One's personality is both a composition and reflection, but if I have to choose one of them, I will choose reflection as the "self" is more important to me than "me". One's composition may change, walking across the cultural landscapes and climbing the social ladder but one's self is tied to one's reflections. The fun part is that reflections are not bound to "Time-Space" barriers ( it is not time-space) and respective mental constructs, which have grown so thick over ages, that they had reduced the image of humans to Sisyphus, rolling different sizes of boulders on hills of different heights.… As the name of this Blog indicates, knols are my perspectives on topics of interests, sweet/bitter experiences or just doodling :)

Friday, April 6, 2012

The brains of golden ages

Celebrity gossip is not a modern phenomenon. As long as there were big names, the desire to link extra-ordinary things to them were there. Legends sprout that most of times overshadow the reality but still these legends provide a window to see glimpses of the prevailing reality. Alexander the great is the biggest name among great kings of ancient time so the desire to compare this great king to a great thinker is quite understandable. When Alexander conquers Athens, the big names like Socrates and Plato were no more so we find the legend of linking him to another big name in Philosophy, Diogenes. This legend is very common but still worth to read it again as it provides a glimpse of the prevailing thinking in ancient Athens,

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…………“Thereupon many statesmen and philosophers came to Alexander with their congratulations, and he expected that Diogenes of Sinope also, who was tarrying in Corinth, would do likewise. But since that philosopher took not the slightest notice of Alexander, and continued to enjoy his leisure in the suburb Craneion, Alexander went in person to see him; and he found him lying in the sun. Diogenes raised himself up a little when he saw so many persons coming towards him, and fixed his eyes upon Alexander. And when that monarch addressed him with greetings, and asked if he wanted anything, "Yes," said Diogenes, "stand a little out of my sun." It is said that Alexander was so struck by this, and admired so much the haughtiness and grandeur of the man who had nothing but scorn for him, that he said to his followers, who were laughing and jesting about the philosopher as they went away, "But truly, if I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes.……………Wikipedia

I chose this legend as it beautifully illustrates the appreciation and dominance of Philosophical thoughts in Athens. To me, the comparison of a penniless philosopher to that of a great king in the form of a legend is more show of this kind of functional-brain-wiring than anything else.

For long, I was fascinated by this tiny (from our modern perspective) ancient city state; Athens, with an estimated population of 250,000 populations, out of which only 30,000 men had civil rights and the rest were women and slaves. Just for sake of comparison take Hazaras of Quetta; Hazaras is a minority in Quetta city (the least populated province of Pakistan) with an estimated population of more than 600,000 which is more than double population of that of ancient Athens. I understand that it is reasonable correlation to compare a modern population with an ancient city state that have more than 5000 years of time gap in between. On other hand it does make sense when we compare their accomplishments. Living in ancient times, when human knowledge was primitive and means of recording and transferring known knowledge was expensive and limited and at a time when modern educational institutions were absent, in a very period of time, Athens produced the kind of great men whose thoughts became the foundations of Western civilizations as a whole, Muslim civilization in part, USA and global world in general. It is not just the failure of Hazaras as even much bigger nations that have access to modern human knowledge had failed to produce not even a single man of knowledge of that statures… Why?

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Right now, one possible (of course from many) answer comes from “Neuroscience”. Though there are doubts about the methodology (It was started with “Split brain experiments” and now is dominated by fMRI – Functional Magnetic resonance; measuring the blood flow in brain; as brain does not store energy so it depends for supply of sugar on blood and measuring oxygenated and de-oxygenated blood is way of measuring consumption of energy and activities of certain brain areas and correlating them with certain behaviors or thoughts provides key information to know how brain functions; correlation is tricky though) but still, one thing is appearing as a common pattern and that is brain does not have a “central control”. Different brain areas functions “independently” or “semi-independently” or in aggregates and it is why we have conflicts inside our heads but the good news is that all these happens in subconscious level and we usually do not notice so the conscious mind is usually has a resolved form of thought as a conscious product (comes with rational theories/explanations about final decisions)…

One common example might be the breaking of rule that we make to follow strictly but we tend to go easy on ourselves and rationalize once we break those rules; e.g, if you have made your mind to stop taking sweet dishes but seeing your favorite sweet dish, your lizard brain make you eat and once you have broken the rule then your left hemisphere come up with a theory to rationalize it, usually with a reward theory to justify the acts.

I am not neurologists and these explanations might change as new techniques or new hypotheses emerge but one thing that I get from this is,

The frequent use of certain brain areas increase their performance and make them dominate over other parts (increased neuron connections in those areas) so the wiring of the brain depends on the rate of usage of certain areas. In simple words, it is the functional wiring of brain that determines a person…. If it is true (as of now accepted) then reasoning on the same line, it is possible that each era is Dominated by “Particular Functional Wiring of Brains”…

“In other Words, if we know human history based on the certain golden ages like, the correlation of rise of Athens City State with “Golden Age of Philosophy”, the correlation of Renaissance and industrialization with “Golden Age of Sciences” , the correlation of rise of digital technologies with “Golden Age of entrepreneurship”… it makes sense in the light of dominance of certain “functional wiring of brains” because they are seen as way of unbeaten success in their relative times….”

1. Golden Age of Philosophy;

Athens city state was much smaller as compared to Egyptian, Indus, Chinese, Babylon and Persian Kingdoms but because the rhetoric and reasoning was a way of earning/maintaining high social status and political positions in the so called Athenian “democratic state” so the Sophists were offering those skills to people in market places. Coming back to our functional brain wiring types hypothesis; because of higher demand for reasoning, the push for this functional brain wiring was a dominated so it make sense that some of those sophists distinguished themselves from the rest as Philosophers. Right now, for me it is a convenient explanation for how in short amount of time, Athens could produce so many great names in Philosophy whose thoughts became the foundation of Western civilization in particular and modern civilization in general.

2. Golden Age of Science;

Based on same line of reasoning, the renaissance and following industrial period was a time for naturalism. The reasoning supported with evidences was a kind of thinking that was proving a liberating and empowering force. “Liberty; Libertarian Philosophers” and “Power; Nietzsche and Darwinianism” were two main themes of these period (Colonization and World Wars were two tragic byproducts of these kinds of functional brain wiring). Again, it makes sense that the zeal of empowerment and sense of freedom made the discoverers and inventors social outliers. So it is not surprising that why in a short period of time continental Europe produced so many great Scientists that reshaped the face of earth and redefined the basic concepts of Man, God and Universe.

3. Golden Age of digital Entrepreneurs;

I don’t think, I need to explain this period as following the same line of reasoning, anyone can figure out why in short period of time, the Silicon Valley produced so many successful entrepreneurs in very short amount of time. The big names, like those of Bill Gates (Founder of Microsoft), Steve Jobs (co-founder of “Apple”) and Mark Zuckerberg (Founder of Facebook), Sergey Brin (Less known; the co-founder of Google) dominates over other fields. Now, it became a trend and a recipe for success to come up with a novel idea for business which promises an empty niche for rapid growth and becoming a giant before competitors appear in the market. So it really makes sense to see the dominance of this kind of functional brain wiring in Golden age of digital entrepreneurs.

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