Friday, March 16, 2012
Monsanto Mischief/Outsource Your Left Brain
Friday..the weekend upon us. When you're a couple or dating, Fridays and Saturdays are special. When you're not, they are dicey. Regained my bearings yesterday - it was a relief to feel stable ground under my feet literally (I did a hugely long walk along the lakefront - many miles) and figuratively - my lapse was just that, a lapse. My new initiatives and commitments are intact. Good.
Loving The Most Human Human book - it's like candy. Call me nerdy but I love scientific books that integrate cross disciplines in new and astonishing ways. My friend Carol has the same curiosity - it was she who first turned me onto a great book about the human genome as well as Michael Pollen's first book, The Botany of Desire. OK that was a bit freaky and there is a story to tell. That book is presented in four chapters: apples, potatoes, marijuana and tulips. If you haven't read it, do. The chapter on the potato was unnerving, especially the part that described the prevalence of the oversized russet potato which is grown largely for McDonalds to produce the perfect length french fries - long enough to peek out the top of their little red boxes. Russets are not a sturdy potato - insects and viruses have long ago penetrated their defenses. A typical russet potato field is totally devoid of any insects or creatures - massive amounts of pesticides are used to create what is almost a sterile growing environment. Then Monsanto to the rescue. They created a genetically modified russet potato with insecticides spliced into the potato's genetic structure. Voila! The potato is both a food item and a pesticide! Problem solved!
I ordered The Botany of Desire from Amazon. Eerily, a few weeks later I got a letter from Monsanto inviting me to an informational luncheon in downtown Chicago - the subject - genetically modified food and their new product lines. Seriously!!! They must have gotten my name from Amazon as someone who had purchased the openly critical Pollen book. Is this corporate big brother or what!!!!
Anyway, I digress. What I'm loving about the human human book is the discussion about what it means to be human. The thinking continues to evolve. Years past, it was thought the differentiating factor between humans and other sentient beings was our ability to use tools. Then it was discovered many animals use tools, among some: chimpanzees wielding spears, crows who drop stones in water to raise the water level, orangutans crafting whistles, dolphins using marine sponges to scrub the ocean floor looking for hidden prey, and octopi who use discarded coconut shells as armor! So back to the drawing board - "What is it," philosophers and scientists pondered, "that makes humans human?" Until recently the conclusion was, our ability to reason, a left brain activity other animals don't possess. We worship our left brains - makes sense because it's the verbal side of ourselves. When we talk and refer to "I", it's really just the left brain that's talking. The right hemisphere, because it's mute, never gets to weigh in. And because the right brain is mute and mysterious we don't understand it and as a result we are skeptical about its contribution.
BUT.....just about everything we do with our left hemisphere can be replicated with a computer! Computers are actually much better than we are at logical reasoning. Drat...that puts us back to the drawing board again! It's not reasoning that makes us special. The answer is, of course, the overlooked functions of the right brain - the poets within us.
So this is where I'm guessing the book is going. Rather than be horrified by the realization that our beloved left brain is being trumped by computers - that anything we can do, the machines can do better, we should see it as an opportunity to free ourselves from our obsession with logical, relative, uncreative thinking. We should outsource our left brain - just let it atrophy. That will free us up to dive into the miasma of our most human side, nurture the mysteries of what has been dismissed as illogical, primitive thought patterns, tease out answers to life's most complex problems by applying creative, non-linear, artistic thinking.
Of particular interest was the discussion about lichen which was thought, until 1867, to be its own species - not so. Turns out lichens are really symbiotic relationships between two species - algaes and fungi. Is it so far-fetched to think there is a metamorphic, symbiotic relationship already underway between humans and computers? You laugh when I say that, in the future, there will be a new being that is part human and part computer. Aliens would observe these creatures and surmise they are a different species than the remnants of humans. Laugh, but answer this question honestly. "How does it make you feel when you are separated from your smart phone?" Do you, like me, carry it with you from room to room, are never without it, respond instantly to its call? If you leave it somewhere do you feel like a part of you is missing, as if you are without a limb? And really how inconvenient to have to always remember to tote it around!! Is it a far stretch to think that, in the future, there will be an option for us to have it implanted? Like routine circumcision, babies in the hospital may get a computer implant. By then, technology will have advanced so that we do very little of our own left brain thinking (why bother?).
All for today. I'll report more as I make my way through the book. You can see it's got me thinking!!! Your challenge today could be to pick up a copy so we can talk about it (why do I rarely get comments!?) Or, you could just give some thought to the whole right/left brain discussion and when you lose your phone and your breathing starts to get shallow with panic like it would if you lost a family member, think about my question!