Category Archives: philosophy

Learning and Cognition – Increasing your Learning Capacity








Learning and Cognition

Jediah Logiodice

PSYC3500 Learning and Cognition

Dr. Brian Uldall

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Wisdom, as the application of knowledge, must be grown and cultivated in the garden of our lives. Thousands of years of human history recorded for our digestion, for our conservation, lay at our feet. As the famous maxim attributed to George Santayana goes: those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

At a universal level, this thought can be applied to civilizations, to societies, to governments, but even more appropriate to our discussion, this aphorism is succinctly relevant to the challenge of humanity. I charge that nary has an individual who quoted the saying “what you don’t know won’t hurt you” has truly believed this in their heart, except such that it be applied to someone other than themselves.

How many years and decades do we spend, in our lives, trying to obtain knowledge, to transfer it to wisdom, to better our lives and the lives of those around us, only to forget that which we felt so near and dear to us? Yet, memory is not the enemy, time is the enemy. As Gollum, in J.R.R. Tolkien’s book The Hobbit riddles, time is that which “devours [all things]: Birds, beasts, trees, flowers; Gnaws iron, bites steel; Grinds hard stones to meal; Slays king, ruins town, And beats high mountain down (Tolkien, 1995).”

The control of time, as yet, still seems to be beyond our grasp. In fact, it is perhaps even difficult to prove time in existence, as we all sit within its postulated construct, as one staring out of a brightly lit room into a darkly muted sky. The laws of nature govern this relentless drive forward on the continuum of existence; the controlling of our memories, however, is much closer within our grasp.

Unfortunately for those of us who sit here reading this document, the biological or genetic breakthroughs allowing us to retain and more importantly recall an infinite amount of knowledge as individuals, may yet be beyond our reach. How therefore can we use the tools that have been discovered, the strategies science has uncovered to absorb and secrete the knowledge and histories that we, as individuals have been exposed to? How can we, as individuals, use this gift of consciousness to increase our learning and retention capabilities allowing us to enrich our own lives and the lives of those around us?

In this paper, while the transformation of knowledge to wisdom is far out of scope, we will begin by discussing the problems of memory retention and recall, and will examine the ways in which we can personally influence our predisposed capabilities to learn and recall information through the application of strategies from applied Metamemory research.

Problem Statement and Research Questions

Have you ever opened your mouth and began to say something, but completely forgot what you were about to say? In many cases we can laugh at this failing at the expense of our humanity, i.e. “I’m only human”. What, however, happens if the information you were going to unveil was critical to your job, your family, or to your livelihood?

In another scenario, you are late for work and you stand in awe at your inability to recall where you placed your keys, perhaps only to find them in your pocket after overturning couch cushions, recliners and blaming your family members, who stare at you in disbelief.

Further evidence of our memory failings is when we go out of our way to complete a task only to forget what it was we were doing or intending on doing. Take another example: being asked a question, and being absolutely sure you know the answer, but not being able to recall with clarity what the answer is!

To add insult to injury perhaps you have a memory that is so vivid you can only see it in your mind’s eye, taste it and feel it; only to find incontrovertible evidences that the memory itself was an illusion and an internal deception. How about the feeling of Déjà vu: being sure from a consistency within your external and internal senses that you have seen, felt or experienced a particular situation before, but having no solid recollection of the actual time and place of its occurrence.

These human operational failings, such as having an idea on the tip of the tongue (TOT) but out of reach, seem to be so universal that research has identified evidences of over 45 languages that articulate the concept (Terry, 2009). As a result of the commonality of these failings, there is much research dedicated to understanding the source of things such as the feeling of knowing (FOK), the tip of the tongue (TOT) experience, and false memories (Terry, 2009).

The question remains then, how do we increase our abilities as individuals to create, or recall memories. Are there any means by which we can influence our natural genetic and biological capabilities to increase our capacity for learning? What type of strategies can we employ that help us conquer the frustrations of FOK, TOT and false memories?

Significance of Research Questions

Solomon, the King of Israel wrote his book of Wisdom for the purpose of:

“… gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight; for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to those who are simple, knowledge and discretion to the young. Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance, for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise… but fools
despise wisdom and instruction (NIV).”

As Solomon states, so I would espouse that only a fool would despise the acquisition of wisdom and knowledge. However, would we say that it is an attribution of wisdom to persist in a futile pursuit? Why should we spend time in intellectual pursuits that would allow us to better our lives and the lives of those around us, if we are only to forget the majority of what we have learned? As discussed, time is our enemy, and constrained in what we as individuals can pursue in our limited lifetimes, we must be intentional in our consumption of the economies of time.

However, would people strive to better themselves if retention was increased? What if there were biological modifications and strategies which allowed people to rise above the din of normality and perform as polymaths, culminating and integrating a plethora of knowledge into all aspects of life and society?

As knowledge increased, ignorance would decrease, and with it, I believe, the decrement of problems caused by ignorance, problems such as how to integrate peace into homes, families, and our workplaces in ways that are conducive to effective functionalism. Through knowledge we can solve problems such as how to apply theories of conservative economics to increase the health and welfare of our personages, our homes and our economies.

Unlike the decision ultimately made by Yentl, shown in the award winning movie of the same name, the pursuit of knowledge should expand beyond just learning for the sake of learning. It is with knowledge and the application of this knowledge, combined with self-examination that we can truly obtain the good life (Socrates as written by Plato).

It is therefore with expressed interest in understanding how to obtain this good life that we draw the conclusion that the pen-ultimate purpose and meaning of life is learning through the pursuit, acquisition, retention and recollection of knowledge.




Report of Research Findings

With this goal in mind, it is now time to turn to a discussion on the means by which we can increase and enhance our learning capabilities. Within our discussion we shall address two such approaches: behavioral modifications and learning strategies.

Behavioral Modifications

Science, in its current state, does not provide for the possibility of humans modifying their genetic code to increase innate and inborn capabilities, however, there are some behavioral actions we can perform that have been shown to provide positive benefits to our biological predispositions. This first section examines those behaviors by which we can influence our inborn learning and cognitive capabilities through modifications of human behaviors.

Eating habits.

Most, if not all of us have heard that “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”, or “You are what you eat”. It has been understood in various capacities throughout human history that the food we eat has a direct impact on the health and stability of our vitals. When examining food intake, there are studies and anecdotal evidences alike that discuss how certain elements and nutrients like calcium, niacin, vitamins A, D or K are required for healthy growth and function of the human body.

It therefore should come as no surprise that studies such as those outlined by Gómez-Pinilla identify certain foods and ingredients, like Omega-3 that help increase cognitive abilities. Other food products such as Ginkgo Biloba (U. Rigney, 1999) and Green Tea catechin (Unno, et al., 2007) have also been shown to have positive effects on human cognition.

Further references also indicate, perhaps surprisingly, that the act of eating itself induces various hormones and peptides that stimulate portions of the body associated with learning capabilities and cognitive processes (Gómez-Pinilla, 2008), although some food substances like saturated fats and calcium that can reduce cognitive abilities, especially in the elderly (2008). Diet, therefore is an important biological behavior that is part of identifying ways in which we can influence and increase our own learning capabilities.


Apart from a healthy diet, full of brain-enhancing nutrients, another behavior shown to affect cognitive abilities is that of exercise. Walz, et al., examines how Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) and basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) proteins have been found to help increase short and long term memory capabilities in various doses (Walz, et al., 2005). Further studies indicate that brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) are increased through exercise (Neeper, Gómez-Pinilla, Choi, & Cotman, 1996).

Both of the aforementioned studies indicate that the changes in bFGF, NGF and BDNF affect the hippocampus, an area of the brain shown to be associated with human memory (Eichenbaum, 2003). Additional studies by Ahmadiasl, Alaer and Hanninerr, have identified that physical activity has positive affects on the hippocampus and has been shown to increase spatial learning as well (2003). In conjunction with physical exercise, exercising the brain has also been found to stimulate neuropathic growth and increase cognitive capabilities (Gilkey & Kilts, 2007).

As seen above, exercise, both physical and mental, is another important way in which we can influence of cognitive capabilities.


In addition to diet and exercise, sleep is another important behavior that seems to impact our cognitive abilities. The correlation of sleep and memory, according to Blissitt, is very complex (2001). As a result, while sleep and memory is the focus of a significant amount of studies, the results of such studies are often contradictory or inconclusive (Blissitt, 2001). Despite some contradictory findings, certain conclusions seem to be undisputed, such as the finding that sleep after a learning activity seems to increase memory, while learning after sleep seemed to decrease the amount of information retained (Blissitt, 2001).

Other studies have indicated that circadian cycles have a direct effect on the ability for people to learn new information, although the actual cycle seemed to have a variation based on age, preference and even culture (Terry, 2009).

In the case of sleep, while discovered information is still difficult to summarize in a universal pattern, it can be seen that sleep is another human biological behavior that can influence our ability to learn in a very personal way.

Learning Strategies

Up to this point we have discussed ways in which we can impact our biology or neurology to help increase our individual capacity to learn. Apart from the physical strategies discussed above, there are also learning strategies. While the previous biological approach represents mild cognitive enhancement, learning strategies themselves represent a significant weighting in the ability to increase learning capabilities. The following section outlines various learning strategies and techniques that can be applied by individuals to enhance cognitive retention.


Mnemonics may be the most familiar strategy for increasing learning. The term Mnemonics comes from the name of the titaness Mnemosyne, a Greek god who represented memory and mothered the nine Muses. Mnemosyne had a very long memory, and taught her children to use encoding strategies to learn the history of the world, hence the common use of the word Mnemonics.

Mnemonics, according to Terry, are strategies used to aid encoding and retrieval (2009). There are various forms of Mnemonics including first-letter and acronym mnemonics where the first letter is used to create an acronym that triggers the terms that are to be remembered. Examples of first-letter and acronym mnemonics are those such as are used to learn the order of mathematical operations (i.e. PPMDAS). Other types of mnemonics such as keyword, narrative story, method of loci or peg word mnemonics are also commonly used (Terry, 2009).

Keyword mnemonics are used to create a cognitive bridge between two ideas, where one word will remind you of another word that in turn causes you to recall the target word. Take the word panache for example. For me, panache sounds similar to the Haitian Kreyole word for walk (mache), which sounds similar to the word march, and when people march around they often are dressed in very flamboyant costumes. This is the way I have encoded the word panache, which means to be flamboyant and recklessly courageous.

Another type of mnemonic is the narrative story method. In the narrative story method, we use keywords that we need to remember in a certain order and hang a story off of the keywords. For example, if you need to remember the birth order of your friends five children you can make up a story including the names of the five children in the correct order.

Other forms of mnemonics are the method of loci, where you can attach a visual walk through of a well-known location to the words you need to remember, and when recalling those words, you can walk back through those locations in your mind to elicit the terms you are trying to member. Peg word, another form of mnemonics, is commonly used to put terms to a rhyme to help remember. For example the old children’s rhyme to help learn the numbers: “one, two, buckle my shoe, three, four, shut the door, five, six, pickup sticks… etc.”


Perceptual learning

Perceptual learning is a phenomenon that describes prior learning and how prior learning has been shown to increase our ability to learn new information. Perceptual learning authenticates that the statement “the more you know, the more you can know” is indeed a verifiable truism.

There are many different techniques associated with perceptual learning, such as making a conscious effort in associating information you are learning to information you already know, applying personalized meaningfulness to the information you are learning such as how this information could have helped you in past circumstances, or how it can help other people you know. Perceptual learning is also found in using various other techniques such as those discussed by Goldstone called attention-weighting, imprinting, differentiation and unitization (1998)

Attention-weighting is the practice of paying closer attention to ideas that are more important to the topic and filtering out information that is less important. In some ways, we all perform attention-weighting distinctively. Have you ever noticed that once you buy a certain type of car, that car begins to show up everywhere, as if, taking cue from you, the world has realized how exception this particular vehicle is and has thus gone out and purchased one too!

The reality is, more than likely, everyone else already owned this car for a long time, and you are now just noticing it for the first time (unless of course Daemon-Chrysler is giving away cars again!). This concept of selective perception shows that we are often practicing attention-weighting intrinsically in our daily interactions.

The second concept, imprinting, revolves around the idea that studies show that the more you are exposed to a specific stimulus, the more your cognitive thought processes can respond with “speed, accuracy and general fluency” (Goldstone, 1998). This type of learning helps explain how accuracy can increase on an assembly line over time. As these studies show, practice, through continued exposure, can increase performance, so perhaps there is a reason sports coaches make you run plays over and over again during practice!

The other forms of perceptual learning discussed above, differentiation and unitization have to do with the ability to draw distinctions between certain stimuli or create overarching categories that would lump other stimuli together to form memories. For example, when first learning how to crochet, it is important to create a distinctive understanding of the differences between a slip stitch, a single, half-double, double and treble crochet stitch.

From a differentiation perspective, performing exercises against the nuances defined by the differences between these stiches creates a stronger bonding in the memory of how to perform each stitch (spatial learning). However, once the differentiation is learned, unitization is preferable, as rather than remembering that a half double stitch consists of two chain loops on the turn stitch, drawing the yarn over, then inserting back into the third chain from the hook, drawing the yarn over again, pulling through, and drawing the yarn over the hook a third time and pulling through all three loops, an individual can unitize the whole process into a single memory called the half-double crochet stitch.

Elaboration, mental imagery, and imagery rehearsal

Another learning technique focuses on the depth of processing. Elaboration, mental imagery and imagery rehearsal are all techniques used to increase the level of which individuals must think about what they are learning. Often, as an example, individuals might be lead to believe that underling and note taking help with learning and memory, however, studies have shown that this technique often produces no more retention than in its absence (Terry, 2009).

In contrast, elaboration includes techniques that require individuals to think in a more personalized manner which helps contribute to perceptual learning goals such as meaningfulness and association (Terry, 2009). Through elaboration, learners are asked to respond to questions, or to put information in their “own words”. Terry continues to describe how this approach requires learners to associate the new information with existing information, and identifies that studies show this approach increasing long term retention (2009).

Other forms of elaboration referred to as mental imagery have been shown to be very powerful in increasing learning and retention. Studies performed by Sanders, et al, Holmes, and Mackintosh, and Paivio, display that imagining and rehearsing exercises in the mind, are often as efficacious and sometimes more so than the studying of exercises to be performed (Sanders, et al., 2007-2008) and (Holmes & Mackintosh, 2008) and (Paivio, 1969). Rehearsing information by memory elicitation and review has also been shown to strengthen memories and increase retention over time (Terry, 2009).

Learning variables: incentives, interest and arousal.

While it seems obvious in the concepts of learning, studies have also shown that certain forms of incentives, interest and arousal impact the ability for knowledge retention. Individuals that are more interested in a topic, perhaps because of perceptual learning techniques, or elaboration or rehearsal, retain knowledge on a given topic more readily than those who are less interested (Terry, 2009). Additionally, this increase in interest facilitates emotional arousal, which is another factor that has been shown, at least in small doses, to help increase learning and retention (Holmes & Mackintosh, 2008) and (Terry, 2009).




Our final topic around increasing our learning capabilities is the idea of spaced-learning versus exam-cramming. When examining the ability to influence long term retention, studies have shown that while exam-cramming may increase the knowledge of information in the immediate state, this form of learning technique has a higher rate of failure to retrieve over time (Terry, 2009). To help facilitate long term retention, studies have shown that spacing out study sessions or topic exposure has a dramatic effect on the long term retention of knowledge (Terry, 2009). Additionally, perhaps due to concepts discussed in elaboration, studies have also shown that learners are more likely to benefit from a practice test with review than another study session (Terry, 2009).

Retrieval strategies

Before coming to conclusion, our discussion would not be complete without touching on the strategies for knowledge retrieval. As previously discussed, after spending a significant amount of time in the pursuit of knowledge, there is nothing more frustrating than forgetting what you have learned, except for experiencing the feeling of knowing (FOK) and the tip of the tongue (TOT) phenomena. The following section describes a few topics and techniques to bring clarity and present strategies that will help increase our ability to retrieve information that we have learned but are having a hard time recalling.

Associative interference.

The tip of the tongue phenomenon seems to be a universal grievance when discussing memory recall. Have you ever tried to think of something you are sure you know, and it seems like it is right there, just beyond your reach, however, the harder you try and remember this particular piece of knowledge, the further out of reach it seems as other thoughts and pieces of knowledge crowd into your conscious mind.

An interpretation of this problem is related to cue recall, and is described as Terry as a problem related to neuronal pathways in memory storage (2009). As you search, perhaps unconsciously at first, through your memory, to retrieve the sought after information, nerve pathways are accessed and information is brought into working memory. At some point during this process, the brain will settle on the location your desired information is stored, however, the cues that have brought you to this information have a stronger activation in memory than the desired information itself.

The harder you try and think about the desired information, the stronger the activation for the associated cues becomes, until there is a point where you can’t think of anything but the unwanted cues! One suggested approach to overcoming this difficulty is to stop trying to recall the sought after information, but keep the question “in the back of your mind”. Eventually, the activation of the associated cues will return to normal, at which point, the often-experienced “Oh, I remember now” reaction will result in the conscious recall of the sought after information into working memory.

Encoding specificity

Another type of failure to retrieve, similar to the previously mentioned TOT phenomenon is the feeling of knowing (FOK) experience. In this case, you are fairly confident you know the answer to the question, but are unable to retrieve the answer from your memory. While sometimes, the FOK results in the recognition of false memory (i.e. you really didn’t know in the first place), in other instances, there is some mental block at work preventing you from retrieving the desired information.

One such example of the FOK experience is when you have put your keys down, but you can’t remember exactly where you put them. All things being equal (i.e. if you don’t have children or a spouse in your house that is constantly moving your keys), it is likely that you are experiencing a mental block for information you do know, but just cannot recall.

One approach to overcoming this type of failure to retrieve is wrapped up in the idea of encoding specificity. Encoding specificity is a theory in which information can be recalled by mentally placing yourself back into the same situation as when the memory was first encoded into memory (Terry, 2009). For example, if you have lost your keys, replay in your mind driving into the driveway, getting out of the garage and coming into the house. The more information you can reproduce around the experience of encoding, the more likely you are to remember where you left those keys (unless someone else did move them!).

Contextual, state and mood dependent learning.

Similar to the idea of encoding specificity, another concept has an applied impact on capabilities of retrieval. Although providing a weaker influence to retrieval capabilities, studies have shown that replicating the physical context in which learning occurs, the physical and emotional state of the individual during learning, and even the mood of the individual while learning can help aid in retrieval (Terry, 2009).

In summary through the application of these various techniques and strategies of learning and recall, the learner can increase their acquisition and access to knowledge.


Connection to Personal and Professional Goals

For my personhood,
both independent verifications such as the StrengthFinders assessment co-created by Marcus Buckingham and the Gallup Poll organization, as well as my own intrapersonal awareness of myself as a human, proclaims that I am a lifelong leaner. One of my primary drivers in life is to learn as much as I can about as many things as I can, so that I can transition this knowledge into the wisdom necessary to better my life, and the lives of those around me.

As previously discussed, the intellectual battle that each human undertakes is not the inability to remember information that we have learned, nor the inability to learn information in the first place, rather it is our constant struggle against the relentless enemy of time. With infinite time, I believe humans with normal brain function would be able to learn and retain the information that they felt most important to their lives regardless of their own biological capabilities. With infinite time, even information once known but ‘forgotten’ could be relearned in less time than originally required, as continued retrieval and re-encoding strengthens memories creating resiliency to future deterioration (Terry, 2009).

Due to my own personal drive, I spend a significant amount of my life learning eclectic, unrelated information. I desire to be as one perhaps archaically described like an Oracle, like the wise Socrates. I desire to learn obtain the silos of knowledge held in individuals spread across all disciplines, across the world, and through a synthesis of these silos help better myself, help better my friends and family, and perhaps through these efforts, find in my own way, the immortality so sought after by the near and ancients alike.

From a future goal perspective, reaching into the past, I held off obtaining any degrees for almost 15 years after leaving high school, as I understand knowledge and the pursuit of knowledge to be free if one so chooses. However, that chosen path presented only a small audience of influence as many consider the un-papered, unlearned. Therefore, apart from the difficulties of financing an education just for the sake of an education, I believe, should my hardware and software hold out, and the means present themselves, in the years to come I will complete a masters and doctorate, as there will be no cessation for my hungry desire for knowledge. What specialization however, yet I cannot tell, for how can one chose to be an expert in one thing, when they desire the breadth and depth of all.

Discussion, Recommendations, and conclusions

To conclude my didactic overview of human learning and cognition, let me explain, no, rather let me sum up, for those that are intimidated against reading my entire proposition. Here lay before you some of the main proposals and further research topics that will bring forth effective learning and recall of human knowledge, based on our scientific inquiry as it has been so far advanced within this century.

Limited, but effectual biological behaviors are one of the ways in which we can actively influence our learning capabilities. Science suggests that eating healthy foods, such as the food substances including Ginkgo Biloba, Green Tea and Omega-3 fatty acids, and abstaining from certain foods, such as saturated fats, will help provide the most fertile brain for intellectual pursuits.

Exercise is also found to increase the capabilities around both short and long term memory retention, and therefore exercise should be part of your weekly regimen, as well as light routines before undertaking specific learning activities.

While sleep has been shown to contribute a variance among studied participants, it can also influence learning capabilities. Most specifically, it is known that individual circadian rhythms facilitate more appropriate times to learn (e.g. morning, afternoon or evening), as well as solid evidences showing that retention is higher when learning activities are undertaken before sleep rather than after awakening (Terry, 2009).

Furthermore, while some-what limited in our ability to influence biology, learning strategies themselves have been shown to be extremely effective in increasing learning and cognition. Within this paper we have examined many different ways to use effective learning strategies, but of the most importance is our ability to implement perceptual learning techniques, such as attention-weighting, imprinting, differentiation and unitization (Goldstone, 1998). Additional techniques such as mental rehearsal, elaboration, association and appropriate spacing for study will also have a significant impact on our ability to learn and retain information.

After learning is complete, the failure to recall information, while frustrating, can be overcome by implementing certain strategies such as minimizing associative interference, utilizing encoding specificity and reproducing emotional, and contextual states in which the original learning occurred.

Until such medical breakthroughs as those fantasized in movies such as Johnny Mnemonic where humans have their own personalized techno-biologically interfaced digital storage space, the combined techniques described in this paper will give each of us an edge on learning and retaining the world and all the knowledge therein. Go forth, and know yourself and the world around you better!




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Holmes, E., & Mackintosh, B. (2008). The Causal Effect of Mental Imagery on Emotion Assessed Using Picture-Word Cues. Emotion, 395-409.

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If Truth was Stranger than Fiction – Erasing Human Memories

Imagine a world you could take a snapshot of your brain, and then, after completing a task, you can then erase the memories of all the tasks completed. That is the concept behind the movie Paycheck.

With today’s technology and scientific advancements, this capability is not yet a reality; however, continuing advancements in the realm of neuropsychological studies, Ligand-Directed cell targeting, combined with the eccentric theories of a brilliant astrophysicist, that science fiction may someday be a reality.

I thought I would use this week’s University discussion to press our minds into the brink of reality. In doing so, please note, that while I am not claiming that we can erase memories with our current scientific knowledge, I am citing scientific studies and theoretical postulates that accrue support for my views that one day, it may be possible to erase memories.

In 2006, Mueller reviews the advancement of neurological studies for the underlying biology of memory formation, studies such as those being performed by Reissner, Shobe and Carew (Meuller, 2006). Regarding this study, Mueller states that “the demonstrated application of nodal analysis to a well investigated signaling pathway implicated in learning and memory elegantly demonstrates the potential to unravel complex molecular networks and to extract the essentials (Mueller, 2006).” Almost eight years prior, J.D.E. Gabrieli discussed the increasing capabilities of positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to help identify portions of the brain that were active during learning and retrieval of specific types of memory (1998). Additionally, a purview of 40 years of neuroscience will show the significant strides we continue to make in the field of neurological studies (Kandel, 2009).


As scientific knowledge and technology advances, it will only become easier to identify the areas of the brain where memories are created and stored.

Frank Tipler, in his book The Physics of Christianity postulates his theories of the future of humanity. His views, based on theories around the Bekenstein Bound, baryon-annihilation and quantum computing, states that he believes humans will eventually be able to download copies of themselves into Artificial Intelligence constructs (Tipler, 2007).

Papers (which I really don’t claim to understand) around Ligand-Directed gene and cell targeting, outlines our current and growing capabilities around being able to target and address substances that meet certain biological criteria (Hajitou, et al., 2006).

Bringing all these current theories and studies into a synthesis, I propose that someday in the future, we may be able to tag and identify the current state of our memory through neurobiological methods, or make an imprint of what our current brain structure is like, right down to the atoms and molecules (Tipler, 2007). Upon taking a copy, we can then learn new concepts (such as the super-secret patented recipe for Coke or Pepsi). After the completion of our learning, we can either use future Ligand-Directed tagging to identify and target for destruction the changes in our neurology, or we might just prefer to restore ourselves to a previous state.

Sometimes, truth can be stranger than fiction.


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Hajitou, A., Trepel, M., Lilley, C., Soghomonyan, S., Alauddin, M., Marini , F., . . . Arap , W. (2006). A Hybrid vector for ligand-directed tumor targeting and molecular imaging. CELL, 385 – 398.

Kandel, E. (2009). The Biology of Memory: A Forty-Year Perspective. The Journal of Neuroscience, 12748-12756.

Mueller, U. (2006). Memory: Cellular and molecular networks. Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences, 961 – 962.

Tipler, F. (2007). The Physics of Christianity. New York : Doubleday.


Symphony of Human Cognition

Some, like Freud, seem to imply that they adhere to no distinct worldview (Koltko-Rivera, 2004), but in my opinion that is like stating that there is no truth except that there is no truth. The denial of a worldview is the means by which one such as Freud defines his own personal worldview.

While others in attempting to define a worldview might define it in purely academic constructs, I hold with Nancy Pearcey when she states that a “worldview is not an abstract, academic concept… Instead, the term describes our search for answers to those intensely personal questions everyone must wrestle with – the cry of the human heart for purpose, meaning and a truth big enough to live by (Pearcey, 2005)”.

It does indeed seem that our worldviews are colored not only by our histories and by our experiences, but our biology and the methodology in which we examine, as through a lens, the world around us. Indeed my worldview around how individuals learn and think is driven by my own experience and expectations.

As outlined by W. Scott Terry (Terry, 2009), learning theorists often define four different approaches to learning theory: 1) Functional, 2) Behavioral, 3) Cognitive, and 4) Neuroscience. The functional approach examines how learning contributes to the survival of the organism. The behavioral approach outlines a cause-and-effect pattern. The cognitive approach discusses the semantics of how the brain codes and retrieves information, where-as the neuro-scientific approach examines how the physical biology of the brain may affect the patterns of storage and retrieval.

I must admit that my own experiential evidences and even my approach to learning suggest a strong correlation to the cognitive approach. I have strong personal evidences surrounding the capability to store and retrieve information based on external (i.e. environmental awareness) and internal (thoughts, feelings, past knowledge) influences. Couple my personal evidences with (or as a result of) past learning experiences focused on whole-brain learning and Neuro Linguistics espoused by Richard Bandler and John Grinder, and I would say that I have a strong inclination to gravitate towards the idea that there is a methodology in how we code, store and retrieve information.

However, I cannot discount the validity of the other three learning theories. Indeed, functional, behavioral and neuro-scientific theories are all grounded in a posteriori knowledge that can be supported by reproducible evidences.

Thus, I would have to contend that it is incorrect to state that any one form of learning theory can supersede any other, and that with the obvious complexity of the human organism we must synthesize all forms of learning theories to reach the maximum capacity of the human mind.



Koltko-Rivera, M. E. (2004). The Psychology of Worldviews. Review of General Psychology, 3-58.

Pearcey, N. (2005). Total Truth : Liberating Christianity From Its Cultural Captivity. Wheaton: Crossway Books.

Terry, W. S. (2009). Learning & Memory : Basic Principles, Processes, and Procedures. Boston: Pearson Education.




Deleting your Facebook account (again?)


A good friend just posted this as an important reminder to people on their privacy on Facebook; however, I think we must dig further into the problem to understand it.  Point being:  Facebook is not the problem.  Pop over and read this article, then come back and see what I have to say.

I deleted my Facebook account

Postman is still on my to read list along with a is for ox, once I finish the Gutenberg elegies, but I think our culture is far worse off than postman indicates, it is both Orwellian and Huxleyan to the extreme.

What people cannot forget is that it is not FBs fault, they are providing a service that is filling a void in the culture.

Deleting your Facebook account will accomplish nothing. Being conscious of how our consumerism is used against us and acting accordingly is more appropriate.

How many of us tag our restaurants, link the movie we just finished watching, follow our favorite author or sports team all on Facebook?

Now the real question is, how many of you do so remembering that every button you click, link you follow and picture you view is stored and sold to the highest bidder?

Understand that Facebook is facilitating what the mass is asking for, it is not stealing your data, you are willingly providing it because of the benefits you receive.

Boycotting, deleting or complaining is not going to do you a lick of good; being informed however and acting intelligently on that information is where you will find the most value.

In fact, if you do delete it, I’ll give you less than 6 months before you come back, as we are all slaves to our culture in one way or another.

Someone is always watching the watchers

[Short Snippet from this weeks course paper]

With the continued increase of the connectedness of humanity through the internet, coupled with the increase of opportunity to facilitate and hide malicious digital actions, the perpetration of digital crimes is on the rise. However, being that we are in a war against the criminals, and one in which we are rapidly losing ground; it seems all-to-appropriate to relinquish our reticent nature as the good-guys and look to examine ways in which we can fight fire with fire. Online Digital Forensic capabilities provides one of the means to increase our effectiveness through extending the reach of individuals with specialized skills, providing technological capabilities to analyze data in real time, and increasing the speed of data acquisition.

[However, this weeks course work reminded me eerily of] some of the central themes espoused by George Orwell in 1948 when he wrote his exceptional work titled 1984. Through this monumental work, Orwell describes a dystopian type world where there is physiological, psychological, and sociological paralysis brought on by the persistent concern that Big Brother is watching. I could not help but reminisce over the fears held by protagonist Winston that the Party would discover his thought crimes.

On-the-other-hand, as an individual who has been involved in some fashion or another, for over 15 years in the field of information security, I understand, full well, the importance of investigatory needs to protect the innocent from the guilty. These needs often require searching and viewing personal information that suspects believe to be private.

Yet, those of us involved in the societal war surrounding information security, those in a position of authority, and those whose responsibilities involve writing the laws that protect and serve, must not forget the adage attributed to Benjamin Franklin stating that those who give up their fundamental freedoms to obtain temporal safety deserve neither freedom, nor safety (Franklin & Franklin, 1818). And so we must remember that we are also consumers, and reside within the same economy of human existence as our suspects, and therefore, it is prudent to remember that someone is always watching the watchers.


Franklin, B., & Franklin, W. (1818). Memoirs of the life and writings of Benjamin Franklin. London: Henry Coulburn.

doubleplus doublethink from minitrue!

An interesting exercise in doublethink.


Nothing is true. Because we know that nothing is true cannot be true unless it is false, we can state that nothing is true is false. The opposite of untruth is truth; therefore to find the truth, we must find the opposite of the untruth. Because pure and base untruth cannot contain any truth, and because there is nothing more devoid of everything than nothing, in order to find the most pregnant opposite of nothing, we must find a word that incorporates nothing less than the total opposite of nothing, which is everything. Therefore because everything is the completed opposite of nothing, and because the most truth must be a complete opposite of the most untruth – then the truth to counteract the untruth that nothing is true is to argue that everything is true. Therefore, because we know that nothing is true is false, then everything is true is true.

What does a Code of Ethics Assume?

One primary assumption that needs to be made when defining a Code of Ethics is an assumption that people strive to find ways to agree about what is right or wrong, thus by implication, an assumption that there is a universal morality (either broadly or narrowly defined). This week, we can bring our course discussions full circle to where we started almost 8 weeks ago – that is, the idea behind a universal or moral framework.


A Code of Ethics is a set of core values set forth describing a series of appropriate or inappropriate actions one should or should not take towards another human being. As I discussed in an earlier post in this course, like the ideas put forth by C.S. Lewis in his books Mere Christianity and the Abolition of Man, appealing to someone’s sense of right or wrong in a code of ethics assumes that there is a standard in which people can agree upon what is indeed right and wrong, disagreeing on what is right or wrong shows with even stronger veracity an external standard being appealed to.


When I write a Code of Ethics that states “It is wrong to steal”, I am asserting, not only that I think that it is wrong to steal something that doesn’t belong to me, but I am asserting it is wrong for anyone to steal something that doesn’t belong to them, and I am appealing (if not just recommending) that the world would be a better place if everyone agreed.


Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is going to agree that “it is wrong to steal”, some might feel that it is right to steal only in certain situations, or right to steal all the time, however, once again, to take a position of opposition, is ipso facto to assume that there is a universal moral framework that can be appealed to.


Whether formalized or not, all human beings have a Code of Ethics – How they believe they should treat people, and how they believe people should treat them. Thus, I posit this provides a safe assumption that deep down inside, all human beings understand there to be a true sense of right and wrong; otherwise to write a Code of Ethics is like a breath taken outside on a cold winter day: it may be there for everyone to see, but it’ll last but a second, and have no impact on affecting the surrounding world.



Information isn’t power… knowledge is power…

While some might say that “information is power”, I think it’s important to make a distinction between “information” and “knowledge”. While the dictionary defines Information as knowledge, I take exception to this definition.

Information is a term that is used to describe a piece of data or fact that hasn’t been applied or used; knowledge on the other hand is applied information. I make this distinction because I believe it is important to the conversation.

Information is potential power; knowledge is power. Information must be internalized, consumed and utilized for it to become truly powerful. This internalization, consumption and utilization this is the key to knowledge.

When a computer stores a piece of information inside of itself, it is just that: information; it is not appropriate to call the data stored inside a computer, knowledge; however, when I have stored a piece of information inside me, it is no longer just information, it is called knowledge.

I can pass this knowledge onto someone else; and in transit, I would refer to it as information; for example, I would say “Hey, I have some information for you!”, but once I have passed that information along, you now have internalized it and this information has become knowledge.

Information is agnostic to ownership; knowledge is fundamentally positioned as requiring ownership.

Therefore; in the context of power, I will state that information is only the potential power; knowledge is the true power.

Is bribery unethical? Well that Depends…

We were presented with the following circumstances in our Ethics & IT Course this week; strangely, so far, I am on the only one who felt that the company would not be wrong to offer this ‘bribe’.  Does this mean that my moral compass has been destroyed by years of working in the dark-side of information security; or does it mean that I have a more critical higher level of thinking than all my other classmates.

Here is the situation:

Company wants to expand into China; The area the company is moving into is controlled by local officials.  Research suggests that providing a ‘payoff’ to the official will all but guarantee the approval for permits, the lack of a ‘payoff’ all but guarantees that the company will be denied necessary permits.  Research shows that all other companies are proceeding by hiring a consultant to “get the job done in anyway possible”; so as to be able to sign disclosure stating they didn’t provide any ‘bribes’; the CEO of the company is concerned that this is unethical, and is concerned they will violate their company principle of integrity and honesty.


Here are my thoughts:


According to WikiPedia, Bribery, is an act implying money or gift given that alters the behavior of the recipient (WikiPedia, 2009). And while I am sure that much greater minds have wrestled with this thought; and an answer much more deserving of applaud has been provided; I will take a humble approach at explaining my views on this question of the morality of bribery.

This evening, I took my wife out to a restaurant we frequent a lot; I tipped the waitress well; as I know tipping well and being friendly affords some future luxury when it comes to making reservations and getting seats that we like. I do the same thing when I get a haircut; I give out Christmas bonuses to my Mail-person and to the sanitary workers that collect my trash. All because I know it’s a good feeling to be appreciated, and this small act of kindness will go a long way. In fact, my company does the same thing for me; they give me bonuses when I do good, and they shower benefits (like paid vacation, time off, retirement plans, 401k matches, etc) to encourage me to stay at the company and to work harder.

After a second trip to a third world country, I learned that the customs officers know and trust certain people that work in the airport; I’ve made friends with one of the guys and I tip him well; as a result; he helps move me right through customs without having to wait in a long line or have my stuff dug through. I have also had a friend who once experienced sitting in an Ethiopian airport for almost a week waiting to be released; because she was with a group of people whose leader refused to pay the official to let them go (apparently this unofficial payment was an expectation).

I know in some countries where I have done business it is standard procedures for officials to take payments for their services, above and beyond what the official payments are to the governmental office in which they work.

Apart from all of these anecdotal views of the question of bribery; we were also asked to comment on another organizations way of dealing with this same type of situation. Whenever the idea of bribery comes up, the first organization I think of is the United States Government. I always find it a bit ironic that while our country of the United States makes bribery illegal, our entire governmental legal process is built on bribery – except; it is given a more politically correct name: lobbying. And by changing the name, we can continue to condemn the act in other governments and other parts of the world that we so readily take part in ourselves. Strange, isn’t it?

So what really is a bribe? What are the moral restraints of bribery? When is bribery acceptable and when is it not. What makes a ‘bribe’ immoral or unethical?
I would offer the following simple guideline to determine when bribes (payments) are immoral or unethical:

  • Are the bribes being used to facilitate an action that is itself morally questionable or illegal
    • For example; bribing someone to look the other way while a law is broken

In the case presented in our course room for discussion; given the little bit of information provided; that is, this organization will be approved for their expansion if they lobby the zoning official, and they will likely be denied if they do not; the question of morality comes from, not the act of lobbying itself; but what is the purpose and reason for lobbying (I guess you could say it’s a teleological argument).

Does the organization have to lobby because the law states that they can’t expand for the protection of the people (pollution, environmental, etc), or is the lobbying merely an expedient way to get someone who is on good terms with the government to put in a good word for them to all but guarantee their approval.
From what I have read about this situation, this “payoff” as described sounds nothing more than a zoning fee exacted by local officials on top of any government fees already being subscribed to. There is nothing in the reading that provides a reasonable belief that the act of this “payoff” will lead to a violation of a moral or ethical principle; additionally, there is nothing in the values of the organization that stands against the question of paying fees to government officials to get work done in a fast and efficient manner.

<Some part of conversation omitted>

WikiPedia. (2009, August 06). Bribery. Retrieved August 13, 2009, from WikiPedia, the free Encyclopedia:

Plagiarize this!

Plagiarism is bad.

Do you know how many people I just plagiarized, by writing “Plagiarism is bad”?

I understand the idea behind plagiarism, and I agree that the intentional misrepresentation of the authorship of work is disreputable; however, I have to ask, in a day and age of digital communications, when has my exact thoughts not been thought of before, when have my exact words not been used?

As a poet, I think it may be easier (perhaps?) to pen a unique vision of the sublimity for any particular subject given the flourishing ability within language to use it in new and unique ways; however, when discussing in academia a common subject from a pragmatic perspective such as “breathing”, or “sailing”, or “bicycles”; it is hard to envision that after almost 6,000 years of spoken and written language, someone, somewhere hasn’t thought the same thing in the same way. So where do we stop?

In saying this, I can’t help but think that the increased use of tools such as online plagiarism scanners will cower creativity creating individuals scared to say single lines of prose without cross-referencing, annotating and indexing every single word.

Could you imagine the illegibility and annoyance of reading a paragraph such as this:

Stones are round (author, 1756). Stones can be used for shaping tools (another author, 1845). Stones can come in many different colors (third_author, 1935). Purple stones are often a type of stone called amethyst (scientist, 1878). Some stones are made up of compressed earth (again_another_author, 1967).

And yet, universities and academia have spread so much fear of reprisals around charges of plagiarism, that we, as students are almost afraid to open our mouths and speak, knowing that the very breath we expulse will exude, even unwittingly, plagiaristic tendencies.

Apart from all these concerns around the stifling of creativity and the fear of unknown and unexpected plagiarism accusations when the entirety of the world-wide-web becomes the standard in which plagiarism is judged; there is also the concern of privacy. Id Est: just what are these sites doing with my papers that I’m submitting? Are they keeping them, are they indexing them, are they annotating them, giving me credit for my combination of sentences that have never yet been seen? And if not, who is protecting my original cerebral outpouring from being plagiarized?

It was once said that “great minds assimilate” (and no, I couldn’t find any Google references to someone actually saying this, so please note, that this idea is mine now, make sure you reference me when using it in the future!). So in this future of watchers, great minds – I urge you to keep a notepad and pen handy and anytime and anywhere you hear an idea that sounds striking to you, do not hastily absorb it into your own thinking, for in fact, if at some point in the future, you find that you cannot remember where this novel idea came from in your own mind, to present it to anyone as an idea of your own will damn you to the hells of literary purgatory.

As for the idea of bettering the approach of checking all written documents against all world-wide-digital-media for any iota of a hint of possible plagiarism; my response is: “All hope abandon, ye who enter here (Alighieri, 1892).”


Alighieri, D. (1892). The Vision of Hell. London: Cassell & Company.