Tag Archives: Metacognition

Respect Everything

Created February 23, 2024

Welcome to this week’s Bill Harvey Blog.

Open-mindedness is one of the most important principles of metacognition (continuously studying one’s own mind as if from the point of view of an outsider) according to Dr. Gerald Zaltman, who has taught neuroscience at Harvard, and metacognition at Harvard Business School. Without open-mindedness one tends to be locked into positions one has taken in the past, even though there might be new relevant evidence that could be considered.

If one is truly open-minded, then that person can also see the possible truth in positions 180 degrees away from their own. An atheist can see that it is possible that an intelligence created the universe. A progressive can see that there might be useful truth in some things that a conservative says.

How little we know, as Hoagy Carmichael’s and Johnny Mercer’s song tells us (from the 1944 Hemingway-based movie To Have and Have Not). Arthur C. Clarke put it another way, he said that of all the things that we can someday know, what we know now is an infinitesimally small percentage.

We have changed our scientific perspectives many times along the way, and we continue to change them. The wisest among us have this perspective and their epistemology naturally embraces open-mindedness. Although in most of his work a physicalist, the great Stephen Hawking in his final book quoted John Wheeler’s Participatory Principle which states that our consciousness helps create reality. This opens the door to overthrowing physicalism and establishing consciousness as the principal underlying reality.

These are great thoughts from great people. Open-minded to the very end, despite their decades of study and theorizing.

Compare that to the average person. The average person takes very strong stands based on, really, very little. They fall into a very deep rut as to what they believe and the beliefs they hate. Most of their assumptions are not something they themselves learned from their own life experiences, but heard about from others influential in their lives. This reflects an unconscious epistemology of Authority rather than Empiricism. The very selfsame unconscious epistemology that leads to Authoritarianism. Blind followership, in other words.

Without open-mindedness, a person drifts as if by animal instinct to be attracted to types of people, e.g. tough guys, or pretenders of that ilk. This is a survival instinct in many species (e.g. pecking order) and when human beings behave animalistically they are not rising to the occasion of having exclusive cognitive capabilities proprietary to our species.

The lack of open-mindedness impels us to be negatively motivated. We know what we are fighting against. We are less sure of what we are fighting for. This is most apparent in the current political climate. It would be most noble and most fun for governments to spend 100% of their time focusing on creative solutions. Instead, they appear to spend most of their time knocking down the ideas of others. Yet we must respect all of them if we are to be open-minded. Respect does not imply agreement or support. It simply reflects the recognition that we all deserve respect. Even those who do not respect us. Noblesse oblige.

Open-mindedness and respect go together. If one is open-minded, one tends to listen respectfully to the thoughts and feelings of others. If one is respectful, one tends to listen to others with an open mind, and to use metacognitive strength to hold at bay the screaming voices in one’s own mind reflexively denouncing what the other person is saying.

If all of reality is a single consciousness, the larger parent of that part of the consciousness we take to be our own, then respecting everything makes complete sense. We have been conditioned by centuries of majorities of thinkers we respected who could not see how ancient conceptions of God could be squared with the findings of science.

What came out of nowhere in the last half Century were new conceptions of God that fit neatly in with quantum physics and relativity. Just replace the word “God” with “the original consciousness field” and everything makes sense, the Participatory Principle, relativity, quantum entanglement, the Heisenberg effect, Bits Before Its, the jigsaw puzzle falls into place.

What Wheeler called the quantum foam could simply be the original consciousness field. The way Wheeler described the quantum foam, which pre-existed The Big Bang in his theory, was that virtual particles spontaneously arose from it and fell back into it. Sounds a lot like consciousness, with ideas and feelings arising from it and often disappearing back into it before we could grasp them.

Since we cannot prove that point right now, it comes down to being open-minded about it. For some of us who have noticed that our hunches, at least the dispassionate ones, often have great validity, we can decide to run our lives betting on cosmopsychism, as scientists are now calling it. When that struck me as more of a revelation than a hunch circa 1969 I called it The Theory of the Conscious Universe. I had a feeling that everything was conscious, it was an experience, more like a perception than an idea. I also dimly recalled that I had always had that perception as a child but it went away a long time before, slipping away quietly.

If we retain the realization that the world might be a very different sort of place than it appears, and take that possibility seriously, we naturally become more open-minded and respectful toward others, who may actually be ourselves at a different place in the game.

Whatever the truth might be, we can perhaps know it with certainty the next time we die.

In the meantime, if we can all agree that the world needs a bit of a makeover right now, which I think is a pretty pervasive take on things, we can exercise our will to take a stronger hand in the game by rising to a state of open-mindedness and respect for all things, as all things may be a part of our One Self.

This includes respect for our own current self. The popular term “self-esteem” is not quite as healthy as self-respect, because “esteem” implies a vain ego, and “respect” does not.

If we respect others, we shall find that it has increased our level of self-respect. It is a magnanimous position to take. We have taken unconditional responsibility to behave properly.

If we can apply respect in our daily lives, it will automatically tune down the hate. We have not found any other way to effectively turn off the hate so why not try respect?

Love to all,
Bill

If You Assume the Worst, You Yourself Will Bring It About

Powerful Mind Part 36
Created November 10, 2023

Read Powerful Mind 35

The latest findings of neuroscience suggest that we as individual human beings interpret our own emotions as they happen. The physical signals we receive may suggest not only the degree to which our emotions are aroused, they may even suggest the valence as either being positive or negative emotion, but then there is a cognitive interpretation layer we impose to further characterize to ourselves the emotions we are feeling.

In my own introspections I had also come to that same conclusion long ago, that my mind had the ability to clarify the emotions I was experiencing. In some cases I felt overwhelming arousal and initially took that to be fear and panic, but then applying Observer state (metacognition) I was able to refine that classification into positive excitement and anticipation rather than negative fear. This was the way I learned to deal with stage fright when my showbiz parents put me on stage at age 4.

The general reason why it is important to be able to bring emotional self-interpretation into play is to avoid making things worse.

There is a proven feedback loop between our expectations and the results we get. If we fear failure, it increases our probability of failure.

This goes beyond psychology. In physics the greatest theorists including Einstein, Wheeler, and Hawking have postulated what Wheeler called the Anthropic Participatory Principle, the ability of consciousness to collapse probability waves into concrete objects. Einstein did not go quite as far but could not describe relativity without including an observer (consciousness) in his equations.

Knowing that our inner emotional content has significant impact on the outcomes in our lives, and that we have the interpretation layer at our disposal in order to clarify exactly which emotions we are feeling, we face the choice of either:

A. Continuing to relinquish control over how we interpret our emotions, leaving that up to our brain’s default network to settle that as it will, and accepting the consequences.
B. Exercising our will power to focus our minds on self-observation and clarifying our emotions based on the pragmatic principle that outcomes will be better to the degree that we classify our emotions more positively.

The ideal mental framework if we choose the “B” option is (1) gratitude for being alive and for the life we have been given, despite perceived imperfections (2) resolute confidence that we shall attain our dreams someday so long as we stay positive toward ourself and toward everyone else.

That’s the gratitude attitude that gives you the greatest chance of success at whatever you do. The word “someday” implies that we ought not be impatient or overly attached to the experience of success, but instead should enjoy the passage of time, the journey rather than the destination. This total package of attitudinal viewpoints is the master cocktail for maximizing success.

The implication is that in any given moment, if you sense your own emotions, the interpretation of those emotions should be the priority. If you are also besieged by your own tumble of thoughts and questions in your mind about various subjects, you might write down the fewest possible trigger words which will serve to remind you of those questions so that you can tackle them later on.

When I was very young, I took a very different path. I greatly esteemed thinking over feeling, for a very long time, and so I paid priority attention to my thoughts and questions of an intellectual and rational nature. I considered my emotions more as animal instincts to be conquered than as valuable signals. I was in my late teens by the time I realized that many of my intellectual questions reduced to aesthetic preferences, i.e. feelings.

My undervaluing of feelings led me to take on a general preference for melancholy in the form of “glamorous cynicism”. I actually felt most comfortable being in a negative mood. Later on this became a hard to break habit but one which I eventually overcame. I had to see the way the negative mindset had ruined a number of great opportunities before I could wake up to, and bring in, the feeling side of the game to my self-recommended life systems (“psychotechnology”).

As we begin the description of Key #10 here, we are entering into the complexities of what goes on in the mind, from the subjective viewpoint of you, the experiencer. In this environment every instant is besieged by qualia (subjective inner phenomena) some of which purport to describe the “outside” world (perceptions) and some of which report signals from the “inner” world (thinking, feelings, intuition, memories, imaginings, images). Operating according to the current norm for homo sapiens on Earth, all of this washes over you and what you pay attention to and do about it all, seems to do itself without much help from you, even when some of it is stuff that you do consciously but automatically, like saying thank you. But some of it riles you up and you over-react negatively and some of it peps you up and you possibly over-react positively… all of it feeling fairly out of control, but you’re used to it, so it doesn’t induce panic most of the time.

Key #10 is completing the granular dissection of Observer state so that you are more fully prepared to deal with life with a far greater degree of conscious control.

We started with the feelings because they are the most powerful and least controllable qualia we experience. Remember the Gratitude Attitude in order to not be overtaken by your feelings, but to leverage your feelings so that you may channel their energies in the directions of your ultimate dreams.

Best to all,
Bill

Bringing on the Observer State by Observation

Powerful Mind Part 31
Created October 6, 2023

Welcome to this week’s Bill Harvey Blog.
Read Powerful Mind 30

“How observant of you!” We have all heard people say this from time to time, to us or to someone else. There is wisdom in everything that is said, often much deeper wisdom than even the person who says it is aware of. Old sayings especially.

The Observer state is more than being an observant person, although that is one aspect of the state.

We are embarking here on explaining Key #7, which is about the perceptions, the five senses, and the internal sense, the mind with its thoughts and feelings. Feelings include more than emotions; emotions are the bodily manifestations of our feelings. Thoughts are more than us talking to ourselves in our minds; thoughts include images, memories, hunches, and ideas we understand without using words in our mind.

These sensory systems bring us information about the world outside and inside.

Key #7 is about how to use these tools to further your Mission, and take care of yourself and other people better, by getting into the Observer state. Key #7 focused on how to do that using more powerful methods of observation. Other Keys aim to get you there by other strategies.

To review, the default network in the brain, what we call EOP (Emergency Oversimplification Procedure), is the most common state of most human beings. The mind wanders, impulses arise, and you choose which impulses to act upon based on the past. The brain part called the cerebellum, which is responsible for coordinating muscle control including movement and balance and much more, also acts like an AI to keep track of every event in your past and makes associations between event type, action taken, and result; and then sends you impulses to take specific action that would have been best, in that event type, in the past.

This is of course not a perfect way to make decisions. What if the event you are now embroiled in has never appeared in your life before, and the default events that are most similar and which the cerebellum therefore uses as proxies for your current situation, are really not close enough? What if none of the actions you took in the past were really all that effective? As explained in the chapters relating to Key #2, consistency is not really the best policy.

The cerebellum is part of the old brain, going back millions of years. 200,000 years ago our species evolved a frontal cortex specifically as an improvement on the earlier decision “optimization” system. This new part enables the executive control network in the brain, although all brain systems are distributed in many parts of the physical brain. This network is where you want to work from. The best way to shift gears to that network is though conscious metacognition, that is, by observing your own thinking and feeling. This will get you into the Observer state.

You can easily slip out of the Observer state into EOP (Emergency Oversimplification Procedure). The reason it is easy to slip out is distraction. The environment in what we call modern civilization is extremely distractive, unless you live alone in a cave. Another reason is long habit. Getting mad at yourself only makes things worse. Maintain your sense of humor, it’s another way of maintaining your sense of perspective. Perspective allows us to realize that minor slippages are usually unimportant in the greater scheme of things, and are valuable learning experiences if you use them that way. The old sayings that captured this include “don’t sweat the small stuff”, “no use crying over spilt milk”, and “practice makes perfect”. Key #4 also helps with this, reminding you not to keep score (because it trivializes you) but rather stay focused in the present.

Ego

Metacognition and the executive control network do not assure the onset of Observer state. Observer state is where you can identify impulses arising in you which come from ego. It’s not always obvious. And you’re in the Observer state when you can ignore such impulses, not act upon them.

Ego is a form of neediness, also known as attachment, where you experience negative feelings because something you have become needy of, is withheld.

If something you were born actually needing is withheld – like oxygen, food, water, certain temperature levels, health – it’s natural to have negative feelings, and would not fall into the category of ego.

Most of ego is related to esteem – the desire that other people esteem you. Such dependencies weaken you and get in the way of achieving a powerful mind.

One of the things you will be looking out for as you amp up the power of inner and outer observation is your own subtle neediness. Observer state is the powerful will that enables you to surmount those attachments. Renunciation of that neediness doesn’t mean stopping yourself from enjoying those things when they come your way, but you must have the will power to stop yourself from running after more of the same.

It will seem like the universe is testing your resolve (and that might be what is actually happening).

You make your will stronger by exercising it. Especially when you can discipline yourself. Be careful not to exercise your will by being domineering with other people.

As a first step toward internalizing Key #7, keep an eye out inside for signs of neediness and analyze what it exactly is. Imagine scenarios in which your ego gets the stroking you want and scenarios in which your ego is crushed and humiliated. You will sense progress when you realize you don’t care about that stuff so much anymore – the sting will have been taken out of such mortification incidents. You will have become a mensch.

Be vigilant from the start of each day to the end. It’s optional but very helpful to keep a journal noting when ego arose in you and what you felt and did about it.

After this useful preparation we shall begin to more directly address observation in the next post.

Love to all,
Bill

Stripping Away Imposed Limitations

Powerful Mind Part 29
Created September 22, 2023

Welcome to this week’s Bill Harvey Blog.
Read Powerful Mind Part 28.

We have all been brainwashed. It was not done because of any conspiracy. It arose naturally as a result of the original minorities that seized power, the education systems and other structures that bloomed in the environments of those governments, the media the species invented, the economics of media and marketing in the world as it became.

The world we came into, the best intentions of our parents, and our own tabula rasa impressionability, did the rest. Operant conditioning was applied “accidentally”. Our parents wanted to prepare us for life with all its warts and so their advice was designed to help us avoid mistakes they had learned from, painfully. We of course insisted on learning for ourselves. By the time our childhood peers became more influential upon us than our parents had been, most of our behaviors, gestures, facial expressions, comments, likes, dislikes, and tendencies had already been conditioned by family influences including the friends of the family to whom we were exposed.

We were more like little imitative monkeys than we realized. We were generally not cognizant of how what we thought of as our self was being formed by others. Later in life we all realize it to some degree sooner or later. Some of us more than others, upon realizing this insidious process and how it shaped what we thought of as our own thinking, rebelled. Without realizing it perhaps, we repressed anger at our parents for having controlled our belief systems and values to the degree they had. We suddenly valued independent thinking as a thing that had never mattered to us before. Often in the process of trying to differentiate ourselves from those who had influenced our development, we came around to realize years later that the fight against the early conditioning had led a circular path right back to performing along the early ingrained lines anyway.

How can we in reality make a clean permanent break from the brainwashing we endured, and continue to endure each day?

How can we take charge of ourselves, stripping away the external influences, and will we find anything left of ourselves once we have done that? How scary to feel that without all the mimicry programs there might not be a “self left to stand on”? Never fear. You do have a real self under all that. Your dreams and visions and hunches tap into the roots of your individuality even though they may be tainted by external influences too. Which is why it is a good idea to pay attention to your deepest thoughts, feelings, images, memories, and to analyze and understand what they mean, what your non-conscious mind is trying to communicate to your conscious mind.

This is all about you and your life, what you want to do with the blank canvas, which by now has scribbling all over it.

Don’t trash the scribbling because it too has messages that will help you understand yourself. Everything you have done – even things you now regret – is of positive value to you as learning experiences, and you have probably not yet extracted all of the learning you can get out of each experience. Looking back over your life as we did in the previous post – especially the memories that still evoke emotion in you – is for the purpose of extracting the remaining lessons. Once you have fully assimilated an experience that has always made you feel guilty and ashamed, those feelings will no longer have any sting.

Metacognition – studying yourself – can actually unwind emotional blocks and take the sting out of “bad” memories. That is not the only benefit of metacognition, but it’s an important one.

How much have you gotten out of this series of posts so far? One way to look at that is to remember the “wants” that came into your mind when you read the post “What Do You Really Want?” which was posted on September 8, 2023. Hopefully you took notes either on paper or in a device and kept those notes, and if so, you can review them now. In any case, what you can do right now is to repeat the short exercise of writing down the things you want, and even if you have no notes, you can think about how the wants you write down now might have changed since September 8. Your inner processes are not all at the conscious level, so you could be surprised at noticing that certain things you said you wanted a couple of weeks ago now don’t seem as important to the you of now. And maybe other wants have risen higher recently.

Think about this for a moment: which wants do you want to have, and which wants would you rather not have?

There could be things that used to drive you, and caused you painful experiences – these may be wants you don’t want to have any more.

Also, I have found that it helps to throw off desires I have by plumbing the depths of where did I get that want in the first place? Once I discover how a want was planted in me, it makes it all the easier to cast off that want or to dial it down.

One of the most pernicious wants – especially if it becomes a need – is the desire for approval by others. Self-approval is of course a bedrock requirement. If we don’t like ourselves for any reason, we are going to be undermining ourselves, like a scorpion continuously addicted to constantly stinging itself. Why be that way? It’s an insult to the opportunity of life itself. You have to be on your own side. If something is preventing that, it’s a top priority to contemplate that first, and conquer it, no matter what else you might have to give up or dial down.

Whereas self-approval is a good thing, the need for approval from others is very undermining. Catch yourself justifying yourself to others, it is evidence that your need for the approval of others is causing you to act in a pathetic manner. Not everyone around you is sharp enough to see that consciously, but everyone can sense that you are needy without clarifying that into words in their own minds. Do you really want to appear needy to others? Is that really going to help you accomplish what you wish to accomplish in your life? Best to edit out those words that your impulsive default network sends to your tongue to enunciate.

What are you going to accomplish with the remainder of your life? What is your mission, your purpose, your goals? How are you going to deliver the gifts you have been given to the rest of the world. How are you going to leave something behind that will make you feel fulfilled when you breathe your last breath?

Love to all,
Bill