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Posts Tagged ‘brain

Two content creators that I follow made recent episodes that focused on dopamine.

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The first was a SciShow Psych video led by Hank Green who explained how dopamine was not just a feel good neurotransmitter. Dopamine has multiple functions and works in different parts of the brain. 

The video was a warning that if you hear something often enough, it becomes true. Self-styled experts like to warn that video games and Instagram are “addictive” because they release hits of dopamine. The people who know better do not have as loud or as clear a voice as armchair/online gurus, so they are not heard.

Green outlined how neuroscience has taught us that dopamine helps us “move around, take appropriate risks, and focus”. If the brain is short of dopamine, the person might exhibit symptoms of Parkinson’s. If that person is given a dopamine analogue, Pramipexole, the symptoms reduce.

Dopamine affects parts of brain to prevent depression (nucleus accumbens), stimulate attention (prefrontal cortex), impact memory (hippocampus), and more. Dopamine is a systemic chemical, i.e., it has complex and interconnected functions. It cannot be used in a focused way or be reduced to the label of happy chemical.

The most recent episode of Build For Tomorrow also focused on dopamine. This one was partly about the dopes making claims they do not understand. They arrive at conclusions first, e.g., social media is harmful even though it feels good, and then find supporting “rationale”, e.g., app use feels good because we get hits of dopamine.

Host of the podcast, Jason Feifer, countered such thinking by asking an expert. Consider this bit near the 21min mark of the podcast [see transcript].

Jason Feifer: For example, when technology critics talk about dopamine, they talk about it as a thing directly tied to pleasure and addiction, and only tied to pleasure and addiction. You do something pleasurable, you get dopamine, get enough dopamine, you’re addicted. Period, end of story. But is that actually true? 

Read Montague: Like all things in biology, dopamine doesn’t do one thing. It doesn’t have this monolithic dopamine equals pleasure marque. The fact is dopamine doesn’t equal pleasure. Squirts of dopamine, transient increases and decreases in dopamine, are clearly in certain kinds of brain regions, learning signals. They’re not pleasure signals. 

To label dopamine the happy chemical is simplistic. But it is what we keep reading or hearing in much of popular media because they embrace dumbing things down.

To attribute dopamine to addictive behaviour without understanding how it works or what addiction entails is irresponsible. It makes the speaker feel smart and superior, and it makes listeners worry and fear. It creates dopes of us all. That is, unless we learn to say NO to such disinformation.

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I wondered why “coding” has been so aggressively pursued and marketed to young children. Now I know.

Coding is neither language or mathematics. It is not quite both, but a form of complex thinking that requires and develops both the language and logic centres of the brain. The earlier the start of this sort of thinking, the better capacity that develops.

Be honest: What is more appealing — ventral temporal context or Pokémon brain region?

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Calling the ventral temporal context the part of the human brain that helps people recognise and remember Pokémon lowers the entry barrier by relying on popular culture. It also helps a learner of neural physiology to link the abstract with something concrete.

That is the trick to using videos, popular culture, or anything that has emotional appeal. It is not getting stuck at ground level with something bright and easy. It is using that object as an anchor or hook to something fuzzier or more difficult.

I noticed my son writing an English comprehension sentence over and over again. He said that his teacher required it for correction work.

This reminded me of decontextualised practice when students repeatedly write Chinese characters.

While the writing of new Chinese characters by practice makes some sense, it is only for memorisation. There is no contextual need or use for the characters. The practice is not meaningful.

Likewise for the repetitive writing of sentences for English comprehension. Writing and rewriting a sentence repeatedly is pointless in the absence of feedback, an awareness of one or more answering strategies, and a lack of context.

Both are like pretending to ride a bicycle instead of actually riding a bicycle. It only looks ridiculous when you are not the one doing this and can see it from an outsider’s perspective.

When I asked my son if he knew why he was doing this, he simply replied, “No pain, no gain.”

Then he added, “The only thing that hurts is my hand.”

What is the point of pain if there is no gain in the brain?

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My rant yesterday about the analogy of eagles vs geese as leaders reminded me of a fallacy I had to shoot down.

A few years ago, I supervised a student teacher who made an off-the-cuff statement during a lesson. It had no bearing on the content, but she decided to explain why it was important for her students to drink lots of water.

Reminding kids to drink water was great. Telling kids that each water molecule consisted of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom was good general knowledge.

However, things went awry when the student teacher explained why water was good for the brain. She mentioned that water split up into hydrogen and oxygen and that the latter benefitted the brain and made you alert.

This does not happen in the human body. It takes an extraordinary amount of energy to split water molecules and the human body does not do that. Even if it did, we would have two extremely flammable and explosive gases building up somewhere.

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The video above illustrates how dangerous this can be. By the way, hydrogen gas was a possible cause for for the Hindenburg disaster.

The human body gets oxygen from the air via the respiratory system and transports it via the circulatory system. There is a lower and safer energy investment this way. It does not get the oxygen it needs by splitting water molecules up like you might with electrolysis.

The electrolytic process might be chemically feasible, but it was biologically impossible. If it did happen as my former student teacher described, the physics would have been incredible. It would blow your mind. Literally.

Now this is not an informal science lesson. This is about teaching responsibly and holistically. A fallacy like water providing oxygen for the brain might stick because it sounds believable and was based on other scientific phenomena.

Two wrongs do not make a right. Two rights do not necessarily make another right. A teacher must know her limits and not try to make things up as she goes along. If she does, the teacher might not destroy minds as quickly as an explosion might, but she does insidious long term damage.

I experienced a series of unusual evenings last week. These were not something I could do if I was not my own boss.


Last Thursday night, the TEDxSingapore Brain Trust met to discuss an ambitious project. We had met before and this was the first time we remembered to capture a moment.

Not all the folks in the photo are board (bored) members. A few were guests. But all wore their passions on their sleeves and had wonderful ideas. It is uplifting to meet people with positive and practical ideas for the future.

The next evening, I met a core group of #edsg members for a tweetup at a public space in Fusionopolis. We met to plan an informal online project we hope to implement soon.

Many thanks to @rachelhtan, first-time visitor and impromptu photographer, for the snapshot.

On Sunday evening, I attended the inaugural Startup Weekend Education (SWEDU) as keynote speaker and judge.

I have not received any photos yet.

I also did not get to deliver my keynote as we were short of time and it was late. We had to make a decision for the good of the audience. But I might outline some ideas I had for the keynote in an entry tomorrow.

It was lovely to meet such passionate people at the event. I was very encouraged by the ideas and enthusiasm of the participants. It gave me hope for the future of education in Singapore.

It was a shame that there had to be winners and losers at the event. But this practice was still more authentic than a test.

In fact, I look forward to a day when tests become unusual and irrelevant fossils studied by future educators as something that plagued us and stunted possibilities.

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It is the weekend and time for something light. But that does not mean you do not have to learn anything.

If you focus on the content of this CrashCourse video, you might gain some insights on psychology.

If you focus on how the video was made, you might see some of the principles of effective online instructional videos.

I think this video (and practically all CrashCourse videos) does very well with flow, fast talk, strategic visuals, and humour.


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