Notes from Waking Up #168: Mind, space and motion with Barbara Tversky
This was one of my favourite podcasts in the series, but I haven’t processed these notes at all, so they are very rough. Apologies!
You may prefer to listen to the podcast itself, which can be found here: https://wakingup.libsyn.com/168-mind-space-motion or here: https://samharris.org/podcasts/168-mind-space-motion/
Thesis: Spatial cognition is more fundamental to cognition than language is.
Evolutionary basis: It is argued [I also heard it from Kurzgesagt] that spatial awareness was the first step towards intelligence. It is required for any directed interaction with the environment and navigation within it. Perhaps it was the first form of consciousness.
Gesture is an important part of communication, and of reasoning. According to studies: Giving directions works much better with gestures. Understanding navigation is easier if you move your fingers while imagining it.
When playing team sports, friendly plays cannot be communicated in words but they can through body language.
We can recognise faces after decades but we cannot describe them through language. (Although some of us can draw them.)
When children draw pictures of people they make the hands feet and heads large. This may be related to the larger size of the nervous system in those parts of the body. [Although I wonder if it might also be related to the utility of those parts of the body. But that likely correlates with nerve count anyway.]
When we watch others move, we map the movements onto our own nervous system. We imagine moving like them. “Mirror neurons” (Less for people on the autism spectrum.)
Study: Present a video with 10 static dots. The dots are actually attached to a person. At first they look random, but when the dots start to move, the viewer can recognise many things: it’s a man, he is lifting something heavy, it’s a woman, she is reaching for something high up.
People can even recognise when it is themselves, just from 10 moving dots! It’s likely they are mapping the motion onto their own nervous system and then recognising how well it fits!
Truncated videos of people reaching for a bottle. Viewers can predict what the person intends to do with the bottle before they have even touched it! (E.g. drink it or pass it.)
The 9 laws of cognition:
1–8 did not surprise me.
9. We organise the world the way we organise our minds. [See also: Conway’s Law.]
Cartoons can be good for kids. Like diagrams and maps, they can convey information we cannot effectively communicate through words.
We can understand the thoughts and desires of babies not from their speech, but by watching how they move.
A friend shared this article which suggests that a spider’s web can be considered part of the spider’s cognitive process, an extension of its brain: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24532680-900-spiders-think-with-their-webs-challenging-our-ideas-of-intelligence/