In the prior article, we mentioned that the Pulse of Attention seems to exhibit widespread correspondences with behavioral reality. The Pulse of Attention is a feature of Information Dynamics, an extensive study of the links between mathematics and human behavior.
Information Dynamics? The very words evoke myriad questions. What is the relationship between behavior and dynamics? Doesn't the word 'dynamics' normally refer to physical systems? Isn't the study of dynamics related to the mathematical side of physics? How could mathematics possibly apply to imprecise, unpredictable behavior? If it does apply to behavior, what are the implications? Could an understanding of the dynamics of behavior actually improve mental performance and the overall quality of life? Could the employment of these mathematical mechanisms in our day-to-day life actually improve our chances of an 'optimal experience' - moving into the ‘Zone’ – becoming ‘one with the Tao’?
The study of Information Dynamics suggests some answers to these questions and many more in the multitude of articles that follow.
Information Dynamics is a study that investigates the relationship between mathematics and human behavior. Over several decades, this study has evolved into a prototype of a new scientific perspective. It is based upon the manifestations of a single equation – the Living Algorithm. The Pulse of Attention is perhaps the most significant of these manifestations. To better understand the implications of this graceful curve, let us trace its development.
The Pulse of Attention made its first appearance in the Author’s Creative Pulse obsession of 2002. The Author had been involved in thousands of creative sessions and had noticed that the impact of interruptions on these sessions was disproportionate to their duration. In other words, a 10-minute interruption at the wrong time could kill the inspiration altogether. At this time, he devised a satisfactory method for mathematically characterizing interruptions to a creative session. The method was based upon what he then called the Creative Pulse, and what is now called the Pulse of Attention. The Creative Pulse model accurately reflects this interruption phenomenon.
A. The Ideal, Uninterrupted Creative Pulse
Let's take a brief look at the graphic visualization of some of these results. The numbers along the bottom of the graph (the x-axis) represent a 120-minute creative session. The numbers on the side of the graph (the y-axis) are mathematical units, which are only offered for comparative purposes – in order to indicate relative height. The mathematical model of an uninterrupted creative session generates a graph of an ideal pulse – growing from nothing, peaking and then gradually fading out. Graph A is the visualization of this ideal or uninterrupted Creative Pulse.
B. The Creative Pulse Interrupted
When the Pulse is interrupted, the peak and area are both diminished. Graph B visualizes these results. The background red area that shows at the top of the graph is the tip of the uninterrupted Creative Pulse. The other three colored overlays represent the changes that occur to the pulse when there is an interruption. The interruptions are 1-minute (dark green), 3-minutes (dark grey), and 7-minutes (light grey). Please notice that each interruption is immediately followed by a sharp drop in the pulse. In each case, the pulse will begin to recover if the remainder of the session is uninterrupted. However, this recovery never reaches the apex, nor the maximum area, achieved by the ideal Pulse.
In this computer experiment, the comparative results of these various interruptions are certainly interesting. Yet, we should not overlook the significance of the mathematical model’s pulse-like form. The fact that the shape of an ideal uninterrupted session takes the form of a pulse offers intriguing comparisons with a number of significant human behaviors.
The Author originally referred to and thought of this mathematical phenomenon as the pulse of creative behavior. This pulse accurately reflected the Author’s experience with creativity. His uninterrupted sessions would rise to an inspirational peak and then gradually fall. However, interruptions at the wrong time would inevitably weaken the potential for a productive creative session. This personal experience, which coincided with the results of his computer experiment, led the Author to originally name this phenomenon the Creative Pulse.
However, the pulse-like behavior of a session turned out to have vast implications, not realized until years after the initial discovery. In the subsequent decade the Author came to realize that this pulse-like shape was not the exclusive province of creative behavior. In fact, the Creative Pulse could just as easily be called the Pulse of Concentrated Experiences, the Pulse of Attention or the Pulse of Change. The common thread that binds each of these modes together is not creativity, experience or change. As we shall see, each type of pulse is based upon sustained Attention.
A brief introduction to the pulse-like nature of each of these modes follows.
The Creative Pulse implies that there is a momentum to concentrated experiences. This momentum is necessary for the pulse to reach its peak, and if this momentum is interrupted, the peak is diminished. Although the original impetus for the Author was creative sessions, he eventually realized that it also seemed to apply to many other types of concentrated activities where sustained, sharply focused, attention is required. Sporting events, musical concerts, lectures, and complex conversations are all significant areas of human behavior that seem to be adversely affected by interruptions.
Our culture recognizes the adverse effect of interruptions by adopting rules or strategies that address this phenomenon. Coaches intentionally attempt to interrupt the momentum of a team or an individual player by calling a time-out. Professors adopt rules requiring students to turn off their cell phones during a lecture. Many establishments enact policies that prevent late arrivals from entering a theatre or concert hall at inappropriate times. These societal efforts recognize the ill effects of interruptions on sharply focused activities. These efforts lead us to consider broadening the name from Creative Pulse to the Pulse of Concentrated Experience.
It is interesting that the momentum of concentrated experiences appears to take the form of a pulse that has a distinct duration. They naturally rise to a peak and then fade out. Our culture appears to appreciate that concentrated sessions have a distinct duration. Society has recognized this phenomenon in many ways: one-hour lectures, 2-hour movies and 3-minute songs for instance. Further, cognitive science has generated some compelling evidence that suggests we have a mere 10-minute attention span for any single topic within a particular lecture period. These societal guidelines suggest widespread acknowledgment for the notion that there are natural limits to our attention span. We could call these natural limits the Pulse of Attention. In future articles, we develop the notion that the Pulse of Attention provides the backdrop for a creative session as well as a concentrated experience, not vice versa. Accordingly, we employ this name henceforth for this intriguing curve.
There is yet another significant aspect of the pulse that we call the Pulse of Change. In the Author’s Data Stream Momentum obsession of 1994, he derived a mathematical formulation for the energy or strength of a habit pattern - its momentum. The method reveals the momentum of a flow of information and the attendant inertia to changes in that data stream. In other words, the Author’s method examines the pattern of energy in a series of moments as a way of analyzing the strength of a habit.
Nearly two decades later, his focus has broadened to include an interest in mathematically describing the momentum that may be required to change certain habitual patterns. It occurred to the Author that a powerful pulse of behavior could be required at times to alter strong habit patterns. Ingrained habits by definition are characterized by a data stream that displays a consistent, sustained pattern over time. Recently (March 2012) we began to speculate that some ingrained habits might require an equally sustained commitment to a distinctly different data stream (information pattern) to effect a significant behavioral change. The key to the potency of the new data stream may be the same key that produces the ingrained habit – a concentrated behavior pattern.
The ideal Pulse of Attention is a visual representation of a concentrated, consistent data stream. This pulse, when plotted on a graph (x-y axis), achieves a maximum peak and breadth that can’t be achieved by any other data stream consisting solely of 1s and 0s. This graphic illustration indicates that it takes many sessions (or moments) to build the momentum that is required to attain the maximum peak and breadth of the pulse. In similar fashion, we suggest that a sustained effort over many sessions may produce the pulse required to effect a change in a long-term behavior pattern. Further, interruptions to a data stream’s information pattern could have a severe negative impact upon the pulse, and hence the potential for change. Future articles will explore the specific nature of the Pulse of Change in more detail. Again the Pulse of Change requires sustained attention to be successful.
The notion that significant behaviors exhibit a number of characteristics of pulse-like behavior may seem obvious to some people and not so obvious to others. For instance, the notion that it takes a significant effort to change habitual behavior may appeal to our common sense. Regardless of our varying notions of common sense, an inquiring mind requires additional support. We’re searching for a broader insight than our common sense provides. A mathematical approach that both ratifies and extends our common sense notions would satisfy this quest. By exhibiting meaningful information patterns, the Living Algorithm’s mathematical approach ratifies and extends certain common sense notions.
The above illustrations all had to do with the nature of the Pulse of Attention, a.k.a. the Creative Pulse. Growing out of the Pulse of Attention comes the Triple Pulse, with its alternation of Active and Rest Pulses - shown at right. One defining feature of a pulse is that it comes and goes in a cyclical manner. This particular article stream explores what happens after the initial Active Pulse ends. To refresh the Triple Pulse cycle, it is necessary to have a Rest Pulse. This restorative pulse clearly appears to maximize the potentials of the next Active Pulse. We deem this mathematical phenomenon the Triple Pulse, for obvious reasons.
The following article stream explores the implications and correspondences of the Triple Pulse with experimental reality. One intriguing feature of the Triple Pulse is that when the Rest Pulse is interrupted or shortened, the potentials of the ensuing Active Pulse suffer negative impacts. These mathematical results correspond with many experimentally verified phenomena associated with sleep. It seems that the Triple Pulse model provides a mathematical foundation for a growing number of previously unexplained cognitive mysteries. This is the particular focus of the ensuing multitude of words that turn into paragraphs, then sections, articles, and finally a notebook.
All living systems are first and foremost information processors. This talent enables life to interpret sensory input in order to maximize the chances of survival. Physical advantages, such as strength, size or speed, are dependent on translating environmental information into a meaningful form. Understanding meaning allows the give and take relationship between an organism and its surroundings that is essential for survival.
The way in which the senses process information determines what is perceived. This in turn influences how the organism interacts with the environment. For instance, bats rely primarily on radar, dogs on their noses, and humans on sight and sound to interpret and respond to their respective worlds.
This sensory information inherently requires interpretation in order to be understandable. It seems more than reasonable to assume that our behavior is inextricably linked to the nature of these interpretative mechanism(s). As such, a study of the way in which we process information should illuminate certain primary features of our behavior. These features may be inaccessible through the traditional language of psychophysical methods and analysis. These behavioral features may become more accessible if we examine the interpretative function of the mind through the language of mathematics.
Understanding the method by which we process information is the essential first step to this task. In the following series of articles we argue that humans and cells employ the mathematics of the Living Algorithm to process both sensory and biological streams of information. Needless to say, this boldly outrageous statement needs lots of support. That is the purpose of the following stream of articles.
This mini-discussion might have raised a few questions. Why read these words? What relevance does this study have for day-to-day life?
We suggest that an understanding of these accessible mathematical models reveals how we can tap into the Pulse of Life. The innate mathematical features of information processing provide techniques that enable us to realize our potentials. This knowledge enables us to tap into natural rhythms 'to maximize health, productivity, inspiration and even fun'. Of course the process of realizing our potentials results in a more joyous and satisfying existence.
In this article, we introduced the Pulse of Attention as a concept. Yet we’ve said nothing about how the Pulse of Attention is generated. Is the Pulse of Attention produced in a similar fashion to the traditional graphs of math and physics? Could the Pulse be the result of experimental findings or some philosophy of life? Or is there yet another method that generates this elegant curve? We really don’t know. To find out, you must read the next article in the series – The Pulse of Attention: the Graph.
If you are interested in the circumstances that led to this unusual project, check out The Path of Creative Freedom.
To check on how things are proceeding in the Right Brain's parallel universe of metaphorical emotion read Life disappointed with the Living Algorithm's Simplicity.