The adventures of our inner voices… in the age of artificial intelligence, direct brain communications and global online networks…
Seven of Nine (Annika Hansen) in Star Trek: Voyager (played by Jeri Ryan) image: fanpop.com
I swear I thought I am going to write about writing as a manifestation of my inner voice (silent thought processes that only you are aware of and only you can work with… until you write things down, speak them out loud or get them out of your mind in some other way with technology… no I am not joking), but I ended up in a completely different direction… this is why I write, to explore what is in there and what is out there and what is in between…
Writing is listening to my inner voice/speech (in a healthy way)… to my own thinking… It is a manifestation of my reflective capacity, my consciousness… and reading is listening to someone else’s inner stream of ideas (alongside your’s)… If you don’t realize that you do this, pay attention to yourself more. Just as many people are not aware of their inner imagery when reading a novel for example, the same way many people don’t know that they are running a narrative of their own reality in their heads… It is “on” so much so that only people well trained in meditation are able to turn off the inner voice, the inner speech, the random ideas, feelings and reactions… and there are mindful people attempting to guide and manage the inner speech and voice… to use it efficiently, even creatively (like me) and not let their inner processes ruin their experiences. Introverts are more in tune with this inner world.
Radio, Skype, Intimacy
I love the radio show: This American Life. I love many of the stories people tell or read on that show. Some are fiction, some are nonfiction. I think it is one of the best radio shows in the world. I always loved radio done by people who truly love to listen and tell stories.
I just noticed that a “voice only” skype chat with a friend and listening to “This American Life” stories on my computer or smartphone… these experiences have something in common. Perhaps it is intimacy. Films and video chats on skype never have this depth. When you see people, when you see yourself talking to someone, when you know you are being watched, when your conversation partner knows of being watched, you both remain highly self conscious (different people on a different level), even if you are old friends. When you listen to radio or to someone’s voice via skype (or via phone, if you do not have to hold onto the phone physically… remember how your hands could get tired of holding that thing… or your ears could hurt… these physical reactions keep you self aware), there is a depth of intimacy that you can never reach with the moving image and with a phone in your hand. The moving image is wonderful, but even if you put the camera right into someone’s bedroom and into their faces, the moving image can never be as intimate as hearing a person talk “only”. I am sure you can feel how overwhelming it is when some people film and photograph everything… and how calming it can be when you can just listen (listen to the other and to yourself) and relax. Of course photography is a brilliantly expressive art, and yes some images are worth a million words, but most images can never outperform a good voice chat online… and yes, I also love in person chats, of course, but those are different (due to the physical and the visual elements, it is simply harder to allocate all of your energy to the spoken layer). I love films, but I might opt for a good radio program instead.
Relying on Your Hearing Only
It is similar to blind people having unbelievable hearing, to the level of bats. When you “only” listen to someone, you become an emotional bat, navigating blindly in an emotional cave and relying on your listening skills and instincts. I believe this is a good way to improve your intuitive capacity. You don’t see with your eyes, you see with your mind’s other “eyes” and you go very deep, really fast, if you like. Your brain suddenly reaches a deeper level of listening and closeness.
This is similar to people sitting in completely dark rooms… they become highly intimate even with strangers (there is also less material for judgement… you are more able to feel close to another human being…). It is almost meditative when you listen deeply. Effectively, you can become a better listener if you only listen to people via skype and via radio. It is interesting to experience different modalities.
I just realized, when I am writing, I am turning my inner radio on… I start listening to what I am thinking closely and I make it visible on my computer screen (would be nice to skip this part, the typing and the reading by making the process more direct). I ask myself questions without asking… the questioning of the self and the excavation of thinking processes and opinions are embedded in the process of writing. Writing is not typing. Writing is listening to myself and mapping how I am relating to the world. During writing your limited consciousness stops being a small mental container and turns into a portal for your deep mind… and the deep mind of sophisticated internet users is different from the mind of unconnected individuals who are not mindful. In the distant past when people were listening to their own inner narratives they had no real time options to see how that inner narrative related to other people’s deep mind and to facts.
Reading as Listening
Reading is listening too. Because after I posted this blog note, you started to read it (most likely) silently. I effectively speak to you silently… it is like asynchronous telepathy… you are listening to my inner voice in your head with some delay. When you start thinking about my ideas in your head, you virtually engage in a silent conversation with me. I only know it when you write back, or speak to me, but even if you do not, the conversation happens, even if “only” in your head (you will respond and resonate even if you do not write to me). Every person reading this blog conducts a secret parallel conversation with me in a hidden dimension of our universe. I believe that writers are essentially and primarily skilled inner conversationalist, explorers and listeners. Writers are even able to converse with people in the distant future (and with people in the past, when reading). I am writing for my own pleasure, to see what I think, but still, thank you for the conversation, now that you let me enter your mind with my inner voice and speech. It is my inner narrative that will survive as long as my writing is being read (or absorbed in some other way in the future).
The Future of Inner Speech and Mental Transfer
Perhaps one day people will no longer speak nor write to one another but simply use “technological telepathy” (just made this terminology up, because I know that the basic technology is already a reality in this area) to transfer this inner voice directly from mind to mind or from mind to computer (just like mental images are now recognized and reproduced by dedicated technology). It will be just as simple as leaving a message on an answering machine, or even easier. However, when I look at the difference in precision, I am thinking: how are we going to be able to be as precise and as nuanced as in writing? Are we going to think our ideas into a file and edit them by thinking about our thoughts? Isn’t it interesting to think about this? And when uploading our entire mind on a computer, are we going to edit out the personally embarrassing bits? And what are we to do with criminal minds?
Are we going to get help from AI to take our inner narrative to the next level? Will an AI companion read our minds to help us know what we think? Will an AI help us learn the things we need to know about the world and ourselves silently? Is it possible that we are becoming The Borg… a community of minds directly connected? Everyone hearing everyone else… Are we to become one mind? How are we to remain individuals in such a network? How are we to protect our minds from other people’s evil thoughts and destructive inner speech? Who is going to be in control of our minds?
Video: The AI based holographic Doctor teaching a former Borg, called Seven of Nine (a human being rediscovering her humanity lost during her childhood) on the show Star Trek: Voyager
Futurist Zoltan Istvan‘s transhumanist dream (and he is not alone with this dream) to upload his mind might just be the only reality for people in a machine age of constant learning, collective knowledge, the internet, robotics, space exploration and AI. But that won’t solve his fear of death, because he will still be gone one day… His knowledge, personality, and inner speech will melt into the collective. Humanity as The Borg…? “Seven of Nine”… “One of Seven Billion” today… But just how valuable will our minds be when AI systems will become more knowledgeable and more creative than people? Only we care about our ephemeral minds… Would you like your brain to be placed in an individual robot? Perhaps many people would be ok with that… Is your identity related to your body or your mind or both? Are YOU a mental process? Will our fear of death be replaced by the feeling of being intellectually and creatively obsolete when AI technologies become smarter and unfollowable for a human individual and even for humanity as a whole?
See? This is what I end up with today when I am thinking about writing as inner speech, a special way of self expression and listening. Our inner monologues will be highly and directly interconnected dialogues or group conversations in the future and that is probably an understatement of how our communications will be unrecognizable… and yet it will be natural even with technology, because our brains have the capacity to adapt. Writing and the spoken word might become obsolete sooner than we think. This will be the age of really big and fast understanding of unimaginably big “data”.
My facial expression exactly when I was done with this blog post! image: fanpop.com
Articles I read mostly while I wrote the above post:
If you are like me, you enjoy, lets say: classical music and well written US TV series as well… I mean you are not a snob, you have an open mind for the popular as well. If you know “The Big Bang Theory“, you know how awkward the nerdy science guys feel around women. I also like Star Trek, particularly “The Next Generation” and the “Voyager” seasons. In the futuristic “Voyager” story professional crew members enjoy gender equality, the captain is a woman (she takes command in over 300 years from now…) and everyone knows what their duty is. (I hope you appreciate the geeky female in me…) This is what I am going to talk about this time: men feeling awkward around women and how this will change in the future. If you don’t know these series, rest assured, the women who survive around the boys, the women who make it around men as equals are well equipped with tomboy features, it is not necessarily about how sexy a woman is. Ok, Seven of Nine is both smart and sexy, but she is also the most “Aspie” like female character in the “Voyager” series… you know, “Asperger’s Syndrome“, a neurological difference, that often comes with very high cognitive capacity and low social skills… Tuvok from Vulcan, the eternal believer in rationality and self control is probably more like male Aspies. In “The Big Bang Theory” Amy is the female Aspie, Sheldon is the male Aspie, and together they are the socially highly awkward “ShAmy”. Amy is typically much more aware of the social nuances compared to Sheldon, but even Amy experiences the social elements cognitively, not intuitively. It is not her social instinct that helps her, it is her cognitive skills, her powerful intellectual capacity. “The ShAmy” perfectly represents the differences between Aspie men and women and I keep believing based on my experiences with humans on this planet that this has to do with testosterone too (and with social expectations, and with the more effective corpus callosum in female brains, connecting the two hemispheres better, and with other structural differences, like men having more gray matter, causing them to be better at math, and women having more white matter, that makes them more skilled in social situations). Men and women come in all shapes and sizes, with all sorts of personalities and brains (with diverse hormonal, neurological, genetic and social profiles) in the world and we have to learn to live with that. I believe that cognitively powerful Aspies are key leaders of humanity, and sadly neurotypicals (people not on the Aspergers spectrum) find it really hard to understand them or accept them.
Voyager Crew of Star Trek Voyager
I am known for my interest in talented people with Aspergers (whatever it is), and I believe that many change-makers are part of the group… at the same time I keep thinking that the trouble is, many male Aspies feel really happy online, love technology and science, but have no social skills, particularly no abilities to connect with women (even Seven of Nine has to learn how to behave with men.. she is human, but having been a Borg Drone for too long did not help her social skills…). Some have social skills or are skilled at pretending and are obsessed with topics that fit the business world, banking and politics. I keep thinking that in fact women are not common in high leadership roles because Aspie men feel less comfortable with women (they are too demanding for them emotionally and in social terms), and because only one in four Aspies are women (or more specifically, four times more men get diagnosed because women are better at fitting in and pretending to be neurotypical… by the way this means that Aspie women often suffer in silence)… Women with Aspergers have equal or better social skills and empathy than neurotypical men (men without Aspergers)…
Here is a speaker from the second day of TED 2013: Mary Lou Jepsen, screen engineer. This is what I wrote about her talk (while as usual live blogging a TED conference). “She had a brain surgery many years ago. A key part of her brain was removed and she had to experiment with some powerful chemicals, hormones, in really small doses, and she felt how just a small amount of change impacted how she felt, who she was, her temper, her self, her intellect. This talk reminds me of a radio show on This American Life about testosterone. She is actually showing us technology that can tell what you see in your head. I have heard about this before, but now I must really face it, because it is coming…” What I did not emphasize in this quick summary of her talk (that actually contained two topics) is that she also explained how her hormonal imbalance changed her understanding of men. In fact she also explained, that it was impossible to recreate her original personality due to the delicate balance having been ruined by the surgery. But amid her drama she emerged with a much deeper understanding for men, because her new brain chemistry is now closer to the male hormonal mix. And in a men’s world, until the circumstances change, and leadership requirements expand to emotional intelligence, empathy and the like, today women like Mary Lou are more likely to make it professionally. This will hopefully change, but for now lets focus on the women who are most likely to find their ways into leadership positions in technology and business and meanwhile lets gradually change the definition and toolkit of leadership, for more women to be able to become high profile leaders.
Lets face it, there has to be a reason for the fact that even in Norway, where companies that were active on the stock market were forced to appoint 40% women onto their boards, this did not result in other entities suddenly or even slowly having 40% women at the top. So, I have to ask this controversial question: Is it possible that today, the natural thing would be to set a 25% – 30% goal for women in the highest positions and see what happens? I know that leadership skills can be developed, but for example it might be that women with Aspergers are more likely to become high profile leaders in politics, science, banking and in technology, and still the gender stereotypes hold them back. They don’t need to force themselves, leadership comes naturally to them, but it is not expected of them… They have to adjust to male behavior, while also must appear (pretend to be) neurotypical to be socially accepted. Now that is really confusing and draining.
In other fields women (not necessarily Aspies) are intelligent conformists, who are more likely to become successful leaders in education, community development, childcare, social services and the like. These women are less hindered by the stereotypes, especially when the prestige of their field is low (so men are less likely to compete for those positions and those women are more neurotypical, need less effort to appear “normal” to their environments).
I keep thinking that Aspergers and androgyny are linked, as are humor and androgyny…
There is an interesting marker that shows division between men and women, and that is humor. Men and women both prefer male humor. However, if you dig into the standup and entertainment world, you will find some hilariously funny women (often noticeably androgen types, many of them are lesbians). But wait, there are in fact fewer females in standup and that might be because: 1. women are expected to be less funny by both genders, and 2. because in fact humor has a lot to do with aggression and androgen hormones (like testosterone).
Whitney Cummings, stand up comedian, talk show host, actress and producer
Here is a key and revealing idea for you to understand the problem with 50-50 male and female leadership: No matter how much you want the standup shows to consist of 50% funny males and 50% equally funny females, if the 50-50 audience just won’t laugh 50-50, you would not be successful at reaching your 50-50 goal. You can not force it. Also, low testosterone women will just never be as funny as low testosterone men. And when high testosterone women attempt to be aggressively funny, gender stereotypes make it less acceptable, even when they are really really funny. As in many fields women have to fight harder to be accepted, and that fight goes against the visceral reactions of people. Keep in mind that the normal female testosterone range is below 2 nmol/L and the normal male range starts above 10 nmol/L! And you don’t want to mess with people’s hormones, believe me!
So while I am arguing that society needs to do something about the testosterone dominance of men and of course gender stereotypes need to be removed as roadblocks of healthy human development, I am also suspicious about the 40% rule in Norway and the 50% expectations of social scientists and politicians. It is true that those companies did not go under with the 40% female leadership in Norway, of course they did not, but: did they become supersonic and viral examples? No.
Competitiveness is also driven by aggression and testosterone (while cooperation and empathy has more to do with the female sex hormones). Testosterone plays a role in: leadership, competitiveness, humor, aggression, sexuality, motivation, and so it looks like testosterone has a major role in entrepreneurship, science, politics and sports as well… It is interesting to note that in the show about Testosterone on NPR’s “This American Life” (beyond bringing us interesting human stories about the impact of testosterone) the studio team had their testosterone levels tested, and guess what, the only homosexual male in the group had the highest testosterone level among the male colleagues (and among the women a pregnant and not at all shy female editor). Now, the fact that testosterone drives our societies today, does not make this fact ok for eternity. In fact it is this recognition that makes it possible to change this by conscious analysis and decision making. If today’s leadership styles are running us into a deep canyon of darkness, perhaps we need to look at compassion, empathy, encouragement, vicariousness, and the like, that are not driven by testosterone, but are nevertheless important leadership skills and styles.
At the same time, I enjoy wit and humor, so please, don’t you assume that I have anything against testosterone. However, in a modern society its impact has to be balanced. I might say: Curb Your Testosterone!
While reading the New Yorker article about Peter Thiel, I kept thinking, here is a clearly Aspie man, with lack of emotional maturity running a lot of business shows in his own way… and at the end of the article I was reinforced, he knows.
As cognitively brilliant but emotionally infantile Peter Thiel (venture capitalist) put it: “You can say the whole Internet has something very escapist to it. You have all these Internet companies over the past decade, and the people who run them are sort of autistic. These mild cases of Asperger’s seem to be quite rampant. There’s no need for sales—the companies themselves are weirdly nonsocial in nature.” But, he added, “In a society where things are not great and a lot of stuff is fairly dysfunctional, that may actually be the thing where you can add the most value. You can say that’s an escapist impulse of sorts, or an anti-political impulse, but maybe it is also the best way you can actually help things …”” Peter, you are good with numbers, strategy, logic, but that is only half of the human tool kit… Like Peter Arvai of Prezi or Tim Cook of Apple, Peter Thiel of PayPal is also an openly gay entrepreneur (there are many gay entrepreneurs who don’t want to risk their positions) and surrounds himself mostly with equally autistic men who think that everything is and has to be “rational” (as if there is anything rational about our existence in the universe). He is the most typical example of the problem, why women can not be part of the highest leadership. It’s because Peter and his friends (a boy’s club) feel uncomfortable around women.It is their own limitations, their values that make it impossible for women to be part of the leadership elites in technology and in science R&D, and also the limiting and distorted social values that women can not be leaders in these fields. Trust me, they can be, only the people who are part of the game must recognize their own limitation and counterproductive rejection of “the other”, the female, the more “emotional”, the “complicated”, the perceived “irrational”, the connected, the socially often more adept, the ones with more empathy and consideration for others (not all women are like this, and of course there are men who are like this). If you are blind, it does not mean that there is no visible space around you. If you are blind to the values of women, it does not mean that women don’t have real value in your field at your level.
Open your mind’s eyes cognitively: Aspie men (as well as Aspie women) have the ability to somewhat successfully substitute for lack of empathy, social skills or emotional intelligence (note: not all aspies lack empathy, social skills and EI) by using their enormous cognitive capacity to understand their own shortcomings and recognize new layers of human reality. Yes, you can! Trust me, I know men like this and those men were able to learn. At the same time women also must learn to speak “the male language” to finally meet in the middle and to go from there together.
Update from March 15., 2014: If you think that men and women have an equal opportunity as entrepreneurs in society, you are at least ignorant. If I consider the fact that VC money is mostly controlled by men, and if I add the results of the new MIT/Wharton study: Does it mean that male venture capitalists unconsciously and overwhelmingly prefer to invest in very handsome men? Does it mean that latent or undisclosed or open male homosexuality governs VC investments? Does it mean that the majority of women have no chance of making it as entrepreneurs due to this bias when competing against men in front of male investors? Is this happening in other fields, like science or politics as well? Obviously it is.
Let me recommend more posts on my TED and my Coursera blogs as well (I am dealing with a range of different topics):
I wrote more about Asperger’s and gender differences in my next blog post on My “Virtual Humanism” Blog: Elementary
And I also have a post in Hungarian with English audio that I recorded for English speakers to give you a summary of my post: (A Nők meg a “Startup” Ápolás Művészete) Women and the Art of Startup Maintenance