*The Mind is Flat*

The author is Nick Chater and the subtitle is The Illusion of Mental Depth and the Improvised Mind.  I found this to be one of the most interesting books on the mind I have read.  Overall the message is that your hidden inner life ain’t what you think:

According to our common-sense view, the senses map the outer world into some kind of inner copy, so that, when perceiving a book, table or coffee cup, our minds are conjuring up a shadowy ‘mental’ book, table or coffee cup.  The mind is a ‘mirror’ of nature.  But this can’t be right.  There can’t be a 3D ‘mental copy’ of these objects — because they don’t make sense in 3D.  They are like 3D jigsaw puzzles whose pieces simply don’t fit together.  The mind-as-mirror metaphor can’t possibly be right; we need a very different viewpoint — that perception requires inference.

Take that Thomas Reid!  By the way:

This perspective has a further, intriguing and direct prediction: that we can only count colours slowly and laboriously…the apparent richness of colour is itself a trick — that our brains seem to be able to encode no more than one colour (or shape, or orientation) at a time.  But this is what the data tell us.

Here is perhaps the clincher:

…all of us perceive the world through a remarkably narrow channel — roughly a single word, object, pattern or property at a time.

So much of the rest is the top-down processing function of our minds filling in the gaps.

By the way, if you are told to shake your head up and down, nodding in agreement, while reciting a plausible argument, you will assign a higher truth value to that claim.  And emotion is more a “creation of the moment” rather than “an inner revelation.”  If you cross a dangerous bridge to meet up with a woman, thus raising your adrenalin levels, you are more likely to develop a crush on her, that sort of thing.

I cannot evaluate all of the claims in this book, and indeed I am partly skeptical in light of the rather scanty treatment given to cross-sectional variation across heterogeneous individuals.  Still, the author cites evidence for his major claims and applies reasonable and scientific arguments throughout.  I can definitely recommend this book to those interested in serious popular science treatments of the mind, and it is not simply a rehash of other popular science books on the mind.

The top link above is for U.S. Amazon orders, due out in August, I was very happy to have ordered from AmazonUK.

I believe this book was first recommended to me by Tim Harford.


So much for multi-tasking.

At this stage Social Psychology is in such a bad state that there is no particular reason to believe any of their claims. Does meeting a woman on a dangerous bridge make you more likely to fall in love? So Sandra Bullock's character claimed in Speed. Is that any more credible? Her character did go to the University of Arizona so she had that going for her.

All these claims sound plausible and very scientific. But are they? The only robust finding in the social sciences is that conventional prejudices are largely true. So the question should be whether we want to believe or not.

Perhaps instead of hanging out on swaying bridges in the hopes of meeting someone, people ought to find a nice girl at their Church social as their grandmother would probably recommend.

"The only robust finding in the social sciences is that conventional prejudices are largely true." How about "incentives matter": isn't that robust?

Being one of those true conventional prejudices doesn't preclude it from being a robust finding.

"Incentives matter" is a very conventional belief, repeated in dozens of familiar maxims: "You get what you pay for," "Money makes the world go round," "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar" etc.

'roughly a single word, object, pattern or property at a time'

So, when smelling and touching, we switch rapidly between single events? Or when standing in the water, we cannot experience wetness at the same time we are listening to music?

'if you are told to shake your head up and down, nodding in agreement, while reciting a plausible argument, you will assign a higher truth value to that claim'

Were a number of Japanese included when that claim was being researched? Nodding your head for yes while disagreeing with a plausible argument is normal behavior in Japan, after all.

'given to cross-sectional variation across heterogeneous individuals'

Or cultures, one hopes, though the tendency to believe in just so stories seems to be a major attraction to those writing on such subjects.

"There can’t be a 3D ‘mental copy’ of these objects — because they don’t make sense in 3D."

Out of context, I can't make sense of this statement. I'm not sure that it makes sense within context -- why don't objects make sense in 3D?

Moreover his rejection of inner copies is contradicted by discoveries in neuroscience. Neuroscientists have discovered that many (most? all?) mammals create cognitive maps in their brains using grid cells: a literal grid of neurons that fire when the animal is at the matching location. That sounds like an "inner copy" to me; not just a mental map but a physical map inside the animal's brain.

'why don't objects make sense in 3D?'

Parallax - another one of those mysteries that cannot be explained by the science of the mind. Well, OK, not the science of the mind, because it is more than adequately explained by the science of optics.

And of course, the science of acoustics is how the 'parallax' of ears allows someone to create a mental 3D map of sounds (and to an extent objects) in space.

Don't worry, all this 3D stuff is clearly just an illusion of the mind, right? After all, what would be the possible use of being able to place objects and sounds in practical relationships to each other in three dimensions?

File this book under "speculative", not worth reading. It does remind me a bit of how blindfold chess is played. All masters --and even non-masters like myself who can play a bit of blindfold chess--will tell you that they don't "visualize" the chess board in 3D, rather, they simply remember what piece is on what square (in algebraic notation) and they know where the pieces are and from experience they know for example that a knight on d7 can jump to f8, f6, b8, b6, e5, c5. (I did that from memory, not from visualization).

"If you cross a dangerous bridge to meet up with a woman, thus raising your adrenalin levels, you are more likely to develop a crush on her, that sort of thing."

I suspect something like this is going on with the young male migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Europe in crummy boats: they tend to feel that the dangerousness of their adventure therefore entitles them to the women on the far side.

Oh brother, seriously? Man, this is so weak for you.

Would the real Steve write "dangerousness" rather than "danger"?

Yes, let's keep the mentions of the European rape crisis to a minimum around here. It's uncouth. And it certainly does not fit the narrative.

@ Steve Sailer lol, I like it and like all jokes there's a grain of truth in it

He was joking? Makes more sense then. I didn't pick it up.

As Tyler says, different people's brains tend to work in different ways. For example, a grad student of psychologist Leon Kamin told me that Kamin did not really believe that other people could see 3-d images in their minds. He couldn't and he figured people who said they could were just pulling his leg.

On the other hand, Kamin was a prodigy with letters and numbers. He could, for example, multiply large numbers in his head. He would have made an outstanding Kabbalist.

One of the distinguishing features of many good mechanical engineers is their remarkable ability to manipulate 3D images in their minds. Or so I was told by someone who himself had that ability.

Oddly, I have trouble picturing well the faces of family members (I'm not talking about that unable-to-recognize-your-wife-and-kids stuff - like, day after day, did you ever use context clues? - which I am pretty sure is fake).

But I am able to visualize with more sureness the faces of certain celebrities, whose images I have obviously only ever seen in 2-D.

I am wondering if this might be a sign of self-involvement, of not studying the faces of people familiar to me.

Funny, that is how AI works.

From the link:
In this profoundly original book, behavioral scientist Nick Chater contends just the opposite: rather than being the plaything of unconscious currents, the brain generates behaviors in the moment based entirely on our past experiences.

.... The idea of unconscious and conscious is not ruled out, they are a simple result of self training. somewhere we figured out how to deliberately train our neural nets.

The adage that people don't learn anything new after high school does apply to most people, because their inner self blocks any new information. Is this a self-defense mechanism to keep us from going crazy with overactive senses eventually overloading trying to make sense of all that is happening around us that makes little sense? Or is it simply a limitation like any other, IQ for example? Are paranoid people paranoid because their blockers have failed them, allowing too much information to reach their inner senses (all of us have reason to be paranoid because all of us are potential victims of predators)? Technology requires multi-tasking. Will multi-tasking (i.e., technology) overload our inner senses and make us crazy? Have multi-taskers learned how to turn off the blockers or does all that information cause the blockers to fail, setting them up for far more serious consequences later? I suspect that blockers mostly operate at a sub-conscious level, but sometimes I will intentionally trigger my own blockers to avoid information from reaching my inner senses. I euphemistically refer to this as "focus" or "concentration", when what I actually mean is to block information that prevents me from best performing a certain task or that would create conflict in my inner senses. I suspect that mass killers have lost the ability to block information from reaching their inner senses.

Why "Flat"? The Amazon page also sheds no light on that.

If you say the name of the jutsu when you cast it, its power is greatly increased.

I’ve read recently that you can increase the empathy of your preschoolers by asking them to “make the face” that another person would make in a situation, with the idea that this would trigger the same emotion. Can’t say for sure but we’re trying it.

Brains? Minds?



The described content sounds almost exactly like the sort of research that fails to replicate, so I think its reasonable to assume the book is a work of fiction.

So it's like re-reading Thinking Fast and Slow?

Sounds like nonsense to me.

Handing 3-D objects in your head is very natural for many of the STEM types and good mechanics. Just because social science types are deficient in this mental ability doesn't mean everyone is.

I have seen people in the interior of Brazil who couldn't read take a photo of an advanced machine tool and reproduce it in metal. It couldn't be done without a true 3-D vision in his head.

A book post! And this book looks really interesting, thanks.

"...…all of us perceive the world through a remarkably narrow channel — roughly a single word, object, pattern or property at a time."

My mother-in-law once encountered a man who said, "Do I know you?" and while she felt she did not recognize him, she quickly responded, "I am ----." Only, without even realizing she was doing it, she introduced herself with her maiden name, which she hadn't done in years.

They had gone to high school together. Whatever slight recognition of his face there was, it came with another property, a timestamp.

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