A View about Ourselves

Points from the Videos about Human Capabilities

Same BoatTo varying degrees, we each have common human capabilities and limitations. We have imperfect sensing capabilities. We have nervous systems that can mislead and misinform us. We have physiological and neurological limitations. In this respect we are all “in the same boat,” but yet we are each uniquely-individual human beings with different-sized and types of paddles, so to speak. If we don’t acknowledge these differences in our capabilities and limitations, we will misunderstand our perceptions of the world around us.

  • The cortex, or “new brain,” (also called the neocortex) modulates our reactions and responses to our sensory experiences. This “human thinking cap” contains the basis for our verbal abilities to think, plan, read, write, imagine, etc. All of our knowledge, memory, and processing of sensory inputs (other than smell), reside in the cortex.
  • Since birth, your brain develops its complex structures in response to the outside environments that you experience. The neural connections which will ultimately determine how you will respond to your experiences are shaped and molded by your specific environments as you grow and develop.
  • The relatively-large neocortex is the primary characteristic that makes humans unique from other species.
  • Neurons, or nerve cells, form and structure spatial and temporal (sequenced, ordered) patterns that results in your sensory experiences. These experiences are based on your “model of the world” that your brain has created.
  • Your brain: 1) discovers causes in the world; 2) infers from new or unfamiliar patterns; 3) predicts the future in terms of expectations; 4) creates or initiates motor behavior.
  • The firing of neurons in all their complexity of connections and networks, structured in spatial and temporal patterns, represents the “currency” of the brain. Hawkins: “Your perception of the world is really a fabrication of your model of the world. You don’t really see light or sound. You perceive it because your model says this is the way the world is, and those patterns invoke the model.”
  • The brain is made up of about 100 billion neurons, or nerve cells, each of which may form connections with perhaps one thousand other neurons.
  • Your brain constructs or creates a “body image” or sensory awareness of your own physiological parts, processes, etc.
  • “Phantom” pain from a missing or amputated limb provides an example of the fact that “pain” is a nervous system construct. The nervous system (brain) can be fooled with different types of visual stimulation, which further illustrates how the brain responds to the outside environment.
  • Francis Crick’s “Astonishing Hypothesis” about human consciousness states that everything that defines “you” — “your feelings, what you see, what you hear, what you do — is due to the action of nerve cells inside your brain.”
  • The human brain has been evolving over 500 million years, but each individual brain also evolves over the course of an individual lifetime. Personal experiences mold and shape the brain. We are not predestined creatures.
  • To what degree are we not only constrained or limited by our genes, but also imprisoned by the environments we experience, e.g., poverty, violence, prejudice?


These videos are excerpts from:

  • The Brain: Our Universe Within, Evolution and Perception (1994)
  • Jeff Hawkins’s 2009 J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Lectured titled, “Why can’t a computer be more like a brain?” The J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Lecture series is sponsored by the J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Committee. See more clips from the Hawkins lecture.
  • Christof Koch’s 2005 J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Lecture titled, “The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach.” (Also the name of his 2004 book available on Amazon.com.) The J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Lecture series is sponsored by the J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Committee.These clips illustrate, in Koch’s words:
    “Conscious perception is, in a sense, a con job of the brain. It [our sense of perception] suggests there’s a stable world out there, and there’s a very simple relationship between what’s out there in the world and what’s inside our head. But in fact it’s a very complicated relationship. It’s actively constructed by our brain. We’re now beginning to understand that what I see in my head is actually constructed by my head, by my neurons.

    “This is called an afterimage, a negative afterimage … It belies the simple notion there’s a one-to-one relationship between the outside world and my inner mental experiences. In this case … the colors fade. So it depends not only on what’s out there, it depends on what’s the history? So clearly this naive, realistic view that there’s a world, there’s my head and this simple mapping, it can’t be true.”

    Note that I have made edits and inserted comments in these excerpts to aid the online viewer’s experience. Used with permission of Christof Koch and with thanks to the J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Committee.

    Compare Koch’s 2005 demonstrations with Alfred Korzybski’s 1948 demonstration of abstracting with his fan-disc.

  • The PBS documentary, “Secrets of the Mind” featuring Dr. V.S. Ramachandran. (2002) See more excerpts featuring V.S. Ramachandran.