Why & How Humans Think

To answer why humans think is often conducive to find out how they think.

Human beings, when they think creatively, can think bottom up, or top down.

Most of the time, of course, humans do not bother to think creatively: they just learn by rote what they have heard, and sounds good to be integrated in the peer group that presents itself, or that they have chosen.

Bottom up thinking is thinking from practice: the hand makes the brain (even Heidegger figured that one out).

Animals Too Can Fight For Freedom Beyond What Most Humans Would Do

Animals Too Can Fight For Freedom Beyond What Most Humans Would Do

Top down thinking starts from axioms. It’s creative, but only if one makes one’s own axioms. It is intellectual fascism, if the axioms are given by fascist thought system (one animated by the Leader Principle).

We need guinea pigs to experiment on. The best subjects are those who think for a penny, the professors who grace academia. As their final product is supposed to be thinking, thinking they are supposed to exhibit.

They know this, so they try to hide, by drowning the fish in the water: a typical scientific, psycho, socio, medical or philosophical paper tends to use hermetic jargon, rich with a barrage of references, automatically obscure (by contrast, Einstein’s breakthrough papers had basically no references).

Our subject here is going to be Brian Key. In his essay “Why Fishes (likely) Do Not Feel Pain”.

Professor Key started, with axioms setting up the mood he wanted us to have: animals are machines; wolves’ behavior can be duplicated with computer programs, fishes don’t suffer pain, because they fight the hook, whereas clever mammals trapped, give up.

Pop ethology presents with silly axioms. Predators trapped by a leg have been known to chew it off.

Fish on a line do give up in the end, when they have no more will (although they still have some strength, as they flap around when brought on a boat and speared).

Brian Key claims one needs a cortex to suffer pain. Reptiles and birds have no cortex, and they suffer pain. http://www.wiringthebrain.com/2010/09/ancient-origins-of-cerebral-cortex.html

How did Brian’s brain get so silly? Because he reasoned top down that “it does not feel like anything to be a fish”, as he put it. So then he looked for structures in fish similar to those known to be associated to pain in humans.

Naturally, he did not find them. Birds have brains that are organized completely differently from ours, although our common ancestors are around 240 million years ago. Fishes, separated by another 200 million years more, are going to be even more mysterious.

The cortex is over-valued: conductivity modulation by glial cells occur along axons, for example. That means that “white matter” also “thinks”.

It has been notoriously difficult to find out how birds’ brains work. Still, some bird species score possibly higher in some mental ways than any primate, but man.

Generally, understanding life is difficult. It’s even impossible without Quantum Physics: a plant captures sunlight in one femtosecond. The rapport of a femtosecond to a second is the same at the rapport of one second to 31 million years. Crucially photosynthesis depends upon electrons being in many places, at the same time.

So, Brian, please, don’t tell me how it feels to be a fish. You don’t know. As many academics, you are more busy posing to advance your career. It’s OK, it helps, but it should be taken with a grain of salt.

Attributing to animal brains the same general purpose that our brains have is just common sense. It is not forming the world according to man (anthropo-morphizing). It is just the most natural explanation, the most economical one, too (“Ockham Razor”).

Telling us one can think of wolves differently, like machines, show a will to impel on us the mood to the notion that animals are machines. When human hunters go out after game, they use the same tactic, as described by Brian, not because we can think of them as simple computer program, but because it is the smartest strategy to follow.

Common sense is found in computer programs, written in wolf and human brains, or on paper, because sense is common.

And brains are into making sense. By the way, dear Brian, computer programs are written by humans, and, apparently, wolves. This is all you have demonstrated.

In “Diving Into Truth“, I pointed out that fishes known to be clever, groupers, are found to recruit complementary predators to hunt. Other fishes do this. The idea is to find a predator such as a Moray Eel to get in cracks and caves. The eel understands this, and the grouper makes a suggestive dance and mimic to get the eel into action.

Since I wrote the initial article linked above, other species of fish have been found to also suggest transpacific cooperation to fetch food.

Any trout fisher will tell you that old trouts are very smart. You can put the juiciest morsel in front of them, once they know it’s an ape who proposes dinner, they won’t bite.

Meanwhile, back from the Kremlin, Merkel faulted the Russians in Ukraine. Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko exhibited passport and military identification papers of Russian officers, “found inside Ukraine, killing Ukrainians”. The border was now “swarming with Russian tanks, armed personnel carriers, multiple rocket launchers and ammunition.” He added: “We find Russian officers, in tanks full of ammunition, who claim to be lost, one hundred kilometers from their border, killing Ukrainians.”

After the talks yesterday in Moscow that the French president and I had, it is uncertain if it will succeed, Merkel said, “but it is my view and the French president’s view [that it’s] definitely worth trying. We owe it to the people affected in Ukraine, at the very least.”

The French president had a less sanguine angle: “If we don’t find not just a compromise but a lasting peace agreement [accord de paix durable], we know perfectly well what the scenario will be. It has a name, it’s called war,” Hollande told journalists in his city of Tulle, in central France.

Putin backtracked right away, in full Hitlerian disingenuous style: “We don’t intend to war with anyone. We intend to cooperate with all.”

Wonderful. How and why we think is at its best, when survival is a stake.

Patrice Ayme’


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20 Responses to “Why & How Humans Think”

  1. Socratic Gadfly Says:

    Patrice: Parrots in particular and birds in general are known to have homologues to the cortex. How this may relate to pain is probably needing some fleshing out. http://www.uchospitals.edu/news/2012/20121001-neocortex.html

    Human hunters consciously discuss their plans for stalking prey before setting out; wolves do not. Therefore, there’s no such parallel like you imply.

    • pendantry Says:

      “Human hunters consciously discuss their plans for stalking prey before setting out; wolves do not.”

      … and you know this, how?

      • Patrice Ayme Says:

        Just made it up, and reasoned from there, obviously… Top down thinking. That, BTW, is exactly how Socrates reasoned (“Socratic Knowledge” philosophers call it disingenuously!). So Socratic Gadfly thinks both like Socrates, and a fly… Hence his nickname.

  2. Brian Key Says:

    Patrice raises the question about birds and pain. In my paper in Biology & Philosophy I clearly indicated that while birds do not have a cortex they have neuroanatomical features that would theoretically allow them to fear pain. Patrice raises the idea that “common sense” tells us that animal brains have the same general purpose as humans. I challenge readers to go beyond their everyday experiences because sometimes “common sense” can be misleading.

  3. pendantry Says:

    Common sense is an oxymoron. Remember Canute!

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Pendantry: I will quote part of your essay below. The same happened in France. King Dagobert was a great King, but the French Revolution of 1789 had to spite monarchs, thus heaped spite on excellent kings, and especially on excellent kings, like Dagobert (claiming he was so good, but so dumb, he put underwear inside out, etc… And making a song of it).

      From Pendantry’s site: “Cnut the Great was a very wise man who tried to demonstrate to his subjects that he could do no such thing.

      (It was allegedly Christian humility which made him reject his courtiers’ flattery by demonstrating that even he could not stop the waves; later hostile chroniclers were to claim it showed madness.) [Source: official website of the British Monarchy]

      King Cnut (Canute) famously attempted to control the waves of River Thames from the site of his royal palace to show his nobles that he was not omnipotent [Source: UK Parliament website]”

  4. Paul Handover Says:

    In terms of the functioning of the human brain, I thoroughly recommend watching the film about Alan Turing: The Imitation Game. Four of us saw the movie last night and it was fantastic. Showing both the very best and the very worst examples of the functioning of the human brain.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Paul: I know pretty well Turing’s life (and subject matter). What I read about the film tells me it pretty much distorts Turing’s life, making him much more of a victim than he really was. Although Turing was fought strongly and unfairly, for his homosexuality, he was also strongly supported by others (one of his superiors resigned his MBE, when Turing got only a MBE, saying Turing deserved much more). Also there was a whole intellectual fighting on computers and the Von Neumann-USA approach won (due to austerity, and European disunity, I would dare to say).

      This being said, considering what you say, I will try to see the movies. Need to find time, though…

      • Paul Handover Says:

        Homosexuality in Britain, from a moral and legal perspective, was a dark blot on the landscape right up to 1967. Thus, to my way of thinking, that aspect of the film was too far from the reality of life.

        My own knowledge of Turing’s life is that “pretty much distorts” is an exaggeration. Yes, there are some magnifications but none that steps outside legitimate licence for a film-maker.

        The film is very strong on showing Turing as a hero; a brilliant, dedicated hero at that!

        • John Rogers Says:


          It’s interesting that in England it took 10 years for the recommendations of the Wolfenden Report (1957) to be adopted while here (GO USA!) Texas was still prosecuting homosexuals in 2003 (Lawrence v. Texas). American exceptionalism has a certain oxymoronic quality to it.

          • Patrice Ayme Says:

            The anxiety to demonstrate homosexuals get punished in Texas has an interesting sado-masochist explanation… Anyway, the average boy locker room could well be interpreted as a form of homosexuality. Not just monosexuality… 😉

  5. brodix Says:

    Why not consider the possibility of consciousness, at some elemental level, as effectively synonymous with life/biology and that it is essentially the same presence manifesting through multitudes of different prisms?
    While this might seem theological, it would really be more animist. Theology is necessarily top down. That the gods or god represent some ideal or desire and as such, are the thought, rather than what manifests the thought. The absolute is basis, not apex, so a spiritual absolute would be the essence from which life rises, not an ideal from which it fell.
    If this sense of being were to lack distinct form, wouldn’t be some super natural entity, but simply that much more nebulous and as such, require definition and delineation to possess character. Just as consciousness would be nothing without the form of thought.
    While this idea is going to provoke the scientists and materialists, consider the conceptual effectiveness of the idea, as an axiom, since this is more of a philosophic debate.
    It can be quite explanatory of our behavior, from the most psycho and sociopathic, to the most ingrained herd like behavior, to the most undying love, given all the ways this essentially singular sense can be directed, magnified, connected, isolated, etc.
    Personally I grew up on a horse farm, as a younger child in a large family and having more of an observant personality, than an assertive one, I had an early education in how egos evolve, establish emotional and physical boundaries, territories, personalities, etc. I also had the experience of dealing with large, fit, prey animals and since people when focused are predatory, it provided contrast. For example, we have eyes in the front of our head and are very linear, object oriented and narrative driven, while horses have eyes on the corners of their heads and are very spatially oriented and concerned about the possibility of threats to their space.
    As it was a fairly emotionally tumultuous situation, yet also very encompassing, I had learned by my late teens not to look to other people, as individuals, for emotional support, but to connect as fully as possible to the entire range of my physical context and essentially balance myself electro-statically between the entire range of connections. As such, I found myself with more of an animal sensibility and observing from the center of my brain and letting thoughts organize themselves, rather than the human tendency to isolate, distinguish and judge every sensation, according to a culturally acceptable framework.
    What I find is that people often have very distinct auras, if I may be so new age. That the presence of their consciousness can be detected and frankly once one becomes tuned to the habit, difficult to ignore. I’m sure we have all had those times of sensing others looking at us, feeling the energy in a group, shared the same thought with another, etc. Often when that happens, we recognize it immediately and our sense of focus concentrates on that connection.
    Given we all carry around wireless communication devices in our pockets, the actual physics of this wouldn’t necessarily be all that mysterious.
    I find though, that once one becomes inured to this sensation and tries to ignore it, the consequence is to only gain a broader perspective of it. Rather then letting ones thoughts focus on these events, one learns to develop a neutral, static connection to the environment and so the other’s sense of presence isn’t disturbed and their direction of attention is reflected, like light off a surface,so one gets a sense of what they are looking toward, rather than attracting their attention. Sometimes feeling and thoughts seem attached. Then there are those dots and waves in the vision which start to connect to external forces, etc. After a while, reality is simply a matter of navigating this electrostatic environment.
    So yes, fish are fairly primitive, as individuals, but complexity is not always a virtue. Are highly ordered and predictable people less conscious than those who are more disordered and random? Are those who live primarily phenomenal existences and as such experience a great deal, somehow less conscious then those who put their efforts into minutely examining much smaller and more focused areas of attention? It is, like everything, a matter of perspective and as individuals, we are our perspective.
    Thank you, Patrice, for the space to let the brain wander on a Sunday afternoon. Disregard anything I say that seems crazy.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Glad to see you here, Brodix! You are probably my preferred commentator at Scientia Salon! I was busy, and just saw your comment now. Thereafter, your comments ought to appear without moderation (Massimo, bless his soul, has censored many of my comments, or argued, word by word, over hours, until I gave up. I find that censoring comments of people of good faith is just unbecoming a civilized person. NYT does this to me enormously… for more than a decade… Although I know why, see my latest essay from a few minutes ago…).

      I do agree with your suggestion that consciousness is something fundamental. The fact that consciousness is not part of physics, per se, shows that physics is incomplete.
      I will read more of what you said later, I have to run now.

  6. brodix Says:

    Thank you Patrice. You are certainly one of the more unique voices I’ve encountered on the internet.
    Having been banned and deleted my fair share of times, I can sympathize, but I’ve long come to realize that in order to function, these conversations need to operate within their chosen boundaries and while we may think they are missing the big picture, that simply is not their immediate concern. As I observe in the above note, we are our point of view and most people do not care to have their views seriously questioned. Often the initial reaction is visceral and getting emotional about the rejection is simply an emotional response in return. That’s why I have given up debating most issues beyond physics. Yet even there, making some of the points I’ve mentioned at Scientia Salon, such as the reason time is such a conundrum being that the vector from past to future is simply our individual perception of the processes by which future becomes past, i.e, tomorrow becomes yesterday because the earth turns. Or that they cannot very well claim the universe to be expanding relativistically, if the speed of light isn’t increasing as well, in order to remain constant. Naturally I foolishly assume physical theorists to be intensely logical and would jump to debate such issues, as they otherwise undermine some well regarded theories about reality, but as you may have noticed, they get ignored, because adhering to the group paradigm is far more important than any silly old logic. In religion it is considered a test of faith as to how well one can ignore counterfactual arguments. In fact, the more extreme the idea, the higher the bar is to accept it and no one would dare admit to not understanding or accepting, as that would be to admit ignorance and or lack of will. So we have big bangs and multiverses and enormous forces of nature proposed and accepted every time observation refutes theory.
    The fact of the matter is, reality is bottom up and there is no universal frame, no “God’s eye view.” Three dimensions are just a mapping device and no more fundamental to space than longitude, latitude and altitude are to the surface of this planet. We all have our perspective and that conscious energy that is Will drives us forward. Eventually though, the group narrative does bend to reality and those following rarely even sense the turn, as their reality is whichever way the group goes.
    Reading some of your other posts, if you want to understand politics, think of it in simple thermodynamic terms, not all the words flying about. The power of money is that it is quantified hope and it is this desire of everyone to have as much as possible, that is creating the current bubble, not those who happen to be at the top of the wave. They have simply achieved that position by creating more illusions of wealth than all the others following this belief system. When this bubble pops, the tide will turn and that other pole of social control, fear, will be ascendant. The people riding that wave are as amoral as those riding this one, but their methods of control are far more blunt.
    One can only hope humanity draws back from the edge of that abyss. We swing between the extremes. There is no flat line down the middle.
    Here is an essay I wrote:

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Many abysses are opening right and left, forward and back. Interesting times.

      As far as the NYT was concerned, that was purely on their part mind control, for the reason I explained in the essay. I went one truth too far, and they blocked me, precisely because they know it’s true.

      • brodix Says:

        You know it’s the top of the wave when it’s mostly foam and bubbles and this wave has been building for decades, centuries, millennia, the whole of human history, depending on how you look at it and there likely won’t be a bigger one for a long time to come.
        It is all about control. The bottom up energy and the top down form. We provide the energy to propel their form and they instinctively need to keep us in control. As the old saying goes about riding a tough horse, take a deep seat and a long hold. The only power most people have is choosing which group to join. My only hope is getting physics to recognize they have the concept of time backward and time is to temperature, what frequency is to amplitude. This would put temperature on a par with narrative and so people might begin to sense they have to understand the feedback and not just follow the narrative. A long shot, but then life is short and I’m way past the middle of mine.

  7. Patrice Ayme Says:

    Dear Brodix: We join groups, more or less. Philosophers have to do it less.

What do you think? Please join the debate! The simplest questions are often the deepest!

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