Models of the mind

When we want to try to understand something abstract, which we cannot physically handle, it is useful to be able to make a model of it. You have probably never seen real lungs breathing in a human body and yet you have a pretty good idea how they work from a variety of models. Such models include those plastic human torsos with bits that come out, two balloons in a bell jar, a diagram in a biology book, or a couple of paragraphs of descriptive text. The text, the drawings and the physical apparatus all represent different aspects of the real thing, but none of them are real lungs. We need to study them all in order to get a rounded picture of the essential characteristics of lungs and respiration.
So with the mind, which is even more abstract and inaccessible than lungs and respiration, we need a variety of models. None of them will explain everything, but each explains some important characteristic of the mind. In this handbook we are interested in improving general thinking, in other words improving how children’s minds work. So we need to focus on four characteristics of the mind that are especially important for this.
1 The mind has some sort of general processor which affects all of our thinking. We touched on this in the Introduction.
2 The mind develops with age. This means more than just ‘getting bigger’ or ‘knowing more things’. As children grow from infancy to adulthood, the quality of their thinking changes and they become able to deal with more ideas, more abstract ideas and more complexly structured systems.
3 The mind is plastic. Again, we touched on this in the Introduction but the importance of the idea here is that the environment provided by parents, carers and teachers can have a direct effect on how the mind develops. More stimulating environments help children’s minds to develop faster and to become more efficient.
4 ‘Good thinking’ implies connectivity. Children or adults who we recognise as ‘clever’ are generally those who see patterns in data, can compare one idea with another and apply established ideas to new material.

Two complementary models that offer some account of these characteristics are:
• the mind as an information processor
• the mind as a developing organ.

Remember: these simple models offer some guidance, but should not be taken too literally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lets Think Handbook Copyright © by Alex Black. All Rights Reserved.

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