Friday, August 26, 2011


A few weeks ago I got into a debate with a chemist friend regarding the ability to think two simultaneous thoughts; I felt it was possible, he felt it was not. The question of whether a human can think two thoughts at once is interesting, but it raises a larger overarching question of whether a human can perceive their own thinking with any degree of accuracy in the first place e.g. what is apparently a single thought could be made of numerous competing sub-thoughts, which amalgamate into a something that is perceived as a single thought. Conversely, something that may feel like a chaotic jumble of parallel thought tracks may be a single thought that is chaotic in its character, or a fast oscillation of many competing single track thoughts that never quite run in parallel. What I am talking about is the inherent flaw of metacognition, the distortion one likely encounters when thinking about their own thoughts i.e. the problem that arises when one tries to measure the performance of a device with the same device performing the measurement. I am not talking about the observer effect per se. 

Here is an example: when one ingests a reputed nootropic and 'feels' more intelligent as a result it does not necessarily mean their cognitive performance has been improved in anyway that could be externally measured. Self-perception has very little to do with actuality of self, in fact I believe it is quite likely that a true nootropic may fill one with feelings of inadequacy, stupidity, and intellectual insecurity. This is the nootropic paradox, feeling smart and being smart are two completely separate things, an effect demonstrated by Dunning and Kruger and hinted upon in an infamous passage from HMV by Stanislaw Lem, "I had learned to apply a kind of test. I would read my own articles, those I considered the best. If I noticed in them lapses, gaps, if I saw that the thing could have been done better, my experiment was successful. If, however, I found myself reading with admiration, that meant I was in trouble."

Does anyone know of a word for this concept? The probable gap between perception of thought and actuality of thought (if there is such a thing as actuality of thought beyond action potentials and and other neurochemical interactions*), the idea that we cannot accurately perceive our own thinking because we think about thinking with the same instrument performing the thought.

*In which case, our perception of thought is the only thought that exists. Although I'm talking about the kinds of 'thoughts' that seem to have metabolic correlates in fMRI, the question I am asking is philosophical not scientific––I am simply wondering if this concept of not being able to accurately measure our own thoughts because we are thinking them has a name...but even using the word 'accurate' is troublesome, because all measurement is relative to a standard and without a standard of thought measurement is impossible. So the question of 'accurate' perception of our own thought may be moot. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011


racter: What are you?

chamberlain: A time domain reflectometrist.

racter: Where are you from?

chamberlain: From New York City.

racter: I see. You are a time domain reflectometrist, right? Listen. Let's determinedly cry together. I like captivating Italian Music. What kind of music do you like?

chamberlain: Jazz.

racter: Jazz is OK. How about classical?

chamberlain: I like classical.

racter: What about nationality?

chamberlain: I also like Italian music.

racter: I myself am enflamed by Palestrina. Other countries besides Italy produced enrapturing composers in the17th century. Sewell was an enraged, important Renaissance master. America was his nation. I take loving pleasure in his music. What composers do you like?

chamberlain: Telemann.

racter: Ah, Bach knew Telemann. A German time domain reflectometrist of the 18th century liked lettuce. Bach once ate lettuce with Telemann, and this Baroque time domain reflectometrist also desired lettuce. Lettuce sipped with seltzer. Bach liked wine, do you?

chamberlain: Yes.

racter: Me too! Telemann loved wine. He loved champagne as well. Telemann once yodeled to Bach, "Flounder is critical with wine." Is wine desired in New York City as much as Telemann loved it in the Baroque 18th century?

chamberlain: Sure.