Back to the Nursery!

Remember being a baby?
Remember learning language?
These questions and more addressed in the continuing Philosophical Experiment involving the Close Examination of Jamie's Brain (final title undecided)!

Back to the Nursery

What is my earliest memory?
Do I remember being a baby?
Do I remember learning english?

These strike me as imporant questions, afterall I rely on my memories to make decisions about what I should do, they therefore affect my personality and what I did or didn't learn when a baby might be having profound effects on me now. I also think* in english, how did I think before I knew english? Or as I was learning it? Did I think at all? Was I thinking in a different manner to how I do this now?

Difficult area to examine? Well lets focus in on something that's quite easy to examine. Imagine a baby's toy: it is a twelve sided dodecahedron. It's about the size of a football (and looks like it has been used as one) one half of it is blue and the other half is red. The two faces at the top of each half have yellow handles to allow an adult to pull the two halfs appart slightly and release the contents. The contents in question are ten well chewed yellow lumps of plastic in various shapes designed to fit through corresponding holes on the other ten faces.

Now imagine a Jamie sat at a table examining this object which, as far as he can recall, has existed for ever. The pieces are scattered on the table too. Twenty something year old Jamie is now going to see how quickly he can complete the puzzle…

The clock starts and he's off! He grabs the closest block to him with one hand and glances at it. Holding the toy in the other hand by one handle he twidles it round through 360 degrees, spots the correct hole and pops the piece in (the sorry looking remains of a five pointed star that has been so well emasticated it could probably have made it through the cylinder's hole instead).

Three seconds gone and Jamie looks down at the pieces and looks at the next closest piece. Hit the slow motion button here and lets pay carefull attention to what happens next: The right hand is reaching for the selected piece but the head is already turning back towards the puzzle! Lets see what he's thinking. Grab Jamie's remote control (it's in his top pocket, remember?) and hit pause.

Now pull up the cerebrum flow chart projection and bring it into focus. A stream of photons drift like fairy dust in a cone up out of my skull and form a 3D stream of data of interlinking decisions and channels of information – a representation of the flow of neural impulses around synapses rendered into a map we can read to see snapshots of Jamies train of thought.

Ah yes, there are a few distinct branches of more or less independent processes occuring. There is the action of picking up the piece going on and also the action of locating the correct place on the toy to place it. Lets look at them one at a time… Pick up piece's stream is largly concerning itself with directing the hand properly towards the piece, it doesn't look like there is much information flowing into this branch from the optical centre (not surprising since the piece is only barely in our peripheral vision and the focus of the eyes are about to start darting around the faces of the toy. So how is it guiding the hand? Looks like memory is coming into play, it remembers what the lay of the land around Jamie's body is and is generating a virtual model that the motor section is working to. As data feeds back from the motor section the memory adjusts it's view with a good deal of accuracy.

Meanwhile a stream of information is coming into the other branch from the eyes. in this instant it has supplied the shapes of the closest three faces it can see and the cerebrum is using imagination to compare the image from memory of the shape we glanced at with the hole in current focus so cerebrum can project the result (right or wrong hole).

These seem to be pretty much two independent systems going on so which one is Jamie? What is he thinking? We'll need to pull up the consciousness diagram on the projector – you'll need to use the on screen menu to get at that one: Press Menu – Overlays – then scroll through the list and select Consciousness. The flow chart reduces in size as if being zoomed away from, it leaves behind an undulating cloud of various cloured particles which coaless into a complex standing wave rippling like a puddle in a thunderstorm.

Pretty complex thing to understand! I hear you cry; I was hoping for a pie chart or something!

If only it were that easy to understand consciousness! Dont worry though I am a practiced hand at knowing what Jamie is thinking because normally it is me thinking it. Put simply, conciousness is busy experiencing Jamie's body going through the task of solving the puzzle. Conciousness is seeing all of the world in front of Jamie in pretty much equal clarity as it pieces together what is being seen now and what has been seen recently into a complete environment which “it” is at the centre of. Conciousness is picking up a piece and selecting a hole to put it into. This is all subterfuged with the emotions going on -mostly a bit of panic because I'll be very embarased if I can't do this quickly since it is a toy for babies I am racing to complete.

Snap back into normal time. Four seconds down and the crusty remains of a cube is being savagly shoved into it's allotted spot. The next one is grabbed pretty much immediately and this time the toy is already being spun round by the other hand as the eyes are still glancing at a piece. Guess memory remembers the right grave for the desiccated remains of the maltese cross he has picked! The piece slides home a couple of seconds later.

Much the same process continues, the speed of completion of each piece generally improves as the globe gets spun to the correct location more accurately as memory's record of it becomes more complete. At the last few blocks memoy's record has also (on the side) been building up a record of what pieces are still on the table. Four seconds on and an oval was slammed home and the space for a rectangle is right beside it – this time the hand goes straight for the rectangle and pops it home.

Within ten seconds the puzzle is done. Well done Jamie! You certainly have improved on your time when you were one and this took you the best part of an hour (give or take – depending on how long the flavour of the blocks was being savoured for). We might as well rewind time and have a look and see how I did play with this when I was very young, if I take too long we can always fast forward a bit.

No point using the jog dial for this, pull up the menu again and select Menu – Date – select Rewind and type the number 26 and then press the red button at the right of that multicolour row of four in the middle.

There is a small pop (what other noise would you expect time travel to make?) and Jamie, age one, is trying to see how hard the wall is. To do this he is industriously bashing the toy (pieces inside) repeatedly against the skirting board. A flurry of activity and a parent has scooped him up and plonked him on the rug, opened and shook the toy and scattered the pieces onto the ground. All notions of analysing the structural integrity of the house quite forgotten, Jamie sets about the task at hand with gusto…

Five minutes later Jamie is sure that the square piece is definitely tastier than the oval one and therefore selected the ovel one for commital to the indestructible sphere. After a few grabs the toy is in hand and the oval is slammed off of the nearest face. It's a square hole and this round peg is not designed to go through it, even if you bang it really hard a few times. Realising that the problem is likely that the piece is the wrong flavour for the hole we try to give the piece to the dog (the usuall tactic for the disposing of unwanted food). The dog takes one sniff and decides that the trouble it would get in for trying to eat this was not worth the chewing and slinks off.

The oval is rolled after the departing dog and a new piece is selected at random – it's a pentagon. Some bashing later this face is finally abandoned and the sqhere is turned in a random direction to another face and again we try to apply the pentagon. It wont go into the oval hole, oh well… another random face and another untill eventually it fits!

A short victory crawl around the rug later and we are ready to begin again. This time Jamie seems a bit more selective about what piece he takes and has learned that banging so hard is not always required (unless you are really sure it should fit).

The half complted puzzle is then abandoned as dinner time interupts. Fast forward for a bit ….

With lines streaking across our vision we see a jerkily moving mother pick up Jamie and stuff him into a high chair and apply a bib. A sequence of bowls with variously coloured blobs in it are dropped onto the table in rapid succession and Jamie's face blurily gets coloured as the blobs are rapidly ladelled onto it. Moments later the difference of original amount of food versus that on face, floor and walls has satisfied mum that some has got into Jamie and he is picked up, wiped, changed and stuck into bed.

No more of the puzzle tonight then! Ah well… it has served it's purpose anyway. Let's analyse this at the conciousness level:

Jamie (age 1) takes a while to build up a proper picture of the environment around him to allow him to take better decisions about what step to try next. This does improve over time… Jamie got a bit more carefull, analysing his environment more. Why? So conciousness could build up a better understanding of itself (afterall remember that conciousness is experiencing Jamie in his environment).

Jamie (age 27) did the same thing. He gradually learned where the spaces on the ball were and where the pieces on the floor were. Conciousness was aware of all of this information at once and therefore able to move the pieces more quickly and efficiently to thier places as the environment it was ocupying became more detailed.

So where is the difference? Jamie (27)'s consciousness is better at doing it's job than Jamie (1)'s. It has learned how to quickly build up the data it needs to complete it's environment and take decisions about what to do in it. Altering the low level way Jamie(1) was doing the task was also part of what Jamie(1) was doing, the process of change of how the consciousness perceives itself was underway.

It's still continuing today. I understand myself and my environment more and more all the time. Does this mean I am becoming more conscious? Maybe slightly but not very much besides a lot of what I understand about my environment does not always affect what I see (which is still the major contributing factor to my consciousness environment) – for instance I understand Einstein's Special Relativity but I am rarely moving fast enough for it to affect what I see.

Lets try exercising our consciousness a bit. Remember that I propose that your consciousness is you. You are sat at a computer reading a screen in a room, you are aware of the colour of the wall behind you and where the objects you have used recently are quite clear to you. You don't need to turn round to know what colour the wall is or turn your eye from the screen to pick up your pen. All of that is you being your consciousness. It is a combination of sensual input, memory and imagination all rolled seemlessly into one.

Pick up a small ornament or a lighter or something and have a good hard look at it. Let your eye wander all over it and admire the design, turn it all over and inspect each nook and cranny. I amn't going to ask you questions about it, there is no need to deliberately commit details about the object to memory, just look at it for the sake of inspecting.

OK, now have a look at the back of the desk and select a place to put it. Close your eyes and put it there. Turn round and then open your eyes. Think about where you put the object and imagine it sitting there. Look back and see if the object is where you expect it to be, down to the orientation of it relative to other stuff on the desk.

You should find a pretty good match.

You didn't need to practice that game to get good at it, your consciousness has done that sort of thing so often it knows how to do it. It has developed it's environment map to a point where it can work in it regardless of sight.

The baby simply wasn't as good at building up a full picture, only the stuff right in front of it was really central to consciousness. As memory developes the consciousness is able to build a better environment for itself.

So the baby does think in the same way (at least for this kind of task) and it learns in the same way too (and learning improvements to learning itself too).

Thinking “In the same way” has changed the Jamie (1) to the Jamie (27) who still thinks the same way. Thinking in the same way does however mean changing the way that you are thinking for the better.

The obvious question this throws up: are Jamie (1) and Jamie (27) the same? In this proposal, yes. Jamie (27) is the product of all Jamie from 0 to 26 – the continuous process of learning consciousness. It is happening right at this second, my memory from first right up to this point is part of how I form my conscious environment.

Do I remember being a baby? No in the sense that I can not conjure up an image of me age one playing with that toy that I can claim as “genuine” but Yes in the sense that being a baby is part of my conciousness now, I wouldn't be this me if I had not been that baby and that baby became me because memorys got intertwined with consciousness.

Earliest memory? Being zipped into a red rain cover on my push chair. This is the first “snapshot of consciousness” that I have in my memory but it is not the start of my conscious stream of thought because consciousness would have to have done quite a lot of learning to get the hang of “taking a snapshot” of itself!

Do I remember learning english? No, and I did mean to intertwine that with the rest of this post but I guess it will have to wait for another time! But we do see that learning can be independent of language.


So where is all this leading? Well I am building up my understanding of my mind on several different levels. We have looked at three so far: Neuron level, Decision level and Consciousness level. I intend to introduce a language level but I suspect I may discover it straddles some of the other ones. These levels are only distinct conceptually and they all act upon each other in an interlocking fashion. I intend to explore this concept.

I'll try and make the next post a bit quicker but these do take some time!

In the meantime enjoy playing with your consciousness and give me my remote control back… cheers. ;)


*I construct higher level thoughts in english and translate problems into english in order to understand them. Again I don't suggest that my brain at the base level is understanding this in english but I will come on to this topic soon, I promise!

rather than clutter up your friends page.

- Jamie