Quora Writings

From Jonathan D. Lettvin

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How can we use 100% of our brain?


I am an amateur scientist (BS Physics) without official credentials in neuroscience. Yet I spent my entire grammar school through high school years apprenticing in a well-known wet neuroscience lab, so review the literature I reference if you do not believe what I say here. The views expressed here are entirely my own except where I make reference.

Let's say that we take 100% brain use seriously. All synapses of all neurons are activated at the same time. On the face of it, an undifferentiated global pulse in the brain has no value at all, informationally similar to no activity at all. So 100% must mean something else.

There must be patterns of activity. A pattern means a volume of activity next to a volume of inactivity. A naive view would choose 50%/50% active/inactive as 100% use of the brain. However, this fails horribly. Consider that an image filled with white noise is essentially as useful as no activity at all.

Then, what makes activity informationally rich? I propose that one should expect something like a volume diffraction pattern expressing activity identifying sharp boundaries between adjacent fields of undifferentiated inactivity. The ability for these boundaries to migrate as activity surfaces through a field of inactivity seems like a viable starting hypothesis for making best use of neural organs. So, if this hypothesis were reasonable, and we wanted to be able to move an activity surface over 10 times its surface depth as wiggle-room, that would already cut down useful activity to no more than 1/10th of the cells in the brain. But this presupposes that one has a laminated layer-cake of activity as best use. This makes no sense either since there is little informational richness in moving layers up and down relative to each other. So, a more informationally appropriate use would be bubbles of activity where the surface of activity surrounds a volume of inactivity and which bubble is sufficiently distant from other bubbles. Still using the factor of 10 suggested before, and a volume containing bubbles of radius 10 and kept a distance 10 away from nearest neighbors, the unit activity surface is 4*pi*r*r and the volume is 2*4*pi*r*r*r/3 for a active/total population ratio of 1/60th of the cells in the brain. So, for any more than 1 out of every 60 cells to be active would support this second approximation of informationally useful activity. But this, also, is inappropriate because a box full of same size bubbles is still informationally poor. This is where we come back to the idea of "3D diffraction patterns". The original holograms had a peculiar zebra-stripe appearance where shining a reference laser at an angle caused a 3D image of a scene to be visible. These holograms were 2D diffraction patterns capable of storing 3D information. My third hypothesis is that 3D diffraction patterns supported by neural organs are capable of reproducing 3D images with acceptable time-transitions. Such a scheme would require the wiggle-room to be larger in places, such that the likely population of active neurons could be cut possible by an order of magnitude. So, now we are down to 1 in every 600-1000 brain cells active at any given time.

My guess is that more "intelligent" people are the ones capable of performing more transforms on these activity surfaces to achieve a more varied outcome while less "intelligent" people use a more limited set of transforms. But this is rank speculation with no foundation in existing literature. I am conducting experiments to collect anecdotal evidence that the hypothesis is plausible. The experiments involve rote training to install alternative dissimilar reflex pathways for people presented with situations in which their prior reflexes were monotonous.

Sherrington, who won the Nobel Prize for his work in neuroscience proposed that there is no single neuron unaffected by every other neuron in the nervous system. All activity is as a contributing member of a community and all neurons contribute. Since all cells are autonomous cells, they perform normal cellular functions as well as providing signals to distant cells when necessary and sufficient conditions are met. The notion of using only 10% is difficult to understand. "They also serve who only stand and wait" (Churchill).

The vast majority (perhaps 97% or more) of axons are fully insulated without nodes of Ranvier (no access to external ions needed for Hodgkin&Huxley membrane pulse propagation) and therefore not carriers of membrane pulses. To see how the ubiquitous "unmyelinated" axons are insulated, review the image in Grays Anatomy 35th British Edition, W.B. Saunders Company, Philadelphia, 1973, pg 782. To justify the 97%, see "Functional properties of regenerated optic axons terminating in the primary olfactory cortex", Scalia, Brain Research, 685 (1995) 187-197 (speculation: Lissauer's tract in the spinal cord is vanishingly small yet may contain more axons than the entire rest of the spinal cord). The reason investigators prefer experiments on myelinated axons is that they are larger and easier to investigate; which means only 3% of axons generate the "pulses" used for the modern practice of brain mapping. Measuring gross signals in the smaller axons is published in the Gasser and Erlanger 1944 Nobel lectures. Measuring them individually is published in "What the Frog's Eye Tells the Frog's Brain", Lettvin, Proceedings of the IRE, November 1959, pg 1940-1951.

From what I have been able to interpret, a lot of the activity of the brain is the attempt to inhibit activity (bulbo-reticular inhibitory system). The inhibitory system is extraordinarily powerful with much global general inhibition preventing excitations and more focal inhibitions constraining excitations in more specific ways. Strychnine, apparently, increases activity in the central nervous system. An animal with strychnine poisoning was relieved of seizures by stimulating the bulbo-reticular inhibitory system (private communication with J. Y. Lettvin).

All this is purely my own personal interpretation of informational necessities in nervous systems. It may be wholly unsupportable when reviewed by a professional, but then again, it may not. Errors in factual material are my own and I invite clear non-ad-hominem corrections.

I welcome feedback and discussion on this material.

Is an extensive vocabulary the key to higher intelligence?


I've heard loquacious confabulators misrepresent and foment misconstruing.

I've heard quiet poets speak truth to win kinship.

Vocabulary, like any human tool, can be used for ill or good; to render themselves approachable or as a weapon to make themselves "winners" to the losses suffered by others.

Many have a broad vocabulary with no understanding. Many others have a limited vocabulary but a gift for communication.

The question of what comprises intelligence is highly subjective. Is a bigoted bully with a mastery of leadership intelligent? Is a hermit philosopher who sits and thinks without communication or "achievement" in the halls of mankind intelligent? Is one who memorizes not just an encyclopedia, but an entire library intelligent? Is a mother who gives their child a sense of safety and confidence intelligent? How about one who knows Green's theorem or L'Hopital's rule? What of the autistic one who understands the emotions of cows? Then there are people who score highly in mensa. Others cannot remember four things in order, but know how to train stentor to swim through poison to food.

I agree that one who has command of vocabulary has the facility of achieving greater nuance in expression towards another with similar command. To others, it sounds like boasting. Vice versa, two people with very limited vocabulary can achieve greater nuance in expression while sounding like morons to other listeners.

My belief is that all situations appear dumb from one point of view while appearing deep par excellence to another point of view.

It is important to understand that a very good poet is one who is capable of simplifying and economizing. A poem with astonishing vocabulary is almost inaccessible to the reader and is not usually worth writing unless to a muse with an astonishing thirst for rare words. A poem with only simple words can often bring the most celebrated wit to tears.

I think that this big brain with which we are endowed is employed in an astonishing array of variations which modern society would be all too happy to relegate to the rubbish heap of the unknown. Such a waste.

Each person is a true genius in their own right. That one might use a measurement to declare the claim false is more a sign of a lack of intelligence on the part of the measurer.

At least, that is how I feel.

What are the many layers of the retina and which layer plays the greatest role in sight?


The website Webvision (Webvision) contains a wealth of well-curated scientific information, and is well worth spending days to review.

The best schematic drawing of the retina I have seen was drawn by Wendell J. Krieg in his textbook “Functional Neuroanatomy” I have sought permission to use this drawing, but have found no respondents. I use it here with the expectation that I will be granted permission. Others have done wonderful drawings showing efferent signal pathways from the brain (Notably Santiago Ramón y Cajal).

My response to this quora question is very rough, but gives enough detail to begin to understand the roles different retinal neurons play, at least in my personal opinion.

Every layer in the retina plays a critical role in vision. The retina is a signal processing system to convert chromatically aberrant refraction/diffraction patterns into sharply discriminated details, boundaries, and vertices. The ganglion cell signal output of sharp details appears to be only roughly correlated to the play of optical patterns on photoreceptors. But, in my opinion, this appearance is misleading.

I have annotated a short paper on this subject published in 1959: (http://rawgit.com/jlettvin/JYL/m...), one of many papers which discuss retinal discrimination. It is not possible to construe a mechanism for generating the observed ganglion cell signals without considering processing by neurons in multiple layers of the retina and contributions of signal from the midbrain.

The cells that play the most active role in converting aberrent optical images to sharp retinal images include photoreceptors, horizontal cells, bipolar cells, amacrine cells, and ganglion cells. None of these produce pulses except ganglion cells into the optic nerve.

A very rough overview of the cells follows:

Photoreceptors contain pigment where an individual photon will bleach a pigment beginning a chemical cascade leading to an incremental inhibition of the photoreceptor foot which then decays back to equilibrium. Multiple bleachings leads to a persisting inhibition of the foot. A sudden increase/decrease in photon captures causes a sudden increase/decrease in foot inhibition. The sudden change in foot inhibition is the basis of retinal signal. The photoreceptor starts out as a very long tube of pigment when fully dark adapted. As capture rates increase, the population of pigment decreases, decreasing the probability of photon capture. Also, as the capture rate increases, the length of the photoreceptor decreases such that the maximum number of pigments available for bleaching decreases. The change in number of bleaching events across a given image contrast boundary remains constant regardless of ambient photon availability. This is observed as boundary flux ratios remaining constant on a logarithmic scale (Weber-Fechner law). In other words, the change in foot inhibition should remain constant when a photoreceptor crosses a boundary regardless of how bright the scene. It is changes in contrast that generally lead to propagated signal. There are also signals related to net dimming (global decrease in photon capture). To reiterate, the size of the photoreceptor signal is proportional to the log of the ratio of flux between the high and low flux portions of the flux change event. This is called “contrast invariance”.

Horizontal cells were investigated by Svaetichin (S-wave) and discovered to have a slowly changing state appearing to be related to the degree of activation by photoreceptor species. The three main species have states that track inter-photoreceptor-species contrasts. One horizontal species measures the ratio of responses from photoreceptors with absorption peaks in long to medium wavelength photons. Another species measures the ratio of long+medium to short wavelength photons. A third species acts as a general measure of overall photon rates. Horizontal cells feedback to photoreceptors in what appears to be a biasing role. In addition, horizontal cells tile the plane and under high illumination act locally only, while under low illumination appear to communicate state to each other through “gap junctions” where their cytoplasmic ion states are partially shared. This means that wider averaging of state is found in lower flux environments.

Bipolar cells appear to measure transient gradients at either end and report significant opposing transient gradient events to the other end. Bipolars come in many species; some of which have simple linear shapes and some which have significant arbor shapes at one or both ends and are the first layer of cells responsible for performing distributed mathematical transforms on signals (remember, these are not action potentials). Bipolar cells responsible for transmitting raw signal from photoreceptors to the IPL do so only when they detect a significant opposing direction change in inhibition between the feet of two adjacent photoreceptors.

Photoreceptor feet, horizontal cells, and one end of the bipolars occupy a layer called the OPL (Outer Plexiform Layer) where they maintain signalling contacts with each other. The other end of the bipolars occupy the IPL (Inner Plexiform Layer) where they maintain signalling contacts with amacrine and ganglion cells.

Amacrine cells have the most elaborate arbors (Masland did an extensive cataloguing), and are likely responsible for most of the choosing of functions performed by the retina. They take signals from the midbrain at their base and distribute this signal differentially to sheets within the IPL.

Ganglion cells collect signals from the IPL and produce signals for transport down the optic nerve to the brain. These signals have a special character of using pulse intervals as a form of encoding of one kind of information while the distribution of signal is used for another form of encoding (Multiple Meanings in Single Visual Units).

Two other papers by Lettvin, 1959 What the Frog's Eye Tells the Frog's Brain and 1961 Two Remarks on the Visual System of the Frog, give further background on signals discovered and functional architecture of the retina and are worth reading on this subject. In these papers, the experiment had unpublished details important to note. No signal can be recorded from the optic nerve by simply penetrating it with a properly prepared electrode in the experimental setup. It is necessary to deliver a mechanical shock to the electrode before it begins recording triphasic pulses, unlike action potentials. The traditional notion of "Hodgkin Huxley" action potentials in the optic nerve was not supported by experimental observation.

My current personal theory of retinal operation is that:

The horizontal cells bias the photoreceptors to local photon flux conditions. Photoreceptors reach equilibrium with local flux and bias. Bipolars fall silent. The midbrain predicts what geometry of signal production to expect. The midbrain sends a selector signal to the retina. The retina prepares to accept signals that meet the selector criteria. The retina inhibits all but the expected signal selection. Photoreceptors respond to saccade stops and starts. Responses are to transient differences between equilibrium and flux. Differences are projected linearly down bipolars to the IPL. Second bipolars accept selected patterns and reproject back to the OPL. Third bipolars aggregate projected patterns (Huygens' transform). Fourth bipolars reproject to the IPL. First ganglion cells detect aggregated signals from first bipolars for details. Second Ganglion cells detect aggregated Huygens' signals for boundaries.

This theory has been modelled in software and generates results consistent with published observations of retinal activity. The most important demonstrations I have fully implemented include sub-pixel (hyperacute) detail and boundary discrimination in oversampled optical images. I have not found other models which deliver results resembling the observational literature.

If you were to believe my theory, there is no most important layer. Every aspect of visual processing by the retina depends on the correct functioning of the entire set of layers to achieve results like hyperacuity. All vertebrates share this 5 layer retina scheme.

Excluding humans, are there any animals regarded as geniuses of their species?


Start by defining terms.

A genius is one who has observable behavioral characteristics that exceed the standard deviation for the classification by at least a couple of sigmas above the mean. It is an extremely rare classification for which there are not individuals who fall into this description.

I have known a smart octopus and a dumb one. I have known smart cats and dumb ones. I have known smart starlings and dumb ones.

Some people are fond of claiming an entire species smart when the frequency of behavior competent with human appetites appears similar. Crows and elephants are sometimes mentioned, as are dolphins and dogs. I see things differently. I like to meet individuals of a species and interact with them on their own terms to see what they want to choose as vocabulary.

I admire people who set up squirrel challenges. I admire people who choose to think like a cow to make them more comfortable. I would hazard to guess that some squirrels and some cows appear smarter than others. It is entirely individual.

I have seen a researcher enter into a conversation with a jumping spider. It was limited to a bit of semaphore with arm positions, but the spider appeared willing, even eager, and not panicked.

I have had wild birds hop into my extended hand; no food or reward involved, just a bit of offered comfort when I saw a stressed bird. We enjoyed each other’s company until someone came up to me to see what I had. The bird returned to my hand after that other human left.

I find that human language is often an impediment to such interaction. However, I find that most animals expect human speech, so I use it in ways I choose to lace with clear give-and-take with the animal I engage. I want them to know I see them but have no other intention than a bit of back-and-forth from a distance unless they see fit to approach.

Amongst the animals, just as with humans, I have known kind ones, mean ones, smart ones, dumb ones, strong ones, weak ones. Choose any category and you will see members of any species spread along the spectrum with a well-populated mean.

Choose a category and you find one set of geniuses. Choose a different category and find another set of geniuses. It is your categorization that causes the distinction that you call genius.

Would you really expect otherwise?

If everything we hear, touch, smell, and see are electrical impulses interpreted by our brain, then what is real out there?


Reality is a peculiar word. The implication is that there is an absolute objective truth to which all observers must eventually agree. Barring evidence of such truth, reality is more likely a word people use to flag the model of the world they most prefer. Remember that physicists have difficulty agreeing, and have failed to identify a model that accounts for all observations with a single theory. So why should a nonscientist perform better than a physicist at pointing to a thing and calling it real?

Let’s start by removing the word “real” and use the word “predictable” which, for the most part, we can actually get a modest agreement. Theories are fairly good at accounting for large groups of observations. However, theories are more like recipes where we can take some materials, arrange them, and then predict how the materials will re-arrange themselves over time. The predictions are useful, but rarely absolutely precise and accurate. We are happy when we get “good enough” results.

So, we can proceed with the notion that predictable is the core goal of the question. There is a notion called “specious present” which usually considers a nontrivial time interval as being a point at which a perception is valid. But even this is filled with problems. Signals in neurons take time to propagate. Each side of the brain experiences filtered sensory input and sends information to the other side. Only at the very center could they be potentially considered synchronized in time. Each side’s past generates the other’s future.

The signals used to send information do in fact use charge displacement, but then so does many chemical reactions not considered to be “electrical” in the sense described here. It is true that there are currents and voltages to be detected in some neurons, but the vast majority (the 97% of neurons having unmyelinated axons) have no significant electrical activity except for small ion displacements due to changes in water organization and the effect of that on ion distributions for sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium within the fully insulated channels in unmyelinated axons.

So, we are now stuck with eliminating almost the entire question since the vast majority of signaling in neurons is not subject to the rules taught in electrical engineering, and we cannot truly define what is meant by reality.

Nevertheless, a question like this is not to be dismissed for having been asked in a naive and unsophisticated manner.

It seems necessary to consider that the nervous system is predicting observables and outcomes to aid the owner to thrive. A very small creature like C. Elegans can use its nervous system to operate on a much faster time scale than a whale. Creatures of a common scale interact with each other and have similar perceptual time scales. One of the advantages of vertebrates is the invention of the large caliber myelinated axon which permits signals to be propagated much faster than invertebrates.

My prejudice about such things is that we use our nervous system to generate many predictions, and then attempt to choose and force the sequence of future events which yields the optimum outcome for thriving.

Oddly enough, unlike the libertarian “even playing field”, both animals and humans instinctively understand that variations endow individuals with capabilities that, when shared, lead to reliable group outcomes superior to the best reliable outcomes for the individual. This is scalable, meaning that small colonies of cells thrive using the same rules that are used by communities of animal species thriving in their natural settings.

So, without electricity as a foundation and without reality as truth, what exactly is this question trying to expose?

I would suggest that the notion of identity, of a singular view of reality as experienced by an individual, is a problem. It is more likely that the community of cells that make up a human being have different views on what actions would help them thrive and that a voting system is in place allowing the different actions to be chosen.

There is more to this question. A professional magician’s skill is in fooling an observer into believing a different reality than is actually the case. Reality is more likely a reflection of what you want the world to be like than what it is.

There are those that talk about living in the moment. There are religions that teach you distrust what you think the world is. It is hard for most people to stop their mad rush to whatever goal they THINK they have set for themselves. In fact, most modern people have goals driven entirely by society, religion, and industry.

It is worthwhile reading books like http://www.earth.northwestern.edu/~amir/files/Richard_P_Feynman-Surely_Youre_Joking_Mr_Feynman_v5.pdf where one of the smartest of modern scientists illustrated ways of observing the world with somewhat less prejudice than usual. He observed ants and bloodhounds. He used simple demonstrations to show how the “reality” believed by NASA managers was inconsistent with predictable outcomes leading to one of the shuttle disasters.

You could say that the person better able to reliably predict outcomes in their local setting has the better take on reality, but it is entirely subjective since the local setting will change and different ways to predict will be better at different times.

I like that the reality of nervous system function is still a mystery to scientists. Personally, I think standard neuroscience needs a review and possible dismissal of their theoretical foundations in favor of observables and new predictors that work better and allow them to construct working models of simple nervous systems.

I like to think that my hobby of modeling neurons and neuropils has shown me a few of these predictors, but I have yet to expose them to the scrutiny of scientists.

There MUST be reasonable and simple ways to describe nervous systems. If one cannot describe such systems or build simple models, it is the fault of the theorists, and something must change.

Meanwhile I would rather encourage the asker to consider the beauty to be perceived by observing the world rather than becoming vexed over the lack of reasonable basis for discussing reality. Reality is whatever you say it is.

What are the "hottest" research topics in neuroscience right now?


I find myself perplexed by this question.

I remember the show Seinfeld as being “hot”. I have yet to see even one episode.

I would rather hear an answer to the three questions posed by Santiago Ramón y Cajal (ISBN 0-19-507401-7 Histology of the Vertebrate Nervous System) who said: “Practitioners will only be able to claim that a valid explanation of a histological observation has been provided if three questions can be answered satisfactorily: what is the functional role of the arrangement in the animal; what mechanisms underlie this function; and what sequence of chemical and mechanical events during evolution and development gave rise to these mechanisms.”

I add a fourth question: “If you cannot build a functioning model, can you claim to understand nervous systems?”

My feeling is that when a problem is understood and a solution produced, it is eventually destined to become a toy usable by children. At this point in time I see no children building toy nervous systems. I claim this is evidence of failure of theory. No-one has published a paper containing the eureka idea(s) required.

The impediment to understanding nervous systems lies not in ability, but in direction. It reminds me of someone walking the wrong way on an escalator. It is frustrating to watch so many truly commendable observations thrown into a blender and having no solid rule for building emerge.

Clinical Neurologists have countless valid observations which go against neuroscience theory. We should listen to them as the front-line investigators. These critical observers are not mentioned in neuroscience, and yet they are steeped in the everyday insights that could prove necessary to the eureka.

It is important to avoid what is “hot”. Cajal, who I mentioned earlier, went into histology to make quiet use of his graphomania in a discipline endlessly fascinating to him and about which no-one cared. He had a eureka moment, and it led to a Nobel prize. He was a complete gentleman, giving even his rivals full share in the discoveries and credit.

After spending years apprenticing in my father’s wet neuro lab (Jerome Lettvin) I have come to believe that there must be alternate theoretical foundations for what he observed, and for the entirety of published observations made from the 1850s (Emil DuBois-Reymond) to modern times (Gilbert Ling and Kunitaro Takahashi). There were some notable alternate theories until the 1950s when membrane potential became the dominant theory for signaling after which many promising lines of investigation became the opposite of “hot”.

The way forward is going to come from someone who patiently tries and fails thousands of times to arrange known “facts” into a system model which predicts signals and distributions through shapes explored by Cajal and Wendell J. Krieg in at least one organ such as the retina. This person is going to discard notions held sacred by the experts, propose apparently preposterous new notions, and call for new experiments to expose system rules.

Admire the cold road builder with hard and dirty hands placing one cobblestone at a time rather than the great hot general riding down that road on her chariot with panache.

I struggle to figure out how to build a road in this way myself. I have had my moments of insight (Jonathan Lettvin's answer to What are the many layers of the retina and which layer plays the greatest role in sight?). I think I have had a few eureka moments but I do not relish the diversion of mental energy into pointless battles against supporters of non-predictive theory.

My advice? Figure out how nervous systems work and leave popularity to those without the discipline or passion for exploration.

I am 35 and I have not achieved much in life. Is it too late?


You have utterly failed until you see yourself with joy.

Do you care to become celebrated? Why? As many ancient books declare, ‘All is vanity’. Are you eager to become ‘worthy’ in the eyes of others?

I have personally known children who were profoundly joyful before dying young. I have a 90+ year old friend who recently decided to research a ground-breaking theory on how neurons work. Neither had “too early” or “too late” in their vocabulary.

Your question shows how you view yourself. It makes me sad to think you have already consigned yourself to the rubbish heap of humanity rather than living your individual life to the fullest in the bubble of joy you create around yourself.

Many conflate joy as a final state with joy as the attribute of one in the midst of doing a thing they hold worthy in their own eyes. Don’t seek the state. Do the worthy. Achievement lies in the doing of the worthy.

Here in America “pursuit of happiness” is in our declaration of independence (Why did Jefferson change "property" to the "pursuit of happiness"?). You may find it helpful to read ancient and 18th century philosophy, or “I and Thou” by Martin Buber. I found “A gentle cynic” useful, and typed it in for later reference (Koheleth). Solomon is said to have written this very late in his life.

We are encouraged to pursue vanity by corporations hoping to profit from our tacit reflex compliance. Do you avoid “ugly” people? Do you avoid “broken” people? Then you would avoid many of the greatest artists, scientists, humanitarians, and the quiet heroes all around you in your pursuit of vanity. That is sad.

Find a need where your unique talents could make a difference. Strive. Fail. Strive again. Fail again. Keep striving until your efforts bear fruit. Go forward and (as Yoda says) “Don’t try. Do!” I would add, “Do with joy!”

Better a Pyrrhic victory than a passive acceptance of a wrong.

How is the light focused on the retina?


This question is answered very many different ways by many different people, groups, and disciplines. The facts are a great deal more subtle than can be found easily. I will try to give a general account of the issues here. I doubt you will find many accounts like mine, but I suspect mine is a bit more detailed and consistent with observations than most.

To read my description, you should refer to a competent anatomical diagram of a human eye. Wikipedia has this one: File:Schematic diagram of the human eye en.svg - Wikipedia

Photons penetrate the cornea (high index of refraction), aqueous humor (lower index), lens (higher index), vitreous humor (lower index) before penetrating the “five” layers of the retina to arrive at the photoreceptors and the pigment epithelium which absorbs any photons not absorbed by receptors. Each change of index occurs at a curved surface not parallel to other surfaces, so each transition is accompanied by refractive changes. Refraction by the lens is not simple. See Allvar Gullstrand’s Nobel lecture (Allvar Gullstrand - Biographical) to get a better idea.

As photons go from the aqueous humor to the lens, they are restricted to a changeable radius circular (in humans) aperture (pupil) by the iris. This restriction causes photons to form diffraction patterns.

Refraction is not color corrected. Assuming an in focus image, a white RGB disk on a black background presented for viewing at the center of vision appears to have a white center, yellow ring, cyan ring, and a blue edge on the retina. If the white disk is presented off-center, the rings no longer have a common center, with blue being displaced more to the outside than green or red. These size and displacement differences may be modeled using an affine transform. The focal length for the entire visible spectrum is a range which can exceed the 1e-4 length of a dark-adapted receptor. This means that one color may be in focus while another is out of focus.

Usually, a lens changing focal length will cause a scaling of the image to occur. When a lens is located in certain critical positions (research “nodes”) the image size does not change as the focal length changes. The human eye has its lens in one of these locations, so images always appear to be the same size, no matter how we adapt our sight.

Diffraction is also not color corrected. Again with an in focus image, a white RGB point source appears confused so consider each color separately. Each wavelength of photon forms a wide “Airy” disk and concentric rings where the disk is of radius ~1.22 relative to the spacing of the surrounding rings. However, the radius of the long wavelength (red) forms a wider Airy disk, then green, then blue forms the narrowest Airy disk. The superposition of these patterns can be quite colorful as the spatial frequencies are incongruent and the proportions of photons form beat patterns in color. The mathematics of diffraction are ruled by convolution with the Bessel function J1 and the formula is given by wikipedia (Airy disk - Wikipedia see the first equation in the Mathematical Details section). As a general rule, the retina is considered to be sensitive to at most 4 orders of magnitude contrast difference so the diffraction convolution kernel can be restricted to rings having 1e-4 the photon flux of the Airy disk center. It is fairly simple to plot the Airy function and look for the first ring with a flux smaller than 1e-4 the center. The peaks tend to go as the cube of the inverse radius. Be careful to cut off your convolution kernel at the first zero inside that peak to prevent unnecessary artifacts. The Airy disk is always larger than the face diameter of photoreceptors in the fovea, so the diffraction patterns is always oversampled.

To model diffraction, it is of paramount importance to reduce the power distribution (image) to its underlying wave functions (the Airy function without the square) before adding waves across the image and resquaring the result, for each wavelength.

First order lensing is done by the aqueous humor which has assumed an almost spherical shape behind the cornea. For a physics point of view, this first order effect can be considered dominant by orders of magnitude. This is not adjustable.

Second order lensing is done by the lens which interfaces to the aqueaous and vitreous humor both of which have indices of refraction lower than the lens. A nobel prize was awarded to Gullstrand for his detailed analysis of the structure of the lens (very interesting reading).

All this is quite useful for a general sense of what happens but the analysis describes the statistics of photon incidence on the retina. Absorption differences between species of photoreceptors presents a challenge. So does the lack of clear patterns of photons in low light conditions.

Receptors have different absorption spectra which means that L photoreceptors (red) absorb photons of the entire visible spectrum with a dominance of Long wavelength absorption. Likewise M (green) has Medium wavelength dominate its absorption and S (blue) has Short wavelength dominance. Here is one of many online spectra to illustrate:

Note how the red line actually rises as it approaches the blue which accounts for why we tend to confuse purple with violet. What this means is that there is substantial cross-talk between the color channels in how eyes pick up images.

You did not ask about receptor species distribution in the retina, but it is worth researching. Some people have a dominance of L receptors in the fovea. Others have a dominance of M receptors. S receptors are absent from the center, but increase to merely rare near the edge of the macula. This is another reason that retinal imaging is substantially different from camera imaging (see http://www.michaelfrankdeering.c...).

Finally, in low light, fewer photons arrive. It takes over 1e6 photons to establish an relatively instantaneous (~20 millisecond) Airy pattern. When fewer photons arrive, the disk does not appear as a clean pattern, but as irregular brightnesses with a somewhat round shape. It gets worse as the photon flux decreases until the pattern is almost entirely incoherent at 10 to 1000 photons per 20 millisecond.

The receptor itself changes length from long (1e-4M) when dark adapted to short (1e-6M) in bright sunlight, making focus differences between wavelength more pronounced.

So, the answer is that the eye is very unlike a camera except in a gross sense of having a lens and an image surface; but focuses sufficiently to generate information-rich diffraction patterns suitable for analysis by nervous system mathematics.

Light is focused on the retina with all these nuances described, and more.

ADDED 20161228

Here are two images I generated to estimate how RGB photons fall on the retina for a set of 5 RGB white point sources arranged as a quincunx with the central point at the true optical center of the eye (not the fovea).

The above image has 5 white points. Enlarge to see them if you need. This is the “scene”.

The above image has 5 diffraction patterns as would be seen on the retina due to the previous image being presented. Note the refractive contributions of the various lenses and the diffractive contribution of the aperture. This is the retinal image of the scene at a particular pupil size. The image changes quite dramatically as the pupil changes size.

It is extremely important to understand that what appears on the retina (lower image) is perceived as 5 white points (upper image). This transform from aberrant to sharp focus occurs in the retina. The sharpness of the 5 white points perceived is invariant to pupil size. It is this inverse transform problem which I have pursued, and had some success in solving by analyzing neuron shapes and signals.


Here is the second image magnified.


The grid used to generate the image is rectangular which is not consistent with the more hexagonal-like mesh of photoreceptors, but this does not change the character of the important observations. Think of the visible squares as approximately the size of the photoreceptor face. The central diffraction pattern has a reddish periphery because diffraction shrinks the blue pattern and expands the red relative to the green. The outer diffraction patterns split by wavelength due to lenticular refraction which displaces blue to the outside and red to the inside relative to the green. The diffraction patterns are typical of pupil size of around 3 millimeters, so a point source makes a central Airy disk having a diameter of approximately 10 microns (10 foveal receptors). The source image is the same as the perceived image. Here it is magnified.

What are some of your personal or professional "holy grails"?


My personal goal is to answer Cajal's three questions about nervous systems (ISBN 0-19-507401-7 Histology of the Nervous System): "Practitioners will only be able to claim that a valid explanation of a histological observation has been provided if three questions can be answered satisfactorily: what is the functional role of the arrangement in the animal; what mechanisms underlie this function; and what sequence of chemical and mechanical events during evolution and development gave rise to these mechanisms." Santiago Ramón y Cajal

Principally, I work on the first two questions: I model observed groups of shaped neurons. I model observed signal propagation and expression. I replicate observed functional roles. I have used existing and custom SISD, SIMD, and MIMD languages and hand-drawn animated GIFs to develop many models. One retinal neuron I modeled is responsible for achieving far sub-pixel image feature detection, using methods I learned during my MIT Physics training and early experience in a wet neuroscience lab.

This image, drawn by Wendell J. Krieg sometime before 1942, is one of the most profoundly clear views of retinal architecture in the literature. These are the cells I model most frequently. Much expository work has been done since then, so this image must be understood in the context of its time.

I have had many successes. I have also had the advantage of collaborating with some accomplished published wet neuroscientists (Jerome Lettvin - Wikipedia) (https://www.linkedin.com/in/camp...) who vet my work for consistency with observations made in the laboratory.

I find solitary amateur thought experiments satisfying, rather than the rough and tumble of professional science. Pursuing this holy grail, for me, is a private matter. My self-criticisms are far more withering than any I have heard from professionals. The only down-side is that what I have learned could benefit others, but I am more interested in solving the problems than in publicizing my successes. None of my math resembles the work of my contemporaries. Many are doing extraordinary work, and I admire them. Yet I must go my own way.

My models have the accessibility of a child’s toy and direct physical identity with the neurons being emulated. It is not necessary to learn sophisticated mathematics or to yield control to some unknowable statistical process. The transforms are frank direct necessary and sufficient operations.

I prefer to work toward knowing that the nervous system is, in fact, a simple machine with understandable rules. What I already know gives me the courage to pursue modeling further.

My passion for this is the equal of any seeker of grails. For me, no moment passes without some part of this quest in view. If I had untold riches, I would commit them to pursuing this grail.

Who is the smartest person in the world?


Consider the idea that IQ=100 is supposed to divide the population in half. That would mean that half of American voters have an IQ less than 100.

My guess is that quora responders (at least for the questions I read) skew towards being divided in half at a higher IQ (self flattery and vanity on my part). That leaves a curious problem. Let’s say that the QR (Quora Responders) IQ bell curve peaks at 125. In other words, QR can understand things that the vast majority of American voters cannot.

So here you are, smarty pants, feeling your intellectual oats, and along comes someone with an IQ greater than 160. All of a sudden, your feelings of superiority over the American voter are inverted, and you now realize that you are unable to understand a thing the IQ160 person says… You know what the words mean, sort of, but you just hope no-one will notice the fumbling you do when around this amazing intellect. Then the IQ160 person encounters an IQ190 person. It seems that relating to people by IQ is likely depressing.

IQ, like money, is an abstract quantity used by policy-makers, corporate monopolists, and religious leaders to divide us up. How about uniting messily and joyfully against the evil that is division? I know people who have a gift for rhyming. Others have a gift for anticipating what others will say. Others a gift for befriending wild predators. Others a gift for flirting with wealthy people. Others a gift for causing money to flow more this way than that way. All of us know gifted schmoozers who leave a trail of joyful impecunity in their wake (not always joyful, but I prefer to remember the ones that were). No two of us are alike enough to be purely substitutable. If I bring my gift with generosity and you bring yours with generosity, there is no telling what we can do together.

If you hold back, or if I do, then neither of us benefits quite as much, but one of us may WIN! Big whoop dee doo. Personally, I have known people who have become household names for their intelligence, and many who have never (and will never) be known. They are just human beings with weaknesses. What I find charming is when people band together under some rubric and consider their purpose superior and which makes them more deserving than those infidels who think otherwise.

As Koheleth would say “vanity and chasing after the wind”. Go ahead. Build vineyards. Become learned. My point is that the instinct to feel either superior or inferior leads to less conversation and less bliss. I say let each try their best and be permitted to admire themselves for what they have done. What should be a warning sign, feeling divisions by intellect or wealth or some other abstract measure, is seen instead as a pursuit or passion. The last thing a smart person really wants to hear are the words “you are so smart” because it usually means the conversation is over. Division = hatred. Evanescent unity = love.

Remember this. Unity with one person or group divides you from another. The important qualifier “evanescent” is not to be taken lightly. Expect to find unities that have exceeded their evanescent sell-by date. Expect followers to cling to their unities as if their life depends on it. If you have already brought out your measuring stick and founded a group to fan your vanity of having more by that measure, then what am I to say to you? You have already made up your mind that I am either less by your measure, or maybe more than you. What bliss attends your knowledge? Go forth. Be joyful. Help your enemy to be joyful (read “Team of Rivals” about how Abraham Lincoln composed his cabinet of his most ardent detractors).

What have you got to lose by being loving? Who is the smartest person in the world? My opinion is no-one. We are all just humans who are sometimes granted favor in the eyes of others. My advice? Lead the examined life with your best efforts and unrestrainedly help others to do so too. No better can be done. If you’re smart (or not) you will decide if what I wrote has merit.

How can one believe anything that science says if it can always be wrong?


Science observes and predicts repeatable observations using testable models. Science enables efficient use of resources. Science is ruled by math.

Where no model is known, mythology memorializes repeatable observations. Mythology enables retention of emergent science. Mythology is ruled by story.

Religion uses behavioral suggestion to aid stability and thriving both within one group and against another group. Religion enables efficient reflexive actions. Religion is ruled by belief.

Poor outcomes eventually arise when ignoring or distorting any one of these three. None of them offer absolute truth. 1+1=2 is the subject of arguments.

What are some good overviews of the norms and "ground rules" of rational discussion and debate?


What a wonderful question!

Entire courses are taught out of which students graduate without being able to answer a question like this. There are entire philosophical disciplines which attempt to root out an acceptable practice. Some follow “Robert’s rules of order” while others criticize order as forbidding of clear observable alternatives. Words confine the user dreadfully. Different languages impose different constraints on what can be said.

So what, then, can be considered a start? The terms “rational”, “discussion”, and “debate” all carry many meanings (check a thesaurus). The number 1 is the subject of an entire half of a learned book on mathematics. Claiming a fact as indisputable must be taken as inadvisable. What is left?

I have an opinion. Human beings tend to organize into social groups within which statements are simply “accepted” as foundation, and everything else is considered derivative or constructed from these foundations. There is no “truth” to be had from these statements, but just try to disagree with them and see how members of the social group respond. You may have to become vigorous in defense of your attempt to explore. Just ask Galileo? No, he’s dead. But long before his death he was under religious house arrest for having thought that maybe planets revolved around the sun. Such social pressures are no different today than they were in his day.

I have met extremely few groups or members of groups who tolerate statements outside the scope of their stated beliefs. I tend to stay silent because the unpleasantness that typically ensues is semantically null and I get nothing from the discussion (and neither do they). It is actually depressing how little content there is in the arguments typically made by those who keep the flame going within a group.

Yet I grew up with a master debater (no giggles please) who could win any side of any argument through convincing his opponent. He would often switch sides in mid-debate and win his opponent’s argument in ways the opponent would fail to identify within the scope of the debate. Then switch back and win again.

Does this mean that the person with the most agile mind holds the greatest amount of truth? I do not believe that. It seems that people with a greater vocabulary quite often get the upper-hand over those with a lesser vocabulary, at least in “rational discussions” and “debates”.

Yet I persist in believing other than that which has been insisted as truth by so very many people. This I hold for mathematics, science, religion, mythology, custom, manners, and so very much else.

There are people who want to see through your eyes and are happy when there is something new and you get to return the favor. Then there are other people who insist that you see only what they see and will not return the favor. There is no greater truth in such a person, merely a nasty disposition.

The only advice I can give is to keep an open mind, spend time with people who think other thoughts than yours, offer to support ideas other than your own not inconsistent with your own deeply held personal moral compass, change your mind without needing to be pushed, and admire those who show you something new. Along with this, be generous and allow other generous people to see through your eyes if it does not endanger you to do so.

Norms are traps laid by leaders to keep their subordinates in line; producing value for their little cul-de-sac of people whose thoughts they control.

I would much rather meet you face-to-face for one time only (even online), trade insights about the world, then go our own separate ways on our individual quests (you DO have a quest do you not? If not, read Joseph Campbell’s work). I have ideas I would love to share with you; but I worry that I will bore you or meet with your dismissal. It is enough that I do not bore myself.

Please convince me that rationality is plausible and that ground rules other than assertive “fair play” and generosity have worth. Go to a ToastMasters’ meeting. They have better than average rules with fair play and generosity.

I can count on one hand the people I trust with a full-out discussion. It doesn’t mean I don’t try to find more such. Perhaps it is my own arrogance that makes me dismiss what I hear. But there is only so much unreasoning repetitiveness of all-to-familiar unsupported statements I can endure in any given discussion. Some of the best I have had required no written language (“Watch this. Did you see? Listen to this. Did you hear? Taste this… Smell this… Feel this…)

I am so very lucky to know the people I do. Even most of those who have nothing but others’ ideas to repeat try to be the best people they can be. My main complaint is that their frustrations and failures arise from their attempts to be good which then have predictably unpleasant results. Unfortunately, their frustrations often turn into disapproval of “other”. The “seven deadly sins” are actually quite poetically deep and quite pertinent in our times.

Would you like to develop some norms, ground rules, and try to have a rational discussion or debate with me? I hope so. I hope you peel the scales from my eyes, the plugs from my ears (give me new senses and perceptions), and convince me of something worth knowing. Expand my mind. I actually know a few things you may not know which I could share back with you.

I guarantee you that, the next time we talk, the rules will change to suit the subject, mood, and new things I have come to believe (probably quite foolishly).

Others who have responded to this question have delivered their messages well. Listen to them. I am cautiously optimistic that their insights are more formally focused on your needs than mine.

What makes a person boring?


Proudly I wear what is intended as an epithet: “boring”.

Boring is a label people apply to others when they are unwilling to consider potential merit. A professor is sometimes expected to be boring. Then there is Professor Irwin Corey and Professor Hans Lukas Teuber. An autistic person is sometimes expected to be boring. Then there is Temple Grandin and Daniel Tammet. I can give thousands of examples of commonly accepted classifications of people who are considered boring. I can give thousands of counter-examples of people so classified who are not boring.

If you are bored by another person, it is YOU who are applying and maintaining the label “boring” towards them. Another person will find endless fascination spending untold hours with the person you label boring. You, and you alone, are responsible for your reflex behavior that underpins your labelling someone as boring.

I write poetry, therefore I am boring. I spend hours/days/weeks/months/years thinking about neurons, therefore I am boring. I love my wife, therefore I am boring. I try to understand the folk tales of cultures other than my original one, therefore I am boring. I do not watch the latest popular TV shows, therefore… I fully accept that only a few people will want to listen when I talk.

I am not the world’s greatest anything, but those close to me are happy to be there. I am sad when I am called boring. It means the loss of opportunity for the new ideas I would learn from that person. It means that hours of companionable silence will not be possible with them.

I have sat silently with some amazing people. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was a great Tibetan Buddhist I sat with. I have sat in on countless repetitive experiments. I have sat and listened to piano practice where the same musical phrase was repeated a 1,000 times. I have also spent countless hours in what I anticipated would be fruitless debate with a Jesuit priest. I was wrong to anticipate it as fruitless.

The question is turned around all wrong. The question is better asked “What makes me label a person boring?” Turn inward. Decide why you are willing to minimize another person’s value. Finding boredom is personal. As Socrates pointed out “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

If you feel bored, turn yourself around. My grandmother taught me the beauty of a wood floor, and how to clean it properly; what kind of brush to use, what direction to scrub, what kind of soap to use, how long to leave it on before rinsing. Is scrubbing floors boring? Certainly not. Is someone who scrubs floors boring? Unlikely.

I have spent hours in frustrating discussion with people who insisted on their own truth without allowance for anything else. I listened to their truth. I was tempted to call it boring, but I can remember times when I was that way. So I consider their behavior more like a moth in its cocoon phase. Interesting to observe for the fixedness of idea and the speculation of how that fixedness came to be developed.

As a human being, I think of myself as having experiences others may value. I think of others as having experiences I may value. Life is more fun when things are not as you expect, but still within reach, or with a little practice (or maybe a lot) will come into reach.

People are amazing. If you are bored, I am sorry.

Why are some people on Quora criticizing Nikola Tesla’s capabilities and claiming him to be an exaggerated personality?


First: who cares about the ramblings of opinionated people who have not spent considerable time reading his patents and attempting to reconstruct what insights led to his inventions?

I would claim that almost all “popular” facts about almost all “popular” figures are fictions which enable people of average intelligence to admire those who have effected perceivable differences on how ordinary and learned people live. It is hard to find quality primary information. Patents are good for that, but they tend to be somewhat stilted. Nobel lectures (see their website) often enable prize recipients to tell the story of their inspiration and insights, but those are informed by their discoverers having thought about the idea genesis for many years.

There is an argument to be made that Tesla’s ability to visualize fields was beyond ordinary and which ability is likely is necessary to fully comprehend why he wrapped coils as he did. I have read some of Tesla’s patents and have spent considerable time (16 years) thinking about fields and their visualizations in personal explorations of neuron mathematics. I was fortunate to take a course at MIT given by another field visualizer (Hermann A. Haus - Wikipedia) who required us to draw fields, currents, and gradients by hand and instinct. For instance, I continue to use the superposition principle he taught to generate models of retinal images from visual optics. From wikipedia, this image is similar to problem set solutions he would have us draw: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wik...

I was still more fortunate to be given one job which made good use of this for designing magnetic fields for Plasma Fusion engineering.

It may be comforting to dismiss the apocryphal stories of Tesla’s activities and accomplishments, much as it may be comforting to accept them. I do not seek comfort. I seek to find inspiration in the rough origins of the ideas that transform. I do not feel the need to find unquestionable authorities or be authoritative. I find that my old physics and chemistry books, discredited though they may be, yet retain insights lost to the newer more effectively predictive theories.

Did Tesla make an “earthquake machine”? It is not entirely unreasonable. I suspect I could find fundamental frequencies in large rigid structures and incrementally add energy to increase the vibrational amplitude. I do not particularly care whether he actually did it or not. I like the idea that one gifted in visualizing waves and their propagation might have come up with such an idea. I prefer the ideas to precisely documentable history. What do we truly know about Archimedes? Yet I am lost in awe at the potential value in pursuing the stories attributed to him. It makes me more of an inventor to consider the ridiculous. So very many historical figures are provably different from their well-known stories. I will say it again; but differently. I like hearing ideas, trying them out for myself, attempting to disprove them, attempting to employ them, breaking them down, building them up, again and again and again until I find myself resonating to the fundamentals, and not a didact spouting the “law” without that familiarity I seek.

Tesla was probably more than the historical accounts document, but less than the over-the-top stories which attempt to offer the scientific equivalent of sainthood. I remain openly admiring of Tesla for the things I visualize because I took inspiration from him.

I hope to nudge folks fighting this or that academic battle to step away from the fray and enjoy the fruits of similar inspiration.

What is actually happening when a scientists "sees" atoms with a laser?


“Seeing” is a strange phenomenon in its own right. Individual photon consuming events in the human retina do not map to individual photon producing events in a scene. One might sense a single photon but have no idea where it came from. After dozens of retinal photon events from a fixed photon source, a gross wide distribution pattern begins to form and one can point to the source. After thousands of photon events, details begin to appear. After millions, details are clear. But, what we see is not photons. We PREDICT what we will see and use variations in photon event distributions to either confirm or reject the prediction. In other words… seeing is largely confirmation that patterns of photons are consistent with our reflex expectations.

So it is with all scientific observations. A scientist senses a pattern in some phenomenon, then sets up a device which will sense a contrast between this and that and take measurements, then attempts to make a model which produces the same values, then collects event statistics to identify the accuracy and precision of the model.

To see atoms is little different from ordinary sight. For sight, we model photons being produced by or bouncing off surfaces, then absorbed by photoreceptors arranged so cunningly that sensed contrasts can be reassembled to perceptual points, boundaries, and vertices. The result must match what we expect or we do not claim to “see”. With atoms it is no different. We use something to bounce off the atom and look at the patterns of subsequent events on sensory equipment and use mathematical transforms which predict what contrasts to expect, and if they match what we expect we claim to “confirm” the model’s predictive power.

So, if there is some organization of atoms and we can bounce anything at all off of them in a way that produces patterns dependent on the organization, we can reconstruct the organization from the pattern. Same thing as vision. A slight variation is fluorescence where we project something at the atom and it gets absorbed, but then re-emits another thing in another direction, making yet another kind of pattern. This, also, can be modeled and used to claim knowledge of location and shape of the thing being modeled.

The nice thing about lasers is that their narrow fixed bandwidth enables the formation of reliable interference patterns of photon events with stationary peaks and valleys. When atoms modify this pattern, the resulting change of pattern can be mapped back to location and shape using mathematical transforms. Some even use lasers to force atoms to fall into patterns to decrease the temperature of the atoms (they wiggle less when trapped by lasers).

So, I would encourage the asker to think about the word in quotes (“sees”) rather than the words atom or laser.

The only thing a scientist does differently from other people is to use ideas and models to successfully predict what will be measured when there is no prior success. Scientists can be quite wily, putting together strange and beautiful measuring devices to test whether their strange and beautiful models are good predictors. There are professional scientists who forget this. There are everyday people with no scientific training who practice this curiosity every day. Sometimes, a scientist thinks that the assumptions they make about what their equipment does is obvious and everyone can see what they see during the experiment. This expectation is a minor defect suffered by most people. I am sure that I have made assumptions in what I have written here that depends on you, the reader, being competent in the same ways I have tried to be.

Finally, you may THINK you know what you mean by seeing. My personal quest includes modeling the optics, mechanics, and signal processing of vision. Seeing is nothing like what is commonly believed. It is strange and wonderful. It is a beautiful example of equipment (neurons) set up to map transient sensory contrasts (interference patterns) into stable perceptual information (images) to be confirmed against the model of the world (what we think we see) we currently believe.

The atom is where we claim it is because the bounce patterns are familiar.

Do you see?

Why do many people who claim to have high IQs not appear intelligent or have any genius contributions?


As with many questions I answer, this one is all turned around backwards. Some people observe something that doesn’t fit with what they’ve been taught. Some of those refuse to dismiss it as an insignificant outlier. Some of those try to figure out all the different ways it shows up. Some of those work out patterns in how it shows up. Some of those come up with a way to predict future events based on those patterns. Some of those find a mathematical formula to enable others to predict. Some of these formulae become popular. Some see the popular new thing and accuse (declare) someone along the chain to be a genius.

I believe in humans. They seem to contribute to these chains as a point of pride, believing themselves superior to either animals or other humans. This does not discourage me. It’s just part of how humans compete and is quite natural. Cooperation is also natural, but tends to be reserved for one’s cohort group. Genius seems to arise when the possessor of said quality refuses to “toe the line” and agree with their “superiors”. Active efforts to crush genius are almost universal. Education punishes those who know differently. Those who forge new pathways are always talking about things no-one else knows, and this makes most people uncomfortable.

Someone with a measurably high IQ is someone who has successfully competed in the game of IQs. Someone who observes the world and comes up with uncomfortable new ideas are rarely labelled genius, but such people are all around you.

If I am a genius then so are you. Break free from the stultifying eristics that entrap you within your educated enforcements. I see the genius in non-humans. Cooperation between species can be every bit as satisfying as cooperation with other humans.

So, IQ be damned. Show me what you think about. Show me something I never saw before. I want to be uncomfortable. Let’s enjoy the newly discovered (by us) and be comforted when we see that it was done before whether it was last year, last century, last millennium, or by your friends, your enemies, people of whom you have no knowledge, or by elephants, puffer fish, octopus, bacterium, or human. Instead of showing me your IQ, show me something to pique my interest. Let us explore it together.

Last words from Koheleth: “There is nothing new under the sun” and “All is vanity and chasing after the wind”. But at least we can be joyful observing and predicting with those willing to spend time with us.

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