09 - Interview with Dr. Terrence Sejnowski

دوره: Coursera – Learning How to Learn / درس 9

Coursera – Learning How to Learn

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09 - Interview with Dr. Terrence Sejnowski

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This video will be especially fun, because

I have

a chance now to interview my

co-instructor, Dr. Terrence Sejnowski.

Terrence’s pioneering research in neural

networks and computational

neural science, have made him a living


Dr. Sejnowski is an investigator at Howard

Hughes medical institute, and the Francis


professor at the Salk Institute for


Studies where he directs the Computational

Neurobiology Laboratory.

Above and beyond all of that Dr. Sejnowski


also in the elite group of only ten living


To have been elected to all three of

the national academies, in engineering,

science, and medicine.

What I think perhaps is most impressive

however is that Terry

has also graduated more computational

neural scientists, than any other


In some sense then,

this makes Dr. Terrence Sejnowski a leading

father figure for the modern field of


The ultimate goal of Dr. Sejnowski’s research

is to

build linking principles, from brain to

behavior using computational models.

Today, I’m going to ask Terry a few

questions about how he learns.

And how he thinks about learning, so that

we all might

get a better sense of how to improve our

own learning.

So what do you do to help yourself learn

more easily, when you’re looking at

something completely new?

Well I like to get into the thick of


I don’t get much out of just going and

reading a lot of books.

And, when I was in Graduate School, I made

a transition from Physics to Biology.

And the way I did it was to get into a

Biology lab.

And get involved in experiments.

And I, I’m a firm believer in learning by

doing, and learning by osmosis from people

who are experts.

How do you keep yourself paying

attention, during something like a boring


I found that there isn’t, a simple way

to keep yourself

attending something that you’re not

interested in.

But I have found a little trick to waylay

the, the speaker, and that is by asking a


And the interruption often, gives rise to

a discussion that is a lot more


And it actually follows the general

principle which is that

you learn more by active engagement rather

than passive listening.

So, what do you do to get into and take

advantage of diffuse mode thinking?

I find that when I’m jogging, or out

getting exercise, that it’s a wonderful

way to get the mind disengaged, from the

normal train of thought.

And I find that it’s very very possible to

to sort of come up with new thoughts, new


And it’s almost as if your brain goes into


new mode, you’re running along, things are

passing you by.

And you start thinking about what’s


For example, things that, that your brain

has been working

on, your out of conscious thoughts bubble

to the surface.

And often new ideas that are going to be

then helpful to you later on.

The only problem I have is remembering all

those great ideas.

Because when I get back and take a shower,

then a lot of them have evaporated.

And that’s why I, I like to take a little

notebook along with me,

so I can take notes and remember what it

is that I was thinking about.

So, do you multitask, or, or if you

don’t, how

do you resist the urge to multitask when

you want to multitask?

Well, I wouldn’t survive if I didn’t


And most of my talking with students,

listening to lectures,

interacting with a lot of people who are

passing through, visitors.

There’s just a lot things that are


you, email, texting any these are very

important things

that you want to do, but if you can’t

juggle them, it’s hard to get through the


However, I, I enjoy the evenings when the

hubbub of the day quiets down, and I get a

chance to go into a, a more reflective


and that’s when I actually get my best

work done.

Do you do two things at the same time


Well, you know, you can’t actually do

two things,

consciously, at the same time, because

those will get mixed up.

It, its is possible with a lot of

training, actually, to do

two things at once, is, but it’s, it’s,

you’re not doing it efficiently.

For me, multitasking is, is being able to


back and forth, context switching from one

topic to another.

And some people are better at that than


In other words sometimes takes a while to

get into the swing

of things if you’re in, in the middle of

writing a paper.

For example it may take hours before you

get to the point where

you can actually be productive in

area, actually able to get something


But if, if, if you can you know after

getting lay you

know, into the middle of something

switching from that to another task.

Is, is sometimes very difficult to do, if,

if you’re, if, if you’re middle of


But, I can do that very easily.

I can switch back and forth.

And I seem to be able to go back to the

original task, and, and, and take up where

I left off.

So, so that’s one way of, of accomplishing

a lot and I get

I have, fortunately I have a lot of very

good students and helpers.

And enormously productive environment that

I’m working in, so

it’s been, it’s really a joy to be here.

How do you apply your knowledge of

neuroscience, to your own learning?

Well, you know, I think there are many

little ways that, I have applied what I’ve

actually learned in the lab, and let me

give you just one example to make it


One of my colleagues at the Salk

Institute, Rusty Gage, made a very

important discovery.

If you read the textbooks, it will tell

you that all

the neurons that you have in your brain

you had a birth.

And after birth, the wiring takes place

and learning,

and that changes at the, the connections

between the neurons.

But the, but they’re the same old neurons

that you had when you were born.

Some die.

You know, so there is shrinkage of your,

of your cortex.

However, Rusty discovered that, in an

important part

of your brain for learning, and memory,

the Hippocampus.

And which is located right in the middle

here, of this model brain.

New neurons are being born, even in your


And, this, this is very important for

learning and memory.

It is obviously something that is very,


useful to be able to have new neurons.

Now here’s what we discovered together.

We discovered that.

If you have a animal, we use a, a rat as

our model system.

And, if you give it an enriched

environment, in which the rat

is able to move around, and do things, and

interact with other rats.

That, and then look in the hippocampus,

you find that the hip,

the, the strengths of the connections

between the neurons, is much stronger


It, it can be made by a factor of two,

much stronger than in

a rat that has been kept in a cage where

there is impoverished environment.

Now, and here’s now the, the key, okay so

having an enriched

environment is, is, is even as an adult is

going to help you.


Instead of locking yourself, a monk in the

room you really

want to be surrounded by other people who

are stimulating you.

And events that are happening that you

can actively participate in, so, so that


Now here is something Rusty discovered

which I think is incredibly important.

That in the absence of an enriched

environment exercise will also

increase the number of new neurons that

are being born and survive.

And, so I, am very, avid at running.

I’ve already mentioned that I get lots of

good ideas when

I run, but I also, know, that my brain is,

helping me remember things, because of the

fact that I

have new neurons being born, and surviving

in my hippocampus.

So that’s one of many examples that I can

point to,

in which what we’ve learned

about neuroscientists, from neuroscience,

has really

changed the way I think and its a pity if


look at the way our, our new educational

reforms and schools.

What do they cut out when they want to add

a new, a,

session for example learning something,

for example, how to pass a test, right.

Tests are being given now to help assess,

how well

a student is doing and how well a school

is doing.

Well, it’s recess.

And what happens during a recess?


It’s running around.

It’s exactly what you need, what your brain


It needs that moment of pause of, of using

your muscles rather than your brain.

To be able to process that information and

to, and, and get the neurons working on


So I think that this is, again something

that is, should be

a policy that we need to have our children

out there running around.

Have there been any special techniques

you’ve acquired over

the years that help you focus, learn or

create more effectively.

I find that,

being in a, a creative environment,

where other people, are, are

creative is, is, is a way of, enhancing

your own creativity.

I, I think that.

Although the image we have of the creative

thinker as being isolated

genius may be true of some people, it’s

not true of me.

I really find that I have better ideas if


talking to somebody, and trying to explain

to them my ideas.

Often, that process can, it boosts

the creative process and the facts, I

think that you know,

having other people around to bounce

your ideas off of is really for me a very,

very important part of doing science.

How about test taking?

Any special advice there?

Tests are like any other skill.

You can learn them.

You can learn to be a better test


And you have a lot of good ideas

about that.

I’ve discovered that the.


you need.

things to avoid, for example.

Don’t get hung up if you can’t answer a


Go on to the next, because you can always

come back and in fact, often, the answer


the problem that was holding you back may


pop in to your brain later on in the test.

This is how our brains work, things work

along parallel tracks.

How do you approach your creative work in


How do you keep yourself creative in the


of the onslaught of more routine day by

day tasks?

I’ve been very fortunate, because I


a great lab, and my students and colleagues,

keep me

young in terms of learning new things,

looking at things with new perspectives.

So, I think that having youth around


is a, a great way to keep yourself


If you had any advice for a young high


or college student, about how to learn

effectively, what would you say?

That success isn’t necessarily come by

being smart.

I know a lot of smart people who are not


But I know a lot of people, who are very,

very passionate.

And persistent.

A lot of success in life is that passion

and persistence, of

really staying the course, staying working

on it, and, not letting go.

Not giving up.

That’s really, I think the most important,

quality that I

see in students, that I work with, who are


Terry, I cannot thank you enough, for


great answers, that I think people will

find very helpful.

Wonderful, now I want to, this is, give

a little intro here.

I’d like to introduce you to Francis

Crick’s brain.

So, I first met Francis 30 years ago, and

this brain was sitting in his office.

And, Francis was a close colleague of, I,

moved here about

25 years ago, and got to know Francis much

much better.

And one day, we were chatting, and Francis

pointed out

this brain that had been sitting there for

decades and

said Terry do you know that I just

recently realized

that this brain is much bigger than a real


And in fact you could not fit this brain


my skull if you actually look at the

relative sizes.

It’s, it’s, this is a teaching tool for

medical students.

You know, you could take apart the

different parts of the brain.

But isn’t it interesting that Francis Crick

didn’t realize that

until much, much later, when he actually

looked at it with new eyes?

And so, you know, this is something about.

Learning with fresh new eyes.

Isn’t it extraordinary, even in a Nobel

Prize winning discoverer of DNA.

Well, there are things to discover


day about things around us, ordinary

things, that

you just have to look at them with

a different set of eyes and a different



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