13 July 2010

Telling On the Brain...

The human brain is at an awkward stage in its evolution. Our brains have traveled part of the path away from ape consciousness. But only a small part.

Our brains are limited in many ways. Speed, for example. Our brains are able to detect and react to stimuli far more slowly than the brains of some insects. That is simply a result of how our brains are made and wired -- and is a good thing in many ways. But who wouldn't want to have quicker detection and reaction times, at least in sports such as basketball or boxing? Achieving such an advance would require a lot more overhaul of the human body and brain than most people realise.

Human brains tend to subconsciously ignore the unexpected. This is particularly true when our expectations are focused on something in particular. Admittedly, our brains are lazy. We tend to look for confirmation of believed hypotheses.

Overcoming the natural laziness of the brain is a never-ending chore. But we need to be clever about it. When practising a new skill, for example, we should vary our practise to prevent our brains from falling into too-well-practised ruts. This is as true for learning mental concepts and skills as it is for learning physical skills.

Our brains develop along fairly predictable paths to maturity. And then our brains begin to degenerate. We have very few "peak years" before this degeneration of matured brains begins to occur. We are developing some intriguing methods for treating this degeneration. Which is very fortunate, since we are also developing some early warning diagnostic tools for detecting particular sorts of degenerative changes. It would do little good to specifically identify the problem if we could not treat it.

Our brains will continue to evolve. Biological organisms cannot help evolving, just as the climate cannot help changing. It is the nature of complex, adaptive, quasi-chaotic systems to change. It is the nature of this brain evolution that is in question.

Now that we better understand which parts of the brain give humans cognitive advantages over their primate cousins, and now that we better understand how to promote the growth, survival, and differentiation of neural stem cells, it falls within the power of humans to influence their own brains' evolution.

Bolt on a few co-processor chips, advanced interfaces, and deep brain electrodes, and humans of the future are likely to resemble humans of today as much as modern humans resemble apes.

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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