I just re-read the book ‘Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind’ by Gary Marcus. I read this book in 2010 and I remember that it had an impact on me when I initially read it so I wanted to read it again to refresh my memory. The book has been authored by Gary Marcus who is a cognitive scientist, he’s an Associate Professor at the Department of Psychology at New York University and Director of the NYU Infant Language Center which is where he studies evolution, language, and cognitive development. I’ve watched a few interviews with him recently, I really enjoyed his interview conducted by Nikola Danaylov from ‘Singularity’ Youtube channel which I highly recommend (discovering this channel was discovering a gold mine). From the interviews I’ve found Gary Marcus to be charismatic, grounded and brilliant which is evident throughout the book. I believe this is what makes this book such a great read, I love his positive conversational, humorous writing-style, it provides a humanistic aspect which I find is sometimes lacking in non-fictional work.

The title of the book has been derived from Marcus’ analogy of the human mind to that of an engineer’s term ‘Kluge’. Kluge is a ‘clumsy or inelegant – yet surprisingly effective – solution to a problem’. The book advocates that evolution fashioned our brain with a patchwork of traits and attributes based on humanity’s genetic propagation. Evolution has pieced together a hodge podge of these traits that are ‘good enough for survival’ to create a far from perfect being. The book explores and provides examples of the ways in which the human mind, while capable in wondrous feats, still stumbles on certain areas such as in memory, decision making and language.

What I like so much about this book is that it removes man from the pedestal in which we so often put ourselves upon. The theories in this book are not something we should despair, if we know where our pitfalls are we can learn and improve upon them. After reading this book I found myself more consciously aware and control of my mental thoughts and lot more understanding in the actions of others. Being consciously aware of when our primitive, ancestral brain kicks in we can override this mentally with our more deliberative reasoning faculties. Perhaps practicing this, the tendencies that span from our deliberative brain will evolve to become instinctive and automatic which is optimistic and will pave the way to a more evolved mind.

There have been reviews that indicate that this book is “A shot across the bow of intelligent design.” (Kirkus Reviews). The book doesn’t aggressively refute the creationist view and that is evident in the positive and non-prejudice writing style. The title ‘Kluge’ is evidence alone and if it did aggressively preach and refute the creationist view it has created a paradox with the title. Kluge by definition is an inelegant, inefficient, clumsy patchwork that succeeds in solving a specific problem and performing a particular task. In relation to the mind, this definition would contend that makeshift, patchwork biological configurations were created for a particular purpose or reason, this would support the idea of a divine creator. However, I don’t believe we should place too much prominence on the term ‘Kluge’. I highly doubt that the engineering term ‘Kluge’ was meant to be coined and appropriated as a new neurological scientific term. I believe it was meant to be ironic and a humorous analogy to describe the human mind and to provide us with a unique perspective of how we view our mind. Marcus states “recognizing a kluge, and how it might be improved upon sometimes require thinking outside the box.” Perhaps, when we see ourselves in a more humbling light with all our flaws, quirks and eccentricities then can we learn to fully understand our mind and improve upon it. This book is enlightening, engaging and liberating, I highly recommend it.

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I have been reading a fair bit lately and I have a few books on the go such as ‘Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley,’ Louder Than Words’ by Benjamin K. Bergen and I’ve just finished reading for the second time ‘Super Brain’ by Deepak Chopra and Rudolph E.Tanzi. There’s so much more books I want to read. I wish I could have that instant matrix-learning just like when Keanu Reeves’ character Neo utters “I know Kung fu” after martial arts has been uploaded to his brain. If only, perhaps someday.

Since I’ve been reading a great deal I should probably write reviews so I can mentally track back, it will help me retain and learn from what I have read.  I’ve decided to write a review on the book ‘Super Brain’. Super Brain has been described as a book about ‘unleashing the explosive power of your mind’1 and maximising the potential of the human brain in practical and actionable ways. It is co-authored and written by Deepak Chopra a public speaker and licensed physician and Dr Rudolph E. Tanzi a Professor of Neurology at Harvard and one of the world’s foremost experts on the cause of Alzheimer’s.

Overall I did think it was a good read and it is a good book that reminds us how powerful our brains could be. I enjoyed the first half of the book which describes the science and origins of our most ingrained reactions, I also enjoyed the dispelling of long held myths such as “aging in the brain is irreversible” and “the brain’s hard wiring cannot be changed”. I particularly liked the stories of geniuses, polyglots, savants and how their stories offer reasons to reject these long held myths. This reminded me of Oliver Sacks' work and his recounts of case histories of patients lost in the bizarre neurological disorders. Oliver Sacks is considered “one of the great clinical writers of the twentieth century” (The New York Times) and if you get a chance read “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.” It’s an extremely fascinating read and a humbling meditation on the beauty of imperfection.

I did find that the Super Brain at times lacks cohesion and this is most likely because it is co-authored. Twice upon reading I’ve struggled to read the last third of the book as I believe it descends to a typical self help book. I find the abstract mindfulness and meditation mantras do not cohere well with the scientific examples. It felt at times that the neurological theories, especially the quantum mechanics theories were included purposefully to provide more validity to abstract spirituality concepts. However, validity is dispelled when scientific research is not backed with citations or references. This is a little leery for this book especially when it claims in the blurb that is draws “upon the very latest findings of neuroscience”.  All legitimate scientific works provide citations and references. I particularly disliked the arguing and the blatant distaste towards atheism and attacks on certain professionals and their beliefs. I find it highly hypocritical for a book that advocates open mindedness throughout, there’s a lack of open mindedness and respect of others’ beliefs.

In conclusion, this is not an essential read however it is an excellent reminder that when we are an active observer of our mind we have the ability to control our mind and when we take full control we can achieve amazing things. 

[1. Sub title of Super Brain]


Fairly recently, Harald Jezek commenced a discussion about the definition of reality on TED debates which I participated a great deal in. The debate included the statements:

What is reality?

Did you ever think about what it is that makes reality real?

How is our reality created ? Isn't it the perceptions our brain creates based on our sensory inputs?

But what if we lack a sense ? How does reality change for somebody who cannot hear or see? Or take it even a step further, assume you are deprived of all your senses, What would reality mean in such a case? And last but not least, let's assume you are born without any senses. What would that mean to your reality ? So what is reality and what are we as part of this reality?


Debate:
http://www.ted.com/conversations/21159/what_is_reality_2.html

My responses:
http://www.ted.com/profiles/2227000

Towards the end of the debate, those who participated were asked to provide a final post summarising our own view on the topic. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to provide my final post so I thought I would post it here. I generally agreed with Harald’s closing statement however, I wanted to elaborate on my reasoning.

Shared Reality
I’m definitely in agreement with “there are different aspects to reality.” One aspect is a ‘shared reality’. Harald nicely describes it as, “the reality we deal with on a daily basis and which we share to a large degree. For example we agree upon common things, such as when we see a car we all agree it’s a car, a tree and a house if a house.” I do follow parts of Copenhagen interpretation where reality is described as “our senses are constituted to give us an impression of a material world, but that this reality is a reflection of something of a different nature.” I believe our physical senses each have a spectrum, these senses perceives the sea of energy from a certain limited standpoint and makes up an image from that. This image is just an interpretation. Our interpretations are solely based on the ‘internal map’ of reality which is a result of our collective experiences. Copenhagen interpretation also states, “There is no deep reality.” Initially I was in accordance to this statement however; Harald Jezek and Esteban Trevino made me realize that “our universe will still be here regardless of us being around to observe it or not. Best proof for that is probably that the universe is much older than we are. So, obviously it was around long before we showed up to observe it.” I also came to the realisation that it is a very narcissistic view to believe that one particular state of space time (i.e. the occurrence of consciousness during the big bang) was chosen purely so it could inhabit material bodies simply so we could exist. Such mentality would not have formed the great theory of evolution or disprove that the earth was not the center of the universe. This reality may not be considered a deep reality however, it is a reality nonetheless. One could even dispute it maybe a deep reality because it is a collective reality, it is something that is shared amongst a large number of conscious entities.

Inner Reality

Another aspect to reality is ‘inner reality’. Inner reality is our individual reality and “this can be something simple like the perception of a taste, odor or a color.” The debate questions reality for those with limited or without senses. I believe that ‘shared’ and ‘inner reality’ would still apply to those without or with limited senses and my reasoning would be, take cellular life or plant cells for instance. If we believe that consciousness is an ability to be aware of external forces then cellular life and plant cells would still fall in this category. Their awareness is still considered very rudimentary, but cells do sense in a chemical way light, heat, foreign cells, pH condition in liquids and other states of matter than can be good or bad for their survival. Awareness (consciousness) can be reduced to very minimal states. In addition, I do believe that those without any senses still experience a ‘shared’ and ‘inner reality’. There was a study published in 2011 in Frontiers in Human Neurosciences, Tristan Bekinschtein which found that people in vegetative coma states (i.e. absence of awareness of self or environment, but where autonomic functions such as respiration are preserved), where patients showed signs of brain activity in response to linguistic stimuli. Patients still had consciousness, despite not having the means to express it.

Objective Reality

Lastly, another aspect to reality is ‘objective reality’, which includes the laws of nature. These may include Newtonian laws, Quantum physics and other laws which have not been discovered. It is a reality that exists regardless of whether we are here or not to contemplate on it. Objective reality starts to become complex when you start to think of the singularity event. As the beginning of real time, would have been a singularity, at which the laws of physics would have broken down. Stephen Hawking contends that time began with the big bang, assuming by time he means physical time, since you can’t have physical time before the existence of physical reality. However, Hawking does not preclude the existence of a metaphysical time prior to singularity. Complexity is further added when taking in consideration the possibility of Multiverses. Brian Greene’s system classification of the Landscape Multiverse describes that the laws of physics in these universes are fundamentally different than the universe we inhabit. Subjective and Objective reality is established by Newtonian and Quantum laws however, these laws may not apply in these universes hence, other physical/metaphysical or unknown laws would apply to these other universes’ realities.

Duality of Map-or-Territory

There was also talk about another possible aspect to reality that includes the three dimensions of mind, body and spirit, “duality of map-or-territory”, the “simultaneous distinctive cohesive structure between the territory and map”. In truth, I was struggling to fully understand the correlation to reality however, I could see possible connection to quantum entanglement. An example of what I believed that best describes this connection was Stuart Hammeroff’s description of these dimensions during outer body experiences occurring during near death experiences. He describes how when quantum coherence and quantum computations driven by metabolism ends (when the blood stops flowing), quantum information leaks out to the universe at large because it exists in the Planck scale (it exists in the most fundamental level). Coherence is lost and it leaks out to the universe at large. He states it doesn’t dissipates entirely because of entanglement and plus the universe is holographic. It remains in the phase relationship and can persist in the subconscious dreamlike level outside the body. Hammeroff also describes when an individual dies, quantum information/consciousness or protoconsciousness is not destroyed it, it may sort of dissipate or hang together due to quantum entanglement and can exist in some sort of afterlife hence, the possibility of reincarnation. Esteban mentioned in the debate that “Humans even have the capacity to create stuff or rearrange the existing stuff.” This was in regards to humans having the ability to create their own reality. Joe Dispenza nicely describes this notion with the correlation of mirror neurons, neuroplasticity and quantum entanglement. Hammeroff's and Dispenza’s theories are appealing notions however, I’m yet to fully understand it or believe it.

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