Why We Learn… Or Should Learn

Why We Learn… Or Should Learn

Easter 21

Someone asked me?  Why spend fifty days on philosophy?  Why so much time on the science or art of wisdom?  Let’s set aside for the moment that my entire purpose in writing every day is to get people to think and, hopefully, learn something new.  I do not specify what you should learn, just the genre.  Actually, I just want people to use their brains.

I don’t always write from a Christian viewpoint although I am a Christian.  Specifically, I am an Episcopalian although I think I claim the denomination far more enthusiastically then it claims me.  I have been since birth but I have also attended meetings, services, and events/trainings at other denominations and other religions.  I have read the Koran, albeit in English, and for a couple of years gave my business office willingly to a Muslim Imam to pray two or three times a day.  My friends include Buddhists, Muslims, three types of Jews, Hindus, and even Pagans – yes, witches.  I even have agnostic and atheists as friends.

I mention this, in spite of this blog not being about me personally, because I think we are all connected and all learn from one another.  Alexander Theroux stated:  “Hypocrisy is the essence of snobbery, but all snobbery is about the problem of belonging.”  When we think we know it all, we are really saying we are too scared to learn anything else.

In a recent interview Olympic triathlon gold medalist Bruce Jenner recently stated “My brain is more female than male.”  Is that even possible?  The brain is a complex organ.  It is made up of more than one hundred billion nerves communicating to trillions of connections called synapses.  Dr. Michael Mosely maintains that our brains, like our bodies, are shaped by exposure to hormones in the womb and this may help explain why males tend to do better at some tasks (3D rotation), while women tend to do better at others (empathy skills), although there is, of course, an awful lot of overlap and social pressure involved.  Professor Alice Roberts believes such differences to be “largely spurious” and fears such opinions might very well discourage girls from going into the sciences and/or mathematics.

Recently the British Broadcasting Corporation asked these two experts to discover who was on the right path, which opinion was closer to the truth.  They were also asked to find any common ground between the brains of males and females.  In his report, released in late 2014, Dr. Mosely reported:  “One of the scientists who has most strongly influenced my beliefs is Professor Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University.  He argues that, broadly speaking, there are two different “brain types”. There are empathisers, who are good at identifying how other people are thinking or feeling, and there are systemisers, people who are more interested in trying to take apart and analyse systems i.e. people who are a bit nerdy.  We are all a mix of the two, but most of us are more one than the other. Men tend to sit more along the systemising end of the spectrum, women at the empathising end, though there are plenty of exceptions.  But is this simply the product of social conditioning? Professor Baron-Cohen thinks not.”  Studies done on babies exposed to higher levels of testosterone showed male babies with greater abilities in the commonly-named “male” skills – putting things together, determining how things work, etc.  These same babies, however, also showed delayed verbal skills and had smaller vocabularies.

The BBC report also mentioned a somewhat dubious study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania in which brains of 949 males and females were scanned. Subject participants ranged in age from eight years to twenty-two years.  There were some striking differences.  Researcher Professor Rubin Gurr reported that men showed stronger connections between the front and back of their brains.  “They are better able to connect what they see with what they do, which is what you need to be able to do if you are a hunter. You see something, you need to respond right away.”

The University of PA report indicated that women had “more wiring” between their right and left hemispheres of their brains.  Another researched involved with study, Dr Ragini Verman, explained:  “The fact that you can connect from different regions of the brain means you ought to be good at multi-tasking and you may be better at emotional tasks”.

Every animal you can think, with the exception of sponges, has a brain.  The human brain is not the largest but it is unique.  Whether male or female, it gives us the power to speak, imagine and problem solve.  The brain controls body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, processes all of the information fed to it from our senses, handles all physical movement whether we are sitting, talking, standing, or walking, and even lets us think, dream, reason, and experience emotions.  And all of these things are controlled, coordinated, and regulated by an organ that is about the size of a small head of cauliflower!

I think philosophy is interesting; it is my blog so I get to choose and I chose philosophy.  I have a question for you.  Why ONLY spend fifty days on knowledge?  Recently I delved into two different trains of thought from a friend’s Facebook page.  She always has interesting posts and I confess I envy her ability to be both thought-inspiring and yet relaxingly personal at the same time.

My friend said something about MSG – mono sodium glutamate.  Known as an ingredient in Chinese cooking, MSG has something of a bad reputation and many claim it has detrimental health benefits.  These claims have resulted in many Chinese eateries offering MSG-free foods and those taking advantage walk around something of snobs.  They feel they are a little smarter than the rest of us to avoid this “chemical” in their food.

Another post reposted by my friend concerned the recent launch by a popular retail giant, Target, of a previously exclusive fashion house, Lily Pulitzer.  Fashion mavens on the east coast were downright vilific when they heard the news.  Many claimed the designer had sold out.  They were right, in a manner of speaking, just a few decades late.  Lily Pulitzer, the Florida housewife who sewed her own brightly colored cotton shifts that became resort gold, retired in the 1980’s.  Her company was bought by a larger company and began showing up in retail outlets, not the store fronts Lily had established.

The article my friend reposted was written by someone who thought and did her research.  I will stop for applause here.  The writer also mentioned that Target had partnered with other designers without such an outcry, designers whose clothing lines on the runway sold for three times the highest price ever paid for a Lily Pulitzer.  Apparently, though, those designers were more mainstream and thus did not impact the snobbery of the east coast fashion mavens.

In the interest of honesty I must confess I found the Target ads for Lily Pulitzer disgusting.  The supposed resort party scene had giraffes on the upper patio being used as living lawn ornaments.  Those poolside were served cocktails by monkeys wearing hats that no self-respecting monkey in the wild would ever be seen wearing.  As people dined at the expansive banquet table, flamingos strolled amongst the plates.  I was not made to want to be there; I wanted to cover those plates and rescue those animals.

Lily Pulitzer made a sensible garment for the climate and usage and was widely received.  Kudos to her, in spite of her “female brain”!  Those proudly boasting their MSG-free Chinese cartons need to do some thinking, though.  Their snobbery is based on ignorance.  First of all, MSG is not some laboratory chemical designed to either harm us or make us addicted to food.  It is a natural by-product of the breakdown of certain things.  The name for it was coined by a Japanese chef and scientist who called it “umami”.  First used by a French chef who learned that his dishes had a heightened sense of flavor when he added veal stock,  MSG or umami’s principle is why we add chicken or beef stock to foods when cooking.  MSG is also found in ketchup as well as canned vegetables.  Who goes into a store asking for canned beans without MSG?  Yes, fresh is best, but given the varieties of climates, we need those canned goods.

The fact is that men and women are different.  We do some things differently, like processing pain.  Professor Jeff Mogil of McGill University in Montreal, Canada studies how medications work much better for men than women and notes that most medications are designed for men.  “There’s lots of drug development going on and if any of those drugs ever make it to the market and get approved, my expectation will be that they will work in one sex and simply not work in the other sex”, he says.  Women used far less prescription medication and yet experience more chronic pain, handling that pain much better than men.  Dr. Mogil hopes one day we have medications that work equally for both sexes.

We share so much in common and the ability to think, regardless of how differently we do it, is a necessity for life.  I implore each of you to balance your lives but remember to think and to think thoroughly.  After all, good taste, comfortable and affordable clothing, and good health are not just for the rich.  Whether we have a male or female brain, we can all win the marathon we call life.

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