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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Jun 23, 2010
Correct Dwight. I don't think Scott's frind became a millionaire either.
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Jun 23, 2010
As I was reading this, I kept thinking "well, duh." Human brains evolved in this world, and this world is perceived by the brain, so why wouldn't our brains have grown in a manner that allows us to utilize the world around us as part of our brain.

I think you're talking about this in the reverse order. It's not "look at this world and see how our brains manipulate it to store our data within our enviorment" (as you seem to be describing); instead, it is "look at how the environment caused our brains to evolve in a manner that utilizes data outside our heads as well as in them".

All the foundations for how we use business, computers, etc. for memory have been around for as long as humans. Instead of remembering every step taken, the hunter-gatherers have used paths to remember where to go. I don't think this is humans making their world easier to understand as much as it is humans evolving to perceive the world in a way managable by our brains.
Jun 23, 2010
When you generalize an idea so completely, the idea becomes a lot less valuable. If everything that exists has the potential of storing or triggering memory and everything that exists can serve to "reprogram" the brain in terms of a positive, negative, or apathetic reaction, then the underlying idea of a memory storing or triggering object or a reprogramming object (or collection of objects) becomes kinda meaningless. We could just as meaninglessly discuss the "is-ness" of things.
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Jun 23, 2010
I believe the idea of your external environment influencing your behavior has been validated in research. Its at the basis of many urban renewal plans. For example Charleston placed pretty little 4 family public housing in various established and upscale neighborhoods. The idea being that the influence of their environment would help the behavior of dwellers to work on bettering their lot in life.
New York city subways attribute their improved safety to improving the cleanliness and graffiti. The lists go on.
In those cases though, does the environment hold data, or does the environment trigger the retrieval of data.
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