Wednesday, December 16, 2015

I find myself in yet another rut (part 1)

In my 5+ year effort to solve the problem of sustainable, independent learning I find myself in yet another rut.  My path, starting as an English teacher in South Korea, took me through a masters of education degree in instructional design, a designer of a curriculum to sell cars in the Bay area, a private elementary school in the same area, and back as an English teacher, but this time in Japan.  During every one of these milestones I began with a desire to solve a particular problem and ended with losing hope - temporarily.  I have realized that this has been a repeating pattern throughout my life and by recounting it all here, I may be able to understand it better.   Here is my story thus far (there is a deeply moving message about education somewhere here, but I will leave it up to you, the reader, to figure it out).

Thursday, December 3, 2015

We Can't Say "Cat" Backwards.

Record yourself saying the word "Cat".

Even with the most state of the art sound engineering equipment manned by the most expert sound engineer, if you cut the word into its individual sounds "K" "A" "T" (its phonemes for the linguistically anal), place those sounds in reverse like so, "T" "A" "K", and play the sound clip, you will not hear the word "tack" (1Pinker, 1994).

So what?  How does this piece of information amount to anything more than a novel, Is that so? 

To understand we must first leave our adult, highly categorized brains.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

We learn to not speak.

Motivation to learn, in my case Japanese high school students' motivation to speak English, is a very important part of my job as a educator and I dedicate a lot of my time trying to figure it out.  I have distilled the broad spectrum of motivation down to the most relevant form for my purposes - desire.  Desires are emotions, but unique in that they cannot remain within the heads and hearts of the individuals who birth them.  They must be shared.  This isn't a conscious effort however.  No one cuts out time in their day to share a desire, they just do it.  Sharing a desire is as automatic to our existence as dry-heaving when we pass by a pile of vomit.  In fact, the birth of desires and our automation to share them is so natural it is the universal defining characteristic of all children on the planet.  It is so epitomic of children that if a one does not incessantly share it's desires, we are likely to consider the quietude of this child a mental disability, despite the fact that the main form of socialization as a child becomes an adult is to chill out with the sharing.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Evolution in Real-Time #2

I hurt my foot doing something Yesterday.  It could have been due to digging my left foot into a crevice on the ceiling of an overhang and using it to secure the majority of my body weight in a stable position parallel to the ground as I let go of my right hand causing me to swing out from under the precipice of the overhang and reach with that same hand for the next hold.  Or it could have been due to my running back to my office to retrieve some documents I forgot for my 2 pm class, causing the lower part of my left inner Soleus muscle (anyone feel free to correct me here) to stretch more than it has since high school, yet this over-extension not showing up in the form of pain until I was upside down with my left foot wedged into a wall wondering how the hell am I going to get down from here and out of this pain.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Some nutshells are harder to crack but Me, Pinker and Gazzaniga seemed to have done it.

What nutshell do I speak of?

Consider the following conversation between a husband and wife:

W - "Honey I am not feeling good"
H - "What's wrong?"
W - "Beth"
H - "Oh my goodness.  I am so sorry.  Come here"

And they embrace each other.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

To some people, I am "American" before I am "James"

- Ok, next question.  What color is your toothpaste?

- え? どういう事? 歯磨きの色? アメリカンジョークだね

- (I wait for a answer)

- [no answer]

"American joke"

Thursday, July 30, 2015

We need others because we lie to ourselves

This is a post to elaborate on a theory I have been developing for quite some time based on some new evidence.

The theory?

As we enter the age of information, the understanding of our identity will become increasingly more dependent on information we receive from others.

The new evidence?

Chapter six from the book The Mind's Past  by Michael S. Gazzaniga.

Friday, March 6, 2015

The conscious experience of me fainting.

I just fainted and here is the list of the relevant conscious experiences I had in chronological order.

  • I step out of the bath
  • I open the door
  • I feel a cold rush of air
  • I see my wife
  • I tell her I have been in the bath for awhile and I am feeling dizzy
  • I am vigorously washing my face. 
  • I see Amy calmly looking down at me with the shower head in her right hand asking if she should spray me with water.
  • I am confused why she would ask that as I am not thirsty.
  • I notice I am laying in the bathtub incorrectly - I was lying perpendicular to the tub intersecting it in the middle with my body.
  • I stare up at Amy confused in a new way.
  • I think - I had just gotten out of the tub.  Why would I get out, see Amy, get back in the tub in such an unorthodox fashion, and wash my face?
  • I notice the sensation you get on your palate after you inhale water through your nose.
  • Amy says I fainted.
  • I laugh

What is interesting about this is once Amy believes I am not dead she starts to recount her first hand experience observing me faint.  She points out a powerful moment of me staring up at her with eyes wide open.  I also recall that moment as when I realized it was odd I was in the bathtub when I was just recently standing up.  However, there were 4 conscious events in between that moment and when I told Amy I was dizzy.  I was fully conscious yet clueless I had fainted for 4 full conscious moments.  It wasn't until I had made the connection that I should not be in the tub did confusion set in and I reconnect with Amy emotionally.  

So the big question is, during those 4 conscious events, where was I emotionally? 

My justification for why I would be able to consciously wash my face after fainting and not think it is weird is because when the blood left my brain from standing out of the bath too quick, I fell back into the tub.  As the blood came back to my brain my conscious mind realized it was under water.  It also recalled it was in a bathtub and it knew the only logical reason it would be under water in a bathtub was to wash the face.  So that is what it told me to do.

My justification for being able to see Amy offering to spray me with water and be confused but still not be aware I had just fainted was because of how calm her face was.  If she had been all panicky, I would have been irked out of my ignorant state and figure out something weird just happened.  But she was so calm.  When I finally stopped washing my face and looked up to see her offering water, my brain could only interpret it as she thought I was thirsty.

To get the account of Amy my wife, please follow this link.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Smart people are ALWAYS bored

Smart people are NEVER bored.

I read the above comment some random person on some random thread in some random location on the internet.  This statement has an interesting truth behind it and I think the best way to illustrate it is by saying that we will never understand intelligence until we stop using the word "smart" as an adjective to describe a noun and start to use it as a verb to describe what a noun does.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The eyes are much more emotional

Sometimes the counter on my microwave reaches zero yet still takes a couple seconds before it sounds the beeping melody of completion.  This is irrelevant if I am sitting in the other room and only have the sound of the beep to tall me the microwave has completed it's function.  However, once I was looking at the microwave, I saw that the counter was at zero so I naturally placed my hand on the door handle so I could open the door the retrieve the contents therein.  To my surprise I found myself frozen in that state because the the beep still hadn't sounded.  It took so long to sound although my visual system was staring at a big 0 that I began to feel like an ass with my hand on the handle doing nothing.  By the time the beep caught up with the 0 displayed on the timer I was furious.

My eyes gave me the sign that the microwave was done yet my ears wouldn't let me continue until it also received its own sign.  This false expectation induced by my eyes caused me to quickly lose my patience.  If it had happened the other way around, if the microwave had beeped seconds before the timer had reached zero thus causing my eyes to wait for their signal, would I have been equally perturbed at the microwave's incompetence?  Perhaps I would have found it comical....I must re-engineer this faulty microwave and find out.

As humans I think we are much more dependent on our eyes than any other sense.  We believe the things we see with much more faith than information received from the other senses.  I think this reliance causes us to become much more emotionally attached to our visual system than any other.  Any discrepancy, for example seeing the timer saying zero yet the microwave not dinging, therefore would likely be met with much more emotion.  Hence I got so frustrated.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

"Teaching style" as a product

I just finished an interview for a teaching position here in Osaka Japan.  The position is for a company that dispatches individuals to Japanese companies to perform business English lessons.  I don't have any experience with teaching English to business professionals but the company was willing to see my demo lesson and I was willing to give it.

On the day of the interview/demo lesson I was late.  I didn't seem to care, nor did the man waiting for me yet I wonder how much of my failure in life is because I just can't seem to care enough about being a couple minutes late.  I guess it is hard for me to care because I am always occupying my "waiting" time in other completely natural moments of wait - the the barber - with books to read and thoughts to think.  After the fellow waiting for me ensured I was indeed James we moved to the bar of a fancy apartment building.  I was served tea and water as the patient interviewer man interviewed.

At some point in the verbal altercation I felt urged to bring up the topic of the demo lesson I chose.  This revealed 2 things: I am horrible at gleaning meaning from emails, and the topic of this post - according to this man my teaching style is not a style.  The wonderfully understanding man told me that I was not to teach about how to retrieve a stapler from a co-worker but as he put in the email, I was to teach about properly conducting a phone conversation in a business setting.  He then went on to show me a manual outlining the politics and guidelines of his wonderful company.

It blew my mind.

Although I was not able to understand in the email that I was to teach about phone conversations what I did understand was that the purpose of this demo class was for them to see my teaching style.  That much was plastered all over the email.  As I read through the manual of the company I was bombarded with papers upon papers that outlined the style of teaching the company has designed prior to seeing me.  How would they see my teaching style if the style they want me to teach has already been defined?  It was "highly recommended" for me to follow it for the demo lesson I was to conduct shortly?  They should have said in the email that we want to see if you can teach how we want you to teach.  The wonderfully patient man even gave me a handout that he also "highly recommended" I use and pass out to the students during my lesson.

I gave the lesson, there was an awesome energy in the class and I did not do or use anything that was highly recommended.  After the nice man heard this I could see his brow age as frustration took over his face.  We still managed a friendly goodbye but I highly doubt the dood will return.

Here is how our teaching styles differed:

Their                                                                                  Mine

 Teacher generated objectives                                 Student generated teacher guided objectives
 Evaluation at the end of lesson                                Ongoing evaluation throughout entire lesson
Linear class flow                                                     circular class flow

What I realized is that this company has a product in the same way apple has the iphone.  The product of the company is their teaching style.  They want all their employees(teachers) to be teaching within the framework of their product.   When the dood said in the email that he wanted to see my teaching style what he really meant is he wanted to see if I could improve UPON their product.  This means I would have to already agree with their product and understand it well enough to improve upon it.  I understand it as it is similar to many other companies I have worked for and I do agree it can be improved, but not improved UPON - improved from within.

I think I just stumbled upon why I have been having a hard time in the education world as a professional.  I don't see education of as product as most companies/schools do.  I see it as something the world needs.  Therefore my approach is to not make a target market happy, but to make humans happy.  I guess if I am to be successful in this business I gotta figure out how to make humans a target market.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Concerning that blue dress...

With regards to the blue dress that has everyone's ignorance hijacked,

In 1998,

This man

Explained everything the public would need to know about the science behind that dress in this book

But I guess that doesn't really matter now.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

First there were brains then there were minds.

People with damaged parietal lobes have been indispensable for scientists in understanding the visual system of the brain.  In the book The Mind's Past by Michael Gazzaniga (Gazzaniga, 1998), he explains that the most interesting discoveries gleaned from these patients is that the conscious mind only gets a few kernels of the visual information that the brain receives.  In other words, what we consciously experience with our eyes is only a percentage of what our brain experiences.  Clever experiments illustrated in chapter 3 of the book expose this phenomenon, for example causing a physical stimulus on the finger that is so short (we're talking nanoseconds short) that the conscious mind is never made aware of it yet it is registered in the brain.

What I want to do is think of possible purpose for this.  What advantage would the brain have at limiting our conscious experience?  In a process of understanding this same question, scientists have come to label the conscious mind as being governed by an attentional system in the same way the brain is governed by a neuronal system.  Taking the common idea of attention and turning it into an entire system is an ingenious idea.  It allows for an entire slew of questions.  What are the laws the govern this system?  What is it's purpose? etc.  It also allowed me to see the mind and brain as two completely different devices, both governed by different laws and with different purposes.

Here is how I define the two.

The brain is much to busy to deal with our conscious experience.  It has so many other jobs to take care that are all of equal importance to our survival e.g. breathing management, heart pumping management, balance management etc.  The mind came about as a way for the brain to defuse it's responsibilities - whatever the body needs to be aware of on a conscious level, the brain allocates all the necessary information to the mind and the mind takes care of translating this information into language our consciousness can understand.  This doesn't end up being all of the information we receive via our senses, only a fraction.  So as the experiment mentioned above illustrates, our brain clearly doesn't think a physical stimulation that lasts only nanoseconds is important enough information to pass onto our mind and therefore we are never made consciously aware of the entire thing.  I liken it to a computer.  Within a computer there is a CPU and there is RAM.  The CPU, like the brain, takes care of everything going on in your computer, even all the things you cannot see on your screen.  The running of the fans, the automatic updates, power allocation etc.  The RAM, like the mind, is only concerned with what your attention is currently engaged with - what you can see on the screen at any moment.  Although the computer receives a ton of information, you are made aware of only that which is relevant to your current attentional needs.

This is the difference between the brain and the mind in I love knowing this because it begs the question, what if we could be made aware of some of these information our brain doesn't think our mind needs?  What if we could consciously tap into this information?  What kind of world would we experience?


Gazzaniga, Michael S. (1998) The Mind’s Past, chapter 3 and 4. University of California Press. ISBN: 0-520-21320-3

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

No wonder Darwin liked them islands

I just found out that Greenland has the highest suicide rate in the world, and on top of that the most among teenagers.  I then found out that the majority of  Greenland's existence has been simple - hunting, fishing, living from hand to mouth.  It wasn't until the end of the 20th century did the suicide rate increase.  Why? And why mostly among the youth?  It didn't take long for my brain to think about something else that also gained popularity near the end of the 20th century - the internet - before I had a working theory in my head.  Greenland was simple until Denmark tried to make it modern in the 50's.  Greenlanders at that time were ok with the change into modernization, all it probably meant was more conveniences so they could continue doing what they had been doing their entire life - hunting and fishing.  Even the children born during the 60's, 70's lived a life consistent to their parents because modernization didn't also include globalization as it does today.  Then comes generation X.  As they are growing up, a modern technology called the internet also grows up.  These children are the first of their kind to see what Mommy and Daddy do, see what their community is like, and thanks to the internet, be able to compare it to the rest of the world in a way that is much more powerful than simply looking at a magazine or watching a movie.  But it still isn't as bad as
generation Y.  Just look at any teenage counterpart in your immediate surroundings to understand the vice-like grip technology has on their attention and developing mind.  Imagine this similar engagement, but on a mind that lives in a village where the only hope for anyone is to continue to hunt and fish.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

How Our Brain "Trims the Fat"

In the book “The Mind’s Past” by Michael S. Gazzaniga, in chapter 2 the author is discussing how the much of the brain’s growth is dependant on interaction with the environment and simple mandate from the genome.  Near the end of the chapter the author talks about how neurobiology has deepened this curiosity with the discovery of “a tremendous overproduction  of cells during cortical development”.