That question strikes me as being as infinitely perplexing and personal as, What's the meaning of life? But that's the beauty of its ambiguity, and the challenge I enjoy grasping at its slippery complexity.
Recent insights into the neural basis of memory have provided a couple of key pieces to the puzzle of learning. The neuropsychological research on "elaborative encoding," for example, has shown that the long-term retention of information involves a spontaneous, connection-making process that produces web-like associative linkages of evocative images, words, objects, events, ideas, sensory impressions and experiences.
insights have emerged from the exploratory work on learning that's being
conducted in the field of education and business, which involves constructing
multi-dimensional symbolic models. The symbolic modeling process enables
people to give form to their thoughts, ideas, knowledge, and
viewpoints. By making tangible the unconscious creative process
by which we use our tacit and explicit knowledge, the symbolic models
help reveal what we think, how we think and what we remember. They represent
our thought processes in a deep and comprehensive way, showing the different
ways we use our many intelligences, styles of learning, and creative
inquiry. In effect, the models demonstrate how people create things
to remember, and remember things by engaging in a form of physical thinking.
As Dr. Barry Gordon of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine states, "What we think of as memories are ultimately patterns of connection among nerve cells." The Harvard psychologist Daniel Schachter arrived at a similar conclusion when examining the 'unconscious processes of implicit knowledge' and its relation to memory.
when our brains are engaged by information that, literally and figuratively
speaking, "connects with us" (in more ways than one), we not only remember
it better, but tend to creatively act on it as well. Symbolic modeling
makes this fact self-evident.
remain to be seen in our connection-making process. This private act
of creation is becoming increasingly more public and apparent through
functional MRI studies and other medical imaging techniques. Perhaps
a more productive strategy for illuminating this connection-making process
would be to combine these high-tech "windows" to the world of the mind
with low-tech imaging tools, such as symbolic modeling. The combination
of these tools would provide a more comprehensive picture of learning.
Todd Siler is the founder and director of Psi-Phi Communications and author of Think Like A Genius.