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Our Brains on the Internet

14 June, 2012 | Founder's Blog

The Shallows; What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains

I am behind on reading. This book has been out for a while and I just read it last month. Go get a copy from your library and check it out.

The Shallows highlights many things about the neuroplasticity of our brains, not the least of which is what happens to them as we collectively shift to a 24/7 computerized world.

Some points:

The more you multi-task, the less deliberate you become. The less able to think and reason out a problem. You become more likely to rely on conventional ideas and solutions rather than challenging them with original lines of thought.

What we are doing when we multi-task is learning to be skillful at a superficial level.

Our dependence on software is insightful. Less helpful software forces users to think harder. But the brighter the software, the dimmer the user becomes.

As we turn over problem solving and other cognitive chores to our computers, we reduce our brains ability to build stable knowledge structures – schemas – that can later be applied to new situations.

Our dependence on search engines like Google, etc. is taking a toll. Individuals tend to look at the most recent articles and citations as the most relevant, and as more journals are put on-line, scholars begin to put more emphasis on those, and the citations overall in papers are diminishing, leading to a narrowing of science and scholarship.

When we use any search engine we are following a script – a written set of commands, an algorithm that was written to return information. This is mechanizing intellectual exploration in a way that the script writer perceives it should be. As everyone is doing it, everyone is being molded into the same fold.

Computers can now grade essays. Algorithms are doing it. It’s running a script. A script that takes away the tasks that truly demand wisdom.

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I am reminded of Louis de Broglie who won a Nobel prize in 1929 for his college PhD thesis. He almost didn’t graduate because his advisors couldn’t understand it. They thought better to submit it to Albert Einstein for review who came back and said it was the first glimmer of light in the worst of our physics enigmas and he should get his degree. The mathematics of the thesis opened up an entirely new field of physics concerning particle-wave duality.

What if his schooling were pre-scripted and his thesis run through the academic testing algorithm?

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Today it seems everyone is operating from scripts. It is in our economics, our medicine, our law, our farming, our politics.

Academia is turning out waves of “politically correct” graduates who haven’t a clue of deep contextual relations between diverse studied disciplines due in part that they haven’t been taught, and further, everyone is plugged in multi-tasking and are stuck in a superficial zone from the top on down.

This situation does not bode well for wisdom. Meanwhile, insanity increasingly permeates the world stage.

And what does all of this have to do with health care today?


I’ll speak more to that in the future but now I’d like to leave you with something to ponder.

Confucius says….

The ancient who desired to illustrate illustrious virtue throughout the empire, first ordered well their own state. Wishing to order well their own state, they first regulated their families. Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their own persons. Wishing to cultivate their persons, they first rectified their heart. Wishing to rectify their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts. Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they extended their knowledge to the utmost; and this extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things. Things being investigated, knowledge became complete. Their knowledge being complete, their thoughts were sincere. Their thoughts being sincere, their hearts were then rectified. Their heart being rectified, their persons were cultivated. Their persons being cultivated, their families were regulated. Their family being regulated, their states were rightly governed. Their states being rightly governed, their whole empire was made tranquil and happy. From the emperor down to the mass of the people, all must consider the cultivation of the person, the root of everything besides.

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Begin to make your knowledge complete.

Attend a Biomedx workshop. Because it matters.

Till next time,