Monday, August 31, 2015

Two unsung heroes of higher-level thinking

Every year when teaching my "autism and reasoning" class, I have another chance to delve into cognitive science. And each time, I'm reminded of how much is involved even in apparently "meaningless" tasks like memorizing and reproducing complex shapes like (excuse the low fidelity) this one:


Unless you have a photographic memory, incorporating this figure--or at least as much as possible of it--into long term memory involves a rather high-level skill: coming up with some sort of organizational structure. Perhaps it's a house with a weather vane on top lying on its side with its base to the left and a dormer window on the top, marked with an X, an incomplete copy of itself on the left, and a button-like porthole to the right, and flanked by crosses along its straightest edges. It's much less fruitful to simply memorize it as a bunch of specific lines at specific angles.

This is similar to another skill often dismissed as meaningless: speed. As I noted earlier in connection with math tests:
many people assume that speed tests (especially multiple choice speed tests) measure only rote knowledge. But they’re also a great way to measure conceptual understanding. Performance speed reflects, not just rote recall, but also efficiency, and efficiency, in turn, is a function of reasoning, strategizing, and number sense.
When it comes to our computers, we place high value on speed and memory capacity; perhaps for the same reason, we increasingly dismiss these same things in humans. But they correlate, not just with those skills that are being supplanted by computers, but with higher level skills still matter for the foreseeable future.

1 comment:

C T said...

As soon as I saw it, I thought "zombie fish." I'm not cut out for architecture.