Saturday, February 10, 2007

This Does Not Compute

I just got done reading a TIME article on the human brain entitled, “What Is Consciousness?” It turns out we’re robots after all. Who’da thunk it? There is no dichotomy of “mind” and “brain,” but simply “brain.” Spirituality, the afterlife, a soul, all that ethereal stuff is merely wishful thinking (scientists can actually replicate a near-death experience; the blue light at the end of the tunnel has a switch). Free will? We react to stimuli. All poetry, art and inspired thought comes down to a matter of chemicals and tissue. So hand me a tissue.

The next time I get in trouble, I’m going to blame my big dumb brain. It wasn’t me, it was the freaking neurons. Those little guys have been flying around in there like crazy lately. Officer, I couldn’t help speeding, the neurons drove me to it. Honey, I’m sorry I blew the mortgage payment at the track. Love me, hate my neurons. Boss, you’re right, I shouldn’t show up three hours late in a drunken stupor. Can you somehow convince my brain of that? Because it sure as hell won’t listen to me.

Here’s my favorite paragraph from the article:

“Another startling conclusion from the science of consciousness is that the intuitive feeling we have that there’s an executive ‘I’ that sits in a control room of our brain, scanning the screens of the senses and pushing the buttons of the muscles, is an illusion. Consciousness turns out to consist of a maelstrom of events distributed across the brain. These events compete for attention, and as one process outshouts the others, the brain rationalizes the outcome after the fact and concocts the impression that a single self was in charge all along.”

In other words, my brain is a little like Alexander Haig. There’s a cheerful thought.

Let me quote another paragraph that didn’t appear in TIME:

“What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action, how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!”

Must have been a hell of a robot who wrote that one.


Blogger SzélsőFa said...

Although I refuse the idea of man being a paragon of animals or the most complete reflection of God, I agree with you. It appears the writer have no knowledge about some of the best approaches of science - some, if not most, high school researcher work keeps confirming the opposite of the writer's beliefs.

4:24 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Shakespeare, a robot? Say it ain't so. I don't know. As I age I tend to believe more in the universe, in a higher power, and in something bigger than just this earthly life. As I grow, learn, and love more, I believe more in the unbelievable ... not because I need hope or help, but in spite of it.

6:05 AM  
Blogger Farrago said...

The world around me is just a figment of my imagination, a conjuring of sights, smells, sounds, textures and tastes within a boundless universe.I invent obstacles and obstructions. I encounter other entities and assign to them images and personalities, and I assign them an order: some are as I am; others are "beneath" me, as dogs, cats, birds, etc., entities and personalities with whom I can not communicate as I do the others higher in the order. Within this realm I...

Hang on... I need another drink.....

8:55 AM  
Blogger b o o said...

oh good, you're alive :-]

7:04 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

I tend to agree with those findings, although I do get spiritual when I get scared. Doesn't it seem just a little like wishful thinking to believe in an afterlife, especially when there is no evidence ever that anyone can provide to the contrary? I believe we are machines, but pretty damn cool ones. We are complex, but as a group, we are predictable and can be manipulated easily enough because of our sameness and susceptibility to our common shortfalls.

8:19 AM  
Blogger trinamick said...

I think scientists use every excuse they can to rationalize why they can't explain the world we live in. Belief in something they can't control takes away their power. Say it ain't so!

9:43 AM  
Blogger Kathleen said...

I have to agree with Beth, for the most part, on this one. I'm a firm believer in science on most things, but I think they missed the boat on this one.

9:52 AM  
Blogger NYPinTA said...

I have that edition of Time. My brain forgot to remind me to read it.
But I understand the idea that the brain is a machine because for the most part I feel pretty disconnected from mine. I have thoughts, thoughts that say, "do the laundry" but the body says, "go fly a kite, brain." So I don't do the laundry. Clearly there is no "I" in control. There is a committee. And it never agrees. Holy crap. I'm a walking robot bureaucracy. No wonder DMV paperwork makes sense to me.
Oh, but the light at the end of the tunnel is white, so who has egg on their face now?
(I don't know what that means.)

7:46 PM  

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