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Motor skill, coordination & learning

Glen M. Sizemore gmsizemore2 at yahoo.com
Fri Jun 3 08:27:54 EST 2005

MB: The following claim about how we learn motor skills was made in the
context of a more general discussion on AI and intelligence. I am not a
biologist but I believe it to be New Age gibberish:

> Let's take something simple.  Learning how to type.  When
> you start out entering the word "the", your brain thinks
> about t, then sends a signal to your left forefinger, tells
> it to push, and repeats this process for each character.
> As you practice, you stop sending a message/character but
> you begin to send a message/word.  Eventually, the cognitive
> piece of the brain forgets all about the "recipe" of what
> actions and their order that need to be taken to type the
> word "the".
> I've heard some people calling this muscle memory.  Whatever
> it is, it's no longer resident in the brain.

I believe the last claim to be wildly inaccurate for humans. Although it
might be more nearly true for insects with distributed ganglia.

GS: Well, ummm, there's some facts here probably, mixed with nonsense.
First, some of what is written could be construed as a description of
certain behavioral facts. Karl Lashley, for example, pointed out decades ago
that arpeggios could not be a chain of individual responses where feedback
from each response controlled the next response and so forth, because the
inter-press intervals were to short. But many times we learn extended
sequences as a series of individual units but these come to be fluid
movements, probably best described as a single behavioral unit.

As far as "muscle memory" goes, I doubt that even most of those that use
this somewhat silly term think that the nervous system does not mediate such

MB: My understanding is that in humans all of the higher functions for
coordination and motor control are inside the brain. And that once
learned motor skills are devolved to other subconcious parts of the
brain like the cerebellum and motor cortex. And that the muscles have
relatively simple local nerve cells for fine grain feedback control and
reflex and a nerve connection back to the brain via the spinal cord.

GS: There is no question that most behavior involves the brain. However,
some aspects of coordinated movement are probably organized below the level
of the brain. When animals behave in molar ways, these circuits are, no
doubt, turned on and "blended together" by the brain.

I tried a web search and most of what I found supports my viewpoint. But
also I found some weird apparently genuine references about using the
blink reflex to measure intelligence and decided to ask here for
guidance. eg


I'd appreciate suggestions on where to look for a reliable up to date
online review of what is known about how we learn new skills from a
biologist's perspective.  Thanks for any pointers to reference material
that would clarify this position.

GS: You should keep in mind that how the brain mediates behavioral function
is not well understood, despite the arm-breaking, self back-patting engaged
in by neuroscientists after the "decade of the brain." In the learning class
I teach, I usually tell students that we have a near complete understanding
of, say, habituation of the gill-withdrawal reflex in Aplysia. We are not
even close to describing all that is going on when, for example, a rat
acquires a food-reinforced lever-press response class. In most cases, we
aren't really asking the right questions. Much of cognitive "science" is so
muddled and misguided that it has practically ruined behavioral
neuroscience. That is part of the reason we know so little - most advances
in neurobiology come about because of improvements in apparatus and
biochemistry, not because of new conceptions of behavior. Another reason is
that, even when we are not misguided by the muddle-headed conceptual
structure of cognitive "science," the mediation of behavioral function by
physiology is just so fantastically difficult.

"Martin Brown" <|||newspam|||@nezumi.demon.co.uk> wrote in message
news:d7p8ik$s9u$1 at news7.svr.pol.co.uk...
> The following claim about how we learn motor skills

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