Banazîr the Jedi Hobbit (banazir) wrote,
Banazîr the Jedi Hobbit

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Dictionopolitans versus Digitopolitans

I've been meaning to write an entry on propensity toward mathematical and scientific "versus" verbal thinking for some time. As those of you in neuroscience and cognitive neuropsychology know, cerebral hemispheres and handedness ("left-brain, right-brain") only give us part of the story: namely, the locus and activity level of cortical loci for various output lexicons. Of course, there's a lot more left unexplained as yet.

Some questions I've been mulling, the answers to which may be in the back on some cognitive science, educational psychology, or even classical psychology book I have yet to read:

  • What explains the rest of the propensities: development or conditioning? (This is not just a "nature vs. nurture question; I'm really leading into the next four questions.)

  • If development plays the greater role, how much does gene expression affect neural plasticity for purposes of "changing modes"? Whether it's a career change across disciplines (from one science to another or across sciences), or just "switching hats" at the end of the work day or work week, I think this is not so trivially done, and it gets harder as one gets older. Some people are clearly better than others a it, though, and I wonder why.

  • If it's conditioning, is there a curriculum that helps to "exercise" the brain for flexibility? Most of us have heard the old adage that musical thinking is good for mathematical thinking and that musical skills (performance and composition) tend to transfer to mathematics at commensurate levels. Yet I know very few musician-mathematician colleagues. There are a few, such as Chris Raphael and Ben Perry to an extent, but much more often, one discipline becomes a hobby or is set aside.

  • Either way, can we spot "ambidextrous" people for purposes of quantitative/verbal interchangeability? I don't think this is just a matter of actually being ambidextrous, though I hypothesize that that's correlated with being able to switch gears easily.
  • Does everyone have the potential for "using both halves of their brain" ad libram - just some to an unrealized extent? Talking with some friends such as David Salo about "Da Vinci types"1 and the aspirations of some modern-day scholars to be Renaissance people has made me curious.

Please note: By no means do I subscribe to the notion that "scientific" and "linguistic" thinking are disjoint, i.e., mutually exclusive.2 That goes for so-called "hard science" or "STEM" fields as well.

I'd like to think I have a modicum of ambidexterity myself: a miniscule amount, but enough to justify a few "side interests". Those of you who know me well know that this has been a bit of a hang-up of mine over the years, especially when it comes to recreational versus professional writing. In CS, the old saw is that it's a "selfish discipline" and we often cannot spare the CPU cycles to think and write and do things that are "intellectually off-topic". (Yes, those are the actual words of a senior colleague, who took up watercolor painting shortly before her recent retirement, but didn't really have the time for it even during phased retirement.)

What do you all think?

1 The title of the post comes from a discussion David and I started about a year and a half ago. Does anyone know the origin of the terms "Dictionopolitan" and "Digitopolitan"? cavlec? David told me once, but it must have gotten wedged between cortices. ;-)
2 ge2 hang2 ru2 ge2 shan1, goes the old Chinese aphorism: "The divisions between lines (of work) are as mountain ranges." I grew up hearing that one more often than I'd like to recall. I deplore the stereotypes it foments, even as I fume at its occasional accuracy and the grain of truth it represents: that we generally can't do it all, nary a one of us.


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