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Old 06-19-2016, 11:11 PM   #1
WT Sharpe
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June 2016 Discussion: The Future of the Mind (spoilers)

The time has come to discuss the June 2016 MobileRead Book Club selection, The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind by Michio Kaku. What did you think?
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Old 06-20-2016, 12:09 AM   #2
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It’s amazing to think that this three pound universe contains roughly the same number of neurons as the Milky Way has stars. What was once thought of as merely as an organ whose function was to cool the blood is now known to be so complex that it consumes a fifth of our energy intake. What’s more amazing is that when I was younger, the things researchers are doing routinely in labs today would have been consider outrageous. Thought transference, people moving objects with the power of their minds, watching videos of the dreams of sleeping subjects; these were once firmly in the realm of what was called “woo-woo” science, and such it was, until the day dawned when machines and techniques were developed enabling minds to link with computers and accomplish the formerly impossible. And now we’re on the verge of a brave new world where memories and experiences will be able to be transferred from one mind to another, and even a person’s entire brain patterns including their consciousness may soon be uploadable to a more permanent and more stable medium. Immortality may be in our grasp at last.
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Old 06-20-2016, 05:01 AM   #3
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I have read about the problems with IQ being measurement of intelligence but it was refreshing to hear them in the book. Studies on other factors such delayed instant gratification was a very interesting take on the topic.

It is very humbling to know that we still can't say with certainty on causes of mental diseases. We can only do trial and error at this stage. Hopefully we can get better at it with the recent breakthroughs that the book describes. Deep brain stimulation was especially fascinating one. It will be interesting to know if the effects can be permanent.

I am sure not everyone will agree whether the consciousness can be realistically defined purely in terms of your memories and experiences by mapping all the neurones but I am hopeful. As discussed towards the end of the book the quantum forces come into play at such a small level which we can't map. I wish there was some more time devoted to questions on free will from a scientific point of view but probably that's a more of a philosophical question than scientific one.

The most fascinating part was pure energy beings roaming across the galaxy. Kaku has called it an engineering problem rather than physics problem. It was a very novel take on space travel. Combine it with self-replicating nano-bots and you are creating a whole new world in any part of the galaxy. 2001 by Arthur C Clarke was mentioned so many times that I have bumped it up in my tbr.
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Old 06-20-2016, 07:19 AM   #4
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...I wish there was some more time devoted to questions on free will from a scientific point of view but probably that's a more of a philosophical question than scientific one....
As I recall, the author came down on the side of free will, which surprised me.

As yes, here is his statement:

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Ultimately, I think free will probably does exist, but it is not the free will envisioned by rugged individualists who claim they are complete masters of their fate. The brain is influenced by thousands of unconscious factors that predispose us to make certain choices ahead of time, even if we think we made them ourselves. This does not necessarily mean that we are actors in a film that can be rewound anytime. The end of the movie hasn’t been written yet, so strict determinism is destroyed by a subtle combination of quantum effects and chaos theory. In the end, we are still masters of our destiny.
Rather a surprising conclusion, especially considering the now famous experiment in 1985 by Dr. Benjamin Libet he mentioned earlier in the book that revealed how EEG scans show that the brain appears to make decisions about three hundred milliseconds before they register in the consciousness. Combine that with experiments with split-brain patients who, when one side is asked why it performed a certain action that the researchers had requested of the other side of the brain, always comes up with an explanation that make it appear it was their choice based on factors that had no play in the decision, the conclusion seems inescapable that we are the masters of our fate only insofar as our minds weave a narrative that convinces us we are in control.

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2001 by Arthur C Clarke was mentioned so many times that I have bumped it up in my tbr.
I was amazed in reading this book that, with one or two exceptions, every book and every movie the author mentioned, I've read or watched. That's so not the case normally when people in general ask me if I've read a certain book or seen a certain movie. Maybe my off-center tastes are part of what makes me so strange.
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Old 06-20-2016, 07:48 AM   #5
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As I recall, the author came down on the side of free will, which surprised me.....
...Rather a surprising conclusion, especially considering the now famous experiment in 1985 by Dr. Benjamin Libet he mentioned earlier in the book that revealed how EEG scans show that the brain appears to make decisions about three hundred milliseconds before they register in the consciousness. Combine that with experiments with split-brain patients who, when one side is asked why it performed a certain action that the researchers had requested of the other side of the brain, always comes up with an explanation that make it appear it was their choice based on factors that had no play in the decision, the conclusion seems inescapable that we are the masters of our fate only insofar as our minds weave a narrative that convinces us we are in control.
We may never get an answer, most probably we will simply accept some things as they are and move on. I think the author said it in one section.

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I was amazed in reading this book that, with one or two exceptions, every book and every movie the author mentioned, I've read or watched. That's so not the case normally when people in general ask me if I've read a certain book or seen a certain movie. Maybe my off-center tastes are part of what makes me so strange.
That's unsettling
I am going to keep a watch on your reading list
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Old 06-21-2016, 04:55 PM   #6
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I am surprised at such a little discussion in the science category. I would have thought that it will have the same number of comments as award winners (17) as both the categories got same percentage of votes (4%) in the category nominations:

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Old 06-21-2016, 05:44 PM   #7
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The book this month was neither interesting nor inexpensive. Add to that, I've been overloaded in my personal life? And there's no way I'm going to get to it.

Voters really need to keep in mind the factors that limit uptake of the book selection when they nominate and vote. I was actively disappointed in the selection this month, especially because it's a category I expected to enjoy. (And note, please, that this is NOT a comment on the quality of the book selected. It's a comment on it's cost, primarily, though a bit on the topic.)
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Old 06-21-2016, 10:02 PM   #8
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I've lone been interested in split brain patients, those unfortunate few who have, for whatever reason (frequently severe epilepsy uncontrollable by less severe means) had their corpus callosum severed, thus breaking the means of communication between the two halves of the brain.

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For example, the neurologist V. S. Ramanchandran describes one split-brain patient who, when asked if he was a believer or not, said he was an atheist, but his right brain declared he was a believer. Apparently, it is possible to have two opposing religious beliefs residing in the same brain. Ramachandran continues: “If that person dies, what happens? Does one hemisphere go to heaven and the other go to hell? I don’t know the answer to that.”
Here is a theological conundrum for the ages: what would religious groups say about this man's eternal fate? And if the two brains can hold such discordant opinions, what if one is a Republican and the other a Democrat? Should both sides be allowed to vote? What if one side is an upstanding, law-abiding citizen but the other side a murdering criminal? Is it fair that one side be punished for the crimes of the other?

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Unknown to the dominant left brain, the right brain secretly had a completely different agenda for the future. The right brain literally had a mind of its own. Rita Carter writes, “The possible implications of this are mind-boggling. It suggests that we might all be carrying around in our skulls a mute prisoner with a personality, ambition, and self-awareness quite different from the day-to-day entity we believe ourselves to be.”

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Old 06-22-2016, 04:46 AM   #9
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What is amazing that one half of the brain can make your body do something which the other half of the brain that controls the speech and language abilities won't even be able to explain. I am embarrassed to admit that I didn't believe that split brains could actually be possible. All I had was movie characters with split personalities .

I was never into research and articles in the neurosciences but this book has piqued my interest.
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Old 06-22-2016, 09:56 AM   #10
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And there's more on the functions of the two halves of the brain. Even healthy brains are constantly constructing a false narrative that allows us to function in the world.

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(Italics mine
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In the previous chapter, we met the plight of split-brain patients, who sometimes struggle with alien hands that literally have a mind of their own. It does appear that there are two centers of consciousness living within the same brain. So how does all this create the sense that we have a unified, cohesive “self” existing within our brains?

I asked one person who may have the answer: Dr. Michael Gazzaniga, who has spent several decades studying the strange behavior of split-brain patients. He noticed that the left brain of split-brain patients, when confronted with the fact that there seem to be two separate centers of consciousness residing in the same skull, would simply make up strange explanations, no matter how silly. He told me that, when presented with an obvious paradox, the left brain will “confabulate” an answer to explain inconvenient facts. Dr. Gazzaniga believes that this gives us the false sense that we are unified and whole. He calls the left brain the “interpreter,” which is constantly thinking up ideas to paper over inconsistencies and gaps in our consciousness.

For example, in one experiment, he flashed the word “red” to just the left brain of a patient, and the word “banana” to just the right brain. (Notice that the dominant left brain therefore does not know about the banana.) Then the subject was asked to pick up a pen with his left hand (which is governed by the right brain) and draw a picture. Naturally he drew a picture of a banana. Remember that the right brain could do this, because it had seen the banana, but the left brain had no clue that the banana had been flashed to the right brain.

Then he was asked why he had drawn the banana. Because only the left brain controls speech, and because the left brain did not know anything about a banana, the patient should have said, “I don’t know.” Instead he said, “It is easiest to draw with this hand because this hand can pull down easier.” Dr. Gazzaniga noted that the left brain was trying to find some excuse for this inconvenient fact, even though the patient was clueless about why his right hand drew the banana.

Dr. Gazzaniga concludes, “It is the left hemisphere that engages in the human tendency to find order in chaos, that tries to fit everything into a story and put it into a context. It seems that it is driven to hypothesize about the structure of the world even in the face of evidence that no pattern exists.

This is where our sense of a unified “self” comes from. Although consciousness is a patchwork of competing and often contradictory tendencies, the left brain ignores inconsistencies and papers over obvious gaps in order to give us a smooth sense of a single “I.” In other words, the left brain is constantly making excuses, some of them harebrained and preposterous, to make sense of the world. It is constantly asking “Why?” and dreaming up excuses even if the question has no answer.


The aforementioned "gaps in our consciousness" was an interesting tidbit also. We perceive consciousness as one long but generally uninterrupted segment that fills the gaps between wakefulness and sleep, but the picture that emerges from science is something different altogether.
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Old 06-22-2016, 10:31 AM   #11
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Mind reading and thought transference

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True telepathy, found in science-fiction and fantasy novels, is not possible without outside assistance. As we know, the brain is electrical. In general, anytime an electron is accelerated, it gives off electromagnetic radiation. The same holds true for electrons oscillating inside the brain, which broadcasts radio waves. But these signals are too faint to be detected by others, and even if we could perceive these radio waves, it would be difficult to make sense of them. Evolution has not given us the ability to decipher this collection of random radio signals, but computers can.
It's because of the increase in computing power coupled with our increased understanding of the mechanics of the mind gleamed from MRIs, CAT scans, EEGs, and other brain-probing methods that we can now relay simple messages from a brain in one country to a brain in another without verbalization. The messages are as crude and unsophisticated as our understanding of the mechanics involved, but the science is in its infancy. I've long envisioned the day when people will be able to communicate via implants in their skulls. The author goes one further and speaks of injecting nanotubes into the tissue of the brain via the bloodstream which will allow for a quantum interface with an external device such as a brain net.

DARPA, of course, has been at the forefront of these developments.

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On another occasion, a group of DARPA physicists and engineers came to a talk I gave about the future of technology. Later I asked them if they had any concerns of their own. One concern, they said, was their public image. Most people have never heard of DARPA, but some link it to dark, nefarious government conspiracies, everything from UFO cover-ups, Area 51, and Roswell to weather control, etc. They sighed. If only these rumors were true, they could certainly use help from alien technology to jump-start their research!
Traditional modes of telepathy (non-computer assisted) have long been disparaged by scientists, partly because investigations into people who claim the ability have failed to pan out in the laboratory, and partly for lack of a mechanism whereby it could function as traditionally described. Echoing Einstein's main objections to ESP, the author says,

Quote:
But magnetic fields diminish much faster than the square of the distance. Most signals decrease by the cube or quartic of the distance, so if you double the distance from an MRI machine, the magnetic field goes down by a factor of eight or more.) Furthermore, there would be interference from the outside world, which would mask the faint signals coming from the brain. This is one reason why scientists require strict laboratory conditions to do their work, and even then they are able to extract only a few letters, words, or images from the thinking brain at any given time. The technology is not adequate to record the avalanche of thoughts that often circulate in our brain as we simultaneously consider several letters, words, phrases, or sensory information, so using these devices for mind reading as seen in the movies is not possible today, and won’t be for decades to come.
But when the day comes that such thought transference becomes a reality for the masses, the author isn't too worried about privacy concerns.

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Similarly, a telepathy shield would consist of thin metal foil placed around the brain.
It's comforting to know that a simple tin-foil hat would act as a Faraday cage to shield us from inquiring minds. Not to mention the protection they offer from invasive mind probes from groups like DARPA!
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Old 06-22-2016, 10:36 AM   #12
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And then there's this:

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Dr. Nicolelis has shown that this brain-machine interface can be done across continents. He places a monkey on a treadmill. A chip is positioned on the monkey’s brain, which is connected to the Internet. On the other side of the planet, in Kyoto, Japan, signals from the monkey are used to control a robot that can walk. By walking on the treadmill in North Carolina, the monkey controls a robot in Japan, which executes the same walking motion. Using only his brain sensors and the reward of a food pellet, Dr. Nicolelis has trained these monkeys to control a humanoid robot called CB-1 halfway around the world.
I couldn't help but think that sounds like the plot to a bad sci-fi movie. It could be called "Attack of the Monkey Cyberbots."

But it's real, and the research could help paraplegics live semi-normal lives in the perhaps not too distant future.
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