Befriending the stochastic parrot inside my head
“At least for me, insight always comes before….”
“There is no doubt that the latest advances in AI raise important …”
“Creativity is a funny…”
“I’m not convinced that my mind is…”
These are the kind of outputs the stochastic parrot inside my head produced as I started to write this.
None of them felt right, so it kept going.
Until it came up with this kind of meta opening you’re reading right now.
That kind of interplay between concious and unconscious thought is deeply fascinating to me.
I knew what I was going to write about. But I had no idea what words I’m going to use to do so.
There was not a single sharp sentence in my mind. Just a fuzzy feeling that there’s something there.
Then as I start writing the loud part of my mind starts proposing sentences.
The quiet part of my mind discards most of them.
This doesn’t happen through a “loud” process. No words are involved.
Only when the quiet part of my mind decides that a given output the loud part produces is a good fit, I write it down.
What’s interesting is that this interplay is only really noticeable to me whenever I get stuck. Like right at the beginning of a new post when I’m not quite sure how start.
But as soon as an output was approved by the quiet part, the words just start flowing. I’m writing whole paragraphs without any interplay between the quiet and loud mind.
The words go straight to the screen without any internal negotiations.
Until I eventually get stuck again.
Then my loud mind starts proposing sentences and my quiet mind discard most them before they are even finished.
This continues until the quiet mind approves another output, and the words start flowing again.
What is especially weird is that the quiet and loud mind seem to have an interface that is mostly invisible to me.
The quiet mind clearly approves or discards whole paragraphs long before the loud mind really spelled them out “visibly” in my head.
It’s as if the loud mind wants to try on a new pairs of shoes and the quiet mind can already tell they won’t fit after I put in the first toe.
Maybe the quiet mind has a good grasp of the landscape of statistical weights inside my head and can already extrapolate from the first few words where the loud mind is going.
Another interesting phenomenon is that the context window of my loud mind is obviously pretty small.
Whenever I get stuck for more than a few seconds, my mind also starts looking for new inputs. I start reading what I wrote so far.
I randomly jump up and down on the page, not exactly sure what I’m looking for.
The random inputs, oftentimes just fragments of sentences I wrote before, allow my loud mind to propose fresh sentences until eventually the next output is approved.
The way the loud mind works is most obvious when you’re meditating.
You focus on your breath and random sentences start popping up. After a while you can observe this like a third-person observer and make them gently go away without thinking anything.
What people get wrong though is believing that meditation is about quieting your mind.
This is what most books and teachers talk about.
The loud mind is working against you and you have to calm it down.
With some training you can learn to shut it off.
Eventually you can quiet your mind for long periods and experience bliss.
This has always struck me as fundamentally flawed logic.
Why would we have a loud mind in the first place?
Sure, we have an appendix in our bodies that does not serve any purpose anymore. So theoretically, the loud mind could similarly be an evolutionary artifact.
But I’ve never seen a good explanation for why this would be the case.
It seems more likely that the loud mind, the obnoxious stochastic parrot inside our heads, plays a key role in how we think.
It’s definitely true for me.
I’m not able to write without it, for example.
The interplay between the loud mind and quiet mind is my thining process.
I’m pretty good at quieting my mind. I can zoom out and observe the loud mind without any emotional attachement.
But all interesting insights and ideas are produced in collaboration between my quiet and loud mind.
My loud mind is no longer my enemy.
I look at it as a useful statistical parrot that proposes not quite random combinations of words and phrases it absorbed over the years.
Then it’s up to my quiet mind to decide which of its outputs best describes the current fuzzy idea.
Without the loud mind, all ideas remain fuzzy and vague.
Maybe the weirdest part is the question what exactly my role is in all of this.
The quiet mind feels more like “me”. After all I’m the one calling the shots, right?
But that’s probably just wishful thinking.
Often it feels like the best I can do is get out of the way when the loud and quiet mind start dancing.
When I’m interfering and trying to force a certain direction, my mind stumbles and gets stuck.
My best ideas and insights always arise when my loud and quiet mind can interact freely without disturbances.
This is also why writing is such a powerful way to produce better thinking.
When I’m writing I’m too busy pushing buttons for interferring with the dance.
I’m not pulling up random disturbances like my Twitter feed or try to force a certain direction because I’m afraid how the output will be perceived by others.
I’m just providing the setting that allows my loud and quiet mind to dance in sync.
My loud mind isn’t running off and starts talking about random topics.
My quiet mind stays focused on guiding the loud mind.
I’m doing my best writing when I’m removing myself, what some people call ego, from the equation.
I’m becoming a vessel that lets ideas flow though me.
My ego narrows the cross section and occasionally blocks it completely. So my job is to prevent this from happening.
In the dance between the loud and quiet mind, the key is not to control, but to observe and to allow.
Neither the loud nor the quiet mind is your enemy.
You need to befriend both and treat them well.
You can help your loud mind produce better outputs by scraping better training data.
You can help your quiet mind make better decision by giving it enough rest regularly.
But most importantly, you need to learn to get out of the way when the two start dancing.