Micro-skills

I continue reading through Steven Pinker’s “How the Mind Works” and he has some interesting thoughts on visual perception. Particularly, he has a bunch of mental experiments anyone can do where take abstract geometric shapes, and convert them into recognizable objects. For example…

Imagine the letter D. rotate it 90° to the right. Put the number 4 above it. Now remove the horizontal segment of the 4 to the right of the vertical line.

What should you see? A sailboat. (This, in and of itself, is pretty interesting. It’s not really a sailboat, of course; it’s a bare-bones outline of some of the shapes common to sail boats, and yet we recognize it as a sailboat.)

Here’s another…

Imagine the letter K. Place a square next to it on the left side. Put a circle inside the square. Now rotate the figure 90° to the left.

I had trouble with this one. It’s supposed to be a television set. Eventually I realized I wasn’t following the instructions — for whatever reason I was putting the square to the right side of the K.

The very fact that I made a mistake here got me thinking. Clearly my ability to design images in my mental space is not what it could be. And other people have similar issues — they can visualize an object in their minds eye, but have trouble rotating it, or flipping a top to bottom or synchronizing it with some other object in their visual space. And these might seem like pointless skills, but they’re pretty useful when it comes to reading a map, or mentally walking yourself through the process of driving from the dentist office to the library, or observing abstract art.

And we’re just talking about one sense. Your sense of hearing and touch etc. also require these kinds of subtle abilities. People with deficient hearing skills, for example, might have trouble differentiating one person’s voice from another’s.

You might call these skills “micro-skills.” There are the basic building blocks of the skills required to navigate your way through life. Up until this point in history, we’ve never really trained ourselves on these skills — we’ve just picked them up as we go along. But I’m wondering whether it might make sense to offer people “micro-skill education” — to educate them how to think and perceive better.

9 Responses to “Micro-skills”


  1. John Saleeby

    I’ll comment on that in a bit.

    But right now I’m here to tell you that they are streaming the totally AWESOME new album by British Sea Power for FREE at AVClub.com. You should check it out cause it fucking ROCKS like a motherfucker and doesn’t sound like some shitty American band.

    And British Sea Power is a great name for a band.

  2. John Saleeby

    Forbis, are getting ready to write one of those fucking “Self Help” books? Cause I’ll beat the fucking shit out of you if you do.

    Yeah!

  3. AnonymousZ

    Imagine the capital letter O. Then rotate it 90 degrees and draw a lower case o in the capital O. What do you have?
    _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _!

    AnnonymousZ

  4. Wil

    an anus?

  5. John Saleeby

    Stuff like that confuses me.

    Gerry Rafferty died. He’d still be alive if he’d bought some land, gave up the booze, and the one night stands.

    Ha.

  6. Wil

    Was he some kind of folk singer? I think I had one of his albums.

  7. AnonymousZ

    You need two more letters. I will give you a hint that even John can figure out: bull_ _ _ _! More than that I can’t divulge.
    AnnonymousZ

  8. Wil

    bullfood?

  9. AnonymousZ

    No, now it’s John’s turn. I’m going to bed. Where I live it’s midnight. I’ll check in tomorrow.
    AnonymousZ