Tuesday, 10 February 2015

What is the future for Cognitive Science ?

The Brain acting as a computer is too easy an explanation of what it is that makes us think.  We don't need to know the workings of the brain in this comparison, its a computer program, its a sidestep, a get out of jail free card.  Why should the process of billions of years of natural selection slot nicely into something we can readily understand with our current technology.  The good news is that Cognitive Science seems to be moving away from this and towards Cognitive Neuroscience. We will understand how the mind works much more when we understand how the brain works. Thats quite a project,  I remember talk of there being 1 billion neurones in the brain, later it was 10 billion, now its  100 billion - isn't it ?  and at their heart there are a bagillion (?) synapse connections.  So far we are fumbling in the till on how the thing works and operates.  Surely we shouldn't talk about spooks and consciousness without first understanding whats under the hood ?

The brain is a biological organ just like any other, consciousness and intentionality may be higher level features of the brain caused by lower level processes; in the same way as digestion is a higher level feature of the intestines caused by a sequence of lower level processes.  In this way we have evolved to where we are.  Its taken time, about 4.5 billion years or so, but thats plenty of room.  Consider how we have influenced the artificial selection process in our brief productive time on the planet.  Evidence suggests we have bred the domestic dog from a species of wolf.  With each offspring our ancestors encouraged the friendly breeds, fed them and cared for them and in return they helped us in hunting and safe keeping, for hearding and companionship.  Those who were good at it we harboured and fed, those who were less good we didn't.  This happened over the last 20,000-30,000 years.  A world free to select the best processes over 4,500,000,000 years will conjure up many surprises culminating in the one we know least about yet inhabits our every moment, our brain.

That's how we got here, the hard part is understanding what it is we are.  What are we.  In previous life-scapes I found it fundamentally important for decision making to know all there was to know about something, information is king, those with more access to real information had an advantage.  We don't know a lot about the brain so it makes sense to map the brain, to try to understand more - its the building block to what it is we are and how the mind or consciousness happen to arise from its functioning.  Cognitive science should declare war on the brain, in fact all of science should, allocate ample resources and its cleverest personal - 'know yourself and you will win all battles' - Sun Tzu.  With computers becoming more powerful it will be possible to forge a map of the complete neural network and the interdependent pathways and the prize could well be the answer to it all, what are we,  clarity on the Cartesian curse and a final solution to the mind body problem.

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