If I give you a piece of my mind, will you give me a piece of yours?

I was nosing around and came across an oddly mechanistic yet sympathetic explanation of why we need each other. It comes from a teacher I had in college, Steve Kosslyn, who at the time was very interested in artificial intelligence. Perhaps he still is.

So here’s Kosslyn’s thing. Your mind emerges not just from your brain but the brains of others. He means this rather literally.

He starts with the very reasonable premise that our brains are limited and we have developed all manner of devices to make up for what we lack. Think of smart phones. The need to remember everything from directions to historical facts becomes less essential if the knowledge of centuries is at your fingertips or voice command. Kosslyn calls all such devices, prosthetics.

Next Kosslyn says we have these organic prosthetics that help us think and manage our emotions better than we could on our own. They are called people.  The ones we truly rely on. Kosslyn has an acronym for this that rivals the Census Bureau’s POSSLQ (person of opposite sex sharing living quarters – a relic of a less-enlightened age). He calls such people SPSs, for Social Prosthetic Systems. You might try that on Valentine’s Day.

Swans need SPSs too: courtesy Richard Brown aka Ricbro85 via Flickr Creative Commons

Finally, Kosslyn says “a key element of serving as a SPS is learning how best to help someone. Others who function as your SPSs adapt to your particular needs, desires and predilections. And the act of learning changes the brain. By becoming your SPS, a person literally lends you part of his or her brain!”

The upshot is, if you rely on your SPS and that person relies on you, the pair of you are more tightly entwined than you thought. Your mind uses part of his or her brain and vice versa.

As I said, it’s mechanistic, but somehow touching. Does it seem true? Does it seem obvious?



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