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Why Your Brain Has Gray Matter, and Why You Should Use It

first_imgVertebrate brains have an outer layer of “gray matter” over the inner “white matter.”  Why is this?  “By borrowing mathematical tools from theoretical physics,” a press release from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory announced, two researchers found out.Based on no fewer than 62 mathematical equations and expressions, the theory provides a possible explanation for the structure of various regions including the cerebral cortex and spinal cord.  The theory is based on the idea that maximum brain function requires a high level of interconnectivity among brain neurons but a low level of delays in the time it takes for signals to move through the brain.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)Their paper was published in PLoS Computational Biology.1  Despite the implicit deduction that the brain appears optimally designed, the authors looked to the random, unguided processes of evolution to explain how it got that way.  Notice the first word in this next sentence: “Assuming that evolution maximized brain functionality, what is the reason for such segregation?”  they asked.  Did the claim of evolution ever get past the assumption stage?Gray matter contains neuron somata, synapses, and local wiring, such as dendrites and mostly nonmyelinated axons.  White matter contains global, and in large brains mostly myelinated, axons that implement global communication.  What is the evolutionary advantage of such segregation?  Networks with the same local and global connectivity could be wired so that global and local connections are finely intermixed.  Since such design is not observed, and invoking an evolutionary accident as an explanation has agnostic flavor, we searched for an explanation based on the optimization approach, which is rooted in the evolutionary theory.Their use of the term agnostic is not what most people think (i.e., uncertainty about the existence of God), but a-gnostic, or “not knowing.”  They understood, in other words, that saying it was a lucky accident is a non-answer.  Rather, they assumed that evolutionary theory provides a pathway through the randomness toward optimization.  They stated again that this was their starting assumption:We started with the assumption that evolution “tinkered” with brain design [sic] to maximize its functionality.  Brain functionality must benefit from higher synaptic connectivity, because synaptic connections are central for information processing as well as learning and memory, thought to manifest in synaptic modifications.  However, increasing connectivity requires adding wiring to the network, which comes at a cost.  The cost of wiring is due to metabolic energy required for maintenance and conduction, guidance mechanisms in development, conduction time delays and attenuation, and wiring volume.Sounds like a lot of engineering talk.  The scientists assumed, but did not demonstrate in this paper,2 that natural selection was up to the task of yielding this optimized entity sometimes called the most complex assemblage of matter in the known universe.1Quan Wen and Dmitri B. Chlovskii, “Segregation of the Brain into Gray and White Matter: A Design Minimizing Conduction Delays,” Public Library of Science Computational Biology, Volume 1 | Issue 7 | December 2005.2Here are the only other mentions of evolution in this paper:“Although wiring volume minimization is an important factor in the evolution of brain design, [earlier] results remain inconclusive…”“Finally, it is likely that, in the course of evolution, minimization of conduction delay was accompanied by the increase in connectivity.”“In a neurobiological context this means a combination of high computational power in local circuits with fast global communication.  Thus it is not surprising that evolution adopted this architecture when the size of the network made all-to-all connectivity impractical.”“Although we do not know whether competing desiderata of short time delay and high interconnectivity were crucial factors driving evolution of vertebrate brains, our theory makes testable predictions.  Below, we compare these predictions with known anatomical facts.”  (These concerned measurements of cortical thickness and brain size among various vertebrates.)“In general, the evolutionary cost is likely to include both the volume and the time delay.”In none of these references to evolution were specific details provided about how the variations occurred, how they added up, and how they converged on a variety of vertebrate brains, each composed of billions of neurons that function together as an optimized unit.Brains are mathematically perfect for achieving the sweet spot between maximized interconnectivity and minimized transmission delays.  The authors reminded us that a human brain contains about 10 billion neurons, and that each one can contain thousands of connections with other neurons.  The two-layer structure meets the competing requirements to a T.  That part is amazing.  Assuming that evolution did it earns this entry the Dumb award – really dumb.    Here again we are told about another apparition of the goddess of the Darwin Party, Tinker Bell.  As the legend goes, she flitted aimlessly around the Cambrian swamps about 500 million years ago, zapping some emerging vertebrates with her mutation wand, killing countless myriads of them till one emerged lucky enough to have the beginnings of an optimized brain.  As animals evolved, this process was repeated myriads of times more over millions of years, producing larger and more complex brains.  Finally, at the end of the line, computational biologists emerged who could look back and analyze the whole process with abstract reasoning and mathematical equations, concluding that evolution had produced an optimized brain.  Let us ask these true believers a simple question.  If the brain evolved, how can you be sure of anything, including the proposition that the brain evolved?  (From experience, we know that posing this type of question to a Darwinist is like putting a moron in a round room and telling him there is a penny in the corner.)    By assuming evolution at the outset, these computational evolutionists have provided as much insight into the origin of the brain as the vain mathematician did in the “assume we have a can opener” joke in the 12/17/2005 commentary.  Their logic is as follows: Assume evolution produces optimized structures.  An optimized brain would be structured so as to maximize interconnectivity and minimize delays.  The brains we observe accomplish this by segregating highly-connected neurons in a gray matter layer and long axons in a white matter layer, thus fulfilling both requirements in an exquisite product that is the most complex device in the universe, that took us 62 simultaneous equations to describe.  Isn’t evolution wonderful?    Undoubtedly this paper will be dutifully added to the growing corpus of scripture that the Darwin Party can hold up at school board meetings to show that the peer-reviewed scientific journals are filled with evidence for evolution, and that nothing in biology would make sense without it.  Anyone raising his hand and saying, but to me, that looks like design would be quickly answered with, “Excuse me, we are talking about science here.  If you want to change the subject to religion, go to church.”    Assumption is the mother of all myths.  Perhaps you have heard the etymology of the word ASSUME: making an ASS (donkey) out of U and ME.  Having gray matter is one thing.  Using it is another.(Visited 13 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img read more

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Google News Business Model Under Global Siege

first_imgMassive Non-Desk Workforce is an Opportunity fo… Related Posts Tags:#Google#international#media#Yahoo brian proffitt Cognitive Automation is the Immediate Future of…center_img Google and other search companies are under siege in various nations from news publishers and their lobbyists trying to establish more control over content. New laws and industry association walk-outs are challenging aggregators’ ability to display excerpts of news stories within search results, which could have far-reaching effects.Google’s Three-Front Battle: Germany, Brazil, FranceGermany: The latest effort to re-assert copyright control of news content is happening in Germany, where a new ancillary copyright bill, Leistungsschutzrecht für Presseverleger, is up for debate in the Bundestag legislative body. The bill, which is supported by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, will grant publishers a year-long exclusive license for all publishers’ content – including excerpts, the kind usually displayed in Google News and Yahoo! News within search results. With that license, publishers can choose to withhold content from these results or charge Google and other search engines a fee for including the results.The Leistungsschutzrecht hit Google’s radar in August when it was first proposed, and is the subject of an online petition launched Tuesday from Google Deutschland. The site’s welcoming message warns of the Bundestag’s debate of the new copyright bill.“This would give publishers the right to prohibit search engines and other services from displaying articles within search results or else be subject to payment. For you, it would become much more difficult to find the information you are looking for on the Internet,” the site warns. A short video showing how Google Deutschland has served the German community with news and information in the past decade is also prominently featured (and even English speakers can chuckle over the how-to-spell-that-damn-Iceland-volcano’s-name gag).The official argument for the bill is safeguarding Fair Use of published content, which publishers argue Google and other aggregators are abusing. But it is also likely an attempt by German news companies to build a revenue stream in the wake of the no-paywall decisions many global news publishers made when they first put their news content online. Only a few media companies have been able to create and maintain profitable paywalls – in the U.S., the Wall Street Journal is the best example -and even fewer have been able to successfully add a paywall after initially going with free content  – the New York Times being the prime exception. (For more on the paywall issue, see Newspaper Paywalls Are A Good Thing – Here’s Why.)Brazil: The revenue issue appears to be the key. Google News, which seems to be the primary target of this bill, already has an opt-out policy for publishers who don’t want their content displayed within search results. In October, 154 Brazilian members of the Association of Newspapers opted eout en-masse when they decided that Google should have to pay them for excerpted content.The move appears to be working out for Brazil’s newspapers. The 154 papers involved comprise about 90% of Brazil’s circulation, according to PaidContent, and that could be one reason that the papers’ sites have not lost significant traffic since making the decision. This seems to rebut Google’s big argument why posting headlines and excerpts is good for content providers: that it drives traffic to the news sites.The German publishers may not trust other parties to abide by a blanket opt-out approach – leaving them to rely on legislation. Google’s response is to drum up enough public support among German voters to get the CDU and publishing lobby to back off. If that fails, of course, Google can always turn to the nuclear option: simply stop posting news site results altogether.France: That’s what Google is already doing in France. Gallic lawmakers are urging the search giant to voluntarily pay content providers for search results by the end of the year, or else the French government will consider legislation similar to Germany’s. Instead of playing the petition game, though, Google is threatening to stop posting French news results if the government gets involved. One reason for the combative approach is that France has already been playing hardball with Google by leading the European Commission’s investigation of Google’s search algorithm for possible anti-competitive practices.Playing Chicken On The Information SuperhighwayIt would seem like a no-brainer that content creators should get paid. And indeed, no one is really arguing that. All of these issues surround Fair Use arrangements that say others can use portions of content to illustrate a point or explain the broader arguments made in the original content. It’s the same thing that lets a writer like me quote another media outlet’s content. A little bit, and as long as I explicitly name the source material.But publishers object when someone builds a business model on nothing but Fair Use-derived content, which is what Google and Yahoo! appear to be doing. The publishers argue that in the aggregrate, this transcends Fair Use.But Google has scrupulously avoided directly making money with its News service. There are no ads on Google News pages, though there are ads on main Google search results pages, which can include relevant news articles. Yahoo News does include ads within its service, which bolsters the publishers’ argument.Then there’s the very model of Internet searching itself. Former Google staffer Matthew Carpenter-Arevalo outlines the point quite succinctly: The Senior Community Manager, Global Shapers Americas at the World Economic Forum, Carpenter-Arevalo calls the disagreement between the French media and Google a “high stakes game of chicken” on the information superhighway.Carpenter-Arevalo argues that the publishers’ real beef with Google and other search engines is that these services level the readership playing field in a new way. The major newspaper Le Monde, for instance, enjoys a very rich cultural and economic place in French society, right down to prim-o real estate in the newsstands on the street.“Contrast to the online world and in Google’s eyes Le Monde is but one of an innumerable and uncountable chattering voices providing information about what’s going on in France. Of course Google’s algorithm does recognize Le Monde‘s stature and rewards it accordingly and handsomely by sending millions, if not billions of clicks its way every year,” Carpenter-Arevalo writes. “Nevertheless, unlike the newsstand where the probability you buy Le Monde may be 1 in 4, on the Internet the chance you may read Le Monde may be 1 in 1000, such are the exponential ratios in the world of abundance.”In that kind of environment, he continues, Le Monde and other big players in the media world can’t help but feel threatened. This is why they believe they should be paid for the privilege of posting their content anywhere, including search results. The Loss Of NeutralityIf Google and the publishers can’t reach some kind of payment agreement, Google may indeed yank news sites’ results in the countries in question. If Brazil is any indication, that may not hurt either side in the short term. But this legistlation – and even the kerfuffle itself – could be the start of a trend where media sites content is increasingly unavailable on Google’s search results. That could make searching on Google a less rich experience and open opportunities for competitors like Yahoo and Bing grab market share by making their own licensing deals. Google’s sweet “we farm the Internet for free” days may soon come to an end.The war between news publishers and search engines could have collateral damage as well. For users, search results might no longer be truly neutral, but rather based on which media outlet was licensed to appear in which search engine’s results. It’s hard to see how that helps anyone.Image courtesy of Shutterstock. 3 Areas of Your Business that Need Tech Now IT + Project Management: A Love Affairlast_img read more

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