The Advancements of Neuroscience Part 1

 

Sternberg, Eliezer J. My Brain Made me do It. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2010. 9-43. Print.

I can’t believe what I am reading.  I have read a forward, introduction, and three chapters, and I have to start writing about this book.  This book is going to be one of the greats that I have read, simply because the implications of what this book is saying is so profound.

The first thing I remember reading, was about a criminal that was executed back in 2005.  He basically robs a pizza joint at gunpoint, and demands all the cash from the register.  The employee follows the direction, while the manager was trying to be as quiet as possible in the back crying.  The criminal demanded to see the manager, whereby he eventually kills the manager execution style.  When asked about the crime, the criminal showed no remorse.  I will say this before proceeding, that he was eventually sentenced to death.  Now with the interesting argument that the defense put forth.

First understand that the defense did a complete physical and psychological look up.  The works.  And everything seemed normal, except that he had a deficiency of monoamine oxidase A.  I will let the lawyers themselves tell you their defense:

Stagnant MOMA activity among affected males resulted in the excretion of abnormally high amounts of the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, and epinephrine.  When these neurotransmitters accumulate in abnormal amounts due to a defect in the MOMA gene, affected individuals will have trouble handling stressful situations, causing them to respond excessively, and at times violently.   (page 22)

In other words, the biology of his brain explains the outburst of violence that day.  This statement, is the epiphany of determinism.  Essentially determinism can be broken down into one sentence:

The brain controls the mind.

Let me share with you an experiment that I heard about on a television program.  Subjects were put into a brain imaging machine, and where given a very simple task.  This task, invoked a decision on the subject.  The brain was essentially monitored at every step of the way.

What the neuroscientists were learning was that the regions of the brain responsible for the subconscious, would light up first followed by regions of the brain responsible for conscious thought.  Finally, the motor cortex was excited because of the actual pressing of the button.  The implications of this, is that your subconscious s active before your conscious for every decision that you make.  And, because these are brain circuits, there is no doubt that your subconscious has an effect on your decision.  So, was the decision really free?  Or was it determined?  Was the decision determined by the biological make up of your brain, which is affected by genes, environment, and previous experiences?

Think of it as another way.  Your brain is a factory.  The input is sensory stimulation, and the output is resulting behaviors.  Theoretically, because neurotransmitters not only work on the biological, but the physical level as well, neuroscientists think they will one day be able to create a system of algorithms to describe mathematically an individual brain, and would therefore be able to predict what your actions would become given the environment and experiences.  Your brain is in such control, and grand biochemical system, that can be completely understood because it is deterministic.

There are two huge implications to this:

  1. There is no free will.
  2. There is no moral responsibility.

And let me tell ya, I have been reading this book slowly.  It is very well written, and everything makes sense, but it is hard for me to swallow.  It is changing the fabric of reality in front of me, like good books do.  And it is essentially saying we are not in control, our brains are.  Our brains are the determining factor on why people behave; not their free will.

If there is no free will, then the interpretation of Genesis is completely wrong.  But I already went there.

If there is no moral responsibility, then we should look at methods to recondition the minds of the violent criminals.  Their brains made them do it, due to their environment,  genes, and experiences (poverty is the subject of my next book I think) so instead of using the resources to protect ourselves for prolonged periods of time, (I agree we have to protect ourselves nonetheless) we should work for a streamline of processes to recondition the mind that hopefully would one day cost less than sustaining the criminal.  We have to rework their brains with a descent circuitry so they can function safely in society.  I’m not quite sure how we would do that, and I know part of that would be gene therapy, which is still being worked on.

But determinism is the huge landslide that is hitting neuroscience.  Some philosophers have come up with a view of free will called compaitblism.  I am not going to explain it fully, but simply this effort of making free will and determinism compatible is just a way to escape the painful implications of determinism, free will, and moral responsibility.

This is sort of like the kind of idea that will be resisted amongst the populace.  Because it is hard to accept the fact that your brain is in complete control, and the evolution of your brain dictated the behaviors of yourself, and influenced the informational input of others.

In a sense, we are like robots I think, assuming determinism is true.  We aren’t experiencing, our brain is controlling.  And so it is with that that I leave you.  Notice at the title it says Part 1.  That is because this is probably going to be a book I write about multiple times.  It is that good.

I hope you enjoyed yourselves!

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The Tree of Knowledge

First I have announcements and then disclaimers to get out of the way before we get into the heart of this post.  First I wanted to say I have found another avenue for my writing – an online community devoted to writing.  Here I plan to get constructive criticism for other works in hopes that my writing will improve.  I am not going to be able to post as frequently on this blog, but I believe it to be well worth it.  I hope that one day I can start to earn some money doing something that I love.  I know it won’t be much, but anything will help.  I must say, that I am never going to forget this blog.  This blog is a canvas that I can paint whichever way I like.  The blog has grown.  And hopefully with time I will be able to host the blog myself, and be able to sell a collection of works to my readers.  But that is far in the future.

I am about to start my next intellectual endeavor.  So give me time to read this very dense book for you guys.  It is short, but dense.

Now this post encompasses a discussion I had with my father who was an ordained pastor in the past.  He has tried very hard to make me a pure believer, but over the years I have constantly been honest with him with some of the problems I have with The Bible.   I do not wish to offend.  I am merely sharing my conundrum with what I have with the first story of The Bible, Genesis.  My brother told me I should not stop reading The Bible and acknowledge the good and bad of the bible, so to speak.  I took his advice, and I have been reading on and off the new testament with some of the old testament.  But I came to the realization, that if any one of these events in The Bible were to be different, the consequence would cascade to countless events.  And so, my conundrum with Genesis is paramount, because if the events of Genesis were different, we would have a vastly different Bible and Earth.

My problem is as simple as it gets, but has baffled me for years.  And not even my father, he open admits, that he does not have an answer.  And to me, this is dangerous.

Why create the tree of knowledge?

Why not create free will in paradise?  I had a person tell me that is not possible.  If people had their various wills so to speak, there are bound to be interests belittled upon so to speak.  But would that really happen in paradise?  If humanity existed with mother nature in pure harmony and had a relationship with their creator, would there be an incentive to self-maximize?  I don’t think there would be.  And I also think, that it is possible for such a powerful God to create Eden without The Tree of Knowledge.   Adam was naming the animals was he not?  Was God controlling that?  Couldn’t a human being name animals in paradise, with free will, without The Tree of Knowledge?  So why?  Why was this tree created?

Well from a longitudinal standpoint, it shows that we defy God’s instructions, and this whole battle with sin starts.  But in my mind, God knew what would happen.  He put The Tree of Knowledge there, unnecessarily, for a reason.  Not let us not forget, that because of this sin, we had to work, have pain with childbirth, and be exiled from Eden.  God became much more distant in literal terms with man from that point on.  He did not converse and walk directly with man, and his style (assuming the old testament is true) is very distant and prolonged.

One idea that I have played with is the symbolism of The Tree of Knowledge.  That it is true that man is sinful, but that man seeks knowledge as well.  And it is this drive for knowledge the pushes us further from God.  But again.  Why create a Tree of Knowledge with beings that you just created and knew were curious, and then tell them not to eat of the fruit?  Obviously they will.

And this is my problem.  Suffering was then enacted on humanity because of two people, that literally were doing what was planned, in my mind.  And I mean the entire spectrum of suffering.  Genocide, homicide, rape, war, and famine just to name a few.  Why?

The only answer my Dad had when listening to my reasoning, was a verse in Proverbs.  I can’t remember word for word, but basically God keeps the evil for the day of judgement.  In other words, suffering is due to evil, and the judgement of all that is evil further glorifies Him.

Glorify –> to praise the glory of God.

So to not get too technical, from what I can tell, there is a purpose to evil.  And evil causes suffering.  So because people get terminal cancer, die to someone driving while they are texting, and so on, is so on this predetermined day God gets more praise.  That is the purpose that I have come up with so far.  And frankly, it pisses me off.  It pisses me off to the point that I am mad Jesus had to die in the first place.  I get it.  Jesus had to be sacrificed for our sins, but there shouldn’t be sins to begin with.  The Tree should not of been created in the first place, and man should have been left to live in paradise and enjoy a more direct relationship with God.  The only reason I can deduce is because God wants to be further glorified.  So because of that, we have the inhumane suffering that happens every day.  If when I die I am presented before God and if God says what you have figured out is completely correct, I’d call him a piece of shit; humanity should not pay for your insecurity.  And He would end me.  And I would be okay with that.  I wouldn’t want to be at the mercy of a God who royally messed up.

But, I could have this all wrong.  There are multiple interpretations, and with the fast moving world going by it is hard to find the truth of creation while keeping in stride with society.  I will say this.  I do believe there has to be a Creator, because there is energy.  I believe He created a self-sustaining and self-evolving system.  I am not certain that God talking to a really young human and that text copied thousands of years later, is the way things happened.  What is interesting, is Christians put absolute faith in people that heard God, yet they constantly medicate people that hear God.  How could a new prophet come to pass?  Do we have all the information that Christians are supposed to know?

And so I pray.  I pray honestly, and I tell God why I think Genesis was a mistake.  And it is up to His empathy and decisions to do with my soul after I die.  That is all I can do.  After all, it very well could be possible that the major religions of our time does not come close to describing the spiritual realm – maybe they do.  All I can do is pray.

Weep for Day by Indrapramit Das

I decided to venture out of my comfort zone, and read a sci-fi short story.  I did so because I don’t have the brain muscle right now to read my next book, and I still want to improve my writing.  I have recently purchased a membership on a writing website and there is so much that I find myself wanting to write.  After my previous post, one of the things I want to try for the first time is write a short story based off some of the ideas of Enslaved:  Odyssey to the West .  After reading this story, I have so much to learn, and I even got a brand new idea!  But I won’t bore you, my blog readers, with a detail review of the work.  I wanted to talk about some of the messages that was portrayed in this story.

One of the core concepts is the idea of ally and enemy.  Basically, the person that feels righteous for their war is fighting their enemy, and the organization opposed of this stance, their enemy is the righteous one.  I know that maybe confusing, and I know that maybe obvious.  But I think it has huge implications with the war on terror.

Simply, as I understand Jihadism, the United States is evil.  And, they must use force to abolish us.  Muslim extremists is just one interpretation of the Islam religion.  But I feel this war will never end.  Considering that this war is based upon religious interpretation, as well as the fact that there are deaths from both sides, we are undoubtedly going to fuel the fire by killing militants and civilians.  The only way to really resolve this conflict, which maybe way too late, is to reason and hopefully make compromises from both sides.  If we can stop the motivation by ideology, we can ensure that the war could stop.

What I am trying to say, is extinguishing the opposition is never the right strategy.  Put simply, during the killing of human beings, other human beings who witness the killing will want to rise and take their place.  Killing doesn’t solve anything, and it only brings more heartfelt pain to both sides.  It is true that Al-Qaeda struck first on 9/11, and that day should never be forgotten.  But I would also argue, that the United States are doing practices around the world that set them up for an attack out of anger.  I would advise watching Confessions of an Economic Hitman.  Considering our ways of lives of the west, and the ways of lives of others, it is true that some responsibility bears on them, but I would argue, on us as well.  By forcing countries to sell their resources below market price to the western corpocracy, we have milked areas dry for our way of life.  It was just a matter of time before the US was attacked in my opinion.

And, since killing is never going to solve the dilemma because more people are going to see America as their enemy, this war on terror is never going to end.  Which I believe, is exactly what the rich and powerful want.  They want a war that never ends, because it is a good stimulant to the economy.  War is good business.  I do believe that capitalism has gotten that evil and greedy.  I believe people want people to die so their pockets get more full.  And to me, it is sick.  This decay of morals is more evidence that we are in the age of decadence.

I know this maybe hard to read.  I know this may offend.  But I hope this forces you, the reader, to examine what you think is going on with this “War on Terror.”  Will it ever truly end?

Another message that this great short story hit home is that knowledge is the better solution to conflict.  The main character was understanding the enemy of her race, and was realizing that her race were purging their enemy; their enemy is just trying to survive.

Again, this hatred against The United States is other peoples’ way of trying to survive.  Their resources are too scarce or communities are too violent, and in some areas, we directly affect that.

But again, we have to show empathy to our enemy, and use knowledge from their vantage point to be able to solve our differences.  They must be willing to reason too, and be willing to show empathy as well.  I am saddened to think that this will only happen until so many people have died, that it forces a side to come to a resolution out of desperation.  And, a central requirement for the negotiations to work, is that both sides show humility.  When both sides acknowledge that they killed many people, and they are sorry, can a resolution take fruit.

But this is hard.  Our enemies hate us on an ideological level, and we are reinforcing that by killing brothers and innocents.  I seriously think the method of making radical Islam extinct is flawed, and I think our leaders knew this and wanted to fight this for their money and power.  I’m sorry of this is hard to hear or I offend, I am just sharing what I am thinking after reading that story, and I hope this post will make you think as well.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West Analysis

I was fortunate enough to play Enslaved: Odyssey to the West and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  The game was a great quality game.  The writing was superb.  Character interactions with the voice acting really made the characters come alive, which created a game that was the means to telling a story.  In my opinion, some of the strongest games ever made told an interactive story – like reading a book.  To finish off the game review part of this post, the graphics were superb.  My gaming machine is not top of the line by any stretch of the imagination and had to play the game at a measly 800 x 600 resolution.  But the game was still pretty!  The colors were very bright and bold, and really showcased the variety of the Unreal Engine.  I was impressed.  The sound effects that were tied to different instances and interactions in the game was of the highest quality and really tied in the experience.  You add that on top of a very thought provoking story and character development, and you have a game that will always be remembered.

With that done, I can now focus on what I really want to think about.  It is the implications and statement that this story brings.  And so I am going to make it known from here on out I will be spoiling the game.  Because, in order to have a resolution of the story one has to beat the entire game.  So if you want to play this game and enjoy the experience like you should, then I advise you close the browser or tab and stop reading.

The beginning starts with one of the core three characters, Monkey.  He is called monkey because he resembles one – not through looks but by mere actions.  He battles with his fists and a staff, and is able to climb pretty much anywhere.  He is very strong.  You learn throughout the game that he may lack the computer intelligence, but his resourcefulness and survivability and bar none.

In any case he wakes up in a capsule.  He cannot move.  The length of the trip was another 16 hours.  There is a red taint portrayed around his eyes to show his suffering.  He can’t sleep, is insanely bored, and can only stand in a capsule.  He can only think – nothing more.  Across from his capsule he sees a “slave” escape her pod.  This is the introduction of the second core characters, and her name is Trip.  Trip has a computer mind that can not be surpassed.  She uses her wrist computer to hack the pod she was in, and she continues to move through the huge ship.  Monkey with his resourcefulness escapes his pod and follows her.  They run into one another in the escape, but Trip leaves him for dead.  At the very end of the escape Trip occupies the last evacuation capsule.  Monkey on the other side pleads for her to let him in.  She pulls the trigger.  Monkey, clinging on for dear life, hangs onto the evacuation capsule until their landing.  This is the very beginning of the game.

When Monkey wakes, he finds a metal band across his head – Trip has enslaved him.  He wants to hurt her, but quickly there is cerebral pain experienced by Monkey.  And so, Monkey is forced to assist Trip in returning back to her hometown.  And the game is a story of their travels, and the growing bond between them.  At one point at the last stages of the game, Trip takes off the headband saying, “You can go.  There is nothing holding you back.”  Monkey looks at her with such seriousness in her eyes, “Put it back on me.”  Trip did.  I think the reason Monkey did that was because he knew himself enough to know that he would want to leave to survive.  He is a survivor.  The only way he would see things through and ensure the safety of Trip is if he was enslaved.  It was a beautiful moment.

Anyways, Monkey and Trip return to her self-sustaining community to find it slaughtered by mechs.  She is devastated and wants revenge.  This is the motivator to the end of the game, where they actually make it to Pyramid.  Pyramid is an entity responsible for enslaving millions of people and creating wastelands with its mech warriors.  The entire game the player does not necessarily know the motives behind Pyramid.  But Pyramid is exactly that.  It is a giant luminescent pyramid.  It was in a desert.  Which shows some resemblance of Ancient Egypt.  When Trip and Monkey enter the pyramid, they see thousands upon thousands of people standing in order engrossed by images being seen on their headbands (the same device that Monkey is wearing).  There is a man in the center, working freverously on a computer, wearing a mask and obviously being kept alive with mech technology.  He is very old.

It turns out that the old man was feeding memories of life on Earth before the big war.  The “slaves” were lost in a world of old Earth, living good positive experiences.  The old man wanted to provide those images to the masses to ease suffering, because all that is left of the world is wastelands with mechs.  Which he created by the way.  In his delusional eyes, he was doing humanity a favor.  He was removing the suffering of the world, a suffering that he helps contribute, by providing a new virtual life to the masses.  Even Monkey was transfixed.  He wanted to beat the argument of the old man at his own game, and had the images uploaded to his headband.  Monkey was starting to get lost in the images and memories, however Trip doing something for herself for once, kills the old man, bringing the entire pyramid back to reality.

The obvious statement that the story makes is that experiencing True reality regardless of the suffering involved is the right thing to do.  Otherwise one is not living.  The game also shows the danger of giving one man absolute power.  Even men in power are prone to delusions and faulty thinking, so even putting in place a leader with an extremely high IQ wouldn’t relieve that possibility.  I am however, for providing a ruling class consisting of individuals with exceptional intellectual ability.  Sort of like The Jedi Council in Star Wars.  I think that would be a much better and efficient way at ruling the country rather than having hundreds of representatives that just make up one third of the governmental body.  Our system has worked for sure, but I really do think it is time for a change.

But I think humanity is going to face a problem like this in the future.  Gaming technology is only going to improve and become more engrossive.  Eventually there will be virtual reality, and eventually we could probably pick the experience we would want to experience.  Humanity will undoubtedly create a reality that is better, easier, whatever the word, than our current reality.  Now we all have this desire to experience the reality for truly what it is.  But what if humanity could create a self-sustaining system that would provide a better reality for everyone?  We would definitely lose track of what is real.  And no real progress would be done to progress the species to other parts of the galaxy and beyond.  But isn’t the goal of humanity is to provide an oasis, a heaven on a planet so to speak?  It is in my experience, that we can already create better realities than our own.  I think eventually mankind would have the potential to create a self sustaining system bring virtual reality to the masses.  It could be individual instances, or it could be group.

So why am I sharing this?

We have to make a decision about video games addiction and video game entertainment as a society.  If unchecked and not debated, it very well could be possible that humanity will induce a Matrix onto themselves.  If that is what humanity wants, fine.  But we have to start thinking and debating along those lines.  We have to start making those governmental regulations to curb our tendencies.  However, it could be argued that someone is going to do it anyway if it is possible.  Which means I am scared.  The worship of a world created by humanity is the definition of idolatry in the eyes of humanism.  It will bring us further from being human.  And it is only until we become closer to what makes us human, do we feel more fulfilled.  That is what humanism would say.  But why does more fulfillment coincide with more suffering?  Is that a truth that we must accept?

Great provocative game.  The gameplay was great, the graphics and sound were great, and finally the story and character progression was very good.  I am very lucky to be able to experience this game in its entirety.