Metacognition and learning



I grew up in the small city of Molde on the west-coast of Norway, and in my parents’ house there were many books, because my father is a literary man. As a young boy thirsting for knowledge I often ploughed through the shelves, and there was a book that caught my interest one day. The title of the book was “Nature thought about it first”, and the book was filled with examples of how nature already had a found a solution to manmade inventions. Everything from doors and pipes, to musical cords and wheels were already “invented” and found in nature.

As a professor in statistics I will now add to this list from my own subject field, because it turns out that even the statistical methods that we teach at the universities and apply in research, have their precursor in nature, and in fact you use them every day! They are implemented in our brains and applied every second!

“We are all statisticians”, as I often tell my students in introductory statistics. The subject of statistics is all about extracting information from varying input signals, the general patterns which extrapolate beyond the data at hand. We seek the stable and invariant quantities behind the collected data, and this is exactly also the goal of our brains, from the very first observations we make as newborns. To find this stability corresponds to finding our “selves” and to answer the question: “who am I?”

For most children the first stable and invariant quantity is the mother, who is extracted as a general pattern from repetitive observations of faces appearing above the crib. The picture of the mother varies one day to the other, but the child has already learned to separate the “noise”, the unimportant small variances, from the pattern “mother”. By inductive and explorative reasoning the general property is extracted from the special and unique observations.

Hence, the newborn baby is an educated statistician, but unconsciously so. It is only at the university that we may, by following a statistics course, become conscious about these inborn methods which are so extremely important in empirical scientific research.

Most people pay little attention to how they think, but the effectiveness of learning and acquiring knowledge may benefit greatly from knowing more about how we think and how the brain works. My intention with this blog is to help the reader to understand the statistics of our brains and thereby increase the potential for effective learning and thinking. Metacognition is the term used for the activity of “thinking about thinking”, and I have therefore called my blog “Metacognition”. Here I will “think out loud” about cognition, neurophysiologi and statistics.

Good reading!

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  1. Nice. We are looking forward to more. However, I think the newborn child use smell rather than eyesight for recognizing the mother? Pattern recognition!


    1. Thanks Lars! Yes, the input channel is of course not only visual, and smell sounds like an important input for babies.


  2. Very interesting topic Solve, looking forward to read more posts. It is also interesting to investigate how this relates to neurological disorders like schizophrenia/psychosis which on an observational level seems like a failure of the brain to seperate real patterns from noise.


    1. Yes, Daniel, there is a lot to say also about disorders related to brain malfunction. I’m also interested in this, although I think it will not get too much attention in this blog:)


  3. Excellent intro to your blogg, Solve. And a very exciting intersection of three important scientific fields. I am already looking forward to new posts.


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