"The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits." G.K. Chesterton

Monday, August 3, 2009

L.I.F.E

last edited 23 August 2009

It was both the unbearably increasing monotony of most of the daily activities, and the discovery of the mechanisms governing the illusion of time that led the brilliant employee of the Institute of Advanced Studies, Martin Parmenstein to finally bring himself to carry out a project which he had been anticipating intermittently since college. Deeply harbored metaphysical concerns fueled Martin to consider himself as the first test subject of this existential optimizer device. This is why writing the Life Intensity Full Enhancement (LIFE) algorithm would not only be the first step of this grandiose project but it would eventually change his life forever. 
Martin’s PhD dissertation The Influence of Prior Stimulus Distribution Saturation on Time Perception and Memory Enhancement essentially proposed what could be understood as an elixir of youth simulation. The theory explained the commonly known phenomenon of changes to our subjective perception of time with ageing and proposed a way of eliminating it by simulating an experience of being that is lucid, enthusiastic and carefree: the hallmarks of youth which nature inevitably denies us in later life.

Martin’s explanation relied on the widely documented evidence of our adaptation to repeated stimuli. Repeated exposure to similar stimuli eventually ceases to register as unique, and we have no conscious memory of it, or more specifically we have no way of distinguishing one repeated stimuli event from another. This is naturally the result of the evolutionary optimization of energy strategy which our brains employ.
Eventually this results in a task distribution in accordance with what is today referred to as Parmenstein’s Law, which essentially states that the level of consciousness governing the response to a given stimuli is inversely proportional to the frequency of exposure to that stimuli . Simply put the law states that the more frequent the occurrence the lower the level of consciousness which will deal with it. This makes an activity such as walking practically automatic.
The consequences of this fact carry over immediately to our memories of the world; the very rare and hence unique experiences will stand out above others in our minds, whereas the chains of routine ultimately dissolve into oblivion of amnesia at best. The other alternative that awaits mundane and repeated experiences is that of mutual homogenization resulting in a collage of memories of an action to make up the actual memory; remembering the act of locking the front door last week is no more than a mnemonic tapestry of the more lucid fragments originating from all the times this act has been performed. Such a chimera is the best raft of clarity in this otherwise ocean of amnesia that our mind can construct, and hence nominate it to the status of a memory.

The final piece of Martin’s Thesis was the claim that it is those unique experiences that serve as the mnemonic milestones dictating the perception of the passage of time and hence also its anticipation. Anticipation of time has a fundamental importance in making plans and setting goals, which are essential in furnishing our lives with meaning. Furthermore the temporal “spaces” between these milestones, Martin believes, are constant due to neurological hardware limitations.
The conclusion then is that our perception of time is determined by the richness of our experiences. To a child, every day brings new and unique experiences, such as going to the movies for the first time or seeing the sea or just hearing a fire engine siren. Hence the weekend seems like a very long time, and the school brake almost like eternity. As we grow older this constant set of stimuli does not change substantially and what’s more we tend to gradually diminish it with our daily, self imposed routine, a tendency which enhances the impoverishment of stimuli. Weekends become insignificant instants mainly due to the fact that a two day period rarely brings anything unique enough t o register as a milestone. By this merciless mechanism, in old age we are but somnambulists whose dreams are no more than kaleidoscopic projections of our memories of childhood and youth.
If one was able to enrich the distribution of stimuli in one’s life then not only the anticipation of each day would be comparable to that of what a child experiences on the eve of Boxing Day but also the memories of it would be proportionally rich and vivid. The implementation of LIFE to one’s life, Martin believed was the answer.

In theory, LIFE’s function is essentially the inverse of Permenstein’s law; it would counterbalance the inevitable suppression of awareness of stimuli to lower levels of consciousness by substantially reducing the frequency of repetition of stimuli by means of novel modifications of their content. For example the route taken to the office every day by a given subject would have certain alternations and idiosyncrasies introduced in order to make each journey vividly distinct. The means of transport may be proposed to alternate between driving, public transport, taking a taxi, riding a bike or a scooter, or some combination of those during a single journey. On public transport one may be advised to engage in conversation with strangers.
Such behavioral differentiation would be implemented to all other facets of life, such as choice of leisure or culinary dishes. Incidentally LIFE had been condemned by the Vatican, soon after Martin’s paper appeared in Nature, due to the necessary promiscuous tendencies it advocated. Needless to say the New York Times headline “Pope condemns LIFE” provoked an outrage within the entire Christian community, consequently reviving the abortion debate. As a matter of fact LIFE’s parameters would naturally be custom calibrated to correspond to each client’s deeply cherished beliefs so neither a religious person would be encouraged to commit adultery nor an atheist expected to make the Hajj. Effectively the subject would appear to an onlooker as adventurous, spontaneous, curious, possibly immature and finally outright childish.

Prior to receiving his PhD in Algorithmic Metaphysics, Martin encountered three serious objections to LIFE, one from each of the three academic auditors. Naturally those objections had to be refuted in order for his dissertation to be accepted. The first one questioned the efficiency of LIFE’s mechanism, by pointing to the supposedly excessive set of novel changes and alternations its application would require.
After all, the professor argued, rendering a set of experiences unique can be achieved a lot more efficiently using a formal approach. This means that no actual states of affairs need to be altered, but only the perceptual construct of the subject. By dramatically changing a given subject’s worldview one could thereby change the subject’s experience of the world. So for example, instead of alternating between various means of transport taken to the office and the random introduction of idiosyncratic behavioral tendencies, an alternation between radically different psychological constructs would make each journey equally unique. Insofar as human imagination is capable of accommodating and harboring an almost infinite variety of worldviews, a pre-fabricated set of metaphysical and epistemological systems could be within reach to absorb and allow seeing the world in a new light. After all an ordinary bus ride experienced with the conviction that all that exists, does so in virtue of being perceived isn’t the same as riding it tormented by the thought that this bus ride is just a way filling out a sequence of events which are necessarily predetermined . The technical aspect, although non trivial would certainly not be insurmountable; a world system generator placed on the bedside table would instantiate a new Grand Unified Theory each evening which would then be absorbed by the subject during sleep. A mere rewiring of the cerebral cortex would have the effect of conjuring up a new universe each morning.

This approach Martin argued, although attractive due to its apparent simplicity of method and robustness of effects, could not be considered for ethical reasons. A person’s mind tampered in this fashion would in principle be equivalent to being rendered schizophrenic with a unique delusion dominating each day. Furthermore, the overwhelming contrasts of meaning and significance resulting from the irreconcilable worldviews would make it impossible for any coherent memory thread to exist, since its content would be interpreted with systematic inconsistency. As a result no genuine notion of self could emerge – a consequence surely undesirable for anyone with the hope of improving their experience of the world. If there wouldn’t be a self experiencing this epistemological freak show, then there can be no talk of any variety of experience at all.
To be continued...

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