Tuesday, December 09, 2008

What if... #9

What if you could download a textbook directly on your brain?

This post is part of the 2008 advent series "What if..."


  1. Ah, the "Ghost in the Shell" universe.

    True talent and creativity will become easier to recognize and reward.

  2. I thought this can be accomplished by simply sleeping on the textbook the day before the exam.

    Or is that one of those undergraduate myths that keep popping up everywhere?

  3. Bee, if you mean the ability to recall words, sentences and equations at will from section 15.7, page 759, Volume 4 - I think that will be very helpful in Vegas.

    As long as we're stretching sci-fi, what I'd really like to see happen is to upload the author's "understanding", "experiences" and "intuition" directly into my brain. Do this with enough old, venerable professors and I think revolutionary scientific and philosophical breakthroughs would happen by the minute, we could all speak one language encompassing all the right words from all languages, there'd be mutual understanding between all world's peoples.

    taking this technology to its logical conclusion, it would seem that we should eventually be able to upload all our thoughts and experiences onto a single hive mind that fuses these experiences the right way - do this near the end of every person's life for maybe 20 years and I believe The Mind would have experienced every emotion and thought that is humanly possible. Upload the essentials features of this new hive mind into every six year old thereafter so that they then use that knowledge through their lives and you would eventually reach some kind of saturation of experiences reached through this recursion. Extend this to other sentient beings and we'd get unparalleled illuminating perspectives of the world - incomprehensible by humans, but comprehensible to The Mind, which would then have a personal agenda seeking to ensure its survival - being the sum of all of earth's knowledge and all. Predictable... Beware of cloud computing.

    (some of this reminds me of the Avians in Arthur C Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama)



    anyhoo, it would be just awesome if I could win a million dollars and impress the ladies betting that I could recall 10 million digits of pi.

  4. Would the Kama Sutra be considered a text book?

  5. Although for the most part text books in general are terribly dry, whether it be a text book or any book that one truly lends focus to it’s the journey that I enjoy more then the arrival in finishing. For me that would be like asking if I’d rather have the memories of a vacation I never experienced just to save the time. No like everything else in life things are most gratifying in the now. The memories at best serve only to have you to want for more.

  6. Hi CoffeeCup,

    Indeed, what I was aiming at is the difference between knowledge and information. I don't think downloading information on your brain would help you to properly integrate it into the system. As to uploading the hive mind, I would think there must be a limit to information storage in the human brain. So you'd have to pick wisely. Hopefull we'd also learn how to delete information, I would appreciate that. Connecting minds is a different thing. Best,


  7. Greetings,

    -it would be a mix of electrical microengineering and actual brain training.

    I think it can be done and will be done over the next 10 -15 yrs.

    I-pod good bye! TV as we know it- history!

    A USB plug would not show considering your hair style Bee ;-)



  8. What if you could download a textbook directly on your brain?

    I think the problem here again is the "on the brain" versus "in the brain?" I think it would be "in," on this case.:)

    There's a vast information resource. How is it that only what you are seeking and have knowledge of and with future knowledge acquired is something that is most certainly attracted too your brain/mind?

    You set up for it "in" the "next step" and download?:)


  9. Most of them would probably just clutter up the neurons with excess stuff for a while, but if it was something one was very interested in (as one said the Kama Sutra, lol) then all that information would integrate. I think the brain has some natural filtering processes that keep the good stuff and disgards the bad or uninteresting. And maybe the efficiency of filtering processes vary among people too.

  10. Hi Rae Ann,

    "I think the brain has some natural filtering processes that keep the good stuff and disgards the bad or uninteresting."

    I think it also relates to curiosity and in this respect I would say that this is where women over men might have an edge in science, as for sure they lead in demonstrating to have more of this in general.



  11. I'd know all the math. I need to work on the physics problems that interest me.

  12. You start worrying very much about having green skin. And aliens trying to kill you

  13. This is a very difficult question to answer, because we don't really know how memories are encoded in the brain. We think durable memories are a function of long-term maintenance of synaptic connections between somehow discreet collections of neurons, which fire in a particular pattern when given a recall command from another collection of neurons dedicated to organizing and accessing memories. One can "download" the contents of a book to this storage system by reading it.

    Except for extraordinarily rare individuals, usually with particular forms of savantism, the old-fashioned way to download a book to the brain is a slow, often frustratingly low-fidelity process. I think what you're getting at is "what if we could plug a USB cable to your head and dump the contents of a book into your brain the way we do to a hard drive in a computer". Or something like that.

    Well, that would make the brain a rather different organ than it is, I think. Just imagine: How would you "remember" a book you never read, but somehow was "in" your brain? Would it be remembered like you read it, like a visual representation of a book made of pages with ink on them? Or like you heard someone reciting it to you? Would you remember pictures like you had seen them with your eyes? Would these memories be no better than if you had downloaded the book the old-fashioned way, or would you have perfect recall? If so, why would you not have perfect recall of things you see, hear, smell, taste, feel? If you did have perfect recall, would remembering be distinguishable from actually having had the experience in the first place?

    Like I said, it's a tough question!


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