Intuition Machine
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Intuition Machine

The Cognitive Flywheel that is Writing

Photo by Ryan Stone on Unsplash

There’s a curiously interesting thing about reading words on a page. The words are static and unlike real things, how words appear does not significantly change based on your physical interaction. But their meaning changes with mental interaction.

It can be argued that the ambiguity found in natural language leads to different interpretations and hence leads to creativity.

But not only is natural language ambiguous, but it also leaves out a lot of contexts. This context in fact may not even overlap between writer and reader.

Even words that are written by the person who is also the reader can be interpreted differently. When one writes a sentence, the context will be different from the context when the same person reads the same sentence.

I often find myself reading something I wrote in the past, only to discover an entirely new interpretation that I surely did not have when I wrote the original passage.

This leads me to believe in the importance of external encodings in the study of general intelligence. Typically, encoding is understood as an internal thing that is in the mind. That is, its interpretation is literal, unambiguous, and unchanging.

I don’t believe this depiction is correct. I think a better framing is that neural encodings are also like external words. They are always reinterpreted at the time of reading. They depend on context and carry sufficient ambiguity.

Furthermore, internal neural encodings are like external encodings (i.e. words on a page). However, external encodings are more powerful. This is because a level of conciseness is preserved that is absent in one’s one neural encoding.

Which leads to a counter-intuitive realization. We are not who we are from the inside out. We are rather the accumulation of our external creations and our dynamic interpretations of those creations.

As computer technology evolves and information is more frictionlessly accessible to us, our minds will evolve in ways very different from our ancestors.

Our ancestors remembered things very differently from how we do today. They took to memory a lot more information. They remembered verbatim the words of many past thinkers. They accessed this information from their memory and as a consequence sacrifice ambiguity for accuracy.

Information from one’s own memory appears more the same than more different. This is very different from when you read someone else’s writings or even your own writings. That is because your stance is different.

We are wired to believe in the correctness of what we retrieve from our memories. In contrast, we are more critical of the text that we read. We are wired to criticize what is external and wired to accept what is internal.

We commonly attribute consciousness to the ability to have reflective thoughts. But the quality of reflective thoughts of what you read is different from the quality of thoughts that you access from memory. They are not the same.

Writing not only allowed humans to share their thoughts with the rest of the world, it also allowed us to share our thoughts with ourselves. It is a cognitive flywheel that turbocharges our thinking tremendously.

Couple this writing technology with a hive mind like Twitter where one’s thoughts are given immediate feedback from other critical readers. It’s a tremendous new superpower that may not have been universally available to our ancestors.

We can even go further! Couple writing technology with more powerful language understanding technology. I already see this with my use of Grammarly. I do not have to slow down checking my grammar. A machine does it for me.

But go beyond grammar and imagine a technology that explores the meaning of what you write.

People keep overlooking the fact that writing is not the same as language. Writing is a cultural technology that arose as a consequence of language but it has its own emergent cognitive properties.

It is conjecture that the pre-literate mind had a very different kind of consciousness as the literate mind (see: Bicameral mind). What then can we say about the computer augmented mind? How is our consciousness very different from our ancestors?




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Carlos E. Perez

Carlos E. Perez

Author of Artificial Intuition and the Deep Learning Playbook —

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