Scientific Sense Podcast

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Shutting down the brain

Recent research from UCLA demonstrates that rats require less brain power in a virtual reality than in real world. This is an interesting observation. Although the UCLA experiment defines virtual reality in a narrow sense, one could broaden the concept. Conceptually, humans with routine lives are in a sort of virtual reality that requires less brain power to live in and thrive. Such a programmatic life is the norm for most, following traditional careers.

The larger question is whether such an effect has evolutionary implications. If the probability of success is higher when you find yourself in a virtual reality – a repeating game with less volatility – then they are more likely to be selected. Most large companies of today fit the bill. This means that the skills to adhere and optimally shut down parts of the brain that are not useful are the most valuable. If so, it is possible that humans may slide down the brain power curve as they evolve. The brain, already a highly expensive organ consuming 20% of available energy, can only be justified if it is fully deployed. Why buy a super computer if all one needs is a PC running a spreadsheet?

We may be precariously positioned in the evolutionary process, that never led to optimal outcomes in the past. The most likely outcome appears to be more brawn and less brain – a return to the origins for humans.

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