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Society of Mind

6.5 Frozen reflection

No supervisor can know everything that all its agents do. There's simply never time enough. Each bureaucrat sees but a fraction of what happens underneath its place in the pyramid of information flow. The best subordinates are those that work most quietly. Indeed, that's why we build administrative pyramids for jobs we don't know how to do or don't have time to do ourselves. It is also why so many of our thoughts must hide beyond our consciousness.

Good scientists never try to learn too much at once. Instead, they select particular aspects of a situation, observe carefully, and make records. Experimental records are frozen phenomena. They let us take all the time we need to make our theories. But how could we do the same thing inside the mind? We'd need some kind of memory in which to keep such records safe.

We'll see how this could work when we come to the chapters on memory. We'll conjecture that your brain contains a host of agents called K-lines, which you can use to make records of what some of your brain-agents are doing at a certain moment. Later, when you activate the same K-lines, this restores those agents to their previous states. This makes you remember part of your previous mental state, by making those parts of your mind do just what they did before. Then, the other parts of your mind will react as though the same events were happening again! Of course, such memories will always be incomplete, since nothing could have capacity enough to record every detail of its own state. (Otherwise, it would have to be larger than itself. ) Since we can't remember everything, each individual mind faces the same problem that scientists always face: they have no foolproof way to know, before the fact, what are the most important things to notice and record.

Using the mind to examine itself is like science in another way. Just as physicists cannot see the atoms they talk about, psychologists can't watch the processes they try to examine. We only know such things through their effects. But the problem is worse where the mind is concerned, since scientists can read each other's notes, but different parts of the mind can't read each other's memories.

We've now seen several reasons why we cannot simply watch our minds by sitting still and waiting till our vision clears. The only course left for us is to study the mind the way scientists do when something is too large or small to see — by building theories based on evidence. Make a guess; test it with a shrewd experiment; collect one's thoughts and guess again. When introspection seems to work, it's not because we've found a magic way to see inside ourselves. Instead, it means that we've done some well-designed experiment.