Holistic Multidirectional Learning – strategies for preventing dementia
©2019-12-02 Dr Romesh Senewiratne-Alagaratnam
It has been said that the brain is a use it or lose it organ. Could active learning in many different areas can be used to prevent and treat depression and dementia?
Keeping the mind active requires exertion of will – the will to keep learning throughout life. And there are many things to learn, for all of us.
The Internet provides a valuable tool for learning. Unlike the established university system the tendency of the Net is to integrate, establish links and break down barriers between disciplines. However knowledge – true knowledge – is more than information. It needs to be factually accurate knowledge. It requires analytical ability on the part of the reader/learner to sort fact from fiction.
In my analysis, these are some of the social and psychological factors that impede active learning:
1. Negative preconceptions
3. Lack of education
4. Narrow interests
5. Limitations in taste
6. Unhealthy distractions
7. Information overload
8. Brainwashing and indoctrination
9. Deficient senses
11. Lack of aesthetic development
The beliefs that one is too old to learn or too old to change are deeply embedded in society. Such beliefs impede possible learning of new skills and knowledge. It is true, however, that children learn faster and with more ease than adults, especially when it comes to languages. However our educational system tends to be both splintered and anti-creative as well as discouraging original thinking and arguments from first principles.
Poverty makes technology such as computers unaffordable, and also limits opportunities for learning basic literacy. Poor nutrition impedes learning – hungry children are distracted by their hunger. They cannot afford musical instruments, books, paper and pens which are essential tools for continued learning throughout life.
Lack of education
Both lack of education and bad education are problems in the modern world. You can only teach what you know and teachers are often not as knowledgeable about the subjects that they teach as they need to be. There are good and bad teachers, and the students of bad teachers suffer from boredom. These bored children are liable to labels of ADHD and learning disorders. This is not to say that some students are not slower learners than others and their abilities and interests differ. Good teachers strive to make their lessons interesting and are not afraid to admit that they don’t know or are wrong. This is the case in all levels of the educational system. The focus of Holistic Multidirectional Learning® is on self-directed, self-motivated learning using the Internet, books and Nature, with an emphasis on Nature. We are part of the natural world and can play a key role in nourishing and enriching Nature as well as human society.
The Western educational system has long tended to favour people with narrow fields of interest and expertise. This is seen in the adages “Jack of all trades, master of none” and “a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing”. Many people are multi-skilled and a little bit of knowledge is only a dangerous thing if you think it to be a lot of knowledge. A little bit of knowledge can be expanded and is better than no knowledge at all.
The divisions of academia have led to a plethora of disciplines, sub-disciplines and specialities that defended their territory and communicated in jargon understandable only to other members of the specialty. Specialists were honoured and promoted more than generalists, though it was recognised that there was a need to break down interdisciplinary boundaries. This has become easier with the Internet and tools such as Wikipedia, YouTube and LinkedIn.
Limitations in taste
It has been said since the 1880s in Britain, that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” meaning that perception of beauty is subjective. However, there are universal aspects of taste in all the senses. Holistic Multidirectional Learning® focuses on the auditory and visual senses and the development of aesthetic appreciation in art, architecture, literature and music.
Taste, or aesthetic appreciation, develops with exposure to variety. The broader ones taste, the more pleasure can be derived from the senses, and this pleasure provides a motivational drive – we seek pleasurable experiences which have the effect of making us happy and improving our mood. Improving the mood by paying attention to what comes into our brains through our eyes and ears is a cost-free, risk-free strategy for the treatment of depression and also may play a role in preventing dementia.
Many people suffer from limitations in appreciation of unfamiliar music, art and literature. It is common for taste in music to fossilise in adolescence, when music is felt particularly powerfully. YouTube provides a free antidote to this narrowness and also allows one to explore music that one already has developed an appreciation of.
It has been shown that learning a musical instrument and learning a new language can provide protection against the development of dementia. This makes sense, since new connections in the brain are being formed with these activities.
Effective learning requires attention, focus and concentration. There are many factors, both intrinsic and extrinsic, that affect concentration and divert the attention. Intrinsic factors include physical and mental discomfort. This requires a holistic approach to movement, rest, ergonomics and posture as well as learning how to physically and mentally relax while also concentrating the mind. Extrinsic distractions vary considerably with the environment in which one is learning. Learning from screens is valuable, but it has its dangers, including damage to the eyes from not focusing on objects in the distance. Watching naturally moving animals (including butterflies and insects in flight) and birds helps develop visual acuity and so does looking at the sun (while taking care to blink when you feel like it). It helps to appreciate the beauty of Nature and have interest in it.
We are subjected to information overload in the modern world. Much of the information we are inundated with through the media seeks our attention in order to sell something or “entertain” us. When advertisers are trying to sell a product they maximise their benefits and show them in a good light (literally) and make the small print so small you can’t read it without glasses. They use techniques developed over decades by hypnotists and psychologists to create an impression and implant suggestions in the mind of the viewer. People are induced to gamble away their savings and become consumers rather than creators and producers.
Brainwashing and indoctrination
Doctrine, or what is taught, is not a problem unless what is taught is false and incorrect. In brainwashing there is a systematic, calculated effort to remove previous beliefs and implant new ones. There are many techniques for doing this which were studied under the MK Programs of the 1950s and 1960s.
The term ‘propaganda’ initially meant the doctrines that were propagated by the Catholic Church and the term did not have the negative connotations it has today. Different religions and denominations as well as corporations and political parties produce propaganda that is not the objective truth. Governments around the world sponsor and produce propaganda, some more influentially than others. Wikipedia, though more trustworthy than the Encyclopaedia Britannica, has incorrect information too. However, it remains a valuable tool for finding out about things and events.
Learning through the senses requires functional sense organs and respective areas of the brain. Blind people cannot learn through vision, but their auditory acuity and discrimination is often heightened. Likewise deaf people cannot learn from what they hear. Most people, though, are neither blind nor deaf but many do not fully appreciate the visual and auditory stimuli they experience.
You can train yourself to appreciate music and art and do it though self-directed learning. There are many people all over the world and of all ages that can inspire and educate through their art.
Focusing too much on screens, books and objects close to you can lead to short-sightedness requiring corrective lenses. These corrective lenses put distant objects out of focus. To correct this they used to make ‘bifocal lenses’ but the problem has been rectified by contact lenses.
There are two fundamentally different types of eye movements – searching and following. Television tends to favour following movements with a fixed focal length (the distance from the eyes to the screen). Watching the birds in your neighbourhood exercises both searching and following movements and also gives an opportunity for counting and numeracy as well as identification and zoological (ornithological) study. Learning about the local birds is a valuable exercise for children to be introduced to biology. Learning the names of birds and animals in different languages is fun and interesting and tools like Wikipedia and Google translate are invaluable for this.
Anxiety makes it difficult to concentrate and learn. It impedes both concentration and memory and has many causes. I have developed strategies to alleviate anxiety under Holistic Psychological Counselling®.
Lack of aesthetic development
Aesthetic appreciation develops throughout life, given adequate stimulation. One can develop appreciation of the elements of harmony, tone (timbre), melody and rhythm in music from completely different cultures pointing to cross-cultural aspects of music appreciation. It is common for change to occur in musical preferences with age and experience. YouTube provides a wonderful opportunity to revisit the favourite music of ones past and build on it. Listening to pleasurable music has the benefit of elevating the mood and distracting from worries and anxieties, allowing the subconscious to work on solutions.
In art cultures around the world appreciate line, form, colour and composition despite a plethora of styles and traditions. By looking at good art from different cultures one can develop an appreciation of them and get ideas that stimulate ones own creativity.
What is Holistic Multidirectional Learning?
Holistic education aims to look at the whole rather than just the parts. It does not preclude from studying things in great detail, but aims to maintain a perspective on the ‘big picture’. There is truth in the adage of not seeing the forest for the trees.
Some suggestions are:
1. Identify biases and vested interests
2. Reinforce memories by writing things down and going over them in your mind
3. Read the small print
4. Be aware of hypnosis
5. Learn to direct and control ones attention and focus
6. Seek to integrate information
7. Analyse for the ‘ring of truth’
8. Trust in commonsense
9. Be logical
10. Make your home an interesting place
11. Appreciate beauty
12. Seek truth and facts
13. Look for the Big Picture
14. Aim for self-improvement rather than beating others
15. Moderate competitive instincts
16. Develop healthy curiosity
17. Develop listening ability, aesthetic and discrimination
18. Develop observational skills
19. Break down barriers between disciplines and areas of knowledge
20. Identify areas to improve in
21. Value a well-rounded, balanced education
22. Be creative
23. Think deeply and contemplate
24. Acknowledge mistakes
25. Correct mistakes
26. Develop wisdom
More details can be found on the HUB Psychology and Wise Owl Learning (WOL) Facebook pages: