Wednesday, August 25, 2010

In Praise of the Human Brain

The human brain is an incredible piece of machinery. Not only does it keep your body functioning, but it provides a pretty credible GPS and it lets you store phone numbers. But even more interesting is its power to make sense of the things we see.

Consider the example of the noble stick figure. Five straight lines arranged at odd angles, with a circle placed near the top. Somehow, our mind is able to take this arrangement and determine that this represents a human being, even though it doesn't look like anyone you know. We can even distinguish its gender with as little as one more line added horizontally, near the bottom, to make a dress, or added vertically to. . . never mind.

We can do the same thing with dots. I can arrange a collection of dots in such a way that you will soon see what I’m making, even though the actual image is nothing more than a series of dots.

This is truly an incredible power if you think about it. Without this ability, we could not communicate by drawing, art would be meaningless, and even television would seem like nonsense to us. Music and speech too are nothing more than a collection of tones and notes, the audio version of our stick figure.

And the power of the brain doesn’t stop there. We have the power to rearrange objects in our minds to make sense of them. Consider for example this sentence: administration the disaster total Obama is. That last sentence would be meaningless if we didn’t have this power, but because your brain is a problem solver, it can reassemble that sentence. The same holds true with chronology. Indeed, it is our ability to reassemble stories that have been mixed around time-wise, that lets us understand so many interesting films and novels.

And here’s an example you probably did not know: a recnet sutdy fnuod taht haumns are able to mkae sesne of wdors so lnog as the fisrt and last leertts of the wrod are in palce. The order of the letters in between is entirely irrelevant to our ability to understand the meanings of the word. Cool huh?

So the next time you understand anything, thank your brain.

(And if you have nothing to thank your brain for, then just use this as an open thread.)


patti said...

i thank my brain for allowing me to see right thru barry and crew. thanky zippy neurons!

AndrewPrice said...

A brain is a powerful tool Patti, and you use it wisely! :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Anybody have any thoughts on McCain? Just askin....

Joel Farnham said...

Wow, it looks like there is an upset in Alaska. Murkowski, who got her senate seat from her father, is losing to a Joe Miller. He was a virtual unknown two months ago. Sarah Palin backed him and now it looks like he is going to be the Republican Candidate this November.

This is significant for two reasons. One, Sarah Palin does still have some pull in Alaskan Politics. Two, most of the talking heads don't know how to read polls because none of them called for a squeaker let alone an outright win by Miller.

This election is a squeaker with less than two thousand votes seperating them. Although there is something like 8000 absentee votes still uncounted, she would have to win 60% of them to win.

Lisa Murkowski's father appointed Lisa as senator to replace himself after he had won the Governorship in 2004. Sarah Palin defeated him and it looks like she defeated his daughter as well.

I wonder if the Democrats in Alaska are trying to get a recount?

Joel Farnham said...

I think what happened to McCain is the reverse of what is happening to Lisa in Alaska. In Arizona, McCain's Republican opposition is not a man to vote FOR. In Alaska, Joe Miller is there to vote for instead of Murkowski.

Final results for Alaska aren't in.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I think McCain succeeded for several reasons. 1. Despite upsetting all of us, the moderates still liked him a lot. 2. He's very, very good as begging for another last chance and talking very conservatively when he does so. 3. Hayworth appears to have been a horrible candidate. In fact, everything I heard about him was a turn off. 4. It's hard for voters to toss out incumbents with that much power, especially when they know the system is rigged to help those who vote in the biggest creeps.

Sadly, this may be the same dynamic that saves Harry Reid.

Tam said...

I have thoughts on McCain. We voted for JD Hayworth, who is not an ideal candidate, as many have said, but WE KNOW MCCAIN!!! I spoke to smart, conservative, politically astute and active people who voted for him AGAIN!!! I don't get it. One other thing to note, the AZ primary turnout was really low. I was hoping to see crowds at the polling place, or at least a line, or at the very least a steady stream of people coming and going. I guess not having inspiring candidates does not inspire many to get out to the polls. So the plan of action (for me at least) is to remind McCain DAILY why he's back...talking and acting conservative for the recent past, and he better keep it up, dammit! I'm irritated.

Tam said...

on the plus side, we went to dinner with a couple of non-registered voters and I am confident that I talked them into their civic duty and privilege of voting. I also convinced them that if they need guidance and advice for who to vote for, they can come to me.

Joel Farnham said...


I don't think the same thing is happening over in Nevada. Angle is ahead this week against Reid despite how many times he tries to portray her as a nutcase.

Also Reid is too far left. McCain isn't. What annoys me about McCain, no one good goes up against him.

AndrewPrice said...

Tam, Excellent! Let's hope you've started them on the road to conservatism! :-)

I share your frustrations regard McCain, I really do. I cringe whenever I hear his "my friends" and I know he just lives to stab us in the back whenever possible.

Sadly, guys like McCain have learned how to work the system. In fact, that's what Democrats have been doing for decades now. You act one way in Washington to get your friends and contacts and money, and then a few months before the election, you pretend like you've never done those things and you act outraged at "all those Washington-insiders" who have been doing exactly what you've been doing. Then you pound the table and swear that you're going to be different.

Sadly, people simply aren't good at seeing through it. It's sickening and it shakes my faith in democracy, but I'm not sure there's a better way.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I hope you're right. Because it's a pretty powerful argument to say "I'm the guy who can get you anything you want from Washington, and the other guy (woman) is a lunatic who wants to let other states take your goodies."

As for McCain, I'm not even sure who is good to go against him. The problem in most states like that -- with a long term incumbent -- is that anyone powerful enough to take them down could just as easily run for the other Senate seat.

Of course, it could be worse. It could be like Colorado where the Republicans have decided to kill each other off.

Joel Farnham said...


I just got a fund-raising letter from Dick Morris. He helped Clinton win a second term. Now, he works for conservatives only. He is on the case of Sharon Angle against Reid.

CrispyRice said...

Getting back to your actual brainiac article... ;)

This sentence - "administration the disaster total Obama is" - would actually work in some other languages, like Russian or German. But, of course, it's perfectly understandable in any language.

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, And I would argue that it's getting more and more clear every day! ;-)

You bring up a good point, by the way, but Russian and German tend to rely on word form to tell you where things belong in the sentence. In this case, the sentence is completely nonsensical as an English sentence, except that we can make sense of it because we can reassemble the sentence in our heads.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I didn't know that Morris is working for Angle. That's a good thing. Morris is actually quite astute and he should be able to help her deliver a few devastating blows.

I hear Reid has gone super negative as well. That can work for a while, but in the end, it always blows up on you.

Writer X said...

iz thz lk txtng?

This is how I feel when texting with my tween niece and nephew. They throw a few consonants at me and I'm supposed to fill in the rest and make sense of their messages. Sort of like the Obama administration?

Andrew, regarding McCain, he had to spend $20 million to keep his job. Look for him to turn to his Maverick ways just as soon as he returns to Washington. Unfortunately, Hayworth campaigned hard but not effectively, IMO.

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, It's exactly like texting. . . or the Obama administration! And just as fulfilling.

I heard McCain spent more in this election than he spent in all of his prior elections combined.

Since I can't do anything about it, I'm going to hope he doesn't revert to his "Maverick" behavior, but I know better. Of course, he got so burned by the left that maybe he will change? Think I'll hold my breath...

Writer X said...


People got so turned off by the way McCain campaigned (at least today's local polls reflect that). Unfortunately, Hayworth wasn't any better and wasn't nearly as effective. Hayworth's numbers were higher before he announced he was running. McCain capitalized on one bozo move that Hayworth did, namely peddling government goodies in an infomercial. Instead of apologizing and saying that, hey, he needed to work to support his family (unlike McCain who is able to dip into his wife's bank accounts), Hayworth gave a lame explanation that never made much sense and it all went downhill from there.

We should start a contest for when McCain goes Maverick. I say the day after the November election.

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, I see you're an optimist! I'm betting McCain goes all Mavericky on us well before the election. He's survived the attack of the conservatives, now it's time to pander to the middle! After all, he's got a lot of friends among the Democratic party and the ranks of journalism to try to win back.

I heard Hayworth wasn't particularly effective. I'd heard he was mainly a one-issue guy, that he had a hard time explaining House votes he'd made, and I heard the thing about the government goodies.

I wonder if a better candidate might have won or if McCain is just too much in Arizona. . . like Kennedy in Mass. or Byrd in W.Va.?

Ed said...

Good stuff! Who knew Stickfigure Man was so important?

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, Yup, Stickfigure Man is right up there with Da Vinci!

Joel Farnham said...

The brain as described by The Brain from Pinky and the Brain fame.

On open thread news, it seems the good people of NY 23, (remember them?) have decided to double down on stupid. They have decided that party loyalty and not conservatism is more important.

Makes me want to slap some people upside the head!!

AndrewPrice said...

Wonderful. That sounds like a local party that desperately needs to be purged.

rlaWTX said...

I am taking psychopharmacology & adv. social psych this semester (prayers would be appreciated, I'm in year 4 of a 2-yr Masters program w/ 3 more to go...)

Anyway, reading my text about drug/brain interaction, perception, etc - it's a pretty amazing place up there!

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, I'm a big fan of the brain, and I try to pay attention to news about the brain. It is pretty incredible what they're discovering these days.

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