“Whilst the Valproate process can lead to wonderful leaps of learning, and the students rapidly improving their physical coordination, it introduces a very real and likely risk of great harm. As it removes almost all the barriers to immediate and deep learning, it allows all stimulae an easy route right into the core of their being. There is no gradual process, no feedback by which we can gradually tailor the teaching message in response to their needs and check what has been learned.
No, once they start on Valproate, these students’ minds are like dry sponges dropped on the floor. They will immediately absorb whatever is there, with no quality control. The new info, the new connections, goes straight into their brains and sticks there. The connections are made.
These kids are incredibly vulnerable to any stray influence. They are picking up on every cue from everyone around them, be it body language, choice of words, weather, praise, criticism, bullying, cynicism, the lot. Everything is an input, and it goes straight in.
Formal lessons are very hard to structure in a way that the intent of the lesson, what is meant to be learned, is what is actually learned. There is, perhaps not surprisingly, a very strong overlap with difficulties experienced in AI, specifically supervised learning. We are constantly on guard for lesson structures, for presentation approaches, for choice of wording, for the timing and order of how facts are presented, which could lead to misinterpretation by the students.
Once the wrong message is learned, it is like quick setting superglue, it is very hard to ‘un’learn. The best remedial technique we have is to relearn the correct message over the top of it. But even then utmost care is needed. A simple refutation of the facts leads to contradictions baked right in to the brain. This paralyses the surrounding concepts, effectively removing part of their brain capacity from further use. We need to layer on a succession of learnings leading gradually from the wrong to the right.
The brain is a hyper-active pattern spotter. It craves praise and feedback. It is prone to all the various cognitive biases. But under the influence of VP, confirmation bias is by far the most dangerous. Unless prevented from doing so, the kids will seek out confirmation of whatever is in their heads, no matter how it got there, and disappear up an infinitude of intellectual dead ends, totally confident in their own minds about their beliefs and understanding of the world.
It is at this stage unproven, but there is a working hypothesis among VP professionals that the world’s major religions arose during a period when the standard diet was much higher in VP than it is these days, opening people’s minds to an uncritical acceptance of a god or gods being the cause behind many natural phenomena and assorted coincidences.
We’ve created a school which is part Truman Show, part Big Brother, part Hospital, part Psychiatric Ward, part School, to be sure, but actually the teaching is the easy part. By far the most difficult aspect is stopping the kids from learning the wrong things.
We hire non-VP kids as actors to fulfill the roles of perfect companions. They have scripts to rehearse, plus most of them are kitted out with ear pieces to repeat verbatim the words from our experts who are monitoring the live camera and microphone feeds.
For the duration of the treatment, the VP kids have to stay in this environment. They cannot be allowed home. The influences around most homes are too fickle if not downright negative. The families cannot exert the level of control over their own behaviour needed to guide these kids safely. With enough warning, just a couple of days usually, we can stop supplying the VP to a particular kid and they are safe to leave.
(from Emus All The Way Down)
by Chris Gathercole
published: 11 February 2014
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