IVP - Addenda & Errata - Brain Accessories

July 13, 2011

Brain Accessories

Some time ago I came across a blog on the notion that our humanly created environment is an extension of our brains. Here is an excerpt:

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.

Anyone who has been involved in and reflected on a particular institution or business over a length of time should recognize the truth in this analogy. But to get the most out of the analogy, it helps to think of a well-run business or the best aspects of any business.

Publishing is a great example of this, since while publishing is not rocket science, in its full scope it is complicated and consists of many parts, practices and decisions. And over time wisdom is stitched into the fabric of a publishing house, into its practices and procedures, its culture and character. A publishing house becomes a complex corporate memory device. It is interesting over the years to see new folks enter this “memory device” with new ideas and critiques of the way things are done. I’m just guessing, but I think that over time most of them come to appreciate the why’s and wherefore’s of this memory device they’ve entered and the accumulated wisdom that has been built into its fabric. And over time, many of them leave their own fingerprints by way of improvements great and small. But these improvements are built on an existing information infrastructure and are carried along by the current of time and practice into the future. The first obligation of someone who wishes to bring about change is to take the time to truly understand what already is. Really understand it. Innovations built on casual acquaintance or misunderstanding can be destructive or counterproductive.

We can also think of the church as “a way to store data,” or (as I prefer) spiritual wisdom and truth. Like the restaurant, it is a giant data/wisdom filter. Theology and practice is tested, the bad is deleted and the good stays. Some of it is “written down” (in a formal, discursive sense) but much of it is retained in architecture, furnishings, images, postures/gestures, sacraments, music, liturgy, seasons, ways of thought and life, etc. Sure, this is called “institutionalized religion.” And that sounds bad to committed individualists and libertarians. But the church is not unique in this respect. We can see this across various human endeavors. I’ll talk about an example in my next blog.

Posted by Dan Reid at July 13, 2011 4:19 PM Bookmark and Share

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