If we’re standing in a field, and I throw a football at you, and you adjust your location and the position of your arms and hands to catch it, is that a reflection of a football flight ‘simulation’ that is running in your brain, enabling you to predict where the football will land? If we’re talking over a poor telephone connection, and yet you can make out even the most garbled words, is that a reflection of a linguistic ‘simulation’ that is running in your brain, enabling you to predict the words most likely to come next in a sentence?
Earlier this year, we had a strange, brief, late winter snowfall here in Seattle. (Z Shift has offices in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Seattle, Washington.) Not long after the snow fell, my lovely wife called to me from a different room and the following exchange ensued:
“I’m looking out the window,” she said. “The sun came out and now the rooftops are starting to gleam.”
“The rooftops are starting to gleam?” I replied.
“No, the sun came out and now the rooftops are starting to beam,” she answered.
Now I was less sure of what she was saying and so decided to check out my assumption. I asked, “The rooftops are starting to beam?”
She walked around the corner to the room I was in, looked at me, and enunciating herself quite clearly, said, “No, the sun came out and now the rooftops are starting to steam!”
As I see it, I was running a predictive simulation, and since I was focused on the word “sun”, and by extension “sunlight”, I expected something that had to do with light, not something to do with evaporation. This is a case where my predictive simulation failed me, as simulations can sometimes do.
Using this as an example, do we continuously run various subconscious predictive processes that use simulation to inform both a) higher-level decision-making and b) themselves and other subconscious processes? In fact, this is exactly what I would argue that we do. I made an extended version of this argument in a talk I gave at GameTech in Orlando this year, titled, “Human Beings Are Simulation Engines”. Over time I’ll touch on the major themes from that talk here.
Do we continuously run various subconscious predictive processes informed by simulation?