Brain stuff

by Russ Roberts on June 19, 2008

in Health

This is an amazing 18 minute talk by neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor talking about the stroke she had. (HT: Ken Miller) It’s very moving and you’ll learn something about the brain.

At the end of my viewing of it, an ad for autodesk came on. A gorgeous ad that was a tribute to human creativity. At the end was this quote:

There isn’t a problem in the world that a great designer can’t solve.

I know what they meant. But of course Hayek (and Leonard Read) would have said it like this:

There isn’t a problem in the world that a great designer can solve.

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{ 17 comments }

Martin Brock June 19, 2008 at 10:43 am

Effective design often requires knowledge that nominally "great" designers often don't possess, and great design is more a matter of trial and error than even the greatest designers themselves may realize. The semantics of "design" is the central issue here.

Similarly, my problem with "intelligent design" is not that ID advocates claim "intelligence" in the development of living forms. I agree with them. My problem is that they imagine "intelligence" to be some miraculous holy ghost in the natural machinery rather than an emergent property of natural processes that don't seem very "intelligent" in isolation. Intelligence is the forest, not the trees, and design is a manifestation of intelligence.

Human intelligence similarly emerges from the complex interaction of signals coursing through a complex neural network, as well as information coursing through a larger, social network of these neural networks. The Creator (or Gaia or what have you) is intelligent, but Her intelligence is a manifestation of natural processes rather than an external influence on them, and She certainly doesn't whisper Hebrew in the ear of Moses from a burning bush, not literally anyway. A distinction between information and its material embodiment, between software and hardware, is a meaningful distinction, but the former does not exist independently of the latter.

I don't say that all problems have solutions, but I will say that designers solve problems; however, God is not a central planner, and central planners are not as Godlike as they imagine. That's my theology anyway.

markwriter June 19, 2008 at 12:46 pm

Thanks for the prophetic revelation, Martin. Thanks to the lighting that hit the primordial soup that created stuff that turned into cells that became increasingly complex to the point we could have an Al Gore who could invent the internet so we could all get together electronically and revel in the natural processes that brought this all about. Praise the Natural Process! I for one am waiting for the Natural Process to create a nice shed out back for me. There's plenty of wood out back, and hopefully some natural process will transform it into that shed I've been needing. Or at least a nice deck.

Martin Brock June 19, 2008 at 1:29 pm

I'm not the prophet, only a priest. Darwin is the prophet, one of them anyway.

The Natural Process made you, and you're far more complex and useful than a shed in your backyard. Why would the Natural Process bother?

Hammer June 19, 2008 at 2:13 pm

More to the point, natural processes create things with no regard as to how useful they are to someone in particular. That wood won't become a deck by virtue of natural processes, but in absense of your work and guidance, it will become a lovely patch of dirt in a few years.

Nature creates, and then favors the self sustaining. Generally it does not create the pleasing for it's own sake.
Unless you want to consider yourself part of the natural processes (which you are) and see your actions in creating (or not) a deck as part of nature, just as bees making honey combs are part of nature.

gil arno June 19, 2008 at 2:43 pm

This entire conversation is flawed in its essence.
Science is fine while speaking scientifically. So is theology, while speaking of faith. One is an article of reason, while the other is an article of faith and in faith proof is unnecessary, otherwise it's not faith anymore. It's reason.
Don't mix the two. There is the way things are naturally and the way they are theologically. While discussing one, discussing the other is pointless. In other words should I believe that all is created ex nihilo (from nothing), that the sunrise we've experienced every morning is not guaranteed to happen tomorrow and will only happen should the intelligent designer will it so, That in no way discounts the natural process that's been giving us sunrise every morning. All you're saying is that the natural process itself is the way the intelligent designer operates.

markwriter June 19, 2008 at 2:45 pm

"The Natural Process made you, and you're far more complex and useful than a shed in your backyard. Why would the Natural Process bother?"

Maybe the NP gets bored. On one hand NP creates the moon. On the other, NP creates a platypus. It's all the same, man. Just a bunch of chemicals.

Russ Roberts June 19, 2008 at 3:12 pm

FWIW, my post was not meant to be relevant to theology or an ultimate designer, just the human problem of knowledge being scattered in many distinct brains.

Martin Brock June 19, 2008 at 4:26 pm

Science is fine while speaking scientifically. So is theology, while speaking of faith.

You may subdivide your lexicon this way, but theology is not traditionally limited to articles of faith. Many theological assertions require faith, but theological assertions need not require faith.

"As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Man's fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return."

That's a traditional, theological assertion.

All you're saying is that the natural process itself is the way the intelligent designer operates.

I'm saying that the Designer's intelligence emerges from natural information processing in the same way that my intelligence emerges from signals coursing through my brain and through the network of other brains with which my brain communicates. This assertion is both scientific and theological.

Martin Brock June 19, 2008 at 4:33 pm

It's all the same, man. Just a bunch of chemicals.

It's all chemicals, but that's like saying that information is all bits or music is all noise or literature is all letters, punctuation and spacing or women are all pink on the inside. It's just not a very useful generalization.

Martin Brock June 19, 2008 at 4:41 pm

FWIW, my post was not meant to be relevant to theology or an ultimate designer, just the human problem of knowledge being scattered in many distinct brains.

I know, but everyone at Cafe Hayek presumably accepts that already. I'm trying to stir things up.

gil arno June 19, 2008 at 4:49 pm

"FWIW, my post was not meant to be relevant to theology or an ultimate designer, just the human problem of knowledge being scattered in many distinct brains."

yeah i know, but it's a stimulating topic all the same.

Unit June 19, 2008 at 6:58 pm

It was moving and hard to watch, but the underlying message was quite weird. Why should we prefer right-brain thinking to left-brain thinking? and why would the world be a better place if we did?

Martin Brock June 19, 2008 at 9:47 pm

We are brothers and sisters, perfect, whole and beautiful … as far as our right brain is concerned. Our left brain is our math teacher, and it's the essence of selfishness, and peace, love, harmony and understanding is a Democrat … or maybe a Humanist … or maybe a Christian … or maybe a Republican.

O.K. I'll be honest with you. I think that's bullshit. I have no idea what the woman is talking about. Maybe a stroke isn't an edifying experience after all. I think I'll try to avoid it.

M. Hodak June 20, 2008 at 11:36 am

I actually found it a little embarrassing to watch after a while. But it lead me to some other Ted presentations about the brain that I found to be at least as interesting, if not quite as theatrical.

simpsonian June 20, 2008 at 11:52 am

It was an interesting story for sure.

As far as her advice, I guess she means just take a lot of really good drugs.

vidyohs June 20, 2008 at 4:12 pm

The video clip was interesting and in some ways informative; but as for any great meaning….I think I'll just go have a beer.

gil.arno June 20, 2008 at 7:57 pm

did she ever have a drink?

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