I signed the Hope Accord.
16 March 2023

Grid snapping

This is a simple idea that seems to be a useful lens for viewing a wide variety of problems. The idea is that as you think, your brain recognises similarities in your thought processes to things it has seen before. For example, you’re playing around with a melody and notice that it reminds you of a Bob Dylan song. As soon as that happens, your brain “snaps to grid”, having found a compelling and relevant thought process that’s similar enough to your current one that it seems worth showing it to you, just because that’s how your brain works. At this point, you lose the melody you were working on – because the Dylan one is catchier, because it’s easier to remember things than to make things up, because the remembered version has more detail and depth, and because your brain’s prediction engine is razor-sharp and you can’t turn it off.

Another example: you’re thinking through your position on a political issue, mentally reciting and revising your side of a dialogue. As you make your case, your brain observes itself formulating a claim and notices that it’s shaping up to sound pretty similar to some commonly-made argument. Before you can fully articulate the shape of the images in your mind, your brain goes “oh, that sounds like this” and prediction takes over. You were developing a case from an emotional core and now it’s lost whatever nuances or different perspectives you might have brought to the debate, and become simply what your brain thinks someone who was saying what you started saying, would have said.

At a higher level of abstraction I think the brain may also be able to lose track of the original intention of an entire activity, like writing instructive material. Efforts to distil information for other people’s benefit can look a lot like, and in any case depend heavily upon, efforts to organise and clarify your own thoughts. So when you sit down to write an instructive document of some kind, of course you have to get your thoughts organised and present the information in an organised form. But if you’re not careful, your brain goes “Oh great, we’re organising and clarifying our thoughts! I love this!” and you lose sight of the original goal, of writing something that’s going to be informative and understandable for someone else to read.

See https://www.schneier.com/essays/archives/2024/01/dont-talk-to-people-like-theyre-chatbots.html:

In one benign experiment1, positive autocomplete suggestions led to more positive restaurant reviews, and negative autocomplete suggestions led to the reverse

If autocomplete can do this, so can the predictive mechanisms constantly firing in our own brains.