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Ever thought about how the world presents itself to you? How do you know things are the way they are? Who taught you to label?

So let’s do a thought experiment: you’re making an invention that eventually needs to take care of itself. You:

1. Take a hard disk
2. Attach some wires to some sensors. Each sensor collects and transmits some environmental sensation to the hard disk: sound, smell, touch, taste and sight.
3. Let it loose in a harsh environment.

What happens?

Well, your invention just sits there doing nothing. Until eventually the environment destroys it: wind, rain, some animal thinks it’s food, some meteorite thinks its a landing pad, etc.

So how do you manage to let your invention survive? Well, you need to install software. What kind? One that learns by making predictions of its environment, so your invention won’t be destroyed if it is unleashed in its environment. So you now install:

4. Self-learning software

Now this software takes all the incoming sensations and – based on trial and error – it does two things:
1. It determines what is good for it. Those things it learns to approach or at least be neutral towards.
2. It also determines what could be bad for it. Those things it learns to avoid. Simple right?

During this journey of discovery it needs to determine what-is-what to be able to label things and take appropriate “approach or avoid” action. Those labels then go into a filing cabinet so every time it senses something, it is compared with the label in the filing cabinet and the ‘thing’ can be approached or avoided’. For example:

Sensation: Tall thingy with even little thingies hanging off it
Label: tree
Threat level: minimal
Action: approach 

Sensation: four legged thing
Label: animal
Threat level: potentially high
Action: avoid

You get the point and probably know where I am going with this. Our brain looks at the world and the things in it using labels in order for us to survive. With that labeling process though we can come to see the world as fixed – especially when our brain has experienced a lot of threat previously and needs to be even more careful.

We look at someone’s facial reaction and start to make all sorts of predictions of his or her intentions. We hear a sentence and try and read between the lines to make interpretations. We look at people’s color and start to think “industrious, smart or dangerous”.¬†

Yet the world is not fixed, and things are never the way they are. Nor are people. We need to see past our brain’s conditioning and be able to see the world with new eyes in which things and people are possibilities. Not positions, conditionings and stories.

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