Class Warfare Blog

December 18, 2017

Where Do Thoughts Come From?

Filed under: Philosophy,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:31 am
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My free will post has suggested a couple of follow-ups. One such topic is the illusions of consciousness. A common manifestation of one of these is the general idea that we control our thoughts, that we create our own conscious thoughts, well, consciously.

It ain’t so, I am afraid.

Any one who has spent time learning to meditate can attest to this. Part of meditation is clearing one’s mind of thoughts, to experience some “peace of mind,” as it were. This is a bitch, if you will excuse the expression. Our consciousness essentially bubbles with unbidden thoughts. If we create them, why can we not just turn them off?

The simple answer is we can’t because “we” do not create them. The obvious question then is, “Well, then who does?”

I do not know and I do not think anyone else knows, but I can hazard an educated guess. It all stems from imagination. Imagination seems to be a mental ability that manifests itself in us creating a simulacrum of reality in our heads and then we can “imagine” or basically do experiments in that imaginary world with no real repercussions if “mistakes are made.” This ability leads to a much greater ability to survive and pass on our genes, aka evolutionary success. Consider an animal operating on instinct, that is hardwired mental programs. We are out of the African savanna, where humans evolved to our current form, and there is tall grass with a rustling in it a bit of a ways off. It could just be a gust of wind, or it could be a predator, moving through the grass coming their way. The animal becomes more alert, using vision and hearing to detect clues as to what it is. If there is no further disturbance, they go about their business. Predators, of course, learned from this behavior, learned to advance toward the prey stealthily … and then stop from time to time in utter stillness, to get the prey to ignore the stimulus of its approach. The prey animals, if they see or hear certain stimuli run away (the response is “fight or flight” and prey animals are better at the latter).

When we developed imagination as a mental tool, then we had more options. For one we could imagine that the disturbance was due to a wind zephyr and then imagine it was due to a predator. The consequences of the disturbance being due to a predator are far worse, so adopting a strategy of moving off now would be the most prudent. (This, of course, led us to believe in unseen movers and shakers we called spirits, demons, gods, etc.)

Now, if we were thinkers only in the conscious sense, we would have to stop what we were thinking, analyze the situation, run a few simulations through our imagination, and then act or not on what we learned. If this were the basis of the mutation/adaption that gave us imagination, we would have ended up in the bellies of predators too frequently and that mutation/adaption would have proved “non-viable” because it is too slow. Instead, our subconscious mental processing power kicks in to create all kinds of such things at a rate much faster than we can do consciously. (Remember, subconscious mental activities are the “fast” in Kahneman’s Thinking: Fast and Slow.) So, the subconscious “us” has the job of rapidly exploring myriad scenarios and alerting the conscious “us” if one of them reaches “Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!” levels.

We have evolved to generate thoughts that correspond to real reality and imagined reality. So, these come at us fast and furiously. Most of these subconscious thoughts that leak into our conscious are ignored as they carry little weight. If something is really serious, we get signals we cannot ignore, including heart palpitations, sweating, panting breaths, etc. As I mentioned, we do not have much, if any, conscious control over our bodily functions.

Some of us are better at this and some are worse. If we are better at generating images, thoughts, patterns, etc. then we find meditating more difficult, because of the sheer volume of such things flitting about. If we are less imaginatively energetic, meditation comes easier. (One is not necessarily better than the other, just different.)

I suspect an individual’s creativity comes from an ability to access that river of thoughts and images and feelings that are running through our brains subconsciously. Those people will have more options for artistic expression or really any other form of expression.

This is all quite speculative, of course, but I suspect there may be a grain or two of truth in it. We will see as currently we are learning a great deal more about non-conscious modes of thought. (Thank you, inventors of brain scanners.) But do keep in mind that we do not yet know how memories are storied, a basic function of our mentality, so we are just at the beginnings of understand such subjects. We might even get a handle on whether there is such a thing as free will.

August 14, 2012

I Can Solve the “Strasburg Problem”

Filed under: Sports — Steve Ruis @ 9:31 pm
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Fans of major league baseball are all aflutter about the plans of the Washington Nationals baseball team shutting down one of their best pitchers next month. Nats fans are seeing this as being over protective of the pitcher and hurting the Nationals chances of making and succeeding during the playoffs, a place they haven’t been in many, many decades.

Stephen Strasburg is 13-5 with a 2.90 ERA and an National League best 166 strikeouts this season. And . . . he underwent Tommy John surgery on his elbow less than a year ago. The Nationals best pitcher of this year underwent the same surgery a year earlier and was shut down last year, so the team’s management has a track record in dealing with this issue. And they are looking long term at getting value out of Mr. Strasburg for many years to come.

Strasburg has thrown 133 2/3 innings and Washington has said he will not be allowed to exceed 180 innings pitched, which means he is on pace to be shut down sometime next month, well before the playoffs.

Pundits and fans have come up with all kinds of alternatives to him just being stopped when he reaches this limit: moving to a six man pitching rotation to stretch out his influence, move him to the bull pen as a reliever to stretch out his innings, and make a pinch hitter out of him. All of these are, well, stupid.

Moving to a six man pitching rotation would affect the work routine of all of the Nationals starting pitchers and pitchers are slaves to routine, so this could potentially be disastrous to their effectiveness.

Pundits and fans have come up with all kinds of alternatives to him just being stopped
when he reaches this limit. All of these are, well, stupid.

Moving him to the bull pen is idiotic in that bull pen pitchers often have to warm up quickly which puts extra stress on their throwing arms as well as increasing the likelihood of injury. And relief pitchers often have to warm up multiple times for each appearance and relief pitches count, too. Dumb idea.

Strasburg’s primary value to the team is as a dominant pitcher. Using him as a pinch hitter, he is quite a good hitter, simply increases the chance he will injure himself as a hitter or base runner costing them more than they possibly could gain from his hitting.

The solution to the conundrum of “what to do with Stephen Strasburg other than shut him down in September” is obvious if not a little unusual. If they were to stop him from pitching there is no sense in keeping him on the active roster as he would be doing nothing, so presumably another pitcher gets called up to take his innings, if not in his exact spot in the rotation. Or someone gets bumped from reliever to starter and the new guy takes the reliever’s position. The point is that the replacement is less capable that Strasburg.

So, what to do?

Simple, platoon him.

Strasburg’s average start lasts six innings, which means if they were to stop him from pitching in 46 1/3 more innings, he would get 7-8 more starts. Pitching every five days, would mean he would be stopped in 35 days, which according to my calendar is mid-September and the playoffs will not have begun. But, if you call up or promote his replacement now, you could limit Strasburg’s starts to three innings, then call in the replacement pitcher to pitch the other three that Strasburg doesn’t pitch. Likely Strasburg will give his “long relief” guy a bit of a head start, if not a lead to carry forward. Doing this, Strasburg gets 15-16 more starts, at five days per start gives him 77-78 days which takes him well into the third week of October.

So, what to do? Simple, platoon him.

Ta da!

He pitches no more than 180 innings, but he makes to the playoffs. Instead of having him 6-7 times and then a replacement 7-8 times you have the team of him and his long reliever for the rest of the season.

It works.

And if you are really smart, the “platoon pitcher” is very different pitcher from Strasburg. Instead of the 100 mph fastballs and curveballs the other team prepared for, “Platoon Guy” comes in with an 88 mph fastball plus a variety of changeups, splitters, and sliders. It is not easy to time two pitchers who throw in very different styles.

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