The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Multi-Tasking and my Brain

Do you multi-task? I used to think I do but I have learned a better name for it is "time slicing". I was reading an interesting blog post when this came to me. The blog piece was called The Conductor Guru (click on it, it's worth viewing). The blog itself is interesting, fascinating really, but the piece got me thinking (as most things do) and I started writing this post. Drafting it, actually, because my posts are composed on my computer. A concept or idea is formed and then I try to flesh it out, make it grow.

Many of these ideas, like many of my plants, die. And, like a plant, I have no real idea what it will look like when it is done/grown. But I digress... as usual. My purpose was to frame the idea for you. And the idea is multi-tasking and what it really is: time slicing.

Time slicing is assigning segments of time to a task. Multiple tasks with each task getting a "slice" of the total time. For example, a computer without multiple processors splits up the time between the various applications that it is running. We just call it multi-tasking.

But humans do it at different levels. We read and listen to music and our senses act like autonomous adjunct systems. Part of us but detached, in a sense. We think the mind truly multi-tasks but I have come to believe that it, too, time slices. There is a broad time slicing that is obvious; read some words, paying attention to them, considering them, and the music we hear is there but it recedes into the background. Still there but not requiring attention. We are aware of it but our attention is drawn to the words we are reading.

At some point, the mind shifts back to the music as the priority. Some specific group of notes, a part of a verse, triggers that shift. Once in the forefront of our mind, this triggers emotions and, perhaps, memories that are associated with the music. After a varying span of time, you return your attention to whatever you are reading and those thoughts, those emotions. Times shifting has occurred on a large scale. But it also occurred on a smaller scale all during the major shifts. You are still reading, and you are still listening, seemingly simultaneously.

You are also breathing, dealing with saliva in your mouth, perhaps drinking a beverage, perhaps munching on some food or treat, hearing sounds other than the music (voices of other people in the house or room, birds outside the window, cars going by, the refrigerator cycling, and so on) and all of these things are registering in your mind.

When I was working for the phone company, my job was to maintain a large computerized long distance switching system. It was not one computer, it was a system of many different computers linked together. I was going to add "to perform one overall function" but that's not true, it was to perform the many functions required to connect and maintain a phone call. At the heart of this system was something called the Central Controller (the "CC" as we called it). The "brain" behind the system.

Now, to return to where all this came from... The CC in that system was like the conductor of a symphony. The various pieces of equipment, the autonomous processors which performed a multitude of functions involved in setting up and maintaining a call, were all constantly monitored and directed (when needed) by that CC. The CC is to the switching system as the conductor is to the orchestra.

And all of the thoughts expressed above, all of the ideas, were triggered by the various inputs around me as I wrote (as I write) this piece. The lecture by Itay Talgram (composer and conductor), the snippets of performances and rehearsals of orchestras under other conductors, the music Faye was playing while she tapped away on her computer (conquering the world, playing solitaire, or doing a puzzle online), the taste and smell of the coffee I was drinking, the coolness of the air around me, noting the titles of other posted articles on that website, and much more, all contributed to what I was (am) writing.

All at once, seemingly, but each one thing getting a microscopic bit of my brain's time. And that is how my brain functions constantly.

12 comments:

uought2b.a.dog said...

Which phone company did you work for? I was with AT&T for 22 1/2 years myself.

Douglas said...

Let's see... Southern Bell - 1 year, Pacific Telephone - 8 years, AT&T - 25 years. Started as a SxS switchman.

Argentum Vulgaris said...

Multi tasking for me is drinking coffee while blogging...

AV

yolanda said...

ha, i was actually thinking earlier on how i am totally incapable of multi-tasking. i am far too easily distracted. i'd be happy if i learnt to single-task!

yolanda

andreaskluth.org said...

You might be interested in Linda Stone's theory about "continuous partial attention", which is apparently the "new" multi-tasking. Here or here.

Douglas said...

Andreas - Thanks for the link. Interesting. I think she is talking more about adapting to, and coping with, the process than about the internal realization that we do it at all times. We have always done it. The simple act of driving a car, for example, takes numerous autonomous functions (sight, hearing, and dexterity) which do not require our constant conscious attention. And, during this, we engage in conversation with passengers (and on cellphones), absorb the scenery, navigate a route (both immediate and distant). During all this, the brain evaluates all input and prioritizes them to fit neatly into the greater processes and functions. The point of my post was to trigger that realization in the reader. Even if you are already aware of it, it does not hurt to recall that awareness from time to time and revel in its miracle like quality.

Her use of breathing to "reset" the body and mind is nothing new but is, I can testify, very effective.

Douglas said...

AV - Ah, you are a man with simple tastes and enviable coffee.

Yolanda - Do not sell yourself short... even in jest.

The Jules said...

Breathing and standing up - that's multi-tasking right?

Douglas said...

Jules - Yes but they are mixed; involuntary (breathing) and voluntary (standing upright). Standing requires constant adjustment for balance and it is done while you are doing many other things. Breathing (as you mentioned), sensing the temperature of the room, looking around, thinking abstract thoughts, listening, perhaps even talking/interacting with someone else.

Yes, I know you were jesting.

Douglas said...

AV - Ah, you are a man with simple tastes and enviable coffee.

Yolanda - Do not sell yourself short... even in jest.

andreaskluth.org said...

You might be interested in Linda Stone's theory about "continuous partial attention", which is apparently the "new" multi-tasking. Here or here.

yolanda said...

ha, i was actually thinking earlier on how i am totally incapable of multi-tasking. i am far too easily distracted. i'd be happy if i learnt to single-task!

yolanda