24 September 2011

Lies, brain surgery, sports, chess and the infinitely complex human mind

According to the New York Times, cyclists beat their personal best times when they thought they were racing against themselves ... competing on a little map with a dot for them and a dot showing their prior best time, they outran themselves even though they were deceived! The "personal best" dot was actually 1% faster than they had ever gone before and they still beat it!

So, ignorance is blissfully better times on the race track.

According to RadioLab, an amazing ultra-runner (100 mile+ races!) is one of the best in the world after she had a portion of her temporal lobe removed. She's bad at tracking time or understand at maps now (which is crazy for someone running incredibly long races ... she still wins even after getting lost for 2 hours in one race) but now she doesn't have epileptic seizures anymore. (My older brother had a similar surgery which unfortunately was less successful though he jokes that he still has the removed section "in case he really needs to give someone a piece of his mind!"). 

We humans are darn impressive machines capable of unknown and possibly unbounded feats both restrained by our brains but only so capable because of our brains. What a paradoxically beautiful thing that what sometimes limits us also makes us infinitely complex and boundless.

Another RadioLab on chess notes that there are more potential chess moves in a 40 move game than there are atoms in the universe (checkers is a different story).
Atoms estimated in the known universe = 1×10^80 atoms (that's eighty zeros after a "1")
Number of games possible in a 'typical' chess game (40 moves, thirty choices/move) is about 10E120
And a 40 move chess game is impossibly small compared with the iterations and possibilities of our minds re: choices over a lifetime more or less the specific (yet changing) makeup of neurons. So as nearly infinite as the universe is (which itself is nearly incomprehensible) our capacity for wonder and thought are as much more complex than so many games of chess. Therefore:

Atoms in the universe < different games of chess in 40 move game < ... < human imagination and capacity.

PS - this is what happens when I drink coffee on the weekend. Next action for the day: Former Ca. Sen. (and California Superintendent candidate) Gloria Romero at a talk Megan's part of organizing for improving education in Richmond ... we got those huge muffins from Costco, so you know it's a classy event!

1 comment:

sam said...

politics and costco muffins go together better than cycling and chess