Opening Space

Today I talk about opening space, and all my little meandering thoughts about it. But first... The gist of how mind mapping works is this:

  1. Link the key ideas of a subject and then deep-learn those key ideas in relation to each other, and

  2. Think through the key ideas of a subject in depth, re-arrange the ideas in relation to an argument, then link the ideas to loci in good order.

     You're memorizing by encoding information by all the associations you can manage, including going so far as to create mental spaces where subjects "physically" associate. It's like writing a story but for your mind to organize itself around and not just experience as a story. You can elaborate and strengthen memory by adding mixed sensory details, from sights and smells to emotional sensations. The goal is efficient recall but also efficient perspective in general - if that makes sense.      I've been letting the whole mind mapping Method of Loci thing tumble around in my head for a while now as new things happen and as I compare new notes with old ones, and I feel like I've reached a pretty good understanding from both the philosophical and physiological ends to make some valuable insights.

The opening space idea hearkens back to five things in my mind: psychology, neuroscience, occultism, game theory, and the scientific spirit in general. I'll speak about these things in order so you can soon see more completely what I mean by "opening space."      Psychologically, "opening space" can be described well by the idea of dealing with trauma. Imagine someone is on a hair trigger at the slightest touch, but they want you to help them with physical therapy. To ease them you might ask permission and give them as much authority as possible, as you have to provide a meeting space and not just your efficient skills with physical movement. They have to feel it's cut off somewhat from what's causing their pain, or even standing in opposition, and you can't give them social cues that might be associated unless you direct them through it. Humans are wild animals in this sense, we have powerful circuitry for responding to perceived phenomena at a moment's notice. At the same time we could have full control of ourselves, and that's where we begin navigating our spaces internal and external.

From Romantically Apocalyptic (amazing art)

     You can think of these overriding circuits as space-closing, as in the fairly deterministic set of behaviors that stem from their firing are acting in place of a calm, otherwise choice-making person. That person is still making choices, to be sure, but it becomes skewered to certain planes of thought - generally states of fear and physical agony - where surviving the next few moments is all that can be managed. And because these lines of thinking and behaving are so railroaded, one will spend much of their lifetime on it - thus all of their outcomes, thereby any resulting evolution, will have been influenced by this set of circuits. Domestication is a good example of how this can be overridden in animals, but in our case we should use love and the power of the human spirit to heal to be less creepy.      Think of consciousness like water running along a web perhaps. Think perhaps you can tilt this web and guide where the water will go. Imagine each place a droplet touches as the water runs along this web as a place that you are able to view as a memory or sensation and be aware of in that moment. You can also know pretty well where the droplets will go as they move, as the web has clearly defined junctions. Now imagine that web gets tangled or is added to erroneously by a drunk spider, those droplets as they move are no longer able to move in a predictable pattern, or will be moving to unwanted areas - perhaps saturating the whole thing to the point it's senseless.

Cloud of Souls by Lynda Schlosberg

Brains contain maps that respond to themselves and to external stimuli through many senses. Different areas of the cortex lighting up are wired to different senses and different distributed areas of the brain and body. Outer areas in the cortex contain columns of neurons that are individualized to handle specific processes. The hippocampus also contains bundles called place cells, and similar grid cells in the visual cortex, which light up in response to the environment. These can draw "maps" within your very brain using literal neural electro-chemical grids.

Grid cells and place cells work together to filter important information at all scales.

Yes your brain is already way smarter than you realized! This results in a massive response network that shares as much information as possible while maintaining a high level of order, in order for action potentials to communicate correctly across the body. Every circuit fired strengthens the likelihood of that circuit firing again, granting us habits and refined skills. It works so well we are hardly aware of the intricate chain of events involved even in the simple opening and closing of a hand.

     As that Donald Duck episode above describes (ignoring the classic Disney sexism on display at one point), symbols like Pythagoras' pentagram or the Golden Ratio serve as useful reminders of the combinatorial possibilities expressed everywhere in ourselves and in nature, ones we ourselves can engineer with simple math and tools into wonders like music and art and architecture. We can encode those ideas into simple formula and symbols that are - ideally - so universal they could be decoded by strange people many hundreds or thousands of years later for them to use as we did - and more - when our line no longer finds them useful or even threatening.      Today my favorite modern art might just be the hordes of scientific papers and experiments and code samples I've collected, things that serve no purpose but to demonstrate to any curious eye a perspective or a possibility. They're both modern learning tools and a snapshot of thousands of years of natural curiosity and optimism as manifest today. Yeah okay that sounds pretentious as fuck but who's gonna remember it otherwise? You find wonderful snapshots through the ages, like the Ebers Papyrus, or Giordano Brüno and Leibniz's works, or Isis Unveiled by Helena Blavatsky to name a few off the top of my head. Those are all Hermetic works, as has been my fascination of late. Hermeticism is mostly a theory of mind from my point of view.      Hermetic thought crops up culturally from the ancient Egyptians (perhaps inspired by Eastern practices), Greeks and Christians, to modern scientists. It has many parallels with Chinese and Buddhist thought, and I'd say might be responsible for more scientific discoveries and general artistry than many other original philosophies in Western culture - if anything because it's an ageless imaginary forum for ideas and experimentation, and thus an idea (or charlatan) factory for people who organize around it. Pythagoras' pentagram is a perfect example of the kind of linguistic tools a Hermetic would use. Hermeticism became a major source for modern occultism as well with people like Blavatsky, GRS Mead, or Aleister Crowley, as well as Carl Jung, bringing it back into style.

     Occultism in general is about that magical connection underlying all our earthly needs, theatrics, and expressions between us. It's about all the orderly/disorderly sensible/nonsensical ways we can find that connection and amplify it, often with ridiculous rituals. It's a very useful layer of culture to understand when approaching all realms of diplomacy, or psychological illness not caused by some obvious physical health issue. People organize their lives and reflect themselves in the world by all those needs, theatrics, and symbolic expressions that make up their personality. This becomes apparent in their linguistic patterns, but also in the very flitting shapes, communications, and memories in their heads. Some occultists and shamans have their own effective language with which they can "see" those patterns in others and roughly determine the nature of it, much like a psychologist can identify symptoms of disorder. Some deal in spirits, attitudes, and emergent entities, others deal in observable cellular and bodily conditions. The latter method is more efficient, more reliable, and easier to communicate, while the former is modern medicine's historical progenitor. The surest path to wisdom lies somewhere in the middle for today's topic.      An emerging idea is that all mental phenomena take a "shape." This is expressed literally in a study that found that certain thoughts corresponded to geometric homotopies - as in neural processing centers in the brain arranged in certain ways - like our grid cells which process room geometry and then build connections to that geometry like "where is the food?" Words themselves correspond to different Brodmann "cytotechtonic" areas, like the Broca's or Wernicke's, which then correspond to specific uses of language. That's all reflected in pathways that get reused or referenced constantly in other processes, evidence for how highly adaptive and sensitive our brain truly is, as it is able to differentiate signals in an incoherent (to the naked eye) biological mapping system.

Rat grid cells in a square box scenario, where the rat's in the box. The third row is generated by auto-correlation. This discovery earned its researchers a Nobel Prize in 2014.

The nature of the cortex is not discussed enough, where such discussion would be very useful for pinning down the best general learning methods - like the Method of Loci which likely leans on those handy grid and place cells. Math taught as just symbol manipulations and not essential navigation tools always ends in a piss-poor understanding of math, to show where this modern learning science could make a major difference. Hell, a lot of mental illness is now being associated with neural arrangements and network distributions, something that takes a lot of very high powered tools to gain evidence for. We also know tried-and-true mnemonic training rearranges brains without the user even being aware of it. Visual stimulation creates direct changes to gene expression in the brain, as found by Harvard Medical School.

Adult neocortex gray matter (left and center) versus infant neocortex (right)

See, I'm drawing a circle around this central substance of learning and perception and our place as individuals. We ultimately can gain choice. Whether those choices are granted opportunity is not necessarily our fault, yet we still have some internal choice through an education no-one can take away - our mappings of our maps. Take precious care with those, too. As I have pointed out countless times, you're not necessarily conscious of all the connections being made - stuff others will happily make for you without your consent - like you're merely a product of your environment and not capable of interior choice.      This understanding about choice leads us to modern game theory, where a playing field is provided and perceptions aligned around the win-conditions and resource needs.      Modern game theory extends into political science and cellular biology as well. It is as spooky as John Nash's famous Equilibrium theory, where the game plays out based on the level of rationality and information the player has. He came up with it in the peak of his paranoid schizophrenia, at the same relative time as his electroshock treatments, and his most famous case became about equilibrium based on the players being equally irrational and uninformed of each other. Guys like Kissinger picked it up for their schemes and it became a Cold War tool and an expansionist tactic for both military and marketing. Game theory is also as fun and optimistic as, well, actual games, but also in the way scientists construct cellular automata "games" of resources and populations - famously Conway's Game of Life.

Cellular automata show us that simple rules can produce wild emergent systems.

     The point is there's a board or field for the observers with a certain amount of information available or discoverable, and physical rules and actions which they must abide by to participate. That's the fundamental basis of running a society on one level. It's also how you design any communication system or language from the top-down. See what I'm getting at? This is a powerful tool, much like systems theory. It may seem obvious as a general organizational principle, but a broad-spectrum intuition for it takes much time.      What do these convolutions of reality, these filtered perceptual tunnels and maps, have to say about that reality thus far assumed to exist? It shows that there are very tangible, reliable ways to map new patterns onto that reality. We see this every day in everything from the reliably repeated genes expressing our bodies and our foods and our loved ones, and the reliably repeated particle/waves of light generated in the sun by the zillions, to our reliable architecture and data networks and, ultimately, our not-so-reliable hairless ape selves. Those repetitious actions become a backdrop for a constant growth process and a growth-of-growth process (as in evolution). Less abstractly, it seems to me to be our source of creativity, something I find being echoed by others more and more today. On one level these reliable patterns and creative notions (including all the fields I've mentioned) are the tools we get, on another level it's what generates all our momentum and possibility in our lives. Science shows that only the methods that adhere to present patterns, say a ball and a wall, will pass consistent tests, as in the ball bouncing off the wall and not passing through.

Relevant: The Silver Key by H.P. Lovecraft

     Our imagination, however, can make that ball go through that wall. If our initial assumption was that it would go through the wall, the space left in that error upon testing would be mystery and, perhaps wonder. It's only a measured creativity that bridges the gap. Haha that sounds like an engineering religion. Look the point is this thinking is what's carrying our modern ways of life into the next decades, and it is riding on the optimism and grace of a hundred thousand million people who've lived and died through time and passed little bits of their wisdom on so that it began to accumulate. This has opened our possibility space, just as we've witnessed our universe accelerating its expansion so have we accelerated our knowledge and capacity as humans. That acceleration has also become necessary as a means to traverse the exponentially rising tide of information and systems swirling in the backdrop of global economics.      This social evolution manifests in education as neater ways of thinking about more and more complex topics, like geometries or metaphors. The stone age education systems are those which have not risen with the tide so-to-speak. Yes I'd go so far to say that a cursory knowledge of everything I've covered should be in the common sense, from the obnoxious platitudes to the up-to-date readings of computers, math, and biological physics. There should be constant effort, not necessarily to popularize, but to demystify, as that is what will keep our imaginations and efforts fresh. There's too much careerism and railroading today, it's totally unhealthy and robs others of imagination they'd otherwise have.

Perhaps most people will still settle into whatever century, willfully and blissfully ignorant of every precarious thing that generated their status as living, but at least they wouldn't have been compelled to lose out. I can only feel a bit of sorrow, and a heavy dose of angst, as I too may never master my own fate as it were, but at least I got the privilege to try. So many spaces have opened to me through all this gobble-de-gook of language and expression. I hope to continue that tradition and leave you all with my best representations of it, and help the future go beyond my wildest imagination.


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