The Global Brain, Redux

Do you mind if I lecture a bit? I’ll try to keep this short. Search for any terms you are not familiar with. (Cross-post from #securescuttlebutt.)

  • Bacteria use small peptides to “talk to each other”. Search “quorum sensing in bacteria“. Tree roots and fungi do this too.
  • Slime mold can solve the two-armed bandit problem: explore vs. exploit. Microscope slide, a drop of food on the left, on the right. Which will they choose? The bigger blob of food? The closer blob of food? The algo they use is a good one, but not the best-possible one; the best possible one requires storing some binary bits.
  • Communication by peptides is limited by speed of chemical diffusion. There’s also huge cross-talk.
  • Neurons are star-gate, star-trek teleporters for small peptides, now called “neurotransmitters”. A neurotransmitter walks into a neuron here, and a millisecond later, pops out three feet away. Speed is a million times faster than diffusion, and no crosstalk! The algorithm space expands hugely!
  • Jellyfish have neurons but don’t have brains. They can eat, and they can flee predators. Except they sometimes do both at the same time, because they have no supervisor to suppress eating while they’re fleeing. Bilatarians do have this. The first brains.

    Jellyfish have a circular ring of neurons running along the perimeter, able to detect and paralyze food as it swims by.
  • Lets skip ahead. Animals invent language. I stub my toe. Some peptides get released, they go up my spine to my brain, I say “ouch”, and the neurons in your brain know that my toe hurts! This is magic! Forget star-trek teleporters, neurons are now communicating with freakin sound waves! That’s just bat-shit insane!
  • In stone-age villages, grandmas pass cultural heritage to grand-children by oral tradition. Culture has a longer lifespan than human lifespan. It also spreads, one to many. Culture is a stable structure that lives on top of neurons, on top of brains, and continues to live and thrive even as old brains die and new brains are born and added to the network. Lo-fidelity maybe, culture mutates over the generations, but … semi-stable.
  • Phonecians invent the alphabet. Just memorize these 26 symbols, and the sounds that match with them, and you can read-write. Joe Blow, anyone with an IQ over 120 can do this, without training, without a classroom, without an education. This lowers the mutation rate of oral tradition, and supplies a stable long-term storage. Much more stable than oral tradition. Also, fraud-tolerant. You’ve got it in writing.
  • This means that thoughts and ideas can survive on pieces of paper. Or clay tablets. whatever. For decades, centuries, millenia.
  • Like, who is Aristotle? Sure, he’s partly dead clay, but he lives on the be brains of thousands of professors and millions of students. Lives on to this very day. Our neurons are connected to Aristotle’s neurons. Aristotle’s neurons are still influencing our behavior. The network is not sound-waves, the network is written material. This is a store-and-forward network that has survived millennia. Aristotle is a store-and-forward network.
  • The printing press / radio / television / mass media changes everything. Network connectivity between neurons changes to a hub-n-spoke model, broadcasters at the hub. About 1% to 5% of neurons on this planet broadcast to the other 95%. The 1% here are the newspaper editors, journalists, TV stars, movie producers, sports stars, mayors, CEO’s. These people are smart: say, IQ of 120 or better. Because mostly book publishers won’t publish a book written by a moron. Think of this as neuro-science: there are brains connected by various channels, transmitting assorted information. Information that is mostly stable, mostly verifiable, mostly true. Long-lived. Broadcast from the governing few to the masses.
  • This means that the total compute power of western civ has ramped up by million-fold, compared to Medieval times. So, in 1300 AD, you had a handful of universities with brilliant scholars: Peter Abelard, Thomas Aquinas. In the Middle ages, you had maybe thousands of scholars at any given time. Maybe 10K. Now you’ve got many tens of millions, not just universities, not just corporate R&D departments, but also sports-coaches figuring out how to fine-tune athletic performance, city councils figuring out how to run a city. There were lots of brains in the Middle Ages, too, but those brains did not have a network to connect them. Mass media and publishing provided the network. We’ve got many millions of brains figuring shit out, but now they are in sync, because they can communicate better. We’ve got the printing press! Raw compute power via human brains is explosively, exponentially larger than the Middle Ages.
  • Twenty years ago, we invent social media. This completely alters the network connectivity between brains. Suddenly, brains that had only a small, limited reach (the drunken uncle at thanksgiving, the sulky teenager in the high-school lounge) now has a freakin huge audience for their nut-ball flat-earth theories. Or whatever else they care to think about. And so memes, like germs and viruses and #covid spread without a mask, unfiltered, infecting other brains. I mean, mass media used to filter out the shit, because, again, newspaper editors filter out the total garbage. But #youtube and #facebook mostly does not have a filter, so anything goes.
  • Spend some quality time studying “phase transitions” and “second order phase transitions”. This is hard science- physics, the physics of ice melting, the physics of water boiling. Phase transitions change freakin everything. We are in the middle of a phase transition in how human brains are connected. It is literally that big. If you are not seeing this, you are truly missing the big picture.
  • And don’t forget the neurotransmitters. #nicotine #addiction is a real thing, and there’s a cascade of half-a-dozen protein expression and DNA methylation processes involved in this. These same (well, similar) circuits keep you addicted to #facebook, and to #gaming and to #QAnon. These circuits in your brain are now wired to similar circuits in billions of other brains, pumping endorphins with each “like”, with each new subscriber. This is the system we are dealing with.
  • Yes, of course, #capitalism and #politics are layers built on top of this system, but they date back to the invention of the printing press. The invention of social media, the phase transition …. changes everything. We are all part of the Borg now, and we love it. Do not be fooled, there is no going back. Whether or not there will be global systemic collapse, who knows, but seriously, we’ve increased global human brain compute power by 1000x maybe more, over what we had in the 1980’s. What is this brain thinking? Well, surf #youtube for a while to find out. Is it healthy? Watch The Social Dilemma to find out. But do not underestimate what happens during a phase transition.
  • Seriously: study network science. The #math, the #physics, the #neurobiology, the #psychology, the algorithmic #propaganda. This is wayyyy larger than what almost anyone suspects. This is fundamental on a planetary scale.

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