Some people who confront their own beliefs may think they’ve got some racial issues, and it may turn out they’re 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. It’s obvious that if you have a sexual fantasy you manipulate your body by imagery. Also, if you imagine something scary—an anticipated encounter with an authority figure or a walk along a narrow path in the mountains that is starting to crumble—your palms will sweat and your heart beat will change. It’s 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 we’re 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, it’ll go down. This even works if you’re watching chess, so it’s not about being aroused. In fact, it works for the chess players and for the people who are watching chess games.

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 one’s 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". I’m 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 cure cancer.

My premise has always been that the mind is what the brain does. Of course, that’s 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, it’s obviously not just sound patterns, since the content influences what my brain is doing. How I’m going to respond is a consequence of what my brain did to produce the output.

Let’s 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 it’s a wrong metaphor for the brain.

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