Sunday, October 12, 2014

Right brain and left brain

The assumption that "the science is settled" has often been shown wrong. (e.g. Think of Galileo's experience contra the scientific consensus of his day). Describing current thinking about neuroscience, Andrew Ferguson raises doubt about some of the orthodoxies educators of my generation came to take for granted:
.... “Everybody’s interested in the brain and likes to talk about it, because everybody’s got one” said Duncan Astle, a researcher at Cambridge’s Cognition and Brain Science unit. But the popularity of neuroscience, along with the loose talk of journalists and other popularizers, has led to a large number of what Astle called “neuromyths.” ....

There is no persuasive evidence...for the popular, and allegedly scientific, belief that “right brain learning” is somehow different from “left brain learning.” “We use both sides of our brain for most tasks,” Astle said. Nor has any experimental basis been found for the theory of the three learning styles—auditory, visual, and tactile—that many educators now accept as dogma. “Everybody pretty much learns the same way,” Astle said. The idea of learning styles, pounded into children from an early age, can even impede learning. If you convince a child over years of schooling that he’s an auditory learner, he won’t learn as well if he thinks you’re teaching him visually—even though the teaching style is the same.

MRIs are commonly brought out when fads like this are questioned. But MRIs, as Astle noted, measure only blood flow: Any activity not associated with blood flow won’t be captured by the image of the brain. In “reading” an MRI, we can only infer brain activity, not observe it. .... [more]