[The coffee's on, but there's nobody home....]
Okay, it's late, so bear with me.
On Barsoom [Edgar Rice Burrough's 1920's sci-fi Mars] the martians came in a couple of sizes, had tusks, swords, and four arms. I was just reflecting how handy [I can't believe I just said that] four arms would be. Cuddle the cat and type at the same time. Run the mouse without having to leave half the keyboard. The list goes on once you start thinking about it, but what I'm wondering is: would the distinction of becoming left or right handed still occur?
There's a few possibilites and I cannot think of what's most likely.
This is not an entirely nonsensical musing. Say I was making an anthropomorphic robot. Is it better to make it handed or ambidexterous? Think hard. There are good arguments for both. Nature tends to do things in the most efficient way possible [that ol' Darwin effect], so don't discount handedness as obviously less efficient than ambidexterity. There's probably pretty good reason the human structure tends to use the paired hands in the pattern of one lead and one support.
So if this hypothetical anthropoid is to have handedness, I think I would look into those cooperating robots for code. I am refering to that gaggle of hampster-sized bots that pushed balls around a play area. They had pretty simple coding and were independant, but they all had to get the balls from one corner to the other. What was interesting is the little guys started cooperating because it was more efficient. ie, you don't fight to get the ball another bot has -- you get out of the way and go get an untended ball. This was not hard-coded in. Which raised some good questions and I'd like to know what these researchers did next. Of course I cannot find the link right now. But back to this two-armed, two-handed bot with built-in circuitry that has the limbs co-ordinate in a fashion we are familiar with as handedness. Say I added more limbs. Now what? I'm guessing you would add the cooperation code right into each limb, similar to the little bots, and let the group of limbs figure out how best to achieve the "brain"'s desire on the fly.
Which in turn might tell us a great deal about handedness and how we think.
Or so it seems from this side of a cold coffee cup. I wonder....
Dammit! Somebody slide me a research grant!
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© 2000 Owen Briggs
last modified on 17 April 2000