Monday, March 19, 2012

Intuition and the two brains

Albert Einstein:
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
Wigner on Einstein and von Neumann:
... But Einstein's understanding was deeper even than von Neumann's. His mind was both more penetrating and more original than von Neumann's. And that is a very remarkable statement. Einstein took an extraordinary pleasure in invention. Two of his greatest inventions are the Special and General Theories of Relativity; and for all of Jansci's brilliance, he never produced anything as original.
From Schwinger's Feynman eulogy:
"An honest man, the outstanding intuitionist of our age, and a prime example of what may lie in store for anyone who dares to follow the beat of a different drum."
"We know a lot more than we can prove."

Click the button below for great interview with Iain McGilchrist, author of The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. (Podcast available via iTunes: Leonard Lopate Show; see also this transcript of another interview.)

Wikipedia: ..."if the brain is all about making connections, why is it that it's evolved with this whopping divide down the middle?"

... chicks which use the eye connected to the left hemisphere to attend to the fine detail of picking seeds from amongst grit, whilst the other eye attends to the broader threat from predators. According to the author, "The left hemisphere has its own agenda, to manipulate and use the world"; its world view is essentially that of a mechanism. The right has a broader outlook, "has no preconceptions, and simply looks out to the world for whatever might be. In other words it does not have any allegiance to any particular set of values."

... "The right hemisphere sees a great deal, but in order to refine it, and to make sense of it in certain ways---in order to be able to use what it understands of the world and to be able to manipulate the world---it needs to delegate the job of simplifying it and turning it into a usable form to another part of the brain" [the left hemisphere]. Though he sees this as an essential "double act", McGilchrist points to the problem that the left hemisphere has a "narrow, decontextualised and theoretically based model of the world which is self consistent and is therefore quite powerful" and to the problem of the left hemisphere's lack of awareness of its own shortcomings; whilst in contrast, the right hemisphere is aware that it is in a symbiotic relationship.[8] The neuroscientists Deglin and Kinsbourne, for example, conducted experiments which involved temporarily deactivating one of the brain's hemispheres. In their research they found that "when completely false propositions are put to the left hemisphere it accepts them as valid because the internal structure of the argument is valid." However, the right hemisphere knows from experience that the propositions are false.
I've followed this area a bit since learning about Roger Sperry's breakthrough experiments, done at Caltech:
Roger Sperry: ... In his Nobel-winning work, Sperry and Gazzaniga tested four out of ten patients who had undergone an operation developed in 1940 by William Van Wagenen, a neurosurgeon in Rochester, NY.[6] The surgery, designed to treat epileptics with intractable grand mal seizures, involves severing the corpus callosum, the area of the brain used to transfer signals between the right and left hemispheres. Sperry and his colleagues tested these patients with tasks that were known to be dependent on specific hemispheres of the brain and demonstrated that the two halves of the brain may each contain consciousness. In his words, each hemisphere is "indeed a conscious system in its own right, perceiving, thinking, remembering, reasoning, willing, and emoting, all at a characteristically human level, and . . . both the left and the right hemisphere may be conscious simultaneously in different, even in mutually conflicting, mental experiences that run along in parallel."
A problem we face in psychometrics is that it is much easier to measure left-brain ability than right-brain ability ...


Stephen S said...

It's astounding to me that using TMS (and related techniques) as a performance enhancer hasn't taken off yet. See, for example, It seems to me that, as a society, we should first prioritize technologies that will make us smarter, and then use those technologies to grasp everything else.

J G said...

I'm gonna read this book soon, in addition to my current reading of The Stuff of Thought by Steven Pinker. Most pop psychology/science books seem to vastly oversimplify the functions of the brain, leading to urban legends about the right brain having certain specified functions and the left brain having specific functions. But if Steven Pinker is right, the brain has "massive modularity", in other words, there's thousands of components to the human, each evolved to perform its specific tasks. I'm not sure if McGilchrist' book confirms these findings, but it the brain seems much more complicated than a lot of people realize, including scientists. Neuroscience seems somewhat unsure on how brain performs rather simple tasks, like basic arithmetic and facial recognition. It's all incredibly fascinating, though.

David Coughlin said...

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance really digs into these points.  Reading it led me to work hard on being honest with myself about when I need to grind and when I need to let my mind wander.  As a twenty year old, I spent a lot of my time thinking my mind was wandering [the hinky, intuitive walk if you will] when in fact it was grinding.  Slowly... and sloppily.  I'm better about it now, about knowing when I am wandering and when I am grinding, and knowing when I should be wandering and when I should be grinding.  That skill may be what separates me, for better or worse, from the rest of the 2.8-sigma knuckleheads.

J G said...

Wow, that talk also refers Thinking, Fast and Slow by Kahneman, Great all-around discussion

Bobdisqus said...

Off topic, but I am interested to hear your thoughts on the Cal State blackmail Steve?

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