( A ten minute read.)
The empty brain:
No one really has the slightest idea how the brain changes after we have learned to sing a song or recite a poem. But neither the song nor the poem has been ‘stored’ in it.
The human brain isn’t really empty, of course. But it does not contain most of the things people think it does – not even simple things such as ‘memories’.
For more than half a century now, psychologists, linguists, neuron scientists and other experts on human behavior have been asserting that the human brain works like a computer.
However the state of our understanding today of an integrated plan of brain function remains incomplete. The brain consists of at least several hundred distinct cell types whose complete classification is still at present elusive.
Ever since man walked out of Africa, developed different cultures and different languages we have being using his brains to kill.
To date we have burnt more neurons on self-destruction than survival.
Step back and view our species objectively from the outside, the way a zoologist would carefully observe any other animal, or see us the way every other creature perceives human beings. The brutal reality could not be more evident or more horrifying.
We are the most relentless yet oblivious killers on Earth.
Our violence operates far outside the bounds of any other species. Human beings kill anything. Slaughter is a defining behavior of our species. We kill all other creatures, and we kill our own. We kill strangers. We kill people who are different from us, in appearance, beliefs, race, and social status. We kill ourselves in suicide. We kill for advantage and for revenge, we kill for entertainment:
I would venture to say that there has not been one day — not one single day — since the beginning of recorded history when one human being has not killed another. And I don’t mean by accident. I mean deliberately. With purposeful intent.
…in thousand and thousands of years.
So is violence in our genes. As Mr Darwin put it; Survival of the Fittest. Evolution requires a struggle to survive, so killing is a must.
Just look at the twentieth century, numerous people were killed in the Armenian Genocide in Turkey, the Jews suffered in the II World War, Ethnic massacres happened in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia.
Today, several Islamic terrorist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram are butchering people in the name of Islam, while thousands of Rohingya Muslims flee Myanmar due to ethnic cleansing the shadow of a nuclear war ( that will bring equality to all, save us all from climate change and mass migration, ) can be summed up in one word: BRAINLESS.
Yet there’s no reason to assume that our empty brains will be adequate vessels for the voyage towards that answer.
Humanity has been trying to figure out how to bring an end to war since living beings evolved into self-consciousness on this planet. This effort now involves thousands of researchers, consumes billions of dollars in funding, and has generated a vast literature consisting of both technical and mainstream articles and books.
This latest up tick in the hostilities between these parties is almost irrelevant at this stage. Each side, of course, insists that it is only defending itself. And it is. Seen from each side’s point of view, all each side is doing is defending itself. Aggression is always called defense. Unfortunately every religion thinks it is the right one.
All that matters today is what it would take to end the killing, to end the aggression and counter-aggression that is threatening to embroil a whole region — and even, conceivably, the entire world at some level, if not directly — in a war that could prove unspeakably tragic for the entire human race, turning anyone that survives into an atheist, as there will be no invisible means of support as everything will glow.
But if there is a biological explanation for something, it is impossible to hold someone responsible for it. This is simply untrue.
This is a question that has been asked for many centuries. The Greeks philosopher Plato explained violent behavior by the fact that humans had a dual character because of their greedy nature. The Church always blamed the devil for possessing violent people.
Branding behaviors as incurable is hogwash fortuitously most humans are endowed with a sense of disgust but our kinship is often exploited by nations and religions, not surprisingly they are two institutions that are responsible for most, if not all, wars.
There is no satisfying answer to the question of why we go to war other than it feels good to protect our kinship.
All behavior is the product of the brain, and the brain is a product of genetics and the environment. Genes change at a glacial pace. But territory and society shift constantly and they are molded by man.
So here is what we are not born with: information, data, rules, software, knowledge, lexicons, representations, algorithms, programs, models, memories, images, processors, subroutines, encoders, decoders, symbols, or buffers – design elements that allow digital computers to behave somewhat intelligently. Not only are we not born with such things, we also don’t develop them – ever. We never did, never will.
We don’t store words or the rules that tell us how to manipulate them. We don’t create representations of visual stimuli, store them in a short-term memory buffer, and then transfer the representation into a long-term memory device. We don’t retrieve information or images or words from memory registers.
The idea that memories are stored in individual neurons is preposterous:
Given this reality, why do so many scientists talk about our mental life as if we were computers?
Now here is the good or bad news.
Computers do all of these things, but organisms do not. Computers really do operate on symbolic representations of the world. They really store and retrieve. They really process. They really have physical memories. They really are guided in everything they do, without exception, by algorithms.
Uncontrolled Algorithms will kill us. Now more people have mobile phones than have toilets.
Everything we know about the universe tells us that reality consists only of physical things: atoms and their component particles, busily colliding and combining.
If a smartphone could be conscious, and were it to ultimately prove that the one thing the human mind is incapable of comprehending is itself.
Since anything at all that matters, in life, only does so as a consequence of its impact on conscious brains, could you ever know that it was true?
Our smartphones have become Swiss army knife–like appliances that include a dictionary, calculator, web browser, email, Game Boy, appointment calendar, voice recorder, guitar tuner, weather forecaster, GPS, texter, tweeter, Facebook updater, and flashlight.
The future of the brain and the implications on ethics and human behavior is now in the hands of Algorithms.
Speculating about the ‘algorithms’ of the brain, how the brain ‘processes data’, and even how it superficially resembles integrated circuits in its structure is now all the rage.
In 2013 the European Commission awarded neuron scientist Henry Markram $1.3 billion to pursue an audacious goal: building a simulation of the human brain. It is now in disarray. There’s a fly in the ointment. Although we think we’re doing several things at once, multitasking, this is a powerful and diabolical illusion.
It is the ultimate empty-caloried brain candy.
Instead of reaping the big rewards that come from sustained, focused effort, we instead reap empty rewards from completing a thousand little sugar-coated tasks.
We are sacrificing efficiency and deep concentration. Each time we check a Twitter feed or Facebook update, we encounter something novel and feel more connected socially (in a kind of weird, impersonal cyber way) and get another dollop of reward hormones.
It is the dumb, novelty-seeking portion of the brain driving the limbic system that induces this feeling of pleasure, not the planning, scheduling, higher-level thought centres in the prefrontal cortex. Make no mistake: texting, email-, Facebook- and Twitter-checking constitute a neural addiction to brainless thought.
Because it is limited in characters, it discourages thoughtful discussion or any level of detail. Texting discourages thoughtful discussion or any level of detail, and its addictive problems are compounded by its hyper-immediacy.
Faulty conclusion: All entities that are capable of behaving intelligently are information processors.
It is safe to say that we aren’t completely doomed to continue killing each other, as the advancement of culture appears not to be having a civilizing effect on us.
The enormous industry of print and broadcast journalism serves predominantly to document our killing.
You know who to write to. Write to them. You know whom to contact. Contact them. Right now. Our world’s leaders need someone to lead them. We thought they were going to lead us, but they can’t. Or won’t. So we need to lead them.
With the amount and duration of wars happening right now in 2017, it’s hard not to get desensitized to death and violence. It really is. That means we have to work harder to stay informed.
Remember the killing fields of Cambodia.