The book How to Create a Mind by Ray Kurzweil is a great addition to your academic library. It discusses the nature of human thought and how this thought has developed overtime. This information can help academics understand how to teach courses, relay information, and better put forward the building blocks necessary for higher thought. Even though the book is not focused specifically on students it is easy to draw this parallel for teaching improvements.
The work begins by discussing the old brain and the new brain. Like Descartes concepts of “I think therefore I am” it is this higher form of cognitive thought that separates humans from the animal kingdom. The old brain is reflexivity designed to warn us of immediate environmental threats. However, the new brain can project outward to predict outcomes such as how seeing traces of fur on a branch, paw prints, and other signs of predatory behavior can lead to the logical conclusion that walking along the same path requires caution.
Since all thinking is hierarchical by nature it would be these bits (i.e. paw print, fur, tree rubbings, etc…) of information that would come together to create this higher form of prediction. In modern life such concepts have closer association to how elemental bits of information derive more complex forms of thought. For educators this could mean that building blocks of information presented in class create higher and more abstract concepts for consideration. The very purpose of higher education is to develop the ability for abstract thinking to not only be aware of the environment but also contribute to its development.
The book spends some time thinking about language and how its use creates these abstract thinking abilities. It is precisely these abilities that allow people to find solutions to business problems, project possible outcomes, see various paths, and eventually develop strategic approaches. In the college of business it is important to understand the development of thought so that we can understand how to teach higher levels of thinking.
Of interest in this book is the hidden Markov model. According to this model it is possible to predict actions based upon the previous stage by understanding its vectors or movement. There is a mathematical equation that allows for this understanding but can easily be seen by understanding the relativity of prior information in a sequence. For example, a student who is developing in his/her thought constructions will give off hints in answers or actions based upon their understanding. We can reward that behavior when we see the hidden sequence moving in the right direction toward an appropriate conclusion.
It is easiest to picture the hidden Markov model as an alligator trying to catch its prey moving ever closer and creating a path even though we are unable to see the entire alligator. From a far distance we see a ripple in the water, a little while later we see a green shadow and another ripple coming closer, a few feet from us we see a shadow of a large reptilian form in the water. How would you think or act? If you have familiarity with alligators you might notice the vector of movement and the “hints” and therefore move away from the shoreline to protect yourself. If you see it from the first ripple you could set an alligator trap. According to the hidden Markov model it is possible to calculate a vector based upon the noticed clues and predict the action.
Our ability to predict such situations is rooted in our neocortex which creates pathways that transfer information but also allows for pattern recognition. Humans have many more pathways than animals and therefore are more abstract in their thinking. Pathways develop are trimmed based upon a lack of use. If we don’t engage in certain actions often we may lose certain pathways and skills. Society, in general, may be gaining more pathways in each generation as the world becomes more complex.
The book covers a number of chapters which include thought experiments, model of the neocortex, the old brain, transcendent abilities, digital models, the law of accelerating returns and objections to these concepts. There are references for each chapter but these are not in the APA format many people desire. The book is very thought provoking and offers unique insights into the world of our brains.
Kurzweil, R. (2012). How to create a mind: the secret of human thought revealed. UK: Penguin Books. ISBN: 978-0-670-02529-9
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