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Old 09 March 2008, 01:19 PM
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Blow Your Top The human brain is the most complex structure known

"The human brain is the most complex structure in the universe."

This "fact" is repeated again and again, often in the context of intelligence and consciousness. However, since it has been known for quite some time that cetaceans (such as dolphins and whales) have brains with more complex structures, why does this myth persist? Or is it true? Is there really anything about the physical structure of the human brain to lend evidence to this dubious superlative?

A couple of further comments on the topic: I hear this repeated as often by people of a generally skeptical outlook as not. I keep wondering why they never bother to stop and think whether what they are saying is really true. Never mind that it does not necessarily mean anything special. Maybe we find out some day that the most complex thing is actually some fungus. Does that make it intelligent? In the case of cetaceans, it seems many are content to say that the complexity may be as much related to their size as their intelligence so it's easy to see that there is not necessarily any direct relationship.
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Old 09 March 2008, 02:37 PM
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Der Induktionator Der Induktionator is offline
 
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Ultimatums are always false. OK, almost always. Or at least pretty often.

I would accept "The human brain is among the most complex structures that we know of."

The universe is a pretty large set of possibilities. Some people have said that if a thing is possible, it has to happen sometime or somewhere. It would be easy to argue that if a more complex structure is possible, it must exist.
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Old 09 March 2008, 02:47 PM
Insensible Crier Insensible Crier is offline
 
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It's also easy to get lost in semantics in the arguement. Define "complex" and define "structure". It get's difficult when you aren't comparing things similar in nature. So is the human brain more complex than a black hole?

I would argue the universe is the most complex structure we know and since the human brain is a subset of the universe therefore it can't be more complex.
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Old 09 March 2008, 04:35 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Insensible Crier View Post
... So is the human brain more complex than a black hole?
The inside or the outside?

The outside part is probably one of the most complicated spaces you can have, especially over such a large region.

The inside, OTOH, is either the limit of simplicity or complexity, depending on your viewpoint. There are theories that black holes may contain whole universes (Which would be extremely complex), but if no useful information escapes from a black hole, we can treat the inside as the perfect absence of information.

Hmmmmm.
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  #5  
Old 09 March 2008, 07:18 PM
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The word "complex" has lots of different meanings, but when you zero in on one particular aspect of the human brain, it starts to pull ahead: its interlinking self-regulating feedback loops. It's complicated enough to turn a few pounds of stiff, bloody lard into -- a mind.

Earth's ecosystem is also self-interlinked in that fashion, and gives the brain a run for it. No species evolves alone, but in a distributed net of plants, prey, and predators.

In this sense, then, I would not count the universe, or even the galaxy (although I might include the Solar System.) In these largest structures, the parts, by and large, do not influence the behavior of the other parts via feedback (only by very simplistic gravitational attraction.)

Silas

Last edited by Silas Sparkhammer; 09 March 2008 at 07:18 PM. Reason: it's <> its
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Old 09 March 2008, 07:53 PM
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Dreams of Thinking Machines Dreams of Thinking Machines is offline
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Silas Sparkhammer View Post
The word "complex" has lots of different meanings, but when you zero in on one particular aspect of the human brain, it starts to pull ahead: its interlinking self-regulating feedback loops. It's complicated enough to turn a few pounds of stiff, bloody lard into -- a mind.
Additionally, the mind it produces is sophisticated enough to think in terms of complexity.
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  #7  
Old 09 March 2008, 08:37 PM
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Originally Posted by Dreams of Thinking Machines View Post
Additionally, the mind it produces is sophisticated enough to think in terms of complexity.
Exactly; no other structure known engages in self-analysis.

Silas (no, MS Outlook performing auto-diagnostics doesn't count!)
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  #8  
Old 12 March 2008, 12:30 PM
Jay Tea Jay Tea is offline
 
 
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The brain is a marvelous organ, of complexity and beauty. Here's a EEG image of mine...
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Old 12 March 2008, 12:43 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ganzfeld View Post
I keep wondering why they never bother to stop and think whether what they are saying is really true.
Does this not apply to all UL's?
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  #10  
Old 12 March 2008, 05:30 PM
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Originally Posted by damian View Post
Does this not apply to all UL's?
Some ULs are plausible. For instance, the 13-folds-of-the-American-Flag one, where the thirteen folds each have a specific devotional meaning. Now, it ain't true...but it *could have been*.

When I was in grade school, I was told that the red, white, and blue of the American Flag each had a specific meaning. I only recall that red was for the blood shed by the heroes of the Revolutionary War. (No idea what the white and blue were supposed to be.)

These and many others -- like the dog that nose-goosed a nekkid guy -- are at least physically possible, unlike the guy with the JATO pack on his car, which ain't.

Heck, some ULs turn out to be true...

Silas
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  #11  
Old 12 March 2008, 11:05 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Silas Sparkhammer View Post
Exactly; no other structure known engages in self-analysis.

Silas (no, MS Outlook performing auto-diagnostics doesn't count!)
Ah, but our brains are part of us, and we are part of the Earth's ecosystem and many of us analyze (at great length!) the ecosystem. Couldn't the Earth's ecosystem then be said to engage in self-analysis, with humans as the mechanism?

ETA: oops. I see that my point was essentially made by aranea russus several posts ago. Sorry!
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  #12  
Old 13 March 2008, 12:41 AM
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Originally Posted by htonl View Post
Ah, but our brains are part of us, and we are part of the Earth's ecosystem and many of us analyze (at great length!) the ecosystem. Couldn't the Earth's ecosystem then be said to engage in self-analysis, with humans as the mechanism?
Tricky... I don't think I agree, as the ecosystem isn't examining itself, but only a part of it is. The ecosystem doesn't have a will of its own.

Think of it this way: plutonium is a natural element. Why? Because humans are part of nature, and so must be anything we create. In the same way, the extinction of the dinosaurs, via comet impact, was also natural, because comets occur in nature.

But most of us aren't comfortable with this way of thinking about the term "nature." There is a very strong prejudice in favor of considering the fruits of human intelligence to exist on a higher (or perhaps lower) plane than nature. We're the only species that has taken a direct and conscious role in the guiding of our own evolution. And we can create complex technologies that can produce elements never seen on earth (or, in fact, anywhere other than in space quite close nearby supernovae.)

(However, I would be very willing to entertain an argument that human industry, as an interlocking and interacting entity, is one of the most complex "things" ever to exist.)

Quote:
ETA: oops. I see that my point was essentially made by aranea russus several posts ago. Sorry!
Suffering as I do from rather extreme arachnophobia, I must confess that I find aranea russus' posts very difficult to read.

Silas
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  #13  
Old 13 March 2008, 04:51 AM
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ganzfeld ganzfeld is offline
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by damian View Post
Does this not apply to all UL's?
Of course it does. It's not the existence of the UL that surprises me but the tendency of people who would otherwise eschew them to repeat this one. Two others I hear even in academic settings and repeated by people who really should know better (which I've already ranted about on the board): 1) The rightbrain/leftbrain nonsense. It wasn't ever supported by any research and has since been roundly refuted by FMRI studies. 2) The "golden mean", which is supposed to have been incorporated in all kinds of art and architecture from ancient times -- and which, not so coincidentally, has the exact same proportions as a famous Oscar Mayer product.

When you think of "UL", you don't usually think of them spreading through academics and scholars but these do.
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  #14  
Old 13 March 2008, 05:53 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aranea russus View Post
Remember we're more scared of you than you are of us.
A co-worker once told me, idly, "You will never, in all your life, be more than three feet away from a spider."

I should'a decked him, the durn slob. Plum ruined my life!

Silas
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  #15  
Old 20 May 2008, 07:15 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Der Induktionator View Post
The inside or the outside?

The outside part is probably one of the most complicated spaces you can have, especially over such a large region.

The inside, OTOH, is either the limit of simplicity or complexity, depending on your viewpoint. There are theories that black holes may contain whole universes (Which would be extremely complex), but if no useful information escapes from a black hole, we can treat the inside as the perfect absence of information.

Hmmmmm.
"Ouch!!" Thats the sound my complex structure made reading that one. Whenever I think of black holes and such I always think of the end of MIB where the aliens are playing with the "marbles".
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  #16  
Old 21 May 2008, 07:05 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Silas Sparkhammer View Post
A co-worker once told me, idly, "You will never, in all your life, be more than three feet away from a spider."
Funny. At lunch yesterday I heard the same sentence from my boss, but it was ten feet and rats. She said she had heard it from an exterminator.
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  #17  
Old 21 May 2008, 08:57 PM
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Silas Sparkhammer Silas Sparkhammer is offline
 
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A co-worker once told me, idly, "You will never, in all your life, be more than three feet away from a spider."

Quote:
Originally Posted by Natalie View Post
Funny. At lunch yesterday I heard the same sentence from my boss, but it was ten feet and rats. She said she had heard it from an exterminator.
Hm... I wonder... Maybe if you include mice too? Hm... Gnawing rodents are most amazingly widespread... I'm fairly sure that there haven't been any feral rats or mice on space shuttle missions (not counting the lab rats in onboard science experiments) but I wouldn't swear to it as 100% certain!

"Rats or mice. Ha' ye any rats, mice, polecats, or weasels, or ha' ye any old sows sick of the measles? I can kill them, and I can kill moles, and I can kill vermin that creepeth up and creepeth down and creepeth into holes." Richard Dering

Silas
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  #18  
Old 21 May 2008, 09:45 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Silas Sparkhammer View Post
A co-worker once told me, idly, "You will never, in all your life, be more than three feet away from a spider."



Hm... I wonder... Maybe if you include mice too? Hm... Gnawing rodents are most amazingly widespread... I'm fairly sure that there haven't been any feral rats or mice on space shuttle missions (not counting the lab rats in onboard science experiments) but I wouldn't swear to it as 100% certain!

"Rats or mice. Ha' ye any rats, mice, polecats, or weasels, or ha' ye any old sows sick of the measles? I can kill them, and I can kill moles, and I can kill vermin that creepeth up and creepeth down and creepeth into holes." Richard Dering

Silas

Rodents are amazingly adaptable, and I imagine the statistic could be possibly true if one factored in all rodents and factored out places with incredibly cold winters. But I'm quite sure it's not true as far as rats specifically are concerned.
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  #19  
Old 22 May 2008, 05:53 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Der Induktionator View Post
There are theories that black holes may contain whole universes (Which would be extremely complex), but if no useful information escapes from a black hole, we can treat the inside as the perfect absence of information.
OK, I have a headache now.
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  #20  
Old 22 May 2008, 07:12 PM
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Silas Sparkhammer Silas Sparkhammer is offline
 
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Originally Posted by alsachti View Post
OK, I have a headache now.
That's actually good, in a weird way. If modern physics doesn't give someone a headache, it means they don't understand it.

(I'm still trying to figure out "entangled particles." Some people say they could be used to send messages faster-than-light, and others disagree.)

Silas
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