Lights, Camera, Action!

Se­quence in­dex: Liv­ing Lu­mi­nous­ly
Pre­vi­ously in se­quence: The ABC’s of Lu­minos­i­ty
Next in se­quence: The Spotlight

You should pay at­ten­tion to key men­tal events, on a reg­u­lar and fre­quent ba­sis, be­cause im­por­tant thoughts can hap­pen very briefly or very oc­ca­sion­ally and you need to catch them.

You may find your un­der­stand­ing of this post sig­nifi­cantly im­proved if you read the third story from Seven Shiny Sto­ries.

Lu­minos­ity is hard and you are com­pli­cated. You can’t med­i­tate on your­self for ten min­utes over a smoothie and then an­nounce your self-trans­parency. You have to keep work­ing at it over a long pe­riod of time, not least be­cause some effects don’t work over the short term. If your af­fect varies with the sea­sons, or with ma­jor life events, then you’ll need to keep up the first phase of work through a full year or a ma­jor life event, and it turns out those don’t hap­pen ev­ery al­ter­nate Thurs­day. Ad­di­tion­ally, you can’t cob­ble to­gether the best qual­ity mod­els from snip­pets of in­tro­spec­tion that are each five sec­onds long; ex­tended strings of cog­ni­tion are im­por­tant, too, and can take quite a long time to un­ravel fully.

Sadly, look­ing at what you are think­ing in­evitably changes it. With enough in­tro­spec­tion, this wouldn’t in­fluence your ac­cu­racy about your over­all self—there’s no rea­son in prin­ci­ple why you couldn’t spend all your wak­ing hours not­ing your own thoughts and form­ing meta-thoughts in real time—but prac­ti­cally speak­ing that’s not go­ing to hap­pen. There­fore, some of your data will have to come from mem­ory. To min­i­mize the er­ror in­tro­duc­tion that comes of re­triev­ing things from stor­age, it’s best to ar­range to re­flect on very re­cent thoughts. It may be worth your while to set up an ex­ter­nal re­minder sys­tem to pe­ri­od­i­cally prompt you to look in­ward, both in the mo­ment and ret­ro­spec­tively over the last brief seg­ment of time. This can be a speci­fi­cally pur­posed sys­tem (i.e. set a timer to go off ev­ery half hour or so), or you can tie it to con­ve­nient prompt­ings from the world as-is, like be­ing asked “What’s up?” or “Penny for your thoughts”.

When you in­tro­spect, there is a lot to keep track of. For in­stance, con­sider the fol­low­ing:

  • What were you think­ing about? (This could be more than one thing. You are a mas­sively par­allel sys­tem.) Was it a con­cept, image, sen­sa­tion, de­sire, be­lief, per­son, ob­ject, word, place, emo­tion, plan, mem­ory...?

  • How tightly were you fo­cused on it? (Is the topic it­self nar­row or dis­parate?) What other items (sen­sory, cog­ni­tive, emo­tional) seemed to in­trude on your con­cen­tra­tion, if any, and how did you re­act to this in­cur­sion?

  • How did you feel about the sub­ject of the thought? This in­cludes not only emo­tional re­ac­tions like “this is de­press­ing” or “yay!”, but also what you felt in­clined to do about the topic (if any­thing), and how im­por­tant or in­ter­est­ing your thought seemed.

  • How does think­ing, in gen­eral, feel to you? (I con­ducted an in­for­mal sur­vey of this and got no two an­swers the same. Anec­do­tally, it may be rather key to de­ter­min­ing how you are differ­ent from oth­ers, and so in re­fin­ing your model of your­self rel­a­tive to the fairly generic pri­ors we’re start­ing with.) Com­ing up with a good way to con­cep­tu­al­ize your style of think­ing can help you in­ter­pret in­tro­spec­tive data, al­though be sure to aban­don a metaphor that looks about to snap. You might have differ­ent an­swers when you’re “ac­tively” think­ing some­thing through—i.e. when novel in­for­ma­tion is gen­er­ated in your mind—and when you’re think­ing “pas­sively”, as when you read or listen to some in­for­ma­tion and ab­sorb its con­tent as it comes.

  • What mem­o­ries did the thought dredge up, if any—par­allel situ­a­tions from the past, ap­par­ently un­re­lated anec­dotes that floated by for no rea­son, events where you learned con­cepts key to the topic of your thought? Did the thought gen­er­ate an­ti­ci­pa­tions for the fu­ture—a plan, a fear, a hope, an ex­pec­ta­tion, a worry?

  • What sen­sory in­put were you re­ceiv­ing at the time? In­clude not only sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste, but also things like tem­per­a­ture, pro­pri­o­cep­tion, and in­ter­nal symp­toms like hunger or nau­sea. Can you de­ter­mine how, if at all, that in­ter­acted with the thought?


You can­not have too much data. (You prob­a­bly can have too much data in one situ­a­tion rel­a­tive to how much you have in an­other, though—that’ll over­bal­ance your mod­els—so make a con­certed effort to di­ver­sify your times and situ­a­tions for in­tro­spec­tion.) When you ac­quire the data, cor­re­late it to learn more about what might bring var­i­ous as­pects of your thought into be­ing.