I've been thinking about pattern matching a lot lately in the context of the human brain and evolution after originally being sparked to the idea over at the The Evolution List some time ago. When you start thinking about it you realize just how much pattern matching can explain some elements of religious belief and the supernatural. Back when our ancestors where barely upright and living on the fringe of the forest and Savannah in Africa pattern matching was a key component of survival. Signs that would indicate a predator was nearby, signs of the weather, etc. But like many things in nature pattern matching is balanced on a very delicate knife's edge. Too strong and you start having a heart attack every time you see your own shadow, too lenient and that lion has you for dinner. But overall it pays too be a little too jumpy than to be too lenient, and so humans have a tendency to see things that aren't there. Couple that with consciousness and high intelligence and one can imagine all sorts of funny things happening.
It is also amazing how well written science fiction can sometimes be. As a student of the sciences I have a guilty love for sci-fi, but it can often be a love hate relationship. After all frequently so many sci-fi books are just plain wrong on many levels, especially when it comes to topics related to molecular biology. I can't fault the authors too much after all, they write for their audience and their audience is generally not very well versed in that subject matter anyway. Recently I came across this book by a Canadian author called Blindsight. Mr. Watts has a background in marine biology and so he can tackle this hard sci-fi novel from a well researched scientific perspective, in fact he even includes a well written appendix at the end discussing some of the scientific issues in his book such as consciousness in the light of evolution and just what the advantages and disadvantages of a conscious mind really are. He is also rather generous in providing citations to his reference material, most of which are peer-reviewed articles from Science and Nature.
I highly recommend the book, I found it quite enjoyable although it is one of those books that is hard to get lost in. The pacing tends to be a little slow but it is highly interesting and gets you hooked. Definitely an interesting look at the differences between intelligence and consciousness as well as a fascinating exploration of the idea of human-alien contact. Technology implies belligerence.
I'm going to Chicago!
6 days ago