Read This Book

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What Came Before

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« on: April 19, 2013, 11:51:34 am »
Quote from: Jorge
The vast majority of us know Scott from his fantasy writing, but Neuropath is on another level. Yeah, there are no dragons, sorcery or crazy Dunyain monks teleporting around but there are two main reasons to read it:

1. The book deeply explores the issues raised by the ongoing neuroscience revolution. It expounds Bakker's three central theories regarding its social impact:
a. Neuroscience may allow us to empirically gain traction on philosophical problems that have remained elusive since the time of the ancient Greeks (free will, dualism, teleology, etc).
b. Neuroscience can be very easily abused to torture, spy, and control.
c. A process started in the Enlightment is revealing a world absolutely devoid of meaning, and the repercussions of following the road are essentially unknowable and deeply troubling.

2. It serves as a partial 'cheat sheet' to the philosophy of The Second Apocalypse (particularly the Prince of Nothing trilogy).

I really loved this book. It's not flawless, but it would make one hell of a psychological thriller if it ever got made into a movie (comparable to Limitless, but with more insanity).

Support Scott! Buy it and read it!

/shill mode off

What Came Before

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« Reply #1 on: April 19, 2013, 11:51:43 am »
Quote from: Callan S.
Pro tip: You do not need to read the italicised sections, in terms of learning about the story. Feel free to skip them, unless you want the scary. (I feel stupid in that the italicising seemed a kind of flag, but I still went and read them all anyway in case they were story related. Heck, I didn't know italics means you can skip it!)

That is all

What Came Before

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« Reply #2 on: April 19, 2013, 11:51:55 am »
Quote from: jvj
This novel has literally changed the way I see the world. I usually try to hand copies of it out as gifts for pretty much anyone I know for whom it might be a suitable read. (Born and living in Denmark, so language skills are a pretty big factor in deciding who gets the privilege.) But I always make sure to give a warning with it as a good friend of mine spent a considerable amount of time being sincerely shook up by the possibilities of the
(click to show/hide)
.

But a hearty hello to fellow Neuropath readers. And Jorge, you introduced yourself in another thread as someone who spewed the black sputum of science I believe you called it over on TPB which made me wonder, what do you think of the "scientific validity/viability" of the neuroscientific and psychological elements of the novel?

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« Reply #3 on: April 19, 2013, 11:52:05 am »
Quote from: Jorge
Predicting the future is hard. The brain is the most complicated system known.

And yet, if you read anything by VS Ramachandran or Oliver Sacks alongside Neuropath, you will immediately begin to see that there is nothing tremendously far-fetched about the science in Scott's story. Our minds are our brains. The brain is increasingly yielding to reductionist analysis and manipulation. Many people are clamoring for neuro-enhancements, and the research dollars go as the market goes.

tl;dr I think Scott's little yarn is a harrowing and accurate portrayal of what the next 50 years may have in store for us.

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« Reply #4 on: April 19, 2013, 11:52:13 am »
Quote from: jvj
Quote from: Jorge
Predicting the future is hard. The brain is the most complicated system known.

And yet, if you read anything by VS Ramachandran or Oliver Sacks alongside Neuropath, you will immediately begin to see that there is nothing tremendously far-fetched about the science in Scott's story. Our minds are our brains. The brain is increasingly yielding to reductionist analysis and manipulation. Many people are clamoring for neuro-enhancements, and the research dollars go as the market goes.

tl;dr I think Scott's little yarn is a harrowing and accurate portrayal of what the next 50 years may have in store for us.

The man who mistook his wife for a hat is on my to-read list (busy with school reading for now, exams coming up). I've also read Cordelia Pine's A mind of its own, an excellent book on the subject. I'm finishing up a minor in psychology at the time, and while the tendencies mentioned in Neuropath certainly have gained enough traction to warrant mention in a few of the courses I've taken, a somewhat famous experiment with FMRI's and decision-making for instance, the whole subject seems to be shrouded in a pervading sense of un-seriousness for lack of a better word. But that might stem out of a general reluctance to openly accept theories as bold as one essentially claiming we don't have free will, more than anything else.

I find the subject incredibly interesting though, it's nice to have somewhere to discuss it.

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« Reply #5 on: April 19, 2013, 11:52:21 am »
Quote from: Madness
I'm definitely unique in my conception of the field. Ramachandran is an idol of mine, though, Merzenich, Taub, and Bach-y-Rita are the ones who've shaped my thinking most.

For instance, assuming the brain is completely plastic 100% of the time, excepting old age, disease, and certain exponential developmental bursts, doesn't this imply that everything about our selves - what we think about, what we talk about, how we use our bodies, our habits and abstractions - are all inscribed in our brains? Inscribed might be a word with misleading connotations, of course.

That we actively shape our brains and the impulses that latter control us? Gives a more daunting perspective on overlooking bad habits.

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« Reply #6 on: April 19, 2013, 11:52:32 am »
Quote from: Jorge
Quote
we actively shape our brains

Do we now? While I have no doubt that the brain reshapes itself through a complex series of feedback loops, I'm a bit more skeptical about the 'we' and 'actively' part of that sentence.

If by 'we' you mean 'other neurons inside my head', then sure. If by 'actively' you mean 'through complex events involving the coupling of energetically favorable reactions to energetically unfavorable ones', then sure.

If by 'we' you mean "my consciousness/soul/spirit" and by 'actively' you mean "through the course of my acausal free volition" then we're at an impasse.

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« Reply #7 on: April 19, 2013, 11:52:39 am »
Quote from: Madness
What in you decides to learn a musical instrument? To become ambidextrous? To learn a new language? Play a new sport? Or more mundane tasks like washing dishes, operating a computer, or writing?

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« Reply #8 on: April 19, 2013, 11:53:49 am »
Quote from: Callan S.
I prefer horse over elephant, as my analogy of choice. You ride atop the horse - you do not control it's every leg movement. You do not control your exact positioning. Indeed the horse can shy, rear or bolt, taking it's rider with it. You pull the reigns - this does not mean you shape the horse. The more absolute control you ascribe yourself as having, the less you actually have as you lose connection with how the horse actually behaves. The phrase 'we shape our brains', seems to ascribe absolute control.

Sometimes I prefer the idea of a carbon based life form in symbiosis with a logic based life form.

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« Reply #9 on: April 19, 2013, 11:54:01 am »
Quote from: Jorge
Quote from: Madness
What in you decides to learn a musical instrument? To become ambidextrous? To learn a new language? Play a new sport? Or more mundane tasks like washing dishes, operating a computer, or writing?

My only honest answer is "I don't know" but I have sincere doubts it is the 'me' I consciously experience. Probably a hidden process somewhere in my prefrontal cortex.

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« Reply #10 on: April 19, 2013, 11:54:33 am »
Quote from: Jorge
Quote from: Callan S.
I prefer horse over elephant, as my analogy of choice. You ride atop the horse - you do not control it's every leg movement.

You ride on top of it, or are dragged behind it? The horse is the brain and environment, the rope represents the 'neural correlates of consciousness', and our soul is the poor sod getting dragged along the rocks.

Go back to the opening of The Darkness that Comes Before and read the Nietzsche passage that starts the book. Then read it again. Read it again, and again, and again until the dark genius of a dead madman shows you just how bleak things look for 'volition'.

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« Reply #11 on: April 19, 2013, 11:54:49 am »
Quote from: Callan S.
I think your attributing me some sort of dualist position, Jorge? I'm more describing a smaller computer riding a larger computer (such is an ugly descriptor - but we are not complex enough to understand how complex we are). I'm not sure about volition - when I try and figure what others mean when evoking the word, it seems to come to mind as something I don't think of. Not that most AI you run across isn't crappy and not honestly a decent comparison, but what is it when an AI switches targets or such (due to various weight shifts in values)? To me, that idea of volition doesn't look bleak at all?

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« Reply #12 on: April 19, 2013, 11:55:06 am »
Quote from: Madness
See - again these are leading edge questions - I have to wonder if we can have a serious effect on the elephant, horse, or small computer?

Since I caused a little hubbub, I'll post my original question again:

Quote from: Madness
For instance, assuming the brain is completely plastic 100% of the time, excepting old age, disease, and certain exponential developmental bursts, doesn't this imply that everything about our selves - what we think about, what we talk about, how we use our bodies, our habits and abstractions - are all inscribed in our brains? Inscribed might be a word with misleading connotations, of course.

The part which you took issue with, Jorge, was actually a secondary question, assuming the truth of this one and leading up to question 2.1 up top of my post here.

Thank you, Callan, for keeping me on track.

Also, sideline, I'd be very interested if you'd hazard some guesses, Jorge, on what part of non-conscious might make those decisions for you. I mean musical ability - the level which life-long pianists or violinists achieve - is thought to be one of the most superfluous adaptation.

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« Reply #13 on: April 19, 2013, 11:55:21 am »
Quote from: jvj
Quote from: Madness
Also, sideline, I'd be very interested if you'd hazard some guesses, Jorge, on what part of non-conscious might make those decisions for you. I mean musical ability - the level which life-long pianists or violinists achieve - is thought to be one of the most superfluous adaptation.

Although it wasn't addressed to me, I'll pipe in with an opinion anyhow. Sorry in advance.

I think the argument you're making for musical ability can pretty much be made for any ability humans tend to decide to spend a long time getting good at, and that does not seem to enhance said humans genetic fitness in any overt fashion. (Even though being really good at playing a musical instrument in particular can have pretty overt effects on your genetic fitness. You'll recognize this if you've ever been to a music festival of some sort and observed what happens to ladies when a long-haired dude with chiseled abs starts playing Wonderwall on the guitar he just so happens to always have casually slung over his right shoulder.)

Personally I think the answer to many of those things lie within the realm of cultural evolutionary adaptations. I believe culture has adapted much in the way biology and psychology have. And as such, musical ability to the point where you have practiced for most of a life-time, might very well have grown to become a position of reasonably high status in our culture, possibly because having such individuals in your society somehow proven itself beneficial. (To pull a pseudo-Darwinistic imaginable benefit out of my proverbial butt, one might argue that the shared mass-consumption of art helps create cohesion in the society thus furthering group mentality etc. etc. etc.)

Basically I believe that most personality traits that seem nonsensical in terms of adaptability and evolution are most likely byproducts of some other useful adaptation or variations on the same theme, as with cultural evolution.

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« Reply #14 on: April 19, 2013, 11:55:32 am »
Quote from: Madness
Quote from: jvj
I think the argument you're making for musical ability can pretty much be made for any ability humans tend to decide to spend a long time getting good at, and that does not seem to enhance said humans genetic fitness in any overt fashion. (Even though being really good at playing a musical instrument in particular can have pretty overt effects on your genetic fitness.

No apologies necessary, jvj. Join in, please.

You captured my conception well enough in your sentence. I enjoy your thoughts on cultural evolutionary adaptions because memetics, while young, is a very, very interesting lens. I also like considering social abstraction through lens like systems and game theory but I very much like where memetic study is at in terms of explanations through metaphor and analogy.

However, many of the current arguments in cognitive theory have "calcultated," in different ways quantified, that the evolutionary benefits of musical virtuosity - my metaphor of choice, which you aptly highlighted as "any ability humans tend to decide to spend a long time getting good at, and that does not seem to enhance said humans genetic fitness in any overt fashion" - peak (probably somewhere around that shirtless dude playing Wonderwall) and there seems no "genetic prowess" arguments left - certainly, none that feed, fight, flee, fuck brain is capable of achieving in this society.