Friday, December 07, 2007

Cognitive hodgepodge

An idiot savant has an enormous memory for details while he has trouble to understand concepts. Typical tasks where savants are good at:
Recognizing the #amount of dots on a screen. Say that there are 103 green dots on a white screen. A normal adult makes an estimation. A savant often knows directly the correct amount.
Take the sentence:

Beware of the
the birds.

Normal people tend to overlook the double "the" in the sentence since they look at the conceptual meaning of the sentence and not at the details of the actual words. A savant sees the details in stead of the concept.

Dealing with concepts is a typical task for the left part of the brain. In scientific research where the left part of the brain of a normal adult is made numb by a magnetic field, the experimental subjects showed savant-like capacities.

In another test young chimps outperformed students in a memory task showing a photographic memory for numbers.

In yet another test adult dogs showed conceptual thinking.

If I combine these facts in a hodgepodge and mix, I can get something like the following:
If you are young and your thinking is not yet quite disturbed by concepts, you display a few savant like skills. Maybe that is the reason that children can be prodigies while some of that dissappears later. Maybe that's why I felt to be so much sharper as a child as I feel now. Maybe that is why there are grandmasters of 13 year old. Maybe that is why it is difficult to get better in chess as adult. Maybe that is why you say after a highly conceptual study "I understand the game much deeper now" while your rating continues to suck.

Fill in whatever you think is appropriate.


  1. Have a look at The Immortal Game by David Shenk. Among the interesting aspects of chess history he puts forth is a review of the sort of research you are referencing here. The first important study of memory by Alfred Binet (the man that invented the intelligence test) was a study of chess players that put to rest the theory that photographic memory is effective.

    I love the picture of the chimp!

  2. Yeah... I've been playing like a chimp on crack lately.

    Nice post.