The Brain--is wider than the Sky-- For--put them side by side-- The one the other will contain With ease--and You--beside-- Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) Even though its common knowledge these days, it never ceases to amaze me that all the richness of our mental life - all our feelings, our emotions, our thoughts, our ambitions, our love life, our religious sentiments and even what each of us regards us his own intimate private self - is simply the activity of these little specks of jelly in your head, in your brain. There is nothing else … V.I. Ramachandran, Reith Lecturer, 2003 The Challenge: Finding ways to re-conceive ourselves, to alter our own brains, so as to enhance the capacity of brains, our own and those of all humans, to conceive and participate in shaping new and richer futures for humanity.
Brains are the nexus of genes/experiences/culture Every brain is different Every brain is continually changing, exploring; we are all brain scientists • There is more to brains (and to self) than genes/experiences/culture • Intrinsic Variability and Active Learning • Society of Mind and Internal Exchange • The Story Teller
Intrinsic Variability and Active Learning science itself will teach man... that he himself is something of the nature of a piano-key or the stop of an organ... so that everything he does is not done by his willing it, but is done of itself, by the laws of nature....even if this were proved to him by natural science and mathematics, even then he would not become reasonable, but would purposely do something perverse out of simple ingratitude, simply to gain his point.... the whole work of man really seems to consist in nothing but proving to himself every minute that he is a man and not a piano-key! .... Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes From Underground, 1864 Harvard Law of Animal Behavior: Under carefully controlled experimental circumstances an animal will behave as it damned well pleases The generation of novel outputs is a fundamental property of brains Brains also continually generate internal expectations of input Brains are self-driven creative explorers
Society of Mind and Internal Exchange A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. (I am large. I contain multitudes.) Walt Whitman (1819-1892) We can make versatile AI machines only by using several different kinds of representations in the same system! This is because no single method works well for all problems; each is good for certain tasks but not for others. Marvin Minsky (1986) Brains consist of a heterogenous array of entities, each specialized to optimize a different task Coordination among parts of the brain reflects communication among them rather than a director or conductor
The Story Teller and Story Sharing We live stories that either give our lives meaning or negate it with meaninglessness. If we change the stories we live by, quite possibly we change our lives. Thomas Young, The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative (2005) The conscious “understandings” we have are stories constructed by the brain, one of many ways to make sense of ourselves and the world around us Brains have the capacity to use stories to create new stories, of ourselves and the world around us Interactions among people with different stories can be a rich generator of new ways of being that avoid the problems of the past
From the Brain Toward a New Human Story: Social policy recommendations to create a world that more fully recognizes the potential and value of the creative exploration and story telling by all human beings … • Expand support for further exploration of the brain, with such exploration understood not as the isolated project of a small number of specialized investigators but rather as a collective human activity with the widest possible participation so as to achieve the widest possible benefits • Reorient educational systems from serving primarily the function of transmitting existing social/cultural values and associated skills to encouraging the ongoing development of each individual as an active, creative explorer and story teller. • Assure universal access to the internet so that all individuals can both gain from and contribute to the widest range of information and perspectives. • Enhance support for the creative arts as an essential source of new cultural, national, and human stories that reflect a commitment to the value of both individual and group diversity • Re-evaluate and, as necessary, reform political and economic structures to assure that they contribute to, rather than detract from, individual and collective efforts to conceive futures that improve on but are not constrained by the past.