Towards Body Architecture [Architecture v1.5]

Body Architecture v1.5

The autobiographical origin of this post is rather involved:

  • First, I wanted to understand the medial prefrontal cortex generated emotion.
  • Next, I wanted to understand how affective neuroscience interacted with the endocrine system.
  • Next, I wanted to understand the interactions between nervous & endocrine systems more generally.
  • Finally, I wanted to understand how nervous & endocrine systems together regulate the organism as a whole.

At the end of this adventure, the following concepts stand out to me as particularly significant:

  • Thirteen pairs of cranial nerves (CN) complement information derived from the spinal nerves.
  • The HP (hypothalamus-pituitary) axes represent neuroendocrine systems, such as the HPA axis (stress), HPT axis (metabolism) and HPG axis (sexuality). These are how the central nervous system drives the endocrine system, despite the blood-brain barrier.
  • The autonomic nervous system (i.e., the sympathetic & parasympathetic branches) intertwines with the endocrine system to maintain homeostasis.
  • The enteric nervous system (500 million neurons within the gut) is connected to the brain via the vagal nerve (CN 10), but can operate independently.

A few general musings to close:

  • Within anatomy, the various bodily systems feel much more studied than their interactions.
  • The endocrine and nervous systems seem to control the body at different time scales: nerve control is immediate, hormonal control is long-lasting.
  • The distinction between autonomic nervous system & autonomic endocrine system could be used to stiffen a conceptual divide between emotion and mood.
  • This process of consolidation of anatomical knowledge has really emphasized, for me, how the neocortex is not the only actor on the stage of my architectural research.

To be continued. This was fun!

Neural Roots Of Mind [Architecture v1.5]

Part Of: [Mental Architecture v1.5] sequence


This data collection effort will become larger over the coming months. Eventually, I hope to break this up into a more formal knowledge representation system. It would be nice to create (inter-referencing, version-controlled) tables & software models containing:

  • Behavior Explananda Database: Linking modules or modular circuits to different behaviors.
  • Lesion Explanada Database: Counting how many syndromes can be explained on the current architecture.
  • Confidence Distribution Model: Formalizing my Bayesian intuitions on the architecture, and linking to various streams of evidence & constraint.
  • Cortical Maps: Displaying localization information topographically, and noticing areas where localizations overlap (logically possible, but worthy of further research)

Implementation Notes

This document is not close to representative of my entire research project, but it is better to have at least something written down.

Finally, please note that Schema Memory, Semantic Memory, and Episodic Memory are not represented in what follows. These memory systems each comprise their own representational format, but following the principle that “modules tend to save their work near where they are computed”.

Without further ado, here is my December 2015 mapping between my mental architecture, and the brain.

Modular Localizations

The following are cognitive networks (or streams, or circuits) which have been fully or partially localized. Here lie 17 distinct networks.

  1. The Action Instigator stream is responsible for activating and deactivating motor activity. It corresponds with the task-positive network and task-negative network.
  2. The Face Computation network, which includes the Face Detector, Facial Identity Lookup, and Face Expression modules.
  3. The Body Detector network, which includes Body Part Detector and Whole Body Detector modules.
  4. The Attention (Top-Down) network, which includes the Preparatory Set circuit, and the Task Switching circuit.
    • Localization: The Preparatory Set circuit operates in cingulo opercular PFC.
    • Localization: The Task Switching circuit operates in fronto-parietal PFC. 
    • Theory Basis: I am leveraging A dual-networks architecture of top-down control (Dosenbach et al, 2008)
  5. The Attention (Bottom-Up) network comprises the Salience Computation circuit and the Salience Orientation circuit.
    • Localization: The Salience Computation circuit operates in the dorsal frontal lobe. This is the home of the salience map. 
    • Localization: The Salience Orientation circuit operates in ventral frontal lobe, including Frontal Eye Fields, and is strongly right-lateralized. 
    • Theory Basis: I am leveraging The Attention System of the Human Brain: 20 Years After (Petersen and Posner, 2012).
  6. The Attention (Arousal) network comprises the top-down attention network.
  7. The Audio (Spatial) stream, which includes a left-lateralized Language Production module. 
  8. The Audio (Perceptual) stream, which includes the Voice Recognition and left-lateralized Language Comprehension modules.
    1. Theory Basis: I am leveraging The Cortical Organization Of Speech Processing (Hickok and Peoppel, 2007)
  9. The Event Analysis complex, which comprises a Biological Motion and a Causal Inference module. 
    • Localization: The Biological Motion module operates in the Superior Temporal Sulcus.
    • Localization: The Causal Inference module, whose location is unknown…
  10. The Global Broadcasting network uses the Thalamus as a relay station to construct a global workspace.
  11. The Intimacy network, which comprises an Attachment and an Attraction module 
    • Localization: the Attachment module operates in the  location is the “senior executive of the emotional brain”; the Orbitofrontal Prefrontal Cortex.
    • Localization: The Attraction module, whose location is unknown…
  12. The Location Detector network, which comprises a Place Inference and a Landmark Inference module.
  13. The Memory Metacognition network, including the Recognition Heuristic and Confidence Heuristic modules. 
  14. The Smell stream begins with the Olfactory Bulb. It is the only sense organ that is not first routed into the Thalamus.
  15. The Taste stream begins with the Gustatory Cortex.
  16. The Vision (Action) stream (which travels dorsally towards the parietal lobe) also begins with the Primary Visual Cortex.
  17. The Vision (Perception) stream (which travels ventrally towards the temporal lobe) begins with the Primary Visual Cortex.

The following are cognitive networks which I have not yet localized. Here lie 4 distinct networks.

  1. The Folk Mechanics network, which computes expectancies based on, e.g., the continuity of motion and other physics principles
  2. The Folk Math network, which includes the Subitizing module.
  3. The Identity Maintenance network, which includes the Identity Constructor, Identity Evaluator, and Identity Stabilizer modules.
  4. The Reputation complex, including the Caregiving module (partially mediated by oxytocin) and the Appreciation module (its functional sibling).

The following are cognitive modules which have been fully or partially localized. Here lie 14 distinct modules.

  1. The Action Engine module operates in the Primary Motor Cortex.
  2. The Action Evaluator operates in the Premotor Cortex.
  3. The Action Planner module operates in the Supplementary Motor Area.
  4. The Agent Classifier module, which links to the Amygdala…
  5. The Embodied Self module operates in the Primary Somatosensory Cortex.
  6. The Memory Heuristic (Effort) module, which constructs the Feeling Of Effort, lives somewhere in the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC),
  7. The Homeostasis Regulator operates in the Hypothalamus.
  8. The Pavlovian Conditioning module operates in the Posterior Parietal Cortex.
  9. The Memory Constructor (Frame) module, which lives somewhere in the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC)
  10. The Memory Constructor (Episodic) module operates in the Hippocampus.
  11. The Memory Constructor (Semantic) , which may be near the Lateral Occipital (LO) Complex
  12. The Normative Centroid module, which lives somewhere in the Ventro-Medial Prefrontal Cortex, and activates the Amygdala.
  13. The Conflict Monitor module, which lives in the dorsal Anterior Cingulate Cortex (dACC).
  14. The Intuition Override module, which operates in the right Ventrolateral Prefrontal Cortex (rVPC).

The following are cognitive modules which I have not localized. Here lie 9 distinct modules.

  1. The Counterfactual Simulator module
    1. Theory Basis: this module is adapted from Alan Leslie’s work, and Mindreading (Nichols and Stich, 2003).
  2. The Lie Detection module
    1. Theory Basis: Default Credulity theory, as defined by Gilbert (1991) How Mental Systems Believe.
  3. The Metaphor Linker module
  4. The Mind Reading module
  5. The Moral Rigidity module
    1. Theory Basis: Sacred Value Protection Model. Thinking the unthinkable: sacred values and taboo cognitions (Tetlock, 2003)
  6. The Social Processing (Fairness) module.
  7. The Social Processing (Exclusion) module
  8. The Social Processing (Authority) module
  9. The Symbolic Marker module


v1.5: The Tripartite Mind

Part Of: [Cognitive Architecture] sequence
Followup To: [Mental Architecture v1.4]

Let’s review our theoretical trajectory.

The Autonomic Mind: Belief, Motivation, and Decision Making

Our first architectures (1.0 → 1.2) explored the autonomic mind, which comprises our most fundamental mental capacities.

The Algorithmic Mind: Attention, Consciousness, and Intelligence

Subsequent architectures (1.3 → 1.4) complemented this understanding with the algorithmic mind, by weaving together three theories:

  • The Global Workspace theory of consciousness (inspired by Baars).
  • The Interpretive Sensory Access theory of introspection (inspired by Carruthers).
  • The Emergent Working Memory theory of attention (inspired by Postle).

There is a close link between intelligence and consciousness, as evidenced by working memory’s strong correlation with both. Generally fluid intelligence (IQ) is essentially a measure of the precision of your attentional streams.

The Reflective Mind: Metacognition, Control, and Culture

The novel innovation of this architecture (1.5) could be entitled Prefrontal Cortex: The Final Frontier. It integrates two theories into the base corpus:

  • The Reflective Modulation theory of cognitive override (inspired by Stanovitch).
  • The Somatic Frame theory of culture (inspired by Damasio).

These five theories together constitute the foundation stones of my mental architecture. Let me call this synthesis the Attention-Modulated Tripartite Mind theory.

Putting Clothes On My Theory

A theory is a house, and the above merely represents its foundation. On this base, I will add details: the following posts are planned:

  • Towards Architectural Phylogeny. Explaining mental evolution across species is an important requirement for any mental architecture.
  • Towards Brain Architecture. If the brain implements the mind, then we should be able to localize mental software packages to their respective neural locations.
  • Towards Body Architecture. The brain’s computational powers serve the needs of an organism. Mental and brain architectures must be rooted in the concerns of anatomy and ecology.

Mental Architecture v1.4

Part Of: [Mental Architecture] project
Followup To: [Mental Architecture v1.3]


Less of a jump than v1.3, but still a worthwhile place to “save my work”.  Significant new features include:

  • Consolidation Of Working Memory
  • Improved Sensory Specificity
  • A Home For Emotional Processing
  • Explicit Brain Architecture

Consolidation Of Working Memory

Adopts the Alternative View, contra the “Standard Model”, as put forward by Postle (2006) Working Memory As An Emergent Property of the Mind and Brain. Abolishes the Visuo-spatial Sketchpad and the Phonological Loop and replaces it w/ the contents of perceptual memory (and semantic memory, etc).

Improved Sensory Specificity

Reintroduces some of the sensory details already present in Mental Architecture v1.0, and adds a few organizing distinctions (e.g., exteroceptive vs interoceptive)

A Home For Emotional Processing

For months, my Emotion Generator module has lacked a comfortable home. Now, following Damasio’s gesture at homeostasis, I finally have a home for the “big six” emotions (Anger, Disgust, Fear, Joy, Sadness, Surprise). Specifically, I conjecture that these emotions are produced in topographic map located in the middle of a processing stream, whose data flows from interoceptive (e.g., hormonal) sense organs.

Explicit Brain Architecture

  • The Vision processing stream starts with Area V1 at the back of the head.
  • The Audio processing stream includes six tonotopic maps within the primary auditory cortex.
  • The Temporal Indexing module, which serves episodic memory creation, is performed by the hippocampus.
  • The Salience Attention modules comprises the bottom-up attention network.
  • The Directed Attention module comprises the top-down attention network.
  • The Central Executive module is housed in the pre-frontal cortex (PFC).
  • The Embodied Self is the Sensory Neuromatrix which is the cortical homunculus.
  • The Action Instigator module is modulated by the direct & indirect pathways of the basal ganglia.
  • The Action Engine is the Motor Neuromatrix which is the primary motor cortex.
  • The Action Evaluator is the premotor cortex.
  • The Action Planner module is the Supplementary Motor Area (SMA).
  • The Pavlovian Conditioning module is the posterior parietal cortex.
  • The Agent Detector module includes the Face Detection submodule which is operated by part of the fusiform gyrus.
  • The Favoritism Engine module is partially mediated by oxytocin.


Module Changelog

  • Removal: the Sensory Slave Modules modules b/c these are none other than perceptual systems.
  • Removal: the Modality Integration module from episodic memory, as this ability is provided by the two attentional networks.
  • Edit: relocating the Emotion Generators module from episodic memory & into interoceptive sensory processing.
  • Addition: Reflex Conditioning modules which bypassing knowledge queries en route to making hurried decisions.
  • Addition: Homeostasis Regulator modules which drive the brain’s endocrine system output.
  • Addition: a Body Ownership module within the sensory neuromatrix. The thing responsible for e.g., the rubber hand illusion.

Open Tasks

  • Incorporate Feature Integration Theory.
  • Incorporate the Somatic Marker Hypothesis.

Open Questions

  • What are the implementation details of semantic memory “files”, and frame memory “folders”?
  • Is lexical memory distinct from semantic memory?

Frustratingly Unaddressed Human Explananda

  • Music
  • Humor

[Graphic] Mental Architecture v1.3

Mental Architecture v1.3

A truly enormous upgrade. New features are as follows:

  • Memory Hierarchy
  • The Cognitive Roots Of Culture
  • Grounding Construal Level Theory
  • Grounding Dual Process Theory
  • Six Pillars Of Selfhood
  • Improved Motor Specificity

It is important to remember that these posts/diagrams are not theories in their own right. Only communicated architectural solutions qualify for this. Instead, these “version” posts give me a skeleton around which I could communicate what lives in my head. They are progress indicators I leave behind as my theories become more powerful.

Memory Hierarchy

This architecture constitutes my first “memory-centric” mental architecture.

  • Episodic memory is “video film” – that is, memories of past events.
  • Semantic memory draws from episodic memory, extracting facts and abstracting information. For example, your semantic notion of FIVE generalizing past events with e.g., five objects.
  • Frame memory also draws from episodic memory, extracting relational and behavioral patterns held in common. For example, your frame notion of RESTAURANT generalizes the behavioral patterns expected of your past restaurant visits.

Episodic memory is the “parent” of frame and semantic memory. It is the most verbose, and also the most lossy. Both other formats are better preserved across an organism’s lifetime.

Open Questions: I’ve noted indexical relationships between episodic memory and the other two formats. How else do these representational formats interrelate?

Epistemic status: takes three ubiquitous memory categories, and posits a relationship between them. While some have suggested that semantic memory draws from episodic memory, and others that frame memory draws from episodic memory (Atran ), I have not yet discovered gestures at an integration of both inheritance models besides my own.

The Cognitive Roots Of Culture

What is culture? Some people would gesture towards knowledge accretion, such as the knowledge requisite in the forging of bronze weaponry.  But others would say that culture is the birthplace of institutions like economies, political parties, and religions.

Cognitive science must explain both. Here, I claim that the former is shared semantic content, and the latter is shared frame content.

Open Questions: How exactly is semantic memory distinct from frame memory?

Epistemic status: This is highly original, and also highly tentative. I’ll feel better about it once I have a clear understanding of how frame files differ from the object files of semantic memory. But it beats having no idea where culture comes from. 🙂

Grounding Construal Level Theory

Construal Level Theory (CLT) is a theory of psychological distance. It posits that the mind retains information in two representations formats: high-level and low-level construals. This dichotomy is, among many other things, used to explain hyperbolic discounting. In my architecture, I identity low-level construals with episodic memory, and high-level construals with semantic & frame memory.

Note: A lot of insight will be unlocked after I unearth the above open questions re: frame memory.

Epistemic Status: Construal Level Theory (CLT) is a rather broad & powerful theory, and enjoys a wealth of experimental evidence. This explanation for CLT is unfortunately ambiguous first draft, but does (I think) gesture at an underappreciated connection with memory science.

Grounding Dual Process Theory

Dual Process Theory (DPT) is a theory of the functional role of consciousness. It posits your brain having two modes of operation

  1. System I processes (“the Elephant”) which are unconscious and parallel/fast
  2. System II processes (“the Rider”) which are conscious and serial/slow.

In this architecture, System II processes are identified with working memory. More specifically, your waking experience is broadcast from, and entirely contained within, THIS memory system, and no other. So e.g., I wrote a long time ago that I suspect my phonological loop is a bit atypical. If the above is correct, this means my conscious experience is likewise a tiny bit separated from the norm.

Open Questions: I haven’t finished ingesting this theory, so open questions will have to wait. 🙂

Epistemic Status: This synthesis is not my own. It is almost entirely attributable to Carruthers’ work (e.g., The Centered Mind). It is an interpretation of Global Workspace Theory, which enjoys considerable support (verging on consensus).

Six Pillars Of Selfhood

The self is not a single thing. I submit that your brain accomplishes self-reference in six distinct ways.

  • The Embodied Self is your brain’s model of the body. It is known in the literature as the cortical homunculus, or “neuromatrix”.
  • The Experiencing Self is conscious perception, that is, when sense data are globally broadcast from working memory. Note connections with Kahneman.
  • The Remembering Self is conscious memories; that is, when autobiographical episodes are globally broadcast from working memory. Note connections with Kahneman.
  • The Introspection Self is the result of applying one’s mindreading capabilities on oneself. For now, I follow Carruthers’ Opacity Of Mind: introspection is not self-knowledge, but rather self-interpretation (vulnerable to confabulation).
  • The Social Self is who we are to other people. Gestured at in Granite In Every Soul, this self is responsible for the creation of self-esteem, as explored by sociometer theory.
  • The Purposive Self is the goals one has in life, and the social roles a person may inhabit. Closely connected with the Identity Construction module & self-enhancement theory.

Importantly, the format of each self is known. This is documented in the “color coding” in the above graphic.

Open Questions: The interrelationships between the “selves”.

Epistemic Status: Unlike the rest of this architecture, the six pillars is not intended as a theory. It is a taxonomy is meant as an explanatory aid, to assist the process of theorybuilding. (It will graduate to a theory after its mechanisms are unearthed.)

Improved Motor Specificity

Reintroduces the motor details already present in Mental Architecture v0.1.

[Graphic] Social Architecture v0.1

Personality is software. Where feeling-of-meaning (and every other social experience and behavior) come from. A first draft.

This graphic illustrates the social component of human mental architecture, and seeks to integrate insights from (among others) self-verification theory, self-enhancement theory, sociometer theory, attachment theory, and motivation crowding theory.

More than other aspects of my research, this particular integration is heavily under development; and quite volatile. But I need to hit CTRL-S this week, for various reasons.

Social Architecture v0.1

Besides explaining this thing, I need to explore self-verification theory and terror management theory, integrating any insights not already captured.

Eventually, I intend to explain how this circuit is modified by social networks; that is, its construction of political, cultural, economic, and religious contexts.

[Graphic] Mental Architecture v1.2

Today’s post is a bit experimental. In addition to producing the next revision of my architecture diagram, I will indulge in autobiographical musings.  I suspect this will become useful historical data (but, failing that, may constitute a source of humor :P)

I have recently completed a sequence on Theory Of Mind. This sequence is a synthesis of my own making. It marries the following mini-theories:

  1. Agent Detection arguments (Scott Atran’s arguments, among others)
  2. Intentional Stance (inspired by Daniel Dennett)
  3. Spinozan brain (Gilbert thesis).
  4. False beliefs blindness solved by counterfactuals (a small part of Leslie’s theory).

While I agree that pretense is the solution to false belief blindness, I currently reject Leslie’s broader theory of representation. This is despite my own synthesis e.g., not yet providing a mechanical explanation for the phenomenon of counterfactual decoupling.

With the completion of this sequence, it is time to update my vision of mental architecture.

Architecture v1.2

Recent musings on culture:

  • Introducing human culture as something that organisms inherit. Follows the dual inheritance model of Boyd and Richerson. For now (this is my first truly serious foray into the science of culture)
  • When it comes time to investigate culture, I want to learn how dominance hierarchies fractionated into (1) religions, (2) marked social groups, (3) economies, (4) political affiliations, and (5) cultural knowledge. I want to explore which cultural mode manifested first in human evolution (a “phylogeny of cultural modes”), and why every branch is not covered by others (especially the different services provided between religions/marked social groups/political affiliations).

Recent musings on identity systems:

  • I’ve added three modules representing various processes underlying identity management. Arguably, there are four identity management motives: The three modules explore self-verification theory (c.f., confirmation bias), self-confirmation theory (c.f. self-esteem and its relation to expanding latitudes of belief), and self-evaluation (c.f., Bandura’s self-efficacy and Ainslie’s personal rules). I don’t require an explicit module for self-improvement at this time, as I suspect it may be a comparatively-more composite process.

Recent musings on decision systems:

  • A recent integrative “aha moment”, which I have not yet had time to explain: Motivation Is Utility Transduction. All of the explananda I had been reserving for motivation, I am hoping to reduce in utility production later passed to neuroeconomic winner-take-all mechanisms.
  • I wonder whether attention needs to be exploded into several modules; perhaps a separate module to track e.g., perceptual attention like saccades. I also wonder whether one of these exploded modules will connect with the Central Executive of Working Memory.

Known omissions and “module folding”:

  • Arousal module remains omitted (for the same reason that Heart Rate and other brain stem functions aren’t captured here).
  • Metaphor remains omitted, as I suspect that it is an artifact of Hebbian learning (that is, closer married to neurophysiology than dedicated computational modules)
  • Kin Detection (related to e.g., see filial imprinting) is folded into Agent Classifier.
  • Folk Geometry is folded into Folk Math.

Miscellaneous changes:

  • Adding an Environment -> Genome arrow to represent epigenetics. Mostly a bookmark b/c I need to absorb more from this field.
  • Folk Psychology moved to Social Systems (as discussed in Intentional Stance)

Research Directions:

  • My current investigations have tended to center around social psychology (e.g., tribalism, morality, love, religion, culture). In the next 6 months, it would be good for me to swing back to the cognitive side (e.g., language, domain-specificity of memory).

Deserialization: Hazards & Control

Part Of: [Deserialized Cognition] sequence
Followup To: [Deserialized Cognition]


Two major differences exist between conceptiation and deserialization:

  1. Deserialization Delay: A time barrier exists between concept birth & use.
  2. Deserialization Reuse: The brain is able to “get more” out of its concepts.

Inference Deserialization: Obsolescence Hazard

Let’s consider the deserialization delay within inference cognition modes:

Deserialization- Inference Cognition

If you think of an idea, and a couple hours later deserialize & leverage it, risk will (presumably) be minimal. But what about ideas conceived decades ago?

Your inference engines change over time. Here’s a fun example: Santa Claus. It is easy to imagine even a very bright child believing in Santa, given a sufficiently persuasive parent. The cognitive sophistication to reject Santa Claus only comes with time. However, even after this ability is acquired, this belief may be loaded from semantic memory for months before it is actively re-evaluated.

The problem is that every time your inference engines are upgraded (“versioned”), their past creations are not tagged as obsolete. What’s worse, you are often even ignorant of upgrades to the engine itself – you typically fail to notice (c.f., Curse Of Knowledge).

Potential Research Vector: The fact that deserialization decouples your beliefs from your belief-engines has interesting implications for psychotherapy, and the mind-hacking industries of the future. I can imagine moral fictionalism (moral talk is untrue, but useful to talk about) leveraging such a finding, for example.

Social Deserialization: Epistemic Bypass Hazard

Let’s now consider deserialization reuse within social cognition modes:

Deserialization- Social Cognition

Let me zoom into how social conceptiation is actually implemented in your brains. Do people believe every claim they hear?

The answer turns out to be… yes. Of course, you may disbelieve a claim; but to do so requires a later, optional process to analyze, and make an erasure decision about, the original claim. If you interrupt a person immediately after exposure to a social claim, you interrupt this posterior process and thereby increase acceptance irrespective of the content of the claim!

Social conceptiation, therefore, is less epistemically robust than inference conceptiation. Deserialization simply compounds this problem, by allowing the reuse of concepts that fail to be truth-tracking.

Potential Research Vector: Memetic theory postulates that, in virtue of your belief generation systems having a shape: that certain properties of the belief themselves influences cognition. I imagine that this distinction between concept acquisition modes would have nteresting implications for memetic theory.

How To Select Away From Hazardous Deserialization

Unfortunately, from the subjective/phenomenological perspective, there is precious little you can do to feel the difference between hazardous and truth-bearing deserializations. The brain simply fails to tag its beliefs in any way that would be helpful.

Before proceeding, I want to underscore one point: the process of selecting away from hazards cannot be usefully divided into a noticing step and a selection step. If you notice hazard, you don’t need “tips” on how to select away from it: your brain is already hardwired with an action-guiding desire for truth-tracking beliefs. No, these steps remain together; your challenge is “merely” to learn how to raise hazardous patterns to your attention.

Let’s get specific. When I say “raise X to your attention”, what I mean is “when X is perceived, your analytic system (System 2) overrides your autonomic system (System 1) response”. If this does not make sense to you, I’d recommend reading about dual process theory.

How does one encourage a domain-general stance favorable to such overrides? It turns out that there exists an observable personality trait – the need for cognition – which facilitates an increased override rate. Three suggestions that may help:

  1. Reward yourself when you feel curiosity.
  2. Inculcate an attitude of distrust when you notice yourself experiencing familiarity.
  3. Take advantage of your social mirroring circuit by surrounding yourself with others who possess high needs for cognition.

How can you encourage a domain-specific stance favorable to such overrides? In other words: how can you trigger overrides in hazardous conditions, in conditions where obsolescence or epistemic bypassing has occured? So far, two approachs seem promising to me:

  1. Keep track of areas where you have been learning rapidly. Be more skeptical about deserializing concepts close to this domain.
  2. Train yourself to be skeptical of memes originating outside of yourself: whenever possible, try to reproduce the underlying logic yourself.

Of course, these suggestions won’t work exceptionally well, for the same reason self-help books aren’t particularly useful. In my language, your mind has a kind of volition resistance that tends to render such mind hacks temporary and/or ineffectual (“people don’t change”). But I’ll leave a discussion for why this might be so, and what can be done, for another day…


In this post, we explored how the brain recycles concepts in order to save time, via the deserialization technique discussed earlier. Such recycling brings with it two risks:

  1. Obsolescence: The concepts you resurrect may be inconsistent with your present beliefs.
  2. Epistemic Bypass: The concepts you resurrect may not have been evaluated at all.

We then identified two ways this mindware might enrich our lives:

  1. Getting precise about how concepts & conceptiation diverge will give us more control over our mental lives.
  2. Getting precise about how deserialization complements epistemic overrides will allow us to expand memetic accounts of culture.

Finally, we explored several ways in which we might encourage our minds to override hazardous deserialization patterns.

Deserialized Cognition

Part Of: [Deserialized Cognition] sequence
Followup To: [Why Serialization?]

You’ve heard the phrase “pre-conceived notion” before. Ever wonder what it means? Let’s figure it out!

Cognitive Style: Conceptiation

Your mind is capable of generating concepts. Let us name this active process conceptiation.

How does this process work in practice? There are only two ways concepts are created: from oneself (inference conceptiation), or from others (social conceptiation):

Deserialization- Conceptiation

Inference Conceptiation attempts to get at self-motivated, non-social cognition. You process information, you form a conclusion (a result), you save this result to memory, and then you pass it along to other cognitive process. Examples:

  • A scientist trying to make progress in string theory
  • An artist teaching herself to speak Spanish

Social Conceptiation summarizes the thought process of someone immersed in a more social setting. Examples:

  • An engineer picking up an proverb (e.g., “no analogy is perfect”) from Facebook, without thinking about it much.
  • A socialite half-listening to some guy at a dinner party describing nuanced work tasks.

During both types of conceptiation, concepts are saved to your long-term memory. Call this serialization.

Cognitive Style: Deserialization

You are a lazy thinker.  Don’t take it personally, though – so is everyone else. How can we explain our inner cognitive miser? It turns out that there are at least two biological reasons for this failing:

  • Brains are slow because they rely on chemical synapses; they run at 100Hz (vs the 2 billion Hz of computers)
  • Brains are metabolically expensive, burning 800% more energy than other organs (20% of total organismic load)

Serialization techniques (discussed previously) allow our brains to be lazy. Not all concepts need to be created from scratch; if, at some point in the past, you have acquired the requisite mindware, you can always resurrect it from long-term memory, in virtue of your built-in deserialization mechanism:

Deserialization- Deserialization

Two Inputs

As mentioned, deserialization (loading) only works if the requisite concepts have been serialized (saved) at some point in the past. Since serialization comes in two flavors, we can now refer to two different kinds of deserialization:

Deserialization- Deserialization Modes (1)

Call the former inference deserialization, and the latter social deserialization.

Application: “I Love You”

Imagine you were raised to believe in the importance of regular expressions of affection to your significant other (SO). So, you say “I love you” to him/her every day. At first, you are eager to tell them the reasons behind your feelings, but after a while, novelty becomes increasingly effortful. Eventually, you settle into a simple “I love you” before falling asleep. Fast forward two years, and your SO says “I don’t feel like you are being affectionate enough”. How can we explain this?

We are now equipped to describe the “I love you” pattern as an instance of deserialized cognition, no? This form of cognition (more specifically, a behavioral pattern) was established previously, and no longer requires active conceptiation to perform. Why should your SO wish for you to employ active processing, especially if such processing yields content very similar to your habituated behavior?

Why would your SO wish you reject serialized cognition? Here’s one path an explanation may take: such an override goes against the instinct of the cognitive miser. Costly signaling is a staple concept in ethology: effort filters between those who truly hold the recipient in high regard and those who only wish to appear that way.

Speaking more generally, it seems to me that our itch for originality come from precisely this will to demonstrate rejection of deserialized cognition.


In this post, we explored how the brain uses concepts via two distinct mechanisms:

  1. In conceptiation, the brain actively constructs & uses novel concepts.
  2. In deserialization, the brain simply reuses pre-existing concepts.

The brain also employs two different ways to create concepts:

  1. Some concepts are constructed by one’s own mind.
  2. Concepts constructed in a social setting are constructed externally, but are (optionally) evaluated by the self.

Putting these together, we are now equipped to refer to four different types of cognition.

Deserialization- Cognition Taxonomy (2)

This new vocabulary opens many doors to explanation, including the question “why do people value originality?”

Credit: Some of the ideas of this post come from previous speculations about cached thoughts. However, compared to deserialization, caching has a weaker analogy strength: concept reuse has precious little to do with enforcing consistency within a memory hierarchy.

Until next time!