Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Third Episode in the Charlie Rose Brain Series

I saw this hour long program last night on PBS, and found it excellent. It made the point very well that we surely evolved our brain because it facilitated action that enhanced survival and thus reproductive success, and that is only possible because the brain is able to control our muscles.

I thought that the discussion was quite useful in linking perception, analysis and action. The brain surely evolved as a whole and a focus on perception alone must miss a large part of the substance of what is going on and why.

In a program designed to communicate with the intelligent lay person, the world experts on neurophysiology and neuroanatomy had to simplify concepts and express them in common language. In general, I thought they did so well.

I was struck by the idea that the brain has to be able to model behavior and that our brains are able to model the behavior of others as well as our own. However, it seems to me that the differentiation of feedback control systems from models could have been better done.

The ability of a professional basketball player to predict the success of another player's shot before it leaves his hands seems to me to be different than the operation of the feedback system which allows that professional after thousands of hours of practice to use feedback to control his own shot to assure accuracy.

I don't know how much professional basketball players analyze films of shooting basketballs. I do know that professional golfers analyze films of their own and other golfers swings and can discuss with their swing coaches minute details of the swing which we mere mortals can not perceive at all.

It was interesting to hear the experts point out that we have so perfected our motor skills by the time we are adults that we tend only to recognize how great and finely tuned they are when due to sickness or injury they fail to work. We still can not begin to produce robots that are nearly ad dexterous as humans, despite decades of efforts to do so.

If we can't understand the excellence of our neuro-motor system, and seldom realize how much work is going on under the radar of our consciousness, perhaps we should not expect to understand our cognitive systems well and should expect lots of its functioning to be similarly under the radar of consciousness.

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