Signature Forums: Dr. Ben Carson

Signature Forums: Dr. Ben Carson


>>: MUSIC>>Dr Nancy Grasmick: He is
certainly identified by every president, members of Congress,
leaders around this world and so I feel a sense of humility
in introducing Dr Ben Carson.>>: APPLAUSE.>>Dr Ben Carson:
Thank you very much. I am delighted to be here. And, you know, to talk about
something that I really enjoy, the brain. And I’m so happy to see so
many people here who are also interested in the brain. And you all are indeed at
Towson, extremely lucky to have Dr Grasmick here, who I have
always said was the best school superintendent in the United
States by a long shot and that is how we got where we were in
the state of Maryland education.>>: APPLAUSE.>>Dr Ben Carson: But I thought
I’d talk a little bit today about the neuroscience
of the learner. You know, the human brain is the
most fabulous organ system in the universe. There is nothing that compares to it in terms of its complexity. And really, when you understand
the way that it works together, it’s beauty. You know, I’ve always been
interested in the human body. As the youngster, the only thing
I ever wanted to do was be a doctor. There’s no other occupation
that even entered my mind. And I used to listen to the
mission stories in church, Sabbath school they frequently
featured missionary doctors who traveled all over the world at
great personal expense to bring, not only physical, but mental
and spiritual healing to people, and to me they seem like the
most noble people on the face of the earth. And I made a determination when
I was eight-years-old that I was going to be a missionary doctor. And that was my
dream until I was 13.>>:LAUGHTER.>>Dr Ben Carson: At which time,
having grown up in dire poverty, I decided I’d rather be rich. So, at that point missionary
doctor was out and psychiatrist was in. Now, I didn’t know any
psychiatrists, but on TV they seemed like rich people.>>: LAUGHTER.>>Dr Ben Carson: You know, they
drove Jaguars, they live in the big fancy mansions, had these
big plush offices and all they did had to do was talk
to crazy people all day.>>: LAUGHTER.>>Dr Ben Carson: It seemed like
I was doing that anyway so, I said this is going to
work out extremely well. And, you know, I started
reading Psychology Today. I was the local shrink in high
school and everybody brought me their problems. I would sit them down and stroke
my chin, say tell me about your mama. And then I majored in psychology
in college and I was gung ho. You know, we had great
lecturers at Yale. Anna Freud, Sigmond Freud’s
daughter was one of my lecturers, Erik Erikson, all
of these incredible people. And I was going to be a
psychotherapist, and I was gung ho when I entered
medical school. You could not have convinced
me that I wasn’t going to be a psychiatrist. And then I started meeting
a bunch of psychiatrists.>>:LAUGHTER.>>Dr Ben Carson:
Need I say more.>>:LAUGHTER.>>Dr Ben Carson: But, no I’m
just kidding, some of my best friends are psychiatrists. But, you know, what I discovered
pretty quickly is what psychiatrists do on television
and what they do in real life are two completely
different things. And they’re really some of
the more important members of medical profession. But it really wasn’t
what I wanted to do. And I had to ask myself, “What
are you really, really good at?” And, you know, I think everybody’s really good at something. I think God gave everybody
special gifts and talents. And I started analyzing my life
and I realized that I had a lot of eye hand coordination. Now, not everybody has a lot
of eye-hand coordination as you know, some people
are just klutzes. And I also had the ability
to think in three dimensions. I never knocked things
over and said oops. My wife says I just
don’t say oops.>>:LAUGHTER.>>Dr Ben Carson: And I love to
dissect things, and I was just, I think, the kinds of things
that really worked extremely well for a neurosurgeon. And that’s actually how
I made that decision. But before that I was going to
be a cardiothoracic surgeon. I had moved off the psychiatry
and I was going to go into cardiothoracic surgery because
it seemed kind of exciting. But the thing is, we already
knew everything about the heart, about the cardiovascular system. And that just was not
working out for me at all. So then I started thinking, if
you go into the neurosciences nobody knows anything,
about anything. And you can very rapidly
become an expert.>>:LAUGHTER.>>Dr Ben Carson: And that
kind of appealed to me. In fact, let me read you a
statement, it says, “In all the fields, of all the sciences,
the problems of cognitive neuroscience, the problems of
perception, action, memory, attention, and consciousness
on an intellectually satisfying biological level offer the most
difficult and greatest challenge for the next millennium. That’s a quote from Eric Kandel,
one of the most noted and prolific neuroscientists
of the day. Now, before we go on let
me introduce you to Ken. Ken is my friend. He’s been on lots of TV shows,
lots of national programs. He’s been on Phil Donahue, he’s
been on all kind of things.>>:LAUGHTER.>>Dr Ben Carson: And so he has
a very familiar brain, but, you know, I want you to just look
at this 3lbs of gray matter and white matter, and think
about what it’s capable of. You have your frontal lobes up
here, this frontal cortex and the prefrontal cortex where all
your executive actions are done. And people have
gigantic frontal lobes. Now, you look at all other
mammals and their frontal lobe size pales in comparison. So why is that? Because the frontal lobes is
where your executive functions take place. And where we have the ability
to extract information from the past and the present, process
it in those frontal lobes and project it into the future. What that means is that we
don’t have to be victims. We can actually change
our environment. We can actually change
our circumstances. We don’t simply have to react
in the way that animals do. And that’s why those
lobes are so big. The reactionary parts of the
brain tend to be much bigger than other animals, although,
some of us act like animals, and tend to be very reactionary and
don’t tend to think and plan, but we do have the
ability to do it. And then you move back to the
parietal cortex back here and this is more of the
sensory processing areas. And then if you actually take
this part off, I wish it were that easy.>>:LAUGHTER.>>Dr Ben Carson: And then you
get down here to the temporal lobes. And temporal lobes are very,
very important when it comes to learning. And we’ll be talking about
several portions of it like the amygdala that sits here quite
medially, and the hippocampus and some of those regions, which
really allow us the ability to learn and to actually
acquire knowledge. Now, we are endowed with billions and billions of neurons. We’ll talk a little bit more
about neurons in a minute. Hundreds of billions, if not
trillions of interconnections and supporting cells
for the neurons. In fact, you have so many
neurons and supporting cells that if you were to start
counting them one by one the second you’re born, one cell per
second, you would die of old age long before you even came
close to counting them all. It’s sort of like, you
know, the national debt.>>: LAUGHTER.>>Dr Ben Carson: It’s just an
incredible, incredible number. Almost too much to
even comprehend. And yet, you know, this is
what we are made out of. The fibers that connect
all of those neurons. If you were to lay them end to
end it would be more than 90,000 miles. You could circle the globe
more than three times with one brain’s neural network. That gives you some idea of the
complexity of what we’re dealing with. And it’s something that I
personally never quite get over no matter how many
times I look at it. Now, you know, when you take
this temporal lobe here it actually has specialized cells
that are face recognition cells. Neurons that specifically
designed to recognize faces, voices also can be recognized
and when you take the prefrontal cortex, you know, they’re –
in this area, are something we called mirror neurons. And they actually have the
ability to copy what they see someone else doing. So that’s why, you know, little
children, you see them intently looking at you and then
they’re doing the next thing. Those mirror neurons are working
extremely well, are making all kinds of connections. You know, while they’re watching
you, with some of the motor aspects of your brain, and some
of the coordinating aspects of your brain, in order to be
able to copy that action. Some people are particularly
well-versed at doing that, more so than others. Now, now, the other thing to
think about is how the brain all works together, all the
different aspects of it. We could talk about any portion
of this for several hours, but we’re not going to
do that, obviously. But, the way your
brain works together. How many of you remember what
you had for breakfast today? Let me just see your hand. Okay, I’m glad to see so many
hands, because I’m glad you ate breakfast this morning.>>: LAUGHTER.>>Dr Ben Carson: Because we’ll
have something to say about that a little bit later on. But, how quickly you were able
to recall what you ate for breakfast and to respond
to that question. But so many portions of your
brain were involved in you doing that. First of all, the sound waves
had to leave my lips, travel through the air, into your
external auditory meatus, travel down to your tympanic membrane,
set up a vibratory force, travel across the ossicles of the
middle ear, to the round window, set up a vibratory force in the
endolymph, which mechanically distorted the micro-cilia,
converting mechanical energy to electrical energy, which travels
across the cochlea nerve to the cochlea nucleus, at the
ponto-medullary junction, from there to the superior olivary,
the synig, bilaterally up the brain stem to the lateral
miniscus to the inferior colliculus and immediate
geniculate nuclei, across the thalamic radiations to the
posterior temporal lobes, to begin the auditory processing,
from there to the frontal lobes, carrying down the tract of
Vicq-d’Azyr, retrieving the memory from the medial
hippocampus structure in the mammory bodies, back to the
frontal lobes to start the motor response, at the BET cell level,
coming down the cortical spinal tract, across the internal
capsule into the cerebral binoch, sending down to the
cervical megedary desiccation, into the spinal cord gray areas,
synapsing there, going out to the neuro-muscular junction,
stimulating the nerve of the muscle, so you can
raise your hand. And all of that–>>LAUGHTER and APPLAUSE>>Dr Ben Carson: And of course
that’s a simplified version of what your brain had to do. I didn’t want to get into all of
the inhibitory and coordinating influences because we’d been
here all day talking about what you did to remember what
you ate for breakfast. But think about if your brain
can do all that, and you barely have to think about it, what is
the human brain capable of if you actually have
to do something? And, you know, I always find it
a little humorous when people say, oh don’t learn this,
don’t learn this because you’ll overload your brain.>>LAUGHTER>>Dr Ben Carson: That is funny.>>LAUGHTER>>Dr Ben Carson: You
can’t overload your brain. You know, if you were to learn
one fact per second, one per second, before you begin to
challenge the capacity of your brain, it would take
you 3 million years. And you can’t even learn
one fact per second. So forget about it. You’re not going to
overload your brain. Don’t have to do it. But how does the
brain actually learn? How is this sort of almost
amorphous mass of stuff learn? Well, you take those neurons
each one of them is sort of like a star, a multipoint star and
that’s the soma, the body of the neuron. And it has on the end of all
those stars little branches, which are called the dendrites. And that’s how it is able to
communicate with the other neurons around. And it has a tail like a
shooting star and that’s the axon. And that’s how it sends
communications to other cells. Now, inside of those axons
are little vesicles and little packages of chemicals, different
types of chemicals can come out of those, which then go on to
the dendritic receptor sites, and that’s how the connection
is made in something we call a synapse. And there are a lot of synapses
when a baby is born but only a relatively small number compared
to what they’re going to have when they are fully developed,
because synapses are constantly developing based on the
communication between cells. Sort of like, you think of
baseball game and you have a pitcher standing on the mound
and he’s got some apples, he’s got some oranges, and
he’s got some baseballs. He throws one to this — the
first basemen, one to the second baseman, one to the shortstop,
one to the outfielder. And when they catch it
there’s a connection there. And that’s exactly what
happens in the synaptic gap. Is that vesicle opens and some
of that biochemical goes out there and it gets caught, and
that creates a connection. And the more times that happens,
the stronger that connection becomes. Just like when you start playing
catch with a three-year-old. They’re not very good at it at
first, after a while and after you’ve been playing catch with
him for a long time you know they’re like Cal Ripken. You know, they’re scooping
that ball, you know. And that’s exactly the way the
brain works, exactly the way learning happens. And that’s why, you know, when
a violinist first starts out it sounds pretty horrible, but
after several years it sounds extremely good. Because those synapses and those
pathways have been formed very well. Now, there are a lot of things
that can make those synapses form better and we’re going to
talk about some of those things, and I better speed it up or I’m
not going to get through all of them. But, you know, repeating
anything, doing it time and time again, it changes the action and
the structure of the neuron, and that’s what we call learning. Interestingly enough, recent
scientific studies have shown us that if you take a mirroring
species — mouse, rat something like that — and you teach them
a complex new task, for instance they have to reach through a
hole in order to get a food pellet, that creates
certain synaptic impulses. And with a very high-powered
microscope, an electron microscope, you can actually see
the formation of little spines, new spines, that grow into that
synapse as they learn that new thing within hours of the
time that they learned it. Now, it could be that that
happens in people too but, you know, nobody’s really up to
dissecting people and finding that out right now. But I suspect there may be some
type of similarity with what happens with the mouse
in that particular case. Now, you know what, I’m
going to skip that part. But, what we have discovered
though with people is that we can see a lot of the changes
that are occurring as they acquire functions through
noninvasive techniques, like MRIs, functional
MRIs, and PET scans. And I remember how excited I was
when I was a resident working in the laboratory as we were
putting in the first PET scanner at Johns Hopkins. And in fact, the very first PET
scanner at Johns Hopkins was done on one of my patients. It was a rabbit.>>LAUGHTER>>Dr Ben Carson: Now that’s
not why it’s called a PET scan. Positron emission tomography,
looking at the actual ability of cells in certain parts of the
brain to metabolize glucose, oxygen, and of course the more
active that part of the brain is, the more rapid the metabolic
activity there is, which actually produces a different
color on the schema. And with functional MRIs,
we can actually see changes. And when we combine those
two things we are learning an enormous amount about what
happens, not only when a person does an action, but as a person
is learning how to do an action. It really is quite fascinating. But, you know, I tell the young
people all the time, as we learn more and more about what certain
colors and changes mean in the brain, you know, we’ll be using
these kind of tests instead of lie detection tests. The police will put you in one
of these things and ask you questions. And if you tell a
lie, bzz, you know.>>: LAUGHTER>>: Dr Ben Carson: I think it’s going to be pretty cool. And –>>LAUGHTER>>Dr Ben Carson: You know,
they’ll have them up in stores and, you know, if you walk in
and you’re planning on stealing something it’ll alert security. So, so I tell the young people
just start thinking clean pure thoughts now. Then you won’t have to change
so much as time goes on. But, you know, the key thing
here in the process of learning is that as these connections are
made, based on what you’ve been doing, what you’ve been seeing,
what you’ve been hearing, what you’ve been experiencing, those
connections become very solid and that’s the basis upon
which memory is built. You know, there’s a famous
neurophysiologist, psychologist called Hebb, and he has a very
famous saying that says, “cells that fire together, wire
together,” and it’s pretty cool. But that happens throughout
our lives and we create these connections and memories are
actually created biochemically and electrophysiologically. Now we used to think that all
memories were kind of hardwired and they sat in the hippocampus. We’ve learned a lot more in
recent years about how memories are recalled and reconstructed
every time you call one up. But what’s truly fascinating is
in neurosurgery, you know, we can take somebody, you can take
a very old man, and we can do a small temporal craniotomy here,
and we can put in certain types of electrodes into their
hippocampal region, which is one of the major storage areas for
memory, and in most cases is bilaterally represented. But we can stimulate that man or
that woman and they can recite back to us verbatim a newspaper
article they read sixty years ago. I mean, that’s the level of detail in which memory is stored. Now, if we could retrieve it
that would be really cool, without putting electrodes in. You know, that would
be really cool. But, you know, we’re working on ways of being able to do that too. But, you know, it all starts
at a very, very early age. You look at a baby, babies
are like sponges just ready to learn. You know, within eight weeks of
the time a baby is born, what do they do? You look at them and you smile
at them and they smile back at you, within just
eight short weeks. Think about all the dendritic
axonal connections that have been made to make that happen. They learn voices. They learn faces that
look familiar to them. Already in a very
short period of time. They learn, you know, you put
something out in front of them, they reach their
hand out to grab it. They start learning how to
make certain types of sounds. They learn very quickly that
if they cry that they get attention, that somebody will
feed them, or somebody will comfort them, or somebody
will do something. Some people say no don’t pay
attention to them and they’ll stop crying. That probably is true, but
they also will be very abnormal people. You know, what some of the
neurodevelopmentalists have discovered is that babies who
are left to themselves, who are not nurtured, and whom you don’t
pay those kinds of attention, turn out negatively, in
a very negative fashion. So, don’t listen to those
people who tell you not to pay attention to the baby because
it’s part of their encoding, it’s what they’re doing. Changing those
neurotransmitters, changing the connections, encoding
the memories. And when it comes to encoding
memories, you know, we’re still learning a lot about how a
memory is actually encoded because you can’t learn
without encoding a memory. And back in the 1953 a patient
HK, a very famous case in neurology and neurosurgery, he
was having intractable seizures and doctors did an operation in
which they took out part of the temporal lobe, and
resected the hippocampus. And they were all delighted to
see that his seizures stopped. No more seizures,
it was wonderful. Sort of a big, big feather in
the cap of seizure surgeons at that point. There was only one problem,
he couldn’t remember anything. He could not acquire
any new memories. He could talk to you based on
things that he already knew before. He could repeat something that
you said to him, a minute later it’s gone. He didn’t have it. And it shows that some of the
things that are actually going on in the hippocampus and the
amygdala are the things that allow you to form
those memories. Now, in his particular case, he
had an unknown disease on the other side of his brain because,
as I said, usually these things are bilaterally represented. And normally knocking out
just one side is not going to completely get rid of your
memory, but in his particular case it did. And then by discovering that
there was something on the other side, it gave us a lot of
insight into how memory can potentially be encoded. Well, why is it that some of
our young people, some of our children seem to learn extremely
rapidly and extremely well, and others seem to have an
extraordinarily difficult time in learning? And they’re in the
same environment. Well I think I can speak
actually with some experience there because when I was a
youngster, particularly in the fifth grade, I was
a horrible student. I was perhaps the worst
student you’ve ever seen. And I just thought that I
was very stupid, so while the material was being presented in
the classroom I basically tuned out. You know, I was looking at the
plants on the windowsill or, you know, trying to find someone I
could shoot a paper wad at or, you know, anything
but paying attention. And attention is an enormously
important part of the learning process. Some of you may be familiar with
the mental exercise in which you are shown a video, and there’s
a basketball team there, and you’re asked to count how many
times the people on the team pass the ball in a relatively
short period of time, it’s like a minute. And you’re sitting there and
you’re counting the number of times they passed that ball and
then when the analysis is done you’re asked, “Did you see
anything unusual during the video?” And, you know, most people
didn’t see anything unusual, and yet when you go back and look at
the video you see that right in the middle of the team came out
a man dressed in a gorilla suit, who is going like that. And you don’t even notice
him because your attention is focused on counting the ball. And it shows you how incredibly
important creating a situation where the learner is actually
paying attention, makes. And if they’re not paying
attention – you know, two people can be looking at exactly
the same thing and take extraordinarily different
things away from it. Well, it wasn’t that
I couldn’t learn. I could learn things that
were important to me. You know, one of the things that
I was particularly good at is getting other people
kicked out of class. Because I actually enjoyed that
because they were always calling me names, and calling me stupid
so if I get them kicked out of class it was like sweet revenge. And I would like study my
classmates and figure out what made them really, really angry. And I would process that
information and I would just irritate them, and irritate
them until they were about to explode. But I would never push the last
button to make them explode until we were in class and the
teacher was nearby, and then I would do it, they would explode,
the teacher would kick them out and I would say, “Yeah this is
great,” – because I wouldn’t be the only one that didn’t learn
anything that day, and misery loves company. Well, there was this
one girl in the class. Miss Goody-two-shoes, you guys
know who I’m talking about?>>:LAUGHTER.>>Dr Ben Carson: Some of
you were her, I’m sure. And, you know, everything is
perfect, pristine, on time and I was just thinking, “Wow wouldn’t it be something to get her kicked out of class?” Well, the only problem was she
was cool, calm, and collected, you couldn’t get her ruffled,
but I was persistent. I kept up until I figured out
what made her really, really angry and boy I had her going. I mean the steam was coming out
of her ears, she was about to explode, but I didn’t
push her last button. I waited until we were in class. Low and behold she sat right
down at the desk in front of me and I said, “The Lord is good.” And as the teacher approached,
I pushed her last button, I irritated her, but
she didn’t explode. She just calmly turned around
and she said, “You and me on the playground at recess.”>>:LAUGHTER.>>Dr Ben Carson: So that
didn’t work out that well. But you know what? I learned from that experience
and I stopped irritating people. I never irritated
anyone again after that. So, there are a lot of
motivations for learning. It can be paying attention, it
can be self preservation, it can be food, it can be all
kinds of different rewards. And what we have to do is know
how to use those various rewards in a very good way. Now short-term memory is
pretty good in most of us. If I were to give you like three
objects, you know, a flag, a light, and a carpet. And I said what were
those three objects? Virtually all of you could say,
you know, a flag, a light and a carpet. But two days from now, if I were
to ask you what those objects were, it’s a very strong chance
that you might get one of them, some of you might get two,
rarely would you get three because you don’t have any
particular reason, quite frankly, to remember that. But that’s where
incentives come in. Learning how to create
appropriate incentives. Now, what some educators have
discovered is that children respond well to snacks. And they use snacks. This is not only in the country,
in lots of places around the world, for those who complete
their tasks in a timely fashion and in a satisfactory way. And that’s not strange because
when you stop and you think about what are the drivers of
human learning, what are the drivers of human behavior, what
the developmental psychologists tell us is that they are food,
water, sex or pleasure, and drugs. Those things create incentives
for behavioral change in people. And it’s good for us,
particularly anybody who is involved in education, to
understand those basic drives in a person so that we can use them
in an appropriate way that will make things work for us. Now, what happens when you
experience pleasure, and we experience pleasure through our
basic senses, you know, sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch
– that’s how we experience the outside world. And some of the developmental
psychologists also feel that interaction, pleasant
interpersonal interactions, are just as important as those
things and the gaining of social status is just as
important as those things. But what happens when
you experience pleasure? The amygdala, right there, the
medial temporal area, is one of the major drivers of emotion. The amygdala elaborates dopamine
anytime you experience pleasure the pre-frontal cortex senses
the dopamine release and, you may remember I said that’s where
all your executive functions are, that’s the place where you
can integrate all the memories from the past, all of the
knowledge from the past and the present projected into a plan. Well it immediately projects it
into a plan to get more pleasure because it says this caused me
pleasure, I want to do more of this in order that I
can get more pleasure. Now, of course one of the
negative aspects of that is that’s how people become
addicted to drugs. But you can also get people to
be addicted to good behavior. You can get people to be
addicted to learning and that’s exactly what happened to me. You know, my mother, you know,
as Doctor Grasmick alluded to, couldn’t read. We didn’t know that, but
she was very observant. And she worked as a domestic,
cleaned other people’s homes and she noticed that these people
who lived in these very nice houses and had these very nice
lives, didn’t spend a lot of time watching TV. And they spent a lot of time
reading, and strategizing. So, she said, you guys
are going to be readers. And, you know, I didn’t like that very much, I got to tell you. You know, everybody else was
outside having a good time playing and here we were
in the house reading? And my mother’s friends didn’t
like it either, and they said, “You can’t make boys stay
in the house and read.” You know, they’ll grow
up and they’ll hate you. And I would say, “Mother, they’re right.” You know ->>:LAUGHTER.>>Dr Ben Carson: But, you know,
she wasn’t going to listen to anything that they had to say. And, you know, she always had
these things that she would say like, you know, “Why are you
going to spend all your time watching TV? Somebody has already invested
their intellect in that. If you read and you develop your
intellect, pretty soon people will be watching
you on television.” And of course she
was right about that. But, you know, at that time I
didn’t like it at first, but something happened because what
I really hated, even though I would never admit it to anyone,
was being called a dummy. I hated that. I tried to ignore it, I tried to
act like it doesn’t matter, but I hated it. When I started reading those
books, I was looking at words all of the time, so all of a
sudden I knew how to spell. I wasn’t the first one to
sit down at the spelling B. And as I had to put those words
together I learned grammar and syntax and sentence structure,
and my writing became much better because I was reading
all of the time I had to extract that information from that page
and create images, which meant I learned to use use
my imagination. A very important aspect of
becoming a creative individual. So now, within a relatively
small space of time, my grades started to zoom. I wasn’t a dummy anymore. The same people who were calling
me dummy were saying, “Ben, how do you work this problem?” I would say, “Sit at my feet
youngster while I instruct you.”>>: LAUGHTER.>>Dr Ben Carson: I was,
perhaps, a little obnoxious. But it sure felt good. I’ve got to tell you
that dopamine was coming. And, you know, my prefrontal
cortexes were taking all of this in and they were really changing
my behavior in a very, very dramatic way because my reward
system had changed in such a dramatic way. Now, you know, there are lots
of different ways that people learn. You know, you have another
famous neuroscientist, Gardner – the Gardner Theory of
Multiple Intelligences. You know, you’re particularly
gifted in this, you’re particularly gifted in that,
and there could be some truth in that there have been many people
who have challenged that and think that, you know, cognitive
functions are overlapping and therefore you can’t have such a
thing as multiple intelligences. And, you know, if you go into
the neuroscience literature you’ll see 10,000 articles on
this one and 10,000 articles on another all fighting
each other about it. But I’m not sure that it’s all
that important, to be honest with you. Obviously there are some people
who are extraordinary at certain things. I mean, you look at
someone like J.S. Bach, how could somebody
be that prolific? How could he be able to write,
you know, a new cantata every Sunday? You know, for eons of time? You can’t even conceive of how
somebody could do that unless they really had a special gift
in the way that they did things. And someone like him, when it
came to learning music theory, I mean, anything that you said I’m
sure he went, “Oh yeah,” and he would have something that he
could relate to that and that would make it very easy
for him to understand. Some people are
extremely good with math. And some people think that
they’re extremely bad with math. I don’t think anybody is
extremely bad with math, but there are some people who
are extremely good with it. And I always say, you know, with
math and science they’re just like reading. Reading for most people
is relatively easy. Why, because they know all
26 letters of the alphabet. What if they only
knew 21 of them? They knew all of the letters
except A, D, O, S and T. What could they read? The minute they sat down and
started reading they would say this is for somebody else. I don’t have the cognitive
ability, this is not one of my multiple intelligences,
I can’t do it. And yet, you go back and you
fill in those five letters and all of a sudden, voila, they can
read as well is anybody else. So, what does that tell you? Science and math are
exactly the same. Everything builds
on something else. So, if you have the building
blocks and they’re all together, just like all of the letters
are together, then it makes perfectly good sense, but if you
take one out here, one out here, and one out here, it’s just
like trying to read without the letters. It falls apart
extraordinarily quickly. And, you know, what I always
tell students who tell me they’re not good in biology or
chemistry or math or whatever, I say, “Was there a time
when you understood it? When it was easy?” And they always say, “Yes.” I say, “Go back to that time,
get your study materials,” And this the same thing that
a very good tutor will do. You go back to where it was easy
and then you start rebuilding from that point. That way, you fill in the gaps,
and by the time you get back to where you were supposed to be,
all of a sudden, it’s a very different subject. All of a sudden, it makes sense. Now, there are some computer
programs that are designed to do that now, looking at the way
that a student solves a math problem, an equation, by looking
at them solve a series of equations, they can figure out
what they don’t know, which is exactly what a good
teacher can do. But, a good teacher may not
be able to sit down with each student for hours and hours, and
these computer programs can do that. I actually think that that is
something that is going to help us out tremendously
in the future. It’s really quite exciting. The same thing with
virtual classrooms. They will be able to help us in
the same way, because a lot of the students today, I hate to
say it, but, you know, their minds are set a different level
because from the time that they are little babies, they’re in
front of computers, they’re in front of television screens,
everything is zip, zip, zip, zoom zoom, zoom. They’re in that mode. That’s what excites them, and
it’s sometimes very hard to, sort of, get them to sit
down and just have a normal conversation. Well, one of the things that the
virtual classrooms will make it possible to do, instead of
sitting there talking about the pyramids of Egypt, they’ll be
able to put on a headset, and they’ll be able to go to the
pyramids of Egypt, and you’ll be able to see them
being constructed. You’ll be able to be what
it was like to be a pharaoh. You’ll be able to see, you know,
armies of chariots racing down, and things that will emblazon
that into their minds. And, you know, as we go forward
in the whole educational schema, we have to change with the times
because it’s not, now, so much a matter of just having huge
volumes of information stored in your memory banks, because all
you got do is pick up Siri and ask, you know. But, the question is, do
you know how to apply that information in order to get
where you’re trying to go? So, the learning process now is,
we still need to know the basic stuff. There’s no excuse for knowing
the basic stuff because if you don’t know the basic stuff, you
don’t know what to ask Siri. But, also learning how to take
that material and to acquire information, so that you can use
the executive functions to get where you want to be, and that’s
something that we are learning more and more about. Interestingly enough, we’ve
learned so much about the way memories are formed, we’ve also
discovered that some of the things that interfere with
memory, like fear and stress, we can actually quantitate. There is a certain
protein, cyclic AMP. It’s a binding — sensory
binding protein, and it accumulates in cells as the
rat or the mice learns to fear something, and, through various
types of microscopy, you can see it accumulating in these cells. Cyclic AMP Response Element
Binding protein, that’s what is called, CREB, not to be
confused with the Kreb cycle. And, interestingly enough, what
neuroscientists have discovered, is that you can actually
interfere with that. Fear established meant learning. By subjecting them to another
chemical, Alpha Cam Kinase 2, which blocks the accumulation of
the CREB in the fear neuron, and the behavior that the rat or the
mice was exhibiting secondary to their fear disappears. Another set of scientists took
groups of students, these were music students, and they tried
to condition fear into them by showing them pictures of
spiders, and then shocking them. So, any time they saw a picture
of a spider, you know, it was like, okay. But one group — half of the
students, you know, they left in that condition. The other half they administered
a beta blocking drug known as propranolol, which has a
profound effect in the synaptic region, and actually blocks
the establishment of that fear. So, those students, when they
saw the spider, their blood pressure didn’t go up. You know, nothing happened. They said — but if you asked
them they say, “Yeah, it’s a spider,” and then they would
just continue on, whereas the other ones developed a
marked fear response. Now, interestingly enough, in
the rats that I was talking about earlier, the fear response
that is eliminated by giving them an Alpha Cam Kinase 2, is
very specific for that new fear that was learned. Their old fears are still there. Now, why is that important? Because some neuroscientists
think that we may be able to use this knowledge to treat
posttraumatic stress disorder and some other types of stress
fear related phenomenon. So, it really is quite exciting. Now, there are some things that
are very very bad for learning. Fad diets. You know, a lot of young girls
get on these fad diets and, you know, many studies have
shown that it really can slow learning. Alcohol and drugs impair sleep,
and if you impair sleep, you impair learning. Dehydration and low glucose have
a profound effect because with low glucose, you don’t
produce glycoproteins. Glycoproteins are essential
elements to laying down memories. Also, you know, the way that
the brain responds is called responding to an
allostatic load. Allostatic load is the wear and
tear that the brain experiences from prolonged stress and we
know that that can affect your immune system. We know that it can cause loss
of cells in the hippocampus, where all the
memories are stored. We know that it can cause the
amygdala to grow, which of course, is the emotion and the
fear center, and all of those things can cause high
blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, predisposition
to dementia and a whole host of things. So, I think what you are able
to see from all of these things that I am saying is that, you
know, when a baby is born, they start out with a pretty pretty
pure brain, with lots of potential, and then, we all
become products of the many things that happen to us
along the way, of the kind of environments that we are exposed
to, including the learning environment, both the positive
aspects of that and the negative aspects of that. Every time you see, on
television, some heinous crime, you know, like the guy
in Connecticut, recently. Think about this. At one point, he was an
innocent, cute little baby. Just like Charles Manson,
just like all these people. They were cute innocent little
babies at one time, and then they had all kinds of
experiences, some negative, some positive, that altered all of
those synaptic connections. That changed, for them, what was
pleasure away from what might be pleasure to everybody else. That made them not want to avert
what other people would want to avert. Now, here’s the good news. That can change. It is possible to change that. People think that old dog can’t
learn new tricks, it’s not true. There’s something
known as neurogenesis. This is an exciting new part
of neuroscience because we are fixed with those hundred billion
neurons that we’re born with, but recent evidence indicates
that those neurons can regenerate and they can repair. They can, particularly in
elderly people who are very physically active and who
are very mentally active. So, we can spare ourselves. But if we don’t do it, you know,
there’s a saying, “Use it or lose it.” And, you know, if you don’t
challenge your brain constantly, it’s not going to work
very well for you. Now, I am coming to a close. I don’t know when I’m supposed
to end, but I’m going to come to a close because I know I must
be getting close to that time. When I was in medical school,
I thought I was pretty smart. You know, I had gone to Yale and
I had done pretty well and I was at the University of Michigan,
and I said, “You know, you’re a smart guy.” But then, I didn’t do so well in
the first set of comprehensive exams. I did terribly on the first
set of comprehensive exams. My counselor told me I should
drop out of medical school. Said I was not cut
out to be a doctor. Can you imagine how
devastated I was? All of my life, since I was
eight years old, I wanted to be a doctor. I finally get to medical school. The person the University
selects to help you get through tells you to drop out.>>:LAUGHTER.>>Dr Ben Carson: Oh, man. It was horrible. But, you know, I asked
God to give me wisdom. I start analyzing the situation. I said, “What do you — What
kind of subjects do you struggle in and what kind of
subjects do you do well in?” This is where the executive
function comes in. Asking yourself those kinds of
questions is an extraordinarily good teaching technique because
a lot of times, students don’t necessarily want you to tell
them the answer, they want you to ask them a question that will
make them think of the answer and then it will be reinforced
to a much greater degree. Well, I realized that I did well
in subjects where I did a lot of reading, and I did poorly in
subjects where I listened to a lot of boring lectures, because
I get nothing out of boring lectures. Some people get a lot out of
boring lectures, I get nothing out of them. And there I was sitting,
listening to 6 to 8 hours worth of boring lectures every day,
which means I was wasting 6 to 8 hours a day. So, I made an executive decision
to skip the boring lectures and to spend that time reading, and
the rest of medical school was a snap after that. And I remember going back to my
medical school some years later as the commencement speaker…>>: LAUGHTER.>>Dr Ben Carson: And I was
looking for that counselor, because I was going to tell
him he wasn’t cut out to be a counselor.>>: LAUGHTER.>>Dr Ben Carson: Because, you
know, some people are just so negative, negative, negative all
the time, and, you know, that is something that clearly does not
work when we’re trying to teach children, when we’re trying to
teach anybody, that positive interaction makes all the
difference in the world. And, you know, I was very lucky
along the way to have some teachers, even when I wasn’t
doing well, who believed in me, and who encouraged me, and
could see the good things in me, helped me to build a rock
collection, helped me to get interested in looking at
Protozoa under the microscope, learning about botany, putting
together science fair projects. And if I hadn’t had those
teachers, I don’t think I would have ever been successful. And, you know, for those of
you who were involved in the educational arena, I would go so
far as to say I have never met a successful person who could not
point to a teacher who made a big difference in their lives. And it’s really one of the most
important professions that one can undertake, at any level. You know, from preschool
right through graduate school. Because you’re
acting as an analyst. You’re looking at that student,
trying to figure out where they came from, how did they get like
this, what can you do to change the pleasure parameters in their
life, to make learning exciting to them again, to actually
change those neural pathways that they have, and it will make
all the difference in the world. Now, just a couple of practical
things that we have discovered, in terms of learning
repetition of information. Repetition of information makes
all the difference in the world. You know, when I was in second
year medical school, I lived with my brother who was in
the school of engineering. He even knew all the bacteria
and what they were sensitive to because I always had these
little flashcards pulling them out and I was talking
about them, you know. Repetition makes a big
difference because it creates those synaptic pathways. Excitement at the time of
learning makes the receptor sites much more receptive. It’s sort of like that pitcher
who’s out there, throwing the balls, and the
shortstop is asleep. Well, excitement wakes him up,
and now he’s ready to receive that ball, and it makes a
big difference in learning. Eating carbohydrates at the time
of learning, we have discovered, actually reinforces the learning
because the carbohydrates are necessary for the glycoproteins,
which then lay down the long-term memory, and then 8 to
9 hours of sleep after learning. Now, the interesting thing
is, you know, non dream sleep activates calcium channels that
rehearse the pathways that were recently learned, and then REM
sleep, or dreaming, actually reinforces any learning that you
have just completed, and that’s why sleep is so valuable. And, you know, people who stay
up all night, doing all nighters before a test, they are
doing themselves a horrible disservice. It really does not work very
well at all, in understanding how that works. Now, I don’t want you to confuse
carbohydrates with high-fat diets. You know, high-fat diets
actually impair glucose metabolism and the
formation of glycoproteins. So, you got to be
careful about that. And one of the worst things you
can do, going into a learning environment, is
not have anything. Don’t eat breakfast, is the
worst thing you can possibly do when it comes to learning, and
that’s something that we have known for a few decades. You know, that’s why, in some
of the head start programs, they make sure that the kids get
breakfast before they go to school. It makes all of the difference
in the world, in terms of what happens. Important to know that the
adolescent brain is different than the fully developed brain.>>: LAUGHTER.>>Dr Ben Carson: The executive
functions are not fully developed yet, in the adolescent
brain, and, you know, they come to some striking
conclusion sometimes. You know, I remember, you know,
when I was a teenager and I was just, just torn up over the fact
that I did not have clothes. There were so many important
things going on, but, to me, it was the clothes. And I was just complaining to
my mother, “I got to have these clothes. You know, you’re doing me wrong,
and you know look at everybody else has got clothes.” You know, one day, she just
said, “Okay, I’ll tell you what. I’m going to give you all of
the money that I made scrubbing peoples toilets, scrubbing their
floors, and you pay the bills, you take care of all the
necessities, and with all the money left over, you can buy
all the clothes you want.”>>: LAUGHTER.>>Dr Ben Carson: And I said,
all right now you’re talking. And, you know, it wasn’t long
before I figured out that my mother was a financial genius to
be able to keep a roof over our head at all. And that was a very good
learning tool for me, but you know, it just shows
you how immature I was. You know, knowing what our
financial situation was and focusing on something so mundane
and so unimportant as clothes. And yet, just recognize when
your teenager comes up with this stuff it’s not because they’re
bad people, it’s because their executive functions have
not fully developed. And you know, it’s your job
to help them develop that. I just want to close with a
little bit about plasticity. I’m sure you’ve heard the
term plasticity a lot. What it basically means is
rewiring, you know, those axonal dendritic connections
can be rewired. And we’re just starting to just
starting to discover that that can even happen in
a more mature brain. We used to think it only
happened in very immature brains. But there was a seven-year-old
girl by the name of Beth, she was swinging in a schoolyard in
Connecticut, she fell off the swing, she hit her
head, she had a seizure. And nobody got too excited, they
said it’s posttraumatic seizure, happens all the time,
it’s no big deal. But then the next week she had
two seizures, and the next week three, and pretty soon three a
day, ten a day, 30 a day, 60 a day. Despite medications, the doctors
in Connecticut didn’t know what to do. They sent her to the doctors in
New York, they didn’t know what to do. Then they sent her to the
doctors in Boston and they didn’t know what to do. But there was an old doctor
there that said to the family, she acts like someone
with raspy encephalitis. He says with this disease, the
seizures get worse and worse. No matter what you do pretty
soon you have to put her in an institution, and eventually
she’ll die, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it. They were devastated. Their beautiful little
girl, institution? Nothing you could do? But the mother said — was one
of those people that would never say die. She went to the library, she
read everything she could read about seizures and
epilepsy encephalitis. She discovered what we were
doing at Hopkins with the operation hemispherectomy, where
we take out half of the brain to control intractable seizures. They brought her down for an
evaluation, and my colleagues and I felt that she was in
fact a good candidate for that operation. But when I tell the parents what
the risk of surgery were, that she might not be able to talk,
she might be paralyzed on one side, she might be in a
coma, or she might die. They said thank you
doctor, but no thanks. You see, we couldn’t live with
ourselves if she died, or if she were in a coma, and we never
even had a chance to say goodbye. So they took the little girl,
seizures and all, back to Connecticut. That Christmas, she was in a
play and while she was on the stage she had a
grand maul seizure. Fell down, arms and legs
jerking, eyes rolled back, foaming at the mouth,
incontinent of urine, that was the straw that broke
the camels back. They brought her back,
they wanted the operation. I performed the operation, took
out the left half of her brain, everything went smoothly. Except for one thing, she
didn’t wake up at the end of the operation. She remained in a coma. A day went by, two
days, three days. Every time I went by the room
parents were there grieving, regretting their decision,
and I really felt for them. And a week went by she was still
in a coma, two weeks in a coma on a ventilator. She used to love Mr Rogers. They would play tapes of Mr
Rogers singing and saying poetry, didn’t wake her up. Three weeks went by, still in
a coma, off of the ventilator. Mr Rogers heard about this
little girl, and then bless his heart, he brought all of his
puppets from Pittsburgh to Baltimore to her bedside
to try to wake her up. Didn’t wake her up. Four weeks went by, 2 a.m. in the morning, dad was lying
on a cot next to her bed and she said “Daddy, my nose itches.” And he was so excited he jumped
up and ran out in the hallway, she talked, she talked,
only had on his underpants. And everybody came to see what
all the commotion was and, you know, that was the beginning
of a rapid recovery. In no time she was
walking, she was talking. She wasn’t having seizures. It was so exciting. But now they were worried
because it was time for her to go back to school. How could she go back to school,
missing the left half of her brain? The side that allows
you to calculate. She’d never be able to do math. But, you know, that little girl
was so determined, she worked so hard the next year, she had
the highest math average in her class. And she did that
with half of a brain. Can you imagine what a person
can do with a whole brain and determination? And what it requires, is it
requires all of us, working together, using our collective
knowledge and experience, because I personally believe
that, in this country, we have one more generation before
we lose our pinnacle status. If we don’t do something
very serious about education. You’ve seen all the
international surveys that show us right near the bottom in math
and science, in particular, but we’re not doing that great
in other subjects either. Because there is so
much emphasis on sports, entertainment, lifestyles of the
rich and famous, silly stuff. Now, I have nothing against
sports and entertainment, but give me a break. You know, what’s going on
in the world right now? You know, you got all of the
stuff going on in the Middle East. Horrible things happened today
you’ll see when you get home. You know, we got a debt ceiling,
and what’s the biggest story? Some Notre Dame football player
with an imaginary girlfriend. Give me a break. But, you know, this is
what we have evolved into. And this is what we are placing
out in front of our children. And we are saying that
this is important. And I’m not saying we have to
be Scrooge about everything. But, we have got to learn
what our priorities are. We have got to learn what the
essentials of education are. What those things are that we
can control, that we can do, that we can spread out
across the entire educational atmosphere so that we can make
our young people the kind of people that we would be proud
of, the kind of people that Alexis de Tocqueville found when
he came to America in 1831 and was blown away by the fact
that our people were so well educated. He could find a mountain man in
the outskirts of society and the man could read the newspaper and
have an intelligent discussion with him. And we’ve lost that. And that makes us
easy to manipulate. And this is not who we are,
this is not what America is all about. But, it was our educational
system that impressed de Tocqueville the most. And we have the opportunity to
learn how to use that in a very effective way to make sure that
we remain the pinnacle nation of the world. Thank you very much.>>: APPLAUSE

Danny Hutson

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