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Learning and Brain Optimism


Brain Optimism

Hooray for the brain and what it can do.
Hooray for much else too.

In the British Medical Journal (BMJ 2007;335:1288-1289 (22 December)), Rachel C Vreeman and Aaron E Carroll listed beliefs espoused by physicians and the general public, and one such belief is that we use only 10% of our brains. Tony Buzan, for example, writes we use only one percent, or perhaps even less than that. [Mum 1]

However, we use far more than 10 percent of our grey matter. Carroll and Vreeman searched for evidence to support or refute the ten percent claim, and found:

The belief that we use only 10% of our brains has persisted for over a century . . . This myth arose as early as 1907 . . . Evidence from studies of brain damage, brain imaging, localisation of function, microstructural analysis, and metabolic studies show that people use much more than 10% of their brains. Studies of patients with brain injury suggest that damage to almost any area of the brain has specific and lasting effects on mental, vegetative, and behavioural capabilities. Numerous types of brain imaging studies show that no area of the brain is completely silent or inactive. The many functions of the brain are highly localised, with different tasks allocated to different anatomical regions. Detailed probing of the brain has failed to identify the "non-functioning" 90%. Even micro-level localisation, isolating the response of single neurones, reveals no gaps or inactive areas. Metabolic studies, tracking differential rates of cellular metabolism within the brain, reveal no dormant areas.

The authors conclude among other things that the "prevalence and endorsement of simple medical myths point to the need to continue to question what other falsehoods physicians [and others] endorse."

There may still be room for improvement in the use of one's brain. Learning in itself promotes the growth of synapses in the brain, even in old rats, Marion Diamond at the University of California has documented. Ronald Gross writes:

We actually can get smarter as we grow older, if we provide our brains with the right encouragement and environment in which to "do its thing" . . . Your brain responds positively to being challenged by a rich environment and . . . can even continue to grow new cells and connections. It operates best when properly stimulated by interesting complex materials, as long as it has methods for processing them effectively. [Peak Learning 25, 29]

Recent research findings show that cells in the brain areas that are involved in memory and learning, are able to regenerate.

So why not be optimistic about learning an old dog new tricks even when getting elderly with one or more non-fatal brain damages? You can grow synapses. Being optimistic is likely to be good for your health in its own right, researchers have found.

When people have a severe illness . . . maintaining optimism is important . . . [A] positive mood may itself help by improving the body's ability to resist disease.

Unrealistic optimism may actually lead people to practice better health habits. . . . Optimists also seem to recover faster from illnesses . . . Optimism is associated with good coping strategies, as well as with good health habits. Optimists are active copers who try to solves problems rather than avoid them . . . [M]ost optimists are "constructive optimists" . . . but a few optimists are "naïve optimists" who believe that everything will turn out all right without any active efforts on their parts [avoidant copers] . . . [U]nrealistic optimism . . . keeps people happier, healthier, and more likely to recover from illness. [Hi 522-523]



Playfulness Counts

Playful ones need to be well protected so as not to be harmed as they grow into their innate stature.

Homo ludens, playing man, can be liked by kittens

In higher mammals learning is done with zest in the care of the family - one or more. Much playfulness indicates learning of biological value is possible. Homo ludens (man the player) is not to be looked down on, then. Some rank homo ludens en par with homo sapiens.

Animals communicate with each other


A gorilla she, Koko, managed to learn and use many hundred "words"
[Ref]. She managed to talk in such ways and others. It showed up that she wondered into mysteries too. Wonderment is a major basis for discoveries, for writing and science.

LoLook and find: animals wonder too

Note the difference between finding out on the one side, and being told and shown on the other. Finding out first-hand is usually expensive in some way or other. It takes time, for one thing. Learning from the hard-won experiences of other may be fit for schooling. Good schooling is largely that. Some books teach much and serve as repositories of gathered knowledge and knowhow. Knowhow is usually productive, where as bookish knowledge may not always be put into use very easily. You have to weigh alternatives. It is good to be nicely taught, at any rate.

(1) Finding out often rests on the ability to see (observe) for yourself, on insight. Observation ability can be trained. (2) Being informed by others, an institution or the large society, is more convenient and much conformised in general. That is what we have to deal with. It is also well to bear in mind that good schooling and gathered information may foster insights. It happens in science too, after all is done and said.

It is quite much common in Norwegian public schools to stiffen and mar the inborn zest of learning. In spite of their Norwegian schooling, some manage to keep the inborn love of learning intact throughout life, and that is not little. One should seek to preserve these high abilites, and not forget to cater to imaginative development either. Imagination is a wonderful gift, thus, and may be put to use in studying too. Imagery may be very well remembered. Many words - especially concrete ones - carry associated imagery.


Being instructed (taught) can blend with inborn, native curiousity and brightness (intelligence) and trigger off insights. Learning is much memory-rooted, whereas insights (also) have an intuitive component. Many hindrances may be overcome. It should help to know of some of them in advance, presumably. Be on the alert as to such as:

  • Complacency in conflicts and stopping or just holding on to things (mentally as well) instead of feeling zest of learning.
  • Willpower of others misused or drawn into inferior or unsuitable channels by associates.
  • Outer motivations may turn into set-backs. Learning is good in itself, and hardly requires being manipulated or controlled by authority figures all along.

Coping with exams may be all right, depending on how sensible they are and how well prepared you get. But good learning and good learning routines are often interfered with negatively by cramming. It is a sad fact that reveals that very much public schooling gives distorted learning. It takes joy of learning and of living in many students.

You have to increase the winning streaks and reduce the losing streaks in your way. It may help some to count how many half-hours you spend in studying each day, draw it on a neat chart and sum up each week - and next reward yourself a little bit for well done learning work.

Keep good company if you can, and do not get much involved with inferior people. Teachers are not all alike.

LoAttain to speed of writing and scientific processing. That knowhow is much good

If you can, get into an all right study routine all of your own and "get into the flow" of learning, of studying, reading, writing, and counting - whatever [see Plm, index]. Try to stay matter-of-fact, sachlich, for being mislead may cost money, time, influence and good connections.

Attain to the speed you need:

  • Reading skills can be trained.
  • Get the needed speed in processing information such as term essays and much else - many skills can be quite automated.
  • Study efficiency also when it comes to preparing for lectures and books and going through the notes afterwards.
  • Effective use of time is different for a learner than what many teachers assume.

Study time is costly, and knowhow in the matter gives far greater yields than blunt learning. There are many details of it. But most important: Time well spent in academic study is on memorisation, so that bits of learning enter the long-time memory (LTM), where they can stay for long without too much deterioration. There are good guiding rules for how to go ahead throughout. Few know of them, and not all who know of the good things, apply them. Also, if you are learning skills, other factors get into the matter.

Learn from handbooks on scientific writing that verbosity is of very little value. Some disciplines are different, though. But in general it should be good to be rational and fair about one's language processing, by learning and sticking to hard-won rules of plain English that you can find. [see Peg]

LoLearn to live with great uncertainties by relaxing and other arts of living

UNSOUND stress has to be combatted, because stress breeds many and alarming diseases, if there is much of it. There are three things to bear in mind:

  • Reduce your general stress level in order to cope well.
  • Learn to cope well and then relax as part of yogic lifestyle.
  • Some persons are more stress resistent than others. Know their little "secrets" to be on the safe side Some are in textbooks on psychology.

Something which is very hard to deal with for conform minds is uncertainty. There are many levels of uncertainty, and unsettled topics. Learn to let your deeper and wiser levels of mind deal with them as far as your deep mind goes.

It can be hard to deal with typical sides to being marred, with debased morality, awkward living standards. You need to try to augment your winning assets, and don't get your good sides thrashed.



To suggest an all-round way to cope through some learning:

  1. Observe, wonder and inspect as you are up to it.
  2. Attain to relaxed coping skills, including speed of writing and scientific processing. Such knowhow can help too.
  3. Accept there are great and small uncertainties in our world, and do not speculate to the extent that it steals useful time by and by. Speculation is marked by lack of wise evidence, and may secondly reflect deep urges too.

IN NUCE Inspect and cope with skills, accepting your current limitations as you learn to thrive and develop in a balanced way. Buddha shows one, the Eightfold Middle Way. It is one of the cornerstones in Buddhism and fit for self-help endeavours too.

Stay with the mainstream as long as it benefits you, for mainstream culture and thinking suggests what is success, what is culture and much else important.

Brain optimism, playful, learning, END MATTER

Brain optimism, playful, learning, LITERATURE  

Mum: Buzan, Tony: Make the Most of Your Mind. Rev. ed. London: Pan, 1988.

Ope: Cutts, Martin: Oxford Guide to Plain English. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Plm: Gross, Ronald: Peak Learning: A Master Course in Learning How to Learn. Rev. ed. J. Tarcher/Putnam. New York, 1999.

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