On Learning – neuroscience view

Tronman
BlueInk wall of Yoga

About Learning

During the fall 2001, when attending to Structure and Organization
of Brain -course taught at Helsinki University of Technology, I
decided to jot down some extra-curricular notes, or a learning
diary.

Learning is a fascinating yet still mysterious process. It can be
viewed from a high abstraction point, where the pupils are
tested in standardized tests against the information content
in the subject matter. This is a rather narrow view of learning,
yet often it is kind of the compulsory or most practical one.

Intuitively, I like to think of learning as something you
go through, which thus leaves a mark in your brain, and
after you have learnt something it is very hard, if not
impossible, to truly unlearn it.

You can for example modify your behaviour to supress or exhibit some aspects
to some degree (i.e. you can have a new kind of attitude towards
things by just deciding this, but you cannot easily
change something which is inherently a feature in your native
personality).

Unlearning “information” or
“data” from your brain would be quite impossible, unless
it happened by an accident; a hit in the brain is known
to cause very curious damage in several functional areas
of thought. Think about trauma or psychosis; unlearning certain habits
like being late, or excessively ruminating about matters is hard.

Looking at the wide spectrum of learning

Learning probably happens at an extraordinarily wide scope
of levels. Some learning is mere imitation, like learning
the first steps in a sports. Or learning the multiplication
tables by rote. But what about learning general concepts of
life? How to behave well, how to cope with people, and how
to cope with yourself?

What are the factors leading to true insights? Why might
something suddenly seem so clear and easy, when it was
the most difficult thing to overcome just a moment before?

Real-world example: my first maths part-exam


I was studying in Helsinki University of Technology
for the fourth year. I was taking a maths basic course in
the fall of 2001. Had skipped about 1/2 of the lectures,
and attended no calculation practise sessions. I started
studying on the weekend, 2 days prior to exam.
I had a maximum of around 20 hours time to learn the
required things. I started reading at 5:50PM on Saturday.

o I checked the area of study from WWW pages. Our maths teacher
  has a tradition of always putting the very first words of 
  each assignment in the exam public before the exam takes place.
o Condition preparation: opening the window in my room to have
  CO2 out and O2 in (do not underestimate this), took couple
  of Kisandra food supplements (works with me), and some coffee.
  The dosage of coffee should be continous and incremental, 
  not a single 'bomb' into your stomach after which you are
  just doing the caffeine shakes, multiplexing from task to task
  and not much else. Do not use any stronger and illegal substances
  like amphetamine or the likes. They are no good to you in the
  long run. 
o during the first hour I was both amused and fascinated by 
  mathematics; by its quite abstract and declarative nature. 
The subjects included:
- basic mathematical logic, proving. Predicates, propositions,
  binding, logic theorems.
- matrices (operations: adding, subtracting, taking an inverse, transposing)
- basic algebra

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