The backwards bicycle and interesting insight into brain plasticity and learning….
….your brain cannot handle this.
Here’s a universal truth we can all depend on, “it’s like riding a bike”. Everyone who’s been given the opportunity to learn how to ride a bike knows how to do it and never forgets. Sure, some of us might struggle to get back into the swing of things if we haven’t touched a bike for 30 years or so, but the knowledge is still there. So what happens when you tweak a bicycle ever so slightly, but in a way that forces the rider’s brain to completely adjust not only what it knows about riding a bike, but also how it understands the action?
As Destin explains in the latest episode of Smarter Every Day, knowledge does not always equal understanding, and in the case of riding a bike, we know how to do it, but we don’t exactly understand it. He demonstrates this by showing how a slightly adjusted bike can completely destroy his brain, and that of anyone else who tries it, simply because when you turn its handlebar to the right, the wheel now goes to the left, and when you turn the handlebar to the left, the wheel now goes right. “I do not make definitive testaments very often, but I’m telling you right now, you cannot ride this bicycle,” says Destin in the video. “You might think you can, but you can’t.” It took Destin 8 months to learn how to ride this bike (you know, for science), and he said one day he didn’t know how to ride it, and the next day, he did. He then did something even more amazing and took the person who was closest to him genetically, his son, and asked him to learn how to ride the backwards bike. His six-year-old son, who has been riding a regular bike for half his life, learned how to ride a backwards bike in two weeks.