Monday, August 24, 2009

Learning from mistakes

A recent MIT study found that people are far more likely to repeat mistakes rather than learn from them - and that it is our successes that we seem to gain the most insight from. Really interesting and somewhat counterintuitive. I think we assume or like to think that we'd learn from failure but apparently that is much harder to do!

In this blog post, addiction specialist Stanton Peele discusses the failure of programs like Scared Straight (where kids are exposed to hardened criminals in prison environments) to actually result in behavior modification. adults we assume that this would work - that a kid would not want that life. But, it doesn't.

It just demonstrates how important empirical data in the design of educational programs, and how lacking this is from our approach to teaching and learning.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Bifurcated Decision Making

The Dana Foundation today published an interesting and illuminating review of the book How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer.

The book, obviously, is all about how we make decisions and the emotional vs. rational processes that go into decision making. Mr. Lehrer apparently spends time discussing the different centers of the brain that are responsible for processing information that goes into decision making. Scott Heuttel's (the reviewer's) response to this is essentially, "Wait a minute - it's not so simple." His point is that recent research has indicated that rational thought is not eliminated when the prefrontal cortex is taken out of the decision making chain.

This is where I am lucky, in a way, not to have the PhD after my name. While I have to strike a balance between keeping things simple and not blowing up the science, I'm not expected to have the same background in neurology of these gentlemen. That said, I do discuss in detail the bifurcated decision making that happens in all of us - but my point of view if more focused on the genetic and instinctual vs. cognitive/rationale processes. And I'm not going to try and slice up which part of the brain handles each process - that's above my pay grade!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Disease of Hatred

Wow two weeks since my last post, bad writer, bad!

As many people have, I have been following the latest media brouhaha about the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Gates by the Cambridge police and the ensuing allegations of racism, which President Obama inadvertently (and dumbly) fueled in his press conference remarks.

The talking heads have been talking about this "disease of racism" which continues to scourge us. I would suggest - and this is to be explored at length in the book - that the disease isn't racism, that is a symptom. The disease is hatred - a trait that can be used with great destructive force.

I'm not talking about the kind of hatred of certain foods that stops you from eating them - or even the kind of hatred we might feel towards someone who has hurt us. The destructive disease of hatred comes from our human desire to destroy a group that is different and therefore perceived as threatening to our survival. It's the hatred of immigrants. It's the hatred of gay people. It's the hatred of Muslims.

These all come from the same place - that emotionally charged fear of the "other" - the other tribe which may encroach upon our territory. Human's are inherently afraid of those that are different and it causes us to hate them...which enables us to lose our empathy...which makes it easier to harm them. It's a pretty vicious cycle.