Oct 26, 2007

The Absence Of Monologue

How do I tell them that because of the unfreezing process I have no inner monologue? I hope I didn't just say that out loud...
Austin Powers

I still don't know why humans have an internal monologue. This means I'm seriously wondering about it's evolutionary motivation, and could not imagine why I would include it in an AI design.

But of course, I'm somewhat biased from personal experience, here.

The truth is, until the age of 12 or 13 years, I myself simply had no inner monologue at all. Unlike the International Man of Mystery however, I was not talking out loud. I was simply thinking completely non-verbally all the time. This seemed to have had no negative net effect on my cognitive abilities at all; I was a bit smarter than most kids my age. (Well, maybe a bit smarter than most smart kids, too...) Social cognition or speech production, two likely first casualties, weren't impaired either. Personally, I was not even aware of this anomaly in the first place, since I did not know how noisy other minds were. When I was exposed to inner monologue in film or literature, I interpreted it as a style device, like the "sweat drop" in manga. In the same spirit, I interpreted a sentence like " The pig thought: "I should be going home" " as the pig thinking that it should go home, but not literally subverbalizing "I should be going home".

Curiously, I absolutely cannot remember how or when I started to develop an inner monologue. Neither can I remember being aware of any change for months or maybe even years. But I have biographical memories from when I was about 13 years where I was reflecting on the apparent change.

Bottom line: "thought = language" = BS.

Oct 5, 2007

W2V2 Part 4: My Other Car Is A Tractor

An you thought your SUV makes you look rugged...

The Wondrous World of Vogelweiderplatz Vehicles is a series of snapshots I recently took on Vogelweiderplatz - just around the corner from where I live - a place where people seem to have a taste for extravagant vehicles.

Oct 3, 2007

Inhaling The Fresh, Clear, And Wonderfully Radioactive Mountain Air.

Last week I went on a holiday in the beautiful mountains of Salzburg. I went to Bad Gastein, a spa resort spectacularly located directly beside a waterfall, which had it's heydays in the 1900s. Bad Gastein offers great hiking in summer, skiing in winter, several spas, a casino, clean air, and many belle epoque grand hotels. But the reason people have been going there since the middle ages is the therapeutic effect of it's thermal water. No one else than Marie Curie was it who discovered the water contains a high amount of 222Radon. Scientific studies have concluded the products of Radon decay (Radon itself has a very short biological half-life of ~30 minutes) stimulate anti-inflammatory cytokine release, corticosteroid release, endorphine release, and trigger various cellular repair mechanisms. If bathing in radioactive spring water for health reasons sounds too much like a Captain Future setting for you, how about this: going a mile down underground in a little train, through an airlock, to a place where the temperature is 40°C, the humidity at 80%, and lying down there, naked, in the dark, for an hour, to get the Radon directly from the source ? This is the famed Gasteiner Heilstollen, and of course I could not keep myself from going down the shaft at least once during my stay. You can't just purchase a ticket at the local train station, though - before you're allowed to go inside the mountain one has to undergo a medical examination and an informational session. We're talking radioactivity here, after all. The dose from a single one-hour session, however, is still pretty moderate (0.2 mSv), about what you'd get in a month from environmental sources anyhow, so you'll still need a flashlight when the night's too dark.

The ride itself is an elemental experience. Wearing a bathing robe, bedsheets over your arm, you start out at something like a subway station, where you board a claustrophobic, yellow, slightly retro-futuristic train. The train picks up speed, and after a few minutes you reach the undressing station, where the air is already hot and humid. From now one, no talking please ! You continue your ride past an impressive airlock (to keep the Radon inside), and to your designated stop. As this is your first ride, you have to get off at the last stop, Station I, where temperature and humidity are lowest. You find yourself in a system of tunnels carved from rock. The rock is exposed, no concrete or painting here, as it is the rock itself that is the source of the Radon. The rock feels eerily warm, quite exactly body temperature. The lights are very, very low. You walk a few dozen meters into one tunnel, put your sheets over one of the beds, and lie down. Thereafter, silence. Some people fall asleep, but you keep admiring the structures inside the rock. You let your hand wander over the warm, rough surface. You don't feel claustrophobic at all, though there's a million tons weighing down on this tunnel. On the contrary, you feel peaceful and protected.
Time goes by surprisingly quickly. A doctor (in Speedos) comes by to check whether you're feeling fine. For emergencies, there's a climate chamber at the train station, where it is bright, and cool, and the ceiling is high. But you tell the doctor you're feeling perfectly fine. After an hour has gone by (presumably; no watches here, please !), you hear the distant rumble of the train. Still, you keep lying down. You have been strictly instructed not to get up until you're called upon. If one stands up too long in here, waiting, one might collapse, the doctor has told you. Then it's time to leave. You're the last one to leave. As you exit, you look back, squint, but you can't see the end of the tunnel in this darkness.
Back on the surface, you're brought to a room overlooking the valley. You lie down in the bed, under thick linnen. The window's tilted, to get in the fresh air, and it's a cool september afternoon. You rest for half an hour or so, then finally get up. Still a bit weak on your knees, you dress yourself, (no showering, please), and go down to the lobby, where someone is going to pick you up for a ride back to the hotel.

And next time I'm going to tell you how I was bitten by a genetically modified lab mouse a few years ago.