Brain vs. Mind
Mind vs. Soul
To the infant, the world is like a vast, unified sea of sensation. He soon learns to differentiate between himself and the environment, and then begins the long trek of learning to distinguish between different "things" in the environment, different states within himself, different types of relation between things and things, or things and himself, and different states of possibility for both. We can observe this process, for example when toddlers use the word "dog" to refer to most animals, or "run" to all types of movement.
In defining a thing it is important that the definition of its structure be specific enoughbut not too specificfor the thing to meet its defined function. For example, our inner definition for the structure of a fly-swatter may specify that it have something to hold and a striking surface. This definition leaves many types of shapes open for consideration (see below). Some, based on the ease and speed they can be maneuvered and the area of their striking surfaces might make better fly-swatters than others, but it´s difficult to say that any one of them just can or can´t be a fly-swatter.
Our mental definitions of things are not like dictionary entries, they include also a record of our experience with the thing, as well as whatever personal significance the thing does or could have. (To some a stamp is just a stamp, but to stamp collectors many of them seem unique and important. The smell of baked bread may be just another smell, or it may remind one strongly of home, family, and specific events in our childhoods.) This is important in determining what we perceive as an obstacle, an opportunity, or what we fail to perceive at all.
The difference between our understanding of the properties of a thing, and our understanding or memory of our own experiences with it, are most likely related again to the concept of "mirror neurons," discussed in the previous sections.
Techniques for Learning
A machine, provided only that there are a limited number of method-steps it can use to solve a problem, and that it has a way of knowing when its goal is reached, can theoretically "learn" to solve any problem given enough time. It may be helpful to begin our examination of learning this way, although in reality even the simplest problems would take a virtually infinite amount of time to solve this way.
This type of learning/problem-solving can be made more efficient if we have some way to monitor our progress, such as by comparing our current situation with an ideal "solution" state. This state can be compared with one´s current situation, and as differences are detected, new subgoals are formed and delegated to mental agents.
Also, goals can be better met by making them into smaller "subgoals." This often happens automatically, and is a great impetus for learning. For example, a child who wants to reach for a toy on a counter--top will first have to consider how to stand on its toes, then reach, then grab, then draw the toy to itself without dropping it.
Children often use a type of special trial-and-error learning (similar to the "scientific method" used by some adults) in which one behavior at a time is engaged in and considered to learn more about the environment as a whole. For example, a child may reach out and touch a hot kettle and feel pain. Knowledge acquired: kettle is hot, don´t touch. This can be generalized to other types of objects which "seem similar," even before there is abstract knowledge of the causes of heating and thus pain.
One unique and important aspect of the human mind is the ability to perform "thought experiments," using mental models of phenomena, which is much quicker and easier, if not always as accurate, as performing real-world experiments, which is of course often impossible. We can be performing such experiments even in our sleep, trying to link together causes and effects, problems and solutions like pieces in a jig-saw puzzle. When a good fit seems to have been achieved, we become aware of a "great idea" we "just got."
We may wonder why we didn´t think of it before, but it´s probably because we were thinking with it and around it until we felt sure enough it was a good answer.
If we had to rely only on these techniques, however, none of us would survive. Our ways of living are based on thousands of years of accumulated human learning, passed on as culture by our parents and elders. In culture, as in each one of our minds, the techniques and ideas that are preserved are those that "work," or seem to meet our needs. Behavior can be encouraged or discouraged through rewards or punishments, but real learning occurs when a child rewards themselves for reaching a new level of understanding.
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