Brain's the enemy.

Mary had also taught that the human brain was the most admirable survival device yet produced by evolution. But now her own big brain was urging her to take the polyethylene garment bag from around a red evening dress in her closet, and to wrap it around her head, thus depriving her cells of oxygen.

Before that, her wonderful brain had entrusted a thief at the airport with a suitcase containing all her toilet articles and clothes which would have been suitable for the hotel.

Her colossal thinking machine could be so petty, too. It would not let her go downstairs in her combat fatigues on the grounds that everybody, even though there was practically nobody in the hotel, would find her comical in such a costume. Her brain told her: ‘They’ll laugh at you behind your back, and think you’re crazy and pitiful, and your life is over anyway. You’ve lost your husband and your teaching job, and you don’t have any children or anything else to live for, so just put yourself out of your misery with the garment bag. What could be easier? What could be more painless? What could make more sense?’

Just about every adult human being back then had a brain weighing about three kilogrammes! There was no end to the evil schemes that a thought machine that oversized couldn’t imagine and execute. 

So I raise this question, although there is nobody around to answer it: Can it be doubted that three-kilogramme brains were once nearly fatal defects in the evolution of the human race?


The remembered present.

No genuine stereo perception is possible if one has lost an eye or an ear. But as Dr. Jorgensen observed, a remarkable degree of adjustment or adaptation can occur, and this depends on a variety of factors. One of these is the increased ability to make judgments using one eye or ear, a heightened use of monocular or monaural cues. Monocular cues include perspective, occlusion, and motion parallax (the shifting appearance Of the visual world as we move through it), and monaural cues are perhaps analogous to these, though there are also special mechanisms peculiar to hearing. The diffusion of sound with distance can be perceived monoaurally as well as binaurally, and the shape of the external ear, the pinna, provides valuable cues about both the direction and the asymmetries of sound reaching it. 

If one has lost stereoscopy or stereophony, one must, in effect, recalibrate one's environment, one's spatial world—and movement here is especially important, even relatively small but very informative movements of the head. Edward O. Wilson describes in his autobiography, Naturalist, how he lost an eye in childhood but nonetheless is able to judge distances and depths with great accuracy. When I met him I was struck by a curious nodding of the head, and took this to be a habit or a tic. But he said it was nothing of the sort—it was a strategy designed to give his remaining eye alternating perspectives (such as normally the two eyes would receive), and this, he felt, combined with his memories of true stereopsis, could give him a sort of simulacrum of stereo vision. He said that he adopted these head movements after observing similar movements in animals (like birds and reptiles, for instance) whose visual fields have very little overlap. Dr. Jorgensen did not mention any comparable head movements in himself—they would not be too popular in a concert hall—but such movements might well help one construct a richer, more diverse soundscape.

There are other cues that stem from the complex nature of sounds and the vicissitudes of sound waves as they bounce off objects and surfaces around one. Such reverberation can provide an enormous amount of information even to a single ear, and this, as Daniel Levitin has remarked, has an essential role in communicating emotion and pleasure. It is for this reason that acoustical engineering is a major science and art. If a concert hall or lecture hall is badly designed, sounds may be "killed," voices and music seem "dead." Through centuries of experience, the builders of churches and auditoriums have become remarkably adept at making their buildings sing.

Dr. Jorgensen says that he believes his good ear is "better than should be expected from a seventy-year-old." One's ear, one's cochlea, cannot improve as one gets older, but as Jacob L. clearly demonstrated, the brain itself can improve its ability to make use of whatever auditory information it has. This is the power of cerebral plasticity. Whether or not "hearing fibres may have crossed in the corpus callosum" to the other ear, as Jorgensen suggests, is questionable—but there most assuredly have been significant changes in his brain as he has adapted to life with one ear. New connections must have been made, new areas recruited (and a sufficiently subtle brain-imaging technique might be able to demonstrate such changes). It seems probable, too—for vision and hearing normally complement each other and tend to compensate for each other if one is impaired—that Dr. Jorgensen, consciously or unconsciously, is using vision and visual data to map the position of instruments in the orchestra and the dimensions, spaciousness, and contours of the concert hall, as a way of reinforcing a sense of auditory space. 

Perception is never purely in the present - it has to draw on experience of the past; this is why Gerald M. Edelman speaks of "the remembered present." We all have detailed memories of how things have previously looked and sounded, and these memories are recalled and admired with every new perception. Such perceptions must be especially powerful in a strongly musical person, a habitual concertgoer like Dr. Jorgensen, and imagery is surely recruited to complement one's perceptions, especially if perceptual input is limited. "Every act of perception," Edelman writes, "is to some degree an act Of creation, and every act Of memory is to some degree an act of imagination." In this way the brain's experience and knowledge are called upon, as well as its adaptability and resilience. What is remarkable in Dr. Jorgensen's case, at least, is that, after such a severe loss, with no possibility of function being restored in the ordinary sense, there has nonetheless been a significant reconstruction of function, so that much Of what seemed irretrievably lost is now available to him again. Though it took some months, he has, against all expectation, been able to recover in large measure what was most important to him: the richness, the resonance, and the emotional power of music. 


On the conclusion of species.

El professor Jerison ha estudiat en profunditat l'evolució del cervell humà, i s'ha concentrat, sobretot, en els suposats avantatges d'un cervell molt desenvolupat en relació amb la grandària i el pes corporal. Amb tot, els neuròlegs afirmen que la depressió és una malaltia mental que només afecta els éssers que tenen la capacitat de reflexionar sobre si mateixos i de pensar en el seu passat i el seu futur. És a dir, que només es poden deprimir els humans perquè tenen un cervell gros. En aquest sentit, patim potser un excés de cervell?

Segons el famós psiquiatre britànic Tim Crow, hem de buscar l'origen de l'esquizofrènia en l'evolució dels cervells de majors dimensions. Crow afirma que l'esquizofrènia és el preu que paga l'Homo sapiens per tenir la capacitat del llenguatge. Aquesta idea és sens dubte suggeridora, però per a Jerison l'aspecte interessant és l'engrandiment del cervell, que suposa un nou salt evolutiu, d'una magnitud comparable al que va haver-hi fa 200 milions d'anys, quan en passar de rèptils a mamífers els animals van necessitar l'oïda i l'olfacte, a més de la vista.

«En l'evolució de tots els llinatges d'homínids, de l'australopitec en endavant, en un moment determinat va sorgir la necessitat de posseir un "mapa" més precís del territori que ocupaven, constituït ara per uns quants quilòmetres quadrats, i no solament uns quants metres quadrats, com en el cas del rèptil». Aquesta necessitat d'informació es troba en l'origen de l'engrandiment del cervell humà. Segons Jerison, això degué succeir quan el cervell humà tenia la grandària del d'un ximpanzé o una mica més, i l'evolució cap al llenguatge va venir de la necessitat de conèixer, reconèixer, un territori més extens. I del coneixement, i no pas de la grandària, ve la depressió. Perquè, com afirma Jerison no sense una certa ironia, «quan coneixem millor el món també ens coneixem millor a nosaltres amteixos i quan et coneixes a tu mateix, és molt probable que no t'agradis tant». Així, per a ell, l'esquizofrènia, la depressió, fins i tot els desordres bipolars podrien tenir l'origen en el millor coneixement de nosaltres mateixos. Un fet molt complex i en el qual influeixen multiples factors, entre els quals, saber que morirem, la renúncia a la immortalitat que va comportar el canvi del sistema de reproducció. La consciència de la mort ha significat un gran impuls en l'evolució. A excepció de l'home, no hi ha cap animal que la tingui. De manera que, ja ho veieu, quan parlem d'intel·ligència no tot són avantatges.


Eduard Punset (2008) Per què som com som

Matter Turns Intelligent.

Hydrogen…, given enough time, turns into people.
Edward Robert Harrison, 1995

One of the most spectacular developments during the 13.8 billion years since our Big Bang is that dumb and lifeless matter has turned intelligent.

(...) there’s clearly no undisputed “correct” definition of intelligence. Instead, there are many competing ones, including capacity for logic, understanding, planning, emotional knowledge, self-awareness,  creativity, problem solving and learning. (...)

intelligence = ability to accomplish complex goals

This is broad enough to include all above-mentioned definitions, since understanding, self-awareness, problem solving, learning, etc. are all examples of complex goals that one might have. It’s also broad enough to subsume the Oxford Dictionary definition—“the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills”—since one can have as a goal to apply knowledge and skills. Because there are many possible goals, there are many possible types of intelligence. By our definition, it therefore makes no sense to quantify intelligence of humans, non-human animals or machines by a single number such as an IQ. (...)

It’s natural for us to rate the difficulty of tasks relative to how hard it is for us humans to perform them, as in figure 2.1. But this can give a misleading picture of how hard they are for computers. It feels much harder to multiply 314,159 by 271,828 than to recognize a friend in a photo, yet computers creamed us at arithmetic long before I was born, while human-level image recognition has only recently become possible. This fact that low-level sensorimotor tasks seem easy despite requiring enormous computational resources is known as Moravec’s paradox, and is explained by the fact that our brain makes such tasks feel easy by dedicating massive amounts of customized hardware to them—more than a quarter of our brains, in fact.

I love this metaphor from Hans Moravec: "Computers are universal machines, their potential extends uniformly over a boundless expanse of tasks. Human potentials, on the other hand, are strong in areas long important for survival, but weak in things far removed. Imagine a “landscape of human competence,” having lowlands with labels like “arithmetic” and “rote memorization,” foothills like “theorem proving” and “chessplaying,” and high mountain peaks labeled “locomotion,” “hand-eye coordination” and “social interaction.” Advancing computer performance is like water slowly flooding the landscape. A half century ago it began to drown the lowlands, driving out human calculators and record clerks, but leaving most of us dry. Now the flood has reached the foothills, and our outposts there are contemplating retreat. We feel safe on our peaks, but, at the present rate, those too will be submerged within another half century. I propose that we build Arks as that day nears, and adopt a seafaring life!"


In the name of the brain.

Apology letter from the brain

Hey there,

I’m sorry, okay? But can I say something?

Look, I admit I wasn’t perfect. No one is perfect. That’s a fact. Speaking of facts, don’t you think we all need to take a minute and decide who is right and who is wrong? Every side is different; it’s just that my side seems more right. I am not just saying that because it’s my side. I think a lot of other people would agree with me if given the chance.

If I upset you in some way, please know that wasn’t my intention. I didn’t know how sensitive you were. It’s obvious I can set you off very easily. That’s not an insult, it’s just an observation.

I think it would help if we talked about this more and argued about who is telling the truth. I would like to see you in person to tell you how this situation has affected me. I may use this opportunity to bring up other times you have hurt me in the past. If possible, I would like to hurt you back. Either way, I want to be in control.

Until then, take care and please remember I reached out first.

I Remain,

Poehler, Amy (2014) Yes Please.