Friday, March 20, 2009

Brain Lives at "Edge of Chaos"

A depiction of the atomic structure of the en:...

Studies like Brain lives at "edge of chaos" are particularly interesting to me because of the tendency of those engaged in education research to interpret the brain's ability to organize information as somehow a description of how the brain works or how we learn. This study applies a phenomenon they call "self-organized criticality" to brain science — where systems spontaneously organize them­selves to operate at the borderline between order and chaos. This phenomena is present in many different physical systems, including "avalanches, for­est fires, earth quakes, and heart rhythms." We can learn using concept maps, for instance, not because that is how the brain works, but because one of the functions of the brain is to organize information. Networks exist in the brain but rather than a flowchart model typical of cognitivist pedagogy, this study is interested in the synchronization of activity between dif­ferent regions of the functional networks in the brain. Pictures of the brain merely as a network are far too mechanistic to explain what is happening. I don't think there is anything mystical about how the brain works, but it is an incredibly complex system that cannot be described by a flowchart. Scientists will one day look back on those models just as we now (or at least should be) look at those models of atoms with orbiting electrons. It is easier to imagine them as orbiting electrons and it would be difficult to represent an electron probability cloud in k-12 science textbooks, but the model tells us more about our limitations than the world.

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