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biophile's picture

Systems of thought

Quite a few people have already posted thoughts similar to mine, but I'll throw out my ponderings as well. As someone has already said, it's strange to think that thoughts can produce action potentials and vice versa. I've always been amazed by the concept that the mere travel of potassium and sodium ions across a membrane could have such profound and various effects. On the scale of a single neuron, it seems preposterous. This relatively simple exchange repeated so very many times and these simple units structured in many different configurations can lead to action and even consciousness... It's a sobering thought.

Secondly, the question of what is truly our external reality is both a very worthwhile question and one that will never be answered. Because we're not operating using nervous systems with structures similar to those of other organisms such as sharks and butterflies, we'll never intuitively understand how they experience the world... Science and technology are amazing because they allow us to do and see things we wouldn't be able to conceive of otherwise. In a way, science has greatly enhanced our creativity by showing us that the way we sense things is not necessarily the only way to sense them, that there exist worlds upon worlds which we cannot experience.

On a tangent, it's interesting to note how some people (myself included at times) talk about evolution as if it gave us the short end of the stick, as if it were a goal-oriented process. We talk about shortcomings and advantages that we have as if natural selection kept tally marks of them, trying to keep them balanced. Evolution isn't an entirely logical process, even though I believe there is more behind it than the passive accumulation of some characteristics.

In any case, it's good food for thought. I'm sure that if we were able to sense electrical fields instead of smell, we would ponder what scent would be like before moving on to another exercise in philosophy. Unfortunately, the I function is the one thing that we can never escape (unless we're talking about meditation, but that's a different discussion altogether). We're always wondering what it would be like to be someone else, what it would be like to be of the opposite sex, what it would be like to be part of another culture... It would be amazing to escape ourselves for just a bit and to view our own nervous systems as outsiders and to experience other realities our own brains are blocked from. We can't truly understand our own nervous systems because we're subject to their limitations and we can't see outside of them; we can't truly understand the nervous systems of other organisms (even of other humans) because we can't get into them. It's a catch-22.

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