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Brain Behavior Institute 2008 - Session 3


Science as loopy, story telling/revising rather than truth/facts

I have to remember I am not teaching the truth but "we are getting it less wrong" ... Tola

Teaching science to a group of 8th graders who believe they know everything and can be convinced of very little can be a bit challenging when certain scientific theories go against their belief system. I look forward to using this explanation of science to better explain why neither their beliefs, nor scientific explanations for certain issues are right or wrong, nor do they have to be. I also look forward to applying the concept of science as an ongoing story revision to better explain this concept ... Sage

I personally dislike the idea of calling science a “story” especially with high school students who have little regard for what is important or “real”. To say the word “story” will automatically have my students thinking that it is a lie. ... Joyce

Although I feel very uneasy being told that nothing can be proven, I do understand the importance of viewing theories, like evolution, as incredibly useful concepts, supported by lots of good data, that helps explains a lot of observations. However, I think it is very important to talk about how not all 'data' is equally valuable; i.e that we can't take a theory and use any old data to say it is supported. All theories are not created equal, in terms of supporting data ... Carol

I, too, was not quite comfortable being told that there is no "truth" -- at least not in science . . . and that nothing is absolutely right. Math and science are closely related. There are things in math that are absolutely right or wrong. There are "proofs." This is why I think we need to distinguish between a theory and a law . . . and that wasn't mentioned today ... Alan

  • getting better at process at least as important as acquiring content
  • a social process: diversity/transaction essential

Living in virtuality

I think that one of the most interesting things about the use of Langston's Ant was how easily we all attribute human qualities to a triangle on a screen. To a certain extent I think that our tendency to attribute agency to everything limits our ability to penetrate the governing rules behind certain systems ... Adi

I would really like to find similar simulations for second graders. I know that my students would be led into wonderful places as long as I am able to guide them ... Concetta

Here are some websites to check out... mostly beneficial for middle grades science curriculum. Sorry, not all are interactive ... Sage

Secrets at Sea is an engaging activity that requires the students to literally, follow a story/case in order to save the food web. It is constantly quizzing the user in different fashions and at the same time requires the user to think by himself/herself on what the next step to solving this mystery is ... Upon starting this activity, Babtunde and I, had trouble going through the lesson because there were no direct instructions on what to do. However after clicking around the page for a few mintues, we were able to find our way to solving the case. Having gone through it once, it is significantly easier to navigate and instruct others ... Penn and Tunde

Some other sites might be of interest, but the above ones, I think, most closely satisfy the assignment ... Alan

  • observations lead to stories/questions/new observations, reconsidertion of old observations
  • computers, computer models valuable educational tools
  • distributed systems
  • engaging, surprising, interactive, to learn by exploring?

Moving on ... to the nervous system

Where we are ... questions?

  • I am interested in nutrition and how diet effects brain function ... Sage
  • I would like to know more about the physiological changes in the brain as a student progresses from K-12 and how learning and absorbing information alters ... Penn
  • I am interested in memory ... Julia 
  • What does 'intelligence' look like in the brain; i.e what is going on in the brain when we think, which parts are activated during 'thinking'? What makes someone smart? a genius? creative? Can we help kids to be smarter by understanding how the brain process information?  ... Carol
  • What is currently going on with the clinical trial in progress in which researchers (inventors) have hard wired a processor onto a man's brain ... Alan
  • I am particularly interested in brain development as it applies to ADHD and ADD students ... Grace
The Brain - is wider than the Sky -
For - put them side by side -
The one the other will contain
With ease - and You - beside-


  • Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
  • Implications if Emily was right?

    • Brain = behavior, there isn't anything else
    • "a person's mental activities are entirely due to the behavior of nerve cells ... and the atoms, ions, and molecules that make them up and influence them" ... Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis
    • "it never ceases to amaze me that all the richness of our mental life - all our feelings, our emotions, our thoughts, our ambitions, our love life, our religious sentiments and even what each of us regards as his own intimate private self - is simply the activity of these little specks of jelly in your head, in your brain. There is nothing else" ... Vilayanur Ramachandram
    • Brain is different in different people
    • Brain is constantly changing
    One example (of many) of one kind of reason (of many) to suspect she was ...

    What story do you hear/see in Emily Dickinson's poem? Do you think the brain is wide enough to contain the sky ... "and You beside"? What would this imply? In general? About education? Write your thoughts in the forum area below.


    Thinking about how the brain (nervous system) works (if Dickinson right)

    Reflex brainLoopy brain
    The problem Another loop

    The brain is built to explore


    • From stimulus/response box to semi-autonomous input/output box consisting of interconnected input/outboxes consisting of ... large number of very small input/output boxes (neurons)
    • Neurons have some degree of autonomy, so therefore does nervous system, can view as output/input box as appropriately as input/output box
    • The architecture of the brain gives it the characteristics of an explorer


    Is the real brain (nervous system) actually that way?

    Yep ...

    • Sensory neurons the only way in, motor neurons the only way out, mostly interneurons
    • Similar but different in different organisms, different in same organism at different times, genes AND experience
    • All neurons, differences in behavior are differences in organization of neurons
      (change organization of neurons, change behavior)



    Key points

    • Brain=behavior a good story
    • Variation from brain to brain (diversity)
    • For outside to affect brain it has to pass through sensory neurons
    • Changes in brains with experience
    • Brains have characteristics independent of experience and can generate outputs independent of experience
    • Brains are designed (by evolution) to explore, to do loopy science


    What most interests you about what we've talked about so far? In what ways might it be relevant in your classroom? Where new questions does it open up for you?


    Bernadine Dancy's picture

    Today's class made me feel

    Today's class made me feel confused, about your brain can make more than one story. What I see is not reality it's an informed guess. In the classroom students may look at a picture but get many observation of the same picture.Because it's a construction of a story. Then could it be said that students seeing the same problem and explore different ways of solving that same problem.
    Cynthia Henderson's picture

    emily dickinson

    The brain is to be explored.  According to Dickinson,there is plenty of room in the brain for vast exploration. All brains are changing. All brains are different.  Weblinks are helpful and needs to be interactive in science.
    Bob McCormick's picture


    Where do emotions fit into this story of the brain and learning? Can learning happen without emotions (I think, therefore I am) or do emotions precede learning?

    Seta Palmer's picture


    The internet offers opportunities of endless amounts of information. In my school there are just a few classrooms where computers are available to the students. With computers being such an integral part of our world, our work and life its sad that we can't make available those hundred dollar computers in USA.
    jrlewis's picture

    Has anyone else looked at

    Has anyone else looked at the gregarious brain link? I found it very interesting. Wondering how to incorporate ideas about the brain and behavior of Williams syndrome patients into education. Either in terms of special ed or differentiated instruction. Can we use some of the ideas to deal with autistics? If everything begins with and returns to the brain, then how do we treat limitations of individual brains?
    Judith Lucas-Odom's picture

    Emily's Brain Thing

    Emily's brain was very interesting and I enjoyed the ideas presented today. I especially enjoyed how people reacted to the reaction of the brain creating everything! I enjoyed learning about how others think and we should not give up on the stories that were expressed today! Brains to you Paul!
    Bernadine Dancy's picture

    Brain Behavior Institue 2008

    Again I learned that the nervous system and the brain are one. The nervous system generates out put as well as in put. The nervous system generate activity by it self. The brain and the nervous system are connected. Which is letting me understand that students learn by hands on,rather than pencil and paper.
    joycetheriot's picture

    Nervous System Model

    Throughout Brain and Behavior my mind tries to take in the information as it may apply to reaching my students. So I ask: Does the model of a disconnected nervous system work to explain how my students learn? I’m not aware of an automatic learning structure employed by the students except that which will give them the best grade for the least amount of work. My strategy for this baseline thinking is to implement the element of surprise occasionally and to award the best grade for the least amount of product that covers succinctly the most amount of material. Throwing out this dodge ball hits many in the class that think they are getting away with less work and sometimes challenges those who know differently and still strive for success. Culling out these students is one of the first steps of classroom differentiation.

    adiflesher's picture

    Paul, thank you for the

    Paul, thank you for the metaphor. We are born explorers. To some extent we are more complex versions of Langston’s ants. We come with a set of instructions that aren’t too complicated. They include things like: eat, drink, stay warm, mate (or at least find something warm to cuddle with). We follow these sets of instructions and they create patterns.  Like Langston’s ant we run in to obstacles that re-shape the way our patterns look.  You can’t just grab the food of someone else’s plate (most of the time) and they tend to get REALLY touchy if you try to mate with their mate. So we adapt our behaviors.

    But where it gets really interesting is how our feedback loop allows for real novelty and creativity. In fact it seems that the feedback loop (and evolution) rewards novelty. The first guy to figure out how to make fire sure was popular. Ditto the guy who figured out how to play guitar with his teeth.

    This makes you popular

    This makes you popular

    At least the first time....

    Maybe not so much later on

    Maybe not so much later on

    Seta Palmer's picture

    loopy concept

    Our school system does not consider that every brain is different. We are given a curriculum that must be adhered too. Although I try very hard to stick to the script provided, I realize that the brain develops at different rates. I also know that some students can't relate to some teachers and may not perform as well. If the loopy brain concept was considered it could take some of these factors into account. This could possibly give the students opportunity to explore more.
    Babtunde A Oronti's picture

    Input....$%&#@^!* ......Output

    Let me just explain my understanding of this afternoon session with a scenario from my Anatomy/Physiology class.

    The topic was on "Body Hormones". For the first ten to fifteen minutes of my lecture, (very pathetic) my students were staring at me like I was crazy. They had little or no idea of what that afternoon was all about. However when I suddenly realized the relationship between hormones and "Teen Depression" and reintroduced the topic from that perspective, the students took over and it became a discussion session with the students doing most of the talking for two days leaving me the only option of being a facilitator.

    Somewhere towards the end of the lesson (on the second day) I was able to make them realize that "Body Hormones" (which was the initial topic) has a lot to do with "Teen Depression".

    I just want to conclude that as much as we know that students bring some things to the learning environment, we are still there to ensure that we let them see the connection between what they bring and what the core curriculum requires us to teach.

    adiflesher's picture

    Raging hormones

    What a great example of how we get teaching backwards. It seems to me that we should start with the burning questions on their minds (depression, romance, stress, sports - etc) and then tie them back to hormones.

    I know that I wouldn't necessairly be excited for a class called seretonin and dopamine. But a class called depression and love. Now that's exciting!


    bronstein's picture

    Kids need to do something to learn

    It is definitely easier for a teacher to verbally dispense material, but the kids tune out and the material passes through their heads and doesn't remain.  In order to have the students make the material their own we have to "engage" them somehow.  We have to provide an activity or draw them into something.  Discrepant events help, but research has shown that they aren't sufficient in themselves. 

    A speaker I saw here at Bryn Mawr not too long ago provided data that even Harvard students manage to take away from a good demonstration a lot of misconceptions.  So, to engage the student we have not only to activate interest, but also we have to engage thinking before the demo or experiment.

    I've also held that we only really learn something when we have to make use of it.  So, to get students to learn we can have them teach the material or we can have them do something that requires the use of the knowledge that we want them to learn.  Finding such activities that are doable in the classroom or even in the lab setting is the challenge I have yet to overcome.

    Ayotola Oronti's picture

    Input & Output Relationship

    From my experience in the classroom, my students are in different categories in the matter of receptability. One group has brains that are dominantly filled with something to the extent that my input is overuled and their output has very small relationship to the input. The other category is that group of students who are very receptive. {I can tag them the fertile ground} They receive the input, add whatever is in them and generate an output that is significantly related to the input.

    Now my question is how do I as an effective educator help my first category of students so that their output will significantly reflect my input?

    LuisanaT's picture


    One good implication to take from the reafferent loop is in teaching considerations. When learning one’s own vocal skills, for example, it is important to practice your vocal chords and fine tuning your breathing pattern, diaphragm fluxes, etc. upon hearing it accordingly. Using a more relevant analogy, the output when reading out loud allows students the possibility of generating their own inputs, hearing themselves and therefore distinguishing between the proper way of annunciating. From this effective learning process, school teachers should accommodate to their students by giving them the opportunity to generate their own loop and maximizing the amount of time to do it.
    ptong's picture


    The 3 phases we mentioned at the end of the 1st half of the day brings hope in finding a better way to teach students, but at the same time I'm concerned of the implications. Because each student are unique, internal variability, it implies that teaching to a general group can be ineffective. But then how do you teach so that you meet the needs of each individual student without compromises their education due to limited time?
    Ayotola Oronti's picture


    Talking about compromising students' education is about the most notorious Y junction for most educators in our system today. The curriculum wants you to do something but you have 34 students in front of you who cry out 34 different needs every period. It is now left to you to decide as a professional which way to go.

    On a daily basis I make decisions on whether to go right or left as I teach. Sometimes when the administrator comes in to obeserve, what is going on is different from the lesson plans but I know inside of me that my first loyalty is to the children. We all do this so that we meet our students' needs as we avoid compromising education.

    Ayotola Oronti's picture


    Talking about compromising students' education is about the most notorious Y junction for most educators in our system today. The curriculum wants you to do something but you have 34 students in front of you who cry out 34 different needs every period. It is now left to you to decide as a professional which way to go.

    On a daily basis I make decisions on whether to go right or left as I teach. Sometimes when the administrators comes in to obeserve what is going on is different from the lesson plans but I know inside of me that my first loyalty is to the children. We all do this so that we meet needs as we avoid compromising education.

    LuisanaT's picture

    We have to learn to meet all needs

    It’s important for schools and teachers to reflect in their classrooms how it is the brain works (learns) to be the most effective in teaching their students. This can be done by providing students the opportunity (please see an ideal educational environment and successive posts) to allow their outputs to generate a particular input to the teachers that will generate the appropriate output back to the class, better equiping the teachers to accommodate to each individual student without having to compromise anything/as much.

    bronstein's picture

    subjective idealism

    Part of this morning's discussion reminded me why I didn't go into philosophy.  It sounded like the underlying precepts to the branch of philosophy called "subjective idealism," which states that all that we know or think we know is only in our heads.  There is nothing that is real outside ourselves.  That this was considered a valid "philosophy" was enough to drive me from the subject.  I'm more accepting of it now, but that is b/c I can modify the philosphy myself (within my own head) along the lines of what Will said so that it becomes acceptable.

    Wil Franklin's picture

    from where action comes

    interested in the implications of Emily's poem for the origin of action. at first, i thought that there was no room for "God" in this concept of the brain containing everything. if action originates from the brain, then there is no divine intervention? but, where does the brain come from? "God" could still be the creator who set in motion all the multitudes of diverse individual brains.

    alternatively, brains emerged from timeless interactions of matter and energy, which in turn is neither created or destroyed, only changes in form.

    i just want a story that allows for "free will". still considering the evidence.

    adiflesher's picture

    Free Will (Franklin)

    Sorry couldn't resist the stupid pun. I probably lack free will in the pun department.

    Seriously though, I want to try and address the issue of free will. 

    It seems like this is a really interesting and confusing story. 

    It’s an old story too. One version of the story goes like this. God made us. God knows everything, therefore we can’t possible do anything that contradicts God’s will.  Therefore we should call ourselves Calvinist and wear strange hats. Of course as someone who believes in free-will, I believe the hat part is a choice, but I am getting ahead of myself.


    John Calvin wearing his favorite hat

    John Calvin wearing his favorite hat

    The other version of the story is that God created humans with free-will.  In this version of the story there is a garden, an apple, a snake and Good and Evil. Leaving aside the garden, snake and apple our job in this story is to choose Good and avoid Evil.

    Dilemmas of Free Will: Which T-Shirt should I wear?

    Dilemmas of Free Will: Which T-Shirt should I wear?

    But what observations can we use to explore these stories? As it turns out, not so many.

    So what’s a better story about free-will?

    We have started to get some interesting brain-related stories about free-will.  One of these stories is that much of what happens in our brain happens with out us being consciously aware of it or before we become consciously aware of it.

    Even more interesting is that our conscious brain likes to make up stories to justify things that its already decided. In split brain patients this is called confabulation 

    In non-split brain people this is called rationalization, or sometimes denial  (assuming you are dating a Freudian).

    But I digress.

    The point is that these stories are testable and can lead to other more interesting stories. I also happen to believe that there is another interesting story about free will, which is a bit more challenging to explore but also relevant.

    This is the story told by Viktor Frankel, a psychologist who survived Nazi concentration camps.

    Frankel observed inmates at the concentration camp. He was curious why some survived while other died.  His explanation was that the people who survived were the ones who found a way to make meaning of their suffering. Free-will for Frankel was not a question of God or closed systems. It was not even really a question of behavior. Free-will was a choice about how we make sense about what is going on in our lives and how that affects our subjective quality of life as well as how it helps us adapt to the difficulties of life.

    This is a very similar story to the one told by the Buddha several thousand years before. According to the Buddha life has a subjective quality of feeling either good (pleasurable, comfortable, warm, fuzzy, happy) or bad (painful, sad, annoying, depressing etc). Our natural tendency is to gravitate towards the good and avoid the bad.

    According the Buddha’s story, this is a very powerfully ingrained pattern of behavior that is hard to avoid. It is also according to his story a pattern that causes us more suffering and unhappiness.

    To the Buddha, free will is about paying very close attention to the thoughts and feelings that are involved in our patterns of behavior.  In paying very close attention we can begin to understand many of our conditioned involuntary responses to certain things. Once we understand them, we have some freedom to act differently. This for the Buddha is free will.

    I find both of the Buddha’s story and Frankel’s story useful in my own life.  Both help to explain large parts of my subjective experience around how and why I make certain choices. Is that free-will?  I am not sure. But its useful. 

    Wil Franklin's picture

    distinguishing randomness from free will?

    your two stories resonate with me. as far as taoist philosophy overlaps with buddhism and as far as psychoanalysis overlaps with Frankel's "re-making" meaning out of the card you are dealt.

    but as much as these stories are useful to my ability to rationalize and create meaning, i still am interested in whether this type of free will is post-hoc rationalization in which case i am just a piano being played by god or natural order (determinism) or is my free will "really" a capacity to change/alter hardwired stimulus response. if the later is the case, which is my gut feeling, then an even more difficult question arises. if i can alter my behavior how am i to be sure it is not the result of a random generator that makes my behavior seem non-deterministic. the question can one tell the difference between randomness (accompanied by post-hoc rationalization/storytelling) and free will? or perhaps it is enough for free will to equate to randomness...freeing us from strict determinism. maybe free will is our story for the brains capacity to generate randomness?

    adiflesher's picture

    Maybe just a little free will


    So are we just a player piano (dust or divine) with a nifty rationalization gadget or are we free to alter our behavior in meaningful ways?

    I actually do believe that free-will is a story our brain (or gut - if you’re a Colbert fan) tells us.

    But I don’t think we can dismiss it as “just” a story.  I think the stories that we tell ourselves are our (possible) escape hatch from determinism.    We can’t change our parents, our genes, our birthplace etc. but we can constantly tell new stories about the world.

    Our ability to tell stories about the world, allows us to try out different behaviors.  It opens the door for real novelty and creativity. 

    Having said that, my own sense is that we tend to wildly overestimate the ways in which we have free will. So much of our behavior is determined in ways that are opaque to us. Much of the rest we rationalize.

    But I do think that we have the capacity as humans to become close observers of the workings of our own minds (see the Wallace quote above) . In doing so we can begin to re-shape the stories that we tell ourselves so they become more nuanced and descriptive. I think that this is the art of good subjective science (or Wisdom as they called it back in the day).

    Recovery from addiction is a good example of how a change of story can change behavior. Paradoxically addicts admit that they are powerless (lack free-will?) over their addictions. In changing the story they open new possibilities in their patterns of behavior.

    Its almost as if we have to recognize the many ways in which we lack free-will, in order to be able to really act on the very few ways in which we do have free will.

     I hope that makes some degree of sense. I am curious to hear what observations have led you to the gut feeling that we do indeed have free will.

    Wil Franklin's picture

    Evidence for Free Will

    Evidence for my gut feeling of “free will” :

    I first started reflecting on this seriously in high school when are started reading Camus, Sartre, Nietzsche and other existentialists. These thinkers lead me to believe I would be judged on my actions and my life was a blank page. I could write what I wanted. That was the end of it (more or less) for quite some time.

    Then came some experiences with animal behavior. I adapted a lab on animal choice, called a food preference test. I used Pieris rapa or White Cabbage Butterfly caterpillars to help students think about stimulus/response as well as how to distinguish between randomness and pattern using a chi-squared test of significance. What became very clear to me (not so much for my students) was the difficulty in distinguishing between pre-determined stimulus response and choice. Were these simple organism making a choice or just reacting to a particular input. How does one tell the difference between hardwired stimulus/response and free will?

    At about the same time I was learning about Leech neuron randomness from colleagues at Bryn Mawr College. It seems even a single naked neuron floating in a petri dish would behave in non-deterministic ways. This is the data that Paul Grobstien showed the Brain and Behavior Institute. This data might be interpreted as a neuron making a choice to act in an unpredictable manner. but how does one tell the difference between unpredictable outputs and free will?

    Another consideration comes from my studies in Chaos theory and Emergent theory. Hebbs’ rule describes how networks of neurons self-organize. A simplification of the rule is, “Neurons that fire together, wire together”. Wired together neurons are ideas, feelings and causal factors in action.

    Finally, I became depressed and it began to affect my drive, relationships and happiness. Believing that neurons could be conditioned to wire differently and believing (from Damasio) that these networks are the building blocks ideas, feelings and thus action, I began to reflect my way out of depression.

    Put this all together and I think we have much less free will then most believe, but we can influence our own actions with deliberate and careful conscious and unconscious reflecting.

    Am curious if any of this overlaps with your experience and what other evidence you most rely on for your conclusions.

    adiflesher's picture

    A little bit of perspective

    The part of your post that really made me think is that after a careful consideration of all the evidence you became depressed by the idea that we lack free-will.

    Then you told yourself a new story and it helped you come out of that depression.

    It turns out that this was a useful story. It probably was also a story that to some extent accounted for more evidence than some of the older stories about free will (Garden of Eden, for example). But in some ways your story served the same purpose, it helped you believe that your choices and by extension, life were meaningful.

    This is a super important story, but one that we constantly forced to re-adjust in the face of the evidence. 

    For some reason your story also reminds me of the Total Perspective Vortex from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.  According to Wikipedia, the Total Reality Vortex is “the most horrible torture device to which a sentient being can be subjected. Located on Frogstar World B, it shows its victim the entire unimaginable infinity of the universe with a very tiny marker that says "You Are Here" which points to a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot. The machine was invented  machine invented by one Trin Tragula in order to annoy his wife. Because she was forever nagging him for having no sense of proportion, he decided to invent something that would show her what having a sense of proportion really meant. Unfortunately the shock of being placed in the Vortex destroyed her brain, but Trin Tragula's grief was tempered by the knowledge that he had been right and she had been wrong. The Total Perspective Vortex had proved that in an infinite universe the one thing sentient life cannot afford to have is a sense of proportion.”

    Due the magic of the internet the Total Perspective Vortex is now online.

    But not everyone reacts badly to the Vortex . Zaphod Beeblbrox entered the TPV and came out believing himself to be the most important being in the universe. . I think Donald Trump or Bill Clinton would probably reach the same conclusion. 

    Good science education can be a bit like the Total Perspective Vortex. Its mind blowing and can make us feel small, powerless and rather insignificant.  Maybe that’s why its so important for people to believe in a personal God.  The alternative seems too depressing.

    But, call me crazy, I think that paradoxically good science education is also our path to salvation, er, a more meaningful place in the universe.  No, the Sun doesn’t revolve around us in this story, but after a whole lot of thinking and tinkering we were able to figure out how to build a little contraption that flew up and landed on the moon! 

    Maybe we were no longer at the certain of the universe in this new story, but we had used our knowledge to explore the vastness of the universe.  Maybe we no longer have the a special and privileged space at the center of creation, but we are interacting with creation in very interesting ways.

    Stay Calm

    Stay Calm, we may not know what it all means, but at least its funny. 

    Babtunde A Oronti's picture

    The Brain is everything!

    Initially I thought the brain and the mind are two different things. The former deals with logic and the latter deals with emotions. However I want to agree according to Emiliy Dickinson that both aspects of our life take their roots from the brain.


    This brings up a question. Can we then say that two individuals behaving differently is as a result of their emotional side of the brain rather than the logical part? I'm agreeing to this because logic is always (or supposed to be) straight forward. However emotions can change from one individual to another depending on the individual's experience



    Bernadine Dancy's picture

    Brain Behavior Institue 2008

    I do agree with Emily Dickerson that every body brain is different. Ibelieve your behavior,emotions and the way we experience life makes us different. The brain contol our belief system. When I observed twins in my class they came from the same parents and environment but they act different almost opposite of each other.
    LuisanaT's picture

    What is society?

    If each individual lives in a world that has been constructed by their own brains, then the definition of society would be the environment and the way the people inhabiting it cooperate that has been constructed in a similar way by a majority of people.
    Babtunde A Oronti's picture


    This is quite interesting. There are things in the United States (as a basically Christian society) that we will be outraged if they happen here. However in a Muslim country they are considered normal life behavior.

    To be exact, I may never understand why any lady would accept that she and three others can be legally married to one man under the same roof and the contrary is regarded as complete abomination and sin to God.

    With your comment I can explain the above philosophy with some confidence that”each individual lives in a world that has been constructed by their own brains".




    Ayotola Oronti's picture

    Emily On the Brain

    If it is true that the brain is changing, then why is it that the ant's behavior did not change from what it was doing despite the obstruction in its path? This is on the assumption that the brain = behavior. Does it mean that the brain or the information in the brain changes under certain conditions and does not under some other conditions?
    Judith Lucas-Odom's picture

    Emily's Brain Thing

    Emily’s ideas about the mind being as wide as the sky, allows you to have an impact on your own ideas of what our mind is really about. My take on this is that the brain is a train station that has infinite amounts of information, stimulations, emotions, chemicals, reasoning, and logic going in and out constantly. In retrospect, our brain needs to allow time to settle down and let it rest and rejuvenate it self completely.

    cisrael's picture

    importance of brain

    I know that some people might find the notion of the brain being everything as dehumanizing, as somehow making us seem less than we think we are, but I don't think you need to look at it that way. I find the idea of the brain as being the 'center of our universe' as empowering and powerful, because we have the capacity of doing a tremendous amount with our brains; of creating incredible art; of inventing useful tools; of doing great good. I find the notion of the brain being 'all there is' as inspirational.
    jrlewis's picture

    I find the notion that the

    I find the notion that the brain is everything, very reassuring. In terms of ability, capacity, and intelligence it seems very encouraging. The idea of the potential of what our students might become. What we might make them. A little power trip too.
    adiflesher's picture

    The full poem

    The Brain -- is wider than the Sky --
    For -- put them side by side --
    The one the other will contain
    With ease -- and You -- beside --
    The Brain is deeper than the sea --
    For -- hold them -- Blue to Blue --
    The one the other will absorb --
    As Sponges -- Buckets -- do --
    The Brain is just the weight of God --
    For -- Heft them -- Pound for Pound --
    And they will differ -- if they do --
    As Syllable from Sound --
    Babtunde A Oronti's picture

    Brain questions................

    1. If we use only a small fraction of our brain capacity, then what is the essence of the rest we don't utilise within a lifetime?

    2. Could it be that the reason the brain has such a large capacity than we can or ever have utilised is to give room for evolutionary development that might come upon mankind as time goes by?

    adiflesher's picture

    Subjective Science of the Mind

    I really like the following quote from B. Alan Wallace's Contemplative Science.  He describes Buddhism as the science of subjective inquiry.  

    I am interested in seeing if this type of model can be applied to students in traditional education settings.

    Here is the quote:

    As noted in the previous account of Gautama's initial training with Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta, from the very origins of Buddhism there has been a strong emphasis on the primacy of experience, or "direct knowledge," over conceptual inference, metaphysical speculation, or simple belief. This is reflected in the common response by the disciples of the Buddha to others who expressed an interest in his teachings: "Come and see!" (ehi passi). This emphasis entailed rigorous training in ethics and attentional training, which can reasonably be viewed as experiments in altering one's lifestyle and modes of attention. Buddhist contemplatives then trained in using their finely honed attention to observe and analyze a wide range of inner and outer phenomena. If a mode of inquiry is deemed empirical if it is based on experiment and observation rather than theory alone, then Buddhist "insight" (vipasyana) meditation can be regarded as highly empirical. However, a major difference between Buddhist, contemplative empiricism and scientific, technological empiricism is that the latter involves quantitative measurements and sophisticated mathematical analysis, resulting in the formulation of precise mathematical laws of nature. Buddhist empiricism, in contrast, is qualitative rather than quantitative, and it is primarily concerned with understanding and transforming conscious experience, rather than understanding and controlling the objective world that exists independently of it. (pg. 76)

    Here is the link to the book:




    joycetheriot's picture

    Your Blog entries are fascinating

    This is a very interesting quote. After I read it for the third time I think I get it. I too am searching for the best blend of methodologies/philosophies with which to satuate my classroom environments. Thank you for your insights!
    adiflesher's picture

    Depressing news

    Picking up on the discussion of science as truth versus story there was a great article in the Boston Globe two days ago about how the scientific community got the story of Prozac wrong. 

    Apparently our old story of depression being caused by shortage of serotonin in the brain does not seem to be borne out by observation.  One of the first cracks in this theory came from observing the phenomenon of “Prozac lag”.   Prozac increases the amount of serotonin in the brain immediately, but it usually takes weeks for the effect of Prozac to be felt by patients.  

    This led scientists to study other possible mechanisms in depression.  One possibility which was explored is that depression functions much like chronic stress in that during both neurons are deprived of the proteins they need to thrive. 

    It’s a fascinating read and shows just how quickly a science story can be absorbed by a culture, even if the story turns out to not quite explain some pretty basic observations. I imagine that we will go through similar shifts in dealing with the topic of ADD drugs.

    Read the full story here:


    Of course the history of medicine is filled with these kinds of stories.  The New York Times did a great piece on the science of epidemiology and some of the potentially awful mistakes of correlation the medical community has made over the years.



    adiflesher's picture


    I have so many questions about the nature of the brain/mind, its hard to narrow them down to three, but here is a start:

    What is consciousness?

    Will giving people an awareness of the way their brain (mind) works change the way they live their lives?

    Can people be trained to enter flow states?

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