Hidden proof

Santiago Ramón y Cajal (via The New York Times)
More than a hundred years ago, the father of modern neuroscience, Santiago Ramón y Cajal demonstrated that information is the output of messy internal wiring provided by the brain’s chemical synchronicity. He used his trained skills as an artist to illustrate the neuron doctrine.

Images via Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramon y Cajal
He called the connection between the neural impulses synapses, the gaps between the neurons that allowed them to talk to each other. However, he couldn’t identify the synapses under the microscope like we can with 200X magnification today.

You can still walk across an invisible bridge even if you can’t physically see it there. All you need to know is that the magic is working.

Read Hunched Over a Microscope, He Sketched the Secrets of How the Brain Works

Everything is science

One thing leads to the next. (Image via Alessandro Di Credico)

Who knows more, the person that reads the book or the person that gets his hands dirty? Experience puts the bones in the goose.

Doing and knowing is still no can substitute for the imagination. Discoveries and innovations result from hypotheses and testing that produce facts and new leads.

Everything connects but only as the consequence of the audacity to take something further. All the significant breakthroughs create more questions than answers. What comes next?

Smarter bodies and sharper minds

May they flap together. (Photo by Alex Grodkiewicz)

Humans want wings. They want supercharged brains. They think that today’s technology can empower superhuman strength. Their desires are coming to fruition.

Technology and neuroscience will “unchain us from nature.” Ritalin kids are already a step ahead, having rewired their brains into productive machines. Normal cognition feigns interest.

Smart bodies and sharp minds promise to release us from the prison of biology. Superhuman possibilities become endless. “The merging of man and machine is well under way… We can extend the Enlightenment into our cells.”

Read I Want Wings

Things fall apart

A secret order. (photo via Juskteez Vu)

The default state of humanity is to do nothing but compete. The world is both territorial and disorderly.

‘Coercion is natural; freedom is artificial.’ It takes energy to turn individuals into niches that make peace. It’s even harder to sustain it. Things collapse when they don’t cooperate, a psychological practice just as much as a scientific one.

“In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.”

Carl Jung

More things go wrong than right, especially when we stop trying to keep them all together. The only way to decrease entropy is to apply some communal effort.

Read The Second Law Of Thermodynamics

Information is the sum of parts

Through the wires. (photo via Cédric Dhaenens)

The brain is just a collection of tangled wires with neuron connectivity levels. We call its output ‘information’ because we need some way of describing chemical synchronicity.

The computer works the same way. On the inside, it’s a collection of chips and wires with various voltage levels. What we see on screen is what we label as information.

Information is the same name we give to brain chemicals and computer voltage to describe the organized chaos. And the chaos is why it works.

Read: Does Information Smell?

“The map is not the territory”

"The map is not the territory'
Abstract thought

The human head consists of a left brain and a right brain, each with distinct cognitive functions. The left hemisphere is known for processing logic and doing verbal and mathematical analysis while the right half excels in creativity and imagination, the visual stuff.

But the left brain holds responsibility for how we react since it’s the one that interprets. As we think, so are we. As neuroscience writer Eric Barker points out, “anxiety and depression are caused by thinking problems.” In other words, we tend to exaggerate and jump to conclusions when there’s none to be drawn. Exhibit A:

Right Brain: The boss seems agitated.

Left Brain: Better get the resume together. We’re getting fired.

Mindfulness acts as the parent-guardian to a brain in flux. It helps people take a step back from the false information they design in their heads. Polish-American scientist Alfred Korzybski once said that “the map is not the territory.” In other words, a map is an abstraction of land, a mere model of reality just as skeuomorphism makes an icon for trash look like a garbage can. Similarly, the medium is the message.

There is no such thing as the left-right lateralization of brain function; there’s only one brain that works with the sum of its parts. Designers can be mathematicians and vice versa, as the brain may be partial to skills but impartial to sidedness. It’s how we think about ourselves and our surroundings that usually gets in the way.

Neuroscience Of Mindfulness: How To Make Your Mind Happy


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Take algorithms with a grain of salt

algorithms
AlgoRIDIMs

In a world of abundance, we need algorithms more than ever. From movies to books, music, and resumes, algorithms intend to save us time by eliminating a lot of the possibilities up front.

The problem with algorithms though is that they remove the outlier. The things that shape you are usually outside your normal scope of interest.

Professor of engineering at Oakland University Barbara Oakley was once a linguist until she realized she could apply the same “chunking” principles to become fluent in math. Mixing subjects broadened her understanding of how discovering new things work.

Algorithms never go deeper than the prescriptive answers. They take what’s most likely of interest and give you more of that, confirming your bias.

Human discovery is less fallible than machines. Aggregated tastes or wisdom of crowds is a viable recommendation engine. But the problem with people is a lack of time–we take too long to gather content and dig through it. The machines can sort through content streams faster, and with accuracy.

We can’t afford to our put our taste in any method. The only way to balance the curators, friend recommendation, with the algorithmic engines is to go manual, staying open to the possibility of discovering something outside our standards interests. Those magazines at the dentist’s office are worth perusing.

The future of work

machines replace humans
Excess?

The future of work is no work. Workers made of bits instead of human cells will occupy all the jobs. In the case of Uber, for example, “once you take the brain out of the driving, it’s just a person following a map,” explains the author Ryan Avent in his new book The Wealth of Humans.

The digital revolution is the modern day industrial revolution, except you can substitute big data and intelligent machines for human labor. Humans, like washing machines, are too abundant–supply exceeds demand.

People identify with their jobs, even if they hate them. Jobs not only give us a sense of purpose, they fill the day. No one wants to feel useless and bored. So it begs the question: when the machines are doing all the work, what are humans left to do? 

Avent believes the rich will be the only ones to hire human labor, as if humans become cherishable objects like vinyl. Perhaps more people will go into the arts and put on their philosophical thinking caps again–the last ‘metaphysical club’ met in 1872. Or will government prop up manual labor like it once did to regalvanize the American automobile industry? Anything is better than twiddling our thumbs. Says Avent:

“It is disappointing to think that we’d have to create make-work for people, but it may be the hard truth.”

The Next Industrial Revolution