ABSTRACT: In response to my post "Bunkum Awards #2. . ." EvalTalk's
Liam Rourke asked "Could you provide a reference to the
neuroscientist and his data that convinced you that 'neuroscience
tells us that each of the concepts we have - the long-term concepts
that structure how we think - is instantiated in the synapses of our
brains'." But my post indicated that it was George Lakoff, not I, who
stated "Neuroscience tells us . . . ." I suggest that Lakoff may have
answered Rourke's excellent question in "Philosophy in the Flesh: The
Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought" and/or "Where
Mathematics Comes From: How the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics into
Being." Although it's not germane to Rourke's question, I do not
regard as "fantastic" - as does Rourke - Lakoff's assertion that
concepts are instantiated in brain synapses. This can be seen from
my discussion in a recent article of the relevance of neuroscience to
If you reply to this long (14 kB) post please don't hit the reply
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PROLOGUE: I realize that bracket lines (such as "RRRR. . . ." below)
surrounding quotes are unorthodox and confusing to some readers, but
they do serve to:
(a) avoid (in most cases) awkward quotes within quotes ". . .
.'........'. . . .", and
(b) "clearly indicate who said what, unlike the ambiguous marginal
angle brackets ">", ">>", ">>>". . . . . that befoul many posts.
Therefore I shall continue their use in the present post.
In response to my post "Bunkum Awards #2 (was Education Research by
Conservative Think Tanks)" [Hake (2007a)], EvalTalk's Liam Rourke
(2007) "wrote [bracketed by lines "RRRRRRRR. . . . ."]:
In a recent post you made a fantastic assertion:
"Neuroscience tells us that each of the concepts we have - the
long-term concepts that structure how we think - is instantiated in
the synapses of our brains."
Could you provide a reference to the neuroscientist and his data that
convinced you of this?
I fear that Liam may not have read my post carefully. The "fantastic
assertion" was made by cognitive linguist George Lakoff in his book
"Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate"
[Lakoff (2004)], NOT by me. [For an introduction to cognitive
linguistics see e.g., Evans & Green (2006).
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Neuroscience tells us that each of the concepts we have-the long-term
concepts that structure how we think-is instantiated in the synapses
of our brains. CONCEPTS ARE NOT THINGS THAT CAN BE CHANGED JUST BY
SOMEONE TELLING US A FACT. We may be presented with facts, but for us
to make sense of them, they have to fit what is already in the
synapses of the brain. Otherwise facts go in and then they go right
back out. They are not heard, or they are not accepted as facts, or
they mystify us: Why would anyone have said that? Then we label the
fact as irrational, crazy, or stupid. That's what happens when
progressives just "confront conservatives with the facts." It has
little or no effect, unless the conservatives have a frame that makes
sense of the facts.
Thus, Liam's excellent question "Could you provide a reference to the
neuroscientist and his data that convinced you of this?" should be
directed to Lakoff and not to me. I suspect that Laim may find
Lakoff's answers to his question in either or both of:
1. "Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to
Western Thought" [Lakoff & Johnson (1999)] whose index
<http://tinyurl.com/33lwj4> has extensive neural-related entries
including "cognitive neuroscience."
2. "Where Mathematics Comes From: How the Embodied Mind Brings
Mathematics into Being" [Lakoff & Nunez (2001)] whose index
<http://tinyurl.com/2oa9jz> has an entry on the "neural structure of
Although it's not germane to Rourke's question, I do not regard as
"fantastic" - as does Rourke - Lakoff's assertion that concepts are
instantiated in brain synapses. This can be seen from my discussion
of the relevance of neuroscience to education in "Should We Measure
Change? Yes! [Hake (2007b)] [bracketed by lines "HHHHH. . . "; SEE
THAT ONLINE ARTICLE FOR THE REFERENCES]:
WHY ARE INTERACTIVE ENGAGEMENT (IE) COURSES MORE EFFECTIVE THAN
TRADITIONAL (T) PASSIVE-STUDENT COURSES?
"The Brain . . . Use It or Lose It. . . no matter what form
enrichment takes, it is the challenge to the nerve cells that is
important. Data indicate that passive observation is not enough; one
must interact with the environment." [Marian Diamond (1996)]
The superiority of IE methods in promoting conceptual understanding
and higher-order learning is probably related to the "enhanced
synapse addition and modification" induced by those methods.
Cognitive scientists Bransford et al. (1999, 2000) stated:
". . . synapse addition and modification are lifelong processes,
driven by experience. In essence, the quality of information to which
one is exposed and the amount of information one acquires is
reflected throughout life in the structure of the brain. This process
is probably not the only way that information is stored in the brain,
but it is a very important way that provides insight into how people
Consistent with the above, biologist Robert Leamnson (1999, 2000) has
stressed the relationship of biological brain change to student
learning. In his first chapter "Thinking About Thinking and Thinking
About Teaching," Leamnson (1999) defines teaching and learning thusly
. . . teaching means any activity that has the conscious intention
of, and potential for, *facilitation of learning* in another. . . .
.*learning is defined as stabilizing, through repeated use, certain
appropriate and desirable synapses in the brain*. . . ."
And biologist James Zull (2003) in "What is The Art of Changing the
Brain? " wrote [my *emphasis*]:
"Although the human brain is immensely complicated, we have known for
some time that it carries out four basic functions: getting
information (sensory cortex,) making meaning of information (back
integrative cortex), creating new ideas from these meanings (front
integrative cortex,) and acting on those ideas (motor cortex).). . .
[for Zull's schematic of the brain see
<http://www.case.edu/artsci/biol/people/zull.html>]. . .. . From this
I propose that there are four pillars of human learning: gathering,
analyzing, creating, and acting. This isn't new, but its match with
the structure of the brain seems not to have been noticed in the
past. *So I suggest that if we ask our students to do these four
things, they will have a chance to use their whole brain.*"
For pro and con articles on the relevance of neuroscience to
present-day classroom instruction see e.g., PRO: Lawson (2006) and
Willis (2006); CON: Marchese (2002) and Bruer (1997, 2006). See also
the commentary on Willis (2006) and Bruer (2006) by Hake (2006i) and
Hake, R.R. 2006. "Possible Palliatives for the Paralyzing Pre/Post
Paranoia that Plagues Some PEP's" [PEP's = Psychometricians,
Education specialists, and Psychologists], Journal of
MultiDisciplinary Evaluation, Number 6, November, online at
Hake, R.R. 2007a. "Bunkum Awards #2 (was Education Research by
Conservative Think Tanks)," online at
Post of 14 Jun 2007 to AERA-D, AERA-L, ASSSESS, ARN-L, EDDRA,
EvalTalk, Math-Teach, PhysLrnR, POD, STLHE-L, TIPS, TeachingEdPsych,
Hake, R.R. 2007b. "Should We Measure Change? Yes!" online as ref. 43
at <http://www.physics.indiana.edu/~hake>. To appear as a chapter in
"Evaluation of Teaching and Student Learning in Higher Education," a
Monograph of the American Evaluation Association
<http://www.eval.org/>. A severely truncated version appears at Hake
Lakoff, J. & R.E. Nunez. 2001. "Where Mathematics Comes From: How the
Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics into Being." Basic Books. Amazon.com
information at <http://tinyurl.com/2eddau>. The index, available in
the "Search in this book" feature <http://tinyurl.com/2oa9jz>
indicates that the neural structure of the brain is discussed on
pages 134 and 347.
Rourke, L. 2007, "Re: Bunkum Awards #2 (was Education Research by
Conservative Think Tanks)," EvalTalk post of 15 Jun 2007
06:56:44-0600; online at <http://tinyurl.com/3d3j48>.