Brexit, Brains, Computers

I remember IIThe last few days have been daunting for the voters of Britain. We are yet to see what the effect of the result will have for us here in New Zealand, but clearly the changes required to be put in place both in Europe, that is the remaining 27 countries, and in England, and also in Scotland and Northern Ireland, will be substantial.

It was interesting to note that difference between the various generations in voting pattern and how voting for a large proportion of the voting public disregarded facts and was simply a vote against the status quo and against politicians, bankers and corporates.

This site is not a political site, but the whole debacle made me think of how hard it must be for the people who wants to put their opinions across to an unwilling audience and convince them to agree, let alone to vote for them.

They quite possibly think of some of their audience as empty brains, but the human brain isn’t really empty, of course, though it does not contain what most people think it does.

Cognitive psychologists and brain scientists have tried very hard, but they will never find a copy of Beethoven’s 5th symphony or the Magna Carta in the brain nor copies of pictures, words, grammar rules or any kind of environmental stimuli.

brainI am digressing here, because now we are entering the tech area for linguists, psychologists, neuroscientists and other experts on human behaviour who have for the last 50 years been asserting that the human brain works like a computer. That confused the hell out of many people.

We may all be binary beings in the sense that we are all fundamentally made up of molecular constructs, but take a look of a baby’ brain. Neonates enter the world prepared to interact with it effectively, e.g. whilst it’s vision is blurry it pays attention to faces and ‘Mum’ is quickly recognized. It likes the sound of voices rather than other sounds and can differentiate basic speech sounds from one another. With other words we are built to make social connections.

babyThe healthy baby has ready-made reactions to certain stimuli that are important for its survival, e.g. turning its head towards something touching its cheek and then sucks whatever enters its mouth. When submerged in water it holds its breath and it grasps things placed in its hands so strongly it can nearly support its own weight.

Most importantly, newborns have inbuilt powerful learning abilities that allows them to change rapidly so they can interact with increasing effectivity with their surroundings. So we start with senses, reflexes an learning mechanisms without which we should have trouble surviving.

Enough about babies, suffice it to say that we are NOT born with rules, information, data, software, knowledge, lexica, algorithms, programmes, models, images, processors, memories, subroutines, encoders, decoders, symbols or buffers – at least none that we have access to – design elements which allow a digital computer to behave somewhat intelligently.

Perhaps most importantly we are not born with such things and we don’t develop them – ever .

John von NeumanBack in 1958 mathematician John von Neuman stated that our nervous system was ‘prima facie digital’ and drew parallels between the computers of the day and the human brain,  but in spite of advances in both computer technology and brain research it seems clear that just because computers are information processors the brain itself is not, what we seem to do is we make computations on mental representation of the world.

We are organism, not computers, so we should be getting on with the business of trying to understand ourselves without unnecessary intellectual baggage, and as for the stressed English parliamentarians they too should be trying to understand the thinking of their constituents and hopefully arrive at a compromise solutions that can unite and advance the goal they have set themselves.

Dear Reader, I am sure that if you have read this far you are a bit puzzled as to where this is going, starting with the empty brain, so let me say it was to point out that your brain is not a computer, you are not a computer, and you use your brain to think  and that so far to the best of my knowledge even the most prestigious research institutions have been unable to account for intelligent human behaviour without having to resort to metaphors like ‘information processing’.

The problem then is that ‘all entities that are capable of behaving intelligently are information processors’. Clearly not.

Leave to the computers to do the processing, the storing, the recall, copy, move, retrieve, they do this better than ourselves without protest whether in the EU or out.

Enjoy your own computing device without fear of being thought of as one.