Wednesday, June 29, 2005


"Let me expand on this. Our brains are essentially model making machines. We need to construct useful, virtual reality simulations of the world that we can act on. Within the simulation, we need also to construct models of other people's minds because we primates are intensely social creatures. (This is called "a theory of other minds.") We need to do this so that we can predict their behavior. For example, you need to know whether another's action in jabbing you with an umbrella was willful, and so likely to be repeated, or involuntary, in which case it's quite benign. Furthermore, for this internal simulation to be complete it needs to contain not only models of other people's minds but also a model of itself, of its own stable attributes, its personality traits and the limits of its abilities - what it can and cannot do. It is possible that one of these two modeling capacities evolved first and then set the stage for the other. Or - as often happens in evolution - the two may have co-evolved and enriched each other enormously, culminating in the reflective self-awareness that characterizes Homo sapiens.

"At a very rudimentary level we are reminded of this reciprocity of 'self' and 'others' each time a newborn baby mimics an adult's behavior. Stick your tongue out at a newborn baby and the baby will stick its tongue out too, poignantly dissolving the boundary, the arbitrary barrier, between self and others. To do this it must create an internal model of your action and then reenact it in its own brain. An astonishing ability, given that it cannot even see its own tongue, and so must match the visual appearance of your tongue with the felt position of its own. We now know that this is carried out by a specific group of neurons, in the frontal lobes, called the mirror neurons. I suspect that these neurons are at least partly involved in generating our sense of 'embodied' self-awareness as well as our 'empathy' for others." (From A BRIEF TOUR OF HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS by Ramachandran, pp. 105-106)


"The light from a galaxy is the sum of the light emitted by the billions of stars within it. As the light leaves these stars, certain frequencies or colors are absorbed by the atoms in the stars' outermost layers. The resulting lines permit us to tell that stars millions of light-years away contain the same chemical elements as our Sun and the nearby stars. Humason and Hubble found, to their amazement, that the spectra of all the distant galaxies are red-shifted and, still more startling, that the more distant the galaxy was, the more red-shifted were its spectral lines.

"The most obvious explanation of the red shift was in terms of the Doppler effect: the galaxies were receding from us; the more distant the galaxy the greater its speed of recession. But why should the galaxies be fleeing us? Could there be something special about our location in the universe, as if the Milky Way had performed some inadvertent but offensive act in the social life of galaxies? It seemed much more likely that the universe itself was expanding, carrying the galaxies with it. Humason and Hubble, it gradually became clear, had discovered the Big Bang—if not the origin of the universe then at least its most recent incarnation." (From Sagan's COSMOS, p. 254)

"The waist is a terrible thing to mind." —Ziggy (Tom Wilson)

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