Archive | December, 2019

197. Brain and Computers Compared (Revised)

28 Dec

Brain-Vs-Computer-Pic2This essay is an addendum to my previous blog-193 “Brain uploading ideas are nonsense.”  It also provides my understanding of what is known about human brain functioning.

Those interested in downloading a human brain into a computer, and have it function, such as answering questions, should consider this. Although the human brain can be called a computer, it is profoundly different from a man-made computer. THE FIGURE above illustrates the fixed regularity of a computer (upper box) with every component specified and with definite location. The Brain below shows a changing and branching structure, where the actual array of components is the “program.”  Every human experience makes at least a slight structural change. Converting from an entire brain configuration with quadrillions of control points,  to an equivalent computer representation, I assert is impossible. (More explanation below.)

BRAIN AND MAN-MADE COMPUTERS ARE VERY DIFFERENT

Man-made computers have a FIXED structure of electronic components. Modern microchips have thousands of transistors and other components in a well-defined, set pattern. Computer programs, cause the chips to function. When a computer is activated by a program, it makes use of many of the components, such as microscopic transistors, so that something meaningful can go to output devices like printers or screens. In a word, the electronics are fixed and the program varies. Note: a “computer program” is a set of instructions that can be written down or typed into a file that can be “read” by a computer. It tells the computer how to utilize its well-defined components in performing certain tasks. There can be many programs to provide for a wide variety of computer functions.

The human brain is nothing like this. A live brain in a body, is constantly changing. Instead of using an external set of programming statements to control the action, the control components themselves (such as transistors) quickly vary to produce a certain output. These variations include additional nerve cells, additional connections, and each connection (a synapse or gap junction) can undergo substantial change. A synapse, based upon its chemistry and inter-connections, can be more excitable, blocked, or anything in between. The nerve cells, axons, and dendrites form branching structures that provide many paths for its operation.

THE BRAIN FUNCTIONS BY CHANGING ITS STRUCTURE

If you look at a magnified computer microchip you will see regular rows of components. The components will vary in different places, but within each part, there is exact duplication.

But in a brain, you will see great variation in size, shape, and connectivity. The “program” is built into the “brain electronics” and varies as the individual is exposed to many different environmental factors, such as learning, imitation, memorization, food supply, social features, etc.

THE BRAIN IS LIKE A CITY, WITH MANY ROADS AND PATHS

Here is a helpful analogy. Think of the brain as a city with millions of roads and pathways. The sensory systems, like vision, hearing, and touch are roads leading into the city — and there are roads going outbound causing the movement of muscles, activating vocal cords, affecting glands, etc. Between the inputs and outputs are millions of pathways with wide streets and narrow paths, free-flowing and constricted in various ways, all to provide something meaningful. At millions of junctions (synapses, etc.) there are traffic cops that speed things up or block the passage. If someone pinches your arm, action potentials flow down wide roads (axons) leading to the brain and spinal cord. Within these structures there is a maze (inter-neurons) that quickly processes the input information and activates outbound pathways, or simply stores info. (This maze is where complex thinking takes place.) The outbound paths (motor nerves) lead to many muscles that can move your arm, body, and make you say “ouch.” If you are pinched over and over again, the relevant pathways tend to widen, causing increased flow and a more efficient reflex. In our city (brain) there are also archive centers that store memories, and other mechanisms that enhance the whole process.

The ability of a brain to function in this way developed over several billions of years. It is a marvelous structure and its exact functioning at the nerve cell level is still unknown. But we can make good educated guesses as to how much of it may work. We don’t know exactly how words and ideas are stored. And we don’t know exactly how millions of memories are accessed during a wide range of operations, and how a brain creates an essay or scientific theory. Yet, the fact that there are many trillions of “control points” (like transistors) suggests that amazing things can result.

A DEAD ISOLATED BRAIN CANNOT PERFORM IN ANY WAY

I might add that a disembodied dead brain can never function like it did live in a body even if fully preserved. Cutting out a brain removes inputs, outputs, the spinal cord, and feedback loops that are critical to functioning. And would involve damage to the brain itself. A removed brain can never be the same as a live intact brain so any hope of living-on in a computer representation is impossible.  Any sectioning of a brain would destroy many interconnections.

Consider this fantasy. You transfer a brain into a computer, and it can talk. Most likely it would scream, “I can’t see, I can’t feel my legs or arms, I can’t hear, I can’t touch  anything,  where am I, HELP!” How could you talk to this isolated brain that has no ears. So you would really have to save a whole head and even the spinal cord. As you contemplate all of these difficulties, it is clear that trying to save a human brain, which can function, is nonsense. Also, for all the reasons outlined above, it is not possible to “read out” specific thoughts or ideas, by any brain recording method.  (Note: recording sub-threshold “thoughts” from vocal cords is not a brain recording.) 

I might add that although uploading a useful brain, or reading specific thoughts, is not possible, what is remotely possible is a good understanding as to how a brain functions at all levels. This could take decades or even centuries, but it is worth discussing and exploring.

 

196. Democrats Want the Senate Trial? (Revised)

20 Dec

I heard several commentators say that: of course, Democrats want the Senate impeachment trial. Until Leader Nancy Pelosi spoke, I assumed that it would take place, ASAP. But then Senate Leader Mitch McConnell stated that he would provide a trial that would not be fair, but totally biased towards Trump. So Pelosi is now holding up the triggers for a trial — a brilliant move. The Democrats want witness testimony in the trial, and Senator Chuck Schumer, tried to reason with “Moscow” Mitch regarding this, but did not succeed.

So, there is a real strategy to her holding up the process. Because of the Republican Senate majority and the policy of McConnell there is a 99% chance of acquittal. Trump, of course, wants the trial to happen quickly because he could brag that the impeachment did not succeed and he is innocent. This is his current goal, and it would allow him to pursue whatever illicit acts he wants, almost with impunity.

On the other hand, while the impeachment trial is on hold, it remains a threat. Any illicit actions by Trump could provide further evidence and trigger a trial.  In any event, it is pointless to have a totally biased trial with a negative conclusion.

The delay also has another advantage. There are several investigations in process and the Democrats are waiting for court decisions regarding subpoenas. So it is very possible that more evidence will be available at a later date.

.         MONITOR AND NULLIFY TO LIMIT TRUMP DANGERS

Since removal from office by way of conviction is unlikely it is important to monitor his actions as much as possible. And, additionally, everything that can be done to nullify his orders should be implemented. Congress can do much in this regard, and the states can develop laws that limit Trumps dangers. For example, the states can do much in the area of climate-change, while his tendency is to ignore it.

Just in, the magazine, Christianity Todayhas published a condemnation of Trump for all his immoral and criminal actions. This magazine is very popular among evangelicals, which are major Trump supporters. This is just another type of event, that can make waiting beneficial. At some point, Repubs may feel it is possible to break away from the Trump cult, which holds them with a power, like that of a religion.

The House Democrats have made a highly significant achievement, a presidential impeachment, and in a few weeks (or months) a conviction may also follow. To be rid of this dangerous leader would make so many of us sleep better.  (Please see my blog 194 and others.)

 

195. The Science of Evolution and Life

19 Dec

In some recent discussions, I was disappointed by how biological evolution is poorly understood by many people. Here are some facts about evolution and life, which may be helpful.

The unbiased scientific view is: that life is just a complex variation of matter and will begin when certain organic (based on carbon) compounds happen to combine in a particular way, without any purpose or design (see below for details). An exploding star or the “birth” of a star, just happens,  without any purpose or striving. There are many amazing processes in astronomy and on Earth that just happen. Does the moon circle the Earth due to some striving? When an earthquake occurs,  is there a purpose or goal?

The origin of life and its gradual evolution, in the same way, just happens. Some philosophers and other non-scientists see purposes, goals, striving, drives, etc. in many areas. Scientists ignore all this and are concerned with physical laws and objective descriptions of events. Nothing that happens on Earth or in space seems designed, particularly because of general disorganization and imperfections.

The origins of life and evolution, progress by the principle of “survival of the fittest.” Life and death provide variation and some variations are relatively permanent (mutations). If a variation leads to a better chance of survival, at least long enough for reproduction, then on a statistical basis, it is more likely to occur. Evolution depends on the fact that variations may be persistent and occur in subsequent generations. For example, a species of bird may  have small variations in the length of its beak. It may be that birds with a slightly longer beak are able capture food better. Under the concept of evolution, birds with longer beaks likely will survive better and eventually, this species will have longer beaks. There is no design or purpose here, it just happens as a property of matter.

At this point, you might ask, how can the amazing and complex features of life, occur without the design of someone or thing? In order to understand this, consider that these developments happen in a slow process over billions of years. It is difficult for people to mentally cope with things out of the ordinary time spans and sizes that we are used to. Can you comprehend the size of our solar system, or worse, the galaxy or the entire Universe.  In the same way, five billion years is beyond our comprehension. It should not  be surprising that amazing things can happen in that incomprehensible long time.

You might further inquire, how can there be a transition from ordinary matter to the very first life? The answer is this. The Universe is mostly filled with very simple atoms, mostly hydrogen and some helium. The more complex atoms and molecules develop mostly through supernovae, which are gigantic star explosions (see for example: Wikipedia: “Abundance of the chemical elements.” Right from the very beginnings of the Universe, there was ubiquitous movement. Almost everything is in constant motion, at the very smallest levels (atoms) and the very largest (stars and galaxies). The movements of certain atoms, especially carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, etc, resulted in the formation of organic (carbon based) compounds. Movement and accidental contacts of organic compounds resulted in something extremely unlikely, a compound that had the property of “life.” It only took one extremely unlikely combination of compounds out of trillions and trillions of chance interactions, to produce in one instance, a compound that could reproduce itself (living). Because of reproduction, this one case could spread life all over our planet. It may be difficult to understand all this, without reference to chemistry and biology textbooks.

Now we come to people. We all want to feel that we are “special,” but like all life, and all actions we see in the Universe, we just happen. Every plant or animal is constructed and develops as a consequence of the DNA it inherits, and all of the experiences it is exposed to. Experiences include learning, parenting, imitation, food sources, environmental and social factors.

This may be disappointing and confusing for many people, but scientists see no evidence for anything else. Given this bleak picture, my advice is to live your life in a normal, responsible, and enjoyable way, but when appropriate for some intellectual reason, recognize reality. Personally, I like to live my life with kindness because it is good for me, and for others — a win, win. (I welcome criticisms and comments.)

 

194. Increasing Dangers Force Speedy Impeachment

8 Dec

As I am writing this, I heard on the TV that someone who appears unqualified has been confirmed (for life) as a Federal Judge. She is Allison Rushing, a young 37, and a lawyer with almost no trial experience. Trump has already appointed 158 judges to the Federal bench. He and Mitch McConnell are a dangerous team that is gradually moving our country towards ruin, in several ways.  The appointment of extreme conservative federal judges and/or unqualified judges will continue as long as Trump is in office. Below I list many other dangers for our country that worsen almost every day.

1. A foreign policy that rejects our relations with traditional democratic allies in favor of traditional enemies such as Russia. The USA has enjoyed beneficial relationships for decades with: the UK, France, Germany, the E.U., Spain, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, etc. Trump has warm relationships with Russia, N. Korea, and Turkey and says he admires their ability to control the citizens. He thinks like an autocrat and enjoys that type of company, while rejecting those most supportive of democracy.

2. Russia continues to develop methods of influencing our elections. Trump has received help from Russia, and has done very little in protecting our election process. We need a President that will address this issue.

3. Under Trump we are quickly moving towards even more serious climate problems, which he ignores. Under Pres. Obama, the US provided valuable international leadership in this area and support for relevant scientific research. The sooner Trump leaves office, the sooner we can work on these problems. In general, Trump has discouraged competent scientists so that other countries will exceed us in valuable tech and science projects.

4. Trumps new tariff policy has basically been neutral in terms of money brought in and money paid out to farmers that have lost business. However, when US importers must pay for the new tariffs, they must pass the cost to retailers, so in some areas, our citizens will be paying higher prices. Also, some manufacturers have lost business because of retaliatory tariffs by China and elsewhere. So the bottom line is that Trump tariffs have been mostly negative, producing higher prices, causing some businesses to suffer, and harming our allies. Trump failed in coercing China because he did not work with allies. For more info, see, for example, (search) NPR’s “Trump’s Tariff Bounty” article.

5. Foreign nations no longer respect the USA under Trump leadership. Many of our usual supportive nations are starting to look to China or Russia for leadership. Trumps own words are often inconsistent and may differ from statements by his staff.

6. Trump favors torture. Ronald Reagan and most other Presidents were against it. Trump supports cruel immigration programs for our Southern border and has terminated the humanitarian DACA program. He has ruined the careers of many associates because they spoke the truth about his policies.

7. Trump has undermined important federal agencies such as the FBI and CIA. In one situation, he favored Putin’s word over that of our intelligence agencies.

8. Trump has gutted major government departments, such as State and Education. He makes important decisions without expert help and often finds it necessary to cancel his orders. Generally, foreign nations no longer trust him.

9. Trump is destroying government safeguards considered vital by the founding fathers. He ignores oversight procedures by Congress and claims total power under Article 2 of the Constitution. His attacks on the “press” also suppress a most important democracy safeguard.

There are many other dangers, and of course, several books have been written about this. Fortunately, Nancy Pelosi, has recently stepped up and forcefully supported the impeachment process. If you look at all of the people and institutions that “hate” him you have to ask: is he really doing the right thing? Is everyone in the US so shallow, that they can only think in terms of who they “like” or “dislike” — instead of what is patriotic, or lawful, or well thought-out?