CUDGELING the BRAIN
by Leigh Lundin
I just had an odd occurrence. For 24 hours, I’ve been trying to think of a sauce used in Cantonese cooking. It wasn’t soy sauce, or fish or oyster sauce, not pepper sauce, not sesame oil or rice vinegar, nor any of the sauces associated with Japanese, Thai, or Vietnamese cuisine.
Several years earlier, a colleague would say, “I can’t think of the name, but it starts with the letter P” (or J, or whatever). I realized thinking of the initial letter before the name often happened with me, too.
The woman I trying to discuss the sauce with said, “Does it start with the letter H?”
The name burst immediately to mind. “Hoisin!”
The next question was, what made her think of the letter H?
A couple of my friends might have claimed some psychic ability, that she was channeling me or Lo Shu or Queen Cleopatra. Usually, puzzling phenomena have simpler, more prosaic explanations. What I suspect is that the inability to remember the name of the sauce nagged at her too until, like others of us, the initial letter H came to mind.
The human brain is such an odd device, a biological ‘soft’ computer that has difficulty storying hard data. Digital devices easily store vast amounts of information and have the ability to perform calculations in tiny fractions of a second, not something the human brain does well. And yet, we easily handle ‘recognition’, that of faces, voices, even styles of art that computers struggle with.
Actually, the sentence about the human brain’s inferior capacity to perform rapid complex calculations isn’t quite true. Even dogs do calculus as any frisbee thrower can attest. As that frisbee is flying, a part of the pup’s brain is calculating speed, direction, and distance, programming the dog to leap at the precise second to grab it. Amazing when you think about it.
When James Warren introduced John Floyd to us (no relation to Pink), we exchanged a couple of eMails in which I mentioned I’d consulted with IBM customers in Jackson thirty years ago and I liked one guy in particular. John said if I ever came up with a name, to let him know, that he probably knew the person.A half hour later, the name popped into my mind. I wrote John back and said, “Billy Fenwick”. John not only knew him, but had gone to school with him, knows his family, and sees him often.Wow. Sometimes our biological ‘soft’ computers work out.
Everyone: Have a happy, wonderful peaceful, loving, super-adjective New Year!