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I think therefore I am a machine

I Think, therefore I am a Machine

Exploring the “thinking-of-the-Other”

 

Yoram Har-Lev

 

 

ISBN 9781520236155

Independently published

I dedicate this book to:

The human race, although I would never presume to understand everyone’s thoughts or agree with the values that drive them; I respect all of them.

The Jewish People has many and variant sub-groups, with most of which I do not agree. Nonetheless, I am proud to belong to this people.

My many friends and acquaintances, left and right, women and men, whose company always makes me happy.

And most important, to my family, each of you, dear family members, carries some part of me. I love you all.

 

I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, but to understand them.” – Baruch Spinoza, Tractates Theologico-Politicus

 

 

=.

Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION

The March of Folly

Why is it Important

How Dare I Write the book

A taste of this book

Basic premises

CHAPTER ONE

Understanding the individual

Deciphering the Brain

The Power of Evolution

Evolution of Communities

Rapid Evolution

Evolution of Different Systems

The Brain is me

Brain’s abilities

Structuring Reality

The Brain as a film Director

Shooting the Film

Data Processing

Additional Data

Brain’s Tools

Decision-making

Mechanism of Memory

Mechanism of Mimicry

Inherent Misconceptions

Illusion of Equality

community’s influence

Accepting Narratives

The Conscious Brain

Human’s Soul

Is human unique

How much ‘mental’

Philosophical approaches

Do we have a soul

“Mind and Body” Dilemma

We are Machines

What is Consciousness?

What we ‘see’ in our mind

Feelings and Emotions

Thoughts

Consciousness function

Imagination

Suppression and Invention

Can a Person Be Changed?

CHAPTER TWO

Man/Community Integration

Synchronization

Human’s Fractal System

Individuals in the Community

Balancing Ego with Community

CHAPTER THREE

Cultural Communities

The Fly that Plowed the Field

Communities’ Secret Life

The Human Herd

Communities’ Evolution

Effective Size of Communities

The Nature of Culture

The Importance of culture

Comparing Culture & Laws

The Balanced Culture

Communication in the Community

The Seeds of Failure

Leadership

Faith

Can Culture be changed?

SUMMARY

What Do We Need to Learn?

Can We Understand Others?

Thanks10.00cm

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h1<{color:#000;}. [][][][][][][][][] INTRODUCTION

table=. =. |=.
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p<{color:#F60;}. One man broke out of the herd,

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p<{color:#F60;}. He climbed on the wall, fled in despair.

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p<{color:#F60;}. On top of the wall he sat, feeling sad …

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p<{color:#000;}. Looking down … but no man was there.

|

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p<{color:#000;}.

[][] The March of Folly

In her book, “The March of Folly,”Barbara Tuchman describes decisions made by leaders against their own interests. She defined ‘Folly’ by quoting Plato: “When the soul contradicts the viewpoint, or knowledge, or wisdom, all of which are natural laws, I call this folly”.

The march of folly did not stop with the Vietnam War which was her last example of folly. The march of folly continues until today.

Some will argue that US President Obama’s Middle East policy, was a demonstration of a foolish march, causing the “Arab spring” and marking the decline of the power of the US in the world. This folly caused the bitter Shiva/Sunni war and, perhaps, even initiated the clash between the Western/ and Muslim civilizations.

Some will argue that Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, brought about the end of Christian Europe, with her invitation of millions Muslim refugees.

We can argue that we in Israel practiced our own self-made folly in the Oslo agreement, which brought the defeated enemy – the Fatah organization, into the heart of our land. It resulted in the deaths of thousands of Israeli lives, and complicated the Arab-Israeli conflict beyond repair.

We have to ask what makes leaders ignore logic, and act against their own interests? It is not lack of knowledge that cause modern leaders to join the march of folly. They have the largest database ever – the Internet – and on their side are legions of intelligence personnel whose job is to find information. Despite this, this foolish march continues. Apparently, information, knowledge, and intelligence are of no help in preventing the tendency of leaders from repeating the ‘march of folly’.

The answer is that all these foolish decisions have one common denominator: the inability of these leaders to predict how people of a different cultural group, will react. Time and again leaders have displayed this inability. Sadly, this lack of understanding often leads to disaster.

In this book we argue that all of us, not just our leaders, have a limited understanding of the other person. It is very important for everyone to understand how other people grasp events, and how they react to them. Unfortunately, this is no easy task. The philosopher, Emanuel Levinas, noted that: “The face of the other is always what I am not and therefore is always an enigma.”

We know very little about the ways in which our brain works, and less than nothing about what goes on in another person’s mind.

My interest in exploring to what degree we understand the other person, was aroused by realizing that my intelligent friends cannot understand how someone like me, remains faithful to ideas that they perceive as utterly unfounded on facts and logic. Of course, I also wonder how intelligent people like them, could have illusions that are clearly not based on logic and facts.

Obviously there is some aspect beyond people’s logic that determines our way of thinking. A person can be sure that he has the right ideas while the other person is wrong, whereas the other will think exactly the same of that person.

Before we try to go farther, we need to acknowledge that vast differences exist among people, especially among people coming from a cultural group other than our own.

To all of us it is clear that there is a difference between men and women, between the slim and the heavily-built person, between a tall person and a short one. Differences also exist in the aspirations and mindsets of different people. But as the philosopher Levinas noted; for each of us others are “the other face” and therefore enigmatic.

Allow me to invite you on a research journey into that mysterious terrain of “the face of the other”, in the hope that by the journey’s end, we will have at least a slightly better understanding of how others think and react.

Just before we set out, let us open up our mind. It would not be the first time in human history that what was obvious to everyone turns out to be a false idea. After all, none of us believes any more that the earth is flat, or that the sun revolves around it.

Some of the premises that we will present on our journey, will seem to you as no less distorted, than the strange notion that Copernicus had when he told our ancestors that the sun, rather than the earth, is in the center of the universe. After all, people could see with their own eyes, how the sun moved around the earth, which stood still in the center of the universe. Only that stubborn fellow, Galileo, insisted that: “Eppur si muove” (and yet it moves). And he was right!

In this book I have attempted to open up our understanding of how the other person, the person “who is not me,” thinks and behaves. Further on, I presume that the way in which we humans think and react are emotion-based, as well as the result of logical thinking. Therefore, understanding the other person requires among other things, understanding the reasons for these emotions in a person.

Scientists, busy in their laboratories, try to map the brain and find out which brain cells are responsible for various functions. Were we to know exactly how every synapse in the brain functions while we carry out one function or another, we would still be unable to estimate what the other person think, feels, and how he will behave.

The primary thrust of scientific research is to understand how the brain is structured and how it processes data fed in by our senses. Yes, of course this is important information in the overall attempt to understand human behavior, but no less important is the information stored in our brains, the mutual impact of community and the individuals in it, as well as the norms of culture which dictate the scale of values by which we conduct ourselves.

Scientists study how the brain works; here we’ll try a different approach. We’ll try to explore why the brain functions as it does, rather than in some other way.

We will do this by investigating which brain mechanisms were developed to meet the challenges that humans face, in spite of the brain’s organic structural limitations.

Then we will study how our culture influences our thoughts and actions, since none of us is disconnected from the community in which we live.

In Chapter 1, we explore the basic mechanisms behind the act of thinking and reactions, inside the individual human brain.

Chapter 2 presents the impact of our community on our thoughts and responses.

Chapter 3 will delve into understanding human communities. This is important for having some clues about which ideas and feelings the community implants in our brain.

I hope that when you finish reading this book, you’ll know more about how people think and react.

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h2<{color:#000;}. Why is it Important

Throughout the centuries, philosophers, poets and authors have written on the subject of human nature. There are millions of words describing how people think and behave. This extensive study into people’s minds has been carried out for a very good reason. It is important to understand how the other person thinks and reacts, since this can guide us as to how we should conduct our relations with that other person. A wise person tries to understand the reactions of other people, and takes them into consideration when making decisions. In fact, people are in a constant process of assessing the behavior of others. They do it with consciously or subconsciously considerations, and with rational or emotional considerations.

A couple on their first date will make emotional assessments. Each one will want to know how the other feels toward him or her. Marketing experts try to assess the reactions of potential consumers to their new products. A politician will assess the responses of his constituents to his speech.

These are typical of the assessments we all make, day by day. The common denominator is the need to understand how “the other person, who is not me” thinks, feels, and responds. We all feel that need to crack these enigmatic aspects, as noted by the philosopher, Emanuel Levinas.

Assessment is so vital to our functioning that nature, in its evolutionary wisdom, has equipped us with a range of tools that helps us to carry out this task. Some of these are direct tools, others are indirect, some are inborn, and some are acquired during our life time. Direct tools include smart reading of body language. For example we notice very small facial gestures, which we use as lie detectors. Indirect tools include intuition, and stereotypical patterns engraved in our minds, enabling us to reach a speedy assessment of the other person. An example of an inherited tool is the ability of infants to identify their mother’s face. An example of an acquired tool is a combat pilot’s skill at identifying the silhouette of enemy planes.

These tools are unfortunately, limited. They are not effective when the other person masks his feelings, especially if he conducts himself according to rules and habits unknown to our culture.

In the process of assessing people, it is essential first of all, to honor them. I appreciate all people, and this gives me that objective starting point to analyze what make us tick.

How Dare I Write the book

The first question that immediately comes to mind is this: How can a layman like me have such pretentious aspirations as to succeed in a task where even the best philosophers and neuron-scientists have difficulty? Here are some reasons in my defense:

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p<{color:#000;}. I do not pretend to explore and understand how exactly the brain works. That task is handled by many scientists around the world. Rather, I attack the problems in a different way, as is explained later in this book. In a nutshell, I am confident that evolution has found the best way to develop our brain in order to help us survive. Therefore any trait found in our brain is there for that reason. All ideas presented here are based on the discoveries that scientists have made in their research. I am merely trying to build a complete picture, using these facts to understand how the human brain works. Over many millions of years, evolution has improved traits that helped humanity survive and thrive. I am like a person who has no idea how television works, yet knows enough to use it by pressing the appropriate button to see his favorite channel. I have no need to know how the data are processed in the integrated circuits inside the TV box, in order change the channel. Equally there is no need to know how the brain circuitry works to know what makes a person feel. All we have to know is that he does his best to survive. I am trying to investigate these kinds of phenomena in the book. This way we can understand better what makes a person react in one way and not another; in short how the other person will react. Here is a hint about the nature of some of the insights that will be discussed in detail later; the other person does not necessarily react the way in which I would, given the same situation.

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p<{color:#000;}. The results of studies and experiments conducted by neuron-scientists are available on the Internet for anyone to see and use. One does not have to be a scientist to make sense of this research; on the Internet, there are plenty of professors explaining the meaning of such studies. Thus all one has to do is to fit all these pieces of information together into the puzzle to get the full picture.

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p<{color:#000;}. Brain research is still in its infancy. Professional neuron-scientists do not understand much more than the curious laymen.

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p<{color:#000;}. To investigate the brain mechanisms, one does not need expensive laboratories: he can test his own brain, and the reactions of the people he knows. This was the way in which Professor Freud developed psychoanalysis.

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p<{color:#000;}. Traits of the human brain have been perfected over millions of years. It can be assumed that many of the traits existing in our mind, originated due to the mechanism of evolution, preserving the necessary features necessary for our survival. Understanding of evolutionary processes could help our understanding of the brain’s function.

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p<{color:#000;}. As Newton said: “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants”. Since his day, the ‘giants’ of today have been growing bigger. That is why, sitting on their shoulders, we can now see much farther into the horizon.

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p<{color:#000;}. Nature tends to develop in simple ways. Therefore it is likely that one can understand the basic mechanisms of the brain, even though the brain is very complex.

And one more thing – we must not rely blindly on experts. Studies have found that experts have difficulty in creating new ideas. Sometimes the experts refuse even to accept new ideas presented to them. Most experts are so confident in their own knowledge concerning their narrow field of expertise, that they cannot pluck up enough mental courage to admit that they may have been wrong. One example of such an attitude is how the chaos theory was treated by the scientific community when it was first presented. Many ideas that I present in this book contradict our intuition and our beliefs, as well. But this was the case when other new ideas were also presented. A theory should be valued on its ability to predict all observed phenomena, and whether it can be verified by experiments. Such is the quantum theory. No one really understands the quantum theory; it just is not intuitive. We cannot perceive, for example, the reversal of roles between cause and effect, as this theory predicts. But until now, quantum theory has proved to be accurate in predicting results. That is why as long as a theory provides answers to phenomena; we have to accept its validity, even though we cannot perceive it with our intuition. It may be that the theory will be explained in the future, with knowledge which is not at present in our possession. In the future we may find for example, that the flow of time can be reversed, and that this reversal will explain the reversal of cause and effect phenomenon predicted by the quantum mechanics. Understanding the essence of time may solve also other mysteries that physicists accept as axioms – for example, the fact we cannot exceed the speed of light, which is the basis on which Einstein developed his theory of relativity. In the same way, one should accept the theories presented here if they can predict human behavior, even if one cannot perceive it in his intuition. It is not wise to rely on intuition; remember how intuition rejected the claim that the earth was moving around the sun!

A taste of this book

Before delving into the task of understanding the other person’s mind, I would like to point out the main issues. Our thinking and the way we grasp the reality around us, is influenced by many factors. In general we have to take into account the traits of the individual (in Chapter 1), the community in which he lives (details in Chapter 3), as well as the relationship between the two (as will be expanded in Chapter 2). I know that these points are not completely clear at this point; they will be discussed later.

I’ll present some theories, in order to draw a complete picture of the way in which I think our brain functions. Some of them are known theories, others are my hypotheses. Each one of them can in itself be discussed in a separate book, but here they are discussed in short, in an effort to understand the main issue of this book, which is to understand how the other person thinks and behaves.

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h2<{color:#000;}. Basic premises

In seeking to understand the laws governing the mechanics of daily life, we can use Newton’s empirical laws. There is no need to delve into the laws of quantum mechanics. In the same way, it is also possible to use the empirical laws of nature to understand the operation of the human mind, without any need to know how the synapses in the human brain are connected.

Here are some of the relevant empirical rules:

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p<{color:#00000A;}. Evolution. We need to assume that the solutions formed by evolution are those that ensure our survival. Other solutions were sifted out by evolution. In this way, if we discover a trait shared by most members of the human race, we might assume that this trait’s existence implies its necessity for our survival in the ancient savannas in Africa, where most of our evolution developments were done. We will rely on this premise as a way of disclosing which traits are used by the brain. We’ll ask ourselves what trait in the human brain, would be best suited to answer the challenges that the human beings encountered then, thus finding what trait is used now.

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p<{color:#00000A;}. Simplicity. It is natural for the easiest and simplest solutions to be realized first, in the same way as water finds the easiest route along which to flow, bypassing natural obstacles. In the same way, it would appear that complex creatures, such as humans have reached sophistication from a far simpler starting point, by having to overcome obstacles encountered along our path of development.

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p<{color:#00000A;}. Balance. Newton’s third law is essentially a law of balance. A force exerted by one body on another causes a counter force on the first. This law is not limited to mechanical phenomena. It applies to every process in nature, including the way in which people react. For example, when our body is dehydrated the concentration of salts sends a message to our brain. The brain interprets it as thirst and that, in turn, drives us to drink and lower the salty concentration of salts. In nature, the interaction between elements is vast and diverse, and the reaction does not necessarily have to be direct. It may occur through many other interactions.

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p<{color:#00000A;}. Integration of long-term solutions and short-term solutions. Solutions developed through evolution are not optimized only for the short-term range or are solutions for the specific body. Certain traits that may seem harmful in the short term may actually bring about good solutions in the long term. An example of this is that the brain’s plasticity renders the human baby defenseless, but allows for it to adapt to future changing conditions. Solutions may be well suited to a more complex body of which the original body is a part. For example, some of the features in human cells, were developed for the wellbeing of the human body and not for the wellbeing of the cell itself.

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p<{color:#00000A;}. Feedback. Nature prefers feedback systems over ‘send and forget’ systems, since they enable corrections while in process to get to the target. It is possible to see how our body is based on feedback systems. The need to preserve precise demarcation of multiple parameters in the body, such as temperature and blood pressure, is best done with feedback solutions for every parameter. Feedback processes are everywhere, not only in our body. We can also detect them in economic systems and political systems a well. They are relevant when we discuss maintaining the balance between the individual human and his community.

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p<{color:#00000A;}. Repetitions. A successful process in nature is applied to many seemingly unconnected cases. That is why we can often understand how things function in one case, if we know how they function in another. For example, understanding certain features in plants can illuminate our understanding of similar features in the human beings.

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h1<{color:#000;}. CHAPTER ONE

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h2>{color:#000;}. Understanding the individual

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h2<{color:#000;}. Deciphering the Brain

There are several approaches to deciphering traits of the brain:

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p<{color:#000;}. It is possible to explore the human brain by observing human behavior, as we do in everyday life, and as an author does when he tries to ‘get under the skin’ of the characters in his books. An author, like many other people, may learn much through observation. But to really understand the other person, we need better tools than just observation. It is very difficult to understand people because everyone maintains their privacy as though they were wearing masks, behind which they hide their thoughts. Moreover, we have a tendency to judge others through our distorting cultural glasses, making it more difficult to see the real character of the other persons. That is why observation is not the best tool to understand how others are thinking.

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p<{color:#000;}. One can use scientific instruments to explore how brain cells communicate and perform various tasks. But there are some difficulties in such an approach. Scientists tend to pinpoint their study on one specific aspect, and neglect the overall picture of a brain’s function. Live person research techniques are very new; therefore there are not yet enough data on how our brain works. Thus the way in which scientists are trying to decipher brain activity does not yet provide an understanding of how a person thinks and feels.

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p<{color:#000;}. Philosophers have been puzzled for centuries, trying to solve the mind-body dilemma, without reaching any conclusions upon which they can agree. The reason is partly because they do not have enough data on which they can rely. I am amazed that they raise doubts about everything, except for that intuition-based assumption, that claims we have mental consciousness. On that unfounded basis, they have built circuitous explanations that are sometimes bizarre and unconvincing. With all due respect, it seems that they complicate things only to reach an impasse.

When we are faced with an impasse, one should look for a different perspective that will override it, instead of banging his heads against the wall.

It is possible to explore the reasons for the brain’s evolution from its function as a basic control center to its current state, by learning which features the brain developed to overcome its limitations in the face of the challenges to our survival.

Let me explain this approach; when we want to understand how a river shapes its route, we can examine the chemical and physical impacts of molecules of water on the molecules of the ground, and measure the amount of erosion and the direction of the channel being formed. This is the scientific approach in brain research. This is of course, a less practical method compared to the simple way of examining the obstacles causing the water to flow in a certain direction, and finding the route of the river, assuming that water flows along the easiest route. Similarly, we can examine the obstacles that the human brain has been forced to face, and see how evolution bypasses these obstacles while determining the paths of the brain’s development. We will focus on the features of the human brain that help people in their struggles to survive when facing the challenges of a changing environment. These features provide us with a clue that can assist us in understanding how other people feel and react.

Sometimes we find that even complex and inexplicable processes obey very simple laws. When scientists sent the first rocket to the moon, newspapers published articles full of admiration at the scientists’ success in achieving such a precise trajectory of the rocket, explaining that any deviation of even one hundredth of a degree would cause it to miss its relatively small target. Of course these are comments of journalists who understand next to nothing of technology. It is very easy to guide the rocket right to the moon, or to aim a rocket precisely into a specific window as a matter of fact. All we have to do is to use closed circuit camera control which can focus on the target, and allow real-time correction of the rocket’s flight path. When the rocket is close to its target, the target is seen to be larger, and it is easier to correct its flight path in order to hit the center of the target. This is an example of what looks like a complex operation can, in fact, be very simple. In the same way we look with amazement at the complexity of a species in nature, and of the complexity of the human brain in particular, and find it difficult to understand how such complexity was formed. Many people, therefore, tend to attribute such complexity to a divine act. But it can be much simpler when the basic function of nature is known. There is nothing magical about aiming a missile at a target thousands of kilometers away. Similarly, the development of the human race can be simple as well.

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h2<{color:#000;}. The Power of Evolution

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p<{color:#000;}.

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p<{color:#000;}. Evolution is our key to deciphering the secrets of the brain. We already know that our brain developed from a simple organ’s function control center, to become the marvelous complex machine it is now. That is why we should devote some time to laying out what is the evolutionary theory.

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p<{color:#000;}. Darwin showed how long-term evolution occurs; it is driven by several simple rules, the primary one being the principle of the ‘survival of the fittest’. In other words, those that have the best traits for survival, have a greater chance to reproduce (because they survive longer than others), and their descendants will inherit those traits.

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p<{color:#000;}. It is obvious, right?

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p<{color:#000;}. In the course of cell division, mutations occasionally occur. If these mutations occur during the formation of a baby they can alter its features. If a mutation led to the development of a feature that promotes survival, that feature will be carried down to the coming generations. Traits that diminish the ability to survive will be eliminated by virtue of the simple fact that this particular offspring will not survive for very long. In the most general terms, evolutionary principles are valid for any entity that meets these two conditions:

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p<{color:#000;}. It has the ability to reproduce and form similar entities which will continue to show the same traits.

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p<{color:#000;}. It has the ability to change traits.

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p<{color:#000;}. It has to compete with other entities over limited resources, and/or survive in an harsh environment.

This basic concept explains the development of species. Currently, evolutionary researchers know how to track the paths of development for many species with ever- increasing precision.

We usually apply the rules of evolution to living organisms and plants, but evolution can be applied to any entity that complies with evolutionary criteria. This is true for other reproducible entities such as communities, technology, or economic systems.

Various species tend to acquire similar basic traits to improve the ability to survive, but they differ in detail in order to match their specific needs. This is due to the fact that what was the most simple and most effective way, for one species to develop survival traits, can also be suitable for others. For example, various species use their hearing abilities to survive, but the sensitivity of the hearing differs from species to species. This is true also for the brain. For example, researchers have recently found that some animals, including bumblebees, have feelings and imagination resembling those we have.

Nonetheless, the theory of evolution presented by Darwin was far from complete. Even Darwin himself understood that some natural phenomena did not fit his theory, which encouraged him to try and develop it further. We might call Darwin’s original views “the private evolutionary theory” and the expanded version “the evolutionary theory of everything” thereby using parallel terms found in physics, where physicists aim at developing the “Theory of Everything”. The Evolutionary Theory for Everything may include the following areas:

The private evolution – this is defined by the development of species through mutations, which cause selection over the course of generations. This is Darwin’s original theory.

The evolution of communities – this is defined by the development of communities. Communities grew, developed, split to create new communities and finally stopped existing in their original form. The first clue to this kind of evolution was due to altruism. Altruism does not sit well with Darwin’s basic theory. If a person is willing to give up his own life for the sake of the community, then clearly his trait of altruism will be gone as well according to Darwin’s theory. However, we see that the trait of altruism still exists. The evolutionary reason for this lies in the survival of the larger entity, the bigger being of the community. People give their lives for the community in the same way as human cells die for the sake of the human body.

Fast evolution – this takes place when traits are modified within one generation.

Evolution of non-organic systems – this occurs when the principles of evolution are valid for anything that can reproduce and has to compete with others. This is true for organic molecules at the beginning of life on earth, and it is true for the development of various other systems. These include technology, political systems and economic systems.

In this book we will focus only on the evolution of human life, with an emphasis on evolution of the brain, and the evolution of communities with an emphasis on cultures.

In this book, we will discuss only the evolution of the individual brain, and the evolution of cultural communities. We will illustrate how cultural communities are born, how they develop, and eventually die (or disintegrate to become other smaller communities). We’ll also discuss the influence of the community on the individual persons which are the building blocks of this community, but in the next sectors are some details regarding other kinds of evolution.

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h3<{color:#000;}. Evolution of Communities

Among the sophisticated ways found in nature to enhance the chances of survival, forming communities is one of the most common. A community -- or 'herd' in the animal world -- when acting in unison creates a bigger being, stronger than each of its individual members. Mankind excels at forming very large groups, by using culture to ease the bonding of people with the group. All kinds of communication have managed to reinforce this bonding. One cannot discuss human evolution without taking into account the impact of culture. A cultural group can be considered as a large living being, and the people forming it as cells of that being. All these cultural groups try to survive in a hostile environment, competing with other cultural groups. A family is a small group. Many families can form communities such as those of the ultra-Orthodox Jews. The combination of all communities may form a nation.

The complex structure of communities will not be discussed here, as all we need to know regarding the issue at hand is the impact of the community on the individual. When the other person lives in a closely-knit group, such as the group of ultra-Orthodox Jews, or anarchist groups, there is no need to understand every individual within the group. With a few exceptions, the identity of the individuals is the same for all members of the group. All we have to do is consider the characteristics of the group, in order to understand how each individual within it thinks and reacts. Within groups with a looser ideology, people have a mix of self-identity and group identity. In this case, we have to understand the mechanisms of individual thinking together with the features of a herd instinct. This ability of mankind to connect on the basis of a sophisticated culture is also one of the major obstacles in our ability to understand the ‘other’ person of a different cultural group. In this case we need to understand the nature of that different culture.

There will be a more detailed discussion on this subject, in the following chapters.

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h3<{color:#000;}. Rapid Evolution

Orthodox Darwinian, such as Richard Dawkins, have explained that even minute advantages gained by mutation in one member can, in the long run, change the whole species. This explanation is valid in some cases, especially when there is a severe environmental change. But this explanation suffers from superficiality. Small improvements by a single mutation can be dismissed for two reasons:

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p<{color:#000;}. The time required for spreading this small improvement may cause it to disappear before it has a chance to spread, by the majority that does not have this trait.

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p<{color:#000;}. Another greater improvement may cause the loss of the advantage of this small improvement.

The reason underlying my belief in the existence of rapid evolution is the immense advantages it has in a rapid adjustment to changing circumstances. If such a development is possible, I am confident that it was realized during the long history of evolution. Some hints of rapid evolution can be found in a relatively new research field called Epigenetics. Epigenetics deals with changes in adult characteristics, caused by environmental stress or learning. It was found that under such conditions an adult can change locations order of genes, and switch them on or off. These changes determine many qualities, without changing the genes themselves.

Barbara Hoon, a research botanist, found that a plant subjected to severe physical conditions could change in an Epigenetics way in order to survive. These changes are inherited by its offspring. This phenomenon is not limited to plants but also exists in animals. This is actually an example of an evolutionary subsystem that generates features of the species without having to wait for many generations of evolution by screening of genetic mutations. The exact mechanism by which the Epigenetics functions is not yet known but its existence can be seen in many phenomena.

Inheritance depends on the order and placement of the genes in the DNA (which is basically the same as programming) as well as the content of the genes. Perhaps the location of the genes is more easily inherited. This is also the way in which stem cells differentiate into specialized cells. Perhaps in the same way cells can mutate in the process of division to become different cells. Undesirable examples of such mutations are cancer cells. Researchers such as Igor Kobltz’ik have confirmed this phenomenon but this research is still in its infancy.

The mechanism of inherited knowledge can be most important for humanity. The invention of the internet has enhanced the ability and the range, of easily reached vast knowledge items; the problem is the limited capability of the human brain in absorbing this knowledge. If somehow we can control Epigenetics then some information, as well as learning techniques, can be engraved in the new born. Think of the advantage that the new born would have if he were to possess the knowledge of a language.

An example of a rapid change (a change within one generation) can be seen in some species of fish which are able to voluntarily change their gender, if there is a shortage of the other gender.

It is possible that this mechanism can explain inheritance of features for which no specific gene was found to be directly responsible. An example of such a feature is the mystery maintaining our body shape. Body cells die all the time, and new cells are created by division mechanism. It does not take long before all our body cells are renewed, but still our body does not change much. How is our body shape maintained even though all our cells are replaced? We know that every cell in our body has our full DNA code; does it contain the information of the shape of our body? Anyway the body-shaping gene has not yet been discovered if that is the case. Epigenetics is active in every cell division. The idea that one’s shape is governed by Epigenetics can explain the resemblance of offspring to their parents. Epigenetics keeps our shape intact when we suffer from minor injuries. Research carried out by evolutionists such as Axel Visel, can unravel the great mystery of controlling one’s body shape. Perhaps we will understand more concerning rapid evolution as the result of these studies. There is a chance that these studies will find additional mechanisms for the rapid evolution beyond Epigenetics. During cell division to create more cells, mutations can occur. The mutations can alter some of our features for better or worse. An example of such mutations can be seen in the age spots or bumps on an old person’s face. These changes are maintained despite the death and the division of the original cells that created them. Perhaps mutations during cell division are ‘inherited’ by the new cells created by division of the old ones. For rapid evolution to be realized, the changed features have to be inherited by the offspring. We do not know yet how this is done and can just speculate, but there are some hints as to what direction we can check. Research on rapid evolution should check whether the organs that produce sperm or ova can be changed by the Epigenetics mechanism. One should focus on blood fluid cells or other fluid cells that reach all other cells in the body. In a research lab, a vein of an old mouse was connected to one of a young mouse. In this way they both had a common blood system. It turned out that the old mouse received some features of the younger mouse. His organs acted like those of a younger mouse. Even his memory improved. In fact he seemed younger. On the other hand, the young mouse showed signs of becoming older. It has been shown that blood reaching every cell in the body, plays a role in rapid evolution. In this context it is worth remembering some studies done on worms: this proved that the memory of a baby worm that had been fed on a ground up mature worm could receive the memory of the mature worm, thus indicating that food can be part of the rapid Epigenetics evolution. Another example of Epigenetics in food is the changing of a bee; when fed by royal jelly, to be a queen bee, it becomes capable of laying eggs and growing to be much larger than the ordinary bee.

I would not be surprised, if fast evolution turns out to be the most effective evolutionary mechanism.

 

 

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h3<{color:#000;}. Evolution of Different Systems

The simple but ingenious principle of evolution is also true for systems which we do not consider as living identities. Evolution can be seen in systems such as economics, politics, technology, and even the evolution of ideas.

Here is an idea: evolution can occur on stars in the universe. There can be an entity which can develop, reproduce, and compete with other entities in a harsh environment. It is not necessary for an entity to be based on carbon or in any other way resembling any entity on earth. Then this entity satisfies the criteria of life. With this definition of life, there is probably life in outer space!

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h2<{color:#000;}. The Brain is me

Some people think a man is just a machine. The only difference between a man and a mill is that one is driven by blood and the other by water.” – Horace Mann

 

The basic premise of this book is that we are our brain, and the essence of the other person is his brain. Specifically, it is our conscious part of the brain that we consider as the real us. Consciousness will be discussed in detail later.

When only the brain of a paralyzed person is functioning, he is still a person. No one disputes the fact that Stephen Hawking is a person, even though almost no part of his body functions – apart from his brain. In contrast, a person suffering from Alzheimer, even with a totally healthy body, is not functioning as a person.

I am relating to the entire brain and not just to our consciousness that is usually considered as ‘ourselves’. As we will see shortly, consciousness is no more than a small part of our existence. Usually consciousness is nothing more than a screen on which our brain projects the results of its calculations: in other words, the image of reality, memories, thoughts, and feelings. We cannot say that consciousness is who we are, just as we cannot say that a computer screen is the computer. Look under the table: there you’ll find the computer. This claim will be discussed in details later on.

Another claim is that the brains work in a similar way for all people. It derives from the fact that the brain, much like the body, was developed over millions of years, in which humans were concentrated in a small area of the African Savannah. Throughout this entire period, this small group of humans shared challenges and dangers, fighting with other creatures over limited natural resources. The human population explosion occurred only over the last few hundreds of thousand years, a relatively short period in evolutionary terms. It is therefore natural that the brain developed similarly in all human being.

The brain’s basic mechanisms developed into their current form since the brain’s hardware is based on slow electrical-chemical communication. It is much slower than a silicon-based computer and more important; it is much too slow to cope with the challenges of real life. In answer to this situation, intricate algorithms were developed. We might assume that the brains of all people use the same basic algorithms. Understanding these algorithms is necessary to comprehend how the human brain works but it is not enough, since these are not the only mechanisms involved in processing data in the human brain. In addition to these algorithms, human communities over the years have developed many additional layers of mechanisms, unique to each community. Above those layers, there are the selectors of character and life experiences, unique to each person. Thus it is not enough to evaluate only the basic functions of brain algorithms if we wish to successfully assess how the other feels and acts. Understanding these algorithms will however, bring us closer to understanding the other person.

The similarities and differences among people can be viewed as similarities and differences in the world of computers. Every computer company’s product is different, even though they are all structured from a CPU (central processing unit), some memory components, and binary signals that link these various elements. One company’s computer uses hardware comprising elements more or less connected in a similar way as another company’s product. But they differ in their database, operating systems, and the software applications. In the same way, the basic structure of the brain is the same for all people. Like computers, humans differ in their database – usually termed as ‘stereotypes’ or ‘patterns’, operating system – which is our character, and software applications – which are our worldview. By understanding how the basic mechanisms in our brains work, and which factors influence reality images structured in our brains, we can take a great step toward understanding the other person, and estimate on which facts this person based his conclusions. If we learn something more about his worldview and character, we’ll have a better chance of guessing how this person reacts.

It is important to emphasize that understanding the other does not imply agreeing with his way of thinking, or adopting his hierarchy of values.

Evolution has shaped the human brain over millions of years during which humans did not have the technology and culture that we know today. It is a great wonder that our brains can cope with the challenges of modern life. It seems that nature has refined our brains to make them multipurpose and flexible, enabling us to adapt ourselves even to an environment that has changed enormously.

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h2<{color:#000;}. Brain’s abilities

Anyone who has ever seen a clown balancing a stick on his nose, an acrobat catching a fellow acrobat on the trapeze with split-second timing, or a baseball player hitting the ball pitched at a speed of 100 km per hour cannot help but marvel at the human brain’s sophistication in controlling our body. We wonder how the brain can calculate the baseball’s orbit, given that it takes a few tenths of a second to reach the player, compared with the time it takes for the process of receiving the information, calculating, and moving the baseball bat to the exact position. The trick is practice. The brain is a learning machine. It learns to anticipate where the ball will hit from the way in which the pitcher through the ball. An untrained person cannot come close to the performance of a veteran baseball player, who has spent hundreds of hours in training. Actually, a great deal of our automatic actions is the outcome of just such a process of training. An infant practices for hours before being able to walk confidently on his legs. The circus acrobat walks the tightrope confidently only after hours of training.

As much as the brain’s physical control over the body is stupendous, its intellectual capabilities are even more staggering. The cultural and scientific development of the human race is the outcome of the human brain’s abilities. The brain’s wonderful performance is due to the many years of evolution during which it was refined.

It is impossible not to be impressed by the force of the water that shaped the Grand Canyon. Although it is difficult to imagine how water can carve out the rock so deeply, it is clear for everyone that this is a natural phenomenon resulting from many years of erosion. In the same way even though it may be difficult for us to imagine, that was the case with our brain development. Our difficulty in comprehending this brings many to attribute this development, mistakenly, to God.

To demonstrate the brain’s vast ability, let us observe the process of facial identification. Any child can identify faces better than the best of computers of today. Identifying faces is a complex task performed by the human brain speedily and effectively. This skill is particularly predominant in humans and primates since they are social creatures for whom it is important to identify others, and what their intentions are. In a fraction of a second, we identify gender, age and intention, after only a quick look at the face. If that face is familiar we can even attach a name to it, and recall our shared history. Researchers have found that various brain sectors are involved while looking at a face, depending on our relation to whom we are looking at.

For example:

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p<{color:#000;}. Familiar faces immediately increase activity in the visual area of the brain and the Amygdala. The latter is part of the Limbic system.

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p<{color:#000;}. Pretty faces cause an increase in activity of the neural system, the degree of reaction depending on the observer’s sexual preference.

These findings indicate that faces arouse associations, memories and feelings, in addition to image processing by our visual systems which are responsible for identifying facial outlines. We are good at identifying faces belonging to people with whom we share some history because we are emotionally connected to them, and we know them well. In a study of functional imaging conducted in the USA, subjects observed three types of faces: family members, celebrities, and faces of strangers. Faces of people with whom the subjects were personally acquainted caused increased activity in two areas of the brain which mediate recall of information from memory. Looking at a familiar face causes spontaneous recall of many details linked with the person to whom the face belongs. Additionally, unlike an unknown face that we have not yet evaluated and may yet be clarified as dangerous, a familiar face does not require us to be on guard. This causes a decrease in defensive activities focused in the Amygdala. An additional study scanned the brains of mothers while they were looking at the faces of their children, and compared it to the same mothers as they were looking at unfamiliar children. The findings indicated that looking at images of their own children activated the Limbic system (the Amygdala and the Insula) and areas in the frontal cortex in mothers. The neurological activity in these specific areas enabled mothers to love, be concerned about, and protect their children. The emotional link between mothers and their children is based not only on neurology but also biochemistry, in the form of Oxycontin, a hormone released during birth and breast feeding. This hormone is also released both by men and women, during sexual relations. Some claim that due to its vital role in the survival of one’s offspring, its release during female orgasm causes many women to fall in love with the men with whom they have sexual relations. In other words, this gives rise to the inability of women to separate sex from love. It indicates also a biological link, in addition to being the closest social link, between people.

We will delve into this more when discussing the impact those social relations has on the individual human.

Besides being a command center for activating our bodies, our brain is also our entire being. It controls our actions, our thoughts and our emotions.

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h2<{color:#000;}. Structuring Reality

No person is identical to any other. Some are tall, some short; some are slim while others are heavy built. Yet we are all instantly able to perceive the difference between a human and a monkey even though we share some 98% genetically identical traits with the monkey. It is obvious that some common elements are shared by all humans, which allow us to distinguish ourselves from every other living creature. Similarly, no human mind is identical to that of any other, yet we can identify basic cognitive abilities shared by all humans.

We still do not know precisely how the human brain works. But much can be deduced when we consider brain’s performances and limitations, as discovered in the latest brain research, and confirm this information with our own observations. This way we can discover what solutions evolution has found, to enable the brain cope with the challenges of reality. When some being moves toward us, we must be able to decide very quickly what to do, based on the limited amount of data that has managed to reach the brain through our senses. We must be able to decide whether that being is a tiger charging toward us, in which case we must flee, or our beloved wife running toward us joyfully, and we should run forward with outstretched hands, smiling. The brain makes use of data based on speed, sound, silhouette and more, to reach the decision.

Our brain is very good in such decisions. Researches shows that even if we observe some dots moving on a screen arranged in a specific way, we can deduce that the figure on the screen is dancing happily.

The brain does all these in spite of his great limitations. The limitations of the human brain are due to the slow electrical-chemical communication and to the limited space of the skull in which it is housed. The speed of synapses firing in the brain is far slower than the speed of man-made electronic computers. More important, the speed at which our brain calculates cannot cope with the speed of events to which humans had to react in order to survive. The skull in which the brain is housed further limits the number of cells to do the job.

These limitations led to the need for clever solutions that would allow the brain to cope with reality.

The relatively slow calculating speed is party compensated for by the brain’s parallel computations: multiple processes can take place among the brain’s neurons. The function of the brain is more like the Internet network, than the standalone computer. In the internet many people can work simultaneously on servers across the net, and receive faster service than by using a single central computer. This is the case even though the speed of communication is lower than that of the central computer system.

For the purpose of deciding on a course of action at the speed needed, we will make use of estimations instead of certainty, and activation of existing database (stereotypes) in the brain, instead of restructuring conclusions each time anew.

Unfortunately, this course of action also leads to errors in perception causing misunderstandings among people.

The use of preconceived responses, (or stereotypes) to stimuli received via the senses can cause judgment failures.

The ‘database’ engraved in our brain is, in part, inherited genetically and in part acquired by learning. Logically, if I act on the basis of my database, the other person will act on his different database, resulting in different outcomes.

The brain’s ability to assess events based on very little data relies heavily on our cumulative prior experience. We can describe the brain’s function as a vast database arranged in a table, where the first column contains a list of events. The brain searches through them until it finds one that matches the initial information being fed in by our senses. When an event is found, it acts as a trigger to read the relevant line where all the attributes and reactions are written. Then the brain activates the registered structured reaction found in that line of the table. Of course the real function of the brain is much more complicated, but this analogue gives some understanding on how the brain acts.

In an experiment conducted to verify the way in which the brain works, it was discovered that it does indeed use patterns engraved in its memory, even if what is registered there sometimes clashes with objective reality. In this study a banana was displayed under colored lighting, altering the banana’s color. Nonetheless, the researched subjects always indicated with conviction that the banana’s color is yellow, and did not relate to its true color under the light. The reason is that the banana was identified in the human brain, triggering the relevant data, and found that it is listed as being yellow. The brain immediately projects this information onto our consciousness visualization. However this was not the case when the researched subjects saw a square of yellow paper illuminated to change its color. In this case, the brain of the researched subjects does not find any engraved data for a specifically colored square, since a square could be of any color. The square’s altered color, changed by lighting, can therefore be easily identified.

Some years ago the USA was buzzing over a case in which two police officers killed Hispanic man in Los Angeles. The man was not armed. He had attempted to extricate some identification papers from his jacket, but the police officers mistakenly thought they saw him drawing out a pistol. Researchers presented students with clips showing different people, some of whom drew out a wallet and others a gun. Students were requested to state whether they saw a wallet or a gun, and were given the same short period of time to decide as the police officers had. The students tended to ‘see’ a gun in the hands of African-Americans and Hispanics with greater frequency than in the hands of whites. This proves the power of stereotypes (or patters) embedded in our minds. The stereotypes in the students’ minds linked specific populations to violence. When the need arose to drew fast decisions, the brain was forced to resort to stereotypes rather than rethinking. If the brain had had enough time to process information, the outcomes might have been different.

We can understand just how strongly our brains rely on stereotyping by the way in which we relate to the food we were raised on, or the familiar landscapes of our place of birth. If we were raised in a normative family, we will love the food, and feel nostalgic over our way of life. All these are engraved in our brain. Each of us has his relevant reaction listed in the ‘table’ in his brain. When the brain receives the appropriate association for that listing, it immediately brings all relevant data to the surface.

The database of stereotypes in our brains is not the only trick that helps the brain to shorten processing time. We absorb information from the environment through our senses, which are more or less identical in all of us. Nonetheless, different people may use their senses differently. We can compare this to a couple in the opera house. The man may focus his opera binoculars on the women in their gorgeous gowns, while the woman gazes at the handsome tenor on the front of the stage.

To reduce time even further, the brain directs the senses to get the information it considers of greater importance first. Movement is absorbed faster than a stationary object. Sharp items, which may be dangerous, are more readily processed than blunt objects. Our brain also filters out environmental noise to get the strictly relevant information. When we listen to our friend speaking, our brain mutes the voices of others around us; thus it does not have to waste time dealing with irrelevant information. There are more algorithms the brain uses to save time. For example: in a study conducted to understand how people read books, it was found that we do not read the written content, the words, in the order in which they are written. The brain commands our eyes to run down the page, skipping words we know well, and then return to reading the less familiar words. In this way, the brain can accelerate our understanding of the written content. After crunching the information from the senses as described, the brain processes the filtered information, using its database to understand what is going on. What the brain understands as reality is not necessarily exactly what our eyes see. It is a combination of the information pouring from our senses and our engraved database. When activities within areas of the brain are monitored while people are looking at pictures, they are found to be just like activities within the same areas when the people imagine those same pictures. This proves that our consciousness ‘sees’ the image produced by the brain rather than the image seen directly by our eyes.

Each of us creates different images when watching something since we direct our senses differently and our databases are not the same. This is why people argue over facts. They ‘see’ different facts.

If we are to understand the other person, we must be able to assess what he ‘sees’ in his mind, even though it may be very different from what we perceive as reality.

The brain’s information processing system contains roughly three main stages. Each of them operates somewhat differently in each of us, which also makes it necessary to understand how the other person’s brain relates in each stage. The stages are:

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p<{color:#000;}. Data collection.

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p<{color:#000;}. Data processing and visualizations to determine the appropriate reaction.

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p<{color:#000;}. Additional processing to plan long-term strategies

When the brain decides on the proper reaction, it kicks into action its body control mechanism, which was the core of its original being.

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h2<{color:#000;}. The Brain as a film Director

In the previous sector we learned that the other person does not necessarily see the same reality that I see. Nonetheless, people are certain that their vision of reality is indeed the true one. Thus, if I can ‘see’ something with my own eyes, and hear the sounds it makes, you cannot tell me that, in reality, there is something else.

It is like the case when a manager relays a hand-written document for processing. His secretary sees only the text whereas the graphic artist focuses on visual aspects of the document. Yet neither of them sees the full picture.

If we want to understand what is on the other person’s mind, the true reality is not important. What is important here is to comprehend that different people base their conclusions not only on different interpretations of facts but on different facts even if they look at the same reality.

Let us elaborate this in somewhat more details. The reason that the images of reality reaching our brains do not faithfully reflect reality is due as mentioned before, to the limitations of our senses, as well as the limitations of the brain itself.

Our senses are limited in terms of frequency (the range of colors we can see, or the range of sounds we can hear), and their sensitivity. Our senses are limited even when compared to those of other living creatures. Our sight is not nearly as good as that of an eagle; our sense of smell cannot match that of a dog, and our sense of hearing is very much less sensitive than that of a bat.

Moreover, we find it difficult to absorb extremely large numbers, unfamiliar sights, extremely long or short periods of time, or very long or extremely small distances. We also have great difficulty with anything that is not intuitive. On top of this, the brain guides our senses to see only the facts that match our point of view.

Those limitations forced the brain to rely on evaluations, rather than construct a full picture of reality.

The way in which the brain operates as described above has been extensively researched these last few years but is not yet fully understood. In any event, it matches the evolutionary logic of what should be the course of operation. When examining the iris of the eye while the subjects observe a picture, researchers were surprised to find that it homes in on the important points in the picture, such as faces or interesting objects, which are scanned rapidly several times while we gaze at the picture. The eye never scans the entire picture. The brain receives individual pixels, and places greater emphasis on central points that relate to our daily lives. A human face will involve some fifty percent of the data processing, while the rest of the picture will receive only marginal attention.

We are accustomed to think of our eyes as a camera lens, shooting the video film of reality, and of our brain as a video camera constructing the scene. In fact the eyes translates the images into electrical-chemical pulses, which run along the nerves to the brain’s processing centers where they are processed according to algorithms engraved by the arrangement of synapses, and finally produce some visual experiences. Here are two examples that show how wrong the concept of a video camera is:

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p<{color:#00000A;}. When matrices of needles were activated by a video camera to press on a blind person’s skin, that person could experience the image. The resolution of the image depends on the number of needles serving as pixels in the picture. This experiment proves that we do not need the eyes as a camera lens to see.

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p<{color:#00000A;}. It is a known fact that we see a picture in its correct position even though the image projected onto our retinas is upside down. This shows that the brain processes the image before presenting it to our conscious experience. In experiments, people wear eyeglasses with lenses that reverse the images. Initially, they did in fact see upside-down images, but the brain quickly learned to re-position them correctly, and the subjects then saw the image as though they were not looking through inverting glasses. Once the glasses were removed, these individuals again saw things “upside down” for a while until the brain re-corrected itself once more.

I prefer to view the process of reconstructing the model of the real world, as the more complex creation of a movie. What we ‘see’ on the screen of consciousness is not the picture of reality. It is the modeling of reality carried out by the brain’s subconscious. In this way we can view the brain’s subconscious as a documentary director creating the documentary with a clever manipulation of the camera (the senses). The process of creating the film in this example is carried out in three hierarchic stages, which match those of the brain’s hierarchy of data processing:

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p<{color:#00000A;}. Shooting the film – collecting the data from the senses.

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p<{color:#00000A;}. Editing the photographed scenes into the film’s plot – data processing for shaping the narrative of the reality.

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p<{color:#00000A;}. Completing the film adding effects – editing the narrative of reality to decide on the action needed with the aid of visualization that we can see.

Consciousness is that part of the brain that we tend to identify as “myself”. A more detailed discussion on what is ‘consciousness’ will be presented later in this chapter. At present, it is important to note that our consciousness ‘sees’ only the reality that our subconscious, acting as a film director, projects onto it – which may not necessarily be the true reality.

Having said this, let us continue in presenting in detail the analogy of the brain’s subconscious as a documentary director.

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h3<{color:#000;}. Shooting the Film

Very much like a documentary director, the brain guides the senses acting as its camera man, as to what should be filmed and what should be left out of the frame. This is rather like the way in which some news reporters manipulate the facts to fit their political views.

In many cases, the brain of a person writes the ‘screenplay’ which in our analogy is his worldview agenda. In such cases, the ‘actors’ in the real world seem to act according to that person’s specific worldview/screenplay leading to a misinterpretation of events.

If we describe reality as a documentary, our dream resembles more like a Disney fantasy animation film, where nothing is based on data from our senses, and yet it seems very real to us.

Dreams or chemically-induced hallucinations are further proof that we perceive reality not as a video film but rather more like a screenplay compiled by our documentary director/brain.

In both cases, the documentary and the fantasy films, our consciousness accepts the virtual images as the true reality. Whether in a dream, or experiencing reality in our waking hours, we feel the same in both cases. The sensations of sight, hearing and smell are identical in both cases despite the fact that in a dream, there is no sensory stimulus arousing them. Sometimes we experience a kind of a ‘dream state’, even in our waking hours while watching a good movie, or reading a compelling book, or just day-dreaming.

In real life as in movies, there are ‘video cameras’: our eyes and ears, recording video images. But do they really record the physical world? When we see two actors talking in a moving car, is that car really moving, or do we just have that impression because the moving view is projected onto the background? Similarly, when we sit in a train and another train is moving parallel to us, we get the impression that it is our train that is moving.

There are many more examples of delusions to convince the skeptics that we cannot rely on what our eyes see, or what our ears hear.

We do not truly see reality, but rather interpretations of reality. This is also true for the other person.

In a movie the film director creates a scene, using flesh and blood actors to represent reality, by playing roles according to his instructions. Our brain instructs our senses for the same reason. Different people will create different ‘scenes’ based on the same reality, thus perceiving reality differently.

Like a good journalist, the brain makes use of every bit of information available, whenever it deciphers data in an optimal manner. And like that journalist, it ranks its sources of information based on their reliability, while rushing to submit his story in time before the deadline.

Harry McGurk conducted some research and found that our sense of sight is far more reliable than our sense of hearing; this is known as the “McGurk Effect” A video was shown in which the lips are mouthing different words to what viewers hear; the brain rejects the data coming from the ears in favor of the visual information we see with our eyes, causing viewers to ‘hear’ what the moving lips are forming. This effect is so dominant that even a researcher, testing this effect, admitted that he ‘hears’ the movements of the lips even though he is aware of the manipulation, and knows what the actor is really saying. The “McGurk Effect” demonstrates the sophisticated way in which the brain operates to get the most reliable information. And again, it shows that what our mind perceives is not exactly true.

Some researchers claim that the brain uses only some ten percent of the input sensory information in order to understand reality. In light of this fact, it is odd that judges place such weight on the testimony of eyewitnesses, which represents only ten percent of the truth.

The brain completes the other ninety percent by referencing its equivalent to ‘database’ (or patterns, or stereotypes) and its strong ‘assessment algorithm’.

In the magic trick called the ‘disappearing ball’, a magician throws the ball into the air several times. He will then simply continue to repeat the same movement, but keeps the ball in his hand. In controlled experiments examining the direction of vision, the eye indeed sees that the ball did not leave the magician’s hand, but the brain believes its database which has recorded that when the hand makes a certain throwing movement, the ball has been tossed upwards. For a while, we ‘see’ the ball in the air, very much like we did in the previous instances, until enough data from our eyes convince our brain that this is not the case, and the ball seems to disappear.

This proves that, for the brain, what it finds in its database is considered more reliable than the actual first information flowing to it from the senses. This as mentioned before, exists in order to overcome the slow operation of our brain in our struggle to cope with fast-moving reality events. It prefers to use data that already exist in our database rather than the slow in-pouring data from our senses.

An ancient hunter would not be able to throw his spear and kill a fleeing hare without that marvelous capability of the brain to imagine the creature’s path of flight, much like it did in the ‘disappearing ball’ magic.

 

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h3<{color:#000;}. Data Processing

We have seen how the brain can manipulate and integrate information coming from all our senses, by cross-referencing information and merging it with the existing database. This database is sometime called stereotypes.

Using the analogy of writing a document for the manager, the secretary makes use of the dictionary – like our word database -- to correct spelling errors, while the graphic editor focuses on an image database like our visualization algorithms.

The database engraved into the liberal brain, dictates that when he save people's life, they should be thankful rather than murdering their savers. Therefore it seems unfeasible for the Americans that the extreme Muslims in Libya would be so ungrateful. To their great horror, reality does not match their anticipations. The database -- or should we say the stereotypes -- engraved in the Muslim's brain, regard any non-Muslim as an infidel. An infidel should be submissive toward the superiority of Muslims. That is why it is natural for second-class humans such as the infidel Americans, to help the Muslims, and no thanks are in order. In their mind, infidelity is the worst crime and should be punished by a humiliating death.

Thus the different stereotypes engraved into the minds of people in these two cultures, lead to this misunderstanding.

The word stereotype has bad connotation, but still we are all using stereotypes in the practice of reacting fast enough despite our slow brain.

It is important to know how that stereotypical database is constructed. Here is a suggestion as to how it may work:

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p<{color:#00000A;}. Stereotypes structured in the infant’s mind as part of genetics. In this way the infant ‘knows’ how to snuggle into its mother’s breast, or how to fear the hissing of a snake, for example. Almost all people share these stereotypes since they were assimilated over the long period of the brain’s evolution, relative to the short time-frame of human history. These stereotypes are also common among other animals because they faced the same problems.

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p<{color:#00000A;}. Stereotypes engraved through education. This mechanism engraves stereotypes via imitation of other people in the same community, or by formal education. Usually these stereotypes are engraved at a fairly young age. The less individualistic a person is, the more readily he will share the stereotypes of his cultural group. These stereotypes are typical in a specific cultural group, but may be different from those held by members of other cultural groups.

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p<{color:#00000A;}. Stereotypes learned by individual experience, either learning a specific task, or simply automatic accumulation of life’s experiences. For example, pilots are trained to make speedy, instinctive decisions via the engraved automatic responses into their minds. With experience, they accumulate many more engraved stereotypes. These stereotypes can vary from one person to another. It is difficult to assess this type of stereotype in any specific individual without knowing him well.

There may be other ways in which a stereotype is engraved in our mind but for the purpose of this book these are sufficient.

Intuition, experience, database, patterns, and stereotypes are all terms describing brain mechanisms used to help us make fast decisions, as they draw on reactions engraved in our brains.

Few people will admit that some of their decisions are based on stereotypes. The term ‘intuition’ is a milder term for the same thing. Every person thinks that his thoughts and actions are based on logic and ethics. But when it comes to judging other persons, he is sometimes convinced that they are acting according to their primitive stereotypes, engraved in their minds through brainwashing.

This reminds me of an old radio game in which participants were asked to define the same characteristic from three different perspectives: me, you, and him. An example would be:

I know how to manage my money well. You’re a bit thrifty, but he? He’s downright miserly!

We can project this example onto multiple cases in our life. Such as:

I am in favor of having foreign residents pass a suitability test to ensure that they feel comfortable in our environment. You prefer neighbors of your own kind, but he? He’s a xenophobic racist.

When it comes to using stereotypes, we can apply the same format:

I function logically and ethically. You are rather sentimental and use intuition, but he? He’s a racist who acts and thinks according to stereotypes, because he has been brainwashed.

It is well known that we have a blind spot in our eyes, but the black holes in our brain are ignored. We should not ignore them. To avoid falling into such a hole, we must adopt a habit of ‘hovering’ above ourselves, to be able to locate such holes and avoid them. Only an individualist can manage this, because he can free himself from the bonds of stereotypes, when others rely more on stereotypes stored in their brains, and rarely take an objective look at them.

The evolutionary reason for blocking original thoughts is that we have to unite with our community, and we do this better when our way of thinking is aligned with that of the others.

We think better of ourselves than of a stranger because one of the functions of the brain is to keep ourselves in a tranquil state as far as possible. Our brain will not recoil from any means toward achieving this goal. It will distort vision and memory, invent stories that glorify us. It justifies everything that we do but is very critical toward others.

We must identify our own stereotypes and discard them, as we judge others. We should also learn and take into account the stereotypes of the others. For such a task we should learn what are our own stereotypes as well as those of the others. All this should be considered in addition to assessing how the other sees reality as discussed earlier in this book.

It is like taking off our distorting glasses, while removing the mask that the other person is wearing. Only then can we recognize the true face of the other.

 

 

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h3<{color:#000;}. Additional Data

The film director, which is our brain, sits down to edit the movie. The raw film is edited some parts are omitted others are implanted. The film editor adds text, titles, music, and other effects to narrate a story.

Similarly, the editor inside our brain uses our engraved database and shape extensively with the help of algorithms, the ‘film’. This operation was developed by many years of evolution. In addition, the story projected is modified to match our worldview since, if it does not, we would feel uncomfortable. The narrative is now ready to be presented on the screen of our consciousness.

Other parts of our brain can now apply logic to the movie visualization, and conclude what action is necessary. Sometime our subconscious adds emotions to this dish, in order to force us to override logic if necessary or shape decisions in the right direction.

We have to keep in mind that the sole purpose of the brain is to enable us to choose the best way to survive , and not to draw the most accurate picture of reality. Those two are not always identical (but causally related). Thus our private film director – the subconscious brain -- processes data in a way that will best serve us survive the dangers that we face.

It may be possible in the future to implant ‘pictures of reality’ into our consciousness circumventing the subconscious brain. The fierce competition among computer companies in the business of computer games leads to ever-higher quality screen images. This race has been proven to contribute to computer technology. We might surmise that, at some point, one of these companies will find the way to project images directly onto our consciousness screen. Such a day may not be far off. We already have interfaces that link digital computers to the human brain. Such displays will allow the implanting of a visual and vocal display, as well as aromas and even emotions. All these elements are now implanted in our consciousness screen only by the brain.

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h2<{color:#000;}. Brain’s Tools

We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.” – John Dryden

 

As evolution progressed, the brain developed various tools to assist its functioning. These exist primarily in what is known as the subconscious. The tools fall into these categories:

*
p<{color:#00000A;}. Decision-making.

*
p<{color:#00000A;}. Memory.

*
p<{color:#00000A;}. Mimicry.

The part of the brain generally known as awareness, or consciousness employs additional tools:

*
p<{color:#00000A;}. Imagination.

*
p<{color:#00000A;}. Suppression.

The brain structure is very complicated and not yet fully known, but those are the main categories relevant to the topic of this book.

h3<{color:#000;}.

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h3<{color:#000;}. Decision-making

Pretend that there is a machine whose structure makes it think sense and have perception. Then we can conceive of it enlarged, but keeping to the same proportions, so that we might go inside it, as into a mill. Suppose that we do: then if we inspect the interior, we shall find there nothing but parts which push one another, and never anything that could explain a perception. Thus, perception must be sought in a simple substance, not in what is composite or in machines.” – Gottfried Leibniz

 

The purpose of understanding the other person is to predict how he will react in thoughts, emotions, and actions, to events.

This is what this book is all about.

A person’s reaction is based on the assessment of the reality made by his brain. The brain applies decision algorithms and makes a decision, either logical or emotional, and then issues order to the muscles to carry out the decision.

The decision-making hierarchy is as follows:

*
p<{color:#00000A;}. If the incoming data fit into the pattern of an urgent danger, the brain immediately issues the response engraved in that pattern. It does not wait for more data to accumulate before issuing commands to the muscles. There are simpler forms of reactions that do not involve the brain at all. They are issued by the nervous system to cut response time even further. They are therefore known as reflex reactions. Consciousness is reported only after the response.

*
p<{color:#00000A;}. When the incoming data fit an immediate action pattern category. And if fast action is needed, but the situation does not involve danger. In such a situation, the brain reacts and simultaneously informs the consciousness part of the brain. The consciousness is not aware of sub-conscious operations; it thinks that it is its own decision, and invents some story to justify this decision. Responses of this kind were the subject of Libet’s famous experiments.

*
p<{color:#00000A;}. Another type is the emotion-based decision, or intuitive decision. These are none other than decisions made by the subconscious forcing the conscious to carry out this decision. Numerous studies have proven that each emotion is related to a certain chemical. These chemicals (or hormones) induce the phenomena we experience as feelings. The exact procedure is not yet clear to science. It was found that Oxycontin known as the ‘love hormone’ affects our decision-making by causing a blurring of our rational thinking and suspicion, thus heightening trust in the other person. In this way, the subconscious forces one’s consciousness to take decisions that defy logic. This behavior is typical of people in love.

*
p<{color:#00000A;}. And the most familiar form is the decision-making that follows a conscious logical path of reasoning.

If we are to understand how the other person feels and react, the two last types of long-term reactions are of importance. Emotion-based decisions may also sometimes seem to have a logical basis but again, one person’s logic may seem Pavlovian to another individual.

An old philosophical question asks whether we have free will, or are our reactions like the decisions made by a computer. It’s difficult to see a dictated reaction as an ‘independent decision’.

The issue of free will arises following an experiment conducted by the brain researcher, Benjamin Libet, in 1983 in which he showed that the subconscious knew what a person would decide even before he knew it consciously. Thus, it is not our consciousness that decides, but our subconscious, and our consciousness merely justifies the decision after the fact, adopting that decision as though it had done it.

Evidence of such behavior comes from experimental work in social psychology. It is well established that people sometimes think they have witnessed an event, or have taken a decision that they really did not take. They invent some reasons and make their reports as though they had reached a decision because of those reasons.

You may check this for yourselves. Think about whether there is a different explanation for the one you gave for an action you carried out. Did you ever choose mistakenly a longer path toward your destination and in retrospect, justify it with some reason or another?

Sometimes the brain translates a decision into emotion by injecting chemicals, or through some other way. The brain causes the release of endorphin, which causes pleasure, as a way of increasing encouragement; it may cause the release of other, different, chemicals to produce disgust, fear and so on. This is how it pushes the appropriate reaction into consciousness, and the brain area responsible for consciousness invents the narrative appropriate to the feeling.

The ability of consciousness to invent narratives, which seem to us to be the unchallenged truth, is also presented in trials which examined people with a split brain. When an image was shown to the left visual field (the left half of the picture was shown to both eyes) they invented a narrative to explain the image. The reason is that the image in the left visual field was processed by the right half of the brain, but in the absence of a fully functioning corpus-callosum (the connection between the two cerebral hemispheres), the information could not reach the speech center which in most people is in the left area of the brain.

The procedure examined by Libet is not typical of all decision-making. When a snap decision is called for, the consciousness understands this as gut feeling or intuition. When an even faster action is needed, the brain operates instinctively and bypasses consciousness completely.

Consciousness, however, is not an ornament that nature has given us. Remember that we already noted how according to evolutionary theory, every trait has a function; otherwise it would not survive into the future generations. Consciousness therefore also has a function, beyond creating narratives. Its purpose is to plan long term decisions. For this reason it uses both imagination and analytically capabilities.

Sometimes it reaches a decision and forces the subconscious brain to cooperate. When a discrepancy occurs between the decision made by the subconscious brain and that of consciousness, we feel uncomfortable. In extreme cases, the brain will veto an action that the consciousness wishes to execute, and causes that action’s cancellation, or raises obstacles to seeing it through. People explain such experiences with reasons such as “I just couldn’t get my legs to move.”

Think about the way in which we, as humans, can set off into an imaginary future. Think about the human capability to consider results and consequences, weigh alternatives, plan in advance and invent technologies.

This ability to foresee is very helpful not only for the human but also other animals. Indeed we find animals such as lions or dolphins that plan a coordinated attack on their prey. No creature, however apart from humans, has such a long-term planning capability. Frequently though, the subconscious takes control over consciousness and we experience an unexplained desire for something. In such cases, we simply say we couldn’t withstand the temptation, or as Oscar Wilde claimed, “I can resist everything, but temptation”.

Still humans rely on logical decisions and do not succumb to temptations much more often than other species. Apes do not excel at withstanding temptation. When a reward intended for the future forty times greater than an immediate reward was offered, Chimpanzees managed to restrain themselves for no more than eight minutes, while Gorillas held back for only two minutes. This gives a big edge to the human race over other species.

It should be noted that the brain never stops the process of evaluating data. After the decision is made and an action is taken, the brain stores all data for future use in similar conditions, enhances the patterns used or newly created, and traces the success of its decision to conclude whether such a decision was advisable. The process used for the decision is learned, and can be applied to reactions to different events.

When success is repeatedly achieved, the brain can shift a decision-making process from the conscious to the unconscious or even to a reflex decision process.

There are no separate parts of the brain dealing with each kind of decision; rather the brain functions in a continuous way, by using the same elements over and over again, for economy and easy function. Just like many other processes in nature.

h3<{color:#000;}.

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h3<{color:#000;}. Mechanism of Memory

The amazing abilities of the human brain’s insight and wisdom, are closely linked to our ability to remember. Many brain researchers have delved into seeking how memory works. There are many questions regarding memory functions; where it is positioned, what the brain decides to remember and specifically, how memory functions. The mechanism of memory function is not yet fully understood but there is sufficient knowledge of how it influences our thinking.

Studies of the human brain are the most fascinating field of all but, despite extensive research; the brain remains a riddle in many ways. The development of F-MRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machines allows the locating of electrical brain activity, while the brain performs various tasks. Nonetheless, the concealed aspects are still far greater than the revealed; and our understanding of brain function and our knowledge of it though expanding remains minimal.

Anyone who knows something about how computers function is awed at the brain’s ability to recall events. For a computer to remember the same number of events that a man can remember in his lifetime, it needs huge memory banks to store those huge amounts of video clips, audio files and images, as well as other information such as the smells, emotions and thoughts which accompany each event. This would require a tremendous amount of memory storage, which would be difficult to compact into something as small as the human skull.

And this is not the only drawback. It would be difficult to retrieve the memory of an event as quickly as the brain does when all we have at our disposal is slow hardware that relies on chemical processes and neural pulses.

In DVD technology terms, we would need in the vicinity of 500,000 DVDs just for the images.

How is it than, that our brain does not keep growing? In fact, the brain actually shrinks with age, even though it has to store more events each year.

The answer must be that the brain does not actually store the memory of events, but structures the display of each specific event each time anew from the raw material using algorithms. We have discussed the amazing abilities of the brain to construct visualization by using minimal data bits from our senses. The same mechanism with the same algorithms, are used here when the brain reconstructs visualization from memories. Again we are witnessed the operation of the basic premise of nature, the reuse of winning mechanism.

This mode of brain function also explains how we can experience dream events that seem as real as wakeful reality. In the case of dreams, the brain links to a narrative and builds the appropriate display just as it does when following sensory stimulation. Why it does so in a dream, and which narratives it chooses to build, are not important issues for our objective of understanding the other person.

Memory structured in the human brain influences the individual’s behavior and thoughts. It is important to realize that memory is not a true copy of what occurred in reality, but rather a new structuring of images each time. Life experiences impact the content of the brain’s database, which is constantly updated with each event. This explains why, each time we reconstruct a memory, we may receive a different memory of the same event, based on the updated data bank.

Native Americans, on first seeing the Spanish ships far off at sea, had no data bank of memories to call on, never having seen such big ships before; therefore they simply ignored them, lacking the data with which to carry out a comparison. Only when the Shaman called their attention to these images, did his people take note.

The brain compares images of reality from the senses to existing images learned from previous experiences. Therefore it needs to process only the differences. If I meet a person after a separation of ten years, I shall most likely be able to identify that person despite changes in his appearance. I’ll probably be able even to remember our shared experiences, and recollect details such as smells, sounds, and emotions relevant to that situation, even if I cannot recall every single detail. That shows how marvelous is this brain of ours.

Our brains are instruments of learning. They learn by focusing on specific points and/or experiences or events. The more time that passes without drawing on a particular memory, the deeper the images are buried in the archives of our life experiences and it is more difficult to remember.

To conclude; the clever methods used by the brain to recollect, allow long-term memory with relatively few resources involved, but they can also lead to the storage of incomplete and inaccurate memories.

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h3<{color:#000;}. Mechanism of Mimicry

Mimicry is one of the more common mechanisms that nature uses to promote learning. An infant learns to speak by imitating the sounds made by adults. The meaning of those words is learned later. An artist learns painting techniques by copying famous works of art.

Mimicry is also an important talent from a social perspective. In Part 2 of this book, we will see how strong our need is to belong to a group. We imitate the behavior of others in our group partly to avoid controversy; hence they are more ready to receive us as a member of that group. In our world of labeling and branding, mimicry is the entry card into community. In a psychological study where the researcher imitated the actions of the researched subjects, the researcher’s opinions were more readily accepted than those of another researcher, who purposely sought to be quite different from the group. Advertising to promote commercial brands uses our desire to be accepted by community; it urges us to mimic popular community icons and models, claiming that they use that particular brand.

Numerous psychological studies have proven that a significant part of human learning derives from mimicking others. This is in fact, the most basic learning method among children from early infancy onward. Learning begins with observing others, followed by copying their behavior. We then watch the response of others: if we get encouragement, then this behavior is reinforced; if not, it is avoided.

The stages in mimic learning are: first focusing attention on the subject, then retention, followed by the motivation to imitate, and finally translating what we have learned into actual behavior.

Learning through mimicking is explained well by Bandura in his Social Learning Theory. But there is more to mimicry than mere learning. In the process we express our need to belong and integrate into the groups in our environment.

Mimicry is strongly influenced by social motivation and social pressures applied by the group on the individual.

The human race excels in advanced culture. Much of this is due to its talent for mimicry that plays a crucial part in the first stages of forming a group culture.

Learning through mimicry is easy because by copying a paradigm, the brain does not have to develop its own paradigm.

Research has shown that the brain releases dopamine – the pleasure chemical each time it identifies a pattern. This is why we enjoy Mozart, with its repeated and easily identified patterns.

Formal education is also based quite strongly on mimicking. Children mimic their parents and teachers. Many people with clearly-defined political worldviews are children of parents with the same worldviews. However, in our current Western culture where the connection between parents and children is less strong than in the past, children may find alternative models to emulate. In the Muslim’s community, we can find more often that the children inherit their parent’s worldview.

Parents and teachers try to educate their children through personal example to be good and to do well. The problem arises in the definition of ‘good’.

For parents in Thailand, ‘good’ may be equated with being nice to other people. For some extreme Muslim parents in ISIS, ‘good’ may be killing whomever they see as the infidel. In the Arab world it is good to honor the elderly, whereas the elderly are more frequently scorned in the Western civilization.

The desire to educate the younger generation is, in part, a subconscious desire to integrate the children into the community, by ensuring that they acquire the values and habits of the community in which they are being raised. This is why Muslims feel threatened by the open channels of communication offered by Western technology. They fear that their children will emulate the models they see on TV or the Internet, rather than remain true to their own social norms.

Dictators understand the importance of education in consolidating their subjects under their regime. MaoTseTung was involved in the education of the Chinese population to the point of obsession, which led to the famous ‘Cultural Revolution’. Hitler established the ‘Hitler-jugend’, the youth movement, for the same educational purpose. In democratic communities we also find emphasis placed on education, and for the same reason; to integrate the young into the community by adopting its values and customs.

Summarizing, mimicry holds several diverse goals:

*
p<{color:#00000A;}. Learning. Certain types of mimicry are for the sake of learning new skills. When that is the purpose of mimicry, people focus on their goals rather than on the behavior of the model. This is an individualistic learning method involving partial mimicry although, sometimes, there are children who, uncertain of their ability to complete a task, will mimic more precisely the actions of their role model.

*
p<{color:#00000A;}. Cultural mimicry. People may mimic others for social reasons. They may mimic the behavior of others in their social group, especially if those others are figures of authority. This phenomenon can also be seen among children who copy the behavior of their kindergarten teacher. Social mimicry of this kind can also be a form of communication, in which the individual mimicking wishes to convey message: “I am worthy.” Occasionally, mimic is done unintentionally. We are all familiar with the phenomenon of a mother feeding her child, and simultaneously making the movements of eating with her mouth. We may be familiar with the sense of looking at someone in great pain and feeling the pain ourselves. Two very common unconscious responses are yawning on seeing someone else yawn, and smiling in response to seeing someone smile at us.

*
p<{color:#00000A;}. Integrated social and learning objectives. Mimicking can, in some cases, contain the dual purpose of learning and social acceptance. The best example is how we learn to behave in the group to which we belong. Infants and kindergarten-aged children tend to mimic the actions of adults in their environment rather than the actions of other children.

 

Thus, if we are to understand the other, it worth our while understands an individual’s sources of mimicry. The chances are high that a person will behave and think like the others in the group.

h2<{color:#000;}.

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h2<{color:#000;}. Inherent Misconceptions

In previous sections, we showed how no one truly sees the real physical world. This is not crucial in order to understand how the other person thinks and feels. It is more important to assess the picture of reality that the other person has in his mind. That picture does not have to be the picture that we have.

We are all structured from the same ‘assembly line.’ Consequently some people can intuitively decipher the minds of others, and find out what makes them tick. Artists such as Escher, or magicians, have found ways to deceive our vision while making use of the way in which the brain interprets the signals received through the eyes. Composers found ways of creating musical pieces that arouse our emotions, ranging from sadness to joy, from freezing horror, to rhythmic dance. They do it simply by putting sounds in a certain order and rhythms to match the desired pattern. They intuitively understand how the brain reacts to the patterns of certain sounds to produce the chemicals that arouse the emotion. Romantic movies repeatedly employ the winning formula that makes viewers shed tears, just as Hitchcock found the formula for creating tension and fear in his films. Similarly, swindlers and marketing experts (both of which I regard as con artists), as well as specialist negotiators and politicians, have all found how to manipulate human weaknesses to their advantage. If ‘the correct buttons’ of the human machine are pressed, anyone can produce the desired reaction. Even though people in diverse areas of interest as noted above, have found ways of manipulating the brain, they are capable of doing it only in the narrow field of their own expertise. But most people lack an understanding of the human brain’s mechanisms partly due to a lack of knowledge, and partly to a lack of awareness. In most cases lack of understanding is due to typical errors of assessment.

Primarily, these are:

*
p<{color:#00000A;}. The illusion of equality.

*
p<{color:#00000A;}. Focus on the individual, disregarding the influence of group culture.

*
p<{color:#00000A;}. Acceptance of another group’s narrative.

If we can avoid those pitfalls, other persons can be better understood.

 

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h3<{color:#000;}. Illusion of Equality

A common error among those wishing to understand others is the premise based on a liberal interpretation of the principle formulated during the French Revolution: “All people are equal”, (even though in the French Revolution they meant ‘equality’ in the sense that all people deserve equal rights and obligations, not identity). If we are all are equal, then the other person should feel and react just like us. This mistake is common among all cultures. Liberals in the Western world feel that everyone, no matter to which cultural group he belongs, will cherish life just like they do, if given the same liberties and economic status. The Muslims are convinced that all people would share their feelings of submission to Allah, if only they were introduced to the principles of their faith. For all of them, it is clear that their values and way of life are what all people should be aspiring to. If anyone has different aspirations and values, he is simply mistaken. The facts are that Muslims values differ from that of the liberals. Submission to God (which is the meaning of the word “Islam”) and honor are at the top of their values. The value of honor is higher than the sanctity of life, and certainly far higher than standard of living, both of which are at the top of the values of the liberal community.

That is why each cultural group has difficulty in understanding the other.

Liberal leaders think all people are equal and are entitle to enjoy freedom and prosperity. Khomeini, the leader of Iran, acts on the same premise that all people are equally God’s creations. Therefore he cannot fathom why they defy Allah and his prophet Muhammad. To him, it is as clear as daylight, that everyone should be a Shia Muslim and live by Sharia laws.

The lack of understanding on the part of leaders is crucial, because it carries danger. But even the common people make the same mistakes. Have you ever noticed that in social gatherings, men and women tend to form separate groups, with each group discussing different subjects?

We can conclude that different people think and react differently although basically our brains operate in the same basic manner. To say that people are equal and therefore react similarly is simply a mistake deriving from wishful thinking rather than reality.

Using computers as an analogy, clearly a computer running graphic applications will show on its screen something very different from the screen of the computer running a word processor, even though both computers are similarly structured and function on the basis of identical principles.

Persuading oneself to believe that all people think and feel similarly leads to an erroneous assessment concerning the feelings and reactions of other people.

This premise must be avoided!

No two people are equal or, as Levinas put it, “The face of the other is always what I am not.”

 

 

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h3<{color:#000;}. community’s influence

People have difficulty understanding abstract concepts. It is far easier to relate to a specific individual and identify with a specific example. Thus, when attempting to understand the other, it is more easily to consider personality traits, and tends to dismiss the role that community’s traits plays in his behavior, communities being abstract entities.

TV news editors know this well, therefore they usually prefer to present the personal angle in the news stories. Events relating to a specific individual will usually be more interesting and easier to understand. General concepts are more difficult to assimilate for most people, and are therefore perceived as boring. The human brain has greater difficulty in applying empathy for some undefined entity, rather than for a specific known individual. Hundreds of refugees were drowned trying to reach Europe, but the narrative that tugged at everyone’s heartstrings and became a symbol of this mass migration, was that of one drowned infant’s body washed onto the shore.

It is a mistake to disregard the cultural community to which a person belongs, since it influences that person’s thoughts and reactions. Abundant studies show that people change their behavior when they are in a group. No in-depth study is needed, to see how a person’s behavior changes when he is in a group. Look at the worshipers leaving the mosque on Friday mornings, shouting slogans as one voice. Observe football fans supporting their team with enthusiastic chants, or swearing at the referee with words they would never dream of using at home. Occasionally the influence of the group is not limited only to the time in which the individual participates in the social activity and affects the person’s general behavior.

Understanding what the other sees and how the other may react, requires learning about the perceptions of reality and values of the group to which this other person belongs, and assessing the “herd impact” on the individual.

Infants tend to be egoistic because they are still struggling with life, and have no resources to share with others. Once they grow up a bit, they tend to show tribal tendencies as they wish to receive the patronage and protection of the group. They wear the clothes of the tribe, speak and behave as expected in that specific group. These extreme behaviors tend to become modified in maturity. In part mature persons act as individuals, while the other part acts according to rules of their cultural community.

To understand the other person we have to learn about the nature of the communities to which the other person belongs, while simultaneously learning about the nature of the individual at the personal level. Then to evaluate the degree of influence those groups have on the individual. It would be a mistake to try and understand the other person without learning about his community. It would be a mistake to study the behavior of ants without understanding the functioning of the nest as a whole. A single ant is just one element in an entire community of ants.

 

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h3<{color:#000;}. Accepting Narratives

The most dangerous error of all would be to accept unquestioningly the narrative of other cultural communities.

The purpose of narratives is to solidify our cultural community and prevent other cultural communities from tempting to leave. It is like the singing of the Sirens in the story of Odysseus, tempting the sailors to leave their ship and join them. Our cultural community covers our ears to prevent us from hearing the sweet singing of other cultural community’s narratives.

Those who are open to hear other narratives can, like the sailors in the story, lose their will to return to their own cultural community.

It can begin with a desire to learn about the other people’s way of life which is, in essence, vital to understanding the other person; or it may come from the wish to be open, tolerant and accepting.

Learning about the other way of life, sometime includes lowering our own cultural defenses that separate us from other cultural groups. Doing this admittedly allows for a better understanding of the other person, but it also carries the danger of adopting the beliefs and values of the other cultures, by being exposed to the power of their narrative. It is important to learn other narratives. But we have to keep in mind that narratives are meant to tempt people to join in.

If we become too intimate with the narrative of another culture, we can be caught up in the charms of that rival group, forgetting that there is no close link between narrative and reality, because narratives are biased. We may forget that we belong to a different group. We should direct our ship in the direction of our homeland, rather than join to some strange cultural island, following the voices of strangers singing, even though they have the sweet voices of the Sirens.

The tendency among Western liberals to contain the Muslim narrative in the name of multiculturalism may reduce the ability of Western culture to survive. Muslims have proven to be smart and very experienced in deceiving the others. Their culture allows deception when necessary to advance their cause – this is called ‘Takiya’.

They push the right buttons to activate Western public opinion. They push the button of wretchedness, the button of openness and compassion; and they never hesitate to push the button of open hatred towards the Jews, hatred that has been with the Christian West for many long years.

Regarding the influence on the other direction, the walls of Muslim culture are high enough to make it difficult for those imprisoned behind them to exchange their Muslim narrative for a Western one.

 

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h2<{color:#000;}. The Conscious Brain

 

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h3<{color:#000;}. Human’s Soul

The greatest mystery that philosophers have tried to decipher for centuries is the mystery of the relationship between the physical world, and consciousness. Although, intuitively, the ‘conscious self’ is considered the entity that we know for sure to exist, we have to question the validity of this intuition. Are we sure we understand why we have decided on one course of action, and not on another? Are we sure that what we see, really exists? Do we know why a joke brings a smile to our face, and why rhythmic music moves our feet to dance?

But first, let us present two basic assumptions of nature and evolution theory:

*
p<{color:#000;}. The first is the continuity of evolution. From the simple to the complex, from bacteria to humans, this continuity has been well established by biological researchers that have almost completed the missing links of the evolutionary tree.

*
p<{color:#000;}. The second assumption is that simple creatures, those at the bottom level of complexity, have no mental consciousness.

If we assume that there is no mental capacity of molecules, and if we add the assumption of continuity of development, starting from the simple DNA molecules to the human being, we should ask ourselves how and at what stage, mental consciousness emerges?

We can attack these basic assumptions in the same way as I attacked the premises based on intuition, in the previous paragraph. But there are two differences between the nature of these premises and the intuitive premise that we have mental entity called ‘self-consciousness’.

The first difference is that instead of faith in intuition, that cannot be proved, continuity can be demonstrated by an evolutionary tree. The ancient creatures were very simple and it is reasonable to assume that they did not possess any mental power.

Even if mental particles are to be found in the future, as some theories suggests, one still needs to show the relationship between the function of the brain, mental thoughts and feelings. The existence of mental particles, if they will be proven to exist, cannot explain how we feel pain when hit by a hammer. In this case, the original philosophical ‘difficult problem’ remains.

The second difference is that, contrary to the theory of mental consciousness, the theory that there is no mental consciousness, based on these assumptions, explains the problem. If we have a simple way to explain a phenomenon, then convoluted explanations are not necessary.

Many people in the world, whether holding secular or religious views, intuitively believe that humans have a soul that is different from the physical body. All religions are based on the idea that a soul enters the physical body at birth, and is released by the body on death.

Humans hold a sense of self-perception, and believe they possess a soul. The accepted view is that our mind and consciousness being the derivatives of the soul, distinguishes us from every other living creature, and certainly from the plant and inanimate worlds.

Exploring the soul is as ancient as humans themselves. Philosophers have grappled with this concept since the earliest times. Even if we do not believe the stories of paradise and hell, in some far recess of our minds, we want to believe that when we die, we do not simply cease to exist; and that some mental aspect of us will survive. That mental aspect carries different descriptive terms.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Soul – is the name used by religious people.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Spirit – the term used in horror stories.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Soul mate – the name in romantic stories.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Conscious state – the term used in the world of medicine.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Mind – is the name among psychologists and philosophers.

No scientific proof can be shown to prove the existence of such an evasive entity. It is interesting that a subject so central in human existence, is not researched more by scientists, rather left to philosophers, theologians, and writers.

h3<{color:#000;}.

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h3<{color:#000;}. Is human unique

“For Man has no Preeminence above the Beasts” Ecclesiastes 3:19

 

 

Is there any difference between humans and animals, plants, and inanimate?

In the game “Human, animal, plant, inanimate…” even children have no difficulty in providing answers that fit the correct categories. One can intuitively say: “I am alive, but plants are not; I can walk, the stone cannot; I can feel, worms do not feel.

But is intuition always right? The human race has made plenty of mistakes in the past, based on intuition, such as the ‘fact’ that the earth stands still in the center of the universe, and only Galileo’s persistence eventually proved that intuition wrong.

When we discuss that mental element that perhaps exists within our physical bodies, we need to be even more suspicious of what our intuition whispers in our ear. Our egoistic interest makes us think we are unique, and that something distinguishes us from the stones along the pathway. Are animals truly different from humans? Many people are not comfortable with this, and they fight for laws that will protect monkey’s civil rights.

Researchers have found that animals do indeed have a range of emotions and other traits human has. The crows possess intelligent enough to enables them not only to use, but even to invent tools. They and many other creatures have cultural behavioral codes in a community. This indicates that there is no significant difference between humans and other creatures. In Peter Singer’s book entitled ‘Animal Liberation’ he claims that “all animals are equal,” which is also the title of the book’s first chapter. His book is like a Bible for animal rights activists.

For most people it is even more difficult to accept that there is no real difference between living creatures and plants. But this is not the case with botanists. In the book; “What A Plant Know” Professor Daniel Chaimovich shows that plants have an abilities similar to our senses. They see, move, smell, and communicate with other plants. They are sensitive to touch, and even feel pain. The TED lecture given by Professor Stefan Mancuso on the subject of plant’s traits is worth watching: http://www.ted.com/talks/stefano_mancuso_the_roots_of_plant_intelligence

 

Plant’s revenge / Yoram Har-Lev

I love meat. Give me meat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and I’ll be happy. For God sake! What am I doing here in the greenhouse? I wiped my forehead. It is hot, humid and stuffy in the greenhouse. It seemed to me that I am in a tropic land. Soon the noon rain will fall, thick and warm…. Suddenly, as if they had heard my thoughts, the showers opened from above and fill the air with shards of hot water making it difficult to breathe. I wanted to run away…

Too late!

Down the lane, my skinny wife appears. She walks on her matchstick legs, armed with a big smile of self-satisfaction, pleased she was able to overcome my objections and bring me here. “Do not move. It’ll stops in a minute.” She said.

I blame Dr. Bezalel for this awkward situation. Is he really a doctor or a charlatan posing as a specialist? Two months ago she went to his clinic, and became a devout vegetarian. Bezalel diet method includes refraining from eating meat. Two onions and a tomato for breakfast, lettuce salad with green leaves from the incubator near his home, and fruit with yogurt for dinner. This was a strict diet under the supervision of the new diet guru.

My wife has a long history of moving from one guru to another. Everyone promises a weight loss of 20 pounds in two weeks, as if she is not thin enough. After two weeks, and another two weeks, and another… She manages to lose 2 pounds in a mere two months. Only to gain it back within the few days’ break between one Guru and the next. Dr. Bezalel told her she had to bring me along to his Institute: “Diet is not about food. It is a way of life; it is an effort the whole family should do together.” Yeah right! He earns more if the whole family comes to the Institute. My wife complies. She was rocking me every day, accusing that she cannot successfully lose weight because of me: “Come just for one day and you will fall in love with this way of life.”

I gave in. Who can endure the pain and the tears of a woman who cannot get into clothes two sizes too small?

Now I’m going to sweat in the greenhouse, urged by my wife to pick tomatoes, pull some carrots, pick a cucumber, and cut them all into salad. “Are you not hungry? Don’t you like to eat a juicy, nutritious salad? “

Yes, I’m hungry, and I feel like eating a nutritious juicy steak.

“No, I’m not hungry.” I said.

“You skipped breakfast. Here you’ll get a delicious salad.” She said and started to pull, pluck vegetables in the greenhouse.

In the greenhouse’s sweaty silence, whispers and moans were heard, which soon formed words of despair and pain. I looked around to see who it was. I saw nobody; we were alone in the greenhouse.

My wife has become tired and sat down to rest on the edge of the center well, under the dense bush. She looks with satisfaction at a variety of slaughtered vegetables and leaves piled at her feet: “Well here we are, I am tired. I’ll rest a little before pulling some more carrots, and cut a few leaves for decoration.”

She leaned back, sinking into the soft branches, and closes her eyes.

Sure she was tired after walking 5 miles obeying the rules Dr. Bezalel set, when in her stomach there were only a few leaves of the lettuce she had eaten for breakfast. I stood there, looking with disgust at the pile of plants, wiping sweat off my brow, wondering how I got married to a girl with such obsessions.

Now the whispers could be heard more clearly: “Here is the cruel being that uproot us, and cuts off our lives at their peak!”

And before my amazed eyes, the branches closed around her, pulling my wife into the well.

 

Now we can move forward and ask how the inanimate is different from animals and plants? Well, most people will think that this is obvious. The difference is life. Inanimate are not alive.

But that depends on the definition of life. In the next paragraph we’ll see that life is somewhat haze concept. Which will bring us to a surprising conclusion?

The definition of life is controversial. Believers will define a live being only if it has a soul. We’ll discuss this issue later in details. According to Wikipedia one definition is: “organisms maintain homeostasis, are composed of cells, undergo metabolism, can grow, adapt to their environment, respond to stimuli, and reproduce”. Well most inanimate does not have any of these qualities, but crystals in a saturated solution can reproduce and even can be regarded as cells. Stones can grow if something shad mineral on them. Inanimate seed when irrigated and get the minerals it needs, can grow and then become a live plant. On the other hand, some living being does not comply to all those living characters. A mule cannot reproduce. And there are the border cases like viruses that can sometime be regarded as inanimate, and in other time as living being.

But the difference between animate and inanimate objects is also blurred in other ways:

*
p<{color:#000;}. Crystals will multiply in a saturated solution. Does that mean they are alive?

*
p<{color:#000;}. Viruses and seeds can become dormant when environmental conditions do not allow development, and will reawaken when those conditions alter. Does that mean they are animate or inanimate?

*
p<{color:#000;}. What about the DNA molecule? It is inanimate but it can multiply and its offspring inherit its traits; is it alive?

*
p<{color:#000;}. The seed is inanimate as well, but can produce life when provided with the proper conditions.

Numerous traits attributed to life can be found in a system that practically everyone would mark as inanimate, such as a village that develops over time into a metropolis. If there is no difference in principle between humans, animals, plants and inanimate objects, perhaps the researchers, Arthur Tansley and George R. Price, are right when they claim that we are nothing more than sophisticated machines equipped with organic computers.

Death occurs when a critical part of this machine is broken beyond repair (depending on today’s medical knowledge). In addition there is a self-destruct mechanism that limits the number of cells reproducing, (I suspect that such life-cycle limitation, is inbuilt in many products to promote sales).

Their view has been proven in many studies. Nonetheless, those supporting this claim, must still explain the nature of consciousness, and what we sense as the mental phenomenon. They need to explain the following points:

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p<{color:#000;}. Can a machine feel love, this very same emotion about which generations of poets have sung?

*
p<{color:#000;}. What are the emotions of envy, loathing, and others, which writers describe so well?

*
p<{color:#000;}. How can a machine become depressed and pay a fortune to psychiatrists for ridding them of the depression?

Do not all the above, attest to the existence of a mental element in addition to the physical body, as claimed by philosophers from the dualism school?

One can argue that emotions are evoked by chemicals (hormones) with which the body produces (on brain’s command), to create the desired emotion. In the following paragraphs there will be a detailed discussion on why it is necessary to ensure our survival.

Studies have shown that it is possible to cause confusion in the human mind through chemical substances such as drugs, through electrical pulses, and hypnotic suggestions. The question that needs to be asked, then, is how can a non-physical entity, such as a mind or consciousness, be influenced by physical materials such as chemicals?

Other studies have shown that those same traits attributed to the mental part in humans, also exist in animals. Does this mean that animals have consciousness or a soul?

In the next paragraphs there will be a detailed discussion on these important issues.

 

h3<{color:#000;}.

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h3<{color:#000;}. How much ‘mental’

We are not conscious of our brain’s activities, except those that exist in our mind. Thus we assume intuitively that the consciousness is who we are. The philosopher, René Descartes, expressed it in his famous claim: “I think therefore I am”. Although he meant this as a proof of the one thing he could be sure of, many take it for granted, thus find no need to prove existence of their mental consciousness. There are not many philosophers, who doubt the very existence of mental consciousness. Most philosophers rely on our intuitive ‘inner sense’ and the ‘privileged access to our thoughts’. Among the few philosophers who began to doubt it, is the philosopher Gilbert Ryle: “Mind is a philosophical illusion hailing chiefly from René Descartes and sustained by logical errors and ‘category mistakes’ which have become habitual”. Recently the philosopher Peter Carruthers argued based on researches, that we learn about our own minds, not by inner sense, but by observing our own behavior, with the same mechanisms we learn on others. Therefore we have no direct knowledge or proof of the existence of mental consciousness.

We cannot rely on intuition on this matter because intuition is a very bad adviser, especially on such an intimate subject as the essence of our self. In their research, Gary Klein and Daniel Kahneman discovered that intuition is no more than the fast retrieval of past memories regarding the solutions to the problem at hand. In other words, intuition is nothing but the sum of the experience accumulated in our lives plus that experience of our ancestors engraved in our genes. Intuition is not really a feeling, although we feel it in our guts. It is just a ready-made paradigm based on experience which the brain draws on whenever it has to make a quick decision.

When asked, experts a question regarding his expertise, he can give immediately an ‘intuitive’ answer engraved in their brain by study and experience. This is an automatic response, something between a conscious decision based on logic and the operation of an unconscious reflexive response.

It is a fact that many intuitive ideas were proven wrong when we learned how things really work. Flashes of lightning are not really arrows fired from the bow of Zeus. Gods do not really shower rain in answer to our prayers.

Recent scientific research has shown that most of the activities we associate with mental consciousness are actually carried out in our subconscious mind, hidden from consciousness. These activities include many of our thought processes, and a large number of the decisions we make.

We also know that visions and feelings can be produced by chemical substances such as drugs, which circumvent our senses.

All these add up to the conclusion that the phenomena we tend to think of as our mental consciousness are really produced outside the conscious mind, if there is one. That said, it leave us with two options:

One option is that part of our 'self' that performs the 'mental' consciousness activities, is hidden in our subconscious rather than in our consciousness. Or alternatively, accepting that at least some of the phenomena we associate with consciousness -- such as cognition and emotions -- are not what characterizes our consciousness. This contradicts the intuition that emotions are the essence of our “mental self”.

The second possibility is that there is not really a ‘mental self’ or ‘inner sense’. Our experiences are nothing but an Illustration that the brain produces, like the graphical visualization a silicon computer shows on the screen. Therefore, what we think of as conscious ‘inner sense’, is only an illustration, nothing more. I know this is a very difficult concept to understand. This will be discussed in further detail.

If we adopt this viewpoint we have to explain the three characteristics of the experiences of the ‘inner sense’ in terms of computer technology which does not count as mental conscious:

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p<{color:#000;}. Reality visualization and imagination. Imagination is not different from the existing visualization algorithms used in computer graphics software.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Logical thinking. Logic is an algorithm acting much like computer software algorithms.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Feelings. Emotions could be another form of data illustration. Until now, there was no need to use such visualization algorithms in computer software.

Many studies reinforce the latter alternative rather that of the first intuitive option.

 

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h3<{color:#000;}. Philosophical approaches

On the subject of the nature of consciousness, philosophers can be divided into three main groups.

One, which claims we are nothing but material, without any mental substance, is known by several terminologies: materialism, physical-ism. The predominant philosopher holding this view was Spinoza. This approach is supported by many scientists and researchers, and most of the modern philosophers.

A second philosophical approach is that of dualism. This term describes the concept of the existence of a mental entity such as the mind, alongside the physical entity of the body. Dualism is most people’s common intuitive belief, and is reinforced by religions.

A third group of philosophers believes that there is no body at all, nor is there a world around us. Everything we are seeing and feeling is the outcome of our imagination. Everything is in our mind. This group is known as idealists. Intuitively, this claim sounds no less unfounded as that which claims we have no soul. How can a claim possibly be made that we lack a body? Can we not touch and feel our body? Indeed there are very few philosophers holding such a belief.

Before we refute this claim outright, it is worth remembering that even when we dream, we seem to be in a real world. Can it be that we are dreaming all the time? Scientific research shows that we do not see reality as it is, as was explained in the previous sections, rather realities image is structured by our brain. How can we be sure that there is a world out there? As odd as it sounds, our technological community is striding toward the world of the idealist’s philosophical trend, in which we cannot be sure if what we see is the real world. Rather we see life through the smart phone he is holding in his hand. In other words, we live in a virtual world. Since our interaction with other people is becoming increasingly rare. There is less importance to meet real people. Most important is the image in which they project, and our image projected back. Technology isolates us. It positions us behind a glass of screen. Some use Photo-shop to further enhance (and distort) the images they projected. Still, we are not yet in a totally virtual world. The global village’s culture, which seemingly unites all humanity, but in this process isolates us from reality, is just one cultural direction that may yet be diverted by another cultural wave. To understand the other person, which is the purpose of this book, there is no need to discuss this idealistic philosophical stream that claims there are no other persons around.

That leaves us focusing on two other philosophical trends, and decides which the right one is. Are we machines without a soul as the materialists claim, or do we have a mental consciousness (or soul) beside our body, as claimed by the dualism philosophical trend, and backed up by our own intuition?

An important question explored by philosophers, is whether we are actually only imagine the world around us, or we see the world per se? This, too, is linked to the issue of whether reality is a true situation in which we live, and which we can study, or whether it is our limited means for perceiving and defining the extant, which is not a real world. The German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, dealt with the issues of existence in his book “Time and Being.” Heidegger was actually exploring the existence of consciousness, and claimed that, in three ways, the being of humans is essentially different from that of objects:

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p<{color:#000;}. Human existence is in a state of constant movement.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Human existence “knows itself.”

*
p<{color:#000;}. The human “knows” that he is in the world.

These three aspects are advantages concerning what a person knows of himself, compared to what the same person knows of the other. Heidegger suggested a response to the question of “What is the entity?” by exploring human existence. Beyond these philosophical sophistries, Heidegger touched on the problem of the brain acknowledging reality (or, human, in his formulation) even without the knowledge currently available on brain research. What is more important for us is that he touched on the problem of understanding the other person. An individual “knows” what is happening in his own life, which is his advantage over the other. But this is simultaneously a disadvantage, since that same person cannot know what is happening in the brain of the other. Similarly, the other has no idea what is happening in the brain of the first person. As far as understanding per se, things are even worse. We saw that the human brain is constructed to presume what reality is, not taking a picture of it. Nor does the individual know what is happening in his brain, since more is concealed from consciousness than is revealed. We can presume that this question and others like it, have answers, but we don’t know them yet.

Philosophers of the past are considered clever people, and no small number of them supports the concept of the existence of consciousness, but to what degree can a fellow human’s conclusions be relied on, no matter how wise that person is, if the conclusions are not based on facts found in recent research on the brain? This is like the case if modern scientists, might conclude from the Big Bang theory that God caused it. We should have the same degree of respect to the view that a scientific explanation exists for this theory, even though we still do not know what it is. Answers were found to questions that had no seemingly logical explanation in the past. There are people who believe in the existence of God and challenge with the question: “Okay, but what was before that? Who caused the initial phenomenon?”. Maybe answers will be provided at some future point, explaining the Big Bang, and perhaps we would understand better the issue of cause and effect; and what came first, an issue already alluded to in quantum theory.

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h3<{color:#000;}. Do we have a soul?

Let us look at this from the evolution standpoint. We see a continuum of organic life development. In the beginning we find simple single-celled creatures, such as viruses which are somewhere between the living and the inanimate crystals. Then more complex single-celled beings are developed, such as bacteria. Then increasingly complex beings emerged bringing us to the human species. If a soul exists in humans, we have to ask the question: where in this long chain of evolutionary development, we can find a soul in a living beings? Does a virus have a soul, or a wolf? Or perhaps there is a soul only in human beings?

Duelist philosophers also need to address questions such as: How does the soul enter the body? Where does it reside? What happens to the soul in death? For people who believe in a divine power, the answer is simple: “God gives humans a soul and takes it back when the person dies, storing it either in Paradise or in Hell depending on the individual’s behavior”. In the Far East, there is a strong belief in reincarnation. Very few souls actually achieve nirvana. The remaining souls enter into other bodies for another cycle of life.

One cannot argue with beliefs using rational claims. My interest is more in secularists who are proud that their views is based on reason.

Anyone who thinks that life was developed through evolution from simple to complex, must cope with these questions. No one would claim that a bacterium has a mind, but anyone who has ever owned a dog, will testify that dogs definitely have feelings, loyalty, and intelligence, all of which we attribute to the mind.

Where do we draw the line between the living creature with consciousness and the one without? Are people who fight for animal rights correct in their views? They are currently fighting primarily to avoid killing animals that we use as food. Will they fight tomorrow for the rights of worms, and the day after that for the rights of germs?

The answers offered by most philosophers, and scientists is that humans, like any other form of life, are like machines They have no soul, which exempts us from determining the evolutionary stage at which the soul enters, and fight for the rights of other ‘machines’ as a matter of fact.

Scientists use research to support their claims that emotions are not really “the mirror of the soul”. Rather it is chemical manipulations of the brain, activating another area of the brain, which in turn drives us to implement what needs to be done. If the human brain makes use of such manipulations, why do the brains of other animals not do the same?

A field of psychological evolution’s research called the “Theory of Mind” (TOM), investigates the understanding that other persons have beliefs, desires, intentions, that can be different from one’s own. Another field of research called “Social Neuroscience” deals with emotions in the context of interaction with others in the community. According to these theories, emotions are not merely the brain’s manipulation of the one’s own consciousness, and are also the human’s ability of manipulating of the other. Thus, scientists finally reached conclusions that have been clear to poets and writers, since very early times.

Believers in the existence of souls, think that human thought and action is dictated by the soul. They believe that the soul enter the body through reincarnation according to Far Eastern beliefs, or by divine intervention at the time of birth, according to other beliefs. If they are right, it will be difficult to understand the thoughts and reactions of the other person because who can understand a soul?

Therefore people who believe in souls, often resolve the need to understand behavior with remarks such as “black soul” for wicked folk, and “pure soul” for those of their own group. Usually people with these views do not bother to understand the other person, because there is little point in predicting reactions by something as divine and incomprehensible as a soul.

I am aware that the soul and spirit are emotionally loaded terms. For many people, these laid linked with faith. Sometimes even those who do not define themselves as religious believe in the existence of the soul. The claim that we have no soul hurts our pride as human beings. We see ourselves as superior to animal, not to mention the plants and the inanimate. Secular prefer to think of consciousness, to describe this mental quality we possess, instead of soul. In this sense, consciousness is awareness of mental entity. Only humankind is blessed by it. Like with soul there is no proof that consciousness exists, other than human intuition.

We have already seen that intuition is not always right. In my view, intuition can be considered a kind of storage of experience and assessments, rather than some kind of mysterious conscious entity. Many studies support this view, but for you the intelligent reader, no research is needed. Have you not found, from personal experience, that in every field in which one have accrued knowledge and experience, he can offer better intuitive responses than people without the same degree of experience? Intuition holds a place of importance and cumulative experience should not be belittled, but we must not rely wholly on intuition to determine between various worldviews, nor should we rely on the intuition of others.

In the next sections, I intend to propose a theory that explains the possibility that what we experience as consciousness is nothing more than a trick of the brain to speed up its decisions. In this theory there is no mental entity separated from the body. I will introduce a simple explanation for our ‘mental’ experiences. There is nothing qualitative different in the way our brain operates, than how the silicon computer works. This is a thought which is difficult to swallow, but hopefully it will be clearer later.

 

Strong claims can be made against the view that supports the existence of consciousness as an entity separate from the physical body. As already noted, studies have shown that it is possible to sow confusion in the human mind through chemical substances, such as drugs as well as electrical pulses and hypnotic suggestions. The question, as also noted, is how a non-physical entity, such as consciousness, can be affected by physical materials such as chemicals?

Science fiction writers and new age philosophers, discuss whether computers may be conscious at some point. My answer is clear. If consciousness is not disconnected from the physical body, and the sense of consciousness is not tangible but is, rather, a manipulation of the brain, then this question does not exist. Computers cannot just wake up and become conscious. A computer can be programmed with reactions that appear as emotions. In such a case, can we say that the computer has a soul?

Another question is whether we actually decide for ourselves. Science fiction presents the image of a possible mode of super-human existence where computers with a mind decide for themselves and eventually take control of humans. This option is actually very logical. It is the result of computer programs that operate independently at all three levels typical of humans thinking: data collection, deduction, taking appropriate action based on a hierarchic scale of laws embedded into the program.

If computers are indeed to be programmed that way, then silicon-based computers that operate a thousand times faster than the human brain and have no storage limit will indeed dominate the human race. Currently they are only less refined than the human brain in parallel performance evaluations and sophisticated algorithms.

When computer techniques will become more refined and will reach the capacity of a human brain in these aspects, computers could easily control humans… if, of course, that they are programmed to do so. At present, there are computers programmed to collect data independently, deduce, and take appropriate action, but only in very clearly defined tasks.

Some computers are also capable of learning; in other words, they can program themselves, much like the way the human brain learns. In fact, all the components of human-like-computer are already there. There have even been computer accidents when bad programming, cause loss of control. The international Stock Exchange crashes are one example.

So, yes, we can program computers to appear to think, have feelings, and have learning abilities or even create. There are already computers able to produce original artwork, which museums and galleries display. Computers, then, possess the features that we equate with “mind.”

Nonetheless, we know that a computer is not a living creature, and does not have a soul.

Why is it not possible for humans to be merely another kind of machine, highly refined over millions of years of evolution? As we have already seen, serious doubts have accrued that there is no consciousness. Moreover, we must always remember our own tendency to attribute the matters that we do not understand to the category of the intangible.

The functioning of the human brain is one of the wonders of the world, which we still do not fully comprehend. This can explain our tendency to attribute the mental quality to it, by claiming that it involves mental consciousness. However, brain research has advanced a great deal in recent years, and we understand it far better. We have explanations for increasing numbers of behaviors which, in the past, were considered reactions of the mental consciousness.

People tend to say “I feel anger/love/fear… therefore I clearly have consciousness.” We have already seen, however, that what we feel, see and smell are just products of the brain’s commands to the hormone glands. What we ‘see’ is more or less the physical world. It is brain’s estimation, based partly on information from our senses. Sights and emotions are just what our central computer – the brain creates, no more.

Subjective experiences such as fear, anger or pain are like images or aromas. They are just forms of communication between the subconscious and the conscious mind, both of which are parts of the brain. Perhaps there is no need for the feeling of pain in order to activate the fight-or-flight response, but it is needed to plan how to avoid pain in the future. Perhaps there is no need for anger in order to attack an opponent, but the memory of anger will guide us on how to behave with that opponent in the future, and perhaps alleviate the fear of fighting a strong opponent.

If, as explained, the consciousness is not a separate entity and is only a part of the brain, and if it is possible to transfer the brain to a computer, as suggested by Raymond Kurzweil in his book, “The Age of Intelligent Machines,” would that same computer be said to have a mind? That would depend on what we define as mind or consciousness. Computers can plan and calculate stages in advance. “Deep Blue,” the computer beat the world chess champion in this game. It can also be programmed to recognize itself. But can it be programmed to feel? Will it use imagination? Current computers have no need of such traits in order to execute its tasks. Simulation of such feelings can be programmed into it, but it has no need for emotion to force one part of itself to execute decisions from its central part: it has direct pathways for doing that. It has no need of imagination. It can rely on algorithms for planning. Silicon computers do not have the limitations of the human brain therefore they operate differently from humans, who function as organic computers. Perhaps it will be possible to build a replica of our brain, but it is simpler to create another human in the old co-productive manner between man and woman. Some will say it is even much more enjoyable.

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h3<{color:#000;}. “Mind and Body” Dilemma[][
**]

Philosophers pondered on the mind-body dilemma problems for centuries without reaching any plausible explanation to this question.

It is remarkable that the philosophers are skeptical about everything except the question of our awareness. René Descartes based his philosophy on what he thought as an unquestionable fact that he could think. In other words; he was aware of his thoughts. Thus he took his awareness for granted.

Can we really base our awareness on itself? In the following paragraphs the concept of awareness will be questioned.

The thesis presented here does not take the existence of mental consciousness for granted. True, we think, feel and visualize images. But this does not prove the existence of a mental entity.

We can watch ‘graphic representations’ such as our visual images on the screen of a computer, showing the results of calculations of the software. It is possible to assume that the images that appear in our mind are illustrative of calculations of the brain, just like the pictures on the computer screen. This assumption will be explained in the following paragraphs.

I do not rule out the notion that there is something beyond the physical world, of which we still do not know enough; and maybe we will never know. But it seems to me that the evidence supporting the view that we possess mental consciousness is much weaker than that supporting the opposite view.

Libet’s research has shown that at least some decisions we make are made by our subconscious. Still, we are fully convinced that we consciously made those decisions, even if we are aware that the experimenter knows before we do which decision we will take, proving that the decision was made without our conscious knowledge.

There are also several other studies proving the existence of these phenomena of false stories that the mind tells with inner conviction, explaining what it perceives as being the truth.

This phenomenon can be the basis to doubt that the rest of our mental experiences are nothing but such false tales.

On one hand, we have experimental evidence that the origins of what we were accustomed to think of as “mental abilities” are the subconscious. On the other hand, no one can show any proof for the existence of any mental soul.

My thesis argues that what we experience as the “first person” mental consciousness is nothing but the manipulation of our unconscious brain graphics. The reason for this is that our brain is more comfortable with graphics than with crunching data, because graphics is easier to understand. This makes sense, as we already know that most of data crunching in our brain are created with the help of known patterns engraved in our data base.

To conclude – The arguments for this thesis are based on the following:

*
p<{color:#000;}. If the source of the symptoms resides in the hidden part of the brain, we cannot associate them with consciousness.

*
p<{color:#000;}. There is no reason for the evolution of mental consciousness. In fact, some people maintain that cockroaches will survive longer than we will.

*
p<{color:#000;}. Computers follow the same characteristic operations which we attribute to consciousness without having mental consciousness.

*
p<{color:#000;}. But most important – this thesis solves all problems of body-mind in an easy and elegant way.

We have only to conclude that we are all just organic machines – and there is no soul involved.

Now, if we are machines and not some mysterious beings made of clay and soul by a divine entity, the problem of understanding seems solvable. Machines, we can understand!

Here is a happy thought: If we are machines, then it is possible that we can live forever, like those antique cars still on the streets, their proud collectors driving them in a parade. All it takes is good maintenance.

 

#
h3<{color:#000;}. We are Machines

As you have seen, serious doubts accumulate against there being a mental entity alongside the body. We must always keep in mind our tendency to attribute matters that we do not understand to the category of the intangible. Perhaps that’s why God was invented. Since brain function is one of the wonders that is not yet fully understood, our tendency has been to attribute the intangible to it in the form of consciousness or soul. However, brain studies have advanced greatly and we find a growing number of explanations for our behavior, previously not understood.

The discourse on the essence of consciousness, serves as the basis for the claim that humans are mere machines. That is why it is possible to learn which buttons to press in order to receive the desired reaction.

You may justifiably ask why I am dealing with the issue of the existence of consciousness, in a book seeking to explore how to understand the other. My answer is that we must understand what consciousness (or the mind) is, if we are to understand how the other person thinks and operates, we have to understand all parts of the brain including consciousness. We cannot understand the mystery of how the other feels and acts without understanding the mechanisms activating the brain which produces those thoughts and reactions. If a soul guides our actions, we will find it difficult to understand the thoughts and reactions of something as divine and intangible as the human spirit. But if we are machines, we have the ability to understand how this sophisticated machine works, and will be able to assess how it might react, if we press specific buttons.

Thus we will now take our next step forward based on the premise that we are nothing but sophisticated machines equipped with an organic computer.

It is not a pleasant thought to admit we are machines. We have been accustomed to thinking that we are superior creatures with consciousness, almost like a God.

Personally, it scares me to see people who know how to press those specific buttons in order to produce the reaction they wish. The preacher in the mosque, the smart marketer or a politician, all of them use to press the buttons of our brain limitations to get what they want.

I realize that the idea of us being thinking machines is difficult to swallow.

One can reason that if we are just machines, there is no point in life.

That is not the case!

I recommend you to use your ability to suppress selectively bad thoughts, to enable you to enjoy good music, to be excited by a pretty painting, laugh when watching a witty passage in a film, and let the hormones of love sweep you off your feet when you hug someone you love.

The fact that we are machines does not have to keep us from enjoying life, rather to improve them by understanding how our brain and that of the other operates.

#
h2<{color:#000;}. What is Consciousness?

Let us start from the beginning. The initial evolutionary justification for the existence of the brain is to control our organs. Therefore we can assume that in the early stages of evolution, the brain had control only over the internal organs that were vital for the existence of the primitive creatures. But as soon as sensory organs evolved, the brain used this information to direct the body as well.

From that point on, the brain has evolved to be what it is today. Is the existence of separate mental consciousness from the physical brain really necessary in this scenario? I do not think so.

Consciousness is usually defined as the way in which we experience things:

*
p<{color:#000;}. We experience the physical world as it is reflected through our senses.

*
p<{color:#000;}. We experience feelings and emotions.

*
p<{color:#000;}. And, above all, we can think.

It is obvious that we experience all these, and yet I claim that consciousness is not real. The experiences we thing of as our consciousness, is just a trick our brain uses to overcome its slow hardware and speed its operation. Let us investigate those experiences.

To conclude:

Philosophers doubt everything except their intuitive belief in the existence of conscious awareness. It is amazing to watch their faith in what intuition tells as intuition has been proven wrong many times (no one believes now that the sun revolves around the earth). In the case of our consciousness, we have to be even more suspicious because of the known deceptive nature of our subconscious. We tend to believe that we are better and in command -- which is not the case.

The phenomenon of a conscious effort (in all the ways in which consciousness is usually defined: the image of reality, feelings, and thoughts), turning into a lack of awareness, strengthens the thesis that there is no consciousness as the philosophers define. These are just visualizations algorithms, intended to make quick decisions by inspecting meaningful patterns.

Visualization is not mental consciousness.

h3<{color:#000;}.

#
h3<{color:#000;}. What we ‘see’ in our mind

Once primitive life could distinguish between light and shade, their control center developed into a brain using algorithms that triggered the body to approach or to hide from the light, in an effort to avoid danger or to find food. When the sense organs evolved further, even more sophisticated algorithms were devised, enabling the brain to assess the direction and speed of nearby objects and to draw the right conclusions.

The eyes translate the light reflected from objects into electrical signals. These signals pass through the nerves into the brain. Similarly our ears translate sound waves into electrical signals, and so do all our sensory organs. The brain has information only in the form of electrical bits.

Therefore it is clear that what we ‘see’ is just a graphic representation that our brain generates.

The large investment in brain resources to display ‘graphics’ was justified by the desperate need to act quickly despite the slow organic brain computation. I use the term ‘graphic’ in a loose way in an effort to indicate the images we ‘see’, ‘hear’ and so forth.

Our brain can understand images by comparison with already-known images (or patterns), more easily than trying to make sense of a sequence of bits in our synapses.

It is much more difficult to decide whether a shadow is a “friend or foe” using electrical pulses, rather than examining the graphic patterns of those pulses. You can try it yourself. Try to compare the percentage of various sectors of voters, just by looking at the numbers. Then look at the relevant pie chart. Which is easier to understand?

In the previous sectors, we discussed how the brain uses patterns to find a quick match to the new information from the senses. Here, the brain uses the exact same mechanism. The brain creates this ‘pie charts’ like pattern to match pattern in its memory.

When the brain find a well-known situation, it can make decisions without that ‘graphic’ aid, we do not ‘see’ the images. That is why we do routine things automatically without being aware of.

Our brain uses conscious ‘seeing’ experience only when we face unknown situations. In this case the brain has to calculate the decisions needed. A decision for the same situation encountered many times in the past, as in the case of experts in any area, is made automatically without bringing it up to the presentation in our conscious. Thus the difference between a conscious behavior and an unconscious one, for the same situation is the ‘graphic’ representation. ‘Graphic’ pattern is necessary for a quick calculation in the first case, and not needed when practice and learning have engraved the right decisions in our brains’ data base. The impression we have of ‘seeing’ the physical world with our eyes like the video camera does is false.

***

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I think therefore I am a machine

Philosophers, scientists and researchers, writers, scholars and educators have attempted to delve into some of the many aspects of understanding the other person. But as the philosopher, Emanuel Levinas, noted: “The face of the other is always that person which is not me. Therefore it remains an unsolved enigma.” This book seeks to unveil the enigma behind “the face of the other”. It approaches the issue of understanding the other human being in an original, resourceful manner, different from all approaches to date. This is done by exploring the way in which the human mind works including the challenges that our brain was forced to solve by evolution, and the social factors affecting our thoughts and actions. In this book we explore the human difficulties to understand the other person, particularly when the other does not belong to the same cultural group as our own. This book presents new theses, explaining the roots of the issue. One can find here handy tools that assist in coping with the difficulty of bridging the disparities existing in the current theories. I hope it will help to bring about new insights, which will impact the conduct of individuals and groups. In this book we'll delve into broad scope of issues, with insights which help to link all these issues, in a clear coherent structure. Despite the complexity of some subjects and fields with which this book deals, it is presented in a highly accessible way, offering an enjoyable read, and accompanied by original illustrations by the author.

  • Author: Yoram Har-Lev
  • Published: 2017-02-17 21:20:25
  • Words: 51922
I think therefore I am a machine I think therefore I am a machine