Spiral Time in the Realm of Experience
Review: The Importance of Attention’s Iteration Rate
The preceding chapter in my book Information Digestion Model dealt with the importance of Attention’s variable iteration rate. We made a few wild, although entirely plausible speculations based upon admittedly shaky evidence. Let us review our suggestive conclusions.
We started with a basic assumption from our Information Digestion (ID) Model: Attention is an iterative process.
Why? According to the ID model, Attention employs an image overlay process to digest data streams. Overlaying image upon image in endless succession is an iterative process. (The Living Algorithm is mathematical realization of this process.)
(Attention Image-overlay Process ≈ Living Algorithm) = Iterative Process
1) From this assumption, we inferred that Attention’s iteration rate determines our sense of time. During the course of the day, we regularly estimate time intervals, e.g. ‘almost time to leave’ or ‘where is he? He should be here by now.’ Of course, in modern times, we regularly cross-check our internal estimations with the real time as represented by some kind of time piece.
What process do we employ to estimate time duration? Attention’s iteration rate. How? We naturally approximate duration by counting iterations, subliminally of course. This process is quite significant emotionally. For instance, an inordinate number of iterations after an expected arrival time can evoke first anger and then worry.
Attention’s Iteration Rate determines Time Duration
2) Besides estimating time duration, the speed of our iteration rate determines the number of opportunities for choice in a given time period. Each iteration provides us an opportunity to monitor and then adjust to new information. This new info consists of, not the raw data, but rather composite measures that incorporate the raw data.
Iteration Rate ≈ Choice Opportunities
3) Due to its relationship to the velocity of choice, natural selection could easily have operated upon Life’s iteration rate. For instance due to their mobility, animals require more opportunities for choice than do plants. Evolutionary factors could have provided animals with a higher iteration rate than stationary vegetation.
Evolution: Plants (Iteration Rate) < Animals (Iteration Rate)
4) In humans, at least, the iteration rate can vary considerably due to a variety of factors. We discussed intoxication and emotions. We speculate that both alcohol and strong emotions slow the iteration rate, hence the opportunity for choice. With a slower iteration rate comes fewer opportunities to adjust to circumstances. The bluntness of the reaction time frequently can be disastrous, as witnessed by the dangers of drunk driving.
(Alcohol & Emotions) slow (Iteration Rate ≈ Choice Opportunities)
5) Strong emotions exert a negative effect upon our awareness by diminishing the opportunities for choice (the velocity). What is the antidote? Cultivating mental tranquility mitigates emotional arousal, thereby optimizing our iteration rate — our awareness. This important technique can enhance performance in music, sports and the martial arts — any activity that has a sense of immediacy (even waiting tables).
Tranquility optimizes Iteration Rate -> optimizes Performance
This summary illustrates the importance of Attention’s iteration rate to living behavior. The current chapter deals with another special feature of time in our information digestion model — Spiral Time.
Pictures vs. Music: Linear vs. Spiral Time
Spiral Time? Is this unusual concept some kind of esoteric mathematical principle that only applies to an alternative universe — not our own? Not at all. We actually experience time in a spiral fashion every day. In fact, this common phenomenon exerts a huge influence upon our behavior.
To become better acquainted with the notion of Spiral Time, let us first consider the differences between the logic of sight as represented by pictures and the logic of sound as represented by music. I know this might seem like a major digression. Yet viewing our experience of time from this perspective will reveal the significance of Spiral Time and contrast it with ordinary Clock Time.
In the chapter on Logical Dualisms 1, we developed the notion that visual logic and auditory logic are very different. There is a low degree of symmetry between the two systems. The visual logic of pictures concerns concrete objects, while the auditory logic of music concerns transitory feelings. Within the logic of sight, content evokes a response, e.g. avoiding an oncoming car. Within the logic of sound, context evokes a response, e.g. musical harmonies and appetite.
Picture Logic ≈ Concrete Objects & Response to Content
Musical Logic ≈ Transitory Feelings & Response to Context
The two types of logic also generate contrary conceptions of time. Within the logical system generated by pictures (sight), time is best conceptualized as linear. Objects generally move continuously and forward through space and time.
Within the logical system generated by music, time is better conceptualized as spiral. Musical motifs regularly repeat themselves, exactly (as in a refrain) or variations (as in a guitar solo). The contextual response to a song is based upon the appreciation of a nuanced repetition of a prior motif. Our experience of each repetition of a motif, phrase or a theme is different, even though the musical content could be the same or similar. We might experience a growing feeling of comfort from familiarity or a growing feeling of indifference from habituation. Even though a composition might contain exact repetitions, each musical cycle builds upon what went before, for better or worse. Due to this sense of building upon what went before, the cyclical process is best understood as spiral.
Picture Logic ≈ Linear Time
Musical Logic ≈ Spiral Time
Circular revolutions, although similar to a spiral, are qualitatively different. In contrast to spirals, circles don’t involve change. For instance, planets don’t change, grow or evolve as they revolve around the sun. In contrast, we age with each of these revolutions. We are never the same.
Picture ≈ Matter = Linear Time; Music ≈ Life = Cyclical or Spiral Time
We also developed the idea that the Pictorial logic of sight shares many symmetries with Material logic, while the Musical logic of sound shares many symmetries with Living logic. Linear time works perfectly with Matter. Time in the Attention Realm can be better conceptualized as cyclical or even sometimes as a spiral. Let us explicate.
Every living system on earth experiences the day/night cycle of our spinning planet and the seasonal cycle of our solar revolutions. Humans are also subjected to a self-imposed weekly and monthly cycle. These cycles repeat themselves over and over again. Spring equinoxes have followed each other in endless succession with virtually identical regularity for billions of years, as have dawn and dusk. Weeks with their succession of Mondays have only been around for centuries, but long enough to become ingrained in the patterns of our neural networks.
Due to this regularity, human behavior has entrained2/aligned with these perennial cycles, i.e. day/night, annual/seasonal, monthly and especially weekly. The last two are artificial, in that they are not directly tied to an astronomical cycle. Despite its artificiality, the 7-day week dominates, modulates and regulates human behavior in all modern cultures, presumably because of its significance to international business. Our beautiful, watery planet even gives off more energy on the weekends when a significant portion of the population is partying. Because of this cycle’s central position in human culture, let us focus upon the week to clarify our position.
Two qualitatively different types of time influence and shape living, especially human, behavior and experience. Roughly speaking, Body exists in Real Time, while Mind experiences in Imagined Time.
Our strictly material component moves through time linearly. This forward progression is so consistent that it can be timed with a watch. We count our Body’s birthdays as we age in a fairly consistent manner from cradle to grave. Aging does not involve cyclical spirals. We just get older.
In addition to the linear time of our material component, we also experience our lives in daily, weekly, monthly and annual cycles. These imagined, i.e. mentally constructed, cycles are not subordinate to, but are instead relatively independent of linear time. Cyclical time is unique to living matter. Non-living matter always moves through time linearly, but does not experience time.
Body’s living component has even evolved to take advantage of cosmic cycles. Most, if not all, living systems have built-in circadian rhythms that ‘naturally’ attune our biological system to the 24-hour day-night cycle. The particular part of the day-night cycle determines the type and amount of juices, i.e. hormones et al, that are excreted. Each stage of these circadian cycles has biological differences with the other stages. Due to the significance of these natural rhythms, doctors are even counseled to take them into account when administering medicinal drugs.
Similarly, a woman’s body is attuned to the lunar cycle through her menstruation cycle. Each stage of this cycle has specific biological requirements that the Body meets naturally. In this case, evolution has aligned a woman’s reproductive system with the Moon’s revolution about the Earth.
In both of these examples, the particular stage of the cycle has more in common with the same stage than it does with the rest of the stages. For instance, each commencement of a woman’s period is fairly equivalent, especially as compared with the conclusion of the period and the days that she is not menstruating. The first days have much more in common with each other than they do with the last days of the cycle.
Circadian rhythms and the woman’s menstruation cycle are physiological examples of the cyclical time that permeates existence. In both of these cases, linear time is secondary to cyclical time. Yet neither circadian rhythms nor the woman’s aptly named period are spiral in nature. Each cycle is relatively identical with very little variation, as are the planetary revolutions about the Sun.
Experience of Spiral Time: Habits & Mastery
Biological processes are frequently cyclical, e.g. our appetites. Yet these regular processes do not contain significant or identifiable changes from cycle to cycle. Hence spiral time does not apply. When is spiral time applicable?
Habits and the quest for mastery. Habit patterns get stronger, hence more entrenched, with each repetition of the cycle. Regular practice, for instance of a musical instrument, increases our ability, which hopefully, eventually results in mastery. Both examples, certainly not exhaustive, are distinctive, non-debatable features of the experiential nature of living systems.
The ability to experience differentiates living and material systems. Exclusively material systems do not have this unique feature. They react without memory. In contrast to the Material Realms, the Realm of Attention specializes in Experience.
Some of our experiences are certainly unique, e.g. high school graduation and presumably marriage. These special once-in-a-lifetime experiences are neither cyclical nor spiral in nature. Yet the bulk of our experiences are cyclical and many of these also have a spiral component in that the experiences build upon each other.
For instance, each time slot in the weekly cycle generates its own data stream of experiences. These data streams are relatively independent of the rest of the week. For most humans, Monday mornings have more in common with each other than they do with Saturday nights. Further, these time slots in the weekly cycle have very little relationship to each other — perhaps oblique at best. For instance, exercise in one part of the cycle might enhance the creative part of the weekly cycle.
Let us provide a concrete example. For years, I have hiked with friends on Monday morning from 9:30 until 11 AM. Because of our regularity, the data stream’s momentum3 is very high. High momentum indicates that we will probably hike next Monday and the following Monday during the same time slot. These repetitions generate a habit pattern. In mathematical terms, the data stream acquires momentum. We have established a high propensity that this Monday morning habit will repeat itself.4
Our ‘habit’ only applies to this time slot. It has very little relationship with the other weekly time slots, e.g. Saturday night or even Tuesday afternoon. This stage specific behavior has no influence upon the rest of the week except in the sense that our appetites for social time and exercise are quenched. Satisfied, these appetites will not impact subsequent time slots. Our hiking habit is specific to Monday morning.
Each repetition of a behavior in a specific stage of a cycle increases the propensity that this behavior will be repeated in the same stage of the cycle, whether daily, weekly, monthly, or annual. Although there are absolutely no physical limitations, Monday morning behavior has a greater impact upon subsequent Monday behavior than it does for instance on Saturday evening behavior. Our daily, weekly, monthly behavioral momentum is more related to the specific part of the cycle than to a strictly linear interpretation of time.
Following are some illustrations that suggest the spiral nature of living experience. The first shows how our experience of a simple day is based upon an image-overlay process. Linked by a common time, e.g. sunset, four days are overlaid on top of each other.
The second diagram illustrates our spiral experience – with each new experience building upon what went before.
The final diagram shows how a force/influence B on one part of the cycle changes that section only, while leaving the other parts A untouched.
Experience comes in cycles. We have the ability to change our propensity of behavior — P(B). Each return can either reinforce or change our behavioral propensities P(B).
For instance, we can engage in True (winning) or False (losing) behavior. (This categorization is, of course, entirely subjective.) For instance, we can choose to overeat or eat the right amount. We can exercise or be lazy. Every time we choose True behavior, this increases the propensity of True behavior when the cycle comes around again and vice versa.
Under this rough definition, True behavior (1) results in a positive outcome, e.g. the proper amount of nutrition, while False behavior (0) results in a negative outcome, e.g. gaining excess weight. In general, True behavior aims at homeostatic health (survival) and fulfilling our potentials (innate nature). False behavior is unhealthy in that it compromises longevity and undermines our ability to fulfill potentials (innate nature). Note that these categorizations, while subjective and fuzzy, have pragmatic utility.
Every time we participate in a repeated activity, we stabilize the pattern. Again this behavioral momentum applies primarily to the specific part of the cycle, not the entirety of existence. Data Stream Momentum, a Living Algorithm-generated analytic, is the ongoing quantification of our behavioral propensities. We’ll learn more about this intriguing metric in a future chapter.
Due to the persistence of habit patterns, it behooves us to exert intentionality to engage in positive, True (1), winning behavior, and to simultaneously resist engaging in negative, False (0), losing behavior. In general, we must exert Intention in order to stay on the Path. Similarly, it requires constant vigilance, an ongoing amount of mental effort, to sail a boat on course. Conversely, our natural inclination is to take the easy path — allow our sail boat to drift into the rocks.
All this hoopla — winning and losing — is an imagined Reality. However, our Imagination is a powerful motivational force. Witness the potent, health-giving placebo effect — pure Mind — despite the pathetic attempts of Materialists to explain it away.
Which is the True Time, Imagined or Real?
We have examined the Imagined Time of the Attention Realm (projected by Mind) and the Real (linear) Time of the Molecular Realm. Which is the True Time?
We exist in the Material Realms, where objects move through the space-time continuum in a regular and deterministic fashion. Body moves through this realm in a Newtonian fashion — in Real Time. However, we feel and experience in the Imagined Time of the Attention Realm.
Living behavior is restrained by the limitations of the Material Realms, including Real Time. Yet Life is driven by the urges of the Attention Realm, where we experience time in many ways other than strictly linear, e.g. in a circular or spiral fashion. In our Living Realm, Mind generates our experience of time by a patented image-overlay process that also provides us with a basis for meaning and value.
Feelings drive our behavior. This life force holds a conglomerate of ever-changing atoms, molecules and cells together as a single unit. Their general aim is to maintain Homeostasis (survival of the organism) and fulfill Innate Nature (potentials).
We experience time in a cyclical fashion, whether circular or spiral. Rather than forward only, our temporal cycles are linked together. Monday mornings are joined with each other rather than with the preceding Sunday night.
We develop useful (efficient, productive and healthful) patterns based in a particular part of a temporal cycle. Rather than applying to the uniform, monotonous flow of Real Time, these behavioral patterns are specific to a distinct part of the cycle, e.g. nighttime sleep, Monday mornings, Saturday evenings and Xmas season.
Further each of our Mondays is slightly different from the preceding Mondays. Indeed each new Monday morning experience is overlaid upon the previous accumulation of Monday mornings to create a new composite Monday. If nothing else, we age, perfect talents, produce great works of art, and watch TV series. Within these overlays of experience, the past flavors the present.
All Matter exists in Real Time. Only Life, living matter, grows and experiences in Imagined Time, whether Cyclical or Spiral. Which is more significant? Matter’s sheer existence or Life’s experience?
Both are equally important to us. We must tend to both Body’s physical needs and Mind’s craving for experience. For our Body, time is linear and consistent, while our Mind experiences time in a spiral fashion. Under this perspective, the Spiral Time of the Experience/Attention Realm is just as important to us as the Real Time of the Material Realm.
Image Streams, Experience & Living Time
To cap off our discussion, let us delve a bit deeper into our experience of Living time, i.e. based upon Attention’s image-overlay process. Every time that we repeat a behavior, this generates a data stream for that particular behavior. Because we are talking about repetitive behavior, not numbers, the term ‘data’ is a bit misleading. Let us instead call our discretized bytes of information an ‘image’ stream.
Data Stream = Image Stream
Does this image stream really exist in the material world? No! It has as much substance as a rainbow. In both cases, Attention must invest an image stream with mental energy for it to have meaning, hence significance. Along with meaning comes value.
Image Stream = Virtual Existence imparted by Attention’s Mental Energy
Indeed Meaning-making separates Life from Matter. Atoms don’t invest their environment with meaning. They just react. Image streams have zero significance for a physicist or chemist.
Image Stream = No Significance for Material Universe
If not in the material world, where does this so-called image stream exist? Only in our Mind, just like everything else. The image stream has reality for us alone.
Image Streams only exist in Mind.
Despite this virtual reality, image streams are an essential feature of existence for every living creature including the single cell. In order to survive as a unit, living systems must interact with their environment. They interact with image streams that Mind has created to organize incoming information. This organization is a crucial component of decision-making.
Mind generates Image Streams to organize Info for Decision-making.
Why are these image streams so important? Living systems require byte/image sized chunks in order to turn incoming information into a useable form. Our information digestion system only works on image streams.
Importance? Byte-sized Image Streams are digestible.
Process? Attention employs an image-overlay process to digest the information. Image bytes are overlaid upon one another to generate a Composite Image. For instance, every time I see Laurie, my companion of 50 years, a current image is overlaid upon countless images of her that I have generated over our lifetime. I can still see faint remnants of the smooth-skinned youth beneath her smiling wrinkles.
Process? Image bytes overlaid to generate Composite Image
It is this digested composite image that is chock full of memories and emotion that I employ to make decisions regarding our interactions. The Image bytes are forgotten once they are digested. The composite image, not the raw data, is what we experience.
Composite Image = Basis of Experience
A major function of our info digestion system is generating Experience. Living Experience derives from sustaining Attention upon an image stream. When enough images are overlaid upon one another, we experience the composite image. While the image streams are the food, these Experiences are Mind’s nutrients, i.e. the digested information that is employed for decision-making.
Experience = Basis of Decision-making
While providing real boundaries, Matter’s continuous linear time is merely a derivative player — of secondary importance. Real time might be inferred from these Experiences. But it is only important to the extent that it proves to be a useful construct, in the sense of enabling survival.
Inferred from Experience, Matter’s Real Time of Secondary Importance
Real time is entirely secondary to Mind’s Imagined Time when it comes to decision-making. Science, Politics and Business have found that Real Time is an incredibly useful construct when organizing Matter, People and the production of Profits. However, we continue to Experience in the Spiral Time of Image Streams.
Spiral Time of Primary Importance for Decision-Making
As mentioned, this sense of Spiral Time provides us with a sense of growth and regularity that is foundational to our experience of mastery. For instance, despite the irregularities of my organ practice (inconsistencies in real time), I can hear that my performance improves with each session. This Experience of improvement with each return of the spiral inspires me to practice longer and more frequently.
Spiral Time provides Sense of Growth & Regularity = Basis of Mastery
Despite belonging to a virtual reality created by Mind, our Experience of Spiral Time permeates our existence when it comes to decision-making.
In this chapter and the last, we discussed two significant features of Data Stream Time — Attention’s Iteration Rate and Spiral Time. We saw how we could, with a little Intention, take advantage of these features of DS Time to improve our lives. In the following chapter, we are going to take a look at another intriguing component of Data Stream Dynamics — Data Stream Space.
2 “Entrain: To draw along in its train; specific to Chemistry, to carry along or over (especially mechanically), as in precipitation of distillation.” Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary
4 Ironically, the COVID pandemic of 2020 disrupted this routine. Rather than stop, we shifted our hike from Monday to Tuesday.