God makes all things good: man meddles with them and they become evil.
The mind of nations is deeply affected by the destructive conflict of the powers of nature, and...great disasters lead to striking changes in general civilization. For all that exists in man, whether good or evil, is rendered conspicuous by the presence of great danger. His inmost feelings are aroused; the thought of self-preservation masters his spirit, self denial is put to severe proof, and wherever darkness and barbarism prevail, there the affrighted mortal flies to the idols of his superstition, and all laws, human and divine, are criminally molested.
What I call social dementia is caused by a slippage of decision-making and rational thinking from the highest and most refined level of the brain's cortex to further down the brainstem, reflecting reptilian behaviour. While it has all the mechanisms for basic survival, it lacks philosophy. Those with empathic behaviour are slipping from view. We only have our brains to guide us through the threats of a potential nuclear nightmare and the longer shadow of global warming, as well as to manage the recklessness of politics. Artificial intelligence will never outstrip human ingenuity, and for that, you will have to blame the brain.
Undoubtedly, philosophy is one of the greatest achievements of the human mind, both individually and collectively. Early in the course of the evolution of living things, life stumbled upon the advantages accruing to animals whose nervous systems could make correlations and predictions based on experience. The concept of the brain, its competence for thinking, and how it might be used in new and different ways are being tapped by AI, but not to the advantage of our animal kingdom. The resources of the brain are immeasurable, but they all may be wasted.
Unlike plants, which have to take what comes and bend with the wind, animals are movers and can get out of unruly paths. Having a brain that learns confers a competitive advantage in finding food, mates, and shelter and in avoiding dangers. Nervous systems earn their keep in the service of prediction and, to that end, maintain a map of the most relevant parts of the world: its spatial relations, social relations, dangers, and so on. A brain maps its world in varying degrees of complexity, relative to the needs, equipment, and lifestyles of the organisms it inhabits. Thus, humans, dogs, and frogs will represent the same pond quite differently. The human, for example, may be interested in the pond's water source, the portability of the water, or the potential for irrigation. The dog may be interested in a cool swim and a fast shake or a good drink, and the frog may be focused on its good place to lay eggs, catch flies, bask in the sun, or hide. We only have our brains to guide us through what might be a short shadow of a nuclear nightmare, the lng shadow of global warming, and the recklessness of politics.
The incredible brain sees things that are not there and desires things it has never seen. So this personal note is to blame my brain for what fills it, which is an expression of my mind-set, what some may call mentality and others my perspective. There are as many mind-sets in our world as there are people, and what we call intelligence is spread out from superior to average to low, following raggedly a bell-shaped curve. The brain is infinitely accommodating, as, for example, citizenship involves contributing to the community with greater emphasis on communal interests than personal ones, and mind-sets that simultaneously call up support for change while supporting structures that maintain the status quo.
It enables the conceptualization of the Milky Way and Andromeda closing in on each other at a speed of about 110 kilometres per second and their head-on collision with spectacular, long-lasting effects in about 4.5 billion years—a galactic tsunami of many tidal waves that will not spell catastrophe for our Earth, with things settling into a new dynamic equilibrium within the universal laws we know. It permits us to grasp the growing power of computation as a driver of decadent dreams, a destroyer of empathy, and an increase in social dementia. It allows us to talk about things, look back in remembrance, predict what might lie ahead, and imagine new existences. It can be taken over by a third party or destroyed by disease, which can take away the potential for reflection, cause sleep disorders, and make sleep no longer come.
My personal odyssey spans the times of the industrial revolution, WWII, the digital age, and now the time of war in Ukraine. It covers counties and continents, starting in Yorkshire, straddling Europe, America, and now Asia, with experiences coming from engineering and physics, life sciences and public health, and now philosophy. What I took from my mother was that it takes all kinds to make a world, which means tolerance; from my background, I learned that life is not fair, and when difficulties arise, asking "how are you" would bring the answer, "considering everything, I'm alright and would bring you through."
At 20, what I wanted from life was a job paying £20 a week—interesting things to do, but with a strong parallel thought that I should serve mankind. Two things, without my noticing then, were dangers related to language explained in the yelled alarm "look out," which means take care, take cover, etc., but caused a migrant to actually look out and get injured. The other was the experience of several hours of total darkness, which gave me the knowledge that darkness has structure and is not a case of the description of pitch black. My trajectory provided and provides food for thought, still coalescing in my systems-oriented brain of cybernetics, the interdisciplinary framework of public health and biomedical engineering, and the neurophysiological underpinnings of the mind, leading to a utilitarian and practical philosophy. Do I understand myself and my world? I don't know—at least not yet!
My personal odyssey started when computational power was limited and philosophy seemed to still influence. The philosophy of logic and physics came together to call attention to the destructive power of nuclear destruction, from instantaneous impact to the radioactive aftermath, but no one listened. It is now on its last lap, and however long it lasts, computational power will advance by leaps and bounds. It is doing so without a universally shared understanding of the risks posed when used in AI and associated with potentially dangerous capabilities where, in the thinking of "where there is muck, there is profit," money outweighs good. There can be no satisfactory approach to AI without philosophy. Can we navigate a swamp where alligators and crocodiles are hungry for life and limb and parks of beauty where creativity abounds without philosophy?
What I learned early was that the meaning of things was lost without models. Imagine a heart surgeon without knowledge of physiology, a bridge builder not knowing the concept of force, or an AI designer without ethics. Timothy Andersen, author of "The Infinite Universe" (2020), speaks of apparently perfect lives without meaning. He says such a life devoid of meaning, no matter how comfortable, is a kind of hell; in our search for meaning, we can fantasize about roads not taken, and an alternative life can take on a reality of its own. In this matter, he is Socratic. He reveals that in his mid-30s, he faced a difficult decision that, when the choice was finally made, had repercussions down the years and caused regret. "What if?" he asks himself many times. It was a binary choice under conditions of uncertainty. But every life contains pain and pleasure.
Even one considered ideal, where every want is fulfilled, still hides its own unique problems. Andersen's erudition was an echo of my long-past thinking on what I referred to as parallel realities lived, and my neurophysiological thinking now tells me that everything I know, will know, have experienced, or will experience is in my brain and retained by memory while blood ever flows. My brain reflects a close relationship with my body and an interface with a changing environment throughout my existence, from womb and mother to family and extended background to the natural world, governed by the laws of nature.
Marx noted that people make choices, but not always in the circumstances of their own choosing, while the brain, according to Smith, allows the pursuit of interests in our way. On my journey, I have come to think that everything is in the head, and while we have a mind of our own, we don't have to. Does it matter? What if nuclear war is in the head? Boom! Of course, it matters in many different ways. Of course, nuclear war is in the head, and we have the responsibility to take it out! War is in the minds of profiteers. Peace is in the head of the beholder.
From childhood and throughout life, I have always read, in my youth, "Germinal," relating to coal mining, "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning," with a surround of folks dead from the neck up, as well as "You Can't Go Home Again," a story where a return home is met with outrage and hatred, family and community fury driving away the returnee once again from home. It is the beginning of an extended turbulent search for personal identity with a final return to America and its rediscovery, with sorrow, and hope. It is perhaps the pursuit of happiness that may never come that sets individuals apart and propels them into characters in literature with forces driving them to pursue love, money, power, and even lust.
My search has led me to the conclusion that arts education is much more important at the time of rapidly advancing artificial intelligence than much-needed STEM education. We have to reshape education. We need more brain research and philosophy. The alphabet, the word, talking, singing, writing, and reciting are all products or outcomes of the human brain. Without the brain, there would be no religion, mythology, literature, science, or philosophy. Reality and fake reality are composed within the brain, and behaviour is shaped by them. The brain is the centre of imagination, thinking, and creativity. When meaning and understanding are in question, cognitive contours help produce images of what is not really there. It is the repository of memory, deeds and events, remembrances sweet and sour, history, which when the here and now prevails, as at the beginning of life, the repository is essentially empty, but the elements of communication are slowly developing. When full, with a great repository of knowledge, it causes a wise old woman abandoned by her tribe to utter, "Oh, that I should die, I who know so much." Communication can be childlike; mine is mature and rational; let's talk this through; or authoritarian and bossy; get this done! And is a result of evolving experiences within the environment. It can be conversing with oneself in an ivory tower or simply thinking about or interacting with someone else in a relationship. I leave because she nags; I nag because he leaves. Experience in upbringing, family, and interactions with social institutions (school, church) can lead to either good or purposeful actions throughout life, or it can precipitate manipulated lives from which the individual does not find an exit. A manipulated human being can inflict suffering on others. Mental poverty in the population promotes low self-esteem and contributes to social dementia.
In this tremendously complex framework, there is a cumulative fuzzy logic at work that requires science and philosophy to make sense of it. It's a case of waking up still groggy and looking upwards. Objects seem out of sync with two overlapping images, but within a second, they snap into one and become what they should be and what they are, ending momentary distortion. Think of yourself in a specific and familiar environment; coming out of an elevator into darkness, a wall somewhere in front of you is a dimly illuminated switch. To return yourself to light, you reach out to the switch, but on the first attempt, your finger misses the target before correcting itself on the second. How come?
It has recently been stated that the brain is and will be the 21st century battlefield. I say it always was, for conflict and peace have their neural correlates somewhere in there and only there. The neural correlate of conflict is dominant; according to Freud, we have a death wish, and culture leads to heroism and glory. But the brain is also a master of strategy development: fight or flight; dead or alive; sink or swim. Classical philosophy is a search to pin down reason and wisdom. It is a modulator of any mind-set, individual or collective, that exists. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. "God be in my head and in my understanding" are the opening words of a hymn that has been sung for 1000 years. It adds, "God is in my eyes and in my looking, my mouth and in my speaking, my heart and in my thinking," and finally, "God be at my end and at my departing." It does not have to say anything about empathy and trust. These are powerful and moving words, and emotion is further added by the accompanying music. Even though, as a teenager, I had left the church, I could never remove myself from the hymn.
This can be viewed as my neurophysiologist's metaphor for my view of the world: brain function, vision and seeing, taste and speech; smell, hearing, and touch; active listening; and mind and body balance. In the beginning was the word, while at this time in history, we need good words, convincing words, and truthful words.
PS: In the paraphrased words of Bhagirath Choudhary; Man needs to align his consciousness with an evolutionary mandate that keeps his neocortex firmly grounded in the practice of logic and reason enabling him to make choices compatible for maintaining an optimal environment as well as for personal growth and societal wellbeing. Ethics for human beings, society, nations and civilization is as crucial as breathing clean air for life and living; if polluted, it leads to disease, despair and even death.