Fundamental law of learning

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This text is part of: "I would never send my kids to school" by Piotr Wozniak (2017)

Most people know that learning can be pleasurable. However, very few people appreciate how important this fact is for the future of education.

Only a constant stream of precious findings in neuroscience helps us see the fundamental importance of pleasure in learning. The reward process begins at the level of perception, and proceeds via associative learning, to creativity, to problem solving, and the ultimate pleasure of achieving goals. At each station there are pleasure signals to reward the progress of brainwork.

I was slow to understand the power of pleasure too. Back in 1991, we wrote conservatively: "There is a sure way to tell if a given student will be successful in his work. If he finds pleasure in long-lasting learning sessions, he is bound to do a terrific job" (see: SuperMemo Decalog). Today, we realize that the pleasure is so inherently associated with all forms of learning in neural networks that it emerges as one of the best yardsticks in measuring learning progress.

This makes it possible to formulate the fundamental law of declarative learning:

When there is no pleasure, there is no good learning.

Naturally, this law needs to be qualified to be precise. Good declarative learning results in pleasure. This fact can be masked by factors such as the fact that a bit of good learning can hide in a mass of bad learning. Pleasure itself is no warranty of learning. Facts that we discover can be distressing. Some declarative learning may occur in conditions of displeasure (e.g. fear conditioning). Classical conditioning often involves pain. Clinical depression will impede one's inclination to take on biking, but will not ruin the procedural learning that occurs while biking.

The fundamental law of declarative learning simply states that the acquisition of quality knowledge that satisfies the learn drive will produce a reward signal. Absence of that signal is an indication of the absence of learning. Dry facts can be committed short-term to declarative memory without having fun, but those facts will not adhere to solid models of reality if there is no reward from learning. Those facts are likely to be eliminated from memory fast by a healthy system of forgetting. Even worse, bad and persistent engrams can cause problems with learning later in life! The emergence of any coherent model in memory will inevitably produce a reward signal.

If you happen to impose the suffering on yourself on your own, you need to rethink your strategies. You may need to slow down, or go back to basics, learn the rules of mental and sleep hygiene, manage your stress, learn the 20 rules of formulating knowledge or perhaps give incremental reading a try. If you persist despite pain, you will not be rewarded with good results. Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule also needs to be qualified. No violin virtuoso has ever been born out of sheer suffering through hours of practice. Like with learning, great music is a child of love.

On the other hand, most of students of this world suffer of no fault of their own. Bad learning is imposed on them from above!

Students of the world unite! You no longer need to suffer the pain of learning. If you suffer, you have your basic student right to protest. If you suffer, something is going wrong! You can stop learning! If anyone demands learning from you, and you do not enjoy it, you can strike back, and demand pleasurable learning! This is not your elitist hedonistic weak heart demand. This is a demand of reason. No pleasure, no learning! Your suffering is a waste of time, a waste of health, and a waste of human global resources! See: Declaration of Educational Emancipation
Learn drive vs. School drive
Learn drive vs. School drive

Figure: This is how school destroys the love of learning. Learn drive is the set of passions and interests that a child would like to pursue. School drive is the set of rewards and penalties set up by the school system. Learn drive leads to simple, mnemonic, coherent, stable and applicable memories due to the fact that the quality of knowledge determines the degree of reward in the learn drive system. School drive leads to complex, short-term memories vulnerable to interference due to the fact that schools serialize knowledge by curriculum (not by the neural mechanism of the learn drive). Competitive inhibition between the Learn drive and the School drive circuits will lead to the weakening of neural connections. Strong School drive will weaken the learn drive, destroy the passion for learning, and lead to learned helplessness. Powerful Learn drive will lead to rebellion that will protect intrinsic passions, but possibly will also lead to problems at school. Storing new knowledge under the influence of Learn drive is highly rewarding and carries no penalty (by definition of the learn drive). This will make the learn drive thrive leading to success in learning (and at school). In contrast, poor quality of knowledge induced by the pressures of the School drive will produce a weaker reward signal, and possibly a strong incoherence penalty. The penalty will feed back to produce reactance against the school drive, which will in turn require further coercive correction from the school system, which will in turn reduce the quality of knowledge further. Those feedback loops may lead to the dominance of one of the forces: the learn drive or the school drive. Thriving learn drive increases rebellion that increases defenses against the school drive. Similarly, increased penalization at school increases learned helplessness that weakens the learn drive and results in submission to the system. Sadly, in most cases, the control system settles in the middle of those two extremes (see: the old soup problem). Most children hate school, lose their love of learning, and still submit to the enslavement. Their best chance for recovery is the freedom of college, or better yet, the freedom of adulthood. See: Competitive feedback loops in binary decision making at neuronal level
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