Experience is Relational and Subjective

Because neither ‘memory banks’ nor ‘representations’ of stimuli exist in the brain, and because all that is required for us to function in the world is for the brain to change in an orderly way as a result of our experiences, there is no reason to believe that any two of us are changed the same way by the same experience. If you and I attend the same concert, the changes that occur in my brain when I listen to Beethoven’s 5th will almost certainly be completely different from the changes that occur in your brain. Those changes, whatever they are, are built on the unique neural structure that already exists, each structure having developed over a lifetime of unique experiences. (Bold added)

–Robert Epstein, “The Empty Brain” on Aeon

Epstein’s challenge to the “information processing” model is highly relevant to education and worth considering the implications of. I would pair this reading with the quantum theory of QBism: QBism challenges the notion of an “objective reality,” suggesting instead that reality lies in the eye of the beholder.

An Identity Hitched to Everything

A tree flourishing on a rock in the Adirondacks
A tree flourishing on a rock in the Adirondacks

“The 19th-century conservationist John Muir [said] ‘When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.’ For ecologists, no less than for poets or Buddhists, it is the fundamental rule, whether you call it connectedness, inseparability or, in the language of science, food webs, trophic levels, and community interactions. . . .

Ecology was traditionally defined as the study of the interrelations between organisms and their environments, which is still somewhat dualistic. Significantly, ecologists now modify this definition to emphasise the fundamental identity of subject and surroundings. We cannot separate the bison from the prairie or the spotted owl from its coniferous forest. Since any such distinction is arbitrary, the ecologist studies the bison-prairie, owl-forest unit. Food webs, such as those connecting mouse, acorn and gipsy moth, are not mere descriptions of who-eats-whom, but outlines of their very being. The Buddhist suggestion that an organism’s skin does not separate it from its environment but, rather, joins the two, could just as well have come from a ‘master’ of physiological ecology.”

–David Barash, “Only Connect” on Aeon

A Benefit of Thinking Slow

“Turing showed that by accumulating multiple samples of information over time, the code-breakers could increase their confidence in a particular setting being correct.

Remarkably, the brain appears to use a similar scheme of evidence accumulation to deal with difficult decisions. . . .

Putting these findings together, we learn that there is a benefit from being slow. When faced with a novel scenario, one that hasn’t been encountered before, Turing’s equations tell us that slower decisions are more accurate and less susceptible to noise. In psychology, this is known as the ‘speed-accuracy trade-off’ and is one of the most robust findings in the past 100 years or so of decision research. Recent research has begun to uncover a specific neural basis for setting this trade-off. Connections between the cortex and a region of the brain known as the subthalamic nucleus control the extent to which an individual will slow down his or her decisions when faced with a difficult choice. The implication is that this circuit acts like a temporary brake, extending decision time to allow more evidence to accumulate, and better decisions to be made.”

–Steve Fleming, “Hesitate!: Quick decision-making might seem bold, but the agony of indecision is your brain’s way of making a better choice” on Aeon