panpsychism is not exactly a new theory but neuroscientist christof koch has been refining the idea with three decades of research and concludes that consciousness arises within any sufficiently complex, information-processing system. relatedly, “google no longer understands how its “deep learning” decision-making computer systems have made themselves so good at recognizing things in photos.”
the “right brained/left brained” lay theory of brain lateralization has been on the ropes for awhile and the results of a new two year study confirm that there is no such thing as ‘right-brained’ or ‘left-brained’ personality types. maybe the title to “drawing on the right side of the brain” (which is a great book regardless of the limits of it’s central metaphor ) should be changed to drawing on the top of the brain. whether right or left or top or bottom, all the current brain theories you can imagine are deeply linked to the the computational metaphor which is, of course, merely a metaphor.
i subscribe to the embodied mind thesis which posits that the nature of the human mind is largely determined by the form of the human body and central to that theory is the concept of neurotransmission. i.e. we perceive and think through sensory tranmsissions integrated and mediated by neurons. so it’s remarkable to see new research done on mouse chimeras which indicates that lowly “helper cells” called astrocytes, not just the number of neurons and their interconnections, might possibly be the key to human intelligence. according to one researcher, “It’s a stunning result. It provides the first unequivocal evidence that astrocytes may well have been one of the evolutionary drivers of human capabilities.” and if peripheral cells like astrocytes might play a key role in human intelligence, what other cells might also be involved like, say, in the gut? related to the embodied mind this recent radiolab podcast, “speed” has a segment “never quite now” where they discuss the slowness of neurotransmission which happens at about 27 meters per second or 60 miles per hour which means usain bolt runs at about half the speed of his nerve transmission and it takes a full 1/4 of a second for visual stimulus to reach the motor centers of your brain which is about the same time as it takes to transmit a telegraph from new york to chicago. everything you experience has already happened! you’re stuck in the past! contemplate what that means when you’re driving down the road at 60 miles per hour! somehow, in my mind, this makes me wonder what do whales see ( and think )?
“the central attribute of human conscious experience, so fundamental, in fact, that we take it for granted, don’t pause to think about it, is the sense of unity. You’ve got a diversity of sensory experiences. You see things, you listen to things. This harks back to what I was saying about synesthesia. You taste things. You have hundreds of memories throughout a lifetime. Yet you think of yourself as a unified person. Yet all of these happen to you… Despite this diversity of sensory experiences, this bewildering sensory cognitive blitz of memories and sensory impressions I experience unity. How does that come about?” – V. S. Ramachandran, author of the The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human ( quote via ). the balanced NYT review of The Tell-Tale Brain alludes to the controversy surrounding some his theories.