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Related Words, Beliefs, Background--part 2

Concepts, the Brain, Emotions, Learning
and Worldview Development

alphabetical listing: A to K 

  alphabetical listing, continued: L to Z

beliefs and the brain--according to the computational theory of the mind, particular beliefs and desires have a physical presence as information stored in the brain, represented as configurations of links between neurons.

computational theory of the mind -- asserts that the mind arises from the activity of the brain: responding to input from sensors, inscribing information into memory, processing information, doing computation / running programs, sending signals initiating action, etc. Encoding of information / data patterns and employing the logic needed for computation involve the brain’s one trillion or so neurons (each of which may be connected to up to 1000 other such cells). The brain activates links (synapses) between neurons. If each activation is equated with executing a digital instruction, the brain can execute about a ten million billion such instructions every second. This theory connects the mental world of perceptions, beliefs, desires, thinking, feeling, intending to do something, etc. with the brain and thus provides a solution to the mind--body problem. In emphasizing the role that natural selection played in the mind’s development, it provides insight into why the human mind is what it is and how it got that way.

concept -- the abstract generalized ideas and understanding that replace a set of sensory experiences and memories of them. Example: a very young child handles similar different objects, rectangular blocks, orange, beach ball, tennis ball, toy cars, globe, etc. and eventually forms a concept of “roundness” -- that some of the objects handled fit in with, others don’t. The conceptualization process involves observing, abstracting, recalling memories, discriminating, categorizing, etc.

conceptual framework (or conceptual map) -- An idealized way of making sense out of a complicated world which begins in early childhood with recognizing similarities and differences between objects and building concepts. The process continues with fitting certain concepts that belong together into conceptual schemes for understanding, then fitting many conceptual schemes together to make a conceptual framework one that gets constantly torn down, rebuilt, and refined over many years -- a whole lifetime for some!

emotional intelligence--a term first described by Mayer and Salovey in 1990, and popularized by Daniel Goleman in a 1995 book. Of interest to both psychological researchers, and the general public, its meaning is still evolving. According to Mayer, etal in a 2008 Annual Review of Psychology article, emotional intelligence "concerns the ability to carry out accurate reasoning about emotions and the ability to use emotions and emotional knowledge to enhance thought."  Goleman's latest conception of emotional intelligence sees four abilities as contributing to it: the ability to 1) be aware of one's own emotions, 2) control those emotions, 3) sense, comprehend, and respond to other's emotions, and 4) help other's emotions develop in the context of a relationship.  Some feel that EQ (emotional intelligence quotient) is as important as IQ in predicting a student's future success.  The last decade has seen many schools mount efforts to help students build emotional intelligence.                                                                                           

emotions --another one of those difficult to define terms. Here are three definitions: 1) a catch all term for subjectively experienced states dominated by feelings; 2) the affective or feeling aspect of human consciousness; 3) ancient survival mechanisms to protect us from danger that have evolved to also include (as Steven Pinker puts it) " mechanisms that set the brain’s highest level goals." 

empathy–concisely it refers to "fellow feeling" , that is imagining that you are in the other person’s shoes and experiencing his or her feelings, struggles, etc.  Emotionally immature people, in particular those who after experiencing so much pain as children have learned how to block it, may not feel compassion for another's pain.  Empathizing with others thus requires being in touch with your own feelings

feedback–information modifies the state of a system, changing it so that future system behavior changes. Learning provides a simple example, where the system involved can be, not just our knowledge but, our entire worldview. Here the most important lessons learned change our behavior the most. Voting in an election is another simple example of a feedback process at work. Feedback also has a place in technical devices: where  information about the state of a hardware system (output) is fed back to the system input to adjust, regulate, or modify its behavior.   Positive feedback reinforces input and can lead to exploding (or imploding) output.  Negative feedback opposes input and can lead to stable behavior.  Both can be present in complex systems.  Technology-based  examples include thermostats in heating / cooling systems, and elevator position / speed controls. Biology based feedback examples include blood sugar regulation in the body, populations of prey / predators in ecosystem, etc. 


laughter and worldviews--laughter results when we find pleasure or amusement in something, or reason to scorn / deride it.  Many have probed deeper into its origin.  Freud viewed laughter as a release of psychic energy that had been mistakenly bound up by false expectations. There is general agreement that laughter can result when some incongruity or incompatibility--a gap between our expectations and the reality we actually encounter-- suddenly becomes evident. Why?  Discovering this gap suggests our worldview is lacking--a potentially disturbing realization that can make us feel that we don't understand the terrain and aren't in control like we thought.  Our mental state has been perturbed, and in the worst case physically we may be in danger as well!   Assuming the latter isn't the case, sometimes we can do something: make mental adjustments to restore our mental state to a more tranquil one.  But other times our discovery is overwhelming: no mental adjustments are possible. Rather than accept the pain, we laugh!  

mind / body problem -- this is summarized by the question, “How do our thoughts, beliefs, desires and other intangibles in our mind interact with our bodies and trigger the actions and behaviors that are so real and tangible -- and in total effect have so dramatically reshaped the natural world? Theories of the mind have evolved from being built around “soul” to “substance” and “behavior” -- leading to the late 20th century emphasis on interpreting the mind according to what it does, not what it is. But now, at the beginning of the 21st century, based on new understanding of how the brain works and theoretical insights spurred by efforts to create artificial intelligence, the most popular theory -- the computational theory of the mind -- goes beyond behaviorism in asserting, “The mind is what the brain does”.

mirror neuron--a neuron which turns on (fires) both when you initiate a particular action and when you observe another individual performing the same action.  Thus their sympathetic firing "mirrors" the action of another.  According to some neuroscientists, the roots of empathy can be traced to neural networks in the brain with such mirror properties.

model–a human construction created to represent a pattern of relationships in data or in the human or natural world.  Models can take various forms: mathematical, computer based, mechanistic, etc.    

nature vs. nurture -- refers to the ongoing debate over the extent to which human behavior is largely innate / preprogrammed by our genetic heritage or is chiefly shaped by the environment in which we are raised, what we learn from it and from those who care for and teach us as we grow. Experimental support emphasizing the importance of heredity comes from studies of identical twins (sharing the same genes) raised apart, whereas ongoing studies of the brain -- in particular findings that show how the brain can “rewire” itself in response to environmental pressures (including head injury) -- illustrate that despite the complex, innate structure of the mind, the learning environment fundamentally shapes human behavior.

neuron–the specialized conducting cells of the brain, nerves and spinal cord–they consist of a cell body, dendrites, and an axon.

predictive processing—this refers to a theory of how brains function based on their continual updating of a mental model of the environment ultimately internalized in connections between multitudes of neurons. This model generates predictions of what should be perceived by human (or animal) senses, those predictions are compared to what actually is received, and information based on differences uncovered in this comparison is used to update / improve the model and guide subsequent behavior like activation of the motor system, etc.

right brain / left brain--the two hemispheres of the brain are specialized for performing different functions. Understanding verbal communication, speaking, reading and writing, along with analytical reasoning, abstract and critical thinking are left brain centered. In contrast, the right brain is predominately at work during strenuous physical activity, non-verbal communications, dreams, and is called on for assessing spatial relationships, three dimensional vision, face / pattern recognition, and in making intuitive / wholistic leaps. It has been hypothesized that whereas the left brain processes information sequentially, “bit by bit“, in linear, ordered fashion, the right brain stores and retrieves whole patterns, in “all at once” fashion. Some associate different types of consciousness with each hemisphere--the analytical left brain’s being one very much aware of the passage of time, the mystical right brain is “in the moment” and “lost in space”. Emotionally, the left brain seems connected with positive feelings like love; the right brain with negative feelings.  It is important to realize that the human brain is incredibly complex, and that the above picture of right brain / left brain is too simplistic.  Thus it has been argued that only heterosexual, right-handed males exhibit the type and degree of specialized brain hemisphere function described above. In females, where the corpus callosum connection between the two hemispheres is typically thicker, signals travel more readily between the two halves of the brain and supposedly bring more “right brain” emotional responses!  

tabula rasa -- refers to the idea that, at birth, one’s mind is a tabula rasa or blank slate on which knowledge will be steadily recorded as one experiences and learns


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