Here is a quote from an email from an internet friend of mine, who quoted this from an email from an internet friend of his, who quoted this from a professor she had heard it from:

      "What we think, we do.
      "What we do, we become."
*  3

I don't know off-hand whether that professor quoted someone else or whether he came up with these lines himself. At any rate, someone did. Now let's unwrap this piece of wisdom and do so guided by Prof. Michael Gazzaniga.  4

Gazzaniga is said to be one of the most brilliant neuroschientists in the world. He is the first one to cut the major connection between the two halves of a human brain—the corpus callosum, Latin for "tough body"—as a way to cure epilepsy. He also is the author of a number of books about the brain for people not specialized in neuroscience. The one I am consulting here first is "Who's in charge?" published in 2011. Ouch, eight years ago! A long time in science. But I take this as te best I can do. For now.  5

I am an old fogey and my short-time memory is the pits. As we age, our head is filling up with notions that are either entirely wrong or simply out of date. I suspect that even Prof. Gazzaniga's book needs a touching up. If I were to read an entire book and then write down the gist of it, those scribbling would likely be infected by whatever is already in my head. And so, I'll make notes as I read, extract what I believe are the most significant facts and ideas, and later touch them up in the light of apparent accuracy, brevity, and my sense of context.  6

But first let me visit that oft' needed facility in a small room of this house.  7

It's October 21, my great-granddaughter's third birthday. Here is hoping that one day she will read this in good health and well-being; and my other scribblings in "Me and my world." Hello there!  8

Years ago I read that "mind is what brain does." I since learned that some people frown on this and so I may touch up this brief notion sooner or later. But for now I am happy with it.  9

Quoting Prof. G., "... we understand that we are stuck with these automatic brains, these vastly parallel and distributed systems that don't seem to have a boss, much like the Internet does not have a boss. So much of us comes from the factory all wired up and ready to go."  10

Parallel and distributed systems? I believe these terms were born in the realm of man-made computing systems. A parallel computing system consists of multiple processors that communicate with each other via a shared memory. A distributed computing system contains multiple processors connected by a communication network. Well, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words:

Parallel computing

Distributed computing
Top: parallel computing. Bottom: distributed computing (Source:
Wikipedia). Whether the processors are silicon chips or neurons, the idea is the same. There are, on average, some 86 billion neurons in the human brain. The world's fastest computer has about a million IBM Power9 processors. The human brain is estimated to be ten times faster than the world's fastest computers. But the accuracy of its output is another matter altogether.  11

Neurons come on different shapes, sizes and functions. Additional neurons form after birth. For example, a newborn has 28,200 so-called VEN neurons, a four-year-old has 184,000 of them, an adult 193,000. Their location, structure, biochemistry and deseases of the nervous system led to a proposal that VEN neurons are part of neural circuitry involved in social awareness and may participate in fast, intuitive social decision-making. VEN neurons have also been found in social animals other than human (elephants, some type of whales, dolphins) but humans have more of them.  12

"So here we are," Gazzaniga wrote, "born with a wildly developing brain under tremendous genetic control, with refinements being made by epigenetic factors (nongenetic factors that cause the organism's genes to behave differently) and activity-dependent learning.... we have myriad cognitive abilities that are separated and spatially represented in different parts of the prain, each with different neural networks and systems. We have also systems running simultanuously, in parallel, distributed throughout the brain. This means that our brains have multiple control systems, not just one. From this brain comes our personal narrative, not from some outside forces compelling the brain."  13

Indeedy, indeedy: In my father's house are many mansions—John 14:2. In my unconscious, I mean. Now, what is consciousness?  14

Not even Gazzaniga has the foggiest. He decided to look it up and found this in the 1989 "International Dictionary of Psychology":

      CONSCIOUSNESS: The having of perceptions, thoughts, and feelings: awareness. The term is impossible to define except in terms that are unintelligible without a grasp of what consciousness means. Consciousness is a fascinating but elusive phenomenon, it is impossible to specify what it is, what it does, or why it evolved. Nothing worth reading has been written about it.

That was two years before philosopher Daniel Dennett's book "Consciousness Explained" hit the market. Presumably the book is a worthwhile read but as for myself, I found it tiresome, which left me none the wiser.  

It's time to call it a day. Tomorrow, I'll turn to "The Mind's Past," an earlier book by Gazzaniga.  

* * *

Good morning. "By the time we think we know something—it is part of our conscious experience—the brain already has done its work. ... Systems built into the brain do their work automatically and largely outside of our conscious awareness. The brain finishes the work half a second before the information it processes reaches our consciousness.... [It is the unconschious] where plans are made to speak, write, throw a baseball, or pick up a dish from the table.... We don't plan or articulate these actions. We simply observe the output.  17

"This fact of brain-mind organization is as true for simple perceptual acts as it is for higher-order activities, like spatial behavior, mathematics, and even language. The brain begins to cover for this 'done deal' aspect of its functioning by creating in us the illusion that the events we are experiencing are happening in real time—not before our conscious experience of deciding to do something."  18

Gazzaniga tells us that 98 percent of what the brain does is outside our conscious awareness. I might compare this fact to the workings of a computer: we enter data, then a central processor lets a piece of software work with those data to produce an output to a screen or a set of speakers or a printer, what have you, which "interprets" that output for us. Similarly, the brain, G. found out, has some neural circuitry in the left hemisphere that serves to make sense of the unconsciousness's output. He named that circuitry "interpreter."  19

Our unconscious leads, our conscious follows. What we think, we do. What we do, we become.  20

Many computer programs have one or more bugs that occasionally cause faulty outputs, or no output at all. Bugs need to be fixed. How often aren't we informed about the need to upgrade software to fix a bug, or some bugs? Brains may contain bugs—maybe defects from birth, maybe caused later on by wrong data entries (falsehoods, accidental misinformation, faulty memory, blood from leaking arteries, some physical or chemical malfunctioning, food poisoning, opiates, and so on). Wrong output from the unconscious to the interpreter makes for wrong output by the interpreter to our conscious self.  21

Gazzaniga tells us a sad story turned cute, a story about an intelligent lady from Freeport, Maine, who suffered from reduplicative paraamnesia, confusion about where she is. He examined her in his office in New York. Here it is:  22

"I started with the 'so where are you?' question. 'I am in Freeport, Maine. I know you don't believe it. Dr. Posner told me this morning when he came to see me that I was in Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital and that when the residents come on rounds to say that to them. Well, that is fine, but I know I am in my house on Main Street in Freeport, Maine!' I asked, 'Well, if you are in Freeport and in your house, how come there are elevators outside the door here?' The grand lady peered at me and calmly responded, 'Doctor, do you know how much it cost me to have those put in?'"  23

If our actions are predetermined by a mechanism that controls our conscious selves, the question arises, why then do we punish people who behave antisocially? Why not view them as people to be fixed? After all, if our car fails we don't beat it up or kick it. We have it fixed. My offhand response is that we try to avoid car failure by regular maintenance. Similarly, people need regular maintenance, which begins with an upbringing where parents and teachers encourage good behavior and discourage bad behavior. But also there are parents who encourage a conduct that most people regard as bad.  24

Back in 2016, I read "The Making of Donald Trump" by David Cay Johnston. The book had come out a few months before the federal election in the States. It tells that the then future American president came from a family with a long tradition of, well, unsavory values. The kind of values that since have left a stain on the White House. Here are two telling paragraphs from the book's introduction:  25

"This book is my effort to make sure Americans know a fuller story about Trump than the one he has polished with such exceptional skill and determination. Trump, who presents himself as a modern Midas even when much of what he touches turns to dross, has studied the conventions of journalists and displays more genius at exploiting them to his advantage than anyone else I have ever known.

"More important, Trump has worked just as hard to make sure few people know about his lifelong entanglements with a major cocaine trafficker, with mobsters and many mob associates, with con artists and swindlers. He has been sued thousands of times for refusing to pay employees, vendors, and ohers. Investors have sued him for fraud in a number of different cities. But among Trump's most refined skills is his ability to deflect or shut down law enforcement investigations. He also uses threats of litigation to deter news organizations from looking behind the curtain of the seemingly all-wise and all-powerful man they refer to as The Donald."
*  26

The unconscious leads, the conscious follows. The consequences can take on catastrophic dimensions. One wonders whether Trump's tearing up of the Paris agreement about greenhouse gas emissions and other international treaties are, in fact, means by which he deflects media attention from other matters such as, currently, impeachment.  27

The question has been asked whether Trump has some form of Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). People with ASD have (a) difficulty with communication and interaction with other people; (b) restricted interests and repetitive behaviors; (c) symptoms that hurt the person’s ability to function properly in school, work, and other areas of life. While scientists don’t know the exact causes of ASD, research suggests that genes can act together with influences from the environment to affect development in ways that lead to ASD. (Ref.). The president recently signed the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support Act (CARES) into law, which allocates $1.8 billion in funding over the next five years to help people with autism spectrum disorder and their families.  27a

* * *

"The Mind's Past"—written 15 years before the ever darkening storms gathering today—ends on an uplifting note:

"The interpreter constantly establishes a running narrative of our actions, emotions, thoughts, and dreams. It is the glue that unifies our story and creates our sense of being a whole, rational agent. ... The device that rules for solving a problem of how one thing relates to another must be reinforced for such an action, just as an ant's solving where the daily meal is reinforces its food-seeking devices. ... The interpretation of things past ... produces the wonderful sensation that our self is in charge of our destiny. All our everyday successes at reasoning through life's data convinces us of our centrality. Because of that, maybe we can drive our automatic brain to greater accomplishments and enjoyment of life."  

      Slow down, you move too fast
      You got to make the morning last
      Just kicking down the cobblestones
      Looking for fun and feeling groovy
      Ba da-da da-da da-da, feeling groovy

      Hello lamppost, what'cha knowing
      I've come to watch your flowers growin'
      Ain't you got no rhymes for me?
      Doo-ait-n-doo-doo, feeling groovy
      Ba da-da da-da da-da, feeling groovy

      I got no deeds to do, no promises to keep
      I'm dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep
      Let the morningtime drop all its petals on me
      Life, I love you, all is groovy.

Simon and Garfunkel.  29

One can dream, can one not?  30

* * *

What we think, we do.
What we do, we become.


Trump once called Johnston and told him if he didn't like what he wrote, he would sue him; when Johnston reminded Trump that he was a public figure, Trump said: "I'll sue you anyway." (From The Guardian, May 18, 2017)  * (return)  fn1

As it turned out, it is Dr J. Fisher Jr, the "parapathetic philosopher," who came up with this terse paradigm. He names Blaise Pascal's "Pensées" as having a great influence on his life. Quoting Pascal, "We know the truth, not only by the reason, but also by the heart." One might say that Michael Gazzaniga substituted the unconscious for the heart. Same difference.  * (return)  fn2

The space below serves to put any hyperlinked targets at the top of the window

Valid XHTML 1.0!     tux     mveMVE


Above space serves to put hyperlinked targets at the top of the window