‘Competence without comprehension’

We are skilled without even thinking — what Thomas H. Huxley in 1874 called ‘conscious automata’ and what American philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett calls, ‘competence without comprehension’ in his new book From Bacteria to Bach: The Evolution of Minds.

Automatic pilot comes handy when we’re doing things like driving a car or reading. We need to master these things before we can do more advanced activities, like race car driving or writing.

Instead, what happens in repetitive tasks is that we forget how to feel the process. We become pre-programmed robots trained to execute learned habits.

Technology, and more specifically, artificial intelligence and Google encourage non-thinking behavior.  We suspend our cognitive wiring to appease our ignorance with a click of a button. The will to learn loses out to screen pecking. As Herbert Simon once wrote, “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

So if God gave us brains, why don’t we use these thinking tools to do more than share ‘memes?’

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