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Is learning hardwired in human brain?

Is learning hardwired in human brain?

While there are many proofs that animal and human behaviour is largely hardwired, there still lurks a question of learning. While it is true that we act faster than we think when confronted with certain dangers, we still learn to differentiate the red color on the heated steel plate from the red on the Rothko painting.

Learning is not hardwired. Should everything in our brains be hardwired, it seems there would be no need for learning. But the story is not so easy.

Darwin’s dog

Let us use the story of Darwin’s Dog, nicely elaborated in Cells to Civilization by Enrico Coen, location 2424.

In 1836, after having just returned from his five-year voyage on the Beagle, Darwin decided to test the memory of his dog. He went to the stable where the dog was kept, and called out to him. The dog rushed forth and happily set off with Darwin for a walk, showing the same emotion as if his master had been away for half an hour. The sound of Darwin’s voice still triggered the dog’s response after a five year absence.

Darwin thought that reciting Homer at school was a complete waste of time because he forgot every verse after two days. But perhaps the story of Odysseus established some longer term neural connections in Darwin’s brain, and was unconsciously triggered when he returned from his long sea voyage, leading him to test the dog’s memory. Darwin and his dog were perhaps more similar than even he realized.

Memes entering the story

Enrico Coen does not support the memetic theory. Should he, he would inevitably notice how memes entered Homer’s story. To say that “something was unconsciously triggered when he returned from his long sea voyage” is a blunt avoidance of identification. It is so easy to blame “unconsciousness” each time when we do not know why. No doubt that neural connections were established through learning, but whenever passive voice “was unconsciously triggered” is used, one should ask himself, who is the agent? Who benefits if we use the famous Dawkins question from the Selfish gene?

Similar to genes that trigger phenotypes (to their benefit), memes trigger behavior to their benefit (reproduction). Memes are infamous agents behind both Freud’s unconsciousness and the firing of neural connections, being previously already hardwired for allowing successful connections.

Memes as hardwired “software”

A meme, or better, meme complex, implanted into Darwin’s brain while studying Homer was hardwired in a peculiar sense. It was not hardwired because neural connections become hardwired with frequent use. Memes are not wires, while neural connections are, as are electric wires, for instance. Memes are implanted. They are like viruses, resting in the vastness of neural potentiality and then triggered by … Yes! Triggered by what?

They can be either triggered by another meme or by some non-memetic neural activity. Later, they could resemble events in particle accelerators that bombard atoms and former, to nuclear reactions where protons trigger the breakup of atoms and release of new sets of protons.

As implanted memes are hardwired in brains.

Memes are not exclusive triggers

It would be wrong to stipulate that all neural connections are triggered by memes. That would be denying the fact that memes evolved only recently, around 200,000 years ago. That means that the majority of human neural connections are hardwired and without any memetic interference. Precepts come with genes and are 3,7 billion years old, while concepts came much later with memes. The most significant part of metabolism and sensory activity happens and will happen without any memetic interference. However, denying the co-evolutionary role of memes in cognition-driven behaviors would be a serious omission.

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