Of two minds on the pitcher's mound  JUL 08 2009

If I ever write a book, it might have something to do with the two minds that govern creative expertise: the instinctual unconscious mind (the realm of relaxed concentration) and the thinking mind (the realm of deliberate practice). The tension between these two minds is both the key to and fatal flaw of human creativity. From the world of sports1, here's Rockies pitcher and college physics major Jeff Francis describing the interplay of the minds on the mound:

Even though I do understand the forces and everything, there's a separation when I'm pitching. If I throw a good pitch, I know what I did to do it, but there has to be a separation between knowing what I did and knowing why what I did helped the ball do what it did, if that makes any sense at all. If I thought about it on the mound, I'd be really mechanical and trying to be too perfect instead of doing what comes naturally.

But you don't need to be a physics major to wrestle with the consequences of the conflict between the two minds. After an injury and subsequent surgery, Francis' instinctual mind works to protect his body from further injury:

Francis repeatedly pulled the ball back in preparation to throw. But as he flashed his arm forward, his hand would, mind unaware, bring the ball back toward his ear rather than at full extension. It was his body essentially shortening the axis of his arm to decrease the force on his shoulder, protecting him from pain. And Francis could not stop it.

After his 10th pitch and first muffled groan of pain, he stopped.

"It's hurting you?" Murayama said.

"Yeah," Francis said.

"I can tell. You're getting out ahead of your arm. Slow down, stay back a little more."

"Does it look like I'm scared to throw a little?"

"Are you scared?"

"Not consciously."

To fully recover and regain his former effective pitching motion, Francis will utilize his thinking mind to retrain his unconscious mind through deliberate practice to ignore the injury potential. (thx, adriana)

[1] Most of the examples I've cited over the years deal with sports, mostly because professional athletes are among the most trained, scrutinized, studied, and optimized creative workers in the world. For a lot of other professions and endeavors, the data and scrutiny just isn't as evident.

Read more posts on kottke.org about:
baseball   brain   deliberate practice   Jeff Francis   physics   relaxed concentration   sports

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