Two Profoundly Different Types of Brain Work

In the wake of the blog I wrote a while ago about what students should learn in colleges, I’ve taken some thoughts about different types of brain work, which, unfortunately, oftentimes are confused as same. The consequence is significant, people waste their valuable time to perform unnecessary brain work, and to be ultimately defeated and frustrated in AI era that is coming soon.

One type is such things as memorizing factual matters, knowledge, puzzle solving, even playing chess. The commonality across all of them is that even at surface level, it’s dauntingly complex and difficult, given enough patience, times of repeating, all is solvable, thus, they are better to be handed over to machine/algorithms to take care, rather than burning your brain cells to memorize or deduce yourself.

Then what is the kind of brain work to tell machine how to solve such complex problems? Well, people who possess or master these skills are regarded as “smart”, “intellectual” nowadays. Inspired a lot from Raymond Hettinger, I can’t express enough of my respect to this guru. His 45 or so minute speech about solving puzzle by define problems well in 2019 Pycon is sure a climax. It jolted my childhood memory when I stretched so much to solve those easy problems he mentioned with just a tiny level of efforts.

The quite famous one “Einstein puzzle”, cited from his article as follows:

“Reportedly this puzzle is from Albert Einstein who is said to have remarked that fewer than 2% of the population can solve this puzzle (this is lore, neither fact is true).


  • There are five houses in unique colors: Blue, green, red, white and yellow.
  • In each house lives a person of unique nationality: British, Danish, German, Norwegian and Swedish.
  • Each person drinks a unique beverage: Beer, coffee, milk, tea and water.
  • Each person smokes a unique cigar brand: Blue Master, Dunhill, Pall Mall, Prince and blend.
  • Each person keeps a unique pet: Cats, birds, dogs, fish and horses.


  • The Brit lives in a red house.
  • The Swede keeps dogs as pets.
  • The Dane drinks tea.
  • The green house is on the left of the white, next to it.
  • The green house owner drinks coffee.
  • The person who smokes Pall Mall rears birds.
  • The owner of the yellow house smokes Dunhill.
  • The man living in the house right in the center drinks milk.
  • The Norwegian lives in the first house.
  • The man who smokes blend lives next to the one who keeps cats.
  • The man who keeps horses lives next to the man who smokes Dunhill.
  • The owner who smokes Blue Master drinks beer.
  • The German smokes Prince.
  • The Norwegian lives next to the blue house.
  • The man who smokes blend has a neighbor who drinks water.


The question you need to answer is: “Who keeps fish?”

Overwhelmingly complex! Raymond resort to his clear way of disassembling the puzzle into parameters to feed into the “solver” algorithm, and complete the task in no time.

This kind of intellectual work can be almost categorized into the second brain work, real brain work, but it’s also kind of blurred due to the fast-pacing AI technology, that the machines can automatically perform such activities as pattern recognition, and train itself to write codes/algorithms. At present, machines are far less capable, however, one can never under estimate the progress this technology can make. When it evolves, it evolves at exponential speed.

The highest form of second type, real type of brain work can be best demonstrated by how Einstein singularly came up with the special and general relativity. It’s not based on millions of trial and error that machines do extraordinarily well, it’s not bound by existing agreed upon the rules or frame work such as time is constant, center of the universe, it challenge such framework from bottom up purely by his thinking power. There is not much experiments involved. His tool is just math and logic.

What these contemplation of brain work I am day dreaming about is not irrelevant, it helps me to cool down before jumping rapidly into fads and stupidly hard-working. For example, coding seems to be a demanded skill, so everyone is trying to catch the train to learn it. However, is it really worthy your time to grasps those nonliterary, if not just arcane syntax – between machine and human language, or memorizing thousands of rigid Linux commands? It’s not much different than a translator trying to memorize how to convert foreign words and phrases, which two or three decades later, they just lament they can not do as good job as a google translation API.

I figured it’s more important to understand and develop the logic of coding rather than syntax of coding.

Right, that’s maybe why I’ve never tried to pick up regular expression even dozens of respectable engineers praise RE so excessively…

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