Many of you probably already follow the blog, Wait, But Why? If you don’t, you should. But brace yourself, because each of his infrequent and irregular posts will consume a hefty chunk of your time; first, in reading it, then when it churns through your brain for days afterward.
His latest post about a bizarre project from Elon Musk hits on a couple of things I’ve been thinking about lately: 1) the ways our brains work with data, and 2) the power of neural networks. The project is called Neurolink. They are trying to facilitate the development of sophisticated brain interfaces.
Here’s a quick excerpt, with one of Tim Urban’s signature graphics:
The mind-bending bigness of Neuralink’s mission, combined with the labyrinth of impossible complexity that is the human brain, made this the hardest set of concepts yet to fully wrap my head around—but it also made it the most exhilarating when, with enough time spent zoomed on both ends, it all finally clicked. I feel like I took a time machine to the future, and I’m here to tell you that it’s even weirder than we expect.
But before I can bring you in the time machine to show you what I found, we need to get in our zoom machine—because as I learned the hard way, Elon’s wizard hat plans cannot be properly understood until your head’s in the right place.
So wipe your brain clean of what it thinks it knows about itself and its future, put on soft clothes, and let’s jump into the vortex.
Clear your schedule. This is gonna take some time and once you get started it’s hard to peel yourself away.
The other piece is from Nautilus, called Why Poverty Is Like a Disease. It explores some new and admittedly early research suggesting that high levels of stress can have genetic implications. It is part memoir, in the Hillbilly Elegy vein, and part science journalism.
Class was a single room of 20 people running from kindergarten through twelfth grade, part of an unaccredited school practicing what’s called Accelerated Christian Education. We were given booklets to read to ourselves, by ourselves. We scored our own homework. There were no lectures, and I did not have a teacher. Once in a while the preacher’s wife would hand out a test. We weren’t allowed to do anything. There were no movies, and no music. Years would pass with no distinguishing features, no events. There was barely any socializing.
On top of it all, I spent a lot of my time pondering basic questions. Where will my next meal come from? Will I have electricity tomorrow? I became intimately acquainted with the embarrassment of my mom trying to hide our food stamps at the grocery store checkout. I remember panic setting in as early as age 8, at the prospect of a perpetual uncertainty about everything in life, from food to clothes to education. I knew that the life I was living couldn’t be normal. Something was wrong with the tiny microcosm I was born into. I just wasn’t sure what it was.
Epigenetics is an interesting field, though it’s not easy to tell what it will mean for medicine or diagnosis. It has already started to attract quack doctors and opportunists. We’ll see where it goes, but I thought this combination of subjects made a great read. Have a nice weekend.