Lists in a brain game

Our brain processes external information perceived by all of our sensory systems. The incoming information is useful only if we are able to comprehend, and lists help to organize new information. There are situations, when people are in a complex, dynamic
environment and they should rapidly understand ”what is happening”, and they should bring decisions followed by actions. Historically, military command and control is a field from where the theory and practice of situated awareness emerged. However, other activities, such as air traffic control, fire fighting, aviation and more ordinary complex tasks, as driving a car or even riding a bicycle needs to comprehend the rapidly the changing environment and react. Situation awareness starts with the perception of environmental elements and events with respect to time or space, followed by the comprehension of their meaning, and by the  projection of possible future events.

Lists help to comprehend incoming information. Kim’s game is a famous example how a
complex environments should be mapped into a list, and how to improve the efficiency of the the comprehension. Bert and Kate McKay, founders of the Art of Manliness summarized the origin of the game so nicely, that I should copy here:

”In Rudyard Kipling famous novel Kim, Kimball O’Hara, an Irish teenager, undergoes
training to be a spy for the British Secret Service. As part of this training, he is
mentored by Lurgan Sahib, an ostensible owner of a jewelry store in British India,
who is really doing espionage work against the Russians. Lurgan invites both his boy servant and Kim to play the “Jewel Game.” The shopkeeper lays 15 jewels out on a tray, has the two young men look at them for a minute, and then covers the stones with a newspaper. The servant, who has practiced the game many times before, is easily able to name and exactly describe all the jewels under the paper, and can even accurately guess the weight of each stone. Kim, however, struggles with his recall and cannot transcribe a complete list of what lies under the paper. Kim protests that the servant is more familiar with jewels than he is, and asks for a rematch. This time the tray is lined with odds and ends from the shop and kitchen. But the servant’s memory easily beats Kim’s once again, and he even wins a match in which he only feels the objects while blindfolded before they are covered up. Both humbled and intrigued, Kim wishes to know how the boy has become such a master of the game. Lurgan answers: “By doing it many times over till it is done perfectly — for it is worth doing.”

Umberto Eco (1932-2016), the celebrated Italian novelist and and a public intellectual famously wrote: ”We like lists because we don’t want to die”, and list are means of grasping the incomprehensible.

Stay tuned! more to come!


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