Well, kind of.
In fact, your brain is both an operating system and a piece of hardware, but it’s not necessarily faulty. But it also could be.
Forgive me if you’re not in the technology industry or if you haven’t been swept up in the hysteria of Silicon Valley. I’m guilty of both. However, it’s helped me view the world in a very interesting - albeit specific - way.
You see, people are beginning to think of humans as biological computers of sorts. And it’s not because we’re starting to operate like machines, only that they're starting to operate like us. With algorithmic learning, concierge bots (think: Siri), and robots that can walk like humanoids, it’s becoming hard to distinguish between the two.
Have you heard of the Turing Test? It’s an assessment that measures how close a computer is to a human. If, when a person interacts with a machine, they’re unable to identify whether it’s a computer or not, the machine has passed the test. It is, for all accounts and purposes, synonymous with a human. Imperceptible as a machine.
But no, I’m not here to talk about a dystopian future a la Will Smith in iRobot. But, the exponential advancement of technology sheds light on a very interesting idea: Our brains - and our bodies - are pieces of hardware that are pre-loaded with software. And just like the operating system and screen on you iPhone, these things can be updated and revised.
Wouldn’t it be great to update your brain from iOS 4 to iOS 6 and beyond? Think about how much more powerful your current iPhone is in relation to the first one you ever owned. So too can we revise our personal software and hardware.
What is consciousness? What dictates our thought processes? How do we think in general?
All of these things are a wonderful mystery to me. Sure, there are white papers everywhere on the origin of identity and our unconscious minds, but when you think about it, our personality, viewpoint, and even reality, stems from our personal operating system.
You see, just like a factory iPhone, when we’re born, we’re pre-loaded with human software. Now, that operating system is admittedly somewhat unique to our own nature, but it’s as close to standard as a biological machine can get. We all have homogenous pre-loaded information, just like the native applications on your Mac. Think about it: We all have fight or flight tendencies, innate human desires, and standard needs.
All of these things are given to us as part of our factory settings.
And then, as nurture takes over to combine with our nature, we begin to diverge from our manufacturing specs and update our software as if Apple was sending us a 2.0 iOS patch. Each experience we have, every decision we make, and all the actions we take, act as a small software update. It deepens our understanding of the world, and therefore, the understanding of ourselves.
So, you can think of your consciousness and your viewpoint as your brain’s operating system. And just like your phone’s OS, your brain can update itself over time as it collects more data points and becomes more powerful.
However, as exciting as this sounds, there are always downsides to software. And seeing as your operating system is a piece of organic software, it’s possible that it has bugs that need fixing. Sure, we come off the assembly line with a high level of homogeny, but sometimes, there’s a factory defect or a faulty software update.
These bugs change the way our software - our brain operator - works. You might have some or you might not, but chances are you might. And these bugs, as I mentioned previously, can come from your nature - your factory settings - or your nurture - your OS updates.
And, just like your iPhone, your body is comprised of both software and hardware. The hardware is a little easier to conceptualize. It’s your physical body, including your physical brain, that houses your software and allows it to work.
From the brain’s perspective, your hardware is the gray matter itself. From your body’s perspective, it’s the skin, bone, and other casing that surrounds your innards. Keep thinking of yourself like an iPhone. I know, weird, right? Your brain’s hardware is the microchip and wires within the device. Your body is the external features like the gun-metal back casing and the (almost) unbreakable front screen.
And just like your phone, this hardware directly affects your operating software. The wiring of your brain, for example, is going to help dictate how you think and filter external stimuli. The look of your body, using another example, adds to the nurture aspect of your upbringing and affects how you think of yourself.
And just like your operating system, you can update your hardware. It’s like taking your broken screen to the Apple store. Exercise and healthy eating optimizes your body’s hardware, giving you confidence and a positive way about you. So too can your brain’s hardware be updated by constant learning and a thirst for knowledge. This creates new neural pathways - new wiring - that allows your software to operate quicker and more efficiently.
But, of course, there are factory defects even in your hardware, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Some have it worse than others, and some don’t have it at all. Faulty brain wiring, a tendency to build fat, and high cholesterol are all examples of hardware that isn’t operating at a high level of efficiency.
So what the hell does this all mean?
First off, you’re given a factory issued set of hardware and software. There’s nothing you can do about it. It’s woven into your DNA. But, as you begin to grow and learn, you can actively update both your operating system and your hard casing, making it more efficient and powerful.
For example, someone with a learning deficiency can still become a Nobel Prize winner. It’s just going to take more software updates. Someone with low metabolism can still become an Olympian. It’ll just take a few more hardware updates.
Which means that you can’t worry about the cards you’ve been dealt by the great factory in the sky. It’s pointless, you can’t change your nature. But, you can control your nurture, and therefore, you should be in a constant search for updates through life experiences.
Second, it’s important to start thinking about other people as a summation of software and hardware. And just like you, they may or may not have faulty bugs. You can never know, and therefore, you should operate under the assumption that they have them. So then, the next time someone offends you, simply say to yourself, “it must be a function of their operating system, it’s not their fault."
You see, people are trying to do the best they can with the software and hardware they’ve been given. Sometimes, when someone does something uncharacteristic or offensive, it’s because they’re operating with a different set of software and hardware. Be understanding.
Knowing that you’re comprised of organic software and hardware is liberating. It helps you understand why you think the way you do, and it tells you that you can actively change the way you think, if you try.
And then, knowing that other people are a summation of an operating system and physical wiring is just as liberating. It helps you empathize and understand their point of view. Just because they have a different factory OS then you, just because they’ve had different updates that you, doesn’t mean they’re right or wrong. Only that they’re unique, just like you.