I woke up the other morning with a strange thought and idea plaguing me. As I took a shower and in spare moments at work all day, I pondered the possibility of multithreaded thinking and cognition. As I awoke I was instantly obsessed with the efficiency of computer “thinking” as compared to organic thinking. I guess the trade-off is that we get creativity, but computers are creeping into that realm as well.
Anyway, it occurred to me that computer systems can process more than one thread, or bit of execution, at once. Or at least they process so quickly that they can appear to. Computers are much better at multitasking than we are. And I am talking about true multitasking, not the rudimentary multiple windows so you can e-mail, Facebook, and work all at the same time, but rather that a computer can process multiple, separate lines of execution simultaneously. But we cannot.
Can you follow two separate lines of thought, with absolute focus on each, at the same time? I know I cannot. While human thought is not necessarily linear, it is definitely singular. One thought gives way to the next.
But why can’t we mimic this execution of multiple tasks? I decided that maybe it is merely because our brains just do not process as quickly as computers. A single multithreaded processor is actually processing each thread separately, not simultaneously, but it can process each and switch between them so quickly that our slow brains perceive it to be all at once. Our brains can do this, but at such a slow speed that the process is not worthwhile.
But, computers with multiple processing cores can truly process multiple instructions at the same time. It is standard for computers to have at least two processing cores–the new Mac Pro actually has 12 processing cores. And it is typical for a multimedia computer to have a processor designed specifically to handle graphics, and possibly one for audio, in addition to its standard main processor, which probably has multiple cores itself.
Well, our brain does that! We have distinct areas of our brain that are used primarily for creative tasks, language, logic, visual processing, audio processing, and basic cognition. What if we could leverage those different areas to carry out separate but simultaneous thoughts? The tasks merely have to be tailored to take advantage of the resources available.
I devised a test to see if I was capable of carrying two simultaneous conscious thoughts. I would try to count by primes and also try to visualize the progression of squares. This would allow my logic center to carry forth with one task and my visual center to process the other, and should allow me to compute both at the same time. While it was rough, it did seem possible. I think with practice I could get very good at it. In fact it is something I already seemed to do to a degree. Sometimes I catch myself speaking aloud as I tackle a problem. The spoken thoughts exist alongside unspoken conscious thoughts, allowing me an efficiency of processing.
The difficulty lies in conceiving of the thought-tasks in terms of your available resources. I had to visualize the progression of squares so my thought center could attack that problem. That is what would take practice, deciding how to quickly reinterpret tasks so that they can be better handled by a specialized area of the brain.
Ultimately, I think this idea is trivial, as it requires us to consciously take control of the way our mind processes information, which would seem to slow the whole thought process down. It’s not that we cannot take advantage of our brains natural “multi processor” nature, it is just that our brain is designed so that each area works together rather than separately. Brute forcing them to process separate thoughts simultaneously could be made to work with practice, but it would not be using the product as designed and outlined in the end-user agreement and would probably void the warranty.