Thursday, May 20, 2010

DARPA Interested in Brain Implants... BEWARE!

There are a couple of good articles that have come out recently that I both LOVE and FEAR! I have placed their URLs at the end of this commentary.
Basically, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is looking to sponsor research into using implants to help victims (war victims) of brain trauma heal! If indeed this is truly their endgoal, then I am all for it... If a part of the brain was traumatized and no longer works and is dormant, the promise for the future is that a brain implant can help resurrect that part of the brain through artificial stimulation. Remember that neurons are like muscles... If you don't use them, you lose them. So by artificially stimulating neurons that were damaged, it essentially jump starts their recovery and helps re-strengthen their previous programming. For example, let's say the specific neural net that was damaged was the network that recognizes the letters S and number 8 when read in from the optic nerves. A person with damage to that net may no longer be able to recognize those digits. However, by artificially stimulating that network, disrupted connections can regrow and reconnect according the previous network program. And in theory, heal the trauma and restore the victim's ability to recognize the letter S and the number 8. This is fantastic! This is great and I am all for it... However, their can be a darker side to all this....
Now imagine we have a soldier who is a victim of brain trauma that comes in for brain implant therapy. Well, of course, the VA hospital inserts a brain implant that helps recover the brain trauma, but while they are already with the skull opened up, let's say they also implant a couple of additional probes that stimulate other neural nets in the victim's brain. Which neural nets specifically would the military be interested in controlling???? I could name dozens, but let me name just a few to give you a taste....
1. The neural nets that process pain. This would allow the soldier to fight on even when he would normally be in excruciating pain. Great!!! A good way to make heros out of our soldiers!
2. The neural nets that process fear. Hmmmm... imagine being able to turn off a soldier's fear in the battlefield by the flip of a switch! That could be very advantageous to the military! OR if they do NOT want to a soldier to CHARGE up the hill at a certain point in time... they flip the fear switch ON and the soldier then decides to NOT charge simply out of fear.
3. The neural nets that process other emotions. We all know that emotions have a way of ramping up adrenaline and that could help in the battlefield... OR specifically, they could target those nets that control the natural release of adrenaline.
4. The neural nets that give the soldier a feeling of loyalty or "duty". Already, this programming takes place in bootcamp. It is just not done at the neural level. But imagine if it could be done! It would mean fewer soldiers going AWOL. It would mean soldiers who better follow orders...ANY ORDER!
5. The neural nets that control certain motor functions like targeting and shooting. If that could be sped up through artificial means, that would be very advantageous to the military. Soldiers with the ability to target and shoot their victims as fast as machines do.
6. The neural nets that are used for location sensing. While Luke Skywalker used the force to know where to go to find his enemy, imagine a soldier being guided remotely through feelings of where to turn and where to walk to. Our future soldiers may use another "force" to find their enemies.
7. The neural nets associated with any type of specific training. At night, while dreaming, networks associated with a certain military goal can be trained. Then, at the will of the controller, these networks can be activated during the daytime thus giving the soldier the desire or the impulse to accomplish the trained goal. What if the goal was to do something that the soldier would never do. However, with the programming done by the implant, what was once considered impossible in the realm of expected behavior can now be possible. This is a way to override the soldier's personal programming.

Soldiers of the future (I feel for them) will surely be the Guinea Pigs for this type of development. However, once perfected, the next step would be to use implants for the common folks. Now you see why this type of research makes me FEAR! Hmmmm... perhaps I need an implant to fix that fear!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Hypnosis - a Double Edged Sword!

I have been interested in Hypnosis for a long time. However, I have come to realize that it can be both an effective tool in leading us down the path of scientific discovery of the brain as well as a tool that can lead us on a wild goose chase. The problem is determining at any point in time, which path are we on.

A few years back, my wife and I met a hypnotist at a Las Vegas show. He was sitting in the table next to ours and due to my habit of opening up conversations with complete strangers, we soon were chatting away. Of course, when he told us his profession, I had to dig deeper. Sure enough, the next night, my wife and I ended up at his hotel room for a hypnosis session. I had never been hypnotized and wanted to know if it is something real or not.

My friend first told me that me being an engineer would make it harder for me to end up in a hypnotic state. He explained that people that are logic oriented do not hypnotize well. I did not know if that was a "way out" for him should he fail, or if indeed it is true. But it does make sense to me that scientists, engineers, and mathematicians all would be more resistant to letting another person enter their private mind. Let me explain why I feel this way...

You might read my previous post to better understand the role of the Frontal Cortex (what I refer to as the "Good Sense Filter") of our brain. It's role is to filter out any subconscious ideas or solutions or decisions that do not make sense for our own good. This prevents us on acting on a stupid idea. The "Good Sense Filter" is the barrier between the conscious and the subconscious. Scientists, engineers, and mathematicians are very rule-based people and thus more "black and white" than grey. I would expect that they are generally less creative and as a result have very strong "Good Sense" filters that weed out more solutions or ideas that are nonsensical than the average Joe or Jane. I believe that in addition to the strongly pre-filtering of all ideas and solutions on the output, their "Good Sense Filters" also strongly resist relaxing itself enough for a hypnotist to enter into the subconscious. In a sense this "Good Sense Filter" is there to protect the conscious from the subconscious and the subconscious from the conscious.

Well, in reality, my own post-analysis of my hypnosis is that I do not believe I was truly hypnotized. If I was to any degree it was very shallow. If the results were more fantastic, I might think differently, but in reality, the session was very boring. Of course, this just matches what my wife says of me too!

However, let's imagine that instead of me being an engineer, let's image I was an artist. How would my hypnosis session have turned out? I believe that artists in general have weaker "Good Sense Filters" (aka Frontal Cortices) than most everybody. It explains their creativity (please read the my last posting to understand why). So an artist would have no problem in allowing his Frontal Cortex to go "offline" during a hypnosis session. Once the Frontal Cortex is offline, then essentially the hypnotist has free access to the subconscious. This allows the hypnotist to access recorded memories of the past even those that the Frontal Cortex may have programmed itself to ignore (aka "forget"). This is where the true value of hypnosis is... in accessing memories that have been suppressed (by the Frontal Cortex).

There is though a possibility that what is accessed is not really a memory at all. There is the possibility that what is thought to be memory is in reality a fantasy. To understand this, we need to remember of another time the Frontal Cortex is taken offline and what happens as a result...during dreaming! Remember that when we sleep at night, our Frontal Cortex goes offline as a pre-requisite to REM dreaming. Without the Frontal Cortex active, our dreams (or thoughts) at night appear to be random (however, I believe they are pseudo-random and I will discuss this in a later blog). And we dream of things without any control whatsoever. We dream of things that have occurred in the past and of things that never have occurred (aka fantasies). We even dream of things that can NEVER occur such as flying in the air (my favorite dreams). These are all thoughts and stories that play out in our mind at night when our Frontal Cortex is not active to suppress them or filter them from our conscious thought. What concerns me about hypnosis is that it can just as easily reproduce these fantasies we have when we dream as well as access true memories from the past. And how does the hypnotist know what is fantasy and what is reality? Of course, if the "memories" that are accessed are of a nature so bizarre as to be impossible, then we can conclude it is fantasy. But what of the fantasies that are more plausible? Indeed these can be concluded as true memories instead of fantasies.

Unfortunately, in hypnosis sessions, the hypnotist most often asks the person to "imagine" floating in a cloud, or "imagine" sitting in an empty room with multiple doors, or "imagine" something else in order to relax the person into the hypnotic state. In other words, to get the person into the hypnotic state, he is asked to begin the process of fantasizing. At what point then does the fantasizing stop and the recalling of true memory begin?

Another problem with hypnosis is in the way our brains organize memories. Our memories are not stored in time sequential order or in some easily addressable fashion as a computer memory is. Instead, our memories are stored and linked to in an ASSOCIATIVE fashion. So let's imagine I have a memory of myself in school learning advanced physics. The memory of myself in the classroom will be associated with my memories and conceptual learning of the advanced physics itself. These in turn may have an associative link to a section of my mind that remembers a TV show I saw on the possible physics involved in Extra Terrestrial aircraft. This in turn has an associative link to the stories I saw of Extra Terrestrial kidnappings on the X-Files. While in a dream state, I don't care what is reality and what is not... But what I am sure does happen in dreams is that associative links between memories are followed. And this makes sense from a neural perspective. As certain neural nets are activated as part of a dream, the axonal connected neural nets naturally get activated as well. And then a chain reaction of associated memory link activations happen and that in itself plays out in our mind like a story. If I were dreaming it may start with my physics class but it may end up with my being kidnapped by aliens all thanks to the chain reaction activation of associative links in my brain. Now, if this can happen in a dream, can in not also happen in a hypnosis session?

Now please do not think I am bashing Hypnosis or trying to discredit it. I honestly think that it is a valid science and should be pursued and studied. But I also think the output of hypnosis needs to be carefully studied and the possibility of that output being fantasy as opposed to real memories needs to always be considered.

And then... there are studies of people who have through hypnosis spoken languages that were never known or learned by the person. Reality or Fantasy??? These are definitely outliers and VERY INTERESTING! Fantasy cannot explain them. Reality cannot explain them either. So something else is going on that explains these cases... And maybe this can be discussed in a future blog.


Friday, May 7, 2010

Tapping Into Our Own Creativity Neurologically!

I am so excited... I just purchased a course from The Teaching Company (, titled "Biology and Human Behavior: The Neurological Origins of Individuality, 2nd Edition" on DVD. It should arrive within a week. When I read the course description online, I salivated all over my keyboard. (Pavlov surely is spinning in his grave!) What interested me so much about the course is their discussion on the Frontal Cortex! Yeah, I hear you thinking.... BORING!!! Maybe.... but I will save judgement till after I see the course.
You see, the Frontal Cortex is the section of the brain that I knew had to exist but I did not know what I thought existed really existed.... Does that make any sense??? Let me explain before you quickly hit the Back button and go back to searching for what you were surfing for...

About a couple of years ago, I came to the conclusion that there had to be a part of the brain that is the "GOOD SENSE FILTER"! Think about it with this example...
Let's say that I am speeding down the road (my typical 70mph in a 35mph zone) and a cop has tagged me with his radar and is now on my tail flashing his lights and requesting that I pull over. WHAT DO I DO??? BIG DECISION!
A. I pull over and humbly acknowledge my guilt.
B. I pull over and come up with a tall tale of how I am rushing off to an emergency of some kind.
C. I ignore his request to pull over and just keep driving as if I never saw him.
D. I speed up and try to lose him.
E. I slam on the brakes and hope that he slams into the back of me... then I sue his ass for tailgating!
F. I pull over and pull out my .45 caliber and pump some slugs into the copper.
G. I roll down my window and try my luck at firing a few slugs at him while I drive.
H. I go on a rampage and run over every pedestrian I come across just to really make things worse.
I. I put my .45 caliber to my own head and pull the trigger.
Now you are probably thinking that I am out of mind for even considering options F - I. Why? Because you (nor I in reality) would ever consider those options. However, apart from you and I, there exist some people (very few) who would consider options F - I. And I know there are some people (slightly more) that would consider options C - E. And there are even more people that would consider option B. NOW THE $64K QUESTION.... WHY??? Why would some people consider some or all of the options and yet others would never consider most of them....

I believe it is because we all have a part of our brain that is responsible for filtering out options that it feels would NOT work or would not help us achieve what we want... Happiness, or Security or whatever our prime motivation is. For lack of knowledge of a technical name, I will call this part of the brain the "GOOD SENSE FILTER". When this decision is put to the brain to consider, I believe that our brain weighs out the pros and cons of many options including options like those I listed above. However, before a decision is made, all the options are first brought to the "GOOD SENSE FILTER" which then uses it's knowledge base and experience base to toss out those options that violate our "GOOD SENSE". That is why when I am faced with the decision of what to do when the cop is asking me to pull over, the only options that I would consider would maybe be A or B. The other options were considered in my subconscious but since they were weeded out by the "GOOD SENSE FILTER" they never appeared in my conscious thought! Hallelujah for the "GOOD SENSE FILTER"!!! Without it, I would surely be behind bars! And I honestly believe that it is the reason many people are behind bars!

From what I read in the course material that I purchased, I now believe this "GOOD SENSE FILTER" is none other than the Frontal Cortex! Here is what the course description says about the Frontal Cortex....

Insight into Yourself and Others

As you work through this thought-provoking and engaging material, you will learn much about your own behavior, not to mention that of others. One particularly intriguing region of the brain relating to behavior is the frontal cortex, which plays a central role in decision-making, gratification postponement, and other important functions. The frontal cortex is the part of the brain that "makes you do the harder thing," whether it is concentrating on an unwelcome task, keeping anger under control, or telling a white lie about a spouse's new haircut. Consider these cases:

  • What happens when there is essentially no frontal cortex?: Railroad worker Phineas Gage suffered a massive frontal cortical lesion in a serious accident in the 1840s. Overnight, he changed from a sober, conscientious worker to a profane, aggressive, socially inappropriate man who could never regularly work again. The loss of his frontal cortex meant he lost his emotional regulation; he had no means to do the "harder thing."
  • What happens when the frontal cortex is "offline"?: During rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the frontal cortex goes offline, which explains why dreams are often wild and unrepressed—why dreams are dreamlike. People don't dream about balancing a checkbook. They dream about dancing in musicals or floating in the air.
  • What happens when the frontal cortex is immature?: One of the great myths is that the brain is completely wired up and matured at a very early stage. However, the frontal cortex is not fully functional until an individual is about a quarter-century old—a fact that explains a lot of fraternity behavior, notes Professor Sapolsky. With this in mind, it's worth asking if a 16-year-old violent criminal is not, by definition, organically impaired in frontal cortical function.
WOW!!! Now doesn't this make you salivate too????

Now, here is some more theorizing on my part about this Frontal Cortex... This "GOOD SENSE FILTER" is obviously very important in our lives as it helps us make good decisions. However, I believe that it also LIMITS OUR THINKING! It limits our CREATIVITY! What is the difference between a "Creative" person and a "non-Creative" person besides the letters "non-"??? It is simply that a CREATIVE person does NOT filter out as many options for decisions or solutions that a non-creative person filters out. I believe that everybody in their subconscious comes up with many many solutions to our daily problems, but the CREATIVE person simply is the person whose "GOOD SENSE FILTER" is not as strong a filterer. NOW, before you egg heads say there is more to it than this... I agree with you... I also believe that there are many other factors such as the interconnectedness of the different parts of the brain that give rise to multi-disciplinary solutions. Another factor is simply experience and another is conceptual intelligence. BUT if we had a pair of twins with all of these other factors being equal, the person with the least filtering from the "GOOD SENSE FILTER" will end up coming up with more "creative" options to any problem.

I took a college course in Creative Thinking back in graduate school. It was the only truly FUN course I took. There was much advice as to how to develop our Creativity further, which I will discuss in couple of paragraphs. But for now, let me discuss the technique of using our dreams to help us solve problems. I am sure you have read the advice of putting a pad of paper and a pencil by our bed and whenever we wake up in the middle of the night with a crazy idea or dream, to write it down. I tried it but I was always to lazy to write in the middle of the night! But for those of you that remember your dreams, you know that you dream the craziest things at night. And you know that you also dream of yourself doing many things that you would NEVER CONSIDER doing in real life! And then there are those wonderful dreams where you can fly or do super-hero cool things.... Anyways, why is it we sometimes dream about things we would NEVER consider doing in real life??? Well, if you haven't figured it out already, it is because this "GOOD SENSE FILTER" goes offline at night when we dream. It is turned off! When I read about the Frontal Cortex going offline at night, well that cemented in my mind that the Frontal Cortex is indeed my hypothetical "GOOD SENSE FILTER"!

Now, why would the GOOD SENSE FILTER go offline at night? I have a couple of theories about this...
1. I believe that the true purpose of sleep is to record into long term memory our short term memories that are of significance. And in order to NOT compete with energy resources, the brain turns parts of the brain offline that it does not need in order to reserve energy for what it does need. Areas of the brain that are not needed at night are the motor cortex (at least the part that actually signals the spinal cord), the somatosensory cortex (which gets input from the senses), and the GOOD SENSE FILTER (aka Frontal Cortex).
2. Now another theory as to why the GOOD SENSE FILTER would be turned off at night is that it would or could come in conflict with the programming of the Long Term Memory. I believe that at night, our brain takes what is in our short term memory and then moves it to long term memory and records with NO BIAS. In other words, it records even things that we DO NOT WANT TO REMEMBER! Like those lies I told during the day... All of that gets recorded. I believe that this would or could be in conflict with what the GOOD SENSE FILTER would want to be recorded. An evidence of this may be the cases where people have "forgotten" traumatic events in their life. Indeed they are not forgotten but simply the GOOD SENSE FILTER was programmed to not allow those memories to be accessed by our consciousness. Yet under hypnosis or in our dreams, these events are NOT forgotten and are played back. Hence, there can be possible conflicts between our memory processes and what the GOOD SENSE FILTER will allow. The body in its evolution opted to let the memory processes win and chose to turn off the GOOD SENSE FILTER at night.
Probably the truth will be neither of these... But at least these are theories...

Now, getting back to the TITLE of this blog post... "Tapping Into Our Own Creativity Neurologically!" How can we train ourselves to be more creative??? Well, here are some of my ideas.
1. HUMOR!!! Listening and TRYING to be humorous requires that we open our mind to different ways of thinking. Yes, go buy a joke book and read it! Go to the library and check out audio CD's of Comedians. I have done this and have quite a collection of pirated MP3's of comedy routines! (please don't tell the FBI on me!)
2. LOSE YOUR FEAR OF FAILURE!!! Many options, solutions, and creative decisions are filtered out by the GOOD SENSE FILTER due to an inherent FEAR OF FAILURE! Purposely look for opportunities to take more risks in your day to day life! Live life a little more on the edge! Now here is where I fear that someone taking this advice of mine will end up in prison or dead, and I will be the one blamed! I will then take that risk and stick with my advice.... Live life on the edge! Lose your fears! Overcome your fears! Just please don't sue me if it you do something too stupid!
3. Take up a new ARTISTIC hobby! Have you ever noticed that artists are the craziest people alive? The more artistic they are the crazier they are... Michael Jackson, Boy George, Madonna, Picasso, Salvador Dali are just a few of the craziest of them! Of course, I am synonymizing "crazyness" with "creativity". There is a strong relationship between artistry and creativity! So learn to paint. Or learn to sing. Or learn to dance. Or learn to weld crazy structures and place them in your front yard like one of my favorite artists did... Starr Kempf. See... for photos of his work. This artist unfortunately ended up killing himself! Now, why would he kill himself or even consider it??? By now you should have figured it out... His GOOD SENSE FILTER was not filtering as much as others which explains why he even considered option I above. AND it also correlates with his artistic nature. My advice is take up art... but don't go so far as to kill yourself over it!
4. EXPLORE and DISCOVER! My wife hates this habit of mine. I inherited this from my father. If there are a hundred ways to drive from point A to point B, then I want to drive all 100 even if I do not know if a course will indeed get me there. My dad did this often when I was a kid and we at times got "lost" even though my father would never admit to being lost. But eventually we would find our way, arrive late, and all would be well regardless. LOL! As a result of this, I always know the shortcuts and I learn new things along the way. The act of forcing ourselves to explore new roads, new methods of doing things, is forcing our GOOD SENSE FILTER to open up and relax a little!
5. Try seeing things from the eyes of other people! Try to feel what they feel. Try to understand why certain people do what they do. Try to judge people less and instead try to simply see where they are coming from. Try being sympathetic to ideas that you would not consider. If you are a republican, try thinking like a democrat. If you are a democrat, try thinking like a republican. If you are a libertarian, then God Bless You, you are already perfect! LOL. If you are a Christian, try thinking like a Jew or a Muslim. If you are a Jew or Muslim, try Christianity on for size. If you are atheist, try envisioning what God would or could be like. Being sympathetic to others forces you to consider other ideas that you might not normally consider and works those creative muscles in your head. This does not have to be a permanent change of life... just thinking about it is enough to open your creative mind!
6. Some other things I learned about in my Creativity course at college... Try writing with your other hand. Try looking at the bottom of everything, in other words, try to see things from new angles. Try learning a new language. Try speaking in Pig Latin... All of these things have an effect of giving you new experiences and exercising new areas of the brain which help in being more creative.

Soon this DVD course I purchased online should be arriving and I will spend my free time for the following 12 hours soaking it all up. I hope that indeed the course will confirm my theories about the GOOD SENSE FILTER being our Frontal Cortex. And hopefully I will learn more things to discuss in this blog! Keep tuned....


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Discussion on Autism!

April is Autism Awareness Month.
Please read the following article if you have any interest in Autism. Autistic people have brains that are wired differently. It may be due to a lack of wiring in one area (such as in the linguistic skills area) and then compensated for in other areas. Or it may be a wiring that is independent altogether. I am sure within the next decade, we will have a definitive answer to this. But, regardless of the cause or the brain state of an autistic person, their behavior and priorities are different than that of normal (non-autistic) people. The writer compares the brain of an autistic to a hair dryer trying to survive in a world where normal people have brains comparable to toasters. Toasters are better for toasting activities than hair dryers are... Where as if you want to dry your hair, a hair dryer is much better than a toaster. What I like about this view (which is synonymous to the truth with autistic people) is that it helps us understand that there is a place in society for Autistic people! They have a purpose to fulfill!

Also, here is a good link that shows famous people that have shown Asperger's Syndrome (on the Autism spectrum of disorders). My theory is that the Autistic person's ability to FOCUS entirely on a single subject for long periods of time, is what helped these people in their special area of expertise.

It is said that in order to become an expert in any subject, a person needs to spend at least 10,000 hours doing or studying that subject. Of course, the 10,000 number was "rectally extracted", but the intent of the number is right on course. Autistics, especially those with Asperger's, have the uncanny ability to focus on a preferred subject for much longer than normal, thus allowing them to become experts in very specialized areas. For these people, this focus comes natural... For the rest of us, well, we have to work at having that intensity of focus!

Now, just briefly, I want to discuss what I meant by "wiring" in the first paragraph. What I believe is that Autistic kids have brains that do not have same "de facto" or "default" wiring that is set up during the gestation period. "Wiring" means the neuron interconnections in the brain. For example, normal people will have a normal set of neural networks that are pre-wired (setup during gestation) for Linguistics. These pre-wired neural nets, together with a normal upbringing, will allow a baby to develop normal speaking abilities after a few years. Now if a child is missing some of that pre-wiring of the neural networks, then that child will have a much much harder time understanding language and language concepts. Kids with Asperger's show this very tendency... they have the LACK of ability linguistically. And for them to develop those same language skills, these Asperger's kids have to work MUCH harder (REPETITION, REPETITION, REPETITION) than normal kids in order to setup and configure new neural networks that were not there for them when they were born. As a side note, there is some evidence that Asperger's is a syndrome that is a result of an event post birth that destroys neuronic interconnections. The theory is that vaccines that contain Thimerosal have a mercury preservative which causes destruction to the nervous system (neuronic interconnections). More on this can be found at:
But regardless if the lack of wiring that Asperger's have is caused by problems or differences during gestation OR by other means such as vaccines, the fact remains that for a Asperger's child to learn certain skills (such as linguistic skills), it requires MUCH MUCH more work. And I believe this is the case because for these kids, they must build NEW neural networks in their brain because of the lack of default networks. On the flipside, they do seem to have other wiring that allow them to have incredible focus.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

ALL experience leads to PROGRESS, even if it appears we are DIGRESSING!

Ever wonder if it is really useful to help the drug addict 70 times 7 if he always goes back to his drugs????

The previous blog deals how the brain functions on the neural level. It gives the basics of how a Neural Network works. This is very important to understand if you are to understand the concepts I am going to present in this blog posting.

What is the number 1 secret to learning new things? REPETITION, REPETITION, REPETITION, REPETITION, and so on... Seriously, this is how our brain learns new things. For example, if I am training my brain in how to swing the perfect backhand in tennis, I will need to train my brain through continuous repetition until it becomes easy and natural. We all have learned and have stories of our own that prove the effectiveness of repetition, but what exactly is going on in the brain as we repeat actions over and over again?
When you try something for the first time, your brain uses the neurons that are associated with movements or thoughts or ideas that are related to what you are trying to learn. Not just individual neurons are used, but rather neural networks are used. A neural network is a group of neurons that are all interconnected. Some of the neurons in the network will receive input and some will push the output and there will probably be a mesh of other neurons in the middle that are often referred to as the hidden layer.

I do not know if the brain actually has hidden layers or not, but I suspect it has MANY MANY hidden layers. And in fact, in a later posting I will discuss what I believe are the relationship between the hidden layers and the subconscious. But for now, think of the hidden layer as a network of interconnected neurons that are between the input and output sets of neurons. Their purpose is to facilitate learning.
Now back to the example. Let's suppose that one thing I do know how to do well is karate and let's suppose that what I am trying to learn how to do is a tennis backhand. Well, since this is the first time I have ever tried a tennis backhand, my brain has to decide which set of neurons to use to execute the backhand. Well, let's suppose for this example that the set of neurons that executes movements closest to a tennis backhand is a karate move called the backfist. So there I am on the tennis court and the ball comes to me and I attempt the backswing and well.... I fail naturally. Why? Well, it is my first time and the neural network I used works great for a backfist in Karate but isn't quite good enough for a backhand swing. So, before I try it again, I analyze what I wanted to do against what I actually did and think about the corrections I need to make in order to make it work. This is when your brain either chooses another network, OR your brain makes some adjustments to the configuration of the neural network it is using. Then you try again. Well, naturally, the second attempt will usually have better results, but they will be far from perfect. So then you re-analyze and your brain re-adjusts the configuration of the neurons, and guess what? You try again. And you do this over and over again. In theory, your brain is re-fining the configuration of the neural networks it is using until it finds the best configuration.
However, one thing I have learned is that when trying to learn new things it is best to repeat, repeat, repeat UNTIL you get to a point where you do not notice anymore incremental improvement. Then what should you do??? Give it a rest for a while and do something else. Why? Well, my theory is that during the rest, your brain does not stop working on the problem, but rather it uses the rest time to actually grow new axons and connect up the neurons in such a way as to make the network work better and more efficient. So after the rest, try the backswing again, and this time, it should work better. Why is that? Well, that neural network that was used which was setup for Karate backfists, has just been modified by adding some extra axons (neural interconnections) to make it also better at tennis backhand swings. So now let's suppose that I continue to practice both my Karate backfists and tennis backhand swings on a regular basis, what the brain will do is continually grow new axons to the neural network in order to maximize the learning of both tasks. After continuous repetition, what I have is a network of neurons that works now for both backfists and backhand swings!
This process works FOR learning ALL things, from walking to calculus to interpersonal relationships to controlling our emotions. The secret is REPETITION, REPETITION, REPETITION, etc.
Now, the reason I suggested the rest in between repetitions is because this the time the brain uses to grow new axons. Let me take this thought one step further and say this is one of the purposes of sleep. Humans need sleep because that is the time when short term memory and newly learned tasks are repeated over and over again virtually in the brain in order to train the networks in the long term memory and grow new axons to make the networks more efficient.
Okay, now that we have established how the brain actually learns things, let's discuss the philosophies of life that we can apply that will effectively use the brain's way of learning.
First off, real-world experiences are MUCH more effective at teaching a brain new concepts than learning through other sources such as books, speaking with others, teachers, etc. So whenever possible, it is best to teach or learn through real-world experiences.
Secondly, if you can relate the new concept to another concept the student has already learned, then this helps their brains use the neural networks that are the closest match for the learned concept. The example of using a karate backfist neural network to learn how to do a tennis backhand swing illustrates this. Another example might be when teaching chemistry, try comparing the concepts in chemistry to other concepts well understood by the students such as cooking (molar chemistry) or magnetism (ionic bonding) or sharing (covalent bonding). Or as students ourselves, we should always try to relate what we are learning to concepts we have already learned.
Thirdly, we should repeat, repeat, repeat in our minds what we are trying to learn. This is the purpose and beauty of homework... It allows us to repeat the application of what we learned. It is through this repetition that our brains refine the neural networks enough until they are perfected for the task or concept.
I want to address something now that is more emotionally impacting and that is the changing of character. William James said, “Sow an action and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.” Let's say that I were to have a problem with drinking. I might have this problem of drinking for many reasons, but for this example, let's say that the reason I have a drinking problem is because I errantly believed and learned the concept that to have a good time, I need to be drunk. After repeatedly getting drunk time and time again and finding it very fun, I have just strengthened this belief in my mind. If I continue to repeat this and continue to find that my funnest times are when I am drinking, I will find myself developing the habit of drinking to have fun. And in time, my character will reflect this belief. Now let's say that after several years of repetition of the application of this concept, I find that the side effects of alcohol abuse start having their impact on me, such as liver problems, failed relationships, financial problems, etc. Well now, I am at the cross-roads of learning. I can either continue to believe that drinking is the key to fun, or I can believe that drinking is the cause of my sufferings. Some people would immediately LEARN the concept of that drinking causes problems and that would counter the learning that drinking is the key to fun. Others do not learn this new concept that fast. WHY??? Well the reason should be obvious to you by now. The more we train our neurons in a concept through repetition, the more refined the neural network becomes until it is perfectly learned and very strong. So if I repeatedly apply the concept of drinking to have fun and I find that it IS FUN repeatedly, then the neural network gets cemented on this concept. For me to learn the concept that drinking causes problems to the point to counter the other concept, I will need to have this new concept as strongly cemented in my brain as the errant concept. And how do we get the new concept as strongly cemented???? REPETITION, REPETITION, REPETITION, etc. So for the people that take longer to overcome their drinking problem, it is because they need to be reminded and experience the problems OVER and OVER and OVER again.
I am reminded of a conversation I had with a friend who was frustrated at a church that was trying to help homeless people. The frustration was that despite bringing food to the homeless, giving them money or shelter and preaching to them of a better way of life, the homeless seem to always go back to the homeless life and the life of bad decisions. What I realized is that for some people, it may take one application of preaching to turn their life around. Maybe that preaching was successful at reminding the people of both the concepts of responsibility and the concepts of problems associated with irresponsibility and the learning of the positive concepts was strong enough to counter the negative concepts already learned. However, we will find that for most people, it will take much more preaching than just one time. It will take repetition, repetition, repetition.
Let's look at two example individuals, John and Betty. Let's say for John it takes 100 repetitions to learns the concept of problems come from drinking and for Betty it will take 10,000 repetitions. Well, unfortunately, no-one knows how many repetitions it will take for John or Betty. So imagine that we keep preaching this concept to John and Betty and after 100 repetitions (maybe 5 months), we see John finally "get it" and turn his life around. For Betty, we still have another 9,900 repetitions to go. But since we cannot know how many we have left, it is tempting to simply give up!
We need to realize when helping someone else, if they do not understand the concept and do not change at that time, your attempt is NOT IN VAIN. It was simply one repetition closer to the goal. For Betty, each repetition is simply bringing her closer and closer to the goal, and that is how we should view it. If we give up on Betty, it is because WE DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE CONCEPT OF LEARNING THROUGH REPETITION!
So when we see the drunkard make progress and then DIGRESS back to being a drunkard, please understand that the exercise was simply another repetition that brings the drunkard closer to a sober life. ALL life experiences lead us to PROGRESS because all life experiences teach us concepts. Even if it appears that for a time a person digresses, it is really just one more step in the right direction. Before we can succeed, we first must fail, analyze, and then try again, fail some more and re-analyze, try again, fail some more and re-analyze, and so on until we finally succeed. And once we succeed, we need to continue the process of repetition and analysis to cement the success and build a successful character.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Communication and its role in Progress/Evolution

As we have discussed in the previous blogs... Intelligence is Organization. And in particular, the densest organization of intelligence in our bodies is in the brain. As a kid, I assumed that the reason adults were smarter than kids was because their heads were bigger and thus they had more brains than kids do. I think it is a natural conclusion albeit it is wrong! Children are born with the same number of neurons in their brain as they die with... unless of course they either drink too much, smoke too much, or do too many drugs. And of course, let's not forget diseases like Alzheimer's. All that aside, what causes the difference in size of the brains of a child and an adult is in the number of neural interconnections. Neurons are cells in the brain that are similar conceptually to transistors in a computer chip. Of course the more you have, the more you can use and the better you are... But growing additional brain cells is a process that has not yet been mastered... And if you could grow them, where would you put them if your head is already full? Maybe we can store extra brain cells in various parts of the body. Then I can imagine all the jokes that would arise from this... I am sitting on my brains. Joe's brains are in his xxxxx ! You get the picture.. But until then, we must learn to maximize the 100 billion or so neurons we have stuck in our skull.
Now, if you have ever seen a computer chip under a microscope you will see millions of lines that connect the billions of transistors. And there are many more you cannot see because they are under the surface on many different layers. Today's computer chips are interconnected in 3 dimensions. Well, so are our neurons. The highest levels of our thought processes are through the neurons that are on the outer layer of our brain called the cerebral cortex. And the thought processes are divided up in different areas of the cortex. Some processes like memories, and emotions, and understanding of emotional concepts ("emotional intelligence") is processed by the neurons in the front part of the brain. On the top of the brain is an area responsible for voluntary motor functions and is where we learn how to properly swing a tennis racket, kick a soccer ball, walk, use our hands to eat, and drive a car (aka "Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence"). I could go on and on, but this is not a course in Brain topology nor do I know enough about it to speak authoritatively.
Now let's take the example of the Tennis Player. What makes a pro tennis player better at tennis than an average schmo like me? It is because the pro tennis player has more interconnections and "finer tuned" interconnections between his neurons on the top of his cortex than I do. The secret of intelligence is in the interconnections between our brain cells!
A good course to study that would help you understand this concept would be Artificial Intelligence, specifically Neural Networks. I took a course in this back in grad school and it has been one of my favorite courses ever taken!
I am going to give a brief example of a neural network... Imagine we have learned through experience on the tennis court that if a ball is coming to my left side AND it is coming very fast AND the opponent player's racket dipped down after he hit the ball (indicating a top spin) AND I am at the back of my side of the court AND I am in a neutral stance with my racket also in a neutral position, THEN I should QUICKLY try to return the ball with a backhand with a hard top spin to counter the spin on the ball that is coming. Now this is a LOT of brain processing and it needs to be very fast! So to do this, we will have one neuron that is responsible for determining which side of my body the ball is headed towards. This neuron gets input (from the connections) from other neurons that are connected to the eyes. Another neuron is responsible for measuring the speed of the ball and it get's its inputs from connections to other neurons that are connected to the eyes as well. Another neuron is trying to determine the spin of the ball. He gets his input from other connected neurons that are also connected to the eyes. Another neuron determines if I am in the back of my side of the court. This neuron gets its input from the memory neurons and from the neurons connected to the eyes. Together with this data, he makes a decision as to whether I am at the back of the court. Then another neuron is responsible for determining if my racket is in a neutral position relative to my body. It get's its input also from neurons in the memory and probably from the motor cortex and possibly also from the neurons that determine my balance from the inner ear. NOW, let's connect all these neurons to a single OUTPUT neuron that makes the final decision on whether to use a backhand to return the ball. It looks at the inputs from all these other neurons. And if they are all TURNED ON then the OUTPUT neuron TURNS ON and it says "YES!!! Use a Backhand"! This OUTPUT neuron then is connected to the motor cortex which then has to figure out how to tell the nerve cells to contract and expand the proper muscles in the arms and legs in order to execute a backhand! It seems complicated, but in reality, it is very fast because there was NO MATH involved! No use of math to calculate speed, or position, or distance! It was all done through neural decisioning which is very simple and thus very fast. If our brains had to use math to calculate the speeds, distances, and positions of the ball, it would take WAY too long with our slow neurons! The ball would pass us long before we could figure out what to do!
Now imagine that in this neural network that determines whether to use a backhand, if I were missing some of the connections. If that were the case, then I would make wrong decisions to use a backhand at least some of the time if not all the time. This shows the importance of the neural connections! Better decisioning is done when a neuron is connected to more information. This is similar to the role of information in our lives. Simply, we make better decisions when we have more information.
Now, let's consider another example that is less technical. Let's imagine our stock broker trying to make a decision on whether to buy a share of stock in company ABC Inc. We know that the more information he has regarding ABC Inc and the industry that ABC Inc pertains to, he will make a better decision. HOWEVER, I could very well bring to this stock broker a STACK of data for him to read and digest about ABC Inc, and I could give him another stack about each of ABC's competitors, and another stack of information about the market conditions, etc. This poor stock broker might spend 2 weeks pouring over the information before making a decision. By that time, it may be too late, and the price of ABC stock rose sharply and already fell, missing the opportunity for profit. Receiving TOO MUCH information (information overload) can INHIBIT good decisioning. To make good and quick decisions, the stock broker needs to have the RIGHT pieces of information AND have it at the right time (usually as fast as possible). So what the good stock broker does is filter all the data he gets so that he gets what he needs to make a decent decision in the shortest amount of time possible. This is what I refer to as the "fine tuning" of the information. The stock broker has to tune the amount and type of information he gets in order to maximize his ability to make a decision in the shortest amount of time. Of course the more info he can get very fast the better decision, but the more info he gets also requires processing and slows down the response. So it is a balance between response time and amount of info. As this stock broker does thousands of buy/sell decisions, he becomes more and more expert and learns exactly what information is most important to look at and how to use it to make a decision. In the same way, our neurons need to connect to other neurons that give them the RIGHT or BEST information in the fastest time possible. And this only comes through LEARNING. As we learn how to broker stocks or as we learn tennis, the neurons in our head start interconnecting through small fibers called AXONS that join the neurons. What is still not understood by science is how neurons figure out how to interconnect. My belief is that it is a mixture of trial and error with feedback within the brain that allows it to interconnect in ways we want!
Now the more we LEARN, the more our neurons interconnect. It is through the interconnections of the neurons we UNDERSTAND CONCEPTS! In other words, it is through the interconnections that we gain Conceptual Intelligence (please see previous blogs regarding Conceptual Intelligence).
Now that you (hopefully) understand the role of the interconnections of the neurons in our intelligence, let's branch off in a slightly different direction with this.
One of the problems we have in meetings is that the participants of the meetings spend most of their time trying to get others to UNDERSTAND their viewpoints. This requires time to explain, time to ponder, and patience for all involved for everyone to understand the viewpoints of everyone else. IMAGINE if we could interconnect all the brains of everyone in a meeting such that everyone could see the thoughts, hear the words, and feel the emotions of everyone else in the meeting without words even needing to be said! HOW MUCH TIME WOULD WE SAVE???? An hour meeting could be over in a matter of seconds! A debate could happen and a final decision could be made within a minute! Someday, this may be a reality, but for now, it is just a dream.
Today there are more scientists than their ever was before. And an advantage of being a scientist today versus years ago is the amount of available information. Indeed, this is the "information age". Also, scientists can interconnect (ie. communicate) between themselves through new communication mediums such as the Internet, web conferences, telephones, television and radio. And through this ability to share information, new discoveries and inventions is happening at a record pace. A key to this rapid progress is the communication that occurs in the world today.
Here is concept I want to communicate to you. A key to the progress and evolution of a society is the communication capability that society has. The more and faster mediums of communication that a society has, the faster it will progress on all levels. What application does this concept have? Well, for one, when looking to determine where we should spend allocated government monies, we should give great value to communication. Improving communication in a society is like improving the interconnections of the neurons in a brain. Adding more forms of communication and ways to transmit and receive communication is like adding more interconnections in our brains. Improving the speed of that communication is like improving the speed of thought in our brains. This is the main concept I was trying to build up to in this entire blog posting. It was probably way to lengthy of a discussion, but hopefully you learned a few things along the way.
Now that we have a new concept... let's follow this concept mixed with a few others we have already discussed into the future and see where these will lead us as a society.
As a society, we are getting smarter and smarter because of the added means of communication between all of us. We are seeing more interrelationships between all aspects of our society than ever before. The more we progress, the faster and better this intercommunication becomes. 150+ years ago, we had newspapers and books. 70 years ago we had radio which is a faster method of communication. 60+ years ago we gained telecommunications (phones) which allowed individuals to communicate. 50 years ago we gained television which involves sight as well as sound, thus making mass communications more effective. 40 years ago, we gained satellites that improved television and telephone communications. 20 years ago we gained email as a new faster method of communicating written material. 15 years ago, we gained em masse, cellular communications (cellphones) that allow us to speak to others at anytime and anyplace. 10 years ago we gained internet which allows us to do both mass communication and individual communication cheaper and more comprehensively than ever before experienced. Now with the Internet as a backbone, we have social networks, and other forms of social communication such as Twitter allowing us to communicate whatever we want instantaneously to millions of interested individuals. All of these new forms of communications are helping us as a society to progress and evolve faster and faster. What will we see in the future?
As scientists crack the code of how the brain works, we will see more direct connection of communication devices directly to the brain. This will help us in minimizing the brain processing required in verbal and visual communication and maximize the communication of ideas, thoughts, memories, and emotions directly without having to rely on words and eyes. You will have everyone talking to each other without ever making a sound and without ever being physically in proximity. This will speed up the progress of society even more.
If you read one of my earlier blog posts titled "Everything has Intelligence", you will learn about the intelligence that a society has. When all of our brains are interconnected in the same way that our neurons are interconnected, we as a society will become MUCH MUCH smarter than any individual. If you want to know what my idea of a GOD is... it is much like this... the total system of interconnected individuals all sharing thoughts, ideas, and emotions between us. The power of this is GOD-like! Connect this system to a database of all known information and this would be a GOD that is ALL-KNOWING! It would also be a GOD that is EVER PRESENT and IN ALL LOCATIONS and WITHIN US AT THE SAME TIME!
If you ever wondered about the mystery of the trinity of the Christian God, namely God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and God the Holy Ghost, then herein is the key to understanding this mystery of how they are three and yet one. If they happen to be three distinct individuals but had the ability to intercommunicate with each other as I suggested we will have in the future, then at any point in time, the Son (Jesus) would know the will of the Father and the will of the Holy Ghost. Likewise the Father and Holy Ghost would know the will of the Son. And all three could have a meeting to discuss options and come to a decision in the matter of seconds. Then are they NOT ONE GOD? They would then be ONE in thought (mind), ONE in decided upon actions (might), and ONE in emotions (feelings or spirit).
Can humans ever acheive GODHOOD? If so, an important key to progressing (or evolving) to this point is improving our inter-communication!
I consider myself already assimilated!


Conceptual Intelligence

In the previous posts, I have discussed what is intelligence. Intelligence is nothing more than organization. For humans, the most important organization in our body is that of the brain. The brain is where we store in its organization our memories. But more important than memories, our brains also store what I will refer to now as "conceptual intelligence". Conceptual intelligence is the understanding of concepts. Conceptual intelligence is the most advanced and important type of intelligence that we can have. Examples of conceptual intelligence are algebra, economics, human interactions and relations, philosophy, and morality. The difference between conceptual intelligence and let's say a memory is that a memory is simply a fact or an event or a trivia that is memorized. However, a conceptual intelligence is the thorough understanding of a concept. One of the best examples is from the movie "Rainman". Raymond, the autistic character had the ability to memorize facts and statistics better than most people, however, Raymond could not understand many concepts such as human interactions as evidenced by his inability to empathize with others. Raymond knew the history of all airplane crashes BUT did not understand the concept of probabilities, evidenced by his extreme fear of flying. Raymond knew all the stats regarding the car's engine, but did not understand how an engine works. It is said that "knowledge is power". But it would be more correct to say that "Conceptual Intelligence together with knowledge is power". What good is knowledge if you do not know how to apply it? And that is the role of Conceptual intelligence... the understanding that allows for the application of knowledge.
I find that in my life, if I can gain some conceptual intelligence, it allows me to forgo memorizing facts. For example, I understand conceptually the interrelation between the physics of distance, speed, and acceleration and the math behind it. Because of this conceptual knowledge, I have never memorized the formulas for calculating speed or distance when the acceleration is known. With the conceptual intelligence I have, I can simply derive these formulas on the fly whenever I need to. Another example of conceptual intelligence is the ability to determine one's position or location within an area such as a city without the use of a map. When a person has this conceptual intelligence, it lessons the need for the person to use a map. People with this type of intelligence have the traits of being able to look at a map once and then quickly find their way around a city they have never been to before. With conceptual intelligence, there is less dependency on memorization. Another corollary is the difference between "book smarts" and "street smarts". The person with book smarts may understand something superficially. But the person with street smarts is someone with experience that understands something in depth. Street smarts is akin to conceptual intelligence.
Our personalities, our habits, our strengths and weaknesses are all outward manifestations of our conceptual intelligence. A person who has learned to overcome a bad habit or a bad personality trait has gained conceptual intelligence related to the habit or trait.
Now is the time when we shall define "PROGRESS". Progress is defined as the learning or growing of conceptual intelligence. If a person is simply memorizing facts and trivia, this is not progress. However, if a person is learning how things work, how things operate, or how to manipulate other people or things in order to achieve their goals, then they are learning conceptual intelligence and this is PROGRESS. Another word I like to use synonymously with Progress is Evolution. As we learn new concepts as a person, we evolve. As a society learns new concepts, society progresses, society evolves. One example of a societal evolution many of us have witnessed is the concept of treating all people of all races, genders, religions, nationalities equally. This is a concept that was not part of most societies 200 + years ago. But slowly and steadily, most societies are evolving in their understanding and application of this concept.
The BEST way to progress as a person is learn these concepts through direct experience. For example, the best way to understand the concept of better interpersonal relationship through honesty is to first live a dishonest life and then change to an honest life and compare the results. People that experience this in the flesh are better suited to understand this concept than those that were always honest. HOWEVER, there are very destructive consequences for learning all concepts through direct experience. We can be injured or worse, we can injure others. Thus learning concepts through either the study of books or from observations of others is more efficient. I honestly believe that a repentant murderer evolves more with respect to understanding the concept of the value of life, than a person who has never murdered. However, it is more efficient and less destructive to learn that concept through books or stories of others than to experience it in the flesh.
Another belief that I have is that conceptual knowledge is over generations, recorded in our genetic code. For example, a baby is born and immediately has the urge to suck. Without this conceptual intelligence of sucking for food and nourishment, children would die. But through the genetic transference of this concept to each and every baby that is born, children survive. Another example is that of a sheepdog. Sheepdogs have the uncanny ability to herd sheep without ever being taught how to do it. Through thousands of generations of training and breeding, the concept of herding sheep has transferred from neural understanding to genetic code. I am sure in time, we will find the genes in sheepdogs that are responsible for setting up the neural networks in the brains of puppy sheepdogs the concept of herding sheep. Because this is now genetic, sheepdogs do not need to learn this concept. They are born with it. I believe the same thing has happened to humans in their evolution. Many of the more complicated concepts such as economics, physics, and mathematics have transferred to the genetics and children are more and more being born with neural networks that were pre-wired through genetics to understand these complex concepts. I probably have too quickly jumped to the conclusion that the pre-wiring of the brain in infants of conceptual intelligence is through genetics. As I am thinking about this right now, another idea came to me that possibly this pre-wiring occurs through the transference of this intelligence from the mother directly to the child during the time of gestation. Perhaps, one day we will be able to measure the amount of conceptual intelligence that is pre-wired in an infant and then experiment with children that went through a full gestation period versus those that were premature or maybe even grown outside the womb to see how much of this transference occurs. A statistical study of this would be very interesting!
So what is the application of what I have revealed here about conceptual intelligence??? One important application of this understanding is in how we teach our children. It is said... "Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime!". I love this phrase... but let me change it just a little... "Teach a child that fish come from the ocean and the child can hungrily pass a test. Teach a child to fish in the ocean and the child may never go hungry." What I am saying is that we should strive to teach our children CONCEPTUAL INTELLIGENCE and not facts and trivia only. And the best way to teach conceptual intelligence is through actual experience in the flesh!
And here is another paradigm shift... We, as parents, should passively encourage our children to learn how to misbehave, lie, cheat, and steal in order to create learning situations. I say "passively encourage", meaning we should not actively encourage or tell our children to be dishonest, but we should look for situations which would give our children the temptation and model for being dishonest and then HOPE they fall into the trap. By doing this in a controlled environment, a good parent creates a situation by which he can teach honesty to his child with the application of real-life consequences. Like I said, the best way to learn these concepts is through experience in the flesh. Thus a wise parent looks for situations for his child to learn these concepts in the flesh as early in their development as possible. It is better for a child to learn the concepts of honesty through real-life experiences as a child than grow up not understanding the concept and then as an adult experimenting with dishonesty in order to learn it then. The consequences of an adult being dishonest are much greater than they are for a child in a controlled environment.
Another application of this in our own lives. We should always seek out opportunities where we can learn important new concepts. This is best done through schooling or through work or through personal study. Simply watching TV is better than sleeping. But actually doing the work or living the experience is MUCH better than watching it on TV! As a teenager, my favorite pastime was skateboarding. I dedicated at least one to two hours everyday from 13 years old to 17 years old skating in the streets and parks and learning new tricks. My kids never learned how to skateboard on the street, but they were very good at the skateboard video games and could do tricks on the video games I never learned in real life... Who progressed more in the area of actual skateboarding? I or my kids?... Of course, I did. Because I had real life experience. My kids only had virtual life experience. What we as adults should strive for are real life experiences that will give us the conceptual intelligence that we want to have.
We should also learn to VALUE our own conceptual intelligence! The more we value the conceptual intelligence we already have, the more we will strive to increase it.

Now, I will make a statement that will be a lead in to another post in the future... Whatever conceptual intelligence we acquire in this life will persist with us in the life after this life! And this is a primary reason why we should be constantly working on progressing ourselves through the acquisition of conceptual intelligence.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

More regarding Intelligence - Everything has intelligence!

I am going to build upon yesterday's post and discuss more about the meaning of the word "intelligence". First off, let me define intelligence as "organization". Everything that exists has some sort of organization. The simplest organization might be a sub-atomic particle. You choose the name you prefer... quark, neutrino, gluon, etc... that is not what is important... What is important is that if it is matter or energy, there is some sort of organization to it and properties that are a result of that organization. The organization is what I refer to as intelligence. For example, a chair has a certain organization of its molecules that allows it to fulfill a purpose... to allow a person to sit down and rest from standing. I would therefore say that the intelligence of the chair is that it allows a person to sit down. Now some chairs are more intelligent in the sense they are more comfortable. Others are more intelligent in the sense that they provide the user with a better posture. Each chair has an inherent intelligence that allows it to serve a specific purpose. So an electron, an atom, a molecule, a compound, a rock, a piece of wood, a tree, a chair, a table, a car, a computer, a beetle, a dog, a monkey, a human all have intelligence. And of course, they are all different levels of intelligence. I cannot expect a dog to have the intelligence of a human, and likewise, I cannot expect a rock to have the intelligence of a dog. Everything has the intelligence that is necessary for that thing to fulfill its purpose. And "purpose" is very broad. A rock for example can serve as a weapon, as a building material, as an instrument, as cooking surface, etc. Likewise, everything else we see can serve for many purposes. Also, it goes without saying that some intelligences are more advanced overall that others. For example, a computer is as intelligent as the programming it has allows it to be. But still to this date, we do not have computers that are self-aware. Where as dogs, birds, and lower "animal lifeforms" are self aware and thus possess a form of intelligence that is more advanced than a computer. However, I think it is only a matter of time before we have computers that too are self aware.
Now, let me get back to the definition I gave earlier... intelligence is organization. Let me provide you another more concrete example of this... Our brains are made up of 100 Billion neurons. And we all have roughly the same amount of brain cells, no matter if you are a genius or an idiot. The number of brain cells is about the same. What the difference is between the genius and the idiot is the ORGANIZATION of the brain. Specifically, it is the organization of the neural connections. The more intelligent person will have more interconnected neurons than the idiot. And the intelligence is all wrapped up in how the brain neurons are interconnected. And as opposed to a computer, the brain is very plastic in that it can be easily changed... thus allowing an idiot to become a genius with enough work and practice, or a genius to become an idiot through either neglect or disease such as in the case of Alzheimer's. Now, if we wanted to clone a person's intelligence, all we would need to do is map out the brain, map out all the interconnections, and replicate it in another brain. Provided everything else is equal such as hormones, and other chemicals, you could in this manner transfer the intelligence and experience of one person to another. And thus this is a perfect example of intelligence simply being "organization". Another example is that of a computer program. What is the difference between a computer CD with a really cool chess program recorded on it and a computer CD with nothing recorded on it? The one with the chess program has more intelligence than the empty CD. But the microscopic difference between the two is simply the organization of the bits of information on the CDs. The organization of the empty CD is pure chaos. The organization of the other CD is such that it serves (in the proper environment as a computer) as an intelligent program that can challenge people in the game of chess.

Since every piece of matter in the universe is part of a system, or is a system or both, every piece of matter has some sort of purpose (for itself or for a system) and an organization. AND thus has also a degree of intelligence.

This should be a new way of understanding and thinking about intelligence. This is yet another important concept to know and understand which I will build upon in later blogs.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

What is Life???

One night while driving in Rio de Janeiro across the long bridge that crosses Guanabara bay, I saw the lights of the city Niteroi on the horizon with the lights from Copacabana beach to my right. The sight was spectacular. It was then that I uncovered a very important truth... namely, "What is Life?" and "What is Intelligence?".
The thought came to me at that instance, that the city of Niteroi which at that instance was a carpet of lights off in the distance, was pretty much the same as a human being. For example, the streets are like the blood vessels, transporting goods and services to the entire city. The government buildings were like the brain of the city, making the decisions that impact the city as a whole. The citizens were like the cells of a human body. A city needs teachers, engineers, policemen, doctors, nurses, lawyers, leaders, garbage collectors, etc which all have their equal in the human body. Then the thought came to me... what if a nuclear bomb were to blow up in the middle of the city, what would happen? Well, many people would die of course, and the city would go in shock for a year or so, but then in time, it would heal. Is this not parallel to a person who gets injured in a fight, or gets cancer or some other illness??? The cells in the body immediately go to work to fight whatever is trying to kill the body and in time, the body is healed, scarred over.
Here is the meat of this concept... You and I and most everyone you and I know all think of themselves as individuals. "I think, therefore I am".... NOT!!! Rene Descartes (one of my favored philosophers) would have been more correct had he said, "WE THINK therefore I AM". In other words, you see yourself as a singular entity. Wrong, you are really just a collection of cells that happen to be living together in a society that you mistakenly consider as a singular entity. You are a city of 75 trillion individual living cells. Think about it.. any one of the 75 trillion cells can be extracted from your body and kept alive or maybe even put into another body. So they are NOT entirely dependent on you. They are individuals that happen to be working together for the benefit of the society... that society is YOU!
And thank your lucky stars that all your 75 trillion cells do not think and act alike! Otherwise you would be a 150 lb piece of bone, or a 150 lb piece of meat! It is because of the diversity of your cells that allow you to have all the organs in your body that serve you very well. Could you live without your heart, or you lungs, or your skin? And thank goodness our body has some cells that deal with the wastes!!! I just love my colon cells!
So what does this have to do with life???? Well, in short, I hearby postulate that LIFE is found in ANY self-sustaining system. No doubt you would consider yourself "ALIVE". But I also believe that a city is LIFE! An eco-system is also ALIVE! A computer is ALIVE! Your car is ALIVE! (now you know why I use the penname Mostinsane!) Bottom line is that anything that can be considered a system that has an input and an output that reacts in some manner when you stimulate it, is ALIVE!
That said, I will also postulate that all things that are alive have INTELLIGENCE! I believe that a simple machine has intelligence. It is very very basic and simple, but it is intelligence none the less. Plants all have intelligence. Animals all have intelligence, every thing from the single celled protozoa to the most educated scientist. They all have intelligence. They all have varying degrees of intelligence obviously, but it is still intelligence. A city, a country, a planet of living things all are intelligent. Let me go back to the example of the city of Niteroi... The leaders of the city debate in their local congress on the direction the city must go. Is that not like the neurons in your head that debate about a decision to make? You could say that some of your neurons or clumps of neurons are conservative and some are liberal and you have internal conflicts in the same way congress does. If only C-Span could cover our internal conflicts as well! And in the end, a decision in congress is made and the city then follows. And as a result of that decision, the city either prospers or fails. I am sure you can see the same corollary with the decisions we make everyday of our lives. Yes, a city has intelligence. A country has intelligence. A planet of people have intelligence. And yes, these are all living organisms as well!

Now think about it... this is a basic concept that you must understand if you are going to understand the more advanced concepts I will propose in the future!


Who am I?

I have decided to start a blog. I have a lot of ideas, philosophies bottled up in me that are wanting to get out. So I am taking the first step to getting them out in the open. My first post is titled, "Who am I?", just in case you want to know who I am....
I am not a philosophy doctorate. I am not a physicist. I am not mathematician. I am not a neurologist. BUT.... I often wish I were all of these! What I am is... I am a guy who loves to study and ponder about the more difficult questions in life. I am a guy who too often turns off the radio in the car in order to spend quiet time pondering the origins of the universe. I am a guy who loves to study the sciences, pretty much all the sciences. My classroom is the internet, the public library, the science magazines, the TV documentaries, and the radio talk shows. I am a guy who was schooled in religion and although not an active participant in any doctrine, loves to ponder about what lies beyond death or what proceeded birth. I am a guy who is not firm on any belief, only firm about learning. I am a guy who has always wanted to write a book about my ideas, but too afraid to put anything down in black and white for fear that I might change my ideas after just a little more thought. I am a man who secretly wants to be a romanticist, but by nature is a pragmatist. I wish I were like Thomas Jefferson, but by nature, I am more like Benjamin Franklin.
So... I am going to write a blog.
Now a little less cryptic... I am a father of five children. Three are already out of the house and making their own destinies, and two of them are still my slaves at home. LOL! I am a husband (a lucky husband) of a gorgeous and fantastic wife (and those who know my wife, know my words about her are not empty!) I have a Masters of Science degree in Electrical Engineering which is something I am very proud of. I worked hard for it! I have had the fortune to see, travel, and live around the world. I have been to most all the US states. I have lived and worked in Spain, Brazil, Mexico, and Jamaica. I speak English, Spanish, and Portuguese, and for fun, I love speaking Pig Latin! I love the Martial Arts, so much that I earned black belts in Karate and Jiu Jitsu. One of my favorite loves is tournament fighting. I was actually good at it some 10 years ago. Now, I enjoy it more remotely via the UFC fights! I spent 5 years working for IBM with a defense contract in Colorado Springs. It was the hardest technical job I ever had, but I loved it. I later joined MCI and then worked for Avantel in Mexico, Embratel in Brazil, and Digicel in Jamaica. My specialty was detecting, stopping, and preventing Telecom Fraud. Later, I moved to Las Vegas and got a job with a casino company as their Marketing Decision Science director. I am now working for an Analytics consulting company helping other companies optimize their marketing through statistics, thus satisfying my love for Math!
So that is who i am in a nutshell. If you are anything like me, you should like my blog. If you agree with everything i write about, then you are probably not thinking enough independently! In other words, what I write, is with the intention of challenging your paradigms, your presumed knowledge and understanding of reality. Give what I said some thought. When you disagree, please let me know and tell me why. Chances are, you will convince me. But when you do, please do not think less of me for changing my mind.... I seek after the truth and as a result, I will often change my mind about a lot of things!

My penname is Mostinsane. I invented the name about 12 years ago, and I still like it.