The Bot I Call My Parent

Chapter 4a of Meeting the Voices in My Head and Searching for an Inner Adult

An image of the robot ‘Kismet’, Wikimedia

When we closed the last post, we left me screaming, alone in my crib. Eventually, I learned to accept transitional objects I call security blankets to help me pretend I wasn’t alone. At this stage of my life, they were all I had for an inner adult. There were outer adults, for sure, or I would not have survived. After I learned to use language, I developed the security blanket into a voice that more closely resembled my inner voices of today, a distinct point of view I can I engage with, argue, and wish would go away. The security blanket will become a bot I call my parent.

The transformation of the blanket into a bot began when I acquired language and took in the parental injunctions I wrote about in the last chapter. I took commands like, “Look both ways before crossing the street,” and stored it as word for word recordings that are activated when needed, like when I’m about to cross the street. I have thousands on such recordings playing in my head daily, everything from commands, mottos, pet sayings, and observations to Dad jokes. Some I like, and others I wish I could forget. Many of them I’ve adopted as my own and can only trace their origin to a parent with effort. Occasionally, when my kids were small, one would pop out of my mouth and, burrow its way into my child’s brain without my ever meaning it to.

Eventually, the behavior of the bot begins to resemble what you expect from a person. It’ll pass the Turning Test and act less like an old-fashioned doll that speaks when you pull a string in its back. It’ll be someone you can enter arguments with, in your head. It becomes security blanket 2.0.

This transformation began when I was a baby and needed to predict how my caretakers would act. I did what any good meteorologist would do when she wanted to predict the weather. She’d create a computer model, punch in a few numbers that indicate increased temperature, wind speed, and cloud cover, run the program, and see if your picnic will be rained out. That’s what’s I did inside my mind when I was a child and wanted to know, if I dropped my toy from my highchair, would my mother get it for me.

I based this simulation on my experiences with my mother. I carefully observed her actions and plugged all that data into the program. She already picked up my toys many times for me and got annoyed only occasionally, so I thought it would be safe to try her again.

Today, I have hundreds of these mental models all programmed, corresponding to all the important people who’ve been in my life. If I could meet the voices in my head, I’d find many I recognize. My parents would be there, as would my grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends from school, old bosses, a second-grade teacher, my wife, and the bully who used to tease me. In fact, everyone who’s ever been important to me is represented in my head, and they will be there forever, no matter what I think of them. They’re ready to go when I need them.

Whenever I need to predict how someone would act, what they would say, or even what they think, I fire up a model that resembles them, create a simulation, and see what it tells me.

For instance, if I thought about climbing on the counter to the cookie jar and swiping a cookie, I needed to know whether my mother would smile, yell, or beat me with a leather strap. I constructed an imaginary character I called my mother, based on my mother. The more accurate a representation of her it was, the more useful this construct would be. This Simulated Mother is not my mother, it’s a model of my mother; but, if I was a good observer, it would be a reasonably accurate model.

I had to give this simulation free will in the same way that you might program a computer to make its own decisions based on preordained factors. It became a kind of robot which could operate on its own, without too much input after it was constructed. It would do me no good to hand a script to my Bot Mother and tell it how to respond when I swipe a cookie; I needed to know how it would respond, according to the model, so it could tell me how my real mother would. This is why all these simulations seem to have a will of their own. We gave it to them, so their behavior can be like the free will behavior of actual people.

Next Part: Are My Simulated Parents My Inner Adults?

Published by Keith R Wilson

I'm a licensed mental health counselor and certified alcohol and substance abuse counselor in private practice with more than 30 years experience. My newest book is The Road to Reconciliation: A Comprehensive Guide to Peace When Relationships Go Bad. I recently published a workbook connected to it titled, How to Make an Apology You’ll Never Have to Make Again. I also have another self help book, Constructive Conflict: Building Something Good Out of All Those Arguments. I’ve also published two novels, a satire of the mental health field: Fate’s Janitors: Mopping Up Madness at a Mental Health Clinic, and Intersections , which takes readers on a road trip with a suicidal therapist. If you prefer your reading in easily digestible bits, with or without with pictures, I have created a Twitter account @theshrinkslinks. MyFacebook page is called Keith R Wilson – Author.

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