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Don't worry about making a mistake. It's how we learn.
A new study at UPenn found that effective learning includes mistakes—just not too many.
- Humans learn best when avoiding too much complexity and getting the gist of situations, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania.
- Instead of remember every detail, we learn by categorizing situations through pattern recognition.
- We wouldn't retain much if we considered a high level of complexity with every piece of information.
Humans learn in patterns. Take a bush that you pass every day. It's not particularly attractive; it just happens to exist along your normal route. One day you notice a brownish tail sticking out of one side. A nose pops out of the other side. The bush happens to be roughly the size of a tiger. The only thought you have is run.
You didn't need to see the entire tiger to get out of there. Enough of a pattern had emerged for you to get the gist.
Getting the gist is how we learn, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania. Published in Nature Communications, the paper looks at the balance between simplicity and complexity. Human learning falls somewhere in the middle of this spectrum: enough to get an idea, not enough to avoid mistakes. Mistakes are an integral aspect of learning.
The team, consisting of physics Ph.D. student Christopher Lynn, neuroscience Ph.D. student Ari Kahn, and professor Danielle Bassett, recruited 360 volunteers. Each participant stared at five grey squares on a computer screen, with every square corresponding to a keyboard key. Two squares simultaneously turned red. Participants were asked to tap the corresponding keys every time this happened.
While volunteers suspected the color changes were random, the researchers knew better. The sequences were generated using one of two networks: a modular network and a lattice network. Though nearly identical at a small scale, the patterns produced appear different from a macro level. Lynn explains why this matters:
"A computer would not care about this difference in large-scale structure, but it's being picked up by the brain. Subjects could better understand the modular network's underlying structure and anticipate the upcoming image."
The Science of Learning: How to Turn Information into Intelligence | Barbara Oakley
Comparing a human brain to a computer is inaccurate, they say. Computers understand information on a micro level. Every tiny detail matters. One errant symbol in one line of code can bring down an entire network. Humans learn by staring at the forest, not the trees. This allows us to avoid complexity, which is important if the goal is to understand a lot of information. It also means we're going to make mistakes. As Kahn phrases it,
"Understanding structure, or how these elements relate to one another, can emerge from an imperfect encoding of the information. If someone were perfectly able to encode all of the incoming information, they wouldn't necessarily understand the same kind of grouping of experiences that they do if there's a little bit of fuzziness to it."
Recognizing that something is like something else is a major reason we can consume so much data. In cognitive psychology this categorization process is known as chunking: individual pieces of data broken down and grouped together to form a whole. It is a highly efficient process that also leaves us prone to errors.
Ten percent of participants had high beta values, meaning they were extra cautious. They didn't want to make errors. Twenty percent exhibited low beta values—highly error-prone. The bulk of the group fell somewhere in-between.
Fans of a recent anti-vaccination film could be said to exhibit low-beta value. Vaccines are one of the most beneficial protective measures ever discovered. You can't actually estimate how many lives have been saved; that's not how proactive measures work. You can look at population charts, however. When vaccines were first put into clinical use there were over a billion people on the planet. That's after 350,000 years of Homo sapiens development. We're approaching eight billion people just 139 years after Louis Pasteur's vaccine experiments. (Germ theory, food distribution, antibiotics, and technology also play a role, though vaccines are relevant.)
Vaccination has never been a perfect science. As with every medical intervention, they're complex. Low-beta thinkers eschew complexity for simplicity. Many confuse a few trees for the forest. This is important during a time in which information is being weaponized to promote agendas. Sifting through complexity is exhausting; thus more people take the easiest route.
Not that learning should be too complex. As stated, only one in 10 people overly complicate their thinking. Most people sit in the middle, making mistakes while mostly getting the gist.
The researchers hope that this information will help address psychiatric conditions (such as schizophrenia) in the future. They cite the emerging field of computational psychiatry, "which uses powerful data analysis, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to tease apart the underlying factors behind extreme and unusual behaviors."
Don't get frustrated with your mistakes. We all make them. The key is to recognize them and learn from the experience. Mostly, the gist is enough.
- Jonah Lehrer on Learning From Mistakes - Big Think ›
- Why admitting mistakes is essential for personal growth. - Big Think ›
- Cognitive Science Explains Why We Keep Repeating Mistakes ... ›
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
We’ve mapped a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Take the virtual tour here.
See the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
Astronomers have mapped about a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way, in the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.