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I'm fascinated by the phenomenon of manipulating our environment to extend our brains. I suppose it all started with early humans carving on cave walls as a way to store historical data. Now we have ebooks, computers, and cell phones to store our memories. And we have schools to program our brains. But it goes much deeper than that. Even a house is a device for storing data. Specifically, a house stores data on how it was built. A skilled builder can study a house and build another just like it.

Everything we create becomes a de facto data storage device and brain accessory. A wall can be a physical storage device for land survey data, it can be a reminder of history, and it can be a trigger of personal memories.

A business is also a way to store data. As a restaurant owner, I was fascinated at how employees came and went, but their best ideas often stayed with the business, especially in the kitchen. The restaurant was like a giant data filter. The bad ideas were tested and deleted while the good ideas stayed, most often without being written down.

When you design a flower garden, its main purpose is to influence people's minds in a positive and peaceful fashion. A flower garden is a brain reprogramming tool. It jacks into any human brain that enters its space and reprograms that brain in a predetermined way. We don't think of it in those terms, but the process is nonetheless deliberate.

My wife and I designed our new house as a brain supplement, although we never spoke of it in those words. Every element of the home is designed to reprogram the brains that enter it to feel relaxed in some of its spaces and inspired in others. The language I used at the time of the design was that every space should be an invitation. (I'll talk more on that topic in an upcoming post.) When guests walk through the house for the first time, we can watch the house change people's attitudes and emotions in real time. It's fascinating.

I suppose other creatures use their environment for storing information, or programming their brains in limited ways. But I assume humans export the highest percentage of brain function to their environment, and it grows daily. The evolution of mind from inside the creature to outside the body fascinates me. Humans are turning the entire planet into an exobrain. Our brains can't hold all of the data we produce, so we look for ways to offload to books, websites, music, and architecture, to name a few storage devices. And we manipulate the environment to reprogram our brains as needed.

Years ago I worked with a young intern at Crocker Bank who believed his first step toward success was to find a place to live in a prosperous suburb. His theory was that the external environment would program his brain for the sort of success that his neighbors would have already found. I remember mocking him for his offbeat and naïve theory. Now I think he's a genius for understanding at such an early age that his environment was a tool for programming his brain. I lost touch with him, but I'll bet he's a millionaire now.
 
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Oct 8, 2010
i think we just need to look at torture and interrogation rooms to accept that 'brain hacking thru environment' does occur.
 
 
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Jun 29, 2010
LMNOP,

The word you're looking for is "art", not "exobrain".
 
 
Jun 28, 2010
Well, crap, looks like I can't post a URL in my comment. It wasn't spam, I promise.

If you really want to read what I pointed to, Google for "extelligence upsideclown". It's a sci-fi-ish story titled "Extelligence," from May 29, 2003
 
 
Jun 28, 2010
Whenever this topic comes up in conversation online, I point friends to this old story, !$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*
 
 
Jun 28, 2010
Darren, well...no. Try this: everything in the world is composed of things. Certain arrangements of things have additional significance than just being objects in space. For example, a baseball field is "simply" an arrangement of grass, dirt, leather squares, and walls, but they have an additional significance in that they can be used to effectively play a specific sport. A car is "simply" an arrangement of metal, plastic, rubber, and gasoline, but because of its particular arrangement it has the additional capacity of being usable to bring you from one place to another.

The idea of an 'exobrain' is that an environment can be arranged so that it will have additional significance in that it makes more possible or more easily a certain emotional state or functionality to occur in a given brain than it normally would. A rose garden, say, has a different long-term impact on emotional states than a junkyard, or an open grass field. If a person, knowing this, intentionally planted a rose garden in their front yard, one way to think about that garden is as an accessory or add-on to the emotional part of your brain, because functionally that is its significance beyond it being simply roses and grass and dirt. Hence, exobrain, an accessory for a brain function that doesn't reside in the brain.
 
 
Jun 28, 2010
The test is could an alien with no knowlage of our world, (or language) understand an item use, Would they look at a cullinder and find it to be a great hat, as all their tenticals could stick through the holes, yet it would keep their heads dry. to use, its obviouly not the use that the item is intended for, and hasnt convayed that usage in an understandable format. Its not therfore forming part of the exobrain.
 
 
Jun 28, 2010
The test is could an alien with no knowlage of our world, (or language) understand an item use, Would they look at a cullinder and find it to be a great hat, as all their tenticals could stick through the holes, yet it would keep their heads dry. to use, its obviouly not the use that the item is intended for, and hasnt convayed that usage in an understandable format. Its not therfore forming part of the exobrain.
 
 
Jun 28, 2010
The test is could an alien with no knowlage of our world, (or language) understand an item use, Would they look at a cullinder and find it to be a great hat, as all their tenticals could stick through the holes, yet it would keep their heads dry. to use, its obviouly not the use that the item is intended for, and hasnt convayed that usage in an understandable format. Its not therfore forming part of the exobrain.
 
 
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Jun 28, 2010
Lmnop,

So, as a counter for my argument against being pretentious/over-grandiose in writing, you just thought throwing a thesaurus at your sentences was the way to go? If so, failed. Cutting through the frosted coating of your comment, you just called everything outside of the brain an exobrain. In which case dog feces? Exobrain. English muffin? Exobrain? Rocky III? You guessed it, Exobrain. Mr. T's mohawk in that film then becomes an appropriately placed exobrain.

Now, if "exobrain" = "thing" then I have no problem with this. But since it does NOT mean "thing", then I have a problem with it.
 
 
Jun 27, 2010
Darren, methinks you're taking the idea a bit too literally. The idea isn't that there is some configuration of colors on a wall, or books on a shelf, or flowers in a garden that can hack a brain into whatever emotional state one wishes or generate information or algorithmic content to implant in place of learning. The idea is more that there are a myriad of external stimuli (in the form of objects and symbols) that have an effect on internal states, and given the limited plasticity of long-term brain states or tendencies over some period of time, changing one's environment can put a thumb on the scales, as it were, of one or more of those external variables, eventually changing something about the trend of internal states of a person continuously experiencing them.

And this is pretty obviously the case; being in a run-down shack is depressing, certainly more-so than being in a flower garden or a well cared for bungalow. Being around stimuli causes more tendency to analyze and think than being in a space that lacks stimuli; many say that a cluttered desk is more conducive to thinking on a problem than a neat one. That the environment has an effect on how one thinks or even what one thinks is fairly uncontroversial; this is simply exploring that using a more computer-oriented metaphor. The idea that the feedback loops that generate brain states include significant factors outside the brain justifies to some extent calling those exterior objects an "exobrain" in that they are participating in generating brain states, especially if their arrangement is intentional and purposeful for helping to cause certain ones.
 
 
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Jun 27, 2010
I think you're living in a world where you don't receive enough criticism, Mr. Adams. Your blog has a lot of these grandiose statements that don't really make much sense. People like flower gardens because they're pretty. They don't "reprogram your brains". That's borderline cult-leader speak. If your flower garden can reprogram brains, then design your flower garden to teach my nephew algebra, or better yet to eliminate murderous rage, then we can send criminals to your house instead of prison. On the downside, you'll need a bigger house, but on the upside, you'll get shortlisted for a Nobel Prize. You know... if it can actually work.

But that's the problem. It won't. Your house is not an exobrain, any more than a library is. (In fact, a lot less, I'd bet)... And for sure your flower garden, pretty as it might be, does not reprogram visitors' brains.
 
 
Jun 27, 2010
It's interesting, people recognized the existence of the exobrain as far back as 2500 years ago (though obviously they didn't call it that). Plato, in the Phaedrus, tells the story of Theuth and Thamus, a tale of the invention and utility of writing. Thamus points out the Theuth that one of the primary effects of writing is that knowledge all of a sudden could be externalized, and storage could take place outside the brain. People could learn things that they had not themselves experienced, and learn to speak with knowledge or even authority on these things.

Interestingly he didn't take this as a good thing at all, which of course is ironic because the only reason we know anything at all about Plato (and Socrates) is because Plato wrote it all down.
 
 
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Jun 27, 2010
I'd be happy if people would just use the brain inside their heads, let alone storing things externally.
 
 
Jun 26, 2010
Too, too true!

Where I work we have a project manager who daily provides living proof of the existence of the "Dilbert Manager" species. The latest apparition came in the form of a project organization chart. You heard of "degree inflation"? Let me introduce you to organization chart inflation where a peroject manager inflates the project chart underneath him to show leguions of troops under his generalship. In this particularl hallucination he managed to get 49 jobs filled under him with the same 16 names. In the most egregious example, he had a team leader also a team member reporting to himself and the both of them reporting to the project manager. Also, the organization chart fails to indicat that several people assigned multiple roles actually work for vendors and have no direct reporting relationship and some are simply consulting information sources from other areas but they appear, in all their glory, as full time project resources under this manager wannabe.
 
 
Jun 26, 2010
Too, too true!

Where I work we have a project manager who daily provides living proof of the existence of the "Dilbert Manager" species. The latest apparition came in the form of a project organization chart. You heard of "degree inflation"? Let me introduce you to organization chart inflation where a peroject manager inflates the project chart underneath him to show legions of troops under his generalship. In this particularl hallucination he managed to get 49 jobs filled under him with the same 16 names. In the most egregious example, he had a team leader also a team member reporting to himself and the both of them reporting to the project manager. Also, the organization chart fails to indicat that several people assigned multiple roles actually work for vendors and have no direct reporting relationship and some are simply consulting information sources from other areas but they appear, in all their glory, as full time project resources under this manager wannabe.
 
 
Jun 26, 2010
Too, too true!

Where I work we have a project manager who daily provides living proof of the existence of the "Dilbert Manager" species. The latest apparition came in the form of a project organization chart. You heard of "degree inflation"? Let me introduce you to organization chart inflation where a peroject manager inflates the project chart underneath him to show leguions of troops under his generalship. In this particularl hallucination he managed to get 49 jobs filled under him with the same 16 names. In the most egregious example, he had a team leader also a team member reporting to himself and the both of them reporting to the project manager. Also, the organization chart fails to indicat that several people assigned multiple roles actually work for vendors and have no direct reporting relationship and some are simply consulting information sources from other areas but they appear, in all their glory, as full time project resources under this manager wannabe.
 
 
Jun 25, 2010
Great article. Really crystallized some thoughts I had a hard time nailing down. It also made me think of another article/concept I came across some time back, "Broken Windows". To quote the wikipedia article... (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fixing_Broken_Windows)

"Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it's unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.

Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars."......

A much different (and darker) perspective on what I find to be a similar concept to what you wrote about. Fascinating, thanks again for sharing!!
 
 
Jun 25, 2010
Scott,

How widely do you think the influences on mood extend? Do drug wars in Mexico or earthquakes in China or wars in the Middle East influence Americans to drive cars that look like Brink's trucks?
 
 
Jun 25, 2010
I don’t regard it as fascinating. In my opinion, we export functions of our brains to the environment, but it doesn’t mean we use the free capacity to any purpose. Why to have complete Shakespeare’s work accessible after few hits on my keyboard, if I would never read a word from it?
 
 
Jun 25, 2010
This is one blog after so many good ones that I didn't finish reading..sorry but I didn't like this one..sounded like you have discovered a new concept, ''phenomenon of manipulating our environment to extend our brains'' - but it's really nothing but general information/emotions that we get when we observe objects/people/places..agreed that written information is not the only source..but to call this as a "phenomenon" is definitely stretching things too far...
 
 
 
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