How to Use Your Brain
The fact that you can ponder how to use your brain implies it is a physical tool your soul uses. New findings support the idea that we can improve our brain function through effort, like we can learn to become better computer users.
Clear the cache: Just as browser performance can bog down with too many cached resources, we can “clean” our machine for better prediction, according to a story on Medical Xpress:
In normal situations, the brain selects a limited number of memories to use as evidence to guide decisions. As real-world events do not always have the most likely outcome, retrieved memories can provide misleading information at the time of a decision. Now, researchers at UCL and the University of Montreal have found a way to train the brain to accurately predict the outcome of an event, for example a baseball game, by giving subjects idealised scenarios that always conform to statistical probability. Dr Bradley Love (UCL Department of Cognition, Perception and Brain Sciences), lead author of study, said: “Providing people with idealized situations, as opposed to actual outcomes, ‘cleans’ their memory and provides a stock of good quality evidence for the brain to use.”
Google a search: The brain stores a lot of memory. Accessing pertinent details when you have lost your keys is part automatic, but can be enhanced through targeted effort. Another article on Medical Xpress quotes a neuroscientist saying, “Our results show that our brains are much more dynamic than previously thought, rapidly reallocating resources based on behavioral demands, and optimizing our performance by increasing the precision with which we can perform relevant tasks.” That sounds automatic, but the article speaks of concentrating on a task, like a search – a choice. For instance, when looking for a cat, your brain becomes your tool: “As you plan your day at work, for example, more of the brain is devoted to processing time, tasks, goals and rewards, and as you search for your cat, more of the brain becomes involved in recognition of animals.” The brain cannot plan a day at work by itself, or choose to search for a cat, unless the mind makes those choices.
Remember to make a fist: Science Daily posted a story that clenching your right fist helps you remember an event or action. It sounds dubious, and might be, but it presupposes people can choose to improve operation of their brain tool, if they can remember to make the fist. Other bodily actions may have the same result, the study suggested: “The findings suggest that some simple body movements — by temporarily changing the way the brain functions- can improve memory,” perhaps by associating the movement with the event.
Built-in antivirus security: If a computer might not function when security is breached, a brain can become inoperable if it doesn’t constantly guard against external attacks. Science Daily discussed the role of microglia cells in the brain as the “first line of defense” against brain disease. Like constantly-running background processes on a computer, these cells “move quickly to the affected area and release an arsenal of molecules that protect the nerve cells and clear away damaged tissue.” This implies that prevention is not the only automatic safeguard. Microglia are also trained in hardware repair.
A tool for every occasion: Live Science discussed asymmetries in primate brains, such as between the left and right lobes, as structural features that evolved for “plasticity,” a flexibility that “allows the brain to adapt to the conditions of its environment” according to reporter Tracy Lewis. But if she thinks human cognition evolved by an undirected process, she falls into the self-refuting trap: the possible truth of that proposition undermines its own credibility.
Intelligence test: As physicists are wont to do, one decided to reduce intelligence to an equation. Live Science reporter Chris Gorsky allowed Harvard physicist Alexander Wissner-Gross to wax on about how intelligence is like entropy. The Harvard professor even wrote a computer program to describe how “many intelligent or cognitive behaviors, such as upright walking and tool use,” can be described as mathematical relationships, producing “spontaneously induce remarkably sophisticated behaviors.” It seems to have been lost on Wissner-Gross and his trusting reporter that if that were the case, then his own theory is just a “remarkably sophisticated behavior” that emerged from a mathematical relationship. How, then, could it be true? That problem is exacerbated by the fact that his “provocative” and “very ambitious” notion is “the exact opposite” of thinking by others whose ideas also presumably emerged from mathematical relationships. Wissner-Gross described his paper as an attempt to describe intelligence as a “fundamentally thermodynamic process.” If that were the case, he could take no credit for thinking up the idea himself. It was just physics at work. Maybe his thinking is a mere dissipative system, like a tornado in a junkyard.
The mentalists: Over at Current Biology, Michael Gross is worried that the new edition of the psychiatrists’ bible has “gone mental“. The summary states, “The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), to be published in May, will include highly controversial changes. Some diagnoses have been broadened to include a range of behaviours hitherto considered normal. As the coverage of mental disorder diagnoses increases, is there any space left for normal biological variability in human behaviour?” Quiz: By “gone mental,” Gross implies that (1) the manual is treating mental illnesses in abstract terms, implying non-physical causes; (2) the manual is crazy.
Hardwired crime? Science Daily reported a U of Chicago study that says psychopaths lack the wiring to feel empathy. “New research finds that prisoners who are psychopaths lack the basic neurophysiological ‘hardwiring’ that enables them to care for others,” it says. Such claims imply that some people are born criminals, but fail to take into account the possibility that their personal choices over a long time deactivated or damaged those brain circuits. For an examination of the long history of defining crime as a disease rather than a moral choice, see the book Darwin Day in America by John West.
No rest for his soul: A new collection of Darwin’s correspondence has been published on the Darwin Correspondence Project. Kate Hoyland for the BBC News thinks it expresses the emotional side of the bearded buddha of evolutionary theory. The correspondence includes the famous line to Joseph Hooker that his new idea of transmutation of species “is like confessing a murder“. Darwin is largely credited with having “naturalized” the human soul into the product of a long series of unguided variation and selection by unguided processes. That’s why many of his contemporaries, including Adam Sedgwick and Alfred Russell Wallace, opposed its application to the human mind. “It is clear that Darwin was aware of the revolutionary nature of his ideas, and Hooker was to argue strongly in support of his friend in the religious debate that followed,” Hoyland wrote. But is it a mere religious debate to ask whether the mind can be reduced to its physical resource, the brain? It would seem a logical debate whether awareness, emotion, ideas, argument, support, and debate have any coherent meaning in such a reduction.
Every time you use your brain to ponder the truth or falsity of propositions, you undermine Darwinism, materialism, and determinism. This becomes so clear when you watch some of the researchers above using their minds to say the mind is a product of natural causes. They shoot themselves in the foot. Their readers can justifiably deny them any credibility. For understanding the power of the argument from reason that C. S. Lewis and others employed, the new book The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism and Society (2012) from the Discovery Institute is a great read. The argument is explicated with great clarity, considering all the objections.
For the rest of us who accept the brain as a gift from our Maker, each new finding should increase our awe at what a wonderful gift it is. It’s like having received a powerful computer, but taking years to find out all the features and capabilities that came with it. Give thanks by thinking clearly and using it to connect with the Giver.