Consciousness is not at the Core of Problem Solving

Learning to walk takes some time. There’s a reason for this: walking actually requires you to solve simultaneous equations. Yes, that’s right. It’s incredibly difficult math. It’s only recently that engineers have been able to build a robot that can walk on uneven terrain with four feet. I am yet to see one that can do so on TWO feet. There is Asimo but that only works on flat surfaces and so isn’t very impressive. To program a robot that can walk you need many gyroscopes in. Ray Kurzweil touches on this in Age Of Spiritual Machines
“To predict where the ball will go, and where the fielder should also go, would appear to require the solution of a rather overwhelming set of complex simultaneous equations. These equations need to be constantly recomputed as new visual data streams in. How does a ten-year-old Little Leaguer accomplish this, with no computer, no calculator, no pen and paper, having taken no calculus classes, and having only a few seconds of time? The answer is, she doesn’t. She uses her neural nets’ pattern-recognition abilities, which provide the foundation for much of skill formation.”
This assertion that she is not solving the equations is wrong. She is solving the equation but only in a way that doesn’t lend itself to being expressed in math. The solution to the simultaneous equations are in her brain unable to be expressed by her. Some people struggle with expressing emotions. I argue that we also struggle expressing the solutions of complex equations we solve.

To think it is pattern recognition is absurd. No two balls ever take the same path, how can it use pattern recognition? To transform the ball’s path into a previous pattern we’ve seen would be more computationally expensive than solving the simultaneous equation. It wouldn’t allow us to predict the path of a ball in windy conditions or when the ball has spin or anything of the sort.

The conscious mind does not give us unrestricted access to the computations our neurons are doing. Why would anyone believe it could? You can’t access the part of your brain that’s telling your heart to beat or your stomach to pump food. We can only observe a tiny fraction of our minds and how it functions. This makes many people uncomfortable because they identify with “their” conscious mind and enjoy living in the fantasy world in which they have absolute conscious control over their decisions, fueled by the illusion that is free will. If I say “why did you choose to play football instead of doing your homework?” saying “I don’t know” leaves many unsatisfied. As though not knowing is a reason to not have done that. There is a lack of consistency because if people were asked how they were walking (and express it in computer language or math) they would be unable to yet one wouldn’t expect that person to then stop walking.

I don’t fear doing something without a reason for it becoming consciously apparent to me and neither should you. You’re really blocking your own intuition and your greatest weapon – the unconscious (subconscious) mind. A recent article I read on this subject was about crows solving problems without planning their actions. I’m going to interpret the results differently. When we do things on the fly is called improvisation.  I think that what we call planning is actually just improvisation in a virtual world that we have constructed by imagining it. In other words, the same processes in our unconscious mind (the processes of solving the problem at hand) when we are in the real situation than the imagined one. It’s just that we are storing the improvisations we made in the virtual world in our memory so that once we encounter the real scenario we have already had a head start spending time improvising the answers. It is not that when we plan things it is our conscious mind overseeing this whole thing.

Now one mind say that my point is wrong because the conscious mind is the one that solves improvisation problems but this is not true. I see it as the unconscious mind solving problems then that solution rising up (“falling down “is perhaps the language I should have used) to the level of consciousness. The conscious mind then swiftly takes credit for solving this problem. It reminds me somewhat of the quote “good artists copy, great artists steal”. This quote was brought to my mind for unknown reasons but I still feel its relevant. I don’t need to be able to express justification for everything I do in order to be satisfied with it.

I’m guilty of separating the brain into conscious and unconscious parts. This isn’t quite right. Our brain is just one big mush of neurons and somehow it works.  To split it up in this way isn’t going to be very successful.


2 thoughts on “Consciousness is not at the Core of Problem Solving

  1. Pingback: Using Pattern Recognition to Enhance Memory and Creativity | DDRRNT

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