We are smart because we are capable of fuzzy thinking — that ability to make generalizations, and ability to make associations between generalizations—to overlay the gist of one thing with the gist of another …

Brooks, David (2011-03-08). The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement (pp. 49-50). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

As Harold went about his day, the sight of his mother’s smile set off a certain pattern of synaptic firing, as did the sound of a scary truck. As he toddled around exploring his world, he built up his mind. One day when he was about five, he was running around the house and he did something amazing. He screamed, “I’m a tiger!” and he pounced playfully on Julia’s lap. This may seem like a simple thing, which all children do. After all, when we think of really difficult feats of thinking, we think about, say, calculating the square root of 5,041. (It’s 71.) Saying “I’m a tiger” seems easy.

But that’s an illusion. Any cheap calculator can calculate square roots. No simple machine is able to perform the imaginative construct involved in the sentence “I am a tiger.” No simple machine can blend two complicated constructs such as “I,” a little boy, and “a tiger,” a fierce animal, into a single coherent entity.

Yet the human brain is capable of performing this incredibly complicated task so easily, and so far below the level of awareness, we don’t even appreciate how hard it is.

Harold could do this because of that ability to make generalizations, and because of his ability to make associations between generalizations—to overlay the gist of one thing with the gist of another. If you ask a sophisticated computer to find the door in a room, it has to calculate all the angles in the room, then look for certain shapes and ratios that correspond to the shapes and ratios of past doors that have been programmed into its memory banks. Because there are so many different kinds of doors, it has trouble figuring out what “door” means. But for Harold, or any human, this is a piece of cake. We store in our heads vague patterns of what rooms are like, and we know roughly where doors are in rooms, and finding them usually takes no conscious thought at all. We are smart because we are capable of fuzzy thinking.

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