Monday, 30 September 2013

Do Scientists "Believe" in Evolution?

I was most interested to see Glenn Branch's blog post What's wrong with 'belief in Evolution? and posted the following comment: 
As someone who is interested in the role of the brain's neural code in the evolution of humans I don't see any differences in the way the creationist and the scientist's brains work at the biological level. The basic processing mechanism favours confirmation bias – where new information that reinforces what you already know is readily accepted, while negative information is either “not seen” or deliberately ignored. Everyone has their own personal model of the world, and the rules by which new information is acceptable. Our intelligence is because we learn rapidly, using language, because we naturally believe what we are told! A belief in the value of the scientific method opens up a universe of practical knowledge on which our civilization depends, and I find such a belief system extremely satisfactory because it works.
However the brain is capable of working with other belief systems and many people find it more satisfactory to be in a supportive community which is (in my terms, but not in theirs) detached from reality. In effect out intelligence arises from our ability to learn much faster than animals (due to our language) but this has the disadvantage that there is a natural tendency to follow charismic leaders.
In evolutionary biological terms we all believe, without question, most of what we learn as children. And scientist and creationist brains work in the same way, trusting information from people who have similar belief systems to their own – and rejecting belief systems they find unacceptable.
If you assume the kind of brain model I describe on this blog we all "believe" without question what we have learnt throughout life - and we would be less mentally efficient is we spent time checking up on the validity of what we are told. We should no assume that the way a scientist justifies science is any different - in terms of biological activity at the neuron level - than the way a religious person justifies religion.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

From Neural Code to Religion - An Evolutionary Model of the Human Brain

A New Look at the Evolution of the Human Brain
A talk given to the Chiltern Humanists on 10th October, 2013

The following notes outline the arguments which underlie the talk. Most technical information on the model of the neural code used, and the related CODIL research, are available on this blog, and I am happy to answer any questions/comments about more technical aspects of the research.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Evolution of the Human Brain

Evolution of the Human Brain

The first of our autumn series of meetings will be held on Tuesday 10 September at Wendover Library.
Chris Reynolds, a retired scientist who has been a member of our group for several years, will take a new look at the evolution of the human brain. This has been researched at a biological level and raises the question of whether there is an inbuilt reason why some people are drawn to religion whilst others are not.
By temperament Chris likes to stand back and get an overview, rather than getting stuck in a narrow specialist area. After taking a doctorate in Chemistry he started working with computers in 1965; he was soon involved in research, and developed a language called CODIL over the following years. As Reader in Computer Science at Brunel University, Uxbridge during the 1970’s, he became involved in a project, funded by the British Library, concerned with interactive publication, which in a very elementary way anticipated the World Wide Web. Later he edited an online professional book review service on the subject of Human-Computer Interaction. In retirement his main interests are genealogy and local history.
His talk promises to be an interesting and different take on evolution.

Humans like to think they are something special - If not actually made by God in his own image, or the centre of the universe, are least we can console ourselves that we are more intelligent than the other animals that inhabit  our planet.

Or can we? No animal needs a brain that is bigger than necessary to survive, and we only have to look at the other mammals that share this planet to see that there are many cases where a species can be characterized by a greatly enlarged organ, whether it is a giraffe with its long neck, an elephant with its greatly extended nose, or the hands of the bat. And what about the changes we see in the whales!

This talk assumes that all mammals have brains that use the same neural code, and that the human brain is no more than a normal animal brain which has been supercharged to give it more processing capacity. It considers the limitations one might expect from a very simple neural code, and asks what the evolutionary pressures would be on the braians of hominids who were faced with the drying out of the African rain forests three million years ago.

The key factor would seem to be the point where cultural knowledge passed between the generations became more important to survival than the basic brain mechanisms on their own. At this point it there was an advantage in have a larger brain and developing faster mechanisms for learning. Better learning means better tools for survival, and one of those tools is language, which will automatically develop from generation to generation. One could get an auto-catalytic situation where the culture we pass on is augmented at a growing rate in each successive generation. 

Unfortunately the basic animal neural code is mathematically not very sophisticated, and while this is not important to other animals the defects become more evident as the human species pushes the code to its limits. While many of the defects can be avoided using language the logical weaknesses, such as confirmation bias, can, and are, exploited by religions and political belief systems. Even scientists will not be immune, as they take part in the rat race for prestige and funds!

After the talk I will be posting the slides used and background notes on this blog..