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Thread: Multi-tasking

  1. #1 Multi-tasking 
    Forum Radioactive Isotope zinjanthropos's Avatar
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    Plenty of articles out there suggesting the ability to multi-task is a myth and that multi-tasking is impossible for humans. So with that in mind I'd like to know that if it is something we strive for, then why haven't we evolved the trait? I suppose we could be heading in that evolutionary direction.

    If multi-tasking is something humans successfully evolve then will it require more intelligence or greater physical attributes (larger brain, extra pair of hands)? Is not being able to multi-task actually more beneficial to our survival? IOW's if it is more beneficial to multi-task then why don't we have it by now?


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    We do it where it's possible. Singing in the shower. Whistling while you work. Conversing while you perform simple, familiar tasks. Ironing or knitting while watching TV. The important thing about all of these multiple "tasks" is that we're really only carrying out practised routines. There's no real effort involved in deciding what to do or how to do it. (But notice, there are some people who can never iron or do craft while watching TV. Even when they're experienced the TV is too distracting.)

    As soon as you introduce any novelty or complexity to any of the things you're doing, trying multi-tasking is simply taking attention away from something that needs more attention. Driving is the classic example. The techniques and habits are learned to the point of automaticity, but it's always complex. People treat it as a practised routine - especially if it's on a familiar route - but driving is never fully automatic. The only reason we have those blank periods where we really can't remember part or all of a journey is because nothing happened. Well, nothing unusual anyway. If someone had come out of nowhere and forced you to respond - you'd only be aware of it after your automatic responses kicked in - you'd remember that journey that day. Similar things can happen in a kitchen or a workshop - we don't remember all the details unless something falls off a bench or a pot boils over. But quickly grabbing at a falling object or rushing to turn down a flame is vivid after the response kicks in and makes the moment memorable.

    Any task that requires any intellectual effort or any physical movements that are not fully mastered will suffer if you try to do something else at the same time. Just look at people learning ballroom dancing. You can see them looking at their own or their partner's feet, counting under their breath, looking around wildly for fear of bumping into another dancer. If you spoke to anyone in the middle of that, someone's toes will certainly get stepped on. After a few weeks practice, they'll perform the same dance fluidly in rhythm with the music while chatting with their partner or passing dancers.

    Many people do homework or read better with music in the background - because it actually functions as white noise - and therefore functions as an aid to concentration. But the same is not true of TV. Apart from the quite rare individuals who like to have television on with the sound off so they don't feel alone, visual stimulation is exactly that. Stimulation which detracts from any task requiring exclusive concentration.


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    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
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    I find single tasking challenging enough.
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Galt View Post
    I find single tasking challenging enough.
    Single tasking I can handle. Zero tasking is my problem! I can almost never "blank out" to fall asleep quickly etc. Always have to read something to go to sleep.

    On a slightly more serious note. Are there any evidence at all that any advanced organism has evolved additional limbs (as the OP speculates we might need) after having a body layout set firmly? I just can't seem to imagine a way in which the gradual development of a new pair of arms could have a reproductive advantage before many thousands of generations of development have passed. It would in fact give a negative reproduction potential to a human if quarter or half formed arms were present, and would thus not be possible to happen through evolution.
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    I would re-state that there is no direction in evolution. There is RANDOM mutation followed by selection. Both gene/meme could be successful. It entirely depends on the environment pressure. Right now the human-economy (its own artificially created biotope) pressure is consumption base, in a frenzy that is going to hit a the wall of reality like any cancerous process do.
    In such an environment, it is really hype to write on a forum, while eating a sandwich, listening to music.
    But on the long run, I bet on people that can do fewer thing better, than a lot of thing badly... simultaneously, or not
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    Forum Radioactive Isotope zinjanthropos's Avatar
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    Why would selective pressures favor single tasking? Maybe I should say favor less multi-tasking ability? You would think having the ability to perform a great variety of tasks that require intelligence simultaneously would be an advantage like no other.
    Last edited by zinjanthropos; October 26th, 2012 at 07:27 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by zinjanthropos View Post
    Why would selective pressures favor single tasking? Maybe I should say favor less multi-tasking ability? You would think having the ability to perform a great variety of tasks that require intelligence simultaneously would be an advantage like no other.
    Because multi-tasking is a kind o myth, brought into the world by geek (the computer loving ones **)
    Our brain already "multi-task" a few things, like hearing and seeing (usefull when hunting) but the more you purposely focus on one, the more you lose the other. Our body can multi-task many thing like digesting and walking. But they both have they unique non-multitasking "hardware" like a stomac and some legs.

    **You can apply that to real-life analogy, and multi-tasking always leads to an incredible waste of resources (in computer also). On average, I don't think that it would be an advantage, even if in a few particular case it may be.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Boing3000 View Post
    I would re-state that there is no direction in evolution. There is RANDOM mutation followed by selection.
    t
    That is exactly what I was saying about the extra pair of limbs evolving. It just wouldn't happen, because many thousands of generations wouldn't tolerate a drawback because they knew that it will eventually lead to an advantage for their distant offspring.

    Your point that the current value of multi-tasking ability is short lived is probably true, but I think not really what this thread is about. Let's say society miraculously manages to survive for millions of years to come, where would human evolution lead to? Proper multi-tasking will probably be one feature that emerges, but extra limbs? No!
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  10. #9  
    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gerdagewig View Post
    Proper multi-tasking will probably be one feature that emerges, but extra limbs? No!
    I regret the loss of a prehensile tail.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gerdagewig View Post
    Proper multi-tasking will probably be one feature that emerges, but extra limbs? No!
    That's definitively true, I won't bet at all on extra "limbs", and very little on multi-tasking.
    Limbs being the articulate part of the skeleton that support the body weight, I agree with you that in no way another limbs can "grow", even if many women find 'half grow' limbs sexy The reason is the same, waste of resources. I pretty much see our actual limbs like a grown up tree whose shadow avoid offspring to grow, but in the 'usefulness or non-resource wasting' dimension.
    If we had no previous limbs, then a 'quarter of' will be 'just all we got' and not be a waste of resources.

    But, selections may take many other ways....

    Some people can already move their ears. Let's say it will one day be a most prominent way to avoid mean and noisy aliens . Those ears can grow in shape or form, then maybe get some form of articulation, or not.
    At that time maybe tree will be once again are living biotope (given those alien set us back to pre-stone-age) . Those ears will then suddenly be part of our moving apparatus again. A little at first, then... who knows.


    Back to the thread.

    Maybe I should be more clear about my definition of multi-tasking. It is ONE processing unit that do MANY thing. It can do that only by switching very often. It always leads to waste of resources.
    But or brain is not like that. It is already a massively parallel architecture. But notes that all these parts are somewhat specialized.
    Why would you want to have two, or more, let's say 'conscience', if only one can express itself(tasking) into the world (by grabbing, talking, whatever).
    Seems to me like a incredible waste of resources...
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Galt View Post
    I regret the loss of a prehensile tail.
    A prehensile tail might be nice during my extended walks in the forests every now and then, but even more frequently a baculum might come in handy! Vigorous partying leads one to situations where the body is weaker than the mind wants it to be!
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  13. #12  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Boing3000 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Gerdagewig View Post
    Proper multi-tasking will probably be one feature that emerges, but extra limbs? No!
    That's definitively true, I won't bet at all on extra "limbs", and very little on multi-tasking.
    Limbs being the articulate part of the skeleton that support the body weight, I agree with you that in no way another limbs can "grow", even if many women find 'half grow' limbs sexy The reason is the same, waste of resources. I pretty much see our actual limbs like a grown up tree whose shadow avoid offspring to grow, but in the 'usefulness or non-resource wasting' dimension.
    If we had no previous limbs, then a 'quarter of' will be 'just all we got' and not be a waste of resources.

    But, selections may take many other ways....

    Some people can already move their ears. Let's say it will one day be a most prominent way to avoid mean and noisy aliens . Those ears can grow in shape or form, then maybe get some form of articulation, or not.
    At that time maybe tree will be once again are living biotope (given those alien set us back to pre-stone-age) . Those ears will then suddenly be part of our moving apparatus again. A little at first, then... who knows.


    Back to the thread.

    Maybe I should be more clear about my definition of multi-tasking. It is ONE processing unit that do MANY thing. It can do that only by switching very often. It always leads to waste of resources.
    But or brain is not like that. It is already a massively parallel architecture. But notes that all these parts are somewhat specialized.
    Why would you want to have two, or more, let's say 'conscience', if only one can express itself(tasking) into the world (by grabbing, talking, whatever).
    Seems to me like a incredible waste of resources...
    Interesting speculation about the ears. Food for thought.

    Your point that only one processing center or "conscience" is possible I still don't accept however. Why could that future super offspring of ours not be able to hold an interesting conversation (interact with the world), but still think uninterruptedly about another topic and maybe type (if that will even still exist?) about another topic at the same time? Maybe I didn't quite get what you were saying about the specialization that is already in the brain?

    BTW, I have to leave now and might only see your response on monday!
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  14. #13  
    Forum Radioactive Isotope zinjanthropos's Avatar
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    Ask a busy person for a favor and you might hear the expression, 'I've only got two hands'. I'm not saying we need more than two but because that's all we have, then our multi-tasking may be limited by that fact. Evolution has provided us with two limbs that require some unique concentration in order to utilize them to the fullest.
    All that belongs to human understanding, in this deep ignorance and obscurity, is to be skeptical, or at least cautious; and not to admit of any hypothesis, whatsoever; much less, of any which is supported by no appearance of probability...Hume
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gerdagewig View Post
    Your point that only one processing center or "conscience" is possible I still don't accept however.
    Ho no ! I don't say impossible, just very unlikely (see below**). Beside we already have some of that. Everybody has some ! eureka ! moment when suddenly one of your concern reappear in your 'main/conscious' thread, like if it somewhat it was running into the background...

    Quote Originally Posted by Gerdagewig View Post
    Why could that future super offspring of ours not be able to hold an interesting conversation (interact with the world),...
    That's what I evaluate to have a very very low probability. Because of the cost/benefit. I think that mutation allow a lot of "bizarre/not useful right now" apparatus (it is already a short cut too short, those occurs incrementally over loooong periods / huge number of specimen) only if it has no draw-back/cost. Because selection happens every generation.
    My point really is that you will NEVER talk to someone WHILE writing to another, because you need a physical apparatus (like an iPhone IX..) It is the thing I try to point to. If human really became kind of parasisted by such electronic device (transforming their physical possibility) over many many millennium then it is more likely that we will somewhat become more and more able to use one or two or ..., while doing other more selective thing (like breathing/eating)...

    Quote Originally Posted by Gerdagewig View Post
    Maybe I didn't quite get what you were saying about the specialization that is already in the brain?
    Well, I often don't quite understand myself too .
    The brain cannot be separated from other body parts. I think that it is a too anthropomorphic view, like if humans only characteristic was its brain. You cannot consider the brain like programmable entity with expansion slot, it is not. Yes it have some flexibility, like some people recovering from brain injury will show. But it is no more an electronic device with upgradable function than your toes, which can became fingers if you lose your hands.
    You may think that wanting to do many things at one will grow this capacity (on evolution scales), but it is like thinking that:
    -wanting to be at many place will grow you teleportation ability,
    -or working on the 23th floor in sky-scrapper will grow you wings...


    ** Those odds and the cold hearted process that is selection, cannot be appreciated be people that believe that there a 'design' to that process. They cannot appreciate the value of the bio-diversity. Every single specie is just the winner of a lottery done on cosmic scale. They cannot appreciate who lucky we are
    Last edited by Boing3000; October 29th, 2012 at 08:06 AM.
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  16. #15  
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    Im taking an introductional course in psychology at uni atm and the book Im reading states that you can only really focus at one thing at a time, but that tasks gets increasingly effective based on experience.

    As tasks get more and more "Learned" you perform them at an increasingly automated rate, thus requiring less focus to perform them. When you learn something new, more focus is required. If you perform 2 tasks at the same time that is extremely automated. You may be able to do both without giving it much thought or concentration.

    They did a test where people got a mp3 player with 2 speeches, one in the left ear and one in the right ear. People were only capable of remembering one speech or none (When asked what they remembered). So when it comes to learning/memory - from something new - it required full focus.

    There were other examples but the bottomline was that new information or learning requires full focus, automated tasks that the brain knows and had experienced alot were automated (to a large degree).
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    If you drive regularily you are likely to have experienced occassions where you drift off in thinking about some matter and 'come to' many miles along the road, having negotiated complex traffic situations with no conscious input.
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