People, History, & Technology

As Piaget expressed, human mental growth occurs in a pretty predictable pattern. The goal is to map the inputs from our environment to the outputs in a manner that creates the optimal outcome. In early lifeforms, this merely meant that neurons were meant to coordinate movement across the movement. Some organisms established fixed neuron structure which optimized its ability to survive. The capabilities and benefits of having a more complex brain was correlated with better ways to interact with the environment. Minute optimizations within humans allowed us to flourish by enabling social interactions and the creation of collective knowledge and processes that are transmitted between people through emulation and then later language and abstract thought. Advancements in organs such as the eye allowed higher fidelity inputs from the environment given that the mind was able to effectively utilize that information. Other advancements such as complex vocal control allowed more complex interactions than was previously available. Dexterity and opposable thumbs allowed more us to build tools that let us manipulate the environment on a larger scale and more predictable ways.

Mammals gained a special advantage when emotional replication was developed through the concept of mirroring. This allowed the transmission of emotions of joy or sadness which allowed passing down emotion knowledge and valuations as well as letting communities to align motivations in order to achieve more complex goals. As we started to be able to create structures that extended beyond individual peoples’ lives. Language allowed us to relate direct experiences with abstract sounds. This drastically expanded the number as well as the complexity of thought that could be conveyed.

It's important to keep in mind absolute physical limitations of the mind to put into context what a person is. The energy equivalent of a 2500 kcal diet per day is about 121 watts. In comparison your microwave runs around 1200 watts and your iPad charges off a 20 watt adapter. The human brain consumes a part of that energy, relatively high by weight, but still only around 30 watts. The average human brain is 5 pounds and contains approximately 100 billion neurons.

On the output end, an average adult cyclist produces about 75 watts of power or around 0.1 horsepower, while a top cycling athlete can produce around 200 watts of power or 0.25 horsepower. Steve Jobs mused that out of all the animals, humans came about 2/3rds down the list for efficiency traveling which is quite unimpressive for the “crown of creation.” However, when someone thought of measuring our efficiency on a bicycle, our efficiency skyrocketed, blowing all the other animals out of the water.

The necessary prerequisites for these achievements is vast. Even after humans had achieved our modern form physically, we still had to grow as a society. If you look at instances where human children were unfortunately raised in the wild, sometimes by animals, you can see that they appear quite primitive and their behaviorisms are not too different from animals themselves. However, from a physical construction perspective, they are quite similar to us. Over thousands of years we developed an endless list of innovations that allowed societies to grow more complex, more coordinated, and more complex.

Our saving grace is our ability to leverage our environment. An example would be how highly we regard the early mastery of fire. The ability to cook food improved our energy consumption to

Jared Diamond documents this journey of continuous improvement of efficiency through our transition from hunter-gatherers to farmers. As our ability to survive and obtain the necessary sustenance improved, we were able to devote individuals’ lives to specific roles such as the creation of tools.

Technology has advanced at an incredible rate over the past few decades. Computers were a pivotal point in our transition as it allowed the delegation of many of these social functions off of the shoulders of people. While many things about humans were advantage, they also don’t function well in a societal manner. Humans compared to other mammals take the longest to develop mentally and the longest to gain independence compared to other animals. Within that lifespan, the brain matures over early adolescence and adulthood but the major mental pathways are solidified thereafter. This allowed for rapid iteration of mental structures as well as purging the number of physical corruptions that accumulate over a lifetime. With a mature society, much of the work starts to take more abstract forms. The limited amount of information intake and the amount of energy required to rewire the brain is pretty large. The computational throughput is limited and the accuracy of information transmittal is not precise. Computers allow these processes to be executed with precision and repetition. Replication is also very precise with the downside that the program has to be very carefully crafted.

Markets and money were a huge innovation. They existed as a proxy of value and effort. This was the initial social extension of biological coordination. In metabolic cycles, ATP is utilized as the carrier of energy. It is allocated to the places that need it in a specific proportion. The metabolization of ATP released a fixed amount of energy enabling certain other reactions to happen. We see that money was an indirect representation of this. It is socially accepted as a way to transfer energy. This was a huge leap forward from the barter economy that existed previously. That system had a number of problems. Matching being one of the big ones. This means that when two individuals want to trade they must both possess something that the other desired and in a relatively equivalent manner.

Back to the brain. Our brain simulates our thoughts in a number of different ways.