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  • I live in the past. Literally. What I know as "now" really happened at least 80 milliseconds ago. Because that's the minimum time it took for me to get the sensory input of the world around me, process it, decide on it, and slip it up into conscious thought so I'm aware of it. So I'm always living a little bit in the past.

    Sometimes it can take a second or longer. Some brain activity has been shown processing input sometimes up to a second and a half before our minds let us be consciously aware of it. Which is different than some lower forms of animals, like insects and arachnids which have much shorter neuro-pathways and lack the higher cognitive function which we have. They're all instinct, so to speak. So they can react much quicker. I already noticed how flies can make me feel like I'm moving in slow motion when I try to swat them. Previously, I also wondered why it seemed like spiders can sense the future and react before I even decided to brush them off their webs. If their signal processing to reaction time is about 20ms then they're still living at least 60ms ahead of me in the future. The movement of my own hand is something relayed back to my mind 60ms later than it is to them. And when it comes to a slap, the actual swing from start to finish may be about 200ms. So they saw the slap come and go long before the pain registered in my hand.

    Overall, living 80ms in the past is not so bad. Especially since most everyone other healthy human is dealing with at least that much. I think what bothers me more is that my decisions are made for me before I am aware of them. That takes a lot more getting used to. The idea that I'm just a set of sensors for my mind kinda bugs me. And that my mind runs on a complex and immensely huge set of rules, often poorly indexed and sometimes contradictory, based on that sensory input all these years starting with my prenatal voyage. Am I just the life support system for my mind? Is this me thinking there is no free will? Or is this me thinking that I am a unique and specially fitted illusion my mind made for me based on all the paths I crossed in my life? I mean really, if we gave as many sensors and sets of rules as we have to any robot for a few years it also would crush any Turing test too.

    I'm not completely surprised that my mind takes over so many things subconsciously. After all, I'm completely aware that my heart beats on its own without me needing to consciously will it to. And while it's beating, I can walk stairs, a fairly complex, mathematical task if you needed to calculate it, while also talking and chewing gum. Sometimes I drive somewhere routine, like an office, a store, a school, and get there to realize I don't recall even driving there. So I know my mind is really in the driver's seat. I guess I just never realized how much until I was faced with the fact that it made decisions those 80ms before I knew that it did.

    So my mind is made up before I know it's made up. This does explain why I make so many of the same stupid mistakes again and again. And no wonder it's so hard to break bad habits. No wonder they say that willpower is a muscle that needs to be exercised - because willpower is just the act of me adding more rules to my brain to outweigh the existing rules like some sort of Bayesian filter. So no wonder it's hard. Rewriting our rules takes energy, maybe too much energy, which might explain why people need to be drastically reminded, or highly driven (or not to rule out psycho-actively drugged, deeply hypnotized, Zen meditationed) to make themselves change. For many, even dire health consequences is not enough to make changes because their original rule set with its Bayesian filters have become too heavily weighted against even the biggest rule of all: survival. So we need some kind of low-level formatting for our minds when our rules become dangerous to ourselves. Prescribed and supervised, perhaps.

    But even if I can will myself to change and I give it all the effort I can, I know that sometimes, somehow, I'll stumble. Something can happen where an old, contradictory rule gets evoked instead of the new one I just went through the trouble of making. These prompts most often trigger us to just react especially when we're feeling particularly stressed. That's when my mind really like to fly solo. Part of the problem is that emotions and things which tie us to memories also tie us to old rules. People can change easier when memories tied to the relevant parts of their past fade. And maybe there's something to it that people with better memories have a harder time changing themselves. However, I do know that being aware of my prompts, even the generic ones that we as humans all seem to share, is enough to make me stop reacting to one immediately. Now when I'm being prompted I get a feeling like when something shiny catches my eye. It stops me and make me rethink how I should react. And from advertising to social interactions to political speeches, I noticed that I'm getting prompted all the time. It does make me wonder how much of my life have I spent on mental cruise control?

    But this is all in the past now. It all is anyway. All I can do is try to keep on top of the kind of sensory input I'm getting. Perhaps even learning to actively keep on re-filtering. Although I know it's exhausting. We really do have only so much attention to give. But at the very least, I can learn to be aware of what my rules are and how my rules want me to act and react. And maybe I can give myself more time to think critically before I react. I can especially keep this in mind when trying to figure out why other people do the things they do. They are the results of their own huge amount of sensory input and from that, a huge number of complex rules. So at the very least, it will bring me more understanding about the world I live in and the people I share it with.
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