Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Meta-Brain Storm

A neuron doesn’t do much thinking. It passes electro-chemical potentials from one synaptic gap to another. It is almost impossible to imagine how a neuron is conscious of itself. Yet, it must be conscious of itself in some very basic fashion because if you network about a 100 billion of them you get a different kind of consciousness: you get a human mind. What happens when you network several billion human minds together? You can call it a meta-mind. No, this is NOT science fiction. We may not be connected to each other the way neurons are connected to each other. And as it’s impossible to imagine how a neuron is conscious, it’s also nearly impossible to imagine how civilization’s meta-mind is conscious. So, you may ask, this is a fun little thought-game, but why do I care? The answer: the connections between humans are becoming stronger, the metaphorical “synaptic gap” between each other shorter.

I found this realization through what one might call a meta-brain storm. Like an individual’s brainstorm, disparate and random pieces of info come together (neurons from all over the brain fire) to create something new. A friend (thanks, Stace) posts a blog link about networks. Curious, I read it. I like it. I really like it. Someone said something that makes sense, about things that have been rattling in my head for years—she just brought it into coherence. That “she” is Venessa Miemis and this is the blog entry:

I strongly encourage you to check it out. The sci-fi imagery is mine but I owe her a huge debt for getting me here. Besides, you may have to read it in order to make more sense of what I’m talking about; I’m not going to regurgitate too much of what she says.

In an earlier post ( I talked about how the Internet is bringing us together in unusual ways. That was only the tip of the iceberg. It’s not just connecting us, it’s changing us in interesting ways. Our society is becoming more globally conscious, the meta-mind more awake. Yeah, maybe someday we’ll all download our consciousnesses into a supercomputer and solve all the world’s problems overnight. But the meta-mind exists now and each passing day it strengthens as our technology progresses. I don’t know what the future holds—it’s impossible to predict the outcome of a brainstorm—but if we approach it with compassion and understanding, we can make the world an awesome place.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Thanks for the nod, Sean. I agree about Venessa's post; she's very modest in the way she approaches it, but I think she has an innate understanding of social networking. She's one to watch in the coming years.

  3. Pre-script: I really hate typos and the fact that I can't edit comments.

    Well, a neuron is definitely not conscious. They're really just simple threshold switches. Neurotransmitters build up on the dendrites of a neuron and when a certain threshold is reached, an electrical pulse shoots down the axon where the neuron releases its own set of neurotransmitters to another cell. So, they're no more conscious than a switch, but the connection between billions of them do create consciousness.

    However, you're more or less right. A lot of human behaviour can be looked at as a threshold switch. I actually had a similar idea that Twitter (as a whole) may "thinking" in a sense. Depending on how many followers a person has and the strength of what they tweet, a certain tweet may be retweeted by the followers. And those person's followers may, in turn, retweet that. I would look at the flow of people's tweets and then build an artificial neural network based on that data and see what it calculates.