The wonder that is our brains (5 stars)
Michio Kaku is a proponents one of the superstring theory in physics, but in Future of the Mind he goes out of his field to show what groundbreaking neurology research tells us about our minds.
The human brain is, by far, the most complex structure we know in the universe. Your brain has about 100 billion neurons, about as many stars in the Milky Way. It represents about 2% of our body weight, but spends 20% of our energy – 65% in a baby – and it is believe that 80% of our genes code mental functions.
One of the most surprising conclusions in the book is that our understanding of “me”, of being a single person, is an illusion. The brain doesn’t work as a kind of CEO of the body, but more like a Parliament. There are several “mes”, each competing with the others to push it’s agenda passed along. What the brain does is, as soon as a decision is taken by the committee, to rationalize the result, giving us the impression that a single entity took the decision.
Maybe you have heard of the separation of the brain hemispheres, the left side logical and analytical and the right artistic and holistic. What neuroscientists are discovering is that this separation is deeper than we think. The left hemisphere is “dominated” by the left one, and it has an entirely different personality than your own. Each of us has an imprisoned conscience in our heads besides “our” own. Scientists even managed in experiments to “talk” do people’s left hemisphere, without their knowledge!
“The possible implications of this are mind-boggling. It suggests that we might all be carrying around in our skulls a mute prisoner with a personality, ambition, and self-awareness quite different from the day-to-day entity we believe ourselves to be.”
Future of the Mind starts to become scary when it shows that mind reading and control may not be science fiction forever. Scientists can today “read” the dreams of a sleeping subject and create an estimated image of what goes on in their minds. Researches also are able to control the behavior of flies and worms emitting magnetic fields and are debating the start of research on simians. This freaks me out. Imagine a government that can punish you for subversive thoughts still in your head.
Like other books from Kaku, Future of the Mind brings a sense of scientific wonder in the reader, in this case towards our brains. Each of us have in our heads a supercomputer that, if we tried to emulate with our current technology, would take several city blocks and a dedicated nuclear plant do cool it. Our brain is awesome. Let’s not waste it.