Monday, May 10, 2010

Spam filters

There is fragility in the bond that ties two people together. The din of existence pulls at that bond until it stretches and then breaks. There are also stresses placed on interpersonal bonds by the nature of our personal emotional selves. Sometimes the bonds are so fleeting as to only announce their existence by the fragments they leave when gone. This is the normal state of affairs; attention is paid, information is gathered, and attention is re-directed.

For inanimate objects even this level of investigation can be an overindulgence. There are too many objects to give each one an individualized attention. It is so much easier to glance at, recognize as similar to items already known, and be comforted. Only when things act unconventionally, or are new, do they require actual attention. When things do not behave as expected the experience is often annoying, and sometimes scary.

The more things we interact with the more we risk discovering unexpected behavior. We could notice fewer things in our environment; effectively winnow out items whose behavior, whether dependable or not, is of little consequence. We could limit the resolution with which we understand the actions of items in our environment; pay attention only to the actions we have predicted, and avoid the possibility of discovering unexpected behavior. Both of these approaches limit our knowledge of the world, one through hubris, the other through ignorance.

Easy as it is to disparage these simple filters, they remain indispensible. When a particular goal becomes very important the status of objects unimportant to achieving the goal are usually ignored. This can easily be demonstrated in the following video.
How difficult is it to count the number of passes the white team makes?

A trivial example of this filter could be constructed around the goal of arriving for work after having left a little late. One walks quickly down a sidewalk, assuming the concrete is solid, ignoring the activities of those in the street. The filter provides the ability to focus attention on less-defined impediments. How can we dodge the couple arguing in the middle of the sidewalk? Will the truck pull out of the alley before I pass? Decisions are made, attention is focused, and the goal is achieved.

Those of you who have read my musings on flow and superfluidity in action probably notice that these filters are a potentially intermediate step in achieving these states. Simply apply a visualization model to the status of assumptions, and the response to the items they govern can be programmed into portions of the brain closer to the tip of the spine.

Problems arise when filtering stimulus becomes more important than gathering it. It can appear that we know more about a situation the more acute our ability to operate within it becomes. The ability can be due more to enhanced ignorance than to enhanced knowledge. We may know which alley is likely to have a truck back out of it, but we do not notice what happens down any other alley. Only those items that clamor for our attention get it.

So many things clamor for attention that we can lose sight of those things that do not. If we spend a certain amount of time on each item that demands our attention then all our time is gone, and many items that clamor are left ignored.

We can apply higher level filters, like spam blockers on e-mail, but these only prioritize the noise-making attention grabbers. How do we see the silent things? How do we re-test the operation of our lower-level filters without suffering catastrophic failures? How do we learn what is not pushed on us?

Silence is the answer.

Just bits of it…

Simply apply a super filter; all periphery attention is blinded. Examine the world with a laser-beam of attention. Look at one thing, know it, and move on. Let your attention fall on what you see; not on what is shown to you. Know your world a little better.

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