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Madness

Neuroscience, Humanity & Some Occasional Bakker

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I initially wanted to transcribe this discussion, as it evolved, from the White-Luck Warrior IV thread, however, I'm not sure of the etiquette concerning this and am ambivalent about the loss of energy involved. If there is a way to copy and move the relevant posts, I, for one, would appreciate it.

Likewise, I'm uncertain about posting the thread here to begin with due to the nature of it's topic but I wanted those involved in the White-Luck Warrior discussion to remain involved here, as well as any newcomers who decide to join. If it is appropriate, I understand if the moderation team wishes to move the thread.

For any interested, this discussion, for me, emerged from a question I asked Happy Ent (WLW IV p.17) about translations of Bakker's Second Apocalypse followed by the, ultimately initiating, question from Curethan (WLW IV p.18) comparing the differences in neurological development of polylinguists and monolinguists. It continues from WLW IV p.18 onto p.20 with Kalbear's latest argumentative volley, and here I will now respond.

Kalbear, I'm glad you wake rested.

But they're certainly not natural to humans. They're well outside the bounds of humans - and more importantly, humans can and have manufactured drugs that have much better efficacy towards helping people with far fewer toxic side effects.

But to you, this is 'bad' because it's not natural? So is the polio vaccine then. Again, complete luddite bullshit here.

What constitutes helping people is subject to controversial semantic distinction. As sciborg pointed out there are plenty of individuals and communities using very historically familiar drugs with great renewed and continued success with limited to no toxic side effects - drugs that evolved by the chaotic accord of nature and not the devious memetic mystery that is the human brain. I was attempting to point this out, that though these drugs seem to restructure our brains in an analogical fashion to your imagined neuroceuticals, as one science author has called them, it is impossible to imagine the consequences of our childlike tinkerings; that we can ingest mixed plants, which provide fantastical experiences, and be returned to some sort of equilibrium, potentially unchanged, is already an anomaly. What makes you think we can design something to fit these ornate locks in our minds when we don't even understand the plethora of ways that existing drugs, natural or created, already do. LSD might simply burn holes in your brain matter to offer its insight, rendering you eventually less than you once were. And this is a chemical culture, which evolves worldwide, with more than a thousand new designer drugs created every year for the past few.

Natural and created is a good distinction to point out. I mean natural, as in the evolution of the universe up until human interventions, and created, the instances we begin to permanently change things, knowingly and unknowingly.

Here's the flaw in your argument: you believe that changing brains is something we do all the time. You also believe that doing it via neuroscience is wrong. But you're fine with doing it via all sorts of other means - meditation, psychological probing, drug use, whatever. At this point the only issue is that you'd rather do something the hard way because it's not as effective. You're fine changing brains via torture or conditioning or what have you - but gods forbid people do so and actually get what they want.

I believe that the reorganization, the plastic state of the brain is happening all the time. It seems to be a flow that you can only divert and deflect using your consciousness, except in the most extreme cases. But according to research, even if you maintain the exact same routine, brain scans over short weeks and months would show definite differences in your brain maps over time.

I don't believe I mentioned anywhere that I advocated torture as a mechanism for restructuring the brain. I certainly hope not.

This is a convoluted topic and a difficult one to make specific statements on without continual explanation.

My schtick is progressive neuroscience. In this context, I hope my previous arguments can be interpreted from a different perspective. While our discussion ranges a wide spectrum of interdisciplinary study, my own positions are firmly anchored in progressive neuroscience.

"Humans live in literally physical and isolated individual semantic realities, manifested by our unique and shared sensory perceptions and individual awareness and interpretations of them."

This thesis has some grounding ability, especially as we seem to live in a reality that exists despite us, a reality that does have a philosophic objectivity, however distant we are from that understanding. When I speak of rewiring my brain through meditation and sensory and martial practices, I'm talking about using our innate biology and consciousness to explore the philosophic implications of these ideas rather than simply neuroscienctifically tweaking ourselves.

Look at it this way. As a global community we are aware of and use effectively, on average, one of four limbs, one of five defined senses, and a single linguistic conceptual structure. The simple social mechanism of the Western Empire's obsession with left handed individuals and dominant hand writing renders us, as a society today, comparable to right-hemisphere stroke victims.

So I theorize that our experience is expansive and mutable corresponding to density in specific and culminating modular brain structures. That a human who meditates, maintains ambidexterity, uses multiple languages, plays an acoustic instrument, exercises through dance or martial arts, will have significantly more encompassing and novel perspectives and understandings concerning our, to date, classical academia than a random average sample of world population.

That we have nearly seven billion, mostly underdeveloped, unrealized, diverse intellectual perspectives languishing around the world pains me. I would explore our collective power in this fashion before simply flicking the switches that we claim to understand but paradoxically cannot until the deed is done.

Hell, you can go for far more scary things than that. You can go for conditioning schoolkids to be well-behaved and attentive to their teachers and to respect authority. You can go for changing a spouse to love you no matter what. You can have people happy that they have shitty dead-end jobs that pay nothing. You can assure that everyone is thrilled in their dystopian worldview. Heck, you can change them so instead of seeing a decayed, ecologically destroyed mess they see a happy 50s era world of peace and flowers where everything makes sense.

There are TONS of ways to abuse it. That does not mean that it will be abused in such a way. And just because something can be used for evil does not mean to me that it should never be used at all.

I'm not saying we don't explore the labyrinth of mind, just again that, perhaps, immediate invasive surgical and chemical changes be some distant, final option.

These aren't new problems. These aren't even new problems in the last 20 years . . . Your mistake is that you're taking what we know now and assuming that it's the best thing ever and that change is bad. The only constant in our world - in a human's lifetime - is change. There was a good quote about people that I liked - it went like this: "People always fear change more than they need to, and adapt to change faster than they expect to".

I believe I noted my dissatisfaction with our presently embodied human ideals. You're losing track of the discussion in favor of your own semantic reference because now you're repeating ideas you claimed were mine and invalid. Your change is warranted but mine is flawed, Kalbear?

There are choices humanity will make regarding neuroscience and its applications. The consequences of this revolutionary understanding are beyond anything we've experienced, up to and including the atom bomb.

This is the 'diverse' part that I mock of you, Madness. That you believe that it's better to die than be changed, and you would enforce that belief on every single other human being. I don't think so many people would agree with you as you might think.

Allow me to repeat myself on two counts.

When you favor your own semantic reference you remove myself, and anyone else involved, from the conversation. You literally cease writing anything relevant to those communicating and are simply satisfying some narcissistic urge of your mind.

I, also, attempted to define "diversity," as you insist on using it, as this:

I'm writing about [diversity as] the infinite possible neural configurations, which are responsible for your experience, your entire aware self-hood, and everyone elses. You're writing like I'm making a distinction between Mexican and American.

And when those things fail?

Because it sounds like you'd rather people died from things like vaccines, treatable diseases and cancer and just had them work through those things too. After all, people did survive cancer before medicine. People did survive diseases before vaccine. All they needed to do is be strong and tough and believe in themselves and they could just get through things like that, right?

Choose to struggle through your problems all you like, please, but don't enforce your christian scientist viewpoint on me.

The ideas you reference were written in the context of progressive neuroscience, taking "normal, average" brains and expanding their awareness a la process I described above in this post. You're taking these opinions and now are writing in reference to therapeutic and rehabilitative neuroscience, which I've written about only briefly.

I always try to be philosophically fair. So, though I really don't want to sidetrack this discussion from its neuroscientic focus and I'm certain you will use this to describe the worst of me, I have to suggest that we've completely destroyed evolutions natural path by keeping members of our species alive that Darwinian evolution was in the process of discarding.

You can't always get what you want.

I hope that things like the chiropractor are the beginning, yes. That those are the bad things that cause us to reexamine the science and make sure there are safeguards as we go forward with it. I certainly hope that it is not the end.

That's my biggest fear about neuroscience - that those without will be left in the dust by those with. But we'll see.

We are reexamining the science right now and, in my mind, planning safeguards as we proceed. We need to be mature and relentlessly reflective as we move forward with this discipline. We don't need to live the horrors of the Chiropractor and his ilk to realize the positive bounty of neuroscience.

And here, again, at the last, as you conclude, Kalbear, you are at your most equitable. I must highlight that the social stratification of neuroscience's social and cultural diffusion is extremely likely, if only monetarily.

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We can't "discard" evolution. EVOLUTION DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY. All that we can do is change the selective pressures (and even that is tricky)

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The one thing that has basically nothing to do with my argument. However, I wrote:

"I have to suggest that we've completely destroyed evolutions natural path by keeping members of our species alive that Darwinian evolution was in the process of discarding."

I'm not sure what you read, Galactus. Nowhere did I attempt to say that humanity halted the evolution steamroller.

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I just thought I'd add this to the discussion. sciborg asked Bakker if he would join us in here and, though he seems to decline, he did peruse the conversation in the WLW IV thread before offering this succinct commentary:

Hi Sci. Looks like you guys are gaming the ambiguities deep… Why am I surprised?

I think I’ll pass: too many big brains for mine to shine properly!

A couple of things (after just a quick gloss): I’m a technological pessimist, not a Luddite. Neuroscientific research is inevitable, and for those suffering, morally imperative. In individual therapeutic terms we’re talking about moving from a golden age to a diamond one. It’s the combination of knock on effects and creeping normalcy that I’m worried about, and neurocosmetic surgery is just the tip of the iceberg. Just one novum in the avalanche to come.

A couple of points: No human society in history has undergone the kinds of technologically mediated social (let alone biological) changes we now face. This alone makes the issue about as pressing as any issue can be. Moreso than climate change, I sometimes think. Our stone-age psychology is causing us enough problems as it is.

Which brings me to a second point: Everything human is contingent on our neurophysiology as it is. Transhumanists, for instance, seem to think that their values somehow magically stand beyond the pale of any marriage of man and machine. The fact is, you can’t rewire human brains without rewiring human value and judgement. Every time you change the brain, you change the parameters than govern subsequent versions, and so on, and so on. To blithely assume that the values of You 1.0 will perfectly accord with the values of You 1.1 (let alone You 2.8!) is simply naive, especially if those values seem to impede some kind of advantage relative to your social and economic competitors.

With self-modifying computer programs, for instance, the danger is always one of ‘catastrophic rewrites,’ something that programmers guard against by providing some kind of ‘fitness function’ – something the human brain lacks. The worry here is that human society, in the pursuit of pleasure and short-term fitness indicators, will become a vast, slow-motion version of the monkey pushing a button wired to his pleasure centres unto starvation.

But I think these speculative, empirical worries are trumped by a far more troubling conceptual one: If nihilism is true, and morality is simply a neurophysiological figment of our social evolution, then there really are no constraints once we leave that neurophysiology behind us. Imagine the bestiary of possibilities that await us, each with its own exotic, self-regarding yardstick.

And this highlights the problem of neuro-idiosyncrasy: at least now competitors share the same basic brains, which is to say, same basic normative and motivational foundation. Once you pull that rug out from beneath our collective feet…

I can go on and on, but I think the problem should be clear: After centuries of fiddling at the edges, we are finally fucking with the source code, here, and we have no clue what the hell we’re doing: the list of potential, fundamental consequences is inexhaustible. If this isn’t grounds for techno-paranoia, then what is?

So eloquent.

Bakker, if you're reading this, I'm not sure that there are enough "big brains" out there to outshine your own. Thank you for the words.

Golden.

EDIT: Forgot Bakker's italics.

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heh. you know I forgot I did that actually. nice response from Bakker.

I'm not sure what to think about all this - the risks are great but the potential benefits are there as well. I agree that this is technology is more invasive and risky than likely any that have come before, but at the same time I think the ideas you mention Madness might piggyback their use. People will always seek natural alternatives, and may ultimately come to find that way is better except in therapeutic use.

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The worry here is that human society, in the pursuit of pleasure and short-term fitness indicators, will become a vast, slow-motion version of the monkey pushing a button wired to his pleasure centres unto starvation.

:lol:

I'm not sure that I should be laughing at this, but I am.

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"I have to suggest that we've completely destroyed evolutions natural path by keeping members of our species alive that Darwinian evolution was in the process of discarding."

I'm not sure what you read, Galactus. Nowhere did I attempt to say that humanity halted the evolution steamroller.

What is the natural path of evolution? If humans using vaccines to keep more people alive isn't a part of this "natural" path, then can we say that a crow that creates a tool with a twig to get at food it couldn't "naturally" is also destroying evolutions natural path? I think not. Our scientific and technological success are natural results of the evolution of our brains, as well as the evolution of our society. It is only with genetic engineering that we're beginning to outdistance evolution, since if we master how to change our genes, we will evolve based on how we think we should evolve, which is both exciting and terrifying.

Also, I had issues with some of what you said in the other thread:

1. I would, personally, suggest that it's an exponential increase in neural connection.

Highly unlikely. I'll explain why below...

3. The brain is not remotely rigid like the caricature of the nicely organized pieces where each part has strict bounds and limitations, though I find these areas useful in designating average organizations - this is probably because Western society and academia reliably produce a structure of similar experiential modifiers and subsequent brain functions.

Are you referring to phrenology? Because that has been consigned to the pseudoscience bin for more than a century now. While there is indeed some modularity in how the brain is conceived of, most neuroscientists will accept that there are severe limitations to this view.

Back to point, if a few of these brain geographies - modules as some academics seem to refer to them - correspondence to catching a ball, and I decide to toss and catch a ball - the more aware and conscientious I am of the this act the better (what Jeffrey Schwartz coined Directed Mental Force) - I exponentially increase the neural connections in this area, spider-webbing a set volume of brain matter. This corresponds to changes, permanent if practiced enough, in my level of skill tossing and catching.

No you don't. My beef is with the term "exponential". While increased practice at any task, or increased exposure to a piece of art, will certainly cause neurological changes, those changes are not in the form of new connections only. In fact, the biggest change is in the strength/weakness of these connections/synapses. Yes, the number of synapses can increase, but almost certainly not exponentially. Emerging evidence actually suggests that plasticity in the brain is about using existing connections in new ways rather that forming a huge number of new connections all the time.

4. This implies that the same samples, which correspond to language, would relatively correspond to the similar brain maps in any person but in polylinguist's the brain map would look exponentially more complex and sophisticated than a monolinguist's.

No no no. Don't toss out "exponentially" so easily. Given the staggering number of neural connections in our brain, an exponential increase by one degree in a brain region would be remarkably rare.

When people are learning a new language, the hardest part is the syntax and grammar. Anyone can learn 1500 words from a strange language. So the greatest challenge from the brain's perspective is mapping the syntax and grammar. This is relatively easy for related languages, which is why an English speaker can pick up French more easily than he can pick up Chinese. But no, matter how far apart the languages may be in the linguistic spectrum, there are commonalities, and the brain almost certainly does not form a fresh new set of connections for these things. Further, the later you learn the language, the harder it is to speak it like a native. And you will almost always see a mixing of syntax, of pronunciation, etc. based on what language the person first learned. If there were an exponentially greater number of connections in polyglots, you would see far fewer instances of accents, confused syntax, etc.

This is also why so many polyglots can transition between languages mid-sentence. I'm more or less tri-lingual. I speak English, Hindi and Tamil, all of which I was exposed to from birth. I can (and very often do) form grammatically correct sentences that transition through all three languages, despite the fact that there are differences in syntax between these languages. I'm willing to bet that this isn't because I have exponentially more connections that cross connect in my Wernicke and Broca's areas but because my brain has mostly overlapping maps for these languages.

As for the topic on hand:

I think research that may make neuro-cosmetic surgery possible has to proceed, because there is undoubtedly going to be benefits in treating diseases and in our quest to understand human consciousness. But actually making these available to people before we have a much better understanding of consciousness would be the worst thing we could do. The brain is the most complex and subtle organ in our body, and boldly plunging into changing it based on what we think it should be is a recipe for disaster. In this case, the potential risks do outweigh the benefits.

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Crap! You waste a Summon Author spell on that?

You sold your body for eternal damnation, blasted to charcoal over and over again, for a pronouncement that a chatbot could have cobbled together from random blog posts without breaking the proverbial algorithmic sweat?

Well I’ll be thrice-fucked by a 10-yoke legion of quirri-high Ursranc!

You could have asked how skin-spies adjust their weight when impersonating people of different body mass!

If ancient Kuniüri is subject-verb-object!

Or, for all that is holy, Cnaiür is still alive!

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Crap! You waste a Summon Author spell on that?

You sold your body for eternal damnation, blasted to charcoal over and over again, for a pronouncement that a chatbot could have cobbled together from random blog posts without breaking the proverbial algorithmic sweat?

Well I’ll be thrice-fucked by a 10-yoke legion of quirri-high Ursranc!

You could have asked how skin-spies adjust their weight when impersonating people of different body mass!

If ancient Kuniüri is subject-verb-object!

Or, for all that is holy, Cnaiür is still alive!

Heh, I kinda knew he wasn't going to answer anything about the books. Plus his blog post was in line with what we were discussing at the moment.

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drugs that evolved by the chaotic accord of nature and not the devious memetic mystery that is the human brain.
Madness, you state this frequently - as if peyote or pot evolved into what it was by careful selection and breeding too, as if humans selected the good plants for peyote and then weeded out the ones that killed them.

It's just not accurate. "Natural" drugs aren't better for us necessarily. If anything it's the opposite - the people that had bad trips or died on the drugs got weeded out and their genes didn't express so well.

But in general I take issue with the whole concept that natural means better. Natural means 35-year lifespans, 50% infant mortality rates and malnutrition. Natural means dying to a number of sanitation-related diseases. Natural might be good some times - but most of the time natural means that we're trying to poison ourselves in order to also gain some side effect.

hat makes you think we can design something to fit these ornate locks in our minds when we don't even understand the plethora of ways that existing drugs, natural or created, already do.
Because we do?

We don't need to understand perfectly how the brain works in order to create drugs that cause beneficial reactions. And yes, sometimes we'll fuck up and people will die. So what? That's science and progress. The fastest and most effective way to understand something is to experiment with it. You're terrified of experimentation. As Curethan put in the last thread, I just don't see any particular horrors that can arise that have not already been done.

So I theorize that our experience is expansive and mutable corresponding to density in specific and culminating modular brain structures. That a human who meditates, maintains ambidexterity, uses multiple languages, plays an acoustic instrument, exercises through dance or martial arts, will have significantly more encompassing and novel perspectives and understandings concerning our, to date, classical academia than a random average sample of world population.

That we have nearly seven billion, mostly underdeveloped, unrealized, diverse intellectual perspectives languishing around the world pains me. I would explore our collective power in this fashion before simply flicking the switches that we claim to understand but paradoxically cannot until the deed is done.

Okay.

So wouldn't it be great if you could make every human like that? Instantaneously, with no adverse effects?

Did you ever stop to think that being only right-handed, or speaking only one language, or exercising through different means would also give you a different, diverse perspective on the world?

I guess I don't really see your point; you'd rather have 7 billion people start meditation and education despite their cultural, religious, and ethical perspectives on all of those things than you would allow people to change themselves how they want to. Again, I laugh at your concept of diversity. Diversity to you is having everyone speak multiple languages, be ambidextrous, be a martial artist and play music.

How can that be diversity if everyone is the same?

I believe I noted my dissatisfaction with our presently embodied human ideals. You're losing track of the discussion in favor of your own semantic reference because now you're repeating ideas you claimed were mine and invalid. Your change is warranted but mine is flawed, Kalbear?

Okay - my change is possible. Yours is impossible and self-defeating. You're wanting to make everyone diverse by making everyone the same so that they'll all be able to see the same things from all the same angles.

You claim that you favor diversity as the combination of all possible neurological structures yet advocate everyone take basically the same one. Don't you think that some religious zealot would have very different neurological structures compared to your ascetic monk? How about an agnostic scientist who doesn't like exercise? How about a southern racist?

These things are diverse. You say you want diversity and then lament all the ways in which diversity causes problems now. This is pretty confusing.

I always try to be philosophically fair. So, though I really don't want to sidetrack this discussion from its neuroscientic focus and I'm certain you will use this to describe the worst of me, I have to suggest that we've completely destroyed evolutions natural path by keeping members of our species alive that Darwinian evolution was in the process of discarding.

You can't always get what you want.

In this case, I'm totally thrilled that we did so.

Evolution isn't some holy grail. It's a statistical clusterfuck based on survival pressures. Why should people who don't have good eyesight die or not breed? Why should only the fastest hunters live in a world where we hunt by going to the supermarket?

Humans have harnessed a lot of evolution, and ignored what we don't care about. This in my mind is one of the best things if not the best thing about humans ever. Do you think that evolution would cause humans to be more diverse in thought or deed? Because from what I've seen evolution makes animals able to survive better. That's it. Whether it be kill things faster or not die as much or breed more successfully - that's all evolution has done. We're beyond that. We should strive to always be beyond that.

We are reexamining the science right now and, in my mind, planning safeguards as we proceed. We need to be mature and relentlessly reflective as we move forward with this discipline. We don't need to live the horrors of the Chiropractor and his ilk to realize the positive bounty of neuroscience.
Really, the horrors of the chiropractor aren't so bad. One serial killer. So what? We've got plenty worse already. I'd say that if you gave me something like a 1 in 1000 chance that we'd create something like that, I'd be fine with the progress in principle.

Now onto Bakker.

Which brings me to a second point: Everything human is contingent on our neurophysiology as it is. Transhumanists, for instance, seem to think that their values somehow magically stand beyond the pale of any marriage of man and machine. The fact is, you can’t rewire human brains without rewiring human value and judgement. Every time you change the brain, you change the parameters than govern subsequent versions, and so on, and so on. To blithely assume that the values of You 1.0 will perfectly accord with the values of You 1.1 (let alone You 2.8!) is simply naive, especially if those values seem to impede some kind of advantage relative to your social and economic competitors
This is a good way to completely wreck Madness's point. Madness states that he's unhappy with current human existence and is also unhappy with the notion of humans with this therapy, but with transhumanism that can all be reconciled. Yes, we can go beyond the morality that we have currently. Isn't that what you, Madness, wants? To surpass the stone age limitations that humans have, the instincts to fuck and kill and hoard, the shortsighted destruction of the ecology and the world in favor of immediate gains?

Of course transhumans are going to have different moralities from humans. That's an obvious statement, and I don't think anyone thinks otherwise or that this is some amazing revelation. But so what? We've gone through massive morality shifts in the last 100 years and the world has not ended nor have we turned into cannibalistic reapers or whatever.

Make no mistake - not only do I not assume value and judgment is going to stay the same, one of my primary hopes with this science is that it does change.

With self-modifying computer programs, for instance, the danger is always one of ‘catastrophic rewrites,’ something that programmers guard against by providing some kind of ‘fitness function’ – something the human brain lacks. The worry here is that human society, in the pursuit of pleasure and short-term fitness indicators, will become a vast, slow-motion version of the monkey pushing a button wired to his pleasure centres unto starvation.
This is amusing. The fitness function for a human brain IS survival. If changes to the brain cause you to die, it's obviously not a good plan.

It's a good point that humans could become essentially drug-addled self-destructing narcissists, but I don't think that's likely. Mostly because humans do have ways to self-regulate and humans do shun those who are selfdestructive as it is. You don't need to push it that much further.

And this highlights the problem of neuro-idiosyncrasy: at least now competitors share the same basic brains, which is to say, same basic normative and motivational foundation. Once you pull that rug out from beneath our collective feet…

I can go on and on, but I think the problem should be clear: After centuries of fiddling at the edges, we are finally fucking with the source code, here, and we have no clue what the hell we’re doing: the list of potential, fundamental consequences is inexhaustible. If this isn’t grounds for techno-paranoia, then what is?

We've been fucking with the source code since we learned how to bang our heads against walls, and this time we have a much greater idea of what we're doing than ever before. This beats the hell out of lobotomies and trepannation. I think this is where I disagree most with Bakker and Madness - I think that for the first time we're getting a decent idea of how things work and where to go from here, and for the first time we can start making real, honest, useful changes instead of fumbling around in the dark.

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We've been fucking with the source code since we learned how to bang our heads against walls, and this time we have a much greater idea of what we're doing than ever before. This beats the hell out of lobotomies and trepannation. I think this is where I disagree most with Bakker and Madness - I think that for the first time we're getting a decent idea of how things work and where to go from here, and for the first time we can start making real, honest, useful changes instead of fumbling around in the dark.

Actually, we don't. I think most neuroscientists will agree that we're barely taking baby steps in figuring out human consciousness. We don't even really have a viable theory on how the brain works as a whole, at this moment. We have advanced enough in cell biology to figure out some aspects of how neurons work, but the brain does indeed seem to be more than the sum of its parts.

Given the vast advances we have made in understanding biology as a whole, it seems easy to think that we're in a similar position in neuroscience. We are not.

Take PTSD, for example. We are beginning to have an idea of what is going on here. We can pinpoint certain hormones and neurotransmitters responsible for causing the very strong memories that lie at the heart of PTSD. And since biochemistry is pretty advanced, we can tinker with the balance of these things in the brain, and possibly reduce the incidence of PTSD in a few years.

On the surface, that is a great thing. But look a little deeper, and I don't think it is. Should we interfere with a brain's ability to remember and react badly to what are definitely horrifying situations?

On a personal and national level, it will be great if soldiers can go to war, see terrible things, and come back fine and dandy. How much money we would save! But consider from the perspective of humanity. PTSD, and maybe the fear of PTSD, can make people refuse to go to war. It can move veterans to argue against wars. It can impose a crippling cost on those who would fight wars without limit. And perhaps PTSD is a way in which people can deal with the horrors of their life without altering their viewpoint.

To me, then, the best way forward is to continue research into PTSD but, instead of using this knowledge to chemically or surgically alter brains to always avoid it, use it to improve psychological therapy.

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To me, then, the best way forward is to continue research into PTSD but, instead of using this knowledge to chemically or surgically alter brains to always avoid it, use it to improve psychological therapy.

People who go to war to defend their countries should be given whatever is best for them to live their lives post-combat how they want it.

And I'm with Kalbear to a large extent, I dislike limiting something because of slippery slopes or people suffering will lead to a better society - especially people who have taken up the cause of defending me as they see it.

Perhaps they have been deceived, perhaps our government is to blame for its choices, but as I live in a democracy that's on us voters. Maybe the more just thing would be for people who don't go to war but support it to suffer PTSD, but that isn't possible.

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I have feeling this will have to be two posts. And it will. This then is Part #1.

at the same time I think the ideas you mention Madness might piggyback their use. People will always seek natural alternatives, and may ultimately come to find that way [non-invasive neuropractice] is better except in therapeutic use.

It should be apparent that I simply feel that Neuroscience, those individuals who constitute its academia, should actively engage in dialogue in an interdisciplinary context and with non-academics.

Which, happily, we’re accomplishing right now.

What is the natural path of evolution? If humans using vaccines to keep more people alive isn't a part of this "natural" path, then can we say that a crow that creates a tool with a twig to get at food it couldn't "naturally" is also destroying evolutions natural path? I think not.

From my post above:

Natural and created is a good distinction to point out. I mean natural, as in the evolution of the universe up until human interventions, and created, the instances we begin to permanently change things, knowingly and unknowingly.

Are you referring to phrenology? Because that has been consigned to the pseudoscience bin for more than a century now. While there is indeed some modularity in how the brain is conceived of, most neuroscientists will accept that there are severe limitations to this view.

No.

You referred to Wernicke’s and Broca’s defined areas of the brain. These are “areas useful in designating average organizations, in a caricature of nicely organized pieces.” One of the first things they teach in introductory psychology, let alone neuroscientific specific studies, is this brain map:

http://www.answersingenesis.org/assets/images/articles/am/v4/n4/brain-map.gif

3. The brain is not remotely rigid like the caricature of the nicely organized pieces where each part has strict bounds and limitations, though I find these areas useful in designating average organizations - this is probably because Western society and academia reliably produce a structure of similar experiential modifiers and subsequent brain functions.

Do my above distinctions make more sense now?

For example, fionwe, I’ve met a man who has been a talented orator and writer his entire life and discovered, while following up on a stroke, that his Broca’s area had been a unformed, ball of mush his entire life – the stroke had, apparently, effected a region sufficiently removed from the Broca’s area and could not be connected to such drastic damage. Yet this man, who I knew in my teen years, has never had any difficulties with language.

Things are not so simple as you’re trying to make them.

No you don't [exponentially increase the neural connections in this area]. My beef is with the term "exponential". While increased practice at any task, or increased exposure to a piece of art, will certainly cause neurological changes, those changes are not in the form of new connections only. In fact, the biggest change is in the strength/weakness of these connections/synapses. Yes, the number of synapses can increase, but almost certainly not exponentially. Emerging evidence actually suggests that plasticity in the brain is about using existing connections in new ways rather that forming a huge number of new connections all the time.

No no no. Don't toss out "exponentially" so easily. Given the staggering number of neural connections in our brain, an exponential increase by one degree in a brain region would be remarkably rare.

I appreciate all your commentary and some of it is even well versed and founded. However, this seems to be a question of exposure. I pretty much live and breathe this discipline and have for a number of years. This should imply that I’ve spent much time pouring through a plethora of books, courses, lectures, and case studies after case studies in search of understanding.

I clearly, to the point of bolding words, did not lightly consider the word exponentially. I would simply suggest you read The Mind & The Brain by Jeffrey Schwartz or any current or dated research by Michael Merzenich or Edward Taub.

Here’s an idea to upset your sensibilities, fionwe. I can confidently posit that there are non-invasive neuropractices, things you can do in the middle of nowhere, in a forest, with no technology, just mind and body, to exponentially increase in neural density – thanks, Curethan.

When people are learning a new language, the hardest part is the syntax and grammar. Anyone can learn 1500 words from a strange language. So the greatest challenge from the brain's perspective is mapping the syntax and grammar. This is relatively easy for related languages, which is why an English speaker can pick up French more easily than he can pick up Chinese. But no, matter how far apart the languages may be in the linguistic spectrum, there are commonalities, and the brain almost certainly does not form a fresh new set of connections for these things. Further, the later you learn the language, the harder it is to speak it like a native. And you will almost always see a mixing of syntax, of pronunciation, etc. based on what language the person first learned. If there were an exponentially greater number of connections in polyglots, you would see far fewer instances of accents, confused syntax, etc.

This is also why so many polyglots can transition between languages mid-sentence. I'm more or less tri-lingual. I speak English, Hindi and Tamil, all of which I was exposed to from birth. I can (and very often do) form grammatically correct sentences that transition through all three languages, despite the fact that there are differences in syntax between these languages. I'm willing to bet that this isn't because I have exponentially more connections that cross connect in my Wernicke and Broca's areas but because my brain has mostly overlapping maps for these languages.

I’m sorry to say that though I applaud your conceptual ability, you again, display very little linguistic understanding.

You are confusing two different, separate, aspects of linguistic structure in your first paragraph. Firstly, Universal Grammar and the LAD (Language Acquisition Device), theorized by Chomsky. Secondly, the idea of phonemes, all the distinct sounds we can produce with the human throat, and their relation to one another.

It is because of these phenomenon that certain languages are more or less closely related and easier for some to understand.

You could say that it is semantic blockage that we experience as individuals and produce as a society, which causes the difficulty in switching between and discarding distinct conceptual organization structures, like different languages.

I’ll bet you, actually, have little to no trouble doing this, fionwe, which is impressive and speaks to the capacities of a lifetime steeped in just one aspect of the non-invasive neuropractices I’ve been paying homage to.

As for the topic on hand:

I think research that may make neuro-cosmetic surgery possible has to proceed, because there is undoubtedly going to be benefits in treating diseases and in our quest to understand human consciousness. But actually making these available to people before we have a much better understanding of consciousness would be the worst thing we could do. The brain is the most complex and subtle organ in our body, and boldly plunging into changing it based on what we think it should be is a recipe for disaster. In this case, the potential risks do outweigh the benefits.

All you wrote was on topic, fionwe. Thanks for your words.

This last paragraph was mint.

However, the availability of these ideas isn’t being determined by a sober council like our ourselves. I mean, this can get personal because of the nature of the subject matter but I respect the perspective put forward. But this dialogue isn’t happening among my peers and certainly not where the monetary-fueled research is going on.

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Part #2.

Onto Kalbear.

Madness, you state this frequently – as if peyote or pot evolved into what it was by careful selection and breeding too, as if humans selected the good plants for peyote and then weeded out the ones that killed them.

It's just not accurate. "Natural" drugs aren't better for us necessarily. If anything it's the opposite - the people that had bad trips or died on the drugs got weeded out and their genes didn't express so well.

But in general I take issue with the whole concept that natural means better. Natural means 35-year lifespans, 50% infant mortality rates and malnutrition. Natural means dying to a number of sanitation-related diseases. Natural might be good some times - but most of the time natural means that we're trying to poison ourselves in order to also gain some side effect.

I can’t discuss this with you unless we find a mutual definition and, again, you only seem interested in your own semantic reference.

I tried to highlight my idea of natural vs. create, twice in this thread now. Specific response, Kalbear?

I don’t think that the lack of extras that you seem to accuse me of propagating is necessary nor do I advocate 35-lifespans, 50% infant mortality rates, or malnutrition – you’re simply attacking a character you’ve imagined for me and not the actual discussion.

By the way, I really enjoy the statement you’ve made for me, that I bolded above.

As if peyote or pot would benefit from a human’s judgment. All I’m trying to say is that, for whatever reasons, the universe hadn’t collapsed or the human mind been destroyed, yet, because of the natural – without human intervention – aspects of evolution, as opposed to our discussion concerning created – human added – modifiers (LSD and the trend of designer chemicals, in this case).

We don't need to understand perfectly how the brain works in order to create drugs that cause beneficial reactions. And yes, sometimes we'll fuck up and people will die. So what? That's science and progress. The fastest and most effective way to understand something is to experiment with it. You're terrified of experimentation. As Curethan put in the last thread, I just don't see any particular horrors that can arise that have not already been done.

I’ll let Bakker’s commentary field this one:

But I think these speculative, empirical worries are trumped by a far more troubling conceptual one: If nihilism is true, and morality is simply a neurophysiological figment of our social evolution, then there really are no constraints once we leave that neurophysiology behind us. Imagine the bestiary of possibilities that await us, each with its own exotic, self-regarding yardstick.

I’m not sure this affects you, Kalbear, quite so much as it affects me. I’m advocating a slower more reflective consideration of neuroscience’s progress, as you succinctly put it. Just because you can’t imagine the horror doesn’t mean we should all suffer your inevitable revelation.

Okay.

So wouldn't it be great if you could make every human like that? Instantaneously, with no adverse effects?

No.

Did you ever stop to think that being only right-handed, or speaking only one language, or exercising through different means would also give you a different, diverse perspective on the world?

I guess I don't really see your point.

Yes. That was the concisely the point of this passage:

"Humans live in literally physical and isolated individual semantic realities, manifested by our unique and shared sensory perceptions and individual awareness and interpretations of them."

This thesis has some grounding ability, especially as we seem to live in a reality that exists despite us, a reality that does have a philosophic objectivity, however distant we are from that understanding. When I speak of rewiring my brain through meditation and sensory and martial practices, I'm talking about using our innate biology and consciousness to explore the philosophic implications of these ideas.

To first understand how much different, varied, and more expansive our experience can be in this fashion before resorting to neurophysiologic change by invasive surgeries and neuroceuticals.

I guess I don't really see your point.

Clearly.

This is the last time I’m posting this, Kalbear, before I’m going to ignore all your commentary related to this tact:

I'm writing about [diversity as] the infinite possible neural configurations, which are responsible for your experience, your entire aware self-hood, and everyone elses. You're writing like I'm making a distinction between Mexican and American.

You, I, and every human, all have sufficiently distinct, unique neurophysiological configurations. That’s diversity. Variety, Kalbear.

I could care less about philosophic, religious, cultural, or social orientations. I ain’t calling you a nigger.

Okay - my change is possible. Yours is impossible and self-defeating. You're wanting to make everyone diverse by making everyone the same so that they'll all be able to see the same things from all the same angles.

You claim that you favor diversity as the combination of all possible neurological structures yet advocate everyone take basically the same one. Don't you think that some religious zealot would have very different neurological structures compared to your ascetic monk? How about an agnostic scientist who doesn't like exercise? How about a southern racist?

These things are diverse. You say you want diversity and then lament all the ways in which diversity causes problems now. This is pretty confusing.

I’m simply promoting some neuropractices to inspire creative and intelligent awareness. Even if people maintained the habits I’m discussing, it would hardly reduce everyone to even remotely similar experiences.

You’re writing as if I sat here and defined all the ways and the only ways that provide distinct and varied personalities. This is just silly.

In this case, I'm totally thrilled that we did so.

Evolution isn't some holy grail. It's a statistical clusterfuck based on survival pressures. Why should people who don't have good eyesight die or not breed? Why should only the fastest hunters live in a world where we hunt by going to the supermarket?

You’re a contradictory individual, Kalbear. You’re happy that blind people can now breed – something I have no real opinion on beyond respecting life that exists – but yet you simply don’t bat at eye over the thousands, millions, or even billions who will suffer for your “faster and more effective” neuroscientific progress.

Say what?

Humans have harnessed a lot of evolution, and ignored what we don't care about. This in my mind is one of the best things if not the best thing about humans ever. Do you think that evolution would cause humans to be more diverse in thought or deed? Because from what I've seen evolution makes animals able to survive better. That's it. Whether it be kill things faster or not die as much or breed more successfully - that's all evolution has done. We're beyond that. We should strive to always be beyond that.

Whether its already happened or whether it will in the future at some point humanity is going to cross some fundamental threshold, break some metaphysical rule, and death will come swirling down.

My interest here is the neuroscientific discipline foremost, obviously, among other things. I’d rather it didn’t have the potential for responsibility that it seems to.

We simply aren’t without evolution, Kalbear. You have a very personal and human perspective of these ideas and you’ve a need to untwine those conceptions. Human pride and conceit are not wise bedrocks with which to establish neurosciences young memes.

Really, the horrors of the chiropractor aren't so bad. One serial killer. So what? We've got plenty worse already. I'd say that if you gave me something like a 1 in 1000 chance that we'd create something like that, I'd be fine with the progress in principle.

Lol. Considering I could theorize that there are possibly thousands of individuals – if not many more - actively subject to neuroscientific experimentation around the world, that gives us the bottom rung of what will be an exponential rise – lots of chances for Chiroprators.

Since I don’t think Bakker will respond and you reference quite a bit of my argument to tackle his own and his to tackle mine, I’ll continue this post for the moment.

This is a good way to completely wreck Madness's point. Madness states that he's unhappy with current human existence and is also unhappy with the notion of humans with this therapy, but with transhumanism that can all be reconciled. Yes, we can go beyond the morality that we have currently. Isn't that what you, Madness, wants? To surpass the stone age limitations that humans have, the instincts to fuck and kill and hoard, the shortsighted destruction of the ecology and the world in favor of immediate gains?

No, Kalbear. That’s what the neural configuration of my avatar described in your brain physiology seems to feel and want.

I want to more fully experience the exquisite potential of a complex sensory perceiving biological being.

Attention is like an individual muscle in the human brain. The more you exercise this, you effect the density of your neurophysiology for perception. You literally can become more aware of your senses and your perceptions, your relation to them, like when I blindfold myself and exercise my tactile awareness by reading brail or listening to variable decibel tones. And all these things transform our experience, provided us with better insight and perspective on traditional sciences, that is everything before Neuroscience, without invasive changes.

To understanding what Human 1.0 was all about in the first place before moving forward so, so drastically.

Of course transhumans are going to have different moralities from humans. That's an obvious statement, and I don't think anyone thinks otherwise or that this is some amazing revelation. But so what? We've gone through massive morality shifts in the last 100 years and the world has not ended nor have we turned into cannibalistic reapers or whatever.

Make no mistake - not only do I not assume value and judgment is going to stay the same, one of my primary hopes with this science is that it does change.

I don’t support Transhumanism, by the way. At least, again, not progressively, beyond therapeutic applications.

However, Kalbear, you’re referencing moral systems. Bakker seems to be highlighting the neuroscientific idea of morality post morality.

It's a good point that humans could become essentially drug-addled self-destructing narcissists, but I don't think that's likely. Mostly because humans do have ways to self-regulate and humans do shun those who are selfdestructive as it is. You don't need to push it that much further.

I would say that humanity’s ways of self-regulation have become irrelevant, if not downright abysmal, where the advent of Neuroscience is concerned.

All the semantic distinctions you rely on in this statement are subject to possible valueless. Bakker has plenty of good reasons and examples for providing us with the image of the “vast, slow-motion version of the monkey pushing a button wired to his pleasure centres unto starvation.”

On average, our examples of humanities better nature are few and far between, neh?

We've been fucking with the source code since we learned how to bang our heads against walls, and this time we have a much greater idea of what we're doing than ever before. This beats the hell out of lobotomies and trepannation. I think this is where I disagree most with Bakker and Madness - I think that for the first time we're getting a decent idea of how things work and where to go from here, and for the first time we can start making real, honest, useful changes instead of fumbling around in the dark.

Alright, Neil.

Seriously, Kalbear, if this is your opinion then Neil’s analogy in Neuropath about individual humans functioning like neurons in a single species-wide brain that is in process of rewiring itself is the likeliest prophecy concerning humanity. We’ll all just be a bunch of Neuropaths who’ve done away with the “unnecessary” elements of our mental experience – seemingly, the things that allow for the beauty and destruction of human nature.

You want to hold the scalpel, Doctor?

Wow. I’ll just re-read this and see about responding to fionwe and sciborg’s newest posts.

Actually, we don't. I think most neuroscientists will agree that we're barely taking baby steps in figuring out human consciousness. We don't even really have a viable theory on how the brain works as a whole, at this moment. We have advanced enough in cell biology to figure out some aspects of how neurons work, but the brain does indeed seem to be more than the sum of its parts.

Given the vast advances we have made in understanding biology as a whole, it seems easy to think that we're in a similar position in neuroscience. We are not.

Take PTSD, for example. We are beginning to have an idea of what is going on here. We can pinpoint certain hormones and neurotransmitters responsible for causing the very strong memories that lie at the heart of PTSD. And since biochemistry is pretty advanced, we can tinker with the balance of these things in the brain, and possibly reduce the incidence of PTSD in a few years.

On the surface, that is a great thing. But look a little deeper, and I don't think it is. Should we interfere with a brain's ability to remember and react badly to what are definitely horrifying situations?

To me, then, the best way forward is to continue research into PTSD but, instead of using this knowledge to chemically or surgically alter brains to always avoid it, use it to improve psychological therapy.

Very well written, fionwe. I look forward to responses on this.

And I'm with Kalbear to a large extent, I dislike limiting something because of slippery slopes or people suffering will lead to a better society - especially people who have taken up the cause of defending me as they see it.

Perhaps they have been deceived, perhaps our government is to blame for its choices, but as I live in a democracy that's on us voters. Maybe the more just thing would be for people who don't go to war but support it to suffer PTSD, but that isn't possible.

I’m simply saying the dialogue we are having here is a necessary human discussion for our global society to have. We should proceed very, very carefully with all of neurosciences applications.

Great discussion. Thanks for being a wonderful foil, Kalbear.

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i'm starting to get the feeling people are taking this way too personally.

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If you mean me, sciborg, forgive me. Just note that Westeros is one of the few avenues in my life I have for the exercise of philosophic discourse and this is mostly pertinent only to Bakker's Second Apocalypse. Neuroscience, being one of my life's pursuits, is a topic close to heart and I'm pouncing on the opportunity to discuss it.

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If you mean me, sciborg, forgive me. Just note that Westeros is one of the few avenues in my life I have for the exercise of philosophic discourse and this is mostly pertinent only to Bakker's Second Apocalypse. Neuroscience, being one of my life's pursuits, is a topic close to heart and I'm pouncing on the opportunity to discuss it.

Heh, I think we all are. It's hard to talk about this stuff without talking about PTSD of war veterans, race, culture, etc. Everyone is, by personal experience, going to raise get their hackles raised...er, I think that's the expression.

In other news, I don't know if I have any pull on the Bakker, but I asked him to write on his blog about the books to make up for my earlier failure. :-P

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I think you guys are giving modern surgery too much credit... The divide between where we are now in terms of ability to modify human tissue surgically is monumentally far from the ability to make subtle 'cosmetic' changes necessary to alter a person's cognitive, emotional, psychological or personality traits, whether normal or dysfunctional.

Neurosurgery especially is a very inexact science. Probably the most precise techniques around today are with targeted radiotherapy (gamma knife, cyberknife, etc) in terms of ablating or removing abnormal tissue. Augmentative capabilities are pretty limited. Even microsurgical techniques are only at a level where we can graft peripheral nerves together on a macroscopic level, but altering individual neurons/axons and promoting new neural synapses is just a pipe dream at the moment. Nerves degenerate so fast once injured, whether traumatically or surgically, that the best you can really do is hope that new axons will form along the 'conduit' of the old nerve sheaths. Promoting new synapses, let alone specific synapses to augment specific capabilities, is really not on the radar right now.

Then there's the issue of scarring. And swelling. Surgerized tissue never functions the same as the original. It'd be like creating a nonman brain... Scarred. Perhaps in the future with stem cell applications and proteomics, with proteins able to promote scarless (essentially fetal-like) healing, it may be possible. Swelling is a whole other issue. Sometimes people swell so much from even the most benign neurosurgical interventions that they end up comatose/neurologically dead.

It's not like augmentation mammoplasty... Throwing in a set of nice fake ones is not the same as tinkering with neural tissue.

I remember... I remember the head of neurosurgery telling me, "Normal brain is really sucky (as in, gets pulled into the suction really easily), but tumour is really hard and doesn't suck very well."

I remember repairing a frontal sinus fracture with brain herniating out, and the neurosurgeon shrugging, saying, "Meh... It's just his brain..." <snip> <snip>, <push> <push> (as brain gets snipped and shoved back inside cranial fossa)..

I remember scoffing inside my head, watching a particularly arrogant neurosurgeon repair dura, his suture passing deep and grabbing good brain tissue with the dura.

I... I remember!!!

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People who go to war to defend their countries should be given whatever is best for them to live their lives post-combat how they want it.

And I'm with Kalbear to a large extent, I dislike limiting something because of slippery slopes or people suffering will lead to a better society - especially people who have taken up the cause of defending me as they see it.

Perhaps they have been deceived, perhaps our government is to blame for its choices, but as I live in a democracy that's on us voters. Maybe the more just thing would be for people who don't go to war but support it to suffer PTSD, but that isn't possible.

I know PTSD is a touchy issue. My only point is that we need to make sure we're actually doing more good than harm before launching into something this complex and potentially dangerous.

From my post above:

I have to say that I find your dividing line between natural and created to itself be very artificial and anthropocentric. While I think we can safely say that no evolutionary change happened so as to give humans the ability to make computers, for example; and while humanity has been able to affect exponentially more changes because of the evolutionary development of our brain, I don't think there is any clear dividing line between the changes that had no human input and those that did. I certainly don't see the point of such a line, till we come to extremely recent (and sometimes still to come) abilities like genetic manipulation.

No.

You referred to Wernicke's and Broca's defined areas of the brain. These are "areas useful in designating average organizations, in a caricature of nicely organized pieces." One of the first things they teach in introductory psychology, let alone neuroscientific specific studies, is this brain map:

http://www.answersin...4/brain-map.gif

Do my above distinctions make more sense now?

For example, fionwe, I've met a man who has been a talented orator and writer his entire life and discovered, while following up on a stroke, that his Broca's area had been a unformed, ball of mush his entire life – the stroke had, apparently, effected a region sufficiently removed from the Broca's area and could not be connected to such drastic damage. Yet this man, who I knew in my teen years, has never had any difficulties with language.

Things are not so simple as you're trying to make them.

Where did I try to make them simple? I explicitly stated that any modular theory of the brain works only so far and is severely restricted. If you're talking about me referring to certain brain areas associated with language, I was by no means implying that only these two areas give rise to language, or that damage to any one of these would mean the complete loss of language.

As for your friend with the non-functional Borca's area... while I do find his case interesting, it is hardly implausible. People with tumors in the Broca's area have had them resected and continued to have language abilities intact, maybe because adjacent areas have taken up the work. This kind of plasticity should be much easier during fetal development.

I appreciate all your commentary and some of it is even well versed and founded. However, this seems to be a question of exposure. I pretty much live and breathe this discipline and have for a number of years. This should imply that I've spent much time pouring through a plethora of books, courses, lectures, and case studies after case studies in search of understanding.

That's dandy, but even though I'm only a lowly grad student currently pursuing research in cell biology and neuroscience, I can assure you that I'm not entering this discussion with wikipedia as my source of knowledge.

I clearly, to the point of bolding words, did not lightly consider the word exponentially. I would simply suggest you read The Mind & The Brain by Jeffrey Schwartz or any current or dated research by Michael Merzenich or Edward Taub.

Don't quote book names at me, or at the others in this discussion. This is hardly a scientific forum, and the entire point of this discussion is destroyed if we're going to talk in terms of jargon and citations. I could easily furnish you with a list of books to support my argument, at which point this whole thread becomes completely useless to anyone but me and you. Why don't you actually rebut the points I made, and do so in a manner that everyone in this thread can follow?

Here's an idea to upset your sensibilities, fionwe. I can confidently posit that there are non-invasive neuropractices, things you can do in the middle of nowhere, in a forest, with no technology, just mind and body, to exponentially increase in neural density – thanks, Curethan.

Posit away. I'm not going to believe until you carry a portable fMRI and PET with you to the forest, do your exercises, and show me some actual exponential increases occurring as you proceed.

I'm sorry to say that though I applaud your conceptual ability, you again, display very little linguistic understanding.

Or, perhaps, I'm less concerned with a technically exact discussion in a general forum? I fail to see how delving into the depths of linguistics is at all relevant in a general discussion of what form of plasticity is associated with acquiring new languages.

You are confusing two different, separate, aspects of linguistic structure in your first paragraph. Firstly, Universal Grammar and the LAD (Language Acquisition Device), theorized by Chomsky. Secondly, the idea of phonemes, all the distinct sounds we can produce with the human throat, and their relation to one another.

It is because of these phenomenon that certain languages are more or less closely related and easier for some to understand.

The reason I didn't go into the details was because we were discussing language as a whole, and I saw no point of dragging specific aspects into this discussion. I'm still failing to see why you felt the need to do so.

You could say that it is semantic blockage that we experience as individuals and produce as a society, which causes the difficulty in switching between and discarding distinct conceptual organization structures, like different languages.

And why do we form these blockages? My point was that if new networks of synapses were forming as "maps" associated with the acquisition of each new language, these kind of blockages would be far fewer, both in incidence within a society as well as in extent for an individual. Involuntary mixing of different languages in speech would also be harder to explain. If, instead, the "maps" associated with different languages overlapped, to some extent, than this could explain the semantic blockages associated with acquiring a language far removed from one you are used to, and also explain why we not only shift languages mid-sentence, but also sometimes impose the syntax of out native tongues onto later acquired languages.

I'll bet you, actually, have little to no trouble doing this, fionwe, which is impressive and speaks to the capacities of a lifetime steeped in just one aspect of the non-invasive neuropractices I've been paying homage to.

Or, you know, we can dispense with the rose tinted glasses and realize that this happens to most people who learn multiple languages as children.

All you wrote was on topic, fionwe. Thanks for your words.

This last paragraph was mint.

Thank you.

However, the availability of these ideas isn't being determined by a sober council like our ourselves. I mean, this can get personal because of the nature of the subject matter but I respect the perspective put forward. But this dialogue isn't happening among my peers and certainly not where the monetary-fueled research is going on.

I don't know about that. I think a lot of neuroscientists do understand the huge ethical and moral pitfalls awaiting us. The fact that such discussions aren't widespread shouldn't be taken to mean they're absent.

non-man_erratic:

I don't think anyone is saying such things are currently possible. But 10 years down the line? It isn't like such things are inconceivable. We know what kind of stuff we'd have to do to regrow an axon, for example. The issue with getting these to work in the brain is more a technological challenge, rather than one caused by a lack of basic knowledge.

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I have to say that I find your dividing line between natural and created to itself be very artificial and anthropocentric. While I think we can safely say that no evolutionary change happened so as to give humans the ability to make computers, for example; and while humanity has been able to affect exponentially more changes because of the evolutionary development of our brain, I don't think there is any clear dividing line between the changes that had no human input and those that did. I certainly don't see the point of such a line, till we come to extremely recent (and sometimes still to come) abilities like genetic manipulation.

Fair. At least, you are closer to understanding my distinction.

I’m, as well, completely discounting aliens, time paradoxes, ancient golden ages, among other quality notions. For the purposes of the discussion, though, we need to frame our communication with a perspectival lens for the idea of human-wrought change.

I realized from the beginning of this discussion, clearly, that these words, natural and created would carry heavy connotations.

We changed something in biology when, at least in North America, we decided to mix genes for fish scales in with strawberries in order to facilitate a sort of created – using the word in terms of my distinction – resistance in the strawberries to frost. In this way, biologists and geneticists, as well as other academia, hope solve world hunger by being able to grow plants anywhere, despite the environment.

That should be, I feel, a striking distinction between a natural world sans, at least, humankind’s intervention vs. a created world, the instances of humankind’s interventions.

I decided just to find one of the preliminary reports. There are a couple paragraphs I wanted to quote.

http://www.sierraclub.org/biotech/report.asp

Genes from an animal, say, a fish, can be put into a plant, a strawberry for instance. An attempt to "improve" strawberries by inserting a gene from an Arctic fish has in fact been discussed. The fish gene is supposed to make the strawberries more resistant to frost by causing the strawberry plant to produce a form of antifreeze, which the fish normally produce to endure cold ocean conditions.

We are now at a turning point in history. We can continue to allow the virtually unrestricted release of genetically engineered organisms to the environment, or we can bring this technology under strict control. If we continue on our present path of unrestricted releases of GEOs, we will eventually live in a genetically engineered world, as the genome of each species now on earth is either deliberately altered by genetic engineering or indirectly altered by inheritance of transgenes from a genetically engineered organism. In such a world there would be nothing left of living nature, as every species would have been deprived of its genetic integrity, and every ecosystem would thereby have been irreversibly disrupted.

This second quote is a great analogy for what my point is and certainly what, I think, Bakker’s point is. We are on the cusp, hanging before the tipping point, of Neuroscience’s own wave of drastic revolution, but the ground for concern is not our genes, which is already such a consequential field, but our very immediate experience and the brains that give rise to it.

As I re-read your quote, I realize, I might have appealed on a different tact.

There are very few instances, historically, of direct human, created, intervention. This has changed in an exponential way since the advent of steam power and we’ve been off running ever since, with every new understanding seeming to bring with it more direct, immediate consequences on our reality.

I mean, I don’t buy it, but a huge portion of the worldwide community believe that all that industry during the revolution was largely a part of our global warming today.

Where did I try to make them simple? I explicitly stated that any modular theory of the brain works only so far and is severely restricted. If you're talking about me referring to certain brain areas associated with language, I was by no means implying that only these two areas give rise to language, or that damage to any one of these would mean the complete loss of language.

As for your friend with the non-functional Borca's area... while I do find his case interesting, it is hardly implausible. People with tumors in the Broca's area have had them resected and continued to have language abilities intact, maybe because adjacent areas have taken up the work. This kind of plasticity should be much easier during fetal development.

Maybe you can quote yourself for me but I believe you accused me of discussion phrenology when the brain, not the skull, had been the object of reference. Rough stuff.

I felt as though you greatly simplified things when you were discussing the difficulties in language acquisition and, also, actually muddied the development waters for anyone who wants to learn a new language. There are reasons it is difficult, as far as we understand, and it is easier to acquire a new conceptual structure with an understanding of the physical and mental processes involved.

That is the type of lateral fluidity I like to read. The second part I bolded isn’t actually easy statement for many neurosciencetists to make or digest. What does it mean or imply that areas we’ve previously associated with other senses or perceptions manage, seemingly, unrelated cognitive function? I think much.

That's dandy, but even though I'm only a lowly grad student currently pursuing research in cell biology and neuroscience, I can assure you that I'm not entering this discussion with wikipedia as my source of knowledge.

Don't quote book names at me, or at the others in this discussion. This is hardly a scientific forum, and the entire point of this discussion is destroyed if we're going to talk in terms of jargon and citations. I could easily furnish you with a list of books to support my argument, at which point this whole thread becomes completely useless to anyone but me and you. Why don't you actually rebut the points I made, and do so in a manner that everyone in this thread can follow?

I’m sorry. I will try and actively rebut the points you made that I may have glossed over in my statement. However, I would hope that you don’t censor your knowledge simply because this isn’t an academic forum. This is exactly the attitude among academics that I decry.

It’s like Bakker is always harping on the literati. It’s the responsibility of those in the know to disseminate their knowledge to those who don’t. The onus of explanation is on the learned and the wise.

I’ve poured over textbooks like you, have felt the same frustration that any student feels, but yet I can’t stop myself from devouring the subject matter. Know Thyself. I thought you, or anyone else, might actually enjoy reading some books or research done by some of neurosciences greatest pioneering minds, considering the discussion. I didn’t whip out my dick to try and tell you it was thirteen inches. I simply thought you’d enjoy being exposed to something novel – if you’re familiar with Schwartz, Merzenich, or Taub then I guess I apologize.

I, for one, won’t dumb it down and I encourage you to do the same, fionwe. This dialogue needs to happen, everywhere and anywhere, to gain as much insight as we can. We’ve hardly come close to jargon and citations.

Plus you’d be surprised how often strangers can solve your thoughts and offer revelation simply for listening to them.

To rebut & paraphrase:

You may or may not be familiar with case studies done with piano players, I believe, both new to the instrument and seasoned musicians.

Two groups of individuals practiced a piece of music for three hours a day, five days a week, with routine brain mapping done on Fridays and Mondays. The difference between the two samples was that one group actually practiced playing the piano and the other simply imagined practicing, very rigorously in their minds.

The outcome, to make a long description short, was almost identical changes in brain structure, with comparable actually ability in playing the piece of music. There’ve been plenty of duplications of this mechanism in other studies to the point of showing that simply rigorously imagining a workout with applied attention made nearly identical changes to the nervous system and brains areas for muscle memory.

I’m ranting and this likely hasn’t convinced you of my use of the word exponential.

My position is that if you overlap these ideas, actually doing the physical practice but applying rigorously attention and awareness to the experience of practice, holding more abstractions in mind, you will exponentially affect neuronal connections and density.

I look forward to hearing any thoughts on this, fionwe, before I continue digging.

Posit away. I'm not going to believe until you carry a portable fMRI and PET with you to the forest, do your exercises, and show me some actual exponential increases occurring as you proceed.

I hope to have the preliminary research out of the way next year so I can get on establishing our really controversial mental abilities.

Or, perhaps, I'm less concerned with a technically exact discussion in a general forum? I fail to see how delving into the depths of linguistics is at all relevant in a general discussion of what form of plasticity is associated with acquiring new languages.

You don’t inspire minds or individuals talking down to them, fionwe. I’ve read pretty much nothing but quality, reflective perspective here, even an effort to wrestle complex ideas.

“You are confusing two different, separate, aspects of linguistic structure in your first paragraph. Firstly, Universal Grammar and the LAD (Language Acquisition Device), theorized by Chomsky. Secondly, the idea of phonemes, all the distinct sounds we can produce with the human throat, and their relation to one another.”

The reason I didn't go into the details was because we were discussing language as a whole, and I saw no point of dragging specific aspects into this discussion. I'm still failing to see why you felt the need to do so . . .

When people are learning a new language, the hardest part is the syntax and grammar. Anyone can learn 1500 words from a strange language. So the greatest challenge from the brain's perspective is mapping the syntax and grammar. This is relatively easy for related languages, which is why an English speaker can pick up French more easily than he can pick up Chinese. But no, matter how far apart the languages may be in the linguistic spectrum, there are commonalities, and the brain almost certainly does not form a fresh new set of connections for these things. Further, the later you learn the language, the harder it is to speak it like a native. And you will almost always see a mixing of syntax, of pronunciation, etc. based on what language the person first learned. If there were an exponentially greater number of connections in polyglots, you would see far fewer instances of accents, confused syntax, etc

This is also why so many polyglots can transition between languages mid-sentence. I'm more or less tri-lingual. I speak English, Hindi and Tamil, all of which I was exposed to from birth. I can (and very often do) form grammatically correct sentences that transition through all three languages, despite the fact that there are differences in syntax between these languages. I'm willing to bet that this isn't because I have exponentially more connections that cross connect in my Wernicke and Broca's areas but because my brain has mostly overlapping maps for these languages.

The bolded points here from your earlier post, fionwe. This is what brought language into the conversation, as it hadn’t been mentioned since Happy Ent and I had talked at the first about the German translations of Bakker.

If you actually do understand “specific aspects” like Universal Grammar and the LAD then I’m unsure what you are trying to say in much of your first paragraph.

The second bolded point really illuminates your misconceptions. It’s because of ideas like Universal Grammar and the Language Acquisition Device that we’re able to theorize why humans have the ability for language. I would make the statement that you and any other polylinguists do have exponentially more neuronal connections in whichever brain areas language may or may not rely on.

As I said in one of my first posts on this subject, this is an example of why we need a library of brain maps, extensive imaging done, because imaging of your brain would provide insight into those areas where your language facilities connect and overlap. The density of connection – again, thanks, Curethan - provides us with interesting clues.

And why do we form these blockages? My point was that if new networks of synapses were forming as "maps" associated with the acquisition of each new language, these kind of blockages would be far fewer, both in incidence within a society as well as in extent for an individual. Involuntary mixing of different languages in speech would also be harder to explain. If, instead, the "maps" associated with different languages overlapped, to some extent, than this could explain the semantic blockages associated with acquiring a language far removed from one you are used to, and also explain why we not only shift languages mid-sentence, but also sometimes impose the syntax of out native tongues onto later acquired languages.

By semantic blockage I was referring to all the little memes people pick up about the difficulties in absorbing other cultures or languages. Some things require understanding. We socially and culturally propagate “reasons” why it is difficult to learn a new language. We actively dissuade society from doing anything based on fictive time constraints and physical limitations.

However, I like the way you took my words and I appreciate the way this is paragraph is organized.

The second part I’m unsure of because there are so many muscle difficulties that many ignore when learning a language removed from their own. Languages are removed from one another only by the difference of their sounds, or phonemes. Obviously, there are instances of different syntax and grammar but, oftentimes, working the muscles involved with novel sounds is the hardest and most frustrating part of learning a new language.

Again, I’m sorry about the specifics, if it upsets you so, fionwe, but some people will genuinely be moved to learn and explore by my words. Sometimes people actually are interested and want to understand.

Or, you know, we can dispense with the rose tinted glasses and realize that this happens to most people who learn multiple languages as children.

Lol, there are less polylinguists than the world needs, trust me. Don’t ever take that mental fluidity for granted, fionwe, and seek ways to cultivate it further.

I don't know about that. I think a lot of neuroscientists do understand the huge ethical and moral pitfalls awaiting us. The fact that such discussions aren't widespread shouldn't be taken to mean they're absent.

Understandable but then we’re talking about social and cultural organizations who have a SOP of compartmentalizing researchers and complex concepts in order to manipulate grand results – the Manhatten Project, anyone?

I don't think anyone is saying such things are currently possible. But 10 years down the line? It isn't like such things are inconceivable. We know what kind of stuff we'd have to do to regrow an axon, for example. The issue with getting these to work in the brain is more a technological challenge, rather than one caused by a lack of basic knowledge.

Just two thoughts on this:

First off, our neurosurgical ability concerning inhibition is capable of some real unruly things. Stimulating is also coming a long way very quickly.

Secondly, a Transhumanism spin:

There are researchers right now working to attach removable hard drives – once again military application for the moment – to our hippocampus – for the purposes of this example, memory – in order to expand and record human experience, through an albeit limited lens.

You’re right, by the way, NE, about lots of the points in your post. Which is why other tools and means of “non-invasive” – because in my mind beaming frequencies or something to that affect is pretty damn invasive – stimulation and inhibition are quickly and effectively being worked on – like neurological versions of Raytheon’s Active Denial System.

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