When it comes to the idea of multi-tasking we can all logically agree from experience that it's impossible for our minds and bodies to even do consciously. Since when we try to perform "multitasking" our brains can only focus on one thing at its best.

But if I were to do something like talking to a friend while studying, no matter how much I try, I would never be able to perform well on both, the studies and the conversation simultaneously. I could try to take turns on one task at a time, but that's not really considered multi-tasking, just doing one after the other.

So I had this idea on biologically engineering the human mind and body to not only perform two tasks at once, but also visually focus on them that is just as effective as one person being able to focus. Also the questions aren't meant for things for things like combat or whatever. It's just mundane computer and paperwork tasks that are the focus. Now I already got an idea that the four arms obviously needed to multitask. But here are the questions:

  1. Would the structure and size of the brain and skill need to even change a lot for the true multitasking to work?

  2. If so, would there literally need to be two different personalities controlling these tasks sharing the same resources as their connected brain?

    [Like one mind controlling one eye and a pair of arms like the other mind.]

  3. If all this is possible, would the user be able to use all these biological resources to do one direct task at once?

    [Like the will to connect the two personalities to one and split to two]

I actually was going to ask a question about eyesight, but I believe that having any more eyes won't really change much.


So now I gotten a few conclusions from a few answers. So I already got one conclusion, but for the duel mind one. I do want to ask a question on that.

When I mean be true multitasking. I mean their is no idle involvement with the automatic parts of the brain. Like Breathing, Digesting, walking, etc.

Cort's Answer stated that it's impossible to have the dual mind idea; because both brains can easily argue with another as well as the nature of neurological complexity of the body. So I decided to

  1. So why not engineer a system in which both brains

    (Which is the prime mind)

could agree to split into two temporarily minds to perform their separate tasks, and if a conflict occurs in a decision both arms or eyes needed to be used. The two minds automatically fuse to one again.

[Like a safety system if both brains disagree, they could automatically go back into one and agree on a choice.]

Another solution stated by ZioByte is to enhance the brian and set the tasks to simply being automatic without any actual conscious thinking involved. Like doing chores or walking, but to a more complex degree. An example is having the mind automatically write an analysis paper with the user's right hand while the actual conscious is just learning on how to draw human proportion, and maybe this could happen vice versa.

obviously either system is going to involve some sort of brain enhancement, so I may need to find ways on how the body could handle the extra weight of the head, but that should be done on a different question.

Hardcore science is preferred. Anything lower is acceptable.

  • 8
    $\begingroup$ I strongly disagree with the fundamental assumption. The human body is incredible at multitasking, demonstrating capabilities that supercomputer designers only dream of. If you've ever walked while holding a conversation, you've experienced just how good it is. I can back that up with hardcore science, if that's a useful answer for you. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Oct 19 '17 at 23:45
  • $\begingroup$ I do agree with your statement with that example, but I mean by multitasking as just something that is done when both tasks are performed just as well as one task(If you're having a conversation while walking, their may be moments where you unaware what you are walking to). Though if you do have examples of people being able to do two tasks at once as effective as just one normal person doing one. I'll be glad to read. $\endgroup$ – Red_Wasp Oct 19 '17 at 23:57
  • $\begingroup$ If you want true multitasking, not just delegation of some tasks to "automatic" execution, and not quick switching of attention, then human brain will have to change, it is not designed think about two different things simultaneously. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Oct 20 '17 at 0:14
  • $\begingroup$ So are you specifically focusing on "task" as things which we cannot multitask right now? If we create your creature, surely there will be new tasks which require its undivided attention. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Oct 20 '17 at 0:21
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I agree with @CortAmmon: the initial assumption is fundamentally flawed. We are great at multitasking. For example: listening to the radio — and hearing what is said and understanding and thinking about it — while at the same time doing a complex task like programming or connecting electrical circuits, that is easy. If you are talking about splitting the mind into multiple consciousnesses, that is a different matter. $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Oct 20 '17 at 6:55

So this is a tricky one to answer, because the answers vary from "It's impossible to multitask" to "Our body multitasks beautifully every moment of our lives to a degree few comprehend." It all depends on what you're paying attention to. You give an example of talking to a friend while studying as being difficult to multitask, but you have no difficult at all talking to a friend while digesting food from your last meal. It does appear that the line you're drawing is based on tasks that you currently do not believe can be multitasked by a human.

But the human body and mind is not as simple as a computer. It happily divides up tasks in ways you would not expect. For example, consider the act of walking. You bump your left hand against a table, which is going to impart a moment that will make you fall if not corrected. At first glance, you'd think that the signal would need to go up to the brain, get analyzed, and then new instructions sent back down. The brain isn't that inefficient. What actually happens is that the signals are processed in the spinal column, and your gait is already adjusted before the sensory information has reached the brain. Literally, your spinal column is walking for you.

What you seem to be interested in is tasks which require conscious effort. One of the fundamental traits of our consciousness is that it only thinks of one thing at a time. You would need two consciousnesses in the same body. This, of course, brings up the interesting challenge of how to deconflict these two consciousnesses. If you've ever been torn between two decisions, imagine being continuously torn at all times. You'd never do anything substantial!

The obvious solution would be to divide the body up between the consciousnesses, but that's where it gets interesting. It turns out the body is not built to be divided like that. Much of the body is designed to operate in tensegrity, a state where every element is either in tension or compression, but never both in different directions. The body "likes" to have its bones in compression and its muscles in tension. It turns out it's built to maintain this in a dynamic setting.

I really can't explain it in words, so I recommend watching a video demonstrating how the spine operates in this mode. The spine is amazingly strong like this. If you treated the spine as a "Roman column," the typical image of bones stacked on top of each other, manipulated by muscles, you would be incredibly weak. The spine is 3x stronger in tensegrity than it is if it's just stacked bone on bone. When your mother said "sit up straight," she was actually helping you grow up strong!

Why do I bring this up? Well, there's a difficulty to tensegrity. Finding the right muscle adjustments to move is very difficult. The whole system is very integrated. One muscle out of place has effects all the way along the spine. This is where the two consciousnesses gets you in trouble. You can't just divide the body in half. You need to have integration throughout the body in order to do anything impressive. Without it, the human body is much weaker, and these menial tasks actually start to get a little difficult. This means your two consciousnesses have to cooperate.

If the consciousnesses are cooperating, then there are now tasks that can only be done if they work together, as though they had one shared thought. These become the new "tasks" which cannot be multitasked, and the whole process repeats itself.

So depending on your definitions, multitasking is either logically impossible, or so trivial that we do it every waking minute of the day. What a fun question!

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I answered with exactly the same points but less eloquence. +1. Also: for a fun example of what happens when your otherwise well synchronised brain gets out of whack look up sleep paralysis: hypothesised to be the result of these imbalance when your motor cortex is asleep but the rest of your brain isn’t. It sometimes causes hallucinations and a deep sense of fear. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Oct 20 '17 at 6:51

I would look at the Legion books by Brian Sanderson for an idea of how it could work

The hero in the book has a weird mental illness combining multiple personality disorder and schizophrenia.

He sees imaginary people around him that specialize in different area and tell him what he needs to know. The hero flicks through quantum physics books which goes into his memory and then a new imaginary person who happens to be a physicist joins his "team". The hero doesn't remember what he sees anymore than a normal person but this knowledge becomes a personality's skill set.

In reality his personalities access his vision, senses and memories and tell him what he needs to know. They also sometimes grab his hand and move it when they need him to do something like when his security "person" is helping him fight off an attacker.

You wouldn't need to go as far as seeing imaginary people but a multiple personality disorder where all the personalities are awake and active all the time and can communicate with each other would provide you with true multi tasking.

| improve this answer | |

The possibility exists of a genetic adjustment to the brain such that each half (Left/ Right) is able to operate independently and this would give the ability for true multitasking in the way you describe. Wouldn't need 4 arms & would be a single personality/ mind controlling both activities.

This idea was proposed as a throwaway minor plot element in a Robert Heinlein book: Beyond This Horizon

Reasonably decent read, and is a fairly short novel in Heinleins common Juvenile style, even though the protagonist is adult. So if you enjoy SciFi, probably worth reading for it's own sake. I think the comment that I refer to happens somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of the way through the book.

To be honest - I would think true multitasking in this fashion would actually be really effective, and could be worked quite well into any story where such a thing was desired.

| improve this answer | |

You will get as many answers as there are persons, perhaps more.

I will vote to close this as "opinion based", but I won't refrain from giving my personal (informed) opinion ;)

It all depends on what you consider a "task" and what you consider "automatic".

Our brain is parallel and thus much more than multitasking: it's multiprocessing with billions of processors.

One of the problems of Cognitive Neurology is to explain how it happens this massively parallel hardware we have can actually give rise to the subjectively linear experience we call our Consciousness.

My personal opinion is this is tightly connected to language.

In order to be able to express coherently ourselves we need to sort out the myriad of independent threads into a single stream expressible through the speech channel that's essentially serial.

Of course all is more complex than this, but I don't think this is the place to go into further details.

You can get as parallel as you want if you shift your (main) Representation System away from digital (speech) to other (kenestetic in particular).

Being able to parallelize two tasks involving speech may be very difficult because you would be using the "speech center" for two tasks at once and it requires a lot of training (something like simultaneous translators running two "speech centers" in parallel, one for each language). There are people able to follow (and answer) two independent conversations at the same time, but that's not common.

OTOH using other part of our brain (motion cortex in particular) is possible to keep under control many "threads"; classical example is Master Chess players completely able to play 50 or more games (blind!) at the same time. It's acknowledged they use mainly their motion cortex and do not explicitly think something like: "well, if I move my pawn in d6...".

As said: it all depends on your definition of "task".

Note a "multiple speech center mutation" is not likely to happen naturally (if my understanding is correct) because we don't have multiple input/output capabilities (two ears, but a single mouth). That might be different for beings having multiple concurrent conversation channels (e.g.: telepathic or sporting multiple speech organs).

| improve this answer | |

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.