Context Switching

Posted on November 26th, 2017

What is context in the first place, and thus a context switch? One way of looking at context is being composed of:

  1. A current state
  2. Possibly some past states
  3. A mode of operation

For example, let’s say my current mental context is writing this post. My current state is the thoughts I have in my mind on the topic of context switching. My past state is perhaps the last five minutes of thoughts on the matter.

Most importantly, I’m operating in a certain “mode”. This is a different mode from say having a discussion with someone, or running long distance. By mode, I suppose I mean a way of thinking, with associated emphasis on certain thought patterns. This deserves a separate analysis.

It’s worth noting that some modes may be closer than others. For example, my current state of autonomous focus is likely more similar to long distance running than having a discussion, although there are certainly elements of both.

A context switch is then to transition the mind’s gaze to a different state, resetting or resuming a separate historical context or train of thought. This brings us to the core topic: how context switching may relate to rapid mental malleability. By mental malleability in this case, I mean the ability to rapidly interact with a scenario with limited prejudice from other scenarios.

By breaking down the notion of “context”, or “scenario”, prejudice in our lens means confounding (1) states, (2) history, and (3) mode of operation. Thus if I were to start having a discussion with someone right now, especially about a different topic, I’d have to store my current mental state writing this post, to resume later. It would probably not be a perfect process. Most likely, I’d also forget my historical train of thought herein, to some extent. But, in my opinion, most importantly, I’d bring over the baggage of my “blog” way of thinking to the discussion. Indeed, the distortion goes both ways. It’s very possible the conversation, consciously or otherwise, gets biased towards the exposition of some topic. Conversely, when I return to writing, my prose may become more colloquial.

Presumably with practice and effort, one can get better at jumping around mentally with less distortion and baggage. I imagine this skill can be generalised to all situations, where a fresh state of mind can mean the perception and processing of true reality within the context, as opposed to ones from the past.