IMHO Installment #83: I Need a Pre-Floydal Lobotomy

07 Aug 2007


All you create
All you destroy
All that you do
All that you say.
All that you eat
And everyone you meet
All that you slight
And everyone you fight.

~from Eclipse, from Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon

[I apologize in advance for this lengthy tirade ending in something utterly ridiculous.]

Scientists have only just begun interfacing machines with our brains -- it's called neurotechnology. It's all still relatively early-stage research -- yet already producing extremely useful results that, for example, promise to profoundly help quadriplegics regain some semblance of independence or bring something resembling sight to the blind.

Stories seem to appear here and there about controlling various mechanical devices with our minds. And both the fictional and philosophical worlds have always dabbled in such things.

But hey, I'm no MIT media lab guy; I'm just some dude from Pittsburgh who likes classic rock. Which brings me to my latest cyber fantasy. See, today I was listening to the "electric lunch" on WDVE (the only local classic rock station since RRK changed into "Pittsburgh's Man Station" and went all-talk -- though Dennis Miller is an entertaining guy), and they played a couple of long tracks off Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here. I hadn't heard them much since around 1987 when my Floyd tape library, then housed in its own special Floyd-decal-covered tape case, was stolen by some a-hole off the front seat of my Plymouth Horizon.

Now, I've blogged before about the ways a human body corresponds with a computer. But, the whole "brain as a hard drive" idea seems particularly fitting to me. You know, people amass quite a lot of data over a lifetime ("all you create, all you destroy, all that you do, all that you say" etc. as Roger Waters would say).

Okay, before I go on, please note that just about everything scientific from here on out is pure bullshit and speculation. That is to say, I have no scientific training, base my assumptions on nothing more than subjective opinion, and have no authority whatsoever to make such assumptions anyway.

Yet, I was wondering how large our "hard drives" are? (In terms of bytes, I mean.) I figure it's like this:

Humans live up to 100 years or so. We're awake an average of 16 hours per day. So, over 100 years, that's 584,000 waking hours. A current DVD holds about 4.7 gigs of data (mostly audio and video data). That's 2.35 gigs/hour of video and audio. So, to get 584,000 waking hours of audio and video onto a hard drive, you'd need about 1,372,400 million gigs of space. Since 1,000 gigs = 1 terabyte, that's 1,372.4 terabytes. Since 1,000 terabytes = 1 petabyte, that's 1.37 petabytes.

Now, for some corrections to that. First, I'm assuming that all of our sensory data is "recorded" somehow by our brains from birth to death (possibly even pre-birth, it could be argued). Most of it, thank god, is not readily accessible to our consciousness. (Vividly remembering, say, emerging from our mothers wombs ... might be a little too weird.) But, it does all seem to be there, as suggested by the field of hypnotism, for example. Ever witnessed a "hypnotist show"? They're pretty cool ... They can tell people to think back to a book they read and read it out loud -- and the people do! So, I think that data is in there somehow ...

It could also be argued that sensory data is "recorded" during periods of sleep. Or, hey, here's a thought -- maybe we can define "sleep" as a period during which our sensory recording apparatus shuts down, or at least reverts to some kind of low-level alert-mode or something. That's food for thought later, perhaps. For now, let's deal with the data during sleep. If it IS recorded, then the above estimate is potentially off by a factor of 50% (because I assumed 16 waking hours per day and there would in fact be an additional 8 hours of data there). So, that would raise us to 2.06 petabytes.

Of course, like a computer, our brains may have a handy "delete" function. Maybe it jettisons things that've grown too old or corrupted or whatever. Maybe we should lower the figure a few terabytes to accommodate that. So, let's round it down to 2 Petabytes.

Furthermore, I'm not sure, but perhaps there's some data compression algorithms in place, always maximizing the available space and defragging our gray matter. It would make sense to me, so let's give our brains, say, a 25% credit toward this goal. So, 1.5 Petabytes.

Now, there seems to also be a common wisdom that humans use only a small percentage of our brains; many people say "10%." Well, after some poking around, that seems to be a myth, so we'll leave it at 1.5 petabytes instead of upping it to 15. If 1.5 petabytes sounds wimpy, then you could also think if it as 1.5 million gigabytes or 1.5 billion megabytes.

And, hey, that's not bad ... For example, my Dell laptop has a 60 gig hard drive and, by the above rationale, it's still 25,732.5 times more stupid than any mouth-breathing burger-flipper you might know. (Though, oddly, I'd never trade it in for a human. Dude, get yourself a Dell.)

It's the Floyd that got me thinking of all this, btw. And, I haven't even been smoking weed. That's perhaps the oddest part. I hadn't heard Shine On You Crazy Diamond in ages. And yet, I still knew every riff, every bit of vibrato, every drum, every bass note, every lyric. See, if I could just find a way to export the data in my brain, I'd have my Floyd collection back !

(Oh sure, I could always troll eBay and re-buy it all, but wouldn't it be much cooler to just download it all from my brain?)

On the other hand, you might fairly ask: If it's in your brain so well, why would you even want to download it? Why not just "listen" to it in your head? Well, that's a fair question, I suppose. But, for one, it takes too much concentration to do that. At least for me. The first phone call I need to take or letter I need to write or whatever and my train of thought is lost.

Second, my "internal biological MP3 player" doesn't have a very good volume switch. While I can still vividly imagine every nuance of music I obsessed over two decades ago, I can't seem to really crank it internally. And who wants to listen to or rock-out to quiet intra-brain music?

See, I think they're going to crack this problem in another century or so. Not only will people be able to upload and download data, music, videos, etc. into and out of their brains, but we'll be able to do insanely cool related things we can't even imagine yet -- like paint or compose using our thoughts. There'll be a whole new breed of performance artists who simply jack into their heads and create multi-media presentations for large audiences. That sort of thing.

I sort of thought up this whole futuristic sport to go with this -- one at which I see myself as being pretty competitive. I think maybe there'll be competitions that rate the quality of your brain's data. For music, for example, you could listen to a piece of music a bunch of times, and then plug your brain into a speaker system and reproduce that music live. Those whose reproductions most closely match the original (as judged by software) will win.

So, yeah, this entire line of thinking is simply nothing more than me imagining myself as potentially good at a sport that will likely never exist. I'm so friggin' lame sometimes.

Original Comments

Below, are the original comments on this post. Additional comments may be made via Facebook, below.

On August 7, 2007, LM wrote:

ok, this is weird. Just this morning, a local radio station was playing a "block" of Pink Floyd, including Dark Side of the Moon and Comfortably Numb. I listened (aka zoned out) and after I realized how mezmorizing this music is.

I went to work with a slight Floyd hangover or maybe a buzz.

On August 8, 2007, Evil Genius wrote:

I hear they can test for Pink Floyd songs in your system by taking a spinal tap.

On August 9, 2007, gifted typist wrote:

May I recommend a book written by a neuroscientist/musician.
"This is your Brain on Music" by Daniel Levitin.

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