Tuesday, June 25, 2013

IsThere a Limit on the Reach of Neuroscience?

David Brooks, in his recent op-ed piece Beyond the Brain (NY Times June 18),  discusses the marvels of neuroscience, but concludes that neuroscience has its limits.  Neuroscience will never be able to explain "the passions aroused by Macbeth," or the difference between lovers and friends.  The "brain is not the mind."

I find it difficult to understand why Brooks and others of the same mind (no pun intended) choose to place limits on the reach of neuroscience.  Why does he feel that "it is probably impossible to look at a map of brain activity and predict or even understand the emotions, reactions, hopes and desires of the mind." Is it unreasonable to believe that at some future time such emotions and passions will be mapped, will be understood, or will be predicted?

There is no reason to imagine that what cannot be interpreted today, will remain uninterpretable forever.  And, let's eliminate the idea that being able to "map" a thought or an emotion makes the thought or emotion any less extraordinary.  Understanding that water is, in fact, a combination of hydrogen and oxygen doesn't render water less extraordinary.   Understanding the sun - its composition, its size, its origins, its chemistry - doesn't make it less extraordinary.

If one doesn't believe that all functions of the mind and brain may be ascertained and understood at some future occasion, I would urge a hard retrograde look at what was once thought to be not understandable, and now is.  Let's not be short-sighted.  Tomorrow's knowledge has probably not even been contemplated yet today.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Let's Hear it For Tracking in Education

Guess what.  The New York Times reports that "Grouping Students by Ability Regains Favor in Classroom." (June 10)

It seems that some school systems and teachers are realizing that the "old-school" technique of assigning children to classes based on their proficiencies actually works - if education's target is to actually educate to one's fullest potential.  If, on the other hand, the primary aim of the school is not education, but the promotion of self-esteem and equality - grouping, or tracking, may clearly be anathema to that concept.

Goals have to be prioritized.  If we, as a nation, believe that egalitarianism in education is primary, then perhaps educational resources should not be directed towards the natural separation that would result from grouping or tracking policies.  If, on the other hand, actual education rather than egalitarian education is our priority we should be doing the utmost to customize it according to level of ability.

It is quite obvious that we are not "created equal" in every respect. We should not delude ourselves into believing that promoting equality of ability - whether it's scientific or investigational, artistic, mathematical, creative, athletic, or whatever - will be constructive.  We should not deceive ourselves with thoughts that "we can be whatever we want to be."  It may be the politically correct "belief," but the facts say otherwise.

Being "gifted and talented" is not a curse.  It should be cherished, nurtured, and promoted - whatever the gift or the talent.