Sunday, November 13, 2016

What the brain is good for

I've been thinking about the brain and what a marvelous machine it is.  How did humans evolve such a powerful brain?  We don't have the largest brains in the animal word.  Even as a proportion of our body size, the human brain doesn't exceed that of some birds (where you will find a fascinating article debunking human brain myths.)

Brain size doesn't seem to matter for intelligence.  My wife is much smarter than I am despite the fact that women have, on average, smaller brains.

My recent fascination with brain function was due to an insight I made about what the brain does best: pattern recognition. This skill is at the forefront of computer science progress and is responsible for speech and facial recognition, the dominance of computers over humans in games like chess and go, medical diagnosis, technological unemployment, matchmaking, learning and music composition.

My thesis is that brains evolved to optimize pattern recognition - and they did so spectacularly.  I believe it was accidental in the way that all evolution is accidental.  It may have begun by detecting light and dark and eyes were born.  The ability to detect and ultimately discern smells, touch, sounds and taste gave us an evolutionary edge.  Then we developed motor skills to impact our environment. At one point, I believe, the pattern recognition became responsible for memory and ultimately consciousness.

All this is pure speculation and I wish I had time to research the subject more completely.  Perhaps a train ride to the West will afford the opportunity. 

Rotary invocation, October 25, 2016

Rotary Invocation
October 25, 2016
Good Will & Better Friendships

Every week we recite the Rotary 4 Way Test.  #3 is “Do the things we think say or do build good will and better friendships?”

Wow!  This election season has put a real strain on thinking about good will and better friendships between large numbers of us hasn’t it?  How can we fix that?

Sharing Rotary service projects, like Indy Do Day, bring people together.  Coming to our club meetings, where we hear from community leaders like our speaker Matt Gutwein and the good work he does at Health & Hospital Corp, when we share a common purpose and contribute to helping people, we are also sharing how we understand the world.  When you open yourself up to other people they see you on their side, not the other side, working towards a common goal.
The foundation of understanding is listening.  We need to listen more and talk less.  Look where talking heads have gotten us.  Challenge yourself to listen to a diversity of opinions.  Listening only to people who agree with you may validate your beliefs and make you feel smarter, but rarely uncovers the truth.

We are not so different.

1.2 million Rotarians all want to eliminate polio, doesn’t the whole world want to eliminate diseases and suffering? I believe we share many common goals: We want our children, our neighborhoods, and our planet to be healthy.  We want to keep the promises we made to the last generation and we make to the next.  We want our communities to prosper and every student to be above average.

When this election season ends – and it can’t end soon enough in my view – we Americans can hopefully begin working together again, listening to each other rather than the talking heads, and focusing on common goals and solving the problems we all care about.  Hopefully, we can be more mindful of our Rotary pledge to make all the things we think say or do build good will and better friendships.