Posts Tagged ‘Neurological Complexity’


October 2, 2013



Abstract: “Innate Knowledge” is a stupid idea. The truth is the exact opposite: LEARNING IS EVERYWHERE, OUT THERE. Learning is the opposite of innate. This insight has tremendous consequences on our entire prehension of the world.

(It will not escape the cognoscenti that Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, were partisans of innateness. And that believing in the superiority of inheritance is a necessary condition for racism, fascism, slavery, and hereditary plutocracy as fairness. That makes the likes of Chomsky and Dawkins self contradictory)

Subjective time slows down in smaller brains.

Fastest Wings, Fastest Brains. Anna Hummingbird California

Fastest Wings, Fastest Brains. Anna Hummingbird California

Those wings go at 100 Hertz, four time the human perception limit.

Thus time is relative; just as light-clock time slows down in a fast reference frame, or in a heavy gravitational field, neurological time slows down in a small neurology.

(Interestingly, the deepest reason for the slowing of time… boils down to the same in the Relativity case as in the Neurological one! It’s all about energy.)

A lot of ideas on instinct came from studying insects: insects seem to know all, without having studied anything. However, if insect time flows slowly, insects actually have time to learn.

And that’s rendered easier by having brains adapted to their environment. If they have only a few tricks to learn, and what looks like ten seconds for us is an hour for them, no wonder they learn lots. Thus slow in small explains how “instinct” works.

Hence behaviors one describes as “instinctive” are just fast studies. A lot of the silliness about “genes” is thus dispelled, and the mind comes on top.

And hunting influences it. Thus the Dark Side dominates time itself, not just the hierarchy of values!

On the way, my theory of thoughts as material forms is rolled out, once again, with the refined elegance of a low shrieking hypersonic bomber shattering all it wake.

[To avoid boredom, I put my own science/philosophy upfront, followed by a more conventional recap of the published experiments.]  


SMALLER ANIMALS TEND TO PERCEIVE TIME SLOWLY, a study published in the Journal of Animal Behavior has shown.

That smaller animals perceive time in slow motion did not surprise me at all.. I have wild (“Anna”) hummingbird friends. They can make a whole body shake 55 times per second (that allows them to shake off rain).

I was only surprised it took so long to find measurable evidence for this. Anybody who observes a bumblebee, or a humming bird, collecting nectar, will readily feel that they take so many decisions in fractions of a second, that it means that time flows slowly for these creatures: they take in a lot of information, analyze it, and act accordingly.

Seeing hummingbirds hovering still in the turbulent high winds, as I have, from a few feet away, proves this (I extract knowledge from my wild hummingbird friends). They have got to process a tremendous amount of information per hundredth of a second.

Having smaller brains allows for faster processing. Faster mental processing is an obvious advantage in the predator-prey universe we inhabit, and our ancestors have evolved in. Evolution was bound to stumble on, and exploit, that trait.



But there is a much more advanced insight one can have: faster brain processing explains (what looks like) instinct. I claim the following. (Most of what looks as) INSTINCT IS FAST LEARNING.

Let’s think: where do we get our knowledge from? Did we get it the easy way, knowing everything all along, as Socrates tried to demonstrate we did? Or did we have to do some effort, listening to our parents, observing our elders, listening to our teachers, spending years to learn to read and write, and then reading books, experimenting around.

Of course it is the latter: any honest chimp knows that much of life is spent learning, figuring things out. Mind dominates genes:

It is nature that is the instruction set of all and any animal. FAST LEARNING, or “unconscious” learning, SOLVES THE NATURE-NURTURE PROBLEM. If a bee can spend, what is perceived by the bee as hours learning something (in subjective, bee time), whereas it feels to us like seconds, we observe “instinct”, whereas the bee has the impression of being at school forever and ever.

Bee time is even accentuated by the nature of learning. According to me, thoughts are just brain geometry (that’s more general than neuronal geometry, as it involves more than axons and dendrites, but also other cells and topologies). One needs time to build those. In simpler, smaller brains, such constructions will go much faster.

It goes much faster from smaller dimensions: the signals, electrical or chemical, have much less further to go before they get to an enacting node (that’s why computer circuitry is made ever smaller to satisfy Moore’s “law”). In a smaller brain, there are also fewer dimensions and volumes, so the energy of signals takes much less long to ramp up (that’s related to how the ramping up of a light signal gave a delay giving the impression that neutrinos were going faster than said light signal).

“The fewer dimensions” aspects is where innate inheritance (from genes and the like) comes in. Say a simpler animal can distinguish only a few things, it’s going to be much easier, and much faster, to learn those few things rather than zillions of things, human style.

So how are the most intimate brain structures, even in a bee, the thoughts, built? Well from studying the environment and building quasi-representations of it.

One has, of course to have a theory of what thoughts are. Well, for me they are forms (so far so good would Plato say!). What can be seen (the etymology of the concept of idea).

But then, of course FORMS OF BRAIN STRUCTURES. Hey, what else? We know enough about the brain and cytology to know that forms in the brain exists, and all the way down to the Quantum level (where their meaning becomes as mysterious as the non local Quantum).

Anyway, the important point for the subject at hand is that thoughts, feelings and conditioned reflexes, that is, most of the instruction set for behaviors is NOT pre-coded by genes, but it is learned from the environment. It’s the environment that codes, tweaked by the genes.

I of course argue that even (apparently) unconditioned reflexes are also the result of learning. Animals learn, early on, to withdraw their paw/foot real fast when submitted to a painful stimulus (as they discover that it diminishes the pain).

Some will look at me with boiled fish eyes, as they know that unconditioned reflexes are, well, by definition, unconditioned. However, I believe that most of these apparently unconditioned reflexes are actually the product of learning.

I am a mountain runner, meaning that I can negotiate abominable terrain at very high speed, thanks to these apparently unconditioned reflexes, all the way into the many muscles of the foot. As a few people who tried to accompany me crashed spectacularly, I know quite well that even something as natural as ambulation is full of conditioned reflexes.

I have also noticed to my dismay that, when I am out of training, my brain processing could not keep track on descents I knew all too well, and I was in danger of exploding into the closest rock I could find.

OK, let me recapitulate what the scientists directly established:



The scientific study shows that smaller animals can observe movement on a finer, much faster timescale than bigger ones, allowing them to escape from larger predators (who looks to the small animals as if they were moving in slow mo).

Insects and small birds, for example, can see more information in one second than a larger animal such as an elephant.

How that works is philosophically obvious. In a large animal one needs enormous quantities of motor neurons to send the electricity to move those huge muscles. Those motor neuron packs, in turn, need to be hooked up with larger neuronal installations having to do with decision-making, deeper inside. All the energy has got to move ponderously: if, somehow, it did not, the animal may explode, from too much energy released too fast. And so on.

“The ability to perceive time on very small scales may be the difference between life and death for fast-moving organisms such as predators and their prey,” said lead author Kevin Healy, from Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.

The reverse was found in bigger animals, which may miss fast things that smaller creatures can rapidly spot.



The scientists looked at the variation of time perception across a variety of animals. They gathered datasets from other teams who had used a technique called critical flicker fusion frequency, which measures the speed at which the eye can process light.

Plotting these results on a graph revealed a pattern that showed a strong relationship between body size and how quick the eye could respond to changing visual information such as a flashing light.

Of those tested, animals with the fastest visual systems included golden mantled ground squirrels, starlings and pigeons.

Starling live in large groups and forms massive swirling flocks, related to the need to keep track of where mates are, to avoid collisions. Another reason, for the fast swirling, is that it makes it impossible for a predator like a falcon to get a clean hit. Many fishes’ species use the same trick to confuse predators (who, in turn have devised strategies to handle that! Humpback whales herd the fishes, before dashing through the mass).

One species of tiger beetle runs faster than its eyes can keep up, according to the team. It essentially becomes blind so needs to stop periodically to re-evaluate its prey’s position.

In humans, too, there are variations among individuals. Athletes, for example, can often process visual information more quickly.

This reinforces my observation above that many reflexes that are viewed as unconditioned are actually conditioned, including time perception itself. An experienced goalkeeper would therefore be quicker than others in observing where a ball comes from. This is similar to taxi cab drivers getting larger memory centers. But it affects time perception.

The speed at which humans absorb visual information is also age-related, said Andrew Jackson, a co-author of the work at TCD.

“Younger people can react more quickly than older people…” (Of course that’s not saying much as too many people are fully acquainted with saturated fats, booze, pot, and other mind gluing or wasting drugs…). One may wonder, though, if that has to do with the accelerated perception of time that people seem to experience as they age.

Indeed, if one measures internal time by how much geometric reorganization a brain undergoes, as it learns new things, learning lots would mean time in slow motion. (And conversely.)

“From a human perspective, our ability to process visual information limits our ability to drive cars or fly planes any faster than we currently do in Formula 1, where these guys are pushing the limits of what is humanly possible,” Dr Jackson told BBC News. “Therefore, to go any quicker would require either computer assistance, or enhancement of our visual system, either through drugs or ultimately implants.”

The current study focused on vertebrates, but the team also found that several fly species have eyes that react to stimulus more than four times quicker than the human eye. For a reason that I partly forgot, I had determined, long ago, that bees processed information up to ten times faster than human beings.

Humans can perceive TV flicker say at 20 Hertz; I have to assume that my pet hummingbirds with their 55 times per second body shake, and their 100 Hz wing beat have got to perceive the world at an even higher pace; hummingbirds actually catch insects in flight, to balance their diet with proteins; they do this by opening fully their elongated beaks, high-speed photography has revealed.


The common European eel, the leatherback turtle, and the blacknose shark had the slowest visual systems.

Although the eel and blacknose shark are relatively small, they have slow metabolisms which explains their slow visual systems.

The leatherback is a huge turtle that feeds primarily on slow-moving jellyfish. It may live more than a century. However, intriguingly, it is also the fastest reptile (up to 35 km/h), thanks to its giant flippers, and its metabolism cannot be that slow, as it is warm-blooded (!). So it seems that the slow nature of what it hunts primes on other considerations to explain why it did not invest in high-speed visual processing equipment. This is another case where the weight of the Dark Side on evolution is blatant.

Some deep-sea isopods (a type of marine woodlouse) have the slowest recorded reaction of all, and can only see a light turning off and on four times per second “before they get confused and see it as being constantly on”, Dr Jackson explained. Confused woodlice from lack of a demanding predator-prey environment.

“We are beginning to understand that there is a whole world of detail out there that only some animals can perceive and it’s fascinating to think of how they might perceive the world differently to us,” he added.

Graeme Ruxton, of the University of St Andrews, Scotland, another co-author, said: “Having eyes that send updates to the brain at much higher frequencies than our eyes do is of no value if the brain cannot process that information equally quickly.

“Hence, this work highlights the impressive capabilities of even the smallest animal brains. Flies might not be deep thinkers but they can make good decisions very quickly.”

Some fishes live from cleaning other fishes: they extracts debris, clean the skin, benefitting those they clean. However, they can cheat, by stealing some protective mucus from the host they clean. That hurts the hosts, who dislike this very much, and may react very nastily. Still, mucus is good.

So the cleaning fishes have to carefully distinguish among their clients. There are basically three cases visiting the cleaning station: predators, residents, and visitors. It goes without saying that they deliver impeccable service to predators. A satisfied predator does not gobble its servants.

Residents are sedentary fishes living in the neighborhood: mucus stealing is big with those: where are they going to go? Visitors: one has interest that they would come back, so one treats them more deferentially, lest they go visit another service station.

Thus one can see that tiny modest cleaner fishes have economic principles as developed as American economists. There is no way that’s innate: tiny fishes observe, and deduce. Intelligence is everywhere, even among the tiny ones.


Instinct As Fast Learning solves the nature-nurture problem. It also shows something else, even more important. It shows that the force of nature makes not just the force, but even the very geometry, of our minds.

(The construction of neuromorphology itself being forced by feedback from nature.)

The minds of sentient species, from bees to hummingbirds, are exquisitely tuned to be programmed by the (part of) nature they are made to respond to, all the way to the speed of time they need.

If we kill the environment, we kill out instruction set. The usual reason given to save the environment is that we would not want our descendants to live in a bad world. But what we see now is that a poor world gives poor minds, and that even time may go askew. Another, deeper than ever, reason to be a fanatical ecologist. Nature is not just our temple. Nature is where, and how, time itself is built, one neurological impulse at a time.


Patrice Ayme