File this under the “terrifying” heading: the New York Times reports that scientists are “edging closer to manipulating memory and downloading instructions from a computer right into a brain.” This has implications that seem straight out of both The Matrix and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: erasing memories, downloading languages, and the like. Just one little plug and a button, and you, too, can know kung fu.
As interesting as all this is (and as welcome as it initially sounds), I can’t help but think about how the idea that we’d be “learning” things this way shows, once again, how our culture thinks that learning is all about stuffing knowledge into the brain. We all remember cramming for tests, then spitting out the results on a test to prove that we’d “learned.”But remember what happened next? We forgot it all.
That’s because we are not juts brains: we are also bodies. And part of what makes for good learning, for education, is not just getting a lot of knowledge, but becoming “formed” by things like practicing studying, and interacting with others in communities of learning, and entering other cultures (in the case of language) to acquire not just vocabulary, but a new way of thinking.
So even if we get to download French into our brains some day – and I confess that I sure could use that sometimes! – let’s not forget that there’s more to learning than acquiring knowledge!