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From : Simon Laub
Date : 31. august 2009 00:15
Newsgroups: rec.arts.sf.written,rec.arts.sf.science,comp.ai.philosophy,
Subject : Kluge, – Redesigning the human brain, how should it be done?

– Redesigning the human brain, how should it be done?

In science fiction it is often assumed that a perfect robot is very
human like.
E.g. In BladeRunner you have to look for a special reflection
in the eye to tell, who is human and who is android.
But is a human brain really a ‘perfect’ design? – so much so, that if you were
infinite clever you would design a robots brain to be just like
a human brain?

Just read Gary Marcus’ ‘Kluge, the haphazard construction of the human mind’,
where he argues that the human mind is a ‘kluge’,
a solution that is clumsy yet surprisingly effective.
It follows that human brain design is not always perfect, and
robots could have better designs:
Perfect self control, perfect memories, no vulnerabilities to mental
disorders etc.
To keep up, humans would then need some sort of Arthur C.
Clarke brain caps to help the poor brain below – or what?

Below, I have listed some of Marcus’ brilliant observations about the human
mind, – and how it could be improved.
Turned out to a little long, but (the book at least) is well worth
reading imho.

FUT. rec.arts.sf.written



According to Marcus, the human mind is capable of the most astonishing
feats. But our cognitive makeup is also filled with what Gary Marcus
calls bugs:
Inadequate self control, false memories, absentmindedness,
vulnerability to mental disorders, mental contamination and much more.
– Why?
– Because that was as good as nature could make it?!

In the end Marcus gives us some coping strategies so
that we better can live with the inner ‘kluge’, without
making any changes to the brain. But by using
engineering terms he strongly suggests that some parts of
the brain should be re-engineered.
Some examples of this below, but first why he thinks
the brain could have been designed better.

According to Marcus, mother nature made the brain through
evolution and the process of natural selection.
But natural selection is only as good as the random mutation
that may arise. If a given mutation is beneficial it may propagate,
but the most beneficial mutation might never appear.
Sure there are all sorts of examples of how nature eventually
achieved perfection. But sometimes nature settles with imperfection.
Evolution looks not only for a top of a fitness mountain,
but the top in a whole mountain range, and might end
up being stuck only in a ‘local maximum”. Some distant peak
might be better, but evolution through natural selection cannot go there
without destroying the organism.

Sometimes a human brain does something really silly,
perhaps because nature gave control to the wrong brain center.
Often, it is a struggle between two ways of thinking –
a emotional, fast, automatic and unconscious way
and a rational, slow, deliberate and judicious way.
In the brain – deliberate prefrontal, rational thought is piled on top of
automatic emotional feelings, and thats often what causes
all the problems.

The rational, frontal lopes plays a key role in regulating our behaviour.
But takes the the longest time to mature. In some cases
not completing the growth until a person is in his mid twenties.
Obviously, thats part of the reason why kids arent as good
at controlling themselves.
Going further down into the brain we have the limbic system.
The seat of emotions, instincts,, appetites and drives that help us survive.
People with impaired hypothalamic function (limbic system) may
have a tendency towards anorexia or overeating.
Further down the brain in the cerebellum there is motor-,
movement- and balance centers. Among others. And in the bottom most region the
brainstem. Control systems for eating, sleeping, breathing.

Each kind of emotion has its own separate neural basis. So, systems
to defend against danger is different from the one used in procreation.
And when activated – fear and sexual pleasure do not have a common origin.

And here comes the killer:
Conscious control over emotions are weak,
put feelings easily push out higher order thinking. The wiring favours emotions.
Connections from the emotional systems to the cognitive systems
are stronger than the connections that run the other way.

Worse, when the demands on the brain grows, the cognitive load
increase, the emotional, ancestral system continues as usual –
while the more modern rational, deliberative system gets left behind.
Precisely when we need the more evolved system the
most, they leave us, we become more prone to stereotyping, more vulnerable
to emotional thinking.

Rational vs. emotional, longterm vs. shortterm – could it have been designed

Enter Gary Marcus. It could have been designed the other way around!
The rational, deliberate rational system could have been
given control whenever time permits, favouring the rational over the
reflective, emotional where possible.
In given precedence to the ancestral system, just because it is
older, evolution have squandered intellectual resources???

Many of the breakdowns we see in the western world in the early 21st
century has to do with breakdown of control.
The cognitive load becomes to big, people are stressed by media distortions
and societies rat-race mentality. The new, rational parts of the mind shuts
down, and the primitive, emotional parts take over.
Away goes control over eating, drugs, credit cards etc. and it becomes
stuffing yourself today, damned be the future. As the ancient, emotional
system are in control.
I.e. For millions of years evolution selected for
creatures that lived in the moment. The present
over the future. The future always uncertain – next years harvest, next meal –
all uncertain. Better stuff your self now!
Sure it is stupid to max out a credit card today,
to be high today (the future be damned), to overeat,
or whatever – when there actually is a future which is quite
But evolution built the emotional, ancestral reflective system
first and evolved systems for rational deliberation second.
And not only that – we shut down rational deliberation
when things get tough ….

According to Marcus: Good engineering would have put
in a better integration between the two – perhaps completely turning decisions
over choices to the the judicious systems –
except perhaps only in really, really time limited
The current system doesn’t work all that well.
Say you are a male that wants to stay VD free and thin.
And makes such a plan with the rational, deliberate system.
Fine, but day to day business is influenced by hunger, lust,
happines and sadness. The emotional, limbic system.

Male undergraduates were asked what they would do, if they
found themselves with an attractive female they had just met.
And there is chance for(imminently)
having sex. Both are in favour, the women reports that she
is taking a contraceptive pill – but they dont have protection.
She leaves it to the man decide,
Most men quizzed about that
one find their brains run by the ancestral system, overriding
and ignoring any previous plans to avoid VD risk.

On a diet – a person should not eat chocolate cake.
And certainly no let the emotional, reflective ancestral system
in on the decision process and effectively undercut completely the
rational, deliberate systems life plans.
Still, more often that not, this also ends with wrong decision.

There is more.
Procrastination is the quintessential self-regulatory failure.
The way in which we defer progress on our most important goals.
Obviously we cant do all things at once.And obviously we need
downtime – but when the rational system that sets our goals
is offline, and the machinery that chooses (in the moment) is
the emotional, ancestral reflective system, obviously there is no agreement
on which goals to follow.
Given the chance we go for the fun. And we uses the
amount of pleasure to tell us how it is going.
To be human is to fight a lifelong battle for self-control.

Evolution left us clever enough to set long term goals,
but not with the will power to see them through,

Sure, pleasure made sense when it was about eating food, having sex,
being the object of admiration and observing the success
of ones children – way back in the stone age. But if the average person
now spends one third of his waking hours on leisure activities such as
televion, sports, drinking with friends – who is then really in
control? Rational or emotional, longterm vs. short term, new vs. old ?
And surely, “pleasure technologies” – cultural inventions that
maximizes the response of our reward system – do what they can to
kill the rational plans. Tap into loopholes in our existing
pleasure-seeking machinery. And make the ancient, emotionally system
win the day.

Other design failures – our memory and our beliefs.

A rotten control system should then be helped out by a
good memory? Wrong according to Marcus.

Our memory is contextual, it priorities, bringing to mind
most quickly things that are common, recent, similar to
our current circumstances, that what we need the most.
The price is reliability. A memory driven by cues
means that we might not remember,
what we had for breakfast, because this morning weren’t all
that different from a number of other mornings.
Surely a decent memory should remember what one had for
breakfast this morning?

With memory gone, so is our beliefs.
So do you believe that you are happy today and have had a good life?
Based on memories we should run through them all,
and if the average is feeling good,
then we should say yes?
Not what we do, we take our most recent
memory or what ever memory we have just been given attention to –
Gary Marcus calls this the focusing illusion, manipulating us
to focus on some fact, such as “how many dates were you
on last month”, followed by the question “are you happy?”,
People then say they are or are not happy based on memories of
how many dates they were on.

Couldn’t engineers come up with some better way to do this?
Taken to the extreme, people dont know if they are happy or
not. Pure Woody Allen stuff – two attractive yet
vacantlooking pedestrians walk by. The woman answers first – I am very shallow
and empty, and have no ideas and nothing interesting to say – and the boyfriend
adds – and I am exactly the same – and we are happy.

Evolution doesnt care whether we understand ourselves, remember the past,
or whether we are happy – and surely evolution doesnt want us to be happy,
it evolved us to pursue happiness.

According to Gary Marcus – its a Kluge.

Aug 30th 2009

– Simon

Simon Laub

http://www.simonlaub.dk , http://www.simonlaub.net

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