Your Brain is NOT a Computer - Differences You Need to Know
Jun 5, 2009 Other 2596 Views
Obviously there are some brain mechanisms at work that make learning easy and everlasting, just remember the saying "once burnt, twice shy" - then remember how often you reread stuff for your school assignments and still it "wouldn't stick"!
These brain mechanisms or neuromechanisms are today better understood than ever, what with all the new gadgets that neuroscientists have at their disposal for watching your brain at work without having to open your skull, e.g. computer tomography.
You might fear you need to train your brain for years or maybe only a select few have the brain that always remembers? Let's look at a typical example.
To become a world class pro golfer you maybe
- need to start out very early,
- need a good coach right from the start
- and then need to keep practising for hours on end every day.
Not so with your brain! When learning golf, you train certain muscles that you never or hardly ever use in your daily chores (while at the same time deactivating others you would instinctively have used but which would hamper your drive etc.). Brains are different than muscles!
It has often been said that most people only use 1% (or 10%) of their brains (these figures vary and are highly arbitrary). That is not true! If you drive a car, as most of our readers probably do, would you say, that when you drive faster you use more and when you stand at a traffic light you use less of your engine? Certainly not - ALL the pistons are involved even if your car is idling, the whole crankshaft, fuel injection etc. The same goes for the brain. While there are times when your car's engine indeed is turned off, e.g. when parked, even that is untrue of your brain. Your brain works even in your sleep, in fact more so than when awake as many of you might attest when they recall some of their most vivid dreams.
- if your brain always works and never rests and
- if your brain can store critical information in a split second and never again forget (like when you first, and probably once and for all, inadvertently touched a hotplate),
- and if we often seem to remember tidbits of information that we even think are totally useless yet we never invested any effort in storing them,
why then do we often forget that stuff that we really want to remember as if our life depended on it, e.g. if we need better grades or need to pass a crucial test, try to get past an assessment center to get a job etc.?
Obviously all we need to find out is how to use and then tap that brain mechanism that allows us to store all the information we deem necessary.
Before we go into some of the details as to how that works, let me take you through some little experiment:
Answer the following questions, one by one and in the order given, by maybe sitting relaxed and closing your eyes (make sure, you are not being disturbed):
Have you recently purchased fruit or vegetables? When was it? What was the store and the shelves like (if there were shelves, otherwise try to remember how the wares were presented)? What exactly did you buy there, i.e. the type(es) of fruit or vegetables? Now: do you remember some of the other fruit (or vegetables) that lay near what you wanted to buy and which at the time you certainly had no interest in buying?
How did you go? Do you remember stuff you have bought recently? Can you not even remember some stuff that you were not even interested in? And even remember it vividly? And isn't that stuff which, once you went past the checkout and had paid, and most certainly after you had eaten, you had no interest in every remembering?
Now, second part of the experiment: can you remember when you last looked up a phone number of any length? Do you still know it by heart? Maybe not?! Remember now how you tried to learn words from your vocabulary book in any foreign language in the past, a math formula you needed during a test, the dates that kings were born or died, all these things they wanted you to remember etc. etc. Most, if not all of it got lost, some right after the exam was sat, some over the years, at least you don't remember it as vividly as maybe the day you got your first bike, your first valentine, model train, doll etc. Now compare the time it cost you to learn some school assignments "by heart" and how much time you spent learning the fruit, er, well, you didn't even spend time on the latter, it all happened in passing, quite accidentally and yet still it was better remembered than a lot of stuff you would have paid for to remember!
A little exercise
Let's say, you want to remember your shopping list. It goes like this: "Salami, bread, butter, pizza, chewing gum, washing powder, yoghurt, a pair of slippers, apples, bananas, pineapple, tomatoes, parsley, three steaks, Gouda cheese, a packet of chocolate bars, Marshmallows, candles, matches and the local newspaper". That's twenty items. Can you rattle them off by heart? Well, you will in a minute!
Try to see these pictures in your mind, all of them large and colorful and always connect them as I show you (put the first pair into one picture, then make a picture of the next two, where the second item of the first pair figures as the first item of the second etc.): "A slice of salami sits on a slice of bread, a slice of bread is buttered, the butter sits on the pizza, the pizza is covered in chewing gum, there's a pack of washing powder on the chewing gum, washing powder, a yoghurt stands on the washing powder, a pair of slippers is smothered in yoghurt, one apple on each slipper, bananas on an apple, pineapple on bananas, tomatoes squashed on pineapple, parsley placed decoratively on the tomato, three steaks with parsley showing underneath, Gouda cheese on a steak, a packet of chocolate bars stuck in a Gouda cheese, Marshmallows on a pack of chocolates, candles roasting Marshmallows, Marshmallows with matches sticking out of them, the newspaper half covering a box of matches". Now, start with the salami, how do you go? Some people can do it immediately, some need to exercise a few times (not more).
Ok, when you have a written shopping list, you probably find, you need to tick off all the items that you already put into your cart in order to monitor your progress. That can easily done with that list now in your memory: break/destroy every picture that you are finished with: rip apart the newspaper in your mind, tear up the salami, put a hole in the washing powder box, begin to peel a banana, slice the pineapple - whenever you've got a particular item, deface the respective picture. When you then review your list, you always see what you already got and what's still missing. Easy, isn't it?
This is just one brain or neuro-mechanism that lets you learn with less effort while retaining more information, or rather, remember more easily what is stored in your brain. Many more mechanisms can be employed to make learning easy and fun and when you combine these with other methods like speed reading, mind-mapping etc. you or your children become so wildly effective that they make the top of class in almost any subject apart maybe from music or art classes (although even then, when it comes to the more theoretical aspects, they can easily compete, it's just that not everyone can paint like a Rembrandt or play the piano).