Consider these statistics:
- There are 100 billion neurons in the brain. The average neuron makes a thousand synaptic connections, and some neurons can make a hundred times that number.
- The typical brain is about 2% of a body’s weight, but uses 20% of its total energy and oxygen intake.
- Babies lose half their neurons at birth. It is estimated that a baby loses about half their neurons before they are born. This process is sometimes referred to as pruning and may eliminate neurons that do not receive sufficient input from other neurons.
- The brain never stops working. But it does cease talking to itself when you lose consciousness.
- Once we learn a smell, it always smells the same to us—despite the fact that there are always new neurons smelling it!
- Reading aloud to children helps stimulate brain development, yet only 50% of infants and toddlers are routinely read to by their parents.
- Our working memory, a very short-term form of memory which stores ideas just long enough for us to understand them, can hold on average a maximum of seven digits.
These are just a few of the findings we explore in the doctoral seminar, Transformational Discipleship. The brain is an amazing organ. We are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made. (Ps 139:14)
Scholars once thought the brain could not repair itself, but neuroscientists are discovering the brain has a degree of plasticity; it is flexible and adaptable. Some functions attributed to the right side of the brain can be accomplished through the left side of the brain. Old dogs can learn new tricks. We can rewire, reprogram our mind as Paul wrote, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2 NIV)
Recent discoveries in brain science is shedding new light on how we learn and how we can improve our teaching strategies, including discipleship. Technology is rewiring the brain, affecting how we process information. Technology has positive effects and negative effects. On the positive, technology provides quick feedback. Information is quickly and widely disseminated. Technology can also have negative effects such as diminished attention span, addiction, lack of focused attention, and impact of social skills. As one author put it, people find themselves plunged into an ecosystem of interruption technologies. This environment promotes hasty reading, hurried or distracted thinking, and superficial learning.
Brain research is validating some of the teaching principles we use today. So, it doesn’t mean we are casting off all of our teaching practices. Other practices and structures are being questioned as we discover more about how we learn. For example, we are learning that the brain has rhythms or time structures of peak performance. The brain needs activity and rest. We need brain breaks. We learn more efficiently at different times of the day. The implication of these findings is to limit cognitive activities for children to periods of 5-10 minutes, and 25 minutes for adults.
Technology and brain science brings unique opportunities and challenges to discipleship. In 1982, John Naisbitt coined the phrase, “high tech high touch.” Technology can be a valuable tool in communication and information gathering. However, disciplers must not neglect the relational component to discipleship. Disciplers can help their mentees think critically about the information received. Spiritual formation will need to provide Sabbath from technology, so people can learn to listen to the quiet small voice of God. Contemplative practices, once thought ancient, should be revived in this age of hurry and frequent interruptions. Discipleship will be experiential, participatory, interactive, and relational. It will break concepts into smaller chunks using auditory, visual, kinesthetic mediums.
The mind is too wonderful a thing to waste. At Rockbridge we want to make the most of every opportunity to learn and be transformed into the likeness of Christ. Come study with us.