Struggling with Meaninglessness

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Archive for the ‘Neuroscience’ Category

Lesser Brain

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I have only 5 minutes to write this, so I will just throw everything very randomly.

I have written how reptiles are less evolved than mammals in the post Structure of Life. But I wrote it more on philosophical context. Last week while I was reading a random book, I found a solid scientific evidence to support my view.

All brains are divided to 2 parts – the Old Pathway and New Pathway.

Old Pathway is the most fundamental part of our brain and is responsible for the fight or flight survival skills. It mainly deals with coordination, orientation, and position of objects.

New Pathway allows analytical decision making, conscious thought, categorizing objects and high level processing.

In other words, brain evolved from simplicity to complexity. Simple creatures only have the Old Pathway while sophisticated creatures evolved New Pathway, built on the Old Pathway.

Try this : Throw a Nerf ball at a (human) friend’s head. The first few times he will duck, but once he realizes it won’t hurt him, he’ll have no problems standing still as it clobbers him. Now try it with an alligator. Although alligators have been on this planet for three hundred million years longer than people, they’ll never figure out that they don’t need to dodge Nerf balls. They’ll flinch no matter how many times you throw the ball at them. In fact, they’ll try to eat you no matter what you throw at them. – Dan Roam

This is what I’d learn here – Lesser brain always blindly react to things instead of analyzing the situation because lesser brain did not evolved to understand it. Now, how can we apply this to the context of human intelligence?


Written by elan85

January 7, 2009 at 12:21 pm

Posted in Neuroscience

Your Own Little Destiny Part 2 : The Origin of Destiny

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"I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this." – Emo Phillips, comedian.

We all now that all kind of dogs can be trained to be obedient and faithful to their owners. You can teach specific instructions to dogs and also shaping their behaviour. Nevertheless, we should never forget that although we can teach and train dogs, each of every different breed of dog has a different core instinct.

For instance, if I walk on the street and meet a stray Pit Bull Terrier, I know there’s a chance that it may attack me, even if it’s just a small chance (pit bull is the most common breed of dog to attack human). But instead, if I encounter a stray Chihuahua, I know for sure, with 99.999% certainty, that it will never attack me.

Although both Pit Bull and Chihuahua are dogs, their core behaviour and personality are wired differently from the beginning – Basically, different origin of Instinct (powered by Evolution). If between dogs’ behaviour already have such disparity, what more if compared with other species of animal?

The Brain

Animals have different core instincts, unique to every species, or even maybe to sub-species or perhaps up to individual species. But If someone ever ask the question – what’s the one major difference between human being and animals, the answer is clear – Consciousness.

Eliezer has written a very nice short essay about about how the brain thinks, titled – Cached Thoughts. I will briefly summarize what the essay is about (The essay is worth a read, really).

  • A typical human brain is only as powerful as a 200Hz computer processor, which is ridiculously weak.
  • The trick of how our brain manage to execute and run complicated task with this ‘weak processor’ is through a mechanism called ‘caching’.
  • In computing, that’s when you store the results of previous operations and look them up next time, instead of recomputing them from scratch. It works similarly in the human brain too.
  • This caching method is extremely useful, as we could analyze and solve problems using past experience or some presuppose knowledge as reference.
  • But looking from a conscious mind point of view, cached thoughts have a significant downside too – acting without questioning.

The Instinct

Animals live their lives purely following on their instinct. When they are hungry, they look for food. When they feel threaten, they attack. When they are sleepy, they sleep. All these programmed instincts are already well stored in their cached thoughts and basically, animals act up according to what their brain instruct them depending on circumstances. In other words, animals let the brain to complete the pattern and they will just repeat their routine over and over again.

When a tiger is provoked, its emotion of anger lights up, courtesy of cached thoughts, and the tiger will react and fight back to defend itself. A tiger will not ask questions like “Is this fellow a joke? Bah, I don’t wanna waste my time dealing with this moron”.

They will just bite.

Well, if you think that human being is unique because we do not have such ‘automatic instinct’ because we seems ‘consciously’ able to choose our actions, then you’re wrong – We also do have the same ‘programmed instinct’. And this is the same reason why racism and sexism exist, inferiority complex behaviour is common, tendency to be biased when making argument, office politics, first impression matters, cultural taboos, believing in God and many other things which once rationally thought out, seems pointless or obsolete. Most people simply absorb information from external world and then allow the brain to complete the pattern.

Don’t let your mind complete the pattern!  Think! – Eliezer

Nevertheless, due to our higher consciousness, we could actually realize and question our instinct, and this is what separates human and animal. Human has the capacity to ask the question – “Why did I lost my temper just now? Should I not lost my cool so easily? OK, I will be nice next time.” With this, the next time I’m provoked again, I will suppress my anger and thoughts and restrict my emotions from bursting away. This suppression, over long of period of time will turn to repression. There are also times when people are aware of the shortcoming of their instinct but choose to avoid doing anything about it or helpless about it. eg. depression problems.

(Buddhism called this as ‘animal instinct’ and Buddha said, the only way to get rid or unattached ourselves with this instinct is through vigorous meditation. Only then, we will attain enlightenment, the highest order of consciousness)

When a frog is hopping around to chase a grasshopper, which is also hopping away to escape from the frog, human being will find it amusing to watch this hopping battle on ‘who-can-hop-better’. But it’s kinda sadistic because thinking from the frog and grasshopper point of view it must be an intense experience. One is a hungry beast looking for its first meal of the day and another hopping away from the monster to save itself.

The instinct involved is a matter of life and death for the frog and grasshopper, but for human it’s an amusement simply because we have a higher level of consciousness and could see the humour side of it. However, if this same person get chased by a tiger, his consciousness will revert back to the basic instinct and the first thing he will do is to run away and escape from the monster, just like what the grasshopper did.

Written by elan85

October 20, 2008 at 9:08 pm

Your Mind is Everything

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Occasionally, i see flashes in the corner of my eye as if something just zoomed by especially at midnight. And i always ask myself, what if i turn my head around and do see something scary like ghost? If i do see a ghost, will it be a real ghost or just an illusion? Who knows, maybe my brain decided to play a surprise joke with me and mess my neurons up to create ghost-like image out. So far, fortunately or unfortunately, i’ve never encounter anything strange before.

However, i discovered recently that it is possible that there are things which could mess up with our brain and making us hallucinate …

In the year 1950, Wilder Penfield found that when he stimulated certain areas of the temporal lobe of the brain with electrodes, people began to hear voices and see ghostlike apparitions. Psychologists have known that epileptic lesions of the brain can cause the patient to feel that supernatural forces are at work, that demons and angels are controlling events around them….

… Neuroscientists know that a certain injury to your left temporal lobe can cause your left brain to become disoriented, and the brain might interpret activity within the right hemisphere as coming from another ‘self’. This injury could create the impressions that there is a ghostlike spirit in the room, because the brain is unaware that this presence is actually just another part of itself. Depending on his or her beliefs, the patient might interpret this ‘other self’ as a demon, angel, aliens or even God.M. Kaku

People who could see ghosts basically either have some abnormality on their brain or their brain was interfered heavily. There are two common forms of interference here. One is geomagnetic (Earth’s electromagnetic field) and the second is infrasound. I will not elaborate more on this as you can read this in more detail here:

Many months ago, i also read an article of Michael Persinger, a neuroscientist, who created a ‘God Helmet’ which designed to beam radio waves into a certain area of the brain to stimulate religious feeling. Basically, this machine will elicit God’s image and voices in the head of deeply religious people. Naturally, religious people could hear voices and see images of divine being and they reported to have a sense of bliss within them.

Mr. Persinger then conducted the experiment on atheists and who else is a better choice then the number 1 atheist in the world, Richard Dawkins. At the end of the experiment Dawkins said although he couldn’t see any images of God, he did hear random voices speaking inside his head. And he felt a slight pain in the head instead of feeling blissful. Hence this shows two things – One, there’s a part of our brain which is responsible of making us spiritual and believe in God. Two, it doesn’t matter whether you are spiritual or not, once your head is interfered, your mind will start playing tricks with you.

So, the next time you meet a ‘ghost’, asks yourself first – are you sure you are not looking at an illusion?

Written by elan85

May 26, 2008 at 4:29 pm

Posted in Neuroscience

Neuroscience’s Will

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There’s something pretty amazing i wanna share about Neuroscience.

Before we go into the topic, let’s take a scenario first. Let’s say you are thirsty and you want to drink some water. You have decided to get up, go to the kitchen and grab a glass of water. From your point of view, did you just make a conscious action? You may say yes, because you think you have CHOOSEN the decision whether to grab a cup of water or not. And that represents free will in action – You can simply choose to drink or not to drink.

However, from Neuroscience point of view, many things are pre-determined. In an experiment by Benjamin Libet, he founded out that our actions were always first initiated by our subconscious mind and then only translated to conscious actions. For example, my subconscious mind is already giving out instructions to my body to execute the action, 500 milliseconds before i consciously extend my hand to reach the glass. The reason why i have the feeling of consciously choosing my actions is due to retrospective point of view (which means contemplating back the past that happened split seconds ago).

Do you clearly remember your experience of brushing your teeth before going to bed last night? You probably won’t remember the experience. This is the case of our mind going ‘auto-pilot’. Since this is just a simple task, our subconscious mind automatically gives out the instructions to our body and paste a little note to our conscious mind saying ‘this body is going to brush his/her teeth’. That’s how we thought we have the conscious experience of choosing. The truth is, we are in ‘autopilot’ state and there’s not much choices to make.

Nevertheless, our conscious mind has the right to ‘veto’ the instructions given out by our mind. Conscious mind attempt to be a “Quality Control” to all the “tough” decisions made by the subconscious mind by giving ourselves more alternatives in considerations. Have you ever come across a situation where you are stuck between two options? Subconsciously, you want to get yourself a BMW for a car but consciously, you know you only have enough money for a Toyota. But then you may think, if you could work a little harder and be a little more thrifty, you may be able to get a BMW instead. And that’s how our mind clashed.

In other words, our subconscious and conscious mind will clash over tough and complex decisions such as buying a car while we will go autopilot on simple and easy decisions such as brushing our teeth or drinking water.

In Buddhism, emotions is said to be an illusion. All forms of emotions are unreal, except for happiness (you need to separate happiness with satisfaction). Emotions are something which is expressed spontaneously and instinctively by our mind in order to protect ourselves for survival purposes.

I’m sure you will have experienced certain situations where you got really pissed angry and on the next day, when everything cools down, you will feel it’s kinda unnecessary to get angry at silly things. It is simple – our subconscious mind unleashed the anger, and your conscious mind question the outburst.

That’s why according to Buddhism, in order to be enlightened, you need to control your mind instead of letting the mind control you.

Case in point – my subconscious mind is lusting over Crisis Core : Final Fantasy 7 now and my conscious mind could not overpower my subconscious mind! My body, a form of transportation for the almighty brain, is being manipulated to grab the PSP over and over again. I gotta go. My body needs to move away from the computer. Talk soon. =P

Written by elan85

March 26, 2008 at 12:54 am

Intelligence : Nature vs Nurture vs Random

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I have read considerably amount of articles on this topic, and there seems to be a common consensus that intelligence is 50% nature and 50% nurtured. But i was reluctant to jump to the boat. Now this is what I believe – intelligence is 10% nature, 10% nurtured and 80% random. I will present three arguments to support my points.


a. Defining Intelligence (from Mainstream Science on Intelligence) –

A very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings—”catching on”, “making sense” of things, or “figuring out” what to do.

b. Intelligence is a Talent itself.

1. Talent is born. One thing common i noticed among highly intelligent and talented people are – they all started young. Example:

  • Tiger Woods started playing Golf at 2 years old.
  • Michael Dell was already an entrepreneur even before he hit his teenage years.
  • Albert Einstein studied Mathematics, Science and Philosophy when he was 10 years old.
  • Leonardo Da Vinci became an accomplished artist by 14 years old.
  • Garry Kasparov won his first chess tournament at 13.
  • Michael Jackson started singing at 5 years old.


I’m not suggesting that every highly talented people will accomplish something big during their early years. What i’m trying to say is, talented people will always somehow, subconsciously ‘know’ of their potentials during the early years and will play around and explore with their talent.

Tiger Woods got hold of a golf club when he was 2 and was hooked to the game ever since then. I myself tried playing it when i was 8 and i totally do not fancy the game at all. Will it be a safe assumption for me to say that Tiger Woods ‘subconsciously’ know of his talent when he was young?

Another point one need to understand is – interest and talent are directly linked. If you are good at something, chances are you will like it. If you are good at drawing, you will like arts. If you are bad at sports, most likely you will have no interest of becoming an athlete.

Therefore, my point here is – the environment around you do not dictate what your talent is. Talent is innate and either you have it or you don’t. Now, if based on my assumption that the ability to think is a talent itself, then intelligence should also be something innate and inherently born with.

2. Don’t get confused between smartness and intelligence. You stumbled upon Robert Kiyosaki’s book, Rich Dad Poor Dad. You mix around with people who have exceptionally strong entrepreneurial spirits. Your friends always talk about financial freedom and escaping the rat race. All these circumstances made you realised ‘job’ is a dirty word, thus constructing your mindset accordingly of becoming an entrepreneur.

No doubt, the environment will have a significant influence on you. But think harder, does learning about entrepreneurship from people around you makes you more intelligent? Sure, perhaps it will make you more smarter and wiser, but again, my question is – will it make you more intelligent? Will it make you an Einstein?

I think people are not aware of the thin line separating between being smart and intelligent. According to American Psychological Association, being smart is the ability of a person to adapt to his/her environment. You are basically smart if you have ample knowledge on things around your environment. But does that equals to our mental capacity to think beyond obvious, abstractly and deeply? Apart from entrepreneurship, does learning about politics, computers, cars, and animals will expand our thinking ability? I had put fourth my argument before on something similar here – You Can’t Buy Imagination.

(I will write a separate post later on to further strengthen my point)

3. Creativity is also innate. Do you know what separates creative people with non-creative people? The answer, according to neuroscience, is the fluency of neurons exploring and tapping different regions of the brain when communicating and exchanging information in our head.  Basically, creative people can access and tap into different regions of the brain easily while indulging in an activity. Hence, this gives creative people much more options and alternatives in articulating the thought process. On the other hand, ordinary people do not have such abilities. That’s why, it is difficult for an ordinary person to think out of the box due to the limitation in the thought process.

For instance, though not 100% proven, the absence of Sylvian fissure (which divides the frontal lobe and parietal lobe) in Albert Einstein’s brain may have attributed his ability to create high-level abstract thoughts. It was believed that with the absence of Sylvian fissure, neurons in Einstein’s head have the capacity to exchange information with ease, thus allowing him to access and connect different parts of the brain which not many ordinary people can do.

Now, i’m not sure whether you can learn to be creative or control these neuron activities, but one thing i’m pretty sure of – some people are gifted with such ability from the birth and many aren’t. 

Although i believe that Intelligence is given by Nature, i don’t believe in intelligence inheritance as championed by Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, in his book Hereditary Genius. It is by chance and probability if you are born intelligent.

Well, i may be all wrong since nobody really 100% understand how our brain work. But at the moment, i’m not at all convinced that genius is made. I just felt people who championed the idea that anyone can become a genius is fooling himself/herself and giving false hopes to other people.

Written by elan85

February 9, 2008 at 10:17 pm