Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Things you know that you didn't learn

Fearfully and wonderfully ....
 The genius for math or science, music or art seems to be inherent in us all, if modern science is correctly understanding what we find in the human brain.  We probably have all the natural genius abilities.  We were born with them, designed genetically to have them, but they are inhibited in most of us.  Why?

Science has concluded that such impressive abilities are likely inherent in us all.  As yet though, science has little insight into why or how such abilities are enabled. Or not enabled.  And if the abilities are already there in each one of us, why might they be 'switched off' in most of us and only fully functional in a few?

Photographic memory, intellectual cross-processing of the content in thousands of books, so many abilities show up unexpectedly in those we call either genius or savant.
"It is hard to overstate the complexity of the brain. Not only are there tens of billions of individual nerve cells, or neurons, which make literally tens of trillions of connections between each other. The complexity really lies in the fact that there are hundreds or maybe even thousands of different types of neurons, which are arranged in highly-organized patterns, and which connect to each other in very specific ways."
For the IT folks, that means that one human brain is more capable in terms of processing (and perhaps storage) than any computer or supercomputer (network of computers) today. No binary data bus, no simple logic gates, the brain processes cross into realms of variable signal strengths, variable signal iterations and sequence flags, context modifiers, and multi-parallel processes with continuous real-time decision model modifications.
"Neurons are polarized – they have an end for inputs and an end for outputs. Each of these may be branched to give thousands of independent sites of input and output. For any given neuron, there are other neurons that connect to it (information flows from all those neurons into our subject neuron) and other neurons that it connects to (information flows from our subject neuron out to all these neurons).

But neurons are not all the same. The most obvious and perhaps most important difference between neurons is that some are excitatory, some inhibitory, and some modulatory. When an excitatory neuron is activated, it releases neurotransmitter at the connections it makes with its output neurons – this neurotransmitter tends to make those other cells electrically active. The exact opposite happens when an inhibitory cell is activated – it releases a different neurotransmitter onto its target neurons, which makes them less electrically active.  If modulatory, it provokes other long-lasting effects.  Too, we've discovered, the same signal may have different effects depending on the state of the receiving neuron, so the distinctions are not absolute.

There are hundreds of subtypes of excitatory and inhibitory neurons, all with different jobs to do. The way in which these different cell types are interconnected determines the functional properties of each little microcircuit in the brain – the type of information that comes into the system, how it filters and transforms that information, how long a neuron will be active before it's shut off, whether it will fire with a rhythm and at what frequency, etc."

You've got perhaps 85 - 95 billion neurons and each neuron has about 2500 connections or synapses; that's when you're born.  As an adult, you'll have 10-15,000 connections per neuron.  Connections are electrical or chemical, and add up on average to the equivalent of 120,000 of our most powerful computer processor chips.
"As to processor speed, let’s assume a very conservative average firing rate for a neuron of 200 times per second. If the signal is passed to 12,500 synapses, then 22 billion neurons are capable of performing 55 petaflops (a petaflop = one quadrillion calculations) per second.

The world’s fastest supercomputer, a monster from Japan unveiled by Fujitsu at a conference this past June, has a configuration of 864 racks, comprising a total of 88,128 interconnected CPUs. It tested out at 8 petaflops (which only five months later was upped to 10.51 petaflops). Our brains are about five times faster."
... and that's just in the cerebral cortex or about one-fourth of your brain.
"On top of that, we are only beginning to understand the complexity of that wiring. Instead of one-to-one connections, some theorists postulate that there are potentially thousands of different types of inter-neuronal connections, upping the ante. Moreover, recent evidence points to the idea that there is actually subcellular computing going on within neurons, moving our brains from the paradigm of a single computer to something more like a self-contained Internet, with billions of simpler nodes all working together in a massive parallel network. All of this may mean that the types of computing we are capable of are only just being dreamt of by computer scientists." 

 To expand a bit on the actual magnificence of a brain, note that a computer processor chip is manufactured, installed, and then used by software.  The brain is continually manufacturing itself; it's structure is dynamic, changing and adapting, adding and discarding as needed.  Further, that's today's common human brain.  The stunning possibilities suggested by the occasional genius and, even more provocatively by the acquired savant, are suggestive of a surprisingly even more capable design from earliest history.

Experiments in Australia suggest that genius/savant abilities may be temporarily accessible through external magnetic manipulation.  Controversial, of course, but what if we could be enabled?  What if each of us could have instant language acquisition, musical and artistic abilities, and grasp of sciences?  The world and humanity would be rather different almost instantly.

Interestingly, we may as a species have once been fully enabled.  We lost it somewhere along the way.  Life became difficult as we had to work rather than breeze through problems.  Languages became confused, memories and much wisdom were lost.  I've heard such before, of course.  In Sunday school.  Is science proving that my Sunday school teacher was right? :)

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