A bestselling author, neuroscientist, and computer engineer unveils a theory of intelligence that will revolutionize our understanding of the brain and the future of AI.
For all of neuroscience’s advances, we’ve made little progress on its biggest question: How do simple cells in the brain create intelligence?
Jeff Hawkins and his team discovered that the brain uses maplike structures to build a model of the world-not just one model, but hundreds of thousands of models of everything we know. This discovery allows Hawkins to answer important questions about how we perceive the world, why we have a sense of self, and the origin of high-level thought.
A Thousand Brains heralds a revolution in the understanding of intelligence. It is a big-think book, in every sense of the word.
I’ve followed Hawkins for many years and he’s one of my favorite neuroscience researchers. He started as an electrical engineer and created in 1996 the groundbreaking handheld PalmPilot (which I owned 🙂 ), and then switched careers to his passion of figuring out how the brain works.
In his book he proposes a new theoretical framework for how intelligence works. I think he’s on to something important. So does Richard Dawkins who wrote the forward and compares the book to Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.
I see an opportunity to build on Hawkins’ intelligence framework to push Varki’s MORT theory forward by refining why and what we deny, and how denial is implemented in the brain. Some of my still rough ideas are presented at the end of this essay.
There’s a second aspect of Hawkins’ book that is also interesting.
After presenting his new theory on intelligence, Hawkins spends the last half of the book explaining how our old brain behaviors and false beliefs (aka denial) threaten the survival of our species, and he proposes several ways we might avoid these threats.
He’s clearly worried and knows we are in trouble.
Yet when discussing the threats to our species he is blind to the biggest, imminent, and certain threat we face: fossil energy depletion. Hawkins, like most polymaths, can’t see that the technology he loves, was created by, and totally depends on, rapidly depleting non-renewable resources.
So we have a world expert on how and why our brain creates false beliefs, that can’t see his own false beliefs.
We could ask for no better evidence that MORT is true!
But wait, there’s more.
In the last chapters Hawkins obsesses over inventing a lasting means for our species to signal to other life in the universe that human intelligence once existed. As I was reading this I kept thinking, what the hell are you going on about? The odds are extremely low that other intelligent life will ever see our signaling satellites, and who the hell cares if they do? Then a light went on. His signal is a high tech version of an Egyptian pyramid, and is his brain’s mechanism for denying death.
So how could it get any better?
- a well written enjoyable book
- with an important new theory
- on the most interesting aspect of a unique species
- that may push forward Varki’s MORT theory on why we exist
- by a brilliant polymath
- that is blinded by the same denial that created his species
Following is a brief recapitulation of Hawkins’ cortical column framework for intelligence integrated with my musings on how it might be used to clarify and focus Varki’s MORT theory.
This hypothesis will be revised, possibly substantially, after I complete a 2nd more careful reading of Hawkins’ book and published papers, which I’ve just started. I’m also hoping to incorporate criticism from Dr. Varki which may improve or kill my ideas.
Downvoting the Cortical Column Death Model to Breach the Extended Theory of Mind Barrier
Version 1.1, April 16, 2021
Note: For the sake of brevity, every occurrence of “not die” should be read as “not die until viable offspring are produced”.
- Genes evolve and collaborate to create bodies.
- Bodies exist to replicate genes.
- A body must not die to achieve its purpose of replicating genes.
- The brain exists to help the body by choosing the best action to not die for a given set of sensory inputs.
- The old brain uses simple static models to directly cause actions to not die.
- The neocortex uses more complex learned models to indirectly cause actions to not die by requesting the old brain to execute actions.
- Learning is moving: the neocortex learns by moving senses around the subject to create (up to about 1000) reference frame models.
- Thinking is moving: concepts without physical form, like mathematics, are learned by moving between models to create new reference frame models.
- Models have redundancy which makes knowledge more resilient and repurposable.
- Models are stored in cortical columns.
- The neocortex is composed of many nearly identical cortical columns.
- Senses (and outputs from other models) are evaluated for matches by models.
- Models collaborate by voting to decide our conscious reality.
- The agreed reality is used by other models to select the best action to not die.
- Evolution increases the number of cortical columns in species that benefit from more intelligence to not die.
- Social species have the most cortical columns because modeling social relationships is hard.
- The human neocortex has about 150,000 cortical columns.
- There are two important thresholds on the continuum of increasing social intelligence.
- “Theory of mind” is the threshold where a brain learns a model of another brain, and that model includes an understanding that the other brain can die.
- “Extended theory of mind” is the threshold where a brain learns that its model of another brain also models itself, and that it can also die.
- The extended theory of mind threshold is difficult for evolution to cross, and has happened only once on this planet.
- A model that predicts possible death from injury and certain death from old age results in fewer actions to not die.
- Fewer actions to not die is called depression.
- Genes for an extended theory of mind thus do not usually persist.
- To break through the barrier, evolution requires a mechanism to prevent the learned death model from evaluating true.
- One possible mechanism is to have something connect to the collection of models that represent death and to downvote strongly.
- The first time that the old brain received no instructions from the neocortex to not die, may have been the first time that the model for death evaluated true, so perhaps this provided a means for the old brain to detect and downvote the death model.
- Once the extended theory of mind barrier had been breached, it would have been easy for learned cultural beliefs about life after death to more strongly and reliably downvote the death model.
Modern Implications of the Death Model
- Awareness of human overshoot and its implications are present in less than 0.01% of humans, including most highly educated polymaths, because it triggers the death model.
- Climate change knowledge combined with the false belief that renewable energy can replace depleting non-renewable fossil energy, and the false belief that technology can remove sufficient CO2 from the atmosphere, does not trigger the death model, and so these false beliefs are common, thus causing our species to take actions that worsen our overshoot predicament.