The how & why:

The ability to learn though experience is something that we humans seem to be uniquely good at. There is a good reason for this. The vast majority of our brain cells are devoted to doing one thing only and doing it well: recognizing patterns. This is our forte as a species and it is the engine behind every great feat we have ever accomplished.

Our brains process information at an average speed of 200 calculations per second, which is about 10 million times slower than the fastest PCs we have circa 2001. However, while the most advanced computers of today can have upto a few hundred CPUs, our brains have on the order of a hundred billion neurons all working at the same time. This massively parallel network of neurons is highly adept at recognizing patterns, almost to the exclusion of everything else. Fortunately, pattern recognition is an ability so powerful that we have been utilizing it for virtually everything we have ever needed to do.

It is this amazing capacity to see order in the midst of chaos that allows us to catch a fly ball without actually knowing anything about physics or doing any mathematical calculations in our head. All we do is recognize the pattern in what is happening and apply our previous knowledge of what works best in the situation. This pattern matching process is so instinctive that we barely realize that we are doing it. By contrast, thinking logically is a feat that requires significant effort on our part because only a very small fraction of our brain cells are devoted to this activity.

If we had to solve all our problems as if it were the first time we were seeing them, we would never get anything done. The first time we do something, we actually have to calculate the solution, which is something we are very bad at doing, especially compared to the machines we use. However, we remember how we solved each problem and then when we encounter a similiar problem in the future, we simply recognize the pattern of the problem and apply a very similar solution. The more of these problems we encounter, the better we get at utilizing this match-and-reuse system of problem solving. That is why our societies are structured along the lines of individuals who have specialized roles - they can get extremely good at what they do as a consequence of doing so much of it.

This is an original work by Antonio M. D'souza (aka digitalboy).

In the words of my very wise Japanese teacher, "practice no make perfect, practice make permanent."

As stated above, the human brain is greatly capable of engraining patterns into itself and becoming adept at exercising common sequences.

That's wonderful because it is the strength of human intellegence, the one quality that we are desperately trying to mimic in artificial intellegence research, the one quality that eludes our understanding.

But this very quality can harm us as well. If you practice the wrong procedure, you can be assured that it will be at least twice as difficult to unlearn it.

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