In my first year in engineering, I wrote a paper on the “Future of Computers in Relation to Creative Thought”. As an “engineering” paper I knew what the expectation was; Computers are just dumb machinery requiring programming from thinking humans. I chose instead to build a case for computers being thinkers. In 1970, that was not conventional wisdom. Since then the changes in the world of AI have been dramatic, the premise is now readily accepted.
This causes me to turn to the idea of humans as programmable devices. In earlier posts, I spoke to a Mrs. Orton, who opened a talk with “You Are Not Your Brain”, as the basis of an “Education vs. Training” metaphor. Education’s focus is on the “You”, while Training is for the “Brain”. For many years I was enamored by the concept as it matched my thinking of Education, versus what I encountered. Until the end of University, I was in a long- term grading system. The reassessment started when reading about a football player from the late sixties, who had an accident after he retired. The accident impacted his brain to a degree that he didn’t even remember being a football player. The more significant issue though is that he had a complete change in personality. For now, we’ll just say he became a mean person. If the “You” is a constant, then how does a nice person become a mean person?
The answer would seem to be an alteration of brain chemistry. This leads me to the programming of humans. In the nurture versus nature debate, I now believe that nurture plays a much bigger role in who we become. The Nature part is the inherited DNA from our forebears, and it only reacts to the nurture programming from the day we are born. The randomizing impact of our DNA causes the same programming to end up with different results. However, the programming comes from every social interaction with others. In a simple example, a hug from a parent or “known” individual, causes a chemical change in brain chemistry. A scowl from an “unknown” causes another chemical change. Thus, as we grow up, we become the sum total of each of these imperceptible chemical reactions.
Carrying that one step further, I would posit that the actions we take in any given situation, will not be a choice, as we’d like to believe, but an action that is automatic, based on our programming. This is not to suggest pre-destiny, but to state that our programming is not that different from IBM’s Watson. Watson’s programming is complex enough, that it’s highly unlikely that any individual knows all parts of its responses to the variety of stimuli it is subjected to.
There are many off-shoots to this theory, such as propagation of thoughts having an energy signature, but it’s more important to see if we can play a role in the “programming” of those around us, our the re-programming of ourselves. Accepting that the same action doesn’t end up with the same reaction in every case, we can assume that statistically, a hug will create “Positive” programming 99 times out of 100. Overreacting, yelling, and “disciplining” a child will have “negative” impacts in the same measure. Thus, statistics is a big factor in the programming of the “you”, with that random DNA factor in rare instances.
It also seems obvious that impacts of interactions change dramatically with age. There is no doubt that impact is higher early in life, with some drop-off over time, that someone has likely charted. However, the programming never stops. If we look at bullying, it may have a dramatic impact early in life, but a single social interaction much later in life will have some astonishing, out-sized reaction, such as a mass shooting.
When I hear the term “zero-tolerance”, it drives me crazy, since it always ends up with draconian methods of penalties. Based on our programming, our temperament will determine how we feel about such issues. What drives me crazy, would be perfectly normal for someone else and they may never understand my lack of logic.
What is the take-away from this theory? Nothing that we don’t already know. Child-rearing is tough and we need to never treat this role lightly. Can we over-ride our programming and “comment out” the code that makes us ass-holes? Can we cope with a clingy, crying child, after we’ve built the excuse of a bad day at the office. As humans, we are great at self-delusion, and the degree is determined by the current chemistry of our brain. The optimistic side of me says, Yes, We Can!
There may be a point in time when measuring devices evolve. These devices will detect chemical changes based on a social interaction. When we get to that point, anti-psychotics and anti-depressives could be replaced by custom designed reprogramming of the brain chemistry, much the same as targeted chemotherapy in oncology.