Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Mind Matters - Tabula Rasa

What differentiates the man from the beast?  

Clearly, MIND has been the potent force and the distinction between mankind and any-other-kind that there is. It is ultimate coordinator of all organs in the body. It is also the ultimate logic algorithm that has analyzed the world, pondered over the secrets of the nature and championed them.
The human mind has also created and defined the good, bad, god, evil, heaven, hell and everything in between. Mind defines everything in this world - the weather, living things, lifeless things, dead things and ghosts.

While the human mind has unraveled the mysteries of the universe, very little has it pondered on itself.

Do you think we are beyond this and that the neurosurgeons have it all sorted out; all the connections and chemical reactions inside your brain? Here's something for you ... 

Tabula Rasa or Not?

Even though the word/phrase 'Tabula Rasa', sounds out-of-the-world'ish, it is the most popular and widely accepted axiom concerning the matters of mind. The theory of Tabula Rasa states that individuals are born without built-in mental content and that all knowledge comes from experience and perception. In other words, when we are born (the zeroth second of our lives) we've nothing in our heads. Our mind is a clean slate; no memories, no experience, no emotions, no knowledge, no information & no-nothing. All that the minds learns and assimilates is through our experiences and perceptions of the world.

Fairly simple and believable. Lets put this to test.

Test one. Consider a hypothetical scenario in which two babies (healthy and without any anomalies) are born at the same time. We know that they have an absolute no-nothing in their heads. Let's isolate them in separate test rooms. Assume that the environment in these two rooms are identical and that parameters such as temperature, humidity and lighting are similar at any point in time.

Now, let's keep these two babies in their respective test rooms (without knowledge or contact of the outer world) for say, 20 years. The logic of Tabula Rasa suggests that any two humans that grew up in the exact same environment would have the exact same mind. Is that what you believe?

At the end of 20 years, will person A and person B react/respond to situations in a similar way?
Hmmm... I think, Maybe!

Let me rephrase it.
At the end of 20 years, will person A and person B react/respond to EVERY situation in the EXACT same way?
Hmm.. Now, I am thinking, NO! Not always and not everything.

Now, this hints at the possibility of some wild card. A factor X that has deep influence on the mind; one that is more intrinsic and individualistic to every person. Could it be the combination of genes? Hereditary factors? What would happen if we put identical twins through this test?

Test two. Let's summon Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution.

Put in layman's words, Darwin postulates that that all life is related and has descended from a common ancestor: the birds and the bananas, the fishes and the flowers - all are related.

Furthermore, successive generations of any species will have to be more adaptable (if not superior) than their immediate ancestors. 
However slight the improvisation, you are more adaptable than your parents; that's what Darwin implies. But going by the theory of Tabula Rasa, successive generations are born with a clean slate; a blank mind. This means either evolution does not apply to the mind or evolution never happened. 
Now, this brings us to the million dollar question. If every human being comes with the same biochemical brain composition, it stands to logic that all of us must be equally wise. No one wiser/dumber than the other. How is it that only few attain the heights of wisdom and rest end-up as bums? 

Is it the environment and circumstances that holds the key? Or, how we respond to the situations that maketh the man? Either ways, can we really claim to have evolved? 

In the race to break the space frontiers and fathom the deepest seas, most of us as individuals care less about the matters of the mind. Could we have got the game wrong? 

What if we were meant to deep-dive not the oceans but ourselves? What if winning meant understanding yourself better than unraveling the mysteries of the universe?



  1. A lame article without any research! The question is not philosophical but scientific. I should have stopped reading when u are giving answers to your own thought experiments without any scientific or experimental basis - ''Hmm.. Now, I am thinking, NO! Not always and not everything.''
    U build ur argument on this unsubstantiated premise and try to prove something that is perhaps not.

    1. Am merely pondering over this point.

      Hope you agree that logic is a product of the mind. Can LOGIC (our only tool to understand the world) fully comprehend the MIND (which creates logic in the first place).

      I wish I could prove anything. Either through scientific analysis, logical deduction or philosophical reasoning.

    2. The fact of the matter is, Sir, you chose to read it completely. Scientific experimental basis or not, your mind was curious. Just like mine was.

      All he is trying to do is think aloud. He is thinking about a few things, and he wishes to share his thought. Is it possible for science to prove everything? If we had already proved everything, then, why are experiments still being conducted? Because, with the closure of one item comes another. And how many of these experiments are not based on assumptions? I talk about this because I do research in computer science. I agree that we need experimental validation.

      How about thinking about something, and then setting out to validate it by experimenting with your own mind? Is this not the life-cycle of experimental research - hypothesize, experiment, validate?

      If we look to scientific papers to satisfy all aspects of humanity and all aspects of the mind, the human civilization will never develop; we will continue to think and accept everything at face value. This is when "thinking" in each person actually dies.

    3. True.
      Scientific experiments are largely to identify patterns that occur in nature. Nature is mysterious in ways beyond complete-comprehension by humans. With scientific reasoning, we are trying to catch up. That too with only understanding things... forget alone creating :)

      Thanks for dropping by Raghav.
      Looks like you liked the topic :)

  2. Well, lets look at this - "This means either evolution does not apply to the mind or evolution never happened." Im going to write a painstakingly long reply to prove you, not wrong, but incorrect. (Ok its going into two replies. The max is some 4000 something chars)

    Lets assume that our mind is like a hard drive. When you're born, you're a brand new system with an empty hard drive (Except of course the OS space, but i'll come to that later). As time goes, people start putting things like word documents, MP3s and porn on the hard drive. Two different users can put totally different types of porn on the hard drive, based on their fantasies and sexual orientation. Now if you put in our assumptions, the computer can be translated to the individual, the person using the computer can be translated to the environment and the hard drive (on which we have porn) translates to the environment.

    Now, lets put the same individual in two different environments for 20 years. In this case the same computer with 2 different persons. Can we be certain to get different kinds of porn (or word documents / MP3s)? On your lines of reasoning... YES! But if you give the same person two different computers, would he put the same kind of word documents / MP3s into both computers? (Think about the porn on these two systems, you'll see the answer).

    Now has the mind evolved? Seriously? Coming back to this comparison, we can see that a computer and smart phone have totally different kind of data on their hard drives. A desktop system (which shares the same ancestor as a smart phone) has movies, MP3s, word documents and other such static files that we keep just for the sake of keeping (depending on the person using the desktop system {Environment}). But a smart phone as all this application cache data that is so typical to it and it does not have all the movies and word documents that we normally have. (Porn is ubiquitous to all data storage devices so I'll not mention it as a part of the previous point). Would you call this an effect of evolution of computing devices? (Go by your reasoning)

  3. Lets take a better example. Would an alligator and a dragon fly react the same way to a stimuli if you isolated them into a controlled environment? If you were to throw in a match, the dragon fly would just fly away and the alligator would... I dont't know. It'll not fly for sure though. But, because of the creature's inherent knowledge of itself, it modifies the way it perceives the environment. Thereby, modifying its reaction to a given stimulus through which we can observe that there is some part of the 'Mind' (which by the way is more a philosophical entity than scientific) which is pre-programmed in every organism and there is the other part of its mind which develops by its experiences. The pre-programmed part would be the OS space in the assumption in this post.

    In directly concluding that the 'mind' has never evolved, you've not taken the care of identifying what the mind completely is. However, to save you of the trouble of doing the research, I'll share these 2 links with you.
    - This book deals with the way the male and female minds develop. There is an actual 'scientific' experiment where in they've introduced kids to barbie dolls and hotwheel cars. Majority of the male babies chose to play with the car while the female babies chose to play with the barbie. Its an interesting book...
    - This is an awesome documentary. It deals with the brain and the mind. There is one instance where they talk about how the brain remaps the neurons assigned to feel the touch on a part of a skin when the body part which had the skin was amputed. It also talks about how the mind develops as we age. How we develop anger, disgust towards poop and attraction towards porn.

    1. Dragon Fly and Alligator are two different species. B'coz of which they see things differently, perceive it differently; hence more likely to react differently.

      But the point, i am trying to emphasize or the question I ponder over is this.

      Same species; blank minds; similar stimulus - Can the reaction be different?
      If environment doesn't influence and mind has no memories/experiences to draw from - Will we react differently?

      Don't ask me to answer. Frankly, I don't know.

      Thanks Shishir for sharing your thoughts.
      Will take a look at your links; sounds pretty interesting. I'm sure my understanding will get richer :)

  4. "In the race to break the space frontiers and fathom the deepest seas, most of us as individuals care less about the matters of the mind. Could we have got the game wrong?

    What if we were meant to deep-dive not the oceans but ourselves? What if winning meant understanding yourself better than unraveling the mysteries of the universe?"

    In my opinion, these are key. We all come into this world with the same brain with the same chemical composition; inherently, capable of many wonders, unless physically limited. As we grow, we are introduced to certain aspects of life and materials that we depend on, in the environment that we live in.

    We always look outside for everything - happiness, for a teacher, for peace, for a sense of satisfaction, for approval, and so on. Including God. We need external entities to satisfy our need - we need to look at things and see them satisfy our need. We don't look to ourselves. We never think of our own abilities.

    Researchers have focused how things in body change, how neurons adapt, how our body adapts; we need to think about why and what causes them to do so, and why it is subjective. There are philosophers who might have answered this question - some well, some others not so much. The best way to learn is by experimenting and learning from our own behavior. Our mind is the greatest teacher.

    Truly enlightened are those who are able to understand the behavior of the mind, and unlock its limitless potentials.

    But, I agree with looking within for the answers we seek.

    [P.S. I am not an expert on this subject. I answer with what I know from experimenting and learning from my own mind. I can't help it if someone finds any part of this objectionable. This comment also came from my mind and was not intended to pacify someone or "adhere" to "societal convention"]

    1. Hmm.. I think, more a person deep-delves, more he realizes how-little he knows about himself. Maybe that explains the humility and humbleness that goes with the spiritual and enlightened souls.

      This conversation also reminds me of the classic quite from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

      "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience.
      We are spiritual beings having a human experience"

  5. Hello Mr Raghav,
    I concur with what you say- You think about something and then go to experimentally validate that. Nothing wrong with that approach. My contention with Jayanth was because he gives an answer to his own thought experiment without any scientific validation and then uses that result to build an argument.

    Consider this -Kekule attributed his derivation / discovery of the correct structure of Benzene to a day dream wherein he saw a snake biting its own tail. That thought/ dream helped in our deeper understanding of organic chemistry. Here human mind perhaps could imagine something accurately that the scientific technology of that time could not provide us answer to. Now the structure he imagined conformed to the properties of the chemical - it could be validated in real word. If he had imagined any other structure and considered that as the correct one and built an argument , it would not have held any water.

    1. Thanks Arjun.
      But, don't you think, you're mixing up style-of-writing with logic?