Building a Better Mind

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Stage I - Imposition: The Basic Act of Perception


Many children with learning problems have difficulty with perceptual development. This is the cornerstone for building a mind, gaining awareness of the external world—objects in motion, space, and time. The brain stores a model of the world—the world is mirrored by the brain. During this stage of construction, the child learns about differences in himself, and differences in the world around him, that is, figures-out-of-grounds for motion: acceleration—deceleration or start-stops; for space: points in space; and for time: points in time. For example, the child does not know how to start and stop himself. He is clumsy; bumps into walls. He does not know how to attend to or grasp an object in space. He does not know how to time his actions. His movements are not synchronized. I mentioned movement, and how important it is for perceptual development, therefore, the first stage of building a better mind is to get the children to know the world better than they were able to by themselves. I called this first stage imposition.

This first stage of remediation requires that the parent or teacher moves the child by lifting, pushing, pulling, rolling, rocking, etc.; in other words, to jump-start the child's awareness of the environment. This imposition is necessary for many children who have not experienced enough movement activities, and if they have experienced these activities in an incorrect manner.

Here's an example using a hop ball. The parent or teacher should hold the young child under his arms and around his chest, and position the child on top of the hop ball facing outward. Gently bounce the child up and down. Counting the bounces and singing rhythmic songs will increase the child's attention as he bounces.

Stage II – Imitation: Communication Between the Senses

Dr. Schomer

As movement patterns are imposed upon the child, he develops awareness of differences: figures-out-of-grounds—the "how" (motion), "where" (space), and "when" (time) about objects in his world. As soon as possible, the child should be encouraged to repeat the movements by himself after the movements are demonstrated by the parent or teacher. This develops the child's awareness of similarities in himself and the similarities in the world around him. He "makes sense" out of his perceptions. It's the communication between the senses. This is the second stage for building the child's mind, the imitation learning process. With everything that we do or say, we have little sets of eyes and ears watching, listening, and learning. In the early 1920s, a cliché popped up in American culture: monkey see, monkey do—one child observes another's behavior and then imitates it. This is often referred to in social psychology as modeling theory. It is a powerful tool for building the child's mind.

The photo illustrates a training procedure for Imitation—to increase communication between the senses of vision and kinesthesis. The child associates seeing the upward direction of the "E" with the movement of his finger pointing upward as he imitates the parent or teacher.

Stage III – Symbolization: The Abstract World


I have been discussing the stages of the construction of the mind—how movement is the catalyst for perception of the external world, about affection and the internal world and the communication between the senses. So far, this discussion has been about the concrete world, about objects in motion, space, and time. The transformation from the concrete world to the abstract world permits awesome advances in the child's mental processes. The child would be completely overwhelmed if he couldn't start to organize the myriad sensations, perceptions, and affections that the mind confronts.

Abstraction is a tool humans use during symbolization. It's a process of removing details of perceptions in order to focus on elements that are considered to be important. Abstractions are abbreviations.

Our mind starts to organize the oceans of stimulations and experiences into schemes called categories. At first, words are not used in this process of categorization. More primitive, concrete visualization is utilized. Language and the use of words, putting labels on things, accelerate the categorizing process, and pave the way to higher level thinking. However, there is a price to pay since words take us further away from the richness of the events of the concrete world.

As we approach the third stage of building the child's mind—symbolization—realize it's an ascent to the highest floors of the intellect. I will attempt to give you a snippet of the big picture of the symbolic transformation, from the concrete world of perception to the abstract world of language.

Semiotics is the science of signs. A sign is anything that stands for something else. This includes nonverbal as well as verbal representations, and the important part is that signs are carriers of meaning. One of the important reasons for studying semiotics is that it provides a range of resources for symbolization. Just as an artist uses a palette, an array of colors for his paintings, I can use semiotics to paint a picture of symbolization.

An indexical sign is physically connected with its object as an indication that something exists or has occurred such as smoke (the sign) means fire. It's the sign that is the closest to reality, the beginning of symbolization. With the development of indexical signs the child attaches meaning to his perceptions, and a new dimension of mentation takes place—the child begins to think!

The photo of the footprint in the sand is an example of the training procedure to promote the symbolic transformation. Pictures are helpful and convenient, however in the beginning, on-the-spot situations would be more concrete and easier for the child to understand.

Ask the child, "What is this?" "What happened?" The answer is someone walked barefoot in the sand and made footprints. Other examples for this kind of training are:

  • sound of the doorbell—someone is at the door
  • feel a tap on my back—someone is behind me
  • see a dent in the fender—a car accident
  • the trees are swaying—it's windy

The training procedures outlined in this chapter will help the child move forward through the symbolic transformation and make him a "linguistic Einstein."

Stage IV – Creation: The Science of Genius


In the previous chapters, I have given you the framework, the stages, and the trainning procedures to help your child build a better mind. However, it's like a structure without finished ceilings, floors, and furnishings. To make the building liveable and functional, it needs a lot more things. Here's the contents of my toolkit which I will talk about:

  1. Inconoclastic Thinking
  2. Diet
  3. Nutrition
  4. Cellular Health
  5. Physical Education
  6. Stress Reduction
  7. Drugs
  8. Bodymind
  9. Sunlight
  10. Prenatal Care
  11. Poisons
  12. Eliminate Clutter
  13. Optimism
  14. Mindset
  15. Flow
  16. Montessori
  17. Play & Peer Relations
  18. Sleep
  19. Dreams
  20. Parenting
  21. Emotional Literacy
  22. Graphic Organizers
  23. Spirituality
  24. Intuition
  25. Pet Therapy
  26. Money Matters
  27. Television
  28. Intergenerational Programs
  29. Digital Technology
  30. The Quantum Mind

Although I've listed several exercises and ideas to promote creativity, the outcome, for the most part, is an emergent which depends on "well oiled brain machinery." When the emergent happens, it's like an "I got it" moment.

The discussions about symbolization were about the flow of mental processes from the concrete to the abstract. It's important for building the child's mind. However, the ability to move from the abstract to the concrete is a necessary skill for creativity. Many children have not developed this reciprocity. Listed below are several procedures to help accomplish mental flexibility.

  • Think of as many different uses as you can for the following objects: tape, paper clip, glass of water, paper towel, piece of paper.
  • What is: round, square, heavy, light, red, black, far, close, high, low.
  • Read stories and poetry then discuss them.
  • Write a story about happiness, sadness, love.

Memory is a fundamental ingredient for creativity and problem solving. Here is an activity that should help grease the memory machinery. Think of a personal experience that is triggered by words. For example:

  • dinner, yesterday, plate, eat
  • television, ocean, swimming, fish
  • NYC, 9-11, planes, towers

To insure the child is tapping into his memory bank, ask several questions and have discussion about his experiences and visualizations. For example, "Where were you when that happened?" "Who was with you?" "Can you picture it in your mind?"

Studies show that enriched environments set the stage for learning creativity. For example:

  • Let the child take the lead when shopping.
  • Encourage the child to talk about daily activities.
  • Help your child to try new things and ideas.
  • Visit interesting places—art museums, the zoo, tour a factory, library, etc.

The child needs to be encouraged to direct his activities and become a creative member of society. Our culture is passed on from generation to generation. Through experience and language, each individual has the opportunity to acquire the legacies of the past. If however, children do not become self-directive, they will not create or add anything to the legacy for the next generation. This would cause a stagnant society. Although each child is not expected to become a great inventor, politician, etc., he still may contribute something to his fellow man that will be useful, and if nothing more, provide creative experiences for his children.


I have been discussing the movements of the child and the impelling force movement creates for the basic act of perceptual development. This skill of the mind promotes an awareness of a figure-out-of-ground. The physiological processes in neurology are often referred to as bottom-up and top-down processes. Bottom-up means information from the environment triggers the senses to transmit data to the brain for storage—it's a stimulus-driven process. Top-down means the brain (the mind) facilitates thinking and may transmit orders to other parts of the body for action; it's a goal-directed process at the more advanced conceptual level for selective attention.

Earl K. Miller,i a neuroscientist, said, "Cognition is a balance between internal motivations and external stimulation." This means it's desirable to have a balance between top-down and bottom-up processes for efficient mental functioning.

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is a learning difficulty that has gained widespread publicity. Many books and articles have indicated that millions of men, women, and children in the United States have ADD. Most of these individuals have symptoms like daydreaming, lack of attention, and hyperactivity. These individuals lack top-down and bottom-up attention skills.

In the classic reversible figure of Rubin, which is illustrated, the goblet and faces take turns being figure and ground. When you see the goblet, the faces disappear into a black background. When you see the faces, the goblet disappears into a white background.


The purpose of presenting this ambiguous figure is to illustrate how confusing it must be when children lack top-down and bottom-up attention skills; they try to look at something new, and can’t understand it.

The procedures outlined in Chapter 4, imposition training, are the catalyst for the development of attention (figure-out-of-ground). As the child makes progress using movement to achieve attention, the next step is to rely less on movement and develop more top-down mental processing determined by deliberation and decision making.

All of training procedures in the following chapters promote the acquisition of attention even though attention may not be mentioned per se, it’s the foundation for the higher mental processing that is being developed. For example, imitation, reading, and listening require seeing or hearing a specific thing, a figure-out-of-ground. To use a familiar metaphor, the idea is to be able to quickly see the tree in the forest, but also be aware of the forest of trees.

i Earl K. Miller, Top-Down versus Bottom-Up Control of Attention. Riken Brain Science Institute News,


Mort Schomer

Ballroom dancing helps the body, mind, and spirit. It doesn’t have to be a ballroom—dance anywhere you and your partner can move to the sound of music. Dancing is exercise—your muscles and joints get a workout, and the cardiovascular system is being uplifted.

Dancing builds the mind. The activity contains all the stages of its construction that I discussed in Chapter 2. When the man leads, it’s imposition—the movement is imposed upon his partner. With many disorders, especially strokes and degenerative diseases, this leading will need to be forceful. If the person affected with the disorder is a man, then the woman will need to take the lead.

Imitation, stage two of the mind’s construction, can be very helpful during dancing. As soon as possible, the sick person should be encouraged to imitate various dance steps—head, arm, hand, legs, and body movements. It’s motion through space, and time. Be sure to pick up the rhythm—and vocalize it, too—by counting and repeating the words with rhythmical accents.

Visualization and motor planning are vital aspects for good dancing. You picture the steps in your mind, and then do it. Putting a label on each dance pattern helps to remember and dance the step. My wife and I have names for about forty patterns. It facilitates continuous dancing on the floor and greatly increases the fun we have. For example: The man, using his right hand, raises the woman’s left arm above her head and performs a “clockwise turn.” Continuing with a “counter-clockwise turn,” the man, using his left hand, raises the woman’s right arm above her head and performs the CCW move. Dance lessons are a good idea—group lessons are available at many adult education and senior centers, however, private lessons may be needed in some cases.

Keep a list of the dance patterns with a short description about how to do them. Creativity is certainly evident when you watch people move on the floor. All the movements and vocalizations do not have to be planned—spontaneity should be encouraged. It’s even more fun!

At least one observational study has shown minds become sharper with ballroom dancing. The study (ii*) appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2009. In 2003, Joe Verghese, M.D., and colleagues studied 469 people who were at least 75 years old. At the study’s start, they answered surveys about mental and physical activities, like doing crossword puzzles or dancing. Back then, none had dementia. Five years later, 124 had dementia. Frequent dancers had a reduced risk of dementia compared with those who rarely or never danced. Of 11 physical activities considered, only dancing was tied to a lower dementia risk. Most dancers did ballroom dancing, said Verghese, an assistant neurology professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

How might ballroom dancing help the brain? Verghese outlines three possibilities:

  • Increased blood flow to the brain from the physical exercise.
  • Less stress, depression, and loneliness from dancing’s social aspect.
  • Mental challenges (memorizing steps, working with your partner)

"Dance, in many ways, is a complex activity. It’s not just purely physical," Verghese explained.

ii Joe Verghese, et al., “Leisure activities and the risk of dementia in the elderly,” New England Journal of Medicine, Volume 348: 2508-2516, June 19, 2003, No. 25.