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  • Writer's pictureChaitanya Prabhu

Orange is not Orange

Updated: Feb 27

Ø  According to Wikipedia, learning is acquiring new knowledge, understanding, behaviors, skills, values, attitudes, and preferences. It can also be defined as a process that leads to change due to experience.


Ø  According to StatPearls, learning is the change in an organism's behavior resulting from prior experience. Learning theory explains how individuals acquire, process, retain, and recall knowledge during learning.


Ø  According to Studycat, the Science of Learning describes learning as constructing new knowledge based on context and experience.


Ø  According to Open Text WSU, there are three main types of learning: classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and observational learning.


Ø  According to Quora, scientific learning fosters critical thinking skills. It encourages us to ask questions, seek evidence, evaluate information, and think analytically.

According to Pink Floyd, “We don’t need no education.”


There are many definitions of learning, and I’m not offering any new definitions or descriptions. I’m merely focusing on those aspects of learning that help create connections between ideas and concepts. These connections could be simplistic, or they could be highly symbolic and abstract.


Indeed, we already know that we learn every day. We collect something new, even acquiring the tiniest bit of information. Watching the news is one prominent learning event — even the couch potato learns something new because he’s browsing numerous channels.


Learning occurs through connections and associations that form webs of meaning and understanding. New ideas and information attach themselves to this web, strengthening some connections while weakening others. When we learn effectively, we form connections that give us many ways to retrieve and apply what we've learned.


I was about 21 years old, in the last year of college, when it suddenly struck me that I had never associated the color orange with the fruit orange. How does one miss such an obvious connection? Perhaps because no orange (sweet lime, tangerine, or lemon) is orange? They are all some shade of yellow.


A similar gap in my learning occurred when I realized that the bird turkey and the country Turkey are named the same. I guess the Turks too realized it — after all these years — and changed their name to Turkiye.


Learning is a process wherein neuronal connections are made. Recall the structure of the neuron with the axon and the dendrites. The structure and connections between neurons form the basis of learning and memory. Within each neuron, electrical signals travel along the axon toward the dendrites of other neurons, causing them to fire. When neurons fire together repeatedly, connections between them are strengthened. These connections form pathways that encode memories and knowledge.


This process of neural connections is known as long-term potentiation. The more a pathway is activated, the stronger it becomes, making retrieval and use of that knowledge faster and easier. Conversely, connections that are rarely used become weakened over time.


The axons and dendrites allow neurons to form intricate networks in the brain, serving as the biological substrate for all forms of learning. By forging new links and strengthening old ones, we continue acquiring knowledge and building upon what we already know.


Pavlov's Dogs

Learning also involves making connections between seemingly unrelated concepts. When Ivan Pavlov trained his dogs to salivate on hearing a bell, he invented (discovered?) “Conditioning.”


Pavlov's classical conditioning experiments demonstrated how learning occurs by forming associations between stimuli and responses. By repeatedly pairing a neutral stimulus like a bell with a reflexive stimulus like food, Pavlov conditioned the dogs to associate the sound of the bell with the arrival of food. Over time, the bell triggered the salivation response, showing that the dogs had formed a mental association between the two stimuli.


Classical conditioning is a simple form of learning that underlies more complex cognitive processes. The primary mechanism — where a neutral stimulus becomes associated with an inherent response through repeated exposure — helps explain how we form associations that influence our behavior and decision-making. Our emotional responses and preferences are shaped by conditioning that occurs without conscious awareness.


So, while Pavlov's discovery may seem trivial, his experiments shed light on fundamental principles about how the mind forms connections between different experiences. The concept of conditioning has profoundly influenced Psychology, helping us understand how we acquire likes and dislikes, fears, and passions. It shows how much of our knowledge is learned by gradually forging links between seemingly unrelated events.


These “aha moments” of insight can lead to significant leaps in understanding. Sometimes, learning happens suddenly when a new concept instantly clicks into place. Other times, it is a gradual process of making small connections that accumulate over time.





The human brain is wired to make associations. Our neurons form networks of connections that link related ideas and experiences. When we learn something new, our brain connects that information to what we already know. This helps us understand and remember the new concept.


Making connections through analogies and metaphors can be particularly powerful for learning. Comparing a new idea to something familiar helps translate the new concept into terms we already grasp. Even simple word associations can aid memory and understanding. Learning through making connections also means recognizing gaps in our knowledge and seeking to fill those gaps. They motivated me to make the neuronal connections I was missing.


Tantra Learning Framework proposes articulating and prescribing how these connections should be made across and beyond each level.


In this context, the Allen Institute is on a mission to create an Atlas of the Brain to uncover how its circuits generate thought, perception, and action. The project aims to document where every gene is active in the brain to create an atlas of gene expression across different regions and cell types. This brain atlas will provide a foundational map of the molecular anatomy of the brain, revealing important insights into how the brain functions at a cellular and molecular level.


By mapping the activity of genes throughout the brain, researchers hope to gain a more comprehensive understanding of how neurons form circuits, communicate, and give rise to behaviors and cognition. This brain atlas could also help identify genes involved in neurological disorders and pave the way for more targeted treatments.


The Allen Institute's ambitious effort reflects the complexity of the human brain, with its nearly 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion connections. Mapping gene activity across this vast neural network requires analyzing gene expression in thousands of tiny brain subregions.


Once complete, the Allen Brain Atlas promises to be a powerful resource for neuroscientists, providing a molecular framework for exploring some of the most profound questions about the human mind. Revealing the genetic underpinnings of neural circuits could fuel discoveries about the biological basis of perception, memory, decision-making, and many other cognitive processes. The more we can understand how the brain gives rise to thought and intelligence, the closer we come to realizing the full potential of the human mind.


When we maximize these connections through reasoning, analogies, associations, and seeking to fill gaps in our knowledge, our learning becomes more profound and longer-lasting. The more connections we make, the more we learn.


To maximize learning, we should actively seek connections between new ideas and what we already know. We should look for patterns and relationships, form mental images and analogies, and find real-world applications. Asking questions about how new information relates to our interests and experiences helps cement those connections meaningfully.


Making mistakes and correcting misconceptions also helps us learn by highlighting gaps in our understanding. Testing our knowledge through practice and application strengthens the connections we form. Discussing new ideas with others exposes us to different perspectives that create more complex webs of understanding.


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