This morning, I found myself reveling in the representational capacity of brains.
Here’s an illustration: Sometimes I misplace an item such as my keys and I can’t find them while physically walking around my house. Sometimes, frustrated, I pause my physical search. I sit down and close my eyes. Using only images, sounds and memories embedded in neural pathways in my head, I “see” that I had my keys when I last walked into my house. I “play” a series of short “videos” and “images” in my head reminding myself where I walked and what I touched. I run through the logic that I could NOT have left them in certain places, because I didn’t go to those parts of the house, seeing images of them as I run through this logic? Then, perhaps, I “see” myself closing my car trunk while holding my briefcase. I’m now wondering–did I put the keys on top of the car for a second while closing the trunk? I go outside and there are the keys on top of the car.
My mind contained detailed representations of my home and car, as well as episodic memories that, while imperfect, is often good enough. My neural pathways contain a virtual, somewhat explorable, world inside of my head. Although it is not perfect in all of its details, it is quite functional. It’s a capability we use every day, drawing on the brain’s extraordinary power to represent the world around us, allowing us to perform virtual manipulations of objects, “searching” our house while sitting down with our eyes closed. What type of magic is this that a 3 pound living organ can do this and so much more? How is it even possible that a system like this can spout up and train itself over a lifetime without a “person in the brain” to guide the process? And how is it possible that we experience consciousness on top of this amazing process?
This is but one reason for my love of cognitive science. It’s not my profession, but it is one of my passions to better understand this process that we so often take for granted.
How many ancestors do you have? This article is a delightful excursion into math and biology.
I’m always fascinated to hear people over-focused on only that one twig of their family that carries their surname. Too bad we can put a button to see everyone related to us glow, the glow brighter based on how closely they are related to us. Would anyone NOT glow? Maybe such a fantasy device would make us less likely to start wars.
Headline from The New Yorker: “Nation Apparently Believed in Science at Some Point”
I’ve studied sex in the wild, at least somewhat, but I learned more than a few thing during this entertaining talk by Carin Bondar. Most bizarre is her description of the hectocotylus, a detachable swimming penis of the paper nautilus.
After watching this talk, I followed up by reading more about unusual animal genitals.
Back in 2008, I read Neil Shubin’s book, “Your Inner Fish.” I posted on it here. PBS has worked with Shubin to present a documentary that covers and expands on Shubin’s work. What a great compliment to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos. You won’t want to miss this. It’s a story about plasticity, about how your body is bursting with evidence of your animal ancestors. Another reason to watch this: Shubin’s enthusiasm is contagious.