Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How Does the Brain Work

The mind is a funny thing. I just read a very annoying book that my nephew gave me for Christmas called "The Plastic Brain". The writer claims that we have gained huge new insights into the workings of the mind through recent experiments where stimulus from the outside world is mapped to specific cell regions in the brain.

I found the book to be overwrought and tedious at the same time. With all the hyping of the "groundbreaking new research", in the end I found nothing that really enlightened me about how the mind works. Science has a long long way to go in this area.

In the meantime, I made an observation about my own mind the other day which I found surprising, and I'm going to share it with you. I play a lot of Tetris. Quite a lot actually. Well, I guess I'm obsessed with it.

We used to have an old Mac in the house with what I think of as original Arcade Tetris. The music was phenomenal. "DAAA...da da Dumm........Da-da-da-da DAH. (repeat). Duh-DAH...duh-DAH..duh-DAH, duh-DAH, da-da-DAH!..etc. Remember that one? Well, that was a long time ago and I don't have it any more. My online Tetris only beeps, which of course I mute while playing, because that would be really annoying. I have a special way I like to play. I start at Level Three, and I use only the shift keys...left or right, no rotations. I like to score about 10 lines before I allow myself to start using rotations. That's's just how I like to do it.

Anyhow, the other day I was thinking about it, and I realized: you know the L-pieces, there is a left and a right. And it occured to me that at this moment, if I had to tell you what color they were, I wouldn't be able to do it. Oh, I know they're blue and purple...what I don't know is which is which.  You'd think that would have sunk in to my brain by now considering all the hours I've spent at it.

And then I thought some more. There are seven pieces. The square is red. The bar is orange. The "T" is yellow. (That color sticks in my mind more than any of the others.) But what about the zig-zags? I realized...I don't know! Not like the L's...where I knew the colors but I just couldn't say which was which. When I picture the zig-zags in my mind, I can't even remember what colors either of them are! Now that's really weird.

I believe in the theory of different types of intelligence. Obviously I'm at the high end of the scale in math intelligence, but I've never believed that made me better than other people. I've always been much too aware of so many others, much "dumber" than me on paper, yet who were much more capable at such tasks as negotiating with a used-car dealer, or picking up  girls at a bar. Either you've got it or you don't.

But can't you develop those intelligences? I suppose you can to a degree. But what I see in the school system, where teachers drill students to despair in the mechanics of mathematical calculations...that is ridiculous. The "skill" those kids are developing has nothing to do with what my brain is doing when it solves a math problem. It's strictly behavioral conditioning designed to mimic the actual process of mathematical thinking. And even at that, it creates a very poor facsimile that the system justifies by administering tests which only measure the step-by-step mimicry of thinking, rather than trying to measure actual mathematical thinking.

So what about Tetris? I'm saying that there are all kinds of people out there who's "intelligence" in relating shapes and colors is far more advanced than mine. And I could sit down with booklets full of shapes and colors, and memorize them, and pass a test in them...but it still wouldn't make me smart in shapes and colors. Either you are or you aren't.

1 comment:

UFO said...

I read António Damásio books. He is a leading neuroscientist and excellent communicator.