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This week’s best questions, ideas and debates from TED Conversations

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TED-Conversation-generic-imageTED Conversations is a unique space where any member of this community can get feedback on an idea, pose an interesting question, or start a fascinating debate with fellow TEDizens from around the globe. This week, dozens of new conversations were started on a variety of topics — from the history of the Industrial Revolution to advice on writing a book.  Here, a sampling of the highlights:

First, a lively and informative discussion on the science of Hadar Cohen’s excellent question:  Is the heart overlooked when it comes to intelligence?

The center of the nervous system, the brain, has been popularly defined as the fundamental core of intellectual activity. Yet, in my Bioelectricity class with Professor Nina Tandon, we learned about recent research suggesting that information processing in the body may in fact be more distributed.

For example, there is increasing evidence suggesting that the cardioelectromagenetic field can actually affect human beings in close proximity. These signals are stronger in amplitude when in direct contact, but are still detectable up to several feet away from the source. Through these interactions, the heart transfers energies between human beings. The heart can therefore be characterized as the engine for distributing and controlling energy of the human body.

See this, this and this.

Given that the heart and other organs are frequently excluded from intellectual discussion, I would like to ask the TED community, how do these new findings affect how we view intelligence? How will our interactions with each other differ if we view more of our bodies as “intelligent?”

Allan MacDougal responded with:

Yes, I think intelligence is distributed throughout the body, and only now is evidence beginning to catch up with intuition in this and many other areas. This opens up the wider implications in the gulf of understanding — trust even — between intuition and science.

There is good reason why we refer to “the gut” for instinct and “the heart” for emotion, feeling and love, and there is extraordinary evidence from heart transplant patients, who relate that their emotions and interests changed post-operatively, to those of their donor. This phenomenon, known as “cellular memory” has been researched by Dr David Armour at the University of Montreal.

This should come as no surprise, since the heart has been found to contain 40,000 neurons, so is in effect a small “brain”.

And Christophe Cop contributed:

I can safely assume that the bulk of information processing happens in the Central Nervous System (CNS), especially when it comes to bodily action that relates to consciousness.

This does not mean that our whole body affects and co-influences our CNS. Our hormones and sensors give a lot of information and influence what we do and think. I do agree that we do not fully understand all the interactions between all our organs (I think the possible permutations are staggering). We know that food influences our moral decisions (judges give smaller punishments after a snack). On a cell level, we can assume there is a lot of regulation and communication going on (with surrounding cells). Still, it’s nerve cells who are specialized in information processing and passing it on to the other nerve cels

So is there a possibility our heart “thinks”? I don’t think so. The article refers to a nerve nucleus: It’s function certainty is information processing (as our gut-brain does as well). But the number of cells there probably indicates that it’s contribution [to intelligence] cannot be as big as that of the CNS.

The conversation has reached its conclusion, but you can still take a look at the 312 comments»

Meanwhile, an interesting new economics debate is building around Arkady Grudzinsky’s question: Would you prefer sales tax to income tax?

I see several advantages of sales tax compared to income tax:

1. Sales tax inhibits spending, income tax inhibits earning. When money are taxed when spent, not when earned, it may encourage saving and investing rather than spending and incurring debts.

2. One can avoid paying a sales tax on discretionary items by not buying these items — sales tax is less coercive.

3. Sales tax on discretionary items appears to be self-regulating. When it is too large, people stop buying the taxed items, and the tax revenues drop. It’s easier to determine the economic effect of sales tax and optimize the sales tax percentage. Whereas, the economic effect of changing income taxes is a lot harder to determine.

4. The tax code would be extremely simple — just a look-up table of tax rates (this may be a naive statement).

5. “Taxing the rich” would mean taxing the excessive luxurious lifestyle. Why would a frugal billionaire who leads a lifestyle of an average citizen be taxed more than an average citizen?

I understand, there is no “correct answer”. This is why I post this as a debate. I’d like to know how many people think this way and to hear cases for or against both types of taxation.

Bernie Amell responds:

The price signals sent by income taxes, without proportional taxes taken from consumptive industries, sends a perverse set of price signals. Full employment is devalued, while the price of shipping goods from distant places or from energy inefficient production is subsidized. Faced with these price signals any corporation must focus its creative talent on exploitation of off shore jobs rather than jobs at home. On shore industries that are highly consumptiive (ie. irrigation agriculture of bulk grains) are subsidized while industries that are less consumptive and job creative (ie. permaculture farms) are discouraged.

I look for the day when there are no income taxes and we charge every industry or carrier that sells to our market is charged for the all of the energy and material consumption involved in the production AND transport of their goods to us. I am not arguing for an increase or decrease in taxation — save that for a different debate.

With 66 comments and a week remaining, you’re welcome to join in the debate!