How We Know the External World

How We Know the External World

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1542-6.ch002


The quest begins by examining the means by which the external world is made known. These data are acquired by way of the senses. In the process, these light, mechanical, and chemical inputs are transduced into electrical impulses and routed to appropriate areas of the brain. Our brain translates these data into conscious impressions. These impressions are routed to our memory, which is divided into sensory, short-term, working, and long-term memory. The retrieval process is the reverse of the storage process. The brain can rewire (neuroplasticity) itself to overcome deficits caused by traumatic injury. Cognitive load, which is limited, can be increased by the formation of schemata. SMART instructional technologies can do much to enhance learning, memory formation, and retrieval.
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How We Know The External World

Figure 1.

Learning implies that one must have data about the outside world about which one arrives at knowledge. The source of these data is our five senses: taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound. Yet, one must consider Hellen Keller who was both blind and deaf from her infancy and therefore deprived of two of the most useful channels of communication with the outside world. Even so, once her teacher, Anne Sullivan, was able to break through the barriers caused by the absence of Ms. Keller’s sight and sound perception, her mental powers were such that she became an influential author, lecturer, and activist (“Interesting Facts About Helen Keller”, n.d.). This phenomenon shown by Ms. Keller reveals that one can function at a high intellectual level based on the remaining senses of touch, taste, and smell. One’s brain can still make sense of the world. In short, learning can occur, even without functioning five senses, a limitation need not cause one to fail to learn.

Where does this learning take place? It takes place in the brain, which houses the mind. Now arises the question: How? The short answer is that no one really knows, but the answer is becoming nearer and clearer. For example, trial and error taught humanity many things about the process of learning: the role of practice, the role of getting new knowledge based on what is already known, the role of behaviorist conditioning, the role of constructionism, and a host of other theories. These theories (more than 100 of them) (David, 2017) are, for the most part, based on anecdotal evidence derived from observation, deep thought, and formal studies.

The growing knowledge of the brain’s physiology is revealing more and more of the secrets of how the brain and the mind work. There are two opposing views of the relationship between the mind and the brain. Those who maintain that the mind is invisible, and the brain is an organ are considered dualists. The dualist view is captured in a metaphor of the computer: The computer is analogous to the brain; the software is analogous to the mind (Barnwal, 2018). Those who maintain that the mind and the brain are the same are considered materialists (Sage, 2011).


How The Brain Works

It is beyond the scope of this book to delve too deeply into the physiology of how the brain works, but it does bear a superficial examination. Communication with the outside world is obtained via the five senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, smell. These various mechanical and chemical inputs are translated (transduced) into electrical impulses. Sight, for example, is the result of the images of light that is focused by the lens upon the retina. The rods and cones in the retina receive these stimuli and convert them to electrical impulses (Despopoulos & Silbernagle, 1983, p. 301). These impulses are transmitted via the optical nerve to the thalamus where they are sorted and routed to the visual cortex where these impulses are converted into what is seen as pictures and are transmitted to the amygdala which decides if there is an emergency. If there is an emergency, the amygdala recruits other areas of the brain with appropriate speed and relevance. The next stop, in non-emergency situations, for additional evaluation is the hippocampus. The information is held there for a time. Over that time, the hippocampus organizes, distributes, and shuttles these findings to the cortex for long term storage where they become memories (Preston & Echenbaum, 2013). High bias content (that which is considered of great importance) is more likely to be saved rather than low bias content (that which is considered of lesser importance).

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