“Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”
"The theologian may indulge the pleasing task of describing Religion as she descended from Heaven, arrayed in her native purity. A more melancholy duty is imposed on the historian. He must discover the inevitable mixture of error and corruption which she contracted in a long residence upon Earth, among a weak and degenerate race of beings."
HAMILTON: In one sense, we've had to pay a heavy cost for our big, inefficient brains: childbirth is difficult, childhood is long, our brains consume 20 percent of the calories we eat. But Linden says these adaptations
NPR: From one perspective, the human brain is a masterpiece. From another, it's 3 pounds of inefficient jelly. Both views are accurate, and that's because our remarkable brain has been assembled from some very primitive parts.
"Although the things it can do are very wonderful and impressive, its design is very poor engineering in many respects," says David Linden, a professor of
neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the author of The Accidental Mind.
"In evolution, you never build something new if you can adapt something you've already got," he says. "It's the ultimate tinkerer and the ultimate cheapskate."
Our brain has been put together with parts from jellyfish and lizards and mice, Linden says. These parts may have been OK for their original owners, he says, but they aren't ideal for us.
Take brain cells, for example."They are slow. They are inefficient. They leak signals to their neighbors,"
Linden says. "Consequently, if you want to build clever human us with these very suboptimal parts, the only way to do it is to build a brain that is simply enormous and massively interconnected."
And that means it's very slow. Linden says getting a simple message from our feet to our brain can take a remarkably long time. To get a sense of just how long, he says, imagine a giant with her head in Baltimore and her toe off the
coast of South Africa. If a shark bit that toe on Monday, Linden says, "she wouldn't feel it until Wednesday, and she wouldn't jerk her toe until Saturday."
Why the lag? Linden says it's because we're still using a communication system developed 600 million years ago by jellyfish."It's like adding scoops to an ice cream cone," Linden says. "So if you imagine the lizard brain as a single-scoop ice cream cone, the way you make a mouse brain out of a lizard brain isn't to throw the cone and the first scoop away and start over and make a banana split — rather, it's to put a second scoop on top of the first scoop."
"If our neurons weren't such lousy processors and we didn't need 100 billion of them massively interconnected in order to make a clever brain out of such lousy parts, then we wouldn't have such a long childhood," Linden says.
The Accidental Mind’ (Questions with author David Linden) American Physiological Society
1) What is one of the fundamental misunderstandings of the human brain according to Dr. Linden?
Answer: Historically in the lay public, the brain is represented as an elegantly designed organ. Dr. Linden believes that the brain is not elegantly designed or well-engineered, but cobbled together by evolution.
2) What is the analogy with a multi-scoop ice cream cone used in the book?
Answer: As the brain evolved from frog to mice to chimpanzee to human, the brain has become larger and larger, but there has been no re-design. The additional functions acquired during evolution have been added on just like a multi-scoop ice cream cone.
3) Describe the example of "blindsight."
Answer: Additional evolutionary functions are added on to the brain like an ice cream cone. What this mean is that human beings have duplicate and often inefficient systems. For instance, human beings have in their brain a very
ancient, inefficient visual system that they share with reptiles and amphibians as well as a modern visual system that they share with mammals. Teacher Note: To demonstrate this, Lawrence Weiskrantz and colleagues from Oxford
were able to demonstrate the concept of "blindsight," an unusual condition where the sufferer can respond to visual stimuli, while lacking any conscious feeling of having seen the stimuli. In patients who were blind due to injury to the modern visual system in the brain (in the occipital lobe), the investigators were able to demonstrate that their ancient evolutionary visual system remained intact and was able to guide the patients to perform a basic visual task
although the patients had no perception of it. The ancient visual system is good for orientating human eyes and heads to moving targets.
4) Where is memory stored in the human brain?
Answer: Memory is initially stored in the hippocampus and surrounding tissues for a year or two. And then, memory is exported to other structures. For example, patients who have damage to their hippocampus lose memory for one to two years prior to the time of injury, but not earlier. In addition, memory is multi-sensory (visual, auditory, etc.). From the hippocampus, memory is broken apart and is exported and stored piecemeal to individual sensory regions of the brain. For example, visual memories are stored in the visual regions of the brain and auditory memories in auditory regions of the brain.
What Dreams Have Been?
It was Horace who wrote "Brave men were living before Agamemnon."
It reminds one that there were countless unknown brave and wise persons in history that we have never heard of
and who existed many years before our known historical figures. Before the global rise of our Abrahamic religions there were pagans wrestling and thinking on levels that would not be matched until several centuries later. Brave and wise human beings were living and thinking with vigor and insight well before our current religions dominated. The great Democritus, Diogenes the Cynic, Socrates, Epicurus, and Heraclitus were lighting flames in the mind of mortals prone to dark superstition. And even before them the Eastern force of human thought was burning in places like China and Mesopotamia. With the Chauvet Cave, brave and thoughtful humans were even living well before our known civilizations.
"The interior of France’s Chauvet Cave, decorated by humans some 32,000 years ago with lifelike images of the animals with whom they shared the landscape. It reveals the oldest known figurative paintings in the world."
The same information will impact individual brains in various ways. The same fact or piece of information will be downloaded in the human mind and filed into different folders so to speak depending on the person.
One person may put it under the file depressing or the other inspiring. One may put it in the folder absurd and another person put it in the folder wise. One person will take a fact and put into the folder reasons for faith and that
same type of information in another persons brain will be put in the folder reasons for doubt. One piece of knowledge being downloaded might be filed into the "very important folder" while another brain will take that same piece of knowledge and file it into the "not important folder" and that process is happening at a neuron firing speed.
One brain will take a piece of infomation and delete right away and send it to the recycle bin and the other will take that piece of information and put into a folder they use everyday. That is the nature of human brains they grow out of the specific soil of the particular human beings experience, environment, and physiology.
For example the extinction of the Dinosaurs and the way it happended is a bit of information that when it downloaded to my brain was moved to a file of importance and a file that I download again and again and so that impacts the way I see the world. For another person the extinction of the Dinosaurs has not ever been downloaded or if it has it was filed right away to the not important folder or it was even deleted and sent to the recycle bin.
What you download (the type of information coming in) is important but so is what you download that information to (your present consciousness and pattern of thought).
What you highlight, underline, and focus on will determine what type of filter is constructed for the new information coming in. Confirmation bias is a problem for every human being due to this.
Have you ever seen a movie and found it inspiring but someone else saw the very same movie and thought it boring or depressing. When we deal with people who think differently than us especially people who we imagine are watching the very same movie so to speak it is hard to understand why they cannot appreciate it like we do. This is the challenge for human communication and issues of conflict and conflict resolution on a major scale. The human being will download different information or the same information and store it in different ways.
“In order to turn out a piece of work the author has to exaggerate the emphasis of it, to oppose it in a forcefully competitive way to other versions of the truth…the problem is to find the truth underneath the
"Science is imagination in a straitjacket." Richard Feynman
What I have noticed in my own metamorphosis is that when I was a believer I used my imagination on miracles, Bible stories, God, demons, et cetera. I realize that for believers and unbelievers it is a difference of imagination...what one highlights, underlines, and focuses on. For example people who believe in God
highlight the wonder of life. People who counter that highlight the brutality of life. People who believe in God focus on miracle claims. People who do not focus on natural causes.
My imagination for now is captured by all of history (the ideal "See the world in its fullness") including the beauty and brutality and other interests like evolutionary biology, the end of the Dinosaurs, subjects like that. It may be why astronomers, geologists, and biologists are much more likely to be unbelievers than any other field because you have to use your imagination on other epochs than the human one. If you focus only on the human era and a
very specific time in the human era I think it much easier to stay in fundamentalism.
When I steep myself in history I have a problem reconciling the different narratives and epochs in history with the Judeo-Christian God. The Cosmic. The Natural Historic. The Human civilization era with its diversity of
claims and experience. And then trying to fit the Abrahamic Jewish God within that as well as the Christian claims connected to it. Reason the slave of the passions and free will the slave of determinism so to speak. The result of a chain of numerous causes and fortuna, imprison free will. For instance what choice can one compare to doubting Thomas touching the resurrected Christ versus a Chinese philosopher living centuries before in a place untouched by that Christ by the causes of time and geography. There are theological responses to this as well but to me it feels like small print added to a poorly constructed contract after the matter.
It seems there is a large imagination for the myths of our ancestors and a rather small imagination for the reality of the natural world. I think for the human mind in general it is easier to conceive a man walking on water than it is to conceive of the primate Ardipithecus kadabba walking on Earth six million years ago. It is easier to imagine a resurrected man god 2000 years ago than 150 million years of Dinosaur rule and elemental drama on this rock. The human imagination thought of angels and demons before it ever could conceive of the prehistoric creatures that were dug up in the Messel Pit.
The Natural Historic narrative blew even the civilization era out of the water so to speak when I pondered the great epochs and extinctions on Planet Earth. For me it became hard to hold to fundamentalist faith the more I steeped myself in ancient and natural history.
As one Cardinal stated “To be steeped in history is to cease being protestant.” I get that but for me I take that further in that to be steeped in history is to cease being Christian and then if you go to natural history you get into the age of ancient mankind and beyond homo sapiens. For me to be steeped in history makes it more difficult to believe in the Christian narrative with ferocity or sincerity. Studying history in general got me off the path of fundamentalism and opened my imagination to the possibility that what I had been born in was not necessarily the universal truth. I can imagine a God that would say “Well done my good and faithful skeptic you did not believe what mere men said about me but thought me greater than they proclaimed.” A cautious skepticism and existential wrestling is much more my default now that I pivot from.
Intelligent people on all sides and from all stripes come to different conclusions because they are highlighting or underlining different facts, premises, axioms, and assumptions. It is not a matter of intelligence but it is a matter of maps and pivots one uses to navigate existence. Intelligent people are going to end up in different places if they are using different maps. That is why I can appreciate the wit of a GK Chesterton and a Christopher Hitchens at
the same time. They navigate their maps well.
For me the gods of the human primate from this little blue planet in the universe seem to be too small, too human and too petty to be the ultimate force in this giant cosmos. The created gods of the human mind are too small and petty for the grandeur of the stars and universe. Human gods do not even cover the scale of the earth and its history much less the universe. My wager is that if there is a God of the universe it will honor universal courage and wisdom and not provincial tribal ideology through means of fear or reward. If it is the God of this giant Cosmos it will be Magnanimous, Just, and Wise and not petty, provincial, and vindictive towards people of different faiths or no faith at all.
"The human mind evolved to believe in the gods. It did not evolve to believe in biology."
I think for the human mind in general it is easier to conceive of a man walking on water than it is to conceive of the
primate Ardipithecus kadabba walking on Earth six million years ago. It is easier to imagine a resurrected man god 2000 years ago than 150 million years of Dinosaur rule and elemental drama on this rock.
"Our lives begin to end the day we are silent about things that matter"