Monday, June 16, 2014

gyroscope interrupt

I happily concede that my analogies for meditation and mindfulness are shockingly...artificial. Normally, the analogies are more, uh, "organic": plants, animals, bodies of water, weather. I don't attach much importance to this disparity, because it stems from an incidental gap of history. Analogies aid communication within a context. Long ago, the teachers of mindfulness meditation chose palpable references which they and their followers knew. For their era and expertise, those references happened to often be organic. In the same way, my utterly artificial analogies reflect my technological era and expertise.

For instance, recurring mindfulness begins to function like a gyroscope interrupt. Seriously.

To start with, equilibrium is already an indispensable metaphor for mental states. If someone isn't feeling a fierce emotion or obsessing over a compelling idea, then they're said to be centered, unperturbed, neutral, level, placid. In a word, they have equilibrium which is still. Mental phenomena, both positive or negative, are likened to disturbances of equilibrium. Someone may say that they feel flattened, unsteady, turned upside-down, struck off-balance, etc.

When devices measure changes in equilibrium, a gyroscope might be involved. It has a part that can tilt somewhat independently. That part has its own ongoing form of momentum such as a freely rotating wheel. Due to its momentum, it's less influenced by attempts to divert its tilt. And since it can have a somewhat independent tilt, the rest of the device can tilt to a greater degree around it, and that difference in degree is the measurement.

Without knowing the full rationale, all this ingenuity might appear to be a convoluted answer to a simpleminded question. Obviously, many times in everyday life, changes in an item's equilibrium immediately affect its varying relationships to nearby items. The surface of a ball rises and drops when it rolls. When a vehicle's back wheels slide, the driver sees the oncoming road jerk sideways. But these measurements are external and relative. If nearby items are unavailable or hidden, then the gyroscope can measure equilibrium shifts anyway. Its reference item is within. Its operation is a reversal of perspective. An apparent movement of the device's inner parts signifies outer movement of the whole device.

Neither do humans have an inborn infallible point of reference for estimating disruptions to their mental equilibria. They need to intentionally develop a stable persistent memory of complete psychological calm. It functions as their "gyroscope of stillness". They can review it regardless of whether their usual self-evaluation is itself impaired, like an airplane pilot that reviews a gyroscope regardless of whether the horizon is obscured. To recall stillness is to cause sharp awareness of anything else happening at that moment, because it contrasts with stillness.

Meditation itself contributes in two ways. First, it resets and reinforces the gyroscope of stillness to fit its particular ideal. The beginner's preexisting concept of stillness might have been mediocre or vague in comparison. They may not have fully understood and felt the stillness required for steadily observing only their breathing for twenty consecutive minutes. Of course, someone who's proficient needs regular resetting and reinforcement too; without intervention, an ambitious target fades and the corresponding scale of perception narrows again.

Second, meditation contributes opportunities to ingrain the act of reviewing the gyroscope of stillness. It's a setting and time period dedicated to repeating that specific act. Its circumstances are easier than normal in order to thoroughly prepare for tougher circumstances. It allows for transforming the act into a well-rehearsed habitual skill...or a learned instinct. As with training in general, over time, laborious conscious concentration leads to semi-automatic routine.

Once this act is ingrained, it can readily work in many situations other than meditation. In those situations, attention is mainly elsewhere, so sudden broad awareness of internal status is an intrusion on it. For devices, comparable intrusions can consist of a signal called an interrupt (noun). An interrupt forces the device to switch from its main task to processing a response. Most likely, a major part of the response is to just store a data-filled "to-do note" for the very near future—waiting for whenever the relevant task will have its turn. The last step of the response is to resume the main task from before the interrupt.

While each interrupt response should be small and temporary work for the device, it's nevertheless incredibly rapid by human standards. During Tetris, an interrupt represents every time that the player orders the falling block to rotate or shift. If they pressed a button or key, then the movement of an underlying component notifies the device's central processor(s) with an interrupt. Without it, the game would simply continue to compute the block's progress along a predictable path (actually, the predictable path relies on a timer interrupt so that the rate of the block's "fall" is appropriate for the difficulty of play).

But inside a device that can serve a wide range of purposes, numerous diverse components can send streams of interrupts as well. In fact, recent mass-market electronic devices might even include a cunning miniature gyroscope-based sensor. When the gyroscope detects motion, the device is alerted by an interrupt. Hence, the overall effect of the gyroscope interrupt is that the device can react to abrupt disturbances of its equilibrium no matter what else it's processing.

In similar fashion, the gyroscope interrupt is like a subject experiencing mindfulness while they're not in the altered state of meditation. For example, when they're irritated by a problem, they not only perceive the problem and invent solutions; they notice their irritation. When they're angered by another's selfishness, they notice bodily tenseness and an urgent impulse to retaliate. When they're envious or greedy, they notice inaccurate beliefs about the causes of lasting contentment. When they're striving to cling to wishful notions about their pure motivations, they notice the existence of opposite sentiments. When they're churned by undercurrents of anxiety, they notice the resultant nervous motions of their limbs.

Furthermore, like the gyroscope interrupt, at minimum the effect of recurring mindfulness is passive information. A versatile device could be programmed with many varied "interpretations" of raw tilting motions...complete disinterest included. Likewise, someone who has recurring mindfulness chooses how to treat each subjective phenomenon which arises. Maybe they could analyze it and theorize its source, or approve it and put it into action, or deny it and watch it evaporate, or estimate it and deliberately compensate for it.

All these options have an implicit common prerequisite: forthright acknowledgment. If they want to choose an option well, then their initial duty is confronting the phenomenon honestly and directly. To do that, they must ignore their distracting protective rationalizations. They're obligated to risky candor about their whole momentary selves. For someone clinging to the belief that they're perpetually upright and unruffled, the readings communicated by their gyroscope interrupt are worthless.  

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