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Human brain- Slaves or Masters?

After finishing off with my project on the free-will debate, I have been thinking a lot about its implications in the real world. If there really is no free-will and if we do not have any free choices then what is the meaning of responsibility in this context? If a person is passing under a railway bridge and if it collapses and kills him, do we put any moral responsibility on the bridge? True, we can hold the bridge responsible for being the cause of his death but we do not put any moral blame on it. On the other hand, if a person murders another person than we punish the culprit because we put a moral blame on him. We consider the murderer as a consciously free being, capable of making choices that may affect the outcome of his action, who could have otherwise decided not to kill. This is the difference that philosophers or theologians and even scientists till this century have considered- Human beings are free to choose while the other inanimate things are not.

But if there is no free-will, then there is no significant difference between that collapsing bridge and that murderer. Both are acting in accordance with the laws of causality that built and control them. What can a murderer do? All of his thoughts and actions are a result of the cumulative forces of his brain and the external environment.

The murderer is his brain. Brain is a hardware. Every hardware has a capacity to store and process data. Hardware works on the basis of the software installed by ‘’someone else’’ in them. Here software is the analogy of all the information that the brain has processed and stored. All of this information comes from external sources, namely the other people and the environment. An individual’s brain (hardware) is not responsible for the actions of external sources. Therefore, it can be inferred that an individual’s brain is at the whim of the behavior and nature of his external. A person develops his brain from the genes that that he had begotten from his parents. So, if that person commits a murder, I will say that his environment and his parents are more responsible for that crime than the person himself.

Because our actions are nothing but reactions on any set of internal (bodily) or external (social, environmental) stimuli and those reactions are expressed after the information is processed by our software that are themselves limited by our hardware (brain), therefore we need to install good software in our brains. Software that make our hardware (brain) more and more efficient and effective.

Let us take the analogy of a computer. Let us take two computers A and B. ‘A’ has got an Intel Pentium 4 processor with 320 Gb memory. ‘B’ has got Intel core2 duo and 1 Tb memory. For a given set of information, which computer will work better? Surely it would be B. Which computer will be able to record more information, yes it will be B again. Aha! And which computer will be able to do this mathematical equation: (2*2=)?
Well, it will be none. Why? – Because none of them have got a software to understand the given language of math and the rules of how to do a multiplication. If A has got that software (calculator), it will be able to do the calculation and Computer B will sit in the corner looking like a fool. But if both the computers have got the same software then B will be able to do the operation more swiftly than A.

Now, let us say that both the computers have to forcibly record some visual information in the form of JPEG image. Computer B will be able to store 1000 pictures of 1 Gb quality each. To store the same number of pictures, computer A will have to decrease the quality of images. To store the same number of images, i.e 1000, computer A will have to tone down the quality of images to 320 Mb – A loss of 68% in quality and details. That means when computer A will try to recall any particular image, there will be a lot of information missing.

This is what happens with a human being. There are intelligent people and there are less intelligent people. There are people who have better memory and processing power than others. There are people who can recall things better in a more detailed form than others. Just like a computer.

Human brain is nothing special than a computer brain.

If we agree on the above arguments than we human beings are no special than our computers. Though we will all argue that we are better than them. But seriously, it took us billions of years to become what we are now. Computers have been around from less than the last 5 decades.

Let’s come back to that murderer now. If we agree that the murderer is only a pawn of his external environment then how can we punish him? It seems like he is just a victim of his environment. He wouldn’t have been the same if his upbringing was done in a different place with different set of inherent genes having more favorable set of variables.

Think about this: A boy born in Iraq during the Gulf war. His parents are killed by the American Army. He is brought up by the twisted Islamic preachers of his area. He is taught to hate Americans. Then, when he grows up, he blows himself in a busy street of New York. Christians come on their radios and in their churches, Evil and devil they call him. But was that boy really at fault?
That boy was programmed in that manner from his childhood. He was nothing but an innocent child, just like any child in the world. He would have been acting different if he was adopted in his childhood by an American, British or Indian Family. But he was so unlucky.

Now, I am not advocating that punishments should be totally withdrawn from the justice system. Punishments can act as an excellent deterrent. If Human brains are like computers then these computers have only evolved to protect their carriers i.e. the human brains will always act in ways to protect themselves from destruction. So in case we threaten them with incarceration and death, most of the people will act according to the law. That is what we have been seeing in our system.

What this free will debate tells us new is that we shouldn’t ever act with a feeling of vengeance. The other person is not a culprit, he is a victim. I will develop my thoughts more on this topic. Till then, you guys give your suggestions


About Bobby-Allen

I am a business student, biotechnology graduate, free thinker and rationalist living in my own dream world, floating along with the speck of dirt that we call earth. I love reading books, traveling, movies, music and all the amazing things that this life has granted us. Though only a few among us appreciate their true value. I consider myself a seeker, for truth and salvation. I have looked for the truth in human emotions, feelings, dogma, superstitions and now I have only come closer to the perimeter of truth which just keeps on shifting further and further away. Hope one day I reach my goal, the post where I have tied my dreams.


13 thoughts on “Human brain- Slaves or Masters?

  1. //What this free will debate tells us new is that we shouldn’t ever act with a feeling of vengeance.//

    Shouldn’t ???? As if these people had free-will and the supposed victims didn’t ?? It’s an apppeal to pity and hence is a logical fallacy.

    Posted by Rajesh Dudeja | May 2, 2012, 2:21 pm
    • To add on Rajesh’s comment, the victim, also denied free-will, might be devastated if the killer of his family is allowed out of jail in 7 years. The victim may feel the need to kill the criminal. Or the victime may become very depressed/suicide as we witness. If part of maintaining the human machine is to exact revenge, then so be it, revenge will be exacted. But hopefully less than before.

      Also, since the criminal is a result of his environment, then I can see in such a system, that revenge/reforming will be passed on to parents and bad teachers and various abusers, for their part in producing a broken machine.

      Posted by karim | May 8, 2012, 5:50 pm
  2. The perspective will change, when a different question is asked.
    Not: guilty or innocent or is someone to to blame or not to blame.
    But: what’s the essence of the question in general?

    The problem is reducible to a simple fact: WE want to have it safe; we don’t like dangerous surroundings in our direct context.

    It seems that this has been an essential need not only in human context but in all natural systems.

    As this is a quite important need, nature provided tools to cope with the challenge: Our brains are hardwired for payback, fairness, anger empathy etc (A) and their function is: preserving the system by influencing the participating parties.
    It’s all about making participants compatible and such hedge the system we live in (B).

    It this the basic ground of culture and of law.
    I doubt there is any law that can not be reduced to fulfill these funtions (A) and (B)

    At the stage of cognition we have arrived it should be possible to overcome our hard-wired bias and think of more efficient strategies to preserve (and bring forward) the systems we live in.

    We’ve done it as far our diet is concerned, we’ve done it in our sex-lilfe, we’ve done it regarding longterm-planning, why not in the social field?

    If a subject is not compatible we should try to make it compatible or isolate it of the system it puts at risk.
    Obviously this will need some discussion on what makes an individual subject and in which way such an object can be judged differently/controversial to the quality of the system.

    Posted by Heribert Bürger | May 8, 2012, 3:09 pm
    • “Our brains are hardwired for payback, fairness, anger empathy etc (A) and their function is: preserving the system by influencing the participating parties.
      It’s all about making participants compatible and such hedge the system we live in (B).”

      Agree completely.

      I can’t understand how we can can overcome our hard-wired biases? It can be only done if we are programmed to do that. It must mean that we should promote maths and logic in children schools. Education of such subjects acts as a software to the hardware that is our brain.

      I sincerely agree with you sir that if some subject is not compatible with us, we should try to make it compatible. But billions of people around the globe do not have that chance. They act on their own programming. Like weird robots that have gone wrong.

      Posted by Bobby-Allen | May 8, 2012, 5:43 pm
      • In my 1st comment I wrote that “we should try to make compatible” which doesn’t fit.

        This was not quite correct. To be precise it is in fact THE the crucial point in the discussion.

        I should have written: the SYSTEM will provide tools, dynamic loops, ways of “adjusting” what is not compatible.
        The big question (in this discussion and in our culture) is: who defines the system?

        Are these teachers? the law? social practice? And what, if the boundries of the system we see do not really reflect the functional whole? In the sense, what does my left toe know about my toothache and how to cure it?

        I suppose it might be enough to take in account that the individual and his rights, defined in our culture should not always be the only and last reference.

        Posted by heribert bürger | May 8, 2012, 9:15 pm
        • Human brain is a function of the system. This system is the sum of our internal body processes and the external world. We can modify both of the systems. The internal system can be changed or affected by the medical pills that we can take. The external environment which consists of people and abiotic things, laws and social norms is highly dynamic.

          We can only try to define this system. A person living on an island with no outside contact has a particular system. In the same way a person living in New York has another system. The Brain-Function will vary according to the different systems.

          If we take any person as a test case then we can try to define his system and the boundaries of it. But remember that as soon as we start studying our test case, we also modify his system because we add ourselves in his system too.There seems to be a lot of unpredictability in this decision of defining the system.

          Posted by Bobby-Allen | May 9, 2012, 5:10 am
          • Agreed. Human brain is a function of the system, so it can never be take as a “purpose” of the system which is a non antroposophic view and stands in contrast to most of our culture’s reference systems

            Posted by heribert bürger | May 9, 2012, 8:52 am
            • I will never take a scientific discussion in the imaginary clubhouse of pseudosciences like Anthrophosophical medicine and approach. Yes, Brain as a function of social environment is in contrast with the different cultural systems as we see around but then this discussion is new and stands against everything that men has stood for since the dawn of civilization. We are entering a new Renaissance and surely this ride is going to be a bumpy one.

              Posted by Bobby-Allen | May 9, 2012, 12:14 pm
            • Couldn’t agree more. I like the reference you make regarding renaissance

              Posted by heribert büger | May 9, 2012, 3:30 pm
  3. The First example with the bridge is a bit off. When a bridge malfunctions we do take action against the bridge. We use it less. We shut it down for repairs. If it collapses or kill someone, then we shut it down for much much longer. Perhaps we tear it down and re-route to a new bridge. In short, we do take action against malfunctioning and dangerous inanimate objects.

    The way we mistrust a malfunctioning bridge, is more in agreement with the rest of your editorial and with your conclusion. So I do not suggest any other changes to the rest of the editorial. Cheers.

    Posted by karim | May 8, 2012, 5:43 pm
    • But my friend Karim, can’t we say in the same sense that we need to repair the malfunctioning brain of a person. It also acts in the same way as a non-conscious bridge. Medical science has been acting to repair the bad parts of brain. Look at the cases of Schizophrenia: It is a case of a bad brain like a bad bridge. It needs medicine as a part of repair.

      Posted by Bobby-Allen | May 8, 2012, 6:01 pm
      • Yes Bobby, we do deal with a broken bridge and we do deal with a broken brain. My point is you need to strengthen that analogy in the opening paragraph. In the opening paragraph you wrote:

        “If a person is passing under a railway bridge and if it collapses and kills him, do we put any moral responsibility on the bridge? True, we can hold the bridge responsible for being the cause of his death but we do not put any moral blame on it.”

        The above line is ambiguous. The line above line does not address the strong actions we still need to take against the bridge, like investigating, rebuilding and/or destroying that bridge.

        If your reader agrees we do not have free-will, then the reader will see your point. If your reader is hostile to your point, then the hostile reader will think you are just being a softy on the bridge and then he will write you off as trying to be a softy on criminals, which is not True.

        The line you wrote needs to be more specific like the following line:
        “When a bridge falls on a person and kills him, we do not put a moral blame on the bridge. Still we take strong action against the bridge to repair, rebuild, reroute or destroy. More urgently, we investigate the event to see what or who caused the accident, but we do not put a moral blame on the bridge.”

        Posted by karim | May 9, 2012, 4:46 pm
        • My central point for the first paragraph was that we do not put any moral blame on the bridge. It collapses under the laws of physics unto which we are all a subject. But we do put a moral blame on a person who murders another person. That is where the problem lies. We think that Human beings are conscious agents of their actions. But it is not the case.

          We humans are only a few steps ahead of the automatons that we see in our present world. It can be logically argued that humans will be able to build such robots in future that will share this same illusion of free-will as we do.

          I would certainly agree with you that we need to investigate on the causes of the collapse of the bridge. We do that in the case of human beings too. A decrease in Serotonin level in human brain can cause extremely violent behavior. This needs to be checked and cured, in the same way that we will try to fix a dilapidated bridge.

          Do read my first article on Free will and give your views. You will understand about where I am coming from.

          Posted by Bobby-Allen | May 10, 2012, 10:06 am

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