Brains. Minds. They work off data. They work off information.
I have been fascinated by the mind and brain since I was a child. Partially to understand those around me—but, really, to understand myself: Why do I think what I think? Why do I feel what I feel?
On December 12th, 1999, I came to the United States from Bolivia. I had just spent the past 6 years living with Quechua Indigenous groups along the Andes as my mother studied how young indigenous women represented their identities in the cloths they wove.
I was named after Pablo Zarate, an indigenous caudillo that led Bolivia’s largest indigenous rebellion. A testament to the light and knowledge he wanted to bestow upon society, he took the identity of the Sun, Wilka. I was conceived to be a warrior of justice.
For me, the United States—New York—was difficult. It was different. I was different. My white classmates spoke a foreign language and acted in ways I didn’t understand. They felt similarly of me.
They—I—were each other’s other. They kept to themselves and I to mine. Armed with social analysis by my mother, all I could do was think. Why was it so hard? Why was I so lonely? Why was I so sad? What was sadness, anyway?
As I grew older, I assimilated. But I was always “different”.
Growing up, my mother encouraged me to pursue math. She hoped I’d never struggle for work the way she did. The humanities didn’t have job prospects.
Accidently but intentionally, she ignited a love for math that would guide my exploration of the mind… of my mind.
Recently, I’ve been reading the book, “Andrew’s Brain”. In it, two characters constantly discuss the causes, intentions, and products of what is going on. I suspect that the characters are Andrew… and his brain
My PhD research seeks to understand the computational mechanisms that enable our brains to create a model for the world. All the evidence I’ve collected tells me that this is the key to understanding why and how we use stereotypical representations.
Recently, I spoke with Stereotyping expert Dr. Sekaquaptewa. She told me that in a sense, we all stereotype. We never stop stereotyping. Because we never fully understand the complexity of social beings.
As we experience the world, we—you, I—build a causal model describing it. A model that describes relationships between concepts and predicts how they’ll produce each other. And there are mechanisms we employ to both construct this world and choose our actions based off of it.
The key may not be to stop the formation of stereotypes but instead to understand how they naturally arise in the face of complex learning problems. And to develop principled techniques for stopping them from leading to harmful consequences.
This is what I hope to work towards during my PhD. A unified mathematical framework that both describes how we integrate new information into our model for the world and describes how we use this model to make our choices. My hope is that this can help us devise solutions to the many problems we face as a result of stereotyping and implicit biases.
This is a story that is still being written. A story of our journey to help each other understand ourselves.