mechanism of perception

How older people learn

As a person ages, perception declines, accompanied by augmented brain activity. Learning and training may ameliorate age-related degradation of perception, but age-related brain changes cannot be undone. Rather, brain activity is enhanced even further, but for other reasons and with different outcomes. Researchers at Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) discovered these facts in a recent study, the results of which have now been published in Scientific Reports.

Enhanced brain activity at old age

The researchers asked test participants in different age cohorts to feel two needlepoints that were located closely to each other with the tips of their fingers. Older participants perceived two points as a single event even when they were located quite far apart, whereas younger people were still able to distinguish them as two distinct points, which is evidence for degraded tactile perception at higher age. This impaired perception experienced by older people goes hand in hand with a spatial enhancement of brain activity, which researchers generally interpret as a compensatory mechanism.

Learning and training improve perception

“Age-related degraded perception is not irreversible; rather, it can be improved through training and learning,” explains Dr Hubert Dinse from the RUB Neural Plasticity Lab. The question researchers then asked was: if age-related impaired perception can be restored, will the age-related expansion of brain activity be reduced as well? In other words: can training and learning lead to a “rejuvenation” of the brain?

Learning too enhances brain activity

Studies with young adults have shown that learning processes are typically associated with an enhanced and broadened brain activity. If age-related impaired perception can be restored through learning, learning should have a different effect on the brain in older people than in young adults: the age-related enhanced brain activity should be reduced. Yet, as the neuroscientists from Bochum observed, the opposite is the case: learning processes in old people result in a further enhancement of brain activity too, which is associated with improved perception.

Learning to understand ageing and learning processes with the computer

“We asked ourselves: how can the different effects of enhanced brain activity on perception in older people be explained?” recounts Dr Burkhard Pleger from the RUB Neurology Clinic in Bergmannsheil Hospital. For the purpose of the study, the researchers used computer simulations to model both brain activity and associated perception. To this end, they simulated a number of alternatives of how those results might have been generated. These simulations showed that the observed pattern of age-related changes at the level of brain activity and perception could only be explained by the weakening of a mechanism that limits spread of activation, thus keeping activity focussed. In contrast, the observed learning effects could only be explained by reduced inhibition, which leads to higher brain activity. This mechanism is operating in both young and older people. Thus, the older brain learns according to the same principles as the younger brain. Considering the magnitude of learning-induced improved perceptual ability in younger and older participants, the study shows that older people improve even more than younger people. This result too can be explained by the computer simulations through reduced suppressive neural mechanisms in the elderly participants.

Training pays off at every age – but it does not rejuvenate the brain

“The computer simulations explain how changed brain activity can have opposite effects on the level of perception. In addition, they explain the observation that the ‘treatment’ of ageing processes does not reverse age-related brain changes, but rather remodels them,” says Hubert Dinse. “They demonstrate that training and learning pay off at every age, in order to remain fit.”

Every action is a movement of energy.
The wave on the ocean is not
The movement of water.
It is the movement of
Energy through the water,
The movement of
The Animator through the inanimate.
To see this clearly is to
Understand the workings of the universe.
When there is understanding of
The workings of the universe,
There can be no
Resistance or opposition.
When there is no
Resistance or opposition.
All that remains is peace.
—  The Lost Writings of Wu Hsin
"To me the universe is simply a marvelous mechanism, and the most complex forms of human life, as human beings, are nothing else but automatic engines, controlled by external influence. Through incessant observation I have so convinced myself of the truth of this that I cannot perform any act or even conceive a thought without locating at once the external stimulus that prompted it."

Great strides have since been made in the art of anatomy, physiology and all branches of science, and the workings of the man-machine are now perfectly clear. Yet the very fewest among us are able to trace their actions to primary external causes. It is indispensable to the arguments I shall advance to keep in mind the main facts which I have myself established in years of close reasoning and observation and which may be summed up as follows:

1. The human being is a self-propelled automaton entirely under the control of external influences. Willful and predetermined though they appear, his actions are governed not from within, but from without. He is like a float tossed about by the waves of a turbulent sea.

2. There is no memory or retentive faculty based on lasting impression. What we designate as memory is but increased responsiveness to repeated stimuli.

3. It is not true, as Descartes taught, that the brain is an accumulator. There is no permanent record in the brain, there is no stored knowledge. Knowledge is something akin to an echo that needs a disturbance to be called into being.

4. All knowledge or form conception is evoked through the medium of the eye, either in response to disturbances directly received on the retina or to their fainter secondary effects and reverberations. Other sense organs can only call forth feelings which have no reality of existence and of which no conception can be formed.

5. Contrary to the most important tenet of Cartesian philosophy that the perceptions of the mind are illusionary, the eye transmits to it the true and accurate likeness of external things. This is because light propagates in straight lines and the image cast on the retina is an exact reproduction of the external form and one which, owing to the mechanism of the optic nerve, can not be distorted in the transmission to the brain. What is more, the process must be reversible, that in to say, a form brought to consciousness can, by reflex action, reproduce the original image on the retina just as an echo can reproduce the original disturbance If this view is borne out by experiment an immense revolution in all human relations and departments of activity will be the consequence.

—Nikola Tesla.

“How Cosmic Forces Shape Our Destines.” New York American, February 7, 1915.

(Text Quote Source) “After Death — WHAT? Here Is What Nikola Tesla, the Learned Scientist, Has to Say About Life After the Grave, in Conjunction With the Nation-Wide Symposium on the Subject Growing Out of the Discussions of Henry Ford and Luther Burbank.” The Lima News, Lima, Ohio, USA, March 14, 1926, Page 34.

The moment before movement is
Filled with emptiness.
It is the beginning of
The beginning.
Containing the potential for
It is limitless.
—  The Lost Writings of Wu Hsin