Child psychologists have demonstrated that our minds are actually constructed by these thousands of tiny interactions during the first few years of life. We aren’t just what we’re taught. It’s what we experience during those early years – a smile here, a jarring sound there – that creates the pathways and connections of the brain. We put our kids to fifteen years of quick-cut advertising, passive television watching, and sadistic video games, and we expect to see emerge a new generation of calm, compassionate, and engaged human beings?
Psychologists have devised some ingenious ways to help unpack the human "now." Consider how we run those jerky movie frames together into a smooth and continuous stream. This is known as the "phi phenomenon." The essence of phi shows up in experiments in a darkened room where two small spots are briefly lit in quick succession, at slightly separated locations. What the subjects report seeing is not a succession of spots, but a single spot moving continuously back and forth. Typically, the spots are illuminated for 150 milliseconds separated by an interval of fifty milliseconds. Evidently the brain somehow "fills in" the fifty-millisecond gap. Presumably this "hallucination" or embellishment occurs after the event, because until the second light flashes the subject cannot know the light is "supposed" to move. This hints that the human now is not simultaneous with the visual stimulus, but a bit delayed, allowing time for the brain to reconstruct a plausible fiction of what has happened a few milliseconds before.In a fascinating refinement of the experiment, the first spot is colored red, the second green. This clearly presents the brain with a problem. How will it join together the two discontinuous experiences—red spot, green spot—smoothly? By blending the colors seamlessly into one another? Or something else? In fact, subjects report seeing the spot change color abruptly in the middle of the imagined trajectory, and are even able to indicate exactly where using a pointer. This result leaves us wondering how the subject can apparently experience the "correct" color sensation before the green spot lights up. Is it a type of precognition? Commenting on this eerie phenomenon, the philosopher Nelson Goodman wrote suggestively: "The intervening motion is produced retrospectively, built only after the second flash occurs and projected backwards in time." In his book Consciousness Explained, philosopher Daniel Dennett points out that the illusion of color switch cannot actually be created by the brain until after the green spot appears. "But if the second spot is already 'in conscious experience,' wouldn't it be too late to interpose the illusory content between the conscious experience of the red spot and the conscious experience of the green spot?
Teachers dread nothing so much as unusual characteristics in precocious boys during the initial stages of their adolescence. A certain streak of genius makes an ominous impression on them, for there exists a deep gulf between genius and the teaching profession. Anyone with a touch of genius seems to his teachers a freak from the very first. As far as teachers are concerned, they define young geniuses as those who are bad, disrespectful, smoke at fourteen, fall in love at fifteen, can be found at sixteen hanging out in bars, read forbidden books, write scandalous essays, occasionally stare down a teacher in class, are marked in the attendance book as rebels, and are budding candidates for room-arrest. A schoolmaster will prefer to have a couple of dumbheads in his class than a single genius, and if you regard it objectively, he is of course right. His task is not to produce extravagant intellects but good Latinists, arithmeticians and sober decent folk. The question of who suffers more acutely at the other's hands - the teacher at the boy's, or vice versa - who is more of a tyrant, more of a tormentor, and who profanes parts of the other's soul, student or teacher, is something you cannot examine without remembering your own youth in anger and shame. yet that s not what concerns us here. We have the consolation that among true geniuses the wounds almost always heal. As their personalities develop, they create their art in spite of school. Once dead, and enveloped by the comfortable nimbus of remoteness, they are paraded by the schoolmasters before other generations of students as showpieces and noble examples. Thus teh struggle between rule and spirit repeats itself year after year from school to school. The authorities go to infinite pains to nip the few profound or more valuable intellects in the bud. And time and again the ones who are detested by their teachers are frequently punished, the runaways and those expelled, are the ones who afterwards add to society's treasure. But some - and who knows how many? - waste away quiet obstinacy and finally go under.