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MetaCognition
June 3, 2008 11:30 PM   Subscribe


 
The brain isn't an immaculate file cabinet - it's more like an untidy desk covered with piles of paper.

Somedays I seriously wish I could defrag the sucker!
posted by P.o.B. at 11:39 PM on June 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


defrag the sucker!
I ain't got the time
And if my daddy thinks I'm fine
They tried to make me go to defrag
I said no, no, no
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 11:49 PM on June 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


It would be pretty fucking weird if we ever got to the point that we understood the brain perfectly. If computers ever become powerful enough to simulate brains quickly enough to actually study them in detail we probably will, but I'm not sure if Mores law will hold out that long.

(it also depends on how 'simulateable' the brain is. Does it require just simulating neurons firing, or does it require we also simulate each brain cell's internal genetic machinations, It's possible that memory is stored inside individual cells using some sort of protein building blocks, rather then in much larger networks of neurons)
posted by delmoi at 11:58 PM on June 3, 2008


Speaking of Mores law, Intel co-founder Gordon E. More also invented that traditional campfire treat popular in the United States and Canada, consisting of a roasted marshmallow and a slab of chocolate sandwiched between two pieces of graham cracker. What the hell's the name of that?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:22 AM on June 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


...a roasted marshmallow and a slab of chocolate sandwiched between two pieces of graham cracker. What the hell's the name of that?

The Singularity.

It's funny, because as I read this passage:

Perhaps the most surprising feature of the tip-of-the-tongue moment - a fleeting and infrequent experience - is that it can even be studied scientifically. Scientists say, however, that it's actually quite easy to trigger. The experiments go like this: A subject is given the definition of a rather obscure word, such as "goods that have been imported or exported illegally." Then, they are asked whether or not they can produce the word...

I started to go "Uh, oh I know that, C- C- Con- Cont- Contraband.", before I caught myself and realized that I was kinda proving the thesis of the article.
posted by Avenger at 12:28 AM on June 4, 2008


"...showing people a picture of a motorcycle can help them remember the word "biopsy." Because the idea of a motorcycle is connected in the brain to the concept of "bike," which shares a first syllable with "biopsy," the seemingly irrelevant cue becomes an effective hint."

We are all very strange. Good post. Thanks.
posted by nthdegx at 1:04 AM on June 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's funny, I've had many of those "tip of the tongue moments" and I've always had absolute faith that I would eventually come up with the word/name. So far, that has been true - it usually takes me between 1-8 hours to dredge the information up. I have often wondered how I will feel when no amount of searching turns up the requested data - and I'm sure I'll find out sooner rather than later (I'm 42).

An interesting side note - I can "feel" myself starting the search. I've always been able to tell when I've started a full on search of my brain - I can actually feel the difference in my thinking. It's almost a physical sensation - very weird, but not necessarily unpleasant.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:16 AM on June 4, 2008


TLF - does your brain look for another way round? Mine does. I most commonly experience this when attempting to name actors or films. Three people in suits experienced it together attempting to think of the name of the "other" submarine movie ("the one with Gene Hackman, not Hunt for Red October"). You know the one.
posted by nthdegx at 1:19 AM on June 4, 2008


Can't remember where I was reading about it, but last I read of this, someone was doing tests to determine how we solve this situation, and people who heard similar phonemes to the word they couldn't access came up with the intended word much faster.. It's an issue of recall, but on a semiotic level..
posted by unmake at 1:29 AM on June 4, 2008


Actually, it was probably this American Scientist article.
posted by unmake at 1:32 AM on June 4, 2008


I enjoy seeing your Neuroscience posts, homunculus.
posted by mahniart at 3:47 AM on June 4, 2008


What I want to know is, how do I keep my frontal lobes inflated and dense with those, those. . . brain cell thingies, well into old age?
posted by gorgor_balabala at 5:52 AM on June 4, 2008


Get thee to a nunnery! No, really, they've been studied.
posted by kittyprecious at 7:04 AM on June 4, 2008


What I find odd is that the article says neurologists have for decades believed the memory is "like a filing cabinet", yet everything I've ever heard about the brain- the very concept of vast networks of interconnected synapses- suggests the brain remembers and thinks more like one of those disks working their way down a Plinko board on "The Price Is Right". I.e., that you show a picture of a bike while trying to think of the word "biopsy", and the set of neurons firing along the "bi" memories will reinforce the ones trying to remember the concepts, spitting out the eventual word. It's like if enough of the different parts of memory are triggered for their individual parts, the brain itself considers that a passed threshold and bubbles it up into "consciousness". I didn't think the "filing cabinet" theory of memory was plausible to anyone- are neurologists really only recently realizing "Hey, that's kind of a shit theory..."?

Hey, is that how we can be so good at recognizing faces, or CAPTCHAs? That we're seeing many different parts of the face- some parts of the brain are remembering all the people that have the same eyes, or same shape, etc- and the person who's face triggers enough of those different parts is what we think of as the person we recognize?

Hey, is this related to that concept that stroke victims, or people with damage to the what's-that-thing-called, the corpus callosum, can see an object but not remember its name? That the pathways of the name-remembering can't reach the pathways of the object-recognition and thus reinforce each other and bubble the name to the surface with the object's visual cue?
nthdegx: TLF - does your brain look for another way round? Mine does. I most commonly experience this when attempting to name actors or films. Three people in suits experienced it together attempting to think of the name of the "other" submarine movie ("the one with Gene Hackman, not Hunt for Red October"). You know the one.
For example. :) I've always been really good at trivia, and I think it's because I'm just good at free-associating; hear one clue, and have various related pieces of information bubble up without filtering so I can blurt out the answer quickly.
posted by hincandenza at 7:16 AM on June 4, 2008


I suppose the opposite of this is the woman who remembers everything, mentioned previously by Mental Wimp.
posted by eye of newt at 8:01 AM on June 4, 2008


Reading this, I immediately thought of Citizen Kane.
posted by thejimp at 8:26 AM on June 4, 2008


I can't remember where I found this (was it from one of your posts, homunculus?); here's another article arguing for a less machine-like functioning of the brain: Ten Important Differences Between Brains and Computers.
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 9:40 AM on June 4, 2008


the brain remembers and thinks more like one of those disks working their way down a Plinko board on "The Price Is Right".

Completely wrong. The brain is like Range Game.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:51 AM on June 4, 2008


The coolest thing in the mind is that everything is coded inside everything else. It's not that it's a cluttered desk covered with papers. It's a paper with thousands of letters on it, and depending where you pass a current through it, and how much current you pass, and the previous state of the machine, different information appears.

This is why telepathy in its classical depictions doesn't work. If you could somehow access the thoughts of other people around you, you'd just be skimming whatever they're thinking at the moment. Unless you could actually activate states in their brain, in which case they'd know you were there, like someone rummaging through a file cabinet. And rummaging it would be. Even if you could access another's thoughts, each person's would be like a different, deeply symbolic language that you'd have to spend years to translate. "Wait, bicycle-father-sun... does that code for happiness tinged with feelings of loss, or nostalgia combined with hope for the future? Is he the father, or is he thinking about his own father? Does he have kids?" You think analyzing someone else's dreams is hard, hah! DAMHIK.

I always loved, when I was in college, telling people that I studied Metacognition. Because when I said "psychology," they invariantly heard "psychiatry" and asked me to analyze them. No. WRONG. Now we administer the electric shocks.
posted by Eideteker at 9:54 AM on June 4, 2008 [6 favorites]


*fronts*
posted by cortex at 10:33 AM on June 4, 2008




We are all very strange. Good post. Thanks.

What he said.
posted by languagehat at 1:49 PM on June 4, 2008


Here's another article arguing for a less machine-like functioning of the brain: Ten Important Differences Between Brains and Computers.

Actually it's still a very machine-like imagining of the brain in that article, it's just that the machine being espoused is unlike a computer. Just look at the language used:

the brain is a self-repairing circuit
the brain is a massively parallel system
the brain uses content-addressable memory
posted by tybeet at 4:07 PM on June 4, 2008


Wow. This is so interesting to me. When I was a kid I had three speech impediments. I had a frontal lisp, had a Barbara Walters "r" (forgot the clinical name) and stuttered. The first two were dealt with by learning to use the machinery of my mouth better, although I still lisp when tired. But the stutter was corrected in a much different manner. Basically I learned to find alternate words and descriptions. Mostly it works, but I still find myself at times knowing the word I want to say, but being unable to say it at all. It almost feels like that "tip of the tongue moment," it's not the same, but makes me wonder how related it is.
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 5:38 PM on June 5, 2008


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