picture it. computer center. 1997. A typical sunday after the x-files amber baum and erin hunter are deep in thought about neurobiology.
amber: Hey erin, what do you think about this motor symphony idea?
erin: i don't know. it makes sense to me in most cases. i mean, almost all of our actions are fluid, and that fits in with the whole symphony idea. but i have a hard time understanding the typing example from class where you type without fully processing each letter individually, maybe becuase i just can't type that well.
amber: but you play tennis, right?
erin: yeah. your point being?...
amber: Well, I play softball (or I did) and like with any sport, I had to > practice...so did you for tennis. So in pg's words we can call that the learning of a motor symphony. I can now pitch beautifully---you can serve like a rocket---but we had to learn these things, our symphonies weren't perfect on first playing. This actually relates to my CompSci class, where we're studying neural nets, which are computer programs that are capable of learning. They model the brain (pretty crudely, but it's clever) with "neurodes" (for neurons) that have some basic (to a biologist) abilities. It's their connections that matter, not the neurodes themselves. I actually think that pg got the typing example from one of our readings.
erin: ok, i see your point about learning motor symphonies. i know nothing of these computer neural nets, though i do see how they would correspond to neurons and the nervous system. personally, i think it would be kind of weird to have a computer that was able to act independently and uniquely like our nervous system. what would really draw the line then between human capabilities and computer capabilities. i guess the I-function is unique to humans, but i don't even really know that i can say that because i don't understand it well enough to say that it couldn't somehow be inputed into a computer. at any rate, i find it scary that a computer might be able to function as similarly to humans as to replicate its nervous system.
the other thing that the whole idea of learning, using the sports example, is how one person is somehow innately able to develop a motor symphony that is better than another person's (ie. how someone is talented at a sport). what is there is one person that allows them to pitch better than another or to hit a better forehand than another person. yeah, practicing will help, but some people can pick up sports like nothing and play them better than people who have been practicing for years.
amber: hmm...I guess I would attribute "natural skills" like sports ability etc. to luck of the draw, or genetics, whatever you want to call it :) Some networks (my other class again) are faster at learning a specific thing than others. It's all in the way that they are intitially set up, and that is made random by the computer. I guess biologically, you would say that peoples' varying genetics and environments create abilities and deficiencies in certain areas.
As for the I-function...I don't know about that. It seems like a cop-out, kind of--like a way to deal with those who bring up the soul. These are pretty scary ideas, things like "the brain is behavior", and they threaten a lot of people...the i-function is kind of a shield from the ramifications of the ideas. Because if you really, really do believe that the brain is behavior, then you think that computers will be able to have an I-function someday. But don't worry darling, let me tell you this: from what I see in my class, that day is _very_ far off! :)
So, hm, motor symphonies...they can be written on the fly or learned, and learning them makes them more refined...
erin: excuse me amber darling, but i don't think that you want to say that learning makes them more refined, but i think what you mean to say is that practicing learned motor symphonies makes them more refined.
amber: d'oh! you're right. I misspoke. Distracted by thoughts of scully and mulder. :) anyway, what was I saying when I slipped up....I was going to say that some motor symphonies are even innate, as we discussed in class this week.
erin: how do they start?
amber: maybe they don't start--maybe they're part of a continuous process > of input-output loops involving various parts of the nervous system and the rest of the world.
erin and amber: oooooo. aaaaaahhh.
amber: wow, I *can* absorb something at 8.30 am.
erin: me too. well, most of the time anyway. you know what i was just wondering...well, when i don't play tennis for a few months, and then get the urge again and go out and hit some, i am able to play better than normal. but if i play again within the same week, the fact that i haven't played in a while really shows. whuz that 'bout?
amber: weird...I notice the same with pitching. if I'm needed in a game or something I can do well without practice, but I can't just pick up my glove and throw strikes against a wall with no warning.
erin: you know what it might be? maybe that initial time, you forget to think about what you're actually doing and just do what comes naturally (which is what you learned by practicing in the past). the second time, you have kind of fallen back into analyzing the whole game and what you're doing wrong instead of simply playing the game. thinking about what you need to do interferes with the motor symphony. what do you think?
amber: I can totally see that. The boxes are getting in each other's way and not letting each other do their jobs. It also goes with the "in the groove" feeling you get too...when you're thinking and playing poorly and then all of a sudden it all just clicks and you're coasting...you know? It's when you stop thinking about what you're doing and let the motor symphony do its thang.
erin: you think that that would work for neurobio? that would be pretty cool. just sit down for the test, put a pen in my hand, and then blank out. the next thing i would know, the entire test would be done, making perfect arguments, of course, and i wouldn't remember how i did it. yeah. cool.
amber: at first I was thinking you were joking, but you know, I think you > have something there....I bet most teachers would say that the spazz studets in their classes are the ones who make small math mistakes, leave out points they know, etc...the relaxed students generally do better. That's why mom always told ya to get a good night's rest before the exam :)
erin: that's it. i'm never thinking again.

Nope. I knew about typing before we did the readings in the other class. Nyah, nyah. Wonderful dialogue, though. What's to say? Yes, indeed, thinking can sometimes get in the way (which provides VERY strong evidence, by the way, that the "I-function is NOT a cop out; the observational/experimental evidence REQUIRES such a concept). And yes, there's a lot to learn about brain function from thinking about athletics. PG