So as Dogen said, “Time goes from present to past.” This is not true in our logical mind, but it is in the actual experience of making past time present. There we have poetry, and there we have human life.”
– Shunryu Suzuki
A number of years ago I read a book called On Intelligence by Jeff Hakwkins, who is the inventor of the palm pilot among other things, and who turns out to be an avid amateur neuroscientist. The theory in his book which interested me most was that your neocortex (the layers of membrane that sit around your brain) are memory storage units and what you actually see when you use your eyes is a memory of what was there, or what you have seen before. Only if something drastic changes does your brain have to use some energy to look again.
This sounded like an interesting theory; how could your brain, something much slower than a modern computer chip in terms of processing electrical inputs, be able to do so many complex things so quickly? It’s powerful not to have to think every time you do something. Not having to think about the size, shape and feel of a cup reduces the amount of power required from your brain to pick it up. Once again, an elegant solution by your body and brain.
A quote from On Intelligence :
” Imagine you are about to have dinner in an unfamiliar restaurant and you want to wash your hands. Even though you have never been in this building before, your brain predicts that there will be a restroom somewhere in the restaurant with a basin suitable for hand washing. How dies know this? … You look for expected patterns that let you find the restroom quickly. This kind of behavior is a creative act; it is predicting the future by analogy to the past. We don’t normally think of this as being creative, but it very much is”
Recently I noticed a phenomenon in my own life which made this theory really come to life. I am a new parent, and one of the things that new parents do on a regular basis is to check that their precious new baby is still breathing.
This might sound simple : just look at the baby and see if his chest is moving up and down, right? Wrong. I found when I did this that at a glance I could not see any movement (worrying) but if I looked again much more closely engaging my brain more completely I could pick up the slight movements which showed that my new baby was indeed breathing. Very strange, until I thought of Jeff Hawkins’ theory. What was I really seeing when I glanced, just a memory? I think so, my brain was giving me the minimal amount of information to tell me that my baby still exsists and is sleeping on the bed but not wanting to use up more energy it skimmed over the vital information of the small movements of his chest which show me that he is breathing.
I really enjoy when theory comes into practice: when you see an idea that seems very abstract realize itself in reality. The next time you look at something, look again. There might be a whole world of detail you are missing.
Read On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins
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