Dennis Hackethal’s Blog

My blog about philosophy, coding, and anything else that interests me.

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“The Brain Works in Mysterious Ways”

A friend sent me this site: It appears to be a smart note-taking tool, pre-launch.

I won’t comment on their product as I haven’t tried it. But let’s evaluate what they wrote about the brain here from a Popperian point of view.

I realize this is a marketing page and they’re trying to entice prospective users. It’s not meant as a philosophical position. But I think it’s worth analyzing it as one because, whether they realize it or not, they’re making epistemological claims.

The brain works in mysterious ways. So mysterious, we know very little about it.

So far so good. Note, however, that for a company that calls itself “my mind,” focusing on the brain is peculiar—the two are not at all the same and explaining one does not explain the other.

What we do know is that it’s like a sponge. Everything we experience is soaked up and stored in tiny cells.

Woah. Empiricism and reductionism in two sentences! “Everything we experience” is not “soaked up.” We are not passive recipients of knowledge. We are its active creators. The real world really exists, but our experience of it is a virtual-reality rendering that we ourselves create through conjectures and refutations (see David Deutsch’s “The Beginning of Infinity” chapter 10).

To think means to access these cells and make connections between bits of information.

Maybe thinking accesses cells on the hardware level, but that’s not the point. The brain is a computer, so that’s like saying “running a program on a computer accesses data stored in memory.” Yes, but we already knew that, didn’t we? So that doesn’t tell us anything about the brain or the mind.

In this vein, I vaguely remember pop neuroscience memes saying something along the lines of “memories that are associated with each other are stored in nerves that physically connect.” That’s completely false—another reductionist mistake. Nerve cells may connect in the brain to get the basic functionality of the brain working on a low level. But ideas live on a different level of emergence—they can refer to each other without the neurons on which they’re stored being physically connected.

This happens in an instant, far beyond our conscious understanding.

It is true that there is much we don’t know about how thinking works. Currently, that is—one day we’ll understand it.

Our brain is the most advanced machine in existence, but it can be equally unpredictable. Sometimes we can call to mind a specific memory from when we were children. Other times we can’t, for the life of us, remember what outfit we wore yesterday.

Whether something is easy or hard to remember is not a property of hardware. It’s a property of long-lived vs short-lived ideas.

But what if we could upgrade our brain? What if we could collect the information around us – what we see, what we read, what we hear, what inspires us – and access it at any time?

This point is interesting as it seems to aspire to something like perfect memory. If my conjecture that ideas in a mind replicate is correct, then mutations are inevitable. That does not mean that what they’re going for couldn’t be built—it just means that the information would need to be stored independently of the mind. Similar to how we store information in books and on the internet. The mind cannot store information reliably, but certain media can.

I’d love to see a product page that makes Popperian references to the mind. Until then, I’m afraid it’s like David Deutsch says: “[A]s if Popper had never lived.” :(


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