This is the sixth chapter in a series of pieces about our modern relationship with time and the future. Titled Hourglass, It’s an exploration into how our abstract view of time has changed in modernity, how it has met (or has yet to meet) the needs of the present, and what we can do to better prepare ourselves for what’s to come.
If the human brain were so simple
That we could understand it,
We would be so simple
That we couldn’t.
— Emerson M. Pugh
Inside that head of yours is something magnificent. A processing unit so complex, so mysterious, that even those who have dedicated decades to its study have barely scratched the surface. An organ so dynamic and interconnected, some have called it the most complex system in the known universe. I’m talking, of course, about the human brain.
The study of the brain, and that which it confers onto humankind — the gifts of intelligence and consciousness, have captured the human imagination since times of old. In some sense, replicating this process in an external setting has been a deep-rooted goal of humankind for a long time. A mind made from a machine, not from flesh. Before modernism, romanticism, before all the isms that have come to define our modern age, there was the will to understand who we are, and what mad force of the universe compelled it to create, within itself, a small and insignificant being capable of observing it. Some sought the stars for answers, others sailed across the world. But it wasn’t until we started looking inward that we finally uncovered the intricacies of the mind.
An Artful Mind
If you’ve ever seen the pages of Leonardo Da Vinci’s sketchbooks, you’ll realize that the illustrations before you are well-ahead of their time. Mechanical machines, anatomical studies, and drawings of flora and fauna explode out of the pages, a sublime marriage of art and science. It is here where you will find sketches of the mind that are nothing short of extraordinary.
In 1487, Leonardo drew what he called the senso comune (literally, common sense), the linkage of the senses. His early sketches hypothesized how visual information was transferred to the brain via the optic nerves² ³ and how sensory input would be conveyed…