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RS 193 - Eric Jonas on "Could a neuroscientist understand a microprocessor?"

Release date: September 17th, 2017

Eric Jonas

The field of neuroscience has been collecting more and more data, and developing increasingly advanced technological tools in its race to understand how the brain works. But can those data and tools ever yield true understanding? This episode features neuroscientist and computer scientist Eric Jonas, discussing his provocative paper titled "Could a Neuroscientist Understand a Microprocessor?" in which he applied state-of-the-art neuroscience tools, like lesion analysis, to a computer chip. By applying neuroscience's tools to a system that humans fully understand (because we built it from scratch), he was able to reveal how surprisingly uninformative those tools actually are. Julia and Eric also discuss the related question: what kind of tools would we need to really understand the brain?

Eric's Pick: "The Doomslayer" by Ed Regis

Eric's Article: "Could a Neuroscientist Understand a Microprocessor?"

Edited by Brent Silk

Music by Miracles of Modern Science

 Full Transcripts 

Reader Comments (4)

Thought this was one of the best episodes yet - it definitely felt like this was someone who really got the audience!
September 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGreg
For several years now, I've been finding myself more and more wary of this so called "skeptic" movement. It's supposed to be about using reason and critical thinking to find our way to the best evidence and solutions possible. But there seems to be more and more baggage being added on to the skeptic movement. And here I find it after taking a 2nd listen to the Eric Jonas interview, a couple of things near the end where he enthuses about China's and other 3rd world nations reductions in poverty without accounting for resource depletion in a country that used to be self-sufficient and had a very low carbon impact a half century ago, as other nations in Africa and Asia. The problem with pulling up GDP numbers as the guide to how well or not people are living in different nations is because 'developing' nations used to have majority populations living off the land and acquiring most of their food without being part of the market economy. Whereas once their leaders clear the commons...forcing indigent farmers off their traditional lands and forcing them to move into cities to provide the cheap labor needed to run the textile mills and other primary production, they become part of the capitalist system: buying food as best they can from the markets rather than growing it themselves. Are the sweatshop workers in Bangladesh living better than they were a generation ago when they lived off the land...that seems sure as hell debatable today! And that doesn't even get to Ehrlich's main objection to modern industrial agriculture: at some point in the near future, the system will start collapsing as mined phosphates and oil-based fertilizers grow scarce, and topsoil depletes to nothing in the main food-growing zones.

The other part of secular humanist dogma comes with the wisdom of techno worshipper - Julian Simon: "He made these bets with Paul Ehrlich and the other doomsayers that, in fact, no, things are getting better." Really! We just learned that the recent UN FAO report tells us regarding world hunger, that the numbers of people suffering malnutrition has progressively increased over the last two years, rising an additional 38 million to 816 million in 2016, and that the longterm trend we've been told about since the Green Revolution began of poverty and malnutrition gradually disappearing is all coming to an end because of effects of climate change, non-stop wars and refugee migrations, along with growing populations and exhausting grain-growing regions of the world.

So, if Julian Simon was around to be making bets with Paul Ehrlich today, he'd be losing, since the chickens Ehrlich and others have long warned about are coming home to roost! And as time goes on, I feel more and more that the skeptic movement is a tiny liberal capitalist-technology worshipping clique who somehow aren't at all skeptical about keeping our capitalist economies expanding through innovation and new tech in spite of the limits of living in a finite world!
September 20, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterralph mcrae
I read "The Doomslayer" by Ed Regis, about Julian L Simon. Although obviously our industry and technology have provided us with plenty of food and resources per capita, I can't but help wonder if we will suffer in another way. The total space per capita must necessarily decrease as human population increases. Simon states that the urban per capita space per bedroom has actually increased, but what about the beauty of nature, access to wild lands, and the technology we can extract from wilderness?
November 25, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJameson
Sure things might be getting better because of our Technological innovations but you can't conflate that to mean that they are also getting better because of Capitalism. Technology is a Natural extension of Human aptitude and potential while Capitalism is just an Artificial designed model on how we use up resources. Technology improves lives because that's mostly what it strives to do. But the focus for Capitalism is much more variable and context dependent so often times it is far more damaging than what it is ostensibly trying to indicate.
October 25, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterErnesto

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