18 January 2012

What is Genius?

This is not based on an assignment but a brain development and parenting discussion group.

The answer to where genius comes from starts with Bandura's solution for the age old nature-nurture debate. There are 3 mutually influencing factors. Environment, person, and behavior continuously shape who we are, what we think, how we respond to our environment, and how our environment responds to us. He called it reciprocal determinism. But this 3 way feedback has multiple levels of processing. On the neurochemical level, nutrition creates the environment in which conscious thought (individual person) translates into the neural impulses of physical reaction. Then the history of reactions creates preferred neural pathways and consistent responses.

Because I am often surprised by the brilliant things my brain comes up with, I am very interested in the concept of genius. My brother in 4th grade had a 138 IQ and was in the Gifted program at school. I did not qualify. The savant genius has a singular skillset--a narrow range of neural responses. This is not my favorite definition of genius because it excludes me. I am not exceptional in any one thing.

I have a theory of how the brain works in four neural networks: spiritual, intellectual, physical, and emotional social. Each operates based on need-based drives. Personality is an expression of needs focus. Bonita's creative friend has spiritual genius because he has found the greatest satisfaction in meeting and fulfilling the spiritual needs of himself and others (believing, inspiring, creating). The entirety of my theory is about satisfying my personal need to compile and understand the world around me, reflecting an intellectual genius.

But then, it was not enough for me to keep coming up with philosophies and theories, I had to have something physically tangible to prove my intelligence (to myself). That need was manifested in my invention, Skembox (look it up on Facebook) which is a multi-use toy that serves as a playhouse, boat, bus, spaceship, or kitchen playcenter, desk, or bookcase ad infinitum. Also on the physical side, I am a ballet dancer and choreographer specializing in group formations.

A business genius has to combine at least two types of genius, but the most motivational leaders have spiritual genius--vision and faith (in God makes it better but faith in what you are doing is mandatory). The other essential element in a visionary leader is emotional-social genius. The ability to satisfy personal needs for attachment and human interaction on a slightly higher level.

Every single form of genius can be developed and improved by any individual--except where there is physical damage or limitation within the neural network, but even that can be overcome with enough will and belief, but that takes spiritual genius to begin with.

Therefore, my idea of the ultimate genius is one who employs the most neural networks in satisfying all four types of need. Wholebrain goodness. :-)

And like all people (broad generalization) who seek to define genius, I make it as slanted toward my own personal traits as possible. It is not that I want to be a genius, as much as I want to know why I don't seem to think like other people in my immediate association. Am I that special? Can other people learn to be as great as I am? What sort of obligation does being "gifted" bring? Etc.

Melvin said Genius comes from deep within self--being aware of that takes interpersonal intelligence. Let's say genius is special aptitude in perceiving, defining, or transforming internal or external environments. So we have six categories. Internal refers to intrapersonal or self-knowledge. So the categories are 1. internal perceptive (deeply evaluates self), 2. external perceptive (keenly interested in observing any particular aspect of the environment; notices details; these are the philosophers), 3. internal defining (is able to explain and translate personal behavior and recognize patterns in others, 4. External defining (these are the theorists). 5. internal transforming (driven to improve personally, perfectionist; loves calendaring, organizing, and getting things done, inspires change in others) 6. external transforming (these are the inventors who translate knowledge into tangible objects, projects, or systems.

I would place those categories in degrees so that external transformative is the sixth and highest form of genius because it employs more networks of the brain--besides that, life is an experiment to see if what you think and believe can be physically verified. That is why (or because) the brain is set up in the reciprocal feedback system I talked about earlier. Environment-->Person-->Behavior = Belief -->Action-->Habit.

Geniuses are people who can honestly evaluate the results of their beliefs and habits and change their ideas, actions, and environments to correct errors and improve self and others. Genius can be learned by people of integrity. Integrity can be learned early in life much easier than late in life.

Virtuosity in any artistic discipline is a fifth degree genius because it requires consistent, honest evaluation of skills. Note the root words virtue and disciple. But the virtuoso can recognize this singular focus as a key to further intelligence. The interconnections of the brain allow the singular genius to increase genius by applying awareness to other talents or developmental issues.

Once again, learning the discipline of developing personal talents in early life (when neural pathways are the most plastic and early habits can create lifelong, nearly automatic responses) sets the stage for a much greater range of achievement than if it is learned in later life. It is the integrity of honest self-evaluation, and the morality of delayed gratification that builds genius. Perhaps I will talk about evil genius in this context at some future time. Suffice to say, genius or talent can be used for good or evil, and when children learn the difference between the two they will be better equipped to use their gifts for good.

The value of early childhood development of intelligence is inestimable, and the unique traits and innate abilities we have are born of God and given to edify ourselves and others. We are given the abilities we need to navigate through our life circumstances and learn personally about the purpose and meaning of life as individuals.

15 July 2011

Brain Based Education Reform

Educational Needs
Education reform requires a comprehensive plan that meets the physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual needs of students and teachers. This is essentially a brain-based approach because each of those needs are perceived and fulfilled within distinct, needs-related neural networks. In order to successfully develop and implement education reform we must understand the functions of neural needs networks, have a generalized pattern for learning that is highly customizable, create tools to facilitate integration and individualization, and successfully apply our plan and tools in the classroom (or other learning environment).

Functions of Learning and the Brain
Learning generates activity and change in the brain. This requires input, processing, and output. There are six types of processing. They are: filtering/attending, sequencing, action, association/assimilation, categorizing/discriminating, and representing. Each network uses a primary set of learning mechanisms, but most of the networks utilize the majority of the processing mechanisms. The more mechanisms are activated, the more profound learning will be. All of these processes used together generates the capacity for problem solving.

Physical learning uses the body to move through dimensional space, record sensory information, and perform repetitive action (throwing a ball, playing an instrument, writing). Sensory input (the beginning of all learning) is the jurisdiction of the physical network. The physical network provides all input and does some filtering and attending. It also generates sequences of movement to take action. Therefore, sequencing, and action are the primary mechanisms of physical network learning as is filtering and attending.

Note the difference between network processing mechanism and input. We are focusing on step two of learning—the processing. Input is step one and output is step three. Later we will discuss how looping or overlapping this learning cycle in multiple networks creates amplification because of the integrative overlap of functions within and among the networks.

The intellectual network is driven by the need to model and organize sensory input. As such, it attends sensory input that relates to usable knowledge such as word sequences, charts and maps, and sound signals. As a result, it forms chains of logic through their primary processing mechanism of sequencing and associating. However, any conscious verbalization (internal or external) of the six forms of processing is a highly cognitive activity. In other words, anything we learn that we can mentally store and can explain has passed through the intellectual network.

The emotional network is driven by the need to form or understand relationships between self, others, and environment. Therefore it attends input about interactions and relationships such as tone and inflection, pheremones, body language, and touch. As a result, its primary processing is associative and categorical/discriminatory. What things belong in what groups? Where do I fit in as an individual? The emotional network does much of the cross-network integration as it associates multiple inputs into experiences, but there will be no words to explain it since it does not necessarily pass through the intellect.

The spiritual network has the need to understand meaning, form ideals, and pursue purpose. As a result, it is the primary network of representation. It attends input related to art, beauty, and values as it generates meaning for symbols (to include language), ideals, and visions. The other main processing mechanism is to categorize and discriminate between good and bad.

We can consciously generate depth of learning by using the dimensions of the learning triangle. Alfred Bandura’s concept of reciprocal determinism (Hergenhahn, 1997) is the foundation of learning. The learning triangle is a graphic I developed to demonstrate and expand the application of input, processing, and output. The input of environment is processed by the person with behavior as the output. Each affects and causes the other in an inseparable feedback loop and constitutes learning. This is layer 1.

Layer 2A is environmental learning. It is emotional or relational in nature. Sensory stimuli are the input. Need and utility are the processing, and reinforcement is the output. The person is a deeper layer of that feedback process (lets call it layer 2B) with situation being the input (D), personality being the processing (E), and maturity being the output (F). This loop creates identity learning. Layer 2B is spiritual in nature. Layer 2C is behavioral learning. It has the input of action (D), the processing of belief (E), and the output of habit (F). It is physical in nature. So where is the intellectual learning? It occurs on Layer 3BD, meaning within 2B—the processing of personality. The input of need preference (G), the processing of need analysis (H), and the output of need efficacy (I) is intellectual in nature and it informs and defines personal identity. This demonstrates how individual and personal learning really is.

Hopefully you can see that each of the layers is an elaboration of the original feedback triangle. Note that any of the other aspects or layers of learning that can be consciously explained or defined have passed into the depth of intellect. Even more importantly, note that intellect is not reached without depth.

Environmental learning on level 2A is a model of operant conditioning. This widely used paradigm of mid-century education (Jensen, 2008) when replaced by the learning triangle model of education is clearly revealed to be lacking in depth and ineffective in educating the whole child.

In Piaget’s view on the depth of feedback processes within systems “As children resolve the conflict that exist between cognitive sub-systems, psychological structures develop into increasingly broad and integrated wholes” (Constructivist Theories 2005).

The Plan
The following is a model for state and local curriculum and course development. It is a comprehensive, but fundamentally different approach to education that would require a large cooperative team to fully develop. Once done, it could be implemented in a relatively short period of time while being designed for continuous improvement. It can be generated as a grassroots movement or be mandated and facilitated on the national level. However, it should probably be implemented as a whole rather than in stages. All of the training, tools, and resources should be available when the program is presented in its entirety. Otherwise, discouragement and skepticism might derail the program.

Assess multiple dimensions of learning and teaching styles and match students to compatible teachers. Learning styles have several dimensions, but they can most easily be categorized according to need preferences (3BDG). Each individual has a tendency to more readily utilize one neural needs network over another. We can tell what these preferences are by the activities and associations a child gravitates toward. A physical child gravitates toward movement and activity. He is a kinetic and spatial learner. An intellectual child is drawn to reading and writing. An emotional child gravitates toward language and social transaction. A spiritual child constantly asks why in pursuit of meaning. These are examples of an extensive array of traits and preferences that must be evaluated and associated with specific needs networks.

Teachers who share a student’s traits and preferences should be her primary educator. But she should also be given ample experience with teachers and students of different preferences and abilities to expand their learning experience and develop the whole brain. This should be done after she is secure and confident in her learning ability. She must consciously be introduced to alternative approach teachers as a challenge to her current way of doing things.

Parent/Student/Teacher course selection. One of the most powerful motivators for education is personal choice. We must ensure the right of students, parents, and communities to select curriculum, courses, and lessons that are in line with personal, familial, and community values. Even from elementary school, a child can be given choices regarding the subjects he wants to study. If he is interested in sports, then all of his required learning should utilize that theme in instruction. In addition, his parents have the right to select the lens of values through which his educational subjects are taught.

Of course, this is not possible in the current education system. I will show you in the tools section how it can be possible, even with minimal structural overhaul.

Appropriate student collaborative grouping. Much has been said about the value of cooperative learning (e.g. Viilo, M.; Seitamaa-Hakkarainen, P.; Hakkarainen, K., Feb. 2011). However, this is a two-edged sword. It is not appropriate or effective to pair students with those they do not like or to randomly group them. When students are grouped with a teacher by shared learning styles, values, and subjects, emotional need satisfaction is amplified, peer-bonding is increased, and emotional tension (like personality conflict) is reduced.

Present subjects four times; once in each of the needs categories. We must engage all six forms of processing in layers within each of the networks. This generates inter-network connectivity--meaning brain flexibility and plasticity--in addition to generating a more comprehensive and dimensional understanding of lessons learned.

Each lesson should be taught on a weekly lesson plan with the same concepts (simple or complex according to student capacity) taught each day of the week with the approach and emphasis being on a different one of the four needs. If there is a fifth day of the week, that lesson can be focused on integration of all the week’s learning.

Utilize learning triangles (dimensions of input/processing/output feedback) for integration. As teachers we can generate inputs and monitor outputs. However, if we understand an individual student’s processing we will be better able to measure their success and influence future processing. With in-depth individual knowledge we can plan far more effective inputs. How do we know a student’s thought processes? We have to ask her. We have to create projects, assignments, and activities that allow her to securely reveal her preferences, understanding, and personal meaning—if not for teachers, administrators, and legislators then for her personal benefit. Her sense of efficacy will grow as she recognizes the value of her own input and processing in classroom output.

The Tools
Assessment and matching software. Software must be developed that calculates dimensions of compatibility and need. This concept is parallel to the programming used by dating websites to match potential mates. In this way, administrative class selection is not arbitrary or based on parental demands, giving preferred students to preferred teachers, or trying to evenly distribute “problem children.” Students will be able to learn from the best teacher for them alongside the best classmates for them.

Lesson plan/course-credit database and search engine. (State level first if necessary, national level ultimately.) It would be impossibly time consuming for a teacher to create a separate lesson plan for each of her students for each day of the week. That is why this plan could never be possible previous to this century. The way to facilitate individualized lesson plans is to provide all teachers access to a database where they submit and search for lesson plans within a network. Finding relevant lesson plans will be facilitated by search tags associated with development level, needs focus, topic/theme, subject, value, and curriculum.

To save time and simplify, individualized lessons do not have to be fully open-ended but can be a choice among 3-6 themes by which students group themselves with students of similar interest, while all classmates are studying the same topic. In this way, the integration lesson can include students from one group sharing the subject with their theme to students of the other groups.

The more schools that implement this at once, the bigger the resource pool will be for teachers getting started. It will probably best to give the students their course selections before summer vacation of the coming implementation year so that there will be time for lesson development. Teachers will get a summer bonus for the time they spend in the first year of the program. However, the real bonuses will come as teachers are paid for high quality lesson plans that are downloaded, utilized, and positively reviewed by other teachers, students, and parents. Their art and creativity can and should be rewarded as any other patent, copyright, or trademarked professional

Each lesson will be categorized according to course and curriculum requirements and will be permanently and nationally tracked. This will be a great benefit to students who move a lot. This system makes it so that credit can be awarded on an individual pace rather than a rigid grading period—though a certain number of lessons per week should be required. However, this structure allows a student to take more lessons from different angles if he does not thoroughly understand the topic or subject—while keeping learning novel and avoiding diminished efficacy for not “progressing” with classmates.

Community and business resources. Business professionals and community members may also be invited to submit reviewable lesson plans in their areas of expertise, using the standard format. They may be compensated for download and use of their lessons or courses. Furthermore, parents can submit adaptations and applications of existing lesson plans. They may not be compensated unless they are a certified teacher or a business professional writing in their area of expertise.

Continuous stream of human intelligence and creativity unleashed When students, parents, teachers, and administrators are given the ability to provide real and practical input from the perspective of individual processing, and affect output, it will generate a feedback loop of amplifying intelligence and creativity. Further, the sense of efficacy and cooperation within a community will grow. This is the way to generate political empowerment and participation in a democracy. This was the purpose Thomas Jefferson envisioned for public education.

Using a student topic choice of baseball, a parental value choice of right versus wrong, and a teacher lesson choice of the brain in a state curriculum choice of science we can utilize our tools to form a comprehensive lesson plan.

Physical sample lesson: Parts of the brain.

Interview sheet pre-exposure. How does your brain learn to play baseball? What part of the brain learns the rules? What part of the brain identifies the ball? What part of the brain directs your arm to throw the ball? What part of the brain maps out the playing field? What part of the brain determines the force you have to use to throw that ball to your desired location?

Brain model and labeling: Label the parts of the brain model and properly reassemble.

Physical activity. Throw baseball to friends from different distances. Did you consciously think about throwing it harder to the friends who are farther away, or did you just do it?

Intellectual Sample Lesson Computer activity 1: Reading on functions of brain parts followed by cross-lateral part column and function column matching—relating all functions to baseball.

Computer activity 2: Worksheet. What are the names of at least three famous baseball players? What position did they play? What were some of their averages and biggest accomplishments? Finding and remembering those things requires cognitive function. What parts of the brain are most helpful for that?

Social/Emotional Sample Lesson Computer activity: Fight or Flight neurochemical activity reading.

Journal activity: Why do you love baseball? Who are your favorite people to play it with? Who taught you how to play? What part of your brain helps you feel that way? How do you feel when you are running to a base and the baseman in front of you is about to catch the ball? What do those feelings make you do? What happens to the rest of your body during and after that?

Social activity: play an abbreviated game of baseball.

Spiritual Sample LessonGroup discussion (among students who have selected the baseball learning theme for the brain unit): What are the rules of baseball? What are the consequences for breaking the rules? Why do people play sports and games? To what parts of the brain do these questions apply? Come up with a baseball metaphor for life. How is the brain like a baseball? How is the brain like a game of baseball?

Arts integration: Sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Write new words to it about the parts or functions of the brain.

Essay: What does baseball mean to you?

We must facilitate genuine learning that is relevant to all of a students needs. With a clear picture of what those needs are and a whole plan (rather than a piecemeal one) to make it happen, change should not be nearly so arduous as it has heretofore been. A whole plan that uses the whole brain can make whole communities and children more fully realize their potential.

American Educational Research Association (2001, Apr 10-14). An integrated hands-on inquiry-based cooperative learning approach: the impact of the PALMS approach on student growth.

Constructivist theories. (2005). In Cambridge Encyclopedia of Child Development. Retrieved from http://www.credoreference.com/entry/cupchilddev/constructivist_theories

Hergenhahn, B.R. & Olsen M.H (1997) Introduction to theories of learning, 5th ed. Prentice Hall; New Jersey.

Jensen, Eric (2008). Brain-based learning: the new paradigm of teaching 2nd ed.. Thousand Oakes; Corwyn Press.

Purdy, Noel & Morrison, Hugh (February 2009). Cognitive neuroscience and education: unraveling the confusion. Oxford review of education 35:99-109.

Varma, S. & Schwartz, D.L. (June 2008). How should educational neuroscience consceptualise the relation between cognition and brain function? Mathematical reasoning as a network process. Educational research 50:149-161.

Viilo, M.; Seitamaa-Hakkarainen, P.; Hakkarainen, K., (February, 2011). Supporting the technologically enhanced collaborative inquiry and design project: a teacher’s reflections on practices. Teachers and teaching: theory and practice 17:51-72.

05 May 2011

The Need To Learn


Why and how do we learn? What do we need to learn? Human and animal physiological structures are wired for leaning. It is clear that the brain and nervous system with all their microstructures and functions give us the capacity to sense stimuli and respond, learn from those responses, and adjust behavior accordingly. This allows us to survive and adapt to our environment, or alter our environment to suit our needs. This sort of bidirectional feedback between environment, personal need or meaning, and behavior are the functional operations of learning. Bandura described this as reciprocal determinism. We can take our understanding even further if we replicate his model onto a synthesis of 1) his concept of situational behavior with 2) Piaget’s concept of developmental growth, and 3) the classical concept of personality. That combined with my concept of Quadrifacet human needs constitutes a truly encompassing theory of learning. All of these things occur within the biochemical structure of human physiology and can be observed in action from the micro to macro levels.

Learning Functions and Feedback

Bandura’s concept of reciprocal determinism can be visualized as a triangular graphic. The following triangles represent deeper levels of the functioning mechanism in each of the learning factors above. They are visual representations of the synthesis of cognitive, behavioristic, and holistic schools of thought made in neurophysiological terms. The diagrams all follow the same form with the right corner of the triangle representing input, the left representing processing and the top being output. Therefore, our definition of learning is: processing that synthesizes environmental inputs and/or behavioral outputs. Analysis of these reactions produces changes within primary neural networks (spiritual, physical, emotional, and intellectual). Those changes can catalyze further changes in, or integrations with, other primary networks.

The Identity Learning triangle goes into Bandura’s Person triangle. It summarizes Piaget’s concept of schema. Whom a person perceives their self to be is an ever-changing product of their personality, given situation, and their maturity, which personality and maturity we will explore further in a moment.

Behavioral learning goes in the behavior triangle in Bandura’s learning triangle. What a person believes guides their actions and what they have done and observed has shaped their beliefs. This combination has formed habits, which have ingrained certain beliefs and altered the structure of their lives so as to limit their sensory experience within their habitual environment.

The Environmental Learning triangle fits inside Bandura’s environment triangle. As you can see, it contains many of the concepts of advanced behaviorist thought. What is useful or of need is what is most readily perceived of all environmental stimuli. The learning state is one of seeking the reinforcement of need satisfaction or aversion from need deprivation. And within the stimuli triangle we must recognize as Piaget did that “How an organism interacts with its environment will depend on the kind of cognitive structure available to the organism…The cognitive structure that exists at any given moment sets the bounds on what can be assimilated by the organism” (Hergenhan 1997).

Personality is an individual’s pattern of processing and behavior that is determined by the individual’s need efficacy, need analysis and need preference. Preferences can be spiritually, emotionally, physically, or intellectually focused. Need preference is the priority a person places on any one or combination of those needs. Need efficacy is a person’s sense of capacity to meet his or her own needs or the person’s access to or influence over those with power or resources. Need analysis is the ability to perceive and evaluate the four facets of need and the states of satisfaction achieved through personal thought, action, and/or experience.

Individual Needs

While evolutionists maintain a narrow view of physiological survival and assume all learning is based upon the physical needs of nutritive sustenance, protection, and survivalist procreation, there are other needs that are inherently wired into human physiology. All the needs are manifested in specific physiological regions of the body and form an integrated systems network, which drives the organism to fulfill those needs. The system must learn how best to fulfill those needs. Hence, learning is vital to our survival and well-being.

Quadrifacet Needs

All learning is motivated by the drive to satisfy any or all of the four areas of human need. Intellectual brain networks are what we primarily associate with learning. The body parts and neural networks associated with the senses are connected to various cerebral regions to process and interpret, filter and associate external sensory stimuli. The primary need of the intellectual network is to receive, process, and interpret external sensory stimuli. This allows us to sense the outside world and form cohesive concepts of objects, persons, and sensations, as well as to associate cause and effect, and remember sequences of events and perceive time. Memory is a very important aspect of the intellectual network.

Physical brain networks allow for the functioning and movement of all physical activity and are primarily regulated in the cerebellum, brain stem, and spinal cord. The primary physical needs are for nutritive sustenance, protection and defense, and reproduction. The association of physical networks with emotional networks produces drives to satisfy physical needs for food, physical work (building protective structures and coverings, etc), fighting/defending, and copulation.

What of the impact of the physical needs network interactions with other needs networks? Robert Brummer notes the powerful connections of the “brain-gut axis” “describing the bidirectional communication pathways connecting cognitive and emotional centers in the brain with neuroendocrine centers, the enteric nervous system and the immune system” (p.98).

Emotional brain networks are motivated by the need to function in a system larger than self. Cooperative sociality is the ultimate power to expand system functions. These functions are developed and improved in infant-parenting interactions that develop or inhibit the efficacy of future social interactions.

Swain and his colleagues (2007) have recently done important work in expanding John Bowlby’s attachment theory of a “universal human need to form affect laden bonds” (p.263). Their research shows that people with organized attachment patterns showed increased activity in the right amygdala, left hippocampus, and right inferior frontal gyrus. Areas of social and emotional empathy activation are in the medial prefrontal cortex and the temporal cortex.

Spiritual networks are responsible for abstract and symbolic learning in specific regions of the brain. It is the spiritual need to conceive idealizations and manifest them that promotes goal setting, symbolic learning, and artistic creativity. Language, art, and, of course, religion develop spiritual learning. However scientific method also develops spiritual learning networks. Scientific method is a hypothesized ideal and an ordered goal for verifying idealizations, which is nearly the definition of spiritual learning. However the distinction between scientific and religious learning is that science must be verified by reconciling the external sensory stimuli of the intellectual network and religion must be verified by the interpretation of internal sensory experience, which can only be verified by the person actually experiencing it. One can report the experience to others, and they can believe your report, but until they have the experience themselves, it is not verified.

Spiritual and emotional network integration processes internal sensory stimuli and operate subconscious to the processing of external sensory stimuli within the intellectual brain network. Sandra Blakeslee (2008) describes the neural network of transcendental spiritual experiences associated with meditative bliss or out-of-body sensations. While this can represent a culmination of spiritual need satisfaction, it is not the definition of spiritual satisfaction.

Only when the intellect is integrated with the emotion and spirit are we capable of understanding our complex and even contradictory approaches to satisfying our multiple needs. Spiritual learning primarily helps us to meet our spiritual and emotional needs and intellectual learning helps us most in meeting our physical needs and intellectual needs. However the more thorough our integration of learning, the more integrated our satisfaction of varied needs will be, and thus it will be all the more satisfying. (I talk about Needs Network Amplification in my social psychology paper, Social Networks.) Integrated satisfaction can also manifest as self-empowerment, performance pride, or a sense of unity or completion. These psychic outcomes of integrated action, thought, and emotion are processed spiritually and emotionally.

Cognitive Processes

Cognitive activities, or methods of processing include (any or all of these at once) association, categorizing/discriminating and filtering/attending, sequencing, action, and representing (abstractions, language, and symbols). Although Tolman labeled these processes as learning it is more useful to think of them as processing mechanisms that lead to learning. Furthermore, none of these processes exist independently. They operate as a whole program.

I have simplified Tolman’s terms. Association is what he referred to as cathexes. This is the joining and synthesizing of inputs, the forming of wholes from the endless parts of information.

Tolman made two categories out of equivalence beliefs and drive discriminations when the same operating process is at work for both concepts. Categorizing is discriminating between what satisfies and what does not, what belongs together and what does not. We could say, more specifically that it is association processes which allow us to connect things and categorizing processes which allow us to distinguish them. Categorizing is very important in helping us filter or attend environmental or internal stimuli. Stimuli are categorized as presently important for filling needs, or not. My stomach is providing internal cues that I need to eat, but I have chosen not to attend to it because I have a greater present need to capture these mental concepts before I forget them.

Sequencing is equivalent to Tolman’s field expectancies. The sequencing process gives us the concepts of time and cause and effect relationships. Sequencing does not occur without memory in some form. This brings up the question of what memory is. For now, we will define memory as the cellular/microcellular storage of outputs, processes, or inputs. To clarify: learning is the synthesis of processes and memory is the storage of that synthesis. From simple assembly of sound waves or light images into a single sound or object image to the complexity of learning an operatic aria and performing it, sequencing and memory have vital interaction.

Finally, I believe that Tolman’s concept of field cognition modes could be better described as representing. Analog, abstraction, language, and symbols are forms of representing that allow us to correlate other learning experiences, share them, clarify them, and give meaning to them.

Tolman was correct for labeling motor patterns as learning. It would be confusing to include action as a process like I have with the other things he labeled as types of learning. Action is a learning output formed from the inputs and processes. Action further provides feedback because it is a way to test cognitive propositions. That is why it is a critical part of learning feedback. Motor processes include physiological operations that allow seeing, touching, tasting, etc. With this understanding we can see, even on a micro level how the output of action further facilitates sensory input for further analysis and action in the critical cycle of feedback.

All of these learning feedback processes must be catalyzed by valence states, or needs (similar to drive reduction or cognitive disequilibrium) that must be properly interpreted by the animal to correctly meet vital or tangential survival needs. In all higher functioning animals there is the capacity for one need to override or take priority over another need. This is a function of filtering processes.

For humans, however, the complexity of needs creates conflicting signals about need priorities. Further, the interrelated circuits can cause ambiguity in interpreting valence states and the underlying needs that may or may not be satisfied in a given situation or series of causal and personal relationships.

The Physiology of Learning

What, Then, Is Learning? Learning is the integration and interpretation of stimuli into any of the physiological needs networks in such a way as to help an organism meet any or all of its Quadrifacet needs. Any learning helps us to alter our behavior in order to adapt ourselves to our environment to satisfy our needs or it helps us to adapt the environment itself to suit our needs.

The primary translation of this concept in evolutionary thought is focused on strictly physical needs. Adding the three other classifications of need allows us a more comprehensive understanding of human behavior and motivation.

How Do We Learn? Learning tools include categorization, sequencing, memory, analysis, and practice. Memory is an important tool for integration. It allows us to associate the varied stimuli of past experience so that we can create catalogs of experiences and place them properly according to category. Sequencing, of course, is impossible without a memory of what came before.

Physical experiences are translated into abstract meaning in the spiritual network (analysis). That meaning is applied to future physical experiences that have been categorized into groups of similar meaning and can be repeated or avoided based on the remembered sequence of events associated with the experience. If the proper meaning or significance of an experience is ascribed to it as meeting, or not meeting one of the Quadrifacet needs, a person can effectively learn how to meet their needs. However, in a culture that does not clarify these needs, it may be especially difficult to glean the most satisfying meaning from our experiences and seek those experiences which most effectively satisfy our needs.

What Do We Learn? We learn what generates positive and negative valences. Positive valences give a reinforcing sense of satisfaction. Negative valences produce a sense of dissatisfaction or negative reinforcement. We learn that satisfaction reduces our sense of need, or that we have obtained what we need. These sensations occur on the biochemical level and are interpreted in conscious thought and subconscious processing.

One thing that we must learn, but do not do so naturally is that there is a difference between the sense of satisfaction and the satisfaction of an actual need. This was demonstrated by Olds and Milner (1954, cited in Hergenhan). When rats were artificially stimulated in reinforcement centers in the brain without receiving any necessities, they preferred the immediate gratification, but had very rapid response extinction because there was no integrated network reaction from the stimulus. This is false satisfaction. Drug induced responses and any sort of addictive behavior are the result of this mechanism. Recall how this reinforcement interferes with infant bonding in cocaine addicted mothers. False satisfaction, then is the generating mechanism for addiction. Filling a need with a false satisfier induces increased use of the satisfier for an increased sense of satisfaction, but because it does not satisfy a genuine need, no quantity of it will ever generate genuine satisfaction.

We must further understand that any physical need substituted with a spiritual need, for example will never satisfy that need. Substitute satisfaction will not signal dissatisfaction, but it will fail to fully satisfy. Therefore, those unaware of their specific needs will be left to feel that if they did more of the same thing the need would somehow be satisfied. While this does not require any form of addictive behavior, it does tend to produce maladaptive behaviors.

Therefore, we must understand that temporary or partial satisfaction may indicate an incorrect form of satisfaction. For example, one could test how satisfied they are with a non-nutritive food and note that they continue to want more of the same type of food and still be only partly satiated. Testing the hunger contrast when eating nutritious foods should produce fewer episodes of hunger—especially in conjunction with proper hydration. However, there would need to be a period of extinction where the habit of responding positively to the sensation of a stretched stomach becomes disassociated with the sense of satisfaction.

We must also learn that there are some actual needs that can satisfy one facet of being at the expense of another facet of being. When this is the case, a non-contradictory method of satisfaction must be sought to achieve genuine well-being.


There are three kinds of threshold: 1) stimulus threshold 2) response threshold and a processing threshold. Normalizing mechanisms set the threshold within narrow parameters or comfort zones. There is not time to further develop these concepts here, but the theory is not complete without at least mentioning the impact of thresholds.


Learning is motivated by the biochemical induction of satisfaction valences. Those valences enable integration of information (stimuli) across spiritual, physical, emotional, and intellectual networks with the system goal of achieving overall satisfaction, which produces biochemical balance and genuine well-being.


Blakeslee, Sandra (April 2008) Flesh made soul: a new theory in the neuroscience of spiritual experience. Science and Spirit 19:26-31.

Brummer, R.J. (May 2005). Nutritional modulation of the “brain-gut axis.” Scandanavia journal of nutrition 49:98-105

Hergenhahn, B.R. & Olsen M.H (1997) Introduction to theories of learning, 5th ed. Prentice Hall; New Jersey.

Swain, J.E. et al (2007). Brain basis of early parent interactions: psychology, physiology, and in vivo functional neuroimaging studies. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, 48:262-287.

08 March 2011

The Whole Brain: Satisfying Integrated Networks of Human Need

Neurological disorders can instruct us on specific functions of the brain and nervous system. However, if we do not have a reasonable understanding of integrative system functions, we are much less likely to address the root causes and what can be done to prevent or even cure the disorders. I propose a multi-dimensional theory of encompassing needs and their impact on the structures and functions of the brain. Physical, spiritual, intellectual, and emotional brain functions each have associated and interdependent needs. They require synchronous and balanced satisfaction in all areas to achieve physiological wellness. I will discuss the physiological impact of the satisfaction or deprivation of those needs in a systemic context.

Individual Needs
I have posited in other papers the role of fundamental human needs in producing individual well-being as well as the impact of those needs in shaping human sociality from family life to global politics and economics. Now I get to the functional origin of all those complex systems, the human mind.

Each of our needs categories has a different region and/or network of operations within the central nervous system. Our physical needs are indicated, sought, and satisfied via our physical brain networks. We all know that we need food, clothing, and shelter to survive. Also, in order for our species to survive, we need to procreate. We are biologically imbedded with the drive to survive. Most every area of biological research has addressed these complex interactions of our physiological compulsion to eat, “nest,” procreate, and defend. However, on the microcellular level, we also have the physical need for adequate structures for biochemical and bioelectrical processing. Foreign or genetic interference with these processes can manifest a spectrum of illness and disorder.

From an evolutionist perspective, those needs are responsible for our species-specific traits and behaviors. However, those are not the only needs that influence our traits and behaviors.

Emotional brain networks are motivated by the need to function in a system larger than self. As, per Systems Theory (Bertalanffy, 1965) all molecules and organisms function within a system. Humans, as part of those systems function toward increasing the order of those systems. Natural, open systems, such as ecological biology reproduce, perpetuate, expand, and evolve systems effectiveness.

Cooperative sociality is the ultimate power to expand system functions. These functions are developed and improved in infant-parenting interactions that develop or inhibit the efficacy of future social interactions. Swain and his colleagues (2007) have recently done important work in expanding John Bowlby’s attachment theory of a “universal human need to form affect laden bonds” (p.263). They detailed the complex interactions of the mesocorticalimbic and the nigrostriatal dopamine systems in reward behavior motivating responses to infant cues such as crying. They are “important in activating healthy maternal reward and motivational circuits” (p.268). These circuits, however, can be “hijacked” by cocaine use, which substitutes all those emotional responses, and minimizes the natural intrinsic rewards. Lack of appropriate emotional response from his addicted, unresponsive mother reduces the child’s future capacity to respond emotionally to others.

People with organized attachment patterns showed increased activity in the right amygdala, left hippocampus, and right inferior frontal gyrus. Areas of social and emotional empathy activation are in the medial prefrontal cortex and the temporal cortex.

Spiritual brain networks form and respond to idealizations, which are responsible for planning, setting goals, inquiry, and all forms of symbolic creativity. We all have the spiritual need to imagine, believe, and create. The ultimate satisfaction of this need is to imagine one thing, believe in it, and see the fruits or evidence of that belief manifested in physical creation or experience. The motivator for that satisfaction is the deeper, spiritual need to understand abstract ideals via interpretation of internal sensory stimuli translated to outward reality.

The ideal of the perfect self is universally acknowledged to exist outside of self. Therefore, spiritual experiences often include the suppression of self-awareness and a connection to a transcendental self of an ultimately idealistic nature. Johnstone and Glass (2008) created a basic model of spiritual activity in the brain where “individuals may experience transcendence (feelings of universal unity and decreased sense of self) by minimizing right parietal functions through conscious effort, as in meditation” (p.871). The also proposed the need for further understanding the role of the thalamus’ attentional abilities and the emotional impact of the limbic system in spiritual experiences.

Emotions are internal stimuli, which the spiritual network has a need to comprehend and integrate, so emotional and spiritual needs have many overlapping circuits.

Simply put, we need ideals to become real. Balanced satisfaction of this need produces evolutionary effects. Dissatisfaction produces intellectual reinterpretation of ideals.

Intellectual brain networks have the primary need to understand and apply knowledge through chains of logic based on the analysis of external sensory stimuli (versus the internal sensory analysis of the spiritual network). Spiritual inquiry and creativity is an independent precursor to intellectual knowledge or intellectual knowledge can motivate spiritual inquiry. When used in a cycle of discovery, spiritual, physical, and intellectual knowledge, effectively integrated produces understanding of universal ideal.

On a more basic level, our intellectual network gives us sound and analysis necessary in language, sight analysis for vision and recognition, numbers and logic, and all of our conscious learning and interpretation of the world around us.

Physiological Impact
The satisfaction of each of these needs can be monitored through analysis of inductive valences. Dissatisfaction or deprivation causes negative valence in proportion to the force of potential need an experience produces. Need-satisfying stimuli and experience has a positive valence. The integrated satisfaction of all needs creates a continuous chemical-electrical circuit with an uninterrupted current. There are tremendous dampening and inhibiting mechanisms to maintain equilibrium and a sense of well being so specific valences are easily confounded and difficult to research. However, understanding this circuitry reduces the number of potential reactions into these categories.

Each of these networks is still part of the larger network of the mind. The corpus collosum is the primary integrative body of the brain. Because each of the needs networks, themselves have inter-brain connectivity, defects in the corpus collosum can affect the capacity to have single needs acknowledged or satisfied. The negative effects are amplified when cross-network amplifications are inhibited by impaired connectivity. Lynn Paul and her colleagues (Apr. 2007) have drawn vital connections to malformations of the corpus collosum and a number of psychiatric problems such as autism, A.D.H.D., schizophrenia and bipolar.

Many experiences and expressions emerge from integrated functions of the different networks. I will call this Needs Network Amplification (NNA). Trust, for example, is based on the need of the spiritual network to believe, which is then connected to the emotional network need for interpersonal attachment. The need to believe in something becomes the need to believe in someone, which is then amplified with the need to belong with or connect to an intimate social network. This integration can then be attached to the physical bonding networks of sexual function to form the very powerful romantic love. When faith and sociality are combined (trust) with intellectual networks we have a high-valence learning environment or a powerful spiritual orator.

What of the impact of the physical needs network interactions with other needs networks? Robert Brummer notes the powerful connections of the “brain-gut axis” “describing the bidirectional communication pathways connecting cognitive and emotional centers in the brain with neuroendocrine centers, the enteric nervous system and the immune system” (p.98). This model offers explanations for the high comorbidity of affective and psychiatric disorders with GI disorders. This also hints at the nutritional components of human physical need with the intricate network mechanisms which allow serotonin formation across the blood-brain barrier.

The more integrated the needs-satisfaction network, the more powerful the effect on well-being will be (both positive and negative). If any part, of any of the networks is impaired or underdeveloped, substituting behaviors take place. In this state, the integrated networks are activated, but the valence is low, so satisfaction is only minimally experienced or not at all. These minimally satisfying substitutions do not signal a need for change, they signal a need for more of the substitution to satisfy. I suggest that this mechanism is the source of addiction in all its forms.

There is much more to discuss and study in detailing the integration and satisfaction of physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual needs networks. The impact of needs network application is expandable to all forms of human experience. Understanding the impact of needs conflict and satisfaction will offer infinite insight into affective and psychiatric disorder with new directions in therapeutic technique. This is in no way a complete or comprehensive explanation of physiological needs manifestations, but it sets the stage for my own future research and development.


Brummer, R.J. (May 2005). Nutritional modulation of the “brain-gut axis.” Scandanavia journal of nutrition 49:98-105

Johnstone, B & Glass, B (2008). Support for a neuropsychological model of spirituality in persons with traumatic brain injury. Zygon 43: 861-874

Paul, Lynn et al (Apr 2007). Agenesis of the corpus collosum: genetic, developmental and functional aspects of connectivity. Nature reviews: neuroscience, 8: 287-299.

Swain, J.E. et al (2007). Brain basis of early parent interactions: psychology, physiology, and in vivo functional neuroimaging studies. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, 48:262-287