Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Name-Value Pair

In my current project - as in most software projects - we have a robust name-value map configuration. For the lay man, this basically means that if the calling program specifies a name to the configuration, a value is returned back to the program for further processing. Like if a door bell button is pressed, the door bell makes a sound.

Seeing my daughter grow (she is now almost 11 months old), I made a startling discovery that our brain is wired with full of such name-value maps. Majority of our brain is like an enormous configuration which keeps storing information and making an "index" (like yellow pages index), which is akin to "name". When this name is invoked, it responds back with a "value" which is carried out by the nervous system.

For example, the first thing which I remember my daughter learned was reacting to the phrase "Smile, please!" - thanks to my wife's mother who taught her this. When someone said "Smile, please!", my daughter smiled back in response. I was initially perplexed as to how she can understand English at such an age (6th month) and dismissed it as an one-off event. But the fact was that she kept repeating it. Which meant there was some science behind it.

The discovery was simple. She really did not know what "Smile, please!" meant. She was just doing what the person who was asking was doing. Note the exclamation everywhere. "Smile, please!" Each time this phrase was uttered, the person who used to utter this was smiling and, this in turn, made the brain register that "Smile, please!" meant smiling. So, there we have it! Utterance of "Smile, please!" is the name and smiling is the value.

Learning continues for the infants whether it is intentionally taught or not as long as it is oft repeated. For example, my wife keeps talking to the baby explaining what she is doing. She talks about bathing, about putting on the diaper, about food that she is feeding, etc. Such oft-repeated conversations (and even actions) register in the child, even though it was not really meant as a learning. This could be because children at this age have a tremendous amount of grasping power. Think of it as a brand new computer which does everything (like booting!) so fast. It is only with age that worries and thoughts occupy the brain more; add natural wear and tear of the body and we get a PC that takes over 5 mins to boot! :-)

So one fine day, when we simply asked our daughter to get diaper (heretofore she was never explicitly shown what a diaper is), she promptly crawled on all fours to the place where we keep diapers. This shocked us! Her brain had mapped the word "diaper" to diaper automatically. Similarly, "Twinkle, twinkle, little star" meant  making an action like twinkling stars using fingers, "Tummy" meant patting her tiny stomach, "Shake hand" meant putting out her hand to be shaken, "High-Five" meant , well, High Five, "Nose" meant showing her nose in her own unique way, "Head" meant patting her head, "Teeth" meant baring her mouth to show the 2 teeth (!), "Kiss" meant opening mouth and coming near the face of the asker(!), "Frock" meant showing her dress, "Hi" ("bye" and "tata" too) meant spreading the palms of her hand and shaking, "Water" meant looking at her water bottle and expecting someone to put it in her mouth, "Poojyaya Raghavendraya" ("Vittala, Vittala, Govinda" too) meant clasping palms together and looking at the idols, "Clap, clap, clap" meant bringing the palms together, "Aeroplane" meant seeing something high up in the air, "Gubbacchi" meant seeing birds, "Moon" meant seeing that bright thing in the sky, "Thaala" means bringing her hand down to her thighs imitating Carnatic Classical music pundits(!), "Dance" meant shaking her body, "Amma" meant seeing mother, "Pappa" meant seeing father, "Paavani" meant seeing herself in the mirror, so on and so forth.

I didn't intend this post to show case Paavani's development but it looks like it has just become just that! So be it. I couldn't stop myself! But coming back to the nub of it, it just goes to show how our brain stores all the information as name-value pairs.

Thinking more on these lines, it becomes slightly complicated later on. Take English for example. The word "Lead" will first mean the pencil-end for school-goers. Then, couple of grades later, this will take another meaning of guiding. Couple of grades later, this will take another meaning of a chemical substance [No, pencil lead and chemical lead are two different things]. This kind of complicates the brain. That is perhaps why it is often said that English is a funny language! Now how can indexing work when we cannot define a primary key?! Once indexing is broken, the brain starts slowing down. So we humans have ourselves to blame for our own brain degeneration! Why couldn't we invent new words instead of overloading same words?!

Well, I have said all that I wished to say in this post. I only wish that my Tontu's brain continues to be as sharp and grasping as ever!


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