Signature Forums: Dr. Ben Carson

Uploaded by TowsonUniversity on 22.01.2013

>>Dr Nancy Grasmick: He is certainly identified by every
president, members of Congress, leaders around this world and so
I feel a sense of humility in introducing Dr Ben Carson.
>>Dr Ben Carson: Thank you very much.
I am delighted to be here.
And, you know, to talk about something that I really enjoy,
the brain.
And I'm so happy to see so many people here who are also
interested in the brain.
And you all are indeed at Towson, extremely lucky to have
Dr Grasmick here, who I have always said was the best school
superintendent in the United States by a long shot and that
is how we got where we were in the state of Maryland education.
>>Dr Ben Carson: But I thought I'd talk a little bit today
about the neuroscience of the learner.
You know, the human brain is the most fabulous organ system in
the universe.
There is nothing that compares to it in terms
of its complexity.
And really, when you understand the way that it works together,
it's beauty.
You know, I've always been interested in the human body.
As the youngster, the only thing I ever wanted to do was
be a doctor.
There's no other occupation that even entered my mind.
And I used to listen to the mission stories in church,
Sabbath school they frequently featured missionary doctors who
traveled all over the world at great personal expense to bring,
not only physical, but mental and spiritual healing to people,
and to me they seem like the most noble people on the face of
the earth.
And I made a determination when I was eight-years-old that I was
going to be a missionary doctor.
And that was my dream until I was 13.
>>Dr Ben Carson: At which time, having grown up in dire poverty,
I decided I'd rather be rich.
So, at that point missionary doctor was out and psychiatrist
was in.
Now, I didn't know any psychiatrists, but on TV they
seemed like rich people.
>>Dr Ben Carson: You know, they drove Jaguars, they live in the
big fancy mansions, had these big plush offices and all they
did had to do was talk to crazy people all day.
>>Dr Ben Carson: It seemed like I was doing that anyway so, I
said this is going to work out extremely well.
And, you know, I started reading Psychology Today.
I was the local shrink in high school and everybody brought me
their problems.
I would sit them down and stroke my chin, say tell me about
your mama.
And then I majored in psychology in college and I was gung ho.
You know, we had great lecturers at Yale.
Anna Freud, Sigmond Freud's daughter was one of my
lecturers, Erik Erikson, all of these incredible people.
And I was going to be a psychotherapist, and I was gung
ho when I entered medical school.
You could not have convinced me that I wasn't going to
be a psychiatrist.
And then I started meeting a bunch of psychiatrists.
>>Dr Ben Carson: Need I say more.
>>Dr Ben Carson: But, no I'm just kidding, some of my best
friends are psychiatrists.
But, you know, what I discovered pretty quickly is what
psychiatrists do on television and what they do in real life
are two completely different things.
And they're really some of the more important members of
medical profession.
But it really wasn't what I wanted to do.
And I had to ask myself, "What are you really, really good at?"
And, you know, I think everybody's really good
at something.
I think God gave everybody special gifts and talents.
And I started analyzing my life and I realized that I had a lot
of eye hand coordination.
Now, not everybody has a lot of eye-hand coordination as you
know, some people are just klutzes.
And I also had the ability to think in three dimensions.
I never knocked things over and said oops.
My wife says I just don't say oops.
>>Dr Ben Carson: And I love to dissect things, and I was just,
I think, the kinds of things that really worked extremely
well for a neurosurgeon.
And that's actually how I made that decision.
But before that I was going to be a cardiothoracic surgeon.
I had moved off the psychiatry and I was going to go into
cardiothoracic surgery because it seemed kind of exciting.
But the thing is, we already knew everything about the heart,
about the cardiovascular system.
And that just was not working out for me at all.
So then I started thinking, if you go into the neurosciences
nobody knows anything, about anything.
And you can very rapidly become an expert.
>>Dr Ben Carson: And that kind of appealed to me.
In fact, let me read you a statement, it says, "In all the
fields, of all the sciences, the problems of cognitive
neuroscience, the problems of perception, action, memory,
attention, and consciousness on an intellectually satisfying
biological level offer the most difficult and greatest challenge
for the next millennium.
That's a quote from Eric Kandel, one of the most noted and
prolific neuroscientists of the day.
Now, before we go on let me introduce you to Ken.
Ken is my friend.
He's been on lots of TV shows, lots of national programs.
He's been on Phil Donahue, he's been on all kind of things.
>>Dr Ben Carson: And so he has a very familiar brain, but, you
know, I want you to just look at this 3lbs of gray matter and
white matter, and think about what it's capable of.
You have your frontal lobes up here, this frontal cortex and
the prefrontal cortex where all your executive actions are done.
And people have gigantic frontal lobes.
Now, you look at all other mammals and their frontal lobe
size pales in comparison.
So why is that?
Because the frontal lobes is where your executive functions
take place.
And where we have the ability to extract information from the
past and the present, process it in those frontal lobes and
project it into the future.
What that means is that we don't have to be victims.
We can actually change our environment.
We can actually change our circumstances.
We don't simply have to react in the way that animals do.
And that's why those lobes are so big.
The reactionary parts of the brain tend to be much bigger
than other animals, although, some of us act like animals, and
tend to be very reactionary and don't tend to think and plan,
but we do have the ability to do it.
And then you move back to the parietal cortex back here and
this is more of the sensory processing areas.
And then if you actually take this part off, I wish it were
that easy.
>>Dr Ben Carson: And then you get down here to the temporal
And temporal lobes are very, very important when it comes to
And we'll be talking about several portions of it like the
amygdala that sits here quite medially, and the hippocampus
and some of those regions, which really allow us the ability to
learn and to actually acquire knowledge.
Now, we are endowed with billions and billions
of neurons.
We'll talk a little bit more about neurons in a minute.
Hundreds of billions, if not trillions of interconnections
and supporting cells for the neurons.
In fact, you have so many neurons and supporting cells
that if you were to start counting them one by one the
second you're born, one cell per second, you would die of old age
long before you even came close to counting them all.
It's sort of like, you know, the national debt.
>>Dr Ben Carson: It's just an incredible, incredible number.
Almost too much to even comprehend.
And yet, you know, this is what we are made out of.
The fibers that connect all of those neurons.
If you were to lay them end to end it would be more than 90,000
You could circle the globe more than three times with one
brain's neural network.
That gives you some idea of the complexity of what
we're dealing with.
And it's something that I personally never quite get over
no matter how many times I look at it.
Now, you know, when you take this temporal lobe here it
actually has specialized cells that are face recognition cells.
Neurons that specifically designed to recognize faces,
voices also can be recognized and when you take the prefrontal
cortex, you know, they're - in this area, are something we
called mirror neurons.
And they actually have the ability to copy what they see
someone else doing.
So that's why, you know, little children, you see them intently
looking at you and then they're doing the next thing.
Those mirror neurons are working extremely well, are making all
kinds of connections.
You know, while they're watching you, with some of the motor
aspects of your brain, and some of the coordinating aspects of
your brain, in order to be able to copy that action.
Some people are particularly well-versed at doing that, more
so than others.
Now, now, the other thing to think about is how the brain all
works together, all the different aspects of it.
We could talk about any portion of this for several hours, but
we're not going to do that, obviously.
But, the way your brain works together.
How many of you remember what you had for breakfast today?
Let me just see your hand.
Okay, I'm glad to see so many hands, because I'm glad you ate
breakfast this morning.
>> Dr Ben Carson: Because we'll have something to say about that
a little bit later on.
But, how quickly you were able to recall what you ate for
breakfast and to respond to that question.
But so many portions of your brain were involved in
you doing that.
First of all, the sound waves had to leave my lips, travel
through the air, into your external auditory meatus, travel
down to your tympanic membrane, set up a vibratory force, travel
across the ossicles of the middle ear, to the round window,
set up a vibratory force in the endolymph, which mechanically
distorted the micro-cilia, converting mechanical energy to
electrical energy, which travels across the cochlea nerve to the
cochlea nucleus, at the ponto-medullary junction, from
there to the superior olivary, the synig, bilaterally up the
brain stem to the lateral miniscus to the inferior
colliculus and immediate geniculate nuclei, across the
thalamic radiations to the posterior temporal lobes, to
begin the auditory processing, from there to the frontal lobes,
carrying down the tract of Vicq-d'Azyr, retrieving the
memory from the medial hippocampus structure in the
mammory bodies, back to the frontal lobes to start the motor
response, at the BET cell level, coming down the cortical spinal
tract, across the internal capsule into the cerebral
binoch, sending down to the cervical megedary desiccation,
into the spinal cord gray areas, synapsing there, going out to
the neuro-muscular junction, stimulating the nerve of the
muscle, so you can raise your hand.
And all of that--
>> Dr Ben Carson: And of course that's a simplified version of
what your brain had to do.
I didn't want to get into all of the inhibitory and coordinating
influences because we'd been here all day talking about what
you did to remember what you ate for breakfast.
But think about if your brain can do all that, and you barely
have to think about it, what is the human brain capable of if
you actually have to do something?
And, you know, I always find it a little humorous when people
say, oh don't learn this, don't learn this because you'll
overload your brain.
>>Dr Ben Carson: That is funny.
>>Dr Ben Carson: You can't overload your brain.
You know, if you were to learn one fact per second, one per
second, before you begin to challenge the capacity of your
brain, it would take you 3 million years.
And you can't even learn one fact per second.
So forget about it.
You're not going to overload your brain.
Don't have to do it.
But how does the brain actually learn?
How is this sort of almost amorphous mass of stuff learn?
Well, you take those neurons each one of them is sort of like
a star, a multipoint star and that's the soma, the body
of the neuron.
And it has on the end of all those stars little branches,
which are called the dendrites.
And that's how it is able to communicate with the other
neurons around.
And it has a tail like a shooting star and that's
the axon.
And that's how it sends communications to other cells.
Now, inside of those axons are little vesicles and little
packages of chemicals, different types of chemicals can come out
of those, which then go on to the dendritic receptor sites,
and that's how the connection is made in something we
call a synapse.
And there are a lot of synapses when a baby is born but only a
relatively small number compared to what they're going to have
when they are fully developed, because synapses are constantly
developing based on the communication between cells.
Sort of like, you think of baseball game and you have a
pitcher standing on the mound and he's got some apples, he's
got some oranges, and he's got some baseballs.
He throws one to this -- the first basemen, one to the second
baseman, one to the shortstop, one to the outfielder.
And when they catch it there's a connection there.
And that's exactly what happens in the synaptic gap.
Is that vesicle opens and some of that biochemical goes out
there and it gets caught, and that creates a connection.
And the more times that happens, the stronger
that connection becomes.
Just like when you start playing catch with a three-year-old.
They're not very good at it at first, after a while and after
you've been playing catch with him for a long time you know
they're like Cal Ripken.
You know, they're scooping that ball, you know.
And that's exactly the way the brain works, exactly the way
learning happens.
And that's why, you know, when a violinist first starts out it
sounds pretty horrible, but after several years it sounds
extremely good.
Because those synapses and those pathways have been
formed very well.
Now, there are a lot of things that can make those synapses
form better and we're going to talk about some of those things,
and I better speed it up or I'm not going to get through
all of them.
But, you know, repeating anything, doing it time and time
again, it changes the action and the structure of the neuron, and
that's what we call learning.
Interestingly enough, recent scientific studies have shown us
that if you take a mirroring species -- mouse, rat something
like that -- and you teach them a complex new task, for instance
they have to reach through a hole in order to get a food
pellet, that creates certain synaptic impulses.
And with a very high-powered microscope, an electron
microscope, you can actually see the formation of little spines,
new spines, that grow into that synapse as they learn that new
thing within hours of the time that they learned it.
Now, it could be that that happens in people too but, you
know, nobody's really up to dissecting people and finding
that out right now.
But I suspect there may be some type of similarity with what
happens with the mouse in that particular case.
Now, you know what, I'm going to skip that part.
But, what we have discovered though with people is that we
can see a lot of the changes that are occurring as they
acquire functions through noninvasive techniques, like
MRIs, functional MRIs, and PET scans.
And I remember how excited I was when I was a resident working in
the laboratory as we were putting in the first PET scanner
at Johns Hopkins.
And in fact, the very first PET scanner at Johns Hopkins was
done on one of my patients.
It was a rabbit.
>>Dr Ben Carson: Now that's not why it's called a PET scan.
Positron emission tomography, looking at the actual ability of
cells in certain parts of the brain to metabolize glucose,
oxygen, and of course the more active that part of the brain
is, the more rapid the metabolic activity there is, which
actually produces a different color on the schema.
And with functional MRIs, we can actually see changes.
And when we combine those two things we are learning an
enormous amount about what happens, not only when a person
does an action, but as a person is learning how to do an action.
It really is quite fascinating.
But, you know, I tell the young people all the time, as we learn
more and more about what certain colors and changes mean in the
brain, you know, we'll be using these kind of tests instead of
lie detection tests.
The police will put you in one of these things and ask
you questions.
And if you tell a lie, bzz, you know.
>>: Dr Ben Carson: I think it's going to be pretty cool. And --
>> Dr Ben Carson: You know, they'll have them up in stores
and, you know, if you walk in and you're planning on stealing
something it'll alert security.
So, so I tell the young people just start thinking clean pure
thoughts now.
Then you won't have to change so much as time goes on.
But, you know, the key thing here in the process of learning
is that as these connections are made, based on what you've been
doing, what you've been seeing, what you've been hearing, what
you've been experiencing, those connections become very solid
and that's the basis upon which memory is built.
You know, there's a famous neurophysiologist, psychologist
called Hebb, and he has a very famous saying that says, "cells
that fire together, wire together," and it's pretty cool.
But that happens throughout our lives and we create these
connections and memories are actually created biochemically
and electrophysiologically.
Now we used to think that all memories were kind of hardwired
and they sat in the hippocampus.
We've learned a lot more in recent years about how memories
are recalled and reconstructed every time you call one up.
But what's truly fascinating is in neurosurgery, you know, we
can take somebody, you can take a very old man, and we can do a
small temporal craniotomy here, and we can put in certain types
of electrodes into their hippocampal region, which is one
of the major storage areas for memory, and in most cases is
bilaterally represented.
But we can stimulate that man or that woman and they can recite
back to us verbatim a newspaper article they read
sixty years ago.
I mean, that's the level of detail in which memory
is stored.
Now, if we could retrieve it that would be really cool,
without putting electrodes in.
You know, that would be really cool.
But, you know, we're working on ways of being able to
do that too.
But, you know, it all starts at a very, very early age.
You look at a baby, babies are like sponges just ready
to learn.
You know, within eight weeks of the time a baby is born, what do
they do?
You look at them and you smile at them and they smile back at
you, within just eight short weeks.
Think about all the dendritic axonal connections that have
been made to make that happen.
They learn voices.
They learn faces that look familiar to them.
Already in a very short period of time.
They learn, you know, you put something out in front of them,
they reach their hand out to grab it.
They start learning how to make certain types of sounds.
They learn very quickly that if they cry that they get
attention, that somebody will feed them, or somebody will
comfort them, or somebody will do something.
Some people say no don't pay attention to them and they'll
stop crying.
That probably is true, but they also will be very
abnormal people.
You know, what some of the neurodevelopmentalists have
discovered is that babies who are left to themselves, who are
not nurtured, and whom you don't pay those kinds of attention,
turn out negatively, in a very negative fashion.
So, don't listen to those people who tell you not to pay
attention to the baby because it's part of their encoding,
it's what they're doing.
Changing those neurotransmitters, changing the
connections, encoding the memories.
And when it comes to encoding memories, you know, we're still
learning a lot about how a memory is actually encoded
because you can't learn without encoding a memory.
And back in the 1953 a patient HK, a very famous case in
neurology and neurosurgery, he was having intractable seizures
and doctors did an operation in which they took out part of the
temporal lobe, and resected the hippocampus.
And they were all delighted to see that his seizures stopped.
No more seizures, it was wonderful.
Sort of a big, big feather in the cap of seizure surgeons at
that point.
There was only one problem, he couldn't remember anything.
He could not acquire any new memories.
He could talk to you based on things that he
already knew before.
He could repeat something that you said to him, a minute later
it's gone.
He didn't have it.
And it shows that some of the things that are actually going
on in the hippocampus and the amygdala are the things that
allow you to form those memories.
Now, in his particular case, he had an unknown disease on the
other side of his brain because, as I said, usually these things
are bilaterally represented.
And normally knocking out just one side is not going to
completely get rid of your memory, but in his particular
case it did.
And then by discovering that there was something on the other
side, it gave us a lot of insight into how memory can
potentially be encoded.
Well, why is it that some of our young people, some of our
children seem to learn extremely rapidly and extremely well, and
others seem to have an extraordinarily difficult time
in learning?
And they're in the same environment.
Well I think I can speak actually with some experience
there because when I was a youngster, particularly in the
fifth grade, I was a horrible student.
I was perhaps the worst student you've ever seen.
And I just thought that I was very stupid, so while the
material was being presented in the classroom I
basically tuned out.
You know, I was looking at the plants on the windowsill or, you
know, trying to find someone I could shoot a paper wad at or,
you know, anything but paying attention.
And attention is an enormously important part of
the learning process.
Some of you may be familiar with the mental exercise in which you
are shown a video, and there's a basketball team there, and
you're asked to count how many times the people on the team
pass the ball in a relatively short period of time, it's like
a minute.
And you're sitting there and you're counting the number of
times they passed that ball and then when the analysis is done
you're asked, "Did you see anything unusual
during the video?"
And, you know, most people didn't see anything unusual, and
yet when you go back and look at the video you see that right in
the middle of the team came out a man dressed in a gorilla suit,
who is going like that.
And you don't even notice him because your attention is
focused on counting the ball.
And it shows you how incredibly important creating a situation
where the learner is actually paying attention, makes.
And if they're not paying attention - you know, two people
can be looking at exactly the same thing and take
extraordinarily different things away from it.
Well, it wasn't that I couldn't learn.
I could learn things that were important to me.
You know, one of the things that I was particularly good at is
getting other people kicked out of class.
Because I actually enjoyed that because they were always calling
me names, and calling me stupid so if I get them kicked out of
class it was like sweet revenge.
And I would like study my classmates and figure out what
made them really, really angry.
And I would process that information and I would just
irritate them, and irritate them until they were
about to explode.
But I would never push the last button to make them explode
until we were in class and the teacher was nearby, and then I
would do it, they would explode, the teacher would kick them out
and I would say, "Yeah this is great," - because I wouldn't be
the only one that didn't learn anything that day, and misery
loves company.
Well, there was this one girl in the class.
Miss Goody-two-shoes, you guys know who I'm talking about?
>>Dr Ben Carson: Some of you were her, I'm sure.
And, you know, everything is perfect, pristine, on time and I
was just thinking, "Wow wouldn't it be something to get her
kicked out of class?"
Well, the only problem was she was cool, calm, and collected,
you couldn't get her ruffled, but I was persistent.
I kept up until I figured out what made her really, really
angry and boy I had her going.
I mean the steam was coming out of her ears, she was about to
explode, but I didn't push her last button.
I waited until we were in class.
Low and behold she sat right down at the desk in front of me
and I said, "The Lord is good."
And as the teacher approached, I pushed her last button, I
irritated her, but she didn't explode.
She just calmly turned around and she said, "You and me on the
playground at recess."
>>Dr Ben Carson: So that didn't work out that well.
But you know what?
I learned from that experience and I stopped irritating people.
I never irritated anyone again after that.
So, there are a lot of motivations for learning.
It can be paying attention, it can be self preservation, it can
be food, it can be all kinds of different rewards.
And what we have to do is know how to use those various rewards
in a very good way.
Now short-term memory is pretty good in most of us.
If I were to give you like three objects, you know, a flag, a
light, and a carpet.
And I said what were those three objects?
Virtually all of you could say, you know, a flag, a light and a
But two days from now, if I were to ask you what those objects
were, it's a very strong chance that you might get one of them,
some of you might get two, rarely would you get three
because you don't have any particular reason, quite
frankly, to remember that.
But that's where incentives come in.
Learning how to create appropriate incentives.
Now, what some educators have discovered is that children
respond well to snacks.
And they use snacks.
This is not only in the country, in lots of places around the
world, for those who complete their tasks in a timely fashion
and in a satisfactory way.
And that's not strange because when you stop and you think
about what are the drivers of human learning, what are the
drivers of human behavior, what the developmental psychologists
tell us is that they are food, water, sex or
pleasure, and drugs.
Those things create incentives for behavioral change in people.
And it's good for us, particularly anybody who is
involved in education, to understand those basic drives in
a person so that we can use them in an appropriate way that will
make things work for us.
Now, what happens when you experience pleasure, and we
experience pleasure through our basic senses, you know, sight,
hearing, smell, taste and touch - that's how we experience the
outside world.
And some of the developmental psychologists also feel that
interaction, pleasant interpersonal interactions, are
just as important as those things and the gaining of social
status is just as important as those things.
But what happens when you experience pleasure?
The amygdala, right there, the medial temporal area, is one of
the major drivers of emotion.
The amygdala elaborates dopamine anytime you experience pleasure
the pre-frontal cortex senses the dopamine release and, you
may remember I said that's where all your executive functions
are, that's the place where you can integrate all the memories
from the past, all of the knowledge from the past and the
present projected into a plan.
Well it immediately projects it into a plan to get more pleasure
because it says this caused me pleasure, I want to do more of
this in order that I can get more pleasure.
Now, of course one of the negative aspects of that is
that's how people become addicted to drugs.
But you can also get people to be addicted to good behavior.
You can get people to be addicted to learning and that's
exactly what happened to me.
You know, my mother, you know, as Doctor Grasmick alluded to,
couldn't read.
We didn't know that, but she was very observant.
And she worked as a domestic, cleaned other people's homes and
she noticed that these people who lived in these very nice
houses and had these very nice lives, didn't spend a lot of
time watching TV.
And they spent a lot of time reading, and strategizing.
So, she said, you guys are going to be readers.
And, you know, I didn't like that very much, I got
to tell you.
You know, everybody else was outside having a good time
playing and here we were in the house reading?
And my mother's friends didn't like it either, and they said,
"You can't make boys stay in the house and read."
You know, they'll grow up and they'll hate you.
And I would say, "Mother, they're right." You know -
>>Dr Ben Carson: But, you know, she wasn't going to listen to
anything that they had to say.
And, you know, she always had these things that she would say
like, you know, "Why are you going to spend all your time
watching TV?
Somebody has already invested their intellect in that.
If you read and you develop your intellect, pretty soon people
will be watching you on television."
And of course she was right about that.
But, you know, at that time I didn't like it at first, but
something happened because what I really hated, even though I
would never admit it to anyone, was being called a dummy.
I hated that.
I tried to ignore it, I tried to act like it doesn't matter, but
I hated it.
When I started reading those books, I was looking at words
all of the time, so all of a sudden I knew how to spell.
I wasn't the first one to sit down at the spelling B.
And as I had to put those words together I learned grammar and
syntax and sentence structure, and my writing became much
better because I was reading all of the time I had to extract
that information from that page and create images, which meant I
learned to use use my imagination.
A very important aspect of becoming a creative individual.
So now, within a relatively small space of time, my grades
started to zoom.
I wasn't a dummy anymore.
The same people who were calling me dummy were saying, "Ben, how
do you work this problem?"
I would say, "Sit at my feet youngster while I instruct you."
>>Dr Ben Carson: I was, perhaps, a little obnoxious.
But it sure felt good.
I've got to tell you that dopamine was coming.
And, you know, my prefrontal cortexes were taking all of this
in and they were really changing my behavior in a very, very
dramatic way because my reward system had changed in such a
dramatic way.
Now, you know, there are lots of different ways that
people learn.
You know, you have another famous neuroscientist, Gardner -
the Gardner Theory of Multiple Intelligences.
You know, you're particularly gifted in this, you're
particularly gifted in that, and there could be some truth in
that there have been many people who have challenged that and
think that, you know, cognitive functions are overlapping and
therefore you can't have such a thing as multiple intelligences.
And, you know, if you go into the neuroscience literature
you'll see 10,000 articles on this one and 10,000 articles on
another all fighting each other about it.
But I'm not sure that it's all that important, to be honest
with you.
Obviously there are some people who are extraordinary at
certain things.
I mean, you look at someone like J.S.
Bach, how could somebody be that prolific?
How could he be able to write, you know, a new cantata
every Sunday?
You know, for eons of time?
You can't even conceive of how somebody could do that unless
they really had a special gift in the way that they did things.
And someone like him, when it came to learning music theory, I
mean, anything that you said I'm sure he went, "Oh yeah," and he
would have something that he could relate to that and that
would make it very easy for him to understand.
Some people are extremely good with math.
And some people think that they're extremely bad with math.
I don't think anybody is extremely bad with math, but
there are some people who are extremely good with it.
And I always say, you know, with math and science they're just
like reading.
Reading for most people is relatively easy.
Why, because they know all 26 letters of the alphabet.
What if they only knew 21 of them?
They knew all of the letters except A, D, O, S and T.
What could they read?
The minute they sat down and started reading they would say
this is for somebody else.
I don't have the cognitive ability, this is not one of my
multiple intelligences, I can't do it.
And yet, you go back and you fill in those five letters and
all of a sudden, voila, they can read as well is anybody else.
So, what does that tell you?
Science and math are exactly the same.
Everything builds on something else.
So, if you have the building blocks and they're all together,
just like all of the letters are together, then it makes
perfectly good sense, but if you take one out here, one out here,
and one out here, it's just like trying to read without
the letters.
It falls apart extraordinarily quickly.
And, you know, what I always tell students who tell me
they're not good in biology or chemistry or math or whatever, I
say, "Was there a time when you understood it?
When it was easy?"
And they always say, "Yes."
I say, "Go back to that time, get your study materials," And
this the same thing that a very good tutor will do.
You go back to where it was easy and then you start rebuilding
from that point.
That way, you fill in the gaps, and by the time you get back to
where you were supposed to be, all of a sudden, it's a very
different subject.
All of a sudden, it makes sense.
Now, there are some computer programs that are designed to do
that now, looking at the way that a student solves a math
problem, an equation, by looking at them solve a series of
equations, they can figure out what they don't know, which is
exactly what a good teacher can do.
But, a good teacher may not be able to sit down with each
student for hours and hours, and these computer programs can
do that.
I actually think that that is something that is going to help
us out tremendously in the future.
It's really quite exciting.
The same thing with virtual classrooms.
They will be able to help us in the same way, because a lot of
the students today, I hate to say it, but, you know, their
minds are set a different level because from the time that they
are little babies, they're in front of computers, they're in
front of television screens, everything is zip, zip, zip,
zoom zoom, zoom.
They're in that mode.
That's what excites them, and it's sometimes very hard to,
sort of, get them to sit down and just have a
normal conversation.
Well, one of the things that the virtual classrooms will make it
possible to do, instead of sitting there talking about the
pyramids of Egypt, they'll be able to put on a headset, and
they'll be able to go to the pyramids of Egypt, and you'll be
able to see them being constructed.
You'll be able to be what it was like to be a pharaoh.
You'll be able to see, you know, armies of chariots racing down,
and things that will emblazon that into their minds.
And, you know, as we go forward in the whole educational schema,
we have to change with the times because it's not, now, so much a
matter of just having huge volumes of information stored in
your memory banks, because all you got do is pick up Siri and
ask, you know.
But, the question is, do you know how to apply that
information in order to get where you're trying to go?
So, the learning process now is, we still need to know
the basic stuff.
There's no excuse for knowing the basic stuff because if you
don't know the basic stuff, you don't know what to ask Siri.
But, also learning how to take that material and to acquire
information, so that you can use the executive functions to get
where you want to be, and that's something that we are learning
more and more about.
Interestingly enough, we've learned so much about the way
memories are formed, we've also discovered that some of the
things that interfere with memory, like fear and stress, we
can actually quantitate.
There is a certain protein, cyclic AMP.
It's a binding -- sensory binding protein, and it
accumulates in cells as the rat or the mice learns to fear
something, and, through various types of microscopy, you can see
it accumulating in these cells.
Cyclic AMP Response Element Binding protein, that's what is
called, CREB, not to be confused with the Kreb cycle.
And, interestingly enough, what neuroscientists have discovered,
is that you can actually interfere with that.
Fear established meant learning.
By subjecting them to another chemical, Alpha Cam Kinase 2,
which blocks the accumulation of the CREB in the fear neuron, and
the behavior that the rat or the mice was exhibiting secondary to
their fear disappears.
Another set of scientists took groups of students, these were
music students, and they tried to condition fear into them by
showing them pictures of spiders, and then shocking them.
So, any time they saw a picture of a spider, you know, it was
like, okay.
But one group -- half of the students, you know, they left in
that condition.
The other half they administered a beta blocking drug known as
propranolol, which has a profound effect in the synaptic
region, and actually blocks the establishment of that fear.
So, those students, when they saw the spider, their blood
pressure didn't go up.
You know, nothing happened.
They said -- but if you asked them they say, "Yeah, it's a
spider," and then they would just continue on, whereas the
other ones developed a marked fear response.
Now, interestingly enough, in the rats that I was talking
about earlier, the fear response that is eliminated by giving
them an Alpha Cam Kinase 2, is very specific for that new fear
that was learned.
Their old fears are still there.
Now, why is that important?
Because some neuroscientists think that we may be able to use
this knowledge to treat posttraumatic stress disorder
and some other types of stress fear related phenomenon.
So, it really is quite exciting.
Now, there are some things that are very very bad for learning.
Fad diets.
You know, a lot of young girls get on these fad diets and, you
know, many studies have shown that it really can slow
Alcohol and drugs impair sleep, and if you impair sleep,
you impair learning.
Dehydration and low glucose have a profound effect because with
low glucose, you don't produce glycoproteins.
Glycoproteins are essential elements to
laying down memories.
Also, you know, the way that the brain responds is called
responding to an allostatic load.
Allostatic load is the wear and tear that the brain experiences
from prolonged stress and we know that that can affect your
immune system.
We know that it can cause loss of cells in the hippocampus,
where all the memories are stored.
We know that it can cause the amygdala to grow, which of
course, is the emotion and the fear center, and all of those
things can cause high blood pressure, diabetes,
osteoporosis, predisposition to dementia and a whole
host of things.
So, I think what you are able to see from all of these things
that I am saying is that, you know, when a baby is born, they
start out with a pretty pretty pure brain, with lots of
potential, and then, we all become products of the many
things that happen to us along the way, of the kind of
environments that we are exposed to, including the learning
environment, both the positive aspects of that and the negative
aspects of that.
Every time you see, on television, some heinous crime,
you know, like the guy in Connecticut, recently.
Think about this.
At one point, he was an innocent, cute little baby.
Just like Charles Manson, just like all these people.
They were cute innocent little babies at one time, and then
they had all kinds of experiences, some negative, some
positive, that altered all of those synaptic connections.
That changed, for them, what was pleasure away from what might be
pleasure to everybody else.
That made them not want to avert what other people would
want to avert.
Now, here's the good news.
That can change.
It is possible to change that.
People think that old dog can't learn new tricks, it's not true.
There's something known as neurogenesis.
This is an exciting new part of neuroscience because we are
fixed with those hundred billion neurons that we're born with,
but recent evidence indicates that those neurons can
regenerate and they can repair.
They can, particularly in elderly people who are very
physically active and who are very mentally active.
So, we can spare ourselves.
But if we don't do it, you know, there's a saying, "Use it or
lose it."
And, you know, if you don't challenge your brain constantly,
it's not going to work very well for you.
Now, I am coming to a close.
I don't know when I'm supposed to end, but I'm going to come to
a close because I know I must be getting close to that time.
When I was in medical school, I thought I was pretty smart.
You know, I had gone to Yale and I had done pretty well and I was
at the University of Michigan, and I said, "You know, you're a
smart guy."
But then, I didn't do so well in the first set of
comprehensive exams.
I did terribly on the first set of comprehensive exams.
My counselor told me I should drop out of medical school.
Said I was not cut out to be a doctor.
Can you imagine how devastated I was?
All of my life, since I was eight years old, I wanted to be
a doctor.
I finally get to medical school.
The person the University selects to help you get through
tells you to drop out.
>>Dr Ben Carson: Oh, man.
It was horrible.
But, you know, I asked God to give me wisdom.
I start analyzing the situation.
I said, "What do you -- What kind of subjects do you struggle
in and what kind of subjects do you do well in?"
This is where the executive function comes in.
Asking yourself those kinds of questions is an extraordinarily
good teaching technique because a lot of times, students don't
necessarily want you to tell them the answer, they want you
to ask them a question that will make them think of the answer
and then it will be reinforced to a much greater degree.
Well, I realized that I did well in subjects where I did a lot of
reading, and I did poorly in subjects where I listened to a
lot of boring lectures, because I get nothing out of
boring lectures.
Some people get a lot out of boring lectures, I get nothing
out of them.
And there I was sitting, listening to 6 to 8 hours worth
of boring lectures every day, which means I was wasting 6 to 8
hours a day.
So, I made an executive decision to skip the boring lectures and
to spend that time reading, and the rest of medical school was a
snap after that.
And I remember going back to my medical school some years later
as the commencement speaker...
>>Dr Ben Carson: And I was looking for that counselor,
because I was going to tell him he wasn't cut out to
be a counselor.
>>Dr Ben Carson: Because, you know, some people are just so
negative, negative, negative all the time, and, you know, that is
something that clearly does not work when we're trying to teach
children, when we're trying to teach anybody, that positive
interaction makes all the difference in the world.
And, you know, I was very lucky along the way to have some
teachers, even when I wasn't doing well, who believed in me,
and who encouraged me, and could see the good things in me,
helped me to build a rock collection, helped me to get
interested in looking at Protozoa under the microscope,
learning about botany, putting together science fair projects.
And if I hadn't had those teachers, I don't think I would
have ever been successful.
And, you know, for those of you who were involved in the
educational arena, I would go so far as to say I have never met a
successful person who could not point to a teacher who made a
big difference in their lives.
And it's really one of the most important professions that one
can undertake, at any level.
You know, from preschool right through graduate school.
Because you're acting as an analyst.
You're looking at that student, trying to figure out where they
came from, how did they get like this, what can you do to change
the pleasure parameters in their life, to make learning exciting
to them again, to actually change those neural pathways
that they have, and it will make all the difference in the world.
Now, just a couple of practical things that we have discovered,
in terms of learning repetition of information.
Repetition of information makes all the difference in the world.
You know, when I was in second year medical school, I lived
with my brother who was in the school of engineering.
He even knew all the bacteria and what they were sensitive to
because I always had these little flashcards pulling them
out and I was talking about them, you know.
Repetition makes a big difference because it creates
those synaptic pathways.
Excitement at the time of learning makes the receptor
sites much more receptive.
It's sort of like that pitcher who's out there, throwing the
balls, and the shortstop is asleep.
Well, excitement wakes him up, and now he's ready to receive
that ball, and it makes a big difference in learning.
Eating carbohydrates at the time of learning, we have discovered,
actually reinforces the learning because the carbohydrates are
necessary for the glycoproteins, which then lay down the
long-term memory, and then 8 to 9 hours of sleep after learning.
Now, the interesting thing is, you know, non dream sleep
activates calcium channels that rehearse the pathways that were
recently learned, and then REM sleep, or dreaming, actually
reinforces any learning that you have just completed, and that's
why sleep is so valuable.
And, you know, people who stay up all night, doing all nighters
before a test, they are doing themselves a horrible
It really does not work very well at all, in understanding
how that works.
Now, I don't want you to confuse carbohydrates with high-fat
You know, high-fat diets actually impair glucose
metabolism and the formation of glycoproteins.
So, you got to be careful about that.
And one of the worst things you can do, going into a learning
environment, is not have anything.
Don't eat breakfast, is the worst thing you can possibly do
when it comes to learning, and that's something that we have
known for a few decades.
You know, that's why, in some of the head start programs, they
make sure that the kids get breakfast before they
go to school.
It makes all of the difference in the world, in terms
of what happens.
Important to know that the adolescent brain is different
than the fully developed brain.
>> Dr Ben Carson: The executive functions are not fully
developed yet, in the adolescent brain, and, you know, they come
to some striking conclusion sometimes.
You know, I remember, you know, when I was a teenager and I was
just, just torn up over the fact that I did not have clothes.
There were so many important things going on, but, to me, it
was the clothes.
And I was just complaining to my mother, "I got to
have these clothes.
You know, you're doing me wrong, and you know look at everybody
else has got clothes."
You know, one day, she just said, "Okay, I'll tell you what.
I'm going to give you all of the money that I made scrubbing
peoples toilets, scrubbing their floors, and you pay the bills,
you take care of all the necessities, and with all the
money left over, you can buy all the clothes you want."
>>Dr Ben Carson: And I said, all right now you're talking.
And, you know, it wasn't long before I figured out that my
mother was a financial genius to be able to keep a roof over our
head at all.
And that was a very good learning tool for me, but you
know, it just shows you how immature I was.
You know, knowing what our financial situation was and
focusing on something so mundane and so unimportant as clothes.
And yet, just recognize when your teenager comes up with this
stuff it's not because they're bad people, it's because their
executive functions have not fully developed.
And you know, it's your job to help them develop that.
I just want to close with a little bit about plasticity.
I'm sure you've heard the term plasticity a lot.
What it basically means is rewiring, you know, those axonal
dendritic connections can be rewired.
And we're just starting to just starting to discover that that
can even happen in a more mature brain.
We used to think it only happened in very immature
But there was a seven-year-old girl by the name of Beth, she
was swinging in a schoolyard in Connecticut, she fell off the
swing, she hit her head, she had a seizure.
And nobody got too excited, they said it's posttraumatic seizure,
happens all the time, it's no big deal.
But then the next week she had two seizures, and the next week
three, and pretty soon three a day, ten a day, 30 a day,
60 a day.
Despite medications, the doctors in Connecticut didn't know what
to do.
They sent her to the doctors in New York, they didn't know what
to do.
Then they sent her to the doctors in Boston and they
didn't know what to do.
But there was an old doctor there that said to the family,
she acts like someone with raspy encephalitis.
He says with this disease, the seizures get worse and worse.
No matter what you do pretty soon you have to put her in an
institution, and eventually she'll die, and there's nothing
anybody can do about it.
They were devastated.
Their beautiful little girl, institution?
Nothing you could do?
But the mother said -- was one of those people that would never
say die.
She went to the library, she read everything she could read
about seizures and epilepsy encephalitis.
She discovered what we were doing at Hopkins with the
operation hemispherectomy, where we take out half of the brain to
control intractable seizures.
They brought her down for an evaluation, and my colleagues
and I felt that she was in fact a good candidate
for that operation.
But when I tell the parents what the risk of surgery were, that
she might not be able to talk, she might be paralyzed on one
side, she might be in a coma, or she might die.
They said thank you doctor, but no thanks.
You see, we couldn't live with ourselves if she died, or if she
were in a coma, and we never even had a chance
to say goodbye.
So they took the little girl, seizures and all,
back to Connecticut.
That Christmas, she was in a play and while she was on the
stage she had a grand maul seizure.
Fell down, arms and legs jerking, eyes rolled back,
foaming at the mouth, incontinent of urine, that was
the straw that broke the camels back.
They brought her back, they wanted the operation.
I performed the operation, took out the left half of her brain,
everything went smoothly.
Except for one thing, she didn't wake up at the end
of the operation.
She remained in a coma.
A day went by, two days, three days.
Every time I went by the room parents were there grieving,
regretting their decision, and I really felt for them.
And a week went by she was still in a coma, two weeks in a coma
on a ventilator.
She used to love Mr Rogers.
They would play tapes of Mr Rogers singing and saying
poetry, didn't wake her up.
Three weeks went by, still in a coma, off of the ventilator.
Mr Rogers heard about this little girl, and then bless his
heart, he brought all of his puppets from Pittsburgh to
Baltimore to her bedside to try to wake her up.
Didn't wake her up.
Four weeks went by, 2 a.m.
in the morning, dad was lying on a cot next to her bed and she
said "Daddy, my nose itches."
And he was so excited he jumped up and ran out in the hallway,
she talked, she talked, only had on his underpants.
And everybody came to see what all the commotion was and, you
know, that was the beginning of a rapid recovery.
In no time she was walking, she was talking.
She wasn't having seizures.
It was so exciting.
But now they were worried because it was time for her to
go back to school.
How could she go back to school, missing the left half
of her brain?
The side that allows you to calculate.
She'd never be able to do math.
But, you know, that little girl was so determined, she worked so
hard the next year, she had the highest math average
in her class.
And she did that with half of a brain.
Can you imagine what a person can do with a whole
brain and determination?
And what it requires, is it requires all of us, working
together, using our collective knowledge and experience,
because I personally believe that, in this country, we have
one more generation before we lose our pinnacle status.
If we don't do something very serious about education.
You've seen all the international surveys that show
us right near the bottom in math and science, in particular, but
we're not doing that great in other subjects either.
Because there is so much emphasis on sports,
entertainment, lifestyles of the rich and famous, silly stuff.
Now, I have nothing against sports and entertainment, but
give me a break.
You know, what's going on in the world right now?
You know, you got all of the stuff going on in
the Middle East.
Horrible things happened today you'll see when you get home.
You know, we got a debt ceiling, and what's the biggest story?
Some Notre Dame football player with an imaginary girlfriend.
Give me a break.
But, you know, this is what we have evolved into.
And this is what we are placing out in front of our children.
And we are saying that this is important.
And I'm not saying we have to be Scrooge about everything.
But, we have got to learn what our priorities are.
We have got to learn what the essentials of education are.
What those things are that we can control, that we can do,
that we can spread out across the entire educational
atmosphere so that we can make our young people the kind of
people that we would be proud of, the kind of people that
Alexis de Tocqueville found when he came to America in 1831 and
was blown away by the fact that our people were
so well educated.
He could find a mountain man in the outskirts of society and the
man could read the newspaper and have an intelligent discussion
with him.
And we've lost that.
And that makes us easy to manipulate.
And this is not who we are, this is not what America
is all about.
But, it was our educational system that impressed de
Tocqueville the most.
And we have the opportunity to learn how to use that in a very
effective way to make sure that we remain the pinnacle nation of
the world.
Thank you very much.