David Linden: The Brain is a 'Freaking Mess'

David Linden:  There are a lot of things that are created accidentally in evolution.  There are a lot of side effects.  So you can evolve a pleasure circuit for adaptive things so they will eat food and drink water and have sex.  And you can evolve social cognition and then you can connect up your social cognition center with your pleasure center.  And then you can take pleasure from positive social evaluation, which is something that you can imagine would promote group cohesion and in hunter/gatherer societies would be adaptive.  But then you’ve built a machine that can be operated on in all kinds of ways in terms of culture and behavior.

And we shouldn’t fall into the trap and think that all those ways are adaptive or useful just because they’ve evolved.  Evolution is a tinkerer and not an engineer as Francoise Jacob famously said.  And when you’re a tinkerer, you throw things together to solve the problem at hand.  You don’t build elegantly and you don’t build the way an engineer would build to try to consider all the possible contingencies.  You’re just solving the one problem that circumstances have dealt you at this moment.

There’s a tendency, particularly when looking at brain function to be over awed by the brain and, well, this is understandable.  We say, well, human consciousness is manifest in this two-and-a-half pounds of tissue in our skull and that’s amazing.  You say, that’s amazing, but that doesn’t mean that when you lift the hood and look at how its built, either anatomically or electrically or genetically, that what you see is well-engineered.  No.  It’s a freaking mess in there.  And it’s a freaking mess both at these biological levels and a lot of times it’s a freaking mess at the behavioral level.

We have two visual systems in our brain, a subconscious one and a conscious one.  We have two auditory systems in our brain, a subconscious one and a conscious one.  No engineer ever would have designed it like this.

And then, the information from these two streams have to be fused to create our behavior.  It’s a total kluge, it works pretty well.  Our brains are pretty impressive in what they can do.  The engineering behind it is completely insane.  It never is what anyone would have designed given the chance, with all the time in the world on a blank sheet of paper.

Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler, Elizabeth Rodd, and Dillon Fitton

 

As François Jacob famously said, evolution is a tinkerer and not an engineer. When you're a tinkerer, you throw things together to solve the problem at hand.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

10 books to check out from Jordan Peterson's 'Great Books' list

The Canadian professor has an extensive collection posted on his site.

Jordan Peterson with Carl Jung and the cover art of Jaak Panksepp's 'Affective Neuroscience' (Image: Chris Williamson/Getty Images/Big Think)
Personal Growth
  • Peterson's Great Books list features classics by Orwell, Jung, Huxley, and Dostoevsky.
  • Categories include literature, neuroscience, religion, and systems analysis.
  • Having recently left Patreon for "freedom of speech" reasons, Peterson is taking direct donations through Paypal (and Bitcoin).
Keep reading Show less

Radical theory says our universe sits on an inflating bubble in an extra dimension

Cosmologists propose a groundbreaking model of the universe using string theory.

Getty Images/Suvendu Giri
Surprising Science
  • A new paper uses string theory to propose a new model of the universe.
  • The researchers think our universe may be riding a bubble expanded by dark energy.
  • All matter in the universe may exist in strings that reach into another dimension.
Keep reading Show less

Should you invest in China's stock market? Know this one thing first.

Despite incredible economic growth, it is not necessarily an investor's paradise.

Videos
  • China's stock market is just 27 years old. It's economy has grown 30x over that time.
  • Imagine if you had invested early and gotten in on the ground floor.
  • Actually, you would have lost money. Here's how that's possible.