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Management Practices

The History and Future of Thinking

Stacey Soble | June 1, 2015 | 9:48 PM

Thinking has evolved the beauty industry from the rigid styles of the Egyptian, Greek and Roman times, to the incredibly diverse, ever changing styles of today. At some point in each period, the thinking of one or more people influenced the style and culture of hair fashion and something occurred to change their thinking.

From my youth, I remembered a story of an 18th century watchmaker who produced beautiful watches. One day, a customer came into his workshop and asked him to clean a watch that he'd bought. The watchmaker took it apart and removed a balance wheel. The customer noticed that on the backside of the balance wheel were words engraved. He said to the man, "Why have you put writing on the back that no one will ever see?" The watchmaker turned around and said, "God can see it." Now I'm not in the least bit religious, but as I was listening to the story, I noticed something happening. I felt something in the plexus of blood vessels, nerves and muscles. It was a physiological response. From that point on, I began to think in a different way.

As I took on my career as a designer, I began to ask myself the simple question: “Do we actually think beauty, or do we feel it?”  I then moved on into my design career and began to look at things from a different perspective.

We don't need to think so much as we need to feel it. I felt a sense of relaxation tempered with anticipation. So this leads me to think in a different way. We're not feeling it. We have been thinking that beauty is in the limbic system. These are the pleasure centers and maybe what I'm seeing, sensing and feeling is bypassing my thinking. The wiring from our sensory apparatus is shorter than what passes through the cortex. They arrive first. So how do we make that actually work? And how much of that reactive side is due to what we already know, or what we're going to learn about something?

When we look at a plastic bag, we probably see no beauty in it. But if I put the bag into a filthy puddle or a stream filled with coliform, the filthy water will migrate through the wall of the bag by osmosis and end up inside it as pure, potable drinking water. All of a sudden, this plastic bag is extremely beautiful.

Two hundred million years ago, early mammals had a neocortex that was the size of a postage stamp and just as thin. The thin covering was around their walnut-sized brain, but it was capable of a new type of thinking. It's the origin of the neocortex, which means ‘new rind.’ Rather than the fixed behaviors that non-mammalian animals have, it could invent new behaviors.

So let me describe briefly how it works. We have approximately 300 million modules that are created in hierarchies. I'll give you a simple example. There are a few modules that can recognize a capital A, and that's all they care about. They get very excited and they say "capital A," and they put out a high probability on their output axon. That goes to the next level and these layers are organized in conceptual levels. Each is more abstract than the next one, so the next one might say "capital A." That goes up to a higher level that might say "Apple." Information flows down also. If the apple recognizer has seen A-P-P-L, it'll think to itself, "I think an E is probably likely," and it'll send a signal down to all the E recognizers saying, "Be on the lookout for an E, I think one might be coming." The E recognizers will lower their threshold and they see something, that could be an E. Ordinarily you wouldn't think so, but we're expecting an E, it's good enough, and yes, I've seen an E, and then apple says, "Yes, I've seen an Apple."

Go up another five levels. You're now at a pretty high level of hierarchy. Now stretch down into the different senses and you may have a module that sees a certain fabric, hears a certain voice quality, smells a certain perfume, and will say, "My wife has entered the room."

Go up another 10 levels. Now you're at a very high level. You're probably in the frontal cortex, and you'll have modules that say, "That was ironic. That's funny. She's pretty."

Five to ten years from now, search engines will be based on reading for understanding the billions of pages on the web and in books. Google will intermittently pop up with information such as, "You expressed concern to me a month ago that your supplement wasn't getting past the blood-brain barrier. Well, new research just came out 13 seconds ago that shows a whole new approach to that and a new way to take the supplement. Let me summarize it for you."

Twenty years from now, we'll have nanobots, because another exponential trend is the shrinking of technology. They'll go into our brain through the capillaries and connect our neocortex to a synthetic neocortex in the cloud providing an extension like a mental Google. Today, you have a computer in your phone. If you need 10,000 computers for a few seconds to do a complex search, you can access that for a second or two in the cloud. If you need some extra neocortex in the 2030’s, you'll be able to connect to that in the cloud directly from your brain. My 300 million modules in my neocortex aren’t going to cut it. I need a billion more. I'll be able to access that in the cloud. Our thinking will be a hybrid of biological and non-biological thinking, but the non-biological portion is subject to the law of accelerating returns. It will grow exponentially.

Remember what happened the last time we expanded our neocortex? That was two million years ago when we became humanoids and developed large foreheads. Other primates have a slanted brow and don't have the frontal cortex. The frontal cortex is not really qualitatively different. It's a quantitative expansion of neocortex; but that additional quantity of thinking was the enabling factor for us to take a qualitative leap and invent language, create art, science and technology.

Over the next few decades, we're going to expand our neocortex again, only this time we won't be limited by a fixed architecture of enclosure. It'll be expanded without limit. That additional quantity will again be the enabling factor for another qualitative leap in culture and technology.

 The evolution of thinking about our brains, from Descartes describing it as a machine, most commonly as a computer destined to break down under the strain of age and use. To today's thinking of Neuroscience, that our brains are far more likely to waste away from underuse. The view of ‘use it and lose it’ thinking is now ‘use it or lose.’ As people reach middle age, exercising the brain and body becomes more important. It is one of the ways to offset the natural wasting process of our unnaturally sedentary life. It also allows the possibilities of the brain to heal itself in the face of trauma.

The mainstream view in neuroscience today is that the living brain is constantly changing in response to what we actually do. As we think, perceive, form memories or learn new skills, the connections between the brain cells also change and strengthen. Physical exercise produces new cells in the memory system. Mental exercise preserves and strengthens existing connections of the brain, giving a person a "cognitive reserve" to fend off future losses.

Conclusion: In the near future, everyone will have access to a memory implant that records everything that humans do, see and hear. We will be able to see a moment in time of our own history. What clothes we wore on that day. What decisions and mistakes we made. Much like a DVR, we will be able to replay any moment, hour or day in our past.

Every human being is living at least 80 milliseconds in the past. Our consciousness lags behind actual events and that when you think an event occurs, it has already happened before your brain has a chance to create a cohesive picture of the world.

We read and consume information through our eyes. In the future we are going to ingest information. You're going to swallow a pill and know English. You're going to swallow a pill and know Shakespeare.

In the coming decades, the power of neuroscience may become explosive. We might routinely control objects around us with the power of the mind, download memories, cure mental illness, enhance our intelligence, understand the brain neuron by neuron, create back up copies of the brain, and communicate with one another telepathically. The world of the future will be the world of the mind.

As a hairdresser you will swallow a pill and know the color spectrum and learn new cutting techniques. The way this will happen is through the bloodstream. From the bloodstream, it enters the brain and deposits receptors into the right places. So it's ingesting.

This will lead to exciting times for service providers, consumers and the entire beauty industry.

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