Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The brain and background problem-solving

How the brain works remains a fascination for me. Two of the tales that stay in my mind over the last few years are:
- the man with severe brain degeneration who simply experienced a certain loss of complex functionality - because he did exercise his brain well (mentioned here);
- Daniel Tammet, autistic savant who can memorise long strings of numbers - and perform complex calculations - by visualising them as shapes. (Discussed here.)

The one spoke to the capacity of the brain to rewire; the other possibly illustrated what can be achieved when the brain is rewired - or short-circuited - in some way.

Today's thought is somewhat more trivial, but an interesting question about how the brain works.

One good way to exercise the brain is with regular puzzles. A common one in daily newspapers is Target. Today, your goals range from 12 to 18 to 24 words in the following letters:


- but all words need to be at least four letters, include the middle letter, and you need to find the nine-letter word.

I can usually get between the middle and the top target, beyond which point the words can become arbitrary - dependent on the dictionary used.

Today I tried to work out the nine-letter word, but I just couldn't get it. I walked away, but in the next 30 seconds it just came to me.

This has happened from time to time, and so is not a coincidence. Is it something to do with the ability of the "subconscious mind" to keep processing in the background - and then feed the results to the "conscious mind"? Is it something to do with the forced foreground train of thought, which needs to be relaxed to allow the processing to better happen?

Thoughts welcome.

Answer (to the nine-letter word) tomorrow.

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