Hidden layers

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Welcome to the Hidden layers page

Our inner world

David Hubel and Torstein Wiesel were awarded the 1981 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for figuring out what neurons in the visual cortex are doing. They showed that successive hidden layers first extract features of visual scenes that are likely to be meaningful (for example, sharp changes in brightness or colour, indicating the boundaries of objects), and then assemble them into meaningful wholes (the underlying objects).

In every moment of waking life, we translate raw patterns of photons impacting our retinas - photons arriving every which way from a jumble of unsorted sources, and projected onto a two dimensional surface - into the orderly, three-dimensional visual world we experience. Because it involves no conscious effort, we tend to take that everyday miracle for granted.

It is the architecture of hidden layers. Hidden layers embody, in a concrete physical form, the fashionable but rather vague and abstract idea of emergence. Each hidden layer neuron has a template. It becomes activated, and sends signals of its own to the next layer, precisely when the pattern of information it's receiving from the preceding layer matches (within some tolerance) that template. But this is just to say, in precision-enabling jargon, that the neuron defines, and thus creates, a new emergent concept. (1)

Content source
(1) Hidden layers – Frank Wilczek  - Physicist, MIT; Recipient, 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics – Edge 2012.

Our world

When we look at the world, an image of reality grows as a network of relationships with a layered structure:

  • the pre-material layers: the world of subatomic particles
  • the physical layers: the inanimate matter
  • the biological layers: the living beings
  • the temperament layers: intuition, emotion and cognition
  • the psychological layers: behaviour, personality and beliefs
  • the social layers: interaction
  • the cultural layers: business, technical, artistic, intellectual, etc. activities



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Organisational levels



A personal example: Attachment style

Alert. The description below is not intended as (psychomedical) advice but as an example of how our context creates layers of experience related to who we already are.

Secure (Connectedness - Participation)

If you're fortunate enough to have a secure attachment style, your primary caregivers were probably 'good enough' (the psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott's term for emotionally sensitive and responsive), and you are well placed to enjoy healthy relationships in life.

However, the other three main attachment styles are insecure and can lead to difficulties in building and maintaining good relationships.


Anxious (Participation - Coherence)

An anxious attachment style (sometimes called 'preoccupied' or 'ambivalent') is often due to inconsistent or intrusive parenting, or a blurring of the boundaries between parent/caregiver and child, for example, exposing the child to inappropriately adult emotions and situations, too early in life. Suppose this is your attachment style. In that case, you probably value closeness and connection but find yourself worrying about upsetting others or being rejected. You might tend to assume the worst is happening in a relationship. You might find yourself prone to jealousy and clingy behaviour, or you might be tempted to withdraw and resort to passive aggression, such as giving others the 'silent treatment.


Avoidant (Coherence - Autonomy)

An avoidant attachment style (sometimes called 'dismissive-avoidant' or 'fearful-avoidant' depending on the accompanying behaviours) is linked to a caregiver's consistent and repetitive rejection of the child's emotional needs. If this was your experience, you might find you always try to cope on your own as an adult. You probably reject the need for relationships or if you are in them, you may find it difficult to become emotionally close or place much value on your partner's looks. You might prefer not to pay too much attention to other people's emotions, and you're probably inclined to see yourself as not having any problems.


Disorganised (Autonomy - Connectedness)

The final attachment style – the disorganised style (sometimes called 'disoriented') – is best thought of as being trapped in, and responding to, a terrifying and incredibly confusing stay/go paradox. The caregiver (and future potential friends or partners) are both the source of occasional comfort but, more often, the source of threat. This style is linked to severe abuse and neglect in childhood. If this was something you experienced, you might struggle with self-esteem and have perhaps found your subsequent relationships incredibly difficult because of the intense emotions you experience.

Content Source
Aeon - Psyche - 2022



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