Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Humans as pattern-seekers

Last week I’d posted a video in which Jeremy Lent sketches out a transformation in which humankind manages to escape climate catastrophe. He’s recently published The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity’s Search for Meaning. While I’m leery of the term “instinct” in this context, I certainly believe that we are pattern seeking creatures, and that we seek meaning (unity of being?).

What I’m wondering is if we can deriving this pattern seeking from the fact that each individual neuron is, of course, a living agent, seeking to increase its inputs (nutrients) through its actions (its outputs) – see my old post on The Busy Bee Brain. Of course that’s true of every kind of brain, not just human brains. What is it that sets the human brain free to seek patterns of every kind everywhere? Conversely, what is it that keeps the brains of butterflies, octopi, iguanas, rabbits, parrots, and so forth from such untethered pattern seeking?

I think it’s the (special) nature of human society, our ability to walk about in one another’s minds though language and the arts and sciences, that’s what does it. Alas, I don’t know how to turn that into an explicit argument. How is it that seeking and finding patterns energizes individual neurons, for the seeking and finding of patterns requires the coordinated efforts of millions and billions of neurons distributed across many brains. How can we formulate that in a coherent way?

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