July 25, 2011

Hear the Homunculus

Your homunculus must be hungry.
How's your homunculus doing lately?  I've talked a lot about my homunculus over the last few weeks but really haven't spent much time explaining what I mean by "my homunculus".  It's pretty important that we get a good understanding of this whole homunculus concept now, because during this Week of Optimism, we're going to be staring down our homunculus and putting the little dude or dudette in his/her place.  The goal?  Get more optimistic, happier, and healthier.

I've adopted the Homunculus as the mascot of this blog in a tongue-in-cheek reference to the homunculus argument in cognitive science/philosophy.  For centuries, smart, bearded, be-toga'd philosophers have speculated about the nature of the "viewer" when our brain sees the world around us.  During vision, light hits surrounding objects and bounces off, eventually hitting the back of our eyeballs.  This "image" of the world gets transmitted to our brain (in some form) where we then have access to the data in the visual scene.  But who then "sees" the image in our brain?  Well, one possibility would be that a little guy, a homunculus, sees the brain version of the environment and then tells us what to do with it.  Of course, this is a problematic view: how then does the homunculus "see"?  In this case, the homunculus would need his own homunculus! Oy vey.

I see you Homunculus!
We're not going to get into the details of why the homunculus argument stinks.  Instead, let's clarify what "homunculus" means for a blog about metacognition.  To us, our Homunculus is that "little voice inside", our subconscious, our primitive, our emotional, or our immature side.  I think we've all experienced something like this at one point or another.  Occasionally, we may think a certain way that one part of us (the "real" part of us) doesn't like.  For example, I will occasionally get all gloomy and grumpy for no apparent reason.  During these times, I sometimes get so exasperated that I want to yell at myself  "Snap out of it!"  Other times, I will have really low motivation to do work or exercise and I will literally have to convince myself that it's a good idea.

That "other" part of you that you don't always have control over? That's your homunculus.  Maybe you're not even that aware of this "inner voice".  If not, that's what today's challenge is all about.  We're going to monitor our own automatic thoughts for a day.  Eventually, we're going to start to control our homunculus.  Oh yeah. 

Hear the Homunculus

Task: Monitor your automatic thoughts for one day.

Angels and Devils? Your inner voice is a monkey. 
Info: What kinds of thoughts do you have during the day?  Are they positive? Are they negative?  The point of this exercise is simply to increase our awareness of our own thoughts.  Don't get worried about "thinking the right way" yet.  Just observe your thoughts with interest.  Perhaps put little, mental tags on each thought.  Try not to control your thoughts, just think in your normal, natural way.  If you don't like the way you're thinking, don't worry.  You can change how you think and we'll be working on some strategies over the next week to do just that.

Goal: Get a sense of the quality and quantity of your thoughts in a normal day.

Whether you like it or not, your homunculus is there, chattering away.  Start listening: this is a critical metacognitive skill that will enable us to modify our thoughts during future challenges.

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