How Do We Learn?
We learn with our brains, and our brains learn through making neural connections. We see things with our brains not eyes, so learning through the eye, such as reading written words, is a brain function, just like a baby learns spoken language through the ear is a brain function. Neuroscience, the scientific study of the brain and nervous system, confirms that the brain learns through making neural connections, altering the strengths of connections between neurons, and creating and expanding neural networks.
The brain, our amazing three pound universe, is the seat of intelligence and the source of all the qualities of every individual. It is composed of approximately a hundred billion neurons. Each neuron communicates with many other neurons at connections called synapses, which send and receive electrochemical signals to form neural circuits and share information. The neural circuits are formed by genetic mechanisms during embryonic development and modified through interactions with the internal and external environment. An individual’s activities, such as learning and exercise, can strengthen or weaken communications between neurons, and the change in the amount of activity can also enhance or reduce its function. It is these neural connections that make our learning and behaviors possible, and the combinations of signals among neurons results in all sorts of our perceptions, thoughts, and behaviors.
Santiago Ramón y Cajal, father of modern neuroscience, demonstrated as early as 1911, that the number of interconnections between neurons was the real measure of genius, far more crucial in determining brainpower than the sheer number of neurons. The more we learn, the more neural connections are formed and strengthened. Hebbian theory, introduced by Donald Hebb in 1949, confirms that neurons that fire together, wire together, which echoed Ramón y Cajal’s ideas, and further manifested it through the phenomenon of long-term potentiation (LTP), which is closely linked with long-term memory, and causes the long-term strengthening of the synapses between two neurons that are activated simultaneously. The implication of this phenomenon is that it could be possible to create many ‘Einstein’ by providing sufficiently stimulating mental exercises, which strengthen the interconnections between neurons to improve the effectiveness of their communication.