When we reach the atomized state of consciousness, perception takes on a high-definition, ultra-massive appearance, as if the space between spaces has multiplied and become dense. Each sound in the music becomes distinct and separate, allowing one to hear the rich complexity of auditory dances, moving like a cognitive machine in the temporal ocean of qualia.
There is an important concept that we shall term cognitive atomization that can help to explain a more clarified picture of what Thought Scripts was arguing for, what the neural annealing model by Qualia Research Institute argues for, and what Cahart-Harris’ REBUS anarchic brain paper touches on. This concept seems to be a mechanism that is mediated by NMDAr and has implications for all of the functions that associate with NMDAr alterations, including psychedelic drugs, 5HT2a receptors, NMDAr antagonists and agonists, learning, dynorphin, temporal memory, illusion immunity and psychosis.
First, it is important to describe what atomization is.
Consider the brain to use associative networks of neurons that fire together in ways that generate a model of reality, a consciousness.
In the atomized state, the information in consciousness becomes more numerous, divided, and complex, as opposed to symbolic, integrated, and simplified. A box becomes separate lines that collaborate to generate the appearance of a box, the lines becomes separate individual points forming lines, which continue to form the box. The word ‘atom’ becomes a series of letters, a, t, o, m. Throughout this essay, the terms atomization and integration will be used as oppositions.
To process the increasingly atomized experience of reality, one must have a great cognitive capacity, especially working memory, which will need to be able to juggle all of the numerous information points. Those who cannot manage the information will form a picture of reality that is not inclusive of important information, thus being a distorted picture of reality. In fact, we all live in distorted pictures of reality, but there is at least a level of cognitive integration that we consider to be base-reality that is up to the standards of society and useful for communicating life in the ways that track with other people’s reality. We consider the distortions of this base-reality to be socially acceptable, arbitrary, worthy of dismissal, or we collectively don’t even recognize any errors. If we were to meet an omniscient creature, our errors would be plenty and our models of the mechanics of the universe would be undoubtedly fully psychotic. This touches on The Interface Theory of Perception, which essentially claims that we did not evolve our perception to be accurate, but instead we evolved towards fitness payoffs, which are often better when our models of the external world are inaccurate.
You could imagine that
5 + 7 = 12
could be atomized into
1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 = 12
Despite both math problems resulting in the same value, the atomized one is such a working memory load that it seems very stressful in comparison to the integrated number problem. The extreme difficulty occurs even though 1 is such a small number and should theoretically be easy to work with, simply because it contains too many cognitive objects to juggle. Associating five of the 1s into the symbol 5 makes solving the problem easier, 5 being a higher-order object in this example.
In the cognitive atomization model, the integrated state makes room for more numerous working memory objects by abstracting and symbolizing cognitive objects and reducing their load on working memory capacity. A car becomes a single entity, rather than all of its component sub parts. This is similar to the mnemonic tool known as chunking, in which we can actively associate information into packages to make them easier to manage. This functions to reduce working memory load and make it easier to deal with larger amounts of information. Atomization is essentially chunk failure or chunk reversal.
Before we continue, we must establish a mechanism so that the other concepts can be associated to cognitive atomization.
This model is based on the idea that NMDAr can function as coincidence detection and as an associative learning mechanism, as well as being involved in learning and memory generally. NMDArs are also involved in working memory, presumably as an associative chunking mechanism that helps to reduce the stress on working memory by organizing and simplifying information into simpler packages. One could imagine that coincident neuron activation binds neural activity together to become associative cognitive objects of a sort. A word can exist as a single entity rather than a conglomeration of the letters it is comprised of. Integration here refers to the binding of these neural coincidences while atomization refers to a disruption of prior associations and dissolving of coincidences.
How coincidence may work: Neurons firing with NMDAr will have longer lasting on-states (than AMPAr) which allow simultaneous firing of neurons to become associated. This idea is more fully explored in Flicker, which essentially describes how the strobing effects of cannabis and anesthetics that block NMDAr are inducing temporal atomization, a kind of frame-by-frame dissection of one’s experience of reality, as if under a strobe-light or in a stop-motion animation.
NMDAr antagonists can be considered atomizers in this model. By disrupting formed associations and prior coincidences, the higher-order objects are split into pieces. These drugs are considered to be a model for psychosis in the glutamate theory of schizophrenia. At some point in atomization, cognitive capacity is reduced by being DDOSed by the flood of information that occurs with atomizing qualia. NMDAr antagonists have even been shown to lower IQ for children. Another study found similar results.
NMDAr antagonists are colloquially known as dissociative drugs. This is a very fitting title for the concept of association and coincidence reversing drugs.
NMDAr antagonists lead to a loss of cortical communication and the brain’s ability to integrate information, a paper from sciencemag discusses. There is a study that explored how NMDAr antagonists alter brain activity and found that cortical islands appear in response to external stimuli while much other brain communication is halted.
The organization of neurons that fire through NMDAr will begin with the highest order associative cognitive objects that are comprised of atomic parts because the higher order objects will be first in line for to utilize so that the brain isn’t processing all of the atomic subcomponents of objects unless necessary. So, presumably, if blood is transporting the consumed drugs towards prioritized brain areas, the prioritized NMDA receptors will be blocked first and the higher-order objects that correlate to these neuron networks will be lost first while the atomic bits that make up the object remain intact. As if the word “atom” was tuned out but you still perceive the organized series of letters “a-t-o-m”. It’s important to note that this process will be undoubtedly incredibly complex. For example, we perceive the word ‘atom’ both as a word and as the letters it’s comprised of. But while we read, we do not usually stop to recognize and check each letter, instead we quickly identify the familiar word and move on.
Typo illusions revealing this pattern have circulated pop-culture as shown below.
This exposes that our word detection is on some separate cognitive layer than simply spelling out each word. We are able to recognize what word should be there. We are not fooled by simple errors and typos. If we dose ourselves with the atomizing drugs, we may expect to forget what words mean at lower doses than we forget the alphabet. Words are inherently higher on the hierarchy than the sub-symbols they are made of. Again, this is likely much more complicated than a simple organized hierarchy.
Increasing doses of amnesiac NMDAr blocking drugs would be expected to eventually reach a point of intoxication where one forgets who they are, an ego death of sorts. It would be very unintuitive to expect low doses of these drugs to produce a total amnesia for one’s identity or even that one is human, while retaining memories of the information they learned in class last week in vivid detail. It is clear that there is some hierarchy of memories and structure to what knowledge we have. This is most apparent with information that is essentially a precursor to higher-order information, for example words and letters. The order of less related information is likely based on frequency of information usage, a kind of priority of information based on the relevance to a person’s daily experience.
If we consider looking at a new word, we may recognize certain patterns such as root words, prefixes, and suffixes. This linguistic anatomy could be applied as a metaphor to our visual perception. Many visual objects contain perceptual prefixes, suffixes and root words. Elements of visual experience such as the corner of a room being comprised as an intersection of three lines would be a sort of sub-object memory, a perceptual prefix of sorts.
The endogenous functions of atomization may be many. It could serve to separate information into particulate components, disrupt learned associative patterns, and numerate information from abstractions to increase our reality-model’s resolution when one is more capable of utilizing the extra information. The functions of integration would be to aide in smoother navigation of reality by reducing the extraneous information, caching predictive perceptual events, caching recognized object patterns, and forming a pre-scripted predictive model that reduces the amount of processing behind perceptual and cognitive information, ultimately enhancing functional cognitive capacities through information compression.
Cognitive atomization may also function to widen observational ability by disrupting tunnel vision. The cognitive atomization of perception may at first bring one closer to HD vision. On the contrary, in the pre-atomized and integrated state everything is kind of phased into the background, an auto-pilot perception, as information is set to ignore and filter. This expansion and HD perception may be one of the roles of 5HT2a receptors. In the event of novelty, these receptors may stimulate and produce enhanced glutamate release that may essentially widen consciousness, a state of proesthesia. This is opposite of anesthesia, in which glutamate blocking drugs dissolve consciousness. The brain may toggle these higher consciousness proesthetic states when it can be afforded based on energy consumption and stress levels.
Another situation in which cognitive atomization may prove beneficial is when in the presence of unfamiliarity. In experiences of novelty, it is appropriate to try to integrate the new information into prior models of reality. New occurrences may trigger atomization, so that one can effectively dissect the new and the old in a way that splices both together to form a new reality. In reference to neural annealing, the melting of the old world view may make it easier for new information to integrate. This is supported by the role of 5HT2a receptors in learning. More on this in the psychedelia section.
Another function of cognitive atomization is as an emergency utility in the case of possible brain damage to cut the spread of excitotoxic neural storms. Consider seizures. During seizure, there is a storm of glutamate that excites many neurons and this triggers a release of dynorphin which functions as a mechanism to stop the seizure by blocking the glutamate NMDAr. High NMDAr density is linked with seizure proneness, although sometimes very low density is also paradoxically linked as well. Normally, associative connections that comprise an integrated experience may aide to bridge neural signals much quicker but this increased interconnectedness may lead to faster spread of seizure activity as a downside.
During scenarios that can produce brain damage, such as hypoxia or ischemia, many protective factors may be induced. Agmatine, dynorphin, and possibly DMT may release in order to diffuse neural networks in the brain and atomize signals so that the damage is contained and the spread is ceased through the shutting down of neural networks. NMDAr antagonists have been shown to prevent fear extinction and be neuroprotective during strokes, both implying that the memories can be preserved by shutting them off during neurotoxic catastrophes. NMDAr antagonists have also been shown to excaserbate excitotoxicity paradoxically, like with seizures, probably due to NMDAr antagonists’ negative impact on GABA, decreasing the inhibitory signals and actually increasing glutamate activity.
Cognitive atomization may noisify the spreading damage so that instead of losing specific organized information, it may be scattered damages, which is probably easier to recover from. For example, forgetting how to move your left leg is much worse than forgetting specific random motions of small muscles in your leg. Dissolving higher order objects could protect the organization patterns of cognitive information so that when they come back online, the patterns make re-learning lost information very easy. You could imagine that if we expected that 100 people will be lost in a tragic event, the impact on a society could be worse if an entire specific branch of people were eliminated. For example, if all doctors were eliminated then perhaps a diseased society would collapse rapidly. But if the 100 people who are eliminated come from random branches of various parts of society, the situation may be more manageable.
In the case of endogenous psychedelia, the function of cognitive atomization may be to expand consciousness during higher energy states, such as increased carbohydrate consumption, assuming that atomized states are very costly states. Depending on the level of bodily energy available, serotonin may increase and atomize cognitive information to increase the perceptual resolution towards high definition, to a degree that appropriately fits with the energy capacity available. There is evidence of this in serotonin’s role on insulin excretion, serotonin’s synthesis being mediated by carbohydrate consumption, the role of serotonin in hunger and energy homeostasis, and the effects of serotonin at 5HT2ar which are likely increasingly relevant as serotonin levels in the body rise. There are obvious fitness benefits to being more perceptive of atomized details when it comes to peer competition (and maybe survival), but the costs of being perceptive when one cannot juggle the increase of information is dangerous, as it increases the error rate.
This is very similar to the classic psychological concept known as low latent inhibition (LLI). LLI is the idea that one begins to reduce their filtering of information from the environment. It is thought that LLI could enhance creativity if one is intelligent, but increase the risk of psychosis otherwise. ADHD and distractibility has been associated to LLI as well, but it might be the stimulant drugs used in ADHD that lower LI, presumably through D2 dopamine receptors, which diminish NMDAr, are linked to psychosis, and are implicated in the effects of psychedelics as well. Rather than considering intelligence to be a mediating factor, it may be posited that energy levels determine one’s ability to manage the extra information, where serotonin may expand energy to more neurons which accelerates the rate of energy expenditure. Dynorphin may be the low energy atomization state, or low energy LLI state, which will be explained in the psychosis section. For now, let’s continue on with psychedelia.
5HT2ar is especially critical for the effects of psychedelics, which are often described as consciousness expanding. This expansion may be a combination of cognitive atomization that ramps up the level of detail in conscious awareness and the increase in glutamate release, allowing more neurons to be active. These two together may both boost detail and the capacity to handle detail, resulting in the cliché consciousness-expansion of the psychedelic experience or as I’ve previously termed it, a state of proesthesia.
Psychedelics have been shown to have both NMDAr enhancing (a second study) and NMDAr attenuating effects, seemingly functioning as a kind of indirect NMDAr partial agonist, which means both agonizing and antagonizing properties depending on the dose. These effects are associated to the 5HT2ar mechanism of psychedelics.
Thus, it is possible that psychedelics sometimes function as integration facilitators as well. A kind of re-integration state, allowing one to atomize integrated objects into smaller pieces and re-organize them through gestalt reconceptualization. This seems apparent with the partial agonist psychedelics, which increase glutamate release and appear to sometimes atomize but also allow enhanced formation of perceptions and concepts. The concept of psychedelics as integration facilitators is supported by their ability to enhance associative learning.
Figure 1: Integrated dot-dog
If we consider the atomization of the math problem shown previously, 5 + 7, you could imagine that gestalt reassessment would allow one to reconceptualize the problem in many ways, as long as it still has the same meaning and value, 12 in this case. One could atomize the math problem into a series of twelve ones and then form new higher order objects such as 10 + 2. It is as if one’s perspective on the problem has shifted.
This can be applied as a metaphor to one’s own perception and model of the world. As long as the outcome still represents the sum of information that is incoming from the external world, it can be repackaged into different symbolic abstract interpretations. It is worth noting that the number 5, does not truly exist in nature. In reality, everything is more like a series of ones. We simply use these numerical symbols to make solving the problem easier for the limitations of our cognition. This is also true of the external world. Objects in the external world do not really exist as separate entities from each other but rather, there are a series of literal atoms that are interacting with each other on a microscopic basis and we have formed abstract, cartoony models to represent this atomized world into digestible symbolic representations.
Tip: You can change the direction of rotation with your mind.
To reform one’s perspective on life using psychedelics seems to be about atomizing and then reconstructing novel higher order conceptualizations of the world. Perhaps the neural annealing concept posited by the Qualia Research Institute and the REBUS model presented by Carhart-Harris are both about a kind of atomic flexibility state.
We are born in an atomized state, in a sense. There is a lot about the world and our senses that we have not yet integrated. The goal of our development is to then build cognitive structures that help us organize the noisy information universe we are presented with into clumps of meaning that give us the ability to navigate and control our world. The psychedelia of childhood may prevent an overly static and integrated perspective, specifically because the child is far too naïve to make any permanent conclusions about their world. For example, consider how object permanence has not yet been realized by children. If they became too fixed and conclusive about their perceptions of the world, they would not even make it to the point in which they have realized that objects still exist when one cannot see them. In support of the psychedelic childhood hypothesis, MDMA seems to turn on the childhood critical period for social-reward learning.
I’ve argued that stress and trauma are anti-psychedelic and shut down learning capacity in ways that may explain autism and schizophrenia in Trauma Traps. Stress may quicken one’s tendency towards an integrated state, an Adultified state, because it leads to an increased capacity for performance in the stressful world. It may make working memory tasks easier by reducing the load and excess information for example. This also fits with the previously mentioned study that showed anesthesia reduces IQ in children.
Speaking of schizophrenia, learning, and object permanence:
Psychosis and Illusion Immunity
Illusions can be understood as cached cognitive objects, motions, and patterns of perception. Utilizing our language metaphor from earlier, illusions are comprised of perceptual suffixes, prefixes, and roots. They are higher-order perceptions. It’s arguable that recognized objects could be defined as illusions. The bounds of objects are functionally useful but also there aren’t actual bounds in the external universe, these are simply cognitive tools for us to exploit our environment. Instead, reality consist of a pool of atoms that interact with each other in ways that produce patterns we can learn from and form abstractions for as a cognitive utility. Illusions are an effect of perceptual memory, of learned reflexive cognitive responses to repeating stimuli.
To aide in understanding this, we will utilize the most tangible illusion, the inverted mask illusion. This is an illusion in which we see a forward facing mask, even when it is inverted because we are repetitiously exposed to forward-facing faces. This can be likened to a visual prefix. It is such a consistent pattern in our daily reality that it has been reinforced strongly and our NMDA receptors have cached this response so that we do not have to figure out what we are seeing each time. Analyzing every detail of our visual experience without this sort of memory would slow down our performance in basic tasks as sensory overload sets in.
This is interesting because those with psychotic disorders and cannabis users have both been shown to have immunity to this illusion and others. Individuals with autism also seem to have diminished illusions. It may be that they are experiencing an atomized state that allows them to see the turning mask more accurately than neurotypical people.
This is in contrast to psychedelics, which seem to accelerate illusion formation and integration. Consider the commonly noted breathing and melting of objects that people report on psychedelics. They are very similar to the motion after-effect, which requires you to stare at a repeating stimuli and essentially ‘learn’ the motion pattern which then lingers onto objects after you stop looking at the motion pattern.
The psychedelics may simply make illusions such as this form much quicker.
This fits with my argument that psychedelics treat schizophrenia, increase intelligence, and fits within the dynorphin hypothesis of schizophrenia, which suggests that schizophrenia is an anti-psychedelic issue. Psychedelics may enhance the rate of learning, of integration, so that illusions are formed faster.
Those with psychotic disorders would may score lower in cognitive performance partly due to working memory being overloaded by atomized information. So much so that the individual begins to experience a high error rate that is very apparent for outsiders to observe. Humans may normally be making constant cognitive errors, but at least in a way that no one else notices much. We may view the schizophrenic as having obvious holes in their reasoning but unable to detect it within other neurotypicals because it goes over our heads, much like the errors went over the schizophrenic’s head.
I’ve used echoes to explain a kind of atomization in the past. When we are in a room, the sounds we hear reverberate the walls but we associate these sounds with the source and filter them in ways that aren’t distracting. In the atomized state, the echoes may seem to be distinct sounds rather than integrated with their source sounds. If one is constantly experiencing echoes as distinct, one may lose track of what they are hearing. We may not recognize that we are hearing echoes, but instead wonder if they are voices or other strange sounds. This seems to occur on both psychedelics and cannabis. Once we reach a point in which we do not have the capacity to keep track of all the information, we may begin to produce erroneous perceptions, such as hearing whispers in the flowing water that fountains down from a faucet.
Considering the typo illusion from the beginning, we may be able to test whether schizophrenics are less able to read such passages of text. Presumably they would be less able to, also being less able to communicate in general as the difficulty increases in correspondence with how atomized one is. There seems to be a tendency where one can become anxious or traumatized and have decreased capacity to communicate that some of you may be able to relate to. There were times when I was using Adderall for a few months when the stress of classes combined with the drug lead to a state in which it was almost impossible for me to read sometimes. I would re-read passages over and over with little comprehension. The words almost seemed dissociated from their meanings. I could read them and understand the sounds they make, but not understand any of the words’ meanings.
Those who are psychotic may be trying to reintegrate higher order perceptions that have been atomized due to extreme stress and trauma. Usually a schizophrenic lives an extremely stressful existence, involving social defeat, prior traumas, ongoing stigmas, fear of losing one’s mind, and a generally enhanced tendency to fear and stress in general. I’ve argued this in Dynorphin Theory and Delusion. Dynorphin theory is an extensive literature review with tons of sources, if you are curious to see the science behind the argument.
It’s important to note that the schizophrenic is observing a more accurate envisioning of the rotating mask because of the atomizing effect, which suggests there are trade-offs and benefits, possibly ones that we are not able to observe. Many cannabis users enjoy the psychotic intoxication of the drug, even some claiming that it raises consciousness like psychedelics.
This brings us to,
The subjective experience of atomization can produce many fascinating experiences. Cannabis has been the most impactful and strange in this regard. The effect of cannabis seems to be atomization that allows one to taste your emotions with the complexity of music, before you flattened them into some kind of 1 dimensional axis. The drug allows one to return to a more atomized state, like the child before it has learned about the world.
Part of this effect almost seems like age-reversal, even to the point that I’ve experienced vividly similar states of mind that were a distinct prior age, even having the same anxieties that ruminated in my mind on a daily basis during those time periods. Worries like “I have to wake up early to get to class on time”, despite these worries being contextually irrelevant. I’ve experienced reversions to my 20 year old mindspace on cannabis, where it induced urges to get on time to a college course that I wasn’t in anymore. It brought back the kind of cyclical mindset of that time period of my life. I’m still processing the implications of this experience though. It wasn’t pleasant as I got terrified I would be stuck back in the past.
These experiences always kind of scared me, reminding me of Dissociative Identity Disorder where some people experienced possession by different personalities with entirely separate sets of memories and ages. I’ve explored dissociation, death, and a hierarchy of memories in Necropsychology where I argue that these concepts can help to explain how our lives flash before our eyes when we die. It seems that there could be an organization to our memories, a hierarchy of age-correlated sets of memories, behavioral habit loops, and the patterns of thinking that guided our life in daily cycles from the past. The blocking of the current set of your life situation context and frame of mind by NMDAr antagonism may reboot the prior layers as the extra glutamate activity finds itself binding to previously highly relevant neural patterns. It would be interesting if there is a kind of recovery mode that can occur with psychotic states in which one returns to previous back-up states like you might with a computer or mobile device.
There is an effect that can occur on cannabis that we will term conceptual dissection. This effect is particular useful for critically analyzing the state of the world, as it diminishes the sense of familiarity with known concepts, making one see things for what they are as opposed to processing them through a filter of ignoring what they really are. To give an example, here is a passage I wrote describing a person taking out the trash:
The electrical impulses that were guided by my vision and nose altered my motivational directives by producing a sense of dysphoria that consumed over 20% of my conscious experience, something that I found very distracting and unnecessary. In order to reduce the negative impacts, I decided that the stimuli simply must be dealt with. So I proceeded to grab the plastic encased disposition contraption and used my bipedal skills to maneuver through a chaotic and confusing terrain. As I was ever closer to the flip-box in which we fill with stretchy containers like a matryoshka doll, it became apparent that an obstacle flip device required me to twirl its de-locking contraptions or else the nasty rotting organic material would send signals of dysphoria through my face holes for the next hours. After passing through the gateway outside of my living flip-box, I opened the smaller flip-box that our bipedal cultural relatives have decided is a desirable place to place the stretchy inorganic sacks of organic material, a kind of strange opposition, a fight, between the human made rot-traps and the undigested trash material that we house in the outdoor flip-box on the side of my living flip-box.
Humans are great for inventing flip boxes.
In psychological research there has been tests of creativity in which one is expected to utilize familiar objects in novel ways, which is thought to require one to diminish the fixed sense of object-function or object-rules. Atomization may allow one to dissect objects in a way that one can build new functions based on the atomic rules of the object, rather than the integrated and inflexible rules of the object.
On cannabis, colors seem to become distinct, sometimes where a shadow is no longer a dimmer version of the objects color, but an entirely separate color. This can sometimes appear as if there are more complex colors occurring, as the previously integrated object-colors are separating into distinct colors. This is like a breaking of the shade illusion, which you can observe in the gif below.
Another pop-cultural example of the colorification form of atomization is the dress shade illusion:
In this illusion, the dress can look like a gold and white dress that is in low light or a black and blue dress in the light. Under the effects of the atomizing drugs like cannabis, you’ll begin to notice that shadows appear as a difference in color, rather than a consistency of color that is in a shade context.
In a similar way, reflections can often begin to appear 3-dimensional as if there is a room behind the reflective surface. Normally, our brain seems to filter reflections in a way that we sense the surface as flat to some degree. I’ve noticed this while gazing into the reflections of sunglasses which produced such a strange feeling of dimensionality and space that was unexpected.
This photo may at first disorient you because of it being upside down. Since we are not used to observing reflections from water this way it seems to initially produce strange perceptual effects.
The effects of cannabis and other hallucinogenic drugs has been explored in Flicker. Check this out if you like these kind of effect analyses.
The concept of atomization can fit into much more, but for the sake of digestible content I will leave it at this. Looking at various endogenous mechanisms that suppress NMDAr activity may reveal many other functions that atomization provides. For example, the D2-like dopamine receptors modulate NMDAr and atomization may play a role in behavior and decision-making. This may dissolve decision-making priors, removing the conclusiveness and stubbornness of behavioral responses to familiar environmental content, in a way that aides in development of new behaviors in response to new situations, without old behaviors compulsively dominating choice-making urges.
The highest state of atomization may be essentially white noise. There is a spectrum from noise to meaning, from atomization to integration. Atomization reaches noise due to the cognitive failure to form meaning. Even though it is the highest level of information, it is incomprehensible information, it is chaos. Atomization represents an abandonment of meaning, sometimes for the sake of replacing meaning with something new.
Special thanks to the two patrons, Abhishaike Mahajan and Charles Wright! Abhi is also the artist who created the cover image for Most Relevant. Please support him on instagram, he is an amazing artist!
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