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Society of Mind

20.5 micronemes

That old idea of classifying things by properties is not entirely satisfactory, because so many kinds of qualities interact in complicated ways. Every situation or condition we experience is influenced or, so to speak, colored, by thousands of contextual shades and hues, just as looking through a tinted glass has faint effects on everything we see.

material: animate, inanimate; natural, artificial; ideal, actual perceptual: color, texture, taste, sound, temperature solidity: hardness, density, flexibility, strength shape: angularity, curvature, symmetry, verticality permanence: rarity, age, fragility, replaceability location: office, home, vehicle, theater, city, forest, farm environment: indoors, outdoors; public, private

activity: hunting, gambling, working, entertaining relationship: cooperation, conflict; negotiating, confronting security: safety, danger; refuge, exposure; escape, defeat Some of these conditions and relationships may correspond to language-words, but for most of them we have no words, just as we have no expressions for most flavors and aromas, gestures and intonations, attitudes and dispositions. I'll call them micronemes — those inner mental context clues that shade our minds' activities in ways we can rarely express. There is a somewhat different microstructure to each person's thoughts; indeed, their inexpressibility reflects our individuality. Nevertheless, we can clarify our image of the mind by envisioning these unknown influences as embodied in the forms of particular agents. Accordingly, in the next few sections, we'll envision our micronemes as K-lines that reach into many agencies with widespread effects on the arousal and suppression of other agents — including other micronemes. These micronemes participate in all those locking-in and weeding-out processes, so that, for example, the activity of your microneme for outdoors makes a small contribution to arousing your hunting microneme. While each such effect may be relatively small, the effects of activating many micronemes will usually combine to establish a context within which most words are understood unambiguously.

For example, in one context the word Boston might bring to mind some thoughts about the American Revolution. In a different setting, the same word might lead one to think instead of a geographic location. Other contexts might yield thoughts about famous universities, sporting teams, life-styles, accents of speech, or traditional meals. Each of these concepts must be represented by a certain network of agents that are connected, directly or indirectly, to the word-agent for Boston. But hearing or thinking that word by itself is not enough to determine which of those word-sense networks to activate; this must also depend upon other aspects of the present context. Our hypothesis is that this comes about principally through each word-sense agent learning to recognize the activation of certain combinations of micronemes.

Even modest families of micronemes could span vast ranges of contexts. A mere forty independent micronemes could specify a trillion different contexts — and we surely have thousands, and perhaps millions of different micronemes.