Sunday, May 01, 2005

Multitasking, the brain and societal evolution

As I’ve mentioned before, constant info-injections are the fixes that keep me sane and otherwise interested in this thing called life. Lately, the web in general and blogs in particular have predominated. Before I discovered the ‘sphere’, (and after) books and various “info-tainment” radio programs have done the trick, as I find that which television has to offer a bit lacking…to put it generously. Such radio shows run the gambit from political libertarian/right to NPR/left (no FM pop because I buy CDs of the music I like…oh, and there’s the GSU punk show and a classic Jazz show once a week).

On most Sunday evenings, I tune into NPR’s The Infinite Mind, a show hosted by and featuring prominent scientists, who discuss the nuances of the human mind. Since I have one that works some of the time, such a show peaks my interest. The topic of this week’s show was: Multitasking. Since I work from home creating and revising technical drawings for a prominent Atlanta designer of classical architecture, William T. Baker, I multitask as a matter of course. So when the host read:
“To do two things at once - is to do neither,” Roman philosopher Publilius Syrus wrote in 100 A.D., and modern science may just be proving him right. Between the cell phone and the PDA, wi-fi and lattes – in short, between getting wired and going wireless – we are supposedly doing more in less time than ever. In fact, some believe the more we have to juggle – the more we multitask – the better. But is that really true? A growing body of research suggests that our pursuit of increased productivity through multitasking actually results in diminishing capacity.
And when Professor David Meyer from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, a research psychologist, suggested that:
multitasking, far from increasing our productivity, actually makes us less productive (see the experiment). Dr. Meyer also explains why driving and talking on the cell phone is a particularly bad multitasking combination. It’s as deadly as drinking and getting behind the wheel.
Then, at the close of the show, Author, Howard Bloom pitched his intriguing new book.
Says Elizabeth Loftus, past president of the American Psychological Society: "Howard Bloom's Global Brain is filled with scientific firsts. It is the first book to make a strong, solidly backed, and theoretically original case that we do not live the lonely lives of selfish beings driven by selfish genes, but are parts of a larger whole. It is the first to propose that sociality was implicit in the start of the universe--the Big Bang. Global Brain is the first book to present strong evidence that evolutionary, biological, perceptual, and emotional mechanisms have made us parts of a social learning machine--a mass mind which includes all species of life, not just humankind. It is the first to take this idea out of the realm of mysticism and into the sphere of hard-nosed, data-derived reality. And it is one of the few books which carry off such grand visions with energy, excitement, and keen insight."
I’m certainly no scientist (by formal training), but I am the curious sort and this stuff makes me think. Especially since I consider myself to be individualistic, the following gives me pause:
Global Brain presents evidence that the shared intelligence of humankind is part of a larger planetary mind, one that combines the learning of microbes, waterfowl, predatory cats, idealists, militants, religionists, and scientists. The book predicts that the great world war of the 21st century will take place between the collective intelligence of humanity and that of a world wide web 96 trillion generations old and billions of years wise-the global Internet between microbial societies.
At the very least, it’s something to ponder. This sort of content (not my standard fare) is discussed quite a bit by my blog buddies: The Enlightened Caveman and Apesnake. Do yourself a favor and visit those sites to further your education…or at least to be entertained.