Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Why are things harder than they seem?

We often forget how complex things can be in our daily lives.

From the very simple daily activities like bathing, walking, running or riding a bike we overlook things. There is a beautiful video on Youtube that talks about riding a reverse bike. 

Here's the video: The Backwards Brain Bicycle


In the video, he tries to ride a reverse bike which is basically a bike that steers in a reverse order; If you turn the handle right it goes left and vice versa. Initially many people would think that i'll just turn left to go right and right to go left should be pretty easy...and as seen in the video, its not as easy at it sounds. What's interesting is why is it not as easy as it sounds i.e turn left to go right and right to go left.

Some would say once you learn to ride a bike you cant forget it. Which is quite true. What we see is the "experience of riding", we just know that we can ride a bike if we push the pedal and keep going. We dont fathom the synaptic wiring needed to ride a bike (in other words, we dont realize what the body should do to ride a bike).

To understand this, I'll give another real world example. Say a kid wants a toy, from the perspective of the child the parent has the power to buy it for him. What the parent knows about the toy and if its worth the money or if theres a better place to buy it doesnt matter to the child. He doesnt know whats the actual picture in buying a toy (i.e. quality, value for money, does the parents have the money? etc.)

In the example: You are the Child and Your Brain/Body is the Parent.

Similar to bike riding, we dont realize what our body does to ride a bike. If you've seen the video you'll see that towards the end he was able to ride the bike but almost forgot how to ride a normal bike.

So what is it that our body does/needs to do that we didnt consider when we accepted the challenge to ride the reverse bike? 

I'll lay a few aspects that the body needs to modulate, there may be more making the entire situation far more complex than we perceive.
  • Balancing
    • The Vestibulocochlear System in the ear determines the orientation of your head and this information is transmitted to the brain for it(the brain) to decide how to rectify any problem(if any). Some ways the body corrects a balance issue is: When you make a sharp turn your body leans to the opposite side , it "knows" to not lean too hard on the turning angle. Its just an example, finer motor movements are done to fine tune the balance to precision.

  • Force to the pedals
    • How hard you hit the pedal is an instruction from the brain. Many different situation will require different force to the pedals. This includes how many muscle fibers contract and how many to relax, etc
  • Controlling the direction ( with the handle bar)
    • This is exactly what the heading is, turn left to go LEFT and turn right to go RIGHT. 
  • Visual Field
    • Where does your eye focus on during the ride? On the pedals? On the handle bar? Or the road ahead, or the back? or the sides? 
  • etc.
This enormous volume of information is relayed to your brain for processing and it decides how to react for the ultimate goal YOU GAVE it that is to reach your desired destination safely. 

When you first rode a bike, most of this has developed well turning the handle bar is a simple task(once upon a time you had to learn that too). The initial training to ride a bike is to learn or teach the brain new ways of intepreting in the incoming information.

Example, if the brain responds without learning: 
  • You are riding a bike and a dog chases you, you INSTINCTIVELY pedal harder. The reason for that is your brain has learnt that pedalling harder will get you out of the situation faster. Say your brain didnt learn that, the moment the dog chase enters your consciousness you'll get rid of the bike and run(i know it sounds dumb, but thats exactly what would happen)

  • In a far more obvious example, say you dont know how to ride a motorcycle and a dog is running towards you. You dont know how to ride the motorcycle....your brain says GOD DAMMIT RUN!!!!!! Now it doesnt sound all stupid does it? thats because we can fatom the big picture of the scenario.

The enormous information relayed to the brain during bike riding creates new synapses or logic sequences and the brain knows how to respond to specific combination of inputs. With more "practice in riding the bike" finer synapses are created which enables more precise control of the bike during handling. I hope its clear enough.

When the task given was to ride a reverse bike, and we just think to reverse the order of turning the handle, we forget that trying to change one small piece of instruction in the enormous set of logic sequences that your brain has programmed itself to do will cause many contradicting inputs and outputs. Resulting in failure to ride it successfully.

Is this dumb? Definitely not, the processing power was not overwhelmed it was the contradiction that fails the process. Truly remarkable, can we learn it ? most definitelty, in the video he eventually learns it over sometime.

This means, new synapses are formed and new logic sequences are registered and programmed. Making the reverse bike riding successful. 

When he tries to ride the normal bike again, and the "reverse bike handling sequence" is initiated...the system fails. The reason? because we need to teach our brain to differentiate which is the reverse bike and which is the normal bike so it could fire the correct sequence beautifully.

  • If you were to ride a car, would you try to push the pedal like you would when riding a bike? Haha...of course not, thats the wrong method.
  • Why is this? The brain sees...dude its CAR, you need this particular sequence to drive it. Using the wrong sequence will fail the process. So how does the brain know when to use what sequence? Its simply by taking note that the vehicle before you is a car or a bike or boat and to fire the appropriate sequences. Same goes to differentiating the reverse bike from the normal bike.

Notice that, even when we fail to ride the bike we drops our legs, locks our knees to prevent us from falling off the bike. Its a system on top of another complex system or even more systems that we are not aware of. This phletora of systems is what makes the brain something spectacular! 


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