5
$\begingroup$

The brain of a modern person can execute dozens of thought processes without overflowing. And parallel multitasking has a clear survival advantage.

How do you need to change the human brain (if necessary, you can radically alter it) so that it can cope with several (more than four) separate tasks at the same time? For example, this genetically modified person could easily view four separate streams of data on four different subjects (for example, watch four different films or read the same number of different books or magazines) at the same time and receive complete information from all of them. Or that it would also be nice to watch one tape of data, listen to another, simultaneously have a more or less full-fledged conversation with a person or a group of people and at the same time write something with two different hands.

$\endgroup$
4
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I don't think it's possible to give this question a definitive science-based answer at this time because we simply don't know enough about how the brain and specifically consciousness works. This problem is unsolved and often refered to as "The Hard Problem of Consciousness" (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hard_problem_of_consciousness). The only people who can multitask in the manner you are describing are those who are born with two heads on one body, although that's probably not what you're looking for. $\endgroup$ – Dragongeek Oct 31 '20 at 19:13
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Humans never actually multitask, between tasks with similar or identical organic or congnive requirements. Instead, we task-switch very, very rapidly. Dissimilar tasks can be multitasked. For example you can juggle and read a book and listen to music at the same time. But try listening (actually listening, not merely hearing) two speeches at the same time? That is hard $\endgroup$ – user79911 Oct 31 '20 at 19:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Dragongeek, you are absolutely correct that science doesn't have a definitive answer to what brain structures allow for multitasking or how to improve it; however, this is definitely not the same question as the Hard Problem of Consciousness. In particular, if we one day know perfectly well how to modify the brain to vastly improve multitasking, we may still be clueless about the Hard Problem of Consciousness. $\endgroup$ – cowlinator Nov 1 '20 at 0:34
  • $\begingroup$ Having multiple separate conscious streams of thought would, I think, inevitably lead to multiple different personalities being active at the same time. As already said we have no idea what consciousness is in a physical implementation sense, so I don't think a non-opinion based answer is possible. $\endgroup$ – StephenG Nov 1 '20 at 1:26
4
$\begingroup$

You don't need to add to it. You need to remove from it.

The human cerebral cortex really behaves like two brains, the left hemisphere and the right. Between them is the corpus callosum, a thick bundle of fibers that connects them, letting them talk in a very rapid fire way.

In the last seventy or so years, doctors have done corpus callostomy operations, in which they sever this connection. It is typically done on patients suffering from severe epilepsy for which less invasive treatments simply aren't working.

The result is a patient whose epilepsy goes away, but otherwise seems normal. At least, they seem normal until you start probing at the corners of how they behave. If you start doing things like putting objects in the left eye's field of view, which is handled by the right hemisphere of the brain, and then asking them questions about it, the effect of this brain surgery becomes apparent. The effect is known as split-brain and the results can be uncanny:

The first test started with a board that had a horizontal row of lights. The subject was told to sit in front of the board and stare at a point in the middle of the lights, then the bulbs would flash across both the right and left visual fields. When the patients were asked to describe afterward what they saw, they said that only the lights on the right side of the board had lit up. Next, when Sperry and Gazzaniga flashed the lights on the right side of the board on the subjects left side of their visual field, they claimed not to have seen any lights at all. When the experimenters conducted the test again, they asked the subjects to point to the lights that lit up. Although subjects had only reported seeing the lights flash on the right, they actually pointed to all the lights in both visual fields.

or

... a patient with split brain is shown a picture of a chicken foot and a snowy field in separate visual fields and asked to choose from a list of words the best association with the pictures. The patient would choose a chicken to associate with the chicken foot and a shovel to associate with the snow; however, when asked to reason why the patient chose the shovel, the response would relate to the chicken (e.g. "the shovel is for cleaning out the chicken coop").

This also leads to the famous alien hand syndrome seen in Dr. Strangelove, where a hand has a mind of its own:

The callosal variant includes advanced willed motor acts by the non-dominant hand, where patients frequently exhibit "intermanual conflict" in which one hand acts at cross-purposes with the other "good hand".[15] For example, one patient was observed putting a cigarette into her mouth with her intact, "controlled" hand (her right, dominant hand), following which her alien, non-dominant, left hand came up to grasp the cigarette, pull the cigarette out of her mouth, and toss it away before it could be lit by the controlled, dominant, right hand. The patient then surmised that "I guess 'he' doesn't want me to smoke that cigarette."

$\endgroup$
1
  • $\begingroup$ I wish I remembered where I saw this video - it might have been in a college class - but someone did another experiment where a person who had a Corpus Callosotomy put each hand inside separate boxes. Inside each box was a pencil and paper. The person was instructed to draw a circle with one hand and a square with the other. The person was either blind folded or there was a canvas covering the paper. They were able to simultaneously draw two different shapes with two different hands without ever seeing their hands or the paper! $\endgroup$ – Greg Burghardt Nov 2 '20 at 13:36
-1
$\begingroup$

Simply larger

I feel like you're mostly thinking about the conscious mind. However, the mind has a much stronger subconscious part. This is well evident in how it processes things. Every day your subconscious is filtering through your daily life, ordering all visual, tactile, proprioceptive, taste, hearing and smelling stimuli. This creates both a conscious and subconscious view of the world. It pushes some things to the conscious, like your name over the din of a crowd, or a familiar face, or a hamburger joint while you’re very hungry. Subconsciously you’re still processing a lot more, from idea’s like what to write to that mean poster on the internet three days ago, to what car you should buy, or simply driving you home in the car while your attention was completely somewhere else.

Consciousness can in a very crude way be seen as a filter on the subconscious. Anything deemed important enough is pushed to the consciousness, which will allow it to be more easily stored in memory and reacted to more actively.

The question then is, why can’t we already multitask incredibly well? First of all, as the most intelligent species of the planet, we can. Just not as well as you would like as an answer. The part of the brain that gives us our intelligence is relatively young evolutionary speaking, which is very visible if compared to the limbic system, cerebellum and brain stem. The density of these older systems of the brain is much higher and has more surface area thanks to sulci and gyri (what makes the brain look like a wrung out sponge). Our current intelligence is simply fledgeling and only just capable of sustaining the amazing things we can do currently. It can even be seen in the ‘leaking’ of information from one part of the brain to the other, where stimuli of for example a body part can leak into the neighbouring brain area, causing you to feel some things there as well.

How would we improve? Simply by making it more densely packed and larger, with more sulci and gyri. This way, we’ll be able to process much more information with less leaking, as long as the nutritional supply is enough and further strain to each brain volume isn’t increased. Otherwise many stress symptoms can be seen quite quickly, or simply shut down or death from malnutrition. Increasing your brain volume will also increase brain power, allowing to process more, deeper and faster on both a conscious and unconscious level.

However, we have a second barrier we already deal with every day. Not only is the brain holding us back, our physical body does so as well. Our eyes have only a small focal area, meaning you simply can’t see four screens effectively at once. Even rapid switching from screen to screen will make you drop a lot of information in the saccade (quick movements) of the eyes. Our smell and hearing are very limited compared to a lot of other species. Our hands do have an insane amount of tactile sensors, but most of our body doesn’t. Many parts even share sensory input, like the back that has many tactile sensors that are registered on the same neuron to the brain. This obfuscates many information, which is fine for our lives but maybe not so much for your super humans. If the brain capacity has been increased, more stimuli can be processed as well.

In short, our brain is already impressive, yet fledgling. Making it larger and more developed in density and surface area will help a great deal. In addition, improve the body to increase the capable stimuli density. Otherwise you’ll never be able to have the required input for your desired multi tasking.

As one addendum, I think no ‘second’ conscious is possible. However it’s damn hard to imagine with only one consciousness, so how can we know? For all we know our subconscious is much like our normal consciousness, just It’s very good at keeping temperature, heartbeat, breathing and the odd movement of an arm or so.

$\endgroup$
11
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ humans don't actually multitask unless they are dissimilar tasks, our brain does the same thing our eyes do switching back and forth. $\endgroup$ – John Oct 31 '20 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ @John consciousness doesn't. Subconsciousness does. Otherwise we couldn't function. $\endgroup$ – Trioxidane Oct 31 '20 at 20:51
  • $\begingroup$ Car crashes happen. One of the main causes is the delusion that drivers have that they can multitask in the manner you describe. Humans do not multitask. $\endgroup$ – StephenG Nov 1 '20 at 1:14
  • $\begingroup$ @StephenG are you saying the subconscious isn't processing multiple signals at once? If you read carefully (or past the first alinea), you see that I mention that consciousness is reacting more actively than the subconsciousness. In addition, people driving consciously crash as well. Errors do not mean you don't process multiple information streams. In my experiments on attention, giving people a question and then fully occupying their mind, there was still something that had been processing. Consciousness might just rapidly switch tasks, but subconscious can process at the same time. $\endgroup$ – Trioxidane Nov 1 '20 at 8:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Trioxidane: "[The] subconscious is [...] very good at keeping temperature, heartbeat, breathing and the odd movement of an arm": That is a category error, mixing physical signals with a metaphysical concept. I'm pretty certain that a psychologist would balk at your attempt of equating the parts of the brain which take care of autonomous functions with the metaphysical concept of the "subconscious". (The point being that in psychology, the subsconscious is part of the mind. It is not a physical structure. It does not process any physical signals.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Nov 1 '20 at 8:53

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.