Friday, January 30, 2015

“The Committee of the Whole” or “Parallel Processing in My Head”

I heard an interesting statement the other day.  In a discussion about marketing, the internet, and the changes happening over the last few years the concept came up of what really makes ‘ME’ an individual.  Marketing companies think they know who we are, and how to sell us things.  And certainly they can predict, on average, how people will react to this message or that.  But can they really target an individual, predict his tastes, his reactions to a given subject or situation?
The commentator stated, and I agree, that they cannot.  That it is impossible for anyone not riding around in your head to know what is really going on.

He used the phrase “The committee of the whole” to describe his perception of his own individuality.  His concept of himself was a hundred different ‘people’ in his head, each one specializing in a certain set of experiences.  He describes his sanity as the ability of all those ‘people’ to reach a consensus.  I found that it really resonated with my own concept of ‘ME’.  In my head are hundred of variable components of myself, superimposed over one another in a sequence based on the circumstances of the moment.  The resulting cacophony is viewed by the outside world as ‘Jason’.  Our brains function as pattern recognition machines, and each pattern adds to the mix up. 

Consider the factors that might add to a situation:  1:How you feel today,  2:Your relationship with your mom, 3:The weather, 4:How you feel about some family event that is going on, 5:The room is noisy, 6: Some weird smell drifted past just now, 7:Your wife just gave you the raised eyebrows of doom, 8:The music from what you watched on TV last night.  All these factors add up to a really simplistic view of the current situation, but it is enough to make my point.

We might be able to make some broad, general predictions of our own or others behavior.  But there is no way we can read somebody’s mind or heart and really tell what they are thinking.  We, as sentient individuals, are so radically different from one another that it amazes me we are able to agree on what the color ‘red’ is.  Each one of us has constructed our thought patterns from scratch, with no frame of reference except the instinctive sequential pattern recognition system that our creator wired into our brains.  That’s it….   Every other part of our thought patterns are derived from the environment and teachings that surrounded us from the moment our brain became active.  Who teaches somebody to make comparisons?  Who teaches somebody to be creative?  So many things we take for granted.  And yet we have agreed on the set of protocols that we call language, social interaction, etc. and it works!  We can live and work together with relatively little confusion.  That is amazing!

Stop for a moment and consider what trains of thought are running in your head right now.  Not the primary “read this strange article on this dude’s blog” process, but all the lower priority processes running in the background.  For example, in my head at any given time are my personal internal soundtrack  (star wars music, or Orf’s Carmina Burana, DaftPunk, etc.); a working model of the customers Cisco router that I just had to work on; the installation process for the computer parts I will likely have to install on my next service call; some material discussed at a congregation meeting last night; a way to modify my quadcopter to make it fly better; the road I will have to take in a few minutes to meet my boss and pick up the part to install on that next service call; why my spellchecker cant handle the word ‘quadcopter’; the slight ringing in my left ear from an ear infection; a joke my wife told me this morning; and currently moved to the front is the pile of ideas that are becoming this blog post.  All this stuff seems to be simultaneously running in parallel.

Sometimes we joke about ‘'’the voices in our heads’, and yet with all this stuff going on its all in my own voice.  Or at least those parts of it that have words.  Lots of things I think about in the abstract are more like 3d models with lots of moving parts.  But each 3d model, voice, or point of view is always clearly my own.

Yesterday when I first began considering all this the mashup of thoughts was completely different, and I wondered “with all this stuff buzzing round in my head, how can I ever concentrate on anything, solve any problems?”  I don’t have a clue…  Does every person in the world have this circus going on in their heads?