To cease stupidity

I fell in love with the Bransford & Schwartz paper “Rethinking transfer: A simple proposal with multiple implications” (1999) the moment they quoted Edwin Land, the inventor of the Polaroid Land camera:

“Creativity is the sudden cessation of stupidity,” (Land, 1982).

Bransford & Schwartz’s (1999) portrays the effective learner as one who looks critically at their current knowledge and beliefs, and then assimilates new information to their existing concepts or schemas.  This critical analysis and assimilation to reshape mental schemas is the first and central element of creativity, of insightfulness.  This philosophy of creativity as insight reflects what I have always thought distinguishes not only the effective learner, but a person of great intelligence from a person who suffers from Sloth of the Brain.  Intelligence and effective learning seem to be most evident in the characteristics of the adaptive expert, hallmarked by inquiry, effort, and cooperative effort.  Critical to this is the willingness to re-examine one’s beliefs and perceptions, to put the effort into ferreting out answers beyond mere guess work.

Bransford and Schwartz (1999) note how people who are not experts in a given domain nor posses adaptive expertise tend to rely on uninformed, intuitive responses and generate erroneous conclusions. This, then, is what I consider Sloth of the Brain.  It can be most clearly identified as the person who continues to ineffectually fit the proverbial round peg into the square hole, or who makes bold, inane, uninformed proclamations and is convinced that the proclamation effort alone warrants a Nobel.  At heart, it is a failure to ask reflective, substantive questions.  It is living life through guess work, and really bad guess work at that.  Living by the seat of your pants guess work and failing to ask meaningful questions, relying instead on existing assumptions and a myopia of understanding,  Brain Sloths blunder into their own personal Epic Fail of Life.  For not only do they inadequately problem solve and cause misery to the people in their immediate path because of their stupidity (see Lane), but they fail to take advantage of opportunities to learn, a cardinal sin for the development and actualization of all people.

But Epic Failure is more complex than just not taking advantage of the opportunity to learn through meaningful questions.  It also can be found festering in the notion that success requires knowing All the Answers to All Things at All Times. Bransford & Schwartz (1999), however, recommend a way off of the Epic Failure Path of Life by embracing the mantle of the “accomplished novice”: one who recognizes and celebrates past accomplishments but recognizes that within the vast expanse of all that is knowable in this world, one is still (and will likely always be ) largely a Novice of Life. It harkens back to Plato’s idea of the wise man: he who is most wise knows he knows nothing.  For true knowledge stems from an understanding that there is value beyond living life based solely on one’s personal experiences.  Rather, the pursuit to understand mankind’s collective experience, known only through a willingness to listen and be open to new possibilities, is the only real path to cease stupidity.

Bransford & Schwartz (1999) note that an important way which learners can modify their understanding of the world is through interacting with their environment in situations that allow learners to “bump up against the world” to test their thinking (83). When things or ideas do not work, the effective learner, or accomplished novice, will revise their thinking and plan, not give up. Instead of abandoning one’s efforts in the face of difficulties and contradictions, then, one should embrace the newfound cognitive disturbance found in conflicting opinions and failed efforts.  We need to find ways to integrate new learning and experiences.  We need to learn how to modify our prior mental schema of life and knowledge with a new and improved, more informed one. The objective, then, is to nurture the conscious criticism of one’s own metaphysics to continue to partake in the creation of new ideas and perspectives.

Lastly, my nascent love affair of Bransford & Schwartz stems also from their reflections on the value of the arts and humanities.  They point to Harry Browdy and quote his argument for the study of poetry which “enriches the imagic store in ways that everyday experiences may not” (Browdy, 1977, p. 11). They note: “He contends that experiences of viewing art or reading poetry have a strong impact on “knowing with”  when [art and poetry] are subjected to serious study and analysis.  In part, this is because study of the arts and humanities provides invaluable opportunities to contrast surrogate experiences with one’s own. And in part, this is because the arts and humanities offer frameworks for interpreting experiences and helping people develop a more coherent world view.” (Bransford & Schwartz, 1999, p. 85). Essentially, Bransford & Schwartz emphasize the value of engaging in efforts to tease out humanistic truths of knowledge through the arts and humanities. For residing in those domains is an authentic and genuine wisdom about life that emanates beyond the temporal limitations of experience.

Bransford & Schwartz, thus, advocate for the development and commitment to an authentic pursuit of new, well-differentiated knowledge through reflective questioning, and the immersion and study of authentic, genuine experiences – what I would term Wisdom. And it is this emphasis on obtaining Wisdom that is core to preparing ourselves for future learning and insightful living; it is the necessary armor to fight the good fight against the propagation of stupidity.





My dopamine rush

The limbic system in the brain is generally recognized as the system that regulates emotion.  Contrary to late 19th and early 20th century theories of emotion perception and regulation, current thoughts of emotion processing include the notion that diverse emotions are unlikely to be governed by a single system of the brain.  It has been postulated that there are three kinds of emotions: basic regulatory emotions that induce motivational states (hunger, thirst, pain, cold, hot), directed emotions that include external sources for attraction, fight-flight (fear, panic, anger, rage, disgust, lust, joy), and cognitive emotions that involve semantic content (jealousy, love, hatred, boredom, desire).

Essentially, the brain processes sensory input (visual, auditory, touch, olfactory, etc.) and it begins a serious of synaptic firing that loops through the system impacting memory and physical animation. More pertinent to this post is the fact that researchers have identified the unique network area responsible for euphoric emotion perception, noting the dopamine release correlated within the medial insula and the anterior cingulate cortex and, subcortically, in the caudate nucleus and the putamen.  Dopamine is one of the chemical signals that passes information between neurons.  And it is dopamine that is largely to blame for the complex signaling feedback for predicted awards related to motivation, love, lust and addiction.

I mention all this because I need to contextualize this crazy, cognitive, behavioral, and emotional processing I’ve been going through lately.  See, I’ve had this complex dopamine rush triggered, and I’m just not sure what to do about it.  I’m hoping it’ll either pass quickly or change my world forever.

Emotional agnosia

The inability to recognize familiar faces, or prosopagnosia, and object agnosia,are two disorder of which I can most readily understand, even if not to the depth and extent as described in the case work of Jenni Ogden (Fractured Minds, 2005). And it is these disorders, or rather the disorders that warp perception and reality, that are preoccupying my thoughts this week.

Being myopic since a very young age, I have always been heavily dependent on glasses or contacts in order to perceive objects or people’s faces. In those instances when I did not where corrective lenses, however, I found that I was able to identify people from a great distance depending on the cadence of their walk. Also, I have honed the ability to find objects in the dark without looking as I follow the mental maps I recall using my inner eye, visualizing the paths and feeling the objects between one location and another, not really seeing what is in front of me, but finding my way to an object through touch and my mental models of the space around me. 

Although I can easily put on glasses or put on a light, I have always been intrigued by these other ways of recognition and discovery – the heightened awareness of touch and movement holding a vastly different experience than merely processing visual input. However, unlike Ogden’s patients, I am not limited by a disorder beyond my control. And it is in this great distinction that my analogical understanding of these conditions end.

 The extrastriate visual cortex is the secondary visual area of the cortex is the unimodal area associated with object, color, and visual detection. Resulting from damage to the extrastriate visual cortex (Bear, Connors, & Paradiso, 2007, p. 337), three visual cognitive disruptions that emerge from this area include proposopagnosia, object agnosia, andachromatopsia.

 Prosopagnosia is a syndrome in which there is a difficulty or inability to recognize faces even when vision is otherwise normal. Object agnosia is a condition in which there is an inability to create a complete mental representation of an object. Lastly, achromatopsia, is a loss of color perception.

 In the case of one of Ogden’s patients, after sustaining serious injuries to the head from a motorcycle accident, this patient initially experienced blindness (later he regained his sight) in addition to other visual cognitive disorders that impaired his memory and ability to recognize faces, objects and colors.

 I have had no motorcycle accident, no traumas to the head, nor any burgeoning tumors expanding in my brain (that I know of). And yet my ability to accurately perceive reality is often skewed from the blows of my life experiences.

 Current research in psychology has noted how affect (emotion) plays a central role in all human endeavors. It influences learning via memory, attention, and strategy use (Pekrun, 1992; Schunk & Zimmerman, 2007). And yet knowing this, and knowing how experience and trauma (or force) can change the landscape of the brain, I am still surprised when I find myself blinded in my efforts to understand my experiences and interactions with other people.

 I look for physiological clues, try and listen attentively. I try and sort through what I see and what I hear from what I feel and what I expect. Yet my findings are inconclusive.

 What is real? What do I imagine? Is there any way to truly discern and verify the distinctions between the two? While the world is making remarkable progress in neuroscience, at present I am still left with only the archaic lessons of my forefathers:

   Close my eyes,

   bow my head,

   and have faith that Wisdom will make itself manifest

   in the quiet of my mind.

i do, and i will

Love is powerful and heartbreaking.

(That’s what I learned this week at my Uncle’s funeral.)

The courage required to love unconditionally verges on insanity.


I’m no coward, and probably just a bit more than a little crazy.

See, they don’t write epic poems about the weak,

And fear doesn’t keep you warm at night.


So I’ll dare to trip the lights fantastic.

As it is, I wear socks to bed.