Thursday, December 3, 2009

Minds & Brains

I'm a member of the International Mind, Brain, Education Society (IMBES) because I'm interested in teaching and I think that brains are really cool. I've just finished reading a book on Architecture and Neuroscience (Brain Landscape) which I found generally underwhelming but which did force me to a thought. Namely, I'm, ultimately, more interested in minds than I am in brains. This book forced me to this because the connection between architecture and neuroscience seemed, ultimately, forced. The author kept saying that what neuroscience can do is help us understand why we respond to particular things in particular ways. What I don't understand is why this piece of information could be of interest to an architect qua architect.

At the last IMBES conference I went to there was a session the focused, if I'm remembering correctly, on the importance of neuroscience to education. I desperately want there to be connection but I fear that the direction is less from neuroscience to education than from education to neuroscience. That is, I think that things that we learn from practices in education can direct neuroscientists to ask questions that they may have not otherwise asked.

From my perspective I think that what I'm really interested in is psychology and what facilitates learning. What I'm most interested in, at the moment, is what effect a person's physical surroundings (classroom, campus, etc.) have on their ability to learn. I suspect that the intermediary is to look at what effect the physical surroundings have on one's emotional state and then to look at what emotional states are most conducive to learning. I'm not sure that understanding the mechanism by which the physical surroundings cause the emotional state is one that's particularly important to least for my purposes. Not that this will stop me from reading about the brain (I'm part way through Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of Human Invention and it's unbelievably interesting. I'm just not sure that understanding the mechanism of the brain helps us to be better teachers. I guess the question is whether understanding the mechanism of the brain helps us to better understand how we learn or, rather, how we learn at a macro enough level that teachers can intervene. Of course, understanding how the brain works helps us understand how learning happens, but is it at such a micro level as to be, largely, irrelevant to the teacher?

I suppose the question I could be asking is what kind of information about the brain could possibly be useful for me as a teacher. At this particular moment, I can't think of anything. I can see that having neuroscientific facts that support psychological claims will make the psychological claims more persuasive and, for that reason, are politically useful. But is there anything beyond that??

Addendum: I think I've changed my mind on this front. I think that knowing things about the brain can help us, potentially, know what's universally true of humans and not merely culturally true of some humans (may). I think there are other ways neuroscience can help, but I don't have the energy to type it all out at this particular moment.

No comments: