[Question] Native mental representations that give huge speedups on problems?

[x-post from r/​slat­estar­codex]

Is there a list/​text­book of im­me­di­ately us­able men­tal rep­re­sen­ta­tions like mem­ory palaces?

I’m not talk­ing about the­o­ret­i­cal mod­els of cog­ni­tive pro­cesses here (al­though they might sug­gest en­tire classes of the sort of thing I’m look­ing for). I’m talk­ing spe­cific tech­niques and ‘ways of think­ing’ about cer­tain things that im­me­di­ately give huge speedups.

In case I’m still not mak­ing sense, lemme provide an­other ex­am­ple. Around five years ago, Brienne Yud­kowsky, then Brienne Strohl, made a video about how to re­mem­ber things.

TL;DW: If you want to re­mem­ber duck → ap­ple → Over­ton win­dow → is­chemia, en­cap­su­late each con­cept in some sen­su­ally vivid sce­nario in your head and link these scenes like a story.

After learn­ing what she calls ‘bind­ing’ [1], I’ve never had prob­lems re­mem­ber­ing lists again. I’ve never lost a string of thoughts and ideas in the shower, nor for­got­ten what I needed to once I’m out of the house. This is an es­pe­cially dras­tic im­prove­ment for me, be­cause I have se­vere com­bined-type ADHD.

I’m not talk­ing about chun­ked mod­els per se (e.g., Med­i­ta­tions on Moloch gives you a lens through which to view the vast ma­jor­ity of so­cial struc­tures, but it’s not a model that I’d call na­tive to our wet­ware) but more of stuff a cou­ple of lev­els down. Data struc­tures that we as hu­mans can im­me­di­ately use, al­gorithms that by be­ing “close to the metal” dra­mat­i­cally ob­vi­ates lots of brain cy­cles that would have been wasted [2].

Some things in the cluster of what I’m get­ting at in con­ceptspace: heuris­tics, knowl­edge rep­re­sen­ta­tion, per­cep­tual differ­ences, Tufte’s body of work, neu­rol­in­guis­tics and re­lated fields, Math vs Ver­bal dis­tinc­tion, Mazur’s four kinds of math­e­mat­i­cal intuitions

Why I think this is a real thing rather than some made-up at­tempt to crys­tallise non­sense: ev­ery­one knows about op­ti­cal illu­sions. But why do we have them? Well, from Wikipe­dia:

The hy­poth­e­sis claims that vi­sual illu­sions oc­cur be­cause the neu­ral cir­cuitry in our vi­sual sys­tem evolves, by neu­ral learn­ing, to a sys­tem that makes very effi­cient in­ter­pre­ta­tions of usual 3D scenes based in the emer­gence of sim­plified mod­els in our brain that speed up the in­ter­pre­ta­tion pro­cess but give rise to op­ti­cal illu­sions in un­usual situ­a­tions. In this sense, the cog­ni­tive pro­cesses hy­poth­e­sis can be con­sid­ered a frame­work for an un­der­stand­ing of op­ti­cal illu­sions as the sig­na­ture of the em­piri­cal statis­ti­cal way vi­sion has evolved to solve the in­verse prob­lem.

If you know some­thing about neu­ral net­works, our vi­sual sys­tem seems to have learned how to see in lay­ers, where each layer cor­re­sponds to some struc­tural as­pect of see­ing that the brain then mashes up into some­thing whole and per­cep­tu­ally un­der­stand­able.

So in a sense, what I wanna know is: what are the lay­ers we use for ev­ery­thing else?


[1]: In the liter­a­ture this falls un­der the um­brella of as­so­ci­a­tive mem­ory.

[2]: I’m re­minded of the apoc­ryphal story about Gauss’ child­hood where he and his class­mates were tasked to sum the num­bers 1 to 100. He figured it’d be way faster to pair 1 and 100, 2 and 99, and so on be­cause they all have the same sum of 101. There are 50 such pairs, so the sum should be 101 x 50 = 5050, which is the an­swer he ar­rived at af­ter a minute or so of think­ing.

This act of pairing is such a fun­da­men­tal men­tal short­cut that it took un­til Lobachevsky and Dirich­let to cast it as a math­e­mat­i­cal con­cept sep­a­rate from all its uses.