The advancement of modern civilization will require a quantum leap in the approach of public education. It's not simply about giving more money to the schools, raising teachers' salaries, or buying textbooks for students; it's about changing our entire approach to teaching our next generation of human beings the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in tomorrow's world.
Superlearning systems offer the ability to rapidly accelerate the learning process for children and adults alike. But what is a superlearning system? Today, it's a largely fictional technology that's perhaps best described in the sci-fi movie Brainstorm, released in 1983 and starring Christopher Walken. In Brainstorm, a brain monitoring device could record the thoughts and sensory experiences of one person, then replay them into the brain of another person. The promise of the device was perhaps best described by one character in the film who said, "How would you like to learn the entire fifth grade in ten minutes?"
It may have been science fiction in 1983, but today the exploration of superlearning is underway. In the last two decades, there has been a tremendous amount of research conducted on multi-sensory learning theory. Researchers have found that the human brain learns best through multi-sensory association, not rote memorization. A child will learn best, for example, when she is engaged in a learning activity that uses sight, sound, emotions, tactile feedback, spatial orientation, and even smell and taste. Learning has also proven to be far more effective when subjects are in a relaxed mental state.
Compare this to modern day schools and universities, where to this day, tenured professors mumble over a collection of notes to an auditorium full of students who learn little more than how to take notes and pass rote memorization tests. Sadly, many of today's institutions of learning aren't very good at their only mission.
Advances in superlearning will require the radical reformation of our learning institutions and yet will simultaneously usher in a new era of prosperity and quality of life. To believe this idea, you have to believe that it is the lack of education that's largely responsible for the problems of society. And that's the point I'll explain next.
Multiply that situation by twenty or thirty years and you get someone who falls between the cracks of modern society: a petty criminal, a homeless person, a drug addict, or, if you're lucky, people working from one minimum wage paycheck to the next, just barely surviving, usually with the help of public assistance.
Simultaneously, lack of education also affects everyone I haven't mentioned yet: the working middle class and wealthy. If they never learned about the real history of the world, they're likely to repeat the same mistakes today. If they never learned about other countries, populations, and cultures, they will undoubtedly emerge from public schools with an ethnocentric viewpoint and demonstrate a disturbing intolerance for people of different ethnic backgrounds. If they didn't study the great authors, the great artists, or the great poets, they will act in soulless ways, or without an open heart and mind. If they didn't learn about the history of the universe, our planet, the evolution of the species, and ancient man, they will never come to appreciate the sanctity of their own lives, nor of others' lives.
See, education does more than just keep people out of the gutter: it transforms an ordinary, closed-minded human being into a world citizen. Studying the great masters -- the philosophers, the healers, the poets, the political figures, the artists, the scientists, the revolutionaries -- is the pathway to being a great citizen of our world.
Education is everything to society. Without it, we are all just berry-hunting primates. Education is what allows us to carry memories, lessons and advances from one generation to the next. And it's a short window: the blink of a human life. In the span of a single lifetime, we as a society must transfer the entirety of our knowledge and wisdom to the next generation. Inevitably, each of us will pass on.
Education is the keystone of civilization. And superlearning brings us the promise of accelerating our education processes so that we can, in a sense, multiply the "bandwidth" of information and wisdom being passed to our children.
The human brain will create these new neural pathways in response to external stimuli -- the more diverse, the better. So a child who is given the definition of the word "weightless" in a verbal format gets that information in one channel: the audio channel. That creates a one-dimensional association in their brain.
But take the same child and show them a movie of a person floating in space while you're saying the word "weightless," and you now have a two-dimensional learning experience: the child both sees and hears the word.
Better yet, take the child to a trampoline and start bouncing up and down. Make it fun, because that invokes the emotional channel. Between bounces, when you're in the air, happily shout, "Weightless!" Now the child gets the word in two more channels, and the understanding of that word is firmly implanted in their brain. They'll probably never forget the word.
That's a simplified example of how learning can be made more effective: use immersion and engage multiple channels of experience to introduce people to new concepts.
So getting back to the superlearning machine, how can we use this process of learning to create a superlearning experience? One answer is something I've already presented in this report: augmented reality!
As one example, consider the walkthrough history lesson presented earlier in this report: with augmented reality systems, students could physically explore historical events, hold conversations with historical figures, and see, hear and feel history with their own senses. This represents a quantum leap over today's public school lessons: "Read chapters two and three for tomorrow, there will be a quiz..."
In my own early drafts of such a system, the teacher is networked into each student's augmented reality feed and can flip from one student's reality to another like clicking on software screens in the Windows operating system. Being fully networked with all the students, the teacher can serve as an active mentor to either observe or assist the student, depending on the lesson context. The teacher need not even be physically present: a virtual representation of the teacher will suffice, as long as both the teacher and the student share the same rendering of the augmented reality.
Also important to superlearning is social collaboration among students. This, in fact, represents the best first step into the world of superlearning until augmented reality technology comes along. By engaging in group problem solving, group tests, and group discussions, students can learn from other students' associations. As learning theory research has shown, individuals in a group tend to automatically integrate ("learn") things originally known by only a few members of that group. Put simply, if one student knows the solution to a problem, and that answer is shared with other students in a team setting, the other students tend to quickly grasp the solution very quickly.
Superlearning, then, has two promising fronts so far: technology (augmented reality) and social learning (group learning environments). Yet there's another important factor to consider when it comes to enhancing our society's ability to do a better job of passing information and knowledge from one generation to the next... and this is something we can tackle right now: nutrition.
The human brain is a delicate organ. It requires a precise mixture of water, blood sugar, temperature, electrolyte minerals, essential fatty acids and a whole host of other nutrients to function correctly. Alter even one of these just slightly, and brain function suffers dramatically. For example, a 30% drop in blood sugar -- the inevitable result of consuming a breakfast of refined white flour and sugar as found in practically every brand-name breakfast cereal -- causes brain "fuzziness", moodiness, a drop in the ability to concentrate and even tendencies towards violent behavior, especially in young men.
The lack of sufficient hydration -- a condition affecting the vast majority of Americans -- also affects the brain. Since electrical impulses are impeded by even a slight dehydration of the brain, not getting enough water literally interferes with proper brain function.
Making matters worse, most Americans simply don't eat enough of the critical nutrients needed to build and maintain the brain from infancy. One of the most common deficiencies is GLA (gamma linolenic acid), an essential fatty acid found in abundance in human breast milk, but entirely missing from cow's milk. Baby cows don't have quite the need for brain matter that human babies have. Fortunately, nature has made sure that human breast milk provides the nutrients needed to build large, healthy brains. Not surprisingly, clinical studies have shown that babies raised on cow's milk score lower on intelligence tests than those raised on human breast milk. (But don't expect the dairy industry to remind you of this little fact...)
Beyond the lack of essential nutrients found in the American diet, the brain function of children is especially susceptible to the influence of destructive dietary ingredients such as refined white flour, white sugar and high-fructose corn syrup (the primary sweetener in soft drinks). The regular consumption of these ingredients, researchers have now demonstrated, leads to alarming changes in the behavior of adolescents. Such behavior is typically described as "hyperactive" or having a "short attention span." These children, as you may have now guessed, are typically diagnosed as having ADHD and are frequently dosed with narcotic drugs such as Ritalin. This treatment protocol is entirely unnecessary, since dietary changes alone bring nearly all children back into the realm of "normal" behavior. Studies in the UK with so-called hyperactive children have demonstrated this quite convincingly: change the child's diet, and their behavior shifts in a matter of days. Read more about this at http://www.SugarFactor.org
So there's more to superlearning than merely inventing some cool new technology: we have to start getting serious about preparing the bodies and brains of our children to be ready for learning in the first place. As a society, we cannot have both a quality education system and an adolescent population that acquires nearly 30% of its dietary calories from junk foods and soft drinks. A child who regularly consumes soft drinks and junk foods is a child who is not biologically prepared to learn.
We can address this problem in several ways, but some of the more obvious starting points are to ban all junk food vending machines in public schools, outlaw all advertising of junk foods to children (including television, magazines, and retail merchandising), and start educating parents on the fundamentals of nutrition so that they can make informed choices about what to feed their children.
Ultimately, in an advanced civilization, the production, distribution and marketing of ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, refined white flour, refined white sugar, hydrogenated oils, aspartame, sodium nitrite and other metabolic disruptors would be outlawed altogether. These substances have no place in a society of intelligent, healthy human beings. (Read more at http://www.DangerousFoods.org)
In conclusion, advances in superlearning hold tremendous promise for uplifting our civilization, but only if we are biologically prepared for learning (good nutrition). Until the technology arrives, group learning, total immersion learning, and fundamental improvements in health education can deliver great improvements over the current system of teaching and learning.
Next: Part 11 - What happened to nanotechnology?
This article has been adapted from, The Ten Most Important Emerging Technologies For Humanity, an ebook by futurist Mike Adams.