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Neurohacking - Tutorials
Written by NHA   
Saturday, 17 September 2011 17:30
Article Index
Neurohacking Tutorial 6 - Association, Perception and Learning
The Learning Cycle & Perception
What Happens if Things Go Wrong
COMP & Natural Learning
NHA Guide to Methods & Technology
The Most Important Bits to Remember
Hacks & Exercices
Notes, References & Answers
All Pages



Neurohacking Tutorial 6

Association, Perception and Learning

(Updated: Sep 2011)


In this tutorial we look at how what we have learned so far forms a basis for all our 'higher' skills, such as learning and memory. We’ll show you how perception happens, how natural learning is a process of stretching and relaxing your mind, and what hacks and exercises can improve your learning speed, perception and attention.  



Follow the Right Habit


Association and perception

Association is both a verb and a noun. Things can have an association as a type of connection, like water has an association with hydrogen and oxygen, and food has an association with nutrition.

But association is also something you do. You associate a certain place with what goes on there in your own experience, or a certain person with the types of behavior you would normally expect them to exhibit.

Most of our associations emerge from experience, but there is strong evidence that our 'starter pack' of core EVs is hard wired; this makes good sense in relation to evolutionary adaptation and is already known to be a fact in almost all species of animal life. For tiny humans, a smiling human face is associated with safety, and a warm nipple is associated with nourishment. Nourishment and safety are in turn associated with happiness, because they produce the neurochemicals that make us feel that way, and that in turn is associated with our responses; relaxing, smiling and sucking and making happy noises.

But there are not many hard wired concepts for humans; in fact almost all the associated concepts we ever make develop from just a handful of basics.

The basics are a bundle of core concepts related to neurotransmission and animal behaviors, because all creatures great and small living on this planet are subject to the same laws, and real laws like those of biochemistry and physics cannot be broken. You and I and any old ameba have the same life challenges to face -keep yourself in good condition, find nourishment, avoid wasting energy, avoid harm, grow and develop, learn, interact, and pass it on.

All life has these same needs, all creatures have evolved similar behaviors to deal with life's challenges, and we looked at some of these in tutorial 5. Everything humans do relates in some way to these basic biological behaviors because they are what intelligent biological life is all about, everywhere.


We also noted in past tutorials that the brain uses coincidence for association. Events that occur at the same time as each other are assumed to be connected and so are associated in memory, and this is how we form some associations that are not hard wired. But coincidence alone is not enough for paying attention or forming a long term memory unless other factors are present, and the main one is that our input has some degree of familiarity to already-known concepts. Since we begin with such a small number of original hard wired concepts, learning enough to make more may seem like a slow laborious database-filling sort of task, but the mind has some great cheats for categorizing input and making new associations really fast. It assigns meaning to things and events based on the similarity of only half a dozen abstracted propeties that indicate what core concepts (and so animal behaviors) they relate to.

There’s more to perception than meets the eye

You may have noticed that many hacks begin with deliberate observation of our own behavior or what our mind is currently doing –at a point where we would not normally consciously observe that. High quality perception requires a fair amount of self-awareness and reflection as well as outward attention.


Visual processing, of course, is only one part of awareness. To learn, we need motivation (we have to be interested enough in what we see to pay attention to it), and we need imagination (we have to interpret what we see accurately) even before we need memory.


You’ve probably seen optical illusions like this:





...So you’re aware that visual perception can be fooled into recognising movement where there isn’t any, but illusion is just the concrete sensory input end of perceiving. Perception can also be fooled at the abstract concept-forming end; and this is delusion. We can then perceive or assign meaning and importance to events where there isn’t any, or we can perceive the wrong meaning, resulting in misunderstanding.


Perceiving meaning when there isn’t any is seen at its extreme in paranoia and in superstition, and attempts to make it happen on purpose (ie, to delude people) can be seen in advertising and social media. In paranoia the afflicted person perceives something sinister and suspicious going on that nobody else seems able to perceive, but this is seen as their lack, since we would rather trust our own perception than believe that we are dysfunctional, in many cases.


Equally dangerous is perceiving that nothing is going on and there's no big deal, when in fact something is –this is seen in people who cannot recognise facial expressions as having any meaning, and people who drink and drive or live on the sides of active volcanoes because “It’ll never happen to me”.

We can of course also be deliberately or accidentally deceived. Optical illusions like the one above make it clear that our senses are deliberately being hacked for fun, because it’s amusing and its interesting. But we can be hacked deceitfully by things like subliminals in advertising and they can also be hacked completely by accident, because biology designs us to tend to believe what we are told by those we respect. This is the usual way that things get confused.

If we are (even unknowingly) told lies, we grow up believing lies, and hacking the path to truth can be a long and tedious problem.


So it’s important to know that you believe whatever you believe and perceive the truth you do because it is either provable or it makes sense to you; not because anyone else told you it was true. Most people are not deliberate liars; they are just misinformed and consequently spread the problem, repeating what they read in the papers or saw on TV or heard from someone else.


The point we are making here is that you’ve probably been told the usual lies about learning, and because of that there may be some things you need to unlearn.

You’ve probably come to think of learning as associated with studying, hard work, exams, tests; repetitive, sometimes dull, and time-consuming activities with a certificate at the end; a process whose goal is to get you a job for more money so you can pay off your education debts.


...Funny how you never felt that way about learning to talk or walk. You just got on with playing at making noises and crawling around and suddenly, it just sort of happened...

The first thing you should learn about learning, is that it involves several different kinds of behavior that we employ in a certain order in order to learn quickly, naturally and well. The second thing you should know is that none of these kinds of behavior involve “studying hard”. From now on for you, learning = play.


For You and Against You: intent versus intention

The ability to learn something new quickly and well is such an important part of developing intelligence that it is surprising how few people know how to do it. As adults we spend months learning what we should be able to pick up in weeks, mainly because the way that we are taught how to learn (in school, and so on) does not work with the way our biology is programmed to learn, and incongruity results. Every time we turn away from biology’s intended way of doing things, it slows us down.


For You

What is on your side in learning effectively is your own biological intent, called by Carl Rogers the actualizing tendency. It could be defined as “the built-in motivation present in every life-form to develop its potential to the fullest extent possible and become as adaptable as possible”.

We are born to learn. We are litle scientists each and every one, fascinated by the world we find ourselves in, filled with magic and excitement. Reality IS magical and exciting, without needing any woo woo fantasy fluff, and all healthy children know this. They can't leave it alone -all they want to do is play- and quite rightly, for that is the fastest way to learn.

Intent can be defined as by Rogers: “the built-in motivation present in every life-form to develop its potentials to the fullest extent possible and become as adaptable as possible”: the desire for entelechy.

Intent is this desire in action (interaction)

In the same way, instinct is biological drives 'in action' (the drive tells you to do something, the instinct is the program for how to do it).

Nobody has to teach you how to walk or talk or make love the first time, but you have to WANT to. The drive comes before the instinct and prompts the instinctive behavior.

In the same way, the intent comes before the interaction and prompts the interactive behavior.

It may be clearer to understand if you use the terms "intently" and "intentionally".
You can see the difference between, for example, between "falling in love intently" and "falling in love intentionally"? Or studying something intently regardless of whether you are studying it intentionally or not (it may be something that just caught your notice, so it is not intentional).

Biology's intent is to admire fine breasts. Society's intention is that we should think this rude and be embarrassed.

Intent can also be used in the descriptive way, (e.g., "Intent on performing the task, they didn't notice distractions".) In this sense intent means focused, determined, absorbed, compelled, concentrated, and this is the sort of concept we need.


Against You

Being driven by the intentions of others and directed or coerced into 'learning' anything for any reason will cause incongruity. We learned about this in tutorials 4 and 5. When we are coerced, it is the anxious intentions of others that are dictating our behavior, and it is no surprise that learning under these conditions is arduous and recall of what you have learned often temporary at best.


Let’s now take a look at how your brain learns new information...


Last Updated on Thursday, 12 July 2012 13:13