Hardware of the head

Many variations (image via Lukas Budimaier)

The phone is negentropic; it gets better through software. Similarly, the human head carries a brain that improves over time.

Scientists have shown again and again that the mind, like a piece of software, is elastic. We are the sum of a hundred billion neurons that strengthen through knowledge and experience. Our skull evolves within a gooey flesh.

But there has to be a cap on human acuity, surely. At some point, exponents can’t go any further. We can’t get any smarter, nor pinpoint the largest number which is infinity and beyond. Even “Moore’s Law peters out, “as microchip components reach the atomic scale and conventional lithography falters,” says computer scientist Scott Aaronson.

The chances of maxing out our neurons or counting to the last number are just as slim as downloading the entire internet; it’s an impossibility, no matter how much time, cloud space or algorithms try to lead us there.

So we remain, fulfilled but never finished, searching beyond the robot and frazzled by immensity.

‘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?