The Human Operating Manual

Consciousness, Free Will, & Meaning

Awakening from the Meaning Crisis (John Vervaeke)


Consciousness, free will, and the meaning of life. Why searching for these answers are a lost cause and lead to us asking the wrong questions.

  • If consciousness is real, it still does not allow free will because that would imply the escape of thermodynamics. Something must cause the initiation of said consciousness outside of your control which puts the rest of your thoughts and experience on trajectory without the ability to intervene separately from inside the machine.
  • For consciousness to be a useable concept we need to first establish an accepted definition. If it has anything to do with each person being a controller or an individual being with free will then we are usually implying that there is some sort of soul force (heavily steeped in religious dogma). “Is there a me? Has it always existed? Will it continue to exist once I die?” Life must be categorized at the multicellular organism level to contain the concept of human. Then we can figure out whether we are the singular consciousness of the human or the collective consciousness of what makes up a human. Alternatively, we can continue up the complexity chain and integrate our environment, planet, and universe.
  • The utility of pondering the reality of Free will is implying the unspoken question of “Who is considered sane enough to lead/be in the group and who is too insane/different to make their own decisions within our cultural context?” In the end it is a question of inclusivity within a group and a question raised out of fear of loss of control = danger.
  • The meaning of life implies there is purpose that can be comprehended at our cognitive level. Already off to a bad start suggesting that purpose is an inherent quality of reality. To us, there is predictability at a linear scale due to the nature of time. We can then make assumptions for reasoning that break down as soon as we continue down the path of “why?” Cause and effect lead us to believe there is an original simple answer that explains everything. At that point, human life doesn’t factor into the equation, making the meaning of life irrelevant.
  • An emergent property of the brain rather than something that actually exists. Like music. You cannot locate a response to a combination of activity.
  • Do we need randomness as an explanation for anything? It is only the admission of not understanding a feature of the universe, so it appears random. 


Time and energy led to the creation of life (captured negative charge, amino acids, and packaged ATP – via rotor like mechanisms across the membrane gradient). Life is an accelerated form of energy, with the perception of conservation, through the lens of preservation. The basic essence of life is polarity, which is expressed through the evolutionary emergence of fear. The origin of fear is the chemical avoidance of electromagnetic waves (another prehistoric cell) being detected by calcium ion channels, which open to let calcium inside the cell. The increased negative charge within the cell triggered early-stage myofibrils to pull the cell away from the “predator.” Eventually this led to a predator and prey evolutionary pressure, also resulting in the predator gaining a receptor for glutamate (an amino acid that would be found in and around other organisms) that detect prey within the vicinity, and moving towards it. The pressure to acquire nutrients, to maintain the energy gradient of the cell, and to avoid lysis (death), led to the early stage of fear. These cells may not have been alive as we know it, but they kept increasingly in complexity after being given the ability to capture energy for later use. It may seem extremely energy expensive, but avoiding death became the path of least resistance. In a sense, becoming better at survival allows the organism to use more energy in the long run, and enable greater entropy. If we ignore our tiny perspective of time, life is a brief moment of complexity, that was expressed as a consequence of energy moving with just the right amount of energetic force to be utilized, given the right conditions. This form of life may be getting created constantly, but we don’t recognize it as such. It is possible that they keep getting snuffed out by the vast number of predators already dominating the planet. 

A consequence of the predator-prey interactions was the consumption of another organism that resulted in a mutually beneficial relationship between the organisms. In short, this was the endosymbiotic theory, where an ancestor of the mitochondria (in other organisms, chloroplast), was able to somehow survive inside the other cell and in exchange, produce energy for the host cell (I’ll go back to look at the research later…). This may have been an efficient way to live, and led to the survival and high replication of these cells. 

Another great leap in evolution was the binding of similar species in order to increase survival odds. They began to stick together and specialize tasks to save energy (the first instance of a multicellular organism). Eventually, a gut tube was formed to take nutrients in and break them down easier. It’s much more complicated than this and greatly simplified, but not important right now. Long story short, specialization led to bigger creatures, that were able to survive as a unit and compete with the other creatures doing the same thing. Sensory cells were able to develop (like photon detection), creating greater threat and prey detection. Cue the explosion in species complexity. Meanwhile, all the individual cells that make up the organisms still required nutrients to capture and convert energy because of the energetic potential across their cell membranes.        

The energy gradient across all living cells drives the motivations/behaviors of all living organisms. What makes humans so interesting, is the way that our evolutionary pressure resulted in us prioritizing the survival of our community, which conserved energy of the singular unit and allowed for greater resource consumption as a whole. We aren’t completely sure what caused it (fire and meat consumption, use of sounds and music, tool use, etc.), but the ability to communicate our needs and to share experiences helped us to greater plan and predict the threat of predators and prey, resulting in greater survival odds. Replicating the process that single cellular organisms underwent when they had enough pressure to become multicellular.

Pressure gave us an advantage, and now the reliance on that same advantage (on an exponentially developed level) is preventing adaptation and slowly killing us. Small communities have found ways of taking advantage of the social and trusting nature of the rest, and have taken more resources than they need. All while convincing them that it is in their best interests to do so. What I’m obviously talking about is those “in power” that have used culture, fear of the unknown, and the fear of being ostracized to get the masses to give up their share of resources in exchange for perceived safety. When one is suffering from ongoing instances of fear, we abandon learning and opt for safety instead. Once dependence on their safety becomes the norm, the civilians lose their autonomy and cannot survive without it. Meaning the leaders can practically do what they want knowing that the civilians cannot survive without them. It is as if our societal body is inhabited by cancerous growths that keep sucking up all the resources while pretending to be an integral part of the system. Things become even worse once they get into the essential “organs” of the system, such as the food, education, medical, financial, and political systems. Cutting them out requires replacing them with something better immediately. Otherwise, the whole system will collapse or another variation of that cancer will take its place. 

As a singular unit we need to go back to minimalizing our requirements (air, food, water) to become more in tune with our environment and bodies. Then we will be more efficient, requiring less recovery, and less responsive to threat. Allowing for a more accurate map of the environment and room for sustainable growth as the collective. Rather than going back to individuals with self-interest poisoning the group trust dynamics. The selfish, the altruistic, and the tit for tat dynamic (The Selfish Gene). Operating at a macro level for so long has resulted in the micro needs suffering. This is possibly due to the behavior of those that are in control of resource distribution having such high expectations of personal resources, that they take more than they truly require. Not because they are inherently evil, but because their perception of the world is that they believe they are being compensated fairly and would suffer unduly if things were to change. Most people these days are constantly after more resources, to alleviate the fear of death. These resource hoarders just have a different measurement of what is enough. However, the wealthy individual’s wealth fluctuates dramatically, inciting the gambling effect. The fear of not having enough results in a selfish drive for survival. Reinforced by their high level of perceived competence, which is rarely doubted during their upbringing or social circles. Watching the public as “the other” and no more complicated than farm animals make communication between the two parties challenging. It also doesn’t help that the public see the wealthy as “the enemy.” Meaning they frequently target specific figures with narrow focus, dissolving their ability to see the forest for the trees. This makes it incredibly easy to hide your true intentions when all you need to do it put two polarizing characters at the forefront of “leadership” to distract the public.

Which brings us back to the original concept of life as a form of energy in transition, facilitated via polarity. From our cells, all the way to our species, we operate by a system of energy transfer expressed as the desire to stay alive as long as possible. Which is driven by fear and growth. Fear is our foundation and overruns the less essential, albeit more complex, system of executive function (a top-down sensory accumulation driven prediction model) when we believe a threat is present. In order for us to begin working on a new societal system that is in the best interests of us all, we first need to downregulate our threat response long enough to learn how to regulate our emotions and thoughts better. Then we can discover our authentic selves, beneath the pain, and explore the greater aspects of our empathy. Truly feeling and experiencing life as intended. With a clearer understanding of ourselves and others, we should be in a better position to practice better critical thinking and problem-solving skills for the purpose of developing a new societal system. Only once we understand ourselves and our common goal, on top of utilizing the power of discovery and creative thinking, can we learn to build an antifragile and open-source community.           


  • The prey response to the discovery of a predator (physiologically) is similar to that of awe. Something that is way bigger than you and potentially dangerous. So, beyond your capacity of previous experience that you must take it all in at once. 
  • Fear is the key driver, but awe is the perceived emotion. The expression of uncontained potential, without the understanding of whether it is a threat (not enough data). 
  • The expression of this fear is similar to that of beauty. Both awe and beauty present potential and visually communicate in a way that is beyond verbal communication. Threat as well as potential opportunity. The processing of that information will subjectively determine which it is, or to what extent. Either way, it is in the viewer’s best interest to figure it out quickly in order to respond in an appropriate way. Therefore, a strong, and oftentimes positive, response to the information is the best way to concentrate and evaluate it. 
  • This may be why storytelling is so powerful. It takes up so much mental space trying to envision themselves in that position that it leaves them vulnerable to influence. Whereas using grounded and relatable descriptions may come up with resistance, as there may already be a strong opinion or bias in place. Meaning you can utilize awe and sensational storytelling to bypass the listener’s sensibilities, effectively controlling their beliefs.    

Hunter Gatherer’s Guide Notes

The Human Paradox

Unrivaled in our adaptability, ingenuity, and exploitative capacity, we have come to specialize in everything over the course of hundreds of thousands of years. We enjoy the competitive advantage of being specialists, without paying the usual costs of a lack of breadth. This is the paradox of the human niche.


The campfire is a place to share ideas, to talk, laugh, cry, and deliberate over challenges. In nearly every case, when minds come together, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. If we are to survive the future, we need multitudes of people plugging in and parallel processing. Joining minds in this way exponentially increases the ability of humans to solve problems.

Consciousness and culture are in tension with each other, and humans need both. Conscious thoughts are those that can be communicated to others. We define consciousness, therefore, as “that fraction of cognition that is packaged for exchange.”

Our individual consciousness likely evolved in parallel with collective consciousness, and would become fully realized only later in our evolution. Understanding what is in the mind of another, known as theory of mind, is useful. We can accurately pass a complex abstraction from one mind to another by simply vibrating the air between us (speech/sound).

For theory of mind to function, one needs to run an emulation of the other person within one’s own head. For me to benefit from a comparison between what I think and what I understand you to think, I am all but required to have subjective experience of both you and me—to bring the two into a single currency. Shared consciousness is an emergent, intangible space between people, where concepts are lodged and co-cultivated. Each participant has a distinct perspective on the space, much as each witness to a physical event will have a somewhat different vantage point, but the space is a property of the collective.

Culture versus Consciousness

Consciousness is valuable for problem-solving, but not great at execution. To be in the flow of things, you need to have behaviors and habits ingrained in order to let the conscious mind out of the way. These can be understood as traditions or cultures that a tribe member carries out intuitively by not questioning or rebuilding. When we have issues that our current understanding can’t accomplish, that’s when the conscious mind comes into its own.

When times are good, people should be reluctant to change (comparatively conservative). When things aren’t so good, they should be more willing to confront the risks of change (comparatively progressive).

Humans Break:

  • Niche boundaries by being both generalists and specialists.
  • Interpersonal boundaries by oscillating between culture and consciousness.

The human niche is niche switching.

Adaptation and Lineage

Fitness is about reproduction and persistence. A successful population can ebb and flow but extinction is failure.

Whether cultural, genetic, or a mixture of the two, sex roles inherited from a long line of ancestors are biological solutions to evolutionary problems. They are, in short, adaptations that function to facilitate and ensure lineage persistence into the future.

Currently, some people, and even some scientists, are in denial of potential adaptations that may appear to be ugly. Refusing to investigate anything that might not be positive in the current cultural context.

The Omega Principle

Epigenetic means “above the genome.” Culture sits “above” the genome in the sense that it shapes the way the genome is expressed. Genes describe proteins and processes that construct a body. Culture has a powerful influence on where bodies go, and what they do. In this way, culture is a regulator of genome expression.

The term is now almost exclusively used to refer to mechanisms that molecularly regulate the expression of the genome, expressing some traits while suppressing others, creating the patterns of gene expression that give the body a coherent form and function. These regulatory mechanisms are the key to understanding multicellular life. Without these mechanisms, all cells with a given genome would be alike, and any large collection of cells could exist only as a colony of undifferentiated cells. It is only through the tight, epigenetic regulation of gene expression that we can have an animal or a plant composed of well-coordinated, distinct, multicellular tissues.

A single evolutionary rule governs both molecular and cultural regulators of gene expression. Cultural behavior may restrain the actions of a being, which in turn, has an effect on the gene expression.

The brain that picks up culture is big and energetically expensive to run; the process by which culture is transmitted is prone to error; and the content of human culture frequently blocks off fitness-enhancing opportunities—thou shalt not kill, steal, covet, lay with, etc. Culture appears to waste time, energy, and resources that would otherwise be at the genome’s disposal. One might get the impression that culture is effectively parasitizing the genome.

But the genome is in the driver’s seat. A capacity for culture is nearly universal in birds and mammals; it has been elaborated, enhanced, and extended by genomic evolution over time; and it is at its most extreme in humans. These facts tell us that whatever culture does, it is not coming at a cost to genetic fitness. Rather, it enhances fitness in dramatic ways. If culture was not paying its way, the genes whose expression it is modifying would either go extinct or evolve to be immune to culture.

Omega Principle:

  • Epigenetic regulators, such as culture, are superior to genes in that they are more flexible and can adapt more rapidly.
  • Epigenetic regulators, such as culture, evolve to serve the genome.

Any expensive and long-lasting cultural trait (such as traditions passed down within a lineage for thousands of years) should be presumed to be adaptive.


The Age of Information brings the promise of a collective (metaphorical) campfire, a decentralized thing where people who have never met in real life can be warmed by the presence of other minds, sharing ideas and reflections.

But the online world does not have the structures that made discussion around the hearth so valuable. An ancestral campfire places everyone’s reputation—earned over a lifetime—front and center. Around an ancestral campfire, each person would have some basis for elevating or discounting claims and proposals based on the individual’s known strengths and deficits, and taking the history of the discussion into account. The virtual campfire is, by contrast, a free-for-all. We don’t really know one another, our visible history is often misleading, many users are anonymous, and some participants have a hidden dog in the fight. 

Campfires both metaphorical and literal are a convergence point for culture and consciousness, where people come together in good faith to learn the old wisdom and to challenge it.

Culture we define as beliefs and practices that are shared and passed between members of a population. These beliefs are often literally false, metaphorically true, implying that they result in increased fitness if one acts as if they are true despite the fact that they are either inaccurate or unfalsifiable. Culture is a special mode of transmission because it can be passed horizontally, rendering cultural evolution immensely faster and more nimble than genetic evolution. This also renders culture noisy in the short term, before new ideas have endured the test of time. Long-standing features of culture, by contrast, constitute an efficient packaging of proven patterns. Culture can spread horizontally, but its consequential parts are ultimately passed vertically, from generation to generation. Culture is received wisdom, generally handed to you by ancestors, and efficiently transmitted.

Consciousness we define as that portion of cognition that is newly packaged for exchange, meaning that conscious thoughts are ones that could be delivered if someone asked what you were thinking about. It is emergent cognition, where innovation and rapid refinement occur. Conscious thoughts may never be conveyed, but they can be, and the most important ones are, as consciousness is most fundamentally a collective process in which many individuals pool insights and skills to discover what was previously not understood. The products of consciousness are, if they prove useful, ultimately packaged into (highly transmissible) culture.

As mentioned earlier the human niche is niche switching. They argue that the human niche is to move between the paired, inverse modes of culture and consciousness.

Through parallel processing of multiple human minds, our consciousness can become collective, and we can solve problems that neither we could solve as individuals nor our ancestors could have even imagined.

  • In times of stability, when inherited wisdom allows individuals to prosper and spread across relatively homogeneous landscapes: Culture reigns.
  • But in times of expansion into new frontiers, when innovation and interpretation, and communication of new ideas, are critical: Consciousness reigns.

That said, novel levels of novelty, such as we are experiencing now, are a special danger. This means that what’s needed today—and urgently—is a call to consciousness on a scale that we have not seen before.

Consciousness in Other Animals

Sociality involves recognition of individuals, the tracking of social fate, and iterated interactions that are, at least plausibly, continuing into the future.

Aggregation of animals like tree frogs and salmon are not conscious as they are not sociable in that way. Congregations of baboons in the other hand have very conscious culture.

Innovation at the Margins of the Ancestors’ Wisdom

As a people move across space, it is relatively easy to notice as the ancestors’ wisdom becomes less applicable. As a people move through time, however, as we all do, elders may not recognize their wisdom becoming out of date. The young see it. It is no accident that those who are coming of age in times of change and push boundaries, and that language and norms change somewhat with each generation. Throughout history, the ancestors’ wisdom has generally remained relevant long enough for new generations to get their footing, to know what needs to be pushed against. As a people move through time that is changing extremely rapidly, however, as our world is now, it is more difficult to know what to do with the increasing irrelevancy of the ancestors’ wisdom, and with what to replace it. The margins of the ancestors’ wisdom are rarely hard and fast. At those margins, wherever they are, it is time to niche switch.

Consider three broad contexts in which humans have learned and innovated in times past.

  • The first is the utterly new idea: the idea that springs to mind often unbidden and without explanation. This was the territory that the first Mayan, Mesopotamian, and Chinese people were in when they innovated farming. Similarly, the innovation of the wheel, metallurgy, and pottery. Before those things existed, nobody knew they were possible.
  • The second context in which innovation occurs is when you know that something is possible, on the basis that it’s been done before, but you have no idea how to make it happen. The Wright brothers saw flight in other organisms, and felt confident that it could be accomplished by machine.
  • Third and finally, you might have instruction: you know what you’re shooting for, and have someone or some set of rules or instructions telling you how. Between school and YouTube, we often conflate this third kind of learning for the only kind of learning that is possible. The third type of learning is the most cultural; it is the learning of received wisdom. In contrast, humans are at our most conscious, and therefore our most innovative, in the first two contexts.


Conformity has a time and a place—like most traits, it is not simply worse (or better) than not conforming.

There is a tension between conforming and disagreeing in the face of apparent inconsistency. This tension is a hidden strength of humans—the push and pull between wisdom and innovation, between culture and consciousness.

Historically, we have combined forces in social groups, such that in a single group, many people with distinct skills created an emergent whole, one in which generalist capabilities emerged even if all members of the group were specialists. Now, though, it is time to innovate, because change is accelerating, and the received cultural wisdom isn’t sufficient. Individuals themselves becoming more generalist—through learning skills across domains, for instance, rather than diving deep into only one—will help us in this endeavor.

It is important to know what the group thinks, but that is not the same as believing or reinforcing what the group thinks. In a time of rapid change in particular, then, it is important to be willing to be the lone voice. Be the person who never conforms to patently wrong statements in order to fit in with the crowd. Be Asch-Negative (in regards to Asch’s psychology experiment where people would change their answer to the length of a line based on the answers of their peers).

Literally False, Metaphorically True

It is easy to dismiss many myths and beliefs, precisely because they are literally false. Indeed, doing so is almost a sport among some hardheaded people. Take astrology. It is clearly beyond reason to imagine that the stars that we see, many of which are thousands of light-years away, are having a direct impact on human behavior. Similarly, it is beyond reason to believe that a passel of angry gods is the reason for tsunamis, yet among the Moken, those who believe in those gods survive at higher rates than those who don’t. And it is surely beyond reason to believe that a full moon is protective of crop health, yet among Guatemalan farmers, precisely that belief results in more productive farming.

This is how religion and other belief structures spread. Even if such things are not literally true, acting as if they are benefits people; sometimes it even benefits the biodiversity and sustainability of the land on which they live.

Distortions that help you survive and thrive are adaptive. Myths and taboos often make little sense to outsiders, and some of them are surely misguided, even counterproductive for those who honor them. Some surprisingly precise taboos are likely overgeneralizations from an actual event.

Beware Chesterton’s fadys—the old ideas may have hidden truths, and those truths may be difficult to recover once they have been dismissed.

Religion and Ritual

All cultures have ritual. Some rituals are rites of passage to celebrate new babies, coming of age, marriage. There are rituals—traditions, perhaps, given their reliably repeating nature—to celebrate the first planting of the year, and the harvest, and astronomical events like the solstices and the equinoxes. As we have come to live in larger and larger groups, surrounded by ever more anonymity in our daily life, regular holidays, with their attendant shared cultural norms, help to keep us in sync, to act as though we are in fact part of something larger than ourselves. Rituals, which are not inherently religious but have a strong tendency to be so, often include food, music, and dance.

Not only do most cultures spend a substantial fraction of their resources and time on structures and ceremonies intended to impress a cold and indifferent universe, but religions expend a great deal of social capital telling believers what they are not allowed to do. If anything dwarfs the cost of religion, it is the opportunity cost of religion. Were it true that religion was maladaptive, these huge costs would constitute a major vulnerability for faithful populations.

Atheists who behave just like these believers, except for the fact of skipping religiosity and reinvesting the massive dividend, should displace them as a regular feature of history. If religiosity had no adaptive benefit, great leaders in every population’s history would have said, “All you must do is work hard and ignore their mumbo jumbo and their lands will be yours.” But that’s not what we find. Instead, we find great leaders saying things about God and his quirks, his preferences and his plan for us.

Religiosity is adaptive, and moralizing gods, while not being a prerequisite for the evolution of social complexity, seem to help sustain multiethnic empires once they have become established. As moderns, we are often eager to throw off the spiritual and religious chains of the past, but beware Chesterton’s gods. Religion is an efficient encapsulation of past wisdom, wrapped in an intuitive, instructive, and difficult to escape package.

Sex Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll: On the Sacred versus the Shamanistic

Culture is in tension with consciousness, much as the sacred is in tension with the shamanistic. The sacred is to culture as the shamanistic is to consciousness.

The sacred is the reification of received religious wisdom, the sine qua non of a particular religious tradition, that which has stood the test of time and proved valuable enough to the ancestors to be passed on as holy. That which is sacred has a low mutation rate—it changes infrequently—and is highly resistant to change; it is built for a static world. The sacred is protected from corruption (or at least, it’s supposed to be), and is often insulated from the corrupting influences of secular power, wealth, and reproduction. The orthodoxy of the sacred exists in persistent tension with the heterodoxy of the shamanistic.

The shamanistic is high risk, high creativity. It has a high mutation rate, and therefore a high error rate. It explores a huge number of new ideas, most of which are poor. It challenges orthodoxy—that which is sacred. The shamanistic is practically mandated to explore and play with cultural norms. It does this in a variety of ways, such as through altered states of consciousness, which include dreams, trances, and use of hallucinogens.

In nearly every known culture there is use of something, be it strictly hallucinogenic or not, that breaks a person out of the normal, everyday experience and allows for a different perspective to emerge. This is consciousness revolutionizing culture.

When the ancestral wisdom runs out, humans pool their dissimilar experiences and expertise to discover how to bootstrap some new way of being. Identifying when the ancestral wisdom has run out in a particular domain is tough, and there will always be tension between those who want to stay the course and those who are looking to break with tradition and try a new way. Functional systems need those advocating for both—for culture and for consciousness, for orthodoxy and heterodoxy, for the sacred and the shamanistic.

The Corrective Lens

  • Sit around more campfires.
  • Honor or create rituals that recur—annually, seasonally, weekly, or even daily. They might be ancient and religious in origin (e.g., honoring the Sabbath or Lent—a time for both selective privation and community), astronomical (e.g., recognizing and celebrating the solstices and equinoxes), or entirely new.
  • Be Asch-Negative. Don’t conform to social pressure when it goes against your better judgement. 
  • Teach children how to bootstrap their own program, so that they can be individually conscious. The tension that we have described between culture and consciousness has an analog during development. Trying to teach children precisely how to be adults, by inculcating them solely with the cultural rules that have come before, will fail. In a world of hyper-novelty, many aspects of culture are ever less relevant, and consciousness is imperative.
  • Consider engaging with psychedelics, carefully, if there is anything in you that is curious. They are now legal in some places. But consider engaging them as the powerful cognitive tools that they are, not as a form of recreation. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun.

Waking Up Notes

The question of how consciousness relates to the physical world remains unresolved. There are reasons to believe that it emerges on the basis of information processing in, complex systems like a human brain, because when we look at the universe, we find it filled with simpler structures, like stars, and processes, like nuclear fusion, that offer no outward signs of consciousness. But our intuitions here may not amount to much. After all, how would the sun appear if it were conscious? Perhaps exactly as it does now.

The birth of consciousness must be the result of organization: Arranging atoms in certain ways appears to bring about an experience of being that very collection of atoms. 

To say that consciousness may only seem to exist, from the inside, is to admit its existence in full—for if things seem any way at all, that is consciousness. Even if I happen to be a brain in a vat at this moment—and all my memories are false, and all my perceptions are of a world that does not exist—the fact that I am having an experience is indisputable. Consciousness is the one thing in this universe that cannot be an illusion.

Authors struggling to link spirituality to science generally pin their hopes on misunderstandings of the “Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics,” which they take as proof that consciousness plays a central role in determining the character of the physical world. If nothing is real until it is observed, consciousness cannot arise from electrochemical events in the brains of animals like ourselves; rather, it must be part of the very fabric of reality. But this simply isn’t the position of mainstream physics. It is true that, according to Copenhagen, quantum mechanical systems do not behave classically until they are observed, and before that they may seem to exist in many different states simultaneously. But what counts as “observation” under the original Copenhagen view was never clearly defined.

We know, of course, that human minds are the product of human brains. There is simply no question that your ability to decode and understand this sentence depends upon neurophysiological events taking place inside your head at this moment. But most of this mental work occurs entirely in the dark, and it is a mystery why any part of the process should be attended by consciousness.

To simply assert that consciousness arose at some point in the evolution of life, and that it results from a specific arrangement of neurons firing in concert within an individual brain, doesn’t give us any inkling of how it could emerge from unconscious processes, even in principle. However, this is not to say that some other thesis about consciousness must be true. This situation has been characterized as an “explanatory gap” and as the “hard problem of consciousness.”

Any attempt to understand consciousness in terms of brain activity merely correlates a person’s ability to report an experience with specific states of his brain. While such correlations can amount to fascinating neuroscience, they bring us no closer to explaining the emergence of consciousness itself.

If you shut your eyes at this moment, the contents of your consciousness change quite drastically, but your consciousness (arguably) does not.

The Mind Divided

We can now say that any conception of our place in the universe that denies we evolved from more primitive life forms is pure delusion. Neuroscience has also produced results that are equally hostile to the traditional idea of souls—and, therefore, to any approach to spirituality that presupposes their existence (such as the split-brain phenomenon). The right and left hemispheres can potentially hold different beliefs but is not observed externally unless the corpus callosum is severed. The hemispheres display functional specialization and independence when cut. Containing separate memories, learning processes, behavioral intentions, and possibly conscious experience.

When something is seen in the left visual field it is projected to the right hemisphere and vice versa. The same pattern holds for sensation and fine motor control. The left hemisphere is usually in charge of speech, so if you showed the right hemisphere a word (in a split-brain patient) in the left visual field, it would not be able to verbally tell you what it saw. However, if you told the person to select what they saw with their left hand, they would be correct. If asked why they picked the corresponding item to the word they said they couldn’t see, they would make up a story to explain their choice. The inability to connect the two hemispheres presents a situation where the person essentially has two different states of being that can’t communicate to each other.

It is assumed that the right hemisphere is conscious in its own right but can’t communicate it.

Structure and Function

In humans, the left hemisphere generally makes a unique contribution to language and to the performance of complex movements. Consequently, damage on this side tends to be accompanied by aphasia (impairment of spoken or written language) and apraxia (impairment of coordinated movement).

People usually show a right-ear (left-hemisphere) advantage for words, digits, nonsense syllables, Morse code, difficult rhythms, and the ordering of temporal information, whereas they show a left-ear (right-hemisphere) advantage for melodies, musical chords, environmental sounds, and tones of voice.

The right hand (sensation from which projects almost entirely to the left hemisphere) is better able to discriminate the order of stimuli, while the left hand is more sensitive to their spatial characteristics.

The right hemisphere is dominant for many higher cognitive abilities, both in normal brains and in those that have been surgically divided. It tends to have an advantage when reading faces, intuiting geometrical principles and spatial relationships, perceiving wholes from a collection of parts, and judging musical chords. The right hemisphere is also better at displaying emotion (with the left side of the face) and at detecting emotions in others.

  • Interestingly, this obliges us to view one another’s least expressive side of the face (the right) with our most emotionally astute hemisphere (the right), and vice versa.
  • Psychopaths generally do not show this right-hemisphere advantage for the perception of emotion; perhaps this is one reason why they are bad at detecting emotional distress in others.

If you had a callosotomy, you would lose the ability to describe your emotional life, you may become quite unintentionally impolite, but you would still retain your perceived sense of self. It’s uncertain if you would have a dominant side though.

Are Our Minds Already Split?

It is quite possible that the view with which we consciously read is preferentially left hemisphere dominant, with the right hemisphere being silent during this role. Although, it is probably working at consolidating information at a different level of subjective consciousness. The reality is, we probably have different locuses of perceived consciousness but the held beliefs, depending on the context, make it feel as one.

Conscious and Unconscious Processing in the Brain

We now know that at least two systems in the brain—often referred to as “dual processes”— govern human cognition, emotion, and behavior. One is evolutionary older, unconscious, and automatic; the other evolved more recently and is both conscious and deliberative. When you find another person annoying, sexually attractive, or inadvertently funny, you are experiencing the percolations of System 1. The efforts you make to conceal these feelings are the work of System 2.

Human beings can consciously perceive very brief visual stimuli (down to about V30 of a second), but we can no longer see these images if they are immediately followed by a dissimilar pattern (a “mask”). This fact allows for words and pictures to be delivered to the mind subliminally, and these stimuli have subsequent effects on a person’s cognition and behavior. For instance, you will be faster to recognize that ocean is a word if it follows a related prime, like wave, than if it follows an unrelated one, like hammer. And emotionally charged terms are more easily recognized than neutral ones (sex can be presented more briefly than car), which further demonstrates that the meanings of words must be gleaned prior to consciousness. Subliminally promised rewards drive activity in the brains reward centers, and masked fearful faces and emotional words increase activity in the amygdala.

Your conscious memories of practicing a musical instrument, driving a car, or tying your shoelaces are neurologically distinct from your learning how to do these things and from your knowing how to do them now. People with amnesia can even learn new facts and have their ability to recognize names and generate concepts improve in response to prior exposure, without having any memory of acquiring such knowledge.

Consciousness Is What Matters

Consciousness is also what gives our lives a moral dimension. Without consciousness, we would have no cause to wonder how we should behave toward other human beings, nor could we care how we were treated in return. Granted, many moral emotions and intuitions operate unconsciously, but it is because they influence the contents of consciousness that they matter to us.

We don’t have ethical obligations toward rocks (on the assumption that they are not conscious), but we do have such obligations toward any creature that can suffer or be deprived of happiness. Of course, it can be wrong to destroy rocks if they happen to be valuable to other conscious creatures.

What Are We Calling I?

Reality vastly exceeds our awareness of it. The feeling that I intended to do what I just did seems to be only that: a feeling of some internal signature, perhaps the result of my brains having formed a predictive model of its ensuing actions. It may not be best classified as a feeling, but surely it is something. Otherwise, how could I note the difference between voluntary and involuntary behavior? Without this impression of agency, I would feel that my actions were automatic or otherwise beyond my control.

The pronoun I is the name that most of us put to the sense that we are the thinkers of our thoughts and the experiencers of our experience. It is the sense that we have of possessing (rather than of merely being) a continuum of experience. The fact that people report losing their sense of self to one or another degree suggests that the experience of being a self can be selectively interfered with.

Each of us knows what it is like to develop new capacities, understandings, opinions, and tastes over the course of time. It is convenient to ascribe these changes to the self. That is not the self I am talking about. The self that does not survive scrutiny is the subject of experience in each present moment—the feeling of being a thinker of thoughts inside one’s head, the sense of being an owner or inhabitant of a physical body, which this false self seems to appropriate as a kind of vehicle.

Consciousness Without Self

To determine whether certain experiences are possible and to see how these states of mind relate to the conventional sense of self, we have to be able to use our attention in the requisite ways. Primarily, that means learning to recognize thoughts as thoughts—as transient appearances in consciousness— and to no longer be distracted by them, if only for short periods of time. This may sound simple enough, but actually accomplishing it can take a lot of work. Unfortunately, it is not work that the Western intellectual tradition knows much about.

The Challenge of Studying the Self

The temporal-parietal junction—a region known to be involved in sensory integration and body representation—seems to be responsible for the out of body effect. Whether or not a person’s consciousness can really be displaced is irrelevant; the point is that it can seem to be, and this fact draws yet another boundary between the self and the rest of our personhood. It is possible to experience oneself as (apparently) outside a body.

Consider the sense of body ownership. It must be produced, at least in part, by the integration of different streams of sensory information: We feel the position of our limbs in space; we see them at the appropriate locations in our visual field; and our experience of touching objects generally coincides with the sight of them coming into contact with our skin. An analogous synchrony occurs whenever we execute a volitional movement. No doubt our sense of body ownership is essential for our survival and for relating to others. Any loss or distortion of this sense can be profoundly disorienting. But disorienting to whom?

Self-recognition depends on context. There are neurological patients who cannot recognize themselves in a mirror (a condition called the “mirror-sign delusion”) but can pick themselves out in photographs, and these subjects show no evidence of having lost anything like a self or knowledge thereof. So, what is the relationship between self-recognition and the feeling we call “I”? The fact that the word self is generally used while making reference to these phenomena does not suggest that any deep relationship exists between them.

One of the most important things we do with our minds is attribute mental states to other people, a faculty that has been variously described as “theory of mind,” “mentalizing,” “mindsight,” “mind reading,” and the “intentional stance.” The ability to recognize and interpret the mental activity of others is essential for normal cognitive and social development, and deficits in this area contribute to a variety of mental disorders, including autism.

Being looked at just feels different from not being looked at—and the difference can be described as a magnification of the feeling that we call “I.” It seems undeniable that self-consciousness and this more fundamental form of TOM are closely related. 

We can view the actions of others, along with their facial expressions, make eye contact with them, without the slightest risk of being observed ourselves. Movies and television magically transform the primordial context of face-to-face encounters, in which human beings have always been subjected to harrowing social lessons, allowing us, for the first time, to devote ourselves wholly to the act of observing other people. Possibly a factor contributing to the growing cases of autism.

As is now widely known, people suffering from autism tend to lack insight into the mental lives of others. Conversely, a longitudinal study of compassion meditation, which produced a significant increase in subjects’ empathy over the course of eight weeks, found increased activity in one of the regions believed to contain mirror neurons.

Penetrating the Illusion

There is no region of the brain that can be the seat of a soul. Everything that makes us human—our emotional lives, capacity for language, the impulses that give rise to complex behavior, and our ability to restrain other impulses that we consider uncivilized— is spread across the entirety of the cortex and many subcortical brain regions as well.

How can we know that the conventional sense of self is an illusion? When we look closely, it vanishes. This is compelling in the same way that the disappearance of any illusion is: You thought something was there, but upon closer inspection, you see that it isn’t. What doesn’t survive scrutiny cannot be real.

The wandering mind has been correlated with activity in the brain’s midline regions, especially the medial prefrontal cortex and the medial parietal cortex. These areas are often called the “default-mode” or “resting state” network because they are most active when we are waiting for something to happen. Activity in the default-mode network (DMN) decreases when subjects concentrate on tasks of the sort employed in most neuroimaging experiments.

  • The DMN has also been linked with our capacity for “self-representation.” For instance, if a person believes that she is tall, the term tall should yield a greater signal in these midline regions than the term short. Similarly, the DMN is more engaged when we make such judgments of relevance about ourselves, as opposed to making them about other people. It also tends to be more active when we evaluate a scene from a first-person (rather than third-person) point of view.
  • To pay attention outwardly reduces activity in the brain’s midline, while thinking about oneself increases it.
  • Mindfulness and loving-kindness meditation (Pali: metta) also decrease activity in the DMN.

What is the meaning of life? What is our purpose on earth? These are some of the great, false questions of religion. We need not answer them, for they are badly posed, but we can live our answers all the same. At a minimum, we can create the conditions for human flourishing in this life—the only life of which any of us can be certain.

Spirituality remains the great hole in secularism, humanism, rationalism, atheism, and all the other defensive postures that reasonable men and women strike in the presence of unreasonable faith. People on both sides of this divide imagine that visionary experience has no place within the context of science—apart from the corridors of a mental hospital. Until we can talk about spirituality in rational terms—acknowledging the validity of self-transcendence—our world will remain shattered by dogmatism.

At its best, religion is a set of stories that recount the ethical and contemplative insights of our wisest ancestors. But these stories come to us bundled with ancient confusion and perennial lies. And they invariably harden into doctrines that defy revision, generation after generation. The great pressure of accumulating knowledge—in science, medicine, history—has begun to scour our culture of many of these ideas.

The conventional self is a transitory appearance among transitory appearances, and it vanishes when looked for. We need not await any data from the lab to say that self-transcendence is possible. And we need not become masters of meditation to realize its benefits. It is within our capacity to recognize the nature of thoughts, to awaken from the dream of being merely ourselves and, in this way, to become better able to contribute to the well-being of others.

We are always and everywhere in the presence of reality. The human mind is the most complex and subtle expression of reality we have thus far encountered. This should grant profundity to the humble project of noticing what it is like to be you in the present. However numerous your faults, something in you at this moment is pristine—and only you can recognize it. Open your eyes and see.

21 Lessons Notes

Life is not a story. In most cases, when asking for the meaning of life they expect to hear a story. We understand things in terms of stories rather than graphs or data. We want to know what reality is, our role in the cosmic drama, to define who we are, and to give meaning to all our experiences and choices.

Before the explosion of the technological age most generations suffered the same fate. The repetition provided power to the cycle of fate, importance of routine, and caste systems (fixed and true identities like in The Lion King). That reduces anxiety because it limits decision fatigue. Positive in terms of mental health but negative in the sense of changing life direction or being flexible in an ever-changing world.

Meaning can easily be derived from the position of nationalist pride. If you believe your nation is the most important thing in the world you base all your decisions on what is great for the nation itself. It is extremely narrow minded but it fulfils the human urge to belong and eliminates questions that might bring about existentialism. It becomes impossible to see beyond the scope of your home. Even though there is no culture that has any claim in being more important than any other, let alone in the universe.

Some people believe they can find meaning in leaving behind something cultural (like art) or biological (children). It helps them to feel like they are living forever through their actions.

Those who believe life goes on after death, in the form of reincarnation, are more concerned about getting off the wheel of suffering.

Since leaving behind anything tangible can be easily erased or misinterpreted there is also the option of trying to leave the world a better place. Then again, better is subjective.

Romance often pops up, but you could find romance in most places regardless of how important that person seems.

Personal identity is built on story. We were raised to believe in stories from parents, teachers, neighbors, and general culture, and by the time our intellect matures we are so heavily invested in stories that we would more likely use our intellect to defend them than refute them. Searching for meaning is just discovering hidden gems in your psyche that were planted by your upbringing. There is nothing special or cosmic about your reality other than the experience you’ve accumulated so far. You are the culmination of your reality rather than the other way round.

Anybody who tries to challenge the group story we tell ourselves gets ostracized or persecuted, so it is both scary and dangerous challenging the status quo. Once personal identities and social institutions are built upon a story it becomes unthinkable to question them. Not because of the evidence supporting them, but because it will collapse personal and social structures. In history, the roof is sometimes more important than the foundations.

Rituals are the key to making a story believable (like drinking the blood of Christ). By making the person do things like bowing their heads, bringing their hands together, wear special outfits that demonstrate their faith and incorporate constant care you can easily create beliefs in something that upholds their identity. Food is also an excellent way of drilling in dogma, through symbolization, specialty items, or food exclusions. Napoleon realized he could make people sacrifice themselves and fight wars for a colorful ribbon and people would fight for the crown or the throne because of what they symbolized. For long lasting political and social stability rituals and rites are your friend and the truth is a liability.

A flag and an anthem make a country feel real and tangible even if they are all human constructs. Once you suffer for a story you will also be more likely to reinforce your beliefs about it. Once you make a painful sacrifice you are trapped. Buying an expensive car makes you sing its praises and giving something up for romance is seen as a beautiful gesture.

If you question national pride or religion, you are often confronted with guilt – “but the martyrs died for this! Do you dare say they died for nothing? Do you think these heroes were fools?”

You can either inflict pain on yourself and give yourself the option of belief or disbelief or you can sacrifice someone else and have belief or you become a cruel villain. We would much prefer truth over realizing we are villains.

Nowadays people hedge their bets with belief systems by having many. To back up their actions they just need to balance politics, social orders, religions, etc. to explain themselves wholeheartedly. Hardly anyone has one identity now. It is possible to hold inconsistent beliefs and to follow what is convenient at the time. Terrorists might blow themselves up in the name of their god (believing they’ll go to paradise), get revenge for an attack on their people, but then also claim they have gone to paradise. So why would you get revenge if somebody relieved your people of suffering? If you truly believed they were going somewhere better you would line up and ask for death.

To reinforce religious devotion faith was considered a cardinal virtue and disbelief the greatest sin. As if there was something intrinsically good about believing something without evidence. Modern culture made faith look like mental slavery. The freedom is too much for some people but for others it is the amazing ability to choose. Choice vs overburden.

By being given the freedom of choice it is the great goal to be struck with the realization that there is no predetermined meaning of life. It is up to us to assign reason and meaning to our actions and feelings. Nothing is beautiful, sacred, or sexy. It is human emotions that make them so. The universe does not give me meaning. I give meaning to the universe. We are free to create our own dharma.

Free will means the freedom to choose what to do, not what to desire. Humans give so much importance to their desires that they shape the world in order to satisfy them. If we understood that our desires are not the result of free will but rather of biological processes, we might make more informed choices.

The self is a fictional story that our mind is constantly rewriting and updating. The inner narrator repeatedly gets things wrong but rarely admits it. Just like a government or religion the inner narrator builds its own dogma of personal myths, cherished memories, and trauma that often bears little resemblance to the truth. People ask “Who am I?” and expect to be told a story. The first thing to realize is you are not a story.      

By using a nation or group as a metaphor for a group of people you are including your members in a manner that makes them feel like they are a part of a greater collective than themselves rather than an individual. This commands power over the individual due to inherent desires to belong, to feel appreciated for belonging, and the fear of exclusion (exclusion from the tribe is certain death so biologically averse). As an example, if you say “Poland will not be defeated, it is the Christ of nations and will be reborn from the ashes,” the citizen will feel pride and willingness to stick by the fictional idea of a nation regardless of any detrimental effects of doing so.

Whenever politicians start talking in mystical terms it may be a way to cover up the ugliness of suffering with incomprehensible words (sacrifice, purity, eternity, redemption).

Logical fallacies – if you suffer because of a belief of God or your nation that doesn’t make your beliefs true. If anything, you are suffering because of your gullibility.

The meaning of life is to create meaning.

However, the real question should be – how do we reduce suffering.

When Yuval was younger, he couldn’t understand why there was so much suffering in the world and his own life and what could be done about it. He got no real answers except religious myths about gods and heavens, nationalist myths about the motherland and its historical mission, romantic myths about love and adventure, or capitalist myths about economic growth and how buying things will make everything better. Academia seemed like the answer but it disappointed him. It gave him the tools to question these myths but it focused on investigating the very narrow rather than the answers to the big questions. The only solace he gained was in philosophical readings and discussions but he found they never resulted in answers either (only nonsensical frustration). It wasn’t until he decided to go on a 10-day Vipassana retreat that things started to make more sense. He was able to focus on the “I”, the illusion of identity, the impermanence of mind and body, and what life and death really means. He learned how to observe his breath, heat, pressure, pain, and other sensations. When a sensation is unpleasant you react with aversion. When it is pleasant you react with craving for more.

We are always reacting to our immediate sensations internally. There is nothing outside of our experience within the body/mind and most people will experience anger and pain without actually acknowledging how it feels. When angry, he would focus on the object of anger rather than the feeling itself until he learned how to observe. He believes that he figured out more about himself and humans in general during the retreat than he had his whole life up to that point. To do that he didn’t need to prescribe to any mythology of fiction, he just had to observe. The deepest source of suffering is the patterns of our own mind.

To become a trustworthy anthropologist, we need to observe as much as we can in other human cultures without any prejudice or preconceptions (methodical and objective). The study of the mind should also follow this model.

Vipassana meditators are often instructed not to pursue any cosmic specialness or answers to the universe and instead to focus on your own personal experience and sensation. Any external experiences are not yours and not important during this time of self-discovery (no searching for bliss or ecstasy).

Most importantly, we should learn to observe so we can better understand ourselves and make better decisions before AI makes up our minds for us. 

Deep History Notes


The inner awareness of external stimuli – the knowledge of what is being perceived – is a prime example of what is called conscious experience. Consciousness allows us to experience the present and imagine the absent. To envision one’s past, present, and future to make possible the ability to transcend the survivability options bestowed upon our species by natural selection, and/or instilled in an individual by goal-directed in instrumental learning – both of which are based on behavioral strategies that were successful in the past.

Split brain patients can give verbal reports about information in the right half of visual space (language control in left hemisphere) but cannot name left hemisphere info. They can however, nonverbally respond to the stimuli by pointing or grabbing objects with the left hand. When blindfolded, they can name objects in their right hand but not left. Some patients would physically do stuff and confabulate the reason for why verbally. A form of cognitive dissonance. Mismatches between what one expects and what happens create a state of inner discordance, or dissonance. Because dissonance is stressful, it demands reduction in order to meet the human need for cognitive equilibrium. Also known as post-decision rationalization. 

Knowledge and Belief + Action (Inconsistent with belief) = Dissonance -> Change Knowledge/Belief OR Change Action OR Change Action Perception = Dissonance Reduction

If you pair an electric shock with subliminal stimulation, the subject will react to the subliminal unpaired stimuli as if they were getting the shock. Meaning they are unconsciously perceiving an image. As Freud said, consciousness is only the tip of the mental iceberg. When stimuli are reportable, areas of the visual cortex and areas of the general cognitive cortical network that underlies working memory are activated, especially areas of the PFC. When a verbal report can’t be made, only the visual cortex is. This indicates that in order to have a phenomenally conscious and verbally reportable experience of visual stimuli, sensory processing in the visual cortex has to be further processed by cognitive control networks underlying working memory.

The foci of some contemporary physicalist theories of consciousness:

  • Attended intermediate representations (Jesse Prinz)
  • Attention schema (Michael Graziano)
  • Attentional amplification (Michael Posner)
  • Autonoetic consciousness (Endel Tulving)
  • Dissociable interacting systems (Daniel Schacter)
  • Dynamic core (Gerald Edelman, Giulio Tononi)
  • First-order representations (Ned Block, Victor Lamme)
  • Global workspace (Bernard Baars)
  • Global neuronal workspace (Stanislas Dehaene, Lionel Nacchache, Jean-Pierre Changeux)
  • Higher-order representations (David Rosenthal)
  • Higher-order representation of a representation – HOROR (Richard Brown)
  • Integrated information (Giulio Tononi, Christof Koch)
  • Microtubules (Roger Penrose, Stuart Hameroff)
  • Operating system (Philip Johnson-Laird)
  • Hierarchal predictive inferences (Karl Friston, Andy Clark, Anil Seth)
  • Social interactions (Christ Frith, Uta Frith, Nick Shea)
  • Supervisory executive system (Tim Shallice)
  • Verbal interpreter (Michael Gazzaniga)
  • Time-locked multiregional retroactivation (Antonio Damasio)
  • Working memory episodic buffer (Alan Baddeley)

Our conscious mind is vain. It believes it is where the psychological action is. But we are more like the driver behind the wheel of a Tesla, where we can take control if needed, but the rest of the time we can consciously think about something else.

Conscious awareness is often missing the reason or motivation behind actions. We know what we did but not why. So, in the face of disunity, consciousness must have some sophisticated way of re-scripting one’s history to account for responses that it did not intentionally will. A defense tactic, a way of defining and protecting our understanding of our self.

The frontal pole is well suited for high-level conceptual processing and is, in fact, generally considered to have the greatest capacity of any brain area for conceptual processing. Thus, dorsal lateral and ventral lateral PFC areas are higher-order anatomically with respect to posterior unimodal and multimodal processing areas, and the frontal pole is higher order with respect to all of these. Task specific goals are thought to be related to DLPFC and FP to long-term goals and in cognitive multitasking and hierarchal reasoning.


Memories that can be verbally described are explicit or declarative. Implicit or procedural don’t require conscious awareness (conditioned response, habits, skills, or procedures). Explicit memories are not literally conscious memories until they are retrieved from storage and brought into working memory.

Semantic memories allow you to act appropriately with generally well understood objects like apples vs red marbles and cherries. Acquired through experience but not tied down to those specific experiences in any way. Episodic are linked to episodes from which they arise. They also include the experiencer in the memory and are personal. Consciousness of semantic memory requires noesis, an awareness of facts based on stored internal representations of objects and events. Consciousness of episodic requires autonoesis, an awareness of you, part of the experience. Mental time-travel. Remembering your place in the past allows projection of a similar experience in the future.

When you are aware of who you are, you are drawing from your self-schema, which is what underlies your self-concept. Your self-schema includes your skills and abilities; your foibles; your social roles; your psychological attributes; your self-worth; how you look; how you feel and act; how your body responds in certain situations; what you expect your future to hold; how you feel about your family, friends, enemies, colleagues, acquaintances, and even your possessions, and un-possessed but desired things of either the natural or man-made world. But your self-scheme is not static. You change over time and are different in different contexts or situations. A working self.

The concept of self is dependent on the psychological conceptions that are embedded in his or her culture and its native language. The unique human cognitive system is capable of suprapersonal representations that can be shared with others.

Areas of the medial temporal lobe (perirhinal cortex, parahippocampus, entorhinal cortex, and hippocampus) play a role in explicit memory. The two perception memory streams from the visual cortex converge in the hippocampus, allowing objects to be perceived in the context of complex scenes. The what and where are a start towards episodic memory and the hippocampus also encodes the when. The MTL areas are also strongly connected to the MPFC.

The temporal pole, viewed as a neocortical semantic/conceptual hub that integrates across various unimodal and multimodal inputs to create general, abstract concepts and schema, analyzes similarities and differences between individual items to form generalizations and inferences about what something is and is not, and makes possible item recognition from its appearance, sound, taste, touch, small, and/or name. It is one of the first brain areas affected by Alzheimer’s disease and accounts for some of the early memory problems.

When episodic memories become semanticized, they lose dependence on the medial temporal lobe and come instead to be neocortically based.

Brain areas that have been implicated in self-processing overlap, to some extent, with areas of the so-called default mode network of the brain, which is active during passive mental states, such as undirected mind wandering.

Critics of HOT argue that the PFC lacks the fine-grain representation of our rich quality of perceptual experience. This falls through when consciousness is viewed as a top-down construction based on combinations of sensory, memory, and conceptual representations rather than purely sensory dictated perceptual experience.

The frontal pole, and its conceptual self-awareness, may underlie our ability to use knowledge about one’s self to understand the minds of others.

An issue with referring to one’s self as “I” is the assumption that you are operating at a higher order of consciousness and you are a part of and in control of the current operations. Rather than a mix of perception, memory, and mental models. The brain takes time to process, so you are never in control of the now.

At a minimum, a theory of consciousness ultimately has to account for at least the following kinds of states: those that are about fleeting and meaningless perceptual events (events such as a flash of light or a brief sound); lasting but still meaningless perceptual events (an unfamiliar stimulus in isolation, such as a street sign in a foreign language); meaningful perceptions shaped by memory (recognition of a common object alone or in the context of a scene, such as an apple in a bowl with other fruits, or a song from its opening line); absorbing episodes of daily life (a conversation with a friend, an unpleasant encounter with a superior, the taste of a delicious dessert, an engaging piece of music or a painting, contemplation of one’s own existence); consuming illness (chronic pain, pathological fear, anxiety, or depression); and perhaps many others.

We have to remember that even in humans PFC activity is not a surefire way to implicate consciousness in behavior, since PF circuits process information both consciously and nonconsciously.

Hakwan Lau – In Consciousness We Trust. Consciousness, especially autonoetic consciousness, has a darkside – it is the enabler of distrust, hate, avarice, greed, and selfishness. Then again, it could also be our savior.

Humans developed language; hierarchal relational reasoning; representation of self versus other; mental time travel. Autonoesis was the result.

Autonoesis is proposed to depend on the frontal pole, which has novel components and that interact with lateral prefrontal areas to form the higher-order network; enriched connections between the higher-order prefrontal network and lower order processors (including other prefrontal areas and perceptual, mnemonic, and conceptual processors in the occipital, temporal, and parietal lobes); and novel cell types (granule cells?) and molecular/genetic mechanisms that fostered enhanced processing within the higher-order network and between it and lower-order processors.

Aldous Huxley mentions that we rose above the brutes because of language. However, people can also become victims of their own words. Language can give us personal pronouns that separate “me” from “us” and “them”. We build social groups, clans, tribes, religions, kingdoms, and nations on this basis, and shun, isolate, harm, and even kill one another to protect beliefs that define the groups with which we choose to affiliate. The selfishness of genes pales in comparison to our self-conscious mind and its convictions.

Beliefs are not just products of language or culture. They also depend on other special capacities that are intricately entwined with language – hierarchal cognition, self-awareness, and emotions. When these blend seamlessly, social systems that work for the greater good can thrive. But when emotions are at odds with our reasoned thoughts, or when either is corrupted by beliefs, or when personal interests are pitted against the values of a culture at large, or against the needs of our species as a whole, humans suffer.

Imagining the unknown inspires us to find new ways of existing. Our thirst for knowledge has led to scientific and technological discoveries that have made life easier in many ways. We don’t have to forage for food in dangerous settings-no predators. We combat seasonal changes in temperature, we have access to medications, and surgical procedures. We can also electronically communicate with anybody in the world instantaneously.

The internet has come at a cost. It has made it easier to be self-centered by facilitating realignments of interests that oppose the common good, challenging commonly accepted beliefs through hearsay and rumor, and even outright lies. False assertions gain acceptance through repetition. This has led to science being undermined, attacking social structures and survival requirements for those in need, and the governments original checks and balances against tyranny.

The global temperature is rising, along with unusual weather patterns, forests are burning, deserts are expanding, seas are rising, species extinction is accelerating… Adam Frank (astrophysicist) believes those who are concerned are right to worry. Lynn Margulis (endosymbiotic theory of multicellular life) says Gaia is a tough bitch. Our planet has survived significant geological disasters and mass extinctions in the past and will persist. Not in a way that will support the current configuration of organisms though.

Autonoetic consciousness is ultimately personal and selfish, and at its worst moments, narcissistic. According to Christophe Menant, the root of all evil. At the same time it may be our sole hope for a future

Huberman and Lex

What is Artificial Intelligence?

Our longing to create other intelligence systems. Perhaps more intelligent than us. As well as using technology to greater understand our own intelligence.

Neural networks are basic computational units (artificial neurons), with the task of learning over time, usually task related.

Supervised learning is where the neural network knows nothing in the beginning and needs help with examples of images. Once it gets a large enough database it can start to learn by example. Trying to get less supervision over time and instilling “common sense” ideas about objects in space.

Self-play mechanism (alpha-go, chess, etc.). Mutations of itself that it can play and progress in skill level quickly. Value alignment is essential for preventing runaway artificial intelligence.

Machine & Human Learning

The machine is essentially evolving over time by challenging clones of itself. There needs to be an objective function for machine learning, which speeds the process up in a straight forward manner. Evolution does not have a why and the goal post of existence is always changing. To solve a problem with artificial intelligence you need to formalize it first.


Curiosity is a symptom, not a goal. The exploration can look like curiosity to humans but it is just trying to optimize its objective function.

Story Telling Robots

Explainable AI: visualizing how it understands the world, why it failed or succeeded, and why it did what it did.

What Defines a Robot?

Similar to the question of “what is life?”

It can be a thinking thing and also an acting thing. A robot can perceive and act in the world.

How Robots Change Us

AI systems may help us to explore our loneliness and to know ourselves better.

Relationships Defined

Time and experience together. You can grow closer with somebody during struggle. Current machine learning systems still don’t have the capacity to remember the sharing of moments.

AI may have the potential to truly make you feel heard. Even real friendships tend to have an element of selfishness at their base. If they could remember unstructured time together with humans, we would get very attached.

Lex’s Dream for Humanity

Add a bit of magic/awe to every computing system. The connection of robots with humans, as a companion.

AI needs to collect everything about you to fully understand you. Each individual should be able to own all of their own data. We should be able to delete all of our own data and walk away.

Improving Social Media

Creating an AI system that is yours, not centralized, that is your representative online to help you. Not letting you go down that negative spiral and promoting your growth. To have your own AI that you can program to help you instead of having to give up your autonomy to be a part of a system. You should be able to tell your AI that you would like things to challenge your ideas. If we have the option to learn better and gather conflicting information, we should be able to better explore alternatives without any bias affecting it.

Challenges of Creativity

People around entrepreneurs and creatives know how difficult it is to build big ideas and there is a serious amount of doubt. Especially if you haven’t built a track record of success yet. When we look in the mirror it is hard to know what we are actually good or bad at.

Whenever you’re struggling, it is a good sign that if you keep going, you’re going to be alone at the end. Eventually your eyes adapt to the dark.


Made roombas scream in pain when kicked to see how he felt.

Power Dynamics in Relationships

You can frame a dumb robot as being cute, to change relationship dynamics.

Power dynamics are not necessarily good or bad. Manipulation can be more of a push and pull than abuse.

Robot Rights

They will need to be considered entities that deserve respect if we are to make true AI.

Public vs. Private Life

It’s fulfilling to be the same in public and private life, given you don’t have any weird personal stuff. Just be kind towards others.

Positivity is typically suppressed even though it is enjoyable being nice. Almost as if people think you’re dumb if you’re nice.

The people who attack on the internet don’t consider the aggregate. A podcast can show this by compiling a while lot of content.

How To Treat a Robot?

The more robots become a part of our lives the harder it is to treat them differently from life. You would have to dissociate like a surgeon.

The Value of Friendship

Friends can inspire one to show up in the best way for them. Making life worth living. Being there in the hard times too.

Martial Arts

Fighting or direct physical contact creates a type of bond like no other. You’re so vulnerable so you have to be honest about your skills and abilities. A constant loss of reality. You aren’t that special.

The neurons that control sexual behavior and aggressive behavior are interdigitated.

Combat is primal and it feels right to do it. As if remembering a process that is hardwired.

Rabbit Hole Blogs

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