Benjamin Franklin: An American Life



Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

Sometimes we enjoy stepping back into the past, (it can be surprising how many of today’s challenges are just repeats from the past!) This week, we dove into biographer extraordinaire Walter Isaacson’s first historical biography: Benjamin Franklin: An American Life.  What’s not to like about a prototypical science nerd who had a smooth way about his life and (often lusty) loves?  Franklin was something of a North American Leonardo da Vinci (another of Isaacson’s great biographies).  If your background about US history is a little sketchy, Franklin’s life will also catch you up on all the major events that swirled around the country’s founding. Fantastic book!

The Scientific Importance of Free Speech

If you believe science is a foundation for modern society, you’ll be attuned to this important article, written by neurobiologist Adam Perkinson, on the vital importance of free speech in making advances in science. A perfect example of how seemingly “rational” scientists can attempt to crush dissenting perspectives in science can be found in Nobel Prize winner Stanley Prusiner’s Madness and Memory: The Discovery of Prions—A New Biological Principle of Disease. (Prusiner deserves the Nobel as much for his ability to overcome those who would halt his research as for his scientific breakthroughs.) Perkinson himself is the author of the interesting-looking The Welfare Trait: How State Benefits Affect Personality.  Environment and culture matters a great deal, as we discovered in our own explorations of pathologies of altruism. Truly helping others is often not as easy as it seems, and we must be careful to avoid doing more harm than good through seemingly obvious “beneficial” actions.

Fortunately, we feel there is a genuinely beneficial way to others—by teaching younger people to be more independent and effective learners and critical thinkers. That’s the project we’re working on now!

Learning How to Learn: 70 Books Guaranteed To Accelerate Your Learning And Unlock Your Potential

And speaking of learning, our friend Arthur Worsley has created a great reading list of 70 top books on learning. (Our A Mind for Numbers is #13!)

Jazz improv and your brain: The key to creativity?

This article by Sandee LaMotte at CNN describes how inhibiting the part of the brain that allows self-criticism, (that pesky dorsolateral prefrontal cortex), can allow the default network (the “diffuse mode”) to become more active. Neuroscientist Dr. Charles Limb, himself an accomplished jazz musician, notes: “I view this as a neurological description of letting go… If you’re too self-conscious, it’s very hard to be free creatively.” Interestingly, Lamb also notes: “What the trained experts who are so creative are always revealing is that it was practice—a lot of effort and practice—that gave them the creative edge, rather than the genius, talent or aptitude they were born with.”

MOOC of the Week

Coursera’s brand new Career Decisions: From Insight to Impact is taught by Sharon Castonguay, Director of the Gordon Career Center at Wesleyan University. As Sharon notes: “If you are interested in this course, chances are you are facing some sort of transition in your life. Perhaps you are thinking about switching jobs, or changing careers. Maybe you’re starting college, and are trying to get a handle on what you want to study. Or you just graduated, and are trying to figure out what to do next. If you’re interested in making good career decisions, this course is for you!”

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

Get the course recommended text, A Mind for Numbers!

NEW! Learning How to Learn: How to Succeed in School Without Spending All Your Time Studying; A Guide for Kids and Teens. Great ideas for parents, too!

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