Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art

29th October 2020

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Year!

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, by James Nestor. We’ve long had the feeling that breathing and breathing techniques are supremely important. Yet it’s been tough to find a solid scientifically-based book that gives a trustworthy overview of the subject—until James Nestor came along.  Nestor’s extraordinary willingness to not only make himself try out the various techniques and therapies he’s describing, but also to do in-depth scientific and historical research, and on top of that, to write with the grace and beauty of a Pulitzer Prize winner, are virtually unparalleled in popular literature. Who knew that a book on breath could be hard to put down—and so important?

You’ll learn why it’s important to keep your mouth closed whenever possible (it turns out you must use—or you’ll lose—the ability to breath through your nose). You’ll also discover why the human face has, in recent centuries, created breeding grounds for the sinus infections that frequently plague us—and how it is possible to widen our mouths and fix the crooked teeth and sinus problems caused by soft foods and well-meaning orthodontists. (Nestor makes the prescient point that old skulls meant to display the inadequacy of “non-civilized” peoples instead illustrate that civilization wreaks havoc on sinuses and teeth.) 

Discussions of the history of a subject are often disconnected from modern day findings, and thus more than a little boring. But in Nestor’s able hands, we’re able to see how the ancients’ abilities to, for example, stay warm even during the iciest of conditions informs our modern understanding of the impact of breath on the autonomic nervous system; and how, in the 1830s, artist George Catlin gained an uncanny understanding of Native American breathing techniques—knowledge that was sadly lost save for Catlin’s efforts to document it. We even get a surprisingly relevant visit to the catacombs of Paris.

The end of the book contains a helpful recapitulation of the most important techniques in the book (and more), along with links to relevant websites. This is the best book we’ve read all year—and one of our top ten ever.  Don’t miss it. (Also, this book is perfect for listening on Audible).

Barb Keynoting for the World Engineering Education Forum and the Global Engineering Deans Council (WEEF/GEDC) Virtual Conference

WEEF/GEDC, a conference for professors, academics, engineering educators, industry leaders, researchers, students and governmental organizations, is a uniquely designed virtual conference to be held from 16 – 19 November 2020. Barb’s keynote is titled “Active Learning: Those Words Do Not Mean What You Think They Mean.” She’ll be appearing at 9:30 AM Eastern time November 16. Conference registration is here.

Non-invasive Stimulation of the Vagus Nerve in Adults Enhances Language Learning

This fascinating article describes research involving stimulation of the vagus nerve to enhance some types of learning. Could it be that breathing techniques, which can stimulate or depress certain nervous systems, might someday be used to enhance learning or detect engagement?

Our Mind-Boggling Sense of Smell

Nautilus—one of our favorite science magazines that somehow keeps resurrecting from the dead—has published a wonderful article by Ann-Sophie Barwich that describes how research has inadvertently neglected the olfactory sense. This is especially un-good because the sense of smell is perhaps the one external sense most closely connected to the internal workings of the brain. [Hat tip: LHTL Lead Mentor Steven Cooke.]

Deep Neural Networks Help to Explain Living Brains

This explanatory article by Anil Ananthaswamy in Quanta Magazine provides the most elegant, readable description we’ve ever read about deep neural networks. This one is well worth your time, and also describes some of the deep neural network work on olfaction, which, as noted above, is still in its rudimentary stages.  

Olive Oil Tasting

Long time LHTLers know that we’re keen fans of well-made extra-virgin olive oil. (Our favorite book on olive oil, which we can’t help but mention again, is Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil.)  We recently took  an online class-tasting on olive oil from our favorite olive oil company, and enjoyed the heck out of it.  If you’d like to try a new learning experience involving both smell and taste, we highly recommend expert taster Alexis Kerner’s Olive Oil Lovers tasting classes.

Launch of the World Wide Theoretical Neuroscience Seminar (WWTNS). 

WWTNS is a weekly digital seminar on Zoom targeting the theoretical neuroscience community. Speakers have the occasion to talk about theoretical aspects of their work which cannot be discussed in a setting where the majority of the audience consists of experimentalists. The seminars are 45 min long followed by a discussion and are held on Wednesdays at 5 pm in Western Europe, i.e., 11 am EST and 8 am PST.  The talks are recorded with authorization of the speaker and will be available to everybody on our YouTube channel. 

The first seminar will be on November, 4, 2020 at 8 am PST. The speaker will be Larry Abbott (Columbia University).  The title of his talk is:  Vector Addition in the Navigational Circuits of the Fly.

The abstract of the talk is available on the WWTNS website. To participate in the seminar you need to fill out a registration form, after which you will receive an email telling you how to connect.

Dutch Translation of Learning How to Learn

Many translators have helped with the Dutch and other language caption translations of Learning How to Learn. But Christiane Andries has taken on the task of finishing and finalizing a comprehensive set of translations for LHLT, which are now complete. As she notes: “I  hope it will help a number of students from the Dutch language community to take the course with success. From my experience in teaching information technology, I know that although most students have a basic knowledge of English, it is often not sufficient to study more complex subjects.” With Christiane’s help atop scores of other translators, Learning How to Learn is now even more accessible! 

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

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