How Do Brains that Evolved for Hunting and Scavenging Learn Advanced Science and Maths?

New research from Carnegie Mellon University shows for the first time how learning physics concepts is accomplished by repurposing neural structures that were originally used for general everyday purposes. More specifically, the brain is able to learn physics concepts because of its ability to understand the four fundamental concepts of causal motion, periodicity, energy flow and algebraic (sentence-like) representations. http://www.eurekalert.org/multimedia/pub/113033.php

New research from Carnegie Mellon University shows for the first time how learning physics concepts is accomplished by repurposing neural structures that were originally used for general everyday purposes. More specifically, the brain is able to learn physics concepts because of its ability to understand the four fundamental concepts of causal motion, periodicity, energy flow and algebraic (sentence-like) representations.
http://www.eurekalert.org/multimedia/pub/113033.php

The human brain was initially used for basic survival tasks, such as staying safe and hunting and gathering. Yet, 200,000 years later, the same human brain is able to learn abstract concepts, like momentum, energy and gravity, which have only been formally defined in the last few centuries.

… The brain activation patterns while thinking about the physics concepts indicated that all of the students’ brains used the ancient brain systems the same way, and the patterns revealed how the new knowledge was formed — by repurposing existing neural systems.
___ http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-04/cmu-sdh041216.php

The same principle applies to learning mathematics. Parts of the brain which were originally used for simple counting, spatial understanding, and rough comparisons of different quantities, have been re-purposed for use in statistics and higher mathematics.

A pair of researchers with Université Paris-Sud and Université Paris-Saclay has found via fMRI human brain studies that the neural networks used to process mathematics are different from those that are used to process language. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Marie Amalric and Stanislas Dehaene describe experiments they conducted with volunteers willing to undergo fMRI scans while engaging in various tasks and what they found as a result.
… The brain scans show, the researchers claim, that the human brain has different neural networks for handling math skills than it has for language processing and furthermore that the brain uses the same neural network to understand math in a basic way as it does when trying to make sense of numbers or space.
___ http://medicalxpress.com/news/2016-04-brain-neural-networks-mathematics-language.html

PNAS Paper by Dehaene and Amalric: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2016/04/06/1603205113
Maths-trained French neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene has written an informative book on the human “number sense,” https://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-number-sense-9780199753871 . Dehaene continues to research and update his ideas on number sense and the brain’s learning of mathematics.

Other researchers are pursuing similar lines of research with regard to the learning of physics and other basic scientific types of reasoning.

“This is why humans have been able to move ahead and innovate — because we can use our brain for new purposes,” Just said. “Human brains haven’t changed much over a few thousand years, but new fields like aeronautics, genetics, medicine and computer science have been developed and continuously change. Our findings explain how the brain is able to learn and discover new types of concepts.”
__ http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-04/cmu-sdh041216.php

It is true that humans can use their brains for “new purposes.” But the way in which human children are taught to use their brains for new purposes — and to learn to think in new ways — is harshly restricted by outmoded government educational institutions and systems which exist more for their own sake than for the sake of the humans who fall under the influence of the institutions. And so much of the potential of young people will be sacrificed upon the altar of political correctness and rigid institutional power maintenance.

…. our brains are not equipped to manipulate the arithmetic facts needed to do precise calculations, such as multiplication, because these operations were not essential to our species’survival. … Consequently, to do multiplication and precise calculations, we have to recruit mental circuits that developed for quite different reasons.
__ How the Brain Learns Mathematics by David A. Sousa

The book by David Sousa, How the Brain Learns Mathematics, looks at the intuitive maths concepts which children develop from early childhood, and how they could be developed in a more organic fashion to allow larger numbers of young people to develop a sophisticated number sense useful in higher maths — and to avoid maths anxiety.

Young Brains and Maths Sousa, How the Brain Learns Mathematics, p. 112

Young Brains and Maths
Sousa, How the Brain Learns Mathematics, p. 112

We are still early in the stages of understanding the best approaches to teaching science and maths on the scale of classrooms or larger. But for homeschoolers and unschoolers, the path is becoming more clear — whenever a tailored, individual approach is feasible.

All true educators understand that learning is not separated into individual disciplines in the real world. Maths and scientific concepts arise in all types of everyday contexts, and should be learned in a variety of real-world contexts for optimal utility. Try to avoid jumping from abstract category to abstract category, in the mentally jarring manner that is so typical of modern educational approaches to maths and sciences.

A number of new approaches to early childhood training aim to incorporate new brain science findings into child-tailored approaches to full spectrum, multi-disciplinary education. Patchwork Kids, Dangerous Children, Full-Spectrum Youth, and other methods intend to provide new generations of young people with the type of solid foundations and resilient approaches to problem-solving that will help them meet tomorrow’s challenging world on their own terms.

The intuitive and organic manner in which theoretical facility is wrapped into more practical skills and competencies, makes Dangerous Children difficult to classify in traditional career and educational settings. Which is just as well, since most of them will create their own career paths which will likely encompass multiple inter-disciplinary professions, occupations, meta-occupations, and para-occupations.

Remember, just because Dangerous Children are Dangerous, and feel comfortably at home in a wide range of Dangerous settings and situations, does not mean that they do not understand the world more deeply and in many more ways than you ever will. They are trained to consciously forego a facade of sophistication in order to be intentionally underestimated.

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