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How puzzles make us human

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Published on Mar 22, 2013

Dr. Pradeep Mutalik, a physician by training, whose avocation is all things puzzles, elaborated on the unique traits that distinguish humans from other species. Significant among these traits is cognition. Mastering higher order cognitive skills activates distinct regions of the brain, including the hippocampus, which in fact is probably the first region of the brain that is affected in Alzheimer's patients. Pradeep got us to think about similarities and differences between puzzles and problems, and it became clear that a puzzle is actually a special sort of problem: puzzles have a known solution; problems need not. Solving a puzzle leads to a deep satisfaction because it results in a sudden insight called the "Aha! Experience" or "Aha! Effect". According to Pradeep, solving a puzzle results in a decrease in cognitive entropy, and all is well with the world. The more elegant the solution, the greater the Aha! Experience. And indeed it is - until you pick up the next puzzle. And solve it. In most cases, the intensity of the Aha! is likely to be directly proportional to the amount of time and energy spent on arriving at the solution.

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