I don’t like spiders. I don’t hate them; they don’t scare the bejesus out of me. But they’re ugly things and instinctively I feel I shouldn’t like them.
So, one evening, shortly after moving to Thailand, I was enjoying a pre-prandial libation (yes, that’s a beer before supper) when I realized there was a spider on the wall next to me. A large one. A hand-sized one. One I didn’t like the look of. It was swiftly terminated. Now, if you happen to be a founding member of the Arachnid Preservation Society, please don’t write to me. I don’t care. I don’t like them. Didn’t I mention that already?
I gave it no more thought until about a week ago. I’d started cooking, and I’d plopped myself down to enjoy the first cold one of the evening, when the spider incident came to mind. Strange (but pleasing) I thought, how I haven’t seen a another one. And then, out of the corner of my eye, I realized – there was another one.
And that started me thinking, not for the first time, about how the brain works.
I’ve even read books on the subject. Several. But I still couldn’t define the use of your basal ganglia, nor your pre-frontal cortex, not to mention your amaygdala. But I have learned that different bits do different stuff … although I don’t think that would be quite enough to earn me a degree in neurobiology.
What seems to be pretty clear is that there are two major bits. You, and the computer that does all the hard stuff. I mean, as you sit and read this, the You part is reading the words aloud in your head and thinking “this guy’s a total doofus”, while the computer part is storing away the fact you read it, roughly what it’s about, and at the same time looking after the functioning of all the parts of your body. And that’s no mean feat.
What does this have to do with spiders? Well, understanding in very broad terms how the organs work, it’s pretty clear that everything the eye “sees” is passed through to the brain – the computer bit – and the brain decides what you should be made aware of. Under normal circumstances, sitting enjoying a beer, I might need to be aware of how quickly the glass is being emptied, while keeping “one eye” on the cooking. But, I sure as heck would have no interest in the wall, and so the brain has no reason to show me the wall.
But Mr. Brain, and that’s what I call my computer part because he deserves a certain amount of respect, knew the spider was there, because the eye had sent the information. But since I hadn’t looked directly at the spider, Mr. Brain needed to remind me of the potential of there being a spider on the wall, so that I would actually look in the right direction.
So, my conclusion was that it was no coincidence that I was thinking of the first spider when the second one appeared. Mr. Brain had seen it, but I hadn’t.
And I was thinking of this today when having my regular – if the sun is shining – walk on the beach. Look, it’s a tough task, but since I’m normally the only one there, it just seems polite that, for an hour or so, there should be someone to listen to the waves making that relaxing sploshing noise.
Anyhoo, despite being long and flat, the beach does have obstacles. Sometimes there are jellyfish that I wouldn’t want to step on. There are palm fronds, coconuts and other obstacles. No mermaids yet, but I keep hoping. There are also pipes crossing the beach, carrying some type of liquid that I’d rather not think about. So, Mr. Brain has decisions to make, and although they may seem trivial, they are anything but.
If I gave you a pencil, paper and a calculator, and I said “You are walking on a beach. Ten meters ahead is a pipe 20cms off the ground. It comes out of the ground five meters to your right, and goes into the sea five meters to your left. In order not to trip over the pipe, do you need to lengthen or shorten your steps? Or, is it better to veer left or right in order not to change your pace?”
I bet an hour later you still wouldn’t have the answer. But the brain does this without thinking. Or rather, the brain does this by thinking, but You are not aware of it. And it doesn’t need to steal any computing power from other functions. You don’t stop breathing. Your heart doesn’t stop while you try to figure out how to get past the pipe. Amazing.
Which just leaves me enough space before I run into those nasty ads at the bottom, to explain why I mentioned “Apps” in my title. For a few months I’ve been working on a new one. App that it is, not title. It doesn’t matter what it does, or will do. But at the very beginning I decided this was a business app, and probably was better as a desktop app rather than tablet or phone. So, I was building it to run on PCs, Macs, or even Linux boxes.
I wasn’t far into the development when I started to realize it wasn’t fun. Sure, it was functional. The app was doing what I wanted, but the whole thing seemed damned boring. It looked like something from the dinosaur-age of computing. I was rapidly reaching the point where I didn’t want to work on it any more, even though it was going to sell in the millions and make me a gozillionaire! If you hadn’t noticed, occasionally I tend to exaggerate… just a little.
And in then, in a flash, maybe even half a flash, Mr. Brain intervened. “Stop working on this crap” he said, somewhat impolitely. “Here’s what you need to do…”
For several minutes I sat there as the whole new app played out in my my mind. I was looking at an iPad. The graphics were stunning. I was swiping and tapping and double tapping and moving objects around as though I was looking at a virtual reality screen. And there it was. The whole new user interface, as designed by Mr. Brain, without me so much as asking. Simply stunning what these brain things can do if you let them.
So now, I’ll sit back while he does all the graphics and the coding. Ahhh. Right. That’s where I come in useful. I’ll need a few months, but at least now I’m creating something that’s worth creating. I have all the logic and the database schemas, so not much effort has been wasted, and now it will be fun to create.
But let’s keep the spiders out of the picture. I don’t like spiders!