Breaking Opinion! – The Brain Beats The Internet!

Posted: May 21, 2017 in Uncategorized

Most adults recall memorizing the names of rivers or the Pythagorean theorem in school and wondering, “When am I ever gonna use this stuff?” Kids today have a high-profile spokesman. Jonathan Rochelle, the director of Google’s education apps group, said last year at an industry conference that he “cannot answer” why his children should learn the quadratic equation. He wonders why they cannot “ask Google.” If Mr. Rochelle cannot answer his children, I can.

Google is good at finding information, but the brain beats it in two essential ways. Champions of Google underestimate how much the meaning of words and sentences changes with context. Consider vocabulary. Every teacher knows that a sixth grader, armed with a thesaurus, will often submit a paper studded with words used in not-quite-correct ways, like the student who looked up “meticulous,” saw it meant “very careful,” and wrote “I was meticulous when I fell off the cliff.”

With the right knowledge in memory, your brain deftly puts words in context. Consider “Trisha spilled her coffee.” When followed by the sentence “Dan jumped up to get a rag,” the brain instantly highlights one aspect of the meaning of “spill” — spills make a mess. Had the second sentence been “Dan jumped up to get her more,” you would have thought instead of the fact that “spill” means Trisha had less of something. Still another aspect of meaning would come to mind had you read, “Dan jumped up, howling in pain.”

The meaning of “spill” depends on context, but dictionaries, including internet dictionaries, necessarily offer context-free meanings. That’s why kids fall off cliffs meticulously.

Perhaps internet searches will become more sensitive to context, but until our brains communicate directly with silicon chips, there’s another problem — speed.

Click to read more.

Daniel T. Willingham is a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and the author, most recently, of “The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads.”

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