Everybody has to take difficult brain decisions every now and then. The most difficult decision of my life was deciding whether or not to switch research fields following my PhD.
Which ranged from fundamental Physics to climate Physics. I received job offers that could have led me in any direction one was to join Stephen Hawking’s Relativity and Gravitation Group at Cambridge University, another to join the Met Office as a scientific civil employee.
I made a list of both the advantages and disadvantages of each option as one should do but couldn’t discern a conclusion about anything. As Buridan’s donkey could not get towards either the bale of hay or the water pail. It was a classic instance of analysis paralysis.
Activities Subconscious Brain
Because it was filling my head in my head, I decided to ignore the issue for a few weeks, and then get back to my day-to-day activities. In the meantime, my subconscious brain made a decision to make a decision for me. I went into my office on a particular day, and the answer had become apparent. I’d switch to studying the weather and climate.
After more than 40 years I’d be making the same choice again. My rewarding career has involved the development of a novel probabilistic method of forecasting climate and weather, which aids organizations for disaster and humanitarian aid make better decisions in advance of extreme weather conditions. (This as well as other aspects are discuss in my book The Truth of Doubt.)
But I’m still intrigue by the thoughts going on inside my head at the time, which led the subconscious mind to come to a life-changing choice that my conscious mind could not. Are there any lessons to be learn here, not just about the ability to make difficult choices and how we can make those leaps of creativity that define us as an imaginative species? I believe that the answer to both of these questions is in a deeper understanding of the power of sound.
Supercomputers That Aren’t Precise
I moved from the pencil-and-paper mathematics of Einstein’s theory on general relativity, to running complicated climate models on the largest supercomputers in the world. As no matter how big they weren’t enough to be able to handle the actual climate system is at the end of the day, extremely complicated.
In the beginning of my work, it was only necessary to wait a few years before supercomputers that were top of the line would be two times as fast. It the time when transistors were becoming smaller and smaller, which allow more to packed into every microchip. The resultant doubling of computing performance with the same amount of power every few years was call Moore’s Law.
However, there is the limit to how much miniaturisation you can accomplish before the transistor becomes less reliable in its primary function as an off-off switch. With transistors today beginning to reach atomic sizes and atomic size, we’ve pretty much at the end in Moore’s Law. To increase the number-crunching capabilities computers must join together ever more computers, each packed with chips.
However, there’s an issue. The increase in number-crunching capabilities will require a significant amount of electric power. Modern supercomputers as large as tennis courts consume 10s of megawatts. I consider it to be an embarrassment to have an enormous amount of energy. To predict accurately the consequences on climate changes.
This is why I was interest in the process. Of creating an precise climate model that doesn’t require more energy. At the core of this idea is a concept that seems counterintuitive: by adding random numbers. Also known as noise, to a climate model, we could actually improve the accuracy in forecasting weather.
A Positive Role For Brain Noise
Noise is often regard as a source of nuisance. Something that should be minimize whenever feasible. In telecommunications we talk about the need to maximize our signal-to-noise ratio by boosting. The signal or cutting down on background noise to the greatest extent possible.
In the case of nonlinear system, noise may be your friend and help boost a signal. A nonlinear signal is one that’s output doesn’t change in direct proportion to its input. You’ll likely be content to get PS100 million in your lottery ticket. However not as thrilled to be able to win PS200 million.
Noise, for instance aid us in determining the highest value for an intricate curve like that in Figure 1 below. There are many instances that occur in the physical, biological and social sciences, as well as in engineering.
Where we may need to determine the maximum. In my meteorology field the process of determining the ideal circumstances. For an overall forecast of weather involves identifying the most optimal element of a very complex meteorological task.