Is true multitasking possible?

  1. Can you really do two things at once or is it an illusion?

    There have been many contradictory opinions on this question, even from sources that are usually labelled as "trustworthy" and "reliable". A Google search does not give the sort of answers I am looking for. Does anybody have their own opinions if multitasking is actually possible? I am not looking for a "yes" or "no" answer but rather a justification on the the science behind this. Referring to the brain would be a good start.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 9, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. symbolipoint

    symbolipoint 3,174
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    Think about the question this way:

    Why do we now have laws against using a cell phone while driving? I hope this helps you with your question.
     
  4. Simon Bridge

    Simon Bridge 15,037
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    Which sources are these and can you give examples with citations of this difference of opinion?

    What sort of answers are you looking for?
    We need to know before we waste time giving you the wrong sort of answers.
    There is also the problem that correct or truthful answers may not be to your liking.

    First define your terms - people have different ideas about what "multitasking" actually means.
    It's pretty clear the the brain has a lot going on at the same time, but that's probably not what you mean.
    Computers multitask either by actually being several computers or assigning runtime to different tasks consecutively so fast that they appear to be run at the same time. Does that count?

    Probably the most important scientific skill is asking questions.
    If you are not careful to define your terms, it is hardly surprising that you get different results.
    I suspect the same will happen here - everyone will answer according to their own interpretation of the terms of your question and you will get about as many nuances as people responding ... doing you little good unless you are a social scientist studying the group itself and not multi-tasking.
     
  5. Of course,

    Multitasking is very important part of our life. Actually you do it but dont realise when you do it.

    Best example "symbolipoint" gave but there are more examples like listening to music while studying which is not so effective ;-)

    PM me for more questions!
     
  6. Depends upon the level at which you ask the question. The body can walk and talk and look and hear. At what level do you do those things. What systems are operating and to what level do they perform. In terms of processing, a processor can only process one instruction set unless it is passed on to something else. Then you have multiple workers. A single worker can splice their work but is that actually multitasking in it's true form.
     
  7. Simon Bridge

    Simon Bridge 15,037
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    ... and then, perhaps that's what "multitasking" means and "true multitasking" becomes like a "no true scotsman" argument.
     
  8. According to brain scans in an MRI, to answer the question of how the brain multitasks, the results indicate that multitasking is simply switching from one task to another. At no point does the brain split it's processes to deal with two tasks simultaneously. Conclusion: multitasking is a myth. This is from the field of neuroscience.

    However, the field of psychology accepts the notion of multitasking. Studies have shown that multitaskers do two tasks poorly compared to the those who do the tasks sequentially. Other studies indicate that you can even improve your multitasking skills through training.

    By combining the research from these two different fields this is the conclusion that you should end up with: 1. multitask training is really training a person's ability to switch back and forth from one task to the other, not actually improving the ability to multitask; 2. the poor results of multitasking is because the brain is not allotting its full attention to the task at hand, hence the poor results.

    So to answer the question of "Is multitasking possible?" The answer appears to be: No.
     
  9. Simon Bridge

    Simon Bridge 15,037
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    OR... that switching between tasks is multitasking?

    The question is unclear.
    See post #3 - we need to hear from OP to find out what is intended.
     
  10. Curious3141

    Curious3141 2,970
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    Since the word "multitasking" came from Computer Science, it's best we stick to the original definitions:

    Multitasking is when multiple programs are run in a single CPU, seemingly simultaneously. Most of the time, this is achieved by interleaving - i.e. the CPU switches very fast between the programs, so quickly they appear to be running uninterrupted at the same time. But it's still an illusion in that there's no true simultaneity.

    Multiprocessing is when multiple programs are run in a multi-core CPU setup, such that each program gets its own dedicated CPU core. There is true simultaneity here.

    Parallel processing is like the above, except that each program gets distributed to a different processor entirely.

    So, if the human brain is switching rapidly between processes, it IS multitasking by the Comp Sci definition. It cannot, however, be said to be multiprocessing.

    A brief search also netted me this interesting reference, which is on point: http://keet.wordpress.com/2006/07/2...ating-systems-versus-processing-in-the-brain/

    So it seems the brain IS capable of a little multiprocessing.
     
  11. OmCheeto

    OmCheeto 2,078
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    Many years ago, I was puzzled by the introduction of; "How are you at multi-tasking"? question into job interviews. Having programed computers for at least 30 years, I was familiar with the concept, but not how people could do two things at once. Unless of course it's one of those lizard brain functions like breathing, walking, and beating your heart.

    I thought it was one of those stupid, trendy, "Management's new catch phrase of the year" type things. And, it looks as though I might have been correct:

    bolding mine

    Although, at work, I'm able to listen to someone on the phone, and write down what they are saying. hmmmm... I'm going to answer your question with a cautious "yes", as I have not a clue how my mind works.

    I'll have to do experiments when I get back to work next week. I listen to the phone with my left ear, and write down what is being said with my right hand. I know my right hand is controlled by my left hemisphere, but I don't know where the signal from my left ear goes, nor where it is processed, nor what part of my brain tells my left hemisphere to tell my hand to wiggle in a meaningful manner.

    Perhaps this question should be moved to the Medical Sciences section.
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2013
  12. Evo

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    Yes, multi-tasking is possible. When I first started at AT&T, one of the pre-employment tests was multi-tasking. In the business office I had to answer my phone (holding the receiver between my ear and my shoulder, no headsets - ouch), while writing the conversation with my right hand, while I used my left hand to get their microfilm records out and use the microfilm viewer. All 3 of these tasks had to be carried out at the same time because all information had to be found and given to the customer, arrangements made or orders taken and conversation transcribed by the time the call ended and then the phone would immediately ring and you'd have a new customer and it would start all over again. It took a special type of person that could split their attention between three tasks simultaneously, and yes the office was all women. After a while it became so easy you really didn't think about it.

    This was back in the 70's. And yes, it was called...MULTITASKING. The wiki article claiming that the term comes from computer multi tasking was written by a nimnal.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_multitasking

    Buwahahaha. Hey kid, there was human multitasking in a business setting for decades before computers became a buiness tool. Good grief, the nonsense on wiki by people that don't know what they're talking about. Oh as as to the wiki saying the term multitask was first used in print by IBM in 1966, no. Look at this book printed in 1954. The term was in use at least in the 50's, if not earlier, but much of what was printed in old pamphlets, intra-company training and office memos, etc... never got uploaded to the internet. It would seem it is a term that was borrowed to describe computer functions.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=yf...ook_result&ct=result&resnum=8&ved=0CFEQ6AEwBw
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2013
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  13. symbolipoint

    symbolipoint 3,174
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    Evo,

    What you discuss about the pre-employment test is very enlightening; but I still characterize humans doing conscious multi-tasking as like driving a car while using a cell phone.
     
  14. That sounds like note-taking in a college course. I wouldn't consider that multitasking since it's essentially the same task, just different parts of the task. It's like reading and saying aloud what you're reading while turning the pages.

    When I think of multitasking, I think different tasks like a) talking on a phone while b) driving and c) eating a sandwich. If that sounds like you don't have any hands free to steer, you are supposed to steer with your knee. ;)
     
  15. Evo

    Staff: Mentor

    In my instance, you are writing (not only what you hear but original solutions you have come up with, you are not taking notes), you are holding a discussion while making decisions on the phone, you are using a machine to look for data. Those are all different tasks requiring different skills sets. The holding a discussion while making decisions would be an example of two parts of the same task. The others are not,

    http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/british/multitasking_1
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2013
  16. Curious3141

    Curious3141 2,970
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    I didn't write the wiki, and actually hadn't even read it when I made the assertion that the term came from Comp Sci. And the jury's still out on whether I'm a "nimnal". :biggrin: But everything that I've read bears out that the term came from Comp Sci, or at least a physical-science related discipline like Engineering. Only then did the term pass into common parlance to describe "human multitasking".

    You stated that your term derives from the 70s. Here's an exchange (on stackexchange, duh), where it is stated that the term was used in Comp Sci as far back as 1966. http://english.stackexchange.com/qu...erm-multitasking-come-from-the-computer-realm

    The quote:

    I'm afraid I don't have any stronger source than that to back up my claim. But since you assert that the term didn't originate from Comp Sci, it behoves you to back up that assertion with definitive references. PF rules, after all. :wink:

    EDIT: The same page even links to a possible apropos use of the term in Comp Sci from 1948! http://books.google.com.sg/books?id...UDA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&redir_esc=y

    Stackexchange is awesome.
     
  17. Evo

    Staff: Mentor

    I wasn't referring to you. I was referring to the wiki nimnal. :tongue:

    I said it was in common use when I started work in the 70's.

    Did you read my post? I also found the reference to the term used in print in 1954 that had nothing to do with computers.

    http://english.stackexchange.com/qu...erm-multitasking-come-from-the-computer-realm

    Did you read the bottom of this post of mine? https://www.physicsforums.com/showpost.php?p=4446933&postcount=11

    It was a late edit, so maybe you hadn't noticed. Funny we both used the same source.
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2013
  18. Curious3141

    Curious3141 2,970
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    That's reassuring! :biggrin:

    You should see my late-r edit. 1948 trumps the 50s. :rofl:

    BTW, even if multitasking was used in another (non-Comp Sci) sense, its early use was more closely related to the physical-sciences than the social sciences (as I stated clearly in my earlier post). The use in describing an "appliance" as capable of "multitasking" is definitely more closely aligned to engineering than sociology. Engineering is closer to Comp Sci. So there! :tongue2:
     
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  19. Evo

    Staff: Mentor

    They decided that reference was wrong if you read down.

    Well, I did work for AT&T. We were ahead of everyone else. :approve: Part of my appraisal was my ability to multitask. And I wuz guud. :thumbs: OOH new smiley!!!
     
  20. Curious3141

    Curious3141 2,970
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    Goes to show I should read more thoroughly and carefully. Nimnal retracts the claim. :redface:

    I don't doubt you were good at multitasking - anyone with kids has to be, lots of things to juggle around one's head. :wink:
     
  21. Simon Bridge

    Simon Bridge 15,037
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    That would be the definition I had in mind :D Thanks.

    Fortunately for my post the use in computer science only requires the appearance of running at the same time.

    The question refers to mutitasking, not multiprocessing.

    What you see depends on what scale you are looking at. I think all posters agree that multitasking occurs at the whole human and whole-brain level.

    The question asks for the effect at the cellular scale as well right?
     
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