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No. 127: Jan-Feb 2000

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Our Filtered Brains

Beneath the thin bone of your cranium lies an organic information processor of prodigious speed and capacity. We see brief glimpses of its real power in the mental performances of those autistic savants who can tell us instantly the day of the week for January 1, 2022, [Saturday] or draw fantastically detailed and accurate sketches of scenes after just a brief glance. You may scoff, but you could do the same if your consciousness didn't suppress your innate mental talents.

There is growing suspicion that our brains process and store just about everything our senses convey to them. Our brain is also a number-cruncher of great power that can "see" calendar pages stretching millennia into the future and far back into prehistory. The most formidible arithmetic problems are child's play to it.

Some researchers maintain that it is our consciousness that prevents us from realizing the full potential of this spongy sack of neurons. Consciousness, you see, is a necessary filter that permits only useful, practical information to flash before us as we attempt to deal with the real world. Of what survival value is calendar-calculating in today's world when we have our PCs? Or even yesterday's threat-filled world? (Future worlds? Who knows?)

The consciousness filter is only partially effective in autistic savants. It is a bit porous in normal childhood, when streaks of genius sometimes seep through. Some normal children possess the power to reproduce in great detail complex scenes seen only briefly. (This is "eidetic imagery.") Such talents ebb away with age as adult life thickens the consciousness filter. Yet, cracks may persist in a few adults with photographic memories and musical genius.

The consciousness filter can be eroded by intense training. In fact, calendar-calculating and eidetic imagery can be cultivated to recover, in effect, those suppressed childhood talents!

(Carter, Rita; "Tune in, Turn off," New Scientist, p. 30, October 9, 1999. Sutton, Jon; "You Can Do It," New Scientist, p. 15, November 6, 1999.)

Comments. Our brains seem to possess much more power than required in today's world, and yesterday's, too. We ask (facetiously and iconoclastically) whether our brains are examples of evolutionary "preadaptation"; that is, something we will need in the future!

It is also pertinent that humans are "neotenous." We possess many physiological features that are unspecialized -- slates not yet written upon. In contrast, the other "great apes" are much more specialized. See BHA10 in Biological Anomalies: Humans I.

From Science Frontiers #127, JAN-FEB 2000. 1997 William R. Corliss