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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Dead Beat Poses Some Riddles

Hof has two riddles for us. Well you know Dead Beat, he has a sense of humour. He likes riddles. So Hofs, sock it to us.

"Two Riddles

We begin with a couple of simple queries about familiar phenomena: “Why do babies not remember events that happen to them?” and “Why does each new year seem to pass faster than the one before?”

I wouldn’t swear that I have the final answer to either one of these queries, but I do have a hunch, and I will here speculate on the basis of that hunch. And thus: the answer to both is basically the same, I would argue, and it has to do with the relentless, lifelong process of chunking — taking “small” concepts and putting them together into bigger and bigger ones, thus recursively building up a giant repertoire of concepts in the mind.

How, then, might chunking provide the clue to these riddles? Well, babies’ concepts are simply too small. They have no way of framing entire events whatsoever in terms of their novice concepts. It is as if babies were looking at life through a randomly drifting keyhole, and at each moment could make out only the most local aspects of scenes before them. It would be hopeless to try to figure out how a whole room is organized, for instance, given just a keyhole view, even a randomly drifting keyhole view.

Or, to trot out another analogy, life is like a chess game, and babies are like beginners looking at a complex scene on a board, not having the faintest idea how to organize it into higher-level structures. As has been well known for decades, experienced chess players chunk the setup of pieces on the board nearly instantaneously into small dynamic groupings defined by their strategic meanings, and thanks to this automatic, intuitive chunking, they can make good moves nearly instantaneously and also can remember complex chess situations for very long times. Much the same holds for bridge players, who effortlessly remember every bid and every play in a game, and months later can still recite entire games at the drop of a hat.

All of this is due to chunking, and I speculate that babies are to life as novice players are to the games they are learning."

Now folks, I think we will leave the next riddle until another time since that has you rolling in the aisles. Seriously, stay with Dead Beat. Think about what Hof is revealing to us.

Complex chess moves, complex writing techniques. Chess masters, word masters. We have a 'giant repertoire of concepts in our minds' which we can utilize in the pulling together of the vast array of formal techniques available to us. Automatic intuitive chunking. We do it all the time. Let us learn to do it even better.

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