Saturday, February 16, 2008

Analogous Thinking

When you sense something, the response is dictated by electrochemical physics. Receptors in the eye, nose, mouth, etc, send signals along specific paths. As babies, we are sponges, sopping up these signals and making connections. In fact, children begin as a jumble of synaptic connections, which are then culled like the wild pedals off a flower. Over time, this process leads to sophisticated movement, memory, and even consciousness.

Suppose you look at a red apple. A specific, electrochemical response occurs along a path of which you have no control. It just happens as dictated by physics. Now suppose you look at a red barn. The same process occurs, except now the pathway is different. However, there is likely some crossover where the barn-red stimulus excites the same part of the apple-red stimulus pathway. With time and experience, an idea is extrapolated, in this case, "red" or "redness."

I think this pathway intrusion, this analogous thinking, wherein the culling and preservation of electrochemical pathways occurs, might account for human consciousness. Metaphor and analogy may be at the root of what it means to be human!

What appears to be a weakness in this view of consciousness is that it is reliant on outside stimuli. Do I need an outside stimulus to start thinking about "red" or can I just will myself to start thinking about "red"? I'm not sure. But you probably weren't thinking about "red" much before you read this blog entry. And considering the trillions of synaptic connections in your brain, I don't think it's too hard to imagine that a simple stimulus, like a red barn, might cascade into a brainstorm of connections and emergent thought.

It's something to think about.