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Brain Behavior Institute - Session 5




Session 5

The bipartite brain: The frog and the story teller

From yesterday morning

While Paul was talking about Emily's poetic description of the sky (being contained in the brain), I thought of a model that would describe this idea. It would showa line drawing of the head with a filmstrip inside projecting the captured images as taken in by experience. The light would shine out of the eyes and project "Joyce's World".  The thought came to me...this is why we are told that life is what we make of it.  We actually do!!!! ... Joyce

I enjoyed the idea of input and outputs and outputs with no inputs because this is my world, slightly off.  I would like to know about how to incorporate these ideas into a lesson? ... Judith

The loopy brain allows for complex interactions between stimuli, internal brain functioning, connections, and outcomes, as well as the spontaneous actions that sometimes occur.  Does the loopy brain allow for original thoughts and choices or free will?  Can free will be a part of the internal functioning? ... Is the brain designed for exploration? ...  Paul said today, "Teachers don't need to stimulate.  They need to provide kids with things to act on."  This statement resonates with many of my experiences and observations as both a student and teacher, but only in the "finding out about the world" contents.  Other content areas do not seem to line up with this statement. ... if the brain is built for exploration, does the current understanding and structure of education in our culture need to be fundamentally changed?  How can teachers best develop ways of instruction and assessment to fully support the brain's exploration? ... Jill

If we accept that the nervous system is designed by evolution to be an explorer then we need to think carefully about what happens to mold kids into a response pattern that does not demonstrate that kind of curiosity ... Deb

my own high school implemented a class aptly subscripted with, 'how to get a good grade on the ACT.'  This seems so terribly far away from what I see education as being.  I see education as forever-learning: learning as much as you can to formulate an opinion about a subject, and being open enough to listen to other's opinions in order to again formulate a new opinion of your own ... Brie

Does culture limit creativity?  How often are our  uniqueness bounded by societal constraints?   Does it mean that we ‘change’ who we ‘are’ to be presentable in a public forum??????? ... Antoinette

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—

Why does it take months or even years for the light bulb to go on? ... Lucienne

I think what interests me so much about this topic is the human need to simplify the brain, yet is remains so complex. What are the best ways to help students accept the complexities of learning? ... Kathy

teaching the simplicities that create the whole ... Brie

Have boxes inside boxes, initiator rather than just reactor, loops, go back to pick up neurons, inputs, ouputs, cables and then ... "difference between knee jerk reactions and ... thinking?"


Additional important general architectual features (continuing to get it less wrong)


The reafferent loop: brain as scientist

Topographic organization: action and perception as distributed activity 

The "I-function" and Bipartite Brain (cognitive unconscious and story teller)

  • Unconscious/conscious distinction fundamental to nervous system organization
  • Nervous system as distributed system
  • Begins to account for story telling as distinct from acting

Implications for education?


Geneva Tolliferreo's picture

7/8 PM Summary

If you want computer security, you have to sacrifice privacy.  Is this, or not, a contradiction?  Sure it is.  And, is this not very concern that several have expressed this afternoon?  Sure it is.

Dr. Grobstein admits that he can not guarentee TOTAL protection on the web from those who intend to do harm to any of us.  I applaud him for his frankness, because it's true, he (and no one else) can.  However, many may attempt to convince us that they could.  Impossible.

I believe that as 'fail safe' as those who have programed President Obama's Blackberry say it is, it's not 100% fail safe either, from his private calls and messages being accessible.  Allbeit, one may have to go through serious firewalls to get the info., it is possible...with great effort.  This is unfortunate for him, as he deserves his privacy with family and friends.

I have concerns about the full extent of the "The Freedom of Speech" laws.  When these laws were written, people were not as lawless and accessible as they are today.  Unfortunate for us, where I appreciate the advantages of the Internet and would like to believe it's challenges pale in comparison to it's advantages, we just keep learning of how employers are using it to screen potential employees, mortgage lenders are screening potential many cases as the sole and primary point of reference and ultimate deciding factor of approval or not.

Antoinette Sisco's picture

08JUL09 pm session

Right now my interneurons are so over loaded, they are preventing meaningful outputs.  Today’s discussion has presented me with so many questions, I am having difficulties processing and producing a reply to our discussions.


Antoinette Sisco's picture

09Jul09 re: yesterday

Some personal information, I think in pictures.  As I am realizing that my brain has since yesterday constructed new pathways, and networks, I am beginning to be able to process, and produce meaningful output to what I interacted with yesterday.  What came to my mind initially is the scene from the movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus” when ‘Mr. Holland’ is trying to help a middle school aged red haired student discover her potential on the clarinet.  She begins to cry and confides in him that the rest of her family are musical geniuses, and that she is fearful that she will not be able to perform as well as they expect her to.  ‘Mr. Holland’ ask her what she likes best about herself; she replies her hair, which reminds her of the sunset.  He then tells her to “play the sunset.” 

Play the sunset.  How simple and yet a profound concept.   When we introduce, or re-introduce educational material to our students, we sometimes expect every moment of every class period to be interactive and responsive.  Although I really tried yesterday afternoon, I could not make any cogent response to all of the information I was processing.    As a very young child experiences the sunrise for the first time, they may be completely captivated.   As teens, they may have a vampire like response to the sunrise, covering their heads, and hoping it goes away.   Later in life, they can again appreciate the sheer beauty, wonder, splendor and illumination of the event we call the story of sunrise.

“Langston’s Ant”     I used to not understand a meaningful use for this lovely simulation, last night, one just jumped out at me.  Maybe the “story” I can use for the ant, is that it is a model of how neuron work.  Neurons will complete a series of interworking s until they are able to build connections to other neurons.   The label of barrier, may not need to be barriers at all, it is like previous input, which may allow, and encourage the neuron to make connections faster, rather than slower. 

My brain is more developed today than it was yesterday…later today, I am hopeful that I will continue to grow and become more of who I am in the process of becoming.


Brie Stark's picture

Representing the complexity

Representing the complexity of input and output response!  There are many paths with which an input can generate an output -- and in your case, an input seems to have gone of course and cannot quite decide which output it prefers.

Deborah Hazen's picture


Or, maybe, like myself---there are responses--conscious and unconscious to yesterday's session but they are being filtered by thoughts we are having about our thoughts. Teachers in particular learn to be very good screeners of our thoughts so that when people say the darndest things to us----we don't react--rather we redirect!  I think we should scan some brains...I want to see what's going on in there!

Jill Bean's picture

Connections between unconscious and conscious brain functioning

Christopher Reeves' experiences with paralysis really helped me to understand the physical structure and inner-connections of the brain and nervous system. I am fascinated by the body's ability to unconsciously sense and respond to stimuli. 

I am really intrigued by the possibility of conscious thoughts both supporting or combining with unconscious reactions and that conscious thoughts can impede or inhibit unconscious reactions.  What are the implications of the brain's ability to effect ourselves and the world?  How can teachers use mindfulness, positive psychology, meditation, etc with our students?

Brie Stark's picture

Just a week ago, Wil, Emily,

Just a week ago, Wil, Emily, Paul and I sat down and began to discuss the implications of consciousness.  This was my thought about the conversation:

A psychologist once noted that these education practices might've resulted from the split between the cognitive unconscious and the conscious.  At one point, it is hypothesized that there was no bi-partite brain configuration, only a unified system of the conscious and unconscious.  However, when our conscious somehow separated from the unconscious and formed the story teller function--the function where we confabulate our reality, as reality is really a figment of our minds--we gathered the ability to 'think' in different ways.  This also created a problem that hadn't been present before: we could think and we could thus conform, and were less likely to reflect upon ideas and often held our ideas back for fear of not being accepted by other individuals' story tellers.  For instance, in a one-god religious culture, an entire group of people is apt to agree that there is, indeed, only one-god.  This leads to more cohesion of the group and thus more conformity.  This cohesion and conformity make it far less likely that the story of their existence can change, and they are less likely to reflect upon their past and add new details.  In a multi-god religious culture, many people may believe diverse things about the diverse religious figures--this does not lead to the strength of cohesion and conformity that the one-god religions feel, and it is thus more probable that they be able to confabulate, add and reflect upon their culture's stories without feeling estranged from the group dynamic.

What, indeed, does our conscious hold us back from?  It obviously inhibits ideas because of social stigma, as we all experience in daily life, and as our discussion today about web creation brought up.  It was noted that many do not wish to create something on the web because they fear the critique from the public -- a social stigma of producing their ideas to a forum.  I think this opens up an opportunity: perhaps teachers can encourage public displays of ideas in order to increase confidence and lower the inhibition of the conscious over the unconscious, thus supporting the discussion of new ideas and overcoming social stigma.

Angela Bryant's picture


Neurons was a very interesting topic. I have a better understanding of how neurons works in the body. Christopher Revees was use as a great example of how the sensory and motor neurons fuction in the body. Great lesson Paul!!

Judith Lucas-Odom's picture

Thoughts about what is really in My Brain

This morning my neurons decided to tell a story about how they tell the story about how they tell the story...the box in the box in the box .....  I really need to understand that I am who I am because of my collected inputs and outputs of experiences conscious and unconscious.  This morning got me thinking more about multiple intelligences and how my students can learn about science using this technique.  I think I will try to explore these boxes in the future.

Geneva Tolliferreo's picture

7/8 AM Summary

Does the brain ever rest.  When?                                                                             

Does the  brain need to rest?  Why?

How does the brain rest?

Does the brain rejuvenate?  How?


Teaching Process:  Instruction, Modeling, and Practice.

How does the brain of savants work?  Does the brains of twin savants work as our does, as it relates to twins?  If not, how does the brains of savant twins work?

Is EVERYTHING in a box?

Genes influence, not determine, the brain.

Neurons:  sensory - input, motor - output, interneurons - all others; sending signals.

God made our brain...but our brain is not our God.  In Isaiah He speaks of our thoughts not being His Thoughts and our ways not being His Ways.  His Thoughts and Ways are higher than our thoughts and ways.  Who can compare themself to God?  No one.

Brie Stark's picture

I think your comparison to

I think your comparison to God is a very important one.  Paul and I discussed today that -- if Emily Dickenson is correct -- God and the brain are synonymous.  To me, this makes sense.  The brain creates out world: the sky, the people, the emotions -- everything.  Isn't this strikingly similar to the 7-days in which God created the earth, and man in his image?  If God is man's brain, and man's brain creates reality, the story of God and creation seems plausible to consider, philosophically.

Jill Bean's picture

Brains, education system, and accommodations

This morning we all agreed that all brains are different, due to the different genetic influences, different inputs, and the different architectural structures.  Paul then made the statement, "We all understand that everyone is different, but the education system doesn't treat people like they're different."  Then a conversation about special ed, accomodations, and individual responsibility arose. 

I'd like to argue that many special education programs and accomodations that teachers and schools use are actually designed to help those kids become like everyone else, to reach the same external goal that is applied to each child at a certain age.  The education systems seem to say that everyone needs to learn the same content, the same skills, and to the same extent.  If there are children who are not reaching those goals, they will make accomadations to help them reach those expectations.  Those programs do not seem to look at the child and consider what is important for that child to learn, what skills will be valuable to that child, and to what extent that child should learn things.  Now I fully acknowledge to ask a teacher to do so for a group of 30 kids is unmanagable and unreasonable.  But I do think the education system can be changed to better consider the variety of brains that exist and to consider Paul's question: What can you be best at, rather than what does the school board decide you should be?

Deborah Hazen's picture

Yes, and we're back to the question

So, I read your post and I'm back to the question we were mulling around this morning---what is the purpose of school/education? Should we model Geelong Grammar School's emphasis on positive psychology? Is the notion of training kids for lives of happiness off the target? Are we educating them for jobs, to be productive members of their communities, to fit a particular model? Are we educating them to know themselves or know basic skills?

I don't think that it has to be an either/or and that by disrupting our definition of the purpose for education we might just knock some of the edges off the current standardized testing/admission's goal organization found in many school communities.

Your point about asking a teacher to individualize for a class of 30 is a good one. Have you read some of the Edutopia articles about the use of technology to disrupt class and make all education student centered?

elovejoy's picture

  I found the input-output


I found the input-output box system model of our brain to be very helpful in understanding more about the brain.  I think explaining that the sensory neurons are the inputs and that the motor neurons are the outputs makes the information about the brain more accessible and understandable.  It was also interesting to hear people's thoughts on the percentage of the different types of neurons in the brain.  It seemed like most people thought that interneurons made up a majority of the neurons in the brain, but that motor and sensory neurons also make up a small portion of the neurons.  No one thought that 99.99999999% of neurons would be interneurons.

I want to comment on Jill's post about special education and helping every child reach the same external goal to be like every other student.  I think she brings up an important point that many educators do not think about the specific needs of each child, and how every kid has a different brain and learning style.  But, it is impossible to consider the needs of each individual student.  How do you think that the education system can be changed?  How would they be able to better understand the variety of brains and accommodate them?  Would they break students into groups based on their learning styles?


RecycleJack Marine's picture

Conscious - Unconscious

If a significant part of behavior is going on indifferent to what we are doing, why do I have uncontrollable urges to behave in ways that are detrimental to my well being? How many things are going on inside me that are so important to my existance that I have absolutely no control over? It seems to me that what I do control (sensory neurons) is very critical to my being(my opinion), but according to Paul, account for a small proportion as compared to the interneurons. Am I wrong? Am I looking at this incorrectly? Just because the interneurons account for 99.9% of my nervous system, maybe the other fractional parts play a larger role in my psychological framework that is what we actually see that seems more important.

Deborah Hazen's picture

Do you talk to yourself?

Jack, I'm riding the train home and thinking hard about all we covered earlier in the day when I realize that I'm verbalizing disjointed words from my internal conversation. This happens to me...I get awfully engrossed in my own thoughts and likely appear to be a raving lunatic to others. Then there are the moments that I just can't stop laughing---even though there is not external stimulus and I'm not thinking funny thoughts. I'm getting really comfortable with this notion that a lot of behavior has nothing to do with any external stimuli and that human beings are living in the worlds created in their brains.

I'm not however prepared to forgive all manner of antisocial or harmful behavior (or just plain annoying) and chalk it up to something that is just the product of communication between neurotransmitters. I had a student once whose feet and legs moved with no conscious awareness--I'm sure of it. He would step on people or in a conversation be kicking me as I stood next to him---would he have kicked me over and again if he was aware of it--nope, because every time it happened and was pointed out to him he stopped and looked so ashamed. I believed him when he said that he didn't even realize he was doing it. Did I still want to increase his awareness of where his body was and what it was doing--you bet. So, I think you are right---we do place a great deal of value on the conscious. What else can we really respond to or trust to be consistent with our expectations?

Deborah Hazen's picture

Reflections from Wednesday morning

Where might the understanding of the architecture of the brain lead? How much can we alter the genetic potential of the brain through modifications to the architecture?

If we assume that culture is interacting brains that function to influence individual brains and that the historic role of education has been to inculcate youth into the dominant culture where do our thoughts lead us? Does the process of becoming a member of a culture pare away unique thoughts or reactions as we learn certain unconcious pathways of thinking or reacting to situations? Do those among us who march to a truly different beat and arrive at remarkably new ideas and perspectives (Michelangelo) or forge brave new paths (Ghandi) simply escape the inculcation?

Brie Stark's picture

If culture is indeed create

If culture is indeed created by the brain, and there are distinct cultures that people conform to, there must be a similarity in the peoples' brains (or rather, architecture) that allow his conformity to one culture.  There is definitely a genetic and environmental component in this conformation to one culture, and I always wonder the significance on the brain's architecture of being born and therefore inducted automatically into a culture and changing to become part of a culture (rather it be through marriage, converting religion, etc).  I wonder how the brain changes in these different situations.

Deborah Hazen's picture

Is it the similar architecture or the pruning?

I haven't thought this through entirely, but we can find stories based on observations of the brain's maturation process (imaging and measuring gray matter volume) and adolescent behavior. Adolescent's tend to engage in some anti-social/risky behavior ---add in another piece of the story that is accelerated pruning of synapses that begins in adolescence and continues until the early 20s with pruning in the frontal (executive function, attention and motor coordination) and temporal lobes (areas that integrate these functions) occurring last.

Now, follow my leap of logic to Amish communities in which rumspringa is practiced. At 16, all the rules change for these kids---they are encouraged to explore and experiment in the modern world and hopefully return voluntarily to the Amish world. The kids choose a range of forms of experimentation from clothing, alcohol, marijuana smoking, and varying levels of sexual activity according to reports. Some do return to Amish life, and some do not. Some remain in their "culture of birth" and some make their way in an entirely different culture. Maybe the conforming to a culture isn't about a similarity in the underlying architecture, but a similarity in the pruning of the architecture?


joycetheriot's picture

NS Organization

We tend to 'think' of ourselves as all up in our brain. It's interesting to consider the part that is 'me' as swimming within a box filled with non-external neurons... and yet they took away the motorcycle-helmet law in PA?



Antoinette Sisco's picture

Re: "Too Good to Be True"

While re-discovering the emergent process as a learner, I am slightly reticent to publish a blog/ web site, feeling much like a neophyte.   What conceptually seems to be interactive, interesting and well researched, may well seem prehistoric to other educators and learners.  Although I actively seek professional development opportunities, which enrich my learning and teaching practice, I am finding/ feeling less able to reconstruct a synergistic learning environment. 

Yes, the internet provided outstanding real time, relevant, research based, student directed, inquiry methodology.  As the article lists the cons, however authentic, accuracy and reality are often blurred on-line.   Many search engines pull the most visited term in its search process, rather than the most relevant, accurate and academically rich environment.

With the recent death of Michael Jackson, many news organizations web-sites have become increasingly popular due to media coverage.  CNN’s web-site for example most frequently visited .com for world news, for example, but may not be top ranked for Michael Jackson coverage.  Teaching our students how to utilize web searches  ( how search engines rank topics) with discriminating of reliability may need to be a pre-skill to emergent virtual education.  Unlike teaching students that The National Inquirer may not be as reliable source as National Geographic magazine.   Within teaching usage of the internet, we need to need to model the validity of multiple web resources: .com, .gov,.edu, or .net.  We also need to also teach the value of search engine, Google, Ask, Bing, of Craig’s List , Department of Education, for example have different  data bases from which they search.


Deborah Hazen's picture

I am considering anything

I am considering anything that I put out there to be a work in progress and look forward to learning from everyone else's work in progress as I keep moving forward. I trust that nothing you publish will be prehistoric--because your perspectives and direction will be part of the emergent process.

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