NOTICE: Posting schedule is irregular. I hope to get back to a regular schedule as the day-job allows.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Science and Learning

I would be ashamed if I had to admit that everything I know about the brain I learned in med school and grad school. The truth is, I didn't. Back in the 70's my parents had these great "Time-Life" science books. They joined the club and got a new volume each month. Light and Vision, Sound and Hearing, the Brain, the Cell, and other disciplines – the Solar System, the Earth... I remember them well and read them cover-to-cover ... as a pre-teen. In high school I was on a science academic competition team, so I learned even more science than was taught in my classes. Thus when I got to college, I studied all of the science I could handle – biology, chemistry, physics, oceanography, ecology and even bits of geology. This took me through a Bachelors and even a Masters degree.

*Then* I got to a doctoral program and discovered that for this particular discipline, I would essentially take the first two years of medical school and supplement with additional courses in Neuroscience as well as advanced Physiology and Pharmacology. It was here that I finally learned the difference between what we teach children and what we teach adults. James Hogan, in his book "Kicking the Sacred Cow" refers to these as "Lies told to children." We don't teach the full complexity of science to children because it is too ... complex. Likewise you don't need to know how to build a watch to tell the time. However, I disagree. We can tell children – and adults! – that we are removing complexity – simplifying without being simplistic. The thing I remember about my own learning process is that I never approached those childhood science books as a *child* - I approached them as an adult mind in a child's body. What I remember best was that they did their best to explain science in simplified terms without the simplistic or "simple-minded" approach. Teach and explain, without talking down. Draw nice pictures so that the students can *see* the parts clearly, but use the *real* names and terms. Use analogies with the surrounding world to improve understanding.

The one thing I have discovered is that I like talking about my work. I teach several graduate students, give professional seminars and public talks on science. The hardest part, for me, is to find someone misusing or misinterpreting science. I can deal with a lack of understanding, I bristle at deliberate misstatements. The rewarding part is hearing from someone that my comments are interesting and informative. As a young professor, just getting started in lectures and seminars, I tried the old Toastmasters trick of leading off with a joke. I quickly discovered that my jokes tended to fall flat, but if I just injected a *tiny* bit of on-topic humor, the talks were much more enjoyable for me as well as my audience.

Which brings us back to The Lab Rats's Guide to the Brain and my semi-daily blog. The Guide is my attempt to write science in a way that I enjoy and others can read. I think the need is there for a readable guide to brain science that doesn't talk down to the audience, but also puts the correct words, the correct terms and the *real science* into Science Fiction and other forms of communication. My last post was a bit of a rant, but I feel that it highlights the goals of this blog. I will continue to write The Guide and blog it here. I will also take some time out to handle topical matters and answer questions. Sometimes we'll have a bit of fun, and let the LabRats out to play. And when I find myself having to wrestle with a concept and get the science right *myself* before writing it into the Guide, you'll get filler blogs like this one.

Most of all, thanks to my readers. I appreciate your comments and your questions. Where possible I will include them in future blogs, or maybe just pass them off to the LabRats to chew on. I have about two weeks until my trip, so I'll try to get major parts of brain finished during that time. I have at least one guest blog and one blog from on-the-road planned during my time away. Tomorrow I promise to start in on hearing and the auditory system! Until then, take care of your brain... it's the only brain you've got!

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