Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Almost a Religious Exprerience

I have been working too much lately -- and yesterday, we just moved our code freeze date out three weeks -- no rest for the wicked. Anyway, I am getting wore out. I don't believe in stress. I am pretty good at keeping my interrupt stack at managable levels (3-7), and stopping and reminding myself that I enjoy what I am doing. But, I do get wore out after a while. I am definitely ready for my sushi and beer (Asahi) Friday night.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I had an experience that I would mostly attribute to being tired. I was having my 1st smoke of the day at ~6:30 am, and thinking about intelligent design. It just don't work. It's like the USSR and their 10 year plans -- you just can't plan things that well. Of course, an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent being could, but I can't come up with any model of such a being that even vaguely works. Instead, you start with one principle, survival of the fittest, apply it to a system with imperfect replication, and ecosystems or economies grow. I bought an evolutionary biology textbook to see what the definition of an ecological niche was, and it was pretty much as I expected: an n-dimensional volume in the n-dimensional space of environmental parameters. Plus, they are highly fractal. Nothing ever perfectly fills a niche, leaving a smaller niche, leaving a smaller niche ...

So I was thinking this and said to my myself, all it takes is that, "Something is" (belief #1).

Whoa, the two words "Something is" started rolling around in my left internal aural field, echoing back and forth like thunder rolling across the sky. "Holy shit, it's a religious experience!" I thought immediately. That realization was enough to stop it, but wow, what an odd feeling.

I didn't realize until I thought about it later that it was localized to my left side. More on that and Julian Jaynes in a future entry.

Anyway, it made me think. I have read a couple of places in the last year or so (I think in the issue of Wired with iSmell in it), that most religious experiences can be induced by simulating the proper regions of the brain with electromagnetic fields. So, you spend years meditating or practicing some other similar disciplne to attain satori or samadhi, and all you're doing is getting some regions of your brain that don't normally fire to fire. Is it worth the effort if you can just turn on the satori-o-matic instead? I guess if you're young, you say, yes, it's not real otherwise. But, when you're old, you say, who's got the time, give me the juice (or the sushi and beer).

One of the problems with the totally rational view of brain function is that it does somehow trivialize mental activity and accomplishments -- just an interesting or abnormal pattern of neurons firing. So maybe concepts like "soul", "self", etc although unreal, are actually tokens of meaning. One of the primary functions of the mind is to act as a meaning generator -- so that even thought this stuff doesn't exist, we pretend it does as a base of our meaning structures???

Hmm, this needs more thought ...

I got a pretty good idea of the limitations of my mental sofware when I was VP of software development for Renlar Systems from 1987-1995. This was a small (50 people, 15 in development, $5m annual sales) company selling a pharmacy vertical. In 1986, I was working for my own consulting company. A good friend of mine, the founder/president of Renlar, asked me to come in and run development there. I liked what I was doing, but I owed him favors, and he was and is a good friend, so I agreed to do it for 1 year -- and wound up doing it for 8.

It was highly interrupt driven. I found out during that time, I feel most comfortable working on 2-4 things at a time, using normal scheduling algorithms of filling down time on one thing with work on another. I could go up to about 7 things without thrashing. (The standard computer OS definition of thrashing is when you spend all your time deciding what to do, such that you never actually do anything). Above 7 levels of interrupt, I start thrashing. I decided to quit the job when the following happened: I was around 20 levels deep on the interrupt stack when our best sales guy came to the door of my office and started talking about something he had to have. I looked at him and could see his lips moving, but I couldn't hear a word he was saying. "Whoa -- red stack overflow." My mind was rejecting any new interrupts. At that point, the thought was definitely "I'm out of here -- this place has broke my brain." -- so I started looking for a different job and left shortly thereafter.

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