An essay by Priscilla Long on the brain and consciousness, My Brain on My Mind – The ABCs of the thrumming, plastic mystery that allows us to think, feel, and remember. She meanders back or forth on the personal meaning of of the mind functions or ceases to function very well in the case of her grandfather. And some of the science and philosophy of the brain and thinking.
Gerald Edelman’s (global) theory of consciousness sees it resulting from neuronal activity all over the brain. Edelman (along with Changeux and others) applies the theory of evolution to populations of neurons. Beginning early in an individual’s development, neurons firing and connecting with other neurons form shifting populations as they interact with input from the environment. The brain’s reward system mediates which populations survive as the fittest. Edelman’s theory speaks to the fact that no two brains are exactly alike; even identical twins do not have identical brains.
How, in Edelman’s scheme, does consciousness achieve its coherence? By the recirculation of parallel signals. If you are a neuron, you receive a signal, say from a light wave, then relay it to the next neuron via an electrical pulse. Imagine a Fourth of July fireworks, a starburst in the night sky. Different groups of neurons register the light, the shape, the boom. After receiving their respective signals, populations of neurons pass them back and forth to other populations of neurons. What emerges is one glorious starburst.
Long has buy into the somewhat recent and popular notion that genius is not something one is born with, but rather something that is achieved. For a variety of reasons – parents, personal drive, economic conditions, religious dogma, political rigidity, toxic pollutants and so on, many people do not push themselves to their full potential. It is possible to have little innate musical talent and be a competent guitarist. To be that exceptional musician, mathematician or philosopher is more likely a matter of organic gifts. A random spin of the genes as it were. I do not know if the following is true, but as Nora Ephron once wrote, it feels true,
Failure to learn new things kills neurons. People who vegetate before the TV are killing their neurons. People who never do anything new or meet anyone new are killing their neurons. People who never read or learn a new game or build a model airplane or cook up a new recipe or learn a new language are killing their neurons. Mind you, many middle-aged professionals are killing their neurons. They’re doing what they are good at, what they already know, what they learned to do years ago. They’re pursuing careers, raising children, cooking dinner, returning phone calls, reading the newspaper. They are busy and accomplished, but they are not learning anything new. If you are not learning anything new, you are killing your neurons. To keep your neurons, learn something new every day. Begin now. Doing so requires no particular genius.
One of the reasons it feels true does have a basis in fact. Getting back to Gerald Edelman’s theory of conscientiousness, think of feral children or children who’s regime of abuse includes isolation. The trauma of isolation affects brain development. Allowed to go on for years the abused child will never development the kind of complex communication skills most of us take for granted. She does put in a salute to at least some memorization. Not a crusade of mine, though as far as thinking goes, the mental equivalent of learning to walk before you can run,
Imagination depends on the conscious memory of events. How could I imagine a purple cow if I could not remember the cows of my childhood switching their tails against the horseflies? How could I imagine a purple cow if I could not remember purple crayons, purple potatoes, purple grape juice? Persons with impaired memories have impaired imaginations.
The corporate income tax in the U.S. is among the top in the world. Though that statement holds so many caveats it is near meaningless. Many of the United States largest and most profitable companies pay little to no income tax because of loopholes, tax credits and write offs, Revenue-Positive Reform of the Corporate Income Tax(pdf)
1. U.S. corporations pay a smaller percentage of their profits in taxes than do corporations based in other developed nations. Corporate leaders and anti-tax politicians often point to the top statutory corporate tax rate in the U.S. — 35 percent — which is higher than that of most other countries. But because there are so many deductions, credits and other special breaks in our corporate income tax, the effective tax rate for U.S. corporations is actually relatively low.
3. Low taxes do not make a nation competitive or business-friendly. Are low corporate taxes the key to a growing economy?
No. Much more important are a well-educated workforce, a robust infrastructure, economic and legal stability and many other things that can only be provided if the U.S. collects adequate tax revenue from corporations and others who profit the most from these public investments. In other words, even if the effective tax rate for U.S. corporations was higher than the effective tax rate for the corporations of other countries (which it’s not), that would tell us very little about how competitive or business-friendly the U.S. is.
Fully two-thirds of all US corporations do not pay federal income tax and 25% of the biggest US corporations do not pay federal income tax. We’ve had thirty years of anti-tax zealotry. Cutting taxes and deregulating basic health science imperatives like arsenic in our drinking water and cutting the amount of metal particulate matter in the air we breath would produce economic nirvana. Here we are almost thirty years after the so-called Reagan revolution and we’re facing the real possibility of a generation of lost workers. Millions of bright Americans working at jobs that do not pay a living wage.
“She leaned back with a sigh. The temptation had been hard to resist. A democratic girl, pomposity was a quality which she thoroughly disliked; and though she loved him, she could not disguise from herself that, ever since affluence had descended upon him some months ago, her brother Fillmore had become insufferably pompous. If there are any young men whom inherited wealth improves, Fillmore Nicholas was not one of them. He seemed to regard himself nowadays as a sort of Man of Destiny. To converse with him was for the ordinary human being like being received in audience by some more than stand-offish monarch.” – from The Adventures of Sally by P. G. Wodehouse