Thursday, June 22, 2006

The engineering brain

Tren Griffin alerted me to an article by Debra Schiff in EETimes which floats some ideas that have a bearing on the Hard Intangibles problem [1]:
  1. Spatial abilities appear to be more localized in the brain than other skills, such as verbal ability.
  2. Spatial ability is a key trait for engineers, scientists and mathematicians.
  3. The brains of engineers have systemizing mechanisms that are set at a higher-than-average levels.
As Lakoff has pointed out [2], organizational structure is conceptualized as physical structure, as in “The theory is full of holes,” “The fabric of this society is unraveling,” “His proposed plan is really tight; everything fits together very well.” Since systems are complex abstract structures, it’s plausible that we use spatial brain centers to think about systems, and that spatial talent would lead to systematizing ability.

This raises the obvious question: Has MRI shown that engineers or high systematizers in general, have more extensive spatial manipulation centers in their brains? Listening to software engineers definitely suggests that spatial metaphors are central to their practice.

I dream about putting a software developer in an fMRI while they’re writing code, and seeing the spatial centers in the brain lights up. And as an encore, seeing what happens when the system problem cannot be modeled in 3D space, eg “high dimensional” challenges like concurrent systems.


[1] Debra Schiff, “What drives you? Pick your brain,” EETimes 6/19/2006

[2] Lakoff and Núñez (2000), Where Mathematics Comes From

1 comment:

hereandthere123 said...

Thanks for the mention. It was one of my favorite articles to write. I have great admiration for the researchers and their work.

Best regards,
Deb Schiff