Sitting at a stoplight, a large black pickup in front and sedans flanking me, a thought began to materialize in my head. Like many of my musings, the surroundings have little effect on the contents of my thoughts, and I zoned out knowing I had at least five more minutes at this light.
This little musing began to snowball in my head, gaining both mass and intricacy, and I realized this was something I’d have to ponder for quite a while before coming to a conclusion. The idea that had gripped me was simply this: had all of the great inventions of the 20th century been truly of our own brilliance, or had we been (consciously or unconsciously) following a blueprint built within our bodies?
Think of three of arguably the biggest inventions in the past 100 years – the microphone, the camera, and the transistor. The microphone is simple – A membrane that vibrates in response to sound waves and translates these waves into electrical signals. Sound familiar? It’s the middle and inner ear! The design is almost the same, except for the fact that the brain has no Preamp. Even Laser Microphones need a vibrating membrane or object to pick up sound from, and Directional Microphones are microphones with the addition of a sound-focusing parabolic mirror – The outer ear!
The camera should be an easy one now that you have the hang of it. A camera works by focusing light rays using a lens onto a photoreceptive material. This material then converts the light rays into electrical signals based on the wavelength received. This, my friends, is also the human eye, in its most basic definition. The human eye does just this, but it also carries these signals in a “live feed” via the optic nerve to the brain, much like a common Webcam does to a computer.
The last invention on my list is the humble transistor. The most fundamental piece of all electronic equipment consists of a positive (the collector) and negative (the emitter) terminal and another terminal (the base) which tells the transistor when to activate. The activation happens when the base receives a voltage – the current passes through the transistor when the voltage is received and the circuit is closed. This most fundamental piece of computer circuitry bears a striking resemblance to the most fundamental piece of human circuitry – the Neuron! The human neuron functions much in the same way as the transistor, save for different terminology. The neuron receives a signal through the synaptic gap with neurotransmitters. This signal is turned into an electrical charge and travels down the Axon of the neuron until it reaches the dendrites. Each individual dendrite has a specific action potential (the voltage at which the neurotransmitters fire), and this is how signals travel through the body. But back to the neuron, once the action potential voltage is reached (sound familiar?) the signal is sent and the “circuit” is “closed” and the neurotransmitters sent.
So here is the question that I pose to you, the ever-valuable reader and cohort-in-thought – Are these inventions the result of our conscious or unconscious realization that we are built with “invention shortcuts,” or are we truly the world’s greatest inventors and we have managed to mirror natural selection in our efforts to create the best tool for every situation? These are the thoughts that tend to keep me up at night, the type of thoughts where an answer to the essential question that lies therein would be next door to cathartic to behold.
And that, my friends is my Red Light Thought of the Day. 🙂