Monday 2 February 2009

Brain - Mind

The 90s decade was dedicated to the Brain, as can be clearly seen from this. However, it seems that the scientists felt the need to study something that could have immediate application ... like the mind. The current decade has therefore been dedicated to Mind, (more here).

The Decade of the Mind initiative focuses on four broad areas:

Healing and protecting the mind: This is the notion of improving the public health by curing diseases of the brain that affect the mind. An example of such a disease is Alzheimer’s disease.

Understanding the mind: This aspect of the initiative seeks to understand how mind actually emerges from brain functional activity. Some of the key characteristics of the mind that are still not understood include consciousness, memory and dreams.

Enriching the mind: Improving learning outcomes in education is a key component of this part of the initiative.

Modeling the mind: A key approach to understanding the mind is to model it either analytically or using computation. Such models of mind may facilitate the creation of new hypotheses which can then be tested in the laboratory or clinic. Modeling the mind may also allow for the creation of new applications, technologies and inventions.

Which bring us to the question, Does activity in Brain result in Mind or is it the other way round? Though science likes to believe that its the former, the Hindu philosophy mentions that Mind controls not only the brain, but the whole body.

Tony Buzan a proponent of mind mapping and mind literacy has come up with various techniques to read mind. Yet, the most recent psychometric studies believe that they know nothing about how brain/mind works.

In James Randerson's "We know nothing about brain evolution" (Guardian UK, February 19, 2008) we learn that Harvard's Richrd Lewontin has pointed out the obvious:
"Why we know nothing about the evolution of cognition". He systematically dismissed every assumption about the evolution of human thought, reaching the conclusion that scientists are still completely in the dark about how natural selection prompted the massive hike in human brain size in the human line.

The main problem is the poor fossil record. Despite a handful of hominid fossils stretching back 4m years or so, we can't be sure that any of them are on the main ancestral line to us. Many or all of them could have been evolutionary side branches.

Worse, the fossils we do have are difficult to interpret. "I don't have the faintest idea what the cranial capacity [of a fossil hominid] means," Lewontin confessed. What does a particular brain size tell us about the capabilities of the animal attached to it?
Of course Lewontin is right! First, cranial capacity is not the best measure of intelligence, as brain absent humans show. While we are here, a number of studies show that some birds (notably crows) are smart - even though they do not have the brain parts we humans associate with smartness. At the time, I said,
I've long been skeptical of claims that intelligence evolved as an aid to survival. The vast majority of life forms that have survived for millions or even hundreds of millions of years did not require - or acquire - intelligence. The newer notion that intelligence is spurred by the need for complex social interactions seems a bit closer to the mark, though not entirely satisfactory. After all, many insects have achieved complex social interactions without anything like what we humans regard as intelligence.
There is no "survival of the fittest" reason why humans should be conscious! None whatever. Bacteria are way more fit than humans, but do they have thoughts? And they are probably better off without them.

So we are stuck being human and having minds, and we really can't claim that our minds give us a survival advantage. Its more the opposite. We give our minds a survival advantage.

Wouldn't it be great to explore your MIND and know how it works ?!

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