Learning and the Brain

I went to this three-day conference over the weekend along with about a 1,000 teachers and 50 researchers. We were treated to a most informative set of ideas with Keynote speakers like Sir Ken Robinson, Bob Sternberg, Jerome Kagen, Mariale Hardiman and Ellen Winner. The conference supports cross-over research and senior researchers in the field of neuro-education.

Learning & the Brain® connects educators with the latest research on the brain and learning and its implications for education. Through conferences, one-day seminars and summer institutes, Learning & the Brain® provide professional development to educators including teachers, school administrators, clinicians, counselors and speech-language pathologists. The conference series was created in 1999 by Anne Rosenfeld and Kelly Williams at Public Information Resources, Inc. to serve an unmet need in the educational community. Research centers and labs at Harvard, Yale, MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, UC Berkeley, University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins, and other leading institutes have joined forces with us to provide the latest findings and co-sponsor our efforts. 

Learning and the Brain

Connecting the Brain to Education

In Ransom Stephens’ book, “Your Pursuit of Greatness” 2011, he quotes from, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,”  and supports Joseph Campbell ( who says the Hero demonstrates the universal qualities of human endeavor. He calls it the Hero’s Journey. It boils down to this:


Rule 4: Every challenge we face and every endeavor we attempt has the same essential structure as life itself. My background as a physicist seems to give me a somewhat different take on things. People tend to think my insights are either ridiculous or insightful. I hope to achieve both and by so doing to offer a perspective you might not have otherwise derived.

Learning and the Brain

Pursuing Greatness is like a Fractal

I think that the Pursuit of Greatness is a fractal. A fractal is a thing that looks the same at different scales. Figure 1.1(a) is a photo of a parsley plant, (b) is a branch, (c) a sprig, and (d) a single leaf. At each scale they look quite similar; self-similar. The same can be said for cedar, broccoli, and ferns. Coastlines have the same essential structure whether viewed from a satellite photo, an airplane, a cliff, or when you’re building a sand castle. This is called self-similar behavior and it is a defining property of a fractal.

Learning and the Brain

Repeating the Challenges of Birth

I propose that life itself also demonstrates self-similar behavior. The process birth-child-teen-adult-elder- death is repeated on smaller timescales over and over again. The first challenge was birth. Leaving the womb, though I don’t remember it, was no trivial feat. Delivery has a set of milestones that can’t be demeaned: the first breath, the first vision, the first taste, the first touch – each one of these must be at least as great a shock as a job interview, a breakup, a touchdown, a graduation. Now, as you embark on your Pursuit of Greatness, whether for the first time or the Nth time, is no different.

Learning and the Brain

The brain is also self-similar and the learning process exhibits the same challenges to our brains. Repeated struggle tends to produce results! What would help us in schools would be to provide support for teachers to learn much more about the brain, the challenges of life, and the encouragement of every child in pursuit of greatness.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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