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Life & Philosophy Psychology Science

Information is the sum of parts

The brain is just a collection of tangled wires with neuron connectivity levels. We call its output ‘information’ because we need some way of describing chemical synchronicity.

The computer works the same way.

On the inside, it’s a collection of chips and wires with various voltage levels. What we see on screen is what we label as information.

Information is the same name we give to brain chemicals and computer voltage to describe the organized chaos.

The squalor is why it works.

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Science Tech

Dancing with the algorithms

Dancing with the algorithms, yielding results random but time-saving. How else are we to discover all these gems in a sea of content?

From Spotify to Gmail, we accept the recommendations to curate and speak for us. Playlists generate themselves, email answers itself.

Predictive life is human, stung with errors.

The computers and their code are often over their heads, impractical and sometimes stupid.

But in combination with human neurons, the computer gets closer to the truth: that we just need help deciding.

What appears random at first is the marriage of a happy accident.

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Creativity Science

The benefits of spacing out

Our mind never turns off. Even when we’re doing nothing, the brain is always active, processing, remixing, and imagining in what neuroscientist Marcus Raichle calls a ‘default mode network.’

Writes Manoush Zomorodi in “What Boredom Does to You:”

The default mode, a term also coined by Raichle, is used to describe the brain “at rest”; that is, when we’re not focused on an external, goal-oriented task. So, contrary to the popular view, when we space out, our minds aren’t switched off.

Boredom prompts daydreaming. When we let our mind wander, we’re giving it permission to chew on past, present, and future events; all real, imaginary, or blended.

It turns out that in the default mode, we’re still tapping about 95 percent of the energy we use when our brains are engaged in hardcore, focused thinking. Despite being in an inattentive state, our brains are still doing a remarkable amount of work.

Mulling over possibilities makes ‘boredom an incubator lab for brilliance.’ There is no reason to rush to a stimulation of dopamine when creativity begs us to take our time and let the hard egg boil into ‘the winning equation or formula.’

We suffer from closeupness which is often disguised as mindlessness. Some of our best thinking happens when we think we’re not thinking at all, instead of disconnecting to the spontaneity of mind-wandering.

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Psychology Tech

A brain without a body

Artificial intelligence is like a brain without a body. Instead of billions of neurons, computers contain bits and bytes of varying voltage levels so it can do stuff like provide directions or beat humans at chess.

Deep Blue beat Kasparov not by matching his insight and intuition but by overwhelming him with blind calculation. Thanks to years of exponential gains in processing speed, combined with steady improvements in the efficiency of search algorithms, the computer was able to comb through enough possible moves in a short enough time to outduel the champion.

Machines have faster processors. Even the most effective Ritalin in the world would leave a person at a loss. Yet, AI is a factory of nothingness without human programming. It is ‘competent without comprehension,’ although the human mind often falls guilty to automatic pilot.

The future superhuman will no doubt combine the two to make a cyborg.  We’re a brain chip away from the computer-powered brain, scampering closer to a new culture of memes galore.

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Life & Philosophy Psychology

Oliver Sacks: Self-experiments in chemistry

EEC7EA9E-1D59-4579-8CB6-1628AC38382D.jpg
Image by Wells Baum

“Somehow I got off at the right bus stop and onto the train, even though everything now was in motion, whirling vertiginously, tilting and even turning upside down.”

— Oliver Sacks, Altered States: Self-experiments in chemistry

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Life & Philosophy Science

Hardware of the head


The phone is negentropic; it gets better through software. Similarly, the human head carries a brain that improves over time.

Scientists have shown again and again that the mind, like a piece of software, is elastic. We are the sum of a hundred billion neurons that strengthen through knowledge and experience. Our skull evolves within a gooey flesh.

But there has to be a cap on human acuity, surely. At some point, exponents can’t go any further. We can’t get any smarter, nor pinpoint the largest number which is infinity and beyond. Even “Moore’s Law peters out, “as microchip components reach the atomic scale and conventional lithography falters,” says computer scientist Scott Aaronson.

The chances of maxing out our neurons or counting to the last number are just as slim as downloading the entire internet; it’s an impossibility, no matter how much time, cloud space or algorithms try to lead us there.

So we remain, fulfilled but never finished, searching beyond the robot and frazzled by immensity.

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Life & Philosophy Science

‘Competence without comprehension’

We are skilled without even thinking — what Thomas H. Huxley in 1874 called ‘conscious automata’ and what American philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett calls, ‘competence without comprehension’ in his new book From Bacteria to Bach: The Evolution of Minds.

Automatic pilot comes handy when we’re doing things like driving a car or reading. We need to master these things before we can do more advanced activities, like race car driving or writing.

Instead, what happens in repetitive tasks is that we forget how to feel the process. We become pre-programmed robots trained to execute learned habits.

Technology, and more specifically, artificial intelligence and Google encourage non-thinking behavior.  We suspend our cognitive wiring to appease our ignorance with a click of a button. The will to learn loses out to screen pecking. As Herbert Simon once wrote, “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

So if God gave us brains, why don’t we use these thinking tools to do more than share ‘memes?’

Categories
Arts Psychology Science

Hidden proof

Santiago Ramón y Cajal (via The New York Times)

More than a hundred years ago, the father of modern neuroscience, Santiago Ramón y Cajal demonstrated that information is the output of messy internal wiring provided by the brain’s chemical synchronicity. He used his trained skills as an artist to illustrate the neuron doctrine.

Images via Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramon y Cajal

He called the connection between the neural impulses synapses, the gaps between the neurons that allowed them to talk to each other. However, he couldn’t identify the synapses under the microscope like we can with 200X magnification today.

You can still walk across an invisible bridge even if you can’t physically see it there. All you need to know is that the magic is working.

Read Hunched Over a Microscope, He Sketched the Secrets of How the Brain Works

Categories
Life & Philosophy Psychology

The ‘split brain’

We are a function of two brains: a left brain and a right. Both sides work together to create a unity of one.

One side is usually more dominant than the other. For some people, they think in words rather than patterns — they are more analytical than visual. Others can be more right-minded, perceptive rather than too sober.

The 'split brain'
The function of two brains

The left brain edits the right. The right brain loosens up the left. One side tells you to conform; the other side to rage into your art.

Both brain hemispheres work together in a system of checks and balances.

Left, right, analytical or creative, we are two selves in one split brain.

Categories
Life & Philosophy Productivity & Work

Gardening the brain with a good night’s rest

sleeping brain
Sleep refreshes the brain

Your brain works like a dishwasher when you sleep, cleaning out the dirty information and tidying up the important stuff. You can also think of the sleeping mind as working as a garden, growing “synaptic connections between neurons” so neurotransmitters can pass through.

“Your brain cleans itself out when you sleep—your brain cells shrinking by up to 60% to create space for your glial gardeners to come in take away the waste and prune the synapses.”

Sleeping permits the glial gardeners, also called “microglial cells,” to sweep through your brain and make space for learning new information. A well-rested brain is like walking gracefully through the park. On the other hand, a tired brain leaves it cloudy.

“Thinking with a sleep-deprived brain is like hacking your way through a dense jungle with a machete. Its overgrown, slow going, exhausting.”

The brain also recycles synaptic connections during sleep. Thinking about positive things throughout the day will help keep those thoughts top of mind. Meanwhile, harping on jealousy or hatred will make the brain cling to unwanted trash.

“To take advantage of your brain’s natural gardening system, simply think about the things that are important to you. Your gardeners will strengthen those connections and prune the ones that you care about less. It’s how you help the garden of your brain flower.”

You are what you think about all day, which gets reinforced during sleep. Be mindful of the memories you want to keep and forget the rest, letting the brain delete the crap.

Your Brain Has A “Delete” Button—Here’s How To Use It