Element 3:

What Is the Learning Code?

“Without the Learning Code to limit, filter and organize incoming information, your brain would fall into a buzzing hubbub of chaos.”
– JW Wilson, Advanced Learning Institute

keyhole[1]The Learning Code is simply described as the process by which humans log surviving and thriving information into our biology. This code to acquire information, which has been etched into our genetic program through 3.5 billion years of evolutionary selection, dictates not only how we learn but what we learn and remember.

Read on to gain a greater understanding of what makes up the Learning Code

Genes and Learning

A very simple way to look at our genes is as vehicles upon which past learning is sent from one generation to the next. Information that has been successful to the survival of previous generations is encoded into the genetic program of those generations and passed forward for the benefit of all future generations.

dnastrands[1]The reason that you did not have to be taught how to cry, suckle at your mother’s breast, walk, duck when someone threw a rock at you, nest, hoard, deceive, or protect your things was because all this learning was packed into your genes and passed on to you from your ancestors. This instinctual learning is crammed into each and every one of your hundred trillion cells because it helped your ancestors survive in past environments. Over 2,300 years ago, Socrates maintained that you remember things from a past life. He was right!

bluewiredhead[1]But if your genetic program was only encoded with instinctual learning that helped your ancestors survive in past environments, you would have little capacity to learn new information in the present, such as how to read, write, ride a bike, drive a car, operate a computer, or manage a business. To help humans succeed in the present, evolution etched into your genetic program a code that allows you to quickly encode new learning from present day environments. Without this acquisition code, your survival options would be as limited as a snake’s. Reptiles, whose genetic plan affords them scant ability to encode new information, are trapped in a world where each and every reaction to an environmental stimulus mimics the reactions of their ancestors. Humans are the species with the greatest capacity to excel in the here and now, because we have the most sophisticated Learning Code of any species on the face of the earth.

In addition to possessing survival information, genes are transmission devices. Our genetic program transfers the information that represents the Learning Code into our brain tissue. Our brain then uses this code to direct our body parts and organs to quickly learn what it perceives to be the most advantageous surviving and thriving actions.

The Learning Acquisition Device

The idea that a Learning Code is pre-selected into our genetic makeup is not a new concept. In the late 1950s, renowned linguist Noam Chomsky kicked off the cognitive movement in psychology by asking the question, “How was it possible that children could so quickly and easily acquire language, with its many complex rules of grammar, with no instruction whatsoever?” Chomsky concluded that the only possible way that a child could understand an amazing 30,000 words and most of the complex rules of grammar by the time he was only 6 years old was if the child came into the world with a “language acquisition device” prewired into his genes.

Since Chomsky first proposed an acquisition code for language, other researchers have proposed that genetically prewired acquisition devices enable children to quickly learn other traits and capacities such as sight, sound, movement, math, distinguishing between living and inanimate objects, and even the ability to grasp concepts such as circles and animals. These experts point out that, by simply introducing the right stimuli to the child, these acquisition devices are activated, which, in turn, prompts a high level of neurochemical activity in the brain, allowing for incredibly rapid learning.

These previous efforts to uncover our genetically pre-encoded learning devices have focused mainly on how children acquire new information so rapidly, not on how adults learn new information. This previous research into learning devices has been done by experts whose expertise has mainly been in a particular field and therefore tended to focus on specific traits. Cracking the Learning Code expands on the previous pioneering efforts that deal with only specific traits and proposes a universal Learning Code, which encompasses all forms of learning, a code that is active not only in childhood but throughout our adult lives.

Why Humans Need a Learning Code

A genetically imprinted Learning Code not only provides the template for how we learn, it provides the template for what we learn. Without a Learning Code, the brain would have two primary alternatives to what it selected into its structures: it could encode everything it came in contact with, or it could select new information on a random basis. Neither alternative would be attractive. Because learning and memory are represented by neurological growth, if the brain selected all the information it came in contact with, eventually our heads would be as big as blimps, totally limiting our ability to move! And because our actions in the world are dictated by the learning that we have acquired, if the brain selected learning and memory in a random fashion, without rhyme or reason, the whole human species would act insane. Neither alternative is a solid survival strategy.

One way to look at the Learning Code is as a filter or limiting factor, ensuring that what we select into our neurological makeup directly supports our survival in the world. The idea that biological systems have limiting factors is not new to science. In the 1750s, one of the founding fathers of America, inventor Benjamin Franklin, speculated that limit factors must exist for all species or their growth and actions would be completely out of control. The Reverend Thomas Malthus picked up on Franklin’s idea in his famous “Essay on the Principles of Population,” upon which Darwin heavily relied to develop his theory of evolution by natural selection. All three men were clear that, to successfully adapt to their world, species needed to have limits upon the growth of their populations.

Limits on the Growth of Neural Systems

More than 100 years after Franklin, Malthus, and Darwin studied the limiting factors on the growth of species populations, scientists began to look at the influence of limits on the growth of neural populations. In 1959, one of the fathers of modern neuroscience, Jerome Lettvin, made a bold break from the ranks of his contemporaries who maintained that the brain remembered everything it came in contact with. In his paper, which became well known to neuroscientists, What the Frog’s Eye Tells the Frog’s Brain, Lettvin laid out a model for the mind and learning, which showed the brain had definite limits as to what information it could select into its structures.

Lettvin placed electrodes into neurons of the visual cortex of a frog’s brain, which process signals sent from the frog’s eyes. In his experiments, he found that these neurons did not fire when just any object was presented to the frog’s eyes. On the contrary, the frog’s genetic code had preprogrammed neurons in the visual cortex to fire only when information that was instrumental to the frog’s survival was given. The neurons fired wildly when objects such as lily pads, bugs, or frogs of the opposite sex were offered but failed to fire when things such as beer cans and pizza boxes were shown.

Lettvin and other scientist later extended their findings to humans, showing the human brain did indeed have limits on what information populations of neurons could select to support human survival. Although there are similarities between each species’ Learning Code, each has its own genetically imposed limit factors on what survival information its brain can select into its structures. This is why cats’ brains can perceive ultraviolet light, why bats’ brains select ultrasonic sound, and why tigers’ brains can recognize smells up to 50 miles from their sources. Each species has variations of its Learning Code, which helps it best select what information will help it best “fit” the environment in which it lives.

Humans Have Most Advanced Learning Code

While human brains cannot select ultraviolet light, ultrasonic sound, or smells 50 miles away, humans have the most sophisticated Learning Code of any species on the planet – allowing human brains to select information that allows us to build the Internet, discover the cure for polio, and create the United Nations.

This highly evolved Learning Code also allows humans to be the most adaptable species on the planet. This is why humans can successfully survive in environments as wildly diverse as the frigid tundra of the Arctic or the smoldering savanna of the Serengeti. Other species with less sophisticated Learning Codes have limits on their adaptability. Polar bears can’t successfully survive in the Serengeti nor can zebras adapt to the Arctic.

Understanding that our genetic code has built a human Learning Code that provides limits to how and what information can be selected into our long-term memory allows us to build personal and institutional learning systems that match the way we most quickly, efficiently, and joyfully learn. The other Elements on this web site lay out what the Learning Code is and how to activate it.

Behavioral Change and the Learning Code

blueneural[1]It is worthwhile to understand that learning is not the only thing that occurs when the Learning Code is activated and neurological change takes place. Our behaviors, which are dictated by the existing structure of our neural tissue, also change. We act the way we do in life because the configuration of our neural tissue prompts us to do so. Change the existing structure of your neural tissue and your behaviors change, whether it’s the way you manage, play golf, make love, lose weight, or communicate with your boss, spouse, and kids. While Gandhi had little understanding of neuroscience, he was right on when he said, “Those people who want to change the world must first change themselves.” Any learning system that wants individuals to change their behaviors must first cause change at the neurological level.

Goal of This Site

puzzlekey[1]The primary goal of this web site is to make clear that there can be neither learning nor long-term memory formation without first activating the Learning Code. When our genetically implanted code is activated by the right environmental stimulus, learning and long-term memory, which are represented by neurological change, automatically take place with little or no effort. Trying to affect learning without accessing the Learning Code is like trying to open a bank vault with the wrong combination; it can’t happen. Unfortunately, our existing corporate and scholastic learning systems fail to create the levels of learning and long-term memory our society demands, because they fail to effectively access the Learning Code. Programs like No Child Left Behind and Internet classes fail not from lack of effort but because their designers have failed to understand how to unlock the Learning Code.

In the book Cracking the Learning Code and in future newsletters you will discover:

How to access your Learning Code and turn it on so that you may dramatically accelerate your speed and efficiency of learning.

Why we must take a biological and evolutionary perspective to understand learning and intelligence.

To help you gain a deep understanding of the Learning Code, we urge you to click on and read the other 31 Elements listed on the left.