In my previous post, we looked at a famous myth of the LeftBrain-RightBrain dominance.
Though we now know, that the brain is made up of two closely collaborating divisions, rather than two competing divisions of dominance, the fact that the brain approaches a scenario or problem statement via distinctive paradigms, can never be denied.
The brain works in mysterious ways.
In fact, over the years, scientists have been viewing the brain as a T-Nut (though it more looks like a walnut), and trying to crack its behavior.
Though we have been making progress, there still isn’t any complete clarity on its work-ways.
Let’s explore our human brain, a little more in this post, and find out WTF in it’s working.
Play it like a sport
The first life on earth is said to have appeared 3 billion years ago.
Life has evolved and adapted over these years and as humans, we are the acme of evolution.
The purpose of life over all those years, has however remained constant - survive and procreate. As simple as that.
Simple as it may seem, survival is a very tricky problem statement.
You need to adapt to the surroundings. You need to learn the tricks of the trade.
It’s like playing a sport, for eg. Tennis.
You need to learn all the shots of tennis and adapt to all the surfaces (grass, clay and hard) if you have to survive in the international arena for long.
The choice of a shot, varies drastically, based on the surface and also the weather. When its windy for eg., you need to control the shots differently.
On the same lines, every species had to be situationally aware in order to survive.
Thus nature developed senses, to understand the ambience better.
The sense of sight, sound and smell were pivotal in understanding and responding to the surroundings.
The sense of touch and feelings, pain for eg, were feedback. The feedback helped the species to fairly gauge a situation and devise new strategies or reject existing ones.
Similar to tennis however, this learning is a perpetual process. That is because we need to survive against similar species, who are learning as well.
“Our predators are learning, our preys are learning”.
So, every bit of optimisation is crucial for survival.
Its not enough to learn all the tricks of the trade, we need to devise new ones and keep moving forward.
And life isn’t a sport.
It’s not fair and no one is going to play a fair game either.
There are no rules, and the constraints can drastically change over night, so the species must be quick to adapt.
This is where optimisation matters. How do you quickly react?
The brain basically identifies patterns and pre-determines responses to these patterns, to improve the reaction time.
These patterns and responses are revisited time and again and enhanced and updated over time.
For starters, the brain can be viewed like a huge hashmap.
So, if the brain has been in a situation before, it can quickly respond to a similar situation at a later point of time. This is critical in reacting to your predator’s moves.
Let’s take an example.
How many of us remember dozing off in a public transport and suddenly waking up out of nowhere, and still in an instant, managing to realise, precisely where we are.
Better still, how many us remember dozing off in a public transport and effortlessly waking up exactly at our destination, just before we alight.
All this is possible because of the brain’s situational awareness which is nothing but sophisticated pattern recognition.
This is more evident in repetitive tasks and the adage “Practice makes Perfect” is nothing but a poetic representation of muscle memory.
Muscle memory is a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific task into memory through repetition. When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort. This process decreases the need for attention and creates maximum efficiency. Examples are everyday activities, such as riding a bicycle, playing a musical instrument, etc.
Have you ever wondered how sportsmen in any sport are able to react to events in milliseconds? Turing the car @ 300Km/hr in F1 or returning a ball @ 160mph in Tennis.
No conscious effort, just muscle memory.
So the goal is to build a comprehensive muscle memory.
But how does one go about building one?
Building the patterns
The brain builds these patterns, or more naively, the hashmap, over time.
Though we are yet to figure out the complex algorithm that the brain employs to construct and match these patterns, we are at least aware of few inputs to the algorithm.
It is observed that the brain relies heavily on the feelings, or feedback from the senses to ascertain a pattern.
Remember, the point of this sophisticated pattern recognition and all, is situational awareness. Thus context, plays a very vital role, in building or deciphering a pattern.
How often have we been working on a thoughtful idea in our rooms, only to walk out and forget everything we have been thinking about?
Remember that eerie feeling of being in no man’s land and lost for thought?
But as soon as we get back to our room, the idea comes rushing back.
“Context and Situational Awareness my friend”. Context here is the key.
As the brain builds these patterns, overtime, it flushes the irrelevant and the unused.
Is it clear now as to why we forget everything we had crammed overnight, right after the exam? Its irrelevant yo!
More importantly, the brain picks and strengthens the patterns that are pivotal for its survival and those which gives it a competitive edge in the ambience.
These are probably then passed through the genes to its progeny to give it an upper hand for survival.
This is probably why fishes can swim as soon as they are born.
“Probably”, because we are still not completely sure how the brain operates.
Pristine vs Logical Brain
So everything we learn out there, we learn through feelings, because feelings are the only means of authentic feedback to the brain. And feedback is the only means of making or breaking the patterns of the brain. And it is through these patterns we learn, adapt, optimise and evolve.
This is the reason, hands on experience is extremely important to build expertise in any field. Our factual knowledge only complements our hands-on efforts. Factual data in fact, only helps us learn faster from the actions, and aids us in taking the right ones.
It is for the same reason, many a times, people with practical knowledge and exposure are much better at doing a task, than people with just a degree or a certification.
If that statement is still sticky, think about how we all learnt to bicycle.
Bicycling is in fact a marvel of the brain’s prowess.
Initially, it’s almost impossible to even fathom, that we can ride something that looks so unstable.
But we look around and see people doing it with ease. This gives us a sense of confidence… this is feedback.
Then we step on the bike and use our conscious brain, the logical one to conquer the fear of balance.
It’s simple physics see, if you tip over to the right, force your weight on the left,
And if you tip over to the left, force your weight on the right.
We consciously keep doing this, time and again but we keep falling. But we pick ourselves up and keep trying… until a point where we sense a rhythm. We somehow manage to balance it first time and we savour that “feeling” and cherish it.
Soon, we observe we are able to balance with more consistency. This feeling of balance sticks on, an entry is made into our brain’s hashmap, and from here on, the subconscious brain, the pristine counterpart to the logical one, kicks in.
Balancing now seems effortless. The pristine brain is doing it automatically for us. Its decoded the pattern, identified the rhythm and that’s all it needs.
Soon, we are experts at riding and can efficiently react to external stimuli. We subconsciously know how to balance when an unexpected obstacle, throws us off rhythm, even though we have never been in that situation before.
This is the “Pristine Brain” weaving its magic. The Logical brain has already taken a back foot and is no longer consciously involved.
The return of Logical Brain
Everything seems to be going smooth without any conscious involvement of the Logical Brain but it doesn’t stay that way for ever. When do you think the Logical Brain steps in?
Imagine now, after mastering the bicycle for so long, we ask one of our besties or parents to tag along and hitch a ride with us. We are sure to have done this right?
How do you think it felt then? Were we comfortable riding doubles?
Never. It throws us off balance right away and we find it extremely hard to even ride a meter.
But WTF in it, why so?
This is because the dynamics completely changed. The pattern for the subconscious brain, basically didn’t match. That’s because the weight drastically changed and the feel of the vehicle is so very different now. Remember, the feel, is a critical component in the Pristine Brain’s pattern. Thus, the pre-determined response in the map, doesn’t fit the usecase and we struggle.
So what do we do?
We start focusing to attain balance, and when we focus, the conscious logical brain steps it and identifies the new forces acting on us. We struggle a little but eventually hit the rhythm. This goes as feedback to the subconscious, and soon we master riding with people as well.
Who is who?
We have used too many terms until now to describe the brain - logical, pristine, conscious, subconscious, etc. Though the usage has been quite consistent and self-explanatory, let’s detail it here.
So, the “Pristine Brain”, personified as “Mr. Pristine”, is the instinctive or intuitive brain which reacts quickly to stimuli.
He is fast and relies heavily on feelings to decide the proceedings. He is thus the one who constructs the hashmap and searches the hashmap we discussed above.
He is the first line of response to any external stimuli and is completely result oriented. Any step he takes, is based on the learnings from earlier actions and results.
His reactions thus are more subconscious, slightly involuntary and effortless.
The “Logical Brain” on the other hand, personified as “Mr. Logic”, is a more thoughtful counterpart. He is a sequential processing engine, who is more analytical and methodical and handles every situation on merit. His intervention is more an after thought and mostly a second line of response.
Every step he takes is based on the available empirical data. His reactions are thus more conscious and requires a lot of voluntary effort and input.
Remember, “Mr. Pristine” is always the first line of response, so when you are cornered and asked to choose a path, you will almost always choose the path of comfort for “Mr. Pristine”. So if I corner you and ask you to pick a random color, you are sure to pick your favourite color. No surprises in that.
Left-Right Myth Revisited
Though, the Left-Right dominance has been debunked, we clearly saw above that there exists two approaches to solving a problem. You can either go the “Pristine” way and rely on feelings or the “Logic” way and rely on rules.
In short, you can either go the right-brained way or the left-brained way.
A typical example would be learning a language like English. As per the Left-Right Conundrum, language is purely a left-brain trait. However, we can learn it in two ways.
Either, understand all the rules of English Grammar and go by the books, (left brain style) or
Speak more, Read more and learn it through usage (right brain style).
How often, have we heard someone say a sentence in English and reacted like
“Well, that doesn’t sound right”.
When asked, what exactly was wrong, we say
“Not sure, but that didn’t just sound right.”
I’ve personally done that umpteen times and in fact all the languages I’ve learnt so far has been through feelings.
And not so surprisingly, that’s the case with all of us.
So is language really a left-brain trait?
What I mean to say here is, Left and Right brains do not compete with each other, they collaborate and work in synergy.
And so does, Pristine and Logic approaches. So when you are confronted with an issue, take the best of both approaches and reach the goal.
We’ll see a lot more of these as we keep craking the T-Nuts, so stay tuned.
Now that we know how the pristine and logical aspects operate in unison to materialise the genius of the brain, WTF in it for us?
What do we do with this noesis? Does it help us in any way?