Documenting the Coming Singularity

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Your Brain May be Trying to Tell You Something

I'm making my way through Ray Kurzwell's book, The Singularity is Near, and I must tell you that I had no idea how far along researchers are in their quest to reverse-engineer the human brain. I'm learning things about my brain (and yours) that are blowing my mind! Let me share a few of them.

Our Brains Are Making Up Most of What We "See"

"Although we have the illusion of receiving high-resolution images from our eyes, what the optic nerve actually sends to the brain is just outlines and clues about points of interest in our visual field. We then essentially hallucinate the world from cortical memories that interpret a series of extremely low-resolution movies that arrive in parallel channels" (pg 186).

This sort of explains the unreliability of eye-witness testimony, doesn't it?

"Even though we think we see the world so fully, what we are receiving is really just hints, edges in space and time" (pg 187).

Making it Up as You Go Along

"...the detailed arrangement of connections and synapses in a given region is a direct product of how extensively that region is used. As brain scanning has attained sufficiently high resolution to detect dendritic-spine growth and the formation of new synapses, we can see our brain grow and adapt to literally follow our thoughts" (pg 173).

"You create your brain from the input you get" (pg. 175).

Your brain has "plasticity," which means that its physical structures change and adapt to what you learn. And here's the coolest part...You don't even have to carry out the action; you can rewire your brain simply by imagining the actions. This is why "visualization" works.

"It is not even necessary to express one's thoughts in physical action to provoke the brain to rewire itself" (pg 175).

Who's Really In Charge Around Here Anyway?

"Work by physiology professor Benjamin Libet at (UC Davis) shows that neural activity to initiate an action actually begins about a third of a second before the brain has made the decision to take the action, The that the decision is really an illusion, that 'consciousness is out of the loop.' The cognitive scientist and philosopher Daniel Dennett describes the phenomenon as follows: 'The action is originally precipitated in some part of the brain, and off fly the signals to muscles, pausing en route to tell you, the conscious agent, what is going on (but like all good officials letting you, the bumbling president, maintain the illusion that you started it all'" (pg 191).

This is all very strange and difficult to grasp. The implications are far-reaching in the extreme and bears quite a bit of thinking about.


CinnamongirlFla said...

So does that mean when I used to trip on acid, I was really seeing the real world?

Barry Mahfood said...

Naw, just a more imaginative interpretation than normal.

Martin said...

Hey, interesting stuff! Check out my post and video on the same topic!