Friday, December 20, 2013

I'm a Stimulator? or a Mover?

Top Brain, Bottom Brain by Kosslyn and Miller

I didn't like this book, but having taken the trouble to read it, I'll at least try to summarize what I learned. I put it on my pile due to the praise from my favorite thinker Steven Pinker, but it didn't live up to my unrealistic expectations. The basic idea, drawn from author Kosslyn's deep neurological expertise, is that human brains, complex as they are, can be usefully summarized as carrying two main functions: planning and perceiving. Obviously the functions are highly interactive, so resist the temptation to oversimplify, but neverthless, you can identify four "Cognitive Modes" based on which function is dominant (or not) in a particular situation.
Highly-utilized Top Minimally-utilized Top
Highly-utilized Bottom Mover Mode Perceiver Mode
Minimally-utilized Bottom Stimulator Mode Adaptor Mode
People who are prone to “Mover Mode” are good at planning and execution. Perceivers, on the other hand, don’t initiate complex plans but are good at putting perceptions into context to understand the implications.
Stimulators, while often creative and original, tend to shoot off in a direction without much forethought, sometimes at the expense of social harmony. Adaptors, by contrast, are easy-going and flexible, but can be frustratingly directionless.

The book goes into plenty of detail, much backed by neurology, and with multiple anecdotal examples of how this plays out in real life. Unfortunately, the examples seem contrived and un-researched (Sarah Palin is an example of a “Stimulator”, Michael Bloomberg is a “Mover”).

So which brain type am I? Well, there is a handy test in the book (and online here) but I had a hard time with many of the questions. Some just seemed irrelevant to me (e.g. "when you buy furniture.." or "clothes" -- something I rely on my wife for), but others, I just didn’t understand ("do you observe surfaces?” huh?).
Partly because the questions didn’t make sense, I took the test twice: the first time I scored “Stimulator”. But I tried again and this time I scored “Mover.”  So which am I really?  I guess I’ll need to use both top and bottom of my brain to figure that out.

If you’re really into neurology, you have to read anything by this author, but you’ll probably be as disappointed as I was. Shrug.