Simple complexity


On my way to work today I was thinking about throwing a football through a tire, much like the picture above. It was funny to me, because if I sat down and tried to consciously do the math, I just couldn’t (not without a few math classes at least). Distance, speed, direction, gravity, wind factor, calculating drop–there are a lot of factors that have to be calculated and accounted for when throwing a ball through a tire on paper.

But in real life? Your brain’s got this shit, man. I can obviously throw a ball through a tire, despite not consciously understanding the math involved. And that truly blows my mind. I find it incredibly amazing that Ryan as a conscious entity cannot sit down and do the math to throw a ball through a tire, but give him a ball and a tire, and Ryan’s subconscious brain can do the complicated calculus necessary without conscious Ryan even realizing it. Even if we add another layer of mathematical complexity–like having the tire move as I throw the ball, some part of my brain can still do the math.

Now, if only I could figure out how to harness all of that subconscious mathematical potential. Clearly, some part of my brain intuitively understands the intricacies of calculus, even if it baffles the conscious parts of my mind.


13 thoughts on “Simple complexity

  1. I’m not certain that it is the subconscious that is doing the math so to speak I would say that it is rather something that can be done through a learning process, just like the learning process it would take to do the math. And of course even if you could do the math it would not necessarily translate into your body being able to throw a ball through a tire. If for instance you had never thrown anything in your life, your body and mind would have a very tough time throwing the ball through the hole. It would take a lot more experiment and time to get it right. Long enough that someone might actually be able to do the math faster. Because if you have no experience throwing it would take time to even understand the motion of how to project something in a straight line, how change the motion to throw at different speeds, how to grip the ball properly so it goes the straightest, etc. You say your brain is super awesome, but you are ignoring all the years in which your brain has learned how to control your muscles to control the speed and direction in which the football flies. There would still be likely some trial and error accept for someone who is really practiced at throwing. And your mind would think okay, that last throw was a bit to the right, I need to concentrate a bit more and throw a little bit to the left, or that one was too high, this time I shouldn’t throw as hard. These are very conscious processes. As I watch my sun experiment just with movement and how his muscles work I realize that he is learning muscle control in a very conscious way. We don’t remember a lot of this stuff, but all of it has to be learned, just like the math would have to be.

    The great thing about the math though is that once the solution is found it can be theoretically used by anybody. Try explaining to someone else how to throw the football through the tire. You’d probably have to do it by having them watch your technique, listen to your explanation about gripping the ball, but that wouldn’t exactly be “how to throw a ball through a hole”, They would still have to experiment. But when given the mathematical solution we could know…ah just project this ball at 20 miles an hour at a 25 degree angle from the horizon and it will happen. Now the fact that a human could not accurately measure in our head that speed and that angle is due to our limitations. We have to find an alternate solution which is understanding how our muscles work and trial and error.

    1. I guess what I meant was that I’m not consciously aware of my body doing any of this. I’m only consciously aware that it somehow intuitively understands all of the math and physics necessary–it’s almost just a reflex. It amazes me what the human brain is capable of!

      And I totally agree–I too am glad math is universal!

      1. I agree that you are not making decisions to catch the ball consciously, but at some point in your life it was learned. You probably couldn’t throw a ball or catch one at some point, but through practice in just observing how objects of different mass and shape move through the air and how to will your muscles in the place you need to be it became an unconscious activity. There are lots of things like this. Like tying your shoes or riding a bike, you don’t think about them now, but you did before. It is conceivable after doing enough physics calculations, your might be more automatic in your ability to solve such a problem. Maybe not exactly the same.

        It is also seems that it isn’t completely automatic to the point that you can still be surprised. You make assumptions about the speed and trajectory, but what if all of a sudden throws you a curve ball, you may miss the ball, or you may have to make some conscious adjustments as you watch the ball mid way make a sudden change in direction. If somebody throws a ball at you without you seeing it, it will hit you or you might pick it up at the last split second so you can just dodge or get your hand up fast enough to block it from hitting your face.

        If you decided to learn how to ice skate and never had before, your ability to carry on a conversation with someone else while skating would probably not be possible. Only as you learned how do all the things it takes to become proficient could skate and have a conversation with someone skating next to you. Most things that seem automatic now, were learned at some point even if we were too young to remember the learning process.

      2. Right, but my point is that at no time during that learning process are we consciously doing calculus in our heads. Things like vector and speed are intuitive; when you’re two years old and learning how to throw a ball your parents don’t do the calculus showing the curve of the ball to you before you go outside to toss it around.

        Likewise, if someone throws a ball at me when I’m not expecting it, there must be some sort of reflexive, subconscious math. I’m not actively computing speed, angle, wind resistance, etc. My mind somehow does all of that before I realize it so that I don’t get clocked in the head with a ball.

      3. Perhaps our difference here depends on what we consider intuitive. To me, intuition in the sense that you are talking about (and forgive me if I’m interpreting incorrectly) is something our brains just know how to do. But judging speed and direction are something that takes time to learn. I imagine it similar to like learning to drive. It takes a little bit of learning to know how much time you have to turn based on the movement of a car coming from the other direction. Your eyes watch the car getting bigger and this translates how fast that car must be going. But since every car is slightly different in size it takes some time to judge accurately. The same thing would be true with a ball. It takes time for you to learn how judge the speed of a flying projectile through the air. The fact that we can learn it quicker than we can math is impressive for certain, but that doesn’t mean that we our brains are actually doing math. This is because we don’t need to do the math and you’re not really doing math you are understanding how physics works even if you can’t represent it in an equation. It’s the difference between understanding something qualitatively and quantitatively. You’re really only understanding the process qualitatively even though you understand it really well. You’ve been observing gravity and trajectories your entire life. You’ve been looking at objects closer and far away; objects that are still and objects that are moving. When it comes to throwing, you’ve used your arms many times for various activities and you know how they work, how much pressure you have to apply and use as you perform actions. Many teenagers don’t know their own strength as their body grows and gain muscles. In the end we are still estimating and we know we don’t have to be 100% precise when we catch the ball or throw the ball, there is some room for error and we eliminate things like slights shifts in air density, or height above sea level which effects gravity or the fact that we are on a turning surface hurtling through space.

        Anyway I’m sorry perhaps we are just defining things differently, but I find this example interesting because I’ve heard it before many times and am just trying to think about it deeply, I don’t know that I know the answer. Maybe we are doing math, but it certainly doesn’t feel like that and when I learn knew skills with my body I don’t feel like I am doing any math but just making guesses and settling in on a solution.

      4. I guess we may indeed be defining thigs differently. I understand what you’re saying, though. I guess there really is no way to measure whether or not the body is “doing math” and it may just be purely coincidental. I definitely don’t have any answer for any of this lol. But you’ve given me something new to think about 🙂

  2. Fearfully and wonderfully made…boy howdy I am sure glad I larned that tidbit. Hey! you know what else god created? Diptheria, malaria, parastitic flies whos larvae eat their living host from the inside out, measles, the plague, flesh eating bacterias, whales with 10 foot dicks, cancer, evil, earthquakes, tsunamis, and all kinds of other really cool stuff that must have been fearfully and wonderfully made… my sarcasm runneth over.

    Kinda @ Swarn and Ryan…Yes the body has to adjust to the muscular development which allows for the throwing of the ball, and then develop judgement for a moving target as well as calcultae elevation, distance, and throwing speed. Assuming one has developed the skills to throw the ball, and get pretty good at it, the rest is sort of on the fly trig. I think the more you do this kind of activity the better you will get at it.

    I have thrown a lot of footballs to my boys. They can run routes and catch what I thow them on the move. They can also throw the ball to a moving target pretty good too. We have drills where we throw the ball to a guy on the run, he catches it while the guy that threw has taken off running, We just keep moving in a large squarish area repeating the process. Then we turn around and start moving in the other direction so we are working the excercise both ways. It is always some kind of satisfying to get pretty good at dropping the ball right in stride to a running target.

    1. Shelldigger, God didn’t create diptheria, malaria, etc. He created the earth perfect and without sin. It was man who brought sin and death into the world, and it’s because of our sin that diseases and parasites developed. God is good all the time, and it’s in the midst of tragedies where we should see our need for him most.

      1. …no matter how many times you see it, it never ceases to amaze.

        It would take a sledge and a wedge to drive some reality betwixt them ears. So you a YEC? an OEC? Or just a run of the mill bible humping Baptist?

        Do you have any evidence to support those assertions, or is that just what reverend Billy Bob told you? Perhaps you are an AIG drone?

        …and if I was to follow your logic, does that mean when a tsunami wipes out 1/4 of a million people, that is where we would see our need for god/s most? Is that correct? Follow up question; who needed he/sh/it the most, the rotting corpses or those who got to higher ground?

        …a few more questions if you don’t mind, Are you aware of evolution? Have you heard the word? Did you know there is over 150 years of scientific study with mountains of evidence to back it up? Did you know that overlapping scientific fields converge to the same conclusions of the data? Do you know that modern medicine is largely based on evolution? When you get sick do you go to a doctor? Or to church? Do you take modern medicine? If so…why? Do you understand why every single year scientists have to develop a new flu vaccination? Do you know why? Did you know that just recently modern genetics has shown that the human population has never been less than between 5-10,000 individuals? Do you understand what that means about a certain bible myth? Do you know that the Andromeda galaxy is about 2.5 million light years away?, You can see it naked eye on a good night. It could be devoured by a galaxy eating parasite tomorrow and we would not know anything about for 2.5 million years. Do you understand that just seeing that galaxy defies and refutes the YEC model? Do you understand why? Do you think science and evolution are products of the devil? Have you ever seen a devil…or a god? Do you believe that people can survive in a whale? Do you think that the earth is flat? Did you know that most of your bible tales have been copied from previous works? Have you heard of Gilgamesh or Horus? What is your position on Catholic kiddie fuckers? If your church group was to go out on a witch hunt tomorrow, would you participate? Do you long for the old days when people asked these sort of questions they could just be run through or tortured to death? Do you think the Inquisition was just some old jebus freaks that asked a lot of questions? I am curious, is your particular x-ian cult the only one that allows it’s participants some sort of after death life? Why do you think it is that your x-ian rewards are to be delivered only after you are dead? You don’t ever question that you may have been conned? Why not? I just recently read about a group of crickets being preyed upon by a parasite whos larvae devour the host from the inside out, what sort of sin are these crickets guilty of? If you were to run into a fact that contradicted your belief, would you maintain your belief? If so, why? Did you know that there are multiple religious tales preceding jesus, that claimed to be of a virgin birth? This doesn’t strike you as odd? Did you know that glory goes to those who would dash their enemies childrens heads upon the rocks? Would you consider that kind of behavior “the good old days?” Would you (if it ere legal) have slaves today? Slavery is condoned in your book of myth. Just how much of this kind of stuff can one person swallow before they they feel the need to start asking some questions? Answers are out there. Hint, they are not found in ancient moldy religious fiction.

      2. I’m a young earth creationist, and if you want to see evidence, you’re welcome to check out my blog ( Of course there are plenty of creationist websites that are filled with evidence for a young earth. And that’s why it amazes me that so many people reject the obvious in favor the modern mythology known as evolution. But since this is off-subject, I won’t go into any of this at length here.

        Yes, tsunamis do demonstrate our need for God. Tragedies happen, and we’re powerless to stop them. We don’t know how many days we have. We can’t save ourselves from death. What we need is a savior, and we find that in the person of Jesus Christ. Knowing that we’re powerless against death should lead us to the one that has conquered sin and death and can deliver us.

        Your rant on evolution is amusing because it’s filled with fallacies, and I’ve rebutted just about every one on my blog. I’d be happy to discuss them more with you there.

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