Tuesday, May 10, 2016

#131 / Our Brains Online

The article from which the above image was taken advises that "exercise is good for your brain." A brief statement published right below the picture provides the following counsel: "Time to trade in your crossword for CrossFit."

I am confident that this is good advice. My reading recommendation for today, however, is actually intended to direct you elsewhere, and to suggest that you look at a book review published in the Friday, April 22nd edition of The Wall Street Journal. The title of that review is "This Is Your Brain Online."

In his "Bookshelf" column in The JournalAlan Jacobs reviews two books, When We Are No More, by Abby Smith Rumsey, and The Internet of Us, by Michael Patrick Lynch

The topic Jacobs explores, with reference to these two books, is whether memory and knowledge are augmented or diminished by our increasing reliance on "offsite" information storage. More and more, the information that is the raw stuff of memory and knowledge is no longer primarily contained within our human and very biological brains, but is located elsewhere, in a server farm in Seattle, for instance, which we access with our new technologies.

If you are in the "aging club," which I referenced in my posting on May 4th, you may think sometimes about the topic that Rumsey addresses: "When We Are No More." If we increasingly disencumber ourselves of our human, biological memories, in favor of a made memory accessed by the Internet, we may well find that everyone else is doing the same. 

If that indeed happens, as in fact it is happening, the end result will likely be that when we disappear in death not only will our own memories disappear with us (which has always been the case), but there will be no memory of us, either. 

If you have read much of Hannah Arendt, you will recognize that the danger here goes beyond the merely personal dimension, since a major motivation for the deeds that make for a genuine and vital community life, a healthy "politics," is the ability to leave a memory of great deeds behind, to make oneself immortal (always a human ambition) by having created, by one's action, something new and different in the world that humans make. 

When we are no more, we still shall be. For we will leave behind a world that we have made, for good or ill, and we will be remembered for our deeds. We will be celebrated or denounced, but the significance of our lives upon this Earth will not be forgotten. 

Unless, perhaps, these memories are located only in a server farm in Seattle, and no one looks, and then, of course, the earthquake comes.

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