23 August 2012
I have this pet theory that nervous systems are fundamentally organs for predicting the future so the organism can respond appropriately. And to do this, nervous systems rely on correlations in the environment and temporal precedence to infer causality. Which is part of why we are so quick to apply causal explanations to spurious correlations.
The major differences in “complexity” or “intelligence” or “consciousness” across animals are largely just differences in the scope and resolution of the inputs and the temporal scales of evidence accumulation and prediction.
This definition of “nervous system” would then expand to include whatever non-neuronal components all organisms (bacteria, venus fly traps) use to accomplish similar inference/prediction goals and would emphasize that the differences between human and non-human animals is one of degree (and specificity), not kind.
But I don’t have any data. Just a pet theory. Maybe I should give a TED talk.
Edit: dammit, someone’s already done it: Jeff Hawkins on How Brain Science Will Change Computing
“TED Talk” CC-BY Steve Jurvetson