09 - Interview with Dr. Terrence Sejnowskiدوره: Coursera – Learning How to Learn / درس 9
09 - Interview with Dr. Terrence Sejnowski
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This video will be especially fun, because
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Do you do two things at the same time
Well, you know, you can’t actually do
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
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 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.
You know, so there is shrinkage of your,
of your cortex.
However, Rusty discovered that, in an
of your brain for learning, and memory,
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
in which what we’ve learned
about neuroscientists, from neuroscience,
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,
a student is doing and how well a school
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
I’ve discovered that the.
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
I’ve been very fortunate, because I
a great lab, and my students and colleagues,
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
I know a lot of smart people who are not
But I know a lot of people, who are very,
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
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
And one day, we were chatting, and Francis
this brain that had been sitting there for
said Terry do you know that I just
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
It’s, it’s, this is a teaching tool for
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
you just have to look at them with
a different set of eyes and a different
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