Fixing The Flawed Wiring Of The Human Brain

I talk a lot about the flaws, failures, and absurdities of the human species on this blog. It’s not by accident, I assure you. It’s not entirely by choice either. I’d love to be able to attribute shortcomings in the human condition to evil spirits, curses, and watered down beer. It’s just a matter of inescapable pragmatism that I constantly circle back to the flaws in our collective human brains.

These flaws extend to issues like unhealthy attitudes towards sexuality, religiously-motivated self-torture, and irrational understandings of gender differences. There’s no escaping it. We, as a species, are a buggy beta version at best and a 10-year-old, malware infested laptop running Windows Vista at worst. The fact we’ve been able to survive this long is a testament to our adaptability and/or dumb luck.

There are a lot of complexities and intricacies to these flaws in the human condition. I’ve touched on many to date on this blog and I intend to explore many more, both here and within my own books. Some may argue that these flaws are part of what make us human. That may be true to some extent, but I also believe that we’re way overdue for an upgrade.

The problem with these upgrades is that the flaws in the human condition are closely tied to the flaws of nature as a whole. Nature, by its own overly-pragmatic accord, is a blunt instrument that is stuck using painfully slow processes to fix and tweak its creations.

Natural selection, adaptation, genetic variation are all painfully slow. They’re akin to bunch of blind rats trying to direct traffic down a busy city street during rush hour. This means they can’t be precise, calculated, or measured. They basically have to build a house using nothing but a baseball bat and globs of wet cement. It is possible, but it’s not going to be very refined.

This clunky, crude process is a big reason why humans are at the mercy of the caveman logic that’s hardwired into our brains. Human civilization progresses quickly and chaotically, but our collective brains are still stuck on the same settings they were when we were hunting sabretooth tigers in the African savanna and shitting in gopher holes.

These are some pretty serious flaws, but the human species, like other species that manage to survive this long, can still adapt because of and/or in spite of these flaws. The human brain itself can do this to a significant degree thanks to brain plasticity, the wonderfully complex process that allows the brain to adapt and tweak its wiring in accord with new experiences.

While this plasticity is somewhat limited, it does provide a mechanism for tweaking our faulty wiring when it gets too faulty. This mechanism can be used to treat issues like addiction, depression, or learning disabilities like dyslexia. There’s a whole cottage industry of sorts, complete with accomplished experts and outright frauds, for rewiring the brain in this way.

About a year ago, Big Think did an article that focused on methods for rewiring the brain to improve performance in their careers. They cited a study where people who actively practiced a particular skill on a piano affected their brains in a similar way as people who just thought about practicing that same skill.

It once again reveals the crudeness of our biology. Our brains don’t always know the difference between action and thought. Both will help tweak the wiring to some degree. Crude or not, it does show the power of this mechanism. It’s easy to exploit if you understand and appreciate the clunky processes it uses.

We can use these new findings about the brain to help us become better performers at work, more successful in our business dealings, and more fulfilled professionally. By consistently training our thoughts, like those imaginary piano players, we can expand the number of branches and synaptic connections in our hippocampus, potentially leading to an increased ability to retain new information and adapt to new situations.

This alone should give some people hope that they can wire themselves to be more efficient in their jobs, their personal lives, and everything in between. Just understand that thoughts and actions can have a similar impact. Thoughts will inspire your actions and vice versa.

So when a parent tells their kid, “If you think it’s going to be awful, then it will be!” they’re not bullshitting them. They are actually telling the truth and they have scientific studies to back it up. That’ll be handy to have for when I have kids one day.

It’s even possible to push this process even further. In his book, “How To Fail At Everything And Still Win Big,” Scott Adams talks about using self-hypnosis to re-wire your thoughts into a more successful framework. He even provides actual instructions for those seeking to get in shape, eat a healthier diet, and deal with idiots at work. It’s a great book that I highly recommend. Given the amount of idiots in this world, this kind of advice is invaluable.

While having a faulty brain that can be hacked is nice to some degree, there are limits. Human beings are complex creatures who are at the mercy of equally complex and exceedingly clunky natural processes. Sure, we have Einstein, Mozart, and Shakespeare, but we also have Stalin, Dahlmer, and Bieber as well. The sheer range and breadth of that margin of error is a tad disconcerting.

This is the point where I close my eyes, ignore the doomsayers, and speculate on the progress mankind will make with its technology one day. We have a distinct advantage compared to the gorillas, elephants, and raccoons of this world. We can do more than just gather food from trees and trash cans. We can build shit. We can build some pretty amazing shit. Hell, we built this.

Our ability to build awesome shit gives me some hope that one day mankind will find a more comprehensive way to fixing the egregious flaws of our biology. It’s not enough to just train our minds and bodies to be better. We need to build shit that’ll make us better beyond anything that biology will allow.

Nature can create the grand canyon. We can make Mount Rushmore, the Hoover Dam, and spray cheese in a can. These are things that can’t happen naturally and, in some cases, are impossible even in ideal conditions. At a certain level of complexity, there needs to be an intelligence force armed with more than a blunt instrument to shape the world around it.

When it comes to the wiring of the human brain, the biggest promise at the moment is nanobots. These are little tiny robots that we can put in our bodies or in anything else and have them perform processes that are impossible to achieve with blunt natural forces.

These processes include going into our brains and physically rewiring the parts that are making us dumb, dispassionate, and depressed. Since these things would have a measure of intelligence, they could do more than just slap duct tape on the structure. They could break it down and rebuild it with shiny new fixtures, polished marble, un-rusted nails.

What does that mean for us? What does that mean for society? How will men and women function in a society where our brains are not at the mercy of the cavemen logic that has guided, for better and for worse, since our hunter/gatherer days?

It’s very difficult to say since I, like the rest of the human race, am limited by my caveman brain. However, it is an idea that I’ve toyed with to some extent in my books. One of my first novels, “Skin Deep,” explored the idea of using technology to reconfigure the human body, which vastly changed how certain characters interacted with one another.

I’ve been contemplating ways to explore this idea in other books. I find myself imaging a future where the brains of men and women are bereft of the flaws and limitations of our current condition. I don’t see us all being these mindless drones in such a future. I actually see us becoming more emotional, more connected, and more passionate than we would be otherwise.

Since this is the internet and pretty much any bit of technology will be applied to sex, I also find myself thinking about how this would affect intimacy. What would it be like for two people, be they gay or straight, to have sex when their brains have been enhanced to such a degree that they don’t have any biological limitations?

What sort of emotions would we feel? What sort of thoughts would we think? What sort of orgasms would we have? These are the kinds of kinky ideas that keep me up at night, among other things. They’re ideas worth contemplating because this future may manifest in some form or another down the line.

According to futurist, Ray Kurzweil, nanorobotic technology will advance to a point where it can re-wire our brains at some time in the 2030s. He claims:

We’re going to expand the brain’s neocortex and become more godlike.

That’s a pretty bold claim, but one that only seems bold from our limited, caveman brains. I’m sure a mouse looks at a hot pocket or a cup of Ramen noodles and struggles to comprehend that as well.

Unlike a rat, we can speculate and tell stories about the lives of those who live in a world where their brains are functioning beyond that of mere cavemen. Will these brains be absent of the flaws, taboos, and hindrances that hinder our ability to be intimate with one another? It’s amazing to contemplate and could make for a damn good, damn sexy story.


Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights

9 responses to “Fixing The Flawed Wiring Of The Human Brain

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