DRMacIver's Notebook

Being fragmented

Being fragmented

Being human is weird and I don't really get it.

This may be surprising to you, or it may not, given I've probably spilled most of a million words writing about it, but really that's how that works. People aren't good at explaining things they understand easily.

But a lot of that is about being a human among other humans. This is, admittedly, what being human is, and you can't really separate the human condition from the experience of other humans, but nevertheless there's something about the basic n=1 human experience that I feel like I don't get some times.

A while ago I asked if people experienced themselves as their body or their body as something they pilot. I've gotten better at experiencing my body as me since I asked that (though I'm still not perfect at it by any means), but the thing that's increasingly hard is experiencing my brain as me.

This sounds bad, maybe it is. It's not that I think my brain is anyone else. All of the bits I have ready access to feel like they're doing fine, but it feels like there's so much going on that I don't have access to, and it's very frustrating.

I can't tell how much this is just me and how much is just the human condition. Sometimes when I don't understand something fundamental like this it's because I'm missing something that other people get, but I think a lot of the time other people are also confused about it when it's pointed out them and just ignore it most of the time.

But it feels like there's clearly a lot going on under the surface. My relationship with memory is very confusing and there's clearly a lot going on there that I don't have direct access to.

It's not totally clear to me whether I should expect to be able to directly access these things. All of it feels a bit mysterious. It may well be like feelings, where you have to essentially use something else to "bridge" the parts of your brain that aren't talking to each other directly.

One thing that sometimes works as bridging is some sort of talk aloud protocol. Writing is, in theory, similar but I think doesn't work as well. Hearing yourself speak and noticing what comes out is often a surprisingly good means of finding out things about yourself. If only it didn't feel so weird to do.

I've been experimenting a little bit, on and off, with image streaming as a way to learn visualisation. I've had precisely zero success with this method, precisely because speaking out loud seems to be hard for me in a way that disrupts the process. I've had a little more progress with doing the things they say don't work, just paying attention to vague visual impressions I have while half asleep in bed.

My working theory about visualisation is that it's basically a user interface to some sort of underlying capability, and I'm definitely not completely lacking that underlying capability, but it feels like I'm communicating with it in semaphore. e.g. I've got a pretty good spatial memory, and there's definitely something I can do that is like mentally walking around in a place that I have lived for a while. Or even just spent a reasonable amount of time. There's even a bit of a somatic component to it - I have an experience as if walking around in the place. I could no more really tell you what I'm doing than I could tell you how I left my hand up. I just do it.

Similarly, I'm obviously not walking around in the space. It's more like the equivalent of an inner monologue - there's no confusing it for sound, and yet it has a sound like quality. This is what I assume (and have somewhat confirmed) visualisation is like for most people too.

But there's clearly still some of the things that visualisation is supposed to access going on. I can, e.g. describe what someone looks like from memory. It just doesn't go via an imagine appearing in my head. Something is providing the information, in whatever form, I just don't have access to it as anything other than a black box feeding me information.

In general, all the capabilities of my mind feel fragmented. Like there are different pieces talking to each other, but large chunks fail to participate in any sort of unitary whole. This isn't plurality - I don't feel like multiple people occupying the same space - it's more like I'm a person with a computer, and some of the capabilities of the human-person computer reside in the computer which the person has to type commands into.

This sounds dramatic, but I'm pretty sure some degree of this is normal. Being human is weird, and the more you look at it the weirder it gets, so most people don't look at it.

Which is fine. It's mostly unproblematic as long as everything is working.

But often not everything is working. When tired, or ill, or half-asleep, capabilities stop working or become slow to respond. It feels like it's unsurprising that I sometimes panic at night - the capabilities I rely on to function as me are disrupted, and the fragmented nature of thought starts showing.