Very interesting, short video on how evolution relies on synergy, the forming of new organisms by teaming up with others. It also applies to how synergy leads to social organization. An enticing quote: “It outlines a path for completely new organisms to evolve which does not rely on natural selection for increased complexity. In fact, just the opposite. It relies on relaxed selection and degradation” (9:15).
As much of the world settles into the spectacle and cozy embrace of culturally reinforced magical thinking, New Scientist has several interesting recent articles about the evolved intuitive nature of religious thinking as a cognitive by-product (of the value of assuming agency in environmental phenomena, for example) and delving into how atheism is and is not like religious thinking. I find the point interesting that religion and atheism (or any ism), as social constructs, cannot be studied and compared in the same ways that objectively real objects and phenomena can, but we can learn much from systematic approaches to investigating the underlying neurological functions and their probable evolutionary value.
If you don’t subscribe, Albuquerque Public Libraries carry New Scientist.
This very rich, conversational thought piece asks if we, as participant designers within a complex adaptive ecology, can envision and act on a better paradigm than the ones that propel us toward mono-currency and monoculture.
We should learn from our history of applying over-reductionist science to society and try to, as Wiener says, “cease to kiss the whip that lashes us.” While it is one of the key drivers of science—to elegantly explain the complex and reduce confusion to understanding—we must also remember what Albert Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” We need to embrace the unknowability—the irreducibility—of the real world that artists, biologists and those who work in the messy world of liberal arts and humanities are familiar with.
In order to effectively respond to the significant scientific challenges of our times, I believe we must view the world as many interconnected, complex, self-adaptive systems across scales and dimensions that are unknowable and largely inseparable from the observer and the designer. In other words, we are participants in multiple evolutionary systems with different fitness landscapes at different scales, from our microbes to our individual identities to society and our species. Individuals themselves are systems composed of systems of systems, such as the cells in our bodies that behave more like system-level designers than we do.
Max Tegmark’s new book, Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, introduces a framework for defining types of life based on the degree of design control that sensing, self-replicating entities have over their own ‘hardware’ (physical forms) and ‘software’ (“all the algorithms and knowledge that you use to process the information from your senses and decide what to do”).
It’s a relatively non-academic read and well worth the effort for anyone interested in the potential to design the next major forms of ‘Life’ to transcend many of the physical and cognitive constraints that have us now on the brink of self-destruction. Tegmark’s forecast is optimistic.
Kevin Kelly, the founder of Wired Magazine, forecasts virtual reality (VR) becoming our primary social environment within five years. VR experiences will be increasingly interactive (physically and socially). Our brains will process VR sensations as real.
The price of this novelty is all your data, historical and biometric, and with that will come more advertising than ever. What is the beginning of a new dimension of fun, will be the end of privacy.
AI more advanced than what keeps people addicted to current social media and search platforms will attract and keep social VR participants. How will personal and group cognition and behavior change when VR becomes more compelling than ‘legacy reality?’
See Kelly’s 5-minute talk at http://bigthink.com/videos/kevin-kelly-virtual-reality-engages-our-reptile-brain
BMAI friends. The following ramble is my first cut at making sense of the grave role racial (and other) bias is playing in the world today. This was prompted by comments I see daily from my family and friends on social media. Thinking about the great lack of self- and group-awareness many of the commenters display, I turned my scope inward. How do my own innate, evolved biases slant me to take my group’s and my own privileges for granted and make invalid assumptions about those I perceive (subconsciously or explicitly) to be ‘the other’? I put this forward to start a discussion and hope you will contribute your own insights and references. Feel free to post comments or even insert questions, comments, or new text directly into my text. Of course, you can create your own new posts as well. Thanks.
The Google talk on his new book, From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds. The blurb:
“How did we come to have minds? For centuries, this question has intrigued psychologists, physicists, poets, and philosophers, who have wondered how the human mind developed its unrivaled ability to create, imagine, and explain. Disciples of Darwin have long aspired to explain how consciousness, language, and culture could have appeared through natural selection, blazing promising trails that tend, however, to end in confusion and controversy. Even though our understanding of the inner workings of proteins, neurons, and DNA is deeper than ever before, the matter of how our minds came to be has largely remained a mystery. That is now changing, says Daniel C. Dennett. In From Bacteria to Bach and Back, his most comprehensive exploration of evolutionary thinking yet, he builds on ideas from computer science and biology to show how a comprehending mind could in fact have arisen from a mindless process of natural selection. Part philosophical whodunit, part bold scientific conjecture, this landmark work enlarges themes that have sustained Dennett’s legendary career at the forefront of philosophical thought.”
Several of us met on Labor Day with the goal of identifying topics for at least five future monthly meetings. (Thanks, Dave N, for hosting!) Being the overachievers we are, we pushed beyond the goal. Following are the resulting topics, which will each have its own article on this site where we can begin organizing references for the discussion:
- sex-related influences on emotional memory
- gross and subtle brain differences (e.g., “walls of the third ventricle – sexual nuclei”)
- “Are there gender-based brain differences that influence differences in perceptions and experience?”
- epigenetic factors (may need an overview of epigenetics)
- embodied cognition
- computational grounded cognition (possibly the overview and lead-in topic)
- neuro-reductionist theory vs. enacted theory of mind
- “Could embodied cognition influence brain differences?” (Whoever suggested this, please clarify.)
- brain-gut connection (relates to embodied cognition, but can stand on its own as a topic)
- behavioral priming and subliminal stimuli (effects on later behavior)
- incremental theory – “The Dark Side of Malleability”
- creative flow as a unique cognitive process
- Eastern philosophies and psychology – a psychology of self-cultivation
- neuroscience of empathy – effects on the brain, including on neuroplasticity (discussed October 2017)
- comparative effects of various meditative practices on the brain
- comparative effects of various psychedelics on the brain
- effects of childhood poverty on the brain
- neurocognitive bases of racism
If I missed anything, please edit the list (I used HTML in the ‘Text’ view to get sub-bullets). If you’re worried about the formatting, you can email your edits to firstname.lastname@example.org and Mark will post your changes.
New Scientist article: Applying the mathematical field of topology to brain science suggests gaps in densely connected brain regions serve essential cognitive functions. Newly discovered densely connected neural groups are characterized by a gap in the center, with one edge of the ring (cycle) being very thin. It’s speculated that this architecture evolved to enable the brain to better time and sequence the integration of information from different functional areas into a coherent pattern.
Aspects of the findings appear to support Edelman’s and Tononi’s (2000, p. 83) theory of neuronal group selection (TNGS, aka neural Darwinism).
Edelman, G.M. and Tononi, G. (2000). A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination. Basic Books.
In preparation for the March meeting topic, Your Political Brain, please recommend any resources you have found particularly enlightening about why humans evolved political thinking. Also, please share references about how brain functions lead to political perceptions. I’m assuming political perceptions result from more fundamental cognitive orientations, and that those arise in part from one’s genetics and in part from environment (during development and afterward).
Let’s use the following description from Wikipedia:
Politics is the process of making decisions applying to all members of each group. More narrowly, it refers to achieving and exercising positions of governance— organized control over a human community, particularly a state. Furthermore, politics is the study or practice of the distribution of power and resources within a given community (this is usually a hierarchically organized population) as well as the interrelationship(s) between communities. (Wikipedia)
This description places political thinking in the realm of the brain’s/mind’s social processing.
Following are some candidate resources for our discussion preparation:
- The Republican Brain (video, 21:45 – Chris Mooney, Jonathan Haidt, Chris Hayes)
- Chris Hedges’ review of Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind
- George Lackoff’s cognitive science perspective
- Brain differences between liberals and conservatives (magazine article)
- The origin of politics: an evolutionary theory of political behavior (academic article)
- Authoritarianism (Wikipedia)