This anonymous scientist has a B.S. in Computer Engineering and an M.S. in Computer Science, and is finishing his PhD in that field while currently employed as an Artificial Intelligence Software Engineer at a major US company. He has already published more than a dozen papers in scientific journals. His experience is an interesting example of cognitive processes inducing one or more altered states of consciousness (ASCs). In my own understanding of states of consciousness (see my States of Consciousnessbook), ordinary consciousness is patterned and maintained by numerous, automated stabilization and feedback processes: close scrutiny of any of them has the potential of destabilizing the whole system and allowing ASCs to occur.
Can Mind Recognize Itself in a Model it’s Pondering About? A Strange Experience doing Neural Network Research
I had one very interesting and unusual experience and I’m still not sure what that was. I was working on Ph.D. in computer science at that time. I was sitting in on advanced AI class and thinking about learning principles in a class of artificial neural networks in the context of a maze navigation problem. I was sort of imagining/simulating this in my head. Then suddenly something that could be described as “resonance” or strong insight came: “That is me!”. I never thought that a mind could ever recognize/see some resemblance with itself in one of the models it’s pondering about. One can see analogy in this situation as seeing itself in a mirror for the first time. The maze I was thinking about did have the resemblance with the hemispherical structure of the brain. There are different possible theories of what might have happened. The learning principles I sought about are very simple, however still have scientific novelty. Let me not to reveal further details about them at this time.
After that even more interesting things began. I decided to “wake up”. I was not sleeping at that time, of course, but what I’m referring to is something more than just being awake. Where I got the knowledge how to do it, I don’t know. The introspection of this is like the whole brain lit up, the flow of energy through the neck increases, then starting from the left hemisphere some cycle begins, then equivalent pattern in the left, then something which I recall as a whirl from above surrounding the head. Then I felt I could “wake up” even more and I did it. Then I decided to “wake up” one more time and that was probably my mistake. The excitation came from the left and right to a center, which seemed to be controlling all that. This is sort of the area highlighted on the cover of the book ‘The “God” Part of the Brain’. I’m not sure where the author drew the inspiration for this picture since neuroscience tells that the brain’s hemispheres are not connected there and that book does not elaborate on the picture on its cover. Anyway, that’s how it felt.
When the excitation entered that I started to lose consciousness, the usual one. Something that feels like a strain of force came from somewhere around the solar plexus. This strain only got to the lower right frontal lobe area. It was enough to restore the consciousness. I felt pain in the area where the excitation met like it was physically damaged. I was able to think well, some planning and short term memory were impaired, e.g. it took me a while to recall where I parked my car, the rest was usual or even better than usual. Anyway, I felt a strain of energy coming from the base of the spine through the right hemisphere. After that, a lot of unusual things started to happen: strange dreams, unusual sensations in the body, sort of consciousness expansion and extremely vivid imagination.
After a few years everything returned more or less to normality. I work as a software engineer. I probably will be able to finish my dissertation relatively soon. However, many of my hormones are still out of balance, and what bothers me most is the strange ability to feel my own head. I prefer not to elaborate on this, It’s not a bliss. I would prefer this biological computer just doing it’s job.
Contributor’s Comments on the Experience
The question “Can brain recognize itself in one of the models it creates” is very interesting. One can think of Self Understanding problem, infinite recursion, logic paradoxes in connection with all this. I believe that the ability to distinguish itself from other objects of the world is the requirement for developing consciousness. People naturally associate themselves with their bodies, something we can call body-level consciousness. Had the mind became aware of itself in this particular case?
Some people thought about this event that it might have been a very rough Kundalini awakening. The maze in the problem had resemblance not only with the hemispherical structure of the brain, but also with the Sfera in Kabbalah. I still don’t know what was that. If you have ideas what it might have been, I will very appreciate posting them here.