Discover Magazine, Pierce, Youtube discussed on Minnie Questions with Minnie Driver


What question would you most like answered? Years ago, in 2004, I wrote a cover article for discover magazine called ten unsolved questions of neuroscience. And what's interesting is that those are essentially as unsolved now as they were then, with one possible exception, actually. But the top question for me is the question of consciousness, which is, why does it feel like something to be you or me? Because the brain is built of 86 billion neurons, which are the specialized cells in the brain. And each of these neurons is sending information back and forth with these electoral spikes and they're releasing chemicals. All kinds of complicated stuff, but fundamentally, it's just a big biological machine. It's just doing stuff. It's just, you know, sending signals and reacting to signals. And as far as we can tell, that's all that's going on because when somebody damages their brain, we can make very particular predictions about what the consequences are going to be. It'll change their risk aversion or their decision making or their ability to name animals or see colors or understand music. You know, super specific things. And so that's why when we look at hundreds of years of brain damage we say, all right, look, it's pierce, just be a big machine there. But the question is, why does it feel like something to be alive? Why do you experience the beauty of a sunset or the smell of cinnamon or the taste of feta cheese on your tongue? Why aren't we just like, you know, my computer, my laptop here, is sending lots of signals around back and forth, but presumably it's not conscious. And when I watch a YouTube video that I think is funny, it presumably doesn't think it's funny. It's just sending zero. It's just something zeros and ones round. And when I shut it off at night, it doesn't lament its own death or something. So this is the question is, how do you build a biological machine and have it be self aware? Is that the fundament of possibility and ism? Yeah, exactly. So for anyone who doesn't know, you know, possibility doesn't mean it's this movement I started about 12 years ago, which is simply a way of me trying to capture what the scientific temperament is, where we shine a flashlight around the possibility space and we say, look, maybe it's that, maybe it's that, maybe it's that. And the reason I sort of tried to articulate this is because when you go into a bookstore, all you ever see are the books by the atheist, the neo atheist, and the books by the fundamentally religious. And they're often put on the same table in the bookstore so that you can sort of choose your side and see what's up. But the truth is that our existence and the cosmos is so deeply mysterious that almost certainly there's something much more interesting going on that is neither of those positions. I think you said it as well. The vastness of our ignorance. It is full of potential as opposed to full of admonishment. Yeah. When I read that, you know, being interested in celebrating the vastness of our ignorance. It was actually really dynamic, as opposed to you dumb dumb, it was like you dumb dumb. Right? The part that was surprised me is that people want to pick one answer and then fight for that and say, okay, this is the right answer. Yeah. How many people are in your movement? Can I be in it? Please, I'd love to have you. The interesting part, I wrote my book some, which is a book of literary fiction, and it's 40 stories of what happens after we die. And it's all made up. It's all meant to be funny and interesting. And none of it's meant to be taken seriously, but the part that is meant to be taken seriously is the idea of, wow, we really have no idea what this is, what our existence is all about here. And that's what the metal lesson that emerges in the book is. And so anyway, after I said this on NPR one day about possibilities, it sort of became a thing and people started websites and Facebook groups and stuff like that. So I don't know, I haven't really checked that in a while, but I'm glad to see it's moving. I like it. I think it's great. Now I've got to read some as well. I have conversations based on something that my mother post death, a phrase that she has coined, which is called brain share, because as she's said to me in our conversations, because she doesn't have a brain anymore, which is a huge relief. But she has to use mine so that I can feel her thoughts. Now, and it's so funny because a friend of mine was like, well, isn't that just your brain? Isn't that as the function of your grief? Because she died only a year ago. And I said, well, does it really matter? I don't really know. I'll never know. It doesn't matter if I know, or if I don't know, but I hear her voice very specifically, and we have these conversations which are so the fascinating to pick over. They're not just comforting. They're strange because there's clearly an evolution, either of my idea of her since she died or of her since she died, that it's different enough that I recognize her, but it's another version of her. Yeah, and one of the most fascinating things is that the job of the brain is to construct these internal models of other people. So you have an enormous number of models in your head, but you have thousands of these. You know, like, oh, your neighbor from down the street years ago, and oh, your college roommate and so on. You've got little models, some are more sophisticated than the others, so your model of your mother is you're devoting a lot of neural real estate to that actually. You've got a very rich model of her. Are there models that are thinner of your barista at Starbucks or something that you don't know that well? And you have to make lots of assumptions. But the thing that has always struck me as fascinating is, you know, in neuroscience, my field, you know, we've essentially spent all the time studying, okay, how does vision work? How does hearing work? How does decision making work? And so on. But the part that's gone underappreciated there is how social brains are. Brains are all about other brains. And so this is sort of an emerging field called social neuroscience, but the point is that a huge amount of the territory of your brain is there just to simulate your mother and your father and everybody you've ever known. Wow. All right, I'm going to be thinking about that through tea time. David, I'm so honestly just so chuffed as we say in England to talk to you. I can't thank you

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