In My Own Words

So I thought I’d try putting some of the concepts I’ve been exposed to in my very own unique words to help me learn and maybe even help others or clarify stuff as well. Here goes…

Nature Vs. Nurture:

Are criminals born evil or do they become desperate out of poverty or abuse? That’s the basic idea. Similarly, are kids naturally smart or do they develop their intellect? Can you teach an old dog new tricks? What has more impact on an individual – their environment or their “dna”? Relates to left/right in politics. People are poor because they’re lazy or unlucky. What’s the cut-off age for blaming parents of misbehaving children? Do people become autonomous at age 18? Younger, older?

Some comments.

1. We learn a lot in the first few years of life. The change from not-existing to being-a-toddler-that-talks-walks-thinks-and-feels is quite profound. Inevitably, as you grow up, the changes you go through become progressively more minor.

2. Some things can’t be taught. Is this true?

3. What is genius? Where did the famous ones come from? Maybe it differs between science and art. Like maybe science is more about nurture and art is more about nature? Science you explore the world, art you explore yourself/humanity.


Means teaching.

Information Processing Theory:

Should be taken with a grain of salt. It’s about the way people store and retrieve and process information. Part of the idea is that we can only focus our attention on a small amount of stuff at any given time whereas our long term memory can be expansive. The interplay is interesting. Supports the idea that we should make sure new stuff we teach is related to what the kids already know. Kind of constructivist then I guess. I feel this theory is like faith, good for personal thought and exploration but limited (and dangerous) in scientific application. You can’t know how the brain works in this way.


We create an interpretation of the entire world in our mind. It evolves over time. We try to fit new experiences into it, or, if they are contradictory, we may adjust our model somehow or ignore the occurrence (maybe temporarily until we can make sense of it). At the extreme, we protect our sanity in denying what we don’t yet understand.

In regards to teaching, the idea is to help guide the further expansion of this world. Which means students are at totally different stages (or even types) of development and somehow we want to help all of them. So, you wouldn’t start building a base if it’s already there or putting in windows before the frame is done. Good thing is, it’s a very natural process. This is why inquiry based learning and scaffolding are becoming popular. Emphasis on learners and the teacher is more of a facilitator or even a spiritual guide.

As an explicit example, our dreams take place in this very rich and sophisticated working model. But then so does our entire waking life as well. Interesting because this suggests you don’t need a physical universe in order for things to “happen” or “exist”. In fact, those could be considered to be subjective concepts. I think this view is very accurate but it’s not in opposition to behaviourism. It simply offers another insight or point of view.


The behaviour of living beings can be affected without necessarily needing to know what’s going on inside. For instance, the pleasure/pain principle. They are defined respectively as things we try to repeat and things we try to avoid. With positive/negative reinforcement (punishment/reward), we can adjust behaviour.

Also, there’s operant conditioning. Pavlov and his dog. You can create associations which the subject may be unaware of, generally through repetition. Eg) Scary noise + green objects + time = scared of the colour green. But these may weaken if they aren’t reinforced. Also relates to stereotypes. Eg) Notice a bad driver + turns out they’re Asian + time = Asians can’t drive. Just an example!

Maslow’s Needs:

Ever been trying to write an essay and all you can think about are hamburgers and wishing you had friends? That’s Maslow. His theory is brilliant. Turns out it’s hard to grow and learn when you’re hungry and feel like you don’t belong. But seriously, I really like his idea. Again, I don’t think there are clear levels but his ordering is pretty good. Some of it is very simple and powerful. What choices do you make when you have the freedom to decide for yourself? Often we make self-destructive ones. It may be related to the fact that your base needs aren’t being met. Very true and awesomely profound.

So what can be done? How can you tell which needs aren’t being fulfilled for yourself or for students? How do you achieve a sense of being respected and loved? What if you simple aren’t? Do you deserve something better than the truth?


Some of the tests are awesome, like the three mountain one and the mice game and the tall thin cup vs. the short fat cup. He seems to have influenced some of the original IQ tests and his theory still seems to provide some of the best insights into really measuring cognitive ability. The idea that it’s not about knowledge, it’s more about possibilities. Taking new, strange or counter-intuitive situations and coming up with the right solution. The years of the stages are obviously rough and their significance I wouldn’t know. Are there other major breakthroughs that occur? Are the changes relatively sudden or very gradual? In how many ways can you traverse the ladder to a healthy, powerful mind?

In psychology, it seems common for people to have stunted or radical growth in certain areas so I’m sure that can happen with intelligence as well. Like someone takes ages before they reach one of the cognitive stages even though other parts of their development are fine.


So, is intelligence a measurable quality? Can it change? I actually lean towards it not changing, or at least it takes a lot for it to change. It’s also very tricky to measure – very amorphous and asymmetrical – good at one thing and bad at something similar. The outer nature can evolve but the inner driving force tends to be rather constant. So, you’ll get better at certain things, specific skills, but when it comes to original thoughts, imagination, problem-solving, you probably won’t change much without some major personal breakthroughs. I hate it in tests when they’re multiple choice and the question is badly-designed. They can’t capture your thought-processes which might be clever even if you don’t know the answer.

Intelligence can’t be taught. The only way would be from some kind of spiritual growth. Being guided or challenged to reach a new level. The biggest barrier to a person’s natural power is their self. The dumbest thing you can do is believe you can’t do something. So a good teacher can help break down those barriers (which may have been helped made by other teachers or parents or adults). But ultimately, different people have different levels of natural talent. For any subject, the difference between the best and the worst is huge. It can be bridged but only with extreme skill.

I think I’m overreacting. But there seems to be a tendency to dismiss or misunderstand intelligence, that anyone can achieve it and that hard work can beat it. Well, it goes both ways but never underestimate natural intelligence. It is literally limitless. There’s a reason so few people achieve truly amazing things. It’s not because they can’t, it’s because they look in the wrong places. Look inside. If you easily get bored when you’re alone, you have no chance. And you can’t grow if you don’t understand what you lack – being able to respect the natural abilities of others. If you dismiss nerds, you’ll never learn anything from them. If you can’t recognise intelligence, you can’t develop it, and I think people are generally quite terrible at this. Who asks questions these days?

So basically, intelligence and hard work are equally powerful (and related – to become smarter is hard and if you’re smart you’ll work hard). But the funny thing is, practically nobody understands either one. Sounds a bit controversial… Independence is another big thing. Knowing how confident you are about something. Having your own understanding and beliefs uncontrolled by others.


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