Last week saw the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of Passchendaele, possibly the most appalling tragedy of a tragic war.
So many young men were sacrificed on the altar of so-called military supremacy, a sacrifice that came virtually to nothing in the end. The sight of those thousands of gravestones in the wonderfully cared for cemeteries was intensely moving.
My own father, by the grace of G-d, returned from France in 1918 alive but not unscathed. In another terrible episode, the Somme offensive, he was gassed and suffered for the rest of his short life from the effects. He was a victim of that war even though he died on his 50th birthday in 1945.
The whole experience of seeing film of what happened, how truly dreadful were the conditions and how equally dreadful was the loss of life, was shattering
I am currently listening to another remarkable book by Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens, and called Homo Deus, a Short History of Tomorrow. The author discusses the dramatic changes that have already taken place in the science of uncovering how the brain and the mind work.
We are well on the way to almost replicating brain activity in computing terms and this is evidenced by the exponential growth in the development of artificial intelligence (AI).
However, he makes the point that AI relies on the fact that brain activity is a matter of electrical impulses passing into the system to initiate, for example, movement of limbs but it does not currently take into account or explain human feelings.
Indeed, however clever the scientists are in developing AI, they admit (perhaps reluctantly) that they have no idea how feelings are initiated and generated.
How can love, anger, despondency and happiness be explained in scientific terms and where in the brain functions can they be found?
Harari makes the point that, as far as we know, homo sapiens is unique among other life forms on the planet in that we have these feelings although being a dog owner (more correctly a dog slave) I am dubious.
Professor Steve Peters in his great work, The Chimp Paradox, calls the emotional brain The Chimp as distinct from the Human or rational brain, and together with the Computer, they make up the totality of how our brains operate.
I prefer to regard the Computer as a database that is built on our memory and experience and from which we derive our feelings, gut instinct and reactions.
Even so, the scientific explanation of feelings has been left to the psychiatrists and psychologists rather than those studying the electrochemical way in which the brain works.
The fact is that we just don’t know where our feelings reside. Are they a function of nature, genes and DNA or are they a result of our experiences and indeed the experiences of others?
I don’t pretend to put for a cogent explanation of this mystery. I do know, however, that we all have feelings, we all have emotions, we all have experiences that are founded on instinct and that can be daunting if we are out of control.
That great equation E+R=O (Event plus Response equals Outcome) describes it perfectly. Nothing to do with electrical impulses, synapses or neurons; this says that in life we own our response to any eventuality and we need to decide whether our Chimp or the Human is in charge.
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