Re: I-Prime (WAS: E-Prime)

Freeman Craig Presson (
Fri, 9 Jul 1999 18:09:42 -0500

On 9 Jul 99, at 1:12, Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote: [...]
> Remember how I was talking about systems knowledge and diligence? The
> psychologists to which you refer are simply lost in the woods. At least
> on a Unix system, if you type in a command that doesn't exist it will
> complain at you. Not so the mind, where the mere expectation that a
> signature will exist is enough to create the signature. The first and
> most basic mental discipline, the skill that is the means of acquiring
> other skills, is watching the patterns that appear when your eyes are
> closed... without letting your expectations influence them.

I'm familiar with various yogic disciplines that begin this way, and then develop concentration by directed visualization. Not sure that's the way you're going with this observation. The main "skills" I developed in meditation practice were concentration, equanimity, and detachment. "I" would like to hear more about where you went with this.

> The "groupings" to which you refer, as well as the "sub-personalities",
> simply don't exist. The modules of the mind just don't come in brands so
> easily comprehensible, or morally significant. If any part of the mind
> seems to have "meaning", any sort of emotional flavor, it is almost
> certainly a figment of your imagination. I went through the same stage,
> of course, flipping through theories by the dozen. I didn't really begin
> to acquire a solid, usable understanding of the mind until I tried to
> design one.

(I see I was too telegraphic.)

Right, they're just models. It's a big revelation the first time you see this, and then it becomes more natural. Absent models and conventions, it's not possible to converse -- that's a big part of why we are so attached to "I" in the first place.

To a great extent, too, we don't live in the real world, we live in our model of it.

I don't share your low opinion of Minsky and Ornstein, but I think you read too much into my reference to them. Neither has anything like a complete theory of mind, it's just that what they formulated is more sophisticated than what preceded them. Neither they nor I said anything about the modules of "the" mind being easily comprehensible. If you're proceeding analytically to understand how the human CNS works, you need testable theories, just as in any other science. If your main interest is in synthesis, it doesn't ultimately matter whether your architecture is brain-like or not. (This would be a good place for a summary of current brain research, but catching up on that is on my to-do list).

> The difference really is very much analogous to the difference between
> graphical user interfaces and command-line systems, or between macroscopic
> objects and microscopic physics. When you deal with the low-level
> elements of the mind, you have left the realms of the intuitively
> comprehensible. --

The physics analogy seems more cogent to me. The mind, or at least the mind- n-language, builds things the other way, refining image-like constructs (can't think of a good term, gestalts perhaps) into linear language.

If you get quiet enough, you can "watch" it do it, to some extent, or at least get a feel for the extent of the filtering and selection that's going on. I agree that a description of the process based only on introspection drags in a bunch of concepts that may or may not map to what the CNS is really doing.