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December 1999
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Imagination as Simulation

Permanent link to archive for 12/5/99. Sunday, December 5, 1999

I'm a neurologist. I've learned to view the brain as a mosaic, a patchwork of functions which when taken together, comprise what we subjectively experience as consciousness.

One of those functions, generally associated with the frontal lobe, is how we act upon the world:

1. Decide to accomplish something. 2. Decide on how to achieve it. 3. Execute the plan.

Of course since each accomplishment is composed of individual steps, the process is deeply nested. Since conditions change, there is feedback and adaptation during execution.

Nevertheless, the first step is deciding what to achieve. The second step is deciding how to achieve it. Then comes action.

Unfortunately, most of us spend too much time doing and not enough in design and evaluation. We tend to feel that if we are not doing, we are not achieving.

I've learned that I can do a much better job by spending more time examining the goals and the plans and less time doing.

The method the brain uses to examine goals and plans is called imagination. The imagination is a virtual world created in our brains in which we can try out solutions without actually going through the physical actions.

There is powerful technology to extend our imagination. This is technology as most broadly defined: techniques which increase the power of individuals or groups. The technologies here range from the concept of probability to computer simulations. As in so many other fields, high speed computing has provided remarkable powerful techniques to extend our imaginations.

Simple solutions to complex problems are usually wrong. Complex problems usually require complex solutions. In a complex situation it can be hard to know which variables are important. We tend to act from simple biases based on simple analogies once complexity becomes too great.

When decisions involve uncertainty, multiple goals and multiple effects technology can help amplify imagination. In my own life, I've been exploring how this technology can help me clarify my goals, understand my assumptions and help me act in a way that is most consistant with what I believe.

A first definition of Deciding . . . Better.

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Last update: Sunday, December 5, 1999 at 2:15:58 PM
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