« Making Sense with Sam Harris

#168 — Mind, Space, & Motion

2019-09-11 | 🔗

In this episode of the Making Sense podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Barbara Tversky about how our senses of space and motion underlie our capacity for thought. They discuss the evolution of mind prior to language, the importance of imitation and gesture, the sensory and motor homunculi, the information communicated by motion, the role of “mirror neurons,” sense of direction, natural and unnatural categories, cognitive trade-offs, and other topics.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Welcome to making sense podcast. This is SAM Harris, okay, very brief housekeeping. Here, I'm sure many of you who are supporting the podcast are still listening on the public feed and you Not even know there is a private feed which will increasingly carry content. I will not be available on the public one. I don't want you to miss anything. So if you are a subscriber through my website, it's SAM Harris, DOT, Org It just takes a minute or two to subscribe to the private feed. And you can do that most easily by going to my website on your mobile device and logging in and then going to the subscriber content page, which is on the my account menu and there, if you are using one of these supported, podcasting apps you'll find a button or two that will with one click, allow you to
scribe. If you're, using some other app, you might have to put in the r s s feed manually and that again just takes a minute to do, If you have any trouble, you can email support at SAM Harris, DOT or GE and subscribing to that feed will ensure that you don't miss anything in the coming weeks and months and I'll say more about what's coming later on. Okay, too, damn speaking with Barbara First Key Barbara's, an emeritus professor of psychology at Stanford University and professor of psychology at the teacher's college, at Columbia, university she's, also, the president of the Association for Psychological,
lance and she has published more than two hundred scholarly articles about memory, spatial thinking, design, creativity and she regularly speaks about him. Bani cognition at conferences, and she was married to one of the most famous and influential psychologists ever a most first Kay who partnered with Danny Kahneman in all those studies of judgment under uncertainty, and he would have certainly won the Nobel prize, along with Danny, had he lived anyway, barber- and I talk about her new book- mind in motion. How action shapes thought and we talk about. Many topics in this vein. Talk about the evolution, of mind prior to language in the way in which our sense of space and motion have governed our capacity for thinking. We talked about the importance of imitation and gesture the sensory and motor homunculi in the brain. The information
this communicated by motion the role all of mirror neurons, the sense of direction natural and unnatural categories, and the way in which are categorical thinking is derivative of our sense of space. We talk about Congress of Trade, offs and other topics and now without further delay. I bring you Barbara Tversky. I am here with Barbara First Key Barbara thanks for coming on the podcast, my pleasure? Thank you. So you have written a fascinating book at and I think our conversational be largely focused. Buy your book and the book is mind in motion. How action shapes thought, but before we jump into the the book itself, can you summarize what your intellectual history looks like? What have you focused on- and
Who have you been well, I won't go back to childhood. Let me start with graduate school in psychology. There's a long story before then, but when I entered cognitive psychology and it was an exciting time. Everything was open, brilliant people were around me. The language was king, And in many ways is still is, and that came from many sources. It came from propositional thinking and philosophy. It came. From Chomsky and language and both of those. Areas were very much on everybody's mind, exciting us, it came from Mmhm our own intuitions that somehow, when were thinking worst talking to ourselves and even that, so that seemed wrong
to me. There's so much thinking that isn't that and how does those thoughts come? I, how does the words come they just pop in our mouse and there it came from psychology. Where People were showing that the length of a verbal description predict did your memory for the visual world? So all that struck me is incomplete. We have a huge memory for faces. Most of we could remember faces that we haven't seen in years. We can't begin to describe them same with scenes and if you think, violet genet Oakley and brain wise space is in one way or another, and it's multi modal occupies half the cortex.
It was around evolutionarily long before language k, so is struck me that it first of all must have its own logic, that's different from language and that, if anything, space sort of the foundation for language and thinking not vice versa, so is it it's is that confirmed more or less what I was doing at first, it was intuitive later I realized it was pretty systematic and that helped me a car for future research, but it it in many ways. Spatial thinking was marginalized because of the Germany of Language So people thought it was maybe like music or like smell some specialized interest, but not central what seems to have changed is that and now everybody's jumping into space was the noble prize in two thousand and twelve to oak.
The emotions for place cells and grid cells which seemed to capture our special thinking and then very recent research has shown that those same that play cells and they have hippocampus Don't just gather information from all over the cortex to place, but they also code events and and they and people again gathering multi. Total information from the cortex and those are mapped. In a two dimensional array on the grid cells, so the grid cells in rats map space,
but in human beings they seem to map conceptual relations, temporal relations, social relations, so that helps me argue that spatial thinking is the foundation of thought, not the whole edifice but the foundation. But that's taken a long time. Okay! Well, this is this is fascinating. At first glance, I think we can easily argue about the primacy of space and movement through space, because just just in evolutionary terms, if you can't move, if you can't sense the environment around you and respond with any action in that space, there's no basis to evolve intelligence or anything, intelligence. Only matters because you can do something with it. That affects your survival, a sense of space and the world and a capacity to move with
and it had to have come online very early and, as we know long before, language does. The point you made about describing faces is fairly revelatory about the with regard to the the impotence of of language compared to do a memory for, for in this case, the visual object of a phase which we know is represented, uniquely in the brain, when you imagine trying to describe a person's face so that others could recognize it on the base of your linguistic describe, and apart from you know, describing someone who has a a huge scar or you know, is missing, and I or something and it's just it's completely completely hopeless task. And yet, as you say, we instantly recognize faces out of among the thousands or tens of thousands we, we might recognize instantly. So
it's going to kind of just feeding you more areas where we might go here. The other thing that occurs to me is that our sense of space is really the foundation of our ontology, our sense of what is real or what exists when you think of the existence of something you're. Really thinking of a of you know by default things in space, and then there are, there are abstract ideas or abstract quantities the people who don't for in philosophers have wanted to argue for millennia. Now it had to have some existence, but because it's not obvious where they exist. That has always been someone an inscrutable. So when we think of the things like numbers, writing does, does the number seven eggs list in what sense is the number seven and invention, and what sense is it a prior? reality well, the impediment there too are thinking about. This seems to be The question of where are the numbers? You know without people?
with the numbers be and in the process I would I would. I would add that that our sense of what is real and what what can be real is also anchored to this. This prior sense of space, Thank you. You, you gone over a lot of what I tried to do in the book and number is fascinating, because animals, many animals, many species every day, there's something new or another new animal that can count or not really count but estimate quite accurately. So an animals without speech without any implicated language like ours, can solve all kinds of fascinating problems that are very difficult to self. Babies can do that and all of that scene, is to be without language. Our other ways of thinking that aren't Lang,
but a number seems to be I'd very much as you suggested, to space you have number words and not every language has number words tend to line, numbers on the line, the spacing between numbers of fix how we collect terms in algebra. If you look at the notations some of that we now we use, and there were many notation systems that preceded it- that weren't as successful the notation system depends on space. The more just right hand, column are the ones and to the left of that are the 10s and to the left of that or the hundreds and so forth, and that spatial way of a rain numbers becomes essential to you are thinking and we do it without even realizing One of the reasons why the roman numerals screwed everybody up. There are many things you can't do
do well with roman numerals. If they use space in a complicated way right that that didn't work right exactly so running spaces underlying how we a race things in the mind and how we send a raise them in the world. Our natural state of awareness of ourselves in the world presents the body as a kind of object in the world. For us, you know most people for build their their interior to the body in some ways, the subject and that their body is out there, among the other bodies, you know and and vulnerable to the the impositions of the environment. How do you think about our sense of embodiment? So is that I've got five different tracks running in my mind, I'll see if I can keep them and organize them first, I avoided that term because it's-
you so differently by different think cars and because it's become buzz word and I always worry about buzz words, therefore celebrated and then vilified as any fan, and so I worried about that- and I thought if I brought it up in a in a book- men for the general public- I'd have to go through all that philosophy and what did and they called me what did David course mean what did Larry But- and I didn't want to do that, but I do think stone. Many phenomena worth a body is involved in thinking, Sir only a mirror, neuron system that we we internalize facial expressions, but we see we internalize actions that we see in our own motor system and often that gets expressed in wiggling in moving the body in one way. We also imitate and
that is a way of thinking and it's a Way of remembering an and it's a way of understanding. So that's one, only live embodiment, another that I've looked at another people of looked at his gesture. And there were really externalizing internal thoughts by setting up some sort of spatial motor special motor represent of what it before it is worth thinking about. So if you ask some one for directions: they'll almost inevitably you who's their arms and their head to indicate how you should move and often those gestures say more than the words do, the words are more brutal. People can't necessarily express that information. Well in words, they forget, turns, and or so you want to watch the the gestures and usually
we do even implicitly with someone pick them up without conscious awareness that ooking at them or when we're making them that we makes him. So those gestures conserve your thinking. They can also serve my own. So, if you sit on your hands and try to describe to somebody else: you're probably gonna have trouble doing it, and We brought that phenomenon into the laboratory we had, and I wish could so you the videos, 'cause, there are quite fascinating. We people we put people alone in a room, complicated descriptions of space, locating eight or nine landmarks in an array and either you're walking through it- and this is on a ride and that's how you
left it now turn right, and now you see that sort of route, description or a n Se W West description. So people had to read these their hard. We were going to test them, and while they're doing it, seventy percent of our subjects of participants are staring at the screen and their hands screen essentially sketching a map. So that's a map fraction road is lines, loans for person and points they stamp on the table for places people do it quite different, though the lines and dots are pretty similar. We've done the same for explanations of mechanical systems like our car brake works and again people are reading they're enacting it with their body, often and huge gestures. Sometimes smaller people again, do it differently
and when we tell people to sit on their hands while they're reading they perform worse on the test. So it it's not it's. Seventy percent is not everybody, but a good portion of people spontaneous seriously: gesture they're not looking at their hands so somehow that representation in that encoding is special motor, it isn't visual and again. If they do it, they're better blind children, gesture yeah, that's fascinating and again, that's not our war search, but again it's and they can't know that they're, just Teachers are communicating something to you or their unlikely to it. For you sold so it it seems to be helping their own thinking, and that feels like a mystery to me that those actions of the body that are actually straight
helping you comprehend and remember and when you watch these people gesturing you get. Feeling. First of all, you see them thinking of that's exciting, but you get the feeling that the gestures are translating the words into thought. Yeah, no, I I I can feel that internally, sometimes when I speak, that gesturing is helping me complete a thought and that if I were prevented from gesturing it would be a kind of impediment right. Not really right so, but were Two. Well, I'm very happy. When I use the mall, I will- and I rather like SAM, but if we look. Our language is again expressing actions on thought. We raise our ideas, we put them forth with,
everything were powered. These are always we talk about objects so in of ideas as objects and acting on them. Lakoff and Johnson went through many of these metaphors and tell me and other people before him. It will be for them, but the almost is another way of talking about thought except his actions on objects, the role of action and the and the ways in which we represent it and in the body that can can perform it. So much of this is counterintuitive and and unconscious, and some of it's in principle unconscious some of it. I think we could become conscious ever or we could become conscious of some of the some of the
related facts. Mr I'm thinking of things like the the sensory and Motor Monkey Lee in the brain and just that the strange proportions with which various parts of the body are represented and and tied to action, and so, for instance, we have a much most people have seen this from a a psychology test book is something you talk about in your book as well, but you know we have much larger area of neural real estate devoted to representing that the hands on the lips. Then the you know the feet you know or the the shoulders and so that that the fact that those areas are so much better mapped is is tied to the fact we we we we do much more with it. With that with our hands and lips and then other parts of our body, and we and we we derive much more information. We can. We can act on the world which, with much more precision
and yet it's not you're. Looking internally, you don't you, you can't necessarily sense that your your sense of your body is, is warped in that way, and and and and people are surprised, you know when you can perform this experiment on yourself and see just how different your your two point. Discrimination is, you know if someone puts the earth to pencil tips on the palm of your hand, you can differentiate that that it's too, with those the points very close to one another, but if you, if they do that on your back, you know you hear this. It feels like one point, even when there's something like you know, and I forget and insure half an inch between pencil points. So it's it's not necessarily intuitive and available for direct inspection, and so too, with things like
I mean you mentioned, mirror neurons and and means these air, these air neurons in the brain that that were discovered by Reza Ladies Group and actually want one of my advisors. At U C L A did, work, Markley acrimony on this topic and a much has been made of mirror neurons and perhaps too much has been made of them, but they're the regions of the brain. And now, more than one which respond to the actions of uh and, and certainly a case can be made that we understand the actions of others, both their intentions and gold, by mapping them back on. Our own bodies. You know essentially moving in our imaginations as we as we see other people move, and I think I think this is something you say your book a few week. We can notice this in the difference between the way experts will watch
Certain kinds of of behavior means, if you're an expert in yoga or ballet or some sport, your brain will show a different response to the movements of another expert performing those disciplines Dan. I naive brain well because you know what it's like to move in that way and- and I I think many of us can appreciate this and internally from watching sports, where it's different, watching a sporty you've spent a lot of time playing yourself because if you really you have you know it from the inside and and and it's it's just amazing to see the best people in the world perform that sport, because you can sort of emulate what they're doing in your imagination, but then they they exceed what you, what you've ever done. So I I guess I you know that I just lose you with a lot of of your own information, but You know I want to hear whatever you have to say about what's available to consciousness here for us in how we rep sent the body and the bodies of others and our actions and the actions of others. So I'll start back
well no I'll go back to the beginning. You you've summarize a lot of things that I wanted to say it. Things that I've learned since then and frustrate me, because I wear want to add them so going back to the to the Hi Monica this ma'am, which is saturated, as you say, and we did find that recognize sing. Other parts of other bodies is often more tide to their normal size than it is to their actual size. So in the both were studies done long ago. If you look at children's, drawings all over the world. They tend to be these tadpole drawings that are heads, big heads and arms. Picking out and legs sticking out and the rest, those and feet and hands off and lots of fingers, and these again seemed to be how children think of the body
Even though what they're seem is very different, so I think so that is coming out nicely, the child is drawing what they think they think of their body is the really big moving parts and functional parts and and not so much the actual sizes, and I get frustrated when parents want drawings to be the or teachers to be more realistic, mean there's some thing to learn from drawing realistic things. But I also appreciate the expressiveness of drawing what you, sync and certainly modern artist, full of that and charming and frightening, and when those kinds of abstractions that that our always fascinating, so that's bodies. One
research projects that I admire, and this is what I did to the mirror system- is work of magnesia for our and her colleagues and she brought so. There was east point light demonstrations who take somebody in a lab dressed all in black, put lights at their joints and ask them to jump play ping pong dance, do all sorts of different things. When observers see those lighter raise statically, they make no sense are you hardly even know it's a body? when they move as they naturally move. You can see it's a man, it's a woman. You can see if somebody's happy you can see if somebody's heavy, you can pick all the up from these lights and there are fewer than ten of them scattered at the joints. You, you pick up all that information and you pick it up quickly again implicitly,
and it helps small women like me, walking dark streets at night to pick up somebody else's movement quickly. So I know if I'm in in danger in some way or not so those those skills we need quite quickly. What is your former colleagues did was bring in Paris of people friends and have them do these of different videos and bring them back three months later and watch those videos, and we're watching videos of themselves of their friend and of a stranger who was part of another couple and their task was to identify what the people were doing playing ping pong or dancing and that they did pretty well, but they were also asked. Who is it.
And naturally, not surprisingly, they were better at identifying their friends, then perfect strangers, but they were best at identifying themselves. That's actually kind of counter intuitive, because you use and less time actually seen your own, certainly you're gross body movements, I mean you, don't actually see your leg movements very much or your body moving through space. So that's that's kind of surprising. I agree it's surprising and it is so so. What's the theory and There isn't a better theory than than me or that you watch that movement, you implicitly I put on to your own body and the way her body moves, and it feels right yeah, it's like trying and a piece of clothing and it fit
In here it's trying on a pattern of motion and it fits it feels like me so that that is, I think, counter intuitive. As you say, and and quite surprising, in real lights, certainly to the work that was done later on recognizing motor activation when you're watching something that your expert in the classic expert was comparing coppery a dancers with ballet dancers and for both observers, both kinds of observers watching either kind of dance. Did arouse the motor cortex, but the dance you've new aroused more and that gets into your observations about a Fredericks, and here it again it's it's split. Second,
inferencing that we're doing nonverbal. There is there's no way in a fast moving basketball game that you can figure out what you team is doing what the other team is doing. What they're going to do who's faking may right who do? How do I fake levels of complexity that are required for those sports are extraordinary and again split. Second, of course they depend on expertise and practice and so forth. But none of that is it's much too fast for words. It just couldn't happen otherwise, so that the athletics? So one more thing on the and from things this is war cover of a talented group in Genoa in ITALY, and I worked with him a little bit, but they did the major part of the world. They can show videos of an arm reaching for about
it'll and they truncate. The video, before your hand, even touches the bottle, but you can tell from watching those truncated videos whether the person about to grasp the bottle is going to drink from it is going to pour was going to give it to you, and you know that before the hand gets there, so those intentions of other- broadly seen normal people are reading very quickly. It turns out in this again I learned later that children on the spectrum have a harder time with it yeah without down an, and they also have a harder time making. The movements as you know, mirror neurons have been implicated in in autism, exact spectrum deficits yeah exactly
and they exactly that way and to think that it's a motor action deficit that underlies this very deep and disorder that seems to have huge implications for people's lives is fascinating. Right and it's a motor and again coming back to motor? It turns out that for people who are aging- and I belong in that category, moving is in moving in space is more essential to preserving cognitive function than doing crossword puzzles. That emotion again is is not just important for our immediate survival, but for our cognitive facilities and certainly for emotional and and social and
It's about every aspect of our lives Gal one bring back to to sports for a second, because you reference to study that I hadn't heard of later to this gesture study you you just described with with videos of reaching behavior. There was a video study of basketball players. Shooting free throws where they would. They would stop the video you know before the the ball reaches the basket, and you know in various distances from the basket, and it showed that basketball players were better than coaches and fans and sports journalists at predicting which free throws would make it into the basket. So you have come in expert audience, but,
still there. The basketball players themselves were better at making these predictions based on the the visual cues. Well, it is probably being mapped in one way or another on their own body and they've had enough practice. People talk about basketball, player, Missus beings, free, throw machines. The lady consents whether it's gonna make it or not. I mean it that study. I don't think it's been done, but it would be nice to do what about sense of direction. I'm always I have a I, I think, we're all we're all we've open enrolled in a vast psychological experiment where we systematically degrade our sense erection and also our sense of map reading, because we're now totally dependent on GPS, but some people, you know famously have great sense of direction and some people have terrible ones. I can attest that my wife Annika has a sense of direction. That's so bad! It's truly perverse I mean is: is that
So it was fascinating to me about her sense of direction. Is that it's reliably wrong? It's not just randomly wrong. It's just. It actually contains information. She she wants to go more often than not in the wrong direction. That is just the diametrically opposite, the direction we're supposed to be going in, and it's almost like she, she knows what the right direction is and then has to has to flip it somehow to go there and go in the wrong direction. Do you? I don't remember if you touch sense of direction in the book, but indirectly it right and again there is a long answer there, an it's complicated, you can remember roots as as procedures you go down. This turn right turn left. You can have a more global map of the
environment urine. But you still have to place yourself in it. So you have this overview perspective, and then you have this immediate surroundings perspective or you're, placing yourself in it and that's it thanks. That's hard in the harder for some people than for also risk Rusedski at at Penn has some beautiful work on on the myriad components that it takes to navigate space and understand space, so there are levels of understanding space and I have a suspicion that what your wife is doing is something that one of my kids and I sometimes do- and that's if you enter a put it if you a street or enter store by turning left when without you, turn left again so then you're in the opposite direction, as opposed to reversing the door
action and turning right. So it's a kind of heuristic that that is ninety percent or one hundred and eighty off, and that might be what because problem. I have no idea. My father was hopeless. He kept getting us Lausten, and so it turns out that the that ability to keep track of yourself in space, is independent of other spatial special abilities and that's fascinating to the special abilities are a complex of things and peep we've tried to make sense of them an inter relate them, as some of it three dimensional, some of it dimensional is some of it. Imagining yourself moving am
Turning on the object, moving sensible ways of trying to make sense of the abilities, but they don't seem to make sense of the abilities and never cation seems to be independent of these of their special abilities. I wanna also M mean going back to since some of the threads that your your question raised the overview when the view and perspective taking, because that's score in many ways core to our lives, taking other their perspectives and taking other perspectives on the ground when I'm facing you- and I have to explain something to you and do I take your perspective or mine when I'm in printing, your behavior, am I taking your perspective or mine.
And then going above and getting a map of a territory, so we can think of those overview maps not just of a spatial array of places, but also of ideas. We said the grid cells map, conceptual relation or social relations and or political relations and people can map their social networks right. These are networks points for people or ideas, and the lines between them are the relations between the people or between the ideas and that's again like space. We navigate from place to place along pairs yeah, I'm actually glad you raised that point about ideas, because that that's fascinating is that you you in your book, you discuss how categories can be presented to us as natural or again kind of perverse. Actually, there's a there's, a path
if you're, that I think I'll read off of this is reminded me why I loved Borges the South american writer. So what we're talking about the categories and others? The passage from Borges that you you are a proffer, is an example of of how not to not to do this. The following is a taxonomy of the animal kingdom. It has been attributed to an ancient Chinese, Encyclopedia entitled Celeste emporium of benevolent knowledge. On those remote pages, it is written that animals are divided into a those that belong to the emperor, be embalmed ones, see those that are trained d, suckling, pigs, E Mermaids, F, fabulous ones, G, stray dogs, h, those that are included in this classification. I those the tremble as if they
we're mad J. Innumerable ones k those that are drawn with a very fine camel's hair brush, and No one here that those that resemble flies from a distance, and so what's funny about that, is that it plays upon our our intuition, which is you know, we sort of grok this, naturally that it would be completely useless to organize things that way and because well one that that list of different types of animals is infinite. I mean you, could you could expand it indefinitely and we sort of get that into and- and your point is- that we have a natural way of categorizing things and you breaking into the the basic level. The super ordinate level in the subordinate level, and so the the the basic level would be a day.
Log? The super ordinate level would be an animal. You know all dogs are animals and the subordinate level level would be a Cocker spaniel say so, a specific type of dog and you make the point that we all learn the basic level. First. Anyone who has kids, you know knows this- that dogs are discriminated long before the The general class of animals or the specific class of Cocker spaniels draw the connection there too spatial thinking and and the rest of what you've been talking about. Okay, let let me first say I swiped, the quote from Eleanor ajc- did the basic work on basic level categories, a beautiful research project and shifting the narrative. The way we talked about categories from artificial ones, like large red, squares and small green triangles.
Of course that are meaningful in the world, and so her research is beautiful and it was the basic support and, and some order is her work? The contribution we made was showing that the basic level seems to be privileged, partly because the parts are organized in a way and that the parts connect people's perception function. So we can look at a banana appeal is for is for taking we eat, we eat the inside or we chair. We that see that it has a uh mes in the back and we we connect those with a function, and this happens in particular at the basic level. So that was our contribution, but the major contribution is: is hers and her research group what we need to categorize
think of a baby and a baby is, is having a hard time or takes a lot of thing before the baby can distinguish objects from the background. The world the baby is just a bunch of pixels that keep changing and doesn't yet have meaning so figuring out, which things are objects, are figures and what's background is is a huge feat of the mind and or of the brain and the brain event Julie ends up with places that are that do so computations that let you see that this is a fruit or a vegetable or a piece of furniture. This is scene. This is the body and there are places in the brain more than one usually dedicated to doing the computations that are required to recognize those objects. So that's a huge
amount of work for the brain, and babies are doing it very quickly and very early in the first months of life, so they'll recognize when a spoon is coming at them or about who's coming out there and so cry when they were taken to their bedroom 'cause, they don't want it, be taken it so picking up the scenes around them and so forth categories again, think of me walking dark streets at night? I need to quickly recognize friends and Forward Watts moving. What is it and so forth in order to plan, my own behavior, if I had to re compute that every time I wouldn't be able to act to remove so those forming is that was basic categories and of action of objects of people is crucial to our existence. It can get us into trouble when we miss
categories, because we can't help but doing it- and you know the classic example- is mistaking a toy gun from a real gun and being defensive in a way that is tragic, but the so categories have fixed the advantages and disadvantages. Like almost anything, I think it's hard for people and hard for scientists to think about trade offs they're, always looking for maximizing the one best thing and it's it's everything has advantages and disadvantages. Every cognitive addict, it's easier for us to think in categories which are a of features than to think of continue. Rich gradations and and not very good at at thinking of the intricacies
of continue on an almost anything any dimension going from probability. This is something that filter black and his group keep emphasizing that people. Think of things in. Terms of likely unlikely or on shore and don't think of the whole range, and it is hard for us to deal with a whole range. It's much easier, cognitively to just say these are good people. These are bad people near near that that's the yeah. I was thinking that when you you talk about how the rigidity of these categories are at work on the binary nature of it. Some of the most consequential limitations of this thinking in this space of of the social domain to me to think of good people, it versus bad people, are racist versus non racists or wires verses. Truth tellers, it's so
so inflexible to the complexities of of what we're actually confronted with in terms of the continuum of human behavior and character. About these nine laws of cognition, and I thought we could just run through them Did you really just show you for you hit upon the first law already the first law of cognition is: there are no benefits without costs. So maybe perhaps you we can just I'll just run through them in and you can give us whatever color you want want to give us they're. So on this first one one trade offer that comes to mind for me is the the trade off between type one and type two. Errors right, if you're, if you're, going to have any scenery or or active cognition or human institution. That is going to be better and better tuned to find certain things in the world. Certain problems
turn the dial right or left. You are going to. Let you have this trade off between false positive and false negative. I don't know if there any exceptions to this rule, but this seems to be generally the case You turn your detector up in a too high I'll get a lot of false positives. You turn it to low. You will get fewer, but then you'll fail to detect things you want to detect. What else do you think of in terms of there being no benefits without yeah. I know that would certainly be one of them and they are you. You try. Evaluate the costs of making those two types of errors and people sometimes implicitly do but or even explicitly, when they're, making marketing decisions or business decisions or choices in life? What would I regret if I did this and we don't always think through all those consequences, and I think that's a real
problem everywhere of how to think, through the Temple consequences of of any action that we might take because it gets more and more uncertain as we as we go up their into time, there's also with spatial continuum that we often don't think about, and here is kind of perspective taking,
We want to know a landscape, it's again going back to this idea of a map. How could we fill in that map? And how can we take other perspectives? So perhaps even thinking of that it's one of the spatial aspects of a decision and one of the temporal ones the consequences and what special would be. The other possibilities is that small reminder could be a corrective when we're planning and if we have the time to plan so that that could be a corrective yeah, the trade offs over everywhere. It's it's in evolution, we're not maximizing were well and we're. Not. We don't want to completely fit in ish, because then the change and we have to adapt to another to another. So that's creating variability right and then
Lucien. Does that in learning that learning is another I think another one of those trade offs and in some ways it trades off with creativity, So there are cases where I want to learn and a be association that whenever I'm speaking French, whenever I think of chair I shares and that getting that association tide will will, let me speak French, more fluently and it'll help me learn historical facts and sign. Tific facts and we all as schoolchildren spent a lot of time of memorizing those associations from ADA be so we could.
No history and no science and perform well on the test, but when we were trying to be creative, is exactly those highly learned, associations that we have to break so in in some ways being creative is a bit the antithesis of Laura. Things so again we have a trade off and somehow They want to be able to do both and we can develop tricks or heuristics for learning and keeping that learning intact and and cyst they could reliable and we can also learn tricks for expanding our when we need to be innovative, innovative and creative, and maybe taking this spatial view in the temporal field is, our are ways of doing that. Yeah, there's! There's
other trade off on the other side of learning, which is that you know we we come into this world not knowing a whole hell of a lot. I mean there are other species that know much more than we do this, so we don't. We don't have much that's hard coded and that's because it seems that we've of of all of this truly broad capacity to learn so that we can, we can flexibly de up to our niche in our in our social situation. So we come into this world just unable to walk where as you know, a gazelle is born essentially born running. The fact that we have this level of flexibility in certain circumstances makes us vulnerable and that, as you point out, creativity is breaking the the pattern on the other side of learning, so, okay, so the second law of cognition action, molds reception. What do we mean by that again? I'm summarizing loss of research and hey
science, oriented friend, said to me yesterday. What do you mean by law? And I said you're thinking of chemistry and physics right and of course she was these cognitive laws aren't laws in that way and they aren't lost in the sense of of law of the legal. That something terrible will happen to you or you'll, be fined or put in jail. If you break them their men the ways of capture in generalities that that not always true but very much true of capturing them, so and sat by law and action. Molds perception again's shown over and over again that Our learning our perceptual learning depends on
acting in the world, so classic experiment was done in the two centuries ago now by Stratton porting prismatic glasses on people that up turn the world upside down or shifted it by sixty degrees. So it's very disorienting at first, but the only way you adapt us by moving in the world and by reaching for things and moving your body in the world and then you adapt within a certain amount of time days days a week. You no longer are perceiving the world upside down with those glasses, but you're perceived. It is normal, so your perception has adapted to the action, but without the action your perception wouldn't have adapted actually knew a graduate student. Who did that experiment an
I think he wore the the classes for a month, if I'm not mistaken, and that was a that seem pretty painful yes right right. No, it is. It is so amazing how how and when the brain adapts it past. Carly only did experiments, um Stuart, that Harvard that were volunteers and they volunteer, probably for some sum of money to wear blindfolds and essentially turn them into blind people and what happened to them? Quite please in a matter of days and weeks was what happens to blind people and that's the acceptable low, which is usually use for vision, was taken over by touch yeah. It is fascinating that kind of plasticity that some of the same come
stations that are done for the visual world are done for the tactile world and that our sense of touch can partially replace our sense of vision. Are you familiar with the work of David Eagleman who's, trying to utilize the same property, the brain, but without without limiting vision, he's just creating devices like a like a vest? Well, where that takes in visual information, or he may have it an acoustic one as well, but he's definitely done it with vision where it uses, touch receptors or touch affect ER's in the vest to kind of map. Visual data, in addition to what people are seeing with their eyes as a way of kind of growing, ah new sense or in an augmented sense the the environment based on haptics. Yes, no is fascinating and a lot of work is done to help blind people in your.
So you see apparently using the Tom you sing. A camera mapping. Space on to the town is is one of the more effective ways threads of vests in the back is unused realestate, but, as you pointed out, the back isn't the discrimination on the back is in for a quote. So, yes, people are being very creative and and trying to ma'am different sensory systems on each other to either enhance or reply. One red nose: exciting the exciting uses of technology. A lot of trial and error, and it's also a way of experiencing our computing syndrome, the ones okay, the third law of cognition feeling comes first. So this again is work of that is most associated with Bob's annoyance, and he should
old people, nonsense figures, sort of ten grams blobby things made out of our pointed things made out of that were just black filled in And he had people, remember them and also react. How much did they like them and he found that the liking really came first, that people the more you saw the same figure, and these are not particularly beautiful figures The more you saw a particular figure, the more you liked it and you're liking came before you recognized it So you you knew you liked it before. You knew that that you'd seen it before so. Our emotional reactions could come very quickly. You could think of all kinds of evolutionary reasons why that might come quickly and the cognition
the awareness of having seen it before and the recognition explicit recognition that you've seen it before it comes later. No, he didn't try an implicit recognition task now that might have shown that our implicit recognition comes and just as fast as the emotion showing that separation was interesting and later work has shown that some of the emotional pathways are different from the pathways that establish more stable visual representations. So it in many ways. Behavioral research comes before it's not just the feelings come before recognition. Behavioral research is establishing the phenomena that later brain research can back up, but It's the phenomenon was demonstrated behaviorally.
So that's gonna apply in spades to faces an bring us back to the first law of when arouse fear might arouse beauty and Andi. Kind of emotional response, so those things are going to tie together the fourth law of cognition, The mind can override perception again this this other peoples work and now- and I think one other the nice. His experiments is an old one by poor and powder, and they showed out of focus photograph. Of things in the world. They were unusual angles of things in the world, and one group was shown the photographs in more or less and folk in focus and ask to say what they were and the other group was shown them first out of focus gradually brought in
the focus and people were asked to guess all alone and the guessing interfered with the scene so that by the time the object was in full focus. They couldn't see It was right. There sorry recognize it based on that informed, a a theory and advances. I guess this is. Would you like that to confirmation bias and in some way or it sure could be linked to a confirmation bias? It could be linked to the way we interpret other people's behaviors, I mean they rose in hands famous maybe infamous, study done in a in a psychiatric hospital where people thanks an episode
themselves admitted to the hospital and later tried to get themselves out. That was crazy, work yeah! I was amazed right and the psychiatrist apparently interpreted call their normal behavior as manifestations of whatever diagnosis they'd been given in the first place, so it it it. It leads is an example of confirmation, bias that were looking for support of evidence and even sometimes makes sense if I'm not mistaken, where it's you just forgot, that work even existed, but that was hilarious and and also depressing the punch line of those studies. But I think I remember that they, they warned the hospital that they would be doing this, or perhaps it was a second study done after prayer there were. There were complaints about the results of the first study that you know they would they. Essentially, ambushed these hospitals that I believe they actually warn them in advance, and it's still worked moment. My memory could be somewhat.
Here, but you know my memory's not good of that either in it's been years since I read it, but I think in order to ensure that these graduate students would eventually be released cause. This is Sometimes somebody in the hospital knew that it was happening right. I don't think the diagnose, seeing psychiatrists news at right hi. I do Do you think the study was done where the diagnosing psychiatrist said It could never happen to us. These would never work in our hospital and the and the researchers said: okay, just get ready and then and and- and they still were, unable to detect some of the people who were sham. Champagne, Asians, but I'll have to look back and see yeah, I'm not sure I mean I wouldn't be surprised again. Confirmation bias is something it's one of those things that has benefits and costs when were true, thing to understand somebody's behavior and half hypothesis. We need to look for a little bit of confirmation
confirm what worth looking at now that can get overuse 'cause. We could be wrong and we have to be open to that. But figuring out. If somebody is about to attack us or or not, we need to look for. More than one piece of evidence that our hypothesis it's true and then, if we're super rational, will Jack did when we find inconsistent information, but people don't always do that. We tend to dismiss. And that's been shown over and over again and social psychology that we tend to dismiss disconfirm information explain it away and to keep the information that that it's a or hypothesis
fifth law cognition mirrors perception. This again is many people have gone through that. I think one of the nicest examples is work said My husband and Nana Kalaman did years ago, and I think it's it's. What initially got them excited together? I must have been working on certain worse and decision making than had been working on certain phenomenon perception that they both saw that your current state was distorting everything that you current state in perception, your level of adaptation was influencing how you responded to other stimuli in in a perceptual world, and your current state in an economic world was again the way you were looking at at gains and losses. So the fact that this same phenomenon a uh,
your current state exaggerates those changes that are immediately around it and your current state can change. That was true in perception. It was true in cognition that is the one. I think nice example. Another is the the sort of hypothesis, the downsides of hypothesizing in the potter experiment, that coming up with a high offices, distorts your perception and and makes you blind. Two two certaines information in the perceptual walls and windows that that happens in the social world and the political will in the scientific world were lows to give up our own theories end to see things as fitting into them. So those same cognitive, abstract hypotheses, can be explained
show up in perceptual in in our own work, on understanding how people understand space. So it turns out that people think that cities within a state or closer to each other than cities, but right right, so we group them in that way and that same phenomenon happens with social groups. So we think that the Democrats are more alike to each other than and Republicans are more like to each other than a particular Democrat nip. The Republican and it's again. A matter of categorisation and with uh category distinctions are our ign
Lord in between category distinctions are in large is something that happens in perception is something that happens in every form of cognitions social, political, theoretical, scientific. It's there all over mine near the sixth floor. Spatial thinking is the foundation of Abstract thought. We might have touched on this a bit already. Yeah. I think we did just both that brain foundation. The language that we're using were were talking about ideas as if they were objects in space, where our minds go from idea to idea the way we move from place to put
so that I think that's again. Another phenomenon that seems to show up in many in many forms the seventh law of cognition the mind fills in missing information. Our picture of the world again in perception is always incomplete and, for example, objects include other objects, and we feel that in we connect the dots, we see I'm looking now with a cup behind a clean, Xbox, the ah whole cup isn't there, but I can imagine if there it's Scott Macleod, someone whose work I of understanding comics and it's a book. I recommend to anybody who wants to understand the way we make stories out of the world and visual as well as verbal
stories how they work together and and complementary supplementary, and he talks about. When you show images and comics, you might show somebody sitting behind a desk. You know they have legs, typically, so you're going to fill that in It heard Clark my colleague at Stanford has shown over and over again in language that were constantly making inferences and filling in our information is incomplete and again, if we didn't do that, would be flummoxed by the world. If we didn't constantly feel in information, that's not there the eighth floor, one thought overflows the mind. The mind puts it in the world, so the eighty eight right- and this, I think, is if not distinctly human. It's the
there seems to be a break, were missing. Those links between the great apes and and the US were gradually filling the man with with skulls and bones, but we can't and for cognitive, over a static or social behavior from those things and it's a mystery, it will probably always be a mystery. Maybe not every in a bit love to be around when itself, but we put thought in the world and we've done it since antiquity. You can find tally bones from seventy thousand years ago, Ortalis on rocks or Une bones. So there's seems to be a need to put are in the world. We do it in words, as I'm doing now. We do it in gestures. We do it in stuff that we put on the faces of cave walls or une stones, and I think, what's interesting. Looking back at those things, they've always fascinated me
the antiquities I for those and in any museum- and I'm drag my kids to and he's all over the world instead of resorts, it is what did it? What ideas are people putting into the world, and one of them is space maps go way back in many forms time goes way back. Often time is indicated by events and times so cave walls will have hunt's on them and Petra Cliffs would have hunt some them so space and time calendars. Don't go that far back, but go go back. So it's another. It's a more abstract way of representing time. People objects, bows and arrows animals, so the things that are important to us and have dedicated real estate in the brain
oh those other things that represent and then rudimentary number not number the way we think of it. One thousand two hundred and thirty four, but tallies and teles again seemed to be found. All over the world in many places, and it's usually a one to one correspondence which all cultures seem seem to have, even if they can't count. Right through it. If they don't have normal words can have ten right and tallies we use. Today you go to a restaurant to get a reservation to see. If the there was a two People the person that made Maitre day will look at a map of tables and see which Ones are unmarked, that's a kind of tally and give you that table so were were using that,
we of thinking, one to one tallies and representing it in the world. So those are ancient representations and we certainly do a great deal of that today with diagrams and maps and charts sketches and and visual narratives and all of those have communicate ideas, often more directly, then then, the okay, the ninth and final law of cognition. We organize. We were my stuff in the world. The way we organize stuff in the mind right and an that, I think we just look around the world and so much of the world now is designed and it's, if you We started out with categories in the mind, so we have vegetables and fruit and within that
apples and bananas and carrots, and we have musical instruments and- and we have closing and furniture and so forth. Oh, the world, we do the same thing in the world. Those categories are on our mind that we have furniture stores and grocery stores and within grocery stores. Foods are categorized in some categories. We have want one correspondences in our minds- and we put the modern table setting this and we put them out in building so free apartment has windows and a balcony and doors and so forth, one to one correspondences. What's an apartment, we have orders suite order, our our two
driven by the order in which they were born, we order our students Spivey when they finished, we we perform orders or r or what we like. We order so order. Sleeping kids are doing that. What's your favorite color, your favorites, so we're ordering things all the time in the orders in our minds, we put them in who's on top. Who is the best we put that under bookshelves? We order them. So all of these ways of seems that's another another biggie, that's comparable in many ways, two categories that all the things we need to prepare a meal, they're gonna, be in the kitchen. The things we need to keep clean or going to be in the bathroom
and so forth. So we've organized different kinds of things by the way we use them and again that goes out into the world movie theaters verses versus dance holes versus schools. There are things that are organized around the things that are done all the things that we need to get those things done: train stations, so it we've we've. No, our cave dwelling. Nomadic ancestors didn't have that they had minimal organizations, so the world that our children are experiencing, that we're experiencing has so much information in it, and so many abstractions, like one to one correspondence, is and repetitions and symmetries and categories there's so much out there
world. This is telling us it giving us so much abstract information because we put our mind into the world, so I go one step further than that. It didn't get into a loan: we've not only design the world with diagram. So if you look at St Systems, they tell us where buses can go where bikes can go. Where people can go when to go and when to stop how to turn. If you control is so, if you look at it, it's all out there telling us how we can move guiding our movement, but also enabling our movement It's constraining our movement, enabling our movement and so forth that we've we've essentially diagrammed the world. Well, if you could, desktop Barbara? You would know that the ninth Lof Cognition breaks down catastrophically in certain cases. What we know messy desks, lead to more idea
one has yet to be born out in my case, but this I'm still hoping okay. So, finally, do you have advice for parents here is is: is there anything that is actionable? I make it. I I think like me, that much of what we care about spatial thinking is is trainable in some sense, and Is there it's just at one point I was actually surprised and and gratified to see that your your a big fan of comics and you think that it's a convey information in a way that is distinct enough from books that the fact that they are considered a a lower art form is not especially productive. When it comes time to to get children to appreciate storytelling and temporal and spatial relationships, you seem like a big fan of comics. So what else should parents know about this? So even the for the only thing,
we all wait for babies to talk and get all excited and then, when they were talking, everything sounds like Bob. It could be done. I am not put. The bottom could be bus, but it isn't a deep dive into their mind, but you couldn't really see what they're thinking by watching them by looking at their eyes of their heads. What's attracting their attention, there is more that you couldn't see. So I think, there's a lot we can learn about. How would a look Att, babies and how to understand their minds before they talk sure we can also enhance their cognition and spatial thinking. I'm glad you brought that up is one of them. It turns out said: spatial thinking is important for stem and now for stem education, science, technology, engineering and math, and our world is becoming more technological understanding. Those things is more and more important. Schools typically don't teach them. They t
reading- writing arithmetic, but they don't teach understanding the world this represented on the page or on the screen and that can be fun, giving kids maps and asking them to plow through route, as I used to do when it. When I was taking my kids places, I said one of you can sit in the front with a map and give me road instructions, but you can't fall asleep and of course they always did so they doing fun. Things like that, having kids construct them. Having kids is it make diagrams? There is a more more movement, in fact in our have kids represent in
information in one way or another, not just draw houses and flowers and and cars and horses and the sorts of things kids are prone to drawing so in. I think that's useful for finding other ways to express ideas that can be abstractions and can communicate, and express and reach people in many different ways. So I'm I'm all for that language helps here. There was some studies done by colleagues at the University of Chicago, but other places showing that if you call attention two spatial relations to small children, this is two hundred and thirty four you couldn't do. It call attention to parallel spatial peril
two sizes too movement. All of that calling attention in language helps advance. The kids understanding helps them attend. Is possible that it will help them to understand mathematical relations and other abstractions, so yeah and going to comics. You know, I'm not a universal fan of comments. Yeah, there's some very dark comics. I actually I I walked into a comic book store and, ah my youngest daughter was getting into Batman and some of the associated characters, and I naively just grabbed a bunch of comics in that section, you know related to those characters and brought them home, and they were they were so appropriate for a child of you know really any age that will down in the annals of bad parenting. That fact that I just handed these comics over Where was my older daughter, who discovered that I had invited her younger sister into
the darkest dungeon of the adult imagination for delivery. No right now with our, if you don't like any fiction or non fiction, there's good stuff and bad stuff and stuff that will capture some kids and not others. If France was movie who's the cover after door of the new, Walker and used to be an underground. Comics editor has developed a set of readers that comics. For children from one on up there, excellent they're called tune books and the content is appropriate. She brings in fine comic comics artist and storyteller to do the the drawings and the drawings art illustrations? The story is really told in the visuals of the combination of the visuals and the words, and so those are safe. I think and
I'm sent them to my own granddaughters grandson and they love them. Sometimes there are little subversive mischievous, but but on the whole, though, they were safe there more and more good graphic novels for girls boys. That again, the content is perfectly appropriate, as I think what it does it, what
some of them do and why I'm a bit of a fan? Is they draw attention to the visual world? They help kids learn to scrutinize the visuals and understand them understand how poor posture expresses the motion and expresses section then how facial expressions to that? How people are interacting? How close are they, how far those sorts of visual spatial interactions that are happening amongst people there are maps and diagrams and in many comics DORA has maps, and that is so is helping kids understand those abstractions and see them as a normal pie?
word of life, so that's one reason: I'm I'm in favor of comics for kids. It doesn't there words there too, so the kids have to read and it turns out school teachers love them, because they know that kids, it gets kids into route and I've seen that too I mean I hate to the anecdotes, the floral vanik. Does it our data, but there are, and when you get to older people and kids and adults, it turns out that often especially in explaining abstract ideas, the diagrams and charts and maps are more effective than descriptions. Often so it can tunes kids into integrating the visual world the obstructions in the visual world, the special instructions with the language of so think about ordinary conversation. We can
Don't see each other now, but if we caught again the gestures would matter the facial expressions would matter all of that matters and in real life interactions in meetings who gets looked at is the next speaker and people are aware of that and often aware of who they look at it as an indication. So those subtle forms of social interaction that again are happening and that word can be expressed in comics and kids can pick them up
when someone someone's looking a way not seen and someone else is singing so the quad graphic books capitalize on the walls of their there was so many clever ways that they convey information through metaphors through boxes inside boxes. It is just the arm for an old forum is, can the not everything, but it can be extraordinary. Well, bar I'm I'm now I'm aware of your time and sides. As one final question you you mentioned your late husband am us at one point- and you know what, while I I really just wanted to talk to you about you, you your work in this interview, it seems we missed not to. I ask you, ah at least one question about him just because he had such an outside influence on psychology
and I never had the pleasure of meeting him and I'm I'm fully aware now of the fact that I was at Stanford time where I might have met the two of you much earlier in life, so that was that certain certainly missed opportunity. But what was it about him? That was so remarkable because just he's one of the scientists who, in the stories that have been circulated about him, he achieved a kind of mythical status and you get the sense that more or less everyone who came into his orbit professionally felt that they were then functioning very much in his shadow, and you know I you know, I even get the sense frankly that Danny felt that way and
Danny. As many people know, Danny Kahneman, who later went on to win the Nobel Prize for work that he did jointly with famous, and so you know AMOS had he lived. Would it would have certainly one that same prize? What was so unusual about him? I was so much the brilliance, brilliant, the clarity of mind, the vision, the fun made, everything fun- I mean just terrific fun. The energy was there and the was there, but the clarity of mind and the vision not just on psychology and philosophy, but on politics had been active in politics in Israel and before he came to the states, is it basically, as a teenager, an you know the friends and is would wait for him to come back from the states to give them the clarity on the the political scenes of social see
graduate students. I remember walking I mean he was in many years ahead of me but walking home one night very late? He was twenty seven, so almost done with his degree, which was late because three years in the army, and he you know one of those dark nice when, in the years when you could still see star and we're walking home and he described his vision for his career. He said there were two fields, their similarity there's judgment It's going to work on both of them any other vision for how he was, is going to work on both those fields and that's what he did and he was right on picking the fields. He was right on how they would developed on their their centrality for thinking and forwards the implications in full.
A city in politics in in policy and whatever in economics in the will, right on the phone thinking of that and that that was there when he was twenty seven, so it in the area had to fall on my with then it was, I mean I was already they are, but that served us owed money for men with the decision to go back to Israel. The decision to leave this world his political acumen and protection. He does. He just had a quick conversation to and vision almost prophetic. So we arrived in Israel, I'm someone who's, never left. You know states. I don't know word of Hebrew, I'm in the mid
graduate school I run over in Israel and five months later was the six day war and I must have been a paratrooper and, and then the officer in he said on May twenty second wind also close the straits of Taiwan they're going to come and get me and sure enough, a ten o'clock at night. They came and got it and the the city of Jerusalem was in a panic. They remembered the siege, and so he came home once or twice before the war started and he said not to worry it's all air power and he was right so over and over again he would say something like that. That was prophetic, so yeah and in addition there was the fun it just was fun yes well in some counter factual world. I
got to hang out with him, but in this one nine at least I met you and that that was really a great pleasure to to make sure that you came to the event that Dan and I did in New York and try to meet you in a in them my side to a joy. I point rather often in these interviews, that the conversation almost never exhausts. What is interesting in the book at that's doubly true in in the present case. We really there's not as much more in your book about the psychology of space and action and and the linkage to more or less everything that makes us human cognitively thank if your time barber, thank you, it was a pleasure if you find this podcast valuable. There are many ways you can. Or you can review it on Itunes or Stitcher, or what happened to listen to it. You can share it on social me
with your friends. You can blog about it or discuss it on your own podcast or you can support it directly and you can do this by subscribing through my website and SAM Harris DOT Org and there you'll find subscriber only content. Like my ask me anything up as a as well as the bonus questions from any of these interviews,
Transcript generated on 2019-09-15.