Monday, April 17, 2006

Operating system

In one of his essays, Lewis Thomas expresses satisfaction that "my own mind is so much smarter than I am." And it's true, most of the nervous system's work goes on beyond our conscious control. Think of the skill required to walk, to talk, to sneeze, to heal a scrape, to grow a fingernail, to have an orgasm, to pucker for a kiss. Yeah, I know, it is my conscious self that wants to plant a peck on her cheek, but someone or something has to send all those signals that make a whole bunch of muscles do the right thing -- and it isn't me, at least not the me I am aware of. Can you imagine the myriad of chemical and electrical communications that are required for me to scratch my head. My conscious self doesn't have a clue how to do it. And a good thing too. If our minds had to consciously conduct the body's business we wouldn't have time to think, to do science, compose poems, whisper sweet nothings. Maybe that's what dreams are for: cleaning up the brain, dumping superfluous information, clearing out blocks of the hard drive so that system software has more space to work with. And now that I think of it, the analogy is pretty good. If conciousness can be likened to what appears on the screen of a computer, the operating system is the hidden adminstrator that is so much smarter than the visibly pixeled words, images and icons.