Saturday, June 12, 2010

I Act Therefore I Think

Synaptic GaspImage by ocean.flynn via Flick
Some thoughts on how the brain processes time:

Researchers at the University of Aberdeen found that when people were asked to engage in a bit of mental time travel, and to recall past events or imagine future ones, participants’ bodies subliminally acted out the metaphors embedded in how we commonly conceptualized the flow of time.
As they thought about years gone by, participants leaned slightly backward, while in fantasizing about the future, they listed to the fore. The deviations were not exactly Tower of Pisa leanings, amounting to some two or three millimeters’ shift one way or the other. Nevertheless, the directionality was clear and consistent.

Basics - Abstract Thoughts Prompt Literal Physical Responses - NYTimes.com

How we process information is not related just to our brains but to our bodies as well. "Ago ergo cogito": "I act, therefore I think." is the motto of University of Wisconsin's Laboratory of Embodied Cognition,

To learn how to rotate an object mentally, first try a pantomime. “If you encourage kids to do the rotation movement with their hands, that helps them subsequently do it in their heads,” said Susan Goldin-Meadow of the University of Chicago, “whereas watching others do it isn’t enough.”

A few argue that human characteristics like empathy, or concepts like time and space, or even the deep structure of language and some of the most profound principles of mathematics, can ultimately be traced to the idiosyncrasies of the human body.

The linguist George Lakoff, of the University of California, Berkeley, along with Rafael Nunez, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, San Diego, have for several years advanced the argument that much of mathematics, from set theory to trigonometry to the concept of infinity, derives not from immutable properties of the universe but from the evolutionary history of the human brain and body.  Our number system, they argue, and our understanding of addition and subtraction emerge from the fact that we are bipedal animals that measure off distances in discrete steps.

A key to the Montessori method is the idea that children learn best in a dynamic environment full of motion and the manipulation of physical objects. In Montessori schools, children learn the alphabet by tracing sandpaper letters, they learn math using blocks and cubes, they learn grammar by acting out sentences read to them.

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