Igniting your Natural Genius - Section 1: Instinctive Learning
by Prasad Kaipa and Steve Johnson

Section 1 | Section 2 | Section 3 | Section 4 | Section 5 | Section 6

This chapter forms the first section of a manuscript (work in progress) titled Igniting Your Natural Genius. This manuscript elaborates the learning framework developed the Mithya Institute. You can see the model or read about it by selecting Bicycle Built for Two or Learning Coaching and Inspiration.

Table of Contents


Before we look at the stages of learning, we should explore the raw material that we were born with. We need to know what we are made of before we can attempt to change it. The world of the child can shed a strong light on the way our minds work, and we need to try to understand the capabilities of the developing brain in order to make sense of it later.

Society's logical assumption would be that the child, and particularly the infant, is a helpless creature at the mercy of the experienced. Research indicates that it is the infant that has the highest ability to learn, the clearest instinct to absorb, and the largest built-in capacity to embrace information and entire disciplines of a complexity and at a pace that would leave most adults gasping. As a result, it is the child that teaches the adult about learning. The adult, presuming to have a far superior mind, graciously offers to teach the child about the world -- only to discover with a shock that the child, with its intuitive abilities and awesome learning speed, is teaching the teacher at least as much....


We Understand Learning Before We Even Begin to Learn

When Vidya, Prasad's daughter, was ten months old, she began to stand up and attempt to walk. She could hardly walk two steps before she fell, but falling never seemed to discourage her. One day in June she attempted to stand and walk over 60 times. By the end of July, she was running all over the house and comfortably climbing up and down the stairs. That means that Vidya probably attempted to walk 1000 times before she mastered the process.

The thought of failure never seemed to enter her head. What began as curiosity quickly became compulsion to learn, with no fear stage in between.

We adults normally give up trying new things after the first or second attempt, and it is a rare individual who continues again and again after repeated failure. Yet we are all aware of those rare people who practice something over and over again, in such diverse fields as sports, music, literature or business; and they sometimes achieve greatness. In their case they simply adopted the drive of the child they once were and avoided the trap of fearing failure.

Failure is therefore clearly linked with learning; the more we fear failure, the less we learn. It is not the failed attempts themselves that prevent us from continuing to try, but our interpretation of the situation. In other words, whether we expect to fail or whether we expect to succeed, those expectations will be self fulfilling; either way, we say to ourselves: `There, I told you so.'

We have hardly begun this book and already we see that learning is not much like the common perception of it. The techniques we use to increase learning are perhaps not as important as our attitudes and beliefs towards it.

Innocence dwells with Wisdom, but never with Ignorance

--William Blake


Learning Happens The Most When We Try to Learn The Least

Generations of school children, bored by class and scolded for daydreaming out of the window, have been told to concentrate more. Yet it is clear that attempting to concentrate on something that is uninteresting is an exercise in futility; we go through the motions, we stare at the page, we re-read the paragraph, but we continue to think about something else altogether. We can become better at fooling people that we are working hard, but our glazed eyes usually betray us long before our failed examinations do so.

When we truly learn how to do something, we cease to have to work so hard on it at all. There is no chore involved, and it seem to take only a fraction of the time. In fact, when we are excited about a subject we only need to glance at a page for its meaning to leap to our eyes and affect us deeply. It seems as though our body is doing it all by itself.

Of course, this is not the case; it is that our brain has become so enthusiastic, so practiced at the action, and so comfortable with the new environment it has created, that it can dedicate a part of itself to take care of details automatically, whenever needed. In computer terms, it has `hard wired' a special program or sequence just for that purpose. This leaves us free again to do other tasks.

This can apply to anything, for example learning a musical instrument or riding a bicycle. In either case, once a certain moment is reached, we feel an `aha' taking place; we feel a breakthrough has happened. For the first time, the violinist feels as if the fingers are moving faster than the mind. Once that point is reached, not only do we need never learn that sequence again, we would actually find it hard to unlearn it. It takes hundreds of hours to learn how to walk, and perhaps dozens of hours how to ride a bicycle or drive a car. But once learned, they are imprinted forever.

This explains why it is so hard for many people to unlearn a habit, for example learning to drive on the other side of the road when visiting another country; in this case, the conscious mind's attempts to conform are in conflict with strong, hard-wired messages from the unconscious. After some struggle, we adapt to driving on the `wrong' side of the road, often only to revert to the old program in a moment of tiredness or stress. It is very hard to forget that which has become automatic; an adult does not forget how to ride a bicycle even if no practice or even thought has been given to the subject since early childhood.

This does serve to give us a clue about the implications involved. What else might we have take for granted; what else has become so automatic that we assume it is the only way of doing things? The challenge we might face in rethinking something long adopted as automatic can indeed be formidable, but it could be an invaluable mental exercise to try. Because our established ways of thinking have long since become standard, we have to work hard even to become aware of them, let alone reverse them. Once attempted, the mere recognition that there is more than one way to do something we previously took for granted can be enlightening, even transformational.

Habits are powerful tools, but we surely should not be ruled by them. Even some of our most trivial actions are governed by them. For example, if someone is asked to fold their arms over their chest, they invariable adopt the same method every time, for example right over left. The other way feels wrong and uncomfortable, even unthinkable.

Our very perceptions are also governed by habit. In an early study, a volunteer was given a pair of special glasses to wear during all waking hours. The glasses reversed Up and Down, so that everything seemed to be upside down. Naturally this was highly disorienting at first, but gradually the volunteer started to make progress. Eventually, he could function quite normally. Then, when the glasses were removed, he was disoriented again; he thought that everything looked upside down again.

In another experiment, researchers showed a movie on a big screen to an audience of people who had never seen a movie before. Whenever an actor moved off-screen, the audience stood up and moved to the next room, expecting to see the actor there.

Both the above examples are interesting and perhaps amusing, but they raise a disturbing thought: how would we know if our own perceptions were based on an element of illusion? The very structure of our eyes helps us to form an impression of reality. No two people have an identical perception of the same shade of, say, green, and some people cannot differentiate it at all from, say, a particular shade of blue.The structure of a bat's sensory organs cause it to see reality in a different way altogether. Is there a `true' reality after all? Who are we to assume that we are always right? Yet how many of us question anything about our accepted ways of seeing the world.

Given this enormous reliance on our cherished thought patterns and habits, imagine therefore how unthinkable it might be to change one's attitudes and beliefs on such issues as politics, parents, religion or nationhood. Or, for that matter, one's career.

Our environment naturally influences us, and some of what we experience interests us. This is what we find the easiest to learn. In turn, we put back into the environment more of our specialized subject, thus perpetuating the cycle for ourselves. But we need to ask ourselves: Exactly how arbitrary was the original environmental impact in the first place? Who would we be today if we had not had that experience?

In an age where job retraining has such fundamental implications in national economic as well as in individual levels, there is simply no point in attempting a major effort to retrain anyone unless the idea is embraced by the trainee, the subject as agreeable and seen as worthwhile, and the expectations of success are high. How else could we expect someone to throw away the self-perceptions and habits that have taken half a lifetime to perfect? We fear that after such a dearth of retraining commitments at corporate and government levels for so long, a rush of desperately-needed and well-intentioned training projects could fail because of a lack of awareness that their success is dependent on factors other than subject matter and delivery methods.

As any action or posture, long continued, will distort and disfigure the limbs, so the mind likewise is crippled and contracted by perpetual application to the same set of ideas.

-- Samuel Johnson, The Rambler, 1750-52


We Begin By Seeing With Our Body, Not With Our Eyes

When we are infants, we have no access to thinking other than in terms of what has happened to our body so far. Our mobility is limited and our perceptive senses are not fully developed. We primarily operate out of kinesthetic and tactile modes to relate to the world. When something touches us, we know something has happened even if we don't know exactly what.

Very early in the life of the embryo, the first system that develops is our system of touch. In fact, all of our special senses, sight and sound, taste and smell, are basically elaborations of this system of touch. Embryologists talk about this system of touch as the mother of the senses. With touch and the body as such a basic part of our experience, the body is a reservoir for emotional issues, a reservoir for a lot of meaning in our lives, and often we don't pay attention to the body in the ways that we can and should.

We know for example physiologically that the importance of touch right after birth is that it kicks off some neurological systems that need to be kicked off, it kicks off digestive systems... and also touch is a way by which you start to relate to emotions and feeling, and you start to develop your own psychological identity, because once we're born physically we still have one more birth to go through, and that's the birth of who we are psychologically. And that birthing process that happens between the time we're born physically and maybe two or three years is a process in which the body and touch is very important. We learn about ourselves by how we feel about others, and how we feel about others, using the double meaning of that word `feel', not only comes from our sense of emotional contact but literally how we're held.

The therefore know that the learning process begins very early on, long before we see with our eyes. We know if it becomes too hot or too cold, when we are uncomfortably wet, and when something presses onto our skin. We also know that some sensations are pleasant. We know what we like and what we do not like, and we take very little time in deciding between them.

Later, when our eyesight develops, we perhaps literally develop our way of seeing through what we have earlier experienced through touch. To the brain, we do not literally see or touch the world at all; the brain merely receives information which it constantly attempts to interpret in terms of patterns. Music is simply another set of patterns, enjoyed by another specialization in the brain.

If through touch we have learned that the world is inhospitable, threatening or dangerous, we will quickly adapt to seeing that way too, to enhance our own preservation chances. Alternatively, if we have learned through our skin that the world is interesting, and that new things are safe and fun, we will form our concept of vision around a model that encourages observation and experimentation. Memory will be enhanced because we simply do not want to forget anything. We urge ourselves on to new learning simply because we expect to enjoy it.

As our other senses develop, they begin to overtake the sense of touch in importance. For some adults, sight is the only reality they seriously consider, and touch is given no thought.

This might cause a disconnect with our earlier sense of reality. Perhaps a primary reason for the therapeutic effects of meditation and physical intimacy is a recognition of the powerful depths that touch reaches into our consciousness, in which case there is something to be said for reestablishing the connection with our bodies if we need to remind ourselves that the world is safe and worth learning about.

Perception is everything, or, as the phrase goes, Perception Is Reality. According to Piaget, people and objects that are out of sight or touch simply cease to exist for a young child. If a toy which is given full attention is hidden for a moment, the child assumes it has suddenly dematerialized forever. Even if the toy magically reappears moments later and the routine is repeated, the child again thinks it disappears every time. This explains the extreme, but temporary, emotions displayed in such games. Later, when it begins to dawn on the child that perhaps the toy just might reappear again, a major learning breakthrough has occurred; a reality exists beyond what can be directly experienced.

This is indeed a profound moment of growth. Not every adult, it must be said, develops full confidence in the continuity of this external reality. Perhaps jealousy and possessiveness in adults are, in part, characteristics of those who continue to question whether people and objects really do fully exist outside of the viewer's world. Consequently these people probably wonder whether they really will see those temporarily hidden people and objects again.

If man did not from time to time...close his eyes, he would finally be unable to see anything worth looking at.

-- Emerson Journals, 1839


Adults can spend a lifetime failing at what infants do with ease every day

There is no separation of 'world' and 'I' for the infant. The world is merely an extension of itself. When a tiny child cries, it does not care whether the mother is in a good mood or not, or whether she is awake or getting enough sleep. When the baby is hungry, that is all that matters.

There is no past and no future, just the present moment. Adults understand cause and effect; the cause creates the effect, which in turn influences the next cause.

With infants, there is no cause and effect. There are no memories to cloud the judgments of the present time, and no decisions to carry forward.

It has been said that this stage of development is often frightening for a child. However, it is very possible that when it feels full and warm, the infant at this age is in complete peace with the universe, precisely because there is no division between self and environment. Everything is one.

This is analogous with the state of mind that the mystics and religious leaders urge adults to strive towards. A true sense of oneness is said to be so rare as to be experienced in moments of profound insight and vision, where a moment in this state of pure bliss can transform a person for life. Many never experience anything like it, or even believe in its existence. Yet as infants it was once a normal state. Perhaps that is why some do seek this experience as adults; they sense that they have been there before -- that is, before we complicated ourselves to the point of forgetting it all.

An infant is not being selfish when it focuses entirely on itself. It merely has not yet experienced any alternative. When the child gradually realizes that the world is not at its command, this is a major shift in perception and is not always welcome. Children that are uncomfortable with the change resent the loss of power, and tend to do so because they fear what might happen next. Perhaps fear of isolation is the biggest fear of all. As a result, the normal process of recognizing that other people have feelings and rights is rapidly distorted and complicated. Whatever mental model the child then develops will be a mechanism to protect itself from greater hurt. Each model will have an impact on the child's learning potential, because the mechanism tends to fall into one of several predictable categories, each self-limiting, for example:

  • I won't get involved, I don't care about anything, I don't want to learn any more
  • I will continue to demand full attention from everyone anyway
  • I must be unimportant after all
  • I did something wrong to deserve this
  • It turns out that people are nasty
  • I refuse to think about it

.... and so on. In this way, that great advance of human development, the gift of recognizing the consciousness of others and allowing each their own individuality, becomes a negative force if in the process of coping we lose some of our own identity. Once the model changes, the child will automatically seek future learning opportunities only that support their new model, no matter how limiting and convoluted it is.

Children are completely egoistic; they feel their needs intensely and strive ruthlessly to satisfy them.

-- Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, 1899


We become different people throughout our lives. The person each of us is today is but today's model.

At different times of our lives we focus on different aspects of who we are. For example, although we are still the same person we were at ten years old, we have forgotten what it was like to focus in that way. Effectively, we have become someone different, but we find it unsettling to think this way. We outgrow our mental models, but only through choice. For example, we can look forward to exploring new alternatives, or we can decide to make our existing model more rigid and better protected from change. Either way, our future models are not inevitable, but instead reflect the clarity of our vision and beliefs today.

Children growing up in families where accomplishments in sports and physical fitness are valued will tend to become naturally interested in the body and athletics. In homes where quantities of books are in evidence, the child will naturally accept books as normal objects to have around. However, the child will not necessarily actually read them unless a parent or another role model is frequently seen reading. When that happens, the child will unthinkingly pick up books and usually develop reading skills almost effortlessly. So, it is not what is in the environment but how people willingly interact with it that influences the developing mind.

We also need to remember that the exact opposite can happen. If the parent pressures the child to read, or even purchases the child an entire library, it could lead to a lifelong resistance to reading. It is how it is communicated and demonstrated that counts. Children are highly intuitive towards integrity, honesty, love and authenticity, which gives adults a clear challenge to communicate in these ways if a positive impact is desired.

Children with clear expectations and values have less anxiety and more freedom:

Prasad's friend Debu Ghosh, who worked with thousands of children and adults once said: "Children always know what the rules are --- they think that adults are the confused creatures."

Children are remarkable for their intelligence and ardor, for their curiosity, their intolerance of shams, the clarity and ruthlessness of their vision.

-- Aldous Huxley in Music at Night, 1931


It takes change to allow us to recognize continuity

No matter how fast change seems to be, it is experienced in small increments, step by step.

How we think is not fixed for life. We modify our very style of thinking as we grow. We add and adapt beliefs and values, knowledge and understanding over time. It is a natural process.

Even our entire body is changing all the time. No cell remains the same after seven years, not even those of our brains or bones. Our bodies and our thoughts are constantly being altered, new replacing old. It is medically proven that many childhood allergies disappear with time as those cells die and do not pass on the allergies to the next generation of cells. When we retain a thought pattern, what we are really doing is constantly replacing brain cells in a near-replication of the old pattern.

How do we reconcile the fact that we change all the time, and as children constantly seek new things to discover, yet as adults we can be highly resistant to change? The answer lies in the scale of the change. Learning something new which does not undermine other thoughts is fun, but having to rewrite fundamental concepts is clearly most unsettling. If it is perceived that the change challenges entire belief systems, there can be strong resentment indeed and a refusal to even entertain such a notion.

Yet, as adults, we often see others timidly resist even trivial change. Such change would only be resisted if the person perceived any change to be dangerous.

Imagine life as a boat. A person living on a fragile, overladen boat faces disaster with any slight gust of wind. Anyone seen rocking the boat jeopardizes its future. Also, if the sea itself is thought of as stormy or rocky to begin with, life seems even more precarious. In these circumstances, any change at all would seem overwhelming.

Alternatively, if the perception of the boat is one of a solid, reliable, ocean liner with a dependable crew, the owner can happily relax and play on the deck, suggest a new course, and invite friends and strangers on board. In other words, we will never be comfortable with change until we develop a secure mental model in which to dwell.

My hopes no more must change their name, I long for a repose that ever is the same.

-- William Wordsworth, Ode to Duty, 1805


By Copying Others, We Become Ourselves

Imitation seems to be a fundamental instinct from our very first actions. Infants quickly copy whatever they can, and in this way they learn how things work.

Children watch what their parents do very carefully. In playing `house', they play out their mother and father, and much of their unconscious body of learning consists of this imitation, duplicating how they see the models work that are around them. This is the unconscious way that knowledge is transferred from generation to generation.

It is likely that the rapid learning of language and walking are driven not so much by the wish to communicate or move about as the desire to do what others are doing. Even without parental encouragement, the child feels an urge to copy. Only when walking skills are mastered will the child tend to walk about just for the pleasure of it.

  • 'Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them'.
  • 'Children need models rather than critics'.

This need to copy others is a powerful tool to accelerate learning. As infants, we absorb a model of the world that seems to work. Why reinvent the wheel?

Why indeed? There is probably no better way to learn a complex skill like language than to find it interesting enough to listen in order to imitate. But if we are to avoid being a clone, we need to prod ourselves from time to time in later life. We need to ask:

'Do I think this way merely because I accepted it as truth from someone else long ago, long before I developed the knowledge I have today?'

Unless we question this, we run the risk of living a life without really knowing who we are and what we are capable of.

Perhaps as adults we are a little embarrassed that children continue to shamelessly plagiarize others so much. We like to think of ourselves as individuals, certainly not clones of our parents, or servants to conformity. Adults often realize with a flash of insight and some discomfort that they act and sound like their parents, something that they thought they fought hard to avoid.

Prasad's son, Pravin, who is five years old at the time of this writing, took longer to learn certain basic lessons and was generally less active compared to his little sister, who is one year old. The main difference seems to be that she has the benefit of a peer to imitate.

Every day she loves to do what her big brother does. For example, it does not matter that she does not have any teeth; she still insists on attempting to brush them. She is imitating her brother much more than either of them imitated their parents.

Children are particularly comfortable imitating their peers, perhaps because there are fewer expectations from peers than parents. Peers can experiment together in a non-threatening way. Also, because adults are so capable at so many things, they are not credible if they tell a child that something is easy to do. But if a peer makes something look easy, it will encourage the child to think that any child can do it. They therefore constantly stretch and challenge each other, practicing complex learning experiences in game play.

Children do not copy everything and everybody randomly. They copy people they understand, like and respect more than anyone else. Imitation is the sincerest flattery. They make a big show of avoiding copying people they dislike. This polarity of like and dislike is a strong motivator, because of the urgent need to conform and to make as coherent and consistent a sense of the world as possible. The actions of people they know are more likely to make sense than those of strangers.

Children are easily upset if something goes counter to expectations. Their world foundations are readily challenged. This proves that they attempt to build a model of the world very early on indeed. Bit by bit, decision by decision, entire belief and value systems are constructed as the child checks and explores its boundaries and creates its own character. Once it is satisfied that it has a model that is largely workable, it forgets the tortuous path it took, and assumes that it always thought this way. It would undermine its sense of being if it consciously realized that it was such a product of the influences, planned or random, of others. Either way, the personality becomes largely set at a very early age.

This strong drive to create an individuality becomes even more necessary if the child perceives the environment to be threatening or negative in some other way. It becomes desperately important to build a solid foundation for yourself if you are surrounded by chaotic and unpredictable dangers, parental mood swings, and other hazards.

There is even evidence that humans are not the only creatures who cling to a mental model and can be upset when new concepts do not conform. For example, it is believed from observation that dolphins and other creatures have learning tantrums when frustrated with difficult learning.

Children often work hard to make small differentiations visible in order to feel unique, and sometimes these grow into major hobby, lifestyle, career and personality traits.

Children often compete furiously among themselves, almost as if to prove who they are, and they enjoy the game as long as the competition conforms to the world view that they have so recently formed. They will not compete on issues that threaten their highly precious sense of reality.

On a larger scale, this system of developing a world model is also much the way communities and even entire cultures develop. Once developed, these appear eternal and rather sacred to those who own them. Every culture believes itself to be at the heart of the universe; every city has a `You are here' map, with the arrow pointing to the middle of the map.

The U.S. Government believes that they are the undisputed leader of the world. Similarly, India believes that they are far advanced over the West in spiritual matters, France perhaps believes it is one of the most civilized countries, and so on. All cultures believe that they are right, and expect everybody else to recognize this sooner or later. Even countries that were torn apart by war and displaced into separate geographies remember their original culture and fight to protect it many decades later.

This tells us much about individual identity, because it is not a nation which fights for its culture but its people. Once we establish an identity for ourselves and where we belong we are likely to carry that with us most or all of our lives, no matter how much we later learn or travel. Many Americans have a passionate view of their heritage even if they have no contact with the country of their ancestors. Immigrants often have a fantasy about retiring to their homeland even after 50 or more years abroad. Human history is littered with the dead from wars over boundary disputes, and these wars persist today.

We clearly have a basic need to belong, and such thoughts run so deep that we can allow them to define who we are. When considering learning, we should be aware of this factor because anything which has such a profound effect on our instinctive thinking will blur the distinction between the moments we are being objective and the times we are not.

Imitation is a necessity of nature; when young, we imitate others; when old, ourselves.

-- Joseph Roux. 1886


Love is worth a hundred books

It is easy to use the word `love' in a vague and sentimental way. Everybody knows that we should love one another, and that parents should love their children. All You Need Is Love. We could easily smother this page with cliche, saccharine, and pink rabbits. But let's not. Instead, we could study research that deals with infant learning, and look at objective evidence on the subject.

The Pediatrics Journal, in the May 1986 issue, reported a study in which infants born several weeks before full term pregnancy were given 15 minutes of special attention, each day. Someone reached in to stroke them and gently wriggle their arms and legs; this was repeated three times a day. The results were striking. Although fed on demand with the same formula, the stroked infants gained 47% more weight each day than the control group who were denied this caring touch. They were more alert and acted like normal babies sooner than the others and even went home a week earlier.

Several other studies also show that a parent's interaction with a child has a lasting effect on the kind of person that child grows up to be. Studies reported by Kevin Rathunde of the University of Chicago show that teenagers who had good relationships with their parents were significantly happier, satisfied, and stronger in their life situations compared to their peers who did not have such a relationship. Similarly, optimal balance between love and discipline is found to be the best child-rearing method in other studies.

Imagine a scientific experiment, for example the study of the growth of a plant. If, by observation you notice that the gradual removal of sunlight systematically reduces its growth, you are bound to conclude a relationship between growth and light. If the sunlight is returned, and growth speeds up again, we learn even more of the relationship. We might conclude that good light is the normal environment for plants, and that anything less is an inhibitor, because plants developed that way through countless generations of adaptation and evolution. A plant will not necessarily die in lower light, but it will be stunted.

Infants are designed, it seems, to be wiggled and stroked, talked to and comforted. Teenagers, as parents will discover, are not quite as amenable to parental wiggling, but do respond well to healthy relationships at home. In these cases, learning takes place at a fast pace. As a shorthand for terms like stroking and communicating and nurturing, we can use the word loving. Whatever the term, its restriction leads to stuntedness of the individual, and its return becomes a learning accelerator again.

Children in circumstances lacking love and care are consequently somewhat inhibited about learning. The normal pattern of imitation, exploration and play is disrupted. This can be summarized as a fear of something; of embarrassment, of retribution, of hurt, or merely the fear of anyone not understanding or accepting. Fear is the ultimate learning inhibitor.

Without positive feedback, it might not occur to children that it is helpful to experiment and learn, in which case the best we can hope is for the child to become a passive watcher rather than an active contributor. At worst, resentment and frustration will be exhibited or bottled up for later.

It is well known that a person's mental and emotional states have a powerful effect on their health. There is an abundance of documentation linking negative thoughts and emotions to hormonal secretions that increase the aging process, add stress to the immune system and ultimately manifest in disease. Personalities with tendencies towards anger for example have a tenfold chance of dying from cardiac arrest. The University of London School of Medicine recently released the results of a 30 year study which showed that negative reactions to stress are more destructive to health than is cigarette smoking.

The Institute of HeartMath has shown that a person's mental and emotional attitudes and states can be measured electrically and that they directly affect the cardiac electricities. The normally scattered and incoherent frequency spectrum of the ECG dramatically changes to an extremely ordered and coherent frequency spectrum when a person who is skilled in mental and emotional self management focuses on feelings of love, care or appreciation.

It is possible that the electricity generated by the heart may reach the DNA much like a radio wave is sent to a receiver. It is probable that this communication programs the cells. Distortion in this communication link would explain a lot of things since the DNA determines the formation of genes which control enzymes which control all cellular functions.

We should not be surprised that love is a common denominator. Babies, kittens and puppies evoke universal reactions of warmth from adults and children. It seems that certain features in all these creatures are hard-wired into our brains; we respond to their vulnerability and need for compassion with unquestioning support and nurturing, and we cannot fail to smile as we do so. The cartoon world takes full advantage of this collective unconsciousness in us all, and we respond instinctively to those wide eyes and cuddly features.

This seems to be a two-way bargain. The joyful healing effects of having babies visit a recuperation ward or home for the elderly are well documented. In their moment of greatest vulnerability, children exude some of the greatest power a human has to offer; that of extending the quantity and quality of life for others.

Everywhere, we learn only from those whom we love.

-- Goethe 1825


The Brain With The Most Remaining Energy is The One That Has Already Used Up The Most

If you were buying a car in order to cover the maximum distance, you would surely be wise to buy one that had covered the least distance to begin with. Machines have a limited lifespan, and other things being equal the remaining lifespan is in direct proportion to how little it has been used so far.

By contrast, the more stimulation the brain receives, the more it develops, seemingly with no upper limit. We cannot deplete the brain. It is not an ordinary container, like a filing cabinet or a hole in the ground, that can be filled or emptied. Also, in the normal physical model of the world, we can plainly see that things generally slow down, burn out, develop more errors, require more maintenance, or flatten out by erosion. But the human potential for taking in more information actually increases with more use, thus defying logic. How can this be?

Unlike the filing cabinet, the brain is a self-patterning system. As soon as it comes across new information, it seeks ways in which it has come across such data before. It looks for similarities, parallels and metaphors. How active it seeks these is rather dependent on the skills and learning habits of the learner, but even the most unpracticed and slovenly thinker subconsciously has access to a vast and complex system of patterns, with immediate and elegant handling of the incoming information stream.

The more patterns that have been, the easier it is to match yet more information. Moreover, the more diverse the types of patterns stored, and the greater the familiarity and frequency of access to them, the greater the learning potential. That is why adding a new pattern type is so critical to future learning; by doing so, we add not merely yet another fact, but a whole new way of seeing things. Future data could be transformed by such pattern. In this way, creating a new pattern is an investment in the future, even though at the time it cannot be predicted that the pattern will be ever used again.

Because of this, it is clear that we are more willing to seek out and invest in more patterns when we are upbeat, confident and positive about the future, hence the importance of attempting to create just such an environment for infants, children and ourselves.

A study took place about infants in several orphanages in Iran during the 1950's. In orphanages where infants spent virtually their entire first year of life lying in their cribs, most could not sit at 21 months and 85% of them could not walk at 3 years of age. Normally reared babies can sit unaided by 9 months of age and walk before their second birthday.

When children are picked up, cuddled, and played with, they receive not only emotional and social stimulation but also stimulation of nerves and muscles. They learn to adjust their bodies to various ways of being held. Their sense organs and brains process the great variety of information they receive from looking at things from different perspectives and from feeling different skin pressures and muscle tensions. This kind of normal experience stimulates the development of the brain. It is not easy to differentiate between learning acceleration due to stimulation and that due to love, because the love increases the need to stimulate.

To learn is a natural pleasure, not confined to philosophers, but common to all men.

-- Aristotle. 4th century BC.


We can learn more than we understand, and understand more than we know

We can learn facts. We can recite data. We have fun playing games of trivia. Knowledge, however, is connected to deeper and more permanent type of learning.

When we refer to learning, we usually relate only to our conscious mind. Our consciousness is the familiar part of our thinking that we use all day long, and because of this it is easy to assume it is our only information storage device.

However, our subconscious mind learns much more than our consciousness, and it does so seemingly effortlessly. We cannot access it directly, and if we did it would surprise us with its very different form of logic altogether. There is much we do not understand about it, by definition, but it seems that it tirelessly recognizes and records, 24 hours a day, everything we see, say and do. This seems a very challenging job to say the least. For it to function without complaint, night and day without break, for our entire lives is an awesome prospect.

But it seems frustrating that we cannot consciously communicate with it. Surely if we could we would never forget anything, never fail an examination, and always have boundless wisdom at our disposal?

But to do so would perhaps jeopardize its very integrity, because for the subconscious to even begin to function in such an all encompassing way it must function very differently from our consciousness. Its profound elegance of thought could only come about through development of a deeper language than the one we use in our daily routines. For example, its lightening-fast ability to recognize the potential for metaphor in a totally new stream of information, by comparing it with a single experience of perhaps thirty years previous, probably means that it may actually think in metaphor and profound patterning in the first place. This is then interpreted by the conscious mind and translated into our language as needed.

Such concepts as the English Language, arithmetic, philosophy and logic may be mere intellectual devices created by the conscious mind to improve functioning and to better feed new pattern sources down into the ever hungry unconsciousness, where deeper and more potent thoughts can simmer and evolve in order to send waves, trends and hints upwards again. Mostly we probably fail to recognize the patient nudges we constantly receive, because they are necessarily in subtle code. We need to listen hard to the quiet inner voice in order to hear anything. But in moments of insight, or solitude, stress, hypnosis, transition, growth, or in the nightly adventures of our dreams, we can receive the benefits of the inner wisdom as clues we can attempt to make use of in our daily physical lives.

Troubles arise when the connection is more tenuous than it should be; if the consciousness refuses to listen to its wise elder it will create incompatibilities, with resultant learning inefficiencies together with stresses and perhaps even illnesses in time.

But what should we do about it? It is possible that mere awareness of the duality of the brain might help forge stronger links. Regular moments of contemplation and an acceptance of the awe of what can result from tapping into the vast reservoir of the unconscious might help produce the sense of wholeness that is necessary for deep accelerated learning to occur. An awareness of these inner resources is needed to produce genuine breakthroughs of learning beyond mere conscious recall of facts, because when breakthroughs do occur they always affect more than one level of thinking. By definition, it is the multi-level nature of transformation that qualifies it as a breakthrough in the first place.

The things we know best are the things we haven't been taught.

-- Vauvenargues, Reflections and Maxims, 1746


The Most Powerful Learning Can Be The Easiest to Do

We learn mostly instinctively, and, when we are truly open, intuitively.

Let us clarify those two definitions. `Instinct' is something which all animals have. It is an almost unvarying response to external situations, useful for preservation of the creature or its species. `Intuition' is something which happens just as spontaneously, and also without the need for reason, but it is more like a sudden recognition of the truth in its totality.

We learn by instinct at first. It is natural and helpful to learn, and we are programmed to do so. If we do not put mental barriers in our own way we then exhibit intuition, equally effortlessly. Intuition is the most powerful way of knowing. Each time intuiting arises, we are unaware of its source, we cannot recreate the path it took, and we might have difficulty proving its validity. However, we sense in a profound way that we are right.

Intuition comes from outside of the individual's conscious system. It taps into the unconscious body of knowledge that we all have available to us. Because children are not limited by conditional responses, instinct effortlessly merges with intuition.

Some of the great scientific breakthroughs in history have been due to intuition, and the scientist sometimes spends the following decades trying to prove the new theory in mathematical terms in order for the scientific community to accept it. Through intuition we see the wholes which play out in the bigger picture, not restricted to local boundaries or narrow time spans.

That this happens at all seems to be miraculous, but for it to have happened without even trying is even more so. Computer engineers and programmers currently attempting to manufacture systems to mimic even a small fraction of this capability have a huge task. We should be in awe of the power we have.

Awe of the same magnitude is likely when we consider the enormity of the challenge of learning a language as a toddler.

Prasad's friend, Jean Luc, is a Frenchman with a Cambodian wife, Ling. They live in America and have two children, aged 3 and 4. When they have a visit from their French grandparents, who cannot speak English or Chinese, it is the children who freely translate English and Chinese into French for them.

It seems inconceivable that young children, with as yet no formal education, can deal with three languages without blinking an eye. This is no isolated genius factor at work. Yet we know of many couples who stopped using a second language in front of the children `so the kids won't be confused'. We all have vast potential for learning, but perhaps we lose the ability when we are told that things are difficult to do.

Knowledge is the true organ of sight, not the eyes.

-- Panchatantra, 5th Century AD.


You Might Travel The World Seeking The Best Teacher, Only To Discover That it is You

There are no real limits to learning. If we do experience limits, it is because we have placed barriers in the way. Only we can remove them. In this way, we have direct control over our learning capabilities; no external teacher can accelerate us as much as we can.

Without barriers, learning is easy and deep. There are no filters, no hidden agendas, no complications or ego in the way. There is not even any fear of forgetting, because deep learning is always with us. There is always something to be learned from even the most humble of situations.

A man is given a spelling book intended for small children, and he is told that he can learn from it. He glances at it, sees that it informs the reader how to spell `cat', and throws it down with disdain. What an insult to his intelligence!

The book is then given to a wiser man. Instead of allowing his ego to intervene, he decides to read the book from the point of view of the child. It not only sheds light on the thinking process of the young mind, but it also is an experience of what it is like to be learning something important for the first time. He contemplates how challenging a book of strange symbols must look, particularly if the child has no clear understanding that books contain knowledge and that symbols on the page represent words being spoken. Yet the scale of empowerment for the child when the breakthrough occurs can hardly be overstated. Perhaps, the man decides, there are equally challenging but empowering symbols all around us, which he himself has overlooked. What is the equivalent to `cat' at the next level for each of us? Only we know where our own boundaries lie, therefore only we can be our ideal teacher.

So, by creating barriers we entrap ourselves. We think we are at our boundaries, but we are far short. But if learning is so pleasurable, why do we find it so difficult for ourselves? Why don't we take Da Vinci's advice and learn for the fun of it?

In the next stage of learning, we will explore how these barriers are erected in the first place, so that we can learn how to dismantle them and relive the pleasures of unlimited growth once again.

Just as eating against one's will is injurious to health, so study without a liking for it spoils the memory, and it retains nothing it takes in.

-- Leonardo Da Vinci Notebooks, c.1500


Section Summary

In this section, we have been looking at patterns of how infants and young children learn and what their natural limitations could be. Unless they are affected by major neurological disorders, it appears that children are eager, curious and motivated to explore the world and learn constantly. Some of the most complicated tasks we ever learn, like walking and talking, are mastered with no special teaching or guidance.

By no means are children experts, but they are expert learners. They have an inquisitive and attentive nature and if properly nurtured, children could continue to learn everything at this accelerated pace. Such learning is not all cognitive and has a large bio-sensory component to it. An infant's ability to sit, stand, walk and run have nothing to do with what we call `thinking skills.'

We also saw how emotional nourishment and nurturing could impact the physical growth of children. We identified the ways in which we learn when we are not anxious about performing. We learn unconsciously, kinesthetically and instinctively as long as it is fun and challenging.

We will explore further the impact of such unconscious learning modes on decision making in the later sections. Several studies indicate that human beings repeatedly access their instinctive learning styles both when challenged or cornered. When cornered, however, our learning is not open to correction and we are under emotional stress. Such experiences generally are difficult to recall.

Instinctive modes of learning lead to natural but naive understanding of the world as developed over time. While this knowledge is often sufficient to grasp what is going on around us, it is still received wisdom. There is a big gap between what a child comes into this world with and what it learns by conscientiously and diligently applying itself to go beyond the received wisdom.

Summarizing, we learn differently at different stages of our life. These stages are not necessarily chronological and we resist all movement from one stage to another. If we are nurtured in an empowering, loving way, the chances are that we use intuition much more than instinct. Otherwise, we resort to instinct much more than cognitive modes as we become boxed in and cannot see outside of that box.


Do you want to see the model behind it? Select The Learning Framework

Other Chapters of 'Igniting Your Natural Genius'

You can send any comments or suggestions by clicking here: comments@mithya.com


Mithya Home - About Mithya - Events - Learning - Pyramids - People - Friends - Contact

Return to Top

Copyright 1998, 1999, The Mithya Institute for Learning. All rights reserved.