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Zen and the art of brain maintenance

The implications of neuroplasticity in education

Brett Groves

on 7 August 2013

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Transcript of Zen and the art of brain maintenance

The universe is made of stories, not atoms.
Muriel Rukeyser
Why does thinking matter?
The statement "I believe Elvis is alive" returns
10,000 hits
The statement "I believe the earth is flat" receives
158,000 hits
People who are stating the earth is flat
are 15 times more numerous than those
making statements about Elvis
Trivial you think?
As at Dec 2010 according to the Gallup organisation
40% of Americans now belive that human beings popped
into existence fully formed in the last 10,000 years
British data shows a similiar trend
It would reasonable to assume the pattern
in Australia is similiar
UC Berkeley researchers Hal Varian and Peter Lyman measured the total production of all information channels in the world for two different years, 2000 and 2003.
In 2000 reached 1.5 exabytes
In 2003 reached 3.5 exabytes
Putting that increase in perspective
a child born in 2000 could expect to
experience a 750 fold increase in
available information (assuming a constant
rate of increase..which seems unlikely)
Thinking about thinking will be even more important
In reference to information;
the ability to discriminate
to think divergently
to think creatively
Will be so critical to avoid extremism, anti-intellectualism and
the rejection of rational thought.
YOU! are the critical guide.
Consider this tale
Researchers gathered a group of 6
monkeys in an enclosure
Soon the fire hose was removed
Still the monkeys beat up any monkey
that tried to get the banana
One by the monkeys were replaced
Each time a new monkey arrived and
tried to reach the banana
Soon none of the original monkeys
remained, none had ever experienced
the fire hose punishment for trying
to reach the banana
Can you guess what happened to any monkey who tried?
Always reach for the banana
Create your own paradigm!
Conventional Localised Brain Models
“If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea” Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Please taste your water!
(No it's not drugged!)
Now for some heretical banana
Ferrets, when their optic nerves are surgically rerouted to their auditory cortex regain vision back to 20/60
If we accept that humans have massively
plastic brains and are not rigidly localised; what are the implications?
It appears that brains store
functional maps or overlays
of the areas of the cortex. Kind
of like a roster, who's doing the thinking
today? This map or overlay can and does
adapt and evolve.
It appears to rely on the
nature of the incoming stimulus
to the brain which then in a distributed manner allocates resources accordingly.
The decision making process
appears to be very similiar to that of honey bees when they collaboratively make very complex decisions.
So called brain based learning,
is, on the basis of this, highly questionable.
(If it wasn't already)
Learning Disability
is there such a thing
or is it a lack of correct stimulus?
Certainly, research indicates a
very strong correlation between
infant glue ear and language/learning
difficulties (as just one example)
Can anyone learn anything then?
Well in that, case why don't they?
I'm glad you asked that question and
we'll come back to it in a minute!
But first, since we grasped the
heretical banana.....let's bite into it!
The neuroplasticity science gets even weirder
Who remembers the health classes delivered
by PE teacher's who'd rather be doing something
Remember the evils of alcohol lectures,
after childhood the brain had developed all the
neurons it ever would. Every drink killed 'em off
by the billion!
Heavens! If only I hadn't discovered
red wine as a cure for year 9's I'd be
Turns out the brain is making
neurons all the time and it can
switch making them on and off
The Amygdala in the human brain
has a primary role in "memory modulation".
It works to consolidate short term
experience into long term memory
Mice on a treadmill show an
explosion of neuronal connections during exercise
We already new that
the amygdala function
is moderated by emotions
No experiences are encoded
into long term memory in the
absence of an emotional state change.
Learning without emotion isn't!
With the exception of...................
If the mouse encounters a learning experience it is immediately
If the connections are unused
they dissappear after a period
of a few hours.
This is called the 'long walk phenomenom' or 'anticipatory proliferation'
To effect long term learning
you either have to move your
students emotions or their bodies
or both!
Engagement..................not really a helpful word!
We all know along without a well managed class
environment and a high level of engagement not
much happens (that we want to anyway)
Warning! This model is a personal
one developed from my professional practice, take from it what
works for you.
Practical ways of getting
that amygdala honking
According to a 2003 Newspoll 69% of Americans believed that ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was personally responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks
The 3 ways to dissolve the barrier
between experience and core understanding and
allow the passage of information
Simple but not very efficient
Works well for simple concepts:
try investigating justice by repetition
World War 1 finishes, British American Tobacco
looses a huge captive market. How to recoup it?
Half the potential market is barred by social taboo
from smoking. The year is 1929
Torches of Freedom!
As a result of labour shortages women have
experienced industrial work for the first time on
a large scale
Working for the American Tobacco Company, Bernays sent a group of young models to march in the New York City parade. He then told the press that a group of women's rights marchers would light "Torches of Freedom". On his signal, the models lit Lucky Strike cigarettes in front of the eager photographers. The New York Times (1 April 1929) printed: "Group of Girls Puff at Cigarettes as a Gesture of 'Freedom'".
In 1923 women only purchased 5% of cigarettes sold
By 1935 its was 18.1%
Bernays exploited the next way to consolidate core
He associated a deeply held belief derived from womens wartime work in equality
for women with smoking and so smoking too became
part of the core understanding of modern New York women.
Last way! And arguably the most powerful
Please drink up your water
Now consider that at least one atom
in that glass of water passed through
the bladder of Henry the 8th
On the first day of March, I will give you 5c
I will give you double the previous days amount each
day until the end of the month. i.e. I will give you 10 cents on the 2nd so you now have a total of 15c
How much will I need to give you on May 31st?
While we are on the topic money is the primary
intermediary in all relationships in our society. It is
the main determinant of circumstance and possibility.
Where does it come from?
If you do some research the answer will
probably shock you!
By momentarily pulling away the horizon
of possibilty we also remove the barrier
to transition from experience to core
This is the Aha! moment and they are
quite easy to generate in any subject
The Engagement in E5 must start in one of the
last two places. Get those amygdala rocking!

Dr Paul Bach-y-Rita
Experiences that are closely associated
to core knowledge held are much more
readily encoded.
Laying on of hands wont work!
So how do we get engagement???
What's a horizon of possibility?
“There are known knowns; there are things we know we know.We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know."

—United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
I never thought I would be
quoting Donald Rumsfeld!
Outside the horizon of
possibility is not only unknown
but unknowable until it expands
to encompass the information
beyond it.
To take one much loved holy cow hemispheric localisation
Proponents of brain based learning
promote activities that teach to either the left or right hemisphere
We now know that both sides of the brain are involved in processing information. Although the functional map of most human brains is particularly attenuated to certain types of information in either hemisphere
Heres a demonstration
The right hemisphere is particularly attenuated to movement and the left to order and pattern
Each time the
yellow dots dissappear your brain has swapped which half of the functional map is dominating processing
See it this time?
Feeling your core knowledge
and horizon of possibility
Princeton review used a linguistic analysis program to evaluate
the comprehension age required to understand various presidential
Lincoln v Douglas 1858
Year 11.2 v 12.2
1960 Kennedy v Nixon
Year 10 v 10
2000 Bush v Gore
Year 6.7 vs 7.6
In other words the winning candidate
determined that the language of an 11
year old child was the most suitable
level to pitch to the American public
Some quick background on neurons
Make this
into this
Perhaps a slight exaggeration :-)
Research indicates there are fundamental
differences of perceptual and linguistic
function between people who learned written
language using a pictographic alphabet rather than
a phonetic alphabet (such as the latin alphabet)
Symbolic and linguistic systems
affect brain functional mapping
It can therefore be that
it's not there is just not
an equivalent word but rather
there is not even an equivalent
way of thinking about the concept
As a quick example the word
for ownership didn't exist in
the Aboriginal lexicon at the time
of white colonisation. Moreover though, there was no equivalent concept, no underpinning experience and no way for Aborigines to understand what was coming.
When historically was the
great time of slavery?

Today there are more people held
in slavery than the height of the
trans Atlantic slave trade.
(see polarisproject.org)

"An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all."
Oscar Wilde
50 Billion Neurons each capable of 1 million
connection configurations
Thats more possible unique connections than there are particles in the universe!
An avid birdwatcher sees an unexpected bird. Soon he's dead.

A processing example using a connundrum
Two ways of processing
A series of yes/no propositions relating
to position, situation, time etc will eventually
arrive at the answer. This is how a digital system
would resolve the issue.
Most adults will solve this by
'insight', the answer just comes.
In fact this is massively parallel
processing at work.
Googles most searched for terms
in 2010?
Democracy? Afghanistan? Global Financial
crisis? Happiness? Health?........sadly no....
Simone Back age 42
1,082 Facebook friends
final status update at 10.53pm Christmas day
"Took all my pills, be dead soon, bye bye everyone."
Many of her online contacts left messages taunting her and arguing among themselves. One called her a liar, another said she "does it all the time, takes all her pills", while another said it was "her choice".
Divergent thinking
a thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions.
Breakpoint and Beyond: Mastering the Future--Today
1500 child particpants tested + 200,000 adults
Kindergarten age children
98% deemed to be at genius level
(for divergent thinking)
Tested again 5 years later
Only one called for help the next day...of course too late
Many argue the totality of our capacity for critical thought is faltering at a time when information
is exploding
Some argue it's just that technology exposes
existing deficiencies
I argue it doesn't matter!
We clearly have a problem
test text
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Full transcript