31 Temmuz 2012 Salı

Relaxing After High Concentration - 3


We adjust our concentration level by looking and seeing. They normally balance each other through the natural flow of the events in the daily life. This balance determines the thinking speed. Motivation, dreaming about success or dreaming about things that will come with success increases our bodyly and mental capacity hence helps us to succeed.

Let’s return back to the vision metaphor. If we focus on something and look at it sternly, our looking focus gets smaller, concentration increases to maximum, on the other hand ambient vision begins to increase and after a while our vision gets blurred and our eyes begin to contemplate. There is a natural control mechanism that stops the increase in the concentration.  Focused vision based on conscious control is balanced by ambient vision which is controlled by subconscious in the daily life.

Unfortunately, when doing things professionally or using long duration high concentration we stop this natural mechanism with our control mechanism and determination. As a result of this, we are left with a mental tiredness at the end of the job that we can not get rid of with the natural mechanisms of our mind. To relax from high concentration we should erase the memory areas that were used, or forget everything related to this task. This is not a simple operation. The experience that is gathered, the knowledge that is attained must be organized and stored but at the same time the unnecessary information details, semantic relations that are gathered shall be erased or in the computing jargon ‘garbage collection’ must be done. Hence,mental activity does not end at the end of the task. The Project Evaluation meeting is important not only for the preservation of the organization experience but also it serves the mental health of the individuals who participated in the project.

One of the things that the garbage collection in the human mind is done with, is imagening. In the evaluation meetings that I have mentioned above, alternative suggestions on how to do things and, what would have happened, would enable us to see other possibilities and opportunities besides the routine pieces of the task.

I will write an other article on the organization aspect of the subject. The working memory that we use for cognition is not similar to a computer memory. It is not organized as linear located cells on a page. It is fragmented and distributed with many interconnections. Indeed the working memory is a collection of neurons distributed in the brain that can be kept connected and reached during a certain time frame. Even the input buffers and the long term buffers may be included to the working memory as needed. This happens when long duration high concentration is used and is frequent in software development.

In order to relax, the relational connections shall be erased. The connections can not be erased with a single commend like a computer. Accept in the case of electric schock... Something has to be overwritten in order to be forgotten. Infact, this is impossible.If the information has stayed under the attention for a considerable duration, it will be connected to a very wide network. This is an automatic connection process which may reach very high abstraction levels. Nevertheless if something is not updated proportionate to its tenure under attention, it will finally get forgotten or, its retrieval become extremely difficult. Of course this is related with the subject matter, personal things related to te very self are difficult to forget.

McKIM proposes this solution in the “Directed Imagination” section of his book ‘Experience in Visual Thinking’: “Control the passive negative worries and transform them to a productive imagination. If you worry about a failure, dream the positive success instead. If you are afraid of missing a deadline, dream the happiness you will fell when you catch it...” McCim also mentions that one should use professional advise when utilizing imagination.

I believe added to the methods related to decreasing the thinking speed, imagining or day-dreaming may also help. Imagining small dreams related to the job done that day, may be completely absurd, unrelated, funny dreams, freeing your mind, imagination, subconscious from everything may help to forget the already created load of semantically related connections.

In his work named ‘Imagination and Emotion’ Sartre states that “the necessity for a consciousness to imagine is the ability to propose an unreal hypothesis”. In short, in order to imagine, you should propose a hypothesis Outside the existing phenomenons and against the reality theyconvey. If pondered upon, one can see that this is close to being impossible if tried to achieve completely. Sartre proposes that this can be done at least using a certain point of view. Sartre states “In order to imagine, conciousness should be able to escape from the world; should be able to withdraw from the world with its own effort”.   For this, “Conciousness must be free”.

Sartre’s ‘Imagination and Emotion’ includes strong clues that after long duration high concentration, imagening may do the ‘garbage collection’ that I have described above. I will further elaborate in my future articles on this matter.

“Man becomes great to the extent that he controls his imagination.” (Rolf Alexander, The Mind in Healing, Dutton).


29 Temmuz 2012 Pazar

Relaxing After High Concentration - 2

To Forget – To Empty the Mental Energy

What does ‘mentally relaxing’ mean? It is to forget the thing you have focused your attention on together with its semantical relations. Namely, to forget what you pay attention to and its relations.

To concentrate is focusing your attention to a certain subject and remember related things , thus forget the unrelated things. Hence you erase things unrelated to the subject from your working memory. You remember and bring relavent things into your working memory instead.

In fact the working memory of the mind should not be viewed like a computer addressed page. It should be viewed as a network and even networks of networks of which connection weights can be adjusted and reduced to null.

When focusing the weights of connections between some specific neurons increase. These neurons have to be related to the subject and may be located at various parts distributed in our brain.

High concentration occurs when the application duration ofdedicated attention and the character of focusing is augmented. Long duration high concentration occurs when concentration on a subject continuously for three or six months. The mind accumulates a large amount of information on a specific subject and tries to find a solution (for example in large software projects).

In the case of long duration high concentration, the brain adds buffers related to perception to the working memory and the short term memory layer(episodic and other). The slowness in the body movements of large systems engineers or the behaviour of surgeons after operations, for ex. Both group has the tendency to put their personal belongings always to the same locations... are the result of extreme mental load. This difficulty is the result of the working memory expanding over average size and short term memory getting overloaded with too many relations. Episodic memory and buffer memories related with basic senses get added to the working memory. The situation gets to the stage that you begin to forget simple things such as you have stopped at the previous red light. Smell and taste senses get weaker.

Under heavy load, the brain does not only lncrease the relations of the elements in the subject matter but also takes meaures to increase the relational mechanisms and elavating precautions. It changes the neuraş networks’ propogational properties by making the body secrete hormones. Hence, thresholds for making decisions change and it gets easier to resolve a decision regardless of whether it is right or wrong. The hormones that affect this, affects the person’s affections also. It is not a coincidence that engineers get increasingly more sensitive at the end of difficult projects or calm people get belligerent...  Strangely, things get calmed down by the end of the project.

The commands that the brain sends to the body under heavy mental load affects not only the affective behaviour and decision thresholds of the person. The affective changes affect the thinking speed also. The new propogation conditions created by the hormones does not only affect the macro level decision making but also affects the micro events of relational connection establishing and determination of connection weights. For ex. The abrupt and mostly correct reactions shown under emergency conditions depend on the adjustment of the thinking speed as well as automatic processes.

A global result of high and long duration concentration is that the mental control ability of the person increases over normal levels. An indication of this is the increase in the speaking native and foreign languages ability, also an increase in the perception sensitivity. You begin to notice things on your computer screen that you normally did not see before. You begin to remember the relational details of past events that you have not noticed before.

An even more increase of the thinking speed causes serious problems. You begin to see halucinations or hear sounds. Difficulties in using the language begin. You begin to hear other languages when speaking your native tongue. The same problems recur in your mind continuously.

A person under stress has difficulty to forget(interalia). The inability to put aside everything and to look at problems with a fresh mind stops the chance of finding solutions as well as deepening of the mental disturbance. It may not be a good solution to go to a long nice vacation in this situation. When you open the house door on your return, you will find the same problems exactly as you have left them behind.

If paid attention the stages that the problem occurs most seriously give strong clues to its solution. Forgetting is one of these.   If we can forget even some details of the things that happened after a mentally loaded day, if they do not come back to your mind this means everything is OK.The key to relaxing, to stay away from the bad effects of high concentration is forgetting.

Forgetting destroys the semantic relations network formed by the high concentration, erases the connection weights created for this network. The destroying-reduction of the connection weights reduces the cognitive ability and slows down the thinking speed. Although speed is a chemical or hormonal phenomenon logical structure may have a slowing effect on the speed.

Forgetting, specifically forgetting the context, reduces the load on the memory hence reduces the enforcement of the perception buffer memories to act as the working memory. The speed of the forgetting process may cause negative effects after heavy concentration periods. The person begins to get interested with many cmopletely unrelated subjects using the mental capacity he/she has created. Such as pushing self to remember details of things in the past, thinking extremely abstract subjects. He tries to continue to push self mentally with other activities.

When stopping long duration high concentration or even stopping the daily working process,mental activities with increasingly lower densities may help. One should leave some time to the brain to adjust. For example, listening English news first, then Turkish news, and then an art program and then an entertainment program... Close the TV and sip some tea on your favorite armchair...

By the way, what does normal people do when they use high concentration sometimes? They do not do anything intentional. Their physique and the personality that they have developed protects them. The problem occurs on people who work on large systems with critical responsibilities, concentrating highly for long durations or jobs requiring to carry a subject in one’s mind for long durations. These people break down the resistence their brains show to high concentration by material or immaterial motivations. If these people are not trained to take precautions against these problems they become prone to serious mental risks.

When your mind gets tired your attention drops and you begin to think different subjects. As an example to your mind taking autonomous precautions is seeing halucinations when the thinking speed increases too much. Infact halucination is a way of getting rid of excessive mental energy.

Your behavioural patterns may have a protective effect. For example, a person under heavy load tries to act using more plans.  Programming and planning, designing require a high amount of mental effort hence, help to empty the brain from mental energy. These not only organize the tasks to do but also helps to spend the excessive mental energy.

The problem is the excessive increase in the mental energy and the thinking speed because of the excessive concntration. They remain at these high levels for durations as long as 3 – 6 months and they do not drop down to normal levels during this long period of time. This unreducing mental energy and thinking speed causes permanent changes in the brains of the related employees. The employees must be trained against the bad side effects of long duration high concentration and they must be screened psychologically in a systematic way.

My next article will propose a method to relax for large systems employees who have critical duties. The most important problem with a tired mind is being unable to forget that day and its difficulties. There must be some memory mechanisms in order to forget easily. If we can analize these mechanisms carefully may be we can develop some useful techniques.

16 Temmuz 2012 Pazartesi

Relaxing After High Concentration- 1

What can be done after a tiring day to relax? Even people working in normal jobs have to spend effort to relax after some heavy loaded days. This article is the first of a series that explains some of the techniques that can be used to relax... After the first article which is about ‘Focal’ and ‘ambient’ vision types and their relation to relaxing, I will write about getting rid of mental energy by using it for nothing and the function of imagination. As the last point of interest, I will propose a technique to get rid of the high concentration and relax by alluding to Sartre’s “Imagination and Consciousness”.

Every engineer, air traffic controller, large systems operator who work with computers have to focus their attention to a small area for long periods of time. These people have difficulty looking at large areas and at distant things when they get out of their working place.

Our mental operations related to vision are of two kinds- focal and ambient. Focal vision is almost always related with fovea which is without rods and related with small details, pattern recognition. For example reading writings and identifying small things. Ambient vision is related with seing things on the periphery not the center. It is related with orientation and ego motion – to feel the speed and direction of our own movement[1].

Our focal and ambient vision abilities and mental resources define each other actively. For example, we can read a book while we walk down the aisle or we can read the street names while we drive. This situation show that there is an effective time sharing between them, they are executed by different brain structures and their information processing characteristics are different.

It is suggested that an effective time sharing between focal and ambient vision exists because the ambient vision is an automatic process[1]. The mental tiredness created by the concious process of the focal vision in the case of long durations, may be elavated by the automatic process of ambient vision. The problem, at this point arises in the case of long duration high concentration. High concentration stops the automatic process triggering. Hence, the relaxing of the vision mechanism of the mind by its natural balancing becomes impossible. The relaxing of the mind in some cases by driving a car may be related to the balanced use of automatic processes and attention.

The mind’s vision processing gives strong hints about its whole processing. The focal and ambient vision mechanisms may abstractly be related to focusing on a subject and feel the peripheral concepts and objects related to this subject automatically. For example, it is mind’s ambient like mechanisms that enables us to trust him.

When you look at the carpet under the table, even though some of the patterns are behind the table’s legs you still percieve the situation as if you see the whole carpet. The mind deducts the continuation of patterns from the way day come and although they are not seen it is felt as if they are[2]. The deduction of patterns may be related with the ambient vision and more general automatic processing of the brain.

When we see an object, our mind deals with its visual attributes primarily. It completes the missing parts with good continuation if they can not be seen. As the time passes, the semantic tree objects begin to get triggered. An object passes to the working memory after staying in the perception memory for a certain amount of time.

Hence it begins to trigger the semantic connections related to itself[3]. When you see a person, even though you do not focus on him, his height, suit colour, physical attributes, gender, etc. And his abstract attributes get triggered and gets prepared to serve your attention. In fact Sartre’s example for visual completion is valid for mental completion also.

Focusing infact is leaving enough time for looking. If we look at a constant object and continue to do so for a long time, our attention concentrates on that object. Blinking period increases, even our breathing decreases. A large systems engineer who works with high concentration for long durations gets physically tired even by simply concentrating. The engineer focuses on a specific subject and related issues, building semantic relations. This process continues iteratively till it converges to a solution. To change a single line of code in an air traffic control system the whole system has to be studied in relation to this change and its functional effects have to be analized. This process requires a high level of concentration to be maintained for upto six months.

Not only people who work at long duration high concentration jobs but also even students who prepare for finals have difficulty in relaxing after a complete working day. Everyone has developed a personal technique to relax intuitively or by experience. My point is, large systems operators have to be trained to learn and apply these techniques systematically...

Let’s return back to the vision metaphor. If we focus on something and look at it sternly, our looking focus gets smaller, concentration increases to maximum, on the other hand ambient vision begins to increase and after a while our vision gets blurred and our eyes begin to contemplate. There is a natural control mechanism.

We adjust our concentration level by looking and seeing. The balancing of each of focal and ambient vision in the flow of the normal life adjusts our mind’s thinking speed[4]. At the beginning of our cognitive evolution lies in the visual ability. Systematic seeing and looking may give us some clues for relaxing after long duration heavy concentration.

After high concentration jobs with focused vision one should give more chance to the automatic processes of the ambient vision. It would be usefull to stay 3-4 hours in an environment with a wide view and far distances. To view the depths not the surface, the view not the objects but the volume created between them would be useful. To view objects in their context and imagine the missing parts that can not be seen.

After non-visual jobs that concentrate on abstract concepts it would be useful to stay in a wide view environment with horizon and a far sea sight too. To look at the things on the surface, to view objects without their relations, to bring everything to the surface would be necessary...


[1] Wickens, C. D., “Multiple Resources and Performance Prediction”, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Institute of Aviation USA

[2] Sartre, J. P., “Basic Writings - Imagination and Emotion, The Psychology of Imagination, Consciousness and Imagination”, Edited By Stephen Priest, Routledge, 2005

[3] Saral, A. R., “Düşünüş Durağanlığı”, http://largesystems-atc.blogspot.com/2008/09/dn-duraanlii.html

[4] Saral, A. R., “Farklılaşan Beyin”, http://largesystems-atc.blogspot.com/2007_09_01_archive.html

Some allusions::

[1] Multiple resources and performance prediction
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Institute of Aviation Willard Airport, Aviation
Human Factors Division, Aviation Research Laboratory, 1 Airport Road, Savoy, IL 61874,
Keywords: Attention; Performance; Time sharing workload.

4.3. Visual channels

In addition to the distinction between auditory and visual modalities of processing, there is good evidence that two aspects of visual processing, referred to as focal and ambient vision, appear to define separate resources in the sense of

(a) supporting efficient time-sharing,
(b) being characterized by qualitatively different brain structures, and
(c) being associated with qualitatively different types of information processing

(Leibowitz et al. 1982, Weinstein and Wickens 1992, Previc 1998).

Focal vision, which is nearly always foveal, is required for fine detail and pattern recognition (e.g. reading text, identifying small objects). In contrast, ambient vision heavily (but not exclusively) involves peripheral vision, and is used for sensing orientation and ego motion (the direction and speed with which one moves through the environment). When we successfully walk down a corridor while reading a book, we are exploiting the parallel processing or multiple resource capabilities of focal and ambient vision, just as we are when keeping the car moving forward in the centre of the lane (ambient vision) while reading a road sign, glancing at the rear view mirror or recognizing a hazardous object in the middle of the road (focal vision).

Aircraft designers have considered several ways of exploiting ambient vision to provide guidance and alerting information to pilots, while their focal vision is heavily loaded by 166 C. D. Wickens perceiving specific channels of displayed instrument information (Stokes et al. 1990, Liggett et al. 1999) It is appropriate to ask whether the successful time sharing of focal and ambient visual tasks results because ambient vision uses separate resources, or because it uses no resources at all; that is, processing from ambient vision may be said to be 'preattentive' or automated. At the present time, insufficient data exist to answer this question, as few researchers have attempted to examine dual task performance of two ambient tasks. One study (Weinstein and Wickens 1992), however, did suggest that the second (pre-attentive/automatic) explanation offered above may in fact be the more correct one.

[2] Jean-Paul Sartre: Basic Writings, Edited By Stephen Priest, Routledge, 2005
Imagination and Emotion, The Psychology of Imagination, Consciousness and Imagination

P 95
For an objects or any element of an object there is a great difference between being grasped as nothing and being-given-as-absent.

For instance, the arabesques of the rug I am viewing are both in part given to my intuition. The legs of the arm chair which stands before the window conceal certain curves, certain designs. But I nevertheless seize these hidden arabesques as existing now, as hidden but not at all as absent. … I grasp what has been given me of their continuation.

It is therefore in the way in which I grasp the data that I posit that which is not given as being real. Real by the same right as the data, as that which gives its meaning and its very nature. Likewise the successive tones of a melody are grasped by appropriate retentions as that which makes of the tone now heard exactly what it is. In this sense, to percieve this or that real datum is to percieve it on the foundation of total reality as a whole.”

“If I want to imagine the hidden arabesques, I direct my attention upon them and isolate them, just as I isolate on the foundation of an undifferentiated universe the thing I actually percieve. I cease to grasp them as empty but constituting the sense of the percieved reality, instead I present them to myself, in themselves. But at the moment that I cease to concieve them as continuous present in order to grasp them in themselves, I grasp them as absent. Of course they really exist over there, under the chair , and it is over there that I think of them, but in thinking of them where they are not given to me, I grasp them as nothing for me. Thus the imaginative act is at once constitutive, isolating and annihilating.