people who confront their own beliefs may think theyve got some
racial issues, and it may turn out theyre actually class issues.
Make those middle-aged accountants black and see how you feel. Those
kinds of simulations can help produce self-knowledge, and can help
a person to improve his emotional intelligence.
You can also manipulate your body. Its obvious that if you have
a sexual fantasy you manipulate your body by imagery. Also, if you
imagine something scaryan anticipated encounter with an authority
figure or a walk along a narrow path in the mountains that is starting
to crumbleyour palms will sweat and your heart beat will change.
Its clear that mental imagery can affect the body, but it turns
out that it may be more interesting than that. For example, one of
the things were studying now is how to change your hormonal
landscape by manipulating your images.
There's something called the victory effect, where if you're a male
and you win some sort of contest your testosterone goes up afterwards.
If you lose, it goes down. This is not a surprise. It also turns out
that if you watch your favorite team win your testosterone will go
up. If your team loses, itll go down. This even works if youre
watching chess, so its not about being aroused. In fact, it
works for the chess players and for the people who are watching chess
Why is this interesting? With men it turns out that spatial abilities
vary as a function of testosterone levels. In the fall, males
testosterone levels are relatively high. They go down thereafter,
and then they pick up again. Much research suggests that the relation
between testosterone levels and spatial abilities is a U-shaped function;
your spatial abilities are not as good if you have too much testosterone
or too little testosterone. As you get older, both testosterone levels
and spatial abilities drop. There is a lot of evidence that there
is a connection between the two. The question is, can we manipulate
ones spatial abilities by having you run simulations of watching
yourself win or lose? If "Reality Simulation Principle"
is correct, manipulating your own testosterone levels would in turn
affect your spatial abilities. This is work in progress in my lab,
in collaboration with Peter Ellison and Carole Hooven; stay tuned.
My point is that you can use "Reality Simulation Principle"
in lot of different ways, including some ways that are not intuitively
obvious, such as manipulating your hormonal landscape. Mental imagery
is also important in creativity and problem solving. Einstein reported
that most of his thinking was done with images prior to any kind of
verbal or mathematical statement. We know quite a bit now about how
to use images in the service of solving problems and being creative.
In fact, Ron Finke has written a couple of unusually creative books
on this topic.
Other people have also claimed that you can even manipulate your health
by using what I'm calling the "Reality Simulation Principle".
Im a little skeptical about this. We may look at that eventually,
but not right now. It's certainly the case that you can manipulate
the placebo effect to some extent, but the medical effects of "Reality
Simulation Principle" are probably not huge. It's not going to
My premise has always been that the mind is what the brain does. Of
course, thats a little too glib; really the mind is what the
cortex does, since the brain does things like respiration that are
not mental. If this is the case, then the question becomes, how do
we understand information processing in the brain?
Switching topics, let's return to the role of computation in all of
this. The computer is convenient because it allows us to think about
how events at different levels of analysis can interact. This is one
of the deepest questions in psychology, and probably science in general.
It's really a mystery. How is it that semantics and the meaning of
things dictate a sequence of events in this wet machine? The wet machine
itself has neurons, each of which have an average of ten thousand
connections. Sure it's complicated, but ultimately you can understand
the whole thing in terms of chemistry and physics.
But how does this machine produce semantically interpretable, coherent
sequences of activity, and allow these activities to be modulated
by the semantics of what it registers from the world? When you say
something to me, its obviously not just sound patterns, since
the content influences what my brain is doing. How Im going
to respond is a consequence of what my brain did to produce the output.
Lets think for a moment about physical events such as the status
of bytes in the computer. Each bit in each sequence of 8 bits is either
on or off. You can physically describe the nature of this machine
and the hardware, but you can also think about representation: What
does that pattern of physical activity stand for, and represent in
its absence? You can think about interpreted rule-based systems, where
the representations have an impact on other parts of a system, causing
other representations to be formed, or combined, or operated on in
various ways, and outputs to be generated. In this regard it's useful
to think about computation in a computer to describe how the mind
works, even though its a wrong metaphor for the brain.