Essays and Theories

Evolutionary Psychology and the Recipe for an Artificial Brain:
Add One Cup of Gray Matter and Mix
William A. Spriggs

I had an incredibly vivid dream the other night. I dreamt that, while poking around in God's attic, I found a recipe for an artificial brain. God's attic, if I remember correctly, looked just like any other attic, just more so. I was particularly struck by the dusty vastness of the extinct species collection. In one corner there were separate paper piles of information, randomly placed, yet stacked neatly one after another; all of them reached to unseen heights in what appeared to me an open sky with no stars There were no labels on the piles, and there was barely enough room in which to move between the stacks. I remember stopping at one particular pile, grabbing one of the pages, and giving a quick, forceful tug. The huge pile of papers did not topple, as I thought it might; instead, out came the one page. At the top of the page, centered, was this title in italics: The Human Brain. It was in the form of a recipe. I was so excited, I got on the voice phone, tapped out e-mails, and posted messages to newsgroups on the internet. The next thing I remember was that my living room was filled with scientists, philosophers, and psychologists telling me that by all means I should attempt to make the device--and then they all exited laughing, leaving me alone in the room with the recipe in my hand.

Well, dreams are a place nice to visit, but we must live in reality. In the relaxed atmosphere we have right now, however, I want to take a small measure of literary license. Let's imagine that we are creating an artificial brain from the recipe I was given in my dream.

The first thing that anyone should do in attempting to create an artificial brain is realize that the human brain is biological. We are made of flesh and blood, not silicon. To create artificial intelligence, one must try to make hard, unliving material behave like living material, not the other way around. Once this premise is accepted, one can begin to compare that flesh and blood with silicon circuits. You now have your cooking utensils and mixing bowl ready.

The human brain is, essentially, an electrical device that changes its internal circuits to meet the demands of the outside world and the internal analytical central processing unit. As it progresses from birth to final voyage, it constantly analyses itself by comparing experiences, memories, and innate processes. In order to adapt to its local environment, the human brain reconfigures itself, making chemical changes through biochemical means. Within these chemicals are the simple pluses and minuses that build new circuit pathways, memories, and conceptions, and eliminate others that are no longer needed. With an artificial brain, the electrical current that moves electronic information from one place to another must be switched on 24 hours a day for an entire lifetime.

In your human brain-shaped baking pan, line the surface with an underlining principal so that the artificial brain will not stick to the surface. The underlying principal is the realization that there is an outside and an inside perspective of the world that the brain is interacting with, but with one important note: it uses just one central processing unit to make the analysis, decides if the information is internal or external, and give directions for movement. I believe that is why some people with overloaded or malfunctioning CPU's have difficulty separating the real world from the imagined.

Like all recipes, this one has major ingredients. In the life of the human brain, body, and soul you have a beginning and an end. This includes anything physical we produce, from conceptual ideas to the very basic, fundamental changes that humans undergo during the life cycle. In terms of our recipe, then, the major ingredients are the various stages of life that we pass through. If the theory of evolutionary psychology dictates that the human brain contains innate areas that produce specific behavior algorithms, then logic also must dictate that we carry these innate areas from the moment we are born to the moment we take our final voyage. Since behavior varies by age, culture, and physical environments; these innate areas, then, must turn on and off according to cues from the outside world which are then assimilated, analyzed, and acted upon internally. We then act on, or refrain from acting on, this analysis. Such analysis and action is either long-term or a nanosecond in length, depending, of course, on its value in self-preservation. We store information that we, as individuals, consider important, and compare this stored information against possible future situations. We call this storing of information and the mechanism of comparative processing, as learning.

In our mixing bowl, I want you to put in the stages of life listed below. I have listed seven stages in our lives that I feel are important in the respect that they have considerable influence on our bodies and on our brains. At each stage we are faced with situations that influence individual decisions. These influences cause combinations of brain chemistry to cascade hormones in their proper sequences, dictated by the genetic software of DNA. At each of these stages we must take in and analyze vast amounts of information and make adaptations. So, in the bowl, stir in a period of settling in and familiarization. We need this stabilizing period in order to give us proper time to adapt at our present stage, but also to give us time to gather new information on the next stage in preparation for moving to that stage. Most individuals can make the jump, but others, by circumstance or misfortune, cannot. It is this failure to pass with ease from stage to stage that causes anxiety, angst, and, finally, pathology. Whether we pass from stage to stage with complications, each stage of adaptation interacts with our innate Darwinian algorithmic modules, which then help to create a unique individual, and the cultural longitude and latitude of our lives.

These seven time stages are:

  1. Birth to toddler
  2. First separation from parents; in particular, from the mother. At this stage we prefer others not of our family.
  3. Puberty to pre-sexual selection. This involves gathering information from same-age friends, which requires interpersonal skills.
  4. Mate selection. (Darwin's sexual selection theory.)
  5. Empire building. (Establishing a nest, focusing on career, and directing resources at our children).
  6. Empty nest. (Directing resources at grandchildren and, perhaps, social causes)
  7. Final voyage preparation.

The third part of the recipe calls for the creation of either a male brain or a female brain. At this point, you must make a decision as to what gender you want to make your artificial brain. Those who feel that there is no major difference between the two brains should seriously consider taking up another avocation. If you decide to create both genders at the same time, (difficult, but not impossible), please be very careful placing the two in close proximity of each other when done baking. How the two brains work in collaboration and conflict with each other is best left to another paper.

Now, with the male and female brain safely separated, we have arrived at the fourth stage of our recipe. Now, it begins to get difficult. I want you to throw in the "eight intelligences" of Howard Gardner of Harvard. Even though I still feel that Howard's eight intelligences are just the names for the basic, central operating units of behavioral mechanisms that we in evolutionary psychology base our theories upon, we must remember that Howard published his theory in 1983, in his book, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences--six years before the "birth" of evolutionary psychology. I prefer Howard's nomenclature because he pokes a finger in the eye of those who continue to rank their fellow humans by the false measure of "intelligence." What I also like about these eight separations is that they still embrace the Darwinian algorithmic mechanisms of evolutionary psychology. I think of them as launching areas for probe ships of exploratory neurons and specified, cautionary behavior mechanisms. (Welcome to the family, Dr. Gardner, and congratulations on the publication of your new book, Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership--and your overnight success lecturing CEOs). I am not going to explain each of the eight intelligences in this short essay, so if you want detailed descriptions of Howard's categories, purchase this most important book.

The eight intelligence's of Howard Gardner are as follows:

  1. Linguistic
  2. Musical
  3. Logical-Mathematical
  4. Spatial
  5. Bodily-Kinesthetic
  6. Intrapersonal
  7. Interpersonal
  8. Naturalistic

We now move to the fifth part of our recipe. Stay awake! This is the most important ingredient: Culture. Consider culture as the batter of your human brain cake, rising through the evolutionary timeline to its fluffy, magnificent present. Whew! Boy, talk about trying to fit all those different cultures on the planet and then cramming them into our mixing bowl! OK, so do this: Instead of trying to mix in an entire culture, mix in only the culture at a particular longitude and latitude from our planet's grid. Culture is complex and fluctuates in time and location. The culture where you are right now is different from the culture in the home or office across the street. There is culture within culture, but all culture has a basic starting point: our innate ability to analyze and act upon information. Stop thinking in terms of American, African, European, or Asian culture. Start thinking like a search directory. Think: American/male/Boulder/age:19/Pearl St. Think: Asian/female/Beijing/age:19/Hwang St. Add anything else you like--slang, dress, or the latest dance craze. The goal here is to start thinking in global terms and then descend right down to the specific street culture. Once this is accomplished, you have a world of information implanted within your artificial brain, one without national borders, but still with a discreet respect for each culture and the individuals within it. You also have the basis for solving the polysemy problem that eludes linguists.

We have now arrived at the sixth part of our artificial brain recipe. That is the addition of the brain chemicals that alter circuitry. So, I want you to break down the chemicals into their simple usage by asking the following question: does the chemical inhibit/dampen (-) brain function, or does it accelerate/induce (+) the process? Now, what must be considered is, Does the chemical in question help the in the functioning of interpersonal or intrapersonal matters of the brain? You have the decision: in/out--plus/minus.

In the seventh part of our recipe we add the language of the brain and how it communicates with the various parts of the body. We have five senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. Of these five, the senses of smell and hearing are the oldest; they helped in the defense of the individual at the greatest of distances. Despite their age or function, however, these senses all have something in common: They take outside environmental information and translate it into an outside-to-brain language, which is transmitted to the brain. When this information gets to the brain, it is translated again into a central operating language, and is then translated a third time into an outgoing brain-to-area-to-be-acted-upon language. For example, if our ancestors heard a female lion's growl, the sound would be translated from sound waves into digital ear-to-brain language. When it gets to the brain, the brain translates the bioelectrical digital-ear language into a language that the entire body understands. It analyses the sound, and on the basis of both innate and learned memory, finds it to represent danger, and sends separate messages to the various affected areas with their own unique brain-to-area language. This language might release insulin into the heart, allow the movement of the feet or control signals from the brain to the vocal cords. Yikes!

Stop for a moment and consider: How does the brain make a judgement call? This is where we get to the recipe ingredient called memory access. There are three separate levels of memory, in my opinion, which I have tagged M1, M2, and M3. All three areas evolved by maintaining connections. In the first, oldest, and deepest level, M1, we have memories that include our autonomic functions such as breathing, digestion, and of course, sexual stimulation. In the second level of memories, M2, located on top of M1, we find the memories of bodily motion and coordination. This memory area holds the necessary algorithms of running from a predator, dodging a spear, or chasing a fly ball to center field. The third memory area, M3, deals with higher conceptual thought. This area connects with all three areas and makes it possible to conceptualize, for example, the image of being chased by a lion. In this conceptualized image, you can see yourself running--which comes from the M2 area--and, finally, you can actually wake up screaming due to the memory connection still in place from the M1 area. I believe the first level, M1, is closed for business except in cases of deep trauma. The brain still has access to information there, but can no longer fill the area except in extreme cases. When the brain decided to expand its turf in search of new food sources, it needed limbs to do it, and that required a new memory storage area. This area, along with M3, is still open to memory storage, as we are still learning how to navigate in new or imagined situations.

To put the three memory areas in a working perspective, realize that information gathering from memory is based on need and speed. Information that is important to survival, the brain stores in a method that is easiest and fastest to access. Visualize an elevator descending from the top of a three-story building. Label the top floor M3, the next floor down as M2, and, finally, M1. In an emergency, the brain sends impulses down the shaft to all three levels, searching for help from the memory areas as to what decision to make. If any additional information is required, it can be accessed on a horizontal path away from the shaft. The most important information is located near the doors of the elevator, and the least important is located the farthest away. This is why Alzheimer's patients can remember where the refrigerator is located, but forget how to play cards. Self-preservation is the standard bearer of memory allocation.

We have reached the end of our recipe for creating an artificial brain cake. A quick trip, but after all, this essay did start with a dream, and was intended as a conceptual exercise. In our final step, please stick this cake in the oven for four million years, at least. Because we will never be finished evolving.

Hey! I forgot and left these brain waves on the table! Maybe next essay.

Origin: October 1996


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