Clumsy Brain

Monday, June 23, 2008

Is the human brain an elegant, sophisticated organ? Or is it a clumsy, haphazard construction? NYU psychologist Gary Marcus’s new book about how to adapt to the brain’s flaws is Kluge.

Event: Gary Marcus will be speaking
Tuesday, June 24 at 6:30 pm
American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West and 79th Street
To purchase tickets, go here.


Gary Marcus

Comments [15]

Jeffrey Slott from East Elmhurst

To Poster #9:
The reason any animal tends to have lots of offspring is to safeguard against any one dying prematurely. An educated person will tend to have less children because the needs of the child can be better or more easily provided for. This is not a guarantee, of course.

To Poster #14: But why assume that there is a "lord" to begin with?

Evolution works basically in the short-term. The idea is to propagate one's genes to the next generation though evolution itself does not have an "idea" or "plan". It simply is the way organisms function. Natural selection is the determining factor. In a particular environment, once the offspring comes to be and then gets old enough to pass its genes down, then whatever traits are being passed down will be the ones deemed (by sentient beings like ourselves) "successful".
As a diabetic I would never have made it past my 12th birthday if it weren't for modern science and insulin. Man-made environments make a lot of people, who wouldn't survive otherwise, possible.
Don't worry, I haven't had any kids and at age 52, I'm certainly not going to start.

Jul. 03 2008 09:47 AM
Edward from Larchmont

Good show. That the brain is not like a computer isn't proof against intelligent design. Even its clumsiness isn't proof against intelligent design, if by that one means 'intended by God'. 'Who has known the mind of the Lord?'

Jun. 24 2008 01:50 PM
Paul from neuro-prosthetics

My neuro-prosthetic of choice is my PDA (in this case a Palm Treo 700p, but this is not a plug), and it's invaluable. That, of course and the Internet (Thank You, Google searches etc.).
I back up my PDA often and in more than one place - which is more than I can say for my brain.

Jun. 23 2008 01:59 PM
Ann Hall Every from Forest Hills, NY

The word for "key" in the Slovak language is kľúč

the "c" with the accent is pronounced "ch"

Jun. 23 2008 01:59 PM
janet f from new jersey

This brain behavior sounds closely related to the theory of cognitive dissonance which, among other things, suggests that one is more sensitive and open to information that tends to confirm what one has already done or what one already knows.

Jun. 23 2008 01:52 PM
Micheal from UES

technology is the brain's attempt to bypass the time space of biologic genetic evolution

Jun. 23 2008 01:50 PM
john averill

efficient modern brains lead to fewer children, counter to genetic self-preservation, the engine of evolution.

Jun. 23 2008 01:49 PM
Jenny from New York City

Another question:
what of the apparent fact that we only use a small portion of our brains?

Jun. 23 2008 01:48 PM
Jenny from New York City

thanks for addressing my question; you addressed it in terms of memory and repair, but still, in terms of learning and cognitive ability, I believe the inefficiency may still be an asset, no?

Jun. 23 2008 01:47 PM
Steve in Hell's Kitchen from Manhattan

This guy is full of it. Did they ask the 6% of skydivers why they failed to pull the rip cord? I have skydived and it not a matter of remembering if you pulled the cord: the difference between free fall and dangling is an ummissable reminder.

Evolution is random and therefore cannot fall into habits.

And Lorca did not see stockbrokers thowing themselves out windows. Please. I bet he was one quarter Cherokee, too.

Jun. 23 2008 01:45 PM

About 9 mos. ago, while I was reading the Einstein book, I was helping my gf's granddaughter read her children's book, and, just witnessing the process reminded me of Einstein's vision of God, ie, His presence is in the cosmos itself. This was a more micro aspect of that. For me, watching the brain work to figure out the concrete meanings of abstract squiggles put me in wonder at being in the presence of this very doorway to infinity.

The other day, she was reading, and I said, "You're such a good reader! I remember not long ago, when you read like this: "B--bee bu, bu, b-; U-uh...uh... bu; tee, t-, t- . . . bu-, bu-, b-u-t . . . b-u-t BUT! BUT!" She had sounded out the letters and gotten the word.

And in response, she said, "REALLY??"

She couldn't believe it. Like all of us, she had forgotten the very process--only a few months ago. Her mom and I explained we all started like that. (And we all have forgetten it.)

It enforces my theory that without a specific incident, we _seldom_ remember when we were ignorant.

Jun. 23 2008 01:42 PM
Moiz Kapadia from NJ

Hi Leonard,

Can you please ask Gary what his view on meditation is. Does a the mental exercise of mediation help to clear up some of these 'kluges' that clutter our mind?

Jun. 23 2008 01:41 PM
Jenny from New York City

There's a good argument that the brain's "inefficiency" is its strongest asset, because it allows for constant "surprise" learning and development via accidental association and more integration of formerly seeming illogical things. Also, it is more protective against damage--other areas take over when one or another is hurt.

Jun. 23 2008 01:40 PM
Tomas from Bergen County, New Jersey

Recent studies speak to th "plasticity" of the brain. How does your work fit with this line of study?

Jun. 23 2008 01:35 PM
Hugh from Crown Heights

Sounds like our brains are somewhat like Windows. Lots of patches. Fortunately, we're not as buggy.

Jun. 23 2008 01:29 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.