Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Random Learning? the 8 Random Facts Meme

Orli from Neurontic tagged me with a new meme –writing about 8 Random Personal Facts- that is circulating among science bloggers.  Well, I will happily write about 8 facts that appeared in unexpected ways yet, seen with perspective, seem to be a type of non-random randomness, if that makes sense…  

  1. As the oldest child, I was the most responsible/ serious/ with best grades…you get the picture. One of my youngest siblings specialized in teasing me and making my life difficult (from my perspective then). At some point, I realized that my automatic mental reaction to anything suspicious that happened in my life (my bike is not where I left it, there are 2 books missing…) was an angry “this must have been my brother!” followed by intra-family conflict and the need for UN peacekeepers. Let’s say he was responsible for only 40% of such events…so I realized my attitude made no sense and it was something I needed to control. So, at some point, I developed the mental habit of making fun of my own stupidity whenever that automatic reaction appeared, and protecting a more rational approach to solving the problem.
  2. Around the same time, at a routine meeting between my mother, school staff and myself, someone made a comment along “Alvaro has spectacular grades, but he must understand that success in life does not depend on grades alone”. Fascinating, I remember thinking, how can that be possible? What may that mean? Is it not “fair” and self-evident that if I have great grades everything good will follow in life? Maybe this opened my mind to understanding that “intelligence” goes well beyond IQ…
  3. For many years I kept a journal-like document with brief “lessons learned” and “concepts/ sayings / realities I don’t understand yet”. Something like a “diary of learning and things to be learned”. I don’t keep such a document anymore…and certainly not because now I understand everything.
  4. My last 2 years in high school were extremely social, having relocated to a different school and forming a wholly new group of friends (probably trying to explore what Point #2 could mean…).  I remember meeting dozens of new people, relating to them, creating friendships…yet struggling to process all the information I was gathering. Many times I would be completely absorbed talking to someone, unable to add much value to the conversation, simply fascinated by listening and trying to remember things. Often, 10-20 minutes after something had been said would I think-too late to actually say it- “hey, there is a funny remark I can make about the previous point”, or “interesting, the thing before links to newspaper story XYZ”, and many other comments that, fortunately, today I can mostly make on the fly. I remember thinking often “ok, what could I have said in that situation” and mentally rehearse my remarks. Imagine my surprise, and self-confidence build-up, when in a few months I could see a marked improvement in this ability of “online thinking and commenting”. It was one of the many examples I experienced of a temporary struggle and frustration with the demands of a new situation/ environment that, with attention and practice, led to learning and, now I know, neuroplasticity.
  5. I loved math and formal logic in school and undergrad, which may explain why even today I tend to enjoy and remember concepts in formula-like expression, such as Learning = Challenge x Feedback, Happiness = Reality – Expectations, Consciousness = Attention x Working Memory.
  6. Life often feels like playing ‘real-life experiments”. For example, right after I read Elkhonon Goldberg’s The Wisdom Paradox, I FedExed him a letter asking for some clarifications and inviting him to open a dialogue to see how to build a company based on some of the concepts he discussed in the book. Fortunately, he responded. When Andreas, our new summer intern, wrote to me a similar email last month proposing a summer project, I knew I wanted to help in his own experiment.
  7. In a Stanford class I defined myself as a “learning micro-organism”. The professor said something like “that sounds a bit excessive”. Well, I meant it, and I still mean it. Maybe now I would simply say the “micro-organism” part, given both that learning is implicit and a new emphasis on contributing to society and creating change in other micro-organisms. Or maybe not, given that learning is core.
  8. In another class, on Creativity, I learned some basic concepts and practices that my most “analytical” mind hadn’t appreciated until then. Breathing, meditation, mindful practice…are extremely powerful techniques for creativity, emotional self-regulation and happiness, that I discovered quite by chance at a Stanford Business School class on creativity. Random? I’d guess only up to a point.

In short:  “what is random”? what is “not random”?

Btw, now I know that I was changing my brain all along…who would have known?

Finally: this meme also asks me to now tag 8 other bloggers. But I prefer not to impose this on other people: if you have a blog, and want to consider yourself tagged with this “8 Random Personal Facts” by me, simply do so and write about it!

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