Technology: Secrets of the Human Brain

“There are only two ways in which we can account for a necessary agreement of experience with the concepts of its objects: either experience makes these concepts possible or these concepts make experience possible.”

— Immanuel Kant, “Critique of Pure Reason”, Datalinks

Secrets of the Human Brain is a second-tier pure science tech that relies on Biogenetics and Social Psych.  Presumably, it represents the fruition of the dream of the science of neurology.  At this point, we’ll finally have a model of the human brain that actually maps to what’s going on in there.  A true science of the mind.

Since it accompanies this exciting discovery, this context gives the quote from Kant a different tone than it has if you were to encounter it in an undergraduate philosophy class.  After the discovery of this technology, humanity is no longer stuck with using nigh-impenetrable chains of reasoning to generate insight into human thought.  I mean, what are experiences or concepts, really?

Kant had a definition, of course, but it was a philosophically generated one.  He only had intuition to rely on to generate evidence for his theories.  And this was the state of the art. Until now.

In the game, the technology comes with several interesting benefits.  Most excitingly, the first faction to discover it gets an additional free technology as a reward.  There are only three technologies for which this is true (all of the ones labeled ‘Secrets’ of X) and the other two are deep into the tree.

In games that play with the directed research option, that special reward makes this a common early beeline target.  But that’s not the way the game was intended to be played.  The default option (unlike all of the other Civilization games) is what is called Blind Research.  Instead of picking a technology every time, you pick one or several of the four color codes as research goals and then the game picks randomly among all of the techs that you could research, with a weighting determined by the research goals and by the depth of the tech (lower techs are generally preferred).

Because blind research is necessarily the way the AI plays the game, this has a couple of effects.  First, it makes the experience of playing the game for the first time closer to that of the colonists, in the sense that you don’t know what the future will bring before it comes.  The player can read the datalinks to see the tech tree (or look at the neat poster that came with the box) but without the ability to really control what tech you’ll get, that has limited value.  So you tend to end up just letting the progress happens as it would “naturally” happen.  This has a serious impact on how the game is experienced.

It also gives flavor to the different factions, because each one tends to keep the same preferences throughout the game.  The Gaians like exploration techs, the Morganites like economic techs, the University prefers pure scientific discovery, and the others have a mix of two preferences.  For instance, Lal prefers exploration and pure science, while his enemy Yang prefers economic and military technologies.  When trading techs during diplomacy, they will tend to value techs they like over ones they don’t.

The other benefits are intriguing but not top-shelf.  With this tech, a faction can build units with the Hypnotic Trance special.  This enables them to go into a meditative state that makes them much more resistant to the mind worms’ killing effect on defense.  Having garrison troops with this special makes bases much easier to defend, because this bonus coupled with the inherent base defense bonus gives the defender the edge again.

This tech also enables the Fundamentalism political choice.  Adopting it gives a faction a big bonus to spying and a bonus to army morale at the expense of a research penalty.  It’s generally a good idea if you expect to find yourself at war in the early game.  Or if you’re up against a faction that really likes spy actions.

On the diplomatic scene, it makes Miriam like you and both Yang and Lal get upset, but it does not really anger Zakharov as you’d might expect.  Faction leaders tend to get mad when you choose a social engineering selection for your faction that is exclusive with their preferred model.  So the leaders that prefer other politics choices are the ones that get upset.  Note that this means that it is impossible to choose an advanced social model without angering someone.  This can mean that it’s better, at times, to forego selecting anything for the diplomatic benefits of not choosing a philosophical side.

Finally, I find it quite intriguing that Reynolds chose to attach Fundamentalism to a pure science tech.  Naively, you might expect that discovering precisely how the mind works would make it more difficult to establish an old-school religious doctrine, since a lot of what goes into the traditional ideas of good and evil action would become properties of a new rigorous model of the mind.

But it would seem that the effect as postulated by the game world is pretty much the opposite.  Understanding the secrets of the human brain would seem to make it easier to design rituals and routines that foster the experience of faith.  Among any other faction that chooses to adopt this social model, it becomes possible to live with philosophical certainty.  Existential doubt, from this perspective, is a bug.  One with a technical solution.


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