Your inner Google

I just heard a com­ment by Brad­dock of Lovesys­tems that was brilli­ant: All that your brain does when you ask it a ques­tion is hit “search” and re­turn the first hit it finds. So be care­ful how you phrase your ques­tion.

Say you just ar­rived at work, and re­al­ized you once again left your se­cu­rity pass at home. You ask your­self, “Why do I keep for­get­ting my se­cu­rity pass?”

If you be­lieve you are a ra­tio­nal agent, you might think that you pass that ques­tion to your brain, and it parses it into its con­stituent parts and builds a query like

X such that cause(X, for­get(me, se­cu­ri­tyPass))

and queries its knowl­edge base us­ing log­i­cal in­fer­ence for causal ex­pla­na­tions speci­fi­cally rele­vant to you and your se­cu­rity pass.

But you are not ra­tio­nal, and your brain is lazy; and as soon as you phrase your ques­tion and pass it on to your sub­con­scious, your brain just Googles it­self with a query like

why peo­ple for­get things

looks at the first few hits it comes across, maybe finds their most-gen­eral unifier, checks that it’s a syn­tac­ti­cally valid an­swer to the ques­tion, and re­sponds with,

“Be­cause you are a mo­ron.”

Your in­ner Google has pro­vided a plau­si­ble an­swer to the ques­tion, and it sits back, satis­fied that it’s done its job.

If you in­stead ask your brain some­thing more spe­cific, such as, “What can I do to help me re­mem­ber my se­cu­rity pass to­mor­row?”, thus re­quiring its an­swer to re­fer to you and ac­tions to re­mem­ber things and to­mor­row, your brain may come up with some­thing use­ful, such as, “Set up a re­minder now that will no­tify you to­mor­row morn­ing by cell phone to bring your se­cu­rity pass.”

So, try to be at least as care­ful when ask­ing ques­tions of your brain, as when ask­ing them of Google.