Age of information
Greek & Latin
Mind & Brain
Science & Art
☞ A Box Of Stories
“Our memories are not inert packets of data and they don’t remain constant. Even though every memory feels like an honest representation, that sense of authenticity is the biggest lie of all. (…)
“The brain isn’t interested in having a perfect set of memories about the past,” “Instead, memory comes with a natural updating mechanism, which is how we make sure that the information taking up valuable space inside our head is still useful. That might make our memories less accurate, but it probably also makes them more relevant to the future.” (…)
The memory is less like a movie, a permanent emulsion of chemicals on celluloid, and more like a play—subtly different each time it’s performed. In my brain, a network of cells is constantly being reconsolidated, rewritten, remade. (…)
Reconsolidation provides a mechanistic explanation for these errors. (…) Why every memoir should be classified as fiction, and why it’s so disturbingly easy to implant false recollections. (…) The larger lesson is that because our memories are formed by the act of remembering them, controlling the conditions under which they are recalled can actually change their content. (…)
Being able to control memory doesn’t simply give us admin access to our brains. It gives us the power to shape nearly every aspect of our lives. There’s something terrifying about this. Long ago, humans accepted the uncontrollable nature of memory; we can’t choose what to remember or forget. But now it appears that we’ll soon gain the ability to alter our sense of the past. (…)
The fact is we already tweak our memories—we just do it badly. Reconsolidation constantly alters our recollections, as we rehearse nostalgias and suppress pain. We repeat stories until they’re stale, rewrite history in favor of the winners, and tamp down our sorrows with whiskey. “Once people realize how memory actually works, a lot of these beliefs that memory shouldn’t be changed will seem a little ridiculous,” Nader says. “Anything can change memory. This technology isn’t new. It’s just a better version of an existing biological process.”
Where memories might be stored. (…) The answer lies in the multitude of tiny modifiable connections between neuronal cells, the information-processing units of the brain. These cells, with their wispy tree-like protrusions, hang like stars in miniature galaxies and pulse with electrical charge.
Thus, your memories are patterns inscribed in the connections between the millions of neurons in your brain. Each memory has its unique pattern of activity, logged in the vast cellular network every time a memory is formed. It is thought that during recall of past events the original activity pattern in the hippocampus is re-established via a process that is known as “pattern completion”. (…) The physical structure of your brain is malleable.”
We are neural beings, (…) our brains take their input from the rest of our bodies. What our bodies are like and how they function in the world thus structures the very concepts we can use to think. We cannot think just anything – only what our embodied brains permit. (…)
The mind is inherently embodied. Thought is mostly unconscious. Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical.”
“The left hemisphere is detail-oriented, prefers mechanisms to living things, and is inclined to self-interest. It misunderstands whatever is not explicit, lacks empathy and is unreasonably certain of itself, whereas the right hemisphere has greater breadth, flexibility and generosity, but lacks certainty.
It is vital that the two hemispheres work together, but McGilchrist argues that the left hemisphere is increasingly taking precedence in the modern world, resulting in a society where a rigid and bureaucratic obsession with structure and self-interest hold sway. (…)
Whatever the relationship between consciousness and the brain – unless the brain plays no role in bringing the world as we experience it into being, a position that must have few adherents – its structure has to be significant. It might even give us clues to understanding the structure of the world it mediates, the world we know. (…)
The structure and experience of our mental world. In this sense the brain is – in fact it has to be – a metaphor of the world. (…)
I believe that there are two fundamentally opposed realities rooted in the bihemispheric structure of the brain. But the relationship between them is no more symmetrical than that of the chambers of the heart – in fact, less so; more like that of the artist to the critic, or a king to his counsellor. (…)
I hold that, like the Master and his emissary in the story, though the cerebral hemispheres should co-operate, they have for some time been in a state of conflict. The subsequent battles between them are recorded in the history of philosophy, and played out in the seismic shifts that characterise the history of Western culture. At present the domain – our civilisation – finds itself in the hands of the vizier, who, however gifted, is effectively an ambitious regional bureaucrat with his own interests at heart. Meanwhile the Master, the one whose wisdom gave the people peace and security, is led away in chains. The Master is betrayed by his emissary.”
“Clocks offer at best a convenient fiction. (…) They imply that time ticks steadily, predictably forward, when our experience shows that it often does the opposite: it stretches and compresses, skips a beat and doubles back.”
A sense of time is threaded through everything we perceive. (…)
The interesting thing about time is that there is no spot. It’s a distributed property. It’s metasensory; it rides on top of all the others.” (…)
The brain, he writes, is like Kublai Khan, the great Mongol emperor of the thirteenth century. It sits enthroned in its skull, “encased in darkness and silence,” at a lofty remove from brute reality. Messengers stream in from every corner of the sensory kingdom, bringing word of distant sights, sounds, and smells. Their reports arrive at different rates, often long out of date, yet the details are all stitched together into a seamless chronology. The difference is that Kublai Khan was piecing together the past. The brain is describing the present—processing reams of disjointed data on the fly, editing everything down to an instantaneous now. (…)
[Eagleman] thought of time not just as a neuronal computation—a matter for biological clocks—but as a window on the movements of the mind. (…)
Reality is a tape-delayed broadcast, carefully censored before it reaches us. (…)
“Time is this rubbery thing,” Eagleman said. “It stretches out when you really turn your brain resources on, and when you say, ‘Oh, I got this, everything is as expected,’ it shrinks up.”
“Does it actually even seem to you as if you have a detailed model of the world around you in your head? Be careful. Yes, it seems to you as if the world is there for you. But not in your head. It’s there. Around you. In reach. And we are made — through evolution — to get the information we need, when we need it.
We have evolved not to be representers-of-the-world, but to lock-in and keep track of where we find ourselves. We use landmarks and street signs to find our way around; arithmetical notation makes it possible for us to calculate with big numbers; we wear wrist watches so that we can know the time without needing to know the time; and we build libraries so that we have access to what we need to know, when we need to know it.
The so-called Google effect is merely the latest expression of a cognitive strategy that is almost as certainly as ancient as our species.
There is no question that the new technologies are changing our lives. But here we need to remember: The more things change, the more they stay the same. All tools extend what we can do, and so, all tools have the potential to extend our minds.”
☞ Does Google Make Us Stupid?
☞ Steven Pinker on the mind as a system of ‘organs of computation’