Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Cricket and the Primitive Mind

 From 'The Decisive Moment, How the Brain Makes Up Its Mind' (Page 31), Jonah Lehrer:

"...So how do professional cricketers manage to play a delivery from a fast bowler? The answer is that the brain begins collecting information about the delivery long before the ball leaves the hand. As soon as the bowler hits the crease, the batsman will automatically start to pick up on 'anticipatory clues' that help him winnow down the list of possibilities. He'll notice specific features of the hand and arm of the bowler that allow him to predict where, exactly, the ball will end up after it has been pitched.

The batsmen, of course, aren't consciously studying these signs: they can't tell you why or how they decided to play a particular ball. And yet, they are able to act based upon this information. (A similar process is at work with goalkeepers during a penalty shot. They have to predict where the ball will end up before it is even kicked, which forces them to rely on subtle, subliminal cues.)

A study of professional cricketers, for instance, demonstrated that the players could accurately predict the speed and location of the ball based solely on a one-second video of the bowler's wind-up. Each well-trained brain knew exactly what details to look for. And then, once it perceived these details, it seamlessly converted them into an accurate set of feelings, which allowed the expert batsmen to play the ball effectively.

We take these automatic talents for granted precisely because they work so well. There's no robot that can hit a baseball or throw a football or ride a bicycle. No computer program can figure out which actor should play a villain or instantly recognize a familiar face. That is why, when evolution was building our brain, it didn't bother to replace all of those emotional processes with new operations under our explicit control. If something isn't broken, then natural selection isn't going to fix it. Our mind is is made out of used parts, engineered by a blind watchmaker.

The end result is that the uniquely human parts of the mind depend on the primitive mind underneath. The process of thinking requires feeling, for our feelings are what let us understand all the information that we can't directly comprehend.

Reason without emotion is impotent."

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