Wilka Carvalho
Aspiring Cognitive Scientist

Intellectual Autobiography

Every shock
Every surge
Every shoot
Is a dance

A light show in darkness

And I want to watch
I want to learn

Not mimic your movements
Just understand them
Please let me understand them

How do you transition?
When do you switch partners?
When do you switch lanes?
And the rhythm

It escapes me

Escapes all of us
Try as we have, we have never understood

Some say you follow Ohm’s law.
But that is as much a full answer as Newton’s was

A fourth of all movement covered?
If only ohm’s covered so much

Then I could follow
Then I could learn

Don’t worry
I know you’re not selfish
This dance is for us
To provide us function

So just keep on dancing
Keep on dancing for us

And we will use science
That is its beauty.
That is its point:
A forever expanding bridge

Sure Newton’s laws left gaps,
But just as they’re being filled
Ohm’s will be as well

And science will allow us to learn
Allow us to follow this dance
And understand your beautiful rhythm

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.

Brains. Minds. They work off data. They work off information.

After exploring physics, I found that it didn’t hold the math to solve the questions I cared about.

When a brown boy entered that white classroom in 1999, why was he immediately placed into the category of other? And why did that category membership lead others to treat him differently?

These were questions about how brains parse, integrate, and use information. Questions for computer science.

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.

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

This is a story of Wilka and his brain. A story of how we are becoming increasingly aware of each other. And how we are learning to listen to each other.

In frustration, recently, I wrote my brain a letter.

I want to understand you

but I feel frustrated
because I don’t know how to

but it’s okay
because since you’re a brain
I just need to feed you your data
and you’ll understand yourself

and since you’re within me
if I listen closely, I will as well

This is a story that is still being written. A story of our journey to help each other understand ourselves.