Entries from July 2010 ↓

Don’t become a closed system

Another post from the draft pile that I finally polished into something that isn’t a series of half formed sentences… enjoy 😉

The human body as a closed system is not sustainable, as any closed system eventually achieves an equilibrium lacking order. Entropy would increase as the second law of thermodynamics asserts itself. Flux of energy/matter is required to maintain and build order. This is a central part of Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s paper on “general systems theory” and his theory of open systems:

“the conventional formulation of physics are, in principle, inapplicable to the living organism being open system having steady state. We may well suspect that many characteristics of living systems which are paradoxical in view of the laws of physics are a consequence of this fact.”

I think though, that a similar law applies to intelligent systems. Without stimulus the mind is not alive and eventually a lack of synaptic firing would lead to the neuronal weighting between neurons to deteriorate. This would result in a reversal to the initial states that most artificial neural networks start in (they are usually initiated with random weights)… but perhaps this reversal of weights on neurons that no longer fire isn’t a bad thing. It may lead to them being re-purposed…

As one ages, it can become more difficult to pick up new information as existing synaptic channels get reinforced and so the neuronal tributaries of our brains because less used, or require more active effort to use than taking the ready associations that come easily to our consciousness. While these tributaries may get reset to random weightings due to dis-use, this may allowed them to later get stimulated and used to store new associations.

The NY Times earlier this year posted “How to train the aging brain”:

“There’s a place for information,” Dr. Taylor says. “We need to know stuff. But we need to move beyond that and challenge our perception of the world. If you always hang around with those you agree with and read things that agree with what you already know, you’re not going to wrestle with your established brain connections.”

Such stretching is exactly what scientists say best keeps a brain in tune: get out of the comfort zone to push and nourish your brain. Do anything from learning a foreign language to taking a different route to work.

These new scenarios make the brain utilise alternative neuronal branches:

“As adults we have these well-trodden paths in our synapses,” Dr. Taylor says. “We have to crack the cognitive egg and scramble it up. And if you learn something this way, when you think of it again you’ll have an overlay of complexity you didn’t have before — and help your brain keep developing as well.”

Not only that, but if you are encouraging more interesting events in your life, especially those that push and challenge you and your preconceptions, then your perception of time expands. While in the moment it may seem like time flies, retrospectively it will seem like the past took longer. The brain collapses intervals of time where nothing much happens.

So if you don’t push your brain to learn new things, you’re cutting it off from having anything new to work with. It will also be easier to efficiently and compactly store your experiences based on what you already know. This shrinks your temporal impression of memory and, retrospectively, it will seem as though the last 5 or 10 years were but a blink. If you keep using the same arguments, and facing the same challenges, then you will become optimised and specialised at that task, but this will come at the cost of generality and breadth of understanding.