Simple Breakdown / How the Brain Processes Information

https://www.labs.hpe.com/next-next/brain

In 2008, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency issued a challenge to researchers: Create a sophisticated, shoebox-size system that incorporates billions of transistors, weighs about three pounds, and requires a fraction of the energy needed by current computers. Basically, a brain in a box.

Although neuroscience has made important strides in recent years, the inner workings of the brain are still largely a mystery. “So little is really understood about the hardware of the brain—the neurons and their interconnections, and the algorithms that run on top of them—that today, anyone who claims to have built ‘a brain-like computer’ is laughable,” says Stan Williams, a research fellow at Hewlett Packard Labs.

Programs mirror human logic, but they don’t mirror intuitive thought.”

Rich Friedrich, Hewlett Packard Labs

A caveat from HP Labs (super website) regarding the analogy that the human brain like a computer processor. 

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We have to start somewhere!

eLearning Design and Development

By Christopher Pappas,  November 11, 2016

The brain is often likened to a processor. A complex computing machine that takes raw data and turns it into thoughts, memories, and cognitions. However, it has its limits, and Instructional Designers must know the boundaries before they can create meaningful eLearning courses. In this article, I’ll explore how the brain works, from its basic biological and memory functions to its ability to process information. I’ll also share 3 tips to help you create an eLearning course design that facilitates knowledge absorption and assimilation.

Information Processing Basics: A Guide For Instructional Designers

The brain is a wondrous thing. It transforms letters, numbers, and images into meaningful data that governs every aspect of our lives. Neural pathways spark and new ideas meet with the old to form complex schematic structures. But one of the most miraculous tasks it tackles is learning. As eLearning professionals, we must understand how information processing takes place in order to create effective eLearning experiences.

Brain Biology / The brain consists of many different structures, and the cortex encases all of them. The cortex is the outermost shell of the brain that takes care of complex thinking abilities. For example, memory, language, spatial awareness, and even personality traits. The inner regions of the brain control the most primitive aspects of human nature, such as our base impulses, fears, emotions, and our subconscious. The brain also houses a “subcortex,” which connects directly to the cortex. As such, it’s able to transmit and process information. (A cliché description of “primitive, subconscious”)

The Human Memory

Now that we’ve briefly explored the physical makeup of the brain, let’s delve into one of its most vital functions: memory. After all, memory is crucial for eLearning. If online learners aren’t able to remember the information, then all is for naught. We usually don’t give memory much attention, as it’s an automatic process. Every event, no matter how small, passes through the gates of our memory without us even noticing. However, most of the occurrences are just passing through and never take up permanent residence. There are three types of memory that Instructional Designers should be aware of:

1. Sensory Memory 

When our senses are triggered by a stimulus, our brains briefly store the information. For example, we smell freshly baked bread and can only remember its scent for a few seconds before it vanishes. Even though the bread is no longer in front of us, our mind’s still hold onto its impression for a short period. The brain then has the option to process it through the memory banks or forget about it. In eLearning, sensory memory is triggered by a visually compelling image, background music, or any other element that utilizes the senses.

2. Short-Term Memory

A process that falls under the purview of working memory, which temporarily stores information when it is triggered by stimuli. Short-term memory can only hold a maximum of 7 items at one time. It also has a time limit, which is usually between 10 seconds to a minute.

3. Long-Term Memory

After passing through the short-term memory, relevant information is moved to long-term storage. At this stage, the brain is less likely to forget important details. However, even the long-term memory can diminish over time if we don’t refresh our knowledge.

Information Processing Stages

There are a number of Information Processing theories and models. However, many suggest that the learning process involves three key stages:

Stage 1: Input / The brain is exposed to a stimuli, at which point it analyzes and evaluates the information. For example, the online learner reads a passage and determines whether it’s worth remembering.

Stage 2: Storage / Our brains store the information for later use. It also adds it to our mental schema and encodes it. If the information is not reinforced, the brain may simply forget it over time.

Stage 3: Output / The brain decides what it’s going to do with the information and how it will react to the stimulus. For example, after reading the passage, the individual uses the information they learned to overcome a challenge.

Simple! The question is, How do specific human brains handle these processing tasks? Psychologists would have us believe that there is only ONE way this ought to be accomplished; their way. Bull Shit.

 

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Physical Education and Sport / Ancient Times to Enlightenment

EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH / Vol. 2, No. 4, 191-202 / ISSN 2165-8714 Copyright © 2013 EUJER

“Bikini Girls” exercising, Sicily, 4th C. AD

https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1086323.pdf

Harmandar Demirel & Yıldıran / Dumlupinar University, Gazi University, Turkey

(I’ve broken the text into shorter paragraphs for easier reading and omitted some introductory material. Complete pdf is about 8 pages. I’ve high-lightened a few main ideas and vocabulary.)

My general comment is that American Public Education is essentially less “sophisticated” than even Ancient Greece and Rome; a disgrace and “Medieval”…

An Overview from the Ancient Age to the Renaissance

The Greek educational ideal which emerged during the 8th – 6th centuries B.C. aimed at developing general fitness via “gymnastics” and the “music” of the body; that is, the development of body and spirit in a harmonic body and, in this way, providing a beautiful body, mental development and spiritual and moral hygiene. These are expressed by the word Kalokagathia, meaning both beautiful and good, based on the words “Kalos” and “Agathos” (Aytaç, 1980; Alpman, 1972). Thus, the use of physical training and sport as the most suitable means as discussed first in Ancient Greece (Yildiran, 2005). To achieve the ideal of kalokagathia, three conditions were required: nobility, correct behaviour and careful teaching (Yildiran, 2011). Physical beauty (kalos) did not refer just to external appearance; it also referred to mental health. Humans who had these qualifications were considered ideal humans (kalokagathos) (Bohus, 1986). The idea of the Kalokagathia ideal, which was developed during the early classical age, had seen archaic-aristocratic high value “arete”s thinned and deepened (Popplow, 1972).

The vital point of aristocratic culture was physical training; in a sense, it was sport. The children were prepared for various sport competitions under the supervision of a paidotribes (a physical education teacher) and learned horse riding, discus and javelin throwing, long jumping, wrestling and boxing. The aim of the sport was to develop and strengthen the body, and hence, the character (Duruskken, 2001). In Ancient Greece, boys attended wrestling schools because it was believed that playing sports beautified the human spirit as well as the body (Balcı, 2008). The palaestra was a special building within ancient gymnasiums where wrestling and physical training were practiced (Saltuk, 1990). The education practiced in this era covered gymnastic training and music education, and its aim was to develop a heroic mentality, but only for royalty. With this goal in mind, education aimed to discipline the body, raising an agile warrior by developing a cheerful and brave spirit (Aytac, 1980).

The feasts which were held to worship the gods in Ancient Greece began for the purpose of ending civil wars. All sport-centred activities were of religious character. As the ancient Olympic Games were of religious origin, they were conducted in Olympia. (Home of the gods) Over time, running distances increased, new and different games were added to the schedule, soldiers began to use armour in warfare, art and philosophy were understood better and great interest was shown in the Olympic Games; therefore, the program was enriched and changed, and the competitions were increased from one to five days (Er et al., 2005). However, the active or passive attendance of married women was banned at the ancient Olympic Games for religious reasons (Memis and Yıldıran, 2011). The Olympic Games had an important function as one of the elements aimed at uniting the ancient Greeks culturally, but this ended when the games were banned by Emperor Theodosius 1st in 393-4 A.D. (Balci, 2008).

Sparta, which is located in the present-day Mora peninsula, was an agricultural state that had been formed by the immigration of Dors from the 8th century B.C. Spartan education provided an extremely paternalistic education, which sought the complete submergence of the individual in the citizen and provided him with the attributes of courage, complete obedience and physical perfection (Cordasco, 1976). In Sparta, where the foundations of social order constituted iron discipline, military proficiency, strictness and absolute obedience, the peaceful stages of life had the character of a “preparation for the war school” (Aytac, 1980). The essential thing that made Hellenic culture important was its gaining new dimensions with distinctive creative power regarding cultural factors that this culture had adopted from the ancient east, and its revealing of the concept of the “perfect human” (Iplikcioglu, 1997).

Children stayed with their family until they were seven years old; from this age, they were assigned to the state-operated training institutes where they were trained strictly in war and state tasks. Strengthening the body and preparing for war took a foremost place in accordance with the military character of the state. Girls were also given a strict military training (Aytac, 1980). The same training given to the boys was also given to the girls. The most prominent example of this is the girls and boys doing gymnastics together (Russel, 1969). Although physical training and music education were included, reading, writing and arithmetic were barely included in Spartan education (Binbasioglu, 1982).

Unlike Sparta, the classical period of Athenian democracy (Athens had advanced trade and industry) included the Persian Wars and Peloponnese Wars, and Cleisthenes’ democratic reforms and the ending of sea domination in domestic policy. As this democracy covered “the independent layer”, it took the form of an “aristocratic democracy” (Aytaç, 1980). Learning was given great importance in the Athenian democracy. The sons of independent citizens received education in grammar and at home or private school. Music education and gymnastic training were carried out in “Gymnasiums” and “Palestrae”, which were built and controlled by the state; running areas were called “Dramos”, and chariot race areas were termed “Hippodromes” (Aytac, 1980). Children older than 12 years started receiving sports training and music education in Athens, where the military training was barely included.

Athenians insisted on the aesthetical and emotional aspects of education. Therefore, the best art works of the ancient world were created in this country (Binbasioglu, 1982). As in the 5th century B.C., Greek education was unable to appropriately respond to new developments; Sophists emphasised the development of traditional education in terms of language and rhetoric in an attempt to overcome the crisis. Sophists provided education in the morals, law, and the natural sciences in addition to the trivium, grammar, rhetoric, dialectic) (Aytac, 1980).

Greeks considered physical training prudent and important because it developed the body and organised games conducive to the gathering of large crowds; in these games, all regions of Greece were represented (Balci, 2008). Rome constitutes the second most important civilisation of the Ancient age. In Rome, the family played the strongest role in education, and the state did not have much say or importance. While exercise constituted the means of education in Ancient Rome, the purpose of this education was “to raise a good citizen”, such that each person had a skilled, righteous and steady character. Physical training was provided in addition to courses such as mythology, history, geography, jurisprudence, arithmetic, geometry and philosophy; this training was provided in Grammar schools, where basic teaching covered the “Seven free arts” (Aytac, 1980).

Due to the Scholastic structure of the Middle Ages, values respecting the human were forgotten. However, the “Renaissance” movement, which started in Europe and whose ideas inform the modern world, developed many theories related to education and physical training and attempted to apply this in various ways; the development of these ideas was continued in “The Age of Enlightenment”.

The Renaissance General Aspects of the Renaissance

The word renaissance means “rebirth”; in this period, artists and philosophers tried to discover and learn the standards of Ancient Rome and Athens (Perry et al., 1989). In the main, the Renaissance represented a protest of individualism against authority in the intellectual and social aspects of life (Singer, 1960). Renaissance reminded “Beauty’’ lovers of the development of a new art and imagination. From the perspective of a scientist, the Renaissance represented innovation in ancient sciences, and from the perspective of a jurist, it was a light shining over the shambles of old traditions.

Human beings found their individuality again during this era, in which they tried to understand the basics of nature and developed a sense of justice and logic. However, the real meaning of “renaissance” was to be decent and kind to nature (Michelet, 1996). The Renaissance was shaped in Italy beginning from the 1350s as a modern idea contradicting the Middle Ages. The creation of a movement for returning to the old age with the formidable memories of Rome naturally seemed plausible (Mcneill, 1985). New ideas that flourished in the world of Middle Age art and developed via various factors did not just arise by accident; incidents and thoughts that developed in a social context supported it strongly (Turani, 2003). Having reached its climax approximately in the 1500s, the Italian Renaissance constituted the peak of the Renaissance; Leonardo da Vinci observed the outside world, people and objects captiously via his art and Niccolo Machiavelli’s drastically analysed nature and use of politics through his personal experiences and a survey of classical writers (Mcneill, 1985).

The Concept of Education and Approaches to Physical Training during the Renaissance

The humanist education model, which was concordant with the epitomes of the Renaissance, was a miscellaneous, creative idea. Its goal was to create an all-round advanced human being, “homo universale”. At the same time, such an educational epitome necessarily gained an aristocratic character. This educational epitome no longer provided education to students at school (Aytac, 1980).

In 14th century, the “humanist life epitome” was claimed. The humanism movement was gradually developing and spreading; however, in this phase, humanism-based formation or practice was not in question. In the history of humanity, the humanism period has been acknowledged as a ‘transitional period’. Modern civilisation and education is based on this period. Philosophers, such as Erasmus, Rabelais, Montaigne and Luther, flourished during this period. Universities began to multiply, and latitudinarianism was created. Scholastic thought was shaken from its foundations at the beginning of this period via the influence of Roger Bacon (scientist), who lived during the 13th Century.

Original forms of works constituting the culture of Ancient Athens and Rome were found, read, and recreated concordantly; moreover, the ideas of latitudinarian, old educators such as Quintilianus were practiced. In teaching methods, formulae enabling pupils to improve their skills and abilities were adopted. Students started to learn outdoors, in touch with nature. Strict disciplinary methods gave way to rather tolerant methods. The importance and value of professional education were acknowledged (Binbasioglu, 1982). Positive sciences, such as history, geography and natural history were not given a place in the classroom for a long time, but Latin preserved its place until recent times (Aytac, 1980).

With Desiderius von Erasmus, who was alive during the height of European humanism, humanism adopted its first scientific principle: “Return to sources!’’; for this reason, the works of ancient writers were published. Erasmus’ educational epitome consists of a humanist-scientific formulation; however, it does not externalise the moral-religious lifestyle. Having worked to expand humanity into higher levels, Erasmus summarises the conditions for this quest as follows: good teachers, a useful curriculum, good pedagogical methods, and paying attention to personal differences among pupils. With these ideas, Erasmus represents the height of German humanist pedagogy (Aytaç, 1980).

Notice the antagonistic set up between faith and science we still experience today in the U.S.?

On the other hand, Martin Luther considered universities as institutions where “all kinds of iniquity took place, there was little faith to sacred values, and the profane master Aristotle was taught imprudently” and he demanded that schools and especially universities be inspected. Luther thought that schools and universities should teach religiously inclined youth in a manner heavily dependent on the Christian religion (Aytac, 1980). Alongside these ideas, Luther made statements about the benefits of chivalric games and training, and of wrestling and jumping to health, which, in his opinion, could make the body more fit (Alpman, 1972).

The French philosopher Michel de Montaigne, known for his “Essays”, was a lover of literature who avoided any kind of extreme and was determined, careful and balanced. In his opinion, the aim of education was to transfer “ethical and scientific knowledge via experiments’’ to pupils. De Montaigne believed that a person’s skills and abilities in education, which can be called natural powers, are more important than or even superior to logic and society (Binbasioglu, 1982). The Humanist movement has played a very significant role in educational issues. This movement flourished in order to resurrect the art and culture of ancient Athens and Rome with their formidable aspects, thereby enabling body and soul to improve concordantly with the education of humans (Alpman, 1972). Humanism was not a philosophical system but a cultural and educational program (Kristeller, 1961).

Note that in the United States, current public education is obsessed with “social engineering” based on two religious ideologies: (1. liberal / puritanical – (social and psychological theory-based; conformity to prescriptive “absolutes” of human behavior.) 2.  evangelical – anti-science, faith-based denial of reality; socio-emotional fervor.) These competing religious systems have replaced a brief period of “humanist” academic emphasis; the arts and physical education have been jettisoned, supposedly due to “budget” limitations… but this elimination of “expressions of individual human value” is a choice made by parents and educators to “ban” secular ideals from education)  

The necessity of physical training along with education of soul and mind has been emphasised; for this reason, physical practices and games have been suggested for young people. It is possible to see how the humanists formed the foundations of the Renaissance, beginning from the 14th century to the 18th century and working from Italy to Spain, Germany, France and England. Almost all of the humanists stated the significance of physical training in their written works on education (Alpman, 1972).

One of the humanists, Vittorino da Feltre may have viewed it as the most pleasant goal of his life to raise a group of teenagers and fed and educated poor but talented children at his home (Burckhardt, 1974). Feltre practiced a classical education in his school called “Joyful Residence”. In accord with Ancient Greek education concepts, he claimed that benefits were provided by the education of body and soul through daily exercises such as swimming, riding and swordplay, and generating love towards nature via hiking; he also emphasised the importance of games and tournaments (Alpman, 1972; Aytac, 1980). Enea Silvio de Piccolomini is also worthy of attention; alongside his religious character, he thought that physical training should be emphasised and that beauty and power should be improved in this way (Alpman, 1972). de Piccolomini attracted attention to the importance of education as a basis for body and soul while stressing the importance of avoiding things that cause laxity, games and resting (Aytac, 1980). Juan Ludwig Vives, a systematic philosopher who had multiple influences, in one of his most significant works “De Tradendis Disciplinis”, which was published in 1531, advised such practices as competitive ball playing, hiking, jogging, wrestling and braggartism, beginning from the age of 15 (Alpman, 1972).

The German humanist Joachim Camerarius, who managed the academic gymnasium in the city of Nürnberg, is also very important in relation to this subject. Having practicing systematic physical training at the school in which he worked, Camerarius wrote his work, “Dialogus de Cymnasis”, which refers to the pedagogical and ethical values of Greek gymnastics. In this work, he stressed such practices as climbing, jogging, wrestling, swordplay, jumping, stone throwing and games that were practiced by specially selected children according to their ages and physical abilities, all under the supervision of experienced teachers (Alpman, 1972). The Italian Hieronymus Mercurialis’ De Arte Gymnastica, first published in Latin in Venice in 1569, contained very little on the Olympic Games. Indeed, the author was hostile to the idea of competitive athletics. The Frenchman Petrus Faber’s Agonisticon (1592), in its 360 pages of Latin text, brought together in one place many ancient texts concerning the Olympics but was disorganised, repetitive and often unclear (Lee, 2003). The first part of the De Arte Gymnastica included the definition of Ancient Greek gymnastics and an explanation of actual terminology whereas the second part contained precautions about the potential harms of exercises practiced in the absence of a doctor. Moreover, he separated gymnastics practised for health reasons from military gymnastics (Alpman, 1972).

Note the military requirement for it’s personnel to be “physically fit” compared to the general U.S. population, (including children), which is chronically obese, sedentary and unhealthy. “Being physically fit” (at least the appearance of) is now a status symbol of the wealth classes and social celebrities, requiring personal trainers, expensive spa and gym facilities, and high-tech gadgets and equipment.    

The Transition to the Age of Enlightenment: Reformation, Counter-reformation and the Age of Method

The Age of Reformation: The most significant feature of European cultural life during this age was the dominant role played by religious issues, unlike the Renaissance in Italy (Mcneill, 1985). This age symbolises the uprising of less civilised societies against logic-dominated Italy (Russell, 2002). Bearing a different character from Renaissance and Humanism, the Reformation did not stress improvements in modern art or science, but rather improvements in politics and the Church; consonant with this, its education epitome emphasised being religious and dependent on the Church. Nevertheless, both Humanism and the Reformation struggled against Middle Ages scholasticism, and both appreciated the value of human beings (Aytac, 1980).

The Counter-reformation Movement: In this period, which includes the movement of the Catholic church to retake privileges that it had lost due to the Reformation, the “Jesuit Sect’’ was founded to preach, confess and collect “perverted minds’’ once again under the roof of the Catholic church via teaching activities (Aytac, 1980).

The Age of Method: Also known as the Age of Practice, this period saw efforts to save people from prejudice, and principles for religion, ethics, law and state were sought to provide systematic knowledge in a logic-based construction. Aesthetic educational approaches, which were ignored by religion and the Church because of the attitudes prevailing during the Reformation and Counterreformation, were given fresh emphasis. Bacon, Locke, Ratke, Komensky, Descartes and Comenius are among the famous philosophers who lived during this period (Aytac, 1980).

The Age of Enlightenment General Features and Educational Concepts of the Enlightenment

The Enlightenment Period had made itself clear approximately between 1680 and 1770 or even 1780. Science developed into separate disciplines, literature became an independent subject, and it was demanded that history also become independent (Chaunu, 2000). During this period, educators transformed the concept of education from preparing students for the afterlife into preparing them for the world around them, so that they could be free and enlightened.

Moreover, educators of the period were usually optimistic and stressed the importance of study and work. At school, students were educated in such a way as to engrain a love of nature and human beings. Based on these ideas, learning was undertaken by experiment and experience (Binbasioglu, 1982). William Shakespeare mentioned the concept of “Fair Play” and the ideas of “maintain equality of opportunity” and “show the cavalier style of thinking” at the end of the 16th century; by the 18th century, these ideas were included in sport (Gillmeister, 1988). Systematic changes in the foundations of the principles of fair play that occurred in the 19th century were directly related to the socio-cultural structure of Victorian England (Yildiran, 1992).

The Concept of Physical Training during the Enlightenment and Its Pioneers Ideas and epitomes produced prior to this period were ultimately practiced in this period. Respected educators of the period stressed the significance of physical training, which appealed only to the aristocracy during the Renaissance; simulating the education system of the Ancient Age, educators started to address everyone from all classes and their views spread concordantly in this period.

John Locke: The Enlightenment reached maturity during the mid-to late eighteenth century. John Locke, a lead player in this new intellectual movement (Faiella, 2006), was likely the most popular political philosopher during the first part of the 18th century, who stressed the necessity of education (Perry et al., 1989). Locke’s “Essay on Human Intellect” is acknowledged as his most prominent and popular work (Russell, 2002). His work, “Notions of Education” stressed the importance of child health, advised children to learn swimming and to maintain their fitness. Moreover, Locke noted that such activities as dance, swordplay and riding were essential for a gentleman (Alpman, 1972) and that education should be infused with game play (Binbaşıoğlu, 1982).

Jean Jacques Rousseau: in his work, Emile, the philosopher from Geneva discussed educational matters in regard to the principles of nature (Russell, 2002). In this work, which he wrote in (1762) Rousseau argued that individuals should learn from nature, human beings or objects (Perry et al., 1989), and expressed his notions concerning the education of children and teenagers (Binbasioglu, 1982). Rousseau held that children should be allowed to develop and learn according to their natural inclinations, but in Emile, this goal was achieved by a tutor who cunningly manipulated his pupil’s responses (Damrosch, 2007). The aforesaid education was termed “Natural education’’ of the public or “education which will create natural human beings’’ (Aytaç, 1980). Emile exercised early in the morning because he needed strength, and because a strong body was the basic requirement for a healthy soul. Running with bare feet, high jumping, and climbing walls and trees, Emile mastered such skills as jogging, swimming, stone throwing, archery and ball games. Rousseau demanded that every school would have a gymnasium or an area for training (Alpman, 1972).

Continued next post. Time to watch the Olympics!

The human word brain vs. the visual bird brain / Aye, yai, yai

A Blog by Robert Krulwich, 12/03/15

How a 5-Ounce Bird Stores 10,000 Maps in Its Head

Around now, as we begin December, the Clark’s nutcracker has, conservatively, 5,000 (and up to 20,000) treasure maps in its head. They’re accurate, detailed, and instantly retrievable.

It’s been burying seeds since August. It’s hidden so many (one study says almost 100,000 seeds) in the forest, meadows, and tree nooks that it can now fly up, look down, and see little x’s marking those spots —here, here, not there, but here—and do this for maybe a couple of miles around. It will remember these x’s for the next nine months.

This is an assumption based on how humans make maps. Is the bird using an aerial map (that covers several square miles) that it has composed from “little maps” that are based on the arrangement of a few objects on the ground, in 5,000-20,000 separate locations? Does it then transform this complex projection (from ground points to an aerial view) into a “graphic map” with x’s on it? This is where BEING LITERAL counts, if one is to understand how the bird thinks; that is, how it collects and processes information from the environment, and then arranges it in a useable form. Does the bird rely on a built-in Google Map app? 

Humans are not very good at “imagining” how other life forms function in relation to the environment. Are these maps at all, or simply images? In visual thinking, the image IS the content. Does the bird brain compare what it sees while searching for caches with an image that is embedded in its visual records (and is always available and “updated” as the environment changes) or is it calculating distance and location mathematically, using “trigonometry software” like a computer? Either way, it still needs an accurate “memory” of locations… which for the bird must be acquired through its senses – perhaps several senses are involved?  

How does it do it? / 32 Seeds a Minute

It starts in high summer, when whitebark pine trees produce seeds in their cones—ripe for plucking. Nutcrackers dash from tree to tree, inspect, and, with their sharp beaks, tear into the cones, pulling seeds out one by one. They work fast. One study clocked a nutcracker harvesting “32 seeds per minute.”

These seeds are not for eating. They’re for hiding. Like a squirrel or chipmunk, the nutcracker clumps them into pouches located, in the bird’s case, under the tongue. It’s very expandable … The pouch “can hold an average of 92.7 plus or minus 8.9 seeds,” wrote Stephen Vander Wall and Russell Balda. (Aye, yai yai!) Biologist Diana Tomback thinks it’s less, but one time she saw a (bigger than usual) nutcracker haul 150 seeds in its mouth. “He was a champ,” she told me.

Next, they land. Sometimes they peck little holes in the topsoil or under the leaf litter. Sometimes they leave seeds in nooks high up on trees. Most deposits have two or three seeds, so that by the time November comes around, a single bird has created 5,000 to 20,000 hiding places. They don’t stop until it gets too cold. “They are cache-aholics,” says Tomback.

When December comes—like right around now—the trees go bare and it’s time to switch from hide to seek mode. Nobody knows exactly how the birds manage this, but the best guess is that when a nutcracker digs its hole, it will notice two or three permanent objects at the site: an irregular rock, a bush, a tree stump. The objects, or markers, will be at different angles from the hiding place. (???)

Next, they measure. (How are they measuring? Do they use feet and inches or the metric system? A tape measure? A laser scanner? LOL) This seed cache, they note, “is a certain distance from object one, a certain distance from object two, a certain distance from object three,” says Tomback. “What they’re doing is triangulating. They’re kind of taking a photograph with their minds (brain) to find these objects” using (3) reference points

You can see from the video that “triangulation” is not what the researchers think it is!  

Psychologist Alan Kamil has a different view. He thinks the birds note the landmarks and remember not so much the distances, but the angleswhere one object is in relation to the others. (“The tree stump’s 80 degrees south of the rock.”) Aye, yai, yai!  These nutcrackers are doing geometry more than measuring. (OMG!) 

Yes, birds think in words; measure distances and angles, take notes, and identify “trees” as trees, “rocks” as rocks, and “do the math” (wrongly) just like psychologists. Another huge Asperger sigh…

Imagine that the bird is positioned where the theodolite sits on the survey table, (a tree branch) and (according to the researchers, is trying to remember) a point where it dug a hole and buried seeds.

Note that TWO points are needed for triangulation: point A and point B. This requires that the bird records data from two different positions in the landscape at a known distance from each other. But, even then, it’s not the “point” where a cache can be found that can be calculated, but the DISTANCE TO THE TREE (along dashed line) from the baseline. If the cache is in or below the tree, the bird can SEE where it is… 

If we assume that (what the authors really mean) is that the marker objects exist at  points A, B, and C, then why is there any need to “do the trig” or even make a map? The cache simply exists within the area defined by points A, B, C. On the ground these markers (an irregular rock, a bush, a tree stump) are not going to be more than a few inches to feet apart… a small area to search. And if the bird has an existing image of the area that includes the position of the buried seeds – easy, peasy! 

Does the bird actually need an accurate map based on distances and angles to find seeds, when it has established an enormous number (5,000 – 20,000) caches, or will a few visual landmarks get it “close enough” to rediscover a sufficient percentage of them to provide for survival? Does it actually “find” each and every one of the 100,000 seeds? (I’d like to see proof!) What about the ones that other animals discover and eat? What about those displaced by rain, snow, wind, erosion, tree limbs or whole trees falling down; leaf litter is hardly a “permanent” material! What happens when one or more markers and the seed location are buried under snow? How is that explained? 

To see what is involved in mapping go to: http://www.icsm.gov.au/mapping/surveying2.html

However they do it, when the snow falls and it’s time to eat, (they don’t eat during the rest of the year?) they’ll land at a site. “They will perch on a tree,” says Tomback, “on a low branch, [then light onto the ground, where] they pause, look around a bit, and they start digging, and in a few cases I’ll see them move slightly to the right or to the left and then come up again (??)”

She’s convinced that they’re remembering markers from summer or fall and using them to point to the X spot—and, “Lo and behold, these birds come up with their cracked seeds,” she says. “And it’s really pretty astounding.”

In the 1970s, Stephen Vander Wall ran a tricky little experiment. He shifted the markers at certain sites, so that instead of pointing to where the seeds actually were, they now pointed to where the seeds were not. OMG!

And the birds, as you’d expect if they were triangulating, went to the wrong place Note that this “experiment” was not conducted in the wild, but in artificially constructed conditions controlled by the “researchers”… who don’t understand triangulation… 

I think what they are thinking of is trisecting a triangle.

But at sites where he left the markers untouched, the birds got it right. That’s a clue that each of these birds has thousands of marker-specific snapshots in their heads that they use for months and months. When the spring comes and the birds have their babies, they continue to visit old sites to gather seeds until their chicks fledge. A “photographic” image (and images recorded by the brain) include the details needed for identification of what is within the frame of capture; the relationships between content details are “fixed” in the pattern. The bird does not need to “abstract” markers from the environment; everything is included in the image.

The mystery here, the deep mystery, is how do they manage to store so much data in their heads? I couldn’t possibly do what they do (I can’t even remember all ten digits in a phone number, so I’d be one very dead nutcracker in no time). Is their brain organized in some unique way? (!!!!!) 

Neurotypicals are perpetually amazed that other living things, which have been produced by the rigors of evolutionary selection over millions of years, could possibly possess functions and skills beyond those of an infantile domesticated social human.  

Is their brain plastic? Can it grow more neurons or more connections when it needs to? Chickadees are also food hiders, and they do grow bushier brains when they need to, expanding in the “remember this” season and contracting afterward. Do Clark’s nutcrackers do that? We don’t know.

Whatever it is they do, I want what they’ve got.

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Chris Packham Videos / Personal Account Adult Asperger – Excellent

Familiar, and yet different! Fascinating to see how the same “impulses” play out in another Asperger… Overwhelmingly sad at points … love and beauty. That different perception of time. Would I want to be “cured”? Never. 

My salvation was having an Asperger father, who loved me like Chris loved his Kestral. 

ABA child abuse. An American travesty: rationalized torture. Eugenics.  

Employment of ASD people, Silicon Valley 

LOSS. The unbearable.   

Notes on Autism: Amygdala, Hippocampus / Neuroscience

This is a very extensive and well-documented study. Oodles of tech. procedure, but also “readable” if you stick to Introduction, Discussion and Results.

The Amygdala Is Enlarged in Children But Not Adolescents with Autism; the Hippocampus Is Enlarged at All Ages

+ Authors and Institutions at article site.  The Journal of Neuroscience, 14 July 2004, 24(28): 6392-6401; doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1297-04.2004 

http://www.jneurosci.org/content/24/28/6392.full/

If the amygdala does develop abnormally in autism, what behavioral symptoms might be expected? The amygdala has been implicated in the mediation of social behavior (Brothers et al., 1990) and many other cognitive processes in humans. These include face processing (Grelotti et al., 2002; Haxby et al., 2002), recognition of emotions (Adolphs, 2002; Adolphs et al., 2003), enhancement of memory for emotionally significant events (Cahill et al., 1995; Canli et al., 2000), and predicting reward values (Gottfried et al., 2003). This has lead some to suggest that the amygdala might be the primary structure responsible for the social impairments in autism (Baron-Cohen et al., 2000). However, studies of human and nonhuman primates with amygdala lesions argue against this conclusion (Amaral et al., 2003). Human patients with Urbach-Wiethe, a disease that results in destruction of the amygdala, do not display core autistic symptomotology. In addition, nonhuman primates that sustained amygdala damage early in development are able to produce species-typical social behaviors (Prather et al., 2001).

The view from our animal studies, which is consistent with human lesion studies, is that dysfunction of the amygdala is not responsible for the core social deficits of autism.

My “takeaway” is that Asperger children likely undergo differential development: faster / slower in specific areas, rather than “not at all”. The real issue is social “receptivity” – perhaps like acquisition of language, acquisition of “social indoctrination” is possible during a window of time-development. Asperger children may pass through that stage, but be genetically and physiologically “unprepared” for such acquisition, or have a brain type that is pre-social (pre-agricultural-urban.)

 

Hibernation / Science and Personal Fantasy

For all but approximately 3 years of my life I’ve lived in “bad winter” locations, and I like winter; it’s the length of the season that gets to me. So I fantasize about the ability to hibernate for a month or two. February is daunting, especially in this part of Wyoming, where the year’s snowfall tends to be delayed until March, April and into May. In other wintry places, one may think of February as the last step toward spring; for us, it’s a dead zone that means 3 more months of winter to go. I’ve also considered the notion that archaic humans, Neanderthals especially, may have entered states of “altered metabolism” during the worst climate / weather periods. Perhaps we call it depression today; perhaps mania too, was a “normal” state of intense activity in warm periods. Bipolar disorder has been investigated as a disruption to circadian rhythm cycles. 

And, getting enough quality sleep is a “modern social problem” that seriously affects health and performance. 

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Why Does Hibernating Make Animals Tired?

Hibernation tires animals out, because it may be more like wakefulness than previously thought.

https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/ezpnkj/why-does-hibernating-make-animals-tired

Matteo Cerri is a hibernation researcher at the University of Bologna, Italy. He is currently consulting for the European Space Agency about ways to make humans hibernate during long space missions.

Hibernating mammals are able to actively suppress their metabolism, meaning they can tell their body to use less energy. Hibernation is a marvelous physiological and molecular event, and it’s still a mystery how the behavior is activated and regulated. One of the most curious mysteries about hibernation that I and my fellow hibernation researchers are trying to answer is why hibernating animals are so tired when they wake up.

There are several types of hibernation, which can last an entire season or just a part of a day (this is called “torpor”), and can even happen when the ambient temperature is high (which is called “aestivation”).

For sure, the brain plays a key role in starting the entire chain of events, but how and which part is still unknown. Among the many unexpected facets of hibernation, one is incredibly surprising.

Traditionally, hibernation is commonly seen as a “big sleep,” a way for animals to stave winter off when no food is around. But it’s actually not. Hibernation is a state characterized by the active inhibition of metabolism, and in this state, the activity of the brain differs substantially from sleep and may in fact be closer to wakefulness than many people realize. Hibernators are known to wake up periodically from their “cold sleep,” and most people would think “it’s to eat, of course!”

But that is not the case. Hibernators don’t eat during hibernation season (and, for what it’s worth, they also don’t drink or produce any urine). So, why are they waking up? To check out the weather?

Electroencephalographic recordings of the brain of hibernators give a surprising answer: They wake up to sleep. And it’s not like they shift from hibernating to a nap. These animals wake up and pass out like they’re exhausted. Delta brainwave readings, which can be used to measure the deepness or intensity of sleep, show that animals that have just woken up from hibernation are indeed sleeping intensely.

This observation has been confirmed both in seasonal hibernators, such as golden-mantled ground squirrels and European ground squirrels, and in animals that perform torpor, such as the Djungarian hamster. Why this is the case is the subject of great debate among hibernation researchers, and it matters because my team and others around the world are working on research that could lead to the possibility of human hibernation. We’d like to know as much about the process as possible.

There are two main hypotheses. The first one suggests that sleep is such a deep and necessary process for the brain—that it serves such a vital role that the brain itself has to command the body out of hibernation to recover the sleep it’s lost during hibernation. In fact, the idea that hibernation is more similar to wakefulness than it is to sleep is the subject of a recent study conducted by me and some of my colleagues at the University of Bologna in Italy.

This hypothesis has been tested with an interesting experiment. If a scientist disturbed a hibernator of this “recovery sleep” for a few hours after it wakes up, then it stands to reason that after that the animal would make up for this time when it actually does fall asleep (it would sleep for the same total length of time as hibernating animals that weren’t deprived of sleep immediately after they woke up). if that sleep was so important, it would be recovered at the end of the deprivation period. In other words, if the animal had a sleep debt, that debt would have to paid, sooner or later.

The second hypothesis takes a different view of the whole process. Brain activity is strongly affected by hibernation, and the brain itself goes through some intense changes during hibernation. For instance, during hibernation, there is a process of disconnection of neurons. Many synapses are in fact re­absorbed by the brain in what is very similar to a transitory state of Alzheimer’s disease. This disconnection is quickly reversed after an animal wakes up, rewiring the brain in the same way it was before, which brings back all the information that was stored in the neurons.

During the re­connection process, which happens in the first few hours after an animal comes out of hibernation, the brain is in a highly plastic state. Therefore, it’s thought that the EEG activity that we see during these stages is not real “sleep,” but just a nonspecific pattern of neuronal reactivation. If this is the case, in the experiment described before, we should not see any recovery sleep after the sleep deprivation, which would suggest there’s not sleep debt in first place. In other words, hibernation wouldn’t actually be making the animals tired, they would simply sleep to reform these neural connections.

The experiment I’ve suggested has actually been performed, more than once. But the results are conflicting. A team at the University of Zürich, Switzerland, found evidence of sleep debt in hibernating animals. They even went as far as testing different durations of sleep deprivation, and showed that, during torpor, sleep debt accumulates 2.75 times slower than during wakefulness.

A separate experiment by a team at Berkeley and Stanford reported that no rebound was observed after sleep deprivation, and so did teams from the University of Alaska and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

How can we explain the conflicting results? They looked at different animals. The Zurich group looked at the Djungarian hamster, while the Berkeley group looked at the ground squirrel. The main difference between the two species is that hamsters undergo daily torpor (hibernation that lasts less than 24 hours), while ground squirrels are seasonal hibernators.

So, the answer to our initial question is that we still don’t know why animals fall asleep immediately after they wake up from hibernating. No more experiments on the topic have been conducted since the ones I described. But, my own work at the University of Bologna in Italy has supported the idea that brain activity during torpor or hibernation is more similar to wakefulness than it is to sleep.

In this experiment, a torpor-­like state was induced for the first time in a rat, a non-­hibernator (our goal is to eventually open the way to human hibernation in the not-so-near future). Brain activity recordings in this kind of suspended animation state did indeed resemble activity during wakefulness, but the activity became slower and slower as body temperature decreased, as if the frames of a movie were being projected slower and slower as the movie progressed.

No one knows what it’s like to be in a state of hibernation, and we don’t know if hibernators are still somewhat conscious. Perhaps if we can teach ourselves to hibernate, we’ll learn the answer. In the meantime, I’m hoping that research on this topic will flourish again.

You’ll Sleep When You’re Dead is Motherboard’s exploration of the future of sleep. Read more stories.

Everything sounds better in Italian, including English… Note the importance (and revelation) that synaptic connectivity is plastic…

A revelation about being Asperger / Chronic Pain

I had a bad day today. What does that mean? Pain.

I had never looked at bad days as being identifiable in terms of pain. I see “problems to solve” as the source of discontent, disruption, a bad mood – the badness in a bad day. I experience physical pain (sometimes intense) at the same time; maybe a meltdown. How could I not connect the two?

Today I could identify that bad days are not discrete events, but wave tops of continuous, chronic pain. I could suddenly see that this has been the pattern, since childhood. This was a connection I had never before made. This connection must be shown visually.

— Such that the wave crest is maximum pain (a meltdown); the wave trough, is the absence of pain: the path of the wave describes chronic pain. I didn’t see the continuous nature of pain because I ignore (am unaware of, don’t feel) the pain between the peaks and troughs.  As is often said of Asperger types, there is pain we don’t feel; there is pain we do feel. Our response to pain is “eccentric.” There is a “threshold” at work in this experience of pain.

Something else is familiar about the “highs and lows” of this wave: Years ago I was diagnosed bipolar. Since the discovery that I’m Asperger, I have suspected that bipolar was a mistaken diagnosis. Could this “wave pattern” of chronic pain (stress induced?) “look like” bipolar mood swings and engender the belief that bipolar is co-morbid with being Asperger? My proposed “Asperger Wave” is actually the inverse of bipolar swings: The peak is extreme pain, the valley is pleasure.

The next question is, What is the origin of chronic pain? 

I’m off to consult the Wizard… 

 

Domestication and Reproductive Change / Grandin

Behavioral Genetics and Animal Science

TEMPLE GRANDIN AND MARK J. DEESING

Department of Animal Science,  Colorado State University,  Fort Collins, Colorado. Genetics and the Behavior of Domestic Animals /  Academic Press 1998

Much, much more at: http://www.grandin.com/references/genetics.html

GENETIC EFFECTS OF DOMESTICATION

Price (1984) defined domestication as a process by which a population of animals becomes adapted to man and the captive environment by some combination of genetic changes occurring over generations and environmentally induced developmental events recurring during each generation: In long-term selection experiments designed to study the consequences of selection for the tame domesticated type of behavior, Belyaev (1979) and Belyaev et al. (1981) studied foxes reared for their fur. The red fox (Vulpes fulva) has been raised on seminatural fur farms for over 100 years and was selected for fur traits and not behavioral traits. However, they demonstrate three distinctly different characteristic responses to man. Thirty percent were extremely aggressive toward man, 60% were either fearful or fearfully aggressive, and 10% displayed a quiet exploratory reaction without either fear or aggression. (Note how individual foxes have varied temperaments – as do humans.) The objective of this experiment was to breed animals similar in behavior to the domestic dog. By selecting and breeding the tamest individuals, 20 years later the experiment succeeded in turning wild foxes into tame, border collie-like fox-dogs. The highly selected “tame” population of (fox-dog) foxes actively sought human contact and would whine and wag their tails when people approached (Belyaev 1979). This behavior was in sharp contrast to wild foxes which showed extremely aggressive and fearful behavior toward man. Keeler et al. (1970) described this behavior:

Vulpes fulva (the wild fox) is a bundle of jangled nerves. We had observed that when first brought into captivity as an adult, the red fox displays a number of symptoms that are in many ways similar to those observed in psychosis. They resemble a wide variety of phobias, especially fear of open spaces, movement, white objects, sounds, eyes or lenses, large objects, and man, and they exhibit panic, anxiety, fear, apprehension and a deep trust of the environment~ They are 1) catalepsy-like frozen positions, accompanied by blank stares; 2) fear of sitting down; 3) withdrawal; 4) runaway flight reactions; and 5) aggressiveness. Sometimes the strain of captivity makes them deeply disturbed and confused, or may produce a depression- like state. Extreme excitation and restlessness may also be observed in some individuals in response to many changes in the physical environment. Most adult red foxes soon after capture break off their canine teeth on the mesh of our expanded metal cage in their attempts to escape. A newly captured fox is known to have torn at the wooden door of his cage in a frenzy until he dropped dead from exhaustion.

This is a good description of how Aspergers react to social confinement.

Although the stress of domestication is great, Belyaev (1979) and Belyaev et al. (1981) concluded that selection for tameness was effective in spite of the many undesirable characteristics associated with tameness. For example, the tame foxes shed during the wrong season and developed black and white patterned fur, and changes were found in their hormone profiles.

This means that the monoestrus (once a year) cycle of reproduction was disturbed and the animals would breed at any time of the year

(This change in the accelerated rate of reproduction is also seen in domesticated humans!)

Furthermore, changes in behavior occurred simultaneously with changes in tail position and ear shape, and the appearance of a white muzzle, forehead blaze, and white shoulder hair. The white color pattern on the head is similar to many domestic animals (Belyaev 1979) (Figs. 1.1 and 1.2). The most dog-like foxes had white spots and patterns on their heads, drooping ears, and curled tails and looked more like dogs than the foxes that avoided people. The behavioral and morphological (appearance) changes were also correlated with corresponding changes in the levels of gender hormones. The tame foxes had higher levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin (Popova et al., 1975). Serotonin is known to inhibit some kinds of aggression (Belyaev, 1979), and serotonin ~levels are increased in the brains of people who take Prozac (fluoxetine). (The carpet-bombing of U.S. citizens by pharmacology can be seen as an attempt to further domesticate “unruly” or non-conforming Americans) 

The study of behavioral genetics can help explain why selection for calm temperament was linked to physical and neurochemical changes in Belyaev’s foxes. Behavior geneticists and animal scientists are interested in understanding effects on behavior due to genetic influences or those which are due to environment and learning.

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Comment: Homo sapiens sapiens (Neurotypicals) are domesticated Homo sapiens. Selection for tameness was necessary due to settlement in agricultural communities and urbanization. As females were domesticated, fertile periods increased drastically, from once per year to monthly; world population grew rapidly, requiring ever more extreme selection for “tame” behavior, or as it is called today, social behavior. Unfortunately, domestication has not produced healthy humans nor peaceful social environments. It has also led to a decrease in intelligence. 

Morning thoughts on an Asperger problem

INDEPENDENCE

Being independent does not mean that I don’t want or need other people in my life, but most of the people who are available to us are social typical people. They know about needing and wanting other people. It’s a fact of life.

When they meet someone who is independent, they don’t know how to deal with that person. They may conclude that being independent means that we don’t want or need them. They take it personally; they are used to being needed. I think that it is incumbent on us to find a way to let that person know that we need other people in our lives.

I admit that I’m terrible at this. Being independent is so fundamental to my existence:  to my identity; to how I operate in the world. For me it equates with freedom. This is a mistake. I ought to be able to “be free” to think what I think; to say what I mean, to act on my principles and values and to take the consequences for that freedom as they come, but ought to, and “can do” are not the same.

Freedom is a buzzword in American democracy; not a fact of life. An abstract concept that in practice is available to few individuals. When brought down to specifics, it’s a subject that is under constant negotiation between individuals groups and the “state” – laws, traditions, customs, necessity and yes, the social hierarchy. In many cultures, religions and nations, it’s not even open to negotiation. It’s this “openness” to negotiation that is a source of political, cultural and social turmoil in our country – and a very serious problem inside the country today – and always has been. It is fundamental in our history.

I have obviously participated in these negotiations; accepted the benefits and taken considerable blows to my health and happiness by doing so. That is that: a condition of living that I fully accept.

But as an Asperger, I find that it’s the personal level of negotiations that is the most difficult. Social “needs and wants” are very different to what I want. One aspect of this is due to being female: an independent female is strange. Women are supposed to want people to “take care of them”. Men, for all the “trash talk” that goes around, take a great deal of pride and identity from taking care of women and children. And women, too, are often overloaded with the “cultural” message that “nurturing” is their task in the order of things. Their burden: selflessness. These two roles are natural, but can become obstacles in relationships. Who takes care of what, within family and society seams a simple question of negotiation – individual choices can be integrated into a practical solution.

Which person is good at task X? Enjoys task Y? Divide up the activity accordingly; share the remainder equitably.

I think that every Asperger realizes early on in childhood, that this is not how the social environment works. All kinds of other priorities exist: status, tradition, roles, interference by other people who think that they have the answers and the right, indeed even the authority to impose their ideas on others.

This is the point in analysis where my Asperger personality simply “looses it”. The social environment has been like this for thousands of years; a behemoth under no conscious control; a tangle of knots and threads beyond comprehension.

My answer to the frustration has been writing this blog, in the narrow quest of perhaps aiding other people like me in coping with the situation. I have learned much myself by jumping into the “problem” and untangling some of the bad ideas, prejudices and complicated “emotions” that drive the system. Old Aspergers can learn new tricks; new strategies, new personal revelations.

It’s funny, in a way, that the “problem” boils down to a simple question, How does an Asperger let other people know that we’re human, not just like them, and yet, very much like them?