The 7 Essential Life Skills

What we have now is a picture of human development built on the idea that humans are learning creatures, and that what we are depends on what we learn, from cradle to grave.

The 7 Essential Life Skills

Like the cockroach, we humans are extraordinarily adaptable creatures. At the same time, we are creatures of habit, and our lives can easily become routinized to the point where the very idea of change becomes terrifying. This is the flip side of adaptability – we can fit ourselves into a niche so snugly that we never want to leave.

Developmental psychology – the study of neural, cognitive, and socioemotional human development – has provided us with some of our deepest insights into human plasticity, our ability to change even the physical structure of our brains to adapt to new challenges. The French psychologist Jean Piaget is generally recognized as the father of developmental psychology – and as our brains and consciousness are most flexible and rapidly developing during childhood, it's not surprising that his research focused on children. Piaget mapped out stages of cognitive development through which the child grows from a sensory infant, to a toddler unsure of the boundaries between her imagination and the external world, to an older child able to manipulate complex abstractions like algebraic formulas.

If Piaget formalized the stages of human cognitive development, his successors have been busy mapping out the “play in the system" – the specific ways in which different minds develop differently depending on everything from dna to their parents' personalities to their own free will. What we have now is a picture of human development built on the idea that humans are learning creatures, and that what we are depends on what we learn, from cradle to grave.

Video: The 7 Essential Life Skills, with Ellen Galinsky, for Big Think Mentor

By the time it reaches the general public, this research is often distorted into hyperbolic claims like “Listening to Mozart will make your baby smarter." Taken together, these often mutually contradictory prescriptions serve only to drive non-scientists crazy and make intelligent people cynical about developmental psychology as a whole.

Ellen Galinsky, author of Mind in the Making and president of the Families and Work Institute spent much of her career on the faculty of Bank Street College – a progressive school of education and educational laboratory where cutting-edge research from developmental psychology is turned into educational practice. In her view, the most important findings of developmental psychology add up to a consistent, substantial picture of the 7 essential skills humans need to keep learning and growing throughout the lifespan.

We tend, erroneously, to think of learning as preparation for doing. For this reason our education system is built around the idea that you finish your education, then you start your career. But the key lesson from developmental psychology is that the tangible markers of what we think of as “success" – emotional well-being, professional reputation, and so on – are simply the byproducts of a life spent learning.


In a fast-changing world, only our higher-order thinking skills can keep us aware, engaged, and growing. In The Seven Essential Life Skills, her workshop for Big Think Mentor, Mind in the Making author Ellen Galinsky teaches lessons learned over decades of psychological research into how humans learn throughout the lifespan. The seven essential skills she teaches here, and demonstrates with stunning video footage of classic psychological experiments, are invaluable tools for adapting to, learning from, and thriving within a world in rapid flux.

The seven essential life skills you'll hone in this workshop are:

  • Focus and Self-Control
  • Perspective Taking
  • Communicating
  • Making Connections
  • Critical Thinking
  • Taking on Challenges
  • Self-Directed, Engaged Learning

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Study helps explain why motivation to learn declines with age

Research suggests that aging affects a brain circuit critical for learning and decision-making.

Photo by Reinhart Julian on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

As people age, they often lose their motivation to learn new things or engage in everyday activities. In a study of mice, MIT neuroscientists have now identified a brain circuit that is critical for maintaining this kind of motivation.

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End gerrymandering? Here’s a radical solution

Why not just divide the United States in slices of equal population?

The contiguous U.S., horizontally divided into deciles (ten bands of equal population).

Image: u/curiouskip, reproduced with kind permission.
Strange Maps
  • Slicing up the country in 10 strips of equal population produces two bizarre maps.
  • Seattle is the biggest city in the emptiest longitudinal band, San Antonio rules the largest north-south slice.
  • Curiously, six cities are the 'capitals' of both their horizontal and vertical deciles.
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Surprising Science

Scientists discover why fish evolved limbs and left water

Researchers find a key clue to the evolution of bony fish and tetrapods.

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