Originally published by Robert Beisert at fortcollinsprogram.robert-beisert.com

The Mind as a Computer System

Before we can program a computer to achieve the maximum result, we have to understand the capabilities and design of the system. If you cannot understand registers and memory allocation, you cannot possibly maximize their utility. The same, I propose, is true of ourselves.

Subconscious and Conscious

We are all aware of the conscious mind. When we talk to ourselves either verbally or just inside our own heads, the conscious mind forms words and images that can be immediately recognized and understood. The conscious mind is the seat of all logic and reason and provides the interaction between the world and the mind. This is the “User Interface” aspect of the mind.

The User Interface mind has several significant components. It is the aspect that forms words and sentences (the “Output” device), and it is the aspect that filters other people’s words to be understood by the lower aspects of the mind (the “Input” device). It is also where logic and reason take place (the “Logic Unit”) and where ideas and observations are filtered for consumption (the “Security Unit”). Finally, the User Interface level contains the raw data required to form lasting memories and any recently formed memories that might be worth storing (the “Memory Management Unit”).

By contrast, the subconscious mind operates without words or reason. It stores very little data, but like a learning algorithm it derives patterns from what data the User Interface filters down to it (the “Learning Unit”). It is the seat of emotion and sense-of-self, and it drives most of the decision making we do (the “Decision Making Unit”). It is a pattern-driven mechanism that both forms and employs habits, and fundamentally it is the mechanism that controls who we are and what we believe. It is also the source of intuition and creativity (both of which are the result of pattern matching without conscious thought). Let’s think of the subconscious as the “Hardware” aspect of the mind.

Significance

Ask yourself quickly: what would you have to change about a calculator to make it play videos. If you’re honest with yourself, the hardware of a calculator is insufficient to store, process, and project videos of any appreciable quality. So, no matter how much time you spend working with the user interface of a calculator, you will never be able to make it do what it is physically incapable of doing.

The same is true of the brain. In order to fundamentally reprogram ourselves, we cannot simply change the superficial. If you say to yourself, “I will eat more vegetables,” that might work for a short time but before long you’d find yourself indulging in all the other foods you usually eat. That’s because you’ve established a small change through the User Interface, but you have not made any appreciable change to the Hardware underneath.

But, there is hope. The hardware side of our brain is programmed through the User Interface, much like an FPGA. There are just a few things we need to do to make the new programming take:

  1. We need to limit input conflicts. The Hardware is largely configured through the Learning Unit, which creates new patterns and replaces old ones. If we feed it conflicting information, it might form the wrong patterns, or just take longer to form the ones we want.
  2. We need to generate good inputs.
  3. We usually need to bypass the security unit, which will try to filter out the good inputs that conflict with the already-established hardware patterns. Some methods are faster than others.

As a final note: there are natural hardware limits. The most obvious limit is IQ, which is a general measure of pattern-matching and pattern-generating ability. So far as we know, there is no way to increase a person’s IQ. Other limits include immediate memory (generally people cannot retain more than 7 +/- 2 distinct ideas) and gullibility (the Security Unit cannot distinguish reality from things that match a stored pattern but are not real). Many of the techniques and patterns we will discuss either work around such limits or use them to our advantage.