Tag Archives: plasticity

The birth of cybernetics?

Doctor Who fans will immediately recognize the concept of the ‘Cyberman’, but for everyone else, it’s a being that evolved from a biological base into a fusion of ‘meat + machine’.

In the Doctor Who series, the Cybermen are more machine than meat, but the concept stays the same. And it’s been a recurring theme in science fiction for decades. Anyone remember a TV show called the 64 Million Dollar Man?

But that’s all just make believe…isn’t it?

Well, no, no it’s not, not any more. Welcome to the world of David Eagleman. If you have any interest in what makes all life on earth tick, you will find this TED talk absolutely rivetting:

Did you watch it? Did it blow you away? Yeah, me too. 😀

There were a number of things in that talk that made me nod like crazy, but two really stood out:

  • the brain is a general purpose computing device, and
  • the concept of sensory substitution

As someone interested in biology, I sort of knew about the parts of the brain and how they functioned, but until quite recently, I assumed that brain plasticity [the ability of the brain to change itself when necessary] was restricted to fairly ‘small’ functions. And then I heard about Daniel Kish. He has no eyes, so everything you see him do, he does without using the physical pathways you or I use when we ‘see’ things. Instead, he makes clicking sounds and ‘hears’ them bounce off objects in their path:

Daniel Kish is an example of biological sensory substitution because he uses his hearing to provide data to the brain which the brain then interprets as a kind of vision. It’s real, it can be done, it’s just that most of the time, we humans prefer to use the easy path we learned as babies.

Just as a matter of interest, did you know that the visual cortex of a newborn baby is ‘unfinished’? Steropsis, or

The perception of depth produced by the reception in the brain of visual stimuli from both eyes in combination; binocular vision

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/stereopsis

is ‘learned’ in the first 18 months of a baby’s life. If something happens to disrupt this learning process, binocular vision will not develop. Instead, the child will learn how to see 3D using a process called ‘motion parallax’. I know, because that’s how I see, and I can play pretty fast and furious table tennis. 😀

The more I learn about the world, the more amazed I become at its incredible power. Is it any wonder I’m a sci-fi nut?

Special thanks to Museworthyman for pointing me towards that mind-blowing TED talk. Kindred spirits unite!

cheers

Meeks

 


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