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Escrito por Alex Ramonsky   
Miércoles 22 de Septiembre de 2021 12:57
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Development, systems and programs


Let's begin with an extraordinary claim: All of our problems; all of the suffering, panic, hassle, fear, melodrama, anxiety, trauma, dysfunction and unhappiness in people's lives, stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of reality - or should I say of the reality of nature - and it is this: Most of us simply don't know what our biology needs in order to fully develop intelligence, and so we don't provide it. Consequently, our potential intelligence never fully develops.

By 'intelligence' I don't mean IQ; I mean the natural development of our mind /brain in optimal conditions with all the accompanying skills and abilities; our imagination, memory, emotional stability, attention, empathy, prediction, creativity, concentration, intellect, control, judgment, problem-solving and so on.


Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof; the proof for this one is appropriately extraordinary, it takes a fairly long time to read and even longer to understand, but those who wish to go into all the details may do so by following up references like these: [1]

I have had a lot of fun, grief, challenges and adventures in over four decades of seeking out this proof, it is available in the references given and for that reason I am not going to repeat it here. Because what most of us need in terms of both mental health and life in general is not proof of why things go wrong; it is practical ability; techniques we can USE to prevent things going wrong; to improve life here and now; stuff we can DO today and tomorrow and next week that can help us make noticeable, measurable, permanent beneficial changes to our minds, relationships and lives. 

The thing about theory, proof, facts, data etc., is that they are most useful for those who have already had some experience, understanding and practice within a given domain; in this case neurohacking. For most people, a bunch of neuroscience facts about how brains work, disassociated from our everyday reality, may very well be interesting but it is not all that useful if we have no experience of how those facts relate to everyday reality.



What's more, we don't all have sufficient time to study in detail how our minds work. We need to be able to get on with improving our lives every day in our real life concrete situation here and now, not in a theoretical abstract future one. It isn't what facts we can recite; it's what we DO that defines us.




















































Most people think of their brain (if they think of it at all) as a big lumpy thingy; a bit like a liver or a lung, the whole 'lump' doing the same sort of job; in the brain’s case, thinking. Most people regard their minds (if they regard them at all) as insubstantial, abstract constructs that can be regarded as 'a sum of all thinking', which tells us nothing about the processes of mind or how to use them. Others view mind as some kind of ethereal spirit or entity with no substance, or 'soul'. We are not, it would appear, absolutely sure of what we are.


































In talking about brains and minds, I like to use the 'Starship' analogy because your brain in fact is organized a lot more like the Starship Enterprise than it is like a liver or a lung. Why is a brain like a starship?



 It relies on onboard computer software to run its systems, it is organized into connected modules, covered in sensors, it's lifetime mission is to thrive, explore the unknown, communicate, do experiments, discover, learn, interact, make friends, play with stuff, and have adventures; its prime directive is to enable intelligence. 

...Well, okay, brains aren't as big as starships, they are not made of metal, they don’t run on Dilithium and they haven't got a Scotsman in engineering (unless you are a Scotsman). But apart from that the analogy works rather amusingly well. 



Because for brains, going about their business in real life, it's 'Game On' - lights, sound, action! -We are right here right now, we are busy, time is short, we have to deal with responsibilities, needs, requests, demands, morons, breakdowns, problems, relationships, accidents and emergencies. We sometimes feel like we're flying by the seat of our pants just to keep up, and we don't need the equivalent of Mr. Spock explaining facts and theories about the hardware; we need someone like Scotty; with six decades' experience of working with starships and their software, who knows a useful set of simple techniques that captains can use to maintain the ship in good condition and improve performance, until they find time to read the fecking manual or do tutorials.





Using this set of techniques, we could learn to engineer our own systems without knowing all the anatomical details. Wouldn't that be useful?


In this analogy, the game is Star Trek, and I am for a short while playing Scotty. You (your mind) are of course supposed to be the Captain. I can't fly your ship for you; only you can do that, anyway I'm far too busy flying Starship Alex. All I'm doing here is talking about what starships need in order to achieve the best construction, best repair, best quality performance and most enjoyable experience, preferably with a minimal amount of practice and no hassle.



























































You don't have to understand the hardware in order to work effectively with the software. I also have that useful list of simple techniques, refined over decades. I canna break the laws of biology, Captain, but I do know a fair bit about how to hack them.



























































Biology expects things

In real life, your brain and body comprise the only vessel you have at your disposal for exploring and navigating reality throughout your life, and they are biologically designed to be directed by your mind; that is, YOU are supposed to be in control deciding where to boldly go, where to sensibly avoid, and what tasks to do in order to succeed, benefit and thrive.


The term, 'Biology expects things' requires explanation, because obviously biology has no 'mind of its own' any more than your computer does, so it can hardly 'expect things' in the sense that we consciously understand the term. Biology does not consciously expect things, and does not have its own separate point of view; the 'biological perspective', which in some unexplained way differs from your own. Biological expectations ARE your own. A biological perspective is YOUR perspective; what else could it possibly be? We cannot separate ourselves from our biological origins, and whatever biology computes, our bodies and brains will follow.

So let us begin with 'biology computes probabilities in terms of expected 'default' behaviors and predicts what is likely to be necessary', thus it can adapt organisms' structures and behaviors according to what it concludes will probably be necessary next.


In healthy circumstances this is all very very good and leads to beneficial, appropriate behavior and complementary emotions to match. Biology expects our elders, friends and parents – our culture - to show us by example how the starships work, give us examples of how to fly them well and succeed at missions, accompany us until we can get sufficient experience before flying off on our own.


Biological systems 'expect' things to happen because for a very long time they have been happening to all members of the species and it has become part of the developmental program in all organisms to prepare them for whatever is expected. This, then, is the sense in which we may safely use the term, 'expects'. Biology expects your species to need to breathe air to extract oxygen, so it develops lungs. Nobody instructs your body to build lungs or how to construct a brain; it is automatically programmed to do so and these are automatic expectations. Biology has evolved programs for everything that it expects organisms might need, and it stores them and carries them around in genomes. 



Complex organisms develop 'specialist' features which are adapted to their specific 'game plan' (their circumstances, needs and contexts); for example wings, gills, sonar or in our own case, very complicated brains and the potential for a high degree of conscious awareness.


Biology also has a game plan for intelligence development. It expects us to be trained by our allies and culture to be able to do everything required for starship mastery, without harming others and without trashing our ship or our environment. Our unconscious mind assumes that we will be shown by other members of our species how to be adept at avoiding dangers, exploring opportunities, and learning from mistakes. We are 'expected' to be surrounded by folks who were already out boldly going while we were still in diapers; showing us constant examples of how to be resilient against stressors, wise enough to avoid being conned or fooled, able to survive shocks and repair damage, diplomatic enough to successfully interact, and strong enough to avoid coercion or anxiety.


Biology assumes (from evidence during ages of previous experience) that a successful life may be built upon this foundation, because the unconscious believes that we are equipped with all the supporting resources and tools necessary at our disposal to fly this ship and begin exploring the universe. It expects us to be the equivalent of Starship Captains with full training and plenty of hands-on experience.

You will already be spotting a big problem with biology's trust in these expectations and their underlying belief. Biology's game plan currently diverges widely from the situation we actually live in. In our experience, none of us were trained as Starship Captains. In terms of mental development, we may have picked up a few hints from others or from trial and error, but nobody deliberately made a point of showing us how to be resilient, strategic, emotionally stable, diplomatic, brave or wise. Nobody even mentioned those things, except in movies. There was no equivalent of Starfleet Academy, no classes (practical or theory) for things like shock recovery, achieving lasting genuine loving relationships, avoiding the coercion of bullies, thinking for ourselves, developing creative strategy and rational judgment, or navigating through the dangers of dysfunctional people's emotional minefields.


We were taught some scientific stuff about people who once boldly went, and what their discoveries and inventions have done for us today, and we are taught a lot about how to be society's ideal citizen, but we are given no practice at boldly going anywhere; many of us having been raised in circumstances where one individual (a child) has to ask another individual (a teacher) for permission to move, speak or go for a pee.


There's no onboard user manual for minds, either, that we are made aware of. The brain does not come with an instructions package for how to think or how to develop mental skills. So here you are, left in charge inside this incredible, intricate, marvelous machine with incredible potential but nobody ever told you how it works, what it can do or how to fly it. Nobody even taught you the basics of what fuel to put in it or how to maintain it to prevent it falling apart.

This is a huge developmental issue. We have lost a great deal of cultural communication and nurture for our mental development; we are shown no examples of many skills, and thus we have no way to develop many skills. Developmental expectations have not been met and we are left with the result.


Imagine if some aliens just gave you a spaceship and then left. …Right. Off you go then... ...You know what to do?



Apart from obvious concerns about starships, like, where do you put the fucker (and this is not a problem with the brain), you have had no training, seen no examples of what it can do and how to get it to do it. There may be an instruction manual in the ships own computer somewhere but you don't know how to access the file and anyway it's written in alien. There is a crew of machines and thinking entities waiting for instructions, and if you don’t take command the ship will just take off randomly and bump about with you on board, making all sorts of potentially dangerous goofers that affect your life. 


Basically a leaderless ship will fly you constantly into trouble if it gets no guidance, or worse; into big trouble under the direction of somebody else, or random information in general. Because if you don't know how to control your own ship, plenty of unscrupulous others can divert it as a tool to increase their own resources, to your detriment!


Being basically bullied around and told what to do is many people's current experience of life. 'That's just 'the way things are', y'know?' We've all just been sorta muddling along from the start like everyone else; like a crew all in the same boat, right? Yet since captain of our own ship is our unavoidable biological role in life, as our awareness emerges we find ourselves thrust into this complicated context feeling somewhat ill-prepared for current events.

What's more, due to the ongoing nature of human development, when we first start out on life's journey our 'starship brain' is only partly-built. Since nobody tells us the techniques required to complete it, our system has to try to complete its own construction by somehow finding (often by trial and error, with accompanying accidents) the correct procedures to do so.


There's no Scotty; there are no practice maneuvers, no user theory; and even if there were there's no time for them because, hey, there's kindergarten and parents and school and social media and TV. And hassle from all these sources telling us what they want us to do, 24/7. Most of us don't discover the triggers necessary for ongoing development during our youth because we literally have no time, and at puberty we thus have to do the equivalent of leaving space dock without a tractor beam.


In short, we are not provided with any relevant training, we are given no clear prime directives for real life, nor are we taught anything about ourselves (minds, brains or bodies), or how to successfully interact with others or our environment. We are given nothing that is practically useful for developing intelligence further or even for basic maintenance. Many of us are stuck in inappropriate contexts right from the start, where no further development can take place because the required biological need (the required type of nurture – input -) is not given, and because harmful input is given instead.

As a consequence of this (although not the only consequence) many of us do remarkably well to survive at all; many of us are dependent on drugs, some of us self-destruct, and most of us just limp around ineffectually in behavioral circles because we honestly don't have enough energy or awareness to see any other way to go. Life seems shallow, mundane and pointless, at times we behave like wimps, other times we behave like bullies (these being the two most prevalent forms of dysfunctional behavior). Most of us are not even on the bridge of our own ship; somebody else is telling us what to do and we automatically comply, not having the energy or motivation to cope with the resulting hassle if we don't. Many of us are conditioned to believe bullies' ideas about what we should do with our lives (in short, serve them), and to avoid change; thus a large number of us end up being used as the equivalent of slave ships; putting our time and energy into fulfilling other people's desires under threat of punishment if we don't comply, or promise of some theoretical fulfillment if we do.

Punishment often happens, fulfillment does not. And the biological clock is ticking. As we age, doctors may keep fixing physical bits of us that break down, but the rest of 'the starship' - the intended intelligence - is either never constructed, or is wired up wrongly and prone to dysfunction. In the rush of current industrial life, many people are fatigued by all the hassle and confusion to the extent of not caring, and have slumped into the apathetic-depressive state of believing 'that's just the way life is', without even knowing there's anything missing.


If suddenly freed and asked what they really wanted to do with their lives, many people would be unable to think of anything. A lot of people literally cannot decide what they personally want to do; they have no experience of doing so, and very poor imagination.


The Neurohacking Prime Directive is 'No Coercion', and I must make clear that coercion is not intended here by stating the following: If you are happy and contented in an unvarying existence doing repetitive stuff for other people in exchange for money; if you feel you're already fulfilling your optimal potential in life and your relationships and health are satisfactory; or if you believe 'well, that IS just the way life is' and everything else is just airy faery nonsense not worth bothering about; or if you think scientific evidence doesn't count for much because there's also god, then you should stop reading here. Time is life; I don't want to waste anyone's time, and this book is not for you.


I have no desire to change anyone's mind; the only mind we should ever feel a need to change is our own. So, 'All ashore who're going ashore' before we take off.


If, however...

...If you have always had that feeling there was something more to life than society's mundane shenanigans or school or work punctuated by hanging around in bars or watching TV; if you have ever been aware that you're not fulfilling your potential; that relationships 'ought to be better than this'; if you have ever believed that you are 'meant for something more'; that you should 'become what you were meant to be'; or that 'something was meant to happen, but it didn't', or simply that human life should be a great deal more awesome, exciting, fulfilling and downright joyous than it currently appears to be, please fasten your seat belts, extinguish your smartphone, smoke whatever you like and by all means read on.

To avoid the sort of tension one uses deliberately in fiction; if you feel this way, you'll be happy to know that neuroscience is in the process of proving you correct. Human life can be pretty fantastic, if we know what to do and if (and this is the big IF) we are brave enough to stop going round in conditioned behavioral circles and actually complete the procedure required to change course and continue developing our minds. This is what it comes down to when facing the unknown: do we really care enough to bother?


In short, are we or are we not 'the right stuff' and if not, are we able to do the things that turn us into 'the right stuff'?



































To do it now or not to do it now; THAT is the question


...Because it's easy for us to read any amount of new ideas about what it takes to shift from surviving to thriving, but it's not at all easy for many of us to DO new stuff. Most of us are not used to doing new stuff; we are used to reading about doing new stuff. That's what we're doing right now.

The main decision we all make about actually DOING stuff (any stuff) is always based on the unconscious probability calculation, 'is it worth it?' Is it too much hassle? Is it worth bothering? Probability calculation is an evolutionary (and very sensible) unconscious procedure that intelligence uses to avoid any unnecessary wasting of time and energy for low returns.


Well, like everything else, that depends on what you personally value; what we really mean when asking this question is, 'Is the return worth the effort for me personally?' and that's entirely up to you. There's no obligation to do Neurohacking at all; people choose to do it for various different benefits and because they find it fun. You can choose to do a little or a lot, depending on how much you enjoy it. The more practice you put in, the more benefits you get out. Also, be clear that I'm not trying to convince anybody they 'should' do any NH at all; I'm just talking about what can happen if you do.


A lot depends on where mental health figures in your life priorities. For me, it's difficult to imagine anything more essential to any human than developing and maintaining a healthy mind, because without it we cannot achieve much else at all. Also, when mental health suffers, even a little, physical and emotional health will follow.[2] This becomes more of an issue as we age, when mental resilience really starts to matter. Is it worth bothering avoiding risk factors for dementia? Only you can decide how much that matters to you.


Your choices will partly depend on how much you are prepared to stretch yourself. Your mind is used to these sorts of calculations and has been doing them since childhood - ...is it worth risking the hassle incurred by getting caught, in order to get the fun of bunking off school and going to the movies? ...Should you try Vodka even though you've not tried it before? ...Are you sure you want to try leaping that distance and risk landing on a pile of stinky garbage if you fail? As adults this progresses to, 'Should I go to all the trouble of moving house to position X, where there are many benefits I currently lack, but the hassle of commuting is much greater?' 'Should I invest my time in procedure Y when doing it is quite a lot of hassle, seems boring, and it will be a while before I see any benefits?'

Your current degree of development and factors such as patience, determination, fatigue, interest, self control and how anxious you are about others' opinions of you will all affect your choices. If you want immediate gratification all the time you probably won't stick with NH.


Fly? Yes! Land? ...No.

To be fair, we all begin NH with the attitude that we need new skills NOW; we need a better memory NOW; we need to fix relationship problems NOW; but if you thinkback to being a kid, you felt just the  same way about riding a bike, play an instrument or swim. Mental skills require exactly the same perseverance, but in exactly the same way we soon find we 'get the hang of it' and then it's just a matter of practice (and, certainly, mucking up a few times) until we get proficient. And the more we practice, the better we get and the more fun it becomes.


Your choices also depend on what you believe is possible. Our estimation of our own potential for a greater quality of life hinges on how good we really believe it's possible for human life to be, how much better we can imagine life being; and we often judge our lives in shallow ways by comparison to others' lives; in terms of appearances or in terms of material goods. Put simply, if we cannot imagine ourselves changing to something 'better' in any way, or imagine any kind of better quality of life, or really don't believe it's possible to further develop our minds, there seems little point in trying to make it so.


The primary message of NH is that our personal attributes such as behavior, attitude and personality, as well as the wiring of our brains, the expression of our genome and our emotional responses, are all malleable if we systematically – and with appropriate biological signals – interact with our systems to change them. Essentially we need more than just a vague belief in the possibility of change; we need to understand basically how these changes are accomplished and how to take volitional control over our own biological systems; in order to develop into the kind of people we have the potential to become.


Is neurohacking worth it? Is pursuing full intelligence development worth it? Each of us can only decide for ourselves what matters to us. We are also free to change our minds in response to new evidence, new learning or new circumstances.


life on earth

Any intelligent person paying attention to current circumstances in general is going to realize something which is actually quite biologically odd in a living organism: most humans don't seem to be having a great time in their lives; they don't appear to enjoy a high quality of life experience, and evidence shows that this is apparently regardless of what they own or what they are doing.[3]

We don't see a great deal of spontaneous joy, inspired creativity or examples of loving, gentle, light-hearted, happy behavior, on an average day. There is plenty of 'wimp' behavior where people anxiously scurry around doing what they're told, and plenty of bully behavior where people pompously strut about telling other people what to do, and often they occur intermittently in the same person, but we don't see many healthy, well-balanced, joyful individuals who on the whole appear to be truly enjoying their lives.


Obviously, all lives have their bummers, but how many people do you know who could (genuinely) claim to be, on the whole, enjoying a great life? How many people do you know who even believe it's possible for human life to be great; to be mainly free of the hassles of mundanity, and explore our creative and intellectual potential? How many of us wake up grinning in the morning, appreciative and excited at the prospect of another great day, facing only the choice of which interesting thing to do first? How many of us experience joy at the amazing things our minds can do?

The future prognosis isn't so good either; the percentage of people affected by mental disorders and problems is increasing rapidly along with our suicide rates, failed relationships, chronic physical ailments, social, psychological and environmental problems.

It may occur to you that the pattern of decline in human mental health, resilience and happiness kinda doesn't make sense from a 'big picture' perspective, because at root we're biological creatures, and other biological creatures appear to have reasonably good lives; they manage to keep their relationships together, meet their own food needs, and raise families without getting terminally anxious and killing themselves, and they don't have anything like the complex clever brains that we do.

Sure, other creatures have their own specialities to help them thrive, such as great big teeth, wings, or the ability to breathe underwater, but we're supposed to have great big brains, imagination, executive skills and the ability to think under pressure. We have these enormous frontal lobes full of extras that enable complicated stuff like creativity, innovation, conscious strategy, abstract reasoning, logic and intellect. In terms of processing power, it's like the difference between having a regular laptop and a supercomputer, and it seems reasonable to expect a large gap in mental ability to exist between those who do, and those who don't, have the evolutionary specialty of 'extra' brains.


After all, if the majority of 'relatively dumb' wildlife can get its act together to have a pretty reasonable life on this planet without extra brains, it seems like humans ought to be right up there having a fabulous time, and thriving not least because our intelligence can create all sorts of useful things that other species can't, like complicated technology, machines, medicine, maps and engineering. Things that should remove a lot of the obstacles or limitations inherent in mammalian life.


We do see the promising beginnings of this potential for increased intelligence to transform things for the better, when we look at hunter-gather tribes today who take advantage of the resources in their natural environment to create technology. With basic weapons, herbal medicine and hut-construction, they manage to achieve stable populations, low mortality rates and zero cases of depression and suicide; they have enough to eat, do very little work, rarely get ill, and they get along fine until something (such as a logging company, unknown disease or foreign invaders) gets in the way. At this point if they can't adapt (for example by moving), their cultural development largely stops and later begins to decline.


Gradually they become 'people like us', changing (often under coercion) their independent lifestyle to one of dependence, working for strangers to buy food, medicines and houses, sending their kids off to school ... and then they start to get all the same mental and physical problems we do.


The obvious question is, why? We are not, biologically, any different from them to begin with. Although human lifestyles are very diverse around the world, tribal brains are made of exactly the same stuff as the brains we have, human DNA is human DNA, and since those of us living in the 'standard' western industrial fashion also have all this marvelous extra other stuff at our disposal like antibiotics, space flight, computers, cars and cities, you'd expect 'people like us' to be the jewel in the crown of biology's success; up there thriving and experiencing a very high quality of life. And we would see this reflected in an outpouring of joy; in great works of art, music and a plethora of creativity.


You'd certainly expect us to be much happier and healthier than, say, your average hunter-gather tribesperson, or your average subsistence farmer. These people do not even know what money is; they are living in what we would consider a 'lifestyle' of absolute poverty, and by contrast we would expect 'people like us' to be reaping the rewards of our rich, techno lifestyles in a lot of ways and feeling absolutely fabulous. In short, you'd expect the figures to be the other way round - you'd expect depression, suicide and despair to be much higher in the poverty-stricken group, and much better health and happiness in the group with clean food, state schooling, decent jobs, good dentistry, proper houses and real toilets. Why, then, is it the other way round?

We clearly DO feel appreciation for our tech; our homes, our clothes, our medicines, our vehicles, our shops; and most of us are well aware that we would be dead already without at least one of these inventions (especially antibiotics). We find it difficult to imagine the hardships of living without electricity or plumbing; having to grow, gather or catch your own food, process it and cook it in order to eat. The prospect of being illiterate, having no home until you build one, or no medicine unless you know how to use herbs, would terrify many. Yet, when we observe and talk to people who live much simpler tribal lives without any of our technological benefits, the perplexing thing is that those groups which remain unhassled by outsiders seem to experience a great deal more joy and a great deal less anxiety and mental dysfunction than we do.


This holds true regardless of multiple other factors: Nomadic or settled, hunters or growers, members of tribes in isolation or with security of tenure (ie, with no need to contest resources or defend against invasion) appear to have rich, fulfilling physical, emotional, cultural and spiritual lives. They are creative, artistic, and they invent and build tech where needed to assist them in their daily lives. They trade goods with their neighbors, they go on journeys to explore, there is a lot of interaction and a lot of laughter and very little strife.


Although life itself throws regular problems at them as it does all humans, they seem to be more resilient than we are, and adaptable enough to navigate through and recover speedily from trauma, grief or shock. They go about everyday life happily; fearless and confident, with loved ones and allies at their side and the tribe's body of knowledge in their memories, gained fro the very real necessities of having to live congruously with their environment and with each other for many generations. Life is generally fun, full of rich meaning, often exciting, and totally worthwhile.[4]


There is a legitimate argument to be noted here; that this comparison is missing a point - the reality is that tribal peoples have (unintentionally) practiced eugenics for hundreds of generations, simply because they didn't have any other option and, left alone, building resilience is what evolution by natural selection does. In a biological context where for a long time any individual who is unhealthy, mentally weak or psychologically imbalanced simply dies because they cannot take adequate care of themselves, obviously the later generations are much more likely to have strong immunity, mental resilience and psychological stability.

At the same time, people living in industrialized societies have also been practicing eugenics - again mostly without knowing that they were doing it - we have for example short-circuited natural selection by prioritizing physical survival at all costs, regardless of the state of our mind or body. We cut off death at the pass daily with antibiotics or surgery, to prolong physical survival. We perform caesarians and we resuscitate stillborns, regardless of their physical or mental condition. We strive to keep those 'vital signs' going regardless of whether or not mental health (or in some cases, even consciousness) is present.

We also support members of our community who cannot support themselves, sometimes throughout their entire lives; we always fight to maintain life regardless of the level of dysfunction, and it could thus be argued that we have 'bred for' a weak population of low resilience, unstable mental health and poor immunity; maybe trusting in our abilities and science to come up with cures for all conditions eventually. We have even consciously summed this overall 'healthcare' strategy up with the concept "Where there's life, there's hope".


It is generally claimed that we ''civilized' types choose to do all this because we have a deeply compassionate moral nature that feels compelled to value and take care of all human life, but in light of historical and current human atrocities I think we'd have major problems proving that one.


However you feel about these arguments, regardless of whether you decide they are true or false, sound or fallacious, we will pass them by, because none of them can sufficiently explain why, if we take a dysfunctional person from our industrialized society and expose them to tribal behaviors in a natural context, their own behavior and mental health measurably improve, changing from harmful, less-mature behaviors towards beneficial, more-mature behaviors.[5] Nor can they explain why, if we take a healthy tribal kid and expose them to life in our industrialized society, they begin to become dysfunctional and change from more mature to less mature behaviors.[6]


These changes can be measured in terms of genetic expression and blood chemistry as well as observed behavior, and those who are interested in the details of this effect must follow up the references and/or wait a bit; for now, I shall just say that the reason for these epigenetic changes lies with biological imperatives; biology's needs, being met or not being met by environmental input. Put simply, pretty much everything that surrounds tribal people sends beneficial signals to biology, and pretty much everything that surrounds us is in some way harmful to it.

Before you don your loincloth and rush into the forest, though, this does NOT mean we have to go and live with a tribe, or live like a tribe, in order to affect beneficial changes and improve mental health. Tribal contexts work because they simply provide easier ongoing access to environmental triggers which fulfill biological imperatives. In a forest, nothing gets in the way of biology, and the things and input that biology needs are frequently provided. And that's where Neurohacking comes in useful, because it enables us to hack biology and fulfill our biological imperatives without having to run naked through jungles chasing our dinners.


The reason 'relocated' tribes become 'like us' in terms of mental problems has nothing to do with the provision of houses, medicine or technology. These are benefits of human culture and ideally would be available to all who want them. The problem lies with deprivation of the environmental input vital to biology; failure to meet biological imperatives.


To summarize this section: the reason we fail to actualize our potential and wind up with so many problems lies in our failure to fully develop our intelligence, and this happens (and has happened to many people for a long, long time) because we fail to fulfill the biological imperatives FOR that development to take place.


This does not mean 'your needs are not being met'; nor is it about 'getting your needs met'; it means your biology (your unconscious mind) knows that you have not yet developed the ability to meet your own needs. You are designed by biology to be able to meet your own needs by maturity. That means you've still got some developing to do, and biology will continue to make you feel uncomfortable, anxious and dissatisfied until you pursue that development.


systems within systems


You, like all living things, were born already embedded within an intricate, complex, interrelated network of dynamic nested systems; the 'supporting systems' for both life and intelligence development.

You are in a set of nested systems: mind - brain - body - environment - planet - solar system – galaxy – universe.


This foundation is dynamic and can change - several species on earth including ours have added layers to this complex of systems within systems, as follows: mind - brain - body – group/clan/tribe - culture - environment - planet - solar system – galaxy - universe.


Group living

Living in groups offers many species advantages in terms of survival and thriving. Successful conscious grouping relies on allies - people who care about each other and enjoy doing things together - providing a bridge between the individual and the environment; a set of circumstances that behave as a conduit; essential for youngsters during the time when they are learning the basics of controlling their own bodies, walking upright and communicating, and also throughout life in various circumstances and relationships requiring cooperation.


Any ongoing cooperative relationship between individuals with regular contact counts as 'a group'. Some species form groups only when they have to, and some mammals only choose to live in groups for certain periods of their lives or in certain circumstances (for example to mate, when raising young, or during times of mutual hardship). But lots of species, from insects to whales, have taken advantage of the benefits of interacting in group systems as adults permanently, even though they are able to survive as individuals without groups. Parents and young are 'in a group' much of the time by default, and this holds true for all mammals, because isolated baby mammals don't survive.

Unlike insect groups which are genetically programmed as eusocial, mammalian (including human) groups are neither determined nor restricted by genetic relationships. That is, members of mammalian groups are not necessarily genetically related, although some members may be. Your current 'group' includes all those allies you are close to, communicate with and care about; there may also be friends and sexual partners within your group to whom you are not related. Sexual partners should definitely not be genetically related!

You may also have genetic relatives who are NOT included in your group. Groups are dynamic, they change and develop; some join and others leave, births and deaths continue to occur, we meet new people and lose contact with others. Humans are the most adaptable of all mammals when it comes to group or individual living, because there are no 'one circumstance fits all' rules for our species. We are highly adaptable, and as long as our biological needs are met, we can live successfully alone or in company, and have the freedom to choose.




A selection of mammals adopting group living has also developed culture; the ability to pass on members' knowledge, creations and abilities to each other and future generations by whatever means. Culture inserts a bridge between the individual or group and the environment; and it's an evolutionary shortcut; instead of having to work out how to do everything from first principles via trial and error, we can ask someone else how to do it, watch and copy, or go read about it, whatever it is. It is culture that has enabled our species to do a hop, skip and a jump through evolutionary development time and arrive relatively rapidly at our current location, surrounded by inventions and discoveries, arts and sciences.

Human culture is the ability to pass on a communal 'body of knowledge'; all of our collective art, science, knowledge and abilities, creations and inventions, interactions and methods. How we care for our children, how we use tools, what stories we write, how we behave towards one another and how we share information and skills are all part of human culture. Culture is about real, concrete things we do and make, and is responsible for human technological and behavioral progress.


Culture is not society. Everything we share open-source style is culture. Someone showing a kid how to tie shoes, that's culture. The Mona Lisa painting, that's culture. Mom showing daughter how to carry baby, that's culture. Online footage of moon landings, that's culture.


Societies and culture


However, we were also born into a set of peculiar circumstances already long established before we got here; and that is whatever current prevailing society humans maintain in the particular geographical location we grew up in.

Because popular media use the terms 'society' and 'culture' interchangeably, it is necessary to understand here the difference (in terms of their effect on humans) between human culture and human societies.

Your culture depends on your species; there is only one human culture, one chimpanzee culture, one whale culture, and so on. Some things only happen on a 'species' level, evolution is one and culture is another.


Each individual is involved in only some aspects of human culture; there would not be time within our lifetimes for one person to be involved in all aspects of culture! Our culture is thus a collective thing; each of us experiences a segment of it during our lifetimes and (if all goes well with development) adds other segments to it from their own unique creativity. Important, useful contributions spread, and so eventually all humans are able to light fires and make stone tools, and off we go. Culture will never go away until humans go away. The 'laws' in culture are the laws of physics, biology, mathematics, chemistry etc.; they are 'hard facts' that can't be broken or changed.


Culture is a species-wide phenomenon. Societies on the other hand do not affect whole species; they affect parochial groups in individual geographical areas. Human societies are systems of resource control and social control that past generations have implemented, often long before you (or anyone living) got here. Usually they are based on beliefs; via religious or political systems, traditions, rules and regulations, and institutions such as school, church, prisons and work. There are lots of different types of societies.[95]

Societies often clash with culture, most especially with science and its habit of revealing inconvenient truths which may discredit societal claims or (worse) cast doubt upon religious beliefs and ethics. Unlike culture, societies are not permanent; they come and go and sometimes transform into different types (often under public pressure). They usually change their rules along the way too.


The most important difference between society and culture is that of abstract and concrete dimensions of operation; in short, between what is fact and what is fiction. Whilst culture emerges in real life, society is of necessity invented; obviously someone has to make up the rules at the point when apparent need for them arises. The 'creations' of society are fictional and abstract constructs, rather than concrete; that is to say, culture creates statues, society makes up rules about what sort of statues 'should be allowed'. Culture determines how you make a cake; society tells you it is illegal to put certain 'banned substances' in that cake and how you will be punished if you do.


Factual laws like the laws of physics, chemistry or biology are impossible to break (except in cartoons). Fictional laws are 'rules' which only work if everyone agrees to behave by them; and they can be broken, bent, hacked or ignored.

Who made the original fictional rules? Who first decided that other people 'should' be allowed to do or not to do, and how they should do it?

We may wonder what sort of circumstances could ever make social control seem necessary. If you think about it, you'll realize that controlling people and telling them what to do only becomes necessary (and possible) only when they cannot control or think for themselves; for example if they are injured, ill, very young, or in some way dysfunctional.

On the other hand, there has probably always been some amount of dysfunctional bully behavior in groups; insecurity inciting a pathological desire to control others (ie, where there is no actual 'need' to do so).


This suggests at least two possibilities behind the original formation of artificial 'laws' (as opposed to real laws of chemistry & physics etc.), both of which are probably true. One possibility is that such rules were simply invented and enforced by bullies in order to hoard resources such as raw materials, land, goods and labor; another possibility is that such measures became necessary for protection against bullies at the point when dysfunctional behaviors within a group were likely to harm others within the same group (in other words by bullying or other harmful behaviors). For these two opposing reasons, the same ideas may well arise.

Societies don't always arise. Human groups have an 'optimal' self-governing size which, being dynamic, differs in different circumstances. In ordinary, everyday living situations, groups of between 100 and 250 people are an optimal size.[7] Often our circle of close allies and friends is much smaller. Groups smaller than 250 people tend not to form societies for the simple reason that social control is not usually necessary or possible when everybody in the group knows everybody else.


When humans gather in greater numbers than this in the same location, health (including mental health) declines (this is also true of many animal populations) and attempts to impose rules begin arising. Proximity affects us; unconsciously we do not feel at all comfortable crowded together all the time, because health suffers if even a small number lives in crowded conditions. Biodiversity also declines.


'Enough space' turns out to be a biological imperative, and this will become a big issue in the future as populations increase. We are already well over the optimal for world population in terms of hygiene, available safe resources and waste disposal, and this situation is unlikely to improve within our lifetimes.

Bear in mind also; the institutions, procedures, traditions and rules of the society we live in were not invented (or even agreed with) by 'all the people' whenever they first came into being; they were invented either by individuals or at best small groups; groups of people who for some reason felt it was both okay and necessary to 'govern others' or simply to get other people to obey them.


Societies as we know them began arising during early farming times; when populations boomed, health (including mental health) declined, and bullying, class inequality, conquest by neighbors, theft of land, predators and invasion all needed to be dealt with,[8] but from our point of view here today they might as well have happened 'a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away'; because even the most recent societies have their roots in a time when diseases were 'known' to be caused by evil spirits or witches, the heart was responsible for thought, the brain was designed to cool the blood, and properly civilized people had slaves to empty their sewage into the street.


However, we're not here to study anthropology, and the only point about societal systems relevant to us in NH is what they have in common: unfortunately they are all static systems. Or rather, they are attempting to be static systems, because in reality all things must change over time and stasis is impossible. Absolute stasis in living systems; a situation in which there is no movement or change of any kind whatsoever going on, indicates clinical death in biology. Lack of sufficient change; ongoing routine, mundanity and especially boredom, impair intelligence development and cause decline.

Static systems attempt to prevent change because their founders and supporters mistake stasis for stability.

Stability is achieved in real life through establishing a dynamic equilibrium; a system that can interact with already existing systems and adapt itself AS things change. Culture is just such a dynamic system; new art and new science shape new changes, creations, inventions, technology, innovations and adaptations, and changes in the real world environment create different necessities in research. Culture can thus adapt itself to suit things, and adapt things to suit itself. Dynamic systems (like the weather) change all the time and can be very complex, yet they maintain overall equilibrium due to underlying governing rules which are very simple.


Static constructs like societies present a problem for both biology and intelligence, partly because they take up so much time and energy that should (according to biology) be spent on further intelligence development, and partly because the behaviors that societies usually enforce retard (slow down) intelligence development. The net result of many generations of this has been the reality of most of us today wandering around 'on impulse drive' when we should really be capable of warp speed; sleepwalking ourselves into automatic mundanity instead of developing our potential.

'Updating' societies (with, for example, changing laws or political systems) is no solution to this; it only makes things ever-more complicated and ever more harmful. Suddenly allowing women or gay folks or children or 'minority groups' to join in societal activities does not remove the underlying problem that, as far as biology is concerned, many of those activities are not only time-wasting but harmful.

Growth and development occur, biologically, in the service of the individual. Static systems by their very nature prevent growth and development as they are (overtly or covertly) designed to condition the individual in service of the societal system, which is how societies perpetuate; supply chains of living people provide the power to keep them rolling.

We have to live here on this planet in one or another society right now (and if possible we have to try to sort out some of the environmental mess our predecessors left behind and which so many are still adding to). The current legacy of wholly inappropriate, growth-retarding societal conditioning (and its thoughtless maintenance by current multitudes) is what gets in the way of biology and retards our development. The institutions of our society like school and work, far from enhancing or assisting our intelligence, promote decline by ignoring and avoiding (and sometimes even forbidding) access to biological imperatives.

We spend all of our (life)time working on the presentation of ourselves as 'society's ideal self' instead of developing our real selves as biology intended. We pay the price in lack of intelligence development and all the attending physical, psychological, emotional and interactional problems we are not equipped to solve; plus we miss out on some wonderfu human experiences that healthy development brings.

Without meeting biological imperatives, regardless of what teaching methods or work arrangements or societal rules we follow, mind simply cannot develop and may well decline. If we're lucky, we end up with a reasonable intellect for a few decades, but all the rest (and oh, there is  so much 'rest') of our intelligence fails to develop. Nor are we taught how to maintain or improve our intellect, which consequently usually declines with age rather than continuing to develop.


Rather than creating a bridge between levels, society creates obstacles between the individual or group and the environment; exactly the opposite of what culture achieves. Society of necessity censors things, bans things, restricts things, puts up borders and boundaries. And the only reason all this difficulty happens is prior (and in most cases, current) lack of knowledge about bio-imperatives and their necessity for intelligence development.

Here is our dilemma; society tells us to settle down, work hard, go to church, pay our taxes. Do what we are told, and later we might be allowed to tell other people what to do, either in this life or the next one. Meanwhile culture (which goes right on emerging in pace with the reality of real-life discovery and which DOES improve intelligence) inspires us to explore, innovate, get out of the rat race, stop the mundanity, turn on, tune in and drop out, go have a great time and be creative.


To the newbie (and we all begin life with this epithet), born into a prevailing society, there are no immediately clear options available for doing anything else but joining in the mundanity. Even as adults, we can choose to emigrate and go live in a different kind of society, but it's still a society, and will have its own retarding aspects.

"All over the world revolutions come and go. Presidents rise and fall. They all steal your chickens. The only thing to change is the name of the man who takes them."


(Old Man in Pueblo, Young Indiana Jones Chronicles)


We can only avoid the harms of all societies by understanding what biology really needs, and using both biology and culture to neurohack ourselves from survival to thriving. This means immersing ourselves in what society calls 'sub-culture' but what is in fact just culture; human culture, humming away discovering new stuff and creating beauty and order beneath the surface nonsense. We can make direct volitional small changes in our lives that shift us into a cultural foundation, partly what the techniques in this book may assist us to do.

To summarize, our biological foundation is a system within systems, and all of these systems are dynamic and interactive; they affect one another all the time, and they control a great deal of what happens to us throughout our lifetimes, including how we feel, what we think about, and what we do.

We arrived here on planet earth at a time when human populations are getting to ridiculous levels for our own (and other) species' wellbeing, in circumstances which render it fairly impossible not to get caught up in all the details of whatever archaic, obstructive, resource-depleting society we inherit.

In conforming to its requirements we fail to fulfill biological imperatives, retarding our own mental development and entirely missing the big picture of what we really are, the experience of what we really could be, and the knowledge of what is required by our biology to pursue full development into a fulfilling, healthy, happy, free intelligence.

The rules of society prevent the programs of biology from running; the two constructs are in competition for control of our system, and we are all caught in the crossfire of the anxiety, confusion, unhappiness and problems which result.


Life has become a battleground between unconscious biological intent, which drives us from within to break free, explore, have fun, learn and thrive, and our conscious awareness of society's intentions, anxiously pushing us back into dependence and conformity from without. We are, therefore, constantly under pressure, and not surprisingly a lot of us get crushed.

Regardless of our opinions about societies and their benefits and hazards, it's useful to know that there's no need to react to society in negative ways in order to pursue a path of mental health and happiness. The healthy attitude is to view things from the big picture perspective, in which societies come and go, generations come and go, individuals come and go, yet intelligent people with rational, passionate minds still manage to emerge in our culture, imagining a better future and doing things which help to develop it. If you can do that for yourself, you can re-initiate your intelligence development and gain all the benefits thereof.


A human baby is born expecting culture just as a fish is born expecting water.”


(Alice Roberts[9])


You will also become a thread in the tapestry of human culture; your intelligence will flourish, your ideas will live on to inspire others, and incidentally you may become a very happy person. Society will not go away, but you can prevent it from continuing to obstruct your development. And the more your intelligence develops, the more easily your former problems will be solved.


The fact that biology finds itself at odds with aspects of our lifestyle within modern industrial societies is not something that should be denied, hidden, blamed or feared; it should be rationally understood, explored and addressed, both in the individual and, ultimately, in the society. Even simply knowing about these issues does much to prevent further problems and allows us to look realistically at what we each want to do with our lives. Being informed together with experience gives us the power of informed choice and extra options.






Biological systems


Into this context of systems within systems then, some beneficial and some harmful, we emerge. What do I mean by 'we'? Regardless of personal philosophy about the self, I am assuming that we would all agree with the following facts: that 'we' are biological organisms, that we're mammals, that we're human, that our brains and minds are essential natural features, and that the evolutionary human 'specialty' among humans is our complex intelligence...


...Okay, to be fair, we can also chuck stuff really well. Nothing throws stuff quite like a human, which is fortunate as otherwise we'd have stuff thrown at us by other species all the time. We are really, really good at chucking stuff; we can throw things further away from ourselves and hit other things with them more accurately and forcefully than any other creature; it's all to do with our arm, wrist and hand design, and it could legitimately be called another 'specialist' feature. But brains - and more importantly the complexity and organization of our brains - are definitely up there among our best specialist features, along with chucking stuff, opposable thumbs, walking upright and so on.

Biological systems; what people generally think of as 'nature', are not, perhaps surprisingly from a human pov, the 'mother of all systems'; they in turn rely on chemical and physical laws and systems, and are moderated by circumstances of geology, climate and resource availability, but within a range of varied conditions and contexts life emerges.


Like all complex systems, life has 'system requirements'. It also has master programs, of which evolution is one. Evolution is a program for the development of species, rather than individuals. Individuals do not evolve; species evolve. Individuals develop. Intelligence emerges.

Biological life on earth, the formation of new species, the development of individuals, the emergence of intelligence; all of these events happen due to appropriate interactions 'between' systems. For examples, life emerges from the interactions between chemicals according to the laws of biochemistry and physics; in evolution, new species do not 'evolve' from biology just existing on its own, they evolve because of a feedback loop assessing what takes place in the interactions between life and its environment; in individual development, genetic changes occur only in response to perceived need.


Likewise, intelligence emerges from appropriate interactions between an organism and its contexts. That is, intelligence emerges from the interactions between nature (appropriate biology) and nurture (appropriate context). I have called this 'appropriate context' a Matrix, and will talk more about it later on.


The nature-nurture conglomerate


Nurturing' means providing appropriate input to satisfy biological imperatives for further development, and 'nurturing behavior' in mammals emerges naturally through spontaneous interaction unless something gets in the way. Nurture is a part of nature. It is human nature to nurture; that's part of our culture, and our environment provides resources for nurture also.


As biological creatures, we are part of nature, yet without nurture we can't develop, because many of the nurturing 'triggers' required for our development are environmental signals that originate from the natural world.


All living creatures require some sort of nurture, or they die. DNA - nature - is sitting there filled with potential for developing intelligence, but it can never be actualized without nurture fulfilling our biological requirements; the most important requirement being appropriate conditions for further development.


The initial nurture for mammals takes place in the womb, continues in the arms, on the backs and in the beds of those who care for us as infants, and is further enhanced by the natural environment and human culture once we are old enough to move about and play with stuff. Eventually we develop the ability to nurture ourselves, to nurture children and close ones in need, and we draw our inspiration for ongoing nurture from the pleasure gained from nurturing interactions.


Providing nurture for development is achieved by fulfilling biological imperatives. The ultimate aim for all biological organisms living in reality is healthy growth and development, and this is what biology will continue to strive for until it is absolutely certain that it is no longer possible.


Nature and nurture provide form and content; matter and energy, time and space, information and experience. Interaction between them results in the development of intelligent entities; in other words, us.


"The whole of science, and one is tempted to think the whole of the life of any thinking human, is trying to come to terms with the relationship between yourself and the natural world. Whyyou are here, and how do you fit in, and what's it all about?"

(David Attenborough)










Within this nature-nurture context, intelligence development happens in measurable phases. Each phase of the successful development and emergence of our minds is hard wired into our biology like a program just waiting for the (in this case epigenetic) signals to run.



Whether that program gets its signals and runs, or fails to get its signals and doesn't, or gets blocked halfway through is, as adults, up to us. Our quest here is to fully comprehend what those signals are, what they are for and how (and when) to provide them, for there are enormous benefits to be had by doing so; not to mention a great adventure.








"Sorry! I don't want any adventures, thank you. Not today. Good morning! But please come to tea - any time you like! Why not omorrow? Good bye!"


(Bilbo Baggins, An Unexpected Party)




The unexpected party in human development is conscious intelligence. We do not just get 'a baby mammal' from a human womb; what emerges is also (potentially) an intelligent mind capable of self awareness, self direction, creativity and innovation.


If something exists in biology it (a) fills a niche and (b) serves a purpose. This does not imply that it is doing anything ON purpose. Water does not 'want to' evaporate and then condense 'so that it can rain'. There is nobody out there in biology with a magic wand deliberately and consciously creating, planning and designing and 'making stuff happen'.


Except for us. As far as we know, humans are the only creatures who consciously attempt to direct or change our own mental states deliberately with drugs or certain behaviors. We began doing this (either) when we started learning about medicinal plants (or) when the first dude deliberately took the second dose of something neuroactive (the first dose having been probably accidental, or inspired by animal behavior). It is likely that 'first dose' was a pain killing plant, its more interesting properties discovered by accident, and the first ever reference to deliberate neurohacking in this way comes in the earliest writing we have.[11] Other mammals use medicinal plants,[12] but as far as we know they do not deliberately set out to 'get high'. Even lab rats hooked on cocaine don't sit around wishing they had another line; they simply respond unconsciously to a desire to imbibe something that improves the way they feel and reduces their anxiety. (You can't get wild rats hooked on coke, btw, but more on that later).

Conscious intelligence is, as has been noted, one of our specialities. In simple biological terms, there is not much else about humans that is unusual; we are mammals, we are primates, and we inherit all the baggage that comes along with mammalian physiology including its biological needs, which dictate our need to breathe, move, eat, sleep and defecate. We produce live young and nourish them with milk, but so does everybody else on the mammalian block.


Our biochemistry is likewise similar to that of other mammals; we share exactly the same hormones with many species simply because 'biology works that way'. Same magic tricks, different stage.

The thing that makes us do unique, startlingly different things in the face of all this mammalian mundanity is our mind; that complex repository of imaginative ideas, inventions, creations and memories, that thinks of things such as, 'hey, if we plant the seeds from only the biggest yams, we get bigger yams, that's dead cool!' and, 'This wall is boring; I'm going to draw antelopes on it.'

Intelligence is our particular specialization in the 'adaptation for survival' game, and our particular species is more imaginative, more creative and more consciously aware than any other creature that we know of.


Humans were practising science and art and being creative in everyday life even before we invented the words for science and art (or even, possibly, for yams and antelopes). We had to be. We have populated every type of ecological niche on this planet from permafrost to desert, we have lived through an ice age, survived thousands of natural disasters and if the need genuinely arose I have no doubt that we could adapt to live in space or under the sea. Adapting is what we do. We are the creature that can adapt to fill any niche; the ultimate adaptation machine, because we have the kind of minds we do. Many animals faced with something they want to do and can't, will attempt to find a way or make one, but nothing has our kind of imagination, and nothing can grasp objects or get around obstacles quite like we do, and nothing can grasp ideas or get around problems quite like we do.

...Or create them. We have (or rather, the legacy of previous humans has) created more problems for ourselves than any other species too. That's the price we pay for this amazing imagination; it's vulnerable to costly mistakes. And the less well it develops and the less well it is maintained, the more vulnerable to mistakes it becomes. Our minds are nevertheless the most exciting features about us as far as evolutionary potential goes.


Primary process – Imagination

"Imagination will often carry us to world that never were, but without it we go nowhere"

(Carl Sagan)


Foundation programs such as emergence, and master programs such as plasticity and epigenetics change hardware, wiring up the circuitry for new abilities as we learn and grow. I'll explain these during this chapter. The primary process running in terms of brain software, though, is imagination.

There are thousands of mythical, archaic and quite a few outright weird ideas online about both intelligence and mental development, but if you limit your hunt to genuine research papers, you won't find many scientists still claiming that intelligence is just IQ or 'intellect'.

Evidence has shown that without imagination, emotional stability, memory, creativity, empathy or cultural skills, IQ doesn't really impact either our general intelligence itself or our success in life in general.[13] Certainly low IQ can limit an intelligence, but not a fraction as much as poor memory, lack of imagination, or anxiety and paranoia can limit intelligence.


Intelligence is based firmly on the processes of imagination. It's this simple: you take imagination and you give it some input sensors and a set of protocols, and you have intelligence. You have something that can learn, because it can imagine what might be true. Something that can perceive, because it can imagine what might be out there. Something that can remember, because it can imagine what happened. Something that can predict, because it can imagine what might happen IF...


To imagine is to make an internal image of. Imagination is not a system dedicated to fantasy and daydreaming, or to serve creativity, although it's needed for both those things. In fact, imagination is a broad-spectrum process required for everything, because it does everything. Without imagination we don't have intelligence. We can't even interpret perceptions; the signals from our senses, if we cannot imagine what they might mean. We can't make memories or plan strategies or do any learning, without imagination.

Strictly speaking, you can't build an 'artificial' intelligence (AI) with imagination, because whatever you built would be a real intelligence, albeit on a technological platform. You set out to build Pinnochio, you program in imagination, and, whoops, you accidentally get a real boy. Paradoxically, you can't build an AI without imagination either, because whatever you built would not be intelligent; although you can build some very good artificial clever-technical-problem-solvers. This is a dilemma for AI researchers, not neurohackers, however.


The issue has long been played with in science fiction; is Mr. Data, the android from Star Trek, a machine? Yes. Is he property, or is he alive and does he have rights? Well, he fulfills all the functions of life, so Starfleet, which advocates going looking for new life, decides that there it sits. Will we be so open-minded?


"Everyone should have their mind blown once a day"

(Neil DeGrasse Tyson)


Imagination is what propels us forward as a species – the mental function behind everything else that inspires our learning, expands our knowledge and brings us new ideas, inventions and discoveries. The essential unity between imagination and intelligence becomes glaringly obvious when we look at the abilities we consider essential for and indicative of intelligence; such as discernment, perception, association, emotion, empathy, memory, learning and prediction, because they all require imagination both to develop and to update and maintain, and the skills we think of as 'higher functions', things like discernment, perception, association, emotion, empathy, learning, memory, prediction, creativity, intellect, strategy, morality and judgment.[14]

Imagination does everything. Far from being the mere repository of speculation on vague woo-woo fantasy stuff, imagination is our only link between reality in the real world and the central hub of our intelligence.


Imagination is not about fantasy in the same way that abacus beads are not about jewelry (although they could be used for that). It almost might be concluded that imagination IS intelligence; since it is the core of all other processing, but human imagination is a rather special case because although all complex life is able to perceive, in our niche of evolution 'imagination' comes with onboard extras that enable complex perception and complex conceptualization.


One of these is our species' evolutionary unconscious awareness; the core of our developmental memory that imagination relates all experience back to. Another is autonomous control over access to input (both internal and external) via the senses; we do not simply respond to what is given; we can consciously choose what our senses are given to process and what they shall ignore.


Another of our specials is imagining possible alternative futures in order to plan ahead. Input from senses is data from the present, input from memory is data from the past, and we are also able to predict (imagine) possible or probable events of the future, which is a great help in strategy, planning and problem solving.

Imagination is the ability to create images in the mind; the ability to form mental images or concepts. That's it. That's the core of intelligence. That's how we perceive everything, we turn binary input into images and the images are associated with meaning. Imagination is the translation program that processes all input, regardless of whether it is internal or external. Without it, we could not perceive anything. Sensory perception requires that we are able to imagine what we are perceiving, and without perception there is no processing. Sensory overload occurs when we are unable to imagine – unable to compute what our senses are receiving.


Perception relies on the discernment of imagination to judge when incoming new percepts have enough points of similarity to our known concepts to be successfully recognized; to be correctly associated, categorized and given meaning by imagination. We have to imagine 'what is out there'. Our only input is binary signals, and we have to be able to imagine what they represent. Perception is ongoing image-generation from input. The reason you can see this screen and interpret these words is imagination. You are imagining (correctly) that they are there in the real world and what they mean.


Not the least important thing imagination provides is our discernment of reality and associated 'meaning'. Discernment is the basic ability (feature) of imagination to recognize the differences between things and make correct associations between them, using past experience (memory), present experience and prediction. It is the basis of all association, judgment and decision making. You put it together with an 'importance weighting' assessed from embodied emotion, and you have a value judgment - you can compute 'benefit or danger'.

Forming an image of what is going on 'out there' happens all our waking time in a healthy brain, completely unconsciously, every fraction of a second. We take for granted the results of the seriously complex process of perception, and the mind approaches input in a practical way much as any intelligent being does -by making an imagined model of reality, testing that model against reality, looking at the feedback and fine-tuning it for accuracy, prediction and behavioral control.

Imagination constructs and employs an inner model as a user-interface for computations about reality - and this is the core of all perception and all processing behind learning, memory and prediction. This is exactly the same process we use as intelligent beings when we consciously construct 'the standard model' of physics, for example. That's how science works. You make a model of what you think is going on, you test it against the real life evidence and you find how accurate it is. If it's good, your predictions based on it will pan out, if it's not good enough, some of it won't fit the facts and you have to fine tune it, getting ever closer to reality itself. In short, the mind uses scientific method and model-dependent realism to perceive reality; the two most useful tools we know for conscious comprehension are already built in to unconscious processing.

"Our imagination is stretched to the utmost, not as in fiction, to imagine things which are not really there, but just to comprehend those things which are there"

(Richard Feynman)


The mind's model of 'reality in general' is largely unconscious; that is to say we are not aware of it ordinarily because it's automatic. It uses a graphic format and employs the brain's visual cortex along with 'mirror neurons' to scan what's in “the mind's eye”; and this is a key subprocess of imagination.

All our senses contribute their own types of pattern from input; there may be a pattern of sound waves for audio input, a pattern of light frequencies from visual input, a pattern of chemical reception from taste receptors, and so on. The patterns represent concepts (such as 'music', 'sunrise', 'apple juice') and their 'meaning' to us will consist of partly universal associations and partly unique, personal associations.


Imagining correctly what is going on from given input is the basis of what minds do. We make associations between items of input that form patterns in our brains, both literally (physiologically between our brains' synaptic connections) and abstractly (our memory consistently associates the same input patterns with the same meanings and concepts, although extra meanings may be added as we learn.) The patterns 'represent' the meanings.

Associations themselves also have to initially be imagined. If we cannot imagine a connection between something new and what is already known, we cannot understand or mentally categorize the new thing. We don't have enough information to make a connection.


Even emotional states - and their meanings - have to be imagined too; imagination must interpret what is going on when we experience feelings, taking clues from our perceived context and input. 'What is 'going on out there' is always relevant to the chemical changes taking place in our body and brain. A rush of hormones or neurotransmitters may indicate the approach of an exciting benefit or a serious danger, and imagination must discern which it is in order to trigger the signals for behaviors relevant to either excitement or alarm.


Empathy is the ability to imagine what someone else is experiencing; not just in the emotional sense; empathy extends to the physical and mental states too. It is an important skill in learning because it allows us to imagine what it feels like to perform behaviors someone else is performing, and this is behind our ability to learn by copying others' behaviors (modeling).


Learning anything new depends on imagination, and depends on the unknown new thing having enough points of similarity to make sense when compared against what we already know. If you put this together with the process of perception described above, you will realize that all perception is learning, in a small way. With every bit of input our minds are learning about what has changed, what is changing, what might change and what has remained the same in the world around us.


Everything in your memory is either unconscious and innate (such as knowing how to breathe), or put there by imagination. Memory can only come from perception, and all perception is of necessity imagined. The contents of your memory are what imagination remembers. To recall correctly is to be able to imagine the correct pattern of connectivity between related concepts associated in the unconscious and call it back up into conscious awareness.