The simulaton life is a rich life experience provided by training our
minds to consider simulations of natural and human phenomena often
in order to gain depth in understanding, awareness, and compassion.
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If I could introduce a new word to the English language, I would propose the word simulaton as a word to describe a machine that can simulate itself along the lines of how automaton is a word to describe a machine that can operate itself. Since automata and automatons are accepted plural forms of automaton, I'd also propose to add simulata and simulatons as plural forms of simulaton. Upon convincing the world to accept the word, I'd then attempt to convince each one of us to live a simulaton life at least as much as we live an automaton life. We are clever and accomplished automatons that have been given a miraculous mind-body facility with which to operate ourselves. I would suggest we have yet to become the same clever and accomplished simulatons that we might benefit greatly from becoming — in pursuing a richer life. This book is about the potential simulaton life.
How can I feel worthy of promoting such a life? I am hoping I have earned it by often deferring my automaton potential in pursuit of a mindful simulaton existence — an existence that has fed upon itself in ways that have led to me think about simulation and the potential of simulation as an important exercise in what feels like the primary driver of quality of life. For reasons of which I am not fully aware, I have preferred to learn through simulating the processes and phenomena I wish to know better. I continue to prefer to actively grow my range of thoughts through building simulations of real and imagined phenomena. As I build understanding within the confines of a finite life with finite potential expression of behavior, I aim to actively construct my life to follow the evolved simulation of what I believe will be the best use of my time.
I am not sure exactly how I deferred my automaton potential so naturally (especially as I gained deeper and deeper reverence for it). I do know, thanks to often-shared family lore, that the adults who ran the nursery I attended in pre-school called me the prime minister — not just because I was born of wonderful Canadian parents, but because I seemed to spend my day instinctively walking about watching what all the other kids were doing without doing much else myself. I do know that when opportunities to participate in activities fell short of my immediate desires, I often ended up feeling joyful watching others perform those activities as if I were performing them myself — finding joy in anticipating how I would approach the activity in the place of someone else. This seemed quite different from most kids in my neighborhood who ran home crying when he or she hadn't been picked for a role in team play. I was more likely to cry home as the kid who was chided for being aloof when playing the activity because he was studying the experience more than actually performing it. Makes sense other kids would make fun of me for that as I was not providing them the richest experience at the time. I was the one who brought new rules to try to improve the activity the next time we got together. For those reasons, on those days, I felt I was better off simulating the activity from the sidelines than actually participating in it.
There is a powerful perspective that can be gained by watching an activity while moving the perspective from one participant to another. It is hard to consider multiple roles and perform a role at the same time but I have heard that certain team sport legends were able to attain that ability through years of iteration in play. Though our attention cannot easily keep multiple player perspectives in mind simultaneously, varying them over time provides us the opportunity to understand the overall activity at a deeper level over time.
Another satisfying trick I later found in life was one of being able to simulate other activities while participating in a less enjoyable or intriguing one. I enjoyed my growing ability to take notes in lectures that weren't interesting while thinking about other phenomena that were more so. A great day was one when the lecture I was attending provided some new insight into the phenomena I was currently simulating in my head. This trick built upon itself to the point that I was rarely bored if my brain wasn't tired. I also gained a shrinking impulse to be rude or unkind to someone I was finding boring or uninteresting. People liked me as a result even though I didn't think of popularity as an important goal — instead I grew to think of loving kindness as a goal — one that thankfully seemed innate to my nature as well.
Seven years at a virtual reality research lab in Seattle (and assisting in its migration to New Zealand) helped me know my simulating brain more explicitly. Working with an adventurous and pioneering team of research scientists, faculty, and lab assistants, I immersed myself into virtual environments that simulated access to roles and experiences I myself would be no expert at, but for which technology could attempt to make experts better at how they performed their roles for the benefit of society. From experiences of walking about in a beautifully rendered hotel room of the future, to experiencing the point of view of a molecule of pollutant in an urban body of water, to attempting to suture a cut on a bleeding hand, I became more intimate in understanding how my brain took advantage of simulations for a deeper understanding of myself and the world around me. Strangely, the process became a two-way process. I found myself simulating the physical world around me as a simulation of a virtual world — that less orthodox direction helped me imagine how difficult it would be to simulate different phenomena using the available technology the lab provided.
Simulation has been good to me throughout years of employment and academic success. When struggling to find a new angle on systems engineering research that could (and would) justify a doctoral thesis acceptance, simulation came to the rescue. Thanks to a wonderful broad-thinking advisor and an academic department researching phenomena where simulation came in handy, I was able to study simulation of physical phenomena intensely — without making the connection to how it was building capacity to live an enjoyable simulaton life. That connection is a connection I wish to share with the world.
To warm you up for sharing, I'd like to turn the focus on you for a bit (not as a reader, for I hope my focus is always there, but as a person). Whether you like it or not, you live in a moment-to-moment simulation — thanks to the ability of your brain to generate a simulated reality that let's you make sense of the world and master it to your advantage. If you've been blessed with sight, your brain gives you this wonderful simulated experience of wavelengths of light — physical photons bouncing around the physical world at different frequencies, being absorbed by objects in different manners. Your brain turns those photons into continuous images of the world around you — in color no less to make it yet that much more descriptive for your evaluation and creative response.
If you've been blessed with hearing, your brain is turning the movement of air around you into a sense of sound inside your head. Your tongue is turning the experience of materials in your mouth into a sense of taste. The sum of all your senses provide you a moment-to-moment perspective on the world — one perspective of the world evolved from an infinite possible experience out of those stimuli. Certainly not identical to the experience others around you are experiencing, but perhaps very similar or perhaps not. Your brain's simulation ability is unique and yet evolved to be working as your ally all the time.
Now let's turn the focus towards us. We have the ability to simulate, as we could not function in the world without it. The reality of the world around us outside of what we actually process into a worldview is way too complicated for a consciousness to deal with. Simulation is literally a life-saver — making a simplified model of the world that lets us attend to things we need to attend to or want to attend to as a source of pleasure. Simulation on the whole is about simplifying the complexity of phenomena in order to build an understanding. A simplified model simulation that helps us deal with potential ramifications of climate change is better than a simplified model simulation that does not help us deal. The simulaton life is one of working hard to find the difference. Searching out simulations that help augment our thoughts and actions towards improving our lives and others.
Need an example? Think of the simulation running in your brain in regards to anticipating the change of daylight in a twenty-four hour period. Is your thought process simulating a simple Earth-Sun model whereby the Earth gets in the way of your view of the Sun approximately every twelve hours? That will help you anticipate when you need to do certain things and anticipate when significant change is about to occur as you see the sun setting on the horizon. Does your thought process include the concept of the tilted Earth traveling around the Sun over a 365-day period? If so, your simulation lets you anticipate the seasons and deduce when (and where) the daylight will be shorter or longer on different days during the year. If the simulation in your head adds the moon to the model, you can deduce tides and be better at anticipating nuances in night lighting outdoors. Get more complicated by adding seven additional planets and perhaps your ability to deduce important aspects of your life gets less useful (although astrologers might try to convince you otherwise). The key to your quality of life may be your ability to simulate what you need to in order to experience your potential. An astronomer may put many of her eggs into that one simulation and make a career out of it.
The beauty of the simulation is what mental abilities it provides us. Another useful metric might be compassion. The ability to simulate the experience of others builds our compassion and enables our support or assistance. Simulation becomes easier perhaps when we've experienced the set of circumstances causing another person's suffering. Or, perhaps our simulation is flawed by putting too much of our own experience into someone else's telling of theirs. The simulaton life looks to create the best simulation of that person's circumstance to feel their emotion while at the same time searching for clues in the simulation that might relieve the suffering to at least some degree. Any phenomenon can be simulated. The simulaton life becomes one of recognizing all possible simulations and choosing to invest mental effort into those that best express the quality of life one wants to express.
As I write this, I feel we are at an exciting time for suggesting reasons why we might want to live a simulaton life. Research in neuroscience (the scientific study of the nervous system) and neurology (the branch of medicine that deals with the anatomy, functions, and organic disorders of nerves and the nervous system) suggests that the brain considers imagined phenomena as if they were physical — without knowing the difference. That can work to our detriment when we imagine the world is out to get us — or it can work to our advantage when we use our imagination to drive our understanding of phenomena we wish to know more about. Our world has become a global village thanks to a ramp-up of telecommunications and emergence of Web architecture to provide a blueprint for interconnecting the computer-mediated computing resources of the world. Research in cognitive science continues to show how interconnected our cognition is through socially focused brain activity by which our independent thoughts are filtered.
Computing methods, visualization techniques, and emergent interaction methods for rapidly engaging our thought processes in conjunction with simulated content are all there to facilitate our simulaton life's potential. I have had both the luxury and responsibility to create simulation tools in three complex areas of phenomena with which the world seems very keen on improving understanding: computational biological evolution, hydrology modeling, and community crisis emergency response. Working side-by-side with world-class researchers in computing methods, visualization techniques, and human-computer interaction methods, while being funded to dwell on contemplating potential value to society, has allowed me to iterate my attempts at better simulating those phenomena for human understanding. I have not been alone as others have invested in similar paths for our shared benefit.
Those who perform simulation research have been aided greatly by the availability of international social networks to draw upon for fine-tuning our approach, and have benefited by the telecommunications networks available to amplify shared messages between thoughtful contributors. The best way I can think of to pay back that global community is by writing a motivational book to get those who have not had exposure to the potential of simulation to consider the potential of what we've been doing (with their hard-earned tax money on many occasions). We can benefit from our simulation tools as we apply them to simulate potential useful approaches implementing and sharing helpful dynamic models of complex phenomena.
Diving into a complex simulation of computational biology, watershed processes, or emergency response scenarios can feel overwhelming at first exposure. The complexity of the subject matter seems to bleed through to the complexity of the task of making sense of it all. There has to be a better introduction point for those who have not had the experience of today's computer-simulation tools. I hope this book will evolve to become at least one of those introductions. Once case studies in computational biology, watershed process, and emergency response simulations have been experienced and absorbed by readers, I believe the world of simulation can be opened in new ways such that any potential complex simulation can be comfortably considered. If that is not the case, I have failed in my attempt.
My attempt unfolds in a series of twelve chapters: six of which are motivational to help you understand why simulation is ripe for your consideration and mastery, three of which present separate case studies for gaining confidence in the approach while providing you tools for your own use, and three that suggest simulation skills are valuable to the collective at least as much as they are to yourself. In other words, I aim to get you to think this is wonderful, I can do this, I need not do this alone.
Chapter 1 provides detail as to how our human senses create a useful and necessary simulation from which we learn and respond to the world around us. The detail continues to awe me and I hope to inspire that same level of awe in you as you consider the process as I have. The good news is you can cut out of chapter 1 as soon as you buy into the premise and can see clearly that your brain is maintaining a simulation with every new stimulus that is available to be perceived by your brain.
Chapter 2 plays with a theory of mind that is quite compelling to contemplate. I certainly spent many fascinating hours getting to absorb the theory by being introduced to the evidence, forming the hypothesis, and then following the testing methods researchers have used to attempt to build support that a theory of mind is useful for identifying the value of the mind in the brain-body continuum. The good news is that the theory of mind aligns closely with the simulaton life — as the theory becomes believable, simulation seems more the dominant domain of the mind. Cut out of chapter 2 whenever you are sold, are too skeptical to continue, or are getting bored with the details. You won't miss any detail necessary for understanding the remainder of the book — just some motivation, perhaps.
Chapter 3 pays homage to one of my favorite researchers, Francisco Varela, and his allies who worked so hard forming and testing an embodied mind hypothesis. The embodied mind is what motivates me to put myself into life experiences that give my mind its fodder to simulate the world for a deeper understanding. The hypothesis that the embodied mind is what gives the mind its cognitive substance is core to the hypothesis we should all embrace a simulaton life. The embodied mind hypothesis is finding wonderful evidence through emergent functional brain measurement techniques. It brings the domain of experiential mind meditation practitioners to the role of evidence gathering — albeit in a form different than the traditional scientific method. As chapter 3 extends into chapter 4 to create a holistic world view, jumping out of chapter 3 prematurely is not advised.
Chapter 4 takes the concept of the embodied mind and suggests ways to turn it on for understanding. We understand through our hands, eyes, and ears as we interact with physical and abstract artifacts in the world. The better the artifact represents potential learning to us, the more our minds engage with them to unlock our potential for understanding. Much of what we do as simulation scientists relates to making the simulations accessible to human investigation. The artifacts we create make a huge difference in our ability to do so. Chapter four provides a historical perspective of how we have gotten to such a sophisticated world of human-generated artifacts.
Chapter 5 provides one big thought experiment where you recall your dream life from those sleeping experiences where you were confronted with a complex environment in which you had to make gut-wrenching ethical decisions. I motivate you to pursue your dreams in that capacity and capture them using techniques I was taught thirty years ago but which continue to be tried and true allies in connecting my simulation abilities to my unconscious experiences. I aim to convince you that a major role of dreaming is to provide you inputs for advanced simulation of situations in life you may come upon — so you can make decisions quickly with some pre-thought that you would not be able to make as effectively otherwise. Sleep and dream researchers around the world provide evidence to support a simulation focus of nightly dreams. It's something to consider so you can experience a simulaton life even as you sleep.
Chapter 6 reminds us that our brains are capable of creating mind's eye representations of artifacts once we've been exposed to them. Through imagination, even new artifacts can be invented through the experience gained with others. Bits and pieces of knowledge stored in any one artifact can become a component in which other artifacts can become more fulfilling as learning tools. Our imagination provides us a powerful tool for accessing artifacts even when they aren't physically with us. I like to think of that as some solace for times in life when I am isolated from the world. Hopefully you will too upon reading chapter 6.
Chapter 7 provides the first of three case studies in computational biology evolution simulation. I weaned myself on this topic and continue to be thankful I did. Evolution is a contentious subject, even for those who feel 100% confident the theory is correct. There are infinite nuances of how evolution does what it does and when historically it provided key nudging to biological form on our planet. Simulation lets you play with the process of evolution as you create different means for expressing it. Play with one or two simulation kits to see what you learn through your own first-hand experience of the process as we explore it. Speed up time to see generation after generation of plant offspring in minutes instead of years. Given what you thought about when reading chapters 1-6, contribute with your opinions of the potential of simulation as you explore the case study.
Chapter 8 provides another case study in the natural realm. I funded myself at a rate of 50% funding for seven years by contributing to a simulator for watershed process. The simulation of falling rainwater as it attempts to run downhill — stopped by the uptake of water in plants, the evaporation or water back into the atmosphere, or sinking of rainwater into unsaturated soils, is an accessible domain from which to gain some competence in using simulation to understand the world around you. I did not know what a blessing watershed processes would turn out to be in helping me build simulations, but I understand that well now. Chapter 8 aims to give you that same blessing, while at the same time helping you contemplate the effects of any potential climate change in your local community.
Chapter 9 provides you a case study in human behavior and decision-making. To raise enough funding for 100% doctoral thesis support, I found the low-lying fruit provided by the United States and Canada's response to the events of September 11, 2001. As governments vowed to "never be taken by surprise again", I spent my time focusing on the "what if" aspects of crisis response events. Although I didn't quite get to the point where I made a spectacular tangible difference in the ability of a community to come together in response to a challenging weather, earth, or human threat event, I certainly learned a tremendous amount for my personal satisfaction as to how humans interrelate to act out an emergency response plan. Everyone could benefit by simulating his or her response to a crisis (even if by planning escape from their home during a fire). Simulation provides a rich asset for understanding emergency response activities. Chapter 9 gives you a case study where you can (or cannot) reach that same conclusion.
Chapter 10 introduces you to the awareness that you don't have to do this all alone. No matter what expertise you have gained through the experiences of your life, your contribution in simulating phenomena is valuable. As you gain your competence in participating with simulation process, you can reach out to others to help them fill in gaps in understanding and they can help fill in yours. We do this all the time with socially relevant phenomena (how to best prepare our child for public school). We can do this for scientific relevant phenomena as well. In fact, scientists can often improve their effectiveness by improving their interpersonal skills.
Chapter 11 lets you wind down a bit by perhaps revisiting thoughts you've been having a lot lately — thanks to the bombardment of our technologies with applications based on social networking. Take some time to explore those experiences you've had with my vision of where we could be going with our newfound computer-mediated social networking skills. Commit to using social networking skills better towards bettering our society. Gain the perspective that convinces you such skills are needed by today's complex global challenges. Feel the power of your oneness within the context of us all.
Chapter 12 brings the other chapters together to support a richer life experience for you. Use your newfound perspective to better yourself as you enlarge the phenomena around you that you now notice and find intriguing. Spend some time taking the long list of facts and figures you've amassed in your lifetime and fit them into a systemic worldview. Each fact sheds light in multiple domains and provides suggestion as to the state of other facts you are yet to uncover. Commit to living the simulaton life, with a respect for the materials you need to do so, if only for a trial period to see where it takes you. Participate in online software repositories if the role of toolmaker excites you. Provide this book as food for thought — for you and for those you know who are looking for a meaningful career. Come back often as it continues to iterate based on feedback from all readers over time.
I wish you great days ahead living the simulaton life.