The Future of the Mind: A Review

Posted on August 5, 2014
By Jeremy Slagoski

Earlier this summer, KCELT had a reading circle on The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind by Michio Kaku, published by Doubleday earlier this year.  While watching Dr. Kaku being interviewed on The Daily Show, I was seeing how many of the scientific breakthroughs in neuroscience will affect how we learn and teach.  Below is a promotional video for the book.

While reading The Future of the Mind, I realized that I had much higher expectations in terms of the worth of this book to educators.  There are two main reasons for my disappointment: 1) only a couple of chapters clearly showed a connection to teaching and learning, and 2) many of the scientific breakthroughs will not affect education for at least two generations.  I really loved his previous book, Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100, because he had a higher level of confidence with understanding the subject matter.  Dr. Kaku is not a neuroscientist, so he was unable to make predictions as clearly as he did for his previous book.  Most of the predictions in The Future of the Mind seemed to be about 20-50 years away, something that my daughter (who is 5 years old) will not experience in her K-12 schooling for sure.

Chapters 5 & 6

Chapters 5 and 6 had the strongest connections to teaching and learning.  Chapter 5 is about memories and thoughts made to order, and chapter 6 is about Einstein’s brain and enhancing our intelligence.  About chapter 5, Kaku shares many fascinating scenarios in which science may be able to produce artificial parts of the brain (hippocampus, cortex, and cerebellum) to help prevent our brain from aging/deteriorating, therefore preventing or delaying memory loss.  Additionally, he posits that we may be able to upload or ingest information or skills that are usually acquired through rote memorization, such as medical terminology and mathematical formulas.  He states:

“[W]e may reach a point where we can learn calculus by simply uploading the skill.  The educational system would be turned upside down; perhaps it would free teachers to spend more time mentoring students and given them one-on-one attention areas of cognition that are less skill-based and cannot be mastered by hitting a button.  The rote memorization necessary to become a professional doctor, lawyer, or scientist could be drastically reduced through this method” (p. 125).

I believe we are slowly heading in this direction anyway through the help of “external memory” such as mobile information and communication technology (ICT).  To me, it seems the difference between this generation and two generations from now is that we will be able to access this information within our brains rather from pulling it up on our smartphones.  To be clear, we do not have to be connected to the Internet but we can have certain information downloaded into the brain for recall without “Googling” for it.

Chapter 6 is helpful for educators to reevaluate the purpose of schooling.  Dr. Kaku challenges the traditional definitions of intelligence and the purpose of IQ exams.  However, there is already someone else who is better known for challenging these traditions, Sir Ken Robinson.  He has several videos out through TED and the Royal Society for the encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce (RSA).

Both Michio Kaku and Ken Robinson agree that IQ exams focus only on academic intelligence, when there is much more to learning and life than academic intelligence.  Both men make a nod towards Martin Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences theory, which is often misinterpreted by educators, administrators, and publishers.  In fact, KCELT invites faculty to contribute their ideas and interpretations of multiple intelligences for this blog or in a KCELT session or series.

I would like to end this book review with a conclusion by Dr. Richard Davidson, quoted in Chapter 6 on page 137:

“Your grades in school, your scores on the SAT, mean less for life success than your capacity to co-operate, your ability to regulate your emotions, your capacity to delay your gratification, and your capacity to focus your attention.  These skills are far more important–all the data indicate–for life success than your IQ or your grades.”

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