15 June 2011

Brain Matters

Learning matters. What you learn is lodged somewhere in your brain, ready to be squeezed out when you need it.

Sometimes we are conscious of what we have learnt (a skill, a poem, a scientific fact). Other times, what we learn is absorbed by our persona (a behaviour, an attitude, a habit).

I have recently been thinking about that moment when you realise that the learning has become embedded; when you don't have to THINK about it and just implement what you have learnt, when your subconscious kicks in.

My conscious awareness of this idea (for it is something I have mulled over many times before but forget its power) was raised earlier this week, while listening to a Dr Karl podcast. Dr Karl was talking about how, when he is giving a presentation or speech, he always starts in exactly the same way. He has learnt off by heart the beginning of his presentation.

Why?

So that it is embedded in his subconsioucs. So that he doesn't have to THINK about it, so that his mind is free to deal with eventualities, such as a piece of technology not working properly.

Having listened to this and started thinking about allowing learning to come through, two other things happened to me that I would like to share here. They are simple examples - the best, just like the best things in life. They are also "arts" related.

The first one happened to me at my contemporary dance lesson. We were learning a simple routine and one of my fellow "dancers" (we are not very advanced...) was having trouble with it.

"I keep wanting to think about it but I just need to allow my body to do it."

True. When dancing, your conscious brain is involved in the initial stages of learning a new move. But there comes a point when the body learns the steps and the best you can do is to "let it happen". Any conscious thought might completely throw you. (As might the thought of "I'm really good at this now." That one always results in immediate mistakes.)

My last anecdote comes from my singing lesson (this is proving to be a fun week). This was one of those magic moments. I was about to sing a duet with my teacher which we haven't tackled for weeks. I was placing the music on her piano and just as I was thinking "I'm not sure I remember how this starts...." WHAM! She hit the chords on the piano and out came the notes of my mouth.

The answer was yes, I knew it, but it was only when my vocal chords were faster than my brain that I realised this. At some point in the past, I had indeed learnt the tune - really learnt it and that was why it was just there, until the point when I needed to call on it.

These are all examples that learning, in what ever shape or form, takes time. There are no shortcuts, just persistence. The last example also shows that sometimes we are not aware of what we have learnt - which can result in both pleasant and unpleasant surprises. Another example of the complexity of our human brain.

2 comments:

  1. Congratulations for your great blog, Pilar. It is full of interesting thoughts... This post about the brain has really attracted my attention. It reminds me somehow of what Eduardo Punset says about the brain and its mysteries...

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  2. Hi Anonymous,
    Many thanks for your comment, glad you enjoyed browsing through the blog, it encourages me to continue writing!

    The brain is indeed mysterious - I haven't read any of Punset's work, but I know he is highly regarded. Sometimes I wonder whether we have evolved not too understand our own brain...

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