Hosting Encephalon June 23rd

We will be hosting the next edition of Encephalon, the blog carnival bringing the best and brightest (and latest) of mind/brain related materials together. The carnival goes up Monday, so please send your submissions to encephalon{dot}host{at}gmail{dot}com before then. Thanks!

And if you want more info on Encephalon as well as a list of previous editions, see the overall host site at Sharp Brains.

Critical Neurosciences Workshop

Next month I will attend the Critical Neurosciences Workshop on “critical perspectives, neurosciences, and anthropology” in Montreal. I’ll help run a discussion on the “cultural brain,” along with Suparna Choudhury, the main organizer.

Suparna just sent me the advert for the Workshop, to help get the word out and also to encourage people to come if they are interested. There are a limited number of free spots in the workshop, so contact her directly if you’ll happen to be in Montreal July 15th & 16th. Her email is suparna.choudhury at

The workshop is being sponsored by Neuroscience in Context, a European group, and by McGill’s Division of Social and Transcultural Psychiatry. Given the quality of both organizations, I can say that I am excited to be a part of this workshop!

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The Interdisciplinary Game

This summer I am part of a teaching discussion built around the book Good Video Games and Good Learning by James Paul Gee. By luck, during our first meeting in a common space of the student union, we started discussing World of Warcraft. None of us were experts there, but a student overheard us and came up and introduced himself. Turns out, he was a guild leader. He subsequently joined the group, providing plenty of gaming insight.

We had our second meeting yesterday, and our WoW student made the following point: in video games, there is progressive learning, so that you are still using some of the same principles in the end game as you learned in the beginning. These principles often extend throughout the differing domains and challenges of the game. Oftentimes, the repeated iterations and feedback of the game help the gamer develop an ever firmer grasp of those principles. But in most learning, students don’t get that sort of feedback—they get one or two shots, and then they move onto the next thing.

Some of us responded how, as teachers, how we’ve incorporated feedback and revisions and the like into our teaching strategies. And I said that, in principle, faculty in departments do sit down and discuss some of the basic core capacities they want students to have, and create a progression of expertise from introductory to high-level classes. But I was struck at the same time how difficult this same process can be for people attempting to create interdisciplinary approaches.

There is the obvious institutional side—disciplines have histories and sets of standards and expectations, and people who have gone through the process of formation themselves, and the ability to set their own agendas of teaching and learning. Any interdisciplinary effort works against all those social and intellectual structures already in place. However, institutes like the New Humanities Initiative can help provide a critical institutional space to help get people in conversation.

I was struck yesterday that the cognitive or learning challenge is the greater of the two. Institutes are easy to create. But a coherent set of learning principles that can be applied from introductory to expert situations, with a set of individuals who can agree on how and what needs to be debated to get students properly trained in a new type of thinking? Wow, that’s difficult—and a distinct challenge to anything we might try to propose here at Neuroanthropology.

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