The empty brain

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Epstein, Robert. "The empty brain: Your brain does not process information, retrieve knowledge or store memories. In short: your brain is not a computer" (sic on capitalization). Pam Weintraub, editor. Aeon, "Psyche". No date but available 21 May 2021 at this link.[1]

Reviews metaphors for thought much more briefly but similar to the detailed discussion in Jessica Riskin's The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument over What Makes Living Things Tick — with emphasis on the information processing (IP) model for human intelligence, which Epstein rejects, with some vehemence.

Among other usefully strong and contentious assertions,

One prediction – made by the futurist Kurzweil, the physicist Stephen Hawking and the neuroscientist Randal Koene, among others – is that, because human consciousness is supposedly like computer software, it will soon be possible to download human minds to a computer, in the circuits of which we will become immensely powerful intellectually and, quite possibly, immortal. This concept drove the plot of the dystopian movie Transcendence (2014) starring Johnny Depp as the Kurzweil-like scientist whose mind was downloaded to the internet – with disastrous results for humanity.

Fortunately, because the IP metaphor is not even slightly valid, we will never have to worry about a human mind going amok in cyberspace; alas, we will also never achieve immortality through downloading.

For differing views in the wider debate, see, e.g., the technical article by Garrett B. Stanley, Fei F. Li and Yang Dan, "Reconstruction of Natural Scenes from Ensemble Responses in the Lateral Geniculate Nucleus" published in The Journal of Neuroscience 19.18 (15 September 1999): 8036-8042.[2] Or, for layfolk, "What the Brain Saw" by Marina Chicurel, New Scientist 2 October 1999.[3] — or on the "Brain-computer interface" on Wikipedia.[4] For intermediate difficulty, with a medical slant and respectable venue, "Brain-Computer Interfaces in Medicine" by Jerry J. Shih, Dean J. Krusienski, and Jonathan R. Wolpawc, "Mayo Clin Proc. 2012 Mar; 87(3): 268–279 doi: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2011.12.008", which we won't translate, but give a link to the on-line NIH post here.[5]

See and emphatically contrast such works as Max Headroom, THE LAWNMOWER MAN, LAWNMOWER MAN 2: JOBE'S WAR, virtual cyberspace inhabitants in the cyberpunk subgenre and the later books of Frederik Pohl's HEECHEE series.


RDE, finishing, 21/25May21, with thanks to Suzy McKee Charnas, Meghan Hyland, and Randolph Fritz