Human Learning

By Edward L. Thorndike; Richard M. Elliott | Go to book overview

Lecture 12
THE EVOLUTION OF LEARNING IN RECENT TIMES: FUTURE POSSIBILITIES

ACCORDING to the hypothesis which we considered in the previous lecture, there evolved, nobody knows just when or how, primates possessed of brains which could form an enormous number of connections, much greater than their relatives, the ancestors of the present anthropoids, could form. They also probably had a very extensive repertory of movements of the throat and mouth parts, and enjoyed prattling, gurgling, chortling, and squealing when they were babies much as we do. They also probably reacted to situations in a more piecemeal fashion than other primates did. Psychologically they were men. Whether they then had the opposable thumb, the bony and muscular structure for walking upright, and so forth as men as well as the brains of men, does not concern us.

They had the capacity to form enough more connections to set their learning apart from that of other primates. They could learn more things, and could learn to respond to subtler parts or elements of the objects and events of nature. They were variations which had the possibility of a rich life of ideas, including abstract and general notions, inner planning, and learning by deliberate analysis and selection.

If we accept this hypothesis, we naturally ask the question: What has been the evolution of learning since then? How far does our learning differ from that of these men of, say, ten thousand generations ago?

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