Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Brain power?

The recent Royal Institution Lectures featured the brain, and posed the question “who is in control?”
Not my brain... as far as I know?
When running over rough terrain I would identify the next stone where my foot would land. As I moved through that stride I was often aware that my foot had landed in a different place without me being conscious of commanding that action. A hidden force had taken over in the last micro second having apparently calculated  a more advantageous placement.
Not my feet either - I don't think I could afford those shoes
This would leave me with an uneasy feeling, wondering where that control had originated. I  often tried to  describe this phenomenon to others, but without the expected response: “oh! It’s strange you should say that...”. Perhaps that was because I had not been sufficiently concise, but the RI Lectures set me wondering again, and I would be interested to hear any relevant comment. I would add that I recognise similar brain occurences in other situations.
So who is in control?


Readers will know I became a granddad 11weeks ago. I’ve just watched a documentary about King George V (1865-1936) who was a fearsome, autocratic father, but otherwise (according to the documentary), an alright guy, but he became besotted and gaga with his granddaughter Elizabeth (our present queen) who he always called Lizbet. Twelve weeks ago I would have been puzzled by this apparent anomaly, but now I understand.


The Crow said...

Re: who's in charge? Probably some harmonic of the beta and alpha brainwaves, which creates a transient, autonomic monitoring entity that operates in an as-yet-unknown metaphysical dimension, to which our conscious and sub-conscious minds are oblivious.

Re: Katie- who on earth could resist such a beauty? Not I! If I lived close to hand, I would gladly babysit any time asked.

Sir Hugh said...

The Crow - Thanks for your conjectural explanation. I know I canvassed for answers, but sometimes I prefer a mystery. Somewhere a while ago, on one of our mutually followed blogs, the question of love's origination and explanation was discussed, and I said it would be shame if all was reduced to micro biology and chemistry. Metaphysics, by definition is debatable and not strict science, but on this occasion I am happy for that association to be made - let's keep romance alive.

Your comments have been passed on to daughter Jill (blogonym: High Horse) and much appreciated. Katie and Mum are currently living between our two abodes, and I am gradually reverting to sole occupancy.

Lorenzo da Ponte said...

What a high level of discussion you're geting these days.But reflect on this. Did we achieve the same degree of gaga-ism when we were presented with the previous generation of offspring? There are I know a number of facile explanations (A grandparent can always give a grandchild back, being one) but since we're on the subject of brains could it be the result of the latter softening in the interim? Or - a conclusion to be desired - does age bring experience that is then converted into finer feeling? And not just in the matter of avoiding split infinitives?

Lorenzo da Ponte said...

RE brain control. I have also experienced the same form of re-adjustment when descending a rough track with a choice of foot-planting options.

I offer this possible explanation. The brain-owner tells the brain at the beginning of the descent we are now going into foot-planting-option mode. The brain owner recognises being in this mode through a higher intensity of concentration on what lies ahead (ie, peripheral vision diminishes and the world shrinks into a rolling awareness of say the next FOUR placement options). The brain owner makes a conscious "coarse" decision to bring the foot forward into the vicinity of, say, THREE optional placements. As the foot moves forward, the brain refines this "coarse" decision into a "finer" decision covering only TWO placements. By the time this decision is further refined into ONE placement the foot may be only fifteen centimetres from target and travelling quite quickly. However the brain is satisfied that the target will be met, doesn't wish to waste time informing the owner of this inevitability and is now in the process of setting itself up for the next FOUR options for the other foot.

Don't forget that in one of the earlier RI lectures it was shown that brain messages don't travel at the speed of light and that the brain must make allowances for this.

I mention this theory because when this has happened to me there have been times when the visual recognition part of the brain (operating independently of the decision-making process mentioned above) has allowed me to see my foot change its trajectory at the last moment towards a placement that had previously only been an option.

This explanation doesn't make the brain any less clever, just a little less mysterious. Computers make these kind of decisions when operating on "fuzzy" logic, in effect a constantly refined process of eventually arriving at the right target.

The Crow said...

Of all the things that could be split in the world, split infinitives are the least of my concerns. Were I writing for publication, for pay, certainly I would be more careful. Here, we are conversing casually, so I am less mindful of grammatical rules.

Before there was science there was metaphysics, from which science (the empirical method) split - somewhat like my infinitives.

There still is metaphysics. It is the non-empirical, philosophical exploration of anything that doesn't belong to science; God, for instance, or love.

Since your question, Conrad - "So who is in control?" - falls into the realm of metaphysics/philosophy, I responded in kind.

Science does not hold all the answers, because not everything can be empirically tested and proven.

Like love, for instance.

Sir Hugh said...

LdaP - I was heartened by your first comment which upheld my, uncharacteristic plea on this occasion for support of metaphysics, and then you reverted to science in your second comment. My grasp of English grammar is intuitive rather than technically analytical, and I have failed to spot the referred to split infinitive.

The Crow - I am with you all the way on split infinitives - it was L da P who raised the subject, not me!

I enjoy following science in an amateurish way, and hunger for progress and explanations in certain areas, but I have to say that I have a contrary mind that often finds science illogical, which I suppose is contradictory, but I try to battle on with it.

Long live romance!

The Crow said...

My apologies, Sir Hugh. I was addressing LdP's remarks but neglected to put his initials in place.

Lorenzo da Ponte said...

Nobody was guilty of splitting an infinitive. The verb in question rests elsewhere, perhaps in a Guardian leader, perhaps during our recent phone conversation, perhaps in my blog, perhaps in The Surgeon's Mate (just finished) or perhaps in a sonnet called The Written Self which I re-read recently and discovered - to my surprise - that I was the author. My allusion was not to the split infinitive itself but to its avoidance. I think I can safely say my mind was engaged in composing my next blog comment but two (or mentally correcting the last but three) as I wrote the comment you read here and there was some dimensional slippage. Sorry about that.

Sir Hugh said...

l da P - I hope to always avoid dimensional slippage, but perhaps to not avoid split infinitives!