Tag Archives: brain

What Is the Origin of Learning?

learning in human evolution

« We are here to learn. » This is what one of my friends says when he relapses and commits another alcohol-related blunder (don’t worry; he doesn’t read this blog).

That remark has always puzzled me. What exactly do we need to learn and for what purpose? But when you think about it, his assertion has a second meaning. Maybe my friend means that learning is the purpose itself, that we are born to learn.

According to brain scientists, such a view is dead on the money. The human brain comes pre-packaged with a level of flexibility that impels learning.

All living beings follow their genetic code. For example, moths are drawn to candle flames because they’re hardwired to navigate by the light of the moon; they’re unable to change with experience.

But a few species have been able to detach themselves from that programming, and rely on experience to survive and reproduce. We can say that learning was born the day an organism managed to override the primal instructions of its DNA, and respond to its environment on the fly.

How have humans become expert learners?

Essentially by being born prematurely, before their brain is ready. As Doctor Medina explains, if the brain completed its development inside the womb as expected, the baby’s head would be too big.

So our species have become peak learners because after birth our neurons, instead of slowing down, continue to multiply like crazy. Did you know that a 3-year-old’s brain is twice as active as a normal adult’s?

All and all, my friend is totally right. We’re biologically built to learn. The brain has the incredible chance to test drive its environment while under construction. That cerebral flexibility gives us the opportunity to map the world in real time and adjust to circumstances on the spot.

Knowing how to quickly detect opportunities and dangers, and adapt accordingly is what a peak learner is all about, isn’t it?

Happiness Is An Empty Head

thinking optimization

One of my colleagues lives in perpetual bliss. Do you know his secret? He keeps his mind in the present and won’t let his pre-frontal cortex interfere with his life. Of course, such a strategy has the downside of severely limiting your growth, doesn’t it?

But recently, I’ve found a way to reach his level of happiness without sacrificing my future.

You first need to understand that our brain was originally programmed to live in the present. Our memory basically works as an adaptive mechanism, and our planning skills seem to be quite recent. But if you try to follow nature and don’t have tenure, our result-oriented world will eat you alive.

So how can you reconcile your psychological makeup with the demands of your environment? The key is to regularly empty your head into a bucket (i.e. your system). As David Allen brilliantly puts it, your mind is for having ideas, not for holding them.

Next, you need to schedule time to think; otherwise, you won’t ever think. Seriously. Thinking doesn’t feel natural; it requires time and energy. Most people regurgitate and play back stuff in their mind and call this thinking.

Once you do regular brain dumps and develop effective thinking habits, you’ll be able to afford to walk around with an empty head like my colleague. Such peace of mind will increase not only your happiness, but also your thinking power.

After freeing up some psychic space, get ready to receive your best ideas.