Pattern Learning and the Brain

From NY Times:

"For years school curriculums have emphasized top-down instruction, especially for topics like math and science. Learn the rules first — the theorems, the order of operations, Newton’s laws — then make a run at the problem list at the end of the chapter. Yet recent research has found that true experts have something at least as valuable as a mastery of the rules: gut instinct, an instantaneous grasp of the type of problem they’re up against. Like the ballplayer who can “read” pitches early, or the chess master who “sees” the best move, they’ve developed a great eye.

Now, a small group of cognitive scientists is arguing that schools and students could take far more advantage of this same bottom-up ability, called perceptual learning. The brain is a pattern-recognition machine, after all, and when focused properly, it can quickly deepen a person’s grasp of a principle, new studies suggest. Better yet, perceptual knowledge builds automatically."

This is like the Turkey and the Crow.

Expertise at pattern recognition is a very different brain-based process than expertise at rule-based learning or a motor skill. Patterns are more flexible and iterative than conventional rule-based processes, so as a result, it shouldn't be surprising that more and bilateral brain pathways are activated among pattern recognition experts, whereas fewer areas of brain activated in rule-based or motor skill (cognitive efficiency).

For example, fMRI studies of chess grandmasters and chess novices found that chess experts use twice the brain of novices when looking at chess piece positions.

But musicians activated less brain than non-musicians when performing a simple motor task.

For people who are very good at solving problems,  the ideal situation is to be good at both, recognizing what pathways and resources to activated for rote and simple motor tasks in addition to being able to switch gears for bihemispheric brain work that recognized patterns, similarities, and differences.

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