YANSS 132 – Practice (rebroadcast)

You live in the past.

You don’t know this because your brain lies to you and then covers up the lies, which is a good thing. If your brain didn’t fudge reality, you wouldn’t be able to hit a baseball, drive a car, or even carry on a conversation.

According to research by David Eagleman, it takes about 80 milliseconds for the brain to generate consciousness, to take the information flowing in and construct a model of reality from moment to moment. Everything you think is happening now already happened 80 milliseconds ago, and you are just now becoming aware of it — over and over again.

Since you live in the past, it should be impossible to do things like hit a baseball or duck a punch, yet athletes do these sorts of things all the time. As our guest, author of The Sports Gene, David Epstein explains, professional baseball players and boxers don’t have faster reaction times than the average human being. No human being can make the circuit from eyes to brain to muscles fast enough to hit a ball in midflight or avoid an oncoming fist. You can’t change those natural limits with any amount of practice. So how do they do it?

David EpsteinEpstein explain that practice strengthens intuition, not reaction times. Even among chess players, practice builds up a cognitive database that nonconsciously informs our decisions and reactions. Experience and mastery are demonstrations of a robust, well-trained unconscious mind that senses tiny cues in the environment and then prepares an action that will occur later, syncing up reality the way you stitch together sounds and sights. All sports are a display of brains predicting the future based on intuition built up by practice – brains compensating for lag by seeing what is happening now, before the ball is thrown, before the punch is launched, and making a best guess on what will happen later.


Links and Sources


Previous Episodes

Boing Boing Podcasts

Cookie Recipes

80-Millisecond Rule

30 Meters of Lag

The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance

David Epstein

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons