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A 10 year old child does not have the intellectual power to accurately calculate the energy required to throw a ball an arbitrary distance. Yet they are able to accurately throw a ball at a distinctive target.

Similarily, we often "instinctively" know an approximation of the amount of energy and force required to accomplish certain tasks, even considering that many of us have minimal knowledge of the mathematical complexity behind the tasks.

How does the human brain know the values of force, energy etc. required when accomplishing certain tasks, while being ignorant of the mathematics behind the Newtonian Physics of the task? Is it just a game of "guess and check"?

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@nico It would unreasonable to expect a 10 year old of average intelligence to be able to create a mathematical model of a a ball thrown - a concept taught in highschool. I do not understand your second comment. Could you clarify it? – user1199 Aug 1 '12 at 16:41
You don't need to generate a complex mathemathical model in order to throw a ball. A toodler can do it. You just try and try and you learn. A 10 year old may not be able to tell you that a 45° angle is the optimum to have a long throw, but he can easily realise that when he throws balls at that angle (even if he does not quantify it exactly) they go further away. Think of walking: most of us do it with no issue. Almost noone, however, is able to do a correct mathematical/physical model for standing and walking. – nico Aug 1 '12 at 17:15
I agree with @nico, a child does have the intellectual power to calculate trajectories and launch energies, and they develop the ability through trial and error. Your question is backwards - the brain doesn't know the math until it explictly learns it, and you don't need math to interact with physical systems, only to describe them in the abstract. – Richard Smith-Unna Aug 1 '12 at 20:37
Forget 10-year-old children. Pigeons literally have a pigeon brain, yet they can integrate complex ODE systems in real-time. – Konrad Rudolph Aug 1 '12 at 21:30
I think this question makes much more sense, and will receive a better answer at CogSci.SE – Artem Kaznatcheev Aug 2 '12 at 14:42

Trial and error.

The CNS is very much a living, changing organ system - much more so before you are an adult. While you are a child your neurons fire, muscles contract, and force is exerted on objects - then your CNS modifies itself (either through redistribution of neural contacts or growth of new neurons spurned by chemical changes) to account for the results.

This is why "practice makes perfect." As you continuously perform a task, like throwing a ball, your body is keeping track of the results. Did X muscle fibers contracting in Y muscles overshoot your buddy? You register the failure and compensate by utilizing X-N muscle fibers that contract in Y muscles until you consistently satisfy your goal.

Your CNS is keeping track of everything, all the time. There isn't a single instant in your life - asleep or awake - that's not being monitored, so your body has copious amounts of data to work with when making its estimates.

This is also why simulations take time to adapt to, even if the person is fully aware of the basics behind the physics involved.

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