self-Imposed Red Herrings: What I have learned from The Talos Principle (Part 1)

This blog post deals with two ideas that have been floating around in my head recently since I started playing a game called The Talos Principle - how information we acquire unconsciously can becomes conscious knowledge and how our environment naturally causes our own ideas to blind us from potential solutions to life's problems.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

We all have our own learning style, but at what point?

Aside from cries, grunts and giggles, all babies start out their life exactly the same - linguistically silent bundles of flesh with no perceivable identity and belonging not to any particular country or society - only to the human race.  And every single baby in the entire world begins the process of belonging the exact same way by first learning to communicate in a language.  First they observe in silence their surroundings until their speech production system has developed at around 3-5 months, then for the next 5-7 months they play with this system to produce a series of increasing complex phonetic sounds until around the 1 year mark where they start to produce their first words.  The category of words and the order they produce them are the same across all cultures.  Generally speaking, for at least the first year of every baby's life, there is no perceivable difference in each baby's learning style.  They all learn the exact same thing - language - in the exact same way.  Although I do not deny the reality that we all have a unique way of learning, this seemingly uniform way of learning (at least a language) with which we all start our lives causes me to wonder when do we start to be unique.  Also, since this uniform process of learning a language we all undertake is still grossly unknown, as a global society, which style of learning is more important to understand - the style unique to each individual human, or the style unique to the human race?

Here is a little evidence of how shared this language learning process actually is.  Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCK) - adults who were raised in various environments and cultures due to a constant geographically changing lifestyle -  often need to adapt to new environments throughout their entire life and as such develop similar strategies of how they do so.  The first goal is to learn how individuals in this environment communicate and they do this by being very observant of everyone's style of communication.  This need to be observant naturally causes a ATCK to be silent.  Only after a certain period of relative silence (of course they speak to some degree - they are not going to respond to questions directed at them with silence) do they feel they understand how people in the target environment communicate and therefore have the confidence to emulate them.  This process of analyzing communicative norms in ones environment by spending a good amount of observant silence is also what babies do for the majority of their first year of life.  It is interesting that an adult (with his or her unique learning style in tact), would adopt the same habit as a baby when attempting to assimilate into a foreign culture.  This speaks of learning at a level that transcends individual uniqueness to a level of human uniqueness.  I want to understand this level of learning more than anything else in the world.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Social Cognition as Spoken Language: So that is the word I was looking for.

In this short but very succulent article by Michael Tomasello titled The Key is Social Cognition (Tomasello, 2003) the author gives a very interesting hypothesis for why human infants learn spoken language at the age, and in the way we naturally do(did).  To put it as simply as I can, we learn spoken language as way of "sharing and directing the attention of others", and we begin to produce it at around our first birthday because that is when we realize that other people are intentional agents distinct from the self (alternatively I could use the ambiguously poetic conspecific that Mr. Tomasello introduced to me as a way to describe other people).  The activities of directing someone's attention and having one's attention directed is called social cognition because it shows that we, as humans, are aware (cognition) that other humans (social) are creatures that have and act on their own intentions, yet we can still allow ourselves, or not, to act on them as if they were our own.  Being aware of all this is what makes being human unique and the uniquely human tool that sprouts as a budding baby becomes aware of this reality, as well as allow the baby to participate in it, is spoken language.

This posits an interesting question.  Since spoken language acquisition is an instinct (Pinker, 2004) and we have no more control over acquiring it as we do controlling other instincts, like whether or not our heart beats, this puts spoken language acquisition on the same level of importance as these other instincts.  But why?  Considering Tomasello's social cognition hypothesis, Lets shape this why question into something more thought-provoking, indeed something more purple.  Why is the acquiring of spoken language for the purpose of directing the attention of other people and allowing your attention to be directed by other people, so important as to merit the level of instinct?

We can start by answering the more general question; why are instincts so important?  This is easy to explain if we return to our exemplar heartbeat management instinct.  If managing our heartbeat were not an instinct, it would probably be a cognitive task, meaning we would be aware of it at all times, effectively in charge of it.  If we were in charge of beating our own hearts, we would be dead.  We wouldn't be able to sleep, drink, or focus our attention on anything longer than the milliseconds between the required intervals our heart must beat to keep our blood flowing and our bodies oxygenated.  For our very survival our heart must beat, which is why instinct is in charge.  This explanation of instinct being in charge of what we need for our very survival allows us to see the purple question from above in a different perspective, indeed a bluer perspective:  What does the exchange of each other's attention via spoken language have to do with our individual survival as humans?  

Consider the following anti-question:

How would NOT giving or receiving attention spell ones physical demise?

As you noticed, the black question is asking the same thing as the blue question but from a different, blacker perspective.

Aside from allowing me to entertain morbid ideas under the auspices of a greater good, this type of playing; using language to construe from one problem a different perspective that could, by all means, end up being the needed solution, is what has allowed us humans to survive in a world where other creatures have placed all their eggs of natural fitness in baskets that differ from this.  This also serves as the answer to the black, blue, and purple questions posited above.  Using language to direct each others attention serves human survival by allowing us to work together to discover novel solutions to recurring problems very, very, very quickly.  

It starts from simplicity.  

We become aware of problems while in the womb of our mother.  Our body develops to point where our metabolism burns energy faster than we can produce it so we need some sort of outside sustenance - food.  Spoken language doesn't play a part yet because we receive food supplements every time our mother eats, keeping us ignorant to the need to direct our mother's attention to our metabolic mayhem.  However, Mom has had enough and birth happens.  We have been ripped from this endless smorgasbord and soon we feel it in our tummy.  This new, this novel sensation - our tummies, for the first time, are 100% empty.  And it hurts.  Our instinct kicks in (because otherwise we would die) and it uses another tool that had also been developing along with our metabolism - our vocal chords.  We cry like we have literally never cried before and what happens?  Mother's attention goes nuts.  

"What is wrong?!?!" 

"What do you want?!?!?!" 




"Oh, boob."

Problem solved.  Baby doesn't die.

Here we see the function and purpose of spoken language in its most simple, in its purest forms.  Everything else we experience is just fluff on top of this.  The utterances may get a little more organized and eloquent than a crude cry ("Mom, I want chicken!!!") and the desires a little more complicated than simple hunger (I'm sad.  I want you to hug me from behind and whisper elvish lullabies) - yet the purpose is still the same - to direct and re-direct each others attention for the intent of quickly solving problems related to our survival.

All creatures on this planet have the ability to perform novel solutions to problems, it is the conception that makes humans unique.  Other creatures contrive at the level of the entire species, while humans can do it as an individual.  And it is due specifically to how we use spoken language.  

I will let Tomasello himself close this article with his own words, "When used in acts of communication, these social-cognitive skills [being aware that our attention can be given to and received from other people] serve to create intersubjectively understood and perspectivally based linguistic symbols [spoken language that communicates a perspective on reality that others can easily understand], which can be used to invite other persons to construe phenomena from any one of the many simultaneously available perspectives [think of new ways of looking at the same thing]"

There is still much more to explore concerning Tomasello's idea.  Namely I have yet to come up with a satisfying explanation as to how, through the use of language, construing phenomena from varying perspectives is of survival value to modern day humans.  I cannot wait for you to join me.

Further Reading

Pinker, S.  (2004).  The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language.  New York City: William Morrow and Company

Tomasello, M.  (2003).  The Key is Social Cognition.  Language and Mind: Advances in the Study of the Mind.  Pp. 47-57.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

I find myself in yet another rut (part 1)

In my 5+ year effort to solve the problem of sustainable, independent learning I find myself in yet another rut.  My path, starting as an English teacher in South Korea, took me through a masters of education degree in instructional design, a designer of a curriculum to sell cars in the Bay area, a private elementary school in the same area, and back as an English teacher, but this time in Japan.  During every one of these milestones I began with a desire to solve a particular problem and ended with losing hope - temporarily.  I have realized that this has been a repeating pattern throughout my life and by recounting it all here, I may be able to understand it better.   Here is my story thus far (there is a deeply moving message about education somewhere here, but I will leave it up to you, the reader, to figure it out).

Thursday, December 3, 2015

We Can't Say "Cat" Backwards.

Record yourself saying the word "Cat".

Even with the most state of the art sound engineering equipment manned by the most expert sound engineer, if you cut the word into its individual sounds "K" "A" "T" (its phonemes for the linguistically anal), place those sounds in reverse like so, "T" "A" "K", and play the sound clip, you will not hear the word "tack" (1Pinker, 1994).

So what?  How does this piece of information amount to anything more than a novel, Is that so? 

To understand we must first leave our adult, highly categorized brains.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

We learn to not speak.

Motivation to learn, in my case Japanese high school students' motivation to speak English, is a very important part of my job as a educator and I dedicate a lot of my time trying to figure it out.  I have distilled the broad spectrum of motivation down to the most relevant form for my purposes - desire.  Desires are emotions, but unique in that they cannot remain within the heads and hearts of the individuals who birth them.  They must be shared.  This isn't a conscious effort however.  No one cuts out time in their day to share a desire, they just do it.  Sharing a desire is as automatic to our existence as dry-heaving when we pass by a pile of vomit.  In fact, the birth of desires and our automation to share them is so natural it is the universal defining characteristic of all children on the planet.  It is so epitomic of children that if a one does not incessantly share it's desires, we are likely to consider the quietude of this child a mental disability, despite the fact that the main form of socialization as a child becomes an adult is to chill out with the sharing.