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Understand

Understand is one of my favorite stories. If you haven't read it, well, the whole thing is available online—as I discovered when I was trying to find out what year it was published—and it's not very long, either. Just follow the link above to get to the external link.

Seriously, go!

So, you've read it now, right? So of course you can see the reason I like it … I can identify with the protagonist and for a while imagine myself free of the all-too-real limitations of the mind.

Here's one passage that gets at that aspect.

No matter what I study, I can see patterns. I see the gestalt, the melody within the notes, in everything: mathematics and science, art and music, psychology and sociology. As I read the texts, I can think only that the authors are plodding along from one point to the next, groping for connections that they can't see. They're like a crowd of people unable to read music, peering at the score for a Bach sonata, trying to explain how one note leads to another.

If I'm lucky, I can see a pattern here, or understand some dynamics there; and if the thought is a really good one, maybe I'll spend hours or days trying to write it down, to formulate it for myself and others. How great it would be, to have it all just be clear!

Then, given how I like languages, the following is irresistable.

My new language is taking shape. It is gestalt-oriented, rendering it beautifully suited for thought, but impractical for writing or speech. It wouldn't be transcribed in the form of words arranged linearly, but as a giant ideogram, to be absorbed as a whole. Such an ideogram could convey, more deliberately than a picture, what a thousand words cannot. The intricacy of each ideogram would be commensurate with the amount of information contained; I amuse myself with the notion of a colossal ideogram that describes the entire universe.

Actually, I often think in that direction when I'm writing. I see the structure of an essay as a graph: trains of thought branching and merging, arguments converging to make a point (hehe), digressions trailing off into nothing or looping back to affect the main argument, random thoughts exploding like a firework at the end. And then there are the cross-references, tying the essays together into a single large graph … or associative net, if you like.

Speaking of graphs that represent thought, I should also mention mind maps.

Finally, we come to the heart of the matter, a passage that touches on so many important things that I don't even know where to begin, and that is so well written that it literally makes my hair stand on end.

Revelation.

I understand the mechanism of my own thinking. I know precisely how I know, and my understanding is recursive. I understand the infinite regress of this self-knowing, not by proceeding step by step endlessly, but by apprehending the limit. The nature of recursive cognition is clear to me. A new meaning of the term “self-aware.”

Fiat logos. I know my mind in terms of a language more expressive than any I'd previously imagined. Like God creating order from chaos with an utterance, I make myself anew with this language. It is meta-self-descriptive and self-editing; not only can it describe thought, it can describe and modify its own operations as well, at all levels. What Gödel would have given to see this language, where modifying a statement causes the entire grammar to be adjusted.

With this language, I can see how my mind is operating. I don't pretend to see my own neurons firing; such claims belong to John Lilly and his LSD experiments of the sixties. What I can do is perceive the gestalts; I see the mental structures forming, interacting. I see myself thinking, and I see the equations that describe my thinking, and I see myself comprehending the equations, and I see how the equations describe their being comprehended.

I know how they make up my thoughts.

These thoughts.

 

  See Also

  Mind Maps
  Physical Awareness
  Restaurant Effect, The
  Thoughts About Stephenson
  Usual Random Thoughts, The

@ June (2004)