Sent: 23-02-2010 12:07:03
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Brain Rules - Part 1
The brain is something we all take for granted. We all have one and tend to forget that like any other part of our body, it needs nurturing, and training. According to Dr. John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and research consultant, the brain is an amazing thing. He points out that some people have extraordinary abilities. He starts his piece on Brain rules with the following:
Multiply the number 8,388,628 x 2 in your head. Can you do it in a few seconds? According to Dr Medina, there is a young man who can double that number 24 times in the space of a few seconds and get it right every time. He also reveals that there is a boy who can tell you the precise time of day at any moment, even in his sleep, whilst he quotes a girl who can correctly determine the exact dimensions of an object 20 feet away. But, none of these children could be taught to tie their shoes as none of them have an IQ greater than 50.
Medina is an affiliate Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine as well as being the director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University. He argues that not everyone's brain is so odd as these examples, but it is no less extraordinary. As he points out, it is easily the most sophisticated information-transfer system on Earth. It sends jolts of electricity crackling through hundreds of miles of wires composed of brain cells so small that thousands of them could fit into the full stop on a printed page, yet most of us have no idea how our brain works.
He argues that this has many consequences. By way of example, many try to talk on our mobile phones and drive at the same time, even though (according to medina) it is literally impossible for our brains to multitask when it comes to paying attention (note, I have been very surprised how many people in the US routinely use their cell/mobile phones whilst driving. The other surprising thing is that there seems to be a dearth of hands free devices compared to Australia). As medina states, we have created high-stress office environments, even though a stressed brain is significantly less productive. Our schools are designed so that most real learning has to occur at home.
Unfortunately. this would be amusing, if it wasn't so harmful.
Dr Medina has a goal. That is to introduce 12 things that are known about how the brain works. He calls these Brain Rules. For each rule, he provides a scientific explanation about how the brain works and then offer ideas for investigating how the rule might apply to our daily lives, especially at work and school. Given that I am always open to new ideas I decided to investigate and found his ideas illuminating and will outline so of the ideas here before providing details of how readers can find more information.
However, as Medina points out, the brain is an extremely complex organ he is only taking a very small percentage of the available information from each subject in order to make that information more available and hopefully understandable for the lay person.
Medina points out that we are not used to sitting at a desk for eight hours a day. From an evolutionary perspective, our brains developed while working out, walking as many as 12 miles a day. The brain still craves that experience, especially in sedentary populations. That's why, he argues, exercise boosts brain power in such populations. Exercisers outperform couch potatoes in long-term memory, reasoning, attention, and problem-solving tasks. I am convinced that integrating exercise into our eight hours at work or school would only be normal.
He goes on to add that as many may have noticed if you've ever sat through a typical PowerPoint presentation, people don't pay attention to boring things. The presenter only has seconds to grab someone's attention and only 10 minutes to keep it. At 9 minutes and 59 seconds, something must be done to regain attention and restart the clock, something emotional and relevant.
Medina also cites a man who can read two pages at the same time, one with each eye, and remember everything in the pages forever. Given that most of us do more forgetting than remembering, this is definitely of interest. Finally, he will explain why the terrible twos only look like active rebellion but actually are a child's powerful urge to explore. Babies may not have a lot of knowledge about the world, but they know a whole lot about how to get it. As he says, humans are powerful and natural explorers and this never leaves us, despite the artificial environments we've built for ourselves.
More next time
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