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Copyright © 1997, Jay Ligda.  All rights reserved.  Published by Humans in the Universe and Jay Ligda.


      A simple example of learning occurs in sea slug called Aplysia.  The aplysia only has about ten thousand nerve cells in its entire body.  When researchers poke it a one point, its gills contract.  This is an instinctual behavior designed to prevent the gills from being torn off by a passing fish (McCrone, 1991).  If the poking is persistent, the gills cease to contract.  Is this learning? Perhaps not, however, if the poking is paired with a flash of light, eventually, the gills would contract to just the flash of light (McCrone, 1991).  This is the same learning discovered by Pavlov which he called conditioned response.

      Bateson (1972) called this kind of learning, proto-learning or learning IDeutro-learning, or learning II, is a change in the process of learning I.  The organism learns how to learn and can thus learn quicker or in a different manner in future situations.  The immune system shows evidence of learning I, but not learning II.  If the immune system showed signs of learning II, it would be capable of learning antigens faster or in a more efficient manner with each successive attack.  Learning II occurs in humans and some mammals (Bateson, 1972).

      Learning III is a change in the process of learning II.  Bateson (1972) notes that, "learning III is likely to be difficult and rare even in human beings" (p. 301).  He suggests that learning III is what occurs during psychotherapy or religious conversions when there occurs a "profound reorganization of character" (p. 301).  Zen koans such as the statement, "what is the sound of one hand clapping," are nonsensical statements designed to "trigger enlightenment" as they help Zen students to realize the limits of the thought process, stop their thinking, and "make the student ready for the nonverbal experience of reality" (Capra, 1975, p. 35).  Koan's present what Bateson (1972) calls a double bind, or "unresolvable sequences of experiences" (p. 206).  Double binds can lead to learning III (if not schizophrenia).  More on Learning III will be discussed in a later section.

      There are two other types of learning mentioned by Bateson, learning zero and learning IV.  Learning zero is where no learning occurs within the individual.  This would occur in a species that behaves purely instinctively.  Learning IV is a change in the process of learning III.  Bateson (1972) says it "probably does not occur in any adult living organism on this earth" (p. 293).

by Jay Ligda

(This work is a all or part of an original work first published/written for John. F. Kennedy University:  Final Integrative Project., Mar1996.)

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  • McCrone, J. (1991).  The Ape that Spoke:  Language and the Evolution of the Human Mind.  New York, NY:  William Morrow.
  • Bateson, G. (1972).  Steps to an Ecology of Mind:  A Revolutionary Approach to Man's Understanding of Himself.  New York, NY:  Chandler.
  • Capra, F. (1975).  The Tao of Physics.  New York, NY:  Bantam.
  • Pearson, D. & Shaw, S. (1982).  Life Extension:  A Practical Scientific Approach.  New York, NY:  Warner.


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