I am posting this to solidify my neural learning pathways on what I am learning from the course called “Learning How to Learn.” The link for the course is here: https://www.coursera.org/learn/learning-how-to-learn
It turns out that today we have a lot of neuroscience information available to us that can help us be more efficient and enjoyable learners all through our life. Many of these principles are not incorporated by our education systems fully. In India, for sure they are not and leaves a huge scope for a mega project in revamping the school and higher education systems.
For this post the focus is on two modes of thinking: Focus & Diffused
One of the suggested learning models suggested in the course is to learn things using two modes of learning ” Focussed ” and ” Diffuse” and my goal in this blog post to explain these modes using the pinball analogy.
Think of a pinball machine where we use rubber bands that can ensure the pin ball does not move too freely but stays focussed and also have a different mode where can loosen rubbers and allow free flow of the ball to a much larger extent. Examples of focussed thinking would be scenarios like solving a math equation, a business model analysis etc.
For now let’s look at a scenario where we are dealing with a familiar problem that’s intense but you know the steps…The focus pin ball mode would correlate to the frontal cortex part of our brain (forehead). When the question is raised in your head the mind goes the focussed narrow route and finds an answer does not require a lot o freedom to explore different parts of the brain…
Diffuse Mode of thinking: Learning New Things Requires Formation of New Neural Pathways to be formed…
Now here is the challenge…learning new stuff that you are not inherently familiar with … This requires new areas of your brain to be activated to form new neural pathways and focussed thinking does not allow diffuse mode of thinking. Diffuse mode of thinking happens more in alpha brain wave state (dream) and in the transition between waking and dream states of mind.
In our pinball analogy the diffuse thinking would be where the pin ball is allowed to freely and randomly bump around different parts of the pin ball boundaries and form network of connections.
A diffuse mode of thinking is a mode of thinking that is not focussed like an intense concentration but rather trusting the mind to utilize different parts of the brain and connecting them for us to grasp the new knowledge. Some of the learning principles involved here are neuroscience and I tend to believe that even has some connection to the fact that sub conscious memories may play a vital role in understanding these new subjects and some of them may not be active at the moment and hence diffuse activation is required.
Diffuse thinking is also required for applications like knowledge. For e.g. a mathematical equation can have a connection to phenomenon in nature and likewise every phenomenon in nature could be expressed mathematically. This kind of interconnected expressions of knowledge need to be formed in the brain which requires a different approach to learning.
Diffuse thinking can be achieved in many ways…
How did some of the great achievers use diffuse thinking?
Sleep is a great way to develop neural pathways to deepen learning of new subjects. Many great inventors somehow knew this secret and used this to get into the diffuse mode…Look at this article for more on this…
It is said Thomas Edison would do focussed work on his project work on his typewriter and take frequent breaks sitting in his place and occasionally would allow himself to drift into dream mode…and to make sure he remember and stays alert to ideas in the dream mode that arises from diffuse mode of thinking he would hold a set of keys in his hands that would fall on the floor when he slips into deep sleep. The noise would awaken him with a fresh memory of the ideas he witnessed in transition into dream and deep sleep.
In essence as the mind shifts from waking ( Beta) state of mind to Alpha State of mind (Dream State), the transition into Alpha & the alpha state itself are conducive for diffuse mode of thinking where the mind has access to much more knowledge than the waking state for the sub conscious memories are also available for it to synthesize and process the information assimilated just before sleep.
Summary: Learning itself requires skill and skillful learning requires the use of focussed and diffused learning. Focussed learning helps for routine problems but when your learning something new or trying to use existing knowledge to exoand and connect a new realm of knowledge diffuse thinking is required. I highly reccomend this article as well: https://upliftconnect.com/hypnagogia-the-state-that-is-key-to-deep-self-discovery/