By Eh’den (Uri) Biber
What do the colour blue and information security have in common? The fascinating world of the mind.
One sense to rule them all, one sense to find them,
One sense to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of the mind, where the Shadows lie.
(Paraphrasing J.R.R. Tolkien)
A sense of information security will be a sense of the mind, but how would it feel to sense such thing? As far as I know it (and as far as Google can tell) there is one paper on the subject called “Information Security and the Psychological Contract: A Trust Perspective” by Mitchell R. Wenger who wrote it in 2006 when he was in Virginia Commonwealth University. It’s good, but it talks about an approach which is based on the science of psychology, and no discussion how that sense, that particular sense would feel like.
We can describe a sense with words (such as we do in a psychological approach) but these are just words. For example, no words can fully cover what a sense of compassion feels like, and no words can truly describe a sense of information security, which puts most of us in a real challenge because many of us assume that if we can’t quantify information security with words we can’t educate our target audience.
Senses are impossible to capture with words. If you never experienced a colour you can never know how it feels to experience it. You can try to describe to a person who is colour-blind how does red looks like from now till the end of days but he will not understand it because he is unable to feel how you sense a red colour. The sense of red is unique to each and every one of us.
It gets worse – actually, the sense of colour is so unique that sometimes we can’t even name a colour even when we see it. Don’t believe me? Ask the Greek. William Gladstone, who was a British Prime Minister back in the 1800s did an extensive research of The Odyssey and The Iliad to map all the colours mention in it and he discovered that the colour blue was never mentioned. The Greek barely saw colours and described the world around them mainly in black and white (and a little red). It’s not like they didn’t had the capability of seeing the colour blue – our eyes was able to see it for millions of years, but they couldn’t see it. This is not unique to the Greek – Lazarus Geiger, a Jewish German philosopher in the 19th century did a research across all cultures and he discovered that the colour blue appeared last in all of them. The order of colour appearance in cultures was black and white, then red, then blue at the end. For more on the subject I highly recommend listening to the RadioLab podcast called “Why isn’t the sky blue?“.
This makes the ancient philosophical question “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” a real life related question – If a blue is here yet if no one saw it for thousands of years it did it even existed? The answer will be both yes and no – it was, but no one experienced it, so it wasn’t.
Osho told a story in one of his seminars about a childhood experience. He used to go to the river when it was an early morning hour. When he came back home his mother would ask him what he did he would answer “nothing”, and she would get upset because she would say to him that he must have been doing something. As Osho explained, both of them were right. Sure, he was washing in the river, swimming in it, and watching it. But the experience was much bigger than just specific elements in it. As he said:
“Even in ordinary life you feel the futility of words. And if you don’t feel the futility of words, that shows that you have not been alive at all; that shows that you have lived very superficially. If whatsoever you have been living can be conveyed by words that means you have not lived at all.”
(Osho – “Tantra, the supreme understanding”)
Life, my beloved friends, is literally what we make them to be.
Let us dig deeper into this “thing” that is responsible for our blindness and our ability to experience – the mind.
A Sense of Mind
In my previous post I suggested that we first need to develop a sense of information security in order to have information security awareness. We tend to sub-categorise a lot of the mind activities to what we call “senses” such as sense of fear, duty, honour, pain, even truth, and we don’t see the mind as a sense which contradict the Buddhist view. In this section we will look at why such approach make sense.
A lot of people assume senses are all about the brain. This is partially true, because we feel our senses, and feeling rely on our emotions. According to the view of neuroscientists, feelings are crucial element in our ability to reach decisions, and they are formed upon our emotions which are a neurological reactions. So in order to define an information security sense we need to create a feeling for information security, and in order to do that we might wish to map the emotions that are flowing in us. I used the word “emotions” and I can see my information security geek community running away like it was a plague. We? train people about their emotions? Mummy!!!!
Desolation? You Betcha!
(For more on the connection you can read an interview with Antonio Damasio from 2005 called “Feeling our emotions”.)
However creating a map between emotions and feelings is not as straight forward as we would like to believe. To assume senses are solely a brain activity is a very simplified and inaccurate view. Take for example the sense of fear, which is very primordial sense: when we experience it we feel it in our body, and a brain scan (fMRI) of a person was being exposed to images or sounds that will ignite the fear will show different areas in the brain that “light up” during the experience (best known area is the amygdala). This might lead a person to assume that by looking into brain activity we can clearly define certain mind activities. This is wrong due to many reasons, here are only few:
First of all, the brain has a unique plasticity which means it re-organise and reshape all the time, even creates new neurons. This means that one person might have a very different “brain activity signature” for a sense than another person. This is not only true for complex social senses but true for “normal” senses. Blind people, for example, use large part of their brain which is used for visual signal processing and assign it to other senses such as smell, taste, and hear.
Second, the communication between neurons which sends connector to each other (AKA axons) is very dependent on the signal travelling on time between them. To do that the brain is covering the axons with a layer called Myelin. After years of focusing on Neurons scientist now look at this process and discover it has huge impact, and yet fMRI will not show that. Other technologies do, but integration of analysis is not full at this point (and we are far from it).
Third, Neurons also send messages to themselves, processing signals between different receptors, which is very hard to observe using current technologies.
Forth – memory – where is it? Memory is being used in all senses, and even though some areas are known to be “popping up” on the fMRI screens when a memory recall is being done this does not explain the way the memory works. I’ve seen research that shown that memory is a quantum phenomenon, and to anyone who knows anything about quantum physics this is enough to throw away everything and give up because … well, that’s a subject of a much longer article :)
Last but not least mind-oriented senses are relate to many elements in the way we perceive reality, thus harder to “pinpoint”. A “sense of honour” for example will relate to society code – good luck trying to find out via fMRI scan which part of the brain is “responsible” for that.
I just wanted to share with you the understanding that the more you “dive” into the subject of brain and mind you realise that it is sooooooooo complicated that trying to look at this piece of technology and say “I got it” will be like a stone-age human will look at an iPhone and say “I got it”.
Senses are a result of who we are. This is why I find it crucial to associate senses to the mind rather than the brain.
If you’re still not convince with the above think about pain. One person can experience the same stimulus to pain in a radically different way than another person, even an identically twin sibling. I rest my case.
Why should we gather all of the mind related senses to one sense and consider it as one sense? Because we already do it for even simpler senses. Take for example the sense of taste which can be divided into different categories of tastes that are capable of identifying. It has a “sub-sense of taste” which is a sense of bitterness; we even say “I sense bitterness is his words”, and even though we can identify bitterness and we can sense it, we see it as part of our sense of taste.
To conclude – information security is sense which is part of another “meta-sense” which is the mind, which is based on feelings, which are based on emotions.
Are we getting somewhere? You will have to wait till the next article to find out :)
See you soon
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