Why Intrinsic Motivation belongs to
Life's Information Digestion System


We have established numerous patterns of correspondence between Data Stream Dynamics (DSD) and multiple types of scientific 'facts'. These facts are all related in some fashion to Attention. The evidence encompasses both human behavior and physiological systems. To make sense of Attention’s Math/Fact Matrix, we developed our Information Digestion model (ID model).

We have become aware of a new scientific fact, Intrinsic Motivation(IM). It too is related to Attention and human behavior. Does this new fact contradict our model? Or does IM instead fit under the information digestion umbrella? If so, what does it add to the mix?

Intrinsic Motivation: Scientific Fact

No material explanation for 4 characteristics of IM

The previous article identified 4 characteristics of Intrinsic Motivation (IM) that defy a material explanation. 1) An internal force independent of biological needs or consequences drives humans and other species to actively investigate their environment. 2) Rewards actually detract from quality of the investigation, e.g. the finished product. 3) Autonomy enhances the quality of the investigation. 4) Engaging in activities that entail IM provide humans with one of their highest sources of happiness.

IM: a Scientific Fact: Emphasized by original reluctant testimony

We consider the network of behaviors associated with Intrinsic Motivation to be a scientific fact. Why? The findings have been validated hundreds of times by a wide variety of experimenters. Adding stability to its ‘factual’ nature, IM’s discovery was inadvertent and reluctant. The original researcher who uncovered this phenomenon was so dismayed by his unexpected results that he left this line of research. Why? He was afraid to present evidence that violated the prevalent official dogma (1950s) regarding living behavior. His incredible results were actually an offensive career-killing finding.

Decades later, young scientists disturbed by lack of progress rejuvenated IM

It took more than a few decades for the academic dogma to ease up enough to allow researchers to take up the torch again without fear of retribution. Inspired by Physics envy (like so many disciplines in the mid-20th century), the deterministic behaviorism propounded by Skinner and Watson had reached a dead end. Young researchers looking for new and more fruitful avenues to explore human behavior came upon the reluctant testimony regarding these startling findings – dreaded by the respectable psychologists of the time. 

Heavily scrutinized research established IM Network as Fact

Swimming upstream – against the tide of the misconception that humans are akin to Pavlov’s conditioned dogs, their scientific investigations came under intense critical scrutiny. Their experiments and analysis established beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of what they deemed Intrinsic Motivation (the 3rd drive). They further found that this irrefutable phenomenon has several unusual features associated with it – rewards bad, autonomy good, and very pleasurable. Because the findings were so heavily scrutinized, we deem the IM network to be a scientific fact.

Could IM derive from Information Digestion System?

If not biological or reward based, what are the roots of this behavioral system associated with IM? Why do we have this innate urge to investigate and interact with environmental data streams independent of biology and external rewards, such as pain and pleasure? Could it be that IM’s network of behaviors derives from our information digestion system (ID system)?

Info Digestion System violates materialist paradigm

Information digestion system? Whoa! This notion certainly violates the current (21st century) dogma, which remains mired in an exclusively materialist approach to living systems. Rather than only physiological systems, our model suggests that all life forms also have an info system that converts raw environmental data streams into a more useable form.

Altho ID System has material substrate, Must Understand Rules of Game

We are not claiming that our information digestion system does not have a material substrate. However, we are arguing that this material substrate reveals very little about the workings of the ID system. Similarly, although the participants in a baseball game are composed exclusively of matter, the laws of matter tell us next to nothing about the game. To understand what is going on, we must understand the rules of the game. Similarly, we must understand the rules of our info digestion system to better understand living behavior. That is the express purpose of our Information Digestion model.

IM & our Information Digestion System: Same Process & Components

IM and IDM: Relationship?

What kind of relationship do Intrinsic Motivation (IM) and our Information Digestion model (IDM) have? Let us examine 3 questions in this regard. Are the two systems:

3 questions

1) Comparable?

2) Compatible?

3) Growth potentials?

1) Comparable?

Let’s start with comparability. Are there any similarities between the two systems? Similarities do not establish compatibility, but it’s a start.

Similar Process: Engaging with DS

On the most basic level, the two systems, i.e. IM and our ID system, engage in a similar process – interacting with environmental data streams. Our ID system digests data streams, while IM drives us to manipulate, play, and solve problems presumably with the digested info.

Why Data Streams? Significance?

Why DSs? Many approaches to living behavior instead focus upon the material world and its rules. Why are data streams even important?

Life experiences Data Streams, not objects. Objects are derivatives

Life never experiences objects directly, only through data streams. Objects (their attributes and relationships) are inferred from our DS experiences. Of course, these same inferred objects/bodies/particles, whatever you want to call them, play a huge role in our decision making process. However, these objects are derived from our DS experiences, not vice versa. As such, studying these material derivatives, whether molecules or electrons, to understand Life is like trying to understand the Moon through its reflection in a pond.

Object approach barren; DS approach more fruitful?

Could this exclusively material approach be why the IM network remains a scientific mystery? Could studying the innate nature of our relationship with data streams be a more appropriate approach to IM? Let’s see if this path might reveal some fundamental truths – unveil IM’s mysteries.

Similar components?

It seems that both of our systems engage in a similar process, interacting with data streams. How about their components? Are there any similarities?

Same 4 components = Attention Synergy = central to ID Model

According to the ID model, living systems engage with the information contained in data streams by means of what we call the Attention Synergy. The Attention Synergy consists of four components, i.e. Attention, Feelings, Intention and Mind (defined in a narrow sense). Understanding their interactions is central to our Model.

4 components of Harlow’s Experiment (A, F, I, M)

These same basic components also seem to play a crucial role in Intrinsic Motivation. To elucidate, let us examine the stages of Harlow’s original monkey experiment.

1) The monkey surveys his environment. [Awareness/Attention].

2) After noticing something interesting, the monkey has the innate urge to engage with it. [Feelings]

3) This internal urge drives the monkey to reach for and grab the object. [Intention]

4) The monkey then manipulates these objects in a meaningful way, presumably to solve some problem. This process includes experimenting with alternatives until he comes upon a satisfactory solution. [Mind/Executive]

Other possible interpretations of the same data: Parsimonious?

We are aware that scientists have attempted to explain the same phenomena from a materialist perspective. There are certainly other possible interpretations of the same data set. But are these material explanations parsimonious? Are they easy to understand and relevant to the phenomenon? Or are these object-based models instead intricately esoteric and arcane? Can these theories only be understood by experts due to all the technical jargon that is bandied about? It is not impossible that these models provide the best fit to the behaviors surrounding IM. However the excessive complexity is highly suspicious – casting doubt on these supposed solutions.

Physical models doomed because reactive

The attempt to understand IM via purely physical models, e.g. electrons, molecules, and even neural networks, is doomed to failure. Why? The components and their interactions are qualitatively different. On the most basic level, exclusively material systems do not interact with environmental data streams; they react.

Reactive systems appealing to those who fear uncertainty, but inappropriate for Life

Reactive systems are appealing to those control freaks who want to be in charge – those individuals who hate uncertainty – those humans who are addicted to absolute truth as a way of warding off the seeming chaos. Yet this approach is entirely inappropriate for IM and our monitor adjust relationship with info. Like attempting to fit the proverbial square peg into round whole.

Matter reacts, Life interacts

Both IM and ID are all about interacting with data streams, either digesting or manipulating. Material systems don’t even know that data streams exist. Put simply: Matter reacts; Life interacts. As such, Material systems and IM are not comparable.

Ours plausible & common sense

Although not the usual materialist perspective, our ID model is certainly parsimonious, as the mathematical system (DSD) derives from a single, simple algorithm (LA). Further, the model fits our common sense notions. Common sense is not always right, and in fact frequently wrong. However, it does provide some basic guidelines. In this case, I would wager that it is more accurate than the typical scientific perspective.

Comparable yes. 2) Compatible?

Sharing similar components and engaging in a similar process – interacting with environmental data streams, our 2 systems, IM and IDM, are at least comparable. But are they compatible? Comparability does not necessarily lead to compatibility? Just because two systems have similar interests does not mean that they necessarily get along. As an example, just look at partisan politics.

Congruent or Incompatible?

Are they congruent systems (≈) or instead incompatible (≠)? Are they mutually supportive or contradictory?

Explanatory Power for 4 Mysteries?

Recall that 4 mysteries are associated with the IM network: 1) 3rd Drive source?, 2) Rewards bad, 3) Autonomy good, and 4) evokes Joy. Can our ID Model shed any light on these mysteries? Does it provide any explanatory power? Can it elucidate some underlying mechanisms that might account for IM’s unusual, even counterintuitive, processes?

IM & ID System: driven by our Need for Information?

If not from innate biological needs or external rewards, what internal force drives Intrinsic Motivation (IM)? Could it be that we have information digestion system that must be fed, not food, but data streams? Is that why we seem to have an insatiable appetite for information? Could it be that IM is driven this same craving? What is the reasoning behind these alternatives?

Life Craves Information

IM, the so-called 3rd Drive, is fundamentally an innate internal urge – the craving to engage with information, independent of biology or reward. Similarly, a prime tent of our model is that living systems have an innate craving for information. Just as we crave biological sustenance, such as food and water, living systems also crave information. Just as living systems transform produce and meat into a meaningful biological form, they also organize information into meaningful knowledge.

Life à Attention Synergy à Image-overlay process à LA à Forms

Our information digestion system plays a key role in this process. According to our model, Life employs an Attention Synergy to digest and interact with environmental data streams. Attention employs an image overlay process to digest these data streams. The Living Algorithm (LA) is the mathematical realization of this digestion process. In turn, the LA generates a mathematical system, Data Stream Dynamics (DSD). Due to the intimate relationship between DSD and our information system, Attention entrains to (aligns with) the innate mathematical patterns/forms of the digestion process. In such a manner, the DSD reveals the rhythms of Attention.

Life is subject to LA’s Mathematical Forms, e.g. Sleep & Attention Span

If these assumptions are true, then human behavior should reflect these mathematical forms. We’ve shown in numerous papers the striking patterns of correspondence between these mathematical patterns and Attention. The omni-present pulse-like nature of human interactions and sleep-related behavior are just two of many instances of these correspondences.

LA's Mathematical Forms = Life’s grammar - provides structure that enables complexity

In this sense, the mathematical forms of the Living Algorithm are a grammar of Life. These forms provide the structure that is necessary for the growth of complexity in living systems. In similar fashion, the limitations of grammar are the foundations of effective communication. While limiting our freedom of motion, walls enable the construction of skyscrapers. The forms of information digestion provide the structure to organize and employ increasingly complex knowledge configurations.

Triple Pulse, a mathematical form, linked with Sleep

The Triple Pulse is one of the fundamental mathematical processes that arises from the execution of the Living Algorithm. As such, it provides the structure that is necessary for complexity. Sleep provides a significant example of the connection between the behaviors of living systems and of the Triple Pulse.

Sleep an information-based need, rather than biological.

Sleep is sometimes considered a biological need, i.e. rest for the organism. Yet, there is little evidence for this perspective. Indeed the causes of sleep-related behavior continue to mystify the contemporary scientific community. Based upon mathematical patterns of correspondence, our ID model suggests that the need for sleep is instead based in the way that we digest information. In this sense, sleep is not a biological need, but is instead an information-based need. Our model indicates that sleep is required to finish digesting the leftover information from the waking state.

3 basic drives: Biological, Environmental & Informational

Could Intrinsic Motivation also be an information-based need? Both our digestive system and our information digestion system require nourishment. Just as we crave food to nourish our Body, we also crave information to nourish our Mind, at least according to our model. If it is true that living systems require information to survive, then the roots of human behavior are based in 3 drives: biological, environmental (rewards and punishment) and informational.

If Intrinsic Motivation an information-based drive, then belongs to ID system.

If Intrinsic Motivation is indeed an information-based drive in the manner suggested, then IM belongs to our information digestion system. If it is indeed a function of the ID system, then there should be patterns of correspondence between our information digestion process and the human behavior associated with the 3rd drive, just as with sleep.

Illumination IM?

Does our model shed any illumination on the other mysteries surrounding this 3rd drive? Specifically, what does this model tell us about the negative impact of conditional rewards upon Intrinsic Motivation? Does this theoretical model of information digestion reveal why Intrinsic Motivation out-performs Extrinsic Motivation on problem solving tasks? And what insights does this counter-intuitive perspective provide concerning autonomy, an essential foundation of the 3rd drive?

For some plausible answers to these questions, check out the next article in the series: Why Rewards inhibit Intrinsic Motivation.

Other Articles in the Series

The Mysteries of Intrinsic Motivation, 2020

Why Rewards inhibit Intrinsic Motivation, 2020

Why the Creative Process is so Enjoyable, 2020

Why Autonomy enhances Intrinsic Motivation, 2020


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