Friday, July 2, 2021

The Learning Brain, by Thad A. Polk (author, narrator)

The Great Courses, May 2018

In this set of 24 half-hour lectures, Thad Polk gives us a fascinating, and often entertaining, rundown on the human brain, memory, and learning. Looking at long-term memory, working memory, and the mutability of memory, we get a good overview of how our brains work in the areas that are most often of everyday interest to us.

Some of the important areas to understand are explicit memory (explicit, declarative knowledge that's easy to talk about), implicit memory (what I've often heard called "muscle memory," though of course it's formed in the brain, not in the muscles, and which you can't really talk about easily), and the mutability of memory. Our memory of events isn't like a video recording, no matter how vivid it seems. We retain some key details, and fill in the rest--meaning that over time, even those "flashbulb memories"  of major, shocking events, such as the Challenger explosion or 9/11, can change substantially.

There's also interesting discussion of why learning a new language is easy when you're very young, and much harder as you get older, as well as amnesia, how to improve and expand your working memory, and some brain treatments gone badly wrong. An example of the last is Henry M, who was having epileptic seizures cripplingly often. The surgical treatment for that, after drugs had failed, did stop the seizures, and also stopped him from forming new long-term memories. At least, new long-term explicit memories. He could still acquire new physical skills, even though he had no memory of the daily practice involved in doing so.

I'd like to say more, but really, you're better off listening to these lectures yourself. Polk is better at talking about this than I am.


I bought this audiobook.

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