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The Cabbie Cortex

By Noigroup HQ NOI Notes Archive, The Cabbie Cortex 17 Dec 2013

It’s nearly Christmas and due to the festivities many of us are likely to be in a taxi in the near future. I love talking with taxi drivers and for some years, I have been asking them the question, “How do you think the brain works?”. After all, scientists don’t really know- but maybe people in this unique profession have an insight.
Taxi drivers have a unique job – they are nearly always moving and they deal with an enormous variety of customers – happy, sad, angry, anxious, talkative and non-talkative. They could have a CEO in the car one moment and the next customer could be a youngster who has had too much to drink and needs a bit of care. Your taxi driver could be a student, professional driver, actor waiting for a break, a doctor or physicist waiting for registration for their desired profession.
My questioning goes something like this:
After a bit of chitchat – “Can I ask you an odd question? You guys see a lot of life and talk to a lot of different people. I am interested in the brain – no one really knows how it works. How do you think it works?”
Expect to be surprised by the answer! In Australia, at least, 4 out of 5 will give you an answer other than “no idea”.
I now have about 25 responses to what I call The Cabbie Cortex series, presented at the Pain Adelaide conference in 2013. Here are three responses to “How does the brain work?” to give you an idea.

Samir: Adelaide airport to Adelaide city $22

“Well sir, I think it is quite clear how the brain works. There are definitely three compartments. The conscious, the subconscious and memory and there are parts within each part. The difference between a smart and a dumb person is how many bits you can use at once. Say a genius could use 10 and a dumb person 5. Will you be quoting me in a scientific paper, Sir? I tell my kids to never, never think they are dumb. Everyone’s brain starts off the same we just have to try harder. Like you can exercise a muscle, you can exercise the brain. Books are really important.”
I thought “that’s quite poignant, but Samir is right on with notions of distributed processing, changeability, and environment influences”
Ahmed: Sydney airport to city $38
Now you will notice I am in Sydney – this is a multicentre study!
“I will tell you one thing – taxi drivers have terrible bodies but wonderful brains. If we worked our bodies as hard as we worked our brains during the day, taxi drivers would have the best bodies. I am exhausted at the end of the day and that is from the brain not my body. It must be one hell of a machine.”
I thought – while there is a bit of brain body splitting there, I bet he would love a story about mirror neurones. He is ripe to take on modern brain science and get rid of the machine notion”.
Bob: Adelaide to the University of South Australia $7
“What are you, mate? A shrink or something. I don’t bloody well know”… (very long pause followed). “That is the weirdest thing I have been asked in 24 years of pushing a cab.”
I thought – probably not my best interview! But at least he has been thinking of it. I bet if I asked him in a week or two he would have an answer.
Your turn
We would love our readers to ask their next taxi driver “How does the brain work?” and let us know the result. In the interests of good data collection, we would like it in the following format:
1. Taxi driver name, 2. pickup site, 3. drop-off site, 4. cost of ride.
This could all be important data! Send your responses in to or comment on NOIjam.
I will periodically publish your taxi driver experiences on our NOIjam blog as they come in. We would love to create a world-wide snapshot of how people think the brain works. The top five published responders will be announced at the end of next month and will receive a copy of the Explain Pain Second Edition eBook. Let’s see if we can build a Cabbie Cortex!
And a very happy (taxiing) Christmas from all at NOI.
David Butler
Last month’s NOI Notes The Rollercoaster of Professional Life received so much feed-back. It was so lovely to hear from everyone, your feedback and treatment tales. I will be addressing these responses in the new year!



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