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School board elections are coming up for many Iowans this week, and we encourage you to vote, even if just to re-elect the incumbents. You don't want to let the crazies and wackos win a write-in campaign, which can happen if the turnout is small enough. A lot of people think that not voting is the same as registering a protest vote, and it's not. A protest vote is a protest vote; a non-vote is something else altogether.
A fascinating talk given by musician Bobby McFerrin and a group of neuroscientists reveals that we're still learning a lot of the basic things we need to know about how the brain works, including how music affects us. This kind of research helps us to figure out how we learn, which is extremely important in the era of the judgment economy -- when knowing how to learn quickly and reach a decision is more valuable than just memorizing a bunch of facts.
One thing that's becoming more apparent all the time is that we are starting to build a gap between who we are and where we're actually located in space and time. On the surface, that sounds esoteric and weird. In practice, it means that different versions of each of us live online in ways we can't really predict nor plan around. Are "you" the version of yourself that appears in some video on YouTube? Are "you" the person represented in your Facebook profile? Are "you" the same identity that puts thoughts out in front of the world on a weblog or a Twitter account?
We live on outside ourselves differently than people did in the past. For instance: Mozart made sheet music, so, in a way, we can tap into his brain from then. But legions of other musicians lived and died without ever leaving a trace of their work. Recorded music was new in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Edison invented the phonograph in 1877, but even Hollywood movie stars weren't recorded for the public to hear until the 1920s. Think of it: Commercial radio started a half-decade before the "talkies". It was only a little over 80 years ago that the notion of recording a person's actions and voice together was an impossibility. Today, we can record videos and instantly share them with the entire world on the Internet -- and save those video recordings forever. There are some who even think we will soon be able to record everything we do and share "ubiquitous" video coverage of our lives online. Even if we haven't reached that point yet (and even if we never get there), volumes of records of our daily lives, from e-mail and text messages to podcasts and digital photos, now exist where in the past there was nothing. This records part of who we are, but it's not really "you" or "me" that exists online. It's just a shadow...for now. But there are people who think we're within 50 years of being able to "download" the brain.
Possible? Scary? Revolutionary? All of the above, perhaps? But one must try to see the notion of "downloading" the brain as an idea on a continuum from the lives of the 1700s, when the only way your mind was ever "recorded" was if you put your thoughts on paper and were lucky enough to have someone republish your sheet music or your political arguments, to the lives of today, which can certainly be recorded and transmitted virtually every moment of the day (even if that's not a good idea). So we might not really look to a Futurama-style future in which Richard Nixon's head is preserved in a jar, but we may be approaching a future of electronic immortality.
On the bad side of things this week, Chinese state-run radio now airs in Honolulu on the AM band. But on the good side, computational biologists are latching on to the ideas behind Google PageRank to figure out how to preserve important species.
Keywords in this show: brain • China • digital immortality • Facebook • facts • Futurama • Google • Google PageRank • identity • McFerrin, Bobby • movies • Mozart • music • neuroscience • phonograph • radio • recordings • school board elections • sheet music • Twitter • ubiquitous media • video • voting • weblogs • YouTube