Saturday, September 25, 2010

271: The Design of the Mind 2

In my former lecture I stated, that It can no longer be denied that the brain is an active player in our existence and not just a passive organ that first has to be filled with sensory experiences before it is able to be of some use to us.

Steven Arthur Pinker (born September 18, 1954) is a Canadian-American experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist, linguist and author of popular science. He is a Harvard College Professor and Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University.

He asserts that the mind is what the brain does. Our mind is constantly active in its attempts to understand the world by trying to find out how things work. This is because the world is complex and confusing and we lack the information about the world.

To understand each of us is a detective who is trying to make the puzzle pieces fit together, to find the perpetrator and to solve the crime. On the most basic level we spontaneously search for patterns and imagine hidden forces and causes.

Even the way we look at the world with our eyes is organized by mechanisms of the brain, which search for patterns. Just look at the picture behind me. What do you see. Not just four black dots. I bet you also see a square.

But there is no square at all and most remarkable is that we register brain activity in the visual cortex, in a way as if we are seeing a square. The point is, that the brain cells in the visual cortex register what is out there.

Then they generate their own brain activity as if they have come to a conclusion what is really out there: there is a square. This process of completing and complementing shows how the brain handles insufficient or missing information. In other words, we don't see with our eyes; we see with our brain.

Hood refers to an interesting experiment. Just like we, 4 months old babies get bored when they constantly see the same picture. When you show the baby this pattern, that you see behind me, it will look at it for a while curiously, then looses interest.

When you then show him a real square he doesn't seem to be interested in the "new" picture. However, as soon as you show the baby a circle he immediately looks curiously again at the new shape.

Thence you might conclude that the baby has seen the non existing square in our pattern of dots. You could go one step further and conclude that the brains of babies are designed to complement missing information in order to understand the world.

As I said in the beginning, the mind is an active player in our attempts to understand the world. We look for patters, we also look for patterns in event sequences. The design of our brain seems to force us to even see order in events even when it isn't there.

We have great difficulty to understand chaos. It is probably not 100% correct, but I like the irony in the observation that we even have developed chaos theory. Even in chaos, a complete state of disorder, we want to patterns.

This inclination of the brain to discover order in the world around us, makes us see patterns and order, which do not really exist. If you only would believe in invisible forces just a tiny bit, you easily fall victim of supernatural thinking.

A lot of the forces that make the world tick, gravity, molecular activity and so on we can not see and when we observe the activity of the brain, we notice that it has evolved into a mechanism that is highly trained in deducing from observation things we cannot see.

In fact we now call these deductions scientific theories. What was formerly in the hands of witches and alchemists is now the realm of physics for instance. The brain never stops looking for pattern and order.

However, not every theory, which brings order in our observations of the world, is a scientific theory. In its zeal to find order the brain makes mistakes to, in particular, when it falls in the trap of the famous Post hoc, Propter hoc fallacy.

B happens after A, thence B is caused by A. We know that this is a fallacy to some extend, but usually we call it common causality. But due to the design of our mind we are inclined to postulate forces, which may not be there and to connect events, where there is no real connection at all.

This explains our disposition to believe in the supernatural. It has a meaning, even in evolutionary sense. It is most clearly seen in rituals. Rituals give us a feeling of control in situations where control is important. This illusion of control is most important to us. It makes us immune for threat, especially when it is unpredictable.

This design of our minds develops already in early childhood, where we believe that stones live and the world is controlled by trolls and fairies. When we grow older we replace these supernatural beliefs for rational thinking. But do we really ?

Maybe some of you remember a hype in the US some years ago." Buy your own pet stone, he will be your most loyal companion!" Yes….you were invited to buy a stone of the size of a tennis ball and treat is as a pet!

I saw an american TV commercial, which advertised special beds and little cushions for your stone. It even demonstrated how you could take your stone out for a walk. You just throw it away and walk to it and pick it up again. It never will run away.

And there really were adult people who bought such stones…!

The discussion

[13:22] Gemma Cleanslate: ♥ LOL ♥
[13:23] Abraxas Nagy: ╔╗╔═╦╗
[13:23] Abraxas Nagy: ║╚╣║║╚╗
[13:23] Abraxas Nagy: ╚═╩═╩═╝
[13:23] herman Bergson: There really were adult people who bought such stones…!
[13:23] Bejiita Imako: haha
[13:23] Beertje Beaumont: my dog does that...
[13:23] Gemma Cleanslate: many many i think
[13:23] Daruma Boa: same way as the church works^^
[13:23] herman Bergson: So far for today ...
[13:23] Bejiita Imako: i saw recently a thing like that with a interesting tweak, you plugged it into the usb on your computer, however was nothing wired to it inside
[13:23] herman Bergson: the floor is yours ^_^
[13:24] Bejiita Imako: totally wierd
[13:24] herman Bergson: We have a Power Bracelet now....
[13:24] Gemma Cleanslate: that is a very interesting explanation of how we grow to include the supernatural
[13:24] herman Bergson: Some piece of plastic around the wrist ..keeps you in balance of something...
[13:25] herman Bergson: Costs about 30 dollars
[13:25] Daruma Boa: its not only the supernatural. religion works the same way
[13:25] Beertje Beaumont: i wish i invented it..
[13:25] herman Bergson: Worthless piece of plastic
[13:25] Gemma Cleanslate: well that is the same in some minds
[13:25] Bejiita Imako: heh indeed, have seen tons of things like that
[13:25] Abraxas Nagy: all bullshit
[13:25] Daruma Boa: what?
[13:26] Abraxas Nagy: unless.... you make it true
[13:26] AristotleVon Doobie: gullible folks or wishful thinkers? certainly profit driven distributors :)
[13:26] herman Bergson: When I talk about the supernatural I mean from the simple phenomenon that you talk to your car to religion and the pope
[13:26] Daruma Boa: yes everone has the "power" to do things..
[13:26] Daruma Boa: to be happy, or sad ...
[13:27] herman Bergson: Wishful thinking is a kind of supernatural thinking too..
[13:27] Daruma Boa: but most ppl need guidelines for life
[13:27] Daruma Boa: such like religion or being supernatural^^
[13:27] herman Bergson: the belief that you can influence the world by your mind
[13:27] Daruma Boa: no
[13:27] Abraxas Nagy: mind over matter
[13:27] Daruma Boa: its your brain
[13:27] Abraxas Nagy: its possible.. there is even some evidence for it
[13:28] AristotleVon Doobie: the power to accomplish is initiated by thought.....I think that is the seed of existence
[13:28] herman Bergson: Uri Geller?
[13:28] Daruma Boa: we are not able to use our brain^^
[13:28] Abraxas Nagy: noooo
[13:28] Abraxas Nagy: statistical analasys
[13:28] Daruma Boa: perhaps we need about 500 years more *GIGGLES* :)~~~~
[13:28] Gemma Cleanslate: much more than that
[13:28] Abraxas Nagy: wow chatlag
[13:28] Daruma Boa: humans only talk about things
[13:28] herman Bergson: There is no reason to question such a possibility Daruma...
[13:29] Daruma Boa: they don't do anything or try out
[13:29] herman Bergson: Evolution hasn't stopped I would say
[13:29] Daruma Boa: hope so^
[13:29] herman Bergson: the brain is the result of an evolutionary process and that process goes on...
[13:30] Gemma Cleanslate: i think it is very helpful that the psychologists are learning so much about the brain
[13:30] Daruma Boa: yes but we have to learn to use it
[13:30] herman Bergson: but it has no goal
[13:30] Abraxas Nagy: Stanford did research into remote sensing
[13:30] Gemma Cleanslate: to discuss their findings along with the philosophies
[13:30] Daruma Boa: not only reading the books.
[13:30] Daruma Boa: try to live what the books will tell us.
[13:30] herman Bergson: Yes Abraxas ..there is a lot of research on such subjects....
[13:30] Abraxas Nagy: exactly
[13:30] Gemma Cleanslate: oh yes
[13:30] herman Bergson: but it doesn't make them supernatual
[13:31] Daruma Boa: most humans are afraid i think
[13:31] Daruma Boa: afraid of the death e.g.
[13:31] AristotleVon Doobie: you write your own book, the other's are just footnotes in yours
[13:31] herman Bergson: When we don't know what is going on , we just don't proof of the existence of supernatural forces
[13:31] Daruma Boa: they want the question answered: why to we live
[13:32] Daruma Boa: there must be a result of each live
[13:32] Daruma Boa: would be terrible 4 most ppl to live and in the end there is no meaning^^
[13:32] herman Bergson: Where is that law of nature formulated Daruma...that life must have a result?
[13:33] herman Bergson: That can be regarded as supernatural thinking, I would say
[13:33] Daruma Boa: all are searching for the answer
[13:33] Abraxas Nagy: ah yes
[13:33] Daruma Boa: u know its 42^^
[[13:33] herman Bergson: The number of Life?
[13:33] herman Bergson: yes 42
[13:33] Abraxas Nagy: I think its important to define supernatural a bit more
[13:34] Abraxas Nagy: cuz there's many levels
[13:34] Gemma Cleanslate: very true ab
[13:34] herman Bergson: There are two situations....
[13:35] herman Bergson: situation one: we can explain the phenomena in the world by the laws of physics etc.
[13:35] herman Bergson: Situation two: Part of the phenomena we cannot explain by science...we just dont know...
[13:36] AristotleVon Doobie: supernatural falls in the category of unproveable things, I can make any assertion I wish and if you can not disprove it then it could be the truth
[13:36] herman Bergson: Situation three: We use an explanation for phenomena which defy all laws of nature..
[13:36] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:36] Daruma Boa: and that we want to explain and put it into a "schublade" sorry, dunno the english word^^
[13:36] Gemma Cleanslate: miracles
[13:36] herman Bergson: Situation three is the prototype of supernatural thinking
[13:36] Bejiita Imako: ah
[13:36] herman Bergson: drawer..
[13:36] Daruma Boa: thank u^^
[13:37] Abraxas Nagy: aahhh but does not knowing make something supernatural?
[13:37] herman Bergson: no.....that is a non sequitur...
[13:37] Abraxas Nagy: not necceceraly
[13:37] Abraxas Nagy: oops
[13:37] Alarice Beaumont: but isn't it although interesting that supernatural believes usually work with the not so educated people and in bad times?
[13:37] herman Bergson: I would say..not at all....
[13:37] AristotleVon Doobie: are supernatural things beyond the realm of the senses?
[13:37] Abraxas Nagy: a what?
[13:37] Gemma Cleanslate: ah yes
[13:37] Abraxas Nagy: non sequiter?
[13:38] herman Bergson: Yes Alarice....
[13:38] Daruma Boa: mh, no alarice. i know very well establised "witches";-)
[13:38] AristotleVon Doobie: and I know some very properous clergy
[13:38] herman Bergson: non sequitur means that it can not logically be deduced from the fact that we don't know something it necessarily leads to the justification of supernatural thinking
[13:39] herman Bergson: But keep in mind...!!!
[13:39] Abraxas Nagy: ah ty
[13:39] Alarice Beaumont: well.. the exception is not the rule^^
[13:39] herman Bergson: I am NOT denying the existence of supernatural thinking....
[13:39] herman Bergson: neither do I deny that is has a meaning in our life....a function...
[13:40] AristotleVon Doobie: first we must ascertain the motivation behind the supernatural utterances
[13:40] herman Bergson: but it has a psychological function....
[13:40] Daruma Boa: yes, but in religion and supernatural things, i can not think in drawers;-) cos i don't have the experiences to talk about the truth. what right or wrong is.
[13:40] herman Bergson: it is NOT a scientificc explanation of the world around us
[13:40] Abraxas Nagy: exactly
[13:40] Daruma Boa: i think i should live about 17 lifes, to start a discussion about that
[13:41] herman Bergson: What we are doing here is trying to find an answer to the question: WHY do we believe in the Unbelievable?
[13:41] AristotleVon Doobie: I do not LOL
[13:41] herman Bergson: And so far we have found one part of the answer...
[13:41] Abraxas Nagy: to have progress
[13:42] herman Bergson: Our brain is wired to do so by nature
[13:42] Daruma Boa: ok ari come back in 2 weeks;-))
[13:42] AristotleVon Doobie: LOL
[13:42] AristotleVon Doobie: I will believe even less I am afraid
[13:43] Daruma Boa: hi ziro
[13:43] Bejiita Imako: hi Ziro
[13:43] herman Bergson: Aristotle.....I am sure you act against the rationality of scientific explanation too now and then...
[13:43] Ziro Qunhua: Hi everyone
[13:43] Abraxas Nagy: .hi Ziro
[13:43] herman Bergson: Ever cursed your car or some other object?
[13:43] AristotleVon Doobie: rationality seems to be the missing ingrediant in supernaturl me
[13:43] Abraxas Nagy: uuhhmm everyday
[13:44] herman Bergson: Ever said...damn stupid car!
[13:44] Bejiita Imako: my gof clubs when i make a slice
[13:44] Bejiita Imako: haha
[13:44] Abraxas Nagy: everyday
[13:44] Abraxas Nagy: ╔╗╔═╦╗
[13:44] Abraxas Nagy: ║╚╣║║╚╗
[13:44] Abraxas Nagy: ╚═╩═╩═╝
[13:44] herman Bergson: Exactly...
[13:44] AristotleVon Doobie: never seriously LOL
[13:44] herman Bergson: It is deeply rooted in our mind, this way of interpreting the world
[13:44] Daruma Boa: mostly...
[13:45] AristotleVon Doobie: I knew a woman that wore a monkeys foot around her neck, she was fearful only because of her derangement
[13:45] Daruma Boa: oh sorry, i must go.
[13:45] Bejiita Imako: cu Daruma
[13:45] Gemma Cleanslate: me too soon
[13:45] herman Bergson: Bye Daruma ㋡
[13:45] Abraxas Nagy: *:-.,_,.-:*'``'* *** *:-.,_,.-:*'``'*
[13:45] Abraxas Nagy: *:-.,_,.-:*D A R U M A -:*'``'*
[13:45] Abraxas Nagy: *:-.,_,.-:*'``'* *** *:-.,_,.-:*'``'*
[13:45] Abraxas Nagy: bye
[13:45] AristotleVon Doobie: bye Daruma
[13:45] Daruma Boa: see u on thursday. if the cards will show me the way *GIGGLES* :)~~~~
[13:45] Beertje Beaumont: bye daruma
[13:46] AristotleVon Doobie: LMAO
[13:46] Bejiita Imako: ㋡
[13:46] Bejiita Imako: haha
[13:46] herman Bergson: Ok....I think we have a clear sight on our situation now....
[13:46] bergfrau Apfelbaum: bye Daruma!
[13:46] AristotleVon Doobie: yes indeed I will have to check my horoscope
[13:46] Gemma Cleanslate: ♥ LOL ♥
[13:46] Gemma Cleanslate: clear
[13:46] Gemma Cleanslate: ok
[13:46] Bejiita Imako: my horoscope never is right about me
[13:47] herman Bergson: our brain is wired up to seek patterns .....and it leads to science and to supernatural explanations
[13:47] AristotleVon Doobie: it is all fanciful thinking, a way to make a buck
[13:47] Gemma Cleanslate: ♥ Thank Youuuuuuuuuu!! ♥
[13:47] Gemma Cleanslate: herman
[13:47] Gemma Cleanslate: see you thrusday
[13:47] bergfrau Apfelbaum: gemmaa :-) byebye
[13:47] Bejiita Imako: ㋡
[13:47] Gemma Cleanslate: Bye, Bye ㋡
[13:47] Bejiita Imako: bye Gemma
[13:47] herman Bergson: Thank you all for your participation...
[13:47] Abraxas Nagy: bye .gemma
[13:47] herman Bergson: Class dismissed
[13:47] Bejiita Imako: keeps getting more and more interesting this ㋡
[13:47] Abraxas Nagy: thank YOU professor
[13:47] AristotleVon Doobie: I think we wire our brains to find them
[13:47] Bejiita Imako: t Y
[13:47] Alarice Beaumont: lol
[13:47] Bejiita Imako: ㋡
[13:47] bergfrau Apfelbaum: ty herman:-)

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