Your body is merely a machine made to express the thoughts that flow through you and nothing more. It is but an instrument for you to express your imagings just as a piano is an instrument for a musician to express his imagings.

–Walter Russel

a tale of opening a lot of tofu

One morning at God’s Love We Deliver (soup kitchen where I volunteer), a chef asked me to prep the tofu. This meant:

  • carrying boxes (of smaller boxes housing plastic tofu containers) to my workstation
  • opening the large boxes
  • opening the small boxes
  • cutting open individual tofu containers with a knife
  • draining the water from the containers
  • putting the single blocks of actual tofu into a plastic tub

After opening, draining, and emptying a few small boxes serially, I knew I could do it better.

On the next go-around, I figured that context switching was eating efficiency, so I began taking out 9 individual tofu containers, tiling them, cutting them open, and emptying them. I would do each task to all 9 before moving onto the next.

Each batch I would move a little faster. Eventually, I developed a specific choreography for cutting open containers that involved only doing 1 of 4 sides for each container before cutting the next side, and so on and so forth.

Every round, muscle memory would improve. I would go faster. These mechanical advances gave me linear improvements while updating the process itself gave me more exponential gains.

After several hours (and so much tofu) a had a realization about the morning’s events.

quick aside

whether or not I mean the following literally is not important. I definitely subscribe to a dualist world view (ie I think brain is separate from mind), but, even if you don’t agree, pretend that you do to get the most out of this!

what i learned

I got to watch a concert that my mind conducted and my brain performed. I got to see how closely linked they are - how they play together and provide one another feedback. I got to see how all learning and improvement happens.

What I observed can be summarized in the following way: the mind, or rather consciousness, imagines new possibilities (something can be better) and then employs various means (in this case the brain and body) to manifest them.

The brain, with all its ideas, knowledge, fears, and attachments can eat up your energy and potential.

The brain commits all its faculties to uphold what it already believes. This is why you continually find evidence for your beliefs. Over and over again. Left unchecked, the brain will go on reinforcing its status quo and leave little room for anything else.

The mind, however, can do so much more. If you train yourself to use your brain’s pattern matching machinery to find potential - and then to step aside - your mind, now excited by the opportunity, can receive (or produce 😉) visions of new possibilities.

Turn on, tune in, and drop out.

–Timothy Leary

This is where the brain comes back in (in a much more empowering role). With the help of brain and therefore the body, the mind has access to physical means of manifestation. From my example above, this means I can start to use my hands and muscle memory in better and better ways to feed people faster (ie opening tofu boxes).

conclusion

Learning to use our minds effectively is one of the most high-yield investments we can make. With that investment we can not only make our internal worlds better, we can make the universe at large better.

All of this stems from the mind’s ability to imagine (many speculate about how this happens, see further reading).

And this situation seems to be uniquely human;

which has profound implications.

In the field of artificial intelligence, particularly where models are trained on existing data, it means that with the current paradigm the best we will do is to make increasingly accurate imitations of the brain.1

Our current approach will eventually do a really good job imitating what brains have done in existing scenarios. This may work out for something like self driving cars wherein even complete failures in novel edge-cases may yield better than human driving. But it won’t be able to create new possibilities and manifest them–

it won’t be able to create new markets, do previously unimagined things, or extend what it means to be human;

only we can do that.2

further reading

The following is a list of books that I have been reading lately which have profoundly affected my mental models of creativity, mind, intelligence, and consciousness:


  1. This is to say, engineers will always have a hand in determining what the space a machine learning model or technology has to explore to find solutions. ↩︎

  2. or only human brains can for now. There might come a day where we figure out how brains receive consciousness and replicate it artificially. We can make artificial brains imbued with the power to listen to and maybe contribute to consciousness ↩︎