Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Structure of Human Experience

We're living in a time of dramatic 
paradigm shifts in the industrial landscape of business and technology, a time which distinguishes itself from the Age of Information: we've been calling this the Age of Experience. This is made possible by what TechCrunch called the experience stack, in an article earlier this year:  

The full stack is in service of capturing and definitively assessing real-world moments, with reality at its foundation.

The bottom layer of the experience stack is the most essential requirement for the rest of the stack to exist. Aptly named, the Moment layer handles the making of the relentless human experience. Breaking it down to its own layers yields a stack in itself, with behavior at the very top. 

BEHAVIOR : actions ]

At an age when human behavior patterns are collected in large data sets and studied and predicted at detail, we humans continue to live with aspects of our behavior we would like to change. In trying to implement desired changes at our level of behavior, we commonly try to change our ways of thinking. Similarly, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) approaches the problem from the layer of cognition. Expecting to realize observable changes in behavior, CBT works via exercises of "cognitive restructuring" (0)
COGNITION : thoughts ]

The reciprocity between thoughts and feelings is notoriously strong, and in CBT the governing influence of feelings on cognition is arguably forgotten. With a stronghold on cognitive performance and thought quality, feelings (affect) compose an altogether difficult layer [for the individual] to read and manage directly. 

AFFECT : feelings ]

Often misidentified for the layer below it, affect "reflects moment-to-moment changes ... that are superimposed on ... a sustained emotional state" (1rooted in the underlying layer of emotion (or mood). Emotions lay the groundwork that make feelings possible, presenting challenges in isolating and handling feelings independently without targeting them on the basis of topic and circumstance. This is particularly true in cases of unpredictable transitions in emotional state which obscure the properties of the affect layer.     

EMOTION : mood ]

Measured in accordance to the creation and use of energy (2), emotions are the energy currents resulting from substrate level interactions occurring at the very bottom of this stack, in physiology. Thanks to the research inspired by the treatment demands of mood disorders, the physiology of emotions is well documented.   


In the breakdown of Moment at Layer 0 of the tech stack of experience, this is the stack of the human experience. When trying to change our behavior by changing our thoughts, we're limiting ourselves to it's top two layers.  

[   BEHAVIOR : actions   ]
[  COGNITION : thoughts  ]
[    AFFECT : feelings   ]
[    EMOTION : mood    ]
[   PHYSIOLOGY : body   ]

Practices like CBT are designed to teach the "skills to manage how [our] thoughts, feelings and behaviors interact and influence one another". (0) Such methods attempt to operate at the top three layers. 

The management of higher layers through the entry point of physiology is a road heavily traveled on (nearly) everything from diet and exercise to pharmacological prescription. The upward communication [from physiology to emotion, and then from emotion to feelings] is guaranteed. Using this natural configuration to gain administrative access to higher layers is advantageous when feelings, thoughts, and behaviors become unmanageable. 

Physiology is the fastest path to making changes in the emotion layer. Stabilizing emotions allows [a feeling] to be identified accurately. The act of identifying [our] feelings helps "guide complex self-directed choices" (3) via consequent enhancements to decision making circuitry in the forebrain. Decision making -- one of several components of cognition -- is impacted by "emotion-related" biomarkers that "assist cognitive processes in implementing decisions". (4
Mechanisms of somatic biomarkers transpiring in physiology 
relay information to the top where the results of decision implementation precipitate at the behavioral layer. 

The post-treatment efficacy of CBT has come under fire in recent reviews with conclusions that its "effectiveness ... has been overstated in the literature" by authors who were "positively biased" in favor of CBT by way of "researcher allegiance". (5) Neglecting physiology's full stack engagement is one probable cause for treatment deficiencies leading to CBT's demise in reputation. Its overconfidence in treating conditions inflicted with [degrees of] impairment in impulse control is a reflection of this glaring oversight.  

Impulse control mechanisms merge into the transmission of information from cognition up to behavior, from the posterior region of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPC), a neural region also critical for decision making. (4)(6This is an important point of convergence for the workings of physical hardware, ephemeral states of cognition, and behavioral execution. Physical insults to the VMPC induce "behavioral disinhibition" (6) that cannot be mediated using the thought-based activities prescribed by CBT. 

As 2016 comes to a close, most of us will be returning to the drawing board to rewrite our New Years resolutions as we do each year. In renewing our dedication to self improvement, we commonly impose painstaking processes on ourselves to brute force our desired results. Failing to be achieved, many resolutions get recycled as our discipline to uphold the behavior patterns to achieve them lose momentum.  

The rising chaos of our highly demanding lives may always present new obstacles that come between us and better versions of ourselves. Rather than fighting this natural order (or blaming it for our shortcomings), the game plan to fulfilling each of our goals must be designed in accordance to the stack of human experience.    

To have better relationships, to make sound decisions, to eliminate internal conflicts, to improve our performance in all aspects of our lives and to feel better everyday, we need to know what layer we are ultimately expecting to see the results of our changes; how this layer communicates with neighboring layer(s); and all the ways in which this layer can be accessed, directly or otherwise. A solution for accomplishing a goal must be multifaceted: it's important to address what the solution must do at each layer in order to support the intended outcome. For lasting effects, all solutions need a component in physiology.  

Each layer points to the layer above it, and everything occurring at all layers have some physiological underpinning. Sitting at the top of the stack, behavior appears to be most distant. However, actions can only be carried out through the physical medium of the body, making it feasible to claim that behavior is as close (if not closer) to physiology as the layer of emotion. In reality, this structure of human experience is not so much a stack as it is a linked list in which the last item rounds back and points to the first. All in all, the matrix of physiology is inescapable. 

Physiology is the layer with which we withstand the constant bombardment of stimuli from the external world. A human may or may not exist in other forms, but without a human body there is no human experience. 

(0) http://www.psychotherapy.net/data/uploads/5110394f10a74.pdf 

(1) http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1586/ern.11.68 

(2)  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0031938403002944 

(3) http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi= 

(4) https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Martial_Van_der_Linden/publication/7487064_Decision-Making_and_Impulse_Control_after_Frontal_Lobe_Injuries/links/57187e1308ae986b8b79f0ab.pdf   

(5) http://www.cloudpsychology.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Empirical-Status-of-CBT.pdf 

(6)  http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=


  1. Well written and gave insights to CBT I hadn't thought about before. As I process this I wonder if meditation is one way to link the layers including physiology. When dedicated to daily practice it seems impulsive acts lessen ,my emotions are more stable with a significant decrease in anxiety specifically. In any case I'm inspired to think more deeply about the human condition. Thank you Moonbear

  2. "This layer defines the physical and electrical nature of all hardware used, including voltages, hubs, network adapters, repeaters, and cabling specifications. The physical layer establishes and terminates connections, provides a means of sharing communication resources, and converts signals from digital to analog and vice versa." (Practical Packet Analysis)