In my previous post I got distracted by one of my favorite topics, pop-neuroscience. Noting how robust brains are I pointed out that these organs do some impressive stuff. I can’t yet walk away from this topic. I love the well-known quote by Arthur Clarke, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” This is so, but we dictate the difference between what is magic and what is not magic by that which we expect. Einstein showed how gravity is not magic. But in the same fashion that Columbus proved world is not flat. You just gotta take their word for it. Same is true for brain function. It works and we really don’t understand it. We don’t call this magic in a scientific age. But, it’s magic.
I mentioned that brains are doing all this rather startling work in a fashion that is dictated by necessity. Brains don’t seem to function on an aesthetic level naturally. Oh well, that comment is not even possible to defend nor make understandable. But the idea is that we dump information into these containers in a biologically efficient fashion but not in a logical fashion. By “logical,” I mean in a way that complements data collection and retrieval, as modeled by our own finite taxonomies. Indexing systems allow one to put their hands on the book that they want because the actual arrangement of a library is rearranged dozens of ways in card catalogues so that small versions of books, these cards, can symbolize a place where the book resides in time and space. You can arrange your library by publisher, by author, by genre, by date, by title and so on. It reminds me of John Cusack’s character in High Fidelity who rearranges his entire LP collection in chronological order of where he was in his life when he first heard the record.
What a crazy system. But that is the kind of system that one might have if data streamed in all the time and the receiver was barely conscious of cataloging their data. “This is your brain on reality.” You might not have been raised by wolves, but the point I was making earlier is the natural method for dumping knowledge into the brain is the same if you were or were not. Our data acquisition is rarely organized in a fashion that complements retention or retrieval.
OK here is Kvalvik theory: our brains are wired to note 1.) novelty, 2.) its antonym repetition and 3.) internal importance. We know if we ever saw an elephant in our yard, because we know that novelty is memorable. If you hear the song, Sugar, Sugar by the Archies all day you will know that song. The concept I use of “importance” is cheating, as it is vague. But this ability to assign importance has to resonate with our “attention mechanism” but here’s how I think it works on evolutionary-psychology level. If you are a teen, on average, you are hardwired to note the other gender and procreate. It is this big motivator and so on… Not getting eaten by animals, hit by cars, burned by fires all seems pretty important. Sex and safety, important.
Weird thing is that if one loves Mozart he/she alters the attention mechanism and points it at all things Mozartian as important. Likewise, baseball, ballet, chess and dog shows. I’m not talking about intelligence so much here as I am the way most folks tend to retain and organize their brains. But these guys who love baseball have a framework built to retain runs batted in and pitchers doing pitchy stuff and so on. It is pretty impressive.
OK next the residue of memory…