Friday, November 27, 2009

Your Brain on Jazz

An older article in Science Daily called This Is Your Brain On Jazz: Researchers Use MRI To Study Spontaneity, Creativity caught my attention for a number of reasons.

The article provides a layman's interpretation of how the creative act affects the operation of the brain.
The scientists found that a region of the brain known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a broad portion of the front of the brain that extends to the sides, showed a slowdown in activity during improvisation. This area has been linked to planned actions and self-censoring, such as carefully deciding what words you might say at a job interview. Shutting down this area could lead to lowered inhibitions, Limb suggests.

The researchers also saw increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, which sits in the center of the brain’s frontal lobe. This area has been linked with self-expression and activities that convey individuality, such as telling a story about yourself.

“Jazz is often described as being an extremely individualistic art form. You can figure out which jazz musician is playing because one person’s improvisation sounds only like him or her,” says Limb. “What we think is happening is when you’re telling your own musical story, you’re shutting down impulses that might impede the flow of novel ideas.”

Limb notes that this type of brain activity may also be present during other types of improvisational behavior that are integral parts of life for artists and non-artists alike. For example, he notes, people are continually improvising words in conversations and improvising solutions to problems on the spot. “Without this type of creativity, humans wouldn’t have advanced as a species. It’s an integral part of who we are,” Limb says.

He and Braun plan to use similar techniques to see whether the improvisational brain activity they identified matches that in other types of artists, such as poets or visual artists, as well as non-artists asked to improvise.

The study is published in the Feb. 27 issue of the journal Public Library of Science (PLoS) One.

What's interesting here is that the very thing that enables the creative juices to flow are the very thing that we in this society must consciously attempt to suppress.

In school, in job interviews, and in the presence of individuals who interpret everything literally, a creative or intelligent individual must be on guard. These days an over-active imagination gets even elementary schoolchildren in trouble. Pictures of guns in art class, fictional stories about murder, or free-association dialogs can and are misinterpreted these days of sure evidence that the individual who drew, imagined, or exercised the speech is crazy, dangerous, or deranged.

For artists this is nothing new. An artist who turns off inhibitions must be high or psychologically imbalanced. Yet, we are told, this is the essential feature of creativity.

So, whenever I hear about the government or parents, or some degree-certified expert assert that creativity can and should be taught I'm amused. Public schools are dangerous places for teachers and students to be creative.

And even businesses who claim to recruit out-of-the-box employees would fire one on the spot because they don't fit the ever-fearful, careerist, don't-rock-the-boat lemmings.

Creativity is a lonely exercise and best practiced in private unless you're in a niche like jazz that celebrates with appreciation the altered state that art demands. And the gifted student must learn early to hide their gift because it can be misunderstood or snuffed out by institutions that have no use for the one that sticks out or fails standardized memorization tests.

The education industrial complex (EIC) has some tried and true formulas. Household income = superior intelligence = entitlement to superior EIC destination that confers official diplomas of intelligence. It's a closed society and the creative need not apply.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Breadth of Intelligence - Raw and Cooked

I've previously posted about Nim Chimpsky and his fate. The same issues of intelligence on language-enabled gorillas is once again coming to the forefront.

A Gorilla named Koko adopts a kitten for a pet. This video is extremely moving and raises many questions about intelligence.

On another end of the spectrum, IBM announced significant progress toward creating a computer system that simulates and emulates the brain’s abilities for sensation, perception, action, interaction and cognition, while rivaling the brain’s low power and energy consumption and compact size.
Scientists, at IBM Research - Almaden, in collaboration with colleagues from Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, have performed the first near real-time cortical simulation of the brain that exceeds the scale of a cat cortex and contains 1 billion spiking neurons and 10 trillion individual learning synapses.

Additionally, in collaboration with researchers from Stanford University, IBM scientists have developed an algorithm that exploits the Blue Gene® supercomputing architecture in order to noninvasively measure and map the connections between all cortical and sub-cortical locations within the human brain using magnetic resonance diffusion weighted imaging. Mapping the wiring diagram of the brain is crucial to untangling its vast communication network and understanding how it represents and processes information.

These advancements will provide a unique workbench for exploring the computational dynamics of the brain, and stand to move the team closer to its goal of building a compact, low-power synaptronic chip using nanotechnology and advances in phase change memory and magnetic tunnel junctions. The team’s work stands to break the mold of conventional von Neumann computing, in order to meet the system requirements of the instrumented and interconnected world of tomorrow.

As the amount of digital data that we create continues to grow massively and the world becomes more instrumented and interconnected, there is a need for new kinds of computing systems – imbued with a new intelligence that can spot hard-to-find patterns in vastly varied kinds of data, both digital and sensory; analyze and integrate information real-time in a context-dependent way; and deal with the ambiguity found in complex, real-world environments.

In short, the technological singularity is precisely advancing as predicted by Ray Kurzweil. A computer intelligence is now as smart as a cat.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

School is not an Option

This weekend an unholy trio of Arne Duncan, Newt Gingrich, and Al Sharpton were doing the talk show circuits and were being interviewed on Meet the Press. There Arne Duncan proclaimed, Race to the Top
Unfortunately, what Duncan and his cohorts are promoting is a federal extortion scheme that extends the terror tactics of No Child Left Behind into the Obama administration's growing list of education campaign lies and distortions.

When Duncan refers to 48 states coming together he is lying because this "coming together" is coerced, the rhetotic Orwellian. Later in the broadcast we learn how these 48 states are being held virtual hostages to this triumvirate's misguided mission:
Funding Discussion

Driving this dystopic public education genocide are a perfect storm of malicious and disingenuous forces. This includes technology plutocrats who thinly disguise their education marketeering and consumer conditioning ambitions as philanthropy and their doctored educational studies as factual proof of education gaps and Chicken Little global competitive collapse.

Obama compounds the problem with his urban folk myth that schools are failing, 'bad' teachers are ubiquitous, the yearly ever-higher standards are never high enough, and so on. He ran on this steaming bucket of pseudo-scientific nonsense and has surrounded himself with the political
opportunists who want to capitalize on Obama's myopic hubris.

The Race to the Top is little more than a race to pick the pockets of the taxpayer before anyone asks what the smell is and where the money went.

The formulation of this policy and its administration is brought to us by the same Clinton administration hacks who dismantled welfare with little more than cosmetic changes in tone. The phrase Welfare Queen is now teacher. The destination remains the same. Put them out on the street.

At the service level, the Race to the Top is all about race politics. The demonization of public schools and teachers as the cause of poverty, violence, and ignorance is a popular theme that never gets old with the urban, ultra-conservative, get tough audience.

The Race to the Top continues to entangle and strangle suburban schools in the rhetoric and paradox of a standardized test fueled cottage industry that manufactures achievement gaps between wildly different and unique children. It is a cash cow that keeps on giving (Ask any taxpayer).

The sum of all of this is the continued degradation of educational quality in America. As our taxes are squandered on federal programs that make no sense, have no destination, and tolerate no criticism or opt-out, schools remain toxic and tragic hostages to both Republican and Democratic madmen whose unrelenting shared belligerence is killing this country.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Why Torture Doesn't Work at Guantanamo but Works in Public School

There are a number of analogies that are appearing in debates about the torture of terrorists that have an unsettling and uncanny resemblances to current educational practice myth. The irony is that there is endless hand-wringing about the use of torture techniques against terrorists and little if any when these same techniques are sanitized and repackaged as educational motivators.

In Science magazine, in an article entitled Torture Can't Provide Good Information, Argues NeuroScientist, many of the assertions presented can be easily transformed from terror to education narratives. For example, nueroscientist Shane O'Mera asserts;

...the idea that repeatedly inducing shock, stress, anxiety, disorientation and lack of control is more effective than standard interrogatory techniques in making suspects reveal information. Information retrieved from memory in this way is assumed to be reliable and veridical, as suspects will be motivated to end the interrogation by revealing this information. No supporting data for this model are provided; in fact, the model is utterly unsupported by scientific evidence.

Now, for the most part we don't shock children but everything else that's described is pretty much our national model of teaching to the test. Teachers will be absolutely and ruthlessly evaluated by test scores and students must cough up the answers under stress, anxiety, lack of control, and so on.

Is NCLB wrong! Given that Arne Duncan and his plutocratic supporters are all about teaching science on a globally competitive basis, we have to believe that this interrogation science is wrong. Maybe when we torture terrorists we need to first give them Ritalin like we do with boys in elementary and middle school. If this prescription works for school reformers then surely it will work with terrorist suspects whose fashion sense is still gray pajamas - tops and bottoms!

Science blog goes on to say.
"Given our current cognitive neurobiological knowledge, it is unlikely that coercive interrogations involving extreme stress will facilitate release of truthful information from long term memory," concludes Professor O'Mara. "On the contrary, these techniques cause severe, repeated and prolonged stress, which compromises brain tissue supporting both memory and decision making."

Compromise brain tissue! It's hard to believe the military is falling for such sissy arguments. In education, we all KNOW that raising the bar higher may cause a little stress but the best remedy for that is, well, to raise the bar higher. We're not asking students to memorize facts forever, just pass tests. And forget about decision-making, that's what parents are for. If it's a good enough, common sense recipe for education, why should we spare the standardized testing techniques on terrorists? Absurd.