Saturday, August 2, 2008

Is it possible our brains can sing the same tune?

Tēnā koutou katoa - Greetings to you allBelly Of A Fiddle - artist Ken Allan
What do we mean by 'wiring of the brain'? Are all our brains 'wired' the same at birth?
Is it possible for individual brains to become 're-wired' in similar ways by ensuring they all learn the same things in the same way and by the same means?

In a recent post by Tony Karrer, Brain 2.0, a fascinating series of discussions arose around learning, and whether the methods used in learning actually affect the development (wiring) of the brain. A current belief is that if someone acquires learning through a particular process or method, then the way the learning happens in the brain (the way the brain becomes 'wired') is necessarily set according to the means used to learn.

Similarly 'wired'

The assumption is that if everyone learnt the same things by the same means their brains would become similarly ‘wired’. By the same token, if everyone learnt the same things but by different ways and means, then everyone’s brain would be uniquely ‘wired’. No two people would have their brains ‘wired’ the same way.

This could well be what happens in life. Even people from similar families with similar cultural backgrounds must necessarily have different learning experiences. The sequence in which even like experiences may have occurred for each individual, is going to be different from person to person.

Similar perceptions

Are these differences likely to affect each individual's perception (the way they see things) even if the differences are small? If so, it would be reasonable to think that everyone's perception of things would not be exactly the same. Could it be that this is because their brains are now 'wired' differently? And can this difference in perception affect the way each individual continues to learn?

Darwin put to the test

In a comment I put to Tony, I used an example to illustrate how perception could possibly affect learning:

Suppose a fundamentalist and an agnostic follow an elearning course in Darwin's theory of evolution. Neither participant knew anything about Darwin’s ideas beforehand. Is it conceivable that, even if these learners learn the theory using precisely the same method, the way they learn will be different because of different ways that their brains were 'wired' beforehand?

Let’s assume that both learners attain a similar level of understanding of the theory of evolution as assessed by an exacting test. The fundamentalist who may not agree with the theory - it being at odds with the religion - will nevertheless understand the principles to the same degree as the agnostic.

Bearing in mind that the fundamentalist will disagree with what was learnt and the agnostic may not, are the learners' brains still 'wired' differently according to their beliefs? Or has some degree of alignment occurred through following precisely the same course along the same ideas?

As a teacher, it has never ceased to fascinate me how people see things so differently. Even the most straightforward topic broached in a discussion forum of like people can often bring forth a huge diversity of opinion. Might it be difficult to align or re-align individual brains through learning methods, simply because of their different degrees of perception to begin with?

What do you think?

( 5 ) ( 4 ) ( 3 ) ( 2 ) << - related posts

Ka kite anō - Catch ya later


V Yonkers said...

Ken, I look at it more like a river path. We begin with a certain topography in our brain which makes the paths that are generated (the connections in the brain) dependent upon the natural inclinations of a person. A river will flow through areas of least resistance.

If a river flows over the same path for a long time, that path becomes set and it is hard to "turn the river". If there are constant path ways or obstacles put in front of the paths of the river, there will be chaos, with many off shuts and no predictability as to the way the river will flow, perhaps resulting in constant flooding.

Likewise, if a person is taught the same thing over and over again in the same way, their learning will become fossilized, so to deviate from the river path will take a major event (a dam which could be very difficult for the individual). If learning is allowed meander without any focus, there will be no permanent paths which can be overwhelming for a new learner. So the optimum is to create some deep passages off of which tributaries and connecting canals can be developed as the environment changes.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koe Virginia! Welcome to my blog!

I think your river metaphor for learning is wonderful. It embraces so much that reflects the way learning appears to happen. It also encompasses many other like metaphors such as one to do with knowledge (a flow).

The way the mind needs constant stimulus in order to progress and maintain learning is also in your metaphor - the dried up river beds of the mind through the lack of this maintenance, and how it is so important to reflect and look for (or be given) further stimulus when something is first learnt in order to maintain and swell that flow.

It also explains how learning and habits associated with it can be ingrained, and how the mind can become confused with infowhelm.

Truly an insightful metaphor for learning. Thank you for that!

It leaves me wondering about so-called Web 2.0 Brain or Web 2.0 learning which I've been reading so much in discussion lately and how the river characteristics and pathways may be affected (if they are) by the 'mode' of learning.

I wonder if the learning habits associated with Web 2.0 may be more a characteristic of so-called Web 2.0 learning than what is learnt. Y'know, the difference between enjoying a good wine from a crystal wine-glass as opposed to using a pottery goblet - are the likes and dislikes deciding factors in the effectiveness of the learning? Probably they are.

Ka kite

Ken Stewart said...

Ken, it is these cross-patterns, these overlays in the knitting, if you will, that are so wonderful. No two pieces of yarn are exactly the same in length, density, or composition... yet we find a way to mold them through careful exercise into a functional whole - a blanket.

So it is that we learn from each other, by depending upon one another. It is at these "touch-points" where interaction and stimulation occur.

Surely, you can exact the very same learning mechanism in a repeatable, scientific manner - but it would be my opinion these slight variations in both application and absorption are indeed so wonderful - allowing for the teacher to impart both knowledge and gain understanding.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koe Ken!

I like the 'fabric' model (maybe it's a tartan :-) It has a lot of merit.

I've had this theme running through my mind lately, of complexity systems. It's the recursiveness of learning that reminds me so much of the quality of a complexity system. There are threads that run through and loop back. The same threads re-appear in patterns - not unlike tartan in that regard.

The property of models (in Science and other disciplines) is that it's rare to find a one-size-fits-all. Of course, the mind is the lubricant here and we can always choose the appropriate model to best fit our need. Many models in Science are like that - the numerous models for light, for instance.

Thanks for extending my thinking on this one ;-)

Ka kite

Nancy White said...

I'm "following" or "connecting" or floating down the "river" of the comments cross linked across blogs from people in the connectivism course and am struck again and again about how we are using metaphor to help express our ideas. Had I time, I'd start making a tag cloud of the metaphors and see what emerges!

Alas, I'm facilitating a rather intense workshop of my own online, so I shall just wander and lurk. And of course, learn. Is that building? Growing? Rivering? I'm sure it has to do with neurons. ;-)


Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koe Nancy!

I am privileged to have you visit when your time is so much at a premium! You don't know how proud I am to have you share with us your enthusiasm for one of my pet topics, 'the metaphor'. It deserves a category all of its own. You'll find plenty of metaphor on this blog.

I'd say that, whatever else you call what you're doing when you learn, enthusing must be part of it. I'm sure it involves neurons ;-)

Ka kite

Nancy White said...

Hey Ken, I'm just another learner, like the rest of the world! I can't help being engaged!

Speaking of metaphors, we have been using the metaphor - borrowed from David Gurteen - about knowledge sharing being like a cake. ;-)

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koe Nancy!

Yes I'm familiar with David Gurteen's article.

Being a chemist, who was a pot-boiler (affectionate name for a research chemist who synthesises things from nowhere) I can relate to the cake metaphor.

Having the tacit knowledge (the 'how you do', as opposed to the 'how to do') in Chemistry is even more important than having tacit knowledge in the kitchen. It is this factor (for want of a better word) that casts a mystery over a lot of chemistry practice - some may call it alchemy :-)

Chemistry is extremely metaphorical. Not only do chemists have recipes (for cakes too) but they also have things called formulae. The recipe to make a substance is not the same as its formula, and different again (of course) from the ingredients list. The model that a chemist may make to describe what the particles of that substance look like is different again.

I think it is for this reason that I have found so many chemists (and chemistry teachers) to be creative in fields seemingly far removed from chemistry itself.

Now, you may be thinking, "What relevance is this to knowledge and its metaphors?"

It's all to do with imagination. One exponent of that human attribute was Isaac Azimov, the novelist who wrote the series 'I, Robot'. Few people know that he was also a professor of Chemistry. His Chemistry text books were before their time. I studied them in the 1960s as an undergraduate. If ever there were resources suitable for apprentices who had to learn to work in metaphor, these were.

Azimov and his life's work was so entrenched in metaphor that Rowena Morrill created a work of art depicting Azimov sitting on a throne decorated with symbols of his life's work.

He was also a brilliant cook. Leave him in the kitchen with nothing to do for half an hour and he was just as likely to whisk up a sumptuous cake as he was to write a short story - he was a prolific writer.

Long live the metaphor!

Catchya later