top of page
  • Steven R. Campbell

How Our Brain Learns

At my fifty year high school reunion, I remember seeing Mickey, my dear friend walking up the stairs of the bleachers on the opposite side of the gym. Mickey had gained about sixty pounds and I had lost whatever hair I had decades ago. And yet we recognized each other…instantaneously, although we had not seen each other for fifty years!

How did our brains do that?

How Our Brain Learns

If I were to put a paint brush in front of you, you would instantly recognize it. However, you were not born knowing what a paint brush looked like. You learned it sometime between your birth and the present. Let’s look at one isolated illustration to understand how your brain learned this.

Being raised in Rohnert Park gave our daughters no clear concept of what a “city’ was. In fact, Figure 1 illustrates what their brains knew about a ‘city.’ Absolutely nothing.

To teach them about a ‘city,’ we sat down with them when they are six and three and read them a couple of books about the city. When we did, their brain recorded the pictures in the book as ‘neural clusters’ as illustrated in Figure 2.

In addition to the books, we also took them to San Francisco and San Jose where they saw a lot of people, and buildings, and street lights and fire stations…all the stuff the cities have.

All of these neural clusters were recorded in their brains as shown in Figure 3. At this point, the clusters in Figure 3 were just those…clusters, and were recorded as clusters. Now their brains did something very interesting:

Here Come the Trillion of Connections

Their brains begin to see similarities among the clusters. Just as there were pictures of buildings in the book, there were actual buildings in San Francisco and San Jose.

When their brains perceived these similarities, they laid down what is called a “neural connection” between the clusters. In other words, when it saw similarities between pictures of buildings in the book, and buildings in San Francisco, it created a connection. When it remembered a fire department on Sesame Street and a fire department in San Francisco, it created another set of connections. When their brains remembered a lot of people in San Jose, and a lot of people in San Francisco, they laid down a third set of shown in Figure 4.

Dr. V.S. Ramachandran, the director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California, San Diego states on page 4 of his book “Phantoms in the Brain” that neuro-mathematicians have calculated the number of patterns and connections which are theoretically possible in the human brain is greater than the number of elementary particles in the universe.

Over time, these neural connections form a “pattern” of a “City” as shown in Figure 5. And the longer Abbey and Sarah live and grow, the more this pattern of a city will sharpen and fine-tune itself because of the increasing number of connections that the brain will create among all of the images of a city. This pattern of a city is now in their long term memory, and will be there as long as they live!

What Can We Learn From This?

1. You no longer need to feel self-conscious about how you learn:

If you feel bad about learning in a more random, chaotic way, you no longer need to. Let’s face it. Our world is random and chaotic, and our brain has simply learned to cope with this…it almost seems to thrive in it at times.

2. Comparing Yourself to Others Is No Longer Realistic

Your brain learns individually, and it is for this reason that comparing yourself to how others learn is not only silly, but unrealistic. My world is incredibly different from yours!

3. Nothing You Are Learning is Wasted

As we have seen here, your brain is a magnificent pattern-detecting apparatus. The time it takes for this pattern detection to take place is directly related to how many images, clues, pictures, readings, trips, tables, figures, books, papers, presentations, slides, magazines, and all of the other materials you have been exposed to throughout your life.

What does this mean to us? It means nothing in life is wasted, unless we say it is. The more images, clues, and experiences we have, the more we can learn and grow and change.

If you'd like to learn more, register for my next Workshop.

It’s Not Magic – It’s Science!

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Embassy Suites in Santa Clara, CA

9:00 a.m. to 4:00 Fee ~ $120 Click HERE for additional information and to Register

If you like stories like this, subscribe to Chopsticks Alley.

Mr. Campbell is an award-winning author, speaker and mentor to individuals and organizations. Known as “the Brain Whisperer,” he teaches how your mind can be your greatest adversary and, when understood, can be transformed into your greatest friend and ally. He wants to help shift the mindset of Chopsticks Alley readers. He holds a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Zoology from San Diego State University and a Masters in Information Systems from the University of San Francisco and has been exploring and teaching the discoveries of cognitive psychology in various universities and colleges for over 25 years.

43 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page