An interesting mind

A technical paper on the mind as hologram led me to the website of Dr Stephen Robbins, and to his paper on the real identity of Homers Troy.

In the first paper, Dr Robbins argues that Bergsons model of the mind as hologram is a better tool for explaining the way the mind works than the more classical models of information storage.

He points out that “In principle, any point of the hologram carries sufficient information to reconstruct the whole scene.” In addition, several holographic waves could be modulated into the same space using different frequencies. “The more finely we can modulate these waves to a single frequency, the more distinctly separate and clear will be the reconstructed wave fronts. If, however, we were to illuminate the plate with a diffuse, non-coherent wave, we would reconstruct a composite image of all the recorded scenes.” In other words, the storage is complex and unsorted, and its up to us to impose an order on it, largely by our use of time, ie frequency).

You can see how these two insights give a metaphor for the minds ability to store information, and to recall it in odd ways. “My wife tells me that every time we drive along a certain curving section of the freeway near Milwaukee, she feels she is in an area of California where she once lived…. A present event E will reconstruct a previous event E when E is defined by the same invariance structure or by a sufficient subset of the same invariance structure.”

By invariance he seems to mean the relative positions or sizes of experienced features, which may change absolutely if viewed from a different angle, but dont change relative to each other. (eg the basic coordinates youd store in a facial recognition system?). So a set of movements down the road is similar to a set somewhere else, and experiencing the one brings a memory of the other.

As well as Bergson, Dr Robbins draws heavily on the work of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._J._Gibson>Gibson. Im not technically qualified to judge these arguments, but I find them exciting, since they seem to go against the logical order that we usually assume and come nearer to the meaningful meaninglessness of quantum mechanics. Certainly the idea that memory may be organised like a hologram explains some things that the large database analogy doesnt.

Dr Ropbbins other paper argues (quite convincingly) that the ancient site of Troy was not in Turkey at all, but was the city of Cambridge. This is based on work by Iman Wilkins. Experts say the theory is rubbish, which puts it on a lvel with most major scientific discoveries, and, of course, with a lot of genuine rubbish. Oddly, one of the main lines of argument is topographical: place names and distances dont fit any of the accepted sites for Troy, but do appear to fit Cambridge. An invariance structure.

This sort of argument always reminds me of an article I once read which demonstrated quite conclusively that Sherlock Holems was Jack the Ripper. (Consider the facts, Watson. An odd attitude towards women; a nervous and eccentric character; an expert knowledge of the back streets of London; a thorough but unsystematic knowledge of anatomy. At the time of the Whitechapel murders, Holmes was on that improbable world tour that followed The Final Problem, so no alibi. Leaving circumstantial evidence aside, one of the few witnesses who probably saw the Ripper reported that he was wearing a deerstalker hat.) Theres just one major problem: one character was fictitious, the other sadly was not. But the invariance structure is similar, isnt it?

I find myself asking – so, what if Troy was Cambridge. Does it make any difference to me? No, basically, nor does it matter who the Ripper was. But the patterns of experience that are encapsulated in these stories – the invariance structures – they do matter, because we use them to recognise situations (rightly or wrongly) and to orient ourselves through life. Jungs archetypes, myths, or even popular schoolboy tales of heroes, are the same sort of thing. We internalise them in some way and then we see them repeat (whtehr they do actually repeat or not) or we make them repeat by expecting them to.

We also model them and use them in simulations, making huge use of invariance structures each time we model an agent, for example. Just one question out of many that Dr Robbins work raises: do we sometimes inadvertently generalise invariance structures, in the way that his wife is reminded of Milwaukee when she is in California?

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