00.06, Sunday 10 Feb 2008

The visual cortex of developing ferrets has more territory containing neurons selective for vertical or horizontal orientations than oblique angles. We preferentially see up-downs and left-rights.

You drop a population of finches on an island: they speciate, populations diverging from one another as they find niches. But each incipient species has as part of its environment every other incipient species. It's complex. The eventual set of species are not only determined by the size of nuts, the type of trees and the local predators, but through an iterative solution to the force-directed graph of the species, overlaid on the peaks and contours of the fitness landscape.

Maybe with a slightly different composition of the initial population, and we'd have six eventual species, not eight.

Could we regard the fundamental forces of physics as species? Could they have speciated differently, at the end of the GUT Era?

There is general agreement that human personalities may more-or-less be plotted in a five-dimensional space, where the five trait-dimensions are: openness; conscientiousness; extraversion; agreeableness; neuroticism.

Within that space, are there attractors of personality, semi-stable or wandering fitness peaks? Just as our visual cortex is tuned to particular orientations of line, is our internal 'model of the other' tuned to particular personalities? Are there maybe only a few dozen personality archetypes which can mutually co-exist in a connected population? These archetypes emerge sometimes, perhaps.

And perhaps there are particular stories, too, that are easier to understand and easier to remember because they align with the grain of thought; narrative archetypes like cause-and-effect, the Fall, the Hero's Journey.

Maybe the root of narrative compulsion is that we see something occur, and the story that pops into our head is the 'cause-and-effect' one, we mistake the ease and fluidity of that story in our head for truth. We're fooled because "it slips into place because the explanation fits reality" is indistinguishable from "it slips into place because the explanation is easy to understand with my brain."

Cognitive therapy works because it helps patients re-narrate their lives (quote source). Cybernetics was a cognitive therapy for science. We need help re-narrating the whole time, because the problem is this: obvious looks like true.

Just as tricking a woman into unknowingly blushing fools her into thinking she's attracted to you.

Just as you misread movie close-ups for your paying attention, and tension from loud noises as suspense.

Here's one that happens a lot: the misidentification of understanding for original thinking.

And another: the relief, the release of tension at the end of a story, the knowledge that phew it was actually going somewhere, and when it all wraps up and there's an indicator - a nod, a rhythm change, - that we're done... that release of narrative tension being misidentified as funny.

Here's what my new hero, Steve Martin, has to say about being funny: What if there were no punch lines? What if there were no indicators? What if I created tension and never released it? What if I headed for a climax, but all I delivered was an anticlimax? What would the audience do with all that tension? Theoretically, it would have to come out sometime. But if I kept denying them the formality of a punch line, the audience would eventually pick their own place to laugh, essentially out of desperation.