Saturday, November 28, 2009

The battle in my brain

My brain, like pretty much everyone else's, is obsessed with identifying patterns and handing them to me to make the business of understanding the world so much easier. It's very helpful, it means I have some kind of template for just about every situation. Even if it's not a great template, I only have to deal with how it's wrong, instead of constructing the whole situation from scratch. Understandably my brain is pretty proud of it's abilities, and it doesn't take kindly to me rejecting a hard won pattern.

So when it threw up a handy dandy template regarding a person I was interacting with yesterday, it got most irate when I told it to shut up. It protested, pointing out that I don't reject its warning to be wary of cattle dogs and kelpies because they often don't signal their intent to attack. Even though I know not all dogs of those breeds are like that, I approach all of them with the suspicion that the smiling and wagging may be swiftly followed by teeth marks on my person. My brain would like to know why I happily run with that template, but rejected this perfectly good template that was similarly built on experience.

The problem with my brain, at least with this information processing and interpreting bit of it, is that it's all about expedience and cost benefit analyses. And these things are measured entirely from my point of view. That cost benefit analysis is based on my brain's processing time versus what I stand to lose if the template is wrong. It doesn't even look at the long term costs to me - in terms of the effect this behaviour might have on the way other people regard me and on the general tenor of the society I live in. The costs to the other person simply don't get a look in.

So I told my brain that this particular template was not required, thank you very much, that even if it was based on some excellent pattern identification skills, no inductive reasoning can ever guarantee that the pattern will fit this person, and the cost to her of me making assumptions based on contingent and irrelevant characteristics is too high to justify letting my brain off the hook from assessing the situation on its merits alone, without a template. Nevertheless, it sulked in the corner for some time, desperately looking for an opportunity to say "I told you so."

If only it could manage meta pattern recognition and realise that whenever it throws up that kind of template, I'm going to reject it, and so the path of least resistance is to stop throwing them at me. Clearly my brain needs to do a bit more evolving.

No comments:

Post a Comment